Saturday, 26 November 2016

Mission statement of the day

The world leader of professional syrup
This would be perfect if it belonged to one of the advertising agencies responsible for 2016's slew of heartwarming Christmas TV ads. In the real world, though, I spotted it on the back of an old bottle of sirop de cassis, that posh version of Ribena you can glug into white wine to make kir.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Fashion, gender and interior lighting

I've been slightly obsessed with Lindybeige's YouTube channel lately. Here he is, talking about why cloaks are really quite good:
Sadly, like the man said, you can no longer wear this simple, but very useful, garment which has been a standard item in most peoples' wardrobes, in most societies, for most of human history, in public, because people will think you're some kind of nutter.

Or can you? I think that the answer is probably "no" if you're a guy, but I wonder whether this might be a practical* fashion trend for the ladies. After all, plenty of women already wear various types of wraps, shawls, pashminas and ponchos without having their sanity questioned and a cloak is only a wrap's bigger, heavier, cousin.

It would even out the gender imbalance for women to be able to wear something practical that men can't, for a change. At the moment, when it comes to day to day comfort and practicality, we guys have a far easier time than women. To pick just one example, think about shoes.

Smart or casual, it's easy to find a presentable pair of men's shoes that you can comfortably walk as far as you need to in. For style-conscious women, the choice mostly seems to be between wearing something smart or something you can walk about in pain-free (choose only one of the above). Even when women choose something that any reasonable person would consider smart, like a formal flat, or court, shoe, there are still people who think it's OK to pressure them into wearing something painful and impractical instead, because reasons.

Moving on from things that people used in the past because they were practical, here's another Lindybeige vid, about things that people didn't use in the past, because they were totally impractical - blazing torches (as a form of interior lighting):
So, forget Hollywood, the castles and banqueting halls of Ye Olden Tymes weren't lit by blazing torches in brackets. Another medieval trope bites the dust.

I could mention this to my son, whose Minecraft creations are mainly lit with the ubiquitous torches which compete with a fictional substance, glowstone, as the primary source of interior and exterior lighting in Minecraft World. But I won't. Minecraft, you see, just like the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, but unlike history, is allowed to take such liberties, because it isn't real.

That should be an obvious point, but in this idiotic year, when "post-truth" has entered both the dictionary and the mainstream, actually pointing out the difference between things that literally exist in the real world and things that are totally made-up fantasies feels like a revolutionary, probably subversive, act.

*OK, I realise that a heavy woollen cloak, though it might keep you warm and dry, is also absorbent and will get heavy and smell like a wet dog after being rained on (as well as steaming up any room, public transport compartment, or vehicle you might enter after being out in a heavy downpour). But this is 2016 and clothing manufacturers have access to a wider range of fabrics and water-repellant coatings than ever before in human history, so this isn't necessarily a deal-breaker.

Friday, 18 November 2016


Fraser Nelson thinks that our government has a Brexit strategy. This isn't necessarily a good thing.

If, he's wrong, we're screwed. If he's right, we're probably screwed, too, because he thinks that the cunning plan at the heart of the most crucial economic decision for generations is a version of the Cold War doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). I'm really not kidding:
There is another way to handle these talks. Richard Nixon called it the Madman theory, where you let your opponent think you’re crazy enough to act destructively....

...Mrs May’s best Brexit strategy may lie in her presenting herself as someone who is unafraid of a fight, doesn’t really mind who she upsets – and is, above all, capable of doing anything. 
The full think piece is here (Telegraph subscription required).

What's wrong with this picture? Two things:

First, if your entire negotiating strategy depends on bluff, intimidation and picking fights, it's really important that your opponents think that you are stronger than they are, or they'll call your bluff and give you a good kicking.

In this particular fight, there are 27 of them, versus one of us.

Over half of our exports go to the 27 countries we've decided to pick a fight with. They only export 6.6% of their stuff to us. They know this. But the British government's plan* is, apparently, to hope that the rest of Europe just hasn't noticed that we're bringing a custard pie to a knife fight.

Second, two can play at that game. We can try to convince them that we're a bunch of dangerous lunatics by making Boris Johnson our chief diplomat, but look who we're up against. The man who put the "mad" into Mutually Assured Destruction, Doctor Strangelove Schäuble. The man who was prepared to destroy Greece, just to remind it who's boss. If Mrs May stands up in an EU meeting and starts banging the desk with one of her kitten heels, like a huffy Khrushchev, would you really bet folding money that Doctor S will blink first? I wouldn't.

The upside of all this is that I really don't have time to worry about Trump - I'm way too busy being terrified of how insane British politicians seem to be, assuming that their plans are anything like as crazy as their fans in the media seem to imagine.

*If this is the plan, and not just a piece of Torygraph columnist fanfic, where Theresa May is the stern dominatrix

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Golden words he will pour in your ear...

...but his lies can't disguise what you fear...
Respectable movie buffs say that Citizen Kane predicted Trump. But if old action movies are your guilty pleasure, we've got you covered, too. Look no further than the villain of the third (and best, IMO) movie in the James Bond franchise, the eponymous Auric Goldfinger:

Watching the Trump generation of post-truth authoritarian nationalists gleefully kerb-stomp what's left of liberal democracy won't be pretty, but the sound track will be awesome:

Monday, 14 November 2016

About the golden door...

The prospectus sounds great:
Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
But, huddled masses, please note:

  1. That golden door opens onto a crooked billionaire 's penthouse and is strictly off limit to bums like you.
  2. Only kidding about the storied pomp - we're totally cool with that stuff.
  3. Just in case you start getting any ideas, the golden door is guarded by these two characters and they ain't letting nobody in:
Now go back where you came from, losers, we got a wall to build.

Image credit for the image worth crediting.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

And some, I assume, are good people

Well, the Trumpocalypse didn't seem that likely back in September 2015, at least to me:
But if we want a meaningful measure of what a great wizard Oink Balloon is, we should define some goals beforehand. Here are three simple metrics to assess the success of Oink Balloon's alleged wizardry. In order of increasing improbability, 1. Oink Balloon becomes the Republican presidential candidate, 2. Oink Balloon is elected President, 3. Oink Balloon persuades the Mexican government to erect, at its own expense, a wall, chicken wire fence, or whatever, to stop its own citizens from trying to enter the Land of the Free and the Home of the Slightly Deranged (as it will be known, in the unlikely event that condition 2. is ever met). If Oink Balloon achieves any one of these, I'll concede that there's something here that requires explanation.
At least we're not short of explanations - there are almost too many. I'm mostly happy to go with the unoriginal theory that Trump happens when people realise they've been Fukuyama'd.

That's to say that Trumpism was an equal and opposite reaction to the self-congratulatory elite consensus that America had arrived at the End of History and discovered the best of all possible worlds, a proposition that probably didn't impress folk who hadn't seen a real wage rise in a generation and a half and were working harder, with less job security for their pittances, (assuming they were lucky enough to have a job, or the two or three jobs it takes many to make ends meet). In short, the left behind gave politics as usual a massive middle finger.

But that can't be the whole story. After all, it was Scott Adams who spent this election cycle telling us all that the tangerine huckster was a great and powerful wizard and Scott's had a very successful career, definitely not finding himself left behind (except by members of the reality-based community - he may have called the election, but Scott's Trump eulogies have had all the self-justifying craziness of The Donald's own 3am tweets). Scott, I think, falls partly into the entitled, mens' rights activist subset of Trump fandom, although there's a deeper level of psychological identification going on here, between a seriously needy guy, desperate to force the world to acknowledge his unique genius, and the alpha narcissist himself:
Finally the endless, orgiastically affirming victories (“The Master Persuader filter continues to predict with spooky accuracy”). Every time Trump wins, Adams wins, too—Trump is the giant crushing his rivals one by one; Adams is the genius who saw that he would do it.
Political correctness also played a part. Not the phony political correctness complained about by the various reactionary bigots who feel that they can't be truly free unless they're bullying and demeaning women/racial minorities/LGBT people/the disabled.

What I'm talking about is the actually existing form of political correctness in mainstream politics and the media, which defines what are - and aren't - "legitimate concerns." It is, apparently, "legitimate" to be concerned that foreigners are coming for your job, your job security, your services, your access to housing, or your culture. Your concerns, however, stop being legitimate as soon as you mention who's actually been hogging most of the pie in our increasingly unequal societies, while the rest of us have been scrabbling for crumbs - the super rich, the offshoring corporations and high net worth individuals who get to dodge paying tax, the bailed-out bankers, landlords, other rent-creamers and the rest. Start being concerned about what they've been up to and your concerns are delegitimised as whinging, or "the politics of envy."

Trump may have been spouting his toxic bigotry loud and proud, but it was the cynical mainstream press and politicos who handed him a loud hailer by framing such scapegoating as "legitimate concerns," just as they've done here in Brexit Britain.

The Trump/Brexit parallels are obvious and worrying but, before the polls, some people comforted themselves with the idea that America might not fall for the same bullshit, because it was a different place. Myself included - I re-posted the YouTube footage of Samantha Bee's horrified post-Brexit show, in which Samantha warned that it could happen in America but probably wouldn't, for two reasons that seemed plausible to me at the time:

  1. Because America is more racially diverse than Britain, the blacks and Hispanics would come out strongly against Trump's open racism (which, in the end, they did, but not by enough to defeat the white Trumpists).
  2. Because America, unlike Britain, has "a butt-ton of evangelical Christians" who couldn't possibly support anybody so horrifically incompatible with such core Christian values as humility and loving your neighbour as yourself.

OK, this second one seemed a bit counter-intuitive to me at first, given political Christians' past record of prioritising the preservation of America's traditional social norms over any of the sandal-wearing Nazarene's more hippyish notions about peace and love. But Samantha illustrated her point with a clip of a Southern Baptist preacher deftly brushing off a "ban the Muslims" bigot with the perfectly reasonable point that Christians should extend to others the same religious tolerance that they expect to enjoy themselves.

So I put aside my preconceptions and assumed that there really were a butt-ton of evangelicals who were way too nice to vote Trump, maybe socialised by the "religious, not spiritual" aspects of the church as family. I've got in-laws who've gone to an evangelical church for years and, though I don't share their beliefs, I know from first-hand experience that they're kind, generous, socially responsible people who have never shown the slightest hint of bigotry and put most of us to shame by any reasonable measure of good citizenship.

Sadly, the plural of anecdote is not data and when it came to the crunch, it seems as if over 80% of self-identified white evangelicals listened to every horrific word that proceeded out of the mouth of Trump and cried "Amen!" And some (around 16%), I assume, are good people.

Having failed to prophesy the coming of the Tangerine Antichrist, maybe I should quit while I'm behind here but, for what it's worth, here's my prediction about the remaining metric of Trump success. The useless wall may, or may not, get built now, but I'm still prepared to stick my neck out and say that Mexico won't be paying for it, at least in any sense of the word "paying" that a reasonable person would understand. That doesn't preclude the possibility that Trump will impose some wholly unrelated cost on Mexico - a Tequila tariff, or something - then turn round and boast "Look, I made them pay, just like I said I would!"

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Rinse, repeat

Here’s my “take home” point: if you repeat this fantasy, these predictions often enough, if you repeat it in front of powerful investors, university administrators, politicians, journalists, then the fantasy becomes factualized. (Not factual. Not true. But “truthy,” to borrow from Stephen Colbert’s notion of “truthiness.”) So you repeat the fantasy in order to direct and to control the future. Because this is key: the fantasy then becomes the basis for decision-making...

... “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” computer scientist Alan Kay once famously said. I’d wager that the easiest way is just to make stuff up and issue a press release. I mean, really. You don’t even need the pretense of a methodology. Nobody is going to remember what you predicted.
Audrey Watters