Thursday, 17 May 2018

"Gammon": not racist, just a bit rubbish

There's been a tweetstorm in a teacup over the word "gammon", used as shorthand for angry, red-faced right-wingers. Because black or brown people can't go red in the face, some people have been quick to call this anti-white racism. Personally, I'm more convinced by the people who just roll their eyes at the idea of angry white guys as an oppressed minority.

Dubious claims of racism aside, I don't like the term. I don't mind the comparison in context ("a furious middle-aged man with a face like gammon") although, like all similes and metaphors, this one will quickly get tired with over-use. But when you start using "gammon" as shorthand for a certain type of person, you're already talking to, and about, people in a private language. And, from the outside, private languages can sound very silly.

For example, look at the bizarre private language being used by various subgroups on the political right these days: snowflake, feminazi, RINO, cuck, remoaner, libtard, EUSSR, Chad, beta, SJW, virtue signalling, triggered, red pill, incel, normie, femoid, postmodern neo-Marxism...

This sort of shared jargon is mostly restricted to hardcore cranks and fanatics. Almost nobody you meet in everyday life uses that sort of language. It doesn't reach out and change minds. It's so niche that even the insults don't hurt. If "SJW" is the worst thing you can think of to call somebody, you definitely need some better trash talk.

And that's the danger with "gammon." Insulting somebody with an in-joke only that you and your mates get doesn't win arguments, or persuade people. It just makes you look a bit weird.

Look again at the right. When they talk in their own private jargon, they just sound like a bunch of sad oddballs. They only succeed and go mainstream when they use the same words as the rest of us - like "Make America great again" "and "Take back control." Using everyday language seems to be far more effective than making up your own terms and hoping they'll gain traction (they mostly don't).

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The last straw?

Whoever's idea this was, it sounds like a good one:
The European Commission has hinted the EU could ban single-use plastics after Michael Gove said there was “some concern” Europe may prevent the UK from outlawing plastic straws.

Frans Timmermans, vice president of the EU’s executive cabinet, told Mr Gove on Twitter: “One step ahead of you. EU legislation on single-use plastics coming before the summer. Maybe you can align with us?”
The Devil, as always, is in the detail. For example, would the wording of any ban include these?

I see a lot of these little plastic straws littering spaces where children get together. But they're not drinking straws.
Other brands are available

Yes, the straws aren't used for drinking, but for delivering a microdose of fizzy sherbet, before being thrown away.

I can see how these pocket money novelties would appeal to kids. I can also see that they don't meet the functional definition of a straw. Unless things like this are specifically mentioned in any legislation, these might be the "straws" that survive the great cull.

Debating the essential nature of the sherbet straw could keep the lawyers and philosophers as busy as the great Jaffa cake controversy of yore.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Dead sardine is a red herring

So the Electoral Commission has fined Leave.EU a record £70,000 for breaking spending limits in the EU referendum. Leave.EU co-founder Arron Banks isn't happy:
“We view the Electoral Commission announcement as a politically-motivated attack on Brexit and the 17.4 million people who defied the establishment to vote for an independent Britain.”

He added: “The EC went big game fishing and found a few ‘aged’ dead sardines on the beach. So much for the big conspiracy!
“What a shambles. We will see them in court.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added that the commission was made up of “former MPs, liberal MPs, the SNP, former Labour leaders of councils, all sorts of people that all believe in Remain”.
Two things:

1. This is what Arron Banks has previously said about facts and persuasion:
What they [Political strategists Goddard Gunster] said early on was ‘facts don’t work’ and that’s it.

“The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally."
Which explains Banksy's fishy response to the fine. But if you can see what he's trying to do, you can get past the emotive language he's using to dodge the issue. The question here is "Did Leave.EU break the spending limits or didn't they?" Comparing the EC's findings to a dead sardine doesn't answer that question. That's no dead sardine, it's a red herring. As is his angry allegation of an "attack" on the "the 17.5 milion people who voted for Brexit."

It was an attack - on people who break the rules which are there to protect those 17.5 million people (and the rest of us) from cheats. The question, again, Banksy, is "Did Leave.EU break the rules?" The Electoral Commission think they did. If you want anyone to think differently, put up or shut up.

2. Having spent zero per cent of his statement addressing the substance of what Leave.EU did (or didn't) do, Banks had time to insinuate that his opponents were a bunch of conspiracy theorists, before launching into a conspiracy theory of his own which invited us to believe that the Electoral Commission itself was a vast establishment conspiracy. This from a man who wasn't above getting his underlings to smear an investigative journalist by photoshopping a tinfoil hat onto her picture:
I'll leave the last word to that same journalist:

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A special nation, just like all the others

"Just after the referendum someone predicted that the brexit negotiations would be a process of 'controlled capitulation'. Which has come to pass. At least our egregious sense of national exceptionalism is being nailed ever deeper into the cross of astounded leaver righteousness."
Perhaps the most egregious thing about the United Kingdom's sense of national exceptionalism is that it's almost exactly like everybody else's sense of national exceptionalism. This, for example, is what "taking back control" looks like in Viktor Orbán's Hungary:
A few weeks ago, in a small town in Hungary, two Catholic nuns were stopped on the street and berated by people yelling, “Migrants! Migrants!” After pushing the old ladies a bit, they called the police, believing they had seen Muslim women in a burqa and hijab. The police saved the nuns from the Christian crowd.
Those eejits might have been wearing the Magyar version of the MAGA hat but, from the UK, this sort of thing  looks depressingly familiar. Remember this story from 2014?
Nigel Farage’s local Ukip branch has rebuked the BBC for its ingrained liberal bias in holding a straw poll on the party leader in front of a London mosque. The mosque in question was Westminster Cathedral...

...This isn’t the first-time a rightwing party has got its buildings confused. The English Defence League mistook Brighton’s Royal Pavilion for a mosque last year.
Different flag, same stupid.

Lose that flag and other people's national exceptionalism starts to look a whole lot like our own:
The Orbán government’s first legislative move is the Stop Soros Act, which will force human rights groups to register as foreign agents and submit to regular police surveillance, fiduciary controls, and punitive taxes. Groups that have absolutely nothing to do with immigration — those looking after Hungarian citizens’ human rights, advocating education and prison reform, representing the homeless and ethnic and religious minorities, etc. — will be persecuted [Brits may not be able to get a decent cup of tea on the Continent, but at they'll at least have enough of a "hostile environment" to make them feel right at home]...

...Orbán’s semi-dictatorship ... unlike its post-Stalinist predecessor, is not statist or centralizing. Its guiding principles are arbitrary, capricious rule and, above all, informality. The real centers of power in Orbán’s Hungary are formally independent institutions (state foundations, semi-private companies, purportedly private firms living on state credit) that are outside the control of normal government administration and of judicial control as well [in the UK, think how policy is shaped by a shady spider's web of obscure, unaccountable interest groups - the Legatum Institute, the European Research Group, the TaxPayers' Alliance, Migration Watch, the Adam Smith Institute...]. Meanwhile, regular administration is being dismantled and well-trained civil servants are being thrown out in droves ["Brexit minister fuels conspiracy about 'rogue' civil servants"] . Drafting of bills happens behind the backs of ostensibly leading politicians and bureaucrats, and rushed through parliament [Henry VIII clauses, anybody?] — usually without discussion.
There's nothing special and unique about people insisting that they're special and unique.

Friday, 4 May 2018

Pestilence unpopular with public, apparently

When I wrote this, I wasn't asking a serious question, just being sarcastic:
These people [Brexiteers] have really taken the "never waste a good crisis" idea and run with it. I wonder how long it's going to be before one of them comes out as pro-global pandemic, given the widespread historical view that the Black Death gave medieval society the biggest stimulus to get its butt in gear that it had ever had?
But, once again, I fought Poe's Law and the law won. So, just under two years after I wrote this, Paul Oakley, Ukip’s general secretary, said this:
"Think of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. It comes along and it causes disruption and then it goes dormant, and that’s exactly what we are going to do. Our time isn’t finished because Brexit is being betrayed." 
Bless Oakley, he's even gone one better than me - not just "We love the plague" but "We are the plague." Which invites the obvious thought that voters should probably avoid them like the plague. Oh look, they just did. Like they did last year.
There's dancing in the streets as the people of the UK prepare to exit the European Union and celebrate their Independence Day...