Friday, 13 October 2017

Experts agree: no-deal Brexit catastrophe now completely impossible/inevitable

Depending on who you believe, the British government has now reached the cliff edge and either stepped back, or  maybe carried on walking into thin air.

The uncertainty's a tad worrying. Good job nothing important rests on the outcome...

When I said "enemy" I meant "friends", obvs

For Christ's sake,  Philip, it's Boris who's in charge of the diplomacy! Just remember that and everything will be fine...

Despotic diagnosis disorder

I learnt a new word today - "drapetomania."*

Drapetomania was a psychological disorder invented by the American physician Samuel A Cartwright, to account for the fact that some slaves tried to escape from their owners. Cartwright speculated that these unaccountable symptoms must have been triggered by slave owners who "made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals" and prescribed the remedy of "whipping the devil out of them" (the slaves, not the over-familiar slave owners).

It's an extreme example of medicalising behaviour which challenges existing power relations. Other examples which spring to mind are the abuse of psychiatry to silence dissent in the Soviet Union (a practice which now seems to be enjoying a revival under Putin and his fellow authoritarian leaders in different parts of the former USSR) and the made-up diagnosis of "hysteria" as a catch-all term to pathologise women who were uppity, unhappy, or otherwise failing to comply with male expectations.

There are less dramatic, but still sinister, pathologies being invented in the our own age. In 2012, Bruce Levine warned about children being given a new diagnosis - "opposition defiant disorder", complete with the auto-stigmatising acronym "ODD."
Of course, a stroppy kid who fails to comply with the requests of even a reasonable authority figure might just be a little brat, but that's not really a medical diagnosis. There are cases when adult authority figures are anything but reasonable and throwing a major strop would be a completely reasonable response from a sane child.

This is how authoritarian whims are camouflaged as objective judgements. Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to Donald J Trump. Most of the outrageous antics coming from the Trump White House seem designed to distract from more important things (for example policies which are either failing to happen, or which would be unpopular if people stopped thinking about the latest 3am Tweet for long enough to think about what the guy's actually doing). However, some of his outbursts do also shine a light on the sort of power relations behind labels like drapetomania, hysteria and ODD

The authoritarian mindset is all about enforcing certain norms of behaviour and swiftly punishing transgressors - in Trump's mind it's perfectly OK to try and get NFL players who take a knee to protest against police brutality, fired. But Trump himself is all about flouting norms, being more outrageous, offensive and abusive than all you other losers, because he can. His behaviour here is a useful reminder of the hypocrisy at the heart of most** authoritarianism - the less powerful are punished for putting a toe out of line, while unreasonable authority figures get to stomp all over the rules at will.

In the Trump clown show, the hypocrisy is out there. If you want to disguise and embed such blatant double standards in a whole society, it helps to have a science-y sounding diagnosis to explain why the powerless must be mad if they expect to get away with half the stuff their "betters" do as a matter of course. I'd diagnose this ailment as form of social perversion, and I'm calling it Despotic Diagnosis Disorder until somebody comes up with a better name.

**Not all - I guess there have been, and are, ascetic authoritarians who practice self-discipline whilst also disciplining others - Savonarola, warrior monks, abusive Christian Brothers and nuns in Catholic institutions, presumably living frugal lives of self-denial, while battering the living bejesus out of the unfortunate children in their care...

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Hell's kitchen, UK

After Pete North's autarky-based dystopia, here's another Pol Potty scheme to seize Brexit Year Zero as an opportunity to forcibly re-educate the UK's unworthy citizens. This time it's Gordon sodding Ramsay. The obnoxious, potty-mouthed reality star would like to see our idle, uppity UK workers redeemed by low-paid scullion labour after the Brexit revolution:*
“That level of influx of multinational workers in this country has sort of confirmed how lazy as a nation we are - when individuals from across the seas are prepared to come and work twice as hard for less money,” he said.

“If anything, it’s a big kick up the a--- for the industry, and it’s going to get back to the modern-day apprenticeship. So not only do I welcome that kind of change, but I think it’s going to put a lot more emphasis on homegrown talent, which I think we need to do.”
Two things:
  1. What a joy to hear lofty Brexiteers talking down to us lazy Brits and pontificating about industries that just need a kick up the bum. Almost as good as Pete North sneering about "the left bleating about austerity", a generation of "spoiled and self-indulgent" people and "tedious hipsters drinking energy drinks in pop-up cereal bar book shops or whatever it is they do these days." Sarcasm aside, here's the thing, guys. You lot have spent so long blubbering like spoiled kids about how anybody who says mean things about your pet project is a horrid, condescending metropolitan elitist that you've become a national joke. So - and I can't emphasise this strongly enough -  you don't get to talk down to anybody else until you've learned to stop wallowing in your self-pitying victim narrative and start taking argument and criticism on the chin like grown-ups.
  2. To be fair, there is the germ of a reasonable idea buried in Ramsay's recipe for Brexit baloney. It would help the UK to have more, and better, apprenticeships. But well-designed, effective schemes take planning and funding, two things in almost non-exisitent supply now that the nation's government has been paralysed by the logistical and financial challenges of trying to dismantle the UK's existing access to frictionless trade and free movement across the borders of its largest and closest trading partners, for no good reason. Yes, apprenticeships are good. And there really is no reason why you need to leave the European Union to have more, and better, apprenticeships. Is there, Germany?

*And it would be low-paid, by UK standards. Migrants don't "work twice as hard for less money." They work twice as hard because what they earn here is the equivalent of a good wage back home. Or at least it was, until the UK voted to push its currency off a cliff.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Flagellation for the nation

If you are of a nervous disposition, look away now. If you're still with me, prepare to stare into the abyss.

I used to think that most of the probable outcomes of Brexit ranged from bad to very bad, but I was holding on to one consoling thought. I thought that at least most of the people behind Brexit shared some political values that I could recognise.

I might disagree with Leave voters about means, but I kind of assumed that we were all working towards the same ends. I thought that the general goal of political change was to let as many people as possible thrive, prosper and enjoy more opportunities than they had under the status quo. Proponents of any change should at least believe that the change will make things better than they were before. That, I thought, was a bare minimum requirement.

I didn't believe that leaving the EU would make things better, which is why I voted Remain. Other people voted Leave. I disagreed with them, but I thought that at least that they sincerely believed that leaving would make things better and that nobody would stick with the idea if they started to think that leaving would actually make things worse.

How wrong I was. There are people who apparently believe that the effects of leaving will be catastrophic,  but that we still need to go ahead, because prosperity has made us spoiled and weak. Leavers who are actually looking forward to a ten year recession because it will make the UK population less "frivolous. "

I'm not sure what you'd call a philosophy of disciplining the population by deliberately engineering hardship and struggle - no merely political label covers it half so well as the word "horrific. " This long excerpt is probably as much as most people can stomach, but the brave, or masochistic, can read the whole thing here:
In the first year or so we are going to lose a lot of manufacturing. Virtually all JIT export manufacturing will fold inside a year. Initially we will see food prices plummet but this won't last. Domestic agriculture won't be able to compete and we'll see a gradual decline of UK production. UK meats will be premium produce and no longer affordable to most.

Once food importers have crushed all UK competition they will gradually raise their prices, simply because they can. Meanwhile wages will stay depressed and because of the collapse of disposable income and availability of staff, we can probably expect the service sector to take a big hit thus eliminating all the jobs that might provide a supplementary income.

Across the board we will see prices rising. There will be some serendipitous benefits but nothing that offsets the mass job losses. We will see a lot of foreign investment dry up and banking services will move to the EU. Dublin and Frankfurt. I expect that house prices will start to fall, but that's not going to do anyone any favours in the short to mid term.

Since a lot of freight will no longer be able to go through Calais we can expect a lot more use of the port at Hull so we may see an expansion in distribution centres in the North.

All in all we are looking at serious austerity as it will take a few years at least to rebuild our trade relations with third countries. If we go down the path of unilateral trade liberalisation then we will probably find it hard to strike new deals.

Meanwhile, since tax receipts will be way down we can expect major cuts to the forces and a number of Army redundancies. I expect to see RAF capability cut by a third. Soon enough it will become apparent that cuts to defence cannot go further so we can expect another round of cuts to council services. They will probably raise council tax to cope with it.

After years of the left bleating about austerity they are about to find out what it actually means. Britain is about to become a much more expensive pace to live. It will cause a spike in crime...

...Eventually things will settle down and we will get used to the new order of things. My gut instinct tells me that culturally it will be a vast improvement on the status quo. There will be more reasons to cooperate and more need to congregate. I expect to see a cultural revolution where young people actually start doing surprising and reckless things again rather than becoming tedious hipsters drinking energy drinks in pop-up cereal bar book shops or whatever it is they do these days. We'll be back to the days when students had to be frugal and from their resourcefulness manage to produce interesting things and events...

...Effectively we are looking at a ten year recession. Nothing ever experienced by those under 50. Admittedly this is not the Brexit I was gunning for. I wanted a negotiated settlement to maintain the single market so that we did not have to be substantially poorer, but, in a lot of ways I actually prefer this to the prospect of maintaining the 2015 status quo with ever degraded politics with increasingly less connection to each other.

I'm of the view that in recent years people have become increasingly spoiled and self-indulgent, inventing psychological problems for themselves in the absence of any real challenges or imperatives to grow as people. I have always primarily thought Brexit would be a reboot on British politics and culture. In a lot of ways it will bring back much of what is missing. A little austerity might very well make us less frivolous.
My emphasis.  I'm pretty sure that a lot of people in the UK didn’t have a very clear idea what they were voting for last June. But I'm damn sure it wasn't for this.

Oh, and by the way, screw you, Pete North and screw your "cultural revolution" and screw your "new order of things", you ideologically-addled maniac.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Statesman, neologist, towel cannon

I think that the style of appearing "presidential" is probably overrated, in relation to the substance of actually getting stuff done. Which is just as well, now that the bar for "presidential" has been set so low that only an earthworm could get under it:
President Trump thinks he came up with the word “fake"...
...“I think one of the greatest of all terms I’ve come up with is ‘fake,’” he told Huckabee.

“I guess other people have used it, perhaps, over the years, but I’ve never noticed it...”

...In his Huckabee interview, Trump once again reignited his feud with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz while talking up his much-mocked appearance in Puerto Rico last week.

While saying Cruz did “a very poor job” responding to Hurricane Maria, he spoke lovingly of the paper towel rolls he tossed to a crowd in a San Juan church in one of the most notorious moments from his day trip.

“They had these beautiful, soft towels. Very good towels,” Trump said.

“I came in and there was a crowd of a lot of people. And they were screaming and they were loving everything. I was having fun, they were having fun. They said, ‘Throw ‘em to me! Throw ‘em to me, Mr. President!
I, for one, welcome our annelid overlord.

Sarcasm aside, I sometimes wonder who's stupider - Wormy McWormface, or the rest of us for letting him dominate our attention economy with his endless supply of freakish idiocy.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Afterthought on the Labour Party and golf

A week or so ago, Marc Goldberg at Harry's Place cited a post in favour of banning golf by some obscure member of a Labour Facebook group as yet more proof of the creeping Stalinism of the left.

The idea that this was sinister, or any more than somebody letting off steam sounded a bit silly to me (the obvious possibility, that this suggestion was tongue-in-cheek, rather than sinister, didn't seem to have occurred to Marc). At this point, I thought it'd be interesting to quote the de facto patron saint of Harry's Place, George Orwell, on golf:
Since it [cricket] needs about 25 people to make up a game it necessarily leads to a lot of social  The inherently snobbish game is golf, which causes whole stretches of country-side to be turned into carefully-guarded class preserves.
From a review of Cricket Country by Edmund Blunden in the Manchester Evening News, 20th April 1944.

That old quote about the Battle of Waterloo being won on the playing fields of Eton may be apocryphal, but the idea that the ruling class fights its class war from the clubhouse and fairway is as plausible now as it was in 1944.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Calmer chameleon

"Sterling bounces as PM May says will provide 'calm leadership'" it says here.

So I guess the Tories will just keep calm and carry on doing what they've been doing. Denouncing the idea of an energy price cap as madness from a Marxist universe, before promising us an energy price cap, claiming to be too busy with the serious business of delivering Brexit to do anything irresponsible like calling a snap election, then calling one, then telling everybody they were "not prepared" for the snap election they'd cunningly tried to surprise their opponents with, pledging to withdraw from the European Court of Justice, then saying we're staying in for the duration of the next parliament, saying they'll let student tuition fees increase in 2016, then promising to freeze them in 2017, overseeing a massive slump in social housing, then promising a new generation of council houses, trying to make older people use their property to fund their social care, then dropping the policy, then claiming that nothing had changed...

As calm as a chameleon trying to colour match a flashing disco floor...

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Santa Claus 2: This time it's Easter

So archaeologists may have found the last resting place of Saint Nicholas. Cue the inevitable headlines:
Santa Claus's tomb may have been uncovered beneath Turkish church 
Of course, the original Saint Nick had nothing to do with all that sleigh bells in the snow stuff. There is, however, another Saint Nicholas who would have looked far more at home in a winter wonderland, not to mention a winter palace, namely the sanctified Nicholas II, former Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't know they'd canonised the old bugger until today, when I came across a mention of his sainthood in this article.* But sure enough, they did:
The canonization of the Romanovs was the elevation to sainthood of the last Imperial Family of Russia – Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei – by the Russian Orthodox Church. The family was killed by the Bolsheviks on 17 July 1918 at the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg; the site of their execution is now beneath the altar of the Church on Blood. They are variously designated as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and as passion bearers by the church inside Russia.

The family was canonized on 1 November 1981 as new martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Their servants, who had been killed along with them, were also canonized.
Coming from a land of snow, ice and reindeer, Saint Nick II fits in rather better with the contemporary Santa mythos than his Turkish namesake, but the fit isn't exact. There really should be something about sacks of presents in there, too, but though the Romanovs were into extravagant gifting, it's a tough sell to make Easter eggs sound Christmassy, however much festive bling they're encrusted with.

*Or maybe I did know, but just forgot. Age-related memory loss, here I come!

UK's future now as strong and stable as Theresa May

Ahem. While you were cringing in sympathy / laughing your socks off at the Conservatives' conference malfunction, this was happening:
The Trump administration has joined a group of countries objecting to a deal between the UK and EU to divide valuable agricultural import quotas, in a sign of how the US and others plan to use Brexit to force the UK to further open its sensitive market for farm products.

President Donald Trump has been one of the most prominent international backers of Brexit and has vowed to quickly negotiate a “beautiful trade deal” with the UK after it leaves the EU. But his administration’s objection to a preliminary plan, agreed to by Brussels and London over how to split the EU’s existing “tariff rate quotas” under World Trade Organisation rules after the UK, assumes its own WTO obligations following Brexit illustrates how Washington is likely to drive a hard bargain.

It also undermines efforts by the May government in London this week to portray the WTO deal with the EU as a significant win, something made doubly painful by Mr Trump’s past backing of Brexit. 
Looking on the bright side, at least I can now just keep on recycling the same old meme for ever and ever and it'll never be out of date...
This is also fine.

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

In my unofficial contest for the most hilarious response to Theresa May's epic disaster of a party conference speech, the winner is ... Alex Deane's piece for City A.M:
A calm conference ends with Teflon Theresa 

As the 2017 party conference season draws to a close, the left will think that it won the battle of the summits.

Labour’s conference on the coast was larger, rallyish, and more upbeat that the Conservative meeting this year – although it was more of a carnival celebrating the central figure of the feast than a conventional political meeting.

But the Tory conference passed off well enough, with all of the much-puffed possibilities for upsets which occupied so much press time in the run-up to it evaporating on first contact with reality.

In terms of the biggest issue of our time, the party in the country at large is far more united on supporting Brexit and getting on with it than the outbursts from some among the parliamentary membership might imply.

Opportunities to make this point crystal clear were certainly not missed by the grassroots at drinks parties and in fringe meetings.

This is useful spine-stiffening stuff. Our media talks as if Brexit is tomorrow. We have time. David Davis’ calm and measured discussion of the negotiations, alongside Liam Fox’s optimism on the trade front, were the key Brexit takeaways in a process that still has years to run.

As far as leadership muttering goes, every party endures “noises off”, and nothing in the Tory environment rivals even for a moment the Labour vendettas of the Blair-Brown years.

The Tory consensus in Manchester was that Theresa May will see us through Brexit and beyond, and indeed the Prime Minister’s tenacity can only be admired.

She battled through her speech with a challenging cough, her perseverance and humanity being the antithesis of the “maybot” she is said to be – something that the public will see is to her credit. Teflon Theresa marches on.
I'd be even more impressed if Alex managed to keep a straight face while writing that. If that was me, I'd have ended up involuntarily spraying coffee out of my nose all over the keyboard.

Alex Deane is a way better satirist than the joker who handed May a P45 mid-speech.  Respect.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Boris and Theresa in Tory love triangle

Boris Johnson’s “roaring lion” speech at this years’ Conservative Party conference was a bit like an early Christmas present. Not like a Christmas present you’d actually want to get, but more like a gift from somebody inspired by one of the madder verses of The Twelve Days of Christmas. Not that the whole song's bonkers - you could imagine somebody being happy to receive, say, five gold rings, or even three French hens (either dead, if the recipient was a non-vegetarian, or alive, if gifted to somebody with enough land to keep them on, who enjoyed fresh eggs and the sound of contented chickens scratching about in the dirt). But Johnson's offering was more like “You’ll never guess what he went and got me. Ten bloody lords a-leaping. What was he thinking?”

In this spirit, Johnson gave us all one lion a-roaring. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but it’s not exactly the most practical gift. After a couple of days’ roaring, the neighbours will be wanting to kill me and, anyway, exactly where am I supposed to keep a ruddy great lion? And even if I can afford to keep it in bloody hunks of red meat, how, exactly, am I supposed to feed it and clear up all the lion poo without getting my head bitten off?

OK, I know it’s not a real lion, just a figure of speech, but a metaphorical lion’s still not much of a gift to me, or to anybody else.

The intention was presumably to make the audience feel good, but the metaphor’s getting pretty tired. When it comes to the personification of the nation, I reckon we hit peak lion in the high noon of Empire, somewhere between the mid Nineteenth Century and the outbreak of the First World War. When I was a lad of seventeen or so, our history text books frequently illustrated the history of Empire and great power rivalry with unfunny Punch cartoons from that period, depicting the mighty British lion, usually lording it over the inferior symbolic beasts of lesser nations (the Gallic cockerel, the Russian bear, or – after 1871 - the German eagle). In the cartoons, colonised, or non-European people generally didn’t warrant a heraldic national symbol of their own, in which case the British lion was shown menacing a racist caricature of a villainous Fu Manchu-style Chinaman, or a wide-eyed, cringing African.

You can see how this sort of stuff might appeal to a man at the centre of the British establishment who still thinks it’s fine to dismiss black people as "piccaninnies" with an "ancestral dislike of the British Empire" and fancies himself in the role of tousle-maned British lion in a “l'état, c'est moi” sort of way. But you’d have to be a century or so behind the zeitgeist* for this sort of dusty rhetoric to really set your pulse racing and your spirit soaring.

Which brings me to the intended audience – presumably elderly, reactionary nationalists, more interested in the vague symbolism of roaring lions and taking back poorly-defined forms of control than in the boring nitty-gritty of actual policy. Compare and contrast with the sort of stuff coming from the hapless Team May since the election. At least there was a belated decision to promise to do something about stuff like house building, council housing and student debt, because it’s just occurred to them that young people loaded down with debt, but without a hope in hell of buying, or even affordably renting a place of their own won’t be the next generation of Tory voters. It might not have been well delivered, colourful, or convincing, but in terms of content, May's conference speech was still streets ahead of Johnson's empty bluster.

What we’re looking at here is triangulation – nicking some of your political opponents’ most popular policies for tactical advantage, or, in crusty old Tory huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ language, “Shooting the other chap’s fox.” It’s a tactic which has worked in the past, but now it’s running into trouble. This is the problem. Since the glory days when Cameron and Osborne controlled the political narrative, the Tories have triangulated not once, but twice. First, they tried to outflank Ukip by stealing their nationalist clothes, as Boris the Lion King is still trying to do. Then, after Labour turned from unelectable no-hopers into a clear and present electoral danger, they decided to triangulate against Labour with a new offer for the youth.

The trouble is, when you triangulate not with one, but with two, opposing groups, with mutually incompatible outlooks and interests, what you end up with isn’t triangulation, but a love triangle. Just like that old serial love rat, Boris, the Tory party is wooing two partners at once. One is Eurosceptic and old, often with a property-owning stake in the baby boomer settlement and a lingering suspicion of diversity and free movement. The other is young, cosmopolitan and socially liberal, but insecure, debt-ridden and with no experience of the housing ladder, except when they’re being ripped off by private landlords. Neither partner is going to take kindly to the Tories running off with the other, but there’s no way the Tories can keep them both happy at once.  These people are playing a zero sum game that can only end in tears.

Of course, this isn’t just a Conservative problem. The Labour party, too, is trying to hold together a coalition of youthful Europhiles and older Europhobes, but for now, they seem to be making a better job of it, the two other sides of the love triangle each apparently loving Jeremy to bits and believing, against all reason, that he’ll exclusively love only their side back in return. It must be making Boris, that floppy-haired old Don Juan, green with envy to see how a man who looks like a mild-mannered geography teacher can apparently keep the other two parties in his own love triangle in adoring thrall, rather than being involved in the bitter psychodrama the Tories are going through as they try to sweet-talk both Ukippers and da yoof. Of course, it can’t last – eventually, even dream-boat Jeremy will have to do something disappoint one or other of his two sets of admirers. But he’s not in power yet, so he doesn’t actually have to do anything which would really upset either one of his two constituencies at the moment.

The Tories, who are (sort of) in power, don’t have any such luxury. They actually have to do stuff, whilst trying to placate each suspicious group by telling it what it thinks it wants to hear. Unfortunately both messages, reactionary nationalism and a re-discovery of the pre-Thatcherite social democratic consensus, are quite different from the globalist free-marketing There Is No Alternative swagger the Tories were rocking just a couple of years back, so both messages sound desperate and  insincere, as well as inconsistent, to their intended audiences.

I don’t know how this will all end, although “badly” seems to cover most of the possibilities.

*Even if the Labour Party really were stuck in the 1970s, as the Tories love to claim, that would still put them a comfortable hundred years or so ahead of Empire Boy, the Conservatives' current Great White Hope.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Red Ted

Philip Hammond claims that "hard-left extremist infiltrators" in the Labour Party are trying to drag the UK back to the 1970s, which would be a Bad Thing:
"Since 1979, when Britain turned its back on the policies of Corbyn and McDonnell revival show this week, living standards in this country have doubled ... It’s an argument between nostalgic idealism on Corbyn’s part and pragmatism on our part … Every country except North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba and Zimbabwe has adopted that system. What he’s offering them is an illusion, a pretence."
Two things:
  1. Trend growth in living standards continued at roughly the same rate before and after 1979 (the only noticeable slump was after the 2008 global financial crisis)
  2. Nobody in the 1970s was agitating for renationalisation, or for a tax hike like the one in the 2017 Labour manifesto (45% tax on earnings above £80,000 and then 50p for each pound earned over £123,000), because in 1971, under Conservative prime minister Ted Heath, the railways, coal industry and energy supply companies were already in public ownership and the top rate of tax on earned income was already 75% (a surcharge of 15% on investment income kept the top rate on that income at 90%).
A hard-left extremist from the 1970s

If you really think that a political economy that's slightly to the right of Ted Heath's UK would be dangerously radical, maybe you should consider the possibility that it's you who's the ideological extremist here.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

The answer is "no" in both cases

Marc Goldberg at Harry's Place has a question:
Will Labour Ban Golf?

It’s both got comedy value and also scares the crap out of me. Just what would a Labour government be capable of doing to Great Britain?
It's this post on a Facebook group that apparently frightens Marc:
Simon Warwick Beresford wrote "Should a Labour Government ban Golf? [his caps] Only rich people can afford to play it. It's boring to watch. It takes up a lot of space that could be used for housing or woodland. And apparently golf course maintenance uses up a lot of fresh water."
Don't get me wrong, there are things that concern me about Labour:
  • Will Labour betray the overwhelming majority its supporters (particularly the younger ones, who have the most to lose) by continuing to back Brexit?
  • Whether or not Labour backs away from Brexit, will the Conservatives manage to pin the blame for their own mess on Labour, just as they succeeded in convincing the country that the last recession was nothing to do with the massive global financial crisis of 2007-08 and everything to do with Labour "maxxing out the national credit card" in some imaginary demented orgy of spending on sure start centres, libraries and disability benefits?
  • Will Labour really crack down on anti-semitism (which is nowhere near as big a problem as it is for the right but still isn't down to an acceptable level - i.e. zero - in an otherwise mostly socially progressive party)?
  • Will Labour be diverted into solving non-problems like peoples' "very real concerns" over immigration, rather than pressing ahead with fundamental reforms that would materially help the less well off, like introducing a Land Value Tax, and effective rent controls?
But am I going to lose a moment's sleep because somebody I've never heard of on a Labour Facebook group is mouthing off about banning golf? If I'm going to worry, I might as well worry about a slightly more plausible scenario, like the mysterious planet Nibiru wiping us all out on its re-scheduled date with destiny, October 15th.

Fortunately, I believe that a tinfoil hat can protect me from the worst effects of a strangely invisible rogue planet hitting the Earth, so I'm off to start making mine right now. In the unlikely event of Nibiru not wiping us all out in a couple of weeks, my shiny hat will also come in handy for shielding my brainwaves from the Corbynite thought police when they come sweeping the area for dissident underground golfers.*

*I've never played golf and have no interest in it, but I do have a couple of unfortunate jumpers that might be mistaken for golf attire by the over-zealous cadres of the Junior Anti-Golf League.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Legitimate concern trolls

We hear a lot about the "legitimate concerns" of "ordinary people" about immigration.  But we hear very little about how those concerns have been deliberately inflamed by an elite clique of well-funded, well-connected propagandists, close to the heart of government.

Here's a brief portrait of the British establishment's favourite concern trolls from the Ducksoap blog:
“We [the Migration Watch pressure group] are an independent, non political body which is concerned about the present scale of immigration into the UK.”

Civil servant Andrew Green created Migration Watch as a tool to be used by governments to help the latter justify anti-immigrant policy. Thus, the words “independent” and “non political” in the think-tank’s declaration are vital to ensure the government can claim, falsely, to be advised by a separate unbiased entity. Green’s assistance to successive governments’ anti-immigration policies was rewarded with a peerage in 2014.

Migration Watch focuses on blaming immigration for all of Britain’s economic woes and consequential issues with the NHS, housing, employment etc. It is standard misdirection, accompanied by comical abuse of statistics.
It is, by now, a bit late to point out that scapegoating minorities for political advantage never ends well, but it's only fair that professional migrant-bashers like Andrew Green at least take their share of the blame for the outbreak of xenophobic self-harm currently paralysing the UK.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more! Netflix does murder sleep”

"At Netflix, we are competing for our customers' time, so our competitors include Snapchat, YouTube, sleep, etc."
Reed Hastings, Netflix CEO, as quoted in this six minute talk on the attention economy:

Fantastic though the quote is, I don't think Netflix is the worst offender here. After all, it's an entertainment company, so it's an open secret that its products only exist to pleasurably divert your attention.

It's far worse to have your attention stolen by relentless advertisers and marketers yammering ceaselessly, and far less entertainingly, for ever bigger slices of your bandwidth. Worse still are the infotainment and social media industries, which dangle the promise of a meaningful connection with the significant humans in your life, or an informed take on what's happening in the world in general, but too often fill the headspace that should be available for worthwhile interaction and understanding with a distorted, abbreviated, decontextualised blizzard of trivia and sensation.

You can forewarn and forearm yourself against the siren voices of distraction but, as the Odyssey warned, you should take extreme precautions if you want to play with temptation without being lured onto the rocks.
This guy won't pay to hear the Sirens. You won't believe what happens next!

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Noblesse oblige

How I miss the days when our rapacious, out-of-touch elite still had a modicum of class and decorum:
At Mrs. Rivett's inquest I wore a hat because of my rank as a Peeress of the Realm and I wore the same outfit on each of the four days it lasted as it is vulgar to use a tragic and grave matter such as an inquest as an opportunity to display one's wardrobe.
From the web site of Lady Lucan and/or a forthcoming series entitled "Things Melania Trump would be least likely to say."

Although, to be fair, at least Melania's short-fingered vulgarian of a husband hasn't actually killed any of his domestic staff, at least to my knowledge.


Tuesday, 26 September 2017

We velcro meerkats to your eyeballs

Is the tongue-in-cheek brand awareness campaign lurking under the hashtag dontsayvelcro so annoyingly patronising that it can be written off as a failure?

Or is the annoyance a feature, not a bug, deliberately engineered to fix the brand in the public's awareness by being as unignorably irritating as those wretched advertising meerkats?

I'd like to believe that the numpties who came up with this rubbish have failed miserably, but deep in my cynical heart I think they've probably just suceeded in trolling us for fun and profit. And I guess my failure to ignore them just illustrated how it works.

King George "disappointed"; Independence Day cancelled

It's not true to say that Americans don't know any history, or understand irony. But if you listen to some of the statements coming out of the US State Department, you can see how people might get that impression.

Apparently, officials in the USA have pronounced themselves "disappointed" that some people in Iraqi Kurdistan just voted for independence, without considering how mad that sounds coming from Americans.

Er, guys, can you imagine how George Washington would have reacted to a headline like this?
Britain "deeply disappointed" by American Colonies' independence vote
Do you really think that would have changed his mind? Just asking.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Free speech - a clarification

The American alt-right recently cancelled an advertised "Free Speech Week" event. This was supposed to feature Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter and Steve Bannon explaining to students how an alleged politically correct fear of causing offence was stifling free expression.

You might have dismissed this as yet more self-serving nonsense from a bunch of abusive trolls, but it quickly turned out that, liked a stopped clock, even this bunch can be right twice a day.

Freedom of expression is under threat, in almost precisely the way they'd been warning us about. A forthright group of athletes decided to express their point of view by disrupting a commonly-accepted piece of etiquette.

This piece of radical free expression triggered America's Snowflake-In-Chief who, instead of dealing with the rough and tumble of robust debate and freedom of opinion, just whined that somebody really ought to sack the horrible people who'd upset him so.

So apparently we do need this failed free speech event to be revived and re-scheduled. But not at a university, where most students should already be quite capable of analysing and debating ideas on their merits.

No, the venue that really needs a long and detailed lecture on the merits of free expression and the marketplace of ideas is that fragile orange bubble of safe space currently floating back and forth between 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Mar-a-Lago, Florida.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Breaking: pound shop Oswald Mosley to undergo trial by TV (licence)

"Nigel Farage has threatened to stop paying his licence fee unless the BBC apologises for reporting that he had "blood on his hands" over the death of a Polish man in the wake of the EU referendum."

If you think that a broadcaster has seriously defamed you, I think the correct response is "see you in court", not "I'm probably thinking about not paying for my TV licence."

Come on, Nige, I'm sure you and your rich mates can have a whip round and get you lawyered up. Defend your reputation properly, man. Or are you scared you might lose?

Monday, 18 September 2017

Ask another silly question

They're coming thick and fast now. After "Is it time to place our future in Boris's hands and prepare for new leadership?" (no, obviously), here's another question with an even more obvious answer.

Who should you trust to give an accurate assessment of how much the United Kingdom pays the European Union - the head of the UK Statistics Authority, or Michael Gove, a man who believes that it's possible for all schools to be above average?

Please tell me that there's nobody left who still needs help working out the correct answer.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

What lurks beneath the smirk

It's easy to criticise a public figure for having a "gaffe" or a "car crash interview." But most of us, if we're being honest, couldn't have done much better.

A lot what we think of as success is performative, especially in these days of self-branding. The skill of coming across as warm, persuasive, interesting, confident and fluent may not always be a reliable indicator of being well-briefed, of having good ideas, or of being competent, but it's still a skill, and one that few of us have reliably mastered. I know in my heart of hearts that most public figures performing below par in a "car crash interview" are probably doing about as well as I'd do on a good day. It's easy to mock, especially if you disagree with the person in question, but generating a convincing public persona is hard.

The gaffes you can enjoy guilt-free are the ones when a public figure blurts something damning that's consistent with both the character they usually present and what they actually do.

Which brings us to George Osborne who, apparently, won't rest until Theresa May is “chopped up in bags in my freezer” and his rival for Arrogant Smug-Faced Git of the Century, Martin Shkreli, who's been on Facebook, offering $5,000 for a strand of Hillary Clinton's hair for reasons I'd rather not know about.

So their fantasies and obsessions are as toxic as the things we already know they've done to people less powerful than themselves, and the way they bear themselves in public. On one level, there's no mystery here. Hiding beneath the arrogant persona of a weirdly callous, self-satisfied bastard is a weirdly callous self-satisfied bastard. No hidden depths, just surface, like the guy in American Psycho.

What does puzzle me, in these days when image is king, is how a person can get so far in life while still rocking the crazed stalker/psycho killer look. Given the way we speak of an unbalanced aristocrat as "eccentric" and a mentally ill person on a bus as a "loony", I suspect that the halo effect of already possessing a large stash of cash plays a role.

Anyway, on to my musical interlude of the day. Bet you can't listen to this without picturing George Osborne adopting that strangely David Byrne-like power pose:

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Sweet as a nut

"Poundland Nutters: Mental health row over 'offensive' sweets"
Offensive Poundland nutters? Never mind mental health rows, Ukip should sue them for copyright infringement. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

A firm, but fair, refugee policy

This, from Hayley Dixon in the Telegraph, is so ripe with (unintentional?) irony it's fit to burst:
British holidaymakers say that they have been abandoned starving on a hurricane-hit island as evacuation planes leave half empty because they have no permission to take "refugees" from the UK.

Anger is growing over the "disgraceful" Government response to the disaster as families of those on one of the worst hit islands say there has been no information and no help despite the growing lawlessness and the fact they are running out of their last scraps of food and water. 
The father of one of the British refugees complained that:
"They are just trying to survive. They are being told to go to the airport each day but the Dutch and the French are just looking after their own, if you have got the wrong passport then you don't fly. "
I'd have thought that a Brit, of all people, would have understood that it is the right and duty of every sovereign nation to create a hostile environment for people who end up in the wrong place with the wrong passport. British refugees should count themselves lucky that the French equivalent of Katie Hopkins hasn't suggested machine-gunning stranded Brits yet.

And if you still think refugee British holiday makers have it bad, spare a thought for the residents of British territories in the Caribbean. Facing a hungry, uncertain future in the shattered wreckage of their homes and communities, the British government has decided to send them Boris Johnson to make their misery complete. Now that's what I call a hostile environment.

Monday, 11 September 2017

The Dutch are stopping accidents with this one weird trick

If you're a car driver, situational awareness shouldn't end when you turn off the ignition key. Between 2011 and 2015, carelessly-opened car doors killed eight people and reportedly injured 3,108, according to UK government figures. Fortunately, you can be part of the solution, if you just do this:
...[Cycling UK is] urging ministers to have the "Dutch reach" taught in driving tests. This manoeuvre involves the driver or passenger on the right-hand side of the car opening the door with the left hand - forcing them to turn and see if anyone's approaching.

It's a mandatory part of Dutch driving tests. 
It's simple, it works, and I can't imagine why anyone would object to making this tiny modification to their car door-opening behaviour.

Of course, there's bound to be some aggrieved motorist out there who'll go off on some mad rant about how he's* used his other hand all his life without dooring a cyclist, how it's always cyclists who are a menace to all law-abiding road users and how we wouldn't need this latest example of health and safety gone mad if all other road users except him weren't idiots.

It shouldn't need pointing out that this sort of whingeing is nonsense, but it probably does. Part of the problem is the tribal "us and them" mentality which unites some motorists in their hatred of cyclists (and vice versa). The thing is, you can always find individual examples of somebody else on the road behaving badly, including cyclists - the recent case of the wanton and furious cycle killer, Charlie Alliston, comes to mind.

The Alliston case, in turn, generated this headline in Cycling Weekly - "The media coverage of the Charlie Alliston case should be disturbing for cyclists everywhere", as if criticism of one person's selfish irresponsibility needs to be toned down, lest it reflect badly on the rest of the cycling tribe.

The thing is, like a lot of people, I'm sometimes a pedestrian, sometimes a motorist, sometimes a cyclist, sometimes a public transport user. I am large, I contain multitudes. None of these identities is a problem if I behave with care and consideration. Any of them might be if I don't.

The differences between the various forms of transport shouldn't be tribal. The only distinction which matters is an ascending hierarchy of responsibility, related to how much damage your chosen form of transport could do. An individual cyclist might be as careless as an individual motorist, but it seems beyond obvious to me that the motorist's carelessness is a bigger problem, because you can do more damage with a motor vehicle - there's a reason why there have been several terrorists attacks involving motor vehicles being deliberately driven into crowds, but none involving disaffected misfits deliberately trying to create mass carnage with a push bike.

*It might be a she, but I'll bet folding money that it will be a he.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The stork has landed

Well, Nigel Farage’s new best friend has turned out to be a real charmer, hasn't she?

Just in case you missed it, Beatrix von Storch, the MEP from the German far-right AfD party who invited Nigel Farage to address the party faithful at the Spandau Citadel, got into a spot of bother last year. She reportedly said that police should be allowed to shoot women and children trying to enter Germany illegally.

It seems that her comments were reported correctly, since she subsequently issued a weird, impersonal retraction, saying “the use of firearms against children is not permitted”, which she immediately qualified by adding “women are a different matter”.

"The use of weapons against them can therefore be permitted within the narrow legal framework."

Well, I'm glad she managed to skilfully defuse that potential controversy with a hilarious Adolf Eichmann impression.

Her Trumpian clarification was apparently good enough to satisfy the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group, which was jointly led by Nigel Farage. An EFDD source disingenuously claimed that “Beatrix has agreed to uphold the charter of the group, publicly apologized and issued a statement that neither AfD nor herself want to shoot people at the border", when what she'd actually said was that the police weren't technically allowed to open fire on women AND children - just the women.

There's your banality of evil, right there.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Inspirational spiritual quote of the day

"My spiritual side took over and I kicked her in the face.”
Abdullah Cakiroglu, explaining how the sight of a 23-year-old nurse wearing shorts on a bus left him with no alternative but to attack her.

Fortunately,  the assault was captured on CCTV,  so Mr Cakiroglu will be able to continue his exploration of the ineffable during a spiritual retreat of three years and ten months, spent in the contemplative atmosphere of a Turkish prison cell.

Friday, 8 September 2017

"Exceptional performance" Leviticus-style

I partly agree with universities minister Jo Johnson that there's something deeply wrong with a higher education system that combines massive payouts for superstar vice-Chancellors with massive lifetime debts for students. But, under current circumstances, I can't help thinking that the Jo Johnson's chosen metric for assessing a vice-Chancellor's worth is a bit topsy-turvy. When you turn his value metric upside down, by slightly re-writing this Telegraph article, the comparison seems fairer:
The Government faces fines if it fails to justify paying the Prime Minister more than university vice-Chancellors

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) will unveil plans today that will see the Government forced to demonstrate that a prime ministerial salary of over £150,000 represents value for money.

The announcement comes amid growing concern about the largesse of Parliament where a lame-duck Prime Minister now enjoys substantial remuneration with a grace and favour London home, travel perks and a gold plated pension.

In a speech at Westminster, IPSA Chair, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, will say that he aims to curb the “spiralling" growth of prime ministerial pay packets and that “exceptional pay can only be justified by exceptional performance.”

This means that the Prime Minister will have to demonstrate that she is providing the UK with a high quality of leadership and a plausible chance of good economic prospects, as opposed to merely holding office in order to divert blame for a series of catastrophic errors away from her ambitious colleagues, who are currently preparing to sacrifice her just as soon as she has served her purpose as collective blame-magnet.

Professor Kennedy is currently working on an updated pay scale for Powerless Sacrificial Victim In-Chief, based on the closest industry equivalent, a goat. This would equate to a prime ministerial allowance of around one to two kilos of hay per day, minus whatever she might forage in fields of wheat. 
There, fixed it for you, Jo.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The six children of Pope Jacob the First

The MP [Jacob Rees-Mogg] joked that as a Catholic male he is eligible to become Pope, and that if the holy ghost called upon him to do so "I will do my duty".
I guess they'll need to squeeze a few extra beds into the Papal Apartments to accommodate Jacob's wife, Helena de Chair, his six children, Alfred Wulfric Leyson Pius, Thomas Wentworth Somerset Dunstan, Peter Theodore Alphege, Anselm Charles Fitzwilliam, Mary Anne Charlotte Emma and Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher, along with their long-suffering nanny, Veronica Crook.

Although The Birmingham Mail assumed that Jacob Rees-Mogg was joking, it's also plausible that the obsessively Eurosceptic Catholic knows as little of the actual rules and procedures governing the Holy Roman and Apostolic Church as he does of those pertaining to the European Union. Which would explain the holy mess his lot are making of this Brexit malarkey.

Mind you, there are precedents, of sorts. There are passages in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, as well as in the Epistle to the Corinthians which suggest that Saint Peter was married, and Pope Honorius IV, who died in April 1287, was the last pope to have been married (albeit before he entered Holy Orders). Several pontiffs, most notoriously Alexander VI, are known to have fathered offspring, some of them while in office, so maybe the Moggster's right to consider a position even more elevated than leader of the Conservative Party.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Treason and plot

It's twenty years since Princess Diana's car crash induced a section of the UK's public to let it all out in a well-publicised display of unrestrained public grief. This surprised a lot of people who thought that we were all far too restrained and stoical to behave like that.

Twenty years on, the Brexit car crash has triggered a similar emotional ketchup burst, with the crucial difference that what's now being unbottled isn't tears, but an incoherent howl of rage. This furious screed against "the EU side – and their treacherous Remoaner allies", by Yorkshire Post hack Bill Carmichael, is fairly typical.

Any idea of the UK as a place of calm emotional understatement has gone out of the window again, now that the newspapers, which once pronounced us united in collective sorrow, are hurling frothing accusations of treason around like confetti.

Treason is a serious charge, so should I start being worried?

Technically, probably not - I'm not currently planning to murder, conspire against, or declare war on, the monarch or her family, seduce Prince Phillip, the Duchess of Cornwall, or Princess Kate, "injure or alarm the sovereign", kill specific VIPs like "the chancellor" (of the exchequer?), or a high court judge.

It's a pretty solid defence in actual law, but I don't know if it would stand up in the revolutionary court where the Brexiteers are already busy pronouncing the judgement of history on the designated enemies of the people.

What I do know is that I'm technically on safer ground than those Sun readers who declared in a recent poll that that they don't want our fuddy-duddy royal heir Prince Charles to succeed to the throne and would like him to step aside for his media-friendly son Prince Will, with his charming wife and photogenic sprogs. The Treason Act 1702 specifically says that it's treason :
...if any person or persons ... shall endeavour to deprive or hinder any person who shall be the next in succession to the crown ... from succeeding after the decease of her Majesty (whom God long preserve) to the imperial crown of this realm and the dominions and territories thereunto belonging. 
Here's a simple propsal - instead of trying to shoot the messenger whenever their pet project seem to be running into trouble, why don't the Brexiteers turn their large-bore rage cannon against this peculiar succession narrative being propagated by the foreign-owned Murdoch press and their treacherous Wilhelmine allies? Just a thought.

Just to drive the point home, this is where we end up when the idea of treason stops being a joke about the obscure offences the Queen might send you to the Tower of London for and starts being thrown about  as a serious accusation.
Five serving members of the British army have been arrested on suspicion of being members of the recently banned neo-Nazi group National Action...

... The slogan on its former website was: “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” which was the only statement given in court by [Jo] Cox’s murderer, Thomas Mair.
Nice company Bill Carmichael's keeping.

Friday, 1 September 2017

A degraded ecosystem

Tom Pride has written one of the best takedowns of one of the worst pieces of journalism we've seen so far this year.

This was a case where the mainstream press mangled the basic facts about a vulnerable child and the temporary foster parents who were looking after her into a inflammatory, sectarian fairy story as fake as anything the Breitbart propaganda organ's autofellator-in-chief could have made up.

Tom lists the ten most outrageous lies, along with the real facts of the case as we know them, and thinks that the journalists responsible have been so malicious and/or incompetent that they clearly deserve to be sacked.

I wouldn't be sorry to see the backs of the hacks in question, either, but I'm also sceptical about the idea that chronic misinformation from the press is a problem that can be solved by chucking out a few bad apples.

As far as I can see, the problem isn't just bad hacks beating proper journalists in a straight fight for possession of a level playing field. The problem is a news ecosystem where sensational lies can quickly bloom and flourish, crowding out the slower growth of conscientious, fact-checked journalism.

While sacking spectacularly bad journos might feel good in the short term, only a system that supports journalists in general will allow producers of good-quality information to flourish. And at the moment, it sounds ridiculously hard to flourish as a good journalist.

The horrible examples here* are from the USA, but they're quite consistent with what I've been reading about the state of UK journalism for years (ever since Flat Earth News).

A chronically insecure profession, which denies professionals the time and resources to do a good job is a bad place to be, if you're conscientious, curious and questioning.

It's probably a better place to be if you're an over-confident compulsive bullshitter, happy to obediently fill blank spaces with a generic infotainment product, mindlessly reflecting your employers' brand values, without unprofitably wasting too much the day checking out those messy, time-consuming and frequently off-message things called facts.

You can see how such an insecure, pressured environment might favour groupthink, corner-cutting and reflexive deference to unreasonable authority, while selecting against the slower processes of analytic thinking, fact-checking and questioning received opinion, which are the basis of what any reasonable person would call good journalism.

That's bad enough in itself, but the effect is amplified by the encroachment of an invasive species into the news ecosystem - the Greater Public Relations Weasel.

As Roy Greenslade, pointed out last year, the 64,000 people working as journalists in the UK are now outnumbered by the 84,000 people working in public relations. And we know that a lot of what journalists do isn't objective, factual reporting of what the journalists themselves think is important, but mere recycling of press releases and infomercials from a members of a larger, well-funded profession which has no claim to objectivity, or to any value more public-spirited than burnishing the image of its clients.

The effect is further amplified when the the lies made up by bad journalists, or mindlessly copy n' pasted from press releases are propagated by public service broadcasters. The BBC doesn't just do its own journalism in a vacuum, but reflects back the news agenda spawned in the incestouous hothouse of sloppy, journalism and public relations spin.

As an example, take Radio 4's flagship morning news programme, Today. On weekdays, it kicks off its broadcast at 6.00am sharp, with a rundown of its own headline stories (one, or more, of which will frequently have started life as a story from elsewhere in the mainstream press), followed by a weather report, then a round up of what the British newspapers have decided to put on their front pages that day.

In this way, poisonous nonsense like the "Christian child forced into Muslim foster care" scare headline, complete with sensational details about a crucifix being forcibly removed and the child being told to learn Arabic are laundered into the national discourse,  via the supposedly respectable, fact-based BBC ("We're only reporting what other people are saying").

Wake up to our unbiased national broadcaster and the day's newly-minted lies can be churning round your brain before you've gulped down your coffee and breakfast cereal.

Of course, people can try to refute provable untruths, but thanks to the backfire effect, this may only succeed in hammering home the original lies more firmly.

And there's an even more insidious feedback loop going on. The act of fact-checking bad journalism has created the idea that fake news comes from the mainstream media (which it sometimes does). So now,  notoriously shameless liars like Trump, Johnson and Farage can bellow "You're fake news!" in the face of any journalist who dares to hold them to account, or sneeringly dismiss easily verified facts as "project fear." It might sound ridiculous coming from people like that, but when they play on distrust of the mainstream media, the partisan, slipshod mainstream media really do bear some of the blame.

And the feedback loop gets loopier still. When more reasonable, non-fanatical people hear blustering Trumpist ninnies raging about how they're being unfairly misrepresented by the crooked, dishonest mainstream media, their natural reaction is to categorise anyone who points out media bias as a blithering loon who can safely be ignored for ever.

And if such media sceptics are ignored, the mainstream meda can continue to churn out the sort of inaccurate, vindictive rubbish that helped create the low-trust environment which spawned the whole Trumpist brand of post-truth politics in the first place...

It was just one story, about one little girl who's had a tough life, but the way it's been distorted and weaponised shines a light on a whole bunch of stuff that touches every one of us, from which voices get heard, and which are suppressed, or misrepresented, to the hollowing out of respected professions and their replacement by toxic bullshit jobs, to the awful politics that we get when mere facts can be drowned out by whoever has the loudest foghorn, to the question of who, ultimately, benefits from the seemingly exponential growth in mistrust, insecurity and chaos.


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

A taxonomy of imaginary elephants

When people who've never seen an elephant try to draw one, the results can be ... interesting.

German artist Uli Westphal has created a family tree of imaginary elephants, based on old accounts and travellers' tales, as drafted by medieval European artists, then elaborated by subsequent copyists.

The resulting bestiary ranges from the conservative (tapier-like creatures, drawn by artists who presumably wanted to keep the reported trunk down to a plausible-looking size), to fanciful beasts sporting fanned-out ears, ribbed like fish fins, or bat wings.

Interestingly, it's some of the most conservative visions, with a modest trunk, or bodily proportions based on a known animal like a horse, that look the least like a real elephant.

The universe, as someone* once mused, is not only odder than we imagine, but probably odder than we can imagine. Although a few of these illustrators got pretty close to out-odding nature with elephants that wouldn't have been out of place in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.


*Someone who could also have explained exactly why an animal the size of an elephant doesn't have the same proportions as a horse.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Atypical British bank holiday weather

The River Great Ouse at Newport Pagnell. The weather's been scorching, we had a dip in the cool, inviting water and saw a grass snake swim across the river, coming out of those reeds and slithering into the undergrowth on the opposite bank.

A timely reminder that there's more to life than whingeing about the state of the world.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Hims ancient and modern

After carelessly mowing down and killing a mother of two by speeding along a busy street on a non-road-legal track bike with no front brakes, 20 year old Charlie Alliston has been convicted of causing bodily harm by “wanton and furious driving.” The wording of the offence sounds ancient, almost quaint, but the words "wanton" and "furious" are surprisingly appropriate here. If Alliston had shown some hint of empathy, remorse, or responsibility for his actions, this could have been *just* another tragic accident. But, instead, what we got was a wanton outburst of entitled fury aimed squarely at his victim:
Following the crash, Alliston posted a comment on an online news article claiming he had shouted out "to get out of the way" but she "ignored me", looked back at her phone then "stopped dead" in his path.

He wrote: "I feel bad due to the seriousness of her injuries but I can put my hands up and say this is not my fault."

On an internet forum for fixed bike enthusiasts, he later described how he twice warned her to "get the f*** outta my way".

He wrote: "We collided pretty hard, our heads hit together, hers went into the floor and ricocheted into mine. It is a pretty serious incident so I won't bother saying oh she deserved it, it's her fault. Yes it is her fault but no she did not deserve it.

"Hopefully, it is a lesson learned on her behalf, it shouldn't have happened like it did but what more can I say."

He complained: "Everyone is quick to judge and help the so-called victim but not the other person in the situation, ie me. It all happened so fast and even at a slow speed there was nothing I could do. I just wish people would stop making judgments. It's not my fault people either think they are invincible or have zero respect for cyclists." 
My emphasis.

What could be more zeitgeisty than an entitled, self-pitying man-baby wantonly and furiously running down any female who dares to impede his royal progress? I'm irresistibly reminded of some of the things Tim Squirrell found scuttling around when he looked under the rock of an alt-right Reddit community for his recent "Taxonomy of trolls", especially in the specific sub- communities of mens' rights activists and anti-progressive gamers. He describes the latter as:
Closely related to the above [i.e. men’s rights activists], these trolls were radicalized over the course of the #GamerGate hate movement. They really like video games, and they really hate social-justice warriors, gay people, and feminists, all of whom they’re pretty sure major movie and game studios are “pandering” to with things like all-female screenings of Wonder Woman. You’re likely to see them talking about the trans community a lot (and repeating the words “there are only two genders” constantly). Elsewhere on Reddit, you’ll find them in gaming subreddits, or /r/KotakuinAction, which was the home of GamerGate.
  • Most common words: SJW, snowflake, pandering, tumblr, feminist, triggering, GamerGate, virtue signalling 
 "Wanton and furious driving" may sound like a relic from a bygone age, but furious, self-obsessed male misfits yelling at everybody else to "get the f*** out of my way!" are, sadly, as much a product of the modern world as the latest video game release.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

"Look at my economist over here"

Remember this, from last year?
Donald Trump sought to tout his support among African-Americans on Friday by pointing out a black man in the crowd and calling him "my African-American.""Oh, look at my African-American over here. Look at him," Trump said. "Are you the greatest?"
These were, of course, the words of a known con-artist bigging up an almost non-existent group of supporters (in the subsequent elections just 8% "his" voters were black - 88% of African-Americans who voted came out for his opponent).

Times haven't changed much, as the British media, and in particular the BBC, proved when they looked at  an unimpressive array of practically bugger-all economists with a good word to say about Brexit, then pointed and shouted "Look over there" when a single rogue economist popped up with a shaky claim about a hard Brexit promising a "£135bn annual boost" to the UK economy.

Well, that headline lie has been round the world before the truth had got its boots on. The misleading headlines have been duly generated and the damage done but, for all that, it's still worth quoting Ben Chu in the Independent, at length, to get a sense of just how massively misleading this distraction was and how shamefully complicit the BBC has been in spreading the lie:
Imagine if a group of obscure scientists produced a piece of research which claimed to debunk the consensus of the profession.

Imagine if rather than making that research publicly available the group cobbled together a press release with some eye-catching headline figures, showing none of their methodology or data.

Imagine if that group of scientists had produced similar work in the past which had been shown to be deeply flawed by other scientists on multiple levels.

Now imagine if that press release was picked up by the national broadcaster of the country and presented to the public as an exciting and interesting new piece of research – with none of the above context mentioned.

Would you think that the broadcaster was doing a good job, fulfilling its mission to “educate and inform” the public?

Or would you wonder what they hell it was playing at?

This week, the BBC website “splashed” with the news that a group known as Economists for Free Trade had done some work suggesting that the UK economy could be £135bn larger if we forced through a hard Brexit. The next day the report’s author Patrick Minford was invited on to the BBC’s flagship morning radio programme, Today, to talk about his findings.

The programme did invite another economist on to contradict Minford’s views. But the non-specialist listener would have been left with the false impression that the economics profession was split on the issue, that the impact of Brexit is merely a matter of opinion. Leaving the EU’s single market might be good for trade, or it might be bad: the experts just can’t agree.
In fact, most experts are agreed - Minford is an outlier and an unreliable-sounding one at that:
He may not have released his methodology, but we can reliably guess how Minford generated his latest figures because he has in the past used a grossly unreliable economic model to show startlingly large gains from what has been termed “unilateral free trade” for the UK.

The principal and catastrophic flaw in this model is that it assumes that distance is no barrier to the international trade in goods – when all the empirical evidence of decades is that distance matters enormously, as countries do more trade with those who are geographically closer to them. Another fatal error is the assumption that price, rather than quality, is all that matters to consumers.

Numerous other reasons by other, more competent, trade economists have been identified as reasons to disbelieve Minford’s figures, not least the fact that his definition of hard Brexit, bizarrely, seems to assume closer regulatory harmonisation between Britain and the EU than exists at the moment within the single market. 
Isn't he the greatest?