Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Damning yourself with faint praise

Did somebody forget to send me the memo about this being National Self-Incrimination Week? First, we had Oxfam's Mark Goldring jumping into the hole dug by a depraved minority of his colleagues and grabbing the shovel:
"The intensity and the ferocity of the attack makes you wonder, what did we do?

"We murdered babies in their cots? Certainly, the scale and the intensity of the attacks feels out of proportion to the level of culpability. I struggle to understand it. You think, 'My God, there’s something going on there'."
No, nobody ever suggested that Oxfam was about killing babies. People just had a reasonable expectation that Oxfam was about altruistically helping the most needy, as opposed to coercing the poor and powerless into abusive sexual relationships. That's what angered most reasonable people.

Sure, there are some spiteful individuals in politics and the media who hate Oxfam just for existing and being bleeding-heart do-gooders who give help and comfort to "undeserving" foreign people, but I'm afraid that being hated by terrible bigots doesn't make their staff any less guilty of a terrible act when they sexually abused vulnerable people. Better to just take it on the chin than plead mitigating circumstances, as Mark Goldring acknowledged when he rightly apologised for this comment.

I had high expectations of Oxfam and was disappointed. My expectations of David Davis are so low that he couldn't possibly fall short, could he? Oh yes he could. Now he's "reassuring" his straw man critics that Brexit won't see "Britain plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction."

For a man said to be pushing for an "ambitious" post-Brexit deal, this reassurance is rather lacking in ambition. If you want to reassure people about the results of a policy, the bar is pretty low - if you can make a credible case that doing it will make things better (or at the very least, no worse), than doing nothing, you might change some minds.

If the best you can come up with is "this policy won't actually turn the country into a lawless post-apocalyptic wasteland, ravaged by murderous gangs of desperadoes", then don't expect to capture many hearts and minds. The UK's population didn't end up hungry and cowering in terror, as they were hunted down by vehicles full of heavily-armed psychopaths desperately seeking the last few litres of unleaded, as a result of notorious policy failures like the Suez invasion, the Poll Tax and the 2003 Iraq War,* but that doesn't mean that any policy that doesn't result in civilization collapsing should be viewed as a success.

Although to be fair to David Davis, I suppose he could have scored an even worse dystopian fiction own goal. At least he didn't cite The Road, only to find that the Brexit memes had got there before him:
Apocalyptic sarcasm shamelessly nicked from Gerry Lynch

*It's ironic that the Iraq War is the one decision of the three that some people still hail as a success, as opposed to an object lesson in catastrophic failure, given that it was the one which came closest to delivering a Mad Max-style outcome (not here in the UK, but for any Iraqis who had to live through the subsequent breakdown of law and order, followed by a spell under the dystopian rule of a heavily-armed cult of violent fanatics, who were every bit as terrifying as any fictional gang of road warriors).

Monday, 19 February 2018

Ukip - probably worth less than nothing + VAT

Back in September, Ukip's latest ex-leader, Henry Whatsisname, boasted that the party had avoided becoming the "UK Nazi Party" by astutely electing him, instead of the candidate who'd run promising a Final Solution™ to the Muslim Question.

Poor Henry
Sadly, we didn't have long to get to know Henry. If he had any interesting policy positions, beyond being anti-Nazi and pro-badger strangling, we didn't have time to find out before his tenure ended prematurely, not with a whimper, but with a bang, when he was caught banging a glamour model who was into experimenting with policy positions at some uncomfortable distance from anti-Nazism.

A new leader has yet to be elected, but given the new acting leader's keen interest in the Muslim Question and fondness for "I'm not anti-Semitic, just anti-Soros" dog-whistles, it sounds as if Henry's warning about the "UK Nazi party" wasn't too far from the truth. According to some of the lovely people at Kipper Central, a Gerard Batten-led Ukip could quickly become a Nazi tribute act, even attracting its own cadre of ex-Friekorps types, in the shape of entryists from something called Veterans Against Terrorism (VAT):
Veterans Against Terrorism held a march in Newcastle yesterday and below is a report on that march. Significantly for UKIP they also praise our new interim leader, Gerard Batten as a “working class man of the people” who will “transform the Party”.

They pledge to join the Party en masse and take part in that transformation as committed activists as per our previous report that they will join in their thousands and set UKIP on track to consign the Labour Party to the “dustbin of history”. 

Angry veterans on the streets. That usually goes well...
Are these the new Stormtroopers who'll take to the streets to intimidate the traitors, the enemies of the people, the Jews and the Reds who'll be accused of stabbing the Fatherland in the back, once Brexit inevitably delivers hardship and humiliation, instead of the promised victory?

Actually, I'm not yet that worried. The most significant problem is that Ukip seems to be bust - they couldn't even afford to pay their last leader a salary, they're on the hook for £200k as a result of the Jane Collins libel case and the consensus is that they probably don't have enough left in the kitty to fund the forthcoming leadership election.

And they don't have that many members - about 34,000 as of December 2016, a number which has almost certainly reduced, given their poor showing in the last election and comically inept post-Farage leadership. Even if VAT march to the Kippers' rescue, they have a maximum of 8,500 members (that figure came from the Express, so should be treated as being as unreliably exaggerated as the paper's hyperventilating weather warnings). In which case Ukip + VAT = fewer members than the Green Party. And our first past the post system is rarely kind to third parties, let alone sixth* parties without any money or a single sitting MP.

Without funding, I think that any Fascists hoping for the resurgence of an even more alt-right-ist Ukip will be disappointed. As will some leftists and Remainers - let's face it, standing up to Nazis sounds badass cool.

Unfortunately, our most powerful enemies are a lot less impressively evil -  the hapless, broken automaton otherwise known as the Prime Minister, those badly-drawn P G Wodehouse caricatures, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, David Davis, who looks like an elderly uncle who's the only one in the family not to realise he's losing the plot, Liam Fox, who never had the plot in the first place, and the various faceless policy wonks and empty suits inhabiting the spiders' web of obscurely-funded right-wing think tanks and lobby groups without which terrible ideas like Brexit would never happen.

*In sixth place, by membership, behind Labour, the Conservatives (I assume, although they don't publish membership data in their annual accounts), the SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens.

Government of the think tanks, by the think tanks, for the think tanks

Now the government's own studies show that every version of Brexit will make the UK worse off than no Brexit, why is Brexit still a thing? Because Brexit is the unchangeable will of the people. Specifically, the unchageable will of the people in radical right-wing think tanks:
 A transatlantic network of conservative think tanks accidentally published its secret plans to influence US-UK trade negotiations, Unearthed can reveal.

Documents outline plans to form an “unprecedented” coalition of hard-Brexit and libertarian think tanks, which will call for Britain to ditch strict EU safety standards – including rules on food and pharmaceuticals – in order to secure a sweeping US-UK trade deal.

The group will hold “shadow trade talks” in Washington and London to “hash out an ‘ideal’ US-UK free trade agreement (FTA).” It hopes this will form the “blueprint” for the real negotiations between the British and US governments.
Lawrence Carter

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Fishing with a golden hook

I can't speak for anybody else, but having had a few days to digest Boris Johnson's recent attempt to reach out to Remainers and set out a positive case for Brexit, I'm not convinced.

The Brexiteers' loud and aggressive campaign against freedom of movement for other Europeans won't, Johnson assures us, cause the Continentals to inconvenience UK nationals trying to exercise their freedom to move between jobs, cheap stag nights, or cultural attractions in any part of Europe that takes their fancy. And if you believe that one, Boris has a bridge he'd like to sell you...

I'm more convinced by the rhetoric of another lofty patrician, which our classically-educated Foreign Secretary would have done well to heed before he got himself, and the rest of the country, into this fix:
It was a principle of his that no campaign or battle should ever be fought unless more could clearly be gained by victory than lost by defeat; and he would compare those who took great risks in the hope of gaining some small advantage to a man who fishes with a golden hook, though aware that nothing he can catch will be valuable enough to justify its loss.
Sound, if platitudinous, advice from Augustus Caesar, (according to Suetonius). When every Brexit scenario modelled in the government's own assessments looks worse than the status quo, it seems to me that the Brexiteers are fishing with a golden hook.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Laundering out the taint

Last week billionaire investor George Soros gave 400,000 pounds (€450,000, $550,000) to the anti-Brexit group "Best for Britain." This should be not particularly noteworthy, as the Leave campaign had received over 24 million pounds from some of Britain's richest people: Among them right-wing UK Independence Party financier Arron Banks, investment billionaire Peter Hargreaves and hedge fund manager Crispin Odey. The ultra-rich detest the European Union, probably because its rules impede their quest to become even richer.

So what is a few hundred thousand from Soros? The finance tycoon is of Hungarian and Jewish descent and that seems to change everything. When Nick Timothy, former adviser to Theresa May, kicked off a campaign in Brexit-supporting newspaper The Telegraph, a heated debate ensued over whether or not he had used anti-Semitic tropes, prompting comparisons with the smear campaign against Soros in Hungary.

Hungarian Prime Minsiter Viktor Orban clearly uses the EU and Soros as punching bags and an excuse for his increasingly right-wing radical politics. But British headlines triggered by Soros' donation did not fall far short in venom, either: "Man who 'broke Bank of England' backing secret plot to thwart Brexit" wrote The Telegraph, which described him as a "rich gambler … accused of meddling in nation's affairs." And the Daily Mail called it "tainted money." So why is Soros' money more tainted than that of other, Brexit-supporting billionaires? The suspicion is all too obvious.

Soros, however, is not defeated that easily. Instead, he donated another 100,000 pounds to "Best for Britain" and in the Mail on Sunday deplored "the toxic attacks" against him and his foundation. Welcome to the wonderful new world of global Britain after Brexit.
From Deutsche Welle's Brexit diary.

Good question. Why suggest that Soros' money is more tainted than all that pro-Brexit money? If it's not simple anti-Semitism, maybe it's just that the Soros money hasn't been laundered like some of the pro-Brexit mony.

Such as the money Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) found to throw at the Brexit campaign in other parts of the UK. Money that according to the DUP's own accounts, the DUP couldn't have afforded and which was later found to have come from a group called the Constitutional Research Council (CRC), an Unincorporated Association, the sort of entity often used as fronts for secret donations. Like so much of the money that bought Brexit, its ultimate source remains a mystery.

No "taint" there - just dark money laundered whiter than white.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Church of Warhammer (now with added dinosaurs! )

I knew that the creationist mythos included dinosaurs on board Noah's Ark. What I didn't know was how the creationists thought that the mighty beasts which got saved from the Big Wet were subsequently wiped out - until I came across this:
...they [creationists] know the dinosaurs disappeared in The Flood, except for the few that were on the big wooden boat, who went extinct when medieval knights hunted them down.
Really? Knights and dinosaurs? Yep, creationist Kent Hovind has confirmed that humans were busy hunting dinosaurs ("dragons") into the Middle Ages and beyond.

This notion would really have appealed to the six year old me. I had plastic dinosaurs. I had plastic toy knights. If I'd known of Kent Hovind's scenario, knights and dinos would definitely have fought one another for possession of the dinner table and sand pit.

It may be nonsense, but if your sole aim is to get the little ones into church, tabletop battles involving knights versus dinosaurs might not be such a stupid idea.

Give me the child until the age of seven years and I will give you the man.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Traumatised by theoretical snowflakes

This is from an actual letter, published in an actual newspaper:
HAVING just read an article about the obelisk in memory of Admiral Sir Harry Burrard Neale being up for refurbishment, I hope the campaigners are ready for the shouty snowflake mob to turn up and demand the work cease forthwith and the obelisk be demolished immediately as, having captured or destroyed about 20-odd ships, he is a murderer sending hundreds of sailors to their deaths and should not be commemorated...

...Notwithstanding that a university demanded a statue to Cecil Rhodes be removed, we now have some Canadian chap insisting we cannot say mankind, it has to be personkind!

What is the world coming to – all this PC rubbish is ruining the quality of my life...and perhaps yours too.
Jeff Davis

You might also ask yourself what Jeff, and people like him, are coming to, when the fragile quality of their lives can be "ruined" by a theoretical protest that hasn't actually happened (except inside Jeff's own head), over the possible restoration of a monument to an admiral from two centuries ago.

Either loyal reader "Jeff" is a troll, winding us up with a deliberate parody, or use of the term "snowflake" is becoming the textbook example of the theory of psychological projection.