Friday, 18 December 2015

Has Ukip Santa come early?

According to the Graun, " Douglas Carswell, the Ukip MP, has called on Nigel Farage to step down as leader to help the party draw a line under its unpleasant and socially illiberal image" which suggests that Mr Carswell* has misidentified his party's main feature as a bug. As any fule kno, Ukip's whole USP is being unpleasant and illiberal (or "politically incorrect" in Kipperspeak).  Think of the party as a wannabe crowdsourced Donald Trump, optimised to hyperventilate on the oxygen of publicity:
August 2015. Bobby Douglas, a UKIP council candidate in Wales, calls for immigrants to be ‘gassed like badgers’. It would be hyperbolic to attach much significance, in and of itself, to the spleen of a racist mediocrity. But quantity becomes quality, and Douglas is one of many, many such symptoms. His ranting breached even his own party’s standards – UKIP suspended him. This doesn’t obviate the fact that such sadistic cathexis was shoved into the public sphere in the first place: in fact, as we’ll see, it’s part of how it performs a function. UKIP’s an efficient machine for the extrusion of such fantasies into social life, to a purpose, and the party’s repeated suspension of its own members is just the clattering of the mechanism resetting itself.**

In their discussion of what the media theorist Nick Couldry calls its ‘theatre of cruelty’, Henry Giroux and Philip Mirowski, among many others, have have written extensively on neoliberalism’s sadistic culture, the increasingly open vilification of ‘losers’ and the crowing of and over ‘winners’. Swathes of mass entertainment celebrate physical agony (‘torture porn’), metaphorical ‘eviction’ (reality TV) and the punitive gaze at the desperate – leavened with the schmaltz that is its obverse. As Mirowski points out, in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, it is not, of course, that ‘spectacles of cruelty’ are new, but that the theatre is ‘unabashed’, ‘has been made to seem so unexceptional’; and that in the context of neoliberalism it is doing something distinct. It serves, he says, ‘more targeted purposes [than distraction], such as teaching techniques optimised to reinforce the neoliberal self’.
Writes China Mieville (it's worth reading his whole piece, an angry and very timely take on the mobilisation of vindictive cruelty as a means of social control).

Anyway, the continuing civil war between the party's one MP and its leader looks like an early Christmas present for the rest of us. Or is it? That depends on what Ukip is really for. If the party's wealthy backers intended to realise Margaret Thatcher's dream of eliminating the very idea of socialism from British political life by usurping the Labour Party, then the in-fighting is great news.

If, however, Ukip is just a disposable front for a faction of the conservative family, with the more limited brief of shoving the Overton Window in a more Eurosceptic direction, then maybe it's not such great news. Because if that's all it's for, then maybe the disintegration of Ukip is simply the culmination of a plan coming together. Having nudged the UK towards Brexit, maybe Ukip's work here is done and all that remains is for the party to self-destruct once the Conservative Party has been bullied into an acceptable level of xenophobia. If Ukip is intended to fall apart and stop splitting the small "c" conservative vote once a sufficient degree of Europhobia has been delivered, maybe it's not time to celebrate yet.

Not having access the inner thoughts of Stuart Wheeler and the other mangers of the Ukip piggy bank, I can't say whether we're looking at cock-up or conspiracy here. Let's hope it's the former.

* Post amended - an over-enthusiastic spell-checker originally changed "Carswell" to " Farewell." Glitch or omen? You decide...

**My emphasis.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The execution of Father Christmas

In the run up to Christmas, Christian clergy traditionally beg anybody who might be listening to remember the real meaning of Christmas (according to a definition of "real" that includes stories about a baby whose dad was definitely the supernatural being who, among other things, created the entire Universe and whose mum was totally a virgin).

The Anglican Church tends to make this plea in an earnestly apologetic sort of tone, as though terribly sorry to interrupt busy people already preoccupied with the time-consuming business of Christmas shopping, sending cards, organising seasonal relative-visiting and catering logistics and so on.

In other places and times, the tone is rather different. According to national stereotypes, the French have no time for this sort of self-effacing diffidence, preferring excitable direct action.

The stereotype seemed to ring true in 1951, when the clergy of Dijon wanted to remind the faithful about the true reason for the season and their reminder came in an altogether more demonstrative fashion. They denounced Father Christmas as a heretic, who had no business intruding on a festival that was supposed to be all about baby Jesus and arranged with their flock to have an effigy of the jolly old soul hung from the railings of Dijon Cathedral, then burnt. According to France-soir:
SUNDAY SCHOOL CHILDREN WITNESS FATHER CHRISTMAS BURNT IN DIJON CATHEDRAL PRECINCT

Dijon, 24 December

Father Christmas was hanged yesterday afternoon from the railings of Dijon Cathedral and burnt publicly in the precinct. This spectacular execution took place in the presence of several hundred Sunday school children. It was a decision made with the agreement of the clergy who had condemned Father Christmas as a usurper and heretic. He was accused of `paganizing' the Christmas festival and installing himself like a cuckoo in the nest, claiming more and more space for himself. Above all he was blamed for infiltrating all the state schools from which the crib has been scrupulously banished.

On Sunday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the unfortunate fellow with the white beard, scapegoated like so many innocents before him, was executed by his accusers. They set fire to his beard and he vanished into smoke. At the time of the execution a communiqué was issued to the following effect:

`Representing all Christian homes of the parish keen to struggle against lies , 250 children assembled in front of the main door of Dijon Cathedral and burned Father Christmas.

`It wasn't intended as an attraction, but as a symbolic gesture. Father Christmas has been sacrificed. In truth, the lies about him cannot arouse religious feeling in a child and are in no way a means of education. Others may say and write what they want about Father Christmas, but the fact is he is only the counterweight of a modern-day Mr Bogeyman.
`For Christians the festivity of Christmas must remain the annual celebration of the birth of the Saviour.'
Father Christmas's execution in the Cathedral precinct got a mixed response from the public and provoked lively commentaries even from Catholics.

The affair has divided the town into two camps. Dijon awaits the resurrection of Father Christmas, assassinated yesterday in the cathedral precinct. He will arise this evening at six o'clock in the Town Hall. An official communiqué announced that, as every year, the children of Dijon are invited to Liberation Square where Father Christmas will speak to them from the floodlit roof of the Town Hall.

Very strange. Although the War Against Christmas may be a paranoid conservative fantasy (most secular liberals are, at worst, merely indifferent), it seems that the civil war within Christmas (between the pious, who claim ownership of the season for religious reasons and businesses which value it as a profitable celebration of consumerist indulgence) is a real thing.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Salvation barmy

The only way to avoid eternal punishment for sins we never committed from this all-loving God is to accept his son—who is actually himself—as our savior. So … God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.
Peter Boghossian

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Madness...? THIS IS CHIGWELL!

A short time ago, somebody gave me a back-handed complement. The somebody in question was one Lucy Bostick, a Ukip activist from Essex, who failed to get elected as a County Councillor for the Chigwell and Loughton Broadway district in 2013. I'd mentioned her name in an old post because, in a Ukip election leaflet that had been stuffed through my door in the 2014 European elections, she was quoted as saying that a proposed financial transactions tax would decimate the City of London, to which I added the comment, "Ukip's Lucy Bostick says 'decimating the City' like it was a bad thing."

Anyway, Ms Bostick recently contacted me, via the comments section of this blog,* with the following request:
I can't see a means of contacting you so I'm posting here. I'd like to ask you to remove or edit an old post in which you have included me. Please could you contact me so I can send you full details of my request? Many thanks.
As there was nothing remotely dodgy in what I'd written (I quoted her statement as reproduced in a party election leaflet and added an opinion of my own), I declined to remove mention of her from my blog. I'd originally illustrated my post with a couple of scanned extracts from the election material and did decide to delete these, because I'd heard about bloggers being on the receiving end of a bit of nastiness from over-zealous Ukip activists who'd taken umbrage at the use of any part of their branding or imagery to illustrate any less-than-complimentary comment and I like a quiet life as much as the next guy.

Still, it's always good to know that I'm not just shouting into the void, or getting a very occasional nod of agreement from somebody else living inside the same filter bubble as me.

Since Ms Bostick has been kind enough to take notice of me, I thought it would be rude not to find out a bit about her. A quick Google session doesn't turn up a lot - it's not like I've hit the big time and annoyed a well-known Ukip figure - but she does rate the odd mention in the press. Most of the coverage comes from the time when she was hit by the shrapnel from an explosive rant from one of Ukip's more flamboyant ex-general election candidates, Kerry Smith:
Kerry Smith, the candidate for the top target seat of South Basildon and East Thurrock, is said to have mocked gay party members as “poofters”, joked about shooting people from Chigwell in a “peasant hunt" and referred to someone as a “Chinky bird”...
... Mr Smith is also said to have mocked Lucy Bostick, a Ukip activist in Chigwell, for printing "boring c**p" on her leaflets.
According to the transcripts, he said: "This is Chigwell. If she was doing a survey in Chigwell the question should be 'Do you oppose the EU banning the use of lead in shotguns as that way you can shoot more peasants coming from Chigwell? 'Do you support a peasant's hunt through Chigwell village?"

Madness...? [shouting] THIS IS CHIGWELL!

I was intrigued enough to find out what manner of leaflet had attracted the scorn of the forthright Mr Smith, so I checked out a copy of Ms Bostick 's old election leaflet on t' Internet (I'm not reproducing any of it for obvious reasons, but there is a link to a .pdf here at the time of writing - don't be surprised to find it broken if it subsequently gets removed for image management reasons).

Well, the look and feel of the leaflet is a tad more slick and professional than the 2014 Euro election leaflet Ukip sent me, which looked as if it had been slapped together by the people responsible for those attention-grabbing urgent-definitely-not-a-circular junk mail envelopes designed to con the gullible and greedy into imagining they're about to win a few thousand in some fictional prize draw they never entered.

Does the content live down to Mr Smith's "boring c**p" jibe? Overall, no more than many local election leaflets, I'd say. We learned that Ms Bostick was for local referendums on planning issues, keeping police stations open and street lights on, being transparent and accountable and putting local residents first. She was apparently against high council taxes and profligate spending decisions. A bit platitudinous (see Hoggart's Law), but not outstandingly so and saner than Kerry Smith's prescription drug-fuelled rants.

But this is Ukip, so there's always going to be something a bit weird going on and, sure enough, it's right there on the title page. After saying a rhetorical "YES" to planning referendums, open police stations and switched-on street lights, Lucy Bostick comes out with this conceptual car crash of mixed messages:
"YES to celebrating our rich cultural diversity and Christian, Anglo-Saxon heritage"
OK, so you're into celebrating cultural diversity AND sectarian, nativist identity politics? Any thinking person who paused to decode this values statement would realise that the contradictory ideas packed into the slogan more or less cancel one another out, although I'm guessing that thinking people weren't the target audience here. I'm not going to unpick all the elements of this oxymoronic mess, but one bit stands out as being especially odd. Anglo-Saxon? What's that all about?

Taken literally, it's just plain bizarre. I know that many Ukip supporters want to go back to the 1950s, when they were youngsters and, regressive as it is, nostalgia for lost youth is at least understandable. But going back to the early Middle Ages? Interesting though characters like King Alfred and Hereward the Wake might be, it's hard to see how they're relevant to electing a local representative charged with overseeing issues like the optimal placement of pedestrian crossings in Chigwell. It's also hard to reconcile this Anglo-Saxon trope with the party's name - it's supposed to be the UK Independence Party, not the English Independence Party ("Celts and Picts only welcome if they're prepared to assimilate?" - good luck selling that message in the rest of the UK).

Or is "Anglo-Saxon" just code for something else? There are various other things it might mean. Not being a mind-reader, I can't say for sure what Ms Bostick intended, but she might, for example, be referring to this:
The Anglo-Saxon model or Anglo-Saxon capitalism ... is a capitalist model that emerged in the 1970s, based on the Chicago school of economics. However, its origins date to the 18th century in the United Kingdom under the ideas of the classical economist Adam Smith.
Characteristics of this model include levels of regulation and taxes being low, and the public sector providing fewer services. It can also mean strong property rights, contract enforcement, and overall ease of doing business as well as low barriers to free trade.
Well, that would be Thatcherite enough for Ukip, although that sort of reference to the high level ideology of political economy sounds a tad out of place in an election leaflet from a wannabe councillor in Chigwell.

Looked at on the map, UKIP's "heartland" looks like the Anglo-Saxon territories around the middle of the 6th century, before the expansion into Mercia and Northumbria. This might appear like an amusing coincidence, but I think it actually highlights some important points about the nature of UKIP's support and thus their prospects...
...UKIP's support in the South East is quite peripheral, hugging the more economically marginal coastal counties. They look like a party that will do well in seaside towns rather than the commuter belt (and who could deny that Nigel Farage looks like the sort of chap you'd bump into at Brighton Racecourse)...
... the coastal bias reflects a disproportionate level of support among older voters. This perhaps explains the one exception to the Anglo-Saxon focus in terms of seats won, namely Cornwall, which I suspect may reflect support among retirees from elsewhere rather than a sudden upsurge in English nationalism. However, UKIP aren't picking up pensioner votes in particular. Indeed, the sweet spot appears to be people in their 50s and, to judge from the analysis of the Eastleigh Parliamentary by-election ... and other polling, the less well-off. This indicates that the party's appeal is to the economically vulnerable.
But this approximate coincidence between the 6th Century Anglo-Saxon lands and economically marginal areas in the 21st Century South East of England sounds a bit esoteric for a local election leaflet. Of course, Anglo-Saxon could also be shorthand for something else:
An ethnic nationalist might believe, for example, that what makes a person British is the supposed purity of their descent from the Anglo-Saxons (which in practice usually means “being white”).
And, just in case anybody is tempted to claim that's some kind of smear from Ukip's  proverbial foe, the politically correct metropolitan elite, that reading of the "Anglo-Saxon" trope comes from none other than Ukip Daily.
 
Maybe there was no intention here to use "Anglo-Saxon" as a synonym for "white", but the use of such terminology is, at the very least, unwise, given the well-known attitudes some of the more unsavoury characters who self-identify as Ukip supporters.

*Post updated and corrected at this point - I'd originally quoted from a post allegedly written by Alex Wood on the Ukip Voices blog which was adorned with official-looking Ukip party branding, but turns out to have been a fake blog created by some troll, so it's no longer appropriate to quote it as an example of the more extreme views prevalent among Ukip supporters (Kerry Smith's public statements will have to suffice to illustrate that point - see Poe's Law). This doesn't change my subsequent point that Ukip's reputation is far more damaged by the stuff their supporters (real and fake) come out with than by anything critics like me could write.*

So, if you happen to be reading this, Lucy Bostick, or any other Ukip activist who thinks that trying to shut critical voices up is a good use of your time, perhaps you'd be better occupied having a quiet word with the fruitcakes, loonies closet racists and trolls, whose real or fake support for your party does it far more reputational damage than anything your critics might say. Oh, and drop the Anglo-Saxon thing. It only encourages them.



*Her comment was attached to a completely unrelated post, presumably in an attempt not to draw attention the original post in which she got a mention and whatever it was about it that she objected to.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Dogfights cost money

“No Turkish prime minister or president will apologize ... because of doing our duty,” [Turkish PM Ahmed] Davutoglu told reporters after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels.“Protection of Turkish airspace, Turkish borders is a national duty, and our army did their job to protect this airspace."
Because Turkey is governed by serious, level-headed people who take their responsibilities as part of the NATO alliance very seriously. By the way, did I mention how serious these guys are?

... According to statistics collected by Christos Kollias, a Greek defense economist at the University of Thessaly, last year Turkish military helicopters and planes violated Greek-claimed airspace 2,244 times. For this May, Kollias recorded 361 Turkish incursions into Greek airspace.
At the beginning of this decade, Turkish planes entered Greek airspace several hundred times per year, including a record-low 636 times in 2013. That, in turn, was a decline from higher figures in the preceding years, but even the 1,678 incursions in 2009 do not approach the current activity. The result is constant hostile buzzing in the Mediterranean skies as the Hellenic Air Force responds to the intrusions...

...Dogfights cost money
In its current weakened state Greece hardly poses much of a threat to Turkey. The Turkish General Staff has not given an official reason for its increased air activity, and its spokesman referred inquiries to a local defense attaché, who did not respond.

Greece’s disastrous finances may, however, have encouraged Turkey  to tease its long-time foe (and NATO ally) a bit more than usual, as every Hellenic Air Force scramble costs Greece precious euros...

Yeah, right.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Crowded skies or empty beaches?

So we're going to join the war to end all wars in the Middle East and it will definitely all be over started by Christmas. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if the Fencer Down incident wasn't a big enough whack across the head with the clue stick,* some edited highlights from this article by Yossi Melman in the Jerusalem Post expand on how well it's all likely to work out if the UK joins in with yet another uncoordinated bombing campaign alongside the Americans and our Turkish and Russian frenemies, with everybody charging off in different directions after their various, mutually exclusive, targets and war aims:
In recent years Turkey, a NATO member, has proved to be the “weak link” in the West’s efforts to have a unified policy in the Syrian civil war.

Now after shooting down a Russia bomber on Tuesday, it seems Turkey has no inhibitions to embroil its NATO allies....

...It also signals ... how explosive the situation is in which too many fighters planes and bombers of various air forces are operating in the crowded Syrian skies close to neighboring borders...

...Russian President Vladimir Putin already said that Turkey’s action was a “stabbing in the back” and it is an “accomplice of terrorists,” referring to previous accusations that Ankara either turned a blind eye or even supported Islamic State...

... Russia has already called its citizens to stop visiting Turkey and a leading Russian tour operator canceled its plans to send Russian tourists to Turkey. In 2014, three million Russian tourists visited Turkey – accounting for nearly 20 percent of Turkey’s foreign tourists...

...If one of [NATO's] member states is threatened or attacked, the rest must rally in its defense. But already there are cracks in the seemingly unified front. Czech President Milos Zeman, known for his sharp tongue, denounced the Turkish operation and reminded the world of Turkey’s dubious past with Islamic State...

...For Turkey, the Kurds are the enemy and not Islamic State. And for achieving its goal every measure or risk is worth taking – even a brinkmanship with Russia and at the cost of a splitting-up of NATO.**
The upside is that the resulting mess might finish off the politicians who rushed in without a plan, but that will be cold comfort for those who pay with their lives, not just their careers.

For what it's worth, rather than bombing, my alternative plan would involve a leaf out of the Russian's book and fighting the Turkish government on the tourist beaches until they stop aiding and abetting the rest of the world's enemy #1. It would be rough on innocent locals and disappointed tourists, but the collateral damage would still be less than that caused by laser-guided munitions. And it's not as if there aren't other economies in the region in desperate need of a bit of tourist cash (I'm looking at you, Greece).

If sacrifices have to be made, isn't giving up a cheap fortnight somewhere like this sacrifice enough?
Nice beaches, shame about the football fans.



*How cunning will British intervention plan look when it's downed RAF Tornado pilots being machine-gunned by some warring groupuscule that never heard of the Geneva Convention?

** My emphasis.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Britain's most successful failure

Since first becoming chancellor in 2010, George Osborne has made it clear that his one, overriding priority in government was to reduce the deficit. Last month "British public finances recorded the worst deficit for any October since 2009." According to most pundits, it's the opposition, rather than George Osborne, which lacks economic credibility.

No, me neither.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Stomach

I rather like Michael Rosen's summary of a particularly lamentable piece of post-Paris-massacre punditry, when LBC's Iain Dale trumped the various points raised by callers to his radio phone-in by coming back to a rhetorical question about whether "Britain"/"we" had the "stomach" to take action against ISIS.

I've no problem with people stating that the UK should/shouldn't do thing x [insert specific course of action here] to stop, or hinder, ISIS. That would be an actual argument you could engage with.

I do have a problem with content-free responses to real problems. Wondering out loud whether "we" have the stomach to confront ISIS isn't a plan. It's not even a wish-list. It's just a bit of empty-headed mouth-flapping by somebody who who hasn't got anything much to say about anything, except how "tough" and "serious" he, personally, is.*

Honestly, guys, I think we can just take "stomach" as read in most situations and cut to the whys and hows. My stomach tells me that I'd like to go to the corner shop and buy a chocolate bar. The way to resolve this situation is to come up with a workable plan, involving things like getting my backside off the sofa and putting some shoes on, rather than telling everybody in the room how seriously determined I am to face up to the confectionery deficit threat.

If you haven't got anything to say, why not just keep quiet and leave some bandwidth free for people who might contribute something approaching a point? People like Colin Freeman in the Telegraph, who's been thinking about one specific element of the problem:
So how is it then, that weapons normally associated with the most violent parts of Africa and the Middle East find their way onto Europe's streets?

The short answer is that Europe is where many of these weapons were made in the first place, courtesy of the vast arms factories that proliferated in eastern Europe during the Cold War, and whose products spilled all over the Balkans during the civil war in the 1990s.

Unlike the Soviet Bloc's other deadly armaments legacy – nuclear weapons – Kalashnikovs do not quietly crumble with age or become obsolete. They are as durable as they are user-friendly, and an Ak-47 made in 1985 will be as lethal today as it was when it was used during the war in Bosnia.

Today, it is a commonplace to hear of these weapons being for sale in black markets across Eastern Europe, where many countries are still struggling with the gangster-smuggling militias that sprung up in the wake of Communism's collapse and the Balkans civil wars.
In Albania alone, for example, it's estimated that half a million weapons were pillaged from state depots following the collapse of the government in 1997. And in the likes of Serbia and Montenegro, a tradition still prevails in many rural areas that no home is complete without a gun.
Getting rid of all of those illegal guns may be still at the wish-list rather than than the plan stage, but at least it's informed, engages with facts, defines an actual part of the problem and communicates something more than the pundit's own self-importance. That, Mr Dale (and your fellow over-communicators) is what a useful contribution looks like.


*Unless, that is, what Iain Dale is signalling is his actual intention to display an out-of-the-ordinary level of personal stomach, such as putting on a tin hat and a flak jacket to go off and fight alongside the Peshmerga. In which case:
  1. I take it all back, you're a braver man than I am, sir.
  2. Good. Luck. With. That.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Zeppelin versus camels

Just look at this magnificent thing. A poster for one of the most insanely ludicrous movies never made, Hammer Films' unmade classic, Zeppelin V. Pterodactyls.* As a pre-pubescent kid, I thrilled to One Million Years B.C. and The Blue Max at an age when the heaving embonpoints of Raquel Welch and Ursula Andress were nothing but boring interruptions to the far more exciting business of stop-motion dino action and death-defying stunts in replica Fokker triplanes. My little head would have exploded at the sheer awesomeness of a planned film about dinosaurs** and daredevil flying aces ... AND Zeppelins, had I known of such a thing.*** It would have taken more than a few heaving embonpoints to rain on that parade.

This poster briefly popped into my head on holiday this summer, as I was enjoying a coffee and a waffle in a pavement cafe in Tønder, in the south of Denmark. Why? I'd seen a sign for a Zeppelin museum and was wondering, vaguely, what such a thing was doing in Denmark (albeit very close to the German border). We had other things to do that day and a long-ish drive back to where we were staying, so I never investigated at the time and forgot all about it. But just the other day, the thought popped back into my head and I googled it. It turns out that there was a very good reason for such a museum being there. Not only was Tønder once a home to Zeppelins, but  Tønder's Zeppelins were themselves the target of the world's first ever successful attack by aircraft flown from an aircraft carrier, carried out some 23 years before Pearl Harbour.

What were Zeppelins doing in Denmark? Well, that goes back to the interminable dynastic/territorial squabble between the Danish crown and the German Confederation, which Brits remember chiefly for launching Lord Palmerston's most quotable quip ("Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it"). Anyway, the Schleswig part of the business was settled - for more than half a century, anyway - by the Second Schleswig War of 1864, when Prussian and Austrian troops occupied the disputed territory. The subsequent Treaty of Vienna designated Schleswig as part of the German Confederation.

So Tønder, in North Schleswig became part of the German Confederation, then, from 1871, part of the new nation of Germany. And that's how it stayed until after the German defeat in World War One. Then, after centuries of people having their identity determined by the outcome of inhertance disputes between various monarchs and aristocrats, the people**** who lived there got a say. A plebiscite was held in 1920 and the locals of North Schleswig (or South Jutland, as the Danes call it), voted to return to Denmark (South Schleswig voted to remain German).

Anyhow, in 1918, the then German town of Tønder (Tondern in German) was doing its small bit for pan-European carnage by hosting a Zeppelin base with three airship hangers, run by the Imperial German Navy. By that stage in the war Zeppelins had been superseded as bombers by heavier-than-air R-planes, but were still being used for naval patrols. On the other side of the North Sea, the Brits had been doing their bit by adding a flight deck to the battlecruiser HMS Furious, so creating the world's first aircraft carrier. The Royal Navy chose the Tondern Zeppelin base as Furious's first target.
HMS Furious, complete with flight deck and U-boat-confusing dazzle camouflage

A first attempt to attack the Tondern Zeppelins, in June 1918, had to be called off due to bad weather. Furious and her escort set sail for the German North Sea coast again on July 17th. She was carrying a small contingent of Sopwith Camels, fitted with bomb racks.

Ship's Camels on board Furious

In the early morning of July 19th, seven Camels flew off Furious's flight deck, in two waves of three and four aircraft, bound for Tondern. Bombs from the first wave of three aircraft hit the largest airship hanger, setting Zeppelins L.54 and L.60 on fire. The second wave's bombs destroyed a captive balloon in another hanger.
Zeppelin L 54, outside its hanger in Tondern/Tønder


Although this was a hazardous operation which destroyed two Zeppelins, casualties on both sides were light, especially when compared with the numbers being routinely slaughtered in this conflict. Total casualties consisted of four Germans injured and one British pilot dead. None of the planes was able to return to Furious and land (the ship had an aft flight deck for landings, but these hadn't been perfected and pilots were expected to ditch in the sea and await rescue); one pilot experienced engine trouble and never made it to Tondern, but was recovered after ditching his plane near the fleet. Three pilots judged that they hadn't enough fuel to make it back and landed in neutral Denmark. The other three headed back for the fleet. Two of them ditched near the fleet and were recovered but one, Lieutenant Walter A "Toby" Yuelett, DFC, was never seen again and probably drowned after running out of fuel and being forced to ditch early.

It all sounds terribly primitive and quaint now, but it was deadly serious and high-tech at the time. A modern equivalent would be killer drones with Hellfire missiles (although your modern drone operator doesn't face the same physical dangers that killed Lieutenant Yuelett). In fact, the Tondern raid would have seemed even more cutting-edge - in 2015, the military has been using armed drones for nearly a decade and a half, but the Tondern raid came less than year after the first ever successful flight of an aircraft from the deck of a moving ship (the Furious). Rather than old-hat killer drones, the modern analogue would be something really novel, like the drone-based biryani delivery system currently being trialled in Milton Keynes (or its weaponised equivalent), which may, coincidentally, be the wierdest high-concept idea since Zeppelins V. Pterodactyls.


*First seen (by me, at least) here. Bless you, Internet.

**Yes, I know pterodactyls and dinosaurs are different things. OK, were different things. Shut up.

***Easy with the nostalgia, though - having just taken the Offspring to see Inside Out, I have to admit that the sort of family entertainment that got me going at his age was a good deal less nuanced, sophisticated and thought-provoking than some of the stuff that's being specifically made for kids today.

****I presume that people of both genders got a say, as - according to Wikipedia - Danish women got the vote in 1915 and their German sisters were enfranchised on the founding of the Weimar Republic in 1919.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Amateur police would totally stop mass shootings...

... claims amateur politician:
"Isn’t it interesting that the tragedy in Paris took place in one of the toughest gun control countries in the world?"

It was crassly insensitive enough to Tweet this after the Charlie Hebdo attack, regardless of whether or not this individual, or one of his his staffers, actually intended to repeat the wisecrack after Friday 13th, but let's not think about the hurt this loud-mouthed pig has caused.

Let's think, instead, about the implication that gun controls get in the way, because to stop the bad guys with guns running amok, you need the proverbial "good guy with a gun." How's that theory been working out in practice?
Attempts by armed citizens to stop shooters are rare. At least two such attempts in recent years ended badly, with the would-be good guys gravely wounded or killed. Meanwhile, the five cases most commonly cited as instances of regular folks stopping massacres fall apart under scrutiny: Either they didn't involve ordinary citizens taking action—those who intervened were actually cops, trained security officers, or military personnel—or the citizens took action after the shooting rampages appeared to have already ended. (Or in some cases, both.)...
...For their part, law enforcement officials overwhelmingly hate the idea of armed civilians getting involved. As a senior FBI agent told me, it would make their jobs more difficult if they had to figure out which of the shooters at an active crime scene was the bad guy. And while they train rigorously for responding in confined and chaotic situations, the danger to innocent bystanders from ordinary civilians whipping out firearms is obvious. Exhibit A: the gun-wielding citizen who admitted to coming within a split second of shooting an innocent person as the Tucson massacre unfolded, after initially mistaking that person for the killer, Jared Loughner.

James Follman

Short version. There seems to be no evidence that having some random "good guy with a gun" on the scene stops armed bad guys. There is evidence that having a "good guy with a gun" running around during a shooting spree can hinder the armed professionals who are trying to stop the bad guys and puts potential victims at even greater risk.

Take a few moments to think about it and the wise guy doesn't sound so smart (not that mere thought will stop members of the insane clown posse impressing people with Twitter-sized attention spans with this kind of nonsense).

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Elf and safety

Spotted by my wife, earlier today at Stadium MK. A fire drill in progress, featuring a multitude of trainee Christmas elves, in full dress, flooding out of the building, under the watchful eyes of designated hi-viz-wearing persons. Good to see the elvish hordes working to keep the magic alive.

Unlike, say, the Coca Cola company which has SNUBBED Milton Keynes by not including it on the itinerary for a seasonal visit from its iconic red Coke truck, it says here. Because Christmas just won't be Christmas if you can't take a seasonal selfie with a truck covered with fizzy drink branding outside the Asda superstore in  Milton Keynes.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Technology of the self

Not the first time this has been pointed out, but a good summary of the unspoken ideology behind everybody's favourite self-management tool:
In short, mindfulness is a technology of the self. What becomes of the goal of stress reduction when neoliberal culture sees stress as a personal failure of the individual to successfully adapt to the demands of productivity or of being a team player? Mindfulness proponents train individual students and teachers to be present-focused, self-regulate difficult emotions such as anger, improve concentration, get along with others, and decrease stress. This masks the actual conditions of schooling, including adverse ones that give rise to stress, and any critical analysis of the cultural, social, and moral factors that contribute to one’s well-being or lack of it. Children learn to see stressful experiences and how they respond to them as their responsibility—there is something inside of me I alone must change instead of looking at how my problems arise within unjust societal relationships and systems.
A degree of self-control is good for everybody, IMO. But this looks less like self-control than other-control. Article by David Forbes.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Museum to spit on Thatcher's grave


In a shocking act of apostasy, the Victoria and Albert Museum has wilfully insulted the holy relics of modern Britain's most venerated saint, the Blessed Margaret of Grantham. After initially suggesting that the relics be reverently sold off the to the highest bidder, in respectful accordance with the sacred principles of Thatcherism, the faithless backsliders are now blasphemously suggesting that the saint's garments be publicly displayed before the unworthy eyes of the laity.

The dissembling museum authorities have cited the false and heretical doctrines of inclusivity and the public interest to justify this vile insult.

True believers will recognise their words for what they really are; beguiling lies, intended to trap the unwary. Heed not the honeyed words of these satanic tricksters, who seek only to destroy the faith in the holy relics and to deny Her true and devoted acolytes the opportunity to touch the garments that once veiled the divine body and be overpowered by the touch of their saintly power.

Instead, demand the trial, arrest and exemplary punishment of the culprits in the museum administration and pray that the Holy Market takes pity on their wretched souls.

It's what she would have wanted.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Smartify everything

After many paragraphs of hype, evangelists for the Internet of Things usually fail to convince me that connecting every conceivable device in sight to the Internet solves some pressing problem more effectively than, say, pressing a simple on/off switch.

IoT septics usually take fewer than 140 characters to convince me that this is almost always a really terrible idea:








I don't think there's anything more I can add, apart from tagging this post under "bad ideas." Bless you, @internetofshit.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Spooky spads

Now I've never seen a ghost, but I have been asked to go to people's homes to ask them to leave. There's nothing wrong with a humble priest giving an initial assessment as to whether or not a ghost has taken up residence in someone's house, but getting rid of a ghost is up to an expert and most bishops have special advisors in the paranormal who are called in to do their work.

Good to see that it's not just politicians who benefit from some special advisor input. Do paranormal spads all have Oxbridge philosophy, politics and economics degrees, like regular ones, or just a diploma in DADA (Defence Against the Dark Arts) from Hogwarts?

Happy Halloween!

Friday, 30 October 2015

Game the Big Society like a pro

As Fraser Nelson rightly points out 'There is such a thing as the Big Society – it’s just not the same as Kids Company.'

There's also, for instance, the winner of the Prime Minister's 2013 Big Society Award, business advisory firm Deloitte. As the .gov.uk web site says 'Employees at Deloitte are encouraged and empowered to use their skills and capabilities to help these social businesses, and have become more involved in their local communities.'

What the official site fails to mention is that employees at Deloitte have also been encouraged and empowered to use their skills and capabilities to help the government and all three main political parties:
Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) have given donations of "staff costs" worth £1.36m and consultancy work totalling almost £500,000 to political parties since May 2009, according to Electoral Commission records. Work was provided for all three main political parties. It adds up to nearly £1.9m of services donated by the big four since 2009.

The firms also "lend" staff to the government: in the past year, 15 staff from top accountancy firms have been on secondment to the Treasury alone...

...In 2009 George Osborne and then shadow minister Greg Hands received support from Deloitte in the form of "services and advice provided in connection with the Eggar report". This report informed the Tories' March 2010 energy paper Rebuilding Security, in which they promised, if elected, to reform taxation and licensing to promote offshore oil and gas development.

But as well as having tax expertise, Deloitte's Petroleum Services Group involves "clients across the oil and gas sector" who would have benefited from the paper's proposed changes to taxation.

Deloitte's links to the Conservative party have been questioned in the past. In January, Labour MP John Robertson used written parliamentary questions to reveal that Ingeus Deloitte, which is 50% owned by Deloitte, won lucrative contracts through the government's Work Programme worth nearly £774m...

...Deloitte said: "It is Deloitte's policy not to give cash contributions to any political party or other groups with a political agenda. However, we do seek to develop and maintain constructive and balanced relationships with each of the main political parties and may make available staff and adviser resources, and technical and factual information on occasion."
The Graun

When it came to lobbying for influence, favours and cash, Camila Batmanghelidjh should have taken lessons from the professionals. And she could also take some professional advice from Deloitte on blame shifting. Here's David Sproul of Deloitte brilliantly explaining how the government is to blame for Deloitte taking advantage the sort of loopholes that only exist because government and the whole journalistic-political complex is riddled with accountancy firm consultants and lobbyists:
The chief executive of one of the big four accountancy firms, Deloitte, has blamed UK law for the money lost as a result of tax avoidance.

Speaking on Jeff Randall Live, David Sproul admitted that the problem with the tax system is "mainly the law".

He said: "There's clearly tax practices that take advantage of the rules that the Government has brought in.
Sky News

If Camilla had been as professional as Dave she, too, could have ended up blaming the government for the inevitable corrupt mess, rather than the other way round.

Empty suits 1, flamboyant amateur, 0.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Synergy

Who says the wellness industry and the junk food industry can't be besties?
The University of North Carolina’s N.C. Children’s Specialty Clinic will now be known as the Krispy Kreme Challenge Children’s Specialty Clinic, named after a tasty treat that’s filled with fat and sugar and will make you obese and die.

The clinic, according to a release out of UNC, won’t be named after the Krispy Kreme Corporation, but after the “Krispy Kreme Challenge,” a grotesque feat of athleticism in which you run, binge on Krispy Kreme donuts and then run more to raise money for the clinic (Slogan: “2400 calories, 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour”). You can view the “donut eating portion” of the run above. The event is sponsored in part by the Krispy Kreme Donut Corporation, which makes a product that is delicious and contributes to our national epidemic of fat, dying Americans. A place that’s designed to increase health will bear the trademark of a company that profits from destroying health. The thesis is named after its antithesis.
Gawker

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Agincourt - missing the point

I think I've just found the saddest ever attempt to hop on to the Agincourt bandwagon:
Business people from Welwyn Hatfield commemorated the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt yesterday in an event with a military theme.
King Henry V’s medieval victory over the French was celebrated by the borough’s chamber of commerce with a lunch at Moor Park Golf Club near Rickmansworth.

The event included a talk by business guru Nick Skelton, who recounted the 1415 campaign, and argued that business people could learn from the innovative use of the longbow by the English army.

He told his audience: “Henry V didn’t fight harder or smarter, He fought in a different way.
“Your business needs its own longbow - a point of differentiation.”
Welwyn Hatfield Times

Business people - and the rest of England - could learn even more by just googling the outcome of the Hundred Years' War. For those who missed the final result, the English lost, a fact that seems to get lost in all the jingoistic self-congratulation over one battle. In terms of romanticising an irrelevant lost cause, this puts English nationalists up there with those obsessive Scottish nationalists who never got over 1745 and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Friday, 23 October 2015

What's sauce for the goose...

... is sauce for the gander, so they say. This could be adapted as a motto for bloggers and and anybody else who cites stuff written by other people in support of a point of view - we can uncritically quote things that support our own viewpoint, yet remain silent when the same source undermines a cherished idea. What's a source for the goose is a source for the gander.

In my last post I questioned whether we should trust Alex Deane, from the pressure group People Against Sugar Tax, as a source. I still don't trust the guy, given his background in the dark arts of PR, his association with those dodgy hired spinners at Bell Pottinger, his past form as a tobacco lobbyist and his previous attempts to bully critics with lawfare.

None of that's changed, but I should declare that I've uncritically (and unwittingly) cited material sourced via Alex Deane before. I was immediately suspicious that People Against Sugar Tax was some sort of PR astroturf set-up and Deane's CV and track record did nothing to contradict my notion that the "people" who were against a sugar tax were probably people of the corporate variety,* as opposed to concerned citizens spontaneously organising a popular protest movement. 

My background check also revealed that Deane was one of the people behind Big Brother Watch. As somebody who's naturally suspicious of the corporate lobbying industry, I was quick to check and question Deane's bona fides when he came out with what looked like thinly-disguised black propaganda for the the food and drink industry. I'm also suspicious of state and corporate actors trying access to all the private data they can hoover up because it's for your own good / because it's for your own convenience / because they can / because you've nothing to fear if you've nothing to hide / etc, so I've happily cited Big Brother Watch in the past. Because I agreed with the organisation's stated aims, I didn't think to question the bona fides of the organisation or the people behind it.

I haven't come across anything to suggest that Big Brother Watch is biased or involved in disinformation, but if Deane's fingerprints make me mistrust People Against Sugar Tax, maybe I should be more sceptical about BBW, too. 

It's not the only time my preconceptions have trumped my scepticism - being no great fan of the crimes, follies and misdeeds of the finance industry, I've been only too happy to selectively cite criticism from another critic on a site by the name of Zero Hedge. But the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend if it turns out that the enemy of my enemy is full of bullshit:
Zero Hedge is a batshit insane Austrian economics-based finance blog run by a pseudonymous founder who posts articles under the name "Tyler Durden," after the character from Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. It has accurately predicted 200 of the last 2 recessions.

Tyler claims to be a "believer in a sweeping conspiracy that casts the alumni of Goldman Sachs as a powerful cabal at the helm of U.S. policy, with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve colluding to preserve the status quo." While this is not an entirely unreasonable statement of the problem, his solution actually mirrors the anatagonist in Fight Club: Tyler wants, per Austrian school ideas, to lead a catastrophic market crash in order to destroy banking institutions and bring back "real" free market capitalism.

And the moral of the story is trust no one watch those cognitive biases.


*The People Against Sugar Tax website is careful to point out that the organisation is only funded by private donations, but I'm not naive enough to suppose that the mere absence of direct, identifiable food and drink industry funding guarantees that this is an independent grass-roots organisation. I'm sure there are plenty of wealthy individuals with skin in the game who might chose to self-identify as disinterested private donors.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Who's the sugar daddy?

This article in the Telegraph by one Alex Deane, from a pressure group that calls itself People Against Sugar Tax, is ... erm ... interesting:

Jamie Oliver is a patronising bully and he can stick his sugar tax

A sugar tax on drinks and sweets would only hurt poor people. Politicians should ignore celebrities who want a nanny-state

...Oliver grandly told the Health Select Committee that he had had “robust” discussions with the Prime Minister about his proposed introduction of a 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. Which, we can confidently say, would be the beginning of sugar taxes, not the end of it – because the state, he thinks, should “frankly, act like a parent” when it comes to such matters.
This tells us all we need to know. Paternalism is a rather literal word for it. They know what’s best – not just for them, but for us. Not only do they know it; they want to force us all to share their choices, regardless of our own views.

It’s an unpleasant campaign, because it is hugely patronising. We all know that sugar isn’t good for us. From time to time, we choose to have it anyway. We eat sugary things because they taste good.
It’s an unpleasant campaign, because – whilse [sic] they really don’t like this point – those preaching over sugar are too rich to have to care about the price of food. The effect of sugar taxes would be to raise the price of food for those least able to afford it.

"If this bullying nonsense made it to the statute books, what have a stealth tax on those least able to afford it"
There's crumb of plausibility in Deane's extravagant Bake Off show-stopper-style confection of outrage. The look and feel of some prosperous celebrity chef lecturing the poor on how to make their pittance stretch further is patronising and paternalist, just like the man said. Even when the chef in question is less irritating than Jamie Oliver. 

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, for example, comes across as a thoroughly nice chap, but I still find it hard to stomach the spectacle of this well-heeled old Etonian advising the poor on how to eke out their slender food budget a little further. It's all too Victorian, too Lady Bountiful dishing out improving platitudes and nourishing broth to the lower orders.

Having said that, Jamie might get on my nerves with his mockney mucker patter, but AFAIK, he's no "bully." Bullies punch down, but Jamie offers training to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who want careers in the restaurant business at his Westland Place restaurant and he took on the catering giants whose profits rested on feeding cut-price Turkey Twizzlers and similar muck to school kids. He might not be my cup of tea, but credit where it's due.

But what about his accuser, Alex Deane? Who's he?
The Independent has established that Alex Deane, a former chief-of-staff to David Cameron, played a key role in attempts to use the freedom of information law against one public organisation involved in promoting awareness against the health dangers of roll-up tobacco. Mr Deane is a director of Bell Pottinger which earlier this year requested documents from a health-awareness organisation funded by the NHS, the Bristol-based Smoke Free South West, following a campaign it ran against roll-up tobacco, which is popular in that part of the country.
I'm not sure that a Big Tobacco shill who's been using lawfare to silence critics is in any position to call Jamie Oliver is a bully, or to act all outraged over an "unpleasant campaign". Or that People Against Sugar Tax is definitely the grass roots campaign set up by ordinary people that it pretends to be.

Tastes like chicken

Cleopatra - I have a poisonous asp.
Mark Antony - Oh, I wouldn't say that.
Cleopatra - Oh, no, no, no, no. I have. Look. [produces snake]
Cleopatra - One bite from this is enough.
Mark Antony - [bites snake's head off] You're right. One bite's enough for anyone. That's shocking. 
Carry On Cleo
Snake in a basket? Wasn't that a menu item in Berni Inns, back in the '70s? Or something like that (gustatus similis pullus, as they say in the senior common room and the 509th Operations Group)?

Winter is coming

The changing seasons, as recorded by a couple more of my old scanned 35mm prints from the 1980s. That's Alexandra Palace on top of the hill, as seen from the window of the flat where I once lived in Muswell Hill.

If these had been taken today, you might either
  • envy the amount of cash I've got to splash - according to the London Underground Rent Map, it now costs north of £1,000 per month to rent a one-bedroom pad in that neck of the woods (Highgate is about the closest tube station)
or
But I moved out long since. Back in the latter half of the '80s, a flat in desirable area like Muswell Hill was comfortably affordable for not-very-well-off postgraduate student / only-just-ex-student in a humble clerical job. For Londoners on an average income, winter has already arrived.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A deficit with Chinese characteristics

Remind me, who was supposed to be 'a serious risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security?':
As the FT’s Giles Wilkes put it succinctly last month:
'Wish someone would explain why flying 15000km to beg for Chinese cash is a better way of funding UK infrastructure than just borrowing at 3%...'

 ...the Conservatives, and George Osborne in particular, have made eliminating the deficit their raison d’être. The state deficit was the political stick the Conservatives chose to use against Labour and now they have to see it through. They have, therefore, just passed a law ruling out borrowing for investment after 2019. Of course, this is pure baloney as all governments in modern times have borrowed to fund infrastructure but it means that the capital spending the country needs must be funded through the disguised borrowing of foreign investment and PFI deals.*

But while the expedient may be short-term the ramifications of China taking a stake in the UK could be huge...

...For reasons of ideology and political expediency, the government is sleepwalking into a potential geopolitical shift. No-one can be sure where this will lead or what the implications might be. At best, it will leave future generations paying some of their tax money to a foreign dictatorship. At worst, well, who knows?
The reliably excellent Rick at Flip Chart Fairy Tales has some cautionary thoughts on George's hot date with sugar daddy Xi.

Now we know that Britain's 'long-term economic plan' depends on a big dose of that off-balance-sheet creative accountancy which worked out so well for the banks, are we feeling more secure yet?

*My emphasis.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

More seaside Gothic

The remains of Skegness Pier (a photo I took some time in the late 1980s).
The 1817 foot pier had cost £20,840 when it opened on 4th June 1881. It included a 700-seat saloon/concert hall at the 'T' shaped head. Steamboat trips began in 1882. The pier-head saloon was extended in 1898, and new refreshment rooms were built at the pier-head...

... On 11th January 1978, a severe storm washed away two large sections of the pier and left the theatre isolated at the seaward end. Plans to link the two sections by monorail, and to build a new 1200 seat theatre and a 250 foot tower all fell through later that year when an application for financial assistance was rejected.

Work began on dismantling the theatre in October 1985 but, while this work was taking place, a fire gutted the building.

Today the pier is only 129 yards (118m) long and no evidence remains of the old pierhead and shelters but what remains of the landward pier deck walkway has since undergone major refurbishment and is now once again a tourist attraction.

Even after refurbishment, what's left of the landward part of the pier looks forlorn. Somebody once defined a pier as a 'disappointed bridge' and that's exactly what it looks like today:


-- Tell me now, Stephen said, poking the boy's shoulder with the book, what is a pier.
-- A pier, sir, Armstrong said. A thing out in the waves. A kind of bridge. Kingstown pier, sir.
Some laughed again: mirthless but with meaning. Two in the back bench whispered. Yes. They knew: had never learned nor ever been innocent. All. With envy he watched their faces. Edith, Ethel, Gerty, Lily. Their likes: their breaths, too, sweetened with tea and jam, their bracelets tittering in the struggle.
-- Kingstown pier, Stephen said. Yes, a disappointed bridge.
James Joyce Ulysses

Thursday, 15 October 2015

This takes the biscuit

In which NewsBiscuit totally nails it:
Man does thing without being asked to complete a survey about it

A man was left shocked and insulted after completing an activity without a request to ‘evaluate his experience’ on-line for a chance to win something.

‘I really enjoy filling in surveys, as you do all the time after doing anything nowadays, so I was gobsmacked not to be asked to spend a few minutes telling somebody what I thought of my experience,’ said Bryan Wilson of Basingstoke, male, married, home-owner, father of two, age 40-49, administrator/senior manager, reads Daily Express, drives Ford Mondeo, one foreign holiday in the last twelve months.
Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Oh, hang on, incoming e-mail:
From: customerservice@worldoftshirts.com

Dear Customer:

We appreciate your purchase of our 100% cotton T-shirt. Please help us by taking a few minutes to tell us about the service that you have received so far. We value your trust in our company, and we will do our best to meet your service expectations.

Please click on the link below to complete our on-line survey and you could win an iPad Mini:

https://customeraccounts.worldoftshirts.com/yesmewantshinythingpleasesendmemoreinformationaboutyourproducts

Fractal wrongness

As I should have anticipated, there's slightly more to the case of Jennifer Connell, the New York lady who tried to sue her nephew for $127,000 after the kid bounded up to her with an excess of boisterous affection at his eighth birthday party, causing her to stumble and break her wrist, than meets the eye:

Here's why she did it:
"It’s amazing the power that the internet has that something can go viral, completely out of context,” she said. “I’m certainly not trying to retire to some villa in the south of France. I’m simply trying to pay off my medical bills...."

...Connell told CNN in an interview on Tuesday that “this was meant to be a simple homeowners insurance case” and said her attorney had advised her how the lawsuit ought to be worded.

This is “perfectly plausible”, said Tom Baker, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specialises in insurance law. He told the Guardian this kind of suit is a common occurrence when someone finds themselves with medical bills not covered by medical insurance, who might be able to be covered under homeowners insurance if liability could be proved. 
The Graun

Trying to sue an over-enthusiastic eight-year-old wasn't the smartest of moves and imagining that a jury would sympathise with her disclosure that "I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d’oeuvre plate" was even dumber, but at least we have some context here. This wasn't just an individual lapse of judgement, but a societal one.

Her case was never going to succeed, but in a better-ordered society, Jennifer Connell wouldn't even have been tempted to try it on. If this had happened in Britain, she'd have had an unscheduled trip to the nearest National Health Service Accident and Emergency Department. This isn't always the greatest of experiences and she might have found herself waiting longer than she'd like and having her day thoroughly disrupted, but she'd have left with her wrist fixed, thinking "Ow! That hurt!", rather than "How much! How the hell am I supposed to pay for that?"

Jennifer Connell may not be the sharpest tool in the box but she's living in a country which can spend more on its military that than the world's next ten nine biggest defence spenders combined (with only mixed results), yet hasn't worked out how to organise a health care system that can deal with the simple occurrence of an average citizen's broken wrist without turning the situation into a household budget-destroying crisis and sending every ambulance-chasing lawyer for miles around into a feeding frenzy.

At least we can be smug about it in Britain, for the moment, although with the NHS in the hands of a Conservative administration which seems less than keen than their branding would suggest on conserving our actually existing, mostly functional system, we may not be feeling this smug for ever.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Tears of a clown

George Osborne has called on Labour’s disgruntled MPs to defy the party whip and vote for “economic sanity” tonight...

In an emailed statement last night the chancellor moved to exploit the internal Labour divisions over Mr Osborne’s proposed Charter of Budget Responsibility, committing the government to cutting the deficit.
The Times (£)

The question here is who's made the bigger U-Turn - the shadow chancellor who, for reasons unknown, decided to go along with this Charter of Budget Responsibility nonsense for a few days, before coming to his senses, or the chancellor, who was thoroughly against this sort of thing until he was for it?
Let us remember what one of the economists whom the Prime Minister himself appointed to the Monetary Policy Committee has said about the Bill. Willem Buiter has said:
"Fiscal responsibility acts are instruments of the fiscally irresponsible to con the public."
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con), as reported in Hansard, January 2010
Now if there's a smile on my face
It's only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that's quite a different subject 
via

Judgement day

We've all had lapses of judgement from time to time - said or done something only to end up wondering 'what the hell was I thinking?' The good news is that, however abysmal your judgement, you're probably doing better than Jennifer Connell of New York.

In March 2011, Jennifer rolled up at her nephew's 8th birthday party.  The boy got off the new bike he'd been riding and rushed into her arms with a cry of ‘Auntie Jen, I love you!’ Unfortunately, his boisterous greeting caused her to stumble, fall and break her wrist. At this point she could have decided to:

 a) put the whole freak accident down to experience

or

 b) sue the kid for $127,000 damages.

Tough call.

Sadly for Jennifer, she judged that b) was probably the best course of action.

Having committed herself to becoming a public laughing stock and enduring a lifetime of very awkward family gatherings, Jennifer didn't exactly help her case by asking the jury to feel her pain with the heart-rending revelation that 'I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d’oeuvre plate.'

For some reason, the jury were unmoved by the harrowing story of Jennifer's hors d’oeuvre hell and took 25 minutes* to award the 54-year-old human resources manager zero damages, which only goes to prove that somebody in this story wasn't having a lapse of judgement.

 via

 *I'm guessing that was roughly 20 minutes to stop laughing, about a second to decide and 4 minutes 59 to confirm the verdict.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Whisper its name with shame

When people type with the caps lock on, we call it shouting. Shouting's not recommended by any reputable style guide - inappropriate caps make people think you're rude, dodgy (scammers who want to draw your attention to their too-good-to-be-true pitches love emphasis caps), or mad (so do the sort of people who get excited by the idea that they've uncovered the SHOCKING TRUTH about the Knights Templar / Illuminati / Jewish world conspiracy / moon landing hoax / lizard people from Alpha Draconis).

But what do you call it when people decide to use lower case for something which clearly should be in caps, like a set of initials? Whispering, I guess. And that's exactly what our old friends at the Royal Bank of Scotland have been doing:
The bank hopes to partly repair its tarnished image by giving its corporate acronym a lower-case makeover by axing the bold RBS logo and replacing it with the more modest rbs.
I almost approve of this - it's as if they've been reduced to a guilty whisper by the crushing shame of what they've done - and they damn well ought to be ashamed. But I suspect that it's less genuine contrition than an attempt to fool the public by photoshopping the bank's past misdeeds out of history, as the deliberate deployment of the NatWest brand fig leaf suggests:
The NatWest name will also become more prominent in England and Wales under the proposals which are expected to see the scaled-back investment banking division rebadged as RBS Markets.
Not quite as sorry as they should be, then.

Although isn't diminishing the 'r' in 'royal' some kind of unforgivable insult, rather like failing to immediately drop everything at the first opportunity to genuflect before the divine radiance of our our anointed monarch? Isn't it about time her Maj locked the whole RBS rbs board up in the Tower of London for this shocking act of lèse-majesté? Then they really would be sorry.