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.

Update
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.

*via

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.

Via

*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?

In which I apologise for misrepresenting Donald J Trump

Yesterday I made a snide remark about "the special favours Trump's been doing for his rich buddies on Wall Street." On reflection, I think I was being inaccurate and unfair.

Sure, Trump's inner circle are all high net worth individuals (why would you hang out with a guy like that, if you respected anything other than money?), but they're not from Wall Street. As Bess Levin wrote in Vanity Fair a while back "Trump’s habit of reneging on contracts and suing his lenders meant that virtually nobody on Wall Street wanted to work with him."

Yep, it turns out out that bankers adore not being cheated out of their money even more than they love the mega-rich. So there was presumably no real love lost between The Donald and Squiddy McSquidface, even before that eclipse gag.

As Bess Levin's article notes, there is an exception that proves the rule, namely  Deutsche Bank, which has loaned Trump $4 billion over the last 20 years and kept his line of credit open despite being sued by Trump in 2008:
...when he fell behind on payments on the $640 million loan he was given to build Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago. Incredibly, in order to avoid paying the $40 million he had personally guaranteed, Trump and his lawyer argued that “Deutsche Bank is one of the banks primarily responsible for the economic dysfunction we are currently facing”—i.e. the global financial crisis—and therefore it should pay him $3 billion in damages under the extraordinary event clause in his contract. Naturally, the bank countersued, calling the real-estate developer’s claim “classic Trump.” In the end, after threatening to take his name off the building if he wasn’t granted more time to pay, the bank gave Trump extra time; when he did pay the money he owed to the firm’s real-estate lending division, it was with another loan he got from Deutsche’s wealth-management unit. Trump subsequently moved his business from the real estate group to the private wealth management group, where, according to the Times, “executives were more willing to deal with him.”
Trump's $3 billion damages claim was ridiculous, but the argument that “Deutsche Bank is one of the banks primarily responsible for the economic dysfunction we are currently facing”, is also just about the least misleading statement that Trump has ever made.

There's a possible Russia connection in Trump's dealings with Deutsche Bank, but even if there isn't, there's a very interesting story buried in all those loans, about how much, or little, Trump is really worth, once you subtract the money he owes to the creditors he's not managed to diddle. Enough to bring the whole house of cards down, once counsel Mueller's investigation exposes the workings of the Trump shell game? No wonder Wall Street's wary of him - those guys really hate rip-off merchants and it takes one to know one.

Could @realDonaldTrump be closer to the wannabe lynchers in Charlottesville than the looters on Wall Street, not just in his bigotry, but in his real net worth?

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

When you've lost the great vampire squid...


Squiddy's snarky comment looks a bit ungrateful, considering all the special favours Trump's been doing for his rich buddies on Wall Street. Or was he, as another tweeter speculated, on both sides of his trade with The Donald (they call it "hedging")? Is there money to be made from shorting white supremacism?

Whether this tweet was two-faced, or merely ungracious, wasn't entirely self-evident. Slightly more obvious was the short list of candidates to for the other "thing" casting a shadow over America. It had to be either The Donald or this adorable critter...
*



*I'm not quite sure where the image originally came from. Fair use? Yeah, probably...

Monday, 21 August 2017

Dave's modest proposal

This sounds perfectly reasonable to me:
Fitness enthusiast Dave May has urged his local gym to allow him to continue to enjoy the benefits of belonging to his gym after cancelling his gym membership.

In an e-mail sent at 3am on Monday morning, Dave expressed his desire for "the freest and most frictionless use" of both equipment and personal trainers after his membership expires.

To achieve this, Dave wants his gym to allow services and facilities he has been using before exit day to be used by him without "any additional requirements or restrictions" after he leaves and for him to remain authorised to access the gym after ceasing to be a member.

These proposals would reassure Dave and allow him to "plan ahead with certainty" as he prepares to exit his 12-month contract, the e-mail says.

In a Facebook post accompanying the e-mail, Dave said: "This e-mail will help give me certainty and confidence in my status as a fitness powerhouse after I have left my gym.

"It also shows that as I enter negotiations with my fitness provider, it is clear that my separation from my gym and my future relationship with it are inextricably linked.

"I have already begun to set out what I would like to see from a future relationship on issues such as the use of cardiovascular and resistance machines and am ready to begin a formal dialogue on this and other issues."
And he can't say fairer than that...


"Don't tell him, Pike!"

We Brits never tire of reminding ourselves that we're world leaders in having a sense of humour and we've now even got something called "the Gold TV Comedy Audit" to remind us of our past national triumphs in hilarity, as the Express revealed earlier this year:
“DON’T tell him, Pike!” and “I know nuh-thing” are among Britain’s favourite comedy oneliners, critics have revealed.

The classic Dad’s Army line – uttered by Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) after Ian Lavender’s gormless Private Pike has been asked for his name by a German prisoner – topped a list of iconic gags from hit shows like Blackadder, Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous.
It was a pretty funny line back in the day but it feels as if, somewhere along the way, we've forgotten why it was so funny.

The joke works on at least three levels. First, Captain Mainwaring contradicting the whole point of his own order was a witty, compact logical absurdity, in the paradoxical tradition of Lewis Carroll's word games. Second, it's part of a comedy of manners - if this was just some random character slipping up on a metaphorical banana skin it would have been slightly amusing verbal slapstick, but it became properly funny because of the pomposity and self-importance of the character who was falling flat on his face. But the slapstick element of the situation also worked in its own terms, too - watching people bumbling about and doing something really badly can be genuinely hilarious in itself, which is why fail memes are a thing.

The thing is, on any of those three levels, the joke is only funny because we, the audience, can see the absurdity of the situation. The characters on the other side of the fourth wall are oblivious to their own logical inconsistencies, character quirks and ineptitude. The writers, actors and audience are sharing a joke at the expense of the characters. Admittedly, in this case, it's quite a gentle joke - Dad's Army was always about affectionate mockery - with the possible exception of all-purpose killjoy Warden Hodges, most of the characters were essentially likeable, if very silly. But it's only funny because we have a sense of the ridiculous which is lost on the characters.

We've been exposed to this sort of comedy for so long that you'd think that nobody on these islands could fall into the trap of parroting logical absurdities, getting puffed up with self-importance, or making a chaotic hash of things without some memory from Dad's Army, or Blackadder, or Fawlty Towers, or Python, or whatever, popping into mind and prompting some thought along the lines of "Hang on, this is just getting silly." But no, at least for influential people making some of the most important decisions in our national life, there is no fourth wall. Our chief Brexit negotiator, David Davis, isn't watching Captain Mainwairing and laughing at him. He is Captain Mainwaring, blissfully unaware of his own logical inconsistencies, pompous bluster and incompetence...
"You'll find it difficult sometimes to read what we intend, that's deliberate, I'm afraid in negotiations you do have constructive ambiguity from time to time."
...or maybe, as Cliff Taylor has suggested, he's channelling Blackadder's cheerful, but turnip-brained, sidekick, Baldrick:
If there is a cunning British plan in the background here it is being particularly well concealed. Britain’s Brexit secretary David Davis said “creative ambiguity” was needed during a negotiation and that London could not show all its hand. But this looks more like Blackadder than Machiavelli.

London must know that the rest of the EU will not allow it to simultaneously leave the EU, retain the benefits of free trade within Europe and also be able to negotiate new trade deals with other countries such as the US, Latin American and Asian countries and so on.

In political terms this is firmly in the cake-possession-and-eating department. In economic terms, the key problem is that Britain wants to trade freely and without barriers with the EU, while at the same time striking its own trade deals with other countries.
Even when the mockery is affectionate, you're supposed to laugh at these characters, not become them. It's kind of the point of comedy. If you don't get that, you're suffering from a sense of humour failure that leads to some very dark places indeed, as the consistently excellent Flipchart Rick has just pointed out:
I said years ago that if we ever had an authoritarian movement in Britain it would not have uniforms, goose-stepping marches and torchlight parades. It wouldn’t be that interesting. Ours would be a shabby poujadism, led by golf club bores, residents’ association busybodies and parish Pol Pots.

The boorish self-righteous know-all is a staple of British comedy, perhaps because every neighbourhood has at least one. It’s easy to imagine Terry Medford, Martin Bryce, Warden Hodges and Reggie Perrin’s brother-in-law Jimmy in your local UKIP branch. Basil Fawlty would have joined in the early years but left once they started letting in riffraff like Eddie Booth and Alf Garnett. But at least in the comedies even the most dislikable characters had some redeeming features and, in the end, they usually got their comeuppance, their own puffed-up stupidity eventually bringing about their downfall.

Alas, in 2017, this once-ridiculed tendency in our national culture is now calling the shots. As Rafael Behr said last week, to the rest of the world, Britain now looks urbane but unhinged. Sitcom characters, only without the comedy...
You should definitely click through and read the whole thing (as well as Rafael Behr's bleak but brilliant polemic on the subject).

Welcome to the UK, the looking-glass kingdom of backwards Karl Marx, where history repeats itself first as farce, then as tragedy.


Cross-posted here.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

We'll only rip you off for your own good

The food industry "will be asked to shrink thousands of products or find other ways to cut their calorie content as part of a Government crackdown on junk foods." Apparently the industry is totally cool with this request. Can you guess why?
The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents manufacturers, welcomed the plans.

A spokesman said: “We are pleased that the Government has confirmed the broadening of its focus beyond just sugar - and towards calories - as it seeks to tackle obesity. FDF has long advocated this ‘whole diet’ approach.

“Singling out the role of individual ingredients and food groups does not help consumers to make good choices about their diet, lifestyle or general health.”
Somehow it doesn't surprise me that the industry welcomes the opportunity to sell us smaller portions for the same price, while claiming that they're only doing it for our own good and insisting that "it's not our fault, the government made us do it."

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Ship of fools

Admiral Sir Philip Jones is jolly proud of his new toy:
HMS Queen Elizabeth is the nation's future flagship; the embodiment of Britain in steel and spirit. In the years and decades to come, she and her sister ship will demonstrate the kind of nation we are...
And, by jingo, he's right. What better to symbolise the state of the nation than an unwieldy, massively expensive status symbol?

It's a ship specifically and exclusively designed around one of the most misconceived, overpriced, under-performing warplanes in the long, murky history of defence procurement ("The JSF is a terrible fighter, bomber and attacker — and unfit for aircraft carriers").

It's vulnerable to attack, although if the Navy ask the French very nicely, they might help to defend it (in return for borrowing its sister ship occasionally).

And talking of borrowing, the US Marine Corps have told the UK they'll be using its new aircraft carrier to fly their F-35s over the South China Sea on its first deployment (I guess that's only fair - after all, it was the USMC's input that irretrievably screwed up the F-35's design in the first place, so it would be rude not to thank them for saddling the UK with one of the most expensively useless military aircraft of all time).

A ruinously expensive, ill-conceived boast that's supposed to impress the rest of the world but, in reality, only highlights the UK's vulnerability, subservient status and dependence on the good will of others. Truly, HMS Queen Elizabeth is "the embodiment of Britain* in steel"...



*Apologies to Northern Ireland although, to be fair, Northern Ireland will be increasingly easy to miss anyway, now that it's being fitted with an innovative stealth border, as part of an ambitious project that promises to be every bit as trouble-free and successful as the F-35.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Anarchy in the UK (and the USA)

Another day, another entirely predictable "health and safety gone mad" rant from the British press:
"DEATH KNELL FOR COMMON SENSE
Big Ben Silenced for FOUR years to protect workers' hearing ... yes, it's all down to Health and Safety!" screamed the Mail in in a front page headline that tried to leap off the page and make your ears bleed with the sheer volume of its righteous indignation.*

How did we arrive at a place where trying to stop people being deafened at work is seen as an outrage against common sense and all that is holy? Fintan O'Toole traces the knee-jerk antipathy back to the grandaddy of folksy conservative common sense...
...one of the best-known lines delivered by that consummate performer Ronald Reagan as US president, in August 1986 [was]: “I think you all know that I’ve always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

 ...It was a clever, insidious sneer at the very idea of public service: to be “here to help” is to be at best a well-meaning bungler. Government does not enable: it interferes. Regulation is redefined as molestation. Public service is a public nuisance. The freedom to live in squalor or to make money from those who do so is the ultimate value...

 ...If those who seek to govern express derision for government, if they consistently characterise regulation as red tape and action as interference, they destroy the basis of their own authority. Electorates take the hint and aim missiles – Trump, Brexit – at their own institutions: if government is not here to help, why not destroy it?

The right has played with the fire of anarchy, and now both the UK and the US are anarchic states, one in the grip of idiocy, the other of self-destructive fantasy.
If government isn't here to help, what the hell is it for? "Doing mad stuff for no readily apparent reason" seems to be the reply from the children of the Common Sense Revolution.


*Update - the very best headline on the subject came,  as you might expect, from the Daily Mash.



Sunday, 13 August 2017

Soft news story

Another interesting result from Google News. This time it wasn't the pairing of headline and image that looked inappropriate, but the headline itself:
"Levitra soft tabs erfahrung"* ???
Sounds more spammy than your average headline and, sure enough, if you click through on the alleged story, you end up at canadian-pharma dot com:

According to the website, Levita Soft is "a prescription medication for the treatment of erectile dysfunction (ED)."

Maybe it's just me, but even if the dodgy-looking website didn’t put you off, surely the name of the drug would? Or am I the only person who finds the word "soft" a tad insensitive in this context?



*Google Translate tells me that this is German for "experience."

Update - clicking through on headlines like this is not recommended, unless you want to see more headlines like this in your news feed...

Ukip still existing for some reason

I think that reason might be comedy. Mainly because the remarkable Aidan Powlesland is among the gaggle of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists now vying for the Ukip leadership. And in a three-way contest for the most ridiculous figure in British politics, Aidan is definitely the only candidate who could beat Lord Buckethead and Jacob Rees-Mogg:
Aidan Powlesland, who is standing for parliament in the rural seat of South Suffolk, told BuzzFeed News he wants to set aside £100 million for "an interstellar colony ship design" and £30 million for an "interstellar nano-probe fleet design" designed to attract the attention of Russian investor Yuri Milner, and will provide a £1 billion prize to any private company that can mine the asteroid belt by 2026.
Asked whether asteroid mining was a priority for most UKIP voters – compared to issues such as immigration controls – Powlesland replied: "I suppose the absence of the centrality of a proposition within a general dialogue doesn’t necessarily mean that the dialogue is heading in the correct direction."

...Powlesland's election leaflet also includes a pledge to cut the welfare cap from £20,000 per household to £10,500, abolishing all residential planning legislation to encourage housebuilding, repealing employment laws that entrench "political correctness" so companies can "hire and fire at will", and stopping road construction – because we will soon all be travelling by flying cars.

Other flagship policies include buying "ten flying aircraft carriers" for the armed forces – apparently reviving the large-scale zeppelin programmes of the 1930s – and investing in electromagnetic-pulse submarines. He would deploy 15,000 British troops close to the Russia's border, although in a symbolic gesture of friendship he would also make it easier for Russian tourists to travel to the UK.
In an age when entertainment value trumps sane policymaking every time, ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner.

Vote Powlesland. You know it makes sense. Especially if they give all the Ukippers a one-way ticket on the interstellar colony ship, Golgafrinchan B Ark-style.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop fascists

Refugee rescue boat sent to help far-right anti-immigrant ship stranded in Mediterranean with mechanical failure
See what I just did there, Katie?

By the way, I'm only joking about going all Apocalypse Now on the alt-reich's Mediterranean hate cruise. Fortunately, Katie Hopkins and her fellow trolls love a bit of edgy banter, so I'm sure they'll be wetting themselves with mirth over the hilarious idea of machine-gunning the survivors.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Unreadier than Æthelred

Brexit
ˈbrɛksɪt/
noun

The undefined being negotiatied by the unprepared in order to get the unspecified for the uninformed.

I don't know who came up with this, but I got it from here, via here and also posted it here.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Don't fear the reaper (?)

"Thursday briefing: Trump 'extremely getting on North Korea's nerves'"
Another odd pairing of text and image from Google News. Let's just hope there's no actual connection between an ominous hooded figure with glowing eyes and the clash of egos between two grotesquely oversized toddlers who are allowed to play with nuclear weapons.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Collapse

Easter's chiefs and priests had previously justified their elite status by claiming relationship to the gods, and by promising to deliver prosperity and bountiful harvests.  As their promises were being proved increasingly hollow, the power of the chiefs and priests was overthrown around 1680 by military leaders called matatoa, and Easter's formerly complexly integrated society collapsed in an epidemic of civil war...

...Oral traditions record that the last ahu [stone platforms] and moai [the famous Easter Island statues] were erected around 1620, and that Paro (the tallest statue) was among the last... That the sizes of the statues had been increasing may reflect not only rival chiefs vying to outdo each other, but also more urgent appeals to ancestors necessitated by the growing environmental crisis.
From Collapse, by Jared Diamond. With our own island's political elite apparently too paralysed by panic to do anything about a readily apparent crisis, other than fight among themselves and make obviously undeliverable promises, it seems to me that we've not learned as much from past catastrophes as we should have.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Hybrid vehicle

Camper vans, motor homes, recreational vehicles - their names are legion, but there are usually only two ways of getting one.

  1. Buy an off-the-shelf motor home which the manufacturer has built as a motor home
  2. Buy some kind of truck, van, or minibus and have the interior fitted out with the appropriate furniture by a professional coachbuilder (or do it yourself if you have the skills, time and tools).


But the individual responsible for the mobile Frankenhome below has no time for such conventional ways of doing things:
"I have a flat bed truck. I have a towed caravan. I graft the caravan body onto the truck. Behold my creation! It's alive! IT'S ALIVE!!!"
Spotted in Scarborough, earlier this week.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Rhododendrons are not people

“It’s this immigration thing. It looks as if the whole of Europe is turning into a barricaded society. ‘We don’t mind people as long as they are our people. We don’t like these foreign squirrels coming in and taking over.’ It’s intolerance, and it’s illogical.”
John Bryant of Animal Aid
[Environmental journalist Fred] Pearce also notes that, in 2009, the racist BNP branded the North American signal crayfish “the Mike Tyson of crayfish … a diseased, psychotic, evil, illegal immigrant colonist [that] totally devastates the indigenous environment”.
From Patrick Barkham's article about the grey squirrel culling debate, which appeared in the Guardian earlier this year.

Bryant and Pearce clearly hate the anti-migrant hysteria currently being whipped up by cynical demagogues (and the apologists who excuse such bigotry as "legitimate concerns"). I agree - it's nasty, stupid and indefensible.

But I think Bryant and Pearce are dead wrong when they make a rhetorical link between such bigoted nativism and attempts to stop local ecosystems from being destroyed or degraded by introduced species.

First, you can argue for controlling invasive species without making it about this country versus the rest of the world. When humans unwisely introduced the Nile perch to Lake Victoria, several hundred resident species were driven to extinction or near extinction. Introducing rabbits to Australia led to massive overgrazing and species loss. Introduced cane toads and Burmese pythons have taken to eating resident species (some of them endangered) in their new homes (there are countless examples from around the globe - these particular stories were taken from here). Both perch and python are devastating ecosystems which have nothing to do with this nation.

Second, as per the title of this post, introduced animals and plants are not human beings. Comparing them to abused and vilified human migrants is just the flip side of the category error racists make when they rant about a crayfish as a "psychotic, evil, illegal immigrant colonist." A crayfish isn't an oppressed minority, or an antisocial person without valid documents. It's a big shrimp.
Third, I'm not that impressed by the idea of environmental laissez faire:
Fred Pearce has argued that ecosystems are always changing and invasive species should be celebrated. The vast majority of Britain’s flora and fauna arrived in the last 10,000 years. Nothing is “native” – everything is visiting. For Pearce, the alleged damage caused by most “invasive” species, such as Japanese knotweed, is overstated by grant-seeking bureaucrats and sensationalising media. 
Yes, flora and fauna naturally move about over thousands, tens of thousands, or millions of years. Species move, evolve and perish over time. But that's not an excuse for perpetrating, or doing nothing about, ecological disasters caused by human meddling or negligence.

I'm reminded of the time when the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould mentioned that extinction was a natural part of the evolution of life and that over 99.% of species that have ever lived are extinct. He was bemused to find his words being cited by people arguing that wildlife preservation was therefore a waste of time, because all species die eventually. Gould compared this misrepresentation of what he'd said to somebody refusing to give life-saving drugs to a sick child on the grounds that all humans are mortal anyway.

Forget the misplaced anthropomorphism. There's overwhelming evidence that introduced species have devastated environments and driven other species that live there to extinction, or close to it. The newcomers aren't the psychotic, evil, illegal immigrant colonists of racist metaphor, just lifeforms surviving and reproducing in their normal way, in an abnormal environment, but the damage they do is real. If we value our biodiversity we should avoid upsetting our existing ecosystems with thoughtless introductions and we should control invasive species wherever possible. Sometimes a rhododendron is just a rhododendron.

A human moving from one place where humans already live, across an artificial line on a map drawn by humans and ending up in another place where humans already live is not like an invasive species.*  It's a bad metaphor. The economic and socio-political arguments about the pros and cons of human migration have nothing to do with what happens when humans transplant a novel species into an environment where it didn't evolve.

As far as I'm concerned, migration and invasive species are two, entirely separate, issues that shouldn't be conflated, either by racists comparing other humans to alien species, or by self-described conservationists who won't do anything to prevent the damage done by actual invasive species because they, also, view non-native species as being like human immigrants, only in a good way.

When it comes to environmental policy, I completely disagree with Bryant and Pearce. I do concede that they have a point when it comes to the use of language. It is, after all, a short step from the BNP's ridiculous description of the signal crayfish as "a psychotic, evil, illegal immigrant colonist" to Katie Hopkins' notorious description of migrants as "cockroaches." This sort of language is becoming so normalised that people are becoming immune to it.

I should know, because I did something similar recently, when I described Nigel Farage, who is apparently thinking of emigrating to the USA, as a "rat" and a specimen of alien vermin threatening Maine's native ecosystem. The use of language was, I thought, ironic and satirical, in the spirit of, "If he thinks it's OK to talk about migrants in those sort of terms, let's see how he likes it when he's the migrant." Also, Farage, unlike the average migrant, is self-evidently** nasty, spiteful and destructive, so he's fair game, I thought.

But I'm starting to have second thoughts. Not only were my words open to misinterpretation by the irony-deficient, as per Poe's Law, but giving more exposure to the language of racists, even in mockery, is probably a bad idea. There are other ways to mock bad faith and terrible ideas and I'll bear that in mind when writing about this sort of stuff in future. So at least Bryant and Pearce have made me think about the language I use, even if I've got no time for their ideas about conservation and introduced species.





*Bad things have happened in the past when humans have moved around the world (think of the fate of the native Americans when Europeans came along with their germs and weapons), but it shouldn't take more than a few moments' thought to realise that these, too, are misleading, useless metaphors for what happens today when somebody from a poorer country comes to the UK to do a bit of cleaning, or fruit-picking, or to work in the NHS.

**Don't take my word for it - ask his current employer:
LBC is facing growing pressure to end its relationship with Nigel Farage after it was forced to retract a series of false and misleading claims he made on air...

..."The fear is that he is going to be the next Hopkins," one LBC source told BI.
'Nuff said.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Everything now officially a journey

 Just in case you were in any doubt, literally everything you do is now some sort of journey.  We were in a DIY store recently, talking to one of their bathroom/kitchen designers about how much it might cost to renovate our bathroom. He'd suggested we might like laminate flooring which, to me, didn't  sound like a great choice for a damp environment, so I suggested some kind of vinyl floor covering as an alternative

After the briefest of pauses he replied, rather magnificently, "Our journey doesn't include vinyl."

I'm off to make myself a cup of coffee now. If I don't return from my epic instant caffeinated beverage journey, tell them I died trying.

"Roots of disruption"

Apparently, the United Kingdom is updating its Facebook profile from "Not in a relationship" to "In a relationship with Donald Trump." "He loves the United Kingdom" it says here.

The president's new mouthpiece, Anthony Scaramucci, invited us to "Think about the special relationship we've had since the inception of this great nation." Really - "since the inception of this great nation"? Yeah, I guess the relationship was pretty special in 1776, when the Americans and Brits were fighting a war which cost upwards of 110,000 lives. If by "special" you mean "abusive", Tony. Then there was that unfortunate little war we had in 1812. I know we burned the White House down...

...but, hey, that's in the past and it's all good now. OK, maybe we should update our relationship status to "It's complicated"... We're a team and nothing's going to disrupt us any more. Am I right, Tony?
You know what this nation is? It's a disruptive start-up, it was a group of rich guys who got together and said, "You know what, we are going to break away from the other countries and start our own country."

This is a disruptive start-up. You know what the president is doing? He is bringing it back to its roots of disruption.
Okaaay. So you're the disrupter in this relationship ... which would make the UK the disruptee. How have relationships between disrupters and disruptees been working out lately? A glance at some recent headlines might give us a clue:
Well, what do you know? Apparently, being disrupted hurts, so you wouldn't really want to snuggle up to a self-confessed disrupter, unless you're some kind of masochist.

In the unlikely event that the UK government ever wants our humiliation to stop, do we even have a safe word?

Monday, 24 July 2017

Also works as a band name generator

@CorrectNames is on a mission to uncover "The correct names for things, not the other ones", generating better-than-average band names as a byproduct. I particularly like "Acoustic Motorcycle", although this itself may be a mere byproduct of too much times spent listening to indie bands on the John Peel show as a lad:
Here are some more that tickled my fancy:



This one, however, is a bit less snappy, but contains a bigger grain of truth:
via

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Farage to abandon UK, after screwing it up for everybody else

Rats are well known for leaving sinking ships. Usually the rats themselves aren't directly responsible for sinking the vessel in question but, in this case, it's one of the rodents chiefly responsible for gnawing through the hull that's now thinking about jumping ship:
Reviled by many Britons, including those who voted to leave the European Union in the Brexit campaign that he helped spearhead when he was head of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage has expressed interest in moving to Maine.

Farage cites the animosity he has encountered in Britain and his fears for his family’s safety as motivating his desire to emigrate to the United States. He fails to mention that even his erstwhile supporters became angered when, shortly after urging Britons to vote to leave the U.K., Farage resigned as the UK Independence Party’s leader in a classic political cut and run.
What the good people of Maine will think about introducing this specimen of alien vermin into their native ecosystem remains to be seen, although the author of this article, Pamela Ballinger, sounds suitably unimpressed:
Why should we roll out the welcome mat for a man who sowed divisions in his own country, helped destabilize Europe and then shrugged his shoulders and decided to move on to greener pastures? We’ve got plenty of homegrown political cowards and cheats without having to import one from across the pond.

One wonders, too, what particular appeal (apart from its natural beauty) Maine holds for Farage. Perhaps it’s as simple as the promise of a “new” England in which Farage can reinvent himself.

Or maybe Farage is attracted by Maine’s demographics and nurtures a fantasy of homogeneity and whiteness, one that underwrote his Brexit messaging and led him to exploit the European refugee crisis for political gain.

Or perhaps he’s drawn to a state with a governor who tilts at windmills, given that one of Farage’s first meetings with Trump after the U.S. election involved a discussion in which the president-elect urged Farage and his associates to oppose a proposed wind farm that would affect the view at Trump’s golf course in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

Or maybe he just thinks we’re simple rubes who won’t know enough about his brand of lies and sleaze to call him out on it. Whatever the reason, we should not normalize such behavior by making Farage feel comfortable here. 
However fast Farage runs, let's hope that his dodgy expenses fiddles still  catch up with him.

Cross-posted here.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Scandal in the wind


It looks as if Nigel Farage has lost a party but found his true calling as an actor. First he played Marilyn to Trump's Jack Kennedy...
... now he's starring as Khrushchev denouncing Stalin (with the dead Red Tsar played by the entire European Parliament, a piece of casting which makes about as much sense as Trump playing JFK).

Because you know what was the absolute worst thing about Stalin? His woeful unpreparedness for the Nazi invasion? The mass starvation of his own people? The mass deportations? The gulags? The purges?

Nah. Stalin really sucked because he was super picky about people justifying their huge expenses claims. Apparently. The bastard:
The European Union has demanded another bill… and this time it’s £80,000 of Nigel Farage’s own money.

The MEP recently received a letter stamped by the European Parliament telling him he was being unexpectedly charged the mammoth amount.

It’s all over a quibble that one of Nigel’s staff who helps represent him as an MEP also held a post in Ukip at the same time.

The LBC presenter confirmed this was the case, but argued he had done nothing wrong as the staff member worked for Ukip on a voluntary basis.

“But they’re not happy with that,” Nigel said.

“So without any meeting. Without any request to me to provide evidence. Without any formal procedure of any kind at all, the letter tells me they’re going to take £80,000 from me.”

He continued: “And it’s now my job to prove my innocence and so what we’re actually dealing with here, these unelected people are behaving frankly like people back in Stalin’s day did.”
A sad end for the persecuted star who played Marilyn Monroe so movingly. Fortunately, we can all still share Nigel's pain when we listen to those classic Elton John ballads Candle In The Wind and Nikita. Sad songs say so much.