Friday, 17 November 2017

"One regular black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking, nauseous puddle-water to go, please."

Wake up and smell the coffee? No thanks, mine's a beer...
Certainly our Countrymens pallates are become as Fantastical as their Brains; how ellse is't possible they should Apostatize from the good old primitve way of Ale-drinking, to run a whoring after such variety of distructive Foreign Liquors, to trifle away their time, scald their Chops, and spend their Money, all for a little base, black, thick, nasty, bitter, stinking, nauseous Puddle-water: Yet (as all Witches have their Charms) so this ugly Turskish Enchantress by certain Invisible Wyres attracts both Rich and Poor; so that those that have scarece Twopence to buy their Children Bread, must spend a penny each evening in this Insipid Stuff: Nor can we send one of our Husbands to Call a Midwife, or borrow a Glister-pipe, but he must stay an hour by the way drinking his two Dishes, and two Pipes. 
From The Womens Petition Against Coffee (1674)

A "glister pipe" was apparently a tube used for administering enemas.* If you think that millennials oversharing on the Internet is a problem, just consider that sharing photos of your smashed avacado on Instagram, although seemingly pointless, is at least a more hygienic form of networking than swapping enema pipes with your besties.

Talking of oversharing, The Womens Petition wasn't just a complaint about spouses frittering away the family money at the coffee shop, then coming back wired and super late. The anonymous pamphleteer was also worried that this suspicious foreign beverage was sapping husbandly libidos and wasn't shy about describing the supposed effects of:
...the Excessive use of that Newfangled, Abominable, Heathenish Liquor called COFFEE, which Riffling Nature of her Choicest Treasures, and Drying up the Radical Moisture, has so Eunucht our Husbands, and Cripple our more kind Gallants, that they are become as Impotent as Age, and as unfruitful as those Desarts whence that unhappy Berry is said to be brought.

For the continual flipping of this pitiful drink is enough to bewitch Men of two and twenty, and tie up the Codpiece-points without a Charm. It renders them that use it as Lean as Famine, as Rivvel'd as Envy, or an old meager Hagg over-ridden by an Incubus. They come from it with nothing moist but their snotty Noses, nothing stiffe but their Joints, nor standing but their Ears: They pretend 'twill keep them Waking, but we find by scurvy Experience, they sleep quietly enough after it. A Betrothed Queen might trust her self a bed with one of them, without the nice Caution of a sword between them: nor can call all the Art we use revive them from this Lethargy, so unfit they are for Action, that like young Train-band-men when called upon Duty, their Ammunition is wanting; peradventure they Present, but cannot give Fire, or at least do but flash in the Pan, instead of doing executions.
Whether this Seventeenth Century tweetstorm actually  persuaded any of London's coffee shop hipsters to kick their caffeine habit, I don’t know, but someone was eventually bound to question the dubious assertion that potency was best achieved by abstaining from coffee and having a few jars of ale, instead.

Nobody knows the true identity of the Restoration Twitter egg behind The Womens Petition. The author presented as female, but some people think it was written by an angrily anonymous male troll. Me, I think it was probably written by a hacked-off brewer, (most likely a bloke, as this was well after the medieval heyday of the alewife).

There's some interesting background on The Womens Petition, along with the full text of the pamphlet, here.

*and also for the Seventeenth Century wellness fad of blowing tobacco smoke up a patient's bottom.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Inspirational spiritual quote of the day #3

*goes to mass and eats Jesus, who the church has replaced with a small piece of bread*

As far as I know, Greggs' Advent calendars will still be going on sale in selected Greggs’ shops across the UK from Monday November 20. Available, while stocks last, at a price of £24 (RRP).



Whataboutery for dummies




the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.
This is how a real expert does it:
"Okay, what about the alt-left that came charging at [indiscernible] – excuse me – what about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?

... What about this? What about the fact that they came charging – they came charging with clubs in their hands swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do...

...As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. Wait a minute, I'm not finished. I'm not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day...

...I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you had, you had a group on one side that was bad. And you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I'll say it right now. You had a group – you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent."
A masterclass in mendacious obfuscation from one of the most practised bullshitters in the business. Often imitated, seldom equalled.

To show how it shouldn't be done, here's a bumbling amateur trying the same trick:
Brendan Cox, the husband of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox ... accused the 53-year-old MEP [Nigel Farage] of stoking tensions over a terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market. Mr Farage had appeared to blame the attack on Angela Merkel, leading Mr Cox to claim he was "blaming politicians for the actions of extremists".

In response, Mr Farage said: "Yes, well of course he would know more about extremists than me, Mr Cox. He backs organisations like Hope Not Hate, who masquerade as being lovely and peaceful, but actually pursue violent and undemocratic means.”
These two things look the same, but there's an important difference. Donald Trump was able to get away with muddying the waters with a libellous smear, by libelling something vague and nebulous called the "alt-left", which can't sue him because it doesn't exist.

Donald Trump's #1 superfan made the elementary mistake of libelling the anti-fascists at HOPE Not Hate who, unfortunately for Farage, do exist and, thanks to 16,000 supporters who crowdfunded their legal costs, could sue him for the slur. Farage has now been forced to withdraw his claim that the group employed "violent and undemocratic means", while still trying to weasel his way out of admitting his climb-down.

Poor Nigel. He really hasn't got the hang of this libel business, has he? Sad.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Weirdly, not a Daily Mash headline

" Estate agent says London's millennials should stop buying sandwiches, holidays and splashing cash on nights out in order to afford a house"
Top trolling from some gleefully callous sociopath at estate agents Strutt and Parker. Bonus points for mocking the victims of the Great British Housing Rip-Off with a virtuoso display of finger-wagging condescension.

I'm sure that millennials will just love being on the receiving end of an improving sermon from the bloodsucking  cheerleaders of the UK's dismally unproductive rentier economy:
According to the Resolution Foundation, homeowners born in the 1940s and 1950s gained an unearned windfall of £80,000 between 1993 and 2014 alone. In the early 2000s, house price growth was so great that 17% of working-age adults earned more from their house than from their job...

...As house prices have continued to increase and the gap between house prices and earnings has grown larger, the cost of homeownership has become increasingly prohibitive. Whereas in the mid-1990s low and middle income households could afford a first time buyer deposit after saving for around 3 years, today it takes the same households 20 years to save for a deposit. Many have increasingly found themselves with little choice but to rent privately. For those stuck in the private rental market, the proportion of income spent on housing costs has risen from around 10% in 1980 to 36% today. Unlike homeowners, there is no asset wealth to draw on to fund new cars or holidays.
Laurie Macfarlane

Monday, 13 November 2017

You won't believe what he looks like now!

Prince Philip looks far more cheerful now he's retired.

John Redwood sells out - tells investors "Don't invest in UK."

This is what Brexiteer John Redwood says in public:
'We'll be fine!' John Redwood issues fiery riposte to Brexit 'no-deal' doom-mongers
This is his private advice to anybody thinking of investing in the UK:
Redwood’s advice to investors is to flee the UK before the credit crunch bites:
I sold out of the general share ETFs in the UK after their great performance for the year from early July 2016 when I saw the last Budget and heard the BoE’s credit warnings. The money could be better put to work in places where the authorities are allowing credit to expand a bit, to permit faster growth.
Sounds sensible, doesn’t it?

No. It is an absolute disgrace for this man to give such advice.

You see, the Rt. Hon. John Redwood MP – to give him his full title – is a lawmaker. He is an elected member of the House of Commons. And not just any lawmaker. He is a senior member of the Conservative Party, which is currently in government and making a total hash of the Brexit negotiations. He is also a former Cabinet Minister and a member of the Privy Council.

This senior lawmaker is advising investors to stop investing in his country.
Frances Coppola

Words fail me.

Update - although words apparently don't fail John Redwood. He actually said this:
"'All they ever do is run the UK down' Tory SLAMS Labour attempts to release Brexit pappers [sic]"
What a piece of work.

Blue planet in crisis

Doubts around Theresa May’s leadership trigger sharp falls in Sterling: sea turtles "concerned."

Probably just another headline/image pairing mismatch by Google News's algorithm, although I wouldn't be entirely surprised to hear that even marine reptiles in the far-off Pacific are shaking their scaly heads in disbelief at the sheer magnitude of the British government's omnishambolic implosion.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Inspirational spiritual quote of the day #2

“Calling the bishops spineless nerds and sycophantic half-wits is not going to encourage them to adopt your point of view.”
Benedictine monk, Dom Mark Patrick Hederman, OSB, former Abbot of Glenstal Abbey, County Limerick, addressing the annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Priests.

"And if I ever catch you using that sort of language, I'll kick your sorry arse into the middle of next week, Crilly", added Bishop Brennan...

#1 here

Kanga falls into heffalump trap; Tigger worried

We now know which bedtime stories Nanny reads in the Rees-Mogg household. After Priti Patel blundered into the enormous trap she'd dug for herself, Jacob Rees-Mogg decided that it was too soon to rule out the idea that dastardly Remainer saboteurs had, in fact, secretly dug the trap thamselves, as part of a cunning false flag operation. To frustrate their knavish tricks, Jacob insisted that Priti's replacement should be "somebody who has accepted that Brexit is happening and will support it properly and won't be a frightful Eeyore."

It's a memorable phrase* although I'm not sure that the adventures of a Bear of Very Little Brain are really that relevant to the current situation. There is, however, a story involving a Fox of Very Little Brain which might give you a more accurate summary of where we are right now. It's called Dave, Boz and Lee’s Global Adventure. You really should ask Nanny to read it to you some time, Jacob.

*And politer than most of the things Remainers routinely get called - I'll happily settle for "frightful Eeyore", if the alternatives are "remoaner", "remainiac", "traitor", "saboteur", or "enemy of the people." If I need to dress up next Halloween, I'll probably go for a "frightful Eeyore" cozzie - it sounds a way easier look for an average-looking guy to carry off than "sexy vampire."

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Adaptive homeostasis

Back in 2012, I was confident that people would eventually grow tired of "Facebook ... (which will probably go into unlamented terminal decline as the intrusive, stalker-ish changes required to effectively monitor, control and monetise its users become annoying enough to make many of them abandon Facebook and adopt The Next Big Thing, whatever that turns out to be)."

How wrong I was. Facebook is still there. The creeping intrusiveness has accelerated. But instead of getting angry, or even mildly annoyed, people are calmly adapting to an environment where the most outrageous privacy violations are treated as something perfectly normal:
Behind the Facebook profile you’ve built for yourself is another one, a shadow profile, built from the inboxes and smartphones of other Facebook users. Contact information you’ve never given the network gets associated with your account, making it easier for Facebook to more completely map your social connections...

...having acknowledged that people in your address book may not necessarily want to be connected to you, Facebook will then do exactly what it warned you not to do. If you agree to share your contacts, every piece of contact data you possess will go to Facebook, and the network will then use it to try to search for connections between everyone you know, no matter how slightly—and you won’t see it happen.
Kashmir Hill

Still not creepy enough for ya? Then check this out:
Facebook has a new strategy for combating revenge porn: It wants to see your nudes first, before an abuser has the chance to spread them.

As part of a new feature the social network is testing in Australia, users are being asked to upload explicit photos of themselves before they send them to anyone else, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

This is how the new feature works. First, you upload an explicit image of yourself to Facebook Messenger (you can do so by starting a conversation with yourself). Then, you flag it as a "non-consensual intimate image" for Facebook.
Louise Matsakis

Is it already too late to point out that absolutely none of this is remotely O.K?

Feckless right-wing whingers having problems - it must be somebody else's fault

"Our institutions are collapsing and the hard Left is celebrating"* wails Philip Johnston in the Telegraph.
"The pillars of British society seem to be in a perpetual state of crisis, and, with Jeremy Corbyn waiting to pounce, things could get much worse 

"It’s the humbug I find hard to stomach, the unmistakable stench of hypocrisy whenever a financial “scandal” breaks. The air has been full of it since the production of the so-called Paradise Papers revealed to the world what it already knew: rich people avail themselves of legitimate tax vehicles offshore to limit their liabilities." 
Nurse, come quickly, I think he's having a funny turn!

I'm sorry to mock the afflicted. I'd sympathise, I really would, if only the collapse wasn't entirely the fault of the Right who, in case you missed it, have been running things in the UK since 2010.

The "hard Left" didn't force those offshoring super-rich human and corporate persons to behave as if taxes were an optional extra, to be paid only by people too poor and unimportant to afford a swanky accountant. The hard Left didn't agitate for the totally unnecessary Brexit referendum, with all the chaos that followed. The hard Left didn't go full stream ahead with the austerity and migrant-baiting that got people so riled up that they voted for Brexit as a massive nihilistic "screw you." The hard Left aren't responsible for the gaffe-prone buffoon in the Foreign Office who's busy alienating the rest of the world and screwing up everything he touches, at the very moment when the punch drunk UK needs all the friends it can get.

Your pompous right-wing establishment has fallen flat on its face in full view of its political enemies. I don't think bellowing at your opponents to stop laughing and show some respect is going to work.

There's a saying you might not have come across, Phil - "If you break it, you own it." It means that you take responsibility for your own actions. Those of us not privileged enough to be insulated from the consequences of our actions have to live by it every day, so stop appealing for the sympathy vote.

*This is one of the Telegraph's "premium" articles, so you need to pay, or at least sign up to their free trial, to read the whole thing. I really wouldn't bother.

Rocketman, the retrofuturist

"North Korea's Military Is Straight Out of A Sci-Fi Movie", screamed the clickbaity headline...

... right next to a picture of a 1950s-vintage MiG-15.

I guess the sci-fi movie they had in mind was Back to the Future.

The untouchables

"I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."
Donald Trump, January 2016.

"I could stand in the middle of Westminster and shoot somebody and Theresa wouldn't sack me."
Boris Johnson, now.

In fact, I just made that second quote up. But I'll bet that's what he's thinking, as he watches the rogue minister who isn't a white male old Etonian being summoned back to the headmistress's office to be given a stern dressing down, before probably being expelled.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Correction: men not losing their sh!t over Manpoo

I'm happy to find out that I was wrong about the idiotic marketing of "Manpoo", (shampoo for men). Although cited in Daily Dot articles from last year, Manpoo has apparently failed to become a Thing.

The creation of the original Manpoo product ("Manpoo New Man Revolution", no less), was funded by a very silly Kickstarter campaign:
"Pledge $100 or more Four bottles of Manpoo (Two Firm Handshakes and two Going Commandos) AND our incredibly comfortable tri-blend NMR t-shirt! Plus a sticker and hand written, manly, thank you letter."

Since then, a quick Google search confirms that the concept of "Manpoo" has failed to take the world by storm. There's nothing to suggest that the term's becoming either hip or generic. Urban Dictionary does have an entry for "manpoo" that predates the New Man Revolution product, although it also has a couple of alternative definitions which have nothing to do with hair care.

But otherwise, most of the few results come from New Man Revolution's own web site/Twitter account, plus a couple of desperate-sounding "reviews" (infomercials?) on sites called Neuromath and reviewopedia assuring readers that Manpoo New Man Revolution is totally not a scam (it hadn't occurred to me that it was, but now you've mentioned it, it would be rude of me not to at least consider the possibility...).

But so far, it looks as if most of the men who've seen Manpoo's ridiculous marketing have been "Meh." This gives me deep joy, after a year or so when so many other ridiculous things have gone mainstream. Well done, guys, you've partly restored my faith in my own gender. Now just knock it off with the "tactical" nonsense (which, sadly, is a Thing, as another swift Google search will confirm).

Monday, 6 November 2017

Respect my manly Manpoo, losers!

Where some retailers are actively trying to liberate childrens' products from the arbitrary pigeonholes of the pink and blue aisles, certain worried grown men are desperately trying to put themselves back into their safe, stereotypical boxes:
We’ve covered many of them on Are Men OK?—laundry detergent, hair ties, novellas, soap, coffee, shampoo (aka Manpoo)—all marketed under the idea that men need their own versions of everyday goods and services...

...Manpoo and “tactical” soap aren’t just about bringing a range of aesthetic options to the marketplace; they’re designed specifically for a group of men who revel in masculinity—men who are convinced alternatives to these products are not for them...

...Evan Hafer, founder of Black Rifle Coffee, similarly started his company after feeling like there wasn’t a coffee brand for men like him. After serving in the Special Forces and working for the CIA, Hafer wanted to fulfill his dream of working with coffee, but found that he didn’t fit in at most cafes. “If I were in Portland or Seattle or anywhere else, I’d feel completely out of place. I can’t go to these coffee shops and talk about libertarian issues or pro-gun issues,” he told the Daily Dot...

...With their products, these companies are giving men permission to both accept their most masculine traits and re-label their “more feminine” ones as masculine. It’s OK, says the tactical lip balm, wanting soft lips is actually a manly thing.

Because the other option would be enjoying a trait or a product that’s traditionally feminine, and for many, unfortunately, that’s still unacceptable. It would strip them of their identity—an identity that has rarely been threatened since the dawn of Western civilization.
Interesting to see that it's (some) men who are actively doing this to themselves. When it comes to the pink and blue aisles, these are created by adults and kids just take what they're given. Grown-ups have a certain amount of agency and seem to be complicit in their own self-stereotyping.

There are, apparently,  men who think that slapping the word "tactical" onto their personal grooming products will turn them into some kind of special forces action hero, men who think that a hair product marketed as "Manpoo" sounds empowering, rather than just incredibly stupid.

It's not just adult males who get sucked into such cartoonish stereotypes. Just take a look at a typical selection of "funny" greetings cards aimed at women and you'd get the impression that the average grown woman is a featherbrained shopaholic who lives only to feed her prosecco and chocolate habit.

Are these female stereotypes perpetuated mainly by male ideas of what women should want, or are these clichés as deeply integrated into some womens' own self-image as one-dimensional hyper-masculinity is into the identities of tactical Manpoo consumers?

Whatever your gender, I reckon that "rounded human being" is a far better look than "targeted, segmented consumer."

Thursday, 2 November 2017

I'm not saying it's aliens...

"ALIENS COULD BE JUST LIKE US—DARWIN'S THEORY OF EVOLUTION MEANS E.T. WOULD BE HUMAN-LIKE", according to the Newsweek headline. "What would aliens look like? More similar to us than people realise, scientists suggest", is the Independent's headline offering.  "Now, scientists are suggesting that ... if other intelligent species are indeed lurking in the depths of space, they might look a whole lot like us", claims another journalist.

Klingons and Romulans and Vulcans, oh my! Except, when you see what the scientists' speculations/educated guesses actually were, you begin to wonder whether the folks at Newsweek, the Indy and BGR even bothered to read what the boffins wrote:
Aliens may not have two legs, or any legs at all, but their structure, from an evolutionary standpoint, will be much more familiar than we might have thought. By familiar, I don’t mean superficially familiar. They may look, on the surface, wildly different from anything on Earth. But they will be similar on a more fundamental level: their bodies will be constructed in the same way (formerly free-living parts within formerly free-living parts), and they will have undergone a similar evolutionary history (independent organisms cooperating to form new, higher level organisms).
The piece is helpfully illustrated with pictures of imagined aliens which look, respectively, like some kind of tentacled polyp surmounted by a tiny umbrella and a giant mutant tardigrade.

Some journalists* could do better (even the hacks at the Sun got as far as looking at the pictures before writing their article, so it's not as if I'm setting the bar unreasonably high here, folks).

*Even the UFO-believers-style aliens at the top of the article in The Conversation look several times more human than anything the article is actually suggesting.


 Update - while it's easy to sum up what these scientists weren't claiming (that aliens will look anything like  humans or, for that matter, like anything else on earth), it's harder to make out what specific claim they were making. You only need to read the title of P. Z. Myers' post on the subject ("We can predict that aliens exist, if aliens exist") to tell that at least one biologist is completely unimpressed by the alleged specificity of these "predictions" about alien biology.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Flirtations, inappropriate and appropriate

[Michael Fallon] apologised earlier this week over an incident 15 years ago in which he made unwanted advances to the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, repeatedly placing his hand on her knee, although Hartley-Brewer herself insisted that, “no one was remotely upset or distressed” by it.

But friends of Fallon suggested there may have been similar such incidents more recently, saying, “he would absolutely concede that some of the flirtation has been inappropriate”.
The resignation of Michael Fallon, as reported in the Guardian.

Naturally, Michael Fallon hasn't apologised for his longstanding flirtation with a terrorist-supporting regime run by misogynistic war criminals and serial human rights abusers. Friends and arms manufacturers have described this relationship as "entirely appropriate",  adding that "nobody could be remotely upset or distressed” by his Saudi flirtation,  with the possible exception of the regime's numerous victims, many of whom are now dead, anyway.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres is coming under increasing pressure to tackle the collateral damage caused by Fallon's inappropriateness by urgently deploying a UN peacekeeping mission to Julia Hartley-Brewer's left knee.

The spoiled brat of Brexit tweets

The U.K. Electoral Commission said Wednesday it had opened an investigation into whether millionaire U.K. Independence Party donor Aaron Banks breached campaign finance rules during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

In a statement issued by the commission, investigators said they would try to determine whether Better for the Country Limited, a company that lists Banks as a director was “the true source of donations” made to Leave campaigners in its name, “or if it was acting as an agent.” It will also examine whether Banks, who was also Leave.EU chairman, was the “true source of loans reported by a referendum campaigner in his name.”

In response to the investigation, Banks tweeted: “Gosh I’m terrified.”

Three possible explanations for Banks' bravado occur to me - take your pick:

1. The self-proclaimed "bad boy of Brexit" is really a good boy and totally innocent of any wrongdoing (don't laugh, that one's just hypothetical).

2. He's guilty, but he's got a well-founded confidence that people can break the electoral rules pretty much with impunity.

3. He's guilty but he's got a well-founded confidence that people like him, who belong to an entitled elite, are routinely indulged and allowed to get away with a lifetime of the sort of rule-breaking that would ruin the lives of less privileged miscreants:
At 13 he was sent to a “third-rate” boarding school, Crookham Court in Berkshire ... getting expelled for an “accumulation of offences” that included selling lead filched from the roofs of school buildings. He accepts that his expulsion was entirely justified. It would have happened much earlier, he says, except that the struggling institution needed his fees...
With an education like that, why wouldn't he think he can get away with anything?

Predators, scavengers and parasites

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Swift! thou shouldst be living at this hour.

The most interesting thing about the Spreadsheet of Shame isn't the identities of the various alleged gropers, harassers and adulterers (it's easy enough to find an unredacted copy if you really care). What's worth your attention is the wider ecology, the food chain which supports both the alleged sex pests and the people who compiled the spreadsheet. Like the mis-selling of payment protection insurance, the whole situation is best seen as a system for turning a bug (people being mis-sold a useless product) into a feature (the profits made by the "Have you been mis-sold PPI?" industry). In this case, the bug is sexual misbehaviour and the feature is the ability of a party machine to discipline and control party members.

Appropriately enough, people who use their power and influence to sexually coerce others get called "sexual predators", which is as good a label as any for their place in the food chain. You can pick your own label for the folk who use the predators' misbehaviour for their own advantage. Possibly "scavengers", although I think "parasites" works better, because parasites can weaken their hosts, control their behaviour, or  kill them (I don't think that party bosses literally kill politicians, but I'm sure they've occasionally killed political careers by leaking the damaging details they have on the personal lives of uncooperative MPs).

I do wonder whether there's much of a moral difference between the list-keeping parasites and the predators. For example, if we assume that terms like "inappropriate", or "handy" extend to include activities that the law would define as sexual assault, then who's worse, the assailant, or the person who knows all about the assault, but lets the assailant continue getting away with it, so long as they remain politically cooperative? Tough call.

Although I don't think this sort of thing technically counts as blackmail, it looks pretty damn close. As I understand it, to prove blackmail you need to establish four things. The blackmailer must:
1. demand something from the victim (in this case, political cooperation)
2. use menaces (legally, "menaces" can include physical threats, but could simply be threats to expose secrets)
3. make an unwarranted demand (coercing somebody into voting for something they don't believe to be right sounds unwarranted to me)
4. intend "to make a gain for himself or another or have intent to cause a loss to another."
When it comes to the last test of making a gain, or causing a loss, it's my understanding that the law only covers the gain and loss of money or other property,  not the gain of something more intangible like political control or power (source). So I don't think this is legally blackmail, but three out of four ain't bad and it's certainly morally dubious. If the suspected activities are abusive or coercive, the list-makers should be going to the police, in order to protect actual and potential victims. If the compromising activities were legal, consensual, but just very embarrassing, then applying pressure might not be illegal but it seems like a coercive abuse of power.

The sexual misbehaviour of MPs doesn't concern me much, unless it tips over into coercion and assault, (in which case, throw the book at 'em), but it's a bit of a joke to imagine that I live in a representative democracy when the misbehaviours and quirks of our elected representatives are weaponised to bully them out of voting according their conscience and judgement. Even the suspicion that this is going on degrades our politics - actual liars and crooks can feel at home and flourish in a low-trust environment where people suspect that any of their representatives might be acting under the influence of coercion (and also "not technically" bribery - don't forget those promises of future promotion and peerages for the more obedient boys and girls).

If only it was as quick and easy to pull the plug on this real house of cards as it was on its fictional counterpart.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Conservation of Moggmentum

"Any [cartoon] body suspended in space will remain in space until made aware of its situation... At this point, the familiar principle of 32 feet per second per second takes over."
Cartoon physics doesn’t work so well in the real world, although this doesn't stop some people trying.

Now competing in the Wile E. Coyote Memorial 200m Thin Air Dash are Jacob "Not you, Jacob" Rees-Mogg and his fellow Brextremists.

Just trigger Article 50 as quickly as possible, keep running frantically towards the cliff edge and, whatever you do, DON'T LOOK DOWN!!!

If you believe hard enough, your surging Moggmentum will carry you across the yawning chasm of your total lack of foresight and preparation. Gravity can't touch you!

When it comes to having a plan, that really is all, folks!

Once again, this stunt should only performed by trained two-dimensional cartoon characters, so please don't try it at home. This blog shall not be liable for any loss of credibility or economic damage.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Ignorance is strength

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a clever person in possession of knowledge must be accused of elitism. On the other hand, talking like a monosyllabic ignoramus absolves even a billionaire oligarch of the charge of elitism.

These truths should be self-evident, now that we've realised that the best interpreters of the will of the people are clearly the rich, powerful and well-connected, but Salman Rushdie clearly didn't get the memo:
If you ask me what's an elite, I would think ... of the many, many billionaires sitting in the Trump administration. Here's a government with more super-rich people in it than has ever been in any American government. And that government calls college professors and journalists elites...

...the idea that we're the elite whereas that group of point one of the one per cent that considers itself in some way to be possessing the common touch, that just seems like an absurd comic inversion of reality.

Salman Rushdie - disrespecting powerful idiots since 1989.

Only the little people follow the rules

Have you been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance? Maybe you should check your old loan, or mortgage, statements to be sure. If you don't have the paperwork, could you use a credit report to track down who lent you what, when? If you did have PPI, can you honestly remember whether, many years ago, you were told that the PPI was optional, or about the terms, conditions and exclusions? Can you even remember whether or not you had it at all?

Wouldn't it all be a lot simpler if the people who mis-sold the insurance just came right out and admitted they'd bent the rules, taken everybody for mugs and sold them a pup, because nobody could be bothered to stop them?

Have you been mis-sold a Brexit that's going to cost you a lot, but deliver nothing? In this case, it's way easier to work out that you were scammed, because the scammer's been boasting about how he outwitted the regulators in the national newspapers:
 ...“We were just cleverer than the regulators and the politicians. Of course we were.”

He [millionaire insurance salesman and Brexit Backer, Arron Banks] didn’t break the law, he says. He “pushed the boundary of everything, right to the edge. It was war.” And later: “You’re looking for a smoking gun but there’s a smoking gun on every table! And no one cares. No one cares!”
And the number of shits officially given about him subverting our democracy really does seem to be zero, even when "pushing the boundary" of the law crossed over into outright criminality:
Newsnight's evidence suggests that at least some of the political energy running up to Brexit appears to have been paid for unlawfully...

...about 20 car insurance salespeople employed by Mr Banks at Catbrain Lane, Bristol - the hub of his Eldon vehicle insurance empire - were paid to travel to Rochester, in Kent.

They then drove elderly UKIP voters to the polls, before staying the night at a Premier Inn and making the return journey the following day...

...[Mr Gavin Millar QC] said: "It was unlawful on the part of the third party who organised the concerted assistance; Mr Banks in this case.

"If they did it and incurred those costs without the authority of the agent, as it appears they may have done, that's called an illegal practice and it's a criminal offence."...

...It is very unlikely that any action will be taken against UKIP, Mr Reckless, his agent or Mr Banks because a criminal investigation must start within a year of any possible offence.
And what about all the cash Banks ploughed into Brexit? Nobody has definitively proved that any of it came from Russia but, then again, nobody really knows where any of it came from:
In September 2013, the man who bought Brexit – Arron Banks – was in trouble.

For the past two years, financial regulators in Gibraltar had been scrutinising his insurance under-writer, Southern Rock. They had discovered it was keeping reserves far below what was needed.

This was a serious problem. Banks claimed he had already provided £40 million to plug the hole. He also told the regulator he would step down as a director, but has since been required to find an eye-watering £60 million in extra funding.

A year later, these financial worries seem to have completely evaporated. Banks had begun buying diamond mines, investing millions into chemical companies and wealth management firms, setting up loss-making political consultancies, and most famous of all – funding the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

One question remains though. If Banks was in such a tight spot in September 2013, how did he manage to be so generous the following year?
Alastair Sloan and Iain Campbell looked at the publicly available records, but the source of the money behind Brexit remains secret. Maybe the ultimate source is some mystery donor(s)/investor(s) whose identity has been laundered into invisibility. Perhaps it's a house of cards built on theoretical  money which looks real, thanks to some feat of creative accounting or financial engineering.

At this stage I don't know, you don't know, nobody seems to know. All we do know is to take Arron Banks's word with an entire cellarful of salt, given that the insurance salesman (who's not currently permitted to run his own insurance company) has a distinctly Paul Nuttall-style approach to CV writing:
It is here the cracks in Banks’ biography start to appear. Banks has claimed he was promoted and rose to lead his own sales team at Norwich Union – now part of Aviva. However, Aviva say they have no record of Banks ever having worked for Norwich Union. He has also claimed to have worked for Warren Buffett around this point in his career. We asked Buffett about this. He replied. "I have no memory of ever hearing of the name Arron Fraser Andrew Banks. He certainly never worked for me." Further checks across the Berkshire Hathaway group, made by Buffett’s office, yielded no evidence he had ever worked for any of his subsidiaries. In a letter delivered by his lawyers, Banks declined to comment on either of these points.
Wherever Banks's Brexit funding came from, the level of official incuriosity over how our politics is paid for is staggering. Far from being a "popular revolution", the Brexit coup looks increasingly like another game played by wealthy members of a political elite who know that they're born to rule and to flout the rules that govern the lives of lesser people like you and me. There are a couple of details from that New Statesman interview with Banks that now seem prophetic, both of Banks's entitled sense that he could break rules the little people live by with impunity, and of his conviction that it was perfectly OK for people like him to con people into acting against their own interests:
At 13 he was sent to a “third-rate” boarding school, Crookham Court in Berkshire ... getting expelled for an “accumulation of offences” that included selling lead filched from the roofs of school buildings. He accepts that his expulsion was entirely justified. It would have happened much earlier, he says, except that the struggling institution needed his fees...

...His “lack of educational attainment” ruled out university, so he returned to Basingstoke, where he sold paintings, then vacuum cleaners, then houses. “I was quite good at persuading people to buy things they didn’t want to buy,” he says.
We were warned, nobody with any official clout cared, and now he's screwed the whole country.

Northern office gets up itself

Back in the day, the North of England took pride in its no-nonsense, down-to-earth culture. So what's up with these new offices in Manchester boasting about being "peerlessly refined"? The daft buggers.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

What have the migrants ever done for us?

More on the lasting culinary damage caused by the scourge of unchecked migration™:
The doner kebab is believed to have been invented by Kadir Nurman, a Turkish immigrant living in Germany, in 1972. Mr Nurman, who died in 2013, said he got the idea after noticing that German workers had little time to sit down for lunch.

Several other Turkish immigrants in Germany have disputed this, claiming they were selling versions of the doner earlier than Mr Nurman.

However, the national original of the dish is not in doubt. “The doner is German,” Tarkan Tasumruk, chairman of the Association of Turkish Doner Producers in Europe, told the website...

...while fish and chips has become known as a traditional British dish, many people claim it was actually introduced to the UK by Jewish immigrants from other European countries.

Fried fish was brought to Britain by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain, and the first combined fish and chip shop is said to have been opened by Joseph Malin, a Jewish immigrant in the East End, in the 1860s.
And don't even get me started on chicken tikka masala.*

Clearly it's not enough to just create a hostile environment for people coming here from abroad. If we really want to make everybody hate us, and truly embrace a future of miserable, self-inflicted isolation, we should also send back  all the foreign muck they forced us to eat and return to an honest British diet of boiled turnips.

Nobody ever said it would be easy,** but I'm sure that whatever the hell it was the UK thought it was voting for will be worth the pain.

*Does it really belong here, or is it just another foreign interloper which should be sent back home as soon as the UK has taken back control of its glorious borders?

**Terms and conditions apply. Contents may differ from those illustrated. We reserve the right to change, amend, modify, suspend, continue or terminate all or any part of the plan at any time without notice. We will not be responsible for any loss or damage.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Diagnosing Donald

On the whole, I don't think that speculating about what psychological disorders Donald Trump may or may not be suffering from is that useful, or informative.

For one thing, I'd prefer to see his opponents win by having better policies, rather than by just repeating "You have to vote for us next time, because the other guy's a maniac."

Also, I'm not convinced that applying psychological labels is always objective, or helpful. There have been alleged conditions, from "drapetomania", to "hysteria" and "opposition defiant disorder", which probably said more about the disorders of the societies which invented them than they do about the state of the alleged sufferers. Not only do such imprecise labels stigmatise the innocent, but they can let the guilty off the hook, too. If we think of Harvey Weinstein as an influential grown man who should know better than to go around raping and molesting women, then he just sounds like a scumbag. Which is why he wants us to think that he's suffering from "sex addiction." Because if he has a medical diagnosis, that means it's not his fault. Yeah, right.

However, not all judgements about a person's mental state are subjective and socially constructed. Sadly, organic mental deterioration, especially in older people, is all too real. Drapetomania, hysteria and ODD might be made-up afflictions, but conditions like Alzheimer's and vascular dementia definitely aren't.

I feel like a bit of a hypocrite at this point, having previously poured scorn on both armchair diagnoses and YouTube videos as sources of reliable information, but I've just seen a YouTube video which makes me wonder whether Trump is suffering from dementia. Still, I'm going to cite Sturgeon's Law as a partial defence and plunge in anyway.

I'm going to put the video towards the bottom of this post. Most of the material isn't particularly astonishing. There are the familiar clips of Trump babbling nonsense, which don't prove anything in themselves, other than that he's better at using a storm of short words from his limited vocabulary to push peoples' hot buttons than he is at constructing a coherent argument.

There are also clips of him wandering about at various public appearances, looking lost. He looks a bit like an elderly, confused person but this, too, is inconclusive. I wouldn't be surprised if this happens to a lot of top politicians. Many otherwise alert people, if jetted off to unfamiliar locations, or overloaded by crowds of busy people competing for their attention (staff trying to brief them on multiple issues, reporters asking questions, security people trying to shepherd them this way and that), while trying to remember the speech they're supposed to give, before being whisked off to the next, probably unrelated, appointment in their schedule, would probably get disoriented occasionally and be caught on film momentarily forgetting where the podium was, or something of the sort.

But there is one segment of the video that seems genuinely significant. It starts at 2' 30", with a clip of Donald Trump in 1980, talking about investing in inner city real estate. And it sounds perfectly normal, like an interview with somebody who's in control of his emotions, knows what he's talking about and can stay on topic without wandering off into rambling digressions, angry outbursts, bizarre non sequiturs and complete gibberish.

Put this old clip next to one of Trump's recent TV appearances and it does make you think that there's been a massive decline, both in his mental sharpness, and in his awareness of what is appropriate behaviour in a given situation. See what you think:
Even this isn't conclusive. Maybe the difference between young Trump talking real estate and old Trump trying to do presidential stuff has nothing to do with mental decline over time. Maybe the difference is that he knew and cared about the family real estate business, but has never known or cared about other facts, like the difference between two adjacent Middle Eastern countries where he doesn't even own any golf courses. And you'd have to sit through a lot of old Trump videos and a lot of new ones to be quite certain you that weren't comparing the best of the old with the worst of the new.

But it at least seems relatively plausible that the president could be suffering from some form of dementia.

If so, does it matter? Well, it's probably not the first time and we survived that. Anyway, a lot of what modern presidents (of both parties) do seems to be fronting for the interest groups and lobbyists whose cash and influence have given Americans the best democracy that money can buy, so maybe the capacities and personal qualities of an individual president don't matter that much in the grand scheme of things:
As a character, Zaphod is hedonistic and irresponsible, narcissistic* almost to the point of solipsism, and often extremely insensitive to the feelings of those around him. In the books and radio series, he is nevertheless quite charismatic which causes many characters to ignore his other flaws...

...He was briefly the President of the Galaxy (a role that involves no power whatsoever, and merely requires the incumbent to attract attention so no one wonders who's really in charge, a role for which Zaphod was perfectly suited).
From Wikipedia's description of another, fictional, president.

So there's probably nothing to worry about. Apart from the small matter of ultimate responsibility for launching a vast arsenal of nuclear weapons resting in the hands of a senior citizen who may no longer be in possession of his mental faculties.

You know you've reached a certain age when you find that you've walked into a room only to forget what you came in for, and why you seem to have absent-mindedly incinerated several million people in a massive nuclear conflagration...

Over to you, General Kelly and Secretary Mattis.

*I still take a dim view of medicalising personality traits like narcissism - I view it as a social flaw, like rudeness, rather than as a diagnosable medical condition.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Such poor leadership ability by low-energy Henry. Sad!

As I wrote yesterday, Nigel Farage's "journalistic" assignation with Julian Assange might look suspicious, but in the absence of a smoking gun, I still imagine that, like the journalist in Humbert Wolfe's poem, he didn't need any external inducement to behave horribly:
You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
thank God! the
British journalist.

But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's
no occasion to.
But right now, there's a bigger question hanging over Nigel. Namely, how is he still a thing? He's just another relatively new ex-party leader, yet he still makes more headlines than David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Tim Farron put together.

One answer is that, like Trump, he's an able performer and a relentless self-publicist who's really taken the "no publicity is bad publicity" ball and run with it. And he's still being talked about because the people who've succeeded to the Ukip crown just can't follow his act.

Not all of this is down to the personal failings of his successors. It was always going to be a tough gig to lead a single-issue party once that single issue had been won, was being delivered by somebody else and had turned out to be a lot more problematic than you'd been telling everybody. The same issues would have still been problems for Farage if he'd stayed on, rather than letting the poisoned chalice pass to Paul Nuttall, then to that other bloke.

But there's also blame aplenty. Farage was a plausible enough bullshitter to fool some of the people most of the time, but Paul Nuttall's easily disproved attempts to fool people about being a former professional footballer with a PhD who'd lost a host of imaginary friends in the Hillsborough disaster just made him look like a joke.

And as for the present guy, Henry Whatsisname... Well, he looks and sounds sort of professional-ish, almost respectable. Certainly less extreme and batty than some of his rivals for the leadership, like the fanatical anti-Islam crusader, Anne Marie Waters, or the "gay donkey raped my horse" bloke, or the guy who promised asteroid mining, flying aircraft carriers and interstellar colony ships. But if your brand is all about being edgy, anti-establishment and courting offence, along with the free publicity that comes with it, then "respectable" probably won't cut it. Farage likes to be known as one of the bad boys of Brexit. Henry Thingy is more like The Boring Bugger of Brexit.

Not that he hasn't tried, bless him. Because I'd not noticed him generating any headlines recently, I just googled Henry to see what he'd been up to. And, to be fair, he has been gamely trying to get that 'ol 'kipper mojo back with a classically bizarre boast about being able to kill a badger with his bare hands. But the thing is, I had to search for it. In Ukip's glory days, this would have been at the top of everybody's news feed. So far, even The Daily Mash can't be bothered to take the piss.* Nobody seems to care.

There's a vanishingly small intersection in the Ukip / Oscar Wilde Venn diagram, populated mostly by the phrase "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." And everybody seems to have more interesting things to talk about than Henry.

Poor Henry.
Trying to put on a brave face.

*Correct at the time of writing, (three days after the Badgergate story broke without trace).

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Let the British lion roar! And the Russian bear (allegedly)...

Speaking of conspiracy theories:
Nigel Farage Goes Ballistic At Caller Who Accuses Him Of Colluding With Putin

...the caller alleged that Nigel had secret ties with Moscow.

The accusation almost sent Nigel purple with rage, as he demanded Rodney came up with some substantive evidence to back up the outlandish claim.

“How dare you come on the radio and accuse me of that if you’ve got no evidence to back it up, how dare you,” Nigel roared. 

Because if there's one thing we've all learned to love about Nigel, it's his scrupulous regard for evidence and facts.

Of course, the fact that Nige regularly makes stuff up isn't in itself proof that he's on Team Vlad. Neither is the fact that Farage and Putin share a common desire to get the UK out of Europe  and a hostility to the European Union in general. It's all circumstantial. But I've got three pieces of advice for Nigel Farage if he wants to quash this sort of speculation:

1. I can't judge from the quality of LBC's vid exactly how purple you went, Nige (it could just be a healthy natural glow from the liquid lunches you're said to enjoy), but bellowing two "how dare you"s in one sentence sounds less convincing than one calm, matter-of-fact denial.

2. Maybe coming out to GQ magazine as a Putin fanboy wasn't the best way to distance you from his regime and, on reflection, appearing as a regular pundit on Russia Today might have created an unfortunate impression. Perhaps if RT offers you your own show again, it might look better if you just said "no."

3. I remember when you met Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in March, it was allegedly for “journalistic reasons, not political reasons.” Maybe I missed it, but I don't recall seeing any subsequent headlines under your byline about "That time I interviewed Julian Assange." Perhaps if we could see some evidence of the journalism you were supposed to be working on, people wouldn't get the impression you'd been caught doing something dodgy.

Has Nigel Farage colluded with Russia to destabilise the UK? Probably not.

Has Nigel Farage proved himself to be a shifty bullshitter who you shouldn't trust to tell you the time of day? Guilty as charged, IMO.

Acoustic device rumours turned up to 11

That mysterious sonic attack on US diplomats in Cuba was definitely real and completely not made up, believers continue to insist.

So how were the attacks carried out? My personal theory is that Operation Earache was a false flag operation, masterminded by Brian Blessed, who was living a double life as Fidel Castro until he faked his own death in 2016, acting on orders from the Freemasons, or possibly the Illuminati, who were in turn contolled by those humanoid reptilians from the Alpha Draconis system who secretly control all the conspiracies on planet Earth. And, to prove it, beyond any reasonable doubt, there's a YouTube video:
You can't argue with evidence like that. Bite me, sonic attack sceptics!

I, for one, welcome our shouty overlord.

Friday, 13 October 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Despotic diagnosis disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Hell's kitchen, UK

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

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

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

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Flagellation for the nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 9 October 2017

Statesman, neologist, towel cannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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