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:

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.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Squid hatchery

Just heard a BBC radio piece which handed Goldman Sachs a bit of free PR by interviewing the beneficiaries of the workplace childcare facilities in its London offices.

Wow, that just makes up for everything, rather like being shot with environmentally- friendly lead-free bullets.

The fluffy bunny propaganda was rather spoilt by the job title of one of the people interviewed - she was apparently something in "Human Capital Management."

Goldman Sachs, I guess, manages its human host capital by wrapping itself round its face and relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.*

*Update - sadly, I can't now quote Matt Tabbi's masterful take-down of the worlds #1 financial parasite without the disclaimer that, although I still approve this message, I don't approve Matt Tabbi himself, who turns out to be a self-confessed rapey sleazeball.

I'm kinda getting used to this sort of thing by now - I still think that some of the Dilbert 'toons are pretty good, despite now knowing that their creator is some kind of batshit libertarian mens' rights oddball and I still have to agree with Piers Morgan that gun control is the blindingly obvious solution to America's chronic gun violence problem, even though he is ... ugh ... Piers Morgan.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The man who fell to Earth

Google News headline/image pairings - the gift that goes on giving, at least for lazy bloggers...
"Nasa forced to deny there was a long-lost 'civilisation' on Mars after questioning by Republican congressman"*
If the MC who presides over that parallel universe called Eurovision came from a habitable planet Mars which exists in a slightly alternative reality, rather than from the Dublin suburb of Clondalkin, as he's always claimed, that would explain a few otherwise inexplicable mysteries. Including, for example, 2006 Eurovision winners Lordi:
  "On May 14, 2016, Lordi appeared in the interval act for the Eurovision Song Contest 2016, in a musical number satirising Eurovision songs."
The truth is out there.

Photo: Albin Olsson
License: CC BY-SA 4.0

* If it's inadvertent hilarity you're looking for, do follow the link to Andrew Griffin's piece in the Independent:
California Republican Dana Rohrbacher asked whether the fact that Mars once had a vastly different atmosphere meant that it could also have supported an entire civilisation that was now lost.

"You have indicated that Mars was totally different thousands of years ago," he said. "Is it possible that there was a civilization on Mars thousands of years ago?"

His question was answered by Kenneth Farley, who is a project scientist on the Mars 2020 rover mission and a professor of geochemistry at California Institute of Technology and was one of the scientists answering politicians' questions.

He pointed out that the "evidence is that Mars was different billions of years ago. Not thousands of years ago".

He also said that there is "no evidence that I'm aware of", that the planet was once inhabited.

That wasn't enough for Mr Rohrabacher, who asked: "Would you rule that out? See, there's some people... Well, anyway."

Professor Farley said that such a possibility was "extremely unlikely".

It isn't clear who Mr Rohrabacher was referring to when he suggested that "some people" think there was a civilisation on the planet. But there are a limited number of people who have proposed what they believe to be proof not only of ancient civilisations but existing ones – including a guest on Alex Jones's InfoWars programme who suggested that Nasa has put child sex slaves on the red planet.
In the light of this performance, maybe they need to change the boilerplate strapline which follows American political campaign adverts ("I'm Dana Rohrbacher and I approve this message"), to something more useful, like "You can't win. If you vote me in, I shall become more stupid than you can possibly imagine."

Sunday, 16 July 2017

UK lost that lovin' feelin'

The UK is totally doing just fine after its acrimonious break-up with Europe. After all, being free and single means that it will definitely be getting get a hot date with that rich hunk, Donald. In fact, that's him on the phone right now:

Donald Trump won't visit the UK until Theresa May fixes a 'better reception' for him

...Trump apparently said: "I haven’t had great coverage out there lately, Theresa."

He went on: "I still want to come, but I’m in no rush. So, if you can fix it for me, it would make things a lot easier.

"When I know I’m going to get a better reception, I’ll come and not before." 
Oh dear.

I think that's how you say "It's not you, it's me" when you're too much of a narcissist to even pretend that there could possibly be anything wrong with you.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Big blue

Yet another unfortunate pairing of headline and image, courtesy of Google News.
"Blue whale takes centre-stage at Natural History Museum"

So that's why they call high-profile politicians "big beasts." Mind you, that looks more like a picture of a white elephant than a blue whale to me.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Mar a Lago Italia

Florida boasts the perfect vacation spot for holiday makers with a major crush on an authoritarian buffoon with weird hair, but where in the world do you go on holiday if an authoritarian buffoon with no hair is more your thing?

No worries, we've got you covered...

"Behold, Donald my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man"

Tories crash and burn

Well, not literally - just another fortuitous headline image pairing fail, courtesy of Google News:
The image probably belongs with the recent fire at Camden Lock market.

Meanwhile, from the world of proper blogging comes some more solid evidence of Tories in trouble. It's not that original to notice that the Conservative Party has a demographic problem, due to the advanced age of many of the people who voted for Ukip-flavoured conservatism.

Things get more interesting when you dig into another piece of received wisdom - that the Conservatives are starting to appeal to a working class who don't identify with Jeremy Corbyn's brand of Islington socialism. Except, it turns out, that the National Readership Survey's socio-demographic classifications "deal with pensioners by classifying them all as working-class unless they are rich enough to be considered independently wealthy."

This sounds like fairly bad news for the Conservatives, if the replacement of their older voters by younger, working-class ones is just an illusion, caused by the way the NRS assigns class to demographic groups. Which it apparently is:*
The following chart, from Ipsos MORI, gets to the point. If you look at the cross-break of age groups by class, you find that the effect pretty much vanishes. Labour won the working class, defined as such, handily, and lost the retired by a distance.
Original and important, I think - see The Yorkshire Ranter's full post, including chart, here.

*Corrected from "Which it apparently does" (I pressed "publish"before realising that reordering that line had turned it into gibberish).

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Oops, did we just forget something?

Now that we're all alert to the menace of corporations reflexively hassling us in the most patronising ways imaginable, I'd like to share the text of an automated e-mail I just got from Wordpress. I must have inadvertently clicked, then abandoned, a paid upgrade button while setting up a free site, because I somehow provoked an e-mail with the subject line "Oops, did you forget this important step?":
Hi [Wordpress username],

It looks like you were this close to investing in an upgrade for your WordPresscom site, []. What a great decision you were about to make!
Did you forget to finish putting in your information?

If so, no worries. We just wanted to shoot you a quick reminder.

Feel free to click the link below to finish your upgrade and to build the site you’ve always wanted.

Click Here to Finish Upgrading Your Site
"We just wanted to shoot you a quick reminder", indeed. When you talk down to me like this, I just want to shoot you, period.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Independence day

That old popcorn blockbuster Independence Day was was an unoriginal, but popular, take on a well-worn Sci-Fi trope where squabbling humanity finally learns how to work together and forget its differences in the face of a looming alien menace. And just in time for Independence Day 2017, somebody's noticed an inhuman menace that makes me want to make common cause with humans everywhere - even the person leading the charge, a self-proclaimed American neocon:
...a phenomenon that’s grown more and more frequent over time: the stupendously annoying coercive forced-choice. It is presented by the pop-up window that offers you something you don’t want and didn’t ask for—be it an update or a service or a product or a website link—and then gives you a choice of responses. But the responses aren’t a simple “yes” or “no.” And definitely you never get to choose “go away and leave me alone forever.”

Instead, you get a variant of something snide and sarcastic, where the supposed “no” response reads something like “I don’t want this wonderful free service because I’m a moron.” Or you get a response that isn’t “no” at all but “later.”
I'm a liberal-minded lefty and even I approve this message.

If you really want to unite all humanity, harnessing our shared hatred of patronising nagware is clearly the way to go.
Whoa ... "No thanks, I'm not interested in saving money" it says here. Right, that does it. I am so going to nuke you, you condescending assholes ...*


*Image © 20th/21st Century Fox, I guess. Fair use, whatever...

Monday, 3 July 2017

Buzz feed

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
John F Kennedy speaking at Rice University, September 12, 1962.

Five and a half decades later, another president addressed the nation on the subject of space exploration. But for added awesomeness, this time he was in the very presence of Buzz Aldrin, a man who actually realised Kennedy's vision and walked on the goddam moon. And Buzz also fed the current president a pop culture reference which even he might be able to understand, by quoting his demi-namesake from Toy Story. How cool is that? What could possibly go wrong?
 So, I just want to tell you that we are now going to sign an executive order, and this is going to launch a whole new chapter for our great country. And people are very excited about it and I can tell you, I’m very excited about it. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
(The order is signed.)

COLONEL ALDRIN: Infinity and beyond. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We don’t really don’t know. But it could be. It has to be something -- but it could be infinity, right?

Okay. (Applause.)


3:10 P.M. EDT 
OK, what just happened there? Did somebody just spike Trump's cookies with something psychedelic, or simply fire his speechwriter into low earth orbit, to be replaced by a monkey picking random words out of a bag? I don't really don't know. Or do I?

Deliciously bizarre.


Hope versus despair

First hope, courtesy of Simon Wren-Lewis:
There was a lot of indignation yesterday from committed Remainers about Corbyn sacking those who supported the Chuka Umunna amendment on the Single Market. I’m a committed Remainer, but I couldn’t see what the point of the amendment was. That is because we are almost certain to leave the EU still in the Single Market.

In March I wrote that the outline of the Brexit deal was fairly clear. Crucially, there would be a longish (many years) transitional arrangement to enable a bespoke trade deal to be negotiated. During this period we would preserve our position in the customs union and Single Market (and pay money to the EU to do so). The UK side may dress this up as something a little different, if they have the wit and energy to do so and if the EU lets them, but to all intents and purposes that means nothing changes on the trade side for some time. That conclusion didn’t require any great powers of foresight at the time, but simply followed from the length of time it takes to negotiate bespoke trade deals (see, for example, Alasdair Smith here).

My only uncertainty back in March was whether May would choose (or be forced to choose) No Deal. With the election giving more power to soft Brexit elements among the Conservatives (e.g. Hammond), I think No Deal is now very unlikely because parliament will vote it down. As a result, towards the end of 2018 we will know how much we have to pay in order to formally leave the EU, but things will otherwise stay pretty much as they are now.
So maybe some of us over-reacted. I'm willing to consider that possibility. Maybe there's some chance of a less-than-totally catastrophic outcome. But it's still the silver lining of a very, very dark cloud. Here's Frances Coppola with your daily dose of despair:
But [Leave voters] were sold a lie. Every day, the damage that Brexit will do to our complex tapestry of local and international relationships becomes more evident.

Briefly, I promoted the lie. I accepted the referendum result, and agreed to the Brexiteers' demand that everyone "pull together" to make Brexit work. But since then, I have found it increasingly hard to write. Because I sold my soul, I lost my voice. I cannot write what I do not believe.

Brexit is bad. It will always be bad. There is no version of Brexit that can ever be anything but bad. The people who overwhelmingly voted for Brexit will not suffer much, because they are old and relatively insulated: but Brexit is incredibly destructive for the young.
My emphasis.

And just to really cheer you up, here's how an economist from the University of Groningen sums up the various probable outcomes:
Conclusion. There is no option that is better for trade than Britain's current situation. There is no alternative that will grow Britain's trade, apart from trying to get a deal that essentially copies what they have with the EU right now.
Thr really scary part is that the economists based their "Global Britain" scenario on the unfeasibly optimistic assumption that the UK will somehow mange to strike trade deals with every single country in the world outside the EU. Even under this best case scenario, the UK's value added exports dropped by 6%. This was the best case scenario - the results of a soft Brexit were worse, those of a hard Brexit worse still. You can't win and you can't even break even. Here's the vid, which comes with a content warning - it includes material that some viewers may find disturbing (it scared the hell out of me):
I'm aware that the Brexit horror show is becoming something of a regular fixture on this blog, which I didn't intend it to. I'm starting to think that my ventings about Brexit really need a site of their own, so from now on, I'm either going to go to my happy place and pretend that the UK's collective nervous breakdown just isn't happening, or start a separate Brexit-themed blog* for this sort of thing. Probably in Wordpress, since I've been meaning to get to grips with it for a while.

*Update -  from now on any new Brexit-themed posts will be exiled to their own blog. Roll up for the Tragical Mystery Tour, step right this way!