Wednesday 29 June 2016

How to complain.

Complaint: "Some bad people have done a horrid thing to some nice people who did not deserve it."

Normal human reaction: "Oh, that is terrible. I sympathise. How can I help?"

Complaint: "Some bad people have done a horrid thing to some nice people who did not deserve it AND IT'S ALL YOUR FUCKING FAULT YOU UTTER UTTER CUNT!"

Normal human reaction: "I realise I no longer care about your problems."

Monday 27 June 2016

The democratic mandate.

During this awful campaign, I've had a lot of arguments with people about the EU's lack of democracy. Many people, it turns out, think that "democracy" means nothing more than "some voting happens". Such people even insist that the EU Commission's members are democratically elected, because they're appointed by people who are chosen by people who were appointed by someone who was picked by a subgroup of an organisation that was elected, or something. "See?" they say. "You can vote for someone, therefore democracy!" This is sad and weird.

The weird thing about it is that the Commission themselves don't even make this claim. I've lost track of the number of arguments I've had with people mounting defences of the EU that are contrary to the EU's own claims. Such as that the Commission is the EU's government and is more powerful than the EU Parliament. The Commission claims to be the EU's government; the EU claims that the Commission is its government; the EU's documents and treaties say that the Commission is the government; the EU Parliament recognises that it is subservient to the Commission; the head of the Commission is even called "the President" (bit of a clue there) — and yet a sizeable chunk of the EU's cheerleaders accuse anyone who points this out of spouting crazy Brexit conspiracy theories. Weird.

And it's sad because it turns out that, with a little veneer of voting, you can easily fool intelligent people into believing democracy is happening.

In light of all the recent bickering, here is my new working definition of democracy. You need ask just one simple question: "If you don't like one of your current rulers, who do you vote for in order to get rid of them?" In an actual democracy, the answer to that question is trivial and obvious. If the answer is convoluted, the democracy is fake.

In the UK, if you don't like the Tory Government, you vote Labour. Or maybe Lib Dem. If you don't like your MP, you vote for one of the other candidates. And there are lots of examples of the process actually working: the Tory loss of '97, the Labour loss of 2010, the routing of the Lib Dems last year, the chucking-out of Peter Robinson (a party leader, no less), the ousting of the odious Neil Hamilton by a journalist with no policies other than "I'm not Neil Hamilton"... hell, we even chucked Winston Churchill out in 1945. Talk about democracy.

In the EU, the answer is... er... hang on while I look this up; it's a bit involved. Er.... OK, so, first, the entire Commission can be sacked by a vote of no confidence from the EU Parliament. This is an obvious anti-sacking mechanism: you get rid of every last one of them or none of them, and how likely is it that a majority of the fractious trans-national EU Parliament will ever want to get rid of all of them? And indeed, in practice, the only way this has ever happened is when the Commission turned out to be actual criminals. (Which, incidentally, was nice.) Short of that, all you need to do is to vote for an MEP who will support a vote of no confidence in the Commission. Oh, and to run an EU-wide campaign to get similar MEPs elected in most other member states. Easy!

Failing that, you can sack an individual Commissioner by... er.... Well, the chain of causality goes like this: you vote for an MP; your MP is on the winning side; your MP's party's leader becomes PM; the PM joins the European Council; the European Council appoints the EU President; and the President can ask a Commissioner to resign, if they would be so kind. Easy!

Anyway, what's interesting about all this is that those same people — the ones who've been telling me how stooooooopid I am for believing that the EU is not democratic — are now supporting Nicola Sturgeon's mendacious claim that Scotland cannot withdraw from the EU without the consent of the Scottish Pairliament. Some campaigners are trying the same trick, even laughablier, with the Northern Irish Assembly.

Look, we told you. Here, yet again, is Tony Benn:

The instrument, I might add, is the Royal Prerogative of treaty making. For the first time since 1649 the Crown makes the laws – advised, I admit, by the Prime Minister.

That's the mechanism whereby we joined this utopia: the Queen's signature, which she places wherever the Prime Minister tells her to. No Act of Parliament required. And that's the mechanism whereby we leave: the Prime Minister wields the power of the Crown by invoking Article 50. Technically, the PM doesn't even need the support of Parliament, though of course any PM trying it just on a whim would be sacked immediately. But a PM with one of the strongest democratic mandates in British history behind him? Yeah, Parliament not required.

And that's Westminster. Scottish Pairliament really really not required.

What's that? It all sounds a bit undemocratic? You think our MPs and MSPs and MLAs should have more say in our governance? What's the point of electing them if they can't control this sort of thing?


Democracy and bastards.

A lot of people are having real trouble understanding this whole democracy thing. Yes, it does involve bastards and racists and wankers and morons voting. And that is a Good Thing. Because it's their country too, so they should have a say. There is only one alternative: first, choose an elite, then have that elite define the group they don't wish to listen to, then ensure that that group have no say — either by outright denying them the vote, or (as the EU did) by designing a system that gives them a vote but ensures that vote has no power. That latter option, seductively tempting though it be, has a huge bloody great downside: it always leads to the disenfranchised group hitting back, hard. Always. And that's what happened this week. You'd think the elitists might learn from experience, but no. History is littered with this error.

I for one am grateful that the hitting back was achieved via a referendum and not a violent insurrection. I'm not confident the same will be the case in all the EU.

Thursday 23 June 2016

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Donald Trump is awful. Just really staggeringly bad in so so many ways. The sheer enormity of his crapness defies belief.

There are plenty of problems with his personality, his policies, his general Trumpiness — Kevin D Williamson is your go-to man for all that stuff:

Donald Trump is unfit for the office. He is unfit for any office, morally and intellectually. ... Donald Trump is not fit to serve as president. He is not fit to serve on the Meade County board of commissioners. He is not fit to be the mayor of Muleshoe, Texas.

— but we needn't even bother looking at the ins and outs of his profound character flaws. For me, just the face he pulls when someone else is talking is enough. It's as if he's been told that politicians are supposed to look like they're listening respectfully and intelligently while other politicians are talking, didn't quite believe it but his handlers insisted he at least give it a try, so bought an instruction book with illustrations done in crayon by a mule and spent nearly two minutes practising in front of a broken mirror while on drugs. How anyone can vote for a man who pulls that face is beyond me.

Yes, Trump is already a disaster for the Republican Party, a disaster for American Conservatism, a disaster for American politics, and, if elected, he'd be a disaster for America.

But here's the thing. I'm not American.

Some of my friends are, and I sympathise, I really do. But those of us outside the US have got to look at the bigger picture. And I can't help but suspect that Trump might be just what the world needs.

Not because any of his foreign policy "ideas" are any better than the unhinged ramblings of a paranoid crackhead, of course, but because he himself is no better than an unhinged rambling paranoid crackhead.

For better or worse, America is the world's policeman, and bad people have been pushing that policeman around of late. People have been getting the idea that they can fuck the world up and America won't react. In fact, people have come to rely on America not reacting. America has become dangerously predictable.

Now, imagine you're a genocidal bastard who wants to take over the world, or maybe just some of it. Now, imagine Donald Trump has access to nuclear weapons. Would you risk it? Maybe he even proclaimed that he was your staunch ally. But so what? Trump says a lot of things, and there's no evidence he believes any of them. The only thing we can say for sure that he really believes is that he should be in charge because he likes throwing his weight around and showing everyone who's boss.

If I were a genocidal bastard, and Trump were President, I'd keep my head down for a while. Best not risk anything too rash.

Here's to eight years of peace. Ish.


Yesterday was, as you may have heard, World Giraffe Day. And that got me thinking: there are a lot more than 365 types of animal, so who gets a day and who doesn't?

Well, turns out there's no World Fennec Day, which I think we can all agree is an appalling oversight. There's not even a World Fox Day. There is a World Otter Day, so there is some justice. And badgers have clearly got themselves a superb agent, as they have not only World Badger Day but National Badger Week. That must really piss the foxes off.

There's a World Chipmunk Day, but I think that's just a marketing tie-in for that bloody cartoon. Shouldn't have tried searching for World Beaver Day: that didn't help my research AT ALL.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

On predicting currency markets.

A lot of people are talking about how Sterling is going to crash in the event of the UK voting to leave the EU. Here's my prediction.

Speculators on Sterling are broadly split into four groups right now. One: people betting that the vote will be Remain and the Pound will fall. Two: people betting that the vote will be Remain and the Pound will rise. Three: people betting that the vote will be Leave and the Pound will fall. Four: people betting that the vote will be Leave and the Pound will rise. Yes, these groups can be split into probably hundreds of further sub-groups, but that's a reasonable simplification.

Over the next few days, one of these groups is going to make a lot of money. And, right now, no-one knows which group that is. And here's the thing: all four groups are comprised of experts.

When someone tells you with utmost confidence what is going to happen, remember that.

Tuesday 21 June 2016

Insanity and slander.

I trust it goes without saying that the murder of Jo Cox is bad news.

Other bad news is the attempt to blame her murder not only on her murderer but also on anyone thinking of voting to leave the EU.

Her murderer, Thomas Mair, appears, thus far, to have been a neo-Nazi and a nationalist of some sort. We also know that he was mentally ill. That's two things, both of which the police are investigating. Yet the world is not short of people to tell us that the mental illness is immaterial, the far-Right stuff isn't, and that — and this is simply despicable — Mair's decision to kill can be blamed on the Leave campaign.

The Daily Star, hardly known for their subtlety or, come to that, for not being cunts, simply splashed this headline on their front page:


Alex Massie, marginally more subtle, went for this approach:

The poster unveiled by Nigel Farage this morning marked a new low, even for him.

The mask – the pawky, gin o’clock, you know what I mean, mask – didn’t slip because there was no mask at all. BREAKING POINT, it screamed above a queue of dusky-hued refugees waiting to cross a border. The message was not very subtle: Vote Leave, Britain, or be over-run by brown people. Take control. Take back our country. You know what I mean, don’t you: If you want a Turk – or a Syrian – for a neighbour, vote Remain. Simple. Common sense. Innit?

And then this afternoon, a 42 year old member of parliament, who happens – and this may prove to have been more than a coincidence – to have been an MP who lobbied for Britain to do more to assist the desperate people fleeing Syria’s charnel house, was shot and stabbed and murdered.

Events have a multiplier effect.


When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Classy. As Douglas Murray points out, Massie managed to make this claim less than a day after calling his opponents "mad" and their claims "bullshit".

Here's the pro-Remain, pro-EU, right-on, left-wing Guardian describing the refugee crisis:

Interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, announced the measures after German officials said record numbers of refugees, most of them from Syria, had stretched the system to breaking point.

This appears under no mere photograph, but actual film footage of queues of dusky-hued refugees. But presumably that's OK.

Here's The Guardian on refugees again:

Mark Devlin, the chief operating officer at Unicef UK, said ... “While we are glad that the government is acknowledging the urgency of the situation for these vulnerable children, the camps in Calais are at breaking point.”

You'd have thought Unicef knew better than to use such murderously incendiary language. And, yet again, The Guardian have illustrated their piece with a photograph of some dark people.

And here's The Guardian on Sweden's immigration:

The Guardian view on Sweden and immigration: breaking point

That's the headline of their editorial, for crying out loud.

the European refugee crisis has developed in its tragic and astonishing magnitude, while Sweden in particular has also attracted large numbers of Roma from inside the EU, some of whom beg for a living.

If anyone attacks a gypsy on the grounds that they're beggars, looks like we can blame The Guardian.

There are now more than 7,000 applications for political asylum a week in Sweden and the system is almost at bursting point.

Is bursting worse than breaking? I confess I don't know.

And you don't need me to provide links to guess how much they use the phrase to describe the NHS.

Have they no shame?

It's not fair to pick on just the one phrase, though, is it? If we're talking about emotive language that could possibly lead to hate, how about this:

So you hate those Tories – but what comes next?

“We hate Tories, and we hate Tories / We hate Tories, and we hate Tories / We hate Tories, and we hate Tories / We are the Tory haters.”

I don't know. Could that inspire hate? It's so ambiguous.

As a young Labour activist in the 1980s, I marched through Manchester and shouted out that song, and they were doing the same last Sunday. Same chant, same streets – and, as the Conservatives gathered for their conference, the thousands of people who came to protest suggested the exact same bundle of emotions: anger, defiance, and by the day’s end, a creeping sense of the futility of it all. For the next three days, moreover, an ugly show of that pointlessness was laid on by those who signalled their sense of defeat by getting as close as possible to any passing Conservatives and issuing the week’s ubiquitous insult: “Tory scum!”

Scum? Really? What if someone takes this sort of language seriously?

But, hey, that's nothing compared to The Mirror:

Yet after 10 years of watching the Tories behave like lying pig-f***ing scumbags who hate the poor there are some of us who are genuinely surprised to find out they are, in fact, lying pig-f***ing scumbags who hate the poor.

I think I've made my point. Those last two examples show the Left's real and visceral hatred for Tories; it's not a mere affectation, is ugly and disgusting, and frequently culminates in violence, which leads to not one iota of widespread anguished questioning of whether such inflammatory rhetoric should be allowed. But, as for the rest, I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm picking on The Guardian here: you can do much the same trick with a search engine and any publication, no doubt including this blog. My point is obviously the exact opposite: not that The Guardian are using irresponsible incendiary language, but that they aren't. This is normal English. And what sort of a photograph are we supposed to use to illustrate the refugee crisis? A picture of three blond women in a cafe? UKIP used a photo of a queue of lots of brown people. The Guardian used footage of queues of lots of brown people. This is because the refugee crisis really does involve lots of brown people standing in queues, because queues happen at border checkpoints and the migrants aren't coming from Iceland. These photographs are, quite simply, factual. I've seen plenty of people compare the UKIP poster (though not The Guardian footage for some reason that no doubt makes sense to someone) to Nazi propaganda. But the thing about Nazi propaganda is that they used cartoons, not photographs, because they were illustrating things that were not real.

There is a difference between being lied to and hearing a truth you don't like.

And then there's this — this particular quote from Massie again, but you can barely move on the Internet right now for people making this "point":

We do not hold all muslims accountable for the violence carried out in the name of their prophet but nor can we avoid the ugly, unpalatable, truth that, as far as the perpetrator is concerned, he (it is almost always he) is acting in the service of his view of his religion. He has a cause, no matter how warped it may be. And so we ask who influenced him? We ask, how did it come to this?

Firstly, it's interesting to me that the same people who would usually (quite rightly) demand that the distinction between Muslims and Islamists be observed have momentarily forgotten it. But then you can't use this argument to attack the Leave campaign if you talk about Islamists: it just wouldn't work. Because there's nothing ambiguous or suggestive about Islamist rhetoric; no nodding and winking. Islamists' slogans are admirably straightforward: "Slay those who insult Islam", "Butcher those who mock Islam", "Behead those who insult Islam", "Exterminate those who slander Islam", "Massacre those who insult Islam", "Be prepared for the real Holocaust!", "Europe you will pay. Your 9/11 is on its way!!", "Shariah / The true Solution / Freedom go to Hell", "Death to Jews!", "we know that there is no better blood than the blood of Jews", "God bless Hitler", and of course the ever-popular "Hitler was right".

The reason why, if a man who opposes the EU commits an act of terrorism, we might talk primarily about his mental illness, whilst if an Islamist commits an act of terrorism, we might talk primarily about his Islamism, is not anti-Muslim bigotry. It is that, much as Alex Massie and his ilk want to insist that "Breaking point" means "KILL! KILL! KILL!", it really doesn't. To interpret the words of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, or Daniel Hannan as commands to murder, you need to be insane. To understand that the words of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Anjem Choudary, Omar Bakri Muhammad, or Osama bin Laden are commands to murder, you just need to listen.

And, you know, I'm in Northern Ireland here. This idea being bandied about that we always try to excuse the terrorist atrocities of white people by blaming mental illness is news to me. Perhaps someone will correct me, but I'm not aware of one single instance of the media ever doing that regarding the paramilitaries of either side. The reason we blame Islamist ideology for attacks committed by Islamists is exactly the same as the reason we blame IRA ideology for attacks committed by Irish Republicans. Where's the racist bias here?

And, hey, since I've brought up Irish Republicanism, here's Alex Massie again:

It cannot be said too often that there is nothing intrinsically objectionable about supporting the idea of a united Ireland. But if you did – or still do – support that goal you had a choice. You could ally yourself with the SDLP or you could chum around with Sinn Fein and the IRA. The choice mattered because it was a choice between decency and indecency, between constitutional politics and paramilitary politics.

How odd that Massie can draw that distinction between a violent and a non-violent movement that want the same goal — rightly insist on how important it is, even — when considering Irish Republicanism, but not when it comes to opposing the EU.

(By the way, to all those people saying that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump and the EDL are supporting Brexit, as if that's some sort of argument, you might want to reconsider that whole guilt-by-association thing, since the polls show you're voting with the IRA.)

Eden Strang is schizophrenic. He attacked a church congregation with a sword because he thought they were demons and God had told him to. The media at the time talked extensively about his insanity and very little about his skin, which happens to be brown. So it appears that this is not an excuse used only in defence of the white. Perhaps the media start talking about an attacker's mental health issues when he has mental health issues? Hey, it's a theory.

Jared Lee Loughner is paranoid schizophrenic. He appears to have become interested in, of all things, linguistics: he was convinced that the government was abusing grammar — yes, grammar — to control and deceive the populace. So he asked the Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords:

What is government if words have no meaning?

Giffords gave a polite and diplomatically evasive answer, because, like everyone else on the planet, she had no fucking idea what Loughner was talking about. Her evasiveness made him so angry he later tried to kill her. And he had other reasons, too, nearly all of them ridiculous.

I was actually in the building when Lewis Mawhinney stabbed Stephen Hayes twice in the neck. (That was an exciting day at the office.) Mawhinney is paranoid schizophrenic too. He believed he was an MI5 agent and that his handler had told him Hayes was his target. He had clearly been influenced somewhat by action spy thrillers. Perhaps the makers of the Bond films should be held to account.

The point is, if our standard for public discourse is to be that we mustn't say anything that might inspire an insane person to violence, then we can say nothing. Literally nothing.

And certainly not this:

As a historian I fear Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also Western political civilisation in its entirety.

That's Donald Tusk, President of the European Council. Inflammatory, much? How did Alex Massie put it again? Ah, yes:

When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word.

Hell, who needs insanity? If I thought Western civilisation itself was at stake — if I didn't think Tusk was talking out of his arse — I'd kill Boris Johnson myself.

Anyway, it's easy enough to see the point of all this slander. On the list of things hated by the Great British Public, Nazis, guns, and murder are in the top five, along with second-rate tea and the weather. No-one wants to be associated with a murdering Nazi gunman. I'm sure the slander will work: a lot of people will vote Remain, just to avoid that association. But, then again, it remains to be seen which will piss people off more: having one thing in common with a Nazi murderer, or being told by wankers that they have lots more things in common with a Nazi murderer.

We'll see soon enough.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Politics is a dirty business.

I don't think I'm going to get any points for originality when I say that politicians tend to be appalling two-faced mendacious hypocritical vindictive bastards. But perhaps I will if I suggest that this is a good thing.

Because the thing is that politics itself requires appalling two-faced mendacious hypocritical vindictive bastards. That appears to be the nature of the job. The great thing about a representative democracy is that we pick a tiny minority of people from among us and give them the job of being shits on our behalf. Leaving us to get on with the relatively pleasant day-to-day task of not being shits. Not so much, anyway.

The trouble with referenda is that they foist that job back onto us, the people. As I said the other day, I believe a referendum is democratically and constitutionally necessary in this case, whichever way the result goes. We the people should have this job, this time. But, Jesus wept, we could have done without it. I for one am looking forward to the day every one of us delegates being a shit back to our elected representatives, and thank God we have them, the bastards.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Democracy and power.

We live in a representative democracy, so we don't often get to make actual decisions. We choose our leaders and leave the decision-making to them. So, when it comes to our membership of the EU, why a referendum?

Well, let's say you're the MP for Chesterfield. What that means is that the people of Chesterfield have elected to lend you their power for a maximum of five years so that you may wield it on their behalf. What it emphatically does NOT mean is that they have given you their power. At the end of your term in Parliament, you have to give it back, and then the people of Chesterfield may elect to loan it to you again. The power is never yours.

Which means you are not allowed to give it to someone else.

As Tony Benn put it in what is widely regarded as one of the greatest speeches ever given in the House of Commons:

Even if I agree with everything that is proposed, I cannot hand away powers lent to me for five years by the people of Chesterfield. I just could not do it. It would be theft of public rights.

In my ideal world, the public would care about the theft of their rights. They certainly kicked up a stink when our MPs stole some frankly rather small sums of money from us. But our rights? Not so much.

Arguing with people over the last few weeks, I note that they tend to value ends over means: people who like what the EU does believe we should be in it. And that's fine — once we've had a referendum. But that doesn't mean it was OK for our lords and masters to place us under the rule of the European Commission in the first place. The power was never theirs to give away. They needed our permission, yet never sought it. This matters.

I like a lot of what the EU does myself. Not all of it, but a lot of the rules are very sensible, and a lot of them benefit me personally. And I'm not about to defend the legislative prowess of the cornucopia of tongue-dragging muppets we have in Westminster. But to think that that makes the theft of our rights and powers OK is to fall into the usual trap of thinking that democracy is just a decision-making mechanism, and that therefore it is the decision it reaches that matters. But democracy is not primarily a decision-making mechanism. I mean, really, if you were setting out to design a good way of making good decisions, would you come up with democracy? Of course not. Because it's laughably useless.

However, democracy is a very very good civil-war-prevention mechanism.

Benn again:

the important thing about democracy is that we can remove without bloodshed the people who govern us.

The other option being, of course, with bloodshed. Which history tells us is what happens when democracy is destroyed or (as in this case) subverted.

This is why the Referendum is vital. Right now, the European Commission is an illegitimate government in the UK, with no democratic mandate to rule us. After the referendum, it won't be — either because it will no longer be our government or because it will finally have democratic legitimacy. Either option is a vast improvement.

Now, personally, I take a very long-term view of politics and regard the upholding of democracy as far more important than my own ephemeral preferences, so, all other considerations aside, would vote to leave the EU because I believe it is of paramount importance that, when our lords and masters steal our rights and powers, they don't get away with it. I want future parliaments to look at their predecessors' experiment with the subversion of democracy and take away the message "The public did not, in the end, allow it. So don't try it again."

You may shrug at this — as a lot of people do. You may think economic considerations, or the opinion of some scientists, or maternity leave laws are of far more import. You may think the ends matter more than the means. It's always a tempting thought.

But you might want to look at Tony Benn's predictions of what happens when democracy doesn't work:

First, people may just slope off. Apathy could destroy democracy. When the turnout drops below 50 per cent, we are in danger… The second thing that people can do is to riot. Riot is an old-fashioned method for drawing the attention of the Government to what is wrong. ... Thirdly, nationalism can arise. Instead of blaming the Treaty of Rome, people say, ‘It is those Germans’ or ‘It is the French’. Nationalism is built out of frustration that people feel when they cannot get their way through the ballot box. With nationalism comes repression.

And you might want to note that, across the EU, all those things are indeed on the rise. Don't say you weren't warned.

Tuesday 7 June 2016

Government efficiency.

The other day, I saw that we have a new traffic warden with a special uniform whose job is to check the blue disabled badges in cars parked in the town's disabled parking spaces. We already have traffic wardens checking every car in every parking space. Some might suggest that they could have checked blue badges as well. But no: apparently that requires new employees with new uniforms.