Thursday, November 17

A conflict of interest.

The news was on in the background, as it always is at work, and I saw that a committee of MPs are calling for the RSPCA to be stripped of the right to prosecute. Why? Because, they claim, for the RSPCA to prosecute cases of animal cruelty is a conflict of interest.

I admit to having been utterly baffled by this. What conflict of interest? Do the RSPCA somehow make a profit out of prisons or something? So I looked it up.

The Commons environment committee said there was a "conflict of interest" between the charity's power to prosecute and its role in investigating cases, campaigning and fundraising.

A conflict of interest between investigating cases and prosecuting them? What the what? Couldn't we say the same about the criminal justice system?

But read on a bit and suddenly this nonsense all jumps into focus.

Last year the RSPCA spent £4.9 million on legal fees and cases. [David Bowles, the RSPCA's head of public affairs] said that represented about 3% of the charity's budget.

....

The charity's prosecution success rate is 98.9%, according to 2014 RSPCA figures

Ahhhh, so the CPS are moving to stop the RSPCA from prosecuting criminals because they're so damn good at it they're embarrassing the hell out of the CPS.

The RSPCA is a charity, supported by private donations. With a mere 3% of its budget, using independent solicitors rather than professional Crown Prosecutors, it is achieving a 98.9% success rate in prosecutions. And our MPs want this stopped?

I have a better idea. Let's let the CPS continue to handle the incredibly important cases of people being obnoxious on Twitter, and hand the responsibility for prosecuting assault, rape, and murder cases over to the RSPCA. The country should be crime-free by Christmas.

Thursday, November 10

Win-win.

Over the last couple of days, I've realised that an election in which both viable candidates are absolutely fucking awful is absolutely the best kind of election. I'm really happy that Clinton lost. She deserved to lose. But, if she'd won, I'd have been really happy to see Trump lose. He deserved to lose too.

Course, one of them had to win. And that was bound to be a bit of a problem. But then it always is. Every bloody election, no matter what happens, we end up with a politician in charge. It's an annoyance, but one I've got used to over the years.

And there's just so much more pleasure to be derived from seeing a politician lose than there is misery from seeing one win, it's not even close. Truly, in an election like this, there is really very little downside.

Mind you, if you're one of those people who believes that one of the human calamities on offer deserved to win, that the world would be a better place if they won, that they're even a nice person, I can see how the wrong result might be upsetting.

But that's just crazy talk.

Upbringing.

I keep reading accounts of children being distraught and crying about the election result. And that makes me wonder, what the hell is wrong with their parents?

Your job as a parent is, yes, to prepare your children for the world, but also not to needlessly frighten them. I live in Northern Ireland. We have politicians who are literal murderers, who have ordered the kneecappings, torture, and deaths of innocent people in cold blood, sometimes even doing the deeds themselves. And I'm not telling my kids horror stories about that so that they can lose sleep over it. We'll explain the history of the Troubles and the Peace Process to them one day, when they're ready for that kind of information and capable of dealing with it. To tell them before they can deal with it would simply be cruel.

Yet apparently there are Democrats in the US, and left-wingers across Europe, frightening their kids so badly the poor things are in tears, and for what? Because a murderer has seized power and declared martial law? Because a terrorist has performed a coup d'état? No: because a politician was elected who's quite rude and a bit of a buffoon, and — horror of horrors! — is a Republican.

If you are frightening your kids over a fucking election result, you are a bad parent. Grow up.

Wednesday, November 9

Hey, it's a theory.

Thomas Frank in The Guardian:

Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.

Maybe?

Corruption.

They were both truly awful options. But the blatantly corrupt one lost. And I do like to see corruption lose.

Of course, Trump is probably corrupt too. He runs a casino-cum-strip-joint, for God's sake (though if he were properly corrupt, perhaps it wouldn't be going bankrupt). But he isn't blatantly corrupt: he recognises that corruption is supposed to be hidden, so makes some attempt to hide it. Clinton's attitude to the public has been one big "Yeah, I'm lying to you and taking massive bribes, and what the fuck are you going to do about it?" She didn't even attempt to make her lies believable:

"Did you wipe your server?"
"What, like, with a cloth?"

At least, when you try to fool people, you accept that they are worth fooling. When you make your lies so obvious that it's impossible to believe them, you ask your listeners to join you in the deceit. You're telling them up front that they're as bad as you are and you know it.

I'm cynical enough to accept that there's bound to be some corruption and indecency at that level of politics. But I also believe that the public's refusal to accept that corruption when it's discovered is a necessary check on its extent. That was the thing about Clinton: not just the corruption, but the blatancy. I'm sure Trump has taken and given a lot of back-handers in his time. Clinton turned them into front-handers.

Probably my favourite political speech of all time.

Sadly, this doesn't seem to be on the Net anywhere. I heard it on the radio, on the morning of the 2nd of May, 1997. John Major would go on to make a proper — and perfectly decent — official concession speech later on, but his impromptu one was better.

You could hear all the assembled Tories had been drinking through the night. Much rumbling and kerfuffle and laughter. Then a lot of ssshing because the now-ex-PM was going to speak. Everyone quietened down. And Major said, quite cheerfully — even over the radio, you could hear his smile — "Well, we lost." And the assembled throng of Tories immediately burst into drunken cheering.

He then went on to give a rather good speech. But it is that excellent beginning that stuck in my head, and the cheering of the losers that greeted it. At the time, I just thought it was fun. In retrospect, it turned out to be an all-too rare example of how to lose decently.

If you've just lost, and you want to look good, and perhaps you fancy persuading people you're not a narcissistic tosser, have a drink and a laugh and celebrate.

Told you so.

Just after the Brexit vote, I wrote this:

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.

Yes, there's lots of talk about how Trump talks for certain classes of underdog who've been ignored and brushed aside by the American political class for too long, and there's something to that. But I'm really thinking here of the behaviour of the Democratic party towards Bernie Sanders' supporters. They were blatantly, brazenly told that their votes could just fuck off.

How's that working out for you, Hillary?

Friday, October 28

Overnight success.

I used to be a Mac fan. Many years ago, they made better machines with a better operating system than the competition. As they became more popular, they started making overpriced crap. And their influence forced Microsoft to up their game in the OS stakes.

I've had a Surface Pro for a couple of years. It is a really really damn nice machine. It's the sort of thing Apple would have made once upon a time but don't any more. They've just launched a new phone and laptop, and, due to the incompatibility of the connectors, you can't charge the phone from the laptop. They've famously got rid of the headphone jack from their phones: they claim that their new connector provides better audio. Their new laptop still has the old headphone jack — i.e., according to their own hype, inferior sound. I think it's fair to say that Steve Jobs wouldn't have stood for this sort of sloppiness.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's new Surface Studio looks amazing. A square aim at Apple's core market, there. And a bloody good aim, too. The Dial is bloody cool. I'd be amazed if half the developers on the planey haven't already started thinking of ways to integrate it into new things. Could be a really interesting gaming controller, for a start, and perfect for music-making software.

The interesting thing about the Surface was the way it was derided as a flop when it first launched. Apple have built so much of their reputation around the business plan of launching a product and selling a bazillion inside a week that the entire tech industry has decided that that's the only way to do things. Microsoft took a completely different approach: launch something quite cool, watch it to see how it does, listen to feedback, tweak, repeat. They were quite open about not caring whether the Surface made a profit in its first couple of years, while tech journalists derided the "flop" and insisted the Surface was a failed project that would have to be abandoned. They didn't care when they had to write down a load of inventory. They didn't abandon the project. Just kept tweaking. And now the Surface is considered a cool and desirable machine, just like a Mac. I find it has wow factor, too: when geeks see me using one, they ask to have a look.

I'm glad Microsoft succeeded in this way — not just because I like my Surface, but because, even if I didn't, I think it's healthy for the industry to be reminded that a successful gadget doesn't have to go from nothing to everywhere overnight. Good things can be built slowly.

Thursday, October 27

More on democracy.

The Guardian (and others, but let's put the boot in where it's most deserved) are breathlessly reporting that they've obtained a leaked recording which shows that Theresa May didn't support Brexit! This is being treated as some sort of scoop for some reason. Don't understand it myself. Yes, she was pro-Remain. It wasn't a secret: she said so publicly at the time. She was on the Remain side in the Referendum. I assume she voted Remain. We all knew it. What's next? Secret footage of Michael Gove saying he thinks schools could be improved?

Let's leave aside the rather obvious facts: that May only stood as leader as a direct result of the Brexit vote; that the whole and only reason the post was vacant was that Cameron was pro-Remain; that the whole point of her candidacy was "I will deliver what the people have voted for"; that, if she hadn't offered that, she couldn't have won; that therefore whether she thinks the people were right to vote the way we did is secondary. Because, even if none of that were true, it still wouldn't actually matter.

This is the great strength of democracy: that it harnesses politicians' desire for power. The whole point of democracy is that you achieve power by doing what the electorate want. In non-democracies, you achieve power by trampling all over the public. As long as they have to persuade voters, it simply does not matter whether a politician bases their policy on a deep-seated conviction or a fervent desire to do good or a cynical unprincipled hunger for power or even a lunatic conspiracy theory — because not enough voters will ever share the same conviction or altruism or conspiracy theory, and certainly not an overwhelming desire to give as much power as possible to that one politician. It doesn't matter what the voters' motives are, either — an idea the Remnants are having real trouble with. In a democracy, motives are pooled and mixed and diluted till they may as well not exist. Which is why it's so rare for democracies to give rise to significant crazed extremist movements.

Maybe Theresa May doesn't want any of what she's currently working for. Maybe she would rather the UK stay in the EU but is willing to bury her own convictions in order to get the top job. Maybe she's a power-hungry narcissist who hates us all. Yet she is still, in order to grab power, having to do what the electorate clearly voted for.

This is a feature, not a bug.

Seriously?

Here's what Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, said on Radio 4 about Heathrow the other day:

One of the things Heathrow have been looking at is doing what many other airports have done around the world, which is to build the runway over the top of the road rather than underneath it.

I have to admit I'm quite surprised that the idea of an underground runway was even being considered. It's probably for the best that they've decided against it.

Thursday, October 13

A song.

As long-time readers — as if I have any — may know, as well as ranting about politics and whining about my lunch, I make music. Well, on the faint off-chance that you're remotely interested, I hereby announce that I'm in a new band, called Mašīna, and we have made this, which is quite good:



Enjoy.

An apology.

I would like to apologise.

Back when Gayle Newland was sent down, I was quite rude about the jury and the Crown Prosecution Service. The Court of Appeal, in rightly overturning her appalling conviction today, says that I should have been rude about the judge as well. An unforgivable oversight on my part. I'm truly sorry.

Saturday, August 6

The open source resistance.

The open source jihad is America's worst nightmare.
 — Al Qaeda's Inspire magazine

Open source jihad is Al Qaeda's catchy brand name for the attacks currently taking place across Europe and the USA on an almost daily basis. Whilst there are some fundamental differences of opinion between Al Qaeda and ISIS, they are in agreement when it comes to tactics.

The point of open-source warfare is to take the old Al Qaeda's loose command structure of autonomous cells to the next level and have no command structure, or even membership. They put their ideology out there, promulgate information about how to commit attacks cheaply and easily, then leave it to like-minded individuals to put the ideas into practice as and when and however they wish. The advantages of this are obvious, and the traditional disadvantages simply don't apply. Militaries — and traditional terrorist organisations such as the IRA — maintain and enforce centralised command in order to coordinate strategy and to avoid taking ineffective or counterproductive action. That makes sense when the death of the enemy is merely a means to a strategic end. But, when the death of the enemy is an end in itself, and for an organisation that welcomes the deaths even of its own soldiers, there is no such thing as a counterproductive attack. Kill a hundred infidels? Great. Kill one infidel? Still great. Invite massive retaliation? Great: an opportunity for more killing. Get caught? Great: an opportunity to make converts in prison. Get killed? Great: you're going to paradise. For jihadis, there's never a downside.

The lack of command structure, of course, means that the familiar ritual of going through the war criminal du jour's computer looking for evidence of a connection to... well, to a command structure, is ridiculous. After every attack, the police announce that the attacker was yet another "lone wolf" because they couldn't find a copy of his official orders from a superior officer. Every war starts with a leadership intent on fighting the last war, but then they're supposed to adapt to the new paradigm or make way for those who can. It's been fifteen years now, and there's still no sign of that happening.

Take, for instance, the British Government's official advice on what to do when there's a terrorist attack:

RUN to a place of safety. This is a far better option than to surrender or negotiate. If there’s nowhere to go, then…

HIDE. It’s better to hide than to confront. Remember to turn your phone to silent and turn off vibrate. Barricade yourself in if you can. Then finally and only when it is safe to do so…

TELL the police by calling 999.

ABANDON every one of your fellow human beings to their fate. Remember, it's not as if you even know them.

This is not the optimum way to approach this problem.

Now, at this point, the jeering starts. It is not only the advice of our rulers but also the prevailing fashion to assume that we are all incapable of courage. Ben Carson, for instance, faced worldwide mockery when he claimed that he would fight back:

I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey, guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’

The derision and vitriol were everywhere at the time. Ladd Everitt's comments were typical:

His suggesting that if he had been there, he could have taken the shooter down through the power of Christ or somehow, it’s just unbelievable. You begin to question this man’s mental health, doing this with a smile on his face and thinking it’s acceptable.

So were Wonkette's:

Ben Carson continues his hilarious winning strategy of telling America that the victims of last week’s massacre were a bunch of pussies, because who in their right mind gets shot? That’s so lame. He has either refused to consider that maybe shitting on victims of a massacre isn’t a particularly smart strategy, or maybe he’s decided that there are more rightwing morons who explain in internet comments how they’d take that shooter down than there are people who are appalled at his comments.

Note the assumption of utter helplessness. What Carson actually said was quite clear: that, if a large number of people rush a gunman, some will be shot and probably die, but not all of them, and those who die will save some lives by doing so. Yet Ladd characterises this as "through the power of Christ or somehow", explicitly calling it "insane", and Wonkette refers to "rightwing morons who explain in internet comments how they’d take that shooter down". The idea that it's actually possible is treated as so absurd that it's not even up for discussion: resisting an armed attacker either relies on a delusional belief in magic or is the empty boasting of blowhards. And this is now the prevailing attitude of our culture.

A couple of generations ago, we had the Little Ships. How have we fallen this far?

Honesty is overrated. One of the greatest social transgressions you can make in modern public life is that of hypocrisy. When we discover that someone — especially a politician, but, increasingly, just anyone — has acted contrary to their professed ideals, we do two things: we ridicule them mercilessly, and we reject their advice. The ridicule is fair enough, especially for public figures. But rejecting their advice, not so much. If a man who preaches that men should be faithful to their wives is discovered to have contracted HIV through his profligate use of prostitutes, being faithful to your wife remains a good idea.

The derisive reaction to Ben Carson — and to anyone who makes similar claims or gives similar advice — is based on attacking his hypocrisy. We think it's bluster, boastfulness, a big-headed fantasy of being an action hero that Carson wouldn't live up to in real life, and so, because we assume he wouldn't really step up, we attack not only him for his perceived hypocrisy but also the advice itself. There are several problems with this.

There's the assumption that he — and everyone else — is incapable of bravery. Some people are brave and do amazing things when they unexpectedly have to, often to their own surprise. Why can't Carson be one of them? Why can't any of us?

There's the fact that Carson's advice is in fact correct. We know this. The passengers of United 93 worked it out while the rest of us were still gawping in horror at the World Trade Center. Four men with Stanley knives cannot overpower forty people — if those forty are willing to risk getting stabbed. The same goes for guns: a handful of men with automatic weapons cannot beat a crowd of hundreds — if those hundreds are willing to risk getting shot. These attacks rely on their victims behaving as selfish individuals and trying to avoid getting hurt. Which is why I despair that our government is telling us to behave as selfish individuals and try to avoid getting hurt.

And there's the belief that someone's claims and their actions are independent. Either Carson is a bona-fide action hero and therefore has the right to talk about fighting back, or he isn't and so he should shut up. There's no consideration given to the idea that his claims might influence his future actions, or the actions of others. But of course they do. Talking about our capabilities changes the way we act. We even have a common everyday expression for this: psyching yourself up.

On 9/11, of all the planes flying across the US that day, what are the chances the jihadis would pick the one full of action heroes? Of course they didn't. The passengers of United 93 were ordinary people who realised what they had to do — and who were willing to risk their lives for others.

What are the chances that Abdel Rahim tried to blow up the one flight that day full of people willing to throw themselves on top of a bomb? Of course he didn't. In the aftermath of 9/11, people were thinking about what they'd do in the event of an attack, and so every flight in the world was full of people willing to throw themselves on top of a bomb. They were merely people who realised what they had to do and who were willing to risk their lives for others.

What are the chances that, of all the carriages on all the trains in France, Ayoub El-Khazzani would pick one that contained not only two American servicemen (bad luck, Ayoub) but also a student, a banker, a businessman, a teacher, and an off-duty train driver who were all willing to take on a man armed with an AK and a knife collection? In fact, to pile coincidence upon coincidence, the banker was the first to tackle El-Khazzani because he happened to be going to the toilet just as El-Khazzani emerged from it to start his attack. Again, what are the chances that the bravest man on the train would happen to have a full bladder at exactly that moment? But of course he wasn't. He was simply a man who realised what he had to do and was willing to risk his life for others.

What are the chances that Mohammed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel would choose to drive a truck down a route containing three separate heroes willing to make like Indiana Jones and jump onto a moving truck and fight the driver? But of course Franck, Alexander Migues, and Gwenael Leriche were ordinary people who, like all of us — especially the French — have been thinking about what they'd do in the event of a terrorist attack. They hadn't trained specifically in how to jump onto moving vehicles; I doubt they had much experience of having guns pointed in their faces. And I'm pretty sure there isn't a road in France that doesn't contain such people: people who are ready to do something heroic not because they're superhuman ex-special-forces professional action heroes who've been training for this moment their entire life, but just because they've been thinking about this sort of thing. They've been psyching themselves up. Franck (a man so humble nobody appears to know his surname) describes himself as "un mec normal. Pas un héros, un citoyen": "a normal bloke. Not a hero, a citizen." He's right. But he's also a fucking hero.

There is nothing our professional security services can do to prevent attacks like the one in Nice. Yes, they can — and do — do a lot of work to track and disrupt anyone trying to get hold of illegal weapons or engaging in the necessary organisation and communication to stage a coordinated group attack, but there's nothing anyone can do to stop one man hiring a truck or buying a kitchen knife. The bastards can strike at any time. And, as the old saying goes, when every second counts, the police are just minutes away. The only people who can be guaranteed always to be there when it matters are the targets: us. When the shit hits the fan, do you want to call the police and wait? Or do you want someone to do something right now? If so, perhaps that someone should be you.

I have no idea what I'd do in the event of a terrorist attack. I like to think I'd try to do something that matters, but I'm certainly not boasting here: I'm entirely open to the suggestion that I'd turn and run. I don't know anything about fighting, I'm not particularly strong, and I don't have the comfort of belief in an afterlife. But I do know this: because I aspire to do something that matters, I am more likely to do it than someone who aspires to turn and run. If we all tell ourselves, and each other, that we are able and willing to fight back, then some of us will. Maybe only a small fraction of us, but that's still tens of thousands of people. If we all tell ourselves, and each other, that we're cowards, none of us are going to be surprised.

We civilians did not choose to be soldiers in a war. I would certainly be a lot happier if our enemies would fight by the old-fashioned rules of warfare established by civilised nation-states and we could therefore leave the actual fighting to the professionals, as our government wants us to. But they don't. We have no choice about this: we are targets. But we do have a choice about what kind of targets we are: the kind that runs away or the kind that fights back. The open source jihad should be met by the open source resistance: millions of people with no chain of command or special training, just the willingness to run towards murderers instead of away from them, and give them a damn good kicking.

We should psych ourselves up.

We need to realise what we have to do and be willing to risk our lives for others.

And our leaders need to realise it too, and stop telling us to run and hide.

Wednesday, June 29

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, June 27

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?

EXACTLY.

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, June 23

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.

Days.

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, June 22

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, June 21

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:

MP DEAD AFTER ATTACK BY BREXIT GUNMAN

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, June 16

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, June 8

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, June 7

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.

Austerity.

Monday, February 22

Point Break.

I thought we all knew what we wanted from the Point Break remake: stunts, stunts, stunts, and maybe a few extra stunts. We all understand that they need a bit of script to string it together, but it's not a film where the story is the point.

Sadly, the director was apparently under the impression that he'd stumbled on one of the most poignant dramas ever to be penned by mortal man, and that the bunch of surfers and base-jumpers he'd gathered constituted the finest array of thespians assembled since The Grand Budapest Hotel. The stunts were indeed pretty good — though nowhere near the league of, say, Jackie Chan or Paul Greengrass — but they were almost an afterthought to the interminable, atrociously but oh so earnestly delivered cod pseudo-spiritual environmentalist claptrap that was supposed to provide not only the motivation for the film's villains — a task it failed at so thoroughly that it made it impossible to take them seriously — but also, I horrifiedly suspect, something to make we the audience Really Think.

The film's saving grace is that the dialogue is SO bad that it made me laugh out loud.

I'm old enough to remember when the future was good.

So glad that a free game that comes with a games console is now provided in the form of a download code that requires an absurdly long-drawn-out and complex account set-up that runs into stupidly basic incompatibility problems and then takes bloody ages to actually download the damn thing and altogether uses up an hour of my Sunday. Hated it when they used to give you a disc that you had to put into the machine and it just worked twenty seconds later.