Current Affairs – UK and Europe

A blunt and honest letter from a UK politician

Dear UK voters,

I thought it was time that we, the politicians, (you know, those people that you love to hate), told you the honest, blunt, unvarnished, non-spun truth about a few issues.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. More BS from self-serving corrupt nincompoops.

For sure, a lot of us are exactly like that. But, let’s start with the biggest and, for you, the most embarrassing fact.

You voted for us, consistently and persistently for decades.

So when you sit at home watching the TV on your sofa, or sit on your barstool at the Dog and Duck, whingeing about “shysters”, “arseholes”, and using other choice words, you need to remember; you almost certainly had other choices when you voted at the last few elections.

And you chose us to be your elected representatives.

Now, if you say “but a majority of us didn’t vote for you guys”, well, that is probably true. We are in power, with this very nice majority, because there is an election system in the UK known as “first past the post”, where the person getting the most votes in a constituency gets to be an MP, and every other candidate gets to keep their rosettes, posters and concession speeches and wonder What Might Have Been. We also benefit from the fact that an awful lot of you seem to be incapable of actually, you know, moving your arses from those sofas or barstools to go down the road to a polling station and vote. The fewer of you that vote, the easier it is for us to win those elections.

Now, if you don’t like that system, I have to remind you that you all had a chance to implement a different electoral system in 2011. And you voted to keep this current one. So, this is what YOU voted for. Again.

You’re sensing a pattern here? You should. Because I am about to remind you of some of your other decisions.

At this point, I can sense some of you are mouthing “f**k this” and preparing to leave the room. You can do so, but that is a Tell. It tells me, even if you haven’t realized it yet, that you are in Denial. Denial is not a river in Egypt. It is that comfortable place where we all like to live, where our beliefs and worldviews are correct, everything in the garden is rosy, and there are no Big Problems.

Right now, as I am sure you have noticed, we have at least two Big Problems.

One of those is the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, which continues into the foreseeable future. I will be frank, everybody in the UK has not done a good job of handling Covid-19. We, your elected representatives, talked ourselves out of listening to experts, because, well, they use big words, and sound aloof, so it is easy for us to take cheap shots at them in order to rile up the guys and gals in the cheap seats. Sometimes the experts are wrong, because they are humans, and then we get to act all smug and say “see! Those experts were wrong AGAIN!”, and then we think that gives us credibility (and reduces their credibility) so that after a while we can come on TV and say utter fucking nonsense like “well, I think the British public has had quite enough of experts, don’t you?”

The second problem is Brexit. You, I have to remind you, also voted for this. Those of us who are going to be honest know what made you vote for it. You were pissed off because, in common with most politicians who believe in laissez-faire economic policies, we allowed ourselves to react to a recession starting in 2009 by cutting government spending, when we should have increased it, in order to support the less fortunate and more vulnerable in society. That led to wholesale cuts in public services and economic assistance, which in turn led a lot of you to conclude that we don’t give a damn about you, the majority of the people.

It’s true. We don’t really care enough about you because, well, you don’t fund us. We’re whores, for sale to the highest bidder. At least privately. And the main reason that we are whores is that, well, we’re paid terribly. In return for the important and extraordinary responsibility of representing potentially hundreds of thousands of voters in Parliament, we get a base salary of 82k a year. This is chickenfeed, when compared to jobs of a similar responsibility in private business. What it means, in practical terms, is that unless we are already financially secure (in which case we probably live in a bubble and we will be clueless about your careabouts and challenges), we will be whoring ourselves out from the moment we announce that we intend to run for elective office. And the sort of people that we like when we’re whores are people who hand us large wads of cash at frequent intervals, in return for certain “considerations” when we make decisions and draft government bills. The sort of people who can hand out sufficient cash in one fell swoop are the likes of big business, and oligarchs (like those nice Russians and other mind-bogglingly rich people who live in the UK, some of whom happen to own football teams). Not you, the common people.

This could change, if you are prepared to accept that if you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys. But whenever the idea of a pay rise is floated for politicians, the media comes down on the idea like a ton of bricks, and whips you up into a frenzy from your sofas and bar stools, and the idea often dies on the vine, with people suddenly retreating at high speed, saying “it was just a thought…we didn’t really mean it!”. And so you continue to pay peanuts to your elected representatives, and we will continue to whore ourselves out in private, usually to the highest bidder.Anyway, I slightly digressed.

Brexit. Ah yes.

The other challenge with Brexit is that we have not been telling you for decades about how important the EU has become, and how closely our entire economy had been integrated into a single European market. So we allowed a polite fiction, that of an independent Britain, to become ingrained in the minds of many people. Too many people.

The reason we did this was that our party has been split on the fundamental question of whether the UK being in the EU was a good thing. For decades. Not just us. The Labour Party has had the same problem. They call themselves Eurosceptics. Like most of what they say, that’s total bullshit. They have always been reflexively and dogmatically anti-EU. I’ll come back to that in a minute. Every time somebody in our party said something good about the EU, all of the baying hounds would rise up and say shit like “No! EU stuffed full of unelected bureaucrats imposing United States of Socialist Europe!”.

Like I say, total bullshit. But we were scared of these folks, because they would threaten to rebel and vote against some important bill or piece of legislation, or make our lives miserable in other ways, and they would keep pointing at the UKIP and other racist shit-stirrers and crackpots and say things like “if we don’t fight the EU, those guys will eat our lunch”. So we kept kow-towing to the Eurosceptics by being reluctant to say anything good about the EU in public. This, as you might expect, made the EU wonder about just how committed we were to being good members of the EU.

Starting in 2013, the anti-EU faction began pissing and moaning, and the UKIP began taking support away from us with their nativist anti-European claptrap. So, just like the whoring weathervanes that we are, we tried to out-UKIP the UKIP, by getting all tough with the EU, demanding and negotiating concessions, and agreeing to demands for a referendum. We figured that once enough people realized that being in the EU was a good thing, we would win the referendum.

Well, we got that wrong, didn’t we? We didn’t realize how pissed-off you were with politicians generally, and we also screwed up our entire Remain messaging, to the point where “Remain” sounded like a meek acceptance of a bad deal, where “Leave” sounded brave, action-oriented. We also allowed the Leave supporters to use empty weaponized slogans like “take back control” and “sovereignty” without demanding that they actually define what the hell those words and phrases meant. Oh yes, and writing codswallop on the side of a big red bus.

The fact that many of the Leave supporters were charlatans, all mouth and no trousers, was something that we were too polite to point out. They were impolite enough to complain about “Remainers” and propose a Brave New Global Britain, without actually explaining any of what that meant or how it would work. But we are not in a position to complain that much, because we had spent 20+ years miserably failing to explain how the EU worked and why being a member of it was a Good Thing for the UK.

So Leave won the referendum.

Now, remember what I said about us being whores? The other thing I forgot to mention is that we love power. We do a good job of hiding it in public. After all, nobody is going to be impressed by a candidate that says “actually the reason I want to be an MP is not so that I can serve you, the voters. Did you come down from the hillside with the last rainstorm or something? No, I am in this for money, attention and my own ego. And to shag that nice little number in the office round the corner”.

That is what we call Saying The Quiet Bits Out Loud. It may be truthful, but you should have realized by now that most humans would rather hear simple bullshit than complex truths (especially if it fits on that bus, or if it makes for a snappy tabloid newspaper headline). So we learn to say All The Right Things, like “I exist to serve you, the electorate”. Then, once elected or re-elected, we get down to the serious business of Whoring In Private.

Because we are whores, and we love power, we tend to forget about principles. If we were principled, those of us who thought that Brexit was a batshit crazy idea (which is most of us) would have resigned from office and parliament shortly after the referendum, explaining that we could not, in all good conscience, try to implement a decision that we profoundly disagreed with. Yeah, no. The money and the power took over. So you got to see most of an entire generation of guys and gals in our party swallow hard and say shit like “we will respect the vote, and negotiate to leave the EU”. Then we proceeded to adopt all of those silly weaponized slogans that Leave had used, and started acting all tough in public, because when the people that voted for you have voted for you because they are angry and vengeful, you have to pretend, at least in public, that you agree with them. We not only know how to whore, we also know how to pander.

Unfortunately, because nobody had seriously thought that You, The Voters, would be dumb enough or uninformed enough to vote Leave, we had no strategy or plan to negotiate our way out of the EU. So then we had to try and create one. This, as you will have noticed, proved to be impossible, so that after 3 and a bit years of dicking about, we were still locked in negotiations with the EU, with no end in sight, and no real strategy, other than empty cliches like “sovereignty” and the New Grand Phrase, “Global Britain”.

At that point, late in 2019, there was another General Election. That was great for us, partly because we presented ourselves as bellicose defenders of the Mighty UK, and partly because our political rivals, to use that old phrase, couldn’t have organized a piss-up in a brewery when it came to having a unified position on Brexit. We offered that elusive, totally bullshit-based, but powerful-sounding item to the electorate. Certainty. Backed up with some more tough-talk that we know is bullshit, but which you folks and those tabloid newspapers that you read seem to love. I mean, Boris may be a total bullshitter, but “oven ready deal” certainly went down well with the tabloids.

It worked. We won by a country mile. Having talked tough, we then went back to acting all tough with the EU, but we still didn’t have a strategy, and as you noticed, our leader is a bullshitting arsehole, so everything since then has been a shambles. We now have the worst of all possible outcomes, including a virtual border down the Irish sea, which is causing all sorts of problems in Northern Ireland, a fisheries policy which has reduced many of our fisherman to impotent penury, and all manner of restrictions rules and processes that we now have to obey simply to send a paper clip to the EU. And we have border personnel behaving like arseholes, because we have an arsehole as Home Secretary.

So when you ask “has Brexit been a disaster”, those of us who are honest will say Yes, of course it is a disaster. We have a minimal trade agreement with the EU, and if you think that Liz Truss is out there signing fantastic trade deals with all of those countries that the UK has been unfairly neglecting for decades in favor of the Big Bad EU, and that those trade deals will magically replace our trade deals with the EU, then I have a bridge near New York to sell you. Really cheap of course. Particularly if it has a trade agreement thrown in, haha.

Now, remember what I said earlier about the town named Denial? The one where most of you live? Well, this where it comes into play. If we were to be brutally honest, we would, at this point, be saying to you, the voters, “this is is a disaster, it is going to become a bigger disaster, and you voted for it. “.

We won’t say that. And if you look across the other side of the political spectrum, you will notice that very few folks on that other side are saying that at all. The reason is that you, the voters, don’t really want to hear it. You don’t want to hear it because when you are in Denial, you will ignore any information that conflicts with the voice in your head.

Too many of you, to be blunt, are still living somewhere between Lalaland and Cloudcuckooland. The reality is that if you leave the club, you don’t get to keep the membership benefits. So all of those benefits of being in the EU, the ones that we obtained by virtue of being in the single market, and the customs union? Those benefits have all gone away.

We decided we had to leave the single market because freedom of movement was an integral part of the single market, and we found out a long time ago that many of you think that “freedom of movement” means “totally uncontrolled borders where any darkie can waltz in on a boat across the Channel and collect lots of government handouts and steal Our Jobs”.

I have to tell you, you bought bullshit from the tabloids. The dirty little secret is that you lived in a country where, whether you liked this or not, or even understood it, we did a Faustian bargain decades ago. We allowed immigrants in, and expected them to do all of those shitty dirty low-end jobs that we had decided were Not Good Enough For Us. In return we let them stay around. When we, the macro-economically stupid government, imposed what is now generally known as “austerity” starting in 2010, you all began to resent these folks, and the tabloids invented the mantra “they’re taking our jobs!” The fact that we are now short a few tens of thousands of lorry drivers, and tens of thousands of agricultural labourers, should be a large hint that we broke the Faustian bargain, by leaving the EU and cutting off that supply of willing workers.

At some point, enough of you are going to realize that Brexit, in its current form, is a disaster. Then you will get angry.

Some of you are already angry, but as is normal, you’re getting angry at the wrong people. It’s no use you complaining that Remainers are mean or negative. They owe you nothing. They voted against leaving the EU, so blaming them is like complaining that the guys who wouldn’t jump off the cliff at the same time as you are refusing to fall.

And, although my colleagues like to pretend that the EU is being mean to us, this is all performative bullshit for show and to show you that we are still With You. The EU is simply imposing rules about what it is like to be a third country dealing with them on matters of trade and movement of people. Those are rules that we helped to write over the last 40+ years. I think the old British Navy phrase for this state of affairs is “hoist by your own petard”.

As for the complaint “this isn’t what I voted for”, that is both true and false. You DID vote for Brexit, albeit by a narrow majority. What you didn’t have a clue about (because it wasn’t part of the referendum question) was what form Brexit was going to take. That’s down to us expecting the answer to the referendum to be Remain. Also, we’re stupid, unlike Switzerland where they run referendums frequently, and where they would have actually asked 2 questions (1) do you want to leave (2) if you want to leave, how do you want to leave? With the referendum question as it was, anybody saying “I know what I voted for” is really saying “I had some idea about what Brexit should comprise at the time, I expected that to be the final version of Brexit, and now Brexit has happened, I don’t like it much”.

Of course, there were lots of charlatans and bullshitters (with names like Farage) telling you that you could have your cake and eat it. You believed them? Well, I can be tough and say that’s not my problem, but in reality most of us kept quiet when we should have said “that is not going to work”. Instead we were worried by the constant drumbeat of “will of the people” being promoted by the Brexit charlatans and the tabloids.

By the way, “will of the people” is a phrase historically used, a lot, by fascists and demagogues. But I digress again.

Brexit is a disaster, and will result in an acceleration of the decline of the United Kingdom. If you look at the history of the UK, we passed our peak as a country a long time ago. We should have realized this when the US forced us and France to withdraw from Suez in 1956, and we had a second chance to learn when we had to devalue the Pound and get a standby loan from the IMF in the 1960s. But instead of realistic acceptance, we ended up with the ludicrous “I’m Backing Britain” campaign, which lasted all of…ooh, about 4 months. I could point out the acute similarity between “I’m Backing Britain” and “Global Britain”, but I won’t.

So, many people in the UK continue to live in that pleasant place named Denial, convinced that we are still an empire. I hate to break it to some of you, but a few collections of distant islands are not really an empire, and our Special Relationship with the USA is, ahem, in a spot of bother because Boris supported Donald Trump, who is no longer around, and pissed off Joe Biden, who is still around. So we are short of friends. This is one of the realities that your tabloid newspapers never seem to discuss.

Brexit may also result in a break-up of the UK. A lot of Scottish people are angry, and I don’t blame them. Scotland voted Remain, and we are acting like arseholes. That is because a lot of us are scared. Our leader is a bully, and when bullies cannot get their way, they get all obnoxious and, well, more arseholey.

Not a lot of what I have talked about will change, until You, The Voters, start thinking a lot more about what you want from your politicians and elected representatives. You keep electing the same sorts of people to elective office, and that is not a recipe for change.

As long as you pay us peanuts, for example, you can expect us to be money-grubbing, expense-chasing whores. We have a living to make, and quite a few of us can be fired by you at election time, so we have to safeguard our personal and family futures. Plus, you know, we can get addicted to nice stuff, like expense accounts, chauffeur-driven cars, and that nice little number in the office round the corner.

If you vote against proportional representation, you can expect the scenario where more people vote against the ruling party to continue. That’s how first-past-the-post works.

if you vote for a strategic direction change for the entire country without knowing or understanding what that actually translates to in practice or impact, you get something like Brexit. Put it this way, if somebody says “let’s go on a journey to Nirvana” and you say “great! how do we get there?” and the person responds “no clue, but I’m sure we can find our way there eventually”, you might reasonably ask “is this a person I want to travel with?”. That’s what happened when you voted in 2016. You probably don’t want to do that again.

Oh yes…forget all of that “sunlit uplands” nonsense. It sounds great if you really like that hymn “Jerusalem”, but it’s just another one of those tabloid slogans.

I am prepared to bet money that within 5 years we (those shysters and arseholes) will be telling you that the UK needs to be starting a dialogue with the EU to re-join the Single Market and the Customs Union. Whether the EU will want us back is a whole different matter. We haven’t exactly been covering ourselves in glory when talking with EU representatives in the last few years, and our behavior in public has been even worse. Sitting in the EU parliament chamber, chanting football yahoo slogans and waving Union Jacks may look good to drunkards at the Dog and Duck, but I have to point out that it made the UK look like a country dominated by arseholes who elected a lot of arseholes as MEPs.

Cynically, some of you who voted for Brexit will be dead in a few years’ time, so why should you care anyway? I suspect that your children and grandchildren will be the ones who have to wise up and try to vote for the right people to stop the accelerating decline of the UK. We already slipped from #5 to #6 in GDP over the last several years. Not long before we do not qualify for those nice G7 meetings where our Prime Minister gets to strut around looking all powerful and important.

I have to get back to more governmental bullshit now. Something involving “sovereignty” and lorry drivers.

 

 

 

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

Trump and anti-vax partisans – the deep hole of Denial

Once in a while in life, one comes across one or more individuals who have backed themselves into a corner or dug themselves into a hole over an issue or an event.

They usually defend their position by repeating the same general rhetoric over and over again, peppered with tough-sounding justification phrases like “it’s the principle!” (that, folks, is a really big Tell that you are dealing with somebody who is dug in and not coming out).

The ultimate fate for these people (which some of them actually come to embrace) is martyrdom. Martyrdom, giving up your entire life for a cause, be it personal or a group cause, removes you from the planet, but probably gets you into the history books. Ashli Babbitt, one of the January 6th insurrectionists, who was shot and fatally wounded while attempting to break into a secure area inside the Capitol building, is being re-born as a martyr as I write this.

Cults and cult followers often end up in a hole, sometimes because they collectively break laws, or because they adopt ideological positions that are incoherent, self-contradictory, or in many cases, totally at variance with reality. When a belief system does not match reality, it becomes a collection of delusions.

Right now, in the USA and the UK, there are millions of people who have adopted beliefs totally at variance with reality. Those people are trapped in a worldview that they adopted. They are also usually surrounded by people who have identical or mostly similar worldviews. Those people are their social circle, comprising friends, family, church and other sources of social and ideological validation. Those sources provide powerful and continual reinforcement.

The insistence by supporters of Donald Trump that he won the November 2020 Presidential election, for example, is being perpetuated today, 9 months after the election concluded with him losing the Electoral College to Joe Biden. The delusion that Trump won extends far beyond the insistence that he was in fact the winner. There are people out there insisting that Trump really is in charge, and that the images of President Biden are digital manipulations, and that Biden is under arrest or has been executed. To an observer who deals in facts, the people making these claims look utterly deluded, and are living somewhere between Lalaland and Cloudcuckooland.

Any attempt to engage with these people on social media is largely futile, except for the grim amusement of seeing how many ways they can contradict themselves in the course of a discussion, and how many more and more bizarre methods of rationalization they can invent. Their fundamental convictions and beliefs remain fixed, immovable, and insistent. When stressed by contrary fact, they act like 8 year olds found stealing from the cookie jar, throwing tantrums, blocking people and ultimately stalking off in a huff.

I have yet to see a single person in this group admit to making a mistake. Nor do I expect to. The reason, as explained in this article, is that people dug into a defective worldview are sustained in that worldview by their social world, which is their primary support system. They are not going to pay attention to any perceived opponents, since those people are outside of their social circle already. Nor are they going to pay much attention to experts, which explains the parallel (and often overlapping) resistance of anti-vaccine individuals to inputs from epidemiologists and medical professionals. An experienced epidemiologist on TV doesn’t stand a chance next to Fred down at church.

A parallel contributory factor to the communication failure is the infantilization of communication and interaction in the modern USA. Covid-19 has magnified this tendency by dramatically limiting social interaction opportunities, where people congregate together for extended periods of time to discuss all manner of subjects. Now, instead of talking over dinner or drinks, exploring issues, people huddle over smartphones and consume limited-bandwidth soundbites that neatly summarize a complex issue down to binary math. This good, that bad. Me good, you bad. This helps to explain why so many partisans, especially Republicans, seem to have adopted the interaction style of emotionally stunted adolescents, complete with all of the signs of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. “You’re not the boss of me!” is merely a different version of the adolescent foot-stamping cries of “Shan’t” and “You can’t make me!” that most parents get to hear at some time in their life as parents. Of course, most adolescents eventually do learn how to Adult, at least most of the time. But right now, when it comes to political issues, an awfully large number of people seem to have regressed to adolescence, or something preceding adolescence.

They are, to some extent, taking their cues from above. Donald Trump’s communication style, right now, is that of a jilted, emotionally injured adolescent. One thing I have had to come to terms with is that people spend far too much time imitating those above them, and too little time asking the question “is this person talking or acting like a dick?”

The evidence is all around us that being pro-Trump and being anti-vaccine are positions which are deluded, and dangerous for the collective welfare of society.

Desperate supporters of Trump believe that insurrection is a valid tool for redressing their electoral grievances, since Trump told them that the election system is corrupt and rigged, which therefore justifies seizing power by other means.

Anti-vaccine activists believe that harassment, intimidation and refusal are valid tactics, despite all of the visible evidence that people that refuse vaccination are harming not only themselves, but also their families and wider society. One would think that the sheer numbers of prominent people who ranted against vaccines, only to contract Covid-19 and die from its effects, would be having some impact on anti-vaccine activists. So far, the impact seems to be limited.

The big question is how long the Trump and anti-vaccine cults (when you examine their collective behavior, the parallels to religious cults are obvious) will keep up their collective and individual positions.

The likely answer is: quite some time. We are dealing with people who are in the first stage of change: Denial. The other stages, classically analyzed by psychologists, are Anger, Bargaining, Acceptance and Commitment.

This, as you will have noticed, is the classic transition that all addicts go through. And, as Nick Carmody has pointed out, the supporters of Trump show all of the signs of addicts, in that they eagerly accept and like any information that reinforces their convictions that they are right. Any and all information of that type gives them self-validation, the dopamine high of “see! I am right!”.

Right now, the rapid transition of Trump partisans to anger when their delusions are challenged tells me that many of them are in the transition from Denial to Anger. This is dangerous, since angry people tend to do stupid things as individuals, and as groups, can do terrible things to others. I would not be surprised if highly hyped individuals try to assassinate or attack politicians and government officials who are seen as supporters of Biden or supporters of authoritarian measures related to Covid-19 mitigation. There is plenty of evidence of this latent anger, in the form of activists harrassing and threatening medical professionals and people wearing masks. (Ironically, in Florida, the state government is adopting the Orwellian position that being required to wear a mask at school can be defined as harassment).

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

Friday Round-up – 25th June 2021

  1. Brexit

Chris Grey’s blog post title is a wee bit apocalyptic for my liking, but the post is his usual careful analysis, focusing this week on the societal impact of Brexit, particularly on people who voted Remain.

His view is that this may lead to a new “brain drain” along the lines of the loss of scientists and technologists in the 1960s. I also expect to see a new “brain drain” from the UK over the next few years. Like the previous one in the 1960s, it will be led by technologists, scientists, joined by knowledge workers and creative artists (with professional musicians, whose ability to work in the EU has been decimated) at the front of the queue. As usual, by the time enough people notice, it may be too late.

As I have noted in the past, I have no intention of returning to live in the UK in the current climate, and I will only be visiting for essential family business. I do not know the extent to which my family understands the motivations and reasoning for that decision, but they can always read my other commentaries here if they want to know more.

Edwin Hayward (author of “Slaying Brexit Unicorns”) has a thread where he lists all of the upcoming changes that are going to impact the UK in the aftermath of Brexit. It’s a long list. The impacts are all likely to be negative.

Anecdotally, companies importing steel into the UK are reporting massive price increases per ton – in some cases close to 400%. World steel prices have risen in the last 2-3 months, but not by those amounts.

2. Eliminationism and the GOP

The Republican Party, when they agreed to let Donald Trump in through the door to lead them as the POTUS candidate in 2016, invited a malignant asshole with a corrupted and exaggerated business record. Everybody should already have realized that. Those who did not were insufficiently informed.

However, recent revelations show that by the end of last year, Trump was trying to embrace government by eliminationism.

The GOP supporters of Trump have no excuse. Their continuing support for him is an explicit endorsement of eliminationism as a philosophy. Politics is not a la carte. When you vote for a candidate, you’re going to get all the candidate’s policies. You don’t get to tick the ballot paper and say “Yeah, I like abuse of Trans people and discrimination against The Gayz, but I don’t want to execute Traitors”. That’s not how the system works.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

Round-Up – Monday 21st June 2021

  1. Poison Ivy 

Mary and I are suffering from Poison Ivy poisoning. We are covered in spots, welts, lines of spots and other symptoms, from when we unwittingly handled a plant 2 weekends ago. We both look like prime candidates for exclusion from a Middle Ages English town on the grounds of being “unclean”. Doctors tell us that it will take 1-3 weeks for the ugly rash to completely vanish. Mary is sleeping downstairs as I write this, because she has not slept properly for 2 nights due to discomfort and pain. I did not sleep much, mainly because the blotchy pink patches all over my torso arms and legs make it feel like I have sunburn. Plus, itching. We are both on anti-inflammatory drugs and creams to damp down the symptoms.

Stay away from poison ivy, folks. It ain’t going to be fun if it contacts your body.

2. Brexit 

Brexit continues to be a shambles, as predicted by many (and similarly ignored by many). However, the opinion polls seem to show that the previously large margin of people thinking that Brexit was bad has diminished recently. This is counter-intuitive for me, since the news continues to be bad. However, the government’s blaming of the EU for all of the problems may be finding a receptive audience. I suspect that the support for Brexit will continue to hold steady as long as the effects are largely confined to the professional classes or artistic communities. If essentials like food and medicine start to disappear, then things will change rapidly. People expect governments to assure the supplies of essentials.

Despite being beaten up by the EU, and pressured by the USA, Boris Johnson is sailing along as though all is well. However, on the other side of the Irish Sea, the DUP, the most hardline Protestant group, is in disarray, having forced out its new leader, Edwin Poots, after only 20 days in the job. Poots apparently alienated most of his supporters by nominating The Wrong Guy as First Minister (translation: somebody way too sympathetic to the Irish language). Poots came to office talking a tough game, threatening to get tough with Ireland and generally strutting his macho Protestant stuff. Now he is gone, and the DUP has to look for its third leader in 4 months.

The DUP continues to threaten the UK government over the Northern Ireland Protocol, and the decision to put a logical border in the Irish Sea is starting to look more and more impractical and dangerous with each passing day. The problem is that the UK government cheerfully signed up to it, and it is now part of the Withdrawal Agreement. That, plus other conditions in the UK-EU trade deal, which have in turn led to The Sausage Problem (caused by an impending EU ban on the movement of chilled meats between the EU and third countries), have backed the UK government into a small box of its own making.

Boris Johnson can huff and puff and threaten the EU, but he has no real leverage, because the UK folded on a lot of issues in order to rush through a deal before the end of 2020. The negotiating style of “talk tough, then fold” is proving to be dangerous for the whole of the UK. At the present rate, Northern Ireland is likely to be more of a challenge than Scotland. Unlike in Northern Ireland, the Scots have not taken to bombing and shooting to get their point across recently.

3. Covid-19 

The UK continues to transition rapidly to being dominated by the new B.1.617.2 variant of the virus, which has, in the space of a month, taken over from the B.1.1.7 variant. This new variant is more contagious, and vaccines are slightly less effective against it, although if enough of a population is vaccinated or immune, herd immunity can still be achieved.

Prof. Christina Pagel explains the latest situation in the UK in this thread. Basically, unless there is a return to social distancing and lockdown, this new variant is going to trigger a large increase in cases and hospitalizations. The number of people testing positive is rising exponentially again. 

4. The Roman Catholic Church and Joe Biden

No, the Roman Catholic Church in the USA is not going to excommunicate Joe Biden. Many priests, including his own, and main of the laity wouldn’t tolerate it. The bishops are engaging in performative posturing.

5. Yes, the Republican Party has eliminationists in its ranks

Not exactly a surprise, but it is good to have conclusive proof. The GOP is now a profoundly anti-American party.

 

 

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

HST2 UK project costs are now being adjusted for reality

The estimated price tag for High Speed 2, the next-gen flagship UK rail project, has now risen from £33bn to over £106bn. This, unsurprisingly, is leading to a lot of comment in the UK, most of it negative.

Every major project I ever came into contact with in I.T. has the same challenges. Somebody cooks up an initial estimate from Cloudcuckooland, then an approved project starts with an estimate from Lalaland. Then reality slowly intervenes. The final cost is usually a multiple of the initial estimate, sometimes embarrassingly so.

Infamously, the Confirm program, a first attempt to build a multi-partner travel industry booking system that I read about in the early 1990s was cancelled half way through, with the costs having multiplied by several multiples of the initial estimate. The project had multiple stakeholders with competing interests, which made actually completing an agreed solution specification almost impossible. As a get-out they blamed the technology. This is, incidentally, a classic excuse in I.T. when projects fail. This is seldom true. Whenever I hear somebody blaming the technology for an I.T. project failure, I immediately look elsewhere for the root causes of the failure.

I remember mentioning this phenomenon to a work colleague a few years ago. His (slightly cynical) response was “Well, if they were totally honest about the final likely cost upfront, most of these projects would never be started because you wouldn’t be able to remotely justify them”.

Now, High Speed 2 is not exactly your average I.T. project, and there are multiple considerations that come into play when creating benefit statements for it. The UK, a relatively small country, has become very dependent on road transport, which creates higher emissions than rail transport. The shrinkage of the UK rail network in the 1960s, which led to the abandonment and closure of one or two rail lines which would actually have been easier to upgrade today (like the Great Central Railway, built with larger bridges and tunnels), has been proven to be a long-term mistake, officially acknowledged by the government’s announcement of the Beeching Reversal Fund. Now money is being spent to re-open lines closed to passengers or totally abandoned. So, High Speed 2 can be partially justified on the grounds of environmental stewardship, although it is notoriously difficult to quantify those kinds of benefits in money terms.

Covid-19 certainly has impacted all projects which were up and running. The government has directly or indirectly had to pay money to keep project teams active in a difficult working climate. However, I doubt that this is the major contributor to the price inflation. The more usual inflation is due to the dreaded scope creep – the addition of new features to the solution, or the discovery of activities and deliverables that nobody realized were required when the original estimate was finalized.

Scope creep is an issue that is particularly bad on government projects. In the military arena, scope creep helped to sink the entire Nimrod AEW program in the late 80s, which was cancelled in favour of the UK buying Boeing AWACS planes. The military kept changing the specification requirements for the radar, which took it beyond the design envelope of what was already a tightly packaged airframe and computing combination with little scope for expansion.

Another factor in government projects is lobbying by elected representatives impacted by the project, to get more “goodies” (“pork” here in the USA) for their constituents. Here in the USA, representatives would probably sell family members to the highest bidder if they could get a US Navy ship home-ported in their district, since that generates thousands of jobs. It is not clear to me if High Speed 2 offers members of parliament the same pork opportunities, but I would not be surprised if that is a factor behind the scenes.

Ideally, there would be a full review of the entire program to see if cost savings can be made, and a tough line taken on scope, as in No More Scope. However, government projects, which are often pursued for vanity reasons by the government, are notoriously difficult to rein in or cancel once started. The loss of face alone tends to lead to the government continuing. The Nimrod AEW program was very much an exception, with the government refusing to fall for classic fallacious arguments made by supporters and contractors (principally the Sunk Cost Fallacy) and taking an unsentimental approach despite the deployment of the “British Technology” argument. They saw only continued cost escalations and cancelled the program.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube

GB News – misunderstandings

GB News, the new UK news network, launched this week.

There has been a lot of comment on social media, most of it based on witheringly negative assessments of the studio, the production values and other aspects of the channel. There is also already a campaign to persuade corporations to pull advertising.

The old era of media outlets being owned by corporations and hands-off old-money owners is over. The new generation of newspaper owners are not in it for higher ideals. They are a mixture of hedge funds, which expect a quick return on investment, or they will revert to slash and burn management, and oligarchs operating via front companies.

Oligarchs expect their media properties to be their personal mouthpieces. Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas-based casino mogul, bought his local paper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, for $140 million in 2015 via News + Media Capital Group LLC, a front company. The newspaper promptly became his personal mouthpiece. Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250m in 2013, which for one of the richest men in the world, was chump change. There is a pattern here.

In the current world in which we live, with the ease of creating internet-based TV streaming channels, a newly-minted oligarch with $100m a year to burn can easily afford to fund an entire operation the current size of GB News. As I am fond of saying, disinformation networks are a lot cheaper to run than an aircraft carrier with a squadron of F-35s. The real world war is the Information War, and the West is currently losing. Some of the oligarchs and plutocrats operating in the disinformation space are almost certainly acting as fronts for governments.

The funding for GB News should be a big Tell as to its intended positioning. The majority of the funding is from corporations not domiciled in the UK, and a lot of the funding comes from the “front” corporations of oligarchs and plutocrats. This is not a benign news channel, trying to thread the needle down the middle, or engaging in fearless investigate reporting. It was intended as a propaganda channel for pluto-populism. Its presenter roster is dominated by a combination of established UK tabloid blusterers, and newer internet-based provocateurs, long on mouth and short on information.

As for the crappy production values…the cynic in me says that GBNews doesn’t mind having YouTube production values, since it is appealing to people who mostly get their news from YouTube.

GB News is not competing with the BBC, Channel 4, Sky or any of the other established UK news channels. It is a propaganda outlet largely funded by oligarchs, designed to generate dopamine clickbait for nativists and fans of plutocrat-controlled fascism. Comparing it with those channels is tempting and easy, but misses the entire picture in terms of its underlying objectives and market positioning.

The campaign to pull advertising may well succeed. However, like Fox News in the USA, the funding model of GB News is not dependent on advertising. If all they have are gold and crypto-currency snake oil salesmen as advertisers, they won’t care. The purpose of the network is not to be a commercially successful news channel with blue-chip corporate advertisers. This is already obvious from the decision by the network to launch a smear attack on Ikea, one of the corporations that pulled its advertising. Ikea is a European corporation headquartered in an EU country. Attacking a European corporation ticks all the right boxes when your intended audience is nativists, and nationalists.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Healthprose pharmacy reviews