The Space Shuttle – An honest appraisal

The NASA Space Shuttle program was the successor to the Apollo series of manned space and Lunar visitation missions. NASA needed a new overarching mission, after achieving the objective set out by President John F Kennedy in 1962. They had a large organization to keep busy.

The Space Shuttle was the next generation dream. It was promised to be a fully re-usable orbiter, capable of rapid turnaround missions to Low Earth Orbit for a modest cost. The planning assumptions were all based around a very high mission rate and total number of missions.  One assumption was that the new post-Apollo program would need a total of 546 shuttle launches in 1975-85 alone. This number looks ludicrous today, but reflects the level of optimism about the capability that re-usable orbiters would provide. A high mission number was also financially convenient because R&D and maintenance costs then look a lot smaller as a percentage of mission costs.

The program in its final form was simply the most politically palatable post-Apollo program that gained the most political support for continued funding. The configuration, with the external boosters, was largely imposed by NASA senior leaders and political supporters, and was not the result of a bottom-up engineering analysis. 

As a result of the defective processes that led to its initiation, the program was plagued by delays, and massive cost inflation. The original commercial targets for the shuttle program were never met. In the final event, the cost of the program was such that each shuttle launch cost over $1bn if all of the total program costs were amortized by the number of missions. A more charitable interpretation is that the launch cost was around $245m per mission, if you accounted for all of the then-current costs of NASA and third parties.

That massive cost inflation destroyed parts of the business plan for the Shuttle program. One part of the business plan was for the Shuttle to launch commercial satellites into geostationary orbit. This was never a viable business, as the low frequency of shuttle launches, and the high cost of each mission, meant that the shuttle was not competitive with rocket-based satellite delivery organizations. Satellites were launched from the shuttle, but they were almost all US military satellites, and that business stream disappeared after the Challenger accident when the military walked away from using the Shuttle and reverted to using expendable rocket launchers.

The biggest issues with the program were the public failures of the Challenger and Columbia missions, resulting in the deaths of all of the crew members. The underlying issue with both failures was not the program itself or the technologies, but appallingly lax safety processes inside NASA and across contractors and third parties, the result of an intensely political communication environment where the main objective was for nobody to bring Bad News to the table. Upward message dilution was baked into the culture of all of the corporations and government bodies collaborating on the program. Both mission failures resulted in lengthy pauses in shuttle launches as NASA attempted to rectify the issues that contributed to the accidents.

Challenger was launched, with NASA under intense political pressure for a quick launch, on a morning where overnight temperatures had fallen below safe minimums to preserve the integrity of the booster rocket o-rings, which were not designed to function in sub-zero temperatures. Columbia was allowed to continue its mission, up to the failed re-entry, despite clear visual evidence of damage to the leading edge of one of its wings during the launch. NASA assumed “it will be OK” despite having access to the technology to examine the wing leading edge from the ground. Rescuing the crew via an emergency rescue mission with another orbiter was possible, but NASA simply blew off the detail examination and everybody crossed their fingers. We know how that turned out.

Richard Feynman, in his book “What Do YOU Care What Other People Think?”, recounts his time on the Challenger investigation commission. Feynman, being a lot smarter than the average guy, realized early on that NASA and contractors would do everything it could to steer, and where necessary, shut down detail investigation. So he persistently and consistently talked to engineers, including the teams responsible for the design of the Shuttle’s rocket engines, and engineers responsible for the creation of the booster rockets. What he found were two fundamental issues:

  1. The shuttle propulsion system was not created the way that engineers would like to create a system to assure operation and reliability. It was designed top-down to meet a “clean sheet of paper” set of objectives, and supposedly to get the Shuttle program up and running quickly, and was not assembled bottom-up from proven components. As a result, when numerous reliability issues appeared during testing, extensive bottom-up re-designs were required to address them, and some of the issues were never addressed
  2. There had been numerous design and reliability issues from the very beginning with the sealing of the booster rocket casings, and the problems had never been fully solved by Morton Thiokol

The Shuttle program ended in 2011, with a final total of 105 missions having been flown, for the loss of 2 out of 5 orbiters. The total was a fraction of the original target, achieved over a much longer time period for a massively inflated cost.

While the Shuttle program was a great source of publicity, advanced key aspects of rocket engine technology, and has created iconic images and publicity (good and bad), the facts are that the program never met any of its original goals, and it arguably diverted NASA resources and focus from activities that were probably safer and more cost-effective, such as robotic and unmanned missions within the Solar System.

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Loss of accountability – the decline of ridicule

When a person or organization proposes an action or makes a claim that is ridiculous, ridicule, by definition, is a logical response.

Ridicule is a powerful took for shaming idiots into silence. However, for ridicule to actually work, two pre-conditions have to be met:

  1. There have to be people around the person or organization uttering ridiculous nonsense who are prepared to actually ridicule what was just said or proposed
  2. The person or persons being ridiculed has to be capable of being shamed or embarrassed

Those two pre-conditions are different, but not mutually exclusive. In this world, absence of accountability leads to assumptions of impunity, and that makes people more prepared (even enthusiastic) about “trying it on”, to see what boundaries or norms or laws they can break. If a person says something utterly ridiculous in public and nobody contradicts their statement or mocks them, the message they receive will be clear. Bullshitting, lying or talking nonsense has no downside.

Cults are an end-point example of what happens when leaders get to utter ridiculous ideas or claims without contradiction. In cults, the leader is regarded as a supreme savant, an infallible role model whose utterances are never to be questioned. Ridiculing your cult leader is a short cut to exile, ostracism and other socially penal consequences. In authoritarian governments captured by cult thinking, it will be life-threatening. In fact, even politely questioning a cult leader is a dangerous action. All of this is logical given that most cult leaders are malignant narcissists, whose entire concept of self is based on personal infallibility and the idea that everybody is merely there to serve them.

The cult approach to communication has become dominant in several countries over the last 5 years, as electors chose deeply authoritarian political parties and leaders to govern them. The governments in the USA (until recently) and the UK (currently) are dominated by authoritarians who regard all opposition as, by definition, illegitimate and irrelevant.

Just like unruly children, politicians of the authoritarian tendency in the USA and the UK have been working out what they can get away with in terms of making statements that in many cases are either bullshit or lies, but which appeal to their supporters. They have, at the same time, been trying to ensure that those bullshit utterances are not even questioned, let alone ridiculed. In competitive sport, the tactics used would be classified under the general euphemism of “working the refs”.

The Trump administration did this by defining most media organizations as purveyors of “fake news”, and demonizing media interlocutors as anti-American. The Johnson government in the UK is doing much the same thing, but more indirectly, by attempting to remove the independence of broadcast media, and by relying on friendly tabloid news outlets who will write nonsense stories and print them repetitively.

The media, unfortunately, has no cogent or effective response to the current tactics of intimidation, because media assumptions about politicians and how politicians operate are out of date. The assumption that major political actors are operating in good faith in a constructive way, and usually tell the truth, is so baked into media DNA that it cannot be effectively countered. Politicians get to be interviewed, utter complete nonsense, and are rarely challenged in any effective way, much less ridiculed. As a result, in the USA we get nonsense like this. Notice that there is no clear attempt by the media organization to point out the obvious either in the lede or the beginning of the article, namely that the GOP representative is flat-out lying.

This is the end result of the Both Sides approach to media coverage, which prioritizes being seen as impartial above being a fact-based communicator. If your reporting approach values perceived impartiality above the fact-based communication of information, all of your interviewees and sources have an immediate incentive to move to an assertion-based model of communication, where Sounding Good is more important than being fact and reality-based.

All of the media failures to ridicule bullshit and lies have a fundamental underlying cause. We The People are actually OK with this level of nonsense. Media organizations live or die by eyeballs and butts on seats. If a media organization found its viewing figures plummeting, and found out that viewers were ignoring it because it was allowing bullshit on-air, I suspect that the media organization would soon change its behavior. The bottom line would tell the story, and changes would be made. So, until We The People stop tolerating ridiculous nonsense, this media behavior will probably continue.

The reason why we tolerate bullshit and nonsense has a wider social aspect that must not be overlooked. Many of us are reluctant to engage in ridicule, especially in family situations. It is seen as disrespectful and dismissive by many people, and therefore is automatically bad.

This is not true. One major way in which illusions and myths become baked into thoughts and behavior is by acceptance of nonsense, coupled with repetition. Respect is not automatic, it needs to be earned. There is no logical reason to respect the views of a person when those views are clearly nonsensical. I actually believe that we have a societal duty to point out that the views are ridiculous. If we do not do so, then the nonsense will spread.

As the old saying goes, people prefer comfortable lies to uncomfortable facts, and politicians and other marketing-based communicators know this and exploit it.

The old parable of the Emperor’s New Clothes was meant to be cautionary tale of what happens when people fail to point out the obvious. That parable needs to be remembered by all of us.

The road back is a long one. We as individuals have to be much more prepared to engage in ridicule of ridiculous ideas and proposals. We also need to penalize media and individuals who engage in that behavior, or who are amplifying it. Without We The People changing our behavior, the media will not modify its behavior, and people will continue to obfuscate, bullshit and lie to us.

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Saturday round-up – 22nd May 2021

  1. When a major political party has introduced 408 bills across the USA to try and add restrictions and new rules on voting, that’s a clear strategy to disrupt the process of voting based on universal suffrage.
  2. The British royal family can always be relied upon to provide tabloid amusement and a diversion. The kerfuffle over Princess Diana’s interview from 1995 and the latest Harry revelations from an interview with Oprah Winfrey are taking media bandwidth away from from the grim realities of Covid-19 and Brexit. The impact of Brexit, coupled with other recent world events, is even affecting the building sector.  It is a typical feature of the British media landscape, and thoroughly supports the person who described the UK tabloids to me as “budgie cage liner”.
  3. The latest Brexit posting from Chris Grey is his usual excellent fact-supported analysis. Also, it is close to bizarre that the NFU seems to think that reminding Boris Johnson of the promises he is supposed to have made to “look after” the UK farming sector after Brexit is going to result in them not being hung out to dry if and when a trade agreement is agreed with Australia. The goal of the current Conservative government is to ensure that the UK cannot ever re-join the EU. They intend to do this by agreeing to clauses in new trade agreements that specifically conflict with EU legislation. Agreeing to import meat from Australia, which allows (among other things) beef cattle hormone injections, will create a scenario where a trade agreement with a third country conflicts with current EU legislation. If the trade agreement has a really long term, that will successfully eliminate any real chance of the UK re-joining the Single Market and Customs Union, probably in my lifetime.
  4. A fascinating article from Jon Worth’s excellent blog about overnight sleeper train services in Europe, and how their existence is at best tenuous. The situation in the UK is also terrible, with sleeper services having effectively disappeared, with only occasional attempts at revival.
  5. We have a new candidate for Sovereign Citizen of the Year in the USA. This guy is showing some definite potential.
  6. I found an excellent new blog aggregator site. Of course, it then proceeded to link me to this grim story.
  7. But this story rivals it for bizarre grimness.
  8. The most sinister aspect of the new Texas abortion prohibition law is how it essentially abolishes the concept of standing.
    ANYBODY can sue anybody else under the law.
    We can expect to see a massive blizzard of shakedown lawsuits by unscrupulous lawyers against medical practitioners, and even the friends and family of people who try to obtain abortions, on flimsy or no grounds.
    BTW, this expansive dumping of standing may be logical, given that Republicans are often frustrated by standing when trying to file frivolous lawsuits in the political arena.
  9. There is so much to unwrap in this story of the appalling and illegal behavior of a supposed Republican congressional candidate. The idea of the GOP as the party of personal responsibility and the nuclear famly really has no credibility at the present time. None. Diddly squat. What amazes me is why interviewers do not simply burst out laughing at this guy. UPDATE – It gets worse…this guy’s son by the girl he impregnated is currently awaiting trial in California. Guess what he is charged with?
  10. The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack was merely the latest in a whole string of ransomware attacks against corporations. The DarkSide group is also selling its technology and tools to other ransomware groups, but then there are rumors that the group has had to temporarily cease operations. Although if I had successfully extorted $90m in BitCoin from somebody, I would probably be looking for a nice villa in a beach resort in the tropics…
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UK railway privatization – the saga continues

The history of rail privatization in the UK is a complex one. The government of John Major originally privatized the rail system in 1996, splitting the assets into infrastructure (to be maintained by an infrastructure corporation named RailTrack) and franchises for regional services. The Labour government continued with the model and associated processes.

RailTrack effectively went bankrupt in 2001, after major issues with its stewardship were exposed following the Hatfield rail accident, and had to be bailed out by the government and re-constituted as a new company (Network Rail). The bailout was a costly process that also involved litigation against the government and the former Transport secretary.

A number of franchisees have had their contracts terminated over the years (which created its own set of problems, since the new franchisees did not inherit the old franchisee leadership and management, and key operational knowledge went missing and had to be rebuilt), and several franchises, most notably the East Coast franchise, failed. Some former franchisees are now banned from bidding, due to performance and other issues. There is compelling evidence that several franchises in recent years have met the definition of what Modern Railways termed “zombie franchises” – operators that are losing money and who will eventually default and lose their franchises.  A small-print table in the article shows that apart from the service disruption and transition issues of failing franchisees, there is a significant cost to the taxpayer in simply managing the re-bidding process for franchises.

This history of rail privatization and operations is interesting reading, not only because it shows that extensive government control and support for the UK rail system continues decades after the system was supposedly privatized, but also because it shows the extent to which the franchisees are foreign-owned. Many current UK franchises are partially or wholly owned by European companies or European government bodies.

Problems with even finding qualified companies to bid on franchises have led to a government review of the operation of the entire UK rail system. The report has just been issued, and it looks likely to lead to a much higher level of government involvement in rail operations.

The report does not mince words. The publication summary admits that the entire current franchising and operational model is now unsustainable. This was kind of obvious given the recent franchise failures, and the failure of some franchises to even attract qualified bidders.

The solution appears to be a complete reboot of the infrastructure-train operating company model, but the responsibilities of the train operators will be much narrower, with more of the basic business parameters such as fares being set by the government. This is probably a response to massive continued criticism of fare increases by the franchisees, who under the old model had freedom to set fares.

The new government-supervised infrastructure and operational parameters corporation will be named Great British Railways. You could not find a better example of desperate over-compensation in naming if you tried.

The irony of the history is that the government is now just as involved in railway operation as it was before initial privatization, the amount of government support is still considerable, and many of the operational franchisees are foreign-owned. The last aspect is the least-understood, a consequence of the Thatcher-era free market approach which did not care who ran businesses, as long as they did the job properly. Whether UK electors understand the extent to which European countries run and control aspects of the UK’s infrastructure is doubtful.

 

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The art and science of Kompromat and Jeffrey Epstein

It is clear by now that the late Jeffrey Epstein, over a period of over 20 years, operating behind the front that he was a hedge fund owner and money manager (and it was a front with little substance to it, as this article makes clear), was running some sort of covert operation to befriend, flatter, and ingratiate himself with a large number of plutocrats, oligarchs, businessmen, academics and other sorts of celebrities.

Epstein had an expansive and expensive lifestyle with no obvious means to finance it, and traveled wide and far on personal jets with all manner of people. Logically, the only tenable explanation was that Epstein was collecting money (and lots of it) from people who suddenly found themselves either indebted to him, or people who controlled him and were paying him for the influence that he was exerting on those indebted people.

The list of people who Epstein befriended and ingratiated himself with is a long one, and the extent to which some of those people interacted with Epstein is slowly becoming clearer by the day.

The most recent burst of re-examination has been triggered by the news that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda French Gates will be divorcing. Gates, it is now clear, was spending a lot more time with Epstein than was previously known or publicly admitted. Allegedly, the relationship between Gates and Epstein, dating back to 2011, was the root cause of Melinda French Gates initiating the divorce. (It now seems that Bill Gates was also playing away with other women during their marriage, an ironically unsurprising event when you consider that his marriage originally started as a workplace romance with Melinda).

Since retiring from Microsoft, Bill and Melinda Gates have been devoting their time to their charitable foundation. Gates, richer than Croesus, probably had no need of basic financial advice, and as this article points out, it is unclear why Bill Gates thought that Jeffrey Epstein should be any better as a source of philanthropic advice than any one of hundreds of other well-connected people. The excessive contact with Epstein led to Gates resigning from the Microsoft board in 2020, under the pretext that he needed more time for philanthropy.

The general public’s conspiracist worldview of Jeffrey Epstein, who, it is well-established, had a liking for girls well under the legal age of consent, has coalesced around the conviction that his strategy was to ingratiate himself with the rich and famous (always men, you will notice) and then entrap them by offering them female juveniles as sexual playthings. Epstein’s arrest and extraordinary plea deal in Florida, when he eventually pleaded guilty in 2008 to state charges of procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and felony solicitation of prostitution, was essentially an escape from what could have been many years of incarceration. He served 13 months, most of it on work release in a private wing of a county jail. The deal has been criticized ever since it was revealed, and the States Attorney who agreed to it, Alex Acosta, has taken the brunt of the criticism, ultimately resigning from his role as US Secretary of Labor in the Trump Administration.

Epstein’s arrest on further sexual abuse charges and his mysterious death in jail have cemented him in the public gaze as primarily a pedophile and pimp for would-be pedophiles. However, that seems way too simplistic. Not every adult male is a pedophile-in-waiting. Some, after all, are gay or bisexual, which are also traits making them vulnerable to entrapment.

If Epstein’s business was entrapment and capture of assets for his controllers (who, I believe, were Russia and Israel, with Ghislaine Maxwell as the intermediary for the Israel connection), then there were plenty of other behaviors, many related to business, that Epstein could have facilitated, that would provide leverage to make people compliant and willing accomplices.

Money laundering is the main alternative explanation. Ever since the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s, Russian oligarchs and business leaders have been adept at moving large sums of money out of Russia to other countries for investment and enjoyment purposes. This is particularly true in locations like the UK, which appeals to Russian oligarchs because of its low taxes and plaintiff-friendly libel laws. There is plenty of evidence that wealthy Russians have been laundering large sums of money into and via the USA, often using a well-established process of buying apartments or property using cash instruments from overseas corporations, often paying well above market rate for the property, in which case a later-kick-back occurs to the buyer, moving cash into the buyer’s US bank account. Once you have engaged in money laundering, you are highly vulnerable to prosecution if that scheme is revealed.

In due course, I expect that it will be revealed that large parts of Donald Trump’s business empire were maintained by money laundered from Russia. There are all manner of businesses and business transactions inside Trump’s empire that in pure business terms, make no sense, but which do make sense in the presence of money laundering. The connection between Trump and Epstein was probably part of a web of people all working covertly to move money around the world, mostly in defiance of local and international laws.

My verdict is that Epstein wasn’t too concerned about how he entrapped people. He would get to know them, discern their vulnerabilities and primitive desires, and create a scenario which capitalized on those vulnerabilities and desires to get them to engage in activities which were highly illegal. If the activity was recorded in detail, with Epstein in possession of the evidence, then that person was now beholden to Epstein, and he could call in one or more favors from them at a later date, or get them to support covert activity on behalf of his controllers…or else…

Epstein was smart and cunning enough to realize that he needed to create a fig-leaf of intellectual heft for his activities. He also befriended academics and intellectuals, even if, in most cases, it is not likely that he was going to get any RoI from them for his controllers. Most likely he wanted to burnish his credentials as a mover and shaker, and provide a veneer of sophistication for his activities. Many intellectuals are vulnerable to flattery, and being sat next to world leaders in business or technology at dinners at posh venues would inflate their egos significantly. Ditto world leaders. The likes of Bill Gates would no doubt be flattered to be able to converse with leading intellectuals, as a form of validation that they had ideas of substance, and were not simply driven assholes who had been ruthless enough and/or lucky enough to accumulate large piles of money.

The underlying purpose of Epstein’s social strategy remained the same; to seduce wealthy and influential people who could be manipulated for the benefit of his underlying client controllers. Intellectuals like Steven Pinker were a bit of glitter dust to provide a veneer of sophistication and class, and occasional help in the form of testimonials as to Epstein’s probity (cough).

Was Jeffrey Epstein murdered in jail? Given how much information he must have possessed on hundreds of people, it is safe to assume that many of those people desperately wanted him to be silenced. His controllers would also not have wanted his role for them to be revealed. The two prime suspect nations have a track record of eliminating people who might threaten the security of the state. Never mind the individuals whose predilections for under-age girls would prove deeply awkward. (Including a certain member of the UK royal family). Quite simply, too many people would have benefitted greatly from Jeffrey Epstein’s demise. So, he obligingly died.

Whether enough evidence has survived Epstein’s demise, we do not really know. However, Ghislaine Maxwell is still alive and is in custody, and she may, to use an old phrase, know where many of the bodies are buried.

Ghislaine Maxwell is probably also terrified of being eliminated in jail. However, if she is released, I expect that she will disappear, and then show up either dead, or in Israel, which has no extradition treaties with any other countries. I am still puzzled about why she did not flee to Israel when she first disappeared. It may be because Trump and Netanyahu had, by all accounts, a tenuous relationship, with Trump pissing off Netanyahu with some of his clumsy attempts at Middle East power plays. Or it may be that with Trump still in power in the USA, she considered herself safe in the USA, or likely to be pardoned (which would be a tribute to her hubris, since as we are now seeing, Trump pardoned few people. Narcissists regard people who are no longer useful as totally expendable).

We will continue to see more revelations about more people who were, even transiently, in Jeffrey Epstein’s orbit. I expect that in due course some of them will end up in receipt of felony charges. I also expect that politicians of both parties will be found to have been pulled into the Epstein circle. Epstein was shrewd and calculating, and if politicians of both parties were beholden to him, then he and his controllers would have influence, no matter which party held power in the USA.

The recent plea deal by Joel Greenberg has led to excited talk that Matt Gaetz is due to be indicted any day now. My suspicion is that the plea deal by Greenberg may turn out to be more related to Jeffrey Epstein. Both men had homes near each other in Florida. Greenberg, superficially, looks to have been engaging in similar (albeit lower-budget) activities to Epstein, but there might be more of a connection between the two men than many people realize. (Although Greenberg probably doesn’t want to suffer the same fate as Epstein). The fact that Greenberg bargained 33 felony charges down to a guilty plea to only 6 suggests that he must have offered a LOT of information (translation: Names) to trade away to make those other 27 felony charges disappear.

None of this will unfold on the timeframe that people want. The wheels of justice do grind exceedingly slow. But they grind.

 

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The UK government is still searching for the benefits of Brexit

If you formulate a grand project or strategy in most lines of business, you have to prove that the project will result in tangible, quantifiable benefits (and lots of them) to even be considered for funding. You don’t get to start the project on the basis that “the benefits will be defined later”.

Today’s news that the UK government intends to hire a consultant or similar to investigate the benefits of Brexit is a massive Tell. Brexit as a project has been underway for 5+ years (47 years, if you count the entry to the EEC, after which time there were always people in the UK claiming that the UK should leave). And the government is still looking for the benefits?

This is additional proof that Brexit was a project and a strategy which, as implemented by the UK, has no quantifiable nett upside or positive value for the UK. If there was a quantifiable upside it would have been possible to articulate it before Brexit occurred, defend it, and then realize it when Brexit occurred. None of those conditions were met. The UK entered Brexit with no coherent strategy, spend years arguing with itself and the EU, ended the process with a poor deal, and is now desperately looking for the fig-leaf marked “Benefits”. Best of luck with that.

 

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Long Covid – my saga continues

Without going into too much detail, I am a Long Covid sufferer.

I contracted Covid-19 at the end of December last year, and although I was never sick enough to require medical treatment or hospitalization, I have been impacted since mid-January by an array of medical conditions and symptoms, none of which I have previously encountered. While none of the issues has been remotely life-threatening, the fact that I am now suffering from at least 4 conditions that I never previously suffered from is, at the very least, concerning, and on a practical level, worrying or worse. Quite simply, I am having to face the possibility that my quality and duration of remaining life may have been shortened by exposure to Covid-19. That is forcing a re-appraisal of what I want to do on several different levels.

One of my frustrations is that it is clear that the medical profession currently has no effective process for dealing with Long Covid. At the moment most medical professionals seem to treat the symptoms as disconnected from Covid, as if they were somehow random events. When I explain to medical professionals that I was infected by Covid in December 2020 the reaction is “meh”. There seems to be no willingness to take seriously the concept that a seemingly transient viral infection can cause numerous medium-term (and possibly long-term) symptoms. The medical process of observe–> investigate –> determine –> treat breaks when exposed to Long Covid patients, since in many cases there is no obvious root cause, and the possible culprit (the Covid-19 virus) seems to have disappeared from the body. As a result, many Long Covid sufferers are reporting that doctors are deciding that their symptoms have mental causes, so they are being referred to psychologists and psychiatrists. When you have a physical ailment, being referred to a psychologist is going to be seen by most people as a rather unsubtle message of “I don’t really believe you”.

Can I prove that my medical issues since January 2021 are caused by exposure to Covid-19? Maybe, maybe not. I am in my mid-60s, so my body is getting older, and with age comes deterioration in some fundamentals of the operation of the human body, especially the immune and circulatory systems. Could this deterioration have coincided with my exposure to Covid? That is possible. However, when a formerly very healthy person like me suddenly suffers from at least 4 different medical conditions that I previously never suffered from, I start to regard coincidence as a low-probability explanation.

 

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Sunday round-up

No, Donald Trump is not going to be a candidate in 2024

Donald Trump is not mentally competent. He has not given a live speech or interview for months. His postings on his new social media site are disconnected gibberish, and this will continue. However, the GOP remains captured by his deeply undemocratic ideas.

The UK elections reveal a dangerous disengagement

Amidst all of the hoopla over the Hartlepool by-election, a very worrying aspect of the election was almost completely ignored. Less than 50% of the electorate in Hartlepool voted. This is not a sound basis for representative democracy. It certainly should result in anybody claiming a “mandate” being ridiculed into silence, but the evidence is that a lot of electors are withdrawing from participation. All political parties should be worried about this, but the reality is that the winning parties do not care (for obvious reasons).

The results in the rest of the UK are highly region-specific. The Conservatives actually lost seats and council control in parts of South East England, notably Kent, where the negative impacts of Brexit first showed up in the form of massive lorry parks, the ludicrous Kent Access Permit and other assorted disruption. However, the distorting effects of the First Past The Post system mean that there was little overall impact, even in Scotland.

The Scottish referendum issue will continue to rumble on, but the mathematics shows that a majority of voters in Scotland supported parties who also support an independence referendum, so people claiming otherwise reveal themselves as mathematically challenged and unserious warblers.

As Covid-19 recedes, Brexit will dominate the political world again

Because Brexit is already an economic failure, the only way in which the government can provide even a fig-leaf of justification is by presenting it as a necessary cultural and historical event. We can therefore expect to see continued invocation of slogans and fine-sounding ideas based around “sovereignty” (which was never defined except in very abstract terms, so it is an ideal slogan around which to build rhetoric. Like beauty, sovereignty is totally in the eye of the beholder), plus the dismissal of pro-EU voices as disloyal or unpatriotic (this, by the way, is the Hermann Goering playbook, as revealed in his Nuremberg interrogation).

The slowly increasing financial impacts of Brexit will be ignored, or waved off as “this would have happened anyway”.  However, every time the UK argues with the EU and loses, or tries to negotiate a trade deal with another country and is forced to accept poor terms, we will be reminded of the strategic folly once again. This, like a dripping tap, will slowly have an impact. However, I expect Brexit support to stay high, because nobody likes to admit to having made a mistake. Like racism, I expect a lot of Brexit support to slowly, literally, die with the supporters.

The government is already expanding on the culture war aspects of Brexit via its sudden demonization of “woke” groups presumed to be dangerous. All of the old suspects are there, colleges and teachers being at the top of the list. It’s like reading 1970s Tory propaganda sheets all over again. Nothing is new under the Sun. The entire approach is to demonize groups for narrow political ends, and it is already working.

Why these culture war diversions always seem to work is a complex topic, but it has a lot to do with media incuriosity. When did you last hear a media interviewer say “can you define Woke?” to a politician?

A determined attempt to demand definitions for glib slogans like “woke” or “will of the people” (a phrase that should worry anybody with a good grasp of history, given its fascist popularity) is a good way of uncovering bullshit, but the modern media is not equipped attitudinally to do that. Until people peddling slogan word salad are forced to define it, rhetorically empty phrases like “woke” will continue to be used as emotional activation code phrases.

The UK government has discarded norms, and is going to try to consolidate a one-party regime

All of the recent evidence suggests that the UK government, as Chris Grey has noted, now lives in a weird parallel universe. In order to perpetuate that state of mind in their minds and the electorate, they need to be able to be above scrutiny, both by the media, and by Parliament. It is a re-run of the scenario in “1984” (“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”)

We can therefore expect to see the following two strategies unfolding in parallel over the next 12-18 months:

  • Determined attempts to reduce media scrutiny, via a combination of assuring BBC compliance and ignoring or denigrating all media outlets that are not obviously pro-government
  • The formulation and passing of laws designed to reduce parliamentary and independent scrutiny of government actions

The first of these strategies is well under way via the appointment of Conservative sycophants to the BBC governing body, and the recent announcement of the intent to privatize Channel 4. Make no mistake, “privatize” in this context translates to “sold to a group of Tory supporters who will enforce fealty to the government”.

The second strategy is visible via periodic government complaints about “independent” scrutiny, and a series of actions going back years which have reduced opportunities for debate and scrutiny of government plans and decisions. The plan to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act is the most recent example. The government wants to pick and choose the date of the next General Election in order to maximize its chances of governing for another 5 years without any checks and balances.

The absence of a written Constitution in the UK makes the exercise of power not bounded by historical norms and conventions very very easy. The only person who could stop that would be the Queen, who is not supposed to intervene in any way in the political process.

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My personal future – Brexit and the impacts

In 2016, the UK voted by a narrow majority to leave the EU in an advisory referendum.

There was no strategy offered by the Brexit supporters beyond “we are bound to get a great deal”. As events have proved, the UK has ended up with a bad deal. There are a whole host of reasons for this, which I will not elaborate on.

The biggest impact on my personal future has been to eliminate Europe as a possible living location when I stop working full-time in 2 years or so. After visiting the Azores in 2018, Mary and I were seriously wanting to relocate to there when I stopped full-time IT work. That would have been ideal from the perspective of being close to the UK, and also would have been OK for access to the USA. However, the elimination of Freedom of Movement in the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU, and the lack of any reciprocal agreements with the EU on fundamental life issues such as healthcare, means that living in the Azores will be prohibitively expensive and complicated, mainly because of healthcare costs and residency issues. The same issues apply to any other European country in the EU.

So, the Leave vote in 2016 has eliminated any chance of me relocating to be closer to my family in the UK.

Since, as far as I can tell, most of my immediate family voted to Leave, I have to assume that they either failed to realize that this might be an impact on my future, or they never even considered it. They certainly never asked me, either before the referendum, or since the referendum. They know my views of Leave, that much is certain.

I am certainly not going to relocate to the UK. The country demonstrated, both in the referendum result, and the result of the General Elections since then, that the majority sentiment is now one of narrow-minded, exclusionary xenophobia. The current government is incompetent, corrupt and ignorant. The UK electors voted for this outcome. I hold them responsible, and I am not going to return to live in that sort of a country. I do not even intend to visit for tourism reasons.

I am looking at possibly buying a property in Ireland, but that is as close as I will come to the UK. Ireland has some special relationship arrangements with the UK that have not (so far) been torpedoed by Brexit. However, if the UK government persists in picking fights with the EU, those special arrangements could disappear soon. So I am wary of making any immediate commitment.

We are now looking at relocating to either Hawaii or Costa Rica.

Hawaii has the advantage of being part of the USA, but property is expensive. We would probably end up in a small house or even an apartment.

Costa Rica is an enlightened country with a good record of environmental stewardship and democracy, and property is more affordable. It has good healthcare, which would be affordable for us if I stop working. Mary might even be able to work from Costa Rica, and I intend to work from there on writing projects.

The next 12-18 months will determine our next location. If our investments do well, I may be able to shift to full-time writing in 12-18 months. We are working on the house to make it as valuable as possible when the time comes to sell it.

The UK’s decision to try and re-run the Golden Age of Empire has resulted in us having to re-think a lot of plans. Europe is off the list as a living location. .

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Brexit Supporter rationalizations for outcomes

Now that we are several months into the post-Brexit world, with all manner of outcomes, mostly negative, clearly visible and documented, it is interesting to note the response of many Brexit supporters.

A classic line, being used in many variable ways, is “this is not the Brexit that I/we voted for”. Here is fisherman Chris Vinnicombe, interviewed on TV, uttering a classic version. 

His exact words were “Most fisherman, me included voted for Brexit but we didn’t vote for this”.

Well, no, they didn’t vote for “this” (the actual outcome). There is a very simple reason for that. There was no outcome specified on the EU Referendum ballot paper. Here is the exact text of the June 2016 referendum ballot:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

with the responses to the question to be (to be marked with a single (X)):

Remain a member of the European Union
Leave the European Union

So, Chris and his fellow fishermen were presented with a binary Yes or No question to answer. There was no information, not even a hint, as to what the final outcome would be if they voted Leave.

When anybody who voted for Brexit says “I didn’t vote for this”, the correct answer is “no, you voted for nothing except to Leave. Everything else was, and still is, in your imagination”.

Of course, there were plenty of politicians, charlatans and bullshitters who were only too willing to predict the outcome if the UK voted Leave. They seemed to think it would be easy. The messaging from the Leave supporters was charmingly simple: leave it to us and we will negotiate an excellent Brexit which will make you all very happy.

We know how that has turned out. After prematurely triggering Article 50, internal strife over what exactly the UK should try to negotiate resulted in 3 years of disputes, 2 General Elections and, after months of posturing dickery by the UK, in the negotiation of what has now turned out to be an alarmingly deficient trade deal with the EU.

When disappointed Brexit supporters say “this is not the Brexit I voted for”, my response may depend on how charitable or snarky I am feeling.

The snarky response would be “you never voted for any Brexit. You just voted to leave. So how you can say that is beyond illogical”.

The more polite response, which is more akin to playing a fish on a line (haha) is to politely inquire “so which detail Brexit did you think you voted for?”

You can expect that, most of the time, this will result in hemming and hawing, with a weird list of bits-and-pieces cockamamie ideas involving “sovereignty”, “fishing”, “freedom” and other slogans with no useful content. Like any cockamamie idea based on regressive ideology, slogans played a major part in how Brexit was promoted as a good thing. Sometimes people will be more detailed.

The response to the response is then going to be “and what evidence did you have that the government intended to negotiate that sort of Brexit, or was that just your hope?” That will probably result in another long silence.

As you can guess, this will be an uncomfortable conversation, but that is not all the fault of the Brexit voters. The real issue is that there never was a Brexit strategy. Nobody in government seriously expected that Leave would win, so when that was the result, the government had no ready answer to the obvious question “what would Brexit look like?”.

The government certainly couldn’t expect to get any useful input from Leave voters. When your reasons for leaving the EU consist of slogans mixed with bullshit anecdotes, that is not a credible starting point for any thought processes. Any chance of getting input from Remain supporters was squandered with the juvenile campaign against Remainers, with its use of school playground sloganeering, triumphalist dickery, and pseudo-patriotic demands that Remain supporters “shut up”.

So, after June 2016, we had a shocked government with no strategy for how to negotiate Brexit, umpteen million Leave supporters, all with their own individual sets of hopes, dreams (and in some cases, cockamamie fantasies) about what Brexit would be, and almost the same number of Remain supporters sitting off to one side, alienated and pissed off.

This was always going to end badly. If Brexit had been a project, it would never have passed even a preliminary review. No strategy, no vision, no plan, millions of competing stakeholders…shred the paper and let’s forget about this damn stupid idea.

So when Brexit supporters say “this is not what I voted for”, the tough question has to be “so what did you think you voted for in June 2016, and what made you think that there was any chance of that actually happening?”

Because, when the history of Brexit is written, probably after I am gone, the conclusion is going to be that Brexit was a terrible decision made by an uninformed electorate that had been fed BS by all sides for decades about what the EU was and how it operated. Having made a bad decision, the implementation by the UK government was even worse.

Right now, most Brexit supporters would rather live in Denial than come to terms with the results of the decision. Many of them will refuse to own the result, and will continue to blame everybody and everything in sight. Because ultimately, deflection is more comfortable than accountability.

 

 

 

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