The UK Royal Family public battle

Unless you just woke up, after the style of the Woody Allen movie Sleeper, or you just arrived from another planet, you will probably have seen the latest round in the very-public public relations battle being waged between Prince Harry and his wife, and what seems, superficially, to be the whole of the rest of the British Royal Family.

The latest round in the battle occurred when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey, THE doyen of UK chat show interviewers. During the interview, they listed a number of events that have happened, and itemized a collection of complaints against the Royal Family.

Predictably (after all, why else would they have given the interview, and why else would it have been broadcast?) the content of the interview has aroused strong reactions, of all types.

The UK tabloids, who have a Faustian bargain with the Royal Family (more of that in a minute) have, predictably, chosen to side with the UK end of the family, and paint Harry and Meghan as hypocritical back-stabbers.

I have read numerous reactions online. My initial conclusion is that how you view the interview depends to a large extent on how you view families and how you think they should operate.

I have deep ambivalence about families. They are great when they function well, but, as most of us know, there is nothing as messy and mentally lethal as a family rupture. When people in families fall out, it is often not only terminal, but all manner of primitive emotions are activated, and then family members are unable to stop themselves from doing and saying Dumb Stuff. Like divorces, family ruptures can trigger appallingly bad behavior.

The rupture in the Royal Family between Harry and his sibling, and what seems (superficially) like the whole of the rest of the family, has clear roots and causes. Harry’s mother Princess Diana was badly served by the Royal Family as her marriage to Prince Charles disintegrated, and, if truth be known, it was almost certainly a form of arranged marriage, with Charles apparently wanting to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles, but being told that she had “a history” (she was married, with a string of affairs already), and therefore being steered towards marrying a chaste virgin who would, presumably, be content to do The Royal Thing and be obedient, and produce the required heir to the throne. We know most of the rest. Diana soon became dissatisfied with her obedient nodding-dog life, and began to assert herself. This did not play well with the “Do Your Duty” mindset.

Ultimately, Diana and Charles were divorced, and Charles is now back with Camilla Parker-Bowles, which is probably who he should have been married to all along. Diana, meanwhile, had ended up in an invidious position, as the focus of tabloid curiosity, being followed everywhere, her every move reported on with prurient glee by the UK tabloids and gossip magazines. We know how her life ended, in the crash in Paris. What was not so obvious was that her driver at the time was trying to shake off paparazzi in following cars, which might have had something to do with the car crashing on what is a dangerous stretch of road. I have driven that exact road, and it is not a good road to drive, especially at night.

Harry, not in line to inherit the throne, but being smart, would have known all about the “nothing to do” syndrome that infects lesser royals, which has in the past led to feckless male royals engaging in all manner of scandalous behavior. He certainly knew all about how corrosive tabloid attention was to his mother. So while William could bask in the security of knowing that one day he will be King, Harry had to build a purposeful life. That included joining the army, rising to the rank of Captain and doing 2 combat tours. It also led him to chafe against many of the restrictions that his public royal position imposed.

One thing that seems to be almost universal among people who have met Harry in person is that they like him. To them, he is genuine, thoughtful and personable, with no airs and graces. That would have put him into a different orbit than most of the other royals immediately. Worthy though Prince Charles may be, struggling himself to lead a useful life while his mother continues to rule, nobody has ever described him the same way that people who meet Harry describe him.

The Royal Family is all about duty, a crushing sense of obligation and tradition that means that Prince Charles, for example, has had no agency in most of his life. It was mapped out for him before he was born. Little wonder that the history of the Royal Family in England is replete with affairs, juvenile behavior and a fair few scandals that have mostly been kept hidden from public view. If the rest of your life is mapped out, drinking and shagging suddenly look a lot more exciting.

The new generation of royal family members are increasingly marrying commoners. This is because of a simple reality; there are fewer and fewer eligible aristocratic or royal partners out there. At one time, the European royal families married amongst each other almost as a rule. That has more or less ended.

We also have to remember that what is now called The House Of Windsor is not its original name. It was, in the day of Queen Victoria, the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. The Royal Family, on the patriarchal side, was German. King Edward VII and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany were cousins. The family name was changed in a hurry to Windsor in World War I for obvious reasons. The roots of the Royal Family are Prussian-German. This probably contributed to a lot of royal admiration for Adolf Hitler in the run-up to World War II. The obvious liking of King Edward VIII, later the Duke of Windsor for Hitler in the pre-war years proved so embarrassing that when World War II broke out, the British government had him and his new American wife shipped off to the Bahamas, where he spent the war in the entirely ceremonial post of Governor-General.

One can imagine that when it became clear that Harry wanted to marry Meghan Markle, an American actress, that members of the Royal Family sat there thinking “uh oh, here we go again”. A royal prince marrying an American actress? Alarm!

What is clear is that, just as the Duke of Windsor ended up largely estranged from the rest of the Royal Family after marrying Wallis Simpson, living in Paris for the rest of his life, Harry is now largely estranged from the Royal Family after marrying Meghan Markle. Clearly, being an object of public curiosity 24×7 is not what either of them had in mind, or feel they can tolerate. Harry did not want that mode of operation because of what happened to his mother. Meghan did not want it either. Their move to Canada and then the USA was obviously a “get me out of here” move. Their retirement from being working royal family members was also clearly a refusal to Play The Game. It cost them most of their royal income, and it seems that they are now living off of Harry’s trust fund left to him by his mother.

The legal actions by Meghan against the UK tabloids, which she keeps winning, were also an unmistakeable message to the UK tabloid press that they were not going to control her or Harry, and that she was prepared to wield the stick of libel law against them if they did not behave.

The Royal Family’s relationship with the UK tabloids is a complicated Faustian bargain. At one point, the relationship was deeply antagonistic, with Prince Charles routinely snapping at tabloid reporters and wishing their editors a miserable Christmas, among other quips. However, these days, there is a sort-of-understanding that the bedrock of reflexive support for the Royal Family is largely comprised of tabloid readers. (I think this is true; most people I know in my circles in the UK are agnostic about the Royal Family, and many professional people would not be upset if the Royal Family in its current form was abolished).

The era where the Royal Family enjoyed uncritical public support is long gone. The death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother broke the link for good, but other aspects of Royal behavior, with the 24×7 intrusive news cycle, have become public knowledge, revealing the soft underbelly of a dysfunctional family crushed by duty and increasingly dominated by people way past State retirement age. The Royal divorce rate is appalling, and the hugely debatable behavior of Prince Andrew has thrown a shadow over the family.

The Royal Family’s reaction has been predictable. In classic stiff-upper-lip UK family mode, they are expecting that everybody should keep quiet in public, and sort things out behind closed doors. The problem with that approach is that the media will dig and dig for anything that can be used to drive public commentary. So now we have the Faustian bargain in place, with the Royal Family leaking snippets to the tabloids to keep them interested, give them stuff to print and speculate on, and also to promulgate the “party line”. There is an entire industry in the UK devoted to royal-watching, generating hundreds of jobs. It is a big business for the media. A beast that must be fed.

The “party line” in this context is that Harry is a naif, captured by an American bitch. It is a classic story line, and in the grand tradition of tabloid journalism, whether it is factual is irrelevant. One of the classic UK tabloid rules is that one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Having observed the way in which the UK narrative about their move to the USA was being shaped by the tabloid relationship, I suspect that Harry and Meghan decided that they had to put their side of the story in the public domain. Hence the Oprah interview.

In family management terms, the Oprah interview was never going to have a positive outcome. I am sure that Harry and Meghan knew that, but I suspect that at this point in time, they don’t care enough, given their exile, to let it influence their actions.

Who do I believe? I don’t think that you can believe either side’s version of events and take it at face value. I suspect that selective memory is playing a part in the explanation of events on both sides.

How will all of this play out? To use the old English phrase, buggered if I know. The Royal Family can, if they really want to, just forget all about Harry and continue to manage the brand with the on-deck royals. However, that has its own risks. If other people associated with the late Jeffrey Epstein (perhaps with family names like Maxwell) end up revealing more information about what really happened at parties involving a certain Royal Family member, the Royal Family may suddenly start to wish that they had Harry and Meghan onside instead of in exile. The current generation of Royals are no more publicly exciting than the last generation. With the exception of the Duke of Sussex.

 

 

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Being lenient with pre-trial defendants – remember Lyle Jeffs

The current public outcry over the absurdly lenient pre-trial arrangements being agreed to by judges for a number of the January 6th Insurrection defendants are dangerous and stupid, not because they show the massive contrast between the treatment of white defendants vs. minority or immigrants and refugees. This is not even a debating point. It’s as obvious as night follows day.

The insurrectionists seem to fall into two groups:

  1. Long-term anti-government activists, many associated directly or indirectly with Oath Keepers, and Sovereign Citizen groups
  2. People sucked in by the charisma of Trump, fully invested in his “I was robbed” story, and also seduced by the conspiracy siren songs of QAnon.

Both groups believed they were doing what Trump told them to do, and that they would be treated as heroes, and not as criminals. Of course, they expected that the January 6th Insurrection would be successful.

The decision to let defendants like Kyle Rittenhouse and Jenny Cudd not only stay out of jail, but (in Cudd’s case) actually travel to Mexico for some sort of “bonding” trip, is indicative of a naive approach that I expect to lead to embarrassment for more than one judge in the next few months.

I remind everybody about the case of Lyle Jeffs, the brother of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs, who is currently serving what is essentially a life sentence. After government investigations into welfare claim activity by the FLDS, Lyle Jeffs was indicted in 2016, along with several other FLDS men, with running a welfare fraud scheme.

Jeffs appeared in court on the charges, and the prosecution argued strenuously for him to be remanded in jail because he was a flight risk. They reminded the judge that Warren Jeffs had also absconded and become a fugitive before being apprehended in a car stop due to failure to correctly display license plates on the car in which he was a passenger (anti-government activists love to not legally tax and look after cars, as part of their low-level scofflawing).

The judge, instead of listening to the prosecution, instead decided to issue a home confinement order to Jeffs, and order him to wear an ankle monitor. Within a couple of weeks, law enforcement discovered that Jeffs had removed the ankle monitor, and had disappeared from his home in Salt Lake City.

Despite all of the fanciful rumors that he had fled to more hospitable climes South of the border, Jeffs was eventually recaptured just under one year later in South Dakota, after he tried to pawn pairs of pliers for cash and the pawnshop owner recognized his image as a fugitive and reported his presence to law enforcement. He had been living out of his truck on the run for months.

Jeffs, a leader of a cult that regards itself as above government, with his brother having already gone on the run to avoid court,  was allowed out of jail, and promptly proved the prosecution right by becoming a fugitive. Ultimately he agreed a guilty plea and was sentenced to several years’ imprisonment in November 2017.

Now we have Kyle Rittenhouse, supposedly in home confinement with strict movement restrictions, whose whereabouts are currently not officially known, after a letter addressed to the location lodged with the court was not returned. The plot thickens…it seems that the original address lodged with the court was falsified at the request of the Kenosha Police Department. Whether the judge knew about this falsification is not clear. We may yet see an awkward conversation between the judge and the defense lawyer. The prosecution has asked for a bond increase and an arrest warrant to be issued.

Many of the January 6th insurrectionists are showing, by their cavalier post-arrest actions, that they are scofflaws. The legal system needs to take a much tougher line with some of these defendants, or we will soon be reading about a disappeared defendant or three who, it will eventually become clear, have fled the USA.

 

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The UK and the EU have a trade deal. Reality will now intervene

After more stops and starts than I can count, the UK and the EU appear to have agreed the outline of a trade deal.

There is a lot more work to be done. The deal has to be “nodded through” the Council of Ministers, and then voted on by the European Parliament. In the UK, the deal was voted through after half a day (!) of debate. That a treaty of this importance could be voted on that quickly is not a testament to the efficiency of parliament, but a very powerful indication of the way in which the current government has no interest in debate or discussion.

There are 2000+ pages in the draft deal, so anybody who claims to have read it all is probably bullshitting. However, it is clear that on the most contentious issue, fishing rights, both sides (as you would expect) ended up compromising, and the UK and the EU have kicked the can down the road by referring vaguely to “working groups”. This is a classic piece of double-speak for “we couldn’t agree on the details, so we will hash it out later”.

The big question is how the deal will impact the UK economy. The problem in answering that question in the short term will be impact of Covid-19, which is probably impacting the UK more than any part of Brexit, especially since the UK is still in the Transition period out of the EU. After January 1st, the UK will be outside of the EU, obliged to follow the same rules in many areas as non-members.

A smart government would have asked for an extension of the Transition period, since there are enough curveballs out there being thrown at the UK due to Covid-19 to make taking on any more risks highly unwise. However, this is not a smart government, or maybe it is a government trapped by promises made to covert controllers (like the oligarchs that increasingly dominate politics and media ownership).

I expect the economic impact to be gradual. There may be short-term fresh food shortages, but those can always be mitigated – for a price. I expect the prices of many imported food items to rise significantly. This may give UK producers a boost in the short term, but most of those producers will also find it a lot more difficult to sell into the EU, so the overall impact to businesses will be neutral at best.

One of the aspects of the modern world that many Brexit voters and supporters still do not understand is the extent to which countries trade with each other, and the extent to which disruption of that trade has an immediate practical impact on a country. The UK will find this out, immediately for items such as perishable goods, and slowly over time for non-perishable goods.
The main medium-term impact will be in the services sector, which is a large percentage of the UK economy. The trade deal does not cover most of that area of the UK economy, so UK service providers will be operating at a disadvantage when trying to sell into Europe. I expect to see a lot of service-based businesses, especially financial services, relocating to Ireland or Northern Europe in the next 1-3 years. I believe that Ireland will be a main beneficiary of the shift.

The most damaging medium-term impact will be in manufacturing, which still provides a lot of employment, especially in the former heavy industry areas of the UK. I expect overseas manufacturers to cease inbound investment in the UK in favour of other EU countries. The hassle and expense of running a manufacturing location in the UK, outside of the EU, will make new investment unprofitable. This will unfold over time, but will be very economically damaging to many of the old industrial areas, and I would not rule out social unrest.

The UK is going to get an expensive and painful lesson over the next 5 years about the practical meaning of the word “sovereignty”. It is my belief that when future historians write about the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, they will conclude that the terms “sovereignty” and “trickle-down” were two of the most egregious bullshit political slogans ever invented. This article explains why “sovereignty”, as used by Euroskeptics, was, is, and always will be a pile of streaming brown fertilizer. 

To some extent, the lesson on “sovereignty” will be irrelevant. The Leave vote was never about “sovereignty”. That was a post hoc rationalization, a slogan to hang Leave on as a strategy. The real driver for the Leave vote was resentment about increasing inequality and austerity, channeled successfully by demagogue politicians into hostility to the EU. Remember that until 2015, when the idea of a Referendum on EU membership was floated, the EU was not even at 10% in surveys of UK electoral careabouts. But suddenly, the EU became the Source Of All Ills? That’s one large pile of bullshit right there.

Now that the EU is off to one side, and no longer directly involved in the stewardship of the UK economy, the utter irrelevance of any argument based on sovereignty is going to be shown up. Although, distressingly for the hardcore Brexit supporters, who really wanted a WTO-only Brexit, the need to interact with the EU on any aspect of the trade agreement will continue to be seen as a Bad Thing and a reason for letting the current agreement expire after 2025, when it will expire unless renewed by mutual agreement. So, the idea that Brexit is a done deal that leaves the UK able to do what it likes without reference to the EU is a pile of caca. The UK is going to be negotiating with the EU, whether it likes it or not, for ever and a day.

Regions in the UK such as Cornwall, who benefited from EU funding, which bypassed UK government decision makers, will now discover that the promised “Brexit dividend” was and is a mirage, like those “sunlit uplands”, and other glib slogans, some recycled from the Glorious Days of Empire, that were put into the media and on the sides of buses. The fishing industry is going to discover that the Brexit bonanza is illusory, and farmers will soon discover the downside of being outside the EU when it comes to exporting livestock and produce.

Having watched this shit-show from afar, I have no current intention of returning to live in England. The country lost my respect when the citizens voted three times in 9 years in a way that showed that they know next to nothing about Civics and how to select useful politicians. I may buy a property in Ireland or Scotland, but not England.

I expect Scotland to become an independent country within 10 years and to re-join the EU shortly after independence. I also expect the move for Irish unification to be unstoppable within 5 years, once the reality of being outside the EU with a bizarre border hits home in Northern Ireland.

 

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AOC and the tensions in the Democratic party

Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, being young, sparky and pushy, ruffles feathers in US politics.

Unlike many more moderate and centrist Democrats, she does not cringe or shrink from criticism by opponents. She faces it down. This makes her very popular with many people who believe that the Democratic Party desperately needs to be more unrepentantly progressive. The GOP has succeeded by being blunt, tough and uncompromising, goes the thinking. Time for the Democrats to stop being scared of their own shadows.

The ruffling of feathers by AOC may have come back to bite her. It is Committee season in the House, as the assignments on committees of varying prestige are determined. Representatives vote, usually in secret, for who will be on those committees. AOC seems to have lost out, being defeated 43-13 in secret ballot voting for a position on the Energy and Commerce Committee. This occurred despite her candidacy being supported by Nancy Pelosi. The winning representative, Kathleen Rice, weirdly and ironically, actually voted against Nancy Pelosi in the 2018 Speaker contest.

Now, a vote of 43-13 is not a defeat. It is a burying. It is difficult to conclude anything other than that this was an ambush. It was a punishment beating. The conclusion in many reports is that AOC lost because she, to use the old cliche, does not play well enough with others.

This result, leaving aside the interpersonal dynamics between AOC and more moderate Democrats, is symptomatic of a pathology that persistently frustrates and demotivates progressive Democratic supporters, and which will, if not addressed, continue to limit the performance of the party at State and local level.

The party continues to support moderate candidates in many areas, causing massive frustration in the progressive wing, which has led to an entire parallel ecosystem of financial support by organizations such as ActBlue, which was formed specifically to address the challenge of what became known as “Blue Dog” Democrats – candidates who, many progressives felt, were not representative of progressive values.

The fundamental tension between the two wings of the party – the establishment wing, which wants candidates to be a good fit for their districts, and the progressives, who want candidates to be representative of progressive values, remains unaddressed to this day.

There is plenty of evidence that you cannot win an election, no matter how much money you have, if the candidate is not a good fit for the district or state. In this election cycle, extremely well-funded Democrats such as Amy McGrath and Sarah Gideon were defeated in Senate races. Money helps, but it is clearly not the sole determining factor of success. Additionally, at House level, some districts are so heavily gerrymandered that the chances of a Democrat winning are twice the square root of nothing. ActBlue could throw tens of millions of dollars at these races and the Democrat would still be handily beaten. The votes simply aren’t there for a Democrat.

The lack of resolution of the deep disagreement between the two wings of the party, however, breaks out into public too many times, and sends the signal that the party lacks a unified voice, and lacks confidence in its own policies and messages. The trigger this election cycle was the fact that Joe Biden outperformed his own party in many states. The Democrats lost House seats, have failed to win control of the Senate, and that is giving Biden little room for maneuver as he sets out to undo the tremendous damage inflicted by Donald Trump.
The tension and resulting frustrations of progressives with what they see as weak, accommodationist and naive party leadership have existed for decades. Anecdotally, I knew several voters (including my ex) who voted for Ralph Nader in the 2000 Presidential election because, as one of them said to me, “I’m not a Republican, so why would I vote for a Democrat impersonating a Republican?”.

Now, you can dismiss that and shake your heads all you like, but the selection of Joe Lieberman and the distancing from Bill Clinton in 2000 sent a bad message of a party almost scared of its own shadow. I watched video of Al Gore at campaign events, and despite his attempts to sound passionate, he was simply not reaching a lot of people. Al Gore was, to use an old phrase, not a good retail politician, unlike Bill Clinton. Whatever you think about Bill Clinton as a person, he could probably sell refrigerators to the Inuit.
Did Al Gore’s decision to not run on the success of the Clinton era issue lose the Florida election for him? I have no idea, I lived in Texas at the time, and he certainly was never likely to win Texas. He didn’t even win his home state of Tennessee, so badly did he perform overall in 2000.

In 2016, the same pattern occurred, when I found 2 online friends, angered by Bernie Sanders failing to win the Democratic nomination, who informed me that they were going to vote for Trump. I don’t know if they actually did, but the fact that they were adamantly insisting that they intended to was worrying enough.
There are a lot of people whose political positions, compared to the major parties, are all over the map, but one thing that unites them is a conviction that “politics as usual” has fucked over the country and voters, including some of them personally. Trump captured a lot of those people in 2016, and we know how that has turned out.
AOC, more than Bernie Sanders (who is, we have to face it, no spring chicken), is a lightning conductor for the sentiments of many of those electors who self-ID as progressives. They are likely to regard her losing the committee vote as yet more bad-smelling evidence of “politics as usual”.
On one level, I can understand the desire by many House democrats to slap AOC down. She is an irritant, gets a lot of publicity, some of it negative, and the Democrats have a thin House majority, with reps like Henry Cuellar (who is from a very conservative Texas district, and nearly lost a primary this year to a candidate supported by AOC) always hovering at the “defect to the GOP” door.

Unlike some optimists, I regard a Democratic Senate tie as unlikely to unlock any significant changes in Senate direction, because the Democrats have this generation’s Joe Lieberman in the Senate in the form of Joe Manchin.

Could AOC walk away from the Democratic Party? I think it is very possible. She is young, smart, idealistic, and a LOT of progressive people I read and talk to are consistently unhappy with what they see as spineless milquetoast centrism. This translates to cynical fatalism and a reluctance to become actively involved in supporting local politics.

One of the few ways in which a political party can improve its chances of winning is to engage people who normally sit out elections. Some of those people are utterly alienated from politics and are not reachable. Others see themselves as outsiders, who fail to see any upside to participating in what they see as a corrupt system dominated by shysters, time-servers and bullshitters. Outsiders never respond positively to any explanation of political events that contains any element of “this is how it works around here”. That generally activates the “then let’s blow this fucking shit up” emotional reaction.
Most of these issues and sources of tension could be solved if the Democratic Party and their supporters across the entire spectrum actually knew how to work effectively at a national level to consistently communicate solid frames and seize control of messaging. George Lakoff has been offering to help the party for decades and they keep ignoring him. The result is that the party still cannot frame and deliver messages to save its life, so the entire electoral effort ends up driven by local ideas of “what will play well”, which in turn leads to consultants dominating election tactics, and at national level the effort relies on finding a Presidential candidate with charisma.

This, I suspect, is the root cause of the phenomenon where Biden outperformed Democrats in many districts in the election. If people had broken for Democrats at a more local level in the same way they voted for Biden as POTUS, the Democrats would be an a stronger position in the House and might already have control of the Senate.
I could go on, but IMHO, the idea that slapping down AOC by denying her a committee position is a positive for the Democratic Party is a delusion that needs to be dumped down a hole. It does not look good to younger progressive voters, period.

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The Brexit watch

Back in 1965, when I was less than 10 years old, the UK spent several weeks engaging in a death watch, as Winston Churchill, the UK’s war time leader, was terminally ill. Day after day we heard sombre bulletins of his condition, which seemed to point in a downwards direction, and sure enough, eventually it was announced that he had passed away. The period was, to some extent, the end of an era, and it was a sombre moment.

Now, we seem to be re-enacting the same “Death watch” process with Brexit. Deadline after deadline has come and gone, and there is still no definitive direction (Yes! A Deal? No! No Deal?) despite continual talks between negotiators and occasional talks between Boris Johnson and EU senior leaders.

What is clear is that any deal, should one be agreed, will (a) be a very “bare bones” deal, with a whole host of other agreements still to be finalized, and (b) it will most probably not be formally ratified by the EU Parliament in time for the beginning of 2021, which will oblige the EU and the UK to agree on yet another collection of interim arrangements.

As I write this, nobody seems to know if a deal will be agreed. The UK government has made some concessions, most notably over the Internal Market Bill, which was a “red line” for the EU because it conflicted with the EU Withdrawal Agreement and threatened the legal basis of the Good Friday Agreement. The UK government, having been forced to withdraw the offending clauses, is desperately attempting to claim that they were only included as part of a negotiating tactic. However, if you introduce something in the middle of a negotiation that causes your negotiating partners to inform you that you will not get any kind of deal if you persist in that course of action, that does not seem to me, in any way, to be a useful tactic. Sending a signal that you regard treaties as optional does not play well in geopolitics.

Chris Grey does his usual excellent job of summarizing the state of the current mess.  As usual, he throws in a money quote:

The Brexiters have spent decades saying that the EU is akin to Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, totalitarian and dictatorial, and a ‘protectionist racket’. Yet they seem to have predicated Brexit on the starry-eyed belief that it would be cuddly and nice, and a pushover in the negotiations.

While all of this talking and to-ing-and-fro-ing is happening, businesses in the UK have taken action, by attempting to forward buy and stockpile. This in turn is overloading current distribution paths, leading to traffic chaos. In the meantime, more and more consequences of the UK leaving the EU are becoming obvious, ranging from insurance cost increases, through pet restrictions, to severe restrictions on the transport of foodstuffs.

Brexit is going to be a shit-show. The only question now, is how big a shit-show it will turn out to be.

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The temperature of social media

As people become more frustrated and ragged around the edges from being forced to self-isolate, more and more people are becoming more and more irritable and irascible on social media.

I am going to be changing my interaction model on social media at the end of this year. I think that I need to dial back my use, and be much more selective in how I comment and engage. Many people are not disposed to good-faith interactions because of their general level of stress.

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The “Kamala Harris is not eligible” train is stuttering

You would think that the Birthers would have at least come up with some new arguments to support their claim that Kamala Harris is not eligible. After all, they have had plenty of time.
However, it seems not. I am seeing exactly the same incoherent, inconsistent and legally unsupported claims that I was reading 12 years ago about Barack Obama. Vattel, blah blah. Divided loyalties, blah blah. Parents not US citizens, blah blah. All legally irrelevant.

So far, one lawsuit (filed by Robert Laity) has been dismissed, although Laity says he is appealing. (It was dismissed for lack of standing, and appeals on standing almost never succeed, so I will be interested to see what novel argument Laity can whistle up). Laity’s lack of legal acumen shows up in this dissection of one of his pleadings. 

Another lawsuit in CA is still in progress. At the rate at which courts move, this may not be resolved before the inauguration.
And, needless to say, no lawyer of any merit will touch a Kamala Harris eligibility case, so we have the usual collection of ratchet-jaw shitmooks filing bullshit paper all over again, and the usual motley crew of supporting websites. The only new player is John Eastman, who I do not recall being in the mix when Obama was POTUS. Eastman’s claim that Harris is not eligible was given way too much oxygen by Newsweek.

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The bulging Dell XPS 13 keyboard and the solution

In 2018, tired of the lack of horsepower of my existing publishing company laptop, in use with White Cat Publishing, I went out and found a Dell XPS13 laptop on Ebay. I selected it because it was fairly powerful, and it could be used for video processing if we took it on vacation, and the keyboard had good reviews.

And when I first started using it, it ticked all of those boxes.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year, when I began to notice that the keyboard was bulging upwards on the left hand side. Most of the left hand side had a noticeable bulge in the D, C, E key area, extending down to the space bar. I had no idea why this was happening, but the laptop did seem to be hot on that side, so I concluded that it was due to internal overheating. I began to power the laptop when I was not actively using it.

The bulge in the keyboard slowly became worse, and started to affect the operation of the keyboard. The space key began malfunctioning, if I tried to use the left hand side of it, nothing happened. More annoyingly, shutting the laptop would engage CTRL Lock on the keyboard, and I could not get out of it using Windows 10 (this is an issue with Windows 10, but the coincidence of the issues was making me…not a happy bunny). The touch pad was also starting to become glitchy.

Now…I can think faster than I type. My typing speed is what limits my ability to rapidly get stuff down, so anything that slows down typing for me, is beyond annoying. Sadly, my better half can attest to the gradual disappearance of my patience with the laptop keyboard.

Also…the laptop would shut down without warning, thinking that the battery was low (no it was not, at least according to the on-screen power management information).

I had resigned myself to the reality that I was going to need to invest in a new laptop. Mary, probably fed up with my cursing swearing and chucking of objects, was researching new laptops online and through Costco.

My sanity was degrading. Something had to be done.

So…I began to look online using “Dell XPS 13 warped keyboard”.

And…paydirt.

The random shutting down of the laptop and the keyboard warp were caused by the same underlying issue.

The modern laptop, with no disk drive, and a lot of pressure to reduce the thickness to not much more than that of a tablet, is designed with an ultra-thin Lithium battery pack, which occupies the entire space between the keyboard and the back panel. There is no space to speak of inside a modern laptop case.

The back panel is made of thin metal. The keyboard base is made of very thin plastic.

The battery pack was failed, and when Lithium packs fail, they overheat and expand. With nowhere to go against the case bottom, the battery was pushing up the keyboard, progressively warping it and degrading its functionality.

So…a search for a battery pack showed lots of them available. I ordered one from Amazon. My thinking was, if the keyboard was thin, it would resume its normal shape after a new battery pack was fitted. With a new battery pack costing $65, this was worth a try. If the keyboard refused to un-warp, a new keyboard could be installed. Beyond that, it would make more sense to spring for a new laptop.

The installation of the new battery pack was fairly easy. Just a case of removing 8 screws from the metal base, pulling the base off the laptop. There are videos like this one on YoutTube that walk through the rest of the process.

So, after pulling the old battery pack, this is what it looks like.

The top side (next to the keyboard):

The pack should be totally flat where the cells are located. As you can see, that’s…not even remotely close to flat. Bulging like a way overweight bar-room boozer.

The bottom side (next to the case):

This side is even worse, but there is some clearance inside the case, so it assumed the contour of the case bottom. I suspect that the pack expanded into that space, then as the expansion became worse, it pushed the keyboard up.

So…new pack installed, and now…a flat keyboard with all the keys working properly.

For somebody who needs a good fast keyboard this is….Nirvana.

 

 

 

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My Social Media principles (UPDATED)

I wrote this in 2015, but most of it is still applicable.

1. I am not online to make money. I have no advertising revenue income from any of my blogs or other social media locations. I am not writing to gain, keep or impress an audience. Essentially I am writing for my own fun, and to improve my writing for other reasons (I am writing books that I hope to self-publish). If other people like my writing, this is good. If other people hate it, this is also good. The last thing I would like to be is non-memorable. I can achieve that latter goal by not writing at all.
2. My approach to identity is to post as myself. As far as revealing information about myself other than my given first and last names, I adhere to what a former work colleague defined to me as The Concept Of Minimum Effective Fact. I reveal only the minimum amount of information about myself. For example, I never reveal my home address to others in casual conversation. Why would they need to know that piece of information?
3. I seek out different views, and I am interested if those views are articulately and usefully expressed.
4. Not everybody is going to like me or my views after reading what I have to say. I call this the law of averages. One cannot be liked by everybody. I accept that.
5. I use humor and irony a LOT. Humor and comedy, apart from making people laugh (which is a hell of a lot better than almost anything else, except possibly sex), also allow for the subversive exposure and ridicule of all of the weird, illogical and stupid things that tend to take root in modern societies and inside the heads of people.
6. I extend the Principle of Charity in discourse. I will adopt the most benevolent interpretation of somebody’s statement, not the most negative one, initially. I will revise that approach rapidly if I detect that the other parties to the discussion are not interested in interacting on the basis of good faith.
7. If you want to engage in discourse with me, provide some evidence that you are thinking as you write, and that you can construct arguments. Hitchens’ Razor is my general response to assertions without any supporting evidence.
8. If you write postings or comments that mostly recycle talk radio or partisan media outlet cliches, I am unlikely to respond. See (7)
9. If you want your ideas to be respected, have good ideas. I have a tendency to engage in ridicule if people espouse ridiculous ideas and either cannot support them or try to engage in sleight of hand, fallacious reasoning or other forms of sophistry. Ridicule is a logical response to the promulgation of ridiculous ideas. Please note that in line with extending the Principle of Charity (see above), I will be endeavoring to critique the ideas, not the person.
10. There is no Constitutional right to not be offended. If you find something that I wrote is offensive, you need to ask yourself if it is because I have expressed it offensively, or whether you simply do not like the viewpoint. If it is the former, feel free to call me on it. If it is the latter, let’s debate it, but starting with “I am offended” is likely to result in a response along the lines of “and your point is…?”. You, not me, control how you react to viewpoints and ideas that conflict with your worldview.
11. If your posting is clearly a toxic rant on a subject that you cannot stay away from, I am unlikely to respond. I learned some time ago that engaging this level of toxicity is a waste of everybody’s time. In my experience, the people writing these sorts of rants most of the time are seeking affirmation, not debate or discussion.
12. If your posting or comment contains juvenile sneers like “libtard” or “remoaner” and/or engages in broad-brush negative stereotyping of individuals or societal groups using tired cliches like “liberals”, “atheists”, “republicons” or similar, or contains suggestions like “leave the country if you don’t like X”, or contains statements that prove that you consider groups of individuals as some lower form of life, I am probably going to rip you a new one rhetorically, or Block you. Processing elementary school insults and dealing with exclusionary and mean-spirited worldviews is a waste of my time.
13. I love to understand the world, via information and facts. That leads to me using fact checking extensively. I can and will fact check claims and allegations off the internet, and from time to time I am going to declare some stuff to be bullcrap, nonsense, or poorly formulated or argued.
14. I have a reasonable working knowledge of the modern world political landscape. This does mean that I am likely to call out bizarre or distorted worldviews. For example, there is a tendency right now to call out any political view that is perceived to be more progressive than the mean in the modern USA as “socialism ” or “marxism”. This is likely to cause me to eventually engage in ridicule. See (9) above. The reasons for this are varied and several. One of them is that I grew up under socialism, so I know more than a little about its operation as a political system. The second reason is that most people in the USA, when asked to define the meaning of “socialism”, are unable to do so. When you cannot adequately define a concept, you’re really not at all qualified to discuss how it might apply to the real world.
15. I have a reasonable understanding of the types and usage of various logical fallacies, and I will remark on their usage if I encounter them in postings or arguments. Logical fallacies undermine the validity of arguments. If you don’t know about logical fallacies, here is a list of the most used ones. 
16. YouTube videos do not magically confer credibility and gravitas on ridiculous, dysfunctional or illogically dystopian opinions and worldviews. Anybody with $100 of camera gear, spare time, editing software and a resonant, well-modulated voice can create a YouTube video. Many people on the political and societal fringes of the modern USA such as Qanon adherents, Sovereign Citizens, Birthers, adherents to all kinds of conspiracy theories and religious crackpots, turn out YouTube videos at almost the same rate that I breathe. My analysis and questions will revolve around the content. I try to distinguish between quantity and quality when the time comes to analyze outputs on that channel.
17. Capitalizing whole words or sentences LIKE THIS in your enthusiasm or zeal to make a point is counter-productive. It is shouting, which works about as well in the internet world as it does in the real world. It also makes me wonder if you have a problem with the underlying argument or point, if you feel that shouting is the only effective way to communicate it.
18. If I walk away from a discussion, you have no right to assume that you have “beaten” me, or somehow impressed me into agreeing with you. Just because you have silenced somebody, it does not entitle you to conclude that they now agree with you. Most probably I walked away because I determined that further discussion was a waste of my time, which is my prerogative. However, you could check this by asking. Conversely, I am not into declaring rhetorical “victory” in discussions. That sort of approach belongs in elementary school.

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Dear Mississippi

Dear State of Mississippi,

I hear from my spies that some of you, and some of your leaders, are deeply unhappy about the imminent future of the United States.

I believe that this is because A Guy You Apparently Didn’t Vote For, I think he is named Biden, is going to become the 46th President of the United States, because he beat The Guy You Apparently Voted For in the recent election.

Apparently, this change will be a Bad Thing for the United States, so some of you want out.

Well OK then.

Although the Constitution does not have any defined process for how a State can leave the Union, let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s also overlook that unfortunate little contretemps in the 1860s, where I seem to recall that a whole collection of you (by “you” I mean the Southern States) had a collective hissy-fit over the planned abolition of slavery, and decided to fight a bunch of other states over it. (By the way, You Lost. Those nice stars-and-bars cloth objects that some of you like to wave about from time to time are copies of the battle flag of a defeated secessionist army. In other words, Losers. But I digress).

Let’s assume that you, Mississippi, desirous of No Union At All, want to secede from the rest of the United States.

First of all, I think I need to point out that by most objective measures, Mississippi is heavily dependent on the Federal Government. When I looked at some hand-dandy charts, you are the third most financially and governmentally dependent state in the Union, after New Mexico and Kentucky. So the idea that you are, you know, ready to make your own way in the world, Just Like That, might be a wee bit optimistic. But, hey, all children dream of one day leaving home and having their own place. Right?

So, sure. Let’s talk about secession.

First of all, let’s talk money.

It’s like this. The USA has a national debt, which the last time I looked had passed $23.3 trillion (yes, that is a number that contains a blank of a lot of zeroes). And it is still rising. You, the good citizens of Mississippi, are, along with all of the other states, the collective owners of that debt. So, if you want to leave the Union, we will require you to assume a pro rata share of the debt. I just happen to have a calculator handy, and if we do it on the basis of population, your current share of the debt is…

$208 billion.

I understand that your current state debt is approximately $7.4 billion. I got out the calculator again, and did some more math. That will give Mississippi a debt to GDP ratio, after we do the math, of 182%. Not the worst in the world, mind you, Japan is at 238%. But then the next country is Greece. At 181%. Oh dear. You will be the second worst country in the world. That means your borrowing costs will probably rise. But hey, that’s how free markets work, right?

Of course, if you want us, acting on behalf of Uncle Sam and the US Treasury, to guarantee your debts, we can do so for a fee. This is for a state which <checks notes> is last in the Union at present on per capita GDP, so you folks will need all the help you can get.

There will be no more money from the US treasury. Of course, you won’t have to send us any either. This may be good for you, since I understand that a lot of you are always grumbling about sending money to Washington for “coastal elites”, “spongers” and “liberals” who might even be behaving according to “San Francisco values”. If you want to just have sales taxes and property taxes, and continue with your 5% maximum income tax, have at it. We will watch to see how you can balance the books that way. I think you might find that 5% is a tad low for an income tax, but hey, your call.

Now, let’s talk defense.

You will assume total control over the Mississippi National Guard and its assets. Why not? It is mostly older stuff that was passed down from the US Air Force, Army and Navy anyway. We don’t need the hassle of looking after old KC-135s and obsolete APCs. But you may have to pay more for spares, since you will be buying them as Mississippi, instead of using the Full Faith and Credit Of The United States. Unless, of course you want to kick some cash over to us to continue to enjoy some of that Full Faith and Credit.

Ah, you might want to participate in the overall US national defense, I hear you say? Well, we will have to talk about that. On normal commercial terms. Those F-35s are kind of expensive, and they don’t fly themselves. And Naval patrol boats cost money to run.

All Federal government installations will be closed down, unless you buy them from us at fair market value less 5%. That is more than fair, considering that you probably provide a lot less than 5% of the federal tax revenues each year.

You will be responsible for healthcare provisioning, and for deciding what healthcare systems replace Federally funded systems like Medicaid and Medicare and Tri-Care. We will allow you to participate for 5 years after secession in the systems if we can agree the price. If not, it’s over to you.

Roads, airports, ports? Over to you. If you owned them you get to keep them, but no more Federal money to help with upkeep. If the Federal government owns them, you get to buy them from us at market value less 5%. If you don’t want them, we will close them and sell them off to the highest bidder, no matter where that bidder may be in the world. Except for the Federal Interstates (hold on we’ll get to that in a minute). Hey, it’s simply responsible reclamation of taxpayers money. I hear that your government likes to talk about that a lot down there in the Summer heat.

By the way, you might need to work out some arrangement for hurricane and peril insurance. Those hurricanes are getting worse, and unless we can agree on financial terms, the Federal government cannot continue to guarantee flood and peril insurance for home owners. We note that some of your coastline is, er, very close to or below sea level.

If you want to continue to participate in GPS and the FAA, sure. There will be a fee for that. Controlling satellites and airspace is a tricky job requiring state of the art equipment, and those Air Traffic Controllers have to be kept supplied with coffee.

Now, about Federal Interstates. No, you are not going to make them into toll roads. If you do that, we will impose tolls in the other direction when your vehicles leave Mississippi. I don’t think you would want that. We will provide 5% of the cost of maintenance for Federal highways. More than reasonable. Ditto the Mighty Mississipp. You will not impose tolls on that waterway, unless you want to have to pay reciprocal tolls.

It is up to you whether you want to apply for admission to the United Nations and the WTO. We won’t take a position either way, except to note that if you want to join the United Nations, it will be as a new country without any of the privileges that the United States currently enjoys (like that permanent Membership of the Security Council). Ditto trading blocs. However, we may ask you to kick in a few million to pay for your share of representation on the world stage. Embassies, and United Nations and WTO representation costs money.

If you are serious about the idea of becoming a true country you may need to pay for the cost of setting up a Federation Ambassador office in DC, as will we in Jackson. Standard United Nations diplomatic rules will apply.

Passports? Customs declarations? Border posts? Hell no. We are not going to get into that border shit. I mean, if you really really want a border, you can have one, but then we will require passports for any of your folks to enter the United States, and we will impose work permit and visa controls, just like we do with other countries. Also, you will need to have your own border controls, agreed with the 4 states with which you will share a border. I don’t think you really want to go there. There will be reciprocal visit rights by US citizens to Mississippi and Mississippi citizens to the USA. However, Mississippi citizens will need to apply for permission to move elsewhere in the USA, and if the states want to impose their own quotas and work restrictions, well, State’s Rights and all that. You will need to talk to them about that, unless you want us to act on your behalf, in which case I am sure we can do so. If the price is right.

No, you may not become a tax haven country. We have had enough trouble in the past dealing with oligarchs on big yachts, surrounded by men in dark glasses, carrying  expensive briefcases, with strange bulges in their clothing. I know this may come as a shock to those of you who are used to a failed casino operator running the country, but we do have some standards.

Ditto alcohol and tobacco and other mind-altering substances. If you decide to try and become a haven for smugglers or “country entrepreneurs”, the neighboring states will have our forbearance if they want to change the ways that they interact with you, legally, logistically and commercially. It’s that States Rights thingy again. I think you rather like that (at least, you always seem to think it is important whenever the Federal government wants to do something you don’t like).

Yes, you will have to continue to enforce the same environmental laws that the rest of the United States enforces. You may have noticed that there are artifacts on the planet such as weather and water, that tend to move substances across state boundaries. We are not going to allow your factories, power plants and other industries to send shit into the water table or oceans, or into the atmosphere where it can drift over Our Way. In return, we undertake to not do the same to you. Deal? After all, if you start dicking about with things like vehicle emissions laws because you want to have, oh I don’t know, Rolling Coal as a state pastime, that is going to prevent Brandon and Brett from driving to New Orleans to see the Saints, and that seems a little restrictive, don’t you agree?

Which brings us nicely onto sports. You make your own arrangements for teams like Ole Miss. Whatever you want to do is fine with us.

This list is not exhaustive. We’re just getting warmed up.

 

Yours sincerely,

The United States

 

 

 

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