Covid news roundup

The room where I hid

So the big news of the last week is the book out by Papa smurf who broke bad John Bolton, that makes various allegations about the abuse of power and incompetence in the Trump white house. It appears to verify the claims regarding the Ukraine scandal as well as the Mueller report. The book suggests Trump tried to do a deal with China just to get re-elected, and discusses his vulnerability to pressure from Putin (plus his closeness to dictators around the world). The book portrays a Trump white house that is so dysfunctional they’ve essentially abandoned routines such as the daily intelligence briefings (as Trump would spend most of the meeting talking about himself).

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Of course given that the book also reveals that Trump is so dumb he thought Finland was part of Russia and didn’t realise that the UK has nuclear weapons, it is no wonder they’ve given up. And ultimately the book confirms that Trump is placing his own personal business interests ahead of those of the country, even in the middle of pandemic.

Now the White house will claim its all the lies of a disgruntled former staffer. And Bolton (a war hawk prominent during GW Bush and the Iraq war) can hardly be considered a reliable witness. However, there seems to be an awful lot of disgruntled Trump staffers right now coming out with tell all books. And their stories are confirmed by what we do know does go on in the white house from FOI requests (such as the fact much of Trump’s diary is blank “executive time where he sits around raging on twitter).

Quite simply put, even if the book was fiction, the very fact many are willing to believe it should tell you everything you need to know about the chaos in the white house. Bottom line, back in 2016 the US voted to not have a president for a few years, but instead let some racist swampy don sit in the white house and pretend to be president, while looting the US treasury.

And the democrats are furious because of the fact Bolton chose not to testify against Trump at his impeachment before the senate, saving it all for his book. Had he said under oath what’s in this book, it would have been very hard for the GOP to let Trump off without any consequences. Which should tell you why he didn’t testify. The Republicans know full well how dirty and dysfunctional Trump’s white house is. So likely there was a deal done, he doesn’t testify, but gets to publish his book (a bit of kicking and screaming from Trump not withstanding) and no doubt he’ll get back into power and some point next time they get back in (or he’ll get some cushy job as an adviser).

Out of control

Meanwhile, the cases of Covid in the US have begun to surge upwards. Last time I checked its up to nearly 40k a day, not far off its previous peak back in April. It could be a 2nd wave, although Antony Fauci reckons its just a continuation of the first wave. But with numerous super-spreading events (political rallies, demonstrations, etc.) this is hardly surprising. What it shows is that the virus isn’t under control and the US squandered the lockdown.

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The whole point of a lockdown was to flatten the curve and give countries the time to covid-proof their economies. This is what China, Japan, Korea or Germany succeeded in doing. So even if this is just a dead cat bounce, it indicates that the US hasn’t gotten the virus under control. Hence if and when a 2nd wave happens it will burn through the US unchecked. In effect Trump has taken $2 trillion dollars and squandered every penny. He may as well have spent it on his precious wall for all the good it would have done. Yes you could try another lock down, but will people obey it? And that means another $2 trillion in costs. Can the US afford that?

Trump might get his wish, a wall around the country, but one to keep Americans in rather than foreigners out. Already the EU is considering banning travel from the US due to its failure to get the coronavirus under control.

The hypocrisy of the right

Consider that the current US death toll from Covid stands at over 120,000. That’s more than have been killed in every war the US has fought since the end of World War 2. And a large number of those causalities are directly down to the inaction and incompetence of Trump. The only thing I find surprising is that he’s only 9 points behind. Then again, US politics is now completely tribal. At least 40% of the country are committed followers of the cult of Trump. Its their new religion and he can do no wrong.

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A Trump death clock showed up outside his rally in Tulsa

Consider that Hilary’s worse crime was Benghazi (which she had nothing to do with and was in no way responsible for) which saw 4 people killed, sending the right wing media into an 8 year tizzy, even to the point of making a Michael Bay action movie about it. But Trump gets 120,000 people killed, and silence. This is the hypocrisy of the right.

So for example, a largely peaceful BLM protest in London, during which ONE out of tens thousands tried (but failed) to set fire to the UK flag on the Cenotaph, is apparently the worst crime in history (and should carry a sentence longer than you’d get for rape or violent assault), which to the right wing media, turned the whole march into a riot. Yet a few days later a bunch of neo-nazi’s fighting with police is instead branded “a scuffle”. And when one of the skinheads decides to urinate on a memorial, well when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. The mental gymnastics Tory voters brains must go through, its a wonder it doesn’t make them dizzy.

The biggest losers

Meanwhile in brexitland, if Trump does lose in 2020, the biggest loser will likely be the UK. It is very unlikely a trade deal could be signed off and ratified by Congress before the election. As I’ve noted before any deal that screws over Ireland will be politically unacceptable to the Irish American community.

And frankly only a complete moron would negotiate a deal under the present circumstances. Just look at the situation with the proposed Japan trade deal, where the UK has essentially been given 6 weeks to sign one or else piss off. The much heralded CANZUK deal will have zero benefits, might actually leave the country worse off and require the opening up of the UK’s borders to immigration. Which might be just as well, because without more farm workers much of the UK’s harvest for this year will be left to rot in fields.

And while the government claims there will be no border checks, certainly not in NI, actually they’ve quietly sent out letters to the relevant port authorities advising them to start setting up customs posts. Of course they’ve left it way too late, in fact one report seen by Bloomberg suggests they seem to have forgotten about these big things called “trucks which go through UK ports rather often.

And this is just for openers. If Trump loses, then being such a close ally to him will put the UK at a distinct disadvantage. Consider that the Tories ignored intelligence warnings about Trump’s closeness to Russia and has hampered efforts by the democrats to investigate him. And there will almost certainly be some sort of congressional investigation into Trump if Biden wins. Trump might even face charges over his lack of action over the Coronavirus. The UK will likely face a US government far more hostile than it has faced at any time since the end of world war 2. The UK will likely be sidelined as the US focuses more on improving its relations with the EU. We will go, as Obama warned, to the back of the queue.

The Summer of Covid

And, much like in the US, with major super spreading events such as the recent crowded beaches, its possible the UK too could also soon see a resurgence in Covid cases. The government, against all scientific advice plans to lift all restrictions on the 4th of July, including scraping the 2m rule. But to be fair, given that since the real prime minster a certain special adviser’s  500 mile jolly with no consequences, the public simply don’t believe the government any more. They’ve lost control of the situation.

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Boris asks Brit’s to apply common sense…and everyone goes to the beach!

Again one must contrast the UK’s situation, with 65,000 dead and counting (the worst per capita in the world so far) and the experience of EU countries like Germany. And like I’ve said before, if a 2nd wave does start, this will be far more damaging to the country than a few extra weeks of lockdown. And they will have a window of a few weeks at most to re-impose the lockdown and make sure everyone sticks to it. Which I’m doubtful will be possible.

Meanwhile Scotland and Wales have adopted a different policy towards lockdown, with a more gradual relaxing of measures, even thought the number cases is already much lower per capita than in England. This threatens to undermine the policy of both, not least because it looked like the Tories forgot about Scotland and that they have a different policy.

Naturally this means that if a 2nd wave does happen it could be a lot more destabilising. Johnson could well be making the case for Scottish independence.

Wrong failing sacked

Another story over the last week was the sacking of Rebecca Wrong Failing Long Bailey by Keir Starmer over a tweet she sent regarding an article, which included some anti-Israeli material. Now I thought this was a little harsh, but then again it was an unforced error and she was likely on a yellow card already and under orders not to do anything dumb.

Whether or not the article contained anything anti-Semitic is not the point (it included some unverifiable claims about US police copying Israeli military choke holds). The point is it demonstrated she’s politically inept. Labour now have the Tories on the ropes. Under Corbyn PMQ’s was more like gardener’s question time. He’d ask a question along the lines of “I have a Tim from Sevenoaks who has problems with his NHS services….and his Azaleas”, the PM (either Boris or May) would give some generic canned response that didn’t answer the question “the NHS runs hospitals, Azaleas should be planted in the spring” and rather than follow that up or probe a bit deeper, Corbyn would move on to something about rail services…and Juniper bushes.

Now instead, with Starmer, its like a cross examination in the old bailey. Its been rumoured Johnson is resorting to using an earpiece to communicate with Cummings (aka the real PM) and that doesn’t seem to make much difference. His approval ratings have collapsed and the Tories are tanking in the polls. Its considered only a matter of time before labour pulls ahead.

Naturally, the right wing media are desperate for any angle they can use to attack labour with. And her tweet threatened to give them their old favourite anti-Semitism and pin that on Starmer the way they did Corbyn. I guarantee you, if Starmer hadn’t fired her, the right wing media would have gone on about it for months, or until she resigned. And you can bet Johnson would bring it up in PMQ’s.

In short, it was a massive political error and shows how she’d have made a hopeless labour leader. And the hard left of the party can hardly complain. They picked her as Corbyn’s successor. There were other candidates on the left of the party (such as Angela Rayner, who is so left wing she wants to ban private schools), but they were sidelined. Long Bailey was chosen precisely because she was considered to be weak minded and easily manipulated, much as Corbyn was, by the cabal of toxic advisers around him, such as Len McCluskey, Jon Lansman and Karen Brady.

So no, its not a Blairite plot, actually quite the opposite. Starmer does seem to be taking on board a recent report into labour’s loss which says people do want the sort of change labour stands for, but the problems last election were two fold. Firstly, the public didn’t believe labour could deliver on all its ambitious promises. And secondly they just didn’t like Corbyn and didn’t see him as capable of delivering such change.

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Corbyn and the hard left prepare to leave labour and form their own party

So the hard left have a choice, accept this reality, get with the program and get behind the new labour leader. Or go off and found your own party…no doubt called the Judean people’s front, before promptly splitting in multiple smaller factions.

The cult of the Punisher

I came across a video regarding the proliferation of police using the punisher symbol on their uniforms or vehicles. This includes some of the cops engaged in violence against peaceful protesters in recent weeks wearing punisher symbols. For those who don’t read comics, the Punisher (aka Frank Castle) is a vigilante anti-hero who hunts down and kills criminals. Which is hardly the sort of thing cops should be trying to emulate.

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Furthermore it could be seen as a neo-nazi coded symbol. In much the same way racists use coded language and dog whistles (which may seem innocence enough to outsiders, but they will know the actually meaning), they are also aware that they can’t go around in nazi uniform or wearing their hoods. So instead they used coded symbols, such as an 88, or a Celtic cross as a substitute for a swastika…or a punisher symbol as a sub for the nazi death’s head symbol.

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As a result, in most other countries the cops would at least get a telling off for this, if not a suspension or sacking. The police represent and protect the public trust, and you undermine that when you wear symbols unrepresentative of the values you are supposed to be upholding (such as vigilante justice!). I mean how would conservatives feel of a hard left supporting cop when around with a hammer and sickle on his car, or wearing one of those soviet style bearskin hats. The right wing pundits would likely crack a rib screaming about it.

So its a massive disciplinary issue, yet nothing is being done about. Which should just show you how out of control the US police forces have become. They’ve become a law onto themselves. And you would have hoped they’ve have the self awareness to realise that anyone going around with pictures of skulls on their uniforms means you are probably the baddies.

Boris Sats

We have the makings of yet another Tory tax payers money burning party brewing with the UK government planning to try and buy its own satellite network. Officially this is due to brexit, as the EU are refusing access to their Galileo system. Not true, the UK will enjoy access, as will every other country (much as we currently have access to the US GPS system). The trouble is that the EU (much like the US) will reserve the right to scramble or turn off signals at certain times. Which could impact the UK’s ability to operate its nuclear deterrent.

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Initially the Tories were planning to build their own “world beating” system…but given that there is zero chance of that happening, so instead the Tory plan is to buy their way into the proposed OneWeb satellite constellation system. However, this service is in the bargain bin because it went bankrupt.

It did so because its up against competition from the SpaceX and their Starlink system, which is far more advanced. Not to mention the fact that Musk has the means to launch his own rockets rather than buying someone else’s. Then there’s the existing Iridium sat-phone network, which is upgrading its satellites to handle data.

Its probable there is only room for one such network, although its possible Iridium and Starlink could carve out their own independent niches. And its far from proven that satellite based data transfer can be competitive with ground based fibre optic networks. However there is certainly no way two networks such as OneWeb and Starlink could compete against one another….and I think you can guess which one is most likely to fail!

So the Tories are going to have to not only spend a significant amount of money buying and then subsidising this network, but there’s the small detail of how to launch it. The UK lacks the facilities to do this, so they’d have to rely on the either US or EU based rockets. So the Tories are concerned about not having an independent data and navigation system and their solution is to ask the EU and the US to provide one for them, WTF? What could possibly go wrong!

Well aside from the fact that these satellites are intended for data transfers not location information. You can piggy back the relevant signals, or use the data streams to trace locations of users, but that’s not really going to work when it comes to guiding nuclear weapons….unless you are planning to send Putin an email before you launch and hope he stupid enough to open it!

Why does this remind me of Cummings track and trace app (that drained phone batteries due to all the spyware and won’t work on certain types of phones) or the ventilators contracts gifted to Tory donors that turned out to be useless, or the no bid PPE contracts to a Tory donor who doesn’t sell any PPE! Like I said, its another Tory money burning party, a trough of swill for their donors to stick their snouts into and gorge on public money. I hope those who voted Tory are proud to see their taxes well spent.

Gone to the Dogs

And speaking of money burning parties, I mentioned before the story about how a UK minster unlawfully approved of a development on the Isle of Dogs, to the benefit of a Tory party donor, such that he could avoid paying £50 million in taxes to the local council.

Well now, he’s been forced to disclose emails and text messages, which includes an exchange by one of the investors, who just so happens to be Richard Desmond, the former owner of the Express newspaper, and the minster in question. During this exchange they are both fairly matter a fact about what they are doing is certainly dodgy and corrupt.

Plus Desmond does not hide his contempt for the local council referring to them as “the Marxists and his strong desire to avoid the payment of taxes. Recall, he used to run one of the UK’s leading newspapers, a strongly Tory paper. Keep in mind there is a rule in UK law saying you need to be a “fit and proper” person to run a newspaper. Does this sound like a fit and proper person? Is Jenrick going to resign? LOL! Ya sure when pigs fly maybe!

The global bike drought

I was considering buying a new mountain bike recently. Long story short, but my current bike is unique, in that there’s something else wrong with it every day. I’ve taken it to bike shops before and they’ve told me that they so much as pumped up the tires I’d be in negative equity. As a trade in, I’d get a slap in the face with a soggy set of bike shorts in exchange for them taking it off my hands.

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Now granted, it has its advantages. Notably its never going to get stolen (I once left it for a month chained up outside a Glasgow railway station and nothing happened to it, I’ve previously left in unlocked in public and it was still there when I got back). But I’m probably due a change. Its getting hard to source parts (they just don’t make those oversized front wheels and wee back ones anymore) and mine doesn’t have suspension (so I’m shaking for several minutes after a downhill section).

So I go online and try to place an order and I’m promised my bike will be delivered…in late August….maybe! I try somewhere else, order date will be guaranteed, your bike will arrive….in November! It would seem one of the effects of Covid has been to spark a worldwide bike shortage. This is due to both an increase in demand (as many are now trying to cycle everywhere rather than rely on public transport) at the same time production is down due to Covid restrictions.

So I’m thinking I’ll just have to keep my bike in service. Although I am thinking of getting an out of service, but more modern bike, hopefully with suspension, stripping it down and restoring it to working order.

Why good leadership matters

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One way to handle the crisis!

I’ve heard it argued (before this whole crisis) that it scarcely matters who you vote for these days. Presidents and prime minsters have no real power anymore. Like the character Zaphod Beeblebrox (the president of the universe from the Hitchikers guide to the Galaxy, who in truth has no real power or authority), they exist merely to distract the public from who is really in charge (the elites, Whitehall mandarins, the corporations, etc.). Our elections are about as meaningful as those in Judge Dredd (where all real power is held by the judges, even though elections are held for the largely ceremonial role of mayor). In fact, in a classic example of life imitating art, in 2000AD’s “portrait of a politician” (published in the 80’s) an Orange haired Orangutan is elected major of Mega city one….why does that sound familiar!

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In 2000 AD’s judge Dredd a Monkey was once elected as Mayor of the city…sound familiar?

Convinced that their vote doesn’t really matter, some have instead taken to voting for leaders, such as Trump and Boris, because they are a bit of a laugh, they find them amusing. And they know it drives liberals and anyone else who cares about politics up the walls. Ya, well I’m wondering how many of those currently dying of coronavirus are still laughing. In a crisis a leader does have quite a lot of responsibility and you want someone competent in the job.

But its not Trump’s fault his supporters say, how can you blame him for a disease. It was the fault of the WHO, China, 5G, the democrats, the gays [insert favourite hate group here]. As I’ve pointed out before, China could have handled the initial stages of the outbreak better. Similar, yes the WHO have probably not done everything they could. But this is to be expected in a crisis such as this, not everything is going to go according to plan (as the saying goes in the military, every plan falls apart upon first contact with the enemy).

That’s the whole reason why the CDC had a panel of experts, ready to spring into action when something like this happens….well at least they did until Trump decided to fire them to fund his tax cuts that is. And in the middle of a pandemic is not the time for this sort of postmortem. Cutting funding to the WHO will only cost lives.

Because in fairness to the WHO, they were working under the assumption that most countries were led by competent leaders. Not leaders so dense and ill informed that White house staffers and other world leaders have had to resort to using brightly coloured cue cards to get across the most basic of facts (such as what’s the difference between a virus and bacteria).

Trump claim’s his travel ban absolves him of blame. However, as I pointed out at the time, it was probably counter productive. It came in after the virus was already in the US and he couldn’t stop US citizens returning home. The ban also left the door open to flights from countries he where he had business interests. Of course this simply meant lots of people got straight on a plane and travelled to (or via) the US from infected areas.

A more competent leader would have stopped short of a complete travel ban (at least initially), advised against all but the most essential travel and reassured any US citizens overseas that the government had their back. In any event, a travel ban is only buying you time. As soon as they saw the WHO notices, the leadership in countries with more competent leadership began preparing hospitals, sourcing medical supplies, preparing testing and alert procedures. They also began testing like crazy in an effort to put a ring fence around the outbreak.

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Trump meanwhile did nothing…for 6 weeks! When the time came to initiate lockdowns, other states did so much earlier, even though the number of cases were quite small. Trump dithered, worrying about the impact on his hotels most likely, while making many misleading statements that made the worst of a bad situation, by confusing the public (claiming its a democratic hoax, that its like the flu, or it will go away in the summer, or there was a cure available). And when finally forced to accept the inevitable he took to pilfering medical supplies that more competent nations had ordered weeks earlier.

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The UK has not become more dystopian since the start of the outbreak. Any resemblance to a certain George Orwell novel is purely coincidental

And the UK response from the Tory government wasn’t much better. Having run the NHS into the ground prior to the outbreak, they failed to take it seriously, with Boris Johnson missing 5 Cobra meetings related to the risk of an outbreak. Now the NHS is running short of PPE, meaning doctors and nurses will have to chose between saving lives or saving themselves. And as for all those new ventilators we were promised, medical experts have dismissed those build by the likes of JCB or Dyson (a digger manufacturer!) as essentially useless and of no medical use (and you need trained staff to operate them anyway!). Rather than co-operating with an EU scheme to acquire more ventilators and PPE from legitimate manufacturers, they chose instead to rely on their chums from their Eton days (both JCB and Dyson are owned by brexit supporters).

The end result is a stark contrast in outcomes. Countries such as Germany, China, Korea, or Denmark have successfully flatten the curve (I’m told that while it got pretty bad in German hospitals, they never actually ran out of beds). They are now started a phased end to the lockdown and the likely impact on their economy will be reduced. Which is somewhat ironic given Trump/Johnson’s reasons for dithering on a lockdown (or cutting medical funding) was for the benefit of the economy. If you think healthcare funding isn’t a priority, or that the private sector is better off just being left alone, try a pandemic.

And I bring this up because this is only phase one of the virus. Anyone you hear saying that this is the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end for Covid-19, do me a favour and slap them for me. No, this is merely the first stage of the first wave of infection. The second wave (and perhaps a third and forth wave after that) will come at some point, likely in the autumn or late summer. This might be the same virus, a weaker form of it, or it could be a mutated version that’s much worse (which nobody, even those already infected, will have immunity against).

This is the problem. A lockdown is only a temporary measure. Already I’ve seen signs its starting to fail in the UK. Any time I’ve been out exercising or shopping I notice more and more signs that its starting to fail (people holding parties or businesses quietly reopening). Or I’ve heard stories of workers being called back into work (as they are now deemed “essential”, which I take as code word for bosses deciding that if they don’t get production going again soon, they won’t have a company left to save).

And none of this should be a surprise. Yes the lockdown was necessary, to try and flatten the curve. But it represents a temporary pause that should have been used to prepare a long term strategy of dealing with the virus. And again, yes some countries (generally those led by sensible people) have done that and can now start to reopen. Others, notably India, the US or the UK (all led by populists) have squandered their time.

Thus, its likely that when the lockdown ends, a second wave starts in one of these countries, which then goes global. And the leaders might not get to decide when the lockdown ends. If only 20% of a people decide to ignore the rules and break quarantine it will undo the efforts of the other 80%. Run the numbers and it only take a few months after that for the virus to go right through a country’s entire population (meaning tens of millions will be off sick at any one time and between 0.6-10% of those infected will die). And as a recent protest by gun totting Trump supporters shows (who must surely deserve a group Darwin award for stupidity), its possible the US lockdown will fall apart before the curve has been fully flattened.

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Candidates for the largest mass darwin award, plan to fight the virus with bullets, because every problem can be solved with guns

Then there is the economic effects to consider. Basically governments can’t rescue every company. You can’t keep a substantial proportion of the workforce forlonged forever. Some firms will fail, but then again some were probably doomed to fail anyway (such as the comic book industry, parts of the oil industry and some of the airlines). Others are vital to the working of the economy and their failure would cause considerable blow back.

Inevitably this means governments will have to pick winners and losers. And what’s the bet that populist leaders will pick the winners from among their own cronies (much as the Tories just did as regards ventilators), or those loyal to them, rather than those that are essential and worth saving. Socialism for brexit/trump supporting elites, libertarian rat race capitalism for everyone else. Recall both Trump and Johnson’s original plan was for boomers to hide in their homes while millennial’s took the brunt of the virus to develop herd immunity for society as a whole.

As this crisis makes clear, the first priority is to insure competent leadership in any government, not those who you find entertaining or whose soundbites you like the most. This is not some Saturday night TV talent show. Not saying you have to vote for neo-liberal friendly leaders (actually I’d advise against that as its generally them who got us into this mess in the first place). It just means picking from among the candidates who are vaguely sane in the first instance and then worry about their politics and manifesto after that. Granted, this can be difficult in countries which lack proportional representation, but that’s exactly why constitutional reform is so important.

Otherwise you end up in the worst of both worlds, a leadership that can’t achieve meaningful change, yet one that is also too inept to handle a crisis (and will likely fold to pressure from lobbyists to roll back workers rights and environmental protections as a “temporary measure). While there will be those in the government who will try their best to put out fires, its kind of a hard job when the fire chief is a serial arsonists (who encourages his supporters to become pyromaniacs).

So let us be clear, if you voted for populist leaders recently, a lot of the deaths and the economic hardship that has resulted (with more to come over the next year or so), that’s on you. Actions have consequences. Voting is a serious matter. You are picking the person who made get to decide whether you live or die, or end up destitute. If you lack the maturity to make such an informed decision, don’t vote.

Every cloud has a silver lining

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The Covid-19 outbreak is a global tragedy that has adversely effected the lives of millions. However as a vlog post I saw recently points out, its not all bad news. Its had some positives as well and it is perhaps worth reflecting on those.

First of all, it has always been a question of when the next global pandemic was going to hit, not if it would happen. The WHO and various other health authorities have been warning of this for sometime. And compared to some of their baseline scenarios (one of which was the basis for the fictional virus in the 2011 film Contagion), we’ve got off rather lightly.

Covid-19 spread has been a lot slower than it could have been. And its mortality rate of 1-3.4% (depending on who you ask) is nowhere near as bad as the 5-10% for Spanish flu or 20-30% for diseases like SARS or smallpox. Also, the world caught something of a lucky break, as the disease was initially localised to one region of China. Yes, the Chinese authorities did screw up their initial response. But enough of a warning and quarantine measures were taken to buy vital time for the rest of the world (of course some countries run by populists chose to ignore these warnings, but at least we got some sort of heads up).

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By contrast in the Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968, or the 2009 Swine flu epidemic, the virus went global pretty quickly (thanks to international air travel). The end result being that the first most health authorities worldwide knew about these new diseases was when people started showing up at hospitals and dying (the 1968 pandemic would go on to kill over a million people).

This was the basis for the scenario portrayed in the aforementioned movie Contagion, where the fictional disease outbreak starts in a Macao casino and spreads to the four corners of the world within 24 hrs. By the time the health authorities realise what the hell they are dealing with, millions are already infected and hundreds of thousands are already dead. So the current situation, while bad, it could have been a lot worse.

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Scene from the 2011 movie Contagion

So we should see Covid-19 as something of a fire drill for a future pandemic. One where we might not catch the lucky breaks we’ve caught this time (and we might be dealing with something a lot deadlier). China came out pretty much okay, largely because this was not their first outbreak. They clearly had some sort of contingency plan to deal with this sort of thing. One assumes that in the wake of this crisis other countries will have the good sense to do the same.

The crisis has also highlighted the importance of healthcare. Countries with well funded national healthcare (such as Germany, Scandinavia, Lithuania, etc.) have weathered the storm better than countries who didn’t provide adequate funding (such as the UK, Italy or Spain). Boris Johnson was essentially elected on a mandate of A) not being Jeremy Corbyn, and B) running the NHS into the ground, so it can be privatised. Now he owes his life to the service. He’s going to find himself under pressure to pretty much reverse the last ten years of Tory policy towards the NHS and fund it more extensively.

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Trump (who massively cut back the CDC’s budget early on in his presidency), even if he can get re-elected, is unlikely to be able to get rid of Obamacare, not without replacing it with something else (and from a right wing point of view, particularly post Covid-19, almost anything is going to be worse). It is difficult to see a scenario where healthcare will be given such a low priority in US in the future.

Virus

Its likely Covid-19 started in a Chinese “wet market, which is a PC way of describing an outdoor unregulated abattoir which looks like something out of the middle ages. Indeed, its been suggested that the outbreak’s origin in China might be down to the regime trying to favour alternative Chinese medicine over….actual medicine…. as a cost saving measure. Which, if true, has to count as one of the most spectacular backfires in government policy since Mao’s great leap forward.

For years health authorities world wide have been lobbying China to shut these markets down. Not only for animal welfare reasons, but because they were a likely point of origin for a disease like this. And its likely that SARS, MERS, the Hong Kong flu and perhaps even HIV and Ebola (the latter two probably came from African wet markets) all originated in this kind of environment. The Chinese have now banned wet markets temporarily, so we can only hope the flak they are going to catch over this crisis will eventually make that ban permanent. And that other countries will follow suit.

One of the reasons why Covid-19 is killing people is that it can lead to viral pneumonia, against which there is no real treatment. Well what if I was to tell you there might not be any way to treat regular bacterial pneumonia, or a host of other bacterial infections, in a few years time. This is because we are running out of effective antibiotics.

This is occurring mostly for two reasons, the unregulated use of antibiotics in agriculture and a lack of investment in the development of new ones. One can hope that this crisis will highlight the importance of investing in drug research. If you think vaccines are too expensive, try a pandemic. Which may lead to new vaccines for diseases such as Malaria, HIV or West Nile, which between them kill tens of thousands of people in developing countries every year.

But its not just better healthcare funding which is a fringe benefit of this outbreak. Air pollution, carbon emissions and energy consumption have all decreased. Its estimated that the drop in air pollution in China alone might actually save more lives than people killed by Covid-19 in the country.

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And with everyone working from home, I think its becoming obvious that not everyone needs to work in an office 9-5. While some staff will be needed in frontline roles, a lot of back office activity can take place at home. In my job for example, while yes we (and the students) need to be on campus for laboratory work or workshops (hence the havoc this crisis is creating). But a lot of the rest of the teaching, research and admin tasks can be performed at home.

If we were to see a cultural shift recognising this reality, it would have a number of significant consequences. For example, in the UK childcare costs are insane, about £1000 to £2000 per month, per child. So if you are a single parent and you earn less than £40k (assuming you can only afford to spend a maximum of 50% of your take home pay on child care), you can forget about having a career. You are literally better off giving up your job and living on benefits. Similarly for couples, its not unusual for one of them to be forced to give up their job to mind the kids. Naturally, if working from home becomes a more feasible proposition, then that would allow a huge number of people (many of them women) to re-enter the workforce.

It would also mean you don’t necessarily need to live so close to where you work anymore. This would also have a wide variety of benefits. For example, many UK companies feel the need to be based in Greater London. Which means they have to pay their staff a “London allowance to account for the much higher living costs. This creates a vicious cycle as it tends to concentrate more and more of the UK’s wealth and spending within London. At the same time, the rest of the country is starved of jobs (meaning more people move to London to find work). And with less salaried workers spending their money outside of London, these regions become poorer (which simply encourages yet more companies and people to relocate to London).

And this is by no means a British problem. In France there are (or so French people tell me) two kinds of people, the French and Parisians. Its like something out of the Hunger Games with the districts and the capital, with Paris representing 30% of France’s entire GDP. In Ireland about 40% of the country’s entire population live in the Greater Dublin area. As you can imagine these factors tend to distort the politics and economics of these countries rather severely.

Now imagine a scenario where I could have a well paid job in London, but instead live and work in say, the West Midlands. I could get a much bigger house for the same rent/deposit (i.e. an actual house with a garden v’s a shoe box in London) and would be spending my London salary in my local community, effectively redistributing the wealth of the UK to an economically deprived area. Equally, if companies don’t expect all their employee’s to be in 9-5, you don’t need as big and expensive an office building in central London. It becomes more of a priority that its close to public transport links.

Now granted, not everyone can work from home (then again, if lots of workers move out of the big cities, that pushes down rents for those who have to stay). Employers would need to establish some ground rules in order to make sure employees are working (and not watching cat videos). And there’s various ways you can do that (notably by your boss having some clue what it is that you do and what’s going on in the firm, you’d be surprised how many I find are clueless to any of this). But even for those working at home, there will be times when they will need to come in to work, perhaps at short notice. So they’ll need to be careful where they base themselves.

This might present problems for countries with poor public transport (such as the US). But for those with good public transport, such as most European countries, it means that, thanks to high speed rail, you could get from a house in southern France (or Italy) into the office in Paris (or Milan) in a few hours (so potentially you don’t even need to overnight, you can hop on an evening train and be home for dinner). Certainly not a commute you’d want to do every day (although some do), but if its a once in a wee while sort of thing, that’s bearable. And certainly a damn sight better than pouring yourself into a subway train every morning. And it also creates a strong incentive to expand public transport networks to extend the economic benefits of home working.

And the current crisis does raise the question as to how important international business travel really is. While it is fun to fly out to far away places for work, one does have to question the wisdom of flying hundreds of academics to a conference to discuss how to prevent climate change (by perhaps holding this conference online?). A world where people travel less often, and are more likely to use public transport for long distances, where energy consumption and pollution is lower, is moving very much in the right direction in terms of tackling climate change.

Finally, as I’ve noted in prior posts, the Covid-19 crisis has led to many left wing policies becoming mainstream. A few months back, the Tories were thrashing labour policies as being crazy. Spend money on public services, welfare and healthcare like a sailor on shore leave? Why we can’t afford, you’d bankrupt the country.

Blink and now they are handing out hundreds of billions (mostly to corporations) like Halloween candy, more than enough money to fund policies like a basic citizens income. In fact Spain has indicated they plan to introduce just such a policy. There’s even talk of nationalising large chunks of the UK economy. This from a government who was elected largely because they weren’t Jeremy Corbyn.

And we’ve seen Amazon, a company that thinks Ebenezer Scrooge was a bleeding heart liberal who gave his workers way too much time off. Well suddenly they are now in favour of policies like sick pay. And in the US, the massive jump in unemployment is making it pretty clear that America needs some sort of welfare state (not least because US employees and their families often lose their health insurance if they lose their jobs). And I don’t hear libertarians whining any more about how any sort of state intervention is a form of tyranny (you know like Trump telling GM to stop building cars and build medical equipment instead, imagine their reaction if Obama did that).

But, isn’t their a danger of Trump using this crisis to cancel the election and just remain on as president? There are many ways Trump could end up making this crisis so much worse. However, as one lawyer discusses, there is one undeniable fact (and the US constitution is very explicit on this point), Trump’s term of office ends on January 20th 2021. As of noon on that day, unless there has been another election to give him a 2nd term, he will no longer be president (nor will Pence be the VP). While there is a question mark over who would take over (likely in some caretaker capacity), it can’t be Trump nor Pence (the mostly likely candidates being either Nancy Pelosi or the leading democrat in the Senate!).

In fact I’m not really surprised Bernie’s bowed out of the election race. The way things are going, the virus is going to more or less force many of his policies to be implemented, regardless of who wins the election.

So while yes, Covid-19 is a terrible tragedy, we should try to look at the positives. Every cloud has a silver lining.

How not to panic buy

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And in relation to my previous post, the panic buying of loo roll and such like is an excellent example of Bob’s law (a term that comes up in Judge Dredd comics, that it only takes a couple of loons to kick off before all the other morons join in). I mean at least now they are stockpiling Pasta and tinned food. That’s better right? 

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Well not really. I didn’t have to panic buy, because I’ve always kept a floating stockpile of food in the house to cover emergencies like this (the only tins I’ll be opening are the ones close to the use by date and the only time I’ll be having pasta is when I’m having spaghetti bolognaise). I do have some long life food, but that’s as much to support any camping trips, than as an emergency food reserve.

The problem with pasta is that it is useless unless you can cook it (so if the grid goes down, and the odd brown out here and there is a possibility, you’re stuffed). And Pasta is just carbs, not a lot else. Fine if you are going to run a marathon, but its not the sort of thing you’d want to eat every day. Trust me, a week of eating nothing but pasta and you’ll be hugging the first coughing person you come across. Tinned food is a bit better, its handy and easy to reheat, plus does offer a more varied diet. But it has a high salt content and isn’t the sort of stuff you’d want to live off of.

So what should you stockpile? (or perhaps what should people have done several months ago, cos trying to do it now is too little too late!). Well, the same food you normally eat. The idea is to treat this as a logistics problem, rather than going the full Trump voting prepper. The supply chains have become more heavily stretched leading to temporary shortages. So that means running with a larger inventory of items in reserve, to give yourself some flexibility in terms of when you need to restock.

This is a problem we come across in engineering. We don’t want to have to warehouse large number of parts, that’s expensive and if we suddenly discover that some of the parts are defective (because of say a miss-calibrated machine), that a lot of metal to ship back to the manufacturer for rework (or being thrown out). So you try to keep things as lean as possible, ideally holding only enough stock as you need on the factory floor between deliveries. Of course if some of your parts have to come from China, or across the Atlantic, well you are going to have to bite the bullet and just hold more of them in reserve.

As for sensible emergency rations, just in case things go completely pear shaped, well one thing I often have on camping trips is instant noodles. They are compact, light, easy to carry, come in a variety of flavours, and they are quick and easy to cook. Plus you can add something to them (smoked sausage, vegetables, bit of cheese etc.) to make a one pot meal. Freeze dried food and dehydrated foods (some of which can be also eaten cold), or powdered soups are all good choices. Ya, not as good as fresh food, but better than pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And they can be quickly cooked using a single pot and a small gas stove. And of course there’s your humble sandwich, which can be eaten cold at any time (and which you can also freeze if you don’t want to eat it straight away).

While tinned potatoes, veg and fruits are handy, you don’t necessarily need to go that far (not unless you plan to self isolate for several months!). Many types of fruit and veg will keep for quite some time before going off, so long as they are stored properly (how do you think the potato farmer stores them year round?). And on the carnivore side, there’s smoked meats and fish, which also keeps for a several months.

That said, this crisis isn’t simply going to blow over in a few weeks. The best guess is that it will take several months for the virus to run its course and probably about a year before a vaccine is available. So trying to ride it out for the duration is going to require a pretty hefty supply of such rations. Unless you own a warehouse, I’m not sure if that plan will work.

How then do the supermarkets stop panic buying? Well I’d limit purchases to a maximum of 2 of any item and a maximum of 12 items total per person for a few weeks. There is as much a psychological aspect to the panic buying as there is a logistics issue. Retailers would also be advised to cut the number of items they sell (i.e. one or two brands of soap rather than a dozen) and make sure there is plenty of those items on the shelves (perhaps even closing until they can ensure this). If people see empty shelves one day, then some small number of items the next, they’ll try to clean them out (well the selfish ones will anyway, and it doesn’t take many of them to ruin it for everyone). If they simply can’t do that because there’s adequate stocks (and they can only buy 2 anyway), then the irrational forces driving this panic buying will subside and we can then go back to normal shopping behaviour.

That said, a no deal brexit could be a different kettle of fish, as there might actually be a shortages of supplies afterwards, so such tactics might not work. And any sort of delays at the border will make the lean manufacturing model I mentioned impossible (yet equally, the idea we can replace parts from the EU with America, the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is farcical to say the least).

As for loo roll. Well if you run out of that, Rupert Murdoch produces a wide variety of alternative loo rolls worldwide, as does other brands, such as the Daily Mail. Strong long and thoroughly absorbent.

The chickens come home to roost for populism

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I’ve not talked much about the Coronavirus as I was waiting until it was clear whether or not it would go viral (if you’ll pardon the pun). Outbreaks like this do happen, we had SARS back in 2002, MERS in 2012 and there’s been one or two Ebola outbreaks in Africa. All were ultimately contained. While there has been a large outbreak of the Coronavirus in China, the authorities there seem to now have the situation under control. The death rate from the disease is also relatively low (3-4%, at least in China), much lower than with either SARS or MERS. However, there’s been some worrying developments that do give cause for concern.

Firstly, we need to remember that this isn’t China’s first rodeo. They’ve seen outbreaks like this several times now (notably SARS) and are much more experienced at dealing with them. They have been able to take draconian measures no western democracy could even consider. At the start of the outbreak China built two entire prefabricated hospital in Wuhan in ten days (clearly part of some sort of national contingency plan to deal with something like this). I mean the UK takes ten years to build just one hospital!

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By contrast, some of the responses outside of China have been ham-fisted, amateurish and downright foolhardy. Take the quarantine of a cruise ship in Japan. While yes, it has been common practice for centuries to quarantine ships in harbour, but this was generally intended for small cargo ships with a crew of a few dozen. Imposing such measures on a cruise ship with over 4,000 on board is practically ringing the dinner bell for this virus. Even confined to their rooms it can (and did) spread easily via the air conditioning ducts, the staff (as they handed out food or serviced the rooms) and the ship’s open balconies.

Then we have the rapid spread of the virus in Italy, with a death rate ten times higher than in China. Not really surprising, Italy is under the control of Five star and the affected provinces are controlled by the Northern League, both anti-vacciers. They’re policies have already led to measles outbreaks in Italy (the irony is one of those five stars stands for better public health!). And in Iran too (run by Ayatollahs who aren’t exactly well known for their faith in science) we’ve seen the numbers climb alarmingly. This is what happens when you put cranks and nutters in charge of your healthcare system. Populism is literally hazardous to ones health.

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The Populist solution to a virus, send in the Army, who can hopefully shoot the microbes

It is for good reason that the WHO is warning that the world simply isn’t ready for a Coronavirus outbreak. Here in the UK, the NHS is at breaking point. Treating people on trolleys in corridors is now the norm. Its been revealed there’s only capacity to treat 15 patients with severe breathing difficulties across the entire country and doctors have declared the government’s strategy and advice as regards the virus as clueless. Can you imagine what would happen if UK hospitals suddenly had to face a surge of patients due to this virus. As in Italy the likely outcome would be a death rate much higher than in China (SARS and MERS for the record ran closer to 10-30%).

The status of the NHS is no accident, its been a deliberate strategy by the Tories to run the NHS into the ground just so they can privatise it. However, that plan could now backfire. It could lead to a backlash against them, such that they’ll have to retain it, the bits already privatised might fail and the country will be left with an expensive bill (which means putting up taxes). Quite apart from the problem that the most likely victims of any outbreak are going to be Boomer’s, who mostly vote Tory. Killing off your own voters is not a sensible long term political strategy.

And in America, the Trump administration has been up to something similar. Aware that they can’t really get rid of Obamacare, as then they’d have to replace it (and almost anything else is worse from their point of view). So they’ve been trying to run it into the ground. Rural hospitals have been closed down, services withdrawn, the costs for medical services has soared. And who has Trump picked to lead the fight against the coronavirus? Mike Pence, a believer in faith healing. I hope Trump voters feel so much safer knowing that!

All of these chickens will come home to roost if the Coronavirus makes it to US shores. Aside from the potential for many deaths from this virus, there’s the enormous economic damage it could have. And one wonders about the financial future of America’s private healthcare industry after millions of Americans show up in hospital and begin demanding expensive medical treatments at the vastly inflated prices charged state side. It could easily cause the entire private health insurance system to unravel. Which, irony of ironies, could lead to single payer healthcare system.

So does this means the populists are all going to learn their lesson on the value of taking science and experts seriously? LOL. Ya and in other news a Leopard changed its spots. No, pesky little facts don’t matter to populists. The explosion of conspiracy theories and misinformation regarding this virus shows that. They will blame it all on immigrants and poor people, same as the do for everything else, in fact they’ve already started.

I mean just look at Ireland and the recent election, where Sinn Fein did rather well. It is a known fact that Sinn Fein and the IRA have worked closely together for years and that the IRA is still active. Yet you can have people in their 60’s, who saw the troubles first hand denying these facts, even when a leading member of SF celebrates their election success by shouting “up the RA. Apparently its all media bias against them (yes the media shows they are biased against SF by accurately reporting what they say).

SF did well in the election, probably in no small part to their buddies in Moscow (they’ve failed to back sanctions against Russia and have made various pro-Kremlin noises & send delegations to Moscow from time to time), where a campaign was pushed on social media focusing on hospital beds and high rents effecting young people (the irony of course is that the last government introduced rent controls and build more hospitals). But since when have populists let the truth get in the way of an election campaign. And yes SF includes some of the usual anti-vacciers, conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites and other wacky crankery. Just the sort of people we need in charge in the middle of a pandemic.

This is what you are dealing with when it comes to populists. Facts don’t matter to them, only whatever opinions happen to match their own. Their minds are capable of undertaking feats of mental gymnastics that would make Simone Biles dizzy. And the left wing populists are just as prone to this as the right wingers. Populism is a delusionary disease of the mind. And I’d say the jury is out as to which is more dangerous, populism or the coronavirus.

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6095 days since mission accomplished and the US starts another war

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Its being argued, ironically by some on the alt-left (the so-called anti-anti Trump left), that Trump isn’t so bad, Hilary would have been worse, after all he’s too incompetent to start any wars. Well that theory just got blown out of the water last week, with the assassination of a high ranking member of the Iranian government by Trump in Iraq. Too say this is going to lead to blow back is to put it mildly. Already the Iraqi parliament has voted to request all foreign troops leave the country.

Trump may be choosing to follow the standard play book of many US presidents, if in trouble at home, bomb somebody. However, the problem for Trump is that attacking almost any of the likely Trump targets comes with severe blowback and repercussions. And Iran has to be the worst of them all to target.

Firstly, the US and Iran were essentially allies in the war against ISIS (as well as America’s former allies the Kurds). The worse thing Iran could do is down tools and let it be known to ISIS (and the Kurdish militia in Turkey) that they have a free hand and suddenly all the work of the last few year is undone, bombs start going off and US servicemen start disappearing (yet he can’t attack the Iranians in retaliation as all the evidence will point to them not being involved). And that’s before Iran, or their allies (HAMAS, Hezbollah, etc.) start attacking US, western and Israeli interests around the world.

And the most likely target would be oil tankers passing through the straits of Hormuz. Indeed the mere threat of this is causing all sorts of problems for the global economy, both pushing up oil prices, while pulling down the value of oil companies, notably Saudi Aramco, which may not go down well with one of Trump’s key allies in the region.

Oh, but if they attack the US I’ll bomb them says Trump. Ya, that’s kind of the Iranian plan! The Iranians have acquired a number of advanced weapon systems recently from Russia, most notably the S-300 air defence system (known to NATO as the SA-12). The US has the military capability to overwhelm these defences, but now without taking losses. In other words, some US aircraft will be shot down, US pilots will end up in Iranian custody, provoking a damaging hostage crisis in an election year (assuming they don’t get lynched by an angry mob before the Iranians can arrest them, footage of which will of course appear on social media).

Worse still, given that much of this new hardware was acquired from the Russians relatively recently, its reasonable to assume that Russian military personnel and/or contractors will be on site. Its also well known that China and Iran are co-operating on a number of industrial projects, as well as some military cooperation. Meaning there will be some Chinese citizens (including potentially some military personnel) in Iran. If any of them get killed in a US bombing campaign (which will of course be an illegal act under international law), then events could escalate quite quickly. There’s a good chance of retaliation from them in some way.

This could be either economic measures (such as a mass sell off of US bonds), or military (as in an attack against a US ally, Estonia, Kuwait or Taiwan and basically giving the US an embarrassing bloody nose)…or they could just release a certain pee tape. Either way, it just shows how events could very quickly spiral out of control.

And where was the UK in all of this? Well nowhere, Trump didn’t even give the UK a heads up. The UK was left to meekly cheer from the sidelines, even thought its quite possible they might be the target of Iranian (or Russian) retaliation. In fact, UK warships are having to be rushed into action to protect UK oil tankers. As one newspaper puts it, the UK post-brexit has gone from being America’s poodle to being its lapdog. That’s taking control alright!

Paradise lost

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Meanwhile bush fires rage out of control in Australia, in no small part due to climate change. And one of the towns destroyed happened to be called Eden. Paradise has literally been lost to climate change. And least we forget, the current Australian government does contain more than a few climate sceptics, most notably the Australian PM himself, who once even once took a lump of coal into parliament to complain about “coal-phobia”.

Does this mean people have woken up to climate change? Ya and in other news a leopard has changed its spots. No, the Australian PM has refused to answer any such questions and the media instead has focused on dealing with the immediate problems caused by the fire, or the short term factors that led to them starting. I mean who could know that plants will burn when they get extremely dry. And who could’ve anticipated that Australians might have barbecues around Christmas time.

Like the soviet union after Chernobyl exploded, the climate change deniers will stick to the party line. Climate change can’t cause bush fires, you didn’t see burning kangaroos, take him away he’s delusional, its only 3.6 Roentgens (which is technobabble I know, but its become something of a meme now), not great, but not terrible.

For the same reasons, conservatives are utterly incapable of accepting the reality of climate change. Because much as Chernobyl exposed how rotten and dysfunctional the soviet system was, climate change would mean deniers having to accept the need for urgent action. Which given the atmosphere is a global commons, would mean international co-operation and government intervention….which means putting the coal companies who bankroll their campaigns out of business.

Of course, much as I warned in a post a few years ago, the downside to all of this is that the politicians themselves end up taking the blame. And quite rightly the Aussie PM has found himself being heckled as a result of these bushfires. And this should come as a warning to all right wing politicians. Ignore climate change and you’ll end up in a scenario where you will be completely out of your depth. The public will throw their support behind your most extreme opponents on either the left (Extinction rebellion types) or the extremists on the right (who will blame climate change on migrants, foreigners and poor people).

The assassination of Jess Philips by the coward Jeremy Corbyn

Speaking of ideologue’s who can’t handle the truth, much as I predicted, any opponents to the golden child, who’ll succeed Corbyn and lead labour to the socialist workers paradise, will be vilified and condemned, regardless of their suitability for high office, nor how left wing they are. Rebecca Long Bailey is the chosen one, endorsed by the supreme soviet Corbyn’s advisers (you know, the ones who’ve led labour to historic defeat after defeat).

And sure enough, Jess Philips announces she’s throwing her hat in the ring, mentions the possibility of maybe labour maybe campaigning to rejoin the EU at some point, post-brexit (the one thing Corbyn absolutely doesn’t want), and the labour/momentum blogs come alive with negative messages against her.

Too be clear, I’m kind of neutral on who should be the next labour leader. My guess is that either Scotland will be a separate country, or I’ll likely be back in Ireland, or somewhere else in the EU (taking advantage of the privileges being an EU citizen grants me!) by the time who is the leader of the labour party becomes a relevant issue. But yes, Jess Philips strikes me as one of a number of potential candidates who could reverse labour’s fortunes. And not because she’s anti-Corbyn (she’s actually fairly left wing in truth), but because she’s from a working class background, she is able to connect with working class people, she’s shown herself quite capable of taking on the Tories and (unlike Corbyn) she had a proper job before becoming a politician. But yes, there are others in labour who fit this bill as well (just nobody who Corbyn is backing!).

However, as the opposition to her should show, this is not what the Corbyn faction want. A sensible politician who will oppose the Tories and might actually win an election, hold a 2nd referendum and re-join the EU? Don’t be crazy! We want someone who is ideologically pure…and a secret brexiter (leading a party whose 90% remain supporting), who’ll make a tit of themselves for the next 5 years, provide no effective opposition to the Tories, lose the next election and become another martyr for nihilism, but who’ll still be celebrated by the Corbynites for “winng the argument” (ya like that will be a great comfort to all those screwed over by the Tories).

Changing trains

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I happened to be out on a post-Christmas walk, when I saw a train go past, clearly an ex-Virgin Pendolino, but without the Virgin logo on it. For those who don’t know, Virgin lost the contract to operate, after they were forced out by the Tories for political reasons.

Now too be clear, I’ve never been a fan of Virgin trains and had my fair share of bad experiences on their trains. However, I fail to see how changing the logo on the side of a train changes anything. This is the problem with the Tory privatisation policy, its a game of pass the parcel from whichever billionaire bribes them the most, or commits the latest act of politician patronage.

And the rail users be damned. In the same week another fare rise is announced, we hear that Deutsche Bahn is slashing fares by 10% to help fight climate change. Of course, the counter argument is that the reason why the Germans can do this is because they have spent many decades investing in their rail service to provide a better more efficient service. This is something the British simply haven’t done.

And yes privatisation certainly hasn’t helped, but its not like Corbyn’s plan to spend several billion buying out the railway companies, just so he could peel off those same Virgin train stickers and put a British Rail sticker in their place isn’t going to magically change everything. Only investing large amounts of money to offset decades of under investment will change things for the better.

Chaos reigns at Disney

Disney likes to claim their theme park is the “happiest place in the world”. Well it seems like the production of Rise of Skywalker certainly wasn’t a very happy experience for many on set (some of the actors are saying they don’t plan to come back for any future movies). And we’ve had more leaks coming out, as attempts are made to pass the buck for what went wrong with the new trilogy. In fact, somebody has run the numbers and concluded that overall Disney may have lost over $2 billion on the Lucasfilm purchase, once you add up all the costs and subtract from revenue.

The latest leak, which seems to come from someone close to director J.J Abrams, claims that the previous plot leaks came from Disney management, not a disgruntled staffer, as part of some effort to paint Abrams in a bad light (while the leaks are undoubtedly true, as they match the released cut of the film, I find it dubious that Disney would undermine their own box office just to make Abrams feel bad). It also claims that a 3 hr long directors cut exists, which was allegedly co-written with George Lucas himself (again, I’d take that one with a pinch of salt), which was dropped by Disney at the the last minute (just weeks before the new movie hit theatres).

To me the key point here to take away is, there was no plan for how the new trilogy should unfold, no management nor oversight, everybody was just winging it as they went along. By contrast other franchises (such as Marvel) will plan several movies ahead, years in advance, before they even start filming. Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy was too busy being a Hollywood icon to bother even goggling her own job description, Disney CEO Bob Iger was to busy writing his own book (and apparently he wants to run for president!) to monitor what Kennedy was up too. Meanwhile J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson were in boat pulling oars in opposite directions, leaving them spinning in circles, while George Lucas looked on in horror.

I mentioned before, the the recent Cats movie might be a good case study of the dangers of groupthink. But the new star wars trilogy might well be textbook example of what happens when you design something by committee. Having people with overlapping responsibilities but nobody in overall control (and no forum for them to sort things out) is never a good idea. Rather than several people doing the same job, instead nobody does the job. In short, too many cooks spoil the broth.

Arise lord Poverty

The Tories assumed they won’t have it all their own way, prior to the last election. After all, it was reasonable to assume they’d catch some blowback from everything. Hence several veteran MP’s in vulnerable seats didn’t stand. Well, now Boris Johnson’s simply made them lords, giving them the ultimate in golden parachutes. Some have even been invited to join the cabinet.

Chief among them is Ian Duncan Smith, whose system of universal poverty credit has thrown many in the UK into dire poverty of the sort you’d normally associate with developing world countries. More than 247,000 people signing a petition objecting to the award for a man “responsible for some of the cruellest, most extreme welfare reforms this country has ever seen”.

And Johnson ally Nicky Morgan, has been made a life peer and asked to join the cabinet. Yes, they’ll be deciding who get medicines and food after brexit and not a vote cast in their name. But apparently we had to leave the EU because it was so undemocratic.

My solution, how about we the public get to vote on their new title, which they will be required to use at all times. So IDS could be come Lord Scrooge. Nick Morgan can become Lady Arse-licker, etc. Can you imagine the Queen’s next garden party “I announce the arrival of Lord and Lady Taxdoger, Sir steals-a-lot-from-disabled, Dame Priti Racist and Sir Jeremy Cunt

The Boris bridge

We’ve been warned that Boris Johnson can be prone to indulge in megalomaniac obsessions with big ticket vanity projects, which he tends to railroad through without proper oversight. There’s the infamous garden bridge, which fortunately never got built (but still cost the taxpayer £37 million). Or the £60 million cable car system that unfortunately did get built (and is hardly ever used). Or “Boris Island”, the planned new airport for London (which would be the wrong side of London, as everyone else in the country would have to travel through London to get too it, in an estuary with a large bird population and thus high risk of bird strikes and the small matter of a World War II munitions ship with a few thousand tons of unexploded bombs on board).

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However, as PM he now seems to be planning on the ultimate folly, a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland…presumably so that, once both are out of the UK and back in the EU, they can trade more easily with one another. I recall joking how the DUP would be looking for an extension to the giants causeway off Theresa May. Well it would seem they are actually going to get one off Boris. Reality is out-running satire in brexit Britain.

Naturally, this ridiculous idea has been widely criticised by many experts. It would cost at least $15 billion and face numerous technical challenges (as in there’s a massive hole  in the middle of the Irish sea…which the British have been chucking munitions, chemical weapons and nuclear waste into for decades!), quite apart from a big question mark about its economic feasibility.

For those not from this part of the world, there are a host of good, high speed ferry links between Ireland and the UK. And the most popular is the Wales to Dublin route, which is served by multiple ships (including both one of the world’s largest ferry’s and one of its fastest). If you are travelling from England to Ireland (north or south) its simply a lot easier, quicker and cheaper (plus it burns less fuel) to take this route across, rather than drive all the way up to Scotland, and then down the B roads to Stranraer and take the ferry across from there.

And this apparently is one of a number of ways that Westminster aims to get powersharing back up and running (still deadlocked over the Irish language). Basically it looks like they plan to simply start bribing politicians up North with promises of loads of dosh.

Now the problem with this is that Northern Ireland’s parliament is one of the most corrupt, dysfunctional and incompetent bodies in the whole of Europe. This is largely because Stormont is split on ideological lines. Its completely tribal. The primary goal of politicians on both sides is to grab as much money for their community as possible (which will of course be squandered) and rub the other sides face in any mess and try to score political points. And the end consequence is NI is an economic black hole, with a GDP much lower than either Ireland’s or the rest of the UK’s. The UK’s GDP per capita would actually go up if they could get shot of NI, while Ireland’s would go down significantly.

However, what perhaps what this does demonstrate is that Northern Ireland might well be the template for future Westminster governments, which too is becoming little more than a similar tribal body, focused on scoring ideological points, rather than actually fixing the mess the country is in.

Musk v’s astronomy

I’ve mentioned Musk’s Starlink system before. But one aspect of its operation, which does not seem to have been considered, is its impact on light pollution. It threatens to make astronomy, both the professional kind and the amateur, nearly impossible to do, given the large number of satellites with their large solar panels. Even the small numbers launched so far (a few hundred out of the 12,000 he wants to launch) are enough to cause problems.

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Musk has suggested, he’ll make the satellites less reflective, perhaps even paint them black or something. However astronomers have pointed out that that’s not how astronomy works. That density of objects in a low orbit is going to cause all sorts of problems, there’s really no way around that without changing one or other of those parameters (i.e. less satellites or move them to a higher orbit, neither of which Musk can do).

You may enquire well where is the US government on all of this. Asleep at the wheel of course! The FTC rushed through the application without any sort of proper checks, or even talking to astronomers first. Such is life under Trump. And while this libertarian approach might seem to benefit Musk, he might feel differently if people start boycotting his services (or stop buying his cars) until he de-orbits these satellites. Sometimes companies do want big government on their back.

Trump’s wall

Of course Trump’s number one priority was going to be his wall. How’s that going? Well to date under a 100 miles has been built out of the 2,000 needed! And most of that is fencing, covering areas which already had a fence. In fact the main component he’s added is some addition vehicle barriers (so they’ll mildly inconvenience someone looking to cross for a few minutes maybe). And all of this after the massive tizzy he pulled early last year shutting down the government for weeks just so he could get his precious wall. And recall that Mexico isn’t paying for it, he’s funding it by robbing money out of the pension fund for US veterans (how very Patriotic!)

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What Trump promised….

But at least once its there (and at this rate it will take over a decade to complete) its done, right? Well ya if we ignore how much it would cost to maintain and staff it…..so they can watch helplessly as migrants come in, with the wall making little real difference. Because far from being impenetrable, people have already managed to climb over it, or cut truck sized holes in it, and in some cases its actually being cut up and stolen by locals!

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….reality

Does this mean it will be abandoned? You’re joking right! Republicans don’t care if it works or not, nor how much money gets wasted. Its all about ID politics. Its a big totem symbol as to how racist America has become under Trump. Frankly they’d be just as happy if he blew tens of billions planting a line of burning crosses along the southern border. Facts do not matter to republicans anymore.

New year news roundup

The anarchy of the populists

I had a debate with someone over drinks during Christmas and they argued we shouldn’t worry about populists like Trump, Bolsonaro or Boris because they are quote “too retarded to be dangerous”. They can’t do anything spectacularly bad because they are just too dumb to figure out how to do that. And they will be easily outmanoeuvred by their opponents of the mandarins within their respective governments. The Trump impeachment fiasco being a case in point.

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I’d counter by pointing out that yes, this lot are as thick as a railway sleeper, but there’s plenty of people around them who are not and actively hope to exploit the chaos that follows. And as I mentioned in a prior post (with regard to the fall of the Roman republic), even stupid people can get the better of smarter people sometimes.

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And there are many pressing problems in the world that aren’t being adequately addressed. For example take climate change and the recent failure of UN climate talks. And this despite numerous red flags being raised by scientists, for example the fact that Greenland’s ice sheets are now melting seven times faster than in the 1990’s.

Okay, one has to acknowledge that recent advances means renewable energy and electric cars are now a thing. And yes many are investing in them for not just environmental reasons but good financial reasons too. So change is going to happen anyway. However, there’s still a need for nudges from government, as the pace of change just isn’t anywhere near fast enough. Not least because even small changes to an individual government’s policy can have dramatic changes to this fledgling industry (e.g. changes to UK government policy last year led to a 56% drop in investment).

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Even in Trump’s America, renewables are cheaper than coal and expected to fall below the price of NG eventually

This is why it was crucial that the latest UN talks addressed the so called article 6 rules for future carbon markets. So kicking the can down the road (as happened in Madrid, same as last time) is a major blow. In essence without a plan as to how you are going to cut emissions, then any sort of targets are kind of meaningless. I mean why don’t they just adopt Extinction Rebellion’s ludicrous target’s while they are at it, at least then they’d stop gluing themselves to trains and electric vehicles.

In short, the problem with populists is they’ve put the world into a holding pattern, with many global issues being left on the back burner. A situation which dictators as well as the greedy and corrupt are all too keen to exploit.

Labour in denial

Meanwhile we have another form of denialism at play within labour. They’ve formed a committee to try and figure out how it was they lost the recent election. In other news the US national parks service has launched a research project to determine if bears sh*t in the woods and the RSPB have commissioned a panel of experts to assess the water tightness of a duck’s colon.

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Back in the real world polls have been conducted of voters and the number one reason given for voting against labour was they didn’t like nor trust Corbyn and secondly they didn’t like his manifesto…you know the one based on Foot’s 1983 manifesto, aka the longest suicide note in history. Naturally this flies in the face of Corbyn supporters claims that their leader was popular, everyone liked the manifesto and (don’t laugh) they won the argument (presumably the argument was who was least qualified to be PM, him or Boris Johnson). No, the real reason they lost apparently was brexit.

Well firstly, how is that a surprise? this was a brexit election after all! Did it not occur to Corbyn that this might come up! And secondly those same polls say it wasn’t so much that Corbyn took a strongly remain or leave position that was the problem (he lost about 2-3% from both sides because they thought he supported leave/remain). It was the fence sitting that put off a large chunk of voters (about 15%). If he couldn’t make up his mind about something this important, how could they take seriously anything else in his manifesto. Ultimately the buck stops with Corbyn and his team of toxic advisers.

So to be realistic, such an investigation is a waste of time. After all labour may have lost but Corbyn and his cabal achieved all of their objectives. A big Tory win means brexit goes ahead (which he wants). By diverting resources away from northern seats towards seats in the south he prevented the lib dems picking up any seats, notably any of the ex-labour defectors (splitters!).

And besides the northern labour voters where never going to support Corbyn and his left wing manifesto, so why bother defending those seats. They want to throw their lot in with the Tories, fu*k’em. They’ll soon learn the hard way when their benefits and health care disappears. He and any future labour leader can thus focus all resources on southern or city based seats instead, where such policies do have greater support.

And of course Corbyn’s key goal is to ensure that the Chosen one, Rebecca Long-Bailey (aka Corbyn without a beard or Foot 3.0) wins the leadership electionsurrounded by the same toxic advisers who lost the last election and led labour to ruin. And what do the polls say? Well only 2% of the UK public think she’d make a good labour leader, with moderate Keir Starmer topping the polls.

Now one has acknowledge the effect of name recognition in such polls. Hence other candidates who’d make good leaders such as Jess Philips or Angela Rayner don’t currently fare too well. But this isn’t an excuse for the golden child given that she’s been following Corbyn around like a faithful hound for the last year or so as Corbyn groomed her for leadership. And she was prioritised in interviews during the election over other more experienced party members (even on issues related to their shadow ministry) to increase her media exposure. And despite all that she’s still only about to get 2% of the public to back her.

Keep in mind that to win the next election, labour need to achieve a swing equal to that of Tony Blair in the 1997 election. Which clearly isn’t going to happen if labour just repeat the same mistakes from this election, with basically the same people and the same policies. Which will only encourage the Tories to do their worse, as they’ll know there is no chance of labour defeating them, no matter how badly they screw up.

More billionaire’s join the Brexitous

And while Corbyn and his team are playing their games of thrones, the rest of us are left to deal with the consequences. NHS services are now on the verge of collapse (which is of course exactly what the Tories want, after all the NHS has to fail and become massively unpopular before they can privatise it). And it seems clear the Tory plan is to force through a hard brexit/no deal at the end of 2020. And the country is still unprepared for Brexit (go to the UK government’s own website and you’ll come away with more questions than answers, fu*ked if we know! seems to be the official government position).

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And predictably we have more stories of brexit supporting hedge fund managers scrambling to get EU citzenship and register their assets in the EU before the inevitable crash happens (while betting against the UK of course). Similarly many Tory party donors, peers and ex-MP’s are all signing up for EU citizenship. And the Tories are proposing a slush fund to make sure that their allies and supporters who can’t move their assets get bailed out. Its disaster capitalism and the hardest of hard bexit’s for the rest of us. With socialism, lavish government spending and all the perks of EU citizenship for the very people behind brexit in the first place.

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Of course the thing is that, Tories being Tories, they won’t see the hypocrisy here. While they won’t admit it, as they see it there’s one rule for them and the aristocracy (just look at prince Andrew) and another for the plebs. We have to know our place, pay taxes, obey the laws and deal with the consequences of brexit. But the elites don’t. I mean how else are they supposed to get to their private yacht in Monaco if they aren’t an EU citizen? You seriously think we’re going to spend an extra £350 million a week on the NHS! LoL!

Booze and dash…

Speaking of politicians who don’t face up the consequences of their actions, its been reported that Irish politicians and government officials have racked up 20,000 euros of unpaid bar bills in the last year and a half. Now when you consider how small the Irish government is (only about 160 or so TD’s), you’ll realise that’s some pretty heavy going (this is just the bills left unpaid, so they’ve probably been going through a lot more sauce)…or “lightweights” as the rest of the country would call them.

…or bribe and dash

And in another story about runaway’s, it turns out that the ex-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has done a runner and ended up in Lebanon, where he and his family have substantial investments. He was previously living in Japan under house arrest facing bribery and corruption charges.

Which leads one to wonder who had a hand in helping him skip town. His passport was being held by the authorities, so theoretically he’d have needed a false one, or the help of some government to get out of Japan and all the way to Lebanon without being detected. Inevitably suspicion must fall on the French, as they may have not wanted too much said about the inner workings of French politics in a court room.

And there may also be a brexit angle to all of this. While none of these charges specifically mentioned the UK (i.e. that he may have taken a backhander off the Tories to delay the announcement of Nissan moving production out of England after brexit), its quite possible this might have come up eventually in court. So who knows, maybe he got help from the Tories. Either way it shows there’s one set of rules for the rich and another for the rest of us.

Star wars: the fall of Disney

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So the Rise of Skywalker (aka the Star Wars Holiday Special as some are calling it) is out and it turns out that all the rumours that leaked out on the internet were true, the movie is kind of sh*t (with a Rotten tomatoes score of 54% and an IMDB rating of 7/10, the lowest ever for a star wars movie). It basically undoes every bit of established Star Wars canon going right back to the first three movies. I think the memes say it all.

Of course the very fact there were such leaks in the first place, notably of the disastrous test screenings (where people actually walked out before seeing the ending) was a serious warning sign. Many of those who work for Lucasfilm are fans themselves. And just like the disgruntled GoT fans, when they saw the abomination that was being created, they decided to start leaking details online.

But one little fact alone can probably explain a lot about what went wrong for Disney Star Wars. A notable absentee at the Rise of Skywalker premiere was one George Lucas, who hadn’t been invited. Apparently this was by mutual agreement (rather than a snub), as George didn’t feel comfortable saying nice things about a final movie cut he feels “betrayed by (rumours are there were 8 different endings filmed, including a George Lucas cut, which Disney passed on).

When Disney bought Lucasfilm and the Star Wars rights they also inherited a massive pile of source material, notably the novel and comic book series such as the Heir’s to the Empire series, or Yuuzhan Vong invasion saga. These followed the adventures of many of the main Star Wars characters after Return of the Jedi, as well as introducing a host of new characters, such as Admiral Thrawn or Mara Jade, as well as the offspring of the Solo’s and Skywalkers (who become the next generation of Jedi). Apparently Lucas himself had drawn on this source material (as well as material from the six existing movies, the clone wars and video game stories) to come up with an outline for how the next three movies should progress. And when Disney bought him out, these were included as part of the purchase.

However, Disney decided to pass on these plot outlines and much of this source material. Likely the reason why was that they’d have been movies for an older audience, while they wanted to make kid movies with a PG or U rating (ironically, quite a number of the Disney star wars movies have ended up been rated PG-13 in regions outside the US anyway!).

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Keep in mind Disney weren’t simply interested in bums on seats and selling movie tickets. What they paid Lucas $4 Billion for was the merchandising rights, the happy meal tie-ins, the toy lines, the product endorsements, the new rides in their theme parks. And as kids would be the main target, it stood to reason they needed kid friendly movies. Hence the order went out to essentially copy the original three movies (i.e. IV to VI in the series) as closely as possible. After all, very few of the target audience had probably even seen the first three movies.

And this of course is where the problems started, as the more mature fans (aka the Fandom Menace) quickly noticed this plagiarism and began pointing to the obvious contradictions in the the new plots. The consequences of this fan backlash wasn’t fully understood by Disney. They failed to appreciate that a large chunk of their revenue was dependant on these fans. They were the sorts who not only went to see the film once, but several times, they bought the toys (for themselves or their kids), they bought the DvD collections, etc. So they were in effect shooting themselves in the foot by killing off the golden goose.

Much of the fan criticism has focused on the movie producers, notably J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson. Certainly, they do deserve some criticism, most notably Johnson (director of the last Jedi), who seemed to take a perverse delight in winding up star wars fans. And while arguably Abrams had some vague idea of how he planned to end the three movies (maybe not a very good one, but at least he had a plan), these efforts were sabotaged by Johnson for purely selfish reasons. At the time he was in talks with Lucasfilm about directing an entire new trilogy of his own. So he reasoned that the best way of becoming the next George Lucas was to put his own mark on the franchise by basically crapping on everything.

That said, it was Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy and Disney chairman Bob Iger who hired Johnson and Abrams. They gave them their instructions as to the direction the films should take. They signed off on the scripts and approved the final cut. So this is a mess of their making. The buck stops with them above all else. And with Disney’s share price now falling, they both might want to start updating their CV’s.

Because while yes the movies have been profitable, they haven’t been nearly profitable enough to justify the initial $4 billion investment (plus in addition to production costs, there’s marketing, distribution and financing costs to consider, which are often equal to or greater than the initial production costs). Consider that outside of the US, box offices have been dismal. And the toy’s have not been selling well either. And while Disney plus took a healthy uptake thanks to the Mandalorian series, as its now over, people are cancelling their subscriptions in droves.

All in all, it will not be lost on Disney that for every dollar they’ve ploughed into star wars they could have made far more money investing in other projects instead. Going against George Lucas advice and pissing off fans was a very bad idea.

A stinking cat litter tray of groupthink

One consolation for Disney executives has to be that okay, at least we didn’t spend the money on some coughed up furball like Cats the movie. The most entertaining thing about this movie has been reading the truly awful reviews its getting, both from critics and movie fans. Some of the memes have been pretty good too:

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For the sake of comparison, Cats has a rotten tomatoes rating of 20% and is now rated at 2.5 in the IMDB movie ratings, putting in the bottom 40 movies ever made, alongside Battlefield Earth, Manos the Hand of Fate and Santa Claus conquerors the Martians (all candidates for worse movie ever made and all made on a smaller budget).

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Oh and this is what a cat actually looks like

You do have to wonder what was going through the movie producers heads as they proceeded with this steaming pile of catnip. And the minds of many A list actors who appear in the film as well (I’m presuming their agents will be joining the exec’s behind star wars in the New year job hunt!). I mean being associated with this fiasco and having images of them dressed up like a cat is exactly what their career needs! Its not like there’s anyone mean on the internet who’ll keep bringing this up every time they post to social media or anything! It short its an excellent example of the dangers of group think.

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Never underestimate the stupidity of large groups of people working together….

The BBC’s real bias

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Those on the right often like to portray the BBC as having a left wing bias, as most recently demonstrated by Ben Shapiro, in his interview with Andrew Neil. However the reality is, if anything, the opposite (Andrew Neil‘s for example is a former editor of Murdoch’s Times newspaper and about as right wing as they come).

Case in point, the BBC pulled an episode of the political sketch show “Have I got news for you on the grounds that Heidi Allen, the acting leader Change UK was a guest on the show. They argued that this was done to avoid bias before the EU elections. Which would be fair enough, if we were to ignore the fact that Farage (leader of the Brexit party) was on Question time on Thursday. So letting the leader of a pro-remain party appear on a light hearted Friday night comedy show (where the hosts spent most of the time taking the piss out of their guests) is “bias”. But letting Farage, an ally of the far right, onto a serious discussion show (and lie through his teeth and not be challenged on it) is okay. Oh and he has a regular weekly radio slot on LBC. Yep that’s the BBC’s bias for you.

The problem here is two fold. Firstly the BBC is led by public school educated upper class types. And this gives many of them a very particular nativist and elitist political bias (and while Farage might claim otherwise, in truth he represents the elites, the hedge funds and the offshore banking). Brexit is an identity crisis rotted in the UK’s public school system after all. In fact the only difference between the UK’s public schools and a madrassa is that the madrassa’s try to give you a more balanced education.

Secondly is the fact that the BBC is heavily dependant on the government for its very survival. Its funded by the license fee, which in theory the government could withdraw at any time. The license fee isn’t popular, even the BBC seems to accept its a relic of the past and needs to be replaced (a tax on internet and TV advertising has been proposed). And the Tories have purposely avoided settling the question of the BBC’s funding while in office, as they understand that keeping it in limbo allows they to exert a certain level of control over it.

So while I do believe that some in the BBC do try to be unbiased, as an organisation it simply isn’t and its distinctly slanted in favour of both the right, brexit and the government.

Game of Thrones and the epidemic of bad writing

So the latest series of GoT is out and, much as I feared, it show’s all the signs of the same problems that have been afflicting the previous few series, or indeed TV and movies in general, for some time now.

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Night vision goggles to full power!

Dany & Jon’s high school reunion

Let’s do a quick synopsis, the first two episodes were basically a high school reunion up in Winterfell. Everyone reminisced about the time they tried to kill each other, or they time they killed one another’s father/mother/lover/first born. Either that or they whinged about Plot Armour” Jon’s swipe right towards Dany the Velcro Munchkin (I assume one of those Targaryen superpowers is velcro like skin, otherwise how does she stay on a dragon in a 60mph jet stream without a saddle). Oh, how terribly unfair it is that she’s come to rescue them, suppressing the North “freedom”….ah….you live in a feudal society, nobody is truly free, not even the lords or kings, as feudalism is essentially a series of overlapping obligations and responsibilities.

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The truth is its Stark’s and the North who made off like bandits and its Dany who got screwed on this deal. Plot Armour is still in charge of the north. The only change is that Velcro has a veto over his decisions (then again, she’d have that anyway when they get hitched). In return they gain the benefits of all of her military forces (and its difficult to see them beating Cruella Cersei or Frosty the Iceking without that). If she takes the Iron throne they get power and influence (as she’ll need to appoint a small council) plus land and title down south.

And the real benefits kick in with the next generation. Basically, the Stark’s and their offspring become the rulers of the seven kingdoms. After all, why do you think Tywin sunk millions into propping up the Baratheon’s for so long? Because he knew he was essentially buying seven kingdoms at a massive discount. The Stark’s are in the same position, but its not costing them a penny. How ungrateful are these people?

Inevitably the topic of the Tarly roast came up, which shouldn’t be an issue, if you understand medieval society. He broke his oath of fealty to his overlord and got thousands of Tyrells, including Diana Rigg’s character, killed. That’s pretty much you dead. In fact by medieval standards death by dragon for such a crime is practically a mercy kill.

Yes you could see Tyrion’s point, do it nice and legal, but the outcome would be the same. In fact the only thing strange was that Dany seemed inclined to let him off, if he bent the knee. Seriously? He does that, you forgive him (imagine how any surviving Tyrell’s or their bannermen would feel about that?), give him back his sword and hope he doesn’t bury it her back sometime?

So this should not have been an issue. Same way, as I pointed out before, any claim tying “Plot armour” Jon to the throne wouldn’t cut much mustard and would get him laughed out of the room. In a medieval world possession is 9/10’s of the law, its who’ll support you that’s important not who you are. This is actually referenced in GoT when Renly and Stannis meet in season 2. Renly admitted that Stannis had the better claim, but he had more friends, a larger army and thus a stronger claim.

The Iceman cometh

So okay that didn’t go so well and so next episode we got a big battle. But that’s it, the Night king gone, going out like a punk, no explanation no backstory, no idea who he was or what he wanted. For all we know Bran could have dropped his wallet in the three eyed raven’s cave and our skeletor tribute act was just returning it.

And why did they fight at winterfell? There’s an old military saying that you’re halfway to defeat when you let the enemy decide the terms of battle (where it will be fought and under what conditions). And holding it in a castle that’s literally build on top of a graveyard (when you’re up against someone who can raise the dead) does strike me as a little foolish.

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Won’t it be a better idea to put all of these guys INSIDE the castle rather than outside it?

A more sensible strategy would be to use harassing tactics. This is something that light cavalry (such as the Dothraki who clearly are based on the Mongols) are good at, ride in, pepper the enemy with arrows (presumably dragonglass tipped), make ride by attacks, try to break up the enemy formation, then use their superior speed to get out of trouble (rinse and repeat). Such tactics would gradually thin out the numbers (with little risk to their own), such that even if there was one epic final battle (and maybe doing it in day time so we can see what’s bloody happening!), there be a lot less wights to deal with.

What you wouldn’t do is ride light cavalry into a large infantry formation. That’s a really bad idea, flaming swords or not (and aren’t the Dothraki fearful of magic? Strange they went along with this). Infantry formations, especially if they can form a shield wall, are pretty bad news for cavalry. The only difference between running into shield wall and running into a brick wall, is brick walls don’t stab you with long spears.

Hence the Unsullied, once they were attacked, should have mopped the floor. It should have turned out like the battle of Watling street, in which a handful of Romans destroyed a massive Iceni army led by Boudica…and the Roman’s didn’t have dragons to assist them…or a castle!

And speaking of which, even if you are going to fight the battle at Winterfell (after you’ve staked all the corpses in the crypt through the heart!), won’t it be better to do that from INSIDE the keep? And how about digging a moat or something? Even if all the troops won’t fit inside the castle, then expand it, much like Caesar did at Alesia, throwing up some 16 km’s of walls & defensive ditches in just a few days.

In fact, given that we know Frosty the smirking Iceman was basically a giant walking off switch, just throw the kitchen sink at him. They had two dragons, a large numbers of archers and war machines, taking him out should have been easy. Hell they could toss Lyanna Mormont strapped to a jar of wildfire at him, whatever it takes.

That said, as I pointed out in my prior post on this topic, undead are scary but not very effective enemies. They can help set the tone and have characters terrified every time they go to open a door. But they’ve far too many vulnerabilities and weaknesses. And this lot are even worse. Dragonglass, Valyarian steel, fire (well aside from the Gaffer obviously), water, they are harder to keep alive than a Screamapillar. So not really surprising that it ended on a bit of damp squib, but it could have been better written.

Dumb and Dumber

And perhaps this has been the problem for sometime, notably since they ran out of book material, bad writing, undertaken by people who are clueless as to how medieval society works, who aren’t familiar with the source material and likely working according to a tight deadline, probably with additional demands to include unnecessary fan service or battle scenes with lots of cool special effects and explosions. The end result is a mess, they painted themselves into several corners and then tried to use yet more bad writing to get out of it.

For example, allowing Daenerys to go on a bunch of Monty haul campaigns without considering the consequences of that. Much of the bad writing in GoT has stemmed from attempts to counteract these decisions, compounding the original mistakes. The worst example being the ridiculous episode 6 from last season, where they went north to capture a wight (honestly, less said about this episode the better, made worse when you remember that Alliser Thorne took the hand of a wight to King’s landing in season 1).

And the thing is, there’s been far easier way for the writers to contain their Daenerys/Munchkin problem, smack her down with a cold dose of reality. Okay, so she’s got this large army. How does she plan on paying, feeding, equipping and maintaining them? Maybe we can get out of paying them, but what exactly is the difference between a slave and a freed slave who works for her for free? And how exactly is she supposed to move this vast force to Westeros? And how’s she’s going to maintain them on a small rocky Island like Dragonstone?

Reality would force her to leave most of her forces behind in Meereen and bring only a token force with her. Oh and how do the dragons get there? Fly thousands of miles over ocean, staying in the air 24/7 for several weeks? We could be nice and have them mature slower, hence they are small enough to fit on a ship, else she’s got to travel by herself overland (risky!), in stages. In any event she’d also be heading for Dorne to link up with her allies there (in the novels Quentyn Martell was sent to bring her to Dorne), relying more on their armies than her own forces, as well as negotiation rather that combat (which is more in keeping with the time period, battles were actually rare occurrences).

Similarly, Cersei can’t just blow up all her enemies and a church and still expect to be alive the next day, nevermind becoming queen (this, I’d argue is where GoT truly jumped the shark). I get the impression this was a Dynasty move by the show runners to kill off several leading characters so they could spend more money on special effects. But, as I discussed in a prior post, it ignores the fact that the two of the key pillars of a medieval society are the nobles and the clergy. Without the nobles a ruler has no money, soldiers, food or clout of any kind. And its the clergy’s job to keep the peasants (who vastly outnumber everyone else) in check and stop them roasting her and her knights on spits (and yes this sort of thing happened in medieval times when the clergy lost control). So she’s got to deal with her enemies through the normal means (which admittedly could involve a bit of skullduggery and intrigue).

And no, Euron (the show’s version being a hybrid of Euron and Vicarion from the books) can’t simply conjure up a vast fleet of ocean going ships from a group of barren treeless islands in no time at all. Nor can he teleport that fleet around the planet on a whim.

And we see exactly the same problem affecting several other series, such as star trek and star wars. The latest star trek film and all other projects have been cancelled other than one online web series, largely due poor reception from fans, leading to falling revenue from films, games and toy sales.

And star wars too is in crisis (falling revenue, particularly in the toy division). The proposed Rian Johnson trilogy (to follow on from the current one) has been cancelled, he’s been given his marching orders and aside from the final film already in the works, it looks like everything else is on hold or migrating over to Netflix.

And the cause? Bad writing by people who’ve no clue about the genre they are writing for, with a bunch of lawyers and corporate types with $ in their eyes, looking over their shoulders. If you’ve ever met a trekkie or a star wars fan and you wanted to wind them up and get them to burn their DVD collection, I’d say the best way to do that would be to pretty much do what’s gone on with both of these franchises recently. GoT seems to be following the same script (the more serious the fans, the more furious they seem to be). So probably just as well its the last season.

A not so slow news week

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Of course the big story over the last week was the arrest of Julian Assange and his removal from the Ecuadorian embassy. To be honest, the only thing that surprises me is that this didn’t happen sometime ago.

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There’s an accepted wisdom that if you are offered asylum by a country, you don’t make waves for them. After all they still have to have relations with the country whom you are fleeing from. And that’s assuming you are in the actual country, not in an embassy metres from cops who want to arrest you! And you especially don’t want to go interfering in the affairs of the state who is protecting you, that’s just common sense. One has to assume that the historic distrust of many Latin American countries towards the US (thanks to its past policies in the region) is why they held this off for so long.

Assange’s supporters claim the arrest was illegal. It wasn’t. Diplomatic immunity is a mutually agreed convention. If both parties opt to wave it (as often happens), then a protected individual losses their protection and can be arrested just like everybody else. Police can enter an embassy upon request. There’s also a claim that Ecuador has been bribed with several billion in funds. However, this likely refers to a loan granted recently by the World Bank and IMF. Many states contribute to these funds (including Russia and China) so this accusation doesn’t really ring true.

Assange also claims he only sought refuge because he feared being extradited to the US and facing the death penalty. It is illegal under EU law to do such a thing. In fact, by contributing towards brexit, he’s inadvertently made this more likely.

And that’s the problem. Julian has been very selective and applied political bias to the information he’s released. Wikileaks was rather quiet about anything damaging to Trump, but released those Hilary e-mails (which actually didn’t contain anything new) right at the time when they would inflict maximum political damage. By taking sides like this, its difficult for him to play the card of being the little guy against the machine. Because it looks more like he’s an enabler of the alt-right.

To be honest I don’t think the guy is the full shilling, even before he went into the embassy. As I’ve mentioned, several of his decisions were tactically stupid, arrogant and foolhardy. Even his decision to stay in the embassy is questionable. Given that his expulsion has been on the cards for sometime and the police outside were withdrawn sometime ago, why didn’t he make a break for it? The Colombian embassy is in the same building and there’s about a dozen other embassies in a 1km radius. If he was willing to risk a car or taxi journey he could be in the Australian embassy within 5-10 minutes.

And while yes some of these would have shown him the door, others would have had to apply a certain due process (notably the Australian embassy). This would have required the US authorities to declare their interest and make documents publicly available (which they probably won’t want to do). Also some of these embassies have underground car parks. Meaning they could spirit Assange into a diplomatic vehicle, drive to an airfield and put him on a plane out of the country.

So I’d argue these numerous blunders made by Assange suggest he’s might have some mental health issues. And obviously if that’s true then he can’t be extradited, either to Sweden, nor to the US. Thought I doubt his lawyers will be allowed to use that argument.

The black hole

Scientists have recently managed to photograph a black hole, where all matter and the fabric of spacetime breaks down. Its therefore the one place in the universe where you can escape news of brexit or Trump, hence NASA are planning a mission there as we speak and millions are ready to sign up.

Jokes aside, this is kind of a big deal. While scientists have long suspected the existence of black holes, the idea that vast amounts of matter could be compacted down to a singularity has never sit well with them. Even Einstein, while he accepted his own theories (worth noting that it was actually Karl Schwarzschild who first proposed the existence of black holes based on Einstein’s theory of general relativity), he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea (which probably explains his obsessions over quantum theory later in his career). But we cannot deny the vast body of evidence built up over the years. And now we have an actual image of one.

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And the heart of this story is an unsung hero in the form of a post-grad student from MIT by the name of Katie Bouman, who proposed the imaging method used to capture this image. Its an excellent example of how academia should work. A hypothesis is proposed and, regardless of who proposed it, its subjected to multiple layers of peer review and scrutiny. Assuming it passes, funds are sought, its implemented and we get back our results.

Inevitably the internet being the internet, and there’s people out there who resent anyone who is successful (particular if it’s a woman), Ms Bouman (we should probably should start calling her Prof Bouman, because if this doesn’t earn you tenure I don’t know what will!) has attracted a online few trolls. But then again, you can’t say you’ve had the whole internet experience until you’ve received at least three online death threats and attracted at least a dozen cyber stalkers. Maybe we can send them on the mission?

Brexit update – limbo until halloween

And speaking of black holes that nothing can escape, the UK has secured ANOTHER brexit extension till Halloween (insert brexit metaphor or joke of your choice!). But you have to kind of ask, what’s the point?

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The time allotted by the EU is too much for the brexit bigot brigade to bear (hence there will probably be a strong showing for far right parties in the upcoming EU elections). And yet too short to allow a 2nd referendum. It serves no real purpose other than kicking the can down the road and hoping the UK actually makes a decision.

I would also argue that the EU is being very naïve. Their assumption is that one of two things will happen. May will go and a Tory brexiteer will take over, who’ll leave the EU straight away and the EU just triggers its no deal contingency plans. Or there’s a general election, Corbyn gets in and he either asks for an even longer extension (to have a 2nd referendum), or negotiates a Norway+ style arrangement. However, neither is actually likely.

Firstly, while yes the Brexiteers are talking the talk on no deal, I’m not sure they are willing to walk the walk. Remember they want it to happen accidentally (either that or May’s deal is voted through by Corbyn). If they force it through, then they have to take the blame for it and that’s their career over. If some brexiteer like Boris took over, he’d also be faced with the same parliamentary arithmetic as May. Not enough support for either no deal or May’s deal.

So he’d probably try and sabotage the EU from within (much as Mogg recently suggested) in an effort to win a free unicorn off them and distract from his own short comings. We’d only leave when the EU basically voted to kick the UK out against our will, thus giving him cover to blame all that follows on them.

And while labour has been going up in the polls, that’s more a reflection on how badly May is doing and a strong swing to UKIP and other far right parties. The issue for labour in any election is it has no brexit policy and it can’t agree on one. A pro-remain policy is at odds with the views of Corbyn and his cabal. A pro-leave policy would anger the 90% of labour supporters who want a 2nd vote. And it won’t take that many of them to swing a few seats. As I’ve pointed out before, go through the article 50 petition signature stats, constituency by constituency and you’ll see that there’s more than enough who signed it to swing plenty of safe labour seats into marginals and put others seats they have to win beyond reach.

And even if he won, and that would take some doing, he’d be right back in the same position as May. Its some variation on May’s deal (which everybody hates), no deal (which would be a disaster) or no brexit (which nobody is brave enough to support). Corbyn can’t magically change anything. He’s not the 2nd coming. I suspect what those who vote for him would actually get would be more akin to this scene from the wizard of Oz.

How to infuriate the EU in 10 seconds

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The irony is that the UK has actually got some leverage over the EU. Threatening no deal was never going to work. The EU’s never believed the UK would actually be foolish enough to follow through. And, in any event, they’ve had three years to put in place various contingency plans to cope. And they are also aware how woefully inadequate the UK’s no deal plans are.

To draw an analogy, let’s suppose the Pope had a glass too many of the confession wine and went around waving a gun. You could quite safely call his bluff. He’s the Pope and a Jesuit, he won’t hurt a fly (mostly because the fly would probably win….that said I won’t bring up the whole pedo priest business!). On the other hand, if Chuck Norris did it….well you’d want to be careful (if Chuck Norris was the UK’s brexit negotiator, we’d be the only country left in the EU, because he’d have roundhouse kicked the rest out of the building, fact!).

No, the UK’s one trump card left is to threaten the opposite – revoking article 50, then have a 2nd referendum at some in-determinant point in the future. That would absolutely drive the EU, particularly the likes of Marcon, up the wall. They’d be rolling on the ground and chewing the carpet if that happened.

The EU is going to start its budget negotiations for the next seven years some time at the end of the year, which will carry on for about a year or so. The last thing they want is the UK to still be in the club, but the topic of brexit is unresolved. i.e. That the UK might trigger another referendum at any time. And, if that goes the way of leave again, another set of exit negotiations, right when they are squabbling over money and they need to know if the UK is out or in (else they don’t know how much everyone will have to pay).

But of course, nobody in the UK parliament will even consider that, as it would only work if they were willing to let this process extend will into the 2020’s (ignoring the fact its going to continue anyway into the 2040’s).

Worse out than in

The other issue with this long brexit delay is that it means that all of that stockpiling that went on, by the government, companies and individuals has been for nought. Yet, given that brexit (and no deal) remains a looming threat, such stockpiling will have to continue. No quicker than I’ve eaten my way through my stockpile of Tayto crisps, Irish biscuits and Irish tea, I’ll have to start all over again.

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But this is no laughing matter for industry, they’ll now be forced to keep a floating stockpile of spare parts and perishable items for the foreseeable future. What’s wrong with that? Well many UK companies operate on a system of Just In Time manufacture, which is simply incompatible with the needs for brexit related stockpiling. The whole point of such a system is to eliminate inventory. This saves on cost (as you don’t need to pay for a warehouse), improves quality control (any issues get spotted immediately and dealt with straight away) and reducing waste. Leaving the UK stuck in the brexit twilight zone for another 6 months is thus going to have a negative effect on the UK economy.

And another piece of brexit related news is that of how the UK is now officially worse off than if the referendum hadn’t happened. Even if we ignore the £1.5 billion spent on no deal planning (that’s now basically gone to waste), the UK has sacrificed 3% of GDP growth to not leave the EU. And recall back in the referendum when it was said brexit would cost every household over £4k by 2030. Well its already cost each household £1,500 already, which implies where ahead of the curve.

Yes, inevitably during the referendum Cameron told a few porkies. He implied for example that said £4k loss would happen immediately on the 24th of June. That there would be emergency budgets, etc. But the main threat of brexit, was always the brexit bear effect and that bear is very real and we’ve now seen its claws.

Norway minus

Given that soft brexit and the Norway model seems to be everybody’s preferred compromise, I have to ask, has anybody bothered to run this by Norway and the other members of EFTA? Because I think you’ll find the last thing they want (or need), is the UK coming in and demanding special treatment, like some spoiled toffee-nosed etonian.

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Why no deal is probably inevitable in one easy to follow chart

I was actually in Norway during the referendum (and I’d previously been in Iceland a year or two before) and they know why they aren’t in the EU. Its largely due to fish, which is 10% of Norway’s economy, 30% of Iceland’s and 50% of Greenland’s, but under 1% of the UK’s. And even these stats don’t do justice. You live in a village up north in these countries, you’ve got a steep mountain on one side (or a volcano!), the sea the other side and a small sliver of land on which to build a fishing port. Job opportunities in these communities involve A) fishing B) Tourism during the short summer or C) Marrying a puffin.

Thus these nations are all willing to accept being rule takers from Brussels, but not rule makers, so they can exert a bit more control over this one key issue. Their concern therefore is that the UK will try to push the sort of rhetoric we’ve heard from the brexiteers into EFTA. Or that the UK tabloids will just turn on them as their hate figure in place of the EU. And they just don’t want that in their little club house.

Now if the UK were willing to compromise, for example not bringing in any changes to immigration or welfare rules for some extending period, agree to some dilution of the UK’s voting power such that the other states can easily outvote it, that would probably work. But the UK is in this mess precisely because it won’t compromise.

So I’m not sure how that’s going to work. And single market membership won’t eliminate checks at the Irish border, we’d need a customs union as well. Like any of the brexit options, the Norway model amounts to accepting that the UK is worse off out than in and that’s the one unspeakable truth none dare utter.

Ourselves alone

There’s some who say that the solution is for Sinn Fein (which translates from Irish into “we ourselves” or “ourselves alone”) to come to Westminster and break the deadlong. Quite frankly, we’ve already got one bunch of terrorist supporting criminals in parliament (the DUP, aka the old testament with fortnightly bin collections), the last thing the country needs is another bunch. And I do not make these allegations lightly, Sinn Fein (like the DUP) have been recently linked to vigilante gangs, terrorists (obviously perhaps) and one of the largest bank robberies in both Irish and UK history.

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Aftermath of a recent vigilante raid by SF supporters in Co. Roscommon

So the last thing that parliament needs is for John Bercow to find himself refereeing kneecapping and arson competitions across the chamber. If you think the UK is in a crisis now, wait till SF show up. They have a saying along the lines of “England’s difficulty is Ireland opportunity”. They will try to be as disruptive as possible. Far from breaking the deadlock, they’ll flip flop either way on every vote on every issue to make sure nothing happens. Hell given the state of the building, they’ll probably start drilling holes in the ceiling (or calling in false bomb alerts). After all, they and the DUP have shut down parliament in Belfast over some dispute over the Irish language, for two years running now.

Furthermore, while SF will claim they don’t want to sit in parliament because it would mean taking the oath of allegiance, that’s just a load of BS. No, the real reason is that they’d have to take a position on something. And like all populists, they don’t want to do that (because then something might get done and they’d have nothing to whinge about!). Take their position on brexit. They are eurosceptics who want Ireland to leave the euro (and thus the EU), they want out of the single market, yet they don’t want a hard border, they won’t support any deal that gives Westminster any say over NI or Irish affairs and they don’t want no deal. And you thought the Tory Brexiteers policy was convoluted and hypocritical!

And if you think that’s bad, SF’s policy on pretty much every other issue is the same. Don’t take a position, because then you’ll displease someone. Like all populists they are the party of protest. They are against everything and for nothing. Urinating into ballot boxes isn’t allowed, so voting SF is basically the next best thing.

So no, the worse case scenario is for SF to show up. Hell I’d even include a bit in the law just in case, that if they do show up now they have to kiss her mag’s feet and give her a sponge bath. The best we can hope for is they bugger off and be themselves alone.

Breaking faith

Within conservatives brexit has taken on something of a religious status, a class struggle (the toff’s screwing over the working class, but getting them to vote for it first!). Fintan O’Toole’s talk on brexit kind of illustrates this narrative well.

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So any conservative coming out and saying that they were wrong about brexit is thus treated like a heretic. And this is rather vividly illustrated by a recent case study. Peter Obrone published an article in which he admits that he was wrong about brexit. It has turned the UK into a laughing stock and its quite clear the idea that we’d get a better deal outside than in the EU is false. Needless to say, this hasn’t gone down well with his fellow brexiters, as this piece from C4 news illustrates. I’m reminded of this song from the 90’s.

This is the problem. The reason why so many brexit voters cling to unicorns, or dismiss any negative news about brexit as “fake news” is that the minute they accept that the UK won’t be better off out of the EU, even if its only slightly worse off, their whole world view falls apart. It means that they voted to make themselves poorer and make their country weaker. That Farage, Johnson etal lied and they were fooled by those lies. Quite simply put, this makes them look stupid (as well as selfish, racist and unpatriotic) and their ego can’t take that kind of a hit. So they grasp for whatever fairy story that will magically make it all go away.

And we see the same in the US with Trump supporters who do not live in the same world as the rest of us. There is literally something wrong with their brains. Just take this piece where the relatives of Fox news viewers lament what happened to their family members.

Which illustrates the problem with any 2nd referendum. This lot aren’t going to change their minds no matter what. I’d guess, at best you’d get 60/40 in favour of remain and that’s if you are lucky. Similarly a Democrat victory in 2020 is by no means guaranteed and it will probably be by a tight margin.

The Atlantic city shuffle

And speaking of Trump, here’s an interesting article about the mess Trump left behind when his casino collapsed in Atlantic city. When the Trump Taj Mahal opened he declared it “the eighth wonder of the world”. But within a year it had gone bankrupt….only to then go bankrupt again! Yes, Trump managed to go bankrupt with his casino twice! And its likely that this was solely down to the mismanagement of the casino’s finances. In a casino, the house always wins, the casino owners are the only real winners….unless Trump is running one of course!

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In fact, its difficult to believe that even Trump is that incompetent. The suspicion is that Trump’s mob connections, used the casino to run a money laundering racket. In fact he was fined $10 million for various violations of anti-money laundering laws related to his casino’s.

Fortunately for Trump going bankrupt multiple times or breaking the law doesn’t mean he goes to jail. Nor indeed does it mean he losses a penny of his money, nor is he disqualified from voting (as happens to many African Americans after a slight misdemeanour) nor is he bared from standing for elected office. Like in any feudal society (such as Westeros!), there’s one law for the nobles and another for the rest of us plebs.