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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….

News roundup

I’ve been off on business for the last few weeks, hence the long silences. So, while I deal with the jet lag, I thought it would be a good idea to give a rundown of events that caught my eye while I was away….

The darling buds of May

So the big story has to be the most predictable, May’s resignation. She leaves office being widely acknowledged as the UK’s worst ever prime minster…although that said, give PM Boris a year or two!

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Now many will say this is unfair, it should be Cameron who claims the wooden spoon. After all he got us into this mess in the first place. To which my reply is that he’s certainly the 2nd worst (as things stand), but she’s in a mess of her own making. As one observer commented, it took her three years to learn the meaning of the word “compromise”. In fact, as RTE have pointed out, she was fully aware of the implications of brexit on the NI border during the EU referendum (citing it specifically as one of the reasons she was voting remain).

And she’s also the architect of the hostile environment that led to the Windrush scandal (and the impending scandal of EU citizens being stripped of their rights). Yes May was dealt a terrible hand, but as Owen Jones puts it, she was the one who decided to douse it in petrol, set it on fire and then try to play a game of bluff with the EU.

Of course the problem for the brexiters is that removing her doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change the parliamentary arithmetic. It doesn’t make the EU more likely to supply free unicorns. It doesn’t magically solve the problems at the NI border. If anything it makes all of these problems worse. And with Boris now being subpoenaed to appear in court over brexit, that’s assuming he doesn’t perjure himself and end up in jail rather than number 10!

Ultimately those who live in glass houses can’t throw rocks. They’ll have to now own brexit and bare its consequences. They can’t just rely on May to get it through and then blame her for everything.

Corruption in UK elections

Newspapers in the west are very quick to cast doubt on the integrity of elections in developing world countries (the recent Indian election being a case in point) but very slow to recognise the same issues in a western nation.

An example of this hypocrisy can be found in the recent UK elections. We have all sorts of reports coming out as regards the brexit party’s financial arrangements. And Farage himself has been directly paid large amounts from various (tax dodging) business associates, a clear violation of both electoral rules and the EU’s code of conduct as regards MEP expenses (so his pitch is, the EU is corrupt, so elect me I’m even more dodgy). There’s even been a raid against the brexit party HQ, and one of his aides was arrested last year for money laundering. Two stories most of the media (certainly the BBC anyway’s) ignored.

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Meanwhile EU citizens who showed up to vote in the EU elections (as they are entitled too) were turned away by pro-brexit bigots running polling stations and told to go home and vote in their own country. They’d even systematically gone through the electoral registers and crossed off any EU citizens. And keep in mind a number of these EU citizens had shown up with polling cards or written proof from their councils allowing them to vote. Court cases are likely and the likelihood is the government will have to pay compensation (how would brexiters feel if the situation were reversed? Change UK or the lib dems did something and the government had to pay out millions, the Daily Mail brigade would be having kittens).

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Awkward

And this also on the back of a media that basically turned into Farage TV for several weeks, while pulling episodes of a light hearted comedy sketch show because the head of Change UK was on it. Again, imagine this was some African country and we were told how the ruling party and its allies were openly taking bribes, censoring the media and preventing those from ethnic groups who supported their rivals from even voting. Would we call that a free and fair election?

EU elections: all change?

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But inevitably the EU elections when they way I expected. While yes the brexit party finished first, add up the remain parties and they outperformed it by at least 10%. Chuck in the labour party votes (90% of whom support remain) and there’s a clear majority in favour of remain. But of course this is not the story that was reported. Instead the media fawned over Farage and his “victory”….which is considered getting 31% of the vote (dropping the bar a bit from the 37% with the EU referendum, next thing you know if he can get everyone in a pub to vote for him, he can become king).

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And what a gallery of ghouls we’ve seen elected. I mean one of the brexit party’s MEP’s is a Scot (who now represents a Southern English region) who lives in the south of France. They want brexit for everyone else, except themselves. Or Widdecombe who thinks science will be able to “fix” gays (well its an improvement from pray the gay away I suppose!).

But yes, as I expected Change UK simply split the remain vote and acted as a spoiler, ultimately gaining no seats. This puts them at a cross roads, more so given that they seem to now have split in two. As I see it they have two choices. Firstly its a merger with the lib dems (the likely fate of the six who just left). Given how the UK electoral system works (i.e. most unfairly!), there’s no room for two centrist left leaning parties (nevermind three of them!). Every vote for Change UK is equivalent of a vote for the Tories. So it makes sense to form a single party with the lib dems, who are now clearly the go to remain party.

The alternative is to shift to the centre right. Think about it, most of Change UK are ex-Tories or ex-blairites (one of my relatives, a Tory voter, used to describe Tony Blair as “the best conservative PM the country ever had!”). It makes sense for them to be in a right wing party, rather than sharing the bed with a bunch of wishy, washy liberals. One also needs to consider what’s going on in the Tory party.

Its clear that the Tory plan post-May is to elect a hard brexiter and try to out UKIP UKIP. But this has been their strategy for the last ten years and its failed. There will always be someone at the extremes of the far right who will be able to outflank them (or willing to tell more outrageous lies). Constantly shifting to the right is what’s gotten the GOP into the mess its now in with Trump. Sooner or later something’s got to give.

Young voters are turning against the Tories (and the GOP) in droves (which explains May’s sudden road to Damascus conversion to support the abolition of tuition fees as part of a desperate effort to court young voters…recall how she told Corbyn there was no magic money trees to pay for that last election!). It might be mathematically impossible in a few elections time for them to ever win an election again, simply down to demographics. And brexit threatens to create a mess that will wipe the Tories out for a generation.

So while Change UK might not win any elections any time soon with a shift towards the centre right. A “sane” party of the right might have a good chance of becoming a major force long term. Although it obviously means I won’t be voting for them!

Crying wolf on a people’s vote

Meanwhile, after labour ended up in 3rd place behind the lib dems, Corbyn promised labour will now back a 2nd referendum….same as he’s promised dozens of times before. Recall he’s helped the Tories deliver brexit on dozens of occasions. Yet despite his repeated promises, he’s yet to do a single thing to actually push the country towards a 2nd referendum, contrary to what the labour party agreed at conference a year ago. I’d call it Corbyn crying wolf, but at this rate I’d be fearful of being sued for deformation by the wolves and shepherds union for unfairly comparing them to Corbyn. And predictably he’s now backtracked on his remarks since then.

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Actions speak louder than words, until we see some concrete action from Corbyn, we have to assume he’s not going to do anything to oppose a Tory brexit. And even in the absence of a further vote in parliament there’s lots of things he could do. For starters he punished remainers for backing a people’s vote (such as Hilary Benn or more recently Alstair Campbell, not one of my favourite people, but he was recently expelled from the labour party for voting lib dem as they back a people’s vote), yet ignored Kate Hoey (who voted and campaigned for the brexit party) John Mann or Laura Flynn-Bailey (both still on labour’s front bench despite defying a three line whip on brexit). So fairness would dictate he should could kick them all out of the party too.

And as leader of the opposition there’s all sorts of tricks in can pull on a Tory government who lack a majority (filibustering, repeatedly calling for votes of no confidence, refusing to let the most basic of legislation pass, basically shutting down the government until he gets his way). Until we see such action (which we won’t, Corbyn wants brexit to go ahead more than he wants to be PM, he showed that at the last election) then I’m sorry, its the same old BS from him as before, I’d ignore it.

Investigating the investigators

Meanwhile, in a move befitting a Kafka novel, Trump has responded to the efforts to impeach him by instructing the US intelligence community to investigate the investigators. He’s even now threatening allies that they must co-operate with this investigation/coverup. Again, imagine we heard a story about this in Putin’s Russia, or China, with said leader being described as acting like a mob boss by his closest advisor’s, how would the media react? Yet Trump supporters will just ignore this and cheer him on.

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And this is not an idle point. I’d argue now that it almost doesn’t matter what’s in the unredacted Mueller report now (and it certainly doesn’t exonerate him, even without the bits blanked out, interesting break down of it here from an actual lawyer). The cover up and these efforts to prosecute the prosecutors is far more serious. Keep in mind that under most legal systems charges like conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perverting the course of justice often carry a far heavier sentence than the actual crime itself. And for good reason, as otherwise you’ll end up with a flawed justice system.

And that flawed, biased justice system seems to be what the Republicans are aiming for, as vividly demonstrated in their efforts to overturn Roe v’s Wade. This goes way beyond the abortion debate. If Roe v’s Wade can be overturned, then so too can pretty much anything else, equality laws, environmental legislation, workers rights, due process, etc. Even gun ownership and property ownership laws can also be overturned (somehow the GOP seem to be forgetting that!).

Trump might not be a dictator (yet) but he’s certainly setting things up such that a future president could become one. And that should be as worrying for a republican as a democrat. Consider that any future democrat need merely point to climate change or a series of spree shootings or the excesses of Wall street, invoke the Trump rule and declare a national emergency and effectively rule by decree.

Huawei

One of Trump’s recent outbursts was directed at the Chinese firm Huawei over allegations that it might be building in “back doors” into its hardware which would allow the Chinese government to spy on people. Now there is some cause for concern here, but the US government has literally acres worth of computer servers which it uses to spy on US citizens and it has a world wide network of spy bases. So this is pot calling the kettle black territory. America’s position seems to be “you can’t spy on people….that’s our job!”.

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America’s Echelon spying and eavesdropping network

Also some of the specific allegations against Huawei, that they can bury a chip onto something that can somehow create a backdoor and do so while remaining completely undetected, that all seems somewhat dubious. Some suspicious software has been found on their devices in the past (described as “NSA style” spyware, irony meter to maximum). So its not impossible, but the very fact it was detected pretty easily should show how hard it is to do undetected. In fact it would not come without risks to the Chinese. If such “backdoors” were discovered (and there’s lots of IT nerds out there who spend their time breaking down hardware) then they could be used to attack Chinese government computers. And if you know how paranoid they are about IT security in China, you’d realise its highly unlikely they’d be willing to take such a risk.

So while there are some legitimate causes for concern here, they go well beyond one company. I’d be just as worried about what Facebook, Google and the US government are up to as I would a Chinese company.

British steel collapse – the blame game

British steel has now entered into insolvency. This is a key moment in the UK’s industrial history, as British steel (whom I used to work for) has long been something of a canary in the coal mine for the UK’s manufacturing sector. When its been doing well, the rest of manufacturing has been doing well. Its doing badly, bad news is coming. And now that its collapsed…..brace for impact is all I can say!

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And of course, the blame game starts. The brexiters blame the EU for its pesky environmental laws, which stop them from just polluting as much as they like. While it is true part of British steel’s woes have come from EU carbon credits, this ignores the fact it had a surplus (which it sold) and much of the problem here has been down to the Tories dithering on brexit (which saw the company’s carbon trading position suspended, hence why the government had to provide compensation, another of those hidden brexit costs). Furthermore, the UK is supposed to be sticking to the Paris climate accords post-brexit. And given that the UK will be well behind as regards its carbon commitments post brexit (we kind of get a pass at the moment because other EU countries are doing so much better), its inconceivable that British steel could avoid being forced to cut emissions drastically.

Corbyn and the lexiters blame the EU’s competition rules that would prevent nationalisation of the company. However that’s not true, the EU’s rules don’t prevent the UK government providing emergency loans or a temporary nationalisation. That’s allowed, so long as you can prove the company can sustain itself long term without any state aid (that is effectively the EU’s squeal point, when you start pouring public money into a bottomless black hole).

And both the Tory and labour brexiters fail to mention that the reason why the EU has those rules is because of WTO rules (you know they ones they want to trade on post brexit). The problem for the EU would be that if the UK (or any other EU nation) nationalised its steel industry, other countries (notably the US, Japan & China) would kick up stink and open a trade dispute, which the EU would then have to settle. Post-brexit, the only difference here is it will be the UK who’ll directly have to deal with these countries, rather than the EU.

Of course inevitably, while it would be unfair to entirely blame the companies collapse on brexit, certainly brexit and in particular the uncertainty factor has to be blamed. British steel’s woes are largely down to a drop in demand for its products, notably from the car industry (citing similar woes about brexit uncertainty) and fears about future tariffs should the UK leave the EU without a deal. So the blame for this lies squarely at the door of number 10 and its constant dithering.

GoT – hammer me a plot

So we’ve had the ending for GoT, not that I actually watched it (one reason I’m glad I was away). I’ve long since given up on it. I’d rate series 5 passable, 6 bad, 7 terrible and 8 unwatchable. I mean what with coffee cups popping up in frame its clear the production crew & cast had given up caring, they were just going through the motions.

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Well at least Velcro girl got her coffee, while Plot armor hangs out with his mates!

But any way’s, so the North gets its independence…even thought one of the Stark’s gets to rule the other 6 kingdoms (including Dorne, which is supposed to be semi-independent). This is equivalent to Scotland getting independence but then insisting that Alex Salmond gets to be PM in Westminster. Or wanting out of the EU, but with all the benefits of staying in, as well as insisting on having Farage as EU president for life….of course the scary thing is that this is pretty much what the hard brexiters DO want.

But either way, my point is that the problem here was clearly bad writing by show runners who do not understand medieval politics, warfare (e.g. repeatedly armies were deployed in front of castle walls rather than on top of them!) or medieval society. And who also clearly weren’t familiar with the source material (I’m guessing they didn’t even bother to read the books). Hence they painted themselves into numerous corners and then plot hammered their way out of the mess, creating another one, which they then plot hammered their way out of that.

Case in point, the ultimate storyline seems to be that the true villain of the story was Bran (no wonder the night King wanted to ice him! He was bad but he wasn’t Bran bad!). Bran must have foreseen everything in this and last season and could have prevented it by telling people (Jon all your battle plans are crap, Dany FYI, don’t fly your dragons north of the wall, Night King’s on the white walker’s javelin team, oh that pirate bloke’s going to ambush you so watch out for that, Cersei’s put pots of wild fire everywhere in KL, oh and she sleeps tonight in the 4th floor of the middle tower, fifth window along). The only obvious reason why he didn’t warn anyone was because he wanted these things to happen (and millions to die) so that he could take over. Merely one example of the consequences of such terrible lazy writing.

Fans apparently have a petition out looking for a do over (ya, like that’s going to happen!). However someone is already writing a more competent ending. You might have heard of him, he’s called GRRM. Now his ending might be very similar (hence if your problem is that you fundamentally don’t like the ending, you might not like his either). But I suspect his will be better written, more detailed and make a lot more sense. Although that said, he has changed his mind about the ending he’s planned in the past, so he might change it again.

Some worry he won’t live to complete such an ending. I say they are being fatalistic. He’s only 70 and I’ve had relatives who lived will into their 90’s and they smoked and drank heavily. He’s got some time left. And no doubt he’s got some competent understudy who can take over.

So my suggestion to fans is that you consider all of the GoT episodes since series 5 (which is about where they ran out of book material) as essentially non-canon. Star wars legends stuff or the Kelvin timeline equivalent in Star Trek. If it makes you feel better imagine that the last scene in the last episode in season 8 shows Tyrion waking up from a deep sleep. He realises he’s still in Meereen (under siege from the slavers alliance) and he’s just had a rather long and lucid dream.

Mickey mouse degrees

One other story which slipped under the radar, is that of a UK graduate successfully suing her university over the quality of its degree. This could have some very damaging potential. As the graduate points out, her university experience failed to live up to the expectations (reduced contact hours, staff on temporary contracts who then left in the middle of a course, etc.). Given that universities are increasingly being run like a business (something also cited in this case) that means that they have to bare the consequences of false advertising and failing to deliver the quality of the degree promised.

A public body (who doesn’t charge for its services, or certainly not the full cost) can get around this to some extend, as it can cite government policy. But a business can’t do that. If you promise an undergraduate X, Y and Z and don’t deliver, then potentially (not always) they can sue for compensation. And this graduate got £61,000. It won’t take many more to do the same to start bankrupting universities.

So this should serve as a warning to UK universities, they desperately need to change policy. Not only are treating students like commodities, but they are also doing the same to staff. You want high quality teaching, you have to pay for it and give the staff the long hours needed to deliver modules effectively. Instead what’s happening is lecturers are often recruited on the basis of their research profile (so you could be crap at teaching or not even able to speak English and they’ll still hire you over an experienced lecturer).

HR will often skip over a candidates teaching qualifications and only focus on recruiting on the basis of research publications (which is bad metric as often a lot of that research might have been done by PhD students, with the professor just adding his name to it). The new lecturer will then be given some massive unrealistic research target, on top of their teaching load, knowing that they will be assessed more on the basis of research than teaching.

What happens next? They dump the teaching load onto some post-grad student (who knows even less) and the students have to fend for themselves. And btw I’ve heard of lecturers, who were knocked back for promotion (on the basis of not hitting research targets), who say they were advised to do as much by management. Inevitably you treat lecturers who show up for class or give two hoots about their students as playing hooky, then teaching quality is going to nosedive. And such a policy will henceforth prove costly.

And universities need to be more upfront with students about their funding and staffing problems. i.e. that they are being squeezed from multiple directions right now and the brexit impasse (which is causing research funding and student numbers for the EU to fall) is hardly helping. I often find students are a lot more accommodating if you are up front with them. In fact they’ll often propose solutions.

Congestion charge

Finally another story doing the rounds was a spate of deaths on Everest, which are being blamed on overcrowding including two Irish climbers. There’s been a number of deaths over the last few days, in fact they’ve now exceeded the numbers killed in the infamous storm in 1996, catalogued in numerous books and movies (notably Jon Krakauer “Into thin air”). What was seen as an oddity then is starting to become routine.

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Those who aren’t climbers might find this one difficult to understand. Why don’t they just agree a schedule at base camp to make sure summit attempts by the different teams don’t clash? Well the thing is, they do. The main weather window for climbing Everest is between the end of May and early June, between the end of winter and the arrival of the Monsoon’s. So typically, before this weather window opens, the teams at base camp will all have a sit down and plan out who is going when (and who is going to lay the fixed ropes at different sections, who is going to manage the Kumbu Icefall, etc.).

The trouble is that those plans tend to fall apart upon contact with the mountain. Teams get delayed ascending (due to weather, avalanches or illness), or they get stuck at high camps and miss their planned summit date. Note once you are in the death zone, even if you are running on oxygen (and they’ll sleeping breathing it too), you’re on the clock. You can’t acclimatise to those sorts of conditions (in essence you’re gradually dying, this is why its called “the death zone”) and that O2 supply ain’t going to last forever (and its probably taken the sherpa’s several weeks to haul all of those cylinders up from base camp). In short, you either go up or you go down for good. So inevitably you can see how a plan cooked up at base camp can quickly go to pot up on the south col. And of course, there being two main routes up, teams on one side might not be party to the plans of teams on the opposite side of mountain.

And the impact of the altitude on decision making has to be considered. With people’s brains getting a fraction of the oxygen needed rational thought goes out the window. Case in point, many have pointed to inaccuracies in Krakauer’s book and have written their own….which others then criticize for also being inaccurate. In truth its a bit like a bunch of drunks with a screaming hangover trying to remember the events of a 7 night booze and drugs bender. Nobody up there was thinking straight, nobody’s memory is going to function with 100% accuracy under such conditions. This is half of the problem with climbing Everest.

Which leads to questions about how to solve this overcrowding. Krakauer himself floated the idea of banning the use of oxygen except in emergencies. This would theoretically place the mountain outside of the limits of all but the most elite climbers. However, climbing Everest without O2 drastically increases the risk and greatly limits ones ability to assist others. So I don’t think that would be practical and how would you enforce it? You going to have cops with a x-ray machine searching people’s bags up in the death zone!

Limiting the number of permits is another idea, but consider that you’re basically asking a poor country like Nepal to cut off a vital source of foreign currency. And climbers would just switch the Tibetan side of the mountain anyway (and visa versa). One idea being floated therefore is some sort of assessment of climbing ability. That you’d have to climb a certain number of other peaks first before being allowed a permit on Everest. Again, makes sense, but how do you enforce it?

It is ultimately very difficult to envisage a solution that will work at 29,000 ft. Hence such statistics will just have to serve as a ghoulish reminder that climbing Everest is less of a feat of mountaineering and more one of being extremely, wealthy, stubborn and reckless. Which is perhaps the solution, turn climbing Everest from bragging rights to a badge of stupidity and suddenly you’ll probably find a lot less wanted to climb it.

A not so slow news week

Wikifreaks

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.

Brexit and Immigration

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Brexit has been interpreted by Theresa May and the Tory party, as the UK voting to make itself poorer, in order to cut immigration. Of course, as I’ve pointed out before, this is a false narrative, which comes from a fundamental misreading of immigration statistics.

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If leaving the EU is about immigration, how come non-EU countries have far more immigrants than the UK?

But either way, that’s their policy and the proposed immigration bill has now had its second reading in parliament. And oh boy is it bad. Basically, all of the EU citizens already here are being tossed into the meat grinder of May’s hostile environment. As will it also impact on any new migrants foolish enough to come to the UK, be they from the EU or further afield. Oh, and minsters will be allowed to change future immigration law without parliamentary scrutiny. So its basically a massive power grab by the home office, all but guranteed to lead to another Windrush scandal.

Because already we’ve heard numerous horror stories as a result of UK immigration policy. A British citizen with a disabled husband and an autistic daughter forced between choosing which of the two to abandon post-brexit. A 90 year old with severe arthritis being told to return home and appeal a visa rejection on a technicality (which as he’s no house or family back in the US would mean him living on the street). A women threatened with deportation (with two hours notice) on the basis of evidence from her abusive ex-husband.

And these are some of the milder stories that have made it into the news. I’ve heard other examples of outright racism from UK border staff. Individuals who’ve gone into debt with pay day loan companies due to some cock up by the UKBA (who basically don’t understand their own rules). Even cases of border agency staff admitting to applicants they hadn’t read the application in full before rejecting it. And May is proposing to add another 3 million to that and doesn’t expect any problems?

They’ve also set an arbitrary wage limit of £30,000 below which all workers are considered as “unskilled”…which pretty much tells you just how out of touch the Tory party is. Earn less than 30k, you’re a scullery maid or a tradesman and thus an unwashed pleb and there’s enough of them here already.

To say this policy is bad is too put it mildly. It has the potential to be an even bigger job killer than a no deal brexit. The myths of the “Britain is full” variety are based on the false assumption that the number of jobs in the UK is fixed, when its not. Migrants can actually increase the number of available jobs (as more people spending money in the country means more employment) and by paying their taxes, they can contribute to better public services (of course the problem here is the Tories haven’t been spending that extra money on public services, but instead gave wealthy people a tax cut or hiding the fact that privatisation of public services has often made them less efficient and more expensive to run).

This new immigration policy seems to assume that there are no skill shortages below this arbitrary wage limit, when in fact there are multiple ones, notably in areas such as agriculture, construction, engineering, the NHS and care homes. It is no exaggeration to say the consequences of this policy would be major engineering projects being cancelled, crops left to rot in fields and many of these red faced gammon brexit voting bigots dying on hospital floors in a pool of their own piss.

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The UK is heavily dependant on foreign qualified doctors. So post-brexit, try not to get ill…ever!

But can’t we get brits to do these jobs? Well no. As I’ve pointed out before, if the answer was that simple, they’d already be doing those jobs. For example, most junior employees often have a very low starting salary (which can include nurses and other medical practitioners). And in some professions, its hard to prove your exact income as employment is often on a contract, piecework, or journeyman type basis. And, as I discussed before, with regard to the energy sector, such a wage limit will create labour shortages across the nuclear, fossil fuel and renewable energy sectors.

The agricultural sector (and fishing) will be severely effected by this new policy. Most of the jobs in this sector are seasonal, typically spiking in the autumn and spring. The growing season in the UK is shorter than in southern Europe but longer than in Eastern Europe. So its possible for farm workers from other parts of the EU to come over, work for a few weeks, then move on and eventually return to their own farms to plant/harvest their own crops.

The idea that instead of experienced European farm hands, you’re going to drag a load of unemployed townies out of the UK’s cities, bus them off to work in farmers fields (many of whom haven’t so much as mowed a lawn before), and put them in charge of dangerous farm machinery, its farcical at best. And what are the supposed to do for the rest of the year? And yes farmers have tried this in the past (most recently as part of the Tories welfare chain gangs) and their experience is it ain’t going to work.

And even if they could get it to work it would probably be more expensive, which means food that’s a lot more expensive. And more than likely (given the tight margins on food production), rendering uneconomic much of the UK’s farms, leading to closures in the sector on a scale similar to what happened to the coal miners in the 80’s.

And at the other end of the scale one has to question whether we necessarily need more workers in the middle to high income salary range. Is there really a massive shortage of lawyers, interior designers, city traders and accountants in the country? And even if there were, such a policy could actually cost many British their jobs (because as noted migrants create more jobs). While companies like to keep a mixed bag of staff of different experience levels, push come to shove they will prioritise the hiring of a more experienced staff over a recent graduate, because they are more valuable to the company. Ultimately, if the only way to hire an experienced German lawyer or a Belgian accountant is to put enough zeros behind his contract to get him in the door, that’s what they’ll do, even if it means cutting back on the number of graduate recruits to do so.

In fact in my own line of work we’ve hired hardly any UK PhD graduates since the referendum. And now that I mention it, several who were already on the pay roll were the first given their marching orders in the months after the vote. And given that there’s been a significant drop in UK students undertaking PhD’s (due to fees, nobody wants to rack up further debt when they get to the end of their degree), how exactly are we going to recruit the next generation of lecturers, given the brexidous on UK campuses, with both UK and EU academics heading off to European universities. I don’t know, maybe we could go back to the old British tactic of press ganging? (get’em drunk at a conference and they wakes up in a lecturer theatre). Or maybe we can get Failing Grayling to give the lecturers? That seems to be May’s solution to everything these days.

And remember what applies to foreigners in the UK will be reciprocated by other countries. British overseas are already in a panic over the possible consequences to them of a no deal brexit. Many might be forced to return home (and most are retirees) or renounce their UK citizenship (which risks breaking up families). And UK graduates won’t be able to avail of employment opportunities in Europe, leaving them in the worst of both worlds.

Of course, if you’re a wealthy oligarch and willing to invest enough money in the UK, you can avail of a golden visa. No messy forms to fill in, no awkward questions (notably as to where you got the money in the first place!), no queues or waiting period, you’d don’t even need to work or pay tax. Just come on in. As always, the Tories are drafting a policy that favours the wealthy plutocrats at the expense of everyone else. The horrors their policy are inflicting, and will continue to inflict is lost on them. They’ve transcended the nasty party and become the sadist party.

But once the second coming happens Corbyn gets in he’ll put everything right in the world, won’t he? Actually no, Corbyn and much of the labour party were absent from the second reading of the immigration bill. In fact the original message sent out to MP’s was to abstain. The reality is that Corbyn has been taken in by the same toxic bigotry that migrants are a drain on the UK and drive down wages (which again, just isn’t true). He’s willing to talk to the talk about how the Tories policy favours the rich, or how human rights are important to him. But push come to shove he’s quite happy to see millions in the UK stripped of their rights and thrown to the wolves, while he sits in his allotment shed dreaming of his socialist workers paradise.

What’s that the Corbynites say? He’s got to play the long game and pretend he’s in favour of immigration controls (or brexit) to appease northern lexiters, then when he’s in power he can repeal these laws. Well, firstly that’s the cynical politics of manipulation at its worst (and I thought Boris was bad!), and secondly he can’t. Protocol dictates that governments do not revisit past legislation without good cause or reason. So unless he actively opposes this bill or fights an election with such a policy on the party manifesto (so presumably he’ll be hoping lexiters can’t read), then he can’t repeal it. The speaker won’t allow him to schedule time to debate it, the lords would probably veto it and the queen is within her rights to withhold royal assent. And as 35 year veteran MP he surely knows that. Its just he also knows there’s a large body of millennial’s who’ve been so badly screwed over by the Tories, they are desperate enough to believe any old tripe he comes up with.

All I can say is the sooner that the grown ups within both labour and the Tories wake up to reality and leave their respective parties, the better. And with labour membership down 10% in the last two months and polls saying Corbyn’s failure to oppose brexit will cost him dearly next election (and this was before him suggesting he might support May’s brexit deal), that seems to be what starting to happen.

As for the Tories, with new utlra-right wing parties being formed and the conservative party itself being infiltrated by the US far right, they need to learn that appeasing the far right doesn’t make them go away, it emboldens them to ask for more and more until they have everything.

Brexit update: Running down the clock

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Recently the Guardian’s business editor Nils Pratley asked the question, when does the no deal panic start? One could ask the same question as regards Trump’s trade policy and the recent shutdown. Well in some respects, its already happening and in another respect the panic will not be televised, or at least it will be kept as quiet as possible.

While companies are quick to advertise good news, they try to keep any bad news out of the media. After all, good news means the share price goes up. Bad news, sends the share price down. And if you want to destroy employee morale and reduce productivity, let the staff know you might be considering job cuts. And furthermore the economic issue with brexit is more the long term impact it will have, not the short term shock. As the saying goes its not the stag investors who take fright at the first sign of trouble you worry about, its a long protracted bear market. Because bears have claws.

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Beware the brexit bear!

And already we have seen several worrying signs which shows the economy flat-lining. P&O for example has announced its re-flagging its ships under a Cypriot flag (Rule Britannia….Cyprus rules the waves?). Barclay’s is one of a number of banks to announce plans to move £166 billion and hundreds of jobs to Ireland, with others are planning to set up in Paris or Frankfurt. Dyson has moved to Singapore, which apparently is nothing to do with brexit (and if you believe that I’ve got some magic beans I can sell you). Meanwhile, the construction industry, which was just about recovering from the EU referendum result, is now reporting a decline in building projects due to uncertainty over brexit.

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So far Germany seems to be winning the race to house bankers post-brexit

Now in any normal economic times any of these indicators would send waves of panic around Whitehall, but it would now appear that the UK government’s official motto seems to be “fuck business. Which probably explains why up to a third of UK companies are actively considering relocating out of the UK post-brexit. Hell, we have the Norwegian government now advising students not to go to university in the UK.

But probably the biggest blow by far recently was Nissan announcing its u-turn, that they will not locate X-trail production at Sunderland. This is a huge blow, given the very public backing Nissan gave to brexit, thanks to a letter they received from Theresa May. While the current jobs are safe (for now!), the problem is that once a company stops investing in a factory, its not long after that when the job losses start.

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While there’s still be some direct investment in the UK car industry, its clearly on a downward trend and going to turn negative relatively soon

And with the publication of that infamous letter, it seems that Nissan were offered a very substantial bribe to stay in the UK, with up to £60 million in direct investment and several hundred million indirectly (via investment into electric vehicle research, charging points, etc.). Of course, given that the former Nissan chairman is under investigation for corruption, its entirely possible that a brown envelope might have been involved as well. After all, May is currently trying to bribe MP’s with peerages or promises of slush funds to their constituency. In short her government is now guilty of the sort crony politics we’d have expected in the days of the Regency. But even that doesn’t seem to be working, as she literally can’t pull off a bribe successfully!

Of course what this highlights is that Nissan have decided that whatever promises May has made, they can’t believe her anymore. After all we now have the absurdity of a backstop that was her idea in the first place, which she got parliament to vote against, and she’s going to go to Brussels to see if it can be removed. But then a few days later she says the backstop can stay, but she’s going to insist on some unspecified changes to it, which will make everything okay…!?!

Its becoming rather obvious that May is winging it, something she’s been doing since day one. And while she is clearly running down the clock, I’m not sure if this is a deliberate strategy or just a coping mechanism to get her through to the end of the day. You would be a very foolish MP (or car maker) to stake your future on any promises made by her, because 24 hrs later she’ll have not only have broken them, but forgotten what it was she’d promised.

And this letter to Nissan might still come back to haunt her. It implies tariff free access to the EU (which as things currently stand isn’t going to happen). If she doesn’t deliver on that, Nissan might sue the UK government seeking financial compensation. And if that sounds far fetched, its looking likely the owners of the channel tunnel are going to sue the government over brexit. To be blunt, the only winners in a no deal brexit will be corporate lawyers, who’ll be having a field day.

And while May’s act of looking utterly pathetic to the point where the EU feels sorry for her, has allowed her to get some concessions, its doubtful it will work this time (and in any event, the EU will want something in return). The EU needs to consider whether they can believe a word out her mouth anymore (or anyone else from Westminster). Can she be trusted to deliver on her side of the bargain? And I seriously doubt, even if she got some significant concessions, she’d get her party to back her deal. They’re making a big deal about the backstop because they can. If it goes away they’ll find something else in the 500 pages of the deal to moan about. Ultimately they don’t want to take ownership for what they know is going to be a deal that leaves the UK worse out than in.

Meanwhile Corbyn can’t be seen to back it either, preferring to do his usual Humpty Dumpty and stay sitting on the fence, even as his party disintegrates around him. Labour party membership has now fallen by 10% in just two months, about 360 members per day are now leaving.

Meanwhile, across the pond, we’ve heard the first rumblings of discontent as the US congress wakes up to the consequences of a no-deal brexit. A resolution has been introduced in the US Congress opposing the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. This was something that was always going to happen. Firstly, the Good Friday agreement was brokered with the help of the US. If the UK were to renege on it, this would be hugely damaging to the US and its international reputation (if the US can get its oldest ally to back a treaty it brokered, what are the odds of North Korea or Russia sticking to any?). And secondly 33 million US voters identify themselves as being of Irish descent. That’s a voting lobby no politician in the US can ignore, particularly as it includes many swing voters in key swing states (a significant number voted for both Obama and then Trump).

Of course the problem here is that Americans understand the politics of Northern Ireland even less than the Tories. Expect them to make several perfectly reasonable suggestions over the next few months, but ones that May and the DUP have already ruled out. e.g. “why doesn’t NI just stay in the Single market?” “Say, why don’t you guys just leave the EU but stay in the EEA, that’ll avoid a hard border?”. In short good luck to May trying to explain NI politics to Trump and then get the US congress to support a US/UK trade deal in an election year. Notably because one of the key committees that will approve or veto a US/UK trade deal just happens to be led by an Irish American senator with strong pro-republican sympathies.

But isn’t the EU going to blink first? Well stranger things have happened. However, the fact is that the UK has to make its mind up pretty soon (Greg Clark suggested as early as the middle of next week), otherwise the trickle of companies either hitting the panic button or heading for the door will become a flood. And we’re assuming no deal is even an option, because the institute for government says it would be impossible, given that almost none of the required legislation has passed, nor will pass in time.

So the UK can’t really wait for the EU to blink, while the EU can wait not only until the 29th of March, but even beyond it (i.e. wait for the UK to come crawling back after descending into chaos). I’ll say it again its May’s original deal (and probably staying in the customs union or single market long term) or no brexit, you have to chose one.

News roundup

Back from an overseas business trip, thought it would be time for a catchup…

The not so big blue wave

So the results of the US mid terms are in and it turned out much as predicted. The democrats took control of the house, but the GOP still hold the senate and hence can block impeachment and keep nominating supreme court justices.

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Missing big blue wave, if found please forward to the DNC

While one has to call it a victory for the democrats, not that you’ll ever get Trump to admit to that. But at the same time, its pretty clear that any idea that the GOP voters will rebel against their party was wishful thinking. The fact is that the Republicans are less a political party and more of a cult, a cult of anti-liberalism. They don’t have any real policies, other than to opposite whatever it is the left are calling for….and of course doing some favours for their corporate donors along the way.

What is clear from this election is that republicans know exactly what they were voting for back in 2016. They know Trump is incompetent and not fit for the job, but they’d rather have an incompetent fascist than a competent democrat. They don’t support him despite his racism, his unchristian like behaviour and the fact he stands for everything the GOP has opposed since the civil war, but because of it.

Thus the democrats need to quit taking the moral high ground and grow a spine. My advice would be to pull every dirty mean trick they can to now shut down Trump’s and wait out the rest of his time in office. Its basically what the GOP did to Obama, so its only fair the democrats do the same.

And when they get back into power, then what goes around comes around. He’s going to appoint a couple of pro-lifers to the supreme court, we’ll just appoint a dozen 20 something members of the ACLU and the Brady foundation (then make any further changes to the structure illegal without the unanimous approval of every member of Congress).

Similarly if the GOP are going to cut welfare programmes, then once in power the democrats need to make clear they’ll be doing the same. An end to farm subsidies (which predominantly benefit republican voters), reforms to military spending and government contracts (which benefit the 1%) and ending the practice of democrat voting states effectively subsidizing republican voting states all needs to be on the table.

Only when confronted with the threat of such measures will the republicans be brought to heel.

 

The not surprising October surprise

The election also included the usual “October surprise, which is basically something completely irrelevant to the campaign (e.g. Hilary’s e-mails) which the right wing media will blow out of all proportion. In this case it was a immigrant caravan…which is still hundreds of miles away from the country.

And you’ll notice how they only started talking about it to deflect attention from right wing terror attacks…sorry I mean a Trump supporter getting a little too carried away. Because when a white guy goes and shoots people (or mails bombs) that’s not terrorism apparently. And the immediate aftermath of such an attack is not the time to talk about new gun legislation, or the remarks made by Trump that inspired such an attack. But if a Muslim doesn’t anything…..

 

Wheels coming off in Italy

For me it was always a case of how long before the wheels started to come off the populist 5S/league horseshoe government rather that if. And it looks like we’ve not had to wait long.

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In Rome (under the control of a 5S for several years now) there’s been protests as regards the collapse in public services, notably public transport (with bus fires still a major problem) and rubbish collection. The irony is that one of those stars of the party is access to good public transport and public services. So they can’t even get this right!

Now it has to be acknowledged that one of the difficulties that 5S faces is the enormous levels of corruption that exists within Italy, notably the public sector. However, the fact that 5S has gone into coalition with the very people behind that corruption (the league and their ally Berlusconi, not to mention members of 5S itself) doesn’t exactly help. And it highlights just how naive and inept 5S actually are that they didn’t anticipate that this would be a problem.

Meanwhile 5S’s fascist allies have been busy, well, doing fascist things. For example, one of them recently compared a black politician to a monkey. And not only did he not face any sanction over this, but when she called him out over it, he sued her. Yes this is Italy under a horseshoe government, its okay for politicians to be racist, but its illegal to criticise them over it.

You go into power with fascists, they’ll do fascist stuff, shock horror. I mean did any supporters of 5S really think this won’t happen? You did at lest google the term “Liga Nordbefore voting to approve this coalition?

About the only thing that unites the two parties is their hatred of the EU. And inevitably their budget proposals have been rejected by the EU (in part because they know most of the extra cash will simply go straight into the pockets of the mafia). So it looks like they’re going to fight city hall and inevitably lose.

 

A sign of the times

The other week some racist brexiter nutter was caught on a Ryanair flight making racist remarks to a fellow passenger (an African granny). What I thought was interesting was how the Irish media made a federal case out of it (which seemed to be more along the lines of why didn’t Ryanair land immediately and sling Mr Gammon straight off the plane).

However, the British media (and it was a brit involved) largely ignored it. Post-brexit, racists making racist comments in public falls into the “dog bites man” category and just isn’t news worthy. Which I thought was an interesting contrast with the Irish media’s response.

 

Leave means LEAVE!!!!

The British, with just months to go, still don’t seem to understand the consequences of brexit. There’s even an organisation with the passive aggressive name leave means leave (or presumably that should be leave means LEAVE!!!!), which it will come as little surprise to learn is almost entirely made up of greyhaired old white men with sweaty red faces (like our racist in the previous story). But the thing is they don’t seem to grasp what leave actually means.

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Spot the leave voter…..

For example one of the more serious consequences of leaving, as I mentioned before, is the UK’s decision to leave the ECJ at the same time. There have been test cases in Ireland which have seen people getting away with crimes, even in one case murder. It would appear that what leave means is that if you break British law and make a break for the border you can literally get away with murder.

And the British solution? Refer the matter to the ECJ! Yes the very body they are now leaving is being asked to pull their ass out of the fire. It would appear that the British think that just because they are pals with the Irish they can have some sort of associate membership of the ECJ (which presumably they aren’t going to pay for). And is not as if giving the Irish (or any other EU state) that sort of leverage over the UK won’t come back to haunt them later.

The real world consequences of this are not good. Basically if you live in the UK and someone from the EU owes you money, after March 2019, you’re stuffed. You’ll have to go to a European court, which means hiring an English speaking lawyer in the relevant country (which won’t be cheap) and waiting a long time, as the wheels of justice in some EU states are very slow to turn (as in years), especially when it comes to civil cases (they prioritise criminal cases, assuming that the longer they leave a civil case, the more likely the parties will settle out of court).

Should you be wondering at this point, why isn’t their a body to get around all of these problems? Well there is. Its called the ECJ! And it was set up because the British and Germans were sick of having to deal with the courts in countries like Italy or Spain (oh and in some EU states the law often varies depending on the region, a court in Catalonia cannot command local officials in Andalusia).

And this brings up the political fallout too. Take the position of the DUP. While one understands their opposition to the EU’s proposed backstop (that Northern Ireland remains part of the customs union), it at least settles the issue. That’s a far better alternative, where there’s a hard border that cripples the Northern Irish economy. The more people effected by brexit, the more will vote in a border poll to join the south. While previously you’d struggle to get a majority of Catholics to support a united Ireland in the North, now the polls show an overall figure with a margin of just 3%. Some that a bit of economic disruption will easily overturn. In short, if there’s ever a united Ireland, we’ll have the DUP to thank for it, rather than Sinn Fein.

I’m reminded of an ex-flat mate of mine. He decided he was spending too much money on nights out, so his solution was to cut back on expenses….which didn’t include his nights out. Instead he decided he didn’t need to pay his share of the gas bill any more (because he never turned on the heating), nor the TV license (ditto). He was also a member of a sports club and cancelled his membership. But given that all his friends were members he kept sneaking in and using the facilities, or going to social events.

That’s kind of where the brexiters are with the EU. They want out, but they still want all the benefits of being a members, just without paying for it. In short, it seems to me that many brexiters don’t seem to realise that leave actually does mean leave.

 

News flash – the UK is an Island

Dominc Raab gets a lot of stick for being…well a little bit thick. But to be fair he’s only been in the job as brexit secretary a few months and he’s doing better than his predecessor, who spent a grand total of 4 hours negotiating with the EU in the space of a year and a half. Then again, part of the price we pay for brexit is that fact that a lot of idiots have jobs in cabinet, simply to maintain the delicate balance that props up the PM.

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Well anyway, Raab’s returned to the UK with news of an important revelation that he was unaware of. Apparently Britain is an “Island and therefore needs these things called “ships” to trade with the rest of the world. This means Dover getting clogged up due to a no deal brexit might be kind of bad.

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Dominic Raab…life is like a box of chocolates and he certainly doesn’t know what he’s going to get!

I mean who could of known. I remember going to Dover once and thinking I might walk to France, but then I my feet got wet. Well now I know why. Expect the Daily Mail to claim that the English Channel is moat dug by the French to punish the UK for brexit.

And if you think that’s a joke, consider that the head of HMRC (a lowly customs official) received death threats from angry Gammon’s when he pointed out the potential costs of leaving the customs union would cost businesses £20 billion a year.

 

So long and thanks for all the fish

But at least brexit will benefit the fishermen. That the one line you keep on hearing, the fishermen, the fishermen, deer god will someone think of the poor fishermen….who are going to get royally shafted by brexit.

Of course the people who own the fishing boats and fish quota’s, well that’s a different story. And who are these people? well a recent survey discovered that a small group of wealthy families control much of the UK’s fishing quota’s.

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The UK takes control and goes from being able to fish in all of these waters, to just some of them

Just five families on the Sunday Times Rich List hold or control 29% of the UK’s fishing quota. More than two-thirds is controlled by just 25 businesses or families (half of whom are linked to criminal activities). And in England alone nearly 80% of fishing quota’s is held by foreign owners or domestic Rich List families. Half of Northern Ireland’s quota is held by just a single trawler.

This is the reality of brexit, the only real winners will be a handful of the very wealthiest, whose wealth and offshore assets leave them immune to the negative effects of brexit.

 

Trust gone

Another brexit related story was that of a phone conversation between the Irish PM and the British one. Almost as soon as he put the phone down, the Irish PM rushed out a media statement explaining what was said. Why? Because he’s all too aware that he’s dealing with a bunch of deluded manics back in London, who will have only heard what they wanted to hear and that the UK media will just make stuff up about what was actually said.

And the EU is now saying they won’t even consider holding a summit until the UK has basically decided what they want, written it down on paper and signed. That’s how low the trust between the UK and the EU is now. They don’t even trust the British to remember what was said over the phone a few minutes before and report that honestly.

 

The people’s will

Universities minster (and Boris Johnson own brother) Jo Johnson has just resigned, calling for another referendum. Which of course ain’t going to happen.

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I mean consider that for months now, you even remotely question the wisdom of brexit, you’ll be told its “the will of the people”, ignoring recent polls suggesting the people are rather sick of it and would rather call the whole thing off.

In short, the “will of the peoplehas become the people’s last will and testament. A national suicide pact that only about a quarter  of the country voted for, without knowing that this was what they were voting for.

 

University bankruptcies loom

Brexit has made for choppy waters in universities. We lost a number of staff, through either redundancies or the fact they decided to tunnel out of the lunatic asylum and escaped back to Europe. Research funding has been cut and EU student numbers are down. But the thing is my uni don’t have it that bad. A recent report suggests that several of the UK’s universities are “one policy change away from collapse”.

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Some have lost hundreds of staff through redundancies and the non-renewal of rolling contracts. And while the loss of a few students and a bit of research funding hasn’t exactly helped our situation, spare a thought for some other uni’s in receipt of hundreds of millions a year of EU R&D money, with courses almost entirely made up of fee paying foreign students. And remember we’ve not actually even left the EU yet, the real bad news is yet to arrive.

So with several universities literally circling the drain, it is time to address the question I asked sometime ago, what happens when a UK university actually goes bankrupt? The government seems to think, it won’t matter, it will serve to scare the rest straight, the magic of the market will fix everything. My fear is that opposite will happen.

Overseas students (from the EU or further a field) will flee the country (taking their money with them), R&D money (from the private & public sector) will disappear and banks will start cutting off lines of credit. So one collapse will probably be followed by several more. And in the context of brexit, its the larger more prestigious uni’s (basically any dependant on large EU research grants or with a large intake of foreign students), which are potentially in the firing line, not just the ex-polytechnics.

In many cases the local uni is the main local employer in its area and supports many tens of thousands of jobs (those student take-away meals don’t cook themselves!) and props up local property prices. So the political fallout of such a bankruptcy is going to be massive. And once one goes down, and others looking wobbly, this impact won’t be restricted to that constituency.

So the political price the Tories will pay if they allow such a thing to happen is going to be massive, more than enough to potentially swing an election Corbyn’s way. Hence why the question is are they actually prepared to pay that price? Or will they, as has happened so often when a privatised company gets in trouble, just be forced to step in and prop the universities up, same way public money is being used to prop up the failings of the privatised energy, water and rail industry?

Because that’s the reality of Thatcherism, make a mess of a perfectly functioning public service, let the private sector run it into the ground, then skip town with all the money, forcing the government to step in and pick up the pieces.

 

Moorside nuclear plant cancelled

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Hinkley C is increasingly looking like the hill and which the UK nuclear lobby are going to die on. This ridiculous boondoggle has so poisoned the well, that it could well be the last nuclear power station ever built in the UK.

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Case in point, we now have news that the proposed Moorside nuclear project in Cumbria has been cancelled. This shouldn’t come as a huge shock. As I reported before, the bankruptcy of Westinghouse last year meant this was probably inevitable. However, it does highlight how bad the situation is for nuclear energy.

Consider that Toshiba would not have taken this decision lightly, its going to cost them about £125 million just to walk away with nothing to show for it. And there were efforts to try and get someone else (notably a South Korean firm) in to take over the project, but inevitably they weren’t interested in polishing a turd. Of course this highlights all the problems with the Tories unhealthy obsession with nuclear, lavishing money on expensive boondoogles that the private sector won’t touch with a barge pole, while punishing renewables for their successes.

 

Mars colonisation nixed

Elon Musk’s plans to colonise Mars may have taken a bit of dent due to a recent study published in Nature. Its behind a paywall, but the gist of the report is that in order to terraform Mars, you’d need to heat the planet up. That would involve releasing lots of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to bring up the atmospheric pressure and temperatures. Well the researchers did an inventory of available CO2 resources on Mars and concluded there isn’t nearly enough of it available to do the job.

And since we’re talking about it, the “heat the planet up” part of terraforming would be the easy part. Creating a stable oxygen rich atmosphere would be the harder part (this process took billions of years on earth). Along with stopping the solar wind eroding away the atmosphere again, much as happened to the original Martian atmosphere. And as Mars lacks a magnetosphere, colonists would still be vulnerable to things like solar flares even with an atmosphere.

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So this seems to suggest terraforming Mars might well be impossible. However, it doesn’t rule out the option of para-terraforming, whereby you build a large dome over a deep Martian valley or crater and terraform the atmosphere within that dome.

 

No dogs, disabled or poor

A survey by the housing charity Shelter has revealed that 10% of rental property ads in the UK include the phrase “No DSS (this is the scheme through which disabled and the unemployed get their housing benefit). In essence its the equivalent of putting up a sign saying “no working class scum need apply” or including a skin colour chart saying you must be this white to get a flat.

Now the only thing I find surprising about this is that its only 10%. I suspect its in truth a lot higher than that. Under UK law it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, religion or economic background. But the shocking thing is that while you could probably pull some of these landlords up for putting such a thing in their ad, under the current law prosecuting them for actually discriminating against people (even racial discrimination) is nearly impossible.

This is the problem with the UK, its property laws are like something out of a Dickensian novel. For too long UK law has favoured landlords over tenants, which is perhaps not surprising in a country where parliament is made up of the landlords rather than renters.

My get out of jail free card, courtesy of brexit

An interesting ruling has been made by the Irish supreme court which has some far reaching implications.

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Basically, an Irish citizen, who ran a business in the UK but is now back in Ireland, is being pursued by the British for non-payment of tax. As I mentioned in a recent post, its not uncommon for business owners to dodge payment of VAT or raid the company pension fund and get away with it. So this is a rare case of one of them being held to account (presumably because he didn’t go to the right school).

Anyway, the British applied for a European arrest warrant. However, said tax dodgers lawyers argued the defendant cannot be guaranteed a fair trial in the UK as he will lose his civil right part way through the process (due to brexit) and thus he cannot be extradited. Well the judge agreed and to be fair he does have a point, given the contradictory positions coming out of London, which includes withdrawal from the ECJ and ending the 4 freedoms of the EU on April 1st 2019 and even withdrawing from the European convention of human rights (or walking away without any agreement at all).

Of course the legal implications of this ruling is that effectively every Irish citizen living in the UK now has a get-out-of-jail free card. I could go down to London tomorrow and go around the museums, smashing national treasures with a hurley, then take a crap in one of the Queen’s fountains, kick her Corgi’s, shoot a swan, etc. So long as I could make it to a ferry port or airport and get back to Ireland before they issue an arrest warrant (or if I did get arrested, absconded while on bail) then I’m home free.

Naturally this hardly good news (particularly given that are some less than law abiding Irish people, who don’t particularly like the Queen…nor the brexiters!). It should be noted that the Irish government opposed this ruling (for what should be obvious reasons) and were supporting the extradition case. But it highlights the consequences of the legal minefield the UK is about to stray into post-brexit and the chaos that could ensue.

Because when Theresa May says “brexit means brexit”…then repeatedly fails to clarify what that means. Well what’s going to happen is that what brexit means will be decided not by the UK parliament, nor even the EU, but by judges, customs officials and lowly civil servants in the four corners of the world. Without a clear agreement in place and with the UK taking a contradictory position (get free trade, but ending the four freedoms), its left to these people to use their own judgement, which can lead to unpredictable results.

For example, take those European health and safety laws the brexiters love to hate. Well without those laws on the statute books and with no agencies to replace them and provide regulatory oversight, companies can no longer use “compliance with all European safety standards” as their defence when being sued in court. Also there are liability limits in many cases for civil law suits, even when negligence can be proven (this  is why you don’t see $2.8 million payouts over a spilt cup of coffee in Europe). So in theory, such caps on payouts could disappear and it would become a lot harder to defend against civil suits, which would see insurance premiums soar. And recall, its not just a simple matter of the UK bringing in new laws. The injured party might be in Europe (or worse America!).

And to give perhaps a more specific example, with the UK withdrawing from the European nuclear regulator on April 2019, who is going to regulate the countries nuclear power plants? There’s a risk that they might be forced to shut down and Hinkley C mothballed. And again, this is not a decision the UK parliament will get to make, it will be made by HSE inspectors, insurers or company boards. Also, what if there were to be a problem with Hinkley C, e.g. let’s supposed the French screw up somehow (as has happened with a few recent projects) or there’s an accident and the British try to sue them or prosecute EDF executives. Will the French allow that? Well maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Will a French judge allow their extradition? Who knows! Let’s just say I’m glad I live at the opposite end of the country.

Or let’s suppose a French local politician decides that henceforth British cheese is banned because it contains dangerous ingredients (English milk). Or he insists it’s labelled “du Fromage Roast beef”. What are the producers of British cheese supposed to do?

Yes, there are legal ways to settle these issues. The tax dodger’s case has now been referred to the ECJ (who may overturn the ruling). The Irish government is already talking about a new post-brexit extradition treaty. Trade disputes can be resolved via the WTO. However, this is not a case of flicking a switch. Such cases take months or even years to resolve (so our tax dodgers case may simply time out, or a company caught in limbo might go out of business). New treaties can take equally long to draft and sign. And it requires good co-operation from both sides for such negotiations to run smoothly. If the UK follows through on the brexiters plan, which is basically to undertake brexit negotiations in bad faith, then you can forget about it.

This is the real danger that the brexiters are missing. They could find themselves stuck in a legal quagmire and it won’t be easy to get out of it. Now if you’ll excuse me I need to Google “how do you roast a swan?”.

Christmas time news round up

I’ve been away for most of the Christmas/New Year period, so I thought I’d do a round up of somethings that caught my eye over the last month….

The block

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Roy Moore losing the special senate election in Alabama to Doug Jones was certainly welcome news. However the fact still remains that 650,436 voters thought having a kiddy fiddler as a senator was okay with them. Indeed such was the narrow margin of his loss, Mr Snowflake is now appealing the result and calling for a re-vote. One assumes the state motto of Alabama should really be “Pedo’s welcome” and the state mascot should be Pennywise from IT. If Gary Glitter ever gets out of jail, we know where we can send him.

And the bulk of those who voted for him would be self described “value voters” (try not to laugh), who also voted overwhelmingly for Trump who has spent millions digging himself out of sexual harassment lawsuits. So one assumes those “values” are much the same as those in Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Republican party is at every level now a morally bankrupt institution. Its less a political party now and more of a tribe or a corrupt cargo cult. Its guiding political philosophy is no longer “conservatism but more anti-liberalism and pandering to the wealthy donors who help to keep them in power. And to be fair, we can’t blame Trump alone for this, its a downward spiral conservatives have been on since the 1980’s.

As I recall someone joking a while back, Satan himself could be a GOP candidate, he could run on a policy of ripping out the hearts of the first born of anyone who voted for him and he’d still get at least 40% of the vote in any US election. And many republicans would vote for him and them blame the democrats, because they went and put that bearded hippy on the ballot paper (some guy call Jesus) and they could hardly vote for him (…I hear he was born in the Middle East).

So this is an important point to understand when it comes to trying to debate conservatives, particularly those from the alt-right. You are wasting your time. Any facts that don’t support their position will be ignored, or twisted and deliberately miss-represented….or they’ll just plain make sh*t up. They are basically immune to logic and facts.

It is simply not possible to run a democratic society if half of that society has basically decided to abscond on their civic duties and hand their democratic rights on to a series of corrupt tribal leaders. The lessons of history tells us that this will likely end rather badly, especially for conservatives.

Russia cables

Recently the head of the UK armed forces has raised concerns about the risk posed to undersea communication cables by the Russian navy. The concern is that they might resort to cutting these cables or eavesdropping on them.

Now where would the Russians get a crazy idea like that from? Probably from the CIA and NSA. Who, with the help of US navy subs, have supposedly been tapping into undersea cables for years. So this is very much pot calling the kettle black.

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Also it is starting to get to the stage where the Russians are getting the blame for every little thing now. That said, there’s no smoke without fire, but you do wonder if issues like this are being exaggerated by those in Western intelligence and military organisations trying to protect budgets. After all, given the allegations against Trump or the brexiters of Russian collusion, how would it look for them to cut the budget of something the CIA or MI6 were selling that was intended to counter Russian this or Russia that. Pretty darn dodgy one assumes. Hence why perhaps some in the intelligence and military community are constantly talking about Russia.

Trump hates Christians

One of the justifications for Trump’s policy towards the middle east is the defence of the Christian minorities living within the middle east. Well those Christians would rather he shut the hell up, as his actions are putting their lives in danger. In the wake of Trump’s announcement to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, Christian leaders refused to meet Mike Pence during his Christmas time visit and he ended up being forced to cancel it.

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It should be noted that Christians in the middle east tend to be pro-Israel, as that’s one of they few country’s in the region which isn’t actively persecuting them. But they also understand the danger inherent in provoking the anger of Muslims and the long term obstacle to peace that an Israeli capital in Jerusalem represents. And the recent history of the region tends to be a case of one side provoking the other with the Christians caught in the middle.

And on a related topic, the UN voted to condemn Trump’s actions over the Christmas period. Trump mumbled something about cutting funding to any country that voted against him (i.e. offended his ego). Again, this is putting your foot in a quagmire.

Firstly, if he doesn’t follow through with this threat, then everyone knows it was an empty threat and he talks the talk but can’t walk the walk. A long standing doctrine of US diplomacy has been not to make threats they aren’t prepared to follow through on (hence why US diplomats are usually very careful in their choice of words). Otherwise you risk being seen as toothless. And given that Egypt and Saudi Arabia were two of those that did vote against the US (and both receive a lot of funding from the US and host a number of Trump businesses), its going to be difficult for him to follow through without upsetting a lot of apple carts.

While its true that many country’s often used aid money as a way of currying favour with others and potentially getting them to vote this way or that at the UN, the general rule is not to bluntly state as much. Because now Trump has made it clear that those who voted with him are essentially entitled to a few billion in funding. While the others should just go and sell their vote to China (who will be more than willing to pay….in exchange for an airbase in Central America!). In short, he’s just put a few dozen UN votes up on E-bay.

So Trump’s actions here could not be more ill-judged.

Trump’s tweets

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And speaking of Trump, why is he still on twitter? Given he’s now openly and repeatedly violated twitter’s own policies against promoting hate speech and/or violence, surely his account should be shut down. And its not that they can’t do it, a disgruntled employee did take Trump’s account down for a few hours last month. So it is a matter of policy that the company is ignoring its own rules and keeping his account open.

And its not just Trump. Ask anyone running a blog or a vlog that is moderately left wing and they will tell you how they face harassment (false DCMA claims, a deluge of spam, etc.), trolling and more recently the demonetising of vlog posts on a pretty regular basis, often for no apparent reason. Yet right wing vlogers like Laura Southern or Jayda Fransen (head of Britain First….but born in Germany!…..so the party name should really be Britain second) can run their potty little mouths and not face any of these same issues.

We need to get away from the myth, a myth many on the left themselves seem to buy into, that social media has a liberal bias. It doesn’t, if anything the tech billionaires running these companies have a strong bias towards conservatives. Most are socially liberal but economic conservatives. They support and agree with republicans on many issues, if they could only get them to shut up about Benghazi or Obama’s birth certificate for ten seconds.

Of course, they are deluded. The real loser in the last US election was libertarianism, not the democrats or the centre left (who, as noted, have been doing reasonably well recently). 2016 was the best chance that libertarians have had in a generation to make their mark on the political stage and they flunked it. Gary Johnston’s vote collapsed and many conservatives voted for Trump, whose about the most un-libertarian candidate you could possibly get. In short libertarianism, as a mass political movement is now dead in America. Brexit (which amounts to a return to a nativist command economy) also killed such notions off here in the UK. But even so, the fact is that there is still a bias among many tech billionaires towards the conservatives. Although that might not last very long once they are confronted by the consequences of some of Trump’s policies.

And we also need to realise that computers themselves may have a certain bias towards conservatism. Advertising revenue is increasingly being controlled by machine learning algorithms and they are going to favour the content consumers who are the easiest to sell to. And guess which side of the political fence that is?

Try the following experiment, turn off any trackers, browse anonymously and visit some random left wing sites (the guardian.com, climatecrocks, Huntington post, motherjones, etc.). The default ads that come up will probably be pretty generic ads, M&S, Sears, latest movies, etc. Now go to a right wing website (e.g. Newsmax, Alex Jones, etc.) and you’ll be bombarded with ads for gold/bitcoin or get rich/fit/bigger di*k quick scams. The fact is that its easier to sell to certain types of people. And given how dependant on advertising social media is, they will always favour one side over the other. Hence the inherent danger of ending net neutrality.

The EU on Tax havens

The EU has put together a list of the country’s it feels are acting as tax havens. While its good to see some progress on this issue, and again as I’ve said many times, its only through pressure from international organisations, such as the EU, that we’ll see action on tax havens. But equally one must be a wee bit skeptical of this list as its a bit “selective in who it labels a tax haven.

For example, Luxembourg isn’t on the list, even thought its one of the biggest tax havens in Europe. It is slightly ironic seeing faraway Islands, who actually do very little business with Europe on this list, when the EU’s most important tax havens are absent.

And of course the world’s largest tax haven isn’t on the list. That being London. And the brexiters would have us believe that the EU is anti-UK. Of course, given that its been made clear to Theresa May that she’ll be facing a choice between a Norway model (which means no immigration controls and having to pay into the EU budget, plus not being able to negotiate independent trade deals) or a Canada model, which will mean London loses some of its access to the EU, its possible the problem of the UK as a tax haven will just take care of itself.

Scottish tax rise

Speaking of tax, the SNP have recently announced they plan to increase the income tax rates for high and middle income earners while lowering the taxes of those on low incomes. They promise to spend the extra money on the NHS, schools and the police. Its going to work out costing me a few hundred a year (so a few quid a week, probably less than I spend on milk) but that seems fair enough.

Of course the tabloids are foaming at the mouth over it. What they seem to forget is that the Tories put up my taxes multiple times. The only difference is they were sneaky about it. They pushed up VAT, they put up NI rates and they put up VEI tax for small and environmentally friendly vehicles (such as a Prius or Golf), while cutting the tax on SUV’s. When I lived in England they cut funding to councils, leading to higher water rates, council tax and business rates, which ultimately fed its way through the system to see a rise in the cost of living (this is the real trickle down effect).

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And that’s before we consider the combined effect of austerity, stagnant wages and inflation which has cost everyone in the UK and average of 5.5% of their income (although its closer to -16% for younger workers and -20% for many public sector workers) and brexit will at the very least double that again.

So ya, I could have a moan about the SNP putting up taxes. But a few hundred a year, pales in comparison against the thousands the Tories have cost me. But listen to the tabloids, they’ll have you believe the Tories increased the chocolate ration from 30g to 25g’s and we should be patriotic and grateful for that.

The Scottish invasion of Ireland

I stumbled on this old BBC documentary about a long forgotten episode in Irish history, the Scottish invasion of Ireland in the 14th century. Not long after Robert the Bruce beat the English at Bannockburn, he sent his brother Edward to lead an expeditionary force into Ireland to help liberate the Irish from English rule and become the new high king of Ireland. This would have united the Celtic lands of the British Isles under one family, creating a united Celtic Kingdom.

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An alternative UK could have existed incorporating the Celtic nations of the British Isles

History is often decided by pivotal moments like this. An event that could have dramatically changed history. While the Scots were initially successful, defeating the English and their anglo-Irish allies in several battles, they received only limited support from the Irish. In part this was due to cultural differences (clan A was backing the Scots, which meant clan B who had been fighting with clan A refused to back the Scots, prompting clan C to attack clan B as they were too busy dealing with clan A and the Scots, who were then in turn attacked by Clan B, drawing in the Scots who found themselves fighting both clans B & C).

Plus the invasion happened to coincide with one of the worse famines in European history. This left the Irish in no real position to help, left the Scottish army starving and forced to forage for food off the Irish (read steal it, hardly a way to win hearts and minds). In then end ground down by hunger plus a number of tactical errors led to the Scot’s being defeated by the anglo-Irish and English reinforcements.

What’s perhaps interesting is how this incident was swept under the carpet and largely written out of the history books. For the Scots it was an embarrassment, for the English, it suggested that the united kingdom could have been a very different UK, with its capital in Carrickfergus and dominated by the Celtic nations. While for the Irish it makes them look kind of silly, the golden opportunity to get out from under English rule which they failed to take.

Then again, it would have never worked out, I mean we’d have to agree how to spell the word “whiskey” for one thing, and that’s never going to happen.

The graduate

An interesting story here from a few weeks back about an Oxford graduate who is suing his university over his grades. He claims that because he only got a 2:1, this put back his career and basically ruined his life. Now if that sounds a little far fetched, you ain’t heard the good part. He graduated over a decade ago and yet he still claims that 2:1 is haunting his career.

The reality for students is that the grade you receive in university is only really relevant to your first job. After that it plays a decreasing level of importance each time you go for a job interview, as your work experience will become more and more relevant. Having a 1st class honour might get you shortlisted a bit more often for interview, but unless you can back that up with a good interview and work experience, it won’t matter diddly squat.

I mean I got a 2:1 at uni which I was not happy about (we had a module in final year that was badly handled, if I’d gotten a higher mark in that I’d have had a 1st), but that’s life and I’ve overcome that and now I’m a lecturer. And I can all but guarantee you that if you asked my line manager what my grade in my undergrad degree was he won’t be able to tell you.

In fact, there’s a challenge, anyone here a line manager? Can you recall the degree (which uni, year & grade) of any recent hires you’ve made? I’m guessing you’d probably get only half of them right and it probably had little to do with the decision to hire them (unless they were a graduate with no work experience).

There is a point to be made certainly about inadequate teaching at UK universities, a consequence of the defacto privatisation of UK universities. And the problem is particularly bad at some of the Russell Group uni’s, where a lecturer actually teaching his classes (rather than getting his PhD students to do it) is seen by management as playing hooky. But this is more of a matter of whether or not students are getting value for money. Like I said, if you’ve learnt anything in uni its how to study independently and 10 years after graduation you should be over any issues you had with teaching.

So Mr snowflake here should be told by the judge to go suck on a lemon. A bad workman blames his tools. Anyone complaining about a lack of employment a decade after graduation, it ain’t the degree that’s the problem!

Bombardier and protectionism

Some people don’t know when to quit. After the intervention of Airbus in the row over Bombardier’s C-series that should have been the end of it. But no, the US authorities have tried again. However, they don’t seem to understand its not just a few thousand jobs in the UK that are at stake. 20,000 workers in the US contribute to C-Series production. This is the problem with nationalistic protectionism, it sees the world in us versus them terms. It doesn’t reflect the fact that you might save a few jobs in Boeing, but result in many more workers in another factory in the US losing their jobs.

Similarly, restricting immigration its argued will mean more jobs for local people. However, this simply isn’t true. All it will mean is that companies find it harder to recruit and either they’ll find loopholes to get around such laws and hire who they want. Or they’ll automate those jobs or they’ll move them overseas.

In a globalised economy its not foreigners coming over here and stealing your job you need to fear, but foreigners staying at home and your job moving.

Catalan elections

The election results in Catalonia are in and the results don’t look great for the Spanish conservatives (the PP). The pro-independence parties were returned to power, with a slightly reduced majority, while the PP was more or less wiped out (getting only 4 out of 135 seats). Then again, sending riot police into polling stations is going to kind of end up doing that.

In short, if you think the Catalan crisis over, think again. They’re just getting started. While its doubtful the pro-independence movement will declare another referendum, they might start to take measures to break with Spain. They could call on Catalans to refuse to pay their taxes to Madrid, refuse to collect VAT, hold a general strike, and otherwise cripple the Spanish economy until Madrid has no choice but to yield.

One interesting feature of the results was that the largest single party is now the Catalan Citizens party, which is largely a single issue anti-independence party. It took 25% of the vote. With the population clearly split on this issue (25-33% anti-independence, 40-54% in favour roughly), one has to say that there are really only two alternatives. Further concessions and regional autonomy to placate the nationalists (including some level of “national” recognition, a state within a state sort of thing). Or have a legally sanctioned in/out referendum. The left wing opposition in Madrid have long favoured one or other of these options. However, that was when support for independence was much lower and before Rajoy stirred up a hornet’s nest by sending in riot people to beat up peaceful protesters.

But in the absence of some sort of concession, conflict and confrontation is inevitable. In fact its probably just a matter of time before some hot head on one side or other of the debate starts setting off bombs and suddenly the PP have got themselves a civil war.

Into the blue

The brexiters had an early Christmas present, in that they will be getting their blue passports back. This was an issue that came up during the referendum, the old foggies reminisced about how they missed the old blue passports, which merely suggests their reasons for voting leave were irrational.

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The Brexiters had many sensible reasons for voting for brexit, bring back hangin, blue passports, incandescent light bulbs, lb’s & oz’s, small things really

Not least because, its been pointed out since then that at no point did the EU ever compel the UK government into changing the colour of its passports. They did propose harmonising the design of passports in the 1970’s, as part of an effort to help speed up customs controls and improve security, but it was entirely voluntary. And it was a TORY government that went along with these proposals in 1981 (under Thatcher of all people).

Indeed, the UK going back to blue isn’t even a voluntary decision, the UK is being forced into doing so, as it will no longer be an EU member and thus not UK citizens will no longer be entitled to EU passports. Oddly enough Croatia, among others, opted to keep its passports blue after joining the EU, so its just going to make it easier for the citizens of certain countries to sneak into the UK and mean longer waits for UK citizens to get into Europe….plus them having to pay for the privilege. Meanwhile, me with my Irish/EU passport can sail through passport control both sides no problem.

An incorrect story related to this circulated that it was going to cost the UK £500 million to change the colour of its passports. This isn’t entirely correct (this is what the new passport system will cost, but its a cost the UK will have to pay anyway). In truth its going to cost £50 billion to do something we could do for free by staying in the EU.

No dogs or Polish men

As we know one consequence of brexit has been to embolden the racists and the xenophobes. As an example, the sign below showed up in rural Oxfordshire, effectively banning Eastern Europeans from fishing.

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Admittedly, some of my relatives back in Ireland have had problems with Eastern European fishermen. A pond, which is one of the few places you can catch carp in Ireland, is on land my relatives own. And we’ve had Romanians show up with no rod license (and a frying pan!) looking to catch them. However, a quiet word reminding them of the law general does the trick….and if it doesn’t, a quick call to the local Garda office (who will confiscate all fishing equipment and impose a heavy on the spot fine, noting that under Irish law they can do that even if you are merely caught with a rod near the pond, never mind if you are actually caught fishing).

So its not as if there wasn’t a solution to this problem that could have resolved the matter without going the full Daily Mail. But so emboldened are the racists now that they will resort to such things without a thought for how it makes them look.

Caravans

According the BBC there’s been a significant jump in the number of caravans being purchased in the UK since brexit. Of the many negatives associated with brexit it would appear more of being stuck behind one of these things is one of those negatives. No wonder Clarkson voted remain.

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What I dislike about caravanning (my spell checker whats to change this word to canning!), other than the inconvenience and lack of consideration they show anyone else on the road (at least those in Scotland, where narrow roads can mean there’s no where to overtake them and they rarely pull over to let people past) and the waste of fuel. Its that holidaying with a caravan amounts to being penny wise and pound foolish.

With a tent you can generally camp pretty cheaply (£5-10 per night), while with a caravan you’ve got to pay for the extra fuel you’ll burn, the parking/hook up fee, consumables, etc. Add it all up, say £20-30 a night grounds fees, extra £10 per day for fuel and another £5-10 for consumables your are looking at about £40-45 a night, which is towards the lower end of the cost of a B&B room in Scotland at peak season (so once you factor in the cost of the caravan and depreciation, you are unlikely to break even).

Normally the main advantage of caravanning over B&B’s is that you don’t have to book in advance. But in peak season in Scotland, sites can fill up pretty quickly, so typically you would be advised to book in advance. While with a tent, if the camping grounds are full, you can simply trek a few hundred metres in from the road (and off any farmland…else the farmer might release his prize bull into the field!) and wild camp for free for the night.

In short caravanning seems to come with all the disadvantages of camping, but none of the advantages. While it comes with similar costs and inconvenience of B&B’s. Its really a mugs game.

The Royal price

The Queen gets a lot of criticism for the amount of tax payers money it costs to fund her, about £82 million a year. However, it was recently revealed that the production costs of the netflix series “the crown” is running at around £100 million or so. This would mean that the actual royal family is cheaper than a TV series about them.

So here’s a thought, give Meghan Markle a selfie stick and a camera, get her to film the Royal’s Meet the Kardashians style, broadcast that, and the Royal family could pay for itself, indeed we might even be able to make money off the back of them!

Hodoring the door and nuking the fridge

Speaking of TV, I’ve heard of the odd supposed “leak” of the Game of Thrones season 8 script online. It is reasonable to assume, after they royally screwed up last time, that HBO are being extra careful as regards leaks this time, so most of these “leaksare likely to be hoaxes from obsessive fans. The odd time I’ve bothered to read one, generally only when I need a bit of a giggle, its all too obvious that its not the real thing. Because these “leaked” plots make sense, don’t include a load of obvious howlers and were clearly written by someone whose read the books – which means they can’t be the real script!

When the season 7 plot leaked most people ignored it, dismissing it as a hoax, as it seemed unlikely that HBO would commit to spending tens of millions of dollars filming something this badly written. Well the leak turned out to be about 90% accurate (likely an earlier draft of the script actually filmed). Frankly if HBO wanted to save some money, they could go along to a GoT convention, grab the first bearded fanboy they see, stick him in front of a laptop, keep feeding him beer and bar snacks and in an evening he’d probably churn out something far better than what’s actually being filmed right now.

As I discussed in a prior post, GoT is now little more than expensive fan fiction, written by people who have little love for the novels and are bound by other requirements put in place on them by producers and company exec’s. Anyone hoping for a great season 8….wait for the books….although you might be waiting a long time! Its even been suggested that since G.R.R. Martin might not live long enough to finish them, we might need to create an AI to finish them for him.

But here’s the problem, much like Star Wars or Star Trek, even after a series has clearly jumped the shark (sometimes called nuking the fridge, or hodored the door as I suspect we’ll be calling it in a few years time), the series keeps going, simply because the producers (with dollar signs in their eyes) know they can get away with it and millions will still pay to watch whatever crap they churn out. As I recall one fanboy lamenting, George Lucas could film himself taking a shower, call it episode 7 and still expect to pull in a few hundred million in its first week.

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So long as money can be made, they will not learn the consequences of bad script writing and bad production and keep churning out crap. Hence why I won’t be seeing the latest star wars film, nor did I see the last two star trek films, nor will I be watching GoT series 8. Only when the movie industry sees their profits take a dent will they do anything.

And speaking of the latest star wars film, there’s actually a petition from hardcore fans for Lucas to disown it, as they disliked it that much. In essence it seems that Disney has decided to disregard the fans and focus on selling a generic sci-fi movie with lots of CGI & explosions to the masses. And for the record, I’m not giving the films a miss because I necessarily support this petition, but because I have better things to do over Christmas than go see a generic sci-fi film with lots of CGI and explosions.

Now the problem with this strategy is that making money out of the fantasy or sci-fi genre is difficult at the best of times. Its where movie studios go to die. If a producer/actor/director wants to ruin their career, or a studio wants to set $200 million on fire, make a sci-fi or fantasy movie. Any movie library will be littered with many such career ending box office bombs, e.g. the 13th warrior, In the Name of the King, Dredd, Pluto Nash, John Carter to name a few. While some of these films were dire, others on the list weren’t that bad. Its just that with such large sunk costs its very difficult to make any money with these sorts of movies.

The reason why the LOTR, star wars, star trek or GoT series stand out from the crowd is that they can rely on a legion of fans to show up (often going multiple times, or buying expensive DVD box-sets) and basically meet the overhead costs. The movie then makes its profits off the back of the general audience (i.e. those who couldn’t tell you the name of the reptilian bounty hunter seen for 5 seconds in Empire strikes back, nor tell you his entire character bio).

So the danger is that by screwing over their own fans, the studios might well find audience numbers tank and they end up making a loss.

News roundup

I have been away on business for a couple of weeks. I thought it would be useful to do an update.

Bloody pathetic woman

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Prior to the election Theresa May promised to be “a bloody difficult woman” in pursuit of brexit negotiations. I recall joking that given her behaviour during the election (basically hiding from public appearances and avoiding TV debates), her strategy would probably actually involve locking herself in the loo for the duration of talks and waiting for the EU to push a favourable agreement under the door.

Well I was sort of right. Her solution to dealing with the EU was to go to Brussels and turn on the water works. And the EU “conceded” something to her, just to get this blubbering wailing mess out of the room. Of course they didn’t really concede anything, they simply agreed to talk privately among themselves about what a potential transitional trade deal would look like, which they’d already agreed to do prior to the summit, the only difference was they made this public, giving May the illusion of having won some concession when in truth she’d won nothing.

And the early results of those talks aren’t encouraging for the brexiters. It pretty much states what we’ve long been telling them. You’ll have to pay the exit bill. A trade deal will take a considerable period of time to negotiate, not only long after March 2019 but probably extending past the next general election (leaving the country in economic limbo for a considerable period of time). Access to the EU market in any form will mean accepting all of those pesky EU rules they despise on the UK statute books. Plus we’ll either need to hire several thousand new civil servants to administer and regulate those rules or pay the EU a few billion to do it all for us….oh and you’ve a month to make a decision, so no pressure!

Oh and the latest word from the WTO regarding the UK’s future trading relationship isn’t positive either. The UK could face charges as high as 10-50% hit on the cost of its exports after March 2019, not just to the EU but to a host of other countries the EU has existing trade deals with. Yes, we could do a deal with the US, ditch EU rules. But you’re assuming that all the companies who are trading with the EU, who will then instantly lose access to their customers in the EU (as they will no longer be in compliance with EU rules and thus their products will be banned from the EU), can simply wave a magic wand and find new customers in the US and establish a supply chain to those customers on the other side of the Atlantic…and do all of that over night.

Of course the problem for the UK is that there is now an open civil war ongoing in the Tory party. Micheal Fallon, a May supporter has just got taken out, so in return she took the opportunity to take out leave supporter Priti Patel (although to be fair, suggesting international development aid should be given to the Israeli army for use in occupied territories the UK doesn’t recognise Israeli control over is a sackable offence for a minister in any circumstances).

In order to get the compromises the EU wants one or both of the main leadership candidates, Dave2 (the person whom the media tycoons have chosen to lead the party) or Boris have to basically take a big bite out of a shit sandwich (if you’ll pardon the bluntness of my language), because May’s already eaten all the crusts. They would have to sign off on paying the EU tens of billions of pounds (having promised in the referendum the UK would be £350 million a week richer), they’d have to accept some level of freedom of movement, recognition of the ECJ and likely leave northern Ireland half in and half out of the rest of the UK. Either of them does any of this and they can rule out wining the post-May leadership contest. And yet she can’t sack them and put someone more complaint into their jobs. So in short, the UK has become ungovernable .

Hindu fascism

Should you wonder what possessed Mrs Patel to go to Israel without authorisation, try to overturn a long standing UK (as well as US, EU and UN) backed position on the occupied territories and then propose her department give UK development aid money to the Israeli army. Well we need to get past the idea that racism and bigotry is something that only white men are responsible for. The crisis in Myanmar and the persecution of a Muslim minority (by Buddhists under Aung San Suu Kyi) being a case in point. Unfortunately a significant number of Hindu’s, such as Mrs Patel are also fanatically islamophobic to an extend that makes Nigel Farage sound like a moderate.

Now naturally I’m not saying all Hindu’s are bigots, but certainly some are. And while I’d like to say its few on the fringes (who’ve probably made the mistake of reading the Daily Mail), in truth were are talking a fairly significant number of them. The BJP, the ruling party in India, at present, is very much anti-Muslim and more than a little racist. Indeed they are basically an Indian version of UKIP.

Their policies have included such highlights as knocking down Muslim temples (leading to massive riots that killed thousands), trying to introduce astrology as a university degree, arguing that some ancient Hindu civilisation we’ve never heard of once existed (and even conducted nuclear tests) and professing a belief that cow dung can cure cancer. They also want to stop tourists visiting the Taj Mahal, which they argue is a Shiva temple (its a mausoleum for a Muslim emperor’s wife)…..Just to reiterate, these nutters are running India and have access to nuclear weapons (well if they put the astrologers in charge of missile guidance we’ve nothing to worry about I suppose!).

And Hindu fascists have also been very quick to find common cause with other similar groups around the world. More than a few thought that India was on the wrong side during World War II, notably Savitri Devi a British fascist and Hindu convert, who is revered by both Hindu extremists and the alt-right to this day. I’m going to take a wild guess and assume Mrs Patel kept didn’t mention this little fact of history to her Israeli hosts.

Catalatrophy

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The Catalan crisis is a crisis not so much due to the Catalan’s pursuit of a referendum (assuming any referendum had the proper checks and balances, e.g. the need for a full majority, i.e. 50% of the voters to back it, they’d have probably lost it), but the conservative government in Madrid’s refusal to allow it and the brutal crack down before and after.

They’ve now likely just succeeded in convincing many Catalan’s that Madrid can’t be trusted to stay out of the regions affairs. By suspending the regional government they’ve left Catalonia with two choices, full independence, or direct rule from Madrid. And by making martyrs of the leadership, they’re just going to provide a totem for independence supporters to rally around.

And there is history here. The reason why Ireland isn’t part of the UK is because of events during world war one (a war which had nothing to do with Ireland, yet we got dragged into it) and the crackdown by the British after the Easter rising. Both events convinced the Irish that even with the proposed home rule we’d been promised London simply couldn’t be trusted not to meddle in Irish affairs. And hence we were better off outside of the UK, regardless of what economic price we had to pay to get that independence. This is not far from were Catalonia is now.

Hence while the sensible solution would be to hold a proper poll on the matter, something the left wing parties in Madrid have been proposing for sometime I might add, the window of opportunity where that could settle the matter has probably now passed. Up until recently the assumption was that (as noted) such a poll would go against the Catalan independence movement, while now its 50/50 either way. Also even if such a poll were held and even if it was a firm No vote, I don’t think the Catalan independence movement will pack up and go home. Having been beaten up by the cop’s they aren’t going to give up until they get what they want, so in essence Madrid has radicalised them. And its only a matter of time before some hot head starts setting off bombs. As JFK said “those who make political change impossible make violent revolution inevitable”.

And some of those bombs will be going off in Brussels, for the EU very firmly backed Madrid when they should have stayed neutral. This pro-Madrid stance was probably what emboldened Madrid enough that they felt comfortable sending in the riot squads. The EU’s reasoning has been that they don’t want to encourage other separatist movements. However my suspicion is that all they’ve succeeded in doing is guaranteeing that if Catalonia does separate from Spain it will be a messy breakup of Spain and that the other independence movements around Europe will now be emboldened to carry on regardless. In short the EU has made life more difficult for itself not less.

So clear the solution here, given the impossibility of a pig headed Spanish PM changing course, is for the EU to act. They should put in place a contingency plan for what to do if a country who is an EU member breaks up. If Catalonia must leave the EU (as suggested) then so too must Spain (as the conditions on which it entered the EU have now changed as well). Or both are allowed to transition into EU members. If that offends Madrid, then tough. Otherwise Brussels could find itself facing violent attack from separatists from across the continent, which would create a crisis that makes brexit look like a storm in a tea cup.

Not so Trumped up charges

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The first charges in the Mueller investigation into Trump’s Russia connections have been made and needless to say the reaction from him and his supporters has been similar to the reaction you’d get from a toddler whose hand you caught in the cookie jar, a combination of bawling and counter claims against his sister, or in this case Hilary.

There are allegations made that suggest Hilary may have gotten funds from a pro-Putin source and certainly there’s some smoke here, but not necessarily a fire. It should be noted that it is a known tactic of Putin to secretly give money to his political opponents, usually through back channels and anonymous allies, such that the opposition don’t realise what’s going on, only to then to allow this bombshell to be leaked to the media at a time when it is most inconvenient to those opponents. That he would play the same trick with Hilary would hardly be a surprise.

However, even if the worse case scenario was true, Hilary knew about this money, well two wrongs don’t make a right. Trump’s still in trouble, he can have the cell next to her. It is deeply ironic how everything he’s accused Hilary of, Trump and his administration have now also done. He’s had his own email scandal, his own Benghazi. Yet the GOP have launched no investigation, they are too busy investigating Hilary.

To draw an analogy, its like seeing a mafia don being dragged into court and on the way in he passes a hot dog stand and randomly accuses the owner of that stand of not paying his taxes. And as a response the federal grand jury suspends his case while they launch an investigation into the hot dog stand owner’s tax affairs. And again, its the sort of behaviour that one regularly sees play out in corrupt African dictatorships.

Perhaps more worryingly is Trump’s warmongering towards Iran and North Korea. Its been suggested that he might launch some sort of attack against these countries in order to deflect attention from the Russia investigation, which does actually sound plausible. And that’s very worrying because the likely consequences of such an intervention are unlikely to be pretty serious. Tens of thousands of dead and the destabilisation of the world, probably leading to a stand off between the US on one side and China and Russia and their allies on the other sort of serious. All to massage the ego of one guy.

Paradise papers

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The latest paradise paper leaks are oh so predictable. Some time ago I read a book called Treasure Islands about the offshore industry and many of the very mechanisms discussed in the book are identical to what these leaks reveal. I’m sorry but this is news only to the blind and naïve.

It also explains why when the brexiters threaten to turn the UK into a tax haven post-brexit, the response from Brussels is to start howling with laughter. As author Nicholas Shaxson puts it “the largest tax haven in the world is in London”. Most of the dirty work of tax avoidance actually takes place in offices within London itself. Offshore on the tax havens, they’ll have a few lawyers and officials to sign documents and that’s it. And to be fair to the UK, Delware in the US and Luxembourg in the EU means there are equivalent operations within both the US and EU.

It would be all too easy for the EU, UK and US to simply ban all financial trade with this regions, or slap some sort of financial transaction tax on all such activity. Or worse, adopt tax and salary transparency laws (meaning everybody’s earnings and tax payment records become public, meaning it’s very easy to work out who is paying their taxes and who is on the fiddle allowing tax dodgers to be easily caught). The fact is that it is an open secret that, as one billionaire put it “only the little people pay taxes”. The rich can avoid them not because there’s no way to shut down tax havens, but because the politicians are too scared to open that can of worms and try to do something about it.

Sparkling hypocrisy

In the US, the land of the free ain’t so free. You can’t for example buy Haggis, because the FDA says its unsafe (and if the brexiters have their way, those FDA rules might well apply in the UK too). Nor can you buy a kinder surprise. And fireworks are banned in some US states. Okay, fireworks are actually dangerous, but even in elf n’safety obsessed UK we’ve seemed to find a way of regulating that to a point that’s acceptable. But no so US states still say, no fireworks, they’re too dangerous, even sparklers are banned…..But a semi automatic rifle, oh they are perfectly safe! Go figure!

A matter of education

Before the EU referendum farmers were warned that subsidies would likely go, that they’d face the risk of rising costs, being cut off from the EU markets and losing access to seasonal workers from the EU. Well now we’ve seen how a cliff edge hard brexit and a sudden imposition of high tariffs could cut off that market access (and as noted earlier its not as if they can just pick up the phone and find someone else on April 1st 2019 who wants to buy several hundred tons of cheese). Farmers costs have risen rapidly and they are worrying signs that immigration controls could cut off access to seasonal workers, raising questions as to how they are going to harvest their crops post-brexit. And this is not just a problem for farmers, it will impact on food prices as well.

And inevitably a report has now come out suggesting farm subsidies should be scraped. They point to New Zealand as a model for British farming, ignoring the fact that New Zealand has a tiny population where their costs are lower and their farms are massive. The small holdings of the type we see in the UK either don’t exist or don’t produce the same things as we do (most smaller farms are vineyards producing wine or grow fruits….not a really an option for UK farmers!). The NHS was also warned that it would face staffing shortages, which again predictably are starting to come true.

brexit-demographics-1

One has to question where brexiters are maybe a little thick. And actually since you mention it, polls do show a link between education and which way people voted in the referendum. Those with a high level of education voting largely remain, those with no education beyond GCSE’s were the most likely to vote leave.

So now you know what happened to the farmer who didn’t pay attention at school. He voted for brexit, lost his farm and ended up as a poor cotter on the estate of some laird with no healthcare or pension in his old age.

The centenary of violence celebrated

The wheel of violence that has ground over the middle east for decades rolls on. While ISIS looks like its now more or less beaten, fighting has broken out between the Kurds and the Iraqi government forces around the oil rich town of Kirkuk. The Kurds (some 30 million strong) are the largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland of their own.

So we can see how this cycle of violence will just continue, the Kurds get radicalised, they start a four way war with Turkey, Iran, Iraq and what’s left of Syria, who btw are also starting to turn on the US backed free Syrian forces. 5,306 days since G. W. Bush declared mission accomplished, the fire he lit in the middle east continues to burn and it will likely continue to do so for decades more.

Indeed, strictly speaking it wasn’t G. W. Bush who lit the fire in the middle east, but the British. One hundred years ago a UK diplomat made the Balfour declaration, something that was recently celebrated in Israel, as they see it as the first acceptance of Israeli statehood. To be honest, its not the sort of thing I’d celebrate. As you are celebrating a hundred years of violence, which has seen more than a few Jews as well as Muslim’s killed btw.

And the thing is that what the British were proposing to do was use the Jews as their colonial stooges. A long standing British policy of colonisation was to drive out any disloyal locals, steal their land and “plant” some convenient lackies on that land, who were generally people they wanted out of the UK for some reason or another (the convicts sent to Australia, the Presbyterian’s in Northern Ireland, the Puritans in North America).

And it wasn’t even the local Muslims whom the British were worried about. At the time they were fighting world war one (where Germany was backed by the Turks and a number of other actors in the region) and the middle east was a key battle ground, given the Royal Navy’s dependence on oil. The first unit of British troops deployed overseas during world war one went not to Belgium but Basra to defend the oil fields. And the British, all too aware that post-war they’d face competition from their long standing rivals the French, wanted someone in the region loyal to them, rather than the French. So in essence Israel is celebrating how they became pawns of the British Empire.

And there is a further cruel irony to the Balfour deceleration. This British policy of both divide and rule (which one of the reasons for the violence and bigotry in India I referred too earlier) and planting of loyal supporters on someone else’s land was greatly admired by the nazi’s. In essence what they were doing in Eastern Europe was simply trying to copy what the British had been doing for centuries in other parts of the world (in a slightly crueller way, but same basic principle). So that’s hardly the sort of thing we should be celebrating, least of all the Israeli’s.

And so this wheel of violence will not only roll onwards, but we literally have some in the region celebrating its centenary.