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.

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The BBC’s real bias

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

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

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

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

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

Game of Thrones and the epidemic of bad writing

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

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Night vision goggles to full power!

Dany & Jon’s high school reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Iceman cometh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dumb and Dumber

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Game of Thrones review: Jumping the shark

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One of the features of the Game of Thrones TV series, based on the J.J. R Martin’s novels, that I find most interesting is its attempt to create a medieval high fantasy, but one grounded in a bit of realism. A flaw often made within fantasy settings (such as the Tolkien novels, the D&D gaming system of Gray Gygax or computer games, notably the World of Warcraft series) is to a failure to consider the consequences if you start to introduce magic or dragons into, say a medieval world.

For example, as this vlog post from Shaduniversity points out, if you end up in a world with dragons or wizards who can melt castle walls (or dimensionally travel inside them) then, unless a counter measure can be created (e.g. blocking dimensional travel, defences capable of resisting such attack), castles become pretty much useless and nobody would bother to build them. Similarly if an army has to face off against dragons or spell wielding wizards, it would be suicidal to do so using the sort of tightly packed infantry formations commonly used during the medieval period. And magic would have an impact on the economy, to the point where the feudal system wouldn’t really work any more. In short a medieval high fantasy world with magic won’t exist, because this ignores the essential reasons of how the medieval world worked.

GoT and J. J. R. Martin’s books do attempt to try and address this by toning down the magic element a lot (spell casters are so rare many doubt they even exist), aiming more for “low fantasy rather than high fantasy genre. However, that said, the GoT series has kind of gone off on the odd tangent which I feel which does kind of let itself down, particularly in the latest series.

How to loose allies and alienate your subjects

Let’s start with a major plot hole, how is Cersei still on the throne after blowing up the great Sept of Baelor with a large numbers of the nobility inside? A feudal society is held together by its religion, so such a blatant attack on the church, as well as the nobles and the common folk, would generally guarantee immediate overthrow. Part of the role of the church is to get the peasants to accept their place and not roast the nobles on spits (as did happen more than a few times in our history when the church was unable to restrain them). Even if Cersei could pin the blame on some outside force, in medieval times people interpreted misfortune as proof that the divine mandate rulers relied on had been withdrawn.

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Sometimes the peasants can be revolting in more ways than one!

So if something like that ever happened in an actual medieval society, there would be a massive uprising shortly thereafter. But Cersei could just put that down with army right…..which army would that be? Medieval rulers did not maintain large armies, they might have a few hundred knights, maybe a thousand or so men at arms at most. This was kind of the whole point of the feudal system. Without all the labour saving technology later societies enjoyed, it required massive amounts of manpower to harvest crops, manufacture goods and keep the wheels of the economy going.

Instead rulers looked to the nobles to administer their lands and raise troops for them, with each noble typically commanding a few dozen to a few hundred full time troops, as well as being able to raise larger armies from among their peasants on a temporary basis as and when needed (and usually only on a seasonal basis). In short, feudalism was just a giant protection racket, which the church legitimised.

This has two consequences, firstly raising armies is expensive, simply because by taking people away from the fields you are making labour more expensive, which means everything else in the economy gets more expensive, which means sooner or later a ruler runs out of coin to pay them (and no, a foreign bank isn’t going to be able to bail them out, as the issue here is we are trying to defy the laws of economic gravity).

And secondly if the nobles withdraw their support, that ruler is screwed. The nobles (the made men in our medieval world) wouldn’t support Cersei in this a scenario because she’s broken the code (you can’t kill your fellow nobles, they’d worry she might have them killed on a whim as well). They’d also fear the consequences of their own people rebelling if they backed her. And, all to aware that her goose was basically cooked, why back a lost cause? Better to sit on their hands and do nothing and then pivot behind whoever comes out on top later. This happened time and again throughout medieval history. Most of said rulers military strength will simply disappear (or worse turn on them in the middle of a battle) along with most of their finance.

And to make matters worse in a large city (such as King’s Landing) they’d rely on local militia (basically the medieval equivalent of community support officers) to keep the peace, who would not be reliable in a scenario such as this (most would join the uprising and the rest would stay out of the mob’s way).

So balance of probability is that in such a scenario, there would be an uprising, she’d lose control of not only the city but the entire country and while she could barricade herself in the Red Keep, that would be a risky strategy as she’d be trapped when her enemies showed up. So her best option would be to flee.

Meanwhile the nobility would rally around some obvious challenger. And in GoT that likely be the surviving Tyrell’s or the Dornish houses (incidentally, a major plot hole in season 7 being how they can go from having an army of at least 100,000 one episode to both armies vanishing the next) who would advance on the capital, picking up allies as they went and arrive to essentially find it an open city. The Queen would facing a toss up between being handed over to them on arrival (then executed), killed by her own guards (fun fact, one of leading causes of death for Roman emperors was to be killed by the Pretorian guard, there’s been plenty of Kingslayer’s throughout history) or hunted down afterwards.

In a high fantasy setting, where the ruler is for example a powerful magic user, or perhaps a dragon rider (such as Daenerys) then they can get away with things a normal medieval ruler couldn’t do, simply because overthrowing them isn’t as easy. However, even they would be limited in what they could get away with as they would be bound by many of the same limitations as any feudal ruler. This actually something that GoT did cover rather well in the 5th and 6th series where Daenerys tried to do the right thing in Meereen, but soon found that this wasn’t an easy thing to do.

Right to rule

A significant plot hammer element of series 7 was establishing Jon Snow as the rightful ruler of the Iron throne, presumably because he ends up on it at the end of season 8. Because the person with the best credentials always ends up on the throne, don’t they?….ummmm…no!

As this BBC article discusses, ya he might well have the most credible case, but as its experts also point out that might not matter diddly squat in a medieval world, where possession is 9/10 th’s of the law. The Lannister’s and Baratheon’s have almost no credible claim, yet they’ve been on the throne for 7 seasons and there’s plenty of similar examples in history.

Take Queen Matilda. After the white ship disaster killed her brother she became next in line for the English throne. Her father went out of his way to ensure her succession won’t be challenged. He arranged a strategic marriage, got all the lords and nobles to pledge to her….only after the king died those pledges were broken before rigamortis had even set in and his bastard brother Stephen of Blois, a French noble who barely spoke a word of English, ceased the throne. That said, William the Conqueror’s claim to the throne was also fairly dubious.

As I mentioned above, the likely outcome of Cersei’s actions in series 6 (if the Lannister/Baratheon’s had managed to last that long, i.e. the nobles hadn’t ousted them after the red wedding) would be to unite the whole country against her, allowing the surviving Tyrell’s and Martell’s to take over. They might well invite in Daenerys afterwards with a suitable marriage pact to legitimise their claim (this was a theme explored in the novels). But either way, they’d be the ones calling the shots.

The problem with Jon‘s claim, as outlined in season 7, is its meaningless. His only evidence revolves around a vision his brother Bran had (which is a bit like saying, the bloke down the pub told me). There is some documentary evidence of a marriage annulment, but no mention of him, nor any living witnesses who can verify any of it (which is the problem with GoT’s murderous habit of killing people off). Its a medieval world, its not as if they can take him down to a clinic and run a paternity test.

Indeed, the likely outcome of such a plotline would be that the Southern lords would laugh him out of the room, pointing out that by breaking with the seven kingdoms he’d invalidated any claim to the throne (it would be like Nicola Sturgeon getting Scottish independence and then a few years later trying to become PM in Westminster). Meanwhile the northern lords upon hearing he’s a Targaryen and not a Stark at all, would kick him out and he’d end up back at the wall. And we know what happened last time he was there.

Defensive architecture

One rather annoying feature of GoT is that they don’t seem to know what a moat is, something that Shaduniversity also mentions in this video with regard to Casterly Rock.

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Moats are kind of important

A moat is kind of essential around any keep because you want to keep attackers away from the base of your walls. Otherwise a bunch of guys with sledgehammers can just stand there and pound a hole in it. Note that a moat doesn’t have to be filled with water. Any sort of defensive ditch will do. In some parts of the world they’d just fill it with lots of large polished boulders ( or dragon’s teeth or wooden stakes), the whole point is to stop the enemy approaching your walls in any sort of organised formation.

And this becomes doubly important when we are in a high fantasy setting with magical beasts, wizards or giants. You absolutely want to keep such creatures as far away from your castle walls as possible, given the enormous damage they could inflict if they get close enough. If anything, the likely response (if, as noted, we still bother to build castles at all) would be to make moats even larger or wider. Or add further layers of defence (as was the case once cannons appeared).

Perhaps the worse offender of these rules is “the wall” in the North. Without any sort of a moat or defensive ditch all the Wildlings (or undead) need to do is basically pile timber at the bottom of it and light a fire. The Night’s watch, 300ft up on top of the wall could not effectively target them or defend the wall from such a distance. So in addition to a moat, you’d want a second set of battlements further down, close enough that they could target the attackers below.

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The undefendable wall

Also the gate out of the wall into the north, the obvious weak point, has no gatehouse or barbican. Normally in a medieval castle you’d include such a structure, as this creates an additional set of barriers between an attacker and the gate. They now have to overcome a moat and at least two sets of gates and portcullises, all the while they’ll be coming under fire from the troops inside the supporting towers and on the walls above.

Oh and when winter does come, Winterfell is screwed.

Anti-dragon defences

In GoT large crossbow’s are used to defend against dragons (in the novel’s this is how the Dornish were initially able to hold off against the Targaryen’s). Now if we were to put several of those on the tops of a castle, in well reinforced positions, where they could mutually support one another (i.e. provide covering fire while one or other is being reloaded) then that could work, as they’d effectively function much like a flak tower from World War II, creating a zone of immunity from dragons, or flying enemies, around the castle.

However in an open field its not going to work as well, as there’s various way’s it can be countered. Simple combined arms tactics (where dragons and ground forces mutually support one another) is one option. In world war II pilots would fly a figure of eight attack pattern over targets, often pairing up with a wing man. It was hard enough to defend against such tactics with anti-aircraft guns, with a crossbow (which is going to require a crew sometime to reload after each shot) it would likely be impossible (unless, as noted they were built into a well reinforced structure). So in short, Bronn should have gotten fried.

…And since we’re talking about Jamie should have drowned (while armour isn’t as restrictive to movement as many think, the one thing you can’t easily do is swim in armour)….. And also since we’re talking about it, how is Daenerys supposed to be able to hang on to a dragon while its cruising along in a 60 mph jet stream? Or is one of those Targaryen superpowers having Velcro like skin? Presumably she should be using a saddle.

Jokes aside, in any high fantasy setting this would drastically change how battles would be fought. Unless an army had its own magic users (or dragons) to counter the enemies, they would not engage in large field battles, preferring instead to fight from well defended keeps (with moats presumably!).

And in a high fantasy setting with magic users, defending against flying enemies does become a lot easier, as those magic users will be able to sling spells at a dragon at a considerably longer range than it can engage them. One of the most effective tactics probably being to use mind effecting spells to confuse, stun or paralyse the dragon while its in flight, hopefully causing it to crash.

Just one guy

A common trope in high fantasy which isn’t realistic is where you have one guy who is so hugely strong or so brilliant in battle that they can single handedly take on an entire army. Now while this might apply for someone with an unnatural advantage (e.g. a dragon rider with three two large dragons or a very powerful wizard, etc.), otherwise its a bit silly. One guy is still one guy. I would argue the D&D gaming system is mostly to blame for this (and I suspect you’ll find a large number of high fantasy writers have played this system before), as its possible under the game’s rules to create ubra powerful Munchkin’s, which wouldn’t be realistic, even in the context of a high fantasy setting.

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Munchkins….complete with a +12 chainsaw

The mountain”, or whatever he’s called these days, would be a good example of this. The thing is, its easy to overcome such an enemy. Just have a dozen guys rush him all at once, knock him off his feet and then basically sit on him. Its essentially how prison officers deal with some out of control crack head and how the whole sport of rugby works. Okay, unless they catch him off guard, he might get his sword out and maybe take down one or two of them, but that’s about the best he could hope for. A suitably determined bunch of attackers (e.g. the faith’s militant) would still be able to overcome him. Its certainly a better strategy than attacking him one by one while the rest hop around him in a vaguely threatening manner.

Indeed, the D&D system compensates for itself by including overbearing” rules to counter this very problem, giving a mob of relatively weaker attackers an opportunity to rugby tackle an stronger individual and pin him down.

Undead are kind of crap at fighting

It worries me that series 8 seems like it will be entirely based upon the fight against the undead attacking from the North. If GoT hasn’t already jumped the shark, this certainly suggests it will in series 8. And that’s even before we consider the debacle of episode 6 of series 7 (okay, so you want to lead a banzai charge north with the goal of abducting an undead creature made of ice and take him south to somewhere warmer, hope he doesn’t wind up as a glass of water on the way, to convince a queen, who by all rights is wholly untrustworthy and cannot be relied upon, to send her army north, hoping that said undead doesn’t break free in the process and create more undead out of the 500,0000 people in King’s Landing, I mean what could possibly go wrong!).

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Episode 6 season 7 in a nutshell

The reality is that while undead might seem scary, but even in the context of a high fantasy setting, they are kind of crap. The key feature that has led us humans to dominate this earth is our intelligence. The idea that undead, who share all the essential features of a human except our intelligence are going to someone win is just plain silly. In fact, even within the confines of the D&D gaming rules its not going to happen. Indeed back during my DM’ing days I’ve saw one or two scenarios where large hordes of undead got beaten fairly easily, usually because those fighting them adopted clever tactics (e.g. such as those deployed by the Romans used during the battle of Watling street) or took advantage of any known weakness or vulnerability they had.

Okay, having the Night King on a dragon does kind of change things (of course he only has one of those because of “banzai” Jon’s charge up north), but not by much (one guy is still one guy, indeed, it suggests a strategy of throwing the kitchen sink at him, a combined attack with dragonglass crossbow bolts & two dragons, take him out and then his army is literally toast).

Breaking the wheel

Daenerys (Ms Velcro) & Tyrion spend quite a bit of time talking about “breaking the wheel, essentially breaking the feudal system. Reading between the plot lines the implication is that of having some sort of democratic system afterwards. However, that would be a bit implausible, democracy won’t really work in a feudal world where most people can’t even read or write. The likelihood is the people would vote for some Trump like figure, who promise to rebuild the wall (and make the night king pay for it), then blame liberal bleeding hearts like Jon Snow or Wildling migrants for it falling down in the first place.

As I discussed in a prior post, one of Plato and Scorates arguments against democracy was that it only works if the voters are well educated and put some serious thought into their decisions. The minute voters start voting for someone “for a laugh” or start using ballot boxes as a urinal in which to vent their personal frustrations (e.g. voting for brexit to get back at Tories for austerity), you quickly end up with a system which isn’t much better. Indeed, given that kings are two a penny and can be easily overthrown, while a president with a democratic mandate is a lot harder to overthrow (even if the public now realise they were lied too and hate his guts), you could end up with something worse (as Trump may well be in the process of proving).

And worse still, in a high fantasy setting where magic can be used to influence the outcome of an election (and inevitably the greedy and corrupt will do so), democracy could become downright dangerous. Furthermore, if you are familiar with the novels there’s already a system in Westeros to deal with a succession crisis democratically, by calling a great council and the lords electing a new king.

Looking back at human history, one would argue that a far more effective strategy would be to create an independent judiciary. Once the law is out of the hands of nobles and in the hands of magistrates it means the days of fighting and pillaging are over (because the aggrieved party will just go to a magistrate, get a court order, the property will have to be handed back and the perpetrator gets a to serve time at his majesty’s pleasure for his trouble). Promoting education, science and medicine will generally better society, but it also means the more people who can read, the more know about their rights and how to exploit them.

And science means developing new technologies to increase productivity, meaning more can be spared from work in the fields to take up the increasing number of new jobs which require an education, which means you’re starting to create a whole new class of people between the nobles and the peasants. Democracy and elections would presumably come much later.

And sooner or later in such a society one of these newly educated people is going to invent a printing press and then its game over, because now every new idea can be copied and distributed thousands of times over in the space of a day. The process from this point onwards becomes unstoppable, any attempt by the nobility to push back would likely result in a violent revolution. Not unlike the French revolution, which was started not so much by the peasants, but by the third estate (i.e. the educated, merchants, minor nobles, etc.) who had done rather well out of earlier reforms and worried about the nobles rowing things back.

Running out of steam

In short, GoT started off well but they’ve painted themselves into a corner by killing off characters who were kind of important to the plot and its thrashed their storyline. A situation not helped by missing out key characters from the books (e.g. Arianne Martell, Quentyn Martell, Aegon (who didn’t die in the novels, oh that might be a spoiler) or Victarion Greyjoy) meaning the story doesn’t really tie together very well.

And other characters, who probably should have been killed off, are still in play, generally because there’s nobody left alive to replace them. Case in point we have Qyburn acting as a regular Mr Haney from Green Acres effectively running multiple government departments and being Cersei’s doctor, spy master & general sidekick/ass licker in his spare time.

I remember reading that originally J.J. R Martin considered making dragons very different more akin to Wyvern’s with all the fire breathing just being Targaryen trickery or smoke and mirrors. That might not have actually been a bad idea, because giving Daenerys an exclusive monopoly on such a powerful resource massively unbalances things, as in effect we are introducing high fantasy elements into what is a low fantasy setting.

Many of the implausibilities and absurd plot holes seen in season 7 are largely borne of the need to get around the issue of an overpowered Daenerys and the fact that so many of the original characters critical to the story are dead.

The libertarian slavery paradox

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The Political compass as libertarians see it

I happened to be watching the remake of the TV series Roots recently (based on the Alex Haley novel) and it did occur to me how it creates a bit of a troubling problem for libertarians. They like to see themselves as the ultimate liberals at the opposite end of the political compass to nazi’s and authoritarians. However I would argue that logic would dictate that any libertarian society would inevitably eventually become a slave owning society.

Think about it, in a libertarian society if someone owes you money or compensation for something, how do you get them to pay? Let’s suppose someone did a shoddy job tiling your roof, or he ran over your 6 year old kid and she’s now paralysed for life and needs expensive treatment, or someone simply defaults on their loans to a bank without paying (which is bad news for savers, recall there will be no federal insurance on banks under libertarianism, if enough borrowers default the bank goes under). Without a government, in a libertarian society with lax law enforcement and little to no regulations means that courts will be toothless. And without some sort of authority to enforce the law people, in particular the wealthy with their vast fortunes and private armies, can simply ignore the law. And those at the very bottom, can simply shrug their shoulders and say, well I’m broke, I’ve got nothing to pay with, I own no property, so your screwed, now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go get drunk, then drive to the park and fire my gun at squirrels near where your children play.

And the thing is that this wouldn’t only be allowed in a libertarian society, it would be considered a perfectly moral act. Libertarians often claim to follow the philosophy of Objectivism, which basically amounts to saying that its okay to be a selfish jerk and that being a kind and caring person who gives the slightest thought for others is morally wrong. In such a society, it would be considered okay to default on debts and basically screw everyone else over. This will be normal. But if everyone did that, society would quickly fall apart. Banks won’t lend money to anybody, even those with good credit. Doctors would refuse treatment without payment up front (and patients with any sense would refuse to pay until the treatment was completed). Without some sort of a system (let’s call it “a government”) to make sure people honour their obligations, the whole economy would unravel.

Now libertarians would say, oh but we’ll just have this code of honour whereby if anyone does something bad we’ll give them a terrible review on Facebook or something. Ya, and is that actually going to help? Donald Trump went bankrupt four times, you’d think after the 2nd time people would have learnt the lesson not to lend him money. You’d think nobody, least of all libertarians would have voted for him, but here we are. There are a host of well known scams around, many of them simply modern takes on old con tricks, yet thousands still fall for them every day.

They have this TV programme on UK TV called “Rogue Traders” where they set up a sting operation and catch various con-artists, dodgy used car salesmen, telemarketing fraudsters, cowboy builders and rogue tradesmen and then essentially name and shame them. Thing is, very few end up out of business. Some of them keep appearing in multiple episodes, sometimes under a new name or sometimes openly trading under the same name (one even put “as seen on rogue traders” on the side of his van!). Generally what’s stopped these people becoming season regulars is that the authorities eventually caught up with them and put them out of business.

But in a libertarian society there’s no authority and no social safety net. So how do you enforce any sort of law or civil suit? My guess is that what will happen is when the repo men arrive to cart away someone’s stuff, if they don’t find enough stuff to pay the debt, they’ll take away the debtor and his family and force them to work off the debt. This is pretty much how slavery worked in a number of society’s throughout history and how the practice of bonded labour works to this day.

Now libertarians will no doubt say, no we’ll outlaw slavery. But its going to be impossible to enforce that when the rich and the powerful have their own private goon squad. And unfortunately even in this day and age there’s several parts of the world where bonded labour is still practised, despite laws outlawing the practice. And it tends to occur in places where the government’s authority is weak or corrupt. For example in Somalia and Libya, countries with little in the way of government and lots of guns (as close to a libertarian society as you’ll find!) there are active slave markets.

And there’s the second problem for libertarians, democracy would collapse pretty quickly in a libertarian society. Taking objectivism to its logical conclusion, the easiest way to win an election is to bribe election officials and intimidate voters. e.g. the wealthy landowner threatens mass evictions, the billionaire says his goons will go on the rampage if they don’t win the election. This is how African dictators can win elections with margins of +90%. And even if the wealthy lose the election, they can simply ignore anything the government does that they don’t like, as they are essentially untouchable in a libertarian society.

In a society whereby the wealthy can grow their fortunes unchecked and utilise the power it gives them without any checks or balances, then it becomes essentially impossible to have a democratic and free society. Take for example Rockfeller or the other billionaire’s of the “robber baron” era. With no government to break up his monopoly (and an Objectivist philosophy that basically said it would be morally wrong for him to give anything away to charity) his fortune would have grown even larger, his descendants would now not only control 90% of the US oil supply, but probably 90% of the US energy supply as well as many public utilities (e.g. internet access, water, hospitals, police, fire services, etc.). At this point, they become the defacto ruling royal family of the US, emperors in all but name, with the role of US president essentially becoming “ass kisser in chief” (you can just see the debate with Hilary and Trump demonstrating their butt kissing techniques).

Now libertarians will say, oh that would never happen, we’d just boycott the business of those we don’t like (in which case you need to go look up the meaning of the word “monopoly” cos that’s sort of the problem, you can’t boycott a monopoly!). Or they’ll argue that sooner or later another billionaire will build up an even vaster fortune and take over. Oh great, so because one rich asshole is better at screwing us over than some other rich asshole, he gets to be emperor instead. Ya, that sound way better than our current system of government!

The sad fact is that libertarianism only works if you ignore the last thousand years of history. A libertarian society would quickly become a feudal society, where the rich will grow vast fortunes unchecked and abuse their power without limit. Where the poor, if they are unable to pay the vastly overinflated prices the rich with their monopolies charge, will be at risk of being sold into slavery. Where speaking out will be impossible, as the press and internet are controlled by the rich. And those who do a Robin hood and fight back will be derided as socialists and terrorists.

In truth, if there’s anything that libertarianism is at the oppose end of the political spectrum to it is democracy and free markets.

Trouble at the Mill

Channel 4 viewers may have caught the gritty drama “The Mill” in recent weeks. Apparently it is based on accounts and records held by the Quarry Mill (now owned by the National Trust) of its workers, although one assumes its inevitably been spiced up for TV somewhat. I mean look at the mess on BBC “the White Queen” which is less historical drama and more mediaeval fantasy (i.e. about as historically accurate as Braveheart).

But I digress, the one thing “The Mill” does get right, is its portrayal of the sorts of working conditions many toiled under in the 1830’s, a time when even children were expected to put in over 12 hours a day worth of back breaking and often highly dangerous labour. And even adult workers faced working long hours for starvation wages. Many workers lived (when not working) in slum like conditions, two families to a room sort of thing. The series also shows who workers began to unite and get organised and lobby to see things changed, and of course the resistance of the upper classes to such changes.

Indeed the arguments against the Factory Acts or the 10 hour rule (with management saying, oh what’s wrong with a child working for 12 hrs? why they’ll be so fit and healthy after just 10, they’ll go off and do another night job with someone else and then never get any school or rest! :crazy:) sounds remarkably similar to the sort of spin that comes out these days, such as when, for example, its suggested the Starbucks & Amazon’s of this world actually pay some tax. Or that the rich pay a bit more (even just a one off payment from the $21 trillion cash pile they’ve stashed away). We’re led to believe that they will abandon their plush multi-million pound houses and billion pound a year turn-over businesses and flee abroad…and if you believe that then you probably also believe in this big jolly guy dressed in in red.

But going back to the Mill. The 1800’s wasn’t just a period which gave us the Industrial revolution, railways, industry, the labour movement and the middle classes but also it was the era that communism began to evolve. And when I say communism, I’m not talking about what comes out of David Miliband’s mouth (if he was around in 1830 he won’t have even been allowed to join a labour union on grounds of being too posh and right wing! ;D) but the Karl Marx (who was living in England at the time) “workers of the world unite” variety. Never mind taxing the rich a little bit, no take away everything they’ve got and put them on a train to Siberia sort of stuff.

Such notions (a belief that capitalism is institutionally corrupt and that democracy will always work in favour of those who can afford to buy elections) can strike the modern person, even those who are left wing leaning, as being a tad extreme. But seen through the prism of an oppressed worker in a British cotton mill or a downtrodden peasant farmer of the 1800’s or 1900’s it made perfect sense. It is really no big surprise that Russia was the first country in the world to go communist. The term “serf” for the working class of Russia has entered the dictionary as a word to describe extremes of social oppression.

Leaving Cert and A-level history papers often ask the question “why did Russia become communist?”. I’m tempted to reply “like Dah!”. Perhaps the real question is “why didn’t Britain become communist?”

And I would reply that what prevented the communist root taking seed in the UK was the actions of progressive reformers and politicians who sought to find a middle ground. Thanks to people such as Robert Peel, John Russell, Keir Hardie, Lloyd George, Gladstone and Attlee, gradually laws were brought in that protected workers rights, recognised trade unions, improved workers pay and living conditions (which ultimately led to the creation of what we now call the middle class), while at the same time effectively saving the capitalists from they’re greedy selves.

The rich were also made to first pay some tax (traditionally since feudal times the upper classes have never been expected to pay much, that’s the job of the workers and peasants!) but gradually more and more tax, in order to help meet the costs of an expanding welfare state.

Now the problem of course is that since Thatcher there’s been a gradual erosion of these hard won laws and freedoms. I mean where not far off the situation in the 1800’s when strikes were practically illegal…and of course as a consequence back then in lieu of a strike disgruntled workers often sabotaged production or burnt down their factory / bosses house….often with him still in it! (how long before this carry on happens again?).

Also in the UK, US and other Western countries the proportion of taxes paid by the top 1% peaked in the 1970’s, even thought since then many have seen their incomes skyrocket. Indeed many more of the very top earners pay no tax at all, as compared to previous generations.

And of course the Tories under Cameron have accelerated these trends, by cutting away yet more regulations, slashing benefits, tax cuts that benefit the wealthy and increasingly the privatisation of public services like the Royal Mail, NHS, Prisons and policing.

And there are some, notably libertarians who say we should go even further, getting rid of most if not all laws and taxes.

My response to that is to suggest they (and the Tories) read a history book. Because nine times out of ten you’ll find there was a perfectly good reason for said regulation being put in place or that social benefit being offered and thus good reasons to maintain it. Its equivalent to arguing that a building which hasn’t burnt down for decades doesn’t need a fire escape anymore, even though the last time it did catch fire, decades ago, the records show that everyone inside was burnt to a crisp.

In short, we tried unregulated turbo capitalism (then known as Lassie-faire) back in the Georgian & Victorian era and it didn’t work out so well. As anyone whose ever even read a Charles Dickens novel will know, Lassie-faire certainly did allow a small number of very greedy people to acquire (and then ultimately squander) vast fortunes, but it also led to enormous hardship and poverty for the majority (back then it was not unusual to have to step over dead bodies on the streets of London), actual famines within the UK (in Ireland and Scotland), violent crime rates that would make Baghdad look safe (back then the better off needed armed body guards or have a pistol handy whenever they went out and about) and nearly led to a communist revolution. Thus trying again is not recommended.

As for “The Mill” I’m still waiting for someone in it to say that line “there’s trouble at ‘t Mill” so they can do the Monty Python sketch, although I presume in this case the guys in red who burst in will be a bunch of Trade Unionists ;b.

Telly Addicts

As I’ve no TV at home, I’ve been catching up on my TV in Ireland. Saw a few interesting programs. I finally got to saw the end of the series “Pillars of the Earth”. While I wasn’t too keen on the Scooby Doo style ending to the series (let’s see who this Bishop Waleran really is.…why it’s the old man from scene 34!) I did like how they portrayed the ad-hoc nature of how things were built in those days. The Engineers and builders of the era literally made up the design of structures as they went along. The roof starts to crack due to heavy loading? Used a ribbed vault, and/or pointed arches (all based on the mathematics invented by the Ancient Greeks). The wind load in a storm causes more cracks? Flying buttresses get installed. It does make you realise that when you look at a historic building how much effort, both intellectual, artistic and physical brute force, went into building these things.

Given that it could take generations of builders to finish a cathedral or castle it also shows you how forward thinking people were back then. In order to meet our future energy needs for example there are a whole host of things we should be building right now, arrays of wind/wave/solar energy systems, deep underground repositories for spent nuclear fuel, new mines to extract rare Earth metals (so we don’t have to rely solely on China for them), new recycling facilities, large scale tree farming of hard wood trees (absorb more carbon dioxide & provides excellent building materials), building a HVDC network or a hydrogen distribution network, I could go on all day. But no, none of this is being built because if you try to get any of the above approved and you get questions about cost (and how costly will it be when the lights go out?), or it will spoil the view…etc. you have to conclude that are not as forward thinking as people in the middle ages. I also liked all those olde English Trade names, Tom Builder was a builder, the Butcher was called Mr Butcher, Mr Potter made pots….I don’t want to know what the Crapper’s, Nutter’s, Hoare’s or Cockers did!

Another interesting programme was strangely enough Upstairs/downstairs. Wha? Well I thought it was interesting in that they hinted at what I always assumed was a taboo subject in Britain – the “coup” of 1936. I don’t know if you, like me, have ever been entirely satisfied with the explanation for the resignation of King Edward VIII, i.e that the government blocked his marriage to an American Divorcee. While yes, I’m sure images of some ghastly American on the throne in the future (King Homer Simpson? Queen Sarah Palin?) probably filled the establishment at the time with dread, I think this was pretty minor compared to the concerns of them about the new King’s (and his future wife’s) overt closeness to certain goose stepping foreigners. In 1936 it was becoming clear (reoccupation of the Rhineland, invasion of Ethiopia, Spanish civil war) that the fascist regimes would probably have to be confronted in some way in the future, and it wouldn’t do for the UK to have a King friendly with the Gerry’s while they’re bombing the shite out of us (especially after the fiasco at the start of the 1st world war when the official name of the Royal family was still Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, they changed it to “Windsor” during the war….thought Mark Thomas wants it changed now to “lower Slough”).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Saxe-Coburg_and_Gotha

http://www.sloughobserver.co.uk/news/roundup/articles/2009/05/29/38841-will-windsor-soon-become-lower-slough/

While the excuse may well have been the wedding to a divorcee, I suspect that the real reason for the pressure on the King to resign was the concern about his politics. In essence it wasn’t so much an abdication but more of a coup, but a very British coup (“You’re Highness, you would mind doing us this small favour old chappy?…. Could you be so kind as to resign at once and fuck off to France, as we can’t have a goose stepping b@$t@rd on the throne at the same time we’re fighting the chap’s in Europe, now… can we?….And while I hate to impose on you, old fellow, but if you aren’t a good sport on this…I’m afraid I shall have to ask some of my Eton chums from GCHQ to push down some stairs….so if you’d be so kind, you’re majesty, what! What!”).

For comedy, I watched Fox news or Sky news. Well, its funny so long as you don’t take anything they say seriously, i.e treat it like people did Pravda in its day (the soviet newspaper called “truth” even thought it was well known for being essential absent of any). My favourite quote? They talked at one point of bringing back fox hunting “…due to a spate of fox attacks on people in recent years….” Wha?…..far as I’m aware there’s only been one confirmed case of a fox attack against a person in the last few decades, that being the juvenile fox that got into a kids bedroom last year (and it’s scratching the kid was likely accidental or an instinct of self defence). One “attack” hardly constitutes a “spate” of attacks.

There are plenty of reasons to hunt foxes, lets not start inventing them. And something tells me letting the horse & hound’s loose in the middle of a city centre (to go after urban foxes) would be a tad impractical (the Neds will be inventing a new sport of “toff hunting” chasing after the toffs in they’re Honda Civics with their Pit Bull terriers in tow). Personally, my objection to fox hunting is on the basis of efficiency: why does it take 50 dogs and twenty people on horses to do a job, that can be done equally as well by 2 dogs and a guy with a gun and a flash light? There is a recession on you know! Furthermore, the only reason why foxes are a problem is because the natural predators of foxes (birds of prey, lynx) have been eliminated and there is a surplus of prey species for them to feed on (birds, rabbits, voles, rats, mice, etc.) largely because of our elimination of predators, land use choices and in cities plenty of food waste for them to scavenge. People screwing around with the environment inevitably creates problems – go ask the Aussie’s or Kiwi’s. For example city centre litter means we now also have a problem in most cities with Seagulls…of course it used to be the same thing but with Starlings, city authorities launched a war on starlings…and the pigeons took over…. We got rid of the pigeons….and the seagulls took over! What next? We get rid of the Seagulls and have golden Eagles swooping down and lifting kids out of they’re prams? Get rid of the foxes and will we be overrun with rats? Better to deal with the source of the problem, i.e excessive litter and a lack of recycling of waste, then worry about the foxes.

Then there was 4 rooms, the Tarantino film that got all those bad reviews. Okay, it wasn’t a great film, but it certainly wasn’t a bad film. Don’t believe what you hear in the reviews. For example the latest Tarantino/Rodriquez outing, Machete, got also pretty rotten reviews. I think what the critics didn’t realise is it’s supposed to be a deliberate effort to imitate a bad 80’s B movie. Its sort of a case of rather than a film being good despite being so cheesy, its good, because its so cheesy & full of plot holes.

There was a documentary on Bill Hicks, some excellent quotes from him:

He was heckled by this guy after a joke he made about Flag burning “…Guy said to me: My daddy died fightin the Chinese in Korea to protect that flag….I [Bill] goes, we’ll that’s funny, cos you turn my flag over here and its say’s: Made in China..”

Or “what is it with Christians and crucifix, if Jesus comes back you guys are all screwed, cos I reckon after what he went thro the last thing he wants to see is a load of damn crosses…..be sort of like going up to Jacqueline Onassis with a little symbol of a sniper rifle around you’re neck…”

“These guys came up to me after a show and said “we’re Christians and we don’t like what you’ve been sayin about Christ-ian-aty”…so I goes, well then forgive me!”

Any of ye familiar with the Downfall internet Meme, here Hitler is informed he will have to fly Ryanair for his Christmas Skiing holiday

And here’s the new Ryanair safety video