Thursday, June 30, 2016

Ensaladas de Huevones

My latest auxilliary blog project. 

A one stop portal for sightings from across Central America of some of the most pathetic efforts ever made at garnishing a dish. 

Telling it as it is...

Modern democratic politics is about managing the gap between the way things are and the way things out to be. This is why one should always raise an eyebrow or two at any so-called politician self-identifying as one of those that 'tells it as it is'. Either they are missing the point, or they are being dangerously disingenuous. 

I am a migrant...

Nigel Farage has managed to persuade millions of Britons to loathe legal immigration in much the same way that millions of Americans appear to loathe illegal immigration. This is a not inconsiderable political achievement. 

He has accomplished this by deploying many of the techniques the Donald as been practicing on his own willing dupes across the pond; interweaving forebodings of supplantation, sexual violence, terror and more into a compound sense of all-round unease with otherness. 

I too am a migrant — an exile if you must — living largely at the discretion of my host nation. 

I reside in a city that benefits enormously on many levels from the sort of constant internal migration of which I have been but one exemplar. Its economy swells, and yet, as it swells, it is undoubtedly also distorted in ways that surely must disconcert and occasionally anger the deeper-rooted local residents. 

There is an oddly visible and vocal group within the immigrant population here — I’m not even sure that the term sub-group is appropriate — consisting of fugitives, fraudsters, kiddyfiddlers, crazies, debauchees, deluded egotists, exploiters and spongers. 

On any given day perhaps the least sordid of them are busy posting pictures on Facebook of malnourished and mangy pooches in the hope that some compassionate soul will send them money to subsidise their sojourn in Central America. 

Nobody ever claimed that every single peripatetic person, anywhere around the globe, is a living breathing avatar of positive economic and social energy. 

It is possible to have a measured, adult conversation about these issues. 

But this is not the conversation that the likes of Nigel Farage or Donald Trump want us to have.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


The Krouts will soon know exactly why they needed a word like this...

BoJo Jnr

One of the many painful ironies of all this is that Boris Johnson has at least one child that was born a Belgian citizen. 

I don't know how this panned out in the end, but back in the early 90s when he was the Spectator's corerspondent in Brussels, submitting regular pieces of anti-EU invective, his wife became pregnant. 

Meanwhile, the Conservatives under Major had passed a new immigration law designed to stem migration from the Indian subcontinent. 

The gyst of this w that people whose parents were not UK-born could not expect any offspring born outside the country to have automatic UK citizenship. 

The four grandparents of Boris's sprog, though UK citizens, were born outside the UK.

There was quite a lot of schadenfreude about this at the time.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Pie Chart Conundrum

The industry where I used to work became replete with right brain-dominant people pretending to be left brain-dominant. 

One of the most obvious symptoms of this was the use of pie charts to illustrate states of affairs that should not logically be illustrated this way. 

The EU referendum last Thursday, and the shocking result we woke up to on Friday, is a classic example of this sort of basic analytical misconception. Call it the revenge of PowerPoint on political common sense. 

Let's start by pointing out that voting for whether to LEAVE or REMAIN in the EU is not the same sort of binary choice as that which will face Americans in November: Trump or Clinton. 

This is because both candidates will present well-defined and media-scrutinised plans to the US electorate, and a pie chart showing which proportion of the popular vote eventually goes to each candidate would make perfect sense, even though the result is finally decided by the electoral college. 

In the case of the recent referendum however, the British people were instead being asked to decide between THIS THING and NOT THIS THING, or between a well-defined set of rights and restrictions and something else which the Brexiters chose to leave as ill-defined as possible. 

Additionally, one of the options involved the possibility of voluntarily renouncing the EU citizenship that Article 28 of the Lisbon Treaty had given us, with the implication that if this was chosen by the majority, everyone else would have it forcibly taken away. 

Cameron speaks of the ‘will’ of the people, but ever since philosophers started debating freedom they have understood the basic distinction between freely choosing to do something and having to do it under duress. 

I now face the prospect of losing my EU citizenship rights AGAINST my will when, like most ex-pats, I had no say in the referendum. 

From a legal standpoint this is completely different to signing them away. (e.g. The fact that 52% choose to jump inside a lake of molten lava does not give the state the right to toss the remaining 48% in.) 

This significant legal and moral imbalance would occur the moment Article 50 is triggered and must surely be one reason the Brexiters are reluctant to do so in a hurry. 

In all of this Scotland is a bit of a distraction. Their government appears to be saying that their own local pie chart (65% Remain / 35% Leave) has moral force over the national one, but in fact the 48% that voted to stay in overall can deploy exactly the same moral argument, and have the greater numbers transcending existing geopolitical boundaries. 

It’s not the stupid answer that was given but the stupid question that was asked that we should be recriminating over. 

Make no mistake, this is largely David Cameron’s fault and his rather smug, hand-washing approach now is especially galling. 

He had some form on this, by asking a similarly dumb question of the Scots in 2014 and actually most Brits outside of Scotland, left or right-brained, seemed to at least vaguely intuit the pie chart conundrum back then. 

The two options were however much better defined for our northern neighbours, and citizens of the rump UK were apparently not going to lose anything quite so tangible other than the abstract concept of union and the sense of being diminished as a nation.

In the end the uncertainty over the currency swung it for Remain. In this campaign the Britain Stronger In camp lacked a comparable lever. They should therefore have made much clearer the notion of concrete loss. 

In simple terms...

We invented parliamentary democracy and never has the need been greater for us to show the world how it can and must operate. 

The urgency is compounded by the fact that populist movements which function as if their politicians were delegates not representatives are springing up everywhere and the technocratic un-charisma of the EU confuses people into thinking that British political values are somehow best served by Brexit.

And the immediate problem is that parliament not only needs to act, it needs to articulate why it is acting in a way that the divided nation can digest. A lack of obvious leadership is very much part of this crisis.

The 'Bad Friday' Agreement?

As I understand it, the Good Friday Agreement stipulated that there would be no border between the Republic and the Province and that even those who were deeply opposed to the concept of a united Ireland could apply to the government south of the border for a passport - as they are now doing so in droves.

What if a similar agreement was set up between EU-independent UK and a UK-independent Scotland? 

We could call it the Bad Friday agreement in honour of how many of us felt on the 24th. 

Against our will

If, instead of a referendum, the government had put up a suitably idiot-proof website inviting anyone who wished to give up their EU citizenship to use an online form to do so, how many of the dimwits who voted Leave on the 23rd would have taken them up on the offer?

The two answers on last week’s referendum voting slip - Leave and Remain - were surely qualitatively different from a legal perspective.

One involved the possibility of voluntarily surrendering one’s citizenship, the other involved the possibility of having it taken away AGAINST one’s will, in effect by force. (Something for which there are few precedents.) 

The 'will' of the people on each side of this debate was never going to be something you could express as two portions of a pie-chart. 

The Scots clearly get this, as do many ex-pats who were not even given the chance to participate in this farcical plebiscite. 

The Scottish government considers that the Remain majority north of the border gives their argument particular moral force, but in fact every member of the 48% minority has it as well, and they also have a strength in numbers beyond existing geopolitical boundaries. 

Angry minority

The other obvious difference between the 52% and the 48% is that many of the latter are now angrier (and getting steadily more so) about being dragged out of the EU than many of the 52% ever were about being part of it before the referendum was called. The political ramifications of this are significant. It does not take an angry majority of 50.1% to upset an entire political system.

Friends, Britons Countrymen...

BoJo is not quite the man of principle that Shakespeare made Marcus Junius Brutus out to be, but he was similarly drawn into an existing conspiracy to give it wider appeal and a modicum of intellectual respectability.

Brutus failed to capitalise on what he saw a necessary act of political carnage, and Boris may now be on a similar trajectory.

Perhaps what the UK now needs is its own Marcus Antonius to show up at the funeral of Britiain's economic future and remind everyone there that we did once consider it valuable, and that those who did it in should be driven out forthwith. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

When inaction is the gutsy option...

Any national leader worth the name (and who has read his or her Machiavelli) will know that Parliament can and should find a way to ignore the result of this referendum, because most of the Brexiters are too old to come out on the street and protest.

Dead cat bounce...

Or perhaps all we've done is have a sneak peek inside the box, and will now shut the lid in the hope that the wave function will somehow un-collapse?

Schrödinger's Brexit

We had to open the box to find out that the cat was dead...

Sorry Nigel...

It now appears that Thursday's referendum wasn't about EU membership after all. More than 14m people scratched a mark on a piece of paper in a historical bit of direct democracy that was actually about...

1) An unofficial Tory party leadership contest

2) An unofficial independence referendum for provincial England (and the place next door with Gareth Bale and lots of sheep)

3) A protest against government cuts

4) Er...Muslims.

So we don't need to trigger Article 50 at all, because it's surely not relevant to any of the above.

(PS: I forgot to mention the NHS. Somehow it's ALWAYS about the bloody NHS.)

The Brexiters

One can look at the age profile of LEAVE voters optimistically, but mortality won't solve this problem any time soon. 

There's a demographic within our society that the system doesn't really need, and it should be basically self-sustaining for a while yet. 

And they are quite probably going to be harder to re-integrate than those marginalised children of immigrants who run off to join ISIS, and possibly also bigger threat to our political culture in the long run. 

How did we get here? 

When industrialisation first started delivering the good and the bad things we habitually associate it with, the ignorant were not such a headache. Peasants could be converted into factory workers; some even provided with a basic education and formed into the newspaper-reading sort. 

Pan out a bit and one could see that the system depended on slavery and colonial exploitation, but this was less visible to the workers beavering away within the nation state and they felt proud of their role in it. When the empire came to and end, they helped create a new kind of state which they could be even prouder of, because it promised to care for them. 

These days our increasingly globalised version of capitalism is coming to depend primarily  - in the developed world at least - on a base of what a friend of mine likes to call 'knowledge workers'. It no longer has the same economic incentive to care for the relatively uneducated. 

This is not a society in which the knowledge-challenged will ever be able to feel comfortable. Most of the jobs they used to do are being outsourced abroad or in-sourced to rapidly incoming foreigners...some of which are not even ignorant, just highly motivated. Capital and commodities now move freely and humanity wants to as well. 

Yesterday's vote just invalidated the deal Cameron did with his European peers on free movement within the EU. Renegotiating our relationship with the single market could take several years and in the meantime an immigration free-for-all is likely as the LEAVE campaign(s) made, albeit vague, commitments to preserve the status of the UK's EU residents before the drawbridge is finally pulled up. And a collapsed Pound makes our island additionally attractive to Johnny Foreigner in all his most bargain basement manifestations. Not quite what the (comparatively) ignorant were voting for. 

Many clearly hanker nostalgically after the moment around the middle of the last century when their collective sense of pride and involvement was at its apogee: when darker people knew their place, even if they had been granted indepedence and a new role in the Commonwealth. They'd surely love to turn the clock back. But our societies march on, albeit with them very much on board still as a dangerous, potential pathogen. 

England and Wales in particular, minus perhaps London which may eventually break away, look set to become a sort of offshore floating sanctuary for the white van clan. 

The Labour Party in Britain has been trying to compassion them into submission - If only we can show we still care, they won't smash the whole place up out of frustration. 

But take a look what's happening across the Atlantic where the compassion approach ran out of steam a generation or so ago. 

The Right's approach had been to take this manipulable mass at face value and co-opt them into a political culture which barefacedly involved selling turkeys on the idea that, to borrow from Monty Python, it's Christmas every day in heaven.  

But suddently Christmas wasn't so great and the sudden fissures in this cosy arrangement were exploited by populists - those who would make the heavenly Christmas great again, for turkeys. 

The ignorant have twigged that the Right considers them their perennial dupes, but still appear to find this preferable to the attitude of many of those courting them on the Left who can barely disguise the multiple ways that they find the modern proletariat depressingly repulsive. 

This is in part because, from the perspective of leftist intellectual nostalgia, this current demographic is no match for the generation that they seem to model themselves on. Those that built the NHS are disappearing fast and being steadily replaced by those that just moan and gripe about it. (Those that won the World Cup in '66...)

And for every person who has genuinely experienced hardship as a result of undefunded and over-demanded services there are surely several who just adopt the rhetoric that is presented to them in the media-sphere to mask their own xenophobia and all round annoyance with the direction the new world order is taking. 

Most seem to long for a time and a place that they never experienced directly, when those born into lower cultural conditions strove, often successfully, to transcend these native limitations and remake the world according to a positive set of open-minded and collective values. 

It might not have really ever existed outside of some sort of class memory, and at this moment in history seems beyond the capabilities of closed-minded low-brows to re-constitute. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Winsome / Losesome

Thanks to the tireless work of cross channel cameramen not only do we have a sense of which European nations have the most winsome female fans, we can also appreciate which ones have brought the greatest number of male fans unable to grasp the difference between the lens that is capturing them and the screen where their image appears...

A free pass in the blame game...

Let's face it, rarely do British politicians have such a clearcut opportuity for dodging responsibility for a recession as this Brexit now presents them with.
Boris even (sort of) apologised in advance for the coming downturn, but must have sensed too that a sizeable part of the blame could eventually be shifted onto white van man...and the heat thus taken off the bankers, hedge fund managers, property speculators and the rest of the usual suspects. 
Better still if the economic pain can be blamed on a further contraction in the Eurozone, as most Brexiters won't immediately twig that that would be their fault too. 

While there may be a practical argument for a government by leading independence-fantasists after Article 50 is invoked, the Tories could further benefit from this unique hand-washing opportunity by electing someone like Theresa May as their new leader...
The developing YOUR fault, not our fault positioning should be fun to follow...


Ignorance and stupidity are not simply the cause of bad political outcomes, they are part of them - this is a dynamic, self-reinforcing process.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016


Could it happen? It’s a bit like asking if the Donald might be America’s next President. Logic, common sense, human decency etc. surely dictate that it it couldn’t, and shouldn’t, but at this particular moment in the history of western capitalism, it just might. 

The polls currently suggest a three point lead for the LEAVErs. It’s not clear how seriously these should be taken three weeks before the referendum. 

It is clear however that voting intentions are starkly split along generational lines. The young tend to want to remain and the ageing and aged, by and large, want out. 

There’s no sign as yet that the population as a whole is as engaged as Scotland was. Whichever campaign is better at tempering voter apathy will have a serious advantage. 

What will probably happen is that many will enjoy the thrill of change for change’s sake right up to the final days, when fear of it will abruptly kick back in and the status quo will seemingly survive, almost miraculously; by 52%-48% in all probability. 

The professional chatterers need a drama, preferably a very tense one, and so one can expect that the polls funded by major media players will point to a knife-edge conclusion right up to the 23rd. The financial markets will lurch this way and that as the journos gleefully pull their strings. 

From a speculative investor’s perspective there are probably more gains and losses to be made this month either side of the referendum than at any other stage of 2016. Consequently much of the relevant ‘news’ output at this time will be informed by reprehensibly cynical motives. 

My own generation could be said to sit roughly on the dividing line here (when not actually on the fence!). We can see how things are going and it is frankly very hard to keep one’s glass half full. What we once imagined the EU might become has been subverted by the technocratic, democracy-diminishing ‘new world order’ and when we talk of reforming it from within, we surely know that this is probably little short of a pious platitude. But the young at least have that (occasionally) adorable illusion that they have it in their power to make the world a better place. 

Listening to my old friends talking about London, about what it appears to have become and is becoming ever more so with each passing day,  I can sympathise with their frustration and sense of alienation from a city they once believed their own. The UK's capital has become the ultimate playground of the globalised world, and whether you are a Russian oligarch, a Bulgarian barista or a Middle Eastern refugee, you will feel the gravitational pull of the great people magnet. Longer term inmates feel that the migrants, rich and poor, come to chew the place up, spit it out and then move on somewhere else. 

I get to go back once or twice a year and each time feel more and more like a rather detached tourist, though there are still some startling interludes when I am thrilled and repelled in equal measure. 

I’m not sure how I’d feel about living there now. The recent passing of my mother has further amplified the sense of disconnection. Out in the country the enfeebled fantasy of ‘middle England’ is easier to hold up, and it is of course in these greener patches that UKIP finds many of its recruits. 

Only yesterday I was talking to my father about the state of Marks & Spencer as a business - for generations perhaps the most iconic retail presence on the British high street. Their clothing range, that for so long offered unique value to consumers based on low rents and quality local manufacturers, cannot now compete with businesses like Primark which are grounded in far flung sweatshops. 

Capitalism is engaged in a relentless process of globalisation and the middle orders of the G7 nation states are being severely squeezed. Elsewhere, relatively-excluded humanity sees commodities moving almost without friction across borders and wants to do the same. For billions of people, national frontiers look like a flimsy story told to gullible children. The internet, free markets, freedumb in general, have all disintermediated so many walled gardens within our societies, why not the very walls around them? 

Trump and Sanders are both tapping into our collective discombobulation at this state of affairs. I think the populist position that it is somehow reversible, is probably a lie, or at least a very shaky hypothesis. The Donald and several key members of the LEAVE campaign in Britain are using barely-condonable, xenophobic discourse to draw people into their proposition and (probably futile) policy response. 

Much has been made this week of Nigel Farage’s remarks that staying in the EU will increase the number of attacks on women. It’s as if he and others on his wavelength are suggesting that continental Europe is basically a lost cause and has already in effect been overrun by the fuzzy-wuzzies, so all we can now do is pull up the drawbridge. Before Farage had to insinuate that Bulgarians and Romanians were not quite like us, but the recent, alarming surge in migration from the further fringes has allowed him to be bolder in his rhetoric. Many will surely go in to vote thoroughly confused about the issues of inter-EU mobility and that of the ‘swarm’ from the likes of Syria and Iraq. 

The left shows scorn and dismay, but there are some painful truths being touched upon here that they don’t want to face. Take for example the recent mass abuse of women in Cologne by gangs of reportedly North African/middle-eastern migrants and the systematic abuse of young white teenage girls in Yorkshire by men of predominantly Pakistani origin. 

The Slovenian intellectual Slavoj Žižek compares these events to the 'Great Cat Massacre’ in 18th century France, in which a substantial group of apprentices suddenly rose up and killed all the kitties belonging to their masters. It is said they did this as a form of carnivalesque rejection of dominant bourgeois values: they lived alongside, almost within affluent French society and yet felt excluded, somehow lesser than those treasured felines. 

So when the liberal-left suggests that the molesters of Cologne are simply ignorant of how seriously we take our values and need to be — gently — educated about women’s rights and so on, Žižek thinks they have misunderstood the situation completely. The abusers know very well what our values are and they have periodically clubbed together to show their contempt for them in a very deliberate and systematic way, such that the message could not be any clearer. Yet they are like the apprentices. Once the orgiastic carnival of frustration and repressed envy peters out, they may not have given up entirely on the hope of being masters tand living by the mainstream values themselves one day. 

Anyway, only yesterday I saw Stephen Hawking making the point that time travel backwards is much less likely than time travel in a future-bound direction. So, in spite of all this — and in spite of trying to stay true to my own pessimistic outlook  — I can see no circumstances in which an attempt to go backwards is going to work out better than confronting what the future holds and trying to deal with it using the largest collaborative groups at our disposal. 

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Trump's need to find out what is going on...

If religions are, as Slavoj Žižek suggests, subjectifications of human predicaments, then just about any could serve as a medium for the expression cruelty based on repressed envy, violent nihilism and all round self-righteous vengefulness. 

In this respect there is surely nothing special about Islam. Yet while it is certainly possible to make use of Christianity as the basis of a wholesale rejection of modernity (viz all the Mennonites in these parts), it would also be fair to say that in general this is one branch of monotheism that has made a series of accommodations with modernity over quite an extended period and that makes it a nichier option for this sort of lifestyle / all round bolshy attitude. Indeed, from the perspective of someone who thinks of their outlook as primarily non-western, Christianity can easily appear to be complicit with western mores and the global capitalist system as a whole. 

And while it is certainly possible to characterise Christianity as, in some senses still an ‘eastern’ religion and Islam as in some senses, right from the outset, a ‘western’ one, the opposite is the more straightforward mainstream approach to this. 

This is why someone living inside the west, yet experiencing this at least partially as an outsider, Islam is the more likely supernatural justification for the sort of love-hate relationship with modern emancipatory values that occasionally verges into violent rejection. 

But religion is really just the medium here. The underlying cause is the modern western system and the way it fails to be properly inclusive. 

So Trump’s plan, based on further explicit exclusion, would really represent a codification of the problem, and not anything resembling a solution.