Wednesday 28 June 2023

Cat-girl: it's even better than first reported

For sure, there's been some silly reporting, and we have the Graun to thank for patiently explaining: "At no point did anyone identify as a cat". 

A short exchange between schoolgirls and a teacher was recorded by one of the girls and then posted on TikTok, after which it went viral, was picked up by Fox News and the rightwing press, and then blessed into respectability by mainstream media and politicians. It was a heated debate, during which one of the girls cited a conversation with another girl about identifying as something other than a girl, such as a cat. “I said, how can you identify as a cat when you are a girl.” She is scolded by the teacher, whose tone and language definitely to my ears from the short recording sounded troubling, and the wrong approach to such discussions. But no one ever identified as a cat, or was criticised for doing so.

Well thanks, Graun, a real public service there: otherwise we were all in grave danger of worrying over something silly.  But the audio itself is worth listening to (here), and the great thing is how sharp the kids are: they have eminently salient arguments against the doctrinal trans-identity nonsense being spouted aggressively by the teacher complete with scolding, insults and disciplinary threats.  It is she who needs disciplining - and whatever "movement" that puts teachers up to proseltysing for this kind of thing in the classroom.  

Actually, of course, the least advisable thing in the world is to force-feed kids doctrinal stuff: they can be relied upon to react against it every time (unless you are willing to go the full Mao).  Given, however, that it is apparently Labour policy to extend the voting age to 16, there is a serious flipside.  A friend of mine recently went to give a talk in a secondary school and was begged not to mention, or react to any mention of, Andrew Tate.  Apparently, Tate has been adopted as a hero figure among teenage boys and gets constantly thrown at teachers in "life education" / PSHE classes, to general dismay.  Be careful what you vote for ...


Sunday 25 June 2023

A day trip to Rostov-on-Don and points north

A point made around here ad nauseam is that Surprise is really important in warfare.  Clearly Mr Wagner agrees, and has pulled off a beauty - he and his well-armed, well-disciplined horde.  Absolut banditi, as they say in Russia.  And Putin was caught absolutely napping: his own intelligence about his "own" forces is significantly poorer than the west's (is he not even monitoring the mobile phones, FFS??).  I have waited 24 hours before posting because there was always the possibility of Putin pulling off a decisive counterstroke, but no, the man and his machine are as deeply inept and incompetent as ever.

Let's ask a few questions:

  • did Prigozhin plan this?  Or did he take Rostov on a quiet summer's evening when all Russians are drunk, and turn north in fuelled-up convoys complete with air defence units and tanks on low-loaders, just on a whim?  Ans:  planned
  • did Prig know that Putin's airforce at least, has quite enough ground-attack assets to wipe out any concentration of vehicles before it reached Moscow?  Ans: yes[1]
  • did Putin have any faith in his ability to order the wiping out of a concentration of vehicles before it reached Moscow?  Ans: no
  • did Prig have a "very high" expectation of "negotiations" before matters reached that pass?  Ans: yes
  • would he therefore have had some carefully-crafted terms in mind before this all kicked off, for when he found himself dealing with some poor intermediary who was still reeling from shock?  Ans: oh yes he would
Prig didn't get where he is today without being transactional[2] and a very bold deal-maker indeed.  There's always a deal to be done[3].  He is also creative and comes up with ideas for what can be done with the levers of power, beyond what's routinely done[4] - always to be admired and feared in a politician. 
  • would he also know what he's going to do next?  Ans: he'll know a lot better than anyone else - and a lot better than any in Putin's clan know what they're going to do

Yes, Prig has made out like - a bandit.  And all in 24 hours.  Now?  Well he won't want to follow in the footsteps of Wat Tyler, Robert Aske & co.  It's to be imagined he has "assets" in Belorussia.  Still, you wouldn't put too much money on him celebrating Xmas.  

I look forward to the return of our trolls to tell us how this is all part of Putin's masterplan.  But the long-suffering people of Russia might find that just a little bit harder to believe than before.  Prig has marked their cards for them.



[1] and so did his troops, which makes it all the more impressive

[2] like, errr, Sadiq Khan

[3] Putin himself has been known to relate how in Russia, big disputes are settled over a big dinner at which both sides come armed to the teeth, but settle down to terms (and toasts).  In short, Prig has successfully brought Putin to the table as an equal.  And everyone in Russia understands

[4] like Mandelson

Friday 23 June 2023

Titan down: is caveat emptor the only regulation?

The ghastly fate of the Titan has already sparked one commentator into making a predictably incendiary semi-political comment, so with a bit of trepidation I shall essay another ...

Many years ago I rode my first flume.  It was a monster, a 10-metre drop with the entertaining feature that the tubing was fully opaque black plastic, so that after the first bend in the fully-enclosed tunnel, one was in pitch darkness for the remainder of the descent.  So here I am, falling out of control, unable to see anything, bashing up against the walls and surrounded by water, with all instincts screaming "that's it, you've killed yourself".  However, intellectually I clung to the reassuring thought that if it was actually fatal, it wouldn't be allowed

Neither of these conflicting emotions are carefully worked-through, pre-considered rational responses, they are just what different bits of the mind throw up in extreme circumstances.  The first of the two is rather basic visceral stuff.  The second is more interesting, albeit equally spontaneous - an experience-based reaction from someone brought up in the normally-regulated western world which licences and monitors such things.  Whether we recognize it or not, we tacitly bank on that kind of thing, e.g. every time we drive on a motorway or fly in a plane.  Passenger aviation in the developed world is a particularly good example because there is quite literally zero tolerance for any avoidable mishaps in that sphere, cost no object; and exceptionally successful it is, too.

(I say some of this rather obvious stuff for the benefit of any hyper-libertarians out there, with caveat emptor their only slogan, who affect to despise regulation in all its forms .  No you don't, chum - your life depends on it, and plenty of it, to a high, if unobtrusive standard.)

Personally, I'm a former soldier (bit of danger there, and nobody made me do it): and as an individual - and a father - I have joyfully indulged in, and encouraged, all manner of non-risk-free adventurous activities.  But in all of that I was competent to assess the risks, and to mitigate them intelligently.  But what do we say about unregulated ocean-floor tourism?  Despite the waivers they signed and the warnings they were given, were these recent hapless victims not just a little bit relying on that advanced-society, learned-instinct feeling that it must be OK because otherwise, they just wouldn't ... ... would they?

Which brings us to two semi-political thoughts, specifically for 2023.

  1. What's to be said about the mad billionaires' rush into amateur space travel?  Can't help thinking there will be rather fewer takers now, BTW.
  2. What's to be said when the regulating authorities aren't adequately resourced to do their jobs?
Semi-political?  Yup: politicians need to decide these things: and if #1 is mostly a spectator sport, #2 seriously affects us all.  Whatever romantic notions we entertain, we can't (all) sensibly live in a bracing Nietzschean free-for-all.


Monday 19 June 2023

How does capitalism end?

 We know the answer Marx gave:

  1. capital becomes concentrated in the hands of a small number of people;
  2. advances in technology, and the drive for profit, leads capitalists to shove ever more of the proletariat into unfulfilling jobs or outright unemployment, and consequently "immiserated";
  3. at the same time, advances in technology lead to extraordinary surpluses of material produce;
  4. at a certain point (the "extraordinary surpluses" play a very big role in determining the timing), the global proletariat spontaneously and universally intuits that any change whatsoever in political structures would leave them better off ("things can only get better", © N.Kinnock 1992), and this popular mood indeed results in a "revolutionary" end to the (capitalist) political edifice.
Several aspects of this don't meet basic plausibility tests - in particular, why the resulting new political "settlement" would be at all, err, comfortable for anyone, i.e. whether the universal proletarian intuition is in fact correct - but as a sci-fi narrative it stacks up as well as most. 

Well, here's another answer to the 'end of capitalism' question, and it claims rather better scientific credentials than poor old Marx, limited as he was to what he gathered from 1848 Germany, Engels' take on England, and what he could find in the Reading Room at the BM.   They both do claim to have made something scientific out of history.  And, like Marx's version, this narrative reckons to have taken into account various earlier "revolutions" or upheavals - except it claims a vastly greater database.  My precis:
  1. some sort of seismic upheaval (think Black Death / massive technological breakthrough) results in a "money-pump" effect: a heretofore middling sector of the community that has been outside the ruling elite suddenly gets very rich, and/or very "qualified" (e.g. they can now all read, or all get university degrees) ;
  2. said nouveau riche are now "credentialled" to join the ruling elite - at least, that's how they see it.  But the existing elite doesn't consider there are any vacancies, thank you very much.  So there's "overproduction of elite", an Elite Surplus;
  3. the ES, a capable and confident bunch, are pretty pissed off about their being kept away from what they see as their entitlement to get hands on the levers of power, so they work to seize them by Other Means;
  4. for this purpose they naturally light upon two strategies, potentially complementary: (a) take over an existing political party; (b) enlist (by way of cannon fodder) the immiserated lower classes, of which there will always be plenty in almost any regime, though their degree of restiveness will clearly vary from time to time;
  5. this may sometimes result in a fairly painless transfer of power, but on other occasions will result in something much bloodier. 

Where does this come from?  It's an erudite bloke of Russian extraction called Peter Turchin, who's peddling a new book.  A good interview here, by the redoubtable Aaron Bastani.  

Worth pondering.  I recall discussions we've had here following the 2011 riots, along the lines of: the stroppy British mob has no political leadership - but wait for an officer-class to emerge from the ranks of disaffected, over-educated graduates who can't find the kind of work or wealth they feel they are entitled to.  The Turchin thesis seems to fit this nicely - rather better than Marx's, anyhow.  

Personally, I can take Turchin's as a compelling narrative approach to all manner of historical upheavals, with some genuine explanatory value: BUT without definitive predictive capability.  The difference is, unlike Marx, this guy doesn't seem to be claiming any - which speaks well for him.  (Even better, he's also a big fan of constructive competition.)  Marx, along with most economic forecasters, is all too easily ridiculed for his forecasting failure.  The real reason for laughing at Marx, however, is his claim to have come up with a new Science.

What do the rest of the capitalists here think?  Does Turchin define our imminent demise?  


Tuesday 13 June 2023

Berlusconi, Putin and following the money

With no irony in evidence**, Reuters reports as follows: 

Vladimir Putin called Italy's Silvio Berlusconi a dear friend and an outstanding politician in a tribute to the former prime minister who died on Monday aged 86. "For me, Silvio was a dear person, a true friend. I have always sincerely admired his wisdom, his ability to make balanced, far-sighted decisions even in the most difficult situations," Putin said in a message of condolence. Berlusconi will be remembered in Russia as a "consistent and principled supporter of strengthening friendly relations between our countries", he said.

Well, well.  Lots of fellow feeling in evidence there; (though "principled" seems a bit of a stretch).  Maybe a suggestion of some significant personal, errr, interests in common?  Perhaps Putin has lost a very dear friend indeed: in which case, our condolences.

There is some forensic analysis yet to see the light of day here, but I'm not sure you get much of that in Italy.  Still ... just how did Putin become many commentators' candidate for the wealthiest man in the world?

They must think he's a financial genius.



** Then again, the report does go on to note:  "Like former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Berlusconi cultivated close relations with Moscow during Putin's first years in the Kremlin from 2000 onwards."  What could Reuters possibly mean by mentioning that?

Friday 9 June 2023

The Police have lost the Middle Class

Growing up as a very middle-middle-class child (you knew that, didn't you?), respect and benefit-of-the-doubt for the Police came up with the rations.  It wasn't until I mixed with the soldiery in my first regiment that I had regular dealings with people for whom "All coppers are bastards" was axiomatic.

These things don't change overnight but it seems now that we've gone past the point where the middle classes would give automatic credence to the police.  The symptoms are many and various.  For me, the last straw has been how they allowed themselves to be captured by woke doctrine, typified by their being in thrall to Stonewall's outrageous protection-racket proselytizing on the trans issue, to the point where fairly moderate Guardianista feminists fear for their freedom of speech at the hands of the police.  Others would point to the way the police seem often to lie and prevaricate as a first reflex on sticky issues.  Or the way that a Safety Case must be defined before anyone can get stuck in.  (In my street last week, 5 (five) police attended to round up a perfectly peaceable, indeed rather bewildered, lost dog.)  Or the way recruiting standards have been remorselessly lowered, firstly to accommodate "diversity" targets and nowadays just to recruit anyone at all.  And that's before we get onto the outright criminal behaviour of some individual officers.

This is a very bad state of affairs indeed.  We know from places like Mexico and a hundred other hell-holes that when the police feel themselves totally beleaguered and unloved, they retreat into their corporate shell and become just the biggest and best-armed gang on the streets.  (Well, in some countries, not even the best-armed.)  Large-scale corruption and worse follow swiftly.

Reputations can be turned around: but it ain't easy - particularly when the zeitgeist runs strongly against tough, dictatorial leadership of the sort that can (sometimes) turn around, e.g., a foundering corporation or a military unit;  though it seems the new Chief Constable of Manchester is giving it a go.   But the likes of Cressida Dick?  Don't make us laugh.

(An example of deep and successful reputational turnaround one might have noticed over the years is Private Eye: under Ingrams it became a byword for casually inaccurate stories and consequent lawsuits, and the courts pretty much gave plaintiffs the benefit of the doubt.  Bit by bit, Hislop turned this around, to the point where today the courts actually give the benefit of the doubt completely the other way around.   Ask any PR firm how they'd advise a client who was contemplating suing the Eye just now.)

But these things aren't quick to achieve, and are in any case many times easier for a small organisation.  It's gotta be done, though.  And in terms of the biggest force, the most pivotal force of the lot: does anyone imagine Sadiq Khan is the man to reform the Met he's notionally responsible for?


Friday 2 June 2023

Being a backbench MP - how boring is that?

Well obviously not at all, for a busy man of letters like Mr Quango.  But for many ...

Today it is reported that a long-serving Labour MP, one Geraint Davies, has been suspended for some kind of alleged hanky-panky, of the unwanted sexual type.  (Didn't they used to say that was the Tories; and that the typical failing of Labourites was being on the take?)  I have absolutely no idea whatever on the merits of said allegations, which he "doesn't recognise".  But I do know Davies, a classic Leftie-Welshman product of Jesus College, Oxford with a curious resemblance to Mark Williams of Welsh snooker fame.

He was a councillor on Croydon Council, then Leader of the Council, then MP for Croydon Central which has for 60 years been a genuine flip-flop marginal constituency.  After duly losing the seat when it came time for yet another flip, he headed off for a safe parliamentary berth in South Wales, his native territory, which is what he always wanted.  It didn't do him much good: seemingly, he never looked like ministerial material to successive Labour leaderships.  Of late I only really noticed him when he (like many others of worthy intentions in S.Wales) fell for the dreadful Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon scam scheme and gamely tried to promote it.  He, like others who got behind it - some with their life-savings - hoped it would have been a boon for the local economy (and 'green', to boot!).  The desperation in their hope was palpable, and mercilessly played upon by greedy promoters.

Anyhow: I never had Davies marked down for my rogues gallery.  He did a couple of silly things when first elected to the Council (e.g., he took in a "homeless family" to his own flat.  That little social experiment didn't last long) - but he was clearly a cut above the average Labour councillor in intellect (not difficult); a dedicated & capable political organiser; and had an amusing line in ironic throwaway socialist doctrine, mostly to prove he'd read PPE.  He was also a successful small-businessman - an interesting combination.  All in all, it looked just like a classic, purposeful political career: not objectionably careerist, but earning his stripes systematically and always with an eye to the Next Thing.  A safe seat in S.Wales after 25 years of working for it, seemed fair enough.  But only the back benches for him.  Not even, so far as I know, a PPS.

Which all leads me to think about boredom.  Decades of being just lobby fodder.  The endless round of more-or-less hopeless constituency work.  The need to support almost anything that moves in the constituency, however obviously lame.  They all enter Westminster with a Prime Minister's baton in their knapsack, but ... 

... after all that effort: all that expenditure of talent & brainpower & ambition & everything else it takes.  Oh dear.