Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Democracy or a Mickey Mouse parliament?

I'll be voting for The Brexit Party tomorrow. Not to select the right people to sit in a Mickey Mouse parliament but as a political statement about the way Brexit has been handled. For voters in a peacetime democracy the number one voting consideration is democracy itself. Is it being made stronger, weaker or about the same? Everything else comes second. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Anything short of terrorism

Quillette has an interesting review of a book by Terri Murray - Identity, Islam and the Twilight of Liberal Values.

Islamists in the West have successfully hijacked the moral prestige of liberal terminology for the purposes of disseminating ultra-social conservative beliefs and practices. Murray quotes the Pakistani-American writer Tashbih Sayyed, who pithily summarises the effects of this strategy as follows:

By casting its fascist agenda in terms of human rights and civil libertarian terms, political Islam has successfully been able to use the American liberal and progressive groups to project itself as an American phenomenon and win intellectual elites, liberals, and the media with left leanings on its side.

Murray correctly observes that violent acts of Islamic terrorism have had the effect of misleading people into thinking that anything short of terrorism is “moderate.” She points out that the ideology of an organisation may be extremist and deeply illiberal even if the group does not resort to violence to promote its views.

The whole piece is well worth reading. I particularly like this point - Murray correctly observes that violent acts of Islamic terrorism have had the effect of misleading people into thinking that anything short of terrorism is “moderate.”

Monday, 20 May 2019

Size matters


This is an oddity. By some quirk of the spacetime continuum a Neolithic man has been able to reach across thousands of years and study our world while remaining in his own time. How he does this I’m not sure but he has learned our language, studied our ways and sent some messages – observations about our time compared to his.

His name translates as Glurk and his most interesting observations focus on primitive modes of thought which he knows well but we don’t. Over to Mr Glurk –

Hi guys – Glurk here. It isn’t Mr Glurk by the way, just Glurk. Let’s start with the most important Neolithic concept of all, the one which shapes our lives and our way of making sense of the world here in Stoneville. That concept translates nicely into English as Big.

I don’t really live in a place called Stoneville by the way. I just made that up because it sounds nicer than the reality which is rather more basic than the name suggests. It has its good points though – we don’t have television or political correctness. We definitely don’t have political correctness. Ha ha – no that’s another story.

Anyhow - Big matters because size matters. It’s how we make that most basic of all assessments – is it Bigger than me and mine? Seems obvious to us here in Stoneville but you guys complicate things. You don’t always see how your ideas are still dictated by Big because you are essentially the same as us. Rather more weedy than we are but I don’t hold that against you.

So if anything is Bigger than you or your tribe then you need to know. That’s obvious too or at least I hope it is. It’s certainly obvious to us here in Stoneville so it certainly ought to be obvious to you guys with all your sophistication such as your soap operas and flat pack furniture. Except usually it isn’t obvious to you is it?

Let’s take a couple of examples of how Big works, how it directs your thinking just as it directs ours.

Number one – Brexit and the EU. Now everything I see and read about Brexit tells me that the only reason some of you voted Remain is because you were screwed up by Big. The EU is Bigger than the UK and that’s the only Remain argument anyone ever put forward. Remainers say the EU is Bigger than the UK and that’s it. They don’t usually put it quite like that of course but really – that’s as far as it goes.

The trouble is, you guys need to get beyond the primitive stuff and stop being influenced by Big all the time. Your world is far more complex than mine and while Big works really well for us it isn’t working for you. It doesn’t matter how Big the EU is, your Remainers can’t just use Big as their only way of thinking about it. You have to teach them somehow. Use something Big is my advice. Usually works around here.

Number two – climate change. Climate change is a good example of you lot going overboard with Big. That Big climate and those Bigged up stories about your Big car exhausts making all the temperatures really Big. Then you have the Big institutions behind it, the Big number of scientists supporting it and Big media flogging it to death all the time. Really I’m surprised at you falling for this one. It’s such obvious Big talk.

Moving on to sport... oh that’s it for now. I think the spacetime quirk is closing.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Add your own egg

Our nearest Starbucks is located in a shopping centre we visit every now and then. Recently we’ve tried to make sure we visit the centre round about 9.30 am because at that time in the morning the car park is almost empty and the whole place has that early morning start of the day feel to it. An hour later that atmosphere has gone completely, never to return until the following morning.

We quite like Starbucks although we would never visit the shopping centre merely to drink coffee there. We aren't quite that far gone. We used to dislike the coffee but presumably something has changed and presumably it wasn’t Starbucks coffee. No matter, coffee isn’t really the theme of this post.

As we sit there over our coffee watching the car park fill up we always notice how many Starbucks customers spend their time tapping away at laptops or conducting what is obviously some kind of informal business meeting. Others are fiddling with their phones, keeping the kids under control or just chatting. There is a quiet buzz, a sense that this is a brief period of deserved relaxation before other things have to be done, other matters have to be attended to.  

Although this coffee shop is a tiny part of a massive international business, the atmosphere feels relaxed, informal and somehow permanent. As if the place has been here in this shopping centre for many decades and will still be here for decades to come. Why is that? I look around the place, study the corporate decor, the tables, chairs, colour scheme, coffee displays and so on but I can’t really see how it’s done.

Presumably a great deal of effort goes into creating a corporate Starbucks ambience which in turn leads to the coffee shop atmosphere they want and as far as I can see it works. From a more traditional perspective it may not be the real thing because there is no amiable proprietor exchanging pleasantries, no obvious regulars and only a massive car park visible through the windows.

Yet there is that relaxed atmosphere - no doubt about it. As a coffee shop it works exactly as it should, as if someone somewhere calculated it to the nth decimal place and got it right. It works and the customers obviously absorb what it offers and like it whether they think about it or just accept it. In which case, where does this successful coffee shop atmosphere come from?

To answer that question we would usually think in terms of deep corporate cunning, psychological cues embedded in the advertising and product placement, the decor and the layout of tables and chairs, the colour schemes, materials, textures and an artfully placed settee all designed to pack them in with an illusory aura of spacious informality.

Except it isn’t an illusion because simple observation suggests that customers also create the atmosphere - the buzz, the sense of relaxation. They help create what they want, what brings comfort and a sense of belonging. Belonging to what? It doesn’t matter – something known, accepted and almost cool if you play it right. Everything customers do adds to the atmosphere, builds on the corporate template by flavouring it with the real thing, the human touch, the sense of contact and belonging.

One could easily go further and suggest that people like the reassurance of a massive corporate presence which is unmistakably there but isn’t obtrusive. Perhaps they like its sense of permanence, because corporate entities such as Starbucks are so massive that they do exude an air of permanence. Desirable or not, it works.

And what is not to like about comfortable permanence? One where you help make your own atmosphere? As genuine as a packet of cake mix perhaps, but even with cake mix you are sometimes required to add your own egg – to make it partly your cake rather than wholly theirs.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Something more than dark satanic mills

Charles Downer Hazen’s book The Long Nineteenth Century was first published in 1917 then revised in 1919 to expand Hazen’s observations on the First World War. The book is an historical overview of the nineteenth century from the French Revolution to the First World War, so there is historical overlap at either end in order to maintain perspective.

I would not usually read a history book as old as this in case important later findings are missed or better scholarship changes perspectives. However, the interesting aspect of Hazen’s book is that he was much closer to the nineteenth century than we are. Seen through his eyes, key events seem more vivid. It is this vivid perspective which brings alive the importance of democracy because Hazen clearly sees democracy as one of the most important developments of the nineteenth century.

Through Hazen’s eyes the industrial revolution, the slums and the industrial squalor are still there but the struggle for democracy also comes to the fore - and what a struggle it was. Fortunately it was a successful struggle in many countries. For example, even a century ago it was apparent that Swiss democracy was well worth studying and emulating.

Since 1848 Switzerland has pursued a course of peaceful development, but one of extraordinary interest to the outside world. This interest consists not in great events, nor in foreign policy, for Switzerland has constantly preserved a state of strict neutrality, but in the steady and thoroughgoing evolution of certain political forms which may be of great value to all self-governing countries. There have been developed in Switzerland certain processes of lawmaking the most democratic in character known to the world.

Charles Downer Hazen - The Long Nineteenth Century (1919)

Amid all the insanely bloody and wholly cynical games played by European kings, queens, princes and aristocrats during the nineteenth century, the slow rise of democracy grows and grows like a flower on a dung heap.

This is a perspective we have almost lost today – games played over the Brexit referendum demonstrate that. Whatever else it may be, the EU is not a democracy and does not intend to be one. Yet as Hazen’s book so ably demonstrates, democracy is an insane gift to throw away on a raft of political dishonesty.

Without strong democracies the totalitarian loons will ride again. Unfortunately we are in some danger of losing the passion we need to defend our democracy against them because we have never lived without it. If ruling elites have their way, then one day we will have to live without it.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Is May one of the worst prime ministers?

Sky asks the obvious question.

Sky Views: Will Theresa May be remembered as one of UK's worst prime ministers?

Theresa May is still in No 10 but this week even she seemed to acknowledge this is borrowed time, as the prime minister began to author an alternative legacy to the rather damning political obituary her party and the wider political class might well decide to write.

I don't know the answer to this question because we've had some real stinkers as PM - Blair and Brown spring immediately to mind. The problem is, if we bung the Brexit mess on May's shoulders we avoid wider questions about democracy and the covert role of establishment pressures on government business.

Brexit shows us that we have work to do on our democracy and it also shows us that far too many voters don't understand why. Mrs May may indeed be a stinker of a PM, but the wider problems we have with our democracy are not her doing. She is certainly part of the problem but voters keep on voting for stinkers and that is not May's doing either. 

Tuesday, 14 May 2019


The A38 this morning - an overturned lorry shed its load of broken glass intended for recycling. It must say something about our society. Not the overturned lorry, but the idea of carting tons of broken glass around the country.