“What opinion polls have taught us is that politics is not about practicalities: it’s about opinions.”
We no longer vote, we purchase.
By: Chief Political Correspondent, Laura Facebook ©2017. @Laurasweeplace.
Ten days ago I wrote a piece called Wake Up Britain, You’re Being Disrupted!
I seemed to be the only person who had noticed that the FBI Director, James Comey, had agreed at a Congressional Intelligence Committee hearing on 20 March that Russia had had a murky little hand in the Brexit referendum.
So although I still appear to be the only person who has noticed, as there has been no mention of it anywhere, nevertheless I was delighted to read an article on the Guardian Today website this morning, in which various politicians appear to have woken up to the threat posed to the democratic electoral process by ‘Dark Money’ ops.
Except that the article had appeared since I went to bed at midnight and was already Closed for Comments by half-past ten this morning, indicating that its quota had been filled by ‘Dark Thoughts’ while Britain yet slept.
The Comment I wanted to make was that the Electoral Commission, which looks into such matters, seems to be living in the previous reality; worrying that ‘political parties’ may be using technology to get away with influencing voters outside the normal rules of election spending. It is something they feebly admit they can do nothing about, since the bulk of the spending is invested in creating the technology and that can be done outside the period during which spending is controlled.
And actually, my point is that it is not political parties generally that are sucking-up vast volumes of data like a Korean trawler in a Yellowfin tuna shoal, and using it to target automated messages – bots – against individual voters; it’s hostile governments and wealthy private individuals – Disruptors – seeking for their own ends to undermine our democratic institutions.
Political parties have ceased to have any relevance in the Facebook age of individual realities. They haven’t quite noticed yet: but in the USA, for instance, the traditional two-party system is completely broken, as it has become impossible to show that there is any degree of unity within the philosophical boundaries that were once defined by the party labels. Politicians affiliate with whoever is going to spend the most money getting them elected; not with one another, or with blocs of voters united in opinion or aspiration.
This is also completely true of Britain’s disintegrated Labour party; and increasingly of its Conservative rivals. While voters might still retain some measure of loyalty to one side or the other, it’s purely symbolic: they want what they want. MPs generally don’t. When it comes to party agendas and manifesto pledges ideology has become amorphous, out of shape; broadly malleable, and responsive to individual needs and single events – such as a Daily Mail headline.
The more important vote politicians are chasing now is the consumer preference. We no longer vote, we purchase. What opinion polls have taught is that politics is not about practicalities, policies, outcomes: it’s about opinions.
This matter of choice has arisen, I contend, as a result of fifty or sixty years of consumer capitalism, whereby the acquisition of products and the commoditisation of debt; the availability of plastic money as a substitute for the real thing, that does not have to be earned; individual preference, brand loyalty if you like, has replaced the group dynamic – the social altruism – of political affiliation.
People long ago ceased to be referred to as ‘customers’ or ‘passengers’, whatever defined them as the users of specific services; we all became ‘consumers’. The idea took hold that as consumers we had general rights, rather than a specific contract. Thus students became consumers of education, entitled to achieve a degree regardless of academic attainment. Sick people purchased with their National Insurance tax subvention, medical services of which they had a right to demand cure.
The internet has enabled the widest possible exchange of subjective performance reviews of individual experiences consumers have with purchases – of products and services, but also of political policy outcomes as they affect the purchaser. Hence the widespread view that politicians are all the same, all corrupt, all out for themselves – it’s not true, necessarily, but it accurately reflects the attitude of the perennially dissatisfied purchaser – who is indeed ‘out for themselves’ in demanding exceptional treatment related to their private situation and aggravated when it is not forthcoming; principally because someone else is getting it unfairly.
Thus in politics, voters have become consumers of political services at every level, from the right to expect working drains and less immigration, to the right to demand that we leave the European Union, or the United Kingdom – as political outcomes, or products we have purchased with our votes; regardless of the wisdom of such actions from a historical and economic perspective. Our consumer satisfaction is reflected in the polls, and is thus invarably negative – as all products and services are marketed with an expectation of built-in dissatisfaction in order to keep us consuming.
Another win-win-win for the uber-capitalists, I fear. And still they keep on grabbing more.
Anyway, it’s a worthwhile read:
And for a companion piece that restates what I have said many times on this, muh bogl, that the EU was our last line of defence against the corporatist Big Data takeover of our country, here’s Will Hutton:
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced plans to charge the owners of diesel vehicles £24 a day to enter the Inner London area.
Cough, splutter, croak: the ‘yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-pane’ (TS Elliot)
I was just three years old, born and living in London, in December 1952 when the Great Smog arose, and in five days of choking, sulphur-yellow emanation carried off twelve thousand of my fellow Londoners.
Of course, I wasn’t really aware of it. Maybe I was even shipped out for safety to my grandparents in the western suburbs, I have no memory of it. I survived, anyway, although my repeated bouts of “bronchitis” – actually, undiagnosed asthma – put me in the school sanatorium with great regularity thereafter. I got through a lot of books; a lot of watery, concentrated National Health orange juice, the only cure.
But I do remember other, similar events as I grew up.
Most of those who died were elderly people whose health had been damaged long before, in the privations of the Great Depression and by years of war rationing, inhaling brick-dust and smoke from the bombing. Most of them had smoked heavily all their lives; many lived in mouldy, draughty, damp and dusty, unheated housing with coal or gas fires, and worked in unregulated industries.
It was in that sense a culling of the weak-chested.
So I do sympathise, I really do, with city dwellers. I left London 35 years ago, moving erratically westwards until I arrived on the coast at Boglington-on-Sea, where fresh, onshore Atlantic breezes blow the filthy stuff – air – up the valley, across the hills and far away, back into the begrimed faces of the people of Birmingham whence it probably came.
Even so, our sunny days are often masked and cooled by a thin veil of brownish cloud, or the diaphanous wisps of con-trails merging overhead; while out at sea, the coast of Ireland sixty miles away may be identified by a line of darker sky staining the horizon.
In the light of growing health concerns, the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khani has announced plans to charge the owners of polluting diesel vehicles £24 a day just to enter the Inner London area; and other measures. Furthermore, after chatting to his counterpart in Paris, he proposes to have diesel cars banned from London altogether by 2025, via a strategy of limiting their access during the daytime.
It isn’t a problem for me, as I no longer have a reason to drive into London. But I do, I have to confess, own a car with a small diesel engine, that I use dreadfully inefficiently as a local runabout, seeing as I never go anywhere nowadays. My Committee of Discarnate Entities has been prompting me to sell it for months now, but it’s just too damned convenient. Besides, I like it.
For I was one of the thirteen million motorists conned into believing diesel cars were nowadays cleaner and cheaper to run than petrol; although the instant you think about it, it can’t be true. All of us have at some time in our motoring lives been stuck behind a lorry grinding up an incline in second gear, belching black stuff. We secretly know, don’t we, that we’re pumping out the same greasy mix of gases and sooty particulates; only less visibly. (In my defence, I have never seen anything nasty coming from my exhaust.)
We believed diesel had changed its spots. Thanks to improvements in refining, the stuff was practically drinkable. It would carry us further on the same quantity, and be less damaging to our engine. It had low sulphur. And when burned, it was 25 per cent less laden with CO2, the greenhouse villain. We knew diesel emits more particulates; but particulates were good, because they cut down the sunlight that’s heating the planet. And anyway, the particulate filters in the new generation of smaller, more efficient diesels would take care of it; just as the catalytic converter and the removal of lead ‘anti-knock’ additives, new engine designs had taken care of the problems with petrol.
Diesel has a high content of nitrogen which, when burned, produces various oxides of nitrogen: NOx; while the filtration of larger particulates leaves the smaller, more damaging particulates unaffected. These get into the lungs more easily and can trigger asthma and cause children’s lungs not to grow fully. Three hundred thousand British children live within 150 yards of a main road. Burning any fossil fuel has its downsides; which sounds like a rather cynical underestimation of the probability that we are on the verge of the greatest mass extinction since the Permian, 250 million years ago, thanks to our brute stupidity and selfishness.
Nitrogen oxides at ground-level react to produce O1 – ozone, a poisonous gas (not to be confused with good ozone way up in the stratosphere which cuts down life-destroying UV radiation.) Plus, of course, if everyone reverted to petrol-driven cars, logic tells us the CO2 emissions targets couldn’t be met… 13 million petrol-fuelled cars output 61 million tonnes of CO2 annually, so we’d expect an additional 15 million tonnes of the warming stuff from any mass changeover.
So electric cars are the answer in cities… No, you’re just shifting the emissions from the cars to the generators.
Listen, don’t let anybody – least of all, the Mayor of London – tell you atmospheric chemistry is easy, or free from ‘fake news’. Wikipedia describes NOx thus:
“NOx is a generic term for the various nitrogen oxides produced during combustion. They are believed to aggravate asthmatic conditions, react with the oxygen in the air to produce ozone, which is also an irritant and eventually form nitric acid when dissolved in water. When dissolved in atmospheric moisture the result can be acid rain which can damage both trees and entire forest ecosystems.”
But, as an example of how complicated the arguments are, it is necessary only to turn to the website of Science Daily, which scoops up the latest reports – such as:
“Climate researchers are warning that efforts to reduce air pollution could, if not well designed, make global warming worse. Limiting emissions of manmade nitrogen oxides, a strategy to control ozone in the lower atmosphere, would result in increased methane abundance and lead to additional greenhouse warming.” – American Geophysical Union
For, as we know, methane is many times more efficient at absorbing heat than is CO2.
Now, this raises several questions. Is the effect on climate change and citizen health so strong as to really make a difference, given the relatively small quantity of NOx produced by however many diesel vehicles there are in a city like London? Aren’t the supposedly cleaner gases produced by burning ordinary refined petrol just as likely to have indirect harms too? Sulphur is one, that turns in rainy weather to H2SO4 – sulphuric acid.
Nitric? Sulphuric? Carbonic? You takes your choice.
Then, we have to consider what proportion of nitrogen pollution in the city is attributable to smaller, more efficient diesel-engined private cars, and what to the many other sources of NOx – including commercial vehicles, boats on the river, fashionable wood-burning stoves, aircraft overflight and many industrial processes. A 2005 report from the University of Washington found that 22 per cent of NOx – over 8 million metric tons worldwide – comes from natural background emissions in the soil. (Ibid.)
So maybe the Mayor of London needs to order the Royal Parks tarmacked over, as they produce more NOx than private cars?
As I’m not an atmospheric chemist, I have to write ‘finally’ here. Although it’s a lot more complicated and convoluted I’ve reached the limits, both of my understanding and of my interest. But in defence of us poor diesel drivers, who paid a premium price for this extra efficiency and environmental kindness we were promised, that since the scandal of VW’s clever software that ‘fixed’ the results of lab tests turns out to have been a bit of a hoax, and who now stand to lose a lot of money, I should point out:
The unpleasant and unhealthy smogs that have returned to London since the 1956 Clean Air Act ended the winter misery of coal-induced sulphurous miasmas have one element in common with them: the weather.
This winter over large areas of the northern hemisphere, high pressure systems predominated, creating what are known as ‘inversion layers’, where lighter, warmer, smog-laden air becomes trapped under a layer of heavier, colder air and with the lack of wind at low altitude can neither dissipate nor get blown away. As little is done at the time to reduce the sources of these emissions, the air gets progressively fouler. Indeed, some studies suggest that in the centres of the world’s megacities, vital oxygen levels can drop to dangerous lows.
Climate scientists have blamed these high-pressure systems on a weakening of the jetstream wind owing to warming of the Arctic reducing the ocean temperature differential with the north Atlantic and Pacific. It seems likely therefore that we can blame this last winter’s smogs on global warming caused by the very gases that are choking our citizens.
What I have not yet heard anyone say in regard to this, I would say irreconcilable, argument between the advocates of diesel versus petrol-engined cars, and the damage they are doing, both to the environment and to our children’s and old people’s health, is the blindingly obvious:
There are far too many cars in our cities.
You don’t need a car in London! Get rid of the fucking car, it’s costing you a fortune to park, to run. You’ve got 24-hour public transport, you lucky things! Just think how much money – and how many lives – you’ll save.
So, wake up, Sadiq. Ban them all!
Spring is Sprung
Despite the belief among a growing number of scientists that we’re doomed and life on earth has nine years to go before a Permian-level extinction, hasn’t this Spring just been fucking spectacular?
I suppose it depends on where you live, but here on the west coast we had no snow this winter, a couple of days and a few nights of ground frost only; only one winter storm (max 94 mph) and average rainfall.
Last week the sun came out and everything just exploded into leaf, blossom, flower and growth confusingly all at once. Lawns became suddenly snowy with a thick carpet of daisies; bluebells lurked in odd corners, yellow anemones and cheerful dandelions clashed vibrantly with the gorse – never have I seen gorse so thickly covered in acid-yellow flowers. Birdsong fills the air as the little feathery tweets vie for territory over the constant thrum and roar of the traffic.
My neighbour dug over his scabby front garden to make a lawn. Within five days the grass he seeded was already up and two inches high. Not all of this ought to be happening so early in the year. Even holidaymakers were arriving, months early.
I’d been noticing for the last few years that vegetation cover in the shit-strewn exurban river valley across the road, that passes for our local park, has been getting denser. We boast a variety of environments and habitats, from marshland and succession woodland to the sewage farm and a cricket ground; all of it is thriving as never before.
I read that it’s down to the extra CO2 in the atmosphere.
Spring, as they say, is in the air! Enjoy it while it lasts, peeps.
Woman of the Dunes
You may be following the latest twist in the Watergate saga.
A Scottish judge has ruled on a legal technicality against a case brought by retired social worker Rohan Beyts, who was suing the Trump Organization for breach of her Data privacy after three Trump employees at the International Golf Course near Aberdeen photographed her ‘taking a whizz’, as Americans say, in the rough.
They subsequently sent the photographs to the police as evidence that a criminal offence had been committed. A prosecution was brought, but rapidly dismissed as the law in Scotland allows ramblers in the open countryside to take a discreet pee if they need to; even on the hallowed sands of a $120 million Trump links course.
I may move to Scotland in that case.
This intrusion on her private moment, argued Beyts, as she had committed no crime, violated her right to privacy under the Data Protection Act.
Sadly, Sheriff Donald Corke was reluctantly unable to convict because, despite bristling with CCTV cameras and computers containing visitor and employee records, the loss-making TIGC had somehow overlooked the legal necessity to register under the Act and could therefore not infringe it.
Nevertheless he had some pretty strong words to say about Trump’s hired goons:
…she was entirely within her legal rights at the time, and her distress at being photographed and charged was very real. She had “a reasonable expectation of privacy”. She shouldn’t have been photographed, Corke said. “I have to emphasise that officious bystanders who photograph females urinating in the countryside put themselves at very real risk of prosecution”, he added. (BBC News)
So the poor woman ended up paying £300 costs, although that’s been more than covered by the £3,000 raised from a crowdfunding website.
It’s a 9-iron short of a sand wedge from at least two points of view; not least showing as it does how poorly Donald Trump’s thuggish business methods have gone down in the locality.
First, any mention of women urinating in the same breath as the name Donald Trump must raise a wry smile; and secondly the Orange Buffoon just signed off on another of his larky Executive Orders, effectively abolishing the US equivalent of the Data Protection laws relating to internet service providers and platforms.
They can now make whatsoever use of your data pleaseth them, without your knowledge; and it’s an ordinance that hasn’t gone down very well, even with the Dumbfucks: the ruling has polled an 80 per cent national disapproval rating, to match Mr Trump’s historically unprecedented personal low 35 per cent approval after only 75 days in office.
Added to which, the new Director of Homeland Security, ‘retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly’, is reportedly considering extending ‘extreme vetting’ to ALL non-US nationals entering the country – not just terrorists and brown people, but even returning residents and nationals of friendly countries with reciprocal visa waivers.
Yes, Brits too, we’re so special.
‘Extreme vetting’ means examining your social media and other data usage for signs of anti-Americanism, or even connections to it. Visit Disneyworld next holidays and you may find yourself having to hand over your laptop, all your passwords, your email Contacts folder, your mobile phone (to inspect the photo files and see who you’ve been talking to) and answer a battery of new questions about your attitudes to ‘right to life’ (abortion), ‘religious beliefs and affiliations’ and the ‘war on terror’ (Islamism), with a very good chance that if you aren’t sufficiently onboard with the program, they’ll send you home – or worse.
Among the checks he expects to add would, of course, be intense scrutiny of blog Post contents.
Ah well, at least my numbers might start to creep up.
Mr Kelly is quoted as saying, if you don’t like America, don’t come. He’s got a funny way of being likeable. Tourism numbers are already substantially down as a result of the failed Muslim ban, so this latest Trump-pleaser is likely to send them crashing through the floor, costing the hotel and resort trade billions of dollars.
Therein lies hope for travellers, as many of Trump’s oligarch cronies and indeed the Orange Hotelier himself depend on tourism dollars for a sizeable slab of income, and are likely to notice when they have shot themselves in both feet.
The chance is, of course, that outrage among the US’s allies around the world could also result in retaliatory measures against US tourists entering our quaint old countries. Tourism employs three million people in the UK, 75% of them British nationals; and Americans, our number one visitor nation, spend around £3 billion here.
Suck on that, Theresa.
Next time don’t hold his hand, reminding us of Clint Eastwood and Clyde the orang-utan – just push him down the fucking stairs.
Britain awoke this morning to a photograph of ‘Dr’ Liam Fox, the Business Brexit, palling-up with Rodrigo Duterte, the underdressed Philippines dictator who has likened himself to Adolf Hitler – for stupidly mentioning who’s name Mr Ken Livingstone is – again – being investigated, although he has said nothing illegal as far as anyone can see; just dumb.
In Duterte’s Philippines, around ten thousand people have been murdered by police death squads and vigilantes at his express instigation since he came to power, for having any connection with the drugs trade – even just alleged users. Indeed, he claims to have murdered a few folks himself, just to show how it’s done. And of course not long ago he was referring to the US President as ‘that son of a whore’, and so on.
Why is Dr Atlantic even speaking to this potty-mouthed, pockmarked little psychopath? It’s not for medical reasons, but to try to set up some squalid trade deals to replace our perfectly good existing arrangements with the EU; to which end, Fox uttered the immortal words:
“We have a foundation of shared values and shared interests”.
What a total cunt. But yes, you probably do, ‘Dr’ Fox.
Britain is proud of you.