July 28, 2014
[politics] ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ – the two faces of Michael Gove
… intriguing profile of the recently demoted Tory minister … ‘As brokering replaced bombing in Northern Ireland, most people in Britain were relieved, but Gove pamphleteered for an alternative strategy of “resolute security action”. He retained an anachronistic feeling for “Greater Britain”. After 9/11 he sometimes wrapped up fervent support for Blair-Bush crusades in the modern parlance of liberal interventionism, and sometimes lapsed into an older discourse. In one sweeping column, he hailed the 1704 capture of Gibraltar “as an opening chapter in democracy’s vindication”, noted “profound echoes” with today’s struggles against autocrats in the Muslim world, and even suggested that “far-sighted” Spaniards might learn to see Britain’s Iberian outpost as the rock on which western success was built. Columnists are employed to grab interest rather than decide things, but Gove’s stridency on world affairs survived his 2005 move into parliament…’
July 22, 2014
[apollo] Moondoggle: The Forgotten Opposition to the Apollo Program
… turns out a majority of Americans did not think going to the Moon was worth it in the 1960s … ‘The race to the moon may not have been wildly popular among scientists, random Americans, or black political activists, but it was hard to deny the power of the imagery returning from space. Our attention kept getting directed to the heavens — and our technology’s ability to propel humans there. It was pure there, and sublime, even if our rational selves could see we might be better off spending the money on urban infrastructure or cancer research or vocational training.’
June 13, 2014
[politics] Five myths about UKIP … that should make the Conservatives happy
… debunking some widely held ideas about the UKIP…‘Myth two: More Britons wish to leave the EU than in 2009 – The opposite is true. Five years ago we divided narrowly in favour of a complete withdrawal from the EU; today, by a modest margin, we prefer to remain a member…’
June 2, 2014
[ukip] Ukip founder Alan Sked: ‘The party has become a Frankenstein’s monster’
… a fascinating interview with UKIP’s founder… ‘Sked recalls, too, the letters of complaint he received from Salisbury, when Farage stood for Ukip in 1997′s general election. “I remember one that said, ‘I’m very glad your candidate believes in education, but until he learns to spell it, I’m not voting for him.’ That’s the kind of person people are voting for when they vote Ukip. Why does anyone have time for this creature? He’s a dimwitted racist.”‘
May 21, 2014
[politics] Among a crowd of political automatons, Nigel Farage is like a wacky neighbour in a sitcom
… Charlie Brooker on Nigel Farage … ‘Farage says the unsayable. He says things so unsayable they’re said nigh-on constantly, often in large letters, on the front page of a newspaper. The sayable. He says the sayable. ROMANIAN STEALS WAR MEMORIAL. ONE IN THREE FOREIGNERS ISN’T BRITISH. NOW IT’S HALAL SMARTPHONES. That’s what he says. All of which means that, as well as being a bit of sore thumb stunt casting, he simultaneously represents familiarity; specifically the cosy familiarity of a world in which you could walk down an English high street without your ears getting bunged up with foreign accents, unless someone was doing a hilarious Gunga Din voice in order to mock the waiter in a curry house. That world is a corpse, but it’s a corpse that many want to revive…’
May 20, 2014
[politics] UKIP is using politics to fight a cultural war
… GQ attempts to understand UKIP …
The argument that says the UKIP represents a rebellion against the political elite seems true (aside from its public school-educated/banker/professional politician leader), but even that lends it a sophistication it barely deserves. UKIP is the road rage of a repressed parochialism; the collective panic attack of an introspective minority that has watched a succession of socially and economically liberal governments and their co-religionists in the media promote a world-view that seemed to leave these “outsiders” further and further in the margins.
The margins of culture, that is. Not the margins of the economy. One suspects many of UKIP’s leading figures are businessmen and women who have done rather well out of the post-Thatcher economic consensus. Conversely, UKIP supporters from poorer parts of society are not disadvantaged because of EU red tape, immigration or tolerance towards gays, but because they live in a low-skill, wildly free market economy that has been propagated by every government – to a greater or lesser extent – since 1979, creating an entrenched inequality that is worsening every year.
May 14, 2014
[life] 15 weird things that 9% of Britons say they believe. Including supporting the Lib Dems
… ‘When it comes to foreigners, 9% of Brits would like to see less tourists arriving from China. Which seems an incredibly specific and odd thing to be getting vexed about.’
May 9, 2014
[docu] Fail better
… another Adam Curtis
After the broadcast of Curtis’s 2007 film The Trap, which traced the influence of game theory – the idea that humans behaved as self-interested individuals – on contemporary economic thought, Prospect magazine’s Max Steuer argued that the series “greatly exaggerates the power of ideas, and at the same time almost wilfully misrepresents them”. Others made similar criticisms of All Watched over by Machines of Loving Grace, which linked the anti-state philosophy of Ayn Rand with the “techno-utopians” who developed modern computing. At the very least, don’t his films encourage precisely that gloomy feeling – a sense that power is in the hands of an unaccountable elite – that so exercises him?
“Well, I am a creature of my time,” he concedes. We’ve found our way to a café in the shopping centre near Thamesmead, where we can chat at greater length. “What I’ve been trying to do is analyse why progressive ideas failed.
“Secondly, I’m interested in telling stories, because I like telling stories and I think ideas are important. I take particular influences of particular groups of people as a way of showing how that idea spread out. I never say this is where it all came from, this shadowy group of people. I’m telling you a story, like a novelist would, but as a factual story to try and bring it to life to you.”
May 5, 2014
[politics] Nigel Farage is just Russell Brand for old people
… some thoughts on Nigel Farage … ‘Nigel Farage is a phoney. There is a simple solution to everything that ails the United Kingdom: leave the European Union and, to all intents and purposes, close our borders. Then we shall enjoy a new Golden Age. It is an illusion wrapped in a lie inside a fraud. No such solution presents itself. In the unlikely event Mr Farage got his way almost every problem this country faces would remain intact – and remain as impervious to simple solution.’
April 20, 2014
[politics] The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld (Part 1)
… Errol Morris On Donald Rumsfeld … ‘Not just him but the entire building was in denial. Doug Feith — don’t get me started on Doug Feith — told me that they had a Marshall Plan all set to go in terms of rebuilding Iraq. And he pointed to this stack of huge three-ringed binders, all of them black. There must have been about 10 of them stacked up on top of a cabinet. And I asked to see them, and he said, “No, you can’t. It’s classified.” And I said, “Well, O.K., I understand that, I guess.” But I raised it to somebody else within the next couple of weeks. I said, “Well, Doug Feith showed me the Marshall Plan for Iraq.” And this person laughed, and he said, “Mik, that was the Marshall Plan.” It was a copy of the original Marshall Plan, not a plan for Iraq.’
March 21, 2014
[politics] The Conservatives Long-Term Economic Plan For Britain
… ‘Click your nearest city to find out what the Conservatives are doing for you…’
March 8, 2014
[politics] The Top Five Political Twitter Gaffes
… ‘We can’t decide if this is a gaffe or an unintentional stroke of genius. Who knew Ed Balls would become a social media superstar by accidentally tweeting his own name?’
February 15, 2014
[politics] Toward a Unified Theory of Scandal-Naming
… on the devaluing of the “-gate” suffix for scandal … ‘Column-inch-limited headline writers in Argentina, Azerbaijan, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, and especially the UK have all imported “-gate” for their own homegrown scandals. Many involve sports. Some involve bolognese sauce: The Montreal restaurant community was rocked last year by Pastagate, when Québéc’s language enforcers warned an upscale restaurant to stop using Italian words like “pasta” on its menu instead of the French equivalent. Very few rise near the level of Watergate. We need a new term for these sub-gate scandals.’
February 12, 2014
[politics] Rory Stewart: ‘The secret of modern Britain is there is no power anywhere’
… a fascinating interview with a Tory MP …
In a way, he says, ordinary Afghans are far more powerful than British citizens, because at least they feel they can have a role in one of the country’s 20,000 villages. “But in our situation we’re all powerless. I mean, we pretend we’re run by people. We’re not run by anybody. The secret of modern Britain is there is no power anywhere.” Some commentators, he says, think we’re run by an oligarchy. “But we’re not. I mean, nobody can see power in Britain. The politicians think journalists have power. The journalists know they don’t have any. Then they think the bankers have power. The bankers know they don’t have any. None of them have any power.”
And this from a man who only two years ago attended the Bilderberg conference, a highly exclusive and secretive gathering of the world’s most powerful bankers, politicians and businesspeople?
“Well there we are, you see,” he smiles. “I can tell you, there is nothing there. It’s like the wizard of Oz. This is the age of the wizard of Oz, you know. In the end you get behind the curtain and you finally meet the wizard – and there’s this tiny, frightened figure. I think every prime minister has sort of said this since Blair. You get there and you pull the lever, and nothing happens.”
February 6, 2014
[watergate] The Red Flag in the Flowerpot
… a writer looking at the personal archives of Ben Bradlee
(Woodward and Bernstein’s editor) exposes doubts about some of the reporting of Watergate …
Later in the interview, Ben talked about Bob’s famous secret source, whom he claimed to have met in an underground garage in rendezvous arranged via signals involving flowerpots and newspapers. “You know I have a little problem with Deep Throat,” Ben told Barbara.
“Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.”
I read it over a few times to make sure. Did Ben really have doubts about the Deep Throat story, as it had been passed down from newsroom to book to film to history? And if he did, what did that mean?’
February 5, 2014
[quote] The Unknown Unknowns
… a quote from Donald Rumsfield. ‘…there are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don’t know.’
January 18, 2014
[politics] Why do British prime ministers never wear wedding rings?
… ‘The last married male occupant of 10 Downing Street to wear a wedding ring in public was Harold Wilson, who was PM from 1964 to 1970 and 1974 to 1976.’
January 11, 2014
[politics] The Michael Gove random policy generator
… ‘More latin! More bibles! More bibles in Latin!’
December 19, 2013
[life] How Ayn Rand ruined my childhood
… how Objectivism and family life do not mix …
Our objectivist education, however, was not confined to lectures and books. One time, at dinner, I complained that my brother was hogging all the food.
“He’s being selfish!” I whined to my father.
“Being selfish is a good thing,” he said. “To be selfless is to deny one’s self. To be selfish is to embrace the self, and accept your wants and needs.”
It was my dad’s classic response — a grandiose philosophical answer to a simple real-world problem. But who cared about logic? All I wanted was another serving of mashed potatoes.
December 6, 2013
[politics] Ten political assumptions
… a list of assumptions that drive much thinking within the political mainstream … ‘Devaluing professional autonomy and ethics. The counterpart of the elevation of management is – in schools, universities and hospitals – a denigration of traditional professional standards and ethics.’
October 22, 2013
[politics] Margaret Thatcher: five things you didn’t know about her
On holiday on the Islay estate of her aide Peter Morrison, Thatcher – wishing to avoid post-dinner party games – went for a nocturnal walk. Her protection officers, thinking her asleep, were in the pub, but one policeman was still on duty. Suspecting the unknown figure, in a long, hooded cloak, was an intruder, he unleashed his alsatian, who knocked Thatcher down and pinned her to the muddy turf. “The incident passed into legend among her inner circle,” writes Aitken, “with the punchline question: ‘How on earth did the dog dare?’”
October 14, 2013
[funny] Depraved Masochist Enjoys Following The News
… more from The Onion … ‘Sources confirmed that Petrillo makes no effort whatsoever to conceal his insatiable desire for self-inflicted torment, going so far as to take pride in his familiarity with issues such as America’s distribution of wealth, the latest jobs report, what’s happening in Congress recently, and the nation’s current incarceration rate. In fact, he is reportedly not content with simple masochism, and often spreads the anguish of his knowledge to his fellow citizens. “Whenever I come across an interesting article online, I like to email it to my friends and try to get a conversation going,” said Petrillo, his voice betraying no shame.’
October 10, 2013
[funny] Royal Mail Privatisation: New ‘While You Were Out’ Card Issued
… ‘Could not be delivered earlier: Because even Magaret Thatcher thought it was bonkers.’
October 3, 2013
[politics] Conservative conference: Ukip and Thatcher give David Cameron a headache
… fascinating look at the state of the Conservative Party right now … ‘The man in the waistcoat is another Tory who supports a deal with Ukip. “We both want the same thing,” he says, “and it’s foolish to fight each other.” But the closing music after Cameron’s speech is unlikely to appeal to the faragists – Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop, with its mantra: “Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.” The Ukippers reckon yesterday can be brought back…’
October 1, 2013
[politics] Digested Read: Power Trip by Damian McBride
I should stress that never at any time did Gordon or the two Eds have any idea whatsoever that I was leaking stories to the media or briefing against colleagues. Every time something to our advantage dominated the headlines, they would all three gasp with amazement and say: “Wow! What a brilliant coincidence. Aren’t we lucky to have so many coincidences! Are you sure you didn’t have anything to do with this?” And I would reply: “I know I’ve got a reputation for being a bit of a liar, but I promise I’m not lying this time. Believe me, if I’d known the minister was shagging his secretary, I’d have told the Mail ages ago.” And they would say: “You’re so sweet, Damian.”
September 24, 2013
[movies] Errol Morris on How Donald Rumsfeld Sees His Own Legacy
… interesting preview of Errol Morris’ new film on Donald Rumfield. Here’s the trailer
The most distinctive thing about Rumsfeld is his use of language. Is it Orwellian? In 1984, language is used as a means of control—but it is conscious control. With Rumsfeld, I felt I was witnessing something more complex: a man using language to obscure the world from himself as well as from others. In his Pentagon press conferences he would frequently quibble over the meaning of words: “pre-emption,” “insurgency,” “quagmire.” It was almost a way of keeping a safe distance from reality.
Most people remember that Rumsfeld’s famous comment about “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and “unknown unknowns” happened at a press conference, but few remember that it was in response to a question about what evidence we had that Saddam Hussein was linked to terrorist organizations—which was the justification for the war in the first place. The more I studied this performance, the more I realized that what Rumsfeld said wasn’t really an answer. It was an attempt to change the subject, to turn reporters’ questions about intelligence into a lofty question about the nature of knowledge: “Sometimes we have evidence for things and sometimes we don’t; sometimes we know what we’re looking for and sometimes we don’t.”
September 12, 2013
[mail] In the Sorting Office
… depressing long-read on what the happens after the Royal Mail is privatised … ‘Every week Dutch households and businesses are visited by postmen and postwomen from four different companies. There are the ‘orange’ postmen of the privatised Dutch mail company, trading as TNT Post but about to change their name to PostNL; the ‘blue’ postmen of Sandd, a private Dutch firm; the ‘yellow’ postmen of Selekt, owned by Deutsche Post/DHL; and the ‘half-orange’ postmen of Netwerk VSP, set up by TNT to compete cannibalistically against itself by using casual labour that is cheaper than its own (unionised) workforce. TNT delivers six days a week, Sandd and Selekt two, and VSP one. From the point of view of an ardent free-marketeer, this sounds like healthy competition. Curiously, however, none of the competitors is prospering.’
August 30, 2013
[bbc] How Biased Is The BBC?
… Apparently it’s not biased in the ways you might think… ‘Conservative politicians were featured more than 50% more often than Labour ones (24 vs 15) across the two time periods on the BBC News at Six. So the evidence is clear that BBC does not lean to the left it actually provides more space for Conservative voices.’
July 16, 2013
[politics] The 10 Most Scandalous Euphemisms
… a list of catchphrases generated by political scandals … ‘Hiking the Appalachian Trail – When South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford disappeared for six days in 2009, his aides told reporters he had gone for a walking holiday along the US’s most celebrated hiking route. In fact, it soon transpired Sanford had been with his Argentine mistress in Buenos Aires. The phrase quickly ignited the imaginations of the press corps.’
June 14, 2013
[fun] Ed Balls Teaches Typing
… old-school web fun with Ed Balls
June 13, 2013
[politics] Whistleblowers Are Weird
… The Daily Beast on Edward Snowden … ‘[Whistleblowers] are weird in their own way, because they have to be in order to be willing to violate the trust of their group in order to protect a principle. In Eyal Press’ book on dissenters, Beautiful Souls, they come off as rigid, idealistic, a bit self-righteous, and more than a little naive. Those are not characteristics that make you fit in.’
May 24, 2013
[politics] The relentless charm of Nigel Farage
… fascinating profile of UKIP’s leader … ‘It also strikes me that the geniality, the pints, the cigarettes, the red meat, the hail-fellow-well-met—that these totems take their toll on Farage far more than he lets on. “I’ve learned how to do it,” he says, meaning his affability, “how to exaggerate it. Of course you learn in this job.” He’s eccentric in a way, but most of all he is what he is: a suburban stockbroker from a minor public school with one very good point. And perhaps his greatest significance is as an indictment of the other party leaders.’
May 22, 2013
[politics] Is David Cameron Still Prime Minister?
… a single-serving website that might be changing from Yes to No soon.
May 21, 2013
[politics] We Asked the Lunatic Fringe of UK Politics About Their Ideal Britain
… Vice interviews a number of eccentric political parties about their policies …
Vice: So you’re literally trying to take us back the Dark Ages?
Acting Witan of Mercia: It’s crystal clear that the Norman invasion in 1066 smashed the old system. This wouldn’t matter a jot if the world was OK as it is, but it isn’t. The causes of the problems of today go back to 1066. Before the 1066 holocaust, England had more to do with northern Europe and Scandinavia than the continent. If you look at those countries now, it’s a closer model to where we might have been had the Norman conquest never happened.
April 26, 2013
[life] How Astronaut Chris Hadfield Showed Berlin’s Ongoing Struggle For Unification
… ‘[Hadfield's] snap of Berlin, taken from about 200 miles above the Earth, clearly shows the line of the old wall as expressed by the difference in streetlighting between the former east and west.’
January 18, 2013
[politics] Could Ed Miliband be Labour’s Margaret Thatcher?
… some interesting similarities highlighted by Andy Beckett… ‘Miliband has a history of being underestimated – just as she was when opposition leader, and during her early years as prime minister. Like her, he was unexpectedly elected party leader. Like her, his public manner was then quickly judged unpalatable, his voice too nasal as hers was too shrill. Like her, he can seem too much of a party stereotype for broad appeal: the bourgeois north London leftie to her prim shire Tory. Like she did, he faces a smooth premier – “Sunny Jim” Callaghan for her, David Cameron for him – considered by journalists and voters to be more “prime ministerial”, but also made vulnerable by internal splits and the lack of a Commons majority. As she did, Miliband has led his party to a substantial but not always solid poll lead. Two and a quarter years into his tenure, it is identical to her party’s at the same stage: hovering around 10%.’
August 24, 2012
[politics] Britannia Unchained: the rise of the new Tory right
… The Guardian profiles a group of right-wing Tories and wonders if history ever repeats itself … ‘In radical right circles, it is strikingly common to hear comparisons between Cameron’s government and that of his Tory predecessor Edward Heath: narrowly elected in 1970, briefly tough before a chaos of U-turns, replaced in 1974 by an often equally beleaguered Labour administration – before the right’s big moment finally arrived in 1979, with Thatcher’s election. If history repeats, which it rarely does exactly, we should expect the Unchaining of Britannia to commence in 2019.’
August 8, 2012
[politics] So, bumbling Boris Johnson is lovable and funny? Well, have I got news for you
… What is Boris Johnson really like? … ‘[Max] Hastings, who has known him for nearly 30 years, still has affection for his former protege but has also sounded warnings about his unsuitability to become PM, not least because of his “startling flashes of instability”. To those who have worked closely with Johnson, his outbursts of temper are notorious; even his sister, Rachel, describes his approach to those who dare to criticise him as “Sicilian”. Female members of the London Assembly have lodged a formal complaint about his offensive conduct.’
July 18, 2012
[politics] Taxi for Mr Buckles: MPs savage G4S boss over Olympics chaos
… Simon Hoggart describes the appearance of Nick Buckles before a group MP’s yesterday … ‘Disaster followed disaster. It turns out that too few G4S staff turned up at a cycling event in Surrey . When would Mr Buckles know how few people would show? At 9 o’clock, he said. That’s 9pm after the understaffed event. Mr Horseman-Sewell chipped in. There was a difference between people not showing up having been accepted, he said, and a shortfall. We were in the realm of the higher metaphysics…’
June 11, 2012
[funny] Leaving child in pub ‘right for Britain’ says Cameron
… ‘DAVID Cameron has insisted that leaving his nine year-old daughter in a pub is the sort of tough decision that will rescue Britain from recession. The prime minister left Nancy in a pub near Chequers after the move was agreed during a conference call with chancellor George Osborne and Nick Clegg…’
June 4, 2012
[politics] Oh Happy Days: A Personal Recollection Of Working For Jeremy Hunt
… ‘I distinctly recall one presentation after a period of company expansion. All of us, old stagers and new recruits, were gathered together in front of a Powerpoint screen. On it were projected smiling photographs of various members of staff, the heads of sales, IT and so on. The company had recently outsourced much of the data entry work to a centre in India. Jeremy Hunt, smiling away in that peculiarly insincere, head-bobbing way that you’ve all seen on the news, was leading. We gasped in horror as our “new colleagues in India” were introduced: there glowed a slide that featured row after row of the same cartoon clip art Generic Brown Person, sat behind a computer.’
April 26, 2012
[politics] Has Jeremy Hunt Resigned Yet?
… ‘Sorry Adam, You’ve Got To Go…”
October 21, 2011
[comics] V for Vendetta masks: Who’s behind them?
… ‘Anybody watching coverage of the demonstrations may have been struck by a repeated motif – a strangely stylised mask of Guy Fawkes with a moustache and pointy beard. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange arrived at the Occupy London Stock Exchange protest to make a speech wearing one of these masks. He took it off, reportedly at the insistence of the police.’
October 3, 2011
[politics] A List Of Things Confiscated From People Entering The British Parliament
… ‘Spike Wristbands / Weed Killer / Secateurs / Science Putty / Peircing Kit / Plastic Thumbs.’
[via Tom Morris
August 4, 2011
[hackgate] Tom Watson: ‘Phone hacking is only the start. There’s a lot more to come out’
… Profile Of Tom Watson
At one point, he says, a senior editor at the Sun made a point of sending him a message via another Labour MP: “Tell that fat bastard Watson we know about his little planning matter.” This, he says, was a reference to his application to put a conservatory on his family home in the Midlands: a typical “non-newsy, low-level thing” that played its part in making him “start to think like a conspiracy theorist”.
June 27, 2011
[politics] Margaret Thatcher’s 1959 UK General Election Campaign Leaflet For Finchley
… We recently purchased a house in Finchley, and during the renovation my wife found this
lurking underneath some floorboards… ‘A vote for any other person is a vote for a Socialist Government. Do not shirk from this issue.’
June 20, 2011
[twitter] How Decisions Made by Twitter Founders in 2006 Led to Anthony Weiner’s Dickish Demise
… Steven Levy looks at how design decisions and Anthony Weiner’s reckless use of Twitter led to his downfall
Weiner needed a more private channel of communication for flirtations up to and including pictures of his package. Since the women followed him already, he could send them direct messages. But to receive their replies, he had to follow them in return. Only then could he engage in flirting or sexual repartee.
Weiner seemed not to realize the extent to which Twitter’s rules still made him vulnerable. The women were publicly listed among those accounts he followed. Since he only followed around 200 people, these new followers seemed out of place among the politicians, journalists, and celebrities on his list. It was all too easy for a political foe to notice that Weiner was adding young women (and in at least one case, a porn star) to his followers soon after a public exchange.’