June 6, 2017

Should the UK general election have been postponed?

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh discusses the (relatively few) calls to postpone the British general election in the wake of the recent terror attacks on British cities:

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce: so said Marx. He was making a joke about the second Emperor Napoleon, and it is still the first thing everybody remembers about the man; it is thus one of the greatest bon mots in the history of journalism. And it is, incidentally, the only law of history devised by Marx that actually works.

We have seen it applied in England by Muslim fanatics this past fortnight. The May 22 attack on Manchester Arena by a radicalized local seems to have involved high technical sophistication, and possibly assistance from an international network of terrorism suppliers. The target was chosen so as to victimize children and to involve a celebrity. (Ariana Grande had been on nobody’s list of people likely to provide a shining global example of civil courage, but here we are!) The killer’s plan was followed through with heartbreaking competence.

Then came the Saturday night attack on London Bridge. I have to be careful in discussing it: seven people are dead and dozens more have suffered life-altering injuries or horror in the rampage. But we are also under an important obligation to keep these things in perspective. Next to the attack on Manchester the London Bridge assault—undertaken with a van, some knives, and fake (!?) suicide vests—looks like a poorly considered, even improvised, terrorist lark. You would say it sounded like something out of a satirical movie parody of Muslim terrorists if Chris Morris hadn’t already made Four Lions.


Even the “suspension” of political activity by the major parties was more hypothetical than real after the London Bridge incident, with both Prime Minister Theresa May and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn using the time to needle one another in public statements. May is a former home secretary, and was thus a longtime head of a public security apparatus that seems to have been deaf to warnings about the murderers behind both terror incidents. Corbyn, meanwhile, spent decades as the sort of leftist-bookshop-haunting radical uncle who never has an unkind word for a terrorist or rogue state.

An election campaign is not a good time to stamp out talk about terrorism. And under these circumstances, the argument between the main parties could not fail to be somewhat sharp and personal. But what are the general principles for interrupting or diminishing election campaigning in the face of terror? We can imagine harder cases than this one. And the problem is not quite the same as the mere logistical issue of when an election must be delayed or prolonged because of terrorism. It is, as I say, an issue of etiquette, one that perhaps defies formula.

May 24, 2017

Will it be more Mourning Sickness, or will it be anger this time?

Filed under: Britain, Law, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Brendan O’Neill on the reactions to the Manchester bomb attack on Monday after a pop concert:

After the terror, the platitudes. And the hashtags. And the candlelit vigils. And they always have the same message: ‘Be unified. Feel love. Don’t give in to hate.’ The banalities roll off the national tongue. Vapidity abounds. A shallow fetishisation of ‘togetherness’ takes the place of any articulation of what we should be together for – and against. And so it has been after the barbarism in Manchester. In response to the deaths of more than 20 people at an Ariana Grande gig, in response to the massacre of children enjoying pop music, people effectively say: ‘All you need is love.’ The disparity between these horrors and our response to them, between what happened and what we say, is vast. This has to change.

It is becoming clear that the top-down promotion of a hollow ‘togetherness’ in response to terrorism is about cultivating passivity. It is about suppressing strong public feeling. It’s about reducing us to a line of mourners whose only job is to weep for our fellow citizens, not ask why they died, or rage against their dying. The great fear of both officialdom and the media class in the wake of terror attacks is that the volatile masses will turn wild and hateful. This is why every attack is followed by warnings of an ‘Islamophobic backlash’ and heightened policing of speech on Twitter and gatherings in public: because what they fundamentally fear is public passion, our passion. They want us passive, empathetic, upset, not angry, active, questioning. They prefer us as a lonely crowd of dutiful, disconnected mourners rather than a real collective of citizens demanding to know why our fellow citizens died and how we might prevent others from dying. We should stop playing the role they’ve allotted us.

As part of the post-terror narrative, our emotions are closely policed. Some emotions are celebrated, others demonised. Empathy – good. Grief – good. Sharing your sadness online – great. But hatred? Anger? Fury? These are bad. They are inferior forms of feeling, apparently, and must be discouraged. Because if we green-light anger about terrorism, then people will launch pogroms against Muslims, they say, or even attack Sikhs or the local Hindu-owned cornershop, because that’s how stupid and hateful we apparently are. But there is a strong justification for hate right now. Certainly for anger. For rage, in fact. Twenty-two of our fellow citizens were killed at a pop concert. I hate that, I hate the person who did it, I hate those who will apologise for it, and I hate the ideology that underpins such barbarism. I want to destroy that ideology. I don’t feel sad, I feel apoplectic. Others will feel likewise, but if they express this verboten post-terror emotion they risk being branded as architects of hate, contributors to future terrorist acts, racist, and so on. Their fury is shushed. ‘Just weep. That’s your role.’

The fear about the inevitable backlash on the part of us backward, ignorant, intolerant westerners has been a standing joke for more than a decade, as Mark Steyn noted back in 2006:

I believe the old definition of a nanosecond was the gap between a New York traffic light changing to green and the first honk of a driver behind you. Today, the definition of a nanosecond is the gap between a western terrorist incident and the press release of a Muslim lobby group warning of an impending outbreak of Islamophobia. After the London Tube bombings, Angus Jung sent the Aussie pundit Tim Blair a note-perfect parody of the typical newspaper headline:

British Muslims Fear Repercussions Over Tomorrow’s Train Bombing.

Ace of Spades H.Q. reports on the alleged bomber’s identity:

Manchester Suicide Bomber Named: Gary “The Garester” Eddington

Nah just fuckin wit ya, it’s Salman Abedi, and the keening cries warning against #Backlash! have begun.

Question: Why is there never a warning about Backlash before the suspect is named?

Answer: Because if the suspect turns out to be one of the few the media can claim are “right wing” (Nazis, etc.), then the media does not warn against backlash, but actively crusades in favor of it.

If this guy turned out to be anything that could be plausibly mischaracterized as right wing — tweeted in favor of Brexit, etc. — the media would be blaming this right now on Donald Trump and his supporters, and demanding they take accountability for their hatred.

But, it’s not, so the media set down its “Backlash is Good and Necessary” script and picked up its “Backlash is Bad” script.

July 10, 2015

Al Stewart plays “Broadway Hotel” at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 2 May 2015

Classic Album Year of the Cat Concert Tour. With Tim Renwick & Dave Nachmanoff. Bridgewater Hall, Manchester.
Setlist of the full concert:
1. Midnight Sea (Dave Nachmanoff)
2. Descartes in Amsterdam (Dave Nachmanoff)
3. Conservation Law (Dave Nachmanoff)
4. House of Clocks
5. Palace of Versailles
6. Time Passages
7. Warren Harding
8. Old Admirals
9. That´s Alright Mama
10. Carol
Second Set: Year of the Cat
11. Lord Grenville
12. On the Border
13. Midas Shadow
14. Sand in your Shoes
15. If it Doesn´t Come Naturally, Leave It
16. Flying Sorcery
17. Broadway Hotel
18. One Stage Before
19. Year of the Cat
20. Sheila Won´t Be Coming Home
21. End of the Day

May 29, 2012

Is junk science more credible when presented with a British accent?

Filed under: Britain, Media, Science, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:10

In Slate, Daniel Engber talks about how easy it is for British junk science journalism to get republished in the United States:

More damning was the story’s overseas origin. The five-second study arrived in the American press by way of the Daily Mail, which explained in its own coverage that the work had been funded by a manufacturer of cleaning products, and then advised readers to replace their mop heads every three months so as to “minimize risk” from dangerous bacteria. When I contacted Manchester Metropolitan University for more details, I learned that the “researchers” and “scientists” described in media reports amounted to one person — a lab tech named Kathy Lees, who did not respond to my inquiries.

Let’s not single out the Mancunians, though: Industry-funded science fluff litters the whole of the British Isles. Also in the past few weeks, the U.K. press fawned over a comely chip-shop girl from Kent who was found by a national television network to possess a scientifically validated, perfect face, while the British version of HuffPo reported on a mathematical formula for the “perfect sandwich” — produced by a University of Warwick physicist in collaboration with a major bread manufacturer. Spurious mathematical formulae concocted at the behest of PR firms compose their own journalism beat in England: In recent years, we’ve seen the perfect boiled egg, the perfect day, the perfect breasts, and many more examples of scientists getting paid to turn life into algebra. As a naive magazine intern, I once took an assignment to write up one of these characteristically English equations — a means of calculating the perfect horror movie, in that case. The team of mathematicians behind the research turned out to be a couple of recent grads from King’s College London, who’d watched some movies and gotten drunk on vodka on behalf of Sky Broadcasting. “We only spent a couple of hours doing it,” one of them told me, “and didn’t put all that much thought into whether it works or how accurate it is.”

I love the use of the sure-to-be-useful-frequently term “labvertisements” for this sort of science-flavoured PR spam.

May 24, 2012

Unsupport your unfavourite Premier League team

Filed under: Britain, Football, Soccer — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:18

Duleep Allirajah explains why he’s a “90-minute Quisling”:

Years ago, long before Google came to the salvation of lazy football writers who couldn’t be bothered with microfiche searches, the term ‘unsupport’ was coined in the football magazine, When Saturday Comes.

It meant, as the name suggests, the exact opposite of supporting a team. You wished defeat on another team, hated that team with a passion. So, for example, in the last day of the Premiership season, many neutrals wanted Manchester City to win the title. This was not through any great love for the oil-rich upstarts in blue, but because they were unsupporting Manchester United. In the Premiership era, Manchester United are simultaneously the best supported and, at the same time, the most unsupported club in the land. Unsupporting is the football equivalent of Newton’s third law of motion: all the time United are successful, hatred of the side occurs as an equal and opposite reaction.

You can tell a lot about people by the team they hate. Take Manchester United unsupporters. They assume two forms. In the blue half of Manchester or on Merseyside, the Anyone But United (ABU) sentiment is an expression of bitter local rivalry. But throughout the rest of the country, ABU represents an increasing disenchantment with modern football. Manchester United is essentially a proxy for the gentrification and commercialisation of the game. When fans sing ‘Stand up if you hate Man U’, it’s not simply green-eyed envy of United’s success, it’s also a howl of protest against the corporate takeover of football. United embodies everything the traditionalists hate about the Premier League: the hype, the desecration of 3pm kick-offs, the relentless merchandising, the prawn-sandwich munching ‘plastic fans’, and the absentee foreign owners

The constant appearance of Manchester United and Chelsea at or near the top of the English Premier League have always seemed to me to be a good argument in favour of a salary cap in the NFL style: otherwise richer clubs will always be able to buy their way to a higher season finish than poorer teams.

On the other hand, the NFL could learn from the EPL with their promotion/relegation system (I say that in full knowledge that my beloved Vikings would have been relegated after the 2011 season if such a scheme was implemented). Of course, structurally the NFL and EPL have many differences preventing the adoption of the other sport’s practices, but as (I think) Gregg Easterbrook pointed out, Ohio State … sorry, The Ohio State University’s football team could have beaten both of Ohio’s professional teams for much of the last decade.

September 2, 2011

Doubts about Britain’s next proposed high speed rail line

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Environment, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:12

The Economist is usually pretty gung-ho about high speed rail development in general, so this article expressing some serious doubts is noteworthy:

Earlier this year the coalition government announced details of a £32 billion ($52 billion) super-fast railway line from London to Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham (see map). Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, claims it will be a “fast track” to prosperity. If the project goes ahead—and there is still, just, time to reconsider—the final route, and Stoke’s transport fate, will not be decided until 2012 at the earliest. The first trains won’t reach Birmingham until 2026, and Leeds and Manchester until 2032-3.

There are practical reasons to favour a new north-south line. Good infrastructure lasts a long time: Britain is still enjoying the fruits of Victorian railway investment. At some point in the next 20 years the existing west-coast main line will face a capacity crunch. Upgrading lines is disruptive and expensive, so constructing a new one appears sensible. The vision of a futuristic train scything across Britain at 250mph (400kph) is appealing.

But although the plan has cross-party support, the British public is not entirely convinced. Objections have so far focused on two concerns. First, the environmental damage, particularly to the Chilterns, an area of “outstanding natural beauty” and home to many well-off voters. Second, the business case for the line: the projected doubling of long-distance rail use by 2043 seems ambitious.

August 11, 2011

Everything you need to know about the typical UK looter

Filed under: Britain, Law — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:12

… is contained in this Guardian article about the “fast track justice” system being used to process the arrestees:

One of the people dealt with by the court overnight included a woman with 96 previous convictions for theft who pleaded guilty to stealing alcohol, cigarettes and mobile phone accessories.

Linda Boyd, 31, was one of a series of defendants who appeared before Manchester magistrates court, which sat late into the night on Wednesday.

The court heard that she was drunk and had found an orange bin liner filled with the stolen goods in Manchester city centre, and began dragging it away, intending to share it with friends.

Her case was adjourned until 16 August, when she will be sentenced at Manchester crown court. Boyd stalked from the glass-walled dock telling the district judge who presided over the magistrates court to “go away, shut up.”

Yes, you did read that right, “a woman with 96 previous convictions for theft” was one of the people arrested in the aftermath of a night of rioting. That was 96 convictions, not arrests or charges. That’s an example of the sort of people who were delighted to discover that the police weren’t cracking down on vandalism or looting, and decided to get in on the act.

July 13, 2010

Lacrosse team caught in international issue over passports

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Law, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:24

This is a confusing situation, as Aboriginal tribes/nations are sometimes considered separate political entities from the country within which they live and other times are not. The Iroquois nation apparently has been issuing their own passports, but now the British and US governments don’t want to honour them as they have in the recent past:

The Iroquois team, known as the Nationals, represents the six Indian nations that comprise the Iroquois Confederacy, which the Federation of International Lacrosse considers to be a full member nation, just like the United States or Canada. The Nationals enter this year’s tournament ranked fourth in the world.

The Nationals’ 50-person delegation had planned to travel to Manchester, England, on Sunday on their own tribal passports, as they have done for previous international competitions, team officials said.

But on Friday, the British consulate informed the team that it would only issue visas to the team upon receiving written assurance from the United States government that the Iroquois had been granted clearance to travel on their own documents and would be allowed back into the United States. Neither the State Department nor the Department of Homeland Security would offer any such promise.

If the US government has allowed the use of Iroquois travel documents before, why are they now pretending they’ve never encountered them before? Is it a formal change in policy or just a bureaucrat flexing his or her ability to cause inconvenience and delay on a whim?

Update, 14 July: The New York Times reports that the team has been allowed to travel on their Iroquois passports:

The State Department’s blessing ends a five-day standoff between the Iroquois team and the federal government over whether the players could travel on their own documents instead of United States passports, as they have done in past international competitions.

Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, said in a statement that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally intervened in the case on Wednesday morning and that the team would be able to depart on Wednesday afternoon.

“I am extremely grateful to Secretary of State Clinton, who responded to this glitch promptly and efficiently,” Ms. Slaughter said. “Going forward, we must find a way to balance homeland security concerns with some common sense and a border policy that does not create unintended consequences.”

Part of the reason appears to have been technical: “The Iroquois passports are partly hand-written and do not include any of the security features that make United States passports resistant to counterfeiting.”

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