EU’s Juncker hasn’t read his George Lakoff

Today’s topics: Brexit, poindexters, I am not a nerd, and yes we have no bananas. Oh, and Donald Tusk’s “special place in hell” comment.

In an impassioned (for him) but possibly counterproductive speech, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he had a message “for those who are saying that the Commission is composed by blind, stupid, stubborn technocrats…” What was his message? No one knows, because the audience quickly drowned him out with cries of “They’re right!”

Okay, maybe they didn’t, but the point is: This is a prime example of what George Lakoff might call “negative framing,” e.g. Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” speech, or Monty Python’s “There is no cannibalism in the British Navy.”

Once you plant the image in the mind of your audience that the EC might at least possibly consist of blind, stupid, stubborn technocrats, you then have to fight to overcome that image. I like President Juncker well enough, but this is a gaff which invites parody:

What Juncker should have done is open with a couple of jokes about bendy bananas, or perhaps a musical number entitled “Yes, We Have No Bendy Bananas.” Then, once the crowd was warmed up, he could have continued on a positive note: “I come to you today with good news! EC members have excellent eyesight and fare well on intelligence tests. They’re super flexible. They include sports jocks and passionate lovers. No, there are absolutely no poindexters in the EC. Oops! I did it again…”

Monty Python served up a prime example of intentional negative framing in “POLITICIANS – An Apology”:

We would like to apologize for the way in which politicians are represented in this programme. It was never our intention to imply that politicians are weak-kneed, political time-servers who are concerned more with their personal vendettas and private power struggles than the problems of government, nor to suggest at any point that they sacrifice their credibility by denying free debate on vital matters in the mistaken impression that party unity comes before the well-being of the people they supposedly represent. Nor to imply at any stage that they are squabbling little toadies without an ounce of concern for the vital social problems of today. Nor indeed do we intend that viewers should consider them as crabby ulcerous little self-seeking vermin with furry legs and an excessive addiction to alcohol and certain explicit sexual practices which some people might find offensive.

We are sorry if this impression has come across.

— Monty Python’s Flying Circus, s03e06

As for poindexters (a.k.a. nerds), this YouTube attempts to explain the derivation:

Props to Simon Whistler! (I’ve seen a lovely portrait of his mother.) But the video fails to note that the term “poindexter” was further popularized by The Simpsons TV show, which emerged in the late 1980s — the same period in which Admiral John Poindexter gave testimony to Congress about the Contragate scandal:

Note memorable examples of framing in the clip. There can be a cascade effect to memes. This one may include the Poindexter from Felix The Cat, the Poindexter from Revege of the Nerds, but also the Poindexter brought to you by the U.S. Navy — which like the British Navy, has no history of cannibalism. Or at least, very little.

Poindexter from Felix The Cat

Poindexter from Revenge of the Nerds

The King of Poindexters: Admiral John

Was there really an outbreak of “Poindex-teria” in 1987? The author of this Chicago Tribune piece seems to have tongue (rather than pipe) firmly planted in cheek:

The country loved it. Young men flocked to barber shops to get “Dexter-dome” haircuts. Young women made passes at men who wore glasses. There were T-shirts: “Poindexter: What a Way with Words!” There were buttons: “We Luv Ya, Dex!” There were even bumper stickers: “Pipesmokers Do It With Their Teeth.”

At Navy recruiting stations, the lines stretched into the street. And things were even better at tobacco shops.

“It’s been unbelievable,” exclaimed one happy pipe salesman, whose store had a life-size cardboard Poindexter propped in the window. “It was the way the TV showed every puff rising to the ceiling–just mesmerizing. People come in here–they’ve been listening to this guy’s testimony for days–and all they want to know is, ‘What’s he been smoking?'”

— Rick Horowitz, “I Wish I Could Hold A Pipe The Way He Does”

Anyway, there are limits to George Lakoff’s theories on framing. But in the most trivial case, it’s easy to see how we can communicate better by creating our own positive frame, rather than trying to rebut someone else’s negative frame (Juncker’s fatal and risible mistake). As Lakeoff says in “The Power of Positive Persistence”:

Framing is about reclaiming our power to decide what’s important. Framing is about making sure WE set the terms of the debate, using our language and our ideas. … There’s a place for angry response and outrage. That’s only human. But we also need strategic action to make sure every passing day fuels positive action towards progress.

Sadly, Brexiteers did a better job of framing the issue than Remainers: a big red bus with a baldfaced lie about giving £350 million a week to the NHS, plus appeals to World War II nationalism and fears of Turkish hordes invading Britain. Deceptive framing obscures the real issues, arousing people’s passions about non-issues, leading them to make bad decisions.

What are the spoils of Brexit victory? Bendy bananas and faux sovereignty:

Brexiteers will poo-poo the prospect of a bananaless Britain as Project Fear. Meanwhile, unemployment is expected to rise, and The Guardian cites a new study claiming that Brexit is already costing the UK £500 million a week.

Jean-Claude Juncker seems like a good enough fellow, and the EU is an essential organisation for maintaining peace in Europe, as well as planning for economic prosperity and environmental responsibility. It does have its nerdish, technocratic aspects, but that’s no reason for the UK to up and leave it. A recent (fairly rude) comedy sketch on the German heute-show had a brilliant sugggestion, which was for Britain to stay in the EU while blowing off its rules whenever it suits them, just as Germany does. Quoting mock correspondent Birte Schneider, “English people, you can still stay in the EU and be an egotistical a-hole.”


Sidebar: Tusk comment spurs row in House of Commons – Bercow in top form

While quite funny, this clip is an example of dueling frames: The first MP (Peter Bone) frames Tusk’s comment more or less as “To hell with Brexiteers!” while the second MP (Joanna Cherry, who quotes Tusk more accurately) frames it as “Those who promoted Brexit with no plan for safely implementing it are deserving of blame.” Speaker John Bercow adds a note of levity by referring to Bone as a “delicate flower” easily wounded. The clip is a mini insight into UK politics, with Tory Brexiteers trash-talking the EU, and rebel Scots defending it. The trash talk got more toxic on Twitter, accompanied by the ritual burning of the EU flag:

Two of the more over-the-top responses to Donald Tusk’s (understandable) expression of exasperation at some who promoted #Brexit

What was it Monty Python said in their apology? “…never our intention to imply that politicians are weak-kneed, political time-servers who are concerned more with their personal vendettas and private power struggles than the problems of government, nor to suggest at any point that they sacrifice their credibility by denying free debate on vital matters in the mistaken impression that party unity comes before the well-being of the people they supposedly represent.”

Oh well. Maybe some right-wingers can do without fruit, veg, and jobs. They can live on hate alone.

Let’s go out on a cheery note with Bananarama singing “Cruel Summer” and throwing bits of ‘nanas at police:

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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‘Twas The Night Before Brexit – GROUP READING! (YouTube)

I really like making things. After all, life can be so routine and boring. But when you make something, you never quite know how it’ll turn out. With any luck, the result may surprise you.

I had written a poem parody called ‘Twas The Night Before Brexit, and encouraged by the kind response from fellow bloggers (thank you!), I decided to turn it into a video:

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I know technology can be incredibly useful, and I do use it; but I also hate the way our society is becoming so digitised. If you have a problem with a company, good luck reaching a human! And I hate getting calls from sooper friendly chat bots who are apparently programmed to sound like 18-year old girls, so happy they finally reached you, trying to keep you on the line until a real salesperson can take over and scam you with a credit card deal or Microsoft Support nonsense. Is that not the pits?

In the 80s, I was heavily into making music with synthesisers, and even eked out a minor living creating “patches” that other musicians could use. I still remember when synthesisers first emerged as expressive musical instruments with Switched-On-Bach, the Beatles’ Abbey Road album, and Chick Corea’s blazing synth leads on Where Have I Known You Before. But gradually, synthesisers became a cheap substitute for real musicians, and no low-budget production was complete without a fakey-sounding ensemble — a canned, frozen orchestra playing lifeless, soulless music.

I also used to write pop songs, which was fun even though I never really got anywhere. Back in the 80s I penned this lyric:

Computer bars where
Machines go to dance
Flashing their software
They pivot and prance

Time was humans
Could congregate too
I think of days…
Me and Susie Q would boogaloo

CHORUS:
Now it’s early to bed
And likewise early to rise
We serve the circuitry
We’ve gown to despise
We’re turning over
In graves we have dug
Machine is ruler
We can’t pull the plug.

Won’t someone save us
From this terrible fate?
Calling all aliens,
Please don’t get here too late.

Please send advisers
Who are licensed to kill
Destroy all silicon
And send us the bill.

CHORUS:
Now it’s early to bed
And early to rise
We serve the circuitry
We’ve gown to despise
We’re turning over
In graves we have dug
Machine is ruler
We can’t pull the plug.

We’ve heard that Mercury
Has creatures for hire
We’ll give them anything
They need or desire.

Please send advisers
Who are licensed to kill
Destroy all silicon
And send us the bill.

CHORUS:
Now it’s early to bed
And early to rise
We serve the circuitry
We’ve gown to despise
We’re turning over
In graves we have dug
Machine is ruler
We can’t pull the plug.

Today, I like how some people use technology in a knowing, ironic way — sometimes even to counteract or engage in open warfare with tech’s dehumanizing aspects, going up against the people who send armies of chat bots and sales bots to invade our lives. There’s even one fellow, Roger Anderson, who creates chat bots to interact with telemarketers and waste their time — with hilarious results. His theory, in essence, is that the more time scammers spend interacting with bots, the less time they’ll spend bilking seniors out of their life savings.

So, given how much I hate things that are fakey, the challenge in creating the “Night Before Brexit” video was to try and use technology in a knowing, ironic, and humourous way. Yes, I used synthetic voices, but I tried to make them as expressive as possible. I hope I succeeded, but that’s up to viewers/listeners to judge.

There were innumerable technical challenges. The Scottish lass has oodles of personality, so I gave her some of the best lines. But she tends to speak much faster than the others, so I sometimes had to slow her down by as much as 15%, which does produce artifacts. Still, I was very happy with her performance!

As for the poem itself, it’s only one of many Brexit parodies based on Clark Clement Moore’s “A Visit From St Nick”. Some are quite funny, and some have gone viral. In my version, I wanted to do things a little differently. My two main criticisms of other versions making the rounds are that the authors don’t bother to make the lines scan properly as poetry, and often the language is too steeped in political rhetoric and doesn’t create a proper tableau, or pictures in the mind.

Now, if you write poetry, you might have had the experience that some verses are workmanlike and help establish the setting, but there’s a particular verse you like because of the pictures it creates:

As I blinked in the moonlight, there appeared a fine elf
Playing ‘Scotland The Brave’ — it was Nicola herself!
Her colours were grand, and crocheted on her nightie
Was “Bollocks to Brexit, and a new vote for Blighty”.

Call me vain (and I am), but I like that verse so much! I admire Nicola Sturgeon’s rebel stance, and the way the Scottish National Party holds mini-insurrections during debates in the House of Commons (usually beginning with “It’s an insult to Scotland…”). The poem as a whole takes easy shots at right-wingers like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, portraying them as drunken, lecherous, toffee-nosed windbags who exploit Santa’s helpers (who are likeable SNP elves). Not the most nuanced take on UK politics, but in a parody you go for stark contrasts.

As a satirist, I insist on being politically incorrect in a variety of ways, so no need to tally them up. I intend no offence whatsoever, and am simply going for cheap laughs wherever I can get them. The views expressed by the (fictitious) Duchess of Ducks and Duke of North Prickly are not my views, and Santa’s (shall we say unique?) way of dispatching the Johnson is not meant to encourage any enterprising kidnappers at large in the Kingdom.

I’ve always been an odd duck. What interests, amuses, or enlightens me may not have the same effect on others. But I can say with gratitude that the way the video turned out has managed to surprise me.

I’m good at creating things, but not so good at promoting them. So if you find this video a helpful bit of agitprop in the anti-Brexit campaign, please reblog it, tweet a link to it, add it to your Facebook, or otherwise publicise it. The music is from YouTube’s royalty-free Audio Library. Thank you.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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‘Twas The Night Before Brexit

 

‘Twas the night before Brexit, when out in the Kingdom
Some wanker shot Boris, but the git only winged ‘im.
The Maybot was placed on her chill pad with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
She had spent the whole week giving Corbyn a ragging;
Now she’d spend the whole night helping Santa with tagging.
Gifts for the gentry and gifts for relations,
For Labour MPs and for Tory Alsatians.
She had waited for Santa through elevens and twelves,
But began to despair the appearance of elves.
Then the clock struck out one with a note of revival,
As if presaging tidings of Santa’s arrival.
The Downing Street crowd, from toffs to plebeians
Beheld Santa’s sleigh, pulled by East Europeans!
“The Labour Exchange must be notified quickly”,
Said the Duchess of Ducks to the Duke of North Prickly.
“They’ve been fishing in Scotland, as is plain by the smell;
“And they’ve prob’ly been bonking the Sturgeon as well”.
But St Nick took no note of these tossers and yelpers;
He was flanked by a bus filled with SNP helpers!
As I blinked in the moonlight, there appeared a fine elf
Playing ‘Scotland The Brave’ — it was Nicola herself!
Her colours were grand, and crocheted on her nightie
Was “Bollocks to Brexit, and a new vote for Blighty”.
Then Nigel Farage arrived, driving a hearse;
He was stewed to the gills, and what made matters worse,
I could tell by the groans which emerged from the casket
He had Boris in tow, who had quite blown a gasket.
The two of them tried to take over the party;
Farage all too posh, and the Johnson all farty.
Between them they had only one sticky wicket,
But they tried to pull down Santa’s elves — was that cricket?
It’s an insult to Scotland, how these two carry on
On the holiest night, until well past the dawn.
So May in her ‘kerchief and I in my hoodie
Asked Johnson to leave — but do you think, would he?
His bellowed refusal resounded for miles,
But good old St Nick was all chuckles and smiles.
He bundled the Johnson up into his sleigh,
He sacked him and fracked him and took him away.
He shouted to May, before making his exit–
“Merry Yule, stupid woman! And to all a good Brexit”.

Michael Howard

Links

The Twelve Days of Trumpster
Christmas Music: The Rare and the Beautiful
Jesus is Born – in a World of Many Faiths
Simple Gifts, the Christmas Truce, and Benjamin Bowmaneer
Christmas, Childhood, and Cable Spaghetti

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Brexit and the Bells of Rhymney

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and MEP Ska Keller make a persuasive case for a second referendum, and why the U.K. will always be welcome in the E.U. Theresa May and Rupa Huq take Prime Minister’s Questions to a new level. Plus, we listen to (and discuss) the Welsh mining song ‘Bells of Rhymney’. (Yes, there is a connection!)

In my previous magnum opus on Brexit, much of my focus was on how E.U. membership benefits the U.K. After all, the nature of politics at the populist level is all about self-interest. (‘And what will you give me?/ Say the sad bells of Rhymney’.)

Yet, there’s a quite different way of exploring the Brexit question, based less on self-interest and more on the visionary aspect. In a representative democracy, one ideally tries to elect leaders who have vision, who understand the direction in which the world is headed, and who try to align their nation with the right tide of history. Despite many practical problems with E.U. membership which need ironing out, the E.U. represents a noble effort at cooperation between nations who had previously engaged in open warfare. It’s also a response to the burgeoning awareness that many pressing problems, including climate change, can only be tackled at a global level.

Aside from practical benefits, the E.U. offers each member nation an opportunity to come together with other nations and contribute its unique qualities, while not losing its individuality. This coming together of nations and peoples, which may be described as ‘oneness in diversity’, is the right tide of history, the good direction in which the world is moving post-World War II. In this visionary understanding of what the E.U. represents, Britain is a beloved member nation which has many good friends among other nations, and which has something most meaningful and special to contribute to the mix.

From this point of view, Brexit represents a retreat into the past, a rejection of the sometimes challenging, but ultimately fulfilling promise of the future, in which cooperation between nations is understood to be the highest political good, and a necessity for survival of the planet. If Remainers are sometimes tearful and angry, it’s because they love their country and know that Britain has a big heart, a heart which has the capacity to identify with broader Europe and not cordon itself off. From the point of view of Remainers, the Brexiteers have fooled the people into making a retrograde decision which is bad for Britain, bad for the E.U., and bad for the world. The result will be salt and vinegar, not any kind of cake feast or champagne breakfast.

When did Brexit (which was supposed to be such a lovely idea) take on the character of an unstoppable juggernaut to which we are all chained? As Tony Blair recently noted, “Things do not need to be like this. We’re not in a state of hypnosis to do this. We can assume consciousness. We have free will, and it’s past time to exercise it”.

Between working and raising a family, the average citizen may not have time to ponder these deep matters. That’s why it’s so important that political leaders elected to do the job bring out the best in themselves, respond dynamically to the changing situation, and not be afraid to admit mistakes while there is still time to rectify them. When government economists considered the worst-case scenario of a no deal Brexit, even then they did not look into the future and weigh the possibility of new troubles in Northern Ireland, or a second referendum in Scotland which might result in that nation leaving the U.K. In a chess game one must look several moves ahead, but too many in government are only playing ‘Chequers’.

I admire Prime Minister May, but she has a deeply bureaucratic streak in her nature such that she will not deviate from plan. The ‘Maybot’ sobriquet has stuck because she keeps delivering the same speech over and over again, and during PMQs often gives the equivalent of ‘I am not programmed to respond in that area’. Her lack of creativity and flexibility in a time of crisis naturally causes other leaders to step in to fill the void.

It is uncharitable of her to savage Tony Blair for stating what is becoming increasingly obvious, even to some of May’s own allies: After two years of discussion in which Brexit reality has gradually come to replace Brexit fantasy, the people deserve a final say on a decision which will impact their lives for generations to come. It’s not a ‘do-over’ or mere repeat of the first referendum. History is not static, and neither is democracy. It turns out that the Brexit which can be delivered is much different than what the people were promised. Those who led them down the garden path should at least give them a final say before plunging them over the abyss.

Adding ‘Bells of Rhymney’ to the mix

Welsh miner turned poet Idris Davies penned ‘The Bells of Rhymney” in 1938. It was later revived by fellow countryman Dylan Thomas. American folksinger Pete Seeger set the words to music circa 1959, and his tune is the one used for numerous cover versions:

There’s also a version by Bob Dylan and the Band from 1967, but I’m guessing it’s pretty well locked down by copyright Nazis. 😉

As for the poem itself, it is perhaps best understood as an impassioned response to a Welsh mining disaster, with the church bells in different cities pealing out different reactions to the tragedy. These responses are variously political, legal, metaphysical, and so forth, creating a kind of geographic tableau which also reflects the poet’s inner dialogue. ‘Even God is uneasy, sang the moist bells of Swansea’.

‘Is there hope for the future?’ This is a question oft asked in times of crisis, bringing us back to Tony Blair’s speech defining Brexit as such a time. There is always hope, and as Ska Keller said when interviewed by Channel 4:

Of course, [a second referendum] is up to the people in Great Britain to decide. But if they were to decide to change their minds, then they need to be welcomed back. There should be open doors for the people of Great Britain. Absolutely! But that is up to Great Britain to decide. If the people of Britain were to change their minds, then our doors and our hearts and arms are very welcoming, very open to them. For me, the Brexit is a real tragedy. We have so many great friends there, but also Great Britain is not going to move away. It’s very close to the rest of us, and we’re linked in a partnership, we’re linked together in geography, and for creating a better future we need each other. That’s why I think it’s such a tragedy. [If nationalism rises in Europe] I wouldn’t blame the Brits. I would still think it’s a tragedy that they have left, and I would always want them to come back.

In her comments we can see much of what’s good about the E.U. Where there is love, forgiveness, and oneness in diversity, eventually practical problems can be overcome.

This is Michael Howard ringing in the Christmas season, and hoping that the bells which ring for you are joyful ones.


Sidebar: The Bells of Rhymney – Further Reflections

When I first heard the song performed by Pete Seeger, I was about 14 years old and he was a guest artist on WBAI radio, helping them out during one of their interminable fund drives. I liked it for its poetic images — the bells of different colours sounding out different messages, and picturesque town names like Caerphilly and Swansea — but I didn’t really understand it. Or, let us say, I understood it at a surface level (which is not always bad). Some singers have beautiful voices, but don’t know the history or meaning of what they’re singing. Here are two more cover versions of ‘The Bells of Rhymney’:

The Cher version is rather insipid, but no need to dwell. The John Denver version strikes me as somewhat prettified, and his introduction fortifies misimpressions about the song: that it was written by Pete Seeger (no mention of Idris Davies), and that it’s primarily about local colour. You can easily picture him crooning ‘They were buried alive/ Said a Belgian endive…’ without batting an eyelash. Still, the bell-like guitar harmonics are a nice touch. Some fancy fingerpicking, but I wonder if it doesn’t detract from the meaning.

For me the song imparts a rare dual memory — of what it sounded like when I was 14, and what it sounds like now. Having learned more about poetry, I now know that the speech of bells can be a stand-in for the speech of men and women who might gather at churches in different towns the first Sunday after a mining disaster, and speak out in a myriad of voices. As with church bells, these voices might not exactly harmonise. Some might trail off or speak at cross-purposes, but their collective clanging would signify that some momentous event has taken place. Fire! Flood! Or Mrs Cropley putting anchovy paste in her lemon curd tartlets.

Maybe on some deep level, that’s why I thought to connect the song with Brexit. After all, Brexit is a slow motion political disaster, and is typically accompanied by a school of porpoises from the University of Wales banging on about this or that option on the BBC. “I prefer Norway Plus Plus, but without the Norwegians, and a side order of Canadian bacon gently sautéed in a litre of Glenfiddich Gran Reserva.” Ding-dong.

Like any good disaster, Brexit also has its share of junkies tuning in to the news every five minutes, hoping against hope that someone will insert a new punch card into the Maybot, and maybe she’ll say something genuinely new for a change. You can make better book on the 3:30 at Ascot, though now and then she does surprise:

As for ‘The Bells of Rhymney’, I’m convinced there’s a Gordon Lightfoot version stashed somewhere in the compilation Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written:

I’m avidly rummaging through all 379 discs, but oh wait! There’s an interview with Nyle Hogg-Filth on ITV. Apparently, he’s found a new solution to the Brexit problem which involves nuclear physics and buggery. I just have to watch…

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Brexit Drama, Brexit Humour

Catching up on the latest Brexit developments, with talk, videos, and a bit of a laff

What does BREXIT stand for? Those who follow the news closely know it stands for ‘Brazen Revolt Eliminates Xylophones In Tasmania’, a story originally aired on ABC Australia. Sometime later, people realised it could also stand for Britain exiting the European Union. That’s when the acronym really took off.

An old TV commercial used to go ‘You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish rye’.

Likewise, you don’t have to be British to love watching how the Brexit drama is unfolding. It’s a ‘seedy’ occupation for Americans who may not feel the results directly in their breadbaskets, but are fascinated to observe all the twists and turns. (Maybe bagels would have been a better analogy.)

Lest I be accused of chuntering from a sedentary position, I should explain that I do have friends in the U.K. who are affected by Brexit, and I always hope the nation as a whole will listen to its better angels.

I admire Theresa May for her perspicacity and determination, but being both American and sympathetic to Labour (though not a big Corbyn fan), I could never vote for her. Still, I suppose the essence of my reason for liking her is her perseverance in attempting The Thing That Couldn’t Be Done:

That’s the thing about Brexit: More and more it comes to resemble the thing that couldn’t be done, the carpet that couldn’t be laid. You tack it down in one place, it just sticks up in another. You try to backstop Northern Ireland, and the Scots get skittish and want to depart the Kingdom again.

No good compromise between the various factions can be found, and the British people (eminently practical) are beginning to realise that proposed solutions are typically worse than the (much exaggerated) problems of simply remaining in the E.U. and getting on with daily life, working toward reforms (where needed) within the existing structure.

Yes, E.U. membership has its share of problems (which must be taken seriously), but also many benefits — including the huge benefit of avoiding the world wars which used to break out between European nations before they developed a comprehensive strategy of cooperation. The value of this ‘peace dividend’ is inestimable, as is the progress made in human rights:

There is, moreover, a point at which Leavers’ determination becomes mere foolish obstinacy. America spent years fighting the Vietnam War because politicians were too stubborn to admit it had been a grievous error. The historical lesson is clearly ‘Cut your losses’.

Even fellow Tories stare at May’s Brexit deal with icy disapproval. Some have grown quite red-faced over her alleged ‘betrayal’ of their vision of a Brexit in which Britain calls the shots, rather than being like fish to the fryer. (No Nicola Sturgeon jokes, please!)

As an outsider, I’m gobsmacked that there’s still no new referendum on Brexit, as this seems the best way forward. I’m convinced a second referendum would result in a vote to remain. Why?

– The first vote had something of an air of the madness of crowds about it. It was a mania for a novel idea whose downside had yet to be fully grasped. Two years later, that downside is far more apparent.

– Many people voted Leave as a kind of protest vote or middle finger to Brussels, without really believing Leave would win the day. No one was more surprised than Boris Johnson, who adopted Leave as a means to stoke his political career, but was left looking rather sheepish the day after.

– Brexit was sold by rock star conservatives with no real plan for implementation. After the sugar high of excessive nationalism came the inevitable crash: into the harsh reality that Brexit may mean economic stagnation for Britain (as the latest Treasury report would indicate).

– In retrospect, it appears that some pro-Brexit propaganda crossed the line into psychological manipulation covertly funded by non-U.K. sources, thus flouting British campaign-finance laws. There seems to have been an international campaign to misinform voters about what Brexit would actually entail, and to inflame jingoistic passions rather than rely on neutral facts. In hindsight, Leave looks more like a ‘grassroots’ movement funded by eccentric millionaires.

– It is also claimed that a number of supposedly independent pro-Brexit groups (Vote Leave, BeLeave, the D.U.P., and Veterans for Britain) pooled their resources illegally, spending a collective £3.5 million to hire a Canadian political consultancy and data research firm, AggregateIQ, to leverage the outcome. See ‘How a tiny Canadian IT company helped swing the Brexit vote for Leave’ in The Telegraph.

– Brexit was arguably a product of the same sort of nationalist sentiment which served to install Donald Trump in the White House. There may be those in Russia who would rather see Britain, America, and the E.U. all bitterly divided, rather than cooperating to build a world which is peaceful, free, and poised to deal with the very real problem of climate change (and is unified against Russian military expansion).

– One ought to get past the view that ‘the people voted for Brexit, therefore it must be the Will of the People.’ Serious questions have arisen as to whether the people were badly misinformed, and whether the policy can be successfully implemented. A second referendum two years later (in light of all the revealed facts) is entirely appropriate, and is the best way to honour the Will of the People.

– Plan A, Plan B, Plan C… If we count all the plans advanced by warring factions, we’re probably up to Plan 9 by now:

– It’s easy to say ‘We don’t like all them foreigners, so we’ll take our puddings and go home!’ But it turns out it’s much harder to actually do it. In a second referendum, cooler (and better-informed) heads may prevail — always assuming dark money can be kept from buying the results (or buying the marketing and advertising which determines the results).

Quoting from a Washington Post article:

‘What was always an illusion on the Brexiteer side was that the kind of world you could return to was when Britain had an empire and was a global superpower in the world economy’, said Fabian Zuleeg, the chief executive of the European Policy Center, a Brussels think tank with close ties to the E.U.

In short, Brexit was a pipe dream — well-intentioned perhaps; sentimental, nationalistic, but not geared to practical economic reality. Globalisation is no unalloyed joy, but the challenge for Britain (as for all nations) is to compete as effectively as possible, rather than pretending one is still living in the old world. The retro quality of Brexiteers is underscored in this interview from Fox Business where the tune being hummed is ‘What would Maggie do?’

Those nostalgic for the Thatcher years might want to watch this video:

No, not even the ghost of Maggie Thatcher (or her imitators) can rescue the British people from the throes of Brexit. What’s needed is a new referendum.

In the face of enormous, throbbing problems with the Brexit deal, some cabinet members are voting with their feet:

An unusual resignation speech delivered by a member of the May cabinet

For singalong purposes, let us recap the essential points:

You need feet to be a Tory,
You need feet to kick your friends;
You need feet to pull your socks up,
And stop the deal from fraying at the ends.
You need feet to switch positions,
You need feet to dance the hoochie-koo;
You need quite big feet to cast your vote for Brexit,
And I need feet (are you listening, Theresa?)
To run away from you.

What some people’s feet are running away from is a logical inconsistency known as “having our cake and eating it” — a Boris Johnsonism regarding Brexit. This is where I feel a tinge of sympathy for Mrs May. She’s been dispatched to Brussels to extract all the benefits of being in the E.U., while simultaneously up and leaving it — a two-step which no one, no matter how blessed by the Terpsichorean Muse, can manage to perform. How does cheery Donald Tusk respond to all this cake-eating?

Or if the The Donald leaves you unpersuaded, consider this helpful puppet demonstration courtesy the ever-helpful Germans:

How many Britons were sold on Leave through false assurances that they could still reap the benefits of E.U. membership? Five percent? Ten percent? And how many of those now see the reality more clearly? Democracy is not just about choice, but about informed choice. That’s why a second referendum is the best way forward.

Suppose I order an item from Freemans, based on an advert which promises a certain size, colour, and style. Then the merchant contacts me and says, ‘Well, we don’t actually have that size, colour, and style. Can we send you something else instead?’ If the original item is undeliverable, I want that second chance to choose.

What if the Brexit people voted for is undeliverable? Should they be given some substitute made of tofu, toffee and pigswill, or should they at least be given some final say in the matter? A second referendum is not anti-democratic. It respects the right of the people to choose from available options, rather than the pie-in-sky Brexit that was promised them.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.


Next time: The Fishy Commoners Policy – Can It Work?

‘There are no Thatcherites in foxholes’. –old Ojibwa proverb

Links

Greenspan Bobblehead Shocks Nervous Britons – UPDATE
David Tennant Reacts To Brexit Vote
British MPs Need Stronger Passwords
Queen Elizabeth Plans for Trump Visit

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Donald Trump, Stormy Daniels, Kellyanne Conway & Bad Energy

With a sidebar discussing revelations concerning Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ

Did you hear the latest joke about Stormy Daniels? She’s starting a new site called sex-with-a-porn-star-dot-com. Terms are flexible. You can pay now, or you can — ahem… pay later.

The good and wise know that most things in life come with a price tag. Sex with a porn star isn’t free. If you don’t pay now, you’ll end up having to pay later. (Perhaps that’s a reason to avoid such liaisons.)

In his sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein suggested that an honest politician is one who “stays bought.” Stormy Daniels is one of The Donald’s cronies from his bad boy days, his days as a chronic philanderer. And though she got paid $130,000 (which is a lot), she didn’t stay bought.

These people are sharks, the lot of them. I don’t mean to be unkind or judgmental, I’m just saying… This within the larger context that Donald Trump needs to be removed from office by constitutional means, because he’s a massive embarrassment to this great and good nation.

Yes, our democratic institutions are strong(ish), but we shouldn’t whistle past the graveyard and assume that they can withstand anything we might throw at them. Four (or more) years of Donald Trump may be one shock too many.

Yes, we are a rich nation, but that doesn’t mean we have the luxury of keeping an incompetent buffoon in office just because he provides daily excitement and good entertainment value. Government needs to work. When it doesn’t, people die — from needless wars, or because in this nation of plenty, no one could be bothered getting them the health care they needed to survive for one more day; no one could be bothered fixing the roads and bridges they needed to drive over in order to make it to work, and home again safely.

One way of looking at the problem of Donald Trump as president is that it’s a problem of bad energy. I want to be careful how I frame this. I believe in science in scientific matters, and in mathematics in matters mathematical. Based on my study and experience, I also believe there are deeper spiritual causes for many phenomena we encounter in life. For more about how scientific rationalism and spiritual idealism can coexist happily together, see this discussion of freedom of mind and freedom of heart.

The concept of “bad energy” is somewhat amorphous, but not entirely unfathomable. On a personal level, when you meet some people you get a certain feeling about them, that they are not quite right. This feeling is then borne out by experience: they lie, they cheat, they’re always getting into trouble; and while they may have a certain charm, personal magnetism, or vital energy which propels them forward, they are not good people. They appeal to the lowest drives in human nature, to greed, lust, and hatred. Their success (if any) has a cheap and gaudy quality. Measured against the long arc of history, their works are short-lived and shoddy. They do not do good works or build upon a solid foundation; rather, they do works which bring temporary notoriety but are apt to crumble and fall. That is Donald Trump to a T.

The concept of bad energy also applies to particular ventures. You don’t plan a picnic for a day when it’s supposed to rain buckets. The universe has subtle inner forces which are roughly akin to weather. In some cultures, an important undertaking is planned with the help of astrologers and priests, and a blessing is sought to invoke the higher forces of light, compassion, and wisdom.

The truly wise human being knows that he or she cannot do great and good things merely by dint of personal ambition. The wise try to act in concert with the higher forces and to receive their blessing before beginning any important undertaking.

The first day of a new venture — how it is launched — can tell you much about the energy behind it and how it will fare in the future. Donald Trump’s campaign for president began with a hateful attack on Mexican-Americans. (He called them rapists.) The PR event was launched with an “audience” consisting of paid actors meant to look like political supporters. As the venture began, so it continues. This is the type of president we now have — one whose presidency consists largely of stagecraft, and poor stagecraft at that.

When you get involved with people with bad energy who launch inauspicious ventures based solely on personal ambition, you find that things are constantly going wrong and you’re being forced to lower your standard just to accommodate them. A leader with bad energy attracts hirelings with bad energy: wife-beaters, compulsive gamblers, foreign agents committing treason and socking millions away in secret bank accounts; technophiles who steal people’s personal data and create psychographic profiles used to tailor propaganda to manipulate election results; crackpot militarists who want to bomb first and ask questions later; or PR people with legal training who lie as casually as a kitten scratches.

As I write, Kellyanne Conway is being considered for the position of Trump’s new Communications Director. Comparing one show business personality with another: In 2009, Stormy Daniels launched a mock campaign for U.S. Senate with the slogan “Screwing people honestly.” Kellyanne Conway’s slogan should be “Screwing people dishonestly” (with alternative facts). Both women are apparently for hire if the price is right, and the functions they perform are not substantially different. Both are gold diggers; they simply employ different digging apparatus. (Daniels ended her Senate bid around the same time she was booked by Tampa police on a domestic violence charge. She was held overnight, then released on $1,000 bail. The charge was later dropped.)

Kellyanne Conway appears on CNN in 2016, touting then candidate Donald Trump.

Like Trump himself, these Trump hangers-on are sharks. I say this not to demean them, but because when you have this type of sharklike behaviour connected with high office, you have to recognize it and root it out. Otherwise, the fish rots from the head, and our nation rots with it. The distasteful Madison Avenue concept of being “noseblind” finds its proper application here. With the daily stench coming from the White House, Americans are gradually becoming noseblind, but our allies not inured to this level of corruption are reeling from the stench. The solution is not to spray PR Febreze over the mess, but to do some genuine housecleaning.

To the extent that I’m at all political, I’m a liberal but not a knee-jerk liberal. I don’t automatically assume that anyone who goes up against Trump is an ally. This is a mistake some liberals are making about lawyer Michael Avenatti and his client Stormy Daniels. The latter are further specimens of carcharodon carcharias — opportunists nosing their way onto the media stage in order to grub for money and fame. Both Avenatti and Daniels already enjoy considerable money and fame, but what they share with Donald Trump is that they are insatiable and lack basic ethics. It’s all about the almighty dollar.

The fact that Trump and Daniels/Avenatti are of the same species doesn’t mean they won’t cannibalize each other. An unappetitlich fact about sharks is that even in the womb, the stronger embryos eat the weaker ones. Our nation is presently being dragged underwater, pulled down by the bad energy and sharklike behaviour of Trump and his cohort.

A short (transmogrified) clip from the Beatles film Yellow Submarine. Perhaps a metaphor for Washington politics, where strange creatures sometimes reach accommodations — or else gobble each other up.

Despite these harsh criticisms, I mean no ill-will to anyone. But our nation is presently in danger from an administration which is incompetent and corrupt, was brought into power by corrupt means, and is sustained by corrupt means, including the Fox News propaganda machine. We face the danger of totalitarianism. People with this type of bad energy often turn to totalitarianism as the most efficient means of ensuring their perpetual power, notoriety, and riches. In this respect, craziness for wealth and fame is turning us into a Bananas republic:

I come from an arts and spirituality background, and am not happy about devoting so much of my time to writing about politics. But as in the Vietnam era, people may need to speak up in order to encourage positive change. The present level of corruption in government is unacceptable, and leads to the general breakdown of society. We need to recognize that America is, at its core, a good nation and can do much good for its own people and for the world at large. But to be good and do good, America must resist the bad energy which has descended wholesale upon our capital, and is fed in secret by billions in dark money.

In his testimony before a British House of Commons committee, whistleblower Chris Wylie explained that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica (of which he is former research director) doesn’t have to turn a profit like a normal company because it’s subsidized by New York billionaire Robert Mercer. It can therefore act as a covert means of funneling huge contributions to political causes handpicked by Mercer, regardless of supposed limits set by law. This is a concrete example of dark money being used to rig elections, employing hi-tech means as well as the latest psychological theories about how to manipulate voters by getting inside their heads and playing to their fears, using personal data scraped from Facebook.

This is the brave new world in which we presently live, where thinking people are held hostage to a populist majority which reacts slavishly to psychological stimuli supplied by political operatives obsessed with kingmaking. It is an ugly world, and just as we have a duty to leave our children a clean environment, we also have a duty to apply an emissions test to our politicians, rejecting and removing those who cast an odiferous pall over our nation, or pollute the seas of discourse with the toxic sludge of “alternative facts.”

Stormy Daniels is not an opponent of Donald Trump in any meaningful sense; just another distasteful aspect of the Trump reality TV show. While the general public is crying out for photos, videos, and detailed descriptions of genitalia, the nation’s public institutions are being methodically ransacked, gutted, and primed for privatization. That is the main spectacle to which Stormy Daniels is only a sideshow.

I apologize for being so hard on those in power, but their energy is not good, and there is every indication that they will continue to stumble “from frustration-window to destruction-door.”

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.


Sidebar: The Turing Test, the Voight-Kampff Test, and Brexit

Just this morning I got another phone call from a bot programmed to address me by my first name and try and strike up an initial conversation for telemarketing purposes. These bots are incredibly annoying, and my initial (un-Christian) impulse was that I’d like to kill it. But there’s probably a law against killing telemarketing bots, passed by lawmakers paid off by the telecom industry. 😉 It sounds like the plot for a story Asimov would have written. (Asimov’s Fifth Law of Robotics: No robot shall pretend to be from Microsoft Tech Support in order to scam innocent old people living on cat food.)

Another sci-fi writer, Philip K. Dick, dealt extensively with the question of what constitutes genuine emotion. See his novel Do Andoids Dream of Electric Sheep?, later made into the film Blade Runner by Ridley Scott.

What does all this have to do with Brexit and the main topic of this post? The connecting link is Cambridge Analytica, the firm apparently used to unfairly target voters with psychological manipulation during both the 2016 Brexit campaign in Britain, and the 2016 presidential campaign in the U.S. The investigations are ongoing and some of the facts remain murky, including the role of a Canadian company called AggregateIQ with supposed ties to Cambridge Analytica:

The larger question is: Suppose voters hadn’t been subjected to psychological manipulation, but had simply been given neutral facts. Would they still have voted to leave the European Union, or to make Donald Trump their president? Perhaps not.

At what point does political science become the science of psychologically manipulating the masses using lies, propaganda, fear, hatred, high technology, and stolen data?

When people have been subjected to extensive psychological manipulation, including a large quantity of false and hateful depictions (such as graphics which Cambridge Analytica takes credit for, showing Hillary Clinton in handcuffs), how genuine are the resulting emotions?

These are difficult questions since at the populist level, people are taught to treat their emotions as sacrosanct. If the motto of the intellectual was once “I think, therefore I am” the motto of the Facebook consumer may be “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Yet, emotions can be manipulated. How can we judge their genuineness?

Democracy works best in an environment of openness and honesty. Too much money (especially dark money) is one universal surd in the political mathematic. The use of covert psychological manipulation employing hi-tech means is another significant threat. It remains to be seen whether democracy can survive the dual onslaught of billionaires funding covert psyops to shoe in their handpicked candidates.

It may be that the 2016 presidential election was the most corrupt in U.S. history. Payoffs and ballot-box stuffing are bad enough and perhaps common enough; but what seems most troubling here in retrospect is the hi-tech precision with which people’s emotions were targeted for psychological manipulation, using fake news spread via Facebook, Twitter bots, and the like.

It got so bad that after a fake news story claiming Hillary Clinton was behind a child pornography ring operating out of a pizzeria, one guy showed up there ready to shoot the place up. See the New York Times story “In Washington Pizzeria Attack, Fake News Brought Real Guns.” Also the Los Angeles Times: “Son of Trump’s incoming national security advisor pushes conspiracy theory targeting pizza parlor.”

It’s fairly common to find that politicians are shameless demagogues, but most of their demagoguery is usually out in the open, on display. The wise can see through it, and can perhaps guide the more foolish. But in 2016, so much was done covertly to influence voter sentiment, both by the Trump campaign and by Russian agents. It remains to be seen whether these two camps working toward similar ends using similar techniques engaged in a degree of cooperation which rises to the level of conspiracy.

If anyone needs a food-taster these days, it’s Bob Mueller! Bob, please stay away from doorknobs and park benches. Don’t follow leaders, and watch your parking meters!

Note: If you’d like to know more about the Turing Test and the Voight-Kampff test, try “Of Tortoises and Turing: Creating a Test for Humanity.”

I’ll close with this video from the UK’s Channel Four, as it may tie together some loose ends:

Links

“Cambridge Analytica and the Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz” (2016)
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/opinion/cambridge-analytica-facebook-quiz.html

“The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked” (2017)
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy

“Cambridge Analytica execs boast of role in getting Donald Trump elected” (2018)
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/20/cambridge-analytica-execs-boast-of-role-in-getting-trump-elected

“A Cambridge Analytica Whistle-blower Claims That ‘Cheating’ Swung the Brexit Vote” (2018)
https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/a-cambridge-analytica-whistleblower-claims-that-cheating-swung-the-brexit-vote

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Greenspan Bobblehead Shocks Nervous Britons – UPDATE

Why’d the Beeb do it?

alan-greenspan-BBCFriday was a day of well-rounded insanity for the United Kingdom, with reverberations felt ’round the Western world and some parts East. The pent-up demand for faux freedom led to renewed cries of Texit! (Texas seceding from the United States) and Sexit! (Slovenia seceding from the European Union). Probably when the dust settles, it will be found that the appetite for such changes is less real than imagined. But the present period is one for calming of waters and not further exciting residents of Blighty. So it was exceeding strange when a BBC interview with former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan which should have had a palliative effect instead took on an air of the shocking and surreal.

The interview had been scheduled in advance, but Mr. Greeenspan came down with a head cold. Yet, it is well known that the mere manner in which he snaps his briefcase can soothe troubled markets, and when the Nagus himself appears, the effect is all but narcotic.

Rather than cancel the interview or conduct it purely by telephone, the Beeb elected to put up a bobblehead of Mr. Greenspan, just as one might prop up a stuffed animal to comfort a young child waking from a nightmare.

The bobblehead is, of course, a uniquely American institution, born of fan giveaways at baseball stadiums, but occasionally extended to non-sport VIPs like Pope Francis. There are relatively few bobbleheads of economists, and after careful consideration I conclude that this is for good not ill. Economists are best left to work behind the scenes rather than gracing car dashboards and curio shops. Just one look at the Alan Greenspan bobblehead should persuade doubting readers of the verity of my thesis:

The Alan Greenspan bobblehead

The Alan Greenspan bobblehead

Suffice it to say, the calming effect yearned for was not in evidence among BBC viewers, who flooded the switchboard with complaints that much as they love their Doctor Who, now was not the time to be showcasing the latest monster dreamt up by children writing in to Blue Peter — a possible successor to the Abzorbaloff.

When queried about the cock-up, the characteristically brusque Jeremy Paxman — called out of retirement to conduct the interview — replied, “No comment.” To restore public order, the Beeb enlisted Basil Brush to help explain what Brexit would mean to the average Briton:

basil-brush-youre-screwed-animEnhanced security was put in place at retirement homes over concerns that young people might blame seniors for sabotaging their future plans for free travel and a united Europe:

old-people-walking-animFears of atonal music and riots in the streets prompted the Beeb to temporarily revert to a schedule of old-time programming with more reassuring presenters offering lessons in post-Brexit economics:

(I wonder: Is Oswald The Ostrich an appropriate meme for those voting “Leave”?)

Once calm was restored, plans for a Nouriel Roubini bobblehead were quickly scrapped — as was the Greenspan bobblehead. There are rumours of a Richard Dawkins bobblehead, but as yet no one believes in its existence, and the so-called ‘Bobblehead Delusion’ is being roundly scoffed at by cynics.

The Home Secretary is said to be working closely with the BBC’s head boffin to carve out a new policy on bobbleheads — one that doesn’t ban their use outright, but does flash a brief disclaimer so that epileptics and those easily succumbing to fits of hysterical laughter are properly forewarned.

Jeremy Paxman on Alan Greenspan

“Tomorrow’s Greenspan: more of the same! I don’t know why they make such a fuss about it.”

extra-credit-projectThough public viewing of Alan Greenspan bobbleheads may cause mass insanity, individual viewing in the home may have a beneficial effect, not unlike a mild emetic. You can spend a pleasant rainy afternoon assembling your own Alan Greenspan craft project out of pipe cleaners, Silly Putty, head cheese, and India ink. Here’s how:

First, make a flower out of different coloured pipe cleaners. Next, cut and trim the head cheese to fit inside the flower. Then shape a slab of Silly Putty to form a smaller concentric circle inside the head cheese. Finally, use India ink to draw Alan Greenspan’s head on the Silly Putty. (Be careful not to spill the ink!)

When you’re done, you’ll have a valuable curio which you can treasure in years to come. It also makes a great gift for an economist, parole officer, or that special someone in your life.

blue-peter-badgealan-greenspan-craft-project-by-michael-howard

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