Of course Jeremy Clarkson’s pun on the word “slope” was racist. That was the point.
When sex talk was forbidden, sexual innuendo was funny. When blasphemy against Christianity was forbidden, sly puns in scurrilous seventeenth century pamphlets and even ambiguous symbols in paintings and engravings were funny. So powerful is the link between humour and prohibition that our modern comedians often seek to buttress a weak joke with a plea to be persecuted, only not too much.
Nowadays what is forbidden? Hostility to homosexuality is forbidden, hence the schoolchildren use “gay” to mean “unfashionable”, “lame”, “rubbishy”. Blasphemy against Islam is forbidden, hence Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. And racism is forbidden, hence Clarkson.
I don’t care for that sort of humour, myself. Clarkson can be much funnier than that. Also much funnier than that is the spectacle of all those Guardianistas and BBC types who fell over themselves to proclaim their free-spirited devotion to “edgy”, “transgressive”, “brave” comedy clutching their smelling-salts now that they are the bourgeoisie being épaté.
Yet another arm of the establishment is going to go on strike.
Please guys, go out and stay out. Never ever come back, that’ll show ‘em!
… give you this week’s most valiant attempts by Guardian writers to contrive a link, any link, between a news story of the last few days and their own ongoing obsessions.
From Lindsay Beyerstein, an article very approximately about a recent attempted murder in Wisconsin allegedly motivated by an internet meme: “Slender Man is a convenient target for our fears. Misogyny and racism aren’t.”
My favourite comment came from doshermanos_III:
It’s really quite amazing.
Two girls stab another girl 19 times. But misogyny.
Another quintessential Guardian take on current events came from Giles Fraser. (I should explain for overseas readers that the Michael Gove mentioned is the current British representative of SPECTRE, Witchfinder-General, and Secretary of State for Education.) It seems this here Gove goes in for a bit of kulcha and likes his Handel and his Saints-Saens. Fraser does not hesitate to draw the obvious conclusion: “Samson was like a suicide bomber. So why do you love the opera, Mr Gove?”
The comments section for this article fizzed with good ‘uns. To choose but one, robjmac quoted Fraser asking,
But isn’t this also a version of Gove’s religious extremism, too?
About a month ago, I was at the Institute of Economic Affairs to hear a talk given by Antoine Clarke to the End of the World Club. The audience was larger than usual, and of a very high quality. It listened, fascinated and engrossed, and with some rueful laughter at the intense relevance of a seemingly rather obscure slice of history to our own times.
The talk was about French investment, private but egged on by French politicians for their own foreign policy reasons, in pre-revolutionary Russia. This investment was huge, and for a while it provided a healthy income to French savers, by French standards. But then, because of events which the French media of the time somehow neglected to inform their readers about, it all started to go wrong, and wronger and wronger, and then of course very wrong indeed. Collusion and corruption on a huge scale among and between politicians, bankers and journalists is not, said Antoine, anything new.
Antoine has now gathered his spoken thoughts from that night into a blog posting at the Cobden Centre.
The first Russian bonds sold in France were in 1867 to finance a railroad. Others followed, notably in 1888. At this point the French government decided on a policy of alliance with Russia and the encouragement of French savers to invest in Russian infrastructure. From 1887 to 1913, 3.5% of the French Gross National Product is invested in Russia alone. This amounted to a quarter of all foreign investment by French private citizens. That’s a savings ratio (14% in external investment alone) we wouldn’t mind seeing in the UK today!
A massive media campaign promoting Russia as a future economic giant (a bit like China in recent years) was pushed by politicians. Meanwhile French banks found they could make enormous amounts of commission from Russian bonds: in this period, the Credit Lyonnais makes 30% of its profits from its commission for selling the bonds.
In 1897, the ruble is linked to gold. The French government guarantees its citizens against any default. The Paris Stock Exchange takes listings for, among others: Banque russo-asiatique, la Banque de commerce de Sibérie, les usines Stoll, les Wagons de Petrograd.
The first signs of trouble come in 1905, with the post-Russo-Japanese War revolution. A provisional government announced a default of foreign bonds, but this isn’t reported in the French mainstream media or the French banks that continue to sell (mis-sell?).
During the First World War, the French government issued zero interest bonds to cover the Russian government’s loan repayment, with an agreement to sort out the problem after the war. However, in December 1917, Lenin announced the repudiation of Tsarist debts.
Boom, bust. And surprise surprise, French governments of the twentieth century were neither willing nor able to provide anything like the kind of compensation for disappointed French savers that had earlier been promised.
Antoine Clarke is fluently English thanks to his English father and fluently French thanks to his French mother, and he has lived and worked in both countries. As long as I have known him I have urged him to make maximum use of this bilingualism, in connecting us Anglo libertarians to French stories and writings, and vice versa. This talk and his subsequent written version of it is a perfect example of the sort of thing I had in mind, and I thank and congratulate him for it. How many non-French libertarians already knew this story? Some, certainly, a bit, but certainly not me.
In London today, the BBC has revealed a remarkable revelation:
Windows work in both directions! Not only can a person in a hotel room see out of a window, it is possible for people to also see in from the outside!
Truly we live in an age of marvels! Ah that such a cognitive breakthrough could have happened here, it make me proud to be English! Article like this are why I often send the BBC twice the licence fee they actually demand from me (under threat of jail if I do not pay up) because how can anyone doubt they provide such inestimable value. No, seriously, for the life of me, I cannot estimate how much value they provide. I truly cannot.
There is a very funny article by Reason, titled The stupidest pseudo-story of the week, about a Daily Mail article about halal food. Reason likens the hysteria to criticising kosher food with a headline:
RABBIS ARE PUTTING SOME WEIRD JEW-SPELL ON YOUR MEALS!
I LOL’ed. But then again, it is often said I am famously easy to amuse
And black people, as always, are left to clean up the shit that drops from the imperial anus of white corporate America into the ghettoized toilets of terror
- Nyle Fort
Whaddya think? Are either of these two articles from the Guardian Comment Network (i.e. lefty blogs to which the Guardian gives a larger audience) for real, or are they magnificent satire?
From SE Smith, a writer who “lives and works in northern California, covering social justice issues”: ‘The people are so beautiful!’ That’s enough of the colonial tourism
While you’re drooling over Indian women in saris at the produce market, are you paying attention to the women organising against mining companies and western intrusions in India? Are you paying attention to the women opposing tourism and fighting objectifying activities in their communities?
From Tom Whyman, a well-named PhD Philosophy student: Beware of cupcake fascism
…this has an effect on our culture that we can understand as being a sort of gentrification. The cupcake has always itself been a gentrifying force: after all, the “pop-up cupcake shop” is the paradigmatic pop-up shop. But what all these things do is assert the infantilised values of an increasingly infantilised middle-class world on general society. This is how the passive-aggressive violence of the infantilised twee fascist manifests itself: moving across the world with a cupcake as a cowcatcher, shunting out everything that does not correspond to the values manifested within it; a much more effective way of sweeping up the sort of (poor, working-class, black) forces that informed the 2011 London riots than any broom.
“But what is it about my argument that they find so objectionable?” I’ve often asked myself. “What exactly is so evil about arguing, say, that schools should teach kids rigorously, or that climate scientists should do more science and less political activism, or that bigger government only perpetuates the power of a corrupt elite at the expense of ordinary people?”
And the conclusion I’ve long since reached is that there are some people out there who you’re simply never going to reach through logic or sweet reasonableness or basic courtesy. These people will always hate me – and those who think like me – as a matter of fundamental principle. It’s an ideological clash of total opposites: tyranny v liberty; poverty v prosperity; hysteria v reason; the state v the individual; misery v happiness.
So in what way, may I ask, would it be a sensible policy to halve the difference between those two extremes in order to reach some kind of “reasonable” consensus?
It’s what I call the ‘Dogshit Yoghurt Fallacy’.
On one side of the argument are those of us who think yoghurt works best with a little fruit or maybe just on its own. On the other are those who believe passionately that what yoghurt really needs is the addition of something more earthy, organic, recycled – like maybe a nice scoop of dogshit.
Now you can call me a dangerous extremist if you like, for refusing under any conditions to accommodate the alternative point of view. Or you could call me one of those few remaining brave souls in a cowardly, compromised world still prepared to tell it like it is: that dogshit into yoghurt simply doesn’t go, no matter how many expert surveys you cite, nor how eco-friendly it shows you to be, nor how homeopathic the dosage.
- James Delingpole, in a piece entitled Andrew Breitbart’s War Comes To Britain, explains why he has become the new Executive Editor of Breitbart London.
Also recommended, by Delingpole for Breitbart: 10 Lefty Lies About The Floods Which Have Devastated Britain.
George Lakoff says, ‘Liberals do everything wrong’
“Progressives want to follow the polls … Conservatives don’t follow the polls; they want to change them. Political ground is gained not when you successfully inhabit the middle ground, but when you successfully impose your framing as the ‘common-sense’ position.”
If all political belief originates from one of two wellsprings, if the last thing you should do to propagate your belief is to water it down, if backing it up with facts just weakens it, what would a debate look like, in a world of perfectly understood frames?
It is, plainly, the longstanding failure to protect nature that powers Lakoff’s exasperation with liberals. “They don’t understand their own moral system or the other guy’s, they don’t know what’s at stake, they don’t know about framing, they don’t know about metaphors, they don’t understand the extent to which emotion is rational, they don’t understand how vital emotion is, they try to hide their emotion.
Unlike Professor Lakoff, I think that liberals (in the US sense of the word) propagate their ideas quite successfully, but his advice on framing seems well worth following.
A feature of British reporting on American affairs is that even newspapers that sell themselves as right wing or too grand to take a side in US politics take their tone straight from the Democratic party. For instance, this Times report of the State of the Union address appears in the news section, not the opinion pages, yet in this paragraph
Offering a shopping list of practical plans to speed up growth and give people new ladders of opportunity into the middle class, he told members of Congress: “I’m eager to work with all of you”.
the writer, David Taylor, takes it for granted that President Obama’s plans are “practical” and indubitably will “give people new ladders of opportunity”. Was there not room for a little “intended to” anywhere in that line, Mr Taylor?
Again, this report from Peter Foster in the supposedly right wing Telegraph takes one look at Obama performing the standard politician’s trick of admitting to the fault of excessive reasonableness, and falls in love:
However, that optimism was tempered with a frank admission that America’s politics had become paralysed by the “rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government”. The president wearily admitted that reversing the tides of decline “won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything.”
We all understand where the problem lies: with the rancorous ones who argue about the proper size of government. If only they would stop doing that our weary hero could rest.
I am ready to be told in the comments that the Dems and the Repubs really are not that different. Allow me to agree in advance. It is just that the way that the Times and Telegraph maintain faithful station like Greyfriars Bobby long after their better paid friends in the Boston Globe and New York Times have noticed that the object of their devotion is politically dead is making a vein throb. Which reminds me, we were not always thus. As the great Malcom Tucker put put it during his visit to Washington (2 minutes 10 seconds into the clip):
“We burnt this tight-arsed city to the ground in 1814 and I’m all for doing it again.”
(Warning: occasional words in the compilation of scenes from In the Loop linked to above are not viciously obscene.)
I note with pride that two hundred years ago arguments about the proper size of the federal government were settled in a decisive yet still gentlemanly fashion. Wikipedia’s account of the burning of Washington says that “The British commander’s orders to burn only public buildings and strict discipline among the British troops are credited with preserving the city’s private buildings.” We even spared one of the more useful government buildings:
It is written that a loaded cannon was aimed at the Patent Office to destroy it. Thornton “put himself before the gun, and in a frenzy of excitement exclaimed: ‘Are you Englishmen or only Goths and Vandals? This is the Patent Office, a depository of the ingenuity of the American nation, in which the whole civilized world is interested. Would you destroy it? If so, fire away, and let the charge pass through my body.’ The effect is said to have been magical upon the soldiers, and to have saved the Patent Office from destruction.
Despite this lapse, Major General Robert Ross did burn to the ground the White House, both houses of Congress, the War Office, the State Department and the Treasury, although I gather someone has rebuilt them since.
I am currently trying (although I promise nothing) to write a review of The PR Masterclass by my friend and occasional Samizdatista Alex Singleton. I had hoped to be able to combine this review with a report of the launch of the book that took place in the offices of the Adam Smith Institute on Tuesday evening of this week, but the former project is now delaying the latter, so here are some pictures of the launch. My more considered thoughts on the book will have to wait, not for too long, I hope.
As so often, what really mattered at this event was not who spoke at it or what they said, but how many people were there to listen and to stand around trying to impress each other with their various opinions and alleged triumphs. The answer last Tuesday was: a lot. The place was packed out:
If you write a book called The PR Masterclass and you arrange a book launch for it, you had better assemble a decent throng of people. If word gets out via the few who did attend how few attended, you will come over as very foolish. That mission was definitely accomplished, that landmine definitely not stepped on. Alex told me later that the people present were a mixture of ASI-type “movement” people, PR professionals, and journalists. Just what he wanted, in other words.
One reason why so many people showed up was that Alex had obtained an impressive star speaker:
Guido started by remembering the old Globalisation Institute that Alex Singleton used to run, and how amazingly lavish was the press coverage that the Globalisation Institute used to get. Then he reminisced about a drunken night out the two of them had had, which had landed Guido in court. Or something. At this point in his speech Guido started speaking too quietly for me, at the back, to hear properly. But the people nearer the front of the throng seemed amused, and anyway, it doesn’t matter what gets said at these things. The point is for it to be made clear that a Big Cheese like Guido wants you to buy the book, is a friend of the author, blah blah. If you want to be in with the in-crowd, read this book.
Alex himself also spoke, briefly:
I like that one, but I like this one even more:
Both snaps capture, I think, the fact that Alex Singleton is an enthusiast about what he does, but that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Some people might grumble about a picture like that second one of them. Alex won’t.
Alex had emailed me earlier to say that it would be fine if I brought my camera with me, and used it. As is my habit, I looked to see if others were taking photos, but only spotted one, standing right next to me:
Had Alex not emailed me beforehand that me photoing would be fine, I might have refrained. That he found time to include this in the email he sent me about this event is typical of his attention to detail, and of his ability to see the world through the eyes of the people he is trying to influence, surely the core PR attitude. (And hey, I just got a phone call from him saying do I have any photos that he can use?)
As for the book, in the event that I never get around to posting my properly serious review of it any time soon, let me now supply a short summary of what I already know I will be saying: the book is very good.
One other thing, which also points up that this felt like a very successful event, and that Alex was coming across as a very successful and significant chap. While trying to impress those around me, I found myself talking about my Brian’s Last Fridays, and how brilliant they have so far been since I resumed doing them in January of last year. Someone asked me who will be my next speaker, on the last Friday of January, i.e. on the evening of January 31st. My reply? “Oh, yes. Come to think of it: Alex Singleton.” This actually did impress people, or so it seemed to me.
I’m being rather frivolous about all this, but it really is quite a significant little fact about the world that one of the leading personalities in the bit of it that concerns itself with PR is now Alex Singleton, i.e. someone who probably agrees with me, and very possibly also with you, about really quite a lot of things. On the jacket of the book, Singleton’s publishers start their blurb about him by describing him as “one of the world’s leading public relations strategists”. That one could show up at this event and feel that this was not an obviously over-the-top or ridiculous or embarrassing claim is, I think, quite something.