Conservatism as performance art

From the NYT report of the abrupt fall of an alt-right provocateur:

Many on the right are pointing to the Yiannopoulos controversies as a symptom of a trend toward conservatism as performance art, placing less value on ideas like small government and self-reliance than it does on attitude, personality and provocation. While there are respected conservative thinkers on issues like tax reform, immigration and health care, they say, provocateurs like Mr. Yiannopoulos suck up most of the oxygen, becoming the public face of the movement and pushing more serious ideas to the sideline.

“You essentially have a world where there are no adults left, nobody exercising moral authority to say, ‘No, this does or does not meet our standards,’” said Matt Lewis, the conservative author of “Too Dumb to Fail,” which dissected how conservatives have abandoned ideas for outrage. “Everybody is just responding to perverse incentives to get more buzz.”

Mr. Lewis said he would bet that most conservatives had no idea where Mr. Yiannopoulos stood on taxes, abortion or any other issue that has traditionally been important to them. “The only thing we know about him is he’s vulgar, he’s a provocateur and he fights political correctness,” he said. “And I guess that’s what the definition is now for being a conservative.”

Theresa May’s encomium of Trump and the Republicans

From her Philadelphia speech as reported in the Spectator:

President Trump’s victory – achieved in defiance of all the pundits and the polls – and rooted not in the corridors of Washington, but in the hopes and aspirations of working men and women across this land. Your Party’s victory in both the Congress and the Senate where you swept all before you, secured with great effort, and achieved with an important message of national renewal.

And because of this – because of what you have done together, because of that great victory you have won – America can be stronger, greater, and more confident in the years ahead.

And a newly emboldened, confident America is good for the world. An America that is strong and prosperous at home is a nation that can lead abroad. But you cannot – and should not – do so alone. You have said that it is time for others to step up. And I agree.

A spoof, surely? If not, what has she been smoking?

Trump presidency is a plot to save Twitter

From the wonderful Dave Pell newsletter:

“We informed the White House this morning that I will not attend the work meeting scheduled for next Tuesday.” That was Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto letting the world know he had canceled his planned trip to the US over Trump’s insistence on building a wall, and further insistence that Mexico will pay for it. The message was delivered via a tweet, and was (of course) met with counter-tweets from the Oval Office. Social media spats and flame wars now have serious diplomatic ramifications. What were once harmless exchanges between a couple of bad hombres can now cause geopolitical shifts. (Sometimes I think the whole Trump presidency is part of a secret plot to save Twitter.)

Discuss (as they say in history exams).

Taking back control. Oh yeah?

Sobering dose of realism from the Economist as Theresa May prepares to kiss the feet of the new Emperor.

In trade negotiations, size matters. Larger economies can stipulate terms that suit them. Britain, an economy of 60m people, has much less leverage in trade talks than the EU, a market of 500m, or the United States, one of 300m. Mr Trump may promise an agreement “very quickly” and to show other countries that it is safe to leave the EU by giving Britain generous treatment. But more than anything else he is an America First deal-wrangler who knows he has the upper hand. A rushed agreement could see the National Health Service opened up to American firms and environmental and food standards diluted (think hormone-treated beef). Such concessions could upset British voters, who backed Brexit partly because Leavers said it would help the country’s health-care system. They would also frustrate a trade deal with the EU, a much more important export destination.

The curious thing is that Brexit was supposed to be about “taking back control”: immunising the country from foreign whim and interest, while asserting national dignity and independence. Increasingly that looks like a bad joke.


Family values, Russian style

This from the Economist:

SHOULD it be a crime for a husband to hit his wife? In many countries this question no longer needs discussing. But not in Russia, where the Duma (parliament) voted this week to decriminalise domestic violence against family members unless it is a repeat offence or causes serious medical damage. The change is part of a state-sponsored turn to traditionalism during Vladimir Putin’s third presidential term. It has exposed deep fault lines. Many Russians now embrace the liberal notion of individual rights, but others are moving in the opposite direction.

Free speech, Trump style

Lovely diary piece by the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw:

What a very lively occasion the presidential inauguration is going to be – very far, in all probability, from the “soft sensuality” whimsically described by his press team. PEOTUS has excitedly tweeted: “People are pouring into Washington in record numbers. Bikers for Trump are on their way!” Erm … Bikers for Trump? Could it be that Mr Trump is encouraging these free spirits and easy riders to show up with a view to, um, balancing out the protest contingent? Their website announces: “Bikers For Trump™ believes in the first amendment of the United States and believes in the People’s peaceful right to demonstrate and protest, however we denounce protesters being paid and provided [sic] untruthful propaganda …” I think that gives us a pretty good idea of the limits to anti-Trump free speech envisioned by Bikers For Trump, and exactly how any confrontation is going to go down. I found myself reaching for my DVD copy of the classic documentary Gimme Shelter by the Maysles brothers about the Rolling Stones’ 1969 Altamont concert, in which Hells Angels provided security in return for free beer. The mood turned ugly, as the bikers responded to crowd disorder with aggression and violence and finally stabbed an audience member who had pulled a gun. Perhaps Mr Trump’s team should study Gimme Shelter before the proceedings start.

As Bradshaw says, what could to wrong?

Will climate change data be safe under Trumplethinskin?

This is interesting — and scary:

Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information.

“Something that seemed a little paranoid to me before all of a sudden seems potentially realistic, or at least something you’d want to hedge against,” said Nick Santos, an environmental researcher at the University of California at Davis, who over the weekend began copying government climate data onto a nongovernment server, where it will remain available to the public. “Doing this can only be a good thing. Hopefully they leave everything in place. But if not, we’re planning for that.”

As the old joke goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you. If I were a climate scientist I would share these concerns. After all, Trumplethinskin has appointed a climate-change denier as head of the EPA.

Lucky me!

Aw, isn’t that nice. Matt Brittin, the UK boss of Google has just written to me to inform me that I’ve won a big prize in a lottery organised by the company.

Here’s the beginning of his email:


Note the impressive ‘watermarking’ on the email.

But that’s not all, there’s a ‘seal’ on the bottom (to show it’s legit) and it’s even signed by Larry Page himself.


I wonder who falls for this stuff?

The rule of law…

… is one of the basic criteria for a functioning democracy. The UK is (still) a democracy in that sense. But it looks as though the creeps who run the country’s tabloid newspapers don’t understand that.


Which is why this statement from the Chair of the Bar Council is welcome:

“The judiciary of England & Wales is the envy of the world because it is independent of Government or any other influence. When we speak to lawyers in other jurisdictions, it is our judiciary that they particularly praise for its professionalism and independence. “Publicly criticising individual members of the judiciary over a particular judgement or suggesting that they are motivated by their individual views, political or otherwise, is wrong, and serves only to undermine their vital role in the administration of justice. It also does no favours to our global reputation.

“None of the parties suggested that the Court did not have jurisdiction to decide the point at issue. They are simply doing their job – impartially ruling on a dispute between parties, one of whom happens to be the Government in this instance. The right to appeal is there to challenge the Court’s decision if a party feels they have grounds to do so. Whilst acknowledging that this question is one of potentially significant constitutional importance, the independent role of the Court should be respected, particularly by those who disagree with the outcome.”

Foreign readers who are unfamiliar with Britain’s toxic tabloid culture might find Andy Beckett’s essay useful.

SEE ALSO Charlie Falconer’s excellent piece

Stumbling along…


We’ve been in Berlin for a few days. Walking along a residential street in Prenzlauer Berg I came on these brass squares outside the door of an apartment block and suddenly realised what they were: Stolperstine, literally “stumbling stones”, memorials to people, mainly Jews, who once lived in that building and who were deported and murdered by the Nazis. These three commemorate the Holzmann family — father Fritz, mother Dora and son Gerhard — who were all deported on the same day, 29 October, 1941. Father and son went to a forced labour camp and were murdered within a month of one another in 1943. Dora was murdered in another camp in May 1942. According to Wikipedia, over 50,000 stolpersteine have been laid in 18 European countries, making the stolperstein project the world’s largest decentralised memorial.