Friday 22 December, 2023

Xmas Postbox

One of the nicest things that happened (I think during the pandemic) that people started creating knitted tops for Britain’s red post-boxes. I spotted this one in Histon the other day as I came out of the post office. It even has a motion sensor that switches on the toy railway when it detects a possible spectator.

Quote of the Day

”You will know you’re old when you cease to be amazed.”

  • Noel Coward

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Elmore James | Talk to Me Baby


Long Read of the Day

 The Emotional Life of Populism

Remarkable essay by the sociologist Eva Illouz about the populism currently roiling many Western democracies — not to mention the Israeli state that’s currently embroiled in trying to eliminate Hamas.

Illouz is much more illuminating (IMO) than most of the current ‘political-science’ writing about populism. The essay is really an introduction to her new book on the subject.

This is how it opens:

In my book I argue that populist politics blends together four specific emotions – fear, disgust, resentment, and love – and makes these emotions dominant vectors of the political process. The mixture of these emotions forms the matrix of populism because they generate antagonism between social groups inside society and alienation from the institutions that safeguard democracy, and because they are, in many ways, oblivious to something we might call reality. More exactly: populism lives as much in reality (naming ills that have transformed working-class lives) as in the imagination. Fear provides compelling motivation to repeatedly name enemies as well as invent them, to view such enemies as fixed and unchanging, to shift politics from conflict resolution to a state of permanent vigilance to threats, even at the price of suspending the rule of law. Israel’s fear of its outer and inner enemies runs deeper in the state apparatus than other populist forms of fear (it has also a different history and geography), but it bears affinities with them, as they all express fear of a shifting balance of power between majority (racial, ethnic, religious) and minorities and has become existential, about the very existence of the nation. Trump, Orbán, Le Pen, Meloni, the Swedish Democrats, and Modi have focused on the minorities who allegedly threaten their nation. Disgust creates and maintains the dynamic of distancing between social groups through the fear of pollution and contamination: it helps separate ethnic or religious minorities and, by the logic of contamination, it also contributes towards separating the political groups who either support or oppose the minorities. Ressentiment is a key process in self-victimization; its rhetoric has become generalized, as all groups, majority and minority, invoke it to designate the relationship of the other to them; it redefines the political self in terms of its wounds. Trumpist voters or Israeli settlers are united in their common sense of self-victimization against left-wing elites. When all groups are victims of each other, it creates antagonism and changes ordinary notions of justice. It also creates fantasies of revenge. Finally, a particular form of exclusionary patriotism promises solidarity to the in-group at the expense of the others, who become redefined as superfluous or dangerous members of the nation. We should not underestimate the deep relationship that nationalism entertains today with religion and tradition.

Books, etc.

Steven Sinofsky: Books to Read and Gift

A list of 42 books he read this year with a quick note or two on each explaining why he’d suggest it or not. Sinofsky is an interesting guy — was a senior executive at Microsoft and is also on the Board of the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, so is very knowledgeable about the tech industry. I disagree with his views sometimes, but respect his judgement. So I found his list interesting.

My commonplace booklet

Marina Hyde on Michelle Mone and the PPE scandal

Unmissable column on one of the more egregious creeps on the UK scene.

Michelle is 5ft 9in of pure chaos, and watching Rishi Sunak whinnying feebly about “taking all these things incredibly seriously” tees up the spectacle of the prime minister and a number of other drippy male politicians further incensing this Category 5 “force of nature”, who will lash out all the way down on her well-earned fall from grace. Is that as good as taxpayers getting their money back? No. But I’ll watch.

Before we proceed, though, a recap. Can it really be only 11 years since Michelle was granting a mesmerisingly messy interview to the Sunday Times, in which she wailed rhetorically: “Why did I want to be Michelle Mone? Why did I want to start all these businesses? Why can I never be satisfied with what I’ve got?” Yes. Yes, I do believe it can.

Can it really be only six years since Mone and Barrowman [her husband] were granting “their first joint interview” to Hello! magazine, standing in formalwear in front of their Isle of Man McMansion – a Ferrari parked with gossamer insouciance just behind them, as if to say … well, as if to say GREETINGS, SHITHEADS – DID WE MENTION WE OWN A FERRARI? Again, it can. Readers of various outlets have since been invited inside the property, where decorative flourishes include a paved drive (sorry, but no) and an amphitheatre (actually hysterical). “I feel like I’m in a fairytale,” Michelle told the publication, “a beautiful dream I don’t ever want to wake up from.” Three years ago, as a belated second wedding present, she gifted Doug a gelding (I bet she did).

Great stuff. It’s also worth noting that it was the Guardian’s dogged journalism that finally lifted the stone on the gilded creep. Overseas readers may be intrigued that this dame is a Baroness — a member of the House of Lords (ennobled by the Tories, needless to say) — and therefore someone who has a say in the governance of the Disunited Kingdom. The best bit, though, has echoes of P,G. Woodhouse: Mone made her first fortune with a lingerie company and, according to Wikipedia, has other ventures including naturopathic ‘weight-loss’ pills, and a fake tan product via ‘Ultimo Beauty’.

Woodhouse fans will remember Roderick Spode, the amateur dictator and Leader of the Black Shorts movement, who in his spare time was the proprietor of a lingerie brand, Eulalie.


Ooops! Wednesday’s edition revealed that I am unable to tell doughnuts from bagels. My only excuse is that I don’t like doughnuts either. Thanks to Lisa Long for gently pointing out the error.

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