Fatty and Skinny

During yesterday’s press conference following the announcement of Trump’s clean bill of health, a reporter – who adheres to practically every stereotype Americans have of Brits – asked the following question:

Did you tell the current president about his predecessors’ exercise routine and does this president ask you about how he could follow his predecessors’ example to be as fit as Barack Obama was?

Leaving aside the pointlessness of the question – does he fancy Obama, or what? – there is an age gap to consider. Trump is 71, Obama is 56; when they entered office they were 70 and 47 respectively. That’s quite a difference, although their wives became First Lady at roughly the same age. For some reason, few reporters compare them physically.


Severe weather is nothing new

I’m currently reading a book which contains this section on the farming conditions in Devon in the second half of the 19th century:

[I]n 1879 it simply rained without ceasing throughout the whole of the summer, turning much of the English countryside into a desperate, oozing mire. It continued to rain until the end of 1882, causing an epidemic of pleuro pneumonia and liver rot in sheep, while the crops collapsed in the fields. The middle of the decade was marked by severe droughts and catastrophic frosts. S. G. Kendall, the West Country yeoman farmer who kept a detailed diary of the weather, vividly describes the year 1879 and the following five years of appalling summers. The persistent rain that summer, he wrote, was accompanied `by a damp, dark, cold atmosphere which struck a chill almost into one’s bones, bringing ruined crops with widespread devastation in their train … We had no barley crops at all that season on heavy soil’, and the wheat ‘turned blighty and black and seemed to shrink back in a different way yet not dissimilar to the barley two months earlier’.

Another diarist, George Rope, describes the floods that summer: ’23 Aug. Began cutting tolavera – slightly sprouted as it stood – from continual rains for the last fortnight. The wettest season since 186o and similar, but not so cold – about two-thirds of the hay and clover spoiled – and a large quantity carried away by floods – on 22nd July we had the greatest flood I can ever remember.’ He goes on to describe cows drowned, houses flooded, and how people had travelled by boat from farm to farm.

At the end of 1879 Kendall wrote: ‘This dismal, wet, dark, never-to-be-forgotten year is now at an end; may the coming eighties bring with it better luck and greater good fortune.’ But 1880 was if anything worse – bad weather and disease carried away five million sheep in England; and 1881 brought fresh disasters including a blizzard lasting forty-eight hours. G. E. Mingay, who has chronicled the weather during this period in his Rural Life in Victorian England, summarizes the continued disastrous weather thus:

The following summer was wet, and 1882 had a very wet autumn so that little wheat could be sown. The summers of 1885 and 1887, by contrast, were dry, with shortages of roots for the stock … the early nineties saw fresh disasters. The great blizzard of 8-13 March 1891 brought twenty-foot snow drifts to parts of the West Country, and claimed over 200 lives on shore and at sea. The farmers suffered great losses of livestock – some sheep were blown over the cliffs into the sea – as well as devastation in orchards and woodlands. The summer of 1891 also produced a wet harvest, and 1892 and 1893 brought very severe droughts. In [the West Country] hardly any rain fell between February and July 1893, and there was almost no grass for haymaking. On the heavy land the harrow marks of April could be seen right up to harvest. Then came a most bitter and persistent frost in the winter of 1894-5, when drifts of snow from six to fourteen feet deep covered the ground for weeks.

I’m posting this mainly to counteract the view of a rather dim BBC presenter who, the other day on television, opined in the context of global warming that “the weather is definitely getting more extreme”.


Carillion’s Demise

I confess, until it ran into financial difficulties and made the news last week, I’d never heard of Carillion, the company the British government seems to have outsourced a lot of stuff to. According to the BBC:

The company employed 43,000 people worldwide, 20,000 in the UK, and had 450 contracts with the UK government.

And this graphic shows us what they actually did:

To me, this looks like a catch-all company that has bedded itself in with the government and helpfully told politicians and civil servants that they can take care of everything. No problem, just leave it to us, just keep that cash hose turned on full.

Having emerged from a company specialising in civil construction, Carillion appears to have branched out somewhat. I don’t know how much synergy there is between providing hospital beds and building a high-speed railway line, but they look like an outfit which has lost focus of its core business, probably wooed into other areas by guaranteed government revenues.

To many, governments subcontracting services like prison maintenance and school catering might seem like a good idea and on paper it probably is. But when mass-subcontracting like this you need to be careful you’re not just replicating the problems of government-run bodies further down the contracting chain.

A company like this will be well-connected politically, which means they likely hired a lot of former civil servants and had the mobile numbers of plenty still serving. If you’re a company dependent on sucking up to politicians and civil servants while offering a sprawling array of services on high-profile and highly-politicised projects, chances are you’re a lot better at politics than you are business. Over time, I expect the upper and middle management got a lot better at telling government representatives what they wanted to hear and a lot worse at delivering core services, which would have been increasingly subcontracted to specialist companies to the point Carillion might not even own a single cement mixer.

This is pure speculation of course, but readers of my blog are used to that and I’m just running with what I’ve observed in modern corporations, especially those involved with governments. A post-mortem of Carillion might show a company stuffed full of very modern managers who excel in telling their superiors and clients exactly what they want to hear, a pattern which extends right up to the CEO. Most will spend their time in meetings discussing figures and schedules which are wholly fantastic, in a culture where career progression is based on how “on message” you’ve been thus far in your tenure in relation to the nearest manager’s latest whim. Experienced hands will have retired taking their knowledge with them, replaced by bright young things who’ve been told to get with the programme or else from day one. Power-skirts will have arrived en masse, egged on by government bodies tasked with ensuring their main contractors fulfill all obligations regarding diversity, gender compliance, and office environmental practices. Everyone would have been focussed solely on the process, the outcome be damned. Anyone left over from a previous era who liked to “get shit done” would have been hounded out or shoved in a corner, his career over, for having the wrong attitude. Anything useful carried out under Carillion’s management would have been done by strong, Sun-reading, fit young men in dirty coveralls with a different company logo on the back, subcontractors each and every one. Meanwhile, Carillion’s employees would have shared spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations in air-conditioned offices and congratulated each other on how much value they were adding.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, and I know nothing about Carillion. But from what I can tell, this is the direction a lot of large corporations are heading in, i.e. becoming bloated monstrosities engaged in process-driven guff while subcontractors do all the useful work. What was the size of Carillion’s overhead on a typical project, and how much markup did they need to apply to cover it? I’ve seen the figures for a large engineering company on a major project and their overheads – mostly useless company-men calling themselves managers – would make Diana Ross feel like she skimped on her global tours. I think we’re going to see a lot of large corporate failures in the next decade, with many surviving until then thanks only to a lifeline of legacy rents which the current management is wholly unsuited to maintain or replicate. Thanks to James Damore’s lawsuit we’ve already seen what state Google’s management is in; I expect this is typical, to some degree, of a lot of modern corporations.


And just like that, I became an author

On October 26th 2016 I said:

If you want to write a book, you need to write a book.

So I did, and it’s here.

Window on a Burning ManSo far it’s only available on Kindle, but hopefully in the next few days the paperback version will be out as well.

The site I link to above is where I will run the serial I talked about, the first part of which will be published soon with a new installment following each week. There are 7 parts in all. The site can be accessed quickly by clicking on the picture of the book at the top of my sidebar. I have put the first chapter up as a teaser until the serial starts.

I have two favours to ask:

1. If anyone reading this runs a blog or a Twitter feed and you think your readers might be interested in this book, please consider writing a short post with a link to my book’s site to funnel them in its direction.

2. If you do buy a copy, or read the serial when it comes out, please write a review on Amazon. I’m not asking you to write a good review, or even an honest one, but reviews of any kind are vital to self-publishers and the more I can get the better.

Finally, a big thank you to the readers of this blog who gave me so much encouragement, support, and advice during the writing of it. I could probably have done it without you, but it would have been a lot harder and the end product much worse.


Governments and the People

There’s a saying out there, which I’ve come to agree with, which states that people get the government they deserve. A common response to this is that it only applies in a democracy, and I used to agree with this, but nowadays I don’t. Something people often overlook is that even dictators are drawn from the population, as are the people who support and enable them. That a dictator can come to power and run things as he sees fit is itself a reflection, to some degree, of the people over which he rules.

This ties in to what I was saying last week:

The root cause of a country being a shithole is the prevailing culture, and what else is culture but the aggregate behaviour, attitude, and customs of a population?

The reason Hugo Chavez came to power, imposed bone-headed socialism, and ruined Venezuela is because enough Venezuelans were stupid enough to be wooed by the promise of socialist economics. You can’t separate this decision from the general population, as if he was some foreigner imposed by outside forces. Venezuelans allowed this to happen and therefore they must take responsibility for it. This is true even if, which is surely the case, a huge percentage of the population didn’t want it: on aggregate they did.

One of the things which once amused me was the way Russians would speak of the Soviet Union as if it were some outside force imposed on them. The fact that the USSR was largely made up of Russians, many of whom bought into the idea and happily went along with implementing it’s worst aspects, never seemed to occur to them. I’m not willing to give the non-Russian Soviet States a free pass, either. Enough of them went along with the programme to keep it in place; not that this is necessarily wrong – I wouldn’t want to fight a guerrilla war or become a martyr either – but we can’t ignore the fact that, on aggregate, the population chose to cooperate.

What I’m saying is not so much to heap blame on a population for the state of their government, but rather to stop ourselves absolving the people of any responsibility whatsoever. To varying degrees, the people are responsible for how they are governed. There might be some exceptions – perhaps Iran under the Ayatollahs? – but I’m struggling to think of a single case where the government of the day was vastly, unrecognisably different from the collective population. I’m not talking about individuals, they can and do differ wildly from the government, I’m talking again about the aggregate.

Actually, I can think of exceptions: countries under colonial rule. It’s hard to argue that colonial governments were reflective of the populations they ruled over, which is why the countries changed so drastically once the colonialists left. Then again, a lot of the locals went along with that programme, too.

In summary, I find it rather too easy to claim governments and people are entirely separate, absolving the latter of any responsibility whatsoever. We might find things improve if we stop giving out free passes to whole populations, even if they live under dictators. Individuals, however, we should still take as we find them.


On those African students in the US

I’ve been seeing a lot of tweets like this in the aftermath of Trump’s “shithole” comments:

I have no doubt this is true, but what few seem to be willing to do is examine why that is. Of course, a lot of people scratch the surface and say it’s because the US is getting Africa’s best and brightest, but nobody I’ve seen has gone any deeper than that. So I will.

What I’m about to say will vary from country to country, and even region to region, but it will be broadly true across Africa. As with anything of this nature, exceptions abound: I’m talking in the general sense here. When people talk about America getting Africa’s best and brightest, what they really mean is they’re getting Africans who had the resources and connections to first get educated and then get themselves across to the States. It may be nice to dream of some utopia whereby these lucky few include those born super-bright in a mud hut to a peasant farmer, but it isn’t true. In much of Africa, getting an education requires money and connections. The same applies for getting a certificate at the end of said education, and if you have money and connections you can get this certificate while still remaining spectacularly dim.

So who has money and connections in Africa? Well, first and foremost it’s those who make up the ruling elites and their relatives. You can be sure those who run any given African country have their kids in the best schools money can buy, often overseas, and have the means and wealth to get them into an American college when they’re done with high school. In other words, a portion of those Africans supposedly outperforming locals in American universities will be there thanks to the graft, incompetence, and corruption that have made their country of origin a shithole in the first place. And there is absolutely no guarantee they will be particularly bright, regardless of what pieces of paper they hold.

You then have the relatives of those who are not directly involved with the running of the country, but nevertheless do very well from the status quo. These will be well-placed “businessmen” who have clawed out some advantage for themselves using bribery, threats, and skulduggery. They too are responsible for their country being a shithole, and their children direct beneficiaries of the practices that have brought it about.

Finally, you’ll have the relatives of people who have earned their money legitimately, or through sheer hard work and a lot of luck have managed to get an education and a ticket to the US without resorting to lying, cheating, bribery, murder, and thuggishness. I know a few like this, and they do exist.

So what’s the split between those three groups? I have no idea, but you can be sure there are representatives of all three from every African country, and it will vary between countries. What I’d like to know is how many of these Africans I’ve seen proudly declaring their “shithole” origins are in the US as a direct or indirect result of relatives who are the root cause of the problems back home? How many African students who have taken to Twitter to denounce Trump have family members in national or local governments which are riddled with corruption, or hold cushy positions in state-owned monopolies which extract extortionate rents from ordinary people? It won’t be all of them by any means, but it will be a lot of them, and it might even be most of them. And as for this:

Nigerian-Americans have a median household income well above US

Nigerians drawn from the wealthiest few percent in Nigeria are wealthier than the average American? Who would have guessed?

The number of African students studying in the US and their relative wealth is not the boast people think it is. It is in fact, in large part, a reflection of the very problems Trump was referring to.


Fighting Men Obsolete

I don’t really have a problem with this:

Royal Marines and Parachute Regiment could merge as part of plans to cut the Armed Forces by more than 14,000
Whitehall sources have dubbed the plan ‘ugly’ as top brass face pressures of plugging a £20bn shortfall in the MoD budget

I mean, on the one hand it’s an absolute travesty: these two units represent the epitome of Britain’s long tradition of being able to field a small but capable body of soldiers. But it’s been quite clear for some time that the purpose of Britain’s armed forces and MoD is not to go around fighting and winning but to provide social welfare to various favoured groups and cushy jobs for the upper-middle classes and establishment types. We therefore don’t need units of tough, aggressive fighting men. Rather than merge the two units, we should get rid of them along with the rest of the MoD. True, it would mean we can’t patrol open sewers in disaster zones or get involved in pointless wars in the Middle East, but I can live with that.


Stating the Obvious

Once again the BBC is running a story on Trump as headline news. Are those protests still going on in Iran? Do we know yet why some dude in Las Vegas shot around 600 people? Has Germany formed a government? Secondary concerns, apparently, to:

US President Donald Trump has reportedly lashed out at immigrants in a foul-mouthed Oval Office outburst.

Oh. But now we’re here, let’s take a closer look.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Mr Trump told lawmakers on Thursday, according to the Washington Post.

Frankly, I ask this question on a daily basis using precisely that terminology. The only difference is I ask it rhetorically because I already know the answer: it’s contained in the question.

But first let’s note the BBC’s use of the term “foul-mouthed” because Trump said “shithole”. All of a sudden this ultra-modern organisation, which cheers each act of destruction visited on aspects of our culture it deems “outdated” and signs up to every virtue-signalling progressive fad, is clutching its pearls because Trump said “shithole”. This in an age when the words “fuck” and “cunt” are the staple of seemingly every scriptwriter.

Secondly, this meeting was closed and Trump’s remarks leaked. It’s not as if he said this during a press conference, and personally I’d prefer presidents to speak freely and frankly in such discussions using terminology which is wholly appropriate than couch their language in ever-shifting politically correct terms because the permanently offended might get upset.

But what’s most amusing is the reaction on social media. Not from the left, they’re a lost cause; I mean from so-called conservatives. They’re busy wringing their hands, denouncing Trump for his blatant racism, looking absolutely no different from the Democrats and still wondering why Trump got elected in the first place. Trump’s comments are pretty innocuous to anyone who is not a deranged anti-Trumper or a fully paid-up member of the media or political establishments. He’s asked the question millions of people across America and Europe have been asking for years, waiting in vain for their leaders to do so. And now he has, and the reason his opponents have gone apoplectic is because they know how much this will resonate with ordinary people they wish didn’t exist. That, and they wish to virtue-signal in order to keep their places in what they think is polite society.

The fact is some countries are shitholes, and calling them such is not racist. Hell, I’d even go further and say the reason they are shitholes is precisely because of the people living in them. The root cause of a country being a shithole is the prevailing culture, and what else is culture but the aggregate behaviour, attitude, and customs of a population? This doesn’t mean any individual from a shithole is to blame, or you should judge them according to the place they’re from. As I said here, you should take individuals as you find them, but that ought not to stop you labeling a place a shithole and placing the blame squarely on the population as a whole. People say the reason East Germany was a shithole was because of communism, but that only prevailed because the Stasi had 100,000 workers and approximately 400,000 informants. If you have half a million people willing to absolutely fuck-over their fellow countryman for personal gain or ideological gratification then yes, that place will be a shithole. Blaming it on abstract political arrangements such as communism, as if it were imposed from a clear blue sky with no involvement from the people themselves, is comforting but it fails to address the root cause of the problem. And as I said in my infamous post on Nigeria:

The problem these decent people have is that they are vastly outnumbered by those who are not.  For every Nigerian who is honest, well-mannered, and diligent you’ll find a hundred whose only goal is to get some money whilst expending the minimum amount of effort possible.  If they can use personal connections, lies, or trickery in lieu of learning a useful skill and applying it, they’ll take that option every time.  It’s a numbers thing: if 50% of Nigerians were more like 10% of them, the country would be okay.  And that’s the fundamental problem of Nigeria summed up in one sentence: way too many dickheads.

This idea that every culture is equal and basket cases that have been that way for centuries without the slightest homegrown improvement are somehow unlucky, and to hold them to any kind of standard is racist, has pervaded every nook and cranny of western culture. Only people aren’t buying it any more, and those people vote. Trump is merely recognising that, while his establishment opponents prefer to banish any such thoughts from the political discourse. Which is why they lost, of course.


Popular Videos

The ZMan has written a post on YouTube personalities which can be summed up as:

The people watching and enjoying her work, are very different people from anyone I know.

ZMan is also not alone when he says:

Until recently, PewDiePie was unknown to me, despite his having 59 million subscribers. He is the #1 YouTube personality.

I was absolutely staggered when I heard about PewDiePie’s popularity, and I mentioned it to a colleague. His eyes lit up and he said, “Oh, that’s nothing: check out this video!”:

At the time of posting, this had been viewed a staggering 144,109,815 times. The shorter version has been viewed 128 million times.

Occasionally I stop and wonder if I’m living on the same planet as everyone else.


Renaming Roads

This is actually a neat bit of provocation:

Washington DC has renamed the street the Russian embassy sits on after a murdered Russian opposition politician.

The city council voted to rename the street outside Russia’s embassy complex after Boris Nemtsov, who was shot outside the Kremlin in 2015.

A statement from the council said the decision to honour the “slain democracy activist” passed unanimously.

It might seem a bit petty to some, but the murder of Boris Nemtsov was appalling. True, five Chechen men (who else?) have been jailed for it, but I doubt even Russians believe it was their idea, assuming they even had anything to do with it. There’s not much anyone can do about it, other than:

His daughter, Zhanna, travelled to Washington DC in early December to advocate for the name change.

Well, good for her. Nobody sane thinks the US should start dropping bombs on Moscow over this, but if they can rename a street at the behest of the murdered man’s daughter and annoy their political enemies? Well, why not?

Frankly, I think this practice should become more widespread. We could rename the road on which the Argentine embassy sits Falkland Islands Avenue, the street which houses the Zimbabwean embassy Ian Smith Street, and the location of the French embassy White Flag Drive. What’s not to like? Suggestions for others in the comments, please.