New York Red

While I was emerging from a subway station on Manhattan’s upper West side last week, I was hollered at by a chap in his mid-to-late twenties sporting a black t-shirt and ginger beard who was standing on a corner handing out newspapers.

“Hey man,” he said “you have a red shirt on, you should read this!”  He thrust a newspaper in front of me that was some Commie publication and had as its headline a call to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act.  I have read that reinstating Glass-Steagall wouldn’t solve much despite its repeal being blamed for the Global Financial Crisis, but I was in no position to argue this particular technicality.

“Where are you from?” he asked me.

“Britain” I said.

“Oh man, with Barclays!  Those assholes have screwed everything!”

“Yes”, I said “they are assholes.”

“So what are we gonna do about it, man?” he asked, thrusting the newspaper at me.

I thought about a response.  What are we going to do about it?  I was going to suggest hanging politicians and lawyers, but I guessed his victim list would differ from mine and I didn’t want to encourage him.  As I was pondering the question he chimed in with “And no, war with Russia isn’t the answer.”

“Ah Russia,” I said “I know the place well.  Lived there for a bit. No, going to war with Russia won’t help much.”

“You were in Russia?  I heard St. Petersburg is beautiful!”

“It is.  It’s a shame everything over there is built on a few million corpses, though.”

“Corpses?” he asked, looking doubtful.  “Which corpses?  Nazis?”

“No.  Ordinary people.  And that’s the problem, isn’t it?  Which way is Central Park?”

“That way,” he said “but you gotta read this…” His voice trailed off as I walked away.

I hope he somehow gets to read this.

More on Trump vs Clinton

By all accounts, if the poll data is correct, Hillary Clinton ought to win November’s presidential election at a canter:

Having been holding his own right up to the conventions, Trump appears to have gone into meltdown while Hillary just carried on as usual.  Senior Republicans are urging their party to abandon their own candidate – who, it should be remembered, won the nomination hands down – having seemingly conceded the presidential race and are looking to shore up their own positions in the Senate and House.  How this is supposed to demonstrate that a party is fit to govern is anyone’s guess: if the Democrats sweep the next elections, the clueless Republicans will only have themselves to blame.

At this point one would normally say that unless major revelations come out about Clinton between now and November, the election is in the bag for her.  Only major revelations about Clinton have been coming out on a weekly basis for as long as I’ve been paying attention and none of them seems to have damaged her in the polls at all.  Quite what a Democrat candidate would need to do in order to experience a collapse in the polls is a question worth pondering.

But with all that said, and Trump being written off, I still think there’s room for a surprise here.  Trump trotted into the Republican nomination in part because many Republican voters and conservatives were fed up of their representatives in both houses pandering to the Democrat agenda, and they felt the other Republican candidates were basically Democrats wearing a different hat and very much part of the same Establishment.  By abandoning Trump and endorsing Clinton, these rebelling Republicans have now gone and proved it.  If Trump doesn’t represent an electable Republican, these “moderate” Republicans who are throwing their toys out of the pram make him look like Ronald Reagan.

Where I think the surprise might come from is people putting too much faith in polls, social media, and the traditional media.  The heavy defeat suffered by Labour in the 2015 UK General Election came as a complete surprise to everyone – not least the pollsters, who were confident right up the exit polls that it would be either a hung parliament or a narrow Labour victory.  The next morning, social media was filled mainly with those wailing about the result, as was a good chunk of the mainstream media.  Many questions were raised about how this happened, how all the experts, commentators, and pollsters had somehow missed the mood of the country.

Only the same thing happened again in June when the UK voted to leave the EU by a margin of just under 4% on a turnout of an impressive 72.2% (the turnout in the 2015 General Election was 66.4%, and in 2001 just 59.4%).  In the build up to the vote, every major political party, newspaper, and TV station came out in favour of remaining, and countless experts, business leaders, and other commentators both domestic and foreign maintained a continuous, overwhelming narrative of doom and disaster should Britain vote to leave. The Leave side were dismissed by the entire Establishment and political classes as being backward racists who didn’t understand anything, and even Barack Obama weighed in on the side of Remain in an episode that did little to alleviate historical British complaints of American cack-handedness.  On the night of the vote it appeared the Leave campaign would have no chance against such an onslaught…yet Britain awoke on the morning of 24th June to discover that they’d won.  As with the Conservative victory in May 2015, social media and most traditional outlets were dominated for the week by two themes: much wailing from the losing side, and utter incomprehension as to how this happened.  In the case of Brexit, the message was effectively:

“How did these backward, ignorant racists win?  All the right thinking, smart people voted to remain!”

There is no concrete explanation for how the Establishment, media, experts, and pollsters got things so badly wrong and failed to gauge the mood of the country, but I suspect it went something like this.  Having dominated the media for so long, sealed themselves off from opposing views, shouted the loudest on social media, and sought to outlaw views deemed unacceptable, the Establishment and their supporters have forced their opponents into hiding.  Most ordinary folk are just trying to go about their lives, earn a living, and support their families, and aren’t interested in social justice crusades and slanging matches across the Interwebs.  Nor are they interested in being berated by complete strangers for holding quite reasonable political views, and in an increasingly hostile climate they have taken to remaining silent rather than answer questions or respond accurately to pollsters.  Even somebody as thick-skinned and obnoxious as myself has occasionally found it is better just to nod along with some idiotic left-wing opinion than to mention I’m of an altogether different political stripe.  Better just to shut up and take full advantage of the secret ballot.

This isn’t anything new.  The “shy Tory” has been a phenomenon for years, but I think with the spread of social media, the particular vindictiveness with which the Establishment and their supporters operate in contrast to ordinary people, and the increasingly repressive restrictions on expressing (or even merely holding) opinions which to many people are quite reasonable has greatly increased this effect.  We’ve seen it in action twice in the UK, and although the US is not the same place I am wondering whether this most unusual of elections will reveal that the conditions are much the same over there.

For now we have almost the entire Establishment: politicians, business leaders, the media, celebrities, religious figures, foreign elites, all telling us that Trump will be a disaster and under no circumstances should anyone who doesn’t want to murder all minorities vote for him, and all the polls, commentators, and experts are telling us Hillary is set to win by a mile.  Only I have an inkling that this sort of thing is precisely what propelled Trump to the nomination in the first place, and is precisely the sort of thing that will seriously piss off the great, silent minority into turning out to vote for him for no other reason than to tell the Establishment they are tired of being insulted and ignored.  It could be I’m entirely wrong and the polling data will reflect how people actually vote, but I think this election could throw up a surprise or two yet.

More on Carrier Bags

I can’t believe I’m going to write a second post on carrier bags, let alone in the same week as the first, but that’s blogging for you.  Tim Worstall did me a solid and linked to my piece over at his own blog, whereupon a number of people missed the point.  So I’ll clarify.

Firstly, I wrote about my specific experience in my local supermarket where buying a carrier bag for 5p is not an option, so for all those people throwing their hands in the air and saying “Oh, it’s only 5p!” unfortunately it isn’t.  And I’ll come back to you lot later.   Although I did notice last time I was in that they’ve started offering paper bags (I don’t know for how much), so at least now customers have a (presumably) cheap option.  But if tens of millions of paper bags are more environmentally friendly to produce, use, and dispose of than plastic bags then fair enough: but I don’t think it’s enough just to assume they are.

And that’s part of my problem with the ban.  One of Tim’s commenters said:

I don’t see the objection. If you buy groceries unplanned, you pay 5p for a bag. Meanwhile, the charge has caused a massive reduction in plastic bag use, and the world will be a very slightly better place for it.

Why is it assumed that a reduction in plastic bag use makes the world a better place?  Was it better for the poor lady in Avignon whose groceries spilled all over the street?  Does using stronger, reusable plastic bags offer an overall improvement?  If so, where are the studies to back it up?  This article (thanks, Bardon) suggests the alternatives are not as good for the environment, partly because (as Tim W mentions) people would reuse carrier bags for other purposes anyway, and now they’ll be buying specific bags.

I think what has driven this ban is an assumption that the use of plastic is in itself bad.  Why, other than some vague reference to “the environment”, is not really explained.  An acquaintance of mine here in Paris took it upon herself to tell me she disagreed with my article and supported the ban because it reduced plastic use.  When I asked why she thought this was a good thing, she said there is a lot of plastic in the sea.  Which is true, but I very much doubt the plastic in the sea takes the form of carrier bags given away at checkouts in European supermarkets.  But somebody has taken the leap from plastic in the sea to plastic in general and flogged it to the gullible in order to support a ban.  Others talked about noticing a reduction in litter since the ban came into effect.  Do we have data showing litter in the form of carrier bags across Europe before and after the various bans, are people happy to go with anecdotes and feelings?  For if we accept the use of plastic in itself is bad, why carrier bags?  Should we ban Bic biros and force everyone to use pencils?

What bothered me about the ban is that it was more than likely proposed by a “charity” or pressure-group whose members will almost certainly be wealthy middle-class; the ban would have been taken up by politicians who probably haven’t bought a trolley-load from a supermarket since barcode scanners came in; and now the population can sit back in smug satisfaction at having made the world a better place.  Only a better place for whom?  The wealthy middle-classes, of course.  But what about the poor?  The middle-classes who agitated for this ban probably don’t have to go shopping with 3 kids and take the bus home, do they?  Oh no, they’ll drive the car to the nearest Waitrose, if they don’t already live within walking distance.  Tell me, what would you rather use to take 15kgs of shopping home on the bus, a paper bag or a carrier bag?  (Incidentally, my French acquaintance who approves of the ban lives alone and directly opposite an organic farmers’ market.)  And for all the quips about being organised enough to bring a bag in advance, most people don’t realise that the lives of the poor are usually neither organised nor predictable, not least because people who live appallingly disorganised lives through no fault of their own are usually poor as a result.

And that’s what really pissed me off about the “Oh, it’s only 5p!” remark.  Yes, it is only 5p, but it is 5p multiplied by however many carrier bags that is being taken out of the grocery budgets of the poorest in society.  Of course the wealthy middle-classes can afford 5p, and as far as purchasing a moment of self-righteous smugness goes, this is pretty cheap.  But this tax (for it is effectively that) is not the only one in existence and every incremental increase in the cost of living has made western Europe seriously bloody expensive to live in.  So yes, it might be “only 5p”, but when you’re shit poor and you’ve been hit with another two or three dozen charges of “only” some nominal amount, it might not seem so negligible.  It might also grate a little that those who lobbied for it are sitting in a quarter-of-a-million quid house.

And that was my point about the Soviet Union: the privileged imposing artificial material restrictions on society which hit those at the bottom hardest, all the while saying it is for their own good.

In summary, I’m not necessarily saying the ban on carrier bags is a bad thing.  I just take objection to people making the assumption that plastic use is in itself bad, alternatives better, and the ban good as if it these were self-evident truths; and the lifestyle preferences of the wealthy middle-classes being imposed on everyone else with nothing but condescending dismissal of the costs and inconvenience to those not so fortunate.

Putin prefers Trump, but why?

Via Samizdata, I came across this article by Michael Totten, who is more usually known for his superb reporting from the Middle East.  The theme of the article is the supposed mutual admiration between Putin and Trump, and there has been lots of discussion recently regarding which of the two presidential candidates Russia prefers:

He’s not a Russian “Manchurian” candidate. He doesn’t take orders from Moscow, nor is Vlad bankrolling the Donald. There is no conspiracy here. There doesn’t need to be. Their interests and opinions align organically. Trump genuinely likes Putin, and the feeling is mutual.

Although it appears that Putin and his fellow Russians do prefer Trump over Hillary, I think most commentators have missed the point as to why.  Everybody I have read has focussed on policies and which of the two would be more likely to oppose Russia’s interests and ambitions.  Personally, I don’t think at this stage policies have much to do with it.  I think it is all down to character and personality.

Russians actually don’t mind people opposing them.  If you stand up to a Russian, they will on some level respect you and maybe even admire you.  Russians still admire Margaret Thatcher, despite her being wholeheartedly against everything they stood for at the time, and they do so because she was strong and had political courage.  Russians didn’t like George W. Bush much in terms of policies, but I always got the impression they had a sneaking admiration for his determination to actual do what he said he was going to.

What Russians absolutely detest is the sort of cowardly, half-hearted, and flip-flopping behaviour seen by pretty much every European politician and epitomised by Barack Obama: the weasel words over the shooting down of MH17, the capitulation to Iran over the captured US sailors, the backtracking over the “red lines” in Syria, and a multitude of other international and domestic issues which required somebody to have the courage to talk tough, make a decision, and follow through on it.

Russians are an old-fashioned lot and they have not bought into the PC niceties which the police are now enforcing in the west.  They expect their male leaders to exhibit masculine behaviour and their females tough and uncompromising in their defence of Russian interests.  Sometimes they take this too far and you get the ridiculous pictures of Putin fishing with his shirt off, etc. but underlying this is a genuine desire to see their country run by people with a set of balls.  What Russians will never, ever respect is somebody who is lauded for being a brilliant intellectual but is photographed doing this:

And this picture may have captured the hearts of American women over 35 and the pajama boys, but I could imagine it being passed around the briefing room in the Kremlin to hoots of laughter:

To put it crudely, as most Russians would, they think Obama and his counterparts in Europe are a bunch of effeminate pussies.  Regardless of their policies, I suspect most Russians who have fought (literally) their way to the top of the pile in the Kremlin can’t stand dealing with them simply because of their characters.

So when it comes to Trump, at a guess I would say Russians admire the man for standing up, speaking his mind, pissing everyone off, laughing at the PC-brigade trying to silence him, and having a wife worthy of any Russian oligarch.  As for Hillary, they probably see her as a washed-up grandma riding on the coat-tails of a man who was shagging the interns behind her back.  If you know Russians, it’s not hard to see why they might admire Trump more than Clinton.  But I doubt it has anything to do with policies, not yet anyway.

Chesterton’s Fence and Carrier Bags

As with seemingly a good portion of my newly-acquired knowledge, I first heard about Chesterton’s Fence over at Tim Worstall’s blog.  Chesterton’s Fence is the principle that reforms should not be made until the reasoning behind the existing state of affairs is understood:

[L]et us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

I’d actually forgotten about this until it was mentioned again more recently in the comments at Tim Worstall’s, and it reminded me of something I saw in Avignon the weekend before last, which in turn reminded me of something I had been thinking for a while.

While in Avignon, I was walking down a busy shopping street when I saw a young lady carrying a large paper bag full of groceries in her arms.  As I walked past her, the bottom of the bag fell out and the groceries went everywhere.  I commented to my companion that there are very good reasons why plastic carrier bags were invented and became extremely popular, and that I’d often thought these reasons were not properly considered when France banned them at the beginning of July (my local supermarket stopped providing them sometime last year, and they don’t even give you the option of buying them like you can in British supermarkets).

The American practice of using paper bags doesn’t really work in any place where you have to walk any distance with groceries, let alone use public transport.  The American-style paper bags are designed to be packed by a former convict and wheeled to your car in a trolley, not carted down the street by hand.  They don’t even have handles for a start, and the young lady who I saw in Avignon was carrying hers in her arms as if it were a child.

I think the behaviour that governments and the lobbyists want the citizens to adopt is one whereby they turn up to the supermarket with one or more robust, reusable grocery bags but this only really works when the shopping trip is planned.  What somebody is supposed to do if they pop into the supermarket to buy more than two items on the way home is anyone’s guess, unless they fancy forking out a fiver for one of those robust, reusable grocery bags.  I expect what we’ll find is people taking up the habit of carrying around a small, compact bag in case they need to do some unscheduled grocery shopping at some point in the day.  During the good old days of the Soviet Union, the happy citizens would routinely carry around a string bag called an avoska, which roughly translates as “perhaps bag”, on the off-chance they would stumble across a store selling something worth buying and would be able to carry it home (before swapping it with a neighbour or friend in return for something they might actually want).

For some people, particularly middle-class environmentalists, forcing the masses to adopt practices common in the Soviet Union is probably seen as progress.

Trump’s Isolationism

Very few people recall this, or at least they don’t mention it anymore, but George W. Bush was elected as President of the USA after running a campaign which was very isolationist.  Bush Jr. spoke during his election campaign of bringing American troops home from Europe, closing bases overseas, and expecting other countries to do a lot more to provide for their own security.  I was a subscriber to The Economist at the time and I remember much wailing from the Europeans and other progressives that this backward cowboy didn’t understand the complexities of the world outside Texas and that America under his presidency would abandon its responsibilities around the globe.  I recall the Germans being particularly incensed that US bases on which the economy of entire towns depend might close, and the criticism was neither polite nor restrained.

9/11 changed all that.  Bush had little choice but to go after the Taliban once they’d refused to hand over Osama bin Laden, and pretty quickly Bush realised that America could not isolate itself from the world in the way he wanted.  And once this turnaround occurred and the US military machine built up momentum…well, we had Iraq and any memories of Bush being an isolationist keen on keeping the military at home disappeared completely.

Not that this meant much to Bush’s earlier critics: the complaints went from his being a backward Texan cowboy wanting to abandon the USA’s security responsibilities to his being a backward Texan cowboy who was too ready to use American military power overseas.  The ease with which the same people switched reversed their criticism said a lot more about them than Bush.  Effectively – and this is the basis of a lot of the criticism the US had regarding Iraq and the Gulf – Europeans want the USA to shoulder the lion’s share of global security (including safeguarding their own countries) in terms of money, men, and material but wish to dictate exactly how the Americans should go about doing that.

Well the world doesn’t work like that.  The world’s elite didn’t want the Americans to invade Iraq in 2003 but – as P.J. O’Rourke pointed out – when Kuwait got invaded in 1990, nobody called Sweden.  So by default American earned itself some say in how it goes about fulfilling the task that the whole world has dumped on it, regardless of the attempts made in the UN to get America to pay the price of containing Saddam Hussein while the likes of France and Russia went about normalising relations with him.

The problem the Europeans now have with the prospect of a Trump presidency is a serious one as he appears to be keen to adopt similar isolationist policies to those that Bush originally campaigned on.  The isolationism espoused by Bush was popular enough among Americans at the time, but they quickly changed their minds after 9/11.  Now they have had over a decade of vitriolic abuse and universal condemnation for having used their troops overseas in a manner not approved by Europeans, any wailing from Europe about America abandoning them might well fall on deaf ears indeed.

I often thought those that vehemently opposed the US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq might rue the day when the US military decides it will stay at home and let nature take its course.  If Trump wins the presidency in November, that day might be closer than I thought.

House of Cards: Feminist Shite

(If anybody doesn’t want to read spoilers of Seasons 1-4 of the American TV series House of Cards, don’t read this post.)

I recently finished the fourth and most recent season of the American TV series House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and nobody else who can act.  Several people had recommended it to me, with one or two saying it was “amazing”.  Perhaps I should have been forewarned by the fact that two of these people were women of a feminist persuasion.

Seasons 1 and 2 weren’t bad, and depicted an utterly unscrupulous and ruthless Kevin Spacey manipulating situations and people as he wormed his way from Democratic party whip to Vice President and finally to President of the United States.  What I found most interesting about the first two seasons was that it showed what I suspect is the true nature of politics, i.e. politicians making decisions which affect millions of people purely to further their own personal ambitions.  The series lays bare the corrupt and unprincipled nature of politicians and politics for all to see, yet the show is loved by people who favour big government and believe politicians should have ever-more involvement in people’s lives.  I know at least one fan who decries the antics of Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood yet intends to vote for Hillary Clinton in November.  Go figure.

But somewhere between Seasons 2 and 3 the feminists got hold of the script and effectively made the show all about Frank Underwood’s wife, played by Robin Wright.  She played a reasonable supporting role in the first two seasons, ably assisting her husband in his rise to the top (but also betraying him in more ways than one), but during Season 3 she revealed her own political ambitions and contrived to land herself the position of US ambassador to the UN.  During the nomination process her opponents pointed to her utter lack of experience yet she obtains the position anyway thanks to her husband’s prerogative to just appoint somebody of his choosing – whereupon she promptly makes a complete idiot of herself and the United States by being played like a fiddle by the Russians.  I thought at this point she’d be relegated to a supporting role again, her character having been shown to lack experience or competence in a political role –  as her opponents were saying (and any reasonably viewer thinking) all along.

But no.  The feminists who had hijacked the script were having none of it.  Season 4 saw Frank Underwood lying in a coma having been shot in an assassination attempt, a weak VP in temporary charge, and First Lady Claire Underwood running about doing what she likes as though she had some constitutional authority to do so.  A strong, experienced, and somewhat ruthless female secretary of state allows herself to be bullied by Claire into submission, to the ridiculous extent that it is Claire who is sent into a room alone with the Russian president to negotiate a solution to some strategic issue of vital importance.  And of course, Claire gets the notoriously stubborn Putin-a-like to capitulate by browbeating him in a manner in which I suspect feminists think women should speak to their husbands.  As the season advances, Claire finds herself able to order members of the presidential staff around on whim, involving herself in matters of national security even to the point of being in the situation room, and not a single person in the administration raises a squeak in protest.

This wouldn’t be so irritating were it not for the fact that each scene of Claire’s brilliance takes on exactly the same form.  She wears the same arse-hugging style of dress or skirt in every shot, she manages a single facial expression throughout the entire series, and for each pivotal scene the only thing that changes are the words being spoken.  It quickly becomes repetitive, and not a little tedious.  But not content with that, the feminists have to ramp it up by making Claire the object of seemingly every key man’s sexual desire as well.  In Seasons 1 and 2 she is shagging a rather hip British photographer who is world famous, the type that would in real life be hanging around models from Eastern Europe.  But in House of Cards he’s pining after the ageing wife of a US senator.  She finds herself fending off the advances of the (divorced) Russian president, who tells Frank that she is truly beautiful, or something like that.  Because prominent Russians are well known for flattering American women and have difficulty picking up stunners back home.  Uh-huh.  In Season 4 Claire is shagging a famous author, a younger man hired by Frank to write their speeches or biographies, or something.  When Frank finds out he doesn’t mind, and this ruthless motherfucker who committed two murders in his ascendancy to the White House doesn’t just accept it, but gives the couple his blessing.  Again, the idea that a famous author would fall in love with the older wife of the US president instead of having a beautiful, loving partner of his own doesn’t even get questioned.  Despite various betrayals on her part of her husband’s political maneuverings plus the aforementioned infidelities, Frank wakes from his coma praising her to the heavens, forgiving her in full, and stating in unequivocal terms that she is the most important person in the entire series.  Even the wife of the Republican presidential nominee is forced by the scriptwriters to shower her with gushing praise during a visit to the White House.  Season 4 ends with her being nominated as the VP on her husband’s ticket, having seen off seasoned and ruthless female opponents by making hackneyed speeches in a figure-hugging dress.

The audience, by having it rammed down their throats every episode, is expected to unconditionally accept that Claire Underwood is a brilliant politician, responsible for every success her husband has achieved, desired sexually by every man who meets her, and is easily capable as a president herself (there is a Season 5 on the way).  By contrast, despite a brief affair with a young journalist in Season 1, her husband Frank is a greying, cuckolded, semi-invalid who owes her everything.  It is the definition of tedious, and I almost didn’t make it to the end of the series.  Watching this rubbish during the current buildup to the US presidential election, I got the feeling that the scriptwriters were fantasizing about what Michelle Obama could do in her position as First Lady.  Now I see the progressive media praising her speech at the Democratic National Convention for all its worth, I am wondering if a section of the American liberal left haven’t confused real-life politics for a TV show.