The FBI and Political Campaigning

Until the news of some Irish terrorist dying this morning displaced it, the BBC once again ran an anti-Trump opinion piece as its main story of the day:

After a bit of grandstanding on the part of the top members of the House Intelligence Committee and a warm-up act from National Security Agency head Mike Rogers, Mr Comey led with the big news of the day.

“I have been authorised by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign, and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” he said.

That there is an investigation isn’t exactly breaking news – the BBC’s Paul Wood reported on it in early January – but official acknowledgement is a significant development.

Well, yes. Some of us are wondering when all those making noises about Russia and the 2016 Presidential Election are going to put up or shut up. So far it’s been nothing but rumour, innuendo, and hearsay. We’ve not even been told exactly what Russia is supposed to have done and the mechanism by which this is supposed to have unduly influenced the election. I’d have thought this would be a good starting point before anyone worries about “links” between “individuals associated with the Trump campaign” and the Russian government. But this isn’t so much an investigation as a political campaign.

The fact that his investigation first began in July, during the heat of the 2016 election campaign, will likely leave Democrats howling. They will contrast Mr Comey’s wide-ranging comments on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server with his until-recent silence surrounding the Trump-related inquiry.

I am sure many people have noticed the contrast between the FBI’s treatment of Hillary over her email server and the noise being made over Trump’s alleged connections to Russia. Only it won’t be the contrast the BBC thinks it is.

Mr Rogers also said that the intelligence community stands behind the declassified report it issued in early January that concluded that the Russia government attempted to influence the US election in a way that helped Mr Trump’s candidacy.

The report which was full of woolly innuendo and contained no proper description of what this “influence” entailed, let alone any evidence for it?

The other big revelation of the day was how thoroughly both Mr Comey and Mr Rogers debunked the president-tweeted allegation that Barack Obama or his Justice Department had authorised the wiretapping of Trump Tower.

“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration,” Mr Comey said, “I have no information that supports those tweets. And we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”

Well, the allegation will only have been thoroughly debunked if their denial is believed. Perhaps Trump wasn’t wiretapped and he made it all up, I’m quite happy to believe that. But if he was telling the truth, could we rely on the FBI in its current form not to mislead the public, e.g. by using an extremely narrow definition of “wiretapping” to sidestep the allegation? There’s been so much bullshit emitted that nobody knows who or what to believe any more.

Indeed, the ability to order such surveillance was outside the powers of any president, Mr Comey said.

Which, as Streetwise Professor noted at the time, is the sort of statement a lawyer comes out with. Sure, Obama did not have the power to authorise any surveillance, but that in itself does not make surveillance of Trump on behalf of Obama an impossibility. As a debunking, it probably only satisfies those who are politically opposed to Trump from the outset. Like the BBC, for instance.

Mr Rogers also dismissed allegations that Mr Obama had bypassed domestic surveillance controls by requesting that British intelligence oversee the operation, noting that the accusation “frustrates a key ally of ours”.

That’s neither here nor there, though: GCHQ would be equally frustrated if the accusations were true. Again, why the red herrings?

Although the FBI case has been open since July, Mr Comey said the effort is still in its early stages.

“For counterintelligence investigations, that’s a fairly short period of time,” he said.

That has to be more than a bit disconcerting to the Trump White House, which has been knocked off course by this Russia story since practically the moment Mr Trump took the oath of office. And while the administration seems intent on cracking down on unauthorised leaks out of this investigation, their efforts are unlikely to succeed.

A one-two punch of those revelations and any new developments in the FBI investigation is likely to keep the Trump team off balance for quite some time.

And finally we’re getting to the real story. This investigation is not about rooting out nefarious Russian plots to throw the US election, it is to ensure the Trump administration is so bogged down in “scandal” that it can’t get on with the business of running the country and, in the hopes of Trump’s political opponents, makes his position untenable. As has been pointed out many times before, this whole “Russia hacked the election” story is simply the one that his opponents picked as the most likely to generate the greatest volume of noise, having tried sexism, misogyny, vote-rigging, and fake news already. Trump’s opponents – the Democrats, most of the Republicans, the media, and anyone foreign – believe that by making as much froth as possible they can spin this into a scandal and plant the idea in the public’s minds that this is the next Watergate. They hope that people will think there is no smoke without fire and gain the impression that Trump is hopelessly compromised and should resign or be impeached, mere months into his tenure. This is why the BBC is running story after story about this, it is merely playing its part as political opposition to Trump.

The interesting question is how effective this will be. These are exactly the same people taking exactly the same approach they did during the election itself, and enough Americans were sufficiently disgusted at what they saw that they voted for Trump anyway. It’s hard to believe these tactics are working any better now. Sure, those who were already opposed to Trump will buy wholesale into this pantomime, but I can’t see anyone who held their nose and voted for Trump to escape the Establishment’s vice-grip on American politics thinking they have not been vindicated.

As has been noted before, the establishment politicians, media, and others appear hell-bent on making America ungovernable in the delusional belief that they can unseat Trump, get their hands on the levers of power again, and everything will go back to normal. They honestly think that it is merely the flesh-and-blood Trump that is preventing them from going back to the cosy status-quo where Democrats did whatever they want and Republicans meekly went along with it through fear the press would call them racist.

But those days are gone, and if Trump vanishes in a puff of smoke tomorrow the social forces that put him there will remain, and they won’t be in the mood to be ignored any more. Sure, half the country might endorse the any-means-necessary approach to securing political victory even if it destroys the nation in the process, but the other half won’t, not now.

But what would happen, [Lawfare blog editor Benjamin] Wittes wondered, if Mr Comey’s FBI investigation is turning up real evidence?

Well, indeed what? Trump’s going to get impeached because “former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort…had ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians”? What’s the end-game, here? If there was serious wrongdoing it would have been described already and evidence provided. If the Establishment and their pro-Obama allies in the various intelligence agencies are going to bring down a sitting president over this kind of nonsense, and the American public accept it, then they deserve everything they’ve got coming to them. My guess is they won’t.

Martin Schulz

Herr Schulz seems to be a tad confused:

The candidate named by Germany’s Social Democrats to challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel, Martin Schulz, has vowed to fight populism if his party wins the elections due in September.

At an SPD party meeting in Berlin, he denounced Eurosceptics and the “racist” rhetoric of US President Donald Trump.

Mr Schultz also said that as leader of the EU Parliament he had always stood up “to those who attempt to destroy this project of unity”.

“Those people find in me a determined opponent,” he added.

Referring to Donald Trump, he denounced what he called the president’s “misogynistic, anti-democratic and racist” rhetoric.

What does any of this have to do with Germany? Is Trump running for office there? Or is that all it takes to win votes in Germany, parrot what global lefties are saying about Trump? God help them if he wins.

Francis Turner has more on Schulz here.

What Companies (Don’t) Want

Via Adam, this article:

Surveys of the key skills employers seek in graduates continue to place so-called “soft skills” – like verbal and written communication skills, the ability to work collaboratively in teams and to influence others – in the top ten. But a 2016 report found that other skills – such as critical thinking, problem-solving, attention to detail, and writing – top the list of missing skills among job-seekers.

These skills are rated as being important across all jobs and industries. And employees not having these skills costs businesses thousands of dollars per year.

A US survey has found miscommunication costs businesses with up to 100 staff an average of US$420,000 per year. Even more staggeringly, in another study, 400 businesses with at least 100,000 employees each claimed that inadequate communication cost an average of US$62.4 million per company per year.

I can well believe that having employees with the ability to explain themselves clearly, write a concise and understandable email, and prepare properly-structured and well-written reports is of great benefit to a company. I can also believe that such skills would make the top ten in a list of what employers desire.

What I don’t believe is that such “soft skills” are considered in the least bit important when it comes to recruitment, retention, and promotion. Sure, they might make the top ten but one must bear in mind that Mecca Cola probably makes it into the top ten best-selling cola products. There will be two, possibly three, key skills that companies require and the rest are largely irrelevant. For all the talk about the important of “soft skills”, they only ever get mentioned when an HR department is talking up its own importance, someone is peddling a training course, or you’re getting a bollocking for upsetting somebody. A look at the average email or report will tell you that written communication skills aren’t considered very important in the modern business world.

I have my own experience to offer up in support of this statement. I don’t think I’m getting too far above my own station when I say I have pretty good writing skills, and I have the ability to convey quite complex information in a structured, logical, and clear manner. There are better writers around than me, far better, but not many of them are engineers. Back when I was doing my A-levels my chemistry teacher told me I was rather uncommon in that I was a scientist who could write, and advised that I make use of that. I can honestly say that being able to write quickly and accurately has helped me a lot in my professional life, but insofar as it has been recognised by any employer over the past 17 years I might as well type with my fists when drunk. There have been one or two occasions, three at the most, where my writing abilities have been recognised in passing but they’ve certainly not contributed in any way to the positions I have been offered or the tasks I have been assigned. I might be a very, very average engineer who rubs people up the wrong rather too often but I would bet that I’ve been one of the best writers of English in any of the companies I’ve worked for (yes, even the big ones). Out of the technical staff I reckon I’d win that contest hands-down. Nobody even noticed, let alone put it to use.

In short, I’d not pay much attention to what companies say they want; I’d instead look at what they actually do. Revealed preferences, I believe these are called. And they’re not in the least bit interested in whether you can write.

Chuck Berry

I must have been about ten or eleven when I first heard a Chuck Berry song. It was night time and I was supposed to be sleeping, but I was listening to a handheld radio belonging to my brother through an ancient earpiece that had been in the family since way before I was born. It might have been the John Peel show – I certainly listened to him in that manner around the same time – but I can’t be sure. The film Back to the Future had passed me by, thanks to living in a town without a proper cinema and a household without a television, so that night under the covers was the first time I heard Johnny B. Goode or indeed any other Chuck Berry song.

I loved it. I spent the next year or two trying to catch it again on the radio (that was basically what you had to do back then, unless you knew somebody who owned an album; music on demand was another two decades away). A few months later my sister somewhat pointlessly told me the song had just come on but she’d switched station and only after she changed back did she hear the DJ say what it was (she knew I was waiting to hear it again). Listening to music was a very different experience in those days.

At some point in the early ’90s my father went to Dubai for work, at a time when the Emirate was little more than a pirate haven and they’d not even bridged the creek yet. It was known as a place where you could buy knock-off albums on cassette, and my Dad came back with an armful including one calling itself “The Best of Chuck Berry”. I got hold of it in short order and listened to the whole lot in one go, and quickly found there were songs I liked much more than Johnny B. Goode. Two of my favourites were Sweet Little Sixteen, which the Beach Boys effectively copied to make Surfin’ USA; and Sweet Little Rock and Roller. The latter is still one of my favourite songs of all time, mainly because it brings about a feeling of unquenchable optimism. The cascading intro is simply superb.

I also loved Promised Land, a song about a young man making his way coast-to-coast across the USA and overcoming various obstacles while remaining happy and optimistic (there’s that word again), set to the same rhythm (as I found out later) as The Wabash Cannonball. When I first met my now long-term friend from South Carolina in the summer of 2000 as I was idly driving through his neighbourhood, I told he and his friends that I had heard of nearby Rock Hill because it is mentioned in a Chuck Berry song. None of them knew what I was talking about, and they laughed. Elvis Presley covered Promised Land while, ironically, Berry was sat in jail and going precisely nowhere and it is his version which was used in the film Men in Black. There is also a superb version by Johnny Allen with a magnificent accordion solo played by Cajun musician Belton Richard.

There were other songs I liked just as much. I was already extremely familiar with You Never Can Tell by the time Pulp Fiction made it famous; Let It Rock is a wonderful little song about a railroad work crew getting in the way of a train. I was never that much of a fan of his more established songs, such as Brown Eyed Handsome Man, Maybelline, and Too Much Monkey Business; I generally preferred his less well-known stuff.

I remember being somewhat surprised when I was in my early teens to discover Chuck Berry was still alive. If somebody had told me he’d go on for another 25+ years, I’d never have believed them. All of the rock and roll legends belonged to an era so long before my time that they all seemed dead, but Chuck Berry survived. I took the time to read up a little about the man himself, and by all accounts he was a bit of a dick. He did three stints in jail: the first for armed robbery when he was a teenager, then again in 1962 for breaching the Mann Act when he took a 14-year old girl across state lines, then once more in 1979 for tax evasion. Unlike many black musicians of the era, Berry was not from a disadvantaged background. As Wikipedia tells us:

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry was the fourth child in a family of six. He grew up in the north St. Louis neighborhood known as The Ville, an area where many middle-class people lived at the time. His father, Henry, was a contractor and deacon of a nearby Baptist church; his mother, Martha, was a certified public school principal. His upbringing allowed him to pursue his interest in music from an early age. He gave his first public performance in 1941 while still a student at Sumner High School.

He was also a very canny businessman. While other musicians, particularly poor blacks, were being fleeced by their record companies, Berry insisted on money up front and was careful never to sign away all his rights. Given he was working with Leonard Chess, who was known for his ruthless business practices, one must assume that Chuck Berry knew how to look after himself. Unfortunately there was a downside to his penny-watching ways: Berry shunned the use of a professional backing band and would often turn up in a town a day or two before a concert and hire local musicians to accompany him on stage. Some of his live shows are obviously mind-blowing, but all too many of them were compromised by Berry’s unwillingness to take on a proper backing band. Even Berry’s own individual performances suffered: I have a friend who saw him live in Manchester 20 or 30 years ago and he was an embarrassment, dropping notes all over the place and clearly not up to the task. I’ve heard others say similar things about his live performances in his later years.

There is no denying that Chuck Berry was probably the biggest influence on rock and roll music, and without him we might not have had The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and countless more. Everyone will be singing the praises of Chuck Berry following his passing at aged 90 yesterday, and the accolades will be thoroughly deserved. He really was brilliant.

When various music greats died last year – David Bowie, Motorhead’s Lemmy, George Michael – I didn’t say much, mainly because I wasn’t a fan of their music. That’s not the case with Chuck Berry. I’ve been a Chuck Berry fan for as as long as I’ve been listening to music, his upbeat tempos and lyrics providing me with a hope and optimism of a world outside the miserably wet corner of Wales I grew up in, bored senseless. There will be lots of people jumping on the Chuck Berry bandwagon over this next few days: I’m not one of them. I liked his music for real, always did, and always will.

Thanks for the music, Chuck.

Chaos at Orly

I’m rather glad I went through Orly airport last weekend, not this one:

A man has been shot dead after trying to seize a soldier’s weapon at Orly airport in Paris, French officials say.

He was killed by the security forces in a shop after the attack in the airport’s southern terminal.

The airport has been shut after what the authorities described as an extremely serious incident.

The eye witnesses interviewed in the article are clearly unfamiliar with France and how things are done over here:

“We were sitting in Hall Three when all of a sudden people started running and telling us to run with them,” Ellie Guttetter, 18, from the US said.

“The people running were passengers and flight attendants. It was pretty chaotic and everyone was panicking – it was scary.”

Another eyewitness, Meredith Dixon, described seeing panicked airline personnel, with no security or police personnel to usher people outside the airport complex.

“It was complete chaos,” she told the BBC.

“There were no alarms. No overhead announcements. No organised evacuation. People just began running.

“In the meantime, passengers kept arriving at the airport. I am stunned that after the events in this country, and Paris in particular, the airport had no organised evacuation plan for what I would surmise is a high-value target.”

This doesn’t surprise me in the least. A few years back a friend of mine, a Russian, was travelling on an Air France flight when one of the passengers took ill. She started having some kind of seizure and collapsed on the floor. The stewardesses had no idea what to do and so called their chief from first class, a man. He arrived and also had no idea what to do and started to panic. This induced panic in the rest of the stewardesses which was quickly transferred to the nearby passengers. Eventually somebody got the sick woman some medicine from within her hand baggage and things calmed down. I remarked to my friend that I’d seen a similar incident take place on an Aeroflot flight and the stewardesses just took it in their stride: asked some firm questions, got the answers, and administered some medicine. My friend and I also had a discussion about how Russians, especially men, really aren’t prone to panic. Stuff goes catastrophically wrong in Russia so often that people are used to it, and learn to deal with it. I expect the Aeroflot staff wouldn’t panic even if the plane was upside down and on fire.

Chaos and panic are common in France, as is poor organisation, especially when things go wrong. There are reasons for this. In France, promotions in organisations are achieved not by the calm, consistent delivery of quality output but by firstly being a member of an elite group, and then secondly by doing everything in your power to stand out in meetings where the hierarchy is present, preferably by making your rivals look stupid. One of the most common ways to do this is to “challenge” somebody or something, i.e. make yourself look smarter than whoever set up the prevailing orthodoxy. Nobody got anywhere in France by following the rules; those who want to get ahead must learn to break them as a matter of routine.

They would have had an evacuation plan at Orly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve actually held drills. The problem is, every drill would have gone differently as successive people in charge decided they knew better than the person who drew up the plan. Yes, if you spend a decade or more climbing the greasy pole in a French organisation, eventually you start to believe your own bullshit and genuinely think you know more than anyone else. Until the shit really hits the fan that is, and then it’s panic followed rapidly by finding somebody to blame. France has some of the most brilliant minds in the world at its disposal, but sound management eludes them and they lack leaders almost entirely.

It is worth looking at the fate of Air France 447, which came down in 2009 between Rio de Janeiro and Paris. A 2011 article in Popular Mechanics went into considerable detail as to the causes of the crash, going through the cockpit recordings line-by-line. It paints a dismal picture of experienced pilots engaged in a litany of human errors as they abandon warnings, procedures, and protocols because – presumably – they think they know better. When I first read about this the crash started to make sense.

The primary reason for intensive training in dealing with emergency scenarios and carrying out drills is to ensure key people will be familiar with the chaotic environment and won’t panic, and each person will know exactly what their role is so, together, they can bring the situation under control. But French organisations have a culture of promoting highly-ambitious, usually very intelligent people who are extremely individualistic and must demonstrate their brilliance by throwing orthodoxy out of the window.

I’m not saying any other country could manage an airport attack better than the French authorities managed the one at Orly this morning. But I’m not in the least surprised that there was chaos, panic, and a complete lack of anyone in charge. This goes to the very heart of their organisational culture.

Ford, Farrell, and Rugby League

Back in the late ’90s and early ’00s it was common to see articles in the English press taking swipes at rugby league in favour of rugby union. This was particularly the case when, as rugby union became professional and the money started coming in, the trend of high-profile union players switching to league reversed and union clubs in England began to pinch what were thought to  be the best league players. Jason Robinson, Andy Farrell, and Henry Paul all switched codes, although only Robinson really made the impact everyone hoped for. There was a lot of talk around 2000 about Kris Radlinski, the Wigan fullback, being enticed away from league and this was seen by some as being the death-knell of rugby league. The transfer never happened: Radlinski stayed at Wigan until he retired, to be replaced by Mike Ashton who did make the switch, but there was a lot of animosity between the codes at the time.

There were a lot of complaints from rugby league fans about bias against their sport in the “southern” press. Stephen Jones at the Times was particularly idiotic in this regard, coming out with demonstrable nonsense regarding the state of rugby league (e.g. denying the league clubs’ extraordinary ability to replace departing stars with talent coming through the youth systems and feeder clubs). The league fans also took aim at the BBC for not covering their sport, particularly in relation to televised games. The supreme irony was that the bulk of rugby league fans were dyed-in-the-wool, old-school lefties who worshipped the BBC and absolutely despised Murdoch, yet it was Sky TV which single-handedly save their sport from oblivion while the BBC, even by their own admission, ignored them. If you ever want to know why English rugby league – which was probably the superior code in the period I am talking about – never managed to grow beyond its heartlands as their union cousins went from strength to strength, just spend a couple of hours on the forums of a rugby league fansite and see what kind of morons you’re dealing with.

Anyway, I say all this in order to explain why I found this article on the professional relationship between George Ford and Owen Farrell refreshing:

Ford and Farrell were first introduced to each other’s abilities while playing rugby league as under-11s, Farrell at the famous Wigan St Pat’s club, Ford from 30 miles east in Saddleworth. But they were already linked, both born into league royalty, raised with ball in hand and obsession the all-around norm.

Ford, the son of Mike, scrum-half for Wigan, Oldham and Castleford; elder brother Joe, a Premiership 10 himself; younger brother Jacob to scrap with and wrestle; his next-door neighbour Paul Sculthorpe, St Helens and Great Britain great, always happy to throw a ball around with the kid on the street outside.

Farrell, his dad Andy making his full Wigan debut at 16, winning the Challenge Cup at 17, playing for England at 18, becoming the youngest Great Britain skipper in history at 21; his uncle Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin; his grandfather Keiron O’Loughlin, who played for 260 times Wigan and 119 times for Widnes, including at stand-off in the Challenge Cup final win over Wigan at Wembley in 1984.

The young Farrell had sat in a Wigan dressing-room containing talents like Jason Robinson, Kris Radlinski and Denis Betts. Ford, 18 months younger but never deferring to his older and bigger friend, had followed his father through his peripatetic coaching career: living in camp with Ireland aged eight; going on the 2005 British and Irish Lions tour as an 11-year-old; sitting in England’s dressing-room before the 2007 World Cup final.

I liked that nod to the rugby league influence on the current England rugby union halves combination. I never quite understood the animosity that existed between the two sports, a century after the split. In many ways they are quite different sports utilising different skills watched by different people for different reasons. Like the animosity which sometimes exists between fans of rugby and association football, I don’t know why people cannot enjoy both. I know I do.

Feminists and Film

The Oilfield Expat put up a good post about a year ago asking why, if the Patriarchy is busy dissuading women from studying engineering and pursuing it as a career, so many women nevertheless studied chemical engineering, leading to the process engineering departments of oil companies being full of them:

If there is a patriarchy preventing women from becoming well-paid and successful engineers, they’ve overlooked the Process department.

I was reminded of that yesterday when I saw the good folk at Samizdata link to this Spiked! article on what they call feminism’s war on art:

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) announced last week that it had adopted a system called the ‘F-rating’, intended to draw attention to films regarded as feminist.

These ratings are intended more as a provocation, designed to make people think about how women are depicted in film, and represented in the industry. As the F-rated website describes it: ‘The stories we see on screen need to be told by a broad spectrum of people to represent our diverse culture. Without change, we will train the next generation to only recognise white males as the protagonists and the ones in control of the cameras, scripts and budgets.’

The underlying assumption with feminists is that in the arts world, as with everywhere else, women are kept from participating fully by the deliberate actions of, presumably, men. The idea that perhaps women might not want to go into the film industry in the same numbers as men, or that they might simply be crap at the tasks therein, doesn’t seem to enter the mind of the modern feminist.

The problem with the feminists’ assumptions over women in the arts is the same as the one that The Oilfield Expat highlights in a different context. Whereas he asks “What about the Process Engineers?”, I ask “What about the literary world?” If there is an overbearing Patriarchy keeping women from being scriptwriters and film directors, you’d have thought a similar mechanism would be in force in publishing and literature.

Regardless of whether a Patriarchy exists, in the arts or wider society, literature is one area where women have indisputably held their own against men, and they have done for generations. Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters are canons of English literature, held in the same regard as Dickens and Hardy. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein achieved unprecedented commercial success and spawned an entire genre of horror stories, films, and plays. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind is considered one of the cornerstones of American literature selling over 30 million copies, as is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The most successful children’s author by quite some margin is Enid Blyton, although perhaps she ran into some Patriarchy at the beginning:

Blyton’s manuscripts had been rejected by publishers on many occasions, which only made her more determined to succeed: “it is partly the struggle that helps you so much, that gives you determination, character, self-reliance – all things that help in any profession or trade, and most certainly in writing”.

Or perhaps not. Note the emphasis on hard work and lack of demands for an F-rating in publishing. A lot of kids today might not be familiar with Blyton’s works, but they will certainly know J.K. Rowling, another female author who has enjoyed staggering success. Less well known would be Richmal Crompton of the William series and Sue Townsend who created Adrian Mole. I could also mention Daphne du Maurier and Joan Aitken, but I think I’ve made my point: if there is a Patriarchal system at work in the arts keeping talented women from realising their full potential, then it is doing a shockingly poor job insofar as female authors are concerned.

The Spiked! article attempts to address this:

Film is unique among artforms. Its emblematical qualities, of capturing and representing appearances, means it often carries the burden of postmodern theories of representation. As such, it has been one of the main focuses of feminist scrutiny.

If you have to resort to language as woolly as that, you’re clutching at straws. My guess is that it is a lot easier for feminists to muscle in on a cushy job around a film set than it is to sit down and write a decent book that people want to buy.

Trump’s Cuts: More Please, and Faster

President Trump’s budget proposal would have a disproportionate impact on organizations in rural and underserved communities.

says The Atlantic under the headline The Real Cost of Abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts.

Back in June I wrote an article on an outfit calling themselves The Figment Project which appeared to be a gaggle of middle-class New Yorkers passing themselves off as artists while helping themselves to taxpayers’ money which they spend, at least in part, on jollies for themselves.

I note from their annual report that The Figment Project draws funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Perhaps if these funds were allocated properly, i.e. towards genuinely deprived communities instead of middle-aged Burning Man enthusiasts living in Brooklyn, then they would not now be facing the axe under Trump’s new budget. As I said in an earlier post on people passing themselves off as artists:

[T]here is a section of society out there which is not completely stupid (but not particularly bright either) who lack the talent, work ethic, and self-discipline to enter into professional or corporate environments and so attach themselves like parasites to the genuine arts world in order to give themselves some sort of identity.  The problem with the arts world – as opposed to say, law, engineering or music – is there is no quality control: anyone can tag along, dress up in costumes, get drunk, take some photographs, and claim they’re an “artist”.

What worries me is the degree of control and influence these people have over the overall arts world (including taxpayer dollars), and how they distort the image the public have of genuine, talented artists.

It seems finally somebody is doing something about it. Good.

The Dutch Decide

I feel some people may be getting a bit ahead of themselves regarding the election results in The Netherlands:

Dutch people rejected “the wrong kind of populism”, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said, as he celebrated victory in Wednesday’s election.

“The Netherlands said ‘Whoa!'” he declared after his centre-right VVD party’s lead positioned him for a third successive term as prime minister.

French President Francois Hollande said he had won a “clear victory against extremism”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed a “very pro-European result, a clear signal… and a good day for democracy” and her chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, tweeted: “The Netherlands, oh the Netherlands you are a champion!”

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy praised Dutch voters for their “responsibility”

For sure, Geert Wilders didn’t win outright, and nor did his Freedom Party even come close to doing so, but they came second with a seat count of 20 up from 15, which is an increase of a third. The mistake I think people like Hollande and Merkel, and possibly even Rutte, are making is believing the policies of the Freedom Party have been overwhelmingly rejected and can safely be ignored from hereon.

They would do well to remember that the referendum on Brexit was brought about by a centre-right Conservative government which found itself under considerable pressure on the single issue of Europe by UKIP. In the previous UK general election, which took place in 2015, UKIP won a single seat on 12.7% of the vote (the third highest). The Tories trounced them on every measure, but were still concerned enough to promise a referendum on Europe. And we know how things went from there: despite nobody really voting for UKIP in massive numbers, plenty turned out to vote to leave the EU. And now it’s the Conservative’s job to pull Britain out, and nothing to do with UKIP or their erstwhile leader Nigel Farage.

Wilders’ Freedom Party has pulled in 13.1% of the vote, but that doesn’t tell the whole story: in order to limit the damage posed by Wilders, Rutte’s VVD party has had to lurch to the right in a similar way that the Tories in the UK had to agree to a referendum on the EU. True, Rutte could now backtrack on all his campaign rhetoric but – again as the Tories found out to their dismay – these are issues which don’t simply disappear because the head of a mainstream political party bullshitted his way through an election. There is a good chance that Wilders and his party could wither away, but that depends largely on how Rutte governs from hereon. And this is going to be interesting:

As parliamentary seats are allocated in exact proportion to a party’s vote share, the VVD will need to go into coalition with three other parties.

Mr Rutte has spoken of a “zero chance” of working with Mr Wilders’ PVV, and will look instead to the Christian Democrats and D66, which are both pro-EU.

So the Dutch political establishment is going to ignore a rather large and inconvenient chunk of the population who are het up about one or two rather key issues, and instead will attempt to continue with business as usual? Yeah, that’ll work out well.

We’ve seen this before, twice: the EU referendum was never supposed to happen, with all right-thinking political parties fully subscribed to the notion that membership of the EU was such an obvious benefit that it wasn’t even worth discussing. And then we had the referendum itself in which the entire political establishment voted one way while the population voted the other. Whoops.

Then there was the US Presidential Election which was supposed to be Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush arguing only over “approved” issues and utterly ignoring things like immigration, blue collar jobs, and abuse of government powers. Only things didn’t quite go according to plan, did they?

Just because the Netherlands avoided such an upset yesterday, that does not necessarily mean that the political establishment is not in its arrogance going to lay the very foundations for a populist revolt at some point in the future. Rutte and his pals may well ignore Wilders and his party, but they would do well to start listening to those who voted for him. I suspect I might be saying similar things about Marine Le Pen later on this year, too.

Middle-Aged Women on Dating Sites

What They WriteWhat They Mean
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Must have good manners and be polite.I find myself attracting rude, abusive people. None of this has anything to do with my personality.
Sapiosexual.Look at how cool and edgy I am by using descriptions of myself that most people won't understand, thus proving themselves to be less enlightened than I.
I hate smokers!The lack of men in my life has led to me trawling the internet to meet strangers, but I'll throw up extra barriers anyway just to make it a bit harder.
I'm looking for someone non-judgemental.I have issues dating from childhood that were never properly dealt with, and these have led me to engage in extremely dubious sexual practices with substandard men almost non-stop since I was 16, which in turn has left me mentally scarred and not speaking to my parents. I am currently in therapy. Kindly disregard all this when considering me for a lifetime together.
Married men: no thanks!Having found myself in a demographic that overwhelmingly attracts married men looking for a bit on the side, I'll pretend they are a minor nuisance distracting me from all those single guys that are lining up around the block.
Please read my profile!Anyone who contacts me must immediately know exactly what I want, even if my profile is as contradictory and confusing as a tax declaration form.
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No bad habits.I will complain incessantly about every tiny thing I don't like.
No time wasters!I am incapable of compromise; only perfection will do.