Our American Friends

Can’t say he didn’t warn you. He warned Mrs May. He told her she should play hard ball and leave the EU without a deal.

He loved Boris, probably would say he still does. But Boris has got himself tangled up, just like Mrs May.

So it is with regret that the USA must leave the UK to fend for itself in the choppy waters of international trade and treaties without the super treaty that Trump dangled earlier.

Except, Nancy Pelosi said months ago that the Congress would never do a deal with a Parliament that left Ireland and the Irish border out in the cold. Vice President Pence said the same thing.

So what exactly did Boris expect with his solution that was no solution at all.

Trump is ‘America First’, and he will make sure that anyone he deals with, the UK included, learns that.

Before the referendum, some people in Britain got in a huff when Obama said that Britain would have to go to the back of the queue if it left the EU.

That was then: What crumbs of huffiness have we got with which to comfort ourselves now?


Fracking Earthquakes In Search Of A Headline

In seismic shift, Britain orders immediate moratorium on fracking

That’s a Reuter’s headline from today.

A seismic shift in position to match the seismic events – the earthquakes that have followed fracking explorations in the north of England.

Such low-hanging fruit is better left hanging on the tree. The pun on the word seismic is too cute, and better resisted.

The facts cry out for a headline that puns, the journalists might say. Well, not exactly the facts, some assert. Some say that the statement is just a pre-elction publicity stunt, and that the Government will reverse its position as soon as (if) it wins the election on December 12th.

It’s a hard one to come back from, but some people believe that some Governments change their minds, or never intended to carry out their promise in the first place. They fudge evidence and show how contrary to what they said earlier, the truth is now the opposite.

A decent amount of time, a few months, other more important business to conduct, and a quiet Government statement that floats out under the wire, and fracking begins again. That’s how the critics see it.

Newspapers won’t be able to use the headline again. A seismic shift in intent that follows an earlier seismic shift that followed a previous course of action? No, that’s too many seismic shifts. What would it have to be, next time? It would need a ‘full and thorough investigation’ (or some equally high-sounding phrase) that reveals that fracking is no threat to the stability of the landscape. 

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom (a loathsome person in the eyes of some) said on the radio that the Government has always been clear that it will follow the science, and that as they cannot be certain that shale gas can be extracted safely, they are imposing a moratorium until the science changes.

Until the science changes. Hah! Those opposed to the cull that is wiping out tens of thousands of badgers have the backing of science. But the Government presses on killing badgers.

Film Politics

Project 100,000

There’s a scene in the film Full Metal Jacket where a raw recruit joins the platoon and is instructed not to leave the path. He is of limited ability and unable to follow instructions. No sooner does he join the platoon than he leaves the path and is skewered in a Vietcong man trap.

In Apocalypse Now there’s a scene where the young soldier, hardly able to follow any orders, wasted on dope, starts shooting wildly. He is out of control, as much a terrified observer as an active combatant.

And in Forrest Gump the hero joins the army and miraculously manages to survive and do well despite being odd and below average in IQ. The way things work out well for him are fantastical. That’s a device used repeatedly in the film.

The connection between Full Metal JacketApocalypse Now, and Forrest Gump is the that the war in question in each film is the Vietnam War.

You might wonder how men of below average IQ ever got into the army. I knew people from poor backgrounds, disproportionately black, were the ones who were most likely to be drafted, but I didn’t wonder at all beyond that. I just watched the films.

Hamilton Gregory

But today I watched a talk by Hamilton Gregory, a man who volunteered for service in Vietnam. He was a college graduate, so he could well have avoided the draft. Many middle class young men did. They didn’t have to try hard; there were exemptions of which they could take advantage.

But Mr Gregory volunteered and as chance would have it, he was ordered to escort another recruit to Fort Benning in Georgia. That recruit was educationally subnormal. He didn’t know that America was at war. He didn’t know in which state he had been born.

Hundreds of thousands of men like him were drafted under Robert McNamara’s Project 100,000. That was the project under which young men of poor IQ were inducted each year.

Robert McNamara

Robert McNamara was the U.S. Secretary of Defence, so it was his call. The army couldn’t get people to go to Vietnam, So McNamara lowered the IQ requirement. He said that the army was one of the world’s best educators, and it could raise the IQs of the draftees. So people who were previously unfit to server were now fit.

In battle they were too slow to react, too slow to understand what was going on, two slow to formulate a plan. They were poor marksmen, erratic and a danger to themselves and their fellow soldiers. And they died in Vietnam at three times the rate other soldiers were killed.

Unofficially, the soldiers in McNamara’s Project 100,000 were called McNamara’s Morons. Nice, eh?

Hamilton Gregory was so appalled by Project 100,000 that after the war he gathered whatever evidence he could and wrote McNamara’s Folly: The Use Of Low IQ Troops In The Vietnam War. And that is what he was talking about in the video I watched.

So now I wonder whether the makers of Full Metal JacketApocalypse Now, and Forrest Gump knew all about Project 100,000 and whether they were making an oblique reference to it?

the beach and the sea
Photography Politics

From ‘The Great Hack’

poster with blocks of colour and text 'Rogue Data' and 'It’s late: do you know where your data is?'

Netflix showed a documentary about what went on in the campaigns to change people’s viewpoints in the US election and the EU referendum.

Christopher Wylie, the data scientist who worked for Cambridge Analytica said:

Cambridge Analytica are not a data analysis company: They are a data propaganda company.

About an hour into the video, Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica said:

We are a behaviour change agency

Brittany Kaiser, who worked for Cambridge Analytica, said they used the data they got from those who did Facebook quizzes – which also gave them access to the data of those people’s friends.

Armed with that they profiled millions of US voters and then targeted those who were ripe to be persuaded – the ‘persuadables’ as they called them.

They sent them ‘news’ (real and fake) until, as she said:

…they saw the world the way we wanted them to see it.

The parent company of Cambridge Analytica is/was SCL, which started out as a military contractor contracted to use research to influence behaviour of hostile audiences.

SCL was granted provisional “List X” status by the Ministry of Defence until 2013, giving it access to secret documents.

In 2014, MoD officials worked with SCL Group on “Project Duco” to analyse how people would interact with certain government messaging.

Guardian article 28 April 2018:

The UK Foreign Office, in 2008 signed a contract with Strategic Communications Laboratories, the former name of SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, for a project to help tackle extremism by providing research and surveys into public opinion as part of an initiative to help Pakistan deal with extremism and radicalisation issues that could affect the UK.

From the UK Government website:

“List X contractors are companies operating in the UK who are working on UK government contracts which require them to hold classified information. This information is at ‘Secret’ or above or international partners information classified ‘Confidential’ or above, and is held their own premises at a specific site.”

Don’t hold me to it, but I think the allegation was that SCL passed their data to Cambridge Analytica, who used it to influence British voters in the EU referendum.

'rogue data' text against rectangles of various colours
poster with blocks of colour and a block exiting the frame with line trails - and text 'Rogue Data' and 'It’s late: do you know where your data is?'

Pleas Before Lords

Click the image for a larger version.

I made this spoof proclamation because it came to mind in the knowledge of Brexit and while reading about the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.

The power or the impotence of Parliament to deal with the coming crisis will be tested while the outcome of the leadership contest within the Conservative Party is fought.


Brexit And The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

Brexit and the causes and possible consequences of Brexit have been on my mind. Brexit has been on everyone’s mind. There is a great divide between those who want Brexit at any cost and those who want Britain to remain in the EU.

One thing that interests and worries me is how much of a danger this divide represents to the stability of the social order.

It is not an idle question.

Nigel Farage, one of the architects of the desire to leave the European Union, has talked about blood on the streets if Brexit is not delivered to the British people.

He has an axe to grind, of course, but there is a question of what would or will happen if Brexit goes ahead and the economy tanks as badly as some say it will, or if Brexit is reversed.

There is something else. I wonder what those Brexit promoters in the upper reaches of the Conservative Party think? I am talking about those who have read history and who have a grasp of economics.

What on Earth as they thinking?

The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381

That brings me to a book – The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 edited by RB (Barrie) Dobson.

It is edited by him (rather than written by him) because the bulk of it is court records, Council records, trial records, ecclesiastical records, and the commentaries of contemporary commentators.

Most were written in Latin or Norman French and have been translated by Professor Dobson.

I haven’t got very far with it. It is slow going because there is a lot of content on the page. But I have read the introduction to the Second Edition and to the First Edition – and in them Professor Dobson makes some interesting points about the revolt.

The Peasants’ Revolt is not unique. There were revolts going on in continental Europe throughout all this period.

But England was a case apart. English society rode the changes in economics, the changes in society, and sailed on.

It sailed on with just one major rip in the continuum, and that was the Peasants’ Revolt on 1381.

The Poll Tax

The reasons usually given for the rebellion are the poll taxes that were imposed. Another reason was a complaint about the high life that the church and the court hangers-on were living at the peasants’ expense.

That is true, but as I am learning, there was more that brought the situation to a head.

For a start, the population had been reduced – maybe by as much as 40% – by the Black Death that reached Britain in the 1350s.

With gaps in the towns and the countryside, prices rose and a new kind of tenant appeared – men who had the money to step in to take up tenancies from the rural landlords.

They did so as contractual tenants, a simple exchange of occupation of the land in the return for rent paid as money.

Tenants and Villeins

Those rental contracts were completely different to the system of rights and obligations of villeins, who held land from the Lord of the Manor under the feudal system. Those villeins, or peasants, were bound to the land and one step up from slaves.

That status put them at odds with the new breed of contractual tenants. That difference risked a wholesale breach in the social fabric in the countryside.

But the taxes also exposed another threat to stability, namely that rising prices meant things were going well for some, and that the poll tax hit them at a time of rising expectations.

Protecting The Populace

Add to that another factor, the failure by the authorities to protect the population. The need for protection was very real.

Britain was at war with France in what is known as The Hundred Years’ War. The war was a war with gaps – a series of conflicts that lasted from 1337 to 1453.

On the English side was the House of Plantagenet, rulers of the Kingdom of England. They claimed the right to rule the Kingdom of France and were opposed by the French House of Valois.

The conflict is not so surprising. The English kings were originally Norman, and held lands in France. In some ways it was a family quarrel.

The peasants’ complaint was that French and Castilian ships came up the Thames regularly and carried out brutal tip-and-run raids, and seemingly without fear of reprisal.

And then came the poll tax, a tax imposed by the King to finance his wars. Not everyone was liable to pay – but with rising prices after the Black Death, people who had been outside the taxation net in earlier times were now caught in it.

So those were the complaints – rich people and the clergy living high on the hog, and failing to protect the populace. And just when things were getting better economically – along comes the poll tax to send them sliding to the bottom again.

When Adam Delved And Eve Span

During the Peasant’s Revolt, the priest John Ball asked, rhetorically, “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?” He meant, of course, ‘Who made you the boss?’

But of course, anyone who wants to grab the crown is free to do it if they can.

A Marxist would say that in the 1380s the clergy was the mouthpiece for the propaganda of the ‘proper’ order. Which is why the clergy and the local dignitaries were a prime target of the mobs that sprang up, simultaneously in different parts of England.

The revolt was bloody, with many killed by the mobs and many executed by the authorities.

Now when I think of Brexit, it sounds like we have been here before and the situation is ripe for exploitation. I see Jeremy Corbyn waiting in the wings like Lenin arresting the Provisional Government in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. I see Nigel Farage claiming the crown to the Right and calling for a mass uprising to deliver on the promise of Brexit.

Britain’s Opportunity To Declare Itself

I am no nearer to understanding why those grandees of the Conservative Party are pushing Brexit.

What I do see though, are that the European elections on 23rd May are an opportunity for the people of this country to declare themselves. What will the people of Britain do to declare what world they want and what they will not abide?

Originally published on No More Pencils under the same title.

For How Long – England’s Green and Pleasant Land

If there is one thing above all that dismays and angers my wife Tamara, it is all the time wasted on Brexit that could have been put to environmental matters – cleaning up pollution, reducing the use of one-time plastics, etc.