The trouble with modern politics is that you just can’t assault a woman any more without running into trouble with the media…

Trenchant social comment or controversial picture as attention device? In this post-ironic era, who can tell?

Poor old Mark Field. Just another hard-working Conservative MP, keeping his head down, voting against protection for human rights, welfare and the environment, squeaking by quietly and struggling to make ends meet on eighty grand a year[1]. Then another hard day at the coal face (working his way through a gourmet dinner at the Mansion House speech – sigh) gets disrupted by some shrieking harridan banging on about the environment or some other old cobblers.

Now, Mark’s a man’s man, a man of action and, naturally, after a bit of veal and a couple of glasses of wine to get the blood flowing, he senses a threat. This woman in a red evening dress could be armed. Dangerous. Could be wearing a bomb vest (they do very some very chic bomb vests for women these days, you know. Very flattering under a dress) and so he does what any man would do, grabs her by the neck and frogmarches her out of the building. Doesn’t ask for a medal or anything.

Does our heroic MP get the recognition that he deserves for fending off this liberal menace? He does not. He gets suspended from his job and gets a pretty rough ride on social media. Even those people that stand up for him aren’t excused the flak.

(Sigh.) You know what? I was trying to write this in the ironic voice of an outraged local Conservative party chairman waving a rolled-up Daily Mail in anger and… I just can’t.

Look at the longer footage of the incident. This apology about acting on instinct is clearly bullshit. He’s not scared. He’s cross. He’s indignant that his important dinner full of important, swinging-dick economists and bankers has been disrupted by some hemp-wearing, do-gooder, save-the-bunnies fucking lesbian and he’s going to teach her a lesson she won’t forget soon.

Then his party colleagues defend his actions,

Johnny Mercer weighs in with “He panicked, he’s not trained in restraint and arrest, and if you think this is ‘serious violence’, you may need to recalibrate your sensitivities. Calm down, move on, and be thankful this wasn’t worse.” Well, Johnny, I’ll start recalibrating my sensitivities about violence towards women, then shall I? You’re right, it could have been worse. I mean, it’s not like he gave her the slapping she so clearly warranted.

Bob Stewart has an even better “It’s PC gone mad” defence: “How the heck, as a man, how do you hold a woman that is not in an inappropriate way?” Stewart asked the BBC’s World at One programme

 “You can’t hold her by the wrist, you can’t hold her by the waist, you can’t hold her by lower down, you can’t hold her by the chest,” he said. “The only way you can really control someone in those circumstances is possibly by the collar. But she wasn’t wearing a collar.

“So that’s why his hand was probably round her neck. If he’d have touched her anywhere else he’d have probably been deemed highly inappropriate and he was trying to stop something.”

Here’s a clue, fuckwit. Don’t physically restrain anyone who isn’t a threat to you. If you need a few tips on how to “handle” the opposite sex, try this classic “Rock test”

Would Mark Field have treated Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the same manner? One suspects that he would not.

Should protesters have been allowed to invade the Mansion House speech? Like the milkshake thrown at Nigel Farage, it’s venturing on to shaky ground to say that (let’s call it ‘non-injurious violence’ in his case) law-breaking against people with whom we disagree can be justified. There’s a clear power imbalance here, though. The reason that milkshakes are thrown and premises invaded is that our democracy has become unbalanced and any voice that disagrees with the narrative of the wealthy and influential is ignored, trivialised, shut down.

I’m sure that the ensuing media debate will go on and on but it shows us this. It was a man acting on instinct but not the instinct of fear. This was the angry, atavistic reaction of our political leaders who are angry at having their voices challenged, of commoners disturbing their cosy club. Of a man who believes that he’s always more right than a woman and that he has the right to treat her as he sees fit when his peace is disturbed. If it shows us anything, it’s that these are not men who deserve to be running our country.

[1]Plus whatever he earns on the side as a consultant (because apparently running the country on two and a half times the national average wage isn’t a full-time job)

A Bond for the 21st Century.

“Ah, 007, thank you for coming in.”

“Not at all, M, your message seemed… urgent”

“Well of course. It’s vital that we all get to grips with these changes. We here at MI5 are keen to embrace the challenges of privatisation and reducing plastic consumption and other er…”

“Yes, about the car. I mean, I appreciate that the Aston Martin was a bit ostentatious but Q just gave me a cycling helmet and a packed lunch. Really?”

“Well, Bond, it’s much more in line with your new role. I mean, all that nonsense with casinos and gun battles whilst downhill skiing, all a little bit out of date, really. Modern espionage is about misinformation. The right piece of fake news at the right time. That’s why you’re much more desk-based these days. Along with the, er… other changes”

“Yes, well, that’s why I wanted to see you. You see, whilst looking through the archives, I noticed…”

“We all know what you found, 007, that’s why you’re here.”

“You’ve seen the files?”

“Yes of course.”

“Then you know that MI5 is compromised, corrupt, that the privatisation is just a cover for…”

“Yes, Bond, I know full well what’s in the files. I wrote most of it, after all. This isn’t a mission briefing, for heaven’s sake. This is the part where a villain explains his evil plans to the agent.”

“Then you’re…”

“Oh, Bond, it’s good to know that you’re still a little slow to catch on. Yes, of course. I’m a former public schoolboy working in the echelons of government, of course I’m corrupt. We all are. We’ve simply spent the last fifty years subtly altering the law so that we’re all untouchable. If you sell a gun to a kid outside a pub in Tottenham, you will go to prison. If I sell a billion pounds worth of arms to an oppressive regime in the Middle East, I’m a captain of industry and get away with never paying tax on the deal. I don’t accept bribes any more, I facilitate international trade. I don’t kill people for money, I initiate peacekeeping operations in regions of strategic importance. Why go to the effort of building missiles in a hollowed out volcano and all that secrecy when the British Army will simply build the blessed things for me and fire them at whomever I tell them to while I sit in a cosy Whitehall office and watch YouTube?”

“And I suppose you’re going to have me killed now?”

“Good Lord, 007, no. That’s why we’ve made all of these changes. I’m just sending you off to get on with your job.”

“But… I have no choice but to try to reveal the truth. To bring you down.”

“Reveal the truth? It’s not exactly a secret, Bond. And as for bringing us down, well, do your best. This is why we’ve changed you, you see. Moving with the times. The fact that you’re the first black 007 and the first woman to take the role isn’t just pandering to a brief fashion for progressive politics, you know. You see, you can rail against the establishment all you like. Nobody will care. We’ve taken away your Walther PPK and given you a Twitter account. Fire off what you like, 007, all you’ll hit is a rich vein of misogynistic, racist abuse. And while we’re on that subject, Bond, you may be a racially charged symbol of feminist progress but there’s still an image to maintain in this role. You could do with losing a few pounds, so we’re docking your meal allowance. Now, back to your cubicle.”

“This is monstrous, you expect me to just put up with this?”

“No, Miss Bond. I expect you to diet.”

War (uh!) What is it good for? Solving Brexit?

As Ian Birrell tweeted it:
Theresa May has: Lost the Tory majority Lost 35 ministers Lost 39 HoC votes Lost 2 Brexit deal votes Lost all authority Lost control of cabinet Lost control of parliament Lost control of party Lost respect for the UK But she has not lost her job.

How do you pull a clusterfuck like this back from the brink? Well, let’s consider our last woman PM: you remember (we danced a slow tango on her grave a couple of years back…) yes, that one…

Those of you that remember the early eighties will recall that Thatcher was fighting for her political life; faced with conspiring colleagues and cabinet rebellion and there were bookies offering odds on her survival in the post.

Then came the Falklands war. A pointless scrap over an insignificant piece of land thousands of miles away. All of a sudden, she was an inspirational leader. The Falklands war saved Thatcher’s premiership. Thanks for nothing, Galtieri. Don’t take the word of those leftie bastards at the Grauniad, by the way, there’s serious science to back this up…

So clearly what May needs is a good, old-fashioned war. This, of course, is where it gets a little tricky. There aren’t many remote, desolate islands with British interests kicking around. In addition, our armed forces aren’t what they were in the 1980s and, of course, Bodie and Doyle have gone into retirement. So where could we invade? Let’s weigh up a few candidates:

Pros – Nearby, so easy for transport; they couldn’t possibly hate us any more than they already do.
Cons – Technically, still part of our country, so difficult to claim as a commanding victory. Plus, we can’t even beat their sodding rugby team.

Channel Islands:
Pros – again, pretty easy on the transport front, we can probably afford the fuel to get a few frigates circling them menacingly. Handy for Tory party donors as they probably have tax havens there already.
Cons – technically, we’re responsible for defending them so legally would be compelled to scuttle any ships as soon as they got there. A Pyhrric victory at best. Also rules out chances of a Bergerac revival.

Apple Corporation:
Pros – stinking rich – we’d be invading the 55th richest country in the world. No army to speak of – I don’t think the SAS are going to brick it at the thought of taking on the guys at the genius bar. Brilliant pillaging to be had. Cons – not technically a country. Could probably fuck up our military IT systems quite badly. Might get us into a tiny spot of bother with the US.

So, in the absence of much in the way of a viable invading force and a lack of places to spearhead into, it looks as if the only recourse is civil war. Well, this should suit the more rabid brexiteers, who’ve clearly been giving it a bit of thought, anyway. And it should suit the people who nominated Oliver Cromwell as the greatest Briton of all time.

I think a lot of us feel that the increasingly uncivil disagreements over Brexit has got to that festering, irresolute state where, if the two sides were seven year old boys (if only they could muster that degree of emotional maturity) their teacher would give up and take them to the school gym, give them boxing gloves and let them get it out of their systems. (Note to younger readers – I was educated in a somewhat less enlightened time…)

War has the side benefits of temporary boosts to the economy and, in the event of conscription, will clear the riff-raff out of your local pub, too.

So, let’s have a good clean fight, no pulling punches and, for a change, nothing below the belt. Leavers, you have your convictions and the blood of Boudicca swirling in your veins. Remainers, you have your left-wing sensibilities and… well, I suppose, your European allies. Seems fair enough. I think I’ll pop to the Canaries for a few weeks. Let me know how you all get on.

Brexit solved by China Miéville and Harold Steptoe

Due to an error setting up my Amazon account in which I accidentally gave my birth year as 2069 instead of the century before, I now occasionally get deliveries from the near future through Prime+ which starts as a premium subscription service in 2027, becomes a religion in the middle of the century and apparently is destroyed in a war with a race of giant, sentient, mutated spermatozoa originally recovered from a filing cabinet in the ruins of the Oval Office. So it goes.

Anyway, I thought that the following chapter in a 2032 book from children’s series ‘Horrible Histories’ might prove illuminating.

After the last-gasp Brexit delay, when Jacob Rees-Mogg failed to hit the Speaker of the House of Commons with a poisoned crossbow bolt, thereby postponing the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, followed by the Brexit Riots of 2019, The Brexit Amendment Riots of 2020 and the Amended Brexit Riots of 2021, it became clear that the British Government were essentially a bunch of clowns. This realisation led them to take inspiration from classic British comedy and attempt to solve the problem of a hard Irish border with an idea from the 1972 Steptoe and Son episode “Divided we Stand.

The UK was divided up, initially with masking tape, into areas where a majority had voted to remain in the European Union, like London, Bristol, the Cotswolds and the whole of Scotland, and areas where a majority had voted to leave, like pretty much everywhere else. This meant that instead of a hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, there was a soft, sticky border pretty much everywhere else. This caused some problems with things like goods inspection and tariffs but mostly with people getting their hair stuck to the tape when they popped out for a loaf.

Eventually, it was decided that the tape was inconvenient and that Remainers would have to learn to “unsee” the “Leave” parts of the UK as the passed through, and vice versa, in the manner of China Miéville’s celebrated novel “The City and The City”, which someone in the Cabinet had seen half of the TV adaptation of and therefore considered himself an expert.

There was some resistance to this plan from senior Conservatives, who argued that this was not the work of speculative fiction that they were modelling the future of Britain upon; preferring the Orwell/Huxley model sketched hastily on a cocktail napkin found in Rees-Mogg’s top hat after a night out. However the plan was put into effect in the worryingly prophetically-titled “China Rule Directive” of 2022.

Naturally, it took a long time for legislation to catch up with this rapidly changing state of affairs and both the self styled “Kingdom of Brexitannia” and the “Republic of Europium” rapidly descended into squabbling city states reminiscent of Middle-ages Italy.

Bizarrely, at this point, the collective rage and frustration of the country’s intelligentsia grew so potent that it manifested itself as a giant celestial Mark Steel, (a prominent left-wing comedian of the time), which leaned down through the permanent cloud cover (caused by the Trump Environment Act of 2020) and shouted: “OI! That’s enough! This is completely fucking stupid. It didn’t even work for Steptoe and Son, did it? Did you not even watch the episode to the end before you made up your minds? You don’t profit from dividing everything up and being stupid and greedy and afraid. You grow stronger by sharing and learning from each other. It’s the whole reason that the human race was successful in the first place, learning to share and cooperate. Sort yourselves out!”

So unexpected was this event that almost every single person was prompted to sit down and take a long hard look at themselves. A short but incredibly busy period of political reform was enough to reunite the country and resolve all European issues and a period of peace and prosperity came about that lasted for almost three months until a trade deal signed by Jeremy Hunt resulted in the United Kingdom being sold wholesale to the Apple Corporation, asset-stripped and leased as a battlefield training ground to Putin’s Imperial Army.”

So, I say let’s get ahead of the game and stock up on masking tape.

Happy political debating everyone.


Brexit – finally, your questions answered.

Dave Brown Boris Bannon Gove Jacob Rees Mogg Nigel Farage

As if the collapse of modern politics into hysteria and hyperbole hadn’t caused enough damage, it can now be blamed for the resurrection of a blog thought long-dormant. Yes, like a drop of blood hitting a small pile of powdered Christopher Lee, Brexit has revived an outdated monster to lurch off in search of new victims.

The question on everyone’s lips is, of course, “Brexit. What the fuck?”

The only full, truthful and unambiguous answer to the question is far from simple and rather like asking for a nuanced, broad brush picture while a bomb is going off, is rather less important than questions like: “What shall we do now?” and “Should I keep running or stop to pick up my kidney?”

There’s no shortage of people writing articles telling you what to think and don’t worry – I’m not about to do that. Over twenty five years of working in education has taught me that getting people to think at all is hard enough. So I’m just going to suggest a couple of perspectives that might help if you’re wondering what to believe in all of this.

The total stinking mess of lies, opinion, misinformation, propaganda and mudslinging that has formed any attempt to publicly debate the issue is now so deep and odious that any attempt to sort through it is going to be futile. You can find an expert willing to issue obfuscatory tirades to support any point of view, so how do you make your mind up without being able to build yourself a sold foundation of facts?

Fortunately, I don’t think that you need to become an expert on economic forecasts, European law or the internecine struggles of our political factions. We can rely on philosophy. A tool so simple that it can be taught successfully to five year olds.

Whatever you think of the European Union (and I’ll confess, I think that it’s corrupt, ineffective in many areas and too closely linked with private banking concerns), do you think that co-operation and sharing, in principle, is better than individualism and protectionism? If you accept that no system is perfect, which aspiration gives the better long-term output?

If that’s too much of an abstract or wide-ranging question, then let’s go with an old adage that holds up pretty well in most circumstances. “You can always tell a person by the company they keep.”

Of the political figures most prominent on either side of the debate, which do you think has the best interests of you and the general population closest to their heart?

So far, I’ve tried to remain vaguely neutral but it’s here that I find that impossible. I can’t look at Farage, Fox, Johnson and Rees-Mogg and believe for one second that they view me as anything other than a serf. I don’t see anything in Caroline Lucas and Nick Clegg other than naiveté and a genuine wish to try and do well for people.

Then I look at things like the timing of the new EU tax laws and the refusal of some prominent Brexiteers to even consider delaying the decision by a few months and, although correlation doesn’t imply causation, you have to admit, there’s more than a bare whiff of rat. Even more when you look at a few of the other self-serving motivations to champion our exit from the EU. So yeah, it’s an article in support of our membership of the EU. Not because I’m blind to the imperfections of the EU. And not because of some economic bullshit that no one can tell is true or not. It’s for the reasons that one should form a belief. Ideological reasons. And if you want to ponder the etymology of the word ‘ideology’, all the better.

Well, that was worth waiting for, wasn’t it? I’ll try to get back to tactless nob gags or better yet, a two-year interval between entries.

Why a little physics might make you happier.

Welcome, gentle reader, to this quiet, considered corner of the Internet. Think of it as a genteel bookshop nestled in a quiet clearing in a forest full of screaming, shit-flinging monkeys. If that helps.

My musings today are triggered by an unfortunate and inaccurate stab at the tuning buttons on my car radio, subjecting me to a few minutes of a caller to Jeremy Vine’s radio show (a phone-in show, for non-UK readers. Naturally, I swiftly found the ‘aux’ button and soothed myself with some music (although, by comparison to a modern radio phone-in show, the sound of teeth being drilled would be auditory balm…) but not before a train of thought had been shunted into ponderous motion.

It strikes me that perhaps one of the obstructions to reasoned, rational and meaningful debate in modern society over issues like who should be leaving which union of nations, paying for walls, healthcare or nuclear missiles and the like is a general inability for people to cope with cognitive conflict. In other words, to be able to maintain two points of view that show significant differences – for example: I think that we’d all be safer with fewer guns – you’d like more guns, let the vein-popping shouting match commence. In fact, both of us agree that we’d like to see fewer people shot, we’re just not very good at standing down and taking a rational look at each other’s arguments.

Here, someone making a good fist of teaching you the basics of physics might help. You might think that it’s all dull formulae and blocks of mass m being shifted short distances d against a force F. If that’s the case then I apologise on behalf of your physics teacher.

One of the skills (sadly, not one often enough taught) that’s vital to understanding physics is modelling. No, not learning to walk in high heels or getting high on Airfix glue whilst assembling plastic Spitfires (only one of which was a feature of  my youth) but understanding that there is not a final, ‘right’ literal answer to questions such as “What is stuff actually made of?”, just a series of models that explain, illustrate or enable prediction of some aspects of the way that the universe behaves.

Take your understanding (or lack) of the atomic world. You were introduced to the idea that everything is made of tiny bits called ‘atoms’ and probably (because they’re pictured this way in textbooks) visualised them as tiny balls. You may well, at some level, persist with this model without really realising it.

Later, if you were taught about the periodic table, you were encouraged to believe that your tiny balls (I’m so sorry, I grew up with the Carry On movies and went to an all-boys grammar school) were in fact, made of even tinier balls, some in the middle which you called protons and neutrons (you score half-credit of you got croutons and futons) and some electrons whizzing around the outside.

If you went further, this picture got complicated by s, p and d orbitals and if you got further than that then I’m probably preaching to the converted.

What a good physics teacher will get you to realise is that none of these models are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘how stuff actually is’ but simply tools to help us to predict what will happen in some interaction. (I realise that I’ve used an example that’s more, in terms of your school experience, about chemistry but it’s the most concise on to describe…)

The ability to hold multiple, sometimes conflicting models in one’s head, critically evaluate and use them appropriately is a core skill in developing a deep, transferable understanding of physics.

In addition, good physics instruction will encourage students to comprehend and contextualise very large and very small numbers (often through the use of techniques like Fermi problems) and to link together learning from other areas of science, so that we learn to understand everything else with the same tools. It encourages scepticism, rationality and the belief that anything can be understood. Contrary to some popular views, physics is not a dogmatic subject, far from it – the history of the subject is one of models being tried, broken and rewritten in the light of better evidence.

Many of the problems that society is  currently addressing through screaming, denial, accusation, muck-raking, name-calling and outright, frothing hysteria, revolve around complex issues that might be fruitfully explored by a nuanced exploration of the available evidence, whilst simultaneously allowing possibly conflicting explanations to coexist – allowing that both may be useful tools without representing a whole picture or an unassailable truth.

It works perfectly well in the world of physics. Particle physicists are well able to debate the various permutations of the Standard Model, String Theories and Quantum Gravitation without resorting to anything more impolite than impenetrable mathematics.

Personally, I’d trust Stephen Hawking and Neil Degrasse Tyson to run the world a lot more than Trump and Putin.

Of course, I learned some physics…

Sometimes you really want to punch a Nazi

It’s been a long time since I put figurative pen to virtual paper. Sometime between Brexit and the overtures of Trumpaggedon the fire in my belly became bile in the back of my throat and I’ve had to sit very still for fear of what might emerge from me.

So let’s keep this fairly short and to the point. I’ve seen the social media reaction of my American friends, all of them compassionate, intelligent, liberal… wonderful people. I’ve seen the news and the reactions of our politicians.

And like a lot of people, I really want to punch a Nazi. In the willing association with times as dark as any in modern history there is something so abhorrent that it overrides my instinct to want to understand, to build bridges. I just want to punch a Nazi.

Fortunately, I live in Bristol, where Nazis are in short supply. Bristol, the pro-European, tolerant and laid back corner of England, where if I see a swastika it will be on a piece of vibrantly indignant street art.

So no punching. And if the pen is mightier than the sword, then perhaps the keyboard is mightier than my puny, middle-class fists? For all that anyone cares about my opinion then yes, I condemn the white supremacists, the anti-semites, the hatred mongers. I condemn the politicians who refuse to speak out and the media outlets that perpetuate prejudice, fear and hatred.

In the absence of Nazis to punch, I’ll raise my hands to fight in a different trench. We have a little revolutionary army here in Bristol. Helpfulpeeps was started by two Bristolians. A couple of weeks ago, through that community, I helped out for half a day working with a local charity; building furniture and getting a house ready for a family of displaced Syrians. Racists can march and spew hatred all they like. All it will drive me to do is to help people even more. I’m giving them all two fingers and they don’t even get to find out about it. That’s the wonderful thing about a community like that. Yes, there are people filling the world with hatred – but we can find other places to fill it with love, decency, kindness.

It may lack the Hollywood glamour of a fist to a bigoted jaw but I’m pretty sure that if I keep doing it, I’ll feel better eventually.

Take comfort in the knowledge that every day will present you with chances to make the world a better place. There might not be something to punch but there’s always a way to join in the fight.

Unlimited love.