random thoughts to oil the mind

Author: Fips Page 2 of 64

The only current author of this personal blog.

Jimmy Aldaoud

As Thomas Hobbes once fathered the phrase, life before the central state was solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. In Jimmy Aldaoud’s eyes, life with the United States wasn’t much better. Aldaoud was victim to the kind of cretinous bureaucracy touched by a sprinkling of laughable xenophobia. Not that there’s anything funny about the result. A man died as a direct consequence of the kind of senseless and callous rule-making that surely the gobbiest semi-democracy in the world ought to be a little ashamed of.

What’s particularly interesting is the reactions on both sides of the spectrum. Those more moved by their hearts wonder how this differs from murder, somehow an interesting hyperbole given the fact that the American state does in fact take lives on a regular basis, whether through using excessive force in policing, enjoying a bit of Goliath vs. David on the international stage, or occasionally executing its citizens.

Meanwhile, the heartless end of the spectrum wonder what all the fuss is about. On paper, everything was legitimate: the man was an illegal immigrant, he committed some petty criminal acts, and he was duly deported to his home country. Never mind the fact that he had never been to the country he was being deported to, that he was clearly unwell and in need of medical treatment, that he was a member of a minority who had fled religious persecution, and that his death was an entirely predictable outcome from his deportation.

The case is clear as mud for anyone with a couple of braincells, though it would be going too far to assume that the persons processing his case would be in possession of such aptitude. But that’s why it’s mind-boggling that safeguards are not in place to prevent this. Clearly for a person who missed out on being a citizen by 6 months, who had never known another country, who had been invested in by the state for the formative years of their life, who were to all intents and purposes already citizens of the nation, surely the first response should be to give him a few forms to fill out and a helpful nudge that ‘we consider this important’? For a nation built on the expropriation of land from other people, it’s insane how the United States are so blindingly obsessed to birthrights being tied to the soil.

But who gives a shit, right? He was only an Iraqi.

[Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash]

6 Ways of Breaking the Brexit Deadlock

If at first you don’t succeed, you fail.

GLaDOS, Portal

Ardent Remexiteer Theresa May managed to spend the latter half of her illustrious spell as prime minister trying to ram her deal through the Commons like a skipping needle on a strong and stable turntable. Now she’s abandoning ship, the sycophants and navel-gazers are lining up around the block to be the next hero to try to pull the sword from the stone. Unfortunately, with yon parliament rejecting the deal, and selfsame parliament rejecting no deal, the likelihood of the next helmsman managing to successfully navigate this particular brown waterway looks slim. And with the public still split down the middle, even a new referendum would probably only turn back the clock as far as 23rd June 2016.

Meanwhile the EU looks on in amazement as the revolution eats its children. They can wait; it’s Britain that so desperately wants to leave… ish. If only the Conservative Party were thinking with Portals… instead they’re all obsessed with having/eating the cake. (Spoiler alert!)

Since Article 50 is turning into a euphemism for perpetuity, here are seven bloody ways to break the bloody deadlock.

1. Bosworth Field

It’s been far too long since the Glorious Revolution saw that conclusive and permanent defeat of the traitorous papist Tory party [wait, what?]. No doubt some of the current crop remember it well. In the spirit of fair play, it would only seem appropriate to give them another crack at the whip. Rather than assaulting one another with American cowjuice, maybe the hardest of Brexitards and Remoaniacs can meet on the field of battle for a glorious victor-takes-it-all decider. I’ve no doubt traditionalists like Jacobus Moose-Rogg have only been chomping at the bit to saddle up and fly the standard.

2. Partition Party

Cyprus, Israel, Ireland, India – Britain has its fair share of examples around the world for peaceable coexistence between loving neighbours. In fact, British meddling consultancy work was often instrumental in setting up those amicable arrangements in the first place. The next government could have the whole thing unravelled in two shakes of an ear of wheat, and Britain can both have its cake and allow someone else to eat it. We’ve already got a map. Maybe that nice fellow Trump can do us a deal on a wall pretty garden fence in part-exchange for some bits of the NHS in his free trade agreement.

3. Nigel Mandela

Gandhi marched to the sea, Mao slogged it around China, and the Crusaders of Jarrow trudged down to London. If only Farage had listened to The Proclaimers, he might not have flaked on his own little galumph to the capital.

But while marching is one way of showing your staying power, some long walks don’t need you to move anywhere. Instead of drowning the airwaves with their gobshitery flawless political debate, maybe our most impassioned politicians could give their mouths a rest and let their arses do the talking. All we need to do is lock up the loudest Remoaners and Brexiteers for as long as necessary; they can leave at any time, and whoever gives up last, gets to decide the outcome. Maybe while they’re in there the rest of parliament might be able to get some actual work done, and the rest of us can enjoy some semblance of normalcy. Well, at least for one morning… given his track record, Farage would be out by noon!

4. Toss a Coin

When things get too close to call, sometimes there’s no better way to prevent a logjam than call on the wisdom of chance. The London Eye would only need a quick lick of paint to make a wonderful symbol, dismounted and rolled into Trafalgar Square to decide the nation’s fate. The mother of parliaments can vomit its members onto the square to form the biggest assembly of tossers the planet has ever seen, while the nation watches the televisualised event as their alderpeople reinvent the time-honoured tradition of casting lots.

After all, more important things have been decided on the flip of a coin before now.

5. Neverendum

It’s been over four hundred years since Britain added something worthwhile to the national calendar, and what better way to commemorate buffoonery and intolerance than through an annual celebration. Every 23rd June should henceforth be rejoiced as Referendum Day, when the polity goes down to the ballot box to check if the political barometer has discernibly changed, before sitting around a burning effigy of David Cameron and celebrating the almighty fuck-up their greatest democratic achievement as a nation.

6. National Lottery Brexit Special

Lottery tickets have been changing people’s lives for a quarter of a century, ever since King Arthur granted his house a royal commission [is this right?]. Why not furnish one winning ticket the right to change everyone else’s lives? The Brexit EuroPhilians Lottery would give the lucky crackpot winner the right to decide exactly how the Brexit debate should be settled.1This would also make a great way of choosing the UK’s Eurovision participant. Surely they couldn’t do much worse than average. (Guaranteed no winning tickets to ensure the decision just keeps rolling over and over and over.)

[Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash]

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1. This would also make a great way of choosing the UK’s Eurovision participant. Surely they couldn’t do much worse than average.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

Surveying today’s political landscape, it’s easy to suppose we’re approaching a precipice. Passionate intransigence divides societies into blocks which, even where decidedly secular, are rallied around with religious fetishism. It seems that ideological boundaries are increasingly hardening, poisoning the political dialogue, preventing constructive discourse and contributing to almost maddening levels of senseless blustering.

In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt investigates the concept of morality and shows how differing political groups can reach such disparate conclusions from the same starting point. Gradually building up his argument, Haidt succinctly retreads a lot of territory covered elsewhere in more detail, but which is vital to understanding his standpoint.

Of particular importance is the idea that morality has little if nothing to do with rational thinking. The human mind reacts intuitively to situations at a very basic level, leaving our cerebral rationality running to catch up when it comes time to explain ourselves. Moral reasoning is almost a misnomer; moral intuition is at the core of our decision-making. What this means at a basic level is that people tend to react to statements with their guts, and later defend those reactions with their minds. In politics, this is epitomised by the kind of debate you find on populist media stations, like this example from LBC’s James O’Brien (also available on their website should YouTube receive a letter):

Moving the goalposts

In the exchange, Brexiteer Ashley is asked to justify his strongly held position. Pinning down his argument is like trying to catch an errant moth flitting around a brightly lit room. It’s all those EU laws the country won’t have to obey. Which laws? Well, it’s not so much the laws, as how political the discussions are in Brussels. Politicians talking politics? Well, it’s not really the politics, it’s the uncontrolled immigration. From outside the EU? Well, if Britain were no longer in the EU, it would be better able to integrate the immigrants. Err… right.1I’d argue that’s why you shouldn’t ask people a stupid question, but that’s a debate for another post.

It makes for amusing radio, but for O’Brien it’s an exercise in futility. This kind of spiralling debate has no end, because the fundamental impetus for the decision wasn’t arrived at rationally, but rather – at least judging by the responses – morally. Tear down the edifice stone by stone if you will, the invisible foundations go much deeper, and cannot be struck by logic’s hammer. When every vestige of rationality has gone, the argument generally reverts to something along the lines of ‘I don’t really know, it’s just wrong.’

Where the book gets interesting is where Haidt investigates the different reactions to moral issues amongst people of different social backgrounds and political persuasions, and attempts to weigh their stances up on a six-axis matrix. This ‘Moral Foundations Theory’ measures the axes of care versus harm, fairness versus cheating, liberty versus oppression, loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion and sanctity versus degradation. While as human beings we are all affected by these, the differences between us are essentially down to our weighing and valuing these axes differently.

An interesting theory, though his ultimate conclusion seems to be the laudable but rather yawnable axiom that people need to understand where the other party stands and find the middle ground. A laudable suggestion, but one which doesn’t really do anything to help solve our intractable problems: as Theresa May might one day realise, a half-baked Brexit is about as likely to please all parties as a half-aborted baby.

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1. I’d argue that’s why you shouldn’t ask people a stupid question, but that’s a debate for another post.

The Poisonous Thought of Plastic

It’s interesting to watch the ways in which the current crusade against plastics manifests itself. The basic message – plastic is poison – gets through to everyone, but the reactions sometimes resemble a Chinese smithy melting down his tools to increase steel quotas during the Great Leap Awkward.

After a number of do-gooders complained, our company canteen recently replaced its plastic containers with cardboard packaging, for all those people too busy to sit down with a knife and fork. The move was celebrated as a great boon for the planet, maybe a potential way to minimise that already minuscule proportion of plastic waste that leaks out of European rivers.

Mayhaps. I’m not a materials scientist, but since the cardboard is plastic-coated and thus presents problems with recycling, the gesture has probably replaced a product that could be easily managed and recycled, with one which must be burned.

Nothing against using resources sparingly, but a bit of uncommon sense often helps. Just because something is plastic, doesn’t necessarily mean that the alternatives are automatically better for the environment. Think beyond the mantra. Or maybe just sit down with a plate like the rest of us inmates next time.

[Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash]

America Tikdem!

It’s good to see American politicians taking inspiration from Africa. Maybe their derg won’t be so funereal.

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