You Choose

Funny where thoughts of current affairs take you.

All the fawning (and, to be fair, condemnatory and neutral) coverage of Trump’s bombardment of a Syrian air base in response to Assad’s gas attack have stated the quantity and type of munition that was used: “59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles.”

Those of us who lived under the shadow of the mushroom cloud in the 80s will remember that missile. It was the one stationed at Greenham Common, which of course was the subject of much protest, mainly from the Women’s Peace Camp.

The Greenham camp was primarily part of the anti-nuclear movement, as the missiles stationed there carried nuclear warheads. Obviously the ones the US launched a couple of nights ago didn’t, but what the whole thing did was remind me of a song from that time: “Tomahawk Cruise,” by TV Smith‘s Explorers.

I recall hearing that song in my Dad’s car1 back when it came out. It’s possible that I only heard it that one time, but it has stuck in my mind all these years, just waiting to be shaken loose.

On listening to it on Apple Music I’m pleased to find the chorus is almost exactly as I remembered. The rest of the lyrics are more oblique than I’d have expected. It was an anti-nuclear song, but less obviously than I’d have thought.

It’s very 80s, as you might expect (it was released in 1980), but there is, of course, nothing wrong with that. Inevitably it’s to be found on YouTube and Spotify.

Not sure whether this counts as nostalgia, in terms of my post the other day, but I don’t really care. What definitely isn’t, though, is the album I’m listening to as I type: The Chiswick Story by Various Artists2 (most of whom I haven’t heard) is a potted history of the label. Lots of good stuff on there.


  1. Bit weird, as he never listened to Radio 1, and there’s no way it would’ve been on Radio 2. I guess maybe I was waiting in the car while my parents shopped. []
  2. It was suggested because that’s the label “Tomahawk Cruise” was on. []

Laptop Ban Stranger Than I Thought

Today’s Washington Post WorldView newsletter throws more light, a lot of shade, and a lot more confusion onto the ban I linked to last night, on taking laptops and tablets in hand luggage from certain airports.

First, I didn’t realise that the list of affected airports is different between the UK and the US. Second, for the US, it is just a small set of airports, not all airports in the affected countries. The UK takes the broader approach — but for a different set of countries.

The most interesting point to my mind is that this may all be Trump trying to help American businesses:

When pressed by reporters, officials in both countries said the measures were not a response to a specific threat, but rather the result of intelligence assessments that concluded groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are seeking new methods to sow terror in the skies, possibly through hidden bombs in electronic equipment.

And later:

Farrell and Newman suggested Tuesday’s order is an example of the Trump administration “weaponizing interdependence” — using its leverage in a world where American airports are key “nodes” in global air travel to weaken competitors. My colleague Max Bearak detailed how this could be a part of Trump’s wider protectionist agenda. In February, President Trump met with executives of U.S. airlines and pledged that he would help them compete against foreign carriers that receive subsidies from their home governments.

“A lot of that competition is subsidized by governments, big league,” said Trump at that meeting. “I’ve heard that complaint from different people in this room. Probably about one hour after I got elected, I was inundated with calls from your industry and many other industries, because it’s a very unfair situation.”

So unfair. But if that’s what’s behind it, what the hell does our glorious leader get out of going along with a slightly modified version of it? It’s certainly not to protect British airlines, as they (unlike American airlines) are affected by the ban. Maybe my “lapdog” dig was exactly right. For years Tony Blair was referred too as George W Bush’s poodle. Maybe Theresa May is adopting the same role for Trump. Which is a horrifying thought.

Another WaPo article contradicts all that, though, suggesting that the whole thing might be based on some credible concerns:

The U.S. restrictions were prompted by a growing concern within the government that terrorists who have long sought to develop hard-to-detect bombs hidden inside electronic devices may have put renewed effort into that work, according to people familiar with the matter

But it asks the question and fails to get a satisfactory answer, “Why not ban all electronics on flights, then?”

People familiar with the discussions said the restrictions were designed to defeat the particular type of threat that is of greatest concern: the possibility that terrorists could smuggle explosives inside electronics and manually detonate them once on a plane.

Even if that makes sense (after all, its not like a computer in the hold is (or could hide) some kind of timing device): why just from a strange subset of airports, even in the countries of concern?

And if it’s all based on a real threat, why the US/UK difference?

They also raise the real concern that journalists, activists, and just ordinary citizens, will be separated from their personal information, leaving it under the control of unknown people.

Buckle up, folks, this ride is only going to get stranger and more unpleasant.

Wiretaps and Wipeouts

Couple of thoughts about the news, tonight. First of all, CNN reports on Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s “counselor,” and her strange thoughts about microwaves:

“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Conway said, before suggesting that surveillance could take place through phones, TVs or “microwaves that turn into cameras.”

I want one of these magic microwaves. I mean, think about it: you can reheat your leftovers, then take a photograph of them and post it to Instagram. All from the same device.

More sanely (at least slightly) they seem to be backing off from the nonsensical wiretapping accusations. According to Sean Spicer, the Whitehouse press secretary:

“The President used the word wiretaps in quotes to mean, broadly, surveillance and other activities”

So that’s OK, then.

In another article they treat it all more seriously, pointing out that doing down your predecessors is a tactic of dictators everywhere:

They, too, use the apparatus of government to support their whims. And worse, they also seek to punish their predecessors in office and political opponents — as we have seen in countries from Iran to Zambia to, of course, Russia.

How long until we hear Trump surrogates suggest that Obama might be guilty of a crime?

Closer to home, the UK government’s Mayhem programme involved them forcing through the Brexit bill, so we’re teetering along the slippery slope, getting ready to run towards the cliff of deadly metaphors.

Jeremy Corbyn has things in hand, though. He tweeted:

This is the same Jeremy Corbyn who, just a few weeks ago, put a three-line whip in place to make his MPs vote in favour of the initial version of the bill — which is identical to the version that has now been passed, since the Lords’ amendments were all rolled back.

I voted for him as leader, twice, but I regret it now, I’ve got to say. He’s a decent guy, and I agree with him on many — even most — issues. But on this, the most important thing facing our country today, leading to potentially the biggest disaster since the Second World War, he’s been completely useless. Worse: complicit.

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Which is Worse?

I’ve been saying for a while now that Brexit is worse than Trump, because Trump is only for four years1 — less if he gets impeached or twenty-fived, which is almost certain; but Brexit is foreever.

But Trump is moving so fast, following through so fiercely on his campaign promises, that even if he doesn’t last, he’s going to do incredible damage to the USA, and to the world.

And then there’s pieces like “Trial Balloon for a Coup?,” which, along with the stories it links to, is terrifying. If the things suggested there were to come true, Trump and his successors could be forever, too.

And even if they manage to get rid of him, that means Pence takes over, which would be its own class of awful. He at least knows something about government and the Constitution, though. I guess?

So I don’t know. Brexit, if we can’t stop it, is going to be bad for the economy, jobs, and society; but despite the hard-right support for it, I don’t think it means the country is being turned into a fascist state. On the other hand, after a Tory-led hard Brexit they could make the UK into what they’ve always wanted: a tax-haven for the rich and sweatshop for the poor, with permanent austerity policies.

And there’s no opposition to speak of.

But Trump…

But Brexit…


  1. OK, it could go to eight, but who really expects that? []

Trump, Nixon, and Subjectivity

John Gruber reminds us of Hunter S Thompson’s obituary of Richard Nixon, saying it “[f]eels appropriate today” (this was yesterday, of course).

I hadn’t read it in a while, but there are some glorious lines in it:

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president.

He has poisoned our water forever. Nixon will be remembered as a classic case of a smart man shitting in his own nest. But he also shit in our nests, and that was the crime that history will burn on his memory like a brand. By disgracing and degrading the Presidency of the United States, by fleeing the White House like a diseased cur, Richard Nixon broke the heart of the American Dream.

They were a crooked bunch, though, the Republicans back then. This on Spiro Agnew:

He was a flat-out, knee-crawling thug with the morals of a weasel on speed. But he was Nixon’s vice president for five years, and he only resigned when he was caught red-handed taking cash bribes across his desk in the White House.

Which is not exactly accurate according to the Wikipedia article, but it’s not too far off.

The quote Gruber draws our attention to is this:

Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.

Which reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Which is that I don’t think I want journalism to be objective. At least not in the area of political commentary. News is different, of course. But to me the best journalistic writing comes about when the writer’s personality comes through. When their unique voice can be heard in every paragraph. HST was of course the exemplar of that, but you don’t have to be as extreme as him to write things that have some heart and soul about them, that do more than just recite the facts.

Indeed, that journalistic objectivity is part of the problem. The whole he said/she said reporting of science in particular — just think of the way climate change is discussed1; or the MMR fake controversy of a few years back. Journalists need to be able say, “This person says x but they’re wrong because of y and z.”

And that isn’t necessarily even being subjective. It’s just being willing to not treat both sides of a debate as equal when they’re not.

Back to HST on Nixon, and the crookedness of the Republicans:

Two years after he quit, he told a TV journalist that “if the president does it, it can’t be illegal.”

which is something that Trump has quoted, I believe. Or if not, it’s clear that it’s what he believes.


  1. In reality there’s no “debate.” []

Trumpeting

Not a lot to say about today. Trump is president. World War III hasn’t started yet, but presumably he’s got the nuclear codes now.

Actually it’s entirely possible that whoever is responsible for briefing the new president on such matters (and come to think of it, who is it who has that responsibility?) didn’t actually give him the real codes, or the real nuclear football. After all, they’ve probably taken an oath to defend the republic (I’m now assuming it’s somebody military) against enemies domestic and foreign, and one could safely argue that Trump is an enemy of the republic.

Indeed, an enemy of all decent people. But we’re just going to have to live with him now.

At least until they impeach him. Or invoke the 25th Amendment1 to declare him unfit. Sooner or later one of those must happen.2

Although that will leave us with President Pence, so I don’t know…


  1. I read up on it after the West Wing episode “25.” []
  2. Please! []

Poetry and Politics

It’s hard to believe that this is for real: a poem about Trump written by an American, riffing on the orange one’s Scottish heritage (which, I’m sure it’s fair to say, embarrasses our entire nation).

Indeed, something in the headline gives me pause: why would The Scotsman describe it as “created” rather then “written”? I wonder whether it has been generated algorithmically by a program.

It must be a fawning, sycophantic, arse-kissing algorithm of the worst sort, if so. And if not — and if it’s not some particularly subtle satire — then the guy behind it is… unbelievable, assuming he’s writing from the heart. And has one.

But if you’ve gone and read that, then you should wash your mind out with Hal Duncan’s response, which is not only better poetry, it’s written in modern Scots, and contains lines like this:

Ah’ll spit a rhyme for ye: Ye cannae write.

Best of McLeod? Don’t make me fuckin laugh.
Yer tangerine nazi rapeclown’s fuckin loathed
by Scots who mind when rebels wurnae naff
gold-shittered gobshite Emperors unclothed.

But don’t wait here. Go and read the whole thing.

Probably a Good Time to Download Your Twitter Archive

This Bloomberg article may not be entirely serious, but it is, you know, Bloomberg:

There’s a strange idea circulating among Mexican currency traders. Well, more of a joke really. But there’s a certain logic to it.

It goes like this: Instead of spending its precious reserves to defend the peso, Mexico should just buy Twitter Inc. — at a cost of about $12 billion — and immediately shut it down.

The idea being that it would be the easiest way to stop the Trumpet tweeting negative things about Mexico.

I don’t know, he’d just find another forum, no doubt. Shit, in a week’s time he’ll be able to put whatever he wants on Whitehouse.gov.

[T]hat the idea was even raised in jest shows how just how frustrated Mexicans are that their economy and the value of their savings are at the mercy of the seemingly random musings coming in 140-character bursts from Trump’s Twitter account. It’s a sentiment that presumably would be shared by U.S. investors in companies like, say, General Motors Co. or Lockheed Martin Corp., but in Mexico, the pain, and the accompanying despair, appear to be on a much greater scale.

A lot more than Mexico is at the mercy of those “seemingly random musings.”

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