Friday 30 December 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-12-30: Joni

A very relaxed cat, demonstrating some much needed calm as this extraordinary year comes to an end.

Cinema Year in Review: 2016

This year I saw seventeen films in the cinema, slightly over a 50% increase on last year. Looking after a toddler continues to restrict my movie-going, although I wouldn't have it any other way.

The excellent Arts Picturehouse Cambridge, venue for many happy cinema visits.

Top 5 Movies

  1. Arrival: A highly intelligent and visually spectacular science fiction film, with believable characters I could really care about.
  2. Rogue One: An exciting, witty, and action-packed Star Wars adventure. Disney shows once again the galaxy far, far away is in safe hands.
  3. Embrace of the Serpent: The story of a shaman in the Amazon and his contact with the outside world over a period of decades. Brilliant, fascinating and challenging cinema.
  4. Doctor Strange: The Marvel Universe visits the realms of magic, as arrogant Benedict Cumberbatch learns to battle evil under the tutelage of mystical Tilda Swinton.
  5. Tale of Tales: Adaptations of three interwoven fairy tales, with all the nasty bits left in. Great storytelling, and a rich feast of sensual detail.

Guilty Pleasure

Central Intelligence: Kevin Hart plays a man whose mediocre life is disrupted by the arrival of an old classmate (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), who has transformed himself from lonely, bullied fat kid to fearsome secret agent. The results are reminiscent of Grosse Pointe Blank, from the point of view of John Cusack's pal who stayed home and became a car salesman. It's not as clever as Grosse Pointe Blank, but there are plenty of laughs to be had.

Honourable Mention

Ran, Akira Kurosawa's transferal of King Lear to feudal Japan, which we saw on re-release in the Cambridge Arts Picturehouse. Magnificent in every way.

Wooden Spoon

I'm leaving this slot empty. With limited opportunity to get to the cinema, I try and be discerning, and I honestly can't say I've seen a bad film in 2016. Current events may be distressing, but we are living in a good time for movies.

Friday 23 December 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-12-23: Joni

Joni wishes everyone a happy holiday season with good food, toys to chase and many relaxing naps.

The Positive Emperor

Between Trump, Brexit, Syria, and elsewhere, this has been an awful, terrifying year in the news. I'm going to try and conclude it with something a little more positive.

By way of background, I have a friend, let's call him Bill. He's a lot more devoted to political reform than I am. He works for an NGO and goes to dangerous parts of the world, to spend time building institutions of democracy. I don't agree with all of his views, but I give him kudos for intelligence and dedication.

Bill has repeatedly criticised me for failing to offer a positive vision. I think he misunderstands this blog, and my activity on social media more generally. I more or less explicitly model my blogging on Ed at Gin and Tacos. Ed has described his modus operandi as something like, "Here is this stupid thing, and here is Ed making fun of it."

This is a hobby for me. I write about politics to amuse myself (and hopefully others), and criticising is easier and more enjoyable than designing worthy proposals. I try not to have delusions of grandeur; my blog isn't going to transform the world either way, so I might as well have fun. And for the record, my day job is in computational biology. Among other things, I'm contributing to new treatments for cancer. So I'm pretty secure in my belief that I'm a responsible citizen.

That said: Okay, Bill. You wanted a positive vision, and here it is.

Imagine that by an unlikely chain of events, I am made Emperor of the United States, Shogun of Japan, Grand High Poobah of Australia, and Protector of the Western World, with absolute power over the USA, the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan, and sundry other rich and more-or-less democratic countries. The rest of the world matters too, but I don't understand places like China well enough to articulate their problems with any confidence, let alone propose solutions; this Empire is plenty to be getting on with.

What would I do?

Joshua A Norton, self-proclaimed Emperor of the United States,
whose life was dramatised by Neil Gaiman in The Sandman.

Friday 16 December 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-12-16: Joni

Who goes there?

Full Circle

In the 1999 novel The Business, by the late Iain Banks, a character describes contemporary Russia:

The Russians have created their own form of capitalism in the image of what was portrayed to them as the reality of the West by the old Soviet Union's propaganda machine. They were informed that there was nothing but gangsterism, gross and endemic corruption, naked profiteering, a vast, starving, utterly exploited underclass and a tiny number of rapacious, vicious capitalist crooks who were entirely above the law. Of course, even at its most laissez-faire the West was never remotely like that, but that's what the Russians have now created for themselves.

This portrait was written before Putin's rise to power, in the chaotic reign of Boris Yeltsin; but it still contains much truth.

Modern Russia practices a particularly vicious form of gangster capitalism. The only truly effective institutions of the state are the military and security services. Those the state perceives as enemies are met with overwhelming force. A hollow charade of elective democracy is not allowed to disturb the oligarchs who truly wield power.

Here is the bitter conclusion which Banks did not live to see: The United States of America is now controlled by people who see the nightmare vision of Russia as a model to follow.

What was imagined as a grotesque caricature of America is now becoming its reality.

Symbol of a republic in grave peril.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Many of Trump's senior advisors openly admire and align themselves with Russia. His cabinet picks are heavy with retired generals and sociopathic business executives, the better to secure an oligarchy. For their part, the Republican majorities in Congress will find a White House which indulges their most rapacious ideas.

In a previous post, I made fun of a Washington Post columnist who urged Democrats in the Electoral College to vote for Mitt Romney.

In point of fact, the Republican leadership can still make Romney President without a single Democrat vote. All they need to do is flip thirty-seven Republican electors from Trump to Romney, so that no one candidate receives a majority in the EC. Under the Twelfth Amendment to the US Constitution, the three candidates are then voted on by the House of Representatives, where the Republicans hold a majority.

But why on Earth would they want to do a thing like that? Then they would have to own their opposition to Trump. They would have to take responsibility for angering his supporters. They would have halted his coronation, in favour of a candidate who might occasionally show some glimmer of conscience.

Trump will not stand in their way. He is fluent in the language of rage and hate spoken by the Republican base, in a way that bloodless ghouls like Paul Ryan cannot match. They think he will be useful to them, distracting the rubes while they get on with asset-stripping the country; and they are probably right.

The present incarnation of the Republican party has stopped even pretending it wants to build anything of value. All it cares about making are walls and prisons. All power to the billionaires, the police, and the army; everyone else is there to be crushed and discarded.

From their point of view, the main risk is that Trump might blunder into a nuclear war or some other disaster; one so bad, it casts down even the billionaires and their most highly placed servants. Evidently, that is a chance they are willing to take.

In a way, this movement reminds me of the so-called Islamic State. It is not subtle. It goes out of its way to think of the most sadistic and destructive things it can do, and then does them. It takes joy in the horror it inspires in anyone with a sense of decency.

I am very cautious about talking of politics in terms of good and evil. I don't apply the word "evil" to normal, democratic politicians with whom I happen to disagree. However, Trump and his henchmen are anything but normal.

Trump and the leadership of the Republican party are evil. It's not a secret; they openly celebrate their cruelty. Their one saving grace is that they are not terribly competent. I hope the better angels of America's nature, from both conservative and liberal traditions, prove capable of standing up to them.

Friday 9 December 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-12-09: Joni

Do not disturb.

Break Glass In Emergency

The Electoral College will meet on the 19th of December. It is almost certain to formalise the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Almost certain. Thereby hangs a tale.

Maybe he won't be looking so smug after all?

Friday 2 December 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-12-02: Joni

Surveying her territory in the garden.

American Nightmare

Twenty-four days after the election, and the reality of the forthcoming Trump administration is beginning to sink in. We are in a scary place.

How did we get here, and what happens now?

To reiterate: If the Comedian were a real person, he'd be loving this, and also working for Trump.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Cute Cat Thursday 2016-11-24: Joni

One day early in honour of Thanksgiving. If you celebrate it, may your holiday include good food, good company, and relaxing naps.

Friday 18 November 2016

Polls, Predictions, and Russian Roulette

In the aftermath of the US election, prediction websites have been heavily criticised for giving Clinton a high chance of victory. This is not the fault of the sites themselves; I think it has more to do with the mindset of the users.

This is really safe, right?

Cute Cat Friday 2016-11-18: Joni's Gotcha Day

Today is a very special Cute Cat Friday: It marks exactly one year since we brought Joni home from the Blue Cross.

Sadly things didn't work out between her and our other cat Belle, and we decided to rehome Belle. It was hard, but we are more sure than ever that we made the right choice. Joni has thrived in our home. She is amazingly patient with our toddler, maybe because she is a mother herself and thinks of him as an unusually large kitten.

Joni is a happy, confident, affectionate cat and a much loved member of our family. Here's to many more years together.

Friday 11 November 2016

The Wolf Hall President

Donald Trump will be President of the United States.

I feel physically sick typing those words, but this is the new reality and we have to deal with it. The fact of Trump's victory is bad enough, but more sickening is the rush to normalise him.

Donald Trump.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Cute Cat Friday 2016-11-11: Joni

Human governments come and go, but the cat abides.

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Reasons To Be Afraid

First things first: There is no reason to panic.

Although FiveThirtyEight give Trump a 28% chance of winning the election, they are very much an outlier among prediciton sites. I prefer the Princeton Election Consortium (PEC), who give Trump a chance of less than 1% to win the popular vote, and just over 5% to win the electoral college (and with it the presidency).

It's not just wishful thinking. With my professional data-analyst hat on, I find this Huffington Post critique of 538's model results to be persuasive. So far as we can tell, 538 have an overcomplicated model which assigns far too much probability to weird outlier scenarios. Unlike 538, PEC make their data and methods fully public; I haven't delved into their code, but their general methodology appears sound.

PEC predict this election map, very likely a comfortable victory for Clinton:

Princeton Election Consortium map at 270toWin
Click the map to create your own at

Friday 4 November 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-11-04: Joni

Greenhouse cat redux.

Four Metaphors for the Presidential Election

It's hard to do justice to the grotesque spectacle before us with just one metaphor, so here is a selection.

Trump and Clinton in the second debate.


Hillary Clinton tells us to eat our vegetables. In this she is the latest in a long line of worthy but dull Democrats: Kerry, Gore, Dukakis, Mondale. Her husband and Obama managed to sell progressive change as an exciting journey, but Clinton just tells us the vegetables are good for us.

Yes, we know they are. It's just that not all of us care, and Donald Trump is offering candy for dinner every night. If that's all we ate, we know it would make us sick. We suspect that if Trump was in charge, there would be no candy at all, because he'd spend the money on whiskey and slot machines. But a lot of people have problems that won't be fixed by vegetables, and want to believe in the candy.


We are watching The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. It is bloated, costly, unedifying, the final act of a production which was already far too long. The antagonists try increasingly absurd and pointless ways to smash the hell out of each other. We care less and less about the performance before us, but keep watching because we've stuck it out this long, and hope the show redeems itself with a satisfying ending.


We are children in the back seat of a car. We have left our old home and will not be going back. We are fed up with the vehicle, the journey, and each other, but apprehensive about our destination. It might be a home much like the one we left, or it might be an unimaginable nightmare. We peer out the windows, looking for clues, but it has grown too dark to see anything. We fidget and ask once again if we are nearly there yet.


The towering, mindless, deformed monster of an election lurches on, groaning and slobbering. We can hardly stand to watch, but can't bear to look away. We hope it will be given a quick, clean death before dawn on the ninth of November, so we can all move on. Until then, some of us can only watch from a distance and try to express our horror.

Friday 28 October 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-10-28: Joni

Snoozing on a shelf of spare bedding.

The Brexit Strategy

Tony Blair. Image source: The Guardian

This week, Tony Blair called for supporters of the European Union to mobilise against Brexit:

[Blair] said those who believed in the EU "have to recognise we're the insurgents now ... We have to build the capability to mobilise and to organise. We have to prise apart the alliance which gave us Brexit."

He suggested that, given a general election or second referendum, the results of the referendum on 23 June could be reversed:

"If it becomes clear that this is either a deal that doesn't make it worth our while leaving, or alternatively a deal that's going to be so serious in its implications people may decide they don't want to go, there's got to be some way, either through Parliament, or an election, or possibly through another referendum, in which people express their view."

Blair does have a point. Brexit has not yet passed the point of no return, and it's increasingly clear that it is likely to do grievous harm to the UK economy. It would be prudent to put on the brakes, and reconsider whether we really have to do this.

Friday 21 October 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-10-21: Joni

Posing for the camera in our greenhouse.

Scotland and Brexit

This week, Nicola Sturgeon published a draft bill to authorise a second Scottish independence referendum. That's a long way from committing to holding the referendum itself, but it's a big step along the way.

In the face of Brexit, Sturgeon and the SNP see an opportunity. It is more than fair for them to revisit independence under these circumstances. Scotland voted 62% to 38% in favour of staying in the EU. It didn't want the costly upheaval of Brexit.

This is not just a matter of money, but of identity. At the core of the Brexit argument lies the notion that our fellow Europeans are just too alien to work with constructively. I don't believe that, and neither does Scotland. It sees itself as a European nation, in a way that England clearly does not.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday 14 October 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-10-14: Joni

Sitting on our neighbour's roof on a chilly autumn morning.

Hatred Unleashed

I hoped the USA would wake up to the awfulness of Trump, and give him a clear electoral defeat. It now looks like it's going to happen; Hillary Clinton's lead is 6.7% in the RCP polling average. Nobody should be complacent, but Trump is running out of time to turn things around. Obama won by 7.2% against McCain in 2008, and if Trump continues to implode, it's plausible Clinton could exceed that margin.

Maybe I should be happy. Instead, I am sickened that it's come to this.

Trump and Clinton at their second debate. Source: CNN

I'm relieved Trump will not get anywhere near the Oval Office, and cautiously optimistic about Clinton's leadership. Those feelings are overshadowed by fear and loathing, of what Trump has done and continues to do.

Friday 7 October 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-10-07: Joni

It's getting colder outside, and a cat needs a warm place to curl up.

Thoughts On Hillary Clinton

I've spent a lot of time railing against Donald Trump; but what about Hillary Clinton?

Any mainstream US politician would be preferable to Trump. Bernie Sanders. Mitt Romney. Marco Rubio. Rod Blagojevich, disgraced former governor of Illinois, currently serving a 14-year sentence in federal prison. Duke the dog, mayor of Cormorant, Minnesota.

(Maybe not Ted Cruz; he's as extreme as Trump in some ways, and a lot smarter. One to be afraid of in 2020 or 2024.)

As it happens, Trump's opponent is not just any politician; it's Hillary Clinton. If current polling is correct and the fates are not excessively cruel, she will be the forty-fifth President of the United States. What do I think of her?

Hillary Clinton.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday 30 September 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-09-30: Joni

It's a long way down from here.

What Trump Stands For

Like Agent Smith, I'd like to share a revelation I've had during my time here.

Donald Trump does not stand for fascism. Maybe he wants to, maybe he thinks he does. But what he actually stands for is nothing.

Contrast Trump with Vladimir Putin, whom he claims to admire. Putin is many things, but he is not ignorant. He understands very well how the world works. He has plans; evil plans, but plans nonetheless.

Trump has no plans. As his debate with Hillary Clinton made abundantly clear, he doesn't understand anything, and doesn't care to. Instead of plans, he has empty posturing. He puts forward a performance of fascism, and hopes we will mistake it for the real thing.

Trump's supporters have not simply given up on democracy. It's more than that. They've given up on government.

Trump is the bitter conclusion of Reagan's famous quip:

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."
Trump doesn't offer iron-fisted tyranny on the Putin model. Voting for that would be a terrible thing, but it's not necessarily irrational. If you're poor and desperate enough, a tyrant might begin to sound pretty good.

Trump isn't just a would-be tyrant, he's an incompetent would-be tyrant. He has no realistic prospect of accomplishing anything. He will not use the authority of the American government to solve anyone's problems; he will not even make a serious attempt to do so. If the worst happens and Trump becomes President, he will treat the awesome power of the Oval Office as his personal plaything, a stick with which to beat those he dislikes.

Many of his supporters are themselves too ignorant to notice this. Others may have grasped it, at least subconsciously, but do not care.

The point of Trump is not to build a wall, or assert American dominance, or protect American industry, or anything else in the incoherent rants that serve him in place of policy. The point of Trump is to articulate hatred. It is to inflict fear and pain on those Other People whom his supporters blame for their unsatisfactory lives.

It is as close as a national politician can get to pure nihilism. Trump represents a howling void of undirected hate and anger.

We can hope his sheer ineptitude prevents him from winning office. I fear that even if this is so, he will make it easier for some more intelligent would-be tyrant to follow after him.

Friday 23 September 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-09-23: Joni

This chair is taken.

(The seat cushions on our dining chairs have been worn down by long use, into a perfect shape for a cat to curl up on. One day we will replace them, and that will be a sad day for Joni.)

Fragmentation and Despair

This week, the Labour MP Ruth Smeeth gave an interview about the racist abuse and death threats she has faced from supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. The whole thing is well worth a read. It joins testimonies from many other Labour MPs, questioning Corbyn's leadership and the behaviour of his followers, some of which I list here.

These MPs raise hard questions which Corbyn and his team show no signs of answering; except to dismiss the askers as crypto-Tories, or worse still, Blairites.

The MPs deserve a more respectful answer than that. They have decades of service to Labour, and long and impressive records of fighting for the underprivileged. I am frankly baffled by the idea that they declared no confidence in Labour's duly elected leader, because they cannot tolerate his message of kindness and solidarity. The alternative explanation, that Corbyn is failing to meet his responsibilities but too stubborn to change, is not one the party leadership cares to contemplate.

Jeremy Corbyn (left) and his leadership opponent Owen Smith (right).
Image source: BBC
Be that as it may, it seems nearly certain that the result of the leadership contest tomorrow will confirm Corbyn's re-election.

Friday 16 September 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-09-16: Joni

"Until you stalk and overrun, you can't devour anyone." --- Tiger proverb

The Rise of Unreality

The US Presidential election is shaping up as a battle between reason and unreason. The distressing thing is, reason isn't winning by nearly enough.

Clinton's lead has shrunk to approximately 3% in national polls. That's probably enough for a clear victory; the Princeton Election Consortium gives her an 81% chance of winning. But it still means a very large segment of the US electorate prefers Trump.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Friday 9 September 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-09-09: Joni

Sleepy cat is ignoring the cartoon mouse next to her tail.

Greatest films of the 21st century

The BBC has polled 177 international film critics, and come up with a list of the 100 best films of the 21st century.

It's not a bad list, although inevitably it's not the one I would have come up with. Maybe it's a little skewed towards pretentious arthouse fare. My own approach to arty films is this: I'm willing to accept some of them are doing very clever things, which I don't have the patience or background knowledge to fully grasp. Others are absolute tosh. It's not always possible to get a consensus on where the boundary lies.

Friday 2 September 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-09-02: Quincy

Our handsome campus cat, on the prowl again. I hear he's a very capable hunter, which is bad news for the rabbit population.

Gone to Edinburgh

No long post this week. Vague notions of blogging when I got here were wiped out by a delayed flight, and mental fatigue from travelling with a toddler. It's great to be back up here though, I still miss the place.

(And the beer, I'm now enjoying a glass of Orkney Dark Island.)

Have a good weekend. It's still Friday for another hour, and Cute Cat Friday is going up shortly.

Thursday 25 August 2016

The Not So Good Old Days

The Conservative MP Heather Wheeler has claimed on Twitter that the "British Empire" was the real winner at the Rio Olympics:

Honestly, Britain. You'd be a lot more fun at parties if, after your third drink, you didn't start mumbling about how awesome the Empire was.

This is what they call a teachable moment. As Empires go, the British one was relatively benign, but it was still an Empire. It was not a peaceful and voluntary alliance of nations; perhaps Wheeler is confusing the British Empire with the European Union. (She is staunchly opposed to the latter, but that's by the by.)

Friday 19 August 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-08-19: Quincy

Quincy is a very handsome and friendly Burmese cat who hangs around our campus. Officially he belongs to a family in the nearby village, but the campus grounds offer ample hunting and exploring opportunities, and many people to fuss over him, so he is often to be found there. Here he is patrolling his territory yesterday.

(The feathers are from the flock of geese who also hang around that area, and not the aftermath of any feline assaults.)

It didn't have to be this way

The Labour leadership contest between Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn staggers on. It's another five weeks before this time of conflict ends, and a whole new era of internecine warfare can begin.

Corbyn (left) and Smith (right).
Image source: BBC News via PA/Getty

Corbyn recently published a ten-point plan, setting out his policy priorities. It would have been nice if he did this before his party descended into civil war, but I'll give credit where it is due: It's a very good set of ideas, ambitious but achievable. Of course there are questions over the detail, but it's a respectable starting point.

Friday 12 August 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-08-12: Joni

I am the claw in the darkness. I am the watcher on the wall. I am the shield that guards the realm of the back garden.

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Presidential Election Explained Using Food

Imagine the USA has to vote on what everyone eats tonight.

Hillary Clinton is like a cheese and tomato pizza. Some people would prefer additional toppings, or a different food altogether. Others are excited about the first pizza candidate with a real chance of winning. All things considered, it's a safe and widely acceptable choice.

Image by Lombroso, Wikimedia Commons
Donald Trump is like a cheeseburger laced with anthrax. If the cheeseburger wins, a lot of people will be made horribly ill, and some will die. We have no way of knowing how many, but those not in robust health to start with will come out worst. (Trump isn't even trying to hide the anthrax. He assures us the infection will Make America Great Again.)

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, is like the five-alarm chili flavoured with Guatemalan insanity peppers. It's undoubtedly exciting, but let's face it, not to everyone's taste.

Jill Stein, the Green candidate, is like an organic kale and quinoa salad. It may be very nutritious; but as Homer Simpson has observed, you don't win friends with salad. (At least, you won't win over the Homer Simpsons of America, and a winning candidate needs their votes.)

Bernie Sanders started off supporting salad too. But he's won the concessions of basil pesto and better quality cheese, and now he is endorsing pizza. Nevertheless, some of his erstwhile supporters insist that it's salad or nothing.

In this election, "Nothing" is not an option. One of these candidates will win, and it will affect the entire world, not just America. Realistically speaking, it's either pizza or the anthrax burger. If you are so inclined, you can fight for salad another time. Right now, it's strongly advisable to get with the program and vote for pizza.

Friday 5 August 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-08-05: Joni

Box inspector at work.

A Taxonomy of Trumpists

More and more, Trump's campaign looks like some mad piece of performance art. Exactly how bad can he get? How ignorant and hateful can he sound before he is abandoned by the American public?

Just in the last two weeks, Trump has insulted the parents of a dead Muslim American soldier, celebrated the use of torture, and claimed the Presidential election would be rigged. He reportedly asked a foreign policy expert why the USA had nuclear weapons if it didn't use them. In what I think is an unprecedented step for a sitting President, Obama said Trump was unfit to hold the office.

Obama is absolutely right. It's not simply that I disagree with Trump. He is unable to handle the responsibility of being President.

Image source: Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

It is not so shocking Trump has said and done what he has. We always knew he was an ignorant bully; those who thought otherwise were deluding themselves. The shocking thing is that his popular support remains so high. The RCP polling average currently has Clinton 47.4%, Trump 40.6%. That should translate into a comfortable victory for Clinton, but it still means four in ten Americans prefer Trump.

Friday 29 July 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-07-29: Joni

I got up and went downstairs to get a USB stick. 28 seconds later, Joni had taken over my chair. She remained there until I distracted her, by opening a desk drawer so she had to see what was inside.

Gone Festivaling

No blog entry this week, even though politics on both sides of the Atlantic is providing a wealth of material. I'm going to the Cambridge Folk Festival instead. Cute Cat Friday will be up as normal this afternoon.

Have a good weekend!

Image source: Cambridge Live Trust

Friday 22 July 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-07-22: Joni

Nap time once again. The best thing about this spot is, it's out of reach of passing toddlers.

The Price of Schadenfreude

Thanks to Theresa May's "you broke it, you own it" approach to appointing ministers, Boris Johnson now represents Britain as our Foreign Secretary. Our new Prime Minister is displaying a hitherto unsuspected sense of humour.

Boris Johnson (left) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (right, trying not to laugh).
Source: QZ
As I said of Johnson a few weeks ago:

He doesn't want the responsibility of rebuilding British international policy from the ground up; where's the fun in that?

Johnson is about to find out. He has had an uncomfortable start to his time as Foreign Secretary. It turns out the rest of the world takes notice, when you insult and lie about them for fun and profit.

He now has a serious job, in which he must deal with serious people, who are not impressed by his naughty schoolboy act. For one of the least serious people in politics, it will not be a pleasant experience; but the status of the Foreign Office job is such that he couldn't turn it down. After his role in the Leave campaign, Johnson more than deserves his discomfort.

I can't help but enjoy the spectacle; in these times we must find amusement where we can.

I wonder how Johnson's tenure at the Foreign Office will play out. Here are some scenarios, in ascending order of plausibility:

  • He gets a grip. Johnson is a spoiled, self-indulgent, overgrown child, but he is not stupid. It is possible he will commit himself sufficiently to become an adequate Foreign Secretary. Possible, but not likely.
  • He resigns. To reverse Peter Mandelson's famous self-description, Johnson is a quitter, not a fighter. He might find or manufacture some reason to flounce out. What would hold him back? The perks and prestige of being Foreign Secretary, and the certainty of being consigned to a dull life on the back benches for the foreseeable future.
  • He gets fired. May would do this only as a last resort, because she would then have a miffed Johnson with time on his hands to make trouble. She would need an iron-clad reason. Considering some of the things Johnson has already said, it would have to be egregious. Depressingly plausible; I only hope Johnson doesn't do too much damage in the process.
  • He carries on as he is. The long-suffering diplomats at the Foreign Office try and smooth over the consequences of Johnson's blundering. Johnson remains in post until May feels secure enough to remove him; it could happen if she wins an election in her own right, but I think not before then.
Meanwhile, British foreign policy is the laughing stock of the world. This is unfortunate, since it faces greater challenges than at any time since the 1940s. It may be a sort of poetic justice for this multi-millionaire old Etonian; I only hope the rest of us do not pay too high a price.

Friday 15 July 2016

Cute Cat Friday 2016-07-16: Joni

You had other plans for the laptop? Too bad.

Labour's Unholy War

Once upon a time, an organisation grew tired of its weak and self-serving leadership. It rejected the conventional candidates, and elected an old man from the wilderness. He was humble in appearance, ascetic in lifestyle, and uncompromising in his principles.

I am referring of course to the Catholic Church in the year 1294. At the time, the cardinals had spent two years failing to elect a Pope. They finally settled on Peter of Morena, a seventy-nine year old hermit who was enthroned as Celestine V. He was sincere, incorruptible and no doubt holy; but unable to handle the administrative and diplomatic duties of the papacy, he abdicated after five months -- the only Pope to do so until Benedict XVI in 2013.

Tomb of Celestine V. Source: Wikipedia

History does not repeat itself, but sometimes it rhymes. Corbyn was elected in a similar mood of frustration with business as usual. He looked different, sincere in his convictions, and untainted by personal greed. That set him apart from his colleagues, and it was enough to win him the leadership election. Where Corbyn differs from Celestine is that he has no intention of going quietly.