A machine made of wood, metal, paint, bone and magic
18,818 words

Choose populism

Choose populism. Choose fear. Choose blame. Choose Facebook, Google and Twitter instead of thinking. Choose a fucking big car to make yourself feel less inadequate. Choose to hate cyclists. Choose antisemitism, racism, spitting at gypsies and watching abusive porn. Choose leaders who tell you the lies you want to hear. Choose to believe that they say. Choose not to vaccinate your children because fuck them. Choose a house in a gated community to keep out anyone different. Choose friends who think like you. Choose fake nostalgia for a world which never existed. Choose to pretend that monuments to slavers are just fine. Choose to believe that climate change isn't happening even as the floods and fires become annual events. Choose not to worry that the meat you stuff yourself with is fucking the planet, or that your precious car is doing the same, because it's not you that has to pay for that, is it?

Choose not to wear a mask in a pandemic and to spend your weekends on a crowded beach because fuck anyone else. Choose hundreds of thousands of deaths. Choose your own death.

Choose your future: choose populism. Choose death.

The dream of England

Coronavirus: England highest level of excess deaths (BBC) / Covid-19: England had highest excess death levels in Europe by end of May (Guardian).

This is England, not the UK, the country which voted most strongly for brexit.

country excess deaths brexit result
England 7.5% 53.4%
Scotland 5.1% 38.0%
Wales 2.8% 52.5%
Northern Ireland 2.0% 44.2%
United Kingdom 6.9% 51.9%

Well done, Boris & Dominic: you must feel proud of yourselves. If I believed in hell I would wish you and your loathsome cronies in it, and right soon.

Getting away with murder

One of the many tragedies we are living through is that even though it is now obvious that populism is a disaster, they have got away with it. Populist regimes build their appeal on offering simple and appealing, but wrong, solutions to difficult, complex problems, and get away with it because either people don't notice that those solutions don't work or they can lie copiously enough that people believe the solutions did in fact work but somehow were foiled by the fiendish enemies of populism (you know the ones: the Europeans, the blob, the liberal elite, the gypsies).

And now this has hit the wall: they've come up against a problem which can't be bullshitted away. And look: the UK is doing really badly, the US is doing catastrophically badly, and well, we could look at all the other populist regimes, and they will be doing badly too. Populist regimes are killing the people who voted for them, in huge numbers, because the virus only cares if the answers are right not if they are appealing.

But they've got away with it: they have lied so copiously and we have believed their lies together all the other lies from the twitterbook feeds on which we we now subsist for so long that we can no longer tell what is true, even when the lies are killing hundreds of thousands of people

Clearly this country has had a massive success now in reducing the numbers of those tragic deaths.

Boris Johnson, cretin emperor of England

And so they will march on to their glorious new dawn, waving their idiot flags atop a mountain made of the bodies of their supporters.

And this is just the start of the dying.

Run away, run far away

Highly-educated British people are fleeing to the EU: if that surprises you then you probably haven't been paying attention.

Truth decay

It's kind of funny that the RAND project on truth decay has a Twitter hashtag (#truthdecay). I mean, point people at one of the big agents of truth decay so they can read lies about your project on truth decay: that makes sense.

If you care about the truth, stop wasting your time on Twitter and Facebook: delete your accounts and never look at them again.

While I'm here:

If you work for Facebook, quit.

It is morally indefensible for you to use your skills to make that company more powerful. By working there, you are making the world an objectively worse place. I'm sure you can find a job working for a company that you don't have to apologize for all the time.

You can do it. I believe in you.

And in fact:

If you work for Facebook, you are a white supremacist.

If you have a "friend" who works at Facebook, cut them out of your life, like you would your racist cousin.

You can do it. I believe in you.


The forgotten dream of brexit

It is now easy to forget that the whole brexit thing, before it became cancerous, was built on this pretend idea of a bucolic, rural, white England which existed just beyond memory and to which we could somehow return, sloughing off the present like a bad dream.

And maybe it even did exist for some small minority of people. My mother, who was born just before the second war as a Wiltshire farmer's daughter, lived in a world a little like that I think: thatched farmhouse, almost certainly an Aga or equivalent, tennis with the neighbours, watermeadows, country churches &c &c. So if you were fairly well-off and lived in the right place, it perhaps did exist. Well, it existed for a few thousand people. In fact I grew up in what had been two labourers cottages on a farm owned by two brothers and a sister who must have been born in the early years of the 20th century, and the dying remains of that world were still visible to me in the 1970s even. But, again, how many people grew up on a farm like that? Not very many.

Of course the multiple tumours that overtook brexit – Cummings, eugenics, racism, the slide towards fascism, together with all the other lurking horrors which it has helped bring to the surface – make it hard to remember what that time was like. But when the brexit vote happened Trump was still a clown who obviously would not become president, the tory party was still recognisably a conservative party populated mostly by people who valued competence over ideology. Explicitly racist policies were still something that tories were shy of. It was a different time: no-one knew what was coming.

My mother's friends probably almost all voted for brexit, to her dismay, and of course many of them are racists. But they are racists because they're well-off white people in their 80s: they grew up in a world where racism was endemic and acceptable and it's hard to change your ideas when you are 80-something. But they voted for brexit because they wanted a return to this lost dream of England, not because they wanted the malignancy that it has helped bring forth. I think this is worth remembering.


Just a machine made of wood, metal, paint and bone. In fact not even a particularly good example of such a machine. But I would risk my life to rescue it in a fire, because secretly I know that it is made of wood, metal, paint, bone and magic.

Herd immunity

It's pretty easy to see that the number of people that a given infectious person infects is the product of1

  • the number of people they meet while infectious;
  • the proportion of those people who are not immune;
  • the chance of infecting each person.

As the proportion if people who are immune goes up this number decreases, ultimately to below 1at which point the epidemic dies out more-or-less quickly: this is herd immunity.

If this number is initially around 2, then herd immunity requires about half of the population to be immune. If immunity comes from having had the disease, and the mortality rate is 1%, then about 0.5% of the population need to die to achieve herd immunity. For the UK this means around 350,000 deaths.

The people pushing herd immunity in the early days of the CV19 epidemic were either not numerate enough to realise this or thought that 350,000 deaths was an acceptable price to pay. Clearly Cummings meets both criteria: as a psychopath he doesn't care if hundreds of thousands of other people die, and as an innumerate crank he can't do the maths anyway. But there were other people – apparently real scientists rather than pretend ones like Cummings – who also pushed this idea. If the lack of basic numeracy these people demonstrated dies not terrify you, then it should.

  1. Really it is more complicated, because the chance of infection might depend both on the infecter, the infectee, details of the meeting, the time since the infecter was infected and so on: however I am assuming that these factors are held constant, since all I want to think about is the difference that the proportion of people who are immune or not immune makes.  

What Trump wants

is to provoke something that is frightening enough to his natural supporters1 that enough of them will vote for him to keep in him power2. Black people marching in paramilitary uniforms look pretty fucking terrifying if you are a white racist who is very frightened of black people. This is what the things happening in Portland & elsewhere are about: he is baiting people enough that they do something he can portray as really, really terrifying to people who are already scared out of their minds.

And look.

  1. His natural supporters being white racists who live their lives in fear of everything, but particularly of black people. 

  2. If he loses power and the protections that go with it, then he is in very serious trouble: he will do anything to keep power. 

An encounter with greatness

A while ago my wife and I were staying in one of a pair of fairly isolated cottages by a lake: I had stayed in the same cottage as a child, at which time it had still been lit only by gas. In the other cottage a man and a woman were staying, both a fair bit older than us, the man somewhat stout and clearly a child of the 1960s in dress sense. We no more than nodded to them while we were there. The man played the guitar, and occasionally we would hear him playing quietly, very well indeed.

I still like to think that it was Peter Green.

What frightens Trump

While he is president, Trump can get away with things that anyone who is not president can't. He has explicitly said that

As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, [...]

Donald Trump

Because the Republican party – for reasons which I don't really understand – seem willing to support him to the edge of the cliff and beyond, he is essentially unassailable while he is president: he can do anything and get away with it.

But this ends once he is no longer president: the moment he is out of office the sky falls on him. And his crimes are very many and very serious: he will end up in gaol for a long time if he does not flee to (probably) Russia.

He knows this, and he knows what it means: he can never be out of office. He can not lose in November: if he can not win then the election must not be allowed to happen.

The most powerful man in the world is facing humiliation and flight, or humiliation and the rest of his life in gaol, and he will do anything in his power to avoid that. And the powers at his command are very great.

This is not a good situation.

The end of hyperbole

hyperbole /hī-pûrˈbə-lē/ noun
A rhetorical figure which produces a vivid impression by extravagant and obvious exaggeration

For a long time people have accused other people of being fascists and talked about fascism in a way which was clearly hyperbolic and offensive to people who suffered at the hands of actual fascists.

What is happening in Portland is the moment when it stops being hyperbolic to talk about fascism: there is a very real chance that this is the beginning of a fascist regime in the US. If you are not terrified by what Trump is doing and what his ambitions are you are not paying attention.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

TYC 8998-760-1

Here is a photograph of a star – quite like the Sun, but much younger – and two gas giants orbiting it. Not one, but two exoplanets, directly imaged. Paper describing the discovery.

Cold war

Now that we know we will be ruled over by crank dictator Dominic 'spent several years in Russia but of course not in the pay of the Russians at all' Cummings and his idiot sidekick Boris 'not in the pay of the Russians even a tiny bit' Johnson for the foreseeable future, both of them owing allegiance to the yellow clown emperor Donald 'very definitely in the pay of the Russians' Trump, it's time for some long-overdue correction to a confusing episode in history: when did the cold war end and who won?

The usual story is that the cold war ended in 1991, and the west (for which read 'the US') won. Both of these things are wrong: people who believe them completely fail to understand how Russia fights wars.

How did Russia beat Napoleon? They retreated further than he thought possible, accepted losses greater than he thought possible, and then they won.

How did Russia beat Hitler? They retreated further than he thought possible, accepted losses greater than he thought possible, and then they won.

How is Russia winning the cold war? They retreated further than we thought possible, accepted losses greater than we thought possible, and now they are winning.

The cold war is not yet over, but the west is not winning it.

ISC / Russia

The ISC has publshed their report on Russian interference in UK democratic processes, after nine months: the report, and a summary1. Here is the Government's response.

Here is an excerpt from the ISC report:

[47.] We have not been provided with any post-referendum assessment of Russian attempts at interference, ***. This situation is in stark contrast to the US handling of allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, where an intelligence community assessment was produced within two months of the vote, with an unclassified summary being made public. Whilst the issues at stake in the EU referendum campaign are less clear-cut, it is nonetheless the Committee’s view that the UK Intelligence Community should produce an analogous assessment of potential Russian interference in the EU referendum and that an unclassified summary of it be published.

[48.] ***. Even if the conclusion of any such assessment were that there was minimal interference, this would nonetheless represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe.

(I think the asterisks are censored information.)

And here is the government's response:

We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU Referendum.

Of course you haven't. Because, as the report said, you did not look for it, did you? And you did not look for it either because you knew that if you did, you'd find it, or because your masters told you not to look.

How very convenient it took nine months after it was complete to publish it, eh? Because delaying the publication of damaging information until it is far too late is not not at all the sort of thing that people with something to hide do, is it?

We are governed by criminal clowns, who are effectively in the pay of the Russians.

  1. Of course it is just fine for this thing to be published on Google docs. Of course it's fine.