The Grievance Machine

When it comes to Brexit, One of the more perceptive commentators around is Rafael Behr. So it is worth considering the following remark:

For the true believers, a good Brexit is one that keeps the grievance alive; that makes foreigners the scapegoat for bad government; that continues to indulge the twin national myths of victimhood and heroic defiance. Measured for that purpose, Johnson’s pointless Brexit is perfect.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) is designed as an ongoing negotiation, with five-yearly reviews and I have tended towards the view that now Brexit is “done”, the whole issue can be toned down somewhat. The TCA framework can then be used to allow Britain to make the best of a bad deal by slowly and quietly re-aligning itself with the EU.

But what if I’m being overly optimistic here? What if the TCA turns out to be the start of a lengthy deterioration in relations. If the Brexiters continue to be unable to get over the fact that they have now achieved everything they demanded, we could all be looking towards endless and escalating confrontations.

That said, it’s only a month since the transition arrangements came to an end. I can still hope that people become bored enough of the whole mess that no-one wants to hear the Brexiters any more. And, once the process becomes as dull as it should be, things can start to improve again.

But it may be worth preparing for the worst.

Unfriended

So here’s a bit of news from Australia, where legislation has been published to make Google and Facebook pay news publishers. The main response to this has been from Facebook who decided to show their displeasure and, presumably convince everyone that they are too important for legislators, by blocking links to news websites in the country.

This didn’t go quite to plan:

But when Facebook implemented its ban, an online bookstore, charities, and even a domestic violence support service saw their Facebook presences erased. Australia’s national Basketball and Rugby bodies also saw their pages sent to the sin bin.

According to Facebook, this is because the law doesn’t spell out clearly enough, for them, what is news and what isn’t.

This leaves Facebook in the interesting position of telling advertisers it offers superior micro-targeting services, while telling the world it is unable to tell the difference between a newspaper and a bookshop.

When I saw this story, I was close to posting the above quote and leaving it at that. But then I read on and, while the reporter notes that:

Having woken up to a news-free Facebook, your Australia-based correspondent can report that that sky has not fallen in and it remains possible to be well-informed and entertained down under.

Which is as it should be. Facebook, ultimately, is just a website and one that I have been quite happy to ignore since I deleted my account in 2012.

But then there’s this:

I’ve seen other complaining that they liked Facebook as a news aggregator and miss that aspect of its service but will instead visit actual media websites even if that’s a bit fiddly.

Apologies in advance to anyone reading this who gets their news from Facebook, but this is madness.

Facebook uses an algorithm to determine what to show you. Obviously, I have no insight into how this algorithm works — which is a problem in itself — but we do know that it tends to simply deliver more of the same, dragging users of the Zuckerweb into ever more polarised echo chambers.

There is a better alternative. It’s called RSS.

This is a technology that saw it’s heyday in the first decade of the 21st century and allows you to aggregate all of the content, across the web, that you want to see. You would visit a website, add their RSS feed to your preferred reader and, from then on, all of their content is delivered straight to you. It really is that simple.

RSS has fallen out of favour somewhat with the rise of social media and its algorithmic timelines took hold, even though the technology itself still underpins much of the modern web. I still use it, however, and I honestly don’t know how I would manage without it. I can see what I want, when I want, and organised how I want.

So, rather than having to constantly keep up with the latest online drama, I can take twenty minutes, two or three times a day, to check up on issues and subjects that interest and concern me. And then I can go back to focussing on whatever else I’m supposed to be doing.

Although RSS has fallen out of favour, it hasn’t gone away. Many news sites, most blogs and many other sites continue to deliver RSS feeds. The Guardian, for example, offers a feed not only for the site as a whole, but also a separate feed for every individual writer and subject. And, of course, there are still plenty of aggregators out there.

I have been happily using NewsBlur since Google Reader was killed off, but many other options are available.

Take on Me

Lake Street Dive was formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 2004 and, according to Last.fm, is named after a street in Minneapolis. The band expanded into a quintet in 2017 and all members share writing and arrangement duties.

Their personalities, skills, and wide-ranging taste in pop, rock, R&B, and jazz have long blended together to make an impressively cohesive sound, both sophisticated and playful, combining retro influences with contemporary attitude.

Their tribute to A-Ha’s Take on Me really is rather good. Especially when the trumpet gets started.

Unflooded

At the start of this month, I mentioned that the daily walk I usually take was a bit flooded. Things got worse after that and, shortly after I had decided I should look for a different route, the footpath was closed. So, for the past couple of weeks I have been taking my walks around the town. It’s not the same.

Now that the snow has melted and the sun is out (it almost feels like Spring), I thought I would take another look.

The river water is still a bit high, but not too high, and the bridge is accessible again.

It’s also been warm enough for me to spend some time chopping wood for the next cold snap.

Things are looking up.

Winter is here

We actually have a decent layer of snow at last. It started snowing on Saturday evening and continued pretty much all the way through Sunday. It’s eased off now, but we are still seeing the occasional flurries.

It’s days like this that I light the fire and appreciate the fact that I am still working from home.

Quote of the Day: Will the Brexit government take responsibility?

The full effects of Brexit, now that the transition period has ended and the TCA has kicked in, are still only beginning to be felt. Every single one of them discredits the claims made by Brexiters, including the idea that there was no need to extend the transition so as to allow a genuine implementation period. There’s no point in them continuing to deny these effects, or continuing to try to justify the false claims they made. Now, it is their responsibility to work to mitigate, so far as it is possible, the worst of the damage they have created.

— Chris Grey looks at some of the many ways in which Brexit is coming apart at the seams .

Tell Me Where You’re Going

Those of us who were around in the 1990s may well remember Sleeper, yet another Britpop band probably best known for Sale of the Century. The band broke up in 1998 but singer-songwriter, Louise Wener continued to work on material along with Andy Maclure and Jon Stewart and, by 2000, had got as far as recording some tracks.

The band reformed in 2017 and released The Modern Age in 2019. Obviously, the hoped-for tours in 2020 didn’t happen but the band didn’t remain idle. They went back to those twenty-year-old recordings and came up with the “lost” album, This Time Tomorrow.

The opening track of this album is Tell Me Where You’re Going and it does feel very much like classic Sleeper.

I’ve always liked Louise Wener’s vocals. I still do.

The album is released by the band’s own label, Gorsky Records and is available from their online store.

And finally, I need to thank We Are Cult for pointing me in this direction.