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.

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 .

Quote of the Day: Everything Possible

The trade barrier in the Irish Sea was Boris Johnson’s policy (which he reversed from his predecessor), which he agreed with the European Union and for which won a mandate in a general election, and that he then ensured was enacted into domestic law.

There was nothing more Johnson as prime minister could have done for there to be this trade barrier in the Irish Sea.

–David Allen Green provides Four examples of Prime Ministerial power – how Boris Johnson in fact ‘did everything he could’ for there to be a trade barrier down the Irish Sea

The Haggis Crisis of 2021

As Brexit disasters go, this is quite a minor one but January 25th was Burns Night, a time to drink whisky, eat haggis and recite poetry. But with ongoing supply chain effects, there was no haggis to be found in Belgium, which led to something of an outcry.

More seriously, Stonemanor, which operates two British supermarkets in Belgium, has announced that it will have to close both premises this coming weekend due to depleted stock levels caused by import issues.

Stonemanor also operates a British Store online which is how I manage to keep fully stocked with essentials like Brown Sauce, Marmite and Lemon Curd. This site has, obviously, suspended orders for the weekend as well and are asking customers to check again after 10th February.

We’re not short of anything yet, but I will be checking in again next week.

I have found the site to be a very good one. They are quick and reliable and have an impressive range of foods on stock. Their announcement about suspending orders also notes:

All our orders are processed and dispatched from Belgium, so when this service resumes, there will be no additional shipping or Brexit surcharges to cover customs clearance.

If you are living in the EU and fancy a taste of something British (they also have a decent selection of Indian and Mexican foods) without any random customs costs, I would strongly recommend taking a look at what they have to offer.

For Brexit is not our Trump

I don’t really want to have a go at Will Hutton in particular, but his is the most recent article I’ve seen to make the same mistake as many UK commenters I have seen. After much celebrating of Biden’s inauguration and a look forward to what this means for the US and the rest of the world, he attempts to draw parallels between Trump and Brexit, claiming:

Instead of the opposition conniving in the belief that the best that can be done is to improve the terms of the “deal” over many years ahead, the political task is to assemble a similarly broad coalition to Biden’s and oppose Brexit in the same terms.

There are two problems with this assertion. There first is the obvious one, that he is not comparing like for like. Electing a government is not the same as signing — or abandoning — an international treaty. Elections are regular occurrences, treaties… not so much.

Personally, I think Brexit is a stupid idea, implemented stupidly by a very stupid government. But it has happened. All the opposition in the world won’t change the fact that Britain left the EU in January 2020 and the transition period came to an end on December 31st and normal trade rules now apply to the UK’s dealings with the EU.

Secondly, and more significantly, is the parochial attitude of much of the British press on display here. What would successfully opposing Brexit look like at this stage? It’s all well and good convincing a majority of the electorate that Brexit is a bad idea, but then what? I presume the UK would want to re-apply to join the EU.

And after having spent four years wasting their time dealing with a belligerently incompetent UK government, does anyone really think that the EU governments will respond with anything other than hollow laughter?

Brexit is done but the trade agreement is an ongoing negotiation. The best Britain can hope for now is for the country to agree to align itself with the single market with the aim of rejoining it and the customs union at some point in the not too distant future.

There is no point in trying to flog a dead horse. If you really want to rejoin the EU, your best bet is to move to Scotland.

Quote of the day: After the meltdown, the climbdown

Trump’s attack on Congress was an attack on America and all who hold its values dear. It was a desperate bid to cling to power by a weak, ignorant and selfish demagogue who has shown himself an enemy of democracy, a friend to tyrants and unfit to be president. When he belatedly realised, amid near-universal condemnation, that he had crossed a line, he caved and cravenly disowned his own supporters.

From The Observer view on Donald Trump’s assault on US democracy.

Also worth a read is John Scalzi’s post, But What If We Didn’t, which looks at the way that the Republican party’s deliberate and consistent abuse of the country’s constitution has led directly to the rise of Trump and the events of last week.

Much has been said about what happens next but, for me, I don’t think the US will be able to seriously describe itself as a functioning democracy until the Republican party finally collapses. Once that happens, the Democratic party would be able to split into the centre-right and centre-left parties it clearly want’s to be, rather than the uneasy coalition of the sane that it currently is.

But let’s not pretend that these authoritarian impulses are a particularly American thing. In Britain, Johnson, Gove and the rest of the Conservative party have spent the past four years fawning over Trump. They are trying to back away now, but it shouldn’t be forgotten just how much they embraced Trump and what he stood for.

Elsewhere, there’s Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Andrzej Duda in Poland and others.

Democracy only works when those in power are willing to embrace democratic norms. This is something we should never forget.