Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Forks and spoons

I had a car load of stuff to take to the charity shop. It took me several trips from the car to the shop.

I handed over the roller blades.

Sorry. We can't take them. Health and Safety.

OK. I took them back to the car and grabbed some more bags. One of them contained a set of cutlery. These were recieved with thanks, and I went back for some more.

They had taken all the cutlery knives out of the set and gave them back to me.

We're not allowed to sell them, explained the shop manageress.

Not talking about machetes or flick knives here. Just the ordinary things you'd use to eat your dinner.

It's health and safety gone mad, I tell you!

Anyway, if anyone is interested, the Shelter shop in Wallasey has a perfectly good set of forks and spoons for sale if anyone wants them. If you do happen to buy them, get in touch, and I will give you the knives for free. Just don't tell anyone. I'd hate to get in any trouble.

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Sunday, 5 November 2017

You and me against the world, Kid...

I've found myself embroiled in something of a battle.

It started with a driving test. During that test, my pupil was driving along a road that split into two lanes, one of which went towards the Mersey Tunnel, the other, towards Birkenhead. The examiner should have told her which way to go in good time, but for some reason, failed to do so. Eventually, my pupil asked him which way she should go. Instead of telling her, the examiner responded by asking her if she'd ever gone through the tunnel on a driving lesson. I was there. I was sat in the back of the car, watching it all happen, and to me, his tone was aggressive and badgering. It felt to me like he'd been caught napping, and had responded by pushing the blame away from himself, and onto my pupil. At any rate, her standard of driving deteriorated markedly after this incident, and she picked up both a serious fault, and too many "minor" faults.

At the end of the test, after telling her she hadn't passed, the Examiner consoled her and told her she needed to be more confident. After he'd left the vehicle, I took her home, and while driving back, we discussed the incident. My pupil was unhappy about it, and felt that his actions had badly knocked her confidence.

So I decided to contact the DVSA to ask for a retest, and to ensure that she didn't get the same examiner next time. I composed an email, explaining what I'd seen, and asking them to investigate. Technically, an appeal on the grounds that the test was incorrectly conducted should be done through a magistrates court, but generally, if a complaint is made to them and they find something didn't go right, they will sort out a free retest without the rigmarole of going through the courts.

Appealing is not something I did lightly. If I put a complaint in against a particular individual, I then have to meet that same individual in the course of my job on a fairly frequent basis. And this particular examiner is generally ok. We get on well as a rule. My sitting in on frequent tests is a standing joke between us.

Yet I'd seen this happen, and to me, it clearly breached the guidelines. Those guidelines state this:

Examiners should ensure their instructions are absolutely clear. Candidates must not be left in any doubt about the route to be taken. Directions should be given in good time, especially where marking of traffic lanes indicate an option. At complex junctions and gyratory systems, a request simply to turn right or left may not be enough to indicate the route clearly.

Candidates should not be given any grounds to complain of being flustered or uncertain. If you are aware a candidate has dyslexia or dyspraxia you should tactfully establish if it affects their driving and if any adjustments are necessary. This may include confirming directions by pointing or using hand signals.

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/guidance-for-driving-examiners-carrying-out-driving-tests-dt1/01-the-practical-driving-test-and-extended-test-for-cars

My pupil had to ask for directions, so I thought it would be straightforward. The DVSA would read my mail, speak to both the examiner and my pupil to establish what had happened, offer her a retest and an assurance that she would be given a different examiner, and presumably give the examiner extra training to ensure that a future lapse of attention was dealt with differently.

Off went my email, and I quickly got an automated confirmatory mail through telling me that in order to deal with my enquiry, they would need a couple of bits of information, driving license number and test reference number. I'd forgotten about this, so I contacted my pupil through facebook, asking for these details, and when she'd sent them to me, I added them as a further email.

Time passed. Nothing happened. More time passed. Nothing continued to happen. After about 9 days, I phoned them. The customer service person I spoke to asked me when I sent the email. I told her, and she informed me that I would have to wait for 10 working days. I had to call back in another 3 or 4 days. I explained that I was concerned that my pupil had not been contacted but the person on the phone insisted.

Well, OK then.

So I called again a few days later. I spoke I think to the same person. Once again, she asked me when I sent the mail, and after establishing that ten working days had passed, she put me on hold while she made some enquiries. After some minutes she was back, and told me that the details I had provided were wrong, and that the DVSA had sent out an email to me telling me this a couple of days after I sent my mail. I had my PC in front of me, and I looked, both in my main email account, and in my spam/trash folders. There was no mail from them on or around the date she claimed one had been sent. She advised me to resend my mail with the correct details.

Once again, I contacted my pupil, and after carefully checking, she realised that she'd got one digit of the reference number wrong. I sent a new email off, but now I made a mistake. Instead of sending her license details, and the now amended test reference, I accidentally sent the reference number twice.

Once more I waited, and as the days stretched out, I wondered what on earth to do. As the ten working day limit for the new mail approached, I had a look at the mails I had sent, and at this point realised that I'd put in the wrong details in. I sent an addendum with the corrected information.

This time, the response was pretty swift. The next day, I got a mail back telling me that the DVSA had spoken to the examiner, and had decided after listening carefully to what he had to say that we had no grounds for appeal. It also said the following:

We received your email on 7 October however, [my pupil's]’ driving test reference number was incorrect. We requested this information on 18 October and we received it on 20 October. We have no record of any further emails. We have 10 working days to reply to enquiries and complaints; today is the tenth day.


This runs contrary to the customer service lady's assertion that a mail was sent  informing me of my error a couple of days after my original mail.

So here's an uncharitable view of what's happened.

I've sent in a complaint, and despite being an experienced and competent instructor, who's sat in on many tests, I am being seen as a troublemaking crank. For whatever reason, the email that should have been sent informing me of the incorrect details was never sent, and this was compounded by my being fobbed off with "come back after ten days" when I phoned them, instead of them telling me that the details were incorrect. Then they gave factually unverifiable information to me about an email being sent when I phoned for a second time. After  a further error from me, they have once again failed to inform me that the details are incorrect, and nobody has taken the time to read through both emails and combine both correct details. Then, after most of the 10 working day response time, I have added the correct details, they've rushed through a judgement so that they could squeeze off a response within the target time limit. Their investigation did not include actually getting my pupils side of the story.

I've mailed a response explaining that I disagree, and that they really should take the time to speak to my pupil before coming to a decision.

And that's where we're up to.

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Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Worried Man Blues

Taking in the sweep of dark coastline that cradled an expansive bay of ink dark water, and a sky that was studded with stars between puffy groups of cumulus, I considered the magnitude of my folly. There was hardly a light to be seen. I turned back into the hotel/store/tavern and spoke to the proprietor, a stocky guy in perhaps his late 60's with a bushy grey moustache.

Where am I? I asked. Australia?

You're just near Christchurch, he replied, with a distinctly antipodean twang

New Zealand?

That's right.

He turned away to serve a customer. I went through the contents of my pockets. It didn't take long. I had perhaps £70 plus a bit of loose change. No plastic. No passport. No balloon. And although I was off today, I had work to do tomorrow.

I've been in a balloon before of course, but somehow, earlier that day, I'd ended up flying one myself. This was an extremely stupid thing to do as I was very tired. I suspected that I might have had a couple of drinks too.

Once, years before I drove home to Wirral from Milton Keynes, but because of a head on collision meaning the police had closed the road, I ended up having to take a very different route that added hours onto my journey. Getting very drunk and having almost no sleep the night before didn't help either, but despite drinking a huge cup of ice cold coke at the previous services, I found myself drifting off into a dangerous torpor, and I knew I had to just get off the road as soon as I could. There were perhaps 15 or 20 minutes when it took all my will to keep my eyes open, but I got into the next service station, parked up out of everyone's way, and slept for about 3 hours before completing my drive home.

And that's how I was feeling now. As I piloted the balloon low over some parkland, I felt that same drifting detachment and I should have found somewhere to land. Instead, I found myself waking up from a doze and realising that without the occasional input of hot air from the burners, I was going to hit the ground anyway. I must have only been asleep for a minute or so because I was still drifting over what now looked like a golf course. I opened up the burners but the balloon responded, not by drifting serenely upward, but by rocking violently forwards and backwards. Almost to the point where the basket was horizontal. Still, it steadied, and as it drifted onward, I drifted back into oblivion.

Only to wake. This time, I'd obviously been asleep for much longer, and I was drifting very low over some built up suburban stuff. I quickly turned on the burners, sending a blast of flame up into the canopy above. This time the balloon reacted even more violently, rocking backwards and forwards with so much force that it almost threw me out of the basket, as it somehow turned through 360 degrees. Only centrifugal force kept me in place.

Shee-it! I said, but I was still very low down, so I applied another blast of heat, and the balloon, again responded by rocking wildly. This time it threw me out of the basket and left me clinging on to its edge as it fell, completely out of control, and hit a road.

I picked myself up and looked around. The basket was on its side. Around me were it's contents. The balloon itself had burst violently as we hit the ground. There were bits of fabric strewn about and I could see the neck of the balloon, bizarrely knotted like the neck of a party balloon.

My wife was not going to be happy. I don't think she even knew I'd gone up in a balloon, and it was an expensive thing to wreck. Plus I had no idea where I was and it was getting towards evening.

And now it was night, and I'd somehow ended up in the lobby of this place that overlooked the sweeping bay with almost no lights to be seen and a sky full of clouds and stars.

And then I woke up again, and after a bit of confusion, I realised I was tucked up in my bed. Boy was I glad to be home!

I don't know about you, dear reader, but when my sleep is particularly badly disturbed, I get some incredibly vivid dreams. Last night I had perhaps 3 hours of sleep, so having done my early morning driving test lesson, I came home, and with a break of a few hours, I decided to get some more kip. And at some point, I ended up flying a balloon to New Zealand.


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Bang

Driving vehicles into crowds of people seems to have become the new mode du jour for terrorists,

If only those poor cyclists and pedestrians had armed themselves with cars of their own...

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Friday, 27 October 2017

Shar Airag

Ever wondered what a Mongolian cover of Pink Floyd sounded like?

Let's get the negatives out of the way.

Ken Leeee....

There's one. The other is that the female singer, singing an emphatic heartfelt homage to existential angst, raises her  hands in the air in pride at at how well she's singing.

And that's all. These guys are a tight musical unit, dealing with a complex set with aplomb. In another language.


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Thursday, 26 October 2017

Bread

i have been reading a book called Dark Age America, by John Michael Greer. As with many of his works, it looks for patterns in history, applies them to an analysis of the present, and extrapolates them into the future. It makes for interesting, if somewhat dark reading.

Anyway, one bit of it caught my attention. Greer was pointing out that labour saving devices. Only save labour if you don't include the time you spent earning the money to pay for these gadgets in the first place. He also pointed out that you have to find something else to do with the time you saved by just pressing a button instead of manually doing whatever task was now being done by your machine.

To cut a long preamble short, I had a go at making my own bread. Not putting stuff into a bread maker, but actually making bread, from scratch ingredients. I found a recipe on the Internet, and followed it closely. I weighed a precise amount of flour into a bowl, and added carefully measured portions of oil and salt. I meticulously measured out exactly 300ml of water (at exactly 41.6 degrees centigrade) and added a precise dose of yeast. Then I assiduously kneaded it for exactly twelve minutes, before putting the dough into a baking tin, letting it rise, then baking it for exactly 34 minutes.

In the process, I managed to use 7 bowls, 15 different utensils, several jugs, two metres of cling film, and an egg slicer. I also managed to get dough stuck to the taps of the sink, the ceiling, and the handle  of every cupboard door in the kitchen.

The result though, was an edible loaf. It came out of the oven smelling just like freshly baked bread. I tipped it out of its tin, and tapped the base. It's supposed to sound hollow. I supposed it did, but having never done this before, I had no way of knowing if it was how it should be or not. I sliced off a crust, slathered it with butter and tasted the fruits of my labours. It was very more-ish, and I obliged myself by having more. And more.



You can't digest hot bread. It just sits in your digestive tract, gradually fermenting. So I spent the next couple of days feeling like I had a small boulder in my lower intestine until I finally shat it all out.

Since that first attempt, I have not bought another loaf. I'm actually enjoying farting around with all this. I was told that baking is a science more than an art, but bread is actually pretty forgiving when it comes to precision. So I've streamlined the process, and I've tried experimenting with adding or substituting different materials. The least successful was the one where I replaced the water in the recipe with beer. The dough still rose, and it baked ok, but it just tasted and smelled a bit odd. It was ok, but it just didn't work that well. My most successful experiment was the apple and cinnamon honey glazed loaf. Now doesn't that sound lovely?  As for streamlining the process, I can go from getting the scales out to washing out the one bowl and the teaspoon I used in about 5 minutes. The process of letting the dough rise, and baking can't be rushed though.

And was Greer right? Well, making a loaf takes a couple of hours, but most of that time it's sitting somewhere either rising or baking. I am not sat in front of the oven watching it slowly brown. I set a timer and I go and do other things.

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Sunday, 1 October 2017

Drugs

There are places in the ground

Where drugs can be found

So stoners with drills

Leave potholes to fills.

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Wednesday, 13 September 2017

once upon a time

I was riding down West Vale on my way home on my bike. Probably from the centre of my home town to where I lived, a couple of miles away. Nothing special. Just riding home late one night when I was in my early twenties or possibly late teens.

I rode past a group of young guys on the corner of a street. I glanced at them. They looked at me.

I somehow knew instantly that this visual interchange meant something. They meant me harm.

I pushed the pedals hard and got out of there. A moment later I heard the motorbike engines start, and I upped my pace still further. Instead of riding home, I went a different way, and rode into a cul-de-cac, and hid between two houses. I was working as a postman in that area at the time, and I knew the place like the back of my hand.

The bikes went the way I should have gone, then doubled back, and did the next most straightforward way. Then one of them came down the cul de sac, turned around and went back out again. The rider didn't see me, pressed up against a dark wall, and after the sound of the bikes receded, I rode home via a couple of back alleys.

I'd done nothing to antagonise them, yet if they'd found me, they'd have beaten the shit out of me, for no reason, although I'm sure they'd have found some justification if pressed to do so.

It wasn't the first time or the last, so please forgive me for any misanthropy.

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Saturday, 19 August 2017

A change of pace.

I took two time lapse videos. One from a window at the caravan, the other from the window of the new flat.

 

















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Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Mazlow's heirarchy of needs and the coming shitstorm

Mazlow's heirarchy is what Douglas Adams simplified into the states of Survival, Enquiry and sophistication. - How can I eat? Why do I eat? Where should we have lunch?

It's a triangle, that is divided into layers. At the base are the essentials without which we'd quickly die. Air, Water, Food, Shelter, etc. At the top is the freedom to become, whatever that may be.

The base is the most important bit. None of the layers above have any value if you have no air to breathe or water to drink.

So, you have no food, and no means of getting any. Game over.

You have food, but you're sat in the middle of a minefield and the food is thrown to you from outside, by fickle and sadistic providers. You can eke out a precarious existance for a while, but your long term chances look pretty slim, and your quality of life is, bluntly, shite.

You have food. You're in the minefield, but the people throwing it in love and honour you. You're still up the creek, but isn't this a little bit better?

You're in the minefield because although you'd rather not be there, it's your job to be there. It's a job that holds prestige in your society. That's why the people are throwing food to you. They think you're the dogs bollocks. You're still in the minefield, but you have a full belly, and you feel pretty damn good about yourself.,

You defuse some of the mines, and leave the minefield and get to somewhere with infinite food and zero mines. Hoorah!!!

In the last few hundred years, we've grown and grown and grown and grown and grown. I could go on. For an increasing number of people, if not an increasing proportion of people, their physiological needs have been met. In spades. Ditto our material comforts. Where do widescreen tellies and the ability to talk instantly to someone 10 miles away fit in to this? To put it another way, can people who only just have enough to make it out of the bottom two tiers find love, esteem and self actualisation. To me it's pretty obvious that they can. I think it's true also that safety is not essential. It's a sliding scale. The safer you are the more likely you are to survive, but as long as you're alive, you too can find love happiness and some sort of inner peace or whatever.

When I first thought about it, I reckoned that as we hit the buffers, things would go from the top down. I now think it's exactly the opposite. It's the bread and butter stuff we need to be concerned about. If we have that, the rest will surely follow.

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Friday, 4 August 2017

6996

Everything was fresh. I had most of the rights conferred upon me by age, but few responsibilities. It was also probably the most fucked up part of my life.

I'm talking about that brief window between perhaps 18 and 25. I was born at the end of 1967, so that's the years between about 1986 and 1993.

What do we have there then?

Well, Rave, Grunge, Trance, Chill Out, etc. Hedonistic, drug fuelled, idealistic, naive, subversive.

Politically, there was a lot happening. I entered these years hard on the heels of CND's boom in the early '80's and the Miner's Strike. this overlapped with the rise of the Radical Left in Inner Cities across England, particularly in London and Liverpool. Then there were a whole host of other things. most notably the huge pre-internet social organisation that was the anti-poll tax movement. I suppose most people just think of the riots now, but what I remember is the posters in the windows, and the work those radical lefties were doing to provide a focus and an organisation for the discontent.

It struck me today that what I lived throught was effectively another Summer of Love. Except it went on a bit longer before it dissolved. At the time, I didn't really see it that way.

Perhaps people of every age feel this way. They could point to their own signposts from a few years either side and make pretty much the same post.

I think that in a few years, people in that roughly 18-25 window will be looking back on/getting into the stuff between Thomson Twins and Blair in pretty much the same way that I used to listen to Sergeant Pepper and Songs from a Room.

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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Green light

Right. we're offski then. It all went through.

Got the caravan until november, but will have the keys to the flat from next week.

So moving will be gradual. bits and bobs. Those close to us are rallying round to help.

I think and hope it's all going to be ok. It's certainly a relief to Bren.

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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Abbrev.

Things tend to get abbrevved. The world Trade Centre attacks on 11th September 2001 got abbrevved into 9/11. See also WTC 7.

Standard Oil became S.O. (Esso) The group of affluent nations becomes G8 or whatever number is included at that particular table. Brexit Grexit Mexit. (If Mexico decides to leave something)

So old Trumpy. The 45th President. How can he be abbrevved?

How about...





Wait for it...




P45.


I thank yew.

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Monday, 31 July 2017

Moving on...

Suddenly we're moving. Almost certainly to a large top floor flat in New Brighton.

A lack of space has been a perennial problem with living here. We came from a large house to a 38 x12 foot single story box, and had to either ditch, store or cram in all the stuff we've accumulated over the years.

But recently, the site owners have become annoyingly enthusuastic about enforcing petty rules, and our stay here was only ever meant to be a stopgap. We worked out that if we stayed here for about 5 years, the money we spent would be equal or greater than the money we'd have spent on rent.

The reason we had to move out was that we'd fallen further and further into debt, and we'd just ran out of room. Too many instructors chasing the work, and I didn't have the website bringing pupils in at the time. A huge global financial crash didn't help either.  Then things changed. My business took off, and suddenly we were living somewhere very cheap, but I was bringing in a lot more money. So we suddenly had a bit of disposable income. We didn't manage to accrue a lot of savings, but we were able to live without the stress and pressure of wondering how the fuck we could make ends meet.

Moving will mean we have a lot less spare money to spend on going out for something to eat, or getting that thing off ebay or amazon or whatever real shop we went to, and we will no longer have any outside space. But I will have less of a commute, we will have a lot more room, and we're closer to Bren's immediate family.

Bren spent a lot of time looking at what was available, and we ended up going to see about 8 different properties. We could have got a big flat in Birkenhead for £425/month, because it's quite a scuzzy area. Bren vetoed that. So it came down to two, both in New Brighton. She preferred the other, but we compromised on the big top floor space.

It's all happening very quickly, and we're having to look at our contract with the site.

The bastards have us over a barrel. We might not get anything for the van, not after all their fees have been taken into account.

Ah well. Life is change. Unlike before, we just about have the means to deal with this, even if we end up giving our caravan to the site owners.

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Thursday, 20 July 2017

Like rats deserting a sinking ship...

If you're a rat that happens to be reading this, and especially if you happen to be on a foundering vessel, I say go for it. Desert it. It's almost certainly the right thing to do.

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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Uncladding

Big horrible fire.  Corner cutting by cash constrained council. Lowest bids for the lowest strata. A tragedy waiting to happen. People told to stay in their flats. Rules now amended to "Don't stay in your flat if flames are coming in through the windows."

The dalek daleked, while Corbyn empathised with the residents.

Dalek as verb? I dalek. He daleks. We dalek. Daleking daleks dalek with a daleker. Verbing weirds language.

Flags at half mast. H.M.Govt pledges aid. Not everyone is mollified.

Kneejerk response. Get out and stay out! These things could go up at any moment! Examining cladding goes viral. First London, then Britain, then the whole damn world. The things are everywhere. Consternation reigns!

And that's more or less where we're up to so far. As the days and weeks go by, this will become yesterday's news (although the building itself will loom, stark and frightening, in the view of hundreds of thousands daily). I watched how the rightward end of the bits of the internet that I frequent decried left leaning posters for making political capital out of a tragedy, while some at least of the left did exactly that.

And quite right too. This tragedy happened as much because people weren't listened to as because of the combustible cladding. Can I cynically suggest that part of the reason the focus on the cladding has been so prevalent over the last few days or so is precisely because it draws attention away from the fact that people had voiced their concerns for several years prior to the fire but were not heard?

So it seems to me that if there was any time they would be listened to, it would be now. Instead, the message is being diluted. More and more noise is being added to the signal. Some deliberate, some just the inevitable passage of time and new events.

So get the cherry pickers and scaffolding out and remove the hazard. ASAP. It doesn't matter if they look a bit shabby for a while.

Ideally, leave people in their homes while you do it.

But also, please, change the culture that allows residents voices (and the voices of a thousand other tragedies*) to be rendered silent.

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Saturday, 10 June 2017

Hate? My Arse!*

The forces of Good almost prevailed. The dalek and her minions were zapped by Red Krytptonite, and although they survived, they're looking a bit unsteady on their feet. Think of the cartoon boxing match, where the underdog has somehow landed an uppercut fair and square on his opponent's chin, who, rocking and reeling, with tweety birds circling his head,  can now be sent crashing to earth by the merest flick of the little guy's pinky.

So it's not going to last for very long. We will be back to the polls in weeks, perhaps months.  If May is deemed too toxic, we might get an interim of BoJo. Won't that be fun?

The momentum is with not just Labour, but with the progressive left generally. If there was another election on Monday, I reckon Labour would win it, or at least would become the largest party. People have seen enough to shake off their cynicism and lethargy and Corbyn cannot now be discounted as not having the credibility to do the job. The media's relentless hatchet job was too much, and people couldn't reconcile the narrative (terrorist loving commie clown) with the impression they got for themselves. They switched off.  The louder the media screamed, the more the attack ads attacked, the less people were able to accept it. Labour meanwhile did almost no badmouthing.  This, I think, as much as anything, earned the respect of the undecided.

With the media discredited in the public mind, and the possiblility of change visible, a quick second election could see Labour with an overall majority.

I think too, that one area where they would gain a lot of seats is Scotland. I reckon a good deal of the support garnered by the SNP is not all that bothered by independence per se, but is looking for some alternative to the grey right wing consensus that has gripped these isles for so long.

 So if there is another election soon, much of the SNP's support will move to Labour, particularly in urban areas, and especially if the Scottish Labour Party mirrors the British party and moves leftwards.

Here's another thought.

Corbyn/Labour are moving the Overton window. What is seen as sane and common sense is slightly different to what it was a month or a year ago.

*anag.

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A

A crowded place, a loud voice

shouts "GIVE US AN 'A'"

and instead of "A", you get...



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Friday, 9 June 2017

Hell, Yeah!

Another seat or two would have really put the cat among the pigeons.

I wonder what difference the shenanigans in Manchester and London made?

Still a huge swing to Labour. I hope the Left of the party can use this as a platform to make changes. Certainly, Corbyn has come out of this extremely well, and this will have taken the wind from his detractors sails.

May is forming a coalition with the DUP. I wonder what they will want in return?

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SNP

I can imagine a situation where Labour can form a majority coalition, with the help of Nationalists and Greens (and possibly LibDems)

SNP want independence, but without SNP MP's Labour would lose the gig.

Labour just won a seat from the SNP. For many, voting SNP was a vote for change, and because they've been a lot more radical than the Labour Party, from Kinnock through to Milliband. Still 90% of the results to come in, but I expect to see more of the same. The media pitched it as a vote about independence, and predicted/nudged that this was all about SNP Vs Conservative but I think it's more subtle than that. People have been pissed off now for decades about the pile of half arsed donkey cack that the Labour Party had become. When Labour shows signs of behaving like something other than a centre right party, hundreds of thousands of people who've had so real choice for a generation got right behind them.

I think the SNP would be happy to work with Labour, and to even postpone a referendum if an islandwide progressive alliance could be made to work.

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UKIP

I did mean to post this a while back, but never got round to it, but it comes as no surprise that they appear to be turning into a tiny little party.

What are they for? I mean, they've had their apotheosis. We're out of Europe, for better or worse, and their reason for being has been nullified. A zombie party dissolving back into nothing.

Looks like they might just become independent of Scotland, too. Perhaps even Northern Ireland. We live on the edge of tumultuous times.

Might as well ditch Wales while they're at it. Then reductio ad absurdum until each UKIP voter becomes somehow independent of the state, then of individual limbs until just their soul is left, quivering and impotent in the face of a growing realisation that their promised land was no different to that they'd left.

Labour doing well so far (after 6 results in!)

That unelectable hippy isn't doing too badly.

By the way, the lazy liberal characterisation of UKIP supporters as swivel eyed bigots glossed over another reason. People wanted to shake shit up. They wanted change. I don't think they were sure exactly what change they wanted, but they weren't happy with the way things had been going.

I'm glad that just as UKIP have subsided, so have the barbs I see on facebook and elsewhere. To get people to move, you have to give them space to move into. Just yelling at them will just get people's backs up.

So most of the swing is coming from UKIP (and The Greens, who I suspect have all seen an opportunity in Corbyn and pushed their votes over to Labour En Masse.) and yes, 60% of it is going to the Tories, but the rest is going to Labour. What are these racist bigots doing voting for an energised, more left wing and radical Labour Party?

I expect them to get the message and formally disband after this. They're yesterday's news.

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Monday, 5 June 2017

Terrorists

The terrorists want May to win.

I predict another attack the day before the election.

When they can just get hold of a vehicle and some knives, there's really not much we can do to stop them.

I still stand a far greater chance of being killed in a car crash tomorrow than I have of being murdered by terrorists of any stripe.

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Monday, 29 May 2017

undiscovery

Discoverers find things. If that thing is a new thing, it doesn't have a name. Therefore it has to be named, often with several names.

I asked in my last post what word described the text between two commas.

Well I looked online, and I asked around in places where my question would be answered by someone with an answer, and, so far at least, the consensus seems to be that there is no word to describe it.

That last sentence was almost all between commas.

So it may be that I've discovered not a thing, but an absence where a thing could be.

Vacuums are universally abhorred. This Thing demands a name, like Penicillin or Australia.

I've been thinking of a few.

A senticle is probably the best thing I've thought of.

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Tuesday, 23 May 2017

mic

I got a microphone for christmas. It has languished in its' box until this evening. I'd asked for it, expecting something fairly run of the mill. One step up from the things you can get to do karaoke games on the playstation.

Instead I got a big box with an assortment of shiny and professional looking bits and pieces inside. It has a stand that clamps onto a desk. The stand itself is all springs and cantilevers and lockable pivots so that it can be moved around from an anchored base. The microphone itself certainly looks good, in its electric blue anodised casing, and it has a foam cover that slips over the head of the mike like a Buck house guards hat. It has an attachable pop filter (so that your "p"s don't become "P"s.

Oooo!

So I've put it all together, and hooked it up to first my computer, then to my effects pedal. 

Nothing. Not a peep of my voice could I hear in my headphones, when I said the obligatory "tap... tap... 1... 2... 1... 2... Hello...? Is this thing on...?

 I opened it all up, to see if it needed a battery. Nope. No where for a battery to go. I looked closely for an on/off switch. Nope. Just silence. Eventually, I dug out the instructions. They turn out to be a masterpiece of broken English.

It starts out promisingly enough. "BROADCASTING AND RECORDING MICROPHONE" is splashed, full width across the top of the instruction sheet.

But then it goes on, "This is a professional condenser microphone," All just spiffing. Concise and coherent.

The sentence continues, "which adopts the exacting complete electronic circuit control and gold-plate diaphram capsule,the microphone with a good cardioids pickup pattern," I ran through this sentence several times, (Question... If the things between full stops is a sentence, is there a word for the thing that lies between two commas?) and sort of got the gist. It's gone all long winded and is trying to blind me with jargon. It goes on through several more commas, extolling the virtues of this microphone using idiosynchratic terms and erratic syntax. No help troubleshooting there, but after detailing the specs of the mic, it gives the following handy hints under the heading, "Usage:"

1.Turn on your amplifier or mixing board and set the volume control to minimum position. To connect the phantom power to the microphone turning on the phantom switch, accomodate the volume control from low to high so obtained effect to your moderate level for protected the sauna from pounding.

And apart from a few tips about avoiding feedback and the advisability of not dropping it or immersing it in water that's all I have. Probably best if I don't go anywhere near a sauna with it then.

There's a sort of volume/on-off switch thing with a usb connector at one end. When connected to my new pc,  pressing the buttons causes a little dialogue box to open up and give the volume level or if it's been muted. Connecting it to my old pac, it can be switched on, but it doesn't display anything. XP is probably too far back for it to work properly.

Still no output though, no matter what permutation of pathways I try.

Ah well. Bored with it now and want to do something more interesting. I'm doing some interesting stuff. I can now multi-track in a limited way. I can play and record at the same time. I can even play several wave files at once, and record onto another at the same time, but  there's no "play all" command, so synchronising drums, guitar, etc would be almost impossible to do perfectly. But I can record one thing, play it back, and play or sing over what's being played, and record the mix onto another wave file. Rinse and repeat until you reach the desired level of complexity.


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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

E I E I E I O... Up the Football Here We Go...

Football is weird.

I mean, I can't think of any other business that attracts the same emotional resonances.

Imagine, (To the tune of "Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go") Vodaphone, Vodaphone Vodaphone. Or "Oh Barclays bank, Is wonderful"

Yet football clubs are businesses. At the top level, they're pretty big companies. Lower down, not so much.

But, as Hillsborough shows, they're much more than that. They're also an expression of local pride and identity. Odd really, given that only the fan base is local. Generally the players, and owners are not.

And again at the top level, ordinary folks are having to fork out huge sums of money to get to see their team.

The product itself is an unscripted drama. Nothing is certain before the match kicks off, and watchers can be treated to rare displays of incredible skill. Or not.

When I was a kid, I occasionally used to go and stand on The Kop, struggling for a view, and getting shoved around all over the place by the surging sea of humanity watching the all conquering Liverpool team of the late 1970's strut their stuff. Rivers of piss down the back steps as most generally got oiled up at the local pubs before kick off.

In my late teens, or early twenties, I started going to watch my local team, Tranmere Rovers. My first match was against Crewe Alexandra. Both teams needed a draw to get promotion from the old 4th division, and incredibly, that's what happened. Almost 15,000 people went to see it. I thought it would be like that every week.

Of course, it wasn't. Generally gates of around 4-5,000 were the norm in those days, and I'd stand on the terraces, in hailstorms and frigid downpours to watch  Johnny King's Super White Army take on the likes of Rochdale, and  Mansfield Town. Or Aston Villa, Tottenham and Liverpool. They were easy times to be a supporter. The club was on the up, and until the wave broke, just short of the Premier League, they held their own against far bigger clubs.

Since then though, they've been hard going, and despite the occasional bright spot, the trend was relentlessly downwards.

Still, having reached the bottom of the football league, and beyond, Tranmere have found themselves the biggest fish is a small pond. With a change of ownership, an injection of funds, and the appointment of a manager who seems to know what he's doing, they've had a change of fortune. You can feel it. This season, they accumulated 95 points, but this wasn't enough thanks to a Lincoln City side that just never stopped winning.

So it was the play-offs for us.

See the "Us" there? Listen to any football phone in, and you'll here the same pronouns. "We.", "Us.", "Them."

But to say "So it was the play-offs for Tranmere" seems somehow wrong. Emotionless.

Anyway, "We" duly trounced Aldershot Town, 3-0 in the first leg, away from home. I went to watch the second leg at Prenton Park and watched, along with over 10,000 other souls, as a tight and sometimes nervy match finished 2-2. The outcome was probably never really in doubt, but if Aldershot had managed to turn their 2-1 lead into 3-1, there might have been a lot of hard bitten fingernails. I went on my own. Well, my mum and sister went along, but the part of the ground they'd got tickets for had individual seats, so if I'd got a ticket for the same part of the ground, I wouldn't have been with them anyway, so I went behind the goal, where I've always gone. It's a social event, and without being with anyone I knew, I felt a little bit disconnected.

I watched Tranmere play at Wembley 4 times back in the early 90's. Twice in the Leyland Daf Cup, and Twice in the third division (as was) play-off finals. The first year, they won the cup but lost the play off, the second year, they lost the cup but got promoted.

And now they're back. And I'm going, along with Dave and Trev. Heading down in the car on Saturday to stay at Dave's mate, Rick's flat in Bracknell, where we will be dissolute, then off on public transport to London to meet Dave's brother, Andy, and on to the national stadium.

In some ways, I'm glad they never made it to the top. The further up you go, the more corporate it becomes. but it promises to be a good weekend.


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Saturday, 1 April 2017

Disconnect

What's the worst thing in your living memory?

9-11? 3-4,000 people died horribly.

The boxing day tsunami of 2004? about a quarter of a million people were killed.

Perhaps you're an older reader? You might remember the second world war? Well that was pretty bad. Over 60 million people - about 3% of the global human population. At the time this was about 2.3 billion people.

Well they're all chickenfeed compared to what lies in our immediate future.

See, the carrying capacity of the pre-industrial world was around 1 billion people. It was "a world without reserves" to quote Bill Bryson.  Over the next few decades, we will enter a post industrial age. But there are seven billion of us now, and the number is still growing, despite the best attempts of terrorists and erratic drivers.

It seems to me that the task facing us is to manage the decline of human population in as humane and smooth a way possible.

Looked at this way, the most momentous of current events seem oddly trivial. Trump? Brexit? Terrorist bloke killing 5 in London? The latest Iphone?

It's weird.  I feel like I'm inside a rather depressing bubble watching an utterly unaware world outside that's got not the slightest inkling about what's going to happen. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is bliss. Take your pick.

I became a step-grandad for the second time today. I wonder what sort of world my new born grand-daughter will grow into?


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Thursday, 16 March 2017

Stealthy alien invasion!

Story idea:

Venus is inhabited by clever and sneaky aliens who have been watching us for a long time. Being both clever and sneaky, they've managed to hide their presence from us.

They've had their eyes on our planet, so like their own, for a long time, but the climate is far too cold for them. So they've been nudging us along, giving us gifts of technological ideas (telepathically) knowing full well that we won't have the common sense to use the gifts wisely.

Terraforming (venuforming?) our planet by proxy by encouraging us to cause runaway global warming. Once we're all dead, they'll move in and get some extra lebensraum.

Nah. Could never work. Could it?

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Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Blogroll addition...

Welcome, the acerbic writings of James Howard Kunstler.

I'm currently about a third of the way through an audio version of his latest book, Too Much Magic Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation (Unabridged).

Well worth a read/listen in my opinion. He's not someone to cloak his disdain in polite dissemblage. What he has to say is probably familiar ground for most readers of this blog.

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Friday, 10 March 2017

The land of everything there ever was...

Well, that's the internet, isn't it?

Once upon a time, if you wanted to find something out, you'd have to search for it, or work it out for yourself. Now, if you want to know how many cows there were in France in 1937, you just have to google for a few minutes, and the answer will be there somewhere.


But there's one thing I've never been able to find, that I'd really like to see again. So this is an appeal. Any suggestions would be welcome.

I'm looking for an animated film. I watched it, very late at night, on UK television, back in the early 1990's, although it could have been made a little earlier. It was in colour, and I think was made by a producer from Eastern Europe.

The storyline is ultimately noir. Evil wins.

The plot hangs on two characters. Good, and evil. Good is an artist, that wishes to make a pleasant, colourful, happy line of events. Evil is a skeletal, (hooded?) monochrome figure that constantly attempts to thwart the happy, colourful, good storyteller. Evil's efforts are overcome by the creative and happy ideas of Good, until finally, Evil cuts the line.

I have no clue beyond watching it, a quarter of a century ago, almost certainly while pissed and stoned.

Still, I'd love to see it again, if anyone out there has any ideas. If you do find it, it's well worth a watch.

Happy hunting.

A couple of bits that I vaguely remember...

Good creates something bright and beautiful. Bad drops a grey boulder on it. Good makes the boulder bloom in bright and beautiful flowers. Unremittingly happy, he is. Good is an avatar of the story's Author.

The end comes when evil manages to procure a big pair of shears or scissors, and after gaining access to the Author's castle (breaking the barrier between creator and created), snips the story line, preventing the author from writing new ways for good to prevail.

The author sits in a garret. He has a long thin nose, with a dewdrop on the end of it. His stone walled room is lit by candles.  He writes, with a quill, and what he writes is enacted in the world he creates.

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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

No pressure...

This is a post about the business of driving instruction.

There's been a bit of coverage lately about what's been termed "the gig economy"

If you delivered mail, like I used to do 25 years ago, you were an employee. You got paid, minus tax, and were entitled to certain rights, along with your obligations. We've moved increasingly towards a way of doing things where people are self employed. They contract to work, generally get paid a higher rate, but are responsible for their own tax, and don't get such things as sick pay or holiday pay.

It's nothing new. It's just been vastly extended over the last decade or so. If you were a small businessman, such as a roofer or a taxi driver, it's generally been that way for a long time.

And so it is with driving instructors. There are companies out there that will employ qualified instructors, and give them a wage, buut for the vast majority, they're working for themselves, and are expected to sort out their own tax and all the other gubbins you have to deal with as a self employed practitioner of your skills.

Getting work can be difficult, particularly at first. You advertise, or you pay the owner of a school to provide you with clients.

We're all prostitutes really, except we don't have to suck cock every day. We're friendly, often with people that we would not, in the ordinary course of events, choose to be friendly with, for money.

Helen, who's been paying me a nominal franchise fee for a good few months now, has got a full diary. She's now got people paying up front for blocks of lessons. Yet she's got a ticking time bomb in her life.

When working on a trainee license, you are confronted with 2 seperate limits. One is a limit on the number of times you can attempt to do your teaching test. (3 times). The other is a time limit. You must complete your training within two years of passing the first of the three tests you are required to sit. There is some leeway. If you've booked a teaching test before they time limit, but the test date lies beyond the time limit, it will be honoured. The entitlement to teach, on a trainee license lapses upon the expiry of the time limit though, regardless of anything else.

Helen's time limit expires in April. She has her first attempt at her final exam in early March. She's taken close to £1000 in up front payment for lessons over the last week or two.

She's stressing about this, although she's also done the sensible thing and banked the money, so that if she doesn't get through the test, she can pay back anything she's unable to honour.

I also think that the fact that people have chosen to give her hundreds of pounds up front says something about where she's got to as an instructor.

One thing I've wanted to do for a while has been to get her sitting in on a lesson with an absolute beginner. I'd managed to organise something a couple of weeks back, but unfortunately, she was ill, and couldn't make the session. Today though, I managed to get this to happen. I think she'll get a lot from it. Not just in terms of how to do a beginner lesson, but in terms of how to structure and pace things.

Being able to do the job, and getting through the teaching test are not one and the same, There are some potentially excellent instructors that, because of nerves or whatever, never manage to clear the hurdle. There are a whole lot of shit instructors out there that ticked the boxes and got through.

Still, having a good solid grounding in the real life nitty gritty job is going to give you a better chance of getting through.

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Sunday, 12 February 2017

Driving School Vlog...?

One of my pupils waxed enthusiastic about doing videos.

Done properly, he said, it could bring a lot of business my way, and also make me money via youtube advertising revenue.

This particular blog, my own personal public outlook carries no advertising. If you're geting advertising when you come here, you should check your phone/tablet/computer for malware.

Stuff related to my work though is a different matter. It's my livelihood after all, and since the purpose of life, in this world we live in, is to make money, I don't have a problem with making money from any blogs or websites that are about my professional role.

You'll notice on my blogroll, the blog, howtofailyourdrivingtest. I've actually got a couple of pupils from this site over the years, and it does carry advertising. I could go and find precise figures about when I started it, and how much it's earned me, but precision is not important here. Suffice to say, the blog has been open for a few years, and has not yet generated enough revenue to trigger a payment from google.

That said though, I've done little to either keep the blog updated, or to promote it in any way. It has some potential I guess, but what I have in mind for it doesn't really sit well with the blogger format. I'd like it to be a page showing a DL25 driving test report sheet, and when people click on the various marking boxes, they would then go to an entry with a case study examining how the fault was generated, but as with so many things right now, finding the time/energy/motivation is difficult. The whole exercise is rather dry. Still, it does appear to be about the only thing relating to driving tests coming from that particular direction. I'm vaguely reminded of Monty Python's "How Not to be Seen" sketch, or Channel 4's "Pot Night" section on how not to grow cannabis.





 The internet of course is awash with videos of driving lessons, but I'd like to do things slightly differently. Getting things wrong on purpose. Trying stuff out in a way that those other vids don't. Knowing how to stall, for example, can lead to working out how to make it not stall.

I have cameras. I have my phone, my ipad, an old digital compact that can shoot video, a dashcam that has cameras for both front and rear. I don't have a clear idea about such things as what software to use to splice/embed/add soundtracks etc. I'd need a way of being able to drive and talk, while having cameras pointing in a useful direction and doing things like zoom and pan andwhat have you. Perhaps an assistant could help? Glamorous or otherwise. I also have a youtube account as part of the google account that is also this blogger account. If it were for my driving school, then it would make sense to set up a new account devoted to it. One that would link to my website, and to my facebook business page.

Truth is, I'm tired. I'm never home. Doing something fun and different like this might be a useful diversion as much as a potential source of income/new pupils. Even more new pupils would mean I could go on to fill the diary of another instructor.

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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A type...

A couple of months ago, I came across a type.

The type was a literary construct called a Mary Sue.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue

A mary Sue is an unfeasibly perfect fictional character, usually the protagonist, that is so impossibly perfect that the author's task of providing them of finding a way out of whatever hole they found themselves in is made utterly straightforward. I found the idea after trying to re-read (via audiobook) something that I enjoyed as a teenager. In this case, a character called Stile, from a series of novels by Piers Anthony.

But I've found another type, and I don't have a Name for it.

This type is a scary bastard, that despite their scariness is utterly ineffectual.

My first identification of the type was Iain M Banks's character, "The Serotine" It appears in his novel, Feersum Endjinn, and despite ratchetting dramatic tension, it is repeatedly hapless. A punchbag whos repeated defeats allow the hero of the tale to prevail. In Banks' case it's a disembodied flayed head that shrieks unnervingly but is avoided and eventually rendered imobile and helpless, to the amusement of those it had formerly terrorised.

Star Wars' Stormtroopers also fit this mould. Scary, authoritarian figures that couldn't hit a cows arse with a banjo.



https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/69/0b/e1/690be137bb6c2858b955b4589e10cfda.jpg


See also, JRR Tolkien's Nazgul. Undoubtedly scary. Manage to wound Frodo, but kill nobody, and their biggest and scariest is offed (by a girl) just as they're at their most scariest before they all get shunted off into oblivion by the dissolution of their boss.

Deaths by Dwarf - At least 31
Deaths by Elf - one less
Deaths by men, lots
Deaths by Nazgul - 0.5.

Well one of them might have killed a horse that them rolled over and killed a man. So let's give him some credit.
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Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Political Compass says...

I've been meaning to write something about recent political upheavals, but this sort of sums it up.

https://www.politicalcompass.org/counterpoint-20161110

Reflections on the US Presidential Election Result

The US election result was less a victory for sexism and racism than the defeat of Wall Street’s globalisation project — the one percent who benefit from arms contracts and free trade deals. Clearly large numbers of Americans, uncomfortable with the personality of Trump, nevertheless quietly voted for him and confounded the pollsters. It was a remarkable backlash against the political establishment, weary of vacuous promises of hope, and impatient for actual change.

Trump, more than any other incoming President in living memory, owes little to anyone. He was the outsider who won not because of the Republican Party, but in spite of it. He will not come to grips with the urgent issue of climate change. Neither will he do anything to reverse the country’s moral and intellectual decline.

The Democratic Party has only itself to blame. Middle and lower class anger towards the Washington establishment was all too evident. Poll after poll during the primaries indicated that Sanders — their own anti-establishment figure — had a far better chance of beating Trump. Thanks to Wikileaks, we now know of the party’s manipulation of its primaries. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Hillary would receive the nomination. The candidate of the military industrial complex and international finance capital was entitled to it.

In Political Compass terms, the US has finished up with a socially reactionary anti-establishment president. It might well have had a socially progressive anti-establishment one. The inescapable conclusion is that the Democratic Party hierarchy preferred Clinton to lose than Sanders to win.


In the wound-licking to come, might the party move closer to its pre-Clinton, pre-globalisation Keynsian past? Might it perhaps campaign for electoral reform and address undemocratic absurdities like the electoral college? Might it even recognise that, in the interest of a fully functioning democracy, the smaller parties must also be heard? It’s doubtful that one in ten-thousand Americans has heard of Jill Stein, not to mention her substantially fresh take on so many issues.


Trump is an old-fashioned isolationist and protectionist. As alarming as the thought of his impulsive finger on the nuclear button may be, he will diffuse the escalating tensions with Russia, and the attempts to portray Putin as the new Saddam. he will also hopefully fulfil his promise to tear up the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which many nations are being dragged into. Far from being merely about free trade, the TPPA gives corporations unprecedented and dangerous engagement in many aspects of governance.

Most importantly, Trump’s every move will be analysed and criticised not only by the Democrats, but also by large chunks of his own party. This is a healthier situation than during the previous eight years, when a Democratic president delivered a largely Republican programme while his party remained shamefully silent. A socially reactionary and highly unpredictable new president gratefully inherits the Obama administration’s provisions for illegal detentions without charges, domestic spying of citizens and extrajudicial assassinations — precedents that would be damned as quasi-fascist if Trump had initiated them.
We’re all in for an interesting — and bumpy — ride.
As to the UK? I was an activist back in the 80's and early 90's, when the Labour Party, ditched it's principles, and expelled its radicals to gain the power that came with appealing to the middle classes. I left in apathy and disgust. The emergence of Jeremy Corbyn re-energised me to some extent.

Well, Momentum seems to have lost a lot of its momentum. The grassroots movement that brought Corbyn to the fore is being thwarted at every turn by the mainstream Labour Party. My own local party remains suspended, and can only meet informally, under the banner of "Trades Union Public Meeting" or similar. There's a lot of anger towards Angela Eagle, and I think it's clear that given the opportunity, most constituency members would choose to replace her.

Google "Lol Duffy" if you'd like a bit of historical context.

So just as Sanders was baulked, and a potential progressive outlet was denied to people's anger and disillusiuonment, leading to them seeking other avenues, so it's likely that if a move to the left is blocked in the UK, working class voters will turn to UKIP.
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