BREX IT! Meal Kits

Take back control of your hunger! Inspired by various doomsday scenario planning guides that are telling Brits to stock up on beans and bottled water, I created the BREX IT! Meal Kits website in between laughing and crying about the political disaster that’s befallen our country.

Injured Sovereigns, Foucault, and Jessica Price

Why does Jessica Price’s firing continue to attract so much attention? There’s plenty of other subjects I want to write about, but there is something about the story that draws me to it, just as it’s drawn literally thousands of people to my Twitter this blog, some of whom have called me “subhuman scum” and so on. It’s safe to say that nothing I’ve written in over two decades has attracted this kind of active fury. 

There are two curiosities here, the first being the minute nature of Price’s supposed offence. Even if you consider her comments to be exceptionally rude, why should rude comments cause such an uproar? We are not short of famous individuals who are far ruder, far more frequently. For those who are fond of throwing around accusations of overreaction amongst ‘snowflakes’, a few sharp tweets seem exceptionally small beer. Even the subject of her comments, Deroir, did not seem especially hurt at the time, and did not seek any redress – instead, it was others who came to defend his honour.

The second curiosity has been the active pursuit of any journalist or, indeed, individual who would dare to defend Price. But Price has been fired! Surely ‘justice’ has been done and the matter is over. Yet clearly there is something so dangerous about Price’s actions that they require an overwhelming repudiation, such that even her sympathisers must be challenged and punished.

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I’ve been reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison recently, by way of Shannon Vallor’s Technology and the Virtues (my review). The book attempts to understand how and why the treatment of criminals changed in the past 400 years, from torture to prison. Unexpectedly for me, Foucault’s analysis of why torture and public execution were thought to be necessary has provided an unusually intriguing new lens to decipher those two curiosities about Price’s story.

Why did western societies use such torture and execution – practices that even at the time were considered extreme – to punish criminals, instead of prison? Why kill someone for crimes as minor as larceny? Because:

Besides its immediate victim, the crime attacks the sovereign: it attacks him personally, since the law represents the will of the sovereign; it attacks him physically, since the force of the law is the force of the prince.

… Punishment, therefore, cannot be identified with or even measured by the redress of the injury; in punishment, there must always be a portion that belongs to the prince, and, even when it is combined with the redress laid down, it constitutes the most important element in the penal liquidation of the crime. Now, this portion belonging to the prince is not in itself simple: on the one hand, it requires redress for the injury that has been done to his kingdom (as an element of disorder and as an example given to others, this con­siderable injury is out of all proportion to that which has been committed upon a private individual); but it also requires that the king take revenge for an affront to his very person.

In a time of monarchy, where all laws are determined by a sovereign (here termed the prince or the king), any crime cannot merely be considered as an attack on the immediate victim; not merely an attack on the order and control of the sovereign; but in fact an attack on the sovereign himself. Such an attack demands redress and punishment.

In our case, who is the sovereign? The most obvious answer is ArenaNet, Price’s employer, which alone sets the conditions of her employment, and has the unique power to terminate her employment at will. Yes, one may argue that some harm has been done to the honour of Deroir, and one may even argue (although I would not agree) that some modicum of harm has been done to the sovereign – but not that much. We are talking about a few supposedly rude tweets.

So why the termination? Disorder has been introduced to the land. That is the true crime, the considerable injury that eclipses the mild sting of the tweets themselves, and so it requires immense revenge for the contempt it shows to the sovereign, ArenaNet. Contempt may easily turn into insurrection – unionisation – turmoil – bankruptcy:

In every offence there was a crimen majestatis and in the least criminal a potential regicide. And the regicide, in turn, was neither more nor less, than the total, absolute criminal since, instead of attacking, like any offender, a particular decision or wish of the sovereign power, he attacked the very principle and physical person of the prince.

It may only seem like a few rude tweets, but it could end in bankruptcy, a fate to be avoided at all costs. In that light, termination can be the only appropriate response.

Why must the termination be public? Even in the US, disciplinary procedures typically take days, if not weeks or months, and do not result in the kind of lengthy explanations and justifications that ArenaNet provided. Again, sovereignty is core:

The public execution … is a ceremonial by which a momentarily injured sovereignty is recon­stituted. It restores that sovereignty by manifesting it at its most spectacular.

… Its aim is not so much to re-establish a balance as to bring into play, as its extreme point, the dissymmetry between the subject who has dared to violate the law and the all-powerful sovereign who displays his strength.

Price’s termination must be seen by all employees, and must demonstrate the power and determination of ArenaNet towards anyone else who might challenge its authority; hence the immediate firing of, Peter Fries, who did not tweet at any customers, but who, by supporting Price, lent support to her implicit challenge of authority.

The speed of the termination also demonstrates ArenaNet’s ceaseless presence in its employee’s lives:

…What had hitherto maintained this practice of torture was not an economy of example, in the sense in which it was to be understood at the time of the ideologues (that the representation of the penalty should be greater than the interest of the crime), but a policy of terror: to make everyone aware, through the body of the criminal, of the unrestrained presence of the sover­eign.

If you make any mistake, ArenaNet will terminate your employment immediately. They have unrestrained presence. And while some claim that the problem is because she used her ‘public’ Twitter (more on that later) and she mentioned her employer in her profile: do we really believe this would altered the outcome? Jessica Price is not famous, but she’s not unknown. It’s certain that fans would have found her profile and asked her questions.

This can’t be the whole story. True, only ArenaNet has the power to terminate Price – but are we to believe that the company wasn’t pressured into this action by part of its customers? What role do these ‘Customers’ (the vocal portion which I should stress is only a tiny minority of the total) play in proceedings?

An offence, according to the law of the classical age, quite apart from the damage it may produce, apart even from the rule that it breaks, offends the rectitude of those who abide by the law: ‘If one commits something that the law forbids, even if there is neither harm nor injury to the individual, it is an offence that demands reparation, because the right of the superior man is violated and because it offends the dignity of his character’ (Risi, 9).

Many of the complaints about Price – her rudeness towards Customers – remind me of the rectitude of those who abide by the law. The law, after all, is what matters. I have lost count of those who’ve told me that they would expect to be terminated immediately if they were rude to a customer. There is no question as to whether this would be fair or no, and no mitigating circumstances will be considered. “Perhaps termination was excessive, but we cannot dispute the ultimate right of power of the corporation.”

The Customers have been harmed. They require redress. They require recognition. In fact, like corporations, they also see themselves as sovereign. It is totally unacceptable that a mere employee, their servant, should be disrespectful towards them. They demand punishment out of proportion to the harm done to Deroir, because their person had been affronted. Price’s disrespect may seem minor but it could end in disregard – disdain – banishment.

Many Customers have dredged through Price’s social media, include comments about deceased YouTubers. These direct and indirect offences have been tallied and presented point by point, as if enough points might lead to a conviction in the minds of the public. Thus an “asshat” is worth one point, “stop fucking tagging me” two points, etc. It is obviously the performance of a judicial process: the gathering of evidence, the testimonies from would-be-YouTube-magistrates, not unlike how justice was performed a few centuries ago in France:

We have, then, a penal arithmetic that is meticulous on many points, but which still leaves a margin for a good deal of argument: in order for a capital sentence to be passed, is a single full proof enough or must it be accompanied by other slighter clues? Are two approxi­ mate proofs always equivalent to a full proof? Should not three be required or two plus distant clues? Are there elements that may be regarded as clues only for certain crimes, in certain circumstances and in relation to certain persons (thus evidence is disregarded if it comes from a vagabond; it is reinforced, on the contrary, if it is provided by ‘a considerable person’ or by a master in the case of a domestic offence).

Each piece of evidence, each point contributes to Price’s guilt:

The different pieces of evidence did not constitute so many neutral elements, until such time as they could be gathered together into a single body of evidence that would bring the final certainty of guilt. Each piece of evidence aroused a particular degree of abomination. Guilt did not begin when all the evidence was gathered together; piece by piece, it was constituted by each of the elements that made it possible to recognize a guilty person. Thus a semi­-proof did not leave the suspect innocent until such time as it was completed; it made him semi-guilty; slight evidence of a serious crime marked someone as slightly criminal. In short, penal demonstration did not obey a dualistic system: true or false; but a principle of continuous gradation; a degree reached in the demon­stration already formed a degree of guilt and consequently involved a degree of punishment. The suspect, as such, always deserved a certain punishment; one could not be the object of suspicion and be completely innocent.

Finally, why are the Customers so fervent in the pursuit of Price’s supporters? My article was barely published before I started receiving replies from strangers who had evidently been searching for “jessica price” on Twitter. I asked one person why they’d been searching, and they said they were bored. OK: but if you’re bored, why not watch Netflix or play a game? It’s because the Customers, as sovereign, must demonstrate their unrestrained presence.

…What had hitherto maintained this practice of torture was not an economy of example, in the sense in which it was to be understood at the time of the ideologues (that the representation of the penalty should be greater than the interest of the crime), but a policy of terror: to make everyone aware, through the body of the criminal, of the unrestrained presence of the sover­eign.

If you agree with Price, we will find you, wherever you are.

It is the combination of these two sovereigns – Corporate and Customer –  that is new and unusual. Both reinforcing each other, in their demand for respect, for a public execution in response to attack on their persons. The precise wording used by ArenaNet, “attacks on the community”, was not lost on Price:

Neither was the very public nature of proceedings:

Have I stretched the analogy too far? Am I blowing things out of proportion?

We’re already past that. Price has been fired and she is likely to be hounded on social media, and very likely in person, for many years. And for what? A few tweets. But these are tweets are so dangerous, so threatening to the natural order, that nothing short of termination will satisfy.

(Once, there was a third sovereign – the employee. Or the union. Or, yes, the guild.)

Where is it that humans can get respect, today? The option of last resort is as a customer. The customer is always right. “My money will force your respect.” And because many workers are now on social media for the very simple purposes and pleasures of talking with their friends and colleagues about their life, and yes, their work – the thing they spend eight hours a day on, the thing that keeps them clothed and fed – and because they do not want to make an artificial distinction between their personal and work lives (as if that would stop harassment, really!) – well, you as a Customer can demand their attention and their respect whenever they’re on social media. Which means their whole lives.

But what happens when your money no longer forces their respect?

It is disturbing to some Customers that some companies – not including Arenanet – will now overlook or even tolerate perceived rudeness. Whether this ‘lenience’ comes from a simple consideration of their staff as humans worthy of care and respect, or from a cold-hearted calculation that the loss of your few dollars, and your community’s few dollars, do not outweigh the financial benefit to the corporation of the occasional “rude” tweet made by the employees (aka humans) necessary to actually make products and services. Indeed, some rudeness may even be encouraged, in so far as it helps to retain and attract employees who can make profitable games.

(The expectation of total servility from those interact with Customers exists regardless of the sex of the employee. However, sexism is relevant to the extent that politeness is expected more from women than men, and rudeness is tolerated and in some cases celebrated more from men than women.)

All of this leaves the obvious question: what happens when two sovereigns go to war – when the Customers (again, I’m talking about the vocal minority) fight the Corporations?

As it turns out… usually very little. Which highlights the absurdity of these Customers taking the Corporation’s side over that of the employees who actually make the entertainment they value. But perhaps it is not so absurd when you consider that these customers value certain things over even their most beloved hobby, like the desire to see employees abasing themselves.

Now that’s entertainment.

 

TSB and Bank Account Number Portability

Even after the TSB banking debacle, it’s unlikely that many of their customers will switch to another bank, given that just 1-2% of UK consumers switch each year with most being put off due to the hassle.

Yes, the new Current Account Switch Service has made the process easier, but it’s disappointing we never got the true “bank account number portability” mooted a couple of years ago, in which consumers could keep their account number and sort code for life and so eliminate practically all hassle.

No doubt this would be an almighty pain in the arse for banks to implement, but they figured out Faster Payments, so I’m sure they could figure out number portability! The only problem is that portability would harm the prospects of the big incumbents, who were unsurprisingly successful in shutting the whole idea down.

China, a Land of Contrasts

Extended excerpts from four recent pieces on China. It’s impossible to generalise about a country of 1.4 billion people, but there are plenty of interesting nuggets here.

The quiet revolution: China’s millennial backlash (Financial Times, semi-paywalled) by Yuan Yang:

Faye Lu, a Beijing-based businesswoman, chose the Chinese new year after her 30th birthday to come clean to her family. At the biggest social gathering in the Chinese calendar, she prepared a New Year’s Eve feast for her parents and 20 relatives — more than 10 dishes including roast fatty pork, pork ribs and fried pickled cabbage. The feast, she knew, would give her the right to make a speech.

“You have taken care of me for 30 years,” she told her guests seated at the table. “I am very grateful to you all. I have had the opportunity to travel and to get to know many different cultures, who have different attitudes to marriage. And I can see that despite their differences to us, they are still happy . . . ”

Lu was circling around a problem: as an unmarried 30-year-old, she is seen by her parents and their contemporaries as a “leftover woman”. At the end of her speech, she presented a veiled request: “I am so grateful to you for not bothering my parents too much to ask when I am getting married.”

[…] Han Han, the 35-year-old novelist most celebrated by millennials, wrote on his Weibo microblog earlier this month, “Success isn’t about how many millions you earn. From a billionaire to a gardener, art editor or a programmer . . . everyone has their role and their destiny, each has their own kind of happiness.”

Han was reacting to what he called the “anxiety peddling” of an article headlined “Your Contemporaries Are Leaving You Behind”, about another influential millennial, Hu Weiwei, the 36-year-old founder of bike-sharing tech start-up Mobike. The piece contrasts the careers of Hu with what it calls the “mediocre” lives of her peers who fall short of such success. “You said we’d walk the paths of our youth together,” the author writes, imagining a dialogue between two classmates, “but you went and bought a car.”

China’s One-Man Show (Jacobin) by Doug Henwood interviewing Isabel Hilton:

There’s no shortage of corruption. Without pushing this analogy too far, if a member of the mafia is arrested and charged with a crime, you don’t really ask if he’s a criminal. You ask how he lost his protection. And if someone went down during this anti-corruption drive, the question was which power did he represent? Which faction did he represent? Why him and not any number of others?

[…] I think the ultimate vision is a restoration of the sense that China is the center of its world. That was the way China felt about itself for many centuries, partly because it didn’t really go very much farther. There was a brief period in the Ming Dynasty when ships went up and down the coast of Africa, and there was always land-based trade along the Silk Road, but China was content to treat the states and its neighbors in the immediate region as tributaries that paid homage to China as the great regional power. It was 20 percent of the world’s economy, which is pretty much where we’re heading back to.

China wants to restore that position, but it also wants to preserve its own system of government against rival systems of government. In pursuit of that, China is steadily setting up parallel institutions. Its own, as yet small, multilateral investment bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, is devising rules that suit China rather than rules that have been part of the postwar order.

I think we’ll see China increasingly building a world that suits China, but trying not to overreach.

Sundays in the Park With Bagoong (Taste) by Max Falkowitz:

At 7 a.m., the first ladies have set up camp, flattening corrugated boxes into floor mats and erecting hip-height walls to mark their camps. By 10, they’re out by the thousands, scattered along sidewalks, encamped in parks, and perched above the street on skyways. In the shadows of the most expensive real estate in the world, these women have constructed a city of cardboard. And as they chat in Tagalog, swap mobile phone pics, and set up board games, they unpack their lunches. Hong Kong’s well-to-do families may be off brunching at dim sum, but here on the streets on a recent Sunday afternoon, it’s all adobo and bagoong.

Over 300,000 domestic workers live in Hong Kong—4 percent of the 1,000-square-mile city’s 7.3 million population—mainly women from the Philippines and Indonesia. “Helpers,” as they’re called locally, typically clean house, run errands, buy groceries and cook meals, and keep an eye on children. They get one day off a week, and most spend their day of rest attending church and participating in a citywide outdoor feast.

Imperial history and classical aesthetics by Dan Wang:

China did not trigger its own industrial revolution. The first imperial dynasty was established 2,000 years ago, and the civilization has something like 5,000 years of recorded history. Did life change much for the average person throughout most of that time?

Not really. Dynasties came and went, but the lives of most people changed little throughout millennia. The overwhelming majority of people earned a meager living by farming their small plot of land throughout the entirety of their short lives, just as their ancestors have done and as their descendants would continue to do. Some people would move to settle new lands; some people would be conscripted to fight enemies; some people would die in bouts of famine, disaster, or warfare. These are typical misfortunes that have afflicted people everywhere in the world.

The richer parts of China developed an impressive commercial culture and a sophisticated economy in arts and crafts. But given their lack of industrialization, these offered only marginal improvements in overall living standards. I read somewhere that the populations of Nanjing, Suzhou, Beijing, and a few other cities had not grown from the Song to the Qing, a 1,000 year interval. Isn’t it astonishing that such a thing is even plausible?

[…] It’s difficult to find evidence of historical monuments in Chinese cities today. Most large Chinese cities look similar in the same ugly way, with big apartment blocks, wide avenues, concrete everywhere. How is it that the splendid cities of the past have all been reduced to such dreadful streets and buildings? Contrast that mess with the well-preserved cities of Europe, which have kept the churches, monuments, and sometimes even whole streets in as marvelous conditions as when they were first built.

Disregard of the material past is a tragedy for the modern traveler. What did the Tang capitals of Chang’an and Luoyang look like? We have to use our imaginations and be guided by the texts, for these cities offer very little guidance when we examine them today. But Leys argues that this failure to maintain historical monuments is in fact a sign of vitality: “The past which continues to animate Chinese life in so many striking, unexpected, or subtle ways, seems to inhabit the people rather than the bricks and stones. The Chinese past is both spiritually active and physically invisible.”

My heart trembles with nervousness whenever an essayist invokes geist. But perhaps Leys is on to something here, and instead of trying to grasp Chinese history by seeing, we ought instead do so through listening.

How good are monuments as guides to the past, really? Perhaps very little at all, and the continuation of intangible traditions is more valuable instead. Most Chinese know the same sets of stories and parables everyone is told growing up; the actions we see in paintings and read in books follow a logic that still makes sense; I’m personally struck that I’m familiar with the characters in centuries-old scrolls, unchanged as they’ve been throughout millennia.

Instead of building magnificent pyramids and churches out of stone, Chinese have accepted the time wears down all structures. Eternity can inhabit not the building but the spirit. Thus, in addition to mostly neglecting to maintain structures, Chinese have been extraordinarily active in burning, vandalizing, and utterly destroying the material heritage of their past.

History suggests a silver lining to Brexit

Linda Colley on the lessons history can teach us about the aftermath of Brexit, and how it could have a silver lining:

By instinct I am a Remainer, but I think that some form of Brexit may now be unavoidable. If that does turn out to be the case, I suspect that the resulting disruptions and realignments will affect far more than the economy: the trick will be to see if this can be turned to the good, or at least to something halfway productive.

In a recent pamphlet on the constitutional ramifications, Vernon Bogdanor has hinted at ways in which Brexit might conceivably have some constructive, albeit unpredictable, effects. As is becoming clear, and as Bogdanor sets out, Ireland represents a major challenge, and not just for reasons of cross-border trade. The Good Friday Agreement promised Northern Ireland parity of rights with the Republic. But if the UK does pull out of the EU, Northern Irish rights will no longer be protected by Brussels and the European courts, but will come back substantially to Westminster. And by the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, Westminster would be free in the future to modify those rights. Indeed, these challenges extend to all of the UK. The British government has undertaken to incorporate relevant sections of EU law and rights in statute law. But the same caveat applies: such incorporation would mean that these transferred rights and laws could be altered in the future by a sovereign parliament.

As Bogdanor remarks, some thoughtful politicians, such as Dominic Grieve, are proposing a new British Bill of Rights in the event of Brexit so as to protect vital rights against such legislative tinkering. This would be a good idea. It would also be valuable if more UK citizens and all political parties shifted some of their focus away from purely economic matters, and devoted more attention to the political, structural and legal vulnerabilities and quandaries that have been exposed by this crisis, and to the question of how these could be addressed.

Another of Colley’s hopes is that Brexit will force “Global Britain” to, well, actually learn how to speak other languages and learn the history of other nations. We’ll see.

More Calories Please

Public Health England now recommends that:

…adults try to limit the calories of their three main meals to 400 for breakfast and 600 each for lunch and dinner […noting] that the remaining calories of the daily guidelines – 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men – are likely to be made up of snacks and drinks.

To achieve this, the government is challenging the food industry to reduce calories in products consumed by families by 20% by 2024. The categories of foods this applies to includes pizzas, ready meals, ready-made sandwiches, meat products and savoury snacks. It’s likely they’ll achieve this target with smaller portion sizes, which fills me with deep and profound sadness.

I successfully weaned myself off unhealthy snacks and drinks several years ago, so I tend to eat bigger portions for my main meals. There is no world in which I want to eat just 1600 calories for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with the remaining 900 calories on snacks. I can manage this fine when I’m preparing food for myself at home or work, but when I’m on the move it’s clearly going to become harder and harder to find ready-made lunches that have 700-800 calories without adding on crisps or snacks or whatever.

I’m not a nutritionist or a food scientist, but I do know that barely anyone eats the suggested servings for things like breakfast cereal. Just try weighing out 45 grams – it looks like nothing. If retailers have to reduce their portion sizes, I wouldn’t be surprised that people just end up buying multiple portions – a hugely wasteful practice.

Others feel the same way. Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford was interview by the Guardian:

While she welcomed raising calorie-awareness, she noted that the recommendation to eat a total of 1,600 calories for main meals was well below daily levels and assumed people were snacking. “Maybe it is better to have a slightly bigger meal and not to snack,” she said.

Valuing Friendship over Principle

Lately, I’ve been spotting more and more cases of people valuing friendships over principle. Here’s what Quinn Norton, who was hired and then swiftly fired from the New York Times Opinion section for her offensive comments in the past, along with her friendship with neo-Nazi Andrew Auernheimer, said:

I was called a Nazi because of my friendship with the infamous neo-Nazi known on the internet as weev—his given name is Andrew Auernheimer; he helps run the anti-Semitic website The Daily Stormer. In my pacifism, I can’t reject a friendship, even when a friend has taken such a horrifying path. I am not the judge of who is capable of improving as a person. This philosophy also requires me to confront him about his terrible beliefs and their terrible consequences. I have been doing this since before his brief time as a cause célèbre in 2012—I believe it’d be hypocritical for me to turn away from this obligation. weev is just one of many terrible people I’ve cared for in my life. I don’t support what my terrible friend believes or does. But I strongly advocate for people with a good sense of themselves and their values to engage with their terrible friends, coworkers, and relatives, to lovingly confront them for as long as it takes, and it would be wrong to not do so myself.

This is obviously an extreme case. I imagine – or at least, hope – that most people would end friendships with those who become neo-Nazis. And note that I am deliberately talking about friendships, not familial relationships. You can’t choose your family.

But I’ve seen many more cases where people will refrain from criticising friends (often not very close friends) who say or do things that conflict with their principles. I’m not talking about ending friendships with people who say racist or sexist things, because to be frank, most people know better than to do that. I’m talking about expressing political, professional, intellectual, and philosophical differences with friends.

Let me give a slightly painful, personal example. In 2010, I wrote a post entitled Can a Game Save the World, where I criticised comments by Jane McGonigal about the power of games. I’m not in the habit of criticising friends, especially in public, but: given her very public profile; the resounding silence from anyone in the games or tech industry at the time; and the degree to which I disagreed with her, I felt a responsibility to say something, if only to show that disagreement existed within the games community. I certainly wouldn’t bother in most cases.

My post led to arguments. Many mutual friends privately told me they agreed with everything I had written, but for the most part they said nothing because I assume they didn’t want to affect their friendship with Jane, or possibly their professional lives, given her influence.

What’s the lesson? We all draw our own lines, and in our comparatively new online world of having hundreds of friends and kind-of-friends and acquaintances, maybe we aren’t sure how to express differences and disagreements, especially when it seems the only way to do so in public is via a megaphone to the entire world that can only broadcast 280 characters at a time (another reason for blogs to come back!).

But we should remember that adults can have disagreements and yet remain friends. I’m no Chidi Anagonye, I don’t believe in radical truth-telling, but I do think it’s essential for us to practice how to disagree with each other publicly, politely, and firmly, because that’s how we learn what we really believe, and what we’re prepared to do to to defend those beliefs.

After all, “if you won’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

Alex Pareene on the link between the profitability and ethics of newspapers in the Columbia Journalism Review:

In retrospect, it seems inevitable that American journalism’s professional norms around fairness and ethics emerged at a time when newspapers and magazines were good investments for normal financial reasons. Safe investments attract safe corporate investors. Corporations like clear standards of conduct and don’t like offending huge numbers of potential customers, which is how Yellow Journalism gave way to “All the News That’s Fit to Print” and the mainstream media as we knew it. The market played a big role in determining content. A big city paper could lean a little to the left or the right, but it couldn’t go full–John Birch or all–in Yippie without losing the thing that gave it power: monopolistic access to the eyeballs of the city’s literate adults.

What They Want, the Government Can’t Give

It wasn’t a surprise to me, or to anyone else in the UK, that residents of Grenfell Tower heckled their councillors and Tory politicians. And I wasn’t surprised when Prime Minister Theresa May cravenly refused to meet with anyone from the tower.

But what is surprising to me is that even the Queen received criticism:

There were emotionally charged scenes as the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge visited the Westway sports centre earlier in the day. Standing beneath the rumbling Westway flyover, the royals had finished meeting firefighters and police officers who responded to the inferno, when they were met with a spontaneous round of applause from onlookers.

But when the clapping died down, a distraught man beckoned them to come over. “Please come here,” he said. Clutching a missing appeal poster for the siblings Firdaws and Yahya, Rami Mohamed said he was a friend of the missing children’s family.

The Queen climbed into her car as the prince apologised and pledged to return to the Westway centre, which is operating as a relief centre for displaced evacuees and relatives of the missing.

When the royals departed, Mohamed said he was frustrated that so many people arrived for the monarch but it felt like his friends were being left behind. The Queen and the prince spent about 30 minutes in the centre visiting those affected, the day after May declined to visit the area over the security concerns.

Theresa May promised a £5 million cash fund for residents, but that didn’t stop the protests. The truth is, there’s literally nothing that the current government could promise that could. Not £50 million, not £500 million, not even the resignation of the Prime Minister herself.

Even a full-throated apology, for years of austerity, decades of neglect, and unremitting abuse from certain sectors of the press, wouldn’t do — because no-one would believe it. What use are words when there’s nothing stopping the Tories, or indeed the entire ‘neoliberal project’, from continuing to dismantle safety regulations and value money above all else? The right wing, led by the Vicar’s Daughter, would crucify the poor and the struggling on a cross of gold.

But the residents’ moral authority is unimpeachable — they weren’t even kettled on Oxford Circus:

What they want, the government can’t give. And so this will only end with the collapse of the government.

Mr. Corbyn, Please Stop Phone Scammers

My phone number was temporarily stolen last month. Rather than just tweet about it, I decided to write a letter to my local MP, Jeremy Corbyn, with specific suggestions on how to combat identity theft and phone scams.

Dear Mr. Corbyn,

In the last month, I have been subject to multiple identity theft attempts and fraud scams. No permanent harm was done, but it was very distressing. Moreover, it highlights major shortcomings with the government’s regulation of personal data security, particularly for mobile phone companies.

On XX December, I received a text message from Three telling me that my registered billing address had been changed, even though I had not requested this. I was in Canada on holiday and unable to contact Three until I returned on XX January.

It emerged that someone had called Three on XX December pretending to be me (they only needed my billing address and date of birth) and successfully changed my billing address to “19 Haling Park Road, South Croydon, CR2 6NJ” — presumably a forwarding address. They then requested a replacement SIM card be sent there.

The SIM card would have arrived a few days later, giving them possession of my mobile phone number. They attempted to buy £650 of goods from Boots.com on my credit card. This attempt was stopped automatically, and when the scammers called the credit card compnay, they were unable to authorise the purchase because they didn’t know my PIN.

When I returned on XX January, I visited a Three shop and was given a new SIM card. I also changed my billing address back, and XX issued me a new credit card (with new number). Everything was back to normal — although on XXJanuary I received a call from a person with an Indian accent on 0333 338 1019, telling me that they were Three customer support; this was obviously untrue, so I hung up. Continue reading “Mr. Corbyn, Please Stop Phone Scammers”