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Pop Songs in English, Written by Native Speakers of Swedish

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Swedish band ABBA

If you were in the land of the living in ’93, you will remember a song called “All that She Wants,” by the Swedish band Ace of Base. I don’t know anybody who resisted that song. I, who usually hate songs like that (porny-poppy, slick, computer-generated), bought the CD and sang along with it, happily. I can still play it on the guitar, twenty-five years later.

I am about to say something that has been said many times. The power of that song resides in a mistranslation. Not a mistranslation; better say a “slippage.” The chorus of the song goes (and I’m doing this from memory):

All that she wants
is another baby
she’s gone tomorrow, boy
a-a-all that she wants
is another baby

The intended meaning was “All that she wants is another lover” (so watch out, you sensitive boy who might foolishly fall for her). But of course no native speaker of English understood it that way. We all thought the song was taking this really surprising angle: “All that she wants is to get pregnant. She’s done this many times, and it’s what she’s doing now….”

It was a long time (long, long time) before it occurred to anybody that those lyrics were simply a choice example of botched English idiom. “Baby” can indeed be used to mean “lover,” but not here.

—Wait, why?— These are song lyrics. Doesn’t “baby” mean “lover” in song lyrics? 

Ever since my baby left me
I found a new place to dwell

I love rock ’n’ roll!
so put another dime in the jukebox, baby!

Baby’s good to me, you know
she’s happy as can be, you know
she said so

—And so on and so forth. Yes: it usually means lover, but not when you say “All that she wants is another baby.” It doesn’t work like that. If you say “All that she wants is another baby,” the meaning is she wants to get pregnant.

This is the sorrow of idiom. This is why I keep saying nobody speaks more than one language. The only way someone speaks more than one language is if that person’s parents speak different languages. Then maybe. My parents spoke different languages; yet, when I speak Spanish, I constantly say things just exactly like All that she wants is to get pregnant. (It’s very impregnating. I mean embarrassing.)

Now, I don’t know what they do to teach English to Swedish children, but whatever it is, anybody can see they do an excellent job. Part of the reason nobody spotted the booboo is that everything else in the song seemed like pure USA pop. I would have never guessed the band was Swedish. Somebody had to tell me.

Or look at ABBA. All the lyrics to all their songs were written by non-English speakers. Björn wrote most of the stuff. Early on, Stig, their producer (with his blonde, biker mustache like something out of Motörhead) collaborated. Look, I have my ABBA book right here—541 pages excluding the index. You wanna know where ABBA learned their English? High school. That, and Beatles records. 

You have to take a moment to grasp the craziness of this. Probably their principal access to living, real-time English was song English. They were very, very fluent in that. Indeed, they were much better at song English than most native speakers could ever hope to be. Think about the cleverness of the rhyme here:

I couldn’t escape if I wanted to

You wouldn’t think foreigners would be able to come up with that. Or look closely at something like this:

If you change your mind
I’m the first in line
honey, I’m still free
take a chance on me

If you need me
let me know
gonna be around
if you’ve got no
place to go
if you’re feeling down

That’s expert stuff. It doesn’t mean much, fine, that’s not important. The genius is in the management of the vowel quantities, and the way the lyrics work as an iggskwizzit medium for those two female voices. Here’s how it actually rolls out:

ifyouchangeyour MIND
I’mthefirstin LINE
honeyI’mstill FREE
t’k’achanceon ME

Listening to the song develop is like watching the soft-serve ice cream come out of the machine: it’s not just vanilla ice cream, it’s sculpted into that pleasing whatever-it-is, and when you shut off that lever, the end just naturally takes this tiny, teasing curl.

Look, that’s a good metaphor. If that doesn’t do it for you, I give up. Or how ’bout listening to the song itself (lip-synched on Swiss TV in 1979). Then you won’t need any metaphors. You won’t need anything.

Anyway, for all their genius, they weren’t native speakers, so there were GOING to be idiomatic booboos. Sticking with “Take a Chance on Me,” there’s a delicious mistake in the bridge, where the song slows down and the words are just “Take a chance on meeee,” and Agnetha breathes into the mic: “That’s all I ask of you, honey”—that’s what she says the first time. The second time she goes: “Gimme a break, will ya?” 

Now, that is definitely not what they meant. They meant “Give me an opportunity to prove myself” (which is what the whole song means). And you can see how they would think “gimme a break” means “gimme an opportunity.” (Wait, doesn’t it mean that? No.) But see, like with the Ace of Base thing, above, the song is actually enriched by the error. Suddenly, in this song full of pleading goo, you get this aside in the tone of oh-for-fuck’s-sake—as if to say, with a weary eye-roll, “I can’t buh-lieve you’re making beg like this.”

Couple other specimens. From the very beginning of “The Name of the Game”:

I’ve seen you twice
in a short time
only a week since we started

It seems to me
for every time
I’m getting more open-hearted

“For every time” is not correct English, but don’t look at that. Look at “I’m getting more open-hearted.” Björn and Benny and Stig thought that that meant “I’m exposing my heart more, becoming more candid, more vulnerable.” The context makes that intention clear. But the sentence in fact (or anyway in English) means something more like “I’m becoming more kind and warm and generous,” which is not the same thing. {I’m becoming more vulnerable} vs {I’m becoming more generous}—it’s different. Yet no one cares; it’s at the beginning of the song; it runs right by you. 

The following case is more complex (from the last verse in “Fernando”):

Now we’re old and gray, Fernando
since many years I haven’t seen a rifle in your hand

Here I pause. Is it possible they were channeling a little bit of Mexican English there, to fit the atmosphere of the song? I searched the rest of the lyrics to find anything else like that, and maybe (?) there’s a little Spanglish here in the chorus:

There was something in the air that night
the stars were bright, Fernando
they were shining there for you and me

for liberty, Fernando

Though we never thought that we could lose
there’s no regret
if I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando

“There’s no regret” is not what an English speaker would say there, but the “speaker of the poem” is not supposed to be an English speaker. I’m sitting here translating it back into Spanish: No hay pesar. But is that what people would say in Spanish? Is that what my father would say? I’m out of my depth.

Now, if there are any major ABBA psychopaths reading this, I know what you’re thinking. “They recorded the song in Spanish, too, y’know. They were huge in Latin America. So, what do the lyrics say in the Spanish version?” Way ahead o’ ya, Marge. Here’s what they say:

Algo había alrededor quizá
de claridad, Fernando
que brillaba por nosotros dos
en protección, Fernando

No pensábamos jamás perder
ni echar atrás
si tuviera que volverlo a hacer,
lo haría ya, Fernando

Nothing there about regret at all. “We never thought we’d lose or back out.” And anyhow, the Spanish lyrics don’t have any authority! Who knows who wrote that stuff.

But it’s getting late. Before I wrap this up I want to note that there are millions of videos on YouTube of the people from ABBA being interviewed in English. If you look at ones from the last, say, ten or fifteen years, it’s delightful to check out the more-or-less current state of Björn’s English in particular. He sounds—and even looks!—like Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. That’s right: the guy who wrote the words to “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” has become Professor Higgins. Oh, and another thing: as of this year, apparently ABBA’s back together and they’re going on tour as holograms or something. Higgins and Pickering and the two Elizas . . . 

End times a-comin’. Horsemen, saddle up. The rest of y’all, take care of yourselves.

Anthony Madrid lives in Victoria, Texas. His second book is Try Never. He is a correspondent for the Daily.

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4 days ago
"This is the sorrow of idiom."
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High Trust, High Fear: Inside the Dystopian Hellhole of Trumpism

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Yesterday we decided to dig deeper into this matter of Trump White House NDAs. Kellyanne Conway said they all sign them in the Trump White House. Then President Trump confirmed the existence of NDAs for White House employees in one of his broadsides against renegade ex-employee Omarosa Manigault-Newman. I want to first discuss the NDAs and then some broader lessons we can draw about Trumpism from this latest turmoil. In this storm of back-biting, intrigue and betrayal we see in microcosm the world system on which Trump wants to build US relations with the rest of the world. But first, let’s discuss the NDAs.

As Allegra Kirkland explains here, there appears to be a two-tiered system of Trump White House NDAs. Some ex-staffers are put on what amount to retainers for their silence. Longtime Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller apparently signed one of these for $15,000 a month. Omarosa says she was asked to sign one and then declined. Those are what we’ll call the post-White House NDAs. It appears that a handful of ex-White House employees are covered by them. To the degree these retrospectively cover the ex-employee’s time working for the government, it seems highly dubious that these are enforceable. But that’s not really the point. As the Cohen/Stormy Daniels saga has demonstrated, enforceability has never counted terribly high in Trump NDA thinking. The point isn’t to win cases but to get a license to terrorize or bankrupt signee with predatory litigation.

Then there are the NDAs that most White House staffers have signed. On its face, this is an oxymoron. You can’t make government employees sign NDAs. They would be unenforceable. Early in the administration Trump started pushing for them. White House Counsel Don McGahn initially refused to create them for the reasons I note. But he eventually relented to calm Trump down, even though he made clear they were unenforceable and thus essentially meaningless. There were apparently early drafts that included massive cash penalties payable to the US government if staffers divulged things they had learned in the Trump White House. Those provisions, though, were apparently stripped out. The final NDAs had all the vast and encompassing demands for silence you would expect from a Trump NDA. There just weren’t any penalties.

The upshot was that McGahn relented and drew up the un-teethed NDA to calm Trump down – a sad commentary on all involved. Legally, those can’t mean anything. McGahn appears to have said as much and used that reality that mollify staffers who resisted signing. But contracts often have an intimidation value beyond their legal power. That’s a core strategy of the Trump world. Today we learned that the Trump Campaign, the only entity here with a possibly legitimate NDA in hand, is taking Omarosa to binding, secret arbitration over the NDA she had with the campaign – more or less the tactic that Trump and Michael Cohen tried at first with Stormy Daniels to such great effect. This latest move fits in with the general model. Trump NDAs aren’t necessarily meant to be binding or legally actionable. They’re licenses to force the target party into ruinous litigation.

But there’s another dimension to Trump’s NDA obsession. An article published yesterday in The Washington Post said this …

The rampant use of such nondisclosure agreements underscores a culture — fostered by Trump himself — of paranoia, leaks, audio recordings and infighting that has pervaded his dealings for decades and continues into his presidency, according to current and former aides.

If there’s nothing else we’ve learned in recent months it is that if Trump is paranoid about being betrayed by his top operatives, he apparently has good reason. Michael Cohen taped his calls with Trump. Omarosa taped numerous conversations in the White House. It’s widely suspected that others in the White House have too. The Trump White House also leaks more than any White House in memory. The clear implication is not simply that Trump hires bad or untrustworthy people. It is far more organic. Trump creates and operates in a world in which anyone can be tossed overboard, fired or denigrated more or less at the drop of a hat. Having the dignity crushed out of you amounts to the most reliable and universal aspect of Trump service. Trump also notoriously sets lieutenants against each other, both for kicks and as a method of control. Trump is himself impulsive and erratic by nature. He uses this culture of disruption and unpredictability as a method of managing himself and others.

All of this breeds a climate of mistrust and suspicion both in the ‘bilateral’ relationships between Trump and individual staffers and within the whole subculture – vertical and horizontal mistrust, we might say. It’s a low trust, high fear climate which breeds backstabbing, betrayal, paranoia which only deepens in a self-validating, self-perpetuating way. It is a system of maximal public obsequiousness and maximal private subterfuge. Everything is a lie. It breeds all these negative behaviors because it is an unsafe environment in which they become rational.

We all know this from watching Trump and his White House. What is worth noting is how this pattern is rooted in the zero-sum mentality which informs every aspect of Trump’s world. That applies to everything from ‘deals’ and how he treats people to the extreme preference for bullying bilateral trade agreements over the more rules-based treaty systems which have been the focus of US foreign policy for three-quarters of century.

People who study negotiation call this the difference between “distributive negotiation” and “integrative negotiation”, one of which is about seeking maximum advantage and the other about building sustainable relationships. Each can be appropriate in a particular context. If you’re buying a car, you simply want to pay as little as possible. But that’s seldom the basis of a productive on-going relationship. Donald Trump only thinks about the former approach. It’s worked well for him. It’s also why, before he became President, every major US bank had blackballed him, refused to loan him money. Because he can’t be trusted. He’s a cheat.

One of the most illuminating concepts I ever learned about international relations came from my friend Steve Clemons who spoke about “high trust” versus “high fear” international environments. Broadly agreed rules, norms, transparency, frameworks for arbitration, conciliation over aggression each build environments of relative trust in contrast to high fear environments in which force, duplicity and advantage play decisive roles.

The key is that these environments build on themselves and perpetuate themselves. In a high fear environment, secrecy, force and seeking maximum advantage in every case become rational choices. They become critical to self-preservation. Trump tends to approach trade agreements more like buying a used car where gimmicks, huffing and puffing or threats to walk away may actually help you get the lowest price possible. In buying a used car that’s really all that matters. It’s not the basis of relationships or agreements that are sustainable over time. Trump’s vision of the world is one built on a series of one-off exchanges and bargains in which in each case the US will seek maximum advantage, often with threats, bullying, threats to walk away and more. In other words, it is a high fear environment, one built on predation and plays for maximum advantage, in which the US will do best because it is the strongest.

Trump’s White House is simply a microcosm of this dark and self-defeating worldview: a system of aggression, betrayal, unpredictable behavior and dishonesty, all of which foster and encourage similar behavior from everyone who enters it. Trump clearly attracts people who are either like him or aspire to be like him. But even for relatively normal people, he creates an environment in which his values and behaviors become rational. It a classic Hobbesian world, the war against all against all – a comic dystopia Trump is building in the White House and aspires to create worldwide.

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4 days ago
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Logos for Trump’s Space Force from eight leading designers

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Bloomberg Businessweek asked eight designers to design a logo for Trump’s proposed new branch of the military, Space Force. 89-year-old Milton Glaser, designer of the iconic I ❤ NY logo, can still bring the heat:

Space Force Logo

I really really *really* want this on a hat. (via df)

Tags: design   Donald Trump   logos   Milton Glaser
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Relevant to the launch of Team Trump's new Space Force product line...
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A 20-year time lapse of stars orbiting a massive black hole


The European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile has been watching the supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy and the stars that orbit it. Using observations from the past 20 years, the ESO made this time lapse video of the stars orbiting the black hole, which has the mass of four million suns. I’ve watched this video like 20 times today, my mind blown at being able to observe the motion of these massive objects from such a distance.

The VLT was also able to track the motion of one of these stars and confirm for the first time a prediction made by Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

New infrared observations from the exquisitely sensitive GRAVITY, SINFONI and NACO instruments on ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) have now allowed astronomers to follow one of these stars, called S2, as it passed very close to the black hole during May 2018. At the closest point this star was at a distance of less than 20 billion kilometres from the black hole and moving at a speed in excess of 25 million kilometres per hour — almost three percent of the speed of light.

S2 has the mass of about 15 suns. That’s 6.6 × 10^31 pounds moving at 3% of the speed of light. Wowowow.

Tags: astronomy   black holes   Milky Way   physics   science   space   time lapse   video
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19 days ago
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That sinking feeling


We are now 25 months on from the Brexit referendum. Theresa May filed notice of departure from the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on 29 March, 2017: on 29 March, 2019 (in 8 months' time—approximately 240 days) the UK, assuming nothing changes, will be out of the EU.

In the intervening time, the UK has undergone a disastrously divisive general election—disastrous because, in the middle of an unprecedented (and wholly avoidable and artificial) national crisis, it returned to power a government so weakened that it depends on an extreme right-wing sectarian religious party to maintain its majority. The DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) stands for Union with the United Kingdom, and hostility towards Ireland (in the form fo the Irish Republic); they will veto any Brexit settlement that imposes a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. However, this implies that a customs border must exist between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and the two economies are so entangled that this is impractical. (The border between north and south cuts across roads, railways ... and also through farms, living rooms, and business premises.) Creating a hard border in Ireland is anathema to the government of Ireland, which will therefore veto any Brexit agreement with the UK that posits one. (It would also violate the Good Friday Agreement, but hey, nobody in Westminster today cares about that.)

The Electoral Commission has uncovered evidence of electoral spending irregularities in the Leave.UK and Vote Leave campaigns serious enough to justify criminal investigation and possible prosecution; involvement by Cambridge Analytica is pretty much proven, and meddling by Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer has also been alleged in testimny before the US Senate judiciary committee. There's also an alleged Russian Connection with Aronn Banks (the main financial backer of Brexit) having been offered too-good-to-be-true investment opportunities in a Russian gold mine (according to The Observer newspaper).

But not to worry, the will of the people has spoken! (Although it's actually the will of these peope—a mixed bunch of right-wing Atlanticists, hedge fund managers, warmed-over neo-Nazis, and disaster capitalists. Never mind, I'm certain they have only our best interests at heart.)

For added fun and optimism, back in the summer of 2016 it looked reasonably likely that over the next few years we would see business continue as usual, on a global scale. This was before the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the USA. Trump doesn't understand macroeconomics—he's convinced that trade is a zero-sum game, that for every winner there must be a loser, and that trade tariffs and punitive sanctions are good. He's launched attacks on the World Trade Organization (as well as NATO) and seems intent on rolling back the past 75 years of post-WW2, post-New Deal global free trade. The prospects for a favourable post-Brexit trade deal with the United States went out the window on January 20th, 2017; Trump perceives isolation as weakness, and weakness in a negotiating partner as an opportunity to screw them. (So much for the Conservative Atlanticists and the Special Relationship.)

The EU is the UK's largest trading partner, with roughly 44% of all our foreign trade going through our EU siblings. This includes food—the cramped, densely populated UK hasn't been self-sufficient in food since the 19th century, and we import more than 50% of what we eat.

A customs union with the EU has been ruled out unless the UK agrees to cooperate with certain EU "red line" requirements—essentially the basis for continuing free trade: for reasons too preposterous and stupid to go into this is unacceptable to the Conservative party even when national food security is in jeopardy. In event of a no-deal Brexit, Operation Stack will become permanent, causing gridlock on motorway routes approaching Channel ports. Perishable goods and foodstuffs will be caught up in unpredictable protracted delays, resulting in dairy produce (including infant formula) becoming 'very scarce'. Large manufacturing concerns with cross-border supply chains such as BMW, Airbus, and Toyota are threatening to shut down production in the UK in event of a hard Brexit; Amazon's UK manager warns of civil unrest in event of a no-deal Brexit, and in event of a no-deal that doesn't include services (as well as goods) it's hard to see how the Amazon supply chain can continue to function in the UK.

(Note: Online sales account for 18% of all UK retail and Amazon is the proverbial 500lb gorilla in this sector. UK customers who purchase from Amazon.co.uk are, however, doing business with Amazon SarL in Luxemburg, who then subcontract fulfillment/delivery to a different Amazon company in the UK—Amazon SarL takes advantage of one of the lowest corporate tax regimes in the EU. This is obviously not a sustainable model in event of a hard brexit, and with shipping delays likely as well as contractual headaches, I think there's a very good chance of Brexit shutting down Amazon.co.uk and, thereby, close to 20% of the British retail distribution system.)

Current warnings are that a no-deal Brexit would see trade at the port of Dover collapse on day one, cutting the UK off from the continent; supermarkets in Scotland will run out of food within a couple of days, and hospitals will run out of medicines within a couple of weeks. After two weeks we'd be running out of fuel as well.

Note that this warning comes from the civil service, not anti-Brexit campaigners, and is a medium-bad scenario—the existence of an "Armageddon scenario" has been mooted but its contents not disclosed.

In the past month, the Health Secretary has admitted that the government is making plans to stockpile vital blood products and medicines in case of a no-deal Brexit, and the Brexit secretary is allegedly making plans to ensure there are "adequate food supplies" to cover a no-deal exit.

But before you say "well, then it's going to be all right, we'll just go back to 1939-54 era food ration books and make do and mend", we need to factor in not only Donald Trump's latest bloviations, but Global Climate Change! Europe is facing one of the most intense regional droughts in living memory this summer, with an ongoing crisis-level heat wave. Parts of the UK have had the least rainfall in July since 1969, with a severe heat wave in progress; Greece is on fire: Sweden is having a wildfire problem inside the Arctic circle this summer).

A Hard Brexit, on its own, would be a very dubious but probably long-term survivable scenario, with the UK economy taking a hit not much worse than the 10% downsizing Margaret Thatcher inflicted on it in 1979-80. But a hard Brexit, coinciding with the worst harvest failures in decades, ongoing climate destabilization, a fisheries collapse, and a global trade war being started by the Tangerine Shitgibbon in the White House is ... well, I'm not optimistic.

Right now, the British cabinet seems to be locked in a suicide pact with itself. Theresa May is too weak to beat back the cabal of unscrupulous opportunists within her own party who want the worst to happen—the disaster capitalists, crooked market short-sellers, and swivel-eyed imperialist revenants of the European Research Group. Any replacement Conservative PM would face exactly the same impedance mismatch between reality and his or her back bench MPs. On the other side of the house, Jeremy Corbyn's dislike for the EU as a capitalist entity has combined with his fear of alienating the minority of "legitimate concerns" racist voters in Labour's base so that he's unwilling or unable to adopt an anti-Brexit stance. Brexit cuts across traditional party lines; it's a political Outside Context Problem that has effectively paralysed the British government in a time of crisis.

So I'm not optimistic that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided.

What happens next?

On a micro scale: I'm stockpiling enough essential medicines to keep me alive for six months, and will in due course try and stockpile enough food for a couple of weeks. I'm also going to try and move as much of my savings into other currencies as possible, preferably in financial institutions accessible from but outside the UK. (I expect a Sterling crisis to follow promptly in event of NDB. We saw Sterling drop 10% the day after the referendum—and certain people made a fuck-ton of money by shorting the stock market; I expect it to go into free fall if our trade with the EU is suddenly guillotined.)

On a macro scale:

Airports and the main container freight ports for goods entering the UK will shut down on day 1. There will be panic buying. I expect widespread rioting throughout the UK and sectarian violence in Northern Ireland (contra public received wisdom, NI is never quiet and this summer has been bad.)

A currency crisis means that goods (notably food) entering the UK will spike in price, even without punitive trade tariffs.

There will be mass lay-offs at manufacturing plants that have cross border supply chains, which means most of them.

You might think that as an author I'd be immune, but you'd be wrong: although paper editions of my UK books are printed in the UK, you can bet that some elements of the wood pulp and the ink that goes on it and the glue that binds them are imported. About 90% of my UK ebook sales are made as (contractually speaking) services via Amazon.co.uk (see above), the fuel that powers the trucks that ship the product to the bookstores is imported, my publishers (Orbit and Tor) are subsidiaries of EU parent companies (Hachette and Holtzbrink), and anyway, people are going to be spending money on vital necessities during the aftermath, not luxuries.

(Luckily for me, many of my sales come from other EU territories—in translation—and from the USA. Unfortunately, getting paid in foreign currency may become ... problematic, for a while, as Brexit jeopardizes both currency exchange and the UK retail banking sector's ability to exchange funds overseas.)

After week 1 I expect the UK to revert its state during the worst of the 1970s. I just about remember the Three Day Week, rolling power blackouts, and more clearly, the mass redundancies of 1979, when unemployment tripled in roughly 6 months. Yes, it's going to get that bad. But then the situation will continue to deteriorate. With roughly 20% of the retail sector shut down (Amazon) and probably another 50% of the retail sector suffering severe supply chain difficulties (shop buyers having difficulty sourcing imported products that are held up in the queues) food availability will rapidly become patchy. Local crops, with no prospect of reaching EU markets, will be left to rot in the fields as the agricultural sector collapses (see concluding remarks, section 5.6).

Note that during her time as Home Secretary, Theresa May presided over 30% cuts in police numbers. During the recent state visit by Donald Trump, virtually every police force in the UK had to cancel all leave just to maintain cover for those officers temporarily assigned to POTUS' security detail (the policing operation was on a scale comparable to the 2011 summer riots ... when there were many, many more officers available). Also, police and emergency service workers will be trying to source food, medicines, and the necessities of life for themselves and their own families: there may be significant absenteeism from critical posts just as everything comes to a head.

I expect the government will collapse within 1-4 weeks. There will be a state of emergency, managed under the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) (which replaced earlier civil defense emergency legislation). Emergency airlifts of medicines, food, and fuel may take place—but it's hard to see the current US administration lending a hand.

Most likely the crisis will end with the UK crashing back into the EU, or at least into Customs Union and statutory convergence—but on EU maximalist terms with none of the opt-outs negotiated by previous British governments from Thatcher onwards. The negotiating position will most likely resemble that of Greece in 2011-2015, i.e. a vastly weaker supplicant in a state of crisis and near-collapse, and the British economy will take a generation to recover—if it ever manages to.

(This is, by the way, not the worst scenario I can envisage. The worst case is that the catastrophic collapse of the world's sixth largest trading economy, combined with a POTUS whose understanding of economics is approximately as deep as that of Louis XVI, will lead to a global financial crisis on the scale of 2007-08—but without leadership as credible as, say, George W. Bush and/or Gordon Brown to pull our collective nuts out of the fire. In which case we're looking at a global banking collapse, widespread famine due to those crop shortages, and a wave of revolutions the like of which the planet hasn't seen since 1917-18. But hopefully that won't happen, right? Because only a maniac would want to burn everything down in order to provide elbow room for a new white supremacist ethnostate world order. Oops, that would be Steve Bannon.)

Anyway: the most likely historical legacy of a no-deal Brexit will be the final refutation of the common British misconception that the UK is still a global superpower, possibly accompanied by Scottish secession and re-entry to the EU, Irish reunification in some sort of federal system, re-acquisition of Gibraltar by Spain, and the disintegration of the Conservative (and possibly Labour) parties at the next general election.

I just hope I'm still alive at the end of it.


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25 days ago
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Immigrant Bashing Is All About Racism

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What is it that gets so many conservative whites so enraged about immigration? Are they afraid immigrants will take away their jobs? Or do they just not like non-white people very much?

Steven Miller, a political science professor at Clemson, decided to test this using data from election surveys going back to 1992. I don’t want to keep you in suspense, so here’s the basic answer:

Nothing related to economic anxiety has any correlation at all with attitudes toward immigration—and it never has. Going back 25 years, the correlations are barely different from zero in practically every year.¹ But the correlation with racial resentment is both consistent and sky high. If you don’t like brown people, you don’t like immigration.

This is hardly news. Liberals have been mocking “economic anxiety” as an explanation for Donald Trump’s victory ever since Election Day. Still, for something this incendiary, it’s a good idea to test it as many ways as possible and over as much time as possible. This is just one more confirmation that when Trump rails about Mexico and the wall, he’s appealing almost purely to racism, not to working-class anxiety over job loss.

It’s worth noting that this forces us to face another question: was Trump’s anti-immigrant message responsible for his victory? My take is that the evidence shows us two things:

  • “Build the wall” appealed exclusively to racist sentiment.
  • With a few minor exceptions, racist sentiment was no stronger in 2016 than any other recent year. If you dial it up, you gain some voters at the bottom but lose at least as many from the middle.

In other words, Trump’s immigration message didn’t help him and, on net, probably actually hurt him. Outside of Trump’s base, I think most people understand perfectly well that anti-immigrant sentiment is basically driven by racism, and they want no part of it. Democrats should use this to their advantage by baiting Trump into getting ever louder and more putrid about immigration. The racist core of his base is already as fired up as it’s ever going to get over this, but the rest of the country becomes queasier the more he yells about it. In the Trump era, toleration for immigration isn’t just good policy, it’s almost certainly good politics too.

¹In fairness, this doesn’t preclude the possibility that there’s some economic variable somewhere that’s related to anti-immigration sentiment. Miller was limited to what was in the election surveys, so technically we can draw conclusions only about those particular variables. But in addition to the ones I show above, there’s also no (or barely any) correlation with gender, education, income, and being unemployed. So if there is some economic variable related to being anti-immigrant, it’s pretty well hidden.

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39 days ago
It's always nice to have data, I suppose. But the "economic anxiety" apologetics have been obvious bullshit from the beginning. I hope with an eye-popping chart in their pockets, more people adopt the stance of mockery.
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