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Comment: Badger and the Resistible Rise of Outrage

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BADGER sometimes wonders whether people care enough to read researched pieces in favour of getting their kicks at online outrage magnets.

Social media’s use and abuse have poisoned debate. They’ve given impetus to small-minded bigots’ voices on all sides of politics.

Instead of bringing people together, it’s driving them into smaller units. Those cliques are chosen by algorithms which record your personal data and your interactions on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

The algorithms drive you more and more towards traffic they ‘think’ might appeal to you. By showing you advertisements that promote products and services you’ve expressed interest in, algorithms generate income.

Try shopping online for car insurance… see what adverts pop up on Facebook next.

For one notorious example: Britain First – a neo-Nazi front – share posts on the lines of ‘I support our brave veterans, share and show your support’. Share it and eventually, even if you don’t, someone you share it with might buy the merchandise – the badge, the t-shirt – and buy into the underlying creed.

Algorithms comb your data – with your permission. The software identifies where you’ve been online; what you’ve looked at, and whether anything stands out as gelling with the bank of advertisers waiting to pounce on you with ‘offers tailored for you’.

You end up trapped in an echo chamber. You hear views which a computer programme thinks you ought to like. The intensity of the targeting narrows down your world view by degrees.

For example, a few years ago for the purposes of research on the rise of far-right parties – particularly the BNP and their associated exclusive brethren – Badger created a false online ID and browsed the net, Twitter, and Facebook to gather information for a possible article on the methods used to ‘get’ to people online. He did the same with left-wing groups using a different identity.

It was an experience Badger found illuminating and depressing.

For a start, the algorithms’ power back then was nowhere near as powerful as now. Still, Badger was inexorably guided to pages, groups, and forums promoting extreme positions on both the right and the left. For factionalism and racism, the extremes were almost indistinguishable.

The right hated everyone, but especially Muslims and anyone to the left of Genghis Khan; the left hated everyone, but especially Jews and anyone to the right of Leon Trotsky.

The extreme right hated other factions of the extreme right. The radical left hated different sections of the extreme left. Their squabbling showed Badger that, wherever logic is replaced by blind faith, you can find someone prepared to argue over how many of their comrades can dance on the head of a pin.

And not a big pinhead, either.

Let’s look at what happens.

Suppose you share a link to something you disapprove of and tag the person who’s offended you. In that case, you might imagine you are demonstrating your disapproval and showing your opposition to whichever view you find repellent.

You are wrong. You are spreading that person’s message and the algorithms driving social media will register your interest as promoting that post.
As a working example, Badger will illustrate the issue from a Pembrokeshire standpoint. For the purposes of this exercise, Badger’s personal views are immaterial.

Pembroke Dock Central County Councillor Paul Dowson is the centre of some online attention.

Some who find his politics repulsive. Others enthusiastically endorse him.

Those who deride the Councillor do him a massive favour by repeatedly mentioning and tagging him in their posts. Those who think the Councillor is somehow brave for saying what he does do him a favour by often mentioning and tagging him in their Facebook posts. On the other side of the fence, those who support the Councillor do his opponents a massive favour by tagging them in their Facebook posts.

It’s a relationship founded on mutual and reciprocal hatred.

Although the Councillor benefits from the exposure, the ultimate beneficiary is Facebook, which monetises your page views.

If his opponents ignore him, that will leave only his supporters singing his praises to each other. Algorithms place a lower value on those interactions than apparently random bursts of attention from those who neither follow nor support him.

What Councillor Dowson’s views on ANYTHING are utterly immaterial to the process. On the one hand, he could say he wants to deport everyone whose skin colour comes after taupe on the Dulux colour chart. In his next post, he could say he wants a mosque built in every town to welcome Muslim migrants to the UK.

What he SAYS doesn’t matter to your computer or the platforms you use to view them. It doesn’t matter whether you read his thoughts with open-mouthed shock or adoration. The algorithms are both smart and stupid. All they measure is the response from others.

It’s called a web for a reason. It’s a series of connections between different nodes. If you connect at point A, you also connect to points B, C, D and beyond. Algorithms like ‘rich media’ – photographs, video, podcasts; so, join the points (nodes) to create online influence. And once you are recognised as an influencer, you’re on the way to making money.

Interview a Holocaust Denier, and they’ll share it. Their followers will share it. Suddenly, you’re one of the UK’s top ten Flag-shaggers.
Much-loved racist neo-Nazi thug and fraudster ‘Tommy Robinson’ did it with his PayPal patriotism. Others have followed the same primrose path, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Readers: if you want to really make that sort of thing go away, you face two choices: both preclude debate.

Firstly, you can ignore it and hope it all goes away. Badger calls this the Blair-Cameron approach. It won’t work; or Secondly, the 57 varieties of outraged get smart, focus locally, address what others are concerned about, and stop whining.

It’s what political parties used to do before the world disintegrated into single-issue groups arguing over pronouns, history, and the meaning of abstract concepts like ‘sovereignty’.

Politics for grown-ups using modern technology… it could be worth a punt. Don’t form a committee to discuss it. Just do it.

It’s hardly the most outrageous suggestion you’re likely to read this week.

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Comment: ‘Zero Covid’ is a hard left hustle

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by Matthew Paul

Just like the real thing, for Coronazis winning is never enough. However hard the UK and Welsh governments attempt to clamp down on the Covid, for lockdown lovers it is always too little, too late.

The whole UK has been shut down since before Christmas. Matt Hancock’s latest wheeze is that people living in areas with the never-met-a-nice-South-African variant should eat up every last mouldy lentil, sorry gherkin and crusted pot of Birds custard in the deepest recess of their kitchen cupboards before venturing out to resupply. Vaughan Gething is warning people in Wales that they won’t be allowed summer holidays abroad (booked two weeks in Tuscany already. Up yours, Vaughan).

The first lockdown, plus the little lockdownette in November, were only the Coronazis’ Anschluss and Sudetenland. The real blitz started just in time to spoil Christmas. Now, they’re planning Barbarossa. Or, as lockdown lovers would have it, “Zero Covid”.

Well, it sounds sensible enough, doesn’t it? Getting rid of the Covid altogether so we can go back to life as normal? After all, New Zealand shut out foreigners and has had hardly any Covid. Australia closed its borders on 20th March last year and is likely to keep them closed through the whole of 2021. In China, where the whole thing started, they’re having pool parties again. And all because people were good and obeyed the rules. More rules and more obedience must be the answer in Britain, too.

There are many things they do in China that we wouldn’t contemplate here. Chaining Uighur women to concentration camp beds to facilitate their rape is one such thing; welding people inside their apartment blocks until the Angel of Death has temporarily winged elsewhere another. More prosaically, the Chinese government operates a fantastically effective track and trace operation that is fantastically effective because Chinese people have no choice other than to have the state tracking and tracing them all the time; Covid or no Covid.

China, Vietnam and other communist countries where people are accustomed to doing what they’re told have (if we are to believe what their governments tell us) had high rates of success in dealing with the virus, and this has emboldened the hard left in Britain to call for us to follow their benign and progressive example. All the worst people in the Labour Party, smarting from their tumble into post-Corbyn irrelevance, have been banging on since September that the only way forward is to eradicate Covid-19 altogether, whatever the cost.

The Government, they demand, must enforce a “proper lockdown”. With welding torches, presumably. How long should it last? “As long as is needed”. Borders must be closed. People might get a bit short of cash when they’re welded inside so a minimum basic income will pay for everyone in the country to sit at home doing nothing. Which is an activity the National Education Union find particularly congenial and are anxious to see continue, rather than doing risky and tiresome things like teaching children.

Perhaps the least significant problem with Zero Covid is that it’s impossible. Yes, smallpox was eradicated, but several factors unique to smallpox contributed to the success of this effort, including easily-diagnosed clinical disease, lack of subclinical infections, absence of transmission during prodrome, and lack of an animal reservoir. Even setting aside the reliability of PCR testing, Covid has around 30% of asymptomatic infection, frequent asymptomatic transmission and those pesky pangolins (and bats) to keep it ticking over. Eradicating it would be about as straightforward as eliminating the common cold.

The only other disease we’ve ever eradicated was rinderpest. With rinderpest, an effective vaccination programme was assisted by the practicability of slaughtering millions of those suffering from the disease (and any nearby populations likely to become infected): a relatively cheap and undeniably effective strategy for infection control which, oddly, even the Communist Party of China has yet fully to embrace in dealing with the Covid.

The UK’s response to the pandemic has been captured by the priority to reduce Covid cases, rather than alleviating the worst of the pressure on the NHS. As soon as the groups at greatest risk of harm from the virus have been vaccinated, the country needs to open up without delay. The Coronavirus’ capacity to mutate means Covid-19 will be a running target for the foreseeable future. The choice the Government has to make is turning the UK into an island fortress (and still very probably failing to eliminate a fast-moving endemic disease), or opening back up to the world and living with the risk of another seasonal disease –like flu– that will kill lots of elderly people every year, and ultimately cause us little concern.

In a post-Brexit Britain, closing our borders against the Covid is neither practicable nor desirable. Tory Brexiters’ vision was of a global Britain; global Britain and Zero Covid are mutually irreconcilable objectives. Corbynites, on the other hand, always liked the look of Brexit for their own reasons. Brussels was a bosses’ club and open borders meant bosses could import cheap labour. The left want to seize the opportunity afforded by the pandemic to garland the borders with barbed wire, just like a proper socialist country.

Zero Covid means zero travel, zero trade, zero growth and zero freedom. Zero Covid isn’t ultimately about eliminating Covid; it’s a hard left hustle to eliminate free enterprise and create an economy totally dominated by the state.

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Comment: Badger and The Great Escape

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HELLO, readers!

Has it ever occurred to you that there’s just no pleasing some people?

Since the first asylum seekers arrived in the semi-mothballed Penally Training Camp’s palatial splendour, several groups have complained about their presence.

Now they’re being moved on elsewhere, some people are still moaning. Not that they’re moving, but that they’re even in the country.

The groups concerned can be divided broadly into three.

Firstly, those who live near the Camp. They were hit by the lack of notice and consultation. They were, understandably, alarmed by the turn of events thanks to misinformation, disinformation, and a lack of information. After all, readers, if their local MP – a Cabinet Minister – didn’t know what was going on, how could they?

Secondly, some understood the Camp was unsuited to accommodating asylum seekers due to its location and condition. They might have had better impulses but preaching to the choir loses the congregation.

Finally, there were volatile and violent arm-lifting bigots. They exploited the asylum seekers’ presence to push their own hateful agendas of division, racism, and Tommy Robinson-lite PayPal patriotism.

The whole affair revealed an essential truth about Pembrokeshire and some of its inhabitants.

As part of a new tourism campaign for Pembrokeshire, Badger proposes the following snappy slogan:’Pembrokeshire: a warm welcome if you’re white. Badger’s suggestion has a particular benefit for a tourism campaign: it’s true.

Forget the sweeping views of the coast; the images of the Preselis; families enjoying themselves on our beaches. Leave out the pitch for coffees overlooking rural landscapes, tents pitched on cliffs, and people enjoying fish and chips in the sunshine.

Cast them aside.

Instead, picture a gang of thugs chanting hate and congregated outside Penally Camp. It more accurately captures the sort of warm welcome that awaits those who don’t meet the desired racial profile of Pembrokeshire’s guests.

The only thing that’ll have to be photoshopped into the image is a flaming cross and a lynched corpse hanging from a tree.

People will come from as far afield as Milton Keynes, Swansea, and Manchester to holiday in Pale Pembrokeshire to practise a form of ‘Apartheid through Leisure’.

And if that sounds a bleak and harsh assessment: good!

It’s meant to be.

The whole series of events at Penally has revealed the worst of Pembrokeshire. Insular, bigoted, racist, cowardly, nasty, bitter, mean-spirited individuals seized by a sense of entitlement and innate superiority have come to The Herald’s social media pages and vented their spleen or spewed their bile. Quite frankly, with a million visits a month, it’s been the devil’s own job to police the filth and remove comments and ban users for persistent trolling and offensiveness.

Free speech is free under the law. Free speech is not a licence to incite hatred or encourage violence, whether directly or indirectly. The idea – the very notion – that Neil Hamilton made a point of coming to Penally to lie through a loudhailer is as loathsome as his presence in the Welsh Parliament. He’s got about as much to contribute to Pembrokeshire as he does to Wales. Sod all.

It is proof that when it comes to UKIP and the rest of the fringe right, getting to the top demonstrates that shit floats and it isn’t only the cream that rises.

The presence of far-right anti-migrant activists and their capacity to pander to certain personality types demonstrates equally that some will say anything, do anything, and agree with anything to get attention.

It’s like listening to a lousy tenor warming up: ‘ME-ME-ME-ME-ME’.

Jesus wept, readers.

And if he’d read the hatred hurled over our Facebook comments, he’d have cried a river.

So-called Christians – they aren’t, of course – claiming some sort of moral authority for their bigotry.

People demanding that our brave ex-servicemen on the streets should be housed first. Yeah. Stick the same ex-servicemen in a hostel near them and see what happens to their ‘compassion’.

Plans for such a hostel in Carmarthen were withdrawn by an armed forces charity after it got planning permission because locals were so opposed and unwelcome. Pembrokeshire wouldn’t be any different. If a proposal came forward to put such a hostel on a leafy street in any town in Pembrokeshire, there’d be an outcry. Locals would fulminate against it. The usual online trolls – hello Fishguard and Pembroke – would go dull.

‘House our own homeless first!’ Well, that’s a laugh. They moved homeless people into Johnston and Fishguard during the first lockdown. The result was non-stop whingeing and the demonization of every person who found themselves stuck in intolerance central.

Along the way, it’s struck Badger that there is no law so clear that people can misunderstand it and – in most cases – deliberately misrepresent it.

The law on asylum is unambiguous. Asylum seekers apply for refugee status. Those whose claims are approved get refugee status. Only at that point are they given limited permission to stay in the UK. Of those who do not get refugee status, some might be ‘economic migrants’. That’s, however, a determination for the end of the process, not the beginning. And only the decision-maker in the process can make that judgement: not ‘I’m not racist, but Bob (or Beryl) on social media.”

Besides, there is no legal requirement for asylum seekers to apply for refugee status in the first ‘safe’ country they land in. That is simply a lie. A lie. A lie. A lie. The UK’s own case law says it’s a lie.

The hard of thinking, wilfully ignorant, brainwashed, and bigots appear to believe the contrary proposition is true. To them, Badger suggests reading the law or – better – get someone to read it to them. In small and easy to understand words.

These short words would be a start: “People who come to the UK and apply for asylum have rights under UK law. What you want to believe isn’t true. What kippers and other fringe ding-dongs say isn’t true.

“Don’t listen to lies. Some people will lie to get you to lie. They feed off the hate they incite in you when you spread their lies. Others have used the Camp to boost themselves. They are vermin.”In the Second World War, your grandad probably went to Europe to shoot people who thought as they do.”

Badger has written this column for almost eight years now.
From the first edition in 2013 to this week, he has used this space to pick and probe and mock. Never has he felt the urge to say that Pembrokeshire would be better off without some people.

And it’s not the asylum seekers.

They’ve had a great – and lucky – escape.

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Opinion of Jonathan Edwards MP: Easing the lockdown

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Jonathan Edwards MP

 

BY the end of this Bank Holiday weekend, we are expecting further announcements by the Labour Government in Wales and the British Government on the next stage of the lockdown policy.

My party strongly advocated the current suppression strategy and was critical of the initial herd immunity strategy pursued. The high levels of mortality in Wales and the UK indicate that we were right in our position.

In many ways, initiating a lockdown policy was the easy part; however, we must remember that the lockdown is not a cure for the virus. Its primary purpose is to create the breathing space required to build up capacity in our health systems to deal with the pandemic whilst we wait for a vaccine that could be a long time coming.

We are faced with a virus that is very dangerous for the health of so-called “high-risk” groups, which tend to be the elderly and those with respiratory problems or other health complications. The mortality rate is as high as 10% in those groups if infected.

Evidence suggests that as much as 20% of the population are in high-risk groups – and we obviously hope that as our scientists learn more about the virus that we can narrow that group down further to identify a core high-risk group. However, this will take time, and time is not known as a normal political commodity – especially in times of crisis.
The challenges posed by lifting restrictions will dwarf those of imposing the lockdown in the first place.

For my part, I support extending the restrictions simply because we don’t know enough about the virus as of yet. We also certainly don’t have the required testing capacity in Wales (and across the UK), and critically also lack the contact tracing infrastructure to pursue an eradication strategy. However, as I pointed out in a debate on lockdown regulations in the House of Commons this week, the Labour Government in Wales needs to start explaining its policy better, especially the rationale behind lifting any restrictions, if they are to maintain public confidence.

Opposition politicians suffer from a severe disadvantage as we do not receive the expert advice provided to Ministers. This is a serious and unhelpful disadvantage during a pandemic crisis. Scrutiny of decisions is vital in any democracy as it supports transparency and accountability. I would therefore strongly urge the Labour Government in Wales to publish the scientific advice it is using to base its decisions. I also suspect it would be to its own good in the long term and would provide a glowing contrast to the secrecy behind British Government policy.

I have no idea what our national government will announce. However, in this week’s debate, I emphasised that if the so-called “four-nation” approach in the UK was to mean anything, then all four government needed to agree on policy.
Joint decision making between the Welsh, Scottish, Northern Ireland and the Westminster Governments must be the way forward in this pandemic and the future post-Brexit British State.

If looking for a good example of policy, look no further than our cousins across the Celtic sea.

The Republic of Ireland was way ahead of the British State when it came to banning mass gatherings and introducing the lockdown. Whilst the British Government maintains no restriction on open borders, anyone travelling to the Republic has to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival.

It’s amazing what these small independent countries can achieve.

Over the weekend, the Republic of Ireland announced their detailed plans for lifting their lockdown in some detail, and many other Governments across the world are communicating with the same level of transparency and clarity. The Irish Government have set out five phases.

Phase 1 commencing on 18 May, will allow outdoor meetings between people from different households. The fifth phase, commencing in August, will allow larger social gatherings and a return to work across all sectors. Schools are not expected to return until the new academic year, and only then in a phased manner.

Regrettably, I will not be holding my breath for anything as comprehensive from the Tories in London and Labour in Wales.

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