Friday, 22 April 2016

Hopemongering

As the referendum on Britain's EU membership is approaching, one would really like to consider one's leave vs. remain vote based on some objective analyses of the consequences.

The studies and projections on the costs and, in general, the consequences of Britain leaving the EU, made by the London School of Economics (and one about the legal aspects, too), Global CounselInstitute of Economic Affairs, Confederation of British IndustryBank of England, HM Treasury, PricewaterhouseCoopers, BlackRock (the world's largest fund manager), to name a few, are instantly dismissed as "scaremongering" by the Brexit campaigners.

What is worrying is that the series of dismissals that promptly followed the series of studies are not substantiated to this day by a single counter-study from comparably ranked bodies and/or individuals, independent or not.

What we have is the Brexit campaigners purely personal and purely subjective rhetoric, which uses phraseology soaked in "I am sure", "but surely", "we are certain", and in the more honest cases, "I believe" or "I strongly believe".

If the Bank of England dared to measure in an ice-cold lucid way the pros and cons of Brexit, highlighting the uncertainties and risks, even that was dismissed as a "political intervention" (at best) and, to use the by now tiring and certainly tired expression, "scaremongering". The Governor of BoE rightly pointed out that the BoE not listing the risks and uncertainties would be a politically biased act...

One has to take e.g. HM Treasury's long-term predictions with a pinch of salt, but this goes for every single economic study, biased or not...

The problem is that any attempt to quantify the possible outcomes of Brexit is completely dismissed by empty rhetoric if that attempt has any negative conclusions. When the HM Treasury's analysis was dismissed, the Leave campaign has destroyed any hope of us seeing a counter-analysis by stating that they have no plans to publish their version of projected reality.

Also, a treaty signed by 28 countries was dismissed as "worthless" and as something that can be "easily undone" when compared to (literal quotes) "I am sure" and "surely" phraseology used by e.g. Michael Gove when he depicted the glorious future UK would have outside the EU. Yes, 28 countries signing a treaty is nullifiable by "I am sure" promptly followed in same sentence by personal unsubstantiated beliefs...

With utmost lucidity, one has to ask these increasingly hopemongering demagogues: if everything signed and published so far on the costs of Brexit is purely scaremongering, could the Leave campaigners come forward with any objective quantitative analysis that would, point by point, counter the "scaremongering" conclusions?

Perhaps some figures are only partial truths, perhaps some projections are biased - but if it is so, why so far we have zero quantitative counter-arguments that point by point demolish those scaremongering projections?

So far the campaign has been vastly disappointing on both sides... The Remain campaign quoting numerous independent, and sometimes not quite independent, sources has been attacked time and time again about them standing for "Project Fear".

What really strikes fear into the desperately trying to be objective voter's mind is the absence of comparable substance in the Leave campaign's empty rhetoric.

It is merely tragicomic that emotions about immigration (the eternal British election-time device) and fundamentally wrong emotions about "Britain setting its own destiny" are becoming the main devices of the Leave campaign.

Anybody with a very basic command of contemporary economics and geopolitics can only hear rhetoric about Britain "on its own" and "setting its destiny" very few times before it starts to physically hurt (or, at best, make one have cramps of rather bitter laughter).

It is deeply worrying that the hopemongering campaign not only refuses to produce objective quantitative analyses to attack what they so far attacked with merely subjective rhetoric, but it actually denies the fundamental realities of how Britain's future political, economical and financial destiny is inseparable of very external factors... whether the Leave campaign demagogues like it or not.

It is even more worrying that some parts of the electorate is, once again, suspending any basic logic in favour of such pseudo-patriotic nonsense that just betrays a willful denial of contemporary world economics (not to mention the political aspects).

So in a way, the Leave campaigners are right... there is a lot of scaremongering happening, but it increasingly feels as if the endless hopemongering devoid of substance is the main cause of one's fear...





Sunday, 13 March 2016

Radicalised prevention

The drawing of a 4-year-old child in Luton, England, which was meant to depict a cucumber, made a nursery want to refer the child to the Government's anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy's de-radicalisation program Channel. Latter is one of the latest gadgets in the British anti-terrorism toolbox.

During just the June - August period in 2015, 300 children have been referred to this program, out of a total of 796 people. Since the start of the Channel program, 1400 children, out of which 153 under-11s (!) have been referred (as also reported by the BBC).

The National Union of Teachers stated that teachers, who have legal obligation now to report "radicalised" children, are afraid of getting it wrong...

There have been, and still are some, societies, where the dominant principle of "protecting" the society was that internal and external enemies were lurking everywhere and they had to be identified via any means possible. Constant vigilance was key to this, suche regimes stated.

One may ask: in the current version of paranoia cult, in face of a real and random threat, how is the Prevent program in any way different? We don't yet automatically lock people up based on the first report(s) from concerned "citizens", but the thought pattern that is introducing such blunt instrument is the same.

The general population, sections of which now have legal obligation to be vigilant and to report people irrespective of age, has done and will continue to do what any such measure always results in (and history is showing this eloquently): it over-reacts, it acts out of the fear of missing something, and in some cases it over-zealously misreads even perfectly innocent cases.

A 4-year-old drawing and mispronouncing cucumber is just the latest truly symbolic case of this.

Yes, the rhetoric (used by many Governments over many years, irrespective of the specific circumstances) always has been that for such a threat, only such measures can protect "our way of life".

As soon as any society adopted such measures, it sacrificed that way of life. Yes, the rhetoric has always been that this is a price that needs to be paid for our "safety".

However, one has to ask the obvious in this, by now thoroughly paranoid, society (let us not even touch on the statistics of wrongfully arrested photographers who were "acting suspiciously" according to the previous Blair Government's anti-terrorism measures' Orwellian paragraphs)...

The obvious question is: the intended protection against the undoubtedly unpredictable threats can only be served in everyday life by such Stalinist programs like Prevent? Which, as it has been amply seen, already caused thousands of false alarms, but as we don't live in a society with Stalinist retribution, only one with equal levels of paranoia cult, those reported were not subjected to draconian measures...

Or, perhaps, the same authorities should look at why many high-profile figures, invited even to lecture at Universities, can say and post on the internet speeches that would normally land any person in clear violation of the existing laws on the incitement to hatred & violence?

How is it possible, that such paranoia levels and such indiscriminate blunt instruments are introduced by a Government that fundamentally refuses and fails to take real action against the impressive numbers of openly radical (and radicalising) characters?

The other side of the paranoia equation is that authorities are openly afraid of being seen as politically incorrect, or even racist in the eyes of some. Rational measures and rational debates are no longer possible in face of facts, so one type of self-made fear leads to another type - and latter, as it is eloquently demonstrated, is happy to sacrifice even fundamentals of the Magna Charta.

We have the freedom to pick what we are afraid of, and what measures we introduce to reduce or to control that fear (in better cases, also to control the sources and causes of that fear).

However, going about it in such Stalinist manner, with a superbly blunt instrument, which every single time in history (and as we can see also in this recent specific incarnation of it) has led to the very same excesses in the application of that instrument, is not quite a rational process.

Irrational instruments like this are, in their essence, no different from what we have seen far too many times causing overwhelming numbers of false positives.

How this society deals with the false positives and the real problem cases is thankfully very different from some Regimes of the past & present.

However, this does not change the simple fact: irrational strategies (an oxymoron to some respect) that provoke irrational acts of everyday people in everyday life should look extremely familiar to us, if we have learnt anything whatsoever from our history.

Photo by BBC.


Saturday, 5 March 2016

The undoing of freedoms

Laszlo Tokes, the Hungarian ethnic protestant priest, now Euro MP, who basically started what we know as the December 1989 Revolution in Romania, had been given the Steaua Romaniei (Star of Romania) presidential award in 2009.

A few days ago the current Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, took back the award from Laszlo Tokes... as per a court decision that stated: Tokes has acted against the Romanian Constitution.

That act was an extremely simple exercising of freedom of speech. Laszlo Tokes has expressed his opinion on how Hungary's PM, Viktor Orban, should protect the Hungarian ethnic minority in Transylvania.

In order to reduce the pro- and against Romanian media furore and rhetoric in various forums to the bare essentials, let's just state the very basic and essential facts:
  • The key figure of the December 1989 anti-totalitarian Revolution expresses a personal opinion, as controversial as it may be in the eyes and ears of some (primarily, those of Romanian nationalists, but this is a minor detail);
  • He is stripped of a high presidential award recognising his quite heroic and incontestable contribution to the country's transition from a communist dictatorship to a democratic system (with its vast shortcomings and corruption, but again, in this context, a minor detail...).
Ergo: 26 years after the Revolution he had been instrumental in, which brought freedom of speech and freedom of thought to the country, he is stripped of his merits because of having exercised those freedoms on one occasion.

The irony could not be greater. The clarity with which this describes Romania 26 years after the Revolution could not be greater. 

Behind all the facade and posturing, apart from it still being a tragically corrupt country, the core essence of Power has not changed at all. 

Someone can be judged and humiliated (at best), simply for saying something that does not please certain ears. 

To top the irony, if even possible, the Romanian courts have found his "act" one that goes against the Romanian Constitution. It is highly symbolic, but one doubts that courts and Mr. Iohannis, the oh-so-democratic force of the country, realise just how perfectly this describes Romania of today.

As the ancient Romans used to say in their ancient language, quod erat demonstrandum.


Friday, 27 February 2015

Radicalised illogicality

The recent identification of 'Jihadi John' (the demented brutal murderer of ISIS beheading videos), as being the British Mohammed Emwazi, has triggered astoundingly dangerous journalism that, even in the case of the BBC, at the same time exhibits deeply racist undercurrents and utter failing in fundamental logic.

This double fete, achieved by BBC's Newsnight programme, too, is created by the tacit acceptance of "reasoning" voiced among others, by the shockingly extremist representative of a group like CAGE.

The "reasoning", simply put, is that Emwazi was investigated by agencies like the MI6, which led to Emwazi feeling "marginalised", which then led to him becoming radicalised - and that, in turn, leading to him joining ISIS, then... well, we know those videos.

It is an A leads to B leads to C "logic" that is breathtakingly extremist in itself.

What is even more shocking is that even the BBC failed to challenge the point made by CAGE and the like.

Emwazi attracted the attention of MI6 because he was actively involved in what can only be called terrorism. He was given the opportunity to become an informer... and he refused.

His "persecution" by the MI6 radicalised him? He was made to feel "marginalised" because the MI6 of all things was actively interested in him for some inexplicable reason?... Tail wagging the dog...

Interestingly, and I know this for a fact from personal experience, millions of truly persecuted, every hour of every day actively marginalised and victimised minority individuals have never become extremist brutal murderers.

The fact that even the BBC has not challenged the widely media-vehiculated fallacy (basically, MI6's interest in Emwazi directly led to him becoming an unspeakably barbaric ISIS murderer) is telling.

What it tells is the deeply racist undertone of that and other journalists.

The fact that it is accepted as a valid topic of discussion, and "analysed" to death in such media, shows the proverbial elephant in the room: those journalists want, by default, to treat Muslims as untouchable dangerous terrorists.

The very reason for not once challenging, hence tacitly accepting the frankly obviously demented "logic" like that of the CAGE representative, is that to those journalists it really is a valid logical inference. It is only logical if one does think that Muslims have to be treated according to entirely different moral standards...

This is, to put it mildly, inherently racist. Yes, I, of no ethnic or religious connection with Muslims, factually accuse such journalists of deep-seated racism.

The reasons are not only stemming from my personal (and aforementioned) experience that has eminently demonstrated the fallacy of the CAGE logical inference.

It also stems from the fact that by even discussing the "reasoning" presented by such organisations like CAGE, such journalists exacerbate the very (warped) racist thought process presented, ironically, by those very organisations.

The fact that CAGE voiced such a tragic logical failure actually doesn't bother one as much as the airtime and bandwidth given to it (as if it were a valid argument) by so-called objective and impartial media without the latter pointing out the huge, almost fluorescent, elephant in the room...




Monday, 9 February 2015

The Orthodoxy of Priorities

A few interesting statistics from today's Romania show that:
  • infant mortality is 10.16% per 1000 live births, the worst in the EU;
  • the proportion of GDP allocated for education is less than half of the EU average;
  • poverty rate is highest in the EU (21.1% at 60% median income);
  • population is decreasing at a rate of 0.27% per year, with vast outflow of young people who leave the country.
However:
  • more than 75% of all churches built in the EU were built in Romania, despite the fact that its population is ~4% of that of the EU; with few exceptions, these are all Romanian Orthodox churches;
  • since 1990, on average, one new church appeared every 2 days, but 3 schools were closed per day, the number of hospital beds has halved.
  • the total wealth of the Romanian Orthodox Church is calculated at 3 billion EUR, but it receives from the state more than 100 million EUR for the Church employees' salaries;
  • above does not take into account the tax-free "gifts" and "help" that the Government has directed towards this Church.
Clearly, there are priorities... even in times of deep recession, the same priorities existed. 

Reasons are aplenty. Exactly as they did during the Ceausescu regime, the Romanian Orthodox Church has been the key propaganda instrument. Even during the most recent presidential elections, this Church actively involved itself, down to the level of direct and clear instructions sent to all its priests, in propaganda and campaigning for the prime minister Ponta's votes... who wished to become president, so that he could undo all the anti-corruption work the judiciary achieved so far...

Such services come at a price... and even now, while the country is in doldrums, the Government allocates vast funds (just most recently, 1.4 million EUR from emergency reserve funds!) to this Church.

The fact that it still is a country stuck in the Medieval Dark Ages is just part of the problem... 

Looking forward, the incessant and frankly ludicrous state funding of this otherwise extremely wealthy outfit is ensuring that the status quo is preserved.

Whilst it, as a country, holds top position in EU statistics for the worst possible reasons, immense funds and continuous "gifts" ensure that Romania stays in that top position.

The only more tragic fact is that the Orthodox Church actually dares to comment that the number of school and hospital closures are due to the decrease in the country's birth rate and its population... Let's not even go for a minute into the key reasons why the country's population is decreasing (it is enough to look at emigration statistics in the last 25 years...).

Perhaps via this superb statistical connection, they could also explain the ever-increasing funds flowing into their accounts from the state... which, by the way, is oh-so-separate from Church... clearly. 

The Romanian Orthodox Church has explained the scandalous figures in different ways, too: they said that they are running "the hospitals of the soul" and that Romania is a "nation of faithfuls"...

No comment. None is possible.


Friday, 23 January 2015

Mark of disrespect

Westminster Abbey's flag has been flying half-mast as a "mark of respect" for the late King Abdullah...

Let's put, for a brief moment, aside any specifics of particular religions, religious institutions, international politics and, oh yes, very recent outbursts of pro-freedom rhetoric in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre... as many of those who came out in favour of freedom of speech are now commemorating the late Saudi king...

Let us just be, plainly and simply (idealistically?), humans for that moment.

King Abdullah has presided over, and enforced, a brutal regime of torture, barbaric murder as a means of oppression of any free thought.., and of women.

When one says brutal or barbaric, one is using that plain and simple human(e) dictionary. It really doesn't matter what ideology or cultural/social context one may attempt to use in an attempt to defend what has been going on in Saudi Arabia.

The "fighters" funded and/or sent by the regime to various all-too-well-known areas on the map have established both Al-Qaida and ISIS.

Oh, and that minor aspect... Raif Badawi, the victim of the most recent outrage, was condemned to 1000 lashes for having written some thoughts on his blog.

Westminster Abbey, no need to elaborate on what it represents and the power of the symbolism, decided to pay its respects to the Saudi king.

It is one of the rare moments when the possibilities of English language (and one's own, infinitely more limited, capabilities) fail to describe this act...

Personally, I am deeply outraged that on the 25th anniversary of Ceausescu's death, a person paraded up and down on the very avenue situated right in front of that Abbey by the powers of the time, was not remembered by them.

Although I understand that, in comparison, Ceausescu (or his indirect mentor, Stalin) was an incomparably smaller figure compared to the late King Abdullah...  so it is unrealistic to expect Westminster Abbey to mark its respect for such minor characters, too.

And yes, this is sarcasm... but mostly disgust of some immeasurable order. 

Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Untouchables (pardon: The Unmockables)

The vast number of articles on the necessity to introduce blasphemy laws (as magical wands that protect us against any aberrations like the extremists' actions in Paris) are increasing - and they have, in unison, the same fundamental failure in logic.

One key (partial) fact quoted by many is that Finland, rated No.1 in terms of press freedom, has a blasphemy law.

A slight problem with tendentiously applied partial truths: that law has been only applied three times in the last 70 years. In all three cases, there wasn't a "straightforward" case of blasphemy... and it concerned issues that spread into other areas of (even criminal) law. 

Hence the law merely exists, but it is basically a de facto dead letter, in spite of formal attempts to repeal it have failed so far. Clearly, emotions vs. reason, personal sensitivities vs. objectivity are difficult to balance. Nothing new here. 

Let us not get into the debate on why religious views, institutions, doctrine would be immune to criticism, mockery, etc. Granting them special status is plain wrong, as any objective and logical person would conclude - simply because their special status will be, by definition, at the detriment of others... and it is just a veiled totalitarian censorship.

Instead, let's just look at cold facts. Let's reproduce here the facts found by the 2010 report from Freedom House, which studied seven countries where the blasphemy laws are being actually applied:
  • Governments have abused blasphemy laws to silence the political opposition, government critics, and other dissidents.
  • Individuals have fabricated charges of blasphemy against others in their communities to settle petty disputes.
  • Religious extremists have exploited blasphemy laws to justify attacks on religious minorities, thereby fostering an environment of intolerance where discrimination is effectively condoned by the state.
  • Religious institutions, often with official or unofficial government backing, have used blasphemy laws to impose the state-sanctioned interpretations of religious doctrine on members of minority sects that are deemed deviant or heretical.
Let's then hope that magically, this time round the invention and enforcement of blasphemy laws, as a knee-jerk reaction that in some minds holds the answer to all the fundamental multi-cultural issues again revealed by the Charlie Hebdo massacre, will solve what they are after without any of the above issues... which, in every single studied country, have surfaced as side-effects.

I happen to come from a society that knew a bit about censorship... and still, media there is advocating the adoption of such laws. 

Vox populi seems to be, this time, too, based on short-term memory and selective amnesia.