Monday, 27 June 2016

Killing democracy... or reason?

The petition for 2nd EU membership Referendum in the UK has gathered millions of online signatures, however some portion of them is under investigation as only British citizens could sign it  - and this is not what happened...

It may well be rejected by the Parliament as it is hard to justify having it after a proper campaign, with tiny amount of invalid ballots, and after a properly run vote on the day.

However, what is remarkable is the set of mess-media entities, both printed and electronic, which state this is "killing democracy". In online comments, vitriol is poured over the (small) proportion of Remain voters who signed the petition and demonstrated for it.

It is the pinnacle of irony, but also a superb illustration of how British public has been driven to utterly self-contradicting irrationality. Not to mention the fact that on 16 May, in printed media (in The Mirror) Nigel Farage was the one asking for 2nd Refetendum if the Remain camp registers a minor advantage in the results... Ah the irony.

Saying that a fundamentally democratic petition and demonstration, which is to be answered by the democratically elected Parliament is "killing democracy" is, well, killing reason. Also, seemingly, the ability of many to reason... Never mind the minor irony, that then this media is actually trying to kill a democratic exercise.

The parrot-like repetition of factual nonsense has been a trait of the campaign, and it continues now.

Exponents of the Leave campaign deny ever making pledges that were even on their campaign bus. They have made the pledges in countless written and electronic forums, they are photographed with e.g. the NHS funding pledge on the bus being in their background.

What bothers a rational person is that those were not pledges. A pledge, unless English dictionary was re-written, does not mean promising something in which one has no influence and no say whatsoever.

Similarly, now they say nobody said that EU immigration would be changed by Brexit. Well, for months during the campaign, it was impossible to explain to some Leave campaigners that EU exit means nothing in this sense: see Swiss EU immigration statistics, because they had to agree on free movement in their trade deals...

Thus, not only the voters are waking up with some delay to the common sense (does not need any political, economic or other qualification) facts, but some of this awakening is marked by the same nonsensical irrationality as the entire campaign was.

It is good to see the EU shaken up and Brussels in a tailspin, finally some reform might happen.

However, while fascist posters appeared overnight, including in schools (!), telling foreigners to go home (one stated that it is "enough of Polish vermin"), one has to state another historically and many times proven fact.

While a society can project its eminently internal problems onto some external factor or group of people, all is fine... As soon as it cannot, it will start projecting them onto internal groups.

What happens then has been seen countless times in our history.

British society has started to do exactly that, with very loud and numerous voices already shouting "killing of democracy" when they are exactly in the process of trying to stop eminently democratic exercises of people they disagree with.

Soft fascism is already in the headlines of many major papers... Let's see if UK can avoid what so far not many societies managed to avoid in such times of irrationality.

Friday, 24 June 2016

House divided...

Naturally, the results of the EU referendum in the UK have shown the predicted effects already in the first hours of the results having been announced.

Not just the fact that the currency plummeted, together with the various stock market indexes around the world (when some say, this doesn't affect them, always one would like to ask for a reality check, ranging from insurance premiums to pensions - just how do such people think these things work?...).

The predicted effects were also in the rhetoric of e.g. Nigel Farage. He already disowned his pledge on NHS funding.

It is not astounding that he made those pledges. Nor that he disowns them. Well, reason is that he had zero say in any of those promised measures - he is not in Government, he has one MP, and he barely turns up in the European Parliament.

The fact that such people can make such empty nonsensical pledges to the voters is not amazing. The fact that so many fell for it, is a bit shocking, when an infant can understand that pledges in which one has no influence whatsoever are meaningless.

Looking at the demographics... it is clear we had a house divided... young vs. older voters, leave vs. remain. 1950s nostalga had shown its effects, the pipedream of "getting back our democracy" (in which 800-odd unelected Lords can veto a Government instated by 24% of eligible voters...), the nostalga of "Great Britan before EU" (look at GDP and being 2nd poorest European economy before joining something so reviled now).

Cornwall is already asking whether the EU funding (by the way, vast sums in the range of billions) will continue. The answer is obvious, but they did ask Brussels and the Government. It is another breathtakingly nonsensical episode:  they received vast EU funds for farm subsidies, infrastructure, even the resurrection of Cornish language... but they cut the umbilical chord and now ask whether it can magically continue...

Universities, who warned about the effect on funding, are now in shock and looking at balance sheets that were said by the utterly nonsensical Brexit campaign leaders that will feel no effect if UK leaves. Again schoolboy economics could not be explained to many: if they think that money will come from within UK, ask themselves where that money comes from with no trade deals in place, and much less taxes coming into Treasury... It is truly elementary.

Such level of short-term loss of vision is truly breathtaking from even an otherwise usually gullible mass of voters.

Yes, the EU may well collapse anyway, and yes, it's machinery is nauseating...

However, what many voted on and hoped for (which often, as too many rational people tried to explain to them, were fundamental nonsense even at the level of schoolboy economics and finances, often even basic logic...) is already disintegrating hours after the results have been announced.

The real games begin now, and as usual, the gullible and fundamental logic-violating voters will have to look for culprits.

One wonders, after immigrant have been the culprits for everything that was wrong with UK (from health service to infrastructure to jobs), what new targets will be found when most of the incredibly devoid of any sense promises and pledges don't materialise?

2008 recession was caused by a circle that one had no control over and acted independent of public will.

This chaos, now, which is already unfolding, was caused by people with their own hands.

If only, in coming months and years, when truly basic and fundamental economics unfold and they, as already today, panic about the effects of it, if only they could have the honesty to admit the root causes of those effects.

Somehow, after this historic example of nonsensical belief in nonsensical pledges disowned hours after the results, one has to doubt that honesty and self-awareness...

Monday, 20 June 2016

Shifting realities

In the Referendum deciding whether UK stays or leaves the EU, it is hardly surprising that some are thoroughly reaching saturation point with the "facts" vehiculated by some...

The same camp in its official leaflet and in one sent by my local MP quote two headline figures that were at the heart of the debate before immigration took centre stage. While the same camp "dismissed", labelled "utter tosh" etc. any quantitative analysis on any economic and financial aspect of exiting vs. staying in the UK, and rhetoric constantly labelled any numerical data as "Tory cover-up", "conspiracy"... it would be stupendous if they could at least agree on their own headline campaign data...


However, we moved on to mainly immigration-fueled debate (where Nigel Farage stated again that his poster, trying to depict actually Middle-Eastern refugees queuing in Slovenia as migrants trying to enter the UK, is "fact").

As some in the media and elsewhere suggested after the brutal murder of Jo Cox, a young pro-Remain camp MP, the emotions whipped up around immigration and "taking back control" of borders (and everything else) are becoming toxic.

Reason does not stand a chance, though if the same articles were immediately misquoted by the Leave camp supporters on social media as "anyone" who votes Leave is depicted as a xenophobe. Nor does it stand a chance, if voices immediately broadcasted that the mentally ill murderer had nothing whatsoever to do with the increasingly vile and irrational xenophobic rhetoric.

Of course, even if one takes the apparently mentally ill man's act in isolation, one has to ask the fundamental question: of all the causes, of all the means, of all the targets and places, he picked a pro-EU MP - clearly, his deranged mind existed in a vacuum, not connected in any way to the hate rhetoric flooding the pre-Referendum discourse on the street and in electronic and written media...

Occam's razor is by now blunt. It has been tried to be applied so many times in this campaign by a minority of people, that it lost its proverbial edge by now...

Pity.

It perfectly separates facts from the Farage-like nonsense (e.g. "we don't have a say in EU" says he, who attended one out of 42 European Parliament debates about fishing laws... and he goes campaigning on the Thames for British fishing laws...).

It perfectly separates emotional and increasingly fake rhetoric (e.g. by exiting EU, we would take back control of EU immigration - again, if anyone could check what Swiss EU immigration figures are, despite them not being in EU... but they had to sign all the possible free movement agreements for their trade agreements...).

Alas, as someone said, one cannot be rationalised out of something one was not rationalised into.

The irrational demagogues are asking for "proof", they dismiss all the experts' figures, but then they can campaign on the same side with wildly conflicting headline figures even.

As ancient Romans said, yes, them, back in the day, stepping also on our "pure British soil"...: Q.E.D.

If only Philip K. Dick were alive, to see how the shifting multitudes of realities he depicted in his The Mold of Yancy and in his Faith of Our Fathers are becoming reality in this so-called campaign.


Friday, 10 June 2016

The xenophobia referendum

As UK's EU membership referendum approaches, the campaigns in both Remain and Leave camps have not improved over the past few months...

True, Remain camp came forward with a series of figures and projections, echoing other not very independent (Institute of Fiscal Studies receives quite some EU funding under the bonnet...) or independent sources... These were constantly dismissed by the other camp, but one has to note: so far without any tangible contrary projections, figures, nor specific points on how and why the published pro-EU statistics are wrong...

Some headline figures in the Leave campaign have popped up, but ironically these were either completely wrong (the per-week "cost" of the EU, where not only the figure itself is vastly wrong, but also left out the cost vs. benefit calculations) or self-contradictory. On same day, two Leave campaign leaflets popped through the letterbox, one claimed twice the sum the other one stated in similar headline... It would be great if inside same camp, at least the tendentiously overstated figures could be agreed...

However, the biggest problem is that inevitably, as in every voting in recent years on any subject, the campaign has shifted toward chemically pure and reliable xenophobia.

The "take back control" (which in its utter naivety, considering basic geopolitical and economic factors any grown-up should be marginally aware of, is breathtaking) has been applied to... well, you guessed, UK borders.

Once again, isolationist and xenophobic emotions are running high. The immigration topic has completely discounted the minor facts that e.g. Switzerland, a non-EU member, had eye-watering levels of EU immigration due to the trade agreements' conditions...

Richard Dawkins has aptly stated that giving such decision to people is irresponsible, as voters don't understand economics (and many other things, if one looks at the debate). Therefore in his words, the Government is playing Russian roulette...

Even if one imagines UK "takes back control" of its borders, the Leave camp imagines this as a unilateral change... without giving any thought to the realities of just what conditions there will be when signing EU trade agreements... nor that there will be quite some reciprocity in the equation...

One has to recognise dogma as soon as rational discussion become impossible. Notice how any statement of truly common sense (e.g. without common free airspace, there will be years of uncertainties and costs passed on to customers, until possibly something is settled) are marked as scaremongering. Even someone stating the risks of both scenarios is marked as "tosh", "irresponsible"... Any figures that show costs of Brexit are immediately said to be part of, to quote, "Tory cover-up" and "conspiracy".

Thus, dogmas have surfaced again, and it is scary to see the level at which even blatant self-contradictions don't alert the Brexiters and make them think for a tiny moment. Some want "democracy" instead of proportionally represented Euro MPs - in a country where 24% of eligible voters have instated a government. A superb example of democracy...and again total ignorance of basic facts.

Cornwall received vast EU subsidies in absolutely everything, compared to virtually nothing from Westminster... and they, rightly, constantly complained on how Westminster ignored them government after government. One would not guess, based on logic, what UK region has the biggest concentration of anti-EU voters. Yep, it's Cornwall. A typical case where utter lack of self-awareness and local patriotism scores a huge own goal - but such is, as always, fervent nationalism and xenophobia.

The most brilliant quote heard in electronic media was that of a small business owner. This concentrated the most ignorance into the least possible English words... "We won two world wars, we will survive outside the EU".

Nobody questions we would survive outside the EU. However, to make a statement so fundamentally logically flawed (check what logical inference and/or induction is), so fundamentally ignorant of one's own historic facts and so devoid of any basic understanding of how one's own society and political structures work, is quite a superlative achievement.

One really cannot be a fan of EU overblown bureaucracy and the often utterly silly levels of regulations. However, the irony in the "take back control" demagogy is that it keeps occurring in a country that has its nuclear power plants owned by China, entire car industry owned by Germany, India, USA et al., its heavy industry in doldrums and owned by others, multi-national lobby circles pulling the strings in Westminster... the list goes on, let's not even drag into this equation the facts of the financial sector...

Throughout history, overblown emotions coupled with utter ignorance of basic facts have yielded interesting results. However, exactly those making references to history have shown no understanding of that history, nor the basics of the present.

Therefore, it really shall be an interesting referendum indeed, to state the obvious.


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.