Scotland vs Catalonia

What’s fir ye’ll no go by ye – Scots proverb

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The referendum in Catalonia today brings up a few memories. I remember the promise that we might manage to break away from the UK and do something different, we could be something else. I remember how right it felt casting my ballot, and the anticipation. Could it happen? We now know that it didn’t quite happen that time, but it was a lot closer than it had been forecast a few months before. Catalonian today is a very different situation. We don’t know if there will be any international respect for the result, but I think it may be yes. The Spanish government seems so much worse at keeping an unnatural construction together than the British government is.

The Scottish brain is deterministic. We take it for granted that things just are, like they’re set in stone and don’t change. They never change. They can’t change. It’s not fate, or even some sort of divine will, necessarily, it’s just the nature of how we are. We like dark humour. Pretty sure it comes, in part, from the philosopher, John Calvin, who was so influential in the Scottish Kirk (‘kirk’ means church in Scots, for my international audience). Part of it may also be the Catholics with their guilt. We got all the most miserable religious traditions in Scotland, nothing too life-affirming.

When presented with an opportunity for change we are shy to take it unless it seems totally natural and necessary. It would alter natural laws if necessary change didn’t happen. Gravity prevails. Momentum grows until some force shrinks it. That’s probably why the independence referendum failed back in ’14, the change didn’t feel necessary enough for half the people.

Now Catalonia is having a referendum too, and I wonder how it’ll go. So far, it’s going badly. There’s violence reported on the streets, as the Spanish government has properly cocked it up. While the UK decreed a referendum could be legally run, the Spanish have decided to send in armed police. It’s neither a good look nor a good tactic.

It seems like the Spanish government have underestimated the appetite for a referendum. Referendums can be useful for putting matters to bed for a few years, or going disastrously wrong, so it’s diappointing that they’ve decided to go for the route which reeks of the Spanish dictator Franco. Catalans and the world will make these parallels quite easily.

What’s more, police violence – and I reckon it’s the police doing most of the hitting, the Catalonian independence movement is famed for its non-violent nature – suggests that there is no good reason to be part of Spain other than not being hit. That’s not a brilliant argument. The police violence makes Independence seem like the more natural choice. People are not normally for those who hit them with sticks.

Against a backdrop of police violence on the streets, I could even see how a deeply pessimistic people like the Scots could be brought to support independence. As for the Catalan mentality, I cannot comment. I have not met any Catalans. I am saying on this based on a fundamental understanding of people: You catch more flies with honey than with seizing their budget and hitting them.

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Changing the Time

History and memory are vital, interesting, and important. With all the talk of statues in the news thanks to the recent fight in Charlottesville, VA I want to the tell you a story about one such statue in Prague: the metronome in Letna Park. The metronome in Letna Park swings back and forth counting the seconds, symbolising the time lost to Communism. Long may it swing and remind people of the horrors of the dictatorships the city suffered in the mid-20th century. The story is far grander, however.

It swings…

And swings back

And swings again

See, that metronome was built in 1991 on top of the massive stone plinth, which had been intended for another statue – a giant statue of Stalin standing in front of some Communist archetypes.

Stalin standing in front of a worker, mother, farmer, and soldier

Locals called it ‘the meat queue’, due to the food shortages in the city after the war.

The statue was the result of a strong personality cult for Stalin. The cult was strong in Prague, with believers occupying several positions in government. They renamed a major street Stalinova, Stalin’s Street. They wanted to build the biggest statue of Stalin in the world, and they did. It weighed 17000 tonnes. It also took 800 kilograms of explosives to destroy.

In 1962, on orders from Moscow, the statue was taken down. Locals gathered to watch the rubble taken through the streets. One story says one of his ears became a bathtub.

Nikita Kuschev, Stalin’s replacement, had been very quick to condemn Stalin once he died. Kruschev made a speech in 1956, three years after Stalin’s death, where he said they had to change their approach to Communism and leadership. The Communists instituted a massive shift in how their country was run, a shift which included taking down some of the statues.

Stalinova in Prague was renamed Vinohradska, which to my untrained ear is ‘Wine Castle Street’. Far preferable to Stalin Street. Imagine hating a guy so much that you mashed a couple nouns together and added street to the end of it rather than kept his name on it. It’s be like having ‘Fan Sofa Street’.

So in light of recent events, what can we learn from the Communists here? Sometimes you don’t have to remember history through the lens of hundreds of statues or of particularly big statues. Sometimes you can remember history with plaques, artistic statues such as Prague’s metronome, or by picking street names that are less controversial – people have to live there, how would you like to live on Cunt Street?

It’s a fairly basic ask from those against the statues. Perhaps a better solution is to put up a sign beneath the statue with a list of pros and cons about the person, so people can actually have a debate about them and do some research. Still, sometimes you need to revise parts of your history. You can still remember things, and I hope you do. That we have grandfathers and remember more of our past is one of the key differences between humans and the other great apes. Maybe it is more important to remember the things that were true in the past which should be changed today instead of getting stuck in a rut, deifying stone or copper impressions of some dead guy.

The writer of this piece is probably preaching to the converted, and would now like everyone to turn to page 4 in their hymn book.

Calm Yer Tits

Inspired by all the horrible events that have been happening, if you don’t want to read about racism and extremism feel free to look elsewhere, or at the rest of my work which is very different. 

So today I’m going to take the not too radical stance and condemn violence for political and religious ends. By violence I mean the type that takes lives, and physically harms without it being exact self-defence, where they will physically hurt you otherwise. The lines are hard to set and I question them all the time,  it this is just the world we are in and why I’m talking about this today. My solution is not too radical but does involve some very hard self-interrogation.

For the past 6 months we have had a ridiculous amount of violence. We had that nail bomb in Manchester back in May, then the van attack and shooting in London in July, and more recently there’s been a car attack in Charlottesville likely by a white supremacist, and then another car attack in Barcelona two days ago. It is telling that these were the most memorable events to me but that the Wikipedia page of terrorist attacks is primarily in countries in which I don’t take a lot of interest. It’s clearly a global problem, but the situation is likely very different in these other countries and I can’t comment.

Extremists are building bombs and driving cars into groups of people. This is awful. It’s also why this article hurts to write and why my long term solution to it sounds and looks insensitive.

Calm yer tits.

It’s a Scottish expression meaning dial down your anger a bit. There is space for some anger but a lot of people have vastly overstated it.

Back after the Manchester attack, I was furious. Some people, primarily teen girls as that’s Ariana Grande’s demographic, were at a concert and some angry, isolated man driven by a vicious idea that puts no stock on human life decided to kill some and ruin the lives of others. There was a failure by the security forces and by British government policy that let him do this, but the first thing my brain reached for was the simplistic solution. I’m not proud of this, in fact very ashamed of it, but my brain jumped to a racial analysis of the situation.

It was only with a bit of calm, a lot of breathing, and a load of reflection that I was able to overcome these thoughts. See, this type of thinking is not driven by the best higher processors of our brain. This type of thinking is more of a feeling. It’s a feeling of community, which is warped to a vicious end. Newspapers love it, with their dog whistle “Our Girls” – that possessive ‘our’ changes the whole meaning, it becomes an attack on ‘your’ group. Group dynamics are a powerful psychological thing that drives campaigns, movements, reglions, but also hate. Sometimes it can be used well but sometimes it can become twisted. Truth is, these situations take a lot of nuance and none of it is helped by thinking from the brain stem.

Brain stem thinking is being led by your heart. I love the heart, the love that springs from its depths and how it colours our life, but e heart is equally capable of dumb hate and jumping to conclusions. Thinking from the brain stem doesn’t encourage research or double checking. If something feels real it becomes real in our minds. Facts have nothing to do with it. You can’t beat racism with facts. It’s not built on facts to begin with.

Our world right now is being spun out of control by anger. Everything seems so polarised. Media outlets have their target political views and they stick to it religiously. Echo chambers multiply what the media creates and so it seems that your side is strong, but one half doesn’t communicate with the other. A problem occurs when the groups do meet and react to each other. They are living in different realities.

My solution to this is simplistic, but so is everyone else’s. Calm yer tits. Take a few days after something bad has happened rather than jumping at it. Probably best to stay away from people talking about it too much as most of them will have an agenda. Immediately after the Manchester attack I was angry. I misdirected that anger towards Muslims, and for that I’m sorry, when really the problem is that the bomber was in the country at all – not because he’s Muslim but because the guy was a security risk, he posted in numerous forums, his dad was an extremist, he fought with some questionable rebel force during in Libya. Also, who taught him those views? Who reinforced them? Probably people who hate regular Muslims because of Islamic terrorists. Hating groups of people is a great way to push the edge cases fully over.

The same thing is currently happening with white supremacists. They are recruiting exactly like Isis. They are trying to catch angry, lonely, isolated, and insecure men. They are finding one common part of their identity, race, and then they are saying how attacked their race is. It doesn’t have to be true, but if they feel attacked it becomes their reality. If it becomes their reality they are more likely to perpetuate the very causes that led them to violence.

So take some time. Breathe. Do as much as you can to prevent the spread of the type of anger that isolates people and pushes them into the arms of the only supportive groups they can find, the ones with destructive agendas.

And, top tip, if ‘your side’ uses a car to kill people, it’s not a force for good.

Feeling nervous about writing about such a charged topic and sure he”s offended someone, the author of this post takes solace in the fact that he is read primarily by people that know him and he has numerous warnings all over his marketing. If you’re reading this, you’ve come too far.

 

 

Brexit Year Zero

It is now one year from the date of the referendum. A year ago today the Great British Prople used their Great Democratic Right and expressed their opinion. Of course, I am no politician. Not yet, at least. For if I do become a politician, and if anyone wants a ready made scandal, they are welcome to read my opinion of Brexit, and the people who voted for it, here. But that was a different time, and opinion moved on. So let’s see Brexit revisited!

I swear, this will be the last political intrusion on this blog for at least a couple months. Or weeks. Possibly days, but we’ll see what happens.

Let’s begin.

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The Brexit referendum was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it allowed the British people, to air their grievances and talk about what country they wanted to live in. On the other, it lead to some smooth bastards with money, technology, and rhetoric convincing a small majority of people we should leave the EU for reasons nebulous and illusory. It got rid of David Cameron 👏 but it brought in Theresa May 😱. Primarily, though, Brexit looks like it’s going to be an unvarnished curse for everyone except lawyers and journalists – the two types of people who will always do well.

Of course, just looking at it in a fair way, it was always going to be bad at this stage of leaving the EU. There’s a lot of uncertainty about what a future trading relationship will look like. Powers to change anything remain out of our hands. And markets have reacted in a way which is wholly predictable. They fell. They stabilised. They grew enough to avoid technical recession. The currency dropped, which was actually quite good for some sectors. Unfortunately, it was but the beginning (a fact I alluded to in this poem).

Last year the only clear portent of misgiving was the currency weakening and holidays costing more for regular people who hadn’t anticipated that particular event. Black Swan Event, don’t you know. This year, there are concerns of an agricultural nature . British food has been greatly helped in the past 15 years by the inclusion of Eastern Europe. This has helped farmers to always find a huge number of people willing to pick fruit and pack sausages for minimum wage. But now, one year on, this source of new labour is drying up. So, hopefully we don’t all starve!

This is what happens when we’re left off the hook. The uncertainty of a Brexit process that will take 2 years, while we have to fulfil our treaty and financial obligations and lose a lot of sway with our closest neighbours.

It sucks.

We can’t yet reach out to create new trading arrangements with other countries because we’re still part of the EU, and the EU negotiates trade for all. My current hope is that the government, with the Conservatives still in power, have to humiliatingly climb down and reverse Brexit. Britain does not appreciate people who mess up. The best option with Brexit stilll happening is a transitional agreement, maybe about a decade long, where the UK enters the European Free Trade Agreement for 5 years or so while we negotiate new deals with the rest of the planet. For that to happen though, it will take a premium statesman of the type we don’t currently have.

The Mother of All Parliaments; Why the British System is Horrible, Broken, and Very Fun

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Life sure does come at you fast! 2 years ago I wouldn’t have dreamt I’d write an article like this. Then again, a month ago Theresa May was still on for an absolute majority of seats. Two months ago Corbyn topping May favourability polls would be unthinkable. A year ago Brexit was a distant fantasy. So sit back and have a listen as to why our system is Horrible, Broken, and Very Fun.

Let’s start with the Horrible. The UK system of government is confusing, Byzantine in places, and is ruled by the party of the wealthy and business most of the time. The rest of the time it is ruled by people who seem kind of nice, but have their own failings. It is pretty authoritarian in bent and very moralistic while at the same time selling weapons to dictators for cynical and horribly pragmatic reasons. It presents itself as a force for good but, as in Frankie Boyle’s skeely style, it is “a nuclear-armed, money-laundering pirate ship”. The reasons for how it ended up Horrible are too many to mention, really. You would have to wade through a lot of different historical periods and get mired in a lot of blood – peasant, native, and royal – to figure out how our Horrible parliament exists, but here it is. Horrible and Broken.

The main reason it is Broken is not hard to route out: power. For hundreds of years Parliament has been the supreme edifice of State. It has tended to suck in people interested in power for its own sake as well as people who want to do good and reform it from within who instead become part of the furniture. To be fair, there are also the rebels of both major parties who do not toe their party lines, but these people do not redeem or fix the Brokenness of the system. The UK is a majoritarian system, though it doesn’t seem very democratic is is in fact rigidly so. Every MP is elected by First Past The Post – whomever gets the most votes in the area they want to represent gets the seat. It seems fair enough until you consider there are often 4 or 5 contestants for each seat and occasionally more. It is entirely possible to win an election with only 30% of the vote, which means that 70% did not vote for the winner, but the winner takes all. It redefines what the hell a winner even is. Every single percentage of vote share has a huge potential to change the makeup of parliament. And then it depends where those votes actually are. And hence the part where we can see where it is Horrible, Broken, and Very Fun.

in a winner takes all voting system like at Westminster, where a small percentage of the vote can make a huge difference, and there are at least four fairly significant parties to consider, which vary based on location, then pollsters have no idea. Some years they all cluster together and ‘herd’ results, too scared to say anything that differs from their competitors. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, we’re it not for the fact that the margin of error is 6%. In a system where a half percent swing can be the difference of tens of seats, that’s pretty substantial. So then here’s the part that’s Very Fun – the sheer extent of information comining out about the election, the number of people saying things, the disagreements, the pollsters coming up with such wildly different projections which margins of error end up saying is between Labour +5 and the Conservatives +19, and then the fear and Horrible energy that comes from staying up all night only to find that the results are more Horrible, Broken, and Fun than you can imagine, and the Tory Party have humiliatingly gambled on public opinion, which is fickle, and the future’s fucked and it’s all bananas.

And that’s why I’m a politics enthusiast. And why my sleeping schedule had not yet recovered fully.

Are We Living In the Age of Black Swans?

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We are living in a time where events seem harder to predict. There are lists to explain such events but in recent history they all must have two items, Brexit and Trump. It’s nice that the Anglophone world remains so culturally significant even when doing its best to recede from the world stage. Anyway, in this new tradition – Brexit, Trump, and the fact that the UK is now heading towards a minority government*. Three seemingly unpredictable events that had and will have huge ramifications for the future. The problem here is that when something is harder to predict it consequently is harder to prepare for.

These big shocking events are known as ‘Black Swan events’, a phrase coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In essence, before the discovery of Australia nobody knew about the existence of black swans. Instead, the phrase meant something like “when pigs fly”. Australia became known to the Western world and suddenly black swans were not a myth or a dream, they were real. Still, though, imagine how shocked you’d be to see a flying pig?

Even though people who are into data and statistics might tell you that polls predicted all these things, which they broadly speaking did, it’s still the case that they were equivocal. The truth is a bit messy and when an opinion research company compiles the data and filters it a bit, the story is then in the hands of journalists. Journalists have a certain word count to reach every day so they fudge it. As a result, they framea one-sided narrative. Brexit could never happen and was just a protest. Trump could never win but here’s some funny stories about the outrageous things he says. Corbyn was an unelectable terrorist sympathiser, ridicule him and vote for the people in power who by every metric have been making things worse. (He’s not a terrorist sympathiser by the way, special branch had people following him for 20 years and he never actively supported any terrorists. Unlike our government who knowingly gave arms to people with some pretty suspicious links in Libya and Syria.)

It’s strange, there is data which disproved all of these notions. YouGov ran polls on Brexit that said it was going to be close, as did other pollsters. Journalists picked one, and pollsters began to ‘herd’, to make their outcome more similar to other companies so they don’t seem stupid if they’re wrong. A similar thing happened with Trump, though apparently you had to ignore national polls and look at state polls. These polls would tell you that Trump had a chance of winning the electoral college while losing the popular vote. On Corbyn, due to the margin of error in British polls the results could have been anywhere between +5 for Labour and +19 for the Conservatives. It’s possible to tell there was a contest because the possibilities were so diverse.

But there’s altogether too much information. There are plenty of polling companies creating data on what people think, and there are lots of journalists expanding on that data to make copy, and there are millions of people telling each other these same stories and so they become ‘common sense’ or ‘conventional wisdom’. So what can be done? I suppose the main method of prevention is to stay vigilant and take things seriously when they could happen. Candidates don’t happen by accident. Extreme anger can be volatile and act in unexpected ways.

So be wary. The next time you see or hear anything that sounds stupid, crazy, or impossible, remember that there’s almost always more to the story. People didn’t vote Brexit because they are stupid, they voted for it because they had real concerns about the state of our politics. People didn’t vote Trump because they liked his weird wha if being, they had issues with what they saw as a corrupt political class, something that wasn’t helped by Hilary being a Clinton. Corbyn wasn’t impossible, he was just highly unlikely if you hadn’t seen the size of his events and rallies. Spend s but if time getting to know these issues and it might save you a lot of sudden shocks.

*I hope everyone has taken a break at this asterisk in order to come down here so i can comment a little on the irony of a politician who wanted to renegotiate a deal to ensure he strength off her country by winning an election, claiming to do it on a platform of being ‘strong and stable’ and a vote for anyone else was to endorse ‘a coalition of chaos’ only for your whole platform to fall to pieces when you try and prove how strong and stable you are and instead end up faltering, throwing the election, and likely becoming reliant on a small party outside of the mainstream politics of where you primarily derive authority, which will almost certainly lead to problems and is by its definition a ‘coalition of chaos’. I hope the two months the Conservatives an cling on to such a tenuous amount of power was worth the widespread dislocation of another general election that, all things considered, didn’t do what they intended nor particularly shake anything else up enough to mskrmit anywhere worthwhile. So strong, so stable. Still, I’m glad they didn’t get a landslide! Now, back to my serious stuff above. It’s all rather derivative but I fancy it is new info to someone.

Shock as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Secures Victory

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Financial markets have been left reeling as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour wins the election. Theresa May called to congratulate Corbyn as his party secured 45% of the vote by hoovering up seats across England. The result comes against a backdrop of polls tightening, but with none showing Labour ahead.

“This isn’t just an upset like Brexit or Trump, we had the numbers to show them, if you looked hard enough.” Said one pollster under condition of anonymity. “This is a polar shift, a sea change. This is an astronomical difference, it defies political physics. This is Newton being hit by an apple which then jumps up and hits him again, repeatedly.”

The result means that Labour comes out with 294 seats to the Conservatives 278. It is believed Mr Corbyn will go to Buckingham Palace to ask the Queen for permission to lead a minority government. The SNP returned 51 seats and have agreed to a confidence and supply deal in return for a second independence referendum. The loss means 5 years out of power for the Conservatives and the fate of Theresa May is clear.

“Of course, one must take these kind of things in one’s stride if one wants to be a politician.” Said Michael Gove immediately after the result was in, “Yes, some may be ‘livid’ as the papers have been saying this morning, but for others this is an opportunity for reflection and for growth. Some may say that May should hav won this election against the Marxist, IRA supporting, pacifist, or maybe that she should not have called it in the first place. Or maybe running a personality contest without personality is he issue. But such things are not worth discussing right now.

“The point is that we must be aware for future, regroup, and win in 2020 to secure strong and stable government in the years to come.”

EDIT – I wrote this in the 5th of June, if you’re wondering why the numbers are off. Pretty close though, right?

Why Donald Trump Must Be Given a State Visit to the UK

 

We’re past the threshold of normalising Donald Trump, he has been inaugurated, his name has appeared next to the words ‘The President of the United States of America’ too often to easily ignore and resistance grows by the day and with each decision his administration makes, so here are three reasons Donald Trump must be permitted a state visit to the United Kingdom.

3. The Great British Public

The Great British People deserve to see the man. Additionally, he deserves to see the Great British public.

At least 100 000 people attended the Women’s March in he UK, going off the numbers reported in London by the organisers plus the numbers of the many marches in the rest of the UK. These people evidently have many things to say about Mr. Trump, and isn’t that freedom of speech to be respected? Doesn’t Theresa May, our Prime Minister who made such a great deal with Trump, deserve the adoration of those crowds?

In fact, it seems like entire cities could shut down in adoration of those two Colosses of the world stage. That would certainly prick up the ears of the metropolitan elite, and I’m sure businesses supportive of them wouldn’t mind the chanting, surely in praise.

2. The Monarchy

The Monarchy is an institution supported by 75% of the population according to Ipsos MORI, with 17% supporting a Republic and 7% not sure or not particularly fussed. Mr. Trimp’s visit could unite these two factions quite easily.

For Republicans (UK context, not US), it shows the Queen earning her keep and entertaining a foreign world leader as is her constitutional duty. For Monarchists, it is a chance for the Queen to show off the UK to an important ally and let him know what the nation thinks of him. Surely such tests are necessary for the Head of State?

In addition…

1. Prince Philip

By far and away the most important reason to invite Mr. Trump to Buckingham Palace, the Prince Consort of the UK is known for making off-colour remarks that have been known to offend people. I hope the same will not be true when he meets Mr. Trump of course, but one can so rarely tell.

I’m sure we’d all hate for some diplomatic fracas to occur over one of the Prince’s trademark phrases: ‘ghastly’.

People the world over should be thrilled to test Mr. Trump’s diplomatic ability against the Royal Family, to test the sturdiness of May’s diplomacy, and witness the reaction of the Great British Public to the businessman.

This Time is Different

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This time it will be different.

We hear the cries of people saying
Hope is dead. The End is nigh.
But we won’t listen to them.

For once, the path is clearing up
As old certainties drift apart.
The new way forward breaks the debris
From the countless insurrections, we have seen
The only alternative is right.
All the clever types are telling us.

A movement of hope against a project fear
There can be no question who will win between
Such choices. My mind is made already,
It is simple: cut or work out how to make

Life work. The way ahead is easy.
It has been the culmination of a group’s
Progress against the backdrop of a crash.
Thoughts like theirs caused the mess, we bring
Better ideas. Let us convince you

This time it will be different.

Brexit Poem

The consequence clear, I’ve called and I’ve checked it,

The people have gone out their way and they’ve wrecked it!

And no one is quite sure just how far to test it –

The English went out and the voted for Brexit.

Now Sterling has fallen, straight down to the floor,

It may yet fall further, it hasn’t yet landed;

It fell, and it dropped, and it’s falling some more.

It’s unprecedented, no one understands it.

In a final retread

Some have tried to fix it

But they’ve shit the bed!

They’ve gone and they’ve bricked it.

So, the old all went out, and they voted for Brexit.

Now Scotland wants free – a sexy ass Sexit.

Is Czexit or even Hungrexit to follow?

Drink up, for now there will be no tomorrow!