current affairs

Monthly Quotes

Our round-up of quotes interesting, amusing and thought provoking encountered in the last few weeks. And oh so many at the moment are rooted in current affairs …

I think there never was a bureaucracy – royal, parliamentary, democratic, autocratic, whatever – that didn’t naturally seek to grow. They all do it. One may as well condemn human nature for being acquisitive. 
As for the Ponzi scheme aspect, that is also part of nearly every national government. That is, they spend more than they take in and pass the deficit on to future generations, who will be able in their turn to bear the debt for two reasons. First is that in a well-regulated economy the debt decreases in value due to inflation. Second is that what remains of the debt will in its turn be passed on to the future. 
So, if socialism is the tendency for a organization to grow, and a Ponzi scheme is so-called because it passes the cost of doing business into the future, then all organizations are socialistic, Ponzi schemes, businesses as well as governments. It is not a reason to condemn them – though it might be a reason to rein them in every so often.

[Prof. Michael Henle]

There is much more outside your area of influence than inside it. This is true no matter if you’re a two-bit writer of trashy Zen blogs or Leader of the Free World. None of us has very much individual power to control the external world. That’s another one of our silly illusions. You can, however, learn how to change your habit of obsessing about stuff you can’t change.
[Brad Warner at http://hardcorezen.info/zen-and-obsessions/5209]

A free Press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny. Where men have the habit of liberty, the Press will continued to be the vigilant guardian of the rights of the ordinary citizen.
[Winston Churchill, 1949]

The truth is hard.
The truth is hidden.
The truth must be pursued.
The truth is hard to hear.
The truth is rarely simple.
The truth isn’t so obvious.
The truth is necessary.
The truth can’t be glossed over.
The truth has no agenda.
The truth can’t be manufactured.
The truth doesn’t take sides.
The truth isn’t red or blue.
The truth is hard to accept.
The truth pulls no punches.
The truth is powerful.
The truth is under attack.
The truth is worth defending.
The truth requires taking a stand.
The truth is more important now than ever.

[New York Times]

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.
[Voltaire]

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.
[Alexandra K Trenfor]

If you understand, things are just as they are. If you do not understand, things are just as they are.
[Zen Proverb]

All babies look like Winston Churchill.
[WH Auden]

I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that I don’t know the answer.
[Douglas Adams]

Human beings are animals. Animals don’t like change. Lots of animals will die if their environment undergoes rapid change, even if that change could be defined as an improvement. Humans are more adaptable than most other animals, but we are not infinitely adaptable. And we respond just as badly to sudden change as any other species.
[Brad Warner at http://hardcorezen.info/i-vow-not-to-destabilize-society/5250

A democracy relies on an electorate of critical thinkers. Yet for­ mal education, which is driven by test taking, is increasingly failing to require students to ask the kind of questions that lead to informed decisions.
[Dennis M Bartels; Scientific American, March 2013]

White men are prized by poachers for their thin skins and their enlarged sense of entitlement, which is used in some traditional medicines.
[From https://twitter.com/_L_M_C_/status/840583019828256770]

We must wholeheartedly believe in free will. If free will is a reality, we shall have made the correct choice. If it is not, we shall still not have made an incorrect choice, because we shall not have made any choice at all, not having a free will to do so.
[Edward N Lorenz (1917-2008); The Essence of Chaos]

Not all cultures are created equal. Any culture that sweepingly and maniacally oppresses half their population is what I would call evil. Moral relativism be damned: that kind of crap is wrong, plain and simple.
[Phil Plait; http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/; 26 April 2010]

Our attitude towards what has happened to us in life is the important thing to recognize. Once hopeless, my life is now hope-full, but it did not happen overnight. The last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, is to choose one’s own way.
[Victor Frankl; Man’s Search for Meaning]

And finally, boys and girls, remember the (alleged) words of Abraham Lincoln:
Whatever you are, be a good one.

Message Getting Home

At long last a few UK politicians are getting the message about the need to decriminalise sex work. This is from the Independent a few days ago.

Liberal Democrats move to quash all historical sex-work convictions
of prostitutes and punters

What I find especially interesting, and slightly surprising, is that ex-senior policeman Lord Paddick is in favour. The police aren’t generally considered to be forward thinkers, but then Paddick has always been an outlier.

Now to get the message home to the rest of our politicians that New Zealand seems to have the best model.

2017 Predictions

As I promised a few days ago I’ve again dusted off my crystal ball to see what this year could bring. After all it can’t be a lot worse than 2016 — or can it?

What follows is my best interpretation the misty images in the aforesaid crystal ball. I remind you that they are just my ideas of what could happen; they’re based solely on hunches and gut feel; I have no inside knowledge and I haven’t been studying the form — so if you base any decision on any of this I will take no responsibility for your for your wanton act of idiocy.

As before, I’ve divided the predictions into three sections: UK, Worldwide and Personal — the latter are documented but currently redacted.


UK

  1. Brexit. The Supreme Court overturns the High Court judgement that Royal Prerogative cannot be used to trigger Article 50.
  2. Brexit. Article 50 will be triggered in the last week of March by government without the agreement of parliament.
  3. Brexit. It becomes apparent that no deal is possible with the EU and that the notification under Article 50 cannot be withdrawn.
  4. As a consequence, Theresa May resigns and asks Parliament to grant a General Election.
  5. Boris Johnson is sacked as Foreign Secretary and relegated to the back benches.
  6. The new Foreign Secretary is one of David Davies, Liam Fox, Michael Gove.
  7. Inflation will hit 2.5% by year-end.
  8. The Bank of England Base Rate will be reduced to 0%.
  9. The Pound falls by 20% (cf. 1 January) against the US Dollar and the Euro.
  10. FT100 falls by at least 10% compared with the start of the year.
  11. Unemployment rises by 10% compared with December 2016.
  12. GDP falls by at least 2% year-on-year; the UK is in recession by the end of the year.
  13. The Government will introduce legislation to implement Nordic model of prostitution.
  14. The Government also implements alcohol minimum pricing.
  15. There is at least one major incident (plane crash, train crash, terrorist attack, industrial accident etc.) with over 50 fatalities.
  16. At least one high street name goes out of business with over 500 job losses.
  17. At least 2 major hospitals are forced to close due to finance problems, with loss of jobs and healthcare; there is no allowance for anyone to pick up the slack.
  18. Two horses die in the Grand National, which is then permanently scrapped.
  19. There’s significant flooding somewhere in the UK in March, May and October.
  20. A meteor strike destroys two houses, but there are no fatalities.
  21. There is finally proof that there are non-native big cats living wild in the UK; there are enough to maintain a small breeding population.
  22. The Queen dies unexpectedly followed within 3 months by Prince Philip.
  23. Prince Charles ducks becoming King thus allowing William to take to the throne.
  24. Other Deaths: Paul McCartney, Bruce Forsythe, Bob Geldof, Michael Parkinson.

World

  1. Donald Trump is inaugurated as US President amid strident protests, possible rioting and several fatalities.
  2. During the year there are moves to impeach Trump which may succeed.
  3. Obama care is scrapped.
  4. NASA’s budget is halved.
  5. An accident (maybe a debris strike?) destroys the ISS with loss of the crew.
  6. Consequent on the above NASA abandons manned space flight for the foreseeable future.
  7. Trump visits Russia; Putin visits the US.
  8. US imposes severe restrictions on immigration.
  9. Against all the odds the USA abolishes the death penalty.
  10. Major banking collapse somewhere in the developed world, possibly Italy, USA or UK.
  11. Major cyber attack brings down power/utility infrastructure affecting hundreds of thousands, probably in USA but maybe Western Europe.
  12. Marine Le Pen is elected French President precipitating an existential crisis in the EU.
  13. Turmoil in South Africa after the arrest of a top politician.
  14. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe dies.
  15. Consequently the regime in Zimbabwe becomes even more repressive, in an attempt to prevent a civil war; this triggers a mass exodus of blacks to neighbouring countries.
  16. At least one major earthquake (magnitude 7.5+) with over 200 fatalities in Asia and another in South America.
  17. Scientists in Tasmania discover a small breeding population of Thylacine.
  18. At least two major civilian plane crashes each with over 100 fatalities.
  19. There is a significant downturn in air travel which causes at least one major carrier to fail.
  20. At least one conspiracy theory of 2012-16 turns out to be true.
  21. There’s a major epidemic of a new infectious disease across a whole continent (or more).
  22. IBM is bought by/merged with another large US corporation (possible contenders: Microsoft, Apple, Google).
  23. Other deaths: Rupert Murdoch, the Dalai Lama, Jimmy Carter, George HW Bush.

Personal
Personal predictions have been documented but are redacted to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

  1. Knee Surgery 1. [[REDACTED]]
  2. Knee Surgery 2. [[REDACTED]]
  3. Pension. [[REDACTED]]
  4. Deaths amongst Family & Friends. [[REDACTED]], [[REDACTED]], [[REDACTED]], [[REDACTED]]
  5. Anthony Powell Society. [[REDACTED]]

I wonder if I can do any better than my pathetic 32% score for 2016 — but I wouldn’t advise anyone to put any money on it!

And if you have any good predictions please do share them.

[Updated 7 January 2017]

2016 Predictions, the Results

A year ago I dusted off my crystal ball and made a few predictions about what would happen in 2016. Now the results are in. So how did I do?


UK

  1. David Cameron will not succeed in negotiating any meaningful changes to UK’s membership of the EU. MAYBE; it all depends on your interpretation of “meaningful changes” but I suggest what was agreed amounted to little more than a few ribbons and bows
  2. Nevertheless Cameron declares a triumph & campaigns for the UK to stay in the EU. CORRECT
  3. However the UK electorate will vote narrowly to leave the EU. CORRECT; although a slightly larger margin than I expected
  4. This could lead to the downfall of the current government and a General Election. CORRECT in that the government changed; WRONG in that there was no General Election
  5. Labour’s Sadiq Khan wins the London mayoral election. CORRECT
  6. Boris Johnson is appointed to the cabinet in a summer reshuffle. CORRECT
  7. At least one very well-known UK company (or charity) goes into liquidation unexpectedly with 500+ job losses. CORRECT; BHS (11,000 job losses), Austin Reed (1000 jobs) just for starters
  8. The government will go ahead with a third runway at Heathrow despite adverse environmental evaluations. CORRECT; runway approved by the government although some form of consultation is suggested
  9. Consequently the value of property within 10 miles of the Heathrow flightpath falls by 20%. NOT PROVEN, too early to say
  10. Work starts on HS2 and Crossrail 2 despite the lack of available funding. CORRECT in that some enabling work has started for HS2; WRONG for Crossrail 2 as far as I’m aware
  11. Construction work starts on London’s “garden bridge”, also despite a funding shortfall; the project will never be completed. WRONG, as far as I know there has so far been no construction work although it was planned
  12. Inflation remains at about 1%. CORRECT
  13. Interest rates rise to 1% by YE. WRONG, they fell to 0.25%
  14. The FTSE 100 closes 2016 down 10% on the 2015 close. WRONG, FT100 closed up 900 (over 14%)
  15. At least one major “accident” (transport? industrial? terrorist?) with 50+ fatalities — and there’s a good chance it will be in London. WRONG
  16. Death of a senior member of the royal family. WRONG
  17. Prince Harry comes out as gay (or at least bi). WRONG
  18. Artist Banksy is finally unmasked; he turns out to be someone already well known. MAYBE; back in March the most likely candidate was identified by “geographic profiling” but not confirmed
  19. Bruce Forsythe and David Attenborough die. WRONG
  20. Arsenal win Premier League. WRONG, they came second to Leicester City
  21. Another warm, wet winter followed by a cold wet summer. CORRECT for the Winter; WRONG for Summer which was wetter than average for most of the UK but also marginally warmer

World

  1. Donald Trump will not win the Republican nomination in the US Presidential election. WRONG
  2. Hilary Clinton wins the US Presidential election by the tiniest of majorities. WRONG
  3. Relations between Turkey and Russia deteriorate further. MAYBE; this appears to have been true early in the year although they do seem to have improved latterly
  4. Fighting in Ukraine flares up again. WRONG, it doesn’t seem to have done — or has it just dropped off the news?
  5. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un dies unexpectedly, plunging the country into chaos and resulting in annexation by China. WRONG
  6. Dalai Lama dies, precipitating a diplomatic crisis with China. WRONG
  7. Major violence erupts in Egypt further damaging their tourist industry especially in the Nile Valley. WRONG, despite terrorist attacks on Egyptian airline flights
  8. Assad remains in power in Syria, possibly in a strengthened position as the West comes to see him as the least worst option. CORRECT
  9. Greece will have further financial troubles and will again come close to leaving the EU — and they may even be forced to leave. CORRECT that Greece is still in financial trouble and has had bailout loans delayed; WRONG that they’ve not been forced out of the EU
  10. Cyprus reaches some form of vague reunification agreement. WRONG, certainly I’ve not seen this announced anywhere
  11. The EU has to formally suspend Schengen Agreement. WRONG
  12. A further downturn in Chinese economy causes worldwide downturn. WRONG
  13. Oil prices remain low but fuel and domestic energy prices rise compared with the start of the year. MAYBE; Snapshot data: Brent Crude up from $35.75 to $57.19/barrel; Unleaded (UK avg) up from 103.1 to 116.87; Diesel (UK avg) up from 106.38 to 119.08
  14. At least two major airline, train, cruise liner or ferry accidents with 200+ fatalities (in total). CORRECT; major civilian plane crashes at Rostov-on-Don (Russia, 62 lost), EgyptAir (downed over Mediterranean, 66 lost), Chapecoense football team (in Columbia, 75 lost), PIA flight lost near Islamabad (48 lost) at the top four
  15. A naval vessel (Australian? Russian?) finds the wreckage of MH370, by luck as it is outside the search zone; it is too deep to be safely recovered. WRONG

Personal
Six personal predictions were documented and can now be revealed:

  1. I will finally be put on insulin, or an insulin mimetic. CORRECT
  2. All clear from AAA screening. CORRECT
  3. Colonoscopy finds more polyps, but they’re benign. WRONG, got an all clear
  4. Aunt Jessie, Uncle Cyril, cousin Anne and Auntie Olive all die. WRONG, all family members still present and correct as far as I know
  5. We will finally lose Harry the Cat, probably in February. CORRECT although it happened in January
  6. AP Conference will make a loss of around £2K (after subsidies) due to unforeseen costs and/or low take up – possibly the Americans don’t come because of a perceived terror threat. MAYBE; the Americans didn’t come and take-up was below plan, but the unplanned losses were only about £900

At first sight it looks as if I did a little better than for 2015; 30% hit rate this year compared with just 25% last year. But then as last year sometimes being wrong is actually good.

I’ll bring you my predictions for 2017 in a few days time.

Brexit means …

Brexit means what precisely? Or rather Brexit tells us what?

Forget “Brexit means Brexit”, that is no more than pure esoteric-mumbo-jumbo gold.

A few days before Christmas, Mark Easton, the BBC’s Home Affairs Editor, asked What did the Brexit vote reveal about the UK?

The answer was basically that it is a result of our dysfunctional political system and a cry for a return to proper democracy. Here are some key extracts:

The vote for Brexit was a thunderous rumble of national indignation, an outpouring of frustrated fury that shook the foundations of the British state. We misinterpret its meaning at our peril.
… … …
This was much more than a simple referendum about membership of the European Union. Neither Brussels bureaucrats nor Polish plumbers were really the motivation for a popular revolt unparalleled in almost five centuries.
This was an act of extraordinary defiance against a system that does not and will not listen to people’s concerns and anxieties … Our governance, our democracy, does not function properly. It is failing the people of this country. That is the message of Brexit.
… … …
Our politics is still routinely discussed in terms of left and right, workers and bosses, socialism and capitalism.
But look[ing] at the Brexit vote … these historic distinctions simply did not apply … The working class tended to vote Leave and yet most Labour supporters voted Remain. The professional middle-class tended to vote Remain but most Conservatives voted Leave.
… … …
I was very struck by the attitude of people I met in Port Talbot … What I [heard] were people who did not think anyone was listening to them. They felt powerless and ignored.
… Everything in Port Talbot depends on the steelworks and its future is decided by people whose names they do not know in a boardroom in Mumbai. Globalisation has robbed the people … of their voice …
There was a time when people up and down the land believed they had some kind of control over their destiny. But … Trade unionism has been neutered, local government is a shadow of its former self and political activism is … simply shouting into the wind. National elections are all but meaningless …
… … …
Decisions made in Westminster and Brussels resonate down to the supermarket shelves of Gloucestershire and local people do not feel they have had any say in the matter.
The Brexit campaign was centred on the idea of taking back control … a slogan that went far beyond the demand for control of our borders.
… … …
[T]he European Union was one obvious villain … It gives no impression of listening … national politicians are not listening either … Brexit was a cry of pain from a country that no longer believes that traditional democracy offers the answer.
… … …
[T]he challenge of Brexit [is] how to give people their voice … making that happen will require profound courage and imagination from our national political leaders because it necessarily means they give up some of their own power.
… … …
What the British people want … is a democracy honest enough to reveal the trade-offs and the complexities of contemporary politics, responsive enough to reflect nuanced opinions, and convincing enough that people believe they are genuinely connected to the decisions that affect their lives.
When we cut our ties with EU power, we must also reform Britain’s archaic power structures.

I think Easton may well be right. And as so often I couldn’t have expressed it better, hence the extracts.

To quote Robert Kubica, Everything is possible but everything will be difficult.

Interesting times we live in, innit!

Don’t Criminalise Us …

The fight to get governments to decriminalise sex work (and sex workers) continues. Here’s a piece which highlights the views of Europe’s sex workers — most of whom are (voluntary, not trafficked) migrants.

It is notable that it isn’t just the sex workers who are saying sex work should be decriminalised. This view is backed by

major human rights organisations such Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the World Health Organization and several other United Nations agencies such as UN Women and the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work are also calling for the decriminalisation of sex work, noting that decriminalisation guarantees better working conditions, and reduces the social vulnerability and marginalisation of sex workers.

And as that implies many are now warning that the basic human rights — as covered, for instance, by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union — are being violated; and that those violations are state sanctioned the world over.

When are people going to wake up to what’s going on around us? It’s being done in our name, and yet how many of us agree with it?

No Sex Please …

OK, so here’s another nasty, not so little, piece of legislation from the UK government.

The new digital economy bill, which is currently going through parliament, intends to block websites hosting “unconventional” sexual content. So who decides what is conventional, and who will implement and police such a ban?

There’s a piece in yesterday’s Guardian (yes, again!) which tries to explain the What, how and why?

Now whether you like so-called pornography or not, this is worrying. The legislation is ill-conceived and appears to be not just draconian but also potentially arbitrary and ill-defined.

Worse, my personal belief is that it infringes freedom of speech (and belief) and I would agree with critics of the bill who say it is not the government’s place to police what kinds of consenting sex (or indeed anything else) can be watched by adults.

I continue to believe that pornography (unless violent, coercive or involving minors) has a valuable place, just as does the rest of the sex industry. You, personally, may find it distasteful — just as I find the idea of male-male sex distasteful — but that doesn’t mean either should be banned and I would always defend your right to indulge should you choose.

The whole of the English-speaking world has a history of drawing its rules of censorship much more tightly than continental Europe. But that changed with the internet allowing information to be streamed direct to our homes without restriction. And the English-speaking, puritan, nanny state doesn’t like it.

It’s time we started treating people like adults and allowing them to make up their own minds. But to do that requires us to invest in sensible education of our children, and isn’t it easier to keep them in ignorance and subjugated?

So-called pornography is not being forced down people’s throats. It is complete myth that the internet is awash with porn at every turn and it’s being gratuitously feed to every child in the land. Yes, it is there, but you (whatever your age) have to look for it. My systems have every available filter turned OFF and still I do not get a continual stream of emails offering me penis enlargement (surely fairly tame?) nor does every Google search bring up 27,000 pages sex videos and bestiality.

It is worrying enough to have the state control our sexual predilections but the fear is that this will go way beyond pornography; it is the first example of any liberal democratic country creating an internet censor. The fear is what such a framework could go on to be used for.

Yes, this is censorship and as such must be resisted.

Wake up, the coffee pot is bubbling on the stove.

Doomed. We’re all Doomed.

There was a very depressing piece in yesterday’s Guardian from George Monbiot under a headline: The 13 impossible crises that humanity now faces.

Surprising as it may seem, given the frequency with which I refer to Monbiot, I don’t agree with everything he writes. And I don’t agree with all of this.

For instance I don’t buy his item 7: Job-eating automation. Automation never has reduced the demand for people and the number of jobs available. This was said about the industrial revolution and about computerisation. And in my view it has not turned out to be the case. What has happened is that the jobs have changed.

Notwithstanding the article is a worthwhile but sobering read, especially if you feel like you want to be depressed — or feel in need of a paradigm shift.

A Word for Our Times: Kakistocracy

Kakistocracy

Government by the least qualified or worst persons.

The word derives directly from the Greek κάκιστος worst + -κρατία rule, but ultimately from the Indo-European root kakka-/kaka– (to defecate), which apparently also gave us poppycock, cacophony, cacology and cacography; as well as the Francophone caca. The earliest documented use was in 1829.

H/T: A.Word.A.Day