Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition.
Amidst all the nonsense and hysteria of the most recent US election, Barack Obama gave an interview to Wired magazine where he talked about the impact of driverless vehicles. On the one hand, he suggested that driver error was the single greatest cause of fatalities on US roads, and that driverless vehicles would significantly reduce that. On the other hand, he pointed out that three million Americans earned a living driving everything from trucks to school-buses to taxis.
It was classic Obama. Slightly wonky, calm, measured, thoughtful. A rational discussion about future challenges and opportunities. Just wait and see how lucky we’ll all realise we were to have him as president of the United States when the next guy is sworn in.
But it made me think: are Irish politicians giving any thought to the future? Given the occasional hysteria about technology, especially in the Seanad which seems to regard anything beyond a flip-phone as high-falutin’, one would have one’s doubts.
I had a discussion with some work colleagues recently where I was a dismissed as a Cassandra for worrying about automation in the workplace and its effect on employment. It made me realise that you can’t blame Irish politicians for reflecting their voters’ concerns, or lack of. But don’t we pay these guys to be looking over the hill at what is coming next?
Consider this: Andrew Puzder, President-Elect Trump’s nominee as Labour secretary, the man tasked with managing employment rights in the US has as a fast food CEO openly speculated about replacing his staff with automated systems. Apparently robots won’t call in sick or strike or sue him for discrimination. This is real.
Next time you’re in a supermarket, look at the shifting balance between staff operating a till and the automated tills where you serve yourself. Remember when those tills were introduced for convenience? To avoid queuing behind that person in front of you who on reaching the till always seemed either startled by the concept of a paper-based money system or indeed that they had to pay at all? Now we queue to serve ourselves as the number of human servers dwindles.
Remember when every bus had a conductor? Is there anyone willing to say 100% that there’ll be no automation of the Luas? Ludicrous, they will say. Sure you can’t have a driverless train given how mad Dublin drivers are. But that’s not how it will happen. What will happen is that the trains will be automated but the drivers kept initially to “supervise”, allowing the company to gradually reduce numbers by natural wastage. Then we’ll all discover that the Luas has actually been automated for years. If you have been to Disneyland or through many major airports you’ve already been on an automated train.
The question for Irish (and every other western) society is how do we deal with the employment implications? Automation will push down labour costs as more people accept less wages for fewer jobs, until automation gets even cheaper. But in many instances jobs will be actually destroyed. The old argument about creative destruction still holds to a certain degree. Many former blacksmiths ended up building the cars that destroyed their old trades. But now those jobs are being replaced by robots in car factories. Some of the old car workers may well become engineers who design or build the robots, until robots start building and designing themselves. But at every stage the sheer volume of people needed to upskill to the next level gets less and less. That’s the point: it’s cheaper to make do with fewer but more highly skilled people.
That’s the challenge: not everybody can be a software engineer, and what do we do when the jobs beneath simply don’t exist in the same numbers? When a supermarket late shift has maybe two or three very modestly paid teenagers supervising 30 robots repacking shelves? There will of course be jobs that humans might be better at, such as senior care which we know will be a growth industry given western demographics, but lower paid repetitive jobs are ripe for technological obliteration. There may not be, quite simply, enough decent paying jobs to go around.
If the Dail is not thinking about this, then who is? Who should be planning for a future where labour exceeds demand, and where many of those with even with jobs barely exist on low wages? Is a universal basic income the answer? Is technology restriction? Is an expansion of public sector employment? Should we bring back jobs like bus conductors not because it will make buses more efficient, but to simply give people the dignity of work? Will we pay people to actually be artists and playwrights? How will we pay for it all?
We often look upon Ireland as a permanent victim nation, constantly battered by the decisions of greater nations or global forces. But we also have an advantage we rarely speak of: as a small nation we can change direction fast. From eradicating tuberculosis to switching to the euro, this country can do something fast if it wants to. But we have to have the vision. How do we start?
Perhaps it’s time for some of the younger members of the Oireachtas to put together an Oireachtas committee on the future, with a clear brief to bring in those looking at the problems of the future, from technology to senior care to employment to pensions.
Let’s at least begin the debate.
Previously published in The Times Ireland Edition on 18th July 2016.
Writing on social media last week about the Nice attack, the conservative commentator John McGuirk remarked that “at some point soon, people are going to say “you know, we tried the nice way. We tried tolerance. We tried being understanding. Maybe it’s time to give the crazy guy a shot at it.”
It’s hard to dispute the logic of his argument, given the rollercoaster of the last 12 months. From Trump to Brexit, we are witnessing what some are calling “post-truth” politics but what I prefer to term The Right To One’s Own Facts. The most disturbing aspect of the Brexit debate for me was the willingness of voters particularly but not exclusively on the leave side to casually dismiss facts which did not fit with their worldview.
But what should really alarm us is that there now seems to be substantial numbers of voters who choose to vote recklessly on the basis that “sure, it can’t get any worse, can it?” There are literally millions of people voting for Trumps, Farages and Erdogans. It can always get worse.
In 1979 the trades unions brought down Jim Callaghan’s Labour government because they thought he was too right-wing. Think they were still applauding themselves for that act after ten years of Mrs Thatcher? Reckless voters keep thinking that they can’t break the system, even when they pretend they want to.
But they do want to break it, some say. Why shouldn’t they? They’re disengaged. Except they’re not. They are completely engaged by other taxpayers through the state. It often provides their dole, their healthcare, their housing, their kids’ education, all funded by the taxes of voters whom they themselves seem to hold in contempt for being “an elite”.
The welfare state isn’t some form of natural fiscal phenomenon. It’s a decision by voters collectively to provide what is, in many instances, a form of nationalised charity. Sure, get insulted all you want at that definition, and talk about entitlements and rights, but bear in mind that whilst all of us, in every class, cannot avoid paying some tax, even if it is just VAT, some pay far more into the pot than they draw out, and others vice versa. You know where the poor are disengaged properly? Venezuela. When you can’t even find toilet paper on the supermarket shelves. Disengagement? That’s abandonment by the state, and it isn’t happening here.
The other awkward reality about reckless voters is their contribution to the rise of the hard anti-immigrant right in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. What do these countries all have in common? How about, in one study after another, they collectively have the highest standards of living as nations in the world, which actually means in human history. So what’s their gripe? How disengaged are they? Is their broadband speed letting them down? Not getting enough time to play Pokemon?
What unifies Trump voters, Brexit voters, far right and far left voters? For some it is simple racism. We seem to believe that racism is no longer possible, but is merely a symptom of some other underlying cause. But guess what? Some people just don’t like people who are a different colour or creed. It doesn’t matter why, we just have to ignore them because their opinions are irrational and listening to them about the direction of society is like listening to Jimmy Saville about child protection protocols.
But I would suggest that the racists are a minority, and the real motivating factor for many of these voters is the speed of change, and that’s a big problem. Yes, immigration transforms societies, but so does technology. The speed of transport has sped up immigration, but it has also sped up shipping times from the cheaper labour less employment rights factories of China and thus made off-shoring jobs much more viable. How do you stop that?
The Trumps and the Le Pens can stop immigration, and erect walls, both physically and tariff. But they can only alter the speed of change by actually withdrawing their respective countries from the globalized economy, which has all sorts of consequences from labour shortages to the price of food in the shops.
For me, the greatest reason why we should ignore reckless voters is their belief that complexity can be removed. That “take back control” or “just send them all home” is an actual solution. This is using a match to see if there is any petrol left in the drum stuff, and it must be opposed.
Of course, all that assumes that a majority of voters will vote in a non-reckless way, and that, in the age of Trump, is a hell of an assumption to make. Just look at the Erdogan of Turkey.
In 1932, in Germany, 52% of voters voted for either the Nazi party or the Communist party. Many of those same voters would have to wait for 17 years for another free election, and only after their country lay literally in ruins and under occupation.
It is very possible for voters in a democracy to vote to abolish themselves. Reckless voters have a right to be heard. But they don’t have a right to grab control of the wheel of the bus and take us all down with them. Nor are we obliged to let them.
The FBI agents didn’t arrive until the media, tipped off by Rudy Giuliani’s Department of Justice, were in place. Secretary Clinton opened the door herself, and invited the flak jacketed agents into her hallway. She looked refreshed and prepared, in a purple pantsuit.
The first mistake happened there. The new FBI director had handpicked agents with a clear disposition against her, and when one agent grabbed her wrist roughly and spun her to cuff her, one of President Clinton’s Secret Service detail stepped forward and pulled the FBI’s hand off her.
“She is cooperating. Show her some respect.” The Secret Service man said, squaring up to him.
The FBI agent went for his gun, but the Secret Service, trained for the sudden appearance of weapons had their guns our faster.
All on live TV, after the FBI in their zealotry hadn’t closed the door behind them and dozens of zoom lenses and microphones recorded the incident.
Giuliani, who had been watching in his office with his staff of young men, shouted down the frat boy whooping that had accompanied the initial entry into the Clinton home in upstate New York.
He, an old master of the live TV perp walk from his days as a US Attorney, had given instructions for her to be brought out in cuffs. But this was getting out of hand.
On TV, President Clinton stepped through his secret service detail and stood in front of the FBI.
“There’s no need for this. Hillary is cooperating.”
Secretary Clinton put her hand on the Secret Service man’s shoulder.
“Stand down, Tom. Let’s let these guys do their jobs.”
The agent in charge, suddenly realising that the door was open and that they were probably live on TV, had the sense to calm the situation.
“Thank you, madam secretary,” he said, and put the cuffs on her wrists, clicking them loosely.
“Are those really necessary?” President Clinton said.
“Who ordered you to put handcuffs on a 69 year old women with no history of violence?”
“Vince Foster would disagree…” one of the agents quipped, before realising.
President Clinton, spun on his heel and looked at the agent.
“That’s the way it is, it is?”
In his office, Giuliani, listening to the entire conversation broadcast live on TV, was screaming at the screen.
“Close the fucking door! Close the fucking door!”
Secretary Clinton tapped her husband on the arm.
“Don’t worry about it, Bill. Rudy Giuliani obviously thinks I’m very dangerous. Will you bring my reading glasses, honey.”
As she was led out of the house, America had stopped what it was doing to watch the spectacle. A growing crowd was gathering outside the house, and started chanting “Hill-a-ry! Hill-a-ry!” as she was put into one of the 10 FBI jeeps outside the house. She smiled, and held up her her hands in the air, the cuffs very clear to be seen.
It was an image that would become iconic.
Media helicopters and drones buzzed over the scene, following the FBI convoy as they took her to Manhattan to be charged. By the time she arrived at FBI headquarters, thousands of people were present. Some were shouting “Jail her!” but most were supporting her.
When she was led in, accompanied by her husband, there was a wall of noise as the crowd now covered the entire street. The NYPD were desperately trying to redirect traffic.
After an hour, President Clinton exited the building with with some aides and his Secret Service detail. Half way down the steps, surrounded by the media, someone (on advice from James Carville who was in apoplexy watching from Louisiana) handed the former president a loudhailer and a hand mike. He slung the loudhailer over his shoulder, looking like a superannuated student activist.
“My wife Hillary,” he said in that familiar southern drawl, “is a political prisoner.”
“This is the sort of thing you see in Zimbabwe or North Korea. A new president turning the power of the state on his political opponents. You did not see Reagan jail Mondale, or Bush jail Dukakis, or George W jail Al Gore. This, this is disgusting!”
In the DOJ, Giuliani was fielding a call from the President, who did not like what he was seeing. Then something caught his eye on the screen.
The crowd, now maybe 100,000 strong, seemed to ripple as someone moved across the steps of the building. Then the cheering started as people recognised former President Obama and Michelle Obama pushing through. Clinton saw them, and opened his arms to give both a huge embrace. The crowd started cheering, a chant “Let her out!” started, during into a deafening roar.
Giuliani was smart enough to see this was getting out of hand.
“Yes sir….no, I don’t think we should send in the national guard…we’ve a helicopter…yes sir.”
President Obama took the microphone live on camera.
“Michelle and I were downtown when we heard the news…I could not believe what I heard…is this the America we’re living in, where one party has its opponents picked up off the streets? Hell no!”
The crowds chanted back a “Hell no!” at him.
“What happens next? Is Rudy Giuliani going to have her spirited away to some prison in the middle of nowhere, some gulag?”
Giuliani looked at his advisers. That was exactly the plan.
A helicopter took off from the roof of the FBI building, as someone whispered in Clinton’s ear. Clinton gestured to Obama, who handed over the microphone.
“I’ve just been told that Hillary is on that helicopter, and that they’re taking her somewhere. I don’t know where. But my friends, I’ll tell you this. This is a political arrest, and will only be resolved in one place: Washington DC.”
They could hear the chants in the Oval Office. “Let her go!” from just shy of two million people was very loud.
The president was not happy. Despite many questioning his intellect during the campaign, he’d proven himself to have a shrewd political gut, and this sat uneasily. The polls were showing that whilst a solid 40% of the country supported prosecuting her, 50% saw it as purely an act of political revenge.
In the week since her incarceration in a federal prison awaiting trial, in North Dakota, the Democrats had been galvanized. Millions were marching on the streets, and her name was now being compared to Nelson Mandela and Alfred Dreyfus. Foreign leaders hadn’t been helpful, although Putin and the Chinese endorsed his action in the “fight against corruption”. President Le Pen supported him too. That prick Trudeau had led a march to the US embassy in Ottawa to hand in a letter of protest. It wasn’t helped either by the fact that his coarsest supporters were having a field day on the web making remarks about her being sexually assaulted in jail. The First Lady had walked out of a meeting where such remarks had been made.
The visit to the prison by Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Rosalynn Carter and Barbara Bush had looked awful for the administration on TV.
His advisers had all advised that this was to be expected, and it didn’t matter.
“All this proves is that the people who hate you still hate you,” Chris Christie said.
“Let’s get through the trial, put her away, and let her rot!”
The meeting broke up with out a decision, the room clearing save for Ivanka Trump. The others knew not to question her remaining.
“This is a huge problem honey!” The president said, slumping in his seat. He was not enjoying being president. He still spent a lot of time in his home in New York, and was beginning to hate having to return to the White House. The constant protest outside Trump Tower annoyed him too. It also grated with him to be booed in his home city, where once people had cheered him on the streets. He’d tried to have them moved on, but both the mayor and governor had refused to deploy heavy forces.
His mood hadn’t been helped by the fact that every business with a Trump in the title was now being permanently picketed by the Let Her Go crowd. Ivanka and the boys had openly talked about rebranding and separating his presidency from his brand in an attempt to save revenues.
“They’re wrong,” she said.
“If Hillary stays in prison she will become the focal point of your presidency. The next election will be a referendum on freeing her. Is that what we want?”
“What’s the alternative?”
“Pardon her. Say that a trial will be divisive and that you want to bring the country together.”
“My supporters will go nuts!”
“You said you’d put her in jail. She’s in jail. Now the country has to move on. I’ve put some words together.”
She handed him a buff folder, which he opened and leaned back in his seat. He smiled.
“Is this legal?”
“I have half a dozen lawyers who say it isn’t illegal.”
Newsflash: The White House has announced that the president will issue a pardon of Secretary Hillary Clinton for all crimes and misdemeanors committed by her. Unusually, for the pardon to take affect, Secretary Clinton is required to sign that she is accepting the pardon.
Some legal scholars suggest that in doing so she would be admitting to having committed the crimes in the first place.
A spokesperson for the president said that the pardon is on its way to North Dakota by fighter jet, and that Mrs Clinton can be home with her family by tonight if she wishes.
The attorney general, Rudy Giuliani, has resigned. He will be replaced by his deputy, Gov. Chris Christie.
The president shall address the nation tonight.
Spoiler alert: I’m assuming if you are reading this you have seen the movie. If not, don’t read any further as I’m talking about key plot points.
The two most recent “Captain America” movies have been the most political of the Marvel Universe movies, with both “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” having, at their heart, a question about the political accountability of self-appointed groups of do-gooders with extraordinary power.
In “Civil War”, a division emerges between the superheroes over a proposed UN treaty which puts them under the control of an international oversight body.
Unlike many superhero movies, the question isn’t black and white. The treaty comes about as a result of rising casualty rates amongst civilians caused by The Avengers group fighting various bad guys. As a plot, it’s very close to the key plot of “Superman Vs. Batman: Dawn of justice” but exercised much more interestingly. Both Tony Stark (in favour of oversight) and Steve Rogers (against) make valid points in the debate.
But what’s interesting is the politics at the core of the disagreement. Stark believes (rightly, I think) that a group with such immense power must operate with public consent, and so must be accountable and even open to restraint. Rogers, guided by his own sense of morality, believes that a group of individuals with such talents as theirs should not let themselves be restrained by politics.
Interestingly, he spits out the word, and that tells us something about the at-times curiously elitist views held by Rogers, that if he believes something is right, that’s good enough, and that no government, even one elected by the people, has a right to overrule his right to intervene. It’s a fascinating insight into our modern society that such a view is portrayed in a movie as a reasonable side to a case, and not what it really is: the argument of a fascist superman. In short, if someone believes themselves to be emotionally right, as Rogers does, then that’s OK.
As it happens, Stark displays incredible hypocrisy when he discovers that Bucky Buchanan, under Hydra mind control, murdered his parents, and anoints himself the right to murder Buchanan (technically innocent)under a straight and simple desire for emotional revenge, but in doing so makes his own original point that their powers have to be held in check.
Politics aside, it’s a great entertaining movie. The fight scenes are excellent, it’s chock full of cameos and it has plenty of humour. DC take note.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 22, 2016 in Events
I wrote this after the Paris attacks. Still applies today, with some changes.
It’s hard to fight an idea, and that’s the problem with IS. This isn’t Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union where there was a clear command structure and someone at the top to negotiate with, someone who can then give an order and hostilities cease. Radical Islam isn’t like that. There isn’t a boss, just loose networks and cells and feeble minded young foot soldiers willing to give their lives in pursuit of an idea.
The truth is, we’ll probably never eradicate the idea, or the threat, just learn to contain it better. Paris last year, or Brussels today, is maybe, God forgive me for saying this, the future.
The way it is going to be.
Yet there might be a way to stop the attacks. We could try to deliver on their idea, to the extent that we no longer become a target because we deliver better on it than they do.
In Ireland we could start by rounding up the small number of Irish Jews. The Chief Rabbi of Ireland, former justice minister Alan Shatter and others. Take them all to the Curragh under armed guard and then what? Maybe execute them, live on television so that IS can see our commitment to their idea? Or, to avoid the bloodshed, maybe transport them to Iraq and hand them over. At least we would not be the ones actually killing them, right?
Would that be enough? Maybe not. What about the gays then? Maybe round them up. Bit tricky, as we don’t have a list, but you know, start with Panti’s Twitter feed and go from there. True, it’ll be awkward, having celebrated passing marriage equality, but needs must. We could even use the marriage equality campaign’s email and activist list to identify more of the gays we will need to kill.
That won’t be the first instance of irony either. To placate the idea, we’ll probably have to ban all the non-Islamic religions, and pick up their advocates too. Bishops, priests, again it’d almost be funny to see David Quinn and Panti both staring at the same firing squad, but that’s the price.
Would that be enough? They’re not mad on the whole women equality thing, so strip women of their rights, just to be safe. Clare Daly, Averil Power, Ruth Coppinger, they’ll all have to be put in their place because there’ll be no room for uppity women with their notions of being equal to men. Burkas all around, no girls to go to schools, maybe beat the women who can read just to get them used to their new place. Would that be enough? At least it would solve the gender quota issue.
As we’d watch our sisters and mothers and daughters become chattel, as we watch our Jewish and gay and lesbian friends get shot dead, as we all praise Allah and punish the non-believers and especially those Muslim traitors who dared stand with the Jews and the gays and the women, maybe that’ll be enough for the believers in the idea to stop attacking us because we are implementing the idea better than they can.
Let’s do it all across Europe. Stop bombing IS. Maybe start bombing Israel instead? They’d like that, right? All across Europe we could round up the Jews again, raid the synagogues, watch the Jewish schoolchildren holding their German identity cards which told them they were equal citizens shaking in their hands as they are separated from their non-Jewish friends.
Let a religious police beat Dutch girls in Amsterdam who dare wear short skirts. Close Anne Frank’s house, because after all, the Nazis were right. Same with Auschwitz and Birkenau. We’ll have to rewrite our schoolbooks obviously. As for all those refugees fleeing IS, maybe order the Royal Navy, the Irish Navy, the Italian Navy to open fire and machine gun them in the water?
The truth is, if we surrender enough to the idea, the attacks will probably stop. If we don’t, the chances of us completely eradicating the terror cells are slim. In a continent of 500m, it’s impossible to stop every three or four poisoned fanatics with a bomb vest or a machine gun. We just can’t stop them. We may even stop most of them, but we just can’t stop them all.
The truth is, surrender is the most effective option.
But you know what?
Fuck them. Let them come with their bombs and their guns, and let them face the barrels of Muslim British soldiers or Muslim French cops or gay Dutch special forces officers or female Belgian cops. We’ll put them in the ground, and the next ones too, and then mourn our losses. Because what we have in Europe is a different idea to IS, and it is an idea worth fighting and yes, even dying for.
There is a high price we will have to pay to defend our synagogues and magazines (and airports and Metros) and gays and women and all religions and yes, our Muslims too.
The alternative is not peace, but a living death watching our Jewish friends and neighbours and all those others whom IS deems not fit to exist disappear off in the back of a truck or in a train carriage.
No. This is Europe. This is our way of life. Out on a Parisian night, flying home to family, travelling on the Metro, men, women, gays, straight, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, atheist.
This is our idea. This is our continent, our way of life, and it’s the right way of life because millions want to come here and live it too.
Paris was strong. London was strong. Madrid was strong. Brussels is strong.
Fuck them. Let the terrorists come at us. Europe can take it.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 2, 2016 in European Union
1. Europeans don’t really want a load of dead bodies washing up on their beaches, nor do they not want to not help. Yeah, it’s that convoluted, but we are Europe.
2. Despite wanting to do the right thing, we don’t want a sudden surge of millions of immigrants arriving in Europe. Especially Islamic immigrants because of, you know, the thing.
3. We also know that by letting loads of immigrants arrive we will bring out the Inner Nazi in many of our citizens, and with that destroy the beautiful border-free continent we have built since 1957 instead of marching across each others borders with pointy helmets and questionable facial hair in the traditional manner.
4. As with every European problem, we know we have to solve it but don’t want to go far enough to actually solve it, which would involve either:
A) amassing a Vast European Army to invade Syria, shoot everybody who doesn’t look like they at least tolerate Guardian readers, and appoint a Pro-Consul like Paddy Ashdown or Nicolas Sarkozy to run the place and continue to mow down every IS nut in a bulging jacket and possibly the odd Russian “little green man” trying to stir up trouble,
B) annex part of North Africa, turn it into initially a vast refugee safezone to redirect everybody who tries to get into Europe, and eventually A Little Piece Of Europe where refugees could build a life for themselves under the watchful eyes of the above Vast European Army and said Pro-Consul.
6. Instead, we’re more likely to pass laws that we won’t enforce, shout at each other as the Russians prise away their former colonial underlings with the support of various hard-right traitors pretending to be patriots, and watch as this, the greatest, most free, most peaceful, most prosperous Europe ever falls apart in petty nationalist bickering as China looms over The West. Oh, did I mention make deals with would-be Turkish tyrants and abandon the Greeks and Italians who rightly point out that this is a European problem and it’s grossly unfair that they be dumped with it?
From Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Gerry Adams in Ireland to Marine Le Pen in France and Nigel Farage in the UK, there’s a common theme emerging across modern Europe.
After 50 years of European integration and globalisation, it has started once again to become fashionable to believe that nationalism has the answers. That if a country could just retreat behind its borders everything would be fine.
It’s a very attractive proposition in its simplicity. Close the borders, tell Brussels and whomever else to f**k off and we can all go about our business like we did in the nostalgic golden period that existed before the EU. When did it exist again? Before 1914? When we didn’t have obesity because the poor literally hadn’t enough food? The 1920s and 1930s when one after another European government fell under fascist control? That Golden Age?
But let’s set that nostalgia to one side, and face the reality of the nation-state as solution to our modern problems. Can we control multinationals and make sure they pay tax? Perhaps the US can, maybe China, but pretty much nobody else.
Immigration? Given the option of every country just quietly moving the refugees onto their wealthier neighbours, the answer is that border control would cost expenditure on a de facto warlike footing. That imaginary money you’d save by stopping immigrants, on housing and healthcare? Spend that now on border police and fences and holding centres and massively expanded navies.
Then there’s selling stuff. Regulation, tariffs, quotas, all the tools of the nation-state trying to keep various interests happy, and all with a price attached.
Want to buy a new imported car? Sure why would you need that when we make our own here? Why doesn’t it come with Bluetooth? Listen to you and your unpatriotic notions!
There is something of a gut appeal about the nation-state, being amongst “our own”, with our own culture and language and music. It feels safer for sure. And let’s be honest: it does work. As long as a country is willing to make its own hard choices about its own resources, and carry the appropriate burden, it can work. But as you expel young foreign workers and tax their imports and restore the national currency, be aware of the choices, as other countries send your aging ex-pats back to you.
The greatest source of unhappiness during the Great Recession has been the anger created by governments making hard choices. Every nationalist hardliner has tried to suggest that nationalism presents an easier path of less hardship and easing of burden.
A Europe without the euro and the EU is a Europe of sovereign nations standing up for their own interests. Sounds fine, and it will be right up to the moment the French government shields French farmers from Irish and British competition. Or Germany puts a tax on German pension funds investing in London. Or Britain taxes pharmaceuticals coming into the UK from Ireland. Or Spain devalues the Peseta Nuevo against the Franc Nouveau. All the acts of sovereign governments. All new problems.
The European Union was, and remains, a forum where like-minded nations can work together to resolve the problems of the modern world, which are bigger than modern nations. Syria isn’t a British or Danish problem, but it affects them, and their leaders know it too.
The leaders of modern countries know that so many problems from trade to disease to war to refugees to crime start outside our borders. You can either cooperate on them, or hide behind your borders and try to manage the consequences. But the idea that the problems themselves will vanish or get easier is nonsense.
This is the world we live in. It isn’t going away no matter had hard we wave our flags.
Watching “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and also seeing the new Star Trek trailer got me thinking recently about how society is ordered in both systems. Admittedly, the Empire existed when humans were still in dwelling in caves, and so a like-for-like comparison isn’t quite fair, but as models go they’re worth comparing.
Which works better? Depends on the question.
Economic Freedom: there’s no comparison. The Empire is a free trade Caveat Emptor kind of place, with huge discrepancies between rich and poor. Slavery is tolerated. On the negative side, private property rights don’t seem to be respected by the state as much as just tolerated. Imperial stormtroopers can burn down your farm without as much as a “by your leave.”
The Federation, on the other hand, is almost the opposite, in that it is in effect a Communist society where possibly all property is owned by the state. Having said that, civil rights seem to apply to a home and individual once it has been allocated. Slavery is banned in the Federation, as is discrimination based on many criteria. Many of them. The Federation seems to have more laws than the Empire has stormtroopers.
The Political System: both systems seem to devolve a lot of non-military power to local decision making, however it is chosen locally. There is a tendency in the Federation towards only permitting members to join that govern with the broad consent of their people and involves detailed negotiation and examination of a candidate. The Empire, on the other hand, just annexes planets. Think British Empire. vs EU.
The Empire is a dictatorship. The Federation Council is chosen by member states, with the Federation President being a low profile bureaucrat. Russia vs EU. Neither hold galactic elections. Only one has a leader who personally murders people.
Civil liberties: There are pretty much none in the Empire, whereas the Federation has probably the most civil liberties in any galaxy. The Empire executes people. The Federation does have the death penalty, but very rarely uses it. Instead, prisoners tend to be exiled to New Zealand. That’ll learn ‘em. Finally, Imperial forces seem to be limited to humanoids and clones, whereas Starfleet is multicultural. It might explain why stormtroopers are such dreadful shots.
Military power: Although the Imperial fleet is much bigger than Starfleet, the Federation’s ships are technologically more advanced, with both cloaking (unofficially) and transport technology. Most Imperial weapons seem to be crude energy blasters, whereas Federation weapons are targeted and sustained beams. Both sides boast a superweapon. The Empire has a Death Star, the Federation the Genesis Device. The Death Star has superior range, whereas the Genesis Device would have to be delivered from orbit by a cloaked ship. Having said that the GD leaves the planet intact and devoid of life, ready to be reseeded with plant life. It is the neutron bomb of the galaxy.
The Empire has far superior ground forces, with the Federation having a very limited Military Assault Command capability. It also has better psychics who can actually do stuff aside from sense that people are stressful.
So, of the two systems, where would one choose to live? It’s a simple enough choice. If you are a swashbuckling scofflaw with a belief that you can make your own way and outrun any other ship (and do, maybe, the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs, say) then the Empire is for you.
If, on the other hand, you want order, dignity, and enough money to live a nice middle-class life but no more, the Federation is the one. You can become very rich in the Empire, but also have it taken off you at a whim by the starving underclass or the shady Ayatollah who runs it. And they’ll either freeze your ass off or feed you to some sort of giant sand sphincter with teeth.
In the Federation you can work your way up through the fleet by meritocracy, or sit on your ass writing light operas. Whatever floats your boat. You won’t go hungry, and neither bounty hunters nor the military will bother you.
Unless the Empire decide they quite fancy owning the Federation, of course.
Posted by Jason O on Dec 15, 2015 in Politics
Either you’re the one, or you know one: the guy or girl who’s “into the politics”, and it means that this time of year buying gifts is deemed easy. “Sure isn’t he into the politics, won’t he love Eamonn Gilmore’s book?” Except, and here’s the thing, he probably won’t. He’ll have either read it already if he really wanted to, or has no interest in reading it, because just because it’s about politics doesn’t mean he wants to.
So, what to do? Well, fret not. Here’s a list of gifts for the political junkie in your life that they may not have. More importantly, some of these are old enough that you might even get them for very modest money in a second-hand bookshop. And yes, if it is the right book, they won’t mind it’s second-hand, something non-readers never seem to understand.
1. The Clann by Kevin Rafter. A short history of Clann na Poblachta, and with the election coming, a fascinating insight into a new party and what it takes.
2. Any Magill Election Guide from the 1980s. They’re harder to get these days, but are crammed full of the stats and pictures of aul fellas looking young pol-junkies love.
3. Making the difference? The Irish Labour Party 1912-2012. A collection of fascinating pieces on the history of Labour.
4. “Borgen” (DVD). Less people have seen this Danish political drama as it’s a bit pricey to buy. But it’s great. There’s also a Borgen companion book out now too.
5. Talking to a Brick Wall by Deborah Mattinson. Gordon Brown’s focus grouper, and a fascinating insight into modern political communication.
6. “Veep” (DVD). I have to admit to being a big fan of the HBO comedy series about the US Vice President. Again, not seen by many.
7. “Seven Days in May” (DVD): a thriller from the 1960s starring Kirk Douglas, about an attempted coup in the US. A great yarn.
8. “State of the Union” (DVD) A 1948 Frank Capra movie about Spencer Tracy’s millionaire industrialist running for President. Famous for his speech at the end.
9. “The Last Hurrah” (DVD) Another Spencer Tracy, this time about the old machine ward boss mayor of Boston running for re-election. You’ll see exactly what we did to US politics.
10. “City Hall” (DVD) Al Pacino as the mayor of New York. A cautionary tale about the compromises good men make in politics.
11. “The French Minister” (DVD) French comedy about a young advisor to France’s dynamic yet demented foreign minister during an international crisis.
12. “Salamander” (DVD) Belgian political thriller about a political conspiracy triggered by the robbing of an exclusive bank. Particularly entertaining for the dour middle aged police inspector hero who bizarrely has women flinging themselves at him.
Posted by Jason O on Nov 26, 2015 in Politics
I’d never heard of the phrase “cultural appropriation” until about two years ago, when someone objected to white people using a (non-offensive) word of American black origin. I can’t recall the word, but I remember the fury of the writer at the idea that other people could use words her ethnic group had originated.
As a concept, I find it bizarre, the idea that a word or idea could be owned by any person, let alone a group.
“We invented the colour yellow. Anyone else who uses it is oppressing us!” Am I supposed to be outraged at an Englishman using the word “craic”? Should an Englishman be offended at me using that great Irish phrase “Careful now!” because it is in his language, or me offended because it was written by two Irishmen for a British sitcom starring Irish actors filmed predominantly in London with British money but set in Ireland? More to the point, does any of this actually matter?
I’m old enough to remember when Cultural Appropriation was something racist bigots feared. From Alf Garnett style fear of “smelly foreign food” to the KKK’s terror of the blood mixing of the races and the contamination of the bloodline, the far right looked at other cultures and saw nothing they wanted. Are we supposed to applaud that now? If I look at other races or nations and see food, clothing, language, things that I like more than my own native culture and suddenly that makes me some sort of colonial? Seriously?
Let’s just be clear here: the idea that you can look at another culture, see that they do something better, and say let’s copy what they’re doing, is what we used to call progress.
Ah, scream the Permanently Offended, but what if that food or culture belonged to a people who had been oppressed by your ancestors? You know what, I don’t give a toss. Let my ancestors answer for their crimes, I’m not carrying the can for them. Let us answer for our own crimes, not the crimes of ghosts.
Cultural Appropriation is if anything a badge of respect and open mindedness, that you accept that there is no such thing as an all knowing master race but that we can all learn something from the other people.
In short, Cultural Appropriation is the epitome of being liberal.