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Tyler Cowen: Why Brexit happened

Wednesday, 6 July, 2016 0 Comments

“This vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians,” says Tyler Cowen, the American economist, academic and writer. He describes himself as “pro Remain, and also generally pro immigration,” but he admits that the desire of the Leave voters to preserve the English nation “as English” was stronger than he had thought. Why Brexit happened and what it means is one of the more reasoned pieces written on the referendum and Cowen is to be credited for acknowledging a truth that many “Londonists” refuse to accept:

“Quite simply, the English want England to stay relatively English, and voting Leave was the instrument they were given. That specific cultural attachment is not for Irish-American me, no, I feel no sentiment, other than perhaps good humor, when someone offers me ‘a lovely biscuit,’ or when a small book shop devotes an entire section to gardening, but yes I do get it at some level. And some parts of the older England I do truly love and I am talking the Beatles and Monty Python and James Bond here, not just the ancients like Trollope or Edmund Spenser.”

Cowen is on the money when he notes that voting Leave was “the instrument” people were given for sending a message to the UK’s leaders, and many Americans, frustrated with their political system and how it has been corrupted by the political professionals, will have taken note, no doubt. Donald Trump is the instrument being offered to US voters in November for expressing their rage with Washington and some will choose it and use it despite many of the warnings being expressed by his opponents. Given the opportunity, those who feel excluded and ignored are sending the message.


The Adele Adkins effect: From coarse to callous

Tuesday, 5 July, 2016 0 Comments

If TIME had been of a mind to indulge itself in a little wordplay, it could have opted for “Coarse” instead of “Course” in its 27 June headline, but it didn’t so Ashley Hoffman’s story about the popular English singer was topped with: “Of Course Adele Couldn’t Stop Cursing During Her Glastonbury Set“. What did it sound like? Well, look and listen: Adele swearing at the Glastonbury Festival 2016.

Does it matter if people swear in public? A cursory look at social media reaction to the reaction to Adele’s swearing shows that those who object mildly are tarred with the brush of reactionary. It’s cool to curse now. But would the same fans of the f-word think it cool if teachers began using it in the classroom? Would they like doctors to add it to their bedside manners? The Welsh singer-songwriter Charlotte Church would not be upset, if her tweet yesterday in response to the retirement announcement of UKIP leader Nigel Farage is anything to go by:

Having witnessed first-hand the corrosive, brutalizing effects of persistent swearing, I am convinced that a coarse society will lead to a callous society. Adele Adkins and Charlotte Church might not be thrilled with that outcome.


Silence encourages the tormentor and the bully

Monday, 4 July, 2016 0 Comments

Elie Wiesel, who died on Saturday in New York City, survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps and devoted the greater part of his life to writing and speaking about those horrors. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 and this part of his acceptance speech is as necessary as when he delivered it in Oslo 30 years ago:

“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

It is said that silence is golden, and maybe there are times when it is valuable, but silence loses all its lustre when it means accepting bullying, especially the intimidation of the weak, the elderly and the defenceless. We should name and shame the oppressor and the tormentor, loudly and publicly in memory of Elie Wiesel.

Elie Wiesel


The toxic elites combined

Monday, 4 July, 2016 0 Comments

“In shorthand, Britain’s EU problem is a London problem. London, a young, thriving, creative, cosmopolitan city, seems the model multicultural community, a great European capital. But it is also the home of all of Britain’s elites — the economic elites of ‘the City’ (London’s Wall Street, international rather than European), a nearly hereditary professional caste of lawyers, journalists, publicists, and intellectuals, an increasingly hereditary caste of politicians, tight coteries of cultural movers-and-shakers richly sponsored by multinational corporations. It’s as if Hollywood, Wall Street, the Beltway, and the hipper neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco had all been mashed together. This has proved to be a toxic combination.”

Peter Mandler teaches British history at Cambridge University. According to Dissent, which published Britain’s EU Problem is a London Problem, Mandler “voted Remain, so he is probably part of the problem.” In an admirable example of fairness, however, he takes his own side to task for its arrogance:

“Rather like the New York Times’ attitude to Trump, Remain thought it could laugh off Leave, or dazzle it with ‘facts.’ A very large part of the Remain campaign was focused on troupes of ‘experts’ — investment experts, science and university experts, fiscal policy experts—signing collective petitions and open letters declaring their loyalties to Europe. This played directly into anti-elitist sentiment. A very telling point late in the EU referendum campaign came when Michael Gove, one of the right-wing Conservative leaders of the Leave side, was quoted as saying that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts.’ Much fun was made of this remark. But it touched a nerve. The next day a leaflet came through my letterbox from Remain. ‘Find out what trusted experts say’: a range of views from left to right backing Europe, including a trade unionist, a military chief, a scientist, a banker, and a billionaire entrepreneur. All live in London and the southeast except for one Scot and the billionaire, who lives in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. That billionaire, Sir Richard Branson, took out full-page ads in all the major papers in the last days of the campaign, extolling Europe.”

A powerful new caste has come to believe it deserves to rule the world. It combines a brazen devotion to self-preservation with contempt for ordinary people, who are increasingly set against one another in a battle for survival. It ignores the declaration made on this day in 1776 in Philadelphia that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


Hooooo! A Toast to Iceland

Sunday, 3 July, 2016 1 Comment

France vs. Iceland tonight in Paris, with the winner meeting Germany in the semi-final of Euro2016. During the game, most non-French people will be clapping their hands and chanting “Hooooo,” the Icelanders’ version of the New Zealand rugby haka.

The poet Jónas Hallgrímsson was born in Eyjafjörður on the northern part of Iceland. He studied Latin and Greek at secondary school in Bessastaor and then attended the University of Copenhagen. He coined many Icelandic words, including reikistjarna, meaning planet, from the verb að reika (to wander) and the noun stjarna (star).

A Toast to Iceland

Our land of lakes forever fair
below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where
the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare
above earth’s fiery sinews —
the Lord pour out his largess there
as long as earth continues!

Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807 – 1845)


Cymru am byth

Saturday, 2 July, 2016 0 Comments

The last time Wales were in a major football tournament was 1958, when they lost 1–0 in a quarter final to Brazil — thanks to a first-ever World Cup goal by a youngster named Pelé. He scored two more in the final, when Brazil beat the hosts, Sweden, 5–2. Fast forward to 2016 and Wales have reached the semi-finals of the European Championship after beating the hot favourites Belgium, 3–1, last night.

Aaron Ramsey was simply magnificent for Wales and the heart-breaking footnote to last night’s heroics is that he will miss Wednesday’s semi-final against Portugal in Lyon through suspension. He was rather harshly booked for handball, a silly foul.

Note: Cymru am byth means Wales forever, or long live Wales.

Wales


Angelus Novus on the Somme

Friday, 1 July, 2016 0 Comments

Thousands have gathered for a ceremony in northern France today to mark the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, which began on 1 July 1916. More than a million troops were killed and wounded in the battle, one of World War One’s bloodiest. Despite the progress of the Industrial Revolution in producing ever more deadly weaponry, all sides proceeded to hurl human fodder out of the trenches and at the canons for five months. The storm of war irresistibly propelled them into the future.

Angelus Novus is a 1920 print by the Swiss-German artist Paul Klee. The radical German-Jewish theorist Walter Benjamin bought it in 1921 and in his 1940 essay, Theses on the Philosophy of History, he wrote:

“A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

The storm continues to rage. The lessons of the Somme must never be forgotten.

Angelus Novus


Word of the Day: amain

Thursday, 30 June, 2016 0 Comments

On this day in 1666, the English poet Alexander Brome died. A lawyer by profession, he wrote satirical verse in favour of the Royalists and in opposition to the Rump Parliament. Following the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Brome published Songs and other Poems, which contained ballads, epistles, elegies, epitaphs and epigrams.

“Then I’ll fall to loving and drinking amain” is how Brome’s poem The Mad Lover ends. In this context, the archaic word “amain” means with great haste.

The Mad Lover

I have been in love, and in debt, and in drink,
This many and many a year;
And those three are plagues enough, one would think,
For one poor mortal to bear.
‘Twas drink made me fall in love,
And love made me run into debt,
And though I have struggled and struggled and strove,
I cannot get out of them yet.

There’s nothing but money can cure me,
And rid me of all my pain;
‘Twill pay all my debts,
And remove all my lets,
And my mistress, that cannot endure me,
Will love me and love me again, —
Then I’ll fall to loving and drinking amain.

Alexander Brome (1620 – 1666)


Westworld redux

Wednesday, 29 June, 2016 0 Comments

In 1973, the late, great Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park androids that malfunction and begin killing visitors. With stories about job-stealing robots and fears of rogue artificial intelligence reaching fever pitch, HBO has decided that what the world needs right now is an upgrade of Westworld. The story has been reengineered for our new century and this time round we’re expected to sympathize with the sentient bots enslaved by their scary creator, Dr Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). The first trailer contains hints of Ex Machina, Black Mirror, Blade Runner, Jurassic Park and Crichton’s original.

HBO blurb: “The one-hour drama series Westworld is a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the evolution of sin. Set at the intersection of the near future and the reimagined past, it explores a world in which every human appetite, no matter how noble or depraved, can be indulged.”


Will we create a new class of robot slaves?

Tuesday, 28 June, 2016 0 Comments

That’s the question posed by Joi Ito, the Japanese entrepreneur, venture capitalist, academic and Director of the MIT Media Lab. Ito is concerned that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and other technologies might create a “productivity abundance” that would end the the financial need to work. On the face of it, this should not be a cause of great concern, given that many people hate their jobs. But there’s more to work than labour, Ito argues. It confers social status and gives a purpose. The solution? Disassociate the notion of work from productivity. The role model? Periclean Athens, which Ito terms “a moral society where people didn’t need to work to be engaged and productive.” In a post titled The Future of Work in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Ito asks:

“Could we image a new age where our self-esteem and shared societal value is not associated with financial success or work as we know it?… A good first step would be to begin work on our culture alongside our advances in technology and financial innovations so that the future looks more like Periclean Athens than a world of disengaged kids with nothing to do. If it was the moral values and virtues that allowed Periclean Athens to function, how might we develop them in time for a world without work as we currently know it?”

To his credit, Ito appends this note to his suggestion: “There were many slaves in Periclean Athens. For the future machine age, will be need to be concerned about the rights of machines? Will we be creating a new class of robot slaves?”

We looked at that very issue in our Monday post here: When will the e-people be allowed to vote?


Hodgson’s choices (end)

Tuesday, 28 June, 2016 0 Comments

This is the third and final post in a series about the choices made by the England manager Roy Hodgson during the course of his team’s erratic odyssey through the Euro 2016 tournament, from the opening shambles against Russia to last night’s humiliation at the hands of gallant Iceland. The post dated 12 June was scathing, while that of 17 June was positive, mainly. “Later, he brought on the gifted young Marcus Rashford,” we noted on 17 June and last night Hodgson waited until the 86th minute to take off a fatigued Wayne Rooney and replace him with the dynamic Rashford. Too late.

It wasn’t all the manager’s fault, of course. Many of his players served up truly shabby performances. Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Joe Hart, were especially awful throughout.

Roy Hodgson made baffling, damaging, wrong choices from the start to the finish of England’s tournament and must now make the right one. He’s yesterday’s man.

UPDATE: Roy Hodgson resigns after England lose to Iceland