Sunday, May 22, 2016

Nobody likes a quitter...

Probably unsurprisingly, I shall be voting to remain in the EU - I am flying back early from a trip to HK especially so I can vote in person.


Firstly because the vast majority of what has happened in the European Union has benefited most people enormously, from increased peace and prosperity to better health and happiness.
Given the flaws (plenty) are fixable, and there are plenty of people willing to work on them, I think
the experiment should continue. The last 8 years has seen turmoil in the economy and in the movement of people. It is simply incorrect to blame the EU for these. The banking fiasco started in the US and infected the UK (and notably, Iceland), and because of poor policies on housing in Spain and Ireland, they took a beating. The Greeks got in a mess, and the EU tried to help probably in the wrong way, and still is trying. But notice this. Most of the economies survived and indeed started recovery, despite some obnoxious national austerity policies. The EU has not crashed and burned.
And the migrant crisis that has hit us was from the war in Syria (and Eritrea and Yemen, etc etc) - not caused by the EU, but the opposite - many in the EU are trying to help. How is this not a reason to celebrate our resilience and humanity? 5M refugees would represent less than 1% of the population of the EU, not only not a significant burden, but a contribution -- as is the free EU labour movement, where people go through all the upheaval of moving country/language/housing, schools, to better themselves, and therefore to better the nation they arrive in. I work with people in many places across Europe (Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, at least) and it has been a pleasure, I hope that can continue. I've been in Paris, Brussels and Helsinki for example, more than once each this year already. I just see great things happening all around there. The sky is not falling. We receive students from all these places and more - both when I was at UCL and now in Cambridge, and it is great that it is not such a hassle for them to come here as it would be were the EU not to be there, or we not to be  a part. Or for us to go there - to work or study or retire. There are so many things to like, so few to dislike, in reality. Our quality of life (when I compare it with being a kid in the 60s and teenager in the 70s) is amazingly better. This is in no small part due to being part of the world's largest social, economic and cultural union. It is fantastic.

Why would I not?

I've already written on this blog about the leave campaign. It is often intellectually dishonest concerning the reasons for leaving, and almost completely bankrupt in terms of any actual  longterm strategy about what to do after an exit by our lone island. Many consequences (likely dismantling of the UK as Scotland leave) are dismissed. Problems creating trade agreements as the 5th largest economy, instead of being part of the largest, are bizarrely claimed to be non-existent. Recognition of the enormous benefits for us to go there, as well as people to come here is absent. The wealth of culture that we inhabit as a part, the fact that the UK is in any case a mongrel nation and English a mongrel language and indeed, one of the most successful at absorbing/integrating just about anything and mutating it into something better  - these are all to be thrown out, with only a vacuum to replace them. Nor do I trust a single one of the leaders of the campaign. Many of them live to the right of the Austrian wannabe president. Despite that we have control of more aspects of the place than most the rest of the European neighbours, with our own currency, language, sovereign, army, borders, judges, health system, education including world leading Universities, despite that all these operate while we have been in the EU and have gotten markedly better every decade for the duration, even during the last period with the aforesaid banking fiasco, those wanting to leave do so with a visceral hatred of the evidence. For some (I suspect UKIP voters) it is sour grapes - they only got 1 MP in the general election. For others, it is sadly, simple xenophobia, though how, given the number of people that visit or move here, and the number of brits that go to the continent for summer holidays, I do not understand.  I am amazed at the vehemence of the quitters. Often, bizarre conspiracy theories appear. Perhaps this is just the UK infected with the US online hysteria.  I hope that is all it is.

Friday, May 20, 2016

leavebots on the line - how to tell when a brexit campaigner isn't a "real" person

so if you engage with online campaigns, you will be aware that much of cyberspace (the twitter sphere etc) is full of bots - it is also full of people who are paid, or lined up one way or another, to "manage" the discussion, rather than let it flow from the population at large.

At one level, this is good, as it can help prevent trolling or other forms of abuse.
At another level, it is bad, as it puts a (deliberate) chilling hand around the throat of human discourse - indeed, methods were developed by Putin in Russia and by the government in China to police social media, and these are showing up around the US and UK online political debating channels increasingly. Amazingly, the linked study of chinese control of media gives 5 examples of methods, and here I paraphrase very slightly, so you can see how much these are used in the brexit campaign social media content:

1. Taunting of Foreign Countries, to take critique of this one:
e.g.  This country "has ijk million people, the more they rise, the more difficult it will be for us to eat, because the earth’s resources are limited."

2. Argumentative praise or criticism
e.g.  "The system automatically had you follow xxx & yyy populist online social media users,
this is a standard tactic of indoctrination and brainwashing,
I suggest you unfollow"

3. Non-argumentative Praise or Suggestions, that are a bit off topic - e.g. (yes, in china)
"...the housing problem"

4. "Factual" Reporting
e.g.  "we suggest you follow the opinion of leader C, with his selfless dedication to moral character and hardwork" - remind you of anyone (boris?)

5. Cheerleading
e.g. "Many heros fought bravely to create the life we have today - respect these heros" - used by both sides relentlessly

A simple clue is to look for "automatic" use of trigger terms - for example, in the brexit campaign, there are some tropes setup by the campaign managers (accuse critics of being a fear or scare monger, of being deluded, or of just being on the gravy train, etc etc

If a response doesn't address anything specific in your content, then it is suspect. If it is long, but appears so soon after your comment on fb or twitter, then likely it was cut and paste from a campaign document - check for this, as then you can draw attention to any of these behaviours, and detract from them, or indeed, get people to start filtering content coming from such non genuine participants.

Once you've learned the ropes, then you may get some rewarding discussions from thoughtful people, and maybe change your mind, or theirs. And that's how participatory democracy works, folks......

At some point, I might fire up our botnet detection software on some of these sites, but I am reluctant to start reporting them for abuse, as every now and then it looks like a real person has just quoted from stuff they've seen unwittingly, but that doesn't invalidate that person's view one bit. well, only just a bit...

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

brexit - how very really unacceptable a campaign.

So the awfully named brexit campaign is led by UKIP, who hired neil hamilton,of cash for questions fame, and part funded by aaron banks, who said on record that he wants to privatise the NHS, and spoken for by boris johnson, who has no political role right now, and who's legacy as london mayor basically consisted of implementing plans others set in motion (ok, he did the bikes, but that was red ken's idea - and the olympics ran themselves), whose own magazine decried his unacceptable attack on President Obama. how can people have any respect for these people - oh yes and they are in bed with galloway. doh. and iain duncan smith who is under investigation by the police for implementing the back-to-work tests against advice, possibly a wilful neglect of public duty by an official.

you want to vote for a campaign led by these people? really?

one last thing - they all go on about Sovereignty. We have a Sovereign - she leads our armed forces. She's on our currency. The police on the street and at the borders enforce her laws and her realm. We speak the Queen's English. Far be it from me to criticise the brexit campaigners' extremely poor comprehension of basic ideas - I leave that to inconceivably cleverer people, who are also funny.

[later addition - it seems that both sides will make very poor losers - both are accusing the other side of being traitors. this sort of hyperbole is both unpleasant threatening behaviour, and complete abnegation of the whole democratic thing. shockingly so :-( ]