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The Republican Party

The Grand Ol’ Party ain’t what it used to be. Most certainly it is not the political organisation led by Abraham Lincoln. It is hard to know when its rapid descent from a powerful elephant to a pint sized one – with a very large bellow – began, but it was not helped by Nixon’s paranoia (a man who was capable of being a great Republican), nor by the arrival of the exorable neo-cons, the extremist Tea Party, fiercely untruthful radio jocks and television anchors, and the fatal affliction of Trumpism. This current disease is now so virulent that no recovery seems likely. The most awful thing about Trump’s ascent was that, before he won the nomination, almost all of the party leaders knew exactly what a danger he represented and spoke out about that inherent risk in the most violent terms. After his nomination as their candidate, it was heart-breaking to watch supposed protectors of the Commonweal suddenly transform themselves into ambitious disciples whose language of dignity and honour turned out to be incapable of resisting the magnet of power. Trump himself is barely worth analysing. An empathy and intellectually free bully with a minor talent as a reality actor who still seems to believe that his role was real. He is to be pitied, but the damage he has done will haunt us all for a very long time.

One of the consequences will be the eventual, but likely, annihilation of the party he was supposed to be representing whilst in office. Its disappearance will not be sudden. It will be delayed by the oddity of an ancient constitution that is treated as Gospel and apparently to be so for eternity. Nor will it be helped by a binary, two party only, electoral system and the never-ending electioneering that is required to elect Congress every two years. It will happen, but the further damage to American society and democracy caused by any delay will be incalculable.

The current party policy platform would not seem to amount to even a small hill of beans. The message would seem to be entirely negative – not to allow the current administration achieve anything – good or bad. It is a very strange way to represent their constituents. In such circumstances, modulating our language is actually improper. When a child is nervous of thunder, it is perfectly reasonable to quiet them with a story of God moving furniture. This is not a reasonable response if used when standing under the only tree in an otherwise open field. That does not mean that we are free to call Trump a new Hitler, which he is not, Hitler was a very clever evil genius, luckily Trump is just silly. Nor should we succumb to the falsehood of calling Republicans, Fascists. Behind fascism is a coherent, if mistaken, philosophy. But we should be overcoming our reluctance to use a very sensitive, and history laden word, by proclaiming openly what they really are. That both he and his party are fast becoming proto-Nazis.

We tend to forget that The Nazis themselves did not arrive out of the blue, replete with terrifying legions of SS and Panzer divisions, but rather as a collection of ordinary people of the kind found in any state, particularly in times of chaos; embittered victims and veterans, super nationalists, ordinary citizens without hope, and a ragtag band of bullies suffering from misplaced Leader worship. Their violence was encouraged by their party and the members encouraged to engage in ever more reprehensible behaviour. Numbers were increased by false history, endless lies and encouragement of hatred of those who were perceived to be different: particularly Jews, but also trade unionists, foreigners who were not Aryan (that is white, excluding Slavs), Social Democrats, Socialists, Communists, Roma people, LGBTQ+ people, intellectually and physically disabled and God knows who else. Part of their very nature was to own the liberals and stake out the territory that was the proper place for women. They used the radio stations and print media who were favourable to them to disseminate impossible falsehoods and conspiracies. They promised that their leader was the only one who could restore Germany to its rightful place in the world: MGGA in other words. Despite all the hatred they bred, they never did achieve a majority. If Trump and his acolytes were made of the same stuff as Der Fuhrer and his associates were, the mini-insurrection at the Capital would have been much more violent and consequential, and the coup might have been successful.

Following the early nature of the proto-Nazis, the Republican Party has accepted the idea of a Great Leader who is never to be questioned. They have persuaded their own badly treated workers that unions are a kind of communist threat, thus annihilating any hope of reasonable balance between capital and labour. They have increased their control of the courts, including the Supreme Court, using the shadiest of political means. The obvious fallout effects of this can be seen in giving corporations the right to use their enormous wealth to influence elections, forgetting the long, and necessary, legal wars in trust busting (corporations are just a modern word for trusts). This, combined with a complete disinterest in protecting the central glory of democracy – the right to vote and their willingness to espouse the founders’ words as holy writ, Christian holy writ at that. The party has also almost entirely prevented any move to bring human rights in line with the rest of the democratic world. Even more egregiously they wasted endless lives by belittling Covid precautions as a liberal plot and/or unnecessary.

The Republicans are going to win the 22 midterms. Well, so the pundits have it anyway, and perhaps they are right. Everything is on their side: even history. Parties in power usually lose seats in midterm elections. Gerrymandering is being developed into dark fine art. Voter restrictions are becoming ever more inventive. Even the Constitution is in their favour with its two senate seats per state, irrespective of population size. How can they lose?

And yet! In physics we all know the meaning of equal and opposite reactions. In politics it is sometimes called push-back. Is there any reason to believe that there might be such a strong reaction amongst the electorate? The answer has to be yes, and the reason has to be in what exactly the Republican Party stands for at the moment. They are blatant in their professed aim of not helping to run the country. They want no part of anything that might improve the lot of their own population. They have turned bipartisanship into a dirty word and refuse any inquiry into the most heinous events, for example the violent invasion of their own seat of government.

What they do say they want is to reduce tax for the wealthy yet again. To get rid of the Affordable Care Act. To stop nearly all immigration and any additional gun restrictions. To get rid of abortion in all circumstances and to control the country through the Supreme Court if all else fails. Not a single one of these policy positions commands majority support.

This kind of zero-sum game of politics is not a new development in the party. The idea that the job is not to do your best for your people but to win at any cost. To persuade enough people that your mistakes were victories, or failing that to persuade enough of them that the unfortunate fallout was due to someone else’s hatred. That twisted view of politics within the party started quite a long while ago. It mostly began with the advent of Newt Gingrich, Denis Hastert, the Neo-cons, and the plethora of insane, attention-grabbing radio jocks, particularly Rush Limbaugh. They provided lift off for the Tea Party and that was followed by the faux philosophies of Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson and the published inanities of people like Anne Coulter. The effects of all this were multiplied by Carl Rove’s brainchild that policy and principle did not matter: just numbers (Rove’s idea was embraced all too warmly by Cummings in the U.K., which has led them into the Maelstrom of Brexit).

They seem to have decided that women and university graduates are predominantly liberals, but disregard any consideration that this might be because of an extremist agenda, one that regular conservatives might not like to be associated with. A platform that supports religious fundamentalism, racism in all its forms, gun extremists, super nationalism, conspiracy theory followers, cult followers and anyone else who can be considered to have strange beliefs.

Trump has put at risk even their own extraordinary, self-serving achievements. During the last half century, they have persuaded their population that Americans are, in various ways, slightly superior to other humans, that their history is overcrowded with heroes and saints. That Christianity is the only true religion and that American democracy is the envy of the free world. They have, with some help from the Supreme Court, persuaded workers that unions are bad for them, although professional unions are to be lauded. That in fact workers are basically lazy and are only motivated by money. That poor people are poor because they won’t pull their socks up and making it difficult for them to vote is right and proper, because they are not really proper stakeholders. That liberals will, if given the chance, destroy the American Dream and need to be owned. That those same liberals will waste the hard-won money of the country by giving it away to damaging programs like social welfare, Medicare, Medicaid and the very concept of socialized medicine. Because of Trump, the danger and injustice inherent in all of these beliefs will become more obvious.

It is already obvious to most observers that the future is not a world where only a small elite part of the world’s population will be exclusively privileged. It is probably too late to rescue the party from its own self-caused demise, which leaves the necessity of finding a strong Conservative party, whatever it may be called. It will have to be one that does not just listen and speak to itself alone. That does not allow a hardcore of extremists to use primaries to decide who is unclean and must be banished. That appreciates that cross party negotiation is right and proper. That truth, evidence and expertise are among the essential tools of politics. That puts conspiracy free conservatism back on its pedestal. When will this happen? I don’t know, but with the accelerating dangers of climate, it had better be sooner than later.

The American conservative movement needs to rediscover Reason.

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The War On Drugs

We are hopelessly locked into a cruel and unwinnable war. A repeat of the first hundred years one. I am referring to the war on drugs. It is eviscerating our health care systems, our law-and-order institutions, our urban societies, our penal systems. And our young people. Despite all of this destruction, we still continue to favour politicians who promise to be tough on drugs; to have zero tolerance for them. But, since I was knee high to a grasshopper, these same politicians have been boasting continuously of record hauls of all of the offending substances, seemingly oblivious to the fact that decades of record hauls, by definition, tells us that the industry (if we can call it that) is constantly growing.

Of course, ordinary citizens wish that the forces of law and order would just put an end to the scourge; lock up the miscreants, confiscate their ill-gotten wealth and be relieved of all of the burdens that the trade imposes on our societies. However virtuous, such an approach is not going to succeed. Why? Because of the unimaginable amount of monetary gain it offers to the criminals involved.

We have tried this before when the substance involved was alcohol and America introduced prohibition. All that programme achieved was bigger and more violent gangs and gangsters and made alcohol even more attractive. Nowadays, we are inclined to write off the abolitionists as overly conservative, perhaps even overly religious, but they were as well-meaning as we are in our attempts to banish the modern pandemic of hard drugs. Alcohol was, and is, a drug. It was, and is, capable of inflicting serious damage on a sizable section of our societies. It does, fortunately, have a number of important virtues. It is a prolific lubricant of social intercourse. It allows our worries, fears and even secrets to be more openly expressed. In times of shock and extreme stress it can help us survive. Usefully, it has an ancient history, which has allowed us millennia to analyse its benefits and disadvantages. Conversely, our modern problem – drugs – often drive us inward and away from the essential human joy of social interaction. More appallingly, for drug users, the addiction rate is almost total.

We need to have a better understanding of what exactly is going on to have any chance of a solution. Our conception of the shady characters on street corners and back alleys being the drug pushers is totally wrong. Most are just sad misfits operating as powerless retailers. We clog our court systems and expensive jails with them with very little hope of rehabilitation, because they know no other life. For every one we deprive of liberty, there are dozens of replacements. The seemingly unacceptable reality is that the real pushers are school or college friends, work colleagues or social friends. Generally, these can be seen as those we refer to as bad company for our children in school but they exist at all ages. It is reasonable to think of them as silly or perhaps more frequently as existing addicts searching to tempt others for a few fixes for themselves. Some amongst them are more dangerous, prone to violence, and with ambition to move up the gang ladder. From there up it is more like the film nasties we are used to: self-satisfied, brutish, cruel and largely invisible to the forces of law and order.

That is still not a full picture, but a nicely sanitized one that can be attributed to the supposed “low life” who live in the inner cities. Except that the drug lords are swimming in an ocean of cash of such volumes that it cannot be dealt with without large numbers of bankers, financiers and accountants. They also need to corrupt some law and customs officers. Does anyone believe that paragons of high society who pushed unnecessary opiates onto an unsuspecting public were not low life drug dealers? Or that the doctors who wrote the, often fatal, unnecessary prescriptions were better than corner boy suppliers? Are the tobacco manufacturers, who for so long hid the evidence of damage that they possessed, less reprehensible than the friend who persuades his more gullible colleague to try this new kick? Even the wealthy, who can afford recreational use of cocaine, are guilty of supporting a rancid industry. Some of the denizens of our greened and pleasant neighbourhoods, by indulging themselves, are even more guilty of enabling drug use as the underprivileged and underpaid residents of the least salubrious inner-city ghettos.

Because of the literal hurricane of illicit wealth constantly being produced by the trade the one possibility of ending the plague lies in choking off the money supply, and the only hope of achieving that aim is to legalize and nationalise the entire thing. I can hear the gasps of horror. The State deal in Drugs!!! Relax! There is no chance of it happening in the near future. Our universal politicians are far too intent on proving that they adhere, more closely than their competitors, to the general morality and thoughts of their electorate. It is this quirk that delayed the end of slavery, women’s suffrage, social welfare and medicine and a thousand other improvements to society that we now consider to be of obvious benefit. It is still peculiar that we have listened to solutions about drugs for generations, all with the same message of tougher sentences, more police, more ruthlessness and zero tolerance and continued all that time to see the blight, and all of its associated evils, grow and grow.

The advantages of legalising and controlling the supply by nationalising it are legion. We can begin to treat our addicts as patients, not as criminals. Vast sums of money will start to re-enter the visible economy. Gun crime will reduce in many parts of the world as drug gangs’ wealth is reduced. The trade itself will be decimated. There is no point in trying to create addicts if they are going to disappear almost immediately. Police and customs work will become more bearable and our jails will be less crowded and less expensive. Our cities will become safer. Our children will be less at risk. Life in general will become saner.

There will be a negative side to such an approach but it will be temporary. The gangs will become ever more feral and violent as they try to make the changeover too expensive, emotionally and financially. Those who secretly make their money from the abysmal trade will use their proxies to persuade the righteous that it is not proper for the State to get involved. Other crime will increase as criminals struggle to find other sources of income. When we see all of this happening, we will know that we are on the path to success.

However aghast you are at the idea of the State playing such a role; however much your righteous anger is inflamed by the very thought; it doesn’t matter. However long it takes to summon the will, it will happen. It is the only solution to putting an end to an horrific societal evil. We have a choice. One that we will have to face at some point: either take the money out of the abysmal trade, or face decades of an unwinnable Afghan style war, with its appalling costs, both social and financial.

Our righteous anger will not win that war.

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The Brexit Enigma ….

 … January 2022

Brexit is the royalty of twenty first century enigmas. In a world which has decided that economics and money are more important than life itself (i.e., other people’s lives), why would anyone decide to desert their nearest and biggest market without having firm plans in place about the next move? Writers of various hues and economists of diverse talents have since destroyed the garden, endlessly beating around the bushes looking for a sensible reason for the decision. There is no answer unless it is to be found in fairy tales of Empire or just xenophobia. Returning to their age of buccaneering world trading is a nice idea, but they seem to forget that they no longer rule the waves, do not have the necessary ships, and the Colonial Office can no longer write the terms of trade deals. The nonsensical UKIP party supported Brexit without a single known policy of what to do afterwards. Farmers voted for it, seemingly oblivious to the inevitable consequence of mountains of cheap antipodal beef and lamb burying them. Fishermen voted for it without any idea that they were like owners of large stocks of sea urchins, snails and frog legs, deciding, in support of the antiquated myth of true sovereignty, to reserve them all for sale on the British market only.

This demented incoherence is most noticeable in British policy relating to Northern Ireland. Driven by their emotional need to proclaim a clean and fundamentalist Brexit, they abandoned the single market. But to avoid upsetting the Americans by reneging on the Good Friday Agreement they had to sign a Protocol; an act that deeply offended Unionism. This offence was deeply heartfelt, despite the enormous gift of having access to both markets!

Almost immediately they broke the rules and we had the truly historical moment of a British Cabinet Minister telling Parliament that ‘Yes, the Government had broken the law, but very narrowly’. It calls to mind the story a senior Irish judge used to tell of his first ever case on the bench when, exasperated by endless technical arguments, he turned to the witness, a bus driver, and asked, “what colour were the traffic lights when you entered the junction?”. Being unwilling to lie under oath, the witness’s hesitant reply was, “an early red Your Honour”. A bus driver trying to diminish his fault is funny, but the British Government? Then, a few weeks later they told us that they had never intended to abide by the Protocol anyway. Wow!

Ireland, particularly the North, is being used as a meaningless pawn by the current Government in Westminster. When the Unionist community are appalled by the idea of a border in the Irish Sea (unless it is for abortion or same sex marriage), their government agrees and loudly proclaims that such a thing is unthinkable. Then, suddenly, there is one because they are desperate to get a deal done. When the Americans cough, they are reassured that the Good Friday Agreement is very close to British hearts. When sleaze and incompetence need a distraction, they invent a scandal about the availability to the locals of The Great British Sausage or introduce the tourism destroying, red tape idea of an electronic visa for E.U. Citizens visiting the Republic but wishing to visit the North whilst here. Most E.U. tourists do not even know that there are two administrations on the same island, and will be even more confused by the non-existent border.

If nothing else, Brexit in Ireland should teach us a global truth: no State should ever govern a community of which it knows nothing, and does not care a jot about. In their ignorance and their own interests, they have allowed a community, for which they are responsible, to remain endlessly in the troubled past. How many English people do you know who care a smidgen whether their neighbours and friends are Catholic or Protestant? Tensions in the six counties will not be reduced by appointing a series of abrasive, non-diplomatic, pawn-using Ministers to negotiate Brexit conditions with Europe. The ordinary British public need to be apprised that the difficulties in Northern Ireland are not due to an imaginary flaw in its own citizens – but to their own neglect.

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Love in a Cooler Climate

Even as sleep began drifting away, Adas knew he was a happy man. As he awoke fully, he began to wallow in the reasons for his euphoria. He had just been appointed a senior analyst for the Council and, to make it even sweeter he had been scheduled, most unexpectedly, to be the point man for the next field trip. An adventure that everyone knew the Council themselves thought to be the most important one for a generation. All of this, however, faded into insignificance as he recalled that Eimaj (known universally as Tish, for some long-forgotten childhood reason) had called to his work pod to congratulate him. He only knew her from a few office get-togethers. From the first time he had seen her and listened to her bubbly good humour and kindness, he had been unable to banish her from his thoughts and dreams. During the third social occasion they both attended, they had been randomly chosen, as a forfeit, to sing a duet. He still cringed at the memory. She had a fine voice but his own was akin to the eyrie noise of an amorous whale. Even that disaster did not stop his daydreams. Most of those consisted of him being cool, and approaching her to ask if she would like to go on a date with him. In his saner moments he realised that such a reality was, for an impossibly shy creature like himself (with females anyway), a wishful thought too far.

The first twenty minutes out of bed were pandemonium: he jumped from the shower only for the mirror to tell him that his hair was still buried in shampoo. He burned the toast to a flaming crisp, forgot to put the herbs in the pot before pouring the water and tripped over his own forgotten shoelaces. Such personal incompetence would normally have disturbed him, but this time all he did was laugh, with the image of his dream beauty imprinted on his mind’s eye and seeming to laugh with him. As he rushed out of the apartment, he met his miserable, curmudgeonly neighbour, who seemed to be shocked by Adas’ cheerfully shouted “Good Morning”. As Adas bounded down the stairs, happily greeting everyone he met with the same cheerfulness, the old man leaned over the balcony watching him and for the first time in forty years, managed a smile.

Once out on the street he returned to relative normalcy, except for the continuing euphoria. About halfway to the council building he suddenly stopped dead. As he did, a child behind him, riding a toy of some sort, crashed into the back of his knees almost toppling him. He turned to face an irate bawling child and a very severe looking granny. ‘What’ … she started to speak but he interrupted her and said “I am so sorry. It was just that I suddenly realised that I’m in love.” She looked at him sourly for a moment and suddenly grinned. “I hope not with me”, she laughed, I have enough trouble with the partner I already have.” She walked away consoling the child who was directing malevolent glares at him even whilst being told that the adventure was worth an ice cream. “Idiot” Adas thought to himself, “I am in love. Why had I not realized that earlier? What sort of analyst am I? Oh! God, was that why people were smiling at him constantly? Were others aware of some sort of aura about him?” He walked past the Council, lost in his daydreams, until a colleague greeted him on her way in. Embarrassed, he waited a moment before retracing his steps, and then nearly walked past the building again.

Once he actually arrived, he began the climb down from his own cloud nine. It more or less disappeared except for the odd blast of joy, every two minutes or so, as he began what was to be an intensive few weeks’ work. He had to listen to the concerns of each and every Counsellor, brief both of the junior analysts on what the three of them needed to achieve and prepare his own plans. At last, when the preparations were all complete, it was with relieved satisfaction that he strolled down to the disembarking point in the courtyard.

As he approached, he realised that there were a group of people gathered to wish those leaving a speedy return. Although he could only see her back, he knew immediately that Tish was among them. She was talking to his youngest assistant. She turned and seeing him, smiled warmly. “Hi” she said, “I just came to wish you a successful trip.” “Thank you” was all he could manage in what he realised was a strangled voice. When she smiled and turned to go, he touched her arm and when she turned back with a quizzical look, he blurted “would you have dinner with me when I arrive back”. “Gladly,” she laughed, with raised eyebrows, “but only if you promise to tell me all about your trip and its results.” It wasn’t exactly an emotional acceptance, but nonetheless he floated aboard, immersed in his own joy and astonishment at his nerve. He remained completely oblivious to everything around him until someone told him the captains were expecting him. Composing himself as best he could, he ran up the companionway to the cockpit and introduced himself. The captain was older and with a mien that was a comfortable mix of friendliness and competence, perfect for settling the most nervous of passengers. The junior one was more exuberant but exuded a similar capability. Having got over the introductions they explained to him that as soon as they arrived at the destination, they would follow all of his instructions concerning the craft’s movements and positioning.

Adas settled into a workaholic role with the other analysts very quickly, with only the rare bolt of a Tish image intruding. When they arrived, their tasks became even more intense, with the gathering of as much information as possible in the time available. Eventually, they arrived at the most crucial part of the mission — to eavesdrop on a global climate conference. They collected all the information they could and were just waiting for Adas to listen to the joint communique of decisions agreed when the captain advised him that a squadron of jets was on a course that would pass close to them. He reminded Adas that their standing orders were to avoid being sighted, if at all possible. Adas, concentrating on his machines, acknowledged but replied, “we have to hold, shouldn’t be long”. A few minutes later the captain advised that they had been spotted and shortly after there was a series of unearthly roars as six jets flew within feet, above and below them. Adas kept concentrating. A few minutes later the captain announced, with just a tinge of concern, that the jets were regrouping above them and discussing whether to arm their weapons. Adas stayed silent. A couple of tense minutes later the captain announced ‘weapons armed’ and almost immediately, “weapons fired.” As he said it, Adas held up his hand to delay: and then, within a few seconds, sang out, “we have it all. Go.”

It was only when he left his machines and joined the captains that he realised how nerve jangling it had been for them. The senior captain was mopping her brow, and although the younger one seemed as ebullient as ever, her face was white with shock. “Wait until we tell Tish what you did to us”, she said. “Do you realise how close that was.” Adas looked at her blankly until the senior one sensing the reason for his confusion, added kindly, “Her father is one of us and we watched you saying goodbye at the boarding gate.” She smiled and added, “we are on your side.” She explained to him that their intense worry was not that they were in serious danger from the rockets but rather that minor damage might occur which would necessitate changing the return route. The older one explained, “navigating through space time curves is akin to playing five-dimensional chess. There is a whole department at the Council to calculate our best route. If we cannot meet the beginning point, we are both well trained to calculate a new one but might arrive home a couple of months late, because we must use the pedestrian route – no shortcuts. We have no way of communicating so our families would suffer a fraught time.” Eventually, they shared a bottle of wine, the women to recover from the tension, and Adas just to wallow in talking about Tish and her family until, happy and confused, perhaps even a little tipsy, he set off to sleep and to enjoy his nightly sweet dreams.

For the following ten days, neither he nor his two assistants had time for anything other than preparing and polishing their report, and even after their arrival they had to survive an intense week of debriefing and explaining their conclusions and recommendations. Finally, they were free. Returning to his own pod, Adas found a welcome home note from Tish together with an invitation to dinner, as promised, that very evening at Amelie’s Restaurant. Later, a taxi deposited Adas, shaking like a bag of jelly, outside the restaurant and he stumbled in. Tish was sitting just inside the door. She jumped up with a cheery welcome, kissed him on the cheek and hoped he would like the drink she had already ordered for him.

They were barely seated when she asked to be told all about the trip. “If you are allowed to tell me,” she added. “Oh yes,’” he answered, “this Council has a loathing of secrets; they are all too well aware that being privy to such secrets can create a sense of self-importance, even among themselves.” He told her about the journey itself; about the pilots and the fact that they knew her father and herself. He finished with a very mild version of the scary bit with the jets and the information they were gathering. When he explained the instructions about being invisible, she asked, “what do they think we are and what do they call us?” He blushed and replied, “I can’t tell you that, the word they use is too rude in our language.’ “Come on, I am not a child”, she answered, “I probably know more bad language than you do.” He hesitated, then grabbed a napkin and wrote down UAP’s and passed it to her. As she looked at it her face took on the coloration of a particularly spectacular sunset. Then she burst out laughing. Aware of the faces turning towards them, he quickly explained that, in English, it just meant Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Interspersed with her hilarity she said, “well, that is a secret that the Council will have, perforce, to keep.” He answered that it would have suited better if they had stuck with their old word – UFO’s.

When she settled down, she asked him to explain the details of what he had discovered and what the Council had decided. He told her that there had been a fair amount of disagreement, but that the majority of Councillors had decided to fast forward the introduction, the intervention stage, from forty years to next year. Primarily because so many were appalled by the pictures they had seen of the results of the only case they had discovered where their help had come too late. He explained that he and the other analysts had strongly recommended such an acceleration. “Why?” she interrupted. “Because they are not going to make it,” he replied passionately. “They are lovely people in general, but they have allowed greed to overcome their better nature. They have totally accepted the idea that economics is about wealth and that wealth will be enough to solve all of their social problems. They seem to be persuaded that riches and virtue are inextricably linked. There are endless decent leaders trying to do what is right, but they are constantly being ground down by the power of the greedy ones. They all seem bewildered by social media, to such an extent that, for the benefit of the companies running it, they allow the cowardly abomination of anonymous free speech. They fail completely to recognize that this leads to societies without truth, with endless conspiracy theories, blatantly lying political leaders, and confusion everywhere. Their religions are quite decent, and could help to sort out the approaching danger, but the main churches are totally trapped in antiquated male dominance, which results in too many of their guides being completely obsessed with gender and sex, to the exclusion of all else.” Adas stopped for a minute and then said with a smile “some of them seem aware that women are the root cause of all evils.” Tish just raised her eyebrows, smiled, and waited patiently for him to continue his normal conversation. While he was being passionate, the only person he had noticed besides his loved one, was a young girl sitting with her family at another table who was staring intently at him. She was smiling enigmatically and, for some reason, he thought that she was somehow trying to encourage him, which was obviously a ridiculous figment of his own imagination. He glanced again, and felt no surprise to find that her look remained the same.

Trying to forget her, he continued to describe the planet he had just visited that was in such terrible danger. “Quite a lot of it is democratic but the divisions between the various groups have become so rank that many seem to have forgotten the very meaning of the word. They have far too many, supposedly elected, dictators but when anybody tries to correct their ruthless or troublemaking behaviour, commerce raises its ugly head and objects. It is as if business and profit were more important than society itself. Their laws in some parts are reasonably advanced, but it is so complicated that I will limit myself to just two examples of many that I found both moving and appalling. In their principal democracy, the Supreme Court recently took a seemingly casual decision to continue to allow minors, minors! convicted of heinous crimes, to be sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole. The majority who voted to continue such an obscenity profess their allegiance to a religion called Christianity, which is exclusively about love and forgiveness. They get around this limitation by attaching a pre-Christian document to the actual beliefs of Christianity because the older document allows them more room for harshness and rules. In the other state with an unbroken democratic history, they have disowned a girl of fifteen, who made a grievous mistake in joining a foreign terrorist group, undoubtedly groomed by older, extremist members of her community. Using very doubtful legalisms, the state has deprived her of citizenship, leaving her to rot in a hellhole of camp, thousands of miles from her home and family. Both examples suggest an enormous regression from humanitarianism. A return to their own standards of two hundred years ago. What I was waiting for at the last minute, which caused us so much danger but needed to be heard, was the closing agreement of the conference on climate change and biodiversity loss. It was disappointing: completely anodyne. Nobody was willing to risk a big enough leap to stave off disaster.” They did decide to take some actions, although not nearly enough. They even agreed to a protocol that they were all going to sign but to us it was patently what some of them call a British protocol. That is one that is signed with much diplomatic pomp but when the issues agreed within its context start to impinge on their own electorate, they announce that it was never meant to be taken seriously. Unless we take action, they are doomed.”

Tish interrupted him to ask if the necessary introduction of ourselves would be dangerous. “Yes” he replied, “but the Council have been planning it for years. The sort of attitude that we will have to deal with is expressed even in their own science fiction and movies. Despite depicting a Civilisation that has overcome the ultra-complex physics of space travel, their stories continue to have space battleships, fighter jets and guns of all sorts. Our first task will be to persuade them that, perforce, we come in peace as we have long rid ourselves of armaments of any sort.”

He paused to sip his wine and then realised how he had been ranting. Tish seemed rapt, but that might just be politeness. He was confused about what he should do next, so he simply stared at her. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the young girl with the enigmatic expression. She was intense and nodding feverishly at him, as if telling him what to do. Abruptly, he sat up straight and blurted, “Tish, will you partner me?” and then sat back appalled at his own effrontery. Tish stared long and hard at him and finally said, “Adas, that is a profound question – the kind that requires serious thought and time.” Embarrassed, and hardly knowing what to do, he said in almost a whisper, “how much time’. She smiled and replied, “at least two nanoseconds, and I have already used them up at the party, when I sang and you tried to”. He stared at her – lost. Tish leaned forward and took his hand. “Adas, you will have to learn my sense of humour – that was a yes” and she leaned over the table and kissed him on the mouth. For the rest of his life all he could ever remember of that night was that magical kiss, the precursor of millions, and the glimpse he had of the young girl behind Tish, grinning widely and pumping her fist in the air.

The Status Quo

Like everything else, Civilisation is in the throes of extreme societal upheaval. Of itself, this is not exactly an unknown condition. When we changed from hunter gathering to agriculture and urban living; when the Roman Empire fell; when the French Revolution signalled the beginning of the end of a settled order and the Industrial Revolution began, it must have caused each generation caught up in any one of these events to imagine that rational order was dead and gone. In each case the settled status quo was being torn up. The difference for us is that as our own status quo, the Industrial Age, is collapsing, everything is happening at a bewildering speed, beyond any previous experience, and this haste is combined with a complexity of issues that are demanding ever more urgent solutions. To add to those societal tremors, we must deal with a monstrous pandemic and the twin existential threats of climate change and loss of biodiversity, both caused by our intemperate, polluting selves. What we fondly imagine to be our continuing status quo, is already history.

Light and hope have only begun to seep through, largely because of President Biden’s wholehearted reversal of America’s policies and its effect of re-energising all of the likeminded states. In addition, our burgeoning youth, who luckily have such little respect for the certitudes and self-serving platitudes of the Industrial Age, are becoming very active. Perhaps we are beginning our move to safety.

The existential threats we must fix urgently. Although we really have no remaining need to defend the reality of those threats to our planet – the evidence is completely overwhelming – we must be prepared to suffer the arguments anyway, much as we have to tolerate flat earthers and evolution deniers. However, when the full import of the essential actions that must be taken to protect ourselves become apparent, the opposition to the necessary changes will turn feral.

That opposition will be driven mostly by those who are beneficiaries of the recent status quo, almost exclusively the wealthy. The most vociferous will include the fossil fuel companies and their shareholders, the mining and logging corporations, the financial houses. The corporations who put short term gain before public danger. The manufacturers who build in planned obsolescence. The fishing fleets. The list of such groups is legion. They will use their money and power to deny necessary action and try to obfuscate the reasons for such changes. The oil companies already boast that they will be carbon neutral in the near future but their calculations are so devious that they can achieve that target whilst increasing their levels of fossil fuel supplies. At the same time, they are vastly increasing their production of plastics. Their irrational, misleading, justifications have become a template for many others. More opposition will come from those wealthy individuals who need to own homes around the world and believe that their super yachts, private jets and Lamborghinis are essential for a decent life. After them are those of us who insist on fresh fruit and vegetables out of season. Who embrace a throwaway culture, think that doors and windows need to be made of teak and that new mahogany furniture is a sign of sophistication. It is this very large group that industry will try to persuade that the solution lies in our own hands and can be achieved by putting certain plastics in one bin, other kinds in another, (washed of course) and everything else in its proper place amongst a plethora of trash choices. Lobbyists and P.R. companies will be exhausted persuading us that our science is wrong and can be disregarded. Then there are other groups whom we might have supposed would be on the side of reason. Farmers, whose intrinsic love of the land and the animals they breed seems to become invisible when looked at through the prism of balance sheets. We cannot even depend on our major religions. Although their leaders often launch strongly worded, pious messages about the crises, unfortunately, their male driven obsession with gender and sex allows them to persuade their congregations to support any chancer willing to pay hypocritical lip service to those particular shibboleths. Far too many of those same churches are drifting into fundamentalism: the kind that suggests that the search for knowledge, even science itself, is not important. Why? Because everything humans need to know is already included in whichever ‘good book’ one believes in. None of these books mention climate, ecosystems or pollution.

Politics will of course be the real battlefield. Regretfully, they too are in chaos. The pace of change is so frenetic that fear of the future and the stress of trying to survive a present that changes every day and does not conform to the assumed givens of the familiar, result in a level of insecurity that gives charlatans their opportunity. They have taken that opportunity to persuade a great number of frightened people that the problems are mostly imaginary and are, in reality, just fairy-tale conspiracies spread by knavish liberals. The charlatan panacea is a populist one. A promise to lead us back to a safe, glorified past. The election of President Biden signalled the slow demise of those aforesaid charlatans. However, in allowing them to take centre stage we have, unfortunately, successfully mislaid our conservatives.

Their loss is a serious matter, even if a lot of liberals thank the Gods for their disappearance. But we need them! Liberals usually have a very clear idea of what they want the future to be, but like everyone else, they are not immune to following stars that lead to dead ends. They need criticism to hone their visions and turn them into realities. A tennis player does not improve their skill if their opponent is wading through six feet of water with only half a racket. Regrettably, for the moment, most of our conservatives in our most iconic democracies seem to have contracted a populist form of mad cow disease. They stagger incoherently from lie to lie, unable even to bellow properly (fortunately Frau Merkel is not infected). They put far too much faith in men who are incapable of love. We desperately need our sane conservatives back – the ones with their own hopes, visions and ideals. The ones who believe in truth.

Civilisation is described in many different ways, based on a kaleidoscope of special interests. As a non-expert, just an interested onlooker, it seems to me that the definition of the root of this very complex phenomenon is deceptively simple. That it is, in reality, a form of evolution but one driven not by genetics or the need to survive in particular niches but by the wholly unique gift of human intelligence. That it is simply the intelligent evolution of human society. Although it leaps ahead on occasion through the extraordinary minds of specific geniuses, it is a process that involves all human contributions, however small and unnoticed. It is on these, often tiny, insights that the geniuses build.

If, in our climb toward the end result of Civilisation, we fail to overcome the twin existential overhangs that we have placed in our own path, global warming and biodiversity loss, it will mean that we are not intelligent enough to survive. That we blindly accepted the norms of a status quo that failed us. We will then fade into nothingness as yet another unfit and unremembered species. The moon will shine on, regardless.

If, on the other hand, we perceive the threat quickly enough and survive it, we will continue on our upward path and eventually, and it may be a long delay, we will get to a calmer period when we can again refer to a status quo. It will be a very different model. It will not include our tribal divides between races, nationalities, genders, creeds or sexual orientation. Our differences will be cultural only. We will have broken the supposed marriage between money and work and rid ourselves of poverty, capital punishment, even guns and a vast number of our silly, but dogmatic, beliefs. The generation that reaches that stage will be quicker than we have been to realise that the past was a painful time to live. The endless fear for jobs will fade as we realise our much greater need for carers, educationalists, and experts of all sorts, and the insatiable need for people to complete the mother of all infrastructure programs: the cleansing of our home, the planet, and the recovery of our ecosystem.

The Irish Examiner, April 10 2021

Letters to the Editor: Big Tech and Anonymity

In my lifetime (a long one), I have never known a key industry to be allowed such freedom in terms of self-regulation, than what is happening in the tech corporations. There are hopeful signs that we are starting to catch up, but self-regulation remains a central concept.

The Big Tech industry generates three myths to disguise their greed and which bring into sharp focus the need to regulate the industry. The first of these is the right to free speech, by pretending that this is an absolute right. It is no such thing. It has always been trammelled by the need to balance competing rights: the right not to be slandered, to be free of hate speech, to a private life, to know the identity of your accuser, and many other rights. The second myth relates to privacy. The right to privacy is fundamental but, again, it can be restricted when necessary in a democratic society to pursue a legitimate aim. We all have social security numbers, passports, telephone numbers, and on and on. Records of all of these identifiers grant relatively easy access to the police if a crime is suspected.

The third myth is that of anonymity and this, of itself, is an existential threat to democratic societies. The first two are just distractions to hide the industry’s need for this one. Anonymity adds enormously to online traffic and thereby to profit. The term “anonymous free speech” is an oxymoron. It has no identifiable source, tells us nothing of vested interests, bias or motive. It smears unjustifiable pain, uncertainty and lies throughout our societies. It is unconscionable that this should be accepted to bolster the profits and power of Silicon Valley. 

Anonymity itself is not intrinsic to the Internet functioning. Every web enabled machine has at least two identifiable registration numbers: an I.P. (Internet Protocol), which provides an address and a MAC number, which identifies the exact machine. The industry has decided that these numbers must be secret, identities readily available to themselves only, except when it suits them to release the data to analytic companies. The social media corporations want to publish endless anonymous opinions, but without the responsibility mainstream media must bear, when they use an anonymous source.

What exactly would our legislators do if the auto industries owned the roads, controlled and kept secret the allocation and ownership of car registration numbers and, to add insult to injury, allowed some owners to have blank plates and yet others whose numbers changed every time they started the engine. In reality, this is what the Big Tech industry is getting away with. Why is everyone faffing about and refusing to regulate them as we should? 

Very recently the execrable Porn Hub was forced to delete two thirds of their posts and to demand proof of identity for new ones. This action was forced on them, not by legislators or police; but by Visa and MasterCard. Is this to be the future of of legislation?

Brexit

When Brexit is mentioned nowadays (every two minutes), it is very difficult not to suffer a Laurel and Hardy moment – “fine mess you got me into”. It was, and is, one of the world’s greatest displays of incoherent magical thinking. It is, and will continue to be, an unmitigated disaster.

How on earth did things come to this? Although the choice of culprits is almost embarrassingly rich, the English media would seem to be the most obvious place to start. The British fourth estate has always leaned towards rabid conservatism, but since Murdoch started to take it over around 1970, it has become more and more like a tea party media. His stable of newspapers now includes the biggest selling rag, The Sun, the centuries old doyen, The London Times, and even The Sunday Times. The E.U. saved us from us – from a European version of Fox News by preventing Murdoch’s takeover of BskyB – but in the process, made a virulent enemy of him. The other conservative news outlets always ranged from appalling to quite good, but always with heavily biased opinion columns. Twenty or so years ago I had to be rescued from a hilarity attack in the local shop when I spotted a Daily Mail banner headline. It proclaimed that “EUROPE DESTROYS 1000 YEARS OF BRITISH HISTORY.” The story was that the E.U. Bureaucracy insisted that market traders in Britain display the weight of their sales in kilos and grams, as well as in their own imperial measure of pounds and ounces. The Mail does not do irony, so it didn’t occur to them that the British system was named, for the entirety of that 1000 years, the avoirdupois system. The most influential broadsheet, The Daily Telegraph, is good at news but its opinion pieces are positively medieval. When we lived in London in the 1970s, they were annoyed that Irish judges insisted on following Irish law concerning extradition and the Irish government refused to allow hot pursuit of the I.R.A. by British forces across our border. In response to this supposedly outrageous behaviour, they managed two editorials in the same month that suggested, in the first one, that Ireland should remember that Great Britain had the option of total warfare, and in the second, that they had the option of repatriating all Irish people from Britain. Ireland at the time had a navy comprising two fisheries protection vessels, an Air Force of three tiny unarmed training jets and a couple of helicopters. We also had a small army, much of it on regular loan to the U.N. At the same time Britain was a world power with its own nuclear weapons. To repatriate us wholesale would have required the mother of all bureaucratic exercises to identify us – including some of the paper’s own staff.

Needless to say, the Murdoch stable of newspapers, plus The Mail, The Express and The Telegraph have been spitting vitriol about the E.U., most of it untrue, for the last fifty years. Interestingly, Scotland and the North of Ireland voted against Brexit and those same newspapers do not have much penetration in these markets.

This media turned large numbers of voters toward ultra-nationalism: they did not like immigrants, hated Europe and, despite the evidence, continued to believe in the genetic superiority of Britons – well English anyway. Exactly like the Republican Party in America, this nationalism began to tear the Conservative Party asunder. Under this pressure and under a long succession of incompetent leaders, they ran faster and faster toward the zany right. The result was to leave them entirely bereft of competent ministers, diplomats, negotiators and leaders. This was not the ideal way to begin negotiating Brexit. They kept repeating, ad nauseum, their red lines and how easy these exit negotiations were going to be. The result of these repetitious inanities led them to appoint a whole series of Brexit ministers and negotiators who were risibly incompetent. The only target appeared to be “get Brexit done at any cost”. Unfortunately, whilst all this was progressing, the main opposition, the Labour Party, were so indecisive that they ended up on neither side.

The most depressing element is what they have inflicted upon their own youth. In essence, they have turned these two islands into a narrow internment camp for youthful Britons. Even in a fast-globalising world it is difficult to see how they can work anywhere else. The exceptions to these rules will themselves be aggravating: the very highly qualified will continue to be able to travel for work and those who are second or third generation immigrants can avail of a European passport (if Ireland had to count all passport holders in its census, we would be overpopulated). However, young musicians will not be able to cut their teeth in English music hungry venues in The E.U. Even the Erasmus program to allow students to do part of their degree in Europe is being ended, to be replaced by a pie-in-the-sky globalised daydream. The end result will be either a very angry, or very dull, young population.

Surprisingly, the biggest worry for the Irish in all of this is not the economy. God alone knows whether it will be our ruination or to our advantage (we have no inside information because even the Irish do not yet have a direct line to God). No, the most painful aspect of it all is being deprived of the dubious but enjoyable pleasure of schadenfreude. The “we told you so” superiority. Why? Because we all have dearly beloved British friends and relatives that it affects, both here and there. We are also deeply enamoured of English Literature (even the bits that are really Scottish or Welsh), and their science, arts, sports and tolerance. Many of us also deeply love the physical place itself. To take pleasure from the absurdities of Brexit would be a denial of part of our own emotional nature and the pain of our fellow tribes.

Luckily, there is a deep vein of ridiculousness inherent in the whole event that is ideal for the British sense of humour. The outrage engendered by the idea that the British might have to join the slower queue at passport controls in Europe. “Aliens! That can’t be us”. Truckers having their beloved ham sandwiches confiscated on arrival in Europe. The realisation that regaining their sovereign fishing waters means they no longer have a market for most of their catch. Even the embarrassment of having abused Brussels’ red tape for half a century only to now find that they do not have the skill to write their own. The deselection of the most talented Tory politicians by the tiny remnant of old fogeys who remain as voting members of the party. Added to this is a complete inability amongst Brexiters to understand the difference between being a member and not – “I have to get my dog vaccinated for rabies just to go to France. This is silly and cruel; our status and regulations are exactly the same”.

Speaking as just one European, I have no wish for my Union to deploy an entire division of bureaucrats to continually monitor which of their major and minor rules the British change. Such changes have nothing to do with our regulations. Nor should we be expected to negotiate every time we or they change rules. The recently appointed Brexit Czar, Lord Frost is, unfortunately, a type of conservative English leader with which we in Ireland have centuries of experience. No diplomatic or negotiation skills, no manners, just an arrogance that insists that the British position is always the correct one. I do not want to be too hard on him but – because of the example he sets – I am eagerly awaiting the elevation of Nigel Farage to the peerage.

Perhaps the most symptomatic story to describe the nature of the current government in London, is that of their intention to pass a bill in Parliament changing unilaterally the North of Ireland Protocol, an international agreement they had signed just a few weeks previously. Then the dratted Americans ruined it by electing an Irish American in place of Trump. An Irish American moreover with strong emotional ties to his ancestors’ home place. All change – “withdraw the Bill”. This deprived us of the pleasure of watching them explain to a bench of very senior British judges that although they knew the Bill was illegal, it was narrowly so. A senior cabinet minister had already, unbelievably, stated this position in the House of Commons. Better perhaps than common or garden perfidy and more amusing. They continue to blame European intransigence for difficulties caused by the protocol that they themselves negotiated and signed.

They are like an elderly swimmer, who was an Olympic swimmer in their youth, having to take the plunge in impossible circumstances because they had boasted that they would. Unable to admit that the water has become frigid, that they can see the storm coming, that they have not got the expected company and the lifeguard, their Trump card, has gone missing. All that is left to the rest of us is to bear stoically with the endless accusations that it is our fault and pray for them.

What have they already achieved? They are losing the trust of their allies because of their arrogant approach to treaties and agreements. They are ridding themselves of immigrants as fast as they can, forgetting the value and rich diversity they bring, and that they need a great number of them. They are reduced to boasting of trade deals that are just carbon copies of the ones they already had within Europe and doubling down on their mythical position as an influential world power at the same time as they reduce their aid programmes and increase their military spending. Supply lines are in chaos and although the City of London will not collapse, its influence is dribbling away. Even the signature issue of regaining their sovereign waters has been a disaster, with fishing communities deserting those same waters because they no longer have a market for the bulk of their catch.

There is always hope. The Brexiters may realise eventually that they are no longer a serious player on the world stage and that sovereignty is an old-fashioned word with very little real benefit. They might settle into Brexit – develop a simpler and better life, and become an exemplar of how to live properly in times of climate crisis. They might even find time to improve their cricket.

Big Tech and Anonymity 

Democratic societies are in trouble. Don’t just take my word for it, look at two of the world’s leading democracies; the U.S. and the U.K. In the U.S., seventy-four million voters chose to re-elect Donald Trump. This, notwithstanding the dire need of so many of those same millions to have a real champion to enter the fray on their behalf. Instead, they chose as their knight in shining armour a self-obsessed, humourless jester, mounted backwards on a gilded ass, gaze firmly fixed on a mythical past, with all of its hatred. Decency won the day, but barely.

In the U.K. they chose a slightly more affable and slightly less incompetent clown, but who came with his own Dark Lord, Dominic Cummings; a man so engrossed in persuading voters that their baser instincts were so all important, that his soul ended up in lost luggage somewhere. Together, they got Brexit done. An almost incomprehensible policy of searching for the supposed glories of the past, but the achievement of which required the abandonment of economic common sense and, far more importantly, discarding the future of culture and cooperation. Both of which are fundamental to the upward path of civilisation. As silly old fogeys, they deprived their youth of a large part of the adventure of life. The intent in both States seemed to be the annihilation of whichever of our Better Angels still persist.

Big Tech, whilst not the sole contributor to such democratic lunacy, plays a very large part in the current maelstrom of dysfunction. In my lifetime (a long one), I have never known a key industry to be allowed such freedom in terms of self-regulation, but that is what is happening in the tech corporations. There are hopeful signs that we are starting to catch up. In America, a number of State Prosecutors have resuscitated the antitrust laws, designed originally to break up the monolithic power of corporate cartels such as Standard Oil and AT&T. These laws have in effect been dormant since Reagan and Thatcher discovered that an eternally recognized vice could easily be changed into a virtue by the simple expedient of preaching that ‘Greed is Good’. Europe, on the other hand, is in the process of introducing very harsh penalties for allowing blatantly untrue, or damaging, information to be spread on social media sites.

This is progress, but still leaves self-regulation as a central concept. According to the Social Media purveyors, this regulation is driven by algorithms and moderators. Algorithms are currently being sold as artificial intelligence driven magic; they are no such thing. Just more programs, sometimes sophisticated, with the same rule as all programs — garbage in, garbage out. They are top secret, so we are not allowed to see what criteria they use in checking for disallowed content. We do not know what sort of worldview is applied to ideas of what is proper. In general, when we require judgement on ethics or morality, algorithms are as crude as a Stone Age axe and less fit for purpose. As for the moderators, they are staff members so it is like a professional football team insisting that one of their own employees must referee all of their matches. And in a sane world there should be no need to expose people to the trauma of such a job.

An example of how well this system works is to be found in the recent story of Pornhub, the largest porn site on the planet, who have, according to themselves, five hundred moderators, plus algorithms. Yet, at the behest of two finance houses, Visa and MasterCard, they have had to cut the bulk of their posts, all of which were probably illegal. Now new posts can only be submitted with clear photographic identification of the person posting. What exactly were their moderators doing before this happened? People who are deeply troubled by the posting of what they consider to be totally private photos or videos can request Pornhub to take down the offending material. Only for it to immediately pop up on the site again, posted by someone who had already downloaded the content. Their algorithms are so inept that they cannot prevent material being uploaded that they themselves had already agreed was unacceptable. Nor could they be bothered to fix the algorithms. If you were the victim of such trolling, no matter what actions you took, your torture would continue without end. The problem was largely solved by two credit card companies refusing to authorize payments to Pornhub. Why finance houses and not the police or legislators? In this case there was no outcry from the ‘free speech at any cost’ lobby. I wonder why?

The Big Tech industry fetishizes three things to disguise their greed. The first of these is the right to free speech, by constantly pretending that this is an unfettered right. It is no such thing. It has always been trammelled by the need to balance competing rights: the right not to be slandered, to be free of hate speech, to a private life, to know the identity of your accuser, the right to innocence before conviction and many, many other rights. Total, unrestricted free speech is just one more fairy-tale.

The second fetish they promote is privacy. The right to privacy is fundamental but, again, it can be restricted when necessary, in a democratic society to pursue a legitimate aim. None of us have the level of privacy that is being promoted. We all have social security and tax numbers of some sort, driving licenses, credit cards, passports, birth certificates, telephone numbers, and on and on. Records on all of these identifiers grant relatively easy access to the police if a crime is suspected. Most citizens in democracies have no concerns about the State having such ready access to the mundane aspects of their private lives. Very few are inflicted with the mental laziness necessary to think of the State as a giant conspiracy.

The third fetish is that of anonymity and this, of itself, is an existential threat to democratic societies. The first two fetishes are just distractions to hide the industry’s need for this one. Anonymity itself is not intrinsic to the Internet. Every web enabled machine has at least two identifiable registration numbers: an I.P. (Internet Protocol) which provides an address and a MAC number which identifies the exact machine. For their own greedy reasons, the industry has decided that these numbers must be secret, identities available to themselves only. Why? In general, they themselves know what you post and to whom. Why should they be the trusted archivists of all this private material? Why should the forces of law have to go cap in hand to internet service providers to ask for the identity of the source when investigating a seemingly valid complaint? Why should we trust social media sites to keep to themselves all of our private correspondence? By their own narrative, they have put their trust in little known companies like Cambridge Analytica and released to them, without any by your leave, enormous tranches of our private social media correspondence for supposed medical research, only for that trust to be betrayed. It was not unidentifiable content that they released – such content would not suffice for targeted political analytics. What they released was your sign-up information: email, postal address and contact lists. Unexpectedly and miraculously that betrayal of our privacy led to a typhoon-like increase in targeted political posts and an enormous increase in their own profits. The poor things suffered a very beneficial betrayal! Anonymity adds enormously to online traffic and thereby to profit.

Democratic societies are still too fragile to survive an anonymous assault from unknown players for whom evidence is just a nuisance – where facts have alternatives, sources and motives are unknown, and even the seeming purpose may not be the real one. If events like the storming of the congressional building in Washington continue to escalate, they will eventually be known as the anonymity disturbances, where the protagonists knew not who drove them to it, or why. We cannot survive too much more of the infantile and racist bile of Q-anon or the persistent propaganda of alien bots, nor trolling or abuse by unidentifiable sources.

We need to banish the belief that the industry itself is interested in any kind of regulation other than their own twisted form of self-regulation. What exactly would our legislators do if the auto industries owned the roads, controlled and kept secret the allocation and ownership of car registration numbers and, to add insult to injury, allowed some owners to have blank plates and yet others whose numbers changed every time they started the engine. Just because we have the intelligence to create such a system does not automatically mean we can use it. The postal service would never be allowed to introduce a service for delivering anonymous trolling letters or ransom letters for kidnap victims, nor gun makers to produce weapons where the rifling changed with each new magazine. In reality, this is what the Big Tech industry is getting away with.

Why should we be reading daily stories about what actions various Silicon Valley companies take about online groups like boogaloo (whose only motivation seems to be armed insurrection and killing police officers) or Q-anon (whose motives we do not know, but are evil) or even Trump himself (whose motives are deranged)? The actions they take are properly in the purview of legislators and the police and, most emphatically, not the responsibility of technology companies. It is their provision of anonymity to endless deranged zealots that allows them to purloin these responsibilities and, having done so, they will never take a decision to prevent improper usage unless the risk of no action is going to be detrimental to their profitability. It is egregiously wrong to allow them to have their own Department of Justice and their own judiciary.

Why is everyone faffing about and refusing to regulate society as we should? The social media corporations want to publish endless opinions, but without the responsibility other publishers must bear. They know the identity of those who post but keep those identities to themselves, except when it suits them to release the data to analytic companies. They keep their algorithms secret and they decide who to remove from their platforms without an official judge in sight. They alone know what everyone posts; a fact that of itself is not safe. We get a sense of the arrogance involved when Mr. Zuckerberg tells Congress that they do not understand how Silicon Valley works. Most legislators, and the rest of us, barely know our Ram from our Rom, but we also have a very scant understanding of electricity, aerodynamics, automobiles and a thousand other things that we use constantly. The detail of how these things work is of interest to the engineers and enthusiasts involved. All the rest of need to know is what such technologies do for us, not how. Mystique is just another human way of exaggerating one’s own importance.

The industry escapes proper legislation by raising endless misplaced concerns about free speech, privacy and, their nest egg, anonymity. To release ourselves from a great number of modern ills – alien interference in our elections, cyber criminality of many different sorts and mountains of very suspect, evidence free, source free conspiracy theories and endless other nonsense – all we need to do is legislate the industry in the same way as we do with all other industries. To wit, include I.P. and MAC numbers with all posts. Add a country code as an extra. This will have zero effect on the vast majority of users in the same way as your motor registration does not impinge on your privacy, at least until you do something wrong. Admittedly, it will reduce profits for the principal shareholders involved. Such legislation would grant us another benefit; it would bring about the demise of two abominations in a free society, TOR and VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and greatly reduce the illicit use of the Dark Web.

Anonymity is at the very core of the social media purveyors’ business plans. It vastly increases profits and at the same time, grants them powers that rightly belong to the forces of law and order. The term “anonymous free speech” is an oxymoron. It has no identifiable source, tells us nothing of vested interests, bias or motive and diminishes our real heroes of free speech: Gandhi, King, Mandela, Navalny and many lesser-known brave hearted people who accepted the costs of free speech, often fatal, and still spoke out. It smears unjustifiable pain, uncertainty and lies throughout our societies. It is unconscionable that this should be accepted to bolster the profits and power of Silicon Valley.

Publishing opinion in a democracy denies any right to anonymity. When mainstream media print or broadcast material from an anonymous source, the legal responsibility for the validity of the story is automatically assumed by the journalist and the media organization involved. Woe betide them if they get it wrong. Social media companies accept no such responsibility. In fact, anonymity is an enormous part of their business plan. There must be a million academic papers published on the advantageous and negative effects of social media but most seem unaware of the unnecessary harm caused by anonymity. We refer glibly to our own time as the post truth era, disregarding entirely the unavoidable reality that without a constant search for truth, our species is reduced to a gang of oddballs howling meaninglessly in the wind. The very core of civilisation is our un-requiting search for truth and understanding.

The Ogre Has Gone

Yes! Gone. Not gone into hiding for a while: just gone, not to reappear until sometime in the future, when politics invents a completely new, ridiculous, trauma for us. If it ever does. Millions of words are being wasted on fears of his own elderly self’s reappearance, or as a hologram or even in the guise of one of his children or enablers. No! Did I not tell you already that both he and his movement are already fading history?

The reasons for such an uncompromising opinion are really quite simple. In truth he, and his magic, are irreplaceable and if he tries his own comeback, the party will stymie him. They have already suffered one term of his pretend Republicanism and know that they will not survive another. To know what the majority of them really think of him all we have to do is look at what the individuals involved said about him before he won the 2016 nomination. They still pay homage, but only in the wishful thought of keeping his base on their side. But without his power, without his pulpit and without his bullying presence, most of them are capable of walking the fine line needed to betray him whilst imitating diehard loyalists.

There are some residual concerns but most of them are not serious:

  1. His base will remain active. A goodly part of it consists of a zany collection of opposing insanities: anti-Semites versus Netanyahu supporters, rank conspiracy theorists versus greedy business people, anti-immigrant supporters versus anti-immigrant immigrants, Christians versus tolerance, vitriolic day dreams versus reality. Trump’s formula for holding such a disparate group together was simple but effective: two contradictory lies every five minutes, knowing that disciples would only hear the one they wanted to hear. That was his genius. Can you think of anyone else who would have the bloated, boastful persona to carry off such twisted theatre and cement such a contradictory base together?
  2. He will stay around and regain power in 2024 and maybe even start his own television channel. My hat! He doesn’t have the necessary energy for the first and, if we forget his legal and financial problems, a television scheme would cost money and dedication. And where would he get philosophising liars of sufficient stature to anchor it for him? The only possible ones are already in safe, overpaid work and unlikely to risk that to take a job with a loser, not exactly well known for his business acumen, or his loyalty. Anyway, he will be too busy working on his presidential library!

The vexed question of whether the Biden Administration will, for the sake of healing divisions, grant a pardon to ex-President Trump is, for the moment, unanswerable. There is, however, one bone of certainty to gnaw on; that it would be wholly improper and destructive to grant a pardon to a politician who intended to have a continued participation, of any form, in politics.

The why of Trumpism raises some truly serious questions. Yes, we can blame part of it on the usual suspects: racism, super nationalism, genderism and the rest, but we are perhaps missing the one difficulty that is most likely to cause this chaos to reappear in the future: an unwillingness on everybody’s part to accept unvarnished truth — that the dignity of work is being purloined by commercial interests and no one is planning the absolutely necessary replacement.

The world laughed while he was busy getting elected. Why then did he succeed? Perhaps because the opposition, all of them, forgot that it is people who elect Presidents, not money. You have to wonder how many people belonging to the blue-collar section of society voted for him because they knew, yes knew, that the entire system had failed them. The hope being that he would destroy that failed system. He only managed half the destruction necessary. He really needed another four years. We didn’t, but he did.

The failure of the system is due to the inability of almost everybody, including politicians and economists, to recognise that we are right in the midst of the greatest upheaval in our history since the advent of democracy, and that today, change happens at lightning speed. We are losing the need for mundane, commercial labor and no pious words from leaders will bring it back, irrespective of tax cuts. Yes, the big plants may come back but filled with robotics, not people. Self-drive trucks and app responsive driverless automobiles will fill our highways and the ever more visible, existential threat of climate change will purge our need for grossly silly consumption. We are like blind sheep wandering into an abattoir but we cannot see what is going on.

We cannot keep pretending that the gig economy, zero-hour contracts, or having tens of millions of ordinary people involved in low paid, insecure labour – such as in fast food joints, supermarkets, or soul destroying, machine like drudgery, found in the warehouses of corporations like Amazon – can restore the necessary dignity. At best, all of this is a temporary leaf covering for a tree that produces sour fruit. The educated middle class have been brought into the twenty-first century, but unless we begin to explain to the wider population how we intend to include them in the benefits resulting from the earth-shattering changes taking place, they will continue, rightly, to challenge the system. Perhaps the solutions are not being mentioned because they seem too radical but there is no moderate option. The times, they are a-changing, and the wealthy have shown no inhibitions about using radical solutions to increase their own wealth.

The common fear at the moment, among liberal journalists anyway, is that the Democratic Party is divided. At odds with itself. Does that mean that the monolithic Republican Party is the ideal? Where all criticism of the leadership, however daft, is verboten. Such leader worship belongs in tyrannies, not democracies. The other assumption being made, perhaps true, is that Joe Biden, when he becomes President, will work as hard as President Obama did at cross aisle cooperation. But the Republican Party today, is not the one he was used to in his own senatorial days. Less than a handful are brave enough to openly accept reason, whatever they might think personally.

The Republican Party itself has far more serious problems. Since the Reagan years they have steadily become more mean spirited. Reagan, then Nixon, then Chaney and the neoconservatives followed by the Disneyland climax of King Trump (climax is perhaps the wrong word to use with regard to this particular President). Despite their open contempt for democracy shown by indecent shenanigans with gerrymandering, voter and vote suppression, their interference with the U.S. Mail, and the Electoral College advantages in their favour, they were unable to get a sitting President re-elected. Then they doubled down with a childish refusal to accept the result. They too are finished. Ordinary, decent conservatives will have to find another way to push their own beliefs. We should all hope that this will be possible.

We, the middle class, were responsible for all the chaos of the last four years. With our educational advantages we were able to adjust to the mind-bending changes taking place but did not pay attention to the obvious, to the dangers, to the ordinary Jack and Jill whom we pushed down the hill, into the rapacious jaws of financiers, tech moguls and libertarians. Our leaders, our regulators, even our economists, seem oblivious to the obvious; that for the last twenty years we have not just been tweaking the edges of twentieth century life. It is time to catch up and start to explain the hopes that can be realized in this new world. We need the pain eased and the light of the future to be more visible to all.

The near future is going to be storm ravaged; in reality and in politics. In politics anyway, the tempest heralds a brighter future. One that will help us greatly in our delayed battle against the real, existential tempests. We have made a good start. The ogre has gone. Yes! Gone!  Did I mention that before?

The American Constitution for Laypeople

Why should a layperson write about a legal document? Because it is an important one, and while nearly all opinions that concern the law are penned by people with legal training, the American Constitution concerns all of us. It sets the rules by which all the laws that constrain the daily lives of Americans are deemed to be valid or not and, in so doing, it influences the legal philosophy of the rest of the world. It is important that ordinary citizens understand its most egregious flaws. Lawyers will find all the minor ones.

In any library of civilisation, the American Constitution and Bill of Rights will perforce have an honoured place. It changed the world in the same year (1789) as that other life changing event, The French Revolution, was beginning. With beautiful serendipity it brought together, as its authors, an extraordinary group of political and intellectual giants. As it, slowly, permeated the world’s consciousness, legions of idealists must have been electrified, even by the first three words of its preamble: “We the People”. It spoke to the very hearts and souls of humans of a newly imagined free existence. Getting the thirteen States, then involved, to ratify the final version would have required almost superhuman political skill and diplomacy. Through the centuries, its voice, the Supreme Court, has provided us with many titans of legal thought and expression. In general, it has served its nation, and other nations, well.

But! But! Regretfully there are a lot of Buts! The first being that it was written more than two hundred and forty years ago in a world that is now almost unimaginable. A world that was generally ruled by the caprice of Kings, Queens and Emperors. Slavery was perceived to be a normal part of life along with anti-Semitism, wars and ubiquitous life-threatening diseases. In reality, it was the life that Hobbes described as nasty, brutish and short. Although the Constitution exploded as the first open attempt to put the people in control of their own society and was deemed extraordinarily radical for its time, it was, and is, a captive of its own period’s norms. Married women and children were but chattels, trapped within the total power of their husbands, with no vote, no protection, no property and no means of appeal. Slavery was accepted and the slaves who escaped to a non-slave State had to be returned to their so-called owners. The original owners of the land (referred to in the document itself as ‘Indians’) were just an aside, and men who did not own property had no hand in the electoral process. Some of its period related flaws still ensnare us today with misguided attempts to ensure a wealthy, white Christian control of everything.

It’s antiquity alone leads to some undesirable results. Even the fact that the abolishment of slavery, the rights of women and children, and the rights of people of any colour other than White were added as an afterthought creates a disturbing suspicion of the order and validity of the moral values within it.

Some of its more contentious clauses deserve our scrutiny.

The First Amendment includes in its text that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…or of abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…’ (emphasis added). This prohibition is one of the most important, and most prized, provisions in the entire document. But free speech can become criminal when, for example, it is used to incite hatred or Revolution or it is slanderous. Prohibiting laws toward an establishment of religion does not mean freedom to set up a religion that requires for example, human sacrifice. This is covered by the criminal laws. In the same way, the right to freedom of speech should not protect the freedom of anonymous speech which is capable of causing grievous damage to the rights of other individuals: their right to privacy, to dignity, to their good name, to their very safety. If such damage is caused by anonymous free speech, there is no recourse for the victim. Such anonymous free speech is, at best, an act of abject cowardliness.

The Second Amendment, in particular, is somewhat obtuse because of age and poor drafting. It states that ‘A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed’. Modern rulings on this right seem to wilfully ignore the Militia section of this amendment, although it is the stated purpose of the right to bear arms. The meaning and rules of such a Militia are clearly laid out in Section 8 of the Constitution itself. This Section empowers Congress to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions. It reserved to the States the authority of appointing the officers and the training of the Militia ‘according to the discipline prescribed by Congress’ (emphasis added). This Militia bears no resemblance whatsoever to present day individual louts wandering the streets carrying assault rifles as a macho extension of their supposed sexual prowess. There is no invasion threatened today that can be dealt with by citizens with private guns and, as gun owners are the only ones currently threatening and leading insurrections, perhaps they exist to put themselves down? Leaving aside the arcane language of the Amendment, it is glaringly obvious that the private ownership of guns in the twenty-first century has no relationship to the concept of liberty.

Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment ends with the words… ‘Nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws (emphasis added). How then is it not criminal to forcibly separate refugee children from their parents without even a pretence of due process?

There is no longer a belief, nor a wisp of embarrassment, that the most gifted and learned judges should be appointed to the Supreme Court to interpret the law as best and as honestly as they can. Now they are blatantly chosen on their previous record on issues that favour one side, or the other, of the partisan divide. Some of them then spend their time developing the most convoluted reasoning to come to their desired result. Others pore over the words of the Founders, even to the extent of checking the meaning of relevant words in the eighteenth century (an attitude which elevates the Founders to the level of Prophets writing a Gospel to be valid for eternity). Missing entirely is any understanding of the intensely political nature of the entire constitutional venture. The initial draft may have been written idealistically but, to achieve its essential purpose of creating the Union, the paramount need was to persuade all thirteen states then existing to ratify the document. To achieve this all delegates, including the drafters, were obliged to swallow some bitter pills (including the Electoral College and two Senators per State). To justify this, they would have needed local benefits for their own states, political pork if you like, to assuage their own constituents. The initial Bill of Rights probably included much of this need.

For a democracy like America to be at peace with itself, respect for law is an essential ingredient. In effect, this means that, even when a decision is arrived at that some do not agree with, it can be reluctantly accepted if the decision is made on a good faith determination of the law and not on any extraneous dogma. That respect is faltering because of vile partisan squabbling for control through law. The modern Court has shown a cavalier attitude to the spirit of the Constitution itself. In striking down part of the Voting Rights Act they were fully aware that the rogue states involved would wield their new found freedom to disenfranchise many of their own black voters. In the famous case about a baker’s refusal to make a cake celebrating gay marriage, they did not take the opportunity to rule on anti-discrimination protections under the Constitution but sent a message that the Court was in favour of religious bigotry. In the Citizens United case, they released a veritable torrent of money into the political system (where it does not belong) on the spurious grounds that Corporations have the same rights as individuals. There are too many such rulings for honest people to feel at ease.

The Republican Party, particularly during the Trump era, has set out, openly, to pack all courts with conservative judges, seeing this as a way to control society when the Presidency is no longer in their hands. Given the makeup of American society this is a very high-risk strategy, not so much for them as for the very rule of law. However, the idea of having a very conservative Court ruling a moderately liberal society is but a pipe dream. The combined power of the Presidency, Congress and the People, would be far too great. It is most unlikely that any Court would even make the attempt.

The Constitution, despite the reverence we all hold it in, is out of date. Perhaps the pithiest explanation of this was Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, pointing out that as a gay, black woman, she was not even a person in the original document. Tradition and admiration are no substitute for decent, clear law. So, write a new one. It would be worthwhile, even if extremely challenging but enormously cathartic. Is it beyond its time? – yes. Is it possible – yes, but only if America is still a can-do society? A large part, including the most revered sections on freedom of speech, religion and universal suffrage, can be retained. The remaining issues would be the most contentious but, arguing them openly in Citizens’ conventions would enable a far better focus on the future and, counter intuitively, allow the Republican Party to reset their decent conservative values after the nightmare of the past few years. Increased clarity about the spirit of and intentions behind the new provisions would also challenge members of the judiciary who have been blatantly using their interpretative powers to progress their own ideological positions. A new American Constitution could be as electrifying for the world as the old one was in its heyday.