Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Population of Numenor (through the 2nd Age)


The population of Numenor was derived from the Three tribes of the Edain that dwelt in Beleriand before Morgoth overran the continent after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in 472 FA. These were the Beorians, Hadorians and the Haladin, to whom can be added the somewhat separate Druedain who lived among the Haladin, and presumably survivors of the people of Bor, the Easterlings who remained faithful at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. In my article on the populations of Beleriand at their height around 450 FA, just before the Dagor Bragollach, I estimated that the Edain numbered around 150,000 at their greatest, divided between the three tribes and a mixed group who remained in Estolad. In the century between this point and Morgoth's destruction their population certainly declined catastrophically through battle losses and their lands being overrun by Morgoth's minions. But a remnant of the Hadorians and Beorians survived as thralls in Dor-Lomin, and some of the Haladin clung on in Brethil, as well as presumably some who fled to the Isle of Balar or the southern forests with the last free Elves. These peoples never accepted Morgoth and when the Valar came in power the surviving Edain alone of the remaining peoples of Beleriand joined their armies and fought against Morgoth's hordes.

If we assume the Edain population declined by about 80% during this period, that leaves a mixed population of around 30,000 remaining at the time of liberation by the Valar and the raising of Numenor, including a tiny community of Druedain. These formed the initial population of Numenor after its raising in 32 of the Second Age. In HoME 12 'The Peoples of Middle Earth' Tolkien states that the first fleet of refugees lead by Elros numbered about 200 ships carrying "between five thousand or at the most ten thousand" people, but also that there was a smaller steady migration of people over the next 50 years. From this we can be reasonably confident that most if not all of the 30,000ish survivors eventually made their way to Numenor.


Numenor's history spanned about 3300 years from its founding and while we can't exactly state its population at specific points we can identify likely trends. Numenorean history hinges around the falling of 'the Shadow' on Numenor: the turning of its people away from loving loyalty towards the Valar and Eru to bitterness towards the Valar and thirsting to escape death. Tolkien repeatedly stated that in this latter period Numenoreans had fewer and fewer children as they focused on preserving themselves from death and brooding on their ancestors, though in the Akallabeth he also states that even before the Shadow they had few children. It seemed characteristic of Tolkien's culturally higher peoples that many chose not to marry in order to pursue arts and crafts, and this may also explain the slow increase of Numenor's population, despite the fact they didn't suffer from disease until after Sauron came to Numenor in 3260 SA.

Numenor's population growth would be affected by the long-life the Numenoreans enjoyed compared to other men. Numenoreans were granted a life three times that of other men, or about 200 years (apart from the Royal Family -The House of Elros- who lived even longer). It makes sense to assume this affected childbirth and I think a length of 50-100 years between generation is reasonable. Tolkien explicitly states (in the Unfinished Tales) that Numenoreans didn't grow much more slowly than other men i.e. at 30 years old they didn't resemble a normal 10 year old, it's just they endured longer as mature adults before old-age set in. We know that there were 25 generations of Kings but we would expect more generations of ordinary citizens than the Royal Family. For my purposes here I assume there were almost twice as many generations of ordinary Numenoreans, reflecting that Elros' House lived twice as long (until the Shadow deepened). This gives about 45 generations.

Numenor's history can be roughly divided into the following periods. Firstly, from 32-600 the period of isolation from Numenor's foundation to re-establishing contact with Middle Earth. Then from 600-1600, the early years of Numenorean contact and settlement on the mainland. From 1600-2020, Numenor goes to war against Sauron and begins building greater settlements or colonies along the shores of Middle Earth. 2020-2900, the Shadow falls on Numenor, the Numenoreans begin to exact tribute from the men of Middle Earth, conquer territory and build a great Empire. 2900-3320, the Shadow deepens on Numenor leading to the eventual confrontation with Sauron, the disastrous assault on Aman itself, and the complete Downfall of Numenor forever.

Estimating Numenor's population presents a very different challenge to my other posts because those were static estimates, screenshots of what the population was at a specific point in time, whereas here we need to estimate Numenor's population dynamically by working out how it grew over 3000 years. It's good Tolkien introduced reasons why Numenor's population growth was comparatively slow because otherwise the huge length of time it existed, over 3000 years, should've produced an astonishingly high population that doesn't seem to fit with the descriptions of its society. We know the starting population, around 30,000 people at Numenor's founding, and then in theory the population at each point is just a simple exponential function of the growth rate, or the average child-birth per woman. However over 45 generations our assumption for Numenorean childbirth rates massively effects the overall population figures we get, particularly at the end.

We have some information to calibrate these with as well after our starting figure. In 600-800 when Numenor first began to make contact again with Middle Earth it was still relatively sparsely populated, as recounted in the tale of 'Aldarian and Erendis', with even large areas of the central mostly inhabited only by sheep. Centuries later in 1700 Numenor's decisive intervention in the 'War of Sauron and the Elves' seems to suggest a much more developed and powerful state. This intensifies over the following centuries as Numenor seems capable of not just exploring across the world but colonising and conquering huge areas of Middle Earth, particularly to the South and East of the lands familiar from LOTR. Presumably by this period Numenor was increasingly crowded and this encouraged the kind of massive emigration familiar from European societies in the industrial 19th and early 20th Centuries. By the time Sauron arrived in the 33rd Century Numenor seems a rather grim and over-developed place, though retaining a certain icy beauty, with violence and strife increasingly breaking out, presumably partly driven by the difficulty of accommodating so many people within its area, though certainly encouraged by Sauron. We can combine these vague images with our knowledge of Numenor's area of 168,000 square miles, twice the size of Britain, and between Germany and France in area, to provide a check on our simple exponential growth model.

For the early period of Numenorean history I estimate an average childbirth rate of 2.4 children per woman. This is obviously just an average, and takes into account Tolkien's statements about Numenoreans having relatively few children, and also that quite a few women would've chosen not to marry at all. For ease I assume this reflects the number of children each woman had that survived into adulthood and bore children, on average, rather than strictly the birth-rate. Numenor was a land without disease or war (for a long time) but Tolkien implies elsewhere child-birth was still painful and potentially deadly, though presumably in proportions more like our modern world than the middle ages.

This model suggests that by 600 SA 8ish generations would've passed and the Numenorean population would be about 130,000. By 800-900 when 'Aldarion and Erendis' is set there would've been around 250,000 people. At this stage we can assume large parts of Numenor outside the central regions would still be basically uninhabited. By the time of Tar-Minastir's great armanent that decisively turned the tide of the 'War of Sauron and the Elves' around 1600-1700 this model gives a now much greater population of around 2.5-3 million people. The difference from Aldarion's time is dramatic, as would be expected over a thousand years. Whereas in 850 it was considered a great voyage for Numenor to send a few ships to Lindon, now Tar-Minastir sends a great fleet and army of, probably, many thousands of soldiers and sailors on scores of ships. Moving further forward we reach the time of Tar-Atanamir the Great, about 2100 SA, the King under whom the Shadow first fell, and Numenor reached "the zenith of its bliss, if not yet of its power". At this point the population reaches about 7 million.

From this time the Numenoreans increasingly establish colonies along the coasts of Middle Earth that grow steadily until they form virtual kingdoms of their own, conquering surrounding territory and including populations of Numenorean colonists and the native men of those areas. These come into continual confrontation with Sauron dominion over most of the inner lands of Middle Earth south and east of Mordor and absorb the excess population as Numenor became more crowded as the centuries pass. My calculations can only give the total Numenorean population descended from the original settlers, and so include both the population of Numenor proper, and the descendant population in the colonies. This whole period can be compared to the rapid imperalist colonisation of the 18th through 20th centuries in our real world. We also have the division in Numenorean society between the King's Men (anti-Valar, Elves) and the Faithful (Pro-Valar, Elves). We are told most people were King's Men, and the Faithful were concentrated in the west where the Eldar visited from Tol Eressa. Both groups steadily emigrated from Numenor, but the Faithful came to the North-West, the lands of LOTR, to Pelargir, and Eriador where Gil-Galad, High-King of the Eldar, held back the influence of Sauron. The King's Men sailed away to the Numenorean colonies and empire in the un-mapped lands of the South and East of Middle Earth that "left many rumours in the legends of Men", but apart from Umbar were anonymous.

I assume around 80% of Numenoreans were King's Men, and about 20% Faithful, though the proportion of Faithful in Numenor itself certainly declined steadily as the divide deepened, persecution grew, and many were driven to emigrate to the Elven lands of the North West, leaving more King's Men on Numenor itself. By the time of Elendil's departure from Numenor we are told he gathered all that remained of the Faithful he could on nine great ships, implying the rest were almost all gone. During this period of the Shadow, covering about a thousand years after Tar-Atanamir, I assume the average population increase over the whole period slowed to only slightly above the replacement rate (for maths purposes I use an average birthrate of 2.05 per woman). This also represents increasing losses in warfare in Middle Earth as well, where it is implied there was continual conflict with Sauron's forces. Still this proportion is enough that by 2500 SA it predicts a population of some 10 million people, mostly on Numenor but also in its colonies, of which about 2 million would've been the Faithful, and by 3000 SA the population has increased again considerably to 15 million.

At this stage the proportion of the Numenorean population that lived outside Numenor would be steadily rising as Numenor itself grew more crowded driving emigration, and natural population increase occurred in the colonies themselves. We have no way of determining exactly what proportion of the Numenorean population dwelt abroad but I think give Tolkien's tendency to discuss the Numenoreans as though they were an aristocracy among wilder men in Middle Earth, it's reasonable to assume even at a late stage it formed a minority of the population. I think it reasonable to suggest that by year 3000 perhaps 5 million Numenoreans were living in kingdoms and colonies scattered across Middle Earth. These would not all be 'pure Numenoreans', many would be of only partial Numenorean blood as over the centuries Numenoreans married men and women of Middle Earth.

From this point around 3000 SA the shadow continued to deepen on Numenor until, after Sauron was brought to the island, civil strife broke out, disease began to plague Numenor and the Faithful were violently persecuted, leading up to the final cataclysmic destruction of Numenor itself. The Faithful increasingly shrank in number as some fell away and others fled to the areas of the North-West that would later form Arnor and Gondor. I assume over this period population growth in Numenor slowed further falling to a complete halt in the period after Sauron's arrival. This suggests a 'final' Numenorean population of around 18 million shortly before the Downfall. We can perhaps sensibly estimate that in this final period there were around 12 million people on Numenor itself and around 6 million spread through its colonies. I think we can justify a continuing assumption that around 25% of the colony population would be Faithful on the basis that while many would've fallen away under persecution, the same persecution would encourage a higher proportion of Faithful to emigrate.

This suggests that in Numenor's final days there were around 1-2 million Faithful of Numenorean and partial descent in the lands around Eriador, Pelargir and the Anduin. There would also have been some 4 million Black Numenoreans spread across Middle Earth, as well as 12 million on Numenor itself, by the end basically entirely Kings Men. According to the Akallabeth at the Downfall Elendil gathered almost all the remaining Faithful who would depart onto this nine ships. We can assume these were enormous vessels, among Numenor's great ships at the height of its power, more like modern Cruise Ships than tiny medieval galleys. But still along with a great store of goods we can't imagine more than around a thousand people fitted on each ship. This means around 9 thousand Dunedain arrived with Elendil, but these figures show they joined a population of Numenorean descent many times larger already in Middle Earth. These people accepted Elendil's right to rule because with the loss of his father, the last Lord of Andunie, he was the hereditary leader of their people, and presumably the most senior surviving descendant of Elros.

These figures are purely illustrative but I think they are in the right ball park, which is as close as we can hope to get. The 1-2 million Faithful of Eriador and Gondor can be compared with my calculation that at the time of LOTR at the end of the 3rd age the population of Gondor was around 2 million, and that of Rohan around 500 thousand. There would've been probably equivalently sized populations (or even more) of native men in Eriador and Gondor as well. These provided the populations of early Gondor and Arnor and the manpower that created the Last Alliance of Men and Elves, that according to Elrond was, with the Elves and others, the greatest host in the history of the 2nd and 3rd Ages of Middle Earth. It also brings into stark clarity the sheer scale of the loss of the Downfall, especially if we assume there were also large losses in the cities of the King's Men spread across the shores of Middle Earth. The result would've been like the destruction of Pompei magnified a thousand times over, combined with the greatest Tsunami the world has ever seen.

A brief word in defence of these estimates. In order to disagree dramatically your first option is that Numenorean fertility was only barely above (but conveniently not below) the replacement rate even before the Shadow and even in the colonies on Middle Earth, such that the population barely increased at all from generation to generation. But this gives ridiculously low population figures for the time of Aldarion and Erendis and even Tar-Minastir.  Or you assume fertility must've been higher, but that produces humungous population figures over the extremely long time-frames Tolkien described Numenor as existing, in a blessed land without disease or contraception to control the population.

Nonetheless, I would love to hear your thoughts on these estimates and any suggestions for improving them. They are naturally rough, for we have only the thinnest actual information to go on, but I think they are the best that can be done.


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Robots stealing all the jobs? - Nationalisation is the Answer, not a Basic Income


In the last year or so there has been increased discussion about introducing a 'Universal Basic Income' (or UBI). A Universal Basic Income would be a replacement for welfare where everyone in the country gets an amount of money, say £100 a week, from the government as a right just for being a citizen of the country. Unlike current welfare there are no conditions you have to meet to get it, either of age, or income, or anything else, and everyone gets the same. It is much simpler than current welfare, and the idea is to give people enough money to live on, just, to free people from the fear of destitution regardless of circumstances.

It is a rather expensive idea, but one that has significance advantages in certain areas such as simplicity and reliability. A perhaps unexpected source of support has come in the shape of various internet and technology billionaires, millionaires, etc. These captains of cyber-industry are worried about what happens if robots take all our jobs. They think, as do some others, that the rapid development of artificial intelligence and robotics will, over the next few decades, rapidly put most people out of work, not just in manufacturing, agriculture or low skilled services, but even in previously safe white-collar professions like Law, Medicine, Accounting, or whatever. They fear this will lead to a society where an increasingly tiny group of capitalists own all the robots, and everyone else is unemployed and penniless.

(Credit: Shutterstock/Salon)
Funnily the main negative thing our app-overlords have noticed about this seems to be that if we're reduced to a vast penniless underclass there will be nobody who can afford to buy all the products their army of robots and AIs produce. Hence their support for a UBI, to re-close the circle between production, purchase and consumption. Coincidentally, apart from the UBI part, this is exactly what Karl Marx thought would happen to Capitalism in the late 19th Century, but quite obviously didn't. Hence the failure of Marxism.

Ignore for a moment the obvious problem with this vision: that technology has been wiping out jobs en masse since 1750 but we haven't run out of jobs yet. The 'Tech' crowd's response is still ludicrously complicated when you think about it. UBIs are horribly expensive, so this would require massive taxation to pay for it. But if most of the population are penniless then the tax burden will have to fall heavily on the people with the money i.e. the tiny number of hyper-capitalists. So these people would be paying massive taxes, so the money can be distributed to everyone, so they can buy stuff, so the tiny minority can make massive profits on their capital, a large proportion of which would go in massive taxes, so the money could be redistributed, and so on.

It's worth noting at this point that the contemporary world is historically unique in that our aristocratic elite is both socially and economically liberal. That means they all like to think of themselves as nice, progressive people, but they also love venture capital, initial public offerings, and, oh yes, hate taxes. So I'll leave it up to you to guess how long this re-distributive scheme would last before the elite decide that serfdom doesn't sound so unthinkable after all.

But anyway, back to our dystopian future. So almost everyone has lost their jobs because robots and AI can produce and provide goods and services of all kinds cheaper than human beings can. This means there pretty much is no problem of scarcity anymore, because robots and AI can do basically everything. In this case there is a simpler solution than UBI, and it's called Socialism.

If we ever reach the point where most jobs disappear and capital is concentrated among a tiny elite who own all the robots and software, then we should just nationalise the robots and the software. That cuts out the ludicrous circularity of the UBI scheme (circulating money to people, so they can give it to plutocrats, who give it back to the people, so, the whole process can go round again).  This all seems designed purely to keep money and power nominally concentrated within a tiny, pseudo-aristocratic elite after real, competitive capitalism has ended. Just nationalise them and then once the robots are in common ownership we can just use them to make stuff and provide services and the government could credit everyone directly from the output and cut the fat-cats out of the loop entirely. Problem Solved.

Now, I'm a right-wing, conservative, free-marketeer, so why am I suggesting socialist revolution if things go a certain way? For the answer it's back to Marx. The main problem with Marx's prediction of socialist revolution was that it was predicated on a sequence of events that did not occur. (A pretty large flaw.) Marx thought capital would be progressively concentrated in fewer hands causing wages to fall, until the whole system collapsed under its own inequality. But even his own data in Das Kapital showed that wasn't happening and by the time of the Russian Revolution things clearly wasn't working out how Marx planned. According to his own theory Russia should've been the last place that revolution would or could occur. Contrary to Marx Capitalism has chugged along more-or-less happily for the last 130 years, spreading wealth and raising incomes dramatically. But should this process go into dramatically into reverse in the future then Marx's solution comes back into view.

Free-market capitalism relies on competition among agents to generate the best prices and direct consumption and investment to best deal with the problems of economic scarcity. In all western societies this private, competitive mode of operation is balanced with democratic state control in those areas where free-market provision can't cope. But in the robots steal all the jobs scenario competition and scarcity have rapidly vanished. Robots and software putting everyone out of work would imply a massive increase in productivity had been achieved, as machines do most jobs cheaper than humans could, which reduces any danger of damaging economic growth. Economic growth doesn't matter so much if everyone has plenty anyway, while the democratic argument that we can't allow the economy to be dominated by a handful of Mark Zuckerbergs while everyone else sinks into poverty becomes far stronger as capital is concentrated in fewer hands.

At this point we should just nationalise companies as they reach a certain size and stability and effective competition recedes (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, anyone?). This could potentially even just take the form of nationalising certain patents or pieces of intellectual property, in terms of software. The original owners should be reasonably compensated but control should  pass into democratic hands, cutting out the fat-cats, and ensuring general control of the economy remains with the wide public. The economy would generally remain private, and competition would remain because nationalisation would be piecemeal, rather than by whole economic sectors (e.g. the Steel Industry). Businesses would remain managed much as before, allowing employees to research and develop improvements to products, and the state could allow them to shrink and go bust if necessary, because there would be a pool of further businesses or inventions to be nationalised. This should largely avoid the problems faced by classical post-war 'mixed' economies. The main difference would be that once a company or piece of intellectual property had been sufficiently developed, instead of owners being able to just sit back and live off a stream of profits perpetually, they would be effectively bought out by the state in a one-off, reasonable payment.

The majority of people would enjoy comfortable existences doing some limited work but largely supported by a vast army of robots and AI. Thus we would fulfil Marx's dream and eventually, as technology developed further, glide gently beyond Socialism to a state of prosperous democratic control, communism in the sense Marx originally meant it. Bliss.

Or alternatively the soothsayers may be wrong. Mass unemployment may not rapidly spread over the next few decades due to a shortage of work to do, and ownership of capital may not become rapidly concentrated among a plutocratic elite. If that happens we should not embrace Socialism and should just carry on more or less as we do now. Sorry.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Brexit, one week later.

1. Initial signs of Economic Chaos were overblown.

As of now the FTSE 100 has more than recovered all its losses, and the smaller FTSE 250 is only down 3.5% on pre-Brexit, taking it back to where it was in March 2015. The Pound is down against the Euro, but only to where it was in early 2014; it is historically down against the Dollar, but this should help boost UK competitiveness for exports. We will not know for months what impact it is having in underlying UK growth though. We could already be in (moderate) recession.

2. Political Chaos continues at full force though.

The Tories and Labour are both effectively leaderless, the government has temporarily ceased functioning, and the SNP are trying to destabilise things further. It is possible that Theresa May will be crowned PM within a week, but more likely the Conservative leadership election will go on until September. Democratically speaking, the Tories and Labour should both sort out their leadership problems, and then a General Election should be fought on different visions for Brexit. Economically this just risks eking out complete uncertainty until Christmas, with further negative economic effects. Economically we want to trigger Article 50 and get some things decided as soon as possible.

3. Obvious first steps.

It seems to me the following should be announced ASAP to reduce uncertainty now. Firstly, EU citizens currently in Britain should be guaranteed 'permanent leave to remain' post-Brexit, contingent on an equivalent guarantee from EU states for our citizens. Anything else is just playing games with people's lives. Secondly, the British government should promise to replace all EU funding on current projects in Britain with British money from our EU contributions. This will mostly be academic grants, infrastructure projects and agricultural subsidies. Thirdly, the government should announce all EU laws will be retained in UK law immediately post-Brexit, though after that they may be changed by the usual UK mechanisms. (Obviously not including those laws about our relation to EU institutions).

4. Our Further Negotiating Position

Given the state of the vote, I believe it is clear we should be pursuing the highest degree of economic links and co-operation in areas of law & order, science, environmental measures, visa-free travel, etc consistent with severing constitutional links and ending the total right of free-movement and settlement. If there was no right of unlimited immigration into the UK the Remain side would've won by a landslide. If the only issue was Free Movement then Leave would've won by a landslide. The only decent democratic thing to do seems to be to maximise and balance these truths. Given we already completely comply with EU law it should not be beyond the EU or the UK to reach a full agreement within the two years (though it will certainly be difficult). Brexit threatens the EU economy almost as much as it threatens ours, and the Eurozone is arguably in a worse position to deal with it.

Positively in the wider world there have already been expressions of interest in closer trade links with the UK from Australia, New Zealand, the US, and Iceland (assuming I haven't missed any). Negotiations with these states should start immediately. Someone suggested that there just aren't enough staff in Whitehall to do this, compared to in the EU. Hire some more then. Wider trade relations was meant to be one of the key advantages of Brexit. We can't afford not to at least try to make a strong effort at this.

Overall Brexit may turn out alright. But it certainly can be botched. As with many political choices how it's carried out and how other countries respond will be crucial to success. Our overall fate for better or worse was not simply determined on the 23rd June.

Oh, and please, for the love of God, no more Br-exit puns. No Bremain, No Bregret, No Scexit (Scottish, you get the idea).  Just stop it, stop it now. Thank you.      

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

The Future of Greater European Union

I have very mixed feelings about the EU and the referendum on UK membership.  I feel that we don't really want 'In' or 'Out' of the EU. We want co-operation with other European countries without getting dragged into Brussels' incompetent empire building.  We neither want to be dragged into the Eurozone, or the Schengen agreement, or an EU army, or a banking union, or any other of myriad EU schemes for closer union. Neither do we want to end up entirely outside the European community, unable to engage in academic co-operation, free-trade, law enforcement co-operation, visa-free travel, or lose all say on a wide-range of technical standards.

The Leave campaign wants to persuade us that we could retain the good things we want while losing the bad things we don't want. The Remain campaigns wants to pesuade us we don't have that option and if we want the good bits we have to take the bad as well. I don't know which is right. But a better, more long-term question is, firstly, why isn't there a better option than either?  Why can't we be in a European Community, with some limited say over how it works, without constantly having to fight to avoid being dragged into an 'ever closer union'? This question is intimately tied up with another important question. Where will the EU itself be in twenty or thirty years time? And where should it be? How can we make a long-term decision to stay if we don't know what we're getting in to.

Frankly, nobody answers these question because the EU basically has an unofficial plan of not having a long-term plan. The EU's model for european unity has always been deliberately one-step-at-a-time. Looking where you're going might just terrify you, and lead to an almighty argument about the choice of destination, but if you concentrate on taking each step you get there eventually. Closer union does not advance with any big bang, but with a directive here, an agreement there, power after power, slowly standardised and shifted to Brussels. This approach has its advantages but the chaos of the Eurozone crisis and the refugee crisis, not to mention the risk of Brexit, and eurosceptic sentiment in countries like France, the Netherlands and Denmark, suggests it is no longer up to the job, to say the least. Obviously the future is uncertain, especially the future of the EU, but there are some things we can be reasonably sure of. And that offers an answer to the first question as well as the second. This is the EU and Eurozone as it stands. The Eurozone in dark blue, the rest of the EU in light blue.



The European Union has expanded since 1953 when it was just France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries. From 6 countries it has now expanded to 28 and it is clear what further expansion plans there are. The remaining Yugolsav countries are only still outside the EU because of their low political and economic development, largely a result of the terrifying wars of the early 90's. Slovenia and Croatia have already been absorbed, and the rest almost certainly will. As will, eventually, the bits of Ukraine that Russia can't detach. In ten to twenty years the EU will most likely look like this.



At this point EU expansion hits a block though. It runs out of small European countries to swallow up. The only ones left on its borders are either vast and foreign (Russia and its satellites, Turkey) or have already said no (Switzerland, Norway, etc). All the east-european countries have signed up to join the euro so I'm assuming they will eventually, though this part of the picture is more uncertain. The EU will not just be geographically larger, it will be more integrated as well. 'Ever Closer Union' is the EU's one creed and it will work out its inevitable logic, slowly but surely. Even the EU's most serious troubles, the Eurozone and migration crises, have only fuelled the calls and need for ever closer union. Within twenty years we will probably have, and I would say, should have, the workings of a fully fledged European Superstate.

Not a strong federal state, a United States of Europe, it will never be that centralised or constitutionally uniform, its central government will still be weak compared to the member states. More like a European Confederacy, a diverse multi-lingual block with a central government whose brief is purely to manage cross-state relations and issues and represent their interests to the wider world, not to take precise and detailed control over everyone's lives and money. It will be more like a giant Switzerland than a European US, though still with its own common currency, banking system, central bank, scientific program, space agency, external border, trade policy, legislature, technical standards, immigration and asylum policy, army, agricultural policy, limited fiscal transfers, etc. More than enough to be getting on with.

And, for most European countries, this would be a good thing. Most of them are small, recent inventions, who are entirely surrounded by fellow EU neighbours and have neither the need nor the expertise, nor any interest in running their own currency, or their own foreign policy, or even their own armed forces. The 21st century will increasingly be dominated large states: America, China, India, Russia. These are many tens of times the size of Slovenia, or Belgium. On their own they'll get squashed but together the European Confederacy can stand toe-to-toe with the other great powers of the world.

A future in the European Confederacy is not for everyone though. Britain, whether it votes Leave or Remain on 23rd June, will not be in the European Confederacy. We're already outside the Euro and Schengen zones, and between the renegotiation, and the referendum lock the distance between us and the core of EU countries is only going to grow. It is likely that more and more decisions will be taken within the EU core and we will be increasingly side-lined. If we vote Remain we'll end up a semi-detached formal member of the EU, but outside the European Confederacy including almost the entire rest of the EU, a leviathan stretching from the Channel to Ukraine with the Euro as its currency. If we leave we'll most likely end up in the EEA or EFTA, in a very similar position, with a modicum more freedom to act outside the EU and a modicum less ability to influence policy inside the EU. This will leave the European Confederacy ringed by states to whom it is closely linked but either, to its north have chosen not to join 'ever closer union' (Britain, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, possibly Denmark and Sweden), or, to its East, are too large and alien to be satisfactorily integrated (Russia, Turkey).

Turkey, for example, has been inching towards EU membership since the 1960s, first formally applied for membership in 1987, and is currently in the customs union with the EU. I consider it very unlikely that Turkey will become a full EU member any time in the next twenty years or more. Turkey is no poorer than Bulgaria or Romania, but it has 80 million people compared to 26 million between the two of them, all of whom would be eligible for free-movement across a continent that has become paranoid about immigration. Turkey has a border that stretches into Northern Iraq and Syria about which the less said the better. It has a conservative Muslim population with cultural views predominating very different to that in the rest of the EU, a problem with military influence on the government, a repressive policy towards its large Kurdish minority, which responds in turn with a terrorist insurgency. Its sheer size and poverty means that it would immediately become the largest EU country and the poorest, making it eligible for a huge portion of the EU budget, draining money away from every other country, and the most powerful country in the EU parliament, as well as the Council of Ministers, etc.

All of these are good reasons why giving Turkey full membership of the EU would be a bad idea, and more prosaically, why it will be blocked by other EU states at any point in the foreseeable future. Similar considerations apply to Russia, even if at some point in the next generation they drop their antagonistic stance to Europe. But that doesn't mean that the EU shouldn't have close, friendly relations and co-operation with both Britain, Turkey, EFTA and possibly others. It should, for both our and their interests. It's just that none of these states, for very different reasons, is going to be part of Euroschengenland.

The obvious answer to this problem is a two-speed European community. There should be an inner core, a very large one, of states continuing 'ever closer union', moving towards a sort of European Confederacy, and an outlier of states semi-connected to the European Confederacy, forming a wider European Community. This already kind of exists. It's kind of like the relation between the EU and EFTA, and it's kind of like the relation between the Eurozone and the non-euro EU (like us). But formally it's neither. Formally the EU has opposed any idea of a two-tier Europe in the hope that everyone would move inexorably towards the same goal. That's why the EU requires all new members to eventually join the Euro, even if they have no wish to do so. That's why they talk in terms of Turkey eventually becoming just another EU country, even though for obvious practical reasons they've been blocking it for thirty and more years. That's why people in Brussels still hope we'll eventually join the Euro even though that will obviously never happen.

Accepting a two-tier Europe would be, in a very limited sense, accepting defeat, and so they are psychologically resistant to it. But the time when that has been a useful response has long since passed. Greater European Union can no longer be built on sheer stubborn insistence but must accept that certain countries cannot or do not want to fit into one size fits all. It would have obvious advantages for both the Euro-core and the European periphery. Instead of having different legal and institutional bases for relations with each of Britain, Norway & Iceland, Switzerland, Turkey, it would simplify and unify relations between the European core and periphery on a stable permanent basis, while allowing a degree of flexibility and independence. This map shows the countries that may be involved in such a system, with the European Confederacy in dark blue and the states around its borders with close semi-linked relations in light blue.



But how could a two tier Europe work? Issues and policy areas would be divided into two groups. There would be a cluster of policy and governance areas that would be bound together and form the province of the European Confederacy. These would include the following areas: currency, banking system, central bank, external border, trade policy, legislature, cabinet, free-movement zone, immigration and asylum policy, army, agricultural policy, fishing policy, structural support grants. These areas would be under supranational control under whatever rules the European Confederacy wanted to use, presumably with strengthened versions of current EU institutions: EU parliament, EU commission, EU Councils, civil service, court, etc. Brussels would be its sole capital and parliament seat, Commissioners could be democratically elected from each country to increase EU legitimacy. The EU confederacy would be recognised globally as a single sovereign state, with a single UN seat, probably a permanent security council one. It would be in NATO, and would generally have a role commensurate with its status as one of the largest, wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world.

It would sit on a second layer, that of the European Community, including the Euro-Confederacy and all the states around it I've discussed. This would share a free-trade area, a scientific programme, a wide range of technical standards, a space agency, crime and terrorism co-operation, minimum environmental standards and co-operation, the European Convention of Human Rights, Eurovision, etc. It would make a modest contribution to the Euro-Confederacy budget, or some formally separate budget to fund these activities but would not be financially on the hook for Euro-confederacy policy areas or issues. Community decisions would be taken inter-governmentally by councils of the relevant government ministers. Decisions could then be taken unaninmously, or by some super-majority of both the Confederacy and Community states, or whatever. Community states would be represented by their own governments and not have either parliament or commission representation in Community decision-making. The Euro-confederacy would lead for the whole Community on limited international issues with the approval of those governments and Community nations that wanted to integrate further in specific areas, such as Switzerland's membership of Schengen, could do so on an individual, negotiated basis.

Community to Confederacy relations would then be a cross between Norway's current relation to the EU and Britain's current relation to the EU core. The obvious question then is why would the much larger Euro-Confederacy choose to negotiate with the Community fringe, rather than just dictating terms as we are told they do to Norway?  Well partly because the Community would be much larger than Norway, including all the EFTA states, Britain, Turkey, and possibly Sweden, Denmark and others. These would be a relatively formidable block on its own, and thus harder to dictate to than little Norway. Largely though because the Euro-confederacy would gain little from treating the Community badly, but would gain from agreed co-operation. The areas I've mentioning as community areas are largely uncontroversial, and the Euro-confederacy would make its own economic and political surrounds more secure and productive by formally co-operating with the states around it under one system, which allowed it to concentrate on internal integration and its problems, and would gain little, and just annoy its neighbours, by bullying them or pushing them around.

Community countries would gain a sustainable, formal relationship with the Euro-confederacy that combined limited control and input on community issues with wide sovereignty on everything else, but hopefully also maximise the benefit they gain from access to European markets and scientific and other co-operation. Perhaps the other objection that might be raised then is what incentive would this leave to actually join the Euro-confederacy if countries could have such a relationship? Well, because they genuinely want and would benefit from the closer co-operation and integration that the Euro-confederacy provides. Particularly, it would be necessary if they wanted the Euro. The EU cannot and should not operate by trying to keep states inside by blackmailing them with threats of terrible revenge if they leave or choose to stay outside. The euro-confederacy can only work in the long-term, like any state, if all its parts are happy to be inside. The EU would probably operate better by moderately increasing the distance to its most eurosceptic and awkward members like Britain, thus allowing it to focus EU institutions on making closer integration work, as well as having a formal, permanent semi-status for countries it does not want to fully integrate like Turkey.        

It's impossible to tell what countries will choose to fully integrate into the Euro-confederacy and which will not in the next 30 or so years. Maybe Russia will join the Community or maybe not. Maybe Sweden and Denmark will join the Euro-confederacy, or maybe Euro membership will be the dividing line, and like Britain they will find themselves moving increasingly away from the EU-core as integration centres around establishing the necessary governance institutions to support the Euro. The exact borders of each group don't really matter. But I think a formal two-tiered Europe is inevitable and beneficial, and it would be better to formalise close links with states outside the EU-core (Britain, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey, at least) rather than engage in a self-defeating all-or-nothing mentality that will eventually drive them further away.

It is possible that if Britain votes Leave, the EU will cut off ties as far as possible to punish us, and it is possible that if we vote Remain they will take this as the best chance to force us into closer integration.  Both would be foolish and counter-productive approaches: the geo-political equivalent of cutting off their nose to spite their face. Given that there is going to be further integration in the EU core, and that Britain is not going to be involved with this, and both EFTA and Turkey will still exist as well, if not other non-Euro countries, then some kind of two tier Europe will exist and deepen anyway, better to approach the problem explicitly and create the separate governance institutions that will allow such a relationship to continue sustainably for the decades to come.

Friday, 6 May 2016

We need a new Electoral System. And it should be AMS.


After the AV referendum in 2011 a consensus formed that Electoral Reform is off the political table for a generation. I completely disagree.

The time is ripe for changing our Electoral System. Reform failed in 2011 due to a bad political circumstances, a weak alternative and incompetence campaigning.  None of these need re-occur, and the long-term trends will continue to strengthen the argument for change, as they have since the 1960's.  The decline of the two party vote, the rise of the minor parties, the increasing inability of 'First Past the Post' (or FPTP) to properly represent the democratic wishes of the people of Britain.  None of these things are going away.

I want to persuade you that AMS, the Additional Member System, currently used in Scotland and Wales, is the best and most achievable alternative to FPTP (and  a superior alternative to AV).

The massive 2011 vote against AV doesn't have to kill hope of reform for a generation. But it should kill AV for at least that long. Good, I say. AV was a bad, non-proportional system and we can do better.  AV solves only one of the numerous problems with the current system, and in a manner that potentially made other problems worse.

It did have one particular advantage that shouldn't be forgotten. It was quite similar to the current system.  This made it an achievable reform. Further attempts at change should be focused on a system as similar to the current one as possible, and sufficiently different to AV to give distance from its defeat. Regardless of the problems with FPTP the massive No vote shows there is considerable public sympathy, or at least familiarity, with its principles.  Any proposed alternative must work with this familiarity and general public small-c conservatism not against it.

It should also not be based on the same principles as AV i.e. preferential voting. This means not only AV, but also the 'Single Tranferable Vote' or STV system is off the table. STV is the system used in Ireland, and the long-term obsession of Electoral Reform campaigners in Britain. It is AV in multi-member constituencies, which unlike AV gives largely proportional results, and it is the preferred system of most reformers. It should be abandoned anyway. If the AV referendum result was a rejection of anything it was a rejection of preferential voting, the only difference between FPTP and AV. STV requires voters to accept change to preferential voting and much larger, unfamiliar, multi-member constituencies. It is just too large a change to sell at once.

Both the reform movement's concentration on STV for decades and its overnight conversion to AV in 2011 can be explained by its obsession with preferential voting. Most reformers are just convinced it is cleverer than simple majority voting (putting a cross in a box). However, it has been rejected in the form of AV for now. It would appear to be a change and complication too far and, frankly, it is not worth sacrificing the chance to achieve real change out of a quixotic attachment to the wonders of preferential voting.

Another option that needs mentioning is basic PR.  This would be a very simple system where you just vote for a party, and then the votes are counted and seats portioned out to the parties equal to its percentage of the vote.  This is the only true PR system.  However its side effects are so awful that it is generally rejected even by hard-core PR enthusiasts. The problem is that voters have no control over who is actually elected, and there is no geographical connection between voters and representatives or sense that representatives represent everyone, rather than merely those who voted for them.  It is hence a massive leap from the current system, though it does bear the award of being the joint simplest system with FPTP from the opposite side of the spectrum.

So, ignoring Basic PR, AV, STV and FPTP, what is possibly left?

The answer to is very simple. The answer is AMS, the Additional Member System.

It's more proportional than FPTP, maintains constituency links, is a modest change, is already used in Wales and Scotland, and in countries like Germany, makes every vote count, doesn't require preferential voting. It would ensure small party representation but still make majorities possible if one party wins an emphatic victory.

It works as follows:  Most MP's are elected the same way as now, one per constituency under FPTP, with every bit of the country having a constituency MP.  In addition to these constituency MP's there would also be top-up List MP's.  Parties gain a number of these MP's in proportion to their share of the list vote, taking into account those MP's already elected in the constituencies.  The system works like our current FPTP system, but the top-up list MP's dampen the extremity of the results guaranteeing some proportionality and ensuring that if you get enough votes you will get seats.

An AMS election is simple.  Each voter gets a ballot paper with two sections.  One where they vote with a cross for whatever candidate they want to be their local constituency MP, exactly as now, the other where they vote for the party they support, which goes towards deciding the list seats

Basically it would be the same system currently used for Scottish and Welsh devolved elections.

This system has a number of immediately apparent advantages.

Firstly, to go back to the point I mentioned above, it is familiar.  It's already used in Scottish and Welsh elections, and it's two parts are also already used separately for current Westminster and Euro elections.  It is a system used by Germany and a number of other European countries.  As a change from FPTP it would be modest and achievable.  Indeed it would be down-right familiar in considerable parts of the country.  Everyone would still have an MP elected in the normal way, albeit in slightly larger constituencies.  But they would just also have further MP's elected to represent their area.

I would recommend a split of perhaps 500 constituency MPs and 150 list MPs.  This would keep constituencies a reasonable size, while giving enough list MPs to produce reasonably proportional results. The country would be divided into about 30 multi-member regions (of about 4 MPs each) from which the list-MPs would be elected, attaching even list MPs to a reasonably sized area with particular concerns and demographics.

AMS has many advantages over FPTP and AV. Unlike with AV it would be impossible to argue that AMS was an unpopular, marginal system only used in one major country, as was argued, with some basis, against AV. It would be much harder to argue that AMS was complicated or alien as we already use it. There is even the example of an English speaking Commonwealth Nation, which has already successfully switched from FPTP to AMS:  New Zealand.  Any argument that the system was complex could be answered by saying that the Scottish, Welsh and New Zealanders have no problem with it.

Second, unlike AV, this system is always more proportional than FPTP.  There will be no incentive for a No2AV, Yes2PR type vote as there was with AV.  Almost all supporters of change should have no problem of principle supporting this change, even if they would prefer an even more proportionate option still.

Third, it would make every vote count.  Whether your candidate wins or loses at the constituency level you still have an incentive to cast a vote for the regional lists, knowing it will go towards securing representation for the party you choose.  Equivalently on the parties' side, it will give political parties an incentive to campaign even in no-hope areas, knowing that they need to maximise their vote to gain vital list seats. This is superior to FPTP and also AV.  AV made 'every vote count' by allowing people to put their 2nd, 3rd 4th choice towards influencing a result in a constituency, for a party they didn't want anyway, but at least hated slightly less than some other party. AMS gives every voter a chance to gain seats for a party they actually want to support.  This also allows people to cast an effective list vote that will reveal the true relative level of party support and still vote in their constituency election as they need to.

Fourth, this solves the problem of safe seats. Unlike the rubbish the Yes2AV campaign was putting out, the problem with Safe Seats was never that they exist.  If voters in a seat consistently vote for the same party then good for them, that is their business. The problem with safe seats is that if you're in such a seat and don't support the majority party then you may as well stay at home or vote for any other party, or even the party you hated or whatever. It has no impact on the national result.  As far as having any impact goes you are effectively disenfranchised.  AMS gets rid of that problem by allowing you to cast a regional list vote that actually goes to securing election for the party you support even if there is no point turning up to your constituency election.

Fifth. AMS is more resilient to another of the core arguments against AV.  Anti-AV campaigners made a lot of the idea that AV violated 'one person, one vote', by taking account of some people's 2nd and 3rd preferences but not others.  This issue does not exist under an AMS system where everyone has two votes, in effect, and everyone's two votes are taken into account the same way.

These are all advantages of AMS.  However, I think there is a more general advantage that trumps anything offered by pure FPTP or AV.  Electoral systems are fundamentally about representation. Turning people's opinions and votes into the suitable representation in parliament and in our government and laws.

This is the point where I have a confession to make.  I would describe myself as a pro-PR reformer but I do not actually support totally proportional representation. A totally proportional system can have distortions just as great as our pure FPTP system.  A pure PR system provides fair representation in numbers in parliament, but it risks giving disproportionate power to tiny minorities who hold the balance of power, which can be as distorting as disproportionate numbers of representatives. I want a system that rewards party co-operation and cohesion, not one that leaves government permanently hostage to un-representative minorities. I want a semi-proportional, slightly majoritarian, consistent system.

Why else don't I want pure PR?  Well, another reason is, and there's no polite way to phrase this, that marginal ideas should be marginalised. Any political cause, no matter how ridiculous, will find some people to vote for it, and no matter how excellent, find some people to oppose it. In a democracy more popular ideas should be privileged over less popular ones in terms of representation, with popularity acting as the only democratically legitimate proxy for the quality of those ideas. Majoritarianism does this. It also provides an incentive for groups to work and stick together, to attempt to appeal to as large a swathe of society as possible, and stretch over a broad range of ideological ground.  It discourages and punishes splits, extremism and focusing on appealing to narrow sectional interest.  This is as it should be.  One idea held by 40% of the population should have more representation than ten ideas each held by 4% of the population.

But there must be some limit to this. A decent number of votes should lead to some representation, even if it is weighted down compared to more popular parties.  Exact numerical proportionality is not in of itself the most important thing because representation is not a linear concept.  It is far more important that you have some representation and only roughly in terms of scale how much that is.

Perhaps unusually for a conservative I am worried neither by hung parliaments nor by coalitions.  Under any sane system they are an inevitable and natural feature, which can work in a situation populated by realistic adults, both as voters and politicians. The previous Coalition government and the previous SNP majority in Scotland decisively answer the case against coalitions and minority governments while also conveniently demonstrating that FPTP does not guard against coalitions, nor AMS make single-party government impossible.

Absolute majoritarianism for the sake of majoritarianism is just unsustainable. In terms of legitimacy the argument for it is non-existent. Just how small a percentage of the vote are majoritarians prepared to have a single party government elected on?  Is 35% not too low already?  Would they really rather see a majority government elected with 33% or 30% or 25% of the vote than see a coalition or minority government?

My fundamental problem with FPTP is not that it isn't strictly proportional, but rather that it is arbitrary.  Its majoritarianism occurs on no consistent basis.It neither weights down less popular parties nor rewards more popular parties consistently. A consistent majoritarianism would always weight down parties compared to more popular ones and weight up parties compared to less, however popular or not they were.  This is fair to all parties because they all have the same strong incentive to secure more votes.  FPTP doesn't work like that though. It is totally inconsistent. It is a system where the Lib Dems may get 17% of the vote at two elections and receive 9 seats at one election and 48 at another. A party's vote may go down and its seats up, and then next election its vote go up and its seats down. A party may get 31% of the vote and 166 seats, another 27% of the vote and 209 seats, and another 25% of the vote and 23 seats. A party may get 170,000 votes and receive 8 seats and another at the same election get over a million and receive none. And I could go on and on.

The traditional rationale for this is that  general elections are not one national election, rather they are 650 or whatever individual constituency elections.  And our system is a relic of when this was in fact the case.  Now it is clearly not though.  A general election is largely a mechanism for determining the national composition of parliament.  This, in turn, is largely denominated in terms of party lines.  Our current system only extremely roughly reflects this reality though.  And in the fact it does as well as it does is largely coincidence.  At times it has produced more proportional outcomes and at times worse ones.

This leads to another fact about representation.  The problem with FPTP and also AV is that they are only capable of adequately conferring representation on an individual constituency basis.  And on this level arguably AV does a better job.  But this is largely irrelevant because both fail on the national stage.  I am a liberal conservative who for several years lived in safe Labour seats.  But I did not feel entirely unrepresented just because my MP was a Labour party drone for the simple reason that my views were partially represented by Conservative MP's elsewhere, even though I was not in their constituencies.  Representation is both national and local.

In Britain, perhaps to a peculiar extent, representation really is also local. We value the independence of our MP's and we cling with pride to the notion that MP's may owe their candidacy to a party, but their election is solely in the hands of the particular voters of that constituency.  We rightly cherish the closeness of that connection, as well as the magnanimous notion that an MP must represent all his constituents rather than merely those who vote for him. The manner in which MP's are only allowed to be referred to in parliament as 'the honourable member for x' is a mark of this.  Their name is unimportant, all that is important is that they have been chosen to represent a particular community. This sense is so deeply ingrained in our political psyche that it would be wrong to derail it.  We also correctly take this sense of connection to be stronger the fewer people a representative is responsible for and with closeness of geography and culture.

On these clear principles the top-up, multi-member regions would in fact bring representation far closer to most people, by giving relatively local representation to the 60% of voters largely shut-out in any one region because their candidate didn't win a constituency.  A mostly unseen problem with the current system is that most of the proportionality it does get comes through overwhelmingly disproportionate results in different regions. Most UK regions are, within themselves, massively dominated by a single party on a minority of the vote.  It is only the vast differences between regions that produce even vaguely proportional results nationwide.  AMS addresses representation at this level.  It's top up seats will elected Conservatives in Scotland, Labour in the South and Lib Dems and UKIP almost everywhere, meaning Conservatives in Scotland will no longer have to look to MP's far to the South, nor Labour voters in the South far to the North, nor the millions of Lib Dem voters to a few distant and scattered islands of representation around the country that few of them actually had a chance to influence, etc.

AMS contains both the key intuitions behind proportional representation and majoritarianism.  It ensures representation that is both tied to individual voters as closely as possible, and tied to the wider national opinion.  In other words a semi-proportional system.  Only STV or AMS can deliver this, and AMS is both closer to the traditional British model and less discredited than STV (for the foreseeable future).

AMS would improve representation at every level, enfranchise voters across the country who are excluded by FPTP or would be by AV, and update our electoral system for a more pluralist and connected age.  It is a modest and simple addition and improvement on FPTP and remains true to its principles that, despite their shortcomings, are built into our understanding of politics and democracy.  In many ways it is a thoroughly conservative proposal for reform.  And although that may not commend it to some people, I believe that places it in a long, successful and unequalled history of steady, peaceful, evolutionary improvement that has helped make Britain one of the most long-lasting, peaceful, democratic and best governed countries in the world.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The Official 'Eric the Cell' Week of Hate

People often come up to me and say, "Stephen, you're a massive jerk".  (Well at least I'm a massive one).  "But you're also such a busy guy.  You hold down a job, you have various fascinating hobbies and such interesting and witty friends." (This is all definitely true)  "How do you find time out of your busy schedule to be consistently such an ass to so many different people?"

Well, I say to them.  It's simple really, and you can do it too.  Because with bigotry, as with everything in life, the key is planning. So Let me tell you how. With my patented 'Week of Hate' you'll never run out of time to hate some pain-in-the-ass minority again. With its simple day by day plan you'll always know who to insult, blame for the fact your life sucks, make crude, unfunny jokes about, unfairly turn down for a job, and generally act like a complete douchebag towards.

The idea is each day you focus your dickery on the one pre-specified group given for that day.  This allows more efficient focus, giving you time to be creative, while ensuring each minority gets their own slot.  That way no-one is left out. And because it repeats every week you have plenty of chances to hone your efforts. This will free up time, allowing you to get more done with your day while being sure you'll fit in all the discrimination and bigotry you need to boost your fragile self-esteem.  It even comes with catchy names to help you remember.    

Psychologists have proven with SCIENCE the important positive effect of clear planning and a regular schedule and now you can apply these powerful insights to exercising your mindless prejudice. It's so simple that even YOU will be able to understand it.

So here it is, the Official Eric the Cell  'Week of Hate'. The first word in Organised Bigotry:

Anti-Papist Tuesdays

Misogyny Wednesdays

Anti-Presbytarian Thursdays

Homophobic Fridays

Anti-Semitic Saturdays

Sunday is the Lord's day, and so we rest.

And on Mondays we oppose Racism.  Because racism is just wrong.

With my plan you'll be able to cram even more unpleasantness into your week and still leave more time for other things.  That means more time to play sports, watch some TV, go fishing, erect burning crosses, or whatever other ignorant shit it is you like to do with your spare time.

The key is to not take the headings as restrictive.  Take them as an opportunity to use your imagination.  For example you can stretch misogyny wednesdays out to involve not just being unpleasant to women but also people who appreciate romantic comedies, people with long hair, or just anyone who has an unusually impressive pair of man boobs. With a little bit of imagination you can achieve anything. Here's just one way to expand out the Headings to ensure you're never short of largely powerless people to victimise and belittle:

Anti -Papist Tuesdays - More than a Billion Catholics and breeding fast, or just anyone called Mary. Definitely a growth area.  Plenty of people to hate here.

Misogyny Wednesdays -  3.5 billion women.  And some of them aren't even in a Kitchen making you a sandwich.  But also not just for women.  Also people who can bake, knit, struggle to read a map, or anyone who owns a man bag.

Anti-Presbytarian Thusdays - As far as I know the defining feature of being a Presbytarian is not having Bishops.  So that includes Presbytarians, Quakers, Scots, Atheists, Muslims and most of the animal Kingdom.  Go on, use your imagination.

Homophobic Friday - We don't discriminate here, we hate everyone equally, so we make sure to include an equal space for anyone who self-defines under the Pride Umbrella. LGBT, LGBTUA, LGBTUAA++, or my personal favourite FABGLITTER (Fetish, Allies, Bisexual,Gay, Lesbian, Intergender, Transgender, Engendering Revolution).  Now that's an Acronym.  Also of course anyone who studies queer theory, queer theology, or has ever watched 'Queer as Folk'.

Anti-Semitic Saturdays - Did you know Arabs are a Semitic people too? And also Assyrians, Maganites and Maltesers (from Malta).  Think of the opportunities!

Sunday is the Lord's day and so we rest.

And on Mondays we fight Racism - Remember Kids! Hope not Hate!

Feel free to work out your own ways to pad out the week. Because remember, like all bigots, we don't really care about consistency. So there you go.  I hope you have many years of happy, efficient dick-ery and generally being as obnoxious  as possible with the Official 'Week of Hate'.  But don't take my word for it. Listen to this real life feedback I personally received from some foreigner who happened to be over here stealing our jobs or something.

"When I first came here I expected it to be full of self-righteous assholes.  But you [Stephen] are even worse!"
Barbara Hubinska, 2011.  
(Please note, when reading this quote, to put on a thick "Central European" accent or it doesn't really work.  Practice by saying 'wodka', 'wodka', wodka', over and over again until you get it. )


Thanks for reading,
Stephen Wigmore.

 

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Jeremy Corbyn story nobody wanted to publish - because it's boring and irrelevant

because it's staggeringly boring and irrelevant.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/the-jeremy-corbyn-story-that-nobody-wanted-to-publish-a6848651.html 

This is probably the most pompous article I have ever read.

It is really quite hard to express just how confused and detached from reality it is. I would almost swear it is a satire. You really have to read it for yourself. Just some highlights are below.

"Yesterday, I wrote a blog about the Jeremy Corbyn tour – known as #JC4PM – which the media had failed to cover." The title is a hashtag, but then this is charity aid tour by liberal left, media, cool people. Of course the title is a fucking hashtag

 "Journalist after journalist told me that the story was ‘not newsworthy’." An entertainment tour about Jeremy Corbyn. What could be more important? In the last few days there's only been the Iowa Caucus, the EU renegotiation, the death of Terry Wogan, various wars and the global economy to write about. Who the hell didn't prioritise #JC4PM?

 "'Not newsworthy' is obviously not a scientific term. It's purely subjective. And it's also plain wrong" Checking for irony, checking for irony, not finding any irony, losing the will to live.

 "The #JC4PM tour was drawn up in the same spirit as the rallies that were organised by local activists during Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign. It was spontaneous." You mean the rallies that were nationally organised and co-ordinated as part of his Labour Leadership campaign

" There is a fantastic range of talented people who will perform or speak for Jeremy, including Charlotte Church, Michael Rosen, Brian Eno, Ken Loach, Billy Bragg, Mark Steel, Jeremy Hardy, Francesca Martinez, Mark Serwotka, Shappi Khorsandi, Arthur Smith, Patrick Monahan, Janey Godley" Charlotte Church (only in the news this decade for being gobby about austerity), Michael Rosen (who), Brian Eno (Ono and Bono's brother possibly), Ken Loach (who founded his own hard-left political party for goodness sake), Billy Bragg (left-wing campaigner for longer than I've been alive), Mark Steel (last seen being banned from voting for Labour leader for supporting the Greens), I'm seeing a pattern, Jeremy Hardy, Francesca . . . . . . Godley (No I don't know who these people are either.)

 "I can tell you that many of these names would do nothing for Labour before Jeremy Corbyn was leader." Oh, no. "However, now more celebrities are backing Jeremy Corbyn because he represents hope." Nobody cares, and yet you so obviously think they do or will or should.

"Why aren't we being told that Jeremy Corbyn has support from across entertainment and culture and that these talented people are prepared to put their reputation on the line for the Labour leader?" Hmmm, yes, I wonder why?
"The answer to these questions seems to be that many in the media don't want to report a story about how leading musicians, poets, film-makers and comedians support Jeremy Corbyn."
Genius. The media isn't reporting that Corbyn has support from third rate left-wing entertainers because they don't want to report that Corbyn has support from third rate left-wing entertainers. Unbelievably insightful, powerful analysis. Just to repeat from earlier.
"'Not newsworthy' is obviously not a scientific term. It's purely subjective. And it's also plain wrong" Razor-sharp analysis, absolutely razor-sharp.

 "They want Jeremy Corbyn to look like a loner who has little support, or only the support of people that the media have already demonized – those mysterious “loony lefties” who aren’t talented and successful celebrities." You're right, as long as I thought Corbyn was only supported by "loony lefties" I didn't agree with him. But now he's supported by "talented and successful celebrities" I'll abandon my long-held convictions about politics, national security and the economy. After all, I always vote for whoever Arthur Smith tells me to because I have no mind of my own.

"The response has taken me by surprise. I have had 7,000 hits " Cool story bro! And I've had 40,000 hits on this very blog for an article about how many Elves there are in Lord of the Rings. Maybe the Independent will give me a regular column.

 Instead of writing all that I could really have just looked at the sub-title "the dominant media narrative says that affluent, successful celebrities wouldn't support Corbyn". The patronising, pompous, delusion just seeps from every word. No, the media narrative has never mentioned what C list celebs think about Corbyn because nobody gives a toss what they think about politics and they never, ever, ever will.

You'd hope Labour would learn after losing the election was followed by the first disastrous four months of Corbyn's 'leadership'. If they have any sense at all they will run a mile from this man. Here we have the same delusion that said people voted Tory and UKIP because Labour wasn't left-wing enough, concentrated into weapons-grade stupid and converted into prose. I haven't seen this much political delusion in one place since Ed Miliband thought gaining Russel Brand's support was crucial to winning the Election. It really is mind boggling.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Red Poppy Wearing - The last and only article you'll ever need



Dear Newspapers and Media of Britain.

Out of the goodness of my heart I have decided to write the only article you will ever need again about wearing poppies leading up to Remembrance Sunday.


No, you don't have to wear one.

No, don't harass or insult people for not wearing one.

No, wearing a red poppy does not glorify war.

No, red poppies do not glorify the War on Terror, or the invasion of Iraq specifically either.

Yes, you can wear a white poppy instead (or as well), just don't imply you're therefore better than everyone else.


You can wear a poppy any time from the beginning of the appeal on the 23rd October until after Armistice Day on 11th November. England, Wales and NI have the same red poppy and Scotland has a slightly differently appearing poppy, both are fine. And, you can wear it on the left side, right side, either way up or however, in the words of the Royal British Legion, as long as you "wear it with pride".

There we go. Complete and Done. Now go and get a poppy, it's an excellent cause.

And, Media of Britain, if at any point you're unsure, just re-read the tweet below.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Lib Dem Battlegrounds in 2016

The 2016 elections are particularly important as first major post-Coalition test for the Lib Dems. Many Lib Dems will hope that leaving the Coalition will allow a relatively immediate recovery in Lib Dem fortunes, especially if Tim Farron and the party manage to make some noise over the next 6 months in opposition to government policies. If recovery does not begin in 2016 it means that losing the Coalition will not be enough and Lib Dem recovery will be much more difficult, if possible at all.

There are four separate contests next May: Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, English Locals and the London elections, all last fought in either 2011 and 2012.  It has been said many times but it needs remembering that the Lib Dems took huge losses during the Coalition.  They lost 2000 councillors (about half their total), 11 out of 16 MSPs in Scotland and 1 out of 6 Welsh AMs as well as many MPs and MEPs. All these contests in 2016 pose their own unique challenges.  Basically, the political scene has got a lot more crowded in the last decade. In each of these arenas the Lib Dems face a more complicated problem than just hoping their support drifts back from Labour or the Conservatives.


England

There is the least to say about the London elections.  The Lib Dems are not going to win the Mayoral election short of a major miracle, nor are they likely to win any Assembly constituencies. They haven't won a single one since the Assembly was founded and in 2012 they didn't even come 2nd anywhere. Their best result is likely to be to use the Mayoral and constituency campaigns to motivate and maximise Lib Dem list votes across London to maintain the party's two list AMs or even capture a further one. 

The English locals are possibly the most significant of the 4 contests, given the sheer number of people involved: thousands of councillors. Interestingly, the long-term slide of local Lib Dems does not start in 2011 with the Coalition. Lib Dem losses stretch unbroken back to 2008, which itself was a small rise that failed to replace the losses of 2007. It was as far back as 2006 that the Lib Dems saw their last real sustained peak in councillor numbers. This period from 2002-2006 was also the period of peak Lib Dem MP numbers and by-election results. This reflects a time when both Conservative and Labour parties were weak and the Lib Dems forged a USP for themselves by opposing the Iraq War and Tuition fees. With the Conservative revival that started with David Cameron's election in late 2005 the Lib Dems already began to struggle, as they did in the Commons in the 2010 election well before the meltdown this May.

This poses an opportunity for Lib Dem councillors now. Starting from a low base they are well placed to benefit from an electorate sick of current councils who have been in post for years, and seeking to 'cast the rascals out'. Some evidence for optimism comes as well in the form of council by-elections since May. 34 council by-elections since the general where the Lib Dems put up a candidate before have seen an average increase in vote share of 5%, and over all by-elections since May the Lib Dems have made a net gain of 11 seats. The question is what can be the Lib Dem’s unique selling point for next May? Local pavement (literally) issues? Credible opposition to the 
Tories (unlike Labour’s hard-leftism)? Or something else? 

The big factor that complicates this is the recent rise of UKIP particularly, and also the Greens. UKIP now have over 500 councillors from almost none in 2010, and the Greens have posted much smaller gains. In some places like Solihull multiple Lib Dem councillors have defected to the Greens losing a block of experienced councillors and campaigners. Local elections work on a 4 year cycle e.g. the 2016 elections follow on from 2012. UKIP's success in local elections began in 2013 with a big increase in their support that year, so it's likely it will continue in 2016 (the 4th year of the cycle), risking squeezing out the Lib Dems in more areas. No longer can the Lib Dems rely on being the only opposition to the Tories in rural areas and the only opposition to Labour in the cities. 

The state of the Tory/Labour battle in England is more uncertain. Nobody knows whether something will come along to blow the government off course by next May, nor do we know what effect Jeremy Corbyn's election will have by next year for good or ill. But, the Lib Dems are still easily Britain's 3rd largest party in local government. The party has about three times as many councillors as the Greens and UKIP combined, with a higher profile, more manpower, and seemingly at the moment a fairer wind behind them. The English councils seem the Lib Dems' best chance to see some genuine gains next May, which would be a big morale boost across England, and give real substance to hope of further gains in coming years. 

Scotland

Scotland has been a heartland for the Liberal Democrats dating back to when they were the Whigs before the 1850's. In recent years party has actually been less popular in Scotland than England (19% vs 24% in 2010) but has been much more effective at turning that into seats in both Westminster and Holyrood. Sadly that is no more. Lib Dem MPs and MSPs combined have gone from 27 in 2010 to 6 now. Any recovery will be an uphill battle primarily against the SNP. The sheer scale of SNP wave is incredible, easily topping 50% in polls for 2016 so far and even 60% in some. Certainly at this rate the SNP vote share will be up from 2011. The SNP wave may be topped up even further by people voting SNP in constituencies but voting Green on the Lists, thus effectively manipulating the system into maximising pro-Independence representation even more, making progress harder still.

Even a relatively respectable increase in the number of Lib Dem votes may not be enough to maintain crucial vote share. The Scottish Conservatives in May 2015 actually increased their vote by 22,000 but still suffered a small fall in percentage share. Turnout in the 2011 Holyrood elections was 50%; given what happened at the referendum and the general election it seems pretty likely turnout will rise sharply in 2016, increasing the number of votes needed to even stand still. Vote share in Lib Dem held seats in Scotland actually held up well in May 2015, with some of the lowest falls across Britain, though it did no good in retaining constituencies on the mainland. On one hand this gives a good platform to attempt to maintain votes into 2016, on the other hand it risks being a mirage, as there is no incentive for Unionist tactical votes on the crucial list vote this time round.

It is hard to see what Scottish Lib Dems can do. They're currently polling around their 2011 support and they have the same problem as Labour: voters convinced by Independence have little reason to stay Lib Dem when that issue is so important to them. This is unless they can carve out a distinctive niche on particularly LD issues (like civil rights and the failure of Police Scotland) and make that of comparable importance to some voters. The LDs are now very much Scotland's 4th party in size, whether on councils, Westminster (votes) or in Holyrood, which raises the problem again of gaining a voice in a crowded media environment. They need to carve out a distinct voice that is opposed to both the SNP and Labour.

In 2011 the party elected 2 constituency MSPs in Shetlands and Orkney, and a single list MSP in each of 'Mid Scotland and Fife', 'North East Scotland' and 'South Scotland'. The good news is total annihilation isn't going to happen. Even if Shetlands and/or Orkney constituencies fall continued Lib Dem strength in the Highlands and Islands (the only region the Lib Dems polled a respectable 3rd in 2011) should see List MSPs elected there to compensate.

It is impossible to forecast what will happen to the other 3 list MSPs due to the vagaries of the AMS system. They all polled 5-7% of the vote in 2011 and if they can maintain vote share they have a good chance of hanging on but are severely threatened by the rise of the Scottish Greens competing for those bottom list seats, further increases in the SNP share above them, and even a possible modest Tory revival.

On the other hand gains are possible. If the Lib Dems can focus liberal or unionist anti-SNP votes in particular constituencies, probably most likely in the South of Scotland or Lothian (given the May 2015 results), they have a chance to pick up one or two seats. There is also a significant chance of gaining a Lothian list seat after the sad passing of Margo McDonald, who held it as an Independent.  Realistically though, given current polling, sadly the most likely scenario is a small further loss. I would say the Scottish Lib Dems are most likely to return somewhere from 3-6 MSPs.

Wales

In Wales the Lib Dems face the same problem as in Scotland but with a different face. Labour, weighed down by a Welsh government that performing poorly on the NHS and Education, will probably still top the poll but lose ground, as they did in 2015. UKIP and the Welsh Tories are on the rise though. Particularly, the last Welsh elections pre-date the UKIP surge and they gave a strong performance in Wales in 2015, driving Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems into 4th and 5th place on votes. This surge has yet to show any signs of faltering in opinion polls despite UKIP nationally being in a rut. A poll from late June put them on 14%, very close to their May result and three times what they polled in 2011. If UKIP can maintain support at these levels through to next May they will gain 8-ish seats on the Lists.

This is a huge threat to the Lib Dems due to the effective electoral threshold that operates in a 4 seat region. Welsh Assembly Lib Dems were remarkably unaffected in 2011, losing only 1 seat out of 6. This was due to hanging on to the bottom list seat in each of four Welsh regions. If the Conservatives, Labour and Plaid Cymru broadly maintain their vote share, and UKIP dramatically increase theirs, as suggested by opinion polls, then they may replace the Lib Dems in each region on the bottom seat of those lists. This is what happened to the Lib Dems in the European elections last year. Their vote share halved but they lost 90% of their seats because instead of taking the bottom seat in each region they were squeezed our of almost every region except the very largest. 

Nor is there much better news from the constituencies. Opinion polls put the Lib Dems on about their 2011 vote. Given the 2015 result there seems little chance of reclaiming the constituency in Montgomeryshire, though the closeness of the Cardiff Central result in 2011 does gives some hope there. This somewhat gloomy prognosis is supported by academic models from Cardiff University that are predicting the Lib Dems losing most of their List seats.

The same logic raises worries even about the survival of Kirsty Williams in Brecon. In 2011 after the loss of the Montgomeryshire Westminster seat the Assembly seat was also lost on a big swing to the Tories. The Brecon and Radnorshire Westminster seat was one of the surprise losses in May and the Tories will be fighting hard to take the Assembly seat as well. Kirsty Williams does still have a 10% majority though, even after seeing it halved in 2011, and a relatively high profile as Welsh Lib Dem leader. I believe the odds are good that she will survive but there is certainly a risk.
Unfortunately unless the Lib Dems can retake 4th place from UKIP the most likely result has to be small further losses. Overall in Wales, similarly to Scotland, the most likely result must be to return somewhere between 2-5 AMs.


Credit and Thanks to www.leftfootforward.org  for the Image.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Refugee Crisis and the Holocaust - How not to learn the lessons of History.


I am a big fan of learning the lessons of History. Without understanding the past our understanding of the present will always risk being superficial. 

However, amid the chaos and confusion that has been exploding across Europe due to the refugee crisis some people have not got the idea quite right.  The problem comes when people pick out entirely superficial resemblances to historic tragedies when much larger problems are raging around. 

Hundreds of thousands of migrants are struggling across the continent, and there is massive confusion among official bodies in about what they were meant to do with the tide of people.



The BBC reports in one Czech town migrants "had numbers written on their skin with felt-tip pen". The police thought the "priority in dealing with the 200 migrants at Breclav railway station [...] was identifying them and trying to keep family members together. This was a difficult task when many had no documents and did not speak English; hence the numbers in felt-tip pen on their arms."

But many news outlets were outraged because somebody felt this vaguely visually resembled something that was done during the Holocaust: the tattooing of prisoners at Auschwitz, the largest Concentration/Death camp. This is one of the most trivial historical comparisons I've ever seen. The Czech authorities were faced with a situation that was crowded, noisy, confused, dealing with large numbers of people with no ID papers and with whom they probably didn't share a language: whether Czech, English or Syrian Arabic, and so they resorted to felt tip pen. And no, they didn't "stamp" it, they wrote it. The difference is quite clear.

Of all the things that are a problem with the refugee crisis, the EU response (and even the Czech response) this is really not one of them. Even on a surface level the resemblance is not that close. Auschwitz prisoners were tattooed on the arm or chest and some of these tattoos are still visible on survivors 70 years later. The refugees had a number written on their hand in felt tip, which they could rub or wash off in a few minutes. It's hard to know where to start with the other important differences between the planned mass murder of millions of people and a temporary measure to organise a small group of migrants in a Czech train station. It feels like no-one should need to say that but apparently we do. Seemingly news outlets would rather officials cared less about what they were doing to help people, and care more about whether their actions bore a totally superficial resemblance to tiny parts of a vast historic crime.

This summer was very hot in Poland, reaching 100F (or 38C) and so the Auschwitz memorial museum set up mist sprays to cool visitors cueing for long periods in direct sunshine. Apparently though, this caused complaints that they resembled the gas chambers used to kill hundreds of thousands of people there. Actually, I say complaints, but every article I've seen on this repeats exactly the same complaint from one tourist. Again, though, that same article has then been copied and pasted into many online news outlets until it popped up on my computer.

It's hard to know where to even start. Firstly, the museum had an entirely legitimate health and safety reason for putting the mist showers up. Secondly, again, the resemblance is entirely superficial and frankly vague. I can do no better than quote the Auschwitz museum trust's own words from their Facebook page, in which they sound frankly bemused by the whole thing.

"And one more thing. It is really hard for us to comment on some suggested historical references since the mist sprinkles do not look like showers and the fake showers installed by Germans inside some of the gas chambers were not used to deliver gas into them."

That means that some of the gas chambers were disguised as shower blocks to avoid panic and resistance among the victims and to encourage them to strip before being murdered. The shower-heads in the blocks were never used though. Anyway, how anyone could confuse an old fashioned concrete building with fake shower-heads inside with an outdoor mist sprinkler is beyond me. Also, I can't help but feel the complaint is bizarre because surely you're meant to feel uncomfortable when visiting Auschwitz? You're meant to be reminded of the gas chambers? It is unclear whether the person thought the idea of people not being too hot was insulting to victims, or was too light-hearted or what.


"Officials in the German town of Schwerte have made plans to place some 20 refugees in barracks which were once part of the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp. The 'pragmatic solution' to provide shelter has sparked criticism, German media reported."

The wave of refugees entering Germany this summer has strained local resources and available accommodation. So one town has decided to use vacant buildings that were once barracks for guards of a sub-camp of Buchenwald, one of the Nazi concentration camps. This genuine attempt to help in a time of major demand and limited resources is apparently not good enough for some people.

"the decision has sparked criticism among the country's activist groups, with many calling the plan "questionable" and "insensitive."

It's not clear who it is insensitive to: not the migrants who will have somewhere decent to stay, not the victims of the camp who almost certainly couldn't care less even if they knew. And as for 'questionable', that has to be the weakest criticism known to man, to be reached for by politicians and activists when they have nothing to actually say. I would hope that almost everything is 'questionable', except perhaps the fact the sky is  blue (and even then one may ask, why).

The activists do not seem to be making any alternative suggestion of where the refugees should be housed.  And I shudder to think what they would have said when for years after 1945 many of the camps were used to house the millions of refugees and displaced persons who flooded Europe at that time, in some places for years afterwards. In times of great need you do what you can with limited resources to help people.

And finally my last Holocaust related example of people missing a major issue and clinging on to the completely superficial and irrelevant. Migrants and asylum seekers are commonly kept in camps for periods of time while they are being processed, especially when large numbers appear at once. And particularly in this current crisis large numbers have been travelling by train across Europe.




Which will be sad news for anyone who has ever taken the train to Butlins, or Centre Parcs, or a festival of any kind.

Now, it shouldn't need to be said, but to avoid confusion, I'm not saying that the European response to the refugee crisis has been perfect. But I am saying of all the things wrong with it this isn't one.  It's like people's minds are just trying to cling onto something, anything, so they latch onto the surface level visual resemblance to something terrible that once happened.

Maybe I'm over-reacting to a few daft news articles and twitter comments. But I saw all these examples within literally a couple of days, and I wasn't going looking for them. For a brief period it seemed like we were entirely losing our critical faculties. Hopefully it was just a one-off fluke of social media. But most people spend understandably little time in their day thinking about complex global problems. This kind of total trivia just chews up that valuable time and distracts people from actually considering what is really important about these crises, and makes them think these are the kind of issues that they should be concentrating on.

The whole model of 24 hour online news media is partly to blame. We have actually reached a point where there is too much 'commentary' . There are so many news sites that have to be constantly filled with a stream of 'articles' that it just encourages sites to put up any old rubbish with a title that might get a few clicks. It's staggeringly lazy. Each of these 'stories' could be found pretty much word for word identical on many, dozens, scores, perhaps hundreds even of different online news 'platforms', presumably just copied and pasted from Reuters or Associated Press or whoever actually originally wrote the piece. There's no creativity or intelligence or effort involved whatsoever, and once you become aware it's incredible how much of even respectable newspapers and media channel's content is just lazily copied and pasted in this way without any thought of the quality of the 'story'. Even when it's not just copied and pasted from somewhere else the need to constantly update with new content leads to attempts to generate stories left, right and centre where frankly none exist.

More generally, some in our society seem to think you show what a good person you are by finding things that nobody else has thought to be outraged by and getting really angry and pissed off about them.  And the more obscure the thing is you've found to get outraged about the better. That just shows you care more than the other people who haven't noticed that offence or 'insensitivity' enough to be screaming into their computer screens. Any idea that taking a pompous position of personal moral superiority is itself bad, or that people might make innocent mistakes that deserve some benefit of the doubt, or might just be doing the best they can in difficult circumstances, seems to be get lost. 

I imagine the format of many online media, whether short blogs, twitter, facebook, tumblr or whatever, adds to this: difficult to present a nuanced view that understands both sides, easy to scream outrage and bile. Neither do I think this helps get more good done. Often it just makes the world an angrier, shoutier place and distracts people from doing any good, rather than attempting to appear good. As well as quite possibly making us all more miserable and stressed, apart from that small number who seem to actively enjoy having someone to yell at.

I understand the irony of criticising people for criticising people over trivial issues instead of focussing on what's important when this itself is not exactly vastly important. And I am sorry for that, we are all trapped in the same hell. In fact, I don't want to criticise any individuals in particular because there's no point. I just want to encourage greater consideration about what really are the serious issues, common sense, and the occasional benefit of the doubt. That would make the world a less angry place while actually seeing more genuine understanding of complicated historical issues, and more good done in the long-term. 

When there is genuine, serious injustice and suffering, people need to raise a voice, even an angry voice. But we would be better able to hear that voice if it wasn't drowned out by a constant, screeching tidal wave of trivialities.

Update

There appears to have been another outbreak of this nonsense in Britain itself. This time linked to help for asylum seekers. While, as always, there are genuine questions to be asked to improve our treatment of those in need, people squawking about Nazis are not helping. This article covers my point admirably:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/12120009/Red-doors-and-wristbands-Another-day-another-comparison-to-Nazi-Germany.html