(You can choose or or both)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Not this time ... Pas le temps

Généralement j'essaie de préparer des articles à l'avance pour peupler ce blog pendant mes absences. Mais cette fois-ci, je suis en panne de photos, d'idées et de temps! Hormis les tâches normales quotidiennes, mon esprit a été passablement occupé avec des histoires de Brexit, mondialisation, et l'avenir du travail dans ce contexte. Ce qui donnerait des articles assez longs, ou rebarbatifs, ou les deux!

A dans quelques temps, donc.
Normally I preload some prerecorded ("here's one I prepared earlier") posts before going on holiday, but this time I haven't got many photos to hang posts on, and running out of time as well. My brain has been occupied (apart from with the normal stuff of life) with Brexit and thoughts about globalisation, employment, the working class etc. Which makes for posts which are either long, boring, or both. So I'll spare you that.

Going on a screen fast (I hope), so see you in a while.

Photos prise ce weekend dans la campagne fribourgoise.
These photos are from this weekend, we went to a 2x50th birthday up 'in the mountains'. Beautiful place (there are lots of them round here, I admit).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Democracy, the sequel

Désolé, touours pas de traduction :)
OK, here we go, here we go, here we go. Last stretch before the big day!

Fasten your seatbelts, this is somewhere between stream of consciousness, brain-dump and random thoughts. There is not necessarily any connection between one paragraph and the next.

Concentration of power is dangerous, even if you like or trust the current holders of it.

Watch Brexit the movie, at least, or if you're more leftwards inclined, the Lexit movie. Guess which one talks about immigration? (Disclaimer, I stumped up $25 for the Brexit movie).

Unchecked, a bureaucracy will only ever grow, and beyond a certain size, it's main aim will be to maintain its own existence.

I find it astounding, disappointing, yet also profoundly encouraging that the level of discussion has been far more civil, reasoned, informative on private blogs than in the 'mainstream' media.

Here is an example of polite, gentle, faith-inspired (and conflicted) personal thoughts: My Brexit Frustrations.

On the topic of mainstream media, it has been pointed out that newspapers don't influence their readers, they publish what they think their readers want to hear. Here is a marvellous bit of Yes Minister on this topic.

Many of the 'experts' who are for remain also advised us to join the Euro back in the day (see Lexit video for that).

Broken promises: Forty years ago, those who warned that the Common Market was going to morph into something far more invasive were called prophets of doom.

On the subject of the Euro, the Eurozone, and what I said in my last post, the technical term to describe my train analogy is apparently 'optimal currency area'.

One argument I have read for Remain which seems incredibly weak to me is "getting out to save ourselves is selfish". Staying on a sinking boat is not selfless, it's stupid.

Which way do you think the Queen would vote, and why? (If you care)

Nearly all Remain arguments are anti-leave, but not pro-EU. This is disconcerting, and disappointing, as one of the big criticisms of Leave is that "nobody knows what will happen afterwards", and this is contrasted to a presumed stability if we vote to Remain. But the EU is not static either, and I don't think anyone can predict what is going to happen in the next 10 years if we stay in. Except that things aren't looking great.

On the subject of "what happens next", here is a Daniel Hannan article about a 'gentle' leave.

And here is Tim Worstall (not everyone's cup of tea): The economic truth about Brexit is really very simple. If we follow sensible economic policies after leaving then we’ll do well. If we follow stupid economic policies then we won’t. The major difference will be that we get to decide, after leaving, which economic policies we wish to pursue. And unless we think that we’re all so damn stupid that we need the European Union to tell us which is which, making our own decisions does sound rather better, doesn’t it?

It seems weird that TTIP and ISDS (a supra-national tribunal) are considered 'bad', but that the ECHR ECJ (a supra-national court) is considered 'good'.

Farage's immigrant poster seems very much like an own-goal to me. The other half piling on behind Jo Cox's murder is pretty low too.

I find it ironic that some of the people who have doubts about whether one can trust voters to do the right thing seem to simultaneously be basing their own decisions on what they don't like about particular faces in the campaign. If that's their version of democracy, I can understand their doubts... To me, the fact that many individuals are agonising over their vote, when statistically-speaking it will "make no difference" is a confirmation that democracy is not dead, nor useless, and it confirms my hope in my fellow democrats.

Reform in our time? I have read several people plaintively hoping that somehow staying in will provoke some kind of reform. 10'000 over-paid functionaries in Brussels says no, as far as I'm concerned. Systems never change unless forced to. And saying 'yes' is not force.

I feel that the Remain camp could also be branded as 'Little Englanders': they have managed to convince themselves that the UK is too puny to survive on its own (fifth largest economy in the world), and that we really need the EU. There is a sort of acquired helplessness which is also reflected in the general population. More than ever, western countries need an entrepreneurial "get up and go" attitude. Some people are warning that the "robots are going to take our jobs". If you are a factory worker, that is not new news. But for the middle class office drone, the next few years are going to be similarly uncomfortable. The days of big companies employing halls of office workers to do the same thing are going. Maybe big employers are just a historical 'blip', and we are heading into a time where people are going to have to be creative and not only create their own jobs, but invent whole new professions? Unfortunately "the government owes me a job" is so ingrained in our collective consciousness (mine included), I fear there's going to be a lot of pain ahead.

People ignoring, downplaying, ridiculing fears about immigration (whether job loss or 'cultural invasion') are playing with fire as much as people playing up those fears. You may consider this inflammatory, but the Cologne attacks were not a right-wing hoax, Rotherham did happen, Calderdale too. Explaining them away helps nobody.

Finally, for a bit of 'balance', here is a link to a video by a professor of EU law, who is totally Remain, because 'unpicking' forty years of lawmaking will just be too complicated. Very instructive, but made me think that this is a reason why democracy is better than technocracy: experts see everything through the lens of their own area of expertise. He maintains that regulations and standards are not about protectionism, I don't buy that: though I concede that they're not solely about protectionism. Another lawyer pulling the opposite way.

Yes Minister is really good:

Watch this ... A regarder

Pour mieux comprendre la vie d'un diabètique (Rebecca n'a le capteur que quelques fois par années, vous avez vu la taille de l'aiguille?!.
To better understand the life of a diabetic. (Rebecca only has the CGM a few times per year - have you seen the length of that needle?!).

Monday, June 20, 2016

Coming home ... Retour maison

Un lutin de plus dans le jardin de mes parents.
An extra pixie in my parents' garden.

Les filles sont arrivées à un âge où voyager ensemble, même comme 'parent seul' est facile, et carrément un plaisir. Je suis reconnaissant qu'elles arrivent encore à s'occuper avec trois fois rien, sans réclamer tout le temps un écran (ok, parfois quand même!).
The girls have got to an age where travelling, even as a 'lone parent', is easy, and even pleasant. I'm glad that they have learnt how to occupy themselves with a few books and pens, and don't spend the whole journey bugging me for a screen to look at (ok, sometimes they do!).

Sunday, June 19, 2016


Voilà comment on fait pour mener un rhinocéros!
This is how you herd rhinoceroses.

Fatigués mes heureux d'une journée remplie!
Tired but happy after a very full day.

Et du fish and chips pour finir la journée en beauté!
Rounding it off nicely with fish and chips.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Il y avait aussi des dinosaures au zoo, qui bougaient et faisaient du bruit!
At the zoo there are also lots of dinosaurs. I thought it would be a bit tacky, but actually it was very interesting.

Ca, c'est une fossile de caca de dino!
Especially the dinosaur poo!

Rebecca découvre les tailles relatives des cerveaux.
Rebecca discovers her brain size.

Friday, June 17, 2016


On a pu donner à manger aux hippopotames (depuis loin, des choux).
We got to feed the hippos! A wheelbarrow-full of cabbage, throwing them from a long way away.

En plus du zoo il y a un parc avec des manèges.
There's an 'amusement' park too.

Arrivés à l'heure (mais trop tard quand même), pour le spectacle des phoques (ou otaries, je sais jamais), on est allé visiter ces oiseaux, qui viennent volontiers voir si on n'a pas un peu de nectar.
We arrived on time (but too late, don't ask!) for the sealion show, so went to visit these beautiful birds, who come and land on you to see if you've got anything to drink.

Evidemment, pour avoir les petits godets de nectar il faut payer.
The drink is nectar, which you obviously have to pay for.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Désolé, un jour je ferai peut-être la version française!

(This is long, very long, much longer than I expected. Please make sure you're sitting comfortably!)

I'm not an expert on democracy. I mean, I don't get called up by the media to expound on the subject*. But I have thought about it quite a lot. And though this post is provoked by Brexit discussions, my thinking started way back, with the invasion/liberation of Iraq, and the 'Arab Spring'.

I haven't had time to form a coherent essay on the topic, so I'll just throw out some possibly interrelated musings. (Also, when reading, prefix everything here with 'I think, maybe'...)

-- Introductory aside --
One can base religions on how one thinks people should act. When discussing politics, it's better to start from how they do act. You might think it a good idea (I do) that people should have all things in common and freely share with their neighbours, both near and far. But if you're counting on them doing it voluntarily, you may have to wait a while. Also, people might say that they prefer buying British (or insert country of choice), but you may be disappointed to discover that, by and large, when given the choice, they'll buy cheapest (otherwise import tariffs would not be necessary...).

Democracy is a culture, not a system. Maybe 'western' intentions were misrepresented in 2003: but the idea that one could just turn up in a country like Iraq and 'switch on' democracy, as if it was just a question of handing out ballot boxes, seemed crazy to me even at the time. I think democracy is more like a flower, it needs time to grow. That is, society needs to 'grow into' a 'democratic mindset'.

Because, to me the aim of democracy is not primarily deciding how to run your country, it's avoiding civil war. In that sense, the answer is less important than the process. Everything hinges on how the 'minority' will react to defeat. They need to be 'good losers'!

Maybe not a coincidence that the UK is the oldest democracy? :)
And unsurprising that some Arab nations might not be 'ripe' for democracy just yet...

But democracy also depends on how the majority treat society's losers. Richer Londoners may (grudgingly) concede to effectively footing the bill for the unemployed 'up North'. I'm less certain that Germany's 'hard workers' are so keen on part of their retirement funds going towards bailing out Greek pensioners.

Ultimately, this boils down to there being some kind of shared 'us' which can survive election defeats, and which is strong enough to stop redistribution seeming unfair (even though it may still be unpleasant). Thinking about it, this notion of 'us' is probably the thing that makes democracy 'non-switchable'. You may say that people should feel a common bond with all humanity, but that takes us back to my introduction.

For better or for worse, the closest (or largest) thing we currently have which looks like an 'us' is the much-reviled 'nation-state'. You may deplore this, and in future maybe things will change, but I doubt that things will go well if you try to impose that change from above.

And this is why 'mass' immigration is a problem. People saying it's about racism are being disingenuous, or they are genuinely out of touch. In the UK, in any case**. Obviously, on the street the biggest gripe you will here is about 'foreigners taking our jobs': I'm not going to go there for several reasons***, (but I think this guy's (7m10s) take on the situation is hilarious).

So, in my vision, it's not about what colour the foreigners are, it's about how fast they're coming in, and how fast they're integrating (de-foreignating). And that's not racist, it's nationalist (or culturist, or societist, whatever). Sorry if you think that's a rude word. People have big arguments about 'multicultural' society. To me the only multicultural society that can work is the one where individual people have multiple cultures (Pakistani/English, Swiss/English, Welsh/British), not the one where you have multiple cultural groups who adamantly stick to their separate identities.

You can argue to the cows come home about what 'integration' actually means, but at the end of the day it comes back to this shared notion of 'us'. If you don't want to learn the lingo, I don't think you should be voting (and this isn't racist either: I don't have much truck with English people here in Swissland who can't be bothered to learn French, and instead just talk louder English).

One reads that the EU project was designed to prevent wars, and that it has succeeded. I'm not sure how you could go about proving that correlation is causation there, but I'm (obviously) sceptical of such bold claims****. Sometimes proponents of this theory will concede that there was the war in Yugoslavia, but that was in Europe, not in the EU. Personally, I wouldn't draw attention to Yugoslavia. It was a 'common market', with a 'single currency', and that didn't stop them killing each other! In my simplistic world-view, their 'us' died (if it was ever really there in the first place).

Same thing in former African colonies which were cobbled together with rulers and pencils, but no regard for ethnic affinities, and were thus hobbled for the future.

So the 'Us' is my first, long-winded point, I guess.

The second is 'democratic weight': how much politician is my vote worth? In this regard, I'm increasingly influenced by my experience here in Swissland. In my medium-sized town of 11'000 people, my vote is worth 11'000th of a politician (well, it's more complicated than that, I have several votes for several seats, but you get the gist). That's pretty good, I feel like my vote makes a difference. If I try and get a meeting with the mayor, there's a chance I'll get a hearing (yes, I've tried), and the politicians are close enough that the population has an eye on them and if there are any shenanigans, there's a chance of it coming out. (As the saying goes: keep your friends close, and your enemies closer!). The politicians are also less likely to want to sell their actual neighbours down the river.

There is a question of 'democratic distance' too: how close to the 'top' do my votes go? In Swissland, at the national level, your vote is once-removed from the top governing body (two if you count the president of the Federal Council, but that changes annually and is largely symbolic). In the UK it's a definite two (and doesn't count the House of Lords). For the EU, it's a clear three (if I've correctly understood!).

So yes, I'm a localist, I guess. Decentralisation all the way. What can be done and decided locally should be, and what needs to be done collectively should be decided collectively. That's why I'm against moves to combine towns into larger agglomerations here in Swissland: representativity (hmm, spell checker doesn't think that's a word) is more important than efficiency or rationalisation.

There is an undercurrent of deep cynicism and distrust in politics on both sides of the Brexit debate, and elsewhere across the world. Some of it is surely merited, but I would tend to be a bit less harsh. I think that most people genuinely get into politics because they want to make things better, but they end up having to project more confidence and competence than they actually have. This is another reason to be a localist: I'm sceptical that anyone really knows how to run a country (let alone a continent!)

Conversely, I find the distrust of 'the people' (and by extension, democracy) even more worrying. And it's clearly something that drives 'the people' crazy: suggesting that they will (or have) voted 'wrong'. I sometimes wonder what to think about a (hypothetical) politician who does what the people want as opposed to what he thinks is right: filthy populist, or ultimate democrat?

Does that mean that the people will always vote 'right'? Well, probably not, by my definition of right, but the majority will accept the result, because they voted for it, and if there is enough 'us' the minority will accept that, well... better luck next time.

Can the people be trusted? Again, Swissland influences me here: with more direct democracy than anywhere else, it is interesting to observe that people don't generally vote on the basis of immediate self-interest (I mean, they've voted against extra holidays, and just this month against a universal basic income). Of course places with less frequent votes are more exposed to the risk of protest votes: obviously to my mind that's not a symptom of too much democracy, but not enough!

Some of this is only tangentially related to the in/out remain/leave debate, but it was useful to me to try and get some of these things out of my head...

So what about Brexit? Based on the above, you can probably guess which way I am inclined, but you hopefully also understand why. But I'll throw in a few further thoughts:

- Some of the cases for remain seem to be inspired by a very anti-British, pessimistic, post-colonial-guilt complex: ironically, though leavers get accused of being 'Little-Englanders', it would seem that it is remainers who haven't actually travelled enough. Because most of the foreigners I've met genuinely admire the English (or British, they have trouble working out the difference, sorry). They can't get over the creativity, love the sense of humour (though they don't always get it), and are even a bit jealous sometimes. Yes, they belly-ache about us being different and difficult, and 'insular', but generally, they have a higher opinion of us than we do of ourselves.

- Look at what the EU is doing to Greece. You can moralise about them being a lazy bunch of wasters, but the Greek people are being sacrificed in order to 'save' the Euro. And the economic situation is blocked in a political stalemate where Greece can't possibly pay off their debts, but the rest of the Eurozone can't do the obvious thing and forgive the debts, because that would mean admitting to their populations that yeah, they splurged all their money, and it's never coming back.

- Since before the introduction of the Euro, I already had a rather sceptical, engineer's view of things. It seemed to me that having a single currency across disparate economies was a bit like welding the carriages of a train together. Wonderful until you get to the first bend! Right now the Eurozone is  also blocked in political stalemate: to make it 'work' would mean 'ever further integration' to harmonise their economies, but that would mean Germans continuing to bail out most of the South of Europe. T'ain't gonna happen. And the other way is backwards, and no EU-politician wants that to happen on their watch. The future is not looking good.

- I haven't seen any UK explanations of why people are queuing in Calais to get out of the EU. When I asked some French friends, they said it was obvious: no ID cards. In France, if you get stopped and can't show valid ID, you're in trouble. In the UK once you're in, you're in. That's not an argument against taking in refugees, but it's just to point out that the continental and UK 'systems' are very different. Which makes things like Schengen much more complicated. I've read stuff about differences with UK common law too, but know next to nothing about that, I'm afraid.
- Turkey. Sure, they're not even 'close' to getting in (according to pro-EU sources), but I honestly don't see why they're on the waiting list. That's stretching the 'us' a bit too far.

- I've read complaints that leavers, apart from leaving, don't have a coherent plan for 'what happens afterwards'. I think that's a valid concern, though I'd phrase it differently: I think they don't have a single plan, but I think there are probably several coherent ones. But the point is that we get to decide which one we want. (Referendum aside, the remainers don't have much in common either).

- Many of the remainer texts I've read seem to take a particularly dim view of our own politicians, while being prepared to suspend judgement about EU politicians (and bureaucrats). The 'lefty' types seem to count on the EU to protect us from own right wing government, or our own stupid plebs. This seems risky to me: if the likes of Orban, Le Pen, Wilders and AFD get in, will they suddenly start 'defending' us from a future Labour government? And as for 'stupid plebs': you already know what I think about that!

- On EU standards. This is an area to which I've had some 'professional exposure', and have had conversations with people who've been on standards committees, who were incredibly scathing about the process, the costs, and the underlying aim - which is much more about protecting the big European companies from smaller (or foreign - i.e. Chinese) competition - than it is about protecting consumer interests. And each country will happily stitch things up in their own favour.

Of course, if protectionism is your kind of thing, you might like that...

Having said all that (are you still there?)... remainers rejoice! I've been away too long to be allowed to vote. And honestly I think it's quite right that it's the people living in the country who should decide on their future.

That's democracy, after all :)

* Pretty close to a contemporary definition of expert, I think)
** OK, maybe it's me that's out of touch, but 30 years ago we had a 'n___r' (that term was already out-of-bounds) and several 'p_k_s' (wasn't yet out of bounds) in our class, and of course they got 'abuse' for being 'different', but it was the typical school fare which was equally meted out to all difference (gingers, swots, etc.). In fact I think that meant we were already coming out of the other side of racism - we'd gone past the phase of "don't touch them, it's racist". Thirty years ago.
*** Starting with the fact that I am a 'foreigner' taking "someone's job" :)
**** Actually, I think there's a pretty good case to be made for 'peace through prosperity', though whether the EU was the source of prosperity or just a beneficiary is a moot point...