Brexit Warfare on LBC provides real insight into what’s happening.

I listened to LBC’s James O’Brien this morning. His morning radio programme is a non-stop Brexit related phone in. He’s anything but neutral; he sets up a question and takes calls from anyone brave enough to call in. And he takes no prisoners! This morning’s question was (and I paraphrase), “Did leave voters understand that back in 2016 the UK would be worse off after Brexit, and in the light of current events and information, why have they not changed their minds?”

In the space of 20 minutes this morning he dispatched several leavers after they made complete fools of themselves. Now I can only assume this is normal and I wonder how the programme continues to get any leaver callers. But O’Brien is pretty brutal, insisting on sticking to the point and calling a spade a spade. And the leaving callers keep coming! His basic thesis is that the Leave campaign promised sunlit uplands. A land of milk and honey where the NHS would be funded by the money saved on EU payments; where UK laws could be made unhindered by the nasty EU. But of course callers were completely unable to name any laws that needed changing, and refused to believe that the UK was heading for a crashout at the end of October.

And of course, he’s pretty funny. He talks about politicians and parties and suggests choosing between the primary participants is like choosing between cholera and typhoid!

However, my primary worry about James’ argument is that he’s really providing entertainment for Remain sympathizers, and he’s missing the point about leavers. My observation is that many Leavers voted as a protest against the status quo AND given great dissatisfaction with current state of affairs, saw CHAOS as better than austerity. So I don’t believe they saw Brexit would be better, just DIFFERENT.

In my college days I studied the Hawthorne effect experiments carried out in the 1920s in the Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory outside Chicago. The Hawthorne Works had commissioned a study to see if its workers would become more productive in higher or lower levels of lighting. The workers’ productivity seemed to improve when changes in lighting were made. But the extraordinary finding was that productivity improved if the lighting was improved or reduced. And when even the lighting was reduced to a very low level, productivity still increased until conditions actually prevented work. The conclusions were that productivity gains occurred as a result of the motivational effect on the workers of the interest being shown in them.

And my thinking is that back in 2016 ordinary people in the UK were very annoyed with the state of the nation, with austerity, social problems, changes in technology causing loss of employment, or worse downgrading of workers rights and conditions in the gig economy, or graduates only being able to find employment in low skilled positions. And so on. And ordinary people were probably deeply unhappy with the obvious change to a multicultural society.

So the Leave Campaign promised CHANGE. Lots of it. And that was instantly attractive. James O’Brien keeps banging on about how leave voters must see that the promises made will not be kept. But he’s not smelling the coffee! Leave voters want change, and any change. In fact they see chaos as being highly desirable, even though it may hurt them personally. Now in Johnson they have a Prime Minister who is promising change will occur. And Johnson is himself chaotic. He can’t be trusted, but that’s clearly irrelevant. He can be trusted to make change even if it doesn’t work out. The ordinary workers now see that some sort of change will happen. And THAT’s what they voted for.

You might think that if this analysis is accurate, Johnson will be a very short-term prime minister. But I wouldn’t bet against someone who clearly understands what binds his audience to him, when the opposition are in such array. For me, O’Brien’s programme illustrated this conundrum perfectly and on that basis,  I believe No Deal is unstoppable.

Posted in Brexit, Brexit Britain, Democracy, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

I Don’t Feel Retired

For years I would say, “I’ll never retire!” I loved my work – the mix of research and consulting and the huge buzz I would get working with IT architects all over the world. But in 2016/7 it became clear that most of my work was in the USA and the travel wasn’t going to be sustainable. In the end I had the decision made for me; our biggest client decided we were too small and called in “the usual consulting suspect”. It would end up costing them an arm and a leg, but it was all about perceived risk. So, with my 70th birthday looming I decided to call it a day.

I was lucky. I had the whole of 2017 to wind down and figure out the mechanics, and critically ask myself the question of, “what next?” Followers of my blog will know what happened – almost immediately we downsized, selling the big property and travelling for six months across the UK, Europe and Ireland. The answer to the question of what next has taken longer.

I have observed numerous colleagues and friends who find this process hard. Transitioning from a full-on career to retirement is traumatic. How do you fill the day? How do you evolve relationships? How do you live without or replace the adrenalin of work?

I observed friends going to college. Taking the course or degree they had wanted to but never managed 50 years previously. Others throwing themselves into community, committees or pastime related organizational management. Others into charity work. Others consumed by their family looking after grandchildren. There’s no doubt that some people never actually complete a transition to their own satisfaction. Always looking backwards with regret. I have wondered if some people become depressed. And I have speculated that there might be some relationship between depression and people that succumb to untimely illness?

But we can all see the successful retirees. They are full of energy and happy! In fact, I don’t even like to refer to myself as retired, because it has all the hallmarks of someone that does less; takes it easy and so forth. But there’s no good synonym, and clearly retirement is a formal status that is required for various purposes including pensions, benefits, transport etc.

While I worked to the grand age of 70, I count myself lucky that I had several interests down the years. First, I hill walked, a lot. Second, I painted, not so much, but wherever I travelled on business or pleasure I did take a sketch book with me; it must be said with variable results. Third I sang oratorio. During the process of downsizing and making the move to Cork city, which took more than a year, I didn’t have time to think about retirement. However, once we were established I realized that, apart from one evening a week, I didn’t have any structure or schedule. And that made me quite uncomfortable. Over a period of several months I deliberately started filling my diary. I joined the local hill walking club and have been leading an intermediate level walk most months. I joined two more choirs. I joined a daytime art class. I started doing voluntary IT work for a local non-profit organization and I acquired an allotment. Just today I have signed up for an art history class at UCC for the 2019/20 year.

If this all sounds like a lot, it’s entirely deliberate. I have met loads of people and feel like I’m just starting to become part of the community in a very small way. But I will drop back some of the commitments in time. I can already see that I want to apply more effort to art. I have also agreed to pass one of my smaller chunks of allotment space to others and will continue to downsize that a bit more.

I expect and plan ongoing fine tuning of my workload. What else should I call it? I don’t feel I am just filling in time. I am highly energized and believe the activities are productive. I certainly have a more mixed load and have free time to explore other interests. Oh yes, I also run a Facebook page for Brits in Europe to help them understand the nuances of this terrible Brexit process. And I follow climate change technologies and related issues closely and work hard to ensure I am doing my bit. For example, I use my bike or take the bus everywhere possible and have reduced my carbon footprint by over 50% over the past year! And again, that activity will run and run. I don’t feel in any way retired!    

Posted in Education, Life Long Learning, Retirement, Retirement Planning | 1 Comment

Two years ago I wrote, It’s time to Fix Facebook. What do we have to do to get the attention of legislators?


November 6, 2017 I wrote “We have crossed a threshold where technology Facebook et al are potentially facilitating fixed elections and genocide. It’s time to act. We have all seen the widespread interference in elections by state actors and vested interests; the rise of angry politics in the USA, UK and elsewhere, channeling discontent and splitting society; the spread of fake news; the reduction in trust generally and support for criminal or terrorist based activities; and so, the list keeps getting longer. Last week however I felt a threshold was crossed that needed to be exposed. Apparently, violence against the Rohingya Muslims has been fuelled in part by misinformation spread by Facebook which is now used as a primary news source by many people in the country.”
Fast forward to the present. Last week we saw the unspeakable tragedy of a terrorist attack in Christchurch, NZ in which the perpetrator uploaded a live feed of the mass murder. The response from Facebook (and google and twitter) was unacceptably slow and as a result the images are still available and being viewed by millions of users.
Over the past year we have seen Facebook making all manner of promises to clean up their act; but the reality is they have protected their advertising revenue at the expense of security. I note today that Facebook are now moving to a private, encrypted network claiming that this is what their users really want. John Naughton in the Guardian comments, “This columnist, . . . interprets it as a recognition by St Mark that the exponentially increasing costs of “moderating” Facebook content will eventually become unsupportable. But if much of that content morphs into encrypted messaging then, all of a sudden, Facebook can no longer be held accountable for it – and much of the cost of “moderation” evaporates. So the pivot is a way of getting a huge PR win while saving a ton of money.”
Facebook has proven they are incapable of self-governance. The only way to fix Facebook is to break it up. We have a precedent with the breakup of Microsoft and we need legislators to act NOW. Clearly, we do have a problem because it’s unlikely the current US administration will act, and therefore the EU will have difficulty in acting alone. However, the EU could lead the way by legislating for the Facebook platform to be opened-up. Instead of becoming an encrypted, private platform the EU could facilitate a standards effort and legislate to require open interfaces to allow third parties to provide a distributed network of independent collaborating platforms.
The NZ atrocity should be a trigger to action. Facebook has been given time to fix itself and has failed to act. Now is time for legislators to act.

Posted in Facebook, Twitter, Google, Technology Platforms | Tagged | Leave a comment

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Grunewald 0219

It’s always a pleasure to return to Berlin to look after the grandchildren. Even if they don’t really need any “looking after” it’s great to spend (so called) quality time with them, as well as continuing our exploration of this great city. Today we took the S7 to Grunewald and walked through the forest and around the Grunewaldsee and Hundekehlefenn lakes. The forest is magnificent all year round. At this time of year it’s all shades of grey and brown with hints of purple. It’s icy cold and the paths are sandy and dry and lovely to walk on and there are lots of friendly walkers and their dogs enjoying the day. We stop at the Paulsborn Schloss hunting lodge for a bracing outdoor lunch in the barest hint of sunshine.

But as we walked out of Grunewald station we stopped and studied the various artifacts from 80 years ago. There is a panel describing how this area of the city was extremely prosperous. The lakeside properties were in great demand by industrialists, writers, scientists, among them a lot of very important people who were building their original villas in the surrounding parkland. There were a high proportion of Jewish inhabitants in this area. Beside the station there is a 1991 memorial, a long concrete wall with negative imprints of human bodies. The memorial commemorates the period from October 1941 to February 1945 during which time some 50,000 Jewish citizens of Berlin were deported to the extermination camps where they were murdered.

As we walk through the forest we discuss how shocked we are with the British Labour Party that has clearly got a major problem with anti-Semitism, and how disgusted we are that the leadership of that party has ignored the problem that has led to yesterday’s resignations. And at the same time in France there are reports of widespread anti-Semitism actions by far-right protesters.

Once again, we are left wondering how it is that we are destined to relive history. Of course, we constantly see examples of prominent people who clearly don’t understand their history. Recent examples are almost too many to mention, but let’s just name tag a few such as Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and current British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. And we wonder how it is that the British media seem intent on reliving the second world war and blaming the German people for all the problems visited on the UK.

Yet although we visit Germany a lot we have never ever experienced anything but goodwill. Even in the face of Brexit we see Angela Merkel’s position to be entirely reasonable even in response to extraordinary provocation. In fact, the general impression of the German people is that the Brits have temporarily lost their senses and are hoping they recover very soon. But in contrast to Brits  the German people are acutely aware of their still recent past and fully prepared to acknowledge and commemorate the awfulness that was perpetrated by their forebears.

It seems that today the western world including the UK, USA, France, and several Eastern European countries are being taken over by extremists. We should all be remembering how easy it was for small numbers of extremists to capture the public opinion in Germany in the 1930s with disastrous consequences. It’s time for us all to remember and act accordingly.

Posted in Brexit, Brexit Britain, Democracy, Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Nervous Breakdown Britain


Just hours after I penned this piece, I hear that Angela Merkel has doubled down on the tough EU negotiating position. She is reported to have told Leo Varadkar, “ . . a hard border has to be on the table in a no-deal Brexit scenario”. My thesis is that this simply makes the current position even more difficult for the Mrs. May and the UK. The EU however do have the solution and they can stop the madness.

Many of will us have experienced trauma in our lives. Through the loss of loved ones or friends; or failure of business, loss of jobs, perhaps a major incident or accident. However, fortunately few of us have experienced trauma with widespread impact such as war, famine or pandemic. Similarly, few of us have observed the strange period that precedes major changes such as war or pandemic. And so, it’s with something approaching horror that we watch, day by day, as the United Kingdom in chaos accelerates towards the cliff edge of Brexit, with unknowable consequences that will surely result in major trauma for the UK itself, and also for us bystanders.
A nervous or mental breakdown is a term used to describe a period of intense mental distress and it seems as if the UK is having a grand mal. Although “nervous breakdown” is no longer considered a medical term, it’s still used by many to describe intense symptoms of stress and an inability to cope with life’s challenges; the inability to function in your everyday life.
It’s very much a Groundhog-day experience. Every day we observe the UK digging itself into a deeper and deeper hole. Every day politicians, journalists, commentators report on how non-existent negotiations are not proceeding. How the negotiating parties have reached deadlock and how there as many opinions in parliament as there are MPs. We observe Mrs. May executing a strategy that rests on doing nothing until the VERY last minute at which point she is sure the EU will blink notwithstanding extensive analysis that says the exact opposite. At the same time, we are becoming increasingly familiar with the probable impacts of the default “no deal” which become increasingly scary.
No one, apart perhaps for the UK gutter press, now believes the EU will be blamed for the “no deal” outcomes. It’s completely obvious that the UK is at war with itself. It’s a very modern form of civil war. In our modern world everyone has a voice, but no one is heard. And it appears that no one is actually saying “STOP!” Or maybe we can’t hear them above the cacophony.
Today it seems the best outcome that can be hoped for is a delay in the March 29th deadline. But why would the EU 27 agree to that because it would surely just prolong the agony and indecision. The UK is deeply divided across party lines, across country and across society. Any outcome is likely to cause huge unrest and continuing division. It’s clear that the UK is in the midst of a major nervous breakdown and something really big must happen to resolve it.
Continuing the analogy of the nervous breakdown it seems the UK actually needs advice that it is incapable of giving itself. Let’s consider a scenario in which the EU, all 27 countries agree to recommend the UK delays Article 50 as a process timeout, which may be restarted at a time of the UK’s choosing when the UK has decided on the best course of action with agreement of both parliament and the people. In other words, give the UK the time and space to think hard about what it wants to do. Consult the people, develop detailed plans. In fact, recover its sense and act like the world has become accustomed to seeing the UK — as a bastion of good sense and stability.
Up to now, all the commentary has been about whether the EU will negotiate; whether they will make nonsensical changes to the Withdrawal Agreement just to allow the UK to continue into the next phase of this ridiculous process — to negotiate the trade agreement. We must conclude that the EU want to spend the next two years negotiating with this bunch of clowns like they want a hole in the head. So, while Mrs. May would probably not want to incur a delay, it’s high probability that the UK Parliament would vote for that process timeout with an overwhelming majority. The alternative is unthinkable.

Posted in Brexit, Brexit Britain, Democracy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Theresa May’s Brexit Strategy?

which waywhich way

I cannot reveal the source of this draft document. However, it seems to be an interesting approach that could just break the current Parliamentary logjam.

. . . discussion draft for No 10 strategy group circulation only . . . . proposed statement re the EU Withdrawal Bill vote . . . .

. . . . Today’s vote is an important step in the Brexit process. I acknowledge the extensive debate and deep thought that has been given to the agreement concluded with the EU and is now presented to the House for approval. I also acknowledge the deeply held opinions that members of all parties hold and have expressed. I would however, ask every member today to very carefully reconsider their position, however strongly held, in the light of the light of our overall objectives and critically the withdrawal process.

I also acknowledge the concern over the delay in this vote, however the situation clearly required some time to explore the position of the EU as well as a little time for reflection in view of the magnitude of this decision.

I know many members have been exploring alternative avenues and options. But it is clear to us all that Parliament needs to act extremely quickly to address the very real concerns of business, as well as to allow the legal processes to conclude here in this house as well as in the EU parliament. Furthermore, we are all acutely aware that our own and EU citizens here and around Europe are very worried about Parliaments ability to conclude this process. I hear many people are thoroughly bored with the process; others are dismayed by the inability of Parliament to sort this out.

I believe we in Parliament must take responsibility for resolving this question. And I propose that we do this today!

We will vote on the Withdrawal Agreement agreed with the EU. Many tell me this will not obtain a majority in the House. Yet I believe it is a credible deal that respects the narrowness of the 2016 referendum. It achieves a good level of separation between the UK and the EU while maintaining a sensible level of alignment between what are major partners on many levels, not just trade. It maintains the integrity of the Good Friday international agreement which has been a major objective from the outset. There are of course concerns; but most of these seem to be concerns regarding the transitional arrangements. And frankly we the UK need to demonstrate greater effectiveness in working major agreements in order to give our partners and ourselves and our citizens confidence that key agreements will be concluded in the agreed timescale so that backstops do not need to be activated.

Taking all of this into account I propose as follows. We vote on the Withdrawal Agreement. I expect this to pass. If for some reason it fails to reach a majority I will table a simple bill to rescind Article 50. I propose that we vote on this with minimum delay. The choice being presented to you today is simple — vote to leave the EU on the 19th March under the current Withdrawal Agreement including the orderly transition period, or we remain in the EU on the current terms. As a major trading nation we cannot allow our citizens and businesses and partners to undergo more uncertainty. We need to reach a level of certainty today.

I commend this course of action to the house . . .

which waywhich way

Posted in Brexit, Politics | Tagged | Leave a comment

On the Border

You can drive to one of the most historically significant memorials in Europe in under an hour from where we are staying in Eastern Austria. And yet most of us will be unfamiliar with the name – Sopron, a small Hungarian town just a few kilometres from the Austrian border.
In 1989 the Soviet Union was in trouble. The failing economies of Russia and its satellite countries were leading to the rapid collapse of state socialism. Former satellite nations Poland and Hungary were leading agents of change in East and Central Europe. President Gorbachev was a fresh face in the Kremlin who refused to continue funding the satellite nations. The entire USSR was bankrupt.
The communist leaders in Berlin became prisoners of their own policies and their citizens whom they had held hostage. More and more East Germans were attempting to escape to the West and were gathering in large numbers in Hungary. Their hopes had been raised by discussions between Hungary and Austria on dismantling the Iron Curtain. There were rumours that Austria could be reached by a short walk. But illegal border traffic continued to be stopped by border patrols. The opposition in Sopron promoted the idea of a Pan European Picnic and spread the word that it would commence at 3pm on the 19th August 1989. Large numbers of refugees from East Germany appeared, walking and driving little Trabants, and before the official start spontaneously broke through the border. The Hungarian border guards whose superiors had left them, did not try to stop the refugees. Hundreds of people forced their way across the border and freedom. Later the border guards once again imposed border controls and the crossing stopped. But the damage was done.
The news was instantly relayed around the world. Chancellor Helmut Kohl said, “The Hungarians have removed the first stone from the Berlin wall”. And it was just a few months later that East Berliners made their own first steps to break down the Berlin wall and paved the way for German reunification, which formally took place on 3 October 1990.
Today the site of the Pan-European Picnic is a memorial park right next to the border crossing. The park must be hundreds of acres in size and includes pictorial records, a reconstruction of part of the old wall, walking trails and statues. Every year there are commemoration picnic events. The largest in 2009 was attended by Angela Merkel who thanked the Hungarians for their courage saying, “Two enslaved nations together broke down the walls of enslavement… and Hungarians gave wings to East Germans’ desire for freedom.”
Yet as we walked around the park we pondered on how today as the world embraces nationalism there are walls appearing in many places including the USA, UK, Israel and even Hungary to name just a few. Some are physical, some are virtual, but they are a manifestation of the desire to reverse the trend for international cooperation. And the events of 1989 are almost forgotten!
We drove across the border back into Austria remembering that for now we were crossing between two EU countries with no hindrance. The same can be said for the nine borders that we crossed, some of them multiple times during our travels – Ireland, Wales, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein and Hungary.

Coda from the Eagles:
Cruisin’ down the centre of a two way street, Wondering who is really in the driver’s seat
Mindin’ my business along comes big brother, Says, “Son you better get on one side or the other”. Oh oh, I’m out on the border, I’m walkin’ the line, Don’t you tell me ’bout your law and order. I’m try’n’ to change this water to wine,
Never mind your name, just give us your number, Never mind your face, just show us your card, And we want to know whose wing are you under, You better step to the right or we can make it hard, Oh ooh, I’m stuck on the border, All I wanted was some peace of mind, Don’t you tell me ’bout your law and order, I’m try’n’ to change this water to wine

Posted in Brexit, Democracy, Travel | Leave a comment