The Petty Grievances of Country Roads

This blogpost is nothing but a major over-analysis of an insignificant issue I witness from time to time that drives me absolutely insane. For thought-provoking discussion, browse elsewhere.

When I’m at my family home in the very centre of the Republic of Ireland, I do very little apart from take advantage of the luxuries of my parent’s house, and the multitude of free food available in the kitchen. If I’m there for more than a day or two however, I gain the motivation for exercise, and the best way to do this is to just go for a gentle run around the surrounding area. To many people reading this, this activity might sound amazing: a gentle run through unspoiled, untouristic central Ireland. To me, I grew up in this setting, so views and colours like this and this don’t do much for me. And yes, if you clicked on the links in the previous sentence, those are google street view screenshots from the exact route I run. You might be able to tell that I am not too fond of the activity, and the reason why is the subject of this very blog post you’re reading. As well as the overly-familiar (yet objectively magnificent) scenery, there is an issue, a riddle, an annoyance that occurs on basically all these runs that has bothered me for years.


There is a 1.5km long section of my running route that is completely straight, where there is perfect visibility from start to end, consisting of a standard road with two driving lanes, one for left hand side driving and one for right hand side driving. If you require more scene-setting, then please check out the actual thing on google street view here. It is in the middle of the countryside, so there is obviously no footpath, and therefore people have to walk/run on the actual road. In Irish road rules, the etiquette is that a pedestrian/jogger, in the absence of a footpath, will walk/run on the opposite side of the road than he/she would if driving a vehicle (ie, you walk/run into oncoming traffic. To people raised in cities, this may seem illogical, but on these roads there is so little traffic that it makes sense).

So since this is a large straight section of the road, there is plenty of visibility as to whether a car is coming or not. When I see a car coming towards me, I have perhaps 30-60 seconds before it gets to me and must manoeuvre around me (since I am on “it’s” side of the road). As I have so much time, I always look behind me to see if there is a car coming the other direction, in the off chance that there might not be enough room for the three of us to coexist on the same road space. If there is another car coming, and again I must stress here that this not only a road with high visibility but also not an especially small road, I would (while still running) go as far into the ditch as physically possible so as to limit my obstruction to the traffic. This never mattered, however, as in my experience, no matter the starting positions of the cars on this stretch of road, or the speed, they would always intersect (extremely slowly), at precisely one point: me.

What I’m saying is that in my experience, if there are cars coming in both directions, at any point in this stretch of road, they will slow down to an absolute crawl and pass each other at exactly the point where I currently am. This phenomenon has ruined every run I have ever had in central Ireland, and bothers me to this day whenever I think about it. The crudely drawn gif below animates my fury.

Of course I understand the reasons why this phenomenon occurs: firstly, the driver on my side of the road will obviously be more cautious when he/she sees that there is an upcoming obstruction in his/her path and will begin decelerating and driving more cautiously as he/she gets closer. For the other driver (approaching from behind), he/she has ample visibility of the situation ahead, and feels he/she could also help out a bit by decelerating him/herself, and providing room for the opposite vehicle to overtake me. The other driver on my side may now look to the other driver on the other side of the road and decide to wait until he/she passes me by first before overtaking me. This all leads to an excruciatingly incremental circle of deceleration that results in my solitary country run being ruined by two cars passing me by at 5kmph while I am being stung by nettles on the unkempt countryside ditch.

Another reason why I get so annoyed by this phenomenon is probably that I notice every single time it occurs, while don’t pay any attention at all when the situation goes by in any other way. It’s called confirmation bias, where each new instance of this exact event just adds to my conviction that I’m right, but with a complete disregard for opposing evidence. It’s similar to that thing that happens when you hear a new word or phrase that you didn’t know before: within a day or two you will hear it everywhere. It isn’t a coincidence, nor is it a pattern. It was always there, you’re just more attuned and looking out for it now.

Perhaps (ie, definitely) the reason I pay so much attention to this phenomenon is that it is completely and perfectly ungoogleable. We live in an age where we can research anything we want, yet this thing that annoyed me so much was so abstract (and petty), that it is absolutely impossible to google. When we encounter something that cannot be investigated and confirmed immediately, this can be very frustrating. It took me a few hundred words to describe here what I am talking about, and all I can call it is this ‘phenomenon’. I would need to be way better at geometry to be able to describe what I have discussed above any better. While thinking about writing this blogpost, the most succinct definition I could come up with was

“When two objects travelling along a finite linear plane are approaching a slower moving (yet still parallel) object from opposite directions, the faster moving objects will always pass by each other at the location of the slower moving object”.

I was never great at dynamic equations so I apologise to any mathematicians out there who are offended about such things. The point is however, that I don’t really have the language to describe what exactly occurs in the situation I’m describing on my runs in Ireland, and if anyone reading this does, then please let me know how to research it more in depth, since it is a situation that I encounter quite often in life outside central Ireland too. Like when I’m on a bike and there’s a pedestrian in the bike lane, and there’s a cyclist coming in the other direction. Guess where we cross paths? To be clear: in this situation the pedestrian is the asshole, but in the original running story, it’s the car drivers who are the assholes.

Now, I’m not saying that this ungoogleable phenomenon is a scientific law or anything: it obviously doesn’t happen all the time. Yet still, I think you would have to admit, after reading a 1000+ word rant on the subject, that it exists. If it exists, it deserves a name, and I am extremely sure that it doesn’t have a name, as no one has felt the need to articulate such a petty and negligible phenomenon thus far in human existence. We need a name for that rare, yet noticeable, occurrence where two fast moving objects moving at straight lines in different directions change their speed due to the presence of a slower moving object, resulting in the intersection of all three objects at the same point in a linear plane! We need this, if only so that when it occurs, we can post on twitter or facebook that it occurred, and not have to spend a few hundred words doing so.  In the interest of public service, I suggest “Cian’s Conundrum”, “Mulligan’s Law” or “The Mulligan Effect”.



Brexit Stage Left: A Tale of Unrequited Eurovision Love

Eurovision voting data could hold the key to unlocking the roots of the United Kingdom’s suicidal notions of exiting the European Union.


A topic that has been consistently in the headlines in Europe over the past few months has been the UK’s imminent referendum on whether or not to abandon the European project that has dominated the politics of this continent for the past seven decades. On June 23, citizens of the UK will vote in a referendum on the topic, and the result of this referendum could have a major impact on both the UK and Europe for decades to come. While a vote to remain inside the European Union is expected, the polls show that the result could go either way. This is despite the fact that evidence exists that a “Brexit” from the EU could have serious adverse consequences for the general UK population. Indeed, the OECD estimate that Brexit would equate to a loss of one month’s income for the average UK citizen by the end of the decade. The UK Treasury’s estimate is even worse, equating Brexit as a tax of two month’s income for every inhabitant of the country. US President Barack Obama said in plain terms that a Brexited UK’s bargaining position with regards to major trade deals would be put back by a decade. David Cameron has intimated that Brexit would invariably lead to war and genocide on the continent, while scientific researchers have protested that leaving the EU would inhibit their efforts to stop cancer spreading throughout the United Kingdom. Brexit won’t cause cancer, but it certainly won’t help either.

Despite this, the threat of taxation, war, genocide and cancer does not seem to bother the significant number of UK voters who intend to vote ‘leave’ in the upcoming referendum. The sheer audacity of such reckless abandonment of personal and global safety begs the question of what exactly the European Union did to the UK to hurt it so much to make it feel this way. The standard explanation of UK/British exceptionalism within the EU is that Britain still thinks of itself as an empire, and that this idea can never be resolved within a power sharing multinational bloc such as the European Union. While this narrative does explain the arrogance, it doesn’t explain the hurt. It doesn’t explain the deep wounds that Europe inflicted on the UK to push it to the point where it was willing to risk world peace, and an end to cancer, just to break away.

A main facet of economic theory is that in order to reach as valid a conclusion as possible, we must search for revealed preferences, rather than stated preferences. What this means is that we do not ask people what they think (stated preferences), but we search for things that might show what they think (revealed preferences), or possibly how they feel. Asking a UK citizen why they are voting yes/no in the upcoming referendum might provide insight into the issue, but it doesn’t reveal what we want to show: the hurt.

The best resource to show UK attitudes to Europe, and vice versa, is probably the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC, or more commonly ‘the Eurovision). Every year the UK provides an entrant to the competition, and other European countries award points based on quality and other factors (such as borders). In turn, the UK gets to award points for it’s favourite songs from other European countries. While throughout most of its existence the Eurovision’s voting procedure involved a professional jury dictating the merits of each song and awarding points where warranted, a significant change occurred at the turn of the century as televoting has been introduced, and democracy with it. By law the Eurovision must release all its voting data to the public, and therefore a rich dataset exists that perhaps can give us some insight into the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe, and perhaps some revealed preferences.


The UK & The Eurovision

In the time period 2000-2015, 48 countries have participated in the ESC. Most of them are European, while also countries such as the Caucasus nations (Georgia, Armenia & Azerbaijan) and Israel have been granted access, as well as Australia in 2015. This means that the populations of 47 nations (the UK cannot vote for itself) have had the opportunity to award points to the United Kingdom over the past 16 Eurovision Song Contests. Over this period, the UK received 635 points from these nations, out of a possible total of 4224 (Caveat: I didn’t feel like calculating this, but the formula would be something like {16*(12*(nt-1))}, where nt is the number of participating countries in the Eurovision that year. The minimum number in the data set is 23, so I am using that minimum.). The percentage share of each participating country in this total of 635 points is detailed in the table below.


If you weren’t bothered reading all that, then the graph below should do the trick.

bar received

Ireland and Malta obviously stand out. These are two very small countries, yet combined they are responsible for almost 25% of the UK’s total points in this time period. To put this in starker terms, the below graph shows the average points each country awarded the UK between 2000 and 2015. The maximum number of points awardable is 12.

awarded uk bar

Ireland will give an average of 5.5 points to the UK in each Eurovision, while Malta will give 4.3 points. Then there is a sizable drop in the level, and the average of most countries points awarded to the UK is too small to appear on the graph.

Malta and Ireland are obviously different than the rest of Europe, and that difference is not that they are both islands, but that they are very recent colonies of the United Kingdom. There is an obvious cultural heritage in these countries that the rest of Europe does not share, as well as the presence of a multitude of UK expatriates who can contribute to the televoting figures from these countries. An argument may be that Ireland and Malta are the only two other English speaking countries in the Eurovision Song Contest, however anyone who has seen the Contest knows that most songs are in English these days anyway.

How does Europe react to Britain if we exclude Ireland and Malta? The chart below separates these two countries from the pack, and groups the remaining countries into EU and non-EU designation. EU expansions in 2004, 2007 and 2014 have all been accounted for.


The UK this century has received an equal share of points from the EU (excluding Ireland and Malta) and Non-EU countries. 38% of its points have come from European Union member states that were not formerly under the rule of the British Empire.

While Europe (both EU and non-EU) have a balanced opinion of the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest, with each contributing 38% of its total points haul, it is worth looking at things from the the other side: how has the UK voted in this period? Cutting right to the chase, and using the same methodology as before (grouping EU, non-EU and Ireland/Malta as three distinct categories), the results are in the pie chart below.

awarded total piiiiiii

Things are different here. Ireland and Malta receive just 14% of the UK vote, while the EU is substantially preferred, beating non-EU countries by twenty percentage points. At this point, it must be said that not every country can be awarded points in a Eurovision final, but merely those countries that proceed to the main competition. On several occasions in the time period, Ireland, Malta or both were absent and therefore ineligible for points from the UK. The chart below accounts for this, using only data for when both countries were present.

votes awarded irma

This does little to account for the discrepancy between EU points awarded to the UK, and UK points awarded to fellow EU nations.


The analysis of Eurovision televoting data showed that if we exclude the former British colonies of Ireland and Malta, EU nations have contributed 38% of the United Kingdom’s points total. In contrast, the UK itself shows a marked preference for the European Union, with 53% of its points going to the bloc, again excluding Ireland and Malta. What this suggests is that there is something going on underneath the surface of the relationship between the EU and the UK, and it is something that only can be seen in this data.

Britain/The Uk/Whatever is a small country in the world. It was big and popular once, but now is quite unsure of itself. It acts like it has confidence, and can succeed independently, but is really quite dependent on its smaller friends to provide an ego boost. The UK has sent gushing approval to the EU and Brussels over the past 16 years, and it has not received the same signals back. The UK clearly favours the EU, as is apparent from its voting patterns in the Eurovision data, yet the EU’s acceptance of the UK is far less clear. Perhaps Brexit is not about fantasies of lost empire at all. Perhaps it is but a tale of unrequited love, a call for attention from a secret admirer who only wants some tender loving care, but is far too proud to show it. Brexit is the political manifestation of a population that is accustomed to listening to Adele albums on repeat: they are ready to risk genocide, war and cancer just to seem relevant and loved. Maybe in this year’s Eurovision, we should requite some love: vote for the UK on Saturday. Before they set fire to the rain.

1996: Looking Back In Anger

For those who don’t want to read, or would like some musical accompaniment to this rant, please simply skip to the bottom of the page or click here for a Spotify/YouTube playlist of the best music from 1996. These will convince you of my argument in ways that my words cannot. 

For a person who pretends to be an expert on almost everything, from politics to economics to copyright law, you may have noticed that I don’t pretend to know anything about music. In fact, this is my 87th post, and only once in the previous 86 have I ever dedicated an entire post solely to music. I will admit it now, I am no authority on music, and I can prove it. For it was around this time of year 20 years ago, in early February 1996, when I bought my first ever music single. It was a time before Spotify, before iTunes, before Napster, before even the power of the mp3 format had been recognised by anybody except a small group of audio engineers in central Germany. The only way to listen to music was to either buy the album, buy the actual song (if it was released as a single), or to wait for it to be played on the radio (and possibly record this on cassette). That single I bought 20 years ago was none other than Babylon Zoo’s Spaceman, a song that was only popular because it was featured in a Levi’s commercial, and the mid 90’s was a strange period in history where Levi’s jeans were so popular they could literally be used as currency in some places. The song was ridiculed as trash even then, but I was so clueless that I genuinely liked it. I still listen to the song from time to time, but recognise now that enjoying it non-ironically is practically impossible.

From this inauspicious beginning however, I began to pay a bit of attention to what was happening in popular music. I regularly listened to radio stations in Ireland that played popular music, and through my friends at school and family at home I discovered music slightly under the radar (that phrase meant something else before the internet) also. This all culminated with me buying my second ever single a few months later: Three Lions by Baddiel, Skinner & The Lightning Seeds: a novelty single that was the anthem of England’s football team during the European Championships that year. It sounds silly, but I stand by that purchase.

So yes, these were the only two songs I bought in 1996, and after a brief foray into minidisc recording in the late 90s/early 2000s, only really began collecting music once it became free for anyone with an internet connection and relaxed morals. I soon had a collection of thousands of songs, which I would then on a regular basis curate into playlists of up to 100 songs for listening on a regular basis. Later on in the late 2000’s a troika of ubiquitous wireless internet, attention deficit disorder and the emergence of Wikipedia soon meant that I could now read the history of every song I listened to on a regular basis, and the curious thing was that so very many of them were released in 1996. Not just released in 1996, but were popular songs released in 1996. I realise that my nostalgia goggles are most definitely switched on, but I am here today to try and convince you that 1996 was the best year in modern history for popular music.


When you think of popular music now, you think of things like Adele, Kanye West, One Direction, David Guetta or Beyonce. This type of pop music was also present in 1996 of course: for Adele, think Celine Dion, or for One Direction think Take That or Boyzone. However the mid 1990’s also allowed a certain mix of genres in popular music, and 1996 was the pinnacle of this. In spring 1996, switching on a popular radio station you could be confronted by Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio or Street Spirit by Radiohead. 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins could turn up in rotation, as well as Return of the Mack by Mark Morrison. Stupid Girl by Garbage might get an airing, or even Firestarter by the Prodigy. All of these songs were top 10 hits in the UK and Ireland by the end of March 1996. In January 1996, Missing by Everything But the Girl was the biggest song in Europe. All of the mentioned songs I still listen to regularly, and all are unqualified classics.

In the summer, The Fugees would appear with Killing Me Softly, followed by several other classics from their album The Score. 1996 was also the year Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill blew up, and the year was scattered with single after single from that album. No Diggity by Blackstreet became a breakout hit in the winter, as well as Faithless capitalising on the success of the Prodigy by rereleasing Insomnia. Together with Children by Robert Miles and the remix of Born Slippy by Underworld, fresh from being immortalised in Trainspotting, 1996 was the year dance music gained credibility. At the same time, No Doubt were gaining traction with Just a Girl and the Foo Fighters released Big Me out of nowhere. 1996 was also a year of immortal one hit wonders, such as Deep Blue Something’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Joan Osbornes One Of Us, OMC’s How Bizarre, Fools Gardens Lemon Tree and Luniz’s I Got 5 On It. As I said, these songs didn’t just get released and went unnoticed, they were all extremely popular at the time. I could namedrop classic songs for another paragraph, but I think it’s best if you just listen to the playlist at the end of this post.

The defining point of music in 1996, in popularity as well as legacy, was none of the songs I mentioned here, and nothing positive at all: it was the emergence of the Spice Girls in late summer, with Wannabe. They followed that hit with a few more before Christmas, and became the biggest pop group in the world. Their manager was Simon Fuller. He would use the millions he made from the bands career to create the modern reality TV show, first with Pop Idol in the UK, and then American Idol, and followed closely by {insert nationality} Idol. This franchise and its offshoots not only dominates popular music now, but also popular TV in general, and subsequently Twitter and YouTube. There would be no Ken Lee without The Spice Girls. Without them, Donald Trump would not have had The Apprentice as a platform for over a decade to brainwash stupid Americans into thinking that he is a great leader.

It is thus where I acknowledge that as well as being the greatest year in modern history for popular music, 1996 also saw the sowing of the seeds that would later destroy it. While in the mid and late 90’s, bands like Blur, Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins, REM, The Manic Street Preachers, Sheryl Crow and No Doubt could achieve success in the mainstream charts, the evolution of the music industry after The Spice Girls, reality TV, and online downloading meant that popular music would never achieve so much quality in a single year again. Of course, it wasn’t all good: I have gotten this far without mentioning that the biggest song of the year was La Macarena. It’s a terrible song, but it’s undoubtedly a classic terrible song. 1996 even did the bad stuff well.

The Playlists:

The Best Songs from 1996

For those without Spotify, here’s the YouTube equivalent:

2015: Europe Awakens

It would be pointless to pretend that 2015 was not the darkest year in living memory. 2001 was dark, but that darkness was more America-centric than many would dare admit publicly. 2015 pulled the rug of complacency out from under European feet in so many different ways, the events of this year are likely to affect the region for decades to come. At the start of the year there was the calculated atrocity of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, followed closely by the seemingly random pointlessness of the GermanWings plane crash. While Europeans grasped the complexity of both these events, their currency was in jeopardy as the looming sovereign default of Greece edged dangerously over its precipice. As it edged closer, Greece was pulled back decisively, but at a cost that will be felt by the Greeks forevermore. As holiday season began, the Tunisia attacks took place, as European tourists were massacred on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. By August, most of these events were forgotten, and then the photograph of a toddler’s corpse on a Turkish beach was published, capturing in stark imagery just how desperate the migrant wave towards Europe had become. This, and the discovery of a van parked in sleepy Austria filled with the suffocated bodies of 71 migrants (who each had paid handsomely to be smuggled into the EU for protection from certain death) caused a monumental response in welcoming the newly dubbed ‘refugees’ into our borders. While some countries (the UK and some Eastern European nations) were decisively anti-immigration, the consensus was that this was an issue that needed to be solved, and solved together as a group rather than individual nation states. That was until the Paris Attacks on November 13, when Europeans were shown exactly how safe they really were.

These are dark days indeed, and they are not likely to lighten up anytime soon. That’s not to say the world isn’t getting better. Catholic Ireland voted in favour of Marriage Equality, transsexual people finally have a champion (even if she is a quasi-Kardashian), and Ireland qualified for the European Championships in 2016. None of the terrible things that happened in 2015 were solely manifested within that year, 2015 was merely the year that we all woke up to these massive threats and problems that we have ignored for so long. 2015 was the year that Europe awoke to the 21st Century, and finally recognised that the actions of our complacent community have consequences. 2015 will be known as the year that Europe woke up to its place in the modern world, as an actor rather than a passive journeyman. In this line of thought, there is a sliver of light to be found in the darkness of events this year, and this is as good a time as any to bridge into my usual annual review of entertainment nonsense that occurred this year. The connection I think is that this might be a hopeful year despite everything, and we all need cheering up in the meantime. I shall definitely clear all this up in the editing process before publication. As ever, I aim to make this particular post as interactive as possible, so there is clickable goodness available wherever necessary (all links open in a new tab), as well as some embedded content that drove me absolutely mental trying to get into WordPress. Anyway, enough paragraphs: enter the listicle.

 2015 europe


Movies of the Year (unranked): Whiplash, A Most Violent Year, Youth, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inside Out, The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight*, Steve Jobs*, Black Sea, Beasts of No Nation.

*Big thanks to Hive-CM8

Biggest Let-Down: Aloha. Cameron Crowe is one of my favourite directors (I even liked Elizabethtown), but his past two movies suggest he is past it.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: Furious 7. Garbage, filthy garbage, but it knows what it is.

The “Lesser of Two Evils Award” for which movie was the better of two movies that had exactly the same plot: Starred Up was the best movie this year about a teenager going to prison and meeting a father figure who is serving a life sentence. Son of a Gun, with Ewan McGregor, was most certainly not.

The Official Verdict On the new Star Wars (Spoiler Free): It was a good movie, and a great Star Wars movie. Undue pressure is put on Star Wars sequels, since its first sequel happened to be one of the best movies of all time. The Force Awakens, not The Empire Strikes Back, should be the new benchmark from what to expect from a new Star Wars movie. It took me a while to get here, and just for those who like clicking on arrows, here’s a(n interactive) history of my relationship with new Star Wars, through the medium of Facebook posts over the past three years. The movie script is in development.


TV Show of the Year: Mr. Robot. This let me down a bit in the final two episodes, but it still deserves it based on what went before. Watch an episode of the show, and then afterwards remind yourself that the story was mostly told through the voiceover musings of the main character.

TV Discovery of the Year: Halt and Catch Fire. A stylish 1980’s mash-up of Mad Men and Silicon Valley, this almost got TV Show of the Year (I had it typed and everything), but its second season this year (for all its female empowerment) just wasn’t as good as the first. In coming seasons this show will gain a stronger cult following and eventually break into the mainstream, just like Breaking Bad. I only wish I hadn’t discovered it so early, as now I have to wait so long for new seasons and episodes.

Sitcom of the Year: Bojack Horseman. One of the smartest sitcoms out there, animated or not.

TV Disappointment of the Year: The Man in the High Castle. A very interesting premise realised as a very dull mystery thriller. I got two episodes in, and am satisfied reading the plot synopses of the remaining episodes on Wikipedia.


Song of the Year: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Theme Song!

Yes I am old and have no clue about modern music, but that is not to say the greatest TV theme song since The Simpsons should not be recognised in its own right. Not only is it extremely inventive (the song is an autotuned remix of an interview from the very first scene of the first episode that explains the plot of the show), but it is actually impossible not to sing along to. Uuuuuun-BREAK-able…………………

Here’s some 2015 music that I actually listened to and liked. Note the brevity of this playlist: I’m getting old. Plus, two of the songs were added simply because they were popular: can you guess which two?

It is late, and the Spotify embedded playlist is not working yet, so it is available here should it not work for you:


Game of the Year: Ireland 1-0 Germany. Because f**k you, Germany! One Long ball punt up the field and that World Cup trophy has lost a bit of its lustre.

Goal of the Year: Shane Long, Ireland v Germany. Because f**k you, Germany.

Transfer of the Century: Anthony Martial, Monaco-Manchester United, €80m. This deal was so bad that Manchester United originally tried to conceal the full fee by proclaiming it as €40m plus add-ons. That these add-ons turned out to be playing for the club a few times and scoring a few goals for France implies United are quite embarrassed about the full fee. As well they should, paying €80m for an unknown French teenager. I don’t care if he ends up being their record goalscoring legend and captaining the club to successive Champions Leagues: the fee is still ridiculous, and has distorted the transfer market for the foreseeable future.

Sports Disappointment of the Year: Ireland in the Rugby World Cup. No further comment necessary.



App of the Year: Anything that can use the Chromecast. If you have a TV and wireless internet, just buy a Google Chromecast.

Meme of the Year: Confused John Travolta. Is it me or have good, long-lasting memes disappeared? Everything is a meme nowadays, and then vanishes after less than a day. Anyway, this one is just a month or two old and seems ok. Who cares anyway?

Stupidest Meme of the Year: Condom water balloon. Again, nobody cares, so why not?

“Grandpa Award” in recognition of a Youth Trend That I Don’t Understand: I’m kidding no one: I don’t understand anything anymore. To me, anyone under 27 is a baby talking nonsense.

Thing of the Year: European Borders. They’re back, and they are angry. Due to the Schengen Agreement, in mainland Europe we have come to take the free passage across borders for granted. This year was a rude awakening to the idea that when it comes to social constructs, none are better constructed than territorial borders.


People of the Year: The Heroes of the Thalys Train Attack. Failed terrorist attacks obviously do not get the same media attention as successful terrorist attacks. The attacks that succeed have thousands of stories, as thousands of lives were affected forever by what had occurred. The attacks that don’t succeed have only one story: and this one is a remarkable story of bravery, quick-thinking, and luck. If you haven’t heard of these guys, it’s because in the space of about 45 seconds, they reduced the amount of possible stories told about that train ride from thousands to just their one.

Idiots of the Year: Anyone, anywhere, who engaged in Tragedy Shaming. A dark year was turned into a stupid game in the wake of the Paris Attacks, as people online who read the news suddenly became offended that terrorism in France is worse than terrorism in Lebanon. I’m gonna put it out there: terrorist attacks in Paris are undertaken for very different reasons than those for terrorist attacks in Beirut. All people are equal, yes; all deaths are equal, yes; but this is an entirely different issue from treating all terrorist attacks as equal. The tragedy shaming sensation is part of a broader online trend of aggressive (and ignorant) political correctness, and this is set to increase in 2016.

Special Award for Billionaire Pornography of the Year: Mark Zuckerberg. In the birth of his first child, the Facebook founder this year found the perfect crux in his mission to rebrand himself as a real person following the release of The Social Network five year ago. That movie used verbatim legal depositions from Zuckerberg and others as the basis for its script, portraying him as more of a bitter, sociopathic monster rather than the cute, cuddly, Social Justice Warrior that we are now presented with on his Facebook Timeline. Mark is a nice guy because he has a dog. Mark is a good person because he looks after his baby. Mark is a hero because he pledged to give away 99% of his wealth to charity. I am not going to get into the controversy of the Charitable Foundation debate, but I will say that he had already pledged to basically do what he said in that letter, over 3 years before.

And Finally….

The “Kardashian Award” for News We Shouldn’t Care About But Was News Nonetheless: That Apparently Famous Australian Instagram Girl who Quit Instagram. I don’t know her name, and I am not going to google her. Please don’t google her. I don’t want to be responsible for more clicks for her new website. I should really just not mention this at all.

But What’s Next?

That’s all for 2015, but 2016 promises much. In Ireland, we will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which was the starting point for our nationalist movement, resulting in the Irish War of Independence and subsequently the Irish Free State and finally the modern Irish Republic. Other notable commemorations include the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Moores Utopia, which is seen as the key foundation stone of our modern understanding of the idea of progress. Also celebrating its 500th Anniversary is the 1516 Purity Law, which has defined the craft of German beer brewing ever since. And if you think there isn’t a blog entry coming up of me trying to link German beer purity to Utopia, then you don’t come here too often. Happy 2016 everybody, and thanks for reading!

Remake, Recycle, Relaunch, Repeat.

I recently read a review of Jurassic World wherein the reviewer calls it the most self-loathing blockbuster ever made. After seeing the movie over the weekend, I can’t help but agree that it absolutely hates itself. The movie finds us in a world where since Jurassic Park III in 2001, the dinosaur-themed theme park has received a new owner, and has been opened to the public for several years. The staff of the theme park (Jurassic World) realise that in order to keep visitors coming, they need to create new, scarier dinosaurs periodically, using genetic engineering to keep constant positive buzz spinning around the brand. In the movie, the staff of Jurassic World have completely safeguarded the dinosaurs we all know and love, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the Velociraptors, and these reptiles are introduced as nothing more than larger, more exotic zoo animals. The plot of the movie surrounds the escape of the ‘Indominous Rex’, a genetically engineered hybrid dinosaur dreamed up by the marketing department of the theme park brand, and even given its stupid name by a focus group so that it is easy to pronounce. The movie chronicles the exploits of the movies human stars in stopping the hybrid dinosaur killing everyone in sight.

The issue here is that it is obvious that the movie Jurassic World was created in exactly the same way its in-world theme park Jurassic World staff created their new dinosaur. Jurassic Park was 22 years ago, and since then there have been two sequels, showing most of what different Hollywood production teams had imagined dinosaurs could offer to the cinema-going public. In the meantime blockbusters have evolved with the ADHD generation, so much so that children would probably be bored with the pacing of the original Jurassic Park. In the modern era of Unlimited Fast and the Furious chases and 50 superheroes turning up in the latest Avengers movie, people being chased by a few dinosaurs just wasn’t going to be enough. The producers sat in a room and thought of what they could do, which led them to the idea of the hybrid Indominous Rex, an unnatural literal monster that they all agreed was the logical step in the franchise, yet they couldn’t quite accept the depths the franchise had plunged to in order to survive in the current blockbuster environment. So they made a movie about attempting to destroy this monstrous creation that they (and also their fictional protaganists) hoped would revive their flagging brand. It obviously doesn’t work in the movie, yet in the real world, the Indominus Rex did the job, as Jurassic World will be the biggest movie of the year (if we exclude Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which is released in December). The movie itself is very enjoyable, a textbook example of how to make an entertaining summer movie, yet the nagging thought that the very expensive movie you are watching hates itself is something that is worth (over)thinking about.


The simple answer is that we did this, we are the ones that force movie studios into the bigger, better, stronger, faster mould year after year. By we, I mean we the people of the internet, the people who illegally download movies off torrent sites instead of paying €10+ to see them in the theatre, and/or €5+ to watch them at home by renting it a few months after the movie has left the cinemas. Hollywood studios say they lose millions of dollars every year to illegal downloading, so it might seem counterintuitive to argue that the reason big summer movies must constantly become bigger and more expensive is that their producers are losing money. Yet this is exactly how Hollywood has responded to the threat of illegal downloading to their profits: instead of reigning in budgets and downsizing production scales, they decided to go the opposite way completely. The model currently employed by the big Hollywood studios to guarantee customers paying to see their movies is quite originally known as the Blockbuster Model. In this model, budgets sore, special effects scenes multiply, A-list actors are drawn in to feature in movies they would not have considered a decade ago, and marketing costs pretty much match the production budgets of each $150m movie. This all might still sound like a counterintuitive response to a threat on their profits, but with this increased scale, they are creating more than a movie, they are attempting to create an event, something that people in a major urban environment just can’t get away from.

The idea of a big Hollywood summer movie being an event is nothing new. Jaws, back in 1975, lays claim to being the first summer blockbuster and also the first event movie. Back in summer 1975, you just had to see Jaws, or else you weren’t on the same cultural wavelength as your peers. The difference here is that Jaws was actually good, and while some modern blockbusters may be good, this is probably a special case. In order to get us to the cinema in the summer these days, movies must create a product that will not be as good if watched at home on an illegal download, which is one of the reasons 3D has become so ubiquitous in big movies these days. Computer generated special effects, and 3D, never look as good on TV or computer, so the event that movies these days are selling us is really just an enhanced audio-visual experience. Although I must admit, I may have enjoyed a downloaded Jurassic World with Korean hardcoded subtitles just as much as I would have enjoyed the 3D spectacle in IMAX. Who knows?

So it goes with the Fast and the Furious franchise, the Transformers saga, the “computer animated movies about cute talking animals with big eyes who like hip hop” franchises, and also the multitude of megafranchises that are coming our way over the next five years. A summer movie can’t just be a standalone movie anymore, it has to be part of a bigger picture, a continuation of another event movie from a few years ago, or a franchise from a decade or two ago looking to catch its previous audience as well as the younger generation. This year so far has been the year of franchises relaunched, as Jurassic Park, Terminator, Mad Max, Star Wars and The Fantastic Four have all attempted to or are about to attempt to regain some relevance in the modern blockbuster environment. All have gone for the blockbuster method of throwing cash at the production in order to convince us that the movie is worth seeing. Some have done this better than others. Mad Max: Fury Road cost well over $150m to make, and I would be very surprised if a focus group was involved at any point in the making of that movie, and this franchise relaunch stands out for that fact.

The future of the blockbuster is more of the marketing approved Indominous Rex type blockbuster however, a genetically modified unnatural hybrid of past things that proved popular, coupled with a few focus group tested innovations thrown in just to make it relatively interesting. The problem will come when there is nothing left to relaunch however, as with Jurassic World the current phase of Hollywood recycling has already reached the mid-1990s, and I can’t think of any franchise from after then that a) is worthy of relaunch and b) hasn’t been recycled already (X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman: all of these franchises have been recycled over the past 15 years). To put it philosophically, the question is whether the Hollywood system is best represented by the ouroboros, the infinite snake deity that eats its own tail forever, or if it is best represented by the human centipede, where all the waste passed down through the system must be ejected at some stage, and something fresh must then be fed to the beast so the process of derivation should start again. At the moment, it looks like Hollywood has attached the end part of this human centipede to it’s beginning, and I think we can all visualise pretty well how entertaining that is going to be. The fact that movies like Jurassic World are now referencing the fact that they have to do this may be humorous, yet it doesn’t stop the fact they are still a large part of this never ending Hollywood system of remakes, relaunches and recycling that doesn’t look like ending any time soon.

No True Godsman: A Simple Model of Morality and Exclusion

Facebook statuses aren’t really known for lingering on in the memory, yet a few days ago I saw one that really stuck with me and has been bouncing around my head ever since. The status was about a friend of mine who was sick of religious people who constantly updated the definition of their own community through a perpetual rejection and exclusion of members who could sully the good name of their group. Or, in simpler terms:

I was unfortunate enough to be a part of a conversation today about sexual assault committed by followers of a religion (not just Catholicism). Somebody threw out the familiar line “Oh, they can’t have been real [insert religion here]”. Regardless of your faith/lack thereof, I ask you all to stop saying this. Don’t push all your shitty people on me and my non-religious friends. Instead, imagine for a second that they ARE [insert religion here], they’re just bad at it and, moreover, are just shitty people. Shitty people exist in every community, yours included.

– My friends Facebook status

Now, I have never heard of this kind of argument from a religious point of view, yet I am very familiar with the thought process behind it, as it is pretty famous in philosophical circles. What my friend had come up against was a classic logical fallacy known as the “No True Scotsman”. The fallacy’s name comes from the prime example used to explain the concept.

Person A: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

Person B: “But my uncle Angus likes sugar with his porridge.”

Person A: “Ah yes, but no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”

– I stole this from Wikipedia

So you can see, this discussion could go on forever, and Person A will always be right, because their argument is based on some subjective opinion of what a Scotsman is, that they can update at will, and exclude from the reference group any counterexamples. Person A is not just moving the goalposts, he won’t even tell Person B where the goalposts are.

If we think about it hard enough you could probably all think of a time when you were frustrated with this type of argument (or more than likely we have all done it ourselves), and there is nothing new about formally explaining something that you probably will now say you have known all your life. Yet my friends experience with religious people using this argument above stuck with me, as it introduced the concept of morality into the equation, and the desire that certain groups define, and indeed pride themselves on comprising solely of universally moral and good people. What I am going to try and (quite literally) prove to you here is that this idea makes things very interesting indeed.

A Simple Model of Morality and Exclusion

Let’s say a group Y exists. The group contains n members, where n is some number above zero. It could be 10, it could be 20, it could be 3 million: it doesn’t matter. Each of the n individuals is represented by {{x}_{i}}, where i=1,2,....,n-1,n. A group is not much more than the sum of the attributes of its members, so we can express the value of this group in the expression below:


That’s the formal mathematical notification, but we can expand this to get rid of the Greek letters and have this, which means exactly the same thing:


So we have an expression for the total value of group Y. Now let’s assume that this group values one thing above all else: moral goodness. They pride themselves on how good they are, and believe that every other person in the group has a similar level of goodness to them, making the group whole. We will represent the goodness of an individual {{x}_{i}} with {{g}_{i}}, where {{g}_{i}} is a value between -1 and 1 (-1\le g\le 1), where the closer the individual {{x}_{i}} is to 1, the better the person that individual is. Conversely, the closer that persons is to -1, the worse a person is.


This represents the goodness of individual i. So we can now rewrite the value of Y based on the moral goodness of its members


For the sake of simplicity let’s say that all members of this group are assumed to have the same level of g, {{g}^{*}}>0 which might be the goodness level achieved just by living life according to their prescribed rules etc. If we assume this, then we can simplify further.



The value of {{Y}^{*}} simplifies to two expressions: the number of its members multiplied by their theoretical constant level of moral goodness.

The funny thing about moral goodness is that it cannot actually be observed directly. We cannot for certain say that the individual {{x}_{i}} is a good person, all we can say is that all the information we have about him up to that point indicates that this is the case. Therefore we can assume that {{x}_{i}} is a good member of the group and should continue as a member. There can only be a theoretical level of moral goodness {{Y}^{*}}, and faith must be maintained within the group about the true nature of each other member, that {{g}_{i}}={{g}^{*}} .

Bad behaviour, on the other hand, is completely observable, particularly when an individual, which we will designate as {{x}_{b}} performs some despicable act such that he can no longer be referred to as a morally good person. Once this act is committed, the individual has revealed himself to be a false {{g}^{*}}, as his actual value of {g} is not more than zero, and has in fact a negative value of {g}, where g<0. We will designate this negative value of g as {{g}_{\psi }}.

Because of this revelation, our group goodness value has changed:

Y=(n-1){{g}^{*}}+{{g}_{\psi }}

Everyone else still has their constant level of goodness {{g}^{*}}>0, while our bad person {{x}_{b}} has been separated out because he is of a different moral integrity  {{g}_{\psi }}. I’ll remind you here that  {{g}_{\psi }} is negative and will therefore drag the groups goodness down. Obviously in a group that values moral goodness above all else, the individual {{x}_{b}} must be removed and excluded from the group, as he is No True Godsman. Therefore our updated value for the groups morality is



Let’s now compare the different values for Y we have had so far.


Y=(n-1){{g}^{*}}+{{g}_{\psi }}


It’s clear that {{Y}^{*}} is the highest value of all our Y’s, and that after all the revelations of wickedness, we are left with a group goodness level that is below our originally perceived theoretical level


We must not forget however that the individual who was removed from the group was always a bad person, we just did not realise it at the time, and Y* never actually existed, and all we had before the unpleasantness was Y, the second of our three Y values given above. Think about this and compare it to our new value {\tilde{Y}}. Since {{g}_{\psi }} is negative, this means that \tilde{Y}  will always be greater than Y.


The groups goodness has actually increased as a result of the expulsion of a member who revealed himself to be bad. Further, this will always be the case, as any further hidden non-{{g}^{*}}’s who are revealed as such will be removed and therefore increase the moral goodness of the group as a whole. This might sound like quite an obvious and innocent statement, but think about how someone can actually reveal themselves to be a bad person. They will never reveal it voluntarily, but only through bad behavior and acts. If a group values the unobservable moral integrity of it’s members above all else, it will always be good for the group if it’s secretly bad members perform an act so depraved that it reveals them as what they are: a non-{{g}^{*}}. It is only through horrible acts that the group can actually edge closer to what they truly want: maximising their Y, and therefore their moral goodness.


So, to use these stylised facts on the situation that offended my friend and prompted his Facebook status, he could have argued that this ‘[insert religion here]’ who performed a sexual assault actually did [insert religion here] a favour by telling all the ‘true’ [insert religion here] that the assaulter was no [insert religion here] at all, and that this was good for the [insert religion here] community as a whole. That sexual deviant was living amongst the [insert religion here], passing as a [insert religion here], and now because he revealed his true nature, [insert religion here] is all the better for it. Therefore anyone in that religion should be happy that it occurred. The application of logic to a logical fallacy will always reveal its true nature, and what I hope anyone who read this far gets from this is that it can lead to interesting results, and will more than likely end up backing the offender into a tight, (hopefully) logically sound corner.