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

THE YEAR IN MOVIES!

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.

THE YEAR IN TV!

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.

THE YEAR IN MUSIC!

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: https://open.spotify.com/user/116764751/playlist/2kIJ2pV0EOgEW1jJzCtjyN

THE YEAR IN SPORTS!

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.

 

THE YEAR IN INTERNET!

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.

THE YEAR IN REALITY!

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!

Advertisements

Family, Demography, and the End of the World

Just over a month ago I was back in Ireland at the funeral of my last remaining grandparent, my paternal grandmother, who had lived to the grand age of 98. Since she was so well on in her years that the event was less a tragedy, and more a celebration of a long life that had begun before even the creation of an independent Ireland. Yes, my grandmother was older than Ireland, and many people came to pay their respects last month at her funeral, the most important of whom being her own family. She was the mother of 7 children (including my own father), a number that seems extremely large nowadays but at the time was quite normal for an agricultural Irish family. These seven children proceeded to make their own ways in life, settled down and altogether produced 20 children (including myself). This group of 20 between them (so far), they have produced 5 members for the next generation, who would be my grandmother’s great-grandchildren. Adding up all her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, there are 32 people on this Earth whose existence could be directly attributed to my late grandmother.

This is a pretty impressive number obviously, but again, in the Midlands of Ireland, it’s nothing extraordinary: people have a lot of children, and countrywomen live well into their nineties. The number of my grandmother’s descendants is impressive, but the really interesting part of it is the generational breakdown. My grandmother (with my grandfather!) had 7 children, these 7 had 20, and this 20 thus far have had 5. The average age of my generation of 20 grandchildren is just under 31, so there is still plenty of time to add to our meager return, but the extreme likelihood (unless all my cousins go on breeding missions!) is that this figure will probably end up below 30. My grandparents represent a single couple, therefore produced an average of 7 children. These seven children produced an average of about 3 children (20 divided by 7) each, but the next (/my) generation most likely will not even produce two each. That’s quite a shift in just three generations.

This breeding breakdown is the story of Ireland’s past century in the form of fertility rates. When my grandparents started their family in the 1940’s, Ireland was a much poorer country than it is now, and people had larger families, especially in farming communities, as extra family members were a way to help with the workload. The theory goes that as a country get richer and move away from agriculture (as Ireland has done over the past 30 years), fertility rates drop significantly. This can be seen starting with the increasing prosperity and declining fertility rates of my fathers generation, and even more extremely with my own generation, who seem to need some motivation. It seems counterintuitive when written down, but poor people have more children, and richer people have less. To us residents of Europe this is nothing strange, as it is a fact that has been thrown at us since high school, as the various education boards of Europe thought it prudent to instill in all of us from a young age that if Germans keep breeding as they are currently breeding, soon enough there would be no more Germans (to pay for all of our stuff). Germany currently has a fertility rate of 1.38 births per woman, which means that two Germans (a couple) contribute one German (their child) to the next generation. To keep a stable population, each couple in a country must produce 2.3 children. Germany is obviously well below this and therefore its population will halve with every generation, and become increasingly old in the meantime. The same is true all over Europe, even in Catholic Ireland, as the projected fertility of myself and my cousins was detailed above. Developed, affluent, boring countries will soon die out, so what do we do?

empty-street-side-view-wallpaper-32gsg

A perceived answer, for a decade or two now, has been that accepting young, unskilled migrants from poor countries outside Europe is the only way to ensure European population stability, and even growth. The theory is that these migrants are much poorer, will have more children than the native population, and this will increase the overall fertility rate, while at the same time the current migrants work in the country and pay into the social security system which takes care of the increasingly ageing population. This logic has been used by Open Borders campaigners for a few decades now, but it has been thrown around again in the past few weeks as a justification for allowing refugees to enter and settle within Western Europe: they are poor, they can work, and they will/would/could have a lot of children. It’s a crude, desperate logic, and one that I have never liked, since if you take the logic to its natural conclusion, it ends with the elimination of the human race.

As a thought experiment imagine, all other things equal, that the borders of the world were suddenly removed, and anyone, from any country, could move where they wanted. We would have a lot of people from poorer countries moving to richer countries in order to pursue a better life (in theory). These poorer migrants would probably have a lot of children in their first generation, adding much needed youth to the population pyramids of rich industrialised countries. However, just like the breeding structure of my own extended family through the past few generations, it is likely that further generations of those families would probably have decreasing fertility rates, and with increased wealth these fertility rates would soon reach the current German levels, which brings us back to the point of how to save the Germans! Once a certain point is reached, each generation of the new, open borders world will be half the size of the previous generation, only in this open borders case there is no source of young, poor migrants to exploit and prop up the population pyramid. In this scenario, with the population halving every generation, it will only be a few hundred years until the human race is at the level of the humble panda, being encouraged to procreate in order to save its species. So, based on the fertility rate theory of economic development, open borders will one day lead to the destruction of the human race, through long-term demographic erosion and boring, sex-deprived affluence. The only way to save humanity therefore is to ensure there are always poverty-stricken parts of the world with overflowing populations, ready to send their best breeders to prop up the social security system of Western and Central Europe, generation after generation.

I realise that my ravings above could easily be used by right-wing anti-immigration politicians, however none of those guys knows what a long-term issue is, so I think I am safe. The point is that neither of these long-term results of the ‘bring in migrants to pay for social security’ argument really sounds right, and therefore I am extremely uneasy about the idea as a whole. Demography (the study of population structure) is more of an observational social science than anything else, and probably should not be used to govern policy, or political debate. An economic argument to welcome migrants, and refugees in particular, is probably not a good one. Welcome refugees because it’s the right thing to do- not because their kids will pay for your pension, would be the main thing to take away from this. For those afraid of immigrants and their large families, don’t worry, they will be just as abstinent as you in a few decades, as the example given by the generational structure of my family over the past 70 years. We are educated a lot about how different religions affect fertility, and generally are told those that encourage a high birth rate, such as Catholicism, are bad for society as they hold back the economic participation of women in an egalitarian, capitalist society. Rarely do we realise that the affluence that capitalism sometimes brings with it also affects fertility, by lowering it significantly, as shown by the economically dirt-poor yet high-fertility rate of my grandmother in 1940’s Ireland, and comparing it to the economically prosperous yet negligible birth-rate of my generation. Anyway: 98 years and 32 people, an average of one descendant added every 3 years, is probably the record to beat, and I think I can say already that it will never be beaten by any member of my extended family.

The Morality of the Eurozone

Despite many advances in the relevant technologies over the past decade, it turns out that driverless cars are a lot further away than we may imagine. Yes, Google will be testing their self-driving vehicle this summer on the roads around Silicon Valley, and yes, Uber have recently decimated the Robotics Department of Carnegie-Mellon by sweeping away their brightest researchers, but what you don’t read about too often is that developers at the forefront of the technology have hit an unforeseen problem: they have to encode their machines with a way to judge the value of life. I am not being abstract, I mean literally that driverless cars must actually be able to weigh the value of one life against another, and make decisions based on this, in real time. The most straightforward example I can give you is the case of a driverless car containing a single passenger that is about to hit a (n also driverless) schoolbus full of children. The car of the single passenger, ie his/her personal property, would have to make the decision to protect the many over the life of its single owner, and possibly swerve that car over a cliff, or any other alternative action to save the most lives. Therefore if you have a driverless car, there will be certain situations where it will decide that the logical decision is to kill you.

As I said, this fact has many of the best minds in robotics technology absolutely baffled, so much so that companies like BMW and Mercedez Benz have actually hired philosophers and ethicists as permanent staff members of their driverless car projects.  How to weigh a life is one of the most important questions in this next phase of technological advancement, and is one that we will see again and again as this century progresses. I can imagine a time not so far away when robotics engineers are convicted of murder for a glitch in a shoddy ethics algorithm. Weighing intangible assets against each other is new territory in quantitative analysis, however the ethicists and roboticists at these research departments could simply look to Europe for answers, and reason quite clearly that the best solution is simply to drive the weakest individual off the cliff, at any cost.

PaperArtist_2015-06-28_20-48-37

The case of Greece and the Eurozone is an important moment in the history of democracy in that what is actually happening right now is a weighing of the value of one democracy versus the value of another democracy. The Eurozone is a democratic institution, comprising of elected finance ministers and heads of state from all its member nations. Within that democratic institution is Greece, a sovereign democratic nation in itself that is being forced to do things it doesn’t want to do, by the more powerful democracy, to the detriment of itself and its people. The sovereignty of Greece is irrelevant (and questionable) in the situation, it is more important that the views of the majority in the higher democracy are served, whatever the cost to the smaller nation. Such an event has never happened in history between a sovereign nation and another actor, in any political system, except from times of war.  I want to state clearly here that I don’t feel very sorry for Greece, or feel that the actions of the Eurozone are justified. The two are different sides of the same coin, a problem that Europe has tried to ignore for almost 20 years: monetary union is absolutely unsustainable without further fiscal, political, and ultimately total, union.

The Euro, while long a dream in Brussels circles since the 1970s, was a product of the post-Cold War era of the mid-1990s, a time where anything was possible and the belief that the objective power of capitalist market dynamics was enough to stabilise the financial system. I had just started studying economics in high school in the mid-90s and was taught that the watermark for a safe financial system was an independent central bank and the limiting of government intervention in this financial system. This was trumpeted mostly by Alan Greenspan, a man who probably should not be allowed to walk down the streets unmolested by abuse. This, a booming worldwide economy, and the prototype successful reunion of West and East Germany was enough to convince decision makers in the European Union that the time was ripe for further union. And what better union to make than monetary union, based in the financial system, which was a completely objective and self-correcting entity that would basically take care of itself? The Eurozone was thus conceived as a harmless, subjective almost robotic entity that ran itself automatically, and had the steely gaze of the independent European Central Bank to make decisions should something go wrong. In effect, Eurozone members traded in their monetary sovereignty for the chances of deeper trade ties with their major European trading partners, and would save millions on transaction costs (exchange rates etc) while pooling their financial might to create one of the strongest currencies in the world. It was going reasonably OK until 2008.

You can really tell who your friends are during a crisis, and the House of Europe was not a happy one towards the end of the first decade this century. Suddenly there was a witch hunt going on in European media about the frugal, sensible Northern Europeans versus the lazy, tax-dodging Mediterraneans (and Ireland, a little bit). In truth, if everyone acted like the Germans claim to do, and save every penny while treasuring security above all, there would not be so much economic activity in that country. Yet it was fine, because the media and politicians who could say this sort of thing about Greece, Portugal and Ireland were completely unaccountable to the electorate of those countries. The important thing however was that those politicians could influence the monetary policy and bailout conditions on those countries due to their status as Eurozone members. The Eurozone, in a time of financial crises, was plucked from the realms of supposedly objective invisible-handed guidance, and plunged into the centuries old bickering of European petty politics.

It’s not that the Eurozone was a bad idea, or that it can’t work, it’s that it was never going to be enough by itself to ensure a stable monetary union. States gave away sovereignty, a possession long thought indivisible, and this has been proven right. By reneging on their monetary sovereignty, the only option was to further ties with other members of the union, ultimately leading to a Eurozone Confederacy. Only by coordinating monetary, fiscal and financial policy can a system such as the Eurozone ever work, balancing the growth of its richest members with the protection of and investment in its weakest members. West Germany reintegrated with East Germany knowing that it was an economic risk to take on such an economically backward region, and entered the Eurozone knowing that countries like Greece and Portugal would take generations to reach the same level. Within a country, you would call this the core-periphery model, where a high-growth region ultimately has to fund a weaker region that has nothing going on, with the hope that key investments will help the two converge economically. This is usually done through investment in infrastructure and education in the peripheral region, and rarely through tax extraction and austerity as has been seen in Eurozone bailout countries.

The Eurozone is flawed because it is programmed to throw our peripheral regions off the cliff, at any cost, and the real reason for that is because no one in any position of power really has to care about any other country’s wellbeing but his/her own, and this is fine as long as it goes along with the majority decision of the other members. A real union, of any kind, would probably require some kind of inbuilt morality to guide the final decision, something that in this transitory period where we can’t quite seem to let go of nationalism just yet, means that we would need to belong to the same political union.

Everybody Needs Good Neighbours: What Eurovision Televoting Can Tell Us About European Relations

Whatever your opinion of the Eurovision Song Contest, there is absolutely no doubt that it is a truly unique event in the European calendar, and like it or not, it is unfortunately a fundamental part of the shared European culture. It is a stupid, silly, old-fashioned contest that has little to do with music, but does offer a bizarre introduction to hidden parts of Europe that we never knew existed. Who knew Azerbaijan is in Europe, for example, or that Israel belongs with the European elite, fighting for her chance of Eurovision glory? The flamboyant, over the top musical acts are one point that make it unique, but another aspect of the contest that makes it truly unique is the manner of how a winner is chosen. For 50 years, the winning entry of the Eurovision Song Contest has been chosen through a round-robin system of voting, where each individual country assigns points to other entrants (it is not possible to vote for your own country), and the entry with the highest points tally at the end of this process wins the contest. Before 1998, these points were awarded through specialist judge panels in each country, lending a degree of legitimacy and arguably musical relevance to the proceedings. However, since 1998, the point allocations have been aggregated through phone-in ballot in each country. This process is what makes the Eurovision so unique, as it is one of the only events in the world where the population of a country ranks other countries in the region, and can award or punish based on preferences of music (or other intangible aspects). What makes this fact extremely interesting from a data analysis point of view is that all point allocations are declared publically, and this means that the Eurovision voting process since 1998 gives us a rich, detailed, 16 year database of a single European country’s preferences for another European country.

One of the big criticisms of this voting process over the past 20 years is that the new post-Iron Curtain Republics who joined the Eurovision in the mid 1990’s simply disregard any aspect of music and just vote for their former Soviet friends. This was popularised in the UK as a way to explain their own country’s persistent failure to win the event. The theory sounds extremely ignorant, as anyone with even a casual history of Central and Eastern Europe would probably imagine that their shared history of constant warfare and mutual atrocities against each other over the past few centuries wouldn’t translate well into publically liking each other’s horrible songs just because they can. However, since there does seem to be something going on in Eurovision voting that has little to do with musical integrity, and the fact that we have the data to investigate it, we really can get some decent answers about what is more important in Eurovision voting: the quality of the music, or the nationality of the singers?

I have seen a few studies on this topic, such as the prominent one on the voting blocs of Eastern Europe, yet I am approaching this from a different viewpoint, based on my years of research in the field of discrimination. I offer a simple hypothesis, coupled with early high school levels of analysis: you don’t need to know anything about statistics to follow this. My hypothesis, simply stated, is that all other things being equal, over time, average points awarded to border countries of any individual country should be less than the average votes awarded to the final top 10 ranked countries at the end of the voting process each year. I chose this metric as the first group (bordering countries) is static, and has not changed much in the time period of reference (1998-2014). Montenegro is the only nation to be added to the Eurovision Song Contest in this period, meaning that for all other countries apart from Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania, borders have remained intact. So votes for this first group are weighed against votes awarded to what have emerged to have been the best 10 songs in each individual Eurovision Song Contest. If music was indeed more important than giving votes to neighbours, the latter group would emerge victorious over time. If not, we can probably make a case that the Eurovision is a big love-in for our neighbours.

Before getting into it, I need to explain how a country awards points in the Eurovision Song Contest. In the time period under analysis (1998-2014), an average of 25 countries competed in the Eurovision final. After each song has been performed, the voting process begins, and residents of each nation phone a specific number to cast their vote. These votes are aggregated, and the top 10 countries voted for by a country are awarded points. Each country awards the following points, in ascending order of vote rank: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12. Therefore the 10th ranked entry for each country is awarded 1 point, while the poll winner in each country is awarded 12 points. We assume that the best song will emerge from the tally of every countries points allocation.

 To The Data

I ran an analysis based on my hypothesis on a selection of European countries, and the Chart below reports the results.

image001

From a first reaction, probably the most relevant observation from these results is the disparity of neighbourly love in all these European countries. While each country gives 6.1-6.9 points to the eventual top 10 in each Eurovision, some countries like their neighbours more than others. Germany and Russia have the most borders in Europe, but the two appreciate their neighbours very differently. Germany will give a bordering country an average of 4.7 points per Eurovision, while Russia will grant a generous 6.8. Austria will award 5, while Switzerland, which borders both Germany and Austria will grant a dataset high of 7.2. I can tell you right now that they rarely vote for France at all, meaning there is a great disparity in neighbourly relations amongst the German speaking nations. Another interesting takeaway are the results for Ireland and the UK, who each have only one border: each other. More light is shed on this relationship in the chart below, which also gives the likelihood of each country voting for a neighbour in any given Eurovision. The likelihood of voting is calculated by averaging the amount of bordering countries present at any Eurovision, and the average number of these bordering countries that are awarded points in that Contest.

image002

So, Ireland is 81% likely to give the UK 6.5 points, while the UK is 90% on to give Ireland 6.7 points. Non-island nations rarely do so well, as they have many border countries to choose from. The least likely country to vote for a neighbour is Germany, whose bordering countries can only expect some points 42% of the time. Russia spreads around its love a lot more than others, which is impressive given that it can count on 7 of its neighbours being present in any given Eurovision.

From the first chart above, I feel my original hypothesis is supported: most countries do allocate more votes to the objectively ‘good’ songs in each Eurovision, however the difference between countries and the love for their neighbours is interesting, and worthy of further investigation. It begs the question, are all borders equal? The chart below investigates this for Germany. The likelihood metric is calculated by averaging the amount of times each country is present at a Eurovision in the time period and the allocation of points by Germany.

image015

No, all borders are not equal. France is not favoured at all by the German public, and can only expect one point from their Eastern neighbours for every four appearances at the Eurovision. Poland on the other hand, can generally count on at least five points from their former invaders. Denmark also scores high, yet the allocation is far from certain. At least Austria can expect a meagre points allocation to a reasonable degree. Before you start counting, the Czech Republic have never appeared in the Eurovision Finals. Now let’s compare this with the identical information for Russia.

image016

There is a lot of love for Azerbaijan in Russia, that’s for sure, and the same can be said for Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine. While low points awarded to Finland are not surprising, Latvia does emerge as Russia’s least favourite Baltic country. Spare a thought for Poland however, who have never received a single point from Russia. Perhaps the size of the border, in the tiny isolate enclave of Kaliningrad is somewhat to blame, however when we compare this for the love show to Poland by Germany in their voting history, all things are arguably in balance.

 What Now?

This is all interesting, but I have realised that I have gone off topic since I confirmed my border theory was relevant, yet not water tight. Borders are obviously important, since average votes to border countries in most of the nations analysed were quite close to the objective quality of the final top 10, yet perhaps regional clusters are important too. The next chart compares selected former Yugoslav republics votes to each other and the objective top 10.

image003

FYR countries: B-H, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, FYR Macedonia.

I will say right now that the average of five data points will most likely be higher than the average of 10, yet the results above are still impressive. I didn’t put the likelihoods in, but the lowest one (Serbia) was 87%. Interesting also are the low average scores for the songs that eventually ended up as the 10 highest ranked in each competition. For balance, here is the same chart for the Scandinavian countries

image004

Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Sweden Norway, Iceland, Finland (I’m sorry, but you guys just are)

They all favour their own cluster of course, yet there is more of a sense that the Scandinavians (and Finland) are more in line with the European mainstream than the FYR countries, as the average votes to the eventual top 10 are somewhat higher. If you are interested in who are the most in line with the Eurovision, it’s Germany.

table

On average, Germany will allocate almost 80% of its 58 available points on the countries that will eventually rank in the top 10. So in any Eurovision voting process, pay very close attention to what the Germans have to say.

But What Now For Europe?

There’s a lot of interesting things that came out in from the Eurovision dataset, yet does it really mean anything? We discovered that everyone hates France, yet we knew this already. The fact that the UK are slightly more favourable to Ireland than vice-versa is no shock to me as an Irishman, nor would be Russia’s favouritism for its former Soviet satellites of Azerbaijan, Belarus and Ukraine. Russia’s distaste for Latvia I did find surprising, as well as Switzerland’s status as the most generous German speaking country. I am not going to try and explain why some countries vote for certain countries over others: many of you reading have already concluded that it is due to immigration and cultural ties or people from one country simply running across the border and voting for themselves, and they are all valid points. The question remains whether we can say anything about the general state of neighbourly relations in Europe from the results gleaned from analysis of voting in the Eurovision. I’m going to put myself out there and say yes, as at the moment this database is the best resource in the world in informing us on intra-Europe attitudes to each European country, even if it does make us choose between voting for our dear neighbours or for our favourite ultra-camp, terribly performed song that if you heard on the radio you would switch channels immediately. Maybe, just maybe, we use the Eurovision as a way to show our neighbours how we really feel about them, and it just so happens that these feelings are not always positive. In any case, for the performances and the voting process, it really is quite a show.