My Dear Americans


Americans, this isn’t something that happened to you: it’s something you did to us.

Dear Americans,

I understand that you are angry. Some of you are angry because Donald Trump will soon be the President of the United States of America, while the rest are angry due to the fact that some of you are angry that Donald Trump will soon be the President of the United States of America. It’s a bad situation, but hopefully y’all will learn to get along in this new Trumpian world.

I myself, like many people over in Europe, were shocked and wary of the success of Mr Trump over there in the US of A, and possibly what his victory could mean for the world. I was initially shocked, then depressed, then finally set into a mode of extreme depression over the past two months since his victory was announced. Anger was not something I had experienced as part of this process, until very recently. And it wasn’t even a result of anything Mr Trump said or did, Americans, it was because of you.

While last week was a week of many classic news stories for the ages, the thing that got me unduly angry was not the stories of Mr Trumps association with Russia, it was about the early movements of the US Senate to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or to use its Sith name: Obamacare) which had provided health insurance to tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans. The story was covered in international news publications, and was given a lot of attention on Facebook and Twitter through shares and commentary by Americans and non-Americans alike. This, for some reason that I didn’t initially understand, made me irrationally angry. It took me a day or two of angry contemplation to come up with the source of my anger here, and eventually it came down to a simple question, Americans: why the fuck should we care?

Let me set my stall out at the front here: there is no reason in the world why anyone outside the United States of America should care what happens to healthcare (or any other domestic policy issue) as a result of the Trump administration. Donald Trump campaigned on a platform that criticised Obamacare and he told everyone he would dismantle it upon his election victory. Millions of Americans voted for him because of this. Now there are posts on social media calling the repeal of Obamacare as a massive humanitarian crisis. I’m sorry, but there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in this world, and America electing a guy who told them what he would do to their health system – and then implementing it – is not one of them. Whether you voted for Mr. Trump or not, this is the democratic wish of your fellow countrymen and women, Americans. Let’s not treat it as if it’s a great tragedy that suddenly occurred. He told you all what he would do, then the election took place, he won, and now he will do the things he said he would do.

I know, I know: Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote and is the rightful president. Except she isn’t, because it is an absolute fact that Donald Trump won that election, despite receiving fewer votes. And you all are probably angry about this electoral college stuff again, and will be for a few more months until you forget it again until your candidate loses an election in the future. If you’re unhappy with the Electoral College, Americans, you should do something about it. Don’t just wait until it’s relevant to your sudden partisan cause: do something about it next year, or the year after, or the year after that. You are the only ones who can. Can you guess what I’m mad about yet?

Americans, and especially those of you who didn’t vote for Trump, it may seem that you have found a lot of solidarity when conversing with people in Europe and around the world about our uneasiness with regards to the incoming president, but you are disregarding one thing that I don’t think is even clear to many people here in Europe. Americans, you all got to vote in that election. We didn’t. You were part of a process and political system that elected Donald Trump to the most powerful job in the world. A lot of you are complaining online and ranting in real life right now, but let me make one thing very clear to every US citizen: this isn’t something that happened to you. This is something that you did to us.

So your civil society and your judicial system will fall into ruin, America, and this is fine because you had an election on it, and you elected someone. So your healthcare will be privatised, so what? Too many of your citizens believe the propaganda that health insurance is communism by any other name, and they voted accordingly. So Trump will have the power to name highly conservative Supreme Court justices: so what? Americans, I don’t know if you noticed, but your country is and always has been highly conservative.

Outside the US, we shouldn’t care about any of this, because from a democratic point of view, you got exactly what you ordered. What you should actually turn around and think about, Americans, is the effect of your country’s decision on us, the rest of the world. Unlike you, we did not get a vote in that election, and yet we all will probably feel the consequence at some point. Whether it be through Mr Trump’s apparent inability to grasp the high art of international diplomacy, or his explicit inability to grasp the simple foundations of macroeconomics, it is fair to say that he will cause the impoverishment, suffering, and deaths of countless people outside of your country. None of these people had a say in your election, Americans, but you did.

Of course, it is not your fault that you were born a citizen of a country that has such an eminent position in the world, where voting outcomes such as last November could and have such a profound effect on the state of the world and conceivably alter the course of world history. But perhaps it is not too much to ask that a country in such a position, if it is going to provide a vote for every single of its citizens, could at least provide a decent level of education to each and all of these citizens, in the hope that when choosing a leader they can tell the difference between a responsible human being and a reality TV star. Americans, the scope of your country’s arrogance in aiming to lead the world, while neglecting its own education system and at the same time giving every one of its citizens a vote in your leadership is absolutely breath-taking, and is something that (hopefully) will be regarded in the future as akin to the hubris of the late-era Roman Empire. Should we help you out? Should the rest of the world send money to the USA to help fund your education system to ensure millions of your people aren’t fooled into thinking a billionaire cares about their jobs?

I reiterate, it is not your fault that your votes and opinions matter so much. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to care. Americans, you are told over and over again that your country is the greatest country in the world. While many of you liberal Americans may laugh ironically at this slogan, you were grew up hearing it on rotation, and there is no way that it is not embedded deep with your psyche. The reason that your politicians get away with using this rhetoric is because, officially, America has never done anything wrong. America was not the country that allowed centuries of industrialised slavery, America was the place that freed the slaves in the noblest war in history. America was not the country that committed the single greatest atrocity in human history by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, America was the power that defeated the mighty empire of Japan. America was not the country that terrorised the second and third world for much of the late 20th century, America was the country that defeated communism and saved the free world. Perhaps if you admitted to your mistakes a bit more, your fellow countrymen and women would have a more nuanced view of the effect of their vote.

Americans, if you are still reading, I guess what I am trying to say is that while you may be angry about the political situation in your country, you are also responsible. And taking responsibility is not something that Americans excel at. You are privileged to be in a position where, in the form of US presidential elections, you can vote for a major world actor, and while in your voting decisions you do take in a lot of consideration for domestic issues such as healthcare and the US economy, you completely disregard the effect of your decision on the rest of the world. Even those of you reading this who mailed in your vote, your decision was based on domestic issues rather than the effect of the election on the outside world. You take no responsibility whatsoever for how your domestic politics effects the rest of the world, to the extent that you neglect to educate a vast number of your citizens, who are eligible to vote. As well as this, you fail to recognise any failure whatsoever by your country in the past, leading to a large proportion of your people thinking that the USA is the greatest country that has ever existed. And Americans, this rejection of Donald Trump’s presidency is just another example of your complete lack of responsibility in realising the power of your vote. You didn’t vote for him, but he is your president.

And ever since that fateful day in early November, you have been sharing your opinion online incessantly about how he is the worst thing to happen to your country and how he will destroy us all. Well, Americans, at least you had a choice in all of this. And now when it is all done, you are sitting back making sarcastic comments about how stupid your new president is. Trust us, we get it, he is stupid, we believe you. It’s probably time now to do a bit more than share jokes about him with your liberal friends. Even if President Trump accomplishes nothing in his 4 (probably 8 since your education standards sure ain’t gonna get better in Trumps America) years of power, your system has ensured that all of us around the world have to listen to him for the entire period of his presidency. The very least you could do is not make us all listen to you whine about it too.


The Rest of the World*

*(as interpreted  by Cian)


2016: This Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.


Who would have thought that we were living through a golden age? Possibly the most depressing thought about what is going to happen to the world in the coming years is the fact that pre-2016 will now be fondly referred to as ‘the good old days’. The days where you could laugh off extremist and racist views as those of a dying minority, safe in the view that progression was inevitable and common sense would win the day. The days where you could watch a video on YouTube called ‘Zeitgeist’ and wonder to yourself who on earth would believe such nonsense. The days where you could call George W. Bush one of the stupidest people in history. Well, those days are gone, because 2016 was the year the internet was made flesh, as complexity, nuance and logic were completely disregarded and replaced with lies, conspiracy theories and reality TV stars.

Even still, at possibly the darkest hour in a few generations, time must be made to review the inane and irrelevant things that occurred this year in movies, TV, music and memes. That is the purpose of this post, and I will do my best to stay on-topic. I’ll be back at the end for more depressing thoughts. Here’s a tip: if the text is in blue and underlined, it’s clickable and will explain what I’m talking about



Movies of the Year (unranked): Arrival, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Neon Demon, Rogue One, Captain Fantastic, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,

Biggest Let-Down: Ghostbusters. There is a theory going around that Sony themselves were the ones to highlight the sexist comments posted on social media about the new all-female Ghostbusters, in order to give the movie marketing a narrative that didn’t revolve around how bad the movie was. I believe this theory.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year: The Brothers Grimsby. Most comedies these days are absolute garbage, so I have no idea why this one got such terrible reviews. I was laughing throughout.

The Annual “Lesser of Two Evils Award” for which movie was the better of two movies that had exactly the same plot: Captain America: Civil War was the best movie this year about a pair of superheroes being manipulated into fighting each other by sinister forces. On the other hand, I barely remember anything about it, which tells me that although Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was bad, it was not necessarily as bad as we all thought at the time.

Amnesia Award for instantly forgettable movie: Several times throughout the year I saw a description of the movie Demolition, starring Jake Gylendhall, and decided that I should sit down and watch it. A few minutes into it, I would realise that I had actually watched it last January.

The (Spoiler-free) Official Verdict On the new Star Wars Movie: I said it this section last year that it has taken me a few years to get on board with the new system of possibly experiencing a new Stars Wars movie every year until I die, but this is what’s going to happen so we might as well get on board. Rogue One is fine, if unnecessary. The opening hour or so is quite boring, but the last 45 minutes or so make up for it. Also, the final scene gives hints as to how the Star Wars series will deal with the death of Carrie Fisher.

Film ad of the Year: The Sun’s front page on June 23rd, combining the newspapers love of leaving the European Union and also its love of Independence Day: Resurgance, which was to be released on June 24th.

The movie was released by 20th Century Fox, which is a subsidiary of News Corporation, which also owns The Sun. Corporate synergy has never combined so many terrible things. (Later on in the year, The Sun would repeat the idea by showing a still of Donald Trump from The Simpsons on its front cover once Trumpy was president-elect. The Simpsons is also produced by a company owned by the News Corporation).


TV Show of the Year: The Crown. It took me a while to convince myself to sit down and watch this show about a young Queen Elizabeth II in 1950’s England, but once I did, it had me in thrall like no other TV show since The Wire. It’s not bingeworthy, and you will not be able to take more than two episodes at a time, but I was at work and looking forward to going home to watch anoth episode.  Set in a time period that we don’t know a lot about, and documenting a class of people that mostly we just assume we understand, in my opinion this is Netflix’s greatest show.

Sitcom of the Year: Bojack Horseman. If I hadn’t watched The Crown, this would be my TV Show of the year. I said it in this section last year, it’s one of the smartest TV shows around today .

TV Disappointment of the Year: The Walking Dead. I only watched the new season because my girlfriend made me put them on the TV for her.


Song of the Year: Portishead – S.O.S.

If ever a song could define 2016, it’s this one: A depressing cover of a song that older people may remember fondly from the early 1980s.

Performance of the Year: The Swedish hosts in the Eurovision.


Here’s some 2016 music that I actually listened to and liked this year. Most are from movies, TV shows, and memes, which shows how in tune I am with modern music. All I can say is that you can make fun of Kanye all you want: he makes great songs even when he is quite obviously going through a nervous breakdown.


Game of the Year: Liverpool 4-3 Dortmund. I am still upset that Klopp is not currently the Arsenal manager.

Goal of the Year:

Robbie Brady, Italy v Ireland. I was left speechless twice in two days in June 2016. The first time was when Robbie Brady scored this goal to send Ireland through to the knockout round of Euro 2016. Once the game ended, all I could do was try as best I could to say goodbye to the people I was watching it with in the pub. I went home and began making travel plans to go to Ireland’s next game in France (and against France!), the following weekend. I’m glad I didn’t book anything, because two days later, the Brits had voted for Brexit, and I was in no mood to celebrate anything.

Contrarian Statement of the Year: Leicester winning the league wasn’t a fairy-tale for me, it was downright depressing. All those years of getting depressed about Arsenal’s failure meant nothing, as Leicester showed any old team could do it if they play well. Arsenal can’t even complain about being outspent by their rivals anymore.



Tweet of the Year: Those poor stateless kitties. The most poetic illlustration of the absurdity of Britains decision, in one simple tweet.

Tragedy of the Year: The Death of Torrentz. To a certain type of person, Torrentz was an important part of daily life on the internet. A visit in the morning defined what movie/tv show could be watched in the evening. Many people have not recovered from their decision to liquidate, despite the emergence of torrentz2, which is a vastly inferior product.

Stupidest Meme of the Year: Uplifting lists of good things that happened in 2016. Scientific discoveries, pandas multiplying, disease eradication etc. are great, but people who write these things have missed the point. None of those things “happened” in 2016, they were simply the results of decades of work funded by the system that we soon will regard as the good old days.


Thing of the Year: The Internet. Like Anakin Skywalker, the internet was supposed to bring balance to the force, and no one really imagined that this would be a bad thing. One would have thought that by making all the information of humankind available to everyone that this would be a good thing, a new enlightenment that freed minds all over the world. Alas no, as all it resulted in was that different people believe in different facts.

Person of the Year: Vladimir Putin. I actually gave him this award in my 2014 version of this review, and all I wrote here was “because the whole world has gone to shite anyway”. How funny was I two years ago? And who would have thought that Russia would end up winning the Cold War?

Idiots of the Year: Liberals. While the world changed around them, the liberal heroes of the internet argued about how to construct a sentence that was in no way offensive. Like many liberals (myself included), we trusted enough in our opinions to know that what we wanted to happen in both Brexit and the US election would just happen. Liberal smugness like this is why the Right hate the Left. To win an argument, it isn’t enough to know that you are right. The Right think they are right too, if that makes sense. There are two extreme groups on the internet: the alt-right, and the always right. Neither are very pleasant.

The “Kardashian Award” for News We Shouldn’t Care About But Was News Nonetheless: Post-election/referendum protests. Many thought these were important, and that it could have led to something. It was just clickbait. A quasi-intelligent version of fake news, offering a glimmer of hope through archaic loopholes and laws, while ignoring the political situation completely. Brexit’s gonna happen, Trumpy will be president. You don’t have to accept it, but for gods sake why did you click on all that stuff about the Electoral College possibly revolting against Trump?


Well, I tried as much as I could to leave the current state of the world out of the mini-rants above, but as you know, the events of this year completely permeated every aspect of our culture, both on- and off-line. Here I have not even mentioned the carnage of Aleppo, nor the horrors of terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Germany, or even the continuing suffering of refugees all over Europe. None of this is likely to improve in the near future, as well as the state of affairs with regards to climate change. Some of you may have noticed that I have been publishing less on this site recently, and all I can say is that this is a result of the events of this year. The things I write about really are not very relevant or interesting in comparison to things that have occurred in 2016.

That’s not to say I haven’t been writing: I just don’t see the point in publishing. On the night of the Brexit referendum, I wrote a blog about how Germany (I moved there this year) was a quasi-fascist state. I went to bed without publishing it, and I’m glad I did, because by the time I woke up, the United Kingdom was a bone-fide fascist state. A few weeks ago I wrote something about how Westworld was disappointing, but in this climate, who cares? I didn’t publish that either, but I hope to get back on track in 2017 with my usual aim of a new post every two weeks. Thanks to all of you who have read this far, or indeed anything I have written in 2016 or before. I’m not going to say 2017 will be better, but at least we are all now awake to what is happening. It’s not a joke anymore, but that’s not to say it can’t be funny. Have a great 2017, everybody!


For those who would like a trip down memory lane, here is my review of the year in 2015, 2014 and 2013.

The Beginning of History

We all are currently in the middle of key historical events that will be analysed for generations to come. It is unlikely that this analysis will accurately reflect our experience of these events.

At times of key importance, I often find that the world can take the form of literature. Should someone (famous or otherwise) die, my mind highlights all the conversations I have had about that person recently, and find that these all alluded heavily to that persons passing. Perhaps I had taken an interest in a new hobby, and this hobby again would almost certainly be a metaphor for death. If I were reading a summary of these events, without any knowledge of what was to come, it would be obvious to me that this person was not long for this world. The author had signposted it without any subtlety whatsoever.

On the night of 23 June 2016, I went to bed, and just before I had drifted off to deep sleep, I was awoken suddenly by the crash of thunder. What followed was the most violent thunderstorm I have ever experienced. The rain and wind raged against my windows like it was the end of days. The boom of thunder sent vibrations right through to the objects on my shelves. The lightening lit up my apartment like it was the middle of a summer’s day. After a while, I got used to it, and finally did drift off to sleep. When I woke up, the world had changed completely.

On Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th of November 2016, temperatures here in Hamburg had plummeted to unseasonably cold levels, and on both of these days the city was covered in a layer of snow that would be more suitable in late January. Winter came early, just as autumn had gained momentum. During this time of the early winter, events unfolded that have stunned the world into a collective depression that has not been seen in my lifetime.

If I was making a movie, or writing a book, about what I was doing during the time of the Brexit decision and the US election, I probably wouldn’t include those weather elements in there, as they are quite heavy-handed. They are a bit obvious, and their lack of subtlety does not respect the audience enough to make up their own minds about what they should be feeling about the unfolding of these events. The fact remains however, that of these two world-changing events that we have all experienced this year, both of them were foreshadowed (in really amateurish fashion) to me through the metaphor of extreme weather.


Constructing A Narrative

I am the very definition of the elitist, ivory tower-dwelling, liberal idealist that was completely taken by surprise by both the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, and the electing of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America. I understood the issues at hand, and I respected that there were legitimate concerns by the supporters of these two decisions that drove them to desperate measures, but my highly condescending and elitist view was that the angry, poor masses would come to their senses, see that they had given us a big fright, and finally do the right thing and listen to us smart, educated people on election day.

I went to bed on June 23rd and November 8th fully in the belief that my worldview would be upheld. It wasn’t, and I was stunned into disbelief when I awoke from both of these smug, elitist sleeps. Everyone was stunned, and immediately began searching for explanations. From my experience on the days of June 24th and November 9th 2016, I saw that what was unbelievable in the morning, can become obvious by the afternoon. Brexit and UKIP had empowered the forgotten parts of the UK outside London (and Scotland and Northern Ireland), while Donald Trump had (in association with Wikileaks) led a grassroots movement to end the capture of US democracy by the Clinton and Bush dynasties. The world was shocked by the Brexit result, but almost six months later we now see it as an inevitable conclusion to years and years of the British government neglecting their working class. We are still normalising ourselves to the idea of President Trump, but it will not be long until we see it absolutely ludicrous to think that Hillary could have beaten him in the election.

Except, when I went to bed on the nights that the votes in both of those polls were being counted, no one thought it was obvious at all. On June 23rd, I actually went to bed after Nigel Farage had conceded defeat in the referendum. I went to bed after seeing the most vocal Brexiteer admit that they had lost. The next time I saw him, he was smiling like the Chesire Cat and proclaiming that he always knew that Brexit would succeed. Over in the US, Donald Trump in the weeks (and hours) before the election was seen to have a 20% chance of winning. His campaign rhetoric had switched to issuing pre-emptive excuses for his defeat: conspiracies, lying women, voter fraud. It is widely known in US media that he planned to devote his time to his new TV network after the election. Even when he took to the stage on the morning of November 9th to deliver the body blow of news that he had officially won the US presidency, his victory speech was followed by the immediate musical cue of You Can’t Always Get What You Want, by the Rolling Stones. This is not a victory song, by any event of the imagination, and felt very out of place given the circumstances. I truly believe that this song was cued by the organisers of this election night party to follow his concession speech to his supporters. They were so shocked by the result that they forgot to change the playlist.

Making History

Hindsight is a marvelous thing. While the world is a dynamic, constantly changing flow of information, major events act as a pause button and allow the static, isolated analysis of a single event in time, concentrating solely on the event and what went before. That not even the central figures in both of these historical events we experienced this year had any idea until very late in the ballot counting process that they would spark major world events must surely make us ask questions about how history is constructed. Your children and grandchildren will read about both of these events, and will be able to explain to you in one sentence what the whole contemporary world did not realise until the event had already happened. They will tell you about the inevitable backlash of downtrodden working class Americans raging against globalisation. You will have forgotten by then that Donald Trump didn’t even believe that until he won Florida.

The thing about history is that it must be a narrative. It must be a linear story of how we got from Situation A to Situation B. You are living through a major period in history right now, and do you really think that it is a simple, linear story? Studying history in high school (I don’t call it high school, but I have a lot of foreign readers, so let it go, Irish people!), what intrigued me most was how underplayed the First World War was, compared to the Second. I am well aware of the reason for this, as the answer to what caused the First World War is a ten page essay, while the causes of the Second can be described in one surname. The origins of the First World War are complex, while its sequel was about good versus evil.

Future generations will have to study a chapter of a history book that gets from the end of the Cold War (also an absolute shock to everyone in 1989, but obvious to us now), through the War on Terror, via the Financial Crisis and make it all lead up to a swing to the political right in the world’s richest countries. It will take up maybe five pages of a history book, and it will make sense. It will make as much sense to them as Germany’s mistreatment at the Treaty of Versailles and subsequent currency inflation during the Great Depression leading to the Third Reich completely explained the rise of Nazism to us history students over the years. I doubt those people in 1930’s Germany saw it that way, but it is too late now, and their story has been explained.

In the modern world, history isn’t written by the winners, it’s written by those who can explain complex and unpredictable events in a simple way. A story has to be created to explain how and why something happened. There are no surprises when reading a history book, there are no twists. Everything is foreshadowed, and the conclusion is obvious, pages before the major events. Everything is connected, and leading inevitably to its conclusion. In doing this, a lot of information has to be jettisoned, and the information that is used to explain major events must be carefully selected. Analysis through hindsight clears away everything that does not directly rationalise an event, and leaves you with a clear, straight path from “Yes We Can!” to “Make America Great Again!”

In this way, the construction of history is not unlike the construction of a conspiracy theory. Both are vastly subjective and oversimplified explanations of complex forces, and both use extreme prejudice in selecting only evidence that support its claim. The writing of history is in itself an art form, making sense from isolated key events and attempting to explain them as if the world was just one big linear narrative. In the decades to come that I will be talking about these events in 2016, I will try to remember how shocked I was, how shocked everyone was, when they occured. I will also include the hackneyed scene-setting device of the thunder and snow. It just makes for a better story.


A Very American Pornography

Donald Trump is an endlessly quotable guy: his straight-talking, no-nonsense, ill-informed speeches are analysed both by his critics and supporters for lines of dialogue to either ridicule or celebrate him, respectively. Unlike much of the internet, I don’t get much from learning each of the new stupid things the man has recently said, but in all honesty I must admit that one thing he said a few months ago (and then repeated it every time he had a microphone) on the US Presidential Nominee circuit really stuck with me, and it was one of the few things he said that did not spawn articles and outrage, and it probably should have. Back last year, in the middle of any speech he was making, he would proclaim with pride that he was personally funding his own campaign for the Republican Nomination for the 2016 US Presidential Election. In one of the televised debates last year, he boasted to his rivals that he was the only one among them who was paying his own way in the campaign.

We’ve all heard this fact, so it seems pretty innocuous to hear it again, but it is worth pointing out exactly what it means. By saying that he uses his own money to pay for his campaign, Trump is saying that he did not need to use the traditional (democratic) means of campaign funding, did not need to raise money from individuals and groups that liked what he had to say and would like to see him in office representing them, and did not need any support from the hierarchy of the political party whose nomination he wished to win. He would bypass all of this, because he was insanely wealthy and could pay his own way. And he was very, very proud of all of this. Trump was in effect boasting about being able to buy his way into consideration for the biggest job in the country, and considered this a point of honour: to him, his rivals for the Republican nomination were smaller people than him because they relied on donations while he was self-sufficient.

With his self-funded campaign, Donald Trump purchased for himself a platform with which to shout at us from, and ensured there would be no escaping the man for the foreseeable future. In the US, you don’t necessarily have to have something to say in order to be given a voice, you merely must be able to pay for the microphone. This of course ignores the fact that people in America always listen to Donald Trump, and not because he is loud and says funny things, but because he is a billionaire, and Americans worship billionaires.


When viewing a billionaire, or merely a millionaire, an American pair of eyes would not just see a very rich person, they would see a successful, great, powerful and wise person who could maybe have wisdom to impart to all of us about how to achieve similar success. This is the only way I can possibly rationalise the sudden sainthood achieved by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once his wealth passed a certain level and he claimed his place among the richest people in the world. Zuckerberg is obviously very good at what he does, and was very clever at building his product at a certain time and in a certain way that proved very successful. He engages in sizeable philanthropy, and strives towards a better American workplace in his own employment policies at Facebook. That’s all very good, but does it really make him worth listening to? Apparently so, as according to the World Economic Forum, he has some lessons to teach all of us through his choice of literature.

This type of post is so ubiquitous on the internet, we hardly even notice them anymore. A simple browse of LinkedIn will bring up posts about “7 things some rich guy says you should do before 7am”. Donald Trump himself originally achieved fame in the US by publishing his business strategy manual ‘The Art of the Deal’, which aimed to simultaneously teach the reader how to be better at business while also acting as printed evidence of how great Donald Trump is at business. Books like this, where a very successful person reveals their secrets always sell well. There is thus a direct link between the success of an individual and whether that individual is worth listening to.

The real issue here is the link between wealth and virtue in the US. While it is not explicit, in American culture it is highly apparent that success (measured by wealth) is considered a high virtue, and one to aspire to. If someone is rich, there is an unsaid understanding that that person works very hard and deserves everything he/she has achieved. The successful individual is seen as the sole author of his/her success, and therefore this person is an authority on success and can impart wisdom to others in and help them achieve similar success. The problem here is that there is no role given to luck or good fortune in the success story. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t benefit from being born into an intellectual family that encouraged education. He didn’t benefit from being born at the exact right time and right place to take advantage of technology and resources. Donald Trump didn’t benefit from being born into a rich family and honing his business acumen with massive private wealth as a safety net in the event of failure. Both these men are great successes, but it is difficult to argue that they both have not been incredibly lucky also.

Many reading will see aspects of this mentality in their own cultures, and indeed it is prevalent worldwide, but this is only a by-product of globalisation and the Americanisation of culture. The link between wealth and virtue is an almost uniquely American idea. Asking a Russian billionaire for tips on how to make money would involve merely a few sentences about being friends with Putin. Similarly, for the Chinese super-wealthy, all the tips would be about cultivating ties with the ruling political party. But even in ‘free’ democratic countries, there is an understanding that wealth and success are a mix between good fortune and hard work. The graph below shows how far the US is out in front of other countries with regard to individualism (The UK is in there too: that’s what Margaret Thatcher did to the country).

Americans Stand Out on Individualism

The stand-out statistic is the 26 percentage point gap between German and US opinions about the role of luck in success. Similarly, 73% of Americans see the sole act of working hard as the driving force of individual success, while other developed countries are far more cautious.

This idea that any American can achieve individual virtue through success (obscene wealth) by simply working hard is the American Dream in abstract, yet unromanticised terms. It is the reason brash billionaires are not only tolerated, but celebrated. The super-rich are the chosen few who have reached the highest level of American society. There are people who listen to Mark Zuckerburg and Donald Trump and dissect everything they say, in order to gain wisdom on how it is they became so successful, and then attempt to apply this to their own lives and achieve the same success. This is the same with the books written about success stories: Steve Jobs’ autobiography didn’t sell millions because people were interested in his life, it sold because people want to know his secret to success. This is why his profound quotes litter the internet, as people attempt to use the life of Jobs to sow the seeds to their own success. He wasn’t good, he wasn’t great, but he was rich, so there must be something he did right.

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”.

John Steinback

The reason Donald Trump is tolerated, and admired, in the US is solely because he is obscenely wealthy. His admirers like him because they have dreamt of being in the same position themselves, and can imagine all the sort of crazy things they would do in this situation: be mean to people, say stupid things on TV without caring, attempt to buy the presidency of the country. It’s a fantasy, a uniquely American fantasy, and this is why I see this billionaire worship as just another form of pornography, playing out in the minds of millions all over the United States of America, and probably beyond.

Ideas & Institutions

One of the most debated and controversial economic policies of the 21st Century has been the concept of ‘trickle-down economics’. According to the theory, the unconstrained free-market capitalism of the super-rich will eventually lead to more investment, more entrepreneurship, and more jobs, and that these actions will cause the previously concentrated wealth to ‘trickle down’ to the middle classes and eventually the poorest of society. It argues that the current level of inequality in the world is a good thing, as the money is now concentrated in the hands of a few exceptional individuals who will use their business acumen to make the world a better place, in a way that no government could or should. Trickle-down economics reframes the current wealth gap as merely the starting point of a new age of billionaire-led growth and prosperity, rather than the more obvious analysis that would argue the wealth of the world is being sucked up by a new world economic elite. It is an undeniably attractive argument, backed up by easily understandable logic and explanatory metaphors, and it is no wonder that trickle-down economics has been trumpeted by politicians in the more unequal, capitalist-minded democratic societies such as the USA. Leave the billionaires alone, keep taxes low, and the rich people will shower money on everyone.

The problem is that there isn’t much evidence that trickle-down economics actually works. In fact, leaving the super-rich alone to do their own thing probably increases inequality, as the rich get richer but the money never quite seems to trickle down to the lower socioeconomic levels. The idea of trickle-down economics is perfect and watertight, yet somehow something happens when this idea is applied to the real world. Something gets lost in translation from the ideal of billionaire-led growth to the actual result of richer billionaires and a comparatively worse-off everyone else. This something is the fact that ideas like trickle-down economics are devised in a theoretical, perfect and unconstrained world, while in order to exist here on earth they must be implemented through the very real, very constrained and very imperfect institutions that disseminate and organise ideas to society as a whole. In the case of trickle-down economics, the idea was sound, yet the implementing institution was the complex and far from perfect entity known as “the economy”. The idea didn’t really take into account that very very rich people will do absolutely anything to save even a little bit of money, such as moving operations and factories overseas to save on labour costs rather than staying put and investing locally, yet in the real world institutions of national and international economies, these things are everyday occurrences. The idea was divine, yet the institutional reality was all too imperfectly human.


Yet still, when you watch an American news show where trickle-down economics is being debated, you will have conservative commentators touting the ideals of the concept, using metaphors of money raining down on everyone, from rich to poor, and how this is the way to a stable recovery from global crisis. Opponents will attack the concept with evidence from the real world with figures of more people falling into poverty, yet the response will always plead to the side of theory. This phenomenon is not limited to just this issue, but found all across the spectrum of societal debate. In this world, we defend things we like with theoretical ideals, and we attack things we don’t like with criticism of the actions of their institutions. When a politician speaks about democracy, he or she will speak about the ideal of every citizen having a say in who runs the country and having a voice, and not about the institutional and administrative nightmares that conspire to prevent real democracy in nearly every democratic country in the world. Yet when a politician, particularly in the United States, talks about communism, the discussion is about famine, corruption, and poverty: all the institutional failings that occurred in communist countries during the last century. The discussion is completely earthbound, there is no reference to the abstract ideals of Marx and Engels, but limited to simply dirty, human failures. Democracy is defended with ideals, and communism is attacked for its institutions. In a similar way, in the West, capitalism is defended through its ideals of giving everyone a chance to succeed, rather than how the concept is applied through our institutions. Socialism in the US is attacked not through such philosophical debate, but through quoting the high tax rates and entrepreneurship statistics of selected socialist countries. It is clear that we prefer debating the ideals of things we like, and the institutional the reality of things we don’t.

The most glaring expression of this mistranslation of ideas through institutions is probably in religion. When debating religion, care is taken to avoid attacking the beliefs of others, and it is acceptable to attack the actions of the governing religious institutions, while at the same time defending our own beliefs with ideals and abstract concepts. I’m sure there is no global religion that doesn’t have something worthwhile to say about humanity, and whose teachings don’t inspire a person to lead a better life. Setting aside religious mythology and world creation stories, the core ideas of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, even Scientology all give profound guidelines on what it is to be a highly thoughtful, sentient being living in a highly imperfect world, and how to make the best of the experience. How each of these ideas are beamed into reality by the institutions that govern each of these religions is of course something entirely different. Scientologists have organised their religion as a profit-driven Ponzi scheme, Judaism at the highest level is nothing more than a geopolitical bargaining chip, and the interpretation of Islam by certain splinter groups is quite diverse and harmful to the entire world. The institutions of Christianity have not been great either, with the corruption of the papacy and local Churches wielding much political power worldwide throughout the ages, and also the child abuse and paedophilia scandals that have finally ruined the reputation of the Catholic Church in Ireland, the United States and elsewhere. All of these religions started as some sort of moral compass in a world full of morally ambiguous life paths, yet all of them have been translated through human institutions as something harmful, to members and non-members alike.

Ideas are born in heaven, while their implementation down here on earth through imperfect, corrupt institutions is depressingly human. No idea, no matter how simple or innocuous is immune from the harmful effects of institutional mistranslation. Even atheism, with its core belief being an absence of belief, is an ideal that suffers when applied to the real world. Atheism simply rejects the idea of religion, and puts faith in scientific and societal developments as means to lead a good life here on earth, rather than believing in something supernatural that rules us all. Atheism says nothing about becoming a condescending asshole and mocking other people as stupid and unenlightened simply for having beliefs based in other religions, yet this is how atheism has often manifested itself in its (admittedly highly disorganised) institutional form. There is a disconnect there between the ideas and the institutional manifestation of these ideas, just as occurs when any idea is applied to the real world.

All ideas work in theory, all ideas are good in theory, and all ideas can be argued incessantly through theory. The problem with any idea occurs when it has to leave theory behind and become a reality in our complex and imperfect world, and it becomes subject to the petty and morally ambiguous whims of complex political and social institutions. In the same way we rationalise our own personal actions by our intentions while judging the actions of others by their outcomes alone, we champion our favourite ideas through theory, and attack conflicting ideas through their institutional failings. All ideas are perfect, and all institutions are depressingly imperfect. All of us in our lives forgive our favourite ideas for their institutional failings, while simultaneously ignoring the ideals of conflicting ideas and instead focusing on their failures in reality. The compromise position is admitting that no idea, no matter how theoretically perfect, can possibly translate perfectly into our imperfect world, and that institutions simply do the best they can to translate an idea into reality.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

The Great Disconnect

I once watched a documentary about Julio Cu Camara, a Mexico City civil servant who is tasked with a daily dive into the open sewers of the overcrowd metropolis in order to remove whatever debris is clogging up the system and thus preventing the free flow of excrement and waste through its natural course. While Camara was preparing to submerge, the documentary makers joked that a tradition should exist whereby once a year, the mayor of the City should be required to perform this task of swimming through the citys waste, lending a degree of enforced humility and groundedness to the entrenched political elite. In truth, this idea is a pretty decent metaphor for the peak of an election cycle, where politicians, particularly in parliamentary democracies, are forced to jump through any and every hoop that voters and media alike may cast in front of them in a bid to earn a job for the next pre-determined number of years. Election campaigns in European-style parliamentary democracies are far from the self-aggrandising egomania of a US presidential election where two candidates strut around from place to place, entering like a rock star to adoring fans in tightly scheduled rallies. No, in parliamentary democracies, everyone in parliament loses their seat at the same time, so everyone must go back to where they came from, and account for what he/she hasn’t done since he/she won the last election.

This is the average voters time to shine, as politicians who are blamed for all our problems are paraded out in the open, seemingly begging to have mud thrown at them, clean up, and then beg for more. We drag them through the mud, we blame them for everything, we call them every name we can think of, and they take it all, because in the end, they know that most people will vote. Yes we complain, we drag them through the mud, but in the end, we still give them exactly what they want, because voting is all they want us to do, and we do it because freely electing leaders is a privilege that relatively few people in history have ever had. There is good reason to be depressed about this vicious cycle, yet in truth, we are really just getting the leaders we deserve. This is because, largely as a result of our own doing, there is a fundamental disconnect between what we expect from a modern politician and the actual job of adequately running a country.

A politicians primary goal is to preserve their position for as long as possible, and if possible, in the meantime, to perhaps achieve some progress for their constituents in the process. This is all most people do in their jobs, so we can’t really judge anyone else for this mindset. However, think about how a politician goes about keeping their position, and compare it to other occupations. For most of us, simply performing our tasks to expectations is enough to get a contract renewed. Yet for politicians, performing adequately is not enough, as they are plucked away from their posts which deal with policy and negotiations, and are required to go kiss babies and have their photo taken with members of every religion and race in order to reinforce how good an official they have been, or are going to be. An election decides who makes the decisions that run a country, and election results are based often on the success of election campaigns, and there is absolutely no relationship whatsoever between the ability to campaign well and being a competent leader.

Thus we have a disconnect in skillsets between what would make a good leader, and the type of person who could actually gain a position of leadership in this system. A good, dependable leader is informed, open, intelligent, honest and good at making decisions. An electable leader has to be somewhat likeable, has to pretend to know absolutely everything, and be able to absorb as much shit thrown at them as possible through an exhausting election campaign. The skillsets of these two types of leader do not overlap much, and therefore we primarily get leaders from the latter category, and often without ticking all the boxes. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the UK, where David Cameron and Ed Miliband embody the perfect examples of the modern, drearily electable, surprisingly passable leadership candidates. The UK is an interesting example to use, as it has used my earlier declaration that politicians primarily exist to win elections as dogma ever since the first New Labour term back in 1997. Tony Blair was big into data analysis, and had teams of pollsters conduct never-ending surveys on what people liked and didn’t like, about absolutely everything in modern life. They would then use this data to construct sound bites for the next election campaign, thus giving the people what they wanted, and giving the impression he was reading people’s minds, doing a good job, and in-tune with the mindset of his people. It worked in multiple, successive elections.

Fast-forward almost two decades later, we have Cameron and Miliband, who are nothing more than empty vessels filled with survey data from their research teams, pumped full of policy ideas that tear acutely at extensively focus group-tested split hairs of the middle ground of the political spectrum, and whose every gesture at televised debates appear directed by a PR guru, just as an actor is instructed by an overly-obsessive theatre director giving instructions from backstage. These aren’t politicians, they are regurgitators of the median opinion of whatever sample group their research team analysed, desperately hoping the average British person exists out their somewhere, and not only in their data results. Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episode “The Waldo Moment” captured this perfectly, as it showed a cartoon character running for election, voiced backstage by a team of analysts. The only difference between that piece of fiction and the election this year is that Waldo was actually charismatic.

While the use of data in political analysis is necessary given that political parties need to know what their voters require from the state, its overuse in places like the UK are dangerous, as it creates a system of purely reactive politics, with politicians like Miliband and Cameron merely clinging to whatever they are advised their constituents desire. There are no political stances, there are no ideologies, there aren’t even plans, just merely datapoints instructing careful positioning for the next election. Politicians change based on what they think you want, gleaned from opinions of people who they think are like you, which wins them an election, and once you learn to hate them, they have realised from a focus group how to appear likeable again, just in time for the next election. It’s foolish to expect change in any modern election, because you, your expectations, and the average opinion of people deemed to be just like you are part of the problem, feeding into an iterative circle of perpetual dissatisfaction. But you can’t really blame anyone for this, as it is everyones fault, for we get the leaders we want, the ones we can drag through the mud, the ones willing to dive down deep into the electorates excrement in order to cling onto power for just one more term. Thus these are the leaders we deserve, the ones who would say anything, and consequently absolutely nothing, in order to rule ineffectively, treading water until the next election comes around. There is of course a need to hold politicians accountable for their actions and to expect them to adequately communicate their ideas to us on a regular basis, however this must not be at the expense of effective leadership or even having ideas about how the country should be run, rather than just spewing out how their analysts think we think it should be.