Failings

My eyes have let me down a couple of times recently. As you will know from other posts in this blog, my eyesight has suffered as a result of diabetes and/or the stroke. I mean, generally, these days, I live ok with my eyes. Whilst I don’t think they’ve got any better, I certainly don’t think they’ve got any worse.

Yesterday, I was reading something online, which led me off to a newspaper article. I read the article, then made a comment. The only problem I had was that I misread the article – I thought I had read it properly, but I hadn’t. It was quite a serious post in quite a serious forum, and whilst it is interesting to discover other views, and share your own, it’s generally not a very forgiving place – somebody can be relied upon to pick up on something pretty quickly. True to form, somebody did spot the mistake. Fortunately, they managed to tell me without also adding that I was an idiot, that I was brainless etc. which is often the case on the internet, and really is unnecessary – I often think that when people choose just to insult other people, they’re exposing their own limitations. At least, if he did tell me, I didn’t see it.

I, of course, deleted my post and apologised. I don’t think he made capital out of it, but of course he could easily have said something like “make sure you read things properly next time before commenting”, which would have been fair enough. The problem was, I thought I  had read the thing properly.

So as a consequence, as I say, I removed my comment and didn’t replace it, although, of course, I still had a view. But I thought I’d forfeited the right to express that view by my error. I might well have left the group as a result, if I can’t rely 100% on my eyes, but, as I say, I find some of it interesting. I mean, it probable takes me much more effort than it does the average, able-eyed person to work my way through a post, but that’s my problem. The great thing about the internet is that nobody knows how long it takes me to read and write stuff.

The second incident (don’t worry, there are only two) was that I had to renew my PIP benefit. I posted about this just last time out. I’ve had the form a week or so, and when it first arrived, I’d obviously read enough of it to know what they wanted me to do, but I’d missed the deadline, which was a just a couple of days later. We just had a bank holiday in the UK, so there was no postal service, and my form couldn’t possibly get back there in time. I mean, I have to rely on my wife to scribe these forms (really annoying, but for another post), and she works four days a week, plus she was away last weekend and part of this, not to mention having her own things to do rather than just being around to fill forms out for me, so it was always going to be tight. I didn’t realise just how tight.

So my renewal application will arrive a couple of days late, and god knows what they’ll do in response to that. Worst case, I suppose, they might turn around and say that, because I didn’t renew in time, that they’d assumed I didn’t want to renew and have therefore scrapped my case. But that would be a pyrrhic victory. It’d take me extra time to re-apply, it’d take them extra time to sift through a “first-time” application. If they take that route, I could just appeal I suppose, but it’d have the same result in terms of taking us all more time. I suppose the fallback, as far as I’m concerned, is that I’m certainly not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes – I’m far stronger at walking, but my wrist, hand, ankle and foot are still paralysed, so it’s a no-brainer for me to pursue it to the end. With any luck, the DWP will be sufficiently tardy in opening their mail, that they won’t notice anything was late. They must deal with many thousands of these applications so I very much doubt that someone is sitting there waiting for mine.

Malta

Lots of things I hear about the EU leave me thinking, “that’s not very good”, here’s one of those things:

In France, today, the population is 66.9 Million [Google]. This boils into an electorate of around 47.3M [ElectionGuide.org]. France currently has 74 seats in the European Parliament [Google]. The European Parliament is important, since it’s the only thing we European citizens cast our votes for. This institution should be the source for every power European, at least in my mind, and should itself be comprised fairly. So, let’s summarise:

France

Population 66.9M
Electorate 47,293,103
Number of seats in the European Parliament 74
Number of people per seat 904,054.05
Number of electors per seat 639,095.99

Those two last rows are simple divisions of the numbers, I haven’t introduced any new numbers. This is all fair enough, France’s number of delegates is in line (using either population or electorate) with somebody like the UK, which has a slightly smaller population/electorate than France, and 73 seats.

But let’s look at Malta. Here’s that same table:

Malta

Population 436,947
Electorate 341,856
Number of seats in the European Parliament 6
Number of people per seat 72,824.50
Number of electors per seat 56,976.00

My sources here are Google and Wikipedia. You should be able to see it from comparing the two tables, but I’ll just state it for clarity:

Seats per person (Malta) vs. Seats per Person (France) 12.41
Seats per elector (Malta) vs. Seats per elector (France) 11.22

So, again just to be explicit, a Maltese person’s voice is more than ten times as loud as a French person’s. I have to say I’m in no way being critical of Malta here – it’s really up to negotiators to secure the best deal they can, so good on them. My only criticism might be that they could have pointed out that they have a disproportionate number of MEPs, but why would someone put fairness above their self-interest? And that’s my problem, or one of them. To be explicit for the last time, I expect the ratio to be somewhat nearer to one. Okay, I can live with some small variation, because France is a comparatively large country, and Malta a very small country, but a ratio of 10 is not fair. All countries should have about the same number of representatives, per capita.

Then you get to the method used by each of the countries to elect their MEPs, where again, my support is qualified. You’ll pick up from other posts the need to be careful to design a fair PR system, and certainly until John Prescott changed the UK system, our first-past-the-post was less fair still. But all of this might be the subject of another post.

I don’t particularly wish to make further capital out of this, really it’s down to you to digest these numbers and decide whether they’re fair or not, but be aware that these numbers are one of the reasons why I’m happy to walk away from the EU. I have a lot of sympathy with my continental friends, who will readily say that the EU might be imperfect, but there’s no way they can contemplate living without it, but I’m less forgiving. I’m quite happy to live without it.

Severance

I must admit that a while ago (it was probably pre-Brexit-referendum) I was looking for facts about the European Parliament. I know that for this body, the UK votes proportionally, but only really based on a “list” system.

I think with this system, the devil is in the detail. Imagine if the proportion of votes cast elected 5 of your delegates – you’d be pretty upset if you were Delegate #6 on the list. So I think how you build your list in the first place is pretty crucial. Historically, the largest parties are no good, because their list is passed down from their party hierarchy. So, basically, if you’re a safe pair of hands, well-in with the leader, then you’re going to be seen far more favourably than a rabble-rouser.

I thought the Greens might be different (another reason to vote for them). So I posed the question via an email. This was to their central greenparty.org.uk email address, so presumamly went to someone at head office. I waited, and eventually got a response. “It varies by region”, they said, and helpfully gave me a contact email for the south-west region. So I tried again, but this time didn’t get a response. Strange, I was even in the Party at the time, so if that’s how important your supporters are….

Anyway, I let it go. What else could I do?

Then, again, a month or so ago, I found the local branch of my Green Party on Facebook. Last week, somebody posted one of these “party political broadcasts” to the group. It was a poster which reflected how Green activists had been involved in thwarting fracking – I think members were supposed to nod approval, and carry on. For me, though, the issue is interesting because the government have obviously given their permission to go ahead, and yet local people (I assume it’s local people) have tried to use direct action to stop them. So for me, it raises the bigger question of when we’d find it permissible for local protesters to defy the government. So I asked that question. Several days later, I’d had just one response to the question, despite it being seen by around 20 people. That disappointed me. I might have offended people in the way I asked the question, although I tried not to. You can judge for yourselves, by reading some of my posts, whether you think this might be the case. Or (worse), people didn’t think we should be asking questions. But I think that’s perfectly acceptable – how else does a child learn? Or (worse still) maybe none of the viewers knew an answer? A lot of people interested in politics behave like sheep, I think, but I’d always thought the Greens to be more thoughtful than that. Perhaps we just naturally think of “our” party as better than the others, but that’s just perception? Maybe everyone who read the post just agreed with the respondent? Possibly, but there were no visible signs of that. I’ll have never met any of these people, as I’m not able to get a bus at night, so maybe they don’t want to engage with a stranger? But I’m happy to, and I’m the guy who doesn’t communicate as well as I used to, I’m the guy who had the stroke.

It’s already been 18 months since I paid any subscription to the Green Party, I guess I need to consider my links severed.

Irish Eighth Amendment

I kind-of get the feeling that there can’t be many people with this view, but I’ll write it and you can shoot me down in flames….

The background is that the Irish constitution was amended so as to recognise that a pregnant woman is effectively two lives, and to give them equal status under the law. This amendment effectively banned abortion in the state of Ireland. There are exceptions here, but I’m talking generally. The referendum, tomorrow, is on whether to repeal this amendment to the constitution.

The reason I am interested in this question is largely just because I take a keen interest in Irish affairs, although I live in the UK myself. So I might well have an interest, but I won’t be voting tomorrow.

So my view on this matter is that Irish women are, today, able to hop onto a plane and fly somewhere (nominally, to the UK) to get an abortion. So the current law is simply a matter of geography – an Irish woman in Ireland is bound by the law, but an Irish woman outside of Ireland isn’t. So I think the current law effectively says “if you wish to stay here, then you must keep your baby, but if you’re able to travel….”. So I’d argue that the law currently discriminates against people who aren’t able to travel. This could be for many reasons, including the obvious one of somebody’s ability to afford the cost of a flight and a private abortion. In that sense, we could see it as economic discrimination.

And even though someone might be able to travel, that’s far more onerous than going to a clinic in the next street, plus, of course, it doesn’t remove any soul-searching from the process. I’ve only ever experienced one pregnancy myself, and the baby was healthy and very much wanted, but I can imagine that other parts of the process must be far harder than getting on a plane. But I don’t see this issue as particularly critical to the debate. I’m more concerned that, under the current law, the Irish medical profession needs to be careful about “promoting” certain avenues over others – I know from my own situation that I’d expect full disclosure, so as to be able to come to the best decision. But today, resources such as the internet undermine this argument too.

Having decided that the current law is discriminatory, I would get rid of it – the issue becomes a no-brainer for me. It doesn’t really really matter what the content of that law might be, I think that we as a society need to use laws to make a level playing field, and not say to some women that they can have an abortion, and to other women that they can’t. I’d maybe be happy for there to be a further discussion, and maybe we’d discuss not just whether we’d prevent abortions, but how we’d prevent them without prejudice – if you say abortions are banned, then how do you stop somebody jumping on a plane and having one anyway? Is it reasonable, these days, for the state to even have a view? But this referendum is about repealing the Eighth.

Etiquette

I think when you post a view on social media, there are always two things that go on:

  1. what you say, and
  2. how you present it.
The former just represents your point of view and might be perfectly rational or not.
The latter is the key to your point of view being accessible. It might be inaccessible for several reasons, even something as innocuous as the language you’re using. I think there’s a pre-requisite that you can convey your meaning in the chosen language. It raises an interesting point with regard to stroke survivors, some of whom have difficulty with the nuts and bolts, although their thought process is intact.

But I think you can cross a line by choice also by your choice of words. Insulting, patronising, swearing, in some cases. I find even just bringing emotion into things can be a turn-off. I followed a post in a political forum this morning (which describes itself as for political anoraks, so judge for yourselves what that makes me!) in which a chap called somebody a **** (they used real letters, but I’m afraid you’ll have to guess as it’s not something I’m comfortable repeating). The effect of this was that whatever view this guy was propagating, it didn’t go any further with me. So it was ineffective in trying to convert an open-minded reader to their cause.

I do think that the goal of social media posts is not to win an argument – people, especially as they get older, have pretty fixed views and aren’t going to change them because of something you say – but to convince a third-party reader that your view is a reasonable one. Often, if you happen to be disagreeing with someone, they’ll provide that “reason” for you, often by the way they present their argument – being rude or unreasonable or something. I think if you’re going to have a view on politics, then a part of that view is understanding other people’s position, understanding where there is agreement and where there might be disagreement. And, I think there’s generally more agreement than we might first think.
Plus, of course, the other important thing in debating is knowing when you’ve made your point, then stopping. People can always re-read it if they wish.

Addendum:

Do you see what I mean? I turn off when I see the word “Ayatollah”, and any remaining point is lost. I have seen one already about Rees-Mogg, which claimed (incorrectly) that his own constituency (North East Somerset) had voted to remain in the EU. I duspect anybody who follows current affairs would know that, so a fairly obvious lie.


Happy Lunch

I had a lovely experience when I visited to Salisbury today. The local bus service is sufficiently infrequent that I frequently end up with having time on my hands before meeting people. Today, I was meeting my stroke buddies for coffee, and had time to eat some lunch beforehand.

So I was sitting there by the side of the river eating my sandwich in the spring/summer sun, and heard both French and Flemish being spoken by passers-by. I mean, fine, I live near a city which is renowned for visitors, but just to be able to sit there and hear other languages was brilliant. It does upset me a little that some of my countrymen don’t share this view.

The Monarchy

Inevitably in the UK, with this royal wedding, there have been discussions around the role of the monarchy.

With regard to the wedding itself, I must admit I’m not a big fan of weddings in general (I think I’m going back to childhood to think of the last wedding I attended, apart from my own). But I know how hard it is to make a marriage work, so I wish them the very best of luck. Just as if it were your wedding, I’d wish you the best of luck.

So you could take from that, that I certainly think the royals have a right to exist. I think there are big question marks surrounding inherited wealth, but that’s a different matter. You can have a similar argument about the UK’s benefit from something like slavery. None of us alive today, have had anything to do with slavery, and yet we live quite happily with the benefits that were accrues during that time. For me, these questions summarise why I think the concept of a state is something more than just the individuals who comprise it. It’s one of the areas where I think the state has a responsibility to involve itself.

Returning to the monarchy, where I’d draw my line is the involvement of the monarch (I’m being careful not to mention the queen here, since I don’t think this is about a person) in the machinery of state, for want of a better term. In things like lawmaking, in terms of royal prerogative, for example – the amount of power a prime minister can wield as a proxy of the monarch. We should be clear that these items benefit the state, not the monarch. When parliament debates and passes a new law, for example, the final act of royal assent is purely ceremonial. And, of course, we have people (Sinn Fein MPs) who have been duly elected, and who refuse to take up their seats because they won’t swear allegiance to a monarch. That seems a silly reason to me, and I think we need to be clear whether these people have been elected to serve the voters or the monarch. My own view is that the voters have priority, every time. So if you have a conflict, then the monarch gives way. And it might be fine for the prime minister to have special powers (again, an argument for another day) but we should be clear that these powers are because they are themselves the de facto head of state, rather than the monarch’s proxy.So I think we need to look at public service, and ask whether the service is provided on behalf of the monarch, or of the state.

So great news for the royal family about the wedding, but I think we also need to think of their context in our lives. God sabe our gracious state, anyone?

Fallen Ken

I like to keep up with the news. I’m careful to look at other sources too, but one of the sites I use most is the good old BBC. Last night, it ran the story:

Ken Livingstone to quit Labour amid anti-Semitism row

There’s been a lot about this one recently, not least because of his subsequent suspension from the Labour Party, and the whole row involving Labour and semitism. I suspect Livingstone has done them a favour by jumping before he was pushed. Having been an MP, and of course, the mayor, it was difficult to imagine him holding further public office anyway.

But in the mass media, this whole story has always been reported with a degree of furore which (I thought) obscured the basic source for contention, so I looked back at the detail on the web. In an interview (i.e. publicly), Livingstone stated that Hitler was a Zionist at one point. Whilst in later years Hitler obviously decided that his best answer to his “Jewish problem” was his Final Solution, he did, in 1933, adopt a policy of repatriation of Jews to Palestine. This is known in histoory as the Haavara Agreement.

There were strings attached to this policy, for example that people would be allowed to take a portion of their assets with them, and to take supplies bought from German vendors – Hitler obviously had one eye on his economy here – and there are further details in the Wikipedia article. Plus, of course, you can decide for yourself if allowing Jewish people to leave your state constitutes Zionism, as Livingstone claimed. Even taking into account the intimidatory atmosphere of Germany at that time, my own opinion is that Hitler’s manoeuvrings fell some way short of Zionism. I think his interests began and ended with getting the Jews out of Germany, whereas I think Zionism includes at east a degree of positivity about having a Jewish state. Actually, I think the ideal situation is to have a state which tolerates all religions, but that was clearly not the case in the 1930s/1940s.

Whatever your view on the actual history, I think simply trying to summarise this policy into a few words was erroneous. Brevity is good, but not at the cost of clarity. To claim that “Hitler was a Zionist” makes us judge for ourselves, “well, what exactly is a Zionist? Did Hitler fulfil those criteria?” So, whatever your answer to these questions, there is a need for the reader to apply some processing, so Livingstone was hardly unambiguous in his comment. Even if he meant it with the most decent of intentions, he relied heavily on his own interpretation.

It never fails to amaze me how senior politicians – not just this guy – trip themselves up with the words they use. I mean, even for me, writing a blog, it’s like walking a tightrope, but at least here I’m not looking for a soundbite and can (hopefully) talk about things fully.

Even now, it remains unclear exactly what Livingstone’s views are, as there have been a couple of other instances where he has allegedly been….less than generous, shall we say…..toward Jewish people. I’m not even sure if the Labour Party was intending analysing these or not.