Dear Brexiteer, answer me this one simple question

If this question provides unease, you should start rethinking your vote
Keep calm and vote with your head, not your arse

Keep calm and vote with your head, not your arse

Dear Brexiteer,

I am perhaps the most unlikely of persons to care about the upcoming Brexit referendum on June 23rd. First of all, I am a foreign national here by will rather than by need, which means that if a post-Brexit Britain doesn’t suit my fancy, I can flee this island in a heartbeat. I am also a UK resident, which means that I am not going to get kicked out in case your side wins. In other words, I’m pretty much immune and indifferent to the whole thing although I definitely side with the Remain camp for the simple reason that I prefer reason, logic, and facts over ignorant or self-deluded sentimentality.

Now, I am directing this little essay not to the vile, racist scum that conform part – but not all – of your ranks. Not all of you vote UKIP, or are members of the EDL or Britain First although the moral laxity which allows you to side with these people without feeling revulsion is frightening. It is not a feeling that I could possibly identify with since I cannot find a single political or ethical issue where I would be at ease in being on the same side of the fence as these people. It therefore makes me wonder whether the frustration and rage of a Remain win on Thursday will be the remaining trigger to cross the event horizon of fascism, an ideological black hole in which civility no longer can escape. You may loathe to be associated with these scumbags, but knowingly or not, you’re on the same track and riding in the same direction.

So you “moderate” Brexiteer, the kind who argues that he/she is 40% Remain and 60% Leave or some variation of this, I will only pose one single question for you to consider before heading to the polls on Thursday. No, it’s about any numbers or statistics; I know you have surrendered to emotion and no amount of facts will convince you otherwise. In fact, I find it cringe-worthy that at this stage some otherwise reasonable people still think that pointing out “the truth” and barraging their Facebook and Twitter feeds with fact-memes or Guardian articles serves any argumentative value (if anything it’s counterproductive and leading you to entrench your views further). Rather, It’s a very simple logical question and I venture to guess that you won’t have an answer for it. Name me a single EU-related grievance that you are using to justify your Leave vote that could not have been addressed and corrected by an appropriate British government policy.

Stop and think about this. Continue reading

How anti-political correctness is breeding a new style of asshole

The gateway drug for for smart people turning right-wing
Political correctness is not the root of all evil

Is political correctness really the root of all evil?

Are you a causehead? For those of you have not seen the cult classic 90s college film P.C.U. (stop reading this NOW and go see it), causeheads are people who “find a world-threatening issue and stick with it… for about a week”. This was probably the precursor to the internet-era’s social justice warrior; people who act like progressives purely for self-gratification and do so with the minimum possible effort. Admittedly, a causehead had to a bit more work than simply barraging their Facebook profile with anti-austerity or pro-LGBT (I am probably missing a few letters in this ever-expanding acronym) internet memes; they actually had to make signs with catchy slogans that had to be written by hand and do a modicum of research on the political issue du jour rather copying stuff from someone else’s wall. And yet, as annoying as causeheads and SJWs are one has to reluctantly admit that their hearts are in the right place even if their brains are stuck a few feet up their ass. And if their biggest sin is being too politically correct for their own good, well, one has to weigh their damage to society besides that of their polar opposite, the anti-political correctness asshole.

I should start with the disclaimer that I’m not particularly a fan of political correctness for political correctness’ sake (that bit should have been pretty damn obvious for anyone who knows me personally); if there is no apparent benefit deriving from an act of political correctness, or the harm avoided is disproportionately low compared to the inconvenience or disruption caused by it, then what’s the point? Sometimes, the PC terminology is even more questionable than the non-PC, for example the recent attempts to use of the term “people with different abilities” to replace “disabled” people. Yeah, I can see how disabled can be taken the wrong way. Just because someone lost some abilities doesn’t mean they’ve lost them all which is what the dis- suffix could potentially imply. But “people with different abilities” describes every single human being that exists. Last time I checked, not everyone who still had their two legs could run like Usain Bolt, who in turn cannot play the guitar as good as Slash, the latter who can’t write as good a horror novel as Stephen King. And if “people with different abilities” isn’t bad enough, let’s not forget the even more patronizing “handi-capable”. Whenever I hear the word “handi-capable” I imagine some cheerfully smug American middle aged idiot saying it with a high-pitched voice and an ear-to-ear smile, the same kind of idiot for whom the phrase the road to hell is paved with good intentions was coined for. Continue reading

On the atomic bombing of Japan

The bombs were justified, but this doesn't make it any less of a tragedy
The debate rages on 70 years later

The debate rages on 70 years later

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, the first time that a nuclear weapon had been used in combat. According to the most reliable estimates, around 90,000 people – most of them civilians – were killed (70,000 died three days later when Nagasaki was bombed), and thousands more would suffer from the effects of radiation in the years/decades to come. The sight of a massive mushroom cloud over a completely pulverized city has since been etched into humanity’s collective consciousness, serving a terrifying reminder of the horrors of war and of the apocalyptic potential of nuclear warfare. But the most uncomfortable questions remain: was it necessary? Was it justified? These questions have divided opinions for decades. On one hand, there are those who believe that dropping the bomb was essential for bringing World War II to a quick end, thus saving countless more lives. However, there are those who believe that the use of such a powerful weapon against a defenseless civilian population is a crime against humanity irrespective of anything else.

Here is my view regarding some of the most common arguments.

The atomic bombings ended the war quickly and saved more lives

It’s quite hard to counter-argue this point. At the time of the bombings, the US and its allies had already planned a two-part invasion of the Japanese home islands, starting with Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu scheduled for November 1st 1945 (X-Day). The forces assembled for this operation dwarfed those that took part in the Normandy landings a year earlier: 42 aircraft carriers, 24 battleships, and 400 other warships would cover an invasion force of 14 combat divisions. Before this, the Japanese islands would be relentlessly pounded by air attack (aided by the re-deployment of many of the air forces based in Europe), increasing the devastation compared to what Japan had already experienced. In fact, the deadliest single aerial bombardment in history was not Hiroshima or Nagasaki but a conventional attack against Tokyo by 334 B-29 bombers on the night of March 9th 1945. The ensuing firestorm destroyed a large part of the capital and killed at least 100,000 people (and left a million homeless). Continue reading

The economics of Mad Max

All societies need an economy, even post-apocalyptic ones
There are markets, even in the Wasteland

There are markets, even in the Wasteland

I am not exaggerating when I say that Mad Max: Fury Road is possibly one of the best movies I have seen in my adult life. The high-octane adrenaline-fueled frenzy of non-stop car chase action would be spectacular in itself; that it is also makes emotional, political and philosophical statements in its two amazing hours absolutely shatters the idea that action movies are necessarily mindless and superficial. Its overt feminist undertones have been well documented, and like all the previous Mad Max movies delivers a powerful message about humanity and redemption. What more can you ask for in a summer blockbuster?

Could Mad Max also be a sublime statement on economics? One of the key elements of any dystopian/post-apocalyptic film is that it has to be somewhat believable, and for this to be achieved, there needs to be a realistic depiction of the way society arranges its economic exchanges. After watching Fury Road and then re-watching the original trilogy, it has struck me that each film has a progressively complex economic structure that could well be a coincidence. But with George Miller coincidences rarely exist and perhaps the old man has put even deeper meaning into the franchise that most people have thought.

Here’s an analysis of the economics of each Mad Max film. Continue reading

The god arguments

Why god as described in most religions makes no sense
God does not approve of this post

God does not approve of this post

Does believing in god make sense? For atheists like myself, the answer is clearly no: from scientific, logical and even theological perspectives, the arguments in favor of god simply do not stand the test of scrutiny. Belief therefore boils down to an issue of accepting dogmatic ideas and ignoring those that even to believers will appear contradictory, unethical, or just outright false. Often, we debate these ideas where they relate to specific religions. For example, arguing that Noah could not have conceivably built a wooden ark to save every species on Earth is specific to Christianity. But proving Christianity wrong doesn’t prove all religions are wrong. As a result, I have tried to summarize some arguments against god that could be seen as somewhat universal. Admittedly, most o these are biased towards the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) as they are the ones most familiar to me. But to some extent, they apply to any belief in an omnipotent deity that looks over us and that who we must worship to achieve salvation.

Here are the reasons why I think this concept of god is impossible.

The omnipotence argument

“Since power is said in reference to possible things, the phrase, ‘God can do all things,’ is rightly understood to mean that God can do all things that are possible; and for this reason He is said to be omnipotent.” (St. Thomas Aquinas)

Let’s start off with imagining what god actually is. It seems to me that god cannot be anything other than a being that features the three “omnis”: omnipotence (can do everything), omniscient (knows everything) and omnipresence (is everywhere). Indeed his power, knowledge and presence could not be conceivably limited because that would imply that there is some other force or condition in the universe that could limit it. Omnipotence, however, does have to be logically consistent: god cannot make a circle a square. There is also the omnipotence paradox which is illustrated by the case of whether god can create a stone so heavy that even he cannot lift it, so it is clear that any sensible definition of omnipotence needs to be less than absolute lest we end up in a logical quagmire. Continue reading

To Trident or not to Trident

The dilemma of nuclear deterrence in the age of austerity
The last line of defense?

The last line of defense?

How does a middle power remain relevant? One of the most important aspects of global power in the post World War II period is the possession of nuclear weapons. Although only two nations on Earth – the US and Russia – possess nuclear arsenals capable of practically annihilating the planet, the nuclear arsenals of the UK, France and China are large enough to deter any potential adversary from daring to attack it with nuclear weapons itself. Such an exchange between the US and Russia was known as MAD: mutally assured destruction. Although a country like Britain could not conceivably assure the destruction of a country as vast as Russia or China, it could indeed wipe out most of their large cities and lay waste to a significant part of the country’s economic and military infrastructure…

…with just one submarine.

We’ve all heard of Trident but few people really understand the way it works. The Trident is a US-designed submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) that is carried on the US Ohio-class subs as well as the UK Vanguard-class. Each sub carries various silos (16 on the Vanguard, 24 on the Ohio) that launch the missiles while submerged. The missiles the rise out into orbit like a rocket to the moon, at which point the tip of the missile opens and lets out a number of independently-targeted warheads (known as MIRVs) fall back to Earth. There are 8 British-designed MIRVs on each Trident carried on the Vanguard subs (the US Tridents carry up to 12) which means that each Vanguard sub armed with a full complement of 16 Tridents can theoretically destroy 128 targets from practically anywhere in the world. Continue reading

The architecture of unhappiness

How the Docklands style is ruining Britain's urban fabric
Bland, boring and ruining the city

Bland, boring and ruining the city

The “Docklands style” is the quintessentially British architecture of the 21st century. It is not easy to describe although anyone living or familiar with London today will find it instantly recognizable. Perhaps the best way to identify it is not for what it is but for what it isn’t. First and most obvious, it is not the classic Victorian and Georgian terraces and mansions that still can be found in abundance in most British cities. Secondly, it is not the grim, monolithic council estates that were designed as modernist utopias after World War II but slowly fell into disrepair and squalor. Take these two out of the equation and you’re left with the Docklands style, which on the surface seeks to emulate the wharf and warehouse conversions that have become ubiquitous in over the past three decades, first in East London but later spreading like an unholy urbanistic plague across much of Britain.

Indeed the Docklands style stretches back to the Thatcher era when large tracts of unused land in what used to the be the Port of London (the world’s largest up to around World War II) were revitalized as part of numerous development schemes, the most notable which was Canary Wharf in the Isle of Dogs. Canary Wharf was at the time the single largest commercial development project ever attempted, so ambitious and yet so untimely that it resulted in the bankruptcy of its Canadian developer, Paul Reichmann. Yet despite its near-death experience, the relocation of various key banks into the area (notably HSBC and Citigroup) in the early 1990s saved Canary Wharf from turning into an embarrassing financial flop. Although Canary Wharf is almost entirely commercial, its surroundings were transformed in tandem into new residential areas, which included Canada Water and the southern tip of the Island of Dogs as well as Limehouse to the west. To the east, the Docklands territory spread across the River Lea and into the Royal Albert and Royal Victoria docks where a massive convention center and an airport were built.

Despite the colossal sums of investment in reshaping what was once one of London’s most downtrodden areas, ask any Londoner what is the dullest and most boring part of town and they’ll say without hesitation: the Docklands. Although it’s architectural style, now referred to generically as “new builds” are the ambition of the middle classes (and have now spread beyond London to most major British cities), as an experiment in urbanism the Docklands style must today be qualified as an unequivocal failure. It created soulless communities, far from the amenities of urban life, and seemingly segregated into their own gated little utopias of key card entrances, private gardens (which nobody used) and the promise of a better life away from some imaginary threat from the streets. This is what it got wrong: Continue reading

Freedom of speech and fundamentalism

A fictional exchange of ideas about a touchy subject
You get it or you don't

You get it or you don’t

So, this freedom of speech thing is pretty complicated, don’t you think?

Yep, it is.

But as barbaric as the Charlie Hebdo attacks were, you don’t think the reaction in the West was a little hypocritical?

Yes. Perhaps the people on the street were being honest but certainly not the politicians. That (staged) picture of all of them walking together in support of the marches in Paris was a good photo op but a bunch of them have shoddy records in supporting freedom of speech in their own countries.

And even the ones who are democratic, tend to be allied to governments that are disgustingly repressive. Is there a major Western nation that does not make it national policy to kiss ass with the Saudis? The US and the UK are the most egregious example, but even Hollande was quick to fly to Riyadh when King Abdullah died.

And they seem to have no shame about it, which is the worst. It’s this in-your-face discarding of the very things they so passionately seem to defend that is the most insulting. And nobody seems to challenge them about it either, which is the worst part. All of this is done with the excuse of national security coming into play.

But now, back to the freedom of speech part, can we at least agree on a definition of what we should be permitted to say and we can’t? Because let’s be honest, some of those cartoons were blatantly insulting. Not just to Muslims but probably to most people of Arab descent, even if they were not religious.

Yes but they were equal opportunity offenders. They didn’t spare Jews, Catholics, anyone. And what we saw were some of the more outrageous covers, but the fact of the matter is that their primary targets were French politicians, not religions. Right-wing politicians to be precise. If we can’t ridicule a religious belief, why do we tolerate political insults? Discrimination on political grounds is as valid from an international legal perspective as religious grounds.

That would be the end of satire as we know it.

Indeed, which is why we agree that religion should be fair play too. And certainly we can agree that nobody, under any circumstance, should ever be killed for something he/she believes in. Continue reading

2014: The year it sucked to be a right-wing economist

Still think inequality is a good thing in the post-Piketty world?
Comment ça se dit, "slap in the face"?

Comment ça se dit, “slap in the face”?

Are you believer in the free market fundamentalist school of economic theory? If you are, then 2014 must have been a crap year. The main reason was the publication in English on what has now turned to be one of the seminal works of economics of our generation: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Let’s understand the magnitude of this. A French economist, yes French, wrote a 700-page monolith of a tome in one of the most mind-numbingly boring subjects known to humankind and turned it into a New York Times bestseller. Presumably many of the thousands of people who bought Piketty’s book probably have never bought, much less read, an economics book in their lifetime. Maybe they didn’t even read it from start to finish (this blogger must confess, he has neither bought it nor read it) but, hey, it’s the thought that counts.

L’enfant terrible of economics

I cannot emphasize enough the he’s French bit. If there’s any country whose economic intelligentsia has been vilified by the Ivy League-bred doges of the economics profession, it is France. Yes, there’s a handful of world-renowned French economists like former IMF chief economist Oliver Blanchard and this year’s Nobel Laureate Jean Tirole, but for the most part these have comfortably fit into the “system”, and only challenged it at the margins, if at all. Certainty none of them has launched the kind of broadside that Piketty did in Capital, a book which uncovers free market capitalism’s ugly face: that of a system which naturally gravitates towards the accumulation of wealth by the owners of capital. Rather than see the two most recent periods of massive rises in global inequality (the so-called “guilded ages” before the 1929 and 2008 crashes) as oddities, Piketty has painted them as the baseline: the social-democratic golden age in the post-WW2 decades is in fact, a one-off, in which the trauma of war forced Western governments to redistribute wealth to a degree that had never been done before or since. Continue reading

The greatest aviation duels in history

Forget Top Gun, here's the best combat rivalries from World War I to today
Spitfire versus Messerschmitt in the skies above Britain

Spitfire versus Messerschmitt in the skies above Britain

Aviation has captured the imagination of humanity since the Wright brothers took to the skies for the first time in 1903. But like every other great human invention, it would not take long before some military use would be found for it. When World War I began in 1914 most air forces consisted of a few scouts, but by the time it ended in 1918 the air arsenals of the great powers would be composed of thousands of fighters and bombers. World War II would see air power reach its full maturity; the war would see the first battle waged entirely in the skies (the Battle of Britain), thousand-bomber raids over Europe, the first jets, and most ominously, the dropping of an atomic bomb by an aircraft. Air technology expanded by leaps and bounds during the Cold War as each of the two superpowers strove to achieve a technological edge over its rival. By the end of the 20th Century, air technology would finally make it possible for a war to be won by air power alone, as shown by the 1991 Gulf War in which a US-led air armada laid waste to Saddam Hussein’s vaunted armies, which had once been considered the fourth most powerful in the world.

Despite the destructive nature of air power, it has nevertheless been romanticized throughout the years as evidenced by the glamorous image of the fighter pilot. So much that the US Navy set up recruitment booths outside movie theaters following the success of Top Gun back in 1984! But Tom Cruise’s heroics on the silver screen pales in comparison to reality. So without further ado, here are the 10 most legendary true air combat rivalries in history. Continue reading