Archive for March, 2011

Stop abusing ordinary men!

I really can’t stand it anymore, all these people claiming to act in the best interest of ordinary men. Whatever they do, it’s not in their interest, it’s in the interest of ordinary men. Tune in to Five live, Stephen Nolan’s show, and what do you hear: People telling listeners that the reason why they smashed windows and destroyed private property in London was, because they wanted to stand-up for ordinary men who suffer under the Tory government’s austerity regime. It’s always ordinary men, these do-gooders justify their actions with. Implement a new social service, it’s because ordinary men must be helped to get on with their life, their family, their children, their children’s children, you name it! Ordinary men have to understand why politicians do this and that. Ordinary men are claimed by almost any branch of socialists when they demand more equality, more financial support, more tax for rich people, and – interestingly enough: always more public spending.

Doesn’t that strike you odd?

First, do-gooders who stand-up for ordinary men seem to be driven by a rather rare variant of altruism. All they do, is to the good of ordinary men. None of what they do is for their own good. Well, I don’t believe in altruism. I believe that men tries to satisfy his interests. Which leads to the simple conclusion (some kind of Ockham’s razor) that people who smash windows and destroy other people’s property do so, because they want to do so. They have a personal interest in smashing things.

Secondly, do-gooders who want nothing more than to care for ordinary men, may have an interest in these ordinary men, but they have an overriding self-interest that drives their want to bring salvation to ordinary men: they make a living by caring for ordinary men.

Thirdly, what always angers me most is the moral high-ground these do-gooders claim for themselves. And from their elevated point they look down on ordinary men, who they consider being too silly to care for themselves, too frightened to stand-up for themselves and too stupid to voice their own interest.

So, I think it is time for these hypocrites to stand to their interests and tell others what they really want: They want to destroy things, they want to earn a living and they think of themselves as being mentally superior to ordinary men. How can anyone consider himself superior when he hasn’t got the courage to say what really drives him?


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Salience of Risk

An earth quake and a subsequent tsunami reaped havoc in Japan. As a consequence, many people in countries neither affected by a major Earth quake in the past nor likely to be affected by one in the near future, started to question the safety of nuclear energy. Radiation lasts for some thousand years and this prospect alone seems to intimidate people. They shy away from nuclear energy and rather want their power produced by something else. However, there is not a single way to produce “clean” energy or energy that is not dangerous. Each energy source has its own dangers as a report compiled by
the WHO shows

Energy Source Death Rate (deaths per TWh)
Coal – world average 161 (26% of world energy, 50% of electricity)
Coal – China 278
Coal – USA 15
Oil 36 (36% of world energy)
Natural Gas 4 (21% of world energy)
Biofuel/Biomass 12
Peat 12
Solar (rooftop) 0.44 (less than 0.1% of world energy)
Wind 0.15 (less than 1% of world energy)
Hydro 0.10 (Europe death rate, 2.2% of world energy)
Hydro – world including Banqiao) 1.4 (about 2500 TWh/yr and 171,000 Banqiao dead)
Nuclear 0.04 (5.9% of world energy)

Death rates for nuclear energy are far below deaths rates reported for other energy sources. Nevertheless, it is nuclear energy the use of which is questioned. Why’s that? One answer can be found in work done by Paul Slovic and associates, that came up with the following hypothesis: “…risk events interact with psychological, social, and cultural processes in ways that can heighten or attenuate public perception of risk and related risk behaviour” (Kasperson et al., 1988, pp.178-179). Thus, the real risk of nuclear energy is superimposed by a social perception of risk and sometimes a social amplification of risk: “Social amplification of risk denotes the phenomenon by which information processes, institutional structures, social-group behaviour, and individual responses shape the social experience of risk” (Kasperson, 1988, p.;181). In short, the more you hear about the risk of nuclear energy, the more your peers talk about the risk of nuclear energy and the more this salience of the risk of nuclear energy appeals to your beliefs, the higher you erroneously think the risk of nuclear energy is. This mechanism accounts for the gross deviation between real risk and opinions about the real risk.

Don’t believe it? Well, think about Mount Vesuvius a picturesque mountain near Naples. Scores of tourists come close to Mount Vesuvius when they visit Pompeii and Herculaneum or even make the trip to the crater of Mount Vesuvius. Yet, the risk of an eruption of Mount Vesuvius is many times higher than the risk of a nuclear meltdown, but nobody seems to care, at least as long as the
volcano stays silent…


Kasperson, Roger E., Renn, Ortwinn, Slovic, Paul, Brown, Halina S., Emel, Jacques, Goble, Richard, Kasperson, Jeanne X. & Ratick, Samuel (1988). The Social Amplification of Risk: A Conceptual Framework. Risk Analysis 8(2): 177-187.


Discouraging care

We’ve been to a Dubliners’ concert the other night. It was impressive to see the old men perform. 49 years on stage and still they sound amazing. In short, the concert was brilliant.

Especially, Barney McKenna, 71 years of age, played his banjo like a young man with a virtuosity in his fingers that you can’t help admiring.

However, being from Germany although living in England for the past four years, I wondered whether someone like Barney McKenna would be possible in Germany. I mean, would it be possible for him to perform? I think not. First, I’m quite certain that a number of legal restrictions and insurance issues would prevent organizers from letting him access the stage. Secondly, I’m almost as certain that the German Nanny State does prevent someone like Barney McKenna from happening. Sound’s weird, but it isn’t.

Official ideology in Germany has it, that working people have to look forward to their retirement. They have to feel joy, when thinking about retirement and they have to forget all about work, once they crossed the assumed biological border that divides working life from retirement. With retirement come social workers and all the busy people who help you here and there, do this and that for you, because you are old and can’t really care for yourself, at least this is what is expected of you. It is exactly this point, I want to make. Nanny states reward people for doing nothing. For retiring into oblivion for example, for quitting public life and, if at all, turn up in a nursing home for the elderly.

Barney McKenna needs some assistance with walking. I am certain, if he were German, he would have to confront a chorus of voices, telling him that he is too old to be on stage, that his health does suffer, that his ability to perform has declined and so forth. Many people would discourage him, few would encourage him. This is the main feature of a Nanny State. It does discourage people to live-up to their wishes, it tells people not to demand too much and not to strive for a goal that may seem a bit far-fetched. We are all human, the good people would say, and what they mean by that is: be mainstream, fall in line, don’t demand anything from you that is deemed above the ordinary by us and don’t strive for anything special, … don’t live!

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Juridification of social relationships

In 2004 van Keversbergen and van Waarden published a paper on governance that included the following sentences:

“…seems to be part of a broader tendency of increasing juridification of social relations. Informal relations are becoming increasingly formalized, and mutual expectations and agreements over reciprocal rights and duties fixed in more or less ‘official’ contracts”.

What van Keversbergen and van Waarden describe is well-known to continental Europeans and it’s getting an increasing foothold in the UK as well: Interpersonal and social relationships becoming increasingly juridified. It is not the odd letter of a lawyer, telling you that you’re not allowed to do this and that. Legal fines increasingly become the main tool the settle a conflict between neighbours. Lawyers cue to represent your claim resulting out of a car crash. Lawyer surf the internet looking for website-content violating section 1063(2)a of a law the owner of the website hasn’t even heard of. And almost always victims who fall prey to one of these decent and upright fellows receive a letter asking them to pay a certain amount. And almost always, the one who signed this letter will act “on behalf” and not for himself, so it’s not his “responsibility”, even if he’s been the one who evoked the idea of a fine in the first place.

As lawyers hide behind the claims of their clients, so sometimes do public servants. It’s not Paul who is writing to you, it’s “the Clerk’s office”. And not the people working there, but the Clerk’s office is required to request this and that from you. This and that is almost always something nobody likes himself being subjected to. It’s bad news, and since nobody wants to be the harbinger of bad news, it’s good when you can take shelter behind a position and tell the addressee, that it isn’t you who’s writing this nasty letter, but “the office”. This shelter of semi-anonymity is helpful in a number of ways. You can offend people by being rude, and blame the office. You can do almost anything without being responsible, because it is the office that wrote and not a particular clerk. This is one result of juridification that does not only alter social interaction, it contaminates social interaction with mistrust and with the opportunity for one party to get away with moral hazard.

By the way, Germans on trial after World War II in Nuremberg for being involved in the Holocaust almost always claimed to having been acting on behalf of their superior and in accordance to a particular legal obligation imposed on them by a certain law. Is this just a coincidence or is a broader picture emerging here.

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The good German citizen is deaf

The German government stands-up to revolutionize perception and human psychology – by law.

The law that aims to alter the way Germans perceive is called “Gesetz zur Privilegierung von Kinderlärm” a bill to privilege noise made by children. It is quite striking that the law speaks about “noise”. Thus, while it is not to be contested that children do make noise, the law prohibits people from doing something against it, it simply orders them either to stand it or to not hearing it. So if – by any bad luck – you happen to live close to a Kindergarden, you can’t do anything against the noise coming from the Kindergarden. Just imagine, you cannot hear it, or better still if you cannot convince yourself that actually there is no noise, move to another place. By law, the German government declares that though children’s noise is still noise, it is not to be considered harmful any more. Society, the same government declares, owes tolerance to children, and because of that, German citizens have to stand the noise.

This law provides the German government with a powerful tool. For everything that does not fit into what the German government defines as being the correct way of life there is a simple way to handle it: prohibition, prohibition to perceive that is. However, children’s noise is an externality and the problem with externalities is that others do perceive them (that’s why they are called externalities). A government denying its citizens the right to defend themselves against externalities caused by others is either close to becoming a totalitarian government or already crossed the demarcation-line.

Besides, there is not a single word as to why society owes tolerance to children, and why elderly people, working people and all those who do not want to be disturbed by children’s noise do not have the same claim for tolerance. Why don’t parents and wardens in a Kindergarden owe it to society to raise children in the awareness that others do not want to hear their noise and that there are more sensible things to do than just running around and shout like mad?

Because the “Gesetz zur Privilegierung von Kinderlärm” legitimizes noise made by children at the expense of all those who don’t produce externalities for others, it reveals itself exactly as the piece of dictatorship it is meant to be.



On 5 May 2011 Britons will decide whether they want a new electoral system or not.

Today, whoever gets a majority of votes gets past the post and into Parliament. This may result in someone being elected with as less as say 30% of the vote in a constituency. Fairly undemocratic – at least this is, what Libdem’s and all the others who support the Alternative Vote (AV) think. AV comes with the promise to be more democratic than first-past-the-post. In order to do so, voters are supposed to have not just one but many preferences. So, you do not vote for one candidate, but rank candidates according to your preferences.

Think of it as if going to a pub looking for a pint of lager, but being prepared to content yourself with milk, if lager is out. So you rank your preferences like that: lager, milk, water, coffee and so do other pub goers. Based on customer demand the landlord will decide what to offer, the beverage that gains 50% or more of pub-goers preferences will be served. But to determine the “winner”, the landlord will use a rather elaborate counting-program, that looks like that:

Count first preferences. If any beverage has 50% or more of the vote, end process. If not, go on.

Add second preferences to first preferences. If any beverage has 50% or more of the vote, end process. If not, go on.

Add third preferences to first and second preferences … and so on.

In the end, the landlord offered milk to his customers, but your first preferences was a lager. Will you feel more democratically treated while sipping at your milk? I wonder.

Anyway, in either case, a candidate that received 30% of first preferences and got past the post after second preferences were added will still command only 30% of first preferences which means, he is not the first choice of 70% of his constituents. So what’s different? Nothing much. Different is just that he can claim to be the candidate who is first, second, and sometimes third choice to more constituents than rivals are. Nevertheless, 70% of constituents will end-up with their second or third choice in Parliament.

Is this more democratic than first-past-the-post?

Think about it, while sipping your milk in your local pub.


Government approved lifestyle

UK parliament sits over a display ban for tobacco in tobacco shops. The rationale behind this is clear: smoking is harmful for smokers and passive smokers and though heavily taxed in almost any country it is more profitable to waive the revenue than to provide health care. It is this connection between revenue and health care provision that justifies government’s intervention. Health care costs soar and governments are more and more involved in a feverish battle to find economies. This brings smokers and the different forms of cancer they fall prey to into focus. Why not prevent them from harming themselves? Why not de-normalise their lifestyle? Why not tell them how to behave?

Why not? Because it is an imminent intrusion into individual freedom; because it provides society with a role model of lifestyles not to be followed; and because it reduces not only individual freedom of self-determination, but also individuals’ responsibility for their own life. Do-gooders, however, suppose that you cannot let people live by their own, because they are not up for the task. Need proof? Well, look for example at … correct: smokers! Seems circular reasoning and, indeed it is circular reasoning:

Start by defining a group of people who show a certain harmful behaviour, then declare the harmful behaviour as not only harmful to themselves, but to society as a whole. Engage yourself in the quest of bringing these self-harming people to their senses, by joining a do-gooder’s organisation dedicated to fight the particular harmful behaviour and lobby for politicians support. Because today, most politicians will support almost anything that provides them with an opportunity to appear as benefactors to mankind, this shouldn’t be too difficult. The final step is to justify your own engagement with the topic by pointing to politicians’ approval and subsequent needs for action, because of the behaviour of this group of utterly irresponsible smoking blokes.

However, the entire problem originates of governments’ involvement in health care and the respective need to pay for ailments of any kind. So in order to reduce expenses, governments choose to intervene in individual’s freedom which is not too big a problem given the willingly provided assistance of many do-gooders. However, why is it that the target population are smokers? Why not target parents who burden society with another mouth to feed and environment with another increase of carbon imprint. Or why not address people with dangerous hobbies, cyclists for one or skiers who tend to break a leg or acquire frostbites. Why not target meat eaters, who have been shown in a number of studies to get sick because of their eating meat. The list of possible targets is endless, and so would be the need for government intervention were it not flawed by a certain bias against a particular group, “Zeitgeist” makes the best of all possible target groups.

But do not forget that restriction of individual freedom in this case originates of governments’ involvement in the provision of health care. This “blessing” results in government’s interference and it inevitably will result in that, because scarce resources will always have people or groups of people fighting for them. Wouldn’t it be better to transfer responsibility for one’s own health and the costs associated with individuals’ neglect of health issues back to where it belongs, back to the individual?

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Improper conduct

What could be a better starter for a new blog labeled “against newspeak” than FOOTBALL? Did you watch the Arsenal game the other night? I did, and I was totally fed up, though I am Tottenham fan! This gives my argument some credibility, it’s not tainted with devotion to Arsenal, I am not biased, but I am starting to believe that UEFA and FIFA are biased – against everything that would make football in general and refs decisions in particular accountable. This is quite remarkable given the cobweb, FIFA and UEFA officials designed to rule (or kill) the game. If a player waste’s time, yellow-card him. If he celebrates in front of his fans, yellow-card him. If he does not appear to be penitent, red-card him. What’s the use of this system of rules that may please lawyers, but warps results time and time again? Maybe some rules started a life of their own? Maybe, FIFA and UEFA officials find more pleasure in  punishing rule violations than in the game itself? Maybe the entire FIFA and UEFA system has become a totalitarian system that endangers freedom of speech? By the way, Samir Nasri and Arsene Wenger will be fined by UEFA, because they dared to tell what they experienced, a ref who wasn’t up for the job (or who did not want to be) and a result flawed by the very same ref. It is deemed “improper conduct” for “inappropriate language” by UEFA and it’s deemed a violation of freedom of speach by against newspeak.

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