Swisscom: the bully

Swisscom just wrote saying the phone contract I had had for years is no longer available. It has been replaced as part of ‘improvements’ they regularly make. The letter informs me that they have chosen a comparable programme for me based on my past usage. According to them it offers ‘improved security in terms of expenditure’ but, although the price is mentioned, they fail to point out that it will cost twice as much per month. The change, they say, is automatic, so I don’t have to worry and can continue to use my phone without interruption or having to change numbers. I can, of course, switch to another of their other contracts. Unfortunately the underlying logic of Swisscom does not cater for my needs. All their programmes favour unlimited data exchange over the guarantee of fast connection speeds. To ensure high speed you have to pay much more. I don’t need to download tons of data, but I do want the downloading to go quickly. Theoretically my former contract included high speed transfers, although there were times when it felt like downloading was being throttled. As many factors can influence net speeds, it is difficult to say. So why don’t I change company? Because all our family uses Swisscom and phoning each other will cost more if one of us is with another company. Just another way to lock us in with an incumbent telephone company that is milking the market.

Big place in the world

This car roared so loud even though it was driving the wrong way into the car park. It sounded like the garage forgot to re-instal the exhaust pipe after the last tuning. Maybe it was that noise that made the driver use two spaces to park. Some might say it demonstrates an inability to park correctly. I suspect it was not a question of failing dexterity but rather an exaggerated sense of place in the world. There’s a lot of it going on.

From information to opinions to decisions

In response to two questions (see the end of this text) on Facebook, Jim wrote: I don’t listen to the media. Don’t trust them. (…) The media manipulates, which is why I pay them no attention. They discuss this and speculate that and set the public in alarm and have them screaming at Trump, all the while Pizzagate is being investigated but the media finds it unimportant. (…)

Your position raises a serious question, Jim. On the basis of what information are opinions formed and decisions made? 

We know Forty-Five gets his information from newscasts and talkshows on cable television and a right-wing, white-suprematist network, as well as a series of personal advisers and family members who have a very skewed view on the world. In your case, Jim, if you do not consult the media, how do you know that they alarm the public, that they ‘scream’ at the president, that they manipulate? If the media do not talk about ‘Pizzagate’, where did you learn about it? Where does your information come from? It doesn’t just materialise from nowhere.

Your refusal to heed the media, Jim, strikes a common chord with the main thrust of Forty-Five’s efforts to delegitimise the press. The media are repeatedly said to be motivated by vested interests, to be untrustworthy and full of fake news, although no reasoned justification for these claims is provided other than they don’t say what Forty-Five wants. The same goes for scientists and experts who are vilified and discounted, not to mention the judiciary, as well as the intelligence agencies whose work is to inform high-level government decisions. The question of global warming is a case in point. Without the support of media or expert opinion, who or what do we turn to to inform our opinions and make up our minds?

Looking at how advertising works might provide a possible way of understanding this phenomenon. Advertising uses words and images to create opinions. Careful analysis would point to nonsensical statements, ambiguities, misleading messages, unsubstantiated claims, although they generally shy clear of downright lies. But none of those matter. Why? Because in most cases advertising sidesteps logic and avoids analysis so as to directly influence people’s opinions or feelings.

By delegitimising media and expert opinion, and thus removing any possible checks and balances, it could be argued that Forty-Five produces political discourse as if it were publicity. Let’s take his accusation that the previous president wiretapped him. This has been shown to be unfounded. In a reasoned world, such a baseless claim would discredit the person making it, and in the case of a president might well lead to impeachment. But in a world in which political discourse and publicity are one, it serves to reinforce feelings of untrustworthiness of the prior president and his political party without having to persuade with reasoned arguments. It acts as a distraction from more serious accusations, substantiated these, about collusion between Forty-Five’s staff and the Russians. And above all, it lays the foundations for a society in which publicity rather than reasoned discourse drives political decisions.

If this hypothesis is true it would explain why traditional political actors are at a loss to deal with Forty-Five. They try to reason with his discourse when the intellect has little hold on his words and actions because they bypass reason and disqualify anyone who contradicts them. Herein lies the most alarming fact about Forty-Five’s behaviour. Once he has successfully undermined all possible checks and balances that could question his word, what he says becomes the absolute reality that cannot be challenged. There is a word for such a person who sees himself as the sole source of reality and who refuses to confront his vision of reality with that of others, the word is mad.

The unfortunate fact about the word ‘mad’ is that it is disqualifying. Rather as Forty-Five delegitimises the media, so calling him ‘mad’ could also be seen as an attempt to eliminate that which is disturbing. But elimination is no solution. Having ascertained that he seeks to set himself up as the sole source of reality and having realised that ‘his’ reality leads to decisions and acts that are dangerous for the wellbeing of people around the world, the question is what do we do? 

Much of his power comes from the position he has been elected to and this is enhanced by undermining the institutions that share democratic power with him. Unfortunately, actors in those institutions that should play a role in checking presidential excesses are hampered by their own efforts to protect vested interests. This is the very situation that produced widespread disatisfaction with politics and led to Forty-Five being elected. In addition, the president’s influence also stems from the massive attention media grant him. His outrageous proclamations, his attacks on media all serve to keep him in the centre of the spotlight. He may be the most unpopular president ever, but he must surely be the most talked about too. Media cannot ignore his outbursts (a journalist in Le Temps likened them to grenades indiscriminately chucked into the crowd) but more caution and restraint is required in talking about them.

Annex: The two questions

1. What should be done with a president who makes unfounded criminal accusations about his predecessor?

2. What should be done with the head of the FBI who, during the presidential campaign, publicly announced his agency was investigating one of the candidates about lost emails while omitting to mention that they were also investigating the other candidate and his associates for collusion with the Russians to interfere in the presidential election?

Outstanding Questions

John Major attacks government over approach to Brexit

Time and time again partisans of Brexit reject calls for caution and a more measured stance about leaving the EU by attacking the person and their past. Rather than consider the wisdom of John Major’s words they portray him as an embittered looser. Exactly the same tactic was used when Tony Blair spoke out about Brexit. In the current political climate the slightest criticism of May’s strategy is immediately disqualified by disqualifying the person raising questions. This ‘heads down and let’s get on with it’ refusal to consider alternatives that is typical of Teresa May’s approach is worrying. 

Several questions desperately need to be addressed. The first being the claims of Brexit supporters about the ease and the extent of their future successes in negotiations, ignoring the fact that negotiations necessarily involve another party whose plans and considerations may not align with those of U.K. negotiators. The second is the impact on life in Britain of an isolationist approach fuelling a nationalistic feeling of superiority and ultimately suspicion and dislike of certain categories of people, even if it is denied by those preparing Brexit. And finally, the blind and unswerving adhesion to a popular opinion at a given moment as the justification for all future action when that decision was fuelled by claims some of which have proved unfulfillable and circumstances are complex and continually changing.

The ‘Greatest’ Show on Earth 

This ad proclaims that you can meet the characters of a well-known film in this tiny railway station. As a marketing concept, it is already a thing of the past. Now the biggest television show on Earth has invaded all our lives. It’s on our TVs, on the radio, in all our newspapers worldwide and in every nook and cranny of the Internet, every day and all day long. It’s in our conversations and maybe in our nightmares. The Forty-fiver* Show. You are probably sick of it, if not worried sick by it.

The problem with this show is that it is not taking place on a set, in a fictious decor, it is taking place in real life. Sure, it is in such bad taste, so far-fetched, so ill thought out, so badly written, you scratch your head and wonder if it could be real. You wonder how such a production, clearly strung together on a shoe-string without the least professional input and so full of clichés and ready-made ideas, could possibly have grabbed permenant prime-time worldwide.

You may have seen the thought-provoking Truman Show, a film in which, from birth, a person is brought up and lives in a world that is a film set designed to make him believe it is the real world. All the people around him are actors. The Forty-fiver Show turns that inside out, omitting the humour in the process. The world we live in has been transformed into the set of a poorly-made film in which a ‘fictious’ character holds sway over us as powerless stand-ins. Fictious? It is hard to believe that such a person, who would be more at home in a scribbled right-wing comic strip, could possibly be real like you or I.

So what do you do when you and the whole world have been roped in, against your will, as throw-away stand-ins in a cheap TV series to the glory of one character who spews out hate and division  while he caresses the nuclear button with an itchy finger?

How about sticking your head in the sand? Maybe not. Hire an assassin? That’s probably exactly what the production are hoping for. Heap more violence on his violence. No! Certainly not. What’s more, as arguably the most hated person in the world, he must surely be the most protected. Shout out your refusal to comply? Why not? Not my president!

And laughing? Seems like a ridiculous reaction when crying would seem more appropriate. But surely if there’s one thing Forty-five can’t abide it is being laughed at. He might play the clown because he likes to think he is funny, but you can bet he’ll be furious if you laugh at him. He takes himself far too seriously. And that big red button, you ask. Won’t he use it if we drive him too far? Maybe. He’s that unstable. But can we afford to remain silent when a madman is running amok through our lives with a loaded gun in his hand?

* 45? Forty fifth president

Eclectic links to follow

Worlds Apart presents a list of eclectic links to follow.

Checks and balances

  (…)     
There’s a key lesson to be learnt by Americans from the disastrous Brexit process. Theresa May wanted to bypass parliament and dictate her own path but the judiciary said otherwise. The right-wing press tried to shoot the judges down, but the fact remains that an individual does not govern alone in our countries. Governing alone is exactly what Trump appears to be doing. No wonder he admires Putin. With his executive orders he bypasses Congress and Senate and all the checks and balances of a democratic system. Whether or not they prove to be yet more bluster remains to be seen. It is difficult to know from information available in the press, what legal value his executive orders have (1). In the mean time, why do we feel a sneaking sense of relief at Trump’s impetuous pronouncements? Because, even if we disagree with him entirely, he appears to free up a system that, with its sterile bipartite confrontation, was blocking much real constructive progress. At the same time, Trump’s headstrong, impetuous decision-making in the absence of any awareness of the longer term consequences (not just on Americans but on everybody) clearly requires checks and balances. Trump is not the answer. But the fact that he was elected and that he acts as he does, points to an urgent need for a carefully thought out reorganisation of the democratic system.

(1) The recent order banning muslims from certain countries  from entering the US seems to show that such executive orders do have a tangible effect.

A load of hot air

Météo Suisse has announced we are in a for a big storm this evening along the Jura mountains. It has been code-named Trumpette. This last snippet of information was unofficially provided by the official Russian Disinformation Agency under the leadership of an ex-KGB boss known to be lurking in the Kremlin. It was sponsored by a secret branch of the US Republican Party thought to be anywhere between The Tea Party, the Klu Klux Klan and the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant, according to a lorryload of confidential papers dumped on the doorsteps of world newspapers by Chinese workers disguised as emissaries of WikiLeaks who in turn were disguised as Swedish investigators looking for Julian Assange. The FBI and the CIA have stated they are currently unable to confirm whether the papers are to be trusted. They did however state that they burnt rather well. Congress has ordered an enquiry, although it has yet to be decided what the enquiry will investigate. President elect, Donald Trump, in fine form, tweeted: It’s a load of cr*p. Nazi bulls*t. And I’m still better than Hillary. But don’t let yourself be blown away by the news. It may just be a load of hot air.

Tromper

tr_mp_r

Many think that the surname Tr**mp has its origins in the musical instrument consisting of a twisted metal tube through which hot air is blown via pursed lips to produce a throaty, almost bodily sound designed to impress enemies in battle. Others maintain that the word springs from a long tubular protrusion that replaces the nose of some large animals and is used to sniffle at females in the preambles to rutting. But scientists have put forward another plausible explanation. The word may stem from the French verb ‘tromper’ which means, amongst other things, to deceive, delude, cozen, mislead, fool, dupe, cheat, betray, lure, beguile, impose, baffle, …

Missed chances

With hindsight, the US election result seems evident, even if we hoped/prayed for something else. Unfortunately, viable alternatives were not on the cards. The cracks that have been appearing in representative democracy (including the sterile deadlock of a polarised two-party system in the US) and the related bureaucracy have generated so much dissatisfaction that there was a giant, but partly hidden, reservoir of votes up for the grabs. With the right people that might have been a chance for serious change. But Clinton, for all her experience and competence, was defending institutional continuity with a measured dose of change that was not enough to win the confidence of those conservative masses disappointed with existing structures and people. Forty-five* promised big changes. It was the hope those promises engendered and his out-spoken showmanship and buffoon-like character that seduced so many who didn’t want ‘more of the same’ but who welcomed a return to a ‘better past’.

But Forty-five’s promises were and still are without any real vision or plan for how to achieve them. Those changes were backward looking and conservative and not at all designed to address the crisis in representative democracy lest it be via the belief in a return to former glory and the elimination of all that is seen as different (using walls, war, trials, exclusion, violence,…).

Forty-five’s legitimacy springs not from being part of a party – he is not really a Republican, who more or less disowned him – but from direct popular support that sets him outside existing structures and concentrates power in the individual. He, as all populists, sees such ‘legitimacy’ as a licence to do whatever he personally thinks fit without the slightest need to refer back to those whom he claims ro represent. That is really bad news, because Forty-five’s campaign made it clear he was not bent on fixing the system, but rather on capitalising on its failings to satisfy his own egotistical, megalomaniac desires.

In electing ‘a chief entertainer’, to use the words of Republican supporter in London, the US may well have wasted an opportunity to rethink representative democracy. It has condemned us all to sink deeper into the decline of the system at the expense of all those who are seen as different (especially in terms of race, religion, gender, nationality,…) or less able to defend themselves.

Maybe that is the only road possible to achieve change, but it is a distressing prospect, especially from a wider perspective in which a number of key countries are governed by equally destructive individuals while China quietly swallows up the world.

* 45? Forty fifth president