Straw Man Polls

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics; unoriginal and cliche, but so often true. None more so than when we forensically autopsy Opinion Polls. Despite predicting Brexit, Trump and our own 2016 General Election incorrectly, Polls are still afforded a undeserved gravitas. Today they are less of a weather vane of the electorate and more a tool of manipulation.

People who like to be seen as “Centrist” are led into the arms of the Poll topping Party. The warm embrace of the herd is an attractive lure to people who are generally too busy to give the talent pool of politics much thought. The consensus of a Poll can take the hassle out of voting.

For supporters of smaller parties or independents, Polls can act as a disincentive to vote. They’re reported in such a way as to tell an already disillusioned citizen that their views are in such a small minority that the very exercise of voting is futile. Pollsters constantly tell people, who are already on the fringes of society, that they don’t vote in enough numbers to change their lot in life. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of political stagnation.

Nervous politicians can cynically use Polls to gauge which manifesto promises they should make (only to break later) in the seat retention race. Polls can bring on Leadership Heaves against a Political Corpse, or they can placate restless backbenchers. Maybe it’s better the Cadaver you know?

Take this Irish Times poll for example. It shows Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, at 28% and 29% respectively, are electorally viewed as Fianna Gael. When Pat Leahy went on Newstalk Breakfast’s with the Messrs Coleman & Williams, to explain how Fianna Gael’s support plummets when you poll people aged between 18-35, the lads were aghast. Really?

Imagine scratching your head in disbelief at the idea that the generation hammered by the 2008 Crash and the Age of Austerity would have an aversion to the Parties that oversaw the entire period? The mind boggles that their mind is boggled.

However, it was in the (whisper it) rise in the poll of Sinn Fein, that things took a more sinister turn and subtle biases surfaced. To explain I digress, your patience please…

Between 1872-1874 over 3,700,000 Buffalo were killed. Of this gargantuan slaughter, only 150,000 were killed by Native American Indians, that’s a little over 4%. The rest were butchered by the White Man; so bad was it that “the stench of rotting carcasses fouled the very winds of the Plains.” The stench of death, 96% due to the White Man, was 100% attached to the Indians. The Indian savage narrative was a convenient shroud to hide the brutality of our civilised Whites.

In much the same way, Polls are used to civilise our electorate. In a brilliant piece of analysis, Padraig O’Mara showed how in the run up to General Election 2016, with polls showing Sinn Fein trending up, media biases became more pronounced. 1,150 articles were processed and fed through a sentiment analysis engine, analysed one by one to reveal that Sinn Fein received twice the negative coverage than the other parties.

For every 100 articles on Sinn Fein, 61 were negative, 21 were neutral and 18 were positive. For combined Fianna Gael it was 28.5 negative, 22.5 neutral and 49 were positive.

Remember, the Indians did 4% of the killing and got 100% of the blame. 4% is coincidentally the same number Sinn Fein were up in the Irish Times Poll. But rather than focus on the growth of a party of opposition, Pat Leahy quickly changed the narrative, saying Sinn Fein “tends to underperform the polls in elections”.

Neither Pat, Shane nor Paul dared acknowledge that Sinn Fein’s under-performance is part driven by media biases. That inconvenient truth doesn’t suit the cosy narrative of a civilised Fianna Gael versus a savage Opposition.

Discussing Polls exposes commentator’s (conscious or unconscious) biases. Media bubble world views explain away the trend of electorate polarisation, in trendy journalistic ways. In much the same way as the White Man explained away the extermination of the Buffalo as “the only way…to allow civilisation advance”, the Pollsters explain away large swaths of the electorate as stray Buffalo, which will be corralled back into the fold in time for Election Day.

Polls can be inaccurate, culturally biased and financially driven to deliver results more favourable to whomever is paying the bill. Yet we discuss them, parse them and take learnings from them. So much importance is given to Polls that I’d hazard a guess that they are given more airtime and ink than the Homelessness and Hospital Trolley Crises combined. In fact, forget guessing. Can I get a show of hands…?

Tony Groves March 2016 Image result for polls cartoon

Mea Cúpla Focail…

There’s a story, perhaps apocryphal, that while preparing for the biggest court case of his nascent career, Cicero spent his time practising only oration and voice projection. When asked if he would not be better off spending his time learning the legal arguments for the case he is said to have replied “Only a bad orator need learn to be a lawyer”.

Now this story is most likely baseless, but I couldn’t help thinking about it while watching the Garda Whistleblower controversy evolve. Thirty Six times Clare Daly, Luke Ming Flanagan and Mick Wallace raised concerns to the Dail, but it was only when RTE broadcast the widely known slurs that the “government” deigned to actually address the issue.

When I say address it, I mean speak around it, throw shapes of indignation and then search for a vehicle to park it in, while they can get back to the business of making announcements and issuing plans that hope to lead to future announcements of updated plans. There has arguably never been a more inefficient government, nor have we ever had a more unambitious opposition.

All of which leads me to the vehicle of a public inquiry and back to Cicero.

Up and down the country Lawyers, Barristers and Public Relations Gurus are practising their oration and vocal projection. Headline writers can today file their copy for the upcoming Charleton Inquiry. Words like Defiant, Refute and Rebut will be thrown around like mea culpa’s at a Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meeting.

Phrases like “unaware of”, “not privy to”, “had no knowledge of” and “in the strongest possible terms” will be deemed acceptable answers to the most important questions.

All the while we will be placated with fluff pieces that assure the public that the Judge has the “power to compel” and “ask the hard questions” that will “bring closure”. Those responsible will point at the next person up in a vicious blame circle. Sincere expressions of sincere regret will be made that would make the Banking Inquiry blush.

There will be individual embarrassing moments and several more mea culpa’s before we arrive at a consensus that a good man was done down by a system and that because the system is to blame, nobody is to blame. Sure we all partied, on his good name.

Cicero won his case, he rose in esteem by defeating his rival orator (Hortensius)and climbed the rungs of power. The guilty party (Gaius Verres, Governor of Sicily) was sentenced to exile and was given the traditional nine days to squirrel away as much plunder to feather his retirement nest.

Our guilty parties will also be “exiled” and in the words of Oliver Callan subject to the full rigours of a massive pension. Cicero said we must “let the welfare of the people be the ultimate law”. Ultimately, I predict the conspirators and and participants in this sinister plot will fare out very well. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

tribunal

Tony Groves February 2016

Disgustingly Decent

Disgusting. It’s disgusting that a man can have his life ruined over Penalty Points. It’s disgusting that our Senior Police Force can seem to orchestrate these things and only ever be held to account in an inquiry with limited frames of reference and no real powers of enforcement.

It’s disgusting to watch our Political Leaders scurry away from microphones like cockroaches when the light is tuned on. It’s disgusting to hear Politicians, who are paid exorbitant salaries, are unaware of things widely known (and sadly believed) throughout the country.

It’s disgusting to be governed by RTE’s Prime Time. It’s disgusting to have to wait for a Television Programme to force a Do Nothing Dail into limp-wristed, hand-wringing action. It’s disgusting to see Ministers then get a platform to say they weren’t aware of anything and then express their own disgust and upset.

It’s disgusting to be preached at by the same Commentariat who propagated the lies about the best way to proceed now. It’s disgusting to listen to much of the Media bemoan the stink of Fake News on Social Media, while expecting us to hold our noses while they peddle their own brand of Horse Shit.

It’s disgusting to know (deep down we know) that after the storm has dissipated and the next crisis arises, nothing will have gotten reformed, those responsible will shuffle away to large severance deals and chunky pensions. It’s disgusting to realise that this is the inevitable outcome.

It’s disgusting to think how much money has already been spent, and will continue to be wasted, in helping us not to get to the bottom of this entire disgusting episode. It’s disgusting to hear of a criminally underfunded Garda Force, while aware we are burning money in propping up the injustice at the centre of the blight.

Martin Callinan called the Whistleblowers disgusting. The Chumocracy went along for the disgusting ride. The public tut tutted in disgust. An innocent man was ruined. I am disgusted at my Health Service, my Government, my Police Force and myself.

Maurice McCabe is the opposite of disgusting, he is thoroughly decent. And we could all do with a little more decency in our lives.

 

Tony Groves February 2017 simon

image courtesy of the very decent @feckthelottom

Grand Centrist Station

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Centrists, the lads who say they are without ideology and the journalists who say they are “fair and balanced”. I heard Stephen Donnelly, he of the reverse Damascene Conversion, repeat the oft trotted out bastardised W.B Yeats, line that “the centre must hold” and I nearly spat my coffee on the screen.

The line is actually “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” The anarchy the poet was writing of was “The Second Coming“.  Sadly, I don’t think any saviour is coming to save us.

These self-proclaimed Centrists are in denial about the world we currently occupy. Their motivations for self-delusion vary. Some, aware that Right Wing evil is on the march, claim to be newly Centrist in order to distance themselves from their more radical brethren.

I’m thinking of the “Tory Boy” formerly known as Leo Varadkar (or have I got that the wrong way around?). He of the Far Right Centre “proposal of offering only three months dole to migrant workers as an incentive to leave” and of “privatising up to 20 Dublin Bus routes”. Leo the Centrist is Leo the Liar. He’s the leader of a core of Right Wing Fine Gael, that is soon to inherit the party.

Enda Kenny, while a lot of things (and many of those Right Wing led) is not like Leo. His ideology can be summed up as Power for Powers sake.

Which also got me thinking. So many of the new Centrists are declaring their (recently discovered) Social Democratic roots that RTE might consider doing a political version of: Who Do You Think You Are?  They could call it: Who Do You Think The Public Should Think You Are?

Imagine it, we could have Alan Kelly retelling his “spay them with sewage” story and say the sewage was a metaphor for the dirty world of Centrist Politics. I’d post a link to his despicable actions, but Alan (classless man that he is) has had them removed from Google Searches.

We could have Fianna Fail do a retrofitted retrospective half hour about their “populist” roots, saying that populist is actually the Irish word for Centrist. Us plebeians would be none the wiser. Sure if it was on RTE, we’d say, it must be true.

Finally, we could have the alphabet soup AAA/PBP tell us they’re opposed. “To what exactly are you opposed?” the narrator could ask. “We don’t have to engage with you, you’re part of the machine” they could yell back. At least you know where they stand. Full Marx, indeed.

Despite what you hear so often, the so called Hard Left are not the biggest threat to Irish Politics. At least not in the sense of a threat to a progressive Irish Politics. No, that distinction lies firmly with the Centrists. They are the advocates for nothing. They are the Minister for Health Simon Harris, getting genuinely upset that nobody is doing anything about 50,000 people hidden from Hospital Waiting Lists.

The Centrists are Simon Coveney asking what more can NGOs like Focus Ireland and the Simon Community do, to enable him to do less. Centrists do not exist. Those who have no political ideology have no business being in politics. Those who bleat that the “centre must hold”, are saying their hold on the levers of power must remain.

Nothing will improve under this Centrism. In fact, I can think of only one man who was a true Centrist. In 1967 Muhammad Ali was stripped of his world title over refusing to fight in the Vietnam War.

His lawyer, Hayden C. Covington when asked why he was risking his career “by getting in the middle” of this case said “I want to be at the centre of this, because only by getting to the centre of it can I bring about change.” Our current Centrist Cohort only want to sit in one place, of no use to those who elected them.

I remember Tolstoy telling Chekhov that his centrist writing needed a world view; a perspective in order to inspire people.

I remember Lord Acton’s warning about Centrist’s. “Political atheism: End justifies the means. This is the most widespread of all the opinions hostile to liberty.”

And I’ll let Muhammad Ali himself have the last word. When under pressure to join the herd and stay in the Centrist Flock he replied “I don’t have to be what you want me to be”.

 

Tony Groves February 2017 Muhammad Ali Vietnam

 

 

But, But, But…

So many outrages, so little time. Where to start?

Kellyanne Conway (the campaign manager of the regime) went on Seth Meyers CNN Show and said that the briefing about the Intelligence Briefing regarding Trumps Russian indiscretions didn’t happen, before saying BUT “he received that intelligence briefing “. The immediate contradiction went unchecked.In fairness to Meyers, it’s nearly impossible to separate all the lies, contradictions and alternative facts from the occasional truths.

Back home the Rule of But is in full effect. In Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) the Rule of But can be roughly defined as “everything before But was a lie”.

For example, Right Wing Paul Williams (doing a poor Ivan Yates impersonation) has opened the Newstalk Breakfast show twice this week with rants that go: “Firstly let me say that Trump is repugnant and abhorrent. BUT, I take great satisfaction from the angst he is causing for Leftie Lovies”.

Neuro-linguistic Programming tells you that Paul doesn’t really think Trump is repugnant or abhorrent. At the very least he feels he’s less repugnant than Paul Murphy or Richard Boyd Barrett. Paul reveals himself in his chosen outrage, and the face he shows is a deeply unpleasant one.

The Left aren’t helping themselves either. Apart from the continual infighting, they need to realise that you don’t fight isolationism with isolationism. You fight it with openness. We don’t need to damage relations with America to make a statement about Trump. We need to do right by refugees and become an example for how immigration is a positive thing for society.

Beating chests and pulling out hair plays into the narrative of “The Left have some great aspirations BUT they’re to erratic to elect. 

We need to tackle our established racist practice of Direct Provision and honour the Right of Safe Refuge, while ripping down the current industry of inhumane profiting from human misery. We need to show how it’s a Right Wing Government that turned misery into a market.

I’m not going to go on too much here. Mark Malone has written extensively on Direct Provision and I’d suggest you read his piece here.

I’m going back to BUT. It’s becoming more important than ever that we challenge the BUT. The Trump is bad, BUT Saudia Arabia, ISIS, FGM etc etc. This whataboutery doesn’t give us the right to do nothing. It doesn’t excuse either of the two evils. It multiplies the evil. 

We are left with the Big Bad Evil, the Lesser of 2 Evils and the Evil of doing nothing about it. 

So listen out for the BUT. Remember everything before the BUT was bullshit. Like so…

…I’m worried Paul Williams will be offended by this short piece, BUT I don’t care.
Tony Groves January 2017 

Bubble Bobble

Image result for bubble bobble

There’s a myth doing the rounds, a tale that WE are living in dangerous times. Fascism is on the rise, hard won human rights are under threat and that the relative benign accords that brought peace to the Western World are under threat. Don’t get me wrong, all of this is true. The myth is that the challenges of our time are unique to our time. They are not.

Cicero warned, “The only thing we learn from history, is that we never learn anything from history”.

In 1861, the American Civil War kicked off. The beleaguered Native American Indian population felt sure they would get some respite, while Bluecoat fought Graycoat. They were sadly mistaken.

By the time the war had started there was probably less than 300,000 Native Americans left. There numbers had been “culled” by about two thirds since the European settlers arrived in Virginia and New England, around 1607.

The White Man had come and he had come in Yuuuge numbers, more than 30 million of them by the this period. No pesky war was going to slow their march and no call to arms would slake their thirst for what they needed above all else, Land.

The Indians were driven from area to area, denied access to hunting grounds and forced into reservations. These reservations were little better than open air prisons. Even some of the Soldiers, paid to make sure the Indians didn’t leave, wrote letters beseeching Washington for better conditions. One put it; “The cost to us will be no more than $1 million per year. Which seems high, but is very little when you consider the wealth we have attained from the lands they have given up”. Such honest entreaties fell on deaf ears.

Fast forward to 1891 and we discover that the White Settlers have become the dispossessed. Farmers in the South are losing their land to banks, big business and rail-roads. Workers in the East are exploited by super-rich businessmen. Wealth is created at a faster rate than at any time before in American history, yet as Henry Georges Progress & Poverty explained, the majority of people are getting poorer. The key driver of the inequality, Land.

It was a result of this inequality that the first Populist Party (The People’s Party) was born. Populist’s allied themselves with workers, joined with trade union movements and sought to tackle the inequality endemic in American Society.

It failed. But not before scaring the life out of banks, elites and the Democratic Party.

Today our media commentators throw the term Populist around like confetti at a wedding. Dare to speak about growing inequality and you’re quickly bracketed with the mad Populist, Donald Trump. The fact that they also scream “Populist” every time Paul Murphy opens a packet of Tayto should be the end of it. I mean, if  we are told that Trumps a Populist AND that his ideological opposite Paul Murphy is a Populist, then how dare they get their collective knickers in a twist when report after report shows that trust of the media is at an all time low.

Back to the Land.

Today I received an 84 page document entitled: The 13th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey: 2017. Rating Middle-Income Housing Affordability. A riveting title, it’s sure to be a bestseller. Only it should be. It should be compulsory reading for our Politician’s, our Planners and anyone who gives a damn about inequality.

What this body of real experts (as opposed to the experts who brought us Irish Water) do is work out how affordable is a house, based on dividing the average price by the average wage.

fullsizerender-3

 

The good news for Ireland is that we currently have zero Severely Unaffordable housing markets. Great news, right…

fullsizerender-2

 

The bad news for Ireland is that we are fast on our way to getting there

fullsizerender

 

Look at the warning above. Dublin has gone from Moderately Unaffordable 3.3, to a Seriously Unaffordable 4.7, in less than 5 years. As I type we are probably tipping over into the Severely Unaffordable zone of 5.1 or over. Think this is only a Dublin problem, think again. Galway and Cork are rapidly climbing the charts.

Without denigrating Cicero, I refuse to believe that we cant’t learn anything from history. History teaches us that a malfunctioning Land market breeds inequality. Inequality means doom. Blame becomes the currency and it’s spent on creating division and fear. Elites, deriding the rise of Populism, can have only themselves to blame.But they use their resources to deflect blame. So it manifests itself in uglier, Trumpian ways.

Ireland has a chance to avoid this “fear of the other” and blame-throwing culture. We had an Unaffordable Score of 6 at the top of the Celtic Tiger insanity. If we don’t act urgently, we will return to that level.

Remember these facts when you hear developers aren’t building because of low profits. How can profits be too low and Unaffordability so high?

Remember these facts when trying to reconcile the the Governments Housing Plan has less ambition towards building Social Houses than we had in the darkest days of the Irish Economy.

These are facts, don’t listen to the alternative facts, post-truths or fake news. A lie is a lie is a lie.

We don’t have a deficit of Land. We have a deficit of vision.

When the American Indians were driven to the edge of extinction, the American Settlers knew what riches they had acquired, calling it a land “whose value can hardly be estimated…a princely realm.”

Dublin has over 60 hectares of vacant land, a princely realm indeed. We don’t need incentives for developers, the only incentive for building we need is the FACT that we are rapidly headed back to Property Bubble Land. And Bubbles Burst.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. If we farcically allow this to happen again, then the joke will be on all of us.

Tony Groves January 2017

Brexit Wounds

I might be in the minority here, but I’m not sure this Brexit thing is going to be all that bad for Ireland. You only have to listen to “The New Iron Lady”, Theresa May’s speech to hear the opportunities for us.

Even casual observers can see a border wall (just on the edge of the horizon) as a boon for struggling developers. If Irish planning efficiency has taught us anything, it’s that we can get at least fifteen construction tenders, twenty obscenely expensive architectural designs and a decade or more out of the planning process?

We could have petrol stations running kids colouring competitions; draw your own border checkpoint. The winning entry could be brought to life by Dermot Bannon, in a cacophony of crayon and concrete; the entire block tastefully rimmed with barbed wire. I’m sure some minor celebrity could cut the ribbon in exchange for dual citizenship?

Theresa May has laid out her plan, which is a plan to look at all available plans. She wants to explore all the options available while probably availing of none. Well slap me in the face with a retired judge, this is a job for Ireland Inc.

Sure isn’t Ireland Inc. the best country in the world for making world class plans, to be world class in something or other, by some far off future date? We have panels of experts, who’s entire expertise is in delivering plans on the best way to hold a press conference, where plans are unveiled to deliver new plans by 2020.  Fail to plan, plan to fail, plan for your plans to fail, blame Brexit. Come on Ireland, we can do this!

There’s so much more positives to this Hard Brexit outcome. I mean, due to machinations of Banking, a financial passport is required to carry out complex financial schemes, such as Rate Fixing or Insider Trading. Luckily our Central Bank are very experienced in looking the other way while consumers are gouged. Aren’t we still paying twice the European average in our Mortgage Rates? I hardly think the Big British Banks need fear any constraints on rampant profiteering from Ireland Inc. IDA Ireland could use the tagline (once I get my royalty fee):

Ireland: Come for the Hard Brexit. Stay for the Soft Regulation

Besides, even if the banks and financial arms of the Multinational Companies don’t want to move here physically, we have brave volunteers across the country willing to allow them set up shop for little more than the price of a Brass Plate. Sure isn’t there a house in Glasnevin, Dublin 9 that has 124 “companies” operating from it. 124 companies in a small 3 bed house. We are screaming blue murder about a housing crisis, yet one small suburban house accommodates 124 companies. Airbnb must be dying to get a look inside those doors.

Yes folks, Hard Brexit is going to be okey-dokey. With a little bit of creative thinking, we won’t have to do any more thinking. With a little bit of forward planning, we won’t have to make any more plans. Because this is Ireland Inc. An open economy, and if Britain is getting into the business of becoming a closed economy, then Ireland Inc. is open to that as well.

 

Tony Groves January 2017

Image result for brexit ireland cartoon