Archive for category ENG

Stop attempting to hack my page, please.

Seriously, guys. I know it is fun, but stop trying to reset my wordpress password. There are sites out there that have a lot worse protection than this one. Why don’t you set your bots on that? If you are just some random guys, let me reassure you that my passphrase is longer than eighteen characters and not in any dictionary in the world (and I don’t mean that I just replaced i’s with 1’s. Not that I am saying that there are any i’s in my password). Let me also reassure you that the password is unique. As is the one for my email account. I am not one of the 86% of people who have one password for everything. Seriously, a lot of easier prey lying around.

Is it not random, and is it because I have an unfavourable opinion of Brexit? And you are determined to show me the error of my ways? Do you seriously believe that harassing me would make me see things in a completely different light and all of a sudden realise how misunderstood you actually are?

Are you already doxxing me, and I just haven’t noticed yet? Are my photos plastered all over white supremacist sites? Like you guys did it with N. Boyle, when he very eloquently wrote about Brexit in the New European? I highly recommend the article, by the way. I liked it a lot. I also had the misfortune of having to trawl through the human refuse left behind in the “alt-right” forums for the police investigation that you provoked. You know, with all the death threats and 1 am calls to his home? The number of times you posted his personal details in the forums (complete with photos, home address, telephone and mobile number, photos of his wife and children…) and where his children are located with suggestions of rape and sodomy suggested to me that there might be a bit of disgruntlement with anyone not sharing your opinion.

Seriously, just stop it, if it’s you guys. You might succeed in making my life even more unpleasant than it is already, but what would be the point? It would probably not make me leave sooner and I would certainly not like England more because of it.

The Brexit choices, Brexodus and rocky road ahead

It occurs to me that there is fundamental disconnect between reality and the expectations of English people.

It looks like the tories expect to crash out of the EU without a deal, but attempt to pin it on the EU. This could backfire spectacularly if the Brits are not as naive as the tories seem to think they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magical Thinking

There are any number of British delusions one can encounter daily.

 

 

 

Or perhaps, servitude at the mercy of whomever wants to do a deal?

This is about the belief that the EU should kowtow to mighty Britain.

Yes, because it is best if you threaten your potential future trading partners.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The person in charge of negotiations promises easy trade deals”

 

“EU cannot go on, if the UK leaves.”

 

 

 

 

 

What does a no deal mean (among other things)?

– Opting out of the clear skies agreement, meaning that the planes will not be able to fly until some sort of deal is reached.
– UK Driver’s licenses will not work on the continent, which means UK trucks will not have the permission to be driven on the continent by their British drivers.
– Opting out of EURATOM (the European Nuclear Agency), which means radioactive isotopes used in curing cancer will not sourced until some sort of agreement will be reached.
– European Medicines Agency will not have a foothold in the UK, which means no UK medicines export, lengthy checks on EU imports and complete loss of EU research funding in this area.
– No access to EU research grants, unless you are one of the few Universities, like for example Oxford, who announced that they are opening a research campus in Paris.
– No subsidies for UK farmers. Oh, I hear you say, no EU subsidies, but the government has promised to keep up subsidies for farmers. Well, WTO (an imaginary post Brexit option) expressly forbids any governmental subsides to framers, if you want to trade under their auspices. So, no subsidies.
– Extensive customs checks for all imports (if not on the UK side, then on EU side). This will hit car manufacturers who depend on just in time supply chains and all the British cars almost exclusively use German automatic transmissions. We should also mention that produce that spoils will not be imported into the UK anymore, because it would rot while waiting for customs clearance.

– Loss of financial passport. According to reports between 60-80% of UK exports are financial services. The companies / banks that will move to EU will retain them, but UK will have no part in those trades. WTO does not regulate trade in services, so even if the UK falls back on WTO trading rules, this will require separate deals, with whomever is still interested in them, once they do not provide access to the single market anymore. In connection to that the euro clearing house is moving to Frankfurt.

– Data retention rights will be scuppered. EU will not keep any citizens information in a Country that is not in the EU. This means server farms and big, say, email providers, like google and Microsoft, will need to move Europeans’ data to Europe.
– The UK academic degrees will not be automatically recognized in the EU any more.
– The universal EU health insurance will lapse for UK citizens. Want to travel to Europe? Best hope nothing happens to you, or get insured in advance.
– Losing a connection to EUROPOL. No more seamless colaboration between police agancies. Think about British family having a kid kidnapped in Rome and not being informed about their child unless they are physically present at the police station. In addition they lose any protections accorded to the EU citizens.
– Import tarifs on everything. As has been repeatedly pointed out, this does not overly hurt German manufacturers, as a Brit who wants to buy a BMW will still be able to, it will just be more expensive.
– Foreign companies moving to the continent or Ireland. Why would, for example, Nissan stay in the UK, when they do not have access to the single market, but they could have it if they move to France (and still sell cars to UK too)? That means loss of jobs and tax revenue.
– Collapse or privatisation of the NHS. Britatin depends on the foreign medical staff. Influx of nurses from the EU has dropped from 4000+ to 47 in the preceeding year.
– Brexodus – more than million Brits are planning to move or have already moved to the EU. Many of these top researchers, doctors, academics…
– Collapse of the British pound. Before the referendum the rate was 1.3EUR to 1GBP, now the official rate is 1.07EUR to the pound and on the airports it is 0.87EUR to the pound.
– Loss of mobile roaming agreements. No more 50p uncapped data per day when roaming with o2 in Europe.


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What are the options England seems to be facing?

Threaten the EU, until England gets all the benefits of the membership but none of the responsibilities (and here). Let’s be clear that even before Brexit, UK for example did not contribute to the Greek bailout, even though everybody else did. So, they expect even more concessions now. They had the power of veto. They opted out of Schengen and out of the Euro. It is not like England was particularly hard done by the EU. There is no need for me to assess how likely this is to happen. There seems to be a certain amount of magical thinking and the expectation of reciprocity (which it emphatically isn’t that) on the UK side. There are any number of comments in the British press along the lines of: “Once the EU grasps how badly they are going to get hurt by us leaving, they will come crawling back”, and “it is in the best interest of the EU to keep the borders with us open unless they do not want to face calamity”. There are also calls for fair or reciprocal treatment, where the definition of reciprocal and fair seems to be: “We can screw you, cause financial difficulties for you, attempt to extort concessions without a second thought for anybody else, but if you expect us to honour our obligations and stick to the agreements we co-wrote and insisted on while we were still members, you are totally unfair”. I suppose true reciprocity would be for the EU to burn the UK to the ground, destroy any possible trade deals it could try to make (in order to maximize profits) and isolate them. That would seem to following the modus operandi of the UK to a t. Remember the UK being really economically weak in the fifties and joining the precursor the EU, leaving all the other commonwealth countries by the way side in order to save themselves? That is the kind of reciprocity I am talking about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join the EFTA/EEA, like Norway, Iceland and Switzerland. This does not require ratification by the EU27, but it does require the unaninmous agreement from the other EFTA states. They have access to the single market, but are still paying contributions, have freedom of movement and are beholden to the European Court of Justice. They have no seat at the table and are ruled by the EU through faxes. It is true that freedom of movement is not a strict requirement, but feel free to check how well it worked for the Swiss when there was a referendum where they courtailed it. It took no more than few days of EU cutting any funding to them for the XX president to norify the parliament that he is aware of the referendum vote, but it would not be upheld, because it is not possible to do so. Also, Iceland is all for UK joining the EFTA as that does not include fishing quotas and that would really work for them. At the same time, Norway has clearly stated that they will veto any attempts of the UK to join EFTA, as that would introduce imbalance into what is a fairly small trading bloc in the first place. They also said that EFTA is meant for Countries that are on the way to full membership and is at best transitory, not for Countries who want to leave EU.

 

 

 

 

Join the WTO. Contrary to the popular belief, membership is not automatic. Any member could still veto it. For example, Argentina already said something along the lines of: “We would be very happy for you to join, however, do you remember the Falklands? Yeah, we need to talk about them, before we can endorse you”. There is absolutely no reason to think that Spain would be overly accommodating, considering how very badly they are getting screwed over Gibraltar. In addition, as it was already mentioned, WTO is very strict about governmental subsidies. One can imagine who popular the British farmers would be in India when they would get large cash injections enabling them to grow cheaper produce and attempt to undercut other farmers operating inside the WTO.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go it completely alone. Considering that most trade deals take decades to hammer out this is not an optimal solution. The UK government says that this will be very quick as they won’t impose any import tariffs or any quality control. If we leave to one side how badly this would destroy the British economy (through cheap Chinese junk steel and cheap throwaway consumer items), and decimate the population (through becoming a dumping ground for foodstuff no one else would buy), there is also an expectation that “since we will abolish tariffs and customs checks it would be only fair that our trading partners did it too”. This is not how trading negotiations generally work – it is not the best strategy to say: “We are totally exposed and have no leverage whatsoever, so why don’t you take pity on me?”.

 

 

 

Have a lengthy transition period where everything stays as it was and at some point in time just forget about this brexit thing, or do lots of deals under the table with the world in order to give the middle finger to the EU and tell them they are not needed anymore. The EU has not even started discussing a transition deal. This is not on the table at all at the moment. It might have been if the UK did not do anything it could possibly can to anger the EU27, who need to unanimously approve that extension. the foreign minister telling EU to “go whistle” on the financial obligations and the prime minister threatening the EU with nukes is not the best strategy. Neither is attempting to go behind the EU negotiators back to strike individual deals with Germany and France. Even if the EU decided that they would like to be shafted by the UK in the long run and overlook the childish bullying attempts (like tweeting provocations to the EU negotiators and then claiming a twitter account has been hacked), they have not even started talking trade. Because once they do, this might be an option, but it is far mor likely for the EU to say: you want the benfits of a single market? This is jow much it would cost you. You want customs union? This much. You want back into EURATOM? X millions a year. You want back on the clear skies agreement? This much. etc.

 

Do another referendum (and here)where hopefully the Remainers win and we can forget about Brexit. However, article 50 has been triggered. Come hell or high water, deal or no deal, the UK is out in March 2019. This is a fact. Unless all the other EU countries (that have unanimously accepted the art 50 notification) now agree to disregard it. Why would they do that? The UK was always a reluctant partner, clearly signalling and without wriggle room repeatedly showing that they do not believe in the European ideals of peace and prosperity for all their members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why would you want a person like that back? Oh, because of the economic damage caused to the EU and the UK otherwise, I hear you say. Well first of all, when the UK told the EU that they can go and get stuffed (publicly calling Merkel a nazi, Junckers a drunk, etc) this did not go down well. While Europeans might care about others suffering, no matter how self-inflicted that was, there is no reason to forego one’s own interests in order to fulfill somebody else’s. The economic damage to the UK does not take precedence over the economic damage caused to the EU. This latter, can be recuperated by moving the financial centres to Frankfurt, by imposing tarifs on the UK, by taking over everything the UK produces and exporting that, by destroying any chance of a trade deal between the UK and anyone else in order to maximize profits (it would be enough for an EU negotiator to go to, say, Japan and say something along the lines of: “It is brilliant news that you are going to be trading with the UK. Congratulations! I am really happy for you. <brief pause> You know, I hear that Belgium is considering a veto on our trade deal. I am sure we will be able to sort all of this out, don’t worry about it.”). The UK market is getting poorer by the minute, with 60 million people. The EU economy is blooming, with 450 million people. It would not be too hard to choose which trade deal to pursue if one is facing a choice. Therefore, for the EU, whose members take precedence over non-members, it would make sense to bolster its economy by plundering the UK and only then invite it to become a prospective member. They would be granted a membership at some later date, when its assets have been stripped and it is completely broken to a point where it has no other choice, because the people on the streets are literally starving to death and all the bright people have moved out years ago. Of course this new membership would strip out all concessions granted to the UK over the years, it would include Schengen, the euro, freedom of movement, parity on laws and social protection, fiscal rule, ECJ etc.

 

 

The only way this can be slightly better for England is if the EU27 would be willing to accept its prospective membership request immediately. In that way, the UK would lose all its concessions but would not have to be economically obliterated for this to end. The pain would still continue throught the prospective phase, but it would be significantly shorter. Look, often in life, we are forced to chose between two bad alternatives. Not every choice in life is between a good and a bad thing. There are no clearly good options for England here and the sooner it faces that, the better. It is not realistic to expect the return to the previous state of things. But on the other hand, England does not have to lose much more industry to the continent (remember, easyjet has already left, for example), it does not have to face hunger on the streets, because the food is not grown, and even if it is grown, there is no one to pick it. It does not have to endure the dismantling of the NHS for much longer and it does not have to experience first hand how many enemies they have made through the years of imperialistic expansion and walking over corpses to reach its own prosperity.

 

 

 

What I am saying is that this is the only choice the UK has in the long run. There is no silver lining, no prospect of a distant bright future if it goes it alone. The only choice is when to stop the bleeding. The longer it takes, the worse it will be in the end.

New Immigration rules

New immigration rules leaked to the Guardian.
For those who are still interested in this freak-show:
– no more indefinite right to remain. At most one could stay in England is for five years. So, better not plan to attend under-grad and post-grad studies here.
– After two months you will need to register with the Home Office and they will issue you with a biometric ID.
– If you don’t earn enough, then you can forget about bringing your partner or kids over.
 
This is probably a move by herr May to appease the extreme right. That still doesn’t endear England to me, even if it is just a ploy. If this went through:
– No Freedom of Movement, no Single Market.
– International companies CEO’s will all of a sudden realize they will not be able to stay and run the company for much longer. These people go where the money is and the boards too. How do you think a vote would go in board meeting about losing most of the board and management or relocating? Say goodbye to revenue makers.
– International students will not be able to do undergrad (3yrs) + PhD (3-4yrs) in this Country.
– Academics will not be able to work. Who would move for a single project and then go back?
– Doctors will not come to a dead-end job, where their careers will be cut short.
– We (the EU citizens working in the UK) can probably forget about our pensions accrued in the UK.
– EU people with homes and steady jobs and families here need to seriously consider what they will do in 2-5 years time when they are deported. They probably need to think now, not when they lose the right to own property in the UK.
– The UK pensioners are coming back. EU will reciprocate. The UK is thus swapping a young and energetic work force for people who are more likely to need government services (like NHS) than contribute to them.
 
It is an absolute pipedream to say, but if you are highly qualified, you are fine. No, I am not.
(a) Our relationship is not as one sided as you might think, England. I contribute to the body of knowledge in a very specific area that captures interest of many, which at the same time is not terribly overpopulated (perhaps 20 people in the world work on this). It is not like I am only sponging off you, England. You are sponging off me and my expertise and borrowing my reputation to enhance yours. Thus, let’s not pretend that I will be pathetically grateful if only you could throw me a small time limited bone. There are other kennels.
(b) If I am not welcome, well, f*ck you too. In the words of Arthur Dent who in HHGTTG lies in front of a bulldozer that is trying to wreck his house: “We’ll see who rusts first
(c) If I am a “highly qualified” migrant, why exactly would I want to come to this bigoted and racist Country? The pound is in the dumps, the long-term career prospects are finished, my family cannot come with me, the atmosphere is stuffy and uneasy. Should I come for the weather? Or so I can be abused or issued an ID card (something the British refuse to adopt for themselves because it is an “invasion of privacy” and “government meddling into citizen’s lives”. I guess it is not a problem if this is done to non-Brits, since we are not really comparably human anyway, right?). From skimming the documents I couldn’t find out they’ll only do this to the EU citizens or to the commonwealth citizens too. If they do it to India, say goodbye to FTA with them.
(d) I understand I am used as a leverage for the dictator May (she wants sweeping powers and no debate or parliamentary oversight, of course she wants to be a dictator) to posture in front of her party and thus remain in power. And as a leverage where the UK shows EU how bad it could get unless it caves. I don’t appreciate that. I do not want to be associated with this regime, they do not stand for the same things I stand for, and I will be damned before I help these people stay in power or screw the British people in general through making myself available to use as a bargaining chip.
 
Fine. Many of us will go. We’ll both be sorry and then move on. Years from now, I’ll be reading the newspaper and find out whether you’ve prospered or imploded, England. And guess what, I’ll care about equally either way.

The rise of fascism in the West and the need to be loved

A colleaugue of mine, posted a note on Facebook, comparing Trump to Berlusconi. This is what I think about it.

I think, actually, that a comparison to Mussolini would be more apt. What, with the planned military parades (and here), the presidental proclamation of making january 20th the “national day of patriotic devotion” (there is a screenshot of the proclamation if you follow the link), the America First (here is the origin of the phrase), the nepotism (and here), the establishing of a common outside enemy, the framing of a country that is on the brink of destruction, needing a strong man to lead it (this is all in the inauguration speech. I won’t be linking to that piece of drivel, but it is easy to find it online), etc.

The word fascism comes from the Italian word for a bundle or sheaf (of, as is commonly portrayed, wheat stalks). The underlying premise is that each individual stalk is easily broken, but when they are tied together, they are almost unbreakable. So, the downtrodden masses that are fighting against a common outside enemy are united and unstoppable. The theory goes.

So “the Donald’s” rhetoric and actions are pure fascism. He even likes to be called the Donald (like Il Duce, right?). The second World War did not touch the States as profoundly as it did Europe (it was almost exclusively not fought on their soil), so the Americans are seemingly not getting as edgy as the Europeans are. There are a number of articles in the US press talking about the president being a fascist,(and here and here), but so far they seem to be more theoretical, labelling him but not drawing a logical conclusion – assholes like that lead people into war.

One can (cynically) hope that this will only lead into a military dictatorship on the US soil and not spill over into a full-blown world conflict. But the chance of that is diminishing – the world is already reacting (and here and here and here). Think about it. The world did not want to get involved in the WWII when Hitler annexed Poland, they figured that if he was given a little, then he would stop. Much like Putin did with Ukraine, much like the Donald is planning to extort the other NATO members into paying “protection money“. I predict that the world will accept a little bullying in order to not plunge us all into war, but when it becomes clear that nothing is ever enough, it will reluctantly take a stand, which will bring a response and it will all escalate from there. The outlook is fairly grim in my opinion.

Why do I think the demands will not stop, if the Donald (or possibly Putin in Europe) is given some leeway? Because they never do. There is no previous situation ever, where strong-arming stopped because the bully has had enough.  It sometimes stops when the victim has nothing left to give and the bully moves on, and sometimes it stops because a line is crossed and the victim fights back. But bullying does not just stop if the bully gets what they want. Why would it? Makes no rational sense.

The other issue is that Trump cannot get what he wants, the way he is doing it. He wants to be adored and respected. He wants to be seen as manna from Heaven. So he demands this. And his demands get him obeisance and smiles through gritted teeth, initially (because people hope he’ll go away and pester someone else). He is not content with this on some level, so he makes more extreme demands in order for people to prove their devotion. He just wants to be loved, don’t you see? This alienates more and more people, which makes him more and more unhappy, which results in more and more impossible requests, until someone snaps. In this respect, this a crossed transaction.

Trump says: “Prove to me that you love me – show me some respect, tell me how cool I am and how everything I touch turns into gold!

The world says: “Well, so far there is not much to respect. We’ll see.

Trump says: “That is not the way to treat somebody as cool and valuable as me. I guess you need to see what you are missing. I am building a wall! I am destroying NATO! I am decimating the social safety net! See what happens when you don’t love me? Now, apologise. Apologise for treating me so unfairly!

The World, Mexicans, Women and other interest groups figure they need to find some sort of common ground, the basis for rational discussion. They are wrong. They are looking to discuss things, Trump is looking to be adored. If they give him that, he will stop squeezing them while he believes them.

The international community will not appease him for long. Because of history, because of egos, and because, ultimately, pretending to adore someone you don’t like much is a lot of work and grinds you down. They figure this is a game of chicken, and international negotiations, and playing chess. It is not. Trump will not blink first, because the things on the table are not the things he wants. So why blink? The world could either do what Melanija did, that is take one for the team and smile and let itself be screwed while picturing the piles of cash it can get out of the deal. Or not give an inch, but never escalate into war. Essentially do a Putin, but not be as sleazy about it.

The people from the States should stop deluding themselves. For those who did not vote for him, there will never be a silver bullet. The electoral college will not change their vote, the recount will not show anything, Trump will not suddenly pivot. There will also never be a time where the majority of the Trump voters will say: “Ah I guess this poverty, famine, lack of social care, environmental destruction, etc is all my fault, I am so sorry“. Stop with these delusions. The best you can possibly hope for is for people to not mention the screw-up and change the topic when it comes to their involvement. These erotic fantasies of people admitting their guilt and throwing themselves at your mercy are pure fiction. What will probably happen is that the administration will find a way to spin any fuck-ups in a way where they will be somebody else’s fault (see Brexit negotiations, if you want to see how this works in practice).

But for those who did vote for him and bought into the act – He will also not start caring about the middle and the working class. The way he figures it, he is awesome and should be liked by default. Why should he do anything? He is adored by default, right? So, he’ll screw you, and you will like it. If you don’t, he’ll screw you harder, and if you complain, you will stop existing in the Trump Universe, because in that Universe only people who like him exist.

What you should do is (a) stop fucking around with Democracy. I don’t care how entitled someone feels and how sure they are that it is their turn, you should listen to what people are telling you. If an unknown senator who wasn’t even in your party before the primary can seriously endanger your sitting champion and raise more money then her, well, you could have listened. It is not given that Bernie would have won. Who knows, it doesn’t matter now. But what matters is, that this is what you fucking get, when you tell people what to like. (b) Prepare to pick up the pieces if there are any pieces left. Your nature will be pretty much obliterated, your healthcare will be a joke and your standing in the world will plummet, but on the other hand, the only way is up :).

Here is my prediction of what will happen:

The Republicans will ram through every piece of legislation they can think of and pin it all on Trump. Once he is done being useful in an active role, they will impeach him. Well, not them. For impeachment to start, the simple majority is enough, so only a few Republicans will need to have a “change of heart”. In order to fire the guy, 2/3 majority is required. So, I expect that an impeachment hearings will start and then all of a sudden something will come to light “that changes everything” and now all of a sudden many Republicans will realise how incredibly “morally corrupt” and “treasonous” Trump is. So they will vote for impeachment and throw him to the wolves. Mike Pence will be the president and he will be better at it than the Donald. Oh, the public wants to get back the benefits they enjoyed before Trump? So sorry, Trump did that, not the Republicans. It is a good thing he was caught on time, because can you imagine what kind of things he could have pulled if he was not, they’ll say. We cannot just countermand the legislation that was already accepted and signed off on by the president, can we? That would set a dangerous precedent. When the time for re-election comes around, Pence will come off as so much better than Donald that people will vote for him out of relief.

 

 

The fight for the interpretation (or: After the Brexit speech on January 17th, 2017)

http://news.images.itv.com/image/file/1035417/stream_img.jpg

 

There is now a fight going on about what the British people wanted when they voted to leave the EU. The first rational thing to do in this case is to look at the referendum question. It was exactly this:

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

You could vote “Leave” or “Remain“. If you were elligible, that is. Which I am not, obviously, I only spent 8 years in this Country, have a permanent address here and have a Tax residence here.

But, this is the exact wording of the question. Everything else is window dressing and pointless decorations. What people thought they voted for is irrelevant. There was a clear question and a clear answer was expected. 52% of participants voted “Leave“. There is nothing unclear about that. Those who could be bothered and were eligible made their wishes known. That is absolutely clear. Leave, it is.

The citizens who wanted to stay in the EU (colloquially known as Remainers) now have a bunch of grievances. They are saying that mostly the old people voted leave (here and here), leaving the young generation to deal with the fallout. They say that the Leave Campaign lied about a bunch of stuff – for example about the famous £350M per week for the NHS – here and here. Or that the UK would be staying in the single market, etc. This is all beside the point. The people have answered a simple question. Why they they answer in a specific way, and how much they were lied to, is beside the point.

Do I think they are insane? Oh, yes! Yes, I think they are in the process of completely screwing up a whole nation and making England into a historical footnote about how to quickly ruin yourself. I think they have relegated themselves to an obscure little island, where there will soon be no social net, no equality, huge class segregation and where people will be left to die on the streets once they outlived their usefulness. Of course, my opinion is also completely irrelevant. There is no formal reason to object to the result of the referendum. And personal opinions do nothing for this debate. The answer is clear and the Remainers should not question it, or re-interpret what it means.

At the same time, this is true for the Leavers (those who voted to leave the EU, colloquially) and the UK government too! The government or the Leavers should stop telling me what people wanted, when they opted for “leave”. Like, for example, Mrs. May saying: “[…] That is why both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market. […]”. There were no questions about immigration, there was no question about the single market, or about leaving the jurisdiction of the EU court of justice in the referendum. There is no way to extrapolate any of this from the referendum question. None! The people voted leave and the government was tasked about getting the best possible deal. They have no mandate to interpret what the vote actually means. It means exactly what it says on the tin. So far, Ms.May’s reach seems to be fairly limited. She and her stooges seem to be keen on leaving the single market, tanking the pound (Remember, before the referendum the GBP:EUR conversion was roughly 1.35. In January 2017 it is roughly 1.15), losing the financial passport (with financial services being the biggest British export and here), abolishing universal health care, and social services, threatening deportation (and here), and cutting the taxes for the industry. In short, England is well on the way of becoming a third rate banana republic, much like the US is currently striving to become (with nepotism and plans of military parades).

Therefore, the incompetence of the current conservative government and the labour opposition (that is doing fuck-all to stop this dismantling) should not be covered up by saying that this is what people want and everyone should shut up and get with the program. The interpretation of what people wanted seems to be well in line with the tories neo-liberal agenda, but there is no way to know from the referendum question what is it that people wanted. Oh, I hear you say, we should ask people now, what they want and find out what their priorities are. Also, I hear you ask, are you saying that Ms May and her bunch of oafs haven’t done this already? Well, they might have done it, but if they did, they are certainly not reporting it. Because this is what people want: 90% of the poll respondents want to remain in the single market. Polled individuals say they want increased fairness in the society, based on social justice and equality. So, no, the people do not want curbing immigration at any cost, they do not want the dismantling of the social net at any cost.

Simply put, the data does not support the claim that Mrs. May and her flunkies are doing what the people want. They are doing what they want, but not what the will of the people is. Either because they haven’t bothered to discover what people actually want, or (more likely) because they could not care less about what most of the population wants.

Restoring the Rolex DeepSea Sea Dweller [Updated! 05.jan.2017]


img_3570_zpscnertoegRolex DeepSea Sea Dweller is an iconic watch. Until it was superseeded by Deepsea Challenge it was the most water-resistant mechanical watch in the world.  It is certified to 3.9km depth! One of the DeepSea Sea Dwellers has actually been on the bottom of the Marianna’s trench, on the outside of the submersible and lived to tell the tale.The construction is amazing. There is a back bowl of the watch made out of Titanium and the front crystal is 4mm thick. They both attach to an inner ring and when the pressure increases the seal between the crystal, the ring and the back-plate pushes them together to make an ever tighter fit.

Here is an exploded diagram of the DSSD (image downloaded from http://watchesbysjx.com/):

Even the bezel is looser than usually on the diver’s watches since the water pressure pushes it into the case and makes it operational at deeper depths.

It is a thick and heavy watch, but an iconic one. Rolex has since also made a DeepSea Challenge, certified to 12km depths, but that, arguably, is just overkill (as if the DSSD is not, I know 🙂 ).

A few weeks ago, I came across a listing of a replica Rolex DSSD on a forum. The seller specified that the watch was dead – it did not wind, but they said that probably the keyless works need seeing to. This was a 2014 Noob factory version. There are essentially two replica factories making diver’s Rolexes plus a handful of people (BK, TC and others) who make what is already a very good replica even better. The factories are called Noob and BP.

The name Noob comes from the abbreviation for Noobmariner (an entry level or “newbie” submariner with a 21j Chinese movement) and it was initially just a handful of people from China and Taiwan who started making boutique versions of Rolex replicas. They have since disbanded but a few of the people involved in the initial Noob production runs have started a mass operation, keeping the name. The operational characteristics of these replica makers are fascinating, but they are outside of the scope of this post. The interested parties can always check replica forums and find the in-depth “insights from the industry” there.

Noob Rolexes are pretty darn accurate and their characteristic is that they are pretty close to the genuine as far as the dimensions are concerned, meaning that those who are fanatical enough can swap replica parts for genuine without much (or any) machining to do. That carries its own problems with it – genuine parts are expensive. For example, the ceramic insert on the bezel (just a disc with numbers and pip at 12 o’clock is currently being sold on eBay for 500 pounds! Admittedly, the paint contains platinum, but still… The genuine crown just went for a little less than 100 pounds).

So, anyway, I came across this listing and after a brief exchange with the seller, I bought the watch for a very small amount of money. Ridiculously small. I haggled a bit too, just for the hell of it, as I was not planning on buying it in the first place and would do so only if the price was so low that it was a steal. So I had nothing to lose and thus haggled accordingly.

There were two disclosed issues with the watch:

  • It did not wind.
  • The insert pip fell out of the bezel and was lost (see photo at the top of this post).

There were also two undisclosed issues with the watch (which I did not complain about afterwards, because of the ludicrously low price):

  • The lettering on the back was almost completely faded.
  • The watch was insanely dirty. It looked like someone washed the watch in machine oil and then rolled it around in earwax.

I figured that this was what I had to do:

  • Replace the pip on the bezel insert.
  • Repair the movement or replace it, if it was beyond saving.
  • Clean it up.
  • Grease the seals.
  • (Optionally) paint the back case with enamel paint.

Then once this was done:

  • Regulate the movement.
  • Check for water resistance.

All my divers and dress watches are swimming friendly as I want to be able to swim with them without a second thought. What is the point of a watch that is supposedly resistant to 4000m but dies if I splash water over it?

Anyway. Three days later the watch arrives. Until two years ago, I had one watch, that I wore at all times much to the changrin of my wife. I slept with it, showered with it, swam in the sea and in the pool with it. It has now been in my possession for about 25 years. It died last year and I restored it (the post is here). So, the watch was on my wrist 24/7 for 23 years. And it is not even close when it comes to shabbiness compared to the DSSD.

I first took off the bracelet and dunked it in 99% proof alcohol for 24 hours. There was black gunk oozing from it afterwards. At first I couldn’t even access the bars attaching the bracelet to the movement because there was so much gunk covering them.

I also opened up the case and checked the keyless works. The keyless works are the little cogs that go around the stem and allow the different positions of the crown to fulfil its designated functions (usually: 1st position – winding, 2nd position date set, 3rd position – time setting).

Here is a screenshot of the ETA 2836 / 2824 keyless works:

original: http://i749.photobucket.com/albums/xx136/jumpope/Misc/2836_KLW-006.jpg

original: http://i749.photobucket.com/albums/xx136/jumpope/Misc/2836_KLW-006.jpg

The keyless works are very fiddly. I have now rebuilt them several dozen times and it is always frustrating to do so. The cogs jump out of alignment and you either have to almost completely disassemble the back (which in watchmakers terms is called the top), or remove the hands, the dial, the calendar wheel and a plate that holds everything in place to get to them at the front. Not fun and every time you do it it is a lottery whether you will be able to reassemble the calendar side without scratching the dial or bending the hands. And then you need to reinsert the movement back into the case which means that the stem needs to be removed and re-inserted and the reinsertion and removal is usually the cause for problems in the first place. So, you reassemble everything, put the movement in the case and when you reinsert the stem, the keyless breaks again and you can spend another two hours redoing what you just did. It happens to me a lot. Too much, in fact. I just don’t get it how people manage to remove the stem and slide the movement into the case without dropping the movement. You need three hands for this. One to hold the movement with the dials pointing downwards, one to pull the stem out and one to push the button. I usually use my mouth to pull the stem out, but since I do not see the keyless works button, I tend to press it too hard. And I am screwed again.

UPDATE: I have now come up with a pretty good method. I screw the movement into the movement holder really tightly, turn it around and place it over the watch case. I then press the stem release gently (the black coded bergeon screwdriver is perfect fit for ETA 28xx movements) and tug the stem out, gently. If the movement is dislodged from the holder it slides into place in the watch anyway, so no harm done. If it doesn’t dislodge, I just do it the proper way – remove the movement, place it on a cushion and put the case over it, then turn. 

The movement was fairly dirty and there was fine ruby dust on one of the bridges. That does not bode well. I also attempted to wind the watch and realised that it would actually wind but that the crown was slipping. Still, I replaced the barrel and the winding bridge, checked the keyless works which were fine, re-tightened the crown and wound the watch (which did work if I gripped the crown in a certain way). I then put it on a regulator and it was just horrific. It showed the accuracy at -489s per day and the amplitude could not even be detected when it was fully wound. The balance was stopping and starting. It was lethargic. This movement needs to be completely re-hauled. The dirt is interfering with the balance wheel and other wheels. I decided to just replace it, because the balance wheel is very hard to accurately re-seat without a microscope, which I do not have handily available.

I realised I would also probably need a new crown, preferably for a Noob 2014 edition, because I did not want to remove the crown tube if at all possible. So I corresponded with a boutique replica watchmaker and bought a new Noob DSSD crown from them. It is generally very hard to get branded parts for replica watches, as even in China these are illegal to produce.

So, I removed the movement and the hands, the dial, and the date wheel; and ordered a new movement – a clone of ETA 2836 – a Seagull ST2100. These Seagulls are brilliant. They are fairly inexpensive but come well oiled and regulated and the performance is on par with new ETA at a fraction of the cost. They are clones of ETA 2836, to the point where almost all parts are interchangeable. The ETA’s are now even more problematic because the factory is a part of the SWATCH group and in early 2016 the whole group stopped selling their movements to anyone but their authorised dealers (screwing the independent watchmakers too, not just the replica makers), which makes the available movements very expensive or in need of a service and very expensive, which does not help my situation. If I wanted to spend time on servicing the movement, I could service the one that came with the DSSD.

While I was waiting for the movement to arrive, I inspected the case. These cases have the helium release valve also called HEV (Helium Evacuation Valve). On the genuine watch this makes perfect sense, even though it is overkill (there are not many people in the world who would dive to depths requiring the HEV). The HEV is an automatic valve that releases the Helium that builds up in a watch when you dive to ridiculous depths and spend long periods under a diving bell. If there was no valve, the Helium would expand inside the case when returning to the surface and blow out the front crystal. Thus the HEV automatically engages and relieves the pressure (patented by Rolex and Doxa).

On a replica this is just pointless. No one in their right mind would go and actually dive with a replica, much less to ridiculous depths. These valves also need to be calibrated and lubricated. Replica makers usually don’t even lubricate the back gaskets, much less the HEV, and this makes the HEV the premiere point where the water rushes in when swimming. Therefore, what you do, in case you wanted to swim with a replica is to epoxy shut the valve. I tend to do this on all replicas that have the valve and the HEV is not purely cosmetic (sometimes the seating for the valve is not drilled all the way through the case. This is the case with many Breitling SuperOcean SteelFish replicas (at least in the one I have).

When I looked at the DSSD case when the movement was removed, it seemed to me that the HEV did not come completely through the case.

I attempted to remove the inner ring, but it seemed to be part of the case. I looked online and there were competing statements to that effect. Some people claimed it was machined as part of the case, some people claimed it was separate. Some Noob versions apparently had the ring removable, some not. Same thing with BP versions.

Hmm.

Well. I can start painting the back. I use enamel model paint. You need to cover the lettering, let it dry completely and then remove the excess paint with pegwood.

Here is what it looked like, when I got it:

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I applied the paint:

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I let it dry for a day and then used pegwood to remove the excess paint. The result is much improved, but not perfect (notice that the ‘=’ sign is not painted and that a few letter are not completely painted).

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I repainted the problematic areas and will leave them to dry.

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Back to the HEV issue.

Everyone agreed though, that even if the ring was removable, you need to get the crystal out first. And possibly the bezel. This is some work and you are prone to screw something up. You can break the crystal (well perhaps not in this case – it is half a centimeter thick), scratch the inner ring, break the insert, bend the bezel, incorrectly re-seat something etc. I figured I would see what can be done and if the movement still hasn’t arrived by then, I might attempt it. I would need to remove the crystal to get to the insert anyway and I would need to get to the insert in order to glue in a pip I ordered. So, the crystal will need to come out in any case probably, unless I am satisfied with gluing the pip in from the front, which might be problematic as I would then superglue the insert on the bezel ring and that may lead to all sorts of problems later (probably rending the bezel ring unmovable, depending on how the bezel is constructed. People were also saying that removing the bezel on the Noob is very hard.

I decided to first test the watch for water resistance as is, to see whether I need to epoxy the HEV shut at all. I also asked the seller whether he swam with the watch and he confirmed, so I was reasonably confident that it was not leaking. But I still tested it and it passed. See? No bubbles.

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So I could just leave everything be. But that would bug me. I would know that HEV is an accident waiting to happen and would not be confident swimming with the watch, knowing that it might implode at any time. Also the movement was out already and I knew I would not be arsed later to do all this work once the watch was reassembled. And also the movement was very dirty and in need of a service. It was less than two years old (which is too short a period for that amount of dirt to accumulate), so it is possible that there was water ingress there previously and that destroyed the movement. Later, I looked at the stem and it seemed corroded, adding weight to this theory. If the water getting into the watch is not seawater, then the movement does not corrode, the oil just degrades more quickly and that might have led to the destruction of the rubies in the spindle seats, because they were not lubricated properly anymore (if they were lubricated in the first place).

OK, so it is settled. I will disassemble the case and seal the HEV shut.

I start by pushing out the crystal. I take great care to not touch the insert and use a plastic die size that grips the bezel, not the insert.

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Remove the crystal (with the crystal press). Sides of the crystal are a bit dirty.

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I then mark the ring position before removing it as I want to be able to align it easily when I am returning it (in the inside of the inner ring there is ROLEX ROLEX ROLEX engraving and I want it to align correctly – the Rolex crown at 12 and R at 3 and 9). I do not even touch the insert when removing the ring. Still I hear a crack. The insert shatters. I read on the forums how brittle they are, but this is ridiculous. No matter, at least I won’t have a problem with re-seating the pip. I’ll just buy a new after-market ceramic insert. I order one. It is a lot cheaper than the genuine one, but it still costs me as much as the whole watch did. Oh well.

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Notice the hairs stuck in the bezel glue and the dirt? The hairs are not mine. Bleurgh.

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I push the ring out and the bezel pops out with it too. I make sure not to lose any of the four spindles that provide the clicking motion.

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I mix marine epoxy and fill the HEV hole. Once it is completely dry, I will sand it down further. It needs to be left alone for at least a day.

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Here is the case completely disassembled.

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In the meantime, I get the movement (an hour after disassembly and epoxying). Nice timing.

Here is the movement.

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Nice Perlage. I can now start assembling.

First thing I need to do, is remove the winding disc as it otherwise interferes with the the position in the movement holder. You may be too lazy to do this. I certainly was once or twice, but that led to some difficulties later on – the movement does not sit nicely on the movement holder etc. It is one screw and if you neglect to remove it, you may bend the disc, destroy the fitting or similar.

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Then remove the hands, day and date wheels. And fit a Rolex-like one. Here is a photo of a wheel I that came with the watch (right), and one that I sourced from elsewhere (left). They are roughly the same, but the left one is more nicely done. I think I’ll use that one.

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This is fairly fiddly business, but not to hard in the end. Here are youtube (video by rick914) pointers on how to do it.Takes about 20 minutes, but here it is, new date wheel fitted:

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Then I need to check whether the alignment is ok. And it is just fine – the photo is at an angle, that is why this looks misaligned. I put on a dial.20161021_125719459_ios

 

Now the hour, minute and seconds markers:


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Wind and let it rest. I will return to it, after I’ve seen to the case. I notice that I cannot set time anymore. I trace the problem back to a bent plate covering the keyless works (my fault entirely. I repair it and reassemble).

It is now two days later. The epoxy is dry and I need to first brush off the larger imperfections and then cover everything in silicone grease which will make the inner ring easier to slide in.

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Now, insert the inner ring and align with my  markers (I am using a crystal press for this).

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Here it is from the front.

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You see the four little holes? Springs and spindles go into those. And silicon grease. But first I need to grease the seal between the crystal and the white gasket. I decide against gluing the crystal in, as I might need to take it out at some point in the future. Grease should do fine. I put the crystal in (by hand, as there is a titanium ring that goes around it, locking it into place.

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Then I put the silicone grease into the holes and add springs and spindles. There is one spindle on the bottom right that is of slightly different shape. Be sure to put it into the correct place and to align it correctly.

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Now put on the titanium ring and the bezel. It is slightly fiddly, but I managed to get everything sitting correctly in the end. The bezel is in place but not too firmly. At first I pushed it too close to the case, which impeded it’s movement. I re-attached everything a few times and ended up with a secured, rolling bezel. There is a bit of silicone grease now on the rehaut, but I am not too bothered about it. Of course, it would be possible to remove it, but then I would have to go through the whole fiddly business again. And I cannot be bothered. Perhaps next time I will need to service the DSSD.

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Since I have broken the ceramic bezel and am still waiting for the new one to arrive, I am pretty much done, for now with the front of of the case. So, let’s go back to the back side of the case.

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Notice that I do not have the right crown installed, yet? That is because the crown that came with the movement was slipping and I needed to source a new one. I’ll set everything up with the old one, but then replace it, once it arrives.

So now the movement is back in the case. It is attached by a holder ring and then by washers. Before putting back the stem, I’ll need to slide in the holder ring.

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Ok, now attach the automatic rotor and grease the back of the case. A plastic washer goes into between the back and the case.

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Then for the fun of it close it up. First the case back.

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Then the screw down part.

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Then clean off the excess paint and end up with a fairly nice case back. The number 8 still needs to be retouched, I may do that at some point in time.

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And here is the DSSD from the front:

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Once I get the bezel and the crown, I’ll revisit it and update this post.

—–

Got the insert today. First thing that is needed is to press in the inner bezel ring.

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Then add adhesive.

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Then, press in. And align. I notice that on the photos it looks like the insert is higher than the crystal. That is not actually the case. The insert is flush with the crystal.

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Now I only need the crown and then I can regulate and wear. I’ll update then.

UPDATE 1. 

The Crown is in transit from the Airport now, but it seems it won’t arrive today. Well, I can still do some things.

  • I’ve noticed that the date wheel does not want to jump all the way through on a date change.
  • I also noticed a spec of of dust on the underside of the crystal
  • Another thing is that the date now flips over at about 0:15 that is about 10 minutes longer than I like.
  • I also need to test for water resistance now that I’ve completely disassembled the watch. I want to know whether I’ve put everything back correctly (the crystal seems to be a lot lower than it was originally).
  • I need to regulate the movement (it is about 20s/d fast out of the box).
  • And I still need to replace the crown.

So, I open up the DSSD again. This time it is fairly easy as I have received the correct size die (36.5mm) a few days ago. Because I have successfully ruined a few watches in the past by having their crystal blow out and the movement got soaked and parts subsequently rusted, I have now decided to remove the movement out of the case, and test without the movement. This is btw, the correct procedure anyway. It is a pain to remove the movement, but it is an even bigger pain to have to remove it afterwards and order new parts. So, since I need to remove the hands and dial to get to the calendar wheel and since I need to clean the underside of the crystal, I really have no choice.

I put the watch into the tester and it passes nicely. I realize I will need to retest with the new crown, but it is very unlikely that a properly lubricated crown would leak. See? No Bubbles. WR to 60m and probably a lot more, but I can certainly go swimming with it.

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I then focus on the movement. I figure that the date wheel is bad. It could happen. So, I remove the hands and the dial and replace the date wheel. I have plenty of spare ones, because the Huanzghou 6460 GMT movement comes with a replica Rolex datewheel and I have about 6 of these movements merrily ticking away in several of my watches. The wheels are left over, as I, until recently, had no interest in Rolex replicas. So, I replace the wheel and also the ring that comes between the movement in the dial. I test (by putting the dial and the hour hand back on) and it is still sticking. Sigh. The new date does not show completely in the date window. I remove the hour hand again and release the levers holding the dial in place and the date jumps forward, perfectly aligned. Cool. That means that I only need a bit more clearance between the dial and the calendar. I test this several times, replace the washer that comes between the dial and the movement and voila. The date is now perfectly centered and advances correctly.

I also re-seat the hands and now the date flips over at 23:57. Good enough. I am not usually awake for this (or not awake in order to watch my watch flip dates), so it is a moot point anyway. But, I do that too. I then thoroughly clean the insides of the case with optical paper and lens cleaner. I lightly brush the dial with a lens brush. And re-seat the movement. Perfect. No dust anywhere. Now the only two things remaining are to regulate the movement and to replace the crown. I’ll do the crown when I get it. Probably not today. But I can certainly regulate.

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Very good, overall. The amplitude is nothing to write home about, but the positional variation is not too bad. I am now almost done. Only the crown remains.

 

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Update 2.

The crown arrived today. So, just the last stretch. Here is the package:

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And here is the crown. A stem was attached to it, but while it was a 2824 stem, the Seagull ST2100 has a slightly different one.

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I removed the one that came with the crown and inserted the one I trimmed already. They were the same length, but just different enough that the 2824 one wouldn’t seat correctly. I replaced the stems, inserted into the movement, greased the seals, screwed the back back on and attempted to wind. It works! We are finally done. One perfectly working DSSD 2014 Noob that is about 1 second fast every 3 days. 20161031_123957916_ios

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iPhone 7 audio jack saga

OK, the fallout begins.

Here is a story from VOX about why apple abolished the headphone jack:
How badly is this written? The arguments are if I briefly list them:
(a) Apple has done this before. Initially with the iMac and Floppy + proprietary ports in favour of USB, and then with first Air, and last year with Macbook.
OK. The first time they did it was to move from a proprietary port to what became an industry standard. No one could be that deluded to think that the (proprietary) lightning port will become standard on e.g. Android phones. The first Air probably did not sell all that well, especially after Thinkpad x300 was unveiled. If it sold that well, there would have been no reason for the comprehensively redesigned next gen Air. And Macbook might have sold well, bit there is nothing to compare it to. There is no fanless, light, Macbook with several USB ports and thunderbolt. So, it might have sold well (if), but one that wasn’t as hobbled might have sold better. A surface 4 PRO is similar but it is an actual computer, not a toy. My point here is that Apple is now switching to proprietary technology that locks people in not to an industry standard.
(b) Second reason is water resistance. If we ignore for a moment that there are android phones that are water resistant with an audio jack included, we should look more closely at what water resistance here means. Apple said that this is their most water-resistant phone yet. This is not saying much if the previous generation was a water resistant as a sheet of paper. A business card is more water resistant than the previous iPhone. So the new one is all that (less than 1m for less than 30minutes), but you still cannot drop it in your toilet, because it is not resistant enough. So let’s not include this as an advantage.
(c) Lightning headphones can produce better sound than regular ones. Yah, I bet that Audeze Titanium EL-8 sound better than apple headphones included with iPhone 6S. I am not so sure they sound better than a regular non-lightning pair of $800 headphones. Yes, this is how much the Audeze cost. How would they fare compared to Shures or Beyer Dynamics or Sennheisers in that price range? Apples to oranges much?
(d) The integrated DAC is crap anyway, as it is small. Well if you look at the tests, these DAC’s are actually pretty good. And if you were pinning for a very expensive headphone amp and DAC, you could buy it even before the i7 and combine it with high quality IEM’s and still pay less. I notice even Vox is not insane enough to push Beats as a serious solution.
(e) Apple is “betting that however much you might hate having to buy new headphones, you’re going to love the sleeker look of the new iPhone 7 so much that you’ll buy one anyway”. Are you kidding me? I have thousands of pounds invested in headphones. Why would I switch from my current daily-driver Shure SE535’s to another solution that will potentially cost me more for inferior quality just so I can pad Apple’s bottom line (they charge license fees)? And my IEM’s tend to outlast my phones. I am not happy to buy a product that I cannot use on my iPod Classic, Surface, rMacBook Pro, or desktop, and find out that Apple has decided to junk the port when the fancy strikes them.
(f) Apple can make the new phone sleeker, with better battery life and lower the cost if they cut out the headphone jack. Really? There is only one iPhone storage option (128Gb) that can be compared across 6S and 7. The price in the UK for the iPhone 7 is £699 and for iPhone 6S it was £619 at launch. Thus the same capacity iPhone costs £80 more. Consumers generally like it when lowering the cost of production reflects on their bottom line, not just increase the profits for the company. Yes, yes, Brexit. So, perhaps don’t make the same prices across generations the selling point, Apple.
(g) Why not go wireless? The airpods will only cost £159.
Of course most of us who care will use the included adapter if we decide to go for the new iPhone. You can currently buy almost two Sennheiser ie7’s for that price. And Shure SE425 are also about there. We’ll see how they compare in audio quality. I am betting the airpods are about as good as the regular earpods (which is not very, indeed). And my IEM’s don’t only work a few hours at a time. And have at least twice as many speakers inside each bud.

Mladina about Brexit

I translated an article in Slovene about Brexit from a popular Slovene Magazine Mladina. To be clear, the following text is not mine, it was written by Grega Repovž and the original can be found here: http://mladina.si/175145/cas-za-delavsko-internacionalo/ All the rights are retained by the original author. I only translated it after the article became freely available online (as is the case with all Mladina articles a week after they appear in press).

Time for The Workers International!

The British did not vote against the European Union, but against the free movement of labour. And they are right: the European labour market benefits the rich and the Capital storming Europe weakens and destroys it. Of course you can point the finger, join in, and be appalled at the Brits. Look at them, they really are racist, you’ll be saying, that is what this was all about. They do not like the Poles, they do not like the Slovenes, and they do not like the Pakistanis … But the truth was actually clearly indicated by those Brits who have voted to exit the European Union: The free movement of labour along with the free movement of capital and services, that is presently the foundation of the EU, to them signifies an unfair competition among employees, reduces labour and social rights of the population, and leads all those UK residents who can only offer their labour, into an ever growing spiral of increasing hardship. And the immigrants are victimised in exactly the same way.

Of course, the Brits, who have voted to leave the European Union, do not say that they are bothered about the free movement of labour. Most of them are less politically savvy voters. They believe the immigrants stand at the heart of the problem. But if each of us makes a list of friends and acquaintances, who from 2004 to today went to Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, etc., found a job, and created a new life, a pattern will emerge. If we exclude those in highly skilled positions, whose pay is tied to their specific knowledge, we’ll find that in most other cases these workers’ salaries are lower than average in that country (for that position). In addition, most of these individuals do not hold open-ended appointments and their job security is generally poor. Out of of my acquaintances, in all but two cases (one working at a University, another in a hospital), no one is paid equal wage compared to their British co-workers. Even my two acquaintances are not quite convinced that their status is really the same, although they are reluctant to talk about it at work. Almost everyone who is not extraordinary in some way, works more than allowed to by law, has a lower standard of living and is paid less than their British, German, or Dutch colleagues. The vast majority of those who perform less demanding jobs, does not hold a long-term or open-ended contract, and their workdays are longer than it’s legal. They work Saturdays and Sundays, and their pension plans are minimal or non-existent. Many of these people have been interviewed in various Slovenian newspapers, or on the national television. Their life stories were presented as an umitigated success in Slovenia. While in fact these individuals do not live so well.

Most Slovenians who work abroad, did not get their jobs because they were above average, but because they are simply willing to work more for less pay compared to Britons. In most cases they receive no workers benefits or allowances which are common for Brits and indeed for those Slovenes who remained in Slovenia. Starting with the the paid leave, which for many is significantly lower or non-existent. But these are only the most visible cases.

The easier the job, the less likely is it for employers to observe the EU (or British) standards of employment and the more likely that the job will be held by an immigrant.

The harshest cases can be found among those who work through the various employment agencies. They do not appear on the labour market as employees, but simply as a service that is, for example, offered to a German or a British company by a Slovenian agency. We are very familiar with these cases in Slovenia: TV Slovenia journalist Jelena Aščić monthly discloses the horror stories about abuses that happen through these agencies. Although the spin is usually that this is a shady business practice that only happens to Slovenes, perpetrated by Slovenian companies. In fact this is now a normal standard in the European labour market. European companies everywhere use this cheap labour from Countries that have a lower standard. Slovenian companies do the same thing by, for example, “importing” cheap workers from Croatia. In Germany, several million individuals live and work this way.

Of course, Slovenia is not at all different: Slovenian construction sites are full of employees from former Yugoslavia, as well as from Romania, Bulgaria and other Countries. They are working for substantially lower salaries than their Slovene counterparts, labouring for 14 hours a day and living in (for us) impossible conditions. They receive their money directly through 3rd World shell companies, and this is all tolerated for the sake of increased productivity.

The Capital, the higher classes and partly the middle class, reap the only benefits from the free movement of labour. Everybody else suffers from it.

Let’s look at the issue from the other perspective – from the viewpoint of the resident workers. Social classes hold differing opinions on the precariat. Higher and middle classes across Europe reap benefits from this cheap labour – their lives are more comfortable and affordable. If the shops, cafeterias and other companies that are part of the service industry employ cheap labour, they can lower their prices and thus their customers can benefit. If a local plumber from Manchester gets away by hiring Polish workers, who are paid less (and outside the established Union rules), they can therefore have lower prices and their customers benefit. The richer the individual, the more they stand to gain from the influx of cheap labour. Benefits span various governmental systems too – for example, the health services across Europe are increasingly hiring nurses and servers educated in poorer Countries, because they are cheaper. These immigrants usually come from poor living conditions and are willing to work longer hours for less money, they live in poorer and smaller flats, and are ready to give up many things, which are otherwise completely run-of-the-mill in a Country where they live now. Often these individuals are employed through the “inventive contracts” that allow for lower standards.

Today most of the EU economy is based on this abuse of labour – Slovenes might be used to this kind of movement of labour as it used to be governed by international treaties (for example, between Yugoslavia and Germany in the seventies). Nowadays all of this is covered by the fundamental documents of the European Union. Moreover, that is the essence of the European Union: the free movement of capital, services and labour. However, everything is part of the globalisation process, still one of the inviolable postulates on which the world is founded. This of course benefits the Capital first. It can not be denied, however, that the most underdeveloped countries and their citizens also reap the benefits. But on the other hand we get a shaken proletariat in the Western world.

Great Britain is not a typical European Country, for its standards were the first to decline. In fact, they were the first in Europe to introduce the most ruthless neo-liberal doctrine (under the auspices of the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher). And even after the austerity crisis, Britain has remained committed to the European austerity strategies. All the proposed cuts have been enacted by the British government itself. This coincided with the opening of the labour market, though.

Great Britain is one of the end links of the worker migration chain. I am saying this as young people from Germany, Sweden, or the UK, except for the highly specialised ones, do not leave for greener pastures around the world, as a rule. There is no need for that. This puts them in a stark contrast to young Slovenians who move to the UK in order to improve their lives. The Brits mostly relocate to Slovenia after they retire (especially if they are working or lower middle class), because the cost of living is so much lower here that their pensions afford them a better quality of life.

The European open labour market poses a large existential problem for less educated Brits across all of Europe. Their main difficulties are now largely linked to the open labour market. How, for example, can they compete with a young Slovenian girl who is prepared to share an apartment with four other seasonal workers; who is ready to forget about having a pension scheme, and the usual number of days of leave? How can they compete with a Croatian tire technician whose monthly salary at home was 340EUR and plans to earn some money and return home to Osijek in five years?

Let’s make another step towards the understanding of the emerging unease: How is a normally-situated Brit to compete with a Syrian refugee who has lost everything and is completely destitute? Someone who does not care about a pension plan, and is prepared to work seven fourteen hour days per week, without ever going on a leave? How can a young Hamburg architect compete with a young college graduate from Slovakia, who is perfectly willing to live in substandard conditions, only to gain hands-on experience? In addition, his apprenticeship wages will be only half of the German’s apprenticeship wages, but at the same time they will amount to six times the average wage in Slovakia.

Is it really so abhorrent to oppose this state of play on the European markets? The British, who are today protesting against the European labour market, are not asking for anything extraordinary: they only want to stop the erosion of their social, labour, and general rights that is carried out in the name of allegedly higher goals (which are in fact, just a push for higher corporate profits in disguise).

UK politicians are constantly pointing to the European Union as the culprit in this, although the truth is the reverse: the neoliberal social order in Europe is emerging from Great Britain, and not vice versa. The working class’ frustration is much greater because Great Britain is evidently not a Country in crisis, with its GDP constantly on the rise and with ever increasing corporate profits. At the same time, in the entire post-crisis period (which coincides with the freeing of the labour market), the wages in the UK when pitted against inflation, are declining, social rights are constantly being reduced, and jobs are getting less and less secure.

Things are similar in Germany, even though this a Country rising quickly in the economic sense. Obviously the emerging inequality is not felt by the higher and middle classes, together with employees in the public and state administration. However, all the manual workers and those working in less demanding jobs experience it daily. Their standard of living is falling, despite the good macroeconomic results. They are the ones who suffer the consequences of a single labour market, they are facing cheaper workers from poorer European countries, and from Syria, Turkey, and Iran. In this market there are no longer any rules, and that effectively allows for the justification of any current neo-liberal economics. Are the Brits not in the right to oppose these inhuman conditions? Why should they support something that increases inequality, as it forces them out of the labour market, a system that makes them uncompetitive, and forces them to lose their elemental dignity?

It is unsettling that the anger of the proletariat, who yesterday still belonged to the lower middle class is expressed as a crude racism. It is obvious that a Pole working for a third of a minimum wage, under shameful conditions, in a job that five years ago was done by an Englishman or a German for a normal wage, is not the one to blame. Sadly, the ire of the population, stoked by the media and politicians, keeps getting diverted towards this unfortunate foreigner. In fact, both the disenfranchised Brit and the immigrant are the victims of the system that forms the foundations of modern Europe. This is the EU: an affiliation of 28 states that keeps lowering the taxes for the rich and the corporations, an affiliation where the European bureaucrats do not pay an income tax, an affiliation of Countries where economic growth is based more and more on the destruction of workers’ and social rights. And this union points to the free movement of labour as their crowning achievement.

To reiterate: the free movement of labour in the Western, richer European Countries benefits the rich, the higher class, and the upper middle class. For everybody else, it is an existential nightmare. And to these individuals, the workers who are willing to work for less money than is needed for a dignified life, pose a problem. They are like quislings in a war. They are the strike-breakers. Can we really approve of someone who is willing to work for less (regardless of their personal hardship), and as a consequence take a job of someone else? How was this ever acceptable?

The European labour market plays one worker against another. Exploiting the plight of a Romanian woman, who can not survive in Romania, and is pitted against a distressed Italian woman who could not accept such low wages as that would mean relinquishing their none-too-stellar-as-it-is standard of life. This is the European Union. Why would anyone want to support such a Union? We should not forget that in the previous decades the profits of corporations and enterprises were constantly on the rise, and that the highest classes have never in history been experiencing so rapid an increase of wealth. We should remember that these growing profits are largely due to the circumvention of labour rights and actual reduction of working class wages.

The growing fascism and hatred against immigrants and refugees, which often culminates in hatred against Muslims can be clearly blamed on the European Union and, of course, on all the Countries and governments that still follow the neo-liberal concept. Britain is among the least innocent parties in this respect. This is the only fundamental problem: There are more and more Europeans facing an existential crisis exacerbated by the fear of being unemployed. This fear is caused by the European labour market, where all the rules have fallen, and the golden standard is to exploit the employees. A market where it is permissible to play the poor and needy Easterners and “Southies” (for example, Slovenians) against the existing workforce. Do we really think that opulent xenophobia and the rise of nationalism in Austria has no connection to cheap workers without proper contracts from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia, who are willing to work more for less money? Of course, businessmen (owners of Capital) are satisfied with higher profits. But why should this seem acceptable to an Austrian who has to accept a lower living standard to facilitate these profits, and is constantly reminded that the Slovenes of Styria, Carinthia and Prekmurje are far cheaper than them?

British withdrawal from the European Union can turn out to be one of the best things that happened to modern Europe. If the intellectuals, and the left-wing and Union leaders are able to seize this opportunity. Brexit should signify the beginning of a new workers’ International, bringing together workers, both domestic and migrant, for we should understand, everyone is disenfranchised, and no one is in a good spot right now.

The European Union, with its corporations and lackadaisical opulence can only be saved by admitting that it has betrayed the Europeans by serving the Capital. It should immediately start to recognize the rights and dignity of all workers by enforcing the same standards for all. Because otherwise the rage will only grow. The rage of employees whose lives are getting worse while profits increase and GDP grows, is growing stronger every year. If nothing happens sooner, it will only be possible to stop the fury with tanks, and an army. That is also a possible European future. Where the immigrants, who are no less victimised by the discriminatory legislature, will quite possibly be the first victims of this anger. This victimisation, where the rulling class under auspices of European treaties and national laws enacts the exploitation of labour and workers is especially true for Britain. The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker should therefore cease browbeating British sceptics; and the MEPs, another wealthy European caste, should stop applauding him. How shameful it was for them to reveal this week that they understood nothing, and that they do not understand the problems that the offended Europeans are facing.

Great Britain has sent a very clear message to London and Brussels, on behalf of the European working class. The Brits may seem silly, and perhaps we can point to famed British arrogance. But let’s rather not. This behavior is an expression of a long-term hardship, for which the EU is not solely to blame, but it did help the neo-liberal politicians in all Countries to exploit their labour markets in order for companies to benefit to the detriment of their citizens. This is the hardship we need to address.

Brexit postmortem as it is happening

Brexit-The-Movie-premiere-Leicester-Square-London-536448

 

 

Well. Hard to say anything really. I was ambivalent before and still am. On one hand I am childishly expecting the screws to start tightening, on another I still cannot believe someone could be so insane. The markets are plummeting and will continue to do so.

 

 

To spell it out what Brexit means:

  • Renegotiation of trade deals across the board without protection of a larger entity like EU.
  • Renegotiation of entry requirements. Possible visas.
  • Foreign corporations moving to Scotland or other parts of Europe. JP Morgan already announced they are leaving.
  • Possible break-up of UK – Scotland already said they would remain in the EU. Northern Ireland also voted to stay in.
  • No more EU funding for schools and urban development.
  • No more easy student exchanges. Erasmus will be gone.
  • Tuition fees doubling to “international level”.
  • Added strain on NHS from all elderly ex-pats being evicted from Europe (Spain already said they would do that).
  • Financial currents move to Scotland or Germany and bypass England.
  • Pension schemes are taking a beating and some pension accounts have been closed already.

Now, it seems that the English are googling what the possible effects of the leave might be and [sic] what is the EU.

Apart from the obvious irony, I am also bitterly amused by the fact that people need to google what is going on. This can be compared to sitting at home and instead of looking through the window, surfing the Internet to find out what the weather is like. What do you mean “What is going to happen?” It has already started happenning. 2 trillion dollars have been lost in a day, the pound was in free fall, reaching the 1985 levels. Pension schemes are crashing. Tens of thousands of jobs lost in the City alone. And now you wonder what is going on?

Seriously, you wonder what is going to happen? It is already happening, just look outside. England is pushing the world towards recession and if we are lucky, only England will crash and burn, and if we are not, the world will stagger too.

I am angry. I did not realize it before, but we went to the theatre on Saturday and there were several short pieces presented. One of them was about American yokels coming to England and buying National Trust properties. There were passing references to how stupid Donald Drumpf is and I just got more and more upset.

And I did not understand why at first. Then it occurred to me, that the English have lost the right to pretend how suave and “better” they are compared to backwards tribes coming from the rest of the world. After fucking up the world because most of the country got scammed by a few people who seriously lined their pockets on the backs of others, you do not get to feel superior in any way, shape, or form.

After destroying the future of your younger generation, who will now need passports and will be checked at the customs every time they leave the country; the generation who will not be able to freely flow between European Universities on the back of Erasmus, you do not get to call anybody else backward. Are we clear?

Bah, I am upset yes. The smugness did not bother me before, because I bought into it in a sense, but now it is just jarring. Only now you wonder what is going to happen? Truly, some people just want to watch the world burn.

Many of our family friends are apologetic, they tell us they are ashamed and that they are sorry, etc. I tend to ignore this, because there is nothing I can say, really. We are in the same boat up to a point. Only theirs will be rapidly taking on water, and I will still have a European passport in the end. What can I say? “Sure, thank you for fucking up my job prospects? Thank you for making me uproot my child and her losing all her friends? I completely understand that you have fucked everyone over in the name of the illusions of old grandeur?” Should I say: “I know you voted remain, so no need to apologize, we’ll weather this together?” How will that help? Just bloody stop apologizing, since we are both screwed. We are now both living in a country where foreign people get abused the street (no seriously, it is already happening) and where MP’s get shot in the face (and then Nigel says that the leave campaign has won without a shot being fired). We are living in a country that did not deem fit to educate itself about what a colossal fuck-up they were going to commit. Why are you apologizing to me? It is not your fault, and we are both screwed. Apologize to your children, that would perhaps be more effective. Why don’t you explain to them how it was in the past, when we all still had a dream. A shabby and sub-optimal dream of a united continent with free flow of culture and knowledge, but a dream nonetheless. A dream that your nation has seen fit to take behind the shed and shoot in the head. Why don’t you explain the logic behind that to your children?

Why don’t you start the story by saying: “Once upon a time, there was a nation, where people believed in abolishing borders, and equality across gender, race or creed, but we preferred to cling to old glory, and decided to flip them off. We thought the nation would still pine for us and do everything they could for us to remain friends, but for some reason they treated the divorce as a divorce, and not as a master-servant relationship. Now, love, please let me extinguish the candle as energy sources have become expensive since we left the common market.”

How fucking stupid do you have to be to post comments along the lines of:

You LOST. Get it? A majority of the British people disagreed with you and you LOST.

 

The only change – and it will not come in any great rush – is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation.

Seriously? What kind of delusion you need to be living under to believe this crap? The Remain campaign lost and Leavers won? I’ve got news for you. You both LOST. We all lost. You continue losing about a month and a half of EU subsidies PER DAY. How, in your wildest dreams, do you see this as victory?

The UK will extricate itself from the EU laws? Well fine, (a) one option is to become like Norway, who has to accept all the laws from EU without a seat at the table. Ask the Norwegians how comfortable it is to have to accept Schengen after they said they did not want to. The EU just told them that this was not a request and faxed them the new rules. Want to be part of the common market? These are the conditions.

The other option is (b) to extricate itself completely. Fine, but do not live under the illusion of accessing the common market then. The commentators and Leavers say that UK is exporting 45% of its goods to EU and therefore EU will need to give them a good deal. This is a bit of putting a cart before the horse. I am betting that right now EU officials are meeting with Canada, US and all other friends and telling them that they have an opportunity to get a 0% tariff on importing to EU if they act now. 45% of UK exports are not the same as 45% of EU imports, see? It is not the UK holding the EU by the balls, but rather the opposite.

I am so interested to see how the government proceeds now. If they stop paying EU subsidies, the EU will invoke article 27 which is in place if a member state does not fulfill its obligations and that will screw UK immediately. If they do continue to pay, the only thing they have accomplished is impoverished its economy and lost all benefits from before, while holding the same obligations.

Oh you want to come back? No problem, say hello to the euro, which is a condition for new member states.

You would like to keep EU financial passports? Why would you get them back? Frankfurt is too busy counting all the money they will be making from financial currents transferring to Germany to bother with you.

The University has run out of paper forms for EU passports. Dozens of EU staff have already handed in their notices in some departments. And this is the second richest University in the world.

And then there are people who were saying that this referendum was not legally binding. It does not fucking matter, don’t you see? The damage to the UK economy has already happened and is continuing to happen. Even if they overthrow it right now, the foreign companies will still leave. Who wants to stay in a country this unstable? They do not trust England any more. The concessions that EU has been giving to the UK and the better terms they have been enjoying are gone. The ratings have been downgraded and will be downgraded further.

This is a total clusterfuck.

Addendum: In a part of Cambridge, in the Polish community, people have been receiving leaflets which state that the “Polish vermin” should now leave. Germany could have used you in the second world war, England. Next time, don’t wait 60 years to blame the Poles.

 

Brexit

20160607_105201587_iOS 20160607_105148422_iOSOK, let’s talk about Brexit. I have only peripherally been following this overly politicized storm in a tea cup. It is not that I think it is impossible for Britain to shoot itself in the foot and “leave”. I guess it is possible, but I have some remnants of faith in the preservation instincts of the Brits. The campaign that is in full swing is rife with manipulations. And this is what bugs me.

A leaflet was recently delivered to my door, called: The UK and the European Union: THE FACTS (see image). I naively opened it, expecting to find said facts. They are sadly absent or twisted. It is not clear who wrote this piece of garbage – it seems that the authors would prefer to not be labelled racist bigots, so they stayed anonymous.

First there is a veiled appeal of telling us how when EU started, there were only 9 states, proud and tall, but now there are 28, full of riffraff and uncivilised savages. They do not come out and say it, no, what they say is that in the next round “[…]Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey [will be considered for membership]”. And then they say: [sic] “If they are let in, they will have the same rights as other member states.”

(1) Heh. I have a hard time imagining that the authors think that right now all the member states have the same rights. If they do believe that, they are divorced from reality. Yeah, sure, Croatian minister of finance has exactly as much sway as the German one in deciding policy, riiiight. Or the Greeks, or Italians or Hungarians, they have exactly as much say right now as, say, Britain or France. Even now, the EU is not a union of equal states. Come on, wake up and smell the coffee.

(2) If we disregard (1), then I am wondering why is it surprising that members of a Union would have equal rights? Is that something that needs to be emphasised in order to scare common folk? Wooo, now a dirty Turk or a lazy Montenegran will be able to decide who to vote for in the European elections and then hope that these people will represent them fairly in the European Parliament. Terrifying, I know.

(3) While England used to own most of the known world at one point in time, the idea of indentured servitude is not as accepted now, as it was then. Your Turkish barber will now have a voice, yes. He is not your bloody slave. Rest easy, you will still be able to hire Brazilian maids even if South-Europeans will suddenly need to be treated like people.

I won’t go into every paragraph of this bumpf. Will just comment on a few more.

More than half of net migration to the UK comes from the EU

250.000 people in a year! In a population of 60+ million. Assuming the English stop reproducing now, they will be extinct in only 240 years! The bloody foreigners are stealing our jobs! Taking our women.

I can understand that people would prefer the competition to be eliminated by any means necessary. After all, who do these foreigners think they are? We have enough nuclear physicists, we don’t need any more. Do you? Sure about that? Do you realize that even when you stop training nurses for five years, people will still need them in the coming years, but they may be French now? There is an assumption that if only the pesky Europeans would not come, then everyone will have a job, regardless of their level of incompetence.
“The EU costs us 350 million GBP a week”.
First of all, [citation needed]! How did they come up with this number? Is there a person who knows how much money is actually going to EU and what does this entail? It seems to me as if this was fairly rule of thumb back of napkin calculation, that gets worse later in the text.

That is enough to build a new NHS hospital every week of the year

(1) It is almost as if the authors are suggesting that if we leave the EU, the money left over will be used for building hospitals. Come on, don’t embarrass yourselves, or me. Stop pretending that the money going to the EU now, will later be magically re-purposed to help out the poor and needy. Also, does England need 50+ new hospitals in a year? Who will staff them? That’s right, the pesky trained foreigners, because you managed to screw up the NHS.

We get less than half of this money back, and we have no control over the way it’s spent […]

[CITATION NEEDED!] How do you get to this number? Do you factor in the customs fees you are exempt from? Do you factor in the fact that now the financial market is in essence based in the City? You better believe it that the first thing that will happen on Brexit will be that the European financial currents will be diverted to Frankfurt.

We have not even started with the issue of the UK breaking up. England may want to leave, but Scotland would probably want to stay in the EU. Here is an interesting article on this from the Salon.

You see, the problem here is also the one that happens in large families. Those of you who come from such families know – it is fine for siblings to cross over the nuclear line at will and massacre each other, but god forbid that an outsider would talk shit about their family. Britain “leaves” and it is not rid of the unsophisticated and stinky brother in law, they are just not allowed to talk shit about him anymore.

The island will physically not move, let’s be clear. There may be a divorce but the other aggrieved party will not stop existing. First, there will be a fight over the spoils, which will simply mean:

(a) Customs fees and that will hurt the UK more than it will hurt Europe. After all, what has Britain got to offer as an export that is quintessentially British? People do not buy many Astons and the bananas are dying out anyway. The steel industry is screwed and many of the UK industry giants are not owned by the British any more. The UK pensioners who buy prime real estate in Europe do not count as an export good.

(b) These “ex-pats” all of a sudden will not be European citizens any more. This will be a lot of fun, when all of a sudden they will need to secure citizenship to own real estate in Europe. I am gleefully looking forward to those buying real estate in Slovenia having to pass a language exam (the link is in Slovene, but don’t worry, you’ll need to learn the language anyway as one of the citizenship requirements of showing your dedication to your new Motherland). I can still remember how difficult it was to buy property as a foreigner in Europe, before the Union. Have fun guys and girls. You should especially enjoy the point in time where all your real estate contracts get voided, because you cannot own stuff in Europe any more and the local authorities come with bulldozers to tear down illegal housing. Think I am making this up? It has happened before. My family (who are not Croats) still owns a piece of Croatia coastline where a luxury hotel is now partially built on. The land was seized and our vacation home bulldozed. You are saying this cannot happen in Europe, because it is too civilized? I have two words for you: Syrian Refugees. Still think Europe is friendly to foreigners? Especially after they spat all over it, like you are doing right now.

(c) For centuries now, England has been the centre of academic excellence. In the last decades the tuition fees have gone up, and they have always been double for international students. So, bright Europeans were incentivised to come to England by having to pay “only” domestic tuition fees. The brightest stayed and were offered jobs. If the fees are suddenly doubled (amounting to about 20,000 GBP per year + living expenses), people will be sad but not for long, as there is also Bologna, Sorbonne, Max Planck Institute and many others. Well, these institutions might be slightly less shiny than, say, Cambridge, but they are about 20,000 times cheaper too. So while academics have profited from having access to outstanding institutions steeped in tradition and research excellence, these institutions have also benefited from having the brightest minds in the world at their disposal. This will peter off with Brexit. Have fun keeping up with the rest of the world. To be clear, there are very few English PhD students and postdocs, comparatively. By the time they get to the PhD level they are so far in debt that they figure they’ll work a bit, pay of some of the student loans, and maybe do a PhD later. Most then realize that having a living wage is hard to give up and don’t come back. So, England, you will be driving away the brightest academics and will be left with a lack in the end which will lead into declining research output and into a slide in the world rankings. And then for new academics, Bologna and Berlin will start looking more and more enticing – cheaper and now also academically comparable.

I am in a bizarre position where I am defending EU, although I think the bureaucrats in Brussels have made some very questionable decisions lately and am, frankly, all for destruction of EU in the present form. It does not stand for what I stand for – I do not believe in the same gods they do. I do not worship at the shrine of austerity and I do not accept that since someone decided to play fast and loose with everyone’s money, the taxpayers are now to blame for this. I do not believe that people should be turned away at the door, because they are less fortunate than me. I’d much rather pay for a refugee shelter than for some hedge fund manager’s fuck-up, especially since I am not at all convinced that this wasn’t the plan from the start, i.e. to gamble, and if profits are realized, well, good for the banks, and if they screw up, the people will bail them out.

Thus I find myself in this weird position defending the EU. And I am doing it, not because the EU needs saving, but because I think this pamphlet is such a blatant attempt at manipulation that I am offended by it. If England decides to leave, fine, but they should decide on the basis of facts, not “facts”. I don’t really have a horse in this race in the sense that I am already a resident and probably my rights will not be taken away, so on one hand, I could actually profit from less competition. On the other hand, travel would be more difficult, and England would falter financially.  And that would suck for my standard too.

About nationalism

Recently, I came across posts on Facebook, claiming that politicians are importing refugees and migrants into their countries in order to get their votes. Since this is exactly what I proposed about six months ago I don’t have an issue with it, although I do not think it is happening, at least not in Slovenia. This was, however, not what I wanted to focus on today. I find the attitudes expressed in the comments sections interesting, not because of what they say, but because of what they assume.

The conversation in the comments sooner or later turns towards the ineptitude of the nominally left, but actually fairly conservative Slovene government.

Someone want to challenge my claim about the leanings of the current ruling party and claim they are left wing? Well, what are the prime minister’s positions towards abortion? (He is against it). Towards same sex marriage (he is not officially pro or contra, but the ruling party invested exactly zero effort into the recent referendum campaign). What is his position towards migrants? (Officially not having a problem with it, but building razor wire fencing around Slovenia at the same time). What is his position towards workers rights and benefits? (Austerity measures are the thing. No wages increases, no Universal Pay, etc). What is his position towards religion? (A practicing Catholic). Not incredibly left wing, don’t you agree?

Anyways. The conversation turns towards ineptitude of the Slovene government and how they pander to the members of former sister republics of SFRJ. The arguments given are that the lefties keep offering jobs to migrants in order to secure votes. And the proof? Well go to a governmental agency and see that “most” surnames hint at individuals being from former Yugoslav republics. The fun thing is that people do not assume at all that aptitude might have something to do with it. Now I am not saying that merit always plays a pivotal role in employment in Slovenia, but the fun thing is the deflection, still. The posters do not even entertain the idea that (a) they might be crap at the specific job and that the person filling might actually be quite good at it, and (b) they seem to assume that there are “genuine” natives here, who are interested in doing a specific job. This seems to also be happening in England – there are cases of people I know, who really would like to offer a job to a native English person, but when they advertise, people who apply are either not English, or are English, but do not want to do the job that was advertised (In this case, the guy is a farmer and he advertised for a farm hand. The only native English person who applied told the farmer that he did not drive a tractor and was not prepared to learn).

So, the defeatist attitude is hidden in our collective psyche. No Slovene native wants to be a garbage collector, but if the job is filled by a Bosnian man, that means that “they come over here and steal our jobs“. It is a job that nobody wanted, for God’s sake. I suppose you would be more content if no one collected garbage just as long as the bloody foreigners don’t make a living?

Then there is an idea of separating the ability to work from the ability to be politically active. The neoliberals would prefer this. Why? Seriously, what could possibly be the rationale in allowing someone to create a life somewhere, work and pay taxes and be a productive member of society, but when it comes to making actual decisions, they are treated like underage children? The irony is that England is somewhat similar in this respect. I am a resident, my primary domicile is in England and I am allowed to vote in local, but not general elections. I actually get a voting slip, but they do not allow me to vote (in general elections). This is bizzare. When I asked the nice lady at the polling place why this is the case, she told me that I am not a citizen and therefore I have no say in who gets voted into the parliament. When I asked her whether she did not find it problematic that me and people like me could vote in the local elections, she said that that is absolutely fine. I then asked why she did not worry about us subverting the system from the ground up – i.e. let’s say, we all vote labour. Therefore Cambridge gets a strong labour based city council and a labourist mayor, therefore labour policies get enacted unopposed, therefore the rest of England has a chance to compare the relative success of two opposing sides of governance. Therefore, they get a chance to vote for what works best in the general election. People like me, and me thus influence general elections whether the Brits like it or not. So why does she not find this problematic? And she said that we should have a say, after all we live and contribute here. My point exactly. And we started going in circles. Why do it halfway? Prevent me from voting altogether and be branded nationalist or allow me to vote.

About stealing articles and free knowledge

sci-hub.blogThere was recently an article about a Russian researcher running an article hub, here. In a nutshell, they made most of the world’s scanned journal articles available online, free of charge. I say ‘made’, because while the site is still live, most of the content is not accessible, people report.

I’ve first heard of it in 2012 when I got cc-ed into a conversation between a librarian and an academic at a particular University. I created a virtual machine. Why a virtual machine? Because if I was building a zombie PC army, I would absolutely run exploit scripts on a site like that and also add malicious code to any PDF’s I was serving. This would also stenghten my network – a student downloads a PDF of an article not available to them, unbenkonwst to them allows me to install a rootkit, harvest their username and password and use their University electronic resources to augment those on my site. In that way, as long as people use my service, I get an endless stream of usernames and passwords to hundreds of world’s universities online libraries. BTW, the smart thing would be to serve something that is not available to well-endowed research Universities – one username from OxBridge and you are pretty much done as far as subscriptions are concerned. This is also the reason why I never saw the need to go sci-hub for articles – I have most of them here. In any case, out of curiosity, I created a virtual machine and visited the site.

I played around with the site and managed to download several articles that I already possessed off it. I then rolled back the virtual machine and deleted all changes. But the hub seemed to work quite well then. If not necessarily actually free of charge.

Be that as it may, the sci-hub founder (S-HF for short) got sued and this sparkled a debate. Should knowledge be freely available? I don’t think this is the real issue here, although I understand how the S-HF would benefit from pushing this. After all if this turns from a case of theft into a case of morals, they can only win, right? Who would support faceless publishers against impoverished academics? Like I said, I don’t think this is the issue, anyway.

I think this is property theft, pure and simple. I think we, the academics, are enabling the publishers and helping them run their racket. But it is our fault that we let them do it, not the publishers fault for following the law. I know this is hard to hear. Academics and PhD Students know how this works: We sign away most material rights to our article in the contract we make with the publisher. They pay us nothing and we take it, because … because Impact Factor and publication record and future employability. Let’s not kid ourselves. We whore ourselves out so that we keep our jobs. We still choose our clients and acts we would like to perform, we have lots of freedom, it is not like it is all bad. But we sign away our articles to a faceless corporation and it owns them. They own our articles, and we do not. And they are free to sell them or give them away, whatever they see fit. We are talking about their property. And it is our fault, that they got it. We cannot pretend we didn’t know that this is how it works.

Saying “duuh… knowledge should be free, therefore I am empowered to steal some private property” does not really fly. If we wanted knowledge to be free, we as academics, collectively, would (a) stop publishing in journals behind paywall or (b) at the very least not publish in journals that do not allow a personal copy/pre-print of the article to be stored on our websites or repositories. There are very few journals that allow neither (a) nor (b). So, the real statement one could make is: “Knowledge should be free. That is why my articles are also freely available and that is why my datafiles are public.” Of course this leave the S-HF out to dry, but I don’t mind that. There are (1) academics who do not want their knowledge to be free and that is fine. There are those of us (2) who make sure that our work is available for free, but at the same time published in journals which improves our employability. And there are those (3) who do not want to publish behind paywall, ever. The S-HF might be in one of these groups or not, it does not matter. Because in any case they are not speaking for any of the three groups. Who the hell do you think you are that you should decide wether my work has financial value and whether I should be paid for it or not? I’ll decide that, for my work and my work only.

On the other hand, all academics get paid for printouts and photocopies of our work. There are governmental agencies keeping tabs. This is not an enormous amount of money, but it could be a few hundred pounds per year. So, a dissatisfied researcher from Russia, who does not want to invest time into contacting authors and asking them for their articles, rather decides that they will directly defraud the people they admire enough to cite them and in the same breath tell them, that they conning them out of their pennies because this is the moral thing to do? Good luck with that defence. And just to be clear – I have never ever been unsuccessful in getting an article from an author that I contacted personally. And among them were PhD students, professors, lecturers and Nobel Laureates. None of them were ever unfriendly or unhelpful. Likewise, I have never not sent out either articles or download links for my stuff when I was asked. Being too lazy or insecure to ask does not indemnify ones criminal activity. So there are ways of getting stuff for free, while not actually breaking the law.

On yet another hand, most of the Universities in the world have accepted this racket and they pay through the nose for subscriptions. Many millions of pounds per year. By illegally downloading from them, you cannot actually say “knowledge should be free therefore I am taking it,” but rather “Somebody else should pay for my access to knowledge, so that I don’t have to.” Universities essentially pay for subscriptions because this improves them – they conduct better research, have more impact, attract better students and academics, which leads to better research, higher impact, etc. I am certain Universities are not ecstatic for paying millions of pounds per year for subscriptions. But they do it. And stealing from them does not make one Robin Hood, it just makes them lazy.

The take-away messages:
(a) If I was a blackhat hacker, I would exploit portals like science hub in a heartbeat. If I was working for computing service of a university I would do all kinds of inventive shit to illicit downloaders too. My proposals have so far been rejected by the Cambridge University Computing Service, but I am working on that (my time will come mostly because what they are doing now does not work).
(b) Knowledge can in fact be free, but not by stealing it after it was sold into slavery. Before that.
(c) Everything can already be gotten for free, if you apply yourself.

After Paris

I actually wrote this some weeks ago. But it is still topical. D

I keep seeing posts on the Internet about how it isn’t good that the person or person(s) responsible for the Paris attacks had their passport stamped in Greece. This supposedly means that we are letting terrorists through our borders (well, doh) and by extension there is a growing belief that this may lead people to equate refugees and terrorists. To a certain extent, this is already happening with people quoting Dawkins about how life would be so much better without religion.

The issue is not religion. One can always find excuses for doing something. If there wasn’t religion, it would have been something else. Deity knows that we always find rationalisations. If there wasn’t religion, there would be other stuff, like sexual orientation, dress code, colour of skin, geographical location or the football club one supports. The point is that looking for a simple answer to a complex question leads to stupid, not the right, answers.

Who cares what the reason was? Will people be less dead if there was a reason? Who will decide what is a rational reason and an acceptable one? What if the reason is a culture that cheerfully sells weapons to anyone that would buy them? What if the reason is us, supporting governments who feel no obligation to abstain from using other countries as giant petri dishes for social experiments? What if people we vote for don’t even think about these things, because they were told how to act and react by those who buy their votes for them?

It is fairly easy to blame religion, because it is very comfortable to do so. It requires no introspection and nothing needs to change for us.

Then, there is the next step – terrorists are religious -> they came with the refugees -> terrorists and refugees are religious -> religion equals terrorism -> refugees are all terrorists.

OK. If refugees were all fanatics then there would be no need for them to leave their homes in the first place. Some rudimentary logic should tell us that. Let’s not insult intelligence by suggesting that it is easy or somehow desirable to leave your home, your friends and social networks in order to live like cattle in tents. Let’s not pretend that telling your kids that they will not be going to the same primary school or nursery as their friends and possibly their parents have, anymore, is something one does light-heartedly. Most people love their children and most will do their outmost to keep them from harm. So, why exactly would these people run with barely more than the shirts on their backs towards an uncertain future from an army that essentially shares their beliefs? Did I hear someone say that there are nuances in any religious practice? Well, hello Sherlock. Why the fuck do you think it is any of your business if someone wants to kneel on a carpet five times a day, while they essentially believe the same things that you do (goodwill and peace to all men, help the needy, support and respect one another, etc), and meaningfully contribute to the society they live in?

Are we clear on why, most of us do not agree to be moulded in a certain image by others who never question that image? Because we have a working neuron or two in our skulls. There is absolutely no doubt that all of us have or will allow someone to imprint how things should be and how we should act. The thing is that experience teaches that blindly following someone else’s ideals may lead to disappointment. Ours, that is. I am not even talking about religion, to be clear. I am not even talking about how wrong someone else is. I am sure people derive utility from their beliefs and this may work for many of them. It just doesn’t for me. So, there is no need to judge, when behaviour of others has no large impact on ours. A little tolerance helps there. I know some people who find Mosques to be a blight on the landscape and they do not want to be hearing Muezzins calling the faithful to a prayer. Well, I personally don’t want to hear the bloody church bells tolling on Sunday morning calling all faithfull to mass. It bugs me and does not let me sleep. But I grit my teeth and let people go about their business, because I live in society and it takes all kinds. I also fervently hope that those who impose on me with church bells will find it in their hearts to forgive those who pray to Mecca in the privacy of their own homes or in the building where this practice is meant to be carried out.

So, we have established that there are different levels of religious fervour. If nothing else, that probably means:
terrorists and refugees =/= religious (in the same way or to the same extent).

From there it shouldn’t be hard to postulate: all (terrorists) =/= all (refugees)

There are some individuals who are willing to abuse the willingness of others to alleviate human suffering? Well, doh. This practice is old as dirt. Same thing happens in fake charity appeals and many other types of fraud. The takeaway message is not to stop being human, because someone is trying to make us pay for it. My personal opinion is that we should continue to help, but be aware of the costs. Contradictory to what seems the majority opinion, I do not believe it is feasible or indeed possible to prevent all of anything (be it ice cream melting, or skipping classes, or terrorist attacks). One can however lower the occurence rates. There are, of course, several ways to do this. One of them, that I like, is to give people plenty of facts and help them decide. But who could do that? Funny you should ask. If only there was some process where all members of a country would get a chance to express whom they trusted and asked them to look after their best interests. This fictional person would then have to think about how to best serve all persons living in a specific geographic location. One of their roles would include *thinking really hard* about hard stuff like could it be that there are some people who want to abuse goodwill of others? And, what happens if these people would attempt to use my people’s willingness to help? Hopefully the conclusion might be that, this person working for all the cities in a given geographical location or “politician” to coin a term, would need to speak to their citizens and explain what the consequences are. Now if this “politician” did not have the mental capacity to foresee that something that has been going on for at least 500 years (we have hard proof of that) might occur again, they are not mentally equipped to wipe their own bottom, much less rule over citizens. If they did not think about it, because they were thinking about how to get to the next pay-check and payoff from a friend from the industry, then they abuse the mandate given by the people and don’t deserve our trust.

One question is when. When does a politician tell the people that there might be hidden costs. Should they wait for costs to be incurred, and then say: “Ah, well… we thought people might die. We just didn’t tell you.” Probably not. Should they do it before? I think so. But then the question is what to say. If one says: “… There is a chance that some extremists might slot in with the refugees and commit atrocities in a large European city”, then they have just insured is that at least some terrorists are going: “AHA! That is actually not a bad idea…”. So, what should be said? A politician would have to go on air and say: “You trust me to decide on this and I will. I want to help these people. Let me tell you why I decided this – Helping those who are in need of help is what makes us human. Being kind is its own lasting reward, so it was a no brainer. However, I am also aware that there are always those attempt to abuse the goodwill of others. So to me, the question is whether the risk outweighs the cost. What do you think we should do?” The alternative is to say exactly the same things but the last sentence which is then replaced by: “You decided to trust me to make those decisions for all of us, so I will. We will help,
because. Just because. If someone takes advantage of that, well, we’ll deal with them, but we won’t stop believing that helping those in need is the right thing to do.”

 

The human condition

maxresdefaultI wrote this on a trans-Atlantic flight several years ago. I just came across it and thought I’d put it here. DM

I am on this flight to L.A. and it is taking a while. 10.000 mile flights do.  A girl is sitting next to me. She is asleep. She was sort of scrounched on her seat and couldn’t help but lean on me a bit. This is natural, and to tell you the truth, quite nice. It makes me feel good for providing a small measure of comfort. I would tell her that she is welcome to lean on me, but that is of course not the done thing. From this, perhaps nice although impersonal guy sitting next to her, I would possibly turn (in her eyes) into a… I don’t know what I would turn into, but there is a huge chance that the rest of the flight might go down awkwardly if I showed any kind of kindness. I mean, she used a wet wipe to clear her table before she put her lunch tray on it. I don’t think she would appreciate a permanent contact with a stranger who has not been wiped down with a wet towellete, and who would possibly take offence is she tried to wipe him clean, before leaning on him.

No, this is the safe route. Pretend that our bodies are not touching and studiously ignore each other. What could be more natural than that? Somebody invades your personal space as you do theirs, for twelve hours, and the convention is that you pretend that what is happening, actually isn’t. And nothing actually is happening, just two people sitting next to each other, who might get to know each other or not. I do not know anything about this girl – I’ll call her Shrestha, for she seems Indian (or possibly Pakistani or Egyptian, I am not too good with geographical placement according to skin color) and I had an Indian primary school friend whose name was Shrestha.

I don’t know about Shrestha, but I have places to go and people to see and in a way if she does not provide any sort of useful info to satisfy my curiosity, then, I’ll just assume she has stuff to do too and make up what it is. I have to spend about seven more hours with her, after all. I assume three possible scenarios –

(a) She wants to make it big in the film industry and is following her dreams. That makes sense only in a jaded romantic way, and if she is Indian, then Bollywood is much closer and also she might only need to screw Indian people to get parts, whereas in L.A. … Also, possibly, the competition is greater in L.A. I don’t know. … I think this is possibly not the reason for her flight.

(b) She could be a student, although, I would assume not post-grad. I would say Shrestha is in her early to mid twenties, so I guess a post-grad is possible but only barely. Attending UCLA? Kinda doubt it – humanities seem more her style. Her hands are painted, she reads lifestyle magazines. The kind about celebrities.

(c) She is going on a trip of a lifetime, just travelling around, seeing the world. That is feasible. But then, I wonder, is there a love story underneath? Is there a white boy she met in a little village where she is from and spent an unforgettable fortnight with him under the Indian sun? And then the boy who is a son of a senator needed to fly back to his parents, his career and his aristo white WASP girlfriend, whom Shrestha knows nothing about; leaving her behind. And did she write to him, and did he reply? Or did he sort of assume that what happens in Bangalore, stays in Bangalore? Did he tell her one hot spring night that she should come to L.A. and be with him forever? Did he mean it, or just thought that he will get lucky again that evening if he said the right words? I know the bogus stuff I said to summer romance girls, so this is not out of the question. So many unknowns. Did he tell her that she should come and she believed him? Is she flying in blind or does he know she is coming? Will he be there at the airport? I’ll see. I kinda assume we’ll get lost in the shuffle once we land, but I’ll keep a lookout. You see, my problem is that I am a romantic at heart. But, for a great romance you also need a twist, an unwilling protagonist. Otherwise the three sentence structure (i.e. Romeo and Juliet  – Boy meets girls. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl.), just becomes one sentence story. Boy gets girl. There is no drama there.

So, I am assuming that Shrestha is not pedestrian, she is not run of the mill. She deserves drama. She is Herencia (the movie) kind of girl. If I have to hazard a guess, which I think I very probably will have to do, then I would say that the boy will not be at the airport. He possibly didn’t tell Shrestha his contact details, so she is coming to L.A., a geographic area the size of a small European country, with 10 million inhabitants to find him. Perhaps he attends UCLA? I would think, though, that at the moment it is the Summer break? I don’t know enough about U.S. academia, can’t be bothered to find out and have no Internet access. I am on a plane, remember? Shrestha is sitting next to me.

So, while it gives me no pleasure to say this, I think, that things will not go according to plan – Shrestha will grab a cab or whatever to the campus, she will find Otis (let’s call him Otis), who will no doubt be surprised, but possibly not ecstatic to see her. She will not be able to sleep in his dorm, he will strenously advise her not to sleep in his frat house, because he saw a couple of brothers checking her out, when they went for a coffee (anything to get her out of the room). And, while Otis might be many things, he is not a pimp yet. So Shrestha is out on her own. It is evening and as Tom Waits says, there is nothing that Hollywood loves more than the taste of sweet little dreams and pretty blue wishes.

I mean what the hell? What is going on inside our minds? We are just little creatures industriously crawling from one continent to another and back. In my case, I am spending 24 hours on the planes in the next three freaking days. We spend inordinate amounts of time simply passing each other by. We are all shy, all herd creatures, who would mostly prefer not to spend time in a herd, although we would be sad and alone if we were isolated.

Shrestha is now elbow-touching me. She is still asleep. Sweet dreams.

Update:

I have covertly read the imigration card Shrestha was filling out – she is 25 years old, she lives in India and her name is not Shrestha. I was still slightly on the money, though 🙂
.

 

Virgin Atlantic flight VS007, 1st of June, 2013.

The Restoration of Sector STE200 part 2

This post is about my efforts to restore my Sector STE200 watch that died because of water ingress. Here is the first part of the post.

So. The parts arrived. Several times. And then the correct parts. And then some more correct parts. This is what I have done:

  • I searched everywhere for a used STE200. I found one listing in Brasil. Hmm… I then found an Italian seller who was selling a Sector movement only. For Sector 155 chrono. It seemedSTE155 similar enough. The diameter was about the same (the difference was 0.2mm). The height seemed ok. So I ordered it. It is an ETA G10.711. Ok. The face and the hands are atrocious, but I figured I would buy another set. Then I read the reviews for G10.711. And they are not favourable. Really, as far as possible away from favourable. The most positive thing people could say about this movement is that ETA managed to cut costs extremely well and still charge through the nose for it.
  • Never mind. I looked up specifics for G10.711. Hand sizes are here and dimensions are here.
  • I went to cousinsuk and ordered the correct hands. Cost me 10 pounds. That is fine. The original hands were beyond repair anyway.
  • I then looked more closely at the G10 movement and look, there is no way to attach the old dial to it. I mean there might be, but not the same as in the previous movement. You can see here  how the dial was attached previously (they even helpfully provided little orange boxes around the important bits). Oh, but then I realised that the previous movement was ETA too. Specifically ETA 251.272 (it says so in the back of the ruined movement). I wonder if I can get ETA 251.272 anywhere… I can! At cousinsuk. And it is not too expensive. about as much as the G10.711 cost. But the 251 is better quality by far. Cool. I don’t want to rush too much though – perhaps the G10 can still be adapted. I mean, it is not like I was planning on using the watch. I just wanted to repair it and put it into the display case. So, it does not much matter what kind of movement is in it, I won’t be using it anyway. I figure I’ll wait and see.
  • I get the movement and I immediately have two issues. (a) The dial is glued to the movement, so I would have to keep the white and beige atrocity. (b) The movement does not fit into the case. Oh well. I buy an ETA 251.272 from cousins the same day but I have another issue. The large chrono hand is not available. So I order everything else (hour and minute hands). I figure I would reuse the seconds hand and the small dial hands. The movement and hands arrive the next day.

Here is the movement.

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I put the dial on and realize that the date wheel is not properly aligned. The numbers are not slanted and they are too big. See? Pay no attention to how crappy the dials and the lume looks. I am cleaning that up after I fixed the date.

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I replace the date wheel with the old one. I know it was sensible not to throw it away. The way to replace the date wheel is to unscrew the three little screws next to the subdial pinions and then remove the little half discs that hold the wheel in place (it then just falls out). Here is the end product. Old wheel, new movement.

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It now looks a lot better. The date. Not everything, yet.

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Adding the hour hand and re-luming.

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Adding the minute hand and realizing I have a problem.IMG_4460

The minute hand hits the lume and spreads it around. DOh! I re-lume again, and align the hands. This is fiddly. You need to do it several times. The first time the problem was that the date changed at 4am, which I did not like. So I set it to start changing at 24:00 and completely flip at 1:00am. But then I realised that the minute hand and hour hand were not perfectly in sync. When the minute hand is at 12, the hour hand should point exactly to a specific hour not between the markers. So I did that and had to reset it a few times.  But when satisfied, I added the little hands too.

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The thing is, I screwed up badly. I have no idea where the hands from the old watch are. The chronograph seconds would be very useful right now. I cannot buy it – can’t get it. And the one from G10 does not fit. So I left the one that came with the movement on, but will be changing it as soon as I can. Now I need to replace the stem crown. The old stem is rusted. Note. I need to thoroughly clean the stem tunnel. First, remove the crown from the old stem.

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Then remove the plastic crown from the new stem and replace. Voila.

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Put the movement in the case. Screw it in (two half-moon screws), put in the stem, put in the battery.

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Put silicone grease on the gasket, put the gasket on the back cover and close it. Turn the watch around and … We have Lift-off!!

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I put the bracelet back on. And have it pose for a picture.

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I hardly need to point out that the object of the exercise was not to have a perfectly restored watch, but rather to not give up on an object that has been with me for a long time. It works. And they said it could not be done. Sure, it could be made prettier and restored better. But hey, I did it on my own for me. And that is quite cool.

Things still to do:

  • Clean the stem tunnel better.
  • Replace the seconds hand
  • Align the chrono hands
  • Change the battery

 

 

 

Waterproofing replicas part 2

IMG_4379In the previous post, I waterproofed Planet Ocean GMT with DG2813 movement. The ETA2836-2 PO GMT Replica Waterproofing is the next step.

Before I start, a few general comments – I looked in the forums on how to spot an Asian ETA movement. This is a comprehensive, fairly recent post. Either the Chinese have gotten a whole lot better in replicating the ETA’s, or this is the ‘real’ thing. How do I know? The ETA seal on the ebauche is legible. The + and – signs in the micro adjuster are etched and not stamped. The finish on the wheels is not shiny. Hmm… Well, whatever, this is still a replica one way or another. It certainly is not a coaxial movement, it does not have a silicon wheel or main spring (as the Omega 8500 calibre and its variations have). It is an exceedingly nice replica, though, and a lot better than the cheaper one I got. Still not as nice as the genuine Omega and the watch has certainly been assembled in a dirter environment, compared to the gen, but it is still very nice.

I need to do pretty much what I did with the DG2813. The only difference is that now I know how to get the movement out, so I will be sealing the front crystal too. I start by organising the workbench.

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I open up the watch with the Jaxa wrench. The gasket is dry as in the DG2813.

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I take the gasket out and put it into a silicone bath.

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Close the lid.

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I remove the three screws that hold the movement in place (with little washers) and the rotor.

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I then remove the stem and get the movement out (turn the watch around and tip it gently into my gloved hand). I want to make it clear that while it is true that the movement is face-down, it is (a) on a very soft cushion and (b) the movement is not running, so the seconds hand is not moving and is thus not under strain.

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I then apply G-S glue to the front crystal.

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I use pegwood and rodico to remove any residual G-S glue.

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I then notice (see the pic above) that there is absolutely no opening for the HeV. That is brilliant, because I do not need a Helium release Valve anyway and now I do not even need to close it down with marine epoxy. I now do not need the movement to be outside the case any more. While I am here, I am going to grease everything.

Prepare the silicon grease.

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I use the silicon grease and a fine brush to grease the stem tunnel, the crown and the gasket groove.

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Before I put the movement in and attach it, I notice that there is a grey smudge on the rotor edge. It was not me! I used cotton gloves and I was handling the rotor with tweezers. I use rodico, pegwood, watchmans brushes and soft cloth to remove the smudge. I was not completely successful, but it is a lot better than it was.

IMG_4359

Everything is greased now.

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I then put the movement in and re-attach the rotor and the washers.

IMG_4369

And the stem, of course.

IMG_4373

Before I am done, I need to apply G-S glue to the display window in the back. I do exactly the same thing as I did with the previous watch.

IMG_4376

I close the watch down, remove the wrapping … and realise there is a smudge on the inside of the front Sapphire glass. Doh! I know that I must fix this now, otherwise I will never fix it and it will drive me insane. OCD FTW. I open everything up, remove the stem, the washers, the movement and clean the glass. I then reverse the whole procedure and re-grease the gasket. I close the watch up and now the smudge is gone. I need to take the watch into town and have it tested.

IMG_4381

UPDATE. Had the watch tested. Water-resistant to 100m! Woohoo!

 

Waterproofing replicas part 1

IMG_4278I lost my old watch to a swimming incident – see the story here. I almost never take off my watch. I sleep with it, I shower with it, I swim with it. It is there. I feel naked without a watch. The previous one served me for 23 years. I wanted to procure another one that would last me for just as long or longer. I need it to be water resistant and reasonably rugged. I figured that going for an automatic watch would remove the hassle of changing the batteries every three or four years. Also the craftsmanship of these higher-end watches is just amazing. I cannot afford a Patek Phillipe, but I could go for sort of Rolex / Breitling / … category. I do not like Rolexes. It is a personal thing, for sure. I don’t think there is anything wrong with them, the craftsmanship is certainly exquisite. But I just associate them with a sort of gaudy bling. I could  afford a used Submariner but I just don’t like them enough. I also really dislike the magnifying glass over the date window. I understand why it is there, I just don’t like it. A personal thing, as I said. So I decided a Breitling would be the way to go. They are steeped in tradition and have this ruggedness about them that I like. My requirements were: water resistance, automatic movement, date and, if possible, a day indicator. I would like the GMT hand (that is – a second time zone indicator), but all GMT Breitlings I could find were either too expensive for me or not water resistant enough.

I bought a nice Breitling SuperOcean (SO) and was quite content with it. It fulfills my requirements: water resistant to 500m, day and date display, automatic. It also has a chronograph which I could do without – I don’t much care about them. The previous watch had a stopwatch too, but I probably used it twice on purpose in 23 years I had it. But the only SO that had a day display also had a chronograph, so I figured, why not. My SO is quite cool and stylish at the same time. Certainly worth the investment.

I then started worrying – I am about to go to Brazil on a consulting gig and I just attended a Conference where Bob Arno presented his stuff. I saw him literally steal a shirt from someone’s back in front of a live audience! In that process he also ‘stole’ a large number of watches, to demonstrate how easy it is. And it seems very easy. Takes a few seconds. I noticed he only ‘stole’  the watches with a a buckle, not the ones with a steel strap or a deployment clasp. So at first I thought, well, as long as I have the steel bracelet I am fine, right? Right? So, I went and asked Bob. It turns out I was wrong. Watches on steel bracelets are also exceedingly easy to steal, but you need to break the bracelet lugs to do it. It is not hard, but mr. Arno does not do it in demonstration settings. I realised I was screwed. Well, I figured, I need a replica watch to wear while I am in Rio. It makes no sense to walk around with 5000 GBP strapped on my wrist in slightly shady places. So, I started looking into replica watches. I figured I do not have to buy another SuperOcean, I can buy whatever I pleased. I can actually go for a GMT watch, because replicas are pretty much the same price in the same category, regardless of what you pick.

The journey starts
I googled replica forums and to my astonishment discovered that this is a huge market with many message boards and millions of users. It was surprisingly difficult to find “reputable” replica sellers. I then found two sellers with good reputation among forum dwellers, went to their websites and looked around. I could go for anything I wanted, there are literally thousands of options.

I had to decide on a brand. I thought I wouldn’t go for a Breitling, I have a genuine SO already. I decided not to go for Rolex because that is just sad. If I don’t want the genuine, I certainly do not want the fake one. I excluded Patek Phillipe because the whole point of PP is that it is practically forever. It is something you hand down generation to generation. What would be the point of having a replica of an eternal watch that will die in a few years? Also, I would feel really fake wearing a PP replica. I cannot afford the genuine one. And even if I could, how could I justify it? They cost as much as a new luxury car. You could buy a house in rural Slovenia for the same amount of money. No, I did not want PP. And I excluded any of the boutique brands, or brands where the genuine watch would not cost a lot more than a replica (for example Nomos). So I came across Omega. I was not enchanted by their regular offerings. The speedmaster has a chronograph, meh. The Seamaster is kinda quirky. But the Planet Ocean series, that is very nice. And what is more, they have a GMT version. Hmm. That could work. In the end I ended up buying two watches in the space of a month from two different sellers. They are both Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean GMT (PO GMT, for short) replicas of varying quality.

The first one I bought was quite cheap. It has a DG2813 movement (23 jewells, 21,000 bph). This particular movement was made by the Beijing Watch Factory (or so the seller claimed. No way for me to check). It keeps time well enough (-5s / day) and they cut some corners making it – the steel bracelet does not have screws but pins, the lugs are 22mm instead of 21mm (as in the original PO GMT), the crystal is mineral glass, not sapphire and the lume is sub-par. Still, it cost only $150 (compared to the genuine PO GMT which costs about $8000). I read about the movement and realised that you probably get what you pay for. So, I figured, why not get another, they are cheap anyway. As a spare, so to speak. I got to another reputable site (the first one did not have what I was looking for) and got a slightly more expensive replica with many perks.

The more expensive one has the ETA2836.2 GMT (26 jewells, 28,800 bph) movement inside. The seller has been very firm in claiming that this is an actual ETA movement, but I suspect it was not made in Switzerland, because almost none of the movements in replicas are. For those of you interested in this kind of thing, ETA is a Swiss manufacturer of movements. It is part of the Swatch group and produces about 5 million movements per year. Most swiss makers use their movements (Breitling for example used ETA movements until recently. Omega too). There are two issues, though. ETA is clamping down on selling their movements outside of the Swatch group and they want to know where their movements are going. They certainly would not like to put them in replicas that infringe the copyrights of ETA’s own partners. So, the Chinese have started making ‘perfect’ replicas of ETA movements. They are not perfect, really, but they are quite close. You can look at in-depth comparison here (The post is made by Christian Danneman a master watchmaker). So my ‘ETA’ is probably a Seagull , but it could be still quite well made. This replica also keeps adequate time (again, the timekeeper shows -5s / day), but that one is also a lot easier to adjust, which I will do soon. It has screws in the bracelet and sapphire crystal and is nicely lumed. Not as nicely as the genuine watch, but there are almost no watches that are as bright as genuine Omegas.

Both watches are nice for the price, and they have one function that I find very very useful for my use case – they have a GMT hand. Once I got them, I almost stopped wearing my Breitling. I have so many meetings with people from the States that I really need the GMT ability.

It is one of those things – once you start using it, you cannot imagine how to do without. I realised that I don’t need the Breitling after all, but I do need the PO GMT. So, I went and bought the genuine Planet Ocean and am selling the Breitling (see my listing on eBay).

In that way, I am solving many issues at the same time. I felt slightly uncomfortable wearing a replica and not having the genuine watch – In my head, I can rationalize wearing the replica in situations where the genuine should not be used, but only if I have the genuine watch. In that respect, I figure I am not defrauding Omega nearly as much, just protecting my investment. I mean, by law, I was in the clear before – The UK law prosecutes the sellers, but not the buyers of replicas. But now all is fine, I think. I still need to sell the Breitling, though :).

On a side-note. I do not know what people have been smoking, but there is absolutely no way one can mistake the PO GMT replica for a genuine one. Even by simply looking at the face. The crystal is brighter, the hands movement smoother on the gen. If you try to wind it, it becomes clear as day which is which (genuine is buttery smooth. You almost doubt you are winding it, whereas the DG2813 feels as if you are dragging something through broken glass). The bezel on the genuine is (a) liquid metal and (b) bidirectional which are both no-shows on the replica. Once you turn the case around it also becomes clear which is which. The markings of the Omega 8605 are there on replicas, but there is no mistaking things like the Silicon balance wheel and spring, etc. Also, mine keeps perfect time. 0 seconds gained or lost in the past six days. It is a marvel of engineering.

I still have a problem, though.

I am still going to Brazil in the (Brazillian) summer and I will probably do at least some swimming in the sea. The genuine watch is water resistant to ridiculous 60ATM (600m) meaning that I would probably be crushed by the oceanic pressure much sooner than my watch would be. But the replicas are about as water resistant as paper towels. So – I am going to Brazil where I will be swimming in the sea, but my genuine watch will be waiting for me at home. Hmm… The only solution: WATERPROOF ALL THE WATCHES!

What do I need to do? I need to do a bit of reading. Check. A very good guide is here.

I need to:
1. Seal the (front and back) crystals with G-S Glue.
2. Seal the Helium release valve with marine Epoxy (I don’t need the HeV and frankly neither does the 99.9% of the worlds population. If you are interested in what its purpose is, look here. As is usually the case, if you have to look it up, then you probably don’t need it).
3. Rub silicon grease on the crown and stem of the watch.
4. Immerse back basket in silicone.
5. Have it tested.

Off we go. I need the following:

  • Case opener
  • Tweezers
  • Screwdrivers
  • Marine epoxy
  • G-S glue
  • silicon grease
  • silicon pad
  • fine brushes
  • pegwood sticks
  • movement cushion

The DG2813 PO GMT Replica

Let’s start with the DG2813. Here is my workbench at the lab, with everything I need nicely arranged.

IMG_4301

I first need to open the watch. I use the Jaxa wrench, displayed on the right in the picture above. The back comes off easily enough. And sure enough the gasket is completely dry.

IMG_4304

I remove the gasket with tweezers and put it into silicone grease to soak. I remove the rotor, the stem and the little screws holding the movement in place.

IMG_4308

I then realise that I have no idea how to remove the movement. It usually just pops out in the videos I’ve seen. Not here, though. Hmm. I attempt to pry it out, but to no avail. I do not want to use too much force. I then google disassembly of DG2813 but find very unhelpful posts (mostly with the movement already out). I google disassembly of replica watches, but cannot find any that show my particular model. I am stuck. Oh well, I figure, I will not glue the front glass, hoping that it is already tight enough and that I will fill the HeV with movement in place. If testing shows that the watch is not water tight, I will have another go at removing the movement.

I mix the marine epoxy.

IMG_4316

I prepare the watch by putting sellotape over the movement, being careful not to touch any moving parts. Let me be clear – if this didn’t cost less than a hundred Euros, I would be more careful, but I figure, why not, even if I break it, I have a spare replica. I would not dream of doing that to a genuine watch, but then again the genuine does not need this treatment anyway and also has a 5-year warranty, so if anything happens to the gen, I am straight to the Omega service centre.

IMG_4315

I use a bamboo stick to fill the HeV with epoxy with the valve unscrewed. Then, I screw it back in and remove the excess epoxy before it hardens. I remove the tape and end up with a nicely filled hole with not too much epoxy residue.

IMG_4319

I need to clean up the epoxy that is stuck in the gasket groove. I use the pegwood sticks for that and after it is almost clean, I use the little watchmakers brushes. I then grease the groove with Silicone and put silicone grease into the stem tunnel. Here is a photo of the epoxy seal from a different angle and the grooves are nicely greased.

IMG_4320

I then turn to the display glass in the back, which I can seal with the g-s glue. I apply the glue with a needle applicator, but it still flows a little too freely. You can see the residue on the glass and a little spiderweb tendril of glue crossing it.

IMG_4325

I waited a bit for the glue to settle and then used pegwood sticks to clean the excess glue. Looking a lot better now.IMG_4329

I then greased the crown and the o-ring in the crown with silicone grease…

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…inserted it back into the movement, re-attached the rotor, and took the gasket from the silicone bath and put it into the groove.

IMG_4330

And screwed the back back on.

IMG_4276

I checked whether the stem is sitting nicely and whether it still works (it seems that many people are too forceful with the clutch holding the stem in place and they disrupt the winding or the date mechanism when they take the stem out. Luckily that was not a problem for me. Everything still works.

The only thing still needed is to take the watch to the watchmaker to test for water resistance.

UPDATE 1. Next day, I went to a local watchmakers. They first said that they do not have the equipment to test to 600m. I assured them that 10ATM / 100m would do nicely. It passed! The watch is resistant to 100m, which means I can go swimming with it. Yay!

UPDATE 2. I searched for a while on how to remove the movement from the case. It turns out I was almost there. You need to remove the three screws, but also the three oblong washers and then the movement falls out. To see what I am talking about, check this thread on replica-watch.info.

 

In the next post, I will do the same for the ETA2836-2 replica. Stay tuned.

 

About academic fraud

http://www.keble.ox.ac.uk/students/study-skills-and-assistance/plagiarism.gif

Image downloaded from Keble College Oxford’s web-page

I have done a presentation for a web-security firm in 2011. The presentation is here, and it is live, my voice and picture included. I talked to a crowded room. I was nervous but it went fine.

Recently, I needed to find a reference about Steve McQueen using the word scam for the first time. There was an interview, it was published in Time Magazine in 1963, but I couldn’t recall who the author of the article was. So I googled Steve McQueen and scam and Time Magazine. There was a hit and the wording seemed familiar. So I clicked on this link. If the link is removed, as I suppose it will be, after this becomes public, here is a screenshot of the page and here is the locally stored pdf (fun starts at third slide).

Interesting, right? Amon even took the pictures from my presentation, not only the text. I would be interested to know what the Royal Holloway has to say. I shall contact them later and post their reply here. If we ignore the first two slides, the only thing Amon did, was replace my name with his and changed the background. Not bad, right? Certainly much easier than going to the trouble of researching this.

Let’s look into Amon Sanniez, the plagiarist. Here is his linked-in page. It seems that years of expertise in security and in ownership (heh) have landed him a job a company that does pest control. He used to work for security firms and has lots of qualifications, but not much academic clout (a BSc was the end of the road). He does list my presentation as his publication on linked-in. Here is his blog. The subset of the things he writes about is in my field of expertise and he is not completely on the ball there. The things he writes about there are presented with a simplistic point of view and they are often bounded by a lack of knowledge of the field.

The biggest irony is that Amon replicated my presentation but I now know where I was mistaken and he does not. Several of the things I say are just plainly not true now, and were problematic then, but we (the real scientific community) didn’t know it at the time.

Oh well, best of luck with your future prospects Amon, I am not too bothered about you stealing my work, because I moved forward since, and you, well, not so much.

Note: this is what I sent to the Royal Holloway:

Dear [NAME REDACTED],

Name is dr. David Modic, I am a research associate at the Security Group, Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge. I apologize for simply contacting you out of the blue, but I think you should be aware of the following:

In June 2011 I gave a talk at BAFTA for the company Websense on the topic of Psychology of Internet Fraud. Here is a link to my talk: http://www.websense.com/assets/webinars/speakup/speakup-live/psychology-of-scams/ (with my photo and audio narration).

Two days ago I was looking for a specific reference and I googled it. I found the reference in a presentation by Amon Sanniez, here: http://www.isg.rhul.ac.uk/dl/weekendconference2011/presentations/Amon-Sanniez–The-Psychology-of-Scams-and-Malware.pdf

When I looked a bit closer, I realized that this was my reference and the whole thing to be a direct copy of my presentation with only my name replaced and the template background changed. The first two slides are not mine, but all the others are, word for word, including the clipart. Feel free to check both links above.

 I looked at the event and it turns out it was held by the Royal Holloway Security Group in September 2011, if I understand correctly. The slides are hosted on the Royal Holloway pages. Your group was of course not to know that Amon Sanniez plagiarised my research and in the grand scheme of things it does not matter much anyway, but I thought you should be aware of this. If you paid anything to the presenters you were also scammed, in a sense. I guess there is irony in talking about fraud by committing academic fraud. I also realize that mr. Sanniez has no affiliation with RHUL.

Anyway, I just thought you should know. I don’t have any expectations about what happens next, it is completely up to you if you want to pursue it in any way. Please note that if I found plagiarized work hosted by Royal Holloway in about 30s  through google, others might too, and that may reflect badly on the RHUL, even though I don’t think any of this is in any way the security group’s or the University’s fault.

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

Kindest regards,

— David

 

Improving the science

Here is a post about how science could be improved. To sum up:

http://www.newyorker.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/gary-marcus-science.jpg

(c) The New Yorker

  • Stop people from hitching themselves up on work of other, junior, researchers (stop ghost or honorific authorship).
  • Rethink REF and implement other measures of academic merit
  • Support replication and move away from positivistic science.

I like this. First of all, I agree that things need to change.

I am worried that it will never happen, though. Or, if it does it may be at the expense of junior research staff – Let’s say that someone is on a grant. The Principal Investigator (PI) for the grant got the money in and is employing them. If the researcher publishes their research and cites the PI as a co-author, what does that mean? Is it an honorific authorship or a ghost one? Even if the PI did nothing much to contribute to the article, should they be removed from the paper? If they did not secure the grant, there would be no salary for the researcher and the research would not happen. So, the PI is instrumental to the research in a very concrete way, even if the data collection, experimental design and write-up was not primarily (or not at all in some cases) done by the PI. I am not talking about myself, to be clear. I have absolutely nothing to complain about in this respect. 

Furthermore, if PI’s are removed from the publications that they enabled but did not invest much work in, that would mean that they would have to do much more research by themselves and not have much time to spend on preparing grants and thus there would be less opportunities for junior researchers to be employed. In the climate where it is hard to get a postdoc as it is, this is nothing to wish for. 

We know how these things work. As a junior researcher the options of securing grants on your own are fairly slim to non-existent as it is now. So, taking away the incentive to be employed by more senior researchers is not a brilliant move. Ah, I hear you say, you only need to be excellent and it all works out. Right? Well (a) at my place of work, everybody is excellent, otherwise we would not be here. So beating the internal selection process is a bitch and your work that receives worldwide recognition would not necessarily secure your future here. And (b) What good is your excellence if the only job you can hold is to be a nightwatchman at Tesco, because there are no grants available? That job does not offer many opportunities for you to showcase your research skills. Or leave you much time to practice them.

In my opinion, the notion that doing research for research sake and not in order to keep holding a job or increasing your viability for grant success is very nice and something to strive for. In the current climate, I think that it is somewhat romantic, though. How do you get the grant giving bodies to stop assessing the grant proposals on the strength of publication counts and Impact Factor (IF)? What would a replacement metric be? How often you appear in the newspapers? We already know from some Dutch research that personal fame is a stronger indicator of getting funds than publication count. That is even worse than trying to estimate merit, even if the current measure is flawed. It just makes you more likely to media whore and also introduces large inequality across applicants. I have been solicited by the BBC a number of times to do stuff with them. And we do collaborate every once in a while. How likely do you think it is that I would have been contacted by the Beeb if I wasn’t working for Cambridge? So, those of us who are in some ways in a privileged position, would really have a leg up on those who do not get those opportunities based on location or (lack of) prestige of the institution.

So, what should we do? Things are broken now, but they function to a certain extent. From a purely economic perspective, we should think about incentives offered to Universities and their senior research staff. Only people who do not work in academia in 1st world countries make the mistake of thinking that University Teaching Officers (UTO) are doing their jobs out of love. Most of us like and enjoy our jobs, make no mistake, but the discrepancies between the industry and academia are already huge. My starting salary in the industry would be about 2-3 times higher than it is in academia. The job security is about the same in both places at least until you are an UTO. After, it is slightly harder to get fired from a University, but you can still manage it if you mess things up sufficiently. So telling senior researchers that their jobs will be less secure (as a consequence of lower performance ratings, which is a consequence of lesser ability to secure grants, which is a consequence of their names being dropped from the grant publications), but that is OK, because they should simply love science, would not be unopposed, in my opinion. Saying that something should be done and proposing these measures without wrapping them in a bullshit sandwich is not a good way to go. If something makes logical sense, it does not mean that it will be accepted. Perhaps this is what scientists should actually learn.

On Deception and Conflict

Israeli children signing rockets going into Gaza (c) PressTV

Israeli children signing rockets going into Gaza (c) PressTV

 

My research area is psychology of: persuasion, deception, fraud etc. I have an interest in other connected areas – decision making under risk, altruistic punishment, self-regulation

 

I am not an expert in politics or psychology of war. I am, however, a thinking person and I wanted to apply some of the stuff I work on daily to the conflict in Gaza. I will try as hard as possible to not take sides, although my opinion will come through what I write.

 

 

 

 

I should point out that my position is not the position of the University of Cambridge. I have no clue what the University’s position is. There usually isn’t a unifying one as there are tens of thousands academics working here with wildly different religious and political views, so the University usually stays out of the fray and thus does not risk angering a portion of its staff.

What are the official positions of both sides?

The Israeli
Israelis say that the violence against them must stop and that they have the right to defend themselves. Full support of international community is claimed.
They say that the Israel Army Forces deserve the Nobel peace prize for restraint.
They say that they need to kill everyone in Gaza in order to prevent violence against their people.
They say that history is written by the winners and thus the end justify the means.
In the same blogpost they say that they do not target innocent civilians because they have precision-guided munitions that only kill bad guys and collaborators.
They say that the gloves should come off and enough with the soft treatment of Palestinians.
They say that Hamas has a network of hidden underground tunnels leading in Isareali territory.

 

What do reports from Palestine say (mostly not from Palestinians – no electricity, water or limited Internet access. Hard to write.)
Israelis drink beer and cheer bombing of Gaza.
Violence against civilians is not stopped or restrained.
Flechette shells are being used on populated areas.
A father opens a plastic bag: ‘This is my son,’ he says, killed by an Israeli shell.
Israel indiscriminately bombed The Shijaiyeh neighborhood in Gaza City. Heavy shelling prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded for hours.
In first three days of gaza bombing 95 children are killed.
Israelis are using white phosphorus.
Four boys killed by a bomb while playing footbal in the Gaza stripIt is fairly hard to not be cynical at this point, and ask questions about where the terrorists using the boys as live shields were hiding in this case and just how precise the precise munitions are.
A Palestinian boy forced to drink gasoline and then set on fire as a revenge for someone else killing three Israeli boys.

 

What do observers say?
77% of Palestinians killed are civilians.
Israelis bomb hospitals and injure civilians, many of whom are children.
Live coverage of Israelis cheering explosions in Gaza.
Timeline of violence.  Kill ratio of 1:7 in favor of Israel.
By July 21st According to UN – 25 Israeli soldiers were killed and 2 Israeli civilians. Estimated 86 Palestinian militants and 406 Palestinian civilians were killed (69 women, 129 children) 
Israel accused of war crimes by UK MP’s.
Israel bombs el-Wafa hospital. Red Cross international calls after shelling starts to ask how long to evacuate before the start in order to not hurt patients.
South America (Bolivia and Venezuela) condemn Israel.
CNN journalist pulled from Gaza after criticizing Israeli celebrations of shelling of Gaza.
NBC Reporter pulled out of gaza after blogging about murders of four Palestinian teenagers playing soccer on the beach.

 

There is a slant to these stories
Israelis would tell you that Palestinians are forcing their children into areas that would be bombed in order to elicit outrage. They would also tell you that the underground tunnels pose a clear and present danger because of suicide bombers swarming out of them. They would tell you that they have not been killed en-masse for two reasons only: (a) because they preemptively striked first and (b) they are protected by their missile shield.

Palestinians would tell you that their rockets have no explosive, because of the embargo, they would tell you that that they live in an open air prison, where there is no electricity, not enough water, no medical supplies. They would ask where were they supposed to get weapons to attack Israel. They may ask whether throwing rocks at tanks might be seen more a move of desperation than real murderous intent.

So, there are two stories here – Either the Israelis are fighting for their lives and the Palestinians are wickedly good at spin plus very high in Machiavelianism (willing to scarifice and maim their children and wives in order to prove a point). Or the Palestinians are being mass slaughtered by Israelis and fighting back with stick and stones out of desperation.

 

On Lying
We therefore have two opposite views and at least one of the sides is engaging in deception. In the lab setting we are not much better than chance in detecting deception (c.f meta analysis by Bond & DePaulo, 2006). In layman’s terms – if we know nothing about the real situation and are observing a person and asking them questions about the situation we are about as accurate as flipping a coin is. When it comes to high stakes lies (i.e. lies where getting caught matters to you), we are a bit better (around 70% accurate). Still, we cannot be sure. And we cannot be sure in the context of this conflict. I suppose it is possible that Palestinians are lying, but I believe it is extremely unlikely, as deception is engaged when there is some benefit to be gained by it, usually. And here the benefit (the outrage of the world) does not outweigh the cost (thousands of people dead from the start of the conflict, 50 years of siege, destroyed infrastructure and no hope for the future generations). Now, I know that Nietzsche said that the rich have power and the poor have morals (paraphrased) and one could argue that Palestinians are saying: “Well my kid has lost his legs and my daughter is blind, but at least the West knows who is the moral victor here.” I find that implausible and more than slightly cynical, though.

In thinking about how to approach this mess, it occurred to me, that who is lying and who is right may not be the main issue at all.

 

Semi-objective facts

If we leave to one side the question of who is right and who is wrong. And avoid the spin and moral outrage we may justifiably feel, then we are left with probably not completely accurate, but still ballpark figures. What do we know:

– The conflict has been going on for 47 years.
– As a consequence of (in)direct military action 7000 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis died during this time. It is hard to estimate how many people died from the consequences of the armed conflict (hunger, suicide bombings, lack of medicines, etc) so let’s not go there and stay with reported facts.
– In the “Protective Edge” about 30 Israelis died (2 civilians) and about 500 Palestinians died (406 civilians, but may be more, depending on your definition of a “militant”) according to the U.N.
– There are video tapes of Israelis using white phosphorus (linked above) on Palestinians. Phosposhorus is hard to control and causes burns on people regardless of whether they are “militants” or children playing soccer.
– The whole “Protective Edge” operation started because three Israeli kids were killed (and we do not know by whom, to be clear).

Here is my question.

When is it enough?

When you kill 10 people for every one you lost? 20? 50? 100? 500? Everyone? When can you stop kicking a dog that is down, because you are sure they learned their lesson? When does the fact that you are the most macho, ubermenschian race in the region come through clearly enough? How much dehumanization is needed for the lesser race to understand their place? Make no mistake, Israel spends $18 billion on arms every year. There is no question who is better funded in this conflict. So, I am asking, when does one feel that they have successfully prevented the buzzing fly from ruining their breakfast? When you have vastly superior infrastructure, army, defense capabilities etc, do you have kill *every* Palestinian child or is 1 out of 3 enough to prove a point? In what world is it justifiable to force a kid to drink gasoline and then set him on fire, regardless of his innocence?

My point is. Let’s forget about who is moral and who is not. Let’s forget about pain and death and help me answer this simple question. When is it enough? When are you satisfied?

From reading the comments under blog posts, I have no doubt that many Israelis would answer this by saying: “When every last Palestinian is eradicated.” Mostly from the comfort of Internet anonymity. To which I will say: “That is your prerogative. But do not be surprised to then be treated like the fucking bullies you are. The civilized world has learned that there is no percentage in kicking an opponent when they are truly down and out. They are throwing rocks at you, for God’s sake, doesn’t that tell you something about their ability for retribution?”

Let’s be clear about something here. This is neither a pro-Palestine post, nor an anti-Israeli one. I have accepted the premise that each side has their own position and am working inside those parameters, regardless of whether they are objectively true or not and whether I agree with them or not. What I am saying is that if we accept that there are reasons for retribution, well, how much retribution is needed to satisfy?

Let the flaming begin.

 

Literature

Bond, C. F., & DePaulo, B. M. (2006). Accuracy of Deception Judgments. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10(3), 214-234.

About fleecing them for all they’re worth

by DavidM 2014-06-09 at 12.21.08

prevoz.org

There is an initiative by the Slovene Tax Authorities to tax … carpooling, essentially. Here is the link to the article (in Slovene language): dnevnik.si

There is a platform similar to uber operating in Slovenia. People advertise where they will be going and how much they would charge and others accept those offers. And so people cover a percentage of the petrol cost for the original driver, lower the overall emissions and engage in a service which helps those who are socially less fortunate.

It turns out that the Slovene Tax authorities want in on that action. The official explanation is that the passengers need to pay tax, since they are essentially paying for petrol and and there is a petrol tax that needs to be accounted for.

Predictably this elicited an angry response by pundits on the street. There were criticisms along the lines of: “Those greedy swines, once they smell money, they quickly suck it out of regular people” and “First they bleed us dry and leave us no alternative but to engage in secondary adjustment, because we can’t afford to go on a bus or train, and instead of making public transport more accessible, they tax our adjustment strategy”.

But it makes me wonder. It seems to me that they are after people’s money, but how far have they thought this through?

OK. So petrol dues need to be paid according to the tax authority rationale. The dues were paid by the driver already at the gas station. It seems that the tax authorities are proposing to either (a) have people pay the same tax twice, or (b) pay it once, but at the time of hitching the ride.

Because (a) is clearly illegal, I’ll chose to believe that they meant (b). How are they hoping to enforce this? It seems to be highly elaborate scheme that is completely un-implementable. Let’s play around with this scenario – I arrive at the petrol station, fill up and then claim that I will be driving people around so I don’t want to pay petrol dues? Will the person at the till be accommodating or not? Let’s assume they are familiar with the scheme, and let’s say they do accept my claim. Is it not likely that they would ask me what proportion of the tank I will be using for driving people around and what proportion will I be using for myself in order to calculate the proper amount of tax? How would I know? Why wouldn’t I say that I would be driving people around all the time and thus no need to pay the tax now?

So, I don’t pay any dues, but when people accept my offer on prevozi.org, I then submit the required amount to the tax authorities? Wouldn’t it be the best incentive for me to not offer any rides and thus pay no petrol dues but have full mobility? Will they be keeping track of people like me and follow-up if I do this? Let’s calculate the costs and round them up.

(a) The Tax Authority will need, at the very least, to change the tax software in order to add a table which will keep track of when any Slovene national bought petrol, how much, and whether they paid dues. In addition they will need a table populated by a script which would scrape prevozi.org + gather personal data, where it would be clear when any person offered a raid, how much they wanted, what car they drive (to calculate average mpg for that particular model, vintage and mileage) and the destination.   From that they could calculate the amount of petrol that was used and the amount of dues needed to be paid.

That may cost 10,000 EUR + 500 EUR per month for technical support and maintenance in the first year. that comes to 16,000 EUR per year

Then they would need let’s say 5 full time employees who would  keep track of two million people and their transactions on prevozi.org. Let’s say their average salary is 1000 EUR per month + contributions which would come to about 2200 EUR per month. This comes to 5 * 12 * 2,200 = 132,000 EUR per year

Then there is the cost of office space and the additional retraining cost for gas station attendants. Let’s say that petrol companies will shoulder the cost of training,  but they would still need to cover the cost of office space and infrastructure for their workers. Let’s say that there are two offices + machines + phone cost + bandwith. Let’s assume that comes to 300 EUR per month, so 3.600 EUR

So first year cost of the project comes down to: 151,600 EUR

So, what happens here is that the Slovene government would be spending 150k Euro to get people to pay taxes they would already be paying if things stay the way they are right now.

Ah, I hear you say, but what if taxes are paid in addition to already existing taxes. Well, the cost of the project stays roughly similar, but let’s say we need a few less people and a simplified software package. Let’s say, back of the napkin calculation, that it would cost half of the initial budget, so roughly 75,000 EUR.

Let’s assume that the drivers would be paying 30% of their earnings. And let’s go ahead and assume that people will not cheat and that they will not raise their prices and that, as a result, those looking for service will not make other arrangements. This is a tall order, but let’s pretend that supply-demand curve is not actually a curve (as probably the Tax Authority assumes).

Today, in June 2014, there seems to be 810 offers for today to various destinations. Mostly going to Ljubljana. The average price is 4.6 EUR per ride, depending on the distance, prices go from 2 to 10 EUR. Let’s assume that half of the rides are taken and let’s assume that the price does not influence the preferences. So, the takings per day are approximately 1,800 EUR. Let’s assume that there is a certain amount of fluctuation per day but that this averages out. 30% of 1,800 EUR comes to 540 EUR per day, which comes to 197,000 EUR per year. That means, after taking away the project costs, 122.000 EUR profit per year.

This is peanuts. Slovenia’s GDP is (according to Wikipedia) roughly 41 billion EUR. The profit would amount to about 0.0003% of the GDP. There are two things to think about here, considering how this money is in the realm of a rounding error in the overall GDP: (1) Why do the tax authorities bother with this money, and why do they consider it worthwhile to upset a large amount of people and (2) why do people allow themselves to be upset over such miniscule amounts.

I think the answers are: (1) The Tax Authorities do not do any kind of research, they just see a niche and think of exploiting it, without any in-depth analysis of what they would gain in financial terms, and what they would lose in terms of trust and reputation.

(2) People get upset not because of money, but because they feel screwed. They feel screwed because they came up with this cool thing that helps them and makes their lives more bearable and now somebody wants to take it away or wants to profit from it without any kind of previous participation. This has mostly to do with the psychological contract (i.e. the informal, non-written expectations we have when we sign a formal contract. For example when we enrol into a University, the contract we sign with them specifies that said University will give you an opportunity to learn and earn a degree. However, our expectations may be to learn from great scholars, gain some personal reputation from the reputation of the University, and be better positioned in the job market because we went to a high prestige University). Our expectations are not necessarily written down. This is the psychological contract bit. For our money, we get the service but also want our expectations to fulfilled.

The psychological expectation in the contract we have with the State is that it will help us out when times are tough and we will help it when we are doing OK. When the government does not help but actively deters people who think of ways to help themselves, this constitutes a clear breach of the psychological contract. And that is what angers us. And the government is angry when the people are doing OK, but fail to help out the country. It is like two kids standing on their own hillocks and screaming about the other not wanting to play ball.

The classical economists would think about incentivising people to pay taxes, but they would not think about why they are failing to pay taxes (if they are) in the first instance. This is an old dilemma of inventing ways to force people to do something they don’t want to do vs. changing their frame of mind and making them want to pay taxes. The assumptions are problematic here.

An economist is likely to tell you that people are egotistical and that there is no incentive for them to be “good” and “moral”. This statement is based on the idea that there are no morals, there is no consideration of future consequences of ones actions, etc. It is embodied by the homo homini lupus concept. There are many of us, who disagree with that life philosophy.

At the same time, we know that lack of premeditation leads us to do foolish things. In a recent study we did here at Cambridge, on susceptibility to persuasion, the ability to consider future consequences (i.e. premeditation) accounts for 25% of the variance in scam compliance. Simply put – the ability to consider what will likely happen if you engage with a scammer plays a decisive role in one quarter of the observed cases. (see: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2446971) if you want to know more about this.

 

 

 

 

 

About educational policy

American Education is in the Dumpster

American Education is in the Dumpster (Photo credit: brewbooks)

There is an article in the Guardian, titled: “Advent of Google means we must rethink our approach to education”

I generally agree with the premise that we could change the education process, but I think this article is somewhat skewed.

1) There is a difference between replication and synthesis of knowledge. It might be OK for the vast majority of the population to be unable to think for themselves and just rely on others to do their thinking for them, but – for example Stephen Hawking cannot google his findings, before he discovers them. In order to push experimental physics forward, he needs to to understand the theory behind it and in order to do that, he needs to be familiar with it and perhaps not on the level of Wikipedia (my additional question is – what if Wikipedia packs it in after an unsuccessful funding campaign? What happens with all functionally illiterate people who have not written a wiki page in their life, and, honestly, also couldn’t write it to save their life, if all they can do is to replicate what is already there). My point here being that it is just fine if a person is literate and can multiply 6 by 7 without using either pen and paper or a mobile phone. And, oh horror, you need to learn this by heart. How the hell would making people completely and uncritically reliant on technology make them more advanced? The suggestions here seem to me to lead to the absurd position where, in order to read a webpage, you would need to consult somebody who could actually read (for example, the village seer). And how is this progress? And what happens when the last of the ancient folks who still learned how to read, dies?

To keep Stephen Hawking out of this mess – what about a more personal example? I use a bibliographic manager for referencing. I don’t penalize my students if they use it in their essays, but I certainly do not encourage it and I don’t tell them that software like that exists (and they mostly don’t know it does). Why? It is not because I am a sadist pig bent on making these poor kids suffer. It is because I know how to cite without help from software. As a consequence of this ability, I can tell when my bibliographic manager gets something wrong (sometimes it does) and I can fix the mistake, because I know how to do it correctly, by hand. And my students don’t. Yet.  If they start by using crutches from the get go they will never be able to rely on their knowledge and ability. What happens if the referencing manager they use stops being actively developed and disappears from the market? What if it changes significantly? The students ability to produce academic writing will be severely impaired. My won’t, though.

You see this is not even the difference between being able to adequately play Bach’s Brandeburg concerto nr. 1,  and composing the said concerto. It is actually the difference between learning to play every note by listening to the composition and watching youtube videos on how to do it; and being able to read musical notation. I am not even at the creative part yet, I am saying that getting people to read digests and summaries of stuff and making them believe that this is all there is to human knowledge, is sad and misguided.

I am talking, therefore, about blind faith in technology and about reliance on somebody else’s ability to think. I am talking about Google search algorithms that are not necessarily constructed in a way which would give you optimal results, but are more probably constructed in a way that maximizes profits for Google. Lots has been written about that. But, hey, people educated in a way proposed by Sugata Mitra will never know about it, because they will be learning about freaking mobile phones, when they are nine years old. I realize I am simplifying a bit.

2) Mitra writes about how the teacher encourages kids to learn through situation and through interaction in-group and over the Internet. Well. My question is – does the teacher study the subject they teach in a classical manner or do they also simply Google it during class? Ok, how does this work? In the Guardian Column the subject is signals in mobile telephony and the teacher starts by having students look at electromagnetism. How can you make sure that the teacher will start with electromagnetism? Does the teacher even know about the connection? Where from? Isn’t this a case of blind leading the blind? If the teacher actually has a semblance of knowledge about the subject they teach, are we then saying that some people should be educated and some don’t have to be? Are we saying that it is suddenly not a problem that some people will be left uneducated? And is the idea that I as a parent should decide that my kid will be left to do menial jobs, where the ability to reproduce, but not actually create will be the only thing required? I think testing the validty of  this idea would be quite simple – I propose two observational experiments:

a) Let us see whether Sugata Mitra is content to let his kids not have a classical education but are instead taught how to google and how to wait for others to come up with ideas (i.e. work in a team, where individual performance is not assessed and where the accolade is shared regardless of input).

b) Give the parents a choice where they can either send their kid to school where they are actually taught something or a school where they twiddle their thumbs and sorta vaguely learn about how mobile phones work. And let them decide.

3) What the Mitra does not seem to get is that teamwork is effective when people in the team are capable of independent thought, not when they all wait for somebody else to provide an idea. Clueless people in a group are a herd, not a synergy. That is not progress, it is a regression. If you skip the step of enabling people to be creative on their own, you will only get drones. And I am not content to do this to my kid.

4) There is a nice slant to this – These kinds of programs are run out of UK into India and Africa. The underlying current is that the kids there are not expected to attend top level UK Universities or prep schools in the first place. Thus, you see, these kids are ripe to be experimented on. This will not be foisted on British kids, oh no, but these poor savages deserve their chance, right? They will never be as good as us, but they are good for a few papers and for the feeling that we are doing something  good for them. Oh wait, there could also be a grant in this. Right?

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About amateur psychotherapy and support groups

 

 

I am participating in a longish discussion in a forum, where one of the things said made me write about something I’ve been upset about for a while now [things in brackets changed by me].

 

 

… I am not talking about this [support group], cause it is different, but most seem to be stuck in their own feeling of being right and know how support has to be given. Isn’t it true that amateur psychologists cause more harm then good?

As far as amateur psychologists/therapists go, that is my pet peeve anyway and in general.

I have no issue with either support or self-help groups, but when the line between support and therapy blurs, then I do have an issue, yes. I have an even bigger issue with friendly advice, mainly because I did work both in a psychiatric institution and in a private setting, and my experience is that the client/patient usually gets screwed by inexpert help.

Once the situation is really dire, they come to people like me, who face a lot more work in helping to fix the things that were relatively easily fixable before the person followed well-meaning, but nevertheless wrong, advice.

Sometimes, things are not satisfactorily fixable after the fact at all (for example somebody who is slowly drifting into psychosis and is told that they should really stand up for themselves and understand that as a permission to beat her children to the point where it leaves lasting marks, because they didn’t want to go to sleep at bedtime. If you don’t understand how the mind works, don’t mess with it, is what I am saying. Funnily enough, at that point, people who were full of advice before suddenly go quiet and stop answering calls. And then to my everlasting joy, I get to speak to the mother in a psychiatric clinic and explain to them why they’ll be staying with us, and why that nice person from social services is taking the kids away for good).

Now, don’t start with victim blaming (i.e. the mother is crazy, she should be locked up. Poor kids.).  This is all solvable in a way where the kids don’t get hurt and don’t lose their mother in the process (which in turn doesn’t leave them an impression that it’s their fault that they can’t stay with their mother anymore).

You see, there are two points where friendly advice can fail – 1) when the person giving the advice has no experience whatsoever with what they are dealing with, and just play it by heart, which may work for them personally, but certainly doesn’t work for everybody. They might also mistake their personal experience with a certain issue to be grounds for a good general advice (e.g. if you are quite timid and have once in your life stood up for yourself to a great outcome, you still shouldn’t encourage a serial rapist to not listen to anyone else and just follow their heart).

And 2) (connected to the first one), when the advice giver fails to see the warning signs or misinterprets them because they judge everybody to be just like them.

Both of those sometimes work OK and leave no outward damage which in turn empowers the person to fancy themselves the go-to mental guru, so to speak (i.e. if you have a problem, just talk to me, everybody else does it). This might work for a while, but there will certainly come a point when people are out of their depth (which also happens to ‘real’ therapists, don’t get me wrong, but at least we have any numbers of external mechanisms to help us cope. And, quite importantly, we are equipped to recognize this, when it happens).

Once out of their depth, people either shy away from the problem, leaving the client/patient to pick up the pieces (bad), or steam-roller on, into the unknown, after all how bad could it be, right? (worse).

Well, it can be as bad as you can imagine and then some more. Mainly because if a lay person can actually imagine it and still goes ahead with it, they are probably a psychopath (i.e. don’t care if somebody else suffers. Might also enjoy it. Same applies for being overconfident – it is easy to be overconfident about somebody else’s future. If it works, then fine, if it doesn’t, well, they’ll face the consequences, is also an anti-social trait).

Let me point out that, like I said before, I think that there is a real need for support and self-help groups out there, but there is also a responsibility attached to offering that kind of service, one that shouldn’t be brushed away.

I would say that the main function of such groups is to listen. Offering an opinion is also fine, sharing of experiences too. Lay therapy, absolutely not. I am saying that it is OK to say: “That sucks. I experienced a similar thing – here is what happened to me.” In my opinion is also still OK to say: “Now here is how I dealt with it, but please bear in mind that this might not work for you and that I am not saying you should do any of this. I am merely telling you what worked for me. If you want to follow any of this, please talk it over with somebody who is a) uninvolved, and b) knows how to deal with those kinds of issues. It certainly helped me to do it. A phone number of somebody, whom I had previous good experiences with, is in your mailbox”.

It is definitely NOT OK to say: “Wow, that sucks, and here is what you should do…” or “Mhm, sure, sure, let me tell you what your problem is…” or “Stop talking, nobody cares. Let me tell you a real story of hardship now” or “You fool, it is all your fault, stop whining and get a life” or”You handled it all wrong, here is what you should have done…”

A peer-review phishing scam

I thought you would be interested to know about a very interesting scam that has been going around lately (well, interesting from my perspective, I research scams for a living 🙂 ).

It is in a form of a very well executed spearphishing attack. It targets academics, and would be particularly effective against postgraduate students (I know it took me a while to realize it is a scam and at least one of my colleagues didn’t, but got stopped by me in time).

The way this works

You get an email, from a journal editor (in my case from Science Journal of Economics. The web-page URL is sciencejournals.cc) asking for a peer review of an article. Now, for those of you who are not familiar with academic publishing – all articles are reviewed, for free, by researchers in the chosen field. They then post a review to the editor and the editor makes a decision about publishing said article. A legit peer review request would look almost identical to the one received.

I went and checked – the Journal web page seems OK. On the face of it, the fledgling journal is sparsely populated with articles, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere, right? For me an additional issue was, that about a fortnight ago, I actually did speak in person to an editor of a small family run journal, whose name I have instantly forgotten. He asked me to write for him. So I was not completely sure whether this was the same guy, who first wanted to test my reviewing skills, before asking for an article.

I asked a senior academic about this journal (My full email to them consisted of: ‘Is this for real?’), and he replied saying that it is a very new journal, but could be above board, so if I had the time, I should review the article. Now, this is the first brilliant move by the scammer: if they get a hold of a PhD student, they can count on them being relatively inexperienced in the process of peer reviewing, while at the same time they know that peer reviewing is a required part of the academic life; plus it might stroke their ego that a journal wants their opinion about a piece of research.

I replied, saying that they should sent the article over, with reviewers guidelines. This is what I got from them, things in [italic square brackets are changed by me]:

From: Editor [editor@sciencejournals.cc]
Sent: 28 June 2011 12:10
To: [Me]
Subject: Re: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Dear [Me],

Thank you for accepting our invitation to review with the Science Journal of Economics. Please find attached files, the full Manuscript , Instruction for Authors as well as the Reviewer’s Guide. You may present your evaluations the way you deem fit. If you wish to correct parts of the manuscript itself, please indicate your corrections with a different color (for example, red for addition and blue for deletion).

I am looking forward to your response.

Best regards,
Dr. John Morrison
Editorial Assistant

Enclosure: Manuscript,Reviewer’s Guide and Instruction for Authors

I downloaded the files and looked at them. The reviewers guide is competently written, very boiler-plate, but that is the way all of them are.

The reviewers form is quite elaborate, but not out of the ordinary.

I decided to just briefly look at the article, before actually reviewing it the next day. The article was horrible. Really, you can’t get much worse than that in a piece of academic writing. I wrote at least ten remarks for first paragraph alone, before I decided that this was not publishable and that it is just a waste of time.

So, I sent an email to my academic colleague:

From: [Me]
Sent: 27 June 2011 00:07
To: [Colleague]
Subject: FWD: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Hi [Colleague],

OK, I’ve gotten the manuscript from the Journal we wrote about the other day and it is horrible. It is. I stopped correcting after the first paragraph of the introduction. There is, literally, several things wrong with each sentence in the first two paragraphs.I have appended my version with comments, so you can judge for yourself.

What I am wondering right now is – at what point is it ok to write back and say, this should not be accepted on the grounds of:

  • It is written in something only approximating English language and grammar.
  • Claims are unsupported
  • Logic is shaky or non-existent
  • In order for this to pass, I would have to rewrite sentence by sentence and I have neither an interest or the inclination to do that.

This essay actually about on a level of a 3rd for a first year [our University] undergrad.

I am now scrolling through it. It cites the source of their figures as “their own drawing”. The figures are not formatted in any consistent manner. They include helpful diagrams!! Words in the diagrams are clipped.

The References section is not consistently formatted. I am not prepared to read this crap. I looks like a high school essay.

Science Journal of Economics…. wait a second, I can’t find this journal wheen I google it. Hang on… sciencejournals.cc lists their head office as:

Science Journal Publication Head Office:
Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), Nigeria.
Branch Office: Accra, Ghana.

It looks to me as if a high school student wants to get a good grade by having somebody review their essay for them.

This actually looks like a scam to me.

[Me]

At the same time, I sent an email to John Morrison the associate editor of the journal

From: [Me]
Sent: 27 June 2011 00:06
To: Editor [editor@sciencejournals.cc]
Subject: Re: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Hi John, Please let me know which referencing style you expect the Authors to follow, so I can judge whether they are following it. I am also quite unclear about which category the submission you sent over, falls under (according to your Instruction for Authors guidelines). It is clearly not an article (method, results and discussion are missing). It is too long to be a review (17 pages of 1.15 spacing at best, but probably single spacing. Your guidelines specify 4-6 pages), and includes far too few references. It is also far too long to be a short communication.

So, which is it? Please let me know as soon as possible.
Sincerely,
[Me], Msc(dist), AHEA
[My University]

Next day, I had a meeting at the University and asked several colleagues if they ever received a request to peer review an article (I wanted to know how to go about rejecting this job, as it made no sense to continue).

It turns out, all of them got the same request! To review the same article! Now, peer review usually does not include six or more of our friends. Strange … Most of them agreed that it was a scam, but had no inkling what the end-game was (i.e. how the scammer could get the money out of us).

I then went home and, working under the assumption that these were high school kids, looking to get peer reviewed and get good grades at school for their essays, I started thinking of how to write a letter to ‘the editor’ that would prime the kids to wish they never sent a request for peer review.

It wouldn’t work if I just said I am onto you, as that would not leave enough of a sting. What I needed to do is to write how crappy the paper was in no uncertain terms, while giving away as little as possible on how to correct it. Hopefully, they would be conditioned to not send their requests ever again.

So, I wrote this:

From: [Me]
Sent: 27 June 2011 21:25
To: Editor [editor@sciencejournals.cc]
Subject: Re: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Hi John,

I have stopped reviewing the article you sent over. It is not publishable, at least not in the present form. It would literally require rewriting almost every sentence in it. I assume it was translated (badly) into English, and it shows. It is hard to follow the logic of the argument, which admittedly might have something to do with very bad grammar, which makes the logic itself seem flawed.

The referencing is insufficient, and at times, claims are completely unsupported. Furthermore, the referencing is also inconsistent, and regardless of the referencing style required, sometimes just plain wrong (the Author does not avoid figures that are superfluous in any case, they give an impression of patronising the reader, which makes me want to say: I can read, I don’t need a picture drawn for me. Furthermore, if you draw a picture, support it with extensive referencing, not by saying it is good, because I thought of it). This is not befitting a scientific text, it explains nothing and is far too garish to even consider in an academic context.

The formatting is wrong (paragraph spacing, placement of figures and tables, etc). It does not follow your guidelines in any way, shape or form.

I leave it up to you as an associate editor to judge how much of this communication to share with the Author(s), but it is clear they need to invest substantially into writting articles if they want to be published in a respectable journal. Frankly, between you and me, if one of the first year undergraduate students from my University wrote this essay, I would have to search thoroughly for reasons not to fail them.

[… continued after the break]

I am covering my bases here – In case this is legit in the end, I don’t want to incur the wrath of the real Author. Also if the editor is not actually the editor, then they still get my opinion, but the Authors are not exposed to my dressing down. In other words, no legitimate journal would forward my writing to the Author.

Wasting your time and mine on this is a huge disservice to your journal – it raises doubts about your publication. I believe you should reject it immediately as considering it at all would give the wrong impression about your publication to the academic community. I realize you are not well established yet, but giving a longer consideration to this submission will sink you very quickly.

The biggest issue, though, is, that it has already been published, here: [the URL] I don’t know what your policy is, concerning republication of already published material, but this has a strange feel to it.

If the submission you’ve got is not under the names of [Author names], then it has also been plagiarised, down to the last word. If that is the case, I think you should act quickly and notify the submitting authors’ Institution. [… continued after the break]

Ok, at this stage I realized that this is a real article, just one that should not have been published. I found it on the net, on a semi-academic site. So, if these were kids, then not only were they looking for peer review, but they were blatantly plagiarizing too. So, I said I see what you did there, without directly claiming scientific misconduct.

The real authors were probably not to blame here (except the article really is quite bad and there is simply no way in hell that they would be published in a respectable journal). Still, that is why I am excluding them from the post by saying [Author Names], [Article Title], etc.

Once I found the article, I did a WhoIS on the site and concluded that this is certainly a scam. See my next email, to my colleague. This one still goes on, for one more sentence:

On a personal note, do you like spearfishing, John? I am a huge fan, perhaps we could compare notes at some later time? Sometime before April 2012 would be perfect for me.

[Me], MSc (dist), AHEA
[My University]

I then wrote my last email to my Colleague:

From: [Me]
Sent: 27 June 2011 22:06
To: [Colleagues]
Subject: Re: Manuscript For Review [article title]

Hi [Colleague],

(I am copying others into this, as we talked about it in the morning and we couldn’t figure out what the endgame was. And now, I think I know).

Oh, this is sooo a scam. The domain sciencejournals.cc is registered in Africa. It has been registered on the 1st of April of 2011 for only a year (see http://www.whois.net/whois/sciencejournals.cc).

The site is almost empty of content (there are only a few articles scattered here and there on the site).

The article they sent for review is taken from another site: [URL to the original Article] (this domain is marginally better – it includes a real contact address in Bucharest).

John Morrison (“the Associate Editor”) does not exist on the Internet (unless he is either an Orthopedic Surgeon from Great Neck, NY or a senior lecturer at Aberdeen University whose research interests are concerned with Scottish Paintings from 17th century).

I didn’t know what exactly is their endgame – at first I assumed high school kids are looking for someone to peer review their essays to get better grades, but when it turned out that this article actually exists and that the authors are actually from two Universities in [a third world Country], that theory got tossed in a bin.

I am not holding my breath about these people contacting me again, as I not too subtly hinted that they were spearphishing and that I am onto them. Perhaps they are only looking to fill out their sucker lists. I would love to know what they hope to accomplish. It would almost be worth reviewing the article to find out, but it is such crap, that I don’t want to suffer through it and also I don’t want to do a good job, and make it publishable under somebody else’s name, but doing a bad job potentially opens me to extortion (i.e.You call yourself an academic? What will happen once the scientific community finds out how clueless you are? Now, if you transferred a measly $1000 to this bank account, we could forget about telling everyone how badly you did at this review…).

We’ll see. It is a very good premise, though, and PhD students are a perfect population to fall for this (relatively inexperienced, perhaps reviewing strokes their ego a bit…). The only thing the scammers don’t realize is, that PhD students are actually paid a little less than a person on unemployment benefits, so them trying to get money out of us tickles my funny bone.

Hmm, another endgame might be them requiring us to submit the review on their site and for that we would have to register there. They have a registration system there… This is generally perfectly reasonable. We require it for [Our Conference] site. Reviewers might also get a “free journal subscription” out of it. But, here it is – we know that a vast majority of people uses the same password for all logins, which is terribly bad practice, but they don’t want to forget it. That means that a couple of people in Nigeria now have a username and password to, for example, somebody’s eBay, PayPal, Gmail, HotMail and amazon.com account and that unlucky person suddenly finds themselves ordering 20 copies of Black Nigerian Booty Hoes DVD from Amazon and sending it to Abuja, Nigeria. He received the notification, but the mails got deleted somehow, before he saw them.

Ah, cunning. Perhaps I am giving them too much credit, but this is how I would do it, if I was them. I like this scam now. They almost fooled me.

[Me]
[My University]

So, there you go, a very interesting phishing scheme. I think the public should be aware of it, especially the academic one.

I have not received any response from the ‘editor’ in three days. I think, they have dropped me now.

I am still running an experiment about falling for scams, so if you ever responded to an illegitimate offer, or lost any kind of money, sleep, etc. to scams, please answer my questionnairehttp://survey.scamresearch.info//43356/lang-en

The need for a centralised ID?

[…]For those who do not want to read through all 12 pages of the thread to understand what this blog post is about, here is a brief synopsis:  A poster asked why we did not provide audio support over DisplayPort connections. I answered the question. People were not happy with that answer. Mark Hopkins kindly agreed to search again and spent a lot of time polling our engineers. He came up with essentially the same answer. Despite hours of diligent research, there are those who still think that Lenovo is not being truthful.

[…] Here’s my answer to take a step in the right direction. Set up a centralized online ID registration and clearinghouse. To sign up, you must provide a driver’s license or passport to prove you are who you say you are. At that point, you are assigned an online ID that has your name and picture (from your passport/driver’s license) associated with your profile. The rest of your personally identifiable information is immediately destroyed. You use this common ID for ALL forums, boards, and blogs that you are a member of – whether it is a vendor’s forum or a blog about coffee brewing methods during the Medieval time period.

After your centralized online ID is created, you start to establish credibility. Using the Reddit “vote up/down” or Amazon 5 star model, following each post on any online forum, people have the opportunity to vote your credibility and helpfulness up or down.

[…] (Full post by Matt Kohut is here)

Lenovo blogs

Lenovo blog (c) Matt Kohut

Here is my comment:

Hi,
I’ve been a long time reader of the site and have owned several thinkpads over the years (I type this from my x300). I have never before commented on anything as I felt I was perhaps not best qualified or didn’t feel strongly enough about that particular topic. However, this topic is right up my alley – closely connected to my PhD and masters thesis.

The problems with the proposed as I see it are those:

First of all there is no disputing that defining virtual identity is a hard task and that some virtual inhabitants will abuse the privileges of anonymity. This is not something I would wish to contend. However, connecting a RL person to their posts is not all that straightforward nor very simple.

a) There is more to someones identity than their name and picture. For instance, there are academic and professional credentials to think of. Posts on the Internet are by definition merit based (meaning – it doesn’t matter who you are, as long as what you say makes sense or resonates with someone), which is not truly compatible with requiring credentials from a person. On the other hand, somebody who spent time and energy in a chosen field should probably have a more weighted opinion if you insist on identifying him/her. Let’s not get into the consequences of what would happen if Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would participate in a particular forum. Should their opinons matter? Certainly. Would people react to what they represent and not to what they say? They probably would. Is it then OK to deny them participation in online communities just because replies to their opinions would be biased? No. I am sure you can further develop this argument on your own.

b) The identity is also fluid, not rigid. The idea that if somebody’s opinon has to follow them for the rest of their online life is perhaps too harsh. Especially if it’s in highly contentious, individualistic field. Think about it – let’s say we create global identities and Joe the user posts in a motorcycle forum (since I ride a bike and used to be a moderator in a huge biker’s forum I have some knowledge about that and thus use this as an example) – he loves his bike (as you would) and is certain that every other bike on this earth is a piece of c*ap. Let’s say he is 18 years old and perhaps brasher than neccessary. He makes his opinion widely known and most of other forum users tag him as stupid and unreliable (for they also love their brand of bikes). I mean, he is opinionated, but he’s young. His credibility is more or less shot to h*ll. Why should his individual opinion of superiority of his bike impact credibility of his thoughts on global warming or pancake recipes? So there are two dimensions to his identity – chronological – his opinion might change, and social – his identity is different according to context. You shouldn’t judge globally.

c) Social identity theory would tell you that people will try to conform in a group in order to be accepted. What you get from this, if they are identifiable is a homogenous group, which you might not really want – if the general opinion in a certain forum is that for instance Thinkpads are the best thing since sliced bread and lenovo can’t do wrong you would get people who agreed because they wanted to belong not because they genuinely thought so. This would not translate into sales – if everybody agrees that something I perceive as wrong is actually perfectly right, you tend to leave if there are no consequences. Which means that people who stayed in that fictitious forums would all agree on greatness of something but people who left would not buy it. And not neccessarily people who spoke in superlatives would actually buy the product. this ties in to another difficulty –

d) The unpopular opinions would not be heard. If an opinion is unpopular that doesn’t neccesarily mean it’s wrong. There are again several aspects of this – There are relatively few opinons that are perceived the same everywhere. Let me be a little provocative now – Iran goverment has repeatedly stated that the Holocaust has not happened. Appearing in an Iranian forum and talking about the consequences of Holocaust might not be (excuse the pun) kosher. This might lead to a sharp decline in global rating. Conversely going to an Israeli forum and comapring murders in Gaza with the holocaust would not boost your ratings.

e) If somebody for any reason lost credibility (for instance if his identity was hijacked. It doesn’t have to be his fault) that would be it – How can you prove that you were a victim in a situation where nobody believes you anymore? This problem already became apparent on Usenet years ago, where people added others to their kill-list if they trolled too much, but if then became apparent that the poster’s identity was hijacked, everybody already ignored their posts.

f) A chance of abuse is far greater when the data is centralised.

I would love to go into more detail (there’s much more) but don’t want to lecture an empty room, so to speak :).

I realise I posted late and suppose I just wasted a lot of time on a topic which nobody reads any more.

I apologise for any grammatical errors in my post. English is not my first language and I didn’t run this through a spellchecker.

RMH, David (and it is my real name, see, no need for global overseers 🙂 )