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[27.05.2010] Media as instruments for brainwashing? An example

The following is a translation by Eulenspargel of the contribution "Meinungsmache ist bei weitem wichtiger für politische Entscheidungen als Sacherwägungen" from NachDenkSeiten:

Opinionation is by far more important for political decision-making than factual considerations
Responsible: Albrecht Müller

This conclusion is confirmed daily anew. The dissemination of opinionating material exceeds that of rational or factual argumentation by at least an order of magnitude:
a cut in spending is the right therapy for countries in Europe, a consolidation of the state households is a boon for the economy, we are in the middle of a debt crisis, gaining the confidence of the financial markets is essential, the narrowing of political freedom of action through the existence of an upper threshold for state debts is laudable, inflation is looming, etc.
Incessantly, this stuff is being hammered into the heads of the people on the street.

Today, 27 May 2010 06:21, SpiegelOnline once again presented a prime example for this type of agitation:
„Europa auf Sparkurs – Ökonomen beschwören die Euro-Auferstehung“
["Europe on course in spending discipline – economists hail the resurrection of the Euro"]

The introduction reads:
    "Europe has tightened its belt: Reacting to the debt disaster, most governments have prescribed tough cuts in spending. Experts rejoiced. They see the Euro gaining ground - and warn of a new crisis in the USA."

The text is entirely devoid of economic sense. There is no hint of any kind that the applauded pan-european cuts in spending could lead to a devastating deflation. The authors orientate themselves on standard clichés and prejudices. And, as always, they invoke "the experts". These turn out to be economists employed in banks, and the chief economist of a German industrial institute. And the undisputed star in economist circles, Berlusconi, is multipally woven into the story. "The state must cost less, that's the core message.", so Berlusconi. That means the state continues along the route to impoverishment. This time thanks to Berlusconi, as the last sentence of the article tells us.
Just yesterday SpiegelOnline reported on the result of this propaganda permeation in an article on a survey carried out by the Society for Consumer Research (GfK, aka 'the society for special jobs'):
    "Euro-Krise – Deutsche fürchten gigantische Staatsverschuldung  
 [Euro crisis - Germans fear gigantic state debt]
Germans are worried about the stability of the Euro. According to a new poll, a growing number of people fear that the politicians will not be able to master the state debt. The fear of inflation has increased markedly, and the interest in private spending has dropped."

Such "findings" are unfathomable. In view of these two examples of perfect agitation and objective emptiness, once again I can only recommend approaching readers of Spiegel and SpiegelOnline to open their eyes to the lack of credibility of this medium once and for all. Spiegel readers should gradually realize that the paper they are reading has little more than boulevard standard.

[16.05.2010] After the election in the UK

- Labour now sits on the reserve bench after 13 years in office.
- For the first time in its history, Britain has a COALITION government, consisting of Conservatives ("Tories", the larger partner) and Liberals. Interestingly the Liberal Democrats were accorded no ministerial position.
- At kick-off, the budget deficit amounts to 12% of GDP, i.e. Greek level, but not in Euro.
- The coalition agreement stipulates that ratification of any change in EU treaties will require a referendum. That will be a further spanner in the works of European integration.

Where other countries tended to be just cool, the UK has generally been sub-zero when it came to sacrificing national sovereignties for the sake of a European supra-national construction (at first EC, then EU). The Empire is still vivid in the minds. And the special relationship with the USA elevates some to higher levels, not only Tony Blair. The Conservatives are outward representatives of the "cold shoulder" towards Europe, that island off the coast of England. But the old boys' net in the background keeps tradition alive. As the expatriate organizations do in Germany.
So the European Europeans have conceded the UK a number of exceptions to the rules. E.g. the UK has not adopted the Schengen treaty on external border control, has not adopted the Euro, etc*. A number of other EU members also squeezed out concessions for themselves, but the UK is special, also in relation to its size (on a European scale).
*) It was not so much taking up the Euro, but losing the Pound. See also the EU Treaty of Lisbon: Protocols (No 15, 19, 20, 21, 30), and Article 10 of TITLE VII (concerns adoption of interim regulations after their time is up).

In view of this, it is a bit odd that, in a blitz action on the eve of the coming-into-force of the EU Treaty of Lisbon on 01.12.2008, out of 27 possibilities a representative of the UK was chosen for the newly created position of "EU External Representative".


Many and more ...

[05.05.2010] After 3rd degree questioning by mumsnet, Gordon Brown confesses

The (still) Britisch Prime Minister Gordon Brown perished under a live Web chat with It was merciless. And all because of a chocolate biscuit. No less than 12 times he was asked by the mothers what his favourite biscuit was. But each time Brown evaded the question. "Maybe he has to ask his advisors which kind of biscuit would bring him the most votes" scoffed one of the chat participants.

24 hours later Gordon Brown finally committed himself: chocolate biscuits. The British press mocked "typically Brown - undecisive as always".

But Brown's rival for the office of Prime Minister, the conservative David Cameron didn't fare all that much better with mumsnet.


[1a] BBC "Brown takes break in biscuit quiz", 17.10.2009
[1] ARD Tagesschau "Onlinenetzwerk Mumsnet im britischen Wahlkampf: Bei den Mamas in der Mangel", 05.05.2010 [german]

[2] mumsnet Homepage

[3] Channel 4 "Mumsnet: the political battleground?", 18.11.2009

[23.04.2010] Ash over Europe

The days were sunny. And no white condensation trails criscrossed the blue of the sky ...

The distribution of ash in the atmosphere, coming from the Iceland volcano Eyjafjallajökull, resulted in the closure of almost all airports across northern Europe for amost a week: 15-20.04.2010.
Volcanic ash is known to pose a (safety) threat to air traffic because it can damage jet engines. But because of its rare occurrence along air traffic lanes, little is known about the level of concentration beyond which the damage becomes significant. The decision to close the airspace was therefore a safety-first matter in the absence of knowledge: as long as ash is measurable, take no chances.
The alternative? To do nothing until a plane was noticeably damaged. This involves risking an induced crash.

The closure had massive effects on passengers, airports, airlines, travel agencies and branches of the economy depending on the timely delivery of goods by air. Therefore, business, in the main the airlines, criticized the closure sharply, especially in Germany and the UK, arguing that
1) there is insufficient evidence of damage at the ash levels observed, and
2) the measure is disproportionate, considering 1).

On the request by the Civil Aviation Authority, in the UK, experts from Air manufacturers discussed available evidence and came up with a tolerable level of ash concentration. The resulting value was one order of magnitude higher than the estimates of actual ash densities over the country. However, the concentration varied a good deal, as shown by a measurement flight over Germany and the Netherlands. [4]

One day before the airspace over Germany was reopened, controlled visual flights (CVFR) were permitted. This amounted to the passing of responsibility from the air control authorities to the pilots and airlines. The restrictions included staying away from clouds, among other rules. This was generally seen as a capitulation of the transport ministry before the pressure from the airlines.
A day after the resumption of normal air traffic, business and industry estimated that the losses incurred will not have a significant effect on the Gross Domestic Product.

The same kind of tension that is evident in the car recall action [Weblog entry 30.01.2010] between social considerations (e.g. safety) and economics or business, is also apparent here. On the managerial playground it is a tradeoff.

[update 06.05.2010] Source [6]

EU agrees on ash thresholds

The EU transport Ministers agreed on the following:

1. Unified ash concentration thresholds according to a 3 Zone model:
  Zone 1: below 0.2 mg/cubic meter, no flight restrictions.
  Zone 2: in the range 0.2 - 2 mg/cubic meter, special security measures apply. E.g. higher maintenance intervals.
  Zone 3: above 2 mg/cubic meter, a total flight ban within a 110 km radius around the Zone.

2. The development of a unified measurement method by 24.06.2010 consisting of ground and air measurements. The data is to be sent in realtime to the volcanic ash centre (VAAC) in London.

3. In September 2010 the EU will try to convince the international air-traffic organization ICAO to accept the concentration thresholds as binding globally.

Interestingly, a renewed activity of the volcano prevented take-offs from Ireland, which prevented the Irish transport minister from taking part in the talks. This gave the participants an increased motivation to produce results.

[update 06.05.2010] Source [7]

Airlines consider legal action

Airlines such as Lufthansa and BA have continued to criticize the flight bans due to the volcano ash.

Also on behalf of several other airlines, Easyjet is preparing legal action against air traffic control authorities in an attempt to obtain compensation for incurred losses. Lufthansa has announced its intention to undertake similar steps. "... there is no reason why the airlines alone had to carry the consequences [of the natural disaster], especially if afterwards the flight ban would be determined to have been unnecessary", so the Easyjet CEO.

[update 06.05.2010] Sources [2a, 8]

Technical initiative by Easyjet

Easyjet has taken up a technical initiative aimed at reducing the need for wide-area flight bans:
- an on-board infrared 'radar' device provides an ash density plot for the pilot and the ground control up to 100 km in front of a plane, covering a vertical window of 1.5 - 15 km, and
- the plot would be used as basis for flying around the highest concentration, and data obtained from several planes could be correlated to provide a map over a larger area.

For the long-term, [some] aviation experts see the development of sufficiently robust engines as the solution.

Firstly, the device has to be shown to work reliably. Secondly, dodging manoeuvres of individual aircraft will be an additional strain for air traffic control, especially for the dense European traffic. It would only be possible within certain limits.


[1] Spiegel "Eruption in Iceland: volcano ash stops air traffic in the UK", 15.04.2010 [german]

[2] Bild "Examples of flights through volcano ash from the past", 17.04.2010 [german]

[2a] BBC "Could aircraft dodge the volcanic ash cloud?", 20.04.2010

[3] BBC "Flights resume as ash fear recedes", 21.04.2010

[4] DLR "Report of the measurement flight over Germany and the Netherlands", 19.04.2010 [pdf file in english]

[5] BBC "Recriminations grow over airline costs", 21.04.2010

[6] NTV "Lessons learnt from the air-traffic chaos: EU agrees on ash thresholds", 04.05.2010 [german]

[7] Wiwo "Volcano ash: Easyjet is preparing collective legal action against air transport control authorities", 29.05.2010 [german]

[8] BBC "Easyjet to trial volcanic ash detection system", 04.06.2010

[23.04.2010] Apple's iPad: A locked-in syndrome

Media content such as online news (papers), films, animations, ebooks, social networks, discussion fora, are all more or less dependent on specific applications (software) for their presentation or display on PCs and other computer devices. Such applications are either installed on the computer from the beginning, or are downloaded later on the initiative of the computer user.

The iPad, the new device from Apple, has a specialty
The iPad differs from universal PCs, Notebooks, Tablet PCs in that the software able to run on the device is 100% under the control of the manufacturer, Apple. The only software that runs on the iPad is Apple's own swoftware, and software downloaded by the iPad user from Apple's socalled App Store. Software in the App Store was developed by 3rd party developers for which Apple has decided to allow it to be run on the iPad. Apple can revoke its decision to allow any particular piece of 3rd party software to be run on the iPad at any time.

The following paragraph from the iPad wiki [1] describes the situation succinctly:

"Digital rights advocates, [...], have criticized the iPad for its digital rights restrictions, which forbids users from installing software unless it has been approved by Apple. At issue are restrictions imposed by the iPad's design, namely DRM intended to lock purchased media to Apple's platform, the development model requiring a non-disclosure agreement and paid subscription to develop for the iPad, and the centralized approval process for apps as well as Apple's general control and lockdown of the platform itself, and that such centralized control could stifle software innovation. Of particular concern is the ability for Apple (or any other authority that can persuade Apple) to remotely disable or delete apps, media, or data on the iPad at will."

The non-disclosure agreement mentioned above prevents a software developer from -legally-publicising the fact that Apple has not permitted his software to be included in the App Store collection.

The iPad is not a general-purpose PC. And by exercising control over the software on all iPads, Apple also exercises control over the information that can be downloaded and implicitly over the source of that information. Some cases of censorship are cited in [2] .

The iPad (actually following the iPhone) is the first of such restricted media distribution devices on the market. Others, from other manufacturers, are under way. The cardinal point is, that most buyers and users are not aware of the restrictions, or have a "don't care" attitude on such issues.


[1] wiki "iPad"

[2] wiki "App Store"

[3] FAZ "End stop App Store: The iPad is only a remote control device", 03.02.2010 [german]


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