Whom to believe?

My mother has a wealth of sayings that are trotted out when the occasion demands. I’ve started to take note of them, as some are classics. She doesn’t for a minute lay claim to them as products of her own invention, more that they’re the kernels of wisdom on which she was reared.

One of my all-time favourites is that paper will take any print.

I’ve rattled on before about how difficult I find it to believe what’s happening these days. For every account of X doing Y, there’s another of X doing everything but. It would seem to me that the media has become the stage on which most of life is played with.

wsj-papersThere was an instance last week of the WSJ purportedly publishing two different headlines in two different regions saying two different things and thereby manipulating the American voting public. Now, it turns out that it did print two issues – but for the same region – just at different times. Like many others, I was quick to repost and decry the shame of it all… I stand corrected.

Colleen Schwartz, the Vice President of Communications at The Wall Street Journal, confirmed that these editions were printed at different times, not in different markets. The edition on the left was published after Trump met with Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto early in the day (and referenced the seemingly cooperative tone of their discussion), and the edition on the right was published after Trump delivered a speech on immigration later in the day (and referenced Trump’s reasserting his stance that he would force Mexico to pay for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border).

Someone else posted a story from the Irish Independent with the headlines:

Irish Euromillions winner bans children’s football club from playing on pitch on her land

How could she? Honestly! How mean. But then in the comments, another link appeared, this time to an earlier article in the Belfast Telegraph:

Strabane’s unemployed £27m Lottery winner is giving away £26m ‘for the good of the town’

Whom to believe? What to believe? Is she the good witch or the bad witch? The comments under the Facebook post had people from the town calling her all sorts of names and saying that they’d never seen a penny in improvements. And others saying how great she is. What gives, eh?

You might wonder why I’m so lathered up about this. Well, the same week on Facebook, there was a video clip doing the rounds from a BBC interview with Bertrand Russell (the mathematician/philosopher) back in 1959, about lessons he’d like to pass on to future generations. He said he had two: intellectual, one moral (we’ll come back to the moral one later).

The intellectual thing I should want to say is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

That was 1959. I wonder what the man would say today? Would he be disgusted at us for losing sight of the facts? Of ignoring them completely? Or would he have some sympathy for us as we try to wade through the deluge of information we can access in a vain attempt to establish what they actually are?

I tell you, it’s doing my head in.



The right to bitch

The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed, in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a wide-spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible. I wish I could claim that as my own but English philosopher Bertrand Russell beat me to it. And he makes a good point.

When I’m looking for excuses not to do what I should be doing, I like to scan expat blogs, check out the many expat forums, and read through the myriad Facebook comments, in an effort to see what the expat world thinks of living in Hungary. While many comments are at best rather inane, others border on outrageous.

This week, for instance, an advertisement seeking a native-English-speaker to work in an office here in Budapest got this response to a follow-up question as to why native English was a requirement, given the number of Hungarians who speak better English than a lot of native-English speakers:

“As someone who’s employed a hell of a lot of expats and ‘Hungarians with excellent English’ – let me share a common consensus when it comes to employing Hungarians in the future…. NEVER AGAIN. English is invariably sub par, general attitude problems are rife (how to motivate someone who struggles to smile??), pay expectations beyond reason (often due to a degree in something pointless) and to top it all off a real ‘no can do’ attitude.”

Thankfully, subsequent comments to this one showed that this is far from the common consensus the author claims.

voteI’ve long since held that if you don’t vote, then you shouldn’t complain about those in office. If you don’t get involved, you should keep your opinion to yourself. If you don’t engage with the community, then you should put up and shut up. But as the election approaches next week, I’m all too conscious of the fact that I don’t have a vote and yet whatever is decided at the polls is likely to affect how I live my life. It’s a scary thought.

But when it comes to my earned right to complain as a tax-paying, law-abiding, active member of the community, I’m left wondering where I draw the line.

Is it okay for me, say, to complain about the arbitrary nature of Magyar Posta’s ticketed queuing system, which by virtue of the fact that it’s automated should mean that everyone is seen in turn but rarely is? Or the fact that the ticket for a concert I attended as part of the Spring Festival on Tuesday night cost me €13.00 online and yet the printed ticket I received said 3000 ft (which is no more than €10.00)? Or the fact that as the hot weather approaches, alleyways and side streets are starting to smell like public urinals?

I say yes – I can complain. I live here. I pay taxes. I engage. That gives me the right to express my opinion. I’m not claiming it’s a common consensus. I’m not saying that I represent a majority. I’m not speaking on behalf of anyone but myself.

But if I were an expat living in Budapest who thought that the English spoken here was ‘sub par’ (vs Hungarian-language fluency level of foreigners living here???), who thought that pay expectations were beyond reason (sure, as a qualified teacher in Hungary, is it ridiculous to expect to take home more than €300 a month???) and that the country (which is buzzing with entrepreneurial talent) had ‘no can do’ attitude, then I’d do the sensible thing: move on or go home.

First published in the Budapest Times 4 April 2014