Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Politics – Part 3: The Greens

Inferno
Inferno
Sun Jul 07, 2013 1:38 pm by Inferno

As promised in my last post, I now want to focus on the Greens.

As with the centre right party, their program is over 70 pages long, so I won’t read through it all. I want to make you aware of something though: The extreme right-wing party has a program 17 pages in length, the left wing party (SPÖ) has one 31 pages long, the centre right 68 pages and the Greens is 88 pages long. Now obviously the quantity of the program says nothing about the quality, but a lack of quantity… hm, maybe.

I’ve also decided to drop the extreme-left parties, instead I’ll talk about recent trends in politics, new parties and some tools. After that, as I’ve already explained, I want to start a big discussion about “the ideal party”.

Anyway, the Greens…
In general, the Greens parties will be moderately to extremely left-leaning and have “the environment” as their main agenda. Sometimes they’ll have some social issues on their agenda (LGBT-rights, women’s rights, etc.) and sometimes some lefty political/anti-state issues, but in general they’re a very specialized party and won’t attract a wide range of clientèle. As a result, it’s seldom you’ll see them top the 10% margin. Indeed, most green-parties have managed only a single 10%+ result.

In Austria specifically, there was one excellent Greens-chairman, Alexander Van der Bellen. This is irrelevant, but there’s a nice little story to it. In 2008, his party lost votes for the first time, going from 11.05% to 10.43%. Then from one day to the next, he suddenly said “duck it all” and left. The party has been in disarray since, but interestingly they’ll probably get a huge boost in 2013.

Now that in itself is rather interesting, I think. In the last ten years (you always vote every five years in Austria) the leading parties (ÖVP/SPÖ) have fucked up so badly, that Austrians sought an alternative. At first, in 2008, that alternative was the BZÖ/FPÖ, the two extreme right wing parties. (Gain 13% total, 6.5% each) Now, in 2013, there is one new party, Team Stronach (TS), and the Greens, who are the winners. TS won on average 8%, in some cases even 10%, while the Greens nearly doubled their votes in some states, but definitely grew quite drastically.

The reason for TS’s and the Greens’ gain can be attributed to them not being involved in the scandals, the huge loss of BZÖ/FPÖ to… well, nothing new, I guess. Who wants to hear “immigrants are shit” every day of the week?

Now in Austria, you get to vote for your state (we have 9 states) and then again country-wide. There were four state-votes this year:

Salzburg was a tremendous win for the greens, going from 12% to 20%. That’s the largest they’ve ever been in a state. ÖVP/SPÖ lost a huge deal 7.5%/15% respectively and both TS (8%) and FPÖ (4%) made gains.

In Carinthia,  the FPK (the FPÖ of Carinthia) went from being the strongest party (44.89%) to being the second strongest (16.85%), a whopping loss of 28.04%. The SPÖ picked up (+8% to 37%) and the Greens more than doubled. (+7% to 12%)

In both Tyrol and lower Austria, the votes remained largely the same, all parties except the Greens (+1-2%) lost a bit and TS achieved 9.5% quite consistently.

This changes the political landscape quite a bit! The Greens will achieve anything between 16% and 20% in the upcoming elections (huge boost, a potential double), the SPÖ will lose very slightly (1-2% to 27%), the ÖVP will remain roughly the same (25%) and TS will achieve about 8-10%. The huge uncertainty-factor will be the FPÖ. Having lost so much in Carinthia (~100.000 votes) and gained very little in the other states (~10.000 votes), they’re still predicted to make a net gain for the nation-wide votes (total of 17-19%). That’s because the votes are generally quite different, people lean more to the left in state elections but are very right-wing in nation-wide elections.

In any case, the Greens… Seriously now…

When reading the party’s program, I noticed that it is… wishy-washy. I’m not saying that their program is bad, I hope I’ve been fair enough to be rather neutral. (Mostly because I think all party-programs up until now were shit, but that’s a different story.) The problem is that the language is so passive, so neutral… For example:

A solid community of free people in an intact environment – that is our vision. This vision doesn’t describe an end-point, but rather an open future, which we want to form with our values, principals and our politics.

Now call me a cynic, but when I read that the first time I imagined hippies dancing to oriental music, throwing flowers through the air. The rest of the program goes on in the same tone. Anyway, I’ll try to pick out their main points and explain their ideology that way.

As stated in the opening paragraphs, the Greens have a moderate to strong “left” tendency. This is reflected in their roots:

Die historischen Wurzeln der Grünen liegen in den neuen sozialen Bewegungen: der StudentInnenbewegung, der Frauen-, Umwelt- und Friedensbewegung, in Bürgerrechtsbewegungen und BürgerInneninitiativen, den kritischen ChristInnen, WissenschafterInnen und GewerkschafterInnen, der entwicklungspolitischen Solidaritätsbewegung und den Bewegungen alter und neuer, sozialer oder kultureller “Minderheiten”.

In short: The Austrian Greens developed out of feminist, peace- and environment-movements as well as citizens’ actions committees and other grass-root organisations.

This multi-faceted history is reflected today: They are in favour of multi-cultural societies, a multi-national approach to problem-solving and, as already stated, an ecologically stable society.
However/additionally, they are also clearly opposed to labelling, as that would only add to existing divisions.

As also explained, they are more socialist than conservative, which shows in the following:

Alle Versuche, Solidarität auf einen engen Kreis von NutznießerInnen zu beschränken, haben in Sackgassen geführt.

Every attempt to limit the gains of society (or to limit solidarity) to one group of beneficiaries has always resulted in a dead end.

This is a clearly socialist approach to society and economics. Interestingly, the Greens in Austria tend to form coalitions with conservative parties about as often as with socialist parties. This may be due to the above discussed problem the Greens have: They’re usually very small. (In the US, they have yet to gain more than 2.74%!)

The next bit might surprise you a bit:

Grüne Politik folgt Utopien.

Green politics follows (is) Utopia.

I have purposefully included the (is), you will hopefully forgive me for inserting judgement here. Green politics IS Utopia. One of the main criticisms levelled against the Green parties I know of is that they’re out of touch with reality. Their ideas are sometimes excellent, but they’ll not be able to deliver what they want, simply because there are political limits.

The do claim to be realistic about their goals, but that’s not true at all.

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The focusing illusion

Aught3
Aught3
Sat Apr 20, 2013 8:21 pm by Aught3

If you asked a large group of students the following questions: (1) “How happy are you with your life in general?” and (2) “How many dates did you have last month?” What do you think the correlation would be? In other words, what impact does the number of dates a student experiences on their happiness? When the study is done, the correlation is statistically insignificant (-0.012) indicating that dates have no impact on a happy student life. Now consider the following two questions: (1) “How many dates did you have last month?” and (2) “How happy are you with your life in general?” Now how will the number of dates correlate with life happiness? Quite well (0.66). This reversal in correlation upon reversing the question order is called the focusing illusion.

In the first set of questions the students had to consider their life in general first. All aspects, positive and negative, had to be added up and averaged out. Dating made up only a tiny fraction of their lifetime experiences and was judged unimportant by the students. In the second set of questions their focus was first drawn to the aspect of their lives devoted to dating, trying to recall the dates they went on over the last month. When asked how happy they were in general, dating was occupying a large amount of their cognitive attention and was a big component of their overall happiness judgment. Similar effects have been observed when asking about marriage, health, income, and location of residence.

If you are entering into a negotiation with someone the focusing illusion can be used to your advantage. By being the first to make your position known, you anchor the likely outcome nearer to your target. In a salary negotiation, for example, when you have in mind a specific amount for a raise – making sure that number comes out early will constrain the range over which the negotiation can roam. Another use, when selling a house, is to set the price as a non-round number. This tactic will limit the negotiation to the lower units making it more likely you will get the price you want. Setting your price at $799,800 will encourage a smaller range of buy offers than setting the price at $800,000. This is because buyers will focus at the $100 unit rather than the $100,000 unit when making counter offers. Priming the people you are dealing with the answer you want makes it more likely you will be pleased with the outcome.

However, there is a darker side to this cognitive bias. Advertisers make use of the focusing illusion and cause us to overestimate the positive impact their products will have on our lives. They show us people making creative use of their items and invite us to image how we would use them ourselves. By focusing our attention on the product we come to believe that it will markedly improve our relationships, happiness, or efficiency when it reality most products will only have a very small impact on our lives. Politicians also love to use the focusing illusion to narrow the window of debate. Rather than conduct a full discussion of the issue and the merits of various alternative solutions, politicians like to forcefully state their solution and then claim there is no other option. The political debate is shifted to the relative merits of the proposed solution only and any alternatives put forward are ridiculed as too radical and unlikely to have the perceived impact that the proposed policy will.

Avoiding the focusing illusion seems to be impossible. In the same way it is impossible not to think of an elephant, once the influencing factor has entered our consciousness it will immediately colour our future perceptions and decisions. If time allows, try to make the decision at a later date when the focusing factor has receded in importance. Another tactic is to shift your focus to concentrate on what isn’t there. If you think about the information that has been left out you may give your conscious mind a more accurate conception of the problem at hand. If an advertiser or politician claims a particular benefit for a product or policy try to think of the things they are not claiming. If their policy will create more jobs why are they not talking about its impact on government revenue? If an advertiser is touting their product is high in vitamins, ask yourself what they might be leaving out about its sugar content. Training in formal argumentation helps but remember that nothing can break the focusing illusion once it is in place. Be on your guard.

The politics of misinformation

Inferno
Inferno
Sat Feb 09, 2013 3:31 pm by Inferno

Having just written my 1337th post on the LoR forum, I thought I’d write up my first blog post.

A very short background on me: I studied “History and Political science” as well as “Geography and Economics” for 2.5 years at the University of Vienna, without obtaining a degree. I am now almost finished with my “Geography and Economics” and “English as a foreign language” degree, BSc.

So much for that. Now with the U.S. elections just behind us and many upcoming European elections, I wanted to look at one question that’s always baffled me: Why is there so much misinformation in trivial politics? Is there a huge conspiracy, do politicians want to keep us dumb? And why do politicians implement so many bad and unnecessary laws? Why don’t they listen to good advice?

I’ll start with an example from the U.S., as seen in PZ Myers talk “A despairing perspective on American education“. At 14:29 in that video, he talks about the I35W Mississippi River bridge in Minneapolis collapsing in 2007. The bridge was constantly classified as “structurally deficient”, but apart from a plan to retrofit the bridge, nothing was done. In 2007, it collapsed and a new bridge was built in 2008. This could have been avoided if the bridge had been replaced 17 years prior to the incident, in the year of my birth, 1990.

There’s one obvious question: Why didn’t politicians react to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDoT)? In the end, the replacement bridge cost them 234$ million, plus the cost from people not being able to commute (400,000$-1$ million per day), plus the rescue operations and finally the lawsuits. Bad decisions, based on sufficient information, cost the state at least twice as much as a completely new bridge would have cost.

Now I can’t give an answer as to why the politicians in charge did nothing, but this is, after all, just an example to highlight my point: Politicians make bad decisions even though there is enough data to come to the (obviously?) correct conclusion.
Closer to home, politicians have just tried to revamp the education system in Austria. The idea was a good one: Competency-based learning. It’s basically learning how to think instead of learning only facts. With that came a centralized baccalaureate, similar to the SAT’s in the U.S. That’s not a bad idea, because people want (and sometimes need) to be compared more or less objectively. (I’ll go into that in a later blog post.) That sounds excellent!

So why am I ranting? Well, obviously something didn’t go as planned. Do you want to venture a guess as to what went wrong? Yep, that’s right! Politicians (centre left party) made the wrong call, even though the answer should have been obvious. The whole scheme was set in motion in 2004, but back in 2008, when I was still at the other Uni, my Geography Professor always had one day where she would go to schools all around the country and teach teachers about… competency-based learning. Basically, the teachers didn’t even know what or how they were supposed to be teaching! That’s a shocker, to say the least. How can you expect a school child, even an 18-year-old, to pass a standardized test when they’ve been taught something completely different during their years at school?

I’ll offer a possible solution for this example, and then move back to the U.S. Being the centre left party, the SPÖ (Social Democratic Party of Austria) is in favour of giving the same education to all children, if possible for free. However, their political goals, admirable as they might be, conflicted with reality and with science. (One of their aims was a comprehensive school, which is no better than elite schools. That’s what people though, for various reasons, but it’s not true.) Anyway…

Now let’s get back to the U.S. There are similar problems in education, with not enough money being spent on Schools and so on. There are many avenues I could explore, but I’ll take the most obvious one: Why do Republicans push educational laws that are demonstrably stupid and impeding the education of the next generation?

We already know that women mostly voted for Obama (55% to 45%), that young people mostly voted for Obama (60% to 36%), that higher-income people tend to vote for Romney and so on. We also know that of the top 10 states in education (percentage with a degree), 10/10 voted for Obama. Of the ten worst educated states, nine voted for Romney. Now I dare you to tell me that’s a coincidence.

Top 10 best vs Top 10 worst educated states, and how they voted

This goes back to what PZ said in his talk: Republicans tend to favour bad education policies because they would be voted out of office if not for the uneducated.

Avid readers might now howl in protest and say something like: “That’s a generalization! I’m educated/uneducated and I voted for Romney/Obama!”

Yes, of course. I have to make some generalizations, otherwise this post isn’t going anywhere. To analyse this phenomenon in depth and to do it proper justice, I’d have to write at least a book about it. I’m still confident that the overall message would remain the same. The next few paragraphs contain generalizations so sweeping that even I cringe, but like I said… text length and time and all…

So the (very short) answer to the questions I posed is this: Extremist (both left and right wing) parties as well as moderately right wing/conservative parties tend to have bad education policies because their ideas are not compatible with reality, their voters would stop voting for them if they were educated.

Now some might think of me as a left-wing hippy, so let me take the wind out of your sails right away: Left wing parties have an equally bad reason to favour bad politics. In my Austrian example, bad policies were implemented because of ideological reasons, even though they were contrary to what science said and even though they could not be implemented in the time span allotted. I think that’s true for most parties: Decisions are made to get re-elected, which includes staying true to your ideology, however wrong it may be.

Even more avid readers than the above might now raise their hands and say: “But that doesn’t answer your question at all. Why don’t they simply drop their idiotic policies in exchange for some good ones? Why don’t people change their votes after a party has done them a disservice?”

And this, dear reader, is where my (partially rational) mind can’t quite follow any more. Why don’t they? It should be so simple. Is it possible that it’s got something to do with what I alluded in the topic “How to debate/argue – tips and tricks” as well as what is stated outright in the “Psychology of Belief” series, namely that people are so set in their ways that we can’t change them? At least, we can’t change them without a lot of effort involved.

There’s a positive and a negative message to all this.
The negative: If we don’t turn this around, our grandchildren might end up in a world run down by the likes of our current-day Republicans.
The positive: Change is on the way. The number of Skeptics (people who need evidence to be swayed, who possibly even think scientifically), not pseudo-skeptics like the Euro-Skeptic movement, is growing. Maybe if the next few Presidents all over the world could be Skeptics… Ah, I can dream, can’t I?

So what’s the conclusion to this post? Be skeptical, in all areas of life. Be it politics, science, medicine, the supernatural… Skepticism is a good thing and there’s too little of it in the world today. I’ll end with a quote and something to think about:

“Trying to figure out how something works on that deep level, the first ninety-nine explanations you come up with are wrong. The hundredth is right. So you have to learn how to admit you’re wrong, over and over and over again. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s so hard that most people can’t do science. Always questioning yourself, always taking another look at things you’ve always taken for granted, […] and every time you change your mind, you change yourself.” –Sauce

My guess is, that’s why politicians don’t change their views: Because they’d have to admit that they’re wrong. And that’s one thing they can’t admit, under pain of expulsion. If a politician ever admits (s)he’s wrong, they’ll soon be kicked from the party. So the next time you vote, look out for two things:
1) If a politician says that they know the answer, vote for the other party.
2) If a politician can admit they’re wrong, vote for that one.

Or don’t, that’s up to you.

The Good and The Hatred

Dean
Dean
Thu Dec 15, 2011 11:02 pm by Dean

Just recently I discovered various videos of Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett on YouTube (surrounding the AAI). They echoed opinions that are similar to mine and are quite harsh in their views on religion. I rediscovered this stance for me just recently again after a long time on hiatus. Now my experience is this: arguments on the ‘crimes’ of religions and their negative views are often met with justifications and relativizations; It is suggested that a position as mine is driven by hatred and intolerance.

There is the old question: How much tolerance for the enemies of tolerance?

Also recently, I found a documentary on the German church-critic Karlheinz Deschner (unfortunately not in English yet). It was titled: “the Hatefilled Eyes of Karlheinz Deschner’. The documentary is some kind of meta-discussion on his body of work which is, alas, not yet available in english, either. He basically wrote for 30 years, alone, on the “Criminal History of Christianity’ in 10 Volumes (!), currently writing the tenth and last one. Hopefull the whole is translated when he is done.

The title “the Hatefilled ‘¦’ is a quote of one of the Christian interviewees, who also appears in regular public TV sometimes. It reflects how some of the other Christian participants think. They are quite obsessed in trying to find a reason for Deschners engagement, trying to pull Ad Hominem Arguments against him. Deschner on the other hand is a rather gentle (very) old man, speaking softly and supports his work with tons of supportive evidence. He will probably not witness how his work is received and it may appear to him that it happens what the other side wants: that his book just collects dust (one of the christian interviewee says so).

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Free GE

Aught3
Aught3
Thu Sep 01, 2011 9:34 am by Aught3

Forgive the indulgence, I read a rather infuriating story in the newspaper and I felt like a rant.

A recent story in the Dominion Post (Commercial benefits lacking in GE trials) reveals the genetic engineering trials being carried out by Crown Research institutions have lead to very few commercial gains. Plant and Food and AgResearch have paid over half a million dollars in application fees to ERMA and only one of the trials has resulted in royalty generating IP. To those familiar with New Zealand’s restrictive requirements for GE research, this outcome is hardly a surprise.

Despite decades of safe use around the world, GE and GMOs remain contentious issues in New Zealand. The regulatory environment alone makes it difficult to carry out even basic research, let alone the commercial research which scientists are now being criticised for not producing. Anti-GE spokeswoman Claire Bleakley decries that the benefit of GE research being completed in New Zealand is lost to the overseas companies. But if private companies are the only ones paying for the research to be carried out then it makes sense they are the ones who reap the economic benefit. Basic funding for GE research is simply not available in New Zealand, the funding bodies know there is little chance any innovation made will be allowed to be used.

If New Zealand wants its scientific organisations to produce applied science using GE technology then it must:
1) relax the regulatory environment so that research time and money is not being consumed navigating expensive legislation
2) fund GE projects so the IP is not captured by overseas companies
3) open the New Zealand market to GMOs so that the benefits of this technology can be accrued here

There is very little risk and huge benefits to allowing GE research to be conducted more freely. The longer New Zealand clings to the anti-GE label, the more we miss out on the exciting commercial opportunities. Rather than be GE-free, let’s free GE!

Cross-posted from IndoctrinatingFreethought.blogspot.com

Taxation as investment

Aught3
Aught3
Sun Jun 12, 2011 4:27 am by Aught3

Okay let’s face it, nobody really likes paying taxes. Taxes mean goods and services cost more and we see less in our pocket at the end of the day. But rather than viewing taxes as a negative, we should view them as a positive investment in the current and future state of our country. While savings and investments can hurt us in the short term, over a longer period of time they bring us many positive and important benefits.

Let’s start with an easy one: excise taxes. These are taxes on specific goods usually with the aim of discouraging use. They help overcome the problem of market failure caused by negative externalities. One example is petrol. When a buyer and seller agree to a price for this good they are taking into account the personal cost and benefit of exchanging a certain volume of fuel for a certain price. What they are not taking into account is their negative impacts of the rest of society. Using more petrol means the buyer and seller are contributing to pollution, global warming, traffic congestion, and negative health effects like higher asthma rates. By leveling an excise tax, the government makes sure more transaction costs are paid for and not passed on to unwilling third parties, including future generations. Even better, the government can take this revenue stream and use it to help mitigate the effect of excise taxes of poor citizens and to start developing alternatives so the negative consequences of the market are eliminated entirely.

So what about property taxes? This will depend on your view of property rights. I find it rather difficult to believe in absolute property rights because I do not see how a legitimate ownership assertion can be made over a non-owned resource in the first place. If the original ownership claim is illegitimate then any sale or inheritance of that resource is insufficient to continue asserting absolute ownership. On the other hand, it would very be difficult to run a functional economy without the convenient fiction of property rights. These rights allow stability and development, taking them away completely would allow resources to change hands so many times that nothing could get done. But the cost of allowing these property rights has to be paid by the people who gain the advantages. Property taxes are the compensation owed to the wider community who are giving up their claim to your resources in order to allow you to benefit. These taxes can then be used to support others who missed out on the appropriation of resources or to develop public property such as roads and parks that benefit everyone who wishes to use them.

Finally, income taxes. Wealth is not earned in a vacuum; it is instead the result of a well developed and functioning society. Taxes pay for education, health services, transport networks, safety inspections, police, fire-fighters, and the justice system – all the things that keep a modern nation a vibrant place to do business. An income tax is a fundamental part of this system allowing the provision of all these services – it is the cost of earning a living in this type of society. If you are not paying for the services you use, then you are not doing your fair share. Income taxes are not imposed, but are agreed as part of taking on employment. They are part of your employment agreement and, as everyone knows a priori income will be taxed, there’s no excuse for calling it coercion. Further, income taxes can be made highly progressive helping to increase equality within a society. Benefits can even be given to those with low pay packets boosting their incomes. With higher wage equality comes higher levels of employment and a sustained demand for goods and services in what is called ‘wage-led growth’. This is the Scandinavian model of development and has proven itself to be one of the fairest ways to organise a growing economy while maintaining a healthy, happy population.

The results of a sensible tax investment can be seen in more efficient markets that take account of externalities, as compensation for allowing some unequal access to resources, and producing a vibrant and egalitarian economy with a happy population. I for one am happy to invest in this kind of future.

Religion and support for torture

Aught3
Aught3
Tue Jun 07, 2011 11:01 am by Aught3

An interesting paper in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin details the conflicting influences of religion on support for torture. The researchers tested several possible relationships between these two factors including the influence of other variables such as education level and political conservatism. I found the results fairly surprising, let me know what you think.

The data collected was from two surveys taken in 2004 and 2008 asking 983 and 1,893 people respectively. The first effect looked at was the direct relationship between religion and support for torure. The researchers found a negative correlation on this point. That is, a religious person was less likely – on average – to support torture. This was described as an organic influence, something about the precepts of religion and opposition to torture were simultaneously appealing to the survey respondents.

However, the authors had also expected a discursive influence of religion and torture because of the popular view that religion and conservative politics ‘go together’ in the US and conservative politics lead to support for torture. When they separated out the progressive and conservative respondents, the moderating impact of religion was overwhelmed and a strong positive relationship between religion and support for torture was observed. A discursive relationship is one that arises through common perception, such as an ideological framework. Compare this to an organic relationship caused by innate features which people may not be consciously aware of. To show the three part relationship between religiosity, conservatism, and torture the researchers looked at one final factor: education level.

The authors of this study reasoned that conservatives with higher education levels would hold more consistent political views. Those with less education would be more likely to follow the common, organic, threads even if they were inconsistent with their stated political position. The data were consistent with this hypothesis showing conservative religious people who were highly educated were even more likely to support torture. So there we are, being religious is negatively correlated with supporting torture but being educated and politically engaged is positively correlated with it, at least if you are a conservative.

 

Malka and Soto (2011) The Conflicting Influences of Religiosity on Attitude Toward Torture. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

tp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=The%20Conflicting%20Influences%20of%20Religiosity%20on%20Attitude%20Toward%20Torture

You can’t be good without sci-fi

Aught3
Aught3
Mon Jul 12, 2010 12:43 am by Aught3

Science fiction provides the perfect backdrop for exploration on the borders of morality because it creates alternate realities which are limited only by the depth of our imagination. Promising technologies can be created, controlled, and finally be seen to unexpectedly turn on their former masters. New planets can be discovered and explored for ancient civilisations or exploited for basic resources. Alien species can threaten our planet with annihilation or they can teach us what it means to be human. In the world of science fiction all these possibilities can occur; new worlds, galaxies, and alien species can be created and destroyed over and over in myriad combinations – then it can all be written again. The remoteness of these new galaxies and the unfamiliar forms of alien species allows for an ethical discussion of current events in a way that does not threaten the personal identity of those directly involved. Science fiction allows a lot of nonsense to be bypassed and lets the viewer to look directly into the heart of important subjects1.

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