Where does Go go? (1)

December 6, 2016

In mid 1980s IBM hired the team developing a chess computer program for Carnegie Mello University. Known as Deep Thought, the program won a game against Grandmaster Bent Larsen in 1988 but lost the match against the reigning champion Garry Kasparov in 1989 by two games to zero. Renamed Deep Thought it challenged Kasparov again in 1996 and this time lost 4-2. Then in 1997 in New York City Deep Blue became the first computer program to defeat the reigning human chess champion under tournament conditions by beating Garry Kasparov 3.5-2.5. The era of human dominance in chess was over.

Deep Blue was run on a dedicated mainframe with multiple processors operating in parallel. The code, while sophisticated by 1990s standards, derived much of its strength from being able to search and analyse the game many moves ahead. Human brain has limitations in this area but conventional wisdom was that top players more than make up for it by being able to think strategically. In 1997 the sheer computing power of a super-computer running code compiled by a team of experts overpowered the chess intuition of the best human player and, as they say, the rest is history. I remember speculations made post-1997 that there is another game which will not fall to the computer analysis that easily. Go.

Chess is played on a 8×8 board and has 20 possible opening moves. Go is played on a 19×19 board and the number of opening moves is 361. An average chess game is 40-50 moves long versus 200 moves in Go. This should give an idea how much more computationally intensive the game of Go is compared to chess. In fact the number of possible positions which may arise in Go is so huge it exceeds the number of atoms in the universe many, many times over. In that sense it is impossible to apply the brute force Deep Blue approach to Go – there simply is not enough computing power available in the World to search all the moves. Which is why Go players rely largely on intuition and feel when they play. Something computers cannot do – right? Read on to find out!

Where does Go go? (2)

 

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IR8

December 1, 2016

Every now and again we get to hear about people who, through their heroic deeds, managed to save other human beings from certain death. These compassionate acts of bravery typically happen during wars, terror attacks or natural disasters. But I recently became aware of someone who helped save 1 billion people and did it in the time of peace. To add another twist to the story his efforts were funded by the fortunes of two of the US greatest industrialists who had at the time been dead for a few decades. The name of this hero hardly anyone knows about is Norman Borlaug.

In 1960 International Rice Research Institute was established in the Philippines with the financial assistance of the two charitable trusts – Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation. The institute worked on developing new genetic varieties of rice capable of better yields. In 1961 they crossed the Chinese dwarf rice known as Dee-geo-woo-gen and tall, bushy Peta rice from Indonesia. This produced the semi-dwarf variety which became known as IR8. In field trials in optimal conditions IR8 delivered an astonishing yield of over 10t per hectare – the average rice yield in the Philippines at that time was about 1t per hectare.

Following the introduction of the IR8 rice variety the annual rice production in the Philippines rose from 3.7 to 7.7 million tons. Similar results were achieved in other countries. The person requested by the Indian government in 1961 to modernise its agriculture was Norman Borlaug, who already had an impressive track record of introducing high-yielding wheat varieties in Mexico (funded by Rockefeller Foundation). Due to the adoption of IR8 and improvement in agricultural practices the average rice yield per hectare in India rose from 2t in 1960s to 6t in 1990s which helped avert mass famine. The price reduced from $550 per ton to $200 per ton making rice more affordable to the poor. According to some estimates the Green Revolution spearheaded by Norman Borlaug saved up to 1 billion people from starvation.

Like all achievers, Norman Borlaug has his share of detractors. In particular the Greens hate intensive agriculture ushered in by the Green Revolution because it relies on industrial fertilisation and uses much more water than a 1-ton-per-hectare approach. These miserable, negative people would be happy to sacrify the lives of millions in the name of ecological purity. It seems that being despised by the Greens is almost a prerequisite for having a meaningful and productive life these days but I digress…

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Confession time

November 12, 2016

This post may lose da-boss a few followers from the conservative camp but I feel I have to come clean on one important issue in connection with the recent US presidential elections. Despite posting a number of comments on Trump which did not include the obligatory invectives like ‘bigot’, ‘racist’ and ‘dumb’ I actually did not like the guy much.

Apart from his willingness to talk about the issues no one else wanted to touch there was little in his message that impressed me. The throw-away lines about women put him in a bad light. Some of his comments about Muslims were unnecessarily polarising. His rhetoric was hyperbolic and many of the solutions he proposed outright populist. Watching the progressive journos squirm when presented with someone simply calling a spade a spade was priceless but the rest of the spectacle I found quite uninspiring.

At some point however  I started feeling admiration for Trump who singlehandedly took on the whole political establishment of the US. Facing pathetically biased coverage in the media, condemned to defeat by the pundits, dumped on by feminists, Marxists, LGBT crowd and activists of all sorts he just carried on. His persistence was so impressive he earned my genuine respect.

Then, towards the end of the campaign, he moderated his message somewhat proving that rather than a loose cannon he is actually a shrude PR operator. His post-election speech was magnanimous and everything he has done since quite presidential. He was very dignified during his meeting with Obama and even Melania had a cuppa with Michelle as pleasantries were exchanged. This bodes well for a smooth transition of power.

But the main issue with Trump was always going to be his advisers and this is where he impressed me most. Short on political experience, he is looking at hiring some grey heads with many decades at positions of influence between them. Being Washington outsiders they should not be hamstrung by the ideological straight-jacket of political correctness so we can expect some radical changes in the style of governance. After eight years of the Obama nightmare this is an encouraging prospect.

All-in-all I am feeling more positive about the future of the US than I have for a while. They have a president-elect who is visionary and decisive yet seems to understand his limitations when it comes to running the country and is willing to draw on the experience of others. In House and Congress Trump has the support he needs to make his vision into realty.

Good luck to Donald Trump and God bless America.

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Obama’s kiss of death

November 10, 2016

As the dust is settling after the US elections we are beginning to appreciate the circumstances which lead Donald Trump to his stunning victory. One such factor which went unnoticed by most commentators will now be brought to your attention by da-boss. It was the kiss of death delivered on Hillary’s cheek by Barack Obama.

To regular readers of the blog it will come as no surprise I am not an admirer of Mr Obama. In fact I think his political legacy is nothing short of disastrous. Here is the summary of his failings which are well documented by public record:

  • He was repeatedly snubbed by North Korea which carried out a number of nuclear tests on his watch. Obama’s legacy does not include a coherent policy for dealing with Kim Jong-un
  • He was repeatedly snubbed by Iran which carries on its uranium enriching operations. The agreement Obama managed to negotiate is a poor face-saving measure of little substance.
  • He masterminded and carried out military destruction of the political regime in Libya which handed the country to Islamist militias and made it into a staging post for millions of African refugees invading Europe. No policy exists for dealing with the problem.
  • He made absolutely no progress in sorting out the Israel-Palestinian conflict and there is no solution on the horizon.
  • He completely mishandled the Syrian crisis and as a result millions are suffering way more than they did under the despotic rule of Assad. Syria is a mess no one knows how to fix.
  • Through inaction, he has allowed for the formation of the Islamic State – a creation of barbaric religious fanatics hell bent on imposing their ideology on others. Some gains are made in the fight against IS, partly due to the Russian involvement which was a slap on the face for Obama.
  • He fell out with Putin, leading to the new low in the relationships between two nuclear super-powers. On the positive side Trump appears able and willing to repair the damage.
  • He failed to prevent the military expansion of China into the South China Sea.
  • Guantanamo Bay, which he repeatedly vowed to close is still open, after 8 years of his presidency.
  • Domestically, he spent most of his political capital ramming through the ObamaCare plan which in all likelihood will now be dismantled by his successor in the Oval Office.

Given Obama’s disastrous track record of (non) achievement it is no wonder that his unprecedented in the political history of the US public endorsement of Hillary Clinton  turned out to be a kiss of death. As Trump aptly put it nobody wanted another four years of Obama.

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America divided

November 10, 2016

So the US voters have elected Donald Trump as their next president. Most political commentators stress that the bruising election campaign has left the country deeply divided and da-boss agrees. In fact the most precipitous chasm I can see is between the mainstream Americans and the media. The raison d’être of the public media in a democracy is to air and discuss the views of the common people. The media completely missed the depth of the anti-establishment sentiment of the US voters because they had given themselves a different task altogether – to educate the Americans how they should vote.

One comment by a TV reporter last night points directly to the heart of the problem. When referring to the shock result in Florida he said that the pre-election commentaries had focused on the way ethnic – Black, Hispanic – minorities would vote but they missed one minority which ultimately made the difference on the election night. White males without college degree. One obvious question is why the views of this segment of the society had not been given the media attention they deserve? Is it embarrassing for the media elites to present what white, uneducated American males think? And, most importantly – what do they think?

The matters which bug the mainstream Americans are actually quite similar to what worries normal people everywhere. Jobs. Immigration. Bureaucracy. Some ethnic minorities not pulling their weight. Islamic terrorism. They happen to be the issues the mainstream media will not touch with a barge pole because they do not conform to the politically correct view of the World. Opening a serious public discussion on any of these matters would reveal that ordinary people do not care about ideological agendas and simply want the problems sorted out. But the left leaning media will not tolerate airing non-PC views so as a result popular dissatisfaction does not vent which inevitably leads to the emergence of populism. It is the likes of CNN and BBC with their weak, irrelevant coverage of the contentious social issues that created Donald Trump.

One other aspect of the recent events which is quite revealing is that the pundits of the Left are not celebrating the democratic election process. Had Hillary won we would all now be hearing that the people made the “right” choice by shunning a populist and – democratically – electing a progressive candidate. But the left leaning lot has gone silent on the wonders of democracy because it did not deliver the results they were hoping for. This shows that they see democracy not as a goal but rather a vehicle to keep them in positions of influence. Nothing that da-boss did not know but perhaps a sobering thought for some on the Left who still harbour illusion of being in the democratic camp.

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To Trump or not to Trump

September 8, 2016

In my previous posts (for example here and here) I commented on the hatchet job on Donald Trump carried out by the mainstream media. For someone who does not have vested interest in the US election it is mind boggling how the supposedly neutral media outlets chose to relentlessly bag only one of the prospective presidential candidates.

At the risk of stating the obvious I will reiterate that the role of the media is primarily to provide the facts so the public can form their own views. Any opinion pieces or editorials should be balanced in a sense of presenting all sides of the argument and affording the same level of scrutiny to all adversaries. The reason for this is that political propaganda can shape the opinions of a democratic electorate and those who control the media control the collective mind of the nation. Goebbels knew it when he said:

“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be moulded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”

The effect of bringing down a presidential hopeful by a concerted effort of the media would extend well beyond the results of the current election cycle in the US. If successful, it would pave the way for a social manipulation of Orwellian proportions carried out on our free, modern societies. It is primarily on these ground I am finding myself in Trump’s camp. And it seems I am not the only person feeling this way:

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton start the race to November 8 on essentially even ground, with Trump edging Clinton by a scant two points among likely voters

Yes, you read it right – despite the barrage of negativity poured on Trump by the media he is now ahead of Clinton in the polls! I guess it goes to show that political propaganda can sometimes backfire.

The other reason I am increasingly warming up to Donald Trump is that desperate times call for desperate measures and the times are desperate indeed. We all know what a Hillary Clinton reign in the White House would look like. Four more dreary years of rehearsed, meaningless speeches and sucking up to the rogue states like North Korea, Iran and ISIS, while the US are sinking under the burden of debt. Trump at least offers a chance to shake up the fundamentals and set the US on a new path. Being unpredictable, he also comes with a huge risk profile but increasingly it looks like the US voters are prepared to take the gamble.

Faced with a prospect of living in a country run by Hillary Clinton I would be too.

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What did Trump actually say?

July 28, 2016

There is a new trend in the use of English language by the journalists. A text given in quotation marks used to represent the exact words of the person involved. Now take a look at the attached screenshots. BBC are claiming (twice) that Trump encouraged Russia to “hack” Clinton’s emails. “Hack” is given in quotation marks so one would assume that this is the term Trump has used – right? Wrong. He has not. What he said was:

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,”

The same thing? Not necessarily. It is normal for spy agencies to snoop on email traffic. This in fact is exactly why Clinton’s use of private email account to conduct federal business is problematic! So what Trump said can be viewed as asking Russians to release the hacked emails already in their possession, if indeed they have them. Not encouraging them to hack but only to publicise what they have already hacked. The exact meaning of what he said can be argued both ways but what one cannot do is give one particular interpretation of what Trump said as a direct quote.

So what do the BBC title lines actually refer to? Was it one editor who told his colleague that Trump (in this editor’s opinion) “encourages Russia to hack Clinton emails” and the other guy dutifully put it in as a quote because he heard it from someone? Should the BBC not make it clearer that the person quoted is not Trump but rather someone presenting they personal view on what Trump meant? But let us check how the title lines would read with the actual words Trump used:

Trump to Russia: ‘find the 30,000 emails that are missing’

and:

US election: Trump encourages Russia to ‘find’ Clinton emails

They do not have the same sensational ring to them as the “hack” versions, do they? Maybe this is why BBC decided to embellish them.

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Brexit

June 29, 2016

Much as I predicted, less than a week after the referendum the financial markets are already recovering the modest losses resulting from the initial political uncertainty:

Pressure has eased on UK financial markets after two days of turmoil in the wake of the Brexit vote, with the FTSE 100 share index closing higher.

In a month or so it will be business as usual, with both the UK and the EU countries repositioning themselves to face the new economic reality. But how different will it really be? The UK products which are competitive will still find buyers on the continent and elsewhere and the ones which only survived on EU subsidies will disappear. Good riddance! As long as all players allow the market forces to take the lead the whole Brexit affair will turn out to be an economic non-event. If (or rather: when) that happens will the “experts” prophesising economic melt-down and recession in the UK:

Leaving the European Union would tip the UK into a year-long recession, with up to 820,000 jobs lost within two years, Chancellor George Osborne says. Publishing Treasury analysis he said a Leave vote would cause an “immediate and profound” economic shock, with growth between 3% and 6% lower.

lose their cushy jobs? Time will tell but I suspect they will just move on to comment on the economic impact of global warming by 2100, the costs of “inequality” and “gender gap” or some other imponderable nonsense.

So we know that the UK will be leaving the EU but will the Euro-apparatchiks take this blow to their beloved Marxist creation on the chin and just quietly move on? It does not appear so:

A central figure in the Leave campaign, UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, was booed, called a liar and accused of using “Nazi propaganda”.

The EU-philes are now resorting to personal attacks against those who channelled and facilitated the collective will of the Brits. It is ironic that the worshippers of democracy gathered in the European Parliament scoff at the democratic decision made by the citizens of one of its member states. So is democracy only good when it promotes Marxist collectivism? In any case the UK PM David Cameron is keen to make the transition smooth and painless:

“I’ll be explaining that Britain will be leaving the European Union but I want that process to be as constructive as possible,” he told reporters before the summit’s working dinner in Brussels.

This presumably means initiating informal negotiations, in preparation for the official withdrawal from the EU. But Angela Merkel will have none of that:

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said there can be no talks on Brexit before the UK formally begins the process of leaving the EU.

Her confrontational stance is aimed at discouraging other states from leaving the EU by making the transition costly for the UK. This belligerent tactic is very short-sighted and will backfire against Ms Merkel who is now styling herself as a head bully of the EU.

The way the Brexit drama plays out will provide us with both entertainment and reflection for months to come.

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Democracy under attack

May 23, 2016

You may have heard that with the resurgence of the right-wing politics in Europe the democracy is being threatened. Sadly, this observation is correct. One recent example of the anti-democratic tendencies in the political life of Europe comes from the birth place of one Adolf Hitler – Austria.

You see, Austria held democratic presidential elections in which the leader of the right-wing Freedom Party appears to have won the mandate. The Austrians expressed their democratic right, enshrined in the Austrian laws and (one would have thought) supported by the EU. However, in an act of unprecedented anti-democratic interference:

The presidents of the European Commission and the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz, have both expressed concern over a Hofer victory.

It is crucial to understand that Messrs Juncker and Schulz were not concerned that the Austrian elections have been rigged – they were concerned that the democratic choice of the Austrian people did not align with their preferences! The events in Austria come on top of the disgraceful attack by a mob of left-wing thugs on a conference organised by Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD):

About 1,000 police were deployed to keep supporters apart from left-wing protesters, who blocked roads, burned tyres and threw firecrackers. (…) A police spokesman said protesters threw stones at officers and let off fireworks in their direction. 

AfD are a perfectly legal political party which exercised their democratic right to congregate, when attacked. This time, unlike during the New Years events in Hamburg, the police were out in force and managed to control the rioting mob allowing the conference to continue.

You may also be aware of the violent attacks against the Donald Trump supporters in the USA (for example here and here).

I have no doubt that all the progressive lefties who have been going on and on about the need to protect democracy in the West – you know, the Assange and Snowden admirers – will now come out swinging against the anti-democratic actions of their mates.

Or will they?

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Told ya

May 19, 2016

Da-boss went on record before  with a claim that climate change may be less of a threat to humanity than a number of other, little publicised scenarios like superbugs.

I am not buying into the argument that because some analyses indicate potential for catastrophic warming by 2100 we as a humanity should automatically commit all available resources to combat this particular (perceived) threat. There is any number of possible scenarios which might spell doom to mankind and we have to prioritise based on the credibility of individual threats. Other serious contenders are for example (…) Super-bugs

What I did not know is how much more deadly microbes resistant to antibiotics are likely to be than global warming but a recently published piece of research is a good starting point for this comparison. The article on the BBC website summarises the findings of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance which started in 2014:

The review says the situation will get only worse with 10 million people predicted to die every year from resistant infections by 2050. And the financial cost to economies of drug resistance will add up to $100 trillion (£70 trillion) by the mid-point of the century. (…) Lord Jim O’Neill, the economist who led the global review, told the BBC: (…) “If we don’t solve the problem we are heading to the dark ages, we will have a lot of people dying.”

This is a very sobering prospect which we cannot afford to ignore. The problem is a lot of contingency funding in the national budgets has already been committed to fighting another threat to humanity – global warming. So how do the two scenarios compare in terms of their lethality? How deadly climate change is likely to be by mid-century? WHO has a factsheet which quantifies it:

Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

The direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030

So there we have it. The pet cause of the environmentalists climbing oil rigs and vandalising gas stations is likely to kill 250 000 a year while drug resistance in bugs which few people worry about can cause up to 40 times more deaths. Another quote from my previous post sums it up:

All of this does not mean that the AGW is a fantasy but, being only one of many possible global threats, it should compete for the contingency funding with other nasty scenarios like accidental release of smallpox virus, emergence of drug-resistant E.coli etc. Instead, AGW has become the only thing activists obsess about, which is dangerously narrow-minded.

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The Brave New World of Holland

May 17, 2016

A while ago I wrote about the experiences of the female journalist who investigated the leading New Zealand surrogacy website:

Before I go into what she found there let me ask you what you think about surrogacy. You may believe it is a noble idea of helping the couples who would like to become parents but cannot conceive naturally. This is what I thought before reading the article but the reality is much more complex. The forum described in the article was full of people who wanted to experience the joys of parenting outside what is normally understood as a traditional family. (…) I think we should stop and think what this really means in the context of the social reality around us.

Looks like, in the light of the recent developments in the Netherlands, there is one more social innovation we should collectively stop and think about. Quoting from the News:

When we think about euthanasia, many of us picture an elderly person. They’ve had many good years, but an illness has ruined their quality of life. They’re in pain, and they want to end things on their own terms. For many people, this is an easy concept to accept. But a recent case in the Netherlands is getting a lot of media attention, and it’s troubling ethicists. A sexual abuse victim in her 20s was allowed to go ahead with assisted suicide as she was suffering from “incurable” post-traumatic-stress disorder (PTSD), according to the Dutch Euthanasia Commission.

There is a wealth of angles here and good on the News for exploring them:

Nikki Kenward, from disability rights group Distant Voices, said: “It is both horrifying and worrying that mental health professionals could regard euthanasia in any form as an answer to the complex and deep wounds that result from sexual abuse.”

UK Labour MP, Robert Flello said: “It almost sends the message that if you are the victim of abuse, and as a result you get a mental illness, you are punished by being killed, that the punishment for the crime of being a victim is death.

 

Assisting a victim of sexual abuse to commit suicide sounds dodgy, does it not? At least some psychiatrists agree:

 

Australian psychiatrist and mental health campaigner Professor Ian Hickie echoed these sentiments, labelling the girl’s euthanasia “entirely inappropriate”. “It makes all sorts of poorly substantiated assumptions about causation, available treatments, supportive care and prognosis. It really demonstrates how the current concepts around euthanasia cannot be applied to mental illness”.

 

But maybe this was just an isolated case of a euthanasia request approved on the grounds of serious mental illness? Apparently not:

 

Beyond the example of the 20-year-old, there is an overall rise in the number of people with mental illness using voluntary euthanasia in Holland. Whereas just two people had themselves euthanised in the country in 2010 due to an “insufferable” mental illness, 56 people did so last year.

 

According to some this is not necessarily a bad thing:

 

While euthanasia opponents find this statistic alarming, Dr Nitschke has the opposite response, and finds the figures “reassuring”. “It shows that in Holland there is the acknowledgment that serious mental suffering can be as debilitating as physical illness and should not be excluded from the option of an elective death to finally end their suffering. The increase reflects the growing acceptance of this within the medical profession”.

 

So should euthanasia be available to all those who want to take this option?

 

Nitschke (…) told The Guardian, “the reality is, a portion of our population will suicide and I don’t think we should make it so hard. We need to acknowledge that suffering comes in many forms and if a rational person sees death as a solution, it’s their decision, it should be respected”.

 

My pick is that within our lifetime euthanasia will go the way of other social innovations like abortion and elective surrogacy. From a last resort desperate measure it will become a universally accepted lifestyle option – though “lifestyle” may not be an ideal term to use here. The incremental mechanism which will lead to this outcome has been described in my post on pushing the social boundaries. It is only a matter of time.

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What was Donald’s trump card? (2)

May 5, 2016

To understand why Donald Trump is so popular among the American electorate – and also why the mainstream media completely misjudged the level of public support for him – let us take a look at an article published in Huffington Post after the Indiana primaries:

Happy first day of a half year of living with the possibility (however remote we have to believe it to be in order to stay sane) that Donald Trump — this crass and crude boor, this bloodthirsty psychopath, this Brobdingnagian narcissist, this proudly misogynistic ignoramus, this pus-filled boil of hate, this odious short-fingered vulgarian — could be the 45th President of the United States.

Now, I do not know Mr Slansky for a bar of soap but this is a vile, deranged, vulgar verbal assault. That a foul, abusive outburst like this even got published is a testament to the general attitude of the people controlling the contents of the media. It does not however reflect the mood of the American public at large. Wherein lies the problem.

As I wrote in March 2016:

I do not have a horse in the US presidential race but Trump’s willingness to openly talk about things other politicians consider off-limits is refreshing

Trump’s meteoric rise to prominence shows that I am not the only person sick to the back teeth of the politically correct garbage coming from the politicians. But this rift between the political elites and grass-root US was only allowed to develop because the media cozied up with Washington and became a de facto part of the official establishment. The American public is disillusioned not only with the tedious, visionless politics of their elected representatives but also with the media blind to the frustrations of the electorate. You would think that the editors have learned from the recent events but obviously they have not because all we are getting from them is more patronising. The way things are going it is not Trump but the likes of Huffington Post becoming irrelevant.

The most succinct and insightful analysis of the current situation I have come across was recently published in the UK’s tabloid, Mirror. It summarises the reasons why Trump is so popular in five bullet points:

He’s a TV star

He’s straight-talking

He’s a Washington outsider

He’s funding his own campaign

He dislikes immigrants

Like it or lump it, the American public is fed up with professional politicians eloquently spouting sleek phrases which sound comforting but carry no meaning. They are also over the self-important media telling them what to think and say. No prizes for guessing that da-boss has a degree of sympathy for both these sentiments.

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