Category: Politics

Christopher Hitchens Was Just Good At Being A Dick

Christopher Hitchens was a journalist and writer and also wealthy middle-class son of working class parents, who was renowned in his early days for bombastic iconoclasm, and in his later years for a sort of later-life renovation in the name of the New Atheism movement. He was renowned for the latter stage of his life, up until his death, for his part as one of the ‘four horsemen,’ a group of prominent intellectuals who openly and aggressively challenged Christian Hegemony in the culture.

Now those horsemen include were four dudes: Dan Dennett, a philosopher who’s done some interesting ad valuable stuff, but also some really racist stuff seemingly without realising it, Richard Dawkins, probably the most scientifically important modern racist grandpa, Sam Harris, who’s spent the intervening years showing what a racist doofus he is – Wow, there’s a lot of racism going free. Don’t worry, Harris is also clueless about philosophy, humanities, art and ethics, a real renaissance doofus.

Anyway, the point is, you had four guys who had varying degrees of intellectual importance and accomplishment, and one of them was Hitchens, a man who has kind of become an idealised icon of That Kind Of Atheist On The Internet.

there are way, way too many thumbnails like this

My relationship to Hitchens as a historical entity is a bit complicated. Because some of his work was very robust, very competent – his reporting on places like Belfast and Beiruit, for example – and he was good at economising with words, he definitely seemed good. There were issues where Hitchens and I definitely agreed – he was genuinely adamant about the Elgin Marbles, for example. Yet at the same time, he didn’t bring any illumination to any of the issues he examined as a journalist that other journalists couldn’t do. The dude wrote about experiences very well, but the filter of his experiencse was overwhelmingly himself, and you learned of him through that work.

And really, the thing that Hitchens did well, did best, was be mean to someone.

It’s part of why he’s such an affecting performer. He’d turn up at Creationist Debate events, and make the creationist in question look like a stupid dick, and he’d tell fascists to get lost, and he’d do it well, but when you cook down his positions, most of his most intelligent insights were quotes. Most of his best interpretations are of very obvious, basic ideas – England does not own Greece’s history and it was bad to destroy the Bamiyan Buddhas. These aren’t actually challenging paths, these aren’t things that require the work of excelling journalism to put into meaningful context.

What Hitchens did well, and what made him feel so bad to watch when he turned that skill towards people who a moral conscience or broader context could appreciate did not deserve it, was be mean to people.

And that’s why we loved him, in the New Atheist community. We liked him, because he was mean to the people we wanted to be mean to and he was better at it than we were.

It’s sad in hindsight. Because it means Hitchens is hard to appreciate for his excellent ability to wield words, when you realise that often behind that skill there was not an excellent and incisive mind, but an emotionally satisfying cruelty.

A good journalist would consider the value of public debates on articles of faith. Would notice the way that it wasn’t valuable to negotiate with unreasoning conspiracy. Would appreciate what he couldn’t argue people out of when they’d never argued themselves into it.

But he didn’t.

He was just mean.

Real good at it, too.

Western Canon

What with people, aka racists, talking about the importance of defending western values they’ll often tout the artistic importance of the west and how it’s resulted in transcendental things like Van Gogh and Leonardo Da Vinci and some other artist they primarily remember because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The thing about this thought that always rattles around is that the imperial world did indeed produce an enormous amount of art we can recognise as important, but that it was always as a byproduct of cultural states that had disproportionate wealth enough that thanks to sheer randomness and the precarious position of the people randomly bequeathed with ridiculous wealth, money got scattered down onto the people who make art. Look at the history of these artists, the people of this western canon, they’re all either paid for by some rich dickhead who was already getting more than his fair share of pies, and there were a lot of artists who failed to find an agreeable rich patron who supported them and the tended to live lives that were poor, short, and miserable, even if the ever did make something cool. It should really be seen as a stinging indictment of capitalism and western colonialism that it had to acquire something like half the wealth in the world at the time before it was able to produce twenty or thirty artists, when any kind of efficient system might be doing something like making sure everyone was well-fed enough that if they wanted to bung out some art they weren’t going to be hosed for trying it.

Still, what do I know, I’m not an expert in media creation oh wait hang on I might be by now, holy heck.

Anyway, the real lesson here is that when a racist wants to talk to you about the importance of colonialism to world art, the correct response is to tell them to go fuck themselves and to not bother arguing with them about the logical or rational reasons for rejecting their racism. They’re always lying.

Cooping!

You know how I’m that tiresome dork who cares about voting systems? Let me tell you about a time when voting in the United States was even worse.

Right now most countries – mostly! – recognise the value of casting secret ballots. That is, you need to make it so everyone who wants to vote can put their decision down, commit to it, and put it somewhere nobody else can see it, anonymised from who they are. You control the ballot carefully and make sure people can only vote once.

That’s not how it used to work, though. Used to be back in the day, the idea was that you should be able to convince people, change their minds at the polls. There’s the echoes of this system as it remains now, in state Caucuses, where people just holler at one another and the judge kinda guesstimates how many people are in each section of the room. This system is really silly and best represents a population where maybe twenty people can caucus, rather than the hundreds of thousands of people modern caucuses are meant to represent.

Anyway, the history of New York is a gosh-dang mess, and one of the things that used to happen, back during the heavily nativist times of the Know-Nothings, was a process called cooping. There are a lot of things going on here – like, the gangs of fixers known as the Plug-Uglies, and the flag with a shoemaker’s awl on it, and the racist American Native Party – but that’s not so important. The important thing is there were vulnerable people who could vote (Irish and Chinese immigrants), who weren’t going to get listened to by the cops, and unscrupulous people who would abuse them.

Cooping, the technique, starts when you kidnap someone and stuff them in a chicken coop!

Really!

Groups – known as Coop Gangs or Election Gangs – hung around polling places, looking for people who they could abuse, who they would grab, stuff in coops, then get them drunk and torture them, by beating or kicking the coop, or setting their hair on fire. The point is, you got them scared and you got them drunk. Then you sent them in to the electoral place to vote, as you demanded, and you could watch how they voted, and beat them up if they voted wrong.

And then, you could dress them up, put them in a wig, and send them to vote again.

And then you could put them in a different outfit, and send them to vote again.

Now, the thing that’s really sad about this is what solved Cooping wasn’t anyone going ‘hey, abusing poor people is bad,’ but rather, ‘hey, these are impacting elections based on which rich person can hire the biggest gang.’ And the solution was secret ballots.

How Unrepresentative Can The US Voting System Be?

What is the optimally “unfair” possible U.S. election? Assuming you can just set the vote ratios in each state to whatever unrealistic value you want. How much can you lose popular vote by and win the Presidency?

This isn’t a comprehensive view of this idea, but a rough summary. Still, it’s an interesting question and let’s explore it. Note that these results involve literally no breaking rules. These are just the ways the system functions based on changes in circumstances. Consider these urine samples from an extremely unwell system.

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Anzac Biscuits!

Hey, everyone! It’s Anzac Day! That means it’s a time to celebrate our culture and our Anzacs, which we do with games of 2-up in pubs, singing three songs, and deep repression of our thoughts about how the impact of our complicity and promotion of white supremacy leads to the radicalisation of our own citizens and the disenfranchisement of our marginalised people pushes them towards criminality that we then use as pretense to further disenfranchise them in ways that result to our perception of ‘the other’ and the deeper entanglement in international imperialism that sends our soldiers to places that have nothing to do with us in order to die, and of course, making Anzac Biscuits!

I got this recipe off the Australian War Memorial website, and only made some small alterations. It’s really good, you’ll like ’em!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup each of rolled oats, sugar and coconut
  • 1 tablespoon syrup
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (dissolved in 2 tablespoons boiling water)

Method

  • Melt the butter, as a symbol of the way we viewed our culture as a melting pot where a variety of different cultures could come together and form a very yellow homogenous whole, much like the Simpsons where we try to keep a minimal number of brown people who we routinely mock and divorce from proper job opportunities that respect them and their cultural backgrounds.
  • Add syrup to dissolved soda and water. Combine with melted butter. This will form the wet ingredients into one larger body that should smooth out and homogenise in the same way that we treat all our population as acceptable if we already have them and they don’t do anything to stand our or remind us that they are not, in fact, lily-white.
  • Mix dry ingredients and stir in liquid, with forceful, strong motions like running a death camp on another country’s territory that both that country and the UN have decreed an illegal human rights violation. The ingredients will present some resistance, just like how the people in those camps do things like hunger strikes, appeals to the press, explicit references to sexual abuse by guards and overseers, and at least one man setting himself on fire, but just as we can dismiss those actions as ‘wanting attention’ you can ignore the resistance of the ingredients. Just smooth them out and ignore the way you feel.
  • Place small balls on to buttered tray and bake in moderate oven. It doesn’t matter how they’re composed, if they’re a decent mix, or their size, or really anything at all, because making a bad Anzac biscuit is pretty hard if you get the mix right, because they’re made out of components designed to be durable and last long over the transport from Australia to Gallipolli, a war we were entangled in because an Empire wanted to spend our blood to earn themselves a minor convenience, and we lined up to ensure that we wouldn’t let it happen again, again, again, again again again.
  • Lift out carefully with a knife as they are soft till cold. Don’t bite them too early or they’ll break!

I hope you enjoy this Anzac Biscuit recipe. They’re really good!

Sharing

One of the weird things about growing up in fundamentalist church with a deliberately stifled education is that some concepts kinda just get thrown around and you never really learn what they are. This meant I had to teach myself a bunch of this stuff, and I realise, there are some people similarly uncertain as to where the heck the idea of Shares come from.

The basic idea of what a share is is that it’s a portion of something. The place it got its start – more or less, there are always earlier versions of things, but the place it sort of got its modern kick-off – was during the (absolutely god-awful) trading history of large fleets of vessels, things like the Dutch East India company.

The way these things worked was, buying a boat – like, a whole boat – and managing an expedition over to do trading was, as an up-front cost, totally ridiculous. Like, we talk about wealth disparity, but it’s kind of hard to translate wha that was like when you’re talking about a period of history when you might not even exchange money for food, because it simply wasn’t affordable. So there’s a striation of wealth between poor and wealthy people that’s like, mindboggling, and I tend to think about ships from the perspective of the poor people. Each one of them represented more than a lifetimes’ worth of wealth, so the idea of rich people owning multiples is kind of impossible.

Anyway, even so, the task of sending a boat to get goods for sale was still a gamble – every time it went out, you didn’t know if it was coming back, and if it didn’t come back, you were out a ton of money, enough to ruin someone. The solution, then, was for people to band together – wealthy people, mind you – and instead of buying one ship, buying one tenth of ten ships. When each ship came in, you got a tenth of its proceeds. If one sank, you were out a tenth of a price of a ship. Then they got really fiddly with the numbers, and bookkeeping got involved and you started to see people making more and more careful subdivisions of the shares, and things you could do to interact with the shares and eventually things got decoupled from ever needing to turn a profit at all, because everything about markets eventually sucks butts.

Still, the thing with this whole system that makes my ears twist is, no matter how I think about it, the more I think it’s kind of inevitable that people will come up with this idea if they have some way of representing it. And then the weirder thing is: We have this idea for buying and owning shares in objects and businesses, but it seems fundamentally inimical to the current mindset of the world to have shares in the government you’re part of. Like, taxes are seen a an imposition, rather than a percentage ownership of the country you’re investing in.

The Fear of the White Slave

The stories we tell, and how we tell them, shape our worldview. This isn’t ‘media programs you,’ not a satanic panic fear-of-the-demons-in-your-media, but something slower, more grinding, more insidious. There’s an acretion of the world around you as you pass over it, little bits of the everyday. Making everyone’s clothes show ads, we thought, would be about making sure you were always showing off the #brand. Turns out that it mostly just meant people saw ads on clothes as normal and not worth noticing any more.

It’s hard to turn that kind of ubiquity into money in a pragmatic one-on-one sense. It’s difficult to monetise a brand if the main job monetising it is to be everywhere all at once, you need a certain scale for that to have an impact. You need to be Pepsi, for example. What you can do with it, though, is reinforce an idea of what’s normal, and thousands of sources doing it all the time can do a lot to shape that idea of normal.

It’s Marketing Whiteness.

CW, gunna talk about slavery and fundamentalism and whiteness and dismiss the historicity of the Bible, which just gets some people up in a dander.

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The Power Of Hate

I like pigs.

It’s a weird thing, considering. Maybe it’s a childhood story of Babe. Maybe it’s after being raised in a weirdo Christian cult, I thought the ‘unclean’ label they got was a bit rough. Maybe it’s Asterix comics that made it look like the poor boars were on the losing side of things.

But I like pigs.

CW ahead for descriptions of war and some unpleasant ways we refer to history.

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The Art Of Your Normal

Confederate monuments are not monuments to history.

Well, they are, but that’s not what they are.

Every single work of art chooses what not to depict. Like every single map chooses to leave out details in order to represent the information it cares about, every single artwork has to choose a point to stop telling you what surrounds it. And Confederate monuments aren’t about the history that is.

They’re about the history that some people wishes there was.

Look at them. Look at how they present the people and events. Heroic struggles against a foe, a very unspecified foe, for an equally unspecified reason. As the Lions of British public works fail to remind you that the Lion is not native to England, and in fact, the people of England did a lot of harm to the places that have Lions, the image and the icon were taken for their own expression, for what they could make people feel about what they wanted to be true.

Now, I want to show you an example of this kind of art, but presenting this art without context inherently allows the art to speak for itself. So I’ve made some subtle annotations to the artwork so you can focus instead on the art as an object of intention, that it was something someone constructed and why they did it. You know, rudimentary postmodernism, questioning the base assumptions of our art.

The soldier is presented with a raised foot, holding a weapon, looking nobly at the future; the figure is shown as powerful, whole, is constructed and crafted in a single colour but with shapes that suggest the blowing of wind, the vivacity of life cast in metal and stone. There is an inscription full of importance and vigor, in the language of our culture’s view of Value.

This is propoganda.

The Public Art of the Confederacy, which presents soldiers alone, in positions of glory, and valour, and success, are presented as skilled and noble. They are in uniform, they are standing at attention, they are glamorised. You don’t get statues showing them throwing black infants into a river; you don’t get the statues that show these people as part of long-term and constant genocide. The history that you’re seeing, then, is not the history of what happened, but rather a tiny, tiny window into something that did happen, and by ignoring everything else, a dsesperate aim to keep the rest of that information hidden and lost. Let these people look noble, and do not think of every single round they shot, every wound they took, every personal deprivation was in the name of continuing the generational torture of Black Americans.

There is a generation of Southern Americans, growing as the conservative movement carries this vile meme with it, who are convinced that The Confederacy Wasn’t That Bad Actually and this art is part of why. These statues, these statues to men and women who hate America, who stand proudly and nobly against the American ideal of No Slavery, they are art that wants to make their evil normal, and acceptable, and calmly casual.

Your art shapes your world.

And this art glorifies evil.

If you want to keep it around, if you’re against the idea of the destruction of art, which usually is used as a way of examining art as inherently intransient, which is its own problem, but if you want to keep this art around, then you owe it to your culture to put it in context. Surround these statues with monuments of the lynched and slain. Add plaques commemorating the invisibly dead who did not get to be valorised in death because their crime was being born into a black skin under someone else’s ownership.

Or tear them down, and put them in museums, the Ways We Try To Forgive Ourselves For Genocide Museum.

Do Daddies Dream Problematic Dreams?

I’ve written about Problematic in the past, with the simple premise that there are no non-problematic faves, and the baked-in nature of the colonialist world we live in is fundamentally damaged. Recent events (a hot take shot from the hip) put the term in stark relief and so, since you’re all so very interested in telling me what I should think about it, clearly you’ll be interested to hear me expound. Right? Right? You’re not just looking to complain at a stranger?

This is spurred in part by recent reading about Dream Daddy. Because that’s a thing I started caring about despite having literally no interest, whatsoever, in wanting to play it, for any reason, at all, gosh dangit. With that in mind there’s going to be a minor spoiler to a thing I don’t care about but let’s take it under the fold anyway. It also involves the genders.
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Being Polite

‘Police disperse Antifascist Actors, Cable Street’ – via BBC.com

Hey, do you know what being polite actually is?

I understand that, for some folk, particularly those raised by controlling, authoritarian assholes or who are themselves, controlling authoritarian assholes, that it’s a strict set of rules. Like, not swearing, holding doors for women whether they want them or not, that kind of stuff.

Politeness is a word that derives from the word polis. Literally, it is the behaviour of a city. It is how you interact with people when you know you have to, and how you deal with the people when you know there’s a large population of them around you, more or less, acting and interacting. Politeness is, in the simplest way, a general toolset of interacting with other people who you don’t really know.

Now, what people seem to think Politeness means is maintaining the rules that worked in the 1950s. Note that these rules include a lot of stuff we don’t want to talk about, like how black people knew it was impolite to talk to white people –

like at all –

And there’s the truth of politeness. Politeness is a moving social construction. It is a matter of being aware of your community, and being aware of the people in it. It’s knowing things like touching your hand to your own chest when you interact with a Muslim person, rather than offering to shake theirs. It’s being willing to apologise, it’s double-checking if you’re getting someone’s name right because you don’t want to be an asshole. It’s about leaving someone alone when they’re listening on headphones and have their eyes on their phone because that’s polite.

Politeness is part of the circulatory system of people moving around one another, and like every circulatory system, it has an immune system.

The thing is, when there are people who are fundamentally against the idea of society as it exists, when there are people whose view of how they want to live involves the eradication of parts of your society, when they literally want to kill people for no reason beyond imagined ideals of purity, then those people are inimical to the society you live in. And that’s when you should feel absolutely, 100% comfortable telling those people to get lost, because they are trying to not be part of your society, they are not part of the community. In that case, the proper behaviour of a civilised person is to reject fascists. Yes, even with swears, with rudeness, with dismissive derision. Because they are the ones who want to strip your social rules and wear the skin long enough to stab your neighbours.

So, tell a fascist to go fuck themselves.

After all, it’s only polite.

Why We Laugh At Things

Humour is something that’s talked about plenty online but one thing I see rarely discussed when we’re mad about something is why things are funny. It’s understandable, because unless you’re me, you probably find this topic quite dull. Still, humour is a thing that, despite what you may want to think, does have some actual rules and conventions, and even a cause and effect. I, as someone who has done a single year of University am therefore in a perfect position to explain this enormous subject and I won’t mess it up at all, honest.

All humour derives from a subversion of expectation.

Your brain is a fairly sophisticated device that tries to keep track of the future, which it’s kind of bad at, but also pretty decent at, considering. When you see a ball thrown at you, your brain does all sorts of math to track where it’s going and can more or less work out where it’s going to end up and if it’s going to hit you in the face. You wake up each day with a general expectation of what’s going to happen in it, and your brain actually patterns behaviour based on that. Talking to people, you have the same thing; as they explain things to you, you will expect things. Want to see this in effect? Look at comedy shows from other countries, even subtitled. There will be social cues that you don’t understand, and therefore, when they are averted, you won’t understand why it’s funny – or even why it’s so funny. Even British comedy does this. Even surreal British comedy like Monty Python’s Flying Circus does this!

Of late I’m seeing people enraged by components of jokes, and the defense being it’s just a joke. I think that’s the wrong way to approach it. What you have to look for is to find what, in the joke, you’re meant to laugh at. What’s the expectation? Why is it meant to be funny?

I don’t want to use any examples for this. The ones I can think of are – or have now become touchstones of outrage and anger and legitimate hurt. Too often though, I’ll see a joke where the point of the joke is to highlight someone being an asshole – you’re meant to laugh at the bad person, with the bad view. But then people become caught up in arguing that the view they forward is the point of the joke. That there is one interpretation and the one they wield is the correct and harmful one.

(There’s also a whole extra nest of ‘this media is enjoyed by people it affects, but not all of them’ which I don’t want to get into).

Dumbledore’s Orchy

I kind of already want to apologise for that post title. Moving on.

Writing advice time. Specifically, writing advice about signalling characters of diversity. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to me talking about Harry Potter as a universe, but one of the complaints I’ve had is of what I call ‘Dumbledore Diversity,’ the notion that an author can, post-fact indicate the orientation of a character that is never otherwise signalled in the media, and that isn’t, in my opinion the same thing as writing media that has actually included marginalised people.

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The Failure Of Skeptics

A thought that’s been stewing away in my mind these past fortnight, one of many that I keep thinking I need to flesh out into something bigger, something with more sinew to it, is that for all the talk of the United States being a post-truth state, there’s a community that hypothetically at least cares about, and wants to do something about, a culture embracing false things.

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This Is The Electoral Map If-

Walking through the park last night, Fox ruminated to me that she was so annoyed watching one of the American presidential candidates puffing and huffing on the television about how polls couldn’t be true, because he was drawing big crowds of support. Exasperated, she waved a hand and said “Yeah, you fill an auditorium of a thousand people in a country of three hundred million.”

Yesterday, I watched timelines quietly fill with people swapping around memes about this is what the electoral map would look like and making fun of Nate Silver. Not necessarily the same thing, natch, but still.

I sat down and ruminated on this all day. See, one of my personal bugbears about journalism is my oft-repeated notion that Journalism is the task of putting data in meaningful context. The whole point of visualisations and data maps and tweet-sized comparisons is to try and provide people with context that escapes them intuitively. Like, for example, looking at a room full of supporters of one candidate and being horrifiedly certain that he’s going to win.

We are not good at making these judgments intuitively. What our brains do when they sort information is check for the things that are easiest to remember and turns out that it’s super easy for us to remember dealing with a super racist asshole. This is part of why cops are so inclined to think of people as criminals – it’s really easy for them to remember times when it turned out Someone Was A Criminal, so they tend to bias towards that. It’s why experts academics are likely to think problems are caused by The Area Of Their Expertise. You find what you’re used to looking for.

Visualisations and data points are not here to solve everything, they’re here to try and give your mind ways to anchor to information that’s otherwise hard to put into context.

You’re Not A Good Man, Are You, Mr Pence?


You tell yourself that you are, of course, in that middle-management, get-by, Church-once-on-Sunday kind of way. You know the framework you have to deal with, the general ideas of what make a good person and you tell yourself you’re doing the best you can in that spectrum, that nobody’s perfect, that it’s all forgiveable and Jesus will carry away your sins in his blood, and you have to tell yourself this because you know as you stare into the glass of the case that you’re not actually a good man.

You stare into the outlines, the ghost of the man in the reflection, and you think to yourself that you’re still there, that there’s something to you. People were so happy with you after the Vice President debate, you put Kaine in his place, you – you did well, and you came back to the base and dealt with him again. Dealt with the bluster and the low-key fury, the snarling way he treated his wife when she showed him up and you told yourself that it was fine for him to treat you that way (though probably not a great thing that he treated her that way) and you tried to put it out of your mind like all the other things, like all of them, over and over again, while you adjusted your expensive tie and expensive suit and tried to forget for a time what you were actually doing, frame it just as gearing up for 2020.

Then the news.

The staffer telling you what the audio was. Did you ask, then, for details, stop yourself when you realised no, of course you didn’t want to hear that, and then looked at the staffer –

“How bad is it?”

The look of the young man, hand folded over his phone, like he was about to throw up, because to him this isn’t ambitions and long term power plays and it isn’t about him it’s about a job and he’s not getting paid enough and he’s going to have to go have a bunch of journalists remember him as that guy from that time when everything started to fall apart in a new and terrible way, and he murmurs, “It’s… it’s real bad, Governor.”

And you sighed and looked back into the glass.

At the hot dog bun.

With Trump’s name on it.

Did the metaphor bowl you over?

Did you stare at the preserved, artificial breadlike structure that was only there to make sure people could handle the grotesque mystery meat of pounded pig rectum and sawdust in an offcolour casing, the thing renownedly hollow and forgettable, something that you were here to look at, and smile about, and be impressed with and see once again another sodden symbol of the beast whose milk you were drinking nightly, with his name on it, and realise that you were the next Palin?

You can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.

Your Vote Is Not Your Soul

Hypothetically, your vote means something. Yeah, I know, that’s a cracking start, like, real hopeful and inspiring, especially now you have to choose between an actual active fascist, racist bigot and, I dunno, Dracula or something, but hypothetically, hypothetically, your vote means something. The good news is it kinda doesn’t mean anything.

Lemme explain. Continue reading

Paper Genocide

This is a brief overview of the idea of Paper Genocide and is mostly meant to be a crash course for folk who don’t know about this stuff. If you want to learn more, there’s an official .org site, Paper Genocide, and I was first introduced to the topic by The Dollop. Also, this is a topic that’s going to talk about a lot of racism and power structure stuff, so it might be heavy, so feel free to bail out.

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The Coin Flip

Just in case you’re curious at all, the reason a coin flip is used as the conclusion of an otherwise functionally hung vote system is because caucuses in primaries are not actually about electing the candidate but about telling the delegates who the people want to vote for. Technically speaking, the delegates don’t even have to vote that way – they’re selected by the primary process, listen to who they voted for, and then, they head to the Convention to cast all their primary support for someone. Some states have lots of delegates, some only have a few. Either way, the point is, winning a primary doesn’t mean that all that support is squirreled away. Last cycle, a state was won by one person, recounted to be won by another person, then the delegates went to another person, because what the fucking fuck, Iowa.

This is because when the American political system was constructed, the fastest way to get information places was on bits of paper in grubby pockets in filthy pants on smelly horses. The delegates were meant to be acting on the most recent information they could get when they actually hung around and met the candidates, which they might not have done so during the primary process. Note that this is duplicated then in the actual general election, with the Electoral College and its Electors.

Note that caucuses are really hard, period. They’re basically a rolling debate; people stand in a room, argue about their positions and if you want to vote, you walk over to a part of the room. If you’re not there at the end, when the votes get tallied up, then sorry, you didn’t vote. You can walk back and forth. You can change your mind. You can argue so you change someone else’s mind. Young voters and stubborn voters are important, then. You get a whole day of shouting, waiting, straining and grinding out numbers as you argue people to change one mind at a time, well.. at the end of that, sometimes people just want to go home. Then, you flip the coin, and recognise that the delegate will know how close it was.

The delegate is meant to take this stuff into account. Imagine if fifteen places were tied, flipped the coin, and it went for Hillary, then five places all had Bernie win in massive landslides. The Delegate would be able to claim statistically, that Hillary was the winner, but they could also note that really, Hillary and Bernie were tied most of the time, and the places where anyone won decisively, it was Bernie.

Basically, America is operating an incredibly archaic system that was constructed because people did not know how to Democracy much.

“Funny Place Names”

I’ve lived, in my life, in places named Engadine, Koonawarra, Boonerah, Cringila, Wollongong, and Warrawong. When I mention these names to people overseas, particularly Americans, there’s a bit of a giggle, a bit of a laugh at the idea of Australia with its funny place names.

Me, I like these place names.

Cringila was, for a time, named Steeltown. It was renamed as part of a push in recent (I say recent, but it’s been as long as I’ve been alive) years to bring forward the original names of the Aboriginal people that had lived there. Had.

It’s important, to me, that we keep these names, that we hold these names, we, the generation outside and after. The people who, in some cases, never had the chance to make a decision about whether or not to commit genocide and therefore can tell ourselves that we, somehow, would be better, that we would not commit the genocide that our forebears did and in some cases still do. That we would not culturally exterminate, that we would not construct the great machine of colonial power, crafted in Britain, exported to Australia, then recrafted over and over again by people who claimed they were doing no such thing, and merely repairing or adjusting or continuing a tradition.

We need to wear these words.

We need to wear them, because we need to remember that there were people here. We need to feel like these words are odd, and not quite right in our mouths because we have spent our lives erasing the sources of those words. We need to recognise what these places sounded like before we got here, and this sort of small gesture, these tiniest concessions, to the people of Australia that predate us, is something that deserves attention. We need to put these parts of culture around us because then, maybe then we will be willing and able to accept that there were people.

Our Prime Minister in November 2014, said that Australia was ‘nothing but bush’ when the First Fleet arrived. He’s a grown adult. He’s a statesman, a politician, and he’s educated. I have no doubt in my heart that at that point he was convinced he was correct, and there was not some deliberate, clever plan on his part to erase the Aboriginal population of Australia in his mind: I think it’d already been erased from his.

Let us push against the hope that our past will vanish beneath the sand. Let us draw their names upon our roads as scars so that we can never travel about this land without the reminder that, before us, people did terrible things, to earn this bounty before us, and that we owe it to those people left from that time, to make whatever we can as right as we can.

It’s Australia Day, it’s Invasion Day. And I live in a land of funny place names that has done a lot wrong and needs to do better.

Weird Richard Dawkins Ephemera

Ever heard of this Richard Dawkins guy?

I’m personally somewhat sympathetic to Richard Dawkins’ predicament right now, in that he’s a seventy-five year old man born literally in the British Empire and as a beneficiary of same, who has discovered an injustice in the world, and he wants to fix it, but he’s still insulated by these calcified layers of cultural overgrowth, and there’s this very reasonable recognition that the dude’s got some really back-assward views on things. I mean look, you don’t tend to get to the upper levels of British academia by being a massive reactionary.

That said, I think he’s crap at some of the issues he wants to take care of, but there is some good intention and he’s trying for public advocacy on a matter that does actually posess some potentially dangerous power. I think he’s even got at least one good idea, which he’s underscored in his books – that awe in the face of reality is totally acceptable. At the same time, for example, his reaction to Ahmed’s clock speaks to me of a grown man with a child within him that still feels like it never got the approval he feels he deserved. It’s pathetic, but I feel like I know where it’s coming from.

This is all a preface, however, to say Content Warning: Contains Mentions Of Richard Dawkins that are anything but honey jokes and sneering disdain. Also white creationist rap. Continue reading

Random Observation Of A Racist Stranger

So I was at the supermarket and like, I don’t record people, certainly without their permission. That doesn’t mean I don’t get to listen and repeat what I hear, such as when I was at the supermarket in the Meat Area, which is right next to the vegetables. While I inspected some apples, a mother held up a package of meat, in which there was a broader than normal cut of meat, showing more of the bone. If you’re not familiar, this can show a darker segment of bone than more thin ones. Either way, point is, there was a chunk of bone in this meat that the woman couldn’t quite tell if it was good or not.

“Is this dark bit in the bone,” she said, pausing, “okay?”

“You won’t see that shit on the pork, you see?” her husband responded.

Now, you don’t have to be a dialogue writer to have a mental reaction of what? But she held it up and pointed at the bone, in the middle of the packet. “This, I mean?”

“Nah, the Arabic squiggly shit. They don’t bother putting it on the pork.” he said.

Ahah.

See turns out this gentleman was mad that the package of meat his wife was holding had, up in the top right of its label, a small mark in Arabic script. It also had a note in Korean Hangul, and two characters in Chinese on the label – I know, I checked – but the important thing, the very important thing to this man was not what his wife asked and what she’d said… but that someone had written Arabic text anywhere on the packet.

I’m mad about a lot of things but wow, I thought, that was some remarkable pettiness expressing itself as rage at a label on a packet of meat so intense you could ignore your wife asking you a question. Twice.

Enemies Of Misstate

It used to be that I could say to people interested in American politics that, for all of the incompetence and evil demonstrated by Bush II, there were two points in his favour: He unfailingly used his power as President to fight AIDS in Africa (even if that fight was informed by his ideology and may have been more efficient had he done otherwise) and that he was good about trying to suppress anti-Muslim sentiment within the Republican base. He, as a Republican in a position of power, was able to say to the base of that party, hey, show some respect, respond to the higher ideal. In that environment, it was generally not acceptable for the population to openly discuss and dismiss Muslim-Americans, or Muslim-Seemy-Americans as all terrorists.

Then Obama became President, and suddenly, branding him as a Muslim was not just common but mainstream. Political operators with less courage than Bush were unwilling to push back on this idea, or were actively willing to engage it to curry favour with a population they could plausibly deny.

Now here we are.

That overton window has been skewed so hard right now that a Democratic President with the middle name Hussein can’t actually diminish attacks on Muslim-Americans with a call for peace, because the people who hate Muslims consider him part of a conspiracy. And that this idea is mainstream.

How fucking racist is the power structure that literally the President of the United States doesn’t have the power to speak out against racism?

S’fucking weird.

Not A Peeple

It’s great to go to sleep just as America’s news cycle starts up. It means I wake up to a world full of hot takes about silly bad pieces of new tech.

So, Peeple.

Peeple looks like Ello to me.

That is to say: It looks like a pre-failed concept that will appear with a loud proclamation of what it can do, fail to gain legitimacy, and then collapse while the people responsible for it move on to Other Investments.

That legitimacy is the issue. Because I cannot see how this service would ever earn any. I mean who would ever look at Peeple and think ‘this crowdsourced information source is reliable?’ You need a certain sense of momentum. You need some sort of test, some way to actually persist rather than just struggle to exist.

My prediction is Peeple will last for a long time but its entire lifespan will be marked by its creators assuming that tomorrow, tomorrow is the day people take them seriously. Oh they’ll get money, quite a lot, and a lot of Dan Fransiscos will appreciate their services – but it’s like M Night Shyamalan – we give these people money, because we always give them money, and Silicon Valley is awful at knowing what to do with money.

bye, Tony

Tony Abbot once referred to himself in terms of not wanting to be the best politician to never be Prime Minister. He wanted to be Prime Minister so bad. As a political entity, he was whatever he wanted to be, in order to maximise each situation, and so rarely made any comment that wasn’t in its way designed to work. The thing that ties to all of his gaffes and weirdness, it was simply because the man thought he could get away with it.

I’ve dealt with the high school bully and I’ve dealt with the private school bully. Tony Abbott is a man who has no idea how to interact with people he can’t lean on, but who lacks the raw bareknuckle aggression of a bully who actually had to punch someone himself.

Now he’s been replaced by a guy who is… well, really, not much better? Like it’s still the Liberal Party. It’s still a party that got elected on the basis of Stopping the Boats, Fucking The Poor, and Destroying Our Legacies. But at least now the person in charge might be an adult.

I am going to enjoy this little dish of spite, for now.