Sympathy for the Fascist

I was reading today about Peter Cvjetanovic, identified as an “angry racist” from the Charlottesville march this weekend, and his claim that he’s “not the angry racist that they see in that photo”. And his classmates’ response that yes, he is.

The guy is clearly a low-life. Many on the left are hoping that he never gets a job, that this taints him for life. And then it occured to me: that’s what the Fascists want, too.

They want their followers to be nobodies, with no hope, who don’t believe they can think for themselves. They want grunts with no faith in their own abilities, who can be taught to kick down and salute up.

When we tell a Fascist that they’re a nobody, we cement them into their organisations, because they have nowhere else to go.

They would rather be a Fascist than a nobody – that’s already the choice they were faced with, and made, and we’re just confirming it for them.

So: Fascists, if you’re reading this (unlikely, I know) – you can be somebody. You can be anybody. But not on the path you’re on. Because your leaders don’t want you to be somebody. They want you to be a cog in the machine that’s lifting them up – and leaving you stuck right where you are.

They want you to recite the talking points they gave you (yes, James Damore, I’m talking to you too) and not question them. They want you to know that your leaders in your little Fascist club are smarter than you and better than you, and you’d better follow them because no-one else can help you.

But they’re wrong. You can be better than gunfodder, and you can do better things that beat up on women and black people. You just have to decide to do it. This is literally your choice. Be a nobody in the Fascist cause, beating up other people to feel less useless, or start to take control of your own life.

Your choice.


Platt case: inflexibility wins

I’ve been following this¬†case with worry. I’m not entirely comfortable with Jon Platt’s confrontational approach, and I can see the need for schools to have high attendance.

Regardless, I really can’t approve of this judgement. I understand that there is a need to balance (a) parents’ needs for flexibility, (b) schools’ needs to have children there at predictable times, and (c) children’s needs for an education. But this ruling seems to say that rules can/should be enforced rigidly, regardless of circumstance, and that’s rarely helpful.

Remember that the original rule change was the government *removing* headteachers’ rights to agree to absence in term time. This was not a school vs parents case, it was about whether the government rules can override parents’ and teachers’ judgement.

Why aren’t banks called ‘house builders’ any more?

So I just made a joke on Twitter.

And then I realised that, since I used to work in a investment bank, and I know plenty of people who still work in investment banks, I was probably going to have to justify the joke.

So firstly, I’m going to emphasize that this was a joke. Banks have good sides and bad sides, I don’t really think that they’re all the enemy.

But secondly, I think that the joke was totally justified. Because we don’t call banks ‘house-builders’ since 2007-2008. I’m sure you know the joke. It starts “In the winter that I moved here, I built this house from the ground up with my own hands. But they don’t call me ‘Jan the house-builder'”.

Like it or not, in 2007-2008, we had a bad crisis, and the banks played a very large part in that. We’re still suffering the after-effects which include austerity and, possibly, the return of fascism. It’s not a small thing. Sloppy bank risk management and a general attitude of “if we make money, someone else can clear up afterwards” played no small part in creating the problem.

So if anyone in a bank objects to being the butt of a joke, I’m afraid this isn’t going to go away. If you don’t want people making jokes about you, don’t fuck a goat global economy.

Is Trump a Fascist?

I’m figuring this out quite slowly, so apologies if this is all obvious to you. I haven’t lived through something like this before, and it’s a bit startling when it happens. But I have just reached the following conclusions.

After the first few hectic days when Trump took power, and started doing everything he could by executive order, things seem to have settled down to a more stable pattern.¬†Trump’s Muslim ban is on hold, by order of a court. Trump is facing a legal challenge that he is in breach of the constitution.

What is at stake here is this: can the US constitution’s checks and balances actually be enforced? The US model of separation of the powers¬†between the legislative, the executive and the judiciary is well-known. What Trump has done is clearly in breach of conventions and laws designed to put checks on the President’s power. What Trump (or Bannon) are trying to do is find out whether those checks hold.

What is at stake is nothing less than whether the US does actually have rule of law.

As a quick reminder, Bannon’s a pretty unpleasant guy. He’s also linked with the international far-right (neo-Nazis), who he has helped to rebrand as the alt-right. These are the typical racist thugs that in the UK we know as the BNP, historically.

Bannon and his ilk see the checks and balances on power as things that stand in their way. The idea that there are legal restrictions protecting other people’s rights are simply blocks to be overcome. This is a concerted effort to overcome them. It seems long-planned and co-ordinated. The fact that Trump’s first executive orders were illegal is not impetuousness or incompetence, it’s essential. Because the first thing that Trump needs to do is manage to break the rule of law, to defy the courts and win.

And that is what he is trying to do now. He will not be bothered that a court case is being brought against him; that’s part of the plan. He probably expects to lose. The decisive question is, when the courts rule against him, can they enforce that?

If not, then the rule of law is broken and Trump can do what he likes.

The answer to the question in the title is: Is Trump fascist? He’s trying to be. Let’s hope he fails.

Morgan vs McGregor, or the problem of trolls

I’m sure that if you’re alive, you’ve heard about the row between Piers Morgan and Ewan McGregor.

What’s interesting is the outcome for each person.

For Piers Morgan, he already has a reputation as a nasty guy, and he boosts his popularity amongst his followers by attacking anyone who disagrees with him. Because, let’s face it, his followers are people who like seeing him attack anyone who disagrees with him. The overall outcome for him is positive.

For Ewan McGregor, very few people are likely to boycott his films because of his politics so long as he makes good films. And anyone who actually would bother to boycott his films probably already does, because his politics are fairly well-known. So the overall outcome is unlikely to be negative.

And this, friends, is why trolls exist. No-one is actually suffering from this exchange. Well, no men. Women’s rights are still being held back, but Piers Morgan doesn’t care and Ewan McGregor can say that he’s done what he can.

If there’s a moral to all this, it’s don’t bother reading the celebrity gossip, get out and protest.

Free Speech Faces Empirical Test #Trump

I have been witness to a lot of arguments about free speech over the years, and I haven’t made up my mind where I stand. On the one hand, there are strong arguments that freedom of speech preserves other essential freedoms, and that we must be able to speak truth to power. However, there are¬†also strong arguments that hate speech is harmful and that ‘free’ speech embodies and exaggerates existing power imbalances. However, it occurs to me that with the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, we have a unique opportunity to see an empirical test¬†on the key arguments for and against free speech.

Here are a few of the key arguments for free speech.

  1. Free speech by itself is not, and can never be, harmful. If free speech encourages people to violence, the laws already exist to deal with the violence itself, there is no need to criminalise free speech.
  2. Free speech can be used to air extreme positions, but it can also be used to argue against them. Allowing extremists and zealots to speak freely will show up the inherent flaws in their arguments and weaken them in the long run.
  3. Free speech must be protected because any limitations on free speech would inevitably be used by authoritarian leaders to limit their opposition. We must therefore protect free speech in its purest form to prevent authoritarians from silencing speech against them.
  4. Freedom of speech is a Good Thing in its own right, needing no purpose to justify its existence.

If these hold, then I would predict:

  1. Donald Trump’s campaign and election should not cause an uptick in racial violence, or if there is such an uptick it should lead to successful prosecutions which suppress the violence quickly. (See also Brexit).
  2. Donald Trump’s racist arguments should have led to widespread ridicule in the media and amongst the populace, and weakened his campaign whenever he made them.
  3. Donald Trump will be unable to limit or restrict criticism or opposition in the media or by the public because free speech is an important right in the US and limiting it would not be tolerated.
  4. Okay, so #4 isn’t really empirically testable. We’ll let this one pass for now.

So how does the evidence look?

I would argue that currently there is¬†strong evidence against #2, and strong evidence from the UK (Brexit) against #1. There is also starting to be evidence from the US against #1.¬†We don’t know as yet about #3; we will have to wait for Donald Trump to actually take power. I will be interested to see the results.

By the middle of next year, we may be in a good position to be able to decide empirically whether it is acceptable to ban hate speech. Although by then it may be too late to do anything about it.

Note: I am not against freedom of speech broadly. I do feel that there should be limits on speech inciting hatred or violence. I broadly believe that anything taken to its extreme,tends to be a bad idea, and that includes defending freedom of speech with absolutely no limitations. However, *if* Trump is unable to prevent criticism or limit the media, then maybe it was all worth it. 

Why I Will Not Stop “Moaning” About Brexit

I just had a discussion on Facebook, prompted by this article, and I would like it to have a wider audience. Because I am pissed off.

Leave voters, who wanted out of the EU, are arguing that it would be unfair if some Britons are allowed to keep their EU citizenship because it would be “discrimination”. FFS.¬†Now I think it’s quite unlikely that some Brits will get to choose to keep their EU citizenship, but that’s a side issue.

Rant warning….

What pisses me off is that I’m losing a whole bunch of rights. I’m losing my EU citizenship. I’m losing my right to vote in EU elections. I’m losing my right to travel freely in Europe. I’m losing my right to live in Europe. I have no say in this, it’s all being taken away from me without my consent. And Leave voters are saying “Just stop moaning”. NO. Like fuck! I’d like to see them not moan if they suddenly had a whole bunch of rights taken away from them. And instead they’re complaining at the *horror* that they might not be able to deny me those rights, and I might get to choose to keep them? I’m fucking furious. I WILL NOT shut up about having my rights taken away without my consent, no matter how many other people voted for it. It. Is. Not. Okay.

Brexit – Which Bits of Europe Don’t You Like?

I just had to look up some environmental legislation for the course I’m studying, and entered the maze of “which organization belongs to who”? I thought it was worth sharing, given the upcoming referendum.

Anyone in Britain who knows which of these organizations they approve of and which they don’t is better informed than most¬†ūüôā

Part of the EU Not part of the EU
European Council
Council of the European Union/Council of Ministers
Council of Europe
European Court of Justice European Court of Human Rights
International Court of Justice (at The Hague)
International Criminal Court (at The Hague)
European Central Bank (ECB)
European Investment Bank
Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB)
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
Economic Commission for Europe (part of the UN)
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
World Bank
…and of course the UN itself.

Don’t blame the EU for this confusion. I guess we need some different english words for ‘Council’ and ‘Bank’. Or ‘Europe’.

Don’t Call It “Global Warming”

I’ve just been watching¬†a UNEP video about the ozone problem and the Montreal Protocol. One of the scientists who discovered the problems in the ozone layer, Shanklin, commented that it was good that the problem was named the “ozone hole” as it was instantly obvious to everyone that “a hole” was a problem and the name helped to get quick action.

With that in mind, it’s obvious that “global warming” and “climate change” are rubbish names for our CO2 problems. I was trying to think of a name that would get everyone on board trying to fix it, and then I realised.

“The Flood”.

It’ll even sell to the religious types who are sceptical of science.

Of course, then I realised that they’ll get on board, but they’ll try to fix the problem by banning gay marriage. But still, admitting the existence of the problem is the FIRST¬†step to recovery, right? We can argue about the solutions next… maybe?

Please Can We Stop Saying That Doctor Who is Old?

I’ve just watched the season finale of Doctor Who. No spoilers, I promise. But one thing niggles me, that I need to rant about slightly.

One of the recurring themes in Doctor Who is how immensely old the Doctor is. Every finale adds a bit to the myth. This season has added another iota. What’s bothering me is that it’s not true.¬†The Doctor is not old. The Doctor is a young person who has lived a very, very long time.

Here’s the difference.

You’re old when you realise that there is not enough time left in your life for something that you want to do, or that your body isn’t strong enough any more.¬†You get older year by year as the list of things that it’s too late to do gets bigger. Train as a ballerina. Train as an athlete. Change to a career that requires a decade of training. Have a child (or another child). And so on.

As you get older, choices are blocked off. Your possibilities become fewer. Your remaining time becomes less. You are faced with mortality, with the fact that you are getting closer to death and that there is a finite maximum amount of time left to you.

The Doctor has none of this. The Doctor, if he ever dies, will die of accident, murder, or noble self-sacrifice. (Or possibly a weird accident involving two TARDISes and a chicken. It’s hard to tell with him.) But until that point, he is a Time Lord. If he is gravely injured, he can regenerate. The mere passing of time will not kill him. He does not get old as humans get old.

The Doctor is not an old man, no matter how long he lives. He is a young man with an immense amount of experience who thinks that he knows everything and is invulnerable. He’s a twenty-something lad who is hundreds of years old. (Or more. Complicated discussion postponed for another time). When you see him this way, it explains a lot about him.