Archive for May, 2012

A recent poll reveals that “the austerity census has collapsed“: a majority of the British public apparently support a 75% top rate of income tax for those earning over £1 million.

Anyone who’s paid attention to the trend of my ravingly revolutionary political tendencies lately might be surprised to learn that I find this more frustrating than heartening.

Despite having very little to do with the dreaded spectre of socialism in particular, this idea of the super-rich being hit with correspondingly super-high tax rates is anathema to most capitalists, and the right-wing objections are predictable and well understood. It discourages the “job creators” from going about their job-creating business. It punishes success. It drives successfully industrious people out of the country. It decreases tax revenue by damaging motivation and pushing down productivity. It hurts the economy.

As to whether this is empirically true, I’ve seen arguments backed up by data and graphs that go both ways, and I’m not going to ferret out the complex truth of it here. What interests me is the way the common leftist response misses an important point.

The focus on low- and middle-income households, who are being far more troublingly squeezed even by the lower tax rates than those millionaires and billionaires, is appropriate and important. But even if the financial “hardships” of the 1% don’t exactly tug on many heart-strings, neither am I in this for retribution. If we’re going to increase the tax rate above a certain income level, it shouldn’t be because we want to punish anyone; it should be because it makes economic sense.

If these high tax rates really do demotivate the super-rich to stay in the country and/or keep doing any useful work (which many of them seem to claim is the case), this probably isn’t just down to simple petulance which needs to be beaten out of them. The salaries earned by the richest executives at the biggest companies really are obscenely huge, and it’s bizarre to think that these are jobs which nobody competent would ever be willing to do for any sum so paltry as, say, a mere £1 million a year. But it’s not just about earning a perfectly reasonable living wage. Having what seems like money that’s rightfully yours be taxed away like that, hurts.

It’s a very different experience (I imagine) to be paid £1 million for doing a job, than to be paid £4 million and then have to give £3 million away to the government. We’re a loss-averse species, for one thing, and it’s a very human trait to let the immensity of our windfall be swamped by the fact that it’s only a quarter of what we really should have had. Never mind that we’re being offered orders of magnitude more financial security than most people on the planet will ever have a chance at. We’re predictably irrational.

So it’s really not at all sociopathic for the super-rich to be a bit miffed by this idea. They earned their millions and billions of dollars legitimately, through their hard work and valuable contribution to the economy, after all. The government wasn’t involved in that, so why should all this money be forcibly taken away from them now to help people who haven’t bothered to be so entrepreneurial?

This, of course – the idea that profits are what the market does, and taxes are how government unrelatedly interferes – is where everyone is completely insane.

The idea that taxation is the point at which the government abruptly steps in and sticks its nose into what had been purely private business between free marketeers up to that point is absurd. The government is essential in supporting a framework of laws which make a massive agglomeration of wealth and capital and power possible in the first place. And you can bet it’s going to be a capitalist-friendly framework, given who’s got the assets to lobby and offer donations to politicians in order to sway their opinions. A framework including all sorts of clever off-shore schemes and work-arounds not easily available to the masses. To pick one of the more obviously egregious examples, when Vodafone owed up to £7 billion in taxes, HMRC simply decided to let them off.

More commonly, though, the problem isn’t that small pockets of businessmen aren’t handing over sufficiently huge sums of their money to the state, but that they’ve seized hold of so much in the first place. Any income that socialists might want to redistribute has already been distributed in some way they presumably deem unjust – but then why was it distributed that way in the first place?

That’s where we should be looking to change things. The system which allows some individuals to go so far above and beyond the reasonable limits of success, that they get to claim dictatorship over land and capital and just keep getting richer off the labour of others. The system which goes so far beyond simply rewarding hard work and innovation, that making 100 million dollars into 110 million is inevitable.

If the majority of the British public got their way, our government would continue enforcing a system of rules by which some individuals and small groups accrue immense wealth… and then take most of it away from them.

Who would get rich from this particular policy? The government.

Do you like the government and want to see them get richer and more powerful, majority of the British public?

I thought not.

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I watched the film Flatliners yesterday, because this was apparently an event many years overdue in my life. It was solid, silly 90s fun, with Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, a Baldwin of some sort, Julia Roberts, and that guy from that thing. It made something pretty obvious occur to me.

We, as a species, really don’t seem to like ghosts.

I mean, there aren’t many ways in which the dead can rise and find our approval, but we always assume the worst of ghosts. So much of the time, the unfinished business which provides the only reason they’re sticking around in this world is something vengeful, something to satisfy their anger and hatred.

Among the world’s most haunted places are said to be a number of ghosts, who generally met some bloody end, and have been loitering for centuries. Everybody who could ever have wronged these individuals in life is long dead; any vendetta or feud, long since irrelevant. There’s nothing left for them to achieve here, no wrong to right, no justice to be had. But still we suppose they stay, angry and miserable and trapped.

And since, y’know, ghosts don’t exist, this can’t reflect badly on them. Only on us.

Apparently, lust for revenge is one of the strongest reasons for us not to want death to be the end of us. When our bodies give in, we don’t want to go, mostly because we haven’t yet had a chance to get back at some bastard who pissed us off. We loves us some retribution, and we assume most dead people do too, even after you might think they’d have been able to leave all worldly concerns behind.

Not every restless soul is like this, but they so rarely stick around here if they’re actually happy. They tend to move on to some higher ethereal plane, only communicating with us, in unreliable fragments of conversation, “from the other side”, through an assortment of con-men. They never seem to feel the need to stick around here to get anything done. The only thing ever worth clinging on to this world for is finishing up some brutal revenge.

What does this say about us, that these are the things we imagine we’ll be focused on for centuries once we’re dead? Is it just that it’s harder to tell a fun story if you imagine deceased spirits are capable of forgiveness and kindness, or are we preoccupied with all the wrong things?

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Oh hai internets. I’ve been and gone and pointed my face at YouTube again. This time I’m having a conversation with myself, through the magic of SPECIAL EFFECTS.



Again, it’s not the start of any regular trend, but these are still fun enough to make that I might do more, if I ever have another idea. Upvoting it and sharing it and whatnot would be most gracious of you, if it meets your approval.

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You might have noticed there are some Christians still not on board with same-sex marriage.

One Jesus-centric group recently put forward five reiterations of tired old clichés whose unconvincing nature is becoming ever more apparent. Their second point began thusly:

The promotion and legal recognition of homosexual unions is not in the interest of the common good. That may sound benighted, if not bigoted. But we must say it in love: codifying the indistinguishability of gender will not make for the “peace of the city.” It rubs against the grain of the universe, and when you rub against the grain of divine design you’re bound to get splinters.

It was Hemant’s analysis that prompted me to think some more about this:

Aww… they’re trying to turn their bigotry into poetry. Isn’t that sweet of them.

I’d never quite noticed before that this is what happens in Christianity a lot. They’ll take up a conservative, narrow-minded stance on a very particular interpretation of Biblical values, but distance themselves from all those hateful Westboro Baptists and the like, by claiming that they’re motivated by love.

They’re not raging about queers burning in Hell; they’re talking about getting metaphorical splinters from rubbing against the grain of divine design.

They hate the sin, but love the sinner. Gay people, you should appreciate the compassion these Christians have for you – it’s just your actions in your personal relationships and the innate tendencies within you that they find contemptible and wicked.

The point being, of course, that there’s more to love than flowery language and a soft face and declaring aloud to all and sundry that love for your neighbour is what drives you. If you’re not going to be a hypocrite, you also have to actually love people. You don’t get instant credit for being compassionate just because you’ve replaced blatant spite and invective with worthy analogies built of purple prose.

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Actually, I don’t believe that there is such thing as an atheist because no respectable atheist would walk around with something in his pocket that said “In God We Trust.”

People are still saying things this moronic. Elected politicians, even.

Yes, people who’ve decided they aren’t convinced by any of this God business should revert to some kind of ancient barter system, so as to avoid having to come into contact with some vitally useful pieces of paper which happen to include an utterly irrelevant inscription. Otherwise they’re not being true to their principles.

Similarly, I can only presume that almost everybody in the English-speaking world is in fact a secret adherent of Germanic paganism, what with their continued insistence on acknowledging the existence of the days Tuesday through Friday.

PZ Myers also has a good one:

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a Christian, because no respectable follower of Jesus would have any money at all — he or she would have handed it all over to the poor.

There you go. Now everyone’s happy. None of us really exist.

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2009-2010 (Before new approach)
* 798 suspensions (days students were out of school)
* 50 expulsions
* 600 written referrals

2010-2011 (After new approach)
* 135 suspensions (days students were out of school)
* 30 expulsions
* 320 written referrals

Wow, this school in Washington saw some real improvements with whatever this new policy is that they were trying. 30 expulsions in a year might still sound like a lot, but this is an “alternative” school that particularly seems to deal with troubled kids – some of the students themselves describe the place as a “dumping ground” for kids nobody really cares about.

But this new thing the principal’s doing seems to be doing a great job of keeping them in line. I guess really cracking down on these over-confident, disrespectful teens and their unacceptable behaviour started getting through to them. If you’re stern enough, and make it clear who’s in charge and what kind of behaviour won’t be tolerated, they’ll stop acting like they can get away with anything, and you’ll have far fewer disciplinary problems once the majority have been subdued into meek subservience.

Oh, wait, no. The complete opposite of that.

It turns out, bizarrely enough, that if someone’s angry and frustrated with their situation, and has been dealt a crappy hand by life in general, and they express their anger in a burst of shouting and swearing, and you try to make them stop acting that way by shouting even louder, hurling invective back at them, and punishing them at the first sign of insurrection… then you’re not so likely to win them over to your way of seeing things. Chances are you’ll just piss them off even more and make them keep shouting at you.

And this fairly basic fact of human psychology isn’t magically different just because that person isn’t 18 years old yet.

A lot of this comes back to the fundamental attribution error, and a tragically widespread neglect of compassion as a virtue even in circumstances where it might be a bit difficult. It might be less challenging to respond to some uppity kid swearing and raging by taking a dislike to him, putting him down as a bad sort. But very few among us has never had an experience of losing their temper, and we all know that when it happened to us, there was some understandable reason for it. It might not have been a good reason, and we might not be proud now of the way we acted, but it doesn’t mean we’re bad people just because we got a bit angry that one time. Maybe we were just frustrated by things going on in our lives, and we didn’t deal with it very well.

Well, the principal and teachers at this school have been running with the radical idea that young people, too, are human beings with complex feelings and reasons for their behaviours, who may also have frustrating shit to deal with and be ill equipped to handle it appropriately all the time. And it’s working. The kids are learning perhaps the most important thing school can teach them. They’re being given a chance to experience other ways of interacting with people, and finding out that, if you can control your anger, think things through that are bothering you, and trust people who have the chance to help you, it can work.

Complex trauma ain’t pretty.

It’s when your dad’s in prison AND your mom’s a meth addict AND she’s too drugged out to move in the mornings, so you’ve got to take care of your little brother, get him fed and off to school, AND you’re despairing about being evicted for the third time because she hasn’t paid the rent and the landlord’s screaming at you to do something.

Or your dad’s a raging alcoholic AND he beat the crap out of your mom again last night AND the cops came and took him away at 2 a.m. AND the EMTs took your mom to the hospital and you hardly slept a wink and you’re frantic with worry because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’ve got to stay cool or otherwise you’ll have a complete meltdown.

Or your fat step-dad’s sneaking into your bed in the middle of the night AND you’re too terrified to move because he says if you say anything he’ll kill you and your sister and your mom, who’s depressed AND doesn’t talk much anyway.

Teens who live with complex trauma are walking post-traumatic stress time bombs, says Turner. They teeter through their days. The smallest incident can push them into a full-blown meltdown. Some kids run away. Some explode in rage. Some just mentally check out.

So, yeah. You could treat people who’ve been through stuff like that with zero tolerance and shout back at them to do what they’re told right now or you’ll throw them out and it’ll be their own fault.

Or you could try and help.

(And don’t even get me fucking started on prisons.)

(h/t BoingBoing)

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Here’s a fun game. See if you can tell what the following things have in common:

  • Prolonged isolation
  • Deprivation of light
  • Extreme variations in temperature
  • Death threats
  • Shackling and manacling for hours at a time
  • Noxious fumes that caused pain to eyes and nose
  • Denial of medical care for serious and potentially life-threatening ailments, including chest pain and difficulty breathing, as well as for treatment of the chronic, extreme pain caused by being forced to endure stress positions, resulting in severe and continuing mental and physical harm, pain, and profound disruption of the senses and personality

Any ideas? I’ll give you a hint.

Imagine that you were taken somewhere and incarcerated against your will, without being accused of any specific crime, but just because it’s been decided that you’re a bad sort. You don’t get a trial, or any legal recourse, and you’re put through all the things listed above.

If you had to describe your ordeal to somebody else later, what word might you use? Just a one-word summary to really get across the scope of how much you’d been made to suffer. “I was… somethinged.” What’d be a good word to fit there?

If you said “tortured”, congratulations, you might just be a reasonable human being. But in this case, sadly, you’re out of luck. This is actually a partial list of “things that government officials could do to an American citizen and still claim later that they didn’t know they were ‘torturing’ that citizen.”

“Torture”? How dare you accuse the greatest nation on Earth of such barbarism? Why do you hate America?

(via BoingBoing)

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