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Every new policy this fucking government comes up with seems to be about taking money away from those who have the least of it to start with, or undermining the infrastructure of an organisation currently delivering something of value to the public. And here they’ve found themselves a great two-for-one deal.

In addition to a series of real-terms pay cuts over the last few years, public sector health workers are now going to be made to hand over a huge chunk of their earnings to the government, to pay for the training that’s no longer being funded. That is, those who even bother training any more, given the lack of support or respect they’re being told they’ll be given.

Still I suppose it’s not like healthcare is a vitally important provision to literally everyone alive or that there’s already a dangerous staff shortage in this field OH WAIT IT’S EXACTLY LIKE THAT

Oh well. At least we’ll have plenty of nuclear weapons for the next decade or so.

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Horrible things are happening in France.

It’s really not a useful function of this blog to tell you about that. Other, better people have already given you much more useful detail about what’s going on, and I’m no better at picking the accurate and useful details apart from the misinformation and speculation than you are. All I can be is one more futile voice in the crowd, agreeing that it’s horrible when horrible things happen, and we all feel bad.

My one-time secondary blog would be relevant here. If we want to change things, to effect a world less imbued with anger and violence, less susceptible to such an apparent onslaught of attacks and hatred, a good place to start is to examine attitudes to the Other. To try to understand how tribalistic tendencies nurture fear and contempt toward those who, for whatever reason, don’t feel like “one of us”.

And god knows there are plenty of opinions on display at the moment about the Other, and their role in this latest tragedy.

For some, the Other is the Infidel, who refuses to submit to the true way through an inherent grotesqueness that makes them less than human. They deserve nothing less than death, and to serve as a message to the rest of the world.

For many, the Other is the kind of inhuman monster who could commit violence like this against innocent people. Examination of the mindset that could lead to such acts is therefore of no interest. They’re awful, broken people, the ones who did this awful thing, and deserve no sympathy. And maybe this means that some other folk who share some characteristics with the awful, broken people – their religion, say – are necessarily awful and broken too. They might not want to think that. But it seeps through.

For a tragically visible number, the Other is a big collective mass of Everyone Who’s A Bit Different From Me And Is To Blame For This Somehow. Refugees, whose camps are reportedly being burned. Muslims, who are already defending themselves against exactly this type of entirely predictable slur. People with suspiciously dark skin. You know, that lot. You know who I mean. Obviously these groups of individuals are all loosely connected at best, but who cares about nuance and meaningful distinctions when we’re under attack by Them.

For me, primarily, the Other is people who, at times like these, talk about the need to close ranks and close borders, to crack down on all those foreigners coming over here bring all their terrorism with them, to solve intolerance with intolerance, to face hate with hate. The Other is loudly proclaiming how a mercilessly authoritarian approach is the only appropriate response to atrocities like this, and that there’s no time for bleeding-heart lefty ideas like “free speech” and “compassion” when we need to make sure our people are safe.

Humanity and love for the Other: it’s a tough job, but someone’s everyone’s got to do it.

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Remembering that arbitrary lines on a map are a pretty fucking stupid basis for enforcing massively authoritarian rules on whether other humans qualify as “people” and how they’re permitted to live and work turns out to be a shitty and globally debilitating idea, says sensible economist.

I am grossly paraphrasing in a way that I don’t think Tim Harford would entirely appreciate. But it’s a great piece. I loved this on Theresa May:

“The evidence… shows that while there are benefits of selective and controlled immigration, at best the net economic and fiscal effect of high immigration is close to zero.” (Translation: immigration costs us nothing but we want to reduce it anyway.)

Burn.

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I often talk about what bullshit copyright law is, and the insane ways in which it stifles and punishes creativity. That you can buy somebody else’s intellectual property and hike the price of life-saving medication several thousand percent, in a way that excludes anyone else from providing fair competition by undercutting you, is one of the more infuriating demonstrations of civilisational adequacy of the moment. That and the way one corporation, until recently, was making millions charging people to sing Happy Birthday.

But sometimes the law isn’t the biggest ass. Sometimes people’s bizarre and authoritarian ideas about property rights are what help to create horrifying and dystopian legal systems, which in turn reinforce people’s outrageously extreme ideas of what’s “right” or “fair” when it comes to protecting your ideas from being stolen, and we end up in a place where George Orwell’s estate wants to control all mentions of the number 1984.

Fuck this suppression of ideas absolutely in all guises.

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Apple Inc. have been paying an effective tax rate of under 2% in Ireland over the past decade.

There’s now a legal dispute over this, but not the way that you might think, or that might make any sense whatsoever. The question being disputed is actually whether the Irish government might be “forced to recoup tax” from the company. The state is apparently going out of its way to make sure this large international corporate behemoth doesn’t make any further contribution to public services.

I’m going to try to bear this in mind the next time the anarchist commentary on a news story about some capitalist atrocity seems a little over-the-top.

(Also, between scribbling the above and getting around to posting it: Facebook.)

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This is your sporadic reminder that allllllllll the intellectual property and copyright can get tae fuck.

Snakebite victims in the US can be charged tens of thousands of dollars for a single vial of snakebite venom.

And no, it’s not that the stuff requires rare and exotic ingredients, or takes an especially skilful and labourious process to create, or even that there had to be a huge up-front investment of years of research and development to come up with it. The system is just so utterly fucked, and seemingly geared toward everything but providing people with healthcare with any kind of efficiency.

The cost of making the antivenom, including research, development, animal care and plasma harvesting… A mere 0.1 percent [of the ultimate expense]. 70.1 percent… was due to hospital markups used in negotiations with insurance companies. [emphasis mine]

Jesus fuck. It’s not actually fair to blame this all on IP, that’s just my hobby-horse. This goes deeper in terrifying and unfathomable ways.

Although on that note, the insane Warner/Chappell copyright claim on Happy Birthday To You is finally no more after a ruling this week. While this does not mean the song is now in the public domain, this is a step 90% of the way toward sanity in this one isolated case.

So on balance, between those two news stories and that other shithead gouging prices on AIDS medication, September can still pretty much suck it.

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Hey so I had an actual kinda serious thought about how David Cameron supposedly stuck his dick in a dead pig’s mouth.

I know, it’s not exactly the stuff of serious thought. But I’ve not been that into most of the jokes everyone’s been making about it.

It’s not that it isn’t funny that a major newspaper published a story about how the Prime Minister once put his cock inside the head of a pig as part of some kind of initiation procedure. Obviously that’s hilarious. It’s so obvious that I don’t really need the entire internet to keep telling me how funny it is.

The #baeofpigs hashtag is a stroke of genius (especially in contrast to the laziness of #piggate), but the gags seem to mostly consist of people re-explaining to each other why it’s funny that our hamfaced leader has been outed as a literal pigfucker. And that’s absolutely worth revisiting as often as you want to. I’m honestly not trying to buzzkill anyone else’s joy. I just started wondering what’s next before most people had finished having fun.

So anyway this actual serious thought I had.

Satire has always played a vital role in any society where political power is concentrated in the hands of a few dictators and despots, whether they’re democratically elected or not. Ultimately tyrants can only hold sway if their claim to authority is on some level taken seriously – even if you’re a brutal oppressor, you’ll need some kind of military force if you intend to keep a whole country in check, and they’ve got to have a good reason to consider you worth following. A system has to be maintained where you are adequately feared or respected – either by a sufficient chunk of the general populace to keep voting for you, or so that your advisers and generals don’t decide that your shiny hat would fit them better.

The most restrictive and authoritarian regimes have tended to have the least tolerance and harshest reactions to any kind of mockery or ridicule directed at those at the top. This may simply be because, when someone has the ability to make anyone who hurts their feelings disappear, they’ll use that ability – but it may also be because people with that kind of power understand how tenuous their grasp on it might turn out to be, if actual satire is ever allowed to take hold.

Satire punctures the aura of awe and mystique surrounding the distant stony figures who glare down at us from their jewelled thrones. It allows us to laugh at authority, to see the frail human hiding in everyone who ever tried to persuade a nation to see them as something akin to a god.

And as such, in the Western world in the 21st century, it’s basically redundant.

Or rather, there’s a surplus of ridicule and mockery already in place, intrinsic to society, directed at anyone who dares stick their neck above the surface to make themselves noticeable or remarkable even for a moment. Anyone with a shred of online awareness surely knows that everyone is satirising and laughing at everything all the time these days.

David Cameron never had any aura of awe and mystique around him. People have been taking the piss out of him internationally for years. He’s never been protected from criticism by any hushed reverence around a noble office that deserves respect and veneration. Some people haved talked as if this might be a resigning matter for him, but that would require it to change the esteem in which we hold him. But, these days, there’s nothing there to puncture.

There are people who vote Tory and support David Cameron and his ideas, and have developed a tribal allegiance with the filthy farmyard delinquent, and who might have gone off him somewhat as a direct result of these allegations. There are also people who didn’t like him before, and who are making plenty of hay out of this story, and good on them.

But I don’t think anyone was holding back their show of disrespect, until a news story about ritual bestiality suddenly broke the ice, gave everyone permission to point and laugh, and let forth an outpouring of no-longer-restrained ridicule.

For most people, David Cameron is not much more or less a figure of fun than before we found out that he once face-fucked a pig. His ability to command power will, I suspect, be little shaken. Most of the people who previously respected him will continue to do so, for the same reasons as they always did. The people who didn’t respect him before and hold him in even more contempt now, will continue to concern him as little as ever.

Sadly, for all our fun, I don’t think David Cameron is any less dangerous a tyrant than before.

#baeofpigs #neverforget

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This article about the “‘refugees welcome’ fad” seems to miss the point.

It’s worth reading, because it comes from a much more informed place than I’m at with regard to the state of the EU and its current policies regarding refugees, migrants, and international relations generally. It highlights relevant facts and raises important questions.

But it doesn’t spend as much time answering those questions as it does rhetorically deploying them against an opposing position which I’m not convinced it understands.

The description in the final paragraph of ‘Refugees Welcome’ as a way to “make Twitter users feel better about themselves” seems telling. It’d help the Telegraph’s point if ‘Refugees Welcome’ could be bundled in with other short-lived online crazes like #kony2012 and such, but it is demonstrably not a hashtag, and as far as I’m aware it’s far more prominently featured in places like football stadiums than social media. Trying to dismiss it as something these young people with their iPhones and their SnapTindGrindChats will get bored with in five minutes shows a lack of understanding of what people are actually saying.

Which is a shame, because what they’re saying is nothing complicated. Anyone who can write an article with a nuanced view of the international situation, as this one certainly has, would be able to understand the point being made by ‘Refugees Welcome’, because it’s not a complex and nuanced position on international foreign policy at all. It’s not a practical stance on exactly how certain issues of crisis management in the Middle East should be addressed. It’s not a strategy for fixing a problem.

It’s a broad, non-specific attitude, a very general approach, a knowingly hazy statement of values. There are people desperately trying to come to the UK, from countries ravaged by civil war and political upheaval, and they’re dying in the attempt alarmingly often. And a lot of the public discussion about these people ends up making these desperate refugees (and, by extension, anyone born overseas or from a recent immigrant family, because that’s how racism works in the minds of people defending their homeland from a foreign “invasion”) feel unwelcome. Whether it’s overtly xenophobic, or just coldly pragmatic on how the local economy might be affected if we tried to stop so many children drowning, that’s the impression being given. If you’re not from here, you’re not welcome here.

‘Refugees Welcome’ is about countering that narrative. It’s about giving some hope, to anyone for whom the UK is a potential sanctuary from nightmares beyond my white middle-class understanding, that if you’re in need of refuge, you will be welcome here. It’s not pretending that the problem isn’t complex and multi-faceted, or that it can be fixed by happy thoughts and goodwill. But it certainly can’t be fixed without them. We’ll get to hammering out the details and rigorously analysing data to determine how people will actually best be helped; if we’re worth anything as a modern civilisation, our best minds are on the case. But for now, let’s also try and get the word out there that this is the sort of nation we are.

Just because it’s a catchy slogan, doesn’t mean it’s a fad. It’s a catchy slogan because it sums up how a lot of people feel.

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Here’s one of many, many available stories of someone the US government really, really wanted to murder. He was 17, and ended up on death row.

He was pretty clearly innocent, and it’s hard to imagine the gross extent of the incompetence and misconduct responsible for letting the case go as far as it did. Which is a great place to hang the argument against capital punishment: the system is completely unreliable, as evidenced by the fact that the government were preparing to execute a teenager, despite flimsy details like prosecutors knowingly lying about the evidence and airtight alibis being bizarrely ignored and the clear unreliability of witnesses being suppressed.

So we really can’t be sure innocent people won’t be killed unless we just stop killing everyone. The Innocence Project has counted 330 exonerations of convicted criminals in the last 25 years, through DNA testing, including some who were days away from being put to death. How many others weren’t caught in time?

All that’s still a good argument to make. But this is a reminder, to me as much as to anyone else, that I’d oppose the death penalty even if somehow those objections were utterly resolved.

The problems in any one particular case, with dishonest prosecutors and unreliable witnesses and so forth, are all basically moot. The end result was, you killed someone, or you were going to. I’m not okay with that, and it doesn’t really matter how you got there. No human system of establishing guilt will ever be reliable enough that it deserves to be granted that much trust – but even if it somehow were, let’s still not murder each other over it.

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“The FBI encouraged and sometimes even paid Muslims to commit terrorist acts during numerous sting operations after the 9/11 attacks,” begins an article which gets no less fucking appalling as you read on.

Not for the first time, and to the surprise of nobody who’s paying attention, the FBI are exacerbating and assisting violent and destructive extremism, under the guise of fighting some sort of ideological war against it.

And, as is also frighteningly common, it’s not hard to imagine how few people need to be actually evil for it to get like this. The way their incentives were set up, it just made sense at the time for everyone to behave in destructive, damaging, hurtful ways. In which sense the feds in question really aren’t very different from the fanatics against whom they claim to stand in opposition.

I wonder what it takes to allow this sort of structured and systematised monstrousness to come into being under your watch. Whether it requires a special kind of incompetence or malice somewhere near the top of the chain, or whether this is just how things will inevitably turn out for any society that fetishises law enforcement as much as the modern USA.

When society has decided that an entrenched institution of authority must be respected, and revered, and paid homage to, because of its position at the top of the hierarchy, rather than continuously scrutinized, criticised, satirised, and questioned, in an effort to counteract the further concentration of power lest said power be deployed against us – maybe you don’t need to add outright evil or incompetence to the mix to end up with an organisation indistinguishable from terrorists.

Fuck the police. Fuck the feds. And no apologies for picking a title for this post which would fit better on some hipster douchebag pseudo-rebel’s t-shirt.

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