Archive for the ‘news’ Category

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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I never did blog about Tim Hunt back when he was topical. And that’s not really going to change now.

I read quite a bit of what was written, though. In particular, I read this article. And I also read this article. They both say things worth hearing.

ETA: Possibly worth mentioning that this most recent blog break was due to being in Copenhagen for a long weekend. Copenhagen is very good and bits of it look like this.


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Utah has cut homelessness by 74% in eight years. The radical solution nobody else had thought of turns out to be: let people without homes live in the homes that nobody else is living in. Just let them go in and live there, in the homes. Then they stop being homeless.

Meanwhile in Hawaii, one elected Democrat opted for a stint of ostentatiously destroying homeless people’s property and harassing them while they slept. Normally you’d have your ass sued for something like that. Y’know, if the victims were real people.

Hawaii has the highest rates of homelessness in the country. Hawaii has not cuts its homelessness problem by 74% in eight years.

Utah’s given us some pretty great data on how to cost-effectively address this problem. Unfortunately, this is one of those cases where actually fixing the problem is not everyone’s priority. It’s what everyone says they want, but in practice it often comes below “seeming to fix the problem” or “performing the kinds of actions that will reduce the chance of political opponents being able to hurl reputation-damaging epithets like ‘soft on crime’ at me”.

For instance: Tom Brower, of the above-mentioned sledge-hammer rampage, has demonstrated fuck-all interest in helping the people he represents. (Yes, that even includes the ones with nowhere to live, whether or not they voted for him or are capable of donating to his campaign. If you’re arrogant enough to want to hold political office, you don’t get to choose which people in your district are real people and which can be safely disregarded as trash.)

The only purpose this campaign of harassment served was an attempted PR boost. He obviously doesn’t take such a hands-on approach to the running of his district in all regards. He makes the higher-level decisions and delegates everyday things like garbage collection to professionals in that area. This was a cynical, attention-grabbing, vote-wangling, photo-op of a ploy. It’s cruel and hateful, and shows him to be the kind of bell-end who thinks that such dehumanisation will have mass appeal among his potential voters. His style of political strategising leads him to assume that, when folk see him kicking the least fortunate of his own constituents while they’re down, the majority will be inclined to give him even more power to run things and kick the scum even harder next time.

Tragically, he was right enough about this kind of stuff to have got voted into office at least once.

Bullying homeless people improves nothing for anybody, and it’s hard to imagine how even an asshole like Tom Brower could be dishonest enough with himself to believe that it would. But show me another approach which has reduced homelessness by 74% in eight years, and in which most of the homeless people in question are still alive at the end of it. If you can’t, let’s start giving people homes.

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A comedy skit about sex education, put together by a comedian and a small team of writers and researchers for a weekly half-hour comedy show, is way, way more informative, more helpful, more humane, and more truthful about sex, than what millions of American kids are being told by a national education system run by the government.

As much as this clip is great, it was preceded in the show by a horrifying summary of what passes for sex education in the States at the moment, including examples of what many school districts are currently showing to young people, which are virtually indistinguishable from that Mean Girls clip in terms of parodic levels of misinformation and scaremongering.

John Oliver continues to be one of the most important and worthwhile people on TV. I can’t think of anyone doing a better job of highlighting important and appalling things going on of genuine national importance and creating one of very few sources of investigative journalism actually worthy of the name.

Someone who’s pretty close though: David Wong on the Cracked podcast.

I’ve been pretty consistently impressed with that show for a while now, and with David Wong (aka Jason Pargin) in particular. For someone who describes himself as coming from a family with a big background in law enforcement and naturally inclined to lean toward supporting the police for that reason, I just listened to him talk for most of an hour-and-a-half episode, going into great detail and with statistical citations, on everything that is terrifyingly wrong with the US criminal justice system, and the kinds of things research has repeatedly proven it should be doing if it wanted to not be utterly abhorrent.

Okay, obviously I’m exaggerating a little there. He only had an hour and a half, he’d barely got started on how totally fucked up the system is. But it was a pretty damn impressive start.

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Nine Worlds happened again last weekend. We’re three for three so far, and already booking tickets for next year. I may share my detailed feedback for them here when I get around to putting that together, as it’s not been without its problems, but it still has a lot to recommend it over other similar conventions, and it’s still way better than it could be.

deadpoolSomething that’s been a bit of a common theme for me each year has been feeling a bit disappointed with myself in the aftermath, for not throwing myself into things with a bit more gusto. Y’know, socialising with strangers, and other such nightmare scenarios that I understand are popular at many gatherings of this kind.

It’s really not a forte of mine, spontaneously talking to unfamiliar people and “making friends”, even when they’re clearly there for similar reasons and can be assumed to share many interests with me.

(That’s me in the pic above/to the side, incidentally. I’m the one who genuinely didn’t know what those two were doing behind me and was just following instructions to do some jazz hands. They look like my friends, right?)

But if anyplace was going to be designed to make it easy for me, and provide a range of decent and interesting people who I’d have a good chance of getting along with and who are unlikely to be bewildered and alienated by the concept of an introvert, NineWorlds is fairly close to how it’d look. (TAM London wasn’t bad, and QED may be worth a shot someday.)

NineWorlds is the closest I’ve come to feeling like I’ve found “my people”, outside of being alone in an empty house with a couple of cats (and possibly my wife if I’m feeling especially gregarious).

And I’ve spent way too much time in my life hoping for that “finding my people” feeling, ever optimistic that it really may be about to happen. I’ve gone into many new situations, with some part of me daring to hope that maybe here, at last, I’d finally feel at home, and feel welcome, and not be anxious around my (technically) fellow humans. These people shared my academic interests, or my approach to science and religion, or my sci-fi fandoms, or something else that gave me hope that our interactions would be different, and my feelings of awkwardness would somehow melt away around this particular crowd.

Other people speak of having this exact experience when they click with the right in-group, whether that’s the first other gay people they’ve ever had the chance to meet, or whether it’s LARPers, or whoever. It didn’t seem an unreasonable hope in my case. But every time it’s left me feeling empty and disheartened, in proportion to how different I was expecting things to be.

I’ve not given up all hope that someday I’ll feel less perpetually self-conscious and overly self-critical and not just want to hide whenever I’m around people. But I’m no longer waiting for the right kind of “other people” to make it happen suddenly and all at once. If I make any progress in that direction, it’ll be through slow and steady increments of the kind I’ve been making over the past few years. A brief back-of-the-envelope calculation indicates that, if trends continue, these gradual increments will render me a confident alpha-male just in time for mankind’s colonisation of Betelgeuse.

But aside from being an impractical expectation of the dynamics of social interaction (at least in my case), I’m also not sure whether finding “my people” is the worthiest goal.

I mean, if the people you meet in a gay bar or a goth club or NineWorlds are “your people”, then it follows that everyone else is necessarily not among your chosen extended kin. Now, for some folk there’s a real value in determining who isn’t part of the in-group who are known to be trustworthy, particularly if they’re accustomed to being shunned or hated or abused by others from the out-group. But however valuable a service or sanctuary the tribe might provide, there’s a danger that the same dehumanisation and contempt for “the other” might start going both ways.

I want everyone to be “my people”. That’s what humanism means to me. I’m never going to get along equally with everyone; there’ll always be folk I engage or connect with more readily, and they may share enough characteristics that they could be identified collectively as a tribe to some degree. But I’d rather avoid determining whether somebody new is to be trusted or feared, based on whether they appear to fall into some nebulously defined category. Without being too harsh on people who find that a useful heuristic, it seems worth avoiding if possible.

(Post-script: Actually I think the closest I’ve come to identifying “my people”, moreso than NineWorlds attendees, is “people on the internet who I can’t see or hear in real-time and who aren’t occupying the same physical space as me and who only communicate by text and gifs”. Those people are definitely special.)

(Oh, and double-post-script: I tumbl now, apparently, in the obvious place. Expect cross-postings but also new and original content as I become a master of cross-platform interactive brand management *punches self in face*)

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