Posts Tagged ‘conservative’

People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children.

Says a prominent conservative pundit in the US. In the year 2013. No, I mean 2013 A.D.

This is why fuck conventional views, fuck them in the goddamn neck.

(via Pharyngula)

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News: Busted!

Although it starts off being about grammar, this post at the Sadly, No! blog has a great line about the double-standards employed by conservative news outlets such as NewsBusters:

Over at Newsbusters, disagreeing with a conservative is hate; suggesting that gays shouldn’t even appear on TV unless they are portrayed as dismal, dispirited, suicidal homos who can only save themselves by finding religion and the opposite sex is, of course, an act of love.

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A Conservative MP in the UK recently suggested that the minimum wage might be a “hindrance” to some people who want to find work, and that the “vulnerable” – such as those with disabilities – should be able to work for less than this legally mandated lower limit.

The internet heard about this, and exploded.

People were angry at Philip Davies’s insensitivity, and it’s not hard to see why. After the outrage bounced around Twitter for a while, an official response was posted by mental health charity Mind, as well as a damning riposte in the Guardian (not forgetting the admirably quick-off-the-mark NewsThump).

The people vehemently disagreeing with Davies are clearly concerned about people with disabilities, learning difficulties, or mental illness being discriminated against unfairly, and would be against any legislation implying that such people are less worthy of the basic human rights that we tend to think all members of society deserve equally. And while this is admirable, I think that Davies is getting unfairly swept up with a slew of other bad ideas that are worth criticising.

Partially, anyway.

Simon Perry has highlighted some of the over-zealous criticism better than most, and has tried to clarify what Davies was and was not saying, and why it may not have been as abhorrent as all that.

I think he’s only sort of right as well, though.

Davies was highlighting one of the effects of having a minimum wage: sometimes people won’t get hired for a job they wanted, which they could have got if they’d been able to agree to work for below the legal minimum. This limitation has no doubt closed off some opportunities for people willing to work at very low rates.

So, he argues, some of the “most vulnerable people in society” should have the option of working for below minimum wage, if they find this helpful in getting them onto the job ladder.

It’s not that clear from the articles I’ve read, but it seems that the following ideas are the only ones that can really be read from what Davies seems to be saying:

  1. People with disabilities or mental illness should accept that they’re often not worth as much in the job market, they oughtn’t expect to be paid as much as the rest of society can expect, and they’re just going to be poorer because of it.
  2. Everyone should earn at least the minimum wage, unless they want to accept less.
  3. There should be no minimum wage.

The first option is discriminatory and callous.

The second is either meaningless (there’s no point to a law you have to follow unless you don’t want to) or it’s effectively equivalent to the third.

The third would at least be a coherent idea, but I suspect that if that was what he meant, he’d have said so far more straight-forwardly.

So, in a way, it’s hard to be particularly angry with Philip Davies, as it’s not entirely clear to me what he’s getting at.

But I’m still a long way from being on his side.

Davies would argue, no doubt, that he’s concerned for the rights of the disabled, and the otherwise “vulnerable”, and is seeking ways which might make it easier for them to find a position in the workforce. But his apparent compassion and desire to genuinely help people doesn’t bear up to much scrutiny.

Whatever he meant to say, it’s clear that mental health charities, sufferers of mental illness and disability, and basically everyone else have all criticised him for being insensitive. If he had a valid and compassionate point in there somewhere, nobody got it. People felt he was being unfair and unkind, and at the very least he had expressed himself poorly.

And his response has been to get snippy and passive-aggressive with his critics, dismissing their concerns as “Left wing hysteria”. He’s made no apparent effort to explain why his suggestions are not the unfair and prejudiced ones he made them sound like, but is painting the whole liberal wing as some kind of monolith that’s resistant to new ideas and is just out to get him.

This is not how you behave if your primary concern is caring for people and making positive changes. This is how you behave if you’re responding to any slight on your character with stubbornness and petulance.

And for what it’s worth, I don’t even think it’s a good idea.

Most countries have a minimum wage law, and it’s worth considering why it’s there in the first place. The reading up I’ve done on the actual answers to this complex question has been minimal, because I know what you’ve come to expect from me by now and I hate to disappoint. But I think this is a fair characterisation: it’s a restriction on the free market that society tends to find necessary, in order to save the working class from the natural result of unrestrained capitalism.

A part of me wonders what I’ve become, that I can type a sentence like that with a straight face. Let me try that again without sounding like quite such an unbearable wanker.

If minimum wage laws weren’t there, many people would be working for less than the current limits. (Otherwise the laws would be doing absolutely nothing.) This implies that, if the market were free of this particular restraint, people would end up working for rates of pay currently considered unacceptably paltry. The way a free market would actually value many people’s labour would be so appallingly low, we’ve put laws in place to make sure things don’t get quite that bad for anyone.

The idea of a truly free market may have a certain libertarian appeal, but the vast inequalities between sub-minimum wage workers and their corporate employers should be of grave concern to anyone who thinks a freer market is always better.

While increasing the pay gap even more might open a few doors in the short-term for some individuals, surely what’s more worth addressing are broader problems in the way things are structured. There are keen 20-year-old men and women in the workforce, young and energetic and eager to work, who are having to decide between selling their labour for £4.92 an hour, or not working at all.

There’s a bigger issue in play when so many people are that desperate to keep their heads above water, and Philip Davies is not alone in failing to address this with his proposal.

If the only solution you have is that some people ought to accept even less than the current limits, then you’re tacitly accepting a seriously fucked-up economy with grossly unjust class divides as being either basically fair or sadly inevitable.

Which, unfortunately, seems to be what Davies is doing. This particular gem from the BBC report especially infuriated me:

Mr Davies replied that, irrespective of whether it was “right or wrong”, that was “just the real world that we operate in”.



You’re an elected member of parliament, entrusted with the responsibility to represent the people and enact national legislation to try to make society run in a functional manner.

If you’re resigned to the way things already are, think that whether something’s “right or wrong” is “irrespective”, and aren’t trying to change the world we operate in, then what the fuck are you good for?


Is it just me, or am I sounding more and more social libertarian every time I try and write about serious things?

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– I observed recently that a number of Conservapedia‘s editors seem to be deliberately turning it into a parody site, and it’s deranged proprietor is entirely failing to notice. Not quite to the same extent, but Fox News sometimes seem to be doing a similar thing, and doesn’t even need to be ridiculed.

– You might be letting your religion turn you into an inhumane wanktard if… You don’t want other people to get any help with their addiction problems unless it’s on your terms.

– Bank of America. Fuck yeah.

PZ Myers argues with Islamic fundamentalists for our sins. What does Jesus know about self-sacrifice?

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– There has now been a lot of research into this, and the bottom line is that your mobile phone won’t give you cancer.

– “Show me the sausages“. I’m going to start using that line in every philosophical discussion I ever have now, even if it’s totally inappropriate. (via PZ Myers)

– Nice quote from a prominent conservative radio host. As Ed observes, it’s all about small government with the American right.

– Remember: these people are not racist. So don’t go making that mistake.

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I’m writing this on 3rd May 2010, by which time it may be too late for any of these links to be a great deal of use in the UK general election this time around. But there’s still time to decide who’s worth voting for, and in a way that’s just the start. Once people have been voted into office, they get to start doing stuff, and we get to start keeping them accountable to make sure they don’t fuck things up.

So, this is a complete list of all the political websites that I’ve encountered in recent weeks, categorised by the questions they can best help you answer, along with brief descriptions of what use they might be, either before or after the big day. They’ve all apparently been set up by enthusiastic activists, to allow uninformed idiots like me to become less of both those things, and to get involved without having to do any real work.

Who are these people?

TheyWorkForYou.com – Details on your current/former MP, including their voting record on key issues, and speeches made in the House of Commons.

YourNextMP.com – Complete lists of all the candidates standing in your constituency, with contact details and external links to further information.

UK Polling report – Candidate information for all seats, with detailed statistics on past results, predicted results, boundary changes, and so forth.

Where do they stand?

TheStraightChoice.org – Scan in any election leaflets you receive here, or see what other people have been receiving from their local candidates.

The TheyWorkForYou.com election quiz – You can prod your local MP or candidates to answer these questions on various local and national issues.

Skeptical-Voter.org – Find out how your MP or candidates have responded to the suggested questions. If their answers aren’t there, why not use some of the links below to ask them yourself?

Where do I stand?

VoteMatch.org.uk – Rate where you stand on certain key issues, and see how closely your views match with those of the political parties who are after your vote.

VoteForPolicies.org.uk – Pick the set of policies that most appeals to you, without knowing whose they are. At the end, you’ll be told which party’s ideas you seem to be most in line with.

WhoShouldYouVoteFor.com – A list of statements on one page for you to agree or disagree with. Based on your answers, you find out who you should vote for. Simple.

How can I get hold of them?

WriteToThem.com – You can send an email to any of your local councillors, MPs, MEPs, or other representatives here, just by filling in a message on the site. All the work of looking up the names and contact details of the relevant people has been done for you; just plug in your postcode, click on a name, and have your say.

EmailYourCandidates.heroku.com – Send an email through the form on this site to any or all parliamentary candidates in your area (for whom an email address is available).

What else can I do?

DemocracyClub.org.uk – Raise local issues important to you, or help get things done that have been suggested by others.

AboutMyVote.co.uk – Register to vote in future elections here, as well as finding out about things like postal voting, or how the polling stations work.

Any more suggestions, leave a comment. I’m trying to keep it non-partisan, though, so I’m going to avoid including anything with a leaning to any particular political party – though I certainly don’t plan to keep this whole blog politically neutral.

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So, a quick follow-up to Wednesday’s big political blah.

One thing that occurs to me in retrospect, which probably deserves to be better highlighted, is that this is all just a suggested starting point. I was intending to address people like me, who have never really found a way to engage with politics before, but can find things in it worth their attention if there was just some way to connect.

There are, of course, many other ways to get involved in politics, including some which can’t or shouldn’t be done in ten minutes from in front of your computer. I found this kind of approach illuminating and liberating, but some people may also find something to be said for actually going outside and doing stuff.

I know I was rather dismissive of political reps and canvassers, but they’ve no doubt changed many minds and made a great deal of incremental difference in their time, and played a bigger part than most in the public conversation about how our country should be run. I don’t want you to think I’m being contemptuous of that way of getting involved. It just wouldn’t suit me, and wouldn’t suit a lot of people, and I’m trying to talk about more palatable (to some) alternatives.

Also, a couple of thoughts on the Skeptical Voter questions.

When I sent my email to Sam Webber and the Bromley Lib Dems last week, I didn’t just cut and paste the suggested skeptical questions. A few of them I quoted verbatim, but some others I gave a little context to. I was in a chatty mood, so ahead of the question about libel reform, I very briefly outlined why this was important to me, and mentioned people like Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but I think providing a little more context to the questions might be a useful thing.

Someone mentioned on Twitter earlier that their Conservative candidate had asked if there was anything specific in mind behind question 7: “Should policy-makers trust scientific evidence even when it appears counter-intuitive?” And personally, I’ve no idea.

The answer to the question should be “Yes”, incidentally (with some slight nuance sacrificed for the sake of pith). But it might help if, say, I could point to some specific example where this wasn’t what happened, and ask the candidate’s thoughts on it. It seems likely, for instance, that whoever came up with question 4 (about independent government advisers being able to give advice that conflicts with government policy without being fired) had the Nutt Sack Affair in mind, and being able to refer to that might help make more sense of the question.

My suggestion, then, might be to provide an expanded version of the ten Skeptical Voter questions, with some background to each one, either to give the candidates a better idea of what exactly they should be responding to, or to give the voters asking questions a better idea of how to engage with them. I might submit my suggestions to the wiki later.

As you can probably tell, I’m still rather having fun with this.

Oh, wait, two more exciting things turned up since I wrote all that.

Some enterprising chaps and chapettes have done yet more of the hard work for you, and made nearly every step in my big how-to guide even easier. YourNextMP.com will provide a list of all the candidates in your constituency, contact details and personal background information, and links to their profiles and websites online. It’s still a work in progress, but might tell you lots that you don’t know – and if you’ve found something out about these people which they don’t already have, you can add it to the list. There’s less data on their policy positions than TheyWorkForYou has, but it’s still handy.

And finally, while the whole “Labservative” thing I mentioned is no doubt achieving some worthy snark, it’s worth remembering that differences in policy between Labour and the Conservatives really aren’t wholly mythical. My gay vote pretty much speaks for itself.

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Between laziness and a trip into London to see another of Robin Ince’s variety shows at the Bloomsbury Theatre last night, I seem to have inadvertently taken a few days off from saying anything here. Let’s get back into it.

“Disposable sleeves” introduced for female Muslim medical staff, for whom baring their forearms is unacceptably immodest. Another of those stories that makes me wary of being part of the immediate, knee-jerk anti-Muslim backlash, but my sympathies are not strongly with the religious camp either. The part that actually matters is that medical staff wash their hands and observe other basic protocols to minimise infection rates. Nobody else is obliged to care about your own personal and irrelevant set of values, so if they compromise safety regulations then your values can fuck off. However, if this is something in which thousands of staff across the country can be relatively easily accommodated, and are capable of doing the jobs to the standards demanded of anyone else in their position, it’s likely harmless enough.

This is what’s wrong with Conservatives in America. Pretty much all of it, extensively researched and referenced. And like the author seems to, I really want to see right-wing politics actually start being about right-wing politics again, not the insane bullshit that’s come to represent it lately. A lot of the responses in the comments thread show a head-deskingly painful tendency to miss the point. There’s not much attempt to repudiate any of the points made; much more common is the argument (and I use that term in the Monty Python sense) that “oh, the Democrats do bad stuff too”. If you want to make a list as comprehensive as this one of examples of left-wing hypocrisy, hyperbole, and hatred, then go ahead – I’d be fascinated to read it. Doesn’t change anything about how irrational and douchetastic the representatives of the GOP have acted in recent years.

– A hearing this Thursday will determine the fate of Simon Singh’s appeal against the preliminary ruling on meaning, in his ongoing legal battle with the British Chiropractic Association. Actually quite nerve-wracking at this point, but there’s a real chance it may go fantastically well. Many of the usual bloggers and activists will be present at the judgment and reporting on the proceedings. I imagine I’ll be reporting on their reporting not too long after.

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So I think I might be starting to give fractionally more of a shit about local politics.

It’s still not a great deal of a shit, mind. I’m not going to start taking to the streets and campaigning loudly for the important issues facing the good people of Bromley just yet, not least because I don’t know what they are. I’m not at the stage of waving placards angrily outside City Hall (do we even have one of those?). But the idea of having some sort of involvement in what’s going on around here politically is starting to seem like a less dull and distant notion.

This is largely down to a couple of activist websites I’ve been encountering recently, in particular TheyWorkForYou.com, a largely volunteer-led project organised around the idea of establishing some accountability for our elected politicians. Which sounds like a handy thing to have. And it takes off a lot of the pressure for me to have to be organised myself, in order to get involved in some way.

For instance, all I’ve really done so far is type in my postcode so they know what constituency I live in. And now I know all sorts of things that I’d never taken enough interest to find out myself in the time I’ve lived here, like that my MP is called Bob Neill, is the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, and that he has tended to vote against legislation to establish and protect gay rights and in favour of renewing Labour’s anti-terror laws. Which are the kind of things I might want to know if and when I’m trying to decide who to vote for in future. Also, Wikipedia tells me that in the last by-election the liberal democrats made substantial gains in this area, and as such Mr Neill has one of the smallest majorities in parliament.

I was actually first prompted to find out who my local elected representative is when I was being encouraged to find out his position on libel reform, and was directed to WriteToThem.com, a site built to make it absurdly easy to send messages to your MP without having to do all the off-putting research like finding out who they are. I didn’t get a reply to my questions, and apparently only 48 out of 147 messages sent to him this way in the year 2008 got a response. Which ain’t great.

And then there’s Democracy Club, which provides a forum for residents of a particular constituency to suggest and discuss local issues that may need addressing, in the context of a forthcoming election, and recommends the kind of tasks you can do to help get things done. Right now, the main default task being recommended to me is to “Describe local issues”, but I’m so woefully out of the loop that I can’t even really think what to bring to the table here. I’m going to keep a lookout for any election leaflets we get posted, like it says, but I’m still hoping to be able to follow people’s leads for a while. Things seem mostly fine around here, really. The bins get picked up on time. The roads aren’t full of pot-holes. The crime rate has avoided me entirely.

So… what should I care about most? Now that I’m actually being persuaded to take an interest, has anyone got any ideas where I should go from here? How do I decide what’s important to me without getting bored again? For all that this has grabbed my attention, it’s still local politics, and it’s not unlikely that I might just doze off if I try writing about it at this length again in a few weeks.

In other news, another anti-gay Republican senator is gay. Yeah, this kind of thing has long since stopped being any kind of a surprise. I guess he’s doing better than most to have simply come out, though, rather than done the press conference rounds with his supportive wife by his side and muttered about indiscretions and having a problem and needing help and going into rehab. I’m just looking forward to when this all becomes as irrelevant as race, frankly. Not that I’m saying we’ve totally moved beyond racial prejudice and into a utopia of tolerance and acceptance or anything, but at least people aren’t usually appalled by white folks and black folks wanting to get married any more, and the only people who still openly complain about foreigners being inferior are mostly fuckwads we can all just ignore.

So, what I appear to be saying is that I can’t wait for the day when everyone’s homophobic bigotry is forced beneath the surface and has to fester in secret as people mask their true feelings for the sake of a superficially polite and tolerant society, just like they’ve done with racism. Maybe that needs a little more thought.

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Christopher Maloney is a quack.

That’s something we can all be clear on, right off the bat. Telling parents who are thinking of vaccinating their children that “elderberry… blocks the H1N1 virus”? Yeah, fuck you. But that’s not what I want to talk about. (For one thing, Steve Novella’s got it covered. Again. Doesn’t he ever get tired of being awesome?)

Someone called Michael Hawkins wrote an article, on a WordPress blog, criticising Maloney and pointing out some of the crap he’s peddling. WordPress received a complaint about this, and ended up shutting Hawkins’ blog down. Yes, this is WordPress I’m blogging on now. I’m betting I’ll be saved from a similar fate by being too obscure to be noticed.

PZ Myers blogged about this again, pointing out that Christopher Maloney is still a quack, and highlighting how unsurprising it is for a woo-monger to apparently resort to bullying and censorship instead of actually defending any of his ideas. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.

What I want to talk about is something that happened next.

Apparently Maloney started complaining about receiving harassing emails from the Pharyngulites – PZ’s readers who wanted to express their ire at the Maloney’s quackery. Now, there’s been some discussion in some comments threads as to whether this harassment is likely to have really happened, at least to the extent that the quack is complaining about it, but the point I wanted to make is about PZ’s response: he posted again, only a couple of hours after the last one, urging people not to harass the quacks. He essentially told off a chunk of his own base, in no uncertain terms.

I’m not saying that he deserves any humanitarian awards for his basic decency here. It should be a no-brainer that making unpleasant phone calls to some guy whose number you found on the internet is a dick move. It’s kinda important that he should remind people not to go overboard, and to keep the debate within certain bounds of civility.

But however obvious this kind of thing should be, there are some areas of discussion where it happens much more reliably than others. Some political and philosophical demographics seem more capable than others of saying things like “I agree with this group’s core principles, but think they handled themselves poorly and inappropriately in this instance”, or “I know we’re on the same side here but I don’t agree with the way you’re going about this”, or even something as simple as “I was wrong”.

I was prompted to think about this by this post, which links to a video by a WorldNetDaily columnist, praising Uganda for upholding good Christian principles by trying to make homosexuality an offence punishable by death.

It’s a weird video, not least because it feels like I’m not understanding something that’s going on, like I must be missing some clever irony, because it seems like the kind of thing you’d make if you wanted to parody a whole bunch of idiotic right-wing fundamentalist claims. But apparently it’s real. And it’s seriously fucked up.

It does not, though, represent the views of all Republicans, or of every person who voted for John McCain in the last US presidential election. A lot of right-wing conservative voters out there would surely be appalled at seeing some dick’s twisted reading of the Bible being used to justify culling gay people. Even Rick Warren came out against the proposed Ugandan law, eventually.

But where are they? This sort of stuff never seems to be condemned or addressed by the rest of the conservative movement; it always seems to be up to liberals to expose this kind of thing. Whereas the left seem to have a little more awareness of themselves. Not universally, by any means – every camp has its fundies – but they seem far more capable of finding the humility to give a little ground once in a while, to admit that a certain move by one of their comrades may not have been entirely legitimate.

Example. It comes out that, some months ago, in a private meeting, Rahm Emanuel described some idea or other as “retarded“. Sarah Palin calls for his resignation, because of how offensive this is to the disabled community. Then, while discussing this story on the radio, Rush Limbaugh calls some liberals “retards”. Palin, being a fair-minded and even-handed rationalist, chastises Limbaugh in similar terms.

No, wait. I got that last bit wrong. She hasn’t said anything of the sort about Limbaugh. Or about Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly used the word “retarded” and laughed about it on his public TV show, and who interviewed Palin on Fox News just recently. Keith Olbermann might not be the best example of the humble and self-aware left-wing commentator I’ve been claiming definitely exists out there somewhere, but on this point he pretty much nails it.

That turned into a bigger rant on that one point than I’d planned. But it’s a great example of what I mean. Glenn Beck is a colossal douche, and if any right-wingers wanted to publicly acknowledge that, it’d be totally okay with the rest of us. Why doesn’t it seem to happen? Is it just my skewed perspective? Am I just not watching the right shows and YouTube clips to see where this goes on? Will I see the other side I’ve been missing if I turn over and find Jon Stewart’s conservative equivalent on some hitherto unexplored channel somewhere?

If that show exists, I’ve not seen it. And I haven’t see many conservative bloggers or commentators reminding their audiences to play nice like PZ did here, or highlighting and correcting when people on “their side” get things wrong.

So, conveniently, it seems to be the case that all these qualities of humility and objectivity and awesomeness line up very neatly with my own positions on stuff. I wonder if that should make me wary of how objective my own conclusions are… Nah.

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