Religion & Politics Blog

The Worlds Shortest Political Quiz describes me as a left-liberal. I consider myself a non-fundamentalist protestant. I have little time for dogmatism or sectarianism in either politics or religion, but this blog will contain opinions. Read at your peril.

Combine The Garden Bridge with the Edinburgh Tram Saga, and imagine the worst-case civic scenario: Boris Johnson as Mayor of Edinburgh. A chief executive with a love of grandiose but completely useless vanity projects leading an administration that can’t project manage itself out of a wet paper bag. What could possibly go wrong?

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Shirtstorm

That Infamous Shirt

The Internet is throwing one of its childish tantrums again.

The rocket scientist Matt Taylor, who had just made the remarkable achievement of landing a spacecraft on a comet, did a TV interview while wearing a Hawaiian shirt decorated by 1950s-style pinups that a female friend had made for him as birthday present.

Yes, the shirt could be seen as sexist in a workplace context, though I’d doubt most people would have batted an eyelid had he worn it to a rockabilly gig. But the outrage that followed blew things up out of all proportion, and showed the internet at its worst. It started with a nasty mean-spirited article on a clickbait website I won’t link to, and it was followed with the usual pattern of a Twitter mob gathering up torches and pitchforks. It resulted in the man making a tearful apology on TV. But the resulting backlash shows no signs of dying down.

Sorry, but I’m not seeing this as a successful calling out of sexism and misogyny in science. I’m seeing a brilliant but socially awkward man set upon by a pack of bullies over a social faux-pas. And from what I can tell, that’s how a lot of people outside the social-justice bubble see things as well. You are left with the impression they’ve gone for him because he makes an easy soft target who won’t fight back, and forcing a humiliating apology gives them a nice glow of moral righteousness. But there are far worse things than an inappropriate shirt, and cheap victories are often hollow ones.

There are real problems with structural sexism in the worlds of science and technology, but they’re not going to be solved by this sort of knee-jerk public shaming. Remarkable scientific achievements are often the work of people who don’t spend precious brain cycles on things like fashion sense. A scientific world that has no room for socially awkward people with a few rough edges who have difficulty navigating complex and constantly-changing rules of etiquette is a scientific world that will be less able to do things like land spacecraft on comets.

By all means call out blatant sexism. But always retain a sense of proportion, and never forget that there are real human beings at the other end of the invective. As I said about the Requires Hate saga, we must always put empathy before ideology.

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Wingnuts to the right of me, wingnuts to the left of me

A thought brought on by the Requires Hate saga.

Years ago, the most unpleasant and intolerant Internet wingnuts tended to come from the hard right of the political spectrum, typically motivated by Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, reactionary forms of religion, or old-fashioned racism. But in recent years more and more of the worst wingnuts seem to come from the authoritarian left, using the rhetoric of social justice to demand censorship of art and media, and ostracism of people that they don’t like.

Is this is a consequence of positive social change, in that things like gay rights and feminism have become increasingly mainstream, and have attracted the sorts of people who, had they been born a generation earlier, would have gravitated towards cultural conservatism?

Or is it just an illusion, a consequence of social media filter bubbles? Does the shift from subject-specific forums to people-specific social media platforms means that there are just as many conservative wingnuts out there, but they are no longer as visible on an impossible-to-ignore basis? Have the leftist wingnuts always been as common, but just never had much of a presence in online spaces I used to inhabit a decade ago?

Or am I just getting more conservative with age?

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Things I love about Twitter: You can have conversations with Anglican vicars and church wardens on the subject “What sort of car would The Devil drive?”. The consensus seems to be a Jag.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments

The lesson you learn from following people on both sides of #GamerGate on Twitter is the effect too much time in internet echo chambers has on people. It makes it far too easy to demonise large groups of people who don’t share your exact values, especially if all you see of them is their very worst, retweeted as “outrage porn”. And too many people appear unable to see the harm being done by elements of their own side.

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We Live In Interesting Times

Only a fool dare predict the outcome of the next general election. Suggestions that either the Liberal Democrats will be wiped out or UKIP will gain more than a handful of seats are probably wishful thinking on some parties’ behalf.

It’s looking like the major battleground will be Scotland, where the latest poll suggests Scottish Labour faces being wiped out by SNP. If that poll really does reflect the way the election will go, then the SNP are on course to become the third largest party in the next Parliament.

What that means for the next government is anyone’s guess. A potentially fractious Labour/SNP/Liberal Democrat coalition is probably the least bad option as long as UKIP don’t gain enough seats to be potential power-brokers.

But the worst nightmare, perhaps even worse than a feared Conservative/UKIP coalition would be a grand coalition between Labour and the Conservatives. Such a government could bring out the very worst in both parties; the swivel-eyed social reactionary side of the Tories and the nasty authoritarian side of Labour that hasn’t completely purged the ghost of Joseph Stalin from its veins. Such a chimaeric monster risks being closer to actual real fascism than any coalition involving the right-wing UKIP.

“May you live in interesting times” was always a curse.

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Why #GamerGate must end, and why it needs a truce

Two months on and GamerGate is still going on, with every attempt to shut it down merely fanning the flames. But we are starting to see some rejection of the manicheanism and lack of nuance that’s a big part of the problem.

For example, this rant on Popehat that takes no prisoners. But while most of it is aimed at supporters of GamerGate, pointing out how ridiculous the majority of their claims are, he also takes some well-aimed shots at their opponents. In particular the proponents of knee-jerk outrage-driven call-out culture who are shocked to find their own tactics used against them.

If you cultivate a culture in which people react disproportionately to stupid or offensive jokes, sooner or later someone else is going to be freaking out — sincerely or cynically — over someone “on your side” telling a stupid joke.

If you cultivate a culture in which the internet lands on someone like a ton of bricks for being an asshole, sooner or later some segment of the internet is going to decide that you are the asshole, and pile on you.

It is pointed out that the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend:

Look, if you see #GamerGate as a vehicle to advance cultural conservative messages that you believe in, more power to you. That’s free speech. But if you are genuinely someone who only cares about journalistic integrity, and you promote Breitbart and Yiannopoulos, aren’t you being a useful idiot?

And both sides are guilty of that:

Yiannopoulos is by no means the only example. There’s also the feculent two-faced pack of scribblers at Gawker Media. Gawker Media, through Kotaku and Gawker and Jezebel, is consistently outraged at the misogyny of #GamerGate, and has retreated into pearl-clutching couch-fainting at the attacks it has recently endured on its own work. But Gawker Media loves feminism like a glutton loves his lunch.

Slate’s David Auerbach notes that there are all sorts of people for or against GamerGate, including feminists supporting it as a proxy war in a long-running feud between different generations of feminism. But it’s all reached the point where the human cost is just too high. It has to stop.

Whatever a troll does under the cover of Gamergate—such as doxxing actress Felicia Day or offering free game codes to accounts that send death threats—is guaranteed to get a lot of attention (far more than typical Internet harassment) and to be blamed not on the individual but on Gamergate collectively. For a troll, this is a perfect setup: maximum effect, minimal exposure. I could dox any woman in gaming, and Gamergate would get blamed. So as long as Gamergate drags on, trolls who care less about games than about causing chaos will wreak havoc

But he also makes the point that GamerGate, despite all the attendant toxicity, is going to continue for as long as the gaming media continues to use the highly visible misogyny and harassement to deflect attention away from things the media doesn’t want to talk about. His conclusion is that in order for GamerGate to come to an end, there has to be some sort of truce with those supporters who aren’t reactionary trolls. Parts of the media do need to clean up their acts, and he’s another to point an accusing finger at Gawker Media, who have not exactly been covering themselves in glory.

I’ve mentioned parallels with the culture wars across music a generation ago before. Back in those days entire genres of music had to fight for their right to exist. In a dishonest hit piece so notorious it’s remembered decades later, Rush and their fanbase were slandered as Nazis. We were told that guitar solos were misogynistic because the guitar was a phallic symbol. Well, perhaps not in those exact words, but that was surely the subtext behind Paul Morley’s ridiculous “Anti-Rockist” movement.

But all that was years ago, and it was really the growing pains of a far more diverse music scene that was rapidly fragmenting into multiple overlapping subcultures. Nowadays genres of music whose audiences are overwhelmingly white and male such as metal or progressive rock are allowed to exist without constantly having to defend themselves against charges of racism and sexism for that reason alone. And because the relative merits of different styles of music is largely divorced from identity politics we can have discussions about homophobia in the metal scene without getting derailed by “You should all be listening to dance-pop instead”.

Music’s bitter culture wars took place in a very different media environment, where a limited number of gatekeepers have far more power, and agenda-driven music journalists really did have the ability to make or break careers. It was far more of a zero-sum game in the days before the internet and the diversification of distribution channels.

Only the other hand, perhaps we’re lucky there was no Twitter during the Punk Wars.

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HS25 and Beyond

Following on the announcement of HS3, the government are set to announce HS25. It will not serve any major cities but will just go round and round in circles. There are rumours that Hornby and Bachmann have both submitted bids. The system will be controlled by a big knob, but George Osborne has promised he will let other people have a go occasionally.

On a more serious note, I’m still seeing people who loudly declare that high-speed rail is a waste of money and we should be building high-speed internet instead. If you really believe that the nation should not be investing in transport infrastructure to meet future demand because you’d rather sit at home and play video games or watch high-definition porn, then congratulations; the nation’s trainspotters can look down on you as socially isolated shut-ins.

Posted in Religion & Politics, Travel & Transport | Tagged | 1 Comment

Was Michael Moorcock’s Law and Chaos based on any real-world religious or philosophical system, or did he create it from the whole cloth? It’s remarkable how manycultural conflicts that cut across traditional political and religious lines make more sense when framed as Law vs. Chaos, or between conflicting strains of Law.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Why are we not rioting on the streets?

phones4uWriting in that bastion of free-market conservatism, The Daily Telegraph, Alex Proud looks at the recent collapse of Phones 4U, and asks why aren’t the British middle-classes staging a revolution? He paints a grim picture of the endgame of late-stage capitalism.

Phones4U was bought by the private equity house, BC Partners, in 2011 for £200m. BC then borrowed £205m and, having saddled the company with vast amounts of debt, paid themselves a dividend of £223m. Crippled by debt, the company has now collapsed into administration.

The people who crippled it have walked away with nearly £20m million, while 5,600 people face losing their jobs. The taxman may also be stiffed on £90m in unpaid VAT and PAYE. It’s like a version of 1987’s Wall Street on steroids, the difference being that Gordon Gecko wins at the end and everyone shrugs and says, “Well, it’s not ideal, but really we need guys like him.”

I’m not financially sophisticated enough to understand the labyrinthine ins and outs of private equity deals. But I don’t think I need to be. Here, my relative ignorance is actually a plus. You took a viable company, ran up ridiculous levels of debt, paid yourselves millions and then walked away, leaving unemployment and unpaid tax bills in your wake. What’s to understand? We should be calling for your heads on a plate.

People like this are being allowed to loot the economy with impunity, and they’ve being allowed to get away with it because they’re being protected by the political establishment, which has allowed itself to be bought. It explains why nobody was prosecuted for fraud in the wake of the 2008 banking crisis, and there has been no tightening of the lax regulations that allowed this crisis to happen.

It’s exactly the same as the declining cities in parts of Italy and the United States where The Mafia has its hooks in goverment and bleeds the local economies dry. The only difference is The Mafia kill those who oppose them, and the private equity houses haven’t (yet) crossed that line.

The mantra is we must coddle the rich because they’re “wealth creators”. But this mantra comes from the paid shills of these thieves and from their useful idiots who have read too much Ayn Rand. But, as the Phones4U collapse shows, this is a lie. They don’t create wealth, they merely steal it.  As as for them being “job creators”, don’t make me laugh.

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