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.

It is hard to get to grips with them in argument because they constantly shift their stance and reinterpret the meaning of words to help them evade difficult questions“. The context is a blog by James Christie about ISO 29119. But it’s a far wider truth. Professional cliques and ideological sects have long used jargon words as an in-group identifier. But it always frustrates communication when they insist on applying new jargon-meanings to perfectly good existing words.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Will They Stay Or Will They Go?

Next week, Scotland may vote to end the 300-year union with England. If it happens, it won’t just change Scotland, but England as well, and there are legitimate fears than it will unleash ugly forces that will leave the remainder of the UK far less of a green and pleasant land.

Superficially, the removal of 60-odd Scottish seats from Parliament appears to benefit the Tories, who have barely existed as an electoral force north of the border for a generation. But it’s difficult to imagine the break-up of the United Kingdom not changing the political landscape south of the border. The possibility of England lurching to the right after Scottish independence is certainly possible but is by no means inevitable.

Another possibility is that it will provoke a backlash against the same forces that were seen as driving Scotland away from the UK, and are as true for Wales and the English regions. If the London-centric ruling elites are found guilty in the court of public opinion of destroying the union just to line their own pockets, there will be blood. Hopefully just metaphorical blood, but….

If we’d had electoral reform years ago we wouldn’t currently be facing the possibility of the break up of the UK. We would not have been electing governments who could afford to ignore entire regions of the country because a handful of marginal constituencies were all the mattered in elections. And we would not have been electing governments with a mandate to enact far-reaching and irreversible changes with the support of just 40% of the electorate.

I’m a former Liberal Democrat voter who’s currently politically homeless. I have always considered myself left-of-centre but I have never trusted the authoritarianism that was never far below the surface of the Labour Party. But, whatever Scotland decides next week, if Ed Miliband promises electoral reform as a manifesto commitment, he will have my vote.

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This post on Stonekettle Station about American gun culture contains some quotes from Ted Nugent that are so violently racist it makes me wish I’d bought some of his records back when I was young and stupid. So I could publicly destroy them.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

Calling time on the ice bucket challenge

I am sick of this ice bucket nonsense, I know I’m not the only one, and I can’t wait for it to die down. It’s like the mass hysteria following the death of Princess Diana, where half the country were caught up in it and the other half were left wondering if they were the last sane person left in the country.

I have even had to shut down all my social media accounts until the whole thing blows over. I know it’s all for charity, but despite all the money it’s raising there is something deeply disturbing about the whole thing. Many people seem to think that if something is for a good cause their methods should be above criticism. Others may be reluctant to voice their concerns publicly less they look like curmudgeonly party-poopers.

Well, bollocks to that.

The traditional means of doing stupid things for charity is to invite other people to sponsor you. Nobody should have a problem with that. But the ice bucket challenge doesn’t work like that.

It’s the coercive element to the whole thing that’s deeply troubling. Charity is supposed to be voluntary; it should be up to you to decide how much you can afford to give, and it should be up to you to decide which charities are most deserving of your support. Trying to force people to donate to a specific cause or face social sanction crosses a significant ethical line. The way supporters try to shout down any criticism makes it clear that this is an aspect they really don’t want to talk about. Unfortunately the “success” of the ice bucket challenge sets a dangerous precedent, and there’s a high probability that other charities will be tempted to take similar ethically-questionable approaches in the future.

Worse, the whole thing has nasty overtones of bullying, and I was getting the impression from my Twitter feed that quite a few people were being pressurised against their will. Performing acts of public humiliation for other people’s entertainment is fine for people with an exhibitionist streak, which explains its popularity with attention-seeking celebrities and cynical politicians. But for some of those who are more camera-shy the prospect of being “nominated” is genuinely frightening, and I know there are plenty of other people who have shut down their social media accounts for the duration.

If you’ve willingly made a public idiot of yourself by dousing yourself in ice-cold water, good for you. But if you’ve then pressurised anyone else into doing the same, refused to take an initial “No” for an answer, or threatened to nominate someone who know will hate it, then you are guilty of bullying. If this is really the case, it might not be a bad thing to ackowledge this and give a sincere apology to  your victim.

And if you read this and think it would be a “larf” to try and challenge me, you’re a dick. As Will Wheaton famously said, “Don’t be a dick”.

Comments are disabled on the post. I’m not really interested in a “debate” on the issue, and this post may well attract more trolls than I have the mental energy to deal with.

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Roko’s Basilisk – Lovecraftian Calvinism on Steroids?

Memetic_hazard_warningSlate Magazine has discovered Roko’s Basilisk: The most terrifying thought experiment of all time, which postulates that an all-powerful Godlike artificial intelligence will punish everyone who didn’t help it come into existence in a computer-generated afterlife.

SF author Charlie Stross blogged about Roko’s Basilisk last year, and correctly identified is an a nasty mashup of the bleakest elements of Calvinist theology with H.P.Lovecraft’s “Things Man Was Not Meant To Know”.

Leaving aside the essentially Calvinist nature of Extropian techno-theology exposed herein (thou canst be punished in the afterlife for not devoting thine every waking moment to fighting for God, thou miserable slacking sinner), it amuses me that these folks actually presume that we’d cop the blame for it—much less that they seem to be in a tizzy over the mere idea that spreading this meme could be tantamount to a crime against humanity (because it DOOMS EVERYONE who is aware of it).

And now I discover I’m followed by Roko’s Basilisk on Twitter. Should I be worried?

Posted in Computing, Religion & Politics, Science Fiction | Tagged , | 2 Comments

There is so much rejoicing from teachers and parents over the removal of the appalling Michael Gove from education that you’re sure it’s being used to bury bad news. So presumably David Cameron wants to bury the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill so badly he’s willing to sacrifice one of the most hated cabinet members to do so.

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Ann Coulter Auto-Poes

Infamous foaming-at-the-mouth American conservative pundit Ann Coulter thinks any growing interest in soccer a sign of nation’s moral decay.

A taste:

The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO’s “Girls,” light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is “catching on” is exceeded only by the ones pretending women’s basketball is fascinating.

The whole thing is either a hilarious parody worthy of The Onion, or a terrifying insight into the world-view of American conservatism. And there is absolutely no way of telling which of the two it is. Another example of Poe’s Law in action.

If there are conservatives that genuinely take her seriously, it’s proof that spending too long in any echo chamber makes your bullshit detectors stop working.

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The Perils of Hiring for “Cultural Fit”

In a blog post entitled “Inside the Mirrortocracy“, Carlos Bueno skewers the notion of hiring for “cultural fit”, where a perfectly qualified candidate can be rejected purely for liking the wrong sports or having the wrong taste in music.

Call­ing it out and mak­ing fun of it is not en­ough. Whatev­er else one can say about the Mir­rortoc­ra­cy, it has the vir­tue of ac­tual­ly work­ing, in the sense that the lucky few who break in have a de­cent rate of suc­cess. Com­pared to what, well, that is careful­ly left un­as­ked. The col­later­al damage of “false negatives” is as large as it is in­visib­le. But it is dif­ficult to argue with suc­cess. It takes a humil­ity and generos­ity that must come from with­in. It can’t be for­ced on oth­ers, only en­couraged to de­velop.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I’m not mak­ing a moral case but a fair­ly amor­al one. It’s hard to argue against the fact that the Val­ley is un­fair­ly ex­clusiona­ry. This im­pl­ies that there is a large un­tap­ped talent pool to be de­veloped. Since the tech war boils down to a talent war, the com­pany that figures out how to get over it­self and tap that pool wins.

Yes, it’s probably far worse in Silicon Valley than perhaps it is in the rest of the world, but I’m sure there are plenty of other places in the world with similar problems. And as Carlos Bueno says, it results in a monoculture so limiting that those inside don’t even realise it.

Posted in Religion & Politics, Testing & Software | Tagged , | 3 Comments

So Wonga have been caught chasing debt using fake law firms. This bunch of malevolent sharks are the epitome of everything that’s wrong with David Cameron’s Britain. They deserve to have Russian soldiers planting their flag atop the ruins of Wonga HQ, while their CEO commits suicide in the bunker beneath. After which the surviving board members flee to the jungles of Paraguay, only to be hunted down and put on trial for their crimes.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 2 Comments

Operation Lollipop demonstrates Poe’s Law in action

Last week large numbers of supposed feminists on Twitter were exposed as trolls associated with the notorious troll citadel 4chan, and at least two of the most dubious Twitter hashtags, including #EndFathersDay turned out to be their work, part of an orchestrated mass trolling called “Operation Lollipop”.

Everyone writing about the subject naturally concludes that it confirms their existing point of view. Lola Okolosie and Laurie Penny, writing in The Guardian, saw the whole thing as an extinction burst.

The reason sexist trolls fretting alone in their bedrooms are frightened of political women online, particularly women of colour, is the same reason they won’t win. Despite our differences, and even because of our differences, we are powerful, and we are many, and this is our time, not theirs.

Meanwhile the former Communists turned right-libertarians of Spiked Online consider the whole thing to be a useful parody.

There is something pretty pompous about the rigid etiquette of the Twitter activists’ call-out culture that begs to be mocked.

If hashtag activism is easily parodied, then that shows what is wrong with it. By drawing out the excessiveness of hashtags like #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen or #KillAllMen, the 4channers were doing everyone a favour. The wisest point about Twitter was made by playwright Steven Berkoff: if you jump in a dustbin you cannot complain that you are covered in rubbish.

The whole thing does seem like a very good practical demonsration of Poe’s Law, which states:

Without a blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

And that’s true about this. By no means everyone who picked up and ran with their fake hashtags were 4chan’s adolescent racists and sexists.  And quite a few right-wing anti-feminist types, including the even arch misogynist Paul Elam fell for it too.

What it has done is exposed the weaknesses of “Hashtag activism”. Twitter’s 140-character limit means activist soundbites are stripped of all context and nuance, and Twitter always tends to magnify the loudest voices at the expense of the wisest. Even well-intentioned hashtags frequently become toxic as more people jump on, and nobody can control or moderate them.

Whether it will lead to any self-reflection remains to be seen. I’m not holding my breath.

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