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Quote of the Day

In a lengthy post entitled “Ethics” is advertising about western Buddhism and its relationship with socio-political tribes, David Chapman comes up with this gem:

In the ’60s and ’70s, hair length was a reliable badge. If you were a guy with long hair, you definitely liked tofu (or pretended to), and if you had a crew cut, you hated it (or were careful never to try it because that’s sissy food). This was highly efficient and a Good Thing. Then, in the ’80s, rural working-class heavy metal fans grew long hair, and that screwed everything up for everyone else.

Yes, blame metal for everything, won’t you?

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AhmedTwitter is ablaze again. This time it’s about the story of Ahmed the 14 year old Texan schoolboy arrested for taking a home-made clock into school. The whole thing is a perfect storm of small-town xenophobia and the idiotic “zero tolerance” policies so beloved of small-minded petty authoritarians.

Of course they knew it wasn’t a bomb. You can tell they knew it wasn’t a bomb by the simple fact they didn’t evacuate the school. As was pointed out on Twitter, there’s a strong element of humiliating the irritating smart kid who won’t conform. You wonder why bullying of “geeks” is endemic in American schools? It’s because whole educational cultures from administrators down encourage it.

A educational establishment that stifles the enthusiasm of the next generation of scientists and engineers isn’t going to produce a community with a thriving technology industry. I can’t imagine any startup or existing business wanting to open a new regional office wanting to invest in Irving, Texas. It’s a town that gives the impression it only wants to turn out insurance salesmen.

Not that racism isn’t still a major factor when the town’s mayor is a noxious bigot and is loudly defending the school’s actions in order to play to his racist base. And in The Great Venn Diagram Of Life, “Small-minded petty authoritarian” and “Racist bigot” have a significant overlap.

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The Trolling of Joshua Goldberg

The saga of Joshua Goldberg is hard to take in. Here is a prolific troll who managed multiple personae and passed himself off in different spaces as a radical feminist, a white nationalist, a Jihadi supporter of ISIS, a Gamergater, a Zionist and an anti-Semite. He even spent ages arguing with himself on Twitter. I’m wondering if he has two sock puppets fighting both sides of the EM vs P4 wars.

It’s a reminder of just how much of the toxicity of internet discussions is the work of a tiny number of people. It’s also a reminder that many of the worst trolls aren’t true believers in a cause, but just delight in causing mayhem and damage for their own entertainment.

Most of those groups accepted Goldberg as one of their own, since he reliably repeated their memes and talking points. Which makes the “Hurr, hurr, my outgroup fell for him” I’m hearing sound a bit hollow. Your own sect probably fell for him too. As I’ve said before, if your rhetoric so predictable that an outsider can fake it without being immediately recognisable, you have a problem.

Has a successful troll ever passed themselves off as a pragmatic, principled moderate? It’s difficult to imagine, because they would involve laying themselves bare and expressing doubts, something that’s orders of magnitude harder to fake than fanaticism.

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Jeremy Corbyn

As a Liberal Democrat it’s tempting to grab a big bowl of popcorn over the Labour Party’s meltdown on the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership ballot. The latest episode is the rejection of many new members who “don’t uphold the values of the party”. While some of those are people who publicly supported other parties in the General Election, and we don’t really know the scale, in the event of a close result it’s going to undermine the legitimacy of whoever wins.

Although conventional wisdom is that a Corbyn-led Labour Party will be unelectable, we have no idea what likely to happen if he wins. The truth is that Labour is a hollowed-out shell of a party which no longer knows what it actually supposed to stand for, merely satisfied to triangulate in pursuit of power and let the Tories set the political agenda. That’s why they lost the election.

My guess is that a critical mass of Labour members have concluded that none of the other three candidates look remotely like election winners either, so they’ve put their faith in someone who, even if they can’t win, will at least widen the Overton Window in favour of things that won’t emerge from Tory-leaning think-tanks. A serious challenge to the austerity narrative would be a good start.

We can’t assume that Jeremy Corbyn intends to lead the party into the next general election. He does have far too much negative baggage, especially his links with anti-Semitic Islamists and his support for the IRA rather than the constitutional nationalists during the Northern Ireland troubles, and this will count against his party in the ballot box. But perhaps the plan is to spend two or three years revitalising the grassroots and changing the national conversation before stepping down in favour of someone else?

Liberal Democrat blogger Jonathan Calder is predicting a Corbyn victory will be bad for the Liberal Democrats. But I’m not so sure. The truth is we really don’t know what will happen. And if there’s another economic crash, all bets are off.

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No one wants games designed by spotty nerds?

John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry came up with this breathtakingly idiotic line in an interview when talking about the British video games industry.

“We need extra coders – dozens and dozens of them – but nobody is going to play a game designed by a spotty nerd. We need people with artistic flair”.

Not only does it demonstrate Donald Trump level of ignorance and lack of self-awaremess, but his willingness to throw out casual slurs at an entire profession makes him the sort of person likely to use racial and gendered slurs if he thought he could get away with it.

How on Earth did a tool like this become director general of the CBI?

In the comments thread, commenter “Joe5000″ sums him up rather well.

In all seriousness, this contempt by the management classes towards technical workers is the main reason Britain’s economy struggles. We don’t have a Google or Microsoft like America, we don’t have a Volkswagen or Siemens like Germany, we don’t have a Toyota or Sony like Japan. But what we do have is a management class filled with people of little ability other than self-promotion with a contempt for the plebs who actually create the marketable products that drive a successful economy.

You ever wonder why Britain has such a bad trade balance and so much debt? It’s because the economy is run by people like John Cridland, a quangocrat and Oxbridge liberal arts grad who is given high positions and titles and a soapbox to run his mouth over things he knows nothing about.

I’ve always held that Britain has the worst management in the developed world and this guy is the ‘manager of managers’, enough said.


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Dubious Moral Equivalences

WingnutThe Sad Puppies/Hugo Awards saga is the car crash that keeps crashing. The latest episode revolves around serial bad behaviour and repeated insincere false apologies from writer Lou Antonelli, one of the Puppies’ nominees.

It’s predictably depressing that some Puppies are defending his behaviour, while others are using the episode to suggest Requires Hate was unfairly monstered (click on either of those links at your own risk). And yes, hair splitting arguments over whether or not Antonelli is worse that Requires Hate are at best pointless wasted electrons and at worst attempts by people who are themselves part of the problem to derail justified criticism. It seems, yet again, that “Them and Us” trumps “Right and Wrong”. If you want to call out other people’s bad behaviour, then you can’t keep excusing obvious bad actors in your own camp and still claim the moral high ground.

A pox on both camps, I say. All it achieves is to alienate the ordinary readers of SF.

At this point things have become so polarised and so tribal that I wonder if there’s any possibility of bridge-building. Either the world of SFF will become Balkanised into multiple fandoms all of which view each other with mutual suspicion and loathing, or the whole thing needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt from scratch.

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The case against Tim Hunt unravels.

Along with an awful lot of other people, I owe Sir Tim Hunt an apology. I’d previously said he was guilty of misjudged tone-deaf comments that, while not a sacking offense, were deserving of ridicule. Now it’s looking as though the accusations against him were false. He’s been completely exonerated by Sir Paul Nurse, the president of the Royal Society. As reported in The Times.

Connie St Louis, the journalist who gave her version of Sir Tim’s toast, to a lunch for women in science last month, described the horror with which his demeaning of women in science was received. “There was a deathly silence,” she said. “Nobody was laughing . . . these guys are incredibly upset. And so after he’d finished, there was just this deathly, deathly silence.”

That did sound bad. And Ms St Louis drove home her point on BBC television. “It was a room of about a hundred people.” she said. “Nobody was laughing . . . everybody was stony-faced.”

That would rightly cause a storm if any of it were true. Except it wasn’t. As more evidence has come to light it’s become clear that no only were Sir Tim Hunt’s comments taken so out of context that their meaning was completely reversed, but the “deathly, deathly silence” was completely false.

While we’re seeing a lot of justified criticism of Twitter mobs made up of people who didn’t bother to check facts before piling in on an issue that fits their chosen narrative, I think a lot of Tim Hunt’s early accusers deserve some slack. The initial accusation came from someone holding the post of Professor of Science Journalism at City University in London, who ought to have been a reputable source. The fact that this person behaved in the manner that resembles the amoral hacks from celebrity gossip scandal sheets does leave City University with serious questions to answer.

These sorts of public witch-hunts achieve nothing when it comes to reducing the amount of sexism and racism in the world. If anything they have the opposite effect, by empowering the worst bigots on the opposing side. Look how Requires Hate has boosted the standing of Vox Day. I do sometimes hear the argument that it’s necessary to destroy the careers and reputations of innocent people “‘pour encourager les autres”, but I for one utterly reject that as totalitarian garbage.

It’s not about justice, it’s about power.

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Why I voted for Tim Farron

So Tim Farron has been elected as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, and the long and difficult job of rebuilding the party following the catastrophic near wipeout in the last general election begins.

There’s a massive contrast between the Liberal Democrat leadership election and that of the Labour Party. The refrain we kept hearing from both Tim Farron’s and Norman Lamb’s supporters was “Both of them would make excellent leaders but our candidate will be better”. Compare that with Labour’s “The party is doomed if that other candidate wins”. The Liberal Democrats, unlike Labour, do have a clear vision of what sort of party they want to be.

It was a difficult choice between two very good candidates, but in the end I voted for Tim Farron. One deciding issue for me was his faith. There were one or two dark whispers early on in the campaign that his Anglican faith made him unfit for leadership of a party devoted to liberal values. For me the very idea that religion is a relic from a superstitious past that must be purged from public life is a profoundly illiberal concept.

The last Parliament saw the historic equal marriage act, which represented an unprecedented liberal shift in the Overton Window. But since then there have been situations that have bought the gay community into conflict with conservative religious groups. The extent to which different communities should have the right to express their own identity and the extent to which they should be required to respect one another’s spaces isn’t as clear cut as some people would make out. Would not somebody who is both a committed Liberal and a Christian be in a better position to recognise where the boundaries lie?

We live in a time when large parts of the left have fallen into a dangerous authoritarianism for whom a vaguely-defined freedom from offence trumps freedom of speech, and sometimes competing sectarianisms seek to drive each other from the public square. A party committed to liberal values must oppose these sorts of zero-sum identity politics, and prevent the right from positioning themselves as the sole champions of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Sometimes it is the liberal thing to defend an unpopular minority against the tyranny of the majority.

So, congratulations for Tim Farron as the newly-elected leader of the Liberal Democrats. It’s a long and difficult road ahead for the party, but he is the right person to lead the party along it.

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Requires Hate redux

A couple of days ago a blog post appeared revealing the real identity of the troll known as Winterfox and Requires Hate who also wrote fiction under the name of  “Benjanun Sriduangkaew”.  Although rumours that she might actually be a white individual based in the UK turned out not to be true, she does, as was widely suspected, come from an extremely wealthy background, a scion of a powerful family with extensive political connections.

What’s more chilling is that at a time when she was writing racial revenge fantasies about killing white people she was actually implicated in multiple deaths due to criminal negligence at a hotel belonging to her family, an event for which nobody ever faced criminal charges, and for which incriminating evidence appears to have been covered up.

The post contains names and links to family members, so I won’t link to it here, but I am including this very telling quotation:

Privilege takes many forms. These can include

  • Being born into an extremely wealthy and politically connected family
  • A debt-free college education
  • A high-paying job given to you by your father or any other family member
  • Being responsible (whether as an individual or a corporate entity) for the deaths of multiple people and facing no legal consequences

Someone who benefits from all these things is neither marginalized nor systematically oppressed, and to claim as such is an insult to those who are.

I recognise why releasing personal information (known as “doxxing”) is a bad thing which exposes individuals to harm, and I can understand why people believe it’s still wrong in this case despite Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s long and well-documented history as an abuser.

But every strict ethical rule will eventually encounter a difficult edge-case, and this is one of these. I don’t think it’s a coincidence her identity has been revealed just at the time her author harassment has started up again. I don’t have a problem with those whose moral calculus leads them to conclude that outing her is the lesser of two evils, in that her priviledged situation means she’s at low risk of serious harm, and it in turn reduces the harm she can do.

Of course her sock-puppets, acolytes and useful idiots want to make the conversation about the outing rather than the harm she’d done and is continuing to do.

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The Tim Hunt Affair

Tim Hunt (Wikimedia Commons)I’m not exactly sure how you’re supposed to react when you’re retweeted by Louise Mensch.

The context was a conversation about the ongoing Tim Hunt affair. For anyone who’s not been following the story he’s the Nobel-winning scientist and honorary professor at UCL who’s been forced to resign his honorary professorship because of allegedly sexist remarks made at a conference in South Korea.

It’s an ongoing controversy because there are still conflicting reports of his actual words, their precise context, and the reaction of his audience, since there’s no recording or transcript of his improvised off-the cuff speech. There is also concern over his and his wife’s claims that he was forced to resign without being given the chance to present his side of the story.

From what’s been reported it’s sounding like at worst a tone-deaf attempt at humour than didn’t work, deserving of reprimand and perhaps a certain amount of ridicule, but hardly a firing offence. Many of his supporters are now claiming he’s been deliberately misrepresented and quoted out of context by people with political or personal agendas.

It’s naturally being framed as part of the ongoing sexism-in-science culture wars, and it’s attracted the attention of many of the usual suspects from both sides of the ugly turf war between geek feminism and techno-libertarianism. If, as has been suggested, Tim Hunt has been badly misquoted, the science press isn’t covering itself with glory either; rather than reporting the science they’ve emulating the muck-raking gossip-driven tabloids, treating scientists who often lack media training like the tabloids treat celebrities.

But I’m getting a growing impression that his abrupt dismissal isn’t primarily about sexism at all; it’s really rooted in the ugly backstabbing nature of academic politics, which has a reputation for being notoriously vicious precisely because the actual stakes are so small. The behaviour of one of Tim Hunt’s most vocal accusers, another UCL professor and Royal Society Fellow who is as old, white and male as Tim Hunt himself reinforces this impression. I won’t name this person because he gives me the impression he ego-surfs, but he’s been described on Twitter as “Gallowayesque”, and that sounds like a very good description. He certainly comes over as a thoroughly nasty piece of work on social media, going full ad-hominem on anyone who dares to disagree with him. The sight of a man in a powerful position trashing a woman using very ugly slurs in the name of feminism isn’t a pretty one.

So, is the Tim Hunt affair more about bitter academic rivalry than about sexism?

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