“How about we blow up the car?” – the dangers of broadening the debate

BOB, MANDY, REBECCA, and FRANKIE gather for a family meeting to make an IMPORTANT DECISION.

MANDY: Right, shall we get started? As you all know, we’ve decided it’s time we get ourselves a second family car. The question is what car do we get? I’m sure we all have some strong opinions. This is why we thought it would be right to have a broad, open and honest debate on the subject. Frankie and Rebecca, you said you would bring together all the options under consideration. Are you ready to tell us?

FRANKIE: Um. I think so. Should I just, like, read them all out?

MANDY: That’d be perfect.

FRANKIE: Ok. Well, Dad suggested option one should be a brand new Vauxhall Ampera–

BOB: A great car. A hybrid, modern, stylish–

MANDY: Hold on, Bob. Allow Frankie to tell us all the options first. Frankie?

FRANKIE: Thanks. Yeah. Uh, the second option, suggested by Mum, is a, um, second-hand 2005 Kia Sedona–

MANDY: Yes, very sensible. Does what we need it to and it won’t cost the earth. When approaching this decision, I think it’s important to–

FRANKIE: Um. Sorry. But I haven’t said all the options yet.

MANDY: Of course, pardon me. Please continue.

FRANKIE: Uh, for the third option, we, me and Rebecca, thought we could, like, blow up the car?

BOB: What?

MANDY: Come again?

FRANKIE: Uh, blow up the car.

MANDY: The car we have?

FRANKIE: Yeah.

BOB: Why on earth would we do that!?

REBECCA: We’re not saying we’d do it! You said you wanted a proper debate! But the choice was, basically, between getting car A or car B – that’s not much of a choice!

BOB: Rebecca, that’s because we want another car. Blowing up the car we actually have is not going to help!

REBECCA: You said you wanted a proper debate! A proper debate needs a proper range of options. You can’t just say choose between this thing I want or something a bit like the thing I want! What’s the point!?

FRANKIE: You did say you wanted a proper debate, Dad.

MANDY: Ok, ok. Calm down everyone. Let’s keep blowing up the car as an “option”, yes? We don’t have to pick it, we just know it’s there. Let’s move on, shall we? Ok? Ok. Option one. Who wants to talk about the hybrid. Bob?

BOB: Hm. Fine. I think the Vauxhall is the best option. Sure it’ll cost a bit more up front–

MANDY: More than a bit, don’t you think?

BOB: It’ll cost more up front, but the money we save over time on petrol and tax will more than offset that. Eventually. Plus, we can finally get the nice, modern family car with all the latest features and comforts. We always wanted that, yes? And you know it’ll last a lot longer too. Not to mention how environmentally-friendly it is. That’s a big thing, nowadays. Being green. Isn’t that right?

FRANKIE: Yeah, sounds good.

REBECCA: Uh. I can see the benefits.

MANDY: That sounds lovely. But, honey, we do have to be realistic. That car will require us to take out a big loan. We’ll be paying it off for a long time. We could go to the second-hand lot tomorrow and pick up a very reliable, almost-new car. Yes, the Kia won’t be as fancy, but it’d do the job. We want something the kids could learn to drive in without worrying about bumps and scrapes. Right? Not the mention that the money saved could be spent on holidays, or improving the house. There’s a lot more to life than a posh car and I don’t want us to lose sight of that.

FRANKIE: Um. Good point.

REBECCA: Yeah.

BOB: Well, honey, I really think you’re overstating the cost–

FRANKIE: Wait. Uh. We still haven’t discussed the third option.

BOB: What? Do we need to? I thought we decided–

REBECCA: You said–

BOB: But it’s completely stu–

MANDY: Bob. Fine. We did say we’d do this properly. Rebecca, do you want to make the case for blowing up the car?

REBECCA: Well, I’m not saying we should definitely do it. But, you know, it would be the most cost-effective option. I mean, it wouldn’t cost a thing really. And we’d save a lot more money in the long run. Also, having no car at all is better for the environment than having one or two, isn’t it? Yes, there’ll be a bit of pollution as we burn it to a crisp, but that’s nothing compared to running a car every day…

FRANKIE: Plus, I think it’d be cool to see a car get blown up.

REBECCA: We could also do it immediately. Like, right now.

MANDY: Ok. Well. Case well made, Rebecca. Let’s talk a bit more about the Kia–

REBECCA: Isn’t anybody going to make a counter argument to blowing up the car?

BOB: No!

REBECCA: Why not!?

BOB: Because it’s the stupidest bloody idea I’ve ever heard! End of.

REBECCA: There you go again trying to shut down the debate! This isn’t fair. You’re not even taking this seriously!

BOB: Of course I’m not taking this seriously! Blowing up the car!? Are you mad!?

REBECCA: I’ve already made the arguments in favour of blowing up the car! You’re the one who hasn’t been able to come up with a single reason why we shouldn’t!

BOB: Why would I waste of time arguing against something so preposterous!? It isn’t even worth thinking about!

REBECCA: That is so typical of you–

MANDY: Rebecca! Enough. Bob, you can surely spend half a minute explaining why blowing up the car is not a good option.

BOB: Really? You really want to indulge this nonsense?

MANDY: In the interest of simply moving on, yes I think you should.

BOB: Fine! Blowing up the car is a foolish bloody idea because we need a car. In fact, the point of this whole silly debate is that we need two cars. Not one car. Not zero cars. Two. Blowing up the car will not give us the result we want. It will – suffice to say – give us nothing except the burnt out wreck of a car. It is madness. And anyone who is not a complete idiot would clearly agree with me!

MANDY: Bob!

REBECCA: And there you go again! Trying to shut down the debate with your… your derision and your, um, ad hominem attacks! It’s impossible to have a real discussion when you’ve already made up your mind and don’t listen to a single word I say!

MANDY: Rebecca, please calm down. I think we’re just both having a hard time understanding why you want to blow up the car.

REBECCA: I’m not saying I do want to blow up the car! Only that if we want to have a proper debate we need to consider blowing up the car as one of the options!

FRANKIE: I would quite like to blow up the car.

BOB: Frankie!

FRANKIE: What? I haven’t heard a good reason why we shouldn’t. I don’t need a car.

BOB: But we do! And how would you get to see your friends and go places if we don’t drive you in a car.

MANDY: This is getting a bit heated. Bob, maybe you could calmly and clearly make the case for why, when it comes down to it, we need a car?

BOB: Are you joking? We’re no closer to deciding what second car to get and you want me to waste more time on this subject?

REBECCA: Hah! So like you…

MANDY: Quickly. Please.

BOB: We need a car because people need cars!

REBECCA: Circular logic. Typical…

BOB: Very well. We need a car because we sometimes – often – have to go places that are too far to walk and we might also need to take things with us that are too large or too heavy to carry by hand–

FRANKIE: You can get carts that you can attach to bikes for carrying things.

REBECCA: That’s true. And I know lots of people who don’t have their own cars and get around fine.

BOB: For crying out loud, kids. No. No more. This is nonsense.

REBECCA: Are you denying the existence of carts you can attach to bikes?

BOB: What? No–

REBECCA: Are you calling me a liar?

BOB: No! I’ve just had enough arguing about this!

REBECCA: You wanted a debate–

BOB: Jesus Christ! Mandy, can we just make a decision. Vauxhall or Kia. I don’t even care which anymore…

MANDY: Bob, we did promise we’d include everyone in the decision. And.. um…

BOB: What?

MANDY: Well, all this talk has made me wonder whether we do need two cars after all. I mean, we definitely want one car. Don’t get me wrong. I really don’t think we should blow it up (but, of course, I am glad we heard everyone’s opinion and discussed the possibility of doing so). After all, maybe we can get one of those carts for the bike and you can use that instead of a second car?

BOB: You’re as crazy as the kids. We all agreed we wanted a new car. That wasn’t even supposed to be part of the debate!

MANDY: I do not appreciate that tone, thank you very much. When the facts change, I change my mind. You should try to be more open-minded, Bob.

BOB: What facts have changed!? This is absurd!

MANDY: The fact that I no longer want a new car. I’m perfectly happy with the current one we have.

BOB: But–

REBECCA: Shall we make our votes?

FRANKIE: I vote to blow it up.

BOB: You–

MANDY: I vote to keep the current car and not waste any of my money on a new one that I won’t even drive.

BOB: That isn’t even an option!

REBECCA: Dad’s right, mum. You have to pick one of the options on offer.

MANDY: Very well. In that case I vote to blow up the car.

BOB: Have you lost your mind!?

MANDY: It’s exactly that attitude, Bob, which is why people are voting against you.

BOB: I–

REBECCA: I’m going to vote for–

BOB: Rebecca, please. I’m begging you. Don’t vote to blow up the car. I’m sorry I was rude. Really really sorry. I know you’re clever and sensible. Please make the right choice. Please.

REBECCA: I’m voting for the Kia.

BOB: Yes! Good good. Me too! That’s what I’m voting for! The Kia Sedona. A decent, solid car.

REBECCA: For the record, that’s what I was always going to vote for. I only wanted to make sure we had a proper debate. That’s all.

MANDY: That’s two for the Kia and two for blowing the current car up.

MR & MRS JONES: Ahem. We also vote to blow your car up.

BOB: What are our neighbours doing here?

REBECCA: You said you wanted a proper open debate. I invited them to take part so we could get a broader range of voices involved.

BOB: They don’t even like us!

REBECCA: That’s not the point!

BOB: No, no, no, no, no. We can’t have just anyone waltzing in here deciding to blow up our bloody car!

REBECCA: You’re just upset because you lost the vote!

BOB: It doesn’t even affect them!

MR JONES: Well, I do have to say, it does affect us as we all park on the same street and one less car will mean more space for us. So, certainly, yes. Two more votes for blowing your car up, if you please.

BOB: I can’t believe this.

MANDY: That means four votes for blowing the car up against two for getting the Kia. I’m sorry, love.

FRANKIE: Yes! This is going to be amazing!

BOB: What the hell just happened?

MANDY: Don’t worry, darling. I don’t think they’ll really blow up the car. It just represents a definitive vote against getting the second car, that’s all. Everything will be fine. You’ll see.

FRANKIE: I’ve got matches!

THE END

Still believe Ukip isn’t racist? You’re wrong.

I do worry that members of my family will vote for the stridently anti-immigrant Ukip tomorrow, despite the fact that my girlfriend is an immigrant. Even if they did, I know this doesn’t mean they dislike like my girlfriend or want her to leave the country. I know they like her a lot, just as they like all the other immigrants they are friends with.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people I know, like many others across the country (such as Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage, who loves his German wife despite claiming he feels “uncomfortable” in the presence of other foreign-speaking people), have blindly accepted this vague idea that there are ‘good’ immigrants and ‘bad’ immigrants.

This sounds like “common sense”. But I’ve always found it strange that the good immigrants happen to be those we know in real life while the bad immigrants are those we don’t.

“90% of White and minority residents feel that their local area is a place where people from different backgrounds get on well together” – Policy Exchange, A Portrait of Modern Britain

Ukip love sharing their fear of the bad immigrants – faceless, nameless foreign villains threatening our very lives. It sure is effective. It’s certainly got me worried as this is pretty much the textbook definition of racist propaganda.

And yet, there’s been a weird reluctance to call Ukip out for being racist.

Well, Farage’s supporters claim to like ‘plain-speaking’, so hopefully they’ll appreciate this:

Ukip is racist party. Its representatives are small-minded, mean-spirited bigots and Nigel Farage is the worst of them all as he puts the most effort into hiding his true colours – presumably because he’s well aware how repellant people will find his undisguised, racist self.

Are all Ukip voters racist? I have no doubt a great many are. But most, perhaps, are simply being manipulated by the same cynical tactics used throughout history by racists, nationalists and fascists the world over in pursuit of power.

When society is experiencing rapid change and times are hard, people worry about the future. They look to politicians for answers they can understand.

Respectable politicians respond to this by attempting to unify and motivate.

Racist politicians divide and scare.

Pointing_finger_48sheet

Ukip’s answer to all our problems (real or imagined) is to blame the nasty immigrants. This is racial scapegoating. This is fostering fear and distrust of a group of people, claiming that some outside force threatens our way of life and that only by removing this threat will things get better.

This is nakedly, shamelessly racist.

And this is the only answer they give. Education, health, unemployment, housing. Everything’s the fault of the immigrants. Get rid of the immigrants, get rid of the problem.

What’s even more revealing is that this ‘answer’ has been proven completely wrong time and time again. But that’s not important to Ukip because they are racist. They invent or corrupt facts to fit their racist beliefs. That’s what racists do. It’s a pretty fucking massive clue that they are, indeed, racist.

But they are getting away with it, because Nigel Farage isn’t saying he wouldn’t want to live next door to a group of Irish, Jews, Jamaicans, or Pakistanis.

He’s saying Romanians and that is somehow more acceptable.

“The paradox of racism is that at any given moment, the racism of the day seems reasonable and very possibly true, but the racism of the past always seems so ridiculous.” – Andrew Gelman, Slate

I’m sure Ukip will get a lot of support in tomorrow’s elections. I’m less sure how many people voting for them are truly aware that they’re voting for a party of racists.

 

How one man fed the world his rotten Apple

I’ve been reading a fair bit about the latest twist in this Apple / Foxconn controversy, but this account of how an unrepentant Mike Daisey duped everyone into believing his fabrications is by far the most insightful:

“This is how Daisey perpetrated his con since “The Agony and the Ecstasy” premiered in early 2011: He took a vacation to China, hacked together a story out of some sensational lies then paraded them around like the world owed him a favor. While we were too busy wallowing in self-recrimination to check if what he said was true, he used his fake facts to leverage himself into the position of the world’s most prominent Apple critic, appearing on MSNBC and “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and writing an op-ed in the New York Times. In the process he debased anyone who actually cared about the true injustice of Apple’s manufacturing process. Daisey’s lies hurt labor organizations like SACOM by giving their critics ammunition to ignore their real complaints. He cynically warped the stories of Chinese workers to promote his campaign, and trivialized the work of journalists who actually do real reporting on the issue.”

via How I Was Duped By Mike Daisey’s Lies.

David Cameron went to Europe with a cow and came back with Magic Beans

What I imagine European harmony looks like...

It’s a year in which the world is gripped by uncertainty fuelled by an unstable Europe. A powerful German nation begins the relentless spread of its domination across the continent. A Conservative Prime Minister, following the grand Tory tradition of ‘Splendid Isolation’, returns from negotiations to rapturous popular support and a largely congratulatory press. He proudly announces to have won a great victory for British interests, although time would quickly prove how shallow this victory was.

I’m referring, of course, to 1938, Neville Chamberlain and the famously un-prophetic “peace in our time” speech. I was reminded of this regrettable chapter of British history this morning as the Eurosceptic press heaped praise for David Cameron’s surprise exit from the EU summit.

I must admit, aside from the hero’s welcome, the similarities between then and now are weak. Europe is probably more closely united than any other point in history, for one thing. There is no Fourth Reich and Angela Merkel is obviously not ‘die Fuhrer’. The comparison between Chamberlain and Cameron isn’t even fair – at least, the former came back from his negotiations with something.

I’d also like to point out that I’m not the first person to make the spurious connection. That dishonour goes to Tory backbenchers, who, in advance of the summit, urged Cameron to show the “bulldog spirit” and complained, “We’ve had enough of reading of British prime ministers coming back from a summit with a kind of Chamberlain-esque piece of paper”.

Ironically, these are the same people now enthusiastically cheering Dave – who’s come back with less a piece of paper and more a red card with ‘NON’ stamped boldly on it.

What European harmony actually looks like.

Why then do I mention the archetypal appeaser? I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that the PM failed absolutely in his aims. He contributed nothing to further the rescue of the Eurozone, he didn’t receive any safeguards for the City, and his veto did nothing to stop the closer integration of the Eurozone. As Kevin Bacon’s character says in A Few Good Men: “these are the facts, and they are undisputed”.

That most the press (and likely the public) think this somehow translates into a Good Thing reflects the great British tradition of seeing retreat as victory.

In the minds of many Conservatives, we’re still living in 1938: there’s some sort of trouble going on across the Channel and the best way to deal with it is to turn away, tuck behind the proverbial walls of Fortress Britannia and leave Johnny European to get on with it. Their mess, their problem.

This explains why leading articles in the right-wing papers are so enthusiastic in their acclaim. As far as these Little Englander’s are concerned, David Cameron, by walking away friendless and empty-handed, genuinely was acting in England’s best interests. ‘To be left alone’ is the means and the end in itself.

And so, the Daily Mail hurrahs:

“Today the Mail salutes Mr Cameron for his courageous leadership and resolve in standing up to Angela Merkel and, in particular, to the preposterous Nicolas Sarkozy…”

The Telegraph intones:

“Mr Cameron was, therefore, pushed into a corner – and refused to buckle under. This brave and bold decision should immeasurably strengthen his domestic position, unite his party behind him and begin to provide the clarity regarding the nature of our relationship with Europe that has long been lacking.”

The Daily Express rants:

“Well Mr Cameron can rest assured that back in his own country many people – including readers of the Daily express – will be queueing up to shake his hand. For his conduct of these negotiations has been admirable.”

The Sun boasts:

“WE asked David Cameron to act like Churchill and stand up for Britain. And he did.”

“If so-called isolation means independence, is that a bad thing?”

And the Times asserts:

“Yet, for all its complexity and its potentially momentous consequences, there is a simple question that can be posed. Did the Prime Minister do the right thing? And a simple answer that can be given: ‘Yes.'”

With so much fuss being made by so many for so little (to paraphrase Churchill), I imagine if Cameron ever did succeed in actually repatriating some powers, the leader writers of these papers would dispense with the usual breathless verbiage and simply staple a jizz-drenched tissue on to the front pages.

In terms of ensuring an informed electorate, it’s a shame so many British papers possess this dogmatic “By Jingo, Alone!” mentality but it’s pure incompetence to portray a major historic event in such a blinkered and fawning manner.

David Cameron went to Europe carrying the hopes and fears of a proud yet struggling nation. He returned with less than nothing and is hailed a hero. I know we Brits can’t help but support the underdog – but why celebrate the loser?

[Update: the extent of Cameron’s failure is spelt out by Faisal Islam in his article: “Ten Curiosities about David Cameron’s Veto”]

Missing the Point of the Occupy Protests

Fuck the 99%, this dude speaks for EVERYONE

With the threat of eviction looming over the Occupy St. Paul’s protesters and the forces of America PD already coming down hard on its trans-atlantic primogenitors, we may be witnessing the final days of a movement said (by particularly deluded or insensitive supporters) to rival the Arab Spring.

It’s been a confusing and potentially alienating journey for spectators. I mean, I’ve always assumed I supported things like social justice, fairness, a more equal society, and so on. But I quickly grew frustrated and annoyed by the London occupation.

Recently, I voiced my concerns and criticisms, only to be told I’m “missing the point”. That troubled me. Was my feeble brain incapable of comprehending how brilliant, worthwhile and successful Occupy has been? Were my peers headshotting the point between the eyes at abandon, while I stood apart, aimlessly spraying my sympathy-bullets into the surrounding scenery like some n00b meat-puppet playing Goldeneye?

Fortunately, it seems I wasn’t such a freak. A quick Google search revealed the point to be as elusive as the Pokemon Mew . Actually, that analogy doesn’t quite fit. While there were a lot of people, like me, being told they were missing the point, there wasn’t much agreement on what exactly we were missing.

For example, the REAL point of the Occupy movement is, depending on who you ask (or don’t ask, as the case may be)…

Asking rhetorical questions…

“you are missing the point about that sign. I don’t think it is an attack on those people, I think it is an attack on what this society considers as freedoms. The purpose of it is to get people to question what freedom really is. Freedom is a word that gets used a lot by politicians and we all like to think we live in a free society. But do we?”

History is Made at Night

Solving a crime…

“The lack of an “agenda” or a lack of a coherence to the aims of the protestors is missing the point… A crime has been committed but the only clue they have is that it is something in the City and this thing in the “City” has made them a victim of a crime they don’t understand and it has cost them their job/home/car whatever… They are coming back at a perpetrator that government has failed to bring to book but in the hall of financial mirrors they don’t know where exactly to aim or exactly who to aim at for but they know roughly where the perpetrators hang out.”

CityWire

Rejecting democracy…

“I agree with your first part of the argument, the vinyl vanguards looking for a single unifying anthem of youth are missing the point. Occupy London are not representative of a single sub-culture, or even a shared ideology. Like you say, this is about a rejection of conventional politics.”

New Statesman

Rejecting debates…

“[One member of the camp] said Chartres’s [Bishop of London] earlier suggestion of a debate was “missing the point of this global occupation”.

The Guardian

Totally, like, opening up space in people’s imaginations, man…

“Screeds of criticism have now been written about the protest and on almost every point, they misunderstand the purpose of this form of street protest. Is this a revolution in the making? Of course not. Will it topple the government? No… The protesters’ aim is to open up space, physically and socially, for people to connect and thereby open up space in people’s imaginations.”

The Guardian

Setting up a camp site (while not making demands)…

“These questions miss the point… they’re not interested in making petty demands on a system they see as irreconcilably flawed. If anything, the camp itself is their demand, and their solution: the stab at an alternative society that at least aims to operate without hierarchy, and with full, participatory democracy.”

Patrick Henry Press

Not having an impact on its target…

“The purpose is not to directly affect your target. It is to rally support for your cause.”

Boardgame Geek Forums

Protesting for the right to protest…

“Anyone active on the left might be tempted to judge it and find it wanting in any effort to challenge capitalism, but that would be to miss the point. Understanding what it represents not judging it is the essential task. Here an historical framework can help and several models come to mind, the first of which is the symbolic occupation of space… All these instances are about winning the right to protest in certain spaces and that is certainly what has happened at St Paul’s in recent weeks.”

Morning Star Online

Attracting people who are temporarily pissed off…

“…enthusiasts for the action say this misses the point of the encampment – to provide a permanent focal point for dissent, not a home for an unchanging cast of campaigners.”

BBC

Having a wider, deeper conversation OR Acting as some sort of weather vane for human sentiment…

Even people accusing other people of missing the point are, apparently, missing the point:

Article: “The political [Labour] left have – in several places – criticised the Occupy movement for the lack of clarity in their aims. For me, this misses the main point the movement is trying to make… Since the crash showed us all the man behind the curtain, protestors are no longer simply trying to stop or promote particular actions or policies. They’re now trying to have a wider, deeper conversation about what happens now the house of cards has fallen.”

Comment: “I think this article misses the point entirely. The occupy movement is a spontaenous ensemble. The idea it has to forge itself into a lean mean fighting machine is not what it is about. Its about, for me at least, a weather vane about current sentiment and about what that current sentiment might become.”

Liberal Conspiracy

And the actual point is… our secret (so there!)

Maybe the point is they don’t want to tell us the point? The following (genuine, non-satirical) quote from an Occupy Wall St. activist writing on CiF certainly suggests so…

First, they come to us demanding, “What are your demands?” Then, they come to us insisting, “Where are your solutions?” We have waited our entire lives for this moment. And we could not be more ready to answer these questions. We smile, unphased, and tell them what they already know: “Our demands are too numerous to choose between, and we refuse to do so. The solutions are out there and we have long known what they are.”

Comment is Free

All this makes me suspect that I was right all along and it’s the protesters who are missing the point, NOT ME. But if you think I’m going to persecute myself by telling you what that point is… well, I might have to let my foot occupy the space between your left butt cheek and your right butt cheek. Purely to engage with you on a deeper level, of course…

What’s so good about atheism?

Over at The Guardian, their chirpy resident science blogger, GrrlScientist, is mocking “Christianese” – whatever the hell that is. I have no idea. Hit the link and watch the video. I was baffled and bored within 78 seconds.

I ended up wondering, what’s the point? GrrlScientist seems to think she’s helping illustrate the “childish silliness of Christianese to all of those who aren’t Christian”. With this in mind, I hit play expecting a witty and astute dissection of some of the creepier sayings favoured by over-zealous bible-bashers. What I saw was… well, something that made me feel uncomfortable.

Don’t get me wrong. I like sarcasm. I love funny voices. I joyously giggle at the hypocrisy of religious fanatics. I’ve no problem saying I’m a proud atheist. Hey, I even find Richard Dawkins tolerable.

But this video hit a nerve. It really made me think about the amount of time smug secularists spend sniping and sneering at those they see as sectarian simpletons.

I’ve a lot of time for weighty intellectual debate about religion and its net value to society (if any), but I’m beginning to understand why armchair Chomskys and rentagob Russells are so reviled outside the rationalist enclave.

And no, if you’re reading, it’s not that you’re too controversial and iconoclastic for our feeble brains to handle. You’re just really rather tedious. Not to mention capable of pointless, repellant pettiness.

Religion may be “poison”, as Christopher Hitchens argues, but most people who consider themselves religious are totally undeserving of the level of inane scorn represented by that rubbish video.

Sadly, most pro-atheism content I see online is like this. It’s nothing positive, it’s just slagging off those dumb-ass Jesus-folk. There must be more to the secular utopia than this.

If championing the strengths of the enlightenment is so important to respectable atheists like GrrlScientist (as it should be), I’d like to see them spend more time talking up their values, instead of taking the piss.

Here’s a challenge for you all: without even mentioning religion, I want you to tell me what’s so good about atheism?

Ed Miliband’s ‘progressive majority’ must learn the language of nostalgia

Ed Miliband’s belief that the Alternative Vote will unleash Britain’s “progressive majority” is looking more than a little bit presumptuous. A YouGov poll for Channel 4 News shows that while the big winners of voting reform will undoubtedly be the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives come off none the worse and Labour actually end up losing more seats than they gain. What’s worst, more Lib Dem voters have said they will choose Cameron’s Tories as their second preference than Ed’s Labour.

So, belief in this ‘progressive majority’ would seem fairly optimistic. Especially considering it’s far from obvious if there is a progressive majority within the Labour party itself.

A battle for the very soul of the Labour party currently rages* behind the scenes, with the notion of ‘Blue Labour’ being championed as a way to regain the support of lower-class voters. Blue Labour describes that ‘socially conservative, economically interventionist’ strand of the electorate who, it is argued, felt abandoned by the hyper-modern, change-frantic progressiveness of New Labour.

This idea is elaborated upon by Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian, who disregards some of the historical grandeur behind Blue Labour and focuses instead on the “value of nostalgia”. Still, the two lines of thought share the same core reasoning: Labour’s core voters have been abandoned. Bunting writes:

“…there was – and is – another account of betrayal in which a liberal elite, smugly superior in their metropolitan progressivism, championed globalisation and sold ordinary working people down the river.”

And so Bunting doesn’t just begin to define some of the frustrations felt by these “ordinary working people”, but puts them directly at odds with the smug, uncaring progressive majority Ed Miliband’s been fantasising about.

Intrigued by this dichotomy, I brainstormed** some terms I feel represent those ‘nostalgic’ values of Blue Labour voters and pitted them against the corresponding principles of the progressives.

The differences between the nostalgics and the progressives are, in many cases, vast. But the purposes of this little exercise was not just to highlight the foolishness of Ed Miliband campaigning for AV using language which will actively repel those it doesn’t simply bore. I also hope this list could help progressives step beyond their own values and connect with nostalgics by speaking in terms the latter can relate to.

Owen Jones offers some sage advice for anyone wanting to communicate with people beyond the echo chamber. His first rule is to start where people are. I don’t think you could go too far wrong using this list as a reference.

New Labour’s skill was in speaking to the impulses of the nostalgics, while shrewdly smuggling a form of pragmatic progressivism through the back door. Ed, unfortunately, does not have this skill. He’s in an echo chamber of one and quacking like a duck.

I’m not unsympathetic. I imagine attempting to unify the disparate groups of latent lefties must be like wrangling a schizophrenic hydra. But Ed’s ‘progressives’ are currently struggling to talk to the majority, let alone with them or even, heaven forbid, for them.

* Poetic licence – it’s really not all that raging.

** Powered using only my brain, I’m afraid. If you want to contribute your brain to either deride, improve or celebrate what I’ve attempted to do, please leave a comment.

Extremes of stupidity: StartUp Britain vs. The March26 Anarchists

It’s my hope that by comparing two recent high-profile fuck-ups from both sides of the political divide, we might learn from their mistakes. Or, at least, sneer at their stupidity.

From the left, we have the anti-corporate, socialistic practitioners of the dreaded ‘black bloc’, who, in Central London on Saturday afternoon, unleashed their emo fury in violent protest of the government’s cuts. On the right, we have the champions of the free market, willing cannon fodder in the government’s war for growth, who launched StartUp Britain on Monday to widespread, often hilarious, occasionally furious derision.

The members of both sides are (despite what some may claim) essentially apolitical. The former are arrogant teens, latching on to the recent wave of popular protests to boost their egos, play the romantic revolutionary and bash shit with sticks. The latter are self-assured entrepreneurs, riding the waves of Cameron’s pro-business rhetoric to gain publicity and try to make some easy cash. Grappling with political realities they barely understand, the two forces have ignorantly suicide-bombed the causes they purport to advocate.

So what went wrong? A lot of things. But I’m going to focus on the misplaced confidence, political misjudgement and the perils of cyber-utopianism which characterised both efforts.

Join the Bevoiviions! (awesome photo via alethiaphotos.com - link at bottom of post)

“Well, I’ll smash this window with a brick and then, one day, they’ll build a fucking statue of me”

Both sides vastly overestimated how much other people think like them. The rioters may believe they’re at the forefront of a popular revolt to overthrow an unjust regime; but to most observers they’re seen as a thuggish minority of idiots. In a letter sent to UKUncut, they even identify themselves as representing a “highly visible radical presence” of the mainstream movement. I’ve seen supporters claim in online comments that left-wing critics of their actions are not displaying sufficient solidarity.

While it is no surprise to me that they are being turned upon by those they saw as their ‘comrades’, overconfidence in their own righteous indignation blinded them to the inevitable divisiveness of their plan.

It’s a similar story with the brains behind Start Up Britain: a concept so vacuous and devoid of creativity, only other entrepreneurs could appreciate it.

Heroes within their own echo chamber, I’m sure they never imagined the ferocity of negative opinion their little website would incite. Unfortunately (for them), not everyone ‘gets’ the entrepreneur mentality. The inherent flaws and slapdash sloppiness of the product on launch may not bother the type of people who are focusing on the ‘bigger picture’ (whatever that is) and already working on their next ‘revolutionary’ idea, but the general public simply hasn’t bought in to that bullshit.

On Twitter, they seem genuinely surprised that people don’t understand where they’re coming from (and trying to get to). If they’d have tried thinking like ordinary people, they might have anticipated such a reaction.

Text expertly aligned by the broken ruler society

“I tried to get Nick Clegg involved, but he was worried about it damaging his credibility.”

The political misjudgement of the rioters hardly requires explanation. It was only a matter of time before measures were proposed to clamp down on such activity, and it’ll take a brave politician to oppose them. Protests will be a little less free in the future, wholly because of the rioters.

Did they really think such indiscriminate violence would be likely to attract popular support? For the majority of the country, watching Saturday’s events on TV or reading about them in the Sunday papers, the overwhelming impression is not going to be one of honest families, unified in support for a real alternative to the coalition cuts, but of masked yobs starting fights with coppers and terrorising shoppers. To what political end does this serve?

Of course, the rioters would angrily contest this portrayal. The entrepreneurs, on the other hand, wandered blindly into a political shitstorm. Following hot on the heels of the budget and Cameron’s pro-growth speeches, it’s unimaginable that they would not expect to be intimately associated with the government. Maybe they thought the presence of the Prime Minister and Chancellor at their launch party would have a positive impact? Big fucking mistake. They opened the floodgates and within hours spoof Twitter accounts, spoof news articles and even a spoof website had turned their vision into a joke. They failed to put their scheme in context.

One of the charges of incompetence thrown at the entrepreneurs was their recommendation of a US crowdsourcing site for logo design. ‘What’s wrong with that?’, they ask, naively. After all, new businesses don’t have money to throw around and the crowdsourcing solution is a practical, cheap alternative to a professional designer. In the context of growth for Britain, however, such a recommendation is understandably seen as undermining British graphic design companies – exactly the opposite kind of message the government wishes to promote. This wouldn’t be a problem for the average non-political startup, but has proven a disaster for the politically-loaded Start Up Britain.

God gave up on humanity the year "Speed-Networker" passed for a job description

“Just think, a little over a decade ago we’d have had to travel door-to-door to sell this shit”

I think both examples are products of cyber-utopianism, the belief that the internet, or, more specifically, social media, is the ultimate harbinger of enlightenment, liberalism and progress. Evgeny Morozov warns about the dangers of cyber-utopianism in his book, The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World, in which he chastises those who preach the internet as a panacea, while conveniently ignoring the poisonous elements.

What we’ve seen over these past few days are some of those poisonous elements.

If we are to accept the conventional wisdom that says social media better enables the mass mobilisation of politically active individuals, we can reasonably say that Saturday’s protests (both nasty and nice) were greatly helped by this technological wonder. However, we should also consider that the TUC rally (with its vast, largely offline network) could still have taken place, while the ‘anarchists’ campaign would’ve been far less likely to make up the numbers.

And let’s not underestimate the power of the echo chamber. Through social media like Facebook and Twitter, it’s now easier than ever to immerse yourself in opinions that support your world view while simultaneously dismissing anything you don’t want to hear. This will naturally distort people’s perception of reality and convince them their views are more widely accepted than they probably are.

The case of Start Up Britain portrays a different side of cyber-utopianism. Rather than being by-products of the internet revolution, these entrepreneurs are fully paid-up acolytes. In many cases, the ‘brains’ behind the ‘initiative’ owe their very success to the web 2.0 explosion. Their faith in the transformative power of the internet clearly lies at the very foundation of their idea. Crowdsourcing, blogs, social networks… seemingly, an expensive, expansive bureaucracy providing individual, personal advice to businesses to help them grow is no match for a single page website linking to a handful of online resources.

While all this social media jazz may be considered exciting (in some circumstances), when it comes to policy this approach has, yet again, been resoundingly rejected and ridiculed. The public obviously don’t share the cyber-utopians confidence that Britain can crowdsource its way to growth.

I suppose you could argue that this is only evidence of a lack of vision on behalf of the public. And, naturally, we should wait and see before making any final judgements regarding how effective this will be in the long run. However, the mistake the entrepreneurs made was assuming web 2.0 principles (iterative development, beta launches, internationalisation, crowdsourcing, etc.) would easily translate into public policy (or an extension thereof) and be widely accepted. How many times will people make the same mistakes before they learn?

"If you even think about spinning that bottle I'll cut your fucking balls off" (another aletheiaphotos.com pic)

Final thoughts

I hope everyone’s cheered by the thought that both anti-corporate thugs and free market-loving yuppies can be equally incompetent. Sadly, both sides of the political divide have to deal with the respective consequences.

A rare, passionate and awe-inspiring gathering of those much talked about ‘hard-working British families’ was pushed off the front pages; the message of a real alternative was lost amidst the din of shattered glass and the more media-friendly context behind the forthcoming strikes has been irrecoverably muddied. This only helps the Tories.

For the blue team, their first thunderous shot at a growth narrative has turned into yet another embarrassment. Within just a few hours of an enthusiastic launch starring the biggest players in the coalition, Start Up Britain was desperately trying to distance itself from the government. Dave and Gideon’s strategy for growth once again appears as shallow, vague and unwelcome as their Big Society.

So that leaves us still locked in a brutal programme of cuts, unemployment and inflation, but without even the pretence of an intelligent plan for growth. Thanks, wankers.

The sad thing is how easy it would’ve been to avoid such gross errors. If the rioters and the entrepreneurs had simply broadened their world view to include, y’know, normal humans in their plans, many of these mistakes could’ve been averted.

More importantly, if any one of them had genuinely cared about the cause they claim to exemplify, maybe they would’ve been motivated to look beyond their own ego and narrow self-interest.

*****************

Alethiaphotos have some awesome shots of the anarchists. Well worth a look.

The dark, untold history of Swedish crypto-imperialism and conspiracy

Reasonable people are asking reasonable questions about Sweden’s shameful and illiberal pursuit of Julian Assange.

Immediately, the mainstream media attempts to shout down the dissenting voices. Surely, they sneer, you can not be suggesting that Sweden, the country you’ve always looked towards as a beacon of liberalism is involved in any wrong-doing?

Fact: In 2006, Sweden invented perfection

The idea that Sweden is some sort of progressive paradise is a grand deception, built on decades of propaganda serving both the Scandinavian elite and its Anglo-American conspirators. The truth, for those willing to look for it, paints a picture of a Machiavellian ex-Imperial power, gripped by the hidden control of corporate interests and duplicitous in its depiction as a beacon of neutrality while eagerly equipping the American war machine.

Under this light, the explanation behind the events of the past few months becomes crystal clear.

History

Sweden: Kicking ass and taking names since 700 AD

Sweden was not always the small, unassuming state it’s (erroneously) considered today. In the 17th Century, Sweden had one of the mightiest Empires of the Old World, having conquered roughly half of the Holy Roman states during the “nightmarish” Thirty Years’ War. It wasn’t until almost two hundred years later, after a century of warmongering and defeat, when the Swedish Empire finally collapsed. With the broken nation unable to continue its hawkish policy, Sweden abandoned forever an overt military route to global power.

Not that this was the end of Swedish ambitions. Martial strength gave way to a more underhanded approach to increase their influence worldwide. Between 1850 and 1910, over one million Swedes moved to the US; in the early 20th century, more Swedes lived in Chicago (where Barack Obama started his political career as a community organiser) than in Gothenburg (Sweden’s second largest city).

Sweden remained ostensibly neutral during World War II – but, in fact, both aided the resistance forces of Norway, Denmark and Finland; and supplied resources to Nazi Germany.

Such perfidy left Sweden in a more than favourable position to profit from the murder and mayhem of the World’s most brutal conflict. Sweden exerted its influence, using its intact industrial base, social stability and natural resources to expand its industry as the rest of Europe attempted to heal. Regardless, such fortuitousness did not stop their US friends handing them $112.5 million (over $1 billion in today’s terms) as part of the Marshall Plan.

This tactic of simulating neutrality while secretly colluding with combatants continued throughout the Cold War, when Sweden publicly claimed impartiality but unofficially maintained a special relationship with the United States. Despite a global reputation for pacifism, Sweden has been involved in all major conflicts in recent history, including Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Cyprus.

Sweden avoided the influence of communism and fascism which swept through the rest of Europe. Indeed, their social democratic ideology has, famously, had a profound grip on the nation since 1889. Less well celebrated is Sweden’s long and sordid history of corporatism.

In his thesis, Explaining Swedish Corporatism: The Formative Moment, the distinguished political scientist Bo Rothstein wrote:

In an international perspective Sweden appears to have unusually numerous and powerful interest organizations. Moreover, these organizations are thought to enjoy considerable influence over public policy.

These “unusually numerous and powerful” corporations with “considerable influence over public policy” export weapons used by the US military in Iraq. You may be more likely to challenge Sweden’s pretence of enlightened neutrality when you discover that in 2008 Swedish arms exports jumped by 32 percent.

A century of saying 'whatever'

After the nineteenth century, Sweden retreated from attempting to assert their dominance through overt use of military muscle. Instead, they have pursued a far more clandestine strategy, seeking to extend their tendrils of influence across the world via cultural insemination.

In the 40s through to the 70s, many of Hollywood’s most popular faces (including Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo and Britt Ekland) were, in fact, Swedish. Although this influence waned at the start of the 80s, in the past decade, this cultural invasion has dramatically increased with little subtlety.

In 2008, the BBC invested serious time and energy promoting the hitherto unknown, fictional Swedish detective, Kurt Wallander. That the BBC might take a risk by introducing an obscure Scandinavian character into a prime time slot might not be so surprising. But what is so unusual is that the Wallander series was originally screened at the British Academy (where it was granted extra publicity by a Q&A session) before being simulcast on both BBC One and BBC HD, with supporting films and documentaries on BBC Four. Such a publicity blitz is unprecedented.

The series has since spread to 14 other countries across the world (a French language series is also currently being pursued) and triggered a massive increase in sales of Wallander novels.

Part 205 in our 'fictional Swedes packing heat' series

Speaking of novels, currently sitting at number 1 in Amazon’s list of best selling books of 2010 is the third part of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. This book is joined in the best selling list by the rest of the trilogy: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (at number 2) and The Girl Who Played with Fire (at number 6). The original Swedish movie adaptation grossed $104 million worldwide. An American version starring George Clooney is due 2011 – sure to be a box office success. When was the last time such charts were so utterly dominated by neither American nor Briton?

More importantly, why would Britain and America be so keen to promote products of Swedish culture? Could this, along with the aforementioned leap in Swedish arms exports, be its reward for acting as the willing lapdog of Anglo-American Imperialism?

If you’re still not convinced civilized Sweden is capable of unscrupulous behaviour when it furthers their own interests and those of their American friends, there’s more. It’s a little known fact (typical of this artful, secretive nation), that Sweden was home to one of the most elaborate and disputed conspiracies of the 20th Century: Konspiration 58.

Konspiration 58

It must be real. I done seen it on the telly.

Conspiracy 58 (Swedish: Konspiration 58 or KSP58) is a controversial theory, claiming that the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden never really happened. Evidence was presented purporting to prove World Cup ’58 was staged as a television and radio event between American and Swedish Television, the CIA and FIFA as part of a Cold War strategy. A documentary, never broadcast outside Sweden, was made in 2002 exposing this mind-boggling hoax. Expert witnesses claimed that Sweden did not have the economic or technical resources to promote such an event. Americas involvement, according to the theory, was to discover if televisual propaganda had any influence on viewers and “if such methods could be used as political weapons”.

Revelations from this shocking documentary are described below.

A large amount of evidence was presented. For example, there was analysis of television recordings at the matches, where houses can be seen in the backgrounds that never actually stood there. The programme also analyzed how the shadows of the players in the field were falling, and were angled in a way that is not possible in Sweden if you study the position of the sun at the time.

The Chairman of the association, Bror Jacques de Wærn, who was employed in the Swedish National Agency for more than twenty years, claims that he has looked for evidence that the tournament really took place, but didn’t find anything.

You can find out more here.

The Yellow Janus

This photo is not relevant to the surrounding copy

They say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. Hidden behind Sweden’s facade of neutrality and pretence of social democracy lies one of the most malign international influences of the past century.

If Wikileaks has achieved only one thing by releasing the US cables, it’s shedding light on one of the greatest hidden conspiracies of the modern world.

Who’s really in charge: the people, the politicians or the media? (British Social Attitudes Survey Part IV)

What I find interesting is whether politics and the media follow or form public opinion. Certainly some results from the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS) seem to conflict with the predominant political view of the time – secondary schools are doing a decent job, for example. Other long-held views seem to be completely detached from the mainstream political and media narrative – most notably that income inequality is too great, which has been the opinion of roughly 80% of us since 1987 despite rarely being discussed and no great attempts being made to fix it.

The decreasing support for increasing welfare could be seen as a response to Tory rhetoric and media horror stories. However, the proportion of people who agree government should spend more on benefits has been in steep decline since 1991. My view is that most people’s opinions are shaped more by personal experience and word of mouth than media stories and political spin. Of course, people will then choose to believe or deny what they read in the papers or see on TV depending on how well it fits their expectations. But, ultimately a kernel of a belief needs to be in place first (I suspect, for millions across Britain a friend of a friend knows someone who, it’s rumoured, has a new plasma TV, three kids, has never worked a day in their life AND is going on holiday TWICE this year).

It’s strangely reassuring to see that politicians and the media are merely grossly distorted reflections of public opinion rather than creators of it.