datbeardyman

Less about the world, more about me.

Year: 2016 (page 1 of 6)

On learning about Political Correctness

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I’m still trying to digest the result of the election in the US. An aspect of that shock result is Political Correctness. Many Trump supporters appear to have a visceral dislike for Political Correctness. I can understand that. Political Correctness is not easy. It’s not easy because it is a concept that calls for an intellectual and emotional engagement with subjects many would rather ignore.

It’s a concept I’ve struggled with for a number of years. On the intellectual side is the tension between Political Correctness and Free Speech. And trying to understand why Political Correctness is necessary and useful. Emotionally it’s difficult because it demands one assess one’s own situation, then exercise a certain amount of empathy towards others. Making an effort to compare one’s own struggles with the struggles of others. Possibly admitting that while things aren’t great, they are less great and for much more complex reasons for others

That is not an enjoyable journey. I’m a white, working class, straight man with a middling level of education. My travails, both structural and individual, are the most important things in the world to me. The things I know, everyone should know. What I take for granted, should be the norm. The struggles I experience, everyone should sympathise with. My station in life is not satisfactory and that should be the sole occupation of the chancers and/or ideologues who seek to represent me.

This is an easy to maintain attitude when one lives in a working class, white, almost exclusively straight environment. Even the few years I did in college, back in the early nineties, didn’t do much to teach me about those ‘others’. In part because the environment wasn’t diverse but also, to be honest, because I was an arrogant little shit who didn’t need to learn anything. Even the ten years I worked in Dublin didn’t do much to expose me to difference.

I worked caring for people who were a lot poorer than me, but I saw our difference as one of degree rather than of order.

Remarkably, when one considers the sewer that Twitter has become, it was in that weird and truculent environment that I first began to actively engage with Political Correctness. When I joined Twitter, it was for the express purpose of engaging with nerd culture and explaining to everyone why their political beliefs were wrong and mine were right. The former I enjoyed and still enjoy, the latter was an eye opener.

I happened upon people who were more educated, more intelligent and who’d had more diverse experiences than me. My infinitely self-centred world-view began to crumble. And it wasn’t because of a series of bitter battles with PC heads trying to correct my thinking. More it was just being in an environment that valued thoughtful use of words (yes youngsters, Twitter did have a golden age) caused me to begin to exercise a little more restraint.

The people I was interacting with, were people I wished to continue interacting with. So I had to adapt. This can be construed as ‘knuckling under’ or as a process of reflection and learning. Knowing my personality, I couldn’t have manged the latter without a certain element of the former. If there’s one constant in my struggle to learn new things, it’s my reflexive arrogance telling me I don’t need to know new shit. I already know all the shit I need to know.

It was and remains an uncomfortable journey. And I don’t mean I miss using racist, homophobic and misogynist language. What I miss is being the centre of the universe. I miss not being able to prioritise my struggles and my beliefs. I don’t like having to second guess the thoughts and feelings I have. I don’t like not being certain about absolutely everything. I struggle with treating a debate as an opportunity to learn rather than arena in which to dominate and win. I really don’t like that as our world falls apart my biggest concern is finding a formula that perfectly balances the exigencies of Free Speech with the necessities of Political Correctness.

I stumbled upon Political Correctness. I think that scares me. It scares me because I know that if Trump had appeared ten years ago, I would probably have been a supporter. I try to take some comfort in thinking that possibly he would have been too ridiculous even for unreconstructed Paul, but I’m not sure.

Political Correctness is hard. I understand why people, people from my background, would attack it. That pause before opening one’s mouth. That boring ass research. That patronising response from an obnoxious leftie. That genuine suffering that must take second place to some stranger’s suffering. That loss of certainty. That imposition of new rules that do nothing to improve your situation. The constant feed of easier and thus more appealing answers.

Political Correctness is undoubtedly one of the most progressive intellectual movements of my lifetime. It is an intellectual movement that actually improves lives rather than merely speculating about improving lives. And it actually saves lives. But it makes emotional demands that I fear many are unable or unwilling to meet. Who better to appeal to that emotionally insecure aspect of our characters than a man-child?

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Weekly Links #19

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Oops, I missed last week. So this is Weekly Links #19. Been a busy few weeks, not a very productive two weeks, more stuck doing grown up stuff and feeling sorry for myself. Did read a lot of interesting things though, so not a total loss. I’ve also decided to avoid Trump nonsense in this weekly round up. I find that I have begun to grasp at straws, that he’ll resign, there’ll be a successful recount, an alien invasion. I think I’ll just pretend the world isn’t falling apart. I can get back to that after Winterfest.

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“What’s more, a “common theme” researchers found is that people under 30 who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are more likely to witness and/or experience online abuse, and therefore more likely to self-censor what they post online. And the same holds true for young African-American internet users.” Women and Minority Groups Self-Censor Online to Avoid Harassment, Study Says

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“The ethicists all agreed that no, punching fascists is neither moral nor ethical, even if it makes you feel better about the rise of the alt-right. They emphasized that anti-fascist violence often ends up empowering those regimes, and can be used as an excuse to expand fascist power — a trend that bears out throughout the history of anti-fascist violence from Benito Mussolini’s Italy during World War II to Argentina in the early 20th century.” Is it ethical to punch a neo-Nazi? We asked the experts.

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“After a vote in the Polish parliament in April, Our Lord Jesus Christ was officially crowned the king of Poland last weekend. You might think you’ve accidentally landed on a fake news site, but you didn’t. It’s true, Jesus really does rule Poland now.” Jesus Christ Is Now Officially the King of Poland

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“The research confirms previous animal studies suggesting that social status affects the way genes turn on and off within immune cells. The new study, appearing Friday, Nov. 25 in the journal Science, goes further by showing that the effects are reversible.” Upward mobility boosts immunity in monkeys

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“In the “dual labour markets” of Japan and southern European countries, older men have secure, skilled, well-paid jobs for life, while women and younger men have insecure, low-paid, low-skilled jobs. But in America and Britain, where labour markets are deregulated, this distinction is fast disappearing as manufacturing jobs are outsourced to developing countries and routine skilled jobs are automated away. The labour market “reforms” beloved of institutions such as the IMF level the playing field for insecure workers not by making them more secure, but by destroying the security of those in employment.” Why the changing nature of work means we need a Universal Basic Income

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“The 2.52 billion-year-old sulfur-oxidizing bacteria are described by Czaja as exceptionally large, spherical-shaped, smooth-walled microscopic structures much larger than most modern bacteria, but similar to some modern single-celled organisms that live in deepwater sulfur-rich ocean settings today, where even now there are almost no traces of oxygen.” Life before oxygen

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“The site was occupied about 9,000 years ago when the level of the Baltic Sea was about 10-12 metres lower than it is today, Anton Hansson, a PhD geology student at Lund University in Sweden told IBTimes UK.” Underwater Stone Age settlement a haven for fishing – and yields mysterious elk-antler pick axe

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“Now, it may be that these statistics simply indicate that modern women are just exerting more control over when and under what circumstances they become mothers. To a large degree that’s true. But it doesn’t jibe with an even more shocking reality: that half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Once you factor in the abortion rate and pregnancies that end in miscarriage, we’re left with the rather surprising fact that one-third of babies born in the United States were unplanned. Not so surprising, however, is that the intention to have children definitively impacts how parents feel about their children, and how those children are treated — sometimes to terrifying results.” Not Wanting Kids Is Entirely Normal

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Weekly Links #18

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Another week, another raft of interesting articles that grabbed my attention. I’ve totally thrown in the towel with #NaNoWriMo. I hit a wall last week and just wasn’t able to pick myself up after it. But I learned some useful things and am already looking forward to next November. But more importantly, I think there is a novel in the idea I tried turning into 50000 words this month. My plan now is to ensure I have absolutely nothing else to do next year other than write. I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself in 2017. I’ve decided that if I don’t complete at least one novel before 2018 then I’m giving up. A tad precipitous I’ll grant you, but it feels like the right thing to do.

As for the links this week, I have included a few regarding Trump. I’d hoped after the election his relevance would wane. Instead the orange buffoon is even more important. I shudder.

As always feel free to subscribe to this blog and if you’d like to read some of my published fiction, please visit here.

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“On Nov. 8, the most powerful country in world history, which will set its stamp on what comes next, had an election. The outcome placed total control of the government—executive, Congress, the Supreme Court—in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.” Noam Chomsky: ‘The Republican Party Has Become the Most Dangerous Organization in World History’

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“Nationalism is a slippery concept, which is why politicians find it so easy to manipulate. At its best, it unites the country around common values to accomplish things that people could never manage alone. This “civic nationalism” is conciliatory and forward-looking—the nationalism of the Peace Corps, say, or Canada’s inclusive patriotism or German support for the home team as hosts of the 2006 World Cup. Civic nationalism appeals to universal values, such as freedom and equality. It contrasts with “ethnic nationalism”, which is zero-sum, aggressive and nostalgic and which draws on race or history to set the nation apart. In its darkest hour in the first half of the 20th century ethnic nationalism led to war.” The new nationalism

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“It said in the article [that] the production team of that movie of the remake, that they would go back more and more towards the novel. And of course, we really, really tried to get away from the novel, because we felt that the novel was fascistic and militaristic,” said Verhoeven.  “You feel that going back to the novel would fit very much in a Trump Presidency.” Paul Verhoeven Slams ‘Starship Troopers’ Remake, Says It’ll Be a Fascist Update Perfect for a Trump Presidency

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“Obama’s insistence on hope felt more willed than audacious. It spoke to the civic duty he felt to prevent despair not only among the young people in the West Wing but also among countless Americans across the country. At the White House, as elsewhere, dread and dejection were compounded by shock. Administration officials recalled the collective sense of confidence about the election that had persisted for many months, the sense of balloons and confetti waiting to be released.” OBAMA RECKONS WITH A TRUMP PRESIDENCY

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“Two centuries ago, electricity was the quantum physics of its age, a mysterious and poorly understood force that was the subject of bizarre and grotesque experiments to understand its relation to life. Ideas about energy and life force appear again and again in pseudoscience, so it’s not surprising that electromagnetism formed the basis for all kinds of quackery, from galvanic resurrection to antigravity via radionics, a branch of nonsense that seeks to cure illness with radio waves. The famous tin foil hat, the bulletproof vest of the quack world, was invented to protect the brain of its wearer from the force.” Why are people who reject conventional science so in love with its trappings?

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“When someone swore in their Twitter posts, participants classified them in the group of people without any college degree. Sometimes this assumption was accurate, but participants tended to over-attribute profanity and conversational language like “lol,” “wanna,” and “gonna” to the non-college-educated group.” Swearing on Twitter makes people presume you’re less educated than you are

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“The Victorian public that first read or read about the Origin of Species were, for the most part, not biblical literalists. For decades the most enlightened writers in the fields of science and religion had accepted that much of the Old Testament, andGenesis in particular, had to be read in a metaphorical sense. Some believed that the creation story dealt only with the latest geological epoch – in which humanity appears on Earth.” Darwin vs God?

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“There was still something oddly reassuring about the scene, if only for confirmation once again of the enduring gulf between the way the game is glossed and sold by its governing marketeers and the unyielding reality. In many ways this is still the best thing about football. For all the styling and the schmaltz, the attempts to ruin it with money, football refuses to bend completely, to lose its dingier corners. Above all, and for all its faults, football reserves the right to be stubborn, elusive and insistently uncontrolled.” China and Qatar: spendthrift would-be superpowers unlikely to reach Russia

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“So many old friends behind the camera, but I missed the old team of actors. Mind you, it was a joy to work with Martin Freeman and the dwarves. I was glad to be rid of that old stick Gandalf The White. The Grey was always my favourite. Don’t you remember when it was my turn to play a track, I asked for silence instead? Now I’m nostalgic, remembering those early mornings in the make-up trailer, six days a week.” Lord Of The Rings at 15: theFellowship interview each other

 

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Final Column: A walk on the wild side amid Tralee’s urban cacophony

As published in The Kerryman 23-11-16

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This is my final column for The Kerryman. There was a change made to this piece which I cannot stand over.  I will highlight the piece that was added and I’ll include what it replaced. The issue is the use of the word immigrant to describe asylum seekers. I was unable to convince The Kerryman that this was fundamentally inaccurate.  

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I like towns and cities. I like the variety, cultures and noise. But I also like that towns usually set aside spaces for nature, or at least the appearance of nature. Hustle and bustle are all the more enjoyable if one is able to occasionally escape them. So, I took a stroll on the newly improved Canal Walkway in Tralee.

There’s nothing as restorative as a quiet walk where one’s mind can wander and find peace. And the Canal Walkway is a wonderful example of a planned oasis of calm amidst the urban cacophony. Deceptively soothing despite the busy Dingle road humming away across the narrow expanse of water.

It’s a short walk. Stretching from Tralee to Blennerville, a bare few minutes for the jogger, a little longer for the rowers that use it for their strenuous leisure and a little longer again for the middle-aged man lost in thought.

The canal was opened in 1846 to bypass the silt affected port at Blennerville, allowing ships to load and unload their cargoes in the heart of Tralee. It closed in 1930s as Fenit then had a deep-water port and was connected by railway to Tralee. That line is now also being turned into a walkway for people eager to experience a relaxing amble. Yesterday’s sinews of international trade becoming today’s investment in healthy arteries.

But no more of history. Or so I thought. One begins this walk beside a modern apartment block. A legacy of the Tiger, but at least one that is aging well. Across the canal is the newly built club house of those aforementioned rowers. And beyond it there’s a Direct Provision facility. In a dark period of Irish history The Jeanie Johnson sailed from nearby Blennerville carrying emigrants to America where they hoped to make better lives for themselves. The Direct Provision facility accommodates immigrants hoping for a better life here. We can ask ourselves if we afford them the kind of opportunities we ourselves sought in other lands. (What I’d written: A reminder of a time when we warehoused human beings instead of dealing with them. Hidden away while generating profit for the warehousers. Sometimes history is just the same story repeating itself.)

But we walk on. The path of pristine tarmac, illuminated by the modern lighting so one can avoid the ubiquitous dog waste, passes a sea of reeds to our right. It looks so out of place, set so close to apartments and houses. It’s very oddity acts as a balm.

The reeds give way to farmland. In the distance, there are mountains shrouded in cloud. There is one square of green in those brown hills. Farmland cut into the side of the mountain. What kind of back-breaking effort must have gone into claiming that land from the mountain?

If you’re lucky the sun will give a dazzling shimmer to the choppy water. This canal has the feel of a river to it. Built for ships it’s deeper than canals I’ve seen in other towns and cities.

On your right, the green fields are replaced by wetlands. There is a couple of swans raising an almost fully grown cygnet. It could have turned white by the time you read this. My knowledge of birds extends to being able to identify a swan. On my walk, I saw two other species of large birds that I’d never seen before. One was black with a yellow bill, the other, perched in a tree, was white with some grey/black feathers.

But my phone does not have an app for identifying birds. I was strangely pleased by that. Just as you leave the swans behind you come to a bridge. You can cross the bridge but then that’s a whole other column.

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Column: Predjudice thrives in a new era of brute survival

As published in The Kerryman 16-11-16

predjudice-thrives-in-a-new-era-of-brute-survival

Am I amazed? Am I shocked? Am I appalled? You betcha. I didn’t think they’d actually do it. I never dreamed they’d fall for that man’s cacophony of bigotry, misogyny and ignorance. But I was wrong. That I’m not alone in getting the result of the US presidential election wrong isn’t any comfort. A man who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, a man who boasts about grabbing women’s vaginas, a man who says he respects Vladimir Putin will be the most powerful man on Earth.

But as much as I’d like to, I can’t spend an entire column detailing how disgusted I am. There is an expectation that I at least try to understand what happened. And I can’t just write off 60 million Americans as racist, gropey, rednecks. I’m tempted to, but despite my best efforts I remain an optimist. I have to believe they didn’t simply choose to endorse white supremacy and sexual assault.

People are hurting in America. This is true. Large swathes of the mid-west have been effectively deindustrialised. Making things and mining the stuff to make those things is now largely done in countries that do it far cheaper. Electronics, household goods and even cars are cheaper and more plentiful than they’ve ever been and they are rarely made in the rich countries that consume them.

Those Democratic voting states that defined themselves by the making of stuff have been devastated. They now must rely on insecure and non-unionised jobs that offer little beyond brute survival. A way of life has died. A way of life that flourished in a time where race relations, gender roles and attitudes to difference were less enlightened than today.

To call it nostalgia is unfair to the middle-aged white man working two dead-end jobs just to cover his mortgage. There is anger, righteous anger. There is even despair. So why not take a punt on the loud mouth who promises to turn back the clock? Hillary Clinton was obviously the more qualified candidate, but she didn’t promise to make America great again because she thought America was already great.

As far as I can tell, Americans do actually take that seriously. Many truly believe America either is, or was, great. It’s a strangely naive thing to think about a nation founded on genocide, slavery and institutionalised racism but they do seem to believe it. And if you are that middle aged white man or white woman, struggling to make ends meet, brought up being taught they are entitled to better, then desperate gambles to recapture that notion of greatness, become less desperate.

That he is a vitriolic man-child is beside the point, he has promised to turn the clock back. That his own Republican party despise him is of no consequence, they were largely responsible for shipping those secure jobs overseas anyway. That he was a Democrat until a few years ago is meaningless as he has promised a better past. That he is a serial bankrupt is of no consequence because he speaks to their fears and prejudices.

Not everyone who voted for that man is a white supremacist and a misogynist but they did vote for one. I can sympathise and even empathise with their desperation, but turning the clock back is a fool’s paradise. And I fear they will learn to regret this global gamble.

 

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Weekly Links #17

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A week in which I am feeling sorry for myself. My NaNoWriMo project hit a wall. I’m not sure why, but after completing Act One I lost heart. I think there’s a novel in there but this first draft is going to take a lot longer than I’d hoped. I haven’t read a huge amount either but have happened upon some interesting articles. I hope you find them illuminating.

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“Let us also agree that ethnic or religious discrimination cannot be justified by calls for greater security. During World War II, the government argued that military authorities could not distinguish between alleged enemy elements and peaceful, patriotic Japanese Americans. It concluded, therefore, that all those of Japanese descent, including American citizens, should be presumed guilty and held without charge, trial or legal recourse, in many cases for years. The very same arguments echo today, on the assumption that a handful of presumed radical elements within the Muslim community necessitates draconian measures against the whole, all in the name of national security.” George Takei: They interned my family. Don’t let them do it to Muslims.

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“Despite the fact I’d be joining a workers’ brigade, helping to rebuild civilian infrastructure in Kobane rather than fighting, simply going to Syria provoked some extreme responses. Two people who’d like to think of themselves as “of note” to MI5 for their thoroughbred leftiness blocked me on Facebook for “security reasons”, and an ex-partner threatened to report me to the “the government” – despite no laws being broken; others on the left seemed to go into denial, deciding I was a fantasist.” Revolution in the mountains

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“Instead of individual subjects, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format. For example, the Second World War will be examined from the perspective of history, geography, and math. And by taking the course ”Working in a Cafe,” students will absorb a whole body of knowledge about the English language, economics, and communication skills.” Finland Will Become the First Country in the World to Get Rid of All School Subjects

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“That ancient genes are swimming in our gene pool has been known a while. Non-African individuals inherited about 2% of their genomes from Neanderthals, while people of Melanesian ancestry inherited another 2 to 4% of their genomes from Denisovan ancestors.” Thank Neanderthal and Denisovan genes for health and skin colour

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“It is in the seventh century, before any known document written in Romance or Germanic languages, that the first allusion to our theme appears. It is contained in an attempt, on the part of the Irish grammarians, to defend spoken Gaelic over written Latin.” Eco on a Perfect Language: Gaelic

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“Dogs are hugging us with their eyes? That might be the cutest thing in the entire world. And that’s backed up by another recent study, which was part of a BBC documentary. When dogs interact with humans, their oxytocin levels go up, just like when humans interact with dogs, or even their own children. And as a win for dog people, dogs had those hormones spike more than cats did in similar situations, according to the Telegraph.” An Expert Has Confirmed That Dogs Understand How Much We Love Them

 

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Column: Choosing between the disliked and the dangerous

As published in The Kerryman 09-11-16

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As I write this I don’t know who has won the US presidency. At one point Hillary Clinton was heading for a landslide. But the FBI revealing further investigations into her email history has brought Donald Trump back into the race. I’d thought a Trump victory as unlikely as the UK voting to leave the EU.

I’m amazed to find myself in a reality where Donald Trump is within a few points of becoming the most powerful man on Earth. The Americans are inclined towards hyperbole. Land of free, land of hope and all that jazz. But the President of the United States is both leader of this world’s richest nation and Commander in Chief of the most powerful military to have ever existed.

Even in Kerry, three thousand miles away, who leads America matters. Fortunately, for most of the time, the choice between candidates isn’t all that dramatic. Their ideologies, policies and aims tend to be at least mutually intelligible. Often the contest can come down to personality, incumbency or which party is due a win. Even when America chose to elect a black man, they didn’t elect a radical pledged to right the historical wrongs done to black people by America. Obama’s main concern was to tend to an ailing economy and find some way to make health care more available.

If either of his opponents had won, America would be little different from what it is now. It might’ve been a little richer or poorer, might be a lot less fair to the poor and might have a slightly different foreign policy. But it would be recognisably America. But Obama’s greatest achievement was to be so charismatic that the American presidency seems to demand a gravitas and a seriousness that few can emulate.

Fortunately, Hillary Clinton doesn’t try to be Obama. She tries to be serious in her own way. A seriousness based on a lifetime of public service. She has become incredibly wealthy, has a trail of scandals following her that would’ve ended most political careers and is generally disliked and mistrusted by Americans. Against almost any other opponent she’d be facing annihilation at the polls. I dislike her immensely but I would vote for her and I would dedicate my every waking hour to ensuring she won.

I would do all I could to help her because she faces not just another Republican politician. She faces a billionaire buffoon who delights in speaking and pandering to the worst elements of the American psyche.

The greatest con played on the American people, by the American people, was that they assumed the election of Obama healed the wounds of slavery and marginalisation. Worse, it allowed many white people, afflicted by unemployment and loss of privilege, to believe they’ve lost out to people of colour. The white poor have genuine grievances about their economic insecurity but in Trump they have an advocate who seeks to exploit their plight, not heal it.

Even if he could produce some rational policies and a cohesive vision, I’d vote for Hillary. In America, there are only two choices. Even if Hillary was discovered to have robbed a bank at gunpoint I would vote for her. If she was to spout wings, grow a tail and spew fire from her nostrils it’s still difficult to imagine her presidency being anything but straightforward and boring. It’s impossible to anticipate a Trump presidency being anything other than a calamity.

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Weekly Links #16

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Well they did it. They actually did it. They voted to make that clown the most powerful man-child on the planet. Appalled doesn’t cover it. There will be a million articles that seek to understand why this happened and how pollsters got it so wrong and why the apocalypse will be orange. I’m only going to offer one this week. This is by Kenan Malik. I read a lot of stuff by Kenan Malik. I think you should too. But anyway, he blames identity politics.

Besides stocking up on canned goods I’ve been tipping away at NaNoWriMo. As of today I’m a little behind, but I can’t blame that entirely on Trump. Mostly, but not entirely. I also had a bit of food poisoning, some activism to do and the dog ate my homework. But after Sunday I have a whole week free to catch up and maybe even get a little ahead.

As always feel free to subscribe to my blog and have a look at my fiction that’s available on Amazon.

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“At first sight all this seems to give weight to the ‘whitelash’ thesis, the idea that Trump rose to power on a wave of rage from white, male Christians. The real story is, however, more complex. If we look not at the aggregate figures but at the shifts in support, we can tell a different story.” how america got trumped

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“Reactionaries are not conservatives. This is the first thing to be understood about them. Conservatives have always seen society as a kind of inheritance we receive and are responsible for. The healthiest way to bring about change, the conservative believes, is through consultation and slow transformations in custom and tradition, not by announcing bold reform programs or inventing supposedly inalienable individual rights. But the conservative is also reconciled to the fact that history never stands still and that we are only passing through. Conservatism seeks to instill the humble thought that history moves us forward, not the other way around. And that radical attempts to master it through sheer will bring disaster.” Our Reactionary Age

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“I hoped that the trend would fade as quickly as it had come to prominence. Instead, the memes went viral. For nearly two years now I have tracked the trajectory of the ‘Irish slaves’ mythos online and in that time the memefication of this myth has reached unprecedented levels of visibility and popularity across the social web, primarily in the United States. Google searches for the term ‘Irish slaves’ have exploded since October 2014, with September 2016 as the highest month on record so far.” Two years of the ‘Irish slaves’ myth: racism, reductionism and the tradition of diminishing the transatlantic slave trade

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“When Trump, for example, suggested that “you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month on the final day,” he appears not to realize that the term for that — and it’s done considerably less violently — is a Cesarean section, a common, safe procedure by which about a third of women deliver their babies every year. In other words, Trump described how more than a million women every year give birth. It’s quite legal, and generally a cause for celebration.” No, Late-Term Abortions Don’t ‘Rip’ Babies Out Of Wombs — And They Exist For A Reason

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“To what extent is radical right-wing popularity fueling this backslide? Certainly in Poland the message is clear: The nationalist ruling party seeks to quash women’s reproductive rights under the guise of so-called Christian family values.” Why the Rise of the European Right Spells Doom for Reproductive Health

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“Britain has long argued that the EU’s pensions are too generous and pensions are one of many areas where complex joint liabilities will need to be unravelled. Failing to find a solution could put at risk pension payments to about 3000 UK officials who have worked in the EU institutions, including the Commission and Parliament, since 1973.” Brexit triggers row over British EU civil servants’ pensions

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“The call to action was more political than humanitarian. America was slowly emerging from the Great Depression and, although unemployment was gradually dipping, it still stood at a staggering 19 percent. Roosevelt found himself facing the twin pressures of isolationism and overt anti-Semitism. The later had spiked in the l930s with the advent of a string of anti-Semitic publications and the popular anti-Semitic radio addresses of Charles Coughlin, a Detroit Catholic priest. Father Coughlin had a following of more than forty million, and the Catholic hierarchy made no attempt to silence him.” that proud history of welcoming refugees

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What The Fuck White People?

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Before today, the closest I’d ever gotten to nostalgia was missing that time when Liverpool FC was the best team in Europe. In all other ways, I’d always thanked my good fortune that I came of age in a time when basic decency began to become law, both written and unwritten. I never felt threatened by those laws.

I don’t regret not being able to use the n-word. I’ve no difficulty using the personal pronoun a person says applies to them. I accept that when I voice concerns about another culture I have do so in a way that is sensitive to the vulnerabilities of members of that culture. I’d welcome a flood of refugees, confident we can sort out the details tomorrow, just as long as we save lives today. I’ve had to accept that my belief in the efficacy of liberal military might was misplaced. I’ve grappled with being one of the most privileged people on Earth and now I acknowledge it.

I’m white, cis-male, straight, able-bodied, employed, literate and live in a country where my vote counts. And I thought things were going to continue getting better. For the first time, I feel nostalgia. I miss that time about five years ago when white people weren’t such whiney cunts. OK, perhaps we were always whiney cunts, but we weren’t voting for far-right, nativist, man-children who spoke with the language of those attempting to bring down the Weimar Republic.

Or perhaps more accurately, in my cocoon of liberalist privilege, I wasn’t aware that my fellow white people were still the racist scumbags of the past, but with better teeth. I had allowed myself to believe that progress was inexorable. The West was richer, more powerful, more stable, more open, and more liberal than any civilisation in history. We’d raped the planet and murdered hundreds of millions of each other and non-Europeans but in the latter half of the 20th and early part of the 21st centuries we had finally cottoned onto basic decency. (And yes, I’m fully aware of the Marxist criticism of that statement, but I’m a liberal, not a Marxist)

We are rich beyond the dreams of Midas. And we are largely rich because we exploit people and the planet more efficiently and on a larger scale than ever before. And with that wealth we had begun to construct a civilisation of rational enquiry, of tolerance and respect. And yes, I am exaggerating wildly. This is nostalgia after all. But there is a kernel of truth to it. I’m from a working-class background and yet I got to go to college. My sort never got to go to college. I got to knock on doors and urge people to allow same-sex marriages. I get to insult my politicians in a newspaper and on my blog. I can believe whatever I want to believe.

But I got complacent. I’d begun to believe that the only argument left was the constant tension between individual rights and societal obligations. I’d begun my own journey from centre-right to centre-left on the political spectrum, but always liberal. Always focused on my personal journey I forgot to look at other white people. I didn’t take seriously the occasional cranks who decried the presence of colour in their white redoubts.

It never occurred to me that white people, enjoying all the privileges I enjoy, could seriously feel threatened by people of colour or could seriously resent not being able to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community. In part defence of my naivete, I have lived, for the last eight years, in one of the whitest parts of the planet. I’d heard stupid things said about refugees, but that was just a lack of information, not a core deep unease at difference. Wasn’t it?

Now Trump is president elect. A majority of white women voted for him. A majority of white men voted for him. Was there an economic element to his victory? Certainly. Did misogyny play a part? Of course. Was there a backlash against treating the LGBTQ+ community as actual human beings? Yes. Did the spectre of Islamist terrorism move some lily-livered white people? I’m afraid so. But what animated them most was his insistence that being a whiney white cunt was a valid lifestyle choice. That being a dangerous, racist piece of shit was perfectly acceptable in the face of liberalism’s fumbling and erratic attempts at constructing a tolerant society. That ignorance is a badge to be worn with pride.

Fucking white people did this. Fucking white people voted for Brexit. Fucking white people have begun to vote for authoritarian pricks all over the EU. Fucking white people are bitching that Angela Markel chose the save over a million Syrian refugees. Fucking white people, in Sweden, SWEDEN! are reacting to refugees.

I know, I know, I’m a liberal. I’m supposed to attempt empathy, I should attempt to understand these fucking white people, if for no other reason that with understanding I can address their fucking white people fears. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to delve into their smallness, their inadequacies, their pathetic fears. I know one day I’ll have to. But today I can’t bring myself to feel their sick ignorance.

It’s inevitable that to beat these petty pricks we are going to have to find some way to help them mature into fully functioning adults who aren’t scared by colour and difference and exotic food and languages and the complicated work of getting along with people who see the world that bit differently.

And yes, I see the irony of that last statement. But I’m not a cultural relativist. I don’t think all cultures and all ways of doing things are equal. I’m a liberal. I believe in some universal and fundamental human rights. You can believe in any bullshit you want. You can indulge in any practice you want. But fuck you if you attempt to impose your bullshit on anyone else, be they your partner, neighbour or society.

Fucking white people. In the history of our planet we’ve never been so powerful, rich and healthy. Yet we still tremble at difference. There is so much wrong with the world (I didn’t even mention climate change) and our response is to elect fascist man-children? Just what the fuck white people? You dumb pricks have made me miss five years ago.

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Column: It should be possible to be more discriminating about discrimination

As published in The Kerryman 02-11-16

it-should-be-possible-to-be-more-discriminating-about-discrimination

The Court of Appeal in Belfast recently upheld a finding that Ashers Baking Company had discriminated against Gareth Lee. Mr Lee is a LGBT rights activist who ordered and paid for a cake that displayed a pro marriage equality message. Ashers had initially accepted the order but after two days’ consideration they changed their minds. They objected that the cake’s message went against their Christian beliefs.

It’s possible that a case like this will arise in Kerry. Bakers, printers, pubs, hotels, photographers etc. may find that their sincerely held beliefs are in conflict with their legal requirement not to discriminate against members of the LGBT community.

Should a business be legally entitled to discriminate against minorities? Or to put that question a different way, should one be obliged to act against one’s conscious? Then there’s a third way to frame this question, should the state being telling us what we may say, or indeed sell, to people?

There are many people who think the behaviour of Ashers is offensive but defend their right to be offensive. They make the argument that this ruling means that racists, homophobes, anti-Semites and Islamophobes will feel entitled to have businesses print their bile or host their hateful rallies.

This is an argument I have a lot of sympathy for. It is a free speech argument. I oppose all efforts by the State to curtail my right to say anything I want. And the only way I can maintain this ideological stance is to also defend the right of everyone else to say what they want or treat their customers how they want.

To be consistent I must accept verbal assaults and discrimination against LGBT people, just so I can condemn those attacks in the strongest possible terms. And if I was a gay man I could defend that ‘consistency’ to the hilt. But I’m not gay. I don’t get discriminated against. I’m not a woman and I’m not a person of colour. I’m not part of any minority that must accept abuse just so someone else who doesn’t get abused is free to say whatever they want about anything they want.

I am, as most people who look like me are, privileged. If I was a member of the LGBT community, my chances of experiencing mental health issues and suicide would be higher.  If I was a women I‘d be paid less, have less physical autonomy and fewer opportunities to advance in my chosen career. If I have a disability I can expect unemployment and marginalisation. The list of groups who must begin to grapple with life one step behind people like me is long. The closest I’ll get to understanding the reality of discrimination is if I reach my fifties or sixties and find myself looking for a job.

So it is very easy for me to defend freedom of speech. It is very easy for me to wrap my idealism around the idea that the state has no business telling people what they can say and how they must conduct their businesses. But consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. There have to be some exceptions. One must be able to say that discriminating against gay people is unacceptable while discriminating against racists is not.

Discrimination is always wrong, except when it isn’t. A species as advanced as ours should be able to understand this inconsistency and even celebrate it.

 

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