Category: Politics

No, but just one more thing and then I’ll shut up

The thing with the Evan McMullin killed Milo’s Career theory from our Puppy pals that really is bugging me is that it is just really, really, poor story telling. It’s too elaborate as a factual piece (unless, as I noted, moderate conservatives are pathetic at skullduggery) but worse, it’s just really bad as fiction.

No, if we are going to do fiction let us do it properly.

Who benefits specifically, with the timing and the events leading up to Milo’s fall from grace? I’ll credit the Puppies with at least getting you need a specific villain in a fictional story – the story can’t just be ‘people who don’t like nazi punks in general’.

Plotwise, for fiction rather than fact:

  1. You need a bad guy.
  2. It can’t be who you immediately expect.
  3. They have to directly benefit from both Milo’s rise & fall.
  4. When it is revealed, it all has to make sense in retrospect.

Ergo, Steve Bannon did it. I mean not really because we live in a real world where Ockham’s razor cuts such a story to shreds.

Bannon- Breitbart – Milo. Milo was great for Breitbart – stirring up shit, pulling in some angry young men and generally running interference for the alt-Right. But that was then. Bannon is next to the centre of power. Breitbart, which was once on the out fringes of conservatism is now accepted. CPAC will be Bannon’s chance to seal the deal – an alliance between wider conservatism and his own reactionary-nihilism.

Breitbart has a big presence at CPAC this year (in truth as well as in our fiction) and Bannon will appear with Reince Priebus. Donald Trump will give a keynote speech and…well some idiot invites Milo Yiannopolus. Can Bannon ensure Milo behaves? Probably not – after all he’s never needed Milo to behave, he has only ever needed Milo to stir shit. Worse, even Milo does behave at CPAC, everybody knows he has said some crazy shit which would alienate the still sceptical social conservative wing.

Solution (in fictional land): explode the scandal bomb early before it can do any collateral damage to CPAC, Trump, Breitbart or Bannon (that’s in reverse priority order).

Note only three things have actually happened to Milo:

  1. He got disinvited to a conference held by people he doesn’t like.
  2. He lost a book deal with a publisher he doesn’t like
  3. He ‘resigned’ from Breitbart.

Only one of those things looks like a betrayal…

Yeah, but in reality…nope. Events don’t need secret plots or sinister villains.

The cosplay of oppression: yet another milo post

Kate Paulk has now written a post at Sarah Hoyt’s blog which, well is not a shining example of coherent argument https://accordingtohoyt.com/2017/02/24/je-suis-milo-yanno-by-kate-paulk/

The ‘je suis’ bit isn’t the most OTT bit, that’s just the first mangled reference.

Because people like them doing everything from looking the other way from the thick smoke rising from crematoriums near the “work camps” with the skeletal workers to joining in the “kick ‘em in the goolies while they’re down” party are the people evil regimes like the Nazis and the Communists need to stay in power. As long as the self-styled good people will look the other way when the fuckers target someone, they can consolidate their hold until they’ve got control of all the levers of power – the media, education, bureaucracy, government…

I’m torn between the absurdity of that paragraph and the mix of horror & outrage. The absurdity is clear and while the readership here don’t need reminding, in the US right now there is a spate of anti-semitic violence, continuing far-right terrorism, anti-semitic dog-whistles (and worse) from the Whitehouse, draconian action from the government targeting Muslims and immigrants, attacks against the independence of the judiciary. ‘When the fuckers target someone’ the fuckers are targeting people – literally with all the power of the state with nary a word of objection from puppy-quarters and a ‘guardedly optimistic‘ from the supposedly anti-state-power Hoyt.

Note: I don’t want to highlight Kate Paulk as an individual here, so much as the broader group whose ideas she is voicing.

But we get to see the mechanics of self-deception at work here. A successful white man loses a speaking gig and a book contract and this is what causes Paulk to bring out the Holocaust references. Not the militarised round-ups of immigrants, not the terror attacks from rightwing nationalists, not an increasingly authoritarian federal government. No, on these topics we get a ‘guardedly optimistic’.

Of course, we’ve seen this before in Puppydom – a predilection to clothe themselves in a theatre of horrors from Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany or Mao’s China, when faced with people simply disagreeing with them. And as always it has both been absurd to the point of being laughable AND horrific in the way they basically steal other people’s suffering and claim that is what is happening to them because…, well usually because somebody disagreed with them.

Paulk gets one aspect right: there are people who evil regimes need to stay in power. They are people who not only ignore what those regimes are doing but shout loudly about other things. They are the people who not only look the other way when the fuckers target someone but demand everybody pay attention to something else and demand that everybody acknowledge that they, because of some small or imagined slight, are the real victims while around them thuggery goes on ignored.

There is a point where Kate Paulk wanders near the truth but by this point, she is so turned around that she doesn’t see how her words apply:

I don’t care whether the target is a nice person or not. I don’t care if the target is the fucking Grand Poo-Bah of the KKK, the Big Wahoonie of the Black Panthers, or the fucking Biggest Bag of the Daeshbags. If you lie to destroy him, you are worse than he is. If you accept those lies, knowing that they are lies, because you disapprove of him, you are worse than he is.

It’s not just lies – it is disdain for the truth. If you accept what you are told and repeat what you are told JUST OUT OF PARTISANSHIP then you are no different than a liar. People have longer memories than a week, we KNOW how Sad Puppies would react if it had been a non-ingroup SF author who had said a fraction of what Milo said.

We saw the pile on of hate against individuals from Puppyland – including attempts to get individuals sacked – simply for the crime of NOT AGREEING with the Puppies or for political comments about them.

No. I can recognise an element of injustice in Milo’s current troubles but it is tiny and essentially the professional hazard that comes with being a professional controversialist. Even in the world of public-figures getting a hard time because of what they said, he’s got off lightly. And even that element of injustice that can be seen is instantly overshadowed by Milo’s own modus-operandi: this kind of shame and humiliation by manipulating public and social media IS WHAT MILO DOES – except his targets are often not people with the same kinds of support systems (or money) that Milo has. You can’t take a principled stand against those who deceive to destroy AND support Milo because HE IS the epitome of those who deceive to destroy.

In the meantime, but I regret to say not the last time, no dear conservatives, you are not somehow the modern day equivalent of the people who died in the Holocaust or the Holdomor or the Cultural Revolution or Cambodia’s Killing Fields. That isn’t the question of the day or the question of the year. The question is are you going to be the people who not only stood by while Jewish cemeteries were vandalised & white supremacists murdered people & while your government militarised your law enforcement, but cried ‘we are the real victims here!’ because the guy you wanted to speak at a conference didn’t get to go? Or, are you going to be the people who when asked afterwards ‘Did you fight this evil’ can say ‘yes’?

I’ll borrow Kate Paulk’s words to end: If you are truly conservative and you care at all about Western civilisation, the United States, or even looking at your festering vile mug in the mirror every morning, why in the fuck are you helping to destroy what you care about? Are you that much of a useless drongo?

 

 

Grice versus Trump

Somebody surely must have written this already – so apologies to whoever I’m unknowingly following.

Paul Grice was a philosopher of language and meaning https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/grice/#ConImp He’s famous for looking at how conversations work as not just an exchange of meaning but a cooperative interchange of meaning with its own rules and principles.Central to this is what became known as the Cooperative Principle: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooperative_principle

And following that Grice suggested four maxims which normal conversation attempts to follow. I’ll quote in full from Wikipedia:

Maxim of qualityEdit

Supermaxim:

  • Try to make your contribution one that is true.

Submaxims:

  1. Do not say what you believe to be false.
  2. Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.

Maxim of quantityEdit

  1. Make your contribution as informative as is required (for the current purposes of the exchange).
  2. Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.

Maxim of relationEdit

  • Be relevant.

With respect to this maxim, Grice writes, “Though the maxim itself is terse, its formulation conceals a number of problems that exercise me a good deal: questions about what different kinds and focuses of relevance there may be, how these shift in the course of a talk exchange, how to allow for the fact that subjects of conversations are legitimately changed, and so on. I find the treatment of such questions exceedingly difficult, and I hope to revert to them in later work.”[1]

Maxim of mannerEdit

Supermaxim:

  • Be perspicuous.

Submaxims:

  1. Avoid obscurity of expression.
  2. Avoid ambiguity.
  3. Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).
  4. Be orderly.

Ok, an exercise for the unwary. Pick anyone of those. Now watch Trump.
Did the maxim hold? [Spoiler: it probably didn’t]

Trump is a non-gricean speaker. The maxims don’t hold – at least not in public. Now that is a little unfair – political speakers and press conferences aren’t normal conversations and even the most affable of politicians is trying to manage what they are saying in a way a normal person simply doesn’t have to.

Yet Trump isn’t doing what a politician normally tries to do. He isn’t trying to navigate round these maxims while appearing to be following them. Instead, he is ignoring them and when he hits one it appears more like accident than design. Ironically that makes him seem more truthful instead of less, precisely because he doesn’t sound evasive or hesitant.

In addition, notice how he often violates a surprising submaxim: “Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.” Trump overshares at times – revealing inner thoughts or perhaps comments/argument made by others..

This fluency with incoherence is why I imagine he possibly doesn’t follow Grice-like patterns in his normal speech to the same extent as others. By not following such maxims you spend less effort considering another person’s perspective on what you are saying. That makes it a lot easier to string words together! It’s just that those words don’t make as much sense as part of a conversation.

The Intelligence Community versus #TheRegime

So one down in Trump’s clique and it seems the intelligence community/Deep State/CIA had a hand in it. Naturally, the left is cheering (yay!) but holy effin shit: the CIA? The CIA helping topple governments is the thing we in particular hate.

Yeah but…let’s take a moment to reflect.

Flynn was compromised. When the content of his discussions with Russia were revealed, he had to resign. Russia and domestic intelligence services in the US knew about this. US intelligence services passed on the information to the DoJ (as they should) and the Whitehouse did nothing. That left Flynn in a position of power but open to blackmail.

So three choices:

  • do nothing – not viable because Flynn’s f*ck-up left open to blackmail from Russia.
  • use the information as a threat against Flynn – i.e. US intelligence services blackmail/pressure Flynn and thus gain power over the Whitehouse.
  • leak information so Flynn has to resign.

The best outcome would have been the Whitehouse doing something about Flynn but without that, the only ethical option was the last one. That’s pretty much how ethical whistleblowing should function – revealing information that exposes serious wrong doing.

The worry is the middle option. We don’t want a US government being effectively blackmailed by Russia but we don’t want a US government being effectively blackmailed by the CIA either. That is a worse precedent.

Trump and Typology

 

Waaaayyyyy back I made use of the Pew Research Center’s US political typology to look at Dave Freer’s claims about Hugo bias. I was reminded of this by a completely different tracking poll that came out the other day. This other poll, from CBS News, was more specifically trump related but it also attempted to classify the US population into a number of political groupings.

The report is here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/nation-tracker-poll-does-trump-support-have-a-ceiling-or-a-floor/

The four groups run along a pro-Trump – anti-Trump axis.

  • Believers 22% are Trump’s core supporters. It’s a figure close to the percentage of Americans who voted for him but it may contain some non-voters and other groups may contain people who voted for Trump reluctantly.
  • Conditionals 22% are more equivocal in their support for Trump. Their support is contingent on Trump delivering on their core economic concerns.
  • Curious 21% are the ‘swayable’ opponents. Thye currently dislike or are wary of Trump but are open to being persuaded if Trump delivers.
  • Resisters 35% are the core opposition to Trump. Not necessarily Hillary Clinton voters but predominately Democrats.

Trump has thrown in some economic populism and nationalism into the political mix as well as anti-establishment rhetoric and as a consequence the older Pew typology might not run along quite the same axis as this CBS poll.

The Pew typology runs like this:

  • Steadfast conservatives 12% (13% w/o bystanders)
  • Business conservatives 10% (11% w/o bystanders)
  • Young outsiders 13% (11% w/o bystanders)
  • Hard-pressed sceptics 13% (14% w/o bystanders)
  • Next generation left 12% (13% w/o bystanders)
  • Faith and family left 15% (17% w/o bystanders)
  • Solid liberals 15% (17% w/o bystanders)
  • Bystanders 10% (people who don’t really engage in politics at all and hence don’t fit into this spectrum)

In terms of Trump’s campaigning, he may have gained some support from the groups Pew called ‘Young outsiders’ and ‘Hard-pressed sceptics’. In particular the ‘Hard-pressed sceptics’ group is further to the left of ‘Business conservatives’ on average in the Pew typology but ‘Business conservatives’ are much less inclined to isolationism than ‘Hard-pressed sceptics’ and more sympathetic towards immigrants.

In short, the ordering of some of Pew typology may not hold on a pro-Trump – anti-Trump axis. However, for the moment let’s assume it does and see where that takes us.

  • Believers 22%. Compared with Steadfast conservatives at 13%, suggests some extension of Trump support beyond the GOP base. However, if that extra approx 10% is from Business conservatives, on the whole, the current emphasis on immigration from the regime may actually weaken the Believers. On the other hand, if that additional support is more from the Hard-pressed sceptics group, anti-immigration policies may be shoring up that core. Either way, this core group can fall lower.
  • Conditionals 22%. Taken with the Believers group, the two groups together come to a similar but smaller figure as the total for the four right-leaning groups in the Pew typology (44% CBS, 52% Pew). That may mean nothing as both surveys have margins of errors within their methodology and different methodologies which will lead to some differences. The three right-leaning groups beyond Steadfast conservatives each have reasons to support Trump and to be wary of him. Business conservatives may be able to overlook the isolationism and anti-immigration moves if the net result is lower taxes and fewer regulations. The Hard-pressed may overlook the cosy ties with Wall Street if Trump is seen as taking action on immigration. However, the regime is vulnerable all round if it is perceived as being incompetent in delivering tangible benefits.
  • Curious 21% and Resisters 35%. Together the anti-trump side of the axis is bigger than left-side of the Pew axis. As with the pro-Trump figures, this may be due to other issues. However, it may be that anti-Trump sentiments spills over into the right-of-centre in US politics. Notably, the Resisters block is substantially bigger than the Steadfast left block in the Pew typology. It isn’t just a cognitive bias – the anti-Trump core is bigger and more varied than America’s left-wing core.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out further.

Who is the Most Trumpian Character in Literature/Popular Culture?

As we slip further into this timeline, I’ve noticed that both fictional dystopias and real-life accounts of authoritarian regimes are doing a good job at pointing at both specifics (the denial of reality) and general trends (people falling for a fake populism out of fear and uncertainty. However, I’m not sure there is a figure who quite matches Trump.

While the USA has a long way to go before it meets the full horrors of 1984’s Oceania, people are still managing to find many active parallels with Orwell’s political horror story. The Fox News Right have already nominated George Soros to be their Emmanuel Goldstein for example. Indeed, I can imagine in a century hence, when post-WW2 history is seen as all sort of smooshed together as one time period (as we tend to now with the Victorian/Edwardian periods), that people might anachronistically think Orwell’s invention was based on the panicked hatred of Soros rather than Trotsky. But while 1984 allusions are handy, Trump is no Big Brother.

440px-dictator_charlie2Perhaps some of this is time. Charlie Chaplin’s portrait of Hitler as Adenoid Hynkel is an absurd man with an over-inflated ego. While searing satire at the time, our full understanding of the horrors of Nazi Germany make Chaplin’s film seem understated – almost trivialising of the brutality. Not Chaplin’s fault (and still a magnificent film) but The Great Dictator was overtaken by history. Chaplin does neatly capture though the need for self-importance and constant praise of the would-be authoritarian.

For a recent post, I’d dug out my copy of Primo Levi’s If This Is a Man which is bound with the sequel The Truce, which describes his survival and journey home after surviving Auschwitz. In The Truce there is a magnificent description of the self-appointed leader of the Italian section of a Soviet refugee camp in Poland:

But the camp leader of the Italians, to whom I was directed to be ‘enlisted’, was very
different. Accountant Rovi had become camp leader not by election from below, nor by
Russian investiture, but by self-nomination; in fact, although he was an individual of
somewhat meagre intellectual and moral qualities, he possessed to a notable degree
that virtue which under any sky is the most necessary to win power — the love of power
for its own sake.

To watch the behaviour of a man who acts not according to reason, but according to his own deep impulses, is a spectacle of extreme interest, similar to that which the naturalist enjoys when he studies the activities of an animal of complex instincts. Rovi had achieved his office by acting with the same atavistic spontaneity as a spider
spinning its web; like the spider without its web, so Rovi did not know how to live
without his office. He had begun to spin immediately; he was basically foolish, and did not know a word of German or Russian, but from the first day he had secured for
himself the services of an interpreter, and had presented himself in a ceremonial
manner to the Soviet Command as plenipotentiary for Italian interests. He had
organized a desk, with official forms (in beautiful handwriting with flourishes), rubber stamps, variously coloured pencils and a ledger; although he was not a colonel, in fact not even a soldier, he had hung outside his door an ostentatious placard ‘Italian Command — Colonel Rovi’; he had surrounded himself with a small court of scullions, scribes, acolytes, spies, messengers and bullies, whom he paid in kind, with food taken from the rations of the community, and with exemption from all jobs of common interest. His courtiers, who, as always happens, were far worse than he, ensured (even by force, which was rarely necessary) that his orders were carried out, served him, gathered information for him and flattered him intensely.

Levi is a powerful observational writer both in this pair of harrowing memoirs but also in his science & science-fictional writing. We’ve never met ‘Colonel Rovi’ but he is instantly recognisable: the man who acts not according to reason but to his deep impulses. As it happens Levi goes on to describe how Rovi’s quasi-authority was relatively benign. Yet, in his description, there is the notion of a man who seeks power for the sake of sycophancy rather than the sycophancy being a by-product of a quest for power.

blazing2bsaddles4Moving rapidly from great literature to low comedy, I find myself frequently reminded of Blazing Saddles over the past few months. Of course, this is in part due to the sad death of Gene Wilder but also Mel Brook’s unsubtle side character Governor William J. Le Petomane. Brook’s himself is no stranger to portraying Nazism as absurdity but the Governor in the film is far too self-absorbed to be a tyrant. Instead, Brook plays a lecherous, racist, incompetent politician, who sees himself as a great popular leader but is actually little more than a puppet for the Machiavellian Hedley Lamarr. The Trump/Bannon parallels write themselves.

Brooks and Chaplin have both attempted, to varying degrees of success to capture the inherent comedy of the absurd trumped up figure – the spectacle of extreme interest of the man who acts not according to reason but according to his own deep impulses. I’m not sure either work in general or capture what we have in Trump.

The comedic quality to Trump was employed long before his campaign for the presidency was taken seriously (John Oliver, infamously pleading with Trump in 2o13 to run for president http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/john-oliver-donald-trump-president-944682 ). What Brooks fails to manage and which Chaplin captured better was the mix of both menace and absurdity. Le Petomane, not distracted by a paddle ball but by Tweets that might crash the stock market or start a war. Confronting the abuse of power with its absurdity hides that part of the horror is the absurdity. Closest to this is Chaplin’s dance in character as Hynkel with a globe that is also a balloon.

For awhile Hynkel has complete control of the world until…it bursts and  Hynkel is left with a childish expression of disappointment. The burst balloon is most obviously his ambitions but there is a horrific element of world destruction equally in the image.

When I think of that combination of horror from absurdity, that encompasses both the denial of reality forced upon people in 1984 *and* this notion of the dictator as childishly self-absorbed I can’t help but think of the Twlight Zone: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It’s_a_Good_Life_(The_Twilight_Zone)

In this episode, a town is controlled by a child (Bill ‘Lost in Space’ Mumy) who, for reasons unexplained has extraordinary powers. The horror is absurd and it is horrific because it is absurd and because fear prevents the adults from acknowledging the absurdity.

“You’re a bad man. You’re a very bad man and you keeping thinking very bad thoughts about me.”

I’ll stop there I think.

 

President Trumble

20170205_143603.jpgJust following up from my previous post on US-Australian relations in the age of over-tired toddler tantrum presidencies.

Since that post, we’ve had Sean Spicer pronounce Prime Minister Turnbull’s name wrong (it sounded like ‘Trumble’ or maybe ‘Trunbull’) but we’ve also had the Whitehouse refer to the Australian PM as ‘President Turnbull’.

Incompetence or trolling? You just can’t ignore incompetence as an explanation when it comes to Trump but maybe it’s trolling.

Turnbull is a noted republican, i.e. he has campaigned for and is on record supporting Australia having is own head of state instead of the Queen. Not surprisingly, this puts Turnbull sharply at odds with the right of his own party. So, somebody on the right of Australian politics referring to Turnbull sarcastically as ‘President Turnbull’ is a multi-layered insult.

  1. its a dig at his republicanism
  2. it implies his republicanism is actually an ambition to become head of state
  3. it implies he is acting imperiously against the wishes of his party

On top of that, the Whitehouse getting it wrong is a way of indicating that he is somebody beneath their attention. So, it sort of fits as something somebody trying to boost the more extreme end of the Australian Liberal Party might do.

It’s not playing well in Australia of course, with it primarily being seen as Trump being incompetent but that maybe not Bannon’s main concern. Bannon is more closely aligned to the complex social philosophy of Millwall Football Club’s famous anthem: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_one_likes_us,_we_don’t_care