Well that was disappointing

After all the fuss and intrigue of a general election, nothing seems to have changed much in Australia. The Liberal-National coalition looks likely to scrape in with a tiny majority in Parliament, leaving things pretty much where they were when the election was called. If PM Scott Morrison looks surprisingly happy about that its because the polls (including the exit polls) were pointing in the opposite direction: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/may/19/scott-morrison-credits-the-quiet-australians-for-miracle-election-victory

People are scratching their heads about the opinion polls https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/may/19/voters-across-australia-left-asking-whats-the-deal-with-the-polls which had implied a small Labor victory. Now, the difference between the polls and reality was small when it comes down to margins of error but this is just one of several elections were the polls were marginally wrong.

The happy news is that the obnoxious Tony Abbott, ex-PM and generally unpleasant man, lost his seat to an independent. Ironically, this is good news for his party, as he was a source of disunity in parliament for them.

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Did fandom cause the collapse of civilisation or vice versa? Let’s Assume Neither :)

It’s been a long time since I linked to a post by the improbable 2016 Campbell Award Finalist and Inaugural Dragon Award Winner for Best Horror Novel That Was Actually A Space Opera, Brian Niemeier but a posy at his blog caught my eye [direct link, archive link].

Brian’s politics mixes standard alt-right nationalism and misogyny with a particularly reactionary form of Catholicism. People may recall Brian’s concern that literal demons are controlling the left (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/03/05/demons-and-witches-and-the-left/ ), so not exactly a Pope Francis or Vatican II fan.

Anyway, Brian has a hypothesis about religion and fandom:

“Kicking Christianity out of public life didn’t usher in a bright, sexy chrome utopia. Instead of directing their pious energies into scientific pursuits, America did what everyone does absent Christianity: They turned pagan.”

‘X-thing is a religion’ is a bit of a cliche but I don’t think that analysis is wholly wrong. Rather, I don’t think religion is really a single social phenomenon at all but a whole bunch of things — which is why cultures don’t follow one of Christianity/Islam/Judaism have quite different boundaries as to what is and isn’t religious and how religion plays a role in wider society*. So, sure, I can believe there’s some commonality between fandoms and religion.

Indeed, I’d go further and say that I think how we engage with fiction and products of the imagination has a close connection with spirituality and how religion has become a part of human culture. Brian is making a different argument though:

“Human beings are wired for worship. If social pressure discourages worshiping God, those with less fortitude will worship trees, rocks, or even plastic figurines.


Religious identity was the engine that built the West, and it’s still a major motivating force elsewhere in the world. What has happened in the American Empire is that Christian identity has shattered, and the pieces have been scattered throughout various hobbies.


Which was precisely what the main players in the Enlightenment wanted–to reduce religion to a hobby indulged in the home with no effect on public life.”

Fandom therefore being the eventual warped expression of people’s instinct towards religion suppressed by the machinations of Enlightenment philosophers. I think we can safely assume that this is not the case. However, the next paragraph is what really caught my eye:

“To see how people’s identities have gotten mixed up in their hobbies, take a quick glance at the ‘gate controversies popping up among various fandoms on a more or less daily basis. #GamerGate was the big one, but it failed due to infiltration by controlled opposition and exploitation by online grifters. It’s telling that every subsequent fandom revolt has enjoyed a brief honeymoon period before skipping straight to the “milked by grifters” stage. “If a man loses faith in God, he doesn’t believe nothing, he’ll believe anything,” is illustrative here.”

It can be hard to tell with the alt-right what is a bad-faith nonsense and what is sincere nonsense. Occasional you get paragraphs like this that are so lacking in self-awareness that they can only be a sincere expression of some very confused beliefs.

As a reminder: Brian was not a major figure in the high points of the Sad Puppy campaigns (a relevant example of one of the right wing uprisings in fandom) but leveraged those campaigns to get his books promoted by the Rabid Puppy slates into a Campbell nomination and a Dragon Award. Brian was also the charmer who tried to stir up a second Dragon Award nomination into another culture war battlefront in a bid to get more votes for his book. (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2017/08/08/niemeier-wants-the-dragon-awards-to-be-a-culture-war-but-the-culture-doesnt-want-to-play/ ) There may be better example of the ‘milked by grifters’ stage of the Sad Puppy Campaigns but only because it was never not a grift but Brian is a good example of late stage band wagon jumping.

“Few now can imagine–by design–a time when popular culture wasn’t partitioned into myriad fractured fandoms. Sure, people had different tastes, but there were cultural touchstones everybody shared, and more of them. Everybody tuned in to The Shadow. Everybody read Edgar Rice Burroughs. Everybody saw Gone with the Wind. But a people with a shared culture and a strong identity is hard to conquer, so universal popular culture had to go. Fandom was the murder weapon used to kill Western culture.”

Again a reminder: Brian writes anime-inspired right wing science fiction about people fighting in space-robot suits. He’s not exactly aiming for the mainstream. It’s that lack of awareness of his own micro-niche writing that makes me think he genuinely believes that’s what happened — that rather than technology and population growth making it economically easier for people to find stories that appealed to more finely delineated niches, that this was an actual plot to divide society.

Does he really think he would be happier if the only books or films available where the most mainstream ones? Also, if he believed that then shouldn’t he be doing his utmost to just consume the most modally consumed media? But it is like the person who wants religion to be mandatory who doesn’t get that it wouldn’t necessarily be their religion that would be enforced

He finishes his essay thus:

“Fortunately, there are creators laboring to forge new culture in the tradition of our ancestors. For a refreshing take on the mecha genre that clears away all the stale cliche cobwebs, check out my new martial thriller Combat Frame XSeed.”

Irony is dead, a knock-off Kindle Unlimited far right combat mecha killed it.

*[Not that Christianity, Islam or Judaism follow the same template either, but the similarities are what tend to shape what Western culture regards as the things a religion has: a god, a priest, a temple, a holy book, quasi-laws, exclusivity]

The Gun Lobby

The big story in Australia currently is the undercover video of senior members of the far right anti-immigration party One Nation attempting to gain money from pro-gun lobbyists. In a distinctly Australian twist, their defense has been that they were drunk at the time: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/mar/26/one-nations-james-ashby-says-he-was-on-the-sauce-when-seeking-20m-from-nra

I was a bit wary of the story initially, as it was presented as a kind of video ‘sting’ operation. That sounded too reminiscent of the antics of James O’Keefe in the US whose MO is to create highly edited video of meetings with people form organisations that the right is targeting. However, there’s a lot more to the story.

An Australian journalist working for Al Jazeera spent three years undercover within the world of pro-gun campaigners. Rodger Muller established a fake Australian gun rights group and with little more than videos and a website became seen as a minor but important broker between US gun organisations and Australia. The full Al Jazeera story is here: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/sell-massacre-nra-playbook-revealed-190325111828105.html

Australian TV has been running the in-depth investigation over two nights on the ABC and it has been fascinating (part two is tonight). The political fallout is not large currently — One Nation didn’t receive any money and it appears that as far as their attempt at a deal with the NRA went it wasn’t sufficient to break electoral law. The scandal is unlikely to lose One Nation any votes but it is helping to denormalise the extremist party and it makes it harder for the Liberal Party to be seen to be co-operating with them. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/mar/27/pauline-hanson-to-take-action-over-james-ashby-and-steve-dickson-but-not-yet

Pauline Hanson herself, the unlikely personality at the heart of One Nation’s cult of personality, was also captured spreading conspiracy mongering about the infamous Port Arthur massacre — the 1996 mass shooting that led to Australia adopting stricter gun laws: https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/pauline-hanson-appears-to-question-port-arthur-massacre-in-video-20190327-p518a6.html

In the wake of the Christchurch murders, the issues of both guns and anti-immigrant extremism and Islamophobia have become more prominent in Australian politics. People are very aware that the shooter was an Australian but also that he could only access the weapons he used in New Zealand. The gun lobby in Australia is not high profile but they spend large amounts of money attempting to influence politicians to soften gun laws:

“Australians may be surprised to discover the gun lobby in Australia rivals the NRA in size and spending, according to Australia Institute research commissioned by Gun Control Australia.”

https://www.smh.com.au/national/australia-s-gun-lobby-and-its-political-donations-laid-bare-20190327-p5184g.html

A key strategy is access to right wing minor parties who lack both cash and ethics. Such parties are unlikely to ever form government at either state or federal level but they often have a few seats in upper senate-like chambers of parliament (either state or federally) to either hold the balance of power or be influential in helping controversial legislation through.

Lastly, doubling back to question of journalist ethics, there’s a longer discussion about that aspect here: https://theconversation.com/did-al-jazeeras-undercover-investigation-into-one-nation-overstep-the-mark-114288

A quick voyage around the puppy seas to look at the Mueller report

I haven’t written much about the Mueller report prior to this post (indeed pretty much nothing https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/?s=Mueller ) and I liked Alexandra Erin’s analysis of all such investigation and thoughts about impeachment: the best option for getting rid of Trump is the next election and always has been. That doesn’t mean investigations or even possible impeachment proceedings shouldn’t occur — they are a key part of the checks and balances in America’s system of government and they slowdown and interrupt the full scope of the harm the current administration might cause.

The reaction from the Whitehouse to the as yet unreleased report has been one of claiming that it vindicates or exonerates Trump. You don’t need to be particularly anti-Trump or even particularly anti-conservative to regard that analysis with some scepticism. The investigation already result in action against key figures in Trump’s campaign that anybody, regardless of their politics, should find concerning. Politician’s spin.

So it is fascinating to see Larry Correia’s and Brad Torgersen’s reaction to the report — which note, they haven’t read or seen. Brad and Larry are of particular interest as they were ostensibly anti-Trump at the time of the nomination and were far more reluctant to be seen as endorsing him, presenting their positions as more anti-left or anti-Hillary Clinton than pro-Trump. So. swallowing a politician’s narrative hook, line and sinker is an interesting shift for both of them. Here’s Brad on Facebook:

“Hate Trump for being a loud, uncouth, ill-prepared, boastful, otherwise un-Presidential oaf. Fine. But he was never in Russia’s pocket. In fact, the big red arrows kept aiming back at Clinton, Inc. and also Obama, Inc.”

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And a similar sentiment from Larry Correia:

“Oh well. That’s what you get for pinning all your hopes and dreams on something that was obviously a crock of shit to anybody who gave it a few seconds of critical thinking. There’s plenty of legitimate reasons to hate any politician without straw grasping for silly made up ones.”

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Both Brad and Larry talk a lot about narratives when it comes to politics but in that special projection/reversal of position way where they say their opponents are doing the thing that they are trying very hard to do. In this case attempting to frame a conclusion about the report before they have any idea what the actual content of the report is. It’s interesting because in both cases they are committing strongly to a pro-Trump framing i.e. accepting the uncritically the spin from the Whitehouse without engaging any critical gears at all. Heck even waiting a few days might have been a bit smarter given they still don’t know what is actually in the report.

It’s weird because I’m now a bit more interested in what the report says. Again, it was unlikely to ever have a smoking gun of, say, live video of Vladimir Putin handing wads of money to a pre-election Trump and Trump saying “Gee thanks for the money Vlad, I’ll spend this on doing all the crimes.” However, given there has already been, what, seven (?) prosecutions and four guilty pleas as a consequence of the investigation, it’s an already established fact that the Trump campaign was mired in criminal behaviour.

It’s going to be interesting to see how this pans out. Both Larry and Brad adopt a stance of being different from the more overtly nationalist and pro-Trump right but often repeat and advance talking points and propaganda from the nationalist right uncritically. I’ll be interested to see to what extent they’ll back pedal on this topic as the story shifts.

Election day tomorrow

It’s the fourth Saturday in March and on a four year cycle that means it is State Election Day in New South Wales. It’s not that there aren’t important issues at stake but it isn’t the most exciting of topics. The differences between the two major parties (the incumbent Liberal/Nationals and Labor) are not huge. Over the time I’ve been in Australia, the process has mainly been one of each party having a long stint in power which it finally loses when people get bored of them, they get into a cycle of ditching leaders and the close connection between state government and building developers mires the ruling party in corruption.

Corruption in particular was rife amid the NSW Australian Labor Party during its last tenure in power. High profile court cases and a loss of more famous names means Labor has been lacking in star power. The current state Labor leader Michale Daley, has only been in that role since last November when the previous leader resigned because of a sexual harassment scandal.

You would think that would bode well for the ruling Liberal Party but no. The current Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is competent enough (not ideologically somebody I’d vote for but given the current horror show of right of centre politicians worldwide looks like a paragon of reasonableness) but is also leader by default of more popular leaders having resigned for various reasons. However, she lacks the full-throated support of Sydney’s rightwing talk radio. Also, her showpiece public transport infrastructure projects, which should have all been completed before this election, are still ongoing after delays and cost blowouts.

With the centre looking unappetizing, that leaves the possibility of many minor parties making some gains this cycle. The left has the Green Party (which has had its own internal strife recently) plus some other minor parties. The right is a banquet of deplorables, chief of which is the unholy team-up of former Labor Leader turned alt-lite misogynist Mark Latham with Queensland racist Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party. Latham is running for the ‘legislative council’ upper house (basically a Senate). While these wingnutty parties won’t get the votes to actually form a government, there’s a strong chance of a hung parliament which might put the balance of power in the hands of somebody less than in tune with either reality or ethics.

Yes there will be sausages.

And today’s Puppy target is…amateur authors!

Bless Dave Freer of the Mad Genius Club, he’s taken off from a comment here and woven a delicate confection of post spun from the purest hot air. https://madgeniusclub.com/2019/03/11/financial-exclusion/

“Just the profession of writing.That’s what the purpose of the site always has been. That’s what we’ve paid forward thousands of hours of our time to. It’s something which is personally very important to me. It’s a site I wish I could have found when I was starting into this profession. I love reading, particularly sf and fantasy, but reading in general. I want others to be able to enjoy it, and my unborn descendants to still enjoy it. Without professional writers… that will go the way of the music of the Lur. Once common, now Word says it is a spelling mistake.  There are of course still hobbyists who play a Lur. But that’s about it.”

[archive link]

Of course, by that standard the various diversions at Mad Genius into quixotic campaigns against awards, attempts to have people sacked from their jobs for not saying nice things about said quixotic campaigns, homophobic attacks on families and the general conspiracy theory mongering would all be distinctly off purpose. Perhaps Freer would rather have people believe each of those was about making money as a writer…

However, it’s the later part of Freer’s post that interests me more:

“If you can’t generate income from your writing, you’re a hobbyist. I wish you all the joy of your hobby, but unless you plan at least to try and try and generate an income, if you’re putting you novels on the market, I wish you in purgatory. We have enough dilettantes using writing for all sorts of other purposes which they care about, frankly damaging reading (because there is no selective pressure in needing to please readers to generate an income. It puts people off.) and certainly making life a lot harder for authors trying to make this a profession they can earn a living at.
Honestly, macramé is great for all those other things you care about. And if you could play the Lur as a hobby, it would bring a great deal more awareness to whatever issue you cared about without screwing up our profession.”

[archive link]

Well, lots of working people can’t generate income from their writing because of the time constraints involved. They might want to and they might hope that they will in the future but they can’t. Further, writing for its own sake brings people joy. If you are one of those people, well I guess you can enjoy having the trad-pub author Dave Freer sneer at you as he wishes you to purgatory.

Those two paragraphs are one of the neatest encapsulation of a core aspect of what I call the conservative crisis. Couple a firm belief in capitalism (although not a well informed one) with a belief that all you need to do to make money in a capitalist society is work hard with the harsh reality that you are struggling to make ends meet and what do you get? If your ideology tells you that the poor are poor because they are lazy and that the homeless are homeless because they choose to be and that millionaires are self-made and the rich deserve their wealth because of hard work, then NOT being an amazing success (particularly in middle-age) is an existential challenge to your self-worth. The only answer that can hold these contradictions together is that somebody, somewhere has cheated you of the success that your ideology and your self-perception say you deserve. The ‘them’ who you believe have cheated you will be legion. For Dave its those terrible New York elites and liberals and SJWs and now, amateur authors flooding the market with books!

In reality, hard work helps but it is no guarantee of success, talent helps and is also no guarantee. There will be lazy, talentless people who succeed because of their background or in some cases just luck. Understanding that is actually important for your own mental well-being.