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.

When people who keep revising their own history make 1984 references…

Our erstwhile friends, the Sad Puppies, have largely been quite during the recent fuss around the Nebula awards. This is less than surprising given many (most? all?) had flounced off from the SWFA some years ago and even attempted their own alternate versions…that didn’t go very far.

Added to this was an awkward fact about the opposition to the 20booksto50K list – it was very definitely not about politics. A key argument from the Sad Puppies was that opposition to their far more flagrant slate tactics was somehow just a cover for anti-conservative sentiment among Hugo voters. To further add issues for the Sads was a key voice in raising concern about the list was Annie Bellet — an author who was unwillingly dragooned into Sad Puppies 3 by Brad Torgersen. Brad still, despite the obvious objections of Bellet, thinks he was doing her a favour by volunteering her for his culture war.

Brad has finally joined in and as always it is a mix of a narrative that wanders far from the facts, a revised version of history in which he is the hero and a list of how terribly persecuted he has been.

Here’s got two lengthy responses. One is in the comments to Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s interesting account of his experience of the fuss (here http://yudhanjaya.com/2019/03/incidentally-there-is-support-for-wijeratnes-story-a-response-to-file770-and-a-record-of-the-nebula-award-madness/#comment-2573 ) and the other is in a Facebook post here https://www.facebook.com/brtwrites/posts/620567398356240?tn=K-R

The second piece (on his author site titled Brad R. Torgersen: author, essayist, veteran) is full of 1984 references and recasts the Sad Puppies as brave Indies versus the evil Trad-Pubs, because that’s the story that fits nicely with the 20books issue. That most of the authors directly involved in Sad Puppies were more traditionally published than 20booksto50K and that much of the opposition to the Sad Puppies came from people who were more independently published than the Sads is ignored.

The political dimension to the Sad Puppies is flicked to the ‘off switch’ again because the Sads have always been at war with Eurasia. The its-all-about-SJWs will get switched back on again at some point when Brad recalls that the Sads were always at war with Eastasia…

Gab is the walking dead now

Speaking of far-right social media alternatives, Gab the ‘free-speech’ alt-twitter that became so toxic even toxic-trolls stopped using it, is somehow still in existence. However, Gab’s own web host is questioning the number of users it has. A Southern Poverty Law Center report on Friday reveals a huge discrepancy between the number of users Gab claims to have and the number it probably has:

‘In a series of interviews, emails and text messages, Lilac Kapul said Gab’s claims in U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings on Dec. 19 and Jan. 28 of more than 835,000 users greatly exceeds the internet infrastructure capacity that London-based Sibyl is providing to Gab. Kapul, a resident of Brisbane, Australia, also said Gab’s user data indicates that most of the active users on the site signed up soon after it was launched in August 2016, raising questions about Gab’s claims of rapid growth. “Based on what they are getting through us services-wise there is no way they have 800,000 users, or it would be very odd if they did,” Kapul told Hatewatch. “I would say they probably have a few thousand or a few tens of thousands. That sounds a lot more believable.”

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2019/02/14/no-way-gab-has-800000-users-web-host-says

Perhaps the more interesting story in the SPLC piece is not Gab but the shadowy web-hosting service they use called “Sibyl”. Based in London but run apparently by people in their late-teens scattered in different countries, the company also is a web host for a “incel” forum and has even dodgier connections than that.

The Right would rather men died than admit any flaws in masculinity

I shouldn’t read Quillette. For those unfamiliar with the Australian/International online magazine, it is part of that genre of modern political thought that could be called anti-left contrarianism, that covers various soughs from Steven Pinker to Jordan Peterson. Its stock style of article is shallowness dressed up as depth, utilizing the same style of misrepresentation of issues as the tabloid press but with longer sentences and a broader vocabulary.

Over the past few days it has published a couple of pieces on the American Psychological Associations Guidelines for Psychological Practice for Men and Boys. Now you would think that the stalwart defenders of innate gender differences would be happy that an influential body like the APA would be overtly recognising that men and boys have distinct psychological needs that require special advice for practitioners. After all, is this not the ‘moderate’ criticism of the rise of feminism? That somehow, men’s needs and men’s issues have been sidelined? Ha, ha, who am I kidding 🙂 The APA guidelines were characterised by MRAs, conservatives and the so-called “Intellectual dark web” as a direct attack on masculinity.

Here is one particularly stupid piece at Quillette that reflects the harrumphing style of response: https://quillette.com/2019/01/23/thank-you-apa/ The writer (a professor of psychology at North Dakota State University) either haven’t read the guidelines or is actively misrepresenting them.

However, a second piece is what actually caught my attention. It’s better written but also is attacking a strawman version of the guidelines: https://quillette.com/2019/01/23/how-my-toxic-stoicism-helped-me-cope-with-brain-cancer/

The writer describes how his stocial attitude helped him through a diagnosis & treatment for brain cancer and uses that to lambast the APA’s (apparent) criticism of stoicism in its guidelines. I, perhaps foolishly, left a comment on the piece. What follows is an edited version of my comment.

The piece is basically a strawman argument. It misrepresents what the APA guidelines say to imply that the guidelines have blanket disapproval for people acting stoically. e.g. Take the APA’s own article on the guidelines:

“It’s also important to encourage pro-social aspects of masculinity, says McDermott. In certain circumstances, traits like stoicism and self-sacrifice can be absolutely crucial, he says”

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/01/ce-corner.aspx

In the guidelines themselves, the word “stoicism” appears only twice and in neither case is a blanket condemnation of it. Once is in relation to difficulties SOME men have forming emotional bonds with other men:

“Psychologists can discuss with boys and men the messages they have received about withholding affection from other males to help them understand how components of traditional masculinity such as emotional stoicism, homophobia, not showing vulnerability, self-reliance, and competitiveness might deter them from forming close relationships with male peers”

American Psychological Association, Boys and Men Guidelines Group. (2018).
APA guidelines for psychological practice with boys and men

And the other connects with a broader health issue of men not seeking care that they may need:

“Psychologists also strive to reduce mental health stigma for men by acknowledging and challenging socialized messages related to men’s mental health stigma (e.g., male stoicism, self-reliance). “

American Psychological Association, Boys and Men Guidelines Group. (2018).
APA guidelines for psychological practice with boys and men

Neither example relates to be being stoical in the face of medical diagnosis but rather social pressures that mean some men (no, not ALL men) don’t seek care that they need (including for physical ailments) because of a misguided belief that they have to battle through by themselves.

The writer’s example is NOT an example of the case the APA guidelines were addressing. The writer sought out medical care, received a diagnosis and stuck with treatment. The writer self-described actions are the OPPOSITE of what the guidelines are discussing — they show a man taking their health seriously and SEEKING HELP. That’s good and healthy but many men aren’t doing that and as a consequence are dying of treatable diseases

As guideline 8 points out:

“For most leading causes of death in the United States and in every age group, males have higher death rates than females”

American Psychological Association, Boys and Men Guidelines Group. (2018).
APA guidelines for psychological practice with boys and men

At least some of this is due men not seeking out healthcare they need:

“Between 2011 and 2013, men’s mortality rates for colorectal cancer, a generally preventable disease with regular screenings, were significantly higher than women’s, suggesting that many men do not engage in preventative care (American Cancer Society, 2015).”

American Psychological Association, Boys and Men Guidelines Group. (2018).
APA guidelines for psychological practice with boys and men

A stoical attitude need not be toxic but when misapplied/misunderstood or adopted out of a feeling of social obligation, it can take on a harmful form of thinking that you shouldn’t seek out help. I’m glad the writer’s stoicism was of the positive kind but the writer should perhaps also take greater care in researching what the APA guidelines had actually said.


To put not too fine a point on it: toxic aspects of masculinity kills men. There is nothing pro-man about it. Nobody is actually sticking up for men by pushing back against the APA guidelines.

A portrait of a media story: a satire

During the Republican Party nomination process, Donald Trump infamously boasted that he could shoot somebody on New York’s Fifth Avenue and he wouldn’t lose any voters.

I was struck by shifting narratives over the past couple of days how that would play out. Imagine if Donald Trump did shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue?

The first thing you heard about it would be indistinct: “a shooting”, something about the President. Then footage from people’s phones would appear on Facebook and Twitter. There would be a kind of sick relief that the US President hadn’t been killed (with all the implications of civil conflict that carries) and a shocked realisation that he had actually shot somebody.

What happens next would be the comprehensible part. The exact events would be unclear and Trump’s motives would be unclear and the whole thing would feel unbelievable (naturally because it isn’t something likely to happen) but there wouldn’t be any moral doubt here. Clearly you can’t go around shooting people no matter who you are — least of all the President of the United States.

There would be a moment of bipartisan certainty and clarity. Trump would need to answer for what he had done. The circumstance would be surreal but the reaction would feel “normal” despite the unprecedented events.

There would be questions obviously. Some people would not unreasonably ask why the New York Police Department hadn’t immediately arrested Trump. Other would not unreasonably counter that obviously the Secret Service would have whisked him away — that’s their job regardless. It’s around this point you’d begin to see the start of strangeness that follows. “It’s unfair to attack the police.” Somebody notable will say and briefly there will be an argument about that. Nobody will yet know the exact sequence of events yet but there will be competing scenarios appearing.

“We musn’t rush to judgement” somebody will say. They mean “we musn’t rush to judge whether the police should have immediately arrested Trump” or “we musn’t rush to judge whether the Secret Service should have stopped Trump shooting somebody”. It’s not an unreasonable point but its the start of a narrative roller coaster which will cast people as falling into two groups: those who “rush to judgement” and those who don’t. That casting into two groups will itself have little basis in fact and will ironically be its own kind of rush to judgement.

It’s around about now that we first begin to learn about the victim. This part will be heartbreaking. They’ll be a person who had a life. Briefly that moral clarity will re-assert itself as people see that it is terrrible that a real person (made more real that they had a name) was shot. There will be more bipartisan calls that Trump answers for what he did. Somebody will point out again that the police didn’t arrest him, somebody will point out all the young black men shot by the police in the past year for far less cause. It’s a reasonable point — it is rhetorical, the implication isn’t that police should summarily execute people more consistently but that they shouldn’t do so at all. It will soon get twisted into something else. It will be called “mob justice”, even though Trump is safely in the Whitehouse under guard and there’s no actual danger of somebody from Twitter dragging him off to a kangaroo court. Supposedly wise heads will nod about “due process” even though there appears to zero danger of Trump being prosecuted too quickly. Indeed the clock is ticking for the NYPD to get forensic evidence from Trump.

A new story about the victim will suddenly appear and with it a strange set of questions. It might be a story about a crime they committed once or a leak that allegedly the police attending the scene found marijuana on them. People on Facebook will be asking why this person was even in such a dangerous neighbourhood, don’t people realise how easy it is to get shot in New York? If the victim is a child the extent to which they were nearly an adult will be exaggerated and/or people will ask why their parents let them wander about New York. If the victim is a woman, a photo from her Facebook page in which she is holding up a bottle of beer will circulate, or perhaps one where she is wearing something other than somber clothes. If the victim is a Muslim this will be underscored. If they are black, a photo intended to make them look menacing will circulate.

A section of the internet will claim that the victim is an actor. A picture of somebody who looks a bit like them will form part of a rambling account of places this ‘actor’ has appeared. Photos of somebody on an anti-Trump demonstration will be pointed at, circled in red. Is that them? “Funded by Soros” will appear on a page about the victim and by this point, you’ll be unsure if the alt-right conspiracy theorists are claiming that the victim was a Muslim, a Jew or an atheist.

You’ll point to the horror of this demonisation of the victim and wise heads in the centre and moderate right will say “Like we said. Don’t rush to judgement. Look at all this social media nonsense.” When they say it they’ll point to both the rabid conspiracy theory about paid actors and that one tweet where somebody raised the issue of police shootings as if to say the two are equivalent.

“We don’t know what REALLY happened.” Says a wise head on the 24 Hour rolling coverage. That’s sort of true. Obviously you don’t. “Who knows what was going through his head?” The wise head says. “Nothing good” you think but you are distracted because the cable news channel you are watching needs to fill this rolling news coverage with something. All they have is past coverage about previous presidential shootings I.e. footage of past assassination attempts. Footage of Dealey Plaza and the Washington Hilton is on rotation because that’s all they have. There isn’t footage of past Presidents trying to shoot people. It’s not even an intentional attempt by the media to cast the president as a victim, it’s just one of those consequences of news coverage when people are hungry to know what has happened but there is nothing actually to report. Journalists and news anchors stand forlornly in “Live” feeds from outside the Whitehouse or from Fifth Avenue as if magically the events might repeat themselves.

“He felt threatened,” a spokesperson will say. Probably Giuliani. “His children are being very strong at this terrible time.” Says Sarah Sanders. “I can’t imagine what they are going through,” says a man with impeccable hair on the couch of Fox and Friends. Sympathetic coverage of Melania Trump will be rolling out on sympathetic media. “What about the victim’s family!” You’ll shout at the TV but the victims family have asked for privacy. They have no PR firm, no media contacts and the police have told them to say nothing. A cousin of the victim will be broadcast screaming in anger about what Trump did. He will look angry and unreasonable because he is upset and frustrated — who wouldn’t be? But a wise head will once again remind people “not to rush to judgement”.

“A man has a right to defend himself.” You will be told. There is more footage now. Leaked video from security cameras. It is circulated on social media before you see shorter versions of it on the news. In truth, it tells you nothing you didn’t already know. CNN shows 3 minutes of the leaked video. “Why,” asks a viral Facebook post “did CNN edit out 1 minute of this crucial footage? What are the lying media hiding?” You’ve seen all four minutes and you know the answer is “nothing” but later on the News, a Whitehouse spokesperson says the same thing.

Republicans who were vocal in that brief moment of bipartisan moral clarity are suddenly walking back their earlier comments. Everything they say now is more equivocal. “New facts have come to light,” they say but they can’t say what those new facts are. On right-wing media, the victim of the shooting is now routinely caricatured as a demonic terrorist. Some overtly claim the victim was attempting to assassinate the President, others just imply that. More ‘moderate’ voices do not claim that the victim was definitely an assassin, just that it is important to keep your mind open and not “rush to judgement”. A mainstream news channel has two people debate the issue. “There’s NO evidence that anybody but Trump was an assassin!” Shouts one of the guests, clearly angry at the slanders against the victim. The moderator of the debate tells them to call down and that nobody should rush to judgement.

The New York Times publishes a story that the victim and their family is being investigated by the FBI. In two years time, you’ll read about how the story was literally true but also that the investigation was a formality and arose only because Republican lawmakers had swamped the FBI with absurd claims about the victim that they had read on the internet.

You feel like you are in nightmare world now. The country is in three camps. On one side are people like yourself who think it is a simple issue: Trump shot somebody and he should be arrested. Meanwhile, Facebook and the right-wing news media feels swamped with people CERTAIN that Trump bravely defended himself from a would be assassin who was a member of anti-fa and funded by George Soros. There a wise heads in the middle saying both sides need to calm down and listen to each other’s points so they can understand them better.

The victim’s family have gone into hiding and are under police protection.

The world keeps going of course. Eventually there are other events that push the story from the front pages: a hurricane, an earthquake, North Korea acting sketchy. Trump’s lawyers promise that the NYPD will get to interview him soon but they are keen to point out that due process applies to EVERYBODY.

A month later and Trump still hasn’t been interviewed. His lawyers and the DOJ are raising legal questions about the jurisdiction of the States and the separation of powers. They are making demands that the NY Attorney General can’t agree to. At the same time, Trump’s lawyers are complaining about the delays their own actions have caused, saying that the delays are preventing Trump for exonerating himself.

A month after that the shooting can only be understood on partisan lines. Trump has a fundraising letter portraying the demands he should be interviewed by the NYPD as a witch-hunt and an attempt by the Deep State to undermine the democratic will of the American People.

The victim’s family are still in hiding. They are in constant fear from death threats.

You don’t know what to believe anymore. One day on a bus you see somebody in a MAGA hat and you just lose it and scream and shout at them. The video goes viral and you become the face of left-wing intolerance. The New York Times posts a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger editorial about how ugly the left has become. No wise heads say that people shouldn’t rush to judgement about you.

A year later, the shooting isn’t even the first thing people mention when they complain about Trump.