Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Free speech on campus update

With apologies to Maajid Nawaz and LBC news:
Snarky McSnarkface: Why I Refuse To Use Special Forms of Address For Qualified People 

Doctor Snarky Mc Snarkface, professor of sarcasm at the University of Toronto, told LBC he is refusing to let the university tell him what he can and can't say.

The authorities at his university have requested that he stops publicly referring to his colleague, Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology, as "crazy lobster guy", and are insisting that he uses more politically correct forms of academic address.

And Dr Mc Snarkface, who has shot to prominence in recent months, says it is not the university's role to control what language he uses.

Speaking to Maajid Nawaz, he said: "There are these prescriptive forms of language being used to hypothetically describe this crazy lobster guy, who is apparently "entitled" to be addressed as ‘Doctor’ or 'Professor', something I don't understand conceptually.

"A person is now compelled by the university authorities to refrain from deliberately insulting colleagues, even the obvious kooks, on pain of dismissal.

"And I thought, no that's not acceptable.

"It's one thing to put limits on what a person can't say, like in hate speech laws, which I also don't agree with.

"But to compel me to use a certain content when I'm formulating my thoughts or my actions under threat of dismissal, I thought no, the university has introduced compelled speech into the academic sphere. Basic civility has never happened before in the history of academia, so I said there's no way I'm abiding by that.

"I don't care what you're damned rationale is. 'We're being civil'. No you're not. You're playing this entitled, censorious academic game. You're trying to gain linguistic supremacy in the area of academic discourse.

"You're doing this by using good manners as a guise and you're not going to do it with me."

They can take our lobsters, but they will never take our FREEDOM!

Monday, 21 May 2018

Universal Basic Transport

Goodbye, car nation?
Estonia To Become The World’s First Free Public Transport Nation

...Now celebrating five years of free public transport for all citizens, the government is planning to make Estonia the first free public transport nation...

...To ride Tallinn’s network of trams, buses and trains for free, you must be registered as a resident, which makes the municipality profit €1,000 from your income tax every year. All you need to do then is getting a €2 green card and carrying your ID on public transport

How does this work out for the municipality?

“There’s no doubt that we not only cover the costs, but also come out with a surplus. We earned double as much as we have lost since introducing free public transport. We’re happy to see that so many people are motivated to register as residents in Tallinn to make use of free public transport.”

Who is profiting the most from free buses, trams and trains in Tallinn?

“A good thing is, of course, that it mostly appeals to people with lower to medium incomes. But free public transport also stimulates the mobility of higher-income groups. They are simply going out more often for entertainment, to restaurants, bars and cinemas. Therefore they consume local goods and services and are likely to spend more money, more often. In the end this makes local businesses thrive. It breathes new life into the city.”
Radical? Unrealistic? Maybe.

On the other hand, buses, trains and trams already exist. So does Tallinn’s experiment in making them free to use, so other nations and regions will be able to watch and see how well (or badly) this works.

Worth watching by anybody who's even a tiny bit serious about traffic congestion, the effect of traffic emissions on the environment and human health, or road accidents. We're still a way off from renewable-powered electric cars for the masses, but most trains and trams these days are already electric, as are increasing numbers of buses.

Free at the point of use might be far-fetched, or even undesirable (affordable is good, but a perverse incentive to use energy for unnecessary journeys is bad). But investing in existing modes of public transport, in tandem with things like the road infrastructure needed to make cycling less hazardous might even turn out to be a quicker and cheaper solution to our traffic problems than waiting until every car showroom sells nowt but 'leccy vehicles and every home, garage workplace and car park has enough charging points.

If nothing else, you could use a radical pro-public transport agenda to generate a bit of free electricity, by making Margaret Thatcher spin in her grave:
"A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure." (Quote widely attributed to Margaret Thatcher, who apparently never said it,* but it's the sort of sentiment she'd have endorsed).

*According to Wikiquote, the misattributed quote was based on these words by Loelia Ponsonby, one of the wives of the 2nd Duke of Westminster, who said "Anybody seen in a bus over the age of 30 has been a failure in life". Always good to hear people being mocked for not pulling themselves up by their bootstaps by somebody whose fame rested almost entirely on being born to titled parents (the courtier Sir Frederick Ponsonby, later 1st Baron Sysonby, and Lady Sysonby), being brought up in St James's palace and entering into a disasterously unahppy marriage with a Duke.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

"Gammon": not racist, just a bit rubbish

There's been a tweetstorm in a teacup over the word "gammon", used as shorthand for angry, red-faced right-wingers. Because black or brown people can't go red in the face, some people have been quick to call this anti-white racism. Personally, I'm more convinced by the people who just roll their eyes at the idea of angry white guys as an oppressed minority.

Dubious claims of racism aside, I don't like the term. I don't mind the comparison in context ("a furious middle-aged man with a face like gammon") although, like all similes and metaphors, this one will quickly get tired with over-use. But when you start using "gammon" as shorthand for a certain type of person, you're already talking to, and about, people in a private language. And, from the outside, private languages can sound very silly.

For example, look at the bizarre private language being used by various subgroups on the political right these days: snowflake, feminazi, RINO, cuck, remoaner, libtard, EUSSR, Chad, beta, SJW, virtue signalling, triggered, red pill, incel, normie, femoid, postmodern neo-Marxism...

This sort of shared jargon is mostly restricted to hardcore cranks and fanatics. Almost nobody you meet in everyday life uses that sort of language. It doesn't reach out and change minds. It's so niche that even the insults don't hurt. If "SJW" is the worst thing you can think of to call somebody, you definitely need some better trash talk.

And that's the danger with "gammon." Insulting somebody with an in-joke only that you and your mates get doesn't win arguments, or persuade people. It just makes you look a bit weird.

Look again at the right. When they talk in their own private jargon, they just sound like a bunch of sad oddballs. They only succeed and go mainstream when they use the same words as the rest of us - like "Make America great again" "and "Take back control." Using everyday language seems to be far more effective than making up your own terms and hoping they'll gain traction (they mostly don't).

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The last straw?

Whoever's idea this was, it sounds like a good one:
The European Commission has hinted the EU could ban single-use plastics after Michael Gove said there was “some concern” Europe may prevent the UK from outlawing plastic straws.

Frans Timmermans, vice president of the EU’s executive cabinet, told Mr Gove on Twitter: “One step ahead of you. EU legislation on single-use plastics coming before the summer. Maybe you can align with us?”
The Devil, as always, is in the detail. For example, would the wording of any ban include these?

I see a lot of these little plastic straws littering spaces where children get together. But they're not drinking straws.
Other brands are available

Yes, the straws aren't used for drinking, but for delivering a microdose of fizzy sherbet, before being thrown away.

I can see how these pocket money novelties would appeal to kids. I can also see that they don't meet the functional definition of a straw. Unless things like this are specifically mentioned in any legislation, these might be the "straws" that survive the great cull.

Debating the essential nature of the sherbet straw could keep the lawyers and philosophers as busy as the great Jaffa cake controversy of yore.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Dead sardine is a red herring

So the Electoral Commission has fined Leave.EU a record £70,000 for breaking spending limits in the EU referendum. Leave.EU co-founder Arron Banks isn't happy:
“We view the Electoral Commission announcement as a politically-motivated attack on Brexit and the 17.4 million people who defied the establishment to vote for an independent Britain.”

He added: “The EC went big game fishing and found a few ‘aged’ dead sardines on the beach. So much for the big conspiracy!
“What a shambles. We will see them in court.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added that the commission was made up of “former MPs, liberal MPs, the SNP, former Labour leaders of councils, all sorts of people that all believe in Remain”.
Two things:

1. This is what Arron Banks has previously said about facts and persuasion:
What they [Political strategists Goddard Gunster] said early on was ‘facts don’t work’ and that’s it.

“The remain campaign featured fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn’t work. You have got to connect with people emotionally."
Which explains Banksy's fishy response to the fine. But if you can see what he's trying to do, you can get past the emotive language he's using to dodge the issue. The question here is "Did Leave.EU break the spending limits or didn't they?" Comparing the EC's findings to a dead sardine doesn't answer that question. That's no dead sardine, it's a red herring. As is his angry allegation of an "attack" on the "the 17.5 milion people who voted for Brexit."

It was an attack - on people who break the rules which are there to protect those 17.5 million people (and the rest of us) from cheats. The question, again, Banksy, is "Did Leave.EU break the rules?" The Electoral Commission think they did. If you want anyone to think differently, put up or shut up.

2. Having spent zero per cent of his statement addressing the substance of what Leave.EU did (or didn't) do, Banks had time to insinuate that his opponents were a bunch of conspiracy theorists, before launching into a conspiracy theory of his own which invited us to believe that the Electoral Commission itself was a vast establishment conspiracy. This from a man who wasn't above getting his underlings to smear an investigative journalist by photoshopping a tinfoil hat onto her picture:
I'll leave the last word to that same journalist:

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

A special nation, just like all the others

"Just after the referendum someone predicted that the brexit negotiations would be a process of 'controlled capitulation'. Which has come to pass. At least our egregious sense of national exceptionalism is being nailed ever deeper into the cross of astounded leaver righteousness."
Perhaps the most egregious thing about the United Kingdom's sense of national exceptionalism is that it's almost exactly like everybody else's sense of national exceptionalism. This, for example, is what "taking back control" looks like in Viktor Orbán's Hungary:
A few weeks ago, in a small town in Hungary, two Catholic nuns were stopped on the street and berated by people yelling, “Migrants! Migrants!” After pushing the old ladies a bit, they called the police, believing they had seen Muslim women in a burqa and hijab. The police saved the nuns from the Christian crowd.
Those eejits might have been wearing the Magyar version of the MAGA hat but, from the UK, this sort of thing  looks depressingly familiar. Remember this story from 2014?
Nigel Farage’s local Ukip branch has rebuked the BBC for its ingrained liberal bias in holding a straw poll on the party leader in front of a London mosque. The mosque in question was Westminster Cathedral...

...This isn’t the first-time a rightwing party has got its buildings confused. The English Defence League mistook Brighton’s Royal Pavilion for a mosque last year.
Different flag, same stupid.

Lose that flag and other people's national exceptionalism starts to look a whole lot like our own:
The Orbán government’s first legislative move is the Stop Soros Act, which will force human rights groups to register as foreign agents and submit to regular police surveillance, fiduciary controls, and punitive taxes. Groups that have absolutely nothing to do with immigration — those looking after Hungarian citizens’ human rights, advocating education and prison reform, representing the homeless and ethnic and religious minorities, etc. — will be persecuted [Brits may not be able to get a decent cup of tea on the Continent, but at they'll at least have enough of a "hostile environment" to make them feel right at home]...

...Orbán’s semi-dictatorship ... unlike its post-Stalinist predecessor, is not statist or centralizing. Its guiding principles are arbitrary, capricious rule and, above all, informality. The real centers of power in Orbán’s Hungary are formally independent institutions (state foundations, semi-private companies, purportedly private firms living on state credit) that are outside the control of normal government administration and of judicial control as well [in the UK, think how policy is shaped by a shady spider's web of obscure, unaccountable interest groups - the Legatum Institute, the European Research Group, the TaxPayers' Alliance, Migration Watch, the Adam Smith Institute...]. Meanwhile, regular administration is being dismantled and well-trained civil servants are being thrown out in droves ["Brexit minister fuels conspiracy about 'rogue' civil servants"] . Drafting of bills happens behind the backs of ostensibly leading politicians and bureaucrats, and rushed through parliament [Henry VIII clauses, anybody?] — usually without discussion.
There's nothing special and unique about people insisting that they're special and unique.