Friday, December 02, 2016

Reasons to Worry, Reasons Not To

Donald Trump by By Gage Skidmorevia Wikimedia Commons
 By Gage Skidmore
via Wikimedia Commons
Right after the election in which a minority of American voters put Donald Trump in the White House, I began to see online articles suggesting Mr. Trump and his supporters have a brilliant agenda for working the end of American democracy. Some articles I have read suggest Mr. Trump's intellectual incoherence actually has a brilliant covert purpose, and his operatives have a plan of such speed and subtlety that Americans standing up for tolerance and freedom can only hope to watch helplessly as Mr. Trump and his minions construct a fascist state.

I wish I knew these articles grossly overestimated Mr. Trump's native abilities.

Homeland Security photo
I wish even more that the best outcome of Mr. Trump's coming administration looked less chaotic and miserable. Donald Trump and his friends on the right wing of the Republican party may not have a brilliant plan. They still can, and probably will, inflict four years of absolute misery on the poor and dispossessed in the United States. We have already seen an appalling increase in bullying and harassment throughout the United States and even in other countries. The Republican Congress looks set to dismantle even the minimal social safety net in place in the United States. The next four years look set for more catering to the wealthy few at the expense of children going to school hungry. Unless the course of the incoming administration changes, the leadership they provide will reward the worst behaviour by police and public officials at every level.

At best, a man who has paraded his ignorance and prejudices will soon have the ability to give orders to the most powerful and destructive military on the planet. He will also control the world's most sophisticated surveillance apparatus. This frightens me. It frightens a great many people. It should.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Don't blame the victims

Red flag
By Ssolbergj, via Wikimedia Commons
The "Left", however you conceive that vast, amorphous, and spectacularly undisciplined entity, the "Left" does a great many things very very wrong. When people associated with the "Left" do or say things wrong, we can criticize them. Indeed, at times we have an obligation to criticize.

None of these legitimate criticisms have anything but an incidental relation to Donald Trump and his impending elevation to the United States presidency. We have seen multiple articles recently, blaming "Liberals" or the "Left", primarily for the supposed lapses of embracing "identity politics", or for neglecting the "white working class". Leave aside the ways these arguments contradict each other, and the accusers contradict themselves; nobody has so far explained how the Left could have come to the rescue of the "white working class" without embracing identity politics. Ignore the way they contradict common sense and common decency: nearly three centuries of experience show the impossibility of meaningful working class solidarity in a country divided by racism. The basic principle remains: no argument, however good or bad, against the choices made by the "Left" explains or excuses the willingness of millions of Americans to hand the launch codes for the largest thermonuclear arsenal on Earth to Donald Trump. None of them justifies the willingness of millions of Americans to bring an enabler of the American neo-nazi movement into the White House.

All valid criticisms of the "Left" would have the same validity with Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, or Kshama Sawant preparing to assume the office of President of the United States. A criticism that depends purely on the election of Donald Trump has no validity. Invalid criticisms often amount to nothing more than victim blaming. They rub salt in the wounds of people already frightened and in pain, and they reflect poorly on the character and judgement of those who make them.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Giving us back the horrors...

In the Star Trek episode "A Taste of Armageddon", the crew of the Enterprise approach a Eminiar VII, planet that has grown comfortable living in an extended state of  inter-planetary war with a former colony, Vendikar. The inhabitants of Eminiar VII and Vedikar have made their war bearable by waging it with computers, launching their attacks mathematically. The war resembles a video game in all but one aspect: the casualties really die. As part of the agreement between the warring world, those declared dead in an attack must report to disintegration chambers that neatly annihilate them.

With Captain Kirk and the enterprise caught up in this conflict, They perceive only one choice: force the governments of Vendikar and Eminiar VIII to make peace (this episode predates the Prime Directive). He makes his way to the center of government in the capital of Eminiar VII, and  after a cat and mouse dialog with the planet's ruler, Anan 7, Kirk manages to destroy the connected computers that manage the lethal video game. As usually happens in science fiction of the 1960s, the computers explode spectacularly, and Anan 7 stumbles out of the smoke and storms at Captain Kirk: "Do you realize what you've done?"

"Yes," replies Kirk, "I've given you back the horrors of war."

The small band of neo-Nazis who tainted Donald Trump's campaign have given us back the horrors of racism and "white" supremacy.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Magical beliefs and the politics of Trump

Steve Bannon 2010
Don Irvine, via Wikimedia Commons
In a recent article in Time Magazine, David Kaiser discusses a historical theory of eighty year cycles in American politics:
...Neil Howe and the late William Strauss...identified an 80-year cycle in American history, punctuated by great crises that destroyed an old order and created a new one.
He goes on to discuss the reaction of Stephen Bannon, Donald Trump's new political strategist, to this theory. In this telling, Stephen Bannon and a few like-minded conservatives hope the theory of the eighty year cycle means the United States has entered a period of crisis, and they hope to use it to remake the American political landscape.

I have written before on this kind of magical thinking in political theory: it underlies fictions such as the so-called "Overton Window". Magical thinking in political theory has much the same effects as it has in gambling: it creates an illusion of control as a substitute for the exercise of it, and thus encourages an irresponsible passivity. Consider the following, from the article:
Bannon focused on the key aspect of their theory, the idea that every 80 years American history has been marked by a crisis... Strauss and Howe’s major prediction has now obviously come true: Few would deny that the U.S. has been in a serious political crisis for some time, marked by intense partisan division, a very severe recession, war abroad and, above all, a breakdown in the ties between the country and its political establishment.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hands in all colours

A couple of days ago on Patheos, Connor Wood wrote about the role the urban versus rural, working class versus managerial or creative class divides had in elevating Donald Trump to the White House. He wrote:
There are tens of millions of people in this country who are not symbol-manipulators for a living. They work with tangible things: gears, spark plugs, two-by-fours, PVC pipes. They can’t just talk their ways out of mistakes and errors in judgment, the way finance professionals or academic prognosticators can. If you screw up cutting drywall, there is no hiding it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Elephants in the room

Trump Laconia rally By Michael Vadon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Trump Laconia rally (Michael Vadon)
It should not surprise anyone that I disagree, strongly, with the decision of the minority of American voters who put Donald Trump in the president's office. Since then, a great many people have had a great many things to say, many of them good, some a matter of wishful thinking, and too many downright appalling.

Enough people have written enough on the subject of the elevation of Donald Trump to the presidency that little or nothing has actually gone unsaid, but certain aspects of this election have got relatively little attention. With that in mind, I present two things I have kept in mind:

  1. Donald Trump's personal limits have not changed. I have read a great deal about the crew he brought into the White House, his possible policies, and the "message" his election sends. Whatever the importance of such matters, it makes sense to keep paying attention to one central point: Donald Trump himself, the limits of his education and experience, his impulse control issues, his use of crude language, his instinct to dominate, his tolerance of violence,his refusal to disclose his finances: that Donald Trump has not changed from last Monday evening until today. 
  2. Hillary Clinton's loss represents, to some degree, the triumph of slander. Just before the US election, the Globe and Mail published a story on Hillary, and a comment dropped on the story included nothing but a long long list of allegations against Hillary. Prosecutors, many passionately opposed to the Clintons, had investigated many of these claims in meticulous detail and found no actionable evidence whatever. And yet the same claims came out, brazenly asserted, again and again. And far too few people found a way to come out clearly and say these claims have no truth to them, and that at certain levels of dishonesty in a statement indicate something, something not good, about the characters of both those who assert them and those who uncritically accept them. This campaign has the consequences of not insisting on truth. If the public fails to insist on truth, a mass of lies large enough can produce an impression independent of the truth of any statement. No matter how untrue any given statement, the mass of lies can leave a stain on the victim. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Obligation of the cyclist, responsibility of the community

I have said it before. I still believe it. I'll say it again: cyclists have two absolute ethical responsibilities. One, to everyone that loves us and waits for us at home, to take care of our own safety. Two, to our fellow vulnerable road users, meaning other cyclists and pedestrians, to do them no harm.

I don't believe cyclists have any other absolute obligations. It makes sense to ride with good "style", to adhere to the traffic laws (if only to avoid the expense of traffic fines). Treat all other road users with courtesy and insist on courtesy in return. Advocate for respect and room for cyclists on the road. All these things matter, and as a cyclist I try to do them; I don't believe they rise to the level of a moral obligation.

That brings us to the cyclist who rode into an elderly couple and knocked them down, The man escaped severe injuries, but the woman suffered serious fractures and succumbed to her injuries earlier this month. The cyclist fled the scene. Don't do this. Don't ride like this. Don't duck your responsibilities like this. Don't do it, not because it hurts the image of cyclists, not because it gives irresponsible pandering politicians an opening to call for restrictions on cyclists, but because it hurts people. It kills people. It kills vulnerable road users just like us, people we have a responsibility not to injure. Don't flee the scene because the law forbids you to do so; don't flee the scene because leaving another human being in the street, in pain, someone you injured is wrong. It's wrong when motorists do it, and using a two-wheeled human powered vehicle doesn't make it right.

Another modest proposal

By Guilhermeduartegarcia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Guilhermeduartegarcia CC BY-SA 3.0,
via Wikimedia Commons
Almost exactly ten years have passed since Brian Ashton lamented the decision by the Canadian government to decline to submit a bid for Expo 2015 on Toronto's behalf. Today we s another flurry of efforts to promote a bid for the 2025 international exhibition. As before, press reports focus on the political and business leaders supporting the idea of a bid, with sometimes a quick note of the potential costs and the number of jobs "created". The reports don't address the environmental sustainability of the fair or of the changes to urban structure required for the fair.