an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

a bonobo world 30: touching on science, and adversarial systems

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I love this quote from Ernest Rutherford, the New Zealand ‘provincial’ who became one of the most brilliant experimental physicists of the turn-of-the century physics revolution:

… experiment, directed by the disciplined imagination either of an individual, or, still better, of a group of individuals of varied mental outlook, is able to achieve results which far transcend the imagination alone of the greatest philosopher.

from Thomas Crump, A brief history of science, p225

We’ve far transcended the bonobos in our experimental and tool-making skills, and in our varied mental outlooks, but it seems to me the teamwork is lacking, or at least it’s often outdone by over-competitiveness and mutual suspicion. Science, the bid to find the best explanations for our own workings and the working of the universe around us, and the best way forward for our species and all that connects with us, has long struck me as the best activity to unite us as Homo sapiens. Of course, the scientific community, being human, is driven by competition and personal glory to a large degree, but the smiles I see on the faces of Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, whose images are all over the internet at present, would hardly strike anyone as smug or self-congratulatory, and they’re clearly happy to share the glory and to educate anyone prepared to listen about the meaning of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing breakthrough, and to give all credit where credit is due to their collaborators and precursors. 

I’m not being naive here, methinks. Having read Venki Ramakrishnan’s Gene Machine and Meredith Wadman’s The Vaccine Race, and knowing of the battles over atomic theory which may have led to Ludwig Botzman’s suicide, I’m well aware that scientific competition can be pretty fierce. However, I don’t believe it’s anywhere near as ideological as politics or law. Generally the goal of science is something all scientists have in common – that best explanation. That is not the case with many other fields of activity. Here is what I wrote in 2011 about what I call ‘macho’ adversarial systems that continue to blight human society. 

1. Politics.

Some thirty years or so ago I read a book which had as profound a political influence on me as anything I’ve ever read. It was written by the Roman historian Livy and it bore the the title The history of the Roman Republic or something like that [in fact Livy’s monumental history, Ab Urbe Condita Libri, ‘Chapters from the Foundation of the City’ covered the whole ground from the myths of Rome’s founders to the early empire under Augustus, in Livy’s own time, and the book I read was presumably a translation of the first half or so]. What astonished me about the book, much of which was made up of speeches from political leaders [a trick he clearly learned from Thucydides] was, to me, its modern relevance. It told the story of two political factions or sides, or perhaps parties, the Patricians and the Plebeians, and of how political power swung from one side to another on a regular basis. However, as is the case in modern politics, this regularity wasn’t particularly regular. Depending on the persuasiveness and charisma of particular leaders, and on external pressures [and corruption of course also had a role], one side might hold sway for an extended period. Many of the issues discussed – taxation, wealth and land ownership and/or redistribution, security and military expenditure, had a familiar ring, and some approaches struck me as profoundly socialist, some two thousand years avant la lettre. Naturally all this made me consider the modern left and the modern right from a more interesting ‘longitudinal’ perspective. But another thing that struck me was the quite viciously adversarial world Livy described. When the political pendulum inevitably swung against them, those who were ousted from power were, equally inevitably, accused of treason, corruption, and/or both, and driven into exile or, probably more often, summarily executed or forced into suicide. Yet quite often their policies were followed by their successors, in spite of much rhetoric about ‘winding things back’. It all left me wondering why anybody in their right mind would pursue a public, political career under such circumstances. It may well have been that civic virtue, or the kudos gained from serving the public in the role of consul or quaestor, was regarded so highly that the inherent dangers were swept aside, or even seen as a worthy feature of the job [think of a career in the armed forces – heroism always has its appeal].

Domestic politics isn’t quite as threatening as it once was, but it still seems sometimes pointlessly adversarial. Notably, in many of the areas where a sensible person might expect a bipartisan approach, such as immigration and climate change, the parties are most determined to be at loggerheads. Maybe it’s because they’re so close together on these issues that they can see the whites of their enemies’ eyes, and this drives them into a frenzy of acrimony. It’s true that Tony Abbott appears to be a climate change ignoramus, but he’s also a pragmatist, and he knows that, if he finally gets in, he’ll have to come up with some sort of scheme to tackle climate change, and it won’t be heaps different from Labor’s. The rest is just spoiling, and an insult to the voters’ intelligence. As for the asylum seeker issue, it should be a minor one considering the numbers involved, but the opposition has whipped and frothed it up for all it’s worth, not caring about the fact that one day they’re complaining about the government’s softness, and the next day they’re decrying government inhumanity. As long as they get to hurl abuse. I know I’m not the only one who finds all this childish and patently dishonest, but most people seem to just consider it a political game that has to be played. I wonder why? Is it so that we can feel superior to all those dishonest pollies? Or is it that this really is the best way to forge policy and to make reforms, in the teeth of vehement opposition. Maybe being collaborative makes for worse policy, I don’t know. There just seems so much expense of spirit in a waste of shame.

2. Law

Again, I’m never sure if I’m missing something, but the adversarial legal system has always struck me as weird. I felt the same way about debating clubs as a kid – I had no interest in finding clever arguments for a position I didn’t believe in, I wanted to argue for what I believed, and to listen to others and gladly concede to them if their argument went deeper and uncovered things I hadn’t thought of. Getting to the truth, or to the most convincing and evidence-backed account, that was the thing. But of course there are other serious considerations with this approach to law. Some lawyers are more skillful, experienced and convincing than others, and lawyers can be bought. From a personal perspective, I can’t understand how a lawyer can do all in his power to defend or prosecute someone whose guilt or innocence he isn’t sure of, out of a ‘professionalism’ from which all moral qualms are removed, if that’s possible. This is probably naive of me, and I know that in these matters almost everyone is compromised by vested interest – the police want to see their arrests vindicated, the victims and their families want revenge, the lawyers want to improve their win/loss ratios, the accused want to get off, etc. Only the judge [and/or jury] is expected to uphold some sort of claim to objectivity, thus becoming the target of all the persuasive powers of the defence and prosecution teams, who seek to take advantage of every quirk and tendency they might perceive in the judge or the jurors. All of which makes me feel not quite right.

I know that in some countries a non-adversarial judicial system has been adopted, but I’m completely vague on the details. I do know that it’s a system heavily criticised by the proponents of the adversarial system, on what grounds and with what legitimacy I’m not sure. I’ve also heard that it hasn’t necessarily produced better or fairer outcomes. I’m also at a loss as to how such a non-adversarial system is financed, without accused persons being able to pay top dollar for the best lawyers. However, I can’t help but intuitively feel that a non-adversarial, collaborative system, in which everybody has the same aim, to uncover the truth surrounding a particular crime or alleged crime, would in principle be a better approach.

3. Work

I presume that ever since we began to divide labour – that is, from the beginning of civilisation – work and power have been intimately related. In fact, it’s only in recent times, with the growth of the idea of universal human rights and the notion of inherent, individual human dignity, that we’ve come to see that people shouldn’t necessarily be devalued according to the type of work they do. The otherwise brilliant Aristotle notoriously wondered whether slaves were capable of consciousness, and this, I would guess, was not due to their inherent status [he knew well enough, surely, that today’s battalion commander could become tomorrow’s slave to forces victorious over him], but to the menial work he or she was forced to do. Similarly when the novelist V S Naipaul [whose work and character I’ve always loathed] recently declared himself to be a superior writer to every female who has ever taken up a pen, he based this ‘knowledge’ on female work, as he saw it. Women, or women writers, had never been estate managers or big bosses or whatever, and so could never see things from a superior male perspective.This idea that employers were inherently superior to ‘underlings’ has only gradually faded with the advent of the union movement and its ability to articulate the rights and grievances of such underlings. Mostly this has involved clashes, demonstrations and strikes, with the formation of employer groups to combat the rise of workers’ associations.

I think it’s fair to say, though, that in the world of work we’ve seen more positive moves towards a collaborative approach than in other areas. Work, in the west, has become more multifaceted and less rigidly specified, with a blurring of distinctions between types of work and the prestige attached to work, from parental roles and household tasks to management and other high-flying positions, and this has broken down the old us-and-them tradition to some extent. Not that there isn’t a place for good old-fashioned confrontation. Sometimes, as with the demonstration I participated in recently, the problem is that there is no clear ‘enemy’. Workers in the community welfare sector [where the percentage of women is high] are very poorly paid. Generally they’re paid by the government, which means their work is very insecure as governments and their pet projects come and go. Funding is ever a problem and it’s hardly surprising that turnover is very high. Targeting government becomes a problem when governments get turfed out and the next government hasn’t made the same commitment. The problem may well be in public relations – but I’m moving too far from my focus. The point is that, again in this area, a collaborative approach, recognising the mutual dependency of coalface workers and management [and often their inter-changeability] strikes me as inherently more productive. But maybe we’ve had to go through a certain period of mutual hostility, misunderstanding and misrepresentation to get to that stage.

 

So the above is ten years old, and the world of work – the growing gig economy, and increasing deregulation – is getting tougher for those without the right connections. A basic income provision, which might alleviate the problems caused by an increasing concentration of wealth, doesn’t seem to be supported fully by the left or the right, never mind the kind of bipartisan support required for success. But bipartisanship and collaboration is essential to face and overcome the problems we’re creating for ourselves. The thirty percent target for female involvement at all levels in these key fields is critical in creating this collaborative environment – though thirty percent isn’t enough. 

 

Written by stewart henderson

March 3, 2021 at 12:43 pm

getting wee Donny 4: the waiting game

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the USA’s massive incarceration system – and the details are much worse – but the worst get rewarded

Canto: So we’re sick of wee Donny, and more importantly there’s so much that’s more valuable to write about….

Jacinta: But to be fair, and to be positive, this is about justice and reform, so that nobody like that can ever be allowed such power in the future, in a country that claims ad nauseam that it’s a paragon of nations etc etc. 

Canto: Yes, reform of the political and the justice system – neither of which is likely to happen in the near future – is obviously required in the USA, and with their new, highly-regarded Attorney-General, not yet sworn in, hopefully some vital reforms can happen. 

Jacinta: So the US Supreme Court has finally decided not to take up the appeal by the trumpets regarding the handing over of financial documents to the Manhattan DA. And this is another area requiring reform – endless appeals processes which not only deliberately waste time but use up the resources of the justice system for no good reason. There need to be penalties for this, and restrictions on the appeals process, which obviously favours the wealthy. 

Canto: Though as to how wealthy this money-grubbing serial bankrupt is, that’s to be ascertained….

Jacinta: He seems to always have lawyers to pursue all these appeals, and they wouldn’t be stupid enough to do it gratis – or would they? I’ve never had the money to hire any lawyer, not that I’ve ever needed to. What a boring life I’ve led. Anyway, all these financial docs relating to wee Donny’s businesses for an eight-year period, 2011 to 2019, have been handed over to Cyrus Vance, the Manhattan DA, who has hired forensic tax and financial specialists and a crack lawyer, Mark Pomerantz, all of which indicates that this will be a Big Show, involving wee Donny’s wee kiddies and his long-time CFO, Allen Weiselberg, among others.

Canto: I just hope it happens soon and doesn’t drag on – justice delayed is justice denied. Pundits are talking about the ‘bad look’ of an ex-Prez perhaps being jailed, which infuriates me. World leaders are precisely those whose wrong-doings have the most profound consequences – in this case covid-19 fatalities, vulnerable kids permanently losing track of their parents, Kurds left high and dry in the Middle East, Saudi princes rewarded for murderous deeds, and the rise of hate crimes within the USA, all due to wee Donny’s soi-disant leadership. Not to mention all the victims of a fifty-year white-collar crime spree before that. 

Jacinta: Well, he’s still at large, and campaigning for his trumpets in Ohio, Georgia and elsewhere. Pundits are disputing whether or not he’s a spent political force. It’s astounding. The prospective A-G is promising to get to those behind the attack on the Capitol, and the stink leads directly to wee Donny. And there’s so much else. Where did all that 2016 campaign money go? What’s now to be uncovered from the Mueller enquiry? What dodgy material is there from his time in office? Dodgy deals with Saudi Arabia, inaction on the Khashoggi murder, and of course Russia and Putin. It goes on and on. What a nation.

Canto: People are claiming that the GOP is being destroyed by the continuing presence of this wee bloke. Poor GOP. Many of them are still talking of election fraud, though the result of the election was in line with every opinion poll, left-wing, right-wing, centrist and aggregated, over four years. Wee Donny was on the nose – something to do with his nappy – within a few weeks of being elected, and he stayed that way throughout. So his 2020 loss was as predicable as the sunrise. 

Jacinta: Well I draw some hope from Michael Cohen, who’s currently capitalising on his role as reformed trumpet. He claims that wee Donny hates being the defendant in court cases, because he always loses. So bring on the civil cases as well as the criminal ones. Cohen himself is suing Donny’s Disorganisation for $2 million in legal fees – proof that even bad lawyers don’t come cheap in the USA. 

Canto: Haha, actually they’re legal bills, incurred during the Mueller and congressional probes. The Donny Disorganisation promised to indemnify him for those costs, according to Cohen, who’s been assisting the legal authorities on all this stuff for some time. And wee Donny’s wetting himself about it all, of course. 

Jacinta: So – felony charges in Atlanta, Washington DC and New York, and civil cases all over the place, and yet we seem to be in a holding pattern, with as yet no A-G, no charges being laid, and with Donny’s supporters going crazy for him, imagining he’ll return to office on March 4, or that he’ll have a second coming in 2024. To do what?

Canto: What about the sexual allegations? Business Insider Australia did a report on this back in 2017.  Apparently some 26 women have accused Donny of sexual misconduct, but the E Jean Carroll sexual assault claim seems the stickiest.

Jacinta: Great choice of words mate. According to a recent David Pakman video, and a CNN political piece, another woman, Summer Zervos, also has a defamation suit against Donny, related to sexual assault allegations. That case was put on hold recently and will be argued before the Court of Appeals. If Donny loses these cases – and the Carroll case looks the more serious – I presume it will mean he’s been caught lying, and the women have been caught truth-telling, and then they could go on to criminal proceedings. Pakman, though, is doubtful, and talks of a two-tiered justice system, which I have to say, seems to exist everywhere. Most people who get caught up in the justice system can’t afford any lawyers, let alone those who’re adept at running out the system for their clients. 

Canto: Yes I don’t suppose it’s worthwhile to spend too much more time waiting on justice for someone who’s been so easily able to flout the law for so long. And yet…

Jacinta: There are so many victims, let’s not forget. 

References

https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/539979-the-memo-trump-faces-deepening-legal-troubles?rl=1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_lawsuits_involving_Donald_Trump#Lawsuits_around_the_United_States_Constitution

https://www.businessinsider.com.au/women-accused-trump-sexual-misconduct-list-2017-12?r=US&IR=T

UH-OH: Trump May Have to Answer Rape Allegations…Under Oath (David Pakman video)

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/01/07/politics/summer-zervos-trump-lawsuit/index.html

Written by stewart henderson

March 1, 2021 at 1:08 pm

Posted in crime, law, Trump

Tagged with , , , , ,

a bonobo world 29: the 30% rule and Myanmar

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Myanmar students finding inspiration in The Hunger Games in their fight against the coup

 

I mentioned the 30% rule in a previous essay – an idea that’s been bruited about, suggesting that it takes 30% female infiltration to change the culture of an organisation. This is obviously a rule of thumb, but it’s worth applying to those organisations that have power in the land, whatever land that might be.

Such organisations, institutions or sectors include government, law, business, military, health, science, education and welfare. Without doing any research, I would guess that, of those eight sectors, four – law, health, education and welfare – might have significant female infiltration, the other four not so much. Though I might be wrong about science, and of course all these sectors are much more open to women when we take the long view, of centuries. Social evolution is relatively quick, but not always relative to our short, impatient lives. 

Since I first learned of this rule of thumb in an essay about Myanmar’s military, I’ll first look at Myanmar society, currently still in upheaval due to the Min Aung Hlaing coup and its aftermath. Considering that Aung San Suu Kyi recently won a landslide election and is very popular, especially among the Buddhist majority, it might seem surprising to those of us in settled democracies that a military coup could be staged there with such apparent ease, but of course the military – entirely male until recently, and still entirely male in its hierarchy – has been massively interfering in this fledgling democracy from the start. We in Australia have only to think of our nearest neighbour, Indonesia, to be aware of how dangerous a politicised and corrupt military can be. 

There’s much international reporting about how disappointing Aung San Suu Kyi, the recipient of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her championing of democracy, has apparently turned out to be. She’s been criticised for cosying up to the military and doing little to stop the Rohingya massacres, but seriously, to expect one woman to transform her fragmented (with at least 14 major ethnic groups), impoverished society into a go-ahead democratic concern is a bit like expecting one or two forceful, charismatic proto-bonobos to transform their world from a hunt-em-down, beat-em-up chimp arena into a paradise of tree-hugging, child-friendly libertine vegos. You don’t need a few, you need a barmy army with sex appeal to spare. Above all, the over-arching power of the military needs to be addressed. 

I’m being a bit unjust to chimps here, and I’m sure the Myanmar military aren’t all bad, especially now that women are joining the (lowest) ranks, but my point is that the country needs more female monks (they can only be thilashin in Myanmar, a lower order than the male bhikkhu), intellectuals and political leaders.

In 2016 the Asian Development Bank (ADB) released a paper, Gender equality and women’s rights in Myanmar: a situation analysis. In light of recent events, this positive and hopeful document, dealing with (admittedly limited) advances made and to be made in the future, makes for difficult reading. 

Not that pre-coup Myanmar was anything to be proud of, woman-wise. For example, the nation’s 2008 Constitution, while prohibiting gender discrimination in the appointment to government posts, states that ‘nothing in this section shall prevent appointment of men to positions that are naturally suitable to men only’. It may well be this clause in the Constitution that prevented Aung San Suu Kyi from becoming the nation’s President.

What would Simone de Beauvoir say? (My next bumper sticker or customised t-shirt). According to the ADB paper:

Global and regional indices and national data reflect continuing gender inequalities in Myanmar. The 2013 Gender Inequality Index ranked Myanmar 83rd of 187 countries, while the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index placed the country at 44th of 86 countries and 8th of nine countries in East Asia and the Pacific.

The nation’s labour force participation rate for males is almost double that for women – though you can bet that, as always, women are doing the majority of at-home work and ‘informal job sector’ work, with the usual inadequate and unreliable remuneration from their male bosses. Government ministries experienced female staff levels of just over 50% in the 2000s, though this fell away for mid-management staff and higher, and gender wage gaps are greater than in developed countries. 

Literacy rates nationwide are slightly lower for females than males, but this masks major disparities between urban and rural areas and between subcultures. Outside the major urban areas the disparity between male and female literacy is greater. 

Violence against women, human trafficking, and ‘rape in conflict’ were described as under-reported problems in a 2008 report by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The report singled out Rakhine province (later the scene of genocidal violence against its Muslim Rohingya population), stating that, ‘in addition to being subject to multiple forms of discrimination by the authorities, [women and girls] were also subject to conservative traditions and a restrictive interpretation of religious norms, which contribute to the suppression of their rights’.

In reading this ADB document, I’ve learned that the 30% rule (actually a target) came from the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995, though I don’t like to credit Beijing, or China, for anything much to do with the advancement of women (I’ll look at the situation in China in an upcoming post). The Beijing Platform for Action emerged from the Fourth World Conference on Women, which happened to be held in that city. 

The ADB report points out that female representation in parliament in Myanmar, though increasing, lags behind neighbours Cambodia and Laos (both of which are profoundly corrupt non-democracies). Remember we’re talking 2016 here. Thein Sein, the moderate President of Myanmar from 2011 to 2016, increased female representation in government towards the end of his period in office. I doubt if Min Aung Hlaing will be considering female representation a major focus as he fights, and doubtless butchers, to maintain power.

So, sadly, few points for bonobohood in Myanmar at present. It’s perhaps ironic, and in a strange way inspiring, that a lot of young women in the country are joining militias to fight for more recognition for their minority cultures. It could well be that the transformation that occurred to create bonobo society involved a bit of group female biffo too. After all, making love not war is something worth fighting for. 

References

https://www.adb.org/documents/gender-equality-and-womens-rights-myanmar-situation-analysis

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/first-thailand-now-myanmar-asia-163833714.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAHvx0y6PoiU83ZZP-ypfUZv8YQDEt3uSXjtYBQT-xhVASJ3WZmlDIwj9J5ulBBN5rRyRZ63YLmmhYsMg-oQ3fu6fxXQFCYloMimnQ3AFChDpBxbrYabr_9gTnMKuUtZtBo4nhQG0zVvKRsndL-etL-9XdTbYe4VC8-UAdA5MvjiT

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/02/myanmar-military-coup-joe-biden/617997/

Written by stewart henderson

February 26, 2021 at 12:00 pm

getting wee Donny 3: Georgia on his mind

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this list is from 2019, and so the list goes on…

Canto: So several pundits are claiming that Donny’s Georgia antics may pose the most immediate of his problems.

Jacinta: ‘I jes wanna find 11,780 votes, which is more than we have..’ That’s from the January 2 call to Brad Raffensperger, to be used in evidence.

Canto: Yes, the Georgia Secretary of State, a Republican, released this recorded phone call to the public, and has become a hero, and a target, ever since. 

Jacinta: The key word here is ‘find’ – as well as the number, of course. He could no doubt claim that he feels certain some votes were ‘lost’, accidentally or deliberately, by the vote-counters, whom he’d like to claim are opposition plants, but he only wants to find, with the help of the Secretary of State, enough to win the election in Georgia – which still wouldn’t win him the presidency.

Canto: Which raises the question – so obvious to investigators – as to whether he leaned on other close jurisdictions (Arizona from memory was one) to find other votes, considering that his target wasn’t just Georgia.

Jacinta: Must be hard on wee Donny, having to think of more than one problem state at a time. 

Canto: Apparently a new Georgia DA, Fani Willis, is looking to make a name for herself – and all power to her – by launching an investigation into the nappy-clad buffoon that United Staters, in their infinite wisdom, chose – or actually didn’t choose by some 3 million votes – as their numero 45. 

Jacinta: She’s been in the job for six weeks, and is destined to become quite the historical figure. Already the case might involve Lindsey Graham, Joker Giuliani and other trumpets trying to carry out wee Donny’s agenda. The key statute is ‘criminal solicitation to commit election fraud’, a phrase that plays in my ears like the music of the spheres.

Canto: Mmmm, sounds a bit clunky to me. ‘Conspiracy to commit treason’ sounds sweeter. 

Jacinta: Come on, he doesn’t want to betray his nation, he just wants to own it. 

Canto: True enough.

Jacinta: So this is a felony requiring at least a year in prison, and it’s surely as strong a case as can be had, and there may be more, including racketeering and conspiracy charges. But according to the NYT, Willis is a centrist who feels she has an obligation to follow the law in these matters. 

Canto: Actually she’s the Fulton County DA. How many DAs do they have in that country? 

Jacinta: One for every district presumably. That’s 94, according to the DoJ. Almost two per state, but presumably a state like Alaska would have one, and California several. But I’m looking at these districts, and Fulton County isn’t on there, and Fani Willis isn’t mentioned. Georgia apparently has three districts – northern, middle and southern – but it also has county DAs, and dog knows how many of them there are throughout the country. Anyway, Fulton County covers much of Atlanta, the state’s capital, so it’s pretty central. 

Canto: So, in this infamous phone call, wee Donny also issued threats – first, that he’d refuse to support the Georgia candidates for the Senate, who both went on to lose their elections.

Jacinta: Though I wouldn’t blame wee Donny for that – great grassroots work by the Democrats was, I prefer to think, the principal reason for Warnock’s and Ossoff’s wins. 

Canto: And secondly, Donny actually threatened Raffensperger with criminal charges if he didn’t comply with his orders. I’m reading this Slate article, which says, inter alia:

As election law expert Rick Hasen noted at the time, there is no question that Trump was asking Raffensperger to manufacture enough votes to overturn the Georgia election on the basis of paranoid delusions.

But I’d object to the term ‘paranoid delusions’. Donny’s just a manipulating windbag, it’s his only way of being. That means never ever losing, as he’s not adult enough – to put it mildly – to take it. Anyway, the Slate article lays out the law:

Any person who “solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or otherwise attempts to cause the other person” to falsify voting records is guilty of “criminal solicitation to commit election fraud in the first degree.” The crime is a felony offense, punishable by up to three years in prison (and no less than one year). An individual is culpable even if they failed to induce fraud.

Jacinta: So that seems pretty straightforward, but what with the role of money and dodgy lawyers and such, it doesn’t seem that anything to do with crime is straightforward in that country. Anyway, as mentioned, there’s a possibility that Lindsey Graham might be in trouble too, due to his ‘enquiries’ about maybe tossing out some mail-in ballots, and Joker Giuliani for promoting conspiracies about the election. 

Canto: But the Georgia republicans are making a desperate attempt to change the rules so that a ‘grand jury’ (United Staters love their ‘grand’ shite) would have to be drawn from the whole state rather than Fulton County, which is a Democrat stronghold. But they don’t have the numbers, apparently. But it’s an indication that republicans are still keen to go along with wee Donny and his government-stuffing ways to hell and back.  

Jacinta: So, lots to look forward to. We might turn our attention to the new administration’s Department of Justice next. Merrick Garland has a senate confirmation hearing on February 21, and no doubt republicans will throw dumb partisan questions at him, but he’ll be confirmed, and I don’t think he’ll be able to avoid all the corruption that clearly went on at the behest of wee Donny. 

Canto: I’ve heard he’s also going to make domestic terrorism a major focus – so look out Antifa, or something…

Jacinta: Yes, on that matter, I’m wondering if wee Donny will actually get caught up in all the charges resulting from the January 6 events, since so many seem to be now saying Donny made us do it, if it weren’t for wee Donny, etc etc. 

Canto: Oh let me count the many many ways to get wee Donny…

References

Donald Trump may be charged in Georgia court for election fraud, conspiracy (video)

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/02/trump-raffensperger-election-fraud-criminal-charges.html

Georgia Republicans Are Trying to Change the Rules for Fani Willis’s Prosecution of Donald Trump for Election Crimes

 

 

Written by stewart henderson

February 20, 2021 at 12:13 am

getting wee Donny 2: tax stuff etc

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this goes back to 2016, but still no sign of justice

Canto: So there’s the more general matter of tax evasion, tax fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud and so forth – we’re no tax or finance experts, but we’re prepared to learn, for the fun of finding out how bad things might be for wee Donny.

Jacinta: Or should be, given effective white-collar crime legislation, and limitations to these endless appeals processes. By the way, I heard there was more news on the attempt, or desire, to evict him from Mar-a-Largo. Can that be included as a legal problem?

Canto: Why not? And what is this ‘largo’ thing? I’ve seen Key Largo – some thing to to with the Florida Keys…

Jacinta: That’s an archipelago, nothing to do with the keys to Mar-a-Lago (spelt without the ‘r’). Largo’s a coastal town in Florida, so I don’t know if it’s worth connecting the dots. As to tax matters, I heard a while back that ‘forensic accounting experts’ have been hired re investigations into wee Donny’s taxes, which reporters say is a big deal.

Canto: Okay so we’re leaving Mar-a-Lago for now (unlike Donny). Yes The Washington Post reported on this in late December. It concerns the DA’s office for Manhattan, headed by Cyrus Vance. They’ve been investigating Donny since 2018, initially in regard to alleged hush money payments made in 2016. But the investigation has since expanded to include insurance fraud as well as bank and tax fraud.

Jacinta: Stuff that appears to have been overlooked for decades. In fact they admit as much, since ‘the probe is believed to encompass transactions spanning several years’, according to the paper. All of this comes ‘from sources close to the case’  – Vance and his hirelings are naturally keeping mum about it all.

Canto: It’s explosive stuff, but heartening. Anyway, the forensics company they’ve allegedly hired is FTC consulting, and it’s a bonafide ‘global business advisory firm’. The paper mentions an ‘ongoing grand jury investigation’, so that’s a thing. We don’t do grand juries in Australia, so we might have to learn about that. 

Jacinta: Vance’s office is battling to obtain years of tax returns and such from Mazars USA, the accounting firm Donny uses. It’s described as ‘an independent member firm of Mazars Group, an international audit, tax and advisory organization with operations in over 90 countries’. It sounds legit – but everything wee Donny touches dies, according to Rick Wilson – so I suspect Mazars USA is feeling the breath of death on its nape right now. The tax records are described as the final piece in an already well-advanced investigation. We shall see. 

Canto: So this is a big one. Donny’s lawyers, such as they are, have been fighting all this, and the Supreme Court has already rejected the idea that he was immune from state court proceedings as Prez, which he ain’t no more. But of course the litigation has continued, with Donny’s lawyers claiming the subpoena for this financial stuff was ‘overbroad’ and issued ‘in bad faith’, and now it’s before the Supreme Court again, though Donny is no longer able to hide behind the presidency – which of course he should never be able to do. But in a banana republic…

Jacinta: Apparently he’s been granted a stay by the Supreme Court, and the technicalities of this are unclear to me, and I’ve been finding it hard to get free info about the length of this stay, so it’s frustrating. 

Canto: It’s a ridiculous ongoing situation, hopefully an only in the USA situation – I pity any other country that allows such legal horrors. But with Donny now being unemployed, there should be an easier path to justice – it’s much easier to charge unemployed people there than anyone else. 

Jacinta: Hmmm. I found reporting from early October that a federal appeals court then ruled against Donny’s lawyers, who tried to block the handover of tax documents to the Manhattan DA. Presumably that’s when the lawyers took it to the Supreme Court, and they granted a stay, presumably in mid-October. 

Canto: Mein gott, so what exactly is a stay, for what reasons can it be given, and surely there’s a time limit on them?

Jacinta: Good questions, but I’ve found a very interesting article by Richard Lempert on the Brookings Institution website from October 19, when an appeal was on its way to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Supreme Court should end things now – meaning then. In its first para, I learn that the New York Times already has Donny’s tax returns – the stuff Vance is filing for – and is sharing them with the public. Whether that’s the whole kit and caboodle, I don’t know. And of course Donny claims the docs are false. Anyway the article points out that Vance is asking for more than tax returns – supporting docs are needed to prove criminality. The article then goes into a lot of legal detail about subpoenas, Article 2 powers, precedent and how courts deliver their rulings, but Lempert’s essential view is that Donny’s legal arguments in the initial case were weak, and they’ve come up with nothing new in the interim. So the Supreme Court shouldn’t take up the case. 

Canto: But they have taken it up?

Jacinta: It does seem as if they have. Or maybe not. An article from Bloomberg, dated January 20, so quite recently, said the case was ‘now before the Supreme Court’, but that they hadn’t acted on it for three months, without providing reasons. The pay wall descended before I could work out whether that meant they’d deferred looking at the case or they’d deferred a decision to look at the case. But their decision may not matter, as apparently Vance may have sufficient material for his case already. I suppose only he and his legal team would know. 

Canto: Michael Cohen was on cable news recently, arguing for SDNY to swiftly move on the matter of campaign finance violations, for which he was jailed, and also expressing an expectation that the new head of the DOJ, Merrick Garland, once approved – which may ultimately take another month – would look into Donny’s financial affairs as president,  which will be interesting. Biden seems to want the DOJ to keep out of politics, but have Donny’s financial shenanigans ever really been political?

Jacinta: We can only await events. Meanwhile, there seems to be a real concern about the dangers of neo-fascism in the country. Those right-wingers who’ve gone against wee Donny recently seem to be running scared. Could the fear of reprisals be inhibiting legal action against wee Donny? That’s another thing to look into, as well as the situation in Georgia, where they have pretty strong evidence of serious attempts to overturn a fair election. Still a lot to get to…

References

https://www.law.com/newyorklawjournal/2020/10/13/trump-asks-supreme-court-for-stay-of-manhattan-das-subpoena-for-tax-returns-arguing-2nd-circuit-ruling-showed-confusion/?slreturn=20210113233030

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/trump-tax-returns-new-york-investigation/2020/12/29/11c43a38-43c8-11eb-b0e4-0f182923a025_story.html

Trump’s tax returns: Why the Supreme Court should end things now

Written by stewart henderson

February 15, 2021 at 2:08 pm

getting wee Donny 1: 2016 campaign finance violations

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one of wee Donny’s ‘reimbursement’ cheques – a smoking gun?

Canto: So we both agree that free will is a myth, and that this has major implications for crime and punishment, but we’re also both human – at least I am – and we want to see nasties being punished, and in fact we delight in it. As a person with a lifelong loathing of bullies, I’ve too often fantasised about bullying those bullies, even torturing them endlessly. And I do wonder if my sudden interest in US politics from the time wee Donny looked like he might bullshit his way into their presidency has more to do with gunning for his downfall than anything else.

Jacinta: Yes we think similarly but we have the capacity also to step back and be more analytical and curious about a system that allows such an obvious scammer to take up the very top position in what so many ‘Americans’ – and I put that in quotes coz I’ve heard quite a few inhabitants of that double continent getting annoyed that these ‘Americans’ refer to themselves in that exclusivist way…

Canto: But what should we call them? Yanks? Uessians? United Staters?

Jacinta: Yeah, good, let’s call them United Staters from now on. So many United Staters think they have the world’s greatest nation…

Canto: As the Brits did in their days of glory in the 19th century…

Jacinta: True, the myth of economic power entailing moral superiority dies hard, and jingoism is a major barrier to national self-analysis. So we, as outsiders and non-nationalists might be better equipped to examine why it is that wee Donny, with his so obvious incompetencies, manipulations and deceptions, has gotten so far and damaged so much, with so few consequences. What does it say about the USA, are these deficiencies shared by other nations (leaving aside the out-and-out dictatorships and undemocratic oligarchies), and can the USA redeem itself by imposing some sort of justice on this character, for the first time in a long lifetime?

Canto: Yes, so this series, ‘getting wee Donny’ will look at his crimes, at the system that allowed them, and how the system might reform itself, or transform itself into something more respectable, so that nothing like wee Donny can arise again. And this means not only looking at their criminal justice system, but the anti-government ideologies that have supported wee Donny’s destruction of responsible and effective government. There’s a malaise in that country, which might prevent wee Donny from facing justice, for fear that the malaise turn into a pandemic of self-slaughter. Are we facing the downfall of the USA?

Jacinta: Unlikely. Too many WMD for a start. And the nation has a lot of smarts, in spite of all the morons.

Canto: Morons with guns, and lots of them. And enough brains to make plans…

Jacinta: Yes, there are a lot of obstacles to getting wee Donny, but first I want to look at the plans to get him, now he’s unprotected by infamous and absurd claims to presidential immunity, unworthy of any decent nation.

Canto: Actually, I’d like to look at how Australia and other Westminster-based nations, and other democracies in general, deal with crimes committed by political leaders while in office. I agree with you that immunity for those in the highest political office is absurd, they’re the last people to be given immunity, and should have a whole panoply of laws applied to them, but look at Israel, where Netanyahu appears to be getting away with all sorts of dodgy behaviour. We can’t go blaming the US without checking out any possible beams in the eyes of others, including ourselves.

Jacinta: Haha well I wouldn’t describe the USA as having nothing more than a mote in its political eye, but point taken. We’ll look at the legal accountability for Australian and other political leaders as we go along, but wee Donny is now a private citizen, and I recall that one of his first crimes in relation to the whole presidency thing occurred when he was a candidate, and he paid off a couple of women to remain silent during his campaign. His then lawyer and ‘fixer’ Michael Cohen was sentenced and imprisoned for a range of crimes, including campaign finance violations at the behest of ‘individual one’, known to be wee Donny. This was confirmed by Cohen in congressional testimony, and two cheques signed by Donny, reimbursing Cohen, were presented as part of that testimony. Six other reimbursement cheques were shown to the New York Times, but it seems none of these cheques provide details of what these reimbursement were for, if indeed they were reimbursements at all.

Canto: Mmm, so far, so weak. It would be worth having a closer look at that part of Cohen’s charge sheet that includes, from memory, two charges of campaign finance violations. Also, did his sentencing go into detail about what part of it was specifically for those violations? Clearly the fact that he was convicted of of campaign finance violations makes some sort of evidence in itself. Cohen wasn’t the one running for office, he did it for Donny, as the charge sheet presumably states…

Jacinta: There’s a press release from the Southern District of New York from August 2018 stating that Cohen pleaded guilty to, among other things, one count of ‘Causing an unlawful corporate contribution’ and one count of ‘Making an excessive campaign contribution’, each of which could incur a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. But here’s the thing – Cohen pleaded guilty, and wee Donny would never do that. And another problem is that, according to Stephen Weissman, writing in the Washington Post, there’s a legal requirement for campaign finance violations to be ‘wilful’, that is, done with knowledge that they’re illegal.

Canto: So in some cases, ignorance of the law is an excuse.

Jacinta: Well, yes, perhaps because some kinds of law, like these, are intricate and complex, and it might be easy to break them in all innocence.

Canto: Innocent wee Donny, sure. I think you could make a case stick here.

Jacinta: Hmmm. We’ll have to wait and see – until after this empêchement shite has failed – if SDNY goes ahead on this front. Meanwhile there are many other trails – and possible trials – to follow.

References

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/how-michael-cohen-broke-campaign-finance-law

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/03/07/why-trump-probably-wont-get-trouble-campaign-finance-violations/

https://www.vox.com/2019/2/27/18243038/individual-1-cohen-trump-mueller

https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/michael-cohen-pleads-guilty-manhattan-federal-court-eight-counts-including-criminal-tax

Written by stewart henderson

February 12, 2021 at 11:09 am

a bonobo world etc 28: finding connections through difference

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some of the language and cultural groups in modern China

Our human world is divided into many nations – 195 or so according to the UN, but this all depends on how you define the term. We know that there are many peoples who see themselves as separate and distinct from the nations they happen to inhabit, and prefer to consider themselves a nation of some sort, and some have named their nation – the Uyghurs of East Turkistan, the Kurds of Kurdistan, the Catalans of Catalonia, the Basques of Cantabria (and many other names) and the Samaritans of Samaria, to name a few – while others, such as the Hazaras, the Rohingyas, the Yorubas and the Tamils, may or may not have specific named territories they would like to claim as their own. In Australia, some have spoken of hundreds of Aboriginal nations, generally associated with language groups. And since we know of about 7,000 existent languages, each associated with particular cultures, there seems to be something of a barrier to any simplistic notions of globalism and global problem-solving. 

This is the difference between human apes and other apes. We have divided into distinct groupings, which it seems, our ancestral hominins, going back to CHLCA – the chimpanzee (and bonobo)-human last common ancestor – didn’t do. But is this true? Could it be that the neanderthals and others formed separate cultural groupings within themselves? And how is it that language, which creates such barriers among peoples today, became so diversified as we went forth and multiplied? 

Clearly language is a near-unique human capacity. The neanderthals, though, are now known to have possessed a hyoid bone – a horseshoe-like bone in the neck – which may argue for speech capacity. Hyoid fossils have also been found attributed to Homo heidelbergensis and dated back half a million years. If these extinct hominins had language, was it the same language? Language is a means not only of communication but of instilling and handing down cultural praxis, so who knows? The idea of sub-dividing Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalensis and perhaps others into distinct language and cultural groups really makes the brain spin. 

Today, with the greater ease of travel, and with the general tendency of humans, and most other species, to migrate from regions of great danger and few resources to regions of greater resources and fewer dangers, we find that the most economically successful countries are becoming increasingly multicultural, and naturally those countries seek to make a virtue out of necessity. 

There are clearly positives and negatives about multiculturalism. Minority cultures understandably seek the comfort of their familiars, leading to ghettoism. They also have vulnerabilities that are exploited by the dominant culture, taking on low-paid or under-the-counter work eschewed by others, and accepting poorer housing and other conditions. Discomfort with difference works both ways of course, and it has been the case that, going back to the days of the early slave-dependent cultures of Greece and Rome, slaves were considered something less than human even by the intelligentsia (and women in somewhat similar ways). The difference today is, or should be, that we know how nonsensical those attitudes were. And yet they persist, in muted form. 

There’s also the view, put forward for example by Sam Harris in The moral landscape and, in different form, by David Deutsch in The beginning of infinity, that some cultures are objectively superior than others, especially in terms of law, science and progress. Their general argument is that those cultures that are static or archaic in terms of lore and ideology need to ‘get with the program’ being followed by most developed countries in terms of the pursuit of deeper and richer knowledge and the tools and technologies that flow from that knowledge. And yet, paradoxically, some of that knowledge and research informs us that indigenous cultures in particular, such as existed for tens of thousands of years in Australia, developed practices and technologies over that period which allowed them to live in relative comfort in a landscape that new arrivals from Europe found inherently inhospitable – though of course those new arrivals didn’t by any means give up, and eventually found ways to exploit enough of the land and resources to become populous and dominant. 

In reflecting on all these differences and tensions, we need, I think, to always keep in mind how situated we are. None of us chose the cultures we were born into, and this heavy fact should help determine our sympathy for those born into more or less different cultures, as well as those born better or worse off in our own. And there are many features common in our humanity. As a teacher of international English, I’ve taught students from scores of different nations and cultures, and clearly from a range of different positions within those cultures, and I’ve been struck by the broad lines of humanity they share, in terms of humour, ambition, anxiety, desire and wonder. All of these emotions or traits are a kind of human substrate, a permanent foundation upon which human cultures, which come and go and transform and so forth, are constructed, sometimes obscuring the view of the basic humanity that really connects us. 

The language barriers may be about to erode, by means of technology – at least the barriers between major languages, such as Mandarin and English (the minority languages will inevitably get the rough end of this particular stick). Electronic translators are a long way from the Babel fish thought up by Douglas Adams in The hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy, a device like Apple’s AirPods which instantly translates every language in the universe into your own, but earpiece translators are already with us, and are bound to improve. It’s surely better than having everyone learn the same, dominant language. But the real promise of this technology is the promise of collaboration, and the reduction of truly artificial, or human-created, differences, and strengthening that human foundation that underlies those differences. Something to hope for. 

 

References

Madelaine Bohme, Rudiger Braun & Florian Breier, Ancient bones, 2020

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-25465102

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/feb/17/is-the-era-of-artificial-speech-translation-upon-us

Written by stewart henderson

February 9, 2021 at 2:13 pm

a bonobo world etc 27: male violence and the Myanmar coup

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Myanmar protests, from the safety of Thailand

So the military has staged another coup in Myanmar. Bearing in mind the overwhelming maleness of most militaries, let’s take a closer look. 

A very interesting article was published in the US Army journal Military Review in late 2019 about women in the Myanmar armed forces, which also gave an overview of the role of women in the society as a whole. The article emphasises women’s positive role in trying to establish peace in the country, and at the same time describes in mixed terms the role of women in the military (they make up about 0.2% of the armed forces). Not surprisingly, they want to see more women joining the military, while praising recent increases. Which raises, of course, the idea of a military as a force for peace. Here’s an interesting example of the article’s thinking:

The speed and spread of Myanmar’s peace, prosperity, and progress depends on the elimination of violent conflicts in its border areas. However, bringing peace to these regions has been extremely slow (almost to a stalemate with some of the ethnic armed groups). As the peace process creeps forward at a snail’s pace, the increased participation of Myanmar women should be seriously considered to quicken the stride. According to data from the Center for Foreign Relations, women and civil-society’s participation in the peace negotiations increases the chance of success by 36 percent, and obtained peace is more enduring. In order for Myanmar women to participate effectively in the peace process, they must be given opportunities to upgrade their capability and capacity. Opportunity to serve in the armed forces is one of the ways to elevate their capability, capacity, and experience to participate in the security sector.

This I think speaks to a modern rethinking of the military as essentially a peace-keeping force, which is essentially a good thing, though in the very next sentence the author writes that the purpose of the military is ‘to win the nation’s wars and to prevail against enemies’. Note the lack of any ethical content in the remark. The reason that I would never for a moment consider joining any military is because I’m profoundly anti-authoritarian. I can’t bear to be told by someone else how to stack boxes, let alone who to kill and maim for the apparent benefit of my country. Australia has been involved in two wars since I’ve lived here, in Vietnam and Iraq. Neither of them had anything to do with ‘keeping Australia (or any of its allies) safe’. They had more to do with advantaging the invading countries at the expense of the invaded. Warfare is getting rarer, and more technological, which I suppose means that brute force, and physical strength, is less important, but to me the best effect women would have is in negotiations and mediation to prevent wars, and of course they’re already doing a great job of that worldwide.

Myanmar’s overwhelmingly Buddhist society is very male-dominated – I don’t know if that’s due to Buddhist precepts or because the Buddhism is interpreted through a traditionally patriarchal society – and this will impede any possible transformation of its military. The article has another comment, which can surely be generalised beyond the military:

Research has shown that a critical mass of 30 percent is needed in order to see the full benefits of female integration and gender perspective within the organization and at leadership levels. However, the drop-offs and second-generation bias can impede the attainment of 30 percent.

Yes, aiming for 30% female control of the military, political systems, the business sector, and all wealth and power, just for starters – and by 2050, since the international community loves to set targets – would be a most worthy thing. But watch out for the backlash. 

But returning to Myanmar today, and the coup. But first, I recommend an excellent background piece on the problems in faction-ridden Myanmar, and the role of women in fighting for minority recognition, written last November for The New Humanitarian. The author wasn’t able to put their name to the piece due to security concerns. The piece was written immediately after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) scored a landslide victory in a national election, winning over 80% of the vote and increasing its 2015 majority. But, in a familiar refrain, the military-based opposition party, the USDP, claimed fraud and vote-rigging, claims that are apparently as baseless as those of the Trumpets. The apparent villain in all this is military chief Min Aung Hlaing, a corrupt thug who was sanctioned by the US and the UK for his role in the 2017 Rohingya massacres. He is claiming justification due to the ‘failure to act on widespread election corruption’ (I can’t help reflecting that Trump’s clear contempt for the military and everyone involved in it is a clear factor in his never getting to be the dictator he wants to be). However, the massive failure of the USDP in the recent elections may make it difficult for the coup’s long-term success this time around – but the immediate concern now is about violence, suffering and death in an impoverished, heavily factionalised nation. 

The international community will need to play a role in universally condemning the coup – though the Chinese government, well-known for its macho thuggery, is already soft-pedalling its response. China is Myanmar’s principal economic partner.

And I strongly suspect that, with Min Aung Hlaing in charge, that 30% critical mass of female participation in any field of economic, political or military activity will be the last thing his ‘government’ will be thinking about.    

References

https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/November-December-2019/Byrd-Myanmar-Gender-Armed-Forces/

https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2020/11/18/myanmar-women-army-arakan-rakhine-female-soldiers-peace

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/1/who-is-min-aung-hlain

Written by stewart henderson

February 3, 2021 at 5:02 pm

hedge funds, the stock market, and other unknowns

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A GameStop shop in Florida – it’s a US thing, but with retailers in Australia

So there’s a big story in the USA to do with hedge funds, stocks and the little guys upsetting the big guys, finance-wise, or something like that. Time for a closer look, comme on dit (I know far more about French than finance).

Having been poor (in first-world terms) all my life – and work-shy, because I’m constitutionally anti-authoritarian, and when you’re a nobody and a know-nothing, you have to work for bosses – I’ve tried to salve my guilt for living mostly off the public purse by being a more or less prolific writer and reader. Of course I’ve had brief jobs – in factories, offices, restaurants, schools, a hospital and a farm – and I did eventually manage to get to university, again off the public purse, incurring a debt I’ll never be able to repay. So during this misfit life I’ve learned a lot, in a general way, about history, politics and the various sciences, but virtually nothing about finance, the province of the wealthy.

Some preliminary remarks. Most wealthy people, surely, come from wealth. They have wealthy parents, wealthy friends and associates. They get advice from those around them about increasing their wealth, minimising losses, investment, property and so forth. I’ve heard this kind of talk at restaurant tables and in wealthy homes where I did occasional gardening work. It was like listening to people speaking a foreign language, and as psychologists tell us, we feel anxious, and sometimes hostile, when we listen to a language we don’t understand. They even have a fancy name for it – xenoglossophobia. 

The best way to overcome phobias, so I’m told, is to expose yourself, little, by little, to the fear-inducing thing. It’s never too late, so here goes. 

What is a hedge fund? The ABC (Australia) business reporter David Chau tries to explain:

Essentially, it’s a fancy word for an “alternative” investment partnership that has the freedom to invest aggressively in a broad range of financial products. They’re actively managed, and more expensive to invest in, compared to other funds. Many of them use a “2 and 20” compensation structure. It means hedge fund managers are paid a 2 per cent commission (of the assets they’re managing), and 20 per cent of profits (above a certain benchmark) each year. Even if the fund manager does nothing (or worse, loses money on your investments), they’ll still get paid their 2 per cent. Their goal is to maximise investor returns, but only “sophisticated investors” can join. To qualify, you typically need to own about $2.5 million worth of net assets, or earn $250,000 per year in gross income (for the past two financial years). So a hedge fund’s clients tend to be rich people, or big institutional investors (like an insurance company or superannuation fund).

The idea, clearly, is to invest in a company that you think will do well in the future. Or one that you want to do well, because you think what it’s doing/manufacturing etc is positive for the community, or the world. I presume, for example, that Elon Musk’s fantastical personal wealth, which he derives from his companies, is a result of people investing in those companies because they believe in what he’s doing – though that may be a naïve view. 

In any case, clearly, hedge funds are for the rich who hope to get richer. It’s like placing a bet (though presumably you can do this without joining a hedge fund), putting money into shares, calculating that you can make a profit by selling them later. This makes things a bit weird, though. You buy shares in a company because you believe it will do well, so then why would you want to sell those shares later? Presumably because you’ve lost faith in that company? Or is it just to make a profit, knowing that the shares you’re selling will be snapped up by others? But why not keep them, if the price is going up? But surely you have to sell at some time, to make a profit? To liquidate your assets? 

Okay, more questions than answers. Short selling, or shorting, as David Chau and others explain it, involves somehow borrowing shares from the market and then selling them, believing or knowing that their value will tank. After it has tanked they buy the shares again and give them back to the market at their current reduced value, and pocket the difference. Which sounds like a very dodgy practice to me, an easy or lazy way of making money – looking for businesses that are failing, which given our rapidly changing economic and technological environment, wouldn’t be difficult to find, and cashing in on the misery of those businesses. So how is this allowed, and how can you get away with selling borrowed stock? How can it be your stock to sell? I’ve watched Sal Khan, who of course I hugely admire, talking about this, but his explanations about the possible benefits of shorting seem vague to me. 

All of this attempt at understanding comes, of course, due to the ‘GameStop’ bubble which is bound to burst in the USA. Hedge funds and their rich customers have been shorting the stock of this gaming franchise called GameStop, as well as other brick-and-mortar companies that have been losing business, either due to the pandemic or to changing consumer practices. People on Reddit, a social website I’ve never used, have been doing the opposite, buying shares and doing everything to inflate the share price of these companies, and everyone’s awaiting the fallout, or the train-wreck as one pundit described it. These Reddit investors have been able to do this using an app called RobinHood, a name with obvious connotations. This has of course led to an outcry from the rich-getting-richer crowd, and the RobinHood CEO stepped in, banning the buying of these declining stocks, but not the selling. Which led to an outcry from the Reddit ‘rookie investor’ crowd, which led to RobinHood modifying its position and allowing some stock purchases. A number of financial pundits I’ve listened to, who seem largely sympathetic to the anti-hedge fund investors, are shaking their heads and predicting it will all end in tears, and not so much for the hedge fund zillionaires. Ain’t it always the way. 

Meanwhile the the wealthy professional hedge fund types are decrying the behaviour on the Reddit subgroup WallStreetBets as ‘unsophisticated’, though it’s clearly because the newbies are, quite deliberately, upsetting the applecart of making a profit from business misery. Having said that, they’re clearly trying to cash in as well. So I really don’t know quite what to make of it all. Like just about everyone else. 

Stop press (sort of): I’m not much of a gamer, so I didn’t have any idea whether GameStop had a presence here in Australia. Apparently, EB Games, which I’ve seen around, is our principal retailer for GameStop. This Crikey article, which clearly takes a much more negative line on hedge funds than Sal Kahn does, points out that EB games employs, or did before the pandemic, between 2000 and 4000 workers, and that they, like so many others, are impacted by hedge fund shorting. Here’s what the Crikey journalist, Christopher Warren, has to say:

Rather than leave matters to the actual marketplace of buyers and sellers, the masters of the universe in the financial markets decided to hurry on the collapse of retail by using “shorts”, borrowing shares to sell now, buy back (cheaper) later. The play has been hollowing out capitalism for 30-odd years in a five-step death spiral: manufactured share price collapse through shorting, which allows a cheap private equity buyout, who gut through sackings and closures, then relaunch or rebrand, before quietly closing. In journalism, movies and TV, the hedge funds are proudly the misunderstood anti-hero. Take the fictional Bobby Axelrod in Stan’s anchor program Billions: “We’re white blood cells scrubbing out bad companies, earning for our investors, preventing bubbles. A hedge fund like mine is a market regulator.” The reality is that hedge funds create no value. They’re money-sloshing machines that make money on turnover, not results. This means they’re incentivised to “do something” to maximise turnover, whether that’s moving the market through shorts, falsifying results (hello Bernie Madoff!) or offering, umm, alternative services like the late Jeffrey Epstein.

I’m inclined to take this line myself, but I’m not informed enough to be sure. And there are so many more interesting things to learn about than financial markets.

References

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-01-30/hedge-funds-the-gamestop-bubble-and-wall-street/13104846

Mehdi Hasan Gets a Personal Khan Academy Lesson on the GameStop Stock Squeeze | The Mehdi Hasan Show (video)

GameStop Surge Shows Power Shift On Wall Street | Stephanie Ruhle | MSNBC (video)

https://www.news.com.au/finance/money/investing/gamestop-stock-surges-again-after-trading-app-robinhood-lifts-restrictions-for-rookie-investors/news-story/76c47084a2a995e155512eec58d62d0c

 

Written by stewart henderson

February 1, 2021 at 2:59 pm

a bonobo world 26: boys and girls at work and play

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Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, brilliant women with great dress sense

In her introduction to The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir wrote this: 

.. the truth is that anyone can clearly see that humanity is split into two categories of individuals with manifestly different clothes, faces, bodies, smiles, movements, interests and occupations; these differences are perhaps superficial; perhaps they are destined to disappear. What is certain is that for the moment they exist in a strikingly obvious way.

A whole book could easily be written – some already have – to expand on this apparently mundane observation. Today in the west, or the developed world, or Anglo-American or Euro-American society (I never know quite what to call it), there are no set rules, of course, about how people should dress, or behave, or work or play, gender-wise, but there are conventions and social pressures, and I’ve noted encouraging developments, as well as their opposite.

A close female friend expressed a certain despair/disdain the other day in telling me that Dr Jill Biden, aged 69, wore stilettos for her husband’s confirmation as US President. I share that friend’s conviction that stilettos should only be used as murder weapons. In any case men only wear stilettos when in drag, which is all too rare. 

On clothing and accessories, while today’s variety is inspiring and liberating for both sexes, one still sees frustrating gender-based tendencies everywhere. Frills and furbelows have long been all the go for female formal attire, while tuxes or frock-coats are de rigueur for males, compleat with ties, bowed or straight. These traditions tend to emphasise gender differences you’d never notice in bonobos, though there is a welcome playfulness of gender-swapping attire among the elites, seldom replicated in your local bar or restaurant. 

What has constantly surprised me, as a person who spent his youth in the sixties and seventies, when déclassé jeans and t-shirts, in colourful variety, were common and pleasantly informal, is that those decades didn’t establish a trend of ambisexual dress – just as I’ve been surprised that traditional marriage didn’t get thrown out as seemed to be on the cards in those days. Marriage today appears to represent much of human ambiguity – a commitment to monogamous ideals even while recognising their limitations, even their absurdity. Conservatives argue that loyalty is a much undervalued value, but it’s always been possible to have more than one loyal friend, with benefits. Bonobos manage to have a bunch of them. Bonobos aren’t being rad, they’re just being bonobos. Which raises the question, what is it, to be humans?

David Deutsch, in The beginning of infinity, celebrates and encourages our infinite possibilities, to find solutions, to expand our outlooks, to achieve outrageously amazing things. He writes of the value of optimism over pessimism, and progress over stasis. I’m largely in agreement, but with some reservations. He has nothing to say about community, for example. Community, it seems to me, has become ever more important as change has become more rapid. As Deutsch and others have pointed out, during the many thousands of years when humans lived the hunter-gatherer life, with no doubt many variations, life simply didn’t change from generation to generation. And as long as that life was sustainable, there was little need for new developments, new hunting or grinding implements, new forms of shelter or clothing. So, nobody was out of date or old-fashioned, there were no old fuddy-duddies you wouldn’t be seen dead with. In fact, quite the opposite – the elders would have been more expert at the latest technology, developed in the previous aeon, than the youngsters, who would marvel at how those old guys’ boomerangs always came back (okay, they were never actually intended to). Given this relatively static society, it’s hardly surprising that elders were more respected, for their skills, experience and store of communal lore, than today’s nursing home denizens. And, as always, I’m aware of the multifarious nature of modern human societies, static and otherwise, to which I have little access, beyond book-larnin. Most of these societies or cultures, though, are today forced to interact with others, creating identity confusions and divided loyalties by the brainload.

Anyway, sticking with the White Anglo-Saxon ex-Protestant culture I’m familiar with, I’m a bit shocked that, despite two or more waves of feminism in the last century or so, women are still earning less than men and paying more for what I would deem unnecessary accoutrements, including hairstyles, bling, fancy tattoos, make-up and the aforementioned frills and furbelows. I recently bought a ‘men’s’ stick deodorant, which seemed to me nothing more than an anti-perspirant, and which was identical to that of my female partner, only bigger, and cheaper! These are ‘first-world issues’, of course, but they reflect, in little, an exploitation of the feminine worldwide, which seems a hard nut to crack.  

There’s of course a thing about eternal youth, in regard to women, that should be addressed. Men in their fifties don’t wear make-up, at least not the ones I know. Quite a few women I know, in their fifties, and older, also don’t wear make-up, but let’s face it, most of them do – with all the expense, as well as the time and effort, this involves. They do it, presumably, to hide the effects of gravity, though gravity always wins, as Radiohead informs us. With men, apparently, gravity lends gravitas.

I’ve often – in fact, ever since adolescence  – imagined myself as female. Mostly lesbian female, though I did have an early period of male-male attraction. So, if I did turn out female, how would I behave, appearance-wise, now that I’m in my sixties? Would I wear an op-shop jacket, t-shirt (usually with some thought-bubble printing) and chino-type trousers, as I do now? I hope so. It’s a kind of unisex outfit for academic and sciencey people, the types I’ve always aspired to be. But unfortunately, feminists have recently written of the pink/blue divide in children’s clothing that’s stronger than ever, as well as the divide in toys – fighting, racing and danger versus dancing, cuddling and beauty. This appears to be driven by manufacturers and advertisers, who, like social media moguls, seem to derive a benefit from driving their customers down wormholes of like-mindedness. Not surprisingly, social psychologists find that children benefit from being more unisex in these choices – not a matter of turning them into their opposites, but seeing dolls and trucks as others see them, and generally being more colourful. And slowly, all too slowly, we’re following this advice, and seeing more male nurses and female truck-drivers than previously. Not to mention female white supremacists sporting submachine guns – but that’s only in the US, they do things differently there. And more males working in child-care? That’s another nut to crack.

References

Simone de Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe (1949), new translation 2009.

https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/play/gender-typed-toys

 

Written by stewart henderson

January 29, 2021 at 12:59 pm