an autodidact meets a dilettante…

a dialogue/monologue promoting humanism, science, skepticism, globalism and femocracy, and demoting ignorance, patriarchy, thuggery and zero-sum game nationalism

online shaming, some problems and perspectives

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Canto: So what exactly is online shaming, and do we need to worry about it?

Jacinta: It’s an extension of any kind of shaming, like in primary school when we picked on some misfit and ostracised her, because she was fat, or ugly, or ‘smelly’ or seemed somehow dysfunctional and a soft target. It was easy to do because we were in a group and our target was too weak to retaliate.

Canto: Did you really do that?

Jacinta: Mildly, peripherally, briefly, when I was very young. But the problem today with social media is this large-scale ganging up, because social media does tend to separate people into their own in-groups, which dehumanise those belonging to their out-groups. The example Jon Ronson gives in his book So you’ve been publicly shamed, and in various talks viewable online, is of a woman who makes a careless joke mocking views on AIDS and Africans is first taken to task by a ‘right-thinking’ in-group, and then character-assasinated in a sort of race to the top, or bottom, in terms of high dudgeon or indignation. All of this occurring on Twitter in a matter of hours, unbeknown to the target.

Canto: And you’ve given a fairly generic example there – a person tweets something careless, someone takes umbrage and retweets it, sometimes distorting it slightly, or adding some dark colour to it, and a kind of holier-than-thou hatred gets unleashed. But I must say, I’m not a Twitter user, so I’m very much out of this loop. What Ronson tells me is about the horrific power of Twitter, which makes me glad to be out of it. I like to think that I wouldn’t engage in that sort of thing myself, I’ve always been wary of crowds and of saying things to be popular, which is what this is partly about isn’t it?

Jacinta: Yes, part of it is about displaying your ‘virtue’ and allegiance to your in-group, but it often becomes very violent, and because of the online aspect, it can spread more rapidly and involve far more people than ye olde public square shaming. Reputations can be shredded and victims may find it difficult to recover.

Canto: But isn’t there good public shaming? I mean, I don’t know much about the Volkswagen scandal, how they duped the system and presented false data about diesel emissions, but you can imagine a scenario in which a car manufacturer tries to keep something dodgy about their data secret, and a disgruntled employee blows the whistle on Twitter, creating a firestorm of indignation and retribution.

Jacinta: That’s a good point but even that is very likely to get out of hand, with solid factual information mixing with bullshit and personal grievances. As a weapon, public shaming is always going to be a bit of a loose canon. Think of a company like Monsanto, which to a particular in-group is synonymous with Pure Evil, and just seems to bring out the worst of responses from the loopy left, no matter what it does.

Canto: So what’s the solution?

Jacinta: Not surprisingly, finding solutions is far easier than creating problems. But before I get into that – and you’ll probably guess what they are – thinking before you tweet, giving the benefit of the doubt, respecting diversity, watching out for mob behaviour… before I get into that, let’s look at the various forms or techniques of public shaming.

Canto: Well, there’s doxing – which comes from documents. Publishing or posting documentary info on someone, often private info, to harass, shame or expose something about them. This can be done for good or ill of course. There’s naming and shaming, which is often used against paedophiles or people released on parole or after serving a sentence, who are perceived as a danger to the public by some vigilante group or individual. There’s revenge porn – nude or ‘compromising’ photos often posted by jilted lovers, but also by computer hackers for various nefarious purposes. This, along with doxing and other forms of online targeting, can have permanent effects on the target’s career and reputation.

Jacinta: Yes, and there’s the ‘shaming’ of restaurants or products, often done in an organised way, and groups like ‘GetUp’ and ‘change.org’ who drive online petitions against companies or decisions they don’t like, and as you can see, this shaming can shade into ideological disputes such as environmentalism v big business, or even conspiracy theories. But I do notice that, in terms of individual shaming, women usually come out of it worse than men. The Justine Sacco shaming is an obvious example. The tweet she sent was extremely mild compared to those sent about her…

Canto: Apparently some black people found it offensive…

Jacinta: Well, come on, the ironic nature of the tweet has been explained countless times. It wasn’t hilariously funny, sure, but if you remain ‘offended’ then you’re one of those serially offended people who blight the lives of everyone who likes to engage in a bit, or a lot, of self-and-other-mockery.

Canto: But I’ve read that Sacco has recently been reinstated in the job she was sacked from as a result of the tweetstorm, and before that she was doing well in another job of a similar sort. So she hasn’t suffered much.

Jacinta: Clearly she’s very talented in her line of work, and good luck to her, but the level of abuse she suffered – often sexualised – tends to be reserved for women. And take the case of Adria Richards, also dealt with in Ronson’s book, which I haven’t read, but there’s an interesting online article about her. She was at a conference and heard two guys nearby having a private but loud conversation which included such sexual terms as ‘I’d fork his repo’ (I’ve no idea what that means) and ‘big dongle’ (not a term I would use – I prefer cock and prick). She found this offensive and tweeted as much, including a photo of the guys. One of the guys was sacked as a result, but when he himself tweeted about what he considered the underhand nature of what she did, the Twitter world turned on Richards big-time. She was sacked after a campaign by hackers launched a ‘distributed denial of service’ attack on her employer, and internet trolls gave her a horribly hard time with the usual disgusting invective that tends to get directed at women.

Canto: Well, I’ve read the article, and I agree that she was treated horribly, but I would say the over-reaction was on both sides. I must say that, to start with, if she was so offended by the lads’ remarks, why not turn round and ask them to shut up? And second, I don’t understand what’s so offensive about forking and repo and dongles, whatever they are. I presume they’re sexual terms but like you, I was brought up in a working-class environment where a cock was called a cock, a cunt a cunt and a fuck a fuck. Most euphemisms aren’t even comprehensible to me, let alone offensive.

Jacinta: Well I can only agree. I think it’s an American problem. But the first thing she should surely have done was ask them to desist if she was offended. It’s quite likely that they would have complied. There’s no mention of her ever doing that. And posting photos of someone online without their permission should be a big no-no. I already have friends who refuse that permission – they’ve become very wary of social media and I don’t blame them. So it was a ‘classic over-reaction’ as one commentator out it, but then to go after Richards in revenge was also wrong.

Canto: It’s a classic example of what’s being called the ‘weaponising’ of social media, people’s lives getting messed up because they can’t engage in straightforward communication, and need to parade their offendedness to the world. Let me tell you a story about trash-talking from my younger days. I was at a party with my girlfriend and we ended up staying the night, sleeping on the floor in a spare room, along with another girl, an old friend of my girlfriend, whom she hadn’t seen in ages. The two women ended up talking much of the night, or rather my girlfriend’s friend held forth in a long monologue about her high-octane sex life, describing a host of encounters in detail, comparing tackle and performances ad nauseum, all with a degree of contempt and mockery that made me wonder why she hadn’t switched to a more enjoyable hobby. However, it never once occurred to me to complain. I was no doubt fascinated at first, but the relentless inhumane carping soon turned me off. Now imagine if this hadn’t occurred way back in the eighties, imagine I was a different sort of person, and I’d recorded the whole thing on my smartphone and posted it online…

Jacinta: She would’ve suffered hell, which even she wouldn’t have deserved. Which brings us again to solutions. And really, at the moment it’s self-imposed solutions. I don’t know if there are any laws preventing us to post images of others without their permission, but they might have to be created. And of course it would be just about impossible to impose laws preventing people from making false or injurious statements about others online. Laws about hate speech are endlessly controversial, for obvious reasons. We’re only just waking up to the power of these social media sites to destroy reputations based on the tiniest of infractions, often misunderstood. The Adria Richards case perfectly illustrates this. Of course the owners and managers of these sites need to be part of the solution, but they’re loath to impose severe restrictions. I suspect it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

etcetera etcetera etcetera etcetera

Written by stewart henderson

March 31, 2018 at 5:17 pm

The rat park experiment and the war on drugs

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I’ve always intuitively felt that all drugs should be legal, along with just about everything else. I’m happy with age limits on drinking alcohol and driving cars – in fact I think the age for driving should be raised, based on evidence about youth and car accidents, but since all the evidence says that alcohol, along with tobacco, is one of the most dangerous and destructive of all consumable substances, and yet perfectly legal, why turn dope smokers, or sellers, into criminals?

Smoking tobacco kills 650 out of every hundred thousand people who use it, while using cocaine kills four.

I’d worked out that much as a teenager – it naturally took me a lot longer to work out my views on heroin, cocaine, acid, meth and other drugs I knew about mainly from TV. More recently, the Portuguese drug policy, which has decriminalised usage and invested in harm reduction and drug treatment services, and was introduced due to Portugal’s disastrous death toll due to HIV and other drug-related illnesses, has been held up as an alternative to a take-no-prisoners ‘war on drugs’ strategy which, like the old prohibition on alcohol in the US, has only led to a spike in organised crime and a massive boost for privatised prison systems (worth some $5 billion in the USA alone).

People overdose because [under prohibition] they don’t know if the heroin is 1% or 40%… Just imagine if every time you picked up a bottle of wine, you didn’t know whether it was 8% or 80% [or] if every time you took an aspirin, you didn’t know if it was 5 milligrams or 500 milligrams.”

Johann Hari’s book Chasing the scream: the first and last days of the war on drugs, from which all indented and bolded quotes here are taken, provides, inter alia, countless challenges to the war on drugs strategy. What causes people to become drug addicts? This is a very different question from – What causes people to take drugs? I take drugs all the time, more or less exclusively alcohol and caffeine. I’m not sure if caffeine is even considered a drug. In any case, I don’t think I have any chance of becoming addicted to either of them. Unlike Billie Holiday and many many others who live or have lived with unbearable psychic or physical pain, or a sense of total emptiness, or worthlessness, or loneliness.

And anyone can find themselves in these circumstances. They don’t even have to be human. Scientific studies and trials about the chemical impact of drugs, promoted by anti-drug governments, have often been conducted on rats. The most convincing of these studies, for the war-on-drugs advocates, involved feeding laboratory rats on cocaine or some other powerful drug, and observing the effect, which was predictably negative, and ultimately fatal. The obvious flaw in such a study was that the lab rat, caged, isolated, unstimulated, in just about the most reduced circumstances possible, had no alternative but to accept what was offered, and would have quite rationally preferred, if you can see reason in a rat, the excited state offered by the drug, whatever the consequences, to the death-in-life alternative of her lonely imprisoned situation.

“Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

As Hari points out, fatally flawed studies of this sort have been utilised – or weaponised, to use the in-jargon – in the war against drugs, which Trump has recently sought to re-energise to distract from his current woes. The most convincing rat study regarding drugs and addiction points to a very different approach, unsurprisingly. It’s described thoroughly in Kelly Lambert’s book The lab rat chronicles, which is a hymn of praise to ‘the planet’s most successful mammals’. Both Lambert and Hari share a strong sense of surprise and frustration at the failure of this study to be recognised as seminal, not only for drug use and abuse, but for our understanding of depression, anomie, nihilism and the like, or alternatively our understanding of the importance of community, activity and stimulation as a source of well-being.

Bruce Alexander, a psychology professor in Canada, noted, in his research on addicts in the seventies and eighties, that a disproportionate number of them came from dysfunctional backgrounds. This raised questions for him about the ‘hard drugs capture the brain and slowly kill it off’ scenario presented in the anti-drugs ads of the time. He noted that the rats in the experiments the ads were based on appeared to be kept in deprived, unstimulating conditions, so that even when given the choice between drug-laced and drug-free fluids, they preferred the drugs. Even an illusion of freedom was better than no freedom at all.

Alexander led a team at Simon Fraser University to develop an experiment to test how an enriched environment compares to a deprived environment in dealing with drug use and addiction. Lambert provides the detail:

The habitat they created was about two hundred times larger than the standard rat cage, had walls with colourful murals painted on them, as opposed to wire mesh, and contained lots of objects to interact with and climb on. Also important, rats didn’t occupy the new environment in isolation. Groups of sixteen to twenty rats of both sexes were placed in the environment. The pictures Alexander shared with me are fabulous: The rats interact with their complex environment, hang out with each other, and take naps in hiding places, for example. The researchers dubbed this new  stimulating environment ‘Rat Park’.

The results of this experiment should surprise no-one. The rats in the park were offered the option of two fluids, plain water and water laced with morphine, and a number of tests were designed to test the rats’ willingness to use the drug, including comparing Rat Park rats with those in isolated cages, shifting rats from isolation to Rat Park, and shifting them from Rat Park to isolation. The detailed results are presented in a Wikipedia article dedicated to the subject. The isolated rats went for the morphine pronto, whether or not they’d been moved from Rat Park or had never been there. The Rat Park rats showed a strong preference for the plain water – the females experimented with the morphine more than the males. Rats brought up in isolation and forced to drink only the morphine, chose water when switched to Rat Park and given the choice, and showed only minor withdrawal symptoms.

Alexander’s own conclusions dispel the myth of drug-induced addiction as essentially a one-way street, requiring a total ban on drugs:

The intense appetite of isolated experimental animals for heroin in self-injection experiments tells us nothing about the responsiveness of normal animals and people to these drugs. Normal people can ignore heroin … even when it is plentiful in their environment, and they can use these drugs with little likelihood of addiction … Rats from Rat Park seem to be no less discriminating.

We should be shocked at the way this study was treated, from the get-go. It was submitted to the two most influential science journals on the planet, Science and Nature, but was rejected for reasons unknown. It was finally published in Psychopharmacology, but was largely ignored by the scientific community until recently. Even today it is trashed by apparently vested interests, though its findings are backed up by many observations of human behaviour – for example, high-volume drug use by many American soldiers in Vietnam under conditions of stress and alienation, a usage which dropped off markedly upon return to the US – and by the success of more humane and supportive treatment of drug addicts in programs in Liverpool, England and Vancouver, Canada, and in countries such as Switzerland, Portugal and Uruguay, as reported by Hari.

‘Drug users are criminals first and addicts afterwards’ – Harry Anslinger 

So why was the study so badly treated? Hari points to the funding of much scientific study on drug addiction, which deals with chemical pathways rather than social conditions. Partly it’s because these studies are easier to engage in and are part of ‘hard science’ rather than the ‘soft science’ that explores environment and social connection. Much funding comes from the US government, whose successive iterations have supported the war on drugs approach. Follow-up studies have been done on Alexander’s work, which have more or less backed up his findings, but the best support for it is in the human arena, and it’s a no-brainer. Punishing, demonising and bullying addicts might make some strange people feel good about themselves, but it’s not going to help those addicts to kick their habit, or bring it under greater control. It’s inhumane apart from everything else, but the ‘everything else’ here includes promoting black markets, organised crime and a world of intimidation. Just look at Mexico, which at the behest of the US government and under the urging – or rather bullying – of its FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) chief, the notorious Harry Anslinger, declared war on drugs with catastrophic consequences. Now the whole nation is in the grip of organised crime gangs.

It’s a difficult time to fight against all this. It sometimes seems as if we’re confronting a wave of belligerent, ignorant populism around the world. I myself feel it’s time to push back against this more strongly, and I’m hoping to transform and further promote my blog in that cause. So this may be my last post under the ‘new ussr’ title. It’s time to get a bit more serious.

References

Kelly Lambert, The lab rat chronicles, 2011

Johann Hari, Chasing the scream, 2015

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park

https://theoutline.com/post/2205/this-38-year-old-study-is-still-spreading-bad-ideas-about-addiction?zd=1&zi=zwhiayrk

 

 

Written by stewart henderson

March 28, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Trump’s downfall: he won’t go quietly

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The attack on Andrew McCabe, including his precipitate firing, isn’t really a new low, but the fact that it was accompanied by so much Trumpeting invective, followed by the old – but less often seen recently – invective against Team Mueller, all stems IMHO from the subpoena on Trump’s businesses and their financing. This spells Trump’s doom, but it may take some time. Meanwhile Team Mueller is faced with a speedy assault, and a possible attempt to fire Mueller while whipping his scarily loyal base. The attempt by his lawyer, Dowd, surely at the Trump’s urging, to get Mueller to close proceedings, was predictably met with silence, and the promise of a (small) number of Republicans to protect Mueller. But Trump’s behaviour seems to be closing off all options. After his rantings, what can he do but fire his inquisitor, which I believe he has the power to do, though both Sessions and Rosenstein have expressed their support for Mueller. Congressional Republicans appear to be all at sea on the issue. They tried to introduce bipartisan legislation to protect the enquiry but it has gone nowhere. Trump will no doubt try to appeal directly to ‘the people’, his base, as he always has. That’s what his tweeting is all about.

The point is, Trump is no Nixon. He’s no ideologue, he’s pure demagogue. He doesn’t care about his cluelessness, he just wants to be in control, with the power of a Putin or ‘kill all drug dealers’ Duterte. As such, he’s hoping that the people he’s conned will back him against Mueller and co, with violence if necessary.

Trump won’t resign. Never. If they come for him, he’ll lock himself in the White House toilet, and they’ll have to knock the door down and taser him. So how will his dumping be dealt with? But before I explore that thorny issue, what if Trump somehow fires Mueller, which now seems highly likely?

First, there’s the question of how that process will work. I think it starts with Sessions, who has said not so long ago that he has full faith in Mueller. However, he could switch, and probably will. So then, with Mueller fired, what would congressional Republicans do? One pundit argues, from recent Republican responses, that they’ll do nothing. If that’s so, I don’t know what will happen. Others talk of a constitutional crisis, but I honestly don’t know what that entails.

I don’t know how Trump can get out of this. He might be thinking if he keeps slugging it out, demonising his pursuers, he might improve his popularity. Some polls are registering an improvement, though the one I regularly use hasn’t changed much at around 40%. There just seems no way his popularity will surge. And at some stage there will be a request that might turn into a subpoena, or an indictment of someone much closer to him than heretofore. As another pundit suggests, he might try to legally resist a subpoena, and this could drag along for months. Meanwhile the mid-terms are approaching, and however they go he’ll be faced with a far less supine congress by year’s end.

I don’t know much about impeachment, and I don’t particularly want to go there, because it’s a political process and I’m more interested in the law and criminality. I find it hard to believe Team Mueller won’t find any indictable offences when trawling through Trump’s finances. I do have concerns about what the Trump Organisation will hand over. It just seems to me unlikely that they’ll come clean about all their dealings. So money laundering and other financial crimes are likely. Obstruction too, with evidence from Comey, McCabe and others. The Wikileaks connection could be another factor, and Kushner’s dodgy business connections, and the horribly complicated Clinton emails controversy.

So again we’re left to wait for another dramatic move from Team Mueller. It’s hard not to be distracted by the Trump’s melodramatics though, as we try to work out how to hook the slippery old fish. Many pundits are saying he’s his own worst enemy, but is he? This is a guy who’s been involved in shady business dealing for decades, a guy who has fucked over many people, who has been high-handed and amoral throughout his life, and has gotten away with it. He has never really suffered any punishment. Will it be different this time? Nobody knows at this point. That’s the morbid fascination of it. I note that he’s looking to add more lawyers to his team as Mueller, Avenatti et al come after him. My guess is that he plans to surround himself with an ultra-thick layer of lawyers so that they’ll have to use a chainsaw to eventually get to him. It’s going to get grizzly.

 

Written by stewart henderson

March 22, 2018 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

the battle for justice – feeling impotent

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not in Australia

So while I await the DCSI’s long-delayed decision on my clearance, I’m a little too nerve-frayed to focus on something completely other than myself, and Trump’s downfall – always an easy topic. So, until that time, I can do little more than diarise, my neologism. So I might be drifting from my case to that of the Trump, and back. On my case, I’ve spoken to a criminal lawyer, a friend of a friend, who’s agreed to help me, and as he’s also a friend of my former lawyer in the original court proceedings, he may be able to access further documentation, the stuff I’ve been trying to get hold of.

What was of more interest to me, though, was his insight into the way this state government has weighted legislation, over time, to favour the accuser over the defendant in cases of alleged sexual abuse. Some would argue this is a good thing, because it’s surely fair to say that in the past, allegations of rape for example, have not been given the full treatment they deserve, in our patriarchal society. We’re at last much more prepared to believe the women, and I agree that women very rarely lie about such things. But very rarely doesn’t mean never, and I would stick my neck out to say that children are more likely to lie about such things than adults, though again such lies are still rare. In my case, the liar was a fourteen-fifteen year old boy, whose motives I made clear to the police and to my lawyer at the time. But of course I never had my day in court, to examine the matter, such as it was.

The problem, as the lawyer put it, is that there are some zealots within the Screening Unit of DCSI, and they may be the ultimate decision makers, rather than the coal-face workers who interviewed me back in early December. That interview went well, and I came out of it feeling confident. For the first time I had something equivalent to my ‘day in court’, and I foolishly fantasised that it would all be wrapped up within a week or two, in my favour. We’re now in the twentieth week since my review lodgement, and I’m beginning to share the pessimistic views of this lawyer and of a teacher colleague – ‘these bureaucrats really hate admitting they were wrong’. Not to mention the jeopardy they’ve placed themselves in, in terms of the suffering they’ve put myself and others through, and the resentment and the desire for compensation and damages they’ve stirred up.

All of which makes me think this could become a much bigger issue, even a scandal of sorts, if only it was possible to determine how many people are involved. If there are few – and I must bear in mind that false accusations are rare – then nothing may come of it. After all, these ‘complex cases’ mentioned in the Ombudsman email may be more like borderline infractions, where the level of seriousness is in question, not whether something actually happened or not. Even so, they may have enough in common with those falsely accused for us to make common cause, in some kind of class action. Teachers, care workers and others are having their careers and reputations destroyed for questionable infractions and false allegations that happened to make it into the court system, with no recourse, because the screening unit has decided to ‘err’ on the side of caution. And considering the truly vast numbers of people being screened nowadays, even a small fraction of innocent people being done down, because of this decision that it’s acceptable to commit errors, may amount to a substantial number.

Innocent people, people who know they’re innocent, are likely to fight very very hard against a system that treats them as guilty. Especially in a case such as mine, when they have reason to feel proud of their role as a foster carer, a teacher or whatever. If there is some way I can connect with other innocent workers who are being destroyed by a systematic approach of ‘erring on the side of caution’, in a screening system with increasingly wide application in the workforce, we may be able to persuade authorities of the justice of our cause.

Interestingly, I’ve been partly inspired in this more active approach by one of the most currently prominent Trump scandals. Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for pornstar Stormy Daniels, is preparing for a major fight to permit his client to tell the truth. He’s facing the full weight of a political machine that is determined to suppress this truth, and it’s his commitment to having his client tell her story and to be judged, not only by the canaille, to speak pejoratively, but by the discerning public, that encourages me. I’ve told my story to a very few ‘strangers’, including a couple of lawyers and a panel of two employees of DCSI’s screening unit, who are clearly not the decision-makers in my case. The principal decision-makers appear to be higher-ups who are more interested in the thinnest of documents with ‘nolle prosequi’ at their head. I would dearly love to have my story, undramatic though it might be, presented on 60 Minutes for all to judge, and my accuser, if he’s still accusing, can have his say in the court of public opinion too. I would have far more faith in that court, in which at least people get to be heard by their judges, than by this secret process, ideologically driven to ‘err on the side of caution’, which means basically erring on the side of the accuser. But it’s Avenatti’s aggressive fighting spirit that impresses me. I feel that spirit within me, but of course I don’t have much of an audience to bolster me, or any forum in which to fight. Clearly I face an uphill battle to be heard by even a nano-fraction of the public, but again I’m heartened that Avenatti has gotten at least six other women, victims of Trump (Daniels isn’t quite a victim in that she seems to have willingly had a sexual relationship with the Trump, pretty vomit-inducing in itself), to add support to his lying, bullying nature. A class action of some sort might help my case, just to highlight the fact that there are false allegations out there, some of them quite egregious in their nature and their impact.

I have no real way, though, of reaching out to others in my circumstances, and as a hapless loner, I doubt if I have the wherewithal – though I think I could act effectively as a spokesperson once a group was formed. Of course, given the moral panic about child sexual abuse and given the Me Too movement, it’s not an easy time for pleading innocence and victimhood as an ’empowered male’, but we should be pushing to at least get our stories (or non-story in my case – or a story about my accuser) heard, something which was never vouchsafed me during my court process.

Written by stewart henderson

March 19, 2018 at 1:33 pm

Trump’s downfall: more palaver

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dream, dream, dream

As I’ve often said, I’m lazily distracting myself by watching Trump’s downfall and commenting on it. I don’t seem to have the staying power at present to write anything too sciencey, and the Trump disaster is easy to attend to, though I must say I mute the TV or youtube every time the Trump comes on (isn’t it funny how the name itself smacks of the con man). I much prefer hearing about him second-hand. Again, though, I must say my prediction of him being out by the end of the year looks more of a dead cert than ever. It’s just a matter of the Mueller team having too much on their plates to digest. It’s likely they won’t have finished their meal by year’s end. But Trump may well have been spat out and into gaol by then. It depends of course on how Mueller organises his indictments – bottom up or top down. It could also be a bit of both.

But Trump is America’s tragedy. What happens, after all, once he and his family are ousted? The Presidency itself, the institution, will be seriously damaged. I’m sure the nation will manage to limp along until 2020, and a likely big turnaround in the mid-terms will largely put the nation’s affairs in safer hands, but new, tighter laws will have to be enacted, re nepotism, emoluments, financial disclosure, vetting of candidates for office, inter alia. These are essential to make the USA safe, and to allow it to be taken seriously again on the global stage.

Okay enough of the high-minded lecturing, let’s get down to wallowing in the grubby details. Everybody’s waiting for the next indictment or subpoena from the enquiry. Kushner? Trump Jr? Erik Prince? Roger Stone? Take your pick from these and a host of others. And what about this Stormy Daniels affair, another follow-the-money rib-tickler? Where do I begin?

A shady Lebanese-American wannabe mover-and-shaker, George Nader, has been questioned by the Mueller team, presumably primarily about a meeting in the Seychelles involving himself, an even shadier mover-and-shaker Erik Prince (an advisor to and supporter of Trump), and UAE diplomats with financial ties to Russia. There was apparently a dodgy Russian banker, Kirill Dmitriev, at the meeting as well. There’s little doubt that getting Prince to testify will reveal more dirt, but the team will have to make sure they know everything before asking the questions. I just wish I could listen in on what they do know.

Meanwhile there’s a special election in Pennsylvania and Trump has been there big-noting himself and insulting opponents, mostly women. He’s even promoted the idea of executing drug-dealers, because he’s a great admirer of Phillipines dictator Duterte. I’m currently reading Chasing the scream, a fast-paced narrative and denunciation of the disastrous war on drugs, but of course Trump doesn’t read, and certainly doesn’t care. He just likes the idea of killing people. I’m waiting for the result of this election, waiting for the next subpoena, the next indictment, waiting waiting…

I’m also hoping that women will play a major role in Trump’s downfall. I’m a little wary of the Me Too movement, having been falsely accused myself. True, I wasn’t accused by a woman, but it has taught me very effectively that accusations can be easily made, and with devastating consequences. But what the movement highlights is that, because of power imbalance, men have been treating women too badly for too long, and women are fighting back. It’s interesting to note that the Politico article just linked to cited recent research which ‘found women were nearly twice as likely as men to be deterred from running for office because of potentially having to engage in a negative campaign’. Such campaigns are what so many men like Trump choose naturally as their MO. And here’s another interesting quote, with an Australian theme:

In 2016, the Guardian published an analysis that found Hillary Clinton received abusive tweets at almost twice the rate of her Democratic primary opponent Bernie Sanders, while former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, too, received about twice as much abuse as her male challenger, Kevin Rudd.

Actually, Rudd and Gillard belonged to the same party, but it’s probably right to describe them as opponents.

So I’m hoping that after the carnage of this Presidency, with Trump and his family in jail and his successor discredited, that the President after 2020 will be a woman. Obviously she will be a Democrat.

Elizabeth Warren has struck me as very impressive, from my still fairly minimal observations of her – a leftish liberal more palatable to the squeamish Americans than Sanders. After some more research I may write a piece about her. I certainly wouldn’t want any ‘celebrity’ female candidates running for office, and I suspect Hillary Clinton has done her dash.

As I slowly write, things keep happening. Rex Tillerson has been sacked. Silly man, he should’ve resigned long ago. I’ve had a bit of a fantasy in which all the top White House staffers and Trump appointees get together, decide enough is enough, and stage a mass resignation. It would actually be better for them – instead of being stuck in utterly thankless jobs, they’d come out of it as instantly employable for having the guts to take a stand. But of course, this would take organisation and co-ordination, and we’ve seen no evidence of that in this administration.

Finally, Putin has attempted to murder another Russian expatriate, along with his daughter. Many others have been poisoned too. Trump has belatedly come out in support of the British government’s rather tepid statement that Russia is ‘highly likely’ to be behind the nerve agent attack – though the whole statement is worth reading. Putin’s minions are saying that given Putin’s recent announcement that they’ve created some kind of super-weapon, it’s dangerous to accuse Russia of wrong-doing. To me, this is tantamount to an admission of guilt, and fairly solid proof of Monsieur Putain’s mafioso scumbag credentials. How to deal with this? Internationally and with unassailable solidarity. Russia has already been brought to its knees by Putin’s thievery, but we need to apply more pressure and provide as much support as we can to the millions of Russians who want to be freed of this scumbag so they can enter the adult world.

I’m a little disappointed that the Trump is still holding good at 40%, which should ensure he doesn’t get re-elected (yes yes, out of office by year’s end), it seems that only more indictments of the inner circle will drop him down below 35. Not sure if I mentioned this before, but I’m reading Chasing the scream, the racy but horrifyingly tragic bestseller by Johann Hari about the spectacularly disastrous ‘war on drugs’ in the USA and Mexico (disastrously forced on it by the US). The Trump recently threw red meat to his base by promoting the idea of execution for drug dealers (in the campaign for the Pennsylvania by-election, won by the Dems, haha), another know-nothing piece of squawking from someone who knows nothing but the idea of crushing, stamping, beating. It’s Mussolini without the hanging – yet.

Written by stewart henderson

March 15, 2018 at 10:26 pm

the secret world of DCSI’s Screening Unit unrevealed

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the black box that keeps the Screening Unit’s processes hidden from the public

Jacinta: Ok so let’s do a deep dive into the screening unit, the processes involved, the law that’s being followed, the staffing, the numbers of people being processed, time frames, consequences, pushback, serious possibilities of redress, anything else we can think of.

Canto: So here’s the situation as it stands. I received the letter from the DCSI screening unit on October 30 last year claiming that I ‘pose a risk to the safety of children’. I filed an application for a review of this decision on October 31, and the review is registered as having been commenced on that day. As a result of that DCSI decision, I was suspended from my teaching position, without pay, on November 10, the day my five-week contract was completed. I’ve been working from contract to contract, like most of the teaching staff where I work, or worked, though I was given ‘priority’ as a teacher about two years ago.

Jacinta: So you’ll get your job back if the DCSI’s decision is overturned.

Canto: I don’t know if there’s any guarantee of that. I was told, too, by a lawyer from the Legal Services Commission (I’ve called the LSC three times so far about all this) that I should have a right to some pay even as a casual, but I’m feeling cowardly about making any demands upon my employer, because I really really don’t want to lose my job.

Jacinta: So today is March 6, and it’s been well over 4 months since your appeal was lodged.

Canto: Yes and I’ve written two emails of complaint to the screening unit, and I’ve made an official complaint to the Ombudsman’s office. A rep from the Ombudsman has emailed me twice since, and now my review has been given ‘priority’. Last week a woman from the screening unit rang me, asking me to resend information that I’d already supplied. She explained that attached materials often got lost in the to and fro of emails within the screening unit – which didn’t inspire me with confidence. She also assured me that, once I’d resent the materials, she would quickly shunt me along the line to the next assessor in the process, because I was now a ‘priority case’. This, after four months! I’d hate to think of the wait for those who aren’t given priority. Six months, a year, two years? It’s a very destructive and demoralising process.

Jacinta: For the innocent, which of course you are. So while you’re waiting, I suppose you’ll want to find out more about this screening process. It has become more rigorous, it seems. What triggered this more rigorous screening process, and when was it established? Has the screening unit been bolstered, in terms of resources and staffing, to deal with this more rigorous and time-consuming screening process?

Canto: Yes I’ll try to find out more about this online, because again I’m again a little cowardly about approaching DCSI directly. They’ll think I’m a trouble-making nuisance.

Jacinta: Good god Canto, you’re an innocent man who’s been dealt pretty shabbily, first by the police, than the DPP and now the DCSI, and you’re worried about raising a fuss?

Canto: Well, also, to be honest, I don’t think DCSI will be very co-operative.

Jacinta: There’s really nothing online about this. Nobody appears to be protesting apart from yourself, not online at any rate. There’s nothing negative at all about the Screening Unit, The ‘Me Too’ movement is featured strongly, and there’s a lot of irritation online that false allegations are given a lot of attention when under-reporting of real cases of sexual abuse, harassment and so forth, is more of a problem. So it’s not a good environment for bringing all this up. I suppose at least it wasn’t a female that falsely accused you. Females are considered more reliable.

Canto: Well, I’ve received an update from the Ombudsman’s office. Here’s the most important part of it:

As you are aware I have been assessing the processing of your application for a child related screening clearance. I have been provided with updates from the department and your application is still with the Assessment Team. I understand your initial application took 7 months to process. In the department’s  assessment you would be aware that the department is considering such information as your disclosable court outcomes from 2006 offences. The department should have advised you that your review is being managed by a team of people who process your application independently from the initial application  process. I would anticipate given the current backlog of applications the department is processing that your application may still take some weeks to finalise. This office has met with Screening Unit Officers and the Ombudsman has also met with the Chief Executive of DCSI, Mr Tony Harrison, about the delays in the processing of more complex applications. The department is considering strategies to counter the delay and our office will be advised of their progress. At this stage I do not think it is reasonable for this office to continue to monitor your individual application and I will now close your file. I understand that you are anxious to have your application finalised and invite you to recontact our office in approximately four to six weeks if your application is not finalised.

I’ve put the expression ‘2006 offences’ in bold because the expression was offensive to me, they were of course alleged offences, which were never even tested or explored in court let alone proven. But I don’t think the woman meant to offend me, it was inadvertent.

Jacinta: But wording matters hugely to the innocent, I understand. Anyway the letter provides useful information – you now know that the CEO of DCSI is Tony Harrison, and you learned previously that Kelly Tattersall is the director of the Screening Unit. Above all you’ve learned that there is in fact a backlog of applications and that they’re ‘considering strategies’ to counter the delay. It’s a very slight glimpse through the opacity of the Unit’s workings…

Canto: Another quibble I have – and you’re right, wording matters hugely to the innocent – is the reference to my case as ‘complex’. I don’t see it as complex at all, it’s extremely straightforward, but it was made complex by the behaviour of the police and the DPP.

Jacinta: I’ve found Tattersall on Linked-in. She’s been director of the Screening Unit since May 2013, so she would definitely know something you want to know – whether this ‘rigorous’ screening has been going on for the whole of her period in office, or whether it’s new, and exactly how new it is. She would also know, of course, just how many of these ‘complex cases’ there are. It’s so effing difficult to get any information.

Canto: Another person, who would know, of course, is this Tony Harrison. Just searching on him leads me to the ‘about us’ section of DCSI online. The department is overseen by the state minister Zoe Bettison. The website lists the Screening Unit as one of its assets, but I’m blocked from accessing it. It’s quite literally a black box!

Jacinta: Well I can understand the need for privacy of course, but the lack of public access to its general processes is a problem, to put it mildly. Sunlight is the best…. you know.

Canto: For what it’s worth, I’ve downloaded ta copy of the state’s Children’s Protection Act 1993, updated only last month, and we might look more deeply into that next time.

 

Written by stewart henderson

March 12, 2018 at 9:47 am

Essai a la facon de Montaigne – a discursive piece, mainly about women

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Mary Somerville, physicist, mathematician, autodidact, genius, now featured on the Scottish ten pound note

I’m at Adelaide writer’s week, in the book tent. I’ve not been to writer’s week for some years. These days I read almost entirely non-fiction, mostly science for the scientifically challenged. I feel as if, over the years, I’ve been suffering the literary version of a gender crisis. You might call it a genre crisis. I’ve been categorised wrongly – I’ve categorised myself wrongly – in the arts instead of the science section. Though of course I want to feel comfortable in both. Mostly I feel comfortable in neither.

I glance at a book called Beyond Veiled Clichés. It looks to be a book about western misrepresentations of women under Islam. Ah, the veil. I’m with Ayaan Hirsi Ali on this, to obsess over women’s headgear misses the point. To me the point is patriarchy.

I loathe patriarchy. I really mean that. I’d like to stab it in the eye and watch it die slowly, writhing in agony. I often have these nasty macho fantasies. The other day I read the opening to Robert Sapolsky’s book Behave, which describes a fantasy of torturing and murdering Hitler. It validates, in some sense, my own brutish fantasies, vis-à-vis Trump, Putin, Stalin, and others I’m ashamed to admit. At least I’ve never had such fantasies about women, which goes to the fact that men are in all cultures more violent than women, and their violence is directed mostly – but far from always – at other men. But I know also that some women have such fantasies; we’re different in degree, not in kind, I hope.

But I wonder if Beyond Veiled Clichés has much to say about patriarchy. Certainly a book called Beyond Patriarchy would interest me more. And I certainly don’t want to get started on middle eastern cultures, our own is bad enough. On the way to writer’s week I passed through the ground floor of a major department store, a cathedral-like space dedicated to the worship of beauty culture, someone’s idea of femininity. Or fem-inanity. Here, and only here, is where I declare myself a new-ager, favouring the natural over all those chemicals. And they don’t even have to reveal the ingredients. Selling a dream that mostly isn’t worth having, at inflated prices. Women’s clothing, hairstyles and other paraphernalia all cost more than their mostly perfunctory male counterparts, yet I can’t help but notice women earn, on average, quite a bit less than men. I’ll be long dead before it all gets overturned, yet I’m confident it will, which will help ensure the survival of the species.

And now it’s International Women’s Day, how coincidental. We don’t have an International Men’s Day, we certainly don’t need one, and that’s the indicator of women’s situation, when there’s no need for an IWD, we’ll have made it. So, a bit of history. March 8 was first mooted as an IWD of sorts way back in 1910, at an International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen. Unlike women, socialists are a bit thin on the ground these days, so it’s fascinating that in Russia – that country that Putin is so happy to drive backwards at full tilt – March 8 was declared a national holiday in 1917, when women gained universal suffrage. On March 8 of that year, women textile workers held a massive demonstration in Petrograd, which some historians claim to mark the beginning of the Russian revolution. Hoping for another one there soon. But that March 8 date seems to have resonated since 1910. On that date in 1914 Germany held an IWD to promote women’s right to vote, but they had to lose a war first, and women didn’t get the vote there till 1919. Interestingly on that same day, March 8 1914 there was a march in London for women’s suffrage, during which Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested. So, definitely a worthy day.

A day to look back and look forward. And to examine the state of things for women right now. We still have a big problem, in Australia and other advanced nations, with women in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) fields. Our 45th parliament is composed of 32% women (44% Labor, 21% Liberal). Compare 31% New Zealand, 29% Canada. These percentages are gradually increasing, not fast enough. A quick look at a government website shows that of 41 front-benchers (ministers, junior and assistant ministers), 8 are women, not sufficient, and of course we’ve only had one PM in our history. In the US congress, again the left outperforms the right in female representation, though by a higher percentage. There are currently 106 women of the 535 reps from both houses – that’s only 19.8%. There’s 79 Democrats versus 27 Republicans, almost a 3:1 ratio. All this is a crude measure of political power, but it indicates something, and it certainly makes me frustrated. I dare not look at the corporate sectors of these nations, where arguably the real power lies. Interestingly, the proportion of female judges across Europe is 51% (as of late 2016), but Britain lags behind (England and Wales 30%, Scotland – my birth country – only 24%). Surprisingly, Romania’s judiciary is 74% female – whuda thunkit? It might be worth doing a deeper dive into this conundrum in the future. Percentages are also high in Montenegro and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

In a report published on March 8 last year, 15 nations had female political leaders, eight of whom were the first female leaders of their countries. Three contentious figures were excluded – Park Geun-hye, South Korean President, who was then being impeached; Tsai Ing-wen, President of Taiwan, presumably because the report is worried about the macho thugs in China, and Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma/Myanmar who is the effective leader but constitutionally barred from bearing that title. So, adding some backbone to the report, it’s fair to say we have 17 national female leaders. Of these, I might single out Sheikh Hasina, current PM of Bangladesh, who has held that position, not without interruption, for 14 years, and Angela Merkel, now in her 13th year as Chancellor of Germany. Nice to see that in the Baltics, both Lithuania and Estonia have female leaders.

Of course we’re still scratching the surface, but it’s worth taking the long view – comparisons with 100 years ago, 200 years ago, etc. I’m speaking to myself here, I’m impatient for change. It’s unlikely we’ll get rid of all the macho thugs soon, no use railing about it, we just have to get on with it, and celebrate and and make a noise about the many great female scientists and artists and teachers and mentors and sacrificers who struggle and endure and sometimes succeed. I hope to feature more of them in future posts.

a heroine of a different kind – the very topical Park Yeon-mi

Written by stewart henderson

March 10, 2018 at 10:53 pm