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How Norway Helped Syria Rescue Its Seeds

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/11/2020 - 7:00pm in

Three great stories we found on the internet this week.

Seed saviors

Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the largest seed bank in the world. Since it opened in 2008, it has received over one million samples. But until five years ago it had never had a withdrawal. That changed with the war in Syria. In 2014, the staff of a seed bank outside of Aleppo were forced to flee. Before they did, they shipped their entire inventory to Svalbard. It was a heroic mobilization that saved many unique varieties of chickpeas, lentils and alfalfa that otherwise might have been lost.

But getting the seeds to safety was just the start. In 2015, the staff withdrew the seeds from the Norway vault and moved them to backup locations in Morocco and Lebanon. Then they started planting them. Over the past five years, they’ve grown more than 100,000 plants from them — and returned 81,000 seeds to Svalbard to replenish what they withdrew. They’ve also been sending the seeds to scientists around the world who are researching drought-resistant crops for which these particular varieties happen to show potential. Grist has the dramatic story of the race to save Syria’s seeds, and how the scientists who got them out — and then got them back — have been helping them multiply ever since.

Read more at Grist

Women rising

The assassination of Rio de Janeiro councilmember Marielle Franco in 2018 has led to a change that would have made the feminist leader proud. Since her death, the number of women running for office in Rio is higher than ever — a shift due, in part, to a very different kind of political candidacy.

Yes! Magazine tells the story of how women in Brazil are forming “collective candidacies,” in which the person on the ballot vows to share decision-making responsibilities with a group of co-candidates. Brazilian law doesn’t officially allow collective candidacies, but they have existed informally since the 1990s. Typically, the “official” candidate simply tells the voting public who their co-candidates are, and that they will be leading together as a group.

The idea has been embraced by women especially, who are severely underrepresented in Brazilian politics — only 15 percent of Rio de Janeiro’s councilmembers are women, for instance. But this year, 41 percent of the country’s collective candidacies are being led by women, more than double the amount from all the years between 1994 and 2018. And many of these groups are made up of the full spectrum of Brazilians, from Black to Indigenous to LGBT, making sure that not just women, but all vulnerable groups, are represented. “The main backdrop for this movement is the idealism of doing politics differently and the rescue of representation and democracy,” said one co-candidate. “But there is also a hint of pragmatism as some people might look at it as just a strategy to gain more votes.” 

Read more at Yes! Magazine

Connecting with kids

Many students in Chattanooga, Tennessee have been attending classes remotely since the pandemic began. This has made home internet service an imperative for families with kids. For those that can’t afford it,  the city’s electric utility has been providing free internet. Now, the public school system has announced it will make that free service permanent for low-income families. As of this moment, it is fully funded for the next ten years.

For Chattanooga, the rollout was relatively easy. That’s because Chattanooga has spent the last several years building out a citywide high-speed, low-cost fiber optic network. The service, which went online in 2014, was the first of its kind in a major U.S. city, and earned Chattanooga the nickname Gig City. Now it’s being used to make sure kids stuck at home don’t fall behind in their studies, no matter their income.

Read more at Next City

The post How Norway Helped Syria Rescue Its Seeds appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

An Introduction and Some Thoughts on Kolektiva and Alternative Video Platforms

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/11/2020 - 5:42am in

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image/jpeg iconEnJnjE0VcAEWAyd.jpeg

For years video platforms have been dominated by Youtube, part of Google and an effective monopoly. This has created a number of problems and tensions which have only gotten worse with time. Time to consider some alternatives.

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No Real Change Can Come If Speech Is Restricted By Monopolistic Oligarchs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 17/10/2020 - 12:10pm in

In a solid new article titled “Facebook and Twitter Cross a Line Far More Dangerous Than What They Censor” on the cross-platform silencing of The New York Post’s publication of Hunter Biden’s emails, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald writes the following:

That is always how it will work: it is exclusively the voices on the fringes and the margins, the dissidents, those who reside outside of the factions of power who will be subjected to this silencing. Mainstream political and media voices, and the U.S. Government and its allies, will be fully free to spread conspiracy theories and disinformation without ever being subjected to these illusory “rules.”

Censorship power, like the tech giants who now wield it, is an instrument of status quo preservation. The promise of the internet from the start was that it would be a tool of liberation, of egalitarianism, by permitting those without money and power to compete on fair terms in the information war with the most powerful governments and corporations.

But just as is true of allowing the internet to be converted into a tool of coercion and mass surveillance, nothing guts that promise, that potential, like empowering corporate overloads and unaccountable monopolists to regulate and suppress what can be heard.

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Greenwald is correct. The increasingly iron-fisted internet censorship we’ve seen rolled out over the last four years has consistently targeted groups that are oppositional to the status quo with which monopolistic Silicon Valley megacorporations like Twitter, Facebook and Google have aligned themselves.

Monopolistic corporations, historically, do everything they can to maintain their power. Once you’ve reached a certain level of power and influence, this means agreeing to collaborate with existing power structures, like when Google, Facebook and Twitter were called before the Senate Judiciary Committee and instructed to come up with a strategy “to prevent the fomenting of discord”.

“We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America,” the social media giants were told by think tanker and former FBI agent Clint Watts, who added, “Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced — silence the guns and the barrage will end.”

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Obviously a violent uprising is something that any sane person would hope to avoid, but when you’re talking about “information rebellions” with vague terms like “discord” and “division” you’re not limiting yourself to the prevention of violence. You’re talking about controlling the flow of information to prevent people from using the power of their numbers to collectively take direct action against the ruling power establishment in any way.

As Greenwald noted, the internet was initially hailed as a tool of the people for democratizing the flow of information instead of allowing that flow to be controlled entirely by the media-owning class, and for the moment it is still far more democratic than it was back before the public had any access to media platforms of their own. People with an ear to the ground understood the potential political ramifications of a new paradigm in which ordinary people can circulate ideas and information without the permission of the establishment political/media class.

The problem came in when the corporations which were elevated to the top of this new paradigm began collaborating more and more brazenly with ruling power structures, to the point where they’re now just openly working with US government agencies to determine what information to censor. They have every incentive to do this as talk of antitrust cases and reinterpreting Section 230 heats up; they know the odds of their monopolies being torn apart go down the more favorable they make themselves to the government powers that would enforce them.

This is a major, major problem for humanity as a species, because we will never be able to make real changes to the systemic problems which are driving us toward disaster as long as establishment power is controlling our ability to interact with each other.

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Establishment power will keep advancing its own interests at all cost, even if it means pushing us into nuclear war or climate collapse. The only way to end their destructive rule is for a critical mass of the public to rise up and use the power of their numbers to force real change. People will not rise up and use the power of their numbers to force real change as long as they are being successfully propagandized not to by the ruling power establishment. People will continue to be successfully propagandized as long as a critical mass are prevented from viewing ideas and information which contradict establishment-friendly narratives.

It really is that simple. If internet censorship of dissident voices continues to tighten, it will lose any potential to exist as a tool of the people which can be used to advance real change, and will instead exist only as a tool for the powerful which enables them to dispense propaganda narratives at a much faster rate than they previously could. With the added bonus of sweeping surveillance powers.

The establishment pushes censorship for the same reason cult leaders and abusive partners work to isolate their victims: they don’t want people sharing ideas and information with each other about their abuser, because that can lead to their victims escaping from the abuse. We will never escape from the abuse as long as we are successfully prevented from sharing ideas and information with each other about our abusers to awaken a critical mass.

Remember Alex Jones? Big Texan, voice like a fleet of helicopters, talked about Satan a lot? How often do you notice him these days? I used to see his face around all the time, but ever since his coordinated deplatforming across multiple online platforms I often forget he even exists. I have no idea what he’s even up to these days; he could be a hemp-wearing hippie now for all I know.

Maybe you’re happy to not see Jones himself around anymore, but think about what kind of power these monopolistic platforms have for a second. They can completely disappear someone from public attention at a whim. That’s how thoroughly they’ve come to dominate political discourse, and that’s just too powerful a weapon for a small group of oligarchs to wield.

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It’s hard to know what to do about this problem. The common argument that is often made sincerely by libertarians and insincerely by liberals is that monopolistic social media platforms which censor speech can be fought by free market competition — that developers can just start new platforms which people will flock to as safe havens from authoritarian regulations. This is a path fraught with obstacles, as Ars Technica explained following a House Judiciary Subcommittee antitrust investigation, because these giant platforms have been actively making competition next to impossible.

Of course people are free to start more fringe alternative social media platforms that won’t be censored. They’re free to dig a hole in the ground and yell into it without censorship, too. In both cases, nobody will hear them; a critical mass of people will never be reached with healthy new ideas and unauthorized information. In order to be allowed to grow to a size where a critical mass could be influenced, they’d be forced to collaborate with existing power structures and implement censorship in the same way Facebook, Twitter and Google are doing.

Moreover, there’s nothing the establishment narrative managers would like better than for dissident voices to quarantine themselves onto obscure fringe platforms where they can’t infect the mainstream herd with wrongthink. A mass exodus of all dissident voices from all mainstream platforms wouldn’t cause problems for the establishment, it would solve problems for the establishment.

So I don’t see competition resolving this problem any time soon. I think it’s going to have to be faced directly, in the same way all the other arms of establishment oppression must be faced directly. I think we need to stand as close to the mainstream spotlight as we can, draw as much attention as possible to the dangers of internet censorship by monopolistic oligarchs, and hopefully drum up some support for legal action against these corporations which benefits ordinary human beings.

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Basic public pressure helps too. Twitter has announced a rollback of its decision on the New York Post article, opting to attach a disinfo disclaimer instead of blocking to URL. This is still a paternalistic authoritarian intervention into information sharing, but it does show that censorship decisions can be swayed by public outcry. The establishment can only advance ugly policies if people aren’t shining a big bright light on what they’re doing and calling lots of attention to it; they risk losing the ability to manufacture consent if they are too brazenly forceful in their authoritarianism.

Like the rest of our struggle, we’ll either win this battle or we won’t. But we’ve got to do everything we can to make sure humanity comes out on top, because there are very dark days ahead of us if we fail. There are some battles which we can afford to lose because the cost outweighs the benefit and it won’t affect the outcome of the war, but this is not one of those battles.

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Belfield Bashes BBC Diversity in Name of White Working Class

A days or so ago, internet radio host and Youtuber Alex Belfield posted yet another video tearing into the Beeb. He’s a man of the right, who regularly attacks immigration, Black Lives Matter, forced diversity and ‘wokeness’ – what used to be called ‘political correctness’ not so long ago. He’s posted videos supporting actor Laurence Fox and his ‘Reclaim’ party, though now Fox is being sued by people he’s called ‘paedophiles’ on Twitter, and a small charity which works with disadvantaged working class young people in Manchester over the name. They’re also called ‘Reclaim’, and obviously really don’t want to have it, or their charity, associated with Fox’s outfit.

Belfield himself is also a bitter critic of the BBC and very definitely wants it defunded, if not actually wiped out altogether. He’s got some kind of personal feud with the Corporation. He was one of their presenters, but seems to have been in some kind of trouble for which m’learned friends are now involved. This seems also to have involved Jeremy Vine, as he’s posted a series of videos attacking him.

Class Attitudes at the Beeb and the Favouring of Ethnic Minorities

Belfield believes that he was looked down upon at the Beeb because of his class origins. He was a working class lad from a pit village, and this did not sit easily with the other members of the corporation, whom he lambasts as rich ex-public schoolboys, who all read the Guardian, wear chinos, sip lattes and hold lefty views and sneer at ordinary people like him. He’s also criticised June Sarpong, the head of diverse creativity at the Beeb, for demanding that there should be more Black and Asian figures in front of the camera. His view is that, according to official stats, BAME performers and presenters are already slightly overrepresent at the Beeb. The proportion of BAME actors, presenters and broadcasters at the Corporation is 15 per cent. But Blacks, Asians and other ethnic minorities only constitute 13 per cent of the British population. The real problem, according to him, is that Blacks and other ethnic minorities aren’t properly represented in the Beeb hierarchy and management.

At the same time, he rails against the Beeb lefties because White working class boys are the least privileged group in society. They underperform other demographic groups in school and jobs. At the same time, automatic ‘positive discrimination’ is not appropriate for all ethnic minorities. Indians and Chinese outperform Whites, have better jobs and higher salaries. They do not need extra help from the state, which should be target at those groups that really need it.

I think he has a point, but as with everything the right says, it’s not the whole point and more often than not its articulated with the ulterior motive of depriving everyone of state aid even when they genuinely need it. I believe he’s correct when he states that at present Britain’s minority ethnic population is 13 per cent of the total. I can also remember Private Eye attacking an anti-racist organisation for the same thing June Sarpong’s done: demanding even more representation of BAME people in excess of their real numbers as a percentage of the population.

Possible Reasons for Sarpong’s Call for More Diversity in Excess of True BAME Population Numbers

In Sarpong’s case, I think there are a number of reasons for it. The first is that she is herself Black, and seems to have automatically assumed that in this issue Blacks and Asians are suffering racial discrimination. Everyone wants the best for people like them, and so she wants more to be done for Blacks and ethnic minorities. I also think self-interest may also be involved. She’s head of Diverse Creativity, but if she admits that Blacks and Asians are already well-represented on our TV screens, then she’s contradicted some of the need for her post. And I also believe that much of it is due to the metropolitan media bubble. London, as the capital, has a very large Black, Asian and ethnic minority population. It’s well over a third, and I think it may be just under half. Black activists like Sarpong and White liberals see the high BAME population of London and automatically assume that the rest of the country must be the same. Some Black performers have described their shock on visiting parts of the country where there are very few peoples of ethnic minority background. Nearly a decade ago, the late actor and comedian Felix Dexter was a guest on an edition of the News Quiz from Scotland. Dexter, who was Black, expressed his surprise at going through some areas of Scotland where there was hardly another Black face to be seen. Which reminded me at the time of the stereotypical comments of White British explorers that they were going through regions of Africa or wherever which no White man had seen before. I doubt very much that this observation would go down at all well with racially sensitive Black activists and militantly anti-racist Whites, but it is there. I think Sarpong, and those like her, have assumed that everywhere else in Britain must be like London, and so demand the same proportion of Black stars.

All Broadcasters Dominated by Middle Class Public School Boys and Girls, Not Just Beeb

At the same time, White working class are the most underprivileged part of the population. This has been reported not just in the parts of the press you’d expect it, like the Heil, but also allegedly liberal papers like the I. The Heil has also published official statistics showing that Indians and Chinese also outperform everyone else in education and work.

I’ve also little doubt he’s correct about the lack of working class people in the Beeb, and that it’s dominated by public school boys and girls, who look down upon on peeps from more modest backgrounds. But I think that’s common throughout broadcasting. Terry Christian, whose Manc tones graced the ’90s Channel 4 yoof programme, The Word, apparently describes how he was driven mad by much the same attitude there. He was the only working class lad amongst a group of people, who all went to Winchester public school. Which no doubt explains why he wanted public schoolboys put in Room 101 when he appeared on it all those years ago.

And here’s where we get to what is not being said: how many of the staff and the performers on the other, private networks come from working or lower middle class backgrounds. How many of the faces you see on Sky and who work behind the scenes are lads and lasses who went to state comprehensives, and whose parents worked as factory workers, bus drivers, cleaners, dustmen and so on. Very few, I expect. But Belfield deliberately avoids mentioning it. Because as a right-winger he hates the BBC for its ostensible ethic of impartiality and wants it to be replaced by private networks that can feed the British public the equivalent of Fox News. Like the Times would like to do with its new channel, Times News or whatever it is, which will present news with what they claim will be an objective slant against the ‘woke’, ‘wet’ BBC. Well, the Times ain’t be a source of objective news since the departure of the late Harold Evans as editor at the end of the ’70s, so this is especially risible.

White Working Class Despised Not By Labour or Democrat Left, But Blairite and Clintonite Neocons

As for the concern for White, working class boys, I think he’s right that a certain section of the left does look down on the working class. But this isn’t the Labour left. It’s the neoliberal, corporatist right of the Democrats in America and the Labour party. There’s a very interesting book, Confronting the New Conservatism, which attacks the Neo-Conservatives and particularly their warmongering and the illegal war in Iraq. It’s mostly written from a left-wing perspective, but some of those interviewed are traditional Conservatives. One of these is a female American colonel, who bitterly attacks Bush’s grotty administration as a bunch of chickenhawks who never served in the armed forces and hated and forced out experienced senior military staff, who knew far more about the Middle East and told them directly that they were wrong. The book argues that both American parties, Republicans and Democrats, have been infected with the Neocon virus. Part of this is the bilateral support by the White middle class for affirmative action policies, provided they don’t affect their children.

Right-wing Pseudo-Feminist Attacks on Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn Shows Contempt for Working Class

You can see that in the sociological origins of the Blairites. They’re very middle class, very public school. They support affirmative action policies for women and ethnic minorities, but really don’t have any time for the working class as a whole. And especially not working class men. One of the claims that was used to attack Jeremy Corbyn over here and the awesome Bernie Sanders in America was that, somehow, they were misogynist anti-feminists. Remember all the furore about ‘Bernie Bros’ and their attacks on Hillary Clinton? This was despite Sanders’ strong support for feminist groups and his appearance as an ‘honorary woman’ at feminist rallies. Because of his support for an expanded welfare system and Medicare for All, Sanders supports policies that would benefit blue collar and lower middle class workers far more than Clinton. She was a member of the corporate elite. She has done things that have benefited women and children, but in general she supports the grotty neoliberal, corporatism that are impoverishing working folks for the benefit of the very rich.

The I and the Groaniad launched the self-same attack on Corbyn. He was a male chauvinist, who would drag the party back to the days of old Labour when it was under the patriarchal control of the trade unions. I don’t believe for a single minute that Corbyn could ever be remotely properly described as any kind of misogynist. As a member of the Labour left, which was attacked in the ’80s for its support for Black, gay, and women’s rights, I think he’s the complete opposite. As for the trade unions, I don’t doubt that they were male dominated. The strongest unions were those in mining and heavy industry, which are traditionally male jobs. Women tend to work in the service industries, which are often poorly unionised. This is because employees in those sectors are in a weaker position regarding employers. But this isn’t an argument for weakening the unions. Rather it’s an argument for strengthening them so that they can enrol and protect women workers. My mother was a teacher, and I remember that during the teachers’ strike of the 1980s banners appeared with the slogan ‘A Woman’s Place Is In Her Union’. Too right. Feminism isn’t just for middle class Thatcherite girls.

Tories Claiming To Support White Working Class In Order to Exploit Them and Destroy Welfare State Even Further

The Tories have always attack the Labour party on behalf of disadvantaged Whites. The Daily Heil ran stories from the 1980s onwards, for example, denouncing various Labour councils for giving priority for council housing to non-White immigrants. But this conveniently omits the facts that the reason there was a shortage of council housing was because of the Tories: Thatcher had sold it off, and passed legislation forbidding councils from building any more. The Tories make a great show of standing up for the White working class because of their patriotism and traditional values. By which they mean the type of working class Conservatives on whom Johnny Speight based the monstrous Alf Garnet in Til Death Us Do Part. These were people, who lived in dingy homes with cracked windows, for whom the Tories had done absolutely nothing but who somehow lionised them.

Only Labour Left Really Standing Up for Working Class Whites, as Concerned for All Working People

The people who are really standing up for the White working class are the Labour left, people like Richard Burgon and in Bristol, mayor Marvin Rees. They’re standing up for the White working class as part of their mission to defend all working Brits regardless of race and colour, Black, Asian, White or whatever. Marvin Rees is Black, but he’s Bristol through and through and has said that he intends to stand up for the White working class as well as underprivileged BAME peeps. He has said that he wants more Bristolians to know about the city’s past as a major centre of the slave trade, but he doesn’t want to demonise the White working class, because they didn’t profit from it. They also suffered, according to him. Clearly he supports Black pride, but he also genuinely support the White working class and is reaching out to them.

Blairites and Tories Exactly Same in Contempt for White Working Class

But you will not hear about these initiatives, especially from the Corbynite left, from the lamestream media or the Tories. Because it contradicts their narrative that the Labour party is racist towards White working class folks. And they have a point when it comes to the Blairites, who are geared towards picking up middle class, Tory swing voters and have ignored or scorned their working class base. Their view of what counts as correct left-wing activism is feminism and anti-racism. Both of which have their place, but they concentrate on them while going along with the Tory destruction of the economy and British industry in the name of market forces, the privatisation of the NHS, because private enterprise is always better, and the dismantlement of the welfare state and workers’ rights, because the poor, the starving, the disabled and the unemployed are scroungers who could get a proper job if only they were properly incentivised. It’s the same view of the working class the Tories hold, except that they cynically exploit the petty jealousies and vindictiveness of sections of the working class to hold them down, while all the while claiming that it’s Labour’s fault. They’re cynically exploiting White working class resentment in order to maintain the British class system and the power and authority of the traditional ruling elites. All the while risible declaring that they’re not elite at all. As Tweezer did so with her cabinet, who were almost public school educated millionaires to a man and woman.

Don’t believe right-wing shills like Alex Belfield. The Tories despise ordinary working people. The only people who are really serious about doing anything for working people – including White working people – are the true Labour centrists. People like Richard Corbyn, Dawn Butler, and the other Corbynites.

Tech Platform Censorship & The Great QAnon Facebook Purge

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 09/10/2020 - 3:56am in

So, Facebook has cracked down on QAnon, removing essentially all QAnon pages and groups.

BOOM.

Obviously QAnon is bunk. As I noted earlier it’s right in the broad sense: yes, we are ruled by pedophiles as any casual acquaintance with the Epstein case will tell you, no, Trump is not at war with them except in the sense that yeah, he’s opposed by some elite factions and some of them will be pedos. Of course, many people who support Trump are probably pedos. And it’s laughably wrong in specifics.

At one time the tech platforms mostly didn’t want to do censorship and content moderation. Of course, their algos mean they do: and there’s plenty of evidence that YouTube, for example, pushes a lot of right wing content hard, but they did it for greed, not out of any sense of political noblesse oblige or civic responsibility. Facebook played a role in at least one ethnic cleansing.

But really it was the hysteria about a possible Russian role in the 2016 election that started the censorship ball rolling.

It started with Google, who changed their algorithms. Strangely, that algorithm change hit the left much harder than the right.

(I actually noticed it myself, pages that had been on the first page of search results, like my ethics vs. morality article dropped off and never returned.)

So, you’re left wing and you hate the right (understandable) and you want them censored.

The problem is simple: once censorship gets going it doesn’t just stay with the people you want hit. Everyone who doesn’t have the power to protect themselves gets censored, and, children, people in power hate the left FAR more than the right. They can live with Fascism, authoritarianism and so on. Pinochet, Hitler, Mussolini, whoever—they were and are all good to corporations and rich people. They may be declasse and embarassing, but they don’t threaten most of the people with power or wealth. Left wingers, well, they might actually tax rich people and if you remember Bill Gates squeals during the primary at the idea of a wealth tax, well, you know that even “good” billionaires hate left wingers.

So, censorship is on the loose, the tech platforms are purging and maybe you’re happy.

But remember, it never stops with the people you hate.

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Tony Benn on the Misrepresentation of ‘Moderates’ versus ‘the Left’ in the Labour Party

I fond this passage, ”Moderates’ versus ‘Left Wing’ – a Misleading Description’ in Tony Benn’s Argument’s for Democracy, edited by Chris Mullin (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1981). In it, the great man shows that its the Labour party as a whole that’s moderate, and those the media describes as moderates aren’t always moderate Labour, but just as likely Tories or Lib Dems. He writes

First, the uxse of the adjectives ‘moderate’ and ‘left wing’ mjerits some examination. The Labour Party, being avowedly socialist in its aims, is itself left wing and so are all its members, as compared to the Conservatives and Liberals. Moreover, the term ‘moderate’ is equally confusing. By any world standard of socialism, the entire Labour Party is exceptionally moderate, offering, even in its supposedly ‘full-blooded’ manifestos in the past, the most modest proposals for changes in the structure of wealth and power, all to be achieved firmly within the framework of parliamentary democracy, complete with regular and free general elections. The main characteristics of the ‘left wing’ of the party are that it may be more analytical and philosophical in its approach, and more committed to carrying through the policies agreed at conference, once they have been endorsed by the electorate and a Labour government is in power. By contrast, some of the self-proclaimed ‘moderates’ have ended up in other political parties. Whatever else they turned out to be, the were not moderate socialists but committed Conservatives or Liberals. Thus the labelling now in general use is not very accurate in describing the wide spread of opinion within the party, and the spirit of tolerance to be found among people of differing views. (p. 35).

Everything Benn said is right, and unfortunately as true now as it was when he wrote it nearly forty years ago. The Labour Party has always been very moderate in its approach to socialism. That’s why it aroused such scorn from Lenin and the Communists, and why historically even other continental socialists, who had more moderate views, looked down upon the Labour party as something that wasn’t really, or was just barely, socialist.

And we’ve seen that the so-called ‘moderates’ in the Labour party were and are anything but. They’re neoliberal Thatcherites, true-blue Tories. They were caught intriguing against Jeremy Corbyn in order to prevent the Labour Party winning the 2017 and 2019 elections. In their struggles to overthrow him, some of them even appealed to Tories and Lib Dems to join constituency Labour parties. One of the intriguers was, apparently, a member of a Conservative internet group, and more extreme in his bitter hatred of Corbyn and his supporters than the real Tories. But you’ll be purged as a member of the hard left and an anti-Semite if you dare mention this. It’s only Corbyn and his supporters that are infiltrators.

As for Jeremy Corbyn and the Left, I’ve said many times before: Corbyn wasn’t particularly. The policies he adopted and advocated were traditional Labour policies of a mixed economy, strong welfare state, properly nationalised NHS and strong trade unions able to protect working people. This is the social democratic consensus which governed this country from the end of the Second World War to Thatcher’s election in 1979. It is not even remotely Communist or Trotskyite. But the media have bellowed and screamed that it is, and unfortunately there are too many people who believe this flagrant lie. People who have no idea what Communism is, or what Trotsky said.

Tony Benn: the greatest Labour leader and Prime Minister this country never had.

Cartoon: How to use Twitter without getting angry

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 9:50pm in

Twitter can be a tool for activism, giving a voice to the powerless. On the whole, though, it's destroying our brains, making people crazy, and dooming us all.

If you are able, please consider joining the Sorensen Subscription Service!

Follow me on Twitter at @JenSorensen

Where do you get your ideas?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/08/2020 - 7:17pm in

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Internet

The most memorable answer to this question came from science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, who said “Poughkeepsie” (on checking Wikipedia, I learn that he died a couple of years ago).

But in the context of discussions about remote work, I’m interested in the claim that random physical meetings (the archetypal example being corridor or water-cooler encounters with colleagues) are an important source of ideas, and therefore a reason for not working remotely.

This seems to be the kind of topic for which the data will consist mostly of anecdotes and introspection. A marginal improvement is too look over my own list of publications to see if I can identify any where the source arose from some particular interaction.

Looking at my 100 most-cited papers in Google Scholar, most collaborations are the result of planning rather than chance. In pre-Internet days, most of my collaborations started from seminars and conferences I spoke at or attended because the topic was of interest, or else from direct approaches by a colleague, usually in the same department. From the early 1990s onwards, direct approaches mostly came by email, and work has often been done the same way. In several cases, I have written joint papers before ever meeting my co-author(s), though in other cases in-person collaboration with one or two co-authors works better.

More interesting to me, are the cases where the idea has come from blogging. Some notable examples

  • My Zombie Economics book. Starting with blog discussions, the idea for a book came from blog commenter Max Sawicky, and was picked up by Seth Ditchik at Princeton UP, who also commissioned Economics in Two Lessons and my current book-in-progress Economic Consequences of the Pandemic
  • Cross-disciplinary collaborations with Henry Farrell and LA Paul both arising from my involvement with Crooked Timber
  • This paper, which started with a comment on a blog post to the effect that “future generations” are in fact already alive (At least I think that’s how it happened. I could never locate the comment to acknowledge the source.)

It seems to me that that these are much more like the kind of serendipitous links that are supposed to be generated by water coolers.

Of course, academic research is a special kind of work, and I’m much more involved with the Internet than most of my colleagues (or, at least, a few years ahead of the general adoption trend). So, I’d be interested in anecdotes from others and links to actual research, if there is any.

Right-wing Internet Radio Host Alex Belfield Attacks Esther McVile

I’ve put up a number of articles recently taking issue with Alex Belfield. Belfield is another right-wing radio host, with his own show, ‘Celebrity Radio’, marketing himself with the slogan ‘the Voice of Reason’. It’s a misnomer. He’s like just about all the other right-wing voices out there on mainstream Talk Radio, like Nick Ferrari, Julia Hartley-Brewer and the rest. Fiercely anti-immigration, his recent videos seem to be about demonising the desperate asylum seekers crossing the channel from France, wrongly claiming that the Labour MP was negligent in not doing anything about the exploited sweatshop workers of Leeds, when she had been protesting for years, and criticising Black Lives Matter for not protesting about the conditions of those workers rather than pulling down statues of slavers in Bristol. And now, of course, he’s joined the various chorus of voices denouncing the Beeb for planning not to play ‘Rule, Britannia’, and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at Last Night of the Proms. Even though, as Zelo Street has shown today, no such decision was taken and the two will be sung as is traditional, subject to the restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/last-night-of-silly-season.html

Belfield is particularly bitter about show biz. He’s posted a number of videos attacking the industry for demanding government subsidies and bailouts, while its leading members and companies rake in millions. He’s also attacked a number of celebs personally for hypocritically affecting an attitude of social concern and engagement, while being horrible people in their private lives. Some of this seems to follow recent allegations about the conduct of people like Ellen Degeneres in America. Degeneres is a former comedian with her own chat show on American TV. She’s another, who, it is claimed, affects a left-wing demeanour, urging people to be kinder to each other, but in reality is on very friendly terms with leading American right-wing politicians, and has a highly exploitative, domineering attitude to her staff and contempt for those serving her. Now I don’t doubt that very many of the celebs right across the political spectrum, who affect to be nice, caring human beings are actually anything but in their private lives. That’s just human nature. Simple experience teaches that just because someone may have a set of political ideals or tastes in sport, culture etc doesn’t mean that they’re personally very pleasant.

Belfield seems to have a particular hatred for politicos with a background in the media, who are now trying to relaunch their careers as media celebrities. And I do agree with him on one of the targets for his ire: Esther McVey. A few weeks ago he put up a video attacking her as a ‘twirly’. Because the odious woman had put up a video about herself, in which she pretended to drive around in a car looking at places around Liverpool or wherever. The video was clearly fake, shot in a studio using green screen and with the moving background added using the magic of computer graphics.

I share Belfield’s loathing of McVey, but for completely opposite reasons. Belfield put up a piece a little while ago attacking benefit claimants as scroungers. It seemed to follow all the extremely biased and misleading articles about it in the press. Articles that according to stats, have convinced the British public that over a quarter of benefit claims are fraudulent when in reality fraudulent claims account for less than 1 per cent.

I despise McVey because she was part of the Department of Work and Pensions under Iain Duncan Smith. This was when the Tories were going full speed ahead with their vicious, murderous sanctions regime, in which the Jobcentres find any excuse to throw claimants off benefits just to satisfy targets. I despise her, because she was one of the Department’s chiefs behind the Work Capability Tests, which have resulted in tens of thousands of seriously disabled people being judged ‘fit for work’ and thrown off the benefits they need to live, simply because of fraudulent science that assumes a high percentage of such claimants are malingerers. I despise her because she was part of Cameron’s government which inflicted austerity on the nation. The same austerity that has since been revealed as very much a political choice intended to hurt the poor while enriching the already bloated bank balances of the super-rich. I despise her because, thanks to the same policies, over 100,000 disabled people have died after her wretched system declared them to be ‘fit for work’. I despise her, and her former boss, IDS, because thanks to Tory policies, millions are in real food poverty, faced with a choice of starving themselves or going without heat or feeding their children. I despise her, because well over a quarter of a million are now having to use food banks rather than the welfare state to keep body and soul together.

I despise her, because she is the rich and entitled head of media production company. Her company was, I believe, responsible for various ‘poverty porn’ documentaries, like Benefits Street, which presented the issue of mass poverty as due to the personal faults of the unemployed themselves.

And so I completely agree with him in find her attempts to restart her career utterly, utterly contemptible.

Faced with McVey, whose opponents and critics dubbed ‘Esther McVile’, and altered her Wikipedia entry so that it read that she was minister in charge of culling the disabled, I find myself agreeing with one of the slogans of the villainous Torquemada from 2000 AD. Not that whole idea about galactic fascism and racial hatred, but the slogan in one of his rants:

Never Forgive.

Never Forget.

Never for Fun.

And yes, I do realise that the initial letters spell out ‘NF’ to show that Torquemada really is a ranting Fascist. But it seems an excellent attitude to have to the Tories, who really would like us all to forget how vile they are, and how they are killing the poor and disabled, as well as stoking up racial hatred against immigrants and the disabled, all to make their wealthy corporate donors richer and ordinary working Brits of all colours poorer.

And that attitude also extends to Belfield, because he is part of that Tory agenda. So it’s ironic that he’s attacked McVile. He’s right, though it makes him no better.

 

Private Eye Criticises Rachel Riley for Hypocrisy over China

Could the media support for Rachel Riley be waning just a little? This last fortnight’s edition of Private Eye for 14th – 27th August 2020 carried a piece calling her out for hypocrisy. She’d published a link to a petition against the persecution of the Uyghurs by the Chinese government, urging people to sign it. However, a few months ago Riley had also declared that she’d made a deal with the Chinese-owned company, Tiktok, to help it produce maths tips. The Eye’s article runs

Countdown mathematical whizz Rachel Riley recently tweeted a link to a petition drawing attention to the plight of the Uyghur Muslims. It called on the UK government to impose sanctions on China for its human rights violations. “We’re listening, we’re with you… Thanks to everyone who signed this,” she wrote.

Is this the same Rachel Riley who tweeted “This should be fun” in response to an announcement in June that she’d signed up to help TikTok’s move into the UK education market, producing mathematics tips for the platform?

The Chinese-owned video sharing app has long attracted privacy concerns and has been banned by the Indian government after claims that it was using data illegally and secretly collecting information from phones when the app was downloaded. Meanwhile, TikTok’s domestic Chinese version, Douyin, is heavily censored under Chinese government rules.

Most concerning to Riley, however, might have been the news in November that TikTok had suspended the account of 17-year-old Feroza Aziz after she highlighted human rights abuses against … the Uyghur Muslims. As Riley puts it, this should indeed be fun.

I’ve got absolutely no problem with Riley supporting a petition against the vicious genocide being waged against the Uyghurs. She’s quite right to point it out and demand government action. And I don’t find her support for TikTok particularly hypocritical either, even if it does conflict with her new attitude towards the state persecution of the Muslim people by the Chinese authorities. What I do find hypocritical is her own vicious bullying and smearing of decent, anti-racists and genuine opponents of anti-Semitism, simply because they support Jeremy Corbyn or are critical of the Israeli state’s 70 year long campaign of ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Palestinians. Riley certainly isn’t alone in this. The smears were made and repeated by just about the entire right-wing British political and media establishment, including Private Eye. Which makes the Eye’s article, now criticising Riley for hypocrisy, somewhat ironic. Riley and her best buddy Tracy Ann Oberman were given extensive support for their accusations and smears by the media, who have promoted her as some kind of doughty campaigner against anti-Semitism. Except, when it comes to critics of Israel, in my opinion she isn’t. She’s confusing it with anti-Zionism. Anti-Semitism, as defined by Wilhelm Marr, who founded the League of Anti-Semites in 19th century Germany and coined the term, is hatred of Jews simply for being Jews. Zionism is a political ideology, which has historically been adopted by both Jews and non-Jews. In the early 20th century Zionism was itself so closely associated with real anti-Semitism, that one sympathetic German nobleman refused to support Theodor Herzl’s movement because he was afraid that people would think he was a Jew-hater. And Israel, of course, is a country. It is not synonymous with the Jewish people as a religion or people, no matter how much legislation Netanyahu passes declaring that it is. And it is definitely not anti-Semitic to criticise it for its barbarous maltreatment of the indigenous Arabs.

But Rachel Riley and Oberman appear to believe that it is. As an example of how twisted their views are, one of the two even compared the Durham Miners’ Gala last year to the Nazis because the band played ‘Hava Nagila’. Which they do every year. And their response to personal criticism appears to be to threaten their critics with a libel action. Mike is currently fighting Riley, because he reblogged and commented on her calling a 16 year old schoolgirl with anxiety an anti-Semite on social media. This led to the girl being attacked online by a crowd of Riley’s supporters, all because the girl had declared her support for the former Labour leader. And a few days ago, Oberman threatened Gary Spedding with a libel action for stating that she had her faults. These included, according to Spedding, not standing with Jewish people of colour. Oberman decided that Spedding was accusing her of racism, and so threatened him with a writ. See https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/tracy-ann-oberman-meltdown.html

In my view, Oberman and Riley are legalistic bullies, seeking to close down legitimate political and personal criticism through malicious accusations of anti-Semitism and suits for libel. I don’t quite know what has caused the Eye to publish an article critical of Riley, but it might be that some in the media might just have realised that just as Riley and Oberman can threaten and sue ordinary members of the public, so they can also turn on them. Of course, it may also be that the Eye is entirely disinterested in this matter, and is just calling out what they view as double-standards by another celeb.

Whatever the reality, Riley and Oberman’s malicious behaviour, as I see it, needs to be stopped. Which is why it’s important that Mike wins the case they have brought against him. Perhaps if Riley and Oberman meet with enough failure, the rest of the media may also stop giving the two their uncritical support.

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