Friday, 27 August 2010

Chinese Soft Power and Australian Elections

Listening to an Economist podcast recently, I was interested to learn how China has been trying to develop its soft power on the international stage. They have been trying to promote Confuscianism, and values of hierarchy and authority. Basically, 'wow, look how good authoritarianism is!' and there definitely are some benefits - the govt can make quick and sweeping decisions in response to large problems, such as the gfc and the environment according to the Economist. It strikes me that when authoritarianism and popular consent (through democracy) are juxtaposed in the context of govt achievements, the former is better at getting things done, while the later is better at accountability, ie ensuring the right problems are addressed, in the right way, and that they are actually completed and successfully.

The reason China can interact successfully with countries that are supposedly diametrically opposed to their fundamental values, is that liberal democracies act as authoritarian govts, they simply do it for short periods between elections. Australian has appallingly short federal terms, and I wonder if it wouldn't be in the electoral mess it's in currently if the federal terms were longer. It's ludicrous to expect any govt so substantially solve problems like global warming or the gfc in just 3 years, or in fact to take an unpopular but necessary course of action so close to the constant threat of losing office. While Australia doesn't want a govt permanently in control like in China, I do think it needs to govts longer terms to more confidently exert their power.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

I need to rant about Prop 8

It was quite exciting to see the US federal court strike down Prop 8 the other day, even if that does feel a little premature given that it was going to be appealed to the Supreme Court and that could take a few years. What made it so exciting though was how emphatically Judge Walker struck down the ban, in his 138 page ruling - calling out all the nonsense spouted by the anti-gay marriage brigade.

What infuriates me is the level of response in the media from the loosing side. I want to scream every time I see another idiot claim that the will of 'seven million Californians' was ignored, it's the end of democracy, blah blah blah. Of course it was ignored, that was will was prejudiced and bigoted. Do people not understand why we set up political systems that protect all people's rights, and that we don't subject the rights of a minority to a popular vote. That is one of the reason the federal and supreme courts exist - I know this and I'm not even American. It seems all the right-wing pundits claiming Judge Walker is a left-wing "activist" judge don't even know what a trial is. He was presented with facts and evidence from both sides - if one side utterly failed to provide and facts or evidence to support their claims, then a judge ruling against them is not proof that he (or she) is biased, it just means you're wrong. To the anti-gay marriage bigots in the US out there, you had plenty of opportunity in a court of law to prove why you are right, and you absolutely and completely failed - you have no one to blame but yourselves.

The other point of this that I find so frustrating is that American conservatives are so insistent on not only being allowed to lie in the media, but by refusing to accept their outright lies, somehow that's oppressing them. I'm glad that the fact that they are just outright lying was finally pointed out, although not directly by the press, but by David Boies, one lawyers in the case, in a CBS article:

Perkins [from the Family Research Council] said the judge ignored "a lot of the social science" about the affects of same-sex couples on families ...

Boies disputed Perkins on the evidence: "It's easy to sit around and debate and throw around opinions that appeal to people's fear and prejudice, [and] cite studies that either don't exist or don't say what you say they do.

"In a court of law you've got to come in and you've got to support those opinions, you've got to stand up under oath and cross-examination," Boies said. "And what we saw at trial is that it's very easy for the people who want to deprive gay and lesbian citizens of the right to vote [sic] to make all sorts of statements and campaign literature, or in debates where they can't be cross-examined.

"But when they come into court and they have to support those opinions and they have to defend those opinions under oath and cross-examination, those opinions just melt away. And that's what happened here. There simply wasn't any evidence, there weren't any of those studies. There weren't any empirical studies. That's just made up. That's junk science. It's easy to say that on television. But a witness stand is a lonely place to lie. And when you come into court you can't do that.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Behind every successful Feminist is a man

I was pleased to see Katrin Bennhold's 'Feminism of the Future Relies on Men' in the NY times, and I continue to be surprised the point of view she put forward isn't more common, as it has seemed damn obvious to me for sometime. It seems commonly acknowledged that previous feminist movements 'pushed women into the world of men' (as stated in the piece), which would seem to imply the logical question 'Where do the men go?'. If feminism has failed in achieving the equality it had hoped for, it is surely because it made the men's world very crowded, and didn't give the men there anywhere else to go. In her booked 'Stiffed', which I must admit I never finished reading, Susan Faludi interrogated the 'crisis' in modern masculinity, which is surely a result of the lack of progress in redefining the role of men in a society in the wake of attempts to redefine the role of women.

While for the mainstream of many liberal-democratic societies, it has become socially acceptable for a woman to be a bread-winner or a home-maker (to over simplify the dichotomy), in fact, she is empowered by having this choice of two equally valuable roles, men are still stuck with only bread-winner. If they aren't, they gain little respect or value in the mainstream perception. Is it any wonder some men still push back on women entering 'their' realm, when there is nowhere else they are legitimately allowed to go. While there is a desire for men to be better fathers, more nurturing, stay at home dads, those men are still perceived as novelties, as somehow exceptional, rather then being embraced as the norm, or standard that others should aspire too.

There is an episode of Sex and the City from a few years ago where Charlotte seems to find the perfect man, caring, intelligent, good-looking, sensitive and understanding, yet he squeals at a mouse, just like her, and reveals he doesn't like killing things. Charlotte had to dump him then, revealing that the only true value of a man is to be fearless, take charge, even brutal, and any other qualities are merely accessories. The essence of the problem of redefining and mutually valuing different ways of being a 'man' is highlighted perhaps best in that male dominated action genre. In the past the protagonist was usually a man, and in the end he got the girl, usually after saving her. In today's films, while there are still plenty of old school male leads (although the girls are perhaps a bit feistier), it seems men and women also enjoy watching female protagonists kick ass, but if she is going to get the guy in the end, she has to be really careful not to save him. Why? Because no-one, male or female, could possibly like a guy that needs to saved, that's just pathetic. How could a kick-ass woman be attracted to that? Until a mainstream audience can root for a non comedic male lead who is saved by a woman, feminism will sadly find it difficult to progress further.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A Beginner's Guide to Ignoring Your Conscience

[Inspired by long political debates in online forums]

Sometimes we want something, but to get it we have to endorse a group that does something bad. Like persecute a minority, one that you might even be part of. Say for example you want to vote Tory because it benefits you in some way, but you’re gay, and they have tendency to wish gays didn’t exist. Fear not! All you need to do is convince yourself you’re right, and that conscience will just have to shut up. There are tried and true methods for this, passed down through the ages to excuse all sorts of atrocities, and they are so simple anyone can use them! Even you!

Step 1 – MINIMISE what it is that your conscience objects to. For hundreds of years people have justified doing bad things by minimising their assessment of its impact or meaning. You don’t even want to do something bad, you just want to ignore something bad someone else did, so it’s even easier! Just take the awful thing that was done (such as passing homophobic legislation) and minimise it to the point where you can claim it was irrelevant and should be dismissed. The rookie mistake is to deny it ever happened – but you wouldn’t do that!

Step 2 – NEVER use any facts or figures or logic. When reason isn’t on your side, don’t use it. Of course, you should never state this explicitly, because everyone knows facts, figures and logic are good things. That’s ok, all you need is a veneer of reason, just steer well clear of the substance.

Step 3 – ALWAYS sound absolutely certain of your authority on the subject. People often enter into debate to get at the truth of a subject, and in doing so will often concede points on which they may have made an error. However, we’re not after truth, are we – that’s just going to fuel the conscience. Don’t be drawn into actually admitting you might have got a point wrong, it’s just a downward spiral to admitting you might actually be wrong all together. So never ever let up on the certainty that you are always utterly correct on everything. Most people don’t have time for facts and reasoning anyway, they tend to defer to the most authoritive sounding person, presuming they know what they are talking about. So all you need to do is ALWAYS sound authoritive, and people will eventually believe you.

Step 4 – DON’T answer any direct questions for evidence, proof or reasoning. It’s tricky, but stick to just making statements you want to be true. Say these over and over again. Remember the statements you want to be true are: A) The original thing is irrelevant. B) You are right. Try to think of as many different ways you can say these things, because this will give the impression of substance (after all substance just means lots of something, it doesn’t necessarily require variety).

Step 5 – PRETEND you’ve already explained yourself and given evidence and reasoning. This is the big gun in your arsenal. You can also do this by pretending the evidence for your point of view is so obvious, you don’t need to go into explaining it. This works best when you are also doing step 3. Remember, never actually give any evidence or reasoning for your point of view, because you will likely be called on it, just pretend that you already have. Act patronising to anyone that claims you haven’t, and tell them they just aren’t smart enough to understand the evidence and reasoning (that you’ve pretended to give).

Step 6 – ATTACK the irrelevancies. This is the fun part you’ve been waiting for. If you’ve been patient with the previous steps, you should have built up a reasonable amount of response, which will inevitably boil over in frustration at your use of steps 2, 4 and 5. Typically, you will start to get personal attacks on you for being stupid, or some variation thereof. This is the perfect opportunity for you to take the ‘high-ground’, and attack other’s responses for being ‘immature and puerile’. You can also twist this into further evidence of why you are ‘right’ and they are ‘wrong’, without actually referring to the subject at hand, because you are on the ‘high ground’ and they have made ‘low blows’. See, you’re starting to feel better about that conscience already!

Step 7 – ONLY respond to comments you can take out of context, mis-interpret or obfuscate. By now you should have lots of responses to choose from, and it is important to ignore any clear, well reasoned criticisms that ask for a direct and specific answer. If need be, you can take a small part of a well reasoned comment, not relevant to the main point and attack that, but if they insist on bringing it back to the main point and asking for direct answers to their questions, put them back in the ignore box. You can have some real fun here, and really start to convince yourself you’re right. Some tips for this: Use examples not related to your main point. This will allow you to take the argument off in a different direction, somewhere you have a better grounding of evidence; Let them provide the evidence for your argument – remember how you claimed to have given evidence or examples without doing so? Well eventually your detractors will point to examples used by others with similar views to yours, hoping that is what you meant when you implied ‘everyone knows’ and that your evidence is ‘obvious’. Don’t endorse these examples directly, then when they are criticised as poor evidence, you can use the ‘I never said that’ defence, claim your were misinterpreted, and use it as further evidence of why other’s are incapable of understanding you; Only ever make direct statements that are opinions, ie ‘I’m right, you’re wrong. It is good, it’s not homophobic’. When you feel compelled to back-up these statements, only use implications, which will allow you to confuse meanings, particularly of abstract concepts, even ‘implication’ itself. If a detractor says ‘You implied X’, you can respond, ‘I never defined X like that’ or ‘I never said X’. Or ‘Just because I implied it was pro-straight, doesn’t mean I said it was anti-gay’. The old ‘Pro-white, not anti-black’ false dichotomy can be very useful.

Step 8 – PERSISTENCE will pay off. Stay on the attack, and never explain yourself. Demand that others make explanations for you, then discard them when they crumble. Just keep going, even if your rebuttal is just as simple as outright denying things you said before – after all, they just didn’t understand you. Turn everything into evidence as to why you are right, even exasperation at you can be implied as weakness, which must mean they are wrong. Remember, even if you have to change your opinion over the course of the discussion, the important thing is to feel right at the end. That will mean you were right all along, and hence your original position is also correct! There’s nothing like feeling that your opinion is being stifled or oppressed to make you feel certain it’s right! You will never win the argument in the traditional way of people agreeing with you, but if you stay persistent then eventually everyone else will give up out of exhaustion. This is your conceded victory, proof that you were always right!

Isn’t it wonderful to have proved to yourself you’re right! That warm glow of smugness will definitely keep the conscience at bay. Just think, with these techniques, you don’t just have to justify the actions of a person or group you support, why you could justify anything you wanted to do at all! The world is your oyster! 

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Rufus Wainwright Irritates Me

I've never really liked Rufus Wainwright much. I know he is one of the celebrity darlings of the gay community because he is so out, but I've always found him a bit of a twat. That opinion was only helped by his rather stupid opinion that gays don't need marriage, or at least he doesn't want one, so you can go marry your dog for all he cares. I'm always a bit flabbergasted when out celebrities claim they are against gay marriage, like Karl Lagerfeld. Do they really mean it, or are they only saying it for the attention, to be perceived as edgy and rebellious? Either way it stinks. You can be an anti-bourgeoisie, heteronormative capitalist system disrupting rebel gay if you want, but don't try to force you're way of being gay on others by removing their choices, or you're just as bad as the christian right.

Now Rufus has changed his mind and decided that he does want to get married after all, so suddenly he thinks that the bans on it are unfair. How utterly devoid of integrity. Guess what Rufus, it wasn't that hard to figure out the bans were unfair before you wanted to get married, but I guess you've just effectively demonstrated an inability to look past yourself. If it doesn't directly affect you, then it doesn't matter. Let's just hope the rest of our society is better then you at determining if injustice ought to be righted, because for the majority of people, the straights, don't want a gay marriage, just like you didn't, but you're going to need their help if you want one. What a twat.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Chatroulette

Ah, what LOLZ. So glad that I follow @mariekehardy on Twitter, that's how I stumbled upon the conversation between her and @MyfWarhurst discussing the disturbing but enthralling Chatroulette. Basically it's a random webcam chat program - you login in are and randomly connected to someone else somewhere in the world, usually via webcam. If you get bored, just click next and go to the next person. It has already sprung up an amusing blog called ChatrouletteLOLZ. The speed with which an internet meme takes off is amazing. In this case I think it's due to the simplicity of the concept, although perhaps that is always the case. While it is still just an interesting gimmick at this stage, I'll be interested to see what uses people come up with for Chatroulette... it's never what you expect. I guess if nothing useful emerges from it, then it will likely die pretty quickly after the gimmick wears off. I wonder how long it will last....