Worth Reading 190: Approximately me, in centimetres

The UK scores worst in electoral integrity in Western Europe. Here’s why – Good analysis by Democratic Audit of all the flaws in the UK’s electoral processes.
It’s Confederate Heritage Month! Day 1 – For as long as I’ve been blogging, David Neiwert’s Orcinus has chronicled the dark underbelly of the American Right. This is an excellent post (with images that some may find disturbing) of the history of lynching in the American South.
Tories & Communists – Chris Dillow on the connection: “Conservatism and Communism have much in common. Both support inequalities of power which deny autonomy and self-determination to workers.”
The girl who stole my book – How an out of print crime novel was plagiarised to become an Amazon bestseller.
An Evil Genius – How social media makes it easy to be in the presence of something you hate. “Every dipshit, almost everywhere in the world, can now speak where they can be heard. It’d probably be a good idea for us to work out how to deal with that, sooner rather than later.”

Worth Reading 186: The rapid spread of Bacchanalia

Hardball questions for the next debate – Some real tough ones for the Republican candidates for US President.
Terrorism: Et tu, Google! – Nick Harkaway tears apart some of the nonsense being spouted about encryption and surveillance by those who should know better.
A New Threat Such As We Have Never Seen – Flying Rodent offers a scale for judging the credibility of military action based on the level of bullshit advocating for it.
Party mechanics: why Labour would struggle to oust Jeremy Corbyn – Tom Quinn (my MA supervisor) looks at the internal mechanics of any attempt by the PLP to oust Jeremy Corbyn.
I asked 5 fascism experts whether Donald Trump is a fascist. Here’s what they said. – Trump isn’t a fascist, but this is a useful look at what fascism is and why his breed of right-wing populism is part of a trend.

Worth Reading 182: Without a blink

Political Madness Gone Correct – Flying Rodent writes a post I was thinking of doing, on why the supposed threat to free speech on university campuses is anything but. “It’s worth noting that the loudest screamers about campus activism broadly use student dafties as stand-ins for their political foes, none of whom are thick enough to give them the kind of ammunition that only a bunch of painfully right-on 19-year-olds can supply.”
Today we left reality behind and entered David Cameron’s fantasy world – Again in ‘posts I don’t have to write because someone else has done them’, Tom King discusses the bizarrely fawning response to Cameron’s speech.
Tories to build thousands of affordable second homes – That awkward moment when the Daily Mash appears to have paid more attention to Tory policy, and can thus criticise it better, than the mainstream media.
They have seen the future and it works for them – Jamie explains how the current Chinese system echoes the Tory aim for Britain.
China’s Nightmarish Citizen Scores Are a Warning For Americans – And for everyone else too. Imagine a system that gave you a credit score-like rating for all your activities, based on how good they were for the country. That’s not Black Mirror, that’s what China now has.

The curse of the Very Serious People

If you’re a fan of Tough Decisions, then current British politics is an absolute bonanza for you. On the one hand, we have to make Tough Decisions about what to do in Syria, and on the other we have to make Tough Decisions about Trident and the nation’s capability to kill millions of people. You can tell that these are Tough Decisions because the punditocracy keep telling us just how tough they are and how important it is that the right decision is made before they all come down on the same side of the issue. None of the pontificators will have to actually go ahead and implement any of the things they advocate, but they’d all like you to know that it’s tough being an important columnist because you have to weigh up all the options at times like these and using your trademarked moral clarity is a wearying process.

In the end, though, all the Very Serious People will nod in unison and tell us that the single characteristic needed to be Prime Minister is the willingness to kill millions of people with the push of a button, and that said Prime Minister must be willing to authorise the dropping of bombs on people far away safe in the knowledge that when our bombs explode, they’re much safer than when their bombs explode. The punditocracy in full Very Serious mode is a sight to behold, now echoed by the Very Serious choir of supporters who’ll cheerlead the Tough Decisions on social media, while also ither vigorously denouncing or sadly shaking their heads at those who don’t want to accept the inherent logic of tough moral choices the Very Serious People have made.

The problem with this, as James Graham points out in a good post today, is that while the Serious People are denouncing those of us who won’t go along with them as suffering from a nirvana fallacy, they’re stuck in a fallacy of their own. James calls it the ‘hell fallacy’, and it drives the belief that everything is bad and corrupt and so the only way we can prevent things getting worse is by taking the official tough decision. Sure, some people who aren’t us may die – and the punditocracy will give a paragraph or two of consideration to them in their next column – but the argument will be that we need to make things worse for someone else now to prevent things being even worse for us and them in the future.

You might be thinking of suggesting that maybe there ought to be other ways to do this that perhaps aim for a better end than ‘maybe everything won’t fall apart until after I’m dead’, but unfortunately putting a huge amount of effort and time into making the world a better place through positive actions isn’t the sort of Tough Decision the Very Serious People approve of. That that course of action would give them an opportunity to do something other than tell everyone just how bad things are is not entirely unrelated to their unpopularity amongst them as a solution. Why go out and make a better world when telling people how bad the current one is pays a whole lot more?

The problem is that far too many of the basic assumptions that the Very Serious People base their assumptions on are granted without challenge, not least that they’re Very Serious and anyone coming from a different perspective is thus Silly (or sometimes just naive, if they want to be patronising). By presenting themselves as somehow being brave in their defence of power, rather than just taking the path of least resistance in supporting the establishment’s goals, they take a moral high ground that they haven’t earned. Once they’re up there, sneering at anyone who dares to suggest that maybe there might be another way, a good chunk of the argument has already been lost. We need to challenge the basis of their arguments, not just try and finesse the detail of them.

Worth Reading 159: You can’t checkout from here

Times Like These – Flying Rodent argues that we take the Times far too seriously – indeed, the fact that its habitual grovelling to power isn’t a national joke says a lot about us as a nation.
A different cluetrain – Charles Stross on some of the factors that will drive the politics of the future.
The history of a political surge – A Green perspective on the processes that have driven the recent growth in that party’s membership.
Disaster – Simon Wren-Lewis on the economic hole we’re currently in, and not showing any signs of climbing out of.
Has The Good Right got it right? – Alex Marsh on the latest (though oddly pre-election, not post) manifesto setting out yet another new direction for conservatism.

Worth Reading 154: Out of sonnets

Atomic – Flying Rodent proposes a new direction for the military. “I put it to you that the track record of unusable weapons has proven beyond doubt to be vastly superior to the performance of the ones that we actually can deploy.”
18 Scientists On What They Actually Think About Climate Change – Yes, it’s Buzzfeed, but it’s interesting.
Why we don’t have electronic voting – A simple explainer of the myriad problems that need to be solved before it could happen.
9 questions about Saudi Arabia you were too embarrassed to ask – Sure there’s something we can all learn from this.
How To Tell If You Are In A Soft Science Fiction Novel – “There are Core people and there are Rim people. Core people wear silver, gender-neutral clothing and love fascism and artificial light. Rim people wear floor-length WWII-era trench coats and love modified libertarianism. These are the only two kinds of people. Plus there’s one ocean planet full of mermaids.”

Worth Reading 152: All my honest faith in thee is lost

Why the Tech Elite Is Getting Behind Universal Basic Income – Because they understand a world of more automation and fewer jobs needs it.
The hypocrites have jumped aboard the Magna Carta bandwagon – Peter Oborne on good form: “Mr Cameron’s Government has launched something close to an out-and-out attack on the rule of law. The idea that either he or his ministers give a damn for the principles that underlie Magna Carta is preposterous.”
Why I am not Charlie – “This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do.”
We have been here before – “The awkward reality is that Europe is faced with a choice. We can single out and target our Muslim citizens, or we can accept and treat them as we treat everybody else and fight the terrorists as simple criminals.” Jason O’Mahony argues for the second option.
This Week In Panic-Stricken Commentary – Flying Rodent on his usual great form, looking at the reaction to what happened in Paris from Nick Cohen and others.

Worth Reading 146: The end of Carthage

A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA – Be warned, this story does describe some pretty horrible incidents, but it’s worth reading for the exposure of how rape culture is permitted by institutional power.
On Countering The UKIP Cri-De-Colon – “if you’re not prepared to defend what are supposedly your defining principles for fear of losing just one election, you might as well pack up the whole party and leave politics to the bigots.”
“Immigration” is not “immigrant” – Andrew Hickey on why pandering to bigots isn’t even addressing the root cause of their complaints.
The Disappearing Sea – How the Aral Sea dried up, and what it left behind.
They refused to fight – A great piece by Jim Jepps on the experience of conscientious objectors during the First World War.

Worth Reading 140: Character limit

For those in peril on the sea – “This is where British politics is right now. It’s not a departure from the EU that should be worrying, but their trajectory out of humanity.”
The nuclear attack on the UK that never happened – The 1982 war game exercise that was the basis for Threads.
Brands of Nonsense – Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin on the history of branding, and the current trend for turning universities into brands.
The fall and rise of the TV critic – The history of TV criticism in the mainstream press (FT, may require registration)
“Oor Broken Politics” – Flying Rodent wonders if this is the moment at which Scottish politics turns from the mundane into the partisan.

Worth Reading 135: Sesquiquadrate

The World Is Squared – Episode 3: The Greek Calends – If you’ve not been following Daniel Davies’ round-the-world dispatches for Crooked Timber, you should be. This is the latest one.
Why I HATE Malala Yousafzai – No, it’s not the predictable contrarian backlash, but a much more interesting set of points.
You Just Can’t Pander Enough – “the only time that we’re ever lectured about how we must all indulge the “concerns” of parts of the electorate, is when chunks of it are all het-up with cretinous right-wing dickishness.”
Labour and immigration: Whatever the truth – Line by line refutation of Simon Danczuk’s nonsense about immigration.
Conservative Party Conference: a golden age for the golden years – Brilliant piece by Peter Kellner showing just how much his generation have got for free, and how much they’ve stopped others getting the same.