Did you see this about Donald ?

Did you see this about Donald ?

I am sure many others, like me, have found their timelines on facebook and twitter awash with jokes at the expense of Donald Trump. Joke about his character, his hair, his colour, his spelling ability and so on. Some are funny but most are simply attempts at humiliation. The audience for these jokes is obviously other like-minded  people and they serve as a way to share unhappiness with the present situation and to rail against this.

It reminded me of when I was a junior doctor and would share black humour with my comrades. We made jokes about dreadful things, and in dreadful taste, in an effort to show to ourselves and each other that we shared and appreciation of the predicament. It fostered camaraderie and developed support at a particularly stressful time in our career. We knew this and found it useful. However, we never mistook it for a strategy to improve things. It was a coping strategy not a mechanism for change. Increasing experience and knowledge, union activism, and political change were the things which improved things (partially), not our black jokes.

I can therefore understand why some people make jokes about Trump. It helps them cope and to identify themselves to other fellow ‘sufferers’ so they may develop a sense of community and lessen any feelings of isolation. But is it wise in the world of politics, and, more importantly, could it be counter-productive ?

Though many wish to go back to the thirties to look for historical similarities which might help us understand Trump this is unnecessary. We barely need to go back 10 years and can look at the story of Silvio Berlusconi, the infamous Prime Minister of Italy, who despite many obvious failings also has the distinction of being the longest serving Prime Minister of Italy as well as the most controversial.

In an article in the  New York Times Luigi Zingales considered how this pompous, brash, and at times corrupt man could remain in power for so long. One reason seems to have been the failure of the opposition to him to take him seriously, and the tendency of the opposition to focus on his personality rather than on politics. As with Trump, there was no shortage of attempts to bring down Berlusconi with humour and ridicule. Unfortunately, while this made the opposition feel good about their ability to create stinging puns, and confirmed their prowess in the cartoon, it did nothing to unsettle him and may have strengthened his position.

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.

 

And ..

The Italian experience provides a blueprint for how to defeat Mr. Trump. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi: Romano Prodi and the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi (albeit only in a 2014 European election). Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character.

We need to debate the issues and politics with Donald Trump. We need to show what needs to be done and warn against what should not be done. We should not allow ourselves the distraction of the option of an easy joke or a zippy one-liner. We must ignore what he looks like, must ignore his bluster and style and focus on what he says and does. It is easy to debate the wrongs of protectionism in the economy, the wrongs of religious prejudice, the wrongs of nationalism and the wrongs of cronyism. If we do this we will possibly avoid the danger of just talking amongst ourselves and might, hopefully, win round others to our views so that four years do not become eight.

Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

The Daily Prompt today was “resist”  and initially I was going to give this one a miss. However, the worry that many people have about the changes in America under President Trump is causing much discussion on issues of resistance.  However, much of this initial resistance seemed very unfocussed and, at times, even anti-democratic. It almost seemed that people wanted to oppose the democratic result itself – a wail against the result – rather then looking at specific political points that need to be addressed and, trust me, there is no shortage of these issues.

Spiked, the online magazine has been a valuable source of good critical political debate and I thought that this article by them gave a good summary of where some of this activity could be directed. There are clear good initial pointers to action. There are also some good general points about the political changes.

In particular, we need to be very careful about the direction of “anti-politics”, as the article reveals, this can be very dangerous :-

Trump … “Your pose as the anti-politician, the man who hates the political class, is getting wearisome. It has crossed the line from criticism of he establishment, which is good, into a trashing of politics itself, of the very business of people getting together and talking and voting in order to make things happen. When will your anti-politics shift into a conviction that you alone should decide how things should be run? That’s the logical conclusion to anti-politics, whether it takes the form of demagoguery (you) or technocracy (Hillary).”

Spiked also makes a direct call to Trump :-

“In short, Trump, do not interfere with individual autonomy, freedom of speech or reproductive choice; do not promote the politics of fear; do not keep fighting the disastrous ‘war on terror’; and do not expand the power of the state over people’s lives. Respect freedom and choice and trade and growth: true, good liberal ideals.”

Given, that I fear, it is likely he will reject this advice, the other pointers to practical  ways to resist him will prove invaluable.

 

via Daily Prompt: Resist

Looking at the balance sheet after Trump’s Victory

Looking at the balance sheet after Trump’s Victory

There was an excellent article on  Bleeding Heart Libertarians site discussing some attitudes to the recent election of Donald Trump. I would encourage anyone of a libertarian  bent to read this as it is both well written and important. It concerns the fact that many libertarians seem to be offering some support to Donald Trumps election, though largely on the basis that his victory was the lesser of two evils, and that on balance he may do more good than harm.

But when one looks at the ‘on balance’ argument it falls down quite quickly as the benefits he may bring are minor and the disadvantages are often very major :-

A small tax cut, or freezing the minimum wage are, in my view, an order of magnitude less morally important than authorizing torture, suggesting Muslim registries, closing the border to refugees, ignoring the Constitution and the rule of law, revving up the US war machine, trying to muzzle the media, building a wall, undoing decades of peace and prosperity-enhancing global trade, threatening to send troops to Chicago, and so forth.

Also there is an apparent moral problem with how these gains and losses are distributed which we can not avoid :-

Notice that almost everything on the “plus” side of the ledger are policies that primarily affect Americans. School choice, ending the ACA, deregulation at the FDA or Labor, and even tax cuts are policies that pretty much exclusively affect Americans. On the other side, torture, trade, immigration, refugees, and war are things that have major effects on citizens in the rest of the world. Dammit, libertarians, they count too. The liberal vision has always been a global, cosmopolitian one, and there are no grounds for saying the interests of Americans trump (as it were) those of the rest of the globe.

Part of this problem may arise from the fact that, for many libertarians, their dislike of the left is greater than the importance they apply to their liberal principles. But joy, or schadenfreude, at Clinton’s loss should not blind us to the nature of the man who won.

Too many libertarians hate the left more than they love liberty. One response I’ve heard to my pushing back on their take on Trump is that “well Obama/Clinton was/would have been worse!” No, actually he wasn’t and I don’t think she would have been. Yes, they might have expanded the regulatory state, but there would be no revival of torture, no wall, no registry, no trade war, no attempt to muzzle the media, etc.. Trump is a tin-pot dictator wannabe (and startingtobe), without an ounce of knowledge or respect for constitutional limits on government, who threatens the foundational institutions of the liberal order. Obama was not.

 

via Liberalism in the Balance – Bleeding Heart Libertarians

Irked rather than enraged.

Irked rather than enraged.

via Daily Prompt: Irksome

It seemed apt that the Daily Prompt today was irksome as, like many others in the UK (and probably the majority), I had been feeling irked by the success of the legal challenge raised against aspects of the process of Brexit. I say irked, as opposed to irate or enraged,  as this is a minor, and possibly inevitable and necessary, annoyance.

Why am I not enraged alongside many in the media ? Because this is haggling over minor details and unlikely to do more than cause a minor delay in the triggering of Article 50. Yes, I agree that it is having an adverse effect on the economy by extending the period of doubt and uncertainty – we have seen the effects of this already on the effect on the FTSE. Further, yes, I agree that will weaken Britain’s bargaining hand when they negotiate in Europe – it will be difficult to present a strong and resolute front when the negotiators on the other side of the table know there is so much friction and uncertainty at home.

However, these are small issues compared to the issues of democracy and sovereignty. It was these major issues on which the Brexit campaign was fought and won. I know that many feel that parliament handed authority back to the people when it agreed to a plebiscite. With a referendum the normal mechanics of representative democracy are changed to permit an episode of direct democracy. However, it appears that the wording of the Act was not sufficient to ensure this in law, leaving the referendum with an ‘advisory’ status despite the statements made that its results would be binding. We now need to amend this error. We will do this and then move on. While doing so we should ensure we do not damage our democratic institutions, it was for these that we fought. Any righteous anger that an error was made, or that we were mislead, should be kept in check.  We should be careful that we do no win the war and lose the peace.

So, if this is only tidying up a minor legal error, why is it even irritating or irksome ? It is irksome because it was not necessary. No-one was acting with malevolent intention by planning to use the Crown Prerogative (which had been used to usher in much of the EU legislation before – it could have been a delightful irony). The government was not planning anything underhand but rather trying to deliver what it thought it had promised. It is irksome not because of the governments actions but because the actions of those who brought the legal challenge acted in bad faith. They had no desire to fine tune the legal process of Brexit they wished to impede or halt it.

Gina Miller, who raised this challenge (Along with the Orwellian doublespeak group ‘The Peoples’ Challenge’), was a remainer who described herself as “stunned”, “shocked” and “alarmed”  by the results of the referendum. She was thus galvanised to to do something about it, to try and subvert the results of the democratic process by legal pettifogging. This subversion will have some negative impacts, but in the greater scale of things their effects will likely be minor. She did not act to protect our sovereignty nor to promote democracy, she, and they, acted to thwart the choice made by the majority of those who voted and to try and stem the transfer of powers back to Westminster. They used the powers we have to keep us weaker but it will be in vain. Once the people have spoken their words can not be unsaid and, after jumping some legal hurdles,  Article 50 will be triggered and the process started.

However, if I am wrong, if I have misjudged the situation and predicted wrongly, then I may be using the wrong word by saying it is “irksome”. If, albeit very unlikely, the House of Commons stood in the way of the expressed will of the people then irksome would be the wrong word. Or, if the un-elected House of Lords decided, like suicidal lemmings, to reject the results of the referendum and enforce their greater authority on the people, then irked would not be the appropriate word.

Should frankly anti-democratic steps such as those be taken then much stronger adjectives will be needed. Perhaps furious, enraged or livid might be more appropriate. However, even in the Daily Prompt proffers these words as cues it is unlikely I will see them as I, alongside many others, will not be at our screens but out on the streets.

I used to be clumsy but I’m dyspraxic now.

via Daily Prompt: Clumsy

straightjacketOne of the trends of recent years has been the increasing medicalisation of our lives. Issues that previously were thought of as aspects of our personality or experience are viewed the rough the lens of health care. This trend has a long and venerable heritage. When Hippocrates wrote “On the Sacred Illness” and proposed fits, due to epilepsy,  were due to phlegm from the brain rather then a punishment form the Gods, this was a major scientific advance.In the middle ages the recognition of some forms of mental illness as diseases rather then proof of demonic possession save some unfortunates from the rack and the stake.  Shifting behaviours due to disease into the medical arena has been, without doubt, beneficial.

As our scientific knowledge increased  more and more conditions were recognised for what they were. Times when people might have been thought to be lazy and slothful (when they had anaemia, renal failure, and so on) are gone and it is recognised that these people in fact suffered from disease or illness. They are taken out of the social realm and placed in the medical realm and thus  excused from normal social responsibilities – we do not expect the lame or blind to work the same as others, we accept that those with schizophrenia may at times behaviour oddly or even rudely. This reduction of our responsibilities is beneficial as we are not then punished for behaviours not under our control.

However, this has not always been a change for good. In the nineteenth centuary a medical disorder of drapetomania was proposed by the American physician Samuel A. Cartwright. The essence of this condition was the desire to escape captivity and servitude; the ‘treatment’ was regular whipping to deter slaves from running away. More recently the KGB in the USSR worked with doctors, using the diagnosis of “sluggish schizophrenia” to incarcerate many dissents in mental hospitals. They used the diagnostic label to undermine the behaviours of political dissenters by making them symptoms of medical disorders there was no need to pay any heed to them – disagreement became madness.

It is with this in mind that recent changes concern me. There has been a tendency to identify difference as disorder. The socially awkward man with a liking for habit and routine becomes a man with Asberger’s Syndrome, the clumsy child becomes a patient with ‘dyspraxia’, the shy become ‘socially phobic’, the sad and disappointed become people with ‘minor depressive disorders’, and so on. There is a preoccupation with illness and an acceptance that it is almost universal we all have some disorder !

But this is a dangerous path. Placing people in the role of being ‘unwell’ has a number of risks. These might be outweighed by advantages as mentioned above, such as excusing us from our normal social responsibilities, or giving an explanation of our behaviour, or offering some form of treatment to improve our lot. But recent expansions of the ‘sick role’ seem to offer none of these. Someone who is clumsy knows no more about the origins of their clumsiness after the label of ‘dyspraxic disorder’ has been applied, they knew that their brain was less good than the average in motor tasks and dexterity already. We know no more about the socially awkward obsessive after we have labelled him as having Asberger’s syndrome, we have gained no new insights about him.

None of these, and many other disorders, have, at present, any treatments available for them. The steps one might take to mitigate against their signs and “symptoms” are common sense. Importantly, the steps which might help are not known only to medical professionals  they are things we can all work out. Thinking that these disorders are some form of illness or disease limits the sources of help people may receive. People may undervalue the advice of the non-professional and miss possibly useful assistance form their friends, family or themselves.

The exclusion from social responsibility is a double edged sword. While people may feel some relief following being  labelled as having some disorder and may benefit that others expect less of them – “I have X disorder, you can’t expect me to do Y” – what if the person want to be able to “do Y” ? The urge to overcome differences, that are seen as a disadvantage, might be suppressed. The socially phobic might not press themselves to gradually expand their repertoire of social activities and thus lead a smaller, less rewarding life than they may have been able to do otherwise.

Worse that curtailing the individual’s attempts to improve their lot is the danger that, now in the arena of healthcare, physicians will try and improve them. Already millions of unnecessary  and ineffective prescriptions for medication are given to the mildly depressed or socially anxious (as well as many other dubious ‘disorders’). Each time such a pill is swallowed someone takes a risk of harm without the prospect of any benefit. It is true to say that some people die as a consequence of  saying “I have disorder X” as opposed to accepting “this is the way I am

Society as whole also looses out by this trend. Every time a deviation from the norm is categorised as a disorder we reduce what we consider the range of normal human life. We restrict the range of what is acceptable. While, in our present humane and liberal democracies, this may not be too risky there is no guarantee that this will always be the case.

Illness, ill-health and disorder are the exception we should fight to make sure that they remain so.


Written in response to the daily prompt : Clumsy


Y Llyfrgell – The Library Suicides

Y Llyfrgell – The Library Suicides

“Y Llyfrgell” has received a great deal of praise and positive attention following its recent release.  Generally it was described as “outstanding” and “striking” and  rated four out of five stars. It was described as being in the genre of Nordic Noir which is so popular at present. So it was with quite considerable anticipation that I  went to our local cinema to see it. My expectation was tempered significantly when I arrived at the cinema; I did not need to use my second hand to count the audience. I knew half of the handful of people who had come to this first night of a three night run. After we watched the film I knew why there had been no crowds, the film was a disappointment.

This was no Nordic Noir. There was no dark brooding over eternal themes, no moral complexity, no ruminations of the nature of guilt nor any social criticism. This was a slight and simple tale.  In fact, one of the main characters, the night watchman, played to role for laughs (and was quite successful in this regard).

Indeed, generally the acting was good. The cinematography was excellent with many striking images which will stick in the mind. The direction, as we would expect from Euros Lyn, was superb and of the highest level and the sound track well crafted and one which greatly enhanced the film. None of these things were the problem, these were people on the top of their form, working well and delivering quality results.

The problem was with the text. I have not read the book on which the film is based so I am unable to comment on this. However, the screenplay (which was written by the author of the book) falls flat on many levels. There are two main ‘twists’ in the tale. The first is so obvious that all the audience know what will happen shortly after the character Eben has been instroduced. This is not a surprise on the Darth Vader level, more a shrug of the shoulders and “I thought he was” level.  The ultimate twist at the end is shocking. Not shocking in a good way, shocking as it destroys the whole film.

The final surprise  requires the watcher to ignore much of what has gone on before. It requires you to forget the dialogue between characters, forget the little character development that had been made and ignore many of the visual  images. In fact it robs the entire film of its worth.  It is a childish device reminiscent of stories which end with “and when I woke up it was all a dream .. .. “. It leaves the audience with a feeling of irritation.

This film arose from Ffilm Cymru Wales and organisation aiming to increase Welsh film making, and this may be the problem, it is a film created by committee. It was formed out of discussions from a group from the art world deciding how to promote Welsh cinema. There was no part played by the public in this, the book was chosen regardless of whether there was a demand of film of this type. The main criterion would have been it is a current Welsh language book and little more.

Had the generating impetus been to create a great film this team would have been up to the job but they would have chosen a story  which would benefit from being filmed, or chosen a story that was felt likely to have commercial success. By choosing this they end up with a film which doesn’t (I presume) add much to the book and will certainly have little commercial success (the paltry audience it gathered in the Welsh speaking heartlands is testimony to this).

It would be patronising beyond measure to praise Danish filmmakers for making their films in Danish, likewise I won’t pat the Germans on the back for showing their television in German. These artists go out to make good films, great television, or to write the great novel or a moving poem. They intend to move, to stir or to educate the audience they do not go out with the intention “I must write something in Danish”.

We clearly have the talent to make great film in Wales, we have to try and find ways to increase the demand for welsh language products. It is demand which will drive the market and drive up quality. Focusing on the supply side gives rise to poor quality products lacking a natural market. No matter how many well meaning awards, medals and positive reviews this film garners, a poor film playing to empty cinemas will not give birth to the new Welsh cinema.

 

 

Will Venezuela vote for change ?

Will Venezuela vote for change ?

Whatever happens, Scots working for independence would be well advised to look at the recent history of Venezuela to avoid the mistake of believing an oil rich economy can by itself avoid the disaster of socialist planned economics.Whatever happens, Scots working for independence would be well advised to look at the recent history of Venezuela to avoid the mistake of believing an oil rich economy can by itself avoid the disaster of socialist planned economics.