The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Busy day links

I had a lot going on at work today, so all I have left is a lame-ass "read these later" post:

I'd say "back to the mines," but I believe I have a date with Kristen Bell presently.

Booked the first book of 2020

Yesterday I spent a few hours at the Begyle Brewery Taproom and read about half of Mark Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea. I just finished it. It delighted me, and I think it might delight you.

So one book in two days? Maybe I can read 180 books this year? Not likely. A short novel by a playwright may not take a long time. But I'm only a third the way through Robert Caro's biography of Robert Moses, and I started that in June.

Defending debate is not defending all sides

OK, guys, chill.

On Wednesday, researcher Maya Forstater lost an employment arbitration case in London after being fired for expressing the belief that "it is impossible to change sex." (Andrew Sullivan believes the same thing, but as a Tory and a cis-gendered gay man apparently when he says it no one freaks out.)

Author JK Rowling Tweeted out a narrow bit of support for Forstater:

What constitutes gender and what constitutes sex are, to put it mildly, controversial topics. And in a free society, we have to be free to have that debate. That is Rowling's point.

But in the last few days, a good chunk of the Left has lost its collective mind. Rowling has received scathing criticism for her Tweet, as if the last three words suddenly make people think trans wizards wouldn't be welcome at Hogwarts. (You remember that the school had a gay headmaster for fifty years, right?)

But my god, read the words. Rowling is defending free speech, period. (She also defends the rights of people to live "in peace and security," something all of us probably agree with.) Nowhere in the Tweet does Rowling express agreement with Forstater's views. And even if she does...maybe persuasion might help change them? Because militant condemnation won't.

Sullivan:

One of the long-held principles of the gay-rights movement has been that it’s wrong to fire someone just because they’re gay. Now, one of the principles of the LGBTQ movement is that it’s fine to fire someone if they disagree in the slightest with every claim of gender ideology.

This shift from a “live and let live” to a “do what I say or else” movement is one reason I don’t identify with this activism any more. I loathe the idea of forcing people to say things they don’t believe, demonizing and ostracizing them for their dissent, and enshrining in law penalties for wrongthink. I am very happy to live alongside people whose faith makes them consider me a sinner. As long as they cannot touch a hair on my head or use the law to punish me for what I believe and how I live, I’m fine. But that pluralist worldview is anathema to the “social justice” movement, as it proves every single day.

It’s vital to note that Forstater is prepared to treat any trans woman as a woman in real life, defends trans people’s rights to define themselves as they wish, has not been charged with any kind of harassment or in-person abuse, is happy to accept anyone’s adoption of any of a thousand possible genders, but simply refuses to say what she doesn’t believe: that sex can be chosen or assigned, rather than simply observed as a matter of biology. “I accept everybody’s gender identity; I just do not believe it overrides their sex,” she told the court. “I refuse to believe human beings can change their sex.” This view — almost universally held for millennia until five minutes ago, and rooted in the plain facts of science — is now, the court ruled, subject to legal sanction. Such a view is “incompatible with human dignity and fundamental rights of others“ and “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” So anyone expressing an opinion like Forstater’s can be fired with no recourse.

My point in wading into this mess is simply that without free debate, the Right will win every time. The entire point of liberalism is that ideas must be free, even bad ideas, even hateful ideas. Stifling expression must be rare and well-thought (e.g., "falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing panic"). If we, on the Left, give in to the idea that sometimes it's OK to censor speech we don't like, the Right will run with that to an extreme we haven't seen in the English-speaking world for centuries.

We have a long way to go to settle questions about sex and gender. I've been thinking about these questions for 35 years and I'm no closer to answers than I was in 1985. Rowling, Forstater, Sullivan, and you aren't close, either. And I guarantee you that neither Rowling, Forstater, Sullivan, nor I will ever discriminate against someone on the basis of sex, gender, or identity.

Seriously. Let's chill for a bit and not eat our own.

Lunchtime links

I'm surprised I ate anything today, after this past weekend. I'm less surprised I haven't yet consumed all of these:

Is it nap time yet?

The Golden Age of Comics

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman (Maus) submitted an essay for a Marvel Comics compendium to be published this fall, but withdrew it when Marvel asked him to delete a reference to the "Orange Skull." The Guardian published it instead:

Auschwitz and Hiroshima make more sense as dark comic book cataclysms than as events in our real world. In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America. International fascism again looms large (how quickly we humans forget – study these golden age comics hard, boys and girls!) and the dislocations that have followed the global economic meltdown of 2008 helped bring us to a point where the planet itself seems likely to melt down. Armageddon seems somehow plausible and we’re all turned into helpless children scared of forces grander than we can imagine, looking for respite and answers in superheroes flying across screens in our chapel of dreams.

I turned the essay in at the end of June, substantially the same as what appears here. A regretful Folio Society editor told me that Marvel Comics (evidently the co-publisher of the book) is trying to now stay “apolitical”, and is not allowing its publications to take a political stance. I was asked to alter or remove the sentence that refers to the Red Skull or the intro could not be published. I didn’t think of myself as especially political compared with some of my fellow travellers, but when asked to kill a relatively anodyne reference to an Orange Skull I realised that perhaps it had been irresponsible to be playful about the dire existential threat we now live with, and I withdrew my introduction.

A revealing story serendipitously showed up in my news feed this week. I learned that the billionaire chairman and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment, Isaac “Ike” Perlmutter, is a longtime friend of Donald Trump’s, an unofficial and influential adviser and a member of the president’s elite Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. And Perlmutter and his wife have each recently donated $360,000 (the maximum allowed) to the Orange Skull’s “Trump Victory Joint Fundraising Committee” for 2020. I’ve also had to learn, yet again, that everything is political... just like Captain America socking Hitler on the jaw.

Apolitical indeed.

Sunday afternoon link round-up

Including sitting with a lost dog for 45 minutes this morning, I've had a pretty lazy Sunday. Here are some of the articles I might read if I decide to do anything productive today:

Finally, in part because of the proportion of depressing things listed above, I want to post a photo of this dog:

Why? Because she's just that adorable. And not at all troubled by the newspapers.

A Harlequin hacker romance?

Via Bruce Schneier, this is literally* a thing:

The book opens with Massimo working in his combination laboratory and server farm; we know it's ironclad because of the required thumbprint and biometrics scan, but we also know it's classy because it's in an old wine cellar beneath his family villa outside Milan. Plus, he has three screens, so you know he's a serious cybersecurity hacker man.

Nat is a 20-something who lives a poverty-driven boho life. Massimo—who is Mr. Cyber—is, in her eyes, a "sleek, lean, sex-on-legs stud" who looks nothing like the stereotypical tech billionaire. And the chemistry between them ignites as he drags her back to his server room and tells her to do some... penetration testing.

She demurs.

Six chapters in. I am convinced that this book was written by a Harlequin Markov bot.

I may not add this to my book list just now. But at least I know it's out there...

*Yah, sorry. That's "literally" twice.

Fundamental self-parody

A religious group has petitioned Netflix to cancel Amazon Prime's miniseries Good Omens:

The six-part series was released last month, starring David Tennant as the demon Crowley and Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale, who collaborate to prevent the coming of the antichrist and an imminent apocalypse. Pratchett’s last request to Gaiman before he died was that he adapt the novel they wrote together; Gaiman wrote the screenplay andworked as showrunner on the BBC/Amazon co-production, which the Radio Times called “a devilishly funny love letter to the book”.

But Christians marshalled by the Return to Order campaign, an offshoot of the US Foundation for a Christian Civilisation, disagree. More than 20,000 supporters have signed a petition in which they say that Good Omens is “another step to make satanism appear normal, light and acceptable”, and “mocks God’s wisdom”. God, they complain, is “voiced by a woman” – Frances McDormand – the antichrist is a “normal kid” and, most importantly, “this type of video makes light of Truth, Error, Good and Evil, and destroys the barriers of horror that society still has for the devil”. They are calling on Netflix to cancel the show.

Actually, McDormand is technically not God but the voice of God, otherwise known as the Metatron. Pity Alan Rickman wasn't around to reprise his role from Dogma.

Also a pity none of the religious nutters involved watched the show. On Amazon. Because it's a much better adaptation than I thought possible, probably because the novel's co-author Neil Gaiman wrote the screenplay and is one of the executive producers.

But the crazies will crazy, even if they haven't figured out how to stream video online.

David Graeber on Bullshit Jobs

I've just started reading anthropologist David Graeber's book Bullshit Jobs. It's hilarious and depressing at the same time. For a good summary, I would point you to Graeber's own essay "On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs" that ran in Strike seven years ago:

A recent report comparing employment in the US between 1910 and 2000 gives us a clear picture (and I note, one pretty much exactly echoed in the UK). Over the course of the last century, the number of workers employed as domestic servants, in industry, and in the farm sector has collapsed dramatically. At the same time, ‘professional, managerial, clerical, sales, and service workers’ tripled, growing ‘from one-quarter to three-quarters of total employment.’ In other words, productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be.)

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world's population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning of not even so much of the ‘service’ sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza delivery) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call ‘bullshit jobs’.

It's as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs just for the sake of keeping us all working. And here, precisely, lies the mystery. In capitalism, this is precisely what is not supposed to happen. Sure, in the old inefficient socialist states like the Soviet Union, where employment was considered both a right and a sacred duty, the system made up as many jobs as they had to (this is why in Soviet department stores it took three clerks to sell a piece of meat). But, of course, this is the sort of very problem market competition is supposed to fix. According to economic theory, at least, the last thing a profit-seeking firm is going to do is shell out money to workers they don't really need to employ. Still, somehow, it happens.

The book expands on the essay's themes, and adds scholarship, so it's therefore even more depressing than the original column. But he suggests an alternative: public policies to redistribute wealth back to the people who created it, and actually free up our time from these bullshit jobs.