Sep 1, 2020

This thread has been created for discussion on themes relevant to Reason and Science for which there are not currently any dedicated threads.

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67 comments on “OPEN DISCUSSION SEPTEMBER 2020

  • Welcome to the September 2020 open discussion thread.

    If you wish to continue any of the discussions from earlier Open Discussion threads, please do so here rather than there.

    Thank you.

    The mods

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  • My name is Emmanuel, a 28 year old Nigerian atheist. I’ve been trained as a teacher and I am passionate about promoting science and reason alongside discouraging superstition and pseudoscience. I’ve even dedicated my Facebook page for thesame purpose – to propagate as much reason as possible. However majority of Nigerians can only be reached on the streets, in schools and workplaces. And I’m particularly impressed and educated by the CFI videos on evolution. I think such information will go along way in promoting reason and eliminating superstitions in Nigerian schools. As a result I’m proposing a CFI and Richard Dawkins foundation branch or branches in  Nigeria. I’m very passionate about this and I’m ready to dedicate my life to this mission.

  • 3
    Cairsley says:

    Hello, Emmanuel. What you propose in your message at #2 sounds promising and worth encouraging. This here is only a discussion forum for people supportive of the work of the Richard Dawkins Foundation and the Centre for Inquiry to promote science, reason, secularism and all the good things that flow therefrom. Have you contacted the Centre for Inquiry Headquarters direct, by letter or some kind of electronic means, to make your proposal to them? Their contact details can be found at the bottom of this page.

    I wish you all the best with your proposal — it does sound very worthwhile.

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  • I thought New Zealand wasn’t as bad as the USA, but it seems some religious leaders here are just as silly.

    Evangelical Fellowship cluster

    In one breath, the leader says “Well, I’m not quite sure we would have done [things] differently” while in the next it’s “The Bible has made it very clear we’re to be submissive to [the Government]”; and of course “the church was obviously discriminated against”…

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  • “We don’t really know too much about science. We don’t really know too much about politics.”

    Blessed are the wilfully ignorant…for they shall preach the truth.

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  • Mods,

    Can you see a comment of mine in moderation? I’ve had a couple vanish in the past couple weeks that were short, had no links and were of no account but another one has gone astray just now that was long with no links.

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  • Laurie

    No, there’s nothing in moderation, sorry.

    Can you try again, making sure that you stay on the page until the comment appears, since navigating away before it’s visible on the page does cause posts to get lost.

    And if that doesn’t work, can you email the text to us (moderator   at and we’ll see if we can post it for you. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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  • Dennis G. Carrier says:

    From the reports we’re getting there are portions of Nigeria where it is downright dangerous to be publicly identified as a proponent of atheism.

    It also seems it is dangerous for children to argue about those hypersensitive god-delusions!

    The UN children’s agency Unicef has called on the Nigerian authorities to urgently review an Islamic court’s decision to sentence a 13-year-old boy to 10 years in prison for blasphemy.

    The boy was convicted in August of making uncomplimentary remarks about God during an argument with a friend in northern Kano state.

    Kano is one of 12 Nigerian states practising the Sharia legal system alongside the country’s secular laws.

    It looks like that “religion of peace” and “morality” has been afforded theocratic political power once again!

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  • Vicki

    Want to have a pity party over RBG’s tragic death? I’m completely downcast. All of her wonderful accomplishments acknowledged but what a fix we’re in now. I don’t mind saying it because apparently she was quite disturbed about the prospect of her replacement being named by Trump.

    The worst elements of the authoritarian right wing christian fundamentalists will be solidified in the coming weeks. We’re on a train hurtling toward the cliff. Please tell me I’m wrong!

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  • Laurie & Vicki

    I’ll join your pity party in spirit from the other side of the Atlantic. Just when I thought 2020 really couldn’t get any darker. We really couldn’t afford to lose RBG just yet.

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  • 14
    Cairsley says:

    LaurieB # 11

    I am not sure what you mean by ‘pity party’, but it does not sound like what is needed right now. Of course, if the ladies want to commiserate together on the loss of Justice Ginsberg, I hope they find it helpful in steadying them to face and deal with the situations they are having to live through.

    It is sad that Justice Ginsberg, who has been a significant positive influence in high office for so long, has died. The timing of her death may seem problematic, but it is less than two months  now to the presidential elections. Given that several high-ranking Republicans (even Mitch McConnell himself) are on record as being in favor of leaving the appointment of Justice Ginsberg’s successor till after the next election, trying to appoint someone to that vacant seat before the election would require most unseemly haste and would not play out well for the President and the Republicans. Even so, there is no knowing what a president as irrational and moronic as the present one might do in an awkward situation; so it is only prudent to remain alert to the dangers.

    So, ladies, chins up! Take heart! More than can be told in one book or many depends on the outcome of these November elections. I am hoping — and this is a time for hope — that the basically decent character of the American people will prevail.

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  • Cairsley #14

    If you think the “unseemliness” of the Republicans rushing to appoint a replacement for RBG would for one moment stop them, I’m afraid you haven’t been paying attention for the last 4 years – or even for the last 36 hours. That is precisely the concern: that they will not honour the stance they themselves insisted on when a similar situation arose in the last months of the Obama presidency, and will go ahead and nominate an ultra-conservative to the Supreme Court and get them installed at breakneck speed, precisely in order to preempt a possible election loss in November. Indeed, this is their stated intention. Whether or not the Senate lets them get away with it is another matter: I very much hope not, but it’s hardly an overreaction to be deeply concerned at the prospect of so much being dependent on the decency of the GOP in its current incarnation.

    Also – and I’m sorry to have to say this – your repeated use of the word “ladies”, particularly in a context where you are effectively telling us to “calm down, dears”, risks coming across as deeply patronising. I genuinely don’t think that was your intention, Cairsley: it would be wholly out of keeping with everything I’ve seen of you in the past. But I think (hope, anyway) we can agree that terminology so laden with societal, gender-based assumptions is best avoided.

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  • 16
    Cairsley says:

    Marco  #15

    . . . your repeated use of the word “ladies”, particularly in a context where you are effectively telling us to “calm down, dears”, risks coming across as deeply patronising. I genuinely don’t think that was your intention, . . .

    You are right that it was not my intention to patronize or otherwise belittle the concerns expressed by women in this discussion. The word ‘ladies’ I have always understood and used as a term of respect. If it now “risks coming across as deeply patronising”, I thank you for your advice. My intention in any case was to exhort les dames découragées to take heart.

    About the Republicans and the possibility of an attempt to appoint a successor to Justice Ginsberg I quite agree, but the limited time and obvious disrespect for the judiciary that such an attempt would reveal are reasons to hope that it would spur yet more voters to reject the presidential incumbent and the Republicans.

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  • Thanks, Cairsley. I honestly didn’t think it was intentional on your part. (Though I suspect our French counterparts may prefer “les FEMMES découragées”, and for precisely the same reason 🙂 )

    “Ladies” used to be considered more respectful than “women”, it’s true, but actually precisely because of its gendered baggage. Think, after all, of the word “ladylike” and all the implicit limits it imposes on the behaviours and life choices open to a woman, all the assumptions about how women are supposed to be and think and speak and act. It was seen as a more respectful term precisely because a lady doesn’t swear, a lady doesn’t get drunk, a lady doesn’t wear bovver boots, a lady doesn’t sleep around, a lady doesn’t sweat, a lady doesn’t fight, a lady doesn’t speak too loudly, a lady doesn’t trouble her little head with politics or business or science or engineering or anything much, really, other than her clothes and her hair and her husband and her little cherubs. A lady is dainty, in need of protection. A lady doesn’t make the big decisions. A lady has no place in the board room, unless it’s to do the shorthand and pour the coffee. The term “lady” is really just a cage for women, a whole layer of societal expectations that holds them in check. And it was in such wide use that it was possible not to notice, unless you were one of the women having their freedom constrained by it; and it’s still possible to use it without intending or even being aware of the connotations. But I must confess I am becoming more and more aware of such things, and irritated by them, and would happily see the word consigned to the dustbin of linguistic history.

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  • Cairsley #16

    About the Republicans and the possibility of an attempt to appoint a successor to Justice Ginsberg I quite agree, but the limited time and obvious disrespect for the judiciary that such an attempt would reveal are reasons to hope that it would spur yet more voters to reject the presidential incumbent and the Republicans.

    The problem is that any such appointment will last far into the future and fatally shift the political balance on the SC for years, maybe decades, to come, regardless of who wins the election. It’s not an appointment that Biden would be able to overturn if he wins. It really isn’t just about the election.


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  • The timing of her death may seem problematic

    I know she was old, but has there been an independent post-mortem? (Particularly looking for things such as novichok, polonium, inexplicably-high levels of Covid-19…) Sometimes things are just a coincident, but the timing is very convenient…

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  • @Marco #15

    That is precisely the concern: that they will not honour the stance they themselves insisted on when a similar situation arose in the last months of the Obama presidency…

    The ‘lame duck’ portion of the presidency is the period between the election in November and the inauguration of the new president in January. Scalia died the previous February with almost a full year remaining in Obama’s term.

    I would add that, unlike Trump, Obama was elected with a sizable portion of the popular vote. A nominee from him would have better reflected the will of the majority. A nomination from Trump, who won via the Electoral College but lost the popular vote, not so much.

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  • Vicki #15

    Yes, but I wasn’t referring to the ‘lame duck’ period between election and inauguration. When Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell more or less immediately ruled out a Senate vote on his replacement, saying that the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. That was nearly 9 months before the election, and before Obama had even nominated anyone.

    Now, just 43 DAYS before the election, he’s saying that Trump’s nominee WILL get a vote in the Senate.

    The similarity I referred to was merely the death of a SC justice in an election year, giving rise to the question of whether their replacement should be delayed until after the election has taken place. In 2016 it wasn’t even that close to the election, though I suppose it was arguable that Biden’s own criterion – that no SC appointment should be made once the political season was underway – was met. But if it was met in 2016, it’s unquestionably met in 2020.

    As ever, it’s just naked self-interest at work. These leading GOP voices are wholly undemocratic: for all the rhetoric, literally all they care about is their own power, and they will trample over anything that gets in the way. Shamelessly, too: in this case they could not be more more brazen.

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  • As Mr. Dooley used to say: “Politics ain’t beanbag.”  And, as George Washington Plunkitt once explained: “I seen my opportunities and I took ‘em.” 

    At first glance, it appears that the Republicans are being hypocritical with the way they are moving to fill the seat vacated by Justice Ginsberg’s death, but I think it would be incomprehensible for them to act otherwise.
    When Franklin Roosevelt began to pass the New Deal legislation, the Supreme Court struck down statute after statute.  However, before he died, he had put people like Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, and Harlen F. Stone, to name a few on the Court.  These giants became the foundation of the Court that we have come to know and, for the most part, love.  

    We should never forget that the Court is one of the three branches of the federal government which was designed at the end of the 18th century.  The founders of the nation were very hesitant to place too much power in the hands of the people at large.  The only branch of government directly elected by the people was the lower house of Congress – the House of Representatives, the members of which only serve two-year terms.  The senators, who serve six-year terms, were appointed by the state legislatures.  The President was, and sadly still is, elected by the electoral college.  The justices of the supreme court, and judges of the inferior courts, are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the senate.  In other words, the People, were not intended to have a direct say in who the justices or judges are.
    In 2016, when Justice Scalia died, the president was of one party and the senate was controlled by the other party.  The Republicans had the votes to either vote “no” on the President’s nominee or, as the majority leader decided, simply not take a vote at all.  In my opinion Senate Majority Leader McConnell should have just said, we aren’t going to vote until we’re ready to vote.  As it happened, Hillary Clinton lost the election in the electoral college, and the Republicans maintained their majority in the senate.  At last the Senate Republicans were ready to vote.  If Clinton had won, she would have had to nominate someone acceptable to the Republicans if the opposition party were to vote to confirm.
    Now, in the closing days of the Trump administration, another vacancy has occurred.  This time the president and the majority in the senate are of the same party.  For the first time since FDR filled the Court with the aforementioned justices, and since Earl Warren became Chief Justice of the United States in the 1953, the Republicans have the opportunity to reshape the Court to their ideology.  They see their opportunities and are about to take ‘em. 
    Ever since the days of the Warren Court, and especially after Brown v. the Board of Education, and Roe v. Wade, the Republicans have been courting the evangelical voters (the organized block of voters without whom I doubt the Republicans could win an election for county sheriff let-alone the presidency) by promising them that someday the composition of the Court would be changed to their liking.  That day has come.
    The nomination to fill Justice Ginsberg’s seat will be made by a president who belongs to the party that has a majority in the Senate.  Trump may have been elected by a minority of the popular vote, but he was elected nevertheless.  The voters not only left the Senate in the hands of the Republicans, but in 2018, their majority was strengthened.  All of which is to say that when the President sends the name to the Senate, it will be to a legislative body of his own party.  If McConnell wants to, the Senate could confirm the next justice in a single day.  And why not?  McConnell and his party did not go to Washington to play beanbag.  They have the votes and they may lose the chance to change the composition of the Court if they don’t do it now.  Can you imagine going to gatherings of evangelicals, or to an NRA event, and explaining why this opportunity was not taken advantage of?  For them, this is an historical moment and they simply cannot let it pass because such a moment may never come again.

    They know that a large group of people – perhaps the majority of the people – will be angry.  They don’t care.  They are organized and we are not, otherwise we would have the majority in the Senate and the president would be Hillary Clinton instead of Trump.  There are more “nones” than evangelicals, but because they are well-organized and we are not, they count, and we don’t.  Remember the words of the old Union anthem: “Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?”  Maybe we should be labeled “ones” rather than “nones”.  There must be a way to organize and educate the “nones” but so far success in that effort has escaped us, at least here in the United States.

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  • Organize all you like and you’ll still never beat the undemocratic nature of the system…

    …e.g. organize to do something about gerrymandering…but what, exactly, voting? lol


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  • @Michael 100 #23

    There must be a way to organize and educate the “nones” but so far success in that effort has escaped us, at least here in the United States.

    I don’t understand why religious non-affiliation would be a significant factor in a voting bloc. That is, unless we are talking about two aspects of nones that hasn’t really been brought up.

    1. The voting tendencies of nones. Do they lean left or right? Has any group researched that? If so, and they lean right, I could see the advantage of courting them, trying to convince them of the validity of the left’s position. But I’d have to see the data.

    2. Why are they nones? Is because they’ve looked at the evidence and determined it wasn’t enough to follow an organized belief system? I suspect that isn’t the case, or they would be more clear about their position–they would be agnostics or atheists. Personally, I think it is because they haven’t bothered with religion at all. But while that may at first sound encouraging to us atheists, in fact it may be insidious apathy. And if that is the case, as I think it is, that same apathy could very well extend to making the effort to show up at the polls.

    Heck, I could be completely out in left field (no pun intended), but I just don’t share your optimism very much about that particular demographic.

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  • Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, and we’re still blaming voters?

    As for the Senate,  the Democrats are so disadvantaged that the best hope of leveling the playing field –long-term– according to people like Nate Silver is to add more states e.g. divide California.



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  • @Sean_W #26

    Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, and we’re still blaming voters?

    Ooo, pick me! Pick me!

    Only about half of the registered voters showed up for the general election, and even less usually show up for off-year elections locally and mid-terms nationally, which tends to determine whether our ‘representatives’ in Congress will enable or block the sitting president. And when the data confirms that Republicans vote more consistently in all elections , I absolutely and unequivocally blame those who sit it out and choose to allow others to decide who gets put in office.

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  • Again, she won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

    The Senate has a rural skew making it necessary to win by landslides nationally for Democrats to hold a majority.

    These are structural issues that literally make your urban Democrat vote worth less than a rural Republican’s.

    If the question is why Democrats aren’t better represented, then the answer clearly has less to do with voting habits than with the undemocratic nature of the system itself.

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  • If the question is why Democrats aren’t better represented, then the answer clearly has less to do with voting habits than with the undemocratic nature of the system itself.

    In most states, the electoral college is required by law to vote for the majority winner of that state. If Democrats are not better represented, it is because they (we) didn’t show up to create the majority winner of that state.

    I’m torn about the value of the electoral college, but it can work if enough voters show up.

    Personally, I’d like to see the individual states revisit their guidelines for the electoral college–that would not require the more gargantuan task of a constitutional amendment.

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  • Demanding that we do better than beat the other guy in a national election, by more than 3 million votes, before we can place the blame on structural issues–like the EC–strikes me as unproductive.




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  • Demanding that we do better than beat the other guy in a national election, by more than 3 million votes, before we can place the blame on structural issues–like the EC–strikes me as unproductive.

    The blame lies with the turnout, which results in ultimately blaming the electoral college. Those 3 million votes didn’t happen in the swing states–I wish they had, then the electoral college would have functioned more like it was originally intended.

    I just read somewhere ( that voter registration is significantly down (38%) in 17 of the 21 states that were analyzed due to the pandemic.

    Discouraging news, but all the more reason for registered voters to show up.

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  • To put it another way: it must be nice to be a Republican…

    Now maybe. But I do not think history will be kind to that party during the period of (at least) 1980-2020.

    I also think their own children and grandchildren will not judge them favorably. The power they are exerting right now–from climate change denial to judicial choices–will affect their own offspring more than I think they realize.

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  • The urban Democrat vote is worth less than the rural Republican vote, especially for the Senate.

    I’m not comfortable demanding perfect turnout as a reliable counter. It’s much better, in my opinion, to acknowledge our system isn’t nearly as democratic as Americans believe, and seek to make it more so.

    Thanks for the conversation Vicki –cheers.

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  • …one last thing. I agree, the Republicans likely have no future.  But the degree to which they damage our prospects is unknown, and at least one possibility is that it will be so great as to render today’s Republican problem relatively mild by comparison…think, Thunderdome!  😉

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  • Sean_W #24  “Organize all you like and you’ll still never beat the undemocratic nature of the system…” 

    Vicki #25 “but I just don’t share your optimism very much about that particular demographic.”

    I learned my political science in a union hall.  Without the skills to organize the industrial unions of the CIO would never have got off the ground.  Whether the International Ladies Garment Workers, United Mine Workers, United Auto Workers, Longshoremen, Teamsters, etc., etc. the first job of a labor leader was, and is, to organize.  The ability to organize is essential for labor or for fundamentalist religions — Christian or Islamic, or for any group that wants to advance its agenda and influence society at large, e.g. the NRA.  Organization is essential to secularists.

    Organized minorities are very important when it comes to winning elections.  Elections are not won by majorities of the population.  Elections are won by a majority of those who vote.  It’s not for nothing that there is a church on every street corner of nearly every city and town in the USA – or that they are frequented by any candidate serious about winning an election be it for dog catcher, school board, city council, state legislature, congress or the presidency.  And it explains why the agendas of the theists are favored in the halls of government.  It’s only when politicians are aware of the numbers of secularists that they will pay attention to our concerns.  This is especially true now that the courts may soon no longer be a protection for reproductive rights as well as myriad of other issues too numerous to list now.  

    I recommend, if you have not already read it, Sean Faircloth’s book Attack of the Theocrats.  As I’m writing this, I’m rereading chapter 9 which is about the importance of organizing.  I think he addresses concerns raised by Vicki in # 25.  Faircloth’s book – the Forward to which was written by Professor Dawkins – should be high on our list of books to read frequently.

    So, I do think that organization will, in the end, “beat the undemocratic nature of the system.”  The system itself is not undemocratic, it’s just that the levers of democracy must be understood and employed for principles we cherish.

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  • Michael, the point is that organizing around a platform that ignores the structural problems is unproductive.  When someone points out that you won the last election by ~3 million votes, and your answer is to demand more turnout, I think you’ve lost the plot.

    The US has been considered a “flawed democracy” from outside for many years now.  It’s not a matter of better understanding the levers of democracy, so as to, I guess, better game the system.  The system is flawed.  I want to join groups that acknowledge this and make addressing the flaws a priority.

    I don’t need anymore nonsense about a failure to participate, especially when so much participation is disadvantaged by design.

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  • On electoral reform and/or better left-leaning organisation.

    Surely it is both/and?

    Surely better organisation is the key to electoral reform also. We have to pull every conceivable lever. The Right are simply more organised through Haidtian innate loyalty to each other and a leader. This is a truth of psychology that must be acknowledged. Further the well-documented fearfulness of right-leaning individuals may be the deeper root of this enhanced groupist behaviour. It may be the access point for more dog-whistle politics playing on fears by creating demon out-groups.

    That enhanced loyalty, I would argue, created the effectiveness of long-term Rightist projects like persistent gerrymandering that helped shore up the gaming of the electoral system in their favour.

    Both points are fundamental. But in a sense this psychological asymmetry lies at the bottom of all our leftist political woes. We must organise with greater personal effort than them for the same ultimate political effect to achieve anything, including that preeminent essential, electoral reform. On the left we must repair the atomisation of efforts that happened with identity politics, etc. (necessary initially, to establish our common diversity!), by finally recognising the utterly common threat posed to civilisation by the fearful-made-selfish and their easy manipulation by the otherwise disinterested kleptocrats.

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  • Incidentally, real progress needs to be made when regaining a political toe-hold to begin to wipe away some of the outrageous existential fears that emerge as a matter of course in strict neo-classical economies where destitution is a valid course correcting mechanism inflicted upon entire families. Fears of this, perhaps experienced quite as urgently by the middle classes as the working classes, depresses IQ and feeds anxiety in a toxic double whammy.

    Ensuring children are never poor, never that hostage to fortune, that rightly terrifies every well-meaning parent might be a start. Free healthcare for kids, always free, excellent education, free school meals, clothing vouchers, for children. Stop focusing on grownups so much, but focus rather on kids, whom all should agree deserve none of their parents folly, their parents grief.

    Put kids in the political frame and start by getting the USA to ratify the UN Convention of The Rights of the Child.

    (Then only Somalia and South Sudan left to still sign it…)

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  • I have been moving increasingly back to the view that political reform through the adoption of proportional representation is needed in the UK to allow the proper exercise of political diversity. Yes it can hobble speed of action sometimes but often this is a good thing. More importantly it expands political thought, creating more identifiable, valid stances on issues,  in the same way that an enhanced vocabulary can expand your accessible reality. More, it forces, as a matter of daily necessity, cooperations and consensus.

    The Democrats have depressed me too often by their centre right stance and chasing the far right in policy. We need a truly Social Democrat Party to re-inflate the Left position and to hold a balance of power with the Democrats in their differing stances against the common scourge of the anxious-made-selfish and their Keepers.

    The fact of high PPI-scoring individuals holding the position of President really needs some checks and balances of its own, perhaps surrounding her with a mini-cabinet that must reflect in some way proportional voting outcomes?

    PPI= Psychopathic Personality Inventory

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  • Great to see you again after all this time, Phil – this being 2020 and all that, I’d been beginning to worry about you …

    Great points as always. Such a good point about the need to just relieve people of poverty and the fear of poverty – not just for their own sakes, but for the sake of the whole of society. Poverty keeps people excluded from the political process, from even being heard, partly because of in-built societal bias, but also because they’re just too damn busy trying to keep their heads above water and food on the table to have any energy or thinking space left for participation or campaigning or even just to find the time to register to vote, travel (in some cases significant, expensive distances) to a polling station and then wait (often for many hours – election days in parts of America too often seem to resemble those in third world countries) to cast their vote. Especially when none of the realistic options on the ballot paper are going to improve their lot in any case, because mainstream politics in America is well-to-the-right-of-centre politics. It’s not hard to see how this de facto exclusion of large swathes of America’s most needy serves the interests of the right wing, the already wealthy, the exploiters. Yet those same interests will only ever make the situation worse, exclude the poor even more, increase inequality even more, intensify the hopelessness even more. It’s not just that the poor and powerless suffer from their poverty – the wealthy and powerful actually gain from it.

    I understand and support the point you’re making about focusing on children, and can see how that would be transformative on a generational timescale, though I would see it as an essential supplement to support for adults in poverty now, not an alternative to it. Poverty in old age is a massive issue, and the fear of it seriously life-limiting even for adults who haven’t yet reached that stage. And there’s no shortage of suffering-by-poverty in the adult population at large. But I don’t suppose you were advocating an either/or approach.

    On the question of proportional representation in the UK, I agree: it’s urgently needed. It cannot be right (and it’s certainly a disincentive to vote) that your vote simply does not count if you live in the wrong area. It cannot be right that a party can govern with a massive, unassailable majority in parliament, when something like 60% of those who voted, voted against it. First Past The Post is a democratic abomination. But you’re also so right that PR is the prerequisite for a better kind of politics and therefore a better kind of government. It strikes me whenever I watch debates from the German Bundestag: the fact that Germany has PR and is therefore far more likely to have coalition governments results in a far less tribal, more substantial, focused, pragmatic style of politics, a million miles from the bear pit of Westminster. You can’t, after all, be screaming insults and abuse at your opponent one day, and seeking their support to form a coalition government the next. There’s still real disagreement, real debate, real passion: but the German parliament is rooted in a professionalism, seriousness and substance that puts the Westminster bear pit to shame. To some extent that’s a reflection of the German character, but it happens in other PR-based parliaments too.

    Much of the problem, though, is that the structures of power and disempowerment are so deeply entrenched in the UK (and I suspect in the USA too) that they can block any attempts to dislodge them. The whole thing becomes self-reinforcing. Real power in the UK doesn’t reside in our elected representatives but in entrenched power, old boy networks, the structures of monarchy, billionaires, financiers, media moguls and, increasingly, the data-manipulators and the circles around the Kremlin. And none of those have the interests of the poor, or of society, or even democracy at heart.

    Still processing the fact that the USA hasn’t signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And in such company, too.

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  • Great to catch up, Marco. I have been nosing in to uptick, but real leisure has disappeared under the weight of urgent work. Working mostly from home has meant less escape from it.

    The work is the most fun and demanding ever; water purification, carbon capture, eco-farming and three separate SARS Cov-2 projects for surface and air volume disinfection for public and private spaces, applicable to any other such pathogens. I possibly live in the safest environment anywhere. Posting here, though, is the therapy I’m missing. I must try and keep it up. Healthy mind in a disinfected body.

    It’s not just that the poor and powerless suffer from their poverty – the wealthy and powerful actually gain from it.

    I’m stealing that.

    I often use Germany as a better example of Capitalism and a functioning democracy. All its stakeholders seem held to better democratic account. Its GINI coefficient is way below the US. Its workers work one whole day less than its American counterparts for a similar standard of living, but with comprehensive insurances against outrageous fortune and bosses. Their country, meanwhile, is in buoyant trade surplus, a steady protective ship to weather global economic storms, whilst the USA, trillions down is in danger of sinking.

    My kids, late Gen Z, have little sympathy for Boomers, whom they see as rich, political turncoats, and worse, politically ignorant. I think Old Poverty is very much a thing but the GINI coefficient for just Boomers may be the most disgraceful of all. (Age concern would do well to create such metrics.)

    The while my kids, pursuing truly worthy (but not lucrative) degree courses, getting into ever deeper debt, have none of the societal boons I had.

    The strategy of lifting kids out of poverty before adults is simply to try to achieve a greater political consensus and start a more pro-welfare-experience ball rolling, with the premises, that no child deserves their parents folly, to cement that American ideal that opportunity is for all, and to scare the Right that Chinese children are way smarter, braver and soon to be more enterprising than their own and they need to invest in this one most important asset.

    Re-sharing power in more equitable fashion given a democracy shouldn’t be so difficult if we can only take away the expanding ability to coerce the anxious-so-selfish. But social media is a train-wreck at the moment given its ability to radically alter people’s perception of their own political, social and cultural ecology. A hugely perverse closing down of everything that doesn’t reinforce those micro-dosing dopamine clicks, abandoning the shareable broadcast, is perfect for the manipulators, the Cummings’s… the Russian industrial scale Trashers of Reason, all those forces the kleptocracy can fund/exploit.

    Speaking of which, I must go to the Book Club to recommend  David Graeber “Debt. The First 5000 Years.”

    Or this on BBC Sounds



  • This

    is a great starter for how we must become more savvy about social media. We need to demand not just Euro-style legislation about cookie awareness (thwarted by making the process of responding so grievous we just “accept” anyway). We need to see what we could have seen in our searches way more often. What you have been offered by the algorithm, personalised in its coefficients, is a 0.1%, 10%, 60% view, or whatever…. We need to see (and be encouraged to see) what others with different profiles get offered. We need to explore as if we were like thus or so, to help us see through others’ eyes rather than the increasingly narrowing perspective of our own. Positive reinforcement is even more potent than negative reinforcement and risks positive feedback and polarisation.

    We need to educate our kids about a real (though, initially, innocent) conspiracy, in which they are unwitting key conspirators. Millennials were born after Google and may fail to notice the change of water in their fish tank.

    We aspies probably have a degree of blame for this, being the systemisers of a social world we find confounding very often. Nerds mean well most often, but fail to comprehend the bewildering richness of the evolved, extended human social phenotype with all its second order “unintended” consequences upon which further kludges are made.

  • Changing the subject for a moment: huge scoop by the UK’s Channel 4 News here:

    “Channel 4 News investigation reveals a huge Trump campaign data leak, exposing how 3.5 million Black Americans were listed as ‘Deterrence’ – to try to stop them voting in 2016.”

    Full report being aired in an hour or so in the UK. I’m sure it will make the US news too (well: parts of it, anyway.)

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  • Deterrence is a very effective strategy as sellers online depending on both positive and negative reviews have discovered. No matter how many fake positive endorsements are placed for your own site, what is really effective are fake negative reviews for your competitor.

    The real problem is that Hilary on black crime had got it thumpingly wrong in her earlier career in her endorsement of zero-tolerance policing. Researchers like Professor Alice Goffman could show how that actively manufactured criminals out of ordinary black kids, disproportionately harassed when very young with a building cascade social catastrophes for them. Her negative reviews weren’t so fake on that.

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  • Phil, I don’t disagree that Hillary Clinton had made a rod for her own back with those comments from the deep past, but I do disagree that that’s the real problem.

    There are multiple real problems. The power of Facebook. The power of Cambridge Analytica. The corruption of democratic debate and political campaigning to mere manipulation. The abandonment of any kind of democratic ideals. The sheer amount of information corrupt campaigns can access about us. The active attempt to suppress certain demographics within the electorate, with Black voters being especially targeted. The fact that voter suppression is now rife in many parts of the US (and that there are moves afoot in that direction in the UK now too) and this particular instance was just part of a wider pattern that includes the closure of huge numbers of polling stations in Democrat-leaning areas, the frantic efforts to deter people from voting by mail, even the deliberate fuelling of violence in the run-up to the election.

    This is now how election campaigns are conducted. Here in the UK too: we know the EU referendum got the full Cambridge Analytica/Facebook treatment. We know Cummings and Johnson and Gove were up to their ears in it. Did they stop at the EU referendum, do you suppose? Or did they use the same tricks in the December general election? Will they use them in the next general election? The next indyref? Of course they will. Why wouldn’t they? It works, and they have no scruples whatsoever.

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  • Badly phrased by me. The biggest problem in this instance was Hilary’s hostages to fortune insufficiently defused ahead of time.

    But I do think we ignore the asymmetry of promotion and denigration to affect ourselves. iIsuggest we are all more affected by the slur more than the boost and more than we’d allow.


    I agree there is though a huge problem associated with this whole social media, covert, targeted manipulation. Imagine when they bring real computing power and fine personality discernment to bear, not just broad five category character types, but full personal modelling of all our quirks. This is the real danger of AI-without-a-face.

    Humans have been in an social arms race of reading minds from faces and body gestures and fighting back with enhancing deceptive capacities (acting!) to thwart it, and they have more or less kept in step. But virtual AI gives not the least clue of its intent. Worse, Facebook etc. is faceless with intent for sale, yet we shamelessly betray our own intent. The unbalance is stark and, so far, worsening.

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  • I’d also be interested to know whether the story has made it to the US press/news broadcasters yet? I’ve just taken a quick look at the WashPo landing page and there doesn’t seem to be anything there. Anyone know?

  • Ah, that’s a start. Thanks Phil.

    It would be good to see it on CNN etc, plus WashPo, NYTimes etc, though. Shan’t hold my breath waiting for Fox (and suspect their regular viewers would see it as a plus point for Trump in any case.)

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  • Marco

    I saw no trace of that news report here on network news channels last night. Strange. They are definitely roaring about the tax situation though. Let’s see what. happens today.

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  • Laurie

    Thanks for that. Perhaps they’re biding their time: the tax story is already huge, so perhaps they’re waiting for that one to die down a bit before roaring about this one too. The Channel 4 report itself said this was just their initial story on the data they’d seen, and that more would follow over the coming days and weeks as they investigate further.

    Really hope Biden comes out strongly in tonight’s debate. Will you be watching, or will your blood pressure not stand it? (Pretty sure mine wouldn’t.)

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  • Marco #50.  Thanks for that link.  Here are some of my thoughts.

    In #37above, I said that I learned my political science in a union hall.  What was portrayed in the report was what I learned – on steroids.  What the Trump campaign did is called campaigning.
    In my local union we were taught to pigeon hole people into one of four categories and campaign to them accordingly:  1) strongly on your side; 2) leaning toward you but not enthusiastic; 3) leaning against you but not enthusiastic for the other guy; 4) strongly on the side of the other guy.  You fully engage your 1s (get them to rallies, ask them to stuff envelopes make phone calls and knock on doors), never let them forget how important they are; target the concerns of the 2s with mailing and advertising etc., and point out the faults of the opponent, but make sure the 2s know that your candidate is on their side, it’s in their interest that your candidate is elected, and do everything you can to get them to the polls on election day; for the 3s, point out the faults of the opponent – in spades – so that they either change their minds and vote your you, or call in sick on election day; ignore the 4s, they will probably vote against you no matter what you do, don’t waste any time on them.  To implement such a campaign requires a lot of resources and/or a large well-trained and knowledgeable organization. 

    For the last several campaigns I have watched the Democrats campaign, or should I say not campaign.  I keep asking myself how the Democrats can possibly expect to win an election by not campaigning, by not building strong organizations especially in the Midwest states.  It’s as though they just expect people to show up and pull the correct lever in the voting booth (I remember voting booths with levers). 

    The report reinforces my opinion that Hillary Clinton lost the election because she either ignored the basics of political science or didn’t have the resources or organization to implement that science.  She must have thought that people would vote for her because she was the best candidate – which she was.  It can never be forgotten that politics don’t really concern most people until a day or two before the election.  I bet that most of the people in interviewed in the video would have no idea that Hillary Clinton had been a staff attorney on the Watergate committees, had been an integral part of George McGovern’s presidential campaign, had been a lawyer in a major law firm in Little Rock, had been first lady of the State of Arkansas, had led the effort to reform the nation’s health care system when she was first lady of the United States, had twice been elected senator by the people of New York, and had been Secretary of State of the United States of America.  I’m sure she has even more feathers in her cap, but those are certainly some highlights.  On the other hand, most of those people probably knew that Hillary was married to Bill who cheated on her while he was President. 

    The people targeted by the Trump campaign are the proverbial 2s and 3s in the political scheme.  Ignore them and they will likely vote for your opponent.  Target them hard and they can be persuaded to either vote for you or not vote at all.  Elections are won by a majority of the people who vote so a non-vote by someone likely to vote for your opponent is as good as a vote for you.  The Trump campaign targeted the 2s and 3s and Trump is in the White House in spite of losing by more than 3 million votes.  The Trump campaign had the resources, financial and organizational, to use old-fashion political science successfully. 

    Did I mention the importance of strong organizations?  Organizations don’t really need to be directly related to your political party.  That’s why the Labor Unions are so important to the Democrats — they just don’t have the clout they use to have, and why the NRA and for profit churches are so important to the Republicans.  It’s why, in my opinion, a network of atheist/secular clubs could have such a positive influence.

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  • Hi Michael,

    Yes, I do understand what the Trump campaign was doing and why. But targeting a demographic to try to get them to vote for you is one thing. Targeting them to deter them from exercising their democratic right to vote at all quite another, especially when the targeted demographic was disproportionately Black and the attempt to exclude that demographic has since snowballed dramatically and forms part of a wider policy of disenfranchisement and discrimination.  I hope you would agree. Democracy matters. And there’s more to true democracy than simply winning by hook or by crook.

    As for the clubs, personally I can’t think of anything that would make me go to one. Back when “new atheism” was really taking off there were several attempts to set up clubs for atheists/secularists over here in the UK. None of them got anywhere much, or they fizzled out quickly.  And I suspect they’d have fizzled out even faster if people had sensed they were being “organised” politically. In my experience (and I fully accept yours may be different), for most atheists, being atheist really isn’t such a big deal. There comes a point when it’s just the wallpaper of your life, barely noticed, just there. The only thing I definitely have in common with other atheists is that I don’t believe in gods. When it comes to just about everything else, whether or not the other person believes in a god or not rarely comes into it. Even when I meet up with avowedly atheist friends these days, the subject simply never comes up. We exhausted the topic long ago, and are now more interested in other subjects. And when it comes to talking about those more interesting things – politics or books or theatre or film or travel or family or just life – the other person’s religious views or lack of them simply don’t come into it. Honestly, Michael, what next? Seminaries for atheists? 😉


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  • Thanks, Michael.

    I completely agree that the Hilary Camp failed through a comparative lack of sufficient political strategising that looks in retrospect like complacency.

    I’m comparatively unenthusiastic about playing the unfair strategy card against the 2016 Trump campaign on account of it being a simple development of past political strategising extended with the use of then available legal tools (hopefully not legal for long). I think it makes the Dems look naive. Still there is more to come.

    I do think in future we need to radically police and flag targeted personal communications in some way. Adverts are one thing but the armies of bots and trolls, increasingly coordinated, are the new mercenaries.


    I’m with Marco on the irrelevance (in the UK) of organising atheists. Secularists make more sense with their particular political stance, but meh, there are too many atheists I politically disagree with. Over there though I think the secularist stance could be the foundation of a substantial and very necessary political pressure group, exhorting both/all parties to do better…yep even Republicans…

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  • Marco,

    I will not watch the debate. I can hardly watch the national news at all due to them running video clips of Trump repeating the same disgusting lies and revolting comments over and over again. I can’t take it anymore.

    I already know who I’m voting for. I’m just hoping Biden doesn’t screw it up tonight.

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  • I feel your pain, Laurie. I wouldn’t be able to bear it either. I won’t even be able to bring myself to watch clips from it tomorrow, and I’m nowhere near as directly affected by it all as you are. I’m hoping Biden doesn’t screw up tonight too. The closer 3 November comes, the more terrified I am that Trump’s going to get in again. It’s just been the pattern of the last 4 years: everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. At every chance we’ve had to do the better thing, we’ve unerringly chosen the worse one. UK and US. It would take greater reserves of optimism than I possess *not* to fear the worst.

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  • I’ve only read a write-up of it in The Guardian (UK newspaper), but it sounds to have been an utterly squalid affair. A bear pit. Trump debases everything he touches. What an embarrassment for America. The US has had plenty of presidents in my lifetime I’ve profoundly disagreed with and distrusted, but say what you like about Reagan and the two Bushes, none of them brought the whole country into disrepute the way Trump has. None of them posed a threat to democracy itself. What’s happening now is just horrific.

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  • I was very surprised that Biden took the bait.  As an experienced parliamentarian he should know better – if insults are hurled, then it is the job of the chair to stop them and the insulted party should appeal to the  chair.  There are plenty of ways to do this without appearing to be a  whimp, and after forty odd years in the House, Biden should know them all.  If the chair fails to do his duty, or is ignored by the aggressor, then the offended party should stand silently and let the other fellow rant.   In extremis the chair can throw out the offender or withdraw himself, preferably along with the offended party.  What riveting television that would make!

    Leaving Trump to rant would have done the job for Biden.  Why hadn’t his handlers rehearsed him again and again, using a Trump surrogate – if any actor would have taken the job?

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  • It’s both fascinating and disheartening that Trump’s toxicity is yet again stealing the show.

    The debate was not a disaster.

    Trump is, and he showed that quite clearly.

    Biden on the other hand was poised and effectively communicated his beliefs and aspirations. For instance, who can honestly prefer Trump’s confused ramblings on law and order, even refusing to denounce The Proud Boys, to Biden’s insistence on accountability and community involvement?

    If any bait has been taken, it has been by those who are helping to conceal Biden’s reasonable performance behind Trump’s dumpster fire.

    The similarities between this coverage and our 2016 failings are scary. Is this just who we are?

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  • Biden did take the bait a few times,for instance clown and shut up, he also tried to shout Trump down, when Trump was shouting him down.  I do however agree with you about those who are “helping to conceal Biden’s reasonable performance behind Trump’s dumpster fire”.  In politics you have to allow for that, and try to make your presentation immune from misrepresentation, in form and content,  Trump doesn’t even bother to do this, so it should make it easier to beat him at the game, if you don’t let him get at you.

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  • If a man is occasionally clownish, then calling him a clown is likely being unnecessarily rude.  If however, he is consistently clownish to the detriment of the environment, then calling him such is appropriate.  As the President, Trump’s clownish behavior is appalling, and it is eroding confidence in US institutions.  A good leader must call him out.

    Doing so has many benefits.

    It is welcomed by those who have wondered if they might be going crazy. It confirms they are not.  It clarifies boundaries, and it establishes a willingness to stand up to, and meet appalling behavior head on.

    What is there to say against it, except that it is surprising to hear at this level? Surely such a complaint has lost all merit after four years of Trump’s behavior? Insisting that we adhere to such norms at this stage risks further alienating the real victims of Trump’s presidency.

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