Writing a letter

Dear Hon. [Representative],

Today, I read an article about Guatemalans who were injured in unethical medical experiments carried out under the auspices of the US government.

I would like it if you could sponsor legislation to provide treatment for those injured and their families. I would also like the US to establish firm ethical rules regarding conducting overseas medical research, such that researchers are bound by rules at least as strict as they are bound by here.

Many Guatemalans were deliberately infected with syphilis and gonorrhea without their knowledge or consent and never received any treatment. They have since unwittingly passed the infection on to their partners and children, who were infected at birth and who have since passed it on to their own children. Few of those effected could afford medical treatment, even if it was available in their region. I would like to see the US provide treatment and compensation, as well as help establish health clinics in remote parts of that country. Failing that, I would like to see the US waive sovereign immunity in this case so that those effected can proceed with a class action lawsuit.

As American pharmaceutical companies are performing more and more research abroad, it’s important that subjects give meaningful informed consent, adequate compensation, and appropriate treatment for injuries during the study. Going overseas cannot be a way to dodge ethical guidelines.

Thank you for your time.

Charles Hutchins

Speaking up

Friends, I need you to say something if somebody around you is saying or doing something transphobic. Even if it’s awkward.

Why This is Important

I watched the BBC’s coverage of the election night and they interviewed many Trump supporters. I know these people are not representative of voters as a whole, but just about every single one of them said, without embarrassment, on camera, that they were against transgender people. These folks are largely misinformed and afraid of a false picture of trans people.

It’s dark times in the world. If somebody starts talking badly about minority groups, it may not be just talk. They may be working themselves up to action. Maybe they’re going to say something mean or do something mean or cast a ballot. They may be trying to gauge what people around them think – to determine if there’s consensus before they act. It’s up to you to speak up. Firstly, to let them know there’s not consensus. Secondly, depending on your relationship with them, to bring them around. Unfriending bigots has not worked out. We need, instead, to talk with them.

The SPLC has a great resource on talking to bigots. You should read it, but I’m going to give you some trans-specific devices here as well. (Trigger warnings for trans people.)

If you think this is less important than climate change and nuclear proliferation, remember this is why people said they voted.

Getting Started

There are two easy sentences I want you to have ready, that help with many a situation. Memorise them, Practice them:

‘Trans women are women.’
‘Trans men are men.’

A lot of transphobia involves assertions that we are not really our current gender. We are. Be ready to say it directly.

Modelling

This is a gentle way to challenge transphobia, but alas, is still very awkward. This makes it a good place to start.

In modelling you re-state what somebody just said but with correct language.

Them: I think Bradley Manning is a [hero/traitor].
You: Why do you think Chelsea Manning is a [hero/traitor]?

Them: He was Bradley when he leaked the documents.
You: Yes, she leaked the documents before she transitioned.

When talking about somebody trans, use their current name and pronouns. Don’t say, ‘When Bradley was a man.’ Say, ‘Before Chelsea transitioned.’ This respects her current identity and helps keep people from tripping over pronouns. It’s very hard to get the right pronouns for somebody if you keep switching them up depending on when you’re talking about.

Perhaps your friend gets frustrated:

Them: This isn’t important!
You: It’s important to trans people. I know my trans friend said…

You Have a Trans Friend

We’re friends. I’m your trans friend. I’m giving you permission to use me as rhetorical device in conversations. First we need to talk about when you can use this:

Scenario #1:

Them: Trans people are [ugly|crazy].
You: My trans friend is [fairly unremarkably average looking | in ok mental health].

Yes! This is a good usage of having a trans friend – as a counter-example to a blanket assertion.

Scenario #2:

Them: I think what you just said may actually be kind of transphobic.
You: I have a trans friend!

No! Do not use me as a shield.

Scenario #3:

Them: Oh my god, the weather is too hot!
You: My trans friend likes the heat.

No! Only bring this up where it’s relevant.

Tl;dr: Bring up having a trans friend to challenge blanket assertions and stereotypes.

This is also a way to make things personal. If bigotry could be challenged by facts and statistics, it would already be over. Human connections are key to ending it. This is why Harvey Milk encouraged gay people to come out. Unfortunately, this strategy doesn’t work as well for trans people, partly because there are so few of us. I need you, my friend, to help humanise us.

Bathrooms

One place people have been campaigning against us is our access to toilets, bathrooms and changing rooms. This is specific to trans women, so having a trans man friend (me) won’t be as useful, but I can give you some pointers.

If somebody you know starts talking about feeling uncomfortable about sharing facilities with trans people, remember your very first two sentences: Trans women are women. Trans men are men.

What we now call ‘rape culture’ used to be referred to as ‘male violence.’ Sometimes people will start talking about ‘male bodied’ people. But: trans women are women. Violence does not stem from bodies. If certain classes of bodies were the sources of violence, then there’s no hope of ever combating it. It would be a biological fact.

Violence comes from culture. Rape culture is what Donald Trump has done and bragged about. It’s not embedded in his physical form.

Trans women inhabit the cultural space of womanhood. Terms like ‘female bodied’ don’t reflect cultural roles. They reflect only what a birth certificate said.

So how do you talk about this?

Them: I’m worried about male bodied people in the changing room.
You: Trans women are also effected by rape culture.

You’ve responded to their fears, you’ve modelled a correct way to talk about trans people and you’ve shown that trans women have fears in common with them. If you want to make a personal humanising connection as the conversation continues, that’s where your trans friend comes in.

Again, I’m not a trans woman. But I (and nearly every trans person I know) have had to physically run away from a scary transphobic incident in a toilet. When I use a public toilet, I get out as fast as possible, which is something I’ve heard most of my trans friends say. Those of you who have been bullied in school bathrooms can relate to this, I’m sure.

I’ve also been barred entry to toilets. Being denied entry to one toilet did not give me access to the other toilet. I just wasn’t allowed to pee at all. But when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go! I used to make a habit of trying to hold it. Part of this involved drinking less water. I got some weird infection from chronic dehydration. Again, this is common among trans people.

If I’m not allowed to pee when out about about, this limits how long I can stay outside my home. If I can’t use a toilet at work or in the train station, I can’t keep my job. Keeping trans people out of public or school toilets keeps us out of public and out of school. Special ‘family’ toilets are great for people who want them and we should build more of them, but they’re not always available and mark us out. I’m a man. I use the men’s room.

I’m sharing this so you can use it – because emotion and human connections matter more than facts and figures. This is not statistics, this is the life of someone you know. Make it personal.

Keep Trying

Conversations are going to be awkward. The first one often won’t change minds. If somebody says something and you’re unsure how to respond, think about it later to come up with a better reply.

Even if it feels like you’ve failed and made things uncomfortable, do remember that you have communicated a lack of consensus. This is important.

Also, if you spoke up in public – say, to challenge a sex change joke, you don’t know who overheard you. Hearing jokes like that sucks. Hearing a subsequent challenge restores hope.

Finally

Feel free to share this. I will try to answer questions in the comments.

Calexit

I’m seeing people online talking about CalExit, a proposal by which California leaves the USA and strikes out on it’s own. This has come up because Californians feel frustrated by the Electoral College, but it’s also got the weight of tech companies behind it.

The Electoral College does reduce the importance of people’s votes when electing the president. This is especially true for Californians. However, there are other solutions aside from declaring independence. One doesn’t even need to amend the constitution. There is a proposal in place to switch to the popular vote which is enactable on the state level. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would not do away with the college, but they would switch to merely formalising the popular vote. This seems easier to arrange than independence and would solve many of the grievances people have this week.

Californians can also see several other reasons for independence, largely based on the idea that we are weighted down by the rest of the US. This might be true economically, but we should take a look at where California is politically. It’s at the vanguard of the US. We, collectively, are just as stupid as the rest of country. But we’re stupid first. Californians have already had a go at electing a right wing media personality with poor politics and inadequate experience. Twice. Ronald Reagan was a disaster who took our schools from best in the country to, well, …lower property taxes for people who don’t move often, yay? And then the governator, who was better than people feared, but actually still terrible.

California had it’s demographic shift to being majority non-white several years ago and had it’s hateful freakout at the time. Pete Wilson was elected, proposition 187 passed, and the state set out to make migrants as miserable as possible. One of Wilson’s first orders was to deny prenatal care to migrant women, thus increasing birth defects in new born american citizens. That administration, voted in by Californians, vindictively spread misery wherever possible. And then white people were in the minority anyway and the sky didn’t fall. Many white people just got used to it. To the extent that California is now less racist than other parts of the US, it’s only because we’ve been through the other side of demographic shifts that cause racist whites to suddenly become extra-terrible.

Indeed, California may be done with it’s demographic shift, but it’s still got far rightists. The largest KKK membership in the entire US was in San Bernadito county. The state has the same urban/rural divide as everywhere else. That incident a few months ago with fascist stabbings was in Sacramento. Leaving the union will not make us safe from the fascists in our own borders.

But let’s talk about what succession would actually look like. California is the most populous state, with a large economy, tons of industry, including tech and Hollywood, it has seven of the US’s ten largest cities, at least one major shipping port and a whole lot of military bases, R&D and federal stuff, including Edwards Airforce Base (where the Space Shuttle used to land), and the NASA Ames Research Center. California is dismissed by east coasters as quaint or whatever, but they would sure miss us if we were gone, and not just because we grow all their almonds and avocados. Which is exactly why they’re not going to invite us to leave.

California: I’d like to secede now please.

Red states: That’s unpatriotic. And besides, we didn’t get to. Keep sending us porn and taxes.

Blue states: We empathise with you, but no. We need you.

There’s a reason there’s an even number of states in the two party system and why Hawaii and Alaska joined around the same time. If we leave, that’s one less blue state, with a massive number of representatives. Our fellow blues will not want to lose us. And the reds want the stuff we make and grow and would resent us for seceding where they failed.

So what next? Another civil war? Nobody wants to leave that badly.

There is, however, another way. Tech companies want to leave because they have visions of some sort of libertarian utopia. Where they are freed from regulation, but somebody competent is planning things so that the lights stay on. These ideas are mutually exclusive, unless we just give control of everything to google. The tech bro vision for the future of California is self-driving google buses taking rich people around, while poor people conveniently vanish. There’s other differences and issues this is papering over, but the tech companies could actually bring about Californian independence.

However much facebook wishes to deny it, it was them that elected Trump (and it’s them who have a convenient list of everybody’s race, religion and political views, should the government ever ask to see it). Their filtering algorithm separated people into red and blue milieus, so people on both sides never saw each other’s posts and a whole lot of untrue news stories got passed around. Pro-Trump stories got more clicks, so actual cottage industries sprung up writing fake pro-Trump news. This was monetised, thanks to Google’s advertising program, which also doesn’t care if it’s sat next to complete shit, as long as it’s getting eyeballs. Both platforms, desperate for viewers, let utter trash proliferate.

So how would facebook give us independence? The same way it gave us Trump. Only via constitutional amendment.

Blue facebook: The amendment is actually a Russian plot. We need California.

Red facebook: California gives us nothing but homosexuals, tofu, and pron. They’re evil. We would be better off if those Satan-worshippers were all barred from the US entirely.

And, because there are a lot of red states, even if they aren’t very populous, they would pass the required referendums for an amendment letting us go. But at the expense of LGBT people, sex workers, religious minorities, vegetarians and everyone else who gets othered, not just in California. It would make the country an uglier place than it already is.

And now, hugely demonised, we have our independence and have lots of almonds and no currency or trade agreements. Since this is a Silicon Valley plot, we can get bitcoin and learn to love instability. But what about freedom of movement? Since we’re evil incarnate, we’re not going to be allowed just to hop across borders. Want to go to New York? Better get a visa.

Indeed, let’s talk trade deals. Like Britain, we won’t even be members of the WTO. It can take years to join. NAFTA is probably out, due to not only us being evil, but Canada wanting to discourage Quebec from following our lead. I could imagine getting a good deal with the country that ruled us until 1848. Mexico might demand freedom of movement. I would be 100% ok with this, but it’s a very different future than the one tech bros are envisioning.

Also, remember all that US military stuff? The US government might want to be compensated for it’s property loss. So it would still be several years of sending them our taxes. We could try to do without any military stuff, but as we’re in range of North Korea’s nuclear missiles, we probably won’t. Indeed, since we’ve got google, who loves automated solutions, we’d be in grave danger of building killer robots. These would be drones, with weapons, that act without direct operator control. There’s a push to ban them by treaty in the UN, but we wouldn’t be signed on to it. This is one part of the tech bro future that I’d rather avoid, completely.

California is also not water independent, so we’d need to either buy water from Nevada or let Los Angeles go. Indeed, climate change may force that anyway. Every place on earth is dependant on water and climate, but this is especially clear in California.

The Trump future is terrifying, but getting out via amendment will take years and it would probably be too late by then. Getting out by revolutionary action is also a scary thought. Neither is showing any solidarity with people in other states who also need to be safe from fascism. And all of it ignores that facebook and google, the most emblematic software companies of silicon valley, are not victims of fascism as much as they are the platforms which allow it to flourish. And the data repositories which will allow it to achieve it’s ugliest aims.

Who should progressives support?

Live blogging the discussion by Our Revolution London (formerly London for Bernie)

The panelists are active in US and Uk politics on the left.

Travis: a Bernie supporter pitting forth Bernie’s position, which was to endorse Clinton. She has a adopted a left platform, largely put forth by Bernie supporters.

Trump is a fascist and a lot of voters don’t like Hillary. There are a lot of dodgy websites that look like legit media.

Writing in Bernie is a waste of time. The Libertarian is not a left choice. A vote for Trump is a vote for fascism. The Green Party is in disarray.

Trump could win. It is imperative to defeat him.

The Democratic Party has a history of left political victories. It is progressive to fight on the left wing of the democratic party.

Panelist #2:
The era of Clintonian politics lead directly to the rise of Trump. Neo liberalism created a vacuum that enables fascism.

Wiki leaks has given us insight into the inner workings of the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Many of these emails aer very concerning.

She asked herself if she should vote, should compromise, or should vote her conscience and vote for Stein despite her having no chance of winning.

Because she is from California, she feels her vote does not matter, so she is voting Green.  Third parties are b not currently viable in winning elections, but are important when it comes to ideas, movements and change.

She has decided that voting Stein is a way to stay engaged in politics. Stein has 99% agreement with Bernie.

She finds Clinton to be  untrustworthy given the emails leaked by wiki leaks. Support of Stein keeps the far left vital. She sees it as a way to move beyond horse race politics. In a swing state, she says people should vote for Clinton.

She claims there is a lot of disinformation about Stein. For example, Stein’s defence of anti vaxxers has been overstated or misinterpreted.

Stein is a scientist and is to the left of Bernie.

Neo liberalism must be challenged to fight the fascist vacuum.

Panelist #3:
This election went from inspiring to painful. It was Bernie who expanded the possible. The Bernie excitement is like Corbyn’s Momentum.

We cannot quietly accept neo liberalism and must solve the world’s problems. Change comes from below, from workers. From poc and women. The sanders campaign reflected the hopes and inspirations of the  disenfranchised.

The surging movements for equality in the us are where change congress from. Change vines from movements. What happens between campaigns? We must build movements to hold politics and corporations accountable.

People must believe that change is possible. Bernie made people believe that change is possible. People were excited because of his content, not because of party politics. He allowed people to believe they could vote for  meaningful change.

What have democrats done for her? Neo liberalism has been the policy of every us government she has lived under. Things have gotten more precarious and more unequal. No democratic president had done much for working class people.

The idea of humanitarian intervention was actually an advertisement for greater military adventurism. The Bosnia intervention paved the way for the Iraq war. Both parties are parties of the ruling class and the military industrial complex.

Chicago is a democrat town, but still had had massive privatisation and union busting. Democrats there have hurt workers. Organised workers are the only thing that fights the ruling class.

Voters must fight back independent of party politics, therefore the only real alternative is Jill Stein.

Remarks from the floor:

A labour party member says that brexitism will only get worse if someone like Clinton is elected.

Judith takes issue with that- she feels like trumpism is a flash in the pan. People have short memories. People will rise up to prevent this from happening again. This will lead to the Republican party splitting. The democrats may also split. The left wing may become a new, viable party.

Another commenter remembers FDR. In the late 40s, people learned ethics at school. But that doesn’t happen anymore. Young people don’t know the real purpose of trade unions. Despite being a socialist, he whole heatedly sorts Clinton because the path to power involves compromise. One must make decisions in life. He hopes that people will use knowledge and self examination to make good choices. He loves the UK, but held its important to vote on the US elections. It is vital to make a vote that will count. Clinton must win a massive popular vote to add legitimacy to her election. We must stay on top of issues and influence politics through unions and parties and other activism. This will slowly lead the US back to the left. This is more useful than voting for someone who cannot win.

A question from the back- Clinton had accused trump of being Russian stooge and is fond of Kissinger. Will she start ww3?

Kendra says: it’s ridiculous to vote for anyone but Clinton. There will be supreme court  appointment. A trump victory would be a disaster.

A woman in back: it’s good that Clinton’s platform has been pushed left, but there needs to be more criticism of Clinton. Her lack of response to critique leads to trumpism.

A guy in the back: Trump is an idiot, but it’s worryng that the whole media has turned on him. The whole media attacking half of the us is propaganda. They are being insufficiently deferential to a us candidate. The RNC is less corrupt than the DNC.

Kyra: comparisons of media coverage of trump and Clinton are refiduculous.  Party change can’t be something you dip your toe in every 4 years with presidential politics. Representatives have more ability to effect change.

A green party member: one wiki leaks email days she has a private position and a public position. She is on favour of fracking and wants a no fly zone in Syria, which would involve firing on Russians. Stein, however has been active in left wing politics for many years.

Another comment: the DNC cannot be transformed to be more left. Stein can’t work in a new left coalition because she is against that kind of party politics. The commenter wrote to hrc against the Iraq war, but she voted anyway. The democratic victories were actually victories of workers, co-opted by the DNC.

A woman at the back really dislikes Clinton. But voting for stein is silly, selfish and ignorant. Nader campaigners are full of regret. Clinton is not great, but could be worse. Climate change is never brought up at debates. It is so existential, in a way that other issues are not. Gore would have been better than Bush.

A guy says we need to vir for stein so she gets 5% of the vote to be in the debates.

Another guy in the back brings up campaign finance reform to get rid of the trump threat.

Judith, again: this discussion is very different than it would be in America. Trek Americans that the NHS is awesome and the trains ran better before they were privatised. We need to tell Americans that socialism works.

Kendra, again: you can’t tell people what to believe. Hour do we teach people in America that socialism is possible?

Now back to the panelists:
Speaker 3: Trump is vile. Sexism against Clinton is vile. Trump’s sexual assault is vile. Trump is a sociopath. So what is the best way to defeat the right wing and move people to the left? We must build on anti austerity policies. We cannot be wishy washy. We must support wealth redistribution. We must advocate for socialism. If there is no push back on the left, right wing populism takes off.
We must have pro immigrant policies on the us and Europe. Democracy must be increased. We must have worthwhile people to vote for. We cannot be asked to vote against our interests. Voting for the lesser evil moved the world to the right. Left wing candidates in the DNC are marginalised.

Panelist #2: People’s memories are sometimes short, but Trumpism will remain a risk. Indeed, his popularity is a consequence of forgetting. War is also a serious risk. Voting for Clinton is too personally shattering, as she would feel responsible for war deaths. There is wiki leaks evidence that suggests the DNC actually schemed to get trump the nomination. The party meant to save us from trump had created him. The v trump tapes were released on the same day as the wiki leaks document dump. At least trump has people talking about asexual assault. We are not having the right conversations, however. 5%of the vote for stein would be great.

Travis: Political purity is easy and attractive. It would be great if we could vote stein into office, but we can’t. The party is a coalition. There is, had been and will be a left wing in the  democratic party. Our only hope to access power is to work inside the power structure.

The  democratic party has changed over time. The left programmes of the party have come from lefty activism.

Jill already qualifies for matching funds whether or not she gets 5%.

The green party is great, but must be built from the v ground up, not the top down.

We must ask think about what reality we live in when we decide how to vote. We know that either Clinton or trump will win.

The next event is the democrats abroad election night watch. But a ticket.

It is possible to vote still.

Live blog: Open Meeting of Pride London

We’re in the basement of city hall. The room is not very full. Most of the people here are white cis gay men. Everyone at the front appears to be white and not young.

Apparently, at the last meeting some people were thrown out by security, but this time only the chair can eject people.

The board is now introducing itself. The first guy does all the stuff. The woman finds sponsors. Social media. Treasurer. So most of the people deal with office stuff and one guy actually does the festival?

The chair says they are focused on the community. They got control of pride in 2012 and need to be self-financing by 2018. The chair is invoking Orlando. They have some successes. Good at advertising, bigger great, low crime rates, worked with black pride.

Subsidised walking places for NGOs. Did a hustings. Did a lgbt history month event. They are claiming they ran the Soho vigil after Orlando.

They did some survey on survey monkey. 90% of respondents were cis. Most were men. Mostly atheist. Hugely white. 74%

They got respondents through their social media presence. The sample was large.

People come to pride because they want to celebrate. A small number have come to make a statement. Many just come for the parade. Satisfaction with the parade was high.

Volunteers were helpful. Accessibility was lures good. Allies felt more represented in the parade then lesbians did.

People are happy to see corporate involvement.

The community engagement board has some vacancies. You must be a member and official representative of a community group. The board vets every group in the parade.

They’ve got a silver in accessibility and are trying to improve.

‘Pride’s got talent’ continues to grow. It was a ‘very professional’ final (of unpaid talent).

Pride in London has joined international pride organisations. There is now a UK pride organisers conference.

Pride’s got Talent will be split. They want to provide an umbrella for festival events. They will do something for history month and Idahobit.

They want to reach out to women and minority groups including trans people, bme people and young people.

307 groups in the parade.
Announcement podiums through the route.

Trafalgar square had done speakers. The red arrows flew overhead. (Doing great reachout to minority groups…)

Lgbt businesses got involved.

The us ambassador got emotional at the Orlando tribute.

Official after parties raised some funds.

Most volunteers were cis gay white men.

Income is going up. Costs are below income. Funding from the mayor will go down next year.

Most of the costs are on Trafalgar square. Then the parade, then Soho. Then the picnic.

Sponsorship grew this year, including gifts in kind. They got 7 new giant companies to give them stuff. They got money from gay businesses. They collected change etc from people. They will collect for a charity.

They want to diversify their funding. They have grown their fundraising team. Now they’re showing corporate logos.

The communications guy is now talking about good media coverage. Much of this was due to Orlando. The abfab involvement also helped.

Their research got a BBC news story.

They got coverage from a bunch of news outlets. Social media engagement has been high. A million page views. Lots of twitter followers. They have more followers than other pride campaigns. They have an app with lots of downloads.

The proposing bobby story got lots of coverage.

The campaign was #nofilter which was meant to refer to people in the closet. And as a call for people to celebrate the spirit of pride and authenticity.

This was a massive success, they say. They got some free ad agency support. This was the biggest pride campaign ever. They got on telly. They showed some trans couples. They got on MTV. They wanted more women, trans, bi and BME people in their ads. And they won some marketing adverts.

The marketing came in under budget.

They put up billboards on Westfield, put up some films. They took their hash tag nationally.

They are revealing the shocking news that not everyone is 100% out all the time.

Made an impact on the marketing industry. One of the trans people is a soldier. Which is very positive.

Their research indicated that looking at trans soldiers makes cis people more comfortable with trans people. As did the involvement of mainstream brands.

The sponsors were happy.

Now they’re taking questions:

Somebody is adding about the parade route.

They can’t afford to do the festival in a park.

Uk Black Pride wants to know how survey data will be used.

The community board uses it for their review. They want to figure out why black respondents are less satisfied with the event. The data is stated with sponsors and to improve pride, but is not sold. It is also used for their educational outreach.

Now there is a question about parks. The board member is taking about all the parks.

Now somebody is taking about security. The board member is taking about volunteer training.

What happens when the 5 year mandate has been met? The mayor is very committed to pride.

Will pride ever have paid tickets? They want to keep the event as free as possible, so they ask for suggested donations. There is no plan to have paid tickets. They are committed to appropriate crowd control.

What about emergency services in pride? The emergency services are an important part of the city. We are very grateful to emergency services and want them to be part of it.

The 2017 date will be confirmed imminently.

The lgbt cons want to know why political groups are placed at the back of the parade. The board wants every group on the parade to be respected. They try to avoid putting groups next to each other that won’t get along.

Jo is asking also about politics at the back and also about individuals who want to march outside of a group.

The board days they were concerned about health and safety in light of Orlando. If everyone who was concerned about Orlando had marched, it would have brought central London to a standstill. They need to pay for stewarding, which means supporting paid groups first.

Somebody who wants biodegradable confetti cannons on Twitter. They are expensive to clean up.

Somebody wants to know the relationship between the picnic and black pride. Could the parade be as diverse as black pride? Also why was the sound system so crap at the black stage?

There was some poor communication around staging.

The trans representative from the CAB is happy there were more trans people than previously and how will the board increase trans participation? The board member is keen to help on trans stuff and also to speak over the trans representative. They only have so much budget. They want to have a trans cafe, but need to make collective decisions. Their sponsors are really great for trans visibility and we can learn from our sponsors. There are a lot of vacancies and they want trans volunteers.

Algorithms and Authorship

A recent Wall Street Journal article (paywalled, see below for relevant quotes) felt it necessary to quote associate professor Zeynep Tufekci on the seemingly self-evident assertion that ‘Choosing what to highlight in the trending section, whether by algorithms or humans, is an editorial process’. This quote was necessary, as Zuckerburg asserts Facebook is a technology company, building tools but not content. He thus seeks to absolve himself of responsibility for the output of his algorithms.

It’s surprising he’s taken this argument, and not just because it didn’t help Microsoft when they tried it after their twitter bot turned into a Nazi.

Facebook is acting as if the question of authorship of algorithmic output is an open question, when this has been settled in the arts for decades. Musicians have been using algorithmic processes for years. Some John Cage scores are lists of operations performers should undertake in order to generate a ‘performance score’ which is then ‘realised’. The 1958 score of Fonatana Mix ‘consists of 10 sheets of paper and 12 transparencies’ and a set of instructions on how to use these materials. (ibid) Any concert programme for a performance of this piece would list Cage as the composer. That is, he assumes authorship of algorithmic output. The question of authorship has had an answer for at least 58 years.

Indeed, other Silicon Valley companies, some located just down the road from Facebook have quite clearly acknowledged this. The Google-sponsored ‘Net.art’ exhibition, included in the Digital Revolutions show at London’s Barbican in 2014, included artist attribution next to every single piece, including those making copious use of algorithms.

Art has already tackled even the issues of collective and collaborative algorithmic authorship. In 1969 Cornelius Cardew published Nature Study Notes: Improvisation Rites, a collection of text pieces by Scratch Orchestra members. Each of the short pieces, or ‘rites’, has individually listed authors. However, when programmed for performance in 2015 at Cafe Oto, the programme was billed as ‘The Scratch Orchestra’s Nature Study Notes,’ thus indicating both individual and corporate authorship. Some of these pieces are best described as algorithms, and indeed have been influential in tech circles. As Simon Yuill points out in his paper All Problems of Notation Will Be Solved By The Masses the anti-copyright notice included with the score uses copy left mechanisms to encourage modification.

Some may argue that the artist gains authorship through a curatorial process of selecting algorithmic output. Unlike Iannis Xenakis, John Cage never altered the output of his formulas. He did, however, throw away results that he deemed unsatisfactory. Similarly, Nature Study Notes was curated by the listed editor, Cardew. One can assume that performing musicians would make musical choices during performance of algorithmic scores. It’s arguable that these musical choices would also be a form of curation. However, composers have been making music that is played without human performers since the invention of the music box. To take a more recent algorithmic example, Clarence Barlow’s piece Autobusk, first released in 1986, is a fully autonomous music generation program for the Atari. The piece uses algorithms to endlessly noodle out MIDI notes. Although phrasing the description of the piece in this way would seem to bestow some sort of agency upon it, any released recordings of the piece would certainly list Barlow as the composer.

Facebook’s odd claims to distance itself from it’s tools fail by any standard I can think of. It’s strange they would attempt this now, in light of not just Net.Art, but also Algorave music. That is dance music created by algorithms, an art form that is having a moment and which is tied in closely with the ‘live-code’ movement. Composer/performers Alex McLean, Nick Collins, and Shelly Knotts are all examples of ‘live-code’ artists, who write algorithms on stage to produce music. This is the form of artistic programming that is perhaps the closest analogue to writing code for a live web service. Performers generate algorithms and try them out – live – to see if they work. Algorithms are deployed for as long as useful in context and then are tweaked, changed or replaced as needed. Results may be unpredictable or even undesired, but a skilled performer can put a stop to elements that are going awry. Obviously, should someone’s kickdrum go out of control in a problematic way, that’s still attributable to the performer, not the algorithm. As the saying goes, ‘the poor craftsman blames his tools.’

Algoraving is a slightly niche art form, but one that is moving towards the mainstream – the BBC covered live coded dance music in an interview with Dan Stowell in 2009 and has programmed Algorave events since. Given Algorave’s close relationship with technology, it tends to be performed at tech events. For example, The Electro-Magnetic Fields Festival of 2016 had an Algorave tent, sponsored by Spotify. As would be expected, acts in the tent were billed by the performer, not tools. So the performance information for one act read ‘Shelly Knotts and Holger Balweg’, omitting reference to their programming language or code libraries.

Should someone’s algorithmically generated content somehow run afoul of the Code of Conduct (either that of the festival or of the one used by several live code communities), it is the performer who would be asked to stop or leave, not their laptop. Live coders say that algorithms are more like ideas than tools, but ideas do not have their own agency.

Zuckerberg’s assertion, ‘Facebook builds tools’, is similarly true of Algoravers. Indeed, like Algoravers, it is Facebook who is responsible for the final output. Shrugging their shoulders on clearly settled issues with regards to authorship is a weak defence for a company that has been promoting fascism to racists. Like a live coder, surely they can alter their algorithms when they go wrong – which they should be doing right now. To mount such a weak defence seems almost an admission that their actions are indefensible.

Like many other young silicon valley millionaires, Zuckerberg is certainly aware of his own cleverness and the willingness of some members of a credulous press to cut and paste his assertions, however unconvincing. Perhaps he expects Wall Street Journal readers to be entirely unaware of the history of algorithmic art and music, but his milieu, which includes Google’s sponsorship of such art, certainly is more informed. His disingenuous assertion insults us all.

150 years of Toxic Masculinity in the Arts

Angelica Jade Bastién, writing in the Atlantic, has an article, Hollywood has Ruined Method Acting. In it, she describes how some male Hollywood actors have undertaken extreme preparations for their roles. She notes women actors doing the same would be labelled high maintenance and have their careers suffer. Indeed, it’s considered risky for women to make any change to their appearance that does not increase how ‘conventionally’ attractive they are.

Two things strike me about this article. One is how these extreme methods to increase ‘art’ are often applied to films that hardly seem worth the effort. Jared Leto engaged in anti-social behaviour over a Batman spin-off. I know we’re at a high point of pop culture, etc, but summer Batman movies are not usually considered the kind of high art in which ones needs be a master of the craft. It’s a silly franchise with some very silly films and, lately, some extremely mediocre films.

Much like Leto’s latest film is a boring retread, so is this entire discourse. Undertaking hollowly desperate manoeuvres to reflect masculinity to a supposedly effeminate art is, alas, not forging new ground. I’m reminded of 19th Century composer Charles Ives’s horror of being considered anything other than hyper-masculine. Indeed, Ives, despite being a composer, viewed all of music with deep suspicion. When people asked him what he played, he would tell them ‘baseball’.

Ives learned music from his father and, like his father, played church organ. Somehow, this literal patriarchy was not enough for Ives, who sought desperately to distance himself from composers and listeners he felt to be beneath him. This, unsurprisingly, included women, men he felt were effeminate, and people of other races. None of these people performed masculinity as well as Ives, or so he asserted.

Ives imagined a delicate listener, unable to deal with the sheer virility of Ives’s chords. This imaginary audience member was named Rollo. Ives frequently mocked Rollo, demolishing this strawman at every opportunity. Rollo was responsible for Ives’s struggling music career for years, until a younger generation of composers discovered and championed Ives’s work

Composers such as Henry Cowell, who wrote Ives’s biography, and Lou Harrison, who edited Ives’s work for publication, pushed to get Ives’s work more well known. (Unlike Leto, Ives really was a master of his craft. His work was worth listening to.) Both of these younger composers worked closely with Ives on their project of getting his music out.

Cowell wrote approvingly of Ives’s attacks on Rollo, treating it as a family joke. His recounting is affectionate and warm. Of course it’s humorous to hate the inadequately masculine, he affirmed. He wrote the book before he got caught cruising and sent to prison. Ives and Cowell were on less good terms after Cowell went to San Quentin for homosexual acts. Harrison, too, was gay, although luckier than Cowell.

It was (and is) normal for people in the closet to laugh off jokes about themselves and participate in hatred against them. And these wasn’t much of a chance to be out of the closet at the time.

In addition to the inadequately masculine men, there were, of course, women who were not just listeners but composers. Ives’s assertions that some chords were masculine successfully gained traction. So that, in the early 20th Century, when Ruth Crawford Seeger received critical praise for her work, they wrote that she could ‘sling dissonances like a man’. Seeger understood this as praise and took it as such (and also had the support of Henry Cowell), but still stopped composing within a few years to work on folk music instead.

How much pain have people like Ives been able to cause people like Cowell, Harrison and Seeger, all for the sake of their insecurity? Were he alive now, instead of ‘Rollo’, Ives would certainly attack ‘PC Culture’ in his quest to make music great again. Ives and Leto both use toxic masculinity to boost their self esteem or their careers or both. Acting like a dickhead for publicity is nothing new. Toxic masculinity has always been, and remains, corrosive and succesful.

Raspberry Pi on a hot day

Edit

Whatever is causing my Pi to crash corresponds with a spike in heat, but I now suspect it’s not caused by the heat, but rather the heat is generated by whatever is crashing it. The pi is meant to deal with heat problems on it’s own. I’m leaving this up because parts of it are interesting, like suspending processes, writing functions, etc

A specific case

Let’s say you want to build the latest version of inkscape on your raspberry pi computer. And let’s say you want to install it via dpkg. You may find it crashes from overheating.

Fortunately, I’ve got a script for you.

Before running the script, do the following:

  • sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list
    • Uncomment the line with deb-src in it
  • sudo apt-get update && sudo nice apt-get upgrade -y
  • sudo apt-get build-dep inkscape -y
  • sudo apt-get install build-essential dpkg-dev fakeroot cmake bzr dh-make -y
  • sudo apt-get remove inkscape
  • sudo apt-get autoremove

Then, when it’s done:

./pi_build_inkscape.sh && cd ~Downloads/ && sudo dpkg -i inkscape*.deb

The General Principle

What you need for any overheating for of problem is the ability to check the temperature and then pause processes until it falls. First, how do we check the temperature? Bash functions can’t return values, so we’ll write a global variable.


#!/bin/bash

deg=0

function get_temp {
  cpu=$(</sys/class/thermal/thermal_zone0/temp)
  deg=$((cpu/1000))
}

get_temp
echo "$deg c"

That’s good. We can do some testing with $deg and put a process to sleep and wake it up again. But we also need to do subprocesses! We’ll do some recursion.


function pause_proc {
  #renice -n 15 $1
  kill -TSTP  $1
  for i in `ps -ef| awk '$3 == '$1' { print $2 }'`
  do
    #echo "pausing $i"
    pause_proc $i
  done
}

function resume_proc {
  kill -CONT $1
  for i in `ps -ef| awk '$3 == '$1' { print $2 }'`
  do
    #echo "restarting $i"
    resume_proc $i
  done
}

Now we just need some way to track if a process is still running, and to sleep between temperature checks etc etc


function run_proc {
  
  stopped=0
  sleep=1

  get_temp
  echo "$deg c " `date +%X`

  while kill -0 "$1"; do #run this loop while the process is running

    get_temp

    if [ $deg -ge 49 ] ; then # high temperature is 49
      echo "too hot! $deg c " `date +%X`

      pause_proc $1 # Do this every time in case we missed some last time
      stopped=1
      if [ $sleep -eq 5 ] ; then
        sleep=10
      elif [ $sleep -eq 10 ] ; then
        sleep=15
      elif [ $sleep -lt 5 ] ; then
        sleep=5
      fi
    fi
    if [ $stopped -eq 1 ] ;then
      if [ $deg -le 47 ] #Ok temperature is 47
        then
        echo "cool enough $deg c " `date +%X`
        resume_proc $1
        stopped=0
        sleep=1
      fi
    fi

    sleep $sleep

  done
}

I picked the temperatures of 47 and 49 based on when my pi tends to crash. theoretically, it should be ok up through the 60’s. If you don’t know what’s going on with your pi getting too warm, you can also set a loop in another window to print out the temperature in a loop.

So if we want to use this for some intense process in a script, we could put those functions at the top (under the #!/bin/bash ), and run our command like:


nice -n 15 some_command arg1 arg2 &
run_proc $!

Or if you want to make this a script you can run from the command line with your intense command:


nice -n 15  $@ &
run_proc $!

To add extra resilience to my poor pi, I’ve also put a heat sink on the CPU and, right now, it’s sat in a dry bowl which is sat in another bowl which is full of ice. It’s like one of those old Supercomputers, except probably faster.

A fortnight on

As the crisis meanders onwards, a peculiar time dilation becomes evident. At first, everything seemed to be happening all at once. Everything was in the present tense, be it past, future or actual present. It’s tempting to blame my initial drinking for this, but I’ve now been sober for days and it seems like several weeks have passed. They haven’t. It’s been a fortnight.

There is a claim that people are able to see their entire lives flash past them near a moment of sudden death. We don’t, as a country, see the past, but a strangely elongated present. The political parties continue to have their leadership campaigns at the speed of Twitter. Tory candidates have come and gone within the course of an afternoon. The US police have executed several black people. By gun, and in a gruesome new domestic use of battlefield technology, by a bomb-wielding killer robot. The Chilcot Report about Tony Blair’s role in the Iraq War has come out. Everything is happening at once.

Meanwhile, like a person who has just stepped off a cliff, distracted by visions, reality is still lingering at the edges of our perception. The pound continues to fall. Investment firms are leaving. The consequences of Brexit and the memory of the campaign is pushed out of our consciousness, but the mechanics set into motion – the conversion from potential to kinetic energy – has not ceased.

A few days ago, I managed to have my first conversation that did not mention Brexit. More have come since.

Today was a Rally for Europe across from Downing Street. As the shock dies off, so too apparently the crowds. By normal standards, it was a good protest turnout, but I worry this is not enough. To make a change, we really must turn out week after week. The speakers emphasised even this is not enough. ‘Don’t go home and feel proud of yourselves’ he said. We need to build a movement and organise.

The speakers talked about racism and lead us in several chants with uncertain rhythm. No instruction was given as to how one might organise. Perhaps this is something to google now that I’ve gotten home.

From the rally, we marched over to Green Park. Or perhaps we wandered. There was no more chanting or megaphones. There, we joined some sort of Picnic for Europe event. There were a lot of groups of friends sharing lunch. No speakers. Few signs. Some of us had flags. I was uncertain of the purpose of it.

The speaker at the earlier rally said we need to convince people to change their minds about Europe over the next 15 months or so. ‘Maybe’, he nearly whispered, ‘Article 50 won’t get invoked.’ If we can change people’s minds. If 60% of people come to decide the EU is a force for good.

While this neatly elides the question of democracy, I’m at a loss of how this might happen. The Tories will pick the next Prime Minister. The leading candidates right now are someone who wants to scrap Human rights legislation vs someone who is apparently unaware such legislation exists at all. If the next PM will blithely risk the British union- Good Friday Agreement be damned- then what hope for leading us back towards the EU? The slow-seeming financial catastrophe may not turn people left.

Indeed, I turn to the left and I see nothing. The problems with Keynesian economics that became clear in the 80s have never been solved. Neoliberalism so ubiquitous, it largely goes unnamed. We call it ‘reality’ and the left ‘dreamers’. But what are we dreaming of? The glory days of the post war consensus; of making socialism great again, like an inverse Donald Trump? Some are campaigning for a universal basic income, but I’m suspicious of some of the backers. A totalitarian pleasure regime is an improvement, sure; but shouldn’t we can aim for a utopia rather than merely a less hungry dystopia?

It’s possible something is going on and I’m missing it. I don’t know how to organise and I don’t know what to do.

At the rally, when I held my EU flag up over my heads, a European tourist couple attracted my attention. The woman expressed solidarity and gave some words of encouragement. She was glad to see this push back happening. I thanked her. But it’s not enough. I expect to turn out week after week for the next few months. It’s the minimum required, but it won’t be enough.

Weekend

Things continue to settle down to seeming-normalcy. There’s no longer the foregrounded sense of shock and danger. Time seems less fully gathered in one spot. Or perhaps this is because I’m finally sobering up from the semi-heavy drinking I’ve been doing since the crisis started. Predictably, lack of sleep coupled with much higher than normal alcohol consumption has left me with a cold, which is enough to get me to slow down at least.

On Saturday, I went to the March for Europe. I met friends and one of them immediately began talking about redundancies in his former work place. His wife is an EU Migrant. She is applying for permanent residency here, but has no enthusiasm for it.

We stood at the back of a queue of people and waited ages to step off. We assumed things were running late. Only much later, on an incline did we get a sense of the largeness of the march. It seemed small from where we were. It was impossible to get any perspective.

The march moved slowly, a pace that seemed exhausting. People cheered or chanted occasionally. Once in a while, a song rose up. 80’s pop songs about love figured prominently, but were always short. Nobody knew any of the words aside from the refrain. For a while, we marched next to somebody with a battery amp, playing the full Rick Astley song, which became ‘Never going to give EU up.’ Once a trumpet player suddenly started playing Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. This is the EU hymn. A cheer went up, but nobody knew any words, so we could only hum along.

The slowness of the march created a funereal air. I heard people talking about how marching was ‘important’. Angrier people talked how it was undemocratic to strip people of citizenship. The police are largely unseen, a stark contrast to the student marches of the coalition. It seems we don’t need policing. ‘Put things back how they were a fortnight ago’ is hardly a call to revolution.

As at all British protests, the signs were clever and pun-filled. ‘Yes to fromage; no to Farage’ ‘I will always love EU’ ‘Gove uck yourself’ ‘I want to be inside EU’. One sign was just a chart of the value of the pound over the last fortnight.

As we got to Downing Street, there was the only visible police presence. We turned to look at the street with bad feeling. One man yelled ‘wanker!’ and a chorus of boos went up. We trudged on to Parliament square, which was full of people. More marchers continued to pour in behind us. At the front was a projection screen and a speaker array. I could barely see the screen. The voices of speakers echoed around the square, but were unintelligible from where we were standing. Only an occasional phrase would come through. The space in front of us was packed with protesters. Behind us were even more people, many of whom were dancing to 80’s torch songs.

Near the end of the rally, they started playing Abba’s SOS. People on stage swayed with signs. People in front of us sang along. Then the rally was over.

Afterwards, we went to the park and had tea. It was a lovely sunny afternoon. I left and went to a barbecue. About half the people there were Americans. Most of the conversations were about Brexit or Trump. I wasn’t drinking because of a cold, but most people had been going for hours. A lot of discussion retreated to the safer, more familiar area of the future of the Labour Party. A temporary problem with a temporary solution. Something a lot easier to hold in mind.

Today, I went to the stone setting for my wife’s grandmother. It’s a year since she died. There was a short ceremony and we went to breakfast. Most of the family are a generation older at least. One relation confessed that they’d voted leave. They said it like they were asking for forgiveness – they probably were. It was a protest vote. They didn’t expect to win – don’t know why they’d voted that way. They said they need to have a period of self-reflection to understand why they voted as they had. It was my first time meeting anyone with ‘Bregret.’ I got a bit snippy. I don’t know how to react to this. They were horrified by the results. They were grossly misinformed of what their vote even meant.

If everyone who feels regret writes their MP, could that make a difference? This is democracy without information. How can it be meaningful to have a vote when no one knows what they’re voting for?

One well-attended march is not enough to stave off leaving. And the uncertainty is also bad. It is impossible to plan under these circumstances. There is a rumour of another march next weekend.

One sign at the march said, ‘Britain is not an island.’ Perhaps it’s a ship, drifting rudderless along the sea.