Some Folks Have Forgotten About Bush

Not, not just the RNC, who spent their entire convention pretending he never existed, but also the manarchist left. Both parties are fascists, they say.
I’ll just note that everybody I’ve heard say this is a straight, white, cis man. Rmoney is currently polling at 0% with black people. Probably because he’s running the most racist campaign I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime. But I guess if racism doesn’t matter to you, the parties are equal. And if you’re cis and didn’t have to worry about doctors refusing to treat you on account of being trans, a situation that has changed over this summer, I guess the parties are equal. And … you know what. I’m going to cut this section short. Anybody who has been paying even the tiniest bit of attention to social issues knows there is a massive gulf between the parties and the only way one could claim equivalence is to completely brush aside the concerns of women, of LGBT people, of people of colour and of several other groups.
But on some level, the manarchists are right. The parties only disagree on some issues and march in lock step with whatever their corporate masters agree on. There is a lot of stuff that is not up for debate that the parties absolutely agree on. They’ve got us over a barrel. If we split the vote on the left or if we just stay home, then Rmoney wins and that does have a very real effect on the lives of many vulnerable groups.
Political leaders don’t lead. They follow. They follow money and they follow social movements. It takes years to build a movement. Occupy is fantastic, but it’s new and hasn’t yet had a chance to make a major change in things. If there’s nothing been building on the left for a while, then there’s nothing for the politicians to follow.
Nobody has EVER voted in positive political change. Political parties are not movements. You’re not going to get a socialist utopia through the ballot box. Ever. Positive political change has always come from the streets and it always will come from the streets. If you’re disappointed by your major party options on the left, then go spend some time hanging out with Occupy. Join a union. Join a march. Show up for things. Make noise. Get active.
If voting didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be a massive coordinated plan to disenfranchise people across the US. The people being disenfranchised are poor, are black, are transgender, are students, and are old. This matters..
In 2000, I remember people saying that Bush and Gore were both in the hands of corporations, that it didn’t matter who won. It really fucking mattered. Rmoney is not better than Bush. Four more years of stupid will destroy America.
There will be nothing left of out economy or our social safety net or of anything that made us great.
No, you don’t have to vote and nobody who wants a socialist welfare state or who wants peace is going to get elected to the presidency. Voting, like paying taxes and jury duty, is an unpleasant civic duty. You do it because it’s how society functions and because you love your country and because you care about your fellow citizens and because of your own self interest in hoping the dollar doesn’t crash. If you can’t do it for you, do it for me. I’ve only had the right to purchase healthcare in America for the last month or so. I’d kind of like to hold on to that right.

Twitter arguments – Updated

The other day, I got flamed on Twitter. I’ve reproduced the exchange here for your reading pleasure:

celesteh: So, um, Clint Eastwood yelled at a chair? Makes as much sense as anything else the GOP does, I guess.
shellymic: @celesteh It’s understandable that all of the concepts would be over your head. Better luck next time.
celesteh: @shellymic Oh, was it conceptual art? I should have read the programme notes!
shellymic: @celesteh That doesn’t even make sense…please stop trying, though. It’s ok.
celesteh: @shellymic Ah, I’ll slow down. See, there is more to art than paintings by Thomas Kinkaide. Sometimes people like to do surrealist theatre.
celesteh: @shellymic Ah nevermind. Even with the free time of recovering from surgery, pointless argument w strangers are too boring. You have fun tho
_markjrussel: @shellymic @celesteh no sense arguing with a liberal. They are not smart enough to understand much.
celesteh: @_markjrussell @shellymic I shall alert my university that my recent degree was granted in error.
celesteh: @_markjrussell @shellymic But seriously, why seek out and insult strangers on the internet? Doesn’t it get rather dull?
celesteh: @_markjrussell @shellymic Actually, I poked through your twitter feeds (too much free time, recovering from surgery) and discovered that …
celesteh: @_markjrussell @shellymic neither of you makes a habit of insulting strangers. I’m kind of curious what’s caused you to do so with me?

Sadly, I have received no reply thus far. _markjrussel has since locked his twitter feed.
My question was in earnest, though. When I got the first flame message, I thought that she must have just searched twitter for ‘GOP’ or ‘Eastwood’ and flamed indiscriminately. I thought this must be a politics of bullying. If you can find people who are personal tweeters who are not generally political and pile a few flames on them, you might be able to successfully intimidate them into silence and thus further an illusion of greater consensus towards your own point of view, as other views will have been aired publicly less often.
But then I went to verify that hypothesis and found that shellymic had, indeed, searched for tweets about Eastwood. But she had mostly retweeted them. The tweets she selected were terribly regrettable. (I would like to think that being on the left means avoiding hateful stereotypes and ageism or making shaming statements about disabled people, but, alas, in America every political stripe can come together to hate dis-empowered groups.) This is a technique I have often used as a way of illustrating poor political discourse and is fine in and of itself. The only other person she flamed, she first quoted.
Similarly, _markjrussel, while more punchy and loquacious, does not seem to make flaming even a significant minority of his twitter activity, although, obviously, I can’t reconfirm this now that he has locked his account.
So really, what gives? Obviously, I want to think it’s my stunning good looks and my brilliant wit that have drawn flames to me like literal flames normally draw moths, but I have a feeling that’s not it. So I’m putting out some questions for anyone reading this: Have you ever insulted a stranger on Twitter? What motivated you to do it? Is it something you do often? How do you decide who to insult?
I have a emotional sort of gut feeling that it’s somewhat appropriate to flame in comment threads or places where discussion is encouraged, but to me, it seems somewhat rude to attack private figures on Twitter. Do you agree or disagree? How do you decide when flaming is appropriate?
I doubt very much that shellymic or _markjrussel will ever vote the same way as me on anything, but I do think it could be helpful in general in America if people of different stripes understood each other better. I don’t like to think of my politics as a side in a match, scoring goals against each other. I want a better world where people are free to live and love and pursue their dreams without having to cope with a pervasive fear of falling.


Well, I think I’ve gotten the only reply I’m going to get:

shellymic: @celesteh @_markjrussell Les, u r an annoying little twit. I didn’t read your little blog. I’ll just block u. Have a great life.

Update 2

shellymic has also locked her twitter feed.

Ron Paul says he witnessed a murder and did nothing

In the above video, Paul talks of witnessing an infanticide in progress, in a hospital where he was present as a doctor. When asked about this, ‘Paul was briefly taken aback. “I would have had to have… I don’t know,” he said. “It was probably a fleeting, two minute thing. I walked in, took a peek, saw what was happening, because I was visiting there for an operating room. But I didn’t have the facilities! What could I have done?”‘ (Weigel 2011) I dunno, maybe performed CPR, called for assistance, called the police, reported the murder to an ethics body?
Paul is bragging in an advert that he saw a baby murdered and did nothing. Fortunately, he is lying about this.
Late term abortions are exceedingly rare everywhere in the world, but especially in the US, where, if I remember correctly, only two hospitals still do them. There is no hospital in the US where doctors will abort a viable fetus. In the case a of a medical emergency, they might do a premature delivery to save the life of the mother or the child, but they won’t abort a baby that could live outside the womb. Not only would it violate every kind of medical ethics, but the actions Paul describes are illegal. They are murder, not in the sense of overblown anti-abortion rhetoric, but in the sense of having a duty to alert the police.
I don’t believe that Paul is protecting a hospital that murders children, as this story is almost certainly made up. As Fred Clark notes, this isn’t particularly new or original lie and it’s one that both he and I have heard before. And, as Clark writes, “they never include the kinds of details that would make such stories believable — names or places that could be confirmed, or any other such evidence.” (2012) So Paul isn’t covering for a murdering hospital so much as he is repeating something he heard elsewhere as if it happened to him. In other words, he’s telling a lie and just pretending to have covered for murderers. It’s not actually his story. Much like he now says he didn’t actually write his racist newsletters. (Kucinich 2011)
The thing I don’t get about Paul is not his KKK-levels of racism, in which he signed his name to newsletters calling black people “animals” (Paul 1992), and it’s not his making up fabulous stories in which he idly lets babies get murdered. What I don’t get about Paul is how he has any appeal with anyone at all acquainted with the left. Yeah, he wants to let you smoke pot (maybe, depending on your state) (“War on Drugs”) and I guess if you’re a white, middle class man who is never going to get pregnant or have a partner who deal with an unwanted pregnancy, nor are you ever going to want to buy birth control (Somanader 2011), (which he would happily let Walmart refuse to stock, as well as the AIDS drugs, etc) and are never going to need a ramp to access a building (Alder 2011), and you don’t care about anybody else who is not just like you, well, I can see why you might like him. but that kind of makes you a bad person. Yeah, he’s got some anti-war rhetoric (“Foreign Policy”) and I’d like to see the wars ended also, but I’m not willing to sacrifice the civil rights act (Basset 2012) for that. Also, I’m not sure I’d trust a guy who is bragging he helped cover for murderers.

Alder, Ben. “Three Myths About Ron Paul.” The Nation. 27 December 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <>
Basset, Laura. “Ron Paul: Civil Rights Act Of 1964 ‘Destroyed’ Privacy.” The Huffington Post. 1 January 2012. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <>
Clark, Fred. “Say anything to take us out of this gloom”. Slacktivist. 3 January 2012. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <;
“Foreign Policy.” Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <>
Kucinich, Jackie. “Ron Paul’s story changes on racial comments.” USA Today. 22 December 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <
Paul, Ron. “Blast ‘Em?.” Ron Paul Political Report. 1992. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <>
Paul, Ron. “Life.” YouTube. 12 October 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <>
Somanader, Tanya. “Ron Paul: Greater Access To Birth Control Makes A ‘Mockery’ Of Christians.” Think Progress. 6 October 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <>
“War On Drugs.” Wed. Assessed 5 January 2011. <>
Weigel, David. “The Ron Paul Fetus Rescue Test.” Slate. 29 December 2011. Web. Assessed 5 January 2012. <>

America’s Last Strong Union

Dear Senator Boxer
I am writing to ask that congress take steps to stop cuts to the Postal Service. As you know, the postal service has just announced it plans to reduce service levels and fire 100,000 workers. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, these changes will put a drag on the economy, raise the prices of prescription drugs and hurt people living in rural communities. This is the last thing our country needs in a time of recession.
What’s more, as you know, the US Postal Service would be operating at a profit, were it not forced by congress to pre-fund the retirements of future postal workers who are not yet even born. The Post Services budget shortfalls are entirely a result of this mandate. This unprecedented mandate is an attack on one of America’s last strong unions, by forcing cuts where none are needed.
I hope I can count on you to protect these 100,000 jobs and do the right thing for the 99% of your constituents who rely on the postal service.

You cannot shop your way to a better world

Shopping is not activism.
Let me state that again: a targeted, organised, specific boycott, like the United Farm Workers No Grapes boycott of the 1980’s is activism. Because it has specific goals and is part of a larger protest movement. But buying only locally produced, organic produce from your local co-op is not activism. Because shopping is not activism.
Now, it could be very good for you and beneficial for your community to buy organic produce from your co-op, but that doesn’t make it activism. Similarly, you can use voting as a way of mitigating negative political change in your area, but voting isn’t activism either.
There are images going around facebook that suggest the “real” way to occupy Wall Street is by shopping at the right stores. I want to pick apart some of the problems with that.
Many of Walmart’s shoppers are poor. they shop there because they can afford the produce there. It might not be great produce or an altruistic retailer, but they’re eating better than they would be if they shopped someplace else. While it’s true that their communities would be better off if there were more independent retailers, in the mean times, you’re asking them to sacrifice feeding fresh fruits and vegetables to their kids. This is not reasonable. Also, by implication, the people who shop at Walmart become responsible of the bad effects of that retailer, when, in fact, they tend to suffer more keenly from those same effects.
Let’s say you go to an independent shop to buy clothes. Good for you. What are you going to buy? You decide to avoid the cardigan made by sweatshop labour. Good for you. You decide to avoid the one made with polluting synthetic yarn. You decide to get one made from only ethically treated animals. And decide to mitigate pollution by only going for organically fed animals. So you buy a llama hair cardigan made by a local hippie who grew his own llamas locally, feeding them only locally grown organic feed. You have successfully avoided Wall Street, kept your carbon footprint low, bought a sustainable cardigan that will last for several years and keep you warm even when you get soaked by the rain. Good for you! That cardigan probably cost $200, every penny of which stayed local and was invested back into your community. This was a good choice of how to spend your disposable income.
However, buying your hypothetical cardigan was not activism. First of all, although it was a wise investment in your own clothes and the community, this was really not affordable to most people. Walmart shoppers cannot afford to buy your clothes. Buying that cardigan is certainly an ethical act, but it’s not an accessible act. If you want to protest income inequality and economic injustice, this protest could not possibly come in the form of expensive personal purchases.
It’s disappointing that voting and shopping are not actually enough to change the world in a meaningful, positive way. These things are, quite literally, the least we should do. And we should do them. Those of us who can vote should take that responsibility seriously and if you have enough money to be ethical with your purchases, then certainly do it, but don’t make these things out to be bigger than they are. If you want to occupy Wall Street, then you’re going to have to vote with your body, not with your money and not with a check mark in a box, but by physically participating.
Our consumer culture of predatory capitalism has gotten seriously out of control and fixing it requires people of different social classes working together. If your activism is not accessible to the poor, it’s not in common cause with them. Anybody can stand in a mass demonstration. And we need to stand together.
I know we’ve been told our whole lives that consuming stuff is voting with our money, that we have choices that empower us through buying stuff and that we can build our identity (including our moral sense of self) by what we buy, but all of these ideas came from advertisers who want to sell us stuff. It’s been drummed into our heads since birth, but it’s not true. It’s propaganda to keep us buying stuff and docile. The purpose is to prevent protest, not empower an easy for of it.
Activism is a group activity. If it’s done at the mall, it comes with a risk of being escorted out by security. It is visible. It is disruptive. It is what we need.

Not Shopping at Amazon

Dear Sir or Madam,

I was distressed to read in the Guardian that you quit hosting wikileaks’s website ( I had intended to do all of my Christmas shopping with, but instead, I’ll find an online retailer who does not practice censorship. I’m very disappointed by this and I hope you change your mind.

Thank you for your time,
C Hutchins

Sooooo….. anybody got any suggestions about from where I should mail-order gifts for my family in the US?
First of all, I think the wikileaks thing is really cool. On the one hand, it is a problem for diplomats if they can’t write frank assessments for fear of seeing them in newspapers. But, on the other hand, there’s so much unnecessary and undemocratic secrecy that the embarrassment of the diplomatic corps is a small issue by comparison.
Also, the leaks don’t seem to be actually making the US look as bad as I thought they would. The bad behaviour (bombing and lying about it) was already fairly well known. I didn’t know, however, that the US was being pressured by Arab states to declare war on Iran. I would have guessed the opposite. So I’m happy to learn the US has been resisting this course of action. Also, the the cables about Sarkozy and others are really fascinating.
I’m also very happy to hear that banks are next. This is whistle-blowing on a large scale.
They keep telling us that if we’ve done nothing wrong, we have nothing to fear. Well, large, powerful organisations like governments and banks actually should be accountable to society at large, so prying into their secrets actually serves a useful purpose whereas CCTV cameras pointing into our windows do not. If the banks hadn’t destroyed the economy, I’m sure the prospect fo seeing their memos leaked would be much less pertinent. So I hope wikileaks keeps it up. Also, Manning is a hero, assuming he did it.
What’s not cool is Amazon giving in to government pressure. This is part of why I’m very wary of using US-based web services. Certainly EU governments do censor things, but the land of the free and home of the brave seems to be full of corporations who cooperate very easily. Also, as far as government goes, the Patriot Act gives them the right to spy on us, which is also not really what you want from your IT provider.
In short, Amazon pulling the plug makes the US, and especially US-based companies, look worse than the leaked documents do.
But seriously, from where should I order Christmas gifts? And what does one get for a 2 year old, anyway?

Politics and FOSS: Open to who and when?

I was recently doing some reading towards writing a paper that touched on the politics and philosophy of FOSS. That stands for “Free and Open Source Software.” That doesn’t mean free as in “no charge,” although that is often also true. It’s “Free as in Freedom,” according to those that follow Stallman [1]. FOSS software belongs to the community of people that use and write it.
It’s about sharing. You give away what you write and you give away your knowledge of how to use. Communities of users form, giving each other support and helping each other with the software. It’s very easy to see this in idealist terms, and I wanted to write a paper about how progressive we all were. I was reading a paper by Olga Goriunova that analysed FOSS from a Marxist perspective. And then again from a feminist perspective. And then again from a Deluzian point of view. [2] FOSS began to look like a Rorschach blot of politics.
Indeed when some of the major players in the movement, such as Raymond, are right-libertarians [3, 4] and others are anti-captialist, then obviously it resists this kind of simple political reading.This was at the back of my mind this afternoon when, looking for distraction, I logged into the Greater London Linux Users Group channel on Freenode.
Freende is an IRC server, so this was a real-time chat, established so that people in the London area can talk about Linux; maybe network or get some help with a problem. Instead, I wandered in to a conversation where the participants were bemoaning the “wrong” kind of people having babies, by which, they meant poor people. One of the participants was talking about how a particular 14 year old girl, known to him personally, was a “slapper.” (*) The conversation turned to how forced sterilisation of poor people would be a good idea. “[W]e keep coming to this conclusion, birth controll [sic] in the water in all council estates” suggested a user called hali. [5]
Meanwhile, bastubis, a woman from a working class background logged in and became upset about the content of the conversation. Bastubis noted she “lived on a council estate as a child.” A few lines later hali said, “the fact the chavs(**) get pregnant in the first place is usually a misstake [sic].” Bastubis explained that she was “a chav with an education – you’re talking about me.” Another user, dick_turpin, chimed in shortly thereafter with, “Enforced sterilisation I say.” Bastubis quickly became frustrated and left. [5]
Dick_turpin cheered her departure with a “Huzzah!”, while hali celebrated with a “muahaha.” [5]
Their exercise of privilege to create a hostile environment for some users is clearly not accidental. If they were unconsciously expressing privilege, that would not have been followed with a “huzzah.” Given that the conversation started with both gender and class based slurs, it seem likely that their desire to exclude bastubis from the group had roots both in class and gender. As such, their intention was specifically to replicate privilege found offline and institute online to create an homogenous environment.
That privilege is expressed online as much as offline should not be surprising. FOSS communities are diverse and organised around geographical regions and or interests and sometimes identity, such as women or LGBT users. Therefore, some groups will tend to allow unchecked privilege, while others will tend to frown upon it or specifically disallow it. Simon Yuill writes that OpenLab, another London-based community centred on FOSS, specifically grew out out of a progressive squatter-based movement. Hacklabs such as OpenLab, “have provided a clear political and ethical orientation in contrast to the somewhat confused and contradictory political and social perspectives articulated in the other communities and contexts of the wider FOSS world.” [6] When OpenLab’s mailing list recently had a discussion about how to get more women involved, there were certainly moments of frustration, but the apparent intention was inclusion.
How is it that FOSS can create some communities that would seem to be progressive and others that would seem to want to preserve privilege over any other goal? I think my error is looking at it as a political movement. A lot of its spokespeople speak of it in a political manner, but given the widely divergent viewpoints, there is no inherent or unifying left or right ideology of FOSS. It’s infrastructure. It has value to many groups of people because it avoids duplication of effort and grants them access to resources. For some groups, the fact that it also grants resources to other users is a necessary sacrifice – one that can be mitigated through hostility to undesirable participants. For other groups, the sharing is a main focal point. FOSS, itself, is political like music is political, with as many readings and intentions.

*A derogatory slang term used for sexual promiscuous females.
** A derogatory slang term used for poor people

[1] Free as in Freedom
[2] Goriunova, Olga, “Autocreativity: The Operation of Codes of Freedom in Art and Culture”. FLOSS+Art (eBook) Ed. Aymeric Mansoux and Marloes de Valk. 2008.
[3] Raymond, Eric S, “I am an active Libertarian” 2003. Assessed 18 August 2010.
[4] Raymond, Eric S, Whatever happened to civil rights? 2003. Assessed 18 August 2010.
[6] Yuill, Simon, “All Problems of Notation Will be Solved by the Masses: Free Open Form Performance, Free/Libre Open Source Software, and Distributive Practice”. FLOSS+Art (eBook) Ed. Aymeric Mansoux and Marloes de Valk. 2008.


The country I live in is preparing for an election. As a non-citizen, I cannot vote, but since I live here, the results will certainly effect me. Especially all the competing proposals to make life harder for immigrants and would-be immigrants. Still, I’m not going to tell anybody how to vote, although I do think a hung parliament might help keep them out of trouble. Instead, I want to share a story.
Ten years ago, in my home country, we had a couple of tossers standing for election. They both went to the same sort of schools. They both had fathers who had held high offices. They both had major connections to oil companies. They both had all the personality of plaster. It was tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum. It seemed not to matter which got in. One was coming from a supposedly more left party, which had done all kinds of horrible right wing things while in office and had widened the gap between rich and poor and had done a lot of bombing overseas. The other came from a somewhat farther right party which had an alarmingly bad record from its time in power in the 1980’s.
Still, there wasn’t all that much difference between the published platforms of the parties. One of them seemed to hate LGBT people slightly less than the other. One seemed to care a tiny bit more for poor folks (not that you’d be able to tell from the 8 years immediately preceding). In short, aside from empty words, it seemed like voting would be an utter waste of time. “Don’t vote!” we said, “It will only encourage them!”
As it happened, the slightly more right wing candidate got into office and it turned out that he was a bit more right than he had represented himself. Indeed, he was George W. Bush
“If voting changed anything it would be illegal” is only half true. Voting is perfectly legal because it allows a way to put a stamp of public approval on sociopathic policies that harm the general public. The structure of western democracy is such that you cannot actually ever seem to vote for anything good. You can only vote against things that are bad. Because the political process is controlled by the rich and powerful, only things they like are ever going to come up for a vote at all. The power of the masses resides in our numbers. We can take to the streets and demand things. Our needs and wants are raised via activism, not via voting.
This, however, should not construed to mean that voting is a waste of time. You cannot vote in positive change, but it’s possible to vote in negative change. Ergo, voting is not an expression of hope and change, but of damage control. Essential, important damage control. It’s a grim, ugly and strategic business. You do it because you’ve got to do it. Because you love your country. Out of a sense of responsibility; no matter how ugly or evil it is, you’ve got to prevent George Bush-like disasters from befalling you and your countrymen.

Letters to State Represenatives

Dear Honourable _,

I am writing to ask that more resources are allocated to higher education in the state of California. I’ve read that the regents of the UC system are voting to hugely increase fees. I’ve also read that the CSUs have been cutting services like library hours and doing no new admissions this spring.

While I understand that the state is having a budget crisis, the degree of cuts to the university systems and the size of fee increases is alarming. It’s actually cheaper for California students seeking a professional graduate degree to go out of state or even overseas. Our universities are excellent, but they must also be affordable to the populations they were established to serve. Raising fees may also have a detrimental effect on their standards as some of the most qualified students are simply unable to afford to attend and those that do attend can’t access the libraries except during limited hours.

Cutting the university system is short-sighted and foolhardy. It plunges middle class families into severe debt and puts education out of reach for much of the working class. Given that the Bay Area economy essential runs on brain power, this is not only dooming the would-be-students who cannot afford an education, it potentially harms all of the industries of the area. Our short-term downturn will become a long term one if we squander our human resources in a sort-sighted attempt to save money.

If we have to cut something, why not the prison system? It costs far more to house a convict for a year than to educate a student for year. Furthermore, every execution costs millions of dollars. Surely that money would be better spent on a young person’s future than ending a life. How many millions or billions of dollars do we spend on enforcing nonsensical anti-marijuana laws? Again, wouldn’t it be better to reduce student fees than to put somebody found possessing a joint through our justice system. If we neglect education in favour of prisons, I fear that over time we’ll need more and more prisons and have less and less for education until the outstanding know-how of the Bay Area is just a distant memory.

Thank you for your time,

C. Hutchins
You can find your two state legislators here.

I write letters

Dear Honorable Senator,

I am writing to encourage you to protect meaningful health care reform by protecting the public option and women’s access to reproductive health services. In order to be meaningful, the public option must be available to everyone, even if their employers offer health insurance. I would chose government-run health care and would like the right to do so no matter what my employment situation.

I’m alarmed about the abortion amendment tacked on to the house version of the bill. I hope that the senate is able to protect women’s rights to access abortion.

Thank you for your leadership on health issues.

C Hutchins