Current Affairs

2020 Epsom Derby shock – Serpentine

The Epsom Derby has a habit of throwing up shock results from time to time.

Epsom racecourse is not a regular oval, flat race track. It is undulating, culminating in the downhill sweep around Tattenham Corner, which is angled and cambered, and which often sees fancied horses changing lead legs, and becoming, gait-wise, crossed up. This robs them of momentum at a critical phase of the race. The final 3 furlongs to the winning post are actually on the side of a hill, which is not shown to any accuracy on TV angles.

Every year, a lone horse and jockey will try to lead from the front from the top of the hill to the winning post. Usually, it is an outsider, a horse whose trainer is confident will stay 1.5 miles, but lacking in speed. And normally, the lone ranger is swallowed up by the pack about 2 furlongs out, as his staying ability is trumped by the acceleration of higher-quality horses off of the final corner.

Once in a while, however, the lone ranger horse does cross the line first. In 1974, Snow Knight, a colt with next to no racing record, and a suspect temperament, was discounted in pre-race analysis, starting as a rank outsider at 50/1. He further dismayed everybody by dumping jockey Brian Taylor within a short period of time of him mounting in the paddock. This was SOP for Snow Knight, who was a fractious animal. Taylor swiftly remounted, none the worse for wear, and Snow Knight went to the start line, albeit still arguing with his handlers as he was led into the stalls.

Taylor slipped the field over half a mile out and went for home, confident that Snow Knight would stay the distance. He had run well in the Lingfield Derby Trial, a race at the same distance on a circuit that resembles Epsom. Everybody sat and watched, expecting Snow Knight to be swallowed up by the field, but around 2 furlongs out, the terrible truth dawned, both among the brains of the pursuing jockeys, and the spectators, that Snow Knight was not coming back to the pack. He accelerated well, and held off the pursuers to win by 2 lengths. He actually pulled away from his closest pursuer in the last furlong. He had speed as well as stamina.

Unlike some Derby fields, this was not a weak race. Snow Knight was not the second coming of Airborne. High-quality horses such as Bustino (who had won the Lingfield Derby Trial) trailed him home in the race. Snow Knight, it turned out, was a far better race horse than anybody expected. His record in the UK was spotty, mainly because after the Derby he was mostly entered in races where he was competing against older horses, but sent to race in the USA at age 4, he did very well indeed, despite still being a pain in the ass temperament-wise. At the end of 1975 he was voted Champion American Turf Horse.

In 1985, Steve Cauthen led for the entire race on Slip Anchor, and, in an enterprising Cauthen way, pushed Slip Anchor further into the lead 5 furlongs out, after noticing that Petoski, who was leading the chasing pack, was starting to tire. Slip Anchor stayed in the lead all the way to the finish line, extending his advantage in the closing 2 furlongs. At the time, Cauthen was convinced that Slip Anchor might just be the best horse he had ever ridden, but unfortunately he had an accident in his stall and was never the same horse on track afterwards.

Yesterday at Epsom, we had a repeat of the 1974 and 1985 races, when Serpentine, an unfancied outsider, was sent into the lead of the race a long way out. None of the other horses followed him, and kept tracking each other and running their own race. They suddenly found themselves with no chance, as Serpentine kept moving at the same speed, and they barely made a dent in his lead. He crossed the line 5+ lengths clear.

It remains to be seen whether Serpentine’s victory was a fluke, made possible by the introversion and collective observational failure of the rest of the jockeys, or whether he genuinely is a top-class racehorse. His breeding suggests that he may be the real deal. We will find out over time.

UPDATE 1 – Steve Cauthen, in an interview, pointed out the similarities between his win on Slip Anchor and the win of Serpentine. As he says, if you have a horse that handles the curves and undulations, and who likes to run freely, it is possible to lead from the front a long way out and challenge the rest of the field to catch you.

UPDATE 2 – At time of writing Serpentine looks like a fluke winner of the Derby, having done little of note since he won the race. He has been sold out of Aidan O’Brien’s yard to an Australian breeder and has a new trainer in Ireland.

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Bryony Frost Affair Part 3 – the fallout continues

This is Part 3 of a series of postings. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

Following the verdict in the Bryony Frost case, some parties issued dumb and ill-advised statements. The PJA’s statements were very ill-advised, since, overcome with indignation, they essentially hung Bryony Frost out to dry, providing her with zero public support.

The PJA’s leader Paul Struthers has now elbowed other PJA spokespeople out of the way, admitted that their actions have destroyed Byrony Frost’s confidence in their capability to support her, and has apologized. He seems to fully understand that the PJA has now dug itself into a large hole over the affair. The PJA still has a horrible public perception issue to address, and many female jockeys have to be wondering whether an organization without a single woman in its leadership team can currently be trusted to properly represent their interests.

At the same time, Helen Sheridan has, unlike many people, fully parsed the submissions of the representatives for Dunne and Frost at the BHA inquiry. As she points out, the statement that the weighing-room culture is “rancid” was not an unconditional allegation made by the BHA. It was a conditional statement by the the BHA’s counsel.

We are also witnessing a classic “whispering campaign” by various people making allegations that Bryony Frost is “arrogant” and has a bad attitude. Funny that. This is exactly what bullies or supremacists always claim when called on the carpet about their bad behavior. Taken one step further, we will start to hear the familiar language of the abuser. (“If she had kept her mouth shut I wouldn’t have had to hit her”).

This affair, like a large bruise, will take a while to heal.

 

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Bryony Frost Affair Part 2 – the PJA train-wrecks

Bryony Frost is not a naif from outside of racing who is glad just to be in the weighing-room. She comes from a racing family. Her father Jimmy Frost is a retired National Hunt jockey who won the 1989 Grand National. According to Richard Pitman, who rode against him, Frost was a very good jockey.

Bryony Frost has a media career, due to her personality, which gives her a higher public profile than many jockeys. She has a management and PR company. That was obvious when she issued her public statement after the announcement of the results of the BHA inquiry. The statement thanked the public for their support, drew a line under the incident, and said “I’m moving on”. It was clearly written with help from a PR professional who understands media interaction and how to manage public perception.

The PJA’s reaction was, bluntly, disastrous. Instead of a short statement, where they could have expressed disappointment at the outcome, but reserved their position on appealing Dunne’s inquiry verdict and suspension (which is, in my opinion, excessive), they issued a 2-page rant on headed notepaper, complaining about anything and everything. The statement showed no awareness that a jockey had been found guilty of four (count them, four) different infractions. It read like angry and defensive ranting about perceived injustice, and pretended that the allegations by Bryony Frost had still not been proven.

Then, just to make matters worse, the PJA issued a similar statement purporting to come from female jockeys. It was yet another rant on headed notepaper, written in a similar style to the first press release, but it has one highly damaging credibility defect. There are no names attached to it. We have no way of knowing which female jockeys are supporting the statement, and my cynical side wonders if this statement was created by the PJA without any input from female members. Unless two or more female jockeys are prepared to publicly sign on to this statement, it has no credibility at the present time.

The PJA appears to either have not noticed that they are not dealing with a minor incident involving a run-of-the-mill jobbing jockey, or they decided that they can ignore that fact. They to appear to either have no PR consultants advising them, or they are not listening to any PR input, because if they were, they would never have issued either one of these statements.

Worse still, Jon Holmes, one of the leaders of the PJA, has shown up on television, essentially repeating claims in the statements, which include the horribly damaging characterization that Bryony Frost “felt bullied”. When one of your members has been found guilty of four counts of egregious misbehavior towards a fellow jockey, attempting to re-frame that as “somebody felt bullied” is a PR disaster. It screams “denial”. 

Any reputable PR consultant specializing in disaster management would be jumping up and down right now shouting “NO NO NO!” if shown the PJA document trail. This is a case study in how to not respond to a bad PR event. Seriously. It’s terrible.

Pretending that nothing bad really happened and attempting to pivot to Business As Usual is not going to work. The public is aware of this scandal, and is overwhelmingly supportive of Bryony Frost. The National Hunt racing system, and the UK jockey’s trade association, is being made to look misogynistic, tone-deaf and oblivious.

This has impacts, as I wrote yesterday, far beyond the involved jockeys. It impacts the entire public perception of the sport, and potentially reduces commercial opportunities at all levels.

UPDATEFormer jockey Ruby Walsh has commented on the whole affair. Paraphrasing, he believes that the originating incident escalated and spun out of control because the self-regulation process inside the jockey community did not work. Whilst I believe this to be true, it essentially confirms that the jockey working environment, at least inside the weighing rooms, is dysfunctional. The absence of a clear leader who could have told misbehaving individuals to “knock it off” may have led to escalating issues, but the fundamental problem of toxic behavior remains.

This is an excellent summary of the whole sorry affair from Graham Cunningham.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Bryony Frost affair – result and fallout

We are in the middle of a major kerfuffle in UK National Hunt racing.

The jockeys Bryony Frost and Robbie Dunne have been the central participants in a BHA inquiry into allegations by Frost that she was bullied over an extended period of time by Dunne, seemingly in and around jockey’s weighing rooms in the UK.

The BHA has found Dunne guilty of bullying and other unacceptable behavior, and has handed down a punishment of a 15 month suspension, with 3 months suspended, which, if implemented, is highly likely to end Dunne’s career as an English National Hunt jockey.

The affair has led to massive public interest, and impassioned commentary by a number of current and past participants in the sport.

It has also showed up a massive culture and comprehension gap between many jockeys, past and present, and the expectations of the outside world with respect to what constitutes acceptable workplace behavior.

The bottom line is the non-negotiable fact that bullying is not acceptable in any workplace. This should not even be a topic of debate. It is dysfunctional, divisive and destructive.

Not every person in a workplace is popular. History also shows us that new people entering a workplace who are seen by established participants in that workplace as “different”, for any reason, be it sex, religion, ethnicity, origins, you name it, are likely to be resented by existing workplace incumbents. This will be especially true if the new entrants start to be seen as successful, inside and/or outside the workplace.

When the workplace is part of a business where many of the participants do their jobs in public, which is definitely the case for jockeys, the stakes become higher. Behavior inside professional sports becomes potentially public, which increases the impacts of both positive behaviors and negative behaviors.

Any successful modern professional sport derives a significant part of its overall income from commercial relationships and sponsorships by businesses. Big businesses can provide large amounts of money to improve the conditions for all participants in a sport. (To use the old expression, a rising tide lifts all boats). However, big businesses have some non-negotiable principles that they generally stick to when deciding whether to support a sport. Among them are the sport’s reputation for equitable behavior, both internally and externally, and whether it is a credible sport with respect to how it operates. Big businesses like stability and, beyond short-term controversies based on sporting rivalries, they dislike controversy, particularly if it concerns the governance of the sport.

The Bryony Frost affair (if I can call it that) therefore has impacts beyond the two named participants, and even beyond the somewhat private and insular world of jockey changing rooms. If businesses see bad behavior inside the sport being tolerated, they can and will conclude that this is not a sport that they would like to be associated with. That is the main reason that fundamental breaches of the rules inside horse racing usually result in draconian punishments, up to and including life bans. The sport’s credibility cannot be maintained if, for example, cheating is shown to exist.

In fact, Dunne himself was involved in a breach of the rules several years ago, when he ended up being banned for 15 days after a weighing-out mix-up ended in him riding a winner at Chepstow carrying 0.4 pounds less weight than he should have done. Dunne was not to blame for the mix-up, but the assistant trainer for the horse then created the issue by attempting to sneak 0.5 pounds of weight into the weighing-in hidden in Dunne’s riding breeches. 

The dispute between Frost and Dunne seems to have unfolded over an extended period of time, in an environment that is very male-dominated. All of the signs exist that the male participants in the controversy failed to understand that what they might term “locker room talk”, uttered mano a mano, would be interpreted by female participants as both insulting and threatening. The male core of the sport regarded their approach as correct, and expected any new participants to conform to those rules or go elsewhere. When Bryony Frost refused to conform, and made it clear that she regarded the attempts to intimidate her as unacceptable, that male-dominated world operated in an utterly predictable fashion. It closed ranks and attempted to freeze her out by solidarity.

Many past and current participants in and around UK National Hunt racing have, quite simply, failed to understand that once you have people in your organization with different values, you are unlikely to be able to continue with the same values. That’s the fundamental result of increasing diversity, especially in the community of jockeys.

Since the announcement of the BHA verdict, a lot of the attempts to justify the events, unfortunately, read like the efforts of the tone-deaf to defend the indefensible. The BJA issued a lengthy statement complaining about the lack of what they termed “due process”, and an unfair focus on weighing-room culture.

The disciplinary processes in sports do not have to conform to the legal standards of the criminal justice system or the civil justice system. Participants in all sports usually have to sign legally binding agreements to submit to the arbitration and disciplinary processes of the sport. The BHA investigation was not a court of law, so complaints about “due process” are, strictly, a diversion. From what I can discover, however, the proceedings closely resembled those in a civil suit, with both sides being able to present their case and evidence, and cross-examination being allowed.

As the closest that there is to a trade union for jockeys, they presumably felt that they had to defend Dunne, possibly since a lot of jockeys might be thinking “if it can happen to him, it could happen to any of us”. In my opinion, they have a good argument that the punishment here is disproportionate. However, the robust defence of Dunne does rather beg the question: why? He was found guilty not once, but four times. This does not look like a grey-area “he said she said” kind of case. It looks pretty open and shut. The BJA is unlikely to get very far appealing the verdicts. The most they could do is to appeal the punishment, which is draconian. As a general rule, I worry that punishments like this one are formulated to “send a message”, which sounds suitably tough and dynamic in public, but often results in a single guilty person being over-punished, while other guilty parties go unpunished.

The idea of course, is that the hefty punishment for the one unlucky person will scare everybody else into behaving better.  However, in a situation where the behaviors are part of a deep-rooted culture, a single punishment alone is unlikely to promote change.

The statements issued by the BJA and the female jockeys (unnamed, which is always dangerous), are notable for their tone of shrill defensiveness, and general air of “there’s no real problem here, so stop picking on us”. Completely missing from the statements is any unforced admission that a significant problem might exist or might have existed. This is the position of participants who are in denial. The reluctance of the female jockeys to identify themselves speaks volumes about the overall atmosphere in the sport around this issue. They read like low-level hirelings for a Mafia operation attempting to deny that they witnessed anything.

The more astonishingly dangerous aspect of the affair has been the extent to which long-term participants and leaders in the sport have failed to understand the significance of the issues, and are busy attempting to minimize them. AP McCoy, whose voice carries a lot of weight because of his tremendous record in the sport, currently seems to be blocking anybody on social media who argues with him over his views on the affair. This is not the action of a smart person. It’s the action of a defensive and resentful person who fails to understand the wider implications of the internal culture of a sport being seen to be out of alignment with the modern world.

Bryony Frost’s position is now very similar to that of most whistleblowers who go outside of a corporation or organization to publicize dysfunctional, bad or illegal behaviors by that organization. Many people inside racing will probably regard her as a “snitch”, laying bare and publicising things that Should Not Be Public. So we can expect that she will be penalized, probably by variants of The Silent Treatment. She does have options, including relocating to Ireland, which might turn out to be a better medium-term move, since Ireland is still in the EU, so her riding opportunities may be wider. If she does relocate, that would be a pretty damning indictment of both the current culture, and its lack of willingness to adapt.

In summary:  a series of incidents of bullying and other obnoxious dysfunctional behavior occurred within the National Hunt jockey community, in a culture where silent acquiescence is the norm. Failure by a victim of bullying to accept the culture has led to an investigation, and a guilty party has been punished. Previously silent enablers are now lashing out, exhibiting all of the signs of both denial and guilt.

The pathologies and behaviors are obvious and familiar to me.

What is interesting is what happens next. When an organization is informed that accepted practices are no longer acceptable, there can be a variety of responses:

  1. Circling The Wagons – There is no attempt to introduce any change. The organization convinces itself that there is no real problem, and continues as before. Rationalizations like “isolated incident” fill the air.
  2. Lipstick On the Pig – a token attempt is made to introduce change, usually via expensive publicity-driven actions, without addressing or preventing the underlying dysfunctional behaviors. Gullible or credulous observers see the initial effort, and assume that all will be well.
  3. Half Assed – a sincere attempt is made to introduce change, but it suffers from lack of attention, resources, and follow-through, so the effect and impacts are limited. However, there is enough superficial change for the major players to declare victory and move on to other (hopefully less contentious) topics
  4. Proper change – a determined attempt is made to introduce change, resistance is avoided or crushed, and real change occurs.

We will have to see what the BHA ends up doing, apart from punishing Robbie Dunne, in order to change the culture in the medium-term. Cultural change is always hard. My expectations, sadly, are for some combination of (2) and (3) above. I do not think that (1) is a credible position, but (4) may require too much effort and attention.

 

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dear Grapevine-Colleyville ISD

Dear GCISD,

Well, my my my.

You seem to be in a bit of a hole.

No, I take that back.

You are in a big hole. A deep, big, embarrassing hole. It is, at the very least, a major PR black hole. It may also be a legal hole.

You have a school principal now suspended (albeit on full pay) because you may have been paying attention and listening to the wrong people.

One of the enduring myths of service in the USA (although the myth does exist elsewhere) is that the Customer Is Always Right.

Logical, huh? After all, without customers, many businesses would cease to exist. So, if they need customers to survive and thrive, then those customers deserve the best service and deserve to be treated well.

However, as you will discover after a while, there is a difference between treating people well, and obsequiously catering to their every desire, need or want, even when that desire, need or want is batshit crazy, stupid, or, worse still, damaging to your business.

That is not catering to needs, or engaging in great customer service. That’s called pandering.

If you do not understand the road you are heading down, pandering leads to spineless capitulation to increasingly stupid and dangerous demands from people.

Based on what I have read, you are in this hole partly because you have been pandering to stupid, racist and irrelevant demands, either from parents, or from people purporting to represent parents.

This is stupid on several levels.

Firstly, it is stupid, because your parents are NOT your customers. The customers are your students. Your parents may be paying the bills for your students, via their school taxes, but your primary duty of care is to the students. If they flunk out of college because you gave them a shitty high school education, that’s on you. The parents have flunked nothing. You failed to prepare their children for that next phase of their education. You might want to remind the next parent that storms into your office and starts ranting about some real or perceived injustice that they are not your customer, their children are. Will it shut them up? Probably not. Entitled parents usually only shut up when they are breathing in, or when they are gagged. But it might make them think for a wee second.

Secondly, it is stupid, because, by essentially terminating the career in GCISD of the first African-American principal in the district (let’s not be cute here, by suspending him, you have made it impossible for him to continue in his role), you are begging the asking of all sorts of awkward questions. Question #1 is Why. Absent a compelling, legally viable answer to that question, Question #2 will show up really quickly. Question #2 is “how come this just happened to the first African-American principal?”.

As politicians are fond of saying, amidst their massive collection of in-group cliches, Question #2 has terrible optics. You and I both know what the subtext is, and it is a bad subtext. Really bad.

So what is the answer to Question #1?

Well, that is where you start to look even more stupid. Based on what I have read, (and here is an article from NBCDFW), in 2019 you decided to criticize the principal, based on the discovery of pictures of him and his wife on the beach…on social media. This was not a nude beach, both the principal and his wife were wearing clothing, and several of the images, clearly taken by a professional photographer, seemed to comprise a re-enactment of the famous beach seduction scene from the movie “From Here To Eternity“. A movie that these days is regarded as classic, good old fashioned entertainment.

The word seemingly used in communications about the photos was “questionable”. If that is what you think, then OK. What questions do you have about them?

I think you should have to answer. You don’t get to use ambiguous words in a statement and not have to explain them. That’s not how the world works. You’re accountable to the citizens of Grapevine and Colleyville.

But, since the photos were clearly taken in the principal’s private time (on vacation), I think I already have a question for you. Whose damned business is it anyway?

You employ (or in reality, you did employ) James Whitfield to lead and manage a middle school. You do not own him. He is not a slave or an indentured servant. You have no control over his life outside of school time. You do expect him (as is your right) to uphold the standards of the district in his life, but photos of him with his wife on vacation cannot be said in any way to be a bad reflection on the school district.

So, my question stands. Who in the school district leadership thought this was any of your damned business? Because from where I am viewing this, any admonishment to him about the visibility of the photos was irrelevant, vexatious and way out of line. It was, quite simply, an abuse of power.

But continuing with Question #1 (Why?), it now seems that you suspended James Whitfield, not for this supposed infraction, but possibly because some parents, in July 2021, accused him of teaching Critical Race Theory in the school.

This is even more stupid. First of all, as a principal, I would be surprised if he actually does any significant teaching. So if Critical Race Theory was (or is) being taught, he probably wasn’t teaching it.

Secondly, your job is not to pander to the curriculum demands of a few parents. They are not your customers (remember what I said earlier?) There is also an old saying that empty vessels make the most noise. If you did not poll all of the parents at the middle school (and no, you do not ask parents from other schools, and you especially do NOT listen to people with no skin in the game, like non-residents) to determine if these parents are at all representative of the views of all of the parents, you were professionally negligent.

A few loud, yelling parents does not mean anything in the grand scheme of things. You know as well as I do that there are always unhappy parents, for many different reasons, and you cannot please everybody all of the time. That is NOT your job, partly because it is impossible, and partly because it elevates the loud whinings of the few to a higher level of importance than the quiet of the many.

You also should not be paying attention to and readily accepting hyperbolic claims being made by former candidates for School board positions, like Stetson Clark. Hyperbole is a poor basis for credible argument. You should also be putting accusers on the spot. If you were an observer in a court room, you would expect to see prosecution witnesses being cross-examined in order to validate or expose flaws, inconsistencies and inaccuracies in their statements or testimony.

If an angry parent gets up in front of me and accuses one of my leaders of teaching Critical Race Theory, I am going to want to see if that person can answer one or two fundamental questions:

  1. What is your definition of Critical Race Theory (HINT: A lot of people cannot define it, because they are using it as a weaponized slogan)
  2. What compelling evidence do you have that it is being taught in a school in this district

Answers to (2) that are hearsay or speculation, like “some people told me that they think that the school might be teaching it” need to be filleted up and tossed back on the ground. Preferably buried underground where they belong.

You have to perform due diligence, otherwise you start to look credulous, gullible and professionally negligent. If you didn’t do that sort of due diligence, shame on you.

Oh yes. You should have gaveled Stetson Clark off the podium immediately, the second time he violated the meeting rule by mentioning Dr. Whitfield’s name. You warned him once, he ignored the rule and the warning, which showed that he was not acting in good faith. That cancels any obligation on your part to let him continue speaking. The rules are there for a reason.

The fact that you suspended James Whitfield with no explanation is just…optically bad. There is no good way of explaining that event. You suspended him on full pay, which suggests that you currently lack any case to terminate him for cause, or presumably you would have already done so.

Your failure to articulate any reason for the suspension, given the fact that he is African-American, is, given the recent allegations and other past events, the equivalent of sending up a large hot-air balloon with “pandering to race-based fear” stenciled on the side of it in very large letters. Optics. Abysmal. There are good legal reasons for staying silent, but that is not a good place for a school district to be for any length of time.

If you had evidence that the school was teaching Critical Race Theory, where is it? If you had any other evidence of malfeasance, where is it? You should have, at the least, had all of this sorted out before the news leaked out that he has been suspended. Instead, right now James Whitfield can play the aggrieved party. He is actually being very restrained, probably because he is already being advised by lawyers.

The prior abuse of power over his family images means that, in my humble opinion, James Whitfield is probably sitting at home right now, trying to decide exactly which prestigious firm of employment lawyers will represent him in his upcoming lawsuit against the GCISD. I suspect that your options, unless you have a compelling non-public reason for action, might center around how many zeroes to the left of the decimal point his compensation check will prevent him from dragging you all the way through discovery. Discovery would result in the reasons for his suspension becoming public domain.

There is going to be collateral damage. Like appearing at the top of Google Search for the wrong reasons. Instead of your glorious football teams, the search results will show lines like “terminated principal wins settlement after suspension following Critical Race Theory allegations”.

You could have avoided this mess, if you had actually engaged in proper dialogue with ranting parents, and then thought long and hard before reacting. Parents are not always right, and you should not be pandering to their worst behavioral impulses.

My message to the School board:  Those of you who supported this train-wreck have dragged down the name of the entire GCISD, and have sent the message to the outside world that both Grapevine and Colleyville have dysfunctional school districts, where scurrilous rumors and abusive speculation can override sound, ethical and visionary leadership. The school district and the cities now look like repositories of casual suburban racism. You’re culpable for helping to convert the school district to a poster child for that, a place where no sensible leader is going to want to work. If there is any justice in the world, you need to be voted out of office at your next election.

My message to the School district leadership that made these decisions: If you worked for me, I would give you all 24 hours to resign, or I would terminate all of you for cause. The causes would be: abuse of power, gullibility, pandering, and total failure of leadership.

My message to the parents who did not want James Whitfield removed:  This is what happens when a loud and malevolent minority seizes control of the dialogue. The school district leadership and the school board did not represent your interests, and you need to be much more vigilant. Crackpots and wackaloons can easily be elected to or influence school boards. You will have to make sure it does not happen in future.

UPDATEThe school district has issued this statement which seems to list all of the reasons that were not causes for the suspension of Principal Whitfield.

I am not sure exactly why they did this, but I have to assume that it is part of a legal CYA process for them. It would have been better for them to have said absolutely nothing. The statement cannot answer the question of why they suspended him. The reasons will not be revealed unless the district has no choice, but if he decides to sue the district, and there is no settlement, that will end up being revealed in discovery.

I would bet that any lawsuit, if there is one, will be settled confidentially. The complaint, if there is one, will probably be some form of hostile work environment complaint, based on the abuse of power over the photos and the failure to defend him and his school from the rush to judgement on the allegations of the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

UPDATE 2A Twitter user who thinks that Principal Whitfield is playing the race card and whining about white fragility directed me to this website.

This website is new, having been created on or shortly after April 7th 2021. The domain creator is hidden, and the site, superficially, tries to look like a non-partisan site that covers events and policy in the school district.

That only lasts until their page on Critical Race Theory, which is a distorted strawman collection, pushing all of the white fear and resentment buttons. It contains the usual slew of allegations, with several cut-and-paste polemics, including one from the Heritage Organization, containing lines like “Critical race theory is an ideology which maintains that the United States is a fundamentally racist country”. It is the usual theme of “people need to stop talking the country down and instead talk it up, and stop trying to make us look and feel bad”.  The writer of the web page even shows the cover of the book “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo at the top. I am not sure how they think that makes their complaints about CRT any more credible, because to my reading eye, what is on the rest of the page kind of proves most of the point she was making in the book. (Not that the book is that good, since, as many reviewers pointed out, it is long on diagnosis and short on suggested solutions).

UPDATE – The GCISD board has, by unanimous vote, proposed not renewing Dr. Whitfield’s contract, which expires at the end of the school year. Based on this article from CNN, it seems that the board, aware that violation of due process will likely result in legal action, are attempting to obey a formal administrative process of asking Whitfield to respond to the allegations against him.

The meeting was, by all accounts, dominated by supporters of Dr. Whitfield, who all spoke in his favor in the public comments period. Dr. Whitfield was also there and spoke briefly. The list of accusations against him does not look substantive. When I read that the allegations against him include claims that he was “insubordinate”, “unreasonable” and “disrespectful”, my BS detector is triggered. I have heard these phrases used in the past in a post hoc justification of terminations. They are allegations largely based on perceived style, and without specific examples, they end up sounding to many neutral observers like “we didn’t like the person on a personal level”. To an African-American person, this also reads like a variant of the classic complaint of white racists about AA people being “uppity” and “not knowing their place”. Whitfield has apparently requested that as much as possible of the process be held in public. This, to me, suggests that he intends to try and put the school district in a hole of their own making over his imminent non-retention.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram points out the obvious; that the public falling-out with Dr. Whitfield is going to have a negative impact on the district’s ability to recruit teachers and administrators.

 

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Shevlin Media – rules for interviewees

Dear politicians,

Here at Shevlin Media, we are seekers of the facts. Not polite or impolite fiction, bullshit or other forms of evasion, deflection, ducking and weaving.

We know that for many of you, those forms of interactions have always been collegial and pleasant, an opportunity for you to show up with pre-baked talking points that you then get to repeat over and over again. Then we thank you for allowing us to question you, and you keep being invited back.

Those days are gone.

In future, all of our guests will be operating to a new set of rules. As follows:

  1. You will stay on topic and answer our questions

When we ask you a question, we expect you to answer that question. Not a different version of the question, or a completely different question.

So if you show up intending to recite a collection of talking points that bear little or no relation to the questions we intend to ask, we will stop you and remind you that you are not answering the question. if you persist in not answering the question we will remind our viewers that you did not answer the question. And we will keep reminding our viewers of this, just to ram the message home.

2. You will not interrupt the questioner or other guests 

Interrupting somebody else in a question-and-answer or debate dialogue is at best discourteous, and at worst is a form of bullying. We will not do that to you, and we expect you to not do it to us or other guests. We will operate to a three strikes rule. If  you violate the rule more than three times, the interview will be terminated.

If you persistently refuse to obey these rules, we reserve the right to immediately terminate an interview, and ask you to leave the studio. If you will not obey the rules and you will not answer our questions, you’re wasting our time, and that of our viewers.

If you show up and don’t play by the rules, don’t expect another invite. We are under no legal obligation to invite you online. There is no Fairness doctrine governing our guest appearance policies, so if you decide that you will not appear on our network, that is your call, but we will probably then have a lot more airtime to give to your opponents, and non-politicians, who tend to be a lot better at answering questions in any case. We will be casting our guest net a lot wider in the future.

If you don’t want to come on to answer our questions, because you only want to answer your own questions, so be it. We might invite actual experts on instead, to talk about important topics. We will invite anybody who agrees to appear according to these rules, and we will be happy to invite people back if they show that they can operate according to these rules.

 

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A blunt and honest letter from a UK politician

Dear UK voters,

I thought it was time that we, the politicians, (you know, those people that you love to hate), told you the honest, blunt, unvarnished, non-spun truth about a few issues.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking. More BS from self-serving corrupt nincompoops.

For sure, a lot of us are exactly like that. But, let’s start with the biggest and, for you, the most embarrassing fact.

You voted for us, consistently and persistently for decades.

So when you sit at home watching the TV on your sofa, or sit on your barstool at the Dog and Duck, whingeing about “shysters”, “arseholes”, and using other choice words, you need to remember; you almost certainly had other choices when you voted at the last few elections.

And you chose us to be your elected representatives.

Now, if you say “but a majority of us didn’t vote for you guys”, well, that is probably true. We are in power, with this very nice majority, because there is an election system in the UK known as “first past the post”, where the person getting the most votes in a constituency gets to be an MP, and every other candidate gets to keep their rosettes, posters and concession speeches and wonder What Might Have Been. We also benefit from the fact that an awful lot of you seem to be incapable of actually, you know, moving your arses from those sofas or barstools to go down the road to a polling station and vote. The fewer of you that vote, the easier it is for us to win those elections.

Now, if you don’t like that system, I have to remind you that you all had a chance to implement a different electoral system in 2011. And you voted to keep this current one. So, this is what YOU voted for. Again.

You’re sensing a pattern here? You should. Because I am about to remind you of some of your other decisions.

At this point, I can sense some of you are mouthing “f**k this” and preparing to leave the room. You can do so, but that is a Tell. It tells me, even if you haven’t realized it yet, that you are in Denial. Denial is not a river in Egypt. It is that comfortable place where we all like to live, where our beliefs and worldviews are correct, everything in the garden is rosy, and there are no Big Problems.

Right now, as I am sure you have noticed, we have at least two Big Problems.

One of those is the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, which continues into the foreseeable future. I will be frank, everybody in the UK has not done a good job of handling Covid-19. We, your elected representatives, talked ourselves out of listening to experts, because, well, they use big words, and sound aloof, so it is easy for us to take cheap shots at them in order to rile up the guys and gals in the cheap seats. Sometimes the experts are wrong, because they are humans, and then we get to act all smug and say “see! Those experts were wrong AGAIN!”, and then we think that gives us credibility (and reduces their credibility) so that after a while we can come on TV and say utter fucking nonsense like “well, I think the British public has had quite enough of experts, don’t you?”

The second problem is Brexit. You, I have to remind you, also voted for this. Those of us who are going to be honest know what made you vote for it. You were pissed off because, in common with most politicians who believe in laissez-faire economic policies, we allowed ourselves to react to a recession starting in 2009 by cutting government spending, when we should have increased it, in order to support the less fortunate and more vulnerable in society. That led to wholesale cuts in public services and economic assistance, which in turn led a lot of you to conclude that we don’t give a damn about you, the majority of the people.

It’s true. We don’t really care enough about you because, well, you don’t fund us. We’re whores, for sale to the highest bidder. At least privately. And the main reason that we are whores is that, well, we’re paid terribly. In return for the important and extraordinary responsibility of representing potentially hundreds of thousands of voters in Parliament, we get a base salary of 82k a year. This is chickenfeed, when compared to jobs of a similar responsibility in private business. What it means, in practical terms, is that unless we are already financially secure (in which case we probably live in a bubble and we will be clueless about your careabouts and challenges), we will be whoring ourselves out from the moment we announce that we intend to run for elective office. And the sort of people that we like when we’re whores are people who hand us large wads of cash at frequent intervals, in return for certain “considerations” when we make decisions and draft government bills. The sort of people who can hand out sufficient cash in one fell swoop are the likes of big business, and oligarchs (like those nice Russians and other mind-bogglingly rich people who live in the UK, some of whom happen to own football teams). Not you, the common people.

This could change, if you are prepared to accept that if you pay peanuts, you will get monkeys. But whenever the idea of a pay rise is floated for politicians, the media comes down on the idea like a ton of bricks, and whips you up into a frenzy from your sofas and bar stools, and the idea often dies on the vine, with people suddenly retreating at high speed, saying “it was just a thought…we didn’t really mean it!”. And so you continue to pay peanuts to your elected representatives, and we will continue to whore ourselves out in private, usually to the highest bidder.Anyway, I slightly digressed.

Brexit. Ah yes.

The other challenge with Brexit is that we have not been telling you for decades about how important the EU has become, and how closely our entire economy had been integrated into a single European market. So we allowed a polite fiction, that of an independent Britain, to become ingrained in the minds of many people. Too many people.

The reason we did this was that our party has been split on the fundamental question of whether the UK being in the EU was a good thing. For decades. Not just us. The Labour Party has had the same problem. They call themselves Eurosceptics. Like most of what they say, that’s total bullshit. They have always been reflexively and dogmatically anti-EU. I’ll come back to that in a minute. Every time somebody in our party said something good about the EU, all of the baying hounds would rise up and say shit like “No! EU stuffed full of unelected bureaucrats imposing United States of Socialist Europe!”.

Like I say, total bullshit. But we were scared of these folks, because they would threaten to rebel and vote against some important bill or piece of legislation, or make our lives miserable in other ways, and they would keep pointing at the UKIP and other racist shit-stirrers and crackpots and say things like “if we don’t fight the EU, those guys will eat our lunch”. So we kept kow-towing to the Eurosceptics by being reluctant to say anything good about the EU in public. This, as you might expect, made the EU wonder about just how committed we were to being good members of the EU.

Starting in 2013, the anti-EU faction began pissing and moaning, and the UKIP began taking support away from us with their nativist anti-European claptrap. So, just like the whoring weathervanes that we are, we tried to out-UKIP the UKIP, by getting all tough with the EU, demanding and negotiating concessions, and agreeing to demands for a referendum. We figured that once enough people realized that being in the EU was a good thing, we would win the referendum.

Well, we got that wrong, didn’t we? We didn’t realize how pissed-off you were with politicians generally, and we also screwed up our entire Remain messaging, to the point where “Remain” sounded like a meek acceptance of a bad deal, where “Leave” sounded brave, action-oriented. We also allowed the Leave supporters to use empty weaponized slogans like “take back control” and “sovereignty” without demanding that they actually define what the hell those words and phrases meant. Oh yes, and writing codswallop on the side of a big red bus.

The fact that many of the Leave supporters were charlatans, all mouth and no trousers, was something that we were too polite to point out. They were impolite enough to complain about “Remainers” and propose a Brave New Global Britain, without actually explaining any of what that meant or how it would work. But we are not in a position to complain that much, because we had spent 20+ years miserably failing to explain how the EU worked and why being a member of it was a Good Thing for the UK.

So Leave won the referendum.

Now, remember what I said about us being whores? The other thing I forgot to mention is that we love power. We do a good job of hiding it in public. After all, nobody is going to be impressed by a candidate that says “actually the reason I want to be an MP is not so that I can serve you, the voters. Did you come down from the hillside with the last rainstorm or something? No, I am in this for money, attention and my own ego. And to shag that nice little number in the office round the corner”.

That is what we call Saying The Quiet Bits Out Loud. It may be truthful, but you should have realized by now that most humans would rather hear simple bullshit than complex truths (especially if it fits on that bus, or if it makes for a snappy tabloid newspaper headline). So we learn to say All The Right Things, like “I exist to serve you, the electorate”. Then, once elected or re-elected, we get down to the serious business of Whoring In Private.

Because we are whores, and we love power, we tend to forget about principles. If we were principled, those of us who thought that Brexit was a batshit crazy idea (which is most of us) would have resigned from office and parliament shortly after the referendum, explaining that we could not, in all good conscience, try to implement a decision that we profoundly disagreed with. Yeah, no. The money and the power took over. So you got to see most of an entire generation of guys and gals in our party swallow hard and say shit like “we will respect the vote, and negotiate to leave the EU”. Then we proceeded to adopt all of those silly weaponized slogans that Leave had used, and started acting all tough in public, because when the people that voted for you have voted for you because they are angry and vengeful, you have to pretend, at least in public, that you agree with them. We not only know how to whore, we also know how to pander.

Unfortunately, because nobody had seriously thought that You, The Voters, would be dumb enough or uninformed enough to vote Leave, we had no strategy or plan to negotiate our way out of the EU. So then we had to try and create one. This, as you will have noticed, proved to be impossible, so that after 3 and a bit years of dicking about, we were still locked in negotiations with the EU, with no end in sight, and no real strategy, other than empty cliches like “sovereignty” and the New Grand Phrase, “Global Britain”.

At that point, late in 2019, there was another General Election. That was great for us, partly because we presented ourselves as bellicose defenders of the Mighty UK, and partly because our political rivals, to use that old phrase, couldn’t have organized a piss-up in a brewery when it came to having a unified position on Brexit. We offered that elusive, totally bullshit-based, but powerful-sounding item to the electorate. Certainty. Backed up with some more tough-talk that we know is bullshit, but which you folks and those tabloid newspapers that you read seem to love. I mean, Boris may be a total bullshitter, but “oven ready deal” certainly went down well with the tabloids.

It worked. We won by a country mile. Having talked tough, we then went back to acting all tough with the EU, but we still didn’t have a strategy, and as you noticed, our leader is a bullshitting arsehole, so everything since then has been a shambles. We now have the worst of all possible outcomes, including a virtual border down the Irish sea, which is causing all sorts of problems in Northern Ireland, a fisheries policy which has reduced many of our fisherman to impotent penury, and all manner of restrictions rules and processes that we now have to obey simply to send a paper clip to the EU. And we have border personnel behaving like arseholes, because we have an arsehole as Home Secretary.

So when you ask “has Brexit been a disaster”, those of us who are honest will say Yes, of course it is a disaster. We have a minimal trade agreement with the EU, and if you think that Liz Truss is out there signing fantastic trade deals with all of those countries that the UK has been unfairly neglecting for decades in favor of the Big Bad EU, and that those trade deals will magically replace our trade deals with the EU, then I have a bridge near New York to sell you. Really cheap of course. Particularly if it has a trade agreement thrown in, haha.

Now, remember what I said earlier about the town named Denial? The one where most of you live? Well, this where it comes into play. If we were to be brutally honest, we would, at this point, be saying to you, the voters, “this is is a disaster, it is going to become a bigger disaster, and you voted for it. “.

We won’t say that. And if you look across the other side of the political spectrum, you will notice that very few folks on that other side are saying that at all. The reason is that you, the voters, don’t really want to hear it. You don’t want to hear it because when you are in Denial, you will ignore any information that conflicts with the voice in your head.

Too many of you, to be blunt, are still living somewhere between Lalaland and Cloudcuckooland. The reality is that if you leave the club, you don’t get to keep the membership benefits. So all of those benefits of being in the EU, the ones that we obtained by virtue of being in the single market, and the customs union? Those benefits have all gone away.

We decided we had to leave the single market because freedom of movement was an integral part of the single market, and we found out a long time ago that many of you think that “freedom of movement” means “totally uncontrolled borders where any darkie can waltz in on a boat across the Channel and collect lots of government handouts and steal Our Jobs”.

I have to tell you, you bought bullshit from the tabloids. The dirty little secret is that you lived in a country where, whether you liked this or not, or even understood it, we did a Faustian bargain decades ago. We allowed immigrants in, and expected them to do all of those shitty dirty low-end jobs that we had decided were Not Good Enough For Us. In return we let them stay around. When we, the macro-economically stupid government, imposed what is now generally known as “austerity” starting in 2010, you all began to resent these folks, and the tabloids invented the mantra “they’re taking our jobs!” The fact that we are now short a few tens of thousands of lorry drivers, and tens of thousands of agricultural labourers, should be a large hint that we broke the Faustian bargain, by leaving the EU and cutting off that supply of willing workers.

At some point, enough of you are going to realize that Brexit, in its current form, is a disaster. Then you will get angry.

Some of you are already angry, but as is normal, you’re getting angry at the wrong people. It’s no use you complaining that Remainers are mean or negative. They owe you nothing. They voted against leaving the EU, so blaming them is like complaining that the guys who wouldn’t jump off the cliff at the same time as you are refusing to fall.

And, although my colleagues like to pretend that the EU is being mean to us, this is all performative bullshit for show and to show you that we are still With You. The EU is simply imposing rules about what it is like to be a third country dealing with them on matters of trade and movement of people. Those are rules that we helped to write over the last 40+ years. I think the old British Navy phrase for this state of affairs is “hoist by your own petard”.

As for the complaint “this isn’t what I voted for”, that is both true and false. You DID vote for Brexit, albeit by a narrow majority. What you didn’t have a clue about (because it wasn’t part of the referendum question) was what form Brexit was going to take. That’s down to us expecting the answer to the referendum to be Remain. Also, we’re stupid, unlike Switzerland where they run referendums frequently, and where they would have actually asked 2 questions (1) do you want to leave (2) if you want to leave, how do you want to leave? With the referendum question as it was, anybody saying “I know what I voted for” is really saying “I had some idea about what Brexit should comprise at the time, I expected that to be the final version of Brexit, and now Brexit has happened, I don’t like it much”.

Of course, there were lots of charlatans and bullshitters (with names like Farage) telling you that you could have your cake and eat it. You believed them? Well, I can be tough and say that’s not my problem, but in reality most of us kept quiet when we should have said “that is not going to work”. Instead we were worried by the constant drumbeat of “will of the people” being promoted by the Brexit charlatans and the tabloids.

By the way, “will of the people” is a phrase historically used, a lot, by fascists and demagogues. But I digress again.

Brexit is a disaster, and will result in an acceleration of the decline of the United Kingdom. If you look at the history of the UK, we passed our peak as a country a long time ago. We should have realized this when the US forced us and France to withdraw from Suez in 1956, and we had a second chance to learn when we had to devalue the Pound and get a standby loan from the IMF in the 1960s. But instead of realistic acceptance, we ended up with the ludicrous “I’m Backing Britain” campaign, which lasted all of…ooh, about 4 months. I could point out the acute similarity between “I’m Backing Britain” and “Global Britain”, but I won’t.

So, many people in the UK continue to live in that pleasant place named Denial, convinced that we are still an empire. I hate to break it to some of you, but a few collections of distant islands are not really an empire, and our Special Relationship with the USA is, ahem, in a spot of bother because Boris supported Donald Trump, who is no longer around, and pissed off Joe Biden, who is still around. So we are short of friends. This is one of the realities that your tabloid newspapers never seem to discuss.

Brexit may also result in a break-up of the UK. A lot of Scottish people are angry, and I don’t blame them. Scotland voted Remain, and we are acting like arseholes. That is because a lot of us are scared. Our leader is a bully, and when bullies cannot get their way, they get all obnoxious and, well, more arseholey.

Not a lot of what I have talked about will change, until You, The Voters, start thinking a lot more about what you want from your politicians and elected representatives. You keep electing the same sorts of people to elective office, and that is not a recipe for change.

As long as you pay us peanuts, for example, you can expect us to be money-grubbing, expense-chasing whores. We have a living to make, and quite a few of us can be fired by you at election time, so we have to safeguard our personal and family futures. Plus, you know, we can get addicted to nice stuff, like expense accounts, chauffeur-driven cars, and that nice little number in the office round the corner.

If you vote against proportional representation, you can expect the scenario where more people vote against the ruling party to continue. That’s how first-past-the-post works.

if you vote for a strategic direction change for the entire country without knowing or understanding what that actually translates to in practice or impact, you get something like Brexit. Put it this way, if somebody says “let’s go on a journey to Nirvana” and you say “great! how do we get there?” and the person responds “no clue, but I’m sure we can find our way there eventually”, you might reasonably ask “is this a person I want to travel with?”. That’s what happened when you voted in 2016. You probably don’t want to do that again.

Oh yes…forget all of that “sunlit uplands” nonsense. It sounds great if you really like that hymn “Jerusalem”, but it’s just another one of those tabloid slogans.

I am prepared to bet money that within 5 years we (those shysters and arseholes) will be telling you that the UK needs to be starting a dialogue with the EU to re-join the Single Market and the Customs Union. Whether the EU will want us back is a whole different matter. We haven’t exactly been covering ourselves in glory when talking with EU representatives in the last few years, and our behavior in public has been even worse. Sitting in the EU parliament chamber, chanting football yahoo slogans and waving Union Jacks may look good to drunkards at the Dog and Duck, but I have to point out that it made the UK look like a country dominated by arseholes who elected a lot of arseholes as MEPs.

Cynically, some of you who voted for Brexit will be dead in a few years’ time, so why should you care anyway? I suspect that your children and grandchildren will be the ones who have to wise up and try to vote for the right people to stop the accelerating decline of the UK. We already slipped from #5 to #6 in GDP over the last several years. Not long before we do not qualify for those nice G7 meetings where our Prime Minister gets to strut around looking all powerful and important.

I have to get back to more governmental bullshit now. Something involving “sovereignty” and lorry drivers.

 

 

 

 

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Trump and anti-vax partisans – the deep hole of Denial

Once in a while in life, one comes across one or more individuals who have backed themselves into a corner or dug themselves into a hole over an issue or an event.

They usually defend their position by repeating the same general rhetoric over and over again, peppered with tough-sounding justification phrases like “it’s the principle!” (that, folks, is a really big Tell that you are dealing with somebody who is dug in and not coming out).

The ultimate fate for these people (which some of them actually come to embrace) is martyrdom. Martyrdom, giving up your entire life for a cause, be it personal or a group cause, removes you from the planet, but probably gets you into the history books. Ashli Babbitt, one of the January 6th insurrectionists, who was shot and fatally wounded while attempting to break into a secure area inside the Capitol building, is being re-born as a martyr as I write this.

Cults and cult followers often end up in a hole, sometimes because they collectively break laws, or because they adopt ideological positions that are incoherent, self-contradictory, or in many cases, totally at variance with reality. When a belief system does not match reality, it becomes a collection of delusions.

Right now, in the USA and the UK, there are millions of people who have adopted beliefs totally at variance with reality. Those people are trapped in a worldview that they adopted. They are also usually surrounded by people who have identical or mostly similar worldviews. Those people are their social circle, comprising friends, family, church and other sources of social and ideological validation. Those sources provide powerful and continual reinforcement.

The insistence by supporters of Donald Trump that he won the November 2020 Presidential election, for example, is being perpetuated today, 9 months after the election concluded with him losing the Electoral College to Joe Biden. The delusion that Trump won extends far beyond the insistence that he was in fact the winner. There are people out there insisting that Trump really is in charge, and that the images of President Biden are digital manipulations, and that Biden is under arrest or has been executed. To an observer who deals in facts, the people making these claims look utterly deluded, and are living somewhere between Lalaland and Cloudcuckooland.

Any attempt to engage with these people on social media is largely futile, except for the grim amusement of seeing how many ways they can contradict themselves in the course of a discussion, and how many more and more bizarre methods of rationalization they can invent. Their fundamental convictions and beliefs remain fixed, immovable, and insistent. When stressed by contrary fact, they act like 8 year olds found stealing from the cookie jar, throwing tantrums, blocking people and ultimately stalking off in a huff.

I have yet to see a single person in this group admit to making a mistake. Nor do I expect to. The reason, as explained in this article, is that people dug into a defective worldview are sustained in that worldview by their social world, which is their primary support system. They are not going to pay attention to any perceived opponents, since those people are outside of their social circle already. Nor are they going to pay much attention to experts, which explains the parallel (and often overlapping) resistance of anti-vaccine individuals to inputs from epidemiologists and medical professionals. An experienced epidemiologist on TV doesn’t stand a chance next to Fred down at church.

A parallel contributory factor to the communication failure is the infantilization of communication and interaction in the modern USA. Covid-19 has magnified this tendency by dramatically limiting social interaction opportunities, where people congregate together for extended periods of time to discuss all manner of subjects. Now, instead of talking over dinner or drinks, exploring issues, people huddle over smartphones and consume limited-bandwidth soundbites that neatly summarize a complex issue down to binary math. This good, that bad. Me good, you bad. This helps to explain why so many partisans, especially Republicans, seem to have adopted the interaction style of emotionally stunted adolescents, complete with all of the signs of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. “You’re not the boss of me!” is merely a different version of the adolescent foot-stamping cries of “Shan’t” and “You can’t make me!” that most parents get to hear at some time in their life as parents. Of course, most adolescents eventually do learn how to Adult, at least most of the time. But right now, when it comes to political issues, an awfully large number of people seem to have regressed to adolescence, or something preceding adolescence.

They are, to some extent, taking their cues from above. Donald Trump’s communication style, right now, is that of a jilted, emotionally injured adolescent. One thing I have had to come to terms with is that people spend far too much time imitating those above them, and too little time asking the question “is this person talking or acting like a dick?”

The evidence is all around us that being pro-Trump and being anti-vaccine are positions which are deluded, and dangerous for the collective welfare of society.

Desperate supporters of Trump believe that insurrection is a valid tool for redressing their electoral grievances, since Trump told them that the election system is corrupt and rigged, which therefore justifies seizing power by other means.

Anti-vaccine activists believe that harassment, intimidation and refusal are valid tactics, despite all of the visible evidence that people that refuse vaccination are harming not only themselves, but also their families and wider society. One would think that the sheer numbers of prominent people who ranted against vaccines, only to contract Covid-19 and die from its effects, would be having some impact on anti-vaccine activists. So far, the impact seems to be limited.

The big question is how long the Trump and anti-vaccine cults (when you examine their collective behavior, the parallels to religious cults are obvious) will keep up their collective and individual positions.

The likely answer is: quite some time. We are dealing with people who are in the first stage of change: Denial. The other stages, classically analyzed by psychologists, are Anger, Bargaining, Acceptance and Commitment.

This, as you will have noticed, is the classic transition that all addicts go through. And, as Nick Carmody has pointed out, the supporters of Trump show all of the signs of addicts, in that they eagerly accept and like any information that reinforces their convictions that they are right. Any and all information of that type gives them self-validation, the dopamine high of “see! I am right!”.

Right now, the rapid transition of Trump partisans to anger when their delusions are challenged tells me that many of them are in the transition from Denial to Anger. This is dangerous, since angry people tend to do stupid things as individuals, and as groups, can do terrible things to others. I would not be surprised if highly hyped individuals try to assassinate or attack politicians and government officials who are seen as supporters of Biden or supporters of authoritarian measures related to Covid-19 mitigation. There is plenty of evidence of this latent anger, in the form of activists harrassing and threatening medical professionals and people wearing masks. (Ironically, in Florida, the state government is adopting the Orwellian position that being required to wear a mask at school can be defined as harassment).

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Safety and risk, and why politicians talk absolutes and bullshit

I read people complaining that politicians are lying when they say that vaccines are safe and effective. They point to vaccinated people contracting Covid-19. (This, despite the written documentation pointing out that no vaccine is 100% effective).
Politicians say absolute-sounding statements about risk and safety nearly all of the time. This is because they learned a long time ago that not talking in absolutes when the word safety is involved simply gets them into trouble.

This is because most humans cannot properly evaluate risk, partly because they often lack information, partly because most of them are statistically illiterate, and partly because they are way too influenced by the last news story that they read, saw or heard. Mathematics curricula in schools and colleges either contain no statistics modules, or cover the subject in insufficient depth.

In a situation where information is lacking, talking about levels of safety makes a politician sound negligent compared to people who bluster in absolutes. Let’s try this out.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is safe”.

“The Covid-19 vaccine is not 100% effective, but if enough people are vaccinated, a lot fewer people will be sick and dead after its passage”.

The communications consultants will give the second sentence a massive thumbs down, because as soon as the word “but” appears, the audience will tune out the rest of the statement. The message “not 100% effective” will be processed, and that will be bad. Changing the first part of the sentence to something like “no vaccine is 100% effective” really doesn’t help, because as you depart from the mantra of 100%, the cynics and doomsayers’ emotions are triggered.

Quite simply, conditional statements about perils are seen as insufficiently comforting. So politicians retreat to saying things like “of course X is safe”, even though, statistically, they should know they are talking bullshit. Nothing is 100% safe. We all know this. But we, homo sapiens, don’t want to hear that. We prefer the unrealistic bullshit to the realistic facts.

When enough humans know how to properly evaluate safety and risk, the climate might change. That is not happening now. We are in the middle of a pandemic that has a lot of people frightened. Frightened people want total reassurance, even if deep down they might not believe it.

Total reassurance allows for accountability-shifting (“They said it was safe to go out. So I went out. Then I caught Covid. They lied to me!”). It allows for more sleep at nights. There are any number of logical-sounding, if bullshit, reasons why the current level of BS being promulgated about vaccines and other safety precautions is preferable to realistically embracing facts.

In the meantime, bad-faith actors continue to capitalize on the statistical and mathematical illiteracy of the majority of the population, promoting all manner of dishonest analyses of Covid, vaccines and societal measures. They cannot be run out of town, because not enough people can see the BS for what it is. This is going to be a problem, for decades. Realistically, it will continue to be a problem until enough of the electorate is statistically somewhat literate, and is capable of assessing risk. I’m not expecting that improvement any time soon.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Friday Round-up – 25th June 2021

  1. Brexit

Chris Grey’s blog post title is a wee bit apocalyptic for my liking, but the post is his usual careful analysis, focusing this week on the societal impact of Brexit, particularly on people who voted Remain.

His view is that this may lead to a new “brain drain” along the lines of the loss of scientists and technologists in the 1960s. I also expect to see a new “brain drain” from the UK over the next few years. Like the previous one in the 1960s, it will be led by technologists, scientists, joined by knowledge workers and creative artists (with professional musicians, whose ability to work in the EU has been decimated) at the front of the queue. As usual, by the time enough people notice, it may be too late.

As I have noted in the past, I have no intention of returning to live in the UK in the current climate, and I will only be visiting for essential family business. I do not know the extent to which my family understands the motivations and reasoning for that decision, but they can always read my other commentaries here if they want to know more.

Edwin Hayward (author of “Slaying Brexit Unicorns”) has a thread where he lists all of the upcoming changes that are going to impact the UK in the aftermath of Brexit. It’s a long list. The impacts are all likely to be negative.

Anecdotally, companies importing steel into the UK are reporting massive price increases per ton – in some cases close to 400%. World steel prices have risen in the last 2-3 months, but not by those amounts.

2. Eliminationism and the GOP

The Republican Party, when they agreed to let Donald Trump in through the door to lead them as the POTUS candidate in 2016, invited a malignant asshole with a corrupted and exaggerated business record. Everybody should already have realized that. Those who did not were insufficiently informed.

However, recent revelations show that by the end of last year, Trump was trying to embrace government by eliminationism.

The GOP supporters of Trump have no excuse. Their continuing support for him is an explicit endorsement of eliminationism as a philosophy. Politics is not a la carte. When you vote for a candidate, you’re going to get all the candidate’s policies. You don’t get to tick the ballot paper and say “Yeah, I like abuse of Trans people and discrimination against The Gayz, but I don’t want to execute Traitors”. That’s not how the system works.

Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail
Healthprose pharmacy reviews