Jul 112020

So the pubs have re-opened and our media is full of images of rowdy crowds busy drinking and blithely ignoring social distancing recommendations. And “more sensible” people are reacting by claiming that it was too soon to re-open pubs.

Well, … perhaps.

It was always inevitable that re-opening the pubs was going to be met with a bit of a major drinking session, but was it really as bad as it was portrayed? Whilst I do not have figures (and this anecdote only applies to one of many locations), I got the impression that Saturday night was much quieter than you might expect.

I live on a busy road that whilst does not have many drinking establishments (four plus four licensed restaurants), is often used by city centre drinkers on their way home. Saturday nights are usually quite lively, and special occasion Saturday nights can be quite rowdy. And this Saturday night didn’t seem as busy as an ordinary Saturday night.

What we do not see are the pictures of less controversial pub gatherings where social distancing is observed. Whilst the daft went out in droves on Saturday night, many people did not go out.

There are many different kinds of pubs – to give just two examples, there are the city centre “party pubs” and there are the quiet country pubs with a beer garden. And yes a pub can be more than one kind at different times.

Crowding into a busy city centre pub with lots of people on their way to getting quite sloshed is a relatively high risk activity; having a quiet drink with one or two others in a beer garden is a relatively low risk activity.

It is quite possible – indeed likely – that the daft people who went out on Saturday night are already participating in relatively high risk activities. So opening the pubs may only be increasing the risk of more infections only slightly.

And given the other side of opening pubs – business survival, jobs for those who work in pubs, and the ability of us all to pop into a quiet pub at the end of a long walk (or similar), why not?

Jun 142020

In the wake of the tearing down of many US statues of Confederate generals and in the UK, the removal of a statue to a slave trader in Bristol, there is an ongoing debate about the status of statues in the public space.

And some pretty daft things have been said about it.

One of the daftest is the notion that they represent our history and destroying them is destroying our history; no they don’t and no it isn’t. History is a lot bigger and more diverse than the handful of historical (in some cases) so-called heroes.

The best a statue (almost always of an old white dude) can achieve in that direction is to spark an interest in history. And replacing the Bristol statue of Edward Colston with a statue of Paul Stephenson would have very little effect on this “sparking effect”. From a purely ancient history perspective, I might prefer one to Robert Fitzharding, but given that there is no shortage of statues to old white dudes, someone else can take centre stage.

The Bare Family

In the US, it is rather peculiar to say the least that many US cities have statues to traitorous (not to mention racist) Confederate generals. Even ignoring the political question of why they are there, a fair few of them have little to no aesthetic value – if I were one of those dead Confederate generals, I’d be saying “Look, I may have been pretty ugly but at least I looked human!”.

But it gets on to an interesting point – we don’t so much worship the real people depicted in statues as our idealised version of them. In the case of Confederate generals (and ignoring the conscious and blatant racists), some view these as heroes of states’ rights which is more than a little invented – those making up the Confederacy were quite happy trampling on states’ rights when it came to achieving things they wanted (such as the return of run-away slaves).

In some cases the myth of the man (and woman in some rare cases) is enough to justify their statue despite what they were like in life – for instance Churchill was a racist and an imperialist but he also represents anti-fascism, Britain’s war leadership, and the initiation of the European state project.

There are those who would point to the Bengal famine of 1943 as a reason why he should not be venerated in statue form. He certainly deserves criticism for his handling of that famine and bears some responsibility for it, but he hardly caused the famine and there was plenty of other things going on at the time.

Back to the Confederate generals … I don’t think their myth is sufficient to justify the continued existence of their statues in the light of their very real crimes.

In the case of at least some statues, their origin story can be more interesting than expected – for instance there is a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the British parliament that was put up in the late 19th century. At the time, it was felt that putting up such a statue was rather provocative given the situation with Ireland at the time.

So no public money went to funding the statue; a ‘benefactor’ paid for the statue, but it was put up in the public space anyway – kind of missing the point!

But is the violent removal of such statues justified?

Normally, no. But in some instances, yes.

In the case of the Bristol slave trader, people have been trying to have the statue removed through official channels for over twenty-years! If you do not have a sensible way of handling reasonable objections to questionable statues in a reasonable time frame you can’t get too upset when people resort to direct action.

There must be a sensible, timely, and semi-democratic mechanism by which statues in the public space can be removed – perhaps if 25% of the local electorate vote to remove it, it should go. Whilst this is not properly democratic, if a statue is offensive to a quarter of the local population it seems not unreasonable to remove it.

Jun 032020

Just recently I have seen some posts from right-wing nut-jobs (or racist fascists) declaring that according to their statistics, there isn’t an imbalance between deaths to whites by the police and deaths to blacks by the police. At least one of which looked at shootings by the police which is kind of missing the point; and leaving half of the killings out.

So I had a look at digging up some statistics myself which turned out to be somewhat more difficult than I imagined. It seems that recent data is difficult to find – not least because not all states report on these killings.

The figures I have are from 2003-2009 :-

|         | Deaths in Custody |
| White   | 2026 |
| Black   | 1529 |
| Hispanic|  949 |
| Other   |  150 |
| Unknown |  159 |
| Total   | 4813 |

(Source: Table 3 of https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ard0309st.pdf)

So according to these figures, more whites get killed by the police than blacks; ignoring the racial issue for the moment, why is this not a problem on its own? The UK had a high of 23 deaths in custody in 2017; multiply this by 7 to get the same number of years and you get 161 deaths in custody over the same number of years (actually an overestimate).

But the UK is so much smaller? Okay we’ll compensate for the population disparity – multiply that figure by the US population (330 million) divided by the UK population (63 million). Which comes out to multiplying out UK deaths in custody figure by about 5.2 – coming out to 843 deaths in custody compared to 4813.

So the US police kill at almost six times the rate of the British police – the US has a serious problem even before considering race.

According to Wikipedia (also the source for the population figures), 72% of the population of the USA is white and (to meet the demands of my laziness) 28% is non-white. So let us calculate what the deaths in custody figures would be if they were in proportion of the racial mix :-

| | Percentage | Proportional Deaths in Custody | Actual DiC |
| White     | 72% | 3465 | 2026 |
| Non-white | 28% | 1348 | 2787 |

Now this is a rather simplistic analysis, but shows that the USA not only has a problem with their police using excessive force against all segments of society, but has a particular problem with anyone who isn’t white.

Now this isn’t a proper analysis – just a quick back of the envelope calculation. And there are plenty of problems with this analysis; not least is the dated nature of the figures.

But it should at least be reasonably obvious that anyone claiming there isn’t a racial bias in police killings is off their rocker or has a racist axe to grind.

Jun 012020

You could think that it all started with the killing of George Floyd; you would be wrong. There has long been a problem with extra-judicial killings by the police in a number of US cities for a long time.

Not all police forces, and not all of the police. But enough to qualify this killing as one of many.

Racism in the police? In many cases I tend to argue that “something” may not be racism but more to do with letting “sociopaths” be in control of the hierarchical capitalist economic system. Not that I am necessarily right, but it can be a point worth considering.

But in this case? It’s hard to argue against it in this case.

But it isn’t just racism; some of the police initiated incidents during the protests have targeted white people as well. Leading to the suspicion that some police regard themselves in some situations as above the law and willing to go too far in controlling certain segments of the community.

The community they are supposed to serve.

Just to highlight just a few incidents :-

  1. Arresting a news team where the journalist was black.
  2. Indiscriminate use of rubber bullets which has led to a photojournalist being blinded in one eye, and another journalist receiving minor injuries.
  3. Firing a tear gas round directly at a news camera.
  4. Drive-by attack on peaceful protestors with pepper spray.

Of course it hasn’t all been bad from the police.

Pitchfork Politics

A part of the community has been targeted by the police for a long time and that part of the community (the black community) has been protesting about that for a long time. And apparently ignored all the time.

If part of a community has a grievance that cannot be settled through conventional politics, they will resort to protest politics and eventually pitchfork politics.

We have seen something along those lines with the widespread disturbances in the US over the last week. There are numerous aspects to these :-

Not all protests have resulted in arson and looting, but some have. And despite the impression that some of the media portrayed, protestors don’t all set buildings on fire (it’ll be a tiny minority) and protestors won’t be looting (again a tiny minority – very often people who didn’t take part in the protest at all). Protestors have been known to complain about looting and violence.

Violence is never good, but if you think that property damage is more important than violence against the person then you are part of the problem.

Peaceful protests get ignored. If you ignore a complaint by part of the community repeatedly and for years if not decades, then you can expect violent protests. The more you ignore and abuse a part of the community, the more you can expect some to turn to the “cleansing purity of violence”.

This is after all the recipe for a violent revolution.

There are also indications that the violence and the looting is carried out by people other than the protesters. There is a) an arrested arsonist with white-supremacist tattoos, and b) rumours that white-supremacists are speaking about “getting their loot on”.

America: You have a problem, and it has nothing to do with burning buildings and looted shops. Restoring order won’t do a damn thing. Are you going to leave this problem to your children or your grandchildren?

May 272020

For the benefit of those tuning in late, or to refresh the memories of those coming back to this years later, Dominic Cummings (Boris Johnson’s chief political advisor) has been caught breaching lockdown restrictions whilst ill with the coronavirus.

Now there are those who believe he did nothing wrong; they’re idiots but it is no longer a question of what he did or didn’t do, or whether it was against the regulations themselves, or whether it was against the spirit of the regulations. Or even if he put other people at risk.

Although it is worth pointing out that as his wife was already sick with coronavirus he was not supposed to leave the house for any reason.

No, now it is the response that is more significant.

If Dom and his buddy Boris had responded sensibly – admitted that it was wrong, and Dom had resigned – that would be fine. Or at least no worse than we expect from the Tories.

But to claim that he did nothing wrong when to most of us it has all the appearance of one rule for us and quite another for the Tory toffs, is just inflaming the situation.

Dumb move by a political advisor!

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