Written by: Guest Post
- May 22, 2013
This is a guest post by JT White
On May 13th the BBC finally opened the floor to ‘discuss’ the health-care reforms that have been passed and are well under way. The section 75 regulations of the Health & Social Care act of 2012 was passed by the House of Lords on April 25th this year. The mainstream media, whether right or left, failed to give any coverage to this bill passed and yet it concerns us all. Even still, it was nice to hear a bit of ‘discussion’ once the bill had been passed and, effectively, the public was powerless to do anything about legislation already passed. You would have been lucky to have uncovered these proposals via the splutters of outrage on Twitter, or on the blogosphere, or indeed at the outer-reaches of the press. Instead of the crusading press we’re told we have, we actually have a cowardly press that let these health reforms pass them by. The British commentariat might be best understood as a herd of ‘independent minds’.
Even when we hear talk of the plans there are only banal platitudes about ‘reform’. When at the best of times ‘reform’ is a word to be suspicious of, especially when it is deployed with ease by the incompetent and duplicitous political class of this country. The Health & Social Care act will radically transform the way the NHS works, in fact, it will open the floodgates to private companies and enforces competitive bidding for contracts. That’s on top of the hundreds of contracts on health services already sold in 2012. The act will require that all sectors of the NHS which can’t be provably delivered by one provider (the state) will be opened up to competition. From now on the only hope of the NHS will be the commissioners, for they are now on the frontline of decisions about privatisation. Yet only if the commissioners can be make the case that this or that service has to be provided by the state. That’s assuming the case will even be accepted, your guess is as good as mine.
Once rejected the services will be opened up to the full brunt of market forces. There is also the possibility that the real decisions will not be made by commissioners but by the courts. As Lord Philip Hunt has acknowledged, the regulations will “promote and permit privatisation and extend competition into every quarter of the NHS regardless of patients interests. The Lords reported that many NHS professional institutions believe that the regulations make competition the default approach, whilst imposing a burden of proof on commissioners wishing to restrict competition.” So it’s fair to say that the doctors won’t have a say in these decisions for the most part. If the doctors don’t have a say then the patients certainly have no say in the matter at all. The Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners has said “The new reforms of which these regulations are a key part remove the legal framework for a universal, publically provided, publically managed, publically planned, democratically accountable health service.”
The Conservatives can claim that this isn’t privatisation because the NHS will still exist. Yes it will exist, but as a hollowed out shell where public money is funnelled into the private sector to raise the profits of private health-providers in this country. The truth is that if there are private companies eating away at the public sector then that is privatisation, it is just incremental as a means to the same end. The state bureaucracy will only be supplanted with a private bureaucracy, which will be run on the basis of profit at the expense of the tax-payer and almost certainly the quality of service. Decision-makers at the local level will be at the mercy of changes out of their control as funds are redirected from local services. The decline in services will be sped up, as it has already, to justify further ‘reform’. Gradually the whole edifice built in the aftermath of WWII will be reduced to a mere memory. A lot has already been lost, as it was the Major government and its Blairite successors who introduced markets into the NHS by way of ‘performance targets’.
Unfortunately, none of this should be a surprise. The Coalition has cut NHS funding effectively by only increasing spending by 1% while health-costs soared at a rate far higher than inflation. The press would rather whinge about the coming collapse of A & Es. But not about the mass closures of these services and the cuts in funding for those not closed. There is plenty of angry talk to be heard about the European ‘super-state’ that has been imposed on us without referenda, yet how much talk has there been over these changes to the NHS? No one in the public sphere of discourse and politics seems to care. On the horizon there is a free-trade deal with the US that will open the NHS to the full force of American multinationals. The phoney democrats in Parliament are adept at calling for referenda when it suits their purposes. There wasn’t any talk of a referendum on the invasion of Iraq, only a couple of million people marched through London and Blair reacted with pieties: we live in a democracy so you can have your protest, but it means nothing.
It is the unfortunate combination of a constitutional monarchy with a flawed form of Parliamentary democracy that failed to stop these measures being passed. Why? Because there are systemic interests shaping the legislative process. As the Daily Mail reported in 2012 Lord Carter, the head of the NHS regulator, as well as the Cooperation and Competition panel, received almost £800,000 from just one of the health firms to which he is entangled. Andrew Robertson has compiled a list of 140 Lords and 65 MPs with what may be direct interests in private health-care. From the list Robertson gauged that this amounts to one out of every four Conservative peers, one in six Labour peers and one in ten Liberal Democratic peers. This is a problem across the board, endemic to the political class and system. According to Dr Eoin Clarke, since 2001 the Conservative Party has received over £8 million in donations from private health firms. We may not know the full extent of this until the political class opens itself up to a transparent accounting. But it should be obvious that this is only a part of the problem here.
Written by: Owen
- May 13, 2013
Following the government’s refusal to comment on the tragic suicide of Stephanie Bottrill, a number of people have pointed out the rather glaring inconsistency between this case and that of Mick Philpott. George Osborne was notoriously eager to share his wisdom with us in that instance, but when a chronically ill grandmother took her own life in despair at the prospect of losing her home apparently it abruptly became inappropriate to comment on individual cases.
It can be taken as read that the response from Government ministers in the two situations was governed by pure political expediency; it’s pretty obvious they don’t particularly care about the lives of either Stephanie Bottrill or the children who died at Mick Philpott’s hands. That much is relatively trivial. There is a trickier issue here as well though; if it’s inconsistent for the Tories to claim that the case of Mick Philpott serves to undermine the case for the welfare state while they refuse to acknowledge that the death of Stephanie Bottrill undermines their case for attacking it, is it also inconsistent for the left to do the exact opposite? If we say that Philpott’s actions aren’t relevant to arguments about the welfare state but simultaneously arguing that Bottrill’s death is relevant, isn’t this also both hypocritical and exploitative of tragedy for political gain?
The short answer, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, is no. Bottrill isn’t the first person driven to suicide as a result of losing the benefits they depend on – Calum’s List serves as grim testimony to that – but her case is probably the most unambiguous. Stephanie Bottrill isn’t reported to have had any previous history of mental illness, and there are no other obvious reasons why she might have wanted to take her life apart from the fact that thanks to the bedroom tax she had become unable to pay her rent and faced the prospect of losing her flat and being moved miles from her family and loved ones. Her suicide note explicitly cites government welfare reforms as her reason for killing herself.
Conversely, Osborne’s defence for his comments about Philpott was that he – Philpott – was only able to live as he did because of the financial support he received from the benefits system. But this doesn’t stack up. The benefits system might have enabled Philpott to have lots of children and live in a large house – and you could make a case that Philpott’s actions on this score were selfish and irresponsible – but it doesn’t at all follow that it was the benefits system that caused him to murder six of those children in a house fire.
Any benefits system, no matter how carefully formulated, will have loopholes and quirks which can be exploited by a tiny free-riding minority. Equally, in any system with limited resources, there’s always a danger that individuals who are genuinely in need of help won’t get the assistance that they should. The Tories’ zeal to prevent anomalies of the former type – which, in the case of Philpott, led them to unsubtly conflate having an unusually large number of children with actual mass murder – is matched by their utter disregard for errors of the latter sort. Put simply, judging by government pronouncements over the past few months the Conservatives care far more about a few people claiming more than their perceived fair share in benefits than they do about people literally being denied the means to live thanks to Welfare Reform, and killing themselves (or being killed) as a result. What conclusion should be drawn from this about Tory moral sensibilities I leave you to decide for yourself.
Britain has placed tax avoidance at the centre of the global agenda as it prepares to host the G8 summit in June.
But despite the headlines generated by high profile cases such as Google, Amazon and Starbucks, tax avoidance is not just an issue for the UK and the other wealthy nations of the G8.
The IF Campaign against global hunger – which is backed by all major anti-poverty NGOs in the UK – is hosting a debate on May 7 which will examine the impact of tax avoidance in the developing world and the role British government policy can play in tackling it.
I will be chairing the debate, which will feature David Gauke, Exchequer Secretary, Catherine McKinnell, Shadow Exchequer Secretary, and Stephen Williams, Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Treasury Committee.
The public debate will be held at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square. Doors will open at 7pm for a 7.30pm start.
Written by: Owen
- April 24, 2013
Now that the chaotic aftermath of the Boston bombings has become somewhat calmer, (and, incidentally, now that we’ve also learned that the US Government can literally shut down an entire city at will with barely a peep of objection, which, without in any way wishing to downplay the horror of the bomb attacks themselves, is frankly terrifying), commentators are beginning to settle down to play their usual post-atrocity game of “let’s armchair-psychoanalyse the suspects”.
To kick things off we had Megan Garber at The Atlantic, arguing that while the Tsarnaev brothers’ Muslim faith might seem a temptingly obvious explanation for their actions, in fact the motivations that drive anyone to deliberately kill innocent people are too complex and deep-rooted for us to grasp. Perhaps inevitably, she was then mauled for this by conservatives, with John Hinderaker and Charles Cooke boldly asserting that actually, the real reason the brothers carried out the bombings is blindingly obvious and liberals are too stupid to see it – they were just evil! And Muslim, of course. (‘Muslim’ and ‘evil’ are more or less synonymous in the mind of a certain kind of conservative in any case.) Of course, it would be easy to dismiss this view as simplistic, small-minded and more than a little racist, and it would be easy to do that because that’s what it is. But it’s also fundamentally flawed in a far more obvious way; namely that it doesn’t actually explain…well, anything really. If your theory just amounts to “the Tsarnaev brothers carried out the bombing because they were Muslims”, then what about the hundreds of millions of Muslims who have never carried out bombings, never will, and find them abhorrent? And what about all those white American non-Muslims who’ve carried out atrocities; the Timothy McVeighs, the Ted Kaczynskis, or the countless fundamentalist Christians who’ve shot and bombed their way around the family planning clinics of the United States? Even if you take the Islamophobia out of the argument and stick with “they were just evil”, how does that make anything clearer? It doesn’t advance our understanding of why people choose to commit these acts, it just sticks a label on them. This last point is picked up by Oliver Burkeman in the Guardian, who suggests that even coming up with a satisfactory definition for what would count as an explanation may be impossible.
One default left-liberal approach to this question, then, is to argue that it just isn’t possible to know someone’s motivations. Another, by contrast, is that taken by Mehdi Hasan:
The interesting thing about this is that – to the extent that it suggests that the bombings are explicable – it has more in common with the simplistic conservative ‘evil Muslims’ line than it does with the ‘irreducible complexity’ case made by the likes of Garber and Burkeman. Hasan isn’t, presumably, arguing that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the sole cause of the Boston bombings, or that this absolves the Tsarnaevs of responsibility for their actions, just that the wars were a contributing factor. A clearer way to phrase the line he’s taking here might be in the form of a counterfactual: if it hadn’t been for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Tsarnaev brothers wouldn’t have carried out the bombing. Dzokhar Tsarnaev reportedly more or less said this himself, so this seems plausible. It also suggests that, on this point at least, Burkeman is wrong because he presents a false dichotomy; you might not be able to give a complete account as to why someone acted in a certain way, but if the person wouldn’t have acted as they did had it not been for some event or object then highlighting that event or object has some explanatory power in accounting for the person’s actions.
Of course, an Islamophobe could object to this by arguing that you could equally well say that had the Tsarnaevs not been Muslim they wouldn’t have carried out the bombings either. This may well be true, but there are any number of factors that, had they been otherwise, would have caused the bombings not to be carried out: if the Boston Marathon had never been established as an annual event, if explosives had never been invented, if Europeans had never sailed to the Americas…the list is endless, and proves absolutely nothing. But if what you’re interested in is working out how to prevent events like this happening in future (as Burkeman rightly contends that we should be) then suggsting that our best option is to somehow stop people from being brought up Muslim is monstrous, wildly impractical, and about as helpful as banning all future marathons. Given that Tsarnaev mentions US foreign policy himself, a more useful line of inquiry might be to question what it is about US actions overseas in recent years – from the invasion of Afghanistan, through Extraordinary Rendition and Guantanamo Bay, the Iraq War and Abu Ghraib, all the way to the Obama administration’s recent extrajudicial assassinations via drone strike (with accompanying civilian casualties) – that stokes such antipathy that it leads a small number of young men to commit acts like those perpetrated last Monday. To ask that question isn’t to excuse or talk down the seriousness of their acts; explanation is not justification, and, without wishing to put too fine a point on it, anyone who can’t see the difference between apologism and merely seeking to better understand a person’s actions by putting them into context is either disingenuous or an idiot. Fully understanding why anyone acts the way they do may well be impossible, but it can’t hurt to try.
Written by: Owen
- April 10, 2013
What, exactly, is the problem with throwing a party when someone you dislike dies? This isn’t a rhetorical question – it might appear obvious, but it’s not as clear as it seems. Is it because celebrating someone’s death is disrespectful to their memory? Nope, that doesn’t really stack up. As Glenn Greenwald points out, it doesn’t suddenly become illegitimate to express negative views of public figures just because they’re dead. It would certainly be wrong to go up to one of Thatcher’s presumably-mourning children in the street (her actual biological children that is, as opposed to the metaphorical kind who are called such simply by dint of being born in Britain in the 80s) and talk about how much you hated her while she was alive, but that’s because it would be intruding into private grief. A street party – if it’s not actually held on Carol Thatcher’s front lawn – can’t really be said to fall into that category. Besides which, as Greenwald also highlights (and as I suggested on Monday when her death was announced), there weren’t many on the right who spoke up against celebrating the death of Hugo Chavez, so suddenly getting all outraged now about the vital need to respect the memories of those who are no longer with us just because this time it’s about someone you happen to like does seem a wee bit inconsistent.
How about the argument that celebrating someone’s death is just plain distasteful? You can certainly make a plausible case that vocalising your dislike for Thatcher in the wake of her death is one thing, but actively throwing a party at anyone’s death, no matter how reviled, is a bit sick. Sure, there are people who apply this principle inconsistently (as in the case of Hugo Chavez, or, more pertinently, whoever decided that Thatcher’s own funeral should have “a Falklands War theme”) but all that proves is that people are hypocrites, not that the principle is a bad one. I have a lot of sympathy for this argument, but toasting the demise of those we dislike seems to be pretty well-embedded in how we behave. You might not have wanted to raise a glass when either Thatcher or Chavez died, but what about Osama bin Laden? Harold Shipman? Saddam Hussein? Ceausescu? I’m sure there are some among us who could honestly say they didn’t feel the slightest inkling of happiness on hearing the news of anyone’s death no matter how heinous the deceased’s crimes when they were alive, but I’m equally sure that they’re very much in the minority. I don’t deny that it’s an unpleasant disposition, or that humanity as a whole would probably be better off without it, but I don’t see it going away any time soon. It’s particularly hard to begrudge this sentiment when you see it coming from people rejoicing at the death of a political figure who directly caused them harm while they were alive. Is it really so wrong that there were Libyans who were overjoyed at Gaddafi’s death? Or Chileans who felt the same about Thatcher’s old friend Pinochet? Thatcher, for all her faults, was no dictator, but many of the people cracking open the champagne are those whose lives were blighted by her actions – the ex-miners left with no alternative way to earn a living in devastated communities, the anti-nuclear campaigners smeared as Soviet sympathisers, or the gay men and women who were at school in the 80s and 90s and whose teachers were banned by Section 28 from telling them that their sexuality even existed. It might not be right to feel happy about the death of someone who caused you significant suffering, but at the very least it’s understandable.
Even if you agree with that, of course, you could point out that plenty of those out partying in the streets on Monday night weren’t even alive when Thatcher was Prime Minister, much less old enough to remember what life was like when she was in office. And there’s something in this – Jon argued precisely this point on this very site a couple of years ago. But you don’t have to be able to remember Thatcher’s reign to feel the effects of her policies. Anyone who’s grown up in the North of England and been unable to get a well-paid job after leaving school because of the collapse of manufacturing, or is stuck on a Council Housing waiting list because of the Right To Buy-induced social housing shortage, or even just happened to notice the high prices and poor service provided by their gas or water company, has, to one degree or another, lived their life in Thatcher’s shadow. In the end though, maybe that’s actually a conclusive reason not to celebrate. As Salman reminds us, more than two decades after she left office, her imprint on British political life remains largely intact. Whether she’s dead or alive doesn’t change that.
Margaret Thatcher died today.
They say you should not speak ill of the dead, so I shan’t be writing any long obituaries. Thatcher was my ideological opposite, after all. Born in the year of the miner’s strike, I was too young to remember much of her time in power, but looking back on her record, I can only conclude she made Britain a worse, more unequal place.
Many will draw the opposite conclusion, pointing to her strength in the face of enemies at home and abroad. And her death will be as polarising as her political life.
There will be a lot of people on the left for whom Thatcher’s death has been too long coming. Even in Cambridge – hardly a hotbed of proletarian revolution – King’s College student union voted to set aside £40 for a party in the event of her demise a few years back.
But Thatcher’s death is nothing to celebrate. Quite apart from the morbidness of celebrating anyone’s death, it serves no political purpose. Not because Thatcher in her twilight years was irrelevant. Quite the opposite. The Thatcherite consensus built on the grave of the post-war one is stronger than ever.
Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and Clegg have ensured that Thatcher’s legacy will live on as Atlee’s is buried deeper and deeper. If we are to change that, it is her arguments we must demolish, not her tomb.
Written by: Reuben - April 7, 2013
There has been some hoo-har today over Paris Brown, the 17 year old Youth Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent. This morning the Mail on Sunday revealed that, as a teenager she had beamed out some pretty controversial tweets.
The liberal press have focused upon the references to “fags” and “pikeys” – in tweets dating back to when she was 14 or 15. Yet, in reality this story is about far more than that. In the Mail article itself, priority is given not to Brown’s expressions of bigotry, but to those tweets that pertain to cannabis and sex. It kicks off with a quote about hash brownies, and an apparently shocking tweet wherein Brown complained that the “worst part about being single is coming from a party/night out horny as f*** and having to sleep alone.” It is, it seems, still unacceptable for a young woman to have the temerity to express feelings of sexual desire.
And this, apparently is a sentiment shared, by Labour MP and Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz, who is calling for her to be sacked. “Public money” he said, “should never be given to anyone who refers to violence, sex, drunkenness and other anti-social behaviour in this offensive manner”. Yes the emphasis has been added, for it would appear that Keith Vaz considers sex to be anti-social behaviour. Although one suspects that both Vaz and the Mail on Sunday would be rather less taken aback by the news of “Teenage Boy Talks About Getting Laid”. Quoting a tweet in which Brown expresses a desire to become more ladylike, the Mail notes that there “is some hope” for her.
Paris Brown’s references to “fags” and “pikeys” can hardly be condoned. Yet given these were made when she was 15, the commonsensical response might be to ask her if such tweets still represent her world view. Yet the point here was not to deal with homophobia or racism, but to weave these bigoted tweets into a broader narrative – about a young woman who is apparently far to boisterous, chavvy and over-sexed to be allowed to occupy a place within the establishment.
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Written by: Reuben - March 30, 2013
I awoke today to the news that Royal Marines had been mustered to protect a particular inter-university sports day, commonly known as the “Oxford Cambridge Boat Race”. Such news further entrenched my feeling that the disrupter of last year’s race might have been on to something.
For me, the most enjoyable outcome of Trenton’s action was the hilariously exaggerated sense of butthurt it provoked amongst Oxbridge students and Alumni, over the disruption of their sports day. Facebook, on this day last year, was a treat.
The dominant reaction – from the media, and from the judge who sent him to prison – was that he had picked a bad target for his protest against elitism. On this I am afraid I must disagree with the judge.
The fact is that “Oxbridge” matters, not simply as a set of institutions but as a cultural phenomenon. The mystique built up around Oxbridge, the very particullar and prominent place that it occupies in our national culture, represents an important part of the ideology underpinning Britain’s prevailing social order. The idea of Oxbridge is incredibly effective in conferring to a certain set of people a legitimate right to rule – in the social, economic and political sphere. And it effective , in this respect, because of the absurd prominence of these two universities in the cultural construction of the English nation. And yes the Boat Race is an element of this. The fact that this big school sports day is covered live on the BBC – the fact that this year the Royal fucking Marines have been mobilized to protect this competiton between two univeristies – is a part of what makes Oxbridge into the place that it’s imagined to be. So good on Mr Oldfield for disrupting it.
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Written by: Reuben - March 28, 2013
There is something rather telling about the interview between Medhi Hassan and Lord Ahmed, published today in the Huffington Post. Ahmed took the opportunity to offer an unreserved apology for an appearance on Pakistani television wherein he blamed a conspiracy of Jews – particularly Jewish media owners – for the prison sentence that he received some years back. For various reasons, I believe that he is at least partly sincere in his apology. Yet what really caught my eye was the explanation that he offered for his references to “Jews”. He had erred in blaming the “Jews”, but he had done so partly because in Urdu there is “no word for zionist”.
At one level this makes no sense whatsoever. The terms “Zionist” and “Jew” refer to entirely different things. The vast majority of zionists are not Jewish. If Ahmed genuinely meant to say that his misfortune was down to the work of zionists – in theory an ethnically neutral category, comprised of people who support a particular political position – then it would have made sense for him to describe his enemies as “Israel supporters” – a term that can surely be constructed in Urdu – not as Jews.
Yet, for those of us who are familiar with the variety of ways in which the term “Zionist” gets deployed, Lord Ahmed’s explanation makes all too much sense. The fact is that all too often the word Zionist is used as a euphemism for Jews. Familiar anti-Semitic tropes are sanitized by replacing the J word with the Z word. And essentially, what Lord Ahmed is explaining here is that in the Urdu language he was denied access to this particular rhetorical device. The absence of the Z word denied him the opportunity to have his cake and eat it – to wheel out the all too familiar trope about Jewish control of the media, whilst hiding behind the word Zionist.
All of this should be food for thought for some of the well meaning folk one encounters online and offline who seem to think that the mere presence of the Z word, and absence of the J word, is sufficient to demonstrate that a comment is merely anti-Zionist (and who seem to respond to any claim of anti-Semitism by robotically yelling “ANTI-ZIONISM ISN’T ANTI-SEMITISM111!!! [dribble]“).
It also explains why – despite being a dyed-in-the-wool anti-Zionist – I sometimes wince when I hear the Z word being spat out with peruliar venom. Because the meaning of words is determined in amidst the contradictory messiness of public discourse. And whatever we want the word to mean – whatever it ought mean – one cannot simply tune out wide variety of meanings that get projected onto the term Zionist. And so, when I hear the word, sometimes find myself wondering who exactly is being attacked. Is it simply those non-Jews and jews who support Israel, or is it the “bad jews”, or those jews who haven’t actively declared there support for the Palestinians, or Jews who are about as Zionist as Britain’s non-jewish majority, but who are far more likely to be faced with questions/accusations about whether or not they are zionists than non-jews who share the same opinions.
To be clear I am not suggesting the use of the term Zionist should become faux pas amongst red circles, or that we should start frowning upon people who use is it as pejorative -something that I have often done. But as a matter of political strategy, it might be a good idea to shift away from talking about “Zionists” and towards talking about “Israel supporters”. Such a term provides far less hospitable cover for anti-Semites in search of a euphemism. Indeed it is a hall mark of anti-Semites that they accuse Zionists of being responsible for things that have fuck all to do with Israel – such as the current financial crisis. Replace the word Zionist with “Israel supporters”, and their sentiments become too absurd to make any sense, even by their bonkers standards. In short, replacing the word Zionist with the term “Israel Supporters” will compel everybody to consider whether they are actually invoking a political category, or whether they are deploying a semi-political semi-ethnic trope to describe those they oppose.
Anyway, it is difficult not to pity poor Lord Ahmed. Just weeks after incurring the wrath of anti-racists and the Jewish community, he has undoubtedly now provoked the anger of Britain’s anti-Semitic community, whose game he has so carelessly given away.
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Written by: Reuben - March 25, 2013
The annual conference of Python software developers does not usually make news beyond the world of computer geekery. This year’s conference, however has has given rise to a snowballing controversy surrounding female tech-professional and conference attendee Adria Richards. Depending on who you read, Richards is either a tenacious advocate of women’s empowerment in a male-dominated industry, unjustifiably fired for having the temerity to expose sexism on the conference floor – or, alternatively, she is an overgrown school prefect, who overreacted to off-colour humour, and cost a man his job. A third position – that has been heard all to audibly in recent days from the legions of demented 4chan types – is that Richards is a woman on the internet who refuses to imitate a doormat, and as such deserves to be subjected to threats of violence and rape.
Anyway the facts are as follows. Richards, who was watching a presentation from the conference , took offence at a conversation taking place behind her – which pertained to the importance of having a “big dongle”. Feeling that this was all too symptomatic of the sexist atmosphere of the industry she took a photograph of the men who were conversing and tweeted it along with a description of her displeasure at the conversation. She further discussed the matter with the conference organisers who then threw the men out.
The upshot was that one of the men involved – having had his picture and company name publicised – lost his job. The, in turn, provoked fairly widespread outrage, amongst the IT/Developer/internet community, much of it directed acted at Adria Richards. Hacker attacks were made against her company SendGrid, who responded by publicly firing her – prompting accusations that they had caved in to the troll army.
On the internet, mysoginy is prominent and institutionalised, and Richards is no doubt suffering its effects. Yet looking at her account of the conversation that provoked her tweet, it is difficult to sympathise with her actions. No doubt the conversation that she reports involves some low grade sexual humour – the importance of having a big dongle. But there’s nothing that appears particularly sexist. They were not, for example. talking about any particular woman – present or otherwise – who they would “like to do”. Merely floating a sex related analogies to each other.
Indeed other female software types have, understandably, taken umbrage at the suggestion that such chatter is peculiarly offensive women’s ears. As one woman put it “I probably would have been giggling myself…It has nothing to do with gender.” Yes there can often be a crossover between sexist humour and juvenile jokes about body party. And yes expressions of sexuality are not made in a social vacuum, but in a society in which sexual relations between men and women are all too often a matter of coercion. Yet the two are not one and the same. And where juvenile toilet humour is not marred by sexism, it ought to be recognised and indeed celebrated by all right thinking people as a fundamental cornerstone of our civilization.
What, however, truly made this situation into something very painful to those involved was the exercise or corporate power against employees, specifically the power to sack. In firing their developer for making a crude joke – a man who supports three kids – Playhaven imposed a fairly brutal punishment for some of the cuff chatter. In doing so they also sent a message to any of their other employees who happen to do any public that amounts to we own your soul – restrict thine smalltalk to company approved phrases. Meanwhile, it was at a point when Adria Richards had already been subject to massive public humiliation that her own company decided to publicly fire her – going as far as too tweet that she had been sacked “effective immediately”. Certainly a good education for anyone whose bought into the idea that Silicon Valley’s open plan offices represent a new kind relaxed, open, and egalitarian corporate culture. Those fighting, respectively, in the corner of Richards or crude-joking men could to worse than turn their fire on the real enemy.
To contact Reuben email email@example.com