So, It’s Trump.

There’s no way to sugar-coat this.
Ignorance, fear, racism and misinformation have put a tiny-fingered, misogynist, bigoted, fact-fearing child in the White House. And next to him an evil, homophobic, evangelical climate-change denier as his Vice President. In the prophetic words of River Tam, things are going to get much, much worse.

river-tam-things-much-worse

I was going to write about how this happened. I was going to look at who’s to blame – was it the media? Was it the DNC or even Hillary herself? Was it all FBI Director James Comey’s fault?
But that’s not my place yet. More knowledgeable and experienced people will be writing about that. There will be weeks and weeks of analysis. There will be op-eds and infographics and charts and finger-pointing.
But what we need right now, I think, is some perspective.
Before we had Obama, we had Dubya. Before we had Justin Trudeau, we had Stephen Harper. Before we had the most productive Australian Prime Minister, we had eleven years of John Howard. Sometimes to take two steps forward you have to take a step back.
Social change is slow. If you try and rush it you get push back, because it’s largely generational. For hundreds of years, each generation has been more progressive than the one before it. 150 years ago, women couldn’t vote. 60 years ago, American schools were segregated. 20 years ago, same-sex couples couldn’t get married.
Older white people voted for Trump. Older white people voted for Brexit.
Two weeks before the election, SurveyMonkey published this map of the electoral college if only millennials voted:

millenial-electoral-college
Source: SurveyMonkey

So the upcoming generation has progressive ideals. Unfortunately, fewer millennials voted this election. So maybe we need to reach out to the kids better. Maybe we need to inspire them more, like Obama did in 2008 and 2012. I don’t know.
But I do know that giving up won’t help. I do know that we can’t just accept the world the way it is. Women weren’t given the right to vote, people stood up and called for it. Desegregation didn’t just happen, civil rights campaigners stood up and demanded it. Marriage equality is happening around the world because people are fighting for it.
So we can’t just give up. We need to take action. We need to see Trump’s election as a wake-up call. A call to action.
So take action. Engage with people who think climate change is a hoax. Campaign to your elected officials for humane treatment of refugees. Speak up when you witness or experience sexism, racism, bigotry. And support the victims of sexism, racism and bigotry.

And above all, be the change you want to see in the world. Nate Silver on the FiveThirtyEight Election podcast talks about the ‘smugness’ shown by many of the commentariat – especially on the left and in parts of the media. That doesn’t help. Be better than that. If you can comport yourself with all the restraint, patience, dignity and wisdom that Barack and Michelle Obama have demonstrated – time and time again – you’ll be helping to make the world better.

There is hope. Change will happen. It won’t happen fast enough, and many people will be hurt in the process. But if we keep the pressure on, we will get there.

Fired up?

Ready to go?

McConnelling

Oh gods I found this funny.

I was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this morning, which started off with a depressing look at Fox News’ vilification of poor people. Then, after the ad break, came this little gem about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In case you’re not aware, McConnell is the quintessential Old White Republican Arsehole. He’s repeatedly tried to get the Affordable Healthcare Act repealed, he’s opposed every gun control attempt, and described shutting down Guantanamo Bay as releasing ‘murderers’ into the US.
And he’s the 10th wealthiest senator, with a personal fortune of over US$9 million.

So making fun of him is extremely entertaining.

Here’s the clip from the Daily Show today. It’s brilliant.😀

And possibly my favourite #McConnelling so far is this one:

The Future of Skepticism: More. Positive. Stuff.

Over the weekend I had the joy of attending the Australian Skeptics National Convention in Canberra. Let me just say this: it was FANTASTIC. Skeptic conventions, Skepticamps and other such events are always terrific fun to attend because it’s always great to be with friends and like-minded people. But when a convention is as well put together as this one was – around a common theme, with a diverse range of engaging speakers, in an environment of spirited collegiality – it really does motivate and inspire.

Image
Dr. Paul Willis talking at the Australian Skeptics National Convention 2013.
Image: Ruth Ellison

The last speaker on the program was the inimitable Dr. Paul Willis. Former host of ABC’s splendid Catalyst program and now director at RIAus, Paul is a charming, genial man with a razer-sharp intellect and a love of puns. And his thoughts on where skepticism is going, which he shared in his talk, are spot on with what I’ve been thinking recently. He boiled it down to three key points:

  • More. We need to be doing more. There’s an entire internet out there waiting for us to get out there and fill it with good information. And if we don’t, the quacks and the woo-pedlars will.
  • Positive. We need to show that we’re not a bunch of nay-saying curmudgeons. Let’s give positive feedback to the people and organisations that are doing fantastic stuff. When Catalyst does a terrific show like the Chiropractic episode, we need to be congratulating them and thanking them. Get our voices heard and we’ll see more of the good stuff.
  • Stuff. We need to expand the range of what we do. If you don’t have a blog, start one. If you’re not on social media, get involved. If you don’t do a podcast, or a vodcast, why not think about it. Comment on blog posts. Comment on Old Media sites like newspapers and TV shows. Submit complaints to the TGA on dodgy websites. Join the Guerilla Skepticism team and write some Wikipedia articles. And take advantage of some of the tools being developed like rbutr, Web of Trust and Fishbarrel.

Have a listen to Paul’s talk here:

Steltzner vs Fox: Curiosity Comes Cheap

Today I stumbled across this cute little meme:

Shepard Smith vs Adam Steltzner

So I shared it, and before long was asked: did this actually happen?

I didn’t know, so I looked around. As best as I can tell, no it didn’t happen exactly like that. It wasn’t quite the ‘gotcha’ moment. But the interviewer did definitely have a “dude, why bother?” attitude. Rather than send you off to give Murdoch some money, I’ve uploaded the clip here:

So while it’s not exactly true, I think the meme does make a good point. As I’ve said before, space exploration and astronomy is far cheaper than people realise. Yes, Curiosity cost $2.5 billion, but that was spread over eight years. A few months before Curiosity landed, London hosted the Olympic games at a cost of US$14.46 billion. And as I’ve shown before, the US military is planning on spending $US1.1 trillion dollars over the next 5 years on 2,443 F-35 warplanes to finally defeat the Soviet threat. [Correction: As artio pointed out in the comments, that should read “US1.1 trillion over the next 50 years”. Woops.]

Don’t get me wrong – I think asking about the money involved in science is a valid question and one that definitely needs to be asked. But such funding needs to be held in context. Casey Dreier over at The Planetary Society spells it out far better than I could. Essentially, the question is not “why are we spending so much money on space exploration?” but instead “why are we spending so little?”

Meanwhile, In America

Safe to say that since the election, Australia’s going to poo. We no longer have a Science ministry but we have a Minister for Sport. The Communications Minister has sacked asked the Board of NBN Co to resign. The Climate Change Commission has been dismantled, a same-sex marriage law is being challenged, and perhaps most worrying of all a cloud of secrecy is descending on the Drown Them All In Indonesia Turn Back The Boats plan.

But in America, where things have been poo for some time, they may be getting… um… pooer.

You might have heard of Obamacare. It’s actually the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act but it’s Obama’s idea and Republicans hate that so they call it Obamacare. Anyway, it’s a federal law that represents a massive overhaul of America’s healthcare system.

Like most good things, the Republicans oppose it. They’ve tried 42 times to repeal it, and failed. It’s been passed into law (after Obama won re-election with it as his main platform) and comes into effect on 1 October 2013. Under the law, insurance companies will not be allowed to discriminate based on pre-existing conditions. Significantly more people will be insured, especially amongst the poor. And it’ll lower the government deficit and reduce government spending on Medicare. Good things, mostly.

Although it’s not perfect – Dan Savage described it as ‘the lesser of two evils’ on the Colbert Report. (If you clicked that link, stop looking at his amazing biceps and please ignore that I just linked to an arsehole’s blog. I didn’t want to but it had the relevant transcript.)

WARNING: The next paragraph contains the rudest of all rude words. I feel it is used entirely justifiably, but if it offends you please just replace it with “George Pell” in your head, because he is also one. 

The Koch brothers are evil cunts. Having inherited an oil fortune of an estimated $100 billion, they have ‘funded’ numerous climate change denying ‘scientists’, supported the Tea Party movement and fought Obamacare wherever possible. Their most recent effort – a scaremongering ad campaign – is, frankly, disgusting. It’s the most insane, duplicitous, vile thing I’ve seen in a long time. Watch:

Is that not awful?

And as for ‘don’t let the government play doctor’ – remember it’s always Republicans who want to introduce mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds. It’s always the Conservatives that want to control women’s uteri. It’s always the right-wing that wants the housewives doing the ironing.

Keep Real Journalism Alive

Jonothan HolmesAfter five years in the host’s chair, Jonathan Holmes is leaving Media Watch. It would be easy to assume that after documenting the scandals, the mistakes, the ineptitude and often the downright sleazy antics of media organisations he’d have nothing but contempt for the way ‘journalism’ is conducted in Australia. From the Sunday Telegraph’s fake Pauline Hanson nudes to The Australian’s continued War on Climate Change, to anything the Herald Sun has ever published, it’s hard to think that the nation’s premier media critic could have anything nice to say about the media. But Holmes finished his final program not with admonishment but with praise, and an appeal. “Media Watch regularly shows you the worst”, he notes, “but the best, I still believe, is worth paying for.”

So my parting plea is this: whatever your politics, or your preferences, and even if you’ve never bought a newspaper, start subscribing to at least one media website: whether it’s the Herald Sun or New Matilda, Crikey or the Sydney Morning Herald, old media or new, pay just a little to keep real journalism alive.

– Jonathan Holmes, Media Watch, 1 July 2013.

My first reaction was of surprise and vehement disagreement. I have always believed that pay-walls are a stupid idea – as long as someone is willing to report the news for free (be it an advertising-supported or government-funded institution, a blogger or even social-media) then only fools will pay for it. And these days there is always someone else who will report the news for free. News organisations have never had anything close to this kind of competition. Take any news story on any given day – as an example, I’ll use the racist abuse aimed at Australia’s first Muslim frontbencher Ed Husic – and have a look at how many sources Google News has. Currently there are 208 online news sites that are reporting the very same story. And they’re reporting the very same facts and the very same quotes.

So why pay when I can get it for free, right? But, if I’m honest, that’s a bit naive. Sure, it applies to basic reporting – the What, Where and When of journalism. And it even applies to analysis – the How, Why and ‘So What’. In short, the mostly-public goings on in the world are by definition widely available to anyone and everyone. But the point Holmes makes, and I agree with him, is that investigative journalism costs money and carries great risk. Investigative journalism is undercover work. It’s ‘Deep Throat’ style car-park meetings with whistle-blowers, it’s digging through trash-cans to find shredded documents, it’s doggedly pursuing leads that may take weeks, month or even years before the story breaks. Investigative journalism is expensive.

The work they do requires time, and money, and the willingness to risk huge costs incurred fighting battles in the courts.

– Jonathan Holmes, Media Watch, 1 July 2013.

Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that the only way to fund investigative journalism is through pay-walls. Far from it – there are a range of funding-models available to all news organisations. The first that springs to mind is advertising. But unfortunately online advertising is weak tea – another victim of the range of online sources. The same amount of advertising money is now being spread not just on the few big Australian newspapers, TV networks and radio stations, but also the international news sites, the smaller independent news sites, and, well, all the other websites in general. The King’s Tribune highlights the difficulties facing smaller news organisations wanting a slice of the ad-revenue pie: “We’re too small to attract big advertisers and too big to get the small ones.”

Nor can we expect the government-funded organisations to be the sole bastions of investigative journalism. The ABC and SBS are terrific institutions and their fierce independence is to be lauded. But their belts are already tight, and ‘more money to the ABC’ is not a catch-cry we hear very often from policy makers. They do their part, and perhaps punch above their weight in many regards, but they simply don’t have the resources or funding to be the lone providers of investigative journalism. And nor should they. It’s not healthy for a democracy to have the only institutions that keep a check on government, funded by the government. Like them or loath them, independent news organisations are vital.

So I’ve decided to take Jonathan’s advice and “pay just a little to keep real journalism alive”. I’m looking into various outlets to see who’s worthy of my coin. Crikey came highly recommended when I asked on Twitter.

And of course The Conversation is an exemplary site which clearly puts accuracy and ethics ahead of speed and populism. And while it’s free (getting most of it’s funding from universities and some government programs) it does accept donations.

Walter Cronkite