The Art of Book Design: The Rules for Radicals

Saul Alinsky. Rules for Radicals. New York, Random House, 1971. ©Marcus Ranum, all rights reserved

Our book today comes from Marcus and I love the bright, quirky colours and design so typical of the 70’s.

Despite its age, this book is still relevant and contains Alinsky’s 13 Rules for Radicals which all political activists should be familiar with. Alinsky believed in working within the system and his philosophy was essentially one of non-violence. This book contains one of my favourite quotes:

“People cannot be free unless they are willing to sacrifice some of their interests to guarantee the freedom of others. The price of democracy is the ongoing pursuit of the common good by all of the people.” Saul Alinsky, via: Open Culture

 

Is This What The Bullies Want?

I am beyond saddened by this news story in yesterday’s Toronto Star. A 9 year old girl in Calgary, a recent legal arrival to our country from Syria, has committed suicide. The paper reports:

 

A Calgary Syrian refugee family is dealing with the tragic death of their 9-year-old daughter, who died by suicide after being bullied at school. Amal Alshteiwi is shown here in a screen capture of a YouTube video. (SCREEN CAPTURE)

 

A Calgary Syrian refugee family is dealing with the tragic death of their 9-year-old daughter, who they say died by suicide after being bullied at school.

Aref Alshteiwi discovered his daughter Amal’s body March 6, according to Sam Nammoura, co-founder of Calgary Immigrant Support Society. Nammoura has worked with the family, and details of Amal’s death were relayed to him by the parents.

Police conducted more than a dozen interviews following Amal’s death, and found no evidence of foul play, according to Calgary Police Service media relations.

The family escaped war in Syria more than three years ago as government-sponsored refugees.

Amal’s parents told Nammoura that Amal had been coming home from school upset, telling them she was being bullied. She had been fine until around six months ago, they told him, when she moved to a new school and began having issues in math. Nammoura said they told him that’s when the bullying started — Amal was called stupid and ugly on a daily basis by several classmates.

The parents told Nammoura they raised the issue with the school, but that their daughter didn’t get any help. She went to school happy, they told him, and came home sad. However, Nammoura wasn’t aware of the issues Amal was having until after she died.

In an emailed statement, the Calgary Board of Education said it is working with the school’s staff and students “to try to understand if there were concerns or issues.”

“The school is closely working with both students and families to heal from this tragic event and come together as a community,” the statement read.

The family eventually moved schools to try to get Amal away from the bullying. Before she left, Nammoura said Amal was told by her bullies that moving wouldn’t fix anything.

Four days after she switched schools, Amal’s father found the girl dead in her room.

Story by Rose Saba, Star Calgary

She’s a beautiful girl who had a whole life ahead of her. She’ll never get her first kiss or go to the prom. She won’t graduate high school or go to college or fall in love and have children of her own. And she isn’t unique. This is what happens where hate lives and it sickens me. Is this what the bullies want? Are there really people in my country who would celebrate this loss? It is my hope that the the people who bullied Amal feel shame and remorse at what has happened and will carry that forward instead of the hate. Some will, but much work needs to be done to remove this cancer of fear and hate of otherness from our society. Lives are depending on it.

YouTube Video: Waking Up to Sam Harris Not Making Sense

Steve Shives puts out excellent commentary, I wish I had the time and strength to watch all of his output. This takedown of Sam Harris is particularly well done. But it is rather long, so I recommend having it in the background to some work, like doing dishes.

I was never a fan of Sam Harris as such. I thought originally he made some good points, even about Islam, and I thought that the metaphor about us striving to reach higher grounds on an imaginary “moral landscape” was very good from didactic standpoint.

Then I learned more about Islam, and I modified my beliefs accordingly. Sam Harris AFAIK did not. I still think that the moral landscape is a good metaphor for moral progress, but that is all.

Luckily Sam Harris, unlike Dawkins outed himself as an asshole before I spent a lot of money on his books.

Content warning: transphobia from 26:25-29:22 (there is also content warning in the video itself, but it is only textual so if you are only listening, you might miss it).

Behind the Iron Curtain part 29 – Crime

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give perfect and objective evaluation of anything, but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


Today, if I want to see the official crime rate in my country, I can just go to google and look it up. There are even handy pre-made comparisons with USA to be found. When I was a child, this was not the case, and essentially nobody knew what crime rate the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic actually has.

But it was not due to the nonexistence of internet as some might think. It was due to state’s secrecy about matters that might speak unfavourably about the regime.

Part of our education were occasional visits of schools by party dignitaries, local law-enforcement officers or border patrol officers etcetera. On several such occasions the talks veered into the territory of law trespassers and sometimes some kid has asked “how much crime X happens”? Invariably, the answer to this was “that is a state secret”. So nobody, except a few officials, had a chance to know pretty much anything specific.

But I do not want to talk about some generic crime rates today, I want to concentrate on one specific crime and how it was used to control people – unemployment, or, as it was officially called, “the crime of parasitism”. Under the regime, everyone had a right to a job, but that came with the duty to have a job. Every able person had a duty to work and it was literally against the law to not fulfill this duty.

And whilst it is reasonable to have measures to discourage or perhaps even punish slackers and hangers-on in a social state, that was not the only purpose and the only use of the law. Because since jobs were to great extent assigned centrally, the state had a huge control over what kind of job one can get, or whether one can get a job at all. And therefore political dissidents were sometimes pushed to jobs where it was clear that they are at odds with their qualifications and needs, so they could eventually be pushed towards joblessness – and thus criminalized. It was also a way to completely criminalize any form of sex work, which officialy did not exist so any sex worker was automatically a parasite without the regime having to acknowledge even the existence of sex workers publicly.

In TV there was a regular broadcast “Federal Criminal Headquarters Searches, Advises, Informats” where names and faces of searched criminals were shown so that general populace can help in finding them. I did not give it too much thought at the time – it was just one adult thing in the background – but I do remember hearing the phrase “is searched for the crime of parasitism” quite often. In retrospect today I wonder how many of those people actually were real moochers and how many were slowly and deliberately pushed out of society for being inconvenient to the reigning powers.

Slavic Saturday

My oral graduation exam in highschool* was not looked forward to by my Czech language and literature teacher.  All the others (Biology, Chemistry, German language) have expected me to do reasonably well or even excel, but he had some reservations. I already had a 1 for my essay writing, but the oral exam was essentially going to be about history of Czech literature, and I had great dislike towards learning that history.

The reasons for this were multiple. Firstly history was taught as a sequence of dates  and names to memorize, and I have always had very, very poor memory for numbers and names, despite having excellent memory in general. It is extremely difficult for me to remember birth dates, even of the closest people I know. Secondly I was never convinced by the argument that learning history is important in order to avoid repeating mistakes, because I saw very early on that the whole of history actualy consists of repeating said mistakes by people who knew about them. And thirdly I did not go on well with that teacher on personal level.

So my knowledge of Czech literary history and theory was very, very sketchy. I have honestly tried my best to memorize all the dull and unpalatable shit that I was supposed to know for the exam, but it just did not hold. About the only thing I had a really detailed knowledge about was Karel Čapek, because I liked his books and I have read everything he wrote that I could get my hands on. The teacher knew this and later on I learned that he actually expressly said that he is apprehensive of my exam because “Čapek is all (Charly) knows”.

I was lucky during my exam. I have drawn a question where the main component was some poetry shit I knew nearly nothing about, and secondary question was something vaguely connected to Karel Čapek. I took my chance when preparing my notes and during talking I managed to drift to Čapeks works just after a few sentences and I stayed there talking in minute detail for the whole 15 minutes the exam took. The teacher, relieved, has let me. The observing teacher (an independent assessor from another school) did not intervene either, for whatever reason. And so I got lucky and passed.

Actually, to say that I liked Čapek is an understatement, I admired him greatly. Čapek is in my opinion unsurpassed in Czech literature. Very progressive for his time, and, above all, a fervent pacifist. In today’s world he would probably be left of Bernie Sanders, but he would not be radical leftist in a real sense of the word “radical” not how it is viewed in Anglophone world today, where anyone arguing that not everything should be privatized is labeled as radical leftie. He might even be accused of centrism by true radicals.

Čapek was very outspoken critic of Nazi Germany and its policies, so much so that his personal safety was threatened by local Nazi sympathisers. Allegedly some friends recommended to him to carry a weapon for self-defense after he received death threats, but his commitment to pacifism was such that all he could manage to do was to carry a small starter pistol and when confronted about it he replied “I know that I won’t hurt anyone this way”. Many of his works center around criticizing authoritarian regimes, social injustices and war horrors, and there is absolutely no uncertainty about where he stood on social issues.

But he did not like Marx and communism. And neither do I. And to this day I think his essay “Why I am not a communist” bears weight. Some parts are of course not well aged after nearly a hundred years (the casual sexism f.e.), some parts can be seen as predictive of the massive social and scientific failure that was Russia under Stalin. If we are to learn from the mistakes of the past, I would everyone recommend to go, read that essay and think about it.


*the closest translation I can get to anglophone equivalents)

 

Racialization of Muslims

In the light of the Christchurch terrorist attack, I think it is appropriate to try to put to rest, on this blog at least, the “Islam is not a race” argument so often thrown around in atheist circles. I admit to making this clueless blunder in the past as well, and really meaning it. But when arguing with actual unapologetic racists I had to point out some realities to them – like that Roma people are not in fact different race from Europeans, because we both stem from common and fairly recent Indo-European stock. And like that Arabs and Jews are also not different races from each other – and are not a different race from Europeans for the same reasons as Roma people are. That has made me to realize that racism is not, at least not only, what I thought it is, and that islamophobia is a real thing, alhtough the word itself can be used disingenuously (like any other word).

When I see a hijab (or a cross or any other overt religious symbol), I see a person being shackled by the throes of superstition, but still a person no fundamentaly different from you or I. But when a racist sees a hijab, they also do see an “other” in a very fundamental sense. Because to them race is not actually about biology (because biology does not support any form of racism) but about politics of power that merely uses biology and science in general to construct post hoc and ad hoc arguments for holding onto or acquiring said political power.

For the rest of the argument I give word to Philosophy Tube, who has made two excellent videos explaining the process of racialization of human groups and the whats, why’s and how’s behind it.

TNET 30: Woke Brands

I noticed yesterday that TNET is overdue, so today’s video topic is a new TNET too. Sorry for not writing too much lately. I got over the winter depression, but I just did not get any inspiration the last few weeks. Combined with problems at work it made me grumpy and reclusive like a hermit. And to top it all off today I got down with flu-like symptoms, I had to excuse myself from work early due to a splitting headache and at home I found out I have a fever as well.

The latest video by hbobmerguy is really well made and thoughtful. It is important to remember, that corporations are not people, they are cynical and opportunistic entities that might, but also might not, contain good people in them, and rarely (very rarely) some good people might even be at the top management levels. When a company does something seemingly good, it probably is not without ulterior motive.

Open thread, talk about whatever you want, just don’t be an asshole.

Previous topic.

Teacher’s Corner: Introverts, extroverts, shmextroverts

This Teacher’s Corner is going to be a bit different from the usual ones as it will breach out to a broader topic, but it all starts with teaching.

Actually it starts with Twitter and an annoyed paediatrician  tweeting that since it was half term he would get lots of primary school kids’ parents who’d been told to get their kid tested for ADHD and such*. I replied something along the lines that if teachers could diagnose ADHD they’d be psychiatrists and not teachers, which is why we’d like parents to get a professional opinion on the matter. After all, the only thing we see is that a child has obvious problems paying attention and following the classroom rules.

While this is an interesting topic in and on itself, it was only the starter for a conversation with another user about introverted kids. Her complaint was that the German school system punishes introverted kids via the “participation” grade. In Germany almost all term reports have two separate grades that are “participation” and “behaviour”. All teachers teaching in a class submit their grade, the mean gets calculated and then there may be adjustments. To be honest, till the end of the conversation I couldn’t quite get what she actually wanted, because she kept contradicting herself, but I got that she was fundamentally unhappy, either from her own experiences or because of somebody else, and wanted CHANGE, even though she was not quite clear as to what should actually change. I’ll try to talk about why “just leave the quiet kids alone” isn’t a good idea from a teaching point of view and then move to what bugged me about the whole discussion. [Read more…]

Youtube Video: Flat Earth OR Why Do People Reject Science? | Philosophy Tube

Phil O´Sofy Toobe is great leftist channel. I do not agree with everything in his videos, but that is not because I disagree with him on principle – I disagree with him on practicality. In short, I think we are fucked beyond hope, because human race as a whole is irredeemable and this prevents sensible implementation of leftist policies on greater scale.

In this video he tackles some of the whats and whys behind science denialism. I recommend many of his other videos – and there realy are many. I still haven’t seen them all.

Slavic Saturday

Last time we were talking about grammatical cases, and whilst Slavic languages are not lacking in those, they fall far behind the Finno-Ugric ones in this gregard. But what Slavic languages lack in cases, they more than make up in genders.

Lets talk a bit about gender then.

Czech language does not have a distinction between the words “sex” and “gender” the way English does. Our ID’s have a category “pohlaví” which means “sex” in the biological sense and is therefore sex assigned at birth. For trans people it is their chosen sex assigned after transition, but sex assigned at birth before transition (the legislative process has a lot to be desired, but since I am not trans, I leave the discussion about how to improve it to trans people).

This  property of my native language has caused me some trouble in understanding articles written in English, because I have seen words “sex” and “gender” as synonyms and it took me awhile to understand that this is not the case.

However what helped me finally in understanding is the fact that the only way Czech language has gender in it, it is very, very obviously a social construct, specifically a linguistic one. It translates as “rod” and means grammatical gender (in one context).

Czech has four genders, or three with one of them being split into two distinct categories, depending on the specific linguist’s opinion. I was taught in school that there are four:

masculine animate – refers to humans and some animals

masculine inanimate – refers to some inanimate objects and some plants

feminine – refers to humans, some animals, some inanimate objects and some plants

neuter – refers to some animals, some inanimate objects and some plants

The gender of a noun defines not only how the noun itself inflects depending on the case, it also defines conjugaton and declension of verbs and adjectives. For example a sentence “black bear climbed a tree”,  can be “černý medvěd vylezl na strom” for a male bear or “černá medvědice vylezla na strom” for a female one (word order in the CZ is identical to the EN version, only difference is “a” which does not translate – “na” means “on”). Each of the four genders has multiple groups defining said declensions and conjugations and learning it all is a nightmare for Czechs and literally impossible for any but the most dedicated foreigner.

Czech is also very strongly gendered with regard to people and there is no universal gender neutral way to refer to a person. The language is built around gender binary, even simplest sentences like “I woke up.” are mostly gendered – “Probudil jsem se” for masculine and “Probudila jsem se” for feminine. There are some simple phrases (mostly present tense) that can be expressed in gender neutral way, but to be honest I cannot imagine a whole story being written in a gender neutral way in Czech language. It might be possible, but likely not in a way that will seem natural and not forced, and definitively not easy to do.

This feature of our language has one unfortunate consequence – Czech transphobes, sexists and gender-essentialists (which includes unfortunately both most prominent czech sexologists) have much easier job defending status quo. Language very strongly influences how we think and because everyone is since childhood forced to choose from the binary for every single statement they make about what they have done or plan to do, everyone thinks that this linguistic binary reflects accurately the reality. And people who think that because we have only x words categorizing something that there are only x neatly distinct categories of said something are unfortunately everywhere.

On the other hand understanding that gender is a social construct and not something set in stone was made easy for me when I learned German, where the genders of different words do not allign with Czech at all and a thing that is masculine in Czech can easily be feminine or neuter in German. There is no logic or sense to it – why is “hrnec” (pot) masculine, but “konev” (kettle) feminine? Why is “klacek” (stick, staff) masculine, but “hůl” (cane, staff) feminine? Etc.  And there are languages that lack grammatical genders altogether.

To me this illustrates that languages are but very poor and imperfect tools for communicating about the infinitely rich reality surrounding us. They are not perfect or complete descriptions of said reality and  argumentum ad dictionarium is a very silly logical fallacy.

And the prize for a complete lack of self-awareness goes to…

…this TERF. It was a usual argument about how horrible it is for trans activists and allies to be fed up with Graham Linehan because of frozen peaches, when the following exchange occurred:

Terf: Grand, so, but sure we’ll be pushing them into the sea this year so we won’t have to worry about them much longer but read a load of liberalism because that’s what’s coming next hopefully… (emphasis mine)

Other person in the conversation: i have literally no idea what you’re talking about.

Me: I’m not sure, but it sounds like a threat to me.

I mean, how could I take somebody talking about pushing trans people into the sea so they don’t have to worry about them as a threat, given the rampant violence, be it structural, administrative and literal, against trans people?
Apparently this upset her a lot.
Terf: Always with the drama. Into the sea, it’s a metaphor.

Me: Get lost, it’s an imperative.

Apparently, the fact that “get lost” is an imperative was, no pun intended, lost on her. Anyway, I was done, but she obviously wasn’t.

Terf: No, that would be we MUST push them into the sea.
Terf: ps and anyone who would take a statement like ‘we are going to push them into the sea’ literally must have a very flat sense of language or need their head examined imho. Unless they were German and in the vicinity of Dunkirk in the early 1940s…
Note the not so subtle ableism… She tweeted this at me a full day after I told her to get lost, which shows that apparently she really couldn’t let go. To be honest, I had already forgotte who exactly she was when she tweeted this.
Me: You seem upset.
Terf: What an odd thing to say…

Lady, you keep tweeting at me after a full day…
Me: You come back a day later after I told you to get lost. Maybe upset is the wrong word, obsessed fits better. I repeat, get lost.

Terf: That seems a little extreme – obsessed by what?

One thing, it’s “obsessed with”. Second thing, look at this. Somebody has told you twice to leave them alone and you keep replying, but think that “obsessed” is extreme.
Me: You’re still talking to me after I told you to get lost, twice. Go learn to respect some boundaries.
Yes, I was getting annoyed. Why is she still in my mentions? What is so difficult about leaving somebody alone? We’re strangers on the internet, we do not have to come to any kind of solution, so why not just respect the other person’s boundaries, no matter what you think about their position?
Terf: I’ve been pursuing a fairly common line of reasoning about a form of leftist smear-journalism, providing examples when requested and other reading material – that’s all fairly normal, isn’t it?
No, lady. In the offline world you’re the dude who keeps following me down the street, nagging and nattering and insisting that they’re totally rational while I’m trying to walk away.
Terf: But you accused me of making a threat, I explained that it wasn’t a threat but a metaphor – I’m allowed to defend myself, and obliged to reassure you that it wasn’t a threat, aren’t I? And then you say I’m upset and obsessed – I assure you I am not.
This is my favourite one as it is so fucking entitled that the whiniest white dude could learn something. Note the words. A stranger has told her repeatedly to stop bothering her, but she thinks she’s allowed to keep talking to me, even obliged by I don’t know what to keep talking to me regardless of whether I want to hear her. My wishes, my personal space, my agency to decide to whom I talk and to whom I listen has just been completely negated.m Because she thinks she’s got the right to talk to me. Terfs love to accuse trans women to be “entitled men” who “disregard women’s spaces and boundaries”, but look at this textbook example of not taking no for an answer. I have a feeling that this has something to do with the fact that many Terfs (especially on Twitter) believe that no cis woman could ever agree with trans women and that they speak for all cis women, so therefore I must be trans. I mean, after all I put my pronouns in my bio and I have a tortoise as a picture. This one is an annoying case, but one of the more harmless ones. Anyway:
Me: Get. Lost.
Terf: You accused me of making a threat, which is untrue and unfair and not supported by any evidence. I’d like to give you a chance to apologise…
This is getting rich. Now she’s the wronged party (perpetual victimmobile).
Me: Get lost, this is the textbook definition of harassment.
 
By now I was getting into teacher/mum “I told you no five times already and I’m getting angry” mood.

Terf: Accusing someone of making a threat for no reason could be said to be harassment, and then not allowing them to defend themselves but adding further charges. But lets leave it at that, I think the point about smear tactics is well made and I wish all you all the very best.

Terf: (ps just for completeness – accusing someone of harassment who is trying to defend themselves from a false accusation you yourself have made is itself harassment) atb.
Well, a girl can dream, right? But we leave on the note that I am the real harasser here. In conclusion, there is absolutely no difference between Terfs and their new best friends, the christian right. They will both whine about free speech, by what they mean “being owed a platform and nobody is allowed to talk back”. They will both bother and annoy and harass you. they will not take a no for an answer. They will ignore women’s boundaries and wishes. And then they’ll complain about how they’re the real victims here.
TLDR, Terfs are right wing bigots and assholes, don’t be one.