A Masterclass of Whataboutism

Another YouTuber that I have unsubscribed from is Second Thought. It was after his latest video We Need To Talk About “Authoritarianism”. I am not going to link to that video because it is a piece of shit and it does not deserve views. If you are interested in its contents, I recommend Vaush’s critique (see further after I have my say).

What Second Thought is doing in this video is nothing but an elaborate form of the nonsensical syllogism (The USA = BAD)=>(The USSR = GOOD). I hate this shit with a burning passion because I have actually either first-hand or at most second-hand experience with many of the things this world-class twit talks about. I mean, however bad the US police is, however bad the US surveillance state is, it really cannot hold a candle to what the USSR has done or what China is doing.

To anyone reading this who might not be a regular on this blog, I have a whole series of blog posts “Behind the Iron Curtain” where I write about my experience with the regime. I was 13 when it collapsed, and the regime was mellowing towards the end, so I did not personally witness the worst things. Yet there is still one visceral fear that people had that I do remember personally, a fear that I feel confident is not widely spread in the USA. The fear that when kids say something wrong in front of the wrong person, their parents can go to jail. My father was in the communist party and even I was told that I must not say some things in public because it could put someone in my family in jail. Children were taught to say one thing at home and a different thing in public. Even though the time of the 1968 invasion was long in the past and the worst of the totalitarian shit did not happen anymore, people still feared to criticize the regime. One day my father came home from a local party assembly and he told my mother “I might go to jail, we will see”. And why did he fear that? Did he steal something? Did he kill anybody? No, he did what he was, in principle, supposed to do at the assembly. He raised valid points of critique at the wealthy oligarchs in the party leadership and said that they should actually listen to what people really need and want and do something about it. Luckily for him, it was towards the end of the regime and as I said, it was starting to mellow a bit at that point. Still, that he even considered that he might be going to jail, despite being a lifelong communist, says a lot about the regime and the culture of fear it fomented.

And now this sheltered, privileged WEIRD WASP asshole is equivocating between the USA and the USSR as if they were both similarly totalitarian but somehow when the USA does a thing, it is bad, but when the USSR did it, it somehow, magically, becomes good and necessary! WTF? I must have been blind to not spot the signs in his previous videos, but this is what here, in the former USSR sphere of influence, gives leftists a bad name. It is already difficult to explain to even highly educated people that the things that were bad about the previous regime were not socialism, but authoritarian oppression. Assholes like this one make it really easy for opponents of socialism here, because he actually says, albeit covertly and obliquely, what those opponents preach – that socialism is inextricably linked with authoritarianism. (I wrote about this in the Behind the Iron Curtain series too -click-).

Further, this clueless clown is using his public platform to critique (mostly validly!) the regime in which he lives and at the same time sings praises of a regime that would have him at best imprisoned and at worst outright killed for criticizing it in even much, much milder form! And he totally fails to spot the irony when he accuses the USA, where he lives, of being worse.

Alas, it is apparent now that he is a tankie and a leftie American exceptionalist I have no track with either. Saying that if the USA does a thing it is bad but when the USSR does the very same thing it is good and necessary is not a moral stance. And to top it off, I have also learned that he actually condoned Hamas attack on Israeli civilians, again applying the same “logic” – when Israel does a bad thing, thing bad, when Hamas does the same thing, thing suddenly good. The reality which this fucking piece of amoral shitstain fails to grasp is that sometimes it really is possible that both sides in a conflict can be bad and differing only in a degree. His political principle is not to help the common people around the world, his main political principle is the USA bashing and the USSR glorifying. That is not coherent leftist policy, that is edgy leftist posing. He can do that without me watching his videos.

If you have spare time, you can listen to Vaush’s excellent rebuttal. It is rather long, I listened to it whilst cleaning my room today.

I do not like everything about Vaush, for example, he uses way too many ableist slurs and comes off as arrogant, but the essence of what he is saying here is IMO sound.

The Story of A Succesfull Medium Sized Company

Imagine a small metalworking business that started shortly after WW1 somewhere in Germany. Metalworking, as in making forms for the ceramics industry that the little town is known for. The business grew in the time between wars, it survived WW2 and continued to grow well into the second half of the 20th century. At that time a new market for metal forms began to emerge – injection moulded plastics. The family owning the business latched onto that new market in an ideal way that capitalism is portrayed, by investing in developing new know-how to give them an edge over the competition. And they succeeded, making a name for their company in the business that became a synonym for high quality, albeit at a high price. As a regional employer, the family business had a good reputation too, with some people literally working there from finishing school until retirement and earning wages well above average. It was said that at the end of each fiscal year, the door opened for new modern machinery and a new workforce.

Then came an international giant housed in the USA, interested in the know-how. And since the family no longer had an interest in actually running the business, they sold it to this giant wholesale. The plant became a part of a branch in this corporation, a branch that specialized in injection moulding. Things did not go well from that time on, although it still took decades to become really apparent. For one the prices for customers remained high, but the quality began to drop due to cut corners.

The international corporation had no real interest in keeping the know-how and employment local, despite saying the opposite. The wages were undercut by increasing working hours so in real terms they de-facto stagnated. It was still worth it to work at the company, but it no longer was a job to envy someone and some people started to leave – and as it is, the best ones were the first to go. Attempts to unionize to counter the slow squeeze were crushed by threats to ship the jobs to Eastern Europe and China, something that should not work in Germany but it did. And then the jobs were slowly shipped to Eastern Europe and China anyway. The know-how however is not so easily transferred, and since replacement workforce was no longer educated on-site and the older force started to retire or just leave, it started to get lost.

Then came a worldwide recession. The corporation started to cut corners again by firing thousands of employees worldwide, all the while the CEO and shareholders were despite the crisis earning more than enough money to keep these people employed and still be filthy rich (the CEO alone earned more than 150 (corrected typo) times more than an ordinary employee). The employees finally got fed up and unionized, for what it was worth. As it turns out, it was too late.

After the recession was over, the whole corporation was bought by another international corporation, this time housed in Germany. Things started to look brighter for a very short time since German corporations actually treat their employees better than American ones. But optimism did not last long. The purchase was driven by a desire to own one specific part of the corporation, and injection moulding and manufacture of metal molds were not it. So to offset the immense costs of the purchase, the whole branch was sold off, to another international company housed in the USA.

The new corporate owners swore day and night that they really, really wanted to keep the local businesses and nobody needed to fear for their jobs. There were even articles in local newspapers about how they project to grow the locally employed workforce at the plant I am writing about to more than double, over 400. Yet somehow the number of employees and contracts for this specific plant continued to only go down all the way to 60. At 60 the count stopped and the plant was finally closed, probably because with that few employees it was no longer feasible to actually make money in this business, not to mention that the know-how it took to assemble for half a century was at this point irrevocably lost.

Imagine all that. I do not need to imagine it, I lived through a significant part of the end of that story and I just a few days ago learned how it ended.

No, Sabine, Capitalism Is Not Good and Your Explanation Is Nonsense.

After her misguided video about trans people, I was still willing to remain subscribed because I interpreted it more as poorly thought out than malicious, but the latest video by Sabine Hossenfelder made me unsubscribe, it is garbage and I do not want to waste my finite time on her. She might be an accomplished and competent physicist, but outside of that she talks bull – and I am not all that interested in astrophysics.

It is not garbage in the sense that it contains all invalid information (AFAIK). Still, it is definitively garbage in the sense that the conclusion – as summed up in the title – does not follow from what is being presented. It is disappointingly intellectually lazy and poorly argued.

I am not going into an in-depth analysis, I will try to be as concise as possible.

She is basically saying a bunch of good things that temporarily coincided with capitalism being the predominant economic system, declared a causal relationship between those good things and capitalism (completely failing to prove for example that it was capitalism that caused the Industrial Revolution and not the other way around), and called it a day. Several times she mentioned that there were and are bad things happening too, but she either handwaved them away with “that’s another story” or explained them away with “it means we are doing capitalism wrong”.

That is what made me so angry because the same line of reasoning can be used to prove that “socialism is good” too. In fact, that is exactly what some tankies are doing  – they point out the good things that happened in the USSR sphere of influence, handwave the genocides and human rights abuses away as “doing socialism wrong” and call it a day too. I am not willing to give them a pass for this spurious reasoning, and I am not going to give a pass for it to someone arguing against them either.

This line of reasoning could also be used to prove both that capitalism and socialism are bad, just by switching things that are talked about and that are waved away.

As someone who experienced firsthand both “badly performed” socialism and “badly performed” capitalism, I am of the opinion that both words are so broad that without excessive contextualizing they are both essentially meaningless.

This video is a study of cherrypicking.

Ehm, Akshually Hrdlička…

The WaPo pieces mentioned by PZ about Aleš Hrdlička are damning. I cannot comment on their veracity since I do not have access to the evidence those articles are based on, however, there is no reason to doubt them, not really. His appalling ghoulish behavior is consistent with the time in which he lived, unfortunately. He was representing the rule, not the exception. What I find curious is that with all the illicitly amassed evidence, he almost, but not entirely arrived at the correct conclusion (emphasis mine):

“In 1898, Hrdlicka published a study of 908 White children and 192 Black children at the New York Juvenile Asylum and the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York. He measured and compared their body parts, including genitals. He wrote that “inferiorities” in the children were probably the result of neglect or malnutrition, not hereditary. But he noted “remarkable” physical differences based on race.”

Nicole Dungca, Claire Healy and Andrew Ba Tran, THE SMITHSONIAN’S ‘BONE DOCTOR’ SCAVENGED THOUSANDS OF BODY PARTS

So he did not find any inherent differences between the races that were more than superficial physical characteristics, like skin color, hair texture, etc. Yet he still persisted in holding racist views, which makes him a bad scientist – even if one were to wave away the immoral way in which he gathered data by stealing human remains (which I am not inclined to do so, although it appears to be standard for anthropologists of the time) he still has done shit science with it.

When I read PZ’s first article, I immediately looked up Hrdlička. I do not remember ever learning about him at the university, I studied biology, chemistry, arts, and psychology, not anthropology. He might have been mentioned at some point in biology, but the name definitively did not ring any bells.

And when I looked him up, all Czech sources that I could find online in the little time I was willing to give venerated him as a staunch anti-racist, in direct contradiction to the articles in Washington Post. I think this is for several reasons.

Firstly, we Czechs do suffer from a “small nation inferiority syndrome”. We feel so insignificant and ignored on the world stage that we latch onto any success achieved by any of our compatriots abroad and we are unwilling to let go. I think that it will take years, if not decades, for the true ghoulish nature of his research and his racist views to find their way into Czech media, and there will be a lot of resistance.

Secondly, I doubt that any Czech sources have had ready access to the same evidence that WaPo was using. There are inevitable limits to what can be learned about any Czech individual who lived most of their life outside of Bohemia, even if one were not inclined to ignore unfavorable evidence and overstate anything positive due to the first point.

And thirdly, it seems he was kinda anti-racist, just in a wrong, racist anti-racist way. From what I was able to find he did fight against anti-slavic racism. This is real racism and it still exists today – its latest consequential demonstration was Brexit, which was in part motivated by racism against Polish and Czech immigrants. The sentiment nowadays is not as prevalent and strong as it used to be, but there were times when the Slavs (and the Irish and probably some other nationalities) were not considered “white” in the same way as Anglo-Saxons and/or Aryans and were seen to be inferior. Apparently, Hrdlička was arguing – correctly – that all European people have common origins and he argued that they belong to the same racial group. The anti-racism bit was thus arguing against the discrimination of Slavs, and the racist bit was that he did not argue that all people are equal but that Slavs in fact are part of the “superior” race. This kind of reasoning makes his legacy even more susceptible to being spun positively if one has the bias mentioned in the first point, not to mention that there still is a lot of Czechs who argue the same.

However, I also peeked at the discussion under the WaPo article and I noticed in there one “anti-Hrdlička” argument that I strongly disagree with. Apparently, he was one of the proponents of the theory that humans arrived in the Americas via the Bering Strait Land Bridge and this theory was called “racist” and “bogus” by one of the commenters. That, to my mind, is nonsense.

Even if Hrdlička was proposing the theory for some racist reasons, that does not make the theory automatically wrong. And to my knowledge (which I admit is not completely up-to-date with modern science) there is a lot of evidence that at least some of the ancestors of North American Indians really did cross Beringia into the Americas. This includes studies of genetic markers of extant populations.

It is absolutely indisputable that Homo sapiens originated in Africa and spread from there to all the other continents in multiple migration waves. It might be that there was more than one migration wave to the Americas and it might be that some of those migration waves did not come over Beringia but sailed from Polynesia. It also might be true that humans arrived in the Americas much sooner than previously thought. But some very probably did arrive through Beringia no matter what other migration routes might have been taken. And as much as I think that Native American cultures, languages, and creation myths are just as worthy of preserving and studying as any others, they do not constitute hard evidence for how humans got to the Americas, because humans are just too good at making shit up and then believing it – even today people make nonsense theories whole cloth and believe them despite the evidence contrary, after all.

And there is simply too much other evidence that multiple migrations through Beringia happened, for both animals and plants. Just a few examples:

Bison and Wisents are so closely related that they still interbreed and produce fertile offspring despite being different species. The bovids, incidentally, originated in Africa too. American Grizzly is still the same species as the European Brown Bear. North American and Eurasian willows create a near continuum of hybridizing taxa that are a nightmare mess to untangle. Junipers on both continents are very similar to each other in appearance. And Juniperus communis is actually a circumpolar species. And a personal anecdote to underline the point – the flora of North America and Eurasia are so closely related and eerily reminiscent of each other that when I was in the USA, I confused native Heracleum maximum for invasive Heracleum mantegazzianum they are so similar. (edit – corrected accidentally swapped species)

This similarity between the ecosystems of North America and Eurasia, which is not present between any other two continents, is the biggest proof that there were easy-ish ways to migrate between the two in the not-so-distant (geologically and evolutionary-speaking) past. Saying that the theory that people migrated to North America this way is racist and somehow disproven because of it thus seems foolish to me.

It might not be complete, but no theory truly is, science is about refining our knowledge by finding things, not about having complete and inconvertible “truths” by fiat.

The Ever Growing Absurdity of UK Knife Laws

Today I stumbled upon these two videos during my breakfast and I listened to them at 1,5 speed. At least this story has a good-ish end:

As an outsider, I have always considered UK laws about knives absurd. The same goes for similar daft laws that are active worldwide (like for example in the USA, Canada, Germany, Japan, and more). If laws were made based on evidence and logic, these would be significantly revised and reduced long ago because they are doing diddly squat to reduce actual crime. Instead, it seems that the UK is going in the opposite direction – more and more vague restrictions that do nothing to solve the problems, but make it easier for the police to harass innocent people.

Vague laws that are difficult to not break and/or that can be interpreted in a dozen of ways some of which can criminalize ordinary people on a whim are a staple of authoritarian regimes. What baffles me is that when it comes to knives, they appear to be a staple of even democratic-ish regimes. I completely do not understand it. And in the UK, allegedly, both of the ruling parties in their ludicrous non-representative voting system agree on this one thing and both parties propose these nonsensical laws when they are in power.

I am not in opposition to regulating carrying certain types of knives in certain situations or areas, although they are not necessary in my opinion. There is no causal link between the crime rate and the availability of any type of knife whatsoever. If there were, the Czech Republic would be absolutely riddled with knife crime. It is not. I was capable of only finding approximate statistics of stabbing deaths and CZ is not an outlier within the EU, there are countries with knife restrictions that are both above and below. I would argue that there is even no correlation between how restrictive knife laws are and how high is the knife-related crime rate, although both of these factors are difficult to quantify with any degree of accuracy.

Inventing ever more ridiculous knife laws as a response to rising crime in some areas (allegedly in the case of the UK to rising knife crime in gang fights in London) is pure “performative governing”, i.e. one that pretends to do something to address a problem without actually doing something that actually would effectively address the said problem.

A pro-gun Leftist?

I encountered Vaush on YouTube through his pro-LGBTQ+ videos and it was I guess just a matter of time before I stumble upon these as well:

I am torn on this issue. I have argued in the past on this blog that overzealous weapons regulations and indiscriminate bans are nonsense (-click--click-). For example, there is no practical purpose to be served by banning the sale and/or possession of some knives. I have also argued that liking firearms for their aesthetics or technology or enjoying exercising the skills needed for their use is not, in itself, a sign of a pathological personality (-click-). But I am also a proponent of proportionate regulation of weapons – the more dangerous a weapon, the more difficult it should be to obtain it for private use, and the barriers should not be financial ones or at least not purely financial ones. There should be some basic proficiency and background check for guns, as well as mandatory psychological exams and licensing for them. I do consider my home country (Czech Republic) to have a good and sensible legislature in this regard.

On the other hand, I do recognize that in the USA there are two strong barriers against the implementation of such laws and Vaush mentions them both.

  1. Guns in the USA are so ubiquitous that any ban or legislature will have negligible practical effect. They might stop impulse-buying a gun just before a mass shooting, but not much else. Anyone wishing to get their hands on a gun and ammo will probably be able to do so for a looooooong time in the good’ole USA. I do not have a response to this argument. The USA might well really be beyond the tipping point when the issue can be reasonably addressed.
  2. The problem in the USA is not the availability of guns alone, but mostly the culture surrounding them.  I wrote about this too in the past (-click-). The USA is in dire need of a culture shift. The current fetishization of guns and violence and of gun violence is harmful and it can only get worse if nothing is done about it. I do not know what to do about it though, the gun culture in the USA is extremely pervasive and strong.

So it is not simply possible to look around the world at what works there and implement it in the USA. The issue is, unfortunately, much more complicated than that.

If Vaush likes guns and wants to shoot them at the range or enjoy them aesthetically or both, I have no issue with it. Those are perfectly valid reasons to own guns in my book, and I think mentally healthy people should have lawful options to indulge in.

I also agree that some amount of packing heat on the left is reasonable, otherwise, there is nothing to stop the American right to have their version of Nacht des langen Messer and eventually Kristallnacht in the near future, it’s not as if parallels to these did not happen in the American history ample times in the past. And the armed right needs to be counterbalanced with something and flowers simply won’t do. Although I do fervently hope that it never comes to actual shootouts between neonazis and leftists in the USA. If the situation deteriorates that much, there probably won’t be a way to stop the civil war and the odds are that the police, army, and judiciary would side with the nazis – there are recent precedents for that too.

I do completely disagree, however, with one of his stated reasons – that having a gun might be useful in the case of a widespread societal collapse. In my opinion, in case of a widespread societal collapse in the USA or EU, not having a gun would be the least of the problems for most people. The topmost will be keeping yourself fed and warm, and guns can only help very little with that. Our current society is heavily dependent on infrastructure, logistics, and division of labor. In case of societal collapse, no electricity, no food and medication distribution, and no clean water will probably kill most people. Having a gun in such a scenario might marginally increase one’s short-term chances of survival, but without farming the land and distributing the food, any modern country will quickly starve. There is not enough wildlife left for those with guns to get sustenance by hunting. And stealing from others by force will be only of very short-term benefit. Bushcraft is a nice hobby but it can’t keep alive dense populations of hundreds of people per square km. Not to mention that I won’t live long without prescription medication and no amount of gun-waving will give it to me if pharmaceutical companies stop producing it. And in the case of Vaush personally, as well as millions of others – if he breaks or loses his glasses and there is no infrastructure to get him a replacement, his guns won’t help him with that either.

Other than this one thing I find his videos, especially on LGBTQ+ issues, reasonable.

Intersection of DnD and Social Justice

Today I was etching blades and listening to the YouTube channel LegalKimchi and I must recommend it so far. I especially liked his last video:

But his other videos that I managed to see today were good too. I haven’t yet seen everything and I am unlikely to see everything he has made, but so far he seems to be on the side of social justice, especially with regard to people of color.

Crypto, Scams & Ableism

Since the Scam Banking Fraud fiasco in the crypto world, I have looked a bit more into cryptocurrencies and NFTs. Not much, just to satisfy some curiosity. That curiosity brought me to the YouTube channel Coffezilla (which I recommend). And today I would like to mention a bit unsavory and unfortunate thing that crops up in just about every discussion about cryptocurrencies and associated scams – comments along the lines of “People this stupid deserve to be scammed”. Sentiments akin to this are very prevalent and I must say, I disagree with them now although I do have an inner tendency towards such thinking too and I have to reason myself out of it in some specific cases and I would possibly say these things too about twenty-five years ago.

Why is that? I mean, why is this sentiment so prevalent? I do not know of course, but I can speculate.

I think it is in part because a lot of people in the west are conditioned to believe in the Just World Fallacy. In most fiction, the villains get their just desserts and the good guys more often than not win. We are taught that hard and honest work is rewarded and that crime does not pay. This cultural bias is everywhere and unavoidable. And it is inherently ableist because no matter how difficult it is to actually meaningfully measure intelligence, it does exist, it does wary among people and some people are innately, with no fault of their own, less capable and thus more susceptible to being hoodwinked. There is a reason why so many e-mail scams have appallingly bad grammar and spelling and why so many phone scams are targeting elderly people.

It is not all though. Another part of this is in my opinion that a lot of people enjoy the warmth of a slightly smug feeling of being superior to someone in some way. “Haha, how those poor suckers could fall for THAT.” This is understandable to some degree in insecure people who are still finding themselves but not appropriate for well-adjusted adults. As for myself, today I have plenty of personal experiences to put me down from my pedestal whenever I feel like climbing one – the most recently my tribulations of obstinately plugging the wrong cable into the wrong hole for two days and wondering why things do not work. I know I am not completely stupid and still, my brain sometimes does things that a duckling would deem daft. Not to mention the GIGO principle, which can lead even the best of the best minds astray.

And even when one knows that the world is not just and that smart people can do daft things for a variety of reasons, I guess many people also know at least someone who is definitively willfully stupid and simply cannot be reasoned with because they refuse reason on principle. The most egregious examples of these people are all those creationists, flat-earthers and Q-anoninsts out there. But is it OK to say that someone deserved to be scammed because they ignored warnings and information given to them?

I still don’t think so. If they really were given credible warnings and ignored them for example, then they are to be blamed at least in part for their misfortune in such a case, but they do not deserve it. Saying that someone deserves to be scammed implies that scamming is an act of justice.

It is not. It is an act of malice, a betrayal of trust, and nothing is gained by it. The victim may become less naive and trusting as a result, but that is only a good thing in a society where there are scammers. And whilst being naive and trusting is unwise in our world, it is not malicious or harmful, and punishing it thus makes no sense. A scammer deserves to be judged and locked up. A scammee deserves help.

I Wanted to Write an Article Today But…

…quite coincidentally Adam Conover has made a much better job at delivering the message that I wanted to say.

I have seen with my own eyes how high-up and extremely well-paid managers and CEOs think and work and I experienced first-hand three corporate takeovers (which successively stripped the venue of assets and know-how and slowly turned a profitable and respected business into a hollow shell). For about fifteen years now I had no illusions that rich people actually really work harder, are smarter, or both than your ordinary Otto Normal. Quite the opposite in fact, and the word “manager” gained an extremely derogative meaning in my private vocabulary as a result.

And the only good managers were not those who took a hands-on approach with the sole goal of making as much money as possible as quickly as possible, but those who just chose teams of experts in their field and let them do their jobs. Profitability usually followed if the market was there. Those who thought they know better than people who have been doing a particular job for years or even decades inevitably ended up screwing things over, as well as those who preferred short-term solutions over long-term ones. And because big companies have some inertia, it often took a long time for the negative effects of said bad management to be really visible – which is an answer to those silly people out there who insist that Musk is not doing a shitty job just because Twitter has not completely collapsed – yet. Oftentimes it happens that a bad manager is screwing people over at some other company by the time the fallout of his (mostly his) bad decisions really starts to show.

Musk’s biggest mistake is that he started to believe his own propaganda and he really thinks he is a genius who knows better than everyone else. Which is inevitable with sociopathic narcissistic assholes.

The Rise of Whataboutism

Whenever I look at the comment section under an article or video about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, whether in CZ or EN, there is a visible presence of people who either outright say that Russia is right to this or who say that it is not wrong to do it because… Whatabout Iraq? Whatabout Afghanistan? Whatabout Grenada? Whatabout Whatever?

This is a classic Soviet-era propaganda tool, trying to divert the attention from an injustice being done by the USSR to similar injustices being done by the USA. The old adage that two wrongs do not make a right applies. There is no moral difference between the USA invading another country and/or sending in mercenaries trying to overthrow a democratically elected government because it threatens US financial interests and/or egos of its leaders and Russia invading another country and/or sending in mercenaries to overthrow a democratically elected government because it threatens its financial interests and/or egos of its leaders. They are both bad.

Then there is also a not insignificant number of people who engage in what I would call ifonlysm. Ifonly Ukraine did not try to join the EU. Ifonly Ukraine did not have right-wing extremists. Ifonly Ukraine did not have a “coup” against Yanukovich. Ifonly Russia got an iron-clad guarantee that NATO won’t expand no more even if a country’s people wish to do so.

As someone living in Central Europe in a country that was very often right at the center of any big conflict in Europe from  The Thirty Years’ War through Napoleonic wars, WWI, and WWII right up to The Cold War, I very much do not appreciate this rhetoric. Because if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that this is not how any of this works. Appeasing Putin would not stop this invasion, it would only change the timescale and the pretext under which it is done.

Autocrats do not try to gain power for rational reasons and the reasons they say are not the real reasons. The truth is that autocrats want power for power’s sake. Some go the way of amassing useless billions in wealth, some go the way of hijacking the state apparatus to become dictators, some do both. But just as there is no billionaire who cannot be corrupt because “he has amassed enough wealth”, there is no dictator who does not want to expand their area of influence because the “empire is big enough”. The billionaires hoard wealth until the economy collapses and goes into recession, the autocrats hoard power until the state apparatus collapses and a revolution happens. The only limits on what an autocrat can achieve are those imposed on them from the outside.

Putin has now made it clear that he wants to restore the former USSR sphere of influence. And although he did not use such words, it essentially means he wants to build a Russian Empire with him being its Tzar for life. He does not need it. His country does not need it. There is no rational reason to try to pursue such a goal except an insatiable lust for power. And the keyword here is insatiable.

Karen Should Not be Used as an Insult

It is not racist, It is not ableist, yet I still think that it should not be used as an insult, not by people who care about doing just by others.

In my opinion, there are several reasons that make ableist and racist insults not OK. One of them is obviously the long and painful history behind these words. This connects with the punching down when a dominant group uses words describing members of a group that is subjugated or discriminated against as insults, thus perpetuating negative stereotypes. These two of course do not apply to the word Karen. There is no long history of discriminatory/derogatory use and there is no punching down against a persecuted minority.

But there are more reasons that do apply, and to me, they are enough for me to conclude the statement in the title.

The first of those is the broad brush that paints people with certain characteristics as being all the same. You might see it as me arguing “not all white women are Karens” but that is not the case. I am arguing that not all Karens are Karens.

That continues on to the second argument – associating completely irrelevant, innocuous characteristics of a group of people with negative characteristics of some members of that group. Like connecting skin color with low intelligence or propensity to criminal behavior. Or like associating an ordinary, everyday name of some people of a certain group with being an obnoxious, self-righteous, and entitled asshole. Not the same thing, but in my opinion similar enough.

The third argument that I wish to mention is the association of characteristics that any given person has little to no power of changing with negative character flaws. Associating black skin with thuggery does not differ from associating someone’s name with assholery in principle, it only differs in degree and some context.

And lastly, I cannot of course speak for everyone, but my name and its derivative nickname that my close friends use, are very personal things to me. I could not and would not change it. I know people who changed names (trans people), but they never felt the connection with their given name that I feel with mine for reasons that are well beyond the scope of this short article. I would not take it well if my name – which by sheer coincidence differs from Karen in one single letter despite coming from entirely different etymological roots – became a meme and subsequently an insult. Even if there is only one white woman named Karen who is not a selfish, entitled, and racist asshole, I think it is still too unjust to her to use her personal name as an insult. And statistically speaking, it is unlikely there is only one.

I might not be right in this, but you won’t hear or read me using Karen as a go-to term for white asshole women. I will use the longer descriptive terms on an individual basis where and when they are relevant unless and until I am convinced that my reasoning here is ronk.

Leftists Gone Bad

I am a subscriber of a number of leftist YouTube channels, but over time I have also unsubscribed from one rather quickly. Because I have realized that the author very carefully curates an untrue vision of history, and his audience is all for it.

I am not going to link to the channel in question because I do not wish to direct any traffic to it. They might have changed their tune and the way they run their channel and its comment sections since. I do not know. I do not care. I am not one of those who hold a grudge and hate-watch/hate-read (more on that later too). So I am only going to give you the gist of the situation. You are free to not believe any of it if you are inclined to distrust my word.

The channel got my attention with a video about scientific racism, which was rather good. I have watched several other videos of theirs that were recommended via the algorithm, and those were about world hunger and poverty and they were good too. So I subscribed and next time when I got a video recommended, I watched it. And I was rather taken aback. It was an entirely uncritical piece about pre-WW2 USSR, singing the praises of the regime, how it gave people education and lifted people from poverty, etc. I have briefly pointed in the comment section that whilst the regime did have positive sides for some people, it also had a rather ugly underbelly. And as examples, I have pointed out the Holodomor and the Genocide of Crimean Tatars since these two examples spring most readily to my mind.

Shortly after that comment, I have unsubscribed from the YouTuber and I have disabled any notification regarding that comment section. Because I have been immediately dogpiled by people who either outright denied that the two above-mentioned atrocities happened at all, or they were blaming them on the people who were their targets. They did not even bother with whataboutism and went straight to denial and victim-blaming! This was my first experience with “Tankies“. I had several more encounters since then, and I sometimes get these vibes even in comments here on FtB, although thankfully not as explicit and overt (and maybe I am being too sensitive about this issue, having lived behind the Iron Curtain?).

That is one example of lefties gone bad – people who refuse to learn from history and are willing, nay, eager, to repeat its mistakes. They are no better than the Holocaust deniers and neo-nazis on the right. We must not forget that many of the things that today are leftist issues – like LGBTQ rights and environmentalism – were most emphatically NOT seen as leftist in that regime. And sure, USSR was not racist towards black people the way the USA was at the time, but it is easy to proclaim you are not a racist towards a minority that is all but non-existent in your country. There were more than a few cases of systemic racism within the former Eastern bloc too.

These and many others are the main reasons why many people here in CZ are reluctant to actually call themselves leftists, or vote openly leftist parties, even though when asked about specific policies they most definitively are leftist. The existence of leftist extremism is real and it serves no useful purpose to deny it and the harm it has done and keeps doing to progress.

The second example about which I wish to say just a little bit is the case of Lindsay Ellis. I have not watched her videos regularly and I was not a subscriber. But I did watch her videos about transphobia last year and they were good. So I was surprised to learn that in December last year she has given up on YouTube – which was her job – and has claimed to be canceled by the left. I have looked into it as much as my time has allowed  – which included watching her video Mask Off in several sessions (it is very long) – and I have concluded that she was indeed canceled, and unlike J. K. Rowling, it was over a triviality that was misinterpreted and totally blown out of proportions.

There seems to be a non-trivial amount of people on the internet who obsessively hate-watch and hate-read people they dislike and hoard anything that might be interpreted unfavorably by the purist left to have ready-prepared lists of transgressions to dump on the internet in case their favorite hate target gets in the spotlight by putting a foot wrong. I know for a fact that there were such people reading Affinity for example, and Slymyepiters are a rather famous example of these people with regard to Pharyngula. I must say that I find it rather creepy when someone has a ready-to-go list of someone’s years-long deleted tweets/video clips etc. I also find it disconcerting that there seems to be a non-trivial amount of people on the left who immediately jump to the least-favorable interpretation of something taken out of context and gleefully join a dogpile with the intent to hound someone off the internet without bothering to first get the facts right and/or consider that people might 1) just make mistakes and/or 2) change over time so a “transgression” from a decade ago might not be indicative or relevant to who they are today, even if not stripped of proper context and interpretation.

I really do not know what to make of it all, but today I was re-reading Terry Pratchetts’ Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum and the following quote seemed really appropriate:

The smug mask of virtue triumphant could be almost as horrible as the face of wickedness revealed.

Restorating the Kitchen Table and why “Sustainability” Can’t Work Within Capitalism

Everybody in a long term relationship knows the horrors of buying furniture. You may have been together for a decade, have basically the same interests, plans in life, you combined your families and friend circles, and then you need to buy furniture. Suddenly your beloved looks like a total stranger. How can the person you love more than anybody else like that couch? If your relationship survives the first round of furniture shopping, you may survive as a couple. And then you are together for so many years that you have to do it all again. Especially when you have children. Especially when your children are alien monsters in a cute disguise.

Last year around autumn the little one managed to actually break the legs off a chair. The other ones weren’t very stable either any more, so we needed to go out and buy new ones. And the table looked horrible as well. 14 years of eating, crafting, living had taken their toll on the plates. Nevertheless, while we could agree quickly on new chairs, we could also agree quickly that the tables were not an option. Our table needs to be large and extendable. For some reason, the large tables all had a plate that is split lengthwise, and at that point (apparently they changed since) , could only extended by inserting a plate lengthwise, which doesn’t make sense, since it doesn’t sit more people, but make sitting down and getting up  difficult since the table is too wide now.

The only one available at the big Swedish furniture shop that suited our needs was the exact same one we already had… so i decided to restore that one instead, which only took me about 10 month to get done.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

This is how the table looked before. The varnish has basically disappeared in the areas most used, there are big scratches and dents. I seized the opportunity to get a random orbit sander and got to work. I removed the old paint and nasty scratches at 60 grit.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Then I did a second round at 150. In the image below one half is already sanded, the other half is not. People who work with wood can feel the image.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Last round was done at 220 grit and off we went for varnishing.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I used varnish for wood floors/stairs, since that is the most durable, and you saw what already happened to the table once.

I applied a total of three layers of varnish, giving them ample time to dry in between.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

A first coat of varnish. I lightly sanded in between applying the coats, but by hand and with a 800 grit. One thing about the varnish is that it doesn’t “pull even”. It keeps a bit of a structure, and if you look closely, you can see it (though not in this pic). It also hides dirt until it’s dried and it’s too late…

The legs got some repairs where needed. Down at the feet, where you stub your toes, ant the bars where you put your dirty, sweaty feet. I had to do that inside, it was not nice.

Table legs in the kitchen

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Finally, here we are. The two plates have been sanded and painted. The middle extension isn’t done yet, but we don’t need it every day.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved With bonus husband running into the pic

Now, what does my little project have to do with capitalism? It’s easy when you think about it: Capitalism wants me to buy a new table. Capitalism needs me to buy a new table. Capitalism makes it impossible for most people to not buy a new table. A new table would have been around 300€. The materials for restoring the old one were 80 bucks for sanding discs and varnish and brushes, and 150€ for the tools (though I still have those, but they lost about half their resale value the moment I carried them out the door.) That’s 230€ with no guarantee that this would work.

It also took me almost a full week. I have an outdoor space for sanding, but of course that required the rain to stop occasionally, and an indoor space for painting and drying. Also a separate living room with a separate table we could eat on in the meantime. And most importantly: I had the time AND skills to do this and it’s actually something I enjoy. Nobody who dislikes crafting would do this to save maybe 100€. Unless you’re completely poor and have to hope that somebody else throws away their perfectly usable but pretty shabby table.

Now imagine we built our world not around consumption, but around community. Imagine community repair centres. There are tons of people, especially elderly people who can’t / don’t want to do a full work day, but who will happily work a few hours a week. Imagine such a centre where you can go and together (or without you) you can restore your furniture, repair your bike or learn how to fix your leaky sink. Imagine having the time to do so. Sounds good, doesn’t it?