The Warren vs. Sanders nothingburger

This latest Warren-vs.-Sanders kerfuffle just makes no sense to me on any level.

Firstly, it seems wildly implausible that Sanders would say categorically and unreservedly that he believed no woman could beat Trump in 2020. After all (as many have been pointing out) Hillary Clinton did beat Trump in the 2016 popular vote, and came within a whisker of winning the election outright.

It also seems far more consistent with Sanders’ general strategy and message to say that Hillary lost because of her baggage and liabilities that had nothing to do with her gender, rather than explaining it through something that approaches the ‘identity politics’ he’s generally distanced himself from.

But if he did say something which was at least similar to this (perhaps along the lines of “the ways in which Trump will attack a woman opponent, coming on top of his built-in incumbent advantage, means it’ll be an uphill struggle for any woman to beat him”), it seems thoroughly unreasonable to automatically interpret this as misogynism/sexism om his part.

After all, there are quite a few people (particularly of the ‘woke’/progressive persuasion) who have said that Clinton lost because she was a woman – not because ‘women suck’, but because women are unfairly perceived differently, treated differently by the media, and so forth. Far from being an expression of sexism, it’s an acknowledgement of sexism as a pervasive problem in society, rather than insisting that the playing field is perfectly level and Everything is Awesome.

You can argue that it’s overly defeatist or pessimistic to downplay a woman’s chances this much, but that’s still a difference of opinion, not a reprehensible moral failing. And indeed, that’s my interpretation of what Warren’s saying by calling it a “difference in punditry”, which sounds to me like “my analysis was X, his analysis was Y, this is Not A Big Deal, I’d much rather talk about our agreements and disagreements on policy”.

And, yet, somehow, this has (at least for the moment) blown up into a huge source of seemingly needless animosity. I just don’t get it.

Boris’ Brexit?

This was originally just pure speculation, but I’m starting to think that it might actually be a plausible strategy for Boris Johnson to pursue:


As quickly as possible, Johnson makes the following (confidential) proposal to the EU:

I still believe firmly that it it is feasible to put in place frictionless border checks that preserve the open Irish border. But the current backstop – which forces the entire UK to comply with EU regulations until you approve the border arrangement – is simply not politically feasible, regardless of whether I support it or not.

However, I’m prepared to jettison May’s red line of no hard border in the Irish Sea, and make you this alternative offer:

– The UK mainland can immediately start diverging from EU regulations once we leave.

– Until such time as we find an acceptable arrangement to create a frictionless land border (which I hope and believe will be as soon as possible), Northern Ireland will remain in regulatory alignment with the EU.

If this creates the need for border/customs checks, they will take place in the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.”

If the EU reject this, then Boris has grounds for painting them as villains for refusing his substantive offer, and use this to pursue No Deal.

But unless they simply don’t trust the UK to honour this deal, I see no reason why the EU wouldn’t accept this offer, since it gives them what they want (an open Irish border + border checks against areas outside the EU) – and the Irish government might even see this as better than the current backstop, since it provides (more direct) impetus towards Irish reunification.

For the same reason, this arrangement will obviously be utterly unacceptable to the DUP (irrespective of how much Johnson insists that these border checks on a sea border will be completely unnoticable), who are likely to not only block such a deal, but also bring down any government that proposes it.

So, with no prospect of any other government having a majority in the current parliament, Johnson will presumably be able to dissolve Parliament and call a general election (and get the EU to approve yet another brief extension), where Boris will be campaigning on a platform of “I have a deal on the table which both Downing Street and Brussels have signed up to, all I need is a Conservative majority in Parliament to get Brexit over the line and fulfill the People’s Will &c &c” – trusting that

a) this will undercut the Brexit Party’s attempt to split the Tory/Leave vote

b) the large majority of Tories (admittedly among members rather than all voters, but still) who prioritize Brexit higher than preserving the Union (plus those lukewarm Remainers who decide that this Brexit is preferable to perpetual limbo and the threat of a no-deal), will be enough to win them a clear majority and sideline the DUP.

Song of the Day: Phil Ochs on travel bans

Phil Ochs’ song “The Ballad of William Worthy” was originally written about an American reporter who had his passport revoked for violating US travel regulations by travelling from the US to China and Cuba.

But some of the lines are extremely applicable to Trump’s present-day travel ban (which, according to an anonymous source, is likely to be extended to more countries) – especially the situation of all the immigrants who have permanent, legal US residency, but are now unable to leave the country because they then will be denied re-entry.

So, come all you good travelers and fellow-travelers, too
Yes, and travel all around the world, see every country through
I’d surely like to come along and see what may be new
But my passport’s disappearing as I sing these words to you.

Well, there really is no need to travel to these evil lands
Yes, and though the list grows larger you must try to understand
Try hard not to be worry if someday you should hear
That the whole world is off limits, visit Disneyland this year.

But somehow it is strange to hear the State Department say:
– You are living in the free world, in the free world you must stay.

The latest Clinton email controversy

I should say first of all that I’m not all sure if I’m understanding the situation correctly – this is one of those blogposts which is less «explaining a news story» and more «here’s my understanding of this news story, could someone more knowledgeable explain whether I’ve got it right».

But since nobody else appears to know what’s going on with the latest developments in the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server, I figured I might as well add my two cents:

The purpose of the FBI investigation was to determine whether Hillary Clinton had broken federal law by knowingly sending or receiving classified email on her private server. Since the emails on the server had already been deleted, they had to reconstruct them from (partial) backups – and also had to comb through other servers and devices, to see if they were able to turn up copies of emails sent to/from Clinton’s server.

After examining all these emails, the FBI concluded that some of these emails had been «portion marked» as ‘classified’, but that this was not sufficient to press charges against Clinton (or anyone else).

The FBI director’s letter yesterday simply said that they had found (or to be precise, not even that – merely that they had «learned of the existence of») emails that might be relevant, and that they are going to investigate whether they contain classified information or not. Various sources have confirmed that the emails were found on devices belonging to Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin and her husband Anthony Weiner (who is being investigated for «sexting» with an underage girl).

The natural interpretation of this is that there is no «smoking gun» here whatsoever, but that the only development is that the FBI have found some emails that were sent to/from Clinton’s private server. Given this new material, it’s of course proper and necessary that the FBI study these emails to assess whether they contain anything that changes the situation. But given that they’ve already looked at tens of thousands of emails without finding grounds to press charges, it seems exceptionally unlikely that these emails will contain anything game-changing.

In fact, the Washington Post reports that these emails may not even be new ones: They might simply be copies of emails that they’ve already examined during the investigation. This further supports the theory that nobody has any idea of the actual content of these emails and whether it is in any way incriminating – that they’ve simply come across some emails that were sent to/from the server, and need to check whether this provides any relevant new information.

Needless to say, if this is the case, then it ought to (rationally, at this stage) not affect the race in any way whatsoever. If you accept the previous conclusion that there was no grounds to press charges against Clinton in the emails already examined, the mere fact that X new emails (where X may be anything from 3 emails to a thousand emails) have been added to the pile does not, in and of itself, change anything at all.

The hysterical warnings against trigger warnings

In last Tuesday’s Guardian, professor emeritus Frank Furedi launches a scathing attack on the increasing prevalence of “trigger warnings” in academic life. Furedi claims that “Too many academics are now censoring themselves“, but struggles to provide any concrete evidence of this claim.

The entire article is underpinned by an invalid and fallacious conflation of trigger warnings and censorship. In actual fact, the presence of a trigger warning means – by its very definition – that some piece of (potentially) disturbing material has not been censored or removed. If the university was avoiding such material altogether, there would obviously be nothing to warn about in the first place. An established and appropriate system of “trigger warnings” provides a framework for including such subjects in the assigned texts, without creating needless and harmful situations for those students who suffer from previous trauma.

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Electoral College quirks

The recent turmoil in the Republican party has sparked a slew of commentary about how the party might break entirely with Trump and replace him with a different nominee (with this Politico op-ed probably being the most comprehensive).

Personally, I think all these speculations are still extremely speculative, and that the overwhelmingly most likely scenario – even with the current level of internal strife – is that Trump/Pence remains the official GOP ballot choice on Election Day. (The idea, here promoted in the WSJ, of Trump pledging to step down post-election and hand the Presidency to Pence seems particularly far-fetched.)

But the discussion has nevertheless thrown up some little-known facets of the American electoral process, that might become actually relevant in a later election.

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Quote of the Day: A Mars Astronaut foresees his Death

SpaceX founder Elon Musk recently presented his plan for human colonisation of Mars, and one of the most widely quoted comments has been:

If you want to be on the frontier, where things are super exciting even if it’s dangerous, that’s who we’re appealing to. I would not suggest sending children. Are you prepared to die? If that’s ok, you’re a candidate for going.

which brings to mind the closing lines of W.B. Yeats’ “An Irish Airman foresees his Death” (written during World War I, full poem here):

I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Quote of the Day: G.K. Chesterton on Brexit

Regardless of how you feel about the Brexit victory, it seems only fair to give today’s quote to someone who summed up the Leave mood pretty accurately a century ago, and who would presumably be cheering today (from “The Secret People”, full poem here):

They have given us into the hand of the new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
Our wrath come after Russia’s wrath and our wrath be the worst.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.

G.K. Chesterton