Jo Brand: ‘Bullies are lurking around every corner' - interview by Eva Wiseman in The Guardian. "Another Friday night, another comedy panel show, another biscuit, maybe two. And then suddenly, we sedentary viewers of 'Have I Got News For You' sat up. It was early in November and, responding to a headline about an MP taking his personal trainer to the cinema, Ian Hislop had chuckled: 'Some of this is not "high-level" crime, is it?' But Jo Brand, hosting, didn’t smile. The temperature changed quite suddenly. 'If I can just say,' she began, 'as the only representative of the female gender here today – I know it’s not high-level, but it doesn’t have to be "high-level" for women to feel under siege in somewhere like the House of Commons. Actually, for women, if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up, and that wears you down.' There was a pause. Then the audience started cheering.... When John Humphrys’ conversation with Jon Sopel was leaked, and they appeared to joke about the BBC’s pay gap row, Brand 'enjoyed that window into John Humphrys’ mind. Though we all take the piss when we think we’re safe. But it does show what they really think about the pay gap – that they don’t take it seriously. It pisses women off when we feel a genuine cause for anger, and are unsupported by men. Whether it’s something like the pay gap, or someone shouting, "Great knockers!" at a woman in the pub, it’s really common that men will just look away. Things are only going to change when the majority of men step up and support women.'"
Britain’s imperial fantasies have given us Brexit - article by Gary Younge in The Guardian. When the outgoing German ambassador to Britain claimed this week that Brexiteers were fixated on the second world war, he was on to something. ... But Ammon was only half right. For while the Brexit vote was certainly underpinned by a melancholic longing for a glorious past, the era it sought to relive was less the second world war than the longer, less distinguished or openly celebrated period of empire. ... Our colonial past, and the inability to come to terms with its demise, gave many the impression that we are far bigger, stronger and more influential than we really are. ... Douglas Carswell, the sole Ukip MP during the referendum, was raised in Uganda; Arron Banks, who bankrolled Ukip and the xenophobic Leave.EU campaign, spent his childhood in South Africa, where his father ran sugar estates, as well as in Kenya, Ghana and Somalia; Henry Bolton, the current head of Ukip, was born and raised partly in Kenya; Robert Oxley, head of media for Vote Leave, has strong family ties to Zimbabwe. One can only speculate about how much impact these formative years had on their political outlook, (Carswell attributes his libertarianism to Idi Amin’s 'arbitrary rule') but it would be odd to conclude they didn’t have any."
The brave Brexit speech Theresa May is afraid to give? Here it is - article by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. "Public opinion is still divided on Brexit. It is not divided on retaining close trade links with Europe, which is supported by some 70%. There is no way we can achieve tariff-free or frictionless access to EU markets other than by accepting the disciplines of those markets. Links with the EU have grown close over 40 years of membership. I ask my colleagues to accept that there is no move among the British people to reverse them. The overwhelming opinion of my advisers and those with whom we have been consulting this past year is that we should retain the existing tariff-free access. This is most simply achieved by being within the European Economic Area (EEA), the so-called Norway option. I know I have rejected the EEA in the past. But I now propose that we should treat it as the template for long-term negotiation, with a cross-party agreement to revisit it in 10 years."
How Democracies Die: Trump and the shredding of norms - review by David Runciman in The Guardian. "In early 2016,... the Senate did something it had never done in more than 150 years: it refused even to grant [President Obama's supreme court nominee] a hearing.... Their shared view [was] that any Republican supreme court nominee would be better than any Democratic nominee, and any price was worth paying to achieve that.... This was a preeminent example of what Levitsky and Ziblatt call the erosion of norms, which they consider the greatest threat to contemporary democracy. Norms are the unspoken rules and conventions that hold a democracy together, many of them based on the idea that what’s good for your side in the short term may not do you any good in the long run, because you won’t be in power for ever (if you are, it’s no longer a democracy). When the other side get their turn, your impatience to take advantage will become their licence to exact revenge. ... Levitsky and Ziblatt want to get away from the idea that so long as the constitutional order is intact, democracy will be OK. They are deeply suspicious of any naive faith that deviant politicians can be 'contained' by the right institutions, and not just because it didn’t work out for Weimar Germany with Hitler. They point out that US history is littered with examples of political behaviour that stayed within the letter of the law but still did catastrophic damage to democracy. The racist regime that prevailed in the American south during the first half of the 20th century was underpinned by a set of norms that made hard-won African American voting rights meaningless. The constitution did not have to be overridden to allow this to happen."
The fight for the right to be a Muslim in America - article by Andrew Rice in The Guardian. "There is, literally, an anti-mosque playbook. Tactics were once unwritten, spread through websites and word of mouth, but more recently they were set down in a book titled Mosques in America: A Guide to Accountable Permit Hearings and Continuing Citizen Oversight. Written a Texas attorney, it was published by the Center for Security Policy, an organisation headed by Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official who has long espoused the theory that Muslims are engaged in a secret plot to impose sharia law on the US. Gaffney writes in the book’s introduction that it is a 'how-to manual for patriotic Americans who are ready to counter the leading edge of Islamic supremacism'."
Talk is cheap: the myth of the focus group - article by Liza Featherstone in The Guardian, based on her book Divining Desire: Focus Groups and the Culture of Consultation. "In the early 1950s, the Betty Crocker company had a problem: American housewives liked the idea of cake mix, but they weren’t actually buying it.... Ernest Dichter, a Viennese psychologist who had pioneered a new kind of market research, ... set out to answer the question using a relatively new tool: the focus group. Dichter’s groups for Betty Crocker diagnosed the trouble – women felt guilty that they were not doing the work of baking the cake for their families. Serving prepared foods made them feel inadequate... Focus groups were developed first in academia – by scholars with government contracts tasked with selling the second world war more effectively to the American people. Almost at the same time, similar methods were being developed by the British Labour party, to help them understand why so many working-class voters were turning Conservative.... But what if focus groups have also been part of a process in which citizenship has been reduced to consumerism – a set of choices made passively, under constraint? Focus groups reveal our desires – for a better life, for participation, for power, to be heard – but do they also limit them? Perhaps it is a process through which our aspirations become much smaller. We talk, we feel perhaps that someone has listened, and we demand nothing more."
Look at me: why attention-seeking is the defining need of our times - article by Leo Benedictus in The Guardian, based on his book Consent. "Everyone needs attention, like we need to eat.... Facebook alone harvests and sells the attention of 1.4 billion people every day. That’s about a fifth of the world.... But we can’t know what to make of it until we understand what people need attention for. Attention is other people thinking about you, and if there were ever humans who didn’t need it, they are now extinct.... Specifically, people have been shown to need a type of attention that psychologists call belonging.... Belonging means getting positive attention from people who know you well.... People who feel they don’t belong suffer terribly, and experience health problems comparable to smoking or obesity.... The word loneliness is a good description of the feeling, but not its cause, which in reality has little to do with being alone.... Some lonely people themselves conclude that they aren’t worthy of attention, and withdraw from the world still further. Others search for a feeling of belonging, not always in the best way."
Brave by Rose McGowan: Hollywood’s avenging warrior speaks out - review by Hadley Freeman in The Guardian. "That McGowan has turned out to be an avenging warrior, determined to expose Hollywood’s toxic lies and cover-ups, would have once seemed as improbable as the most ludicrous superhero movie; a spoilt rich guy saving the city while dressed as a bat has nothing on her tale. ... McGowan’s book will not be the best book about the Weinstein scandal, but it may be the most visceral. Anger burns from every page. ... The problem with burning everything down is that it all becomes an indistinguishable pile of ash. The misogyny of gossip blogger Perez Hilton is a worthy target for McGowan; that actors occasionally have to perform wedding scenes is not.... This reads like a book written by a woman driven to near derangement by decades of abuse and gaslighting. At times I wished McGowan could filter her anger, highlighting the real abuses as opposed to folding them in among the generalised sexist garbage. But if she had been able do that she probably wouldn’t have written this book: self-control isn’t helpful when you are kicking down doors. McGowan set out to write a book that examines abuse, and she has done just that. She has also, inadvertently, shown how much damage abuse can wreak in even the toughest of women."
Ms Mansplaining - post by John Naughton, in his Memex 1.1 blog. "I’ve often wondered vaguely where the term 'mansplaining' — the patronising way in which men who know nothing about a subject insist on explaining it to a woman — came from. Now I know... The phrase was coined by the American writer and essayist, Rebecca Solnit. It was prompted by an experience she had at one of those high-end Aspen think-rests in which rich members of the US elite persuade themselves that they are really reallyinterested in ideas. Reflecting on it later, she published a wonderful essay, 'Men Explain Things to Me' in Guernica. ... 'Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway. But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless – for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped.'"
Why Adventure Games suck - blog post by Rob Gilbert, reproducing classic 1989 article from The Journal of Computer Game Design, written while he was designing 'Monkey Island'. "There is a state of mind called 'suspension of disbelief'. When you are watching a movie, or reading a good book, your mind falls into this state. It occurs when you are pulled so completely into the story that you no longer realize you are in a movie theater or sitting at your couch, reading. When the story starts to drag, or the plots begins to fall apart, the suspension of disbelief is lost....The same is true of story games (as well as almost all other kinds of games). As the story builds, we are pulled into the game and leave the real world behind. As designers, our job is to keep people in this state for as long as possible. Every time the player has to restore a saved game, or pound his head on the desk in frustration, the suspension of disbelief is gone. At this time he is most likely to shut off the computer and go watch TV, at which point we all have lost. I have created a set of rules of thumb that will minimize the loss of suspension of disbelief. As with any set of rules, there are always exceptions. In my designs, I hope that if these rules cannot be followed, it is for artistic reasons and not because I am too lazy to do it right. In Maniac Mansion, in one place or another, I violated all but one of these rules. Some of them were violated by design, others by sloppiness. If I could redesign Maniac Mansion, all the violations would be removed and I'd have a much better game."
Is Facebook for old people? Over-55s flock in as the young leave - article by Mark Sweney in The Guardian. "It’s official: Facebook is for old(er) people. Teens and young adults are ditching Mark Zuckerberg’s social network as popularity among the over-55s surges, according to a report. In 2018, 2.2 million 12- to 17-year-olds and 4.5 million 18- to 24-year-olds will regularly use Facebook in the UK, 700,000 fewer than in 2017, as younger users defect to services such as Snapchat, according to eMarketer. A surge in older users means over-55s will become the second-biggest demographic of Facebook users this year."
Dawn of the techlash - article by Rachel Botsman, based on her book Who Can You Trust? How Technology Brought Us Together and Why It Might Drive Us Apart. "How did that unbridled enthusiasm for all things digital morph into a critical erosion of trust in technology, particularly in politics? Was 2017 the year of reckoning, when technology suddenly crossed to the dark side or had it been heading that way for some time? It might be useful to recall how social media first discovered its political muscle.... in 2002, [Scott Heiferman] founded Meetup, a social networking platform to help people with a common interest find each other and arrange to meet, face to face. ... In early 2003, ... more than 140,000 Howard Dean grassroots supporters used Meetup to mobilise support.... From attempting to aid revolutions in the Arab spring, to co-ordinating the Occupy Wall Street movement, social networks soon brimmed with ambitions to level the playing field. It was all wildly promising. The internet would be a transparent environment that made it easier for people to hold political leaders accountable and even strengthen people’s capacity to relate to one another. On it went, the golden dream of the digital age, before the invaders arrived. Were we naive? As unprecedented numbers of people channelled their political energies and beliefs into social media, shouldn’t we have foreseen the way the platforms could become vulnerable to manipulation and the spread of misinformation? Probably, but most of us failed to imagine the imaginable."
Why Silicon Valley billionaires are prepping for the apocalypse in New Zealand - article by Mark O'Connell in The Guardian. "If I wanted to understand the extreme ideology that underpinned [Peter] Thiel’s attraction to New Zealand, ... I needed to understand an obscure libertarian manifesto called The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State. It was published in 1997, and in recent years something of a minor cult has grown up around it in the tech world, largely as a result of Thiel’s citing it as the book he is most influenced by.... The Sovereign Individual is, in the most literal of senses, an apocalyptic text. [James Dale] Davidson and [William] Rees-Mogg present an explicitly millenarian vision of the near future: the collapse of old orders, the rising of a new world. Liberal democracies will die out, and be replaced by loose confederations of corporate city-states. Western civilisation in its current form, they insist, will end with the millennium. 'The new Sovereign Individual,' they write, 'will operate like the gods of myth in the same physical environment as the ordinary, subject citizen, but in a separate realm politically.' It’s impossible to overstate the darkness and extremity of the book’s predictions of capitalism’s future; to read it is to be continually reminded that the dystopia of your darkest insomniac imaginings is almost always someone else’s dream of a new utopian dawn. Davidson and Rees-Mogg identified New Zealand as an ideal location for this new class of sovereign individuals, as a 'domicile of choice for wealth creation in the Information Age'."
Pushing back: why it's time for women to rewrite the story - article by Sarah Churchwell in The Guardian. "In 1938 a play debuted at the Richmond Theatre, which opens with a Victorian husband telling his wife that though she has been 'very good lately', she mustn’t 'read meanings into everything' or 'imagine things'. ...Her husband is systematically working to extinguish her perspective, to convince her that she is mad. Every night as he searches their attic (for jewels he believes are there), his movements cause the gas lamps to flicker. ... 'Gaslighting' soon came to denote psychological warfare, the deliberate undermining of another’s sanity. More recently, it has been resuscitated as a metaphor for the cultural sabotage of women’s perceptions, for trivialising their concerns as imaginary. ... The question of credibility gained new currency after allegations about Harvey Weinstein triggered the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns – the latest battles in a war women have been waging for centuries against the prerogatives of patriarchy. Storytelling is a key battleground: ... male privilege is the entitlement to be the centre of the story, for male voices to dominate, for male interpretations to define it, for a woman to be dismissed, in the words of the husband in Gas Light,as 'a perfect little silly'.
Five books to understand the left - article by Paul Mason in The Guardian. "[William] Davies’ book The Limits of Neoliberalism sums up the wider thinking of the UK left about the system it is trying to replace. It identifies the coercive imposition of competition by a centralised state as the core problem, and contains the most succinct definition of neoliberalism in the English language: 'the disenchantment of politics by economics'.... The most influential book [of the 2011 protest movements] is the 2009 manifesto The Coming Insurrection, by the French anarchist Invisible Committee, ...its key [being] that the proletariat was over, that the networked human being was the agent of change.... David Graeber’s Debt: the First 5,000 Years ... showed that a historical method derived from Marx could be applied to new anthropological evidence to explain one of the most pressing facts of modern economics: the strangulation of economic dynamism by debt.... If there is a single book that embodies the activist left’s turn towards electoral politics it is Pablo Iglesias’s Politics in a Time of Crisis.... Kimberlé Crenshaw ... pioneered intersectionality theory: ... the most influential framework for understanding the multiple, overlapping oppressions we face, and their relationship both to colonialism and economic exploitation."
What Are We Doing Here? by Marilynne Robinson: hope, as distinct from optimism - review by Diana Birch in The Guardian. "Marilynne Robinson is a stubborn nonconformist, and her new collection of essays confirms the distance between her combative ideas and the dominant values of the west. ... Her purpose is to claim the respect for human potential, which she sees as the bedrock of Christianity, as a means of countering what she characterises as the 'thinking that tends to devalue humankind, which is an influential tendency in modern culture'. Again and again she attacks the kind of 'cost-benefit analysis' or unthinking 'self-interest' that undermines the responsibility of 'the self as an intelligent moral actor'. She returns to the primacy of the individual that characterised early Protestantism, not as a vindication of the self-seeking economic competition that she sees as a corroding force in the public life of the west, but as an exacting personal obligation to seek the good of others. An especially engaging essay, Grace and Beauty, considers the relation between Robinson’s theological position and her aesthetic practice. 'The standard I use is strictly experiential.' The wish to reauthorise 'experience, felt reality, as one important testimony to the nature of reality itself' is a reminder of her closeness to the traditions of dissenting spiritual autobiographies as testament to an authentic interpretation of our world. No preconceived or willed model for the novel can be a substitute for the strenuous work of the imagination, which is for Robinson always a consequence of a moral understanding of action."
Jessica Jones: mind control and redemption: the timely return of a feminist superhero - article by Zoe Williams in The Guardian. "Jones has superpowers; quite poorly defined ones that mainly involve throwing people... Emotionally, she is held in suspended animation by her PTSD, which was triggered by a series of harrowing events contributing to her traumatic backstory. She is caught in the eye of a three-way storm: the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Kilgrave; the car crash that killed her entire family; and the institutional violence that somehow bestowed superpowers upon her while she was in a coma... Kilgrave’s abuse ... left her with more than ambient trauma; it hollowed out her belief in her own power as a force for good. In Jessica Jones, the past never passes, just crashes back into the present... The show is ensconced in a noir atmosphere – a feeling prompted by the sense Jessica Jones is so close to the hero that nearly but never was: she is the female Humphrey Bogart. ... Yet there is one trope more unusual still: the strong victim. As a dramatic construct, the victim functions as a frame and counterpoint to the hero. But in the case of Jessica Jones she is both victim and hero. Despite the fact we repeatedly see examples of Jones’s weakness against Kilgrave and a backstory that reveals rape and forced murder, she is not the damsel in distress but the knight."