Photo by Life Matters from Pexels
Good news! This week’s good news should be a telling lesson to us all. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the Israeli army commandeered a number of hotels in which to quarantine Covid-19 patients. The majority were reserved for the exclusive use of orthodox Jews. A few, however, took patients from across the spectrum of religion and atheism and housed them in close quarters, far from the usual government-designed segregation and division. The result was a resounding success which saw Israelis and Palestinians enjoying dining together, comedy performed simultaneously in Arabic and Hebrew, and a separating wall in the dining room of one hotel taken down so that all could enjoy the Passover Seder dinner together regardless of faith. We would probably all do well at the moment to remember what we share as the world begins to reopen.
How many CrossFitters® does it take to change a lightbulb? Three. One to change the lightbulb, one to film it, and one to criticise the form. An atheist, a vegan and a CrossFitters® walk into a bar. I know that’s what they were because they immediately told everybody. (Full disclosure – I do go to (what was formerly) a CrossFit® gym.)
CrossFit® CEO Greg Glassman provided a wonderful demonstration of why it’s not great to tweet racially charged statements if your business model relies on not tarnishing your cult of personality. CrossFit® works much like a franchise: gyms, or ‘boxes’, pay an affiliation fee to use the brand name and style of coaching, whilst equipment manufacturers have a similar setup.
Glassman somehow equated the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd in a confused tweet responding to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s assertion that racism is a public health issue, simply saying “FLOYD-19”. He backed this up on a lengthy Zoom call with affiliated gyms in which he recounted conspiracy theories on the themes of Covid-19 and George Floyd. His advice to gym-owners pondering re-opening: “I would agree to any restrictions put on me by the health authorities, and I would open my gym, and then 10 minutes later I would do whatever the fuck I wanted. That’s what I would do.”
Although the company tried to quickly distance itself from Glassman’s comments, thousands of affiliates immediately announced they were reviewing their use of the brand or abandoning it altogether, whilst the official outfitter, Reebok, declared they would not renew their contract (although I still had an e-mail the following day from Reebok advertising new CrossFit® ranges). Glassman then announced he would be ‘retiring’ from his role.
Titirangi may sound like the name of the club in an upcoming ‘Strippers vs’ movie, but it is in fact the name of a quaint town in New Zealand that has suffered a renewed plague of chickens during the Covid-19 crisis. What started as two released domesticated birds spiraled out of control as 250 feral little peckers took over and deafened residents. The outbreak was almost under control when the lockdown hit, giving the poultry time to regroup and resume chaos. Never say we don’t bring you the serious news.
Ah, the Swiss, famed around the world for their fine chocolate, exceptional timekeeping, magnificent money-laundering and keen sense of humour. Spot the odd one out.
Police in the town of Sissach have given an eight-year-old boy a criminal record after he asked if he could use toy money to pay in a local shop. The notes, clearly identifiable as false euros featuring Chinese characters, triggered the shopkeeper to call police (“it is our policy”) who conducted a full search of the child’s house. Although no charges were pressed, he will have a criminal record until 2032. (They probably would have been just fine with it had he tried to pay for the chocolate with Nazi gold.)
Remember all those times you’ve tried to visit your local church and been rebuffed by Polish troops stopping by for the weekend? It’s always a jarring experience but one we’ve all gotten used to by this point… except for the Czechs. They weren’t having it. Eventually the authorities contacted Warsaw and the Polish soldiers moved out, acknowledging a ‘misunderstanding’. That’s one way to spin a brief and bloodless invasion of another country.
Is there an echo in here?
While the pandemic has enhanced the desires of some to construct physical membranes between themselves and the external world, self-reinforcing digital echo chambers continue apace. I keep getting blocked on Twitter for citing sources – which could be the title of a bleak cyberpunk dystopian poem, or just a routine gripe. I would care to observe some particularly bad actors in the information distribution and propagation business – Fox ‘news’. When Fox aren’t digitally editing photos of Seattle’s (Capitol Hill) Autonomous Zone, they’re confusing Monty Python jokes on Reddit with accurate intelligence regarding the internal communications of the anarchists occupying public buildings. Slow clap for the ‘journalists’ at Fox. Seriously though, they know their audience and their audience don’t care for facts as much as they do approximate cohesion to a preexisting world view (cf. the hashtag trending last weekend ‘I don’t feel racist’).
And now for (something completely different?) a brief note on fairness –
In 1949 the FCC Fairness Doctrine required those with licenses to broadcast (radio and television content) to cover contrasting views when discussing matters of public significance. This is basically sensible and not that hard to implement – just get some reputable and knowledgeable folks with differing perspectives on the show and give them similar amounts of airtime, easy peasy. Anyhow, this enviably sensible policy was withdrawn in 1987 (thanks Reagan). Thus the age of entirely, unashamedly biased nonsense media spheres was born! For an entirely factual documentary on the subject, we defer the reader to Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Here’s an excerpt from Britannica on the matter:
“In 1985, however, the FCC decided that the doctrine had a “chilling effect” upon freedom of speech. At about that time, representatives of cable and satellite television networks challenged the applicability of the doctrine to their industries.”
Black Lives are Magic
The Minneapolis Police have been disbanded, Portland’s Chief of Police has stepped down to be replaced by a black man, peaceful protesters continue to occupy interstate freeways with nothing but their bodies and strength of will – what next, America? What next, world?
As the protests continue well into their third week, a couple of things I’ve heard attendees say have stuck out particularly, for quite different reasons: “I might as well get coronavirus standing up for democracy, rather than for going to a bar with my friends”. Notwithstanding the accelerated progress in recent weeks, in some regards (cf. the turn around time on Atlanta’s chief of police resigning after the murder of another unarmed and innocent black man), I really wish there was some more social distancing going on at these protests. A march with thousands of people 6 feet apart takes longer to move through town, is therefore more prominent and looks epic from the skies (there is evidence that the US government has been using military surveillance drones to keep an eye on protestors). It’s also not particularly difficult to pull off if everyone’s reminded how important it is. While I was happy to see almost every protester wearing a mask for the majority of the events, the organizers did not acknowledge the need to practice social distancing – in fact they encouraged the opposite.
The chant, “Black Lives are Magic” – a charismatic and high energy organizer reminded the crowd that ‘matter is a minimum’… I liked this a lot. Not least because a crowd of predominantly white people (even when it’s the most diverse crowd Portland has ever seen…) marching through the streets yelling ‘black lives matter’ gives me a very weird feeling. I imagine it’s similar to when someone doesn’t stop at a stop light, almost runs you over as you’re attempting to cross the street, and then impatiently beckons you to walk across; resulting in a sentiment of, “Yeah, of course! I wasn’t asking for your permission to participate in society and the basic social contract would imply I’m not supposed to have to ask, also please stop almost running me over while feigning politeness”. That’s how I imagine such chants to be perceived, perhaps yielding a response from particularly patient individuals of: “Yeah, sure, we would hope so. But who made it your decision anyway?”.
What you gonna do? What you gonna do when they come for (and cancel) you?
Is the question the producers of long-running police-documentary-cum-violence-glorifier ‘Cops’ will be asking themselves this week. Remarkably, the show has been running for 32 seasons since 1989, but in the light of the George Floyd protests the network Paramount has pulled the show from schedules and production permanently.
As well as showcasing (and celebrating) violent police tactics, the title character ‘cops’ had a nasty habit of coercing suspects into signing releases to be filmed. Other titles such as Live PD look to be on shaky ground as networks review their programming.
In a yet more bizarre turn, there is a movement to socially cancel Paw Patrol, an animated children’s show featuring a kid and his canine compatriots – who are all anthropomorphized first-responders (and one is a cop, portrayed as neither bitch nor bastard, but an endearing puppy) – working to do good via direct intervention in their community.
Red Flag to a Bull(shitter)
It would not be groundbreaking or shocking to announce that we suspect President (Agent Orange) Trump has yearnings to be an autocratic leader, but there have been a few incidents this week that frankly speaking give us the willies.
The first was the Trump campaign served CNN with a cease and desist notice for publishing the results of a poll showing Trump’s approval is trailing Biden’s by 14 points. CNN promptly rejected the complaint in its entirety, but that Trump should even try is frightening. It seems to mark the first time a US politician has threatened legal action against polling results they didn’t like. CNNs general counsel commented “To the extent we have received legal threats from political leaders in the past, they have typically come from countries like Venezuela or other regimes where there is little or no respect for a free and independent media.”
Then there was Thursday’s tweet in which, referencing the violent clearing of peaceful protesters for a photo-op, Trump praised the “S.S.”. One would infer that he was referring to the Secret Service, who already have an abbreviation: USSS (presumably to avoid confusion with Hitler’s personal elite, genocidal killing force). Supporters claimed he used ‘S.S.’ to save on characters, which seems unlikely given it’s four characters, as is ‘USSS’.
Then, Trump authorised financial and travel sanctions against staff of the International Criminal Court (ICC) who are investigating war crimes committed by US forces in Afghanistan. Just let that sink in… His administration is sanctioning individuals whose job it is to investigate if forces ultimately under Trump’s command committed war crimes.
“We’ll show you racist!”
… cry the French police as they run to beat anti-racism protesters in the streets. Seriously though, the French are incredulous that anyone should tell them how to live or how racist they shouldn’t be. These officers in Lille threw their handcuffs away in disgust at the suggestion that they were anything other than the pinnacle of objective benevolence. There were also protests in Paris. Nothing says the ‘march of progress’ like a procession of white men walking down the Champs-Élysées proclaiming their total lack of a capacity to be racist. Note, it’s interesting that the protests from the police weren’t subject to the same restrictions as those of the anti-racism campaigners; in that they weren’t banned. The French police killed 26 people in 2018.
If you’re not first, you’re last
You might have noticed that compliments from WJH relating to the current UK Government are thin on the ground. It’s hard not to be continually scathing when incompetence, cronyism, and indeed overt racism, run this deep. That said, we are finally (several months too late) starting to get a handle on contact tracing.
Let’s not get carried away and call it ‘world-beating’, in its current state it relies on an army of workers trying to cajole phone numbers from those who have tested positive of any people they’ve been in contact with, which assumes they have the contact details of those people. It’s a step in the right direction though.
The app, however, about which our ‘digital-first’ Government was so excited, seems to have gone a little bit quiet. The reason being that they simply can’t get it to work. As anybody with even a rudimentary understanding of digital radio signals would have been able to tell them, in the real world, signal strength is not necessarily proportional to proximity. In fact, one study showed that the metal structure of train carriages can cause the signal to get stronger as users moved further away from each other.
Personally, I can’t help thinking they’re making a classic techie mistake of being over-ambitious to make the perfect solution work, whilst overlooking low-tech alternatives. How about we all just scan an QR code on our seat neighbours phone on trains, or at the bar? No data would need to be transferred and no need to share your phone numbers (as you would need to for our current system to work). Sure, it would be more reliant on people actually remembering to do something, but even the app requires that everybody remembers to turn their Bluetooth on.
A quick note on the podcast…
We mention a law that would retroactively legitimize stealing Palestinian land. Rather than being a recent law, this is an ongoing scandal with a legal basis years in the making. The most recent development is an unabashed threat of annexation. Also, while not necessarily a world first, the US’s embarrassment at the United Nations we were thinking of was this incident where the US was outnumbered 14 to 1 when voting on international recognition of Israel’s capital city.
Thanks for reading! We’ll be back next week, get in touch with the authors Will Marshall and Alistair Simmonds on Twitter and let us know what you did and didn’t like.
Think you were off the mark on the Paw Patrol story and ACAB analysis in the podcast. Obviously enjoyed it all tremendously notwithstanding, but figured I’d throw my opinion into the ring since you do keep asking for people to ‘join the conversation’!
I feel like while you acknowledged the Paw Patrol story as comedic, you didn’t really acknowledge that it’s clearly a joke movement and should not be treated as a genuine news story – people are not seriously calling for Paw Patrol to be removed from air any more than people are calling for the White Cliffs of Dover to be renamed because of Black Lives Matter. I draw this particular comparison because they’re both online jokes that some news networks have run with. News networks acknowledge partially that these are jokes, however even by pushing the headline on social media they serve to deligitimise the genuine issues by derailing the conversation and obscuring the actual grievances being raised. I think this is one of those stories that can be news or fake news depending on where you draw the line – but for me at least, this is not a genuine news story and it should be called out as such. (not to say there shouldn’t be a genuine conversation about how police are portrayed in media, but ‘calls for Paw Patrol to be axed’ is rather too sensationalist unless you are willing to engage in that wider conversation).
On the ACAB thing, your revelation about ‘bastard’ implying de-legitimacy seems like such an odd perspective to view the argument from, and an odd one to give you sympathy towards the statement. It is true that the police do not have legitimacy and I can see that’s an interesting perspective, but the ACAB statement is really not that deep. A lot of people have experienced harassment and worse at police hands, and it shouldn’t take an etymological history of the word ‘bastard’ to recognise that anyone who looks at the American police service and judicial system and thinks “I want to be on the enforcing end of that” is a bastard. You just have to listen to people’s experiences, or even have a cursory glance at the statistics.
The ‘good cop’ is still selling their labour to uphold a set of laws that they know are not designed to be fair, and are not applied fairly (surely nobody can feign ignorance on BOTH of these points – and if they are that ignorant, perhaps they shouldn’t be in a position of authority?). Being a ‘good person’ outside of their role at work does not mean they are not culpable as part of this system, and therefore bastards. They could do something useful with their labour instead, like open a little shop that sells things people need.
You make the point in the podcast that the ‘people in the middle who vote’ could be put off by statements like ACAB, but this to me seems to miss the point – politics in the UK and US are both too rigid and grounded in the police-state-white-privilege-grey-vote framework to change from that position through a series of nuanced Question Time appearances. Basing your discussion window on what can win votes or not will necessarily restrict the topics you can talk about to what is ‘acceptable discourse’. ACAB won’t necessarily win votes, but it does give a whole lot of people who’ve been on the receiving end of the police a banner under which to unify.
In recent years I have refrained from getting into political arguments on Facebook, but now that I am no longer in the office or going to the pub, the normal channels have been lost. This was a nice medium to try out and I hope my points came across well, but I can’t be guaranteed of that!
PS I really enjoyed How to Change Your Mind, thanks for recommending – I’ve already recommended it to a couple more people
Hey George, thanks for your comment!
On the Paw Patrol thing; we’re mostly mentioning it because it’s funny. Also, it’s not entirely clear to me that (some) folks won’t call for it’s abolition…
The point about ACAB and legitimacy/illegitimacy of the police in the states is mostly intended to be read through an historical lens here. There’s clearly still a lot of work to be done.
Progressive causes obviously need to be progressive – they also need to not alienate the moderates they need to win ballots. A tragic consequence of the painting of the recent protests as mostly violent rioting has been the entrenchment of lots of middle-class white voters across the states – when they hear ‘defund the police’ they only dig in further. So there’s a balancing act; the US police forces have huge sums of money at their disposal (often even compared to state level public health initiatives…) and there’s a pressing conversation about ensuring these funds serve the people in an efficient and egalitarian manor. The way in which that message is trumpeted also impact the likelihood of it happening.