Monthly Archives: November 2016

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Grotty Crotty

One from the archives.

I like California. I really, really do. But the constant flow of anti-vaping propaganda that vomits from its university system sometimes makes me wish the San Andreas Fault would just dump the whole damn state on the bed of the Pacific.

We have yet another study from San Diego, revisiting the old nonsense about e-cigarette vapour creating superbugs. It’s nothing special, just another bunch of gassed mice and some not very important stuff about – shock, horror! – lung cells in a petri dish dying if you pickle them in e-liquid. By this point I’m pretty much numb to this sort of research – it’s tentative science at best, adds little to what we understand about vaping, and I don’t think it’s even having the media impact it used to.

What interests me about the latest study isn’t the study itself; it’s the lead author. The senior researcher on the paper was Laura E Crotty Alexander, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego who also works in a Veteran’s Administration hospital. Dr Crotty Alexander, at first glance, seems like an amiable enough sort – a serious and idealistic young researcher who’s genuinely concerned about health – and when she popped up on Twitter a couple of days ago I felt she deserved sympathetic treatment. Even if some of her claims were, you, know, a bit wild.

Well, okay. She’s young, and probably doesn’t get out of her ivory tower much. Maybe she isn’t really clued up enough to know the difference between owning 30% of companies and accounting for 30% of sales through American convenience stores.* So we can let that one slide, probably. She’s wrong, but no big deal.

Oh look, what’s this?

Right, this isn’t so good. Looks like she’s bought into the myth about “high voltage” e-cigs producing formaldehyde, and thinks power should be restricted for our own good. Again this is totally wrong, but maybe she was too busy with her own research to know that Peyton and Pankow’s pharma-funded formaldehyde hatchet job has been ruthlessly dismantled by real scientists.

Or maybe not. Maybe she’s an anti-vaping activist with an agenda to push.

And then someone kindly posted a link to a video she made a couple of years ago. It’s basically an anti-vaping propaganda video by the University of California, with Crotty Alexander presented as an expert on electronic cigarettes. The interviewer lobs her a series of highly loaded questions, all calculated to let her trot out the standard lines. “Targeted at children”, that sort of thing. She massively misrepresents propylene glycol as “something you’d find in a laboratory” rather than something you’d find in, you know, cakes and toothpaste. It’s a smear piece from start to finish.

So no, this is not an idealistic young researcher who’s uncovered something shocking. This is another anti-nicotine crusader whose first research project just coincidentally happened to back up her own prejudices. In other words it’s biased junk. And as it’s from California and about e-cigs, who’s surprised?

* – From the tobacco companies’ point of view a 30% market share is actually nothing short of a disaster. This figure only covers convenience stores, because that’s the only sales of e-cigs that are tracked in detail. So we’re talking about corner shops and petrol stations that have a case full of cigalikes beside the cigarette display, and maybe a few bottles of liquid – and they still get less than a third of sales. But where do most vapers buy their stuff? From a vape shop or online. And what percentage of those sales do Big Tobacco have? I’d be surprised if it was 5%.

This post was originally published on E-Cigs Plaza in January 2016, and is reposted here for historical interest.


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Trump, Brexit and childish politics – The centre cannot hold

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

– WB Yeats, The Second Coming

 

I’m no fan of Donald Trump. He’s not a good businessman, I don’t think he’ll be a good president and all the evidence points to him being a far from satisfactory human being. But is his election the end of the world? I very much doubt it. Once in office he’ll be hemmed in by all the machinery of government, not to mention a Congress dominated by a GOP that, fundamentally, doesn’t really like him very much. None of his wilder proposals are going to happen, and his foreign policy ideas are actually a lot less likely to trigger a major war than Hillary Clinton’s hyper-interventionism would have been. I’d rather see a POTUS who’s too friendly with Putin than one who thinks shooting down Russian warplanes in the airspace of a Russian ally is a sane move.

Oh yes; Hillary. The ultimate Washington insider, who got to be the Democratic candidate for no real reason beyond it being her turn. A woman who, more than anyone else in the USA, is a symbol of the political establishment. An increasingly hereditary establishment, at that; if she’d won then four of the last five US presidents would have been provided by just two families. Perhaps we should wonder why people called Bush or Clinton – and, previously, Kennedy – seem to have access to high-level politics that resembles that granted by North Korea to people called Kim.

Anyway, I don’t support Trump, but Trump won. And in June the UK voted to leave the European Union, largely thanks to years of work by UKIP’s Nigel Farage. I don’t support UKIP either, although I am on the Brexit side of that argument. Next March the Front National’s Marine Le Pen will almost certainly win the first round of the French presidential election, and she has a growing chance of taking the presidency itself. Needless to say, I don’t support the Front National. In Germany, where I actually live, Frauke Petry’s Alternative für Deutschland increased its vote share by 200% in the past year and has displaced the Greens as Germany’s third party. I don’t support AfD (but, if the growing lawlessness on the streets of German towns isn’t cracked down on very hard and very soon, I’m open to reconsidering that). All over the western world, anti-establishment parties are on the rise. Why?

The internet’s infantile meltdown

Twitter today has been, to put it mildly, agitated. There have been blizzards of recriminations, oceans of tears and a sort of background wail of hysterical over-reaction. I mean, really; if someone’s talking about suicide because a deeply flawed, immensely rich career politician didn’t win an election, their survival chances probably weren’t high to start with. If you’re announcing to the world that you don’t feel safe in America since Trump clinched the election, I just can’t take you seriously. Apart from anything else you weren’t safe in America anyway; it has rates of violent crime without equal anywhere else in the developed world.

The other thing I’ve seen on Twitter today is a staggering level of racism unleashed by the Trump victory. Well of course. Trump was the racism candidate, right?

Oh wait.

racism

Reverse racism? No, just racism

There’s tons of this shit. Thousands of tweets. A massive flood of racism directed against white people. And however annoyed you might be about the result, this is not okay. Someone who says “I hate white people” is every bit as much a repulsive piece of shit – and every bit as much a racist – as someone who says “I hate brown people”.

Now, I realise that a lot of keyboard warriors are going to disagree with that. I’ve heard all the arguments about how it’s impossible to be racist against the majority ethnic group – and I don’t buy any of them. Racism is disliking or discriminating against someone because of their race, and if you don’t like white people you’re a racist. It’s that simple, and no amount of linguistic contortions will get you out of it. You may not like that, but it’s a fact.

Here’s another fact you’re not going to like: The prevalence, and acceptance by a significant minority of the population, of absurd bullshit like “You can’t be racist against white people” is why Trump won. If you’ve spent the last six months yelling that anyone who believes there are only two genders is a bigot, or that everything bad in the world is the fault of white people, you were working for the Trump campaign. Congratulations; the candidate you were helping got elected.

I don’t doubt for a moment that every racist in the USA voted for Trump. However that does not mean that everyone who voted for him is a racist. Not even everyone who voted for him because of his views on immigration is a racist. Being concerned about high levels of immigration is not a racist viewpoint; it’s actually the majority view in almost every country. Most people don’t mind sharing their society with incomers of different backgrounds, but they don’t want it to be changed by those incomers. And that’s reasonable. I’ve spent years in the Middle East and Asia, and I know what some of the societies that exist there are like. Making my own society even slightly more like those ones is something I am vehemently opposed to, because I don’t like those other societies or the cultural values that have made them what they are.

Wait, what? I don’t like the cultural values many recent immigrants bring with them? That must make me a racist, right? This is where it gets awkward. Because if the fact I think women, atheists and gays are human beings with the same rights as anyone else makes me some kind of right-wing extremist, I’m not actually going to lose any sleep over that.

Crying Wolf

Hillary Clinton’s supporters, and Bernie Sanders’s as well, used exactly the same tactics as the Remain campaign used in the UK early this summer: They poured out an endless stream of toxic effluent that could have been custom designed to alienate the very people whose votes they needed. Instead of listening to the concerns expressed by many, they simply screeched that those concerns were racist/transphobic/”problematic”/whatever and that anyone who had them was deplorable.

Racists really are deplorable, but the political left has splashed the accusation around so freely and indiscriminately that it doesn’t actually mean anything any more. The same applies to lots of other accusations of prejudice. There was a minor internet kerfuffle recently when some moron accused anyone who wouldn’t have a relationship with a trans person of being transphobic. This is so absurd that it shouldn’t even need a rebuttal. Yes, I’m sure some of those who wouldn’t date a trans person are transphobic, but most are not. Perhaps they just want a partner who’s biologically capable of bearing or fathering their children. It might even be as simple as a preference for a girlfriend who doesn’t have a penis, or a boyfriend who does. That’s purely a matter of personal taste; it certainly isn’t transphobia, and by claiming it is you just devalue the term. Oh, and make yourself look stupid.

For at least a decade and a half the left, at least in the UK and USA, has not engaged in political debate. Instead it’s tried to shut down debate by abusing and intimidating any dissenters into silence. It hasn’t worked, and it was never going to work. When you call the BNP anti-muslim extremists people will look at them, agree and support you – but if you call Maajid Nawaz an anti-muslim extremist people will just think you’re a twat.

Guess what? They’ll be right.

Playtime’s over

Politics is adult business, but for far too long, far too many people have behaved like children – screaming, throwing tantrums, and breaking their toys when they don’t get what they want. It needs to stop. Many on the left – and a few on the right; let’s not get too smug here – need to regain contact with reality. For too long, politics has been dominated by the concept of a centre-left consensus that never actually existed. It just appeared to exist, because anyone who dared to disagree with it was shouted down.

But the once-silent majority of ordinary, small-c conservative and largely decent people are tired of being shouted at, and they’ve started to push back. You can try to re-engage with them, understand their concerns and treat them as fellow humans, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them. Or you can dial up the shrieks of “Racists! Fascists!! Stupid white people!!!” by another few hundred decibels. What do you think is most likely to win back their votes?

Yes, I said “Win back their votes”. The Brexit referendum was won because an awful lot of working-class, mainly northern Labour voters were fed up being told that everything they value is evil, stupid and wrong. As US election data emerges, it seems that Trump was pushed to victory by white voters who backed Obama in 2008 and 2012. Did they become racist because Obama was so terrible? I doubt it.

Obama hasn’t been an impressive president, but he’s not really been a bad one either. I was glad he beat McCain in 2008, because the alternative would have put Sarah Palin one heart palpitation away from the Oval Office. I was glad he beat Romney in 2012, because something in me screams at the thought of a president who believes in magic underwear. I don’t think the Obama administration will be looked back on with any great enthusiasm. Equally, though, the fact he was elected twice shows that America isn’t exactly the hateful, racist hellhole that the internet has spent all day telling me it is.

Protest works both ways

In the final analysis I don’t think many people voted for Trump. I suspect most of his electors voted against Clinton. High stakes for a protest vote? Perhaps. Personally I’d much rather have seen Gary Johnson win. But the demos is fickle and, when it decided it was time to smash the political establishment’s head in, Trump was the baseball bat it reached for. I doubt the orange one will be elected for a second term, and in fact I hope he isn’t. I hope that by 2020 the Republicans will have found a candidate who’s not either a religious maniac or a blundering idiot, and the Democrats will have turned up one who hasn’t elevated “progressive” dogma to a religion in its own right. Even better, perhaps the American people will be fed up enough of both traditional parties to elect a libertarian and finally make the USA as free as it always proclaims itself to be.

In the meantime we’ll have President Trump, and for better or worse we all need to accept that and get on with life. By all means campaign against his policies; most of them are nonsense anyway, and richly deserve protest. Go right ahead and work to get someone else elected in 2020. It’s even fine and honourable to take to the streets in protest if he tries to violate the rights of people in the USA or abroad.

But don’t indulge yourselves in the sort of endless petulant wailing that the die-hard Remainers have made Britain so thoroughly sick of. Don’t make fools of yourselves with cretinous, virtue-signalling hashtags like #notmypresident (Newsflash: The law says he is). Don’t protest against the fact of his election, because that’s how democracy works – the other side are allowed to win, too. And most of all, don’t spend the next four years shrieking “Racist! Fascist! White people!” at everyone who voted for him. You tried that already, and look what happened.

Yes, Trump’s an obnoxious idiot; but if you say things like “safe space”, “microaggression” and “cisgender” with a straight face, it’s your fault he got elected – because normal people are sick of your bullshit. Take responsibility for that, and learn from it, or your future will contain days a lot worse than today. Because if you keep telling ordinary people that they’re fascists, eventually they’ll believe you. Then, when a real fascist candidate comes along and offers to represent them, they will elect him. And that will be your fault too.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?