Posts by author:

Maria

This piece is a guest-post from Major Richard Streatfeild (retd)

Rifleman Jamie Davis served with A Company 4Rifles in Iraq in 2007 and Afghanistan and 2009/10. In Afghanistan he lived for 5 months in a small patrol base with his platoon and members of the Afghan Army; initially under constant attack and thereafter never far from the threat of rockets, grenades or roadside bombs. He was, I think, the last Rifleman in A Company to be injured in Afghanistan, taking frag from a ricochet in the leg. Jamie was made for the front row of the scrum, and I suspect it was where he was most at home, both in stature and character. He was never the fastest mover, but he kept going, until now.

Jamie was at the point of the tip of the spear in Afghanistan in 2010; treating wounded children, witness and aid to his comrades rendered both limbless and lifeless, and in one case being on the casualty evacuation of his own section commander. I remember him as stalwart of his platoon, the Battalion Rugby team and the Naafi. Loyal, dogged, selfless, self-effacing, courageous, determined, hearty, reliable, brave, honest, and cheery, he served both in Iraq and Afghanistan at a time when those operations were at their most difficult and dangerous. He leaves behind a wife and two sons who are very much in our thoughts and we pray for some comfort in their grief.

On the weekend of 12 Jan 2020, Jamie took his own life. Ten years on I hope I can still just about speak for the company he served in. We still recognise and appreciate the fortitude and good humour with which Jamie faced the dangers of operations and the value of his service. We mourn his passing and remember that he was once amongst the bravest of the brave – once a true British Lion.

Jamie is now the fourth “Rifleman” from A Company from my two years in command ten years ago to have died at home, not abroad, in similar tragic circumstances. Almost as many as we lost there, a figure that is fast becoming a stain on post operational care. Our regiment, the army, the NHS, and our government; all seemingly at a loss to identify those at risk, treat them and ultimately to prevent these deaths. The limits of helplines; of instructions to ‘reach out’; of “ten tips to top mental health” have been cruelly exposed, once again. The system; and by that I mean the army – for those still serving – the department for Veterans affairs for those who have left, must dedicate time and manpower to find those who have been exposed to trauma, screen everyone on a routine basis and treat those who need it. Suicide has become when, not if. Not only could it happen to anyone, it will happen to someone. Jamie’s death is a tragedy amid a scandal.

[click to continue…]

{ 8 comments }

Redemption Arc

by Maria on November 30, 2019

In June last year I gave a talk at a prize launch in Cambridge. Afterwards, I talked to a young man called Jack Merritt. Clever, energetic, and idealistic in the best possible sense, he said he was involved in some kind of criminal justice project and would like to talk more about it. I didn’t quite catch what it was about but handed over my card. A week later, an invitation arrived to speak at an event he was running in the autumn. The topic was to be something about technology and justice. Jack mentioned a piece I’d written about the Internet of Things and wondered if I could do something similar, but for his audience, a mix of current and recently released prisoners taking part in an education scheme run by Cambridge University. The project was called Learning Together. It gets university students and prisoners to study criminology together, and it’s based on reciprocity and respect.

I’ve always believed in the principle of rehabilitation, of course. Sorrow, regret, forgiveness, redemption; if we don’t practice these things individually we can’t live collectively in safety and in hope. Looking at the website, it was just the sort of project we need to have and should hope people are there to run. But I had misgivings about my own moral position. Someone I love deeply had, not long before, been the victim of a serious criminal offence. The offender was now behind bars.

Some things cannot and must not be forgiven. They don’t ever go away. Trauma is outside of time. It is always now and it has always just happened, even as we learn to build more of ourselves around it to make it smaller. There is no tidy sequential way to process, resolve and forgive. It can never have not happened. We can never leave it behind. But nor can we live inside it daily and survive. I don’t know a way to wish wholeness to those who have done such wrongs and still be a person who willingly carries some of the pain of the person I love who was hurt. I carry that pain out of love and out of my own need, because it is what is given to me to do. I don’t have the right to forgive trespasses against others and nor do I want to.

And yet we cannot throw people away.

[click to continue…]

A cage went in search of a bird

by Maria on November 18, 2019

Publishing here my afterword for “2030, A New Vision for Europe”, the manifesto for European Data Protection Supervisor, Giovanni Buttarelli, who died this summer. The manifesto was developed by Christian D’Cunha, who works in the EDPS office, based on his many conversations with Giovanni.

“A cage went in search of a bird”

Franz Kafka certainly knew how to write a story. The eight-word aphorism he jotted down in a notebook a century ago reveals so much about our world today. Surveillance goes in search of subjects. Use-cases go in search of profit. Walled gardens go in search of tame customers. Data-extractive monopolies go in search of whole countries, of democracy itself, to envelop and re-shape, to cage and control. The cage of surveillance technology stalks the world, looking for birds to trap and monetise. And it cannot stop itself. The surveillance cage is the original autonomous vehicle, driven by financial algorithms it doesn’t control. So when we describe our data-driven world as ‘Kafka-esque’, we are speaking a deeper truth than we even guess.

Giovanni knew this. He knew that data is power and that the radical concentration of power in a tiny number of companies is not a technocratic concern for specialists but an existential issue for our species. Giovanni’s manifesto, Privacy 2030: A Vision for Europe, goes far beyond data protection. It connects the dots to show how data-maximisation exploits power asymmetries to drive global inequality. It spells out how relentless data-processing actually drives climate change. Giovanni’s manifesto calls for us to connect the dots in how we respond, to start from the understanding that sociopathic data-extraction and mindless computation are the acts of a machine that needs to be radically reprogrammed.

Running through the manifesto is the insistence that we focus not on Big Tech’s shiny promises to re-make the social contract that states seem so keen to slither out of, but on the child refugee whose iris-scan cages her in a camp for life. It insists we look away from flashy productivity Powerpoints and focus on the low-wage workers trapped in bullying drudgery by revenue-maximising algorithms. The manifesto’s underlying ethics insist on the dignity of people, the idea that we have inherent worth, that we live for ourselves and for those we love, and to do good; and not as data-sources to be monitored, monetised and manipulated.
[click to continue…]

Oops

by Maria on November 9, 2019

Historic apologies get a lot of pushback, both from those who point out that saying sorry only happens when everyone who did it is dead, and nothing is ever learned, and from the fundamentally unapologetic amongst history’s apparent winners. Apologising for something you’ve just done or are about to do takes a lot more guts. But I’ve been wondering over the past couple of weeks whether Brexit negotiations with Ireland especially, and with the rest of the EU would have gone differently if at the beginning of major speeches, press conferences and working meetings the UK interlocutors had had a policy of starting with something like’

“We’re sorry. We know you didn’t ask for Brexit and that it harms you and costs you. We’re still doing it, but we acknowledge and are sorry about its unasked for consequences for others.”

And then getting on with the business of the meeting. Of course, to even conceive of acknowledging the harm and cost of brexit to others would require fundamentally different people to have been in charge. But even the act of saying this might have changed the understanding of those imposing their harms on the rest of us, and would certainly have done a lot to make other countries and institutions want to play nice. We’re emotional creatures, at the end of the day, and it’s more than just manners to acknowledge the harm we cause to others. The life you save just might be your own, etc. etc.

George Monbiot writes movingly about how the habit of Britain’s (well, mostly England’s) upper middle and upper classes of sending their children to boarding school from the age of seven onward causes profound emotional damage and has created a damaged ruling class. He’s not the first to notice this. Virginia Woolf drew a very clear line between the brutalisation of little boys in a loveless environment and their assumption as adults into the brutal institutions of colonialism. It’s long been clear to many that the UK is ruled by many people who think their damage is a strength, and who seek to perpetuate it.

I was at a talk last week about psychoanalysis and The Lord of the Flies. The speaker convincingly argued that much of what happens in that story happens because most of the boys have been wrenched from solid daily love before they were old enough to recreate it. It’s a pretty compelling lens to see that novel through and it reminded me of a teaching experience from a couple of years ago.

I was teaching a post-grad course on politics and cybersecurity and did a lecture on the Leviathan and how its conception of the conditions that give rise to order embed some pretty strong assumptions about the necessity of coercion. Basically how if you’re the state and in your mind you’re fighting against the return of a persistent warre of all against all, your conception of human behaviour can lead you to over-react. Also some stuff about English history around the time of Hobbes. I may have included some stills from Game of Thrones. During the class discussion, one person from, uh, a certain agency, said that yes, he could see the downside, but that Hobbes was essentially how he viewed the world.

Listening again to the tale of sensible centrist Ralph, poor, benighted (but actually very much loved by his Aunty and from a solid emotional background) Piggy, the little uns, and the utter depravity of it all – and also having forgotten the chilling final scene where the naval officer basically tells Ralph he’s let himself down – something occurred to me.

Lord of the Flies is many people’s touchstone for what would happen if order goes away, even though we have some good social science and other studies about how, at least in the short to medium term, people are generally quite altruistic and reciprocally helpful in the aftermath of disaster. Lord of the Flies is assumed by many to be a cautionary tale about order and the state of nature, when in reality it’s the agonised working out of the unbearable fears of a group of systematically traumatised and loveless children.

Lord of the Flies isn’t an origin story about the human condition and the need for ‘strong’ states, though we treat it as such, but rather is a horror story about the specific, brutalised pathology of the English ruling class.

Meanwhile, what the grown-ups are doing

by Maria on September 24, 2019

As the UK’s Prime Minister has followed up his multiple parliamentary defeats with a devastating judgement by the Supreme Court on his honesty and competence today, an email from the Irish government popped into my in-box. Now, the Irish government is far, far from perfect, but this email is an example of the basic competence we expect from minimally adequate governments; it has informations about available resources and activities for businesses affected by Brexit.

Enterprise Ireland is encouraging businesses to step into new markets and ensure that their exports are sufficiently diversified. Find steps to support Irish companies here
The Construction Industry Stakeholder Forum took place last week, where discussion was held around no deal Brexit. Businesses manufacturing or using CE-marked construction products could be affected, learn more here
Free seminars on “Practical steps to keep agri-food trade moving” continue over the next week. Invaluable advice and information will be available at events in Wexford and Cork, further details below.
Panel discussions and engagements around Brexit were held in the Government of Ireland Village at the National Ploughing Championships, where thousands of the Getting your Business Brexit Ready – Practical Steps booklets were distributed.

It goes on in this vein with links to events, advice clinics and financial resources. I’ve been getting these emails for two years, now, and just wanted to post it here as a reminder of what governments are meant to do. Not lie and hide information about whether we’ll still have life-saving drugs, fresh food, access to markets or freedom of assembly.

Don’t get me wrong. Brexit is still all manner of cluster-f*ck for Ireland, and we won’t be offering more than the basic, self-serving cooperation to the UK any time, soon. But this is mitigation, folks. This is information. This is the minimum we should expect from an adequately functioning, medium-capacity late-capitalist state in the face of wholly man-made disaster.

This is your phone on feminism

by Maria on September 14, 2019

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk in Austria on smartphones and cybersecurity.

“Put up your hand if you like or maybe even love your smartphone,” I asked the audience of policymakers, industrialists and students.

Nearly every hand in the room shot up.

“Now, please put up your hand if you trust your smartphone.”

One young guy at the back put his hand in the air, then faltered as it became obvious he was alone. I thanked him for his honesty and paused before saying,“We love our phones, but we do not trust them. And love without trust is the definition of an abusive relationship.”

We are right not to trust our phones. They serve several masters, the least of whom is us. They constantly collect data about us that is not strictly necessary to do their job. They send data to the phone company, to the manufacturer, to the operating system owner, to the app platform, and to all the apps we use. And then those companies sell or rent that data to thousands of other companies we will never see. Our phones lie to us about what they are doing, they conceal their true intentions, they monitor and manipulate our emotions, social interaction and even our movements. We tell ourselves ‘it’s okay, I chose this’ when we know it really, really isn’t okay, and we can’t conceive of a way out, or even of a world in which our most intimate device isn’t also a spy.

Let’s face the truth. We are in an abusive relationship with our phones.

I ‘m really proud of this piece. The rest of it is here.

Comments here at CT v. welcome especially as there’s more I’d like to say about Kate Manne. Anyone here read ‘Down Girl, the Logic of Misogyny? Her thing is that while sexism is the rationalising part, misogyny is the law enforcement branch of patriarchy. (this is a scandalously short and impertinent summary. It’s a fantastic book and I recommend reading it.) I’m thinking that, analogously for surveillance capitalism, exploitation is the rationalisation and predation the policing mechanism. But not sure if that quite works, i.e. if the terms match up, as well as the overall analogy.

{ 35 comments }

I was at a bookish festival this weekend. (Thank you, lovely Primadonna. I hope you happen again next year.) Pretty frazzed between work trips (Austria last week. Kuwait tomorrow! Yay?), I ditched the festival schedule and largely let Milo’s nose decide which sessions we attended. Serendipity. Also; no pressure. These were my watchwords. We went from tent to barn to tent, not lingering too long. I had a sitdown in a tent with a sign-up for what I thought was ‘read the first paragraph of your work in progress’. Great! I signed up, popped out with Milo to get some water for him, then came back. Turned out it was not a ‘haltingly read your tender first lines’ session but … stand-up.

No pressure.
[click to continue…]

Giovanni Buttarelli

by Maria on August 22, 2019

A few years ago I was on a panel about the Internet of Things. There were five of us, plus the moderator, sitting in a line across the stage of the Brussels convention centre; reps from Google and, I think, a big Korean chaebol, Giovanni Buttarelli, the European Data Protection Supervisor, Wojciech Wiewiórowski the Assistant European Data Protection Supervisor (though he might have still been the Polish DPC at that point), and me. I was there – I think – because the moderator knew me and I can usually be relied upon in these situations to stir a little, but not too much.

It all took a while to get going because Google, a major sponsor, took some of the allotted time to screen a video about how the Internet of Things would also include the Internet of Clothes, and how this would be great for Europeans because the ‘smart’ fabrics in question were hand-woven French jacquard. The infomercial was followed by a lengthy and remarkably self-serving presentation from the Google executive, and we all had to sit up on the stage looking interested for a good fifteen or twenty minutes. Finally, the panel-proper began and our moderator lobbed a softball for each of us to answer in turn.

Everyone was quite measured and politely took their cue from the Google framing, which was that Europe needed to ‘focus on innovation’, ‘provide an enabling regulatory environment’, and basically make the Single Market safe for surveillance capitalism. What none of us realised was that once the video had finished screening behind us, it had been replaced by a live Twitter feed which the now quite grumpy audience was quickly populating with dissent. We on the stage couldn’t read the sarcasm and frustration that had filled up the hashtag, so when it came to my turn and I let rip a quick but genuinely exasperated little monologue that ended with a rhetorical question about how we data-subjects would even afford to buy smart things after we’d all been automated out of existence, the applause and even a few whoops took us all by surprise.

Giovanni caught my eye and grinned. Anyone, and I mean anyone, in receipt of a smile like that – loaded as it was with canniness, grace, deep and multiply enfolded intelligence, and sheer downright mirth – would walk a long way to see it again.

[click to continue…]

Friend of CT, Andrew Brown, dug this memo out on the occasion of the 30th birthday of the World Wide Web, a few weeks ago.

This memo was sent in June 1994 to Sergio Cellini, who was, iirc, the chief advertising man at the Independent then. I was both the religious affairs correspondent and the editor of a weekly computer page.

It was headed “Cheap advertising for the paper: outmanoevering[1] the Guardian”

The Guardian is vigorously attacking the market for science and computer journalism.

Amongst other things, it has formed a link with Compuserve, the largest commercial provider of electronic information to home computers in the world. Compuserve has more than 2m customers and is growing fast. Any of these will be able to read selected articles from the Guardian, write to specialists there, and talk amongst each other.

We can’t afford the investment of time or money to do that.[2] But we can be smarter.

I propose that we experiment in distributing a weekly edition of the paper [3] over the Internet, a global computer network with at least 20m users, of whom 30,000 are in this country. It is possible to rent space on a sort of electronic billboard for less than
£75 a month.[4] That amount of space would enable us to make available practically the whole text of a whole week’s newspaper if we wanted to. I propose instead that we simply put together a sampler of interesting and amusing articles each week, perhaps
with some of our better photographs.[5]

This would be accessible from almost anywhere in the world for the price of a local phone call.

It would be much easier to read and more attractive to look at than whatever the
Guardian does with the relatively archaic technology offered by Compuserve. It would, however, be entirely separate from the paper’s own computer systems, so that there could be no security risk.

Unlike Compuserve, the Internet is not commercial. It is not even an organisation. It is a loose global association of co-operating networks, most of which were developed to link universities, using Government funding. Until recently it was extraordinarily
difficult for amateurs to use. However, a new program called the World Wide Web makes the Internet astonishingly easy and simple to navigate.

Demon Systems, who are the most successful suppliers of Internet services to the consumer market in this country, have just started to rent out “Pages” on the World Wide Web. We could have one running within four days[6] of a decision, for a £50 set-up fee and a modest monthly rental. As things stand at present, we would make no money, except indirectly. But Demon are working on ways to do business over the Internet in future, so that browsers could fill in a form on-screen and order back issues, or other merchandise, from us using their credit cards.[7]

In the meantime, we would be given a weekly report on how many people accessed the service, which would give us a clear idea of how large the potential market is.

Obviously all newspaper will have to move into this sort of market eventually. Doing it through Demon now allows us to do so quickly, cheaply,and flexibly.

[1] I still can’t spell that word
[2] These were the long years of the Independent’s commercial retreat
[3] I dunno: maybe call it “The Guardian Weekly” or something like that.
[4] This is hard to believe, but I will have checked the figure with Demon. In retrospect it is unlikely they had anything like the capacity.
[5] Might actually have been feasible, since we printed in black and white
[6] The old Indie had put together a printed Saturday godslot in three days from when I put the idea to Andreas WS (without having commissioned anyone, so that was fun). The Guardian, fifteen years later, took nine months to build a section of Comment is Free, web only, for religious matters.
[7] Though this was sent to the advertising manager, the idea that we could sell ads on the web had not occurred to anyone. The paper was to be an advertisement for itself

Late to a really great party

by Maria on April 4, 2019

Book thread: Henry’s yesterday about Linda Nagata also mentioned Robert Charles Wilson’s ‘Spin’, a thoroughly brilliant novel I feel like the last person in the world to have read. Mysteriously, an unread copy of it had been shuttling back and forward between my ‘shelve’ and ‘chuck’ piles – neither Ed nor I had bought it. I picked it up last month and my delight in reading it was only very slightly marred by a wish that I’d read it long ago, especially before other books that are essentially paler versions. That reminded me of one of my aunts who pressed Middlemarch on me when I was 18. For reasons I can’t defend, I only actually read the book at about 40. Greater regrets with this one, because it really does feel like one of those books you read repeatedly through life, concentrating on or being open to different aspects corresponding to how we all change and grow. (and also shrink)

Then I’m reminded of a very dear friend who’d never read a Russian novel. Oh, the evenings we spent, asking ‘But Anna Karenina, you must have read that? No? Really none? How about Crime and Punishment?” Then a couple of years ago it turned out he’d gone away in between times and has basically now read every classic Russian novel ever translated into English.

So, shoot. What books have you resisted for years, that turned out to be just as brilliant as everyone had said?

Three things have made me think about why the way we do policy is wrong; the European Parliament passed the Copyright Directive, privileging IP over everyone else and locking in the current Big Tech players it affected to despise; climate breakdown rumbled on through a wave of public protests with no meaningful way to connect public concern to parliamentary processes and build in future harms to present decisions; and it emerged that more than one new housing development around where I live have ‘playground apartheid’, where kids living in the less expensive apartments aren’t allowed to play in the parks being created.

I was really, really, really not going to write about this as I finally have some energy and emotional wherewithal to crack into a shedload of deadlines, but then Chris Marsden – who you should follow if you’re interested in tech – tweeted this:

“Because @Europarl_EN is abolishing the future, I thought I’d time travel back to when we thought evidence based policy was worth a try”

And of course Chris is right. We are abolishing the future. Our policy processes are broken not just horizontally – they privilege lobbyists over citizens for reasons anyone who’s ever heard of a collective action problem will understand – but temporally. [click to continue…]

At least you can leave

by Maria on January 31, 2019

London is the city of leaving do’s. There’s a real push on to get out before it all gets worse. This morning I was chatting with a Swedish friend who leaves on Tuesday, telling her how much freer and more energetic she’ll feel once she’s not carrying around the mental load of daily FUD that comes from just living here, now. My friend cut across the faux cheery bullshit and said “I don’t feel safe here, any more. There’s no limit to what they can do.”

There’s a conversation I’ve had with several British friends. We’ll all be moaning about Brexit affecting us and how the UK’s dysfunctional politics means there is no way to express this electorally, and then they’ll say; “But you’re lucky. At least you can leave.” [click to continue…]

A bridge not far enough

by Maria on November 18, 2018

Yesterday I took part in an act of civil disobedience, helping to close off one of five central London bridges as part of Extinction Rebellion. The campaign takes the view of a couple of the books discussed recently here on CT, that at some point the ‘get out of jail free’ clause on principled political disobedience rises to the level of positive moral obligation; the urgency and devastation of climate change are so severe, and normal politics so unable to conceive of what’s needed, let alone do much or any of it, that blocking streets and other forms of nonviolent escalation are now essential.

On one level, it was just the same as every other protest; make a sign for the dog, stuff my pockets with poo-bags, and be sure not to drink too much beforehand. It was clear once I got onto the bridge – which was already blocked to traffic – that if you wanted to risk arrest you should sit in the road; otherwise you could just show support for those being arrested. There were the usual speeches, singing, drumming, chatting, getting Milo to pose for pictures with people, and even a woman playing the cello. It was pretty white, though with a strong Swampy contingent, a couple of whom had several arrests behind them and were looking at a custodial sentence if they were arrested again.

I stayed on the footpath, cheering for those arrested. But I felt uneasy about it and still do. And uneasy that I feel so anxious about rule-breaking – to the point where, when I was going home, I made sure to thank the police. (For some reason, the bridge I was on had six times the arrests of the next most numerous one.) It’s nice on one level, because it was a well-policed event with no aggro I could discern. But it’s also such a middle class white lady protestor thing to want to do, standing around with my cute dog and his cute sign, wanting everyone to be happy, especially in a country where policing is unequal and often vicious. Even this morning I have that emotional hangover from when you’ve gone a bit far in a political argument and, while winning, have squashed the other person a bit too much.

The reasons I went to do mild civil disobedience were what I’d read here from Chris et al on positive obligation, and also having noticed a week or two ago that a senior Church of England churchman was involved. Reading that back, I see I’ve become such an upstanding churchlady goody two shoes that I want to slap myself! Then I think, well, nothing political or structural gets done without massive, unlikely coalitions. So I just need to get over the fact that now, yes, I’m a mid-forties person who’s now on the distinctly establishment end of the rainbow. It’s a good thing – if galling, I’m sure – that the complacents like me are finally starting to get the message, but God knows we don’t deserve any medals for finally turning up.

There were people there who basically live on fracking protest sites or who have been activists for decades. It occurred to me this morning (yes, in church and no, I don’t know why I’m so sheepish about this, either) that those protestors are like the disciples who heard the New Testament firsthand, took it at face value and then did the only thing they could – tore up their lives to go out and re-make the world in the image of what they believed to be true. Success or failure didn’t matter. If you believed it was what it said it was and followed the logic of it through, there was no alternative but to spend the rest of your life proselytising in a hair-shirt, penniless and relying on the hospitality of others.

The same is true for climate change, obviously. Its severity and urgency and the sheer evil of how we are sliding into it demand that we tear our lives up to try to stop or at least slow it down. But in the same way that every religion gets softened because doing what it actually says on the tin is clearly unreasonable (i.e. incompatible with living comfortably), on climate change we’re still acting as if incremental change is a reasonable response to imminent catastrophe. (Or maybe the rationalisation is the implicit belief that the catastrophe will mostly happen to other people?)

The difference between the radicalisms called for by Christianity and climate change is this; the second coming is highly unlikely (at least), but climate catastrophe is both imminent and already here. We know it is coming, but we are still waiting to be forced by immediate circumstance into a radicalism we feel in our bones is essential right now. When the disaster finally comes to us, some part or number of us will finally embrace it with grateful relief. But till then, many are screaming into the void. Stopping a bit of traffic is the very, very, very least we can do. And no, it is not and will never have been enough.

A friend I called into on the way couldn’t come till later, and by then the bridge was blocked off to other protestors. She stood at the barricade explaining to people who wanted to cross Lambeth Bridge what the demonstration was about and asking them if, now they knew, they felt it was justified. Most of them did, once they thought about it. Maybe they won’t join any future ones, and probably it will be too late, but I think my friend certainly did more for the cause than I did, yesterday.

I will say, though, that by far the best bit was when I was walking along the Albert Embankment and a young man in a suit, driving a very large Mercedes which had just been turned away from the blocked bridge, was screaming out his opened window. Some tourists turned to see what he was about and he roared at them to “Shower, you cunts!”. Result.

Owning the Peanut Gallery

by Maria on September 23, 2018

https://twitter.com/henryfarrell/status/1043306749854449664

Ted Cruz has been accused of debating Beto O’Rourke in the style of a US college debater, more concerned with winning points than hearts. Twas ever thus.

In the autumn of 1992 I turned up at McGill University, Montreal. I’d wanted to go to France on Erasmus but didn’t qualify. One of my uncles, an economist at UCD, had cast around his desk for a flyer or a phone number, I don’t remember which. He named some other places, then Montreal, which we remembered was in Quebec, where two Belfast cousins had settled some time after my grandmother’s family took them in during the war. One of those cousins, Sean, still lived in Montreal, and was a pathologist at the university. His brother, the novelist Brian Moore, had written a novel about Jesuits in Algonquin that had been made into a film the year before, and featured a scene still etched in my memory of a cute, skinny young priest trying to maintain his dignity as he curled out a shit over the side of a long canoe, to the merriment of the First Nations guys rowing it. That was the clincher, so to speak.

In the first week at McGill, I auditioned for a play and tried out for the debate team. I was cast as a pillar in a Greek drama (no, I don’t know how that would have worked, either), and sent to represent McGill at a novice’s tournament in Bates College, Maine. Debating it was, then.

College debating in Ireland was just free entertainment on a Thursday or Friday night, with speakers prowling the pit of the merely medium-sized Theatre M, throwing out gags and being heckled viciously by what we then called friends, and what I now know were more like colleagues, the hacks in the box at the very top. There were often name-brand invited speakers, usually treated a little more respectfully, but only up to a point and the point was to be either masterful or entertaining, and ideally both. [click to continue…]