What DC Comics Are Good Right Now?

Sep. 19th, 2017 08:24 pm
[syndicated profile] andrew_hickey_feed

Posted by Andrew Hickey

Longtime readers may remember I used to be a comics blogger (and in fact I’m planning on posting a comic review tonight). But I’ve not posted much about comics in the last few years, largely because DC Comics’ Flashpoint and New 52 basically destroyed my interest in their line, and the DC superhero universe was the thing that kept me in the weekly comics-shopping habit. I still go and buy monthlies semi-regularly, but I’ve rather got out of the loop.

However, I’m told that in the last few months, DC has actually done some pretty decent comics, so for those who are following them — what comics are they doing now that I should be reading?

[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Krissy and I are playing hooky today because we’re going to the Alison Moyet concert in Chicago, which necessitated a bit of a drive. Well, we’re here now, and the view from the hotel is lovely, nary a parking lot in sight. How is your day?

non-binding poll

Sep. 19th, 2017 02:53 pm
yhlee: heptagon and flame (mirrorweb) (hxx emblem Liozh)
[personal profile] yhlee
Because I realized there's no point in my writing prequel-to-hexarchate (or even prequel-to-heptarchate [1]) stories about all-new characters if nobody wants to read about all-new characters in the story collection. :]

[1] I had this great idea about the heptarchate's founding but.

NOTE: I make no guarantees.

Poll #18837 hexarchate story collection
Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 8

What *existing* characters would you like to see more stories about?

View Answers

Shuos Jedao
3 (37.5%)

Kel Cheris
6 (75.0%)

Shuos Mikodez
5 (62.5%)

Kel Brezan
3 (37.5%)

Kel Khiruev
5 (62.5%)

Andan Niath
0 (0.0%)

Nirai Kujen
3 (37.5%)

mystery POV #1 from Revenant Gun that Yoon evilly refuses to divulge
3 (37.5%)

servitor POV #2 from Revenant Gun
4 (50.0%)

someone else that I will mention in comments
0 (0.0%)

ticky the tookie tocky
4 (50.0%)

[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

Comparing their first Liberal Democrat conference speech as leader shows up an important difference of approach between Vince Cable and Tim Farron.

Tim Farron’s autumn 2015 speech was the emotional crowd pleaser:

It was a classic Tim Farron speech, which I do not mean completely as a compliment given his speech making very rarely involved saying anything that anyone in the audience would disagree with. That was a point perceptively highlighted by Jonathan Calder back in 2011 was he (Tim, not Jonathan) was rising to the position of ‘next leader’:

My impression of Tim is that he is very good at saying things people agree with. So in Cumbria he is against second homes and in favour of farming subsidies and Kendal mint cake.

And he is just as good at convincing party audiences that he is on their side too…

Now that Tim Farron is being spoken of as a possible party leader, he needs to risk the odd unpopular speech. Someone in that class cannot always be telling people what they want to hear.

As I added at the time:

There’s certainly a role for funny and uplifting speeches, but I always think it is a real shame if all someone giving speeches ever says are things everyone would have thought before hearing any of their speeches – especially if the speech giver is as gifted an orator as Tim. Simply telling people what they already thought is a waste of the opportunity given to you when you have a room or hall full of people looking your way and listening.

Providing people with new information or new perspectives is one way of taking that opportunity, but so too is telling people things they didn’t agree with at the start of your speech.

Certain as leader Farron went on to often make comments on Europe and on refugees, in particular, which those outside the party hated. But even on those issues, the desire not to say what an audience would not like tempted him into describing himself as a bit of a Eurosceptic in the middle of an election campaign based on the party’s pro-European position.

All the more so for speeches aimed primarily at Lib Dems. They were almost always (save for his forthright and effective intervention to help see through the introduction of all-women shortlists) unchallenging to the internal party audience. He told us what we liked to hear rather than challenged us to think harder: comfort food for the liberal soul – brilliantly cooked, but not challenging the party very much to think different or think better.

His answer to the party’s predicament was, essentially energy, enthusiasm and motivation. In many ways that was the right fit for his time as President and nor was it a bad fit for the immediate aftermath of 2015. And it went with getting the big call – what to say the weekend after the European referendum – right.

Where it showed its limitations was over, for example the vexed question of whether the party should defend its record in Coalition or try to move on from it. Clear lines on tough choices like that were not the staple of his speeches.

Which brings us to Vince Cable’s debut this week in Bournemouth. Not delivered with quite the same verbal panache as Tim Farron’s speeches, this was, however, in a way an advantage as it sort to paint a different, more serious, picture of leader and party.

It also gave a hint of some more challenging times to come. The references to improving the party’s record on diversity; to returning to work out what the party does on tuition fees; to casting the party’s post-18 education policy net wider, incorporating support for those who go for further education or further learning much later in life rather than just university students; to talking about taxing wealth more heavily – all these are references which when worked out into substantive detail are likely to provoke much more debate and policy arguments than any of Tim Farron’s policy initiatives.

If Tim Farron’s answer to the party’s predicament in 2015 was to inspire us to get back up and working, Vince Cable’s answer to the party’s 2017 predicament is to set some tough political problems to crack. Different times, different solutions.


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Ain’t this a bio?

Sep. 19th, 2017 06:42 pm
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Jon Bloomfield is an Honorary Research Fellow at
the University of Birmingham and a policy
specialist on Europe. For ten years he was Head of
Birmingham City Council’s European Division;
then responsible for European affairs at the West
Midlands Regional Development Agency.
Currently, he advises Europe’s largest climate
change programme. Previously he was on the
Editorial board of Marxism Today and a supporter
of Charter 77.

Having done nothing useful all his life he’d like to pontificate……

Basically, four broad options are available to
the country: the hard Right’s favourite of the
UK as a lightly-regulated, offshore tax haven
to Europe with a renewed, subordinate
relationship with the United States; reversing
the referendum decision now, as argued by
some; a go-it-alone ‘Keynesianism/socialism
in one country’, favoured by the nationalist
Left; or a new cooperation arrangement
between the UK and the European Union,
colloquially referred to as ‘soft Brexit’. This
article examines those options and argues from
a Left-wing perspective the case for the latter.

Rilly? I’ve spent my life having meetings about the EU. Lord forbid that spending a life having meetings about the EU should stop being a well paid profession.

Difference of Mind

Sep. 19th, 2017 02:18 pm
supergee: (neuro)
[personal profile] supergee
SFWA list of sf books with neuroatypical characters.
[syndicated profile] liberal_bureaucracy_feed

Posted by Mark Valladares

So, having vented my spleen just a little, one does have to move on. And I have an idea, in that I have an interesting platform as a member of FIRC (which does, now I think of it, have the ring of a group of shadowy figures bent on world domination). After all, I have notional credibility as a commentator on international affairs in the Party.

Why not write a motion on something that interests me then?

That something is intervention abroad, what criteria should be applied, what changes to governance are necessary and how might they be resourced. More than a decade ago, I came up with a similar document for Americans for Democratic Action, albeit a much simpler one than I'd want now, which laid down the core criteria for intervention in the internal affairs of other sovereign states.

Now, before you reach for your smelling salts, dear reader, I'm not a natural interventionist. More harm has been done in recent years by botched interventions in the affairs of countries such as Iraq, Libya and Syria than could be stated in a simple blog entry, yet as a country which still has a reputation for decency and fair play, we could play a valuable role in world trouble spots.

So, I welcome any suggestions of people I should talk to, or ideas that might be added. Think of it as an informal policy working group with an unusually narrow focus.

And now, time to read the drafting guidance for policy motions as produced by Federal Conference Committee...
[syndicated profile] tim_worstall_feed

Posted by Tim Worstall

Anti-Fascists Used Twitter To Find A Neo-Nazi Walking Around Seattle And Beat Him Up

So, idiot wandering around Seattle wearing swastika armband, mouthing off at people. Twitter antifa vigilantes track him down on the street then celebrate as he’s punched out.

The person using the @teethnclaws account asked not to be identified, citing concerns over his personal safety. He said he wasn’t aware of who actually threw the punch, but credits anti-fascist Twitter networks for making it happen.

“I would say that we successfully identified, tracked and coordinated to neutralize a clear and present danger to Seattle. Whether we coordinated the actual punch or not,” he said, “I, for one, applaud the anonymous hero.”

@teethnclaws described himself as an active anti-fascist fighter for the last 20 years and said that the punch in Seattle was the coordinated effort of “horizontal organizing between concerned neighbors.” He said nobody knows who threw the punch and that he wouldn’t help anyone find out.

“When anti-fascists, casual or organized, have their identity broadcast they are put in extreme danger,” he said.

So, pretty clear case of assault (dunno, do the Americans use GBH, ABH?) and conspiracy to perhaps.

Someone is going to jail for this, right? Like, at least, the person who threw the punch? Because it’s not clever, sensible nor even polite to wander around Seattle mouthing off while wearing a swastika armband. But it is also legally going about ones’ personal business and as such merits the full protection of the law. Because that’s how the law works – or at least should do.

And if a jury wants to nullify then that’s up to a jury but the case should still be brought.

Pluto's posse

Sep. 16th, 2017 10:07 pm
[syndicated profile] badastronomy_feed

Posted by Phil Plait

For 85 years, Pluto was pretty much a featureless dot.

Oh sure, some observations, particularly using Hubble, mapped out very broad regions, not much more than brighter and dimmer blotches*. But when the New Horizons space probe flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, suddenly the tiny dot became a world.


New Horizons revealed plains and canyons, craters and mountains, and a passel of other weird features, too. Keeping them all straight as they were rapidly discovered was hard, so the planetary scientists on the New Horizons team gave them nicknames, with a theme of using the names of explorers, people related to the discovery and observation of Pluto, and different mythologies of the underworld (in keeping with the name Pluto itself). These were unofficial, and, in fact, it became a little bit of a joke during the flyby press conferences for scientists to mention that, since they had to say it every time.

But now, after more than two years, 14 of those names have become official. The New Horizons team proposed these names to the International Astronomical Union, the keepers of official cosmic names (among other duties), who mulled them over and have now approved them.

New features have been named on Pluto, based on the unofficial names used by the New Horizons team, many suggested by the public. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Ross Beyer

New features have been named on Pluto, based on the unofficial names used by the New Horizons team, many suggested by the public. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Ross Beyer


Some of the names include Tombaugh Regio, Pluto’s “heart,” a huge bright region nearly 1600 km across. It’s named after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. The left “lobe” of the heart is Sputnik Planitia, named after the Sputnik satellite, the first satellite ever launched into orbit by humans.

There’s Hillary Montes and Tenzing Montes, mountains named after the first two people known to have climbed to the very peak of Mount Everest and returned back down safely. There are other features named after underworld mythologies of the Inuit (Adlivun Cavus), Greek (Tartarus Dorsa), medieval Norwegians (Sleipnir Fossa), and aboriginal Australians (Djanggawul Fossae), which is very cool, and even two spacecraft that explored the solar system (Voyager Terra and Hayabusa Terra).

I think my favorite of them all is Burney Crater, named after Venetia Burney. After Tombaugh discovered this new world in 1930, Burney — 11 at the time  — suggested calling it Pluto. Her father sent a note to astronomers, who liked it (especially since the first two letters of Pluto, PL, were the initials of Percival Lowell, the eccentric astronomer who funded the search for a new planet that led to Tombaugh’s discovery).

It’s nice that the IAU decided to make these 14 names official. I don’t envy their next task: There are hundreds of features on Pluto that still need designations. The New Horizons team plans on proposing many more (many of which were also named by the public, incidentally, which is pretty nifty). I hope they get approved, too.

But I do have another hope. Charon, Pluto’s oversized moon, was also mapped in detail, and the features there were given somewhat more, um, fanciful names. So we have the craters Organa and Skywalker. They sit not too far from the crater Vader, which is near Ripley Crater (which itself is split by the Nostromo Chasma). There’re also the craters Kirk, Spock, Uhura, and Sulu; chasms (still unofficially, mind you) named Serenity and Tardis; a highland named Oz; and an area called Gallifrey (I'll note, back on Pluto, there's also Cthulhu Regio). And, of course, there’s also the large, dark, reddish region around Charon’s north pole called Mordor Macula.

If they ever do, it may still take some time for the IAU to make these official, and that’s totally understandable. After all …

… one does not simply walk into naming Mordor Macula.

 * Not to downplay those observations; they were cutting-edge for the time, and very difficult to obtain. They wound up mapping to real features, too, indicating they were accurate.


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[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

Here’s what Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable (nearly) had to say in his first speech to party conference since succeeding Tim Farron. (My analysis is over here.)

It is with a real sense of pride that I stand before you as leader of the Liberal Democrats.

First of all, I’d like to put on record my thanks to my predecessor, Tim Farron. He hands over a party, which is larger, stronger and more diverse than the one he inherited. He stood up for refugees whose plight the government had shamefully ignored. He established our very clear identity as the only real, undiluted pro-European party. We are all hugely indebted to him.

It’s good, today, to be amongst friends. So please forgive me if I start by addressing people who are not yet our friends, but whom we might persuade. People who say they don’t know what we stand for, or that we are irrelevant.

Anyone who doubts the relevance of the Liberal Democrats should reflect on the three great disasters perpetrated by the two main parties in recent years: the war in Iraq; the banking crisis; now Brexit.

You may remember that the Labour Government, egged on by the Conservative opposition, plunged this country into a disastrous, illegal war. It helped to fuel the jihadist movements which terrorise the Middle East, and our own country, and our allies, to this day. And it was only the Liberal Democrats, under Charles Kennedy, who showed sound judgement and political courage when it was needed. I am immensely proud to have served my parliamentary apprenticeship in that company.

Then, the same government lost control of the economy. It allowed reckless and greedy bankers to run amok. Yet again, the Conservatives egged Labour on, demanding even less restraint. The Liberal Democrats warned that it would end badly. And it did.

An economy built on banking and property speculation was left dangerously exposed to the global financial crisis. And the baleful consequences are still with us: our economy continues to be dependent on the life support system of ultra-cheap money, which is now inflating a new credit bubble; and also a real sense of resentment…that wealth inequalities have widened and only the super-rich have flourished in this post-crisis world.

In 2010, after all that, we could then have stood aside, washing our hands of responsibility… the party that said “we told you so”. But we didn’t. We went into government, in the national interest, to repair the damage. It was the right thing to do and Nick Clegg led us courageously in doing it.

And while thinking about Nick, I know you will all want to join me in sending him and Miriam our collective best wishes as Antonio, and the whole family, emerge from what has been a very tough and anxious time. Our thoughts are with them. Nick has been much vilified by our opponents but we are proud of him and his record.

I am certain that just as Parliament now misses his voice, history will vindicate his judgement.

You need only look at our record to know it. In Government we did a lot of good and we stopped a lot of bad.

Don’t let the Tories tell you that they lifted millions of low-earners out of income tax. We did.

Don’t let the Tories tell you they launched an apprenticeship revolution or the Industrial Strategy. We did.

Don’t let the Tories tell you that they brought in the pupil premium and free school meals….

We did that. The Liberal Democrats did that.

But we have paid a very high political price. Trust was lost. For many voters, we still have to scrub ourselves hard to get rid of the smell of clearing up other people’s mess.

And now, another disaster looms. Brexit.

The product of a fraudulent and frivolous campaign led by two groups of silly public school boys… reliving their dormitory pillow fights. And thanks to Boris Johnson, they have degenerated into a full scale school riot with the Headteacher hiding, barricaded in her office.

In the real world, we’ve yet to experience the full impact of leaving Europe. But we’ve had a taste of what is to come, in the fall in the value of the pound. Foreign exchange dealers are not point scoring politicians. They make cold, hard, unsentimental judgements… Quite simply, Brexit Britain will be poorer and weaker than if we had decided to stay in Europe.

Brexit was described by the Brexit Secretary himself as an operation of such technical complexity that it makes the moon landing look simple.

I have to say it is a pity that the Brexit landing is being managed by people who would struggle to get their heads around a toddlers’ Lego set. These are people who live in a world of infantile fairy tales. I’m sure you know the one about the Giant Tweeter, who lives in a White House far away and who flies across the ocean to rescue us from the wicked Gnomes of Europe.

But to be serious, for a moment, it is both extraordinary and unforgiveable that the Government is entrusting the future of this country – its trade policy, its security, its standing in the world – to a special relationship with a President who is volatile, dangerous and an apologist for religious and racial hatred.

It is an outrage that this man – who now presumes to attack our highly effective police and security services – has been invited here on a state visit.

As Jo Swinson so rightly said on Sunday, no red carpet for President Trump. The visit should be cancelled.

Let me say a few words about Labour. Many people got behind Jeremy Corbyn in June, genuinely expecting a better politics and a better future. They are already being betrayed. Today’s Labour Party isn’t into problem solving; let alone governing. Jeremy Corbyn’s acolytes are focused on how to maximise the contradictions of capitalism. You don’t qualify for the Labour Shadow Cabinet these days unless you have studied the Venezuelan guide on how to bankrupt a rich economy.

It’s no wonder they backed Brexit. It’s no wonder they lined up behind Theresa May, maximising the chances of chaos and disruption.

Then a few weeks ago the moderates briefly penetrated the Corbyn bunker. They persuaded him that collaborating quite so closely with the class enemy didn’t look too good. So, they’ve got a new policy: which is to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union…… possibly; or to leave……maybe. Or maybe to stay in for a bit, and then leave.

I am being kind here: I am trying to understand what they are trying to say. I think the current line is: we should transition to the transition gradually while we prepare for a post transition world. This is what they mean by the smack of firm leadership.

I believe Jeremy Corbyn would do a lot better to get off the fence and refurbish his revolutionary credentials.

So Jeremy – join us in the Anti Brexit People’s Liberation Front!

What the people want…

…What the country now desperately needs is some political adults.

That’s you. That’s us.

Fortunately, we are not alone. There are sensible grown-ups in the Conservative Party and the Labour Party and the Greens. And beyond them are millions of people who are deeply worried about what is happening.

We have got to put aside tribal differences and work alongside like-minded people…to keep the Single Market and Customs Union, so essential for trade and jobs; Europe’s high environmental and social standards; the shared research; help for our poorer regions; cooperation over policing and terrorism.

Europe, of course, needs reform but you don’t achieve reform by walking away.

Our position is clear. The Liberal Democrats are the party of Remain.

The government meanwhile is stuck in divorce negotiations for which it is hopelessly ill-equipped, ill-prepared, and internally divided.

So I have some practical advice for Theresa May. Take the issue of European Union nationals in the UK and British nationals in Europe out of these negotiations. Because using them as bargaining chips is not only morally wrong but utterly counter-productive. Put the lives of four million people first, not the posturing internal politics of the Conservative Party. No ifs, no buts. The government should declare a Right to Stay – now.

At the end of these tortuous divorce negotiations, the British public must be given a vote on the outcome. Let me be clear about this. This is not a call for a re-run. This is not a call for a second referendum on Brexit. This is a call for a first referendum on the facts.

When we know what Brexit means, the people should get the choice: the government deal or an ‘exit from Brexit’.

We know, of course, that our call will be resented by the Brexit fundamentalists. We will be denounced as traitors and saboteurs. I’m half prepared for a spell in a cell with Supreme Court judges, Gina Miller, Ken Clarke, and the governors of the BBC.

But if the definition of sabotage is fighting to protect British jobs, public services, the environment and civil liberties, then I am a proud saboteur.

Brexiteers will say: “We have already voted to leave. How dare you people flout democracy?” It is actually quite difficult to follow this argument. It seems to go that consulting the public – having a vote – is undemocratic. Why? What are they afraid of? Are they afraid that the claims of £350m a week for the NHS won’t wash any more? That claim has rightly been dismissed in the last few days by the independent UK Statistics Authority.

No wonder Boris and the Brexiteers are so frightened of the people and the facts. They now believe in the slogan of dictators everywhere: ‘one person, one vote, once!’.

I am a grandparent. I am concerned about the country my grandchildren will inherit. I am already getting a colourful correspondence from people of my own generation claiming that I have betrayed them. That I have given up too easily on reinventing the British Empire and on the dream of Britain without foreigners. I am still struggling, actually, to think of an answer to the woman who challenged me, in all seriousness, to explain how her Wiltshire village would cope with the arrival of 60 million Turks.

Now I recognise that the true believers in Brexit are honest enough to admit that it will make us poorer. There is another word for that: masochism. It isn’t illegal. I am told some people pay good money to indulge in it. But unlike masochists, the Brexit ideologues usually envisage someone else bearing the pain. And that pain will mainly be felt by young people who overwhelmingly voted to Remain.

But this argument cannot go on forever. Once the issue is resolved by a vote on the facts, we must then try to unite a very divided country around the outcome.

So yes, I want our party to lead the fight against Brexit. But we should not be consumed by Brexit to the exclusion of everything else. We are not a single-issue party. We’re not UKIP in reverse.

I see our future as a party of government. Our party is not just a Coalition partner of the past, we are the government of the future. And my role, as your leader, is to be a credible potential Prime Minister.

I know some of you might say, looking at the alternatives, that the bar isn’t very high.

Theresa May is giving us a compelling display of weak and wobbly government: divided, dysfunctional, and dependent on the Democratic Unionist Party. We all know that her colleagues want to sack her… bring in somebody more attuned to the challenges of modernity… I guess that is why a current leading candidate for the succession is, according to bookmakers, Jacob Rees-Mogg… On a dream ticket with his nanny.

Then we have the Labour Party. I do have one great advantage over Jeremy Corbyn. I have a great team: our Shadow Cabinet has 10 former ministers, three of whom served in Cabinet. And I’m proud that one of them is now our superb Deputy Leader, Jo Swinson. My team has been bloodied in the difficult business of government.

By contrast, in a parliamentary party of 262 MPs, Jeremy Corbyn can find only two people who have been anywhere near Cabinet, to serve in his alternative administration. All the other plausible candidates for office have walked out or been thrown out.

And the question now presents itself: what would they actually do in power? What would a Corbyn government look like? Their basic appeal is to offer something for nothing. All paid for by someone else. For them budgeting is just a bourgeois hobby.

I first encountered this politics of free things as a young Treasury official in Kenya. President Kenyatta – the father – faced defeat in an election against an opposition offering lots of freebies: free food, free land, free cows, free cars. He turned to my department for help. We came up with a winning slogan – Hapana Chakula Kabisa. Roughly translated it meant: there is no such thing as a free lunch. (Unless of course it is a Lib Dem free school lunch!)

But money and priorities define the crucial difference between us and Labour. We understand that to govern is to choose. And they don’t. That’s why only we are honest with people about the service which everyone in this country cares about, and which Labour always claims to champion.

The NHS. If we want a decent service, we’ve all got to pay for it. For starters, Liberal Democrats will continue to argue for another penny in the pound on income tax to pay for it. That means more than £6bn extra each year for the NHS and social care, and the funding we need for our priority – proper care for those suffering mental illness. If you want a real champion for Britain’s NHS, the Liberal Democrats are the party for you.

The attraction of the Labour campaign, however, was that it offered hope. Hope counters despair. Hope can inspire. Hope can achieve change. But what hope cannot do is make 2+2=7.

What the country needs is hope and realism. In a Britain increasingly dominated by extremists and ideologues, I want us to fill the huge gap in the centre of British politics. Liberal Democrats have always grappled with the big challenges facing our country and our world. I am determined that, to meet them, our party will once again become a workshop for new ideas.

Hope and realism starts with the economy. Because without a successful economy we won’t have the resources to fix an overstretched NHS, underfunded schools, understaffed police forces and perilously overcrowded prisons.

We currently have a low productivity, low wage economy lagging well behind Germany. And while France is modernising, Britain is lurching down a nostalgic cul-de-sac of Brexit. And Britain’s strengths – and there are real, considerable strengths – its openness to trade, people, ideas, its world class universities and inventiveness. These things are being put at risk.

What the country needs – more investment; more innovation; more training and retraining; more patient, long term capital; the renaissance of manufacturing and the nurturing of creative industries; the greening of the economy.

To achieve these things requires overcoming the petty tribalism and short termism which are the bane of British politics.

We made some progress under the Coalition when we launched and pursued the Industrial Strategy, working with both sides of industry – management and workers. I also drew on the legacy of political opponents, Labour and Conservatives. Because the test should not be ‘who said it’. It should be ‘what works best?’; sometimes the state; sometimes private enterprise; usually a practical combination of the two.

Long term thinking means, above all, having an understanding of sustainability and climate change. It is very striking that the most fervent apostles of Brexit are climate change deniers. Striking, but not surprising because climate change doesn’t respect national frontiers and national sovereignty.

I think it’s tragic that Ed Davey’s sterling work in the Coalition is now being trashed by Conservative ministers, who revel in anti-scientific ignorance.It is absolutely galling to see the sell-off of the Green Investment Bank to a private sector asset-stripper; to see the Green Deal ditched, the Swansea lagoon delayed, carbon capture and storage abandoned; to see the Conservatives doing a massive u-turn on Heathrow expansion…

The Conservatives describe protecting the environment as ‘green crap’. By contrast, Liberal Democrats will always fight for the green agenda.

More than anything else, investing in people is the key to a successful modern economy. Britain is fortunate to have excellent universities, many of them world class. But only a minority, and generally a better off minority, go to university.

As a country we have systematically undervalued and disrespected the 60% of young people who do not go to university, and the 80% of adults who never went. That is why I have been working with the National Union of Students on a programme to help all young people.

Many will go into further, and vocational, education but Britain’s record in technical education and training so far is woeful, which is why we now have a chronic skills shortage. That is why in government, the Liberal Democrats launched an apprenticeship revolution. We made a lot of progress but there is so much more to do to ensure that high quality apprenticeships and training are an option available to every young person.

I hope you will indulge me if I explain a bit of family history which shows why I care passionately about this subject. My own parents left school at 15 to work in factories in York. My father went to night school and qualified to teach building trades at a further education college. He and I fell out over his right-wing politics but I never lost my admiration for his life’s work with skilled workers, technicians, craftsmen; people that we now desperately lack. And my mother’s experience makes the point in a different way. She discovered night school after a prolonged period of mental illness when I was a child. She discovered education as an adult; and it helped her to recover.

I was able to apply this experience in government. Alongside Norman Lamb, we were able to secure some funding to reintroduce classes in adult colleges for those suffering mental illness. And it has been a great success.

But the bigger point is the value for everyone, of continued adult learning. Millions of workers in middle age now face their office and factory jobs disappearing with the advance of automation and artificial intelligence. We’ve got to be the party with the answers for those people.

One idea I want to develop with you – with the party – is finding a way to support all young people in future with an endowment or learning account, which they can use at any stage in life – helping to finance further or higher education, either at the post-18 stage or later in life. It is a fundamentally liberal idea, handing control to the individual, and I want to explore how it can be sustainably financed through fair taxation of wealth.

Under my leadership, our party will be the champions of lifelong learning, giving everyone a chance of self-improvement and employment at every stage in life.

We can’t effectively modernise our economy until we radically reform finance. We’ve got global banks that have little interest whatever in promoting British business and local economies. We’ve got obsessively short term capital markets that have the collective attention span of a goldfish. We’ve got banks that will only lend when secured against property to people who want to buy houses but not businesses who want to build them; to real estate speculators, but not to exporters and innovators.

Liberal Democrats want to see financiers be the servants of Britain’s real economy, rather than its masters. We did a lot in Coalition to improve things: establishing the British Business Bank, the Green Investment Bank and the business Growth Fund for risk capital; splitting the casinos from conventional banking; promoting a culture of long termism; opening up the market to challenger banks.

But that is just the beginning of what is needed to lift Britain from what at present is a dangerous over dependence on property markets and banks in the south east corner of England. Public investment complements private investment.

This country needs a massive injection of public investment: in the railway network – across the north of England and the Midlands to Wales and the South West; and in broadband; and in housing.

Every pound spent building modern Britain will be returned many times over. Never in British economic history has it been cheaper for a bold, active government to borrow for productive investment, alongside the private sector. So why is this government so feeble and so passive?

I want our party to be pro-business and pro-enterprise. British business is in desperate need of a champion and we will be that champion. Not for the sake of it but because Britain succeeds when they succeed.

Growing numbers have given up on the Conservative Party, because they know it has abandoned British business. Their home is now with us. Progressive British firms know, too, that being pro-business doesn’t mean being anti-worker.

I spent five years in Government fighting off Tory plans to introduce ‘fire at will’ and to abolish the right to strike. We are pro-business and we are also pro-worker. And because we believe in competitive markets and the rights of consumers, it is time to tackle the abuse of corporate power.

Take the communications and technology companies. They have access to vast amounts of personal data and information to use and abuse. It’s not a coincidence that the only body strong enough to stand up to Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook is the European Commission. Does anybody seriously believe that a post-Brexit British government will do anything other than roll over when the big boys in come looking for favours or dodging taxes at will?

As some of you know, I have had occasional disagreements with Mr Rupert Murdoch. But not always. He is, for example, reported to have said “When I am in Brussels, they tell me what to do. When I am in Downing St, I tell them what to do.” He got it in one. As he knows all too well, wealth and power feed off each other.

So do powerlessness and poverty. If there is any single lesson from the Grenfell disaster, it is that people in poverty aren’t listened to. Nowhere is inequality more marked than in the housing market. Property wealth for the fortunate coexists with growing insecurity and homelessness for many others. Home ownership, which spread wealth for generations, is no longer a realistic prospect for younger people with moderate means. To put this right, we must end the stranglehold of oligarchs and speculators in our housing market.

I want to see fierce tax penalties on the acquisition of property for investment purposes, by overseas residents. And I want to see rural communities protected from the blight of absentee second home ownership, which devastates local economies and pushes young people away from the places where they grew up.

Homes are to live in; they’re not pieces on a Monopoly board.

But whatever we do with existing homes will not be enough. A doubling of annual housing supply to buy and rent is needed. For years politicians have waffled about house building while tinkering at the edges of the market. I want to recapture the pioneering spirit that in the mid-20th century brought about developments like Milton Keynes and the new towns. I want to see a new generation of garden cities and garden villages spring up in places where demand presently outstrips supply.

But we know that private developers alone will not make this happen. Just as social reformers in the 1950s and 60s saw government roll up its sleeves and get involved with building, government today has a responsibility to be bold and to build more of the homes we need for the 21st century.

It is utterly absurd that councils are allowed to borrow to speculate in commercial property but are stopped from borrowing to build affordable council houses. This triumph of ideological dogma over common sense must stop. Government must take the lead and get building.

The housing crisis is at the heart of a growing and deeply corrosive inequality between generations. Elderly people, of course, deserve respect. Some people have even accused me of being one of them. The state pension – thanks to the Coalition – has rightly been protected.

But meanwhile young people face employment that is insecure, and unaffordable housing. And – now – a future of narrowing horizons and closing frontiers, which the vast majority of under 25s never voted for. As Britain’s government of the future, Liberal Democrats will always be their voice and their champion.

But there is an elephant in the room. Debt – specifically student debt. We all know we suffered grievous political harm from making a pledge seven years ago on tuition fees that we couldn’t meet. The problem hasn’t gone away.

We are faced with a fundamental dilemma. The changes we made in Government ensured universities are properly funded. And it is right that the most highly paid graduates pay most; those who earn least pay nothing at all. Yet just because the system operates like a tax, we cannot escape the fact it isn’t seen as one. The worry about debt does cause students and their families real concern. Escalating student loan interest rates add to that concern. And many universities are obsessed with getting bums on seats rather than giving students value for money.

I have therefore launched a review, led by former Cambridge MP David Howarth, which will recommend options for reform, including a graduate tax. We will consult on the outcome through the party’s policy process, and I aim for its results to come before you at a future conference. We value the support of students, so we must get this issue right.

We also know that the most pressing issue for students day-to-day, and the main source of debt, is the cost of living. Under our Government, the number of students from poorer households increased, in part because Liberal Democrats improved maintenance grants. The Tories have now trashed that record by slashing those grants altogether. They should be ashamed to see any student deciding to terminate their studies because they cannot pay the rent.

But young people need more than financial support. They need a political voice. That is why votes at 16 are at the centre of our campaigning for political reform. If it is OK to vote at 16 and 17 in Scotland, then it’s OK to vote at 16 and 17 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This reform sits alongside proportional representation for Westminster and for English and Welsh local government; a fully elected House of Lords; reform of party funding; and radical decentralisation from central to local government.

We are the party of political reform. And in particular, we are the party of devolution, and we have proved how well it works. I want to pay particular tribute to our campaign teams in Scotland for their advances under Willie Rennie, and to Kirsty Williams for the superb job she is doing as Welsh Education Secretary.

But before we overhaul what is fundamentally a broken political system we have to demonstrate that we can win under the existing system. That means opening the way to many more Lib Dem councils and MPs, by getting back, at least, to the national vote share we enjoyed before 2010.

I believe it can be done. But it won’t be until we have a party that looks like modern Britain. Thanks to the efforts of our Party President, Sal Brinton, and others, progress has been made in improving gender balance, but it is still inadequate. I demonstrated in government a commitment to this issue by working with women in business to achieve a demanding target for women on the boards of top companies. I am committed to similar ambition in our own party. We have even further to travel in ensuring that we have proper Black, Asian and Minority representation at all levels.

As many of you know, I married into an Asian family and we brought up a multiracial family in this country. My own family has flourished. But I am perhaps more conscious than many of the subtle, and often not so subtle, barriers that exist. And now there is an upsurge of xenophobia and racism, which many of us dared to hope had been banished for good.

There is much to be done before we can call our country and our party successfully integrated. But I am optimistic. We believe in equality. We have demonstrated through the work of Lynne Featherstone and others on equal marriage that we can lead public opinion in a liberal direction.

I am optimistic too for our party. We have had several difficult years since the formation of the Coalition. But I know there is a great deal of resilience, energy and self-discipline in the party which will fuel our recovery.

There are big opportunities created by our distinctive and clear leadership of anti-Brexit opinion and by the growing self-indulgent extremism in both the Conservative and Labour parties.

I know you are impatient for success. This country is impatient for success. I am impatient for success.

But I know too the value of endurance.

Success is often laced with setback. I reflect on one of the most difficult periods of my life, when many of you will know that I lost my first wife. In time, I recovered and I found a new partnership with Rachel. She has sustained and supported me ever since. Her energy and dedication to me is the source of my energy and dedication to this party. And politics has proved an even greater waiting game than life.

I had to wait 30 years from my first campaign to win a seat in Parliament. I had to wait two years to return, after the setback in 2015. But now, friends, the time for waiting is over.

Only the Liberal Democrats have the ideas, the experience and the commitment to transform the fortunes of our country. An exit from Brexit. A grown-up approach to the economy. And bold ideas to strengthen our society through the 21st century.

I am ready to take our message out to the country, and I ask you to join me on the journey as we, together, take the Liberal Democrats back to Government.

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Corbyn's success: centrists' failure

Sep. 19th, 2017 02:04 pm
[syndicated profile] chris_dillow_feed

Posted by chris

For months the Times has been running a series of columns on how centrists are befuddled by Corbynism. Nick Cohen improves upon those pieces.

His piece contains a big truth – that Corbyn “won the left-behind middle class.” Not only are Labour members disproportionately professionals, but also Corbyn’s Labour polled well among the AB social group.

This happened in large part because, as Rick said, the middle-class isn’t as posh as it used to be. Younger professionals especially have become proletarianized. They have high debt, no hope of buying a house and stressful and oppressive working conditions.

In this context, calling Corbynistas middle class is to look at class the wrong way – as a social gradient rather than a property relation. A lot of Corbyn’s support derives from the propertyless – those who are the victims of capitalist stagnation and oppression and not its beneficiaries. As Nick says, it comes from people "unable to meet the basic middle-class membership requirement: the ability to buy a home."

This poses the question: if Corbyn is as deplorable as Nick thinks, why are so many decent intelligent people supporting him so enthusiastically?

It’s not because they are fucking fools. It’s because centrists contributed to the economic trends which have given us cheesed-off professionals, and those people are embracing Corbyn as an alternative to the policies that have failed them so badly. Centrism did so in several ways:

 - New Labour’s endorsement of managerialism has created a proletarianized professional cadre who lack autonomy at work – and this managerialism might also have contributed to the stagnation in productivity that has given us a decade of flat real wages. (To his credit, Nick has attacked this trend; he just hasn’t connected it to the popularity of Corbyn).

 - In acquiescing in the increased income, wealth and power of the 1%, centrists tolerated inequality between the ultra-rich and “middle class” sorts in the 10th-20th percentiles. As Tim says, this bred a resentment among the latter. (Personally, I think the resentment justified, but that’s by-the-by).

 - Centrists have offered little solution to the unaffordability of housing, which has given us a propertyless “middle class”.

 - The Lib Dems’ acquiescence in austerity, and the Labour right’s failed attempt to triangulate it, meant that centrists are associated with the squeeze on living standards, especially in the public sector. They are, of course, also responsible for high student debt.

Moralizing about Corbyn misses the point – that his support has definite economic roots in stagnation; the pulling away of the 1% (or 0.1%) from other professionals; the rise of immaterial labour; unaffordable house prices; and degradation of erstwhile good jobs. It also misses the point that centrists contributed to these trends, or at least acquiesced in them. Support for Corbyn is a reaction against all this. 

Worse still, attacks upon Corbyn distract liberal centre-leftists from what should be their biggest job – of redefining centrism to make it appeal again. It’s difficult to sell capitalism to people who have no capital and little hope of getting it. Until centrists grasp this fact and correct the errors that led us to this mess, Corbyn might well remain popular, for all his faults.

Update: on re-reading Nick's piece, I realize I was too harsh on him, and have tweaked this accordingly.

BookFest St Louis–this weekend!

Sep. 19th, 2017 08:04 am
ann_leckie: (AJ)
[personal profile] ann_leckie

So, here I am in St Louis and if you saw yesterday’s blog post you might have noticed there are no St Louis dates on the tour.


Thanks to Left Bank Books, there’ll be an event in the Central West End called BookFest St. Louis. There will be lots of writers there, and the vast majority of panels and whatnot are free! (I think there are, like, two exceptions.)

There’s going to be a Science Fiction panel at 5pm on Saturday, September 23, with Charlie Jane Anders, Annalee Newitz, Mark Tiedemann….and me!

If you are in St Louis this weekend, come to BookFest! Left Bank Books is a lovely store with a very nice SF section and worth visiting on its own, but just look at all the folks who are going to be here! Do come to the CWE this weekend if you can!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.

[syndicated profile] markpack2_feed

Posted by Mark Pack

That’s the idea the Electoral Commission has floated:

Social media trolls who abuse prospective MPs online could be banned from voting under new proposals from the Electoral Commission.

The watchdog has recommended that election legislation, much of which dates from the 19th century, should be overhauled to increase deterrents for those found guilty of abusing election candidates…

The Electoral Commission recommended “specific electoral consequences” for those found guilty of abusing candidates, which “could act as a deterrent to abusive behaviour”.

Some forms of abusive behaviour are offences under existing electoral legislation and therefore carry special sanctions, including the convicted person being disqualified from voting or losing their elected office.

However, the Commission said that much of the relevant criminal law dates back two centuries and is spread over many pieces of individual legislation. It has recommended that the government reforms existing offences to help to “clarify and strengthen” legal protection for candidates. [The Times]

One difficulty, of course, is defining abuse at a point which protects legitimate freedom of speech (it’s ok for me to really not like at all Nick Griffin). That question of when dislike becomes intimidation or threats of violence is repeatedly a difficult one to define in other areas of law.

But the other difficulty is whether a punishment such as losing your right to vote is likely to be effective in curbing online abuse. Is the mindset of those who post the sort of messages that result in candidates having to have panic buttons installed really one open to change by the idea that they might not then be able to vote against said candidate?

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[syndicated profile] liberal_bureaucracy_feed

Posted by Mark Valladares

So, I've written a report for Liberal Democrat Voice on what happened at Sunday's meeting of the Federal International Relations Committee, as I promised I would do when I ran for election in the first place. Read it, why don't you. It is, as you might guess, a reasonably neutral version of events for, after all, Liberal Democrat Voice represents a kind of unofficial official record. 

Here, I don't have to be quite so restrained.

The input from our guests from the ALDE Party Bureau, Timmy Dooley TD, and Henrik Bach Mortensen, was genuinely interesting. To read the debate in the United Kingdom you could easily believe that there are only two parties to the Brexit negotiations, "Europe" and the United Kingdom. But, of course, that isn't entirely accurate, in that there are twenty-seven nation states on the other side of the table, and a whole slew of interested parties beyond the European Union who might be impacted by any deal.

We heard of the sadness at the breach in our relationships with neighbouring countries, of the impact on the economies of Denmark and Ireland. Our Brexiteer friends will rely on that to claim that they wouldn't put that at risk, but they're wrong. They will realign their trading towards Germany, in the case of Denmark, or look to other markets, in the case of Ireland, because the losses that would arise from a breakdown of the Single Market are far worse than any losses due to Brexit. The less barriers to free trade there are, the better, and the Single Market has achieved just that.

Our Belgian guest, Bart Somers, was pretty inspiring. His application of core liberal principles in addressing the causes of radicalisation in the community was something that should be brought to the attention of liberals in local government everywhere. In that sense, his time was better spent addressing the LGA and ALDC crowd than an international relations committee, but I learnt much from his approach.

The Committee itself continues to bumble along, without any sense of strategic vision. You could argue that, in the absence of a clear steer from the Federal Board (they're still working on developing one, in fairness), but too much of the Committee's efforts are last minute, ad hoc and ineffectual. I did my best to create some basic structure and process, but I do feel like a lone voice, a practical Roundhead in a world of Cavaliers. Funnily enough, the Roundheads won in the end. All I have to do is find the best strategy, I guess.

As an example, ALDE Party Congress takes place in early December, and the deadline for submitting motions is coming up fast. And yet, despite me including it in every agenda up to the point of my resignation as Secretary, nothing was done about starting the process of coming up with some resolutions. Now, something may be cobbled together at the last minute. Given that the Congress is an annual event, you wonder that nobody has given the problem much thought earlier than this. Bluntly, I don't anymore, my expectations are that low.

The Committee is in danger of becoming an ineffectual talking shop, making decisions either in haste or at the whim of key individuals, and it requires a greater sense of active engagement from its members. It is not enough to simply turn up at meetings, react to events and then leave things to slumber on, relying on our remarkably capable but hideously under-resourced International Officer to keep the show on the road.

I do not despair though, because I have my own thoughts as to how I can make a difference, and rather than rely on the formal structure, I'm minded to be more creative.

Watch this space...
[syndicated profile] robert_sharp_feed

Posted by Robert

Oh Lordy Lordy, I have 53 separate blog posts sitting unpublished in the drafts section of this website. None are in a state to be published, but I thought I would post the titles for your examination.

Ten years ago, Michelle Kazprzak did the same thing, which is where I got the idea. She wrote:

It’s pure blog purgatory, where I toy with some of these posts once every few months, but they never reach a postable state. In fact, most of these drafts are just titles, with no body to them at all, or body text consisting of one line to remind me what the post should be about. This paucity of text combined with the passage of time (every day a small sip of the water of Lethe), makes the probability that these posts will ever be completed quite low. The titles of these unfinished posts confront me each time I open my blog software as a series of blazing headlines demanding attention. The last time I looked at them all, it occurred to me they might be worth sharing in and of themselves

Just as ancient shopping lists give historians insights into lives past, so this litany may actually be a good representation of my addled mind.

Perhaps other people should do the same?

  1. Is pragmatism a moral abrogation?
  2. The needle returns to the start of the song and we all sing along like before
  3. There comes a point where you master the video game
  4. the tension between direct democracy and representative democracy.
  5. A quick thought about Trump and the protests against him
  6. Auto generated maps and names
  7. Glued to our phones, and that’s fine actually
  8. #selfies killed the autograph
  9. History and the pastness of the past
  10. Answer to what have you got to hide? question
  11. Review: The Election (ITV)
  12. “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!”
  13. Trump’s Bullshitting Affectation
  14. The Internet of the Dead
  15. Now Do You See Why We Moan About The Slippery Slope?
  16. On Punching White Supremacists
  17. Openness, in Love as in Counter-Terrorism Policy, Leaves Us Vulnerable, And That’s OK
  18. Meta
  19. Zuckerberg doesn’t want to censor us… He just can’t be bothered not to
  20. Moby on Ageing
  21. Wouldn’t you just kill for a bit of political correctness right now?
  22. Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but Words Will Fucking Kill Me
  23. Get A Thicker Skin
  24. Iterating Away From Stupid
  25. Assisted dying and the risks to human rights
  26. The Trade Union Bill and the Overton Window
  27. Why can’t everyone be a bit better?
  28. Liz Kendall and modern political language
  29. Can we airbrush a Prime Minister out of history as easily as a TV star?
  30. On pragmatism in election campaigns
  31. How to talk about structural inequality
  32. Nasheed
  33. Nick Clegg, the only man who understands politics
  34. We are more aware of sexism than ever before
  35. Redistribution of wealth is what makes our Kingdom United
  36. Two New York Times articles on #Gaza
  37. More social media prosecutions
  38. Book design clichés
  39. REGEX
  40. Technological progress
  41. Depiction of the Media in House of Cards
  42. Hate Speech
  43. Hardworking families
  44. SoundCloud update their Terms of Service regarding ‘offence’
  45. In defence of food tweeting
  46. Steam punk and retro aesthetic design
  47. On piracy DRM etc
  48. Anti-semitic cartoons and the art of persuasion
  49. Liminal Spaces
  50. Borges and Godel Escher Bach
  51. God, Religion, Spirituality as Metaphor
  52. On not flicking the switch
  53. Social Exclusion at the Top

The image I’ve used to illustrate this post is by ReginaldJean on DeviantArt. Its licenced Creative Commons.

The Big Idea: Annalee Newitz

Sep. 19th, 2017 11:26 am
[syndicated profile] scalziwhatever_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

In her debut novel Autonomous, former i09 editor-in-chief and current science and tech writer and editor Annalee Newitz gets under the skin of the healthcare industry and thinks about all the ways it’s less-than-entirely healthy for us… and what that means for our future, and the future she’s written in her novel.


There’s a scene from the Torchwood series Miracle Day that I will never be able to wash out of my brain. After humans stop being able to die for mysterious reasons, our heroes tour a hospital full of people who are hideously immortal: their bodies pancaked and spindled and melted, they lie around in agony wishing for oblivion. For all its exaggerated body horror, that moment feels creepily realistic in our age of medicine that can keep people alive without giving them anything like quality of life.

Torchwood: Miracle Day wasn’t my first taste of healthcare dystopia, but it made a huge impression because it distilled down one of the fundamental ideas I see this subgenre: some lives are worse than death. This is certainly the message in countless pandemic films, where the infected are ravening, mindless zombies. Killing them is a mercy.

This idea takes a slightly different form in books like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl. Both narratives toy with what it means when people are turned into medical experiments, like futuristic versions of the Tuskegee Study. We see some ruling class of people deciding that another class should serve as its organ donors or genetic beta testers. What if somebody were treating us like lab rats, as if our lives didn’t matter?

And then there are the false healthcare utopias, which I find the most disturbing because they remind me of listening to U.S. senators trying to sell the idea that they have a “much better plan” than Obamacare—even though I know people who will die under these “better plans.” Politicians have probably been pushing false healthcare utopias since at least the 19th century, but in science fiction its roots can clearly be traced to Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. In that novel, everyone is medicating with Soma just to deal with how regimented and limited their lives are.

False healthcare utopias can take many forms, and they overlap with more familiar dystopias too. Some deal with surveillance. In the chilling novel Harmony, Project Itoh imagines a future Japan where the government monitors everyone’s microbiomes by tracking everything that goes into and out of their bodies (yep, there’s toilet surveillance).

Sometimes the false healthcare utopia is just a precursor to a more familiar zombie dystopia like 28 Days Later. Consider, for example, our extreme overuse of antibiotics. Though it appears that we can cure pretty much any infection with antibiotics, we’re very close to living in a world where antibiotics no longer work at all. One of the most terrifying books I’ve read this year is science journalist Maryn McKenna’s book Big Chicken, which is about how the agriculture industry depends on antibiotics to keep animals “healthy” in filthy, overcrowded conditions. This is creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are coming for us, pretty much any day now. That’s right–penicillin-doped chickens are the real culprits in I Am Legend.

I’m fascinated by how many false healthcare utopias depend on coercive neuroscience. Often, brain surgery is involved—we see this in John Christopher’s Tripods and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, both about so-called utopian worlds created by neurosurgical interventions that restrict freedom of thought. Maybe these stories focus on brains so much because these are fundamentally stories about lies, and brains are, after all, the organ that we use for lying.

When I started work on my novel Autonomous (out today! yes it is!), I knew I wanted to explore the lies of the pharmaceutical industry and its gleaming ads promising a better life to those who can afford a scrip. One of the protagonists, Jack, has become a pharmaceutical pirate so that she can bring expensive, patented medicine to poor people who need it. But she also sells a few of what she calls “funtime worker drugs” on the side, to fund her Robin Hood activities and keep her submarine in good repair.

Those funtime drugs are why things go sideways for Jack. She sells some pirated Zacuity, a “productivity” drug that I loosely based on Provigil or Adderall. It gets people really enthusiastic about work, but it has some unexpected side-effects that the pharma company Zaxy has suppressed. Now Jack has to stop the drug from killing more people, while also evading two deadly agents sent by Zaxy: a robot named Paladin and a human named Eliasz.

So Autonomous is chase story with some hot robot sex, but it’s also very much a book about how pharma companies sell us an idea of “health” that is actually really unhealthy.

Today pharma companies market drugs the way Disney markets Star Wars movies, and for good reason. Drugs like Adderall and Provigil are supposed to make us feel better and more competent—or at the very least distract us—for a few blissful hours. Just like a movie. I’m not trying to say there’s a problem with taking drugs (or watching movies) to feel good. Nor am I saying that people don’t need anti-depressants and other meds to treat psychological problems. The issue is when these drugs are overprescribed for enhancement, and “feeling really good” becomes a terrible kind of norm. Pharma companies want us to believe that if we aren’t incredibly attentive, productive, and happy every day, there must be something wrong. This paves the way for an ideal of mental health that almost nobody can (or should) live up to.

There’s another, deeper problem that’s caused by selling medicine as if it were a form of entertainment. Nobody would ever argue that going to see the new Star Wars movie is a right. It’s just a luxury for people with disposable income. If we see medicine like that too, it’s easy to fall for the lie that our healthcare system is great even though it only serves the richest people in the U.S.

In the world of Autonomous, the pharma companies are full of guys like Martin Shkreli, jacking up the prices on medicine because they can. They get away with it because so many people in the U.S. believe that anyone can get medicine if they really deserve it. Only a lie of that magnitude could make it seem fair when working class people can’t afford to treat AIDS-related complications. Or cancer. Or a heart infection.

Autonomous is a book about lies. But more importantly, it’s about what happens to the people who see through those lies and try to do something about it. Everyone deserves to have medicine. It is a right, not a privilege. Until we recognize that, I’ll be hanging out with the pirates.


Autonomous: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.


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Mat Bowles

October 2015


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Stuff and nonsense

I'm the Chair of the Brighouse branch of the Liberal Democrats & the membership secretary for Calderdale Lib Dems and run the web campaign for the local candidates. I have a job, a stepdaughter and a life.

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