The Awkward Squad and the Horseshoe Nail

Darkness. Brazil elects a proud fascist. A gunman murders eleven people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The EU is becoming unsafe: authoritarians are on the rise in Italy, Hungary, and Poland; Journalists have been murdered in Malta and Bulgaria. All around the world, politicians, the press and the people are asking themselves how and why things have declined so quickly and catastrophically.

Continue reading “The Awkward Squad and the Horseshoe Nail”

When the Myth of American Democracy Explodes

Listening to Carol Anderson talk about her book One Person, No Vote on the Ezra Klein Show podcast; about voter ID laws and other measures that actively prevent black people from voting; about gerrymandering and electoral college distortions that allow the party that loses the vote to win the election…

Watching Brett Kavanaugh testify to the US Senate Judiciary committee; where he refused to answer or evaded questions; where he perjured himself; and where his white male colleagues apologised to him for having his honour questioned…

… I found myself thinking that American democracy is on the decline. That it may even be irreparably damaged.

But then I thought again about what I had witnessed, and what people like Carol Anderson are complaining about. It is not that American democracy is dying, but that the absence of a proper democracy is and always has been entrenched. Continue reading “When the Myth of American Democracy Explodes”

Discussing InfoWars and Free Speech on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire Programme

The propaganda website InfoWars has been banned from Facebook, the Apple iTunes podcasting platform, and Spotify. Most people have welcomed the fact that these technology companies have finally acted to enforce their own terms and conditions, though others (including, obviously, InfoWars itself) says that this is an infringement of free speech.

I was invited onto the BBC Victoria Derbyshire TV programme today to discuss the issue, alongside Karin Robinson from Democrats Abroad; and Neil Heslin, whose son was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and who has been taunted and harassed by the InfoWars website and its supporters. Continue reading “Discussing InfoWars and Free Speech on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire Programme”

Anger, Contempt, and Constructive Disagreement

Free speech is supposed to be facilitate human progress. In its ideal form, it enables debate and causes us to iterate better political policies, better cultural outputs and a better society.

In reality, the marketplace of ideas, if it exists at all, is corrupt and monopolised by those with money and power.

One aspect of freedom of expression I think about a lot is the way in which disagreements happen. I’ve expressed dismay at how some free speech advocates seem remarkably uninterested in listening to other points of view, and only really care about their own right to offend. And I’ve noted how many spats seem to disintegrate into a competition over who can first reach a place of unassailable piety. Continue reading “Anger, Contempt, and Constructive Disagreement”

Someone called the police

In the United States, there is growing discussion on social media about the phenomenon of white people calling the police when they see a black person doing something entirely normal, or when they perceive a black person not showing enough ‘respect’.

When Yale student Lolade Siyonbola fell asleep in the library while writing an essay, someone called the police. When Tenessee real-estate developer inspected a house in Memphis, someone called the police. When Oakland resident Onsayo Abram set up a barbeque in the park, someone called the police.

Today I saw a variation on the theme: someone threatening to call the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when he became annoyed by two women working at a cafe speaking Spanish to each other.

Many people have made the point that this is linked to President Donald J. Trump’s unpleasant rhetoric about ethnic minorities (and indeed, everything). He has set a terrible example which incubates racists attitudes and brings out the worst in people. Others say that this kind of racism was always present in the society and it is only thanks to social media that we know these incidents are systemic, not isolated (it is almost a decade since professor Henry Louis Gates Jnr was arrested for breaking into his own home).

But these incidents also illustrate something about civil rights that I had not understood until I started working for English PEN, and which I don’t think many other people appreciate, which is that ambiguous laws can erode our civil liberties. Continue reading “Someone called the police”

Name-alikeys, Revisited

A long time ago I wrote a post about other people named Robert Sharp. This was prompted by the fact that some guy wearing my name was running for Congress in the USA.

Nothing provokes as much introspection as your own personal homonym achieving something.

For some reason I didn’t link to the pop culture reference point for this, Are You Dave Gorman?

Since then I have created a Twitter list of other Robert Sharps, which I tautologically consider to be a form of narcissistic worldliness. Astonishingly the list contains not one but two professional wrestlers.

I have actually met Rob Sharp and the world did not explode, and I have also chatted on social media with Robert Sharp.

However, a recent Google search threw up a few faces of which I had not been aware. Here they are, in alphabetical order—click on the photographs to read more about each of them.

Academia

Robert Sharp, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Manhattan College
Robert Sharp, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Manhattan College – New York, USA
Dr Robert Sharp, Instrument Scientist, ANU
Dr Robert Sharp, Instrument Scientist, ANU – Canberra, Australia
Robert Sharp, Math teacher and SF author, Nevada
Robert Sharp, Math teacher and SF author – Nevada, USA
Robert Sharp, Doane University
Robert Sharp, Community Directoy, Doane University – Nebraska, USA
Robert Sharp, CSN Financial Services
Robert Sharp, Financial Services at the College of Southern Nevada – Nevada, USA
Robert Sharp, Professor of Plant Physiology, University of Missouri - Columbia, Missouri, USA
Robert Sharp, Professor of Plant Physiology, University of Missouri – Columbia, Missouri, USA
Robert Sharp, Historian - Staffordshire, UK
Robert Sharp, Historian – Staffordshire, UK
Robert Sharp, the Art Institute of Chicago
Robert Sharp, the Art Institute of Chicago – Illinois, USA
Robert Sharp, has an unwavering passion for and dedication to the student body, which is why he wants to run for Student Body President
Robert Sharp, has an unwavering passion for and dedication to the student body, which is why he wants to run for Student Body President – Kansaa, USA

Lawyers

Robert D. Sharp, litigation attorney at Belin McCormick, Des Moines, IA, USA
Robert Sharp, litigation attorney at Belin McCormick – Des Moines, Iowa, USA
Robert Sharp, founder, Solicitors Agency Service, Leeds, UK
Robert Sharp, founder, Solicitors Agency Service – Leeds, UK

Architecture and Design

Robert Sharp, Architect, the New Urban Guild
Robert Sharp, Architect, the New Urban Guild – Arkansas, USA
Robert Sharp, CEO of Robert Sharp Associates
Robert Sharp, CEO of Robert Sharp Associates – Rapid City, South Dakota, USA

Medicine

Dr Robert Sharp
Dr Robert Sharp, Orthopedic Surgeon – Tamworth, Northern Territory, Austrailia

These guys…

Robert Sharp, convicted manufacturing a controlled substance and sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.

Yeah, I know, I’m white and in prison for selling crack, it’s a funny story, write me and I’ll tell you all about it. [link]

Robert B. Sharp, South Carolina.
Robert Sharp, charged in 2012 with sexually assaulting a minor. Charged in 2017 with two counts of attempted kidnapping – South Carolina, USA

There are dozens more mugshots of various men named Robert Sharp listed on Mugshots.com. Lots of drug possession, sex offenders and a couple of DUIs.

Military

Rear Admiral Robert D. Sharp, Office of Naval Intelligence
Rear Admiral Robert Sharp, Office of Naval Intelligence – Washington D.C., USA
Robert Sharp, Associate Professor, National Defence University
Robert Sharp, former British Army officer and Associate Professor, National Defence University – Washington D.C., USA
Robert Sharp, Chief Operations Officer at The Corpus Christi Army Depot - Corpus Christi, Texas, USA
Robert Sharp, Chief Operations Officer at The Corpus Christi Army Depot – Corpus Christi, Texas, USA

Financial Services

Robert Sharp, Valuation Consulting, London
Robert Sharp, Valuation Consulting – London, UK
Robert Sharp, CEO, Orca Pay Group
Robert Sharp, CEO, Orca Pay Group – Hertfordshire, UK

Business and Tech

Robert Sharp, Group Executive Virgin Australia Airlines - Australia
Robert Sharp, Group Executive Virgin Australia Airlines – Australia
Robert Sharp, co-founder, OUT Adventures
Robert Sharp, co-founder, OUT Adventures – Toronto, Canada

Interestingly, another Robert Sharp (the one who teaches at Manhattan College, above) had a photo taken at Machu Picchu in pretty much exactly the same spot.

Robert T. Sharp, Executive Vice President, Emerson
Robert Sharp, Executive Vice President, Emerson Electrical – St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Robert Sharp, Founder, LifeFlix - Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Robert Sharp, Founder, LifeFlix – Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Robert Sharp, winemaker - California, USA
Robert Sharp, winemaker – California, USA
Robert Sharp, Terminal Manager at Oak Harbour Freight Lines - Washington, USA
Robert Sharp, Terminal Manager at Oak Harbour Freight Lines – Washington, USA
Robert Sharp, Greenhouse Designer - Yukon, Canada
Robert Sharp, Greenhouse Designer – Yukon, Canada
Robert Sharp, Nissan Car Dealer - Tennessee, USA
Robert Sharp, Nissan Car Dealer – Tennessee, USA

Artists

Robert Sharp, musician
Robert Sharp, musician – Huddersfield, UK

Here’s one of Robert’s tracks, ‘Searching the Stars’.

Robert Sharp, Stained Glass Artist - Birmingham, Alabama
Robert Sharp, Stained Glass Artist – Birmingham, Alabama, USA
Robert Sharp, DJ and music producer
Robert Sharp, DJ and music producer – Ireland
Robert Sharp, DJ - Perth, Australia
Robert Sharp, DJ – Perth, Australia

Here’s a mix by Rob from 2011 entitled ‘One Nineteen’.

Robert Sharp, musician – Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Robert Sharp, Emmy award-winning Producer of MATH PARK - California, USA
Robert Sharp, Emmy award-winning Producer of MATH PARK – California, USA
Robert Sharp, Artist, Programmer, Graphic Designer, Photographer & Web Designer - Oregon, USA
Robert Sharp, Artist, Programmer, Graphic Designer, Photographer & Web Designer – Oregon, USA

Technicians

Robert Sharp, Technician at Republic Heating and Air Conditioning Inc, Dallas, Texas, USA
Robert Sharp, Technician at Republic Heating and Air Conditioning Inc, Dallas, Texas, USA
Robert Sharp, Robert Sharp Repair Work, Mississippi, USA
Robert Sharp, Robert Sharp Repair Work, Mississippi, USA

There are a few guys who only showed up on LinkedIn.

Robert Sharp, Plant Controller at Rea Magnet Wire
 Customer Account Manager at VTL Group
Robert Sharp, Customer Account Manager at VTL Group – Wakefield, UK
Robert Sharp, Manager at Price Waterhouse consultants - Washington D.C., USA
Robert Sharp, Manager at Price Waterhouse consultants – Washington D.C., USA.

Pretty sure this is the same Robert Sharp who got married to Beth in July 2017.

Robert Sharp, Business Consultant, Texas, USA
Robert Sharp, Business Consultant, Texas, USA

The Barman

Robert Sharp, Barman and author
Robert Sharp, Barman and author

The Bridegroom

I don’t know anything about Robert Sharp, other than he lives in Texas, USA and got married to Witney in November 2017.

Witney Elliot and Robert Sharp
Witney Elliott and Robert Sharp – Texas, USA

And finally, this gentleman…

Robert Sharp, panhandler, Vancouver
Robert Sharp, panhandler – Vancouver, Canada

This list operates on strict living Name-alike criteria. No Robins. No ‘e’ or ‘s’ on the end of Sharp. No Roberts or Sharps as middle names. This means that we are spared the mugshots for Garret Robert Sharp, Theodore Robert Sharp and Robert Sharp Bone. But it also means that the beautiful abdominal muscles of Robert Sharpe, Male Model, cannot be featured. Furthermore, I only include living Robert Sharps in this list, so we miss out the many dozens of Robert Sharps listed on memorial and obituary websites, including First World War Seaman Robert Sharp Jnr, and the NASA rocket scientist Robert P. Sharp.

Continue reading “Name-alikeys, Revisited”

Yeah But The Other Side Started It

Mohammed Abed

Terrible, terrible scenes on the border between Gaza and Israel. The IDF have massacred 52 protesters.

Meanwhile, social media is full of people seeking to justify and excuse this violence. The main line being parroted seems to be that Hamas provoked the attacks, because dead Palestinians are politically useful.

There may be some within the Hamas leadership who think like that, but that does not excuse or mitigate the violence by Israel, a country that is supposed to be a democracy, that is supposed to respect human rights.

What we need to remember in these situations is that blame is not zero sum. It can be possible for Hamas to have malign motives in staging the protest and putting people in danger. That does not remove moral culpability from the Israeli soldiers who pulled the trigger; nor the Israeli politicians who endorse their actions; nor the American politicians who in turn protect those Israeli politicians from accountability. Continue reading “Yeah But The Other Side Started It”

I Told You So! When Media and Tech Companies Fail To Self-Regulate, Governments Step In

Following the revelations about the harvesting of personal data by Cambridge Analytica and the ongoing worries about abuse and threats on social media, the UK House of Lords Select Committee on Communications last week began a new inquiry entitled ‘Is It Time To Regulate The Internet?’. At the witness sessions so far, peers have opened by asking each expert to comment on whether they favour self-regulation, co-regulation, or state-regulation.

The instinct to regulate is not limited to the U.K. Late last year senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said:

You’ve created these platforms, and now they’re being misused, and you have to be the ones to do something about it… Or we will.

With the reader’s indulgence, these developments remind me of a point I made a few years ago at ORGcon2013, when I was speaking on a panel alongside Facebook VP for Public Policy EMEA, Richard Allan:

If we as the liberal free speech advocates don’t come up with alternative ways of solving things like the brutal hate speech against women, the hideous environment for comments that we see online, then other people are going to fix it for us. And they’re going to fix it in a draconian, leglislative way. So if we want to stop that happening, we need to come up with alternative ways of making people be nicer!

An audio recording of these remarks is on SoundCloud.

Its clear that neither Facebook, nor anyone in the technically minded audience at ORGCon, managed to solve the problem I raised. And lo! The legislators have arrived.

Big Little Lies, Of Its Time In Three Different Ways

BIG LITTLE LIES (HBO)

Big Little Lies is an HBO TV show, based on the Liane Moriarty novel of the same name. It stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, and follows the woven lives of several families living in Monterrey, California.

It was first broadcast in the spring of 2017. Following huge recognition the Golden Globe Awards in January, I decided it was time for me to watch the box set.

Each family has a child attending the local Elementary School, and there’s a murder at a school fundraising gala. A death is announced in the very first scene of the very first episode, but neither the victim, the killer or their motive are revealed until the finale.

The show strikes me as being very much Of Its Time, an emblematic cultural artefact of Western culture at the end of the 2010s. I think it does this three different ways.

Continue reading “Big Little Lies, Of Its Time In Three Different Ways”

Shame and Legacy

In a comment about Donald Trump’s most recent abuse of power, Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald uses an interesting turn of phrase to describe political legacies: “Cowards are not the people schools are named for.”

Speaking on the Ezra Klein Show podcast this week, former Obama speechwriter John Favreau diagnosed the current American political malaise as being essentially about shame… or the lack of it. He and Klein noted that many of the guard-rails to good, democratic behaviour in politics, especially American politics, depends upon the idea of personal shame. People, even (perhaps especially) politicians, care about what other people think of them, and this moderates their behaviour. Politicians like Barack Obama cared deeply when they were criticised, even if that criticism came from their political opponents. This drives conciliation and compromise with the ‘other side’ and can also foster respect, understanding and bipartisanship. This is what a polity requires to maintain a functional democracy. Continue reading “Shame and Legacy”