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I must withdraw one of my charges against Jeremy Corbyn

When Corbynites say how their leader’s apparent chumminess with Hezbollah and Hamas or the IRA only arose because to make peace one must talk to those one does not like, I have long been in the habit of asking, “So why did he never meet with the equivalents on the side the left wingers don’t like? When did he arrange to meet with ‘price tag’ Israeli terrorists, or with Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland? Why did he never have similar dialogue with fascists and racists?”

I must eat my words. He did.

Via a post on the “UK politics” subreddit by “Tophattingson”, I learned that in March 2015, Corbyn spoke for a conference organized by the fascist cult “LaRouche Movement”.

While we’re at it, why not gas the dog?

Mark Meechan a.k.a. “Count Dankula”, the man who imperilled us all by making a funny video of a little dog lifting its paw like a Nazi salute, has been found guilty of a crime under the Communications Act 2003 at Airdrie Sheriff Court.

If we are handing out punishments to obvious non-Nazis for doing stuff that reminds people of Nazis I don’t see why that Seig-Heiling pug should get away scot-free.

Discussion point: What should the UK do about the Skripal case?

The basic facts are given in this Wikipedia page: Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and there is a BBC “What we know so far” piece here. I keep hoping to read somewhere that they are beginning to recover. I keep not doing it.

What should the UK government do? What do you think about the measures it has taken so far?

Here are some opinions from several different points of view to get you started:

What can Theresa May do about Russia over the Salisbury poisoning? – Dominic Waghorn, Sky TV.

After the Skripal attack, talk of war only plays into Vladimir Putin’s hands – Simon Jenkins in the Guardian.

Alex Salmond: Don’t shut down my TV show over spy attack – Andy McLaren, STV News.

Fair play in the Scottish Parliament

In 2011 the Scottish Government Executive* passed the stunningly illiberal Offensive Behaviour at Football Act. Judge it by its defenders: a Scottish National Party Member of the Scottish Parliament called John Mason said, “We should all know by now expressing political views is no longer acceptable at football matches.”

He framed the issue as if the only thing required of citizens was that they should keep up to date with the inexorable increase in what is deemed “unacceptable” (to whom is never specified). Once they know the rules, they will of course comply, so politics becomes merely a matter of Filch hammering up new decrees on Hogwarts wall.

Earlier posts on the same topic were “New stirrings at the Old Firm” and “Free speech for all (neds need not apply)”.

But, for once, a Ministry decree has been removed from the wall.

The BBC reports:

MSPs vote to repeal football bigotry law

MSPs have voted to repeal Scotland’s Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

The legislation was passed by the then-majority SNP government in 2011 in a bid to crack down on sectarianism.

But all four opposition parties argued for it to be scrapped, saying it unfairly targets football fans and has failed to tackle the problem.

Ministers argued the move was “foolhardy” but were outvoted by 62 to 60, meaning the Football Act will be taken off the statute book in April.

The legislation has deeply divided opinion from the start, with those who support it saying it was needed to fight the scourge of sectarianism within Scottish football.

But opponents say the law treats football fans as “second class citizens”, and is not needed as police and the courts already had sufficient powers to deal with offensive behaviour.

They also claim that the law is badly worded, and therefore open to different interpretations of what is and is not “offensive behaviour”.

*As Sam Duncan S reminds me, in 2011 it had not yet decided got permission to call itself a Government. Added later: apologies again, Duncan S, not Sam Duncan. This post is jinxed.

Is this what strong women do these days?

In yesterday’s Guardian Jill Abramson asked,

“Are we seeing signs of a Democratic wave in the primaries?”

The article optimistically discussed the Democrats’ chances in various upcoming US electoral contests, including the next presidential election:

Though winning control of the House of Representatives in 2018 is their focus, my Democratic sources say that there are already 20 credible presidential challengers giving serious thought to opposing Donald Trump in 2020. The list, unsurprisingly, includes a raft of Democratic senators, and, perhaps surprisingly, at least three strong women, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren.

My eyes had been glazing over at the mention of “strong women”. Then I read this:

It’s easy to look at what’s happening in Washington DC and despair. That’s why I carry a little plastic Obama doll in my purse. I pull him out every now and then to remind myself that the United States had a progressive, African American president until very recently. Some people find this strange, but you have to take comfort where you can find it in Donald Trump’s America.

Ms Abramson is “a political columnist for the Guardian. She is visiting lecturer in the English department at Harvard University and a journalist who spent the last 17 years in the most senior editorial positions at the New York Times, where she was the first woman to serve as Washington bureau chief, managing editor and executive editor.”

Something of a prototypical strong woman herself, then. And if she wants to carry around a little plastic Obama doll to hug when she feels sad, far be it from me to deny her the right. Though I do not believe I ever went through the phase of needing to have a “blanky” or other “comfort object” constantly around me, many toddlers do. I am sure the right to keep and bear blankies is in the penumbra of the US Constitution somewhere. It just… somehow… is not what I expected of a former bureau chief, managing editor and executive editor. (Visiting Lecturer in the Harvard English department, maybe.) Is that what strong American women (who by definition are all Democrats) do these days? Maybe I’m just out of touch. Maybe it is accepted that among the accoutrements of the modern strong woman is a doll representing a male authority figure that she can clutch for comfort. Maybe New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren all have little plastic Obamas that help them cope with their fears, and that’s OK.

Which of these two airline chief executives do you find more persuasive?

Ryanair’s Micheal O’Leary, as reported in today’s Mirror:

Ryanair chief threatens to ground cheap flights to persuade voters to ‘rethink’ Brexit

CEO Michael O’Leary says he wants to make people realise they are “no longer going to have cheap holidays”

Ryanair is threatening to ground its planes to persuade voters to “rethink” Brexit .

Michael O’Leary, the budget airline’s chief executive, said he wants to “create an opportunity” by making people realise they are “no longer going to have cheap holidays.”

He told an audience of airline leaders in Brussels: “I think it’s in our interests – not for a long period of time – that the aircraft are grounded.

“It’s only when you get to that stage where you’re going to persuade the average British voter that you were lied to in the entire Brexit debate.

“You were promised you could leave the EU and everything would stay the same. The reality is you can leave the EU, yes that’s your choice, but everything will fundamentally change.”

Mr O’Leary warned that there would be a “real crisis” as flights between the UK and the EU are disrupted after Brexit.

He said: “When you begin to realise that you’re no longer going to have cheap holidays in Portugal or Spain or Italy, you’ve got to drive to Scotland or get a ferry to Ireland as your only holiday options, maybe we’ll begin to rethink the whole Brexit debate.

“They were misled and I think we have to create an opportunity.”

Or EasyJet’s Johan Lundgren?

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren, who was on stage alongside Mr O’Leary, interrupted him to say: “If you start grounding your planes, I’m flying.”

The Perils of Polly Brexitstop

“Heyulp! Heyulp”

Who will rescue Polly this time? Who will answer her call?

Will it be those apparently reformed criminals, the Ant Hill Mob?

“Come to parliament, Sinn Féin, as saviours of Ireland – and Britain”

Or will it be her trusted guardian Sylvester Sneekly and his business associates?

“Business must speak up, and save Britain from Brexit”

Two desperate appeals in five days have gone unanswered. Oh, won’t somebody come?

Is this what a man hired to communicate climate science calls evidence?

As I have said before, I retain a belief in CAGW two-and-a-half letters to the left of most commenters on this blog. But Bob Ward – Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics – is not the first believer in the imminent peril of climate change to have a damn good go at pushing my scepticism-marker to the right. On the LSE British Politics and Policy blog, he writes:

Do male climate change ‘sceptics’ have a problem with women?

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines applies for a reason. If someone knows a thing for sure, they don’t ask the air. They state it, good and hard.

Although clearly not all climate change ‘sceptics’ are male, writes Bob Ward,

Get-out clause.

it does appear that those who most intensely promote climate change denial are usually male, and routinely refer to female climate scientists in a dismissive way. He provides some evidence for his argument.

The standard of what he thinks is evidence is what prompted me to write this post.

On 20 February, the Global Warming Policy Foundation launched a new pamphlet at the House of Lords, attacking the mainstream media for not giving more coverage to climate change ‘sceptics’. The author, Christopher Booker, is a veteran columnist for The Sunday Telegraph. This will be the 65th pamphlet published by the Foundation, since it was registered as an educational charity by Lord Lawson of Blaby in 2009, 57 of which have been written by men only.

So 8 out of the 65 were not. That is 12.3%. According to a Guardian article asking how well women are represented in UK science in the light of the forced resignation of Tim Hunt (an affair which itself demonstrated the incompatibility of modern feminism with science), women make up just 12.8% of the STEM workforce. So the GWPF’s pamphlet output is, as we scientists say, only short by a whisker. Yeah, that 12.8% is a factoid I plucked out of the air of questionable relevance to anything, but so is Bob Ward’s figure of 57/65 GWPF pamphlets not having a woman’s name at the end. Incidentally I am shocked that the Guardian, unlike Mr Ward, ignores scientists of non-binary gender. No, wait! I have suddenly seen that Mr Ward’s rather strange phrasing “written by men only” might not after all be a progressive acknowledgement that some authors presenting as male or female might actually consider themselves as part of the Two Spirit community. It could just be about papers with more than one author. Oh, poot. That’s a paragraph of snark wasted. Not to worry, though. All I have to do is put a question mark at the end and I can use it after all: Does Bob Ward have a problem with the Two Spirit Community?

However, male dominance of the Foundation’s other activities is even stronger. Of its 10 Trustees, all but one are men. All of the 25 members of its “Academic Advisory Council” are men.

Those square quotes are men. I can tell by the way they are so aggressive and in yer face. Female punctuation marks are much nicer.

Its Chair, Director, Deputy Director, Science Editor, Energy Editor, Director of Development and Researcher are all men. And all seven of its annual lectures have been delivered by men.

So that’s the Global Warming Policy Foundation shown to be almost as sexist as liberal Hollywood luvvies or Oxfam directors. Are we going to reach the bit where we prove – or even attempt to prove – the sexism of climate sceptics in general rather than this one think-tank soon?

The Foundation does not disclose any details about the identities of its members, thought to number about 100, or its donors who last year gave more than £284,000. It is not obvious why the Foundation should be able to benefit from charity status while appearing to operate as an old boys’ club. It is not, for instance, raising awareness of men’s issues, such as the risks of prostate cancer.

Huh? I can vaguely see how he gets from “does not disclose any details about the identities of its members” to “appearing to operate as an old boys’ club”, but where did the bit about prostate cancer come from? The term “old boys’ club” or “old boy network” is usually taken to mean a group that operates by the principle of “it’s not what you know but who you know”. But the mention of “boys” is a historical hangover from the days when the days when practically all professionals were male. There was never any suggestion that old boys’ clubs became more acceptable if they dealt with old boys’ issues.

I asked the Charity Commission to investigate whether the under-representation of women within the governance and activities of the Foundation was the result of discrimination. The Commission had previously carried out an inquiry into the Foundation and concluded that it had violated the rules for education charities because it was solely promoting climate change denial.

However, it refused to make any enquiries about the under-representation of women on the grounds that “there are no legal requirements around gender balance in governance and that under s20(2) of the Charities Act, the Commission is precluded from interfering in the administration of a charity”.

Good to see the Charity Commission staying within its legal remit. Gambling Commission, please note.

The Foundation may be dominated by older men because climate change denial is simply not popular among women and young people.

Science of the sort that Bob Ward approves of is also disproportionately old and male. Old because it takes time to learn this stuff, male because… well, that is not a question into which modern science cares to delve.

Numerous studies have suggested that climate change ‘sceptics’ are usually older and male, with political views that place less value on the environment. However, recent polls of the UK public suggest that there is little gender difference among the small proportion of the population who are hardcore ‘sceptics’.

The fact that Mr Ward put in this nugget that undermines the rest of his article made me think a lot better of him. But it still undermines the rest of his article.

A tracking survey commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy showed that, in March 2017, 7.6% answered “I don’t think there is such a thing as climate change” or “Climate change is caused entirely caused by natural processes”, when asked for their views. Among men the figure was 8.1%, while for women it was 7.1%.

As above.

Anyone who has engaged with ‘sceptics’ will have learned that it is the men who are most vocal about their views.

Anyone who has engaged with ‘human beings’ will have learned that it is the men who are most vocal about their views.

They tend to lack any training or qualifications in climate science, but still appear to believe that they know better than the experts. And there is also a degree of male chauvinism that often underlies the arguments put forward by ‘sceptics’ during public discussions. For instance, when Lord Lawson was asked to comment on a statement by Professor Dame Julia Slingo, the chief scientist at the Met Office, about the link between flooding and climate change, he did not refer to her by her professional title but as “this Julia Slingo woman”.

The degree of male chauvinism in that is close to zero. I am female but if I do not think too highly of a person I might easily refer to them as “this X Y man” if they happen to be male and “this A B woman” if they happen to be female. To omit her professional title does fall short of the highest standards of courtesy but before we specifically condemn Nigel Lawson for sexism perhaps we ought to establish that he is more insulting to women than to men. Paradoxically he could defend himself from the charge by pointing to his frequent waspishness to his male political allies, his male political enemies, and to the male chat show host Clive Anderson. I am sure Lord Lawson would not have dreamed of making disparaging reference to the appearance of a lady.

Other climate change ‘sceptics’ routinely refer to female climate scientists in a dismissive way. For instance, Professor Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London was called a “puffed-up missy” in a trademark rant by James Delingpole for the extremist website Breitbart. Mr Delingpole also referred on his website to Dr Emily Shuckburgh, an experienced climate scientist who specialises on impacts in polar regions, not by her name or job title but as “some foxy chick from the British Antarctic Survey”.

What an adorably old-fashioned chappie Delingpole is. As indeed is Mr Ward. A chick can go Oxford and have a science degree and still be pretty damn foxy, you know. This is a point upon which I feel strongly.

Female scientists outside the UK are also exposed to sexist invective from climate change ‘sceptics’, with Scientific American reporting that, in the United States, “more than 90 percent of the harassing emails they receive are from men and often include gender-specific abuse”.

Of course not all climate change ‘sceptics’ are male chauvinists, but it is clear that those who most obsessively promote climate change denial are usually male, arrogant, and unable to accept that the experts are right, particularly if they are female.

No, it is not clear. Insufficient evidence has been provided to support the assertion.

Edit: Oh, and one further thing. A point so fundamental that I didn’t think of putting it in until later, like the Zeroth Law. Lord Lawson, James Delingpole, the entire complement of the Global Warming Policy Foundation irrespective of gender, and every climate sceptic on the planet could all be misogynist space Nazis who wear Free Cuckistan socks in bed and it still would not make their opinions on climate change wrong.

Antiquated attitudes

Thus saith the EQUALITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION to its anointed, to the BBC, whose right hand it hath holden, to subdue the unrighteous before it:

Employers still have ‘antiquated attitude to female workers’

Many employers still live in the “dark ages” when it comes to recruiting women, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says.

In a poll for the EHRC, 36% of employers thought it reasonable to ask a women about plans to have children.

Some 59% agreed that a woman should have to disclose during the recruitment process whether she is pregnant.

The commission said the poll of 1,106 male and female decision-makers showed worrying attitudes.

The EHRC said its study showed that many employers needed more support to better understand the basics of discrimination law and the rights of pregnant women and new mothers.

EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said: “It is a depressing reality that, when it comes the rights of pregnant woman and new mothers in the workplace, we are still living in the dark ages.

“We should all know very well that it is against the law not to appoint a woman because she is pregnant or might become pregnant.

“Yet we also know women routinely get asked questions around family planning in interviews.”

Other findings from the YouGov survey of small, medium and large firms included:

– 46% of employers agreed it was reasonable to ask women if they have young children during the recruitment process

– 44% agree women should work for an organisation for at least a year before deciding to have children
About one third believe that women who become pregnant and new mothers in work are “generally less interested in career progression”

– 41% of employers agreed that pregnancy in the workplace puts “an unnecessary cost burden” on the workplace

– 51% agree there is sometimes resentment towards women who are pregnant or on maternity leave
The EHRC said its survey revealed antiquated beliefs, including two out of five employers saying women who have had more than one child while in the same job can be a “burden” to their team.

The message on those Oxfam T-shirts

Have you ever watched someone make a speech and caught the moment when the speaker lost the sympathy of the audience? Those friendly to the speaker wince, suppress it, and lock their heads and their eyes into looking straight ahead. In contrast the hostile part of the audience exchange glances – did you hear it too?

There can be moments like that when reading a news story too. Suddenly a detail leaps out. The reader who is friendly to the subject of the story winces, while the hostile reader cannot wait to click on the comments. For the Oxfam story I think that detail was the prostitutes half-naked except for Oxfam T-shirts. Without that the story was and is a bit meh.

So men far from home use prostitutes? Meh. They call it “the oldest profession” for a reason. Most people, even those with traditional views on sexual morality, would say that is a private matter.

So women in countries stricken by war or disaster turn to prostitution to survive? In that case the power imbalance makes the picture look uglier – but realistically it is inevitable. There was a sweet letter in today’s Times in which the writer suggested that we send the army to administer aid rather than these NGOs. Like the writer, I have a higher opinion of our armed services than I do of our misnamed “non-governmental” organisations, but consider the centuries old connotations of the term “camp follower”. Where soldiers are, there will be women offering to sell them sex.

Every story on this seems to include the line that some of the prostitutes may have been underage. Serious if proven, but so far, not proven. No one has put their name to a definite allegation citing times and places. May have been underage. Meh.

But this is not meh:

Oxfam in Haiti: ‘It was like a Caligula orgy with prostitutes in Oxfam T-shirts’

“The group lived in a guesthouse rented by Oxfam that they called the ‘pink apartments’ — they called it ‘the whorehouse’,” said a source who says he was shown phone footage by one of the residents of the guesthouse.

“They were throwing big parties with prostitutes. These girls were wearing Oxfam T-shirts, running around half-naked, it was a like a full-on Caligula orgy. It was unbelievable. It was crazy. At one party there were at least five girls and two of them had Oxfam white T-shirts on. These men used to talk about holding ‘young meat barbecues’.”

That image has deeply unpleasant associations. There is not even the fig leaf of buying the girl a drink and making a little awkward conversation to make it feel more like an interaction of equals. Black women are labelled as available for white men by brand name packaging. Think how that must rankle in Haiti.

But we’re libertarians, right? (I have used this line before.) Indeed we are. Neither guilty whites in London nor resentful blacks in Port-au-Prince should have a veto on two individuals making a deal. Subject to some provisos about promises made by either party to their spouses, to local laws, and to agreed conditions of employment, that is still my opinion.

However it is not Oxfam’s opinion. Do a search for the word “Oxfam” on this blog. There were a few sensible noises on free trade from this semi-fake charity fifteen years ago, but in recent years Oxfam has grown fat peddling economically illiterate bullshit on the alleged evils of “inequality” and “speculation”. White guilt and black resentment were its stock in trade. Actual trade was something to be taxed, regulated and eternally prefixed with some veto-word like “Fair” or “Ethical” that showed permission had been given by censorious third parties for the transaction to occur.

Live by the sword, die by the sword.

Rod Liddle on Oxfam

The people of Haiti needed help — what they got was a bunch of Oxfam sleazebags

Yet another brilliant party I’ve missed out on. The Oxfam gig in Haiti back in 2011 — the whores, I’m told, were sensational, if a little on the young side. My own fault for having assumed it would be a grim convocation of death and destruction — plus pious white liberals blaming capitalism for everything. Not a bit of it. Those Oxfam staffers know how to party, especially the top brass.

No sooner had they arrived in the earthquake zone than they had set up their bordello, “the pink apartments”, and were ready for — as one of them put it — “young meat barbecues”.

The women were purchased — some of them younger than 16, allegedly — and decked out in Oxfam T-shirts — no undergarments, no jeans or skirts, just Oxfam T-shirts. Then began what was described as a “full-on Caligula orgy”, led by Oxfam’s then country director Roland van Hauwermeiren. Roly is 68 years old — you have to admire his energy. All that misery to sort out, but he still had the time to give some local teenagers a good charitable seeing-to.

Better still, Roland could later appear before the cameras, wringing his hands and saying of the situation in Haiti: “Too many donors from rich countries have pursued their own aid priorities.” You’re not kidding, Roland. You were clear about your own aid priorities, weren’t you? But, hell, what a party. And to think I felt bad about the Presidents Club dinner, where some right-wing men may have touched a woman’s knee.

This scarcely believable story was revealed in The Times: four senior Oxfam workers booted out for engaging prostitutes in Haiti as the country tried to recover from its earthquake. Oxfam complained it was old news and that the press had been told about it at the time.

Oxfam was lying. Sure, we’d been told back then some staffers had been sacked for “misconduct”. But misconduct could have been tearing up parking tickets or referring to a dying earthquake victim by their gender at birth, rather than the one to which she/he had transitioned. I suppose lying is stretching it, mind. Technically, you could say the Yorkshire Ripper was guilty of “misconduct”.

Oxfam also claims it told the Charity Commission about everything. That’s not how it looks. It told me on Friday: “We have written to the charity as a matter of urgency to request further information regarding the events in Haiti . . . This information will be considered as part of an ongoing case regarding the charity’s approach to safeguarding.”

It does give you an insight, though, into the way these perpetually angry and concerned middle-class lefties actually think of the people they are supposed to be helping. So pristine and pious, so sanctimonious towards the rest of us. So aloof from our own national concerns: internationalist to a man and especially in favour of countries where, like Haiti, the whores can be bought for one dollar. Yay, that’s the kind of country we like!

This is the second scandal to affect Oxfam this year: income £408m in 2016-17, almost half of it from government, with huge sums spent on salaries or advertising or lobbying — or indeed whoring. A few weeks ago the charity castigated capitalism for having enmired the Third World in poverty. It was pointed out, fairly quickly, that capitalism had elevated most of the world out of poverty and into affluence.

Oxfam’s assertion was the usual adolescent political grandstanding and weird warping of reality — and ignored the desperate poverty inflicted on hundreds of millions of people by socialism. It was virtue signalling by an organisation that, by now, is denuded of the slenderest vestiges of virtue. Most of the world’s poverty today is occasioned by bad governance and a predatory Third World elite, not by capitalism.

I think the Oxfam staffers know this. I think they know this and it makes them hot. Never give these people any of your money.

I have been known to give Oxfam small amounts of my money. I love a bargain, and if I’m passing an Oxfam charity shop I’ll pop in, and if there is a little something that takes my fancy, I’ll spend a quid or two to have it. Er, not in the Roland van Hauwermeiren sense. Call me over-optimistic, but I would like to think that alongside what Liddle rightly calls Oxfam’s “adolescent political grandstanding and weird warping of reality” – a.k.a. “socialism” – the charity has some employees who are actually quite good at getting help quickly to desperate people after an earthquake or similar catastrophe. That’s my excuse anyway.

By the way, so long as they are over the age of consent, I strongly oppose prostitution or the hiring of prostitutes being an offence in law. However I believe it was the case that Oxfam made a rule forbidding its aid workers to employ prostitutes, then covered it up when senior employees broke that rule.

Much of Oxfam’s sickness comes from its receipt of government money. No longer was it entirely dependent on the goodwill of ordinary people with their naive belief that the money they gave should be spent on medicine or tents or emergency latrines rather than politicking, and their equally tedious preference that their donations not be spent on prostitutes. Freed from all that, Oxfam could branch out into being a political party for people too sensitive to do the hard graft of going door to door and canvassing for votes, and as a bonus it could use government money to advocate for the policies that would keep the stream of government money coming.

Puritans IN SPACE!

H.L. Mencken defined “puritanism” as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy”. Meet Nathan Robinson, editor of a journal called Current Affairs, Guardian contributor, and a man who has almost certainly named his kids “Fly-extravagance”, “Sorry-for-misgendering” and “If-carbon-had-not-been-offset-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned”. He writes,

Why Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch is utterly depressing

There is, perhaps, no better way to appreciate the tragedy of 21st-century global inequality than by watching a billionaire spend $90m launching a $100,000 car into the far reaches of the solar system.

Musk said he wanted to participate in a space race because “races are exciting” and that while strapping his car to a rocket may be “silly and fun … silly and fun things are important”. Thus, anyone who mentions the colossal waste the project involves, or the various social uses to which these resources could be put, can be dismissed as a killjoy.

But one doesn’t have to hate fun to question the justification for pursuing a costly new space race at exactly this moment. If we examine the situation honestly, and get past our natural (and accurate) feeling that rockets are really cool, it becomes hard to defend a project like this.

A mission to Mars does indeed sound exciting, but it’s important to have our priorities straight. First, perhaps we could make it so that a child no longer dies of malaria every two minutes. Or we could try to address the level of poverty in Alabama that has become so extreme the UN investigator did not believe it could still occur in a first-world country. Perhaps once violence, poverty and disease are solved, then we can head for the stars.

Many might think that what Elon Musk chooses to do with his billions is Elon Musk’s business alone. If he wanted to spend all his money on medicine for children, that would be nice, but if he’d like to spend it making big explosions and sending his convertible on a million-mile space voyage, that’s his prerogative.

But Musk is only rich enough to afford these indulgent pet projects because we have allowed gross social inequalities to arise in the first place. If wealth were actually distributed fairly in this country, nobody would be in a position to fund his own private space program.