Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Argumentum Ab Timor

I was, honestly, unsurprised to find the message in my inbox. We have a fairly well-understood tendency, as a society, to "vote our fears," and, it must be said, that shootings in schools evoke quite a bit of fear.

Still, it seemed somehow gratuitous, if for no other reason than it gave the appearance of linking Initiative 594 to a solution to such issues. I have yet to hear if Jaylen Fryberg obtained the weapon he used in the shooting via a means that I-594 would have possibly prevented. But if he simply picked up a legally-owned gun belonging to a family member, it seems that better firearms storage protocols, which are not covered by the initiative, could have possibly done more good than "closing the gun-show loophole."

There is a general impulse to look at gun violence and gun violence as if they were the same, monolithic issue. Which is understandable, but I think it also misses the point, and makes the overall issue difficult to solve. It's true - firearms can make otherwise nebbishy people dangerous, and allow them to murder a number of people in one stroke, rather than one at a time. But there are plenty of tools of murder available to the determined, and if we don't find a way to curb the impulse of seeing killings, of others and of self, as a solution to the problems of life, simply taking a single tool out of the toolbox won't be as effective as we like to think. But if we do concentrate on reducing the impulse for violence in out communities, steps that we take to curb access to specific weapons will be even more effective.

Which is not to say that the backers of Initiative 594 should abandon their goals. But I do think that in trying to link the initiative to what may very well be an unrelated incident, they're overselling the product that they're offering.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Party Off

Crystal Wright, a Black Republican woman, took Stacey Dash, another Black Republican woman, to task over comments that Wright says were: "[...] insulting and give blacks another reason to tune out the GOP and not take our party seriously." Wright comments that Dash described black people in Louisiana as "government freeloaders who don't work." She goes on to quote Dash:

"They're getting money for free. They feel worthless. They're uneducated. I mean, as long as you are that way, they can keep you under their control ..."

"They have a plantation mentality," Dash said. "As long as they give you this much money, you'll stay right there. You don't need to know too much because if you do, you might start thinking for yourself."
Black Republican actress' racist remarks hurt GOP
For Wright, this is the wrong approach. "Whether you're white or black," Wright says, "it's never cool to invoke metaphors of slavery, which was a gruesome, painful institution protected by Democrats in America that went on way too long. Conservatives should remind Americans of the history of slavery and how the Democratic Party perpetuates policies of paternalism that don't benefit blacks."

Interestingly, in a way, Wright is doubling down on Dash's statements. Both Wright and Dash are accusing national Democrats of being controlling and paternalistic. And in doing so, both are invoking the United States of a century and a half or so ago. In the end, Wright claims that Dash's comments are insulting and damaging to the Republicans, because Dash feels that the Democrat's alleged tactics are working. For her part, Wright is claiming... well, I'm not sure. According to Wright, fellow Black Republican Deroy Murdock gave a "much more reasoned commentary" on why African-Americans should look to the Republican party when he said: "Black folks show up and vote 95% for Obama, 95% for Landrieu and ...what do you get? Eighteen years of poverty under Mary Landrieu in Louisiana." Wright goes on to point out that "Murdock said that under Obama's presidency, black poverty and dependence on food stamps has increased and home ownership has declined." Wright describes many people in the African-American electorate as having a "blind allegiance to Democrats." She points out that this loyalty has not paid off. Likewise, the comments made by Stacey Dash were made in the context of a discussion of "how blacks in Louisiana have voted for Landrieu since electing her in 1997 but have not benefited from it."

I understand Wright's irritation at Dash's characterization of Louisiana's African-America voters as freeloaders who don't think for themselves, and are thus controlled by cynical White Democrats, and the equally cynical mixed-race President. But I don't know that it's any less insulting to chalk things up to a misplaced blind loyalty. Dash portrays the voters she criticizes as sellouts, purchasing government benefits through avoiding critical thought and voting for people who have no respect for them. In Wright's formulation, they're simply beggars, voting for people who have no respect for them, and receiving nothing in return. For Stacy Dash, Black voters have made a cynical and unwise bargain, trading away their self-reliance for the tenuous security of government benefits doled out by disdainful masters. But this is better than the scenario Crystal Wright envisions, in which those same voters have instead purchased dependence and poverty - their bargain was just as unwise, without being smart enough to be nakedly self-serving.

In her CNN op-ed, Wright portrays the Democrats as effectively the same party that they were in the 1860s, when they warred with the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln. However she avoids the time, in the 1960s, when the Democrats went to bat for national Civil Rights legislation, and the Republican Party moved in to the pick up the votes of White southerners who felt threatened by the retreat of "state's rights," racial segregation and White supremacy and nationalism. But that was a while back, and so the question posed by one of Wright's fellow Black Republicans, Louisiana State Senator Elbert Guillory, "What have the Democrats done for us lately?" is a valid one, I suspect the answer would be: "Just as much as the Republicans have done" - except for the fact that the Republican push for voter identification laws is commonly seen as a push to disenfranchise traditionally Democratic constituencies - like Blacks.

The problem that Republicans have with African-American voters is not one of slavish (and I use that term with all due consideration) loyalty to the Democratic party or that random Black Republicans make stupid comments now and again. It's that, despite contrition for and denunciation of it, Republicans still seem to be wedded to the Southern Strategy, which requires that Blacks and Hispanics (and now, possibly Middle Easterners) be publicly treated as the enemy in exchange for the votes of the "state's rights," racial segregation and White supremacy and nationalism constituency that the Democrats have been abandoning for the past 50 years. This leads them to plead for Black votes now, in exchange for policies friendly to Black people later. And, frankly, I suspect that people don't believe them. The Democrats may not have brought home the bacon for 50 years, but when they did, they went all out. As long as the Republicans can't convince themselves to make the same leap, they can argue amongst themselves all they want.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


For these guys, the timing of yesterday's shooting couldn't have been worse if someone had planned it that way. So, of course, people are alleging that a plan is exactly what happened.
Google "SWAT training Marysville, HS" and you'll see the post this newscaster read from the Marysville School District that announces the training.

Just "so happens" there's a big gun bill the Dems are trying to pass next month in Washington State! Convenient.
YouTube - where else?
The shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School occurred at around 10:30 yesterday morning. By noon, the "false flag" accusations were already up and running. Which should come as a surprise to no-one, really. After all, there are dueling initiatives concerning firearms on the ballot for this year. And those ballots arrived in the mail late last week.
There's no such thing as coincidences
The mantra of the the conspiracy theorist (also, unsurprisingly, from YouTube)
For my part, I'm not the conspiratorial type. So the idea that there is a shadowy cabal of bumbling imbeciles ineptly running the world and carefully staging events with obvious holes in them doesn't compute for me. But then again, I'm okay with the world being a more or less random place. The other side of that, though, is that if you ask me what the world should look like, I can't tell you. There are 7.2 billion people (give or take) on Earth right now, and the state of the planet is a direct result of the decisions that those people make, and the way they interact with one another, and the decisions that people before them have made. Given that, the idea that it is somehow impossible for a young man to embark on a murder-suicide rampage within two weeks of Election Day, simply because one of the issues to be decided in that election has to do with guns, strikes me as bizarre. Is there, somewhere, an anti-firearms activist who could be regarded as insufficiently upset at the deaths of two people and the injuries to others, because they feel that the shock value of this news will help Initiative 594 to pass? I don't know, but it seems like a safe enough bet. But that, in and of itself is not proof that they picked up the phone and whispered a code word into someone's ear at 10 am yesterday.

My father taught me that the definition of "obvious" was something so crystal-clear that you're the only person who sees it. And so, I understand that the murkiness of the world, which permeates my daily existence, may not be real for other people. And I shouldn't expect it to be real to them. The world they live in, with its backroom dealings and plots within plots, works for them. Therefore, it doesn't have to work for me. But I do find it interesting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


One of the problems with American English is its imprecision, a trait which is exacerbated by, among other things, our habit of looking to obtain people's attention through a certain amount of exaggeration, if not hyperbole.

When I was growing up, the term "privileged" meant that more or less the rules were different for different people, and they tended to favor the privileged at the expense of others. Consider the plight of Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War. A significant amount of their property was expropriated by whites in the communities that they had been removed from and for a long time this wasn't considered unjustified theft. Or, to use an example with which I am more personally acquainted, in my freshman year of college, a football player cut in line in front of another student in the cafeteria. When she complained, the football player struck her hard enough to knock her unconscious. He was never disciplined - at a school that otherwise allowed for fairly draconian punishments for infractions such as missing classes too often. This is what I understood to be "privileged" - there were literally, if not formally, two (or more) sets rules in play. But now that "privilege" has entered the broad public discourse, the definition has expanded.

There are many different ways to define and conceptualize privilege, but one that makes sense for me (as a person of privilege) is that privilege is the freedom to not notice difference.Taste Privilege and GamerGate
Now, this sometimes irks me, but I understand the expansion of the concept, especially as it pertains to social justice circles. But it's still hard for me to understand the current definition of privilege as anything other than "Person A isn't as miserable in their life as Person B is in theirs, and that's unfair." Which to be sure, it a legitimate way of understanding it. It doesn't work that well for me, but hey, I'm old. But I'm also willing to be hip to the times, and use the language as other people use it.

But I do think that the older understanding of what it means to be privileged is useful, and something that should be preserved. Because being able to punch someone out without consequences is really something very different than simply not needing to care that what works for you doesn't always work for others. So, we'll just have to find a new word for it. "Exempt" strikes me as a useful term, because it really gets to the heart of things. Some people are, for whatever reason, exempt from the rules that the rest of us have to live with. And those exemptions are very helpful to them, as I suspect that the football player, whether he appreciated it or not, benefited a good deal from not being expelled from school as the rest of us had been told that the rules dictated.

In the end, I realize, I'm in the minority. For many people all levels of privilege are effectively the same, and all are to be stamped out. Which is all well and good. But when it's all a single amorphous mass, it's hard to see progress being made. And the fact that the egregious behaviors that privilege once encompassed are now being frowned upon matters. We should speak in a way that allows us to see that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Bastards!

Hatred is an isometric shooter with disturbing atmosphere of mass killing, where player takes the role of a cold blood antagonist, who is full of hatred for humanity. It's a horror, but here YOU are the villain.
I've found the internet debate around this game to be interesting, in part because there seems to be a thread that this particular exploration of the dark side of humanity will somehow be the single straw that breaks the camel's back.

Ever since I was in junior high school (likely before that even), computer programmers have been making games where the primary activity has been to move an avatar around the screen and shoot computer-generated people. Or mutants or aliens or what-have-you. Brøderbund software even had a game named, literally, "If It Moves, Shoot It!" What makes Hatred a horror game, and the player's avatar a villain isn't the activity - it's the reasoning. It can be argued that in more traditional Shoot'em ups that the computer-generated targets fight back. Sure, but, as an article I once read pointed out, the oppositions in computer games is never really about putting up a fair or intelligent fight - they exist to be "killed" by the player. An acquaintance of mine who works in the video game industry noted that if First-person shooters were anything like real life, your character would likely at some point find himself face down in a pool of his or her own blood with no idea what hit them.

I understand the discomfort at the idea of pretending to be a spree killer as a form of entertainment, although I think that at least some of it is born of the uncharitable assumption that there is a sizable number of people out there for whom it would be unambiguously entertaining. But in the end, all of these sorts of games simply offer different pretend reasons for different flavors of pretend violence. Hatred is no exception.