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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

One Thousand Words

Everyone has a theory about why representative government in the United States doesn't work as well as it could, or as most of us would like it to. Here, I illustrate part of my own theory.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Law More Perfect

This year, here in Washington State, we're going to have dueling ballot initiative around firearms. I've read them both, and between them, they're about 19 pages. About 18 of which are from Initiative 594, "Washington Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases." The description of I 594, is follows: "This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions."

How that relatively straightforward sentence became 18 pages of legalese is illustrative, as it really lays out the difficulties inherent in "closing loopholes in the law." Generally speaking, I understand the purpose behind criminals laws to be establishing a recognized avenue for sanctioning persons who engage in certain behavior that the populace (or its recognized representatives) have decided are undesirable. While this seems like a simple enough process, it runs into problems when intent is to be taken into account, and when it's hard to look at an act in a vacuum and decide whether or not it's one of the certain undesirable behaviors that has been legislated against.

The opponents of I 594 (many of whom support the counter-initiative, I 591) are correct when they point out that a lot of seemingly innocuous activities may count as "transfers" under the new law and may therefore be criminal under the letter of the law. And from my reading of the law, they're correct when they point out that loaning your sister-in-law a gun to protect herself, loaning your adult sons shotguns to go hunting or a police officer loaning a personal firearm to a fellow officer would all run afoul of the restrictions on transfers. In fact, I can think if a circumstance in which I took a gun from a friend who was having an acute mental health crisis for safekeeping that would, if this law went through, likely require a background check and moving the weapon through a licensed dealer. It would all be terribly inconvenient (although I suspect that the police wouldn't bother arresting me for that). And so I understand the issues that gun-rights activists have with this law. But part of their argument is the following:

We deserve the protection of a well-written background check law that protects the right of privacy for lawful firearms owners.
So, I would ask, what's stopping them from writing it?

Sunday, October 12, 2014


I distinctly remember being told that Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Nixed Messages

"If someone outraged me by publishing naked photos of my body, I'm pretty certain my next move would NOT be to then pose semi-naked for a national magazine, especially with a cockatoo."
Bruce Kasanoff "Why Jennifer Lawrence Confuses Me"
This is why we have so much difficulty with consent in our society. Because people become confused by the idea that whether or not someone consents to an act has any place in the moral calculus.

Or... do they? People give money to charity. That money, once they have given it, is usually the given charity's, to do with as they please. Using Mr. Kasanoff's logic here, if someone stole money from me to give it to a charity, and I was outraged about that, it would "send confusing signals" for me to donate money to a charity. Because I'm obviously outraged that charities have my money, right?

Of course, when I swap out nude and semi-nude pictures, and insert money, Mr. Kasanoff sounds like a complete and utter moron, which I really doubt is the case. So what changed? The fact that in the United States, the nudity taboo is alive and well, and so, "clearly," what Ms. Lawrence was outraged about was people seeing her naked - because it appears to be the only topic that carries any moral weight. It's the same thing when we talk about sexuality - there was a time when the sexual history of a woman who had been raped was fair game, because if she had shown a willingness to sleep with other people out of wedlock, why was it a problem if yet one more person decided to help himself? Even though that is no longer (generally) considered an acceptable legal defense, the train of thought still rolls on in some places.

Outside of "victimless crimes," nearly every criminal offense is really about acting without consent. It isn't, for instance, illegal for me to enter someone's home, and leave with $100 more than I had when I arrived. That person could have owed me $100 for some good or service that I had performed for them, or perhaps I had just borrowed the money. What is illegal is for me to use stealth or force to take the $100 from them without their consent - even if the other person owed me the money, or I was only intending to borrow it for a time. This concept, which we don't typically find hard to grasp, applies to everything - including nudity and sex. As Mr. Kasanoff notes, Ms. Lawrence is free to have as many nude pictures taken of herself as she wants, under any circumstances that appeal to her. But as long as those photographs are her lawful property, she has an absolute right to dictate who may see/distribute them, and under what circumstances. If she happens to drop prints of half of them from an airplane over Los Angeles, the other half are still off-limits without permission. Just as if Mr. Kasanoff had $1,000,000 in cash - if he dropped half of it from an airplane over Los Angeles, it would still be a crime for anyone to help themselves to so much as a penny of the remainder without Mr. Kasanoff's express permission. The apparent gulf between asking first and the act itself makes no difference in either case.

Let me point out that sexuality is not the only taboo topic that works this way. I've encountered people who appear to have genuine difficulty with the idea that I might allow a trusted friend to refer to me as "Nigger," but would consider the same from them to be overly familiar (even if I understood that they didn't mean offense by it), and thus transgressive. Like Mr. Kasanoff, they tend to assume that since I've gotten over the general taboo against the word, that I now have no issue with it at all, from anyone. And this leads them to become confused (and sometimes, angry) when I withhold permission from them

It's (way) past time that we stopped letting the taboos that we have around nudity, sexuality and language blind us to the fact that they are not necessarily moral outrages in and of themselves. Otherwise, people like Mr. Kasanoff may never get it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Versus Them

I am, one might say, only marginally attached to gaming culture. I enjoy games, but I don't really consider myself a gamer per se. So I've been observing the battles of self-described Social Justice Warriors (and Rogues and Clerics and Rangers {It's a Gamer Thing. I'm not sure that I understand...}) against the forces of Evil in (guy) gamer culture with a certain amount of detachment.

And when I look at things from a distance, while I understand the anger at, and the desire to vanquish, the perceived "sexists, recreational misogynists and bigots," I think that it misses the point.

The gamification of misogyny predates the internet, but right now, in this world full of angry, broken, lost young men convinced that women have robbed them of some fundamental win in life, it's rampant.
Social Justice Warriors and the New Culture War
This statement that Ms. Penny makes, seems, to me, to hold the keys. If the gamification of misogyny is a symptom of angry, broken, lost young men who feel that they have been deprived of a fundamental win in life, then isn't it logical that the solution is to provide these men with the win that will soothe their anger, repair them and show them the way without needing to inflict pain on others? Of the conflict in the gaming community, Ms. Penny says: "This is a culture war. The right side is winning, at great cost." Which I understand. The idea that the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice is a common one. I don't think that anyone believes that this will still be an issue twenty years from now, or more than likely that it will even take that long to resolve. But, earlier in the piece, Ms. Penny had also made this point: "Gender isn't a game you can play and win by brutalizing and harassing and shaming and hurting the other 'side'." But as I see it, the whole of her op-ed is about shaming the other side.
They can't understand why they look ridiculous.

[T]here's nothing the sad, mad little boys who hate women and queers and people of color can do about it.
When I was in college, we were discussing domestic violence in class - it's roots, and who was at fault. And one person in the class made a statement that has always stuck with me. "It's clear that people learn this from the society around them, but we can still hold them responsible and punish them for allowing themselves to learn it." What I don't understand is why this is better than unteaching it.

As I've grown older, I've come to understand that "traditional masculinity" is a box, and any attempt to leave it is punishable. I know that it feels good to think of defeating the "terrified [...] mouthbreathing manchild misogynists," and punishing them for the "adversity, [...] shame[,...] pain and constant reminders of our own worthlessness" that they dished out. But if the very existence of the gamification of misogyny is the result of people attempting to deal with adversity, shame, pain and the constant reminders of their own worthlessness themselves, what are we really gaining when we enlist those tools as our weapons? If the so-called sexists, recreational misogynists and bigots have created their own worst enemies with these tools, why are the self-proclaimed Social Justice Warriors so certain that they aren't about to do the same? I understand the impulse to see those that injure you out of their own injuries as complicit in the wounds that lead to them being angry, broken and lost. I understand the impulse to see the "right" side of things as self-evident and to understand that opposing it is ironclad proof that "the other" is willfully and deliberately of insufficient intelligence and sensitivity to be worth saving. I was there, once.

"They" may be losing, but they haven't yet lost. In fact, for a time, they've won. Not because of the great personal costs that they've exacted from Anita Sarkeesian, Leigh Alexander, Zoe Quinn, Jennifer Lawrence, Laurie Penny and those that love, support and respect them. But because their hurts and losses have robbed them of their compassion for others; and their lack of compassion is robbing others of theirs. Gender oppression may create a world were everyone loses, but so do anger, hatred and hurt. They all do this through creating a broader culture where hounding and brutalizing and harassing and shaming and injuring others is the normal way of attempting to heal themselves, despite it's woefully poor track record. When we understand this, yet we deal in them anyway because the ignorance, weakness and/or evil intent of those we oppose make it right; and because we've convinced ourselves it will work out differently when we do it - we've become the servants of our pain, and not its masters.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

All Natural

I've always taken something of a laid-back attitude to environmental issues. I don't really worry about the planet. Mother Nature is a grown woman and can take care of herself. We, on the other hand, could really create serious problems for ourselves if we're not careful. But that said, I'm glad that environmental protection wasn't an issue tens of thousands of years ago. I can just imagine what the environmental impact statement for "fire" would have looked like. We'd still be living in caves.

I think that we've come to see ourselves as outside influences on "the environment" rather than a natural (if unusually influential) part of it. If the population of some particular animal - any animal, most likely, were being decimated, or even pushed towards a realistic chance of extinction by a different animal that had recently evolved into a remarkable effective animal-hunting niche without any measurably direct influence from human activity, no-one would be saying that we had a responsibility to attempt to halt the evolution of one animal to spare another. And we, as humans, have simply evolved to the point where we're capable of doing incredibly destructive things to the environments that we live in and interact with. Some of these things we live with, because we like for people to be able to have more children or keep out of the rain. Some of these things we push back against because we like the idea of having pristine spaces or we worry about damaging the Earth's ability to support us over the indefinite term (which is almost certainly limited).

Where I do think that we have a responsibility is to take ownership. I don't find anything wrong, in and of itself, with deciding that we're willing to trade bats and birds for a lower atmospheric carbon load - or when it really comes down to it, that we're willing to trade bats and birds for a better standard or living for some number of people. But I think that carelessly stumbling into those tradeoffs is what is going to get us into trouble. But that's kind of the way it's always worked. I know that here in the United States, we tend to not work to avoid catastrophes - we simply dump resources into cleaning up after them after the fact. And that, more than likely, is one of the real drivers of a lot the issues that we have. But it is what it is, and we don't have the drive and unity that it would take to change it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014