Thursday, October 29, 2015


One thing that I learned from Ta-Nehisi Coates is that: "You should never judge yourself by the standards of the owner of the boot presently on your neck." Or, less dramatically, that you shouldn't judge yourself by the standards of your critics. When I first read it, it seemed like one of these sayings of deep wisdom that is worth filing away somewhere, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was a simple admonition to be true to yourself as you experience yourself, and not as others do.

I do not believe in deities. I simply find no evidence for them in my world, in the same way that I find no evidence for ghosts, psychics or sorcerers. This does not mean that they do not exist, however. But if you left me with no other options, I would wager that none of them were real, and be confident that I'd be the one going home with the cash when it was all said and done.

But, as I noted, I do not stand firmly on the position that deities, et al must be fictional. In many circles, this is considered "humility" on my part. Which I understand. But I would note that when I speak to Christians and Moslems about their faiths, conceding that they may be incorrect in their understanding that God is real is not considered "humble." In the worst case scenario, that sort of doubt is considered sinful. Humility in faith means something completely different to them. In light of this, I suspect that praise for "humility" in non-believers is less about praising a virtue than it is about hoping to leave open an avenue of conversion.

My lack of belief in anything supernatural works for me. I can put together a workable understanding of how the world came to be and manage a viable system of ethics and justice without recourse to a controlling entity. I do not need my life to having anything that resembles, "meaning." (I think. I have never been exactly clear on what it means for life to have "meaning" in the first place.) If I need to understand myself to be part of something greater than myself, I need only look down at the Earth, or up into the sky. Neither of those things care one whit if I am here tomorrow or not, yet I would be very put out were either of them to go away.

But I know any number of people who believe in deities, several who believe in ghosts, some who believe in psychics and even a few who believe in sorcerers. And I like these people, and out of respect for them, I accept that they live in a world that is fundamentally different from my own. And out of respect, I let them stay in it. And so I have no interest in bringing them into my world. I understand the worldview that says that I am doing them a disservice by letting them live in a delusion, but my answer to that is that it works for them, and there is no harm in it. Religion may not make people good, but it doesn't make them dicks, either - we are all perfectly capable of being either of those things regardless of what faith we follow, or don't follow. The traits our species has are independent of such considerations.

Not feeling a need to undermine what works for other people is, like the understanding that the Universe is too vast a place to ever know either in its entirely or with certainty, in my estimation, different from humility. Likewise, the confidence that something one is unable to find any evidence of is not actually there, is different from faith.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Liberty State

In The Atlantic yesterday, David Frum turned comments from an Oxford Union discussion on liberty and security into a column, which I read. The basic jist of things is that compared to other factors that work to suppress free speech and expression in the United Kingdom (and, presumably, the United States) counter-terrorism powers are very low on the list.

It's interesting that Mr. Frum quotes Lincoln's “Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts—while I must not touch a hair of the wily agitator who induces him to desert?” in the defense of the security state, and then goes on to reference Roosevelt's four freedoms: freedom from fear, of speech, of worship and from want as the reasons why said security state should exist. After all, the "wily agitator" was exercising his freedom of speech. Lincoln's casting of the soldier boy as "simple-minded" was designed to shift a measure of culpability from the actor to a speaker. But the very concept of Freedom of Speech is that speech is neither control nor force - the choice to act as one will, which is not a guaranteed freedom, is always with the actor. Wily agitators, like terrorist recruiters, may frighten us, but when we then criminalize particular speech out of fear, we create as many problems as we solve.

Mr. Frum's argument comes down to this: When the government acts to curtail Terrorism, it is addressing a genuine source of fear. And since an essential component of functional liberty is to be free from fear, there is no trade-off between counter-terrorism and liberty.

But what about other fears? Whether you agree with them or not, many Americans find the threat posed by gun violence in the United States a legitimate worry. And, to be sure, there is no measure by which even the most dedicated radical terrorists on the planet do in anywhere near as many Americans as are shot every year by their countrymen, even after decades of decline in the overall homicide rate (and even the absolute numbers). Does this then mean that there is no trade-off between expansive government anti-firearms programs and liberty? (Many of Mr. Frum's fellow conservatives would certainly say that there is...) In areas where street crime is endemic, does the freedom from fear trump the right to Keep and Bear Arms? If not, why not? Why is the fear of street crime or mass shootings any less appropriate for government to act on than the fear of terrorism?

And when Mr. Frum references "mobs seeking to impose their definition of social justice by force," he conveniently ignores that these are people who are acting on a fear of injustices that "the dedicated police and intelligence professionals" and the government that employs them, have decided are not worth acting on. And in situations like this, when you have two groups linked by their mutual fears of each other, which group is entitles to freedom from their fear? Cue the "terror poker" games, as each side seeks to cast itself as the one more terrorized by the actions of the other, to justify seeking the intervention of the apparatus of the state. And as definitions and understandings of "justice" are neither indisputable, universal nor eternal, why should be there an assumption that governments and law enforcement are acting on ideas of justice shared across society? Or that, in the absence of shared ideas, that government should be given a free hand to choose which ideas to enforce?

Using a right to be free from fear as one basis for liberty, and expecting governments to act on that, introduces a level of subjectivity that one can argue that governments don't do very well with. But it also introduces a definition of liberty that involves freedom from any interference, not just that imposed by governments. Mr. Frum views the strident tone and threatening gestures of modern social justice movements as threats to liberty, but it doesn't take much to rouse Americans more broadly to death threats against people they find reprehensible for one reason or another - while I find complaints about the portrayals of women in video games to be trivial, for some people that rises to the level of a capital crime. And again, why should an often-abused right of anonymity on the internet be ignored if other fears call for expansive government powers and intrusive surveillance? And where does this leave more informal levers of social control? Are boycotts then threats to liberty?

Mr. Frum's point that a well-functioning security apparatus tends to seem pointless is well-taken. But in asking us to place blind trust in the people that operate it, he presumes that they are incapable of using the control that they must necessarily be given for their own ends. And if Mr. Frum sees disagreements between different factions of the citizenry as impinging on liberty, it seems odd to presume that the simple act of becoming a police or intelligence professional makes one immune to the misuse of that control.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Now, You Don't

Not long after I first arrived in the Seattle area, I made my way downtown, and just walked around to see what the place was like. One of the things that stood out for me was the number of homeless people that I encountered. After I thought about it for a bit, it made sense. I've spoken to homeless people who managed to travel significant distances after they became homeless, and if I had the choice between being homeless in Chicagoland and homeless in the Puget Sound area, I'd pick the Puget Sound, all other things being equal. (Of course, given the fact that a good portion of my immediate and extended family live in and around Chicago, they are not equal, but I digress.) The main reason being that the weather is a lot better here if you have no choice but to be out of doors. I've already mentioned our tendency to judge the severity of the seasons by how many people they killed when I lived in northern Illinois. Being homeless is hard enough as it is - the weather conspiring to do them in is a complication that the homeless don't need.

So I understand why the greater Seattle area gives me the impression of greater homelessness than Chicagoland does. And given that, I make no judgements about Seattle for the size of its homeless population. But it strikes me that a lot of people DO make those sorts of judgements, or, at least, places perceive themselves to be judged. And this, perhaps is what pushes places to embrace design aspects intended to make public spaces less hospitable to the homeless and/or to effectively criminalize the things that homeless people do to get by. Laws against public camping or park benches that can't be slept on don't move people from the streets and into housing. Rather, they move the homeless from the streets of inhospitable municipalities to more hospitable ones - giving politicians a platform to claim that they've made the streets safer (for the affluent and politically-engaged, anyway) and citizens the idea that their neighborhoods are cleaner of riffraff. And these, in turn become points that they make to outsiders and newcomers to show themselves as being good citizens.

Freeing people from concern over being judged by the number of homeless people who are visible in the streets is one thing that might prevent initiatives designed to conceal or shift the problem. Granted, withholding judgement doesn't directly do anything to solve the problem of homelessness either, but it doesn't incentivize pretending that it isn't there.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Faith in the System

“Workers’ compensation systems grew up at a time when employers did not care about their employees. If one got hurt, you cast him aside and brought in the next immigrant to fill that job. Now companies are competing to be a best place to work.”
Corporate America’s unforgivable new swindle: Leveling workers’ compensation to nothing
And I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that Bill Minick honestly believes that. In the end, I think, that's the issue. People like Minick sincerely believe that organizations like the Texas business chamber really either want to, or have to, look out for their employees, or risk making their businesses non-viable. And I’m sure that Minick really does think that his schemes - even the ones that allow for employers to force employees to sign waivers against their rights to legal redress, or bear their own medical costs, are better for employees in the end.

And, that is at the root of any number of issues, this being just one of them - the cynics shield themselves with the sincere. Want to cast yourself as an upstanding business beset by unaccountable employees and scheming personal injury lawyers? Someone out there has drunk deeply of that Flavor-Aid and will convince themselves that they're doing the Lord’s work by shifting the burden. The fact that they, and you, stand to cash in is purely coincidence. And when you manage to screw somebody?

They’ll pause reflectively, and tell critics: “This is a difficult situation, it sounds like. There’s no occupational injury system that we’ve found yet that will provide perfect results in a 100 percent of cases.”

But if I’m an employer, I don't really care about perfection - what I care about is that all of the errors result in care being denied when it is called for, rather than being paid for when it isn’t. And if that means calling in the wife of the anti-workers’ compensation campaigner, whom I’m fairly certain will declare that the worker doesn’t need treatment, I’ll do that. Because, you know, “The whole deal is just kind of silly, like most of these deals are — people looking for free money.”

Whether people being compensated for on-the-job injuries constitutes “free money” is a subject of intense debate. But it’s unlikely that someone who thinks so is honestly interested in seeing their employees made whole at their expense. In a market were labor is actually scarce, and therefore valuable, working people have the leverage to walk away from bad deals - or the bed deals that others have had to suffer through. And under such circumstances, companies would have compete on working conditions. But we don't live in a tight labor market. And so I suspect that Minick’s faith will turn out to be misplaced.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Complex Addition

When I see this, the first thing that comes to my mind is as follows: "This is what the lord says: 'Cursed is the one who trusts in the capabilities and talents that were given to them and to others by, well, me, and thinks those are enough'."

And I can't grok that. But not for lack of trying. And certainly not for lack of people attempting to explain it to me. And I think that this is part of what separates non-religious people from the believers - differences in how they order the world and the logical constructs they use to understand it. And I think that's why it's such a difficult chasm to bridge - when someone tells someone else something that, for all the world, seems like 2+2=5 it's hard for the listener to understand how the speaker arrived at so obviously suspect an answer - or how the speaker expects them to take it at face value.

For my own part, I can understand that 2+2 does, in fact, equal 5. For certain values of 2. Which really don't seem much like 2 to me. But since they seem to be exactly like 2 for other people, I get how they arrived at their conclusion. This is unsatisfying for some, who are of the opinion that 2 is a universal constant. (Which, to be honest it is - it's part of the problem using a mathematical analogy in a case like this.) And I understand that the inverse is also true. That when I lay out my own case for 2+2, there are people who understand me to be saying that 2+2=5. It just the way of things.

Monday, October 19, 2015


It it not possible to both judge others, and not judge yourself.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Give and Take

Somewhere along the way, people got the idea that maximizing investor return was the point. It shouldn't be. That's not what democracies ought to seek in chartering corporations to participate in our society.
Seth Godin, “What are corporations for?
What ought is rarely important when it doesn't line up with what is. Shareholder Primacy (or, one might even say Radical Shareholder Primacy) is the order of the day - and it is well-accepted enough that it's not going to go anywhere on its own. And we shouldn't expect it to.
There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.
Milton Friedman, “Capitalism and Freedom”
Now, it's important to not that Mr. Friedman was not advocating a society without social responsibility. But, and in this he is in line with most Libertarian thought, he was of the mind that this should be the prerogative of the shareholders of a business, not the managers of a business. You could look at it as a modern-day variation on the Parable of the Talents, as applied to business. The people who had put up the resources to build a business, and thus took the risk of it failing, are entitled to the best possible return on that investment, and corporate managers should not be diverting portions of that return away to activities that benefit parties other than the shareholders. Of course, Friedman caveats this with an admonition that the business remain within the rules of the game, and this creates a giant loophole - the legal framework that we currently have is not really considered conducive to "open and free competition," yet since certain anti-competitive (or even deceptive) practices are legal, they are considered "within the rules," allowing a certain level of having one's cake and eating it, too.

And this, in the end, becomes the issue, I think. We've created a legal and social framework that allows for a different set of rules than were originally envisioned. We do not simply charter corporations to participate in our society - instead, we allow them particular privileges that are not granted to other segments. For example - a corporation that decides that I owe them money can simply add fees and charges to that amount or report me to a credit agency without needing to resort to any outside agency, and condition my doing business with them on accepting this, and take the fact that I chose to do business with them as an acceptance - yet I may not do the same without receiving their explicit permission. And this "undemocratic" way of corporate participation is the issue - because it leaves the majority of us with no way to enforce the other side of the equation - the conditions that Friedman placed on corporations increasing their profits.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Lost Expedition

Hey - It beats having to find a way to move back to Europe.
Sometimes, the cynic in me is convinced that the movement to make the anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Central America into "Beat Up On a Long-Dead Italian Explorer Day" is less about working to undo "a racist legal and political legacy" (which I still don't understand why Columbus takes such a large share of the blame for) than it is about maintaining the pretense that fucks are actually given about what was done to the Native Americans.

In that, proclamations of "Indigenous People's Day" and the like strike me as a form of slacktivism - a way of "sticking it to the man" without dealing with the disruption to our lives and economy that, say, allowing Native American people to reclaim the lands they were forced from at gunpoint would entail.

Which I get. We like to think that injustice is perpetuated by continual acts of deliberate malice, but nine times out of ten, what's really going on is that people who see themselves as "the Good Guys" are too dependent on the fruits of someone else's wrongdoing to unwind that wrongdoing - even when it's something  they would never think to actually perpetrate upon another person themselves. But rather than see ourselves as, if not complicit in, beholden to the continued injustice suffered by other people for our own comfort, we create a historical whipping boy.

Cristoforo Colombo is long beyond caring what we think of him. And many of the people who did the actual legwork to enact the lasting "racist legal and political legacy" that supposedly started with his arrival in the Americas in 1492 are the same. Either they've passed on to whatever afterlife awaited them, their souls have been reborn into someone or something else or death permanently snuffed out their consciousnesses like candle flames. Either way, they're beyond our ability to injure them. And so a lot of this become posing - a way of displaying a commitment to Correct Thought to others, but one that doesn't actually remedy anything.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Yes. As a matter of fact we could. We could also regard them as the work of hostile extraterrestrials. Both would be equally accurate.

"Mass shootings" in the United States aren't "an endemic local health hazard." They're rare, but splashy events that capture both widespread media coverage and the public imagination, and in some sectors (especially the urban Left), spark moral panics. They garner nationwide attention precisely because they happen in places where "middle-class America" expect to be "safe," and this is what triggers the pearl-clutching and political grandstanding. The seemingly random nature of them, and the fact that the ones that attract the most media coverage are in places where such violence is unexpected by the middle-class public leads to a pervasive sense that lethal violence can happen anywhere and at any time. In other words - It could happen to you, and there is nothing you can do about it. And when outlets like The Economist describe this particular subset of gun violence (95% of homicides in the United States have only a single victim) as characteristic of or prevalent in the United States it enhances that sense of ubiquity. It the regularity of coverage of "gun massacres" (and the loaded terms used to describe them) that breeds familiarity. And this is not intended as a criticism of "the media" per se. The United States a large country - for me to drive from my apartment to the home I grew up in is a longer drive than Amsterdam to Ankara - and I'd still have half again as far to go to reach where I spent my Freshman year of college. It's impossible for me to familiar with what goes on the vast majority of the United States without people compiling and presenting that information in public fora.
If one uses the same definition for "mass shooting" as is commonly used for "mass murder" (four or more people) they're pretty rare. To be sure, this doesn't account for the number of people injured, but the numbers aren't as high as many people think they are. Source:
To be sure, the United States has a very high homicide rate when compared to the rest of the developed world, being very near the top of the rankings. The third world, however, leaves us in the dust. And, as an aside, in those United States territories that have third world rates of homicide, killing seems to be purely a local matter - the broader national media rarely mentions it. And it is this comparison with the developed world that drives the expectation that the federal government could effectively eliminate the problem if only it had the political will to enact the correct curbs (or outright bans) on individual firearms ownership. While it's true that if one could eliminate all of the homicides carried out with firearms in the United States, that our homicide rate would look more like that of Great Britain, it's highly unlikely that even a 100% effective firearms removal scheme would leave people with violence on their minds with no other outlet to carry it out. Dedicated weapons may be frightening, but they are not the only possible way to kill someone.
But more commonly, many top police officials say they are seeing a growing willingness among disenchanted young men in poor neighborhoods to use violence to settle ordinary disputes.

“Maintaining one’s status and credibility and honor, if you will, within that peer community is literally a matter of life and death,” Milwaukee’s police chief, Edward A. Flynn, said. “And that’s coupled with a very harsh reality, which is the mental calculation of those who live in that strata that it is more dangerous to get caught without their gun than to get caught with their gun.”
Murder Rates Rising Sharply in Many U.S. Cities
It is unlikely that the honor culture that exists in the inner city would be short-circuited simply by curtailing access to firearms. And it's not the only driver of lethal violence in the United States. Compared to the everyday, mostly poverty-driven violence that claims about three dozen or so people in the United States on a daily basis, mass shootings are a blip - it's roughly comparable to the homicide rate from domestic violence for men, a statistic that most of feel is small enough this it's not worth paying any attention to. It's likely that we'd save many more lives with a more equal distribution of income/wealth and better access to support services. Given this, it's likely much more accurate to say that in the United States that poverty is the endemic local health hazard that the county is incapable of addressing.  (But somehow the regularity of poverty in America has apparently yet to breed familiarity with it.)

But since most of the people murdered in the United States are in poor and/or minority neighborhoods, they are out of sight and out of mind. Given the legal obstacles to the sort of sweeping restrictions on personal firearms ownership that people call for in the wake of these incidents, we're better off working to stop the constant everyday killing that happens in our society by addressing its causes, rather than its tools.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Event Horizon

One of the things about social media is that is broadens the range of people that one can easily interact with. Through my Google+ account, I can communicate with people all over the world. But it also allows me to communicate very freely with people of differing age cohorts than myself. And that, to a degree has spurred in me a feeling of being old.

Not in the sense that there are a million things that "the kids these days" are into that don't do it for me. Or, to quote Abe Simpson, that they changed what "it" was. But in the sense that I find myself dealing with people who are too young to understand the world that I exist in because the events and social structures that shaped it are literally before their time.

I can, for instance, describe to my niece the world that she lives in. Now, I'm not going to hit all of the finer points, and I'm likely to be way off if I have to describe how she interacts with that would via her inner perception of it, but the world that she lives in is one that I was there to watch form around her. I might not readily be able to grok how she goes about selecting what she's going to put on her YouTube channel, but I get YouTube, because I was there to watch it evolve. My niece, on the other hand, for all that she's a fairly bright kid, had difficulty describing the world that I live in. Because she simply wasn't there to see most of the factors that shaped it, and therefore, can only have second-hand knowledge of them. The best that she can do is understand the changes to the world that have happened in her own time, and extrapolate backwards. Where that extrapolation intersects with events that she may have heard of, it gives her an ability to relate - but outside of that, she had nothing concrete to go on.

For a number of people that I interact with on social media, events in my life are on the other side of an event horizon, just as they are for my niece. And that gives them a view of my world that is unrecognizable to me, yet perfectly consistent and self-evident to them.

It's a strange feeling to realize that formative events in your life are effectively inside a black hole for an increasing number of the world around you. I hadn't realized that this is what aging felt like.


This is a more difficult lesson to learn than it has any right to be.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Marketplace aired an interview between host Kai Ryssdal and candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States Dr. Ben Carson. Public radio host and would-be Republican politician - well, you can guess how it turned out. But there was one sentence in it all that stood out for me. Dr. Carson noted:

[...O]ne of the bugaboos that has kept us from reducing government in the past is sacred cows.
But he never actually mentioned what any of those cows were, other than the size of the Federal budget as a whole. (And, if you read the transcript, it wasn't because Kai Ryssdal didn't try to pry it out of him.) In part, I think because it's simply conservative orthodoxy that "government is bloated." That came across when Dr. Carson said, "You cannot convince me that there isn't any department that is completely 100 percent efficient and you can't find fat." To be sure, of course I could find fat in every government department - so long as I'm allowed to define "fat" as "anything that doesn't directly contribute to getting the job at hand done." I think that people would be amazed at what fits that definition.

In politics, one of the first rules of running for Butcher In Chief is that you never telegraph whose sacred cows you're planning to come after. This prevents those people from having a clear reason to mobilize against you. And perhaps the second rule of running for Butcher In Chief is that always work to convince people that someone else has a sacred cow you're bound and determined to serve up for dinner. Suffering is always better when someone else has to do it. And since things like this are always better in threes, maybe the third rule of running for Butcher In Chief is that once you've picked your favored constituency anything that's important to The Other Side is, in fact, a sacred cow that's only still alive due to the perfidy of the Butchers In Chief that came before, and their lack of "political courage." This time, the suffering the other side has coming will actually happen. There is an argument, I think, for political campaigns framing things this way as a matter of course.

But the country isn't in the state that it's in because people are unwilling to swing a cleaver. The country is in the state that it's in because every cow worth slaughtering has a cadre of voters protecting it. The sacred cows of American politics are the important interests of the American voters - or at least those things that they're willing to put people into office (or remove them from it) for. As the saying goes, for any given group of people in the United States, no matter how committed they are to small government - there's government spending, and then there's THEIR government spending. There is a reason why every state in the nation has defense contractors in it. And it's not to spread them out in case of an attack.

It's become a common political trope to pretend that this particular political reality doesn't exist - or that this time, the will to overcome it will suddenly emerge. It's a trope that exists because it serves people's interests. Just like the tropes that emerged in the comments after the interview: Kai Ryssdal as no-holds-barred journalist and Dr. Carson as honest Conservative picked on by an openly Liberal journalist, suit the interests of various constituencies that read and/or listened to the interview. But it's an expensive trope to maintain. Politicians have been talking about slaughtering other people's sacred cows ever since the thinly veiled criticism of Hinduism entered the political lexicon. The reasons they haven't done so - the political reality that says that in a representative government, large and/or well-connected groups are able to protect their interests and entitlements - haven't changed. And that's why the cows still contentedly wander the pasture.

One day, the butcher's cleaver will find some or all of them. The current path that we're on is unsustainable. But it's not going to be an easy task.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Counting Crow

How to calculate the potential damage caused by longer prison sentences versus the risk of more street crime is a thorny moral and policy question. Those more inclined to weight the second over the first may well be wrong, especially in these relatively safe times. But does that make them complicit in a Jim Crow system—that is, racists?
Kay Hymowitz "The Breakdown of the Black Family"
This, to me, is one of the problems with our continued use of the term "Jim Crow" to talk about racial politics and the racial impacts of policy. The original Jim Crow was an intentional program to marginalize and disenfranchise (among other things) Black people in America. And when we talk about things today as being a continuation of Jim Crow or "the new" Jim Crow, that assumption of intent comes with it, even when it may not be there - and that allows writers like Hymowitz to attack the idea by looking for evidence that the proponents of today's policies are not the overt, dedicated racists that put the original policies in place.

And that conversation often pulls us away from the original point of questioning a lot of policies in the first place - is the policy doing what we want it to do? Hymowitz notes the "incapacitation effect" of keeping people in jail - if people are in jail, they can't commit more crimes (against people who aren't themselves in jail, anyway). But is simply keeping all criminals in jail longer the only way to accomplish this? If two-thirds of violent criminals who are re-arrested are pulled in for non-violent offenses, is there a way that we can keep the other third locked away, while mitigating the damage to the persons, families and communities of the remainder?

Speaking of things in terms of "Jim Crow" doesn't help us answer that question. And neither do the knee-jerk, defensive responses to the reference.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


One thing that I have noticed when I talk politics with people is that while they will talk between each other about differing political philosophies, they dislike talking to others about them. So my conservative acquaintances will explain at length to one another about how liberalism works and what it intends, but will not ask any liberals, and are typically hostile to being told that their echo-chambered understanding are incorrect. And, on the other side of the equation, my liberal acquaintances do the same.At best, each group will point to specific examples of the other that they believe typify the worst traits of the other group, and hold them up as the representative as everyone who holds to a particular doctrine.

Of course, this trait isn't limited to just the people that I talk politics with. Rather, it's become a common habit across the political spectrum, especially for those people who have mass media platforms. Thus the various parties become caricatures of themselves to people outside of them, which inhibits conversation and understanding. The results are predictable.

Friday, October 2, 2015


If this year is anything like 2013 (and it may or it may not be), if no firearms are discharged in the United States, around 13 people around the nation will die from homicide today. This would put the United States on a par with nations like Canada, Tajikistan, Finland or Belgium in terms of overall homicide rate per 100,000 people. If. If, as I said, you assume that the homicide rate in the United States today is pretty much the same as it was in 2013, and if you assume that none of the approximately 30 people who would die to firearms homicides would be added to their number. These are both pretty big ifs.

There was a shooting on a college campus in Oregon yesterday, and it's spun up the mostly pointless shouting match that we in the United States like to have about public access to firearms. Watching these endless cycles of blame and recrimination, though, you notice what isn't talked about. Taking the homicide rate for 2013 and spreading it evenly throughout the year, about 44 people died every day. 31 from firearms homicides and 13 from other causes. It's the highest in the First World, and very nearly beats the whole of the former Second World, although it pales in comparison to much of the Third World. While people say that we shouldn't compare ourselves to the Third World, maybe there are useful lessons to be drawn from such, or at least those nations that are close to the United States in homicide rates. Because maybe if we understand the roots of our propensity to violence, we can really do something to curb it, outside of shouting at each other.

School shootings tend to wind up the American Left for the simple reason that they disrupt the standard pattern of violence as something that happens mainly in benighted urban areas. If you presume that violence tends to concentrate in areas of poverty - and the numbers bear this out - it stands to reason that you'll see a lot of it in places were poverty is concentrated. But not all of it, and it is when violence breaks out into areas considered "safe" (as in "not-poor") that it makes national headlines and President Obama starts making speeches about how we're overdue to have done something to solve the problem.

The reason the shouting match over access to firearms never goes anywhere is that it is, to a degree, circular - the American Left tends to argue that access to firearms is the problem and the American Right tends to argue that access to firearms is the solution, and in the middle of the two stands both the public and the United States Constitution, which frowns on wholesale restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. The Constitution is not inviolate, but changing it is a slow, slow process, and one that there is little political incentive to undertake. And as the two sides deny that the other means well, the conflict has become less about policy and is, frankly, personal, with the two camps each accusing the other of being wedded to a dangerous society.

But still we'd rather butt heads when multiple murder comes to a reasonably affluent area of the United States than concern ourselves with fixing the constant levels of poverty that drives the constant level of homicide that has become background noise.

And each time this happens, I'm going to bring this up. Each time this happens, I'm going to say that we can actually do something about it but we're going to have to change our laws. And this is not something I can do by myself. I've got to have a Congress and I've got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this. I hope and pray that I don't have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances. But based on my experience as president, I can't guarantee that, and that's terrible to say, and it can change.
President Barack Obama
But why isn't the steady drumbeat of more than two dozen firearms homicides worth bringing up? (This, I suspect, is part of the reason why there is some discontent with the Obama Administration in Black America - people are dying on a daily basis, yet it's only when something exceptionally mediagenic happens that the President involves himself.) The political focus on reforming the United States' firearms laws makes for good political grandstanding, but it's also beside the point. Gun culture isn't really our problem. Poverty culture and the violence culture that it breeds drives a constant level of violence and death that consistently surpasses the occasional mass shooting. If hard cases make for bad law, perhaps it's just as true that scary headlines make for bad policy discussions. If that's the case we need to move past the headlines.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Given long enough, it will become impossible to find any trace of my existence. Only question is how long is "long enough?" But, given its inevitability, does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, the difference between the day after tomorrow and One Million A.D. is trivial to the point of being completely irrelevant. Either way, things will go on without me. And I'm okay with that. Partly because not being okay with it is not going to change it. While the Universe may end when I die, that's really merely a side effect of the fact that "I think, therefore everything is." I have ended countless times, with every death of a person who knew me, and yet, here I am. It will be the same when I die. But I'm also okay with oblivion because, well, what is wrong with oblivion?

We are, I think, taught to think of ourselves as valuable and, to an extent, need that feeling of being valuable. And the understanding that, once we are gone, everything else is capable of going on without us as if we never existed works against that. And being able to imagine, and thus create models of things that never were, we conceive of a world, of an existence, in which we are important - in which we matter in a broader context than just ourselves. But if our importance, our necessity, our mattering, begins and ends with us, and everything else is functionally the same, what does external validation offer us?

If "I think, therefore everything is," from my own point of view, I am the most important being in the Universe. After all, without me, it wouldn't be here. And that is enough, even though it is only true for myself.