Monday, September 26, 2016

Here I Am...

Clowns to the left of me:

A new matchmaking service is being developed for Americans “to find the ideal Canadian partner to save them from the unfathomable horror of a Trump presidency.” That’s according to the website for a company called Maple Match.
Does the US election make you want to flee to Canada? Try Maple Match.
Jokers to the right:
Steve Inskeep: What war do you mean?
Jimmy Arno: The war that's going to take place when Hillary Clinton's elected - if that happens.
Inskeep: What sort of a war would that be?
Dami Arno: Your patriots...
J. Arno: Your patriots are going to overthrow the government.
Divided States: Georgia Auto Mechanic Ties Racial Tensions To Obama

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Respectable Ladies and Gentlemen

But true acceptance for Muslims will only come when those Muslims who wear their religious differences openly are seen as being just as American as those whose choices hew closer to the norm.
Muslim Americans Should Reject The Politics of Normalcy
The URL for this article is interesting - it reads: "Muslim Americans Should Reject Respectability Politics." Debates about respectability politics have swirled in the Black community for some time - with people like Bill Cosby and Juan Williams being two notable examples of its defenders.

Wikipedia defines "respectability politics" as: "attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous, and compatible, with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for its failure to accept difference." Which is true, but not quite as nuanced as the real concept. Generally speaking, the policing that goes on is not simply about displaying values that that are continuous and compatible with mainstream values. It is also about attempting to scrub away vestiges of what might be considered objectively incompatible values that a group has been freighted with by stereotypes. So in the Bill Cosby talk that has come to be known as the "Pound Cake Speech," the actor and comedian (who had yet to fall from grace) said not only that Black Americans should be more careful in the ways they named their children and dressed when in public, but that they should also take more "personal responsibility" and engage in less criminal behavior - such as stealing pound cake.

The debate about respectability politics, and whether it represents a better path forward or is a capitulation to racist sentiments gives various thinkers and aspiring thought leaders in the Black community something to argue about, but it misses a very central point - one that is alluded to in the quote that I pulled from The Atlantic. It's all moot unless the American Mainstream, whomever that is, and however they are defined, decides that they are going to see us as just as American as they see themselves. And I don't think that anyone has ever sat down and determined if self-policing and displaying the "right" values is any more or less effective than challenging the mainstream and demanding acceptance. Because there's nothing in either of those approaches that make it in the interest of the American Mainstream to be any more accepting. If it's all the same, the status quo is likely to reign for quite some time into the future.

In the end, "attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous, and compatible, with mainstream values" and "challenging the mainstream for its failure to accept difference" can both be viewed as forms of supplication to the degree that there's nothing in it for the mainstream - at least nothing that's been identified thus far. Maybe the point, for Blacks and Moslems alike is to articulate the value proposition. While one can argue that the 2006 "Great American Boycott" was something of a flop, it's underlying premise was that Americans depend on the contributions of immigrants more than they realized, and that forcing them to go without for a day would drive home that point. It was an attempt by some immigrants' rights campaigners to show the value proposition. Maybe the concept is something that needs to be revived.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Rights

I don't have the right
... to be considered one of you.
... in the Court of Personal Opinions, to be innocent until proven guilty.
... to be thought of as unintimidating.
... for my accomplishments to be ascribed to merit, rather than to Affirmative Action.
... to be viewed as an individual; for the content of my character to be judged based on my words and deeds, and not those of the many millions of people who you may find bear some resemblance to me.
... to be welcome in places that people would prefer were enclaves of homogeneity.
... to be seen as upstanding and law abiding.
... to be free of the fears, resentments and prejudices of those around me.

All of these things, and many more, are not birthrights. Instead they are gifts, things that are best when they are freely given and willingly shared with those that one wishes to have them. I recognize this, and when people grant me a gift I treasure it, and do my best to be worthy of it, and to reciprocate with gifts of my own.

I also realize that this means something else.

You don't have the right.
... to be considered just, impartial and a fair dealer.
... to be seen as brave.
... to be credited with a regard for the freedoms of others.
... to be viewed as exceptional, when compared to everyone else on Earth.

Those things are also gifts. And they are given, or withheld, as people choose. I understand the desire to demand them. I spend a number of years learning to free myself from it. But they are not owed to you, any more than they are owed to me.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Once Again

She was thinner than I remembered her. The plumpness was gone from her body and face, and she grown visibly older, much more than three years. She still wore her brown hair in long horsetail that flowed down to her hips, and she still had the freckles. And she'd moved to a different corner, in the next suburb over, near where they were building new apartments for the affluent technology workers who populated the nearby campus on weekdays, and crowded the ethnic grocery store and shops in the small mall area on weekends.

She still carried a sign that described her, and her family's plight, black letters on white cardboard crammed into a space slightly too small to easily accommodate all of them. This time, I didn't take the time to read it.

The bright cheerfulness that she's affected when last I'd spoken to her was gone, replaced by a visible weariness that weighed her down like coal. She still waved to passing cars, although she did even that with less energy than before. As she walked down the sidewalk along the line of cars waiting for the light to change, and pulled up in the driveway to her left, slowed to a stop and rolled down my window. She walked over, and I handed her the two five-dollar bills that I'd folded between my fingers.

She took them, with a slight bow. "God bless you," she said to me, again. She didn't offer to pray for me. I smiled, gently. "Take care of yourself, and stay safe,"I reminded her. She nodded, deeply.

Then she turned away to return to her post on the sidewalk, and I drove away.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Symbols

An interesting online comment I found in relation to the whole Colin Kaepernick coffeepot controversy:

The National Anthem and the U.S. Flag are symbols of this country, its freedom, its rights and the men and women who have fought, died and been 'scarred' for the rest of their lives to protect all of us and these rights and freedom.
Then what, one wonders, are the symbols of the rest of us?

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Speaking One's Mind

It's been interesting to see the coverage around Donald Trump's speech to the Value Voter's Summit. Near the end of his address he said: "Imagine what our country could accomplish if we started working together as one people under one God, saluting one flag." This has garnered a fair amount of coverage an analysis. Personally, if I were going to be concerned about a single sentence from his speech, it would be this bit from his closing: "Together, we will make America believe again, we will make America united again, and we will make America great again."

But when I read the whole speech, I started to understand the appeal that Mr. Trump has for people, beyond simple partisanship. He does what strikes me as a very good job of presenting the issues that people worry about as the result of intentionally bad decision-making by people who are out to injured them for their own goals. And while this is nothing new, Mr. Trump manages to not come off as if he were pandering to his audience, in the way that politicians normally do.

Will it work come this November? Maybe. But I suspect that as long as Mr. Trump isn't completely blown out, it's a tactic that we'll see more and more of moving forward.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

In Hot Water

On LinkedIn the other day, Katy Sherman, Director of Software Engineering at Premier Inc., published an article titled: "Why We Don't Need More Women in IT." The basic points of the article were simple: Based on Ms. Sherman's own experiences, the IT industry isn't as hostile to women as it's often portrayed, women's career advancement isn't as constrained as many people think and (in keeping with the title of the piece) there isn't a need to have more girls and young women gear their education towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and Information Technology.

Yesterday, Musician, Full-Stack Developer and Testing Evangelist Rachel Smyth published a rebuttal article, titled: "Why we don't need more Lobsters in IT." The long piece starts out with Ms. Smyth relating a metaphor her mother had told her when she was a child.

When I was little, my mom told me that "women are like lobsters." Which was pretty confusing since a) she said it in Spanish and my Spanish isn't that great and b) it's a pretty random metaphor. She went on to explain: lobsters in a pot claw at each other so no individual can climb over them to get out of the pot, as a result, they all stay at the same level. And boil to death.
I'm familiar with the lobster metaphor, although when I first heard it as a child, it was about crabs in a box destined for a seafood restaurant. I've heard it a number of times over the years, and the basic jist always the same. "[Insert group here] are like a group of [insert clawed crustaceans here] in [insert dangerous situation here]. Whenever one of them attempts to escape [dangerous situation] the others prevent it from doing so, and they all go to their doom. How, and why, the other crustaceans prevent anyone from escaping varies - anything from simply being too concerned with their own fates to work together to snipping off limbs with the express intent that if they can't escape, no one else will, either.

It strikes me as one of those things that one relates to children because a) it's a pretty colorful, and thus memorable, metaphor and b) children are unlikely to know any better. But it's a story that adults carry with them, because it creates a simple and easy to understand villain for failure narratives - "The reason we can't get ahead is that some of us don't want us to get ahead and so work against us."

Ms. Smyth leads with this, opening her essay with: "Based on my experience, the biggest barrier to getting more women in tech isn't men, but lobsters."

I'm going to leave aside the pot, kettle, black aspect of things for a moment, and concentrate on what strikes me as the central flaw in the metaphor - the call to orthodoxy as the key to advancement. Women, Black Americans, poor people and any number of other such groups are all fairly large. Anything approaching a unified consensus of though among all of them is highly unlikely, let alone such a singular understanding of purpose that everyone will always be pulling in the same direction. For any group of people large enough, there will be individuals whose understanding of what is in the best interests of themselves, their community or even the group as a whole will be in opposition to a more generally accepted understanding of the same. This is just the way it is in large demographics.

There may, in fact, be special places in whatever version of hell one subscribes to for members of a group who don't unconditionally support other members of a group. But if that's true, why doesn't it work both ways? As I've grown older, I've realized that where the crustacean metaphor falls down is in that there's rarely one heroic member of the group, who fails in a valiant attempt to escape certain doom. Instead everyone's so busy arguing about who has the one single plan that everyone should be behind that nothing, outside of incessant accusations of blame, is ever accomplished.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Wine-ding Road

Hey, I never claimed to be very good at puns.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Respectability

To be worthy of respect or veneration is not an objective state. It is not part of the physical makeup of a thing or the result of a transformation brought about by specific and controllable circumstances. Whether the United States of America and the flag which stands for the republic are all that they are cracked up to be is more akin to beauty, in that it is in the eye of the beholder. And just as two people can observe the same individual and come away with differing understandings of that individual's physical attractiveness, two people may be versed in the same history of a place and come away with differing understandings of that place's commitment to, and success in implementing, its ideals.

One of the primary components of Respect is Choice; this is what differentiates it from Subservience. Neediness not only encourages us to conflate the two, but to pretend that the latter does not exist; so that no matter what sanctions we threaten or impose for a failure to perform as we demand, we can tell ourselves that we have legitimately earned the esteem we crave.

Of course, this relies on a particular definition of "Respect," and it is not one that is universally shared - there are many people who would tell you that fear can be a component of respect, and I don't believe that I would argue that point with them. Still, as we understand that one may be afraid of someone or something, yet not genuinely respect them or it, the two are not synonymous. Given this, pressuring people into outward displays of obeisance is not the same as either earning, or being gifted with, their respect.

In the end, the difficulty lies in the inability to see into another's mind. We cannot see respect, only outward signs by which we infer its presence. And that has lead us to conflate the two. Which is often convenient in that it allows us to ignore the reasons that people may have for withholding respect, rather than engaging with them.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Rotten All Around

A friend of mine from Google+ pointed me to an interesting article in Current Affairs: The Pathologies of Privilege. It’s subtitled “Everyone knows privilege is a rotten thing. But should it be excised or democratized?” Leaving aside for a moment the false dichotomy of that question (and why on Earth one would want to democratize something rotten), it’s interesting and thought provoking. But like a lot of things that are thought provoking, it does a better job of prompting thought than withstanding it. (Let’s see if I do any better, shall we?)

At its core, this article makes a simple point - a variation on one I made on my blog back in 2012, and that I’m sure that any number of other people have made.

If by “privilege” we mean “having the good fortune to do better than a life characterized by want, disease, poverty, corruption and the occasional wild animal attack,” then I guess I must accept the label, despite my misgivings about it - the world’s desperately poor should be considered deprived and straited, not the baseline that only injustice allows us to exceed.
Nobody In Particular. Privilege Monday, 3 Sept. 2012
But the way the article makes this point comes across as a case of “hard cases make bad law,” in that the focus on nationally publicized cases where uninformed opinions are thick on the ground skews the results. If you label everyone who thinks that Brock Turner got away with something unjustly as a “progressive” it’s easy to find instances of the institutional hypocrisy of “progressives[...] voicing sentiments somewhat contrary to the ordinary progressive position on punishment.” Especially when one doesn’t bother to define “progressive” or establish the progressive bone-fides of the speaker. After all, who cares what “one internet commentator” has to say about anything? Unless they can be demonstrated to be some sort of political “thought leader,” rather than some random troll, so what?

While less strident than The Daily Wire article that calls out “Brienne of Snarth,” the general intent is the same - use references to “white privilege” to mark the speaker as “progressive/leftist” and then be shocked, shocked that they don’t live up to the high-minded straitjacket of being the second coming of Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Teresa of Kolkata.

I understand the general critique of the language of privilege. Somewhere, it seems, there is a person with no privilege whatsoever. And I really, really do not want to be that person. Because “privilege” is neither a formal political nor philosophical concept in the minds of most people, it’s meaning has gradually shaded into “unearned ways in which one person’s life is less crappy than someone who is just as, if not more, deserving.” And the winner of that particular World Series of Misery Poker has to be leading an absolutely pathetic existence.

But this article operates under an expectation that the entirely of the American public who consider themselves to be “Left of Center” are, by virtue of that fact, required to live up to an understanding of what the American Left should be like that is held by someone who is not themselves a member, and apparently sees little room for nuance, disagreement or the simple emotionality of life. “[E]mpathy and a belief in people’s common humanity,” may be a characteristic of all of the people, some of the time or some of the people all of the time. But even those two scenarios are so unlikely that it being a characteristic of all of the people, all of the time, is simply a pipe dream. And the expectation that any group of people large enough to have entered the public consciousness (and membership in which is self-determined) will have all of its members demonstrate “empathy and a belief in people’s common humanity” is every public utterance they make seems like a setup.

If you’re going to imagine a system in which two, or maybe three, sizes literally fit every single person in a nation of hundreds of millions of adults who sees fit to have an opinion about something, you’re going to wind up with some truly remarkable fashion disasters along the way. Especially when for many people on the both the Left and the Right, their main driver in the camp that they’ve chosen is simply not being a member of the opposite camp. Big tents almost always wind up having enough room for people who are otherwise as cross purposes with one another.

But there is another piece to the puzzle that is unspoken of, and I find it curious. The article’s author “Z.W. Rochefort” (who appears to have written nothing else for Current Affairs and to have a remarkably blank online presence) says:
Yet many of the social assets classified as “white privilege” are actually good things, to which human beings ought to be entitled. That which is granted to white people as a “privilege” should not be treated as a “privilege” at all, but as part of the basic dignity of all human-to-human interaction and taken-for-granted courtesy.
So answer me this: Were the “extremely generous terms of [Ethan Couch’s] probation” or Brock Turner’s six-month sentence something “to which human beings ought to be entitled” and “as part of the basic dignity of all human-to-human interaction and taken-for-granted courtesy?” Even “the granting of a hamburger” to Dylann Roof, while it seems trivial in the grand scheme of things, can be considered suspect - because when Rochefort makes the case that “the injustice committed was [...] the denial of hamburgers to others” that would seem to indicate that part of the basic dignity of all human-to-human interaction and taken-for-granted courtesy to which human beings ought to be entitled includes having the arresting officer buy food for them, rather than allowing the jail to take care of that function. Do jails not feed their inmates any longer?

I will freely admit that we often conflate the salving of our feelings of importance and worth through trading pain for pain with “justice.” And I’ll freely admit that prisons can be remarkably unpleasant places out of all proportion with the function that we wish them to serve. But I am uncertain that it follows from that “extremely generous” terms of probation should be considered the standard that we consistently aspire to.

The fact that I see injustice in extremes does not mean that either extreme, harshness or generosity, should become the new normal. Rochefort seems to believe that a sentence of greater than six months in prison for someone literally caught in the act of remorselessly sexually assaulting an unconscious woman (which is, from what I understand, putting it mildly) somehow violates the idea that prison time “should be meted out only sparingly and with extreme restraint, if at all.” While I will admit to not having done the research on this, I am fairly confident that if the only people in our prisons for longer than six months today were those who were apprehended during or in the immediate aftermath of crimes as serious or more serious than rape, the American prison population would be vanishingly small.

One last thing. I’ve only briefly touched on the reaction of “one internet commentator” to the death of Lane Graves. Mainly because it’s only tangential to the point that I was making above. But it is worth talking about. “Brienne of Snarth’s” comment: “I’m so finished with white men’s entitlement lately that I’m really not sad about a 2yo being eaten by a gator [because] his daddy ignored signs,” the the partisan nature of the reaction to same, reminded me of the story of Shirley Chambers. She made the news back in 2013 when the last of her four children was murdered in Chicago. NPR has since deleted all of their comment sections, but suffice it to say that there were some fairly judgmental comments about Ms. Chambers. Which is unsurprising, after all “Parents’ judginess of other parents” has been fairly well established. And if you believe that the same social factors play into general understandings of proper parenting to a similar degree to whether or not someone is arrested for drug use, it becomes easy to see how the broader societal choice - or the choice of “one internet commentator” to blame or absolve parents in the death of a child becomes a proxy for the broader debate around privilege. And in the ongoing (if ever shifting) Culture Wars, a common battlefield tactic is to withhold “empathy and a belief in people’s common humanity,” from those the other side appears to support, as a punishment for their own withholding of the same from those people the Culture Warrior supports.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Go Away

One of the stereotypes of native Seattlites (and many of the suburbanites) is that they're hostile towards outsiders who have moved into the area. Bill Radke, radio host at local NPR station KUOW, once related a story about a visitor from Boston speaking to a local official, and commenting on how wonderful a place this was. The response from the local official: "Don't move here."

While the idea of Donald Trump building a wall to keep people from crossing the border from Mexico is met with ridicule and scorn by many in the area, the fact of the matter is that there is a noticeable constituency for shipping newcomers back to where they came from, and that the Puget Sound area should be reserved for locals. They might not want to build a wall, and perhaps that's fitting, because they don't want to build anything else, either. Anything that erodes the "character" of Seattle as a small city masquerading as a small town can bring out the NIMBYs in force at the drop of a hat. And this has lead to a city that, while growing due to the presence of major technology firms in the area, seems singularly unprepared for the idea that those businesses will attract people to the area.

While natives to the area may not confess to the same sorts of economic anxieties that they are quick to pin on Trump voters, there is another sort of anxiety at work - one that concerns itself with the evolution of the place where they live into a place that's no longer recognizable and welcoming to them; and one that's no longer "special." When I lived in Chicago, I knew many people who were proud of their city, but the sort of sneering at other places that pops up now and again out here was outside of my experience. To be sure, it's not exactly common here, but there is this idea, as evidenced in the picture above, that Seattle has nothing to learn from other places, and no reason to take some of their characteristics into itself.

Seattle won't have to worry about this forever. A generation or so ago, the city seemed posed to become a ghost town. And I'm sure that many other places would gladly help Seattle's major employers pack up shop and move elsewhere. But for now, Seattle is an example of the fact that wanting others to stay where they are isn't confined to one side of the political spectrum.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Promouncements

An interesting strip on gender identity and being referred to by a gender that one doesn't identify with. While reading it, I thought about the changes that have taken place over my lifetime.

When I was young, the idea that pronouns never changed was just sort of a given. If someone was a "he," they were always a "he." And this has always been my experience. While I have met a number of transgender people, all of them that I know by name transitioned long before I met them. I never knew them as another gender, and so I never had to keep in mind the idea that they were one thing once, but a different thing now. I'm fairly certain that if someone I knew transitioned, unless I was able to separate their new self into a completely different mental person, it would take me forever to get it right.

And then there's the phenomenon of cross-dressing. Some of the transgender women I've encountered have looked pretty much like men in women's clothing. And I've known men who cross-dressed but didn't see themselves a female - they were still "him," even when wearing a dress, and would become incensed if you got it wrong.

For me, "they/them" in the singular is used for "a person whose sex/gender I do not and/or cannot know, as the neuter 'it' is considered an insult." Accordingly, its use for a transgender person as an individual is odd, especially if they visibly present as one sex or the other. Because as new as the idea that people could change genders is to some of us (I was in my 30s the first time I met a person who turned out to be transgender), the idea that someone would pick the plural to be a non-binary (or neuter) singular is newer.

Honorifics and other descriptors are different from pronouns in that way. We, to a certain degree expect them to change. With women, they change with marital status, but for everyone, they change as a result of career moves. Accordingly, people gain and lose them regularly, and we are trained when coming up to expect that. I attended a military academy for high school, and the military is a rich source of changing honorifics as people are promoted. It was also a Catholic school, and so there were transitions from Brother to Father and Father to Abbot, and we came to be ready for such things. But again, as I noted before, their pronouns never changed.

You can view this as making an excuse for lacking the respect to get things right. And I understand that. It's easy to trot out the reasons why we don't do something and say they're the reasons why we can't do it, when they're really the reasons why we won't do it. I like to think that I would get people's identities right. But I suspect that I won't. In the end, I spend enough time thinking about my own identity to really understand the importance that some people place on theirs. And that's always the kicker. Treating something with the same level of importance that someone else treats it is always harder than it seems that it should be.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Smile


Friday, September 2, 2016

Influence