Sunday, July 23, 2017

Some Of My Best Friends Are...

I was in an online discussion, and a commenter made a short point about "the sort of overt hatred espoused by some of the Right." To which the reply was "Thing is, I think that is a mischaracterization. I am on the Right. My wife is even black and Native American. I would not say the Right is based on hate. That is not accurate, in spite of how often it is repeated."

I'm going to leave aside the fact that the first poster had never said "the Right is based on hate," and instead take a look at "My wife is even black and Native American" as a rebuttal to the idea that there are overt haters among one's political allies. My father taught me that anyone who says "I'm not a racist, I have [a] Black [fill in the blank]," is, to some degree or another, a racist. And, in my experience, it's turned out to be more accurate than not. Mainly because anyone who feels the need to proactively tell me that they aren't a racist understands that something that they are going to do or say may strike me as racist - and they rarely wind up doing something that turns out to be completely innocuous. People who don't have the expectation that they're going to something I may find questionable, on the other hand, don't feel the need to preemptively lay out their bona fides.

But, more to the point, here are some Simple Reasons why the fact that you are married to someone makes no difference when it comes to whether or not people who happen to agree with you on politics and/or policy might be overt haters:

  1. Most alleged racists and other forms of bigots or other people described as hateful are, when it really comes down to it, simply being, at least in the moment, garden-variety jackasses. (I think that we woefully overuse racist, bigot, hateful et cetera.) And there are several things tend to be  true of jackasses.
  2. Once a jackass does not mean always a jackass. It's not a full-time job. It's more a hobby that some people engage in from time to time.
  3. At any given moment in time, there are a LOT of jackasses in the world. So many, in fact that if your political group is large enough that it actually makes a difference, it's GOING to have at least one active jackass in it.
  4. Jackasses are loud. If you have a group of 1,000 people, and one of them is a jackass, you can bet that everyone who knows anything about your group will have heard that braying jackass. The 999 people who are perfectly reasonable will run themselves ragged just trying to get a word in edgewise. And a corollary to this is that people don't understand political ideology from reading political science textbooks. They understand political ideology from people who self-describe as that ideology. And so that jackass who's running around waving your group's flag is going to color the perceptions of outsiders.
  5. Being a jackass doesn't rescind the right to vote. And since jackasses can vote, someone is going to compete for those votes, especially in close and/or high-stakes political contests. Just because someone is a jackass, that doesn't mean that anyone they vote for is a jackass.
  6. Being a jackass is not an automagical disqualification for public office. If jackasses aren't getting what they want out of office holders, one of them will run for office themselves. But since the jackass vote is seldom large enough to win elections unassisted, you can expect outreach to the non-jackass part of the electorate. Accordingly, just because someone is a jackass, that doesn't mean that everyone who votes for them is a jackass.
  7. Squeaky wheels get the grease. In electoral politics, making it KNOWN that you plan to vote for or against someone is just as, if not more, important than actually doing it. If the subset of people in your group who are the most consistent about letting it be known their votes are in play are jackasses, their interests will always be represented.
  8. There's honestly a difference between a jackass, and a legitimate extremist. Once someone's at the point of: "Because this person is visibly different from myself, they're completely ineligible for any sort of relationship with me as an equal, regardless of any other considerations" they've gone beyond jackass and are somewhere in "movie caricature of a Klansman or an evil plantation owner" territory.
  9. Jackasses will often tolerate people who aren't jackasses in the same way that they are jackasses. To go back to the original discussion that started this, this isn't 1957. Just because someone thinks that the repeal of miscegenation laws is a crime against Nation and God, that doesn't mean that they're going to run you out of town on a rail for marrying someone who has different color skin. Because they may still value your support in other areas.
Sometimes, a jackass is simply a person who's having a really bad day. And for a subset of people on the American Right, pretty much every day from January 2009 to January 2017 was a bad one. Likewise, the American Left has it's subset for whom January 2017 may as well read "Welcome to Hell." There will be time for equal-opportunity jackassery.

Now, I've dealt with a lot of albatrosses being hung around my neck because someone happened to have had an interaction with a jackass who happened to be Black, and wanted me to answer for those sins, because I too, happen to be Black. And it took me a long time to understand that the simple fact that some jackasses are Black didn't mean that I had to prove that I wasn't also a jackass. Granted it's different when dealing with issues of race, rather than political ideology. I don't have the luxury of being able to simply "un-Black" someone, and make an interlocutor prove a connection. The (sometimes very) superficial similarity is all that's needed. And that made the learning curve slow.

But in the end, it came down to having the expectation that people were bright enough to realize that I'm not Maurice Clemmons, Jesse Jackson or that sketchy guy they saw on the corner the other day, and that people could complain about them, without necessarily extending whatever complaint they had to me - or using that complaint as a means of criticizing me. While it's true that some people fully believe that  Michael Donald received what was coming to him, and that I should have to explain why I'm not due some of the same, it's not as widespread as people often make it out to be.

But more importantly, I've learned to let go of the fear that anything less than a vigorous defense of myself would lead to the people around me suspecting that their complaints about other people who may be associated with me (for whatever reason) in their minds did actually apply to me. Part of that was simply not always expecting that this is the way that everyone around me operated. The rest of it was the realization that there isn't anything to be done about the people who did operate that way. If someone was going to make the leap from their belief that O. J. Simpson was guilty to a belief that I could also kill someone, well, that's life. 99 times out of 100, it won't make a difference to me, and in the 100th, simply telling them that I'm not like O. J. likely won't solve it anyway.

It's human nature to lump people into groups. And just as much so to worry about the reputations of the groups that we're lumped into. Because there are a lot of jackasses in the world, and we've learned to fear their taint. But holding up our relationships with people as preemptive shields don't really do much to ward it off.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Faustian

I grew up in a home with firearms. My father was an occasional hunter and gun collector, and a member of the National Rifle Association. And one of the things that he taught me as to always, always, be careful with firearms. My father wanted me to know how to use a gun, and be reasonable comfortable with one, in case I ever had to use one in self-defense. And that meant understanding how to be safe with one, and not being nervous when I had one in hand. My father had a healthy respect for firearms, and though both intent and happenstance, instilled that respect in me.

This was, mostly, for my own safety, and the safety of the people around me. But it was also out of an understanding that getting things wrong had consequences. Shooting someone when you didn't mean to was not something that was taken lightly - people wound up in jail for that sort of thing. When I was a teenager, and taking training to become a security job for the summer, even though we weren't going to be carrying guns, we spent quite a bit of time going over the ins and outs of state firearms law, especially as concerned liability for a shooting - intentional or not.


That liability though, doesn't seem to attach as much to police officers - people who are specifically trained in the use of force, handling firearms and dealing with dangerous situations. And people have been sounding the alarm about this issue for far longer than Black Lives Matter has been on the scene.

While narcotics officers have (or at least are supposed to have) extensive training in how to act during a raid, suspects don’t, and officers have the advantage of surprise. Yet prosecutors readily forgive mistaken police shootings of innocent civilians and unarmed drug suspects while expecting the people on the receiving end of late-night raids to show exemplary composure, judgment, and control in determining whether the attackers in their homes are cops or criminals.
Radley Balko "The Case of Cory Maye" Reason Magazine, October 2006.
The case of  Justine Ruszczyk, in Minneapolis, illustrates this issue.
Fred Bruno, the lawyer for Matthew Harrity, whose partner killed Ms Damond, 40, had said: "It is reasonable to assume an officer in that situation would be concerned about a possible ambush."
Justine Damond shooting: Minneapolis police ambush claim 'ludicrous'
Which is fair. But it's also reasonable to assume that an officer concerned about a possible ambush would take another action than to shoot first, and ask questions later. Especially as, in line with what Mr. Balko pointed out over a decade ago, the general public is held to a higher standard of conduct. I've been in some sketchy neighborhoods in my life. But I highly doubt that I'd be able to get away with shooting an unarmed person out of fear of an ambush without being arrested and charged right off the bat.

The leeway we give law enforcement officers in these sorts of situations is understandable. No one is perfect, and if we treated every shooting as a criminal offense, it's likely that law enforcement would be a much more difficult job than it already is. But it does seem that "The officer feared serious injury or death," is quickly becoming a go-to rationale for shootings; perhaps because it's easier to defend overall than "In having an armed police force who are trained to defend themselves as well as the public, we accept that a certain number of people are going to be killed by officers under circumstances that we don't tolerate from the public at large." And, honestly, that's the bargain we've made.

Black Lives Matter tends to view that bargain through the lens of race; White citizens are okay with the police (or other citizens) shooting and killing Black people, because of (perhaps implicit or unconscious) racialized fears, as a means of maintaining their status of being in control of the nation. But it's likely that it's not so biased as that makes it sound.

In general, the United States is a safer place that it used to be. President Trump can rail against the homicide rate in Chicago (something which the cynic in me suspects he does because Chicago is an example of everything that many of his supporters feel is wrong with the parts of the country that they don't live in), but the place is much safer than when I was living there in the 1990s, and celebrating having made it to age 25 without being assaulted or killed. The violent crime rate has been on a downward trend pretty much ever since. But a lot of people don't realize that. And I suspect that police officers are no more immune to the idea that death awaits around every corner than anyone else is.

And in a nation where access to firearms is often taken as a means of securing safety, it's likely that this feeling of security will be purchased in blood.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Lock, Lock. Who’s There?

I am, I guess you could say, a small-government moderate. I don’t have a philosophical issue with the existence of government, or any special gripes about the legitimacy of state power, but rather I tend to think that everyone is better off when people play to their strong suits. And there are some things that governments are placed to do very well, and some that they are always going to be terrible at. And the more we remove from government the responsibility for things that it doesn’t do well, the better off we are overall. Because we can give those jobs to people who will do them well.

When I have a gripe with government, it’s when they do something poorly, yet won’t allow anyone else to do it, regardless of the fact that they could do it better. An illustration of this is the Transportation Security Administration and travel locks. If you’re going to fly, and you want to lock your luggage, you have to use TSA-approved locks for the job, because the TSA wants to be able to get into a suspicious bad without having to cut the lock off. As if someone who is going to try to smuggle a bomb or other dangerous item onto a plane via checked luggage is going to merrily use an approved lock. These locks are approved by the TSA, because the TSA has skeleton keys that will allow them to open the locks, and thus the bags, and then lock them back.

The problem now is that people other than the TSA can have access to these keys. In fact, you can print them out for yourself with a 3D printer and the right plastic. Not, it seems that you need to; the locks are said to not be very secure. And therein lies the issue. TSA spokesperson Mike England says, in response to the news that keys for its locks can be printed by the public:

“The reported ability to create keys for TSA-approved suitcase locks from a digital image does not create a threat to aviation security.”

“These consumer products are ‘peace of mind’ devices, not part of TSA’s aviation security regime.”

“Carried and checked bags are subject to the TSA’s electronic screening and manual inspection. In addition, the reported availability of keys to unauthorized persons causes no loss of physical security to bags while they are under TSA control. In fact, the vast majority of bags are not locked when checked in prior to flight.”
But here’s the point. If I’m using a TSA-approved lock, I’m clearly not worried about the security of a bag when the TSA has it - otherwise, I’d have taken steps to keep them out of it, too. The point behind a TSA-approved lock is to keep people out when the TSA doesn’t have control of the bag. It’s unclear how one can have “peace of mind,” when the only luggage locks available on the market that can be taken on aircraft are so publicly compromised. Now, to be sure, I understand that luggage locks are not the end all and be all. I think of them in much the same way I do the lock on my apartment door. Not really much of a deterrent to a determined thief, who could likely simply bash the door in, but enough to prompt a casual burglar to move on to the next unit, in the hope of finding an unlocked door. And given that, as Mr. England points out, that most suitcases aren’t locked anyway, that small amount of deterrence might help. Granted, it’s still easier to open an unlocked bag than to use the TSA’s keys, but the bar is simply that much lower.

A number of people online had expressed some dismay over Mr. England’s attitude towards the security of traveler’s belongings, which has charitably been described as “not our problem,” but in a sense, that’s kind of the point. The TSA doesn’t concern itself with the security regimes of travelers. And in that regard, it doesn’t have to care that it compromises those in the course of what it does concern itself with - namely telling everyone how terrorists would be blowing up planes left, right and center if they weren’t there to rifle through random people’s luggage.

The TSA’s chance of every stopping an airplane bombing through physically searching luggage are slim. Given what I understand of their processes, the device would have to show up on whatever scanners they use, but not be so obvious that it would be clear what it was without a physical search. And again, if I were going to put a bomb into a piece of checked luggage, I wouldn’t care about the locks on it. But I guess this is the way security theater works. One would hope however, that they’d aim for better than a one-star performance.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

But I Do Know...

About a year and a half ago, I came across a post on Seth Godin's blog, entitled "For those unwilling to think deeply..." It rubbed me the wrong way, because it felt like someone who should know better taking pot shots at people who knew less than he did, and blaming them for their circumstances. And the American tendency to snipe at one another has always bothered me, even though I fully understand that the tribalism at the heart of it is never going to go away.

Being deeply knowledgeable about how electricity, democracy or irrational decision making works, when your paycheck depends on you knowing other things - but none of those things, is a luxury good. Because even though we don't have a market in "emotional labor," in that you can't simply go out and pay someone else to perform it for you, it's not without its costs. And I think that this is another way in which Mr. Godin's post irritates me, and illustrates one of the things that bothers me about the way we relate to one another: the not having access to a given luxury is itself a character flaw - being "unwilling to think deeply..." rather than a marker of a certain kind of poverty. And so we see no need to share that luxury with others.

Now, here I will admit to thinking that Americans are often more willing to plead poverty than perhaps we should be. But in some ways, I think that it is true that we can be impoverished in ways that don't often occur to us. The world is a very big place, and there is a lot to learn about it. But in order to do that, you have to have time that you aren't devoting to other things. The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf noted this several years ago when he related to readers that he understands things that non-news junkies are unaware of. Not because he is smarter than they are, or more willing to think deeply about things. But because it's what he does for a living, and so he's doing deep dives into these questions when other people are working at whatever it is that puts a roof over their heads.

There are a lot of things that I don't understand about the world, because, in the end, I don't need to understand them. When I run into missionaries, and tell them that I don't believe in deities, the follow-up question tends to be "Well, where do you think that everything came from?" Rather than fall back on the Big Bang, I simply shrug and admit to not knowing, and note that I don't really have a reason to know. I wasn't there to see it for myself, and I have other things to do than spend the time to really understand what the science says about the topic. I can manage my day-to-day life without being able to definitively answer the question, and I'm okay with that. And there are a lot of topics that fall into that same category. And as much as I love to listen to Dan Ariely talk about the topic, I don't have anything more than a superficial understanding of the irrationality of most mundane decision making. I am, to quote Mr. Godin, unwilling to devote the time and energy. This is not because I am content to be a cog in a machine that I don't understand. (Although in the end, I am content with that - because I don't have the mental horsepower to be a cutting-edge astrophysicist, and as a result, I am a cog in an unrelentingly vast machine that I can barely make heads or tails of, let alone actually understand. I can barely manage to come up with a why to describe gravity that doesn't rely on the action of gravity itself to illustrate it. Put the word "quantum" in front of anything, and my eyes glaze over.) But to be anything more than a cog in the machines I do understand, I have to be continuously learning about them. Knowing Agile software development practices and rituals, as shaky as I am with that knowledge, serves me in much better stead than a deep understanding of the workings of electricity, because I spent 13 months working in a place that used Agile for some of their development work. And none as an electrical engineer.And I don't believe that I am the only person in that situation.

This is the entire reason for the human development of division of labor - that different people do different things. And in the process, they become really, really good at them, and pretty much suck at everything else. So I don't understand human irrationality, instead, I let Dan Ariely understand it, and try my best to keep up when he's explaining it.

Because I don't have the luxury of being able to do the work needed to have that knowledge firsthand. And portraying that as a character flaw won't change that fact.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

It All Falls Down

One of the things that I really enjoy about summer photography is that the light is often good enough to completely freeze the action. The illusion of stillness has always fascinated me.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Not Even Past

I'm going to indulge in my habit of liberal quoting again for a moment, because I'd like to give the entirety of the criticisms leveled about old comics. I'm not reprinting the whole of the descriptions of them, but pulling out the sentences that concern us here.

1905: Little Nemo in Slumberland
Shame about that Jungle Imp character, though, who serves as a cold reminder that blithely racist stereotyping has been a part of the visual language of the comics medium since its inception.

1929: Tintin
And racially iffy.

(Hot tip: Skip Tintin in the Congo. Trust us.)

1934: Terry and the Pirates
Milton Caniff's two-fisted action adventure strip about a boy named Terry, his frequently stripped-to-the-waist mentor Pat, and — regretfully enough — a Chinese man name Connie who speaks, well, pretty much like you'd imagine a Chinese character would speak in an American-made comic strip from the 30s and 40s. More's the pity.
The Old School: Classic Strips That Continue To Shape Comics
In the ongoing debate over absolute versus relative values, the stereotype is often that the Right are absolutists, believing that their understanding of right are wrong are objective facts of live not subject to a person's lived experience, and that the Left are relativists, believing that different people can come to differing but equally valid understanding of ethics and morality. But the Left does have its own version of moral absolutism, and that is that advanced Western societies should always have espoused values that line up with modern understandings of race, class and gender issues.

Note that the knocks on Little Nemo in Slumberland, Tintin and Terry and the Pirates are not for being out of step with the times in which they were written. It's that they're not in line with the values of 80 to 100+ years after they were written. And implicit in that is a wager that, come 2100 to 2130, people will see the world of 2017 as being thoroughly modern and in line with their contemporary values. But it's just as, if not more likely, that people (especially the 15 to 35 set) in that time will find barbarism and backwardness in something that we don't think of as particularly wrong. We could hope that the early 22nd century sees the end of judgmentalism, but that seems like a long shot, at best.

Instead, I suspect that they will judge us, and our works, by their contemporary values, and regard them as somewhat shameful, iffy, regretful and worthless, even as they see them as valuable for their staying power and historical context. Of course, in that I'm making a wager myself, and on flimsy evidence at best - namely that over the next 80 or so years of human existence, societies won't decide that judging the past by the standards of the present is simply an exercise in self-righteousness. After all, the fact that "it's always been done that way" doesn't mean that it always will. Still I'd like to see us to a better job of understanding that values evolve, not because human history is a steady progression from Bad to Better, but because of people doing what works for them in the contexts in which they find themselves, and those contexts change over time. The best way to ensure that the future breaks with the habit of looking down its nose at the past, is to break with it ourselves.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Wallet Vote

So there was a posting on LinkedIn that was mainly a complaint about another posting, that was itself a complain about women being lazy, and sitting on their butts "complete with graphics of various shaped women's rear ends - no I'm not kidding and I do mean today, in 2017." The post ended with: "It's time to ask LinkedIn and other social media sites aimed at professionals to stay professional and limit bullying and misogyny."

But the problem isn't that LinkedIn allows people to post things that others may, with complete justification, consider to be bullying, misogynistic or simply unprofessional (the constant "like" farming comes immediately to mind). The problem is that you can post inappropriate or unprofessional items to LinkedIn without this being considered a career-limiting-move. Remember, the whole point of LinkedIn is to network; to be able to get your name in front of people. A LinkedIn profile is effectively a form of résumé. If you can, in an open internet forum that supposedly has your real name attached to it, engage in "bullying and misogyny," without consequence, then the issue isn't with LinkedIn.

When some guy snarkily makes a post about women's backsides, and is called on the carpet the next week, because his post has caused the company's sales to slide 2.5%, you'll quickly see that sort of behavior go the way of the dodo. Sure, there are concerns, and they are valid, about companies policing their employee's social media presence. And some companies will discipline or fire people for saying things that are socially acceptable, or even laudable, but that make management or owners uncomfortable. But I'm not sure that such a scenario is much worse than LinkedIn taking over that policing function to prevent semi-activist users from being exposed to something that most of the user base doesn't care anything about.

But in the end, this is what activism is all about - getting people to forgo something that they find worthwhile to do something about things they find reprehensible. It's about getting people to vote with their feet, and with their wallets, to create the world that people say they want to live in, rather than looking to corporate entities to be the enforcement mechanism of our personal sense of enlightenment.

The best way to encourage good behavior we desire is to reward it. One of my fathers lessons to me as a child was that "You should always reward those who have done you a service." And while it grates sometimes to treat what we may understand as basic human decency as a service done for us, that, in the end, is exactly what it is. And we can reward it, at least in part, by punishing those two behave in ways that we find reprehensible. It's tempting to outsource that task to corporations to which we have already ceded a degree of power over our lives. But it seems like a bad idea in the end, because power, by its very nature, can be put to a multitude of purposes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Personally Political

To the dismay of a vocal segment of its user base, LinkedIn is becoming more and more a run-of-the-mill social media site, with people asking about medical conditions, sharing self-portraits, proclaiming their faith and making political statements. What makes this last aspect of the site interesting is that despite the fact that posts are made with real names, and people understand that potential employers may see them, people are unafraid of naked partisanship.

There have been a couple of posts over the last week or so that illustrate this. One was a link to an article on a Republican website that was headlined "California Woman Says 'She Got Pregnant At 15 Because Her Town Didn't Have a Planned Parenthood'." As one might expect a number of self-identified conservatives quickly jumped on the bandwagon on condemning "California Woman" for not taking responsibility for her promiscuity and lack of contraception. Which would have been reasonable - had the article in question actually contained any statement by her to that effect. Interestingly enough, the only place the statement appears is in the headline. While the article implies that had the woman had access to a Planned Parenthood clinic, she may have aborted the fetus, rather than keep it, even this is only an implication - she never actually says this is what she would have done. The other illustrative posting is a meme consisting of side-by-side pictures of President Obama and President Trump. President Obama is speaking outside the White House, while a Marine holds up an umbrella. President Trump is shown adjusting a Marine's peaked cap. According to the caption, President Obama is self-important for having the Marine hold the umbrella, while President Trump is selfless for picking up a Marine's cap that had blown off in the wind. Again people were quick to pile onto the criticize President Obama bandwagon, as if the essence of each man could be neatly boiled down to these two pictures.

The most interesting thing about these posts for me is how people have started using LinkedIn to show their partisan political loyalties through personal attacks on others, rather than by attacking or defending policy. Because one can be a staunch Republican, and still believe (although this seems to be more and more rare) that non-Republicans are not bad people - they simply support the wrong policy choices. Whether or not ad hominem attacks are a useful and/or appropriate way to display ideology is a separate issue from that ideology, and one suspects that there are still people out there who might like what one says, but take exception to saying it by putting others down.

I'm curious at to whether the erosion of the idea that publicly calling other people out for being perverse is unprofessional is being driven by the rise of an internet culture in which people have grown accustomed to the fleeting nature of web communications or the widening partisan gap and the need, when in an echo chamber, to always keep up with the loudest voices. In any event, the idea that an incautious social media post would spell social or professional suicide seems to have become a quaint relic of a bygone era, even though it was all of 10 to 15 years ago. I suspect that at some point, someone will post something on LinkedIn that unexpectedly becomes incendiary enough that it burns them badly enough that everyone feels the heat and things quiet down. The question then, is how long will it take.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

It's a Dog's Life

It is, by now, a familiar story. An abandoned animal is found somewhere, and there is an outpouring of support as people clamor to be the animal's eventual savior; while at the same time public scorn is heaped upon whatever human is judged by the Court of Public Opinion to be the must culpable perpetrator. Meanwhile there is a parallel thread that questions why people aren't worthy of the same compassion.

Such is the case in the story of Chewy the chihuahua puppy, found in McCarran Airport over this past weekend. So many applications to adopt the puppy have come in that the animal shelter has stopped taking them, while at the same time, the shelter and the airport are also facing demands that they do something, presumably a form of necromancy or other divination, to track down the woman who left him behind while fleeing an abusive relationship. Whether to rescue or castigate her is not stated, but it's a safe bet that both motivations are in the mix.

Playing the role of calling for more attention to humans is shelter worker Darlene Blair, who laments: "I wish this story would bring more attention to the fact it's a felony to abuse an animal but it's not a felony to abuse a woman." That statement made me wonder*, so I looked up Washington State's laws on animal cruelty, mainly because that's where I live, even though the case of Chewy took place in Arizona. Suffice it to say that I didn't find anything in the Revised Code of Washington that counts as a felony when done to an animal that wouldn't count as a felony when done to a woman, outside of the fact that since women can legally consent to sex, it's possible to engage in sexual contact with a woman without automatically having committed a crime. But, at least in Washington State, it takes a bit of rooting through the criminal code to track down all of these provisions, as the laws on Domestic Violence reference many other parts of the code, while the rules against Animal Cruelty are neatly gathered and spelled out in one place, under a single heading that makes them easy to find. But the rules against Animal Cruelty are also fairly short - there are a number of items that fall under the heading of Domestic Violence that don't have a corresponding entry in Animal Cruelty.

But even with that, there are actions that are generally understood to fall under the heading of "abusive" that are not recognized as being criminal offenses. The Court of Public Opinion, especially the Social Justice Circuit, often has more stringent definitions of what constitutes abuse than lawmakers do, in part because the Court of Public Opinion is much more free to respond to its emotional reactions. A blazing row between lovers where one of them clearly has the metaphorical upper hand, and isn't afraid to use it, may seem clearly abusive to onlookers, but is still a difficult thing to legislate. And in that, the understanding that Chewy's owner committed a crime by leaving him in an airport bathroom, but the circumstances that lead her to that point are not felonious, can seem to be unjust, and Ms. Blair's statement well-taken.

But it's difficult to make the reprehensible into the illegal simply for the asking. The more laws rely on judgment calls, the more open to abuse - or the perception of abuse - they become. In the end, the law can't solve everything. While there's nothing wrong with asking it to, or wishing it would, the expectation that it will seems misplaced.

*There was a time when one could lawfully treat children in a manner that would have landed you in jail if it had been done to an animal, and many of the original laws against child abuse were modeled on animal cruelty statutes that were on the books already. In that regard, it wouldn't surprise me if there had been a time in which one could have gotten away with injuring a female partner in a way that was illegal for animals. But I would be surprised to learn that anyone alive in the United States today has first-hand memories of that time.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Insufficiently Enlightened

One of the things about being old is that you're in that time of your life where most of the people you encounter are younger than yourself. And this grants some insight into how the things that you thought were important are dealt with by the next generation(s).

There is a Young Person's Problem that I think every deals with at some point, and that's The Insufficient Enlightenment of the Rest of Humanity. I remember when I was a young(er) man, we used to sit around and congratulate each other on our perceptiveness in having put our fingers on the problems of humanity, and we would be amazed that this has gotten past so many other (older, natch) people. And I suspect that those selfsame older people simply smirked at us when we weren't looking, and chuckled to themselves knowingly when we were out of earshot. Because now that I'm old, I occasionally want to do the same.

I read a couple of articles today that solemnly proclaimed that Dungeons and Dragons and other (mainly fantasy) role-playing games were Racist and Colonialist, and in so doing I realized that those terms were simply the new buzzwords for Insufficiently Enlightened, and I realized that I could see the thought process that my peers and I engaged in back in the day playing out again. The idea that we saw things in their objective, truthful forms; the idea that everyone understood the world in the exact same way that we did; the idea that if someone disagreed with us, that the problem was with their understanding of things. It was all there.

Despite the fact that the struggle to find moral/ethical principles that are indisputable, universal, and eternal has never been resolved, we were convinced that the answers were right in front of our noses, and that what the world needed was for more people to think like us. And now that I'm old, I see a new generation of people going through the same process of wading through that thinking. And some of them are even starting to come out on the other side.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bottomless


Monday, July 3, 2017

Blue Moon


Thursday, June 29, 2017

#AmazonSmart

During the presidential debate of September 26th, 2016, the following exchange took place:

Hillary Clinton: Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

Donald Trump: That makes me smart.
On  June 28th, 2017, now-President Donald tweeted the following:

The #AmazonWashingtonPost, sometimes referred to as the guardian of Amazon not paying internet taxes (which they should) is FAKE NEWS!
So I guess that makes Amazon's leadership smart.


Most of the discussion around this has focused on the idea that President Trump is a hypocrite who is attempting to have it both ways, a thin-skinned whiner who calls any media he doesn't like "fake news" or an idiot who either doesn't realize that there are no "internet taxes" in the United States or somehow missed the fact that Amazon.com does collect and remit state and local sales taxes. (Although given that many Americans see no differences between a price discount and tax evasion, and thus will make buying decisions based on not having pay the tax, I doubt they're very pleased about it.)

But this tweet, like a lot of others, can be boiled down to four words: Us good, Them bad. When Mr. Trump embraced tax dodging as a marker of intelligence during the campaign, he was holding himself up as someone who understood the system well enough to make it work for him - and therefore someone who understood it well enough to make it work for the people who supported him. And for many of those people, one of their primary grievances with (big) government wasn't its size, reach or spending habits; it was the fact that they perceived it as acting to benefit "Them" at the direct expense of "Us." And it's a common refrain. In the 1990's a politician from downstate Illinois was fact-checked after saying that rural Illinoisans were paying their tax dollars to support Chicago and the suburbs. Which locations, it turned out, paid some 60% of state tax revenues, while only receiving 15% in state spending, leaving rural downstate residents to have their wallets sucked dry to the tune of less than 50¢ in taxes for every dollar the state spent on them.

The mythical "internet taxes" that President Trump feels that Amazon should be paying are perhaps better viewed as a "Liberal tax;" money that wealthy liberals should be paying to make life better for the hardworking Conservative voters who elected him into office. And their failure to do so is portrayed as simply another way in which Liberal America is disloyal to the people who really matter. And likewise, their unflattering coverage (or covfefe) of President Trump isn't due to the fact that the President has done things that ideological opponents may disagree with, or even different views of the same events. It's cynical, and knowingly dishonest, payback for the President siding with his voter base, rather than the wealthy "élites" who think they should run everything.

It's a simple political strategy, and the President goes to that well over and over, because he can still draw water from it. It's unlikely to run dry anytime soon.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Air Orca


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Keeping Up Appearances

I was on LinkedIn, and someone had posted an "article" that was little more than a cropped photograph of some legislators sitting down, while other stood with their hands over their hearts. It was titled: "Our disrespectful congress members," and called for members of Congress who refused "to stand for our country" to be voted out of office.

The first thing that crossed my mind was "Do you want empty ritualism? Because this is how you get empty ritualism."

I'm one of those people for whom The United States of America, Pledge of Allegiance and the flag of the United States are separate and distinct things from one another. Accordingly, I can come up with ways in which Congress has been much more "disrespectful" to the United States and its population than simply refusing to be bothered to stand every time there is a recitation of the Pledge, the National Anthem or whatever other patriotism litmus test someone came up with this week.

There isn't a high enough correlation between love of country and certain specific words or actions to be able to equate the two. Sure, there are people who use their public refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance or to salute the flag as a means of protesting what they understand to be wrong with the nation. It does not follow from this, that everyone who, for whatever reason, doesn't recite the pledge or stand when expected to is protesting something. (Nor does it follow, for that matter, that protest is a form of expressing disrespect.) One can do "all the right things" and still have no love or respect for the United States. Feeling that the nation does not deserve positive regard does not render one incapable of saying the words.

Choosing to sir during the national anthem or to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with gusto are matters of style and not substance. Conflating the two has never been useful.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Broader Shade of Blue

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America and the current Republican majorities in the House of Representatives, Senate, Governorships and many state legislatures (not all of them Red States) has placed the Democratic Party in a position somewhat similar to the one that the Republican Party was in after the 2012 election cycle - out in the political wilderness, wondering how they got there, at a loss for a concrete plan to find their way back and looking for one of their own to take the fall for it.

Enter the Dean-Moulton Line of Demarcation. It's a term that NPR's Domenico Montanaro pretty much made up on the spot, but it's a useful one, so let's run with it a bit. The central debate of Dean-Moulton is this: in order to get more votes especially in redder areas than their normal stomping grounds, Democrats have to shift their party platform. So, do they shift towards a more Progressive platform, to put more daylight between themselves and the Republicans - the Jim Dean position? Or, do they prepare themselves to run to the center when required - the Congressman Seth Moulton position?

The answer, I suspect, lies in what one thinks of how the electorate works, and what it wants. The Dean position says, in effect, that there are more votes to be had by running harder to the Left. From my layman's perch, this says a couple of things to me, both of which I've heard from people who would strike me as being in the Dean camp. 1) That there is a relatively large number of disaffected voters to be picked up, who are currently to the Left of the Democratic Party as a whole. These are people who are highly unlikely to ever vote for Republican candidates, and the reason that they don't turn out for Democrats is, when it comes down to it, from that far to the Left, the center and the Right are pretty much indistinguishable, to the degree that many "moderates" are, as far as they're concerned, simply Republicans who may or may not have actively pledged allegiance. 2) That most reliably Democratic voters are reliable to the point of being givens. Their brand loyalty means that wherever the party platform goes, left, right or awkward, they'll still be reliable votes. To be pejorative about it, they're sheeple, unthinking drones who'd vote for Satan or a ham sandwich, as long at they ran on a Democratic ticket. So those votes don't need to be contested for. So moving to the left to pick up the disaffected progressives has little, if any downside.

The Moulton position says that a move Right towards the center, or at least the flexibility to do so, is a more likely winning strategy. Again, my layperson's analysis of the calculus involved tells me that the thinking is that most of the votes that have been left on the table are in the space between the Republicans and the Democrats, and that many people who don't vote, and thus are available to be wooed, feel that both parties have moved too far away from their positions to be worth chasing down. I suspect that it also postulates that people do make the switch from one party to another, depending on which is closer to their own interests. Generally speaking, to be politically active without it being more or less a waste of time requires that one line up with one of the Big Two political parties. Smaller groups, like the Libertarians and the Greens, are seen as something between protest votes and markers of mental illness, and so are taken at all seriously in the political scheme of things. The centrist position strikes me as less self-assured than the alternative; their pitch to those on the leftmost edge of the spectrum is less "Who else are you going to vote for?" than "Half a loaf is better then none, and while we won't go as far as you'd like, it's certainly farther than you'd get otherwise." I'm not sure that I see the wisdom in appealing to the pragmatism of the edges, but then again, I'm not in politics, either.

Whether or not the Dean-Moulton Line of Demarcation takes into account the current ground truth is, for me, an unknown. My own analysis of the election in November tells me that there simply wasn't enough enthusiasm for the Obama years left to carry a Democrat into the White House and give the party control of Congress, regardless of whether that was Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. And so, like the recriminations of the Republicans before it, the issue may simply be solved when the population tires of the brand of government that President Trump and the Republican Congress have brought with them. For those people who felt that the Obama Administration had adopted a policy that lay somewhere between ignoring them and throwing them under the bus, I'm uncertain of either Mrs. Clinton or Senator Sanders represented enough of a change to gain their votes. But when the nation sours on the Republicans, it's also unlikely to matter whether or not Dean or Moulton have won the argument. Bigger events will likely have been the deciding factor.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Way With Words

After last Wednesday's shooting at Republican practice for the annual Congressional charity baseball game in Alexandria, Virginia, one of the targets for blame was "overheated political rhetoric." And one of the phrases that came back into the public consciousness was "words have consequences."

One of the interesting things about public anger at politics and with politicians is that people tend to see it as genuine emotion when it comes from people the agree with, and the result of cynical emotional manipulation when it doesn't.

Three guesses which side of the political spectrum "NewsBlaze" comes down on...
There seems to be an understanding that co-partisans can be legitimately upset with policies enacted by the other side, to the point of anger or even literal outrage. But people on the other side are often seen as passively accepting of the world around them, unless someone takes action, either deliberate or careless, to "rile them up." Part of it is simple political blind spots. It's easy to understand how policy choices that one doesn't like, either because of the policies themselves or the people who enacted them, are simply bad. And it makes sense that people would be angry at wrongheaded, perverse or treacherous policy choices. It seems to be more difficult for Americans to understand that the policy choices they support might create losers, or people who honestly perceive themselves as possible losers, and that those people would have a genuine (if perhaps premature or misplaced) grievance with those policies and their supporters.

And once you've convinced yourself that the only reason why someone could be roused to violence over what is obviously sound policy is that they are weak-willed, ignorant and easily- mislead, it's only a short step to pointing out the strongest voices that one disagrees with as engaging in incitement. Which is not to say that incitement doesn't happen - but it rarely, if ever, directly comes from the highest halls of power. Open calls for violence tend to erode the support that politicians depend on. It's the rare office holder who could, as then-candidate Donald Trump bragged, shoot a man in the street and not lose any support. And so people hear dog whistles everyone (despite the fact that the whole point behind a dog whistle is that it's not universally audible).

While far from the worst place in the world for political violence, the United States is always going to have an undercurrent of it because we tend to view violence as a way of solving problems. Even when the problem is politics.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Wait For It...

A great blue heron, on the lookout for a meal.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Strings

At a press conference from the scene, Virginia governor and Democrat Terry McAuliffe was the first to raise the spectre of gun control. "There are too many guns on the street," he said, before remarking that it wasn't the day for that debate. "If it's not the day for it why are you bringing it up?" replied a reporter.
Virginia shooting raises spectre, but not likelihood, of gun control
This, perhaps, is illustrative of the problem that we have with the "gun control debate" here in the United States. The focus appears to be more on being seen to be on the same side of the issue as particular constituent groups than it is on advancing any particular policies. Perhaps because the general consensus is that the status quo will remain inviolate, at least for the foreseeable future, posturing and virtue-signalling are the only remaining avenues for action. Just as it's conventional wisdom that Republican lawmakers have the National Rifle Association and firearms manufacturers pulling their strings, that same convention holds that Democratic lawmakers are beholden to the more activist wings of their voter base. Why being responsive to voters (regardless of whether one thinks those voters are wrongheaded, un-American or spot on) should be considered as bad as being dictated to by a trade organization is a mystery to me, but I suppose that few have ever decried American politics for an over-reliance on rationality.

In any event, both sides of the debate see the "thought leaders" and legislators on the other side as captured, and doing what cynical others bid them to do.

Puppetry

And the other point I would make - and my oldest son is a police officer, not a detective. The point he makes - and I agree with him - is, this area has pretty strong gun control laws, had no impact whatsoever on this gentleman. The reality is the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun because in my opinion, gun control laws simply limit citizens, limit law-abiding citizens.
Paul Mitchell - (R - Michigan)
Freshman Lawmakers React To Virginia Shooting
On the one hand, you have to give the Republican's credit for their message discipline. But on the other, sometimes, you'd think that someone would say: "Maybe this isn't a good time for this particular talking point." Most people in the country are familiar enough with the partisan positions on this issue to understand that a shooting, even one of other members of Congress, is unlikely to change their stance on gun control. But this seemed sort of shoehorned into the conversation - no mention of gun control had been made, and so as much as I dislike partisan sniping around the topic, Representative Val Demings' (D - Florida) comment that Mr. Mitchell was parroting an NRA statement rang true. Even though Mr. Mitchell attributed the sentiment to a police officer son, it came across as if Wayne LaPierre had put a hand up his butt to make him talk.

Republicans tend to use the idea of "with a gun" as a stand-in for "ready, willing and able to commit violence." And these really aren't the same concept. And even though they should have an understanding of what the genuine conflation of the two should look like, they speak as though they don't, and the simple presence of more guns in the hands of "good guys" (because, you know, you can tell them on sight) is going to solve a much deeper problem.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

All Are Welcome

One of the recurring motifs of posts on LinkedIn (other than how LinkedIn is not Facebook, and should not be treated as such) is a mutual complaining society made up of equal parts recruiters and candidates/job seekers. Both groups grouse about unprofessionalism on the part of the other, list out the problems that the other has caused for them or basically just take pot shots at each other.

And part of the issue, as I am not the first person to point out, is that the barriers to entry are low. Anyone who can gather up some résumés and farm them around to employers in exchange for a cut of the salary of anyone hired on can call themselves a recruiter, and it's even easier to be a candidate or job seeker - anyone with a résumé posted online or who is unemployed can get in.

And so this leaves a lot of room for, well, flaky people. And complaining about them won't change that.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Pacific Northwest

The stereotypical understanding of what things are like around here.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

And The Band Played On


Here's Your Handbasket

My mother believes that I'm going to Hell. She's a Jehovah's Witness, and I'm not, so for her it's a simple, if very unfortunate, fact of life. Or afterlife, as the case may be. I understand that various strains of Evangelical Christianity (among other Judeo-Christian-Islamic sects) believe that they, and they alone, have exclusive access not only to spiritual Truth, but to salvation. And I don't have a problem with this. While I don't claim to be a theologian of any stripe, I understand concepts like Original Sin, Total Depravity and Divine Grace, and I see how people put these things (among others) together into a picture that says only certain people will be "saved."

What makes conversations with my mother about this interesting is that she's unafraid of the topic, but doesn't come off as being mean about it. When I was younger, and the family was still Roman Catholic (to varying degrees), some of my father's family could also be very open about the fact that we were all going to Hell, because we weren't the right type of believers. But that openness carried with it a very clear strain of not only divine, but personal, condemnation. My father wasn't a very religious person one way or the other, and so it was my mother, who'd been educated in Catholic schools, who was the main driver of family religiosity. And to my paternal grandmother and some of my aunts, she had driven us into sin by miseducating my sister and me. (Word to the wise: Adults like to think that they can be subtle enough about these things that children won't notice. They normally can't, although I will admit that it took me a while to understand exactly why there was a current of hostility there.) In the eyes of my father's family, my mother had willfully chosen the Wrong Religion, and was thus, basically, deplorable. This is a fairly common line of reasoning, especially for those people who understand divine mandates to be self-evident.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I/D? - Vermont) has stirred up a minor hornet's nest by challenging Trump administration nominee Russell Vought, tapped to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, over whether or not non-Christians are condemned. While there is a fair amount of crying "Foul!" on the part of Christian groups in the United States, I can understand why the Senator posed the question.

"Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology," Vought wrote. "They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned."
To Senator Sanders, this smacks of Islamophobia - although "non-Christian-ophobia" may be just as appropriate a formulation. Christians, unsurprisingly, tend to hold a different viewpoint.
[Russell] Moore[, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention] says there's nothing hostile about Vought's comments. "In Christian theology, no one is righteous before God," he said. "[Evangelical] Christians don't believe that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. Christians believe that all of humanity is fallen."
With all due respect to Mr. Moore, I suspect that he could do with being more in touch with the way that many American Christians, Evangelical or not, actually go about the practice of Christianity. Because "good people [especially one's friends and relatives] go to heaven and bad people go to hell" is precisely the way that many people talk about how the afterlife works.
But most first-graders are not subtle or critical thinkers; they just about understand "good" and "bad" and "right" and "wrong." Religion at this age is indoctrination, as it must be, but it's naive to believe that such indoctrination doesn't affect the outsiders. One mother, who herself teaches Sunday school but nevertheless opted out of the program, explains it better than I ever could: "I asked them whether Jesus was a Christian and they said 'yes.' When I said, 'Jesus was a Jew,' one girl said, 'But Jesus was a good person.'"
Dahlia Lithwick. "Bible Belt Upside the Head" Slate Magazine, 16 Feb., 2005
And from having known religious people of all ages throughout my life, that conflation between Christianity and one's "goodness" as a person isn't limited to first graders. For many outsiders, the religious person's judgement as to whether they are saved or condemned is more than a point of theological dogma - it's an assessment of their worth and value as a person. While it's easy to point fingers at groups like the Westboro Baptist Church and hold them up as what "genuine" Christians are not, they don't have a monopoly on the idea that God has reasons to hate not just sins, but sinners. And from there, it's a short step to the idea that Christians in government shouldn't be in the business of abetting sinful behavior.

This is not to say that everyone who publicly takes the position (even if they seem to be unwilling to own it if presses) that non-Christians are "condemned" views non-Christians as evil or of diminished worth. But the formulation that Mr. Vought used in his defense of Wheaton College, implies that non-Christians have brought the condemnation of God down on themselves for their willfulness - in much the same way my grandmother and aunts regarded their daughter/sister-in-law. This undermines the "hate the sin, love the sinner" argument that is often advanced to blunt charges of judgementalism.

Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, made a really interesting point in an interview once. He basically said that no-one knows what God is thinking, so that when people (especially laypeople, one expects) say "this is what God wants," what they're really saying is "this is what I would want, if I were God." Which is an arguable point. But it's also one that I wouldn't be surprised to find is fairly widespread. And so I suspect that for a lot of non-Christians, their is a belief that Christians point to the condemnation of the unbeliever by God as way of distancing themselves from their own negative thoughts about non-Christians. Senator Sanders' questions to Mr. Vought don't raise this directly, but they touch on it.

When my mother and I talk religion, she's willing to be open about her understanding of how the afterlife works. And that openness is generally missing in the broader discourse. In response to what were basically yes or no questions from Senator Sanders, Mr. Vought replied with "I'm a Christian," and "I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs," which were intended to settle the question, but likely came off as evasive. And so I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Senator Sanders feels that Mr. Vought understands "dignity and respect" differently than he does.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Self Test

I was out walking the other day, and I encountered a young woman panhandling. I'd seen her before, she's popped up in various places along my route to and from work (and nearby destinations) over the past five years, give or take. I've given her food and/or money on prior occasions, and taken the time to talk to her about once a year.

I'm never sure if she recognizes me from one encounter to the next, given the time that elapses between them, but she's always quick to tell me about the travails of her husband, a disabled veteran who received am other-than-honorable discharge, and her two sons, even telling me that one's birthday was coming up. I know that she and her family have lived in different parts of the country before returning to the Seattle area, and I've listened to her frustrations with the Veterans' Administration.

This all seems to come as a surprise to coworkers when I mention to them. Either the idea that one would actually take the time to talk to a panhandler strikes them as unwise or unsafe, or they have a story about someone begging on the street who turns out to drive a nice car, or is otherwise a fraud. To be sure, I understand these attitudes. I've dealt with panhandlers who became aggressive when not given what they asked for, and I've caught a few who were running scams. But these experiences haven't prompted me to keep my distance from the down-and-out population in general. And sometimes, I wonder why.

I'm not a generous person. Let's get that out of the way up-front. I don't give until it hurts. And I tend to do things for other people with a definite eye towards what I'm getting out of them. Giving to panhandlers who seem to really need it helps me to understand that, to borrow a metaphor from Seth Godin, I'm not drowning. My life may not be perfect, but I have things well enough in hand that I can afford to give something to this person who needs it. I have no illusions that I'm helping them with the small amounts of money that I'm handing over. At least not anywhere near as much as I'm helping my own piece of mind.

So I wonder - Do I take the time to interact with the people I see on the street, and spend the mental energy to be concerned with them, because of my own turmoil? Where I more at ease with myself, with less to prove, would I be as aloof as the people I've worked with?

Monday, June 5, 2017

Work To Do

If you're on food stamps, and you're able-bodied, we need you to go to work. If you're on disability insurance and you're not supposed to be — if you're not truly disabled, we need you to go back to work.
Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Housing Secretary Ben Carson Says Poverty Is A 'State Of Mind'
Okay, I'll bite. Doing what, exactly? The reason there are (not all that many) people who are able to work but who are on food stamps or disability insurance is that they can't find jobs.

One thing that's vexed me for years is people telling me that there are plenty of living and family-wage jobs out there "for people who are willing to work." Jobs that allegedly don't even need higher education, specialized training or prior industry experience, and will allow one to grasp the American Dream.

"Great!" I respond. "Tell me where they are. I know some people who'll be happy to move to get them."

And it's always the same answer. Crickets.

Now you could make the point that there are plenty of landscaping and agriculture jobs out there that Americans could take from migrant workers. And there are people who make the point that Americans would take those jobs from migrant workers, if we removed safety net programs. These are commonly described as "jobs that Americans don't want." But guess what - the migrants don't want them either. Sure they're better than the jobs that are available in their home countries, but when was the last time you read about a migrant family that scrimped and saved to put a child or three through college, with the ambition of having the child be the single most educated farmhand or landscaper you'd ever met? Part of the reason why there are so few serious and workable plans to deal with illegal immigration into this country is that for farms and the like to compete for workers would require them to raise their wages. And we all know who, in the end, would likely pay for those wage increases. But I digress.

I understand Mr. Mulvaney's contention that the United States needs every able-bodied person to be working, rather than living (if you can call it that) on government benefits and transfer payments. But the simple fact of the matter is that we don't need everyone eligible to work to actually do work.
We are going to do everything we can to help you find a job that you are suited to and a job that you can use to help take care of you, yourself, and your family.

If you're in this country and you want to work, there's good news, because Donald Trump is President and we're going to get 3 percent growth, and we're going to give you the opportunity to go back to work.
I don't know where Director Mulvaney gets the idea that simply growing the economy by 3% is going to magically create demand for human labor, given that we, as a nation, have been putting an awful lot of energy into coding software and building robotic systems that can do many of the things that people can do. Anyone who drives for a living is in the crosshairs of companies who want to make autonomous vehicles ubiquitous, and to the degree that the plan is that "driverless cars" would be shared more often than owned, they've also got a number of autoworkers in their sights. And if computers turn out to be markedly better drivers than people, you can see the auto-repair industry taking a hit... The list goes on, and it's unlikely that the robot car makers will need all of those people to staff their factories.

And that doesn't even take into account simply opening new plants in other countries, where the overall standards and costs of living are lower. Low-skilled or unskilled service jobs don't pay that much, and initiatives to pay for higher education or solid vocational training to give people skills tend to run into angry Republican voters riled up about other people getting "free stuff."

Government cannot simultaneously work to increase the profitability of businesses and the need for labor while treating those things as being in an adversarial relationship with one another. The reason why Ronald Reagan's vision of supply-side economics didn't work as planned was that "supply creates demand" only to the degree that prices can float freely; even if that means dropping below the cost of production. But any reasonably on-the-ball business owner knows to slow or stop production before things get to that point. And if they miss the mark, that's what warehouses are for. And even if government eases off a million dollars in taxes, unless more than a million dollars will come from investing it in production, it makes more sense to simply pocket the money.

I understand the commonly-held idea that the best thing to do for people is to help them become self-sufficient (to the degree that anyone who isn't effectively self-employed, or otherwise independent of someone else's decisions can ever be genuine;y "self-sufficient") by putting them to work, rather than needing assistance from society at large. But the assumption that the demand for labor is there, and that it simply needs to be "unleashed" by cutting taxes and/or government services has yet to be demonstrated. Granted, the saying goes that there's a first time for everything, but sometimes it worthwhile to keep in mind that it's only a saying.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Mismessaged

"I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind," [Carson] said in an interview that aired on Wednesday.

"You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street, and I guarantee in a little while they'll be right back up there.

"And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world, they'll work their way right back down to the bottom."
Housing Secretary Ben Carson calls poverty a 'state of mind'
My father pretty much told me the same thing when I was in junior high school. It's a common way of understanding inequality. The different between my father and Secretary Carson is that my father didn't come across as blaming people for their circumstances, or chalking up the plight of the poor to character flaws.

And I think that this is a recurring problem for Secretary Carson, because he doesn't seem to have the ability to speak to the public at large. Instead, he seems to craft messages that are designed to appeal to the sentiments of conservative Culture Warriors; sentiments that are inherently moralistic and that imply that the world is just (usually, anyway). And to the degree that the conservative Culture War outlook on poverty is that it results from poor character, Secretary Carson's comments come off as a combination of victim-blaming and character assassination. And as he cultivates (intentionally or not) this reputation, it becomes an expectation, and that expectation colors the way in which his words are taken. And the political distance between Secretary Carson and his critics often means that they are actively motivated to see him in a poor light.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Simple Explanation

While there has been a lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over President Trump's decision to have the United States withdraw from the Paris climate accords, it seems to me that this is a move about domestic politics more than anything having to do with the climate or the environment.

The whole thing strikes me as a three-pronged statement to the base of voters who support Donald Trump.

  1. Nations who signed on to this need the United States more than the United States need them, so
  2. They cooked up a climate agreement that was cynically designed to better their economies at the expense of the United States, and
  3. They were aided and abetted in this by an Obama Administration that was feckless at best, possibly "globalist" and actively hostile to the interests of "ordinary Americans" at worst.
These three factors strike me as driving this behavior more than any level of climate skepticism. Because if there's one thing that we understand about voter base that President Trump is appealing to (and needs to keep fearful of an impending Apocalypse) it's that they feel that a) the "Global Élites" and the Democratic Party have it in for them, and will do whatever they can to injure them. (Dirty Socialists, and all that.)
I used to say to our audiences: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
Upton Sinclair "I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked" 1935
The coal miners and other people that President Trump are counting on are in a position where continuing their livelihoods as they currently know them depends on their not understanding that there is any real need for change. They are not "climate skeptics" in any real sense of the word - that would presume that this were actually about the climate, rather than an unwillingness to risk un- and underemployment, for what they understand to be the sake of people overseas.

And I think that President Trump understands this better than most of his critics. It's easy to call upon people to make sacrifices. But it's difficult to get people to suffer them willingly. And President Trump knows that by casting that call to sacrifice as the work of people who disdain them, that he can count on their continued, and enthusiastic, support.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Imagined

Anyone paying even a modicum of attention to the American political scene could tell you what the reaction would have been.

"Disgusting but not surprising. This is the left today. They consider this acceptable. Imagine a conservative did this to Obama as POTUS?"

Okay. Sure. I'll imagine it. After all, the script is so well-worn that it doesn't need much actual imagining. "Conservative" reaction would be split (although "fragmented" is likely a better term), with some people denouncing it as somewhere between shameful and criminal, while others cited free speech the lack of a distinct threat. There would likely be as many opinions as there are Conservatives. Meanwhile, "Liberal" America would appear to have fallen into apoplexy, due to a rush of attention-seeking virtue signalling, in the form of breathless punditry about racism and hyper-partisanship. Although there would of course, also be a split there, as Liberals are about as monolithic and group-thinking as Conservatives are. In the end, the reactions of the political class would be mainly determined by the opinions of their constituencies. Congressional districts where the President was unpopular enough that people would vocally stand up to defend someone calling for his beheading would have to be more supportive of the image, and where he was popular, less so. The one constant would likely be political triangulation with an eye towards how much fundraising could be wrung out of it, on both sides.
OMG! Did you see what some random Conservative celebrity thinks about President Obama! Only a check to our fundraising arm will stop the hate from destroying the country!

Some Liberals I saw on TV are again seeking to stifle the free speech of Americans who criticize Obama! Only your donation stands between freedom and perpetual Socialist tyranny!
Because no controversy that can be used as a fundraiser would ever be allowed to go to waste.

There would, of course, be an outpouring of outrage and counter-outrage (with the requisite ironic lamenting of how easily people became outraged), based on the loudest and most unapologetic voices on both sides. Liberal pundits would decry the disrespect of it all, and seek to call out the Right for their perversity, which would set off a scramble by Conservatives for equivalent examples to demonstrate the perversity, and thus hypocrisy of the Left. Which would, in turn, lead to replies of "Well, that was different." The end result being yet another rehash of the Catalogs of Sins that both sides have compiled, going back to the Civil War, if not farther, as each tribe looks to justify a position of writing the other off.

The news cycle, endlessly seeking juicy conflicts to fill air time, would be hurriedly finding anyone even marginally well known to book onto shows to offer uninformed and partisan opinions on why one side or the other is heralding the end of the world. If they uttered a sound bite that set off secondary coffeepot conflagrations, and thus even higher ratings, so much the better. Meanwhile, a few hundred thousand potential news stories that don't involve the political pratfalls of the clueless would be ignored, by the media establishment and the public alike. (And bonus points if some tragedy were to befall a marginalized person, so that their community could loudly bemoan the lack of front-page coverage.) Cue the hand wringing over how the media's obsession with meaningless controversy was yet again destroying democracy.

Any corporations that the perpetrator was associated with would started judging whether or not they needed to cut ties to limit the public relations hits to their branding efforts. At the same time, corporations with no prior associated would started sizing up the situation to determine if it bringing them on-board would help them grab a few points of market share in their targeted demographics.

And, of course, on both sides of the political spectrum, those less invested in the tribalism of it all would simply shrug their shoulders and go on with their lives, either out of active disinterest or out of having bigger fish to fry. In the end, the single biggest difference is that President Obama would have likely taken it in stride.

Did I miss anything?

Personally, these teapot tempests don't really seem to serve any other purpose than to allow people to grandstand about how righteous their tribe is, and how perverse the other tribe is. And that might be compelling to fellow tribes-people, but of little interest to the non-tribal. Kathy Griffin's art piece it no more likely to sway my opinion of the Left of center people I know then Ted Nugent referring to President Obama as a "subhuman mongrel" swayed my opinion of the Right of center people I know.

To take Donald Trump Jr's lament that "the Left today" considers what Griffin did any more or less acceptable than anyone else is to not have any friends or acquaintances on the Left. Which in the end, I suppose, may be the point. That the only interaction that the Republican and Democratic tribes should have with one another is forcing the other to surrender.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Float On


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bridging the Gaps

Most of the people in my social media circles are left of center, and that tends to mean that even the ones who profess a certain level of religiosity tend to be dismissive of the role of divinity in mundane events, even those that are unusual. Accordingly, they tend to look askance at people who rely on religion, rather than modern (Western) medicine. Discussions about the topic tend to end up with calls for relying on faith to be viewed as a form of child abuse by the legal system, and questions as to why people look to religion in such circumstances.

Occasionally, one comes across a case where the believers claim a certain obligation to "Let go and let God," as the saying goes. And this furthers the confusion. This has, I believe, less to do with religion, than it does with a certain inexactness in medicine.

There are stories of other great miracles that were brought about by faith that no one attempts to replicate today. Jesus is said to have feed a multitude with a few fish and a handful of loaves of bread - but if a food bank director who said that they would rely on God to stretch a few boxes of food into filling meals for the entire homeless population of a major city, you would likely have a difficult time finding someone who would take them seriously. And you would likely have an even harder time finding someone who considered skepticism of the director's claims to be disparaging faith in God. Given a certain quantity of food, one can generally predict how many people can be fed with it. You might be off by a few people here or there, but most people can come up with reasonable estimates, with a little training. The idea that a miracle would occur to multiply the food is likely beyond the expectations of even ardent believers.

But medicine is something different. A doctor could proclaim that a patient has only weeks to live, only to wind up seeing that same person again and again for years when the diagnosed condition doesn't behave in the manner expected. Diseases go into remission and people recover from injuries, seemingly at random, and in a manner or time frame that leaves the medical establishment at a loss. I suspect that most practitioners would tell you that there are any number of things that we simply don't know, or can't speak to with 100% certainty.

I think that it's telling that people tend to see miracles primarily (if not exclusively) in these places that have uncertainty in them - the "miraculous" outcome, while unusual, or perhaps even unheard-of, is not, however, manifestly impossible given our current scientific understanding. Were I to be in an automobile accident that required amputation of a badly mangled leg and put me into a deep coma from which most experts agreed that I would never recover, a respectable doctor could claim that one day, I might awaken. But that same doctor would lose pretty much all credibility were they to claim that they'd be unsurprised to enter my room, and find me with both my feet again. Similarly, while we might see the hope of someone who prayed for me to awaken to be reasonable, if they claimed to be be praying that my amputated leg would grow back, they'd widely be considered delusional.

By the same token, raising the commonplace to the level of the miraculous also strains credibility - while the flu can be fatal, few feel that divine intervention is the only reason why people survive. And so casting such as a miracle seems to be overdoing it.

The limiting of the miraculous to areas of uncertainty has the side effect allowing both sides to claim victory, seeing what they wish to see. Which ensures that the debate will likely never reach a conclusion.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Culture Bombs

"This is what happens when you disarm your citizens."
Texas sheriff defends Facebook post on Manchester attack
What would a gun ownership rate in Great Britain that mirrored that of the United States have done in this instance? I don't claim to be an expert on firearms, but the last I checked gunpowder doesn't undo explosions.

Yes, you can make the point that if someone had seen the suicide bomber approaching, recognized him for what he was and had a gun on them, they could have shot him, before he made it into the crowd. But that's a heck of a counterfactual that requires a lot of pieces to fall into place. And let's not forget, simply HAVING a weapon isn't good enough. A person has to be ready to use it. (See the Clemmons incident here in the Puget Sound region, where a man was able to ambush and kill four police officers, and get away, albeit with a gunshot wound of his own.)

In the end, Denton County Sheriff Tracy Murphree's Twitter remarks on the Manchester bombing mistake the Culture Wars for security policy, seeking to blame a cultural movement with which he disagrees for the deaths. It may make him a "truth-teller" to his fellow Culture Warriors, but it's a poor substitute for what's already been shown to actually work.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Put a Lid on It

When the Obamas went to Saudi Arabia in January of 2015, Mrs. Obama did not wear any sort of head covering. Donald Trump tweeted:

Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted.We have enuf enemies
As you might be aware, current first lady Melania Trump did not cover her head while she was there on the first family's trip to the Middle East and Europe, although she did follow Vatican custom of black clothing and a lace veil when the Trumps met with the Pope.

This is, not surprisingly, eliciting howls of protest over President Trump's hypocrisy. Which is a complete waste of time. Because the issue here isn't that President Trump is a hypocrite now, it's that he was a motivated critic then.

It's unlikely, that anything that Mrs. Obama would have done could have denied now-President Trump from criticizing her. Had she gone with a head covering, she could just as easily taken flack for bowing to regressive Saudi gender norms. And given the Mr. Trump was starting his campaign for President himself, he had no reason to let any opening get by him. So rather than calling for consistency with his past positions, a better route is to simply ignore them as the results of political opportunism.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Not a Chance

"I was the first guy on TV to say 'Give Trump a chance.' I f---ed up. Sorry," Chappelle said during a routine at the event, according to MSNBC's Willie Geist.
Dave Chappelle Regrets Saying to Give Trump a Chance: "I F---ed Up"
I don't get it. I don't understand how in effect saying, "Hey, let's allow the President to actually do some things, and then judge whether or not he's any good," counts as "fucking up." Because that implies that the correct course of action was not to extend to President Trump any benefit of the doubt - once the predetermination was made that Donald Trump was going to be a bad president, the appropriate thing is to act as if he's already done it.

This isn't a matter of tit for tat or raising the overall level of discourse. David Chappelle giving President Trump a chance before deciding to criticize him will not make a lick of difference when the political pendulum swings back the other way. I don't believe for a moment that people make their decisions that way. If right-leaning celebrities decide that a Democratic president is the worst thing ever (and I suspect that many of them will decide just that) they'll choose to criticize, or hold their fire based on what they think is best for them in the moment (whatever criteria they use to determine that), not on what others have done in the past.

As far as we in the public are concerned, whether or not we decided to give President Trump a chance or protest everything that seemed to offer a reason was immaterial. Regardless of what one thinks of the republican form of government, the fact remains that President Trump had the support of enough of the Republican voter base that most Republican members of Congress couldn't simply dismiss whatever he put forth out of hand without jeopardizing their own re-election chances. And so to the degree that the viewership of Saturday Night Live leans Democratic, the fact that they are of a mind to oppose the president doesn't matter in the slightest. The election was in November. The shouting that came after the vote tallies was simply the last resort of people who were, for the time being, politically powerless.

And in that sense, declining to "Give Trump a chance," is simply another form of partisan virtue signalling. While that may have its uses, declining to participate in it shouldn't be considered fucking up.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Steamboat


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017

_____ Makes Right?

Asked during Sunday's pageant in Las Vegas whether healthcare was a privilege or a right, Miss McCullough said: "I'm definitely going to say it's a privilege."

She added: "As a government employee, I'm granted healthcare and I see first hand that for one to have healthcare, you need to have jobs.

"We need to continue to cultivate this environment that we're given the opportunity to have healthcare as well as jobs to all American citizens worldwide."
Miss USA Kara McCullough criticised for saying healthcare a 'privilege'
Welcome to a divide between different interpretations of how the world around us works. "The new Miss USA beauty pageant winner has sparked controversy by declaring that healthcare was a 'privilege', not a right," for the simple reason that when most of people ask the question, they have a particular way of viewing the world in mind.

Let's consider the case of Jack. Jack doesn't have access to anything other than charity care for some reason or the other. And there are many people, millions of them in fact, in Jack's position in the United States alone. Now, you can look at this in one of a few different ways, but let's start with two of them: You can say that Jack has a right to health care, and that right is being violated. Or, you could say that Jack clearly doesn't have a right to health care, considering the number of people in the same boat as he is. And this isn't necessarily an ideological or political difference. Rather it's a matter of how one understands something to become a "right."

For many people in the United States, rights are a simple matter of realizing them to exist. They were always there, regardless of any other considerations, but a person may or may not recognize them. We can call this a Natural Law approach. A vegan might say that animals have the right to lives that are not ended prematurely in order for them to be butchered for human consumption. And as far as they are concerned that right has always existed - it is, after a fashion, a fact of nature. People may not have had the resources, or been enlightened enough to respect that right, but the right was there, and animals killed to be food had their rights violated, as Natural Law endowed them with those rights. But if you look at rights as deriving from the existence of actions taken to protect that right, you can have a different perspective. It's perfectly normal to raise animals (generally speaking) for no other reason than to kill them for food. We may not always like the way people go about that, but it's a common practice and the people who seek to do something about it are few and far enough between that they aren't making much headway. We can call this a Human Action approach. And from this perspective, you would be hard pressed to understand that animals have a right not to be eaten by humans. (Note that there are more viewpoints than this - one could say that rights are created by declaration, whether or not they are backed up by actions, for instance.)

And because these two understandings of rights are mutually exclusive, the fact that they use the same language becomes grist for confusion. Or bitterness, as the case may be. People have a tendency to hear words as if they themselves, rather than the actual speaker, had spoken them. And so when Miss McCullough stated that she considered healthcare a privilege, people didn't bother to consider the context in which she'd made that statement, which to me is rooted in the idea that rights are defined by actions and the facts on the ground. But, as one might suspect, we don't have a right to be understood.