drwex: (VNV)
Once upon a long ago I used to merrily blog music. Yay, it was fun. Sometimes people would leave comments telling me they liked this or that or otherwise indicating that I wasn't just blogging into the void. That's always nice.

Then [personal profile] mizarchivist pointed out that LJ has these things called "tags" and I could tag my music entries. This is helpful to know what's going on, and particularly helpful for back-reference and finding things that are particularly notable. Eventually I got enthusiastic enough to go back and tag my existing couple years' worth of music entries... at which point I promptly ran out of tags. This more than anything else prompted me to move to a paid LiveJournal account because I needed more tags. All is fine until the company owning LJ decides to move the servers into Russian airspace and I decide it's time to move over here to DreamWidth. Which, I shall not bore you with details, will not allow me to have unlimited tags, even if I do pay them.

For a while this has stymied me. I really like the convenience of being able to go back and revisit things I've blogged in the past, and I blog a lot of new artist/DJs in a given month so the list of tags grows with no obvious way to condense them. I'm tired of being stymied though and it finally penetrated my thick skull that this convenience I've grown used to is just that, a convenience. I don't actually have to tag music entries in order to write them. So I'm going to start blogging music again, only with erratic-to-nonexistent tagging. You've been warned.

I realized this because I have re-remembered (I keep forgetting, somehow) that music is important in my relationships. Intimate, certainly, and otherwise. If you and I don't share some musical taste or other, it's likely we're less close of friends than we would be if we did share. For example...

This morning Pygment and I responded to a wedding invitation that included a request to list something that would cause us to get up and dance. At first I snarked that my music tastes would appall most people and DJs wouldn't play it at weddings anyway. Pygment agreed and said something like, "Yeah but imagine if they would, we could get them to play..." and in two clicks I had the track linked below, which we put on the RSVP card. I'll let you know if it plays at the wedding because I will sure as shit be dancing if it does.

We Can Make the World Stop
drwex: (Default)
I want to return to the "free speech, hate speech" discussion I posted about last month. There are two good easily readable articles from actual lawyers that I want to bring to your attention.

First up , "Remaining Faithful to Free Speech and Academic Freedom" written by Vikram David Amar, the Dean at the University of Illinois College of Law. Professor Amar decries the trend on campuses to prevent conservative speakers from delivering invited remarks. Often such obstruction comes in the form of shouting down or physically threatening the speaker (or the audience). Sadly, often such obstruction comes from forces that would consider themselves liberal or progressive. These groups often uphold values of diversity and inclusiveness, but argue that such values only extend to members of disadvantaged groups.

Traditionally, conservative viewpoints are expressed by members of privileged groups (men, cis, able, white, etc.) and the argument goes that such people aren't entitled to the same speech rights. Or, as Zunger and Samudzi argued in the previous go-round, the extension of free-speech rights to (what Amar identifies as) "odious, racist, sexist, hateful speech" is furthering the disadvantages already present in our system and so therefore the solution is to restrict such speech.

As Amar further says:
blockading, obstructing, assaulting, destroying property, and making threats, are not, in any stretch of the imagination, constitutionally protected things to do, no matter what the objective behind them

Use of such tactics in the furtherance of speech suppression is therefore doubly wrong. This is the principle under which it has been possible to remove people who are blockading entrances to, say, health clinics that provide abortion services. We cannot both request such protection for our favored friends and deny it to our hated enemies.

The second item, much blunter and less academic, is "Actually, hate speech is protected speech" an Op-Ed in the LA Times by Ken White, a lawyer perhaps best known for The Popehat blog. When not blogging, White is a practicing criminal defense lawyer.

White makes the point that I kind of belabored last time - the exceptions to free speech are few and narrow and that's for very good reason. Hate speech is protected, unless it can be shown to violate one of the immediacy exceptions, such as when it "...might be reasonably interpreted as an immediate threat to do harm."

He discusses various exceptions and arguments that are worth discussing but points out that even as attitudes in other areas of law (e.g. equal marriage, consensual adult same-sex acts) have changed rapidly, the courts have been unwilling to back off of strong protections for speech. And that's a good thing.
drwex: (Default)
Or, why I'm a First Amendment fundamentalist. [profile] jducouer pointed to this article from Yonatan Zunger. As often with Zunger, it's a bit long but very well thought-out and worth your time to read. It just happens to be wrong*.

"wrong*" is a shorthand I use for not factually incorrect but that does not hold up to detailed scrutiny. People can disagree whether something is wrong* while still agreeing on fundamental principles and factual bases. In this case I think Zunger is wrong* in part because he's avoiding the hard part of his argument and in part because he's not considering enough points of view.

Zunger starts off agreeing with Zoé Samudzi who made the claim that "...implicit incitement to violence via hate speech is protectable" and identifies this as a weakness. Zunger elaborates that the reason such things ought not to be protected is because hate speech, which he equates with harassment "silence[s] the weak and amplif[ies] the powerful." That's the first wrong* thing. Harassment, a specifically targeted attack, is not the same as hate speech.

I'm not even going to address defending harassment. I know people do defend it, but they're wrong (not even wrong*). Both in law and case precedent, harassment is not protected speech. So that leaves us with a discussion of hate speech. Zunger argues that hate speech amplifies existing social asymmetries - the targets of hate speech are most often people (women, people of color, people of different gender expressions and orientation) that already have unequal burdens just in daily living. "Talking while female" and "driving while black" are actual expressions of the systemic factors that disadvantage leads to. We want to counter that, so let's take seriously a point that a system (of free speech in this case) promotes that disadvantage.

Hate speech, Zunger argues, "has the particular ability to shut down speech by minority groups more than that by majority groups." True. The question is, what do you do about that? Zunger's answer is fuzzy and he doesn't really suggest a way to deal with the problem saying things like "Devising good speech policy is profoundly hard" and "the law must wrestle with this hard problem, and try to place a meaningful dividing line". Which, I'm arguing, is exactly what it does right now, where it comes down permitting a wide array of distasteful and offensive speech.

Having shied away from one hard question it's easy to see how Zunger has shied away from an even harder question, which is why I think his view is wrong*. Ask yourself:
What constitutes "hate speech"? What is "implicit incitement"?

My guess is that you, my mostly white mostly American mostly liberal readers will come up with answers similar to mine. It's no coincidence that Zunger illustrates his article with a comic of Captain America punching a Nazi. We all agree Nazis are bad and antisemitism (and its dual Islamophobia) are bad and that's it. Right? Easy. Done.

Except, what do you say to someone who believes that your insult to their religion is hate speech? What do you say to the person who believes their king is an incarnate god and any statement portraying that person or their family as less than divinely perfect is implicit incitement? What do you say to the person who honestly believes that the Bible is the literal word of G-d and any statement questioning that is an attack on par with saying that women are inferior creatures fit only to bear children? That latter is clearly hate speech so what allows us to restrict that and not restrict someone who questions whether Jesus literally rose from the dead?

Other people see things differently[1]. An attempt to define hate speech in a way that can be applied outside our (first world, white, etc.) preconception circle has to acknowledge that difference or we are simply imposing our views on everyone. Without a clear description of "implied incitement" you are left in a situation where no one can know if their speech is to be permitted, except perhaps if it's cleared by The Group Appointed To Check Speech for Hatred and Implied Incitement. Please tell me who gets to be part of that Group - I'm quite sure it won't be freaks like me but I'm curious to know your selection process. I'm also quite certain that any situation that requires speech to be pre-cleared is going to be far worse for the people who are unfairly targeted and harassed today. History shows that when you have to pre-clear things you get prohibited from stuff like publishing poems about gay love, or comics showing interracial kissing. And on and on. It's not like we're new at this.

Zunger says that the "marketplace of ideas" requires regulation. I agree; we have those. And for very good reasons our chosen regulations target harassment and not hate speech, prohibit actual incitement not implied. The US used to have sedition laws and other things that kept free expression down. We've spent the better part of the last century learning - often the hard way (sorry Eugene Debs) - that these restrictions are generally a bad idea.

So I think it's wrong* to equate harassment and hate speech. I think it's wrong* to slip "implied" in front of incitement while pretending they're the same thing. and most of all it's wrong to assume that everyone shares the same speech values and ideals as we do.

[1] If you have not already read it I highly recommend Bruce Sterling's short story titled We See Things Differently.
drwex: (VNV)
This post will discuss rape and sexual assault. If you're not OK with reading that, it's under a cut tag. If you're wondering why I (cis, able, white guy) am writing about this topic at all it's because I am determined that my children (male-bodied) are going to go out into the world with a lot more awareness and understanding of both their privilege and responsibility than my parents gave me.

As with other such posts I am particularly interested in responses from my female-bodied and -identified readers but all respectful comments and discussion are welcome.
They say hard cases make bad law )

"What does that mean" is the teenage equivalent of the preschooler's "why".
drwex: (VNV)
There's a meme going around vis-a-vis punching Nazis. I am not a pacifist - I believe that violence is sometimes necessary and that non-violent alternatives are not always the best choice. But I try not to instigate violence, even against fuckin' Nazis. Talk about your conflicted feelings.

http://news.berkeley.edu/2017/01/26/chancellor-statement-on-yiannopoulos/

I was (h/t Popehat) then directed to this statement by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks of UC Berkeley on the planned appearance on that campus of noted troll and gay-bashing hatemonger Milo Yiannopoulos. I think this statement gets it exactly correct. There are rights each of us enjoys, including the f'ing Nazis, and we must respect and uphold those rights even in the face of extreme provocation. We do so not out of some abstract loyalty to a code of rights, but because upholding such rights is consistent with the values of the communities we wish to build.

I forget who said it first, but I've always held to the principle that free speech is not necessary for popular speech - free speech is necessary for the unpopular. Lots of things my side says and will say are not popular, such as calling Drumph and his cronies liars. And some of the things the other side says are also unpopular.

When it becomes hard to uphold the unpopular rights we have to take a wider view and see who is not just having a hard time but who is actively being threatened. Who is potentially harmed by this exercise of rights? Because rights exist in a culture of values, we therefore value extending extra care and protection to those who are at risk. Our values call us to balance rights such as free speech with rights of safety and the basic liberty associated with being free of threat.

This stuff is hard even in the best of times and I suspect it's going to get harder and harder in the next four years. I want to come out of this dark period not only with my rights intact, but with my values still solid.
drwex: (WWFD)
http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/12/26/505682977/feeling-less-than-grateful-some-people-are-just-wired-that-way?sc=tw

Interesting item on NPR I read over vacation. We're all supposed to be grateful, even in the face of the shitstorm that was 2016 and the incoming wave of racism, sexism, *phobia, and isolationist militarization that we brought upon ourselves. Yay.

Still, we each have things to be grateful for. Many of us have families and loved ones we would not willingly give up. Babies were born and people got together this past year in relationships that will improve and enrich them. This month is a commercialized pit but it's also nice to get and give meaningful gifts. Donations are also meaningful; I made some in honor and memory, and a couple were made in my name that I'm happy about.

So why isn't gratitude a thing for me? From the article: "People who score higher on measures of autonomy experience less overall gratitude and value it less" Hunh, maybe that's so.

"people who are uncomfortable with gratitude and with receiving gifts may be undermining their interpersonal relationships." - yep, that's a thing for sure. It took me a lot of years to master the simple idea of saying "thank you" meaningfully, and without any need to embellish or elaborate.

I am not (I hope) ungrateful. But like a lot of other social practices that people around me seem to find natural, I generally don't get a lot out of gratitude practices. As the article points out, there are many ways to skin a cat and these particular practices are likely better for some people than for others.

I don't have any grand conclusions past "it's complicated." Just more thinking going on.
drwex: (Troll)
Discussion and reflection on giving aid at an accident. It didn't seem like a big deal to me. In part it is (as Pygment pointed out) not my first rodeo. I've not been at many serious incidents, thank G-d, but I've aided people in shock (keep them warm, remove constricting items like watch with elastic band), a person having a grand mal seizure (keep them propped on their side in case of vomiting, remove any hard objects from the immediate vicinity), a person with migraine so painful they needed ambulance transport (keep the lights off, keep people quiet, don't touch them more than needed to help them onto the stretcher, ride with them in the ambulance so they have a familiar contact).

In a way this sort of thing plays to my strengths. I have enough knowledge (First Aid, Advanced First Aid) to know the basics (blood, breathing, brains, bones) as well as knowing my limits. Mostly what I want to do is make sure nothing gets worse until the professionals can take over. I also do much better when I'm in a 1:1 interaction than in general. Anyone who's watched me at a party versus having a dinner out with me can tell you about that. I still remember a past gf exclaiming how different I was in person versus in a group. So when there's a person in need I can focus pretty well on helping them, particularly when they're right in front of me.

I also don't tend to freak out in media res. I will freak out beforehand - I get terrible stage fright 24 hours before a show, but when it's time to go on I'm over it. I am used to pushing through, and Just Dealing.

This all reminded me of a line about keeping one's head. I've been known to like problematic things, among them Kipling. Those who know the source of my journal's tag line are likely unsurprised. It's been a while since I read this poem by him, but it's a favorite.

Titled simply "If..."
poem )
drwex: (VNV)
Apparently I piss people off when I write this stuff. This is your up-front warning.

I differ from many (most?) of my left-leaning/liberal/progressive friends in not wanting to chuck out the Electoral College and replace it with something like a national popular vote. One way to think about this is a change from lots of relatively small contests to one big one. In a way it's like the difference between a football game and the baseball world series. In football it doesn't matter how many quarters you win - only the complete tally of points matters. In the World Series the total number of runs scored is irrelevant in that the winner of the series is the first team to win four games.

On the face of it, the EC is profoundly undemocratic. Shockingly, we don't live in a (direct) democracy. We live in a republic. There are, for example, no national referenda in the way that California and other states permit direct popular majority voting. Our elected officials represent us in matters such as how our tax dollars are spent, what treaties are negotiated with foreign powers, and so on. The EC is a particularly poor form of republicanism in that the electors aren't themselves subject to popular vote nor are they answerable to the citizenry for their actions but I think it's a difference of degree, not kind. The problem I see with the EC is not that it's undemocratic, but first let's talk about other alternatives.

National popular votes are usually proposed as alternatives to the EC, but they're also problematic. We've seen people pass all kinds of idiotic things by popular vote, not least of them revoking civil rights of gay people, crippling schools by prohibiting revenue measures, and so on. In addition, a national popular vote for president would be just as subject to manipulation as current popular votes. Remember how the Mormons poured millions into meddling with California's vote on marriage equality?

Right now the Democratic party is unpopular overall. Governor's races are actually state-wide popular vote contests that aren't affected by gerrymandering (but are affected by voter suppression) and the Democrats control a only 18 governorships. I couldn't easily find the incoming numbers but even with the squeaker in North Carolina going to Democrats I suspect that won't change much. If you believe the popular vote tallies showing Ms Clinton with something like 48% of the vote to Mr Trump's 46% then you'd expect Democrats to control 24 governorships. Senate seats are closer, but still show a lean against Democrats.

The problem is that the Democratic party is much more popular in its regions than the Republicans are in theirs. Sum up all the "overvotes" and it makes it look like a Democratic presidential candidate has a larger appeal than they do.

And that, I think, points to the root of the actual problem with the Electoral College - it penalizes people for their choices of where to live. Very few people choose their state of residence based on national election factors. People live where the jobs are, where the schools exist that they want to send their kids to, where their families are, or where they've grown up and know people/have a support network.

In effect, the EC is a penalty enacted against people who act in their own rational (economic, social, personal) self-interest. I have not seen anyone make this specific argument before, and I'm not sure that it convinces me the solution is to ditch the EC in favor of some kind of NPV. Perhaps a better solution would be to mandate proportional allocation of electors in all states rather than winner-take-all. That would still involve a penalty of some kind, but it would be a lesser penalty.

And maybe that's an OK penalty because we want to elect a president who will represent (or at least appeal to) people who make a variety of rational self-choices, not just the most popular such choices.
drwex: (pogo)
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/do-you-live-in-a-bubble-a-quiz-2/

How thick is your bubble?
My results )
The fact that one of the few online quizzes I'm willing to do comes from PBS says a lot about my bubble, I think.
drwex: (Troll)
http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/losing-the-popular-vote-wont-rein-in-president-trump

Numbers are only part of any story but this article puts some interesting numbers out there. The depressing one is that as few as 55,000 votes shifted in PA, OH, and MI would have tipped those electors into her column. Voter suppression is a thing, y'all, and I have no clue what we can do about it, especially once President Pussygrabber gets his people on the Supreme Court.

THAT said, there is a very instructive bit in the article showing that Trump not only underperformed Romney (which we knew, but hey there was low turnout all around) but he also underperformed more traditional-Republican Senatorial candidates in states where both Trump and the Senate candidate won. That is interesting because it may mean that Trump's white nationalist brand of demagoguery (sp?) actually caused him to do less well than a traditional Republican would have done. Trump may have held down his own numbers.

Another way to read that is that a traditional Republican candidate would have beaten Ms Clinton by a larger margin, perhaps even taking the popular vote.

And a third way to read that is that news of America's headlong descent into fascism and radical hate may be somewhat premature. Those people who came out to vote (and were able to vote) both preferred the sane candidate and where they had a choice of a sane Republican and an insane one they preferred the sane one, even in very red states and even where that other candidate was one that Trump defeated in the primaries.

As with voter suppression, there are other factors that need to be considered before 2020, including a decade-plus of gerrymandering, liberal flight (Ms Clinton appears to have won California by something like a 2:1 margin despite the Peter Thiel faction), and a host of outside influences all tipping the scale against Clinton. One of those factors, though, may well be that Ms Clinton contributed to her own defeat and Trump was just a handy (if horrifying) vehicle for something that would have happened anyway.

I don't find that super-comforting (see President Pussygrabber) but I do want to believe I live in a country that is not in fact Wiemar America.
drwex: (WWFD)
(Brief aside: your word for today is "kakistocracy")

Today I'm wearing a safety pin to work. I've been debating about whether I should do so - whether I have the right, whether doing so will help or hurt. Last night over dinner I discussed with [livejournal.com profile] silentq and she suggested I should do it. Further input is sought.

Here's a bit of my thought process...
omphaloskepsis )

So, friends, what do you think when you see a white guy wearing a pin? What if you saw me wearing one? Am I helping, or possibly making things worse?
drwex: (Troll)
Dear #notmypresident people: oh, yes he is. Just like Barack Obama was president for all the people who voted against him (twice, some of them) and all the people who were scared of a black man in the White House. Obama is (was, will have been) their president. And soon Donald J Trump will be our president. Yours. And mine.

That is not to say that we have to be happy about President Pussygrabber, nor do we have to accept whatever racist, isolationist, sexist, anti-scientific, homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-woman policies and statements emanate from him or his administration. But this is our country, right and wrong, and building mental and social walls between ourselves and that nearly-50% of voters who chose hatred and white supremacy is not going to get us anywhere. It certainly won't make the next four (or eight) years any more tolerable. [1]

So by all means protest but if you're going to go around putting arm's length or more between yourself and the result of the election then you're going to be setting yourself up for failure again. I continue to believe that the "older white male" demographic is going to change, but that doesn't excuse ignoring the concerns of the millions - the majority of whom are still white - who've been discarded by the system.

I've been struggling for a couple days to put this post together and this afternoon I got an email from Senator Elizabeth Warren. She says things I've been trying to formulate and I hope nobody will mind if I block-quote her here:

[T]here are many millions of people who did not vote for Donald Trump because of the bigotry and hate that fueled his campaign rallies. They voted for him despite the hate. They voted for him out of frustration and anger – and also out of hope that he would bring change.

Working families across this country are deeply frustrated about an economy and a government that doesn’t work for them. Exit polling on Tuesday found that 72 percent of voters – Democrats and Republicans - believe that "the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful." Americans are angry about a federal government that works for the rich and powerful and that leaves everyone else in the dirt.

The truth is that people are right to be angry. Angry that wages have been stagnant for a generation, while basic costs like housing, health care, and child care have skyrocketed. Angry that our political system is awash in barely legalized campaign bribery. Angry that Washington eagerly protects tax breaks for billionaires while it refuses to raise the minimum wage, or help the millions of Americans struggling with student loans, or enforce the law when the millionaire CEOs who fund our political campaigns break it. Angry that Washington pushes big corporate interests in trade deals[2], but won’t make the investments in infrastructure to create good jobs right here in America. Angry that Washington tilts the playing field for giant corporations – giving them special privileges, letting them amass enormous economic and political power.

Angry that while Washington dithers and spins and does the backstroke in an ocean of money, while the American Dream moves further and further out of reach for too many families. Angry that working people are in debt. Angry that seniors can’t stretch a Social Security check to cover the basics.

President-Elect Trump spoke to these issues. Republican elites hated him for it. He criticized Wall Street and big money’s dominance in Washington – straight up. He supported a new Glass-Steagall. He spoke of the need to reform our trade deals so they aren’t raw deals for the American people. He said he will not cut Social Security benefits. He talked about the need to address the rising cost of college and about helping working parents struggling with the high cost of child care. He spoke of the urgency of rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and putting people back to work. He spoke to the very real sense of millions of Americans that their government and their economy has abandoned them. And he promised to rebuild our economy for working people.

The deep worry that people feel over an America that does not work for them is not liberal or conservative worry. It is not Democratic or Republican worry. It is the deep worry that led even Americans with very deep reservations about Donald Trump’s temperament and fitness to vote for him anyway.


That. If you're trying to understand how anyone could want President Pussygrabber, if you're stuck in the mindset that his supporters are all a basket of deplorables, then you are on the road to handing him a second term already. These problems are, as Warren says, the issues that we should be addressing. Ms Clinton was promising more of the same to a group of people who've felt screwed over, left out, and taken advantage of. Mr Trump was promising them he could change things. You can rationalize all you want - Trump isn't going to fix these things, isn't going to build walls, isn't going to be able to revitalize manufacturing - but it makes no sense to me to applaud people voting for hope eight years ago when Candidate Obama promised it and then condemn them voting for hope this time.

Yes, a large chunk of Trump's supporters are indeed deplorables, some of the worst sort. The KKK endorsed him. The Putin administration has come out and admitted they worked with his people. His transition team is headed by a giant slimeball and I expect we'll see further really vile characters emerge in the transition. None of the preceding means that Trump ought to get a free pass, nor should any of the above be read as an excuse for bigotry and hatred. The fact that people can't get relief from crushing debt isn't an excuse for demonizing refugees and immigrants; the reduction of vast swaths of middle America to abandoned wastelands is not an excuse for further victimization of brown and black people. But if you believe our mission is to come back from this defeat, to limit President Pussygrabber to one term you cannot do better than starting to understand the pain and fear and actual disadvantages that caused nearly half the voters to cast their ballots the way they did.

So by all means protest. By all means name the bigotry, sexism, racism and intolerance for what it is - un-American hatred. But don't claim this isn't your president. And mine.

---------

[1] If you don't want it to be eight years then the mission for the next four years has to be building up a better Democratic alternative. The Republicans managed to field 17 candidates and while each of them had some measure of flaw and 16 of them got brutalized out of the race it still remains true that there were multiple viable candidates on that side. The Democrats had Ms Clinton and... um, yeah. An aging socialist who more or less got shanghaied into running against her. Where are the real successors to Obama? Where are the 40-something and 50-something Democrats who can carry forward the ideals that the party says it stands for and for which Ms Clinton did so poor a job campaigning despite being dragged around by Bernie? Who's going to train these 2020 candidates into the kind of sharp debaters that will let them stand on a stage with President Trump and make themselves look better?

[2] Warren doesn't say it here but I think it should be said: when you call a deal like TPP "free trade" when in fact it enforces and extends protectionist regimes like supra-national intellectual property courts you are lying. When a "trade deal" is not in fact about trade but in fact is about secret negotiations to set up corporate privilege structures you are on the wrong side. I don't know if Trump has the savvy to realize this; we'll see soon.
drwex: (pogo)
I am nohow happy about the outcome of the national election, nor much cheered by the results in Congress. The four MA ballot questions all went the way I voted. But gather 'round children and let old DrWex tell you a story of how we've been here before.

In November of 1980 a manifestly unfit man defeated a weak Democratic presidential opponent. This actor at least had some political experience, but largely he was known for his reactionary views, adoration of the past, racial insensitivity, and devotion to American supremacy. I wore a black armband for the inauguration, assured that disaster was soon to follow.

Reagan gave us (in no particular order):
- threats to bomb Russia that appeared serious. By 1983 I was convinced we were more likely than not to die in a nuclear holocaust; the Doomsday Clock stood at nearly midnight. When Sting wrote Russians he was speaking for millions of us.
- Iran-Contra. In case you've forgotten, that's where we illegally sold weapons to Iran in order to fund drug-running paramilitaries in Nicaragua that were guilty of (among other things) executing priests in front of their congregations. We also mined harbors and taught these narco-terrorists how to torture civilians. [1]
- Actual military invasions of three different countries. [2]
- More sitting Cabinet members indicted than any other administration in modern history, not least of them the most corrupt Attorney General on record.
- The Savings & Loan scandal and the first housing-market collapse.
- The Reagan Recession, featuring 10% unemployment and a sharp rise in income inequality, caused by (among other things) an insane set of supply-side policies that came to be called "trickle-down" economics.
- a refusal even to say the word "AIDS" never mind treat gay men as human beings, leading to the deaths of dozens of my acquaintances and a couple friends.

I am insanely lucky. I am an older white man, well-off. I can ride this out. I can definitively say that there are other older white guys who are in even worse shape today than I am (Paul Ryan comes to mind). There are people who are genuinely going to suffer in the next four years for whom I have true sympathy - immigrants, Latinx, and so on. I fear for my friends who are likely to find their marriage equality stolen from them and for millions who are about to lose their health insurance. I believe we'll almost certainly finish fucking up the planet, causing irreversible warming, and our children will rightly curse us for that.

The next four years are nohow going to be good, nor easy. But we survived eight years of Reagan, we can survive this. None of the above means I'm not having anxiety that wakes me up multiple times a night. But one of the advantages of being my age is that you have some past experiences to compare things against. I'm sorry for my friends who find President Trump a de novo catastrophe. Having a Republican Congress is certainly going to make him capable of far more damage, and we're going to be in even bigger trouble if he gets a second SCOTUS appointment, which I think is highly likely. But we'll survive it.

And in a couple decades they'll decide he was a great president and name an airport for him.

[1] There's also good evidence that as part of this effort the US Government gave sanctuary to Central American drug kingpins and facilitated the flow of crack cocaine, which would make the Reagan Administration responsible for even more deaths than AIDS, but I have to stop somewhere.
[2] You can also argue that Reagan was the true father of the Taliban and from that ISIS since his administration trained, armed, and funded anti-Russian paramilitaries including Osama bin Laden and his ilk.
drwex: (WWFD)
On a private email list, a friend posted a letter written by Dr Feynman to one of his former students. The student was feeling down about his own (lack of) accomplishments while congratulating Feynman on his Nobel prize. I reprint this here for my own memory, and perhaps it'll be worth reading for others.

[Y]our letter made me unhappy for you seem to be truly sad. It seems that the influence of your teacher has been to give you a false idea of what are worthwhile problems. The worthwhile problems are the ones you can really solve or help solve, the ones you can really contribute something to. A problem is grand in science if it lies before us unsolved and we see some way for us to make some headway into it. I would advise you to take even simpler, or as you say, humbler, problems until you find some you can really solve easily, no matter how trivial. You will get the pleasure of success, and of helping your fellow man, even if it is only to answer a question in the mind of a colleague less able than you. You must not take away from yourself these pleasures because you have some erroneous idea of what is worthwhile.

You met me at the peak of my career when I seemed to you to be concerned with problems close to the gods. But at the same time I had another Ph.D. Student (Albert Hibbs) whose thesis was on how it is that the winds build up waves blowing over water in the sea. I accepted him as a student because he came to me with the problem he wanted to solve. With you I made a mistake, I gave you the problem instead of letting you find your own; and left you with a wrong idea of what is interesting or pleasant or important to work on (namely those problems you see you may do something about). I am sorry, excuse me. I hope by this letter to correct it a little.

I have worked on innumerable problems that you would call humble, but which I enjoyed and felt very good about because I sometimes could partially succeed. For example, experiments on the coefficient of friction on highly polished surfaces, to try to learn something about how friction worked (failure). Or, how elastic properties of crystals depends on the forces between the atoms in them, or how to make electroplated metal stick to plastic objects (like radio knobs). Or, how neutrons diffuse out of Uranium. Or, the reflection of electromagnetic waves from films coating glass. The development of shock waves in explosions. The design of a neutron counter. Why some elements capture electrons from the L-orbits, but not the K-orbits. General theory of how to fold paper to make a certain type of child’s toy (called flexagons). The energy levels in the light nuclei. The theory of turbulence (I have spent several years on it without success). Plus all the “grander” problems of quantum theory.

No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.

You say you are a nameless man. You are not to your wife and to your child. You will not long remain so to your immediate colleagues if you can answer their simple questions when they come into your office. You are not nameless to me. Do not remain nameless to yourself – it is too sad a way to be. Know your place in the world and evaluate yourself fairly, not in terms of your naïve ideals of your own youth, nor in terms of what you erroneously imagine your teacher’s ideals are.

Best of luck and happiness.
Sincerely,
Richard P. Feynman


I read the MIT alumni and school letters monthly and see some of the amazing and noteworthy things my former lab-mates and colleagues have achieved and feel much like I think Dr Koichi Mano - to whom this letter was written - must have felt.
drwex: (VNV)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKbCc0XKj8A

Another "Blank on Blank" piece that is nominally about Smith's feelings of having her record bleeped (censored) by the production company because she sang "fucking shit". But it quickly turns from that into a meditation on poetry, performance, and interpreting meaning.

I never saw Smith perform; I'm not even sure I would've liked to, if I'd had the chance. But listening to her talk I feel a direct line - which I'm still not fully able to articulate - between her ideas and Bob Mould's performance. Part of why I wanted to see Mould live (despite loud shows not really being my thing) and why I was so unhappy with the sound mix was the sense that I was missing out on the poetry Patti Smith is talking about.
drwex: (WWFD)
I am running into a situation where (my favorite, very intelligent) cow orker and I disagree on something I consider so self-evidently true that I'm having a hard time mustering coherent arguments for the proposition. I dig in and realize that no, not everyone believes this thing. It's still a subject of argument. So once again I turn to my unscientific polling audience (you) and ask:

Do you believe that tools we use are agnostic, or do you believe that our thoughts and behaviors are shaped by our tools?

Some explanatory blah-blah follows
Read more... )
drwex: (WWFD)
In this entry I use "I" as though I were one unified self; in fact what I've been trying to do is interrogate my instinctive reactions of attraction/aversion. I seem to have some weird mental categorization of body modifications.

In the OK category are things like piercings (all the way from conventional earlobe to genital) and tattoos, including hidden decorative, symbolic/religious, and large-scale art. I'm OK with women who choose breast reduction and people who choose various surgeries to get their bodies to conform to felt gender identities. I'm OK with waxing and shaving of body and head hair on both male and female bodies. I am OK with hair coloring, dying, perming, weaving, braiding, including using color to hide gray hair.

In the not-OK category are breast and penile enlargements, spray tans, botox, liposuction and various sorts of "lift" cosmetic surgeries. I seem to be not-OK with a variety of apparent-age reducing treatments used on the faces of both on men and women that go by a bunch of commercial names.

My rational brain can't come up with a good reason why my emotional brain is holding onto these two categories, but there they are - shouldn't a body mod be just a body mod? Brains are weird.

What's in your OK/not-OK camps? Or don't you have those?
drwex: (WWFD)
https://deardesignstudent.com/your-friends-are-the-reason-you-are-boring-aa9a8e456d1#.ygddlsc1l

I'm really enjoying Dear Design Student a blog written by designers, ostensibly for designers and particularly young and student designers. Blog entries range from the practical (don't give two weeks' notice - give enough notice to wrap up your projects and make a clean exit) to the abstract (Doing the right thing the wrong way). And in some cases like this entry they wander into the philosophical. I've long thought that design was as much an avocation as a profession and here Arjun Basu lays out the basic problem - if you live in a bubble of any sort then you're doing yourself a disservice, both as a designer and as a human being.

Being very introverted myself and making new friends slowly at the best of times this is kind of tough advice for me to read. But that's what makes this an interesting blog.
drwex: (Troll)
There's a thing (some) poly people do that I don't know has a particular name, so I'm going to call it The Lift. It's pretty simple: when a new relationship picks up you find yourself more energized, more positive, more outgoing, more happy, more fulfilled.

Then you, often without consciously trying (if you're me), find you're bringing that energy, positivity, and happiness to your other relationships. It's like everyone gets a little - or a big - pick-me-up from the positivity that a good new relationship can bring. I know, this is idealized. It doesn't always happen and the generic "you" might not be like the actual me. There are all kinds of exception cases and I'm not trying to say this always happens. But it does, sometimes, with some people, and I've seen it.

It's not compersion, the notion that you feel happy because someone you care about is happy. When the Lift happens, you're happier because your partner is paying more attention to you, bringing a more positive self into your relationship, taking extra time and care with you. In the normal course of a relationship I think this happens anyway - people go through cycles and phases and sometimes those are up/positive regardless of the entry of a new person into the relationship web. But when adding a new person to that web leads to this uptick, well, that's The Lift I'm talking about.

Dear readers, does this make sense to you? Have you see this? Experienced something like this? I doubt my experiences are all that unique in this regard but perhaps.

(How do I NOT have a "poly" tag? Sheesh.)
drwex: (WWFD)
(trigger warning for ALL the bad things that are done to children - sexual & emotional abuse, neglect, etc. as well as adult mental health and suicide discussions)

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is a massive, ongoing effort to understand the connections between what are generally labeled "adverse experiences" in childhood and their effects on adults decades later, even adults who don't remember or consciously acknowledge those experiences. You can go to their site and see how the ACE Score is calculated (pdf). And if you're brave enough, you can calculate your own score.

As the study's founder, Dr. Vincent Felitti, describes in a Big Think video, a score of six or more on this simple diagnostic is highly predictive of a wide range of adult diseases and behaviors, including dangerous obesity, IV drug use, attempted suicide, depression, and so on. The effect is not small - people with high scores on this assessment are 5000% more likely than the average for their age/gender/race/economic status to attempt suicide or have some form of eating disorder. Yes, that's five THOUSAND percent. The average life expectancy of the affected population goes down by 20 years.

Of course, discovering a massive effect is important but it's really only one step. Understanding the mechanisms is still a work in progress. Dr Felitti believes that in addition to the somewhat obvious (we engage in short-term pleasurable/long-term destructive behaviors in order to feel better) we also need to understand just how long-term, untreated stress affects every system in our bodies. In the past decade work has begun to emerge connecting untreated stress to subtle things like hormone production as well as its obvious effects on things like blood pressure.

Most sad for me is his final point, which is that he has come to believe that we cannot possible cope with the wide array of symptoms and diseases that crop up in people decades later - the only right solution is "primary prevention". In English, that means we have to treat our kids better, as a society. It's not enough to remove children from abusive situations and help them heal from it - we have to find ways to prevent that abuse. I'm sad because I don't even have the foggiest idea how to do that, or even what questions should be asked if we agree that's the goal we want to make progress against.

(For the record, my ACE score is exactly six.)

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