Month: December 2014

What Membranes and Pendulums Have in Common.

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A talented take on the human condition and what it means for people to work with and care about others.

EMscholar

I briefly considered being a therapist in High School. I’m a good listener and fairly analytic, so it seemed like a good fit until my mom said, “Yes, but you’d have to keep your distance.” My mom knew that I have a lot of empathy and sometimes have trouble not getting emotionally involved in other people’s problems. (Just like she knew that my 6 y/o self would have a hard time putting animals to sleep if I grew up to be a veterinarian. Which I proclaimed was fine, because I’d bring all the animals to live with me. And she just nodded–bless her.)

Both of my parents are medical doctors, so I was familiar with the “shell” that doctors have to develop so they aren’t emotionally traumatized every time a patient dies. Like army commanders, they have to maintain some distance from their patients so that they can continue to…

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From Christmas to Yule

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Christmas Holly

Merry Christmas to all!  I don’t think there are many people who genuinely resent my wish for happiness and community, however, all around the world there are people celebrating their own seasonal holidays that have little or nothing to do with Christmas. There are dozens if not hundreds of traditions near and far all packed tightly together thanks to the relative position of the tilt of Earth’s axis to the sun.  I want to contemplate this fact for a moment.  The seething mass of humanity has picked sometime between November and January to think about what is good in the world and about each other.  It’s not enough to cancel all the wars and oppression in the world, but it’s a wondrous notion worthy of contemplation.  It seems that given the hardness of people throughout much of the world so much of the time that taking even a day or a week to celebrate our commonality and good feelings can not go amiss.

It seems somehow terribly petty to limit this sentiment and joy to just Christians.  Are we so small that we can’t wish goodness on others?   Is there not enough goodness that we must horde it for ourselves?  I reject the notion that we can’t include other people, other religions, other traditions in the spirit of the season.  So happy holidays to everyone!  From the entirety of my soul I wish you well.  Even angry Christians, I wish you the best.

Yes, Christmas is undoubtedly of pagan origin.  The Christians brutally wiped out the pagans and appropriated their holidays to make assimilation of whoever was left easier.  The rise of Christian dominance in Europe and the Americas is a dark and miserable story.  Certainly not one that I want to think about today.  But I know that people are furious with the paganism of Christmas.  They want to reclaim their spirituality in some way.  But I have a better solution to fighting the ghosts of the past.  Celebrate the divine in humanity.  Do you think ancient druids did not love their children?  You think the cults, and the devotees of forgotten gods, didn’t bring home toys to their kids?  Husbands were passionately devoted to their wives.  Families worked hard, celebrated moments of joy, mourned their losses.  They built, laughed, loved, created, lost, mourned, looked to the future, complained about “kids these days” and how everything was going into a general state of decline, and how the new music styles were completely terrible.  Teenagers made awkward small talk and complained about how lame their parents were, and yes they celebrated what was good in their lives, expressed their hope for the future, and had a day of fun simply for the sake of fun.

Do I know this for certain?  absolutely.  I’m positive that humanity hasn’t changed that much in a few thousand years.  We even have scraps of ancient texts with “old man” complaints that haven’t changed substantially in two thousand years.  We criminalize the ancient past, we refuse the basic humanity of each other, and we obsess over our own grievances.

In the best of the Christian tradition, let it go.  Celebrate the fundamental qualities of christmas: Generosity and compassion.  Seize and share the joy in the world that is all too rare for so many people.  You can not serve the cause of evil by celebrating what is good in the world.  You will not limit or “waste” good cheer by wishing it on others or limiting your respect to merely those with Christian traditions.

I don’t see race

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I don’t see race. I don’t see your gender. I don’t see your age, or your family. I do not see your height, or your width. I do not see your shape, your hair, or your color or your eyes. I don’t see your education, your job, or potential. I don’t see your culture or community. I don’t see your neighborhood, your city, your state or your country. I don’t see your accomplishments or failures; your hope or fears. I don’t hear your accent or language. I do not hear your voice. Not your shouts; not your whispers; Not your dispassioned reason or your impassioned thunder.

I don’t see your beliefs, your religion, traditions, or symbols. I don’t see your churches, temples, mosques, or holy places. I don’t hear your stories, your fables, myths, old wives tales, or superstitions. I do not see your elders, prophets, and wise men. I don’t hear your singing, your chanting, or your poetry. I don’t see your dancing.

I don’t see your strengths. I don’t see your needs. I don’t see your struggles. What you have overcome and what you have left to do. I don’t see your heartache when tragedy befalls your brothers or sisters. I don’t hear your cries of anguish, your sorrow, your tears. I do not see your torn clothing and your sackcloth and ashes. I do not hear your prayers or pleas. I don’t hear your anger or frustration. I do not see beyond boxed illusions.

I don’t see your history. Your comings and goings. What you’ve been through. What you’ve taken and left behind. What your still going through, and will continue to go through. I do not see the mountains and valleys, the sun scorched deserts, the plains, or the jungles or the tundra. I don’t see the tapestry of your life. What makes you who you are and who you are not. I do not see you apart and a part of the aggregation of humanity. I don’t see the road you are on or the journey you must travel. That is not what I see. I don’t see race. I don’t see you.  If I can not see race, I can not see anything about you.  I am blind.  I see only myself reflected all around me.  Endless reflections as if looking across mirrors.  An army of me from every angle and I think myself wonderful.

The chief business of America….

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The chief business of the American People is Business.  They are profoundly concerned with buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world.  —  Calvin Coolidge 1925

Well?  Is it true or isn’t it?  America created history’s greatest mercantile empire.  We believe in Capitalism so much its nearly a self-destructive religion.  But in light of recent events, one wonders if that’s really what we believe in at all.  Particularly Republicans.  The hue and cry in the name of Capitalism, the flocking to shrines to Reagan and Ayn Rand those patron saints of Capitalism, would all give one false hope that Republicans have anything at all to do with the philosophy.  Yet, time and again, they act against it.  One wonders if they do not understand, or if they do not believe.

If they believe in the power of capitalism to reshape a society to bring prosperity, then why do they resist using capitalism in just that capacity?  All around the world in our bloody history, we have fought wars, embargoed nations, in order to bend them to our will.  Why?  If our ideals are so powerful will they not naturally dominate those other cultures?  More importantly, why do you care?  Cuba has an autocratic brutal dictatorship.  So?  It’s not our problem.  What can we do about it?  We can invade overthrow the government and institute a puppet state, because that’s worked really well for us.  We could embargo the Cubans because after 53 years they’re sure to crack any day.  We could throw a giant hissy fit which will get Republicans re-elected but it serves no one’s interest.  For political and social conditions to change in Cuba, it’ll have to be Cubans who will do it.  The US can do nothing in this regard.

So, let’s use the one thing we’re really good at.  Making money.  Maybe normalizing relations and opening trade between our two countries will bring about modernization and moderation.  Maybe it won’t but at the end of the day you have to have a fundamental respect for the choices people make.  You could argue that socialism and communism is doomed to failure.  Again I ask, So?  Again, not our problem.  Ideally you’d want other countries to be as prosperous as socialism will let them to be, because a prosperous country is a better trading partner.  It doesn’t matter if their socialist.  A complete non sequitur.  If it works for them, great! if it doesn’t, we’ll be there with IMF loans, fiscal policy reforms, and foreign investments to help get them back on track.

I believe in Capitalism.  I truly do.  I see communist countries adopting capitalist reforms and trying to modernize.  And it works.  Growth and prosperity have transformed places like Vietnam and China and the transformation is on going.  Even if it is a slow painful process.  That’s fine with me.  I’m not in a place to dictate to another country what the pace of their progress should be.  But this cold war era mentality was toxic.  It was toxic for 50 years.  That’s why they called it a war.

The business of America is business.  We shall not fight useless battles toward unprofitable ends.  Normalize relations with everyone who will talk to us. Remember, consent of the governed is not a right given to a people, they already have it.  It’s natural law.  We are not to govern them, and their own tyrants do so at their peril. Let’s put our faith in the power of ideas, and the resolution of the people to govern themselves.

What do you want? #Ferguson & #Garner

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Rev. Al Sharpton Holds News Conference At National Action Network's Office

What do you want?  Seriously.  It’s the season for requesting and obtaining miracles I think it’s far past the time for a list of demands.

No?

The trouble with populist movements is that while the outrage is genuine, concrete objectives are typically lacking.  There’s been a lot of populist outrage in recent years, very little of it successful.  Let’s see your goals be grand, or small.  I don’t care if you want something as simple as the right to sit where you like on a bus or as something as complicated as an end to world hunger, but you need a list.

#blacklivesmatter #handsupdontshoot

No one cares.  They don’t.  The people who genuinely believe this will not be moved by your hashtag, and the people who don’t believe it simply respond with #alllivesmatter See? they’ve got a catchy hastag too. So at the moment it sounds like your trying to make the world feel sorry for you.  Ooookay.  It worked.  Success! Now what?  I don’t think sympathy is going to prevent the next police attack.  If you don’t know what it is you want, go home.  You can scream, shout, weep, march, carry signs demanding justice but justice is ephemeral.  It’s abstract.  There is no justice in this world, but if you have thoughts on reforming the court systems the country would like to hear them.  But I don’t hear a proposal.  I hear the same firebrand speeches from the same firebrand “leaders” that we’ve heard for 30 years.  If black leaders had an ounce of integrity they’d resign from whatever posts they currently possess because they’re lying to you.  The speeches and marches and rabble rousing have more to do with creating a cult of personality than effective positive changes for black and other minority communities.  In short, they don’t know what they’re doing either.

It’s been pointed out to me that true black leaders tend to get assassinated.  Let me ask you a question.  Who is the CEO of ALEC?  If you shot him, would it matter all that much?  The Heritage Foundation? The CATO Group?  If you’ve never heard of these organizations or don’t know what they do, congratulations, you’ve let conservative white America win without credible opposition.  It’s easy to blame problems on conspiracy and racism.  It’s much harder to blame failings of your own leadership.  To know that if your leaders weren’t completely useless, incompetent and more than a little crazy you might make tangible improvements in government.

But it’s not just minorities.  Remember the Occupy movement.  Same deal.  Huge groundswell of populist sentiment.  Really fantastic news coverage, great use of social media.  Got zilch for their efforts.  Why? They didn’t ask for anything!  What the occupiers wanted was a vague collection of campaign finance reform and something about wealth inequality.  They got nothing.  If everyone who had come out to march had donated $10 to a credible lobbying firm that had the expertise to write legislation and guided through congress they could have achieved something.  They didn’t.

After Sandy Hook and other school shootings there was a massive outpouring of community sorrow and rage and what happened?  gun control was rolled back in a dozen states and soundly defeated on the national level?  Why? because the NRA is the only lobbying firm active.  Because congress and state legislatures know that the NRA will deliver not only the money but the votes of millions of crazy gun nuts.

If black, liberal, and other minority groups want to accomplish anything they’re going to have draft a list of legislative demands and then turn out en mass to vote on them.  You managed to turn people out to rally for your useless marches are you saying you can’t get people out to vote on something that will actually make a difference?

Reverse Racism

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One of the most difficult things about discussing race in America is, like most things, a certain ambiguity of language. Race, for example, has no biological basis. To divide people based on genetic lineage is absurd and legal strictures based on this division become hopelessly convoluted before they breakdown altogether. Rather, race is a group with a certain social, cultural, historical, and economic commonality. It’s as much a choice for the individual as it is an imposition by larger societal forces. It no surprise then any discussion is going to complicated. Which is fine, so long as the discussion remains complicated and nuanced. It’s tempting to simplify, but reductive reasoning is one of the most significant problems in this discussion. In fact, it’s this tendency to narrow the collective experience of people that is, in many ways, so devastating and dehumanizing.

Racism at the moment has two working definitions. One definition of racism is a narrow form of bigotry. Which is to say, it is racist to discriminate against an individual or groups because of their race. This might manifest as hateful words and actions, criminal activity targeting a group, denying people products, services, access to goods, neighborhoods, etc.

There is a second and perhaps more important definition of racism. It an economic, social, and political system designed to benefit one group above that of another. The starkest example of this kind of racism was apartheid in South Africa but it is endemic at every level in every country, even this one, perhaps especially this one.

One of the great frustrations of minorities trying to tackle racism and discrimination in America, is the charge of Reverse Racism. You hear this often, especially in regard to programs or institutions designed to rectify centuries of abuse, neglect, and discrimination. For example, some schools and scholarship programs exist to help black people obtain a high quality education. Since these programs do not help white people get an education, one might say this is “Reverse Racism”, which is, of course, ridiculous. These kinds of programs exist to merely ameliorate the inequality endemic in the educational system as it exists today. So no. There’s no such thing as a “Black racist” because they can not benefit from a system that marginalizes them regardless of how successful that person might be. Oprah and President Obama are outliers and do not demonstrate the absence of discrimination or inequality.

Even if you go by the simpler definition that “racism” is merely a subset of bigoted behavior or attitude, what prejudice majority groups experience (individually or collectively) in their lives is trivial compared to what a person of color might experience. Which is not to suggest that we should condone prejudicial behavior from anyone, only that as a white person I can bear this “burden” of tolerance. (I use the word “burden” ironically, obviously)

However, in so much as reverse racism does not exist, minorities want it to.  Whatever shape or form their demands for equality may take, it will require shifting time, energy, attention, and resources from the groups which currently possess them.  It may be justified in the grand scheme of things.  It may be moral and ethical and idealistic, but minorities and liberals must do much better than “in the name of social justice”.  As we talk to those who have the money and the resources, what incentives are there for this shifting of emphasis?  Why is it in the interest of white male America to do more than merely placate everyone else just enough to avoid civil disruption?

Whether Reverse Racism exists or not is completely beside the point (and yes I realize how ridiculous that sounds). Liberals are going to have to find a way to address the subject seriously or the movement will stutter and stall…. basically like it’s been doing the last 30 years.  Surely this can not be that difficult?

Something interesting about #Ferguson

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To bring lasting change requires data. Protest all you want, give speeches on the National Mall, craft memorials, write memoirs. None of that will bring change. One of the consistent failures of social justice advocates is their reliance on mid-century strategies to bring about lasting change. What was effective in the 50s and 60s? The big marches, the famous speeches and protests. Rallying around a hero and a cause changed the course of this nation but we are beyond the age of heroes. Welcome to the soundbite era. The meme generation. I was impressed with the variety of ways social justice advocates tried to get attention. They protested of course, blocked roads, gave interviews, symbolically raised hands. Classic. My personal favorite were the “die-ins”.

If I sound dismissive please believe me I’m not. It’s an important cause and I was genuinely moved by the events. I just don’t think it has a prayer of having any kind of affect.

The most interesting thing about Ferguson was this. We have no idea how many people are killed each year by police and law enforcement. None. The FBI and assorted groups of journalists have some interesting and widely disparate guesstimates but that is the best they can offer. Isn’t they remarkable? I find it shocking that in an age of so much information we don’t know this one basic fact. I suppose it’s easy to not to keep track of information you don’t want to have.

The other thing we found out is that with incredibly rare exceptions, police are never indicted for killing. Never. Literally there is a 99% acquittal according to politifact for police officers.

On those two facts alone can much policy be built. Take the following snippet as an example:

There’s data out there about police departments who have been required by the courts or have otherwise implemented copcams. These programs have been successful enough that the Obama administration is making moves to have these cameras installed more generally. We’ll see what, if anything, comes from it. Simple. End of story.

This is the take home message. the data generated from a few low key pilot programs was powerful enough to have created a concrete policy objective that is being implemented now. This tiny amount of data is vastly more powerful that all the social networked flash mobs making momentary headlines. This is true power. Not massed protests.

Let’s suppose Darren Wilson was indicted. Let’s suppose he was even found guilty and sent to prison. So what? You got your sacrificial lamb and you brought him to the slaughter. Then what? Nothing. That’s end game. That is the completion of your quest. And by the end of it , you will have achieved nothing of note. Certainly nothing to prevent the next Michael Brown. The punishment of Darren Wilson, while certainly just, is a useless for affecting change. Arguably, having lost the indictment might even further the goals of social advocates by deepening the injustice of it all.

What will bring change? Fix or create the data gathering process. Mandate that all police offices must report officer involved shootings and killings to the FBI. Fund deescalation training programs and track their progress. Shine a light on all the missed opportunities for data gathering.

Your only other option is to wallow in self-pity. Publicly for as long as the cameras will allow, and privately thereafter.