Posted by WiredSisters on July 27th, 2016 filed in Bible study, Democracy, Dreams, Economics, Implicit Associations Tests, Race
My late husband and I used to have this argument over and over during the 46 years we were married. If we were having it now, he would phrase his side of it as “all lives matter. We need to create an economic and political system in which race doesn’t matter because all of us would be treated equally and justly. That’s what democratic socialism is all about.” And I would respond, “That’s a goal, not a path for getting there. Until we get rid of racism, we will never have socialism or any other kind of equal justice for all of us. And the only way to get rid of racism is to be able to recognize it when we see it.”
I always found his position attractive. But I could only respond, sadly, “you can’t get there from here.” We have fought three wars on poverty in my lifetime, and we lost them all because of the racism at the root of our political and economic system.
The first of those wars was the New Deal. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and still more, Eleanor Roosevelt) used the power of the White House to battle unemployment, child labor, low wages, and the consequences of aging and illness. But in order to get Congress to work with him, Roosevelt had to cooperate with the Southern wing of the Democratic Party. That wing was solidly organized and brilliantly managed. It was a great machine for getting things done. But its first purpose was the maintenance of Jim Crow in the South. It would cooperate on nothing else with any opponents of segregation and racism. FDR had to make a deal with the devil to accomplish any of the New Deal programs. If you want to get the whole story, read Ira Katznelson’s masterful books When Affirmative Action was White¸ and Fear Itself.
The second war on poverty was never advertised as such, but it moved an entire generation of Americans into the middle class: the World War II GI Bill. It may well have been the closest the US ever came to socialism. The men (and the few women) coming home from military service were suddenly entitled to education, medical care, and home ownership through VA benefits. Well, some of them were. The education and medical care were pretty much available to all veterans. But the home loans were something else entirely. Most of the homes that were newly built or available for purchase were in neighborhoods Black veterans could not move into. In their “own” neighborhoods, all they could do was rent, or buy on unconscionable “contract” terms. The VA offered no help to renters or contract buyers.
The third war on poverty was the one to which Lyndon Johnson actually gave that name, in the 1960s. Most of what it accomplished was to extend to Black Americans many of the benefits White Americans had gotten thirty years earlier with the New Deal.
Since then, we haven’t just stalled in the fight against poverty, we have actually backslid—that’s what “welfare reform” was all about. It sort of worked, briefly, while the economy was in good enough shape to conceal its dangers. Then came the recession, and now most non-rich Americans are actually worse off than we were fifty years ago.
Let’s talk about “welfare” and “welfare reform.” The original official title of “welfare” was Aid to Dependent Children. It was a New Deal program intended for widows with children to raise. Like many New Deal programs, part of its purpose was to keep out of the work force anybody other than able-bodied men aged 20 to 65, so that that demographic could have first dibs on what few jobs were available. Social Security targeted older Americans; child labor and compulsory education laws targeted youth; and Aid to Dependent Children targeted single mothers, who ought to be home taking care of their children anyway.
Among the women excluded from the program were Black women (because they could always get jobs doing domestic service) and unmarried women (because their homes were “unsuitable” for children.) And the Southern Democrats were fine with the program as long as it was only for respectable white widows.
But by the time the official War on Poverty came along, an increasing proportion of ADC recipients were unmarried women of color. Indeed, many colorless Americans sincerely believed the program was for unmarried women of color and for nobody else (in the 1970s, one of my clients explained that to me—as to a naïve dimbulb–when I asked her why she didn’t apply for welfare, which she was clearly qualified for at the time.) In fact, the popular image of people on any kind of government aid program except VA home loans and Social Security was distinctly dark-skinned. That was never accurate, of course. Most poor people in the US, and most people on aid programs for poor people, are white, because most Americans are white (though this will not be true for much longer.) Even private sector programs to assist poor people tend to be perceived as targeted toward people of color. The United Way public service ads on Chicago buses always very carefully depict their beneficiaries in demographically correct batches of 6 whites, 3 African-Americans, two Hispanics and an Asian, more or less, in a varied assortment of genders and ages, just to disabuse the riding public of this notion, but it doesn’t help much.
There are two problems with this misperception, aside from its inaccuracy. One is that no matter how hard we try to clean up our presumptions, most colorless Americans (and a lot of people of color, too, for that matter) deep down in their hearts believe that people of color are less “worthy” than the rest of us, and therefore less deserving of public or private sector assistance or most other good things in life. And the other is that, quite aside from this belief, we see people of color as “other.” Not like us.
The wise-ass Pharisee asked Jesus “who is my neighbor?” after quoting Leviticus 19:18 telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Most non-Jewish Americans are more familiar with the New Testament version in Matthew 22:39, but biblical scholars have spent a lot of time and discussion of both these admonitions. Mine is a little different from both.
My mother taught me that imagination is the moral faculty. It is what enables us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. And it is really a leap of faith. None of us can really know that other people are “like ourselves,” in having emotions, feelings, thoughts, beliefs—in having insides. Experimental neuropsychology is working hard to prove it, but we aren’t there yet. But this commandment requires us to believe it anyway, to believe that our neighbor is “like ourselves,” and therefore to love him/her. Jesus’ response—the Good Samaritan story–points us in that same direction. To act as a neighbor to another person is to recognize him or her as deserving as much relief from pain and need and poverty as we do. Like us. Not “other.”
Among the things that are impossible to a society that does not recognize all its people as “neighbors” is socialism. Socialism has worked in European countries because most of them are (or were, until recently) racially and culturally homogenous. So Europeans viewed any programs for the benefit of people in need as not for “others”, but for “us.” Now that an increasing proportion of European citizens and residents are “non-European” in origins and culture, European socialism may be in considerable jeopardy. I share Bernie Sanders’ aspirations to institute European-style socialism in this country. But if we could do it, we might then have to model it for our European colleagues in hope of helping them get it back. What we would have to model is how to get over “othering” our neighbors so that we can set up a system that works for the welfare of all of us.
“Black Lives Matter” is just another way of saying this.
Posted by WiredSisters on July 25th, 2016 filed in Implicit Associations Tests, Law, Moral Philosophy, Race
Last week, a North Miami police officer shot Charles Kinsey, a behavior therapist who was trying to get his autistic client, Arnaldo Eliud Rios Soto, out of the middle of the street and back to his group home. Kinsey was unarmed, and immediately obeyed the police officer’s order to lie on the ground and raise his arms, prominently displaying his empty hands. Soto, in the meantime, was sitting on the ground with a toy car in one hand. The police officer was allegedly responding to a 911 call about a suicidal man with a gun. Fortunately, Kinsey was only wounded in the leg. He asked the police officer “Why did you shoot me?” “I don’t know,” said the cop.
The officer, Jonathan Aledda, a four-year veteran and a member of the SWAT team, hasn’t made things any better by trying (through the police union) to explain. He now says he wasn’t aiming for Kinsey, but for Soto. You know, the Latino man with autism and a toy car.
What am I missing here? Beginning with the beginning of the incident, why on earth would the police pull a gun on a suicidal person? Isn’t that kind of counter-intuitive? It isn’t unusual, apparently—a lot of shootings of people with mental illness happen in the course of police response to a call about a suicidal person. But isn’t it kind of like pouring water on a drowning person? Or throwing somebody with hypothermia into the freezer?
Then we get to the toy-car-perceived-as-gun meme, which you’d think police training would have tried to overcome by now. No, officer, a toy car isn’t a gun. Neither is a wallet, nor a cell phone, nor even a toy gun. Really.
But now there’s a new element handed to us. Two, maybe. How come Aledda didn’t manage to hit the person he was supposedly aiming at? If there is one thing police training is really serious about, it is marksmanship. Both the targets, Kinsey and Soto, were stationary, and not sitting in each other’s laps. We’re used to street gang members not being able to shoot straight, but we do have a right to expect better from cops, who are, after, armed and trained on our money. It is interesting that the shot in question didn’t kill either Kinsey or Soto—police are not ordinarily trained to “shoot to wound,” so there was obviously something odd going on.
Of course, we do not yet know exactly what the 911 caller actually said. Did s/he indicate that there were actually two people out there? Did s/he indicate the apparent race of either one? Because while I can actually believe Aledda doesn’t know why he shot Kinsey, I have a pretty good guess at his reasons myself.
I think that all Aledda heard or saw in that fraction of a second was “gun,” a man holding something in his hand, and a Black man. His mind somehow mashed all of these elements into “Black man holding a gun,” and he responded the way most police officers reflexively respond to that phenomenon.
Soto is now having serious problems eating and sleeping. Since he wasn’t very verbal to start with, he has no way to explain how traumatized he is now, but it will probably take him a long time to recover, especially in the absence of a caregiver he seems to have been close to.
I know some people who do the kind of work Kinsey does, and mostly they don’t have very good health insurance or paid time off, so I really hope the North Miami police compensate him for his hospital bills and lost work time, even if they can convince themselves that Aledda didn’t shoot anybody on purpose or through gross negligence. The real negligence, of course, was that of whatever training programs trained Aledda and the numerous other police officers who shoot unarmed or fleeing Black people. All of us, but especially police and those who train them, need to rejigger our reflexes and presumptions. As Maria Montessori says, the problem isn’t understanding what we see, it is seeing what we see.
Why studying population differences in medical conditions isn’t at all the same thing, scientifically, as that silly HBD argument that some “races” are smarter than others, and a few interesting links on genetics
Posted by Sappho on July 23rd, 2016 filed in DNA, Health and Medicine
Predicting 9% of educational attainment is cool. I’m going to have to take issue with one comment from Dienekes, from whom I learn about the genome wide association study that made the prediction in question, and whose post on the study I link. Dienekes writes:
Genetic egalitarianism is an edifice on which too much has been invested and I doubt that it will go down without a fight. It’s of course a great idea to optimize learning for the students you’ve got. But, at the end of the day there’s only so much you can do to foster achievement in a trait that is mostly genetically determined.
Come again? First, one study predicting 9% of educational attainment from DNA is far from proving that the trait is “mostly genetically determined.” Even if we ignore the usual caveat about levels of peer review (a single study in a peer reviewed publication is good, but still falls short of what I might call “established research” because single studies often get contradicted by later studies), and figure that the result holds, 9% is a lot less than 50%.
Second, while I grew up thinking of “most” as meaning “more than half,” my friend Karen Street is used to thinking of “most” as meaning “a whole lot more than half.” I’m not sure whether Dienekes favors my meaning of “most” or Karen’s, but I think Karen’s is the relevant one if you’re talking about “genetic egalitarianism” and “fostering achievement in a trait that is mostly genetically determined.” It could easily both be true that “most” educational attainment is genetically determined in the “a little more than half” sense, and that fostering achievement in a trait that’s mostly genetically determined does a whole lot of good. Particularly when you consider that how much of a trait is environmentally determined depends a whole lot on how big the environmental variation in question varies, and that, however large the impact is of genetic factors on individual attainment here, the environmental impact on ethnic differences is a whole other ball game, given the evidence for change over time in rankings of ethnic groups (e.g. Southern European immigrants to the US and their descendants) and for a very non-level playing field, between groups, on the relevant environmental factors.
“Genetic egalitarianism” would be a silly thing to believe if it means believing the individuals are all born as blank slates with no prior genetic variation making some of us more likely to turn out one way and some of us more likely to turn out another way. But it’s not a silly belief at all if it means believing that evidence for the superiority of one ethnic group over another should be suspected of being dodgy as hell. And are there really a lot of people invested in genetic egalitarianism in any other sense? Is there a huge, thundering horde of people who think there’s no genetic component to who has a good ear for music and who is good at math?
I bring up the ethnic ancestry angle not because Dienekes did (he doesn’t mention it in his post, I don’t know exactly what he means by “genetic egalitarianism,” and I’m not aware of his advocating the “some races are just smarter than others” position), but for two other reasons. First, it does matter to how you handle fostering achievement (even if more than half of a trait should prove to be genetic, you can do a lot to remove inequality by leveling environmental gaps between groups whose variance on that trait is mostly environmental, and I do here mean “mostly” in the Karen Street sense of overwhelmingly more likely to be environmental, not in the “slightly more than half environmental” sense). Second, I want to remind you of my low opinion of “race and IQ” arguments before I get to my next link, and why “my race is better than others at the mental and psychological traits I most value” arguments aren’t at all the same thing as investigating the role of ancestry in medical conditions. (As a reminder, my comments aren’t open to arguing that one “race” is stupider than another, but they’re definitely open to comments, pro or con, about the medical article I’m about to discuss.)
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sappho on July 10th, 2016 filed in News and Commentary
I don’t need to tell you why this past week has been one where I’d like to hide my head under the covers and not look at the news. At such times I’m torn between the half of me that says, “Don’t look! Go find something good to appreciate” and the half that says “Don’t look away! This is serious and you need to Do Something About It.”
Both impulses strike me as in some sense valid. On the one hand, if those of us who can look away always do, then that takes away from our chance to make the world a better place. And maybe comes back and bites us later. So I’ve always valued Eugene Debs’ statement that
I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
On the other hand, awful things are always happening, and if we don’t take what breaks we can, well, awful things will still be happening, and we won’t be in the space we need to be in to get, well, anything useful done.
And of course there are always things that need to be done close to home. Work. Walking the dog. Clerking a meeting for business.
Anway, today, as I switch my social media between #FreeDeray tweets (the good news – he’s been freed) and a video of two dogs snuggling a happy cat, here are some of my things that I’ve found worth reading.
First, commentary on this week’s dismal news:
My friend’s daughter, a civil rights attorney named Hilary Landis Rau, has made a couple of public posts on Facebook, one in which she reflects on this week’s news from her perspective as a civil rights attorney, and one with useful links for anyone who wants to become better informed. Since these posts are public on Facebook, you should be able to find them if you Google her.
Charles M. Blow at the New York Times on A Week From Hell.
Steven Barnes: About Dallas.
Next, the puppies and kittens and entertainment and good news.
25 inspirational woman entrepreneurs from Kenya (including some who have been involved with one of my favorite technology non-profits, Ushahidi).
Rhodes tax inspectors dives into sea to catch masseuse. I have to admire her persistence. It reminds me of A Taxing Woman, which you really should sea if you haven’t seen it already.
The Mashpee Wampanoag have been having their annual artisan festival. Check them out on Facebook. There are some beautiful photos.
Posted by WiredSisters on July 5th, 2016 filed in Anarchism, Daily Life, Democracy, Economics, Guest Blogger, Science
Every now and then, we hear of another recall of some line of automobiles because of malfunctions in the passenger airbag system. Usually it involves blowing up for no particular reason, putting the lives of all the car’s occupants and anybody in its path in jeopardy. Yet another thing that happens to airbags is that they get stolen, because one of their components is made of a very precious metal.
The airbag mechanism also emits some dangerous chemicals, such as sodium azide, which ignites and gives off extreme heat in order to deploy the airbag, and sodium hydroxide, a caustic gas that can cause burns and irritate the skin and eyes.
The extreme speed with which the bags inflate can break bones, most commonly the bones of the arm. So the safety mavens now tell us that we should no longer hold the wheel with our hands at the “ten and twelve” position, but the “three and nine,” to minimize this hazard.
And, of course, we all know that children are no longer allowed to ride in the front seat because they might be injured, or even decapitated, by the airbag. The only people who have problems with this are mothers, who often have to interact with the said children over the back of the front seat while trying to drive, and children, who often really really want to ride up front. Since mothers and children rarely head major car companies, nobody important pays much attention to this problem.
Yet another population of car occupants who have to inconvenience themselves to avoid being blown to bits by airbags are short people. People under 5’4”, to be exact. Most of these people are women or elderly men. In order to be able to see over the steering wheel, they tend to push their seats all the way forward, so that they are almost leaning on the wheel. This puts them in considerable danger if the airbag deploys. Safety authorities generally suggest getting pedal extensions, so that a short driver can keep the seat a safe distance back from the steering wheel and still reach the pedals.
The other thing safety authorities strongly advise is that people who drive or ride in a car with airbags should use their 3-point (shoulder-and-waist) seat belts. This reduces the likelihood of injuries from airbags.
And the airbags are dangerous not only to the occupants of cars, but to emergency workers who respond to car crashes and can get burned or gassed in the process.
Strictly speaking, the airbag mechanism is, literally, a bomb.
They do, certainly, prevent more deaths than they cause. But they do cause some fatalities.
But why are we using them in the first place? The statistics compiled in the U.S. in the early 1970s indicate that the use of 3-point (shoulder and waist) seatbelts reduces car crash injuries by 73% and eliminates fatalities entirely. So why not just stick with that?
Despite these significant statistics, seatbelts were not made mandatory in the U.S. until 1991. In the meantime, a very large proportion of drivers and passengers just didn’t bother using them. And the seatbelt mandate did not, in fact, increase use all that much, probably because of the “secondary enforcement” policy in most states—i.e.¸ the police issued tickets for seatbelt violations only if they were also ticketing the driver for something else considered ”more serious.” In the meantime, some car manufacturers equipped their cars with “passive seatbelt restraints”—belts rigged through the car doors so that once the occupant was seated and the door was closed, the occupant was restrained by the belt without having to do anything (other than sit down and close the door.) These were sometimes clumsy and prone to malfunction, but they were quite effective in preventing car crash injuries.
It is, just barely, understandable that we Americans might be so enamored of our liberty that we object to feeling “restrained” by seatbelts, whether “active” or “passive.” But in fact, these days we have learned to live with them Almost everybody in almost every car uses the seatbelts correctly. We have, somehow, adapted. We weren’t willing to do it just to avoid being thrown from the car in the event of a crash. But we are willing to do it now, for two reasons: to protect us from being injured by the airbag in a crash, and to keep from getting ticketed by the police—who have now almost everywhere adopted a policy of primary enforcement—ticketing people for failure to use seatbelts even if no other offense is being committed.
So far as I know, nobody is advocating getting rid of airbags simply because they are unnecessary, and therefore unnecessarily dangerous. Back in the first years of seatbelts, American carmakers deliberately made them as clunky and prone to malfunction as possible, in hope of making them really unpopular and thereby getting the government to back off of requiring them. But today’s auto manufacturers have not resisted installing airbags and regularly refining them. In fact they are enthusiastically piling on, adding airbags on the sides and in the back seat as well as under the windshield. Can it possibly be that airbags are now a profitable accessory, a great excuse to jack up the price of a new car? And that that extra profit outweighs the expenses caused by recalls and airbag injuries? Can it possibly be that car manufacturers and cops can more effectively persuade us to give up some of our freedoms than Big Government, and even to pay more for the privilege?
And what does this imply for our political future?
Posted by Sappho on July 2nd, 2016 filed in Daily Life, News and Commentary, Quaker Practice
“#NoMoreHate I so thought my granddaughter would be growing up in a better world than this.”
The scene: The Orange County Friends Meeting booth at this year’s OC Pride fair, in Santa Ana, California. We had a slender supply of Quaker literature, for it was afternoon and much had already been taken earlier in the day, a sign with glittering peace signs, a dog watering station supplied by Peggy (who worried about overheated dogs at the fair), and a long roll of paper, on which people drew and wrote what they pleased.
It seems I am often writing in the wake of some disaster, and perhaps it was Orlando that was on the grandmother’s mind as she wrote those words. Orlando, mass shooting of 50 people in an LGBT club on Latino night a couple of weeks before OC Pride. I have cousins in Orlando, as it seems I have cousins near every disaster, so I got accounts of the aftermath from Sharon’s husband Shawn. As a Pride festival in a largely Mexican-American city, OC Pride seemed doubly connected to a mass shooting that hit the LGBT and Latino communities in Orlando.
Here is the point where my journal entry, written a week ago right after pride, segues into “But Pride is resilient and Pride always celebrates,” and talks of the more joyous parts of the festival. That’s the post I meant to write, when I got around to editing my journal entry into a blog post. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. As a manager (who feels obliged to remind you that she doesn’t speak for her company in anything at all that she says on the Internet), I had a hectic week, and felt obliged to work long hours to get something right, and had to put off all writing till the three day weekend. Before I reached the day when I would have time to post about pride, I got news of the attack in Dhaka.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by WiredSisters on June 30th, 2016 filed in Guest Blogger, History, Law, Moral Philosophy, Peace Testimony
The Morality of Dueling, Assassination, and War
Those of you who got to watch the dueling scene in the recent reboot of “Roots” may be interested in some more information on the practice. As a lawyer, I believe my first duty is to inform you gentle readers that it’s specifically illegal in 21 states and the United States Armed Forces, and can get Catholics excommunicated. And in other jurisdictions, it can be construed as manslaughter or even premeditated murder. Don’t try this at home.
Nonetheless, it deserves a more careful analysis in the context of the alternatives to it.
Similarly, while I certainly do not advocate assassination, there are circumstances in which it may be the least evil alternative.
And, in comparison to these more narrowly focused forms of violence, maybe war is the most evil choice.
Many of us, having grown up on the novels of Dumas and Sabatini, think of dueling as an elegant and restrained form of violence, a way to encourage good manners by punishing rudeness at sword’s point, and leaving the loser (or perhaps both parties) with impressive scars. The “Roots” scene ought at least to disabuse us of that fantasy. The duel between Tom Lea and his snobbishly rude tormentor is savage, brutal, and above all, messy. There is nothing courtly about it. The beautiful laces and brocades in which both parties are attired at the start of the episode are torn and blood-soaked by the end (good use of close-ups.) In the supposedly elegant antebellum South, there were a lot of duels, and probably most of them were like that.
So once we’ve gotten the Musketeers out of the way, are there any upsides to dueling? It certainly killed fewer people than the Civil War. Perhaps it encouraged good manners. (Sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein says “an armed society is a polite society.” When Miss Manners was on a radio talk show some years ago, I called in to ask for her views on that subject. She allowed as how that might be true, but only in societies in which people, especially young men, were seriously interested in surviving. Involvement in dueling usually correlates with an indifference to survival.) The argument from statistics breaks down as dueling (or its more modern equivalent, the gang fight) becomes more prevalent. So does the argument that all parties injured in duels are voluntary participants—certainly gang fights kill an appalling number of completely innocent bystanders, such as cheerleaders, toddlers, real estate agents, and grandmothers. That may be a function of our more advanced technology, but even the most primitive dueling pistol can misfire or send a shot wild.
It may be relevant that dueling has been more prevalent in wartime, and in highly militarized societies, than in more peaceable situations. The US Uniform Code of Military Justice specifically forbids dueling, but it is easy enough to see how a one-on-one battle which may or may not end in the death of one or both parties may seem almost innocuous to people accustomed to reckoning casualties in the thousands or even the millions.
Compare this to assassination. It is usually less harmful than warfare, in that it kills fewer people in a single encounter. The killer usually exposes himself/herself to at least the same risk as the intended victim, so it carries many of the same equities as the duel. There is more possibility of “collateral damage,” and less care taken to avoid it.
And under the conditions of modern warfare, the line between warfare and assassination gets dramatically blurred sometimes. In 1986, for instance, the US bombed Ghaddafy’s residence in Libya, and killed, among others, the dictator’s 4-year-old daughter. The US government claimed to “regret” this mishap, but denied that the bombing had been an assassination attempt. In fact, US law forbids assassination: see Executive Order 12333, Section 2.11, codified at 46 FR 59941, 3 CFR, 1981 compiled, which forbids all involvement in assassinations, without even specifying any particular target.
Which brings us to the quintessentially modern conundrum: dropping bombs on various places where a targeted foreign leader may happen to hang out, and thereby killing numerous innocent civilians, is permitted under the laws of warfare, while intentionally blowing up the targeted leader himself in a “surgical strike” with no collateral damage is legally prohibited.
What’s wrong with this picture?
This leads us to two closely linked philosophical questions: harm reduction, and the use of numbers in the context of human casualties. In most contexts, lefties prefer harm reduction to abolition (usually expressed as a “war” on drugs or whatever.) That’s certainly true when the issue is drugs and other harmful substances. Our harm reduction approach to tobacco has worked remarkably well over the last thirty years. So far as anyone knows, the only casualty in the “war on tobacco” was Eric Garner, who was choked to death by the police in Staten Island in July, 2014, for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes. That may be closely related to the fact that we have never declared a “war on tobacco.”
But a pure harm reduction approach leads inevitably into a numbers game. Is it less awful to kill 20 people than 21? How about the difference between 6 million and “only” 3 million, which is the sort of game Holocaust deniers and the Turkish government’s apologists are so fond of playing? How many human deaths is too many? Stalin is believed to have opined that a single death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic. My NPR station carries a sponsorship attribution to a foundation that “believes all lives are of equal value.” That rubs me the wrong way, and it took me a while to figure out why. Stalin would probably have concurred with that statement—except that he believed that “equal value” was zero. If you start out believing that all human lives are of infinite value, you get a very different result.
On the other hand….as a practical matter, even the most “surgical” forms of assassination and dueling are likely to generate “collateral damage.” Ultimately they may even generate wars. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria led to the stupidest, most wasteful war in history up to that time (or maybe ever.) When we finally succeeded in knocking off Ghadafy, it turned out to have been a bad idea. Ultimately, murder is murder and murder leads to murder. It’s hard to make any more sense of it than that.
Posted by WiredSisters on June 28th, 2016 filed in Democracy, Moral Philosophy, Queries, Theology
I’ve spent the last several years reading about why liberals are elitist, because they disagree with Joe Sixpack. Or because they use the term “Joe Sixpack.” Or because they stubbornly refuse to concede that Joe Sixpack was right about [whatever.] Or because they like classical music and go to art museums instead of NASCAR races.
In the light of the recent successes of Donald Trump and Brexit, should we be repenting of our errors? We went through that in 1980 when Reagan beat Carter. Should we have to do it again? Can we at least wait until after the election to see whether Joe Sixpack has wised up in the meantime?
And why am I focusing my attention on these rather petty personal-political questions in the middle of what many people think is the most important election in our lifetimes?
Let’s deal with the last question first. Yesterday I was in the Chicago Gay Pride Parade and (along with a million other people) had a perfectly wonderful time. We lefties don’t get too many fun celebrations. No hangovers, not even a sunburn. (BTW, we Chicagoans have a pretty good idea whose side the Big Guy is on: Passover is usually windy and/or rainy; Latin Easter [the one most of you guys celebrate] is so-so; Greek Easter, which comes a week or two later, is quite nice. But the best weekend weather of all happens on Gay Pride Sunday, year in year out.) So I don’t want to harsh my mellow too soon.
Anyway, so far as I can tell, liberals get a bad rap because we are not only elitist but opinionated. An elitist is somebody who is proud to have gone to school long enough to know that 2+2=4. He’s opinionated if he thinks he’s right to believe 2+2=4. (I’m not sure what the opposite of opinionated is—maybe somebody who says “I think 2+2=4 but I could be wrong”?)
“Political correctness” figures in there someplace, too. It’s “politically correct” not to sneer at people whose education didn’t last long enough to get to 2+2=4. But it’s “elitist” to think that “2+2=4” is true.
I used to worry about this stuff. I have made a conscious effort to extend my tastes to include country music and occasional baseball games (preferably minor league—cheaper and a lot more fun.) I celebrate Hank Williams’ yahrzeit with a good round of “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” I bragged about my cooking skills (unfortunately that coincided with the flowering of elite foodiness. Sometimes you can’t win.) Now I brag about my craftiness, and carefully avoid telling people I learned most of the ladylike arts at a girls’ boarding school. This is all pretty much okay, because life is always more pleasant if one can enjoy more of the things in it, even if one wasn’t brought up with them.
What I can’t make myself do is flutter my eyelashes and say “but that’s just my little ol’ opinion” when discussing why 2+2=4. What I try to do instead is let the other guy do as much of the talking as possible (for a woman, that’s really easy) until he finally gets around to saying something like “I’ve got a nice retirement package, after working for Streets and Sanitation for 25 years.” Then I get to ask him “How’d you manage that?” and he says “We had a good union,” which in fact Streets and San workers in Chicago do have, along with a good civil service system. And I get to say, “So how do you feel about our current governor, who wants to abolish public worker unions?” This is more subtle than “gotcha,” but just as much fun. If I do it often enough, maybe our current governor will not be re-elected, if enough other people do it too.
But there are dilemmas for lefties that are less easily resolved. For instance, I spent several years without health insurance. I got most of my health care through the Cook County Hospital systems. If you’re willing to wait several months for a non-emergency appointment, and then spend an entire morning, or an entire afternoon, waiting to get into the outpatient clinic or whatever, you will ultimately end up getting pretty good health care. (Their emergency care, BTW, is fast and good. The real problem is with medical issues that are not emergencies—yet–but need to be dealt with faster than the Cook County waiting list for appointments can handle, or they will become emergencies.) In the meantime, you can watch a lot of cute kids running around, or bring a good book. But it still sort of bothered me—was I using a place in the system that people poorer than me needed more? Or would it have been snobbish of me not to use it? Now that I have Medicare, I can at least stop worrying about that.
And then there’s housing. I live in a more-or-less integrated university neighborhood. My husband, on principle, insisted on finding an integrated neighborhood. When we moved in, it was a definitely uncool area full of semi-impoverished students. Now it’s getting all sorts of posh commercial “improvements” which may end up pricing me out altogether. Was I gaming the system when we moved in? Was I a snob for staying when it started “improving”? And what about segregation? When we moved in, were we taking a space that some non-white family needed more and could not have found in a whiter neighborhood? Or were we doing our bit to keep the neighborhood from re-segregating? It is easy to get cross-eyed from this kind of double-double-think.
In fact, what it reminds me of more than anything else is the moral system invented by Augustine refined by John Calvin, and recently updated by Paul Samuelson, that says we’re all sinners and the proof of that is that we do what we want to do instead of what’s right, and even when we do what’s right it’s usually because that’s what we want to do. And the reason we want to do it is that it makes us feel good. Hahh? The solution to that conundrum, from the Jewish point of view, is to say “Who on earth cares why you do the right thing, as long as it gets done?” Saves a lot of moral energy that can be more usefully devoted to doing the right thing.
Aside from that, I don’t have any useful answers for this confusion. Do I think I’m smarter than people who didn’t graduate from Harvard because I did? (Well, actually, that raises an important distinction. I’m definitely not smarter than somebody who went to Harvard and didn’t graduate, because flunking out of Harvard takes real work and serious smarts of which I am far from capable. I know a couple of people who did, and they’re a lot smarter than I am. So here I’m talking about people who never went to Harvard in the first place. Aside from people who went to Swarthmore. I know several people who got into Harvard but were rejected by Swarthmore, from which it follows that Swarthmore grads must be smarter than Harvard grads.) Not really, and besides, who cares? Which is to say, for most purposes, being smart is highly overrated. What it’s mostly good for is finding more ways to enjoy life. Aside from that, it’s just a rare and recondite talent like being able to wiggle one’s ears. Which I can do, but not as well as my late father could.
Do I think I’m smarter than Donald may-his-name-be-blotted-out? Yes and no. No, in that I haven’t become a millionaire. But on the other hand I’m smart enough not to be running for president. Do I think I’m smarter than the people who voted for him? Presuming the usual distribution of what Charles “Bell Curve” Murray would call g, I’m probably smarter than some of them, and not as smart as some others. Which is to say, some people may have some grounds for voting for him that are based on sound reasoning and a set of values very different from mine. Once again you may wish to read up on Jonathan Haidt’s discussion of moral foundations.
So okay, do I think my values are better than theirs? Well, yes, I do. That doesn’t mean I think I’m better than the people who hold those other values. And I have an advantage over lefties who weren’t raised in a religion—I can always blame it on my Sunday School teachers, rather than taking credit for it myself.
So anyway, I’ll worry about Brexit later in the week. In the meantime, enjoy the Glorious Fourth. I’ll worry about that next week.
Posted by Sappho on June 19th, 2016 filed in Election 2016
You may remember that before the June primary I blogged a little about Orange County, California judicial elections. One in particular was an easy choice for me. It pitted a judge, Orange County Superior Court Justice Scott Steiner, who had been censured for mixing sex and work in ways that compromised his professional ethics, and earned the unusual distinction of being rated by the local bar association as “Not Qualified” despite being the actual incumbent, against a prosecutor who was considerably less ethically encumbered.
It turns out that other voters didn’t agree with me. Steiner won his reelection bid.
Now, it’s possible that these other voters made an informed decision, and concluded that the members of the local bar association were being a bunch of prudes. So what if Steiner had sex with his former students in his chambers? Weren’t they all consenting adults? And so what if he gave a job referral to one of his former sex partners? Hey, all is fair in love and war.
But I kind of doubt it. I haven’t noticed that non-lawyers are markedly more lenient than lawyers about such things. And I have noticed that it’s rather time consuming to find information about all the down ballot races on the ballot. Particularly the judicial races.
I suspect that a lot of people looked at their ballots and said, hey, this guy is the incumbent, his ballot statement looks OK, and I don’t recall hearing anything bad about him.
Either that, or Steiner friendly local bloggers were really good at bad mouthing his opponent.
Posted by Sappho on June 19th, 2016 filed in Environment, Science, Vaccinations
I got one of these off Twitter, and the other off Facebook.
First, Scientific American reports that Antarctic CO2 Hit 400 PPM for First Time in 4 Million Years.
… The last station on Earth without a 400 parts per million (ppm) reading has reached it.
Passing the 400 ppm milestone in is a symbolic but nonetheless important reminder that human activities continue to reshape our planet in profound ways. We’ve seen sea levels rise about a foot in the past 120 years and temperatures go up about 1.8°F (1°C) globally. Arctic sea ice has dwindled 13.4 percent per decade since the 1970s, extreme heat has become more common and oceans are headed for their most acidic levels in millions of years. Recently heat has cooked corals and global warming has contributed in various ways to extreme events around the world.
Climate change denial isn’t the only form of science denial out there, though; there are also people who still cling to a single discredited study to justify their belief that vaccines really, really do cause autism. And this raises the question: Given that we now have ample evidence that vaccines aren’t the cause of the increase in diagnoses of autism, what is? That’s where this next article comes in: Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism — So What Does? It’s a good layperson’s round up of research on autism, and the various explanations that might account for a portion of the increase in autism diagnoses, from broader diagnostic criteria, to air pollution, to the rise of computers allowing some people on the spectrum to more readily find mates, to other possibilities that you’ll have to read the article to find.
Posted by WiredSisters on June 13th, 2016 filed in Democracy, Guest Blogger, Law, Moral Philosophy, Peace Testimony
GUN RIGHTS, GUN WRONGS, AND GUN QUESTIONS
Like President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and a whole lot of other people, I’m tired of this subject. I’m tired of mass shootings, tired of the parade of sick statistics. And I’m tired of playing Gotcha with the media.
- is this truly the biggest mass shooting in the US?
- Is this likely to encourage a numbers competition? The way holiday weekend car crash death tolls used to (“so far this weekend, 62 people have died nationwide in auto accidents, compared to 71 last year. Come on, guys, some of you are just not trying!”)
- How come nobody else noticed that we’re in the month of Ramadan?
- And that a large proportion of the Orlando casualties were Hispanic, probably because Saturday night was “Latin Night” at the Pulse nightclub?
- Am I the only one who, upon hearing that the shooter (whose name I will not use because I think it should be blotted out) called in his pledge of fealty to ISIS in the middle of the slaughter, flashed on the Spanish bullfighting custom of dedicating a particular bull, or its ears or tail, to some honored personage? Is there a Hispanic connection somewhere in here?
- Is the fact that the weapons used in this slaughter were all legally obtained an argument that guns regulations are useless or an argument that they need to be tightened?
- Were any of the nightclub patrons armed? If they had been, would the result have been a smaller, briefer slaughter, or something along the lines of the battle of Gettysburg, where everybody was armed, and upwards of 46,000 people were killed or wounded (the real largest mass shooting in US history?)
- Without the assistance of Google, would the extra time required to research these facts have slowed me down and cooled me off enough to handle this subject more thoughtfully? Has modern technology deprived us of the “second thought”?
- Am I the only one to consider Trump’s “I told you so” obnoxious enough to completely disqualify him for any public office down to and including Animal Control Officer? Should pit bulls be allowed to vote on such a proposal?
- Will the publicity now being given to the Islamic extremist policy on homosexuality actually make the Westboro Baptist Church shut up, or even become gay rights advocates? If so, how will the Human Rights Campaign (full disclosure: of which I am a member) deal with them?
- How much longer can I blog this event before running out of gallows humor?
- And finally, what will it take to persuade this Supreme Court that framers of the Second Amendment to the Constitution never heard of an AR-15 and would never have permitted civilians to carry them if they had?
In conclusion: it’s true that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But people with guns kill more people, faster.
Posted by Sappho on June 12th, 2016 filed in Marriage
A reminder from a Friend, on our meeting’s mailing list:
A small bright note on a sombre day. Today is the unofficial holiday, Loving Day, which honors the day that the Supreme Court decided, in Loving vs. Virginia, that states could not block interracial couples from marrying.
An article in the LA Times:
The person behind Loving Day, Ken Tanabe (who is a Japanese-Belgian US citizen) has started a petition drive for the White House to pursue official recognition of the day. I encourage you to sign as they need about 90,000 signatures by June 30!
Posted by WiredSisters on June 3rd, 2016 filed in Guest Blogger, History, Iraq War, Moral Philosophy, Peace Testimony
Years and years ago, one of my favorite speculative fiction writers formulated a “thought experiment.” Imagine, he said, that you could bloodlessly, painlessly, neatly, and with no possibility of retaliation, eliminate any person on the face of the earth, just by pressing a button. Would you use it? And, if so, on whom? That probably got a lot of people thinking. Maybe some people even made lists, just in case somebody invented such a button someday.
Well, now we have one, sort of. We’ve actually had it for a while, although it has only recently been publicized. Back in the 1990s, I worked with a man in the US Air Force who got discharged as a conscientious objector after working with a prototype of the drone program. It was operated from a base in the Midwest, and worked kind of like a video game during the first Gulf War. My client was appalled by this long-distance bloodless killing machine, and got himself out as quickly as possible.
More recently, U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain Captain Christopher John Antal resigned from the U.S. Army Reserves on April 12, 2016 in opposition to U.S policies regarding militarized drones, nuclear weapons, and preventive war. Conscientious objectors always get accused of just not wanting to risk their own lives in combat. Even the men who bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki could conceivably have been shot down, as many other bomber crews were. But my unnamed client and Captain Antal (and probably a few other people I haven’t heard about) pretty well demolish this argument. The drone operators are perfectly safe. My client wasn’t even on the same continent where the war was happening. The worst physical consequence he faced was back trouble from sitting too long. This is the ultimate in asymmetrical warfare. But it is still warfare. It is still killing. Indeed, it is arguably the worst kind of killing, the kind that does not even require the lower-level relative virtues of courage and loyalty.
In a way, most of our wars have been something like drone wars, in that we almost always send somebody else’s sons and daughters to die in them, while we sit back here in relative safety and watch the news. The buttons we push are on the TV remote control, not the controller of the actual weapons. It may not be bloodless, but the blood shed isn’t ours. And we almost always have an edge, in resources and technology, over the other side. The men and women who do the actual fighting are undoubtedly loyal and courageous in doing it. But we who sit here at home “supporting the troops” are only slightly better than NFL fans cheering while the real players destroy their own bodies and those of the other team. In drone warfare, at least our team incurs no injuries, which is sort of a net improvement. That improvement will probably be balanced out, in the long run, by the fact that this kind of warfare is so much easier and cheaper than the old-fashioned kind that we are likely to use it a lot more often to get our way, and thus kill a lot more people on the other side.
Some commentators on drone warfare (and other forms of asymmetrical warfare) oppose it on the grounds that someday we may come up against an opponent with the same kinds of technology and resources. Others talk about “blowback,” and use 9/11 as an example. The people who live under our drone fire will have a lot of time and incentive to devise cheap methods of mass destruction against us. For their purposes, those methods don’t have to be “surgically precise”—they just have to be cheap and effective. All of that makes sense as far as it goes. There are good practical reasons for opposing this most-practical-looking form of warfare. The moral reasons are the same ones that have always been there. So far as I know, nobody is working on a system in which machines not only do all the killing, but all the dying.
Posted by Sappho on May 28th, 2016 filed in DNA
From a 23andMe blog post a couple of weeks ago:
In what is the largest-ever genome wide association study for social science, researchers found more than 70 genetic variants associated with educational attainment — the number of years individuals spent in school or university.
Now, here’s where I add the caveats. Most individual variation in educational attainment isn’t genetic. The blog post I just quoted also says:
“It is intriguing that, even though educational attainment is primarily influenced by environmental factors, our study of educational attainment generates a biological picture of brain development that is clearer than those generated by previous GWAS that focused directly on brain structures,” the authors said.
And when I look for the article in Nature, I find:
Educational attainment is strongly influenced by social and other environmental factors, but genetic factors are estimated to account for at least 20% of the variation across individuals.
So, we are talking about, according to the abstract, “74 genome-wide significant loci associated with the number of years of schooling completed,” with all genetic factors perhaps not accounting for much over 20% of the variation. Any one gene, by itself, would have only a modest impact here. Still, the study interests me in that it shows the power of genome wide association studies to find genes that influence particular traits, even when the trait is both heavily environmentally influenced and influenced by many genes, and when the genes in question themselves influence multiple traits.
Posted by Sappho on May 22nd, 2016 filed in Genealogy
My great-grandfather, Robert Burton Gooden, suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, was the son of James Gooden (a barrister) and Hannah Burton, who immigrated from Bolton, Lancashire to California in the 19th century. This makes me the fifth generation in my family to live in Southern California, but in a roundabout way; though five generations of us have lived here at one time or another, I actually grew up in New York (and my mother actually grew up in Wisconsin).
There’s a lot more that I could say about my great-grandfather, who lived to nearly 102 and became the oldest priest on the Episcopal Church retirement plan (as a result of which I have a church magazine devoted to his life, written when he turned 100). But this post isn’t about him. It’s about his mother’s family. My uncle, when going through old family papers, came across some notes about the Burtons and sent me a copy. So I am pulling together what I learned from those notes and what I had learned earlier from my grandmother and her sisters.
Many years ago, I taped an interview in which I asked my grandmother about her family. This is what she had to say about her father’s mother, Hannah Burton:
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sappho on May 18th, 2016 filed in DNA
As I’ve said in the past, one of the problems with “there can’t possibly be a ‘gay gene’ because evolution would have selected against it” arguments (which should be distinguished from “your ‘gay gene’ hasn’t been sufficiently proven yet” arguments) is the fact that genes can have multiple functions. A gene that has an evolutionary disadvantage in one respect can still be carried on if one of its other evolutionary effects is advantageous.
This ability of genes to have more than one function is called “pleiotropy,” and some genes are hardworking multitaskers indeed. Here’s a post on 23andMe’s blog about a study of genetic variants that influence multiple traits and conditions.
A new study led by researchers at the New York Genome Center and 23andMe analyzed 42 different traits identified more than 300 locations in the genome that influence multiple traits and conditions. The study published in Nature Genetics was supported through a grant from the National Institutes of Health….
Researchers in this study found that variants known to influence puberty also influence height, male pattern baldness and BMI, which are all related to hormonal regulation. Another cluster was found around metabolic conditions such as coronary artery disease, red blood cell traits and lipid levels. And researchers also noted clustering around immune response with conditions like asthma, allergies, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and infectious diseases like childhood ear infections and tonsillitis clustering together.
The researchers say their study validates the use of genome wide association studies to find variants that influence many different traits….
Posted by Sappho on May 18th, 2016 filed in Election 2016, Music
Joel and I just voted. So here’s a little election music:
“The Name’s LaGuardia,” from Fiorello.
“The Election of 1800,” from Hamilton.
Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2016 filed in Election 2016
Finally, I get to the nonpartisan down ballot races. Let me take the easy one first, the race for the Board of Education, before I get to the trickier question of figuring out enough about the judicial candidates to have an informed opinion.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2016 filed in Election 2016
Next, let me look at the partisan races that I get to vote on, in my particular part of Orange County. By this, I mean, not races that are separated by party. California recently changed to a blanket primary system (except for the Presidential race and party central committee races), in which candidates of all parties are listed on a single ballot, we all, regardless of party registration, get to vote on all of them, and the top two advance to the November election. Still, even in this blanket primary system, for some offices I get to see party affiliations on my ballot, and for others I don’t. And the party affiliation is information, so partisan and nonpartisan offices are as good a way to separate my blog posts as any. Here are the partisan offices that I get to vote on.
Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2016 filed in California Ballot Propositions, Election 2016
For a change, we only have one statewide ballot proposition in this election (eight have been certified to go on the November ballot. In addition, I get to vote on two ballot measures for Orange County. My planned votes are:
Proposition 50 (Suspension of legislators. Constitutional Amendment.): Yes
Proposition A (Establish County Ethics Commission to Enforce County Campaign Finance and Ethics Rules): Yes
Proposition B (Require Fiscal Impact Statement for Any Countywide Measure Placed on the Ballot): Yes
None of these propositions appear to be controversial, so I’m not going to bother to explain my positions (I’m saving that for the posts about down ballot races, where I can get more out of the exercise of thinking through my views). But if you want to argue for or against any of these propositions in the comments, feel free.
Posted by Sappho on May 14th, 2016 filed in Election 2016, News and Commentary
I’ve been preparing to vote in the California primary in June by studying the down ballot races. I’m going to have several posts about the primary. This, the first one, serves to separate discussion of the Presidential primary from discussion of down ballot races. Here are the rules:
- In the comments of this post, you get to try to convince me of how I should vote in the presidential primary. I have already made up my mind, it’s true, but I haven’t actually voted yet. So this is your last chance to persuade me.
- California recently changed to a blanket primary system, in which candidates of all parties are listed on a single ballot, we all, regardless of party registration, get to vote on all of them, and the top two advance to the November election. However, none of this applies to the office of President of the United States. That part of the ballot is still partisan. As I am a registered Democrat, I only get to choose among the Democratic candidates. Any attempts to argue that I should vote for anyone other than the Democratic candidates listed on my ballot are off topic for this post. I will list the candidates that you get to argue for or against below.
- I won’t be fact checking comments (not on the blog, anyway – obviously I’ll check any facts before I use them to inform my vote). So you can, if you choose, give factually incorrect arguments for why I should vote for or against a candidate. I trust that any of my readers will take care in checking any facts they find on the Internet before voting.
Here is the list of candidates, from my sample ballot:
Roque De La Fuente
So, go ahead and tell me why I should vote for Roque De La Fuente. Or perhaps for some other candidate ;-).