Monday, July 25, 2016

Dubious, more dubious, and totally fubar.

Not that anyone gives AFF but-
There are a few things that are troubling in the election cycle as it now stands.  One is the false equivalence argument that appears to be in play. Basically, Clinton is as bad as Trump. To be fair, I will likely vote for Ms. Clinton, but not because she is anything like my first choice. I hoped for a Bernie Sanders/Elizabeth Warren ticket. That said, equating her to Trump is silly. Thoughtful people who are in a position to make these judgments have assessed Mr. Trump to be a narcissist and/or sociopath. It is clear to me that some of the negative commentary on Ms. Clinton is supported by solid evidence and it shows she is, at best, no saint. Some would say at worst a self-serving opportunist with somewhat "flexible" ethics. I won't debate the point. That said, the people offering the most heinous assessments of her do not appear to be sober-minded folks performing a thoughtful assessment. Each one of this ilk whom I have heard is a right wing ideologue. I am open to hearing evidence to the contrary.

Another huge problem is, many Americans appear to hold a fantastical view of the American Presidency. This may be in part due to phrases that are bandied about in our media such as Leader of the Free World. This in a global sense may have some validity but in a political sense on the ground in our government structure, it is nonsense. The executive is but one of three powerful branches. This thoughtful arrangement, courtesy of our founding fathers, helps provide a needed buffer against autocrats. Thus, the office of President could be held by a shallow thinking, self-aggrandizing megalomaniac who would be better suited to running a string of used car lots than a country and things would get bit rocky but likely be alright in the end. This speaks to the political/policy side of the argument. The most troubling aspect is the fact that a U.S. President is automatically the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces. In a complex, dangerous, nuclear-armed world, this is a whole other can of worms.

Then we come to the issue of third party candidates. This may be the most serious problem on the horizon. To be clear, I have a largely positive assessment of both the Green Party candidate and the Libertarian Party candidate. Neither is a perfect choice for me but I feel the bits where I quibble with them would be muted by other factors. And neither one seems to be a psychopath or a slimy-opportunistic-politician type. Which is refreshing. So, why will I not likely vote "my conscience"? The answer is simple.  While hardly a scholar of our democratic republic and its complex minutiae, I am able to see where we are at this moment. We are, for good or ill, a two party system. Oh, sure, people can run as a green, a libertarian, a communist, or independent. However because we do not have a parliamentary style of governance, candidates receiving a percentage of the votes are not obliged to form coalitions to hold power. We basically have a winner-take-all system. Thus, third party candidates simply end up shearing votes from the two main candidates. This allows citizens to feel good by voting their conscience (a strategy of which I would never deprive them and to which they are absolutely entitled). However, in a nation so evenly divided, this only muddles the election. Ala, Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court, yadda yadda. 

Disclaimer: one ought not take my reference to parliamentary democracy to mean that I find that system devoid of problems. 

Finally, there is the so-called "down ballot" issue. That is to say, the important Congressional races often do not have third party candidates to whom one can turn and many voters simply pick the person at the top of the ticket (Presidential candidate) and make a party line vote. If the ballot is tricky in any way, this can throw off unsophisticated voters, the elderly, etc.- perhaps leading to unintended consequences.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Part of a larger discussion regarding Black Lives Matter and related matters...

The issues of prejudice are deep in this country and really could use some attention. That said, I take the words of Richard Feynman to heart: "I would rather have questions that can not be answered than answers that can not be questioned".

The point being, BLM can simultaneously be right about prejudice in America and wrong about how to frame the situation. And here is the place I put a stake in the ground and will not be swayed, Ideas are not sacred, Question Everything! If the argument is, these things can be tough to hear when you feel like you or your community is under attack- that's fair. However, the Black Lives Matter movement is comprised of adults who have entered the public marketplace of ideas. In that marketplace there are certain basic rules. Participants encouraged to disagree, but the accepted method is to proffer a different, and presumably superior idea and offer argument to bolster the idea. There is no currency in shouting down people with questions and challenges or claiming to be offended by such questioning.

I would like to offer the following for consideration: failing to hold participants in the marketplace of ideas to these standards is not an expression of warm-fuzzy-compassion. To be clear, love and compassion may well be the best thing we humans do. Period. I unreservedly value my feelings. Feelings provide the motive force behind everything. However, things only make sense in a context. Our use of compassion as a motivator in problem solving is arguably one of our highest achievements. I would likewise argue, using compassion when reason, questioning, and critical thinking is called for, simply dilutes the marketplace of ideas. I, like many others, am awed by our ability to lens the world through these different perspectives and I would not willingly surrender any of it. One might even imagine the human ability to sort through and make ever better use of these facilities may be a way to describe wisdom.

For those who might want to learn more about feelings and why we have them. This book also touches on consciousness: Why We Feel

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Nobody loves a huckster like another huckster.

What Matters?

I suppose this will not make me popular but I ambivalent about the Black Lives Matter group. I am not ambivalent about prejudice and inequitable treatment of minorities. That is a sad situation that we have failed to address. However, when Dr. King gave his speech, he hit every right note. Referring to the problems, he clearly and unambiguously cast a bright light on the plight and challenges of black people. However, if you read carefully, in every remedy or hope for the future his words were inclusive. What I know of Martin Luther King suggests these words were not casually assembled. He was by all accounts a deliberative man with a long-considered message. So, when speaking about the "Dream" for which all of us should strive, it was always "we" and "us". He clearly did not feel this inclusive language diluted the horrors of the oppressed nor the hopes for the future, for the Dream.

We are on the horns of a dilemma in this country. It is beyond contention that we have some real disparity in the way minorities are treated by various arms of government including the police force. If that were not sufficient, we are painting ourselves into a corner trying to have a conversation about the issues. There are some obvious culprits. First is the lack of trust/rapport between the groups. This has us all circling about warily and shouting at each other suspiciously or finger pointing. How will we get to a point where we can put something on the table for discussion when mistrust and suspicion color everything? At the moment there seems to be no meat on the table, only bones of contention.

Monday, July 11, 2016

More on Beliefs

It is a simple concept and so many seem to unable to wrap their minds around it. Human beings deserve a certain basic level of dignity and respect. Beliefs have no feelings and, in the public marketplace of ideas, they are not automatically entitled to respect. Ideas/beliefs may accrue respect as evidence mounts showing them to be good ideas. However, at all times, ideas and beliefs are, and rightly should be, subject to criticism and questioning. I would argue it is more than a point, it is the point.

It is not even that subtle of an argument. In most situations, when encountering a human being, assume they are deserving of basic kindness. If their are ideas are hateful or stupid, feel free to ignore those ideas or challenge them as conditions permit. While challenging ideas, make every reasonable effort to maintain the previously mentioned human dignity. If your efforts fall upon deaf ears remove yourself from that person's company. This should take care of 99.9% of the situations one usually encounters.

Wash, Rinse, repeat.

Check this article:
Sour puss curmudgeon wants to say something relevant...

My response:
Frankly my take on Mr. Giuliani is, he and his antiquated arguments are all but irrelevant at this point. That said, some of his points though crude or insensitive are not entirely without merit. His problem is, largely because he's an ideologue, he comes from an angry moralist position and he does not advance thoughtful solutions. He wants to make it very simple so we can all put it in a box and go on our way.

Here is another consideration that may be more informative. What if he and his ideas are not the biggest problem?

I largely align with Progressives. However, the sad truth is, many of the very people I consider to be "on my team" are engaged in the same kind of bumperstickerization of the issues. (Yup, I made up that word and I really like it.) They are, to a sobering degree, like Giuliani and his ilk. I know what you are thinking. He cant mean that. Oh, but I do, I really do. Far too many Progressives want to make it all so simple. On one hand we rightly want to deconstruct the rhetoric of the Conservatives but do not especially want to question the prepackaged answers of other liberals. Because when one is on the side of tolerance and puppies and rainbows, everything that comes out of ones mouth must smell like roses. Well, news flash. Being liberal does not exempt us from thinking and questioning. It is way too simple to say the other guys are wrong. Progressives seem to have the idea that the problem with Conservatives is: they are hateful, they are racist, they are intolerant, they are wrong-headed. While it is true that some of these things apply to some conservatives, they are not the really bad bits. Huh? Sure those are not endearing positions. However, even the fraction of Conservatives who are racist, hateful, intolerant, or wrong-headed can change. They can become better versions of themselves.

It turns out, the worst thing about the Conservative arguments is exactly the same as the worst thing about the Progressive arguments. And what is that, pray tell? The idea that the arguments should not be questioned. Go ahead, dwell on that a moment. It's worth your time. The pathway that leads people (on either side) to become better versions of themselves always starts with questioning. And what does it end with? If you do it right, it does not end. Questions lead to answers which, in turn, lead to more questions and so on. Wash, rinse, repeat. Questions, answers, more questions.

So, yes. People like Mr. Giuliani do not necessarily bring out our best nature but it does not mean they are automatically wrong about everything. And, it is our job to put forth our best nature. This would include, but not be limited to, keeping an open mind when listening to those with whom we disagree and continuing to question. Everything. Question everything. Really, everything.