Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Failure to Persuade

All these racists suddenly emerging out of nowhere reminds me of the George R.R. Martin quote:
“When you tear out a man's tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you're only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”
At some point between the 1970s and now, the left moved from being a bunch of pacifist flower children spreading a message of colorblind love, to being a bunch of authoritarian post-modernists closely policing what people say and who's allowed to say it, and ostensibly eschewing labels while at the same time continually issuing brand new ones.


I can see how that happened, if not precisely when. The roots, I believe, lie in pacifism, and specifically in non-violent resistance. If your strategy for gaining power rests entirely on casting your enemy as a bully so the rest of the world will feel sorry for you, it leads to embracing hypoagency as being a moral good. This ethic gives rise to victim culture, or as I used to call it, "dueling dysfunctionals." Whomever can prove that s/he had the most tortured, most persecuted existence wins, and the winner gets to define reality, unchallenged, for everyone else. If Jenny wins the prize for being the most victimized, and she says that the biggest problem facing the world today is alien space lizards bent on world domination and disguising themselves as spiders, then we are all commanded by the gods of academe to believe, repeat, and act on that very idea...which is bound to really, really suck for the spiders. If anyone dissents, they're accused of hating Jenny and being in league with the spiders.

But what did that shift from lovers to despots accomplish? Did it make the world more loving and inclusive? Apparently, it just cowed the racists into silence without actually winning their hearts or changing their minds. Do you know why that is? It's because screaming accusations at somebody doesn't tend to be an effective method of persuasion.

To persuade someone, you first have to get them to stop actively resisting having their mind changed. You need to make them feel comfortable enough to let their guard down so, rather than clinging to their position like a drowning person clinging to a bit of flotsam, they're comfortable stepping back with you to look at their position and yours with a more objective eye. To accomplish this, you first have to stop attacking them and make it clear that you're not waiting for just the right moment to pounce and start attacking them again. Then, you have to acknowledge their lived reality. They might be dead wrong about the state of affairs, but even if they perceive things differently than they actually are, that doesn't completely negate the value of their perception. They simply have an incomplete or skewed picture. It's not wrong so much as only right within a very narrow frame of viewing. Stand with them in that place, looking out at the world from their little arrow loop of a window, and show them how to push the boundaries to allow for a wider, more complete view.

This, I feel, is why the left has failed to convert more people away from racism--it never dared to listen to the racists' concerns. It never bothered to acknowledge the racists' anxieties. It just pointed fingers and screamed, "Racist! Nazi! Sub-human filth!" browbeating them into silence. So when the racists, for example, look at the national crime statistics and see that blacks commit about half the murders in America despite being only about 13% of the population, and they fallaciously infer that black people are therefore more inherently violent, the left doesn't acknowledge the statistic and explain why things are that way. They just scream, "You can't say that! That's racist!" The racist shuts up if enough people ostracize him intensely enough, but he remembers that he read the facts and that the leftist failed to refute them or offer any explanation that would negate the racist's (incorrect) conclusion. In his mind, his perception is the truth, backed up by hard, scientific numbers, and the leftist simply says that you're not allowed to speak the truth because it might hurt someone's feelings, and victims' feelings trump facts. Instead of slowly coming around to at least partially accepting the leftist's point of view, he instead decides that leftists are unreasonable and duplicitous, and he withdraws from contact with them, instead seeking the company of others who will echo and validate his racist views.

A friend of mine recently said that Americans need to start taking responsibility for their opinions. That's clearly true among the racists who have been committing random acts of violence against minorities (or encouraging others to do so), but I think it's also true of leftists who can't wrap their minds around the idea of someone daring to do something so heretical as having a different opinion than theirs.

Monday, August 14, 2017

That Old, Familiar Feeling

Reading all these opinion pieces about the violence in Charlottesville has me feeling something I recognize. It's a feeling I felt before, just about a month shy of 16 years ago. At that time, so far as we know, some Islamist extremists hijacked some planes and deliberately crashed them into the World Trade Center. They were bad people, and they should not have done that. No argument.

But while I saw that, I also saw that this didn't happen in a vacuum. It wasn't a matter of some Muslims sitting around in the Middle East saying, "So, Mohammad, who should we attack next? I've got it--how about these people way on the other side of the world, not doing a thing to us?" Nor is it like someone who tries to establish street cred by going into a biker bar and punching out the biggest guy in the bar. The United States actually did some stuff to provoke that reaction.

But there was a time when saying that out loud was considered treason by many. I remember that time. I remember the chill. Just because there was a clear provocation doesn't mean that the attack was justified, and it sure as hell doesn't mean that any of the victims deserved their fate. I'm not saying any of that. But people who are in an emotional state lose the ability to make such fine distinctions. 


When I went to New York after the attack, it was all tears. Well, mostly tears. Now and again, someone would be out there with their anger, but often as not, it was anger at bigots who were acting out against anyone they thought was Muslim. A good 90% of the people I saw and met in Long Island were just interested in consoling each other. They didn't want revenge. They wanted the hurt to stop. They wanted the revenge-seeking to have not happened in the first place.The wanted the violence to end there. As we drove around, I saw groups of people gathered out on the sidewalks and front yards here and there, holding candlelight vigils and prayer circles and hugging each other and crying.


And then I came back to Ohio, and I heard a lot of angry people, red in the face, fuming and expressing hate. They said we needed to nuke Mecca. They said we needed to turn the entire Middle East "into glass." They said lots and lots of things that made them feel like badasses for saying it, things that deliberately and hatefully disregarded the humanity of the people they were saying them about. Islamists attacked us, but the blowback here was against Muslims, not just Islamists. Against Middle Easterners--heck, against foreigners, period. It was raw hate, and the people feeling it felt justified. And it was the majority view. It was made clear--by the people saying these things, by the ones nodding in silent assent, by the media, by the President, and even by people you had expected to know better--that anything more tolerant or even-handed than that would not be countenanced. If these angry-speaking rabble-rousers heard anyone speak in more moderate, less hateful tones, they turned on the speaker as though they'd just uncovered an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell. That was a very scary thing to witness, and to try to avoid being on the receiving end of, and to realize that these people are out of their minds and beyond being reasoned with, and that you have to just take shelter and let it blow by, like a storm. There's no point arguing with a hurricane. You will not make it see reason or calm down.

The thing I want you to hear now is the same thing I was screaming into the storm back then: THEIR BEING WRONG DOESN'T MAKE YOU RIGHT!!!

Just because your enemy went and threw away whatever moral defensibility they may have ever had doesn't mean that you can now go raping dead puppies and call it virtue. Wrong is still wrong even if both sides do it. The ref can call fouls on both sides.





The nazis in Charlottesville are foul. That's undebatable. Trying to explain the reason for their existence is every bit like trying to explain the existence of radical Islamists. That the hateful rhetoric they spew and the violent acts they commit are wrong is also undebatable. 




And that's it. There ends the list of subjects under this topic on which we are not allowed to disagree. The clash in Charlottesville wasn't a debate where, if you can make your opponent lose his cool and start yelling, you win. Nobody wins this. Somebody is dead. Nobody wins dead. I'm going to say it again, because this new generation of liberals seems to have a hard time with the concept of objective reasoning. THEIR BEING WRONG DOESN'T MAKE YOU RIGHT. The fact that the nazis have no credibility does not mean you can say whatever you want and have it go undisputed. Their killing somebody does not mean you win the prize of getting everybody else to shut up and let you be in charge now. Calling a foul on you doesn't mean the ref favors the other team, so quit saying that anyone who disagrees with you is endorsing the nazis. The messed up worldviews of the far left and the far right aren't the only two options. As much as we can liken the white supremacists to the Nazis of WWII, we can liken you guys to the Stalinists of the same era, and the rest of us are Poland, stuck in the middle and screwed if either of you win.





The nazis in Charlottesville were wrong, and you were wrong about Ferguson. A person who robs a store deserves to be arrested for it, no matter what color his skin is. A person who walks up the middle of the street and refuses to move to the sidewalk when ordered by the police deserves to be stopped by the police, no matter what color he is. A person who reaches into a police car and tries to grab a cop's gun will get shot and deserves to be, no matter what color he is. A person who has already been shot by police and makes a second charge at the cop who shot him will be put down, and he has it coming, no matter what color he is. Having brown skin or any other "pity me" marker is no excuse. You keep telling each other over and over until you believe it that blacks are given less leniency and held to a stricter standard by law enforcement. But whether that's true or not, what you have been demanding since at least as far back as the Jenna Six in 2006, is that black people be given more leniency than anyone else, that police give them a wider berth, that they be held less accountable for crimes they do actually commit. You have either denied the existence of black crime or made excuses for it and attacked the enforcers, not just when they act inappropriately, but even when they act appropriately. You have been wrong on this the whole time, and some harebrained racists in Charlottesville killing somebody doesn't mean your wrongness now gets crowned as the unassailable truth.






The nazis in Charlottesville were wrong, and you were wrong about the non-existence of reverse racism. I've heard liberals claim that it's not true that less qualified blacks and latinos are not shown preferences over better qualified whites and Asians under Affirmative Action.
Vijay Chokal-Ingam found otherwise.  

"I studied the statistics and data made public by the Association of American Medical Colleges and came to a surprising conclusion. The data suggested that an Indian-American with my grades (3.1 GPA) and test scores (31 MCAT) was unlikely to gain admission to medical school, but an African-American with the same grades and test scores had a high probability of admission. While I wasn’t able to pin down the exact number, I reasonably calculated that African-American or Hispanic applicants had as much as a 30 to 40 percent better chance of acceptance than I."
Liberals are fond of saying that racial minorities can't be racist, because for someone to be racist, they must both be bigoted and exercise institutional power. The only way one could think that ends the conversation, though, is to presume that no person-of-color has every wielded institutional authority in this country. Such a claim would come as a shock to President Obama, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Bureau of Prisons Director Charles E. Samuels, Jr., and any number of non-white generals, admirals, governors, mayors, commissioners,council members, trustees, board members, superintendents, principals, chiefs, directors, sheriffs,judges, and so on.


A Chinese-American dean at Yale University, Dr. June Chu, recently lost her job for making openly mocking remarks about people she referred to as "white trash." Who do you imagine exercised greater institutional power--Dr. Chu, or the white people she looked down on? We've nearly come full circle, where it's now whites who must bow their heads and walk on eggshells so as not to offend haughty, high-class, powerful minorities, instead of the other way around. I'm not saying that white supremacy should be the norm, but I am saying that when it no longer is, you need to quit claiming that it still is. You want to know how to radicalize an already marginalized people? Oppress them and then claim publicly that they're the ones oppressing you, while you obviously enjoy privileges that they do not. That pushes people's buttons. That's how you get the kind of blowback we saw on 9/11 and on Election Day last year.


 


The nazis in Charlottesville were wrong, and you were wrong about white privilege. Every discussion of white privilege in America makes the mistake of conflating race and class. Checklists of white privilege like those in Peggy McIntosh's famous essay, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, are composed almost entirely of privileges enjoyed only by affluent white people (and some affluent people of other races), but not by poor whites. This is a simple matter of logic: if some red vehicles are planes while other red vehicles are cars, it is incorrect to say that all red vehicles fly. If some people with white skin enjoy the privileges of affluence and other people with white skin do not have access to these privileges, it is incorrect to say that all people with white skin have these privileges.



If you listen to people defend the notion of trans-class, white privilege, the "evidence" they offer nearly always follows the formula of a personal anecdote followed by baseless conjecture. 
"When my black friend walked into the hardware store carrying a backpack, they asked him to check it at the register, like he was some kind of thief. You know if he were white they wouldn't have done that." [We know no such thing, and neither do you.]
"My white friend got stopped by the police for having a brake light out, and they let her go with just a verbal warning. You know if she were black, they probably would have shot her on the spot just for reaching for her license." [No, nobody knows any such thing. You think it, and statistics say you're wrong.]
These are wild speculations, nothing more than ghost stories told around a campfire, eaten up and retold by eager listeners who accept them as factual proof that people of color are the good guys and the white people of the world are actively, if unconsciously, conspiring against them in an evil plot to rule the world. It's bullshit, and the fact that some horrible people killed someone in Charlottesville doesn't mean your bullshit gets to go unchallenged.


The nazis in Charlottesville were wrong, and you were wrong about the gender pay gap. The claim that women make 22-cents on the dollar or thereabouts less than men has been so thoroughly and repeatedly debunked it's not even funny anymore. Feminists appear to be taking a page from the Nazis' own playbook, with the advice that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it. Economists have solidly demonstrated that the disparity between men's and women's average earnings is due to women opting to work less, in lower-paying fields, in lower-paying positions. The National Organization for Women's response to this has been to fall back on female hypoagency, claiming that women can't be expected to be held accountable for their own choices. Nevertheless, women account for two-thirds of all consumer spending worldwide and 80% of consumer spending in the US. If women are earning so much less than men, how are they spending so much more? Whose money do you figure they must be spending? 21st century, Western feminism has become a princess riding in a golden carriage and complaining that the horse is oppressing her. 


The nazis in Charlottesville were wrong, and you were wrong about rape culture. Culture is the set of shared values, attitudes, customs, social conventions, goals, practices, and beliefs of a group. To say that a culture is based on something is to say that all those values, attitudes, etc. have that thing as their foundation. That foundational thing is celebrated, even revered as sacred, and it filters into all aspects of life within that culture. For example, many anthropologists have identified the Scotch-Irish culture of the Appalachian settlers as being an "honor culture," arising from pastoral agriculture, where one's wealth is portable and must be defended against thieves and predators. That idea of not letting a slight go unpunished originated from the need to defend livestock, but it ended up filtering into other aspects of human relations such that we ended up with bloody feuds like the one between the Hatfields and the McCoys. In an honor culture, nobody lets an abuse slide. Respect is both expected and demanded, regardless of whether you own any livestock.


Likewise, we can say that the United States has a gun culture. There are large parts of the country where only a minority of the people actually own guns, and people might panic at the mere sight of one. But even in those places, the police carry guns. People watch movies and play video games where the heroes use guns to rescue victims and defeat villains. Children shoot water and foam darts at one another with toy guns. Even people whose objections to guns are so strong that they deliberately avoid these things still use phrases in their everyday speech like, "shot in the dark," "lock, stock, and barrel," "loaded for bear," and "flash in the pan," possibly having no idea that this is all early firearms terminology. This is what a gun culture looks like.

It stands to reason, therefore, that a rape culture would be a culture in which rape is celebrated and institutionalized. Rape would be a common punishment, perhaps meted out by the courts or schools and employers. The heroes of our dramas would be rapists. We would have songs, traditions, and holidays all centering around the glorification of rape. There would be civic organizations promoting rape and political activist groups lobbying the government to encourage more people to become rapists, or perhaps using public monies to subsidize rape. Characters in children's cartoons would rape each other. Interior design motifs would feature images of rape. That's what a rape culture would look like. 




There's always an exception, isn't there?


We don't have that. We don't have anything even close to that. Believe it or not, we actually prohibit rape and severely punish people who do it! If an entertainer makes light of rape, we treat it as a scandal. The mere accusation of rape can drag a person's reputation from celebrity to pariah. That is not a rape culture.


 

Rape cultures do exist. There is certainly a culture of rape in American prisons, where prisoners--both men and women--use various forms of sexual assault as a means of dominance and social control. But contrast prison culture against mainstream American culture, and it becomes clear that we do not have a culture where we base our shared values, customs, traditions, and beliefs on the practice of rape. The whole notion of rape culture is just another example of radical feminists overstating problems to create the illusion of a patriarchal conspiracy. (Link goes to a 4:44 video.) This allows them to claim the status of victims, which in turn enables them to cast all who disagree with them as co-conspirators who support rape.


The nazis in Charlottesville were wrong, and you were wrong about illegal immigration having no effect on wages. Just as the cost of products and services are controlled by the law of supply and demand, so too are wages. If there's a strong demand for computer programmers who know a particular computing language, and there are only a couple hundred programmers nationwide who know that language, those programmers are going to be in high demand. Employers will compete to get them by offering high wages. Conversely, if somebody needs their lawn mowed or their leaves raked, and there are a few thousand unemployed, capable people desperate to earn some money, the owner of that lawn can pay as little as the law will allow--or less, if they think they can get away with it, say, by employing people who won't go to the police because their very presence in this country is illegal.

Opponents of immigration restrictions, fearing that this fact undermines their position, try to deny it by saying that the only jobs filled by illegal immigrants are the jobs that poor Americans refuse to do anyway. To prove their point, they cite the brutal, farm labor jobs done by migrants for low pay. But these aren't the only jobs done by undocumented workers. They also fill jobs in construction, lawn care & landscaping, child care, other domestic services, maintenance, food processing, and food preparation. These are jobs that low-income Americans do fill, when they can. Without competition from foreigners who will work cheaper, wages would rise.

This is just simple math, and because it is so easy to demonstrate, opponents of immigration restriction tend to derail the debate with accusations of racism, claiming that this very solid argument is just a facade that racists use to conceal their true motivations for wanting to close the borders. But acknowledging the effect of surplus labor on wages doesn't make one a racist, and you don't have to be a racist to acknowledge the effect of surplus labor on wages. There's no correlation between those two things.

Personally, I favor going in the opposite direction. I want to let anybody into the country who wants to come here (barring what felons and terrorists we can stop). I want to make the path to citizenship as easy as possible. America became great in part because we are a melting pot. Unlike the Trump administration, I believe firmly in the words written by Emma Lazarus in "The New Colossus." (You know at least part of it--the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty about "bring me your huddled masses.")





So how do I square that with acknowledging the wage-destroying effect of surplus labor? Not by denying basic facts or by slinging around accusations of racism. Instead, I look for other variables in this equation. If we allow the supply of labor to increase, how do we increase the demand for it accordingly? There are several things we could do. We could put restrictions on remittances of US currency sent abroad, so immigrants will bring their families with them and support them here, spending their earnings on goods and services in the US, instead of sending their money over the border. We could remove a lot of bureaucratic barriers to entry for new businesses, too. It should not be a Herculean task for a poor person--immigrant or not--to start his own business having a hotdog cart on the sidewalk or selling bottles of cold water on a street corner. Remove those barriers and make micro-loans for small businesses more readily available, and you'll not only cause wages to rise, you'll reduce poverty. 

At the same time, we could impose heavy penalties on companies that offshore their manufacturing. "Factory jobs are never coming back--they can be done by robots now," I hear people say. Well, they can have the robots make the stuff here, then. I'd rather those robots be serviced by one, well-paid, American union worker than have that person put out of work by a hundred sweatshop workers in Bangladesh. Likewise, impose protectionist measures to give American companies building things in America a competitive advantage over cheap imports produced by unethical, unsustainable practices. If we do these things, we can increase the number of jobs, increase wages, increase our talent pool here in America, and do it all without cruel deportation policies that terrorize hardworking families.

The point here is that you don't get to change the reality of mathematics just because you're afraid of losing an argument. Don't bully. Be creative. You don't get to tell everyone to shut up and swallow your lies just because people you don't like did something evil.



The nazis in Charlottesville were wrong, and you were wrong about gun control keeping people safer. Before the National Firearms Act of 1934, people in this country owned machine guns. You could even order them through the mail. The Ithaca Auto & Burglar Gun--basically a sawed-off, double-barrel shotgun--was an especially popular weapon among truck drivers, security guards, and those wanting a weapon for home defense. Such weapons were widely available and practically unregulated...yet nobody was shooting up schools. People weren't going postal at work (unless they were gangsters). Even after the NFA was passed, you could still order non-prohibited guns through the mail. I remember in the 1970s, looking through the Sears Christmas catalog, and seeing rifles for sale. Even dynamite was commonly sold in rural feed and hardware stores, as farmers commonly used it to blow tree stumps out of the ground, and no one batted an eye. It was no more alarming or out-of-place than seeing rat poison for sale in your local grocery store today. Even with all these guns and bomb making materials being so easy for anyone to get their hands on back then, we just didn't see mass murder on the scale we have since the 1980s. 



There was one, big school fire started by a bomber in 1927. Bath, Michigan. The guy killed his wife, blew up his own farm, blew up a school, then killed himself by blowing up his own truck. To date, that's the deadliest school attack in US history. 44 dead, mostly kids, and 58 other people injured. But that didn't set off a rash of school bombings, and they didn't stop selling dynamite. Then no more huge massacres until 1966, when a man in Texas killed his mother and his wife, went up a clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, and killed 14 more people and wounded another 31 before police finally killed him. They didn't stop selling hunting rifles after that. Like I said, I saw them for sale through the Sears catalog 12 years later, and it didn't lead to an epidemic of random sniper massacres. There were a couple other mass killings in '66, in Chicago and Mesa, Arizona, but there was no great moral panic leading to the banning of firearms. There were a few other notable incidents in the '70s, but the biggest body counts came from police and soldiers shooting protesters on college campuses.

But then in the 1980s, a guy shot a bunch of people in his office in California. Then there were a few other multiple homicides at workplaces. Somebody shot up a McDonald's. Somebody else shot up a daycare. In 1986, postal workers started going nuts and shooting up their workplaces. There were some school shootings with large numbers of people hurt, but not many killed--notably in Los Angeles (1984), Detroit (1985), Cokeville, Wyoming (1985), Winnetka, Illinois (1988), Greenwood, South Carolina (1988), and Stockton, California (1989). Not all of those were by students. There still wasn't a clear pattern to tie all these mass murders together, but it happened often enough at postal facilities that we now had a new term: "going postal." It was a phenomenon that really hadn't existed before the 1960s (with the sole exception of a teacher in Pasadena who "went postal" and shot seven co-workers when he got fired in 1940).

In 1990, Congress passed
The Gun-Free School Zones Act, and in 1994, they passed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, more commonly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). The same things you're pushing to have banned today--"assault rifles" and "high capacity" magazines--were banned from 1994 to 2004. Your gun control dream actually happened. It was law for ten years, and the Gun-Free Zones are still law today. You know what happened?




1997, Paducah, Kentucky--a boy took some guns to school and shot eight kids.
1998, Springfield, Oregon--a boy murdered his parents, then went to school and shot 25 more people.
1998, Jonesboro, Arkansas--two boys filled a van with guns, food, and camping supplies. They set up a firing position in the woods outside their school, pulled the fire alarm, and then shot 15 people coming out of the school. The boys fled in the van and were caught by police.
1999, Littleton, Colorado--two boys made a whole bunch of bombs, got a hold of some handguns, and sawed off a couple shotguns to make them concealable. They had planned to continue to the airport and wreak havoc with their bombs after finishing their killing spree at school, but they didn't make it that far. They shot 33 people, exchanged fire with the SWAT team, and then killed themselves.
2001. Santee, California--a boy shot 15 people at school.
2004 - Assault Weapon Ban expired. Attempts to renew it failed.
2005, Red Lake, Minnesota--a boy killed his grandparents, then went to school and shot 14 more people before killing himself.
2006, Nickle Mines, Pennsylvania--a man shot up an Amish school--5 dead, 5 wounded--before killing himself.
2007, Virginia Tech--a lone, mentally ill student, who was armed with two handguns he purchased legally after passing a background check, killed 32 people and wounded another 23 before killing himself.
2008, Northern Illinois University--a student with a shotgun shot 26 people before killing himself.
2010, University of Alabama, Huntsville--a female professor went postal and shot six of her colleagues.
2010, University of Texas--only one person was hurt in this one before the shooter killed himself, but I mention it because it's one of the rare cases in which the assailant actually used an "assault rifle"--an AK-47.
2012, Chardon, Ohio--a student opened fire in his high school cafeteria, killing three and wounding three.
2012, Newtown, Connecticut--a man killed his mother, took her guns, went to an elementary school, and shot a whole bunch of people, mostly first graders, before committing suicide. Final casualty count: 28 dead, 2 wounded.
2013, Santa Monica, California--a man killed two of his family members and then went on a shooting spree ending at Santa Monica College. He killed five people and shot 4 more before dying in a gunfight with police.
2014, Marysville, Washington--another high school cafeteria shooting. This one killed four students and wounded another before killing himself.
2015, Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon--a student killed nine people, wounded nine others, battled police, then shot himself.

And those are just the school shootings with high body counts from random killings or workers killing co-workers. I left out lots of school shootings where there were only a few casualties or where the shootings appeared to be connected to gang violence or another fight between aggrieved individuals. The ones I listed are mostly where somebody went into a gun-free zone--a school--and shot as many people as they could, like they were trying to rack up a high score. We still don't fully understand why they're doing this, or why they're doing it now when they didn't used to do it, but we know that's what they're doing--trying to kill as many as they can--and we know that they go to schools to do it, because that's where there are a lot of unarmed, vulnerable victims concentrated in large numbers in one place with nobody to protect them.

The gun-free zones have been law for 27 years now, and they haven't worked yet. They were counterproductive. You might as well replace the words "gun-free zone" with a sign depicting a fish in a barrel. Your policies failed spectacularly, and many, many innocent people are dead now because of it. The American cities with the highest murder rates are also the ones with the tightest weapons restrictions. They aren't working. If anything, they're making it worse, leaving the victims unarmed while doing nothing to disarm the criminals. Reason dictates that it's time to drop the smug, "we-know-best" attitude, swallow your pride, and admit that your conservative opponents are less wrong on this issue than you are. You're afraid of guns. We get it. But your being afraid isn't keeping anybody alive. It's just making them vulnerable. Give honest people a fighting chance and let them fight back, especially where we gather our precious children together in one place like a shooting gallery for psychos. It makes no sense that liquor stores and supermarkets should be guarded better than our schools are.





The nazis are wrong to spew hate. That doesn't mean you know everything. Quit saying that everyone who calls you on that fact is in league with the nazis. It's getting to be where you're almost as bad as they are, just different.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Massive Undertaking



Critics of American gun policies, especially critics from outside the US, often wonder why, with the number of gun-related deaths in America, we don't simply ban guns like Australia did.

Setting aside for a moment that such a ban would be unconstitutional, and that it's far from certain that it would reduce violent crime, and that it could actually cause a greater number of people to be killed because they'd be less able to repel an attacker...setting aside all those things, let's just consider the enforcement of such a ban.

America has a long and unsuccessful history of banning things and then having those bans skirted. When the American colonies were still under British rule, and the Crown imposed too many taxes on the colonists, the colonists simply stopped paying. During the Revolution, even though desertion carried a death sentence, soldiers still deserted anyway, to the point that General Washington started having deserters executed by their own best friends. After the Revolution was fought and Congress disbanded the new country's military forces, they kept a few Navy ships in service to catch smugglers, because there were a significant number of merchants willing to sneak goods into the country illegally rather than obeying the law and paying the required taxes.

In the 1920s, in response to a nationwide epidemic of alcoholism, Congress passed the 18th Amendment, which banned alcohol. That ban lasted just shy of 15 years. The battles between police and alcohol traffickers, not to mention the battles between the criminals themselves, cost countless lives. By some reports, alcohol became even more available during Prohibition because there was no regulation of production or distribution, and the profit motive was greater. In 1971, President Nixon declared a War on Drugs. Forty-six years later, we're still at it. The drugs are still there, people's lives are ruined as much by overzealous enforcement as by the drugs themselves, and nobody's benefiting but the private prison industry. Forty-six years later, the drugs aren't gone, and the states, one by one, are starting to decriminalize drugs in defiance of federal law.

My point here is that Americans have a long history of looking at legal prohibitions as being "helpful suggestions" more than absolute moral codes. The very founding of our nation was a defiance of the law.

This is important to keep in mind when envisioning what enforcement of a gun ban in the United States would actually look like. Given that many gun owners see their guns as quasi-religious talismans representing liberty itself, and that even less idealistic gun owners often see their guns as necessary, lifesaving, safety equipment, many say they would fire on anyone who tried to seize their guns. G. Gordon Liddy infamously advised his radio audience that when the ATF showed up to seize their guns, "Just remember, they’re wearing flak jackets and you’re better off shooting for the head.”

As with firearms, many Americans also have a patriotic, sentimental attachment to fireworks, which they set off in celebration of Independence Day on the 4th of July each year. Unlike guns, nobody sees these fireworks as being necessary for self-preservation. Nobody is relying on fireworks to protect their family from criminals. Nobody's counting on fireworks for protection against a violent ex-spouse. They aren't stockpiling fireworks to fend off invading armies or government tyranny. It's just for fun.

Fireworks regulations vary from state to state. In Ohio, adults are allowed to possess sparklers, smoke devices, and "bang snaps"--tiny noisemakers that explode when thrown against a hard surface. But the state bans residents from purchasing firecrackers, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and fountains without signing an affidavit promising to transport them out of the state within 48 hours. It requires any Ohioan possessing aerial burst fireworks to be a licensed pyrotechnician. The Ohio State Fire Marshall's Office says it seizes about 15,000 pounds of illegal fireworks annually. Violations--including falsifying paperwork, illegal possession, and exploding fireworks in-state--are usually 1st degree misdemeanors, carrying a punishment of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for a first offense. With all of this in mind, listen to this video I recorded in my back yard in Columbus, Ohio, on the Fourth of July this year. Neighbors in every direction were shooting off not just firecrackers and bottle rockets, but professional aerial display fireworks. (You'll get a few, brief glimpses of these in the video, but otherwise it's all dark. Just listen to the sounds.) Each pop you hear is a violation of the law that could get a person locked up for six months. Turn up the sound and have a listen to how much people care about the threat of fines and imprisonment getting in their way of having a good time celebrating their nation's founding.



Despite the ease of tracking down who's making giant explosions over their back yards, police make little attempt to enforce the fireworks ban simply because non-compliance is overwhelming. If they actually attempted to arrest every illegal fireworks possessor, they'd be doing nothing else but that, and they'd still fail to catch all violators.

If Americans will willfully defy the law on this scale to obtain and very conspicuously explode illegal fireworks just for fun, imagine how much greater the defiance would be to possess something they see as protecting their lives and ensuring all their other rights.

So that's one reason we don't ban guns here. There just wouldn't be any point. We'd have to create a massive, new law enforcement agency with incredible powers to do unannounced, door-to-door searches just to make a dent in the number of privately possessed firearms. And a lot of the gun owners would shoot back. It's estimated that there are more than 300 million guns in America. How many law enforcement officers would it take to seize them all by force? We would essentially need to employ an army to invade and occupy our communities. We would be turning our own homeland into Iraq, with troops fighting door to door in our streets. Millions would die, forcing us to reconsider what the point of banning guns was in the first place.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Black America: You Are More Likely to Be Struck by Lightning Than to Be Shot by Police While You're Unarmed

It's bad enough that I stayed up 'til 5:00 a.m. to write this. I'll get around to linking my sources later. Proofreading, too. Most of the data are from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, but there are some from newspapers, too. Anyway...

A friend of mine posted this helpful video on Facebook to explain why anyone who has any objection to anything said or done by Black Lives Matter should just STFD & STFU. It's short--about four minutes. Watch it before reading on. Notice how compelling it is, how "truthy." Sorry I don't know how to embed Facebook videos here. Just follow the link.


Franchesca Ramsey refutes 4 remarks BLM disapproves of

This would be great except...

-3:35 "This assumes that the black community isn't worried..."

Wrong. Black Lives Matter is not "the black community." It is a specific organization with founders, leaders, local chapters, a written agenda, and a website where you can learn these things. What's being criticized is BLM, specifically. Trying to divert that to be a criticism of the black community, as a whole, is intellectually dishonest. It infers that anyone who disagrees with the group is racist, which is a tactic used to silence the group's critics. It's also a setup for a straw man argument. She can make a great case for how "the black community" and Cease Fire (a whole separate organization) are doing what BLM is being criticized for NOT doing...but that doesn't let BLM off the hook.

-3:19 "It's about the lack of consequence when black lives are taken at the hands of the police."

This statement presumes that all police killings of black people are cases of wrongful death. Most of them aren't. The vast majority are legitimate cases of self-defense. Why should a legitimate act of self-defense have "consequences?" If an armed robber shoots at people and the police return fire and kill the robber, the only consequences for the officers should be that they get some sort of recognition, maybe an award of some sort.

And in the cases of wrongful shootings, where consequences are appropriate, why should those consequences be limited to just killings of black people and not all people wrongfully killed by the police? Again, the inference we're supposed to absorb unchallenged is the idea that when the people getting shot by police are black, they're less often deserving of it than people who aren't black.

-3:16: "When a civilian has committed a violent crime..."

Again, she's conflating legitimate uses of force with criminal cases of excessive force. The message we're supposed to get is that every time a black person gets hurt in a conflict with a police officer, the police officer was the one in the wrong. Apparently, black people are supposed to enjoy some sort of special immunity from police use of force when they resist arrest or fight police.

I want you to stop and look at your own thought process for a moment, because BLM has really put a lot into drumming this particular message into people's heads over the past couple years. Coca-Cola should seriously look into hiring these people. When you hear numbers of black people injured or killed by police, your emotional reaction is based on the presumption that every one of those injuries and deaths was unprovoked and undeserved. When you recoil in horror at whatever number it is, you're not thinking, "OMG, why are black people so violent? Why are they being violent towards police officers at such a higher rate than everyone else is?" No, you're presuming each death was a murder, each injury a criminal assault, and that it was all motivated by racist police going out hunting black people for sport. That idea has no basis in fact, so why is it something you take for granted without even thinking about it anymore? That's the power of marketing and peer pressure.

-3:12: "Conversely, there's a lot of evidence that it's very rare to secure an indictment against a police officer for excessive force."

No, that's not a converse relationship. A true contrast would have been to look at how civilians who commit violent crimes are treated relative to police officers who commit violent crimes. But it wouldn't have been much of a contrast, because generally speaking, cops who commit violent crimes get prosecuted for them just like anyone else. You could fill a whole book with instances of cops who've been prosecuted for assault, stalking, domestic violence, all the way up to murder. I just heard of an Atlanta officer who's being tried for murder because of a shooting he was involved in on-duty. And the South Carolina officer who killed Walter Scott--he's been indicted for murder. He goes to trial this October. The officers in Baltimore who were involved in Freddie Gray's death were all charged with crimes and stood trial.

But none of that supports the narrative she's selling, so instead of contrasting criminal acts against criminal acts, she compares legitimate uses of force to criminal acts. She's right--it IS very rare to secure an indictment against a police officer for excessive force, just as it's very rare to secure an indictment against a police officer for bank robbery or blowing up a school or hijacking an airplane, and for the same reason--it's very rare that there's a case that warrants an indictment.

But, but...that would mean law enforcement officers are generally law-abiding people! We can't allow that conclusion! It doesn't support the theme here, which is: All police force against black people is excessive. No police officer ever has any reason to put his or her hands on a black person, and if they do it, it's a crime. And when the police don't get penalized for these "crimes," it's because the system is corrupt, not because the police did nothing wrong. All black people are innocent. And if you don't believe it, it's because you're a racist.

-3:01: "Black-on-black crime isn't a thing."
Oh, really? Despite the fact that blacks are only 13% of the population, they commit slightly over HALF of all murders in America...and most of their victims are black. If it's not a thing, then why was she just saying at the beginning of the video about how concerned about it "the black community" and Cease Fire are?

But most of you who are eating up her words don't even know what the Uniform Crime Report IS, let alone what it says, so she can claim whatever she wants, and you'll believe it so long as it paints all black people as angels and cops as the boogeyman.

-2:34: "But the truth is black people are not more violent or more likely to commit crimes than anyone else."

PANTS ON FIRE!!! In 2012, according to the FBI, 28.12% of all violent offenders were black. At only 13% of the population, that means blacks are committing slightly over TWICE their "share" of violent crimes.

Now, to be clear, this doesn't mean that any particular individual is more likely to be violent. It could well be (and likely is) that a very tiny portion of that population is committing most of those crimes. This woman may be trying to sanctify an entire race of people, but just because I disagree with her doesn't mean I'm trying to demonize an entire race. But the numbers tell us that either violent individuals are more common among blacks; or that they're no more common among blacks than anyone else, but the ones who are violent are drastically more violent than the violent people of other races. We really can't say which from the data available, but it's one or the other.

-2:30: "The reality is, because of the history of institutional racism..."

Here she gives some very good reasons for the higher rate of violence among blacks...the violence she just claimed doesn't exist. "I didn't hit him, officer! And besides, he provoked me."

-2:22: "(Black communities)...are more likely to be targeted by police."

If by "targeted" you mean more patrol units are assigned to the precincts where the most crimes are being reported, yes. Why shouldn't they be? When you report that your house is on fire, you don't expect the fire engines to go instead to an address twelve blocks away where there's no fire, just so you can avoid feeling stigmatized. The cops go where the crime is--and most residents get upset if they don't.

-2:05: "Becoming a police officer is an occupation. It's a choice."

So is religion. By her logic, it's less wrong to oppress Jews than to oppress blacks, because Jews have the option of converting if they want to. So quit yer crybaby whining about the Holocaust, I guess, 'cause people of color have claimed king-of-the-hill status as Supreme Victims. Nobody else is allowed to complain when people RANDOMLY KILL THEM simply for belonging to a group.

Moreover, if police officers were to try to please BLM, it would basically mean not fighting back when someone attacks them anytime the attacker is black. Police, apparently, should just let black criminals shoot them. That sure as heck sounds like they think blue lives don't matter.

-1.43: "...this movement is not saying black lives matter more than anyone else's."

It is most certainly saying, however, that black people's concerns matter more than anyone else's. In the organization's early days, when people of other races, marching in solidarity, would try to include themselves in the cause by carrying signs saying "Black & Brown Lives Matter" or "All Lives Matter" (yes, that was initially a slogan of the organization's sympathizers, not its opponents), BLM leadership shut them down and told them to get their own slogan instead of trying to steal the spotlight from black people. Sympathizers of other races were told that making it a multi-racial, multi-cultural movement would dilute the message.

The message that cops shouldn't hurt people when they're not supposed to...right? How is that message "diluted" by getting a huge cross-section of America on board? See, this isn't about ending wrongdoing by the police. It's about black identity, and making cops afraid to lay a hand on black criminals.

-1:35: "It's totally okay for a movement to focus on issues specific to one marginalized group."

So excessive use of force by the police is happening only to one, specific, marginalized group, eh?

-1:27: "A breast cancer walk isn't unfair to other forms of cancer."

Well, it is, actually. Breast cancer is big business, what with Pinktober and all, and other cancers that are just as lethal get underfunded trying to compete, but that's off-topic. Instead, let's bring this back to the point I was just making about black concerns mattering more than others. Suppose instead of being a breast cancer walk, it was a "Redheads with Breast Cancer" walk or a breast cancer walk only for women whose first names start with the letters A through L, and there's not another one scheduled for M through Z. Does that strike you as being very just? Or compassionate? Or inclusive? Do justice and compassion and inclusion matter?

See, just as breast cancer affects more than just women with names starting with A through L, police violence--and more precisely, unjustified police violence--affects people of all races, not just black people. But yet, the demand is that people of all races get behind muzzling the police...but only for the benefit of blacks.

-1:15: "Because of the brutalizing and killing of black people at the hands of police..."

Again, pushing the idea that we aren't talking about self-defense against black criminals who fight the police, or about justified use of force to effect an arrest of someone who's resisting, but just illegal attacks of any random, innocent black person. This is a total misrepresentation of the situation. When a lie this big is repeated this often, it behooves us to ask whom has what to gain by having people believe it.

-0:56: "...but when you look proportionately within the populations, black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers."

YES, and that figure correlates very closely with blacks' higher likelihood of committing violent crimes! Blacks are only 13% of the population but account for about 25% of all people shot by the police AND for 28% of violent criminals AND over HALF of all murderers! You can only hide for so long from the fact that most of the people getting shot by police are the same people SHOOTING AT police and others.

This next part was brilliant. I betcha whoever wrote this part has it framed somewhere. This is a resumé builder:
-0:46: (Graphic still says "Black men make up just 6% of the nation's population.") "...but of all the unarmed people shot and killed by police in 2015..."

My, that's mighty specific. Unarmed. Shot by police. Died of their wounds. 2015 and only 2015. That's got to be a fairly tiny sample Where's she going with this?

Keeping in mind, of course, that when she says, "unarmed," that's a dog whistle that's supposed to make you think, "not dangerous, not capable of killing someone with their bare hands, not trying to grab the officer's gun" as well as "a completely unjustified shooting, a murder." When she says, "shot by police," you're supposed to think, "wrongfully shot by police."

-0:42: (Ta-daa! The graphic now says, "Black men make up just 6% of the nation's population. But 40% of police killings in 2015." The 40% is printed extra large, and there was even a sound effect that went along with presenting it.) "...FORTY percent of them were black men."

A good magician can tell you what he's doing even as he's doing it, and you'll still miss it, so let me tell you what you just missed there in case you didn't catch it.

That black men make up 6% of the population is not an Earth-shattering statement all by itself, and by itself, it's not really even relevant to the discussion. But it still gets its own graphic as she reads it word for word. This is to hold your attention on the graphic. While you're holding your attention on the fact that black men are 6% of the population, she rattles off something about unarmed people, something your subconscious interprets as meaning "wrongful shootings by the police."

Then, riiiip! Look what the graphic now says. It doesn't say that black men, that 6% of the population, made up 40% of some relatively tiny number of people. It says that black men, 6% of the population, make up 40% of police killings. All of them. There's nothing up there about "unarmed," and you've probably forgotten about that part by now anyway, right? You're just thinking, "Wow, 40% of all people unjustly killed by police were black!"

According to the Washington Post, in 2015, police fatally shot 965 human beings. 564 of those people were armed with a gun. 281 were armed with some other weapon. (That's a total of 845 armed out of 965 total.) Ninety were unarmed. That doesn't mean non-aggressive, not presenting a threat, necessarily. They could have been sitting on an officer's chest, beating her head into the concrete for all we know. Or it could have been a negligent error on the officer's part, like some innocent bystander catching a stray bullet during a gunfight, or an officer thinking someone was reaching for a weapon. And in a very few cases, that might actually rise to the level of criminal negligence, where a cop will do time because he shot someone who was no threat at all for reasons even the officer himself is unclear about.

40% of 90 is 36. Now that's nothing to sneeze at. That's three a month. We don't know exactly what portion of those were innocent, non-aggressive people, or even aggressive people who maybe could've been handled without deadly force. It wasn't all of them, despite BLM wanting us to think that, but it was probably more than one or two, and those people's lives matter. It is a tragedy that they were killed, and the causes need to be addressed.

But let's also get a little perspective. In a country of 318,900,000 people, about 42 million of whom are black, with close to 800,000 cops working in 17,895 law enforcement agencies, 36 unarmed black men got shot in a whole year, and only a portion of them shouldn't have been.

This is the "genocide." This is what's making people so angry they kill cops two and three and five at a time--any cops, not even ones being aggressive toward black people. This is what a handful of radical feminists are using to manipulate everyone into agreeing with anything they say or risk being discounted as racist. That maybe 30-some people got accidentally killed with a weapon that kills pretty quickly and effortlessly, even by mistake, is what's making the black community afraid to death to encounter a police officer.

36 out of 42 million. That's a one-in-1,166,667 chance that you'll be shot to death by police while unarmed. You are LITERALLY MORE LIKELY TO BE STRUCK BY LIGHTNING than to be shot by a cop while you're unarmed. I looked it up.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Bernie Has Not Given Up, and He Won California

I think it should be pointed out that since Tuesday (well, since Monday, actually) there have been a lot of misleading headlines out there giving the impression that Sanders has thrown in the towel and is endorsing Hillary.

He's done nothing of the sort. He and Hillary have said that they'll "work together" to defeat Trump, but neither has conceded to the other. When Reporters tried to ask Bernie questions after his meeting with Obama, Harry Reid waved them away and wouldn't entertain any speculation that Bernie had quit. Later, speaking on his own, Reid told reporters something to the effect of "I don't imagine Bernie would refuse" to help Clinton beat Trump, but nowhere had Bernie made anything like a concession speech.

To the contrary, he's fighting her in the D.C. primary next.

An article was published on a website called JUSTICEGAZETTE.ORG making the case that Bernie Sanders actually won California by a landslide, and election fraud named Hillary as the winner. Many have been skeptical. Who's ever heard of this website? CNN doesn't say anything about fraud in California. None of the big networks do. Instead, they all have pictures of a smiling Bernie next to headlines suggesting he's supporting Hillary now.

OF COURSE this story is going to come from some amateurish little fish wrapper publication! Hillary and the big media outlets are all on the same payroll! That's been deafeningly clear all through this election. I don't know why anyone should now start acting surprised by the fact. There was practically a media blackout on Bernie while he was getting more donors than Hillary. Then they were giving him a token mention followed up with, "Of course, he can never really win," just before he won state after state. For the first time ever, they included superdelegates in the running tally of who was winning, because even in states that Sanders WON (like Washington), most superdelegates refused to support him.

So some little rag written by someone who could stand to take a journalism course or two wrote that journalists who support Bernie are getting shoved to the side while Hillary supporters are given the choice spots. Is this really all that incredible a statement? It correlates perfectly with what we're observing.

Cut through the brand marketing and look at the substance. Forget the "a popular actress said" or the speculations and look at what facts were reported: There are parts of California where you'd be hard pressed to even find a Hillary supporter other than at a Hillary rally, places where TENS OF THOUSANDS of people rallied for Bernie while a few hundred showed up to support Hillary...and yet Hillary won those districts. How?

No, really...how? It's like if you heard tomorrow that San Francisco had elected a Bible-banging homophobe for mayor, or Texas had elected a communist governor, or Baltimore or Oakland had elected a white supremacist, or Las Vegas elected someone who wants to shut down all the casinos and chase out the tourists despite visibly massive, overwhelming support for that person's rival.

More Californians favored Bernie than Hillary. They supported him 2:1 over Hillary in the run-up to the election. This much is documented, regardless of how chintzy you think JUSTICEGAZETTE.ORG might be. And then they show a video--a video that Hillary's party has been showing for years--of a computer programmer who works for a company that writes vote-flipping programs testifying under oath about how easy it is to produce a 51-49 win for any candidate, and why he believed that it appeared that had happened in Ohio in 2004.

That's what's called circumstantial evidence. Contrary to what every detective show and court drama ever produced would have you believe, "circumstantial" doesn't mean "invalid." Circumstantial evidence is evidence. It's not usually as rock solid as some other sorts of evidence, but sometimes, it's the most solid that's possible. For example, let's say you're home babysitting your little nephew, Roger. Roger loves cookies, he loves to climb, and he knows he's not supposed to have any cookies until after dinner. You're watching TV shortly before getting up to make dinner, and you hear a crash from the kitchen. You run in an find Roger sitting on a stack of books on the counter. There's a chair pulled up to the counter, books stacked on the chair. The cabinet where the cookie jar is kept is open, and the cookie jar is smashed to pieces on the floor. You don't have to be a genius to see that Roger climbed up to get the cookies and caused the jar to fall. Do you have video of this happening? Eyewitnesses? Roger's fingerprints or DNA samples from the cookie jar or the cabinet handle? Any evidence that the crime wasn't actually perpetrated by Roger's imaginary friend Herbie, as he claimed (right after he claimed that nothing happened and before he changed his story to say that the Ninja Turtles did it)? You and Roger are the only ones in the house. There are no pets, no vermin, no open windows or strong breezes. You, however, are not an investigative journalist for a billion-dollar broadcast news channel. Now, do you doubt your conclusion that Roger knocked down the cookie jar? Is there any doubt at all? "All you have" is circumstantial evidence.

It's that same kind of situational evidence that's making it obvious that this election was stolen. If we want to be sure the results were wrong, there'd have to be a hand-counted recount of paper ballots. If we want to be 100% certain that the error was intentional, we'll have to have a programmer look at the source code of the program used to count the votes. But common sense and a simple understanding of math tell you that if, going into the polls, some number of people say they're voting for Hillary and TWICE AS MANY say they're voting for Bernie, and then the election results say Hillary wins...somethin' ain't right.

But as the infomercials say, "Wait! There's more!" Even without hacking the vote count, there's the matter of so many Bernie supporters--easily identified by software used during pre-election canvassing--and ONLY them, being given provisional ballots that were never counted.

This is the 2000 Florida all over again, but without any hanging chads. Just count all the damned ballots. How hard is that to understand? People who were registered voted. Count their votes.
That's not being done, and people are laughing that the mere idea that all the votes should be counted is just some lunatic blogger crying sour grapes.

I'm done with it. If Bernie doesn't get the nomination, I'm voting for Trump. He'll try (and fail) to do such horrible things that the military will remove him, or the UN will step in, or we'll otherwise have some sort of Constitutional crisis requiring a new Constitutional convention. Then we can finally break up this monstrous empire into a more sane collection of appropriately sized nations. The South can finally have their apartheid Baptist theocracy where everyone's required to carry three machine guns, and the Northeast can have their bans on large sodas while staging elementary school performances of the Torch Song Trilogy. We can finally stop lumping together the Great Lakes and prairie states as "the Midwest" (like Cleveland and Detroit have anything at all in common with Kansas and Iowa) and let California do its own thing.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Stronghold Economics



Today I heard a story on the radio about a local foundry shutting down. They interviewed the workers. They were all very unhappy about it, and they all sounded all rather unintelligent, too, meaning they probably have few other options besides doing the work they've always known. Every one of them makes more money than I do. Any one of them would probably be seen as having a better work ethic than I. Probably all of them are financially self-sufficient (at least to the extent that you can say someone who depends on a regular paycheck from someone else is "self-sufficient"). I tried to picture myself in their shoes, working my entire life at a foundry or factory or what have you, and it seemed like hell. It seemed like prison-lite. I could do it for a set period of time, to achieve a particular goal, especially if the payoff were substantial. But I couldn't just resign myself to thinking that my only purpose in life is to make money for someone else's business. Thinking of lying on my death bed saying, "Well, I didn't do much with my life, but at least I taped a whole bunch of boxes shut for Plasticorp!" seems like the saddest thing in the world to me.

But I look at where I am financially, by contrast. I look at the struggles that come of not having a regular job and the challenges I've had building wealth. I worry that I will not be a proper role model for my children, especially for my son, and that they will have a harder time supporting themselves as adults as a result of not seeing me go away for so many hours a day, working on someone else's schedule.

But then I thought about what I do, and how my son spends most of his free time, and I'm not quite so concerned. He likes to play civilization-building computer games. One of his favorites is called Stronghold. Let me explain how Stronghold works.

In Stronghold, you are a medieval lord. You start each phase of the game with nothing but a house, some gold, and some undeveloped land. You're given an objective, anything from something as simple as "grow this number of apples" to "rescue Lady Elspeth from the evil knight in the neighboring kingdom." In some of the more complex challenges, you'll start off with more than just the house, but generally, you have to start from scratch at the beginning of each round.

Starting from scratch means that first, you build a storeroom. The storeroom doesn't produce anything. It's just where you keep your stuff. Any homeless person can tell you how critical this is to accumulating any sort of wealth. After the storeroom, you build a woodcutter's hut, because you can't build anything else in the game until you have some wood (that you keep in your storeroom, which is why you have to build that first). To get wood, you must have a woodcutter cut it, and to get someone to come to your castle and work as a woodcutter, you have to build him a woodcutter's hut.

The next step is to procure some food. The quickest, simplest, cheapest way is to build a hunter's hut. The hunter will kill game to feed himself and the woodcutter, putting any surplus in the...no, not the storeroom. He'll put the surplus in the granary, which you need wood and gold to build. You can also build various sorts of farms and mines to harvest other natural resources, and then build different types of workshops for craftsmen to turn those raw resources into weapons, armor, and other useful and valuable commodities.

Having laid all this infrastructure and stockpiled a mass of weapons and armor in your armory, and having built elaborate fortifications from wood and stone to defend your home and all you've built, you can start raising an army. To support all these workers and soldiers, you need to have enough food and housing to support them all, as well as means of keeping their spirits up and keeping them out of trouble. Only after you've done all this and trained an army of sufficient size can you then take on the tasks of defeating your enemies, rescuing damsels in distress, or what have you. You can still fail at this point. You can suck as a general and totally botch your military operations.  But the point is that even if you are a brilliant strategist and tactician, you still have to start from scratch chopping wood.

We live in a society where labor is divided up into many, highly specialized roles. In our world, you can train to be that military commander and nothing else. You don't have to work through wood chopping and eel fishing to get there. The thinking is that you'll be a better commander if you focus on nothing else but learning to command troops effectively. This is true. But what happens to that brilliant commander if he upsets his king? If the king casts him out, and (because of this) none of the other kings want to hire him, what does he do? Does he become a miller or a cook? A wine maker or a pole turner?

In my case, I wandered onto the next screen to be the lord of the next level. I started with a house and a storeroom and a little bit of gold to build a woodcutter's hut. I built the hut, but nobody came to work there, so I worked as the woodcutter myself. I chopped wood until I had enough to build a farm, but when that happened, I was out of food and had to sell some of the wood to keep myself fed. So it was back to chopping, to once again acquire enough wood to build the farm. Then I had it, but needed gold to build the farm, so I sold some of the wood and went back to chopping to replenish what I'd sold. Finally, I had enough wood, gold, and food to build the farm. I built the farm, and no sooner had the crop started to ripen than it was attacked by thieves. And wolves. And neighboring armies of inspectors and enforcement officers from the kingdoms of Health, Building, and Zoning. Each time, I'm back to cutting wood to try to accumulate enough to move on to the next phase.

But unlike those guys at the foundry, I keep on, because I have an objective. My game ends when my life ends. Not before, and I don't get another turn after, so I have to keep on 'til I get it right. My objective is to give my kids a head start when they start their game. My goal is for them to already have a storeroom, a woodcutter's hut, a hunter's camp, a farm, and maybe a couple workshops going by the time they're ready to start the game. It's unlikely I'll ever be called on to rescue Lady Elspeth. Maybe that won't happen until my great-great-grandchildren get a turn. But I won't see my kids struggle just to get past the woodcutter's phase, so I'm trying to get that stuff done for them to lay the groundwork for their later success.

When I worked a regular job and dreamed of what I'd rather be doing, I used to wish I could be a pioneer. I wished I could go into an undeveloped land and, working as a generalist--building structures, growing crops, establishing security, building a community--laying all the groundwork for a new civilization to establish itself.

I see now that I got my wish, and I'm happy for it. I may get frustrated that the game is too full of wolves and raiders when I'm still unprepared to fend them off, but I am so incredibly fortunate just to be playing the game. I think my kids will do fine.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How to Lie With Statistics

I recently saw an article from Mother Jones, a publication not known for its impartiality, titled "A Majority of Cop Killers Have Been White." This comes as no surprise. Setting aside for a moment the predominant whiteness of anti-government, "sovereign citizen" militias and their propensity toward cop-killing, the fact is that most people in the United States are white (presently 77.7%), so even if all races killed cops at an equal rate, a majority of the cop-killers would be white. That's how proportionality works--if you have a majority in an overall group, they will also be the majority of all proportionally represented sub-groups. If you have a pitcher of Kool-Aid made of 99.8% water, then any size cup of that Kool-Aid will also be 99.8% water.

Sub-groups aren't always proportional, though. For example, although 77.7% of people in the United States are white, only 69.8% of all persons arrested in the US in 2013 were white. Studying such disparities can lead us to important insights. The problem is that people pushing their pet political agendas often present the disparities as if they were insights in and of themselves. Such presentations rely on shared assumptions and prejudices. For example, an audience that shares the view that non-white Americans are oppressed victims would see this disparity as prima facie evidence that the American criminal justice system is disproportionally hard on non-whites and easy on whites. An audience that is biased in favor of whites and against non-whites, however, would see the disparity as being proof that whites are more law-abiding, while non-whites are more prone to criminality. When such an assertion is presented to a like-minded audience, it tends to slide by unchallenged and serves only to bolster the audience's confidence in their belief that their prejudices are correct. Psychologists call this phenomenon "confirmation bias."

Notice, for example, that when left-leaning journalists and bloggers speak of the number of persons arrested, convicted, incarcerated, or killed by police, they tend to speak in terms of rates rather than percentages. The reason is that in all of these cases, whites make up the majority, but the majorities are less than proportional. For example, while black Americans make up 13.2% of the population, 23.8% of all people arrested in 2013 were black. So if you want to confirm the bias that black people are treated unfairly, you could present this disparity without further data and interpret it (without supporting evidence) as being proof that the preconceived notion is correct. "Of course black people are treated unfairly! Just look at the numbers!" The unquestioned presumption is that the extra 10.6% of black people arrested didn't deserve to be.

Mother Jones points out that the majority of cop killers are white, and this is true--in 2013, out of 28 known cop killers, 15 of them were white and 11 were black (race was not reported for the other two offenders). Clearly, the majority were white. Bad! Bad, bad white people! But that also means that only about 53.57% of the cop killers were white, while whites are 77.7% of the population overall. On the other hand, about 39.29% of cop killers were black, while blacks are only 13.2% of the population overall. So whites are underrepresented among cop killers, while three times as many blacks are cop killers as would be proportional.

Given the tiny numbers we're talking about, none of this says anything about the relative characters of these races. The character of millions of white and black Americans is not defined by a couple dozen cop killers. But when someone wants to promote one group as good or bad, they'll enhance or diminish the appearance of the numbers regarding that group by shifting to discussion of either percentage or rate, accordingly. When Mother Jones wants to make white people sound worse than black people (as they do), they'll present numbers that show (gasp!) that the majority group commits the majority of a particular type of heinous crime, while glossing over the fact that members of the group they're trying to lift up are more than three times as likely to commit that same crime. I'd presume Fox News would do the same thing in reverse.

In fact, I've seen this done by the other side often enough. When right-wing publications, which see poverty as symptomatic of laziness rather than victimization, want to represent minorities as being lazier than white people, they'll point to the higher rate of blacks receiving food stamps. When left-wingers want to counter those facts, they simply point out that the vast majority of food stamp recipients are white...which tells us nothing, given that whites are in the majority generally.

But even aside from whether we're talking about percentage or rate, there's the issue of assuming what the data implies, as I alluded to on the food stamp issue. Are a higher rate of blacks than whites receiving food stamps because they're lazier, or more likely to be discriminated against in hiring for better-paying jobs, or because their families weren't allowed to accumulate wealth in generations past, or any number of any reasons? It's not evident from the data. But we'll pretend it is, if it seems like the numbers support our conclusions.

As such, you can use data to lie without even changing the type of figure (percentage vs. rate) used. For example, pro-black groups will speak of the higher rate of blacks arrested and convicted. But feminists will point out that the vast majority of people arrested and convicted are men. Bad, bad men! The problem is, these are often the same people. A lefty feminist can believe that more men being arrested is proof that men are inherently more criminal than women, while simultaneously believing that more black people being arrested is proof that the system is racist. We'll move the goal post without even realizing we're doing it. If we used arrest rates as a benchmark of criminal nature, then we'd have to conclude that both men and blacks are more criminal than women and whites, respectively. If we instead use arrest rates as a benchmark of injustice (again, with the implied assumption that the excessive number of arrestees didn't deserve to be arrested), then we must conclude that the system is rigged against both men and blacks. Neither of those views fit neatly into the political boxes as they've been drawn by the two major political parties, however, so people will change the standards from one group to the next as it suits their purposes.

tldr; Data is not analysis. When you hear "most of" or "the majority" or "at a higher rate," look for the rest of the story and carefully study the underlying causes before jumping to any conclusions. If you're seeing the world through any chosen ideology, the facts are probably not always going to support your point of view.