Vaguely related comments on parenting

1. Why Parenting might be a lot less important than most people think it is
To me, a significant part of parenting is about providing leadership. One thing I learned a long time ago is that leaders have a lot less influence than they think they do, especially in situations where people are not compelled to follow leaders (and adolescents have limited interest in following any input or advice from many authority figures).

2. The old shibboleths about how to control adolescent sexual activity

Lock Up Your Daughters – 21st Century Style

I found this on my wall this evening.
IMMEDIATE DISCLAIMER – I AM NOT A BIOLOGICAL PARENT. If you only take opinions seriously from biological parents, Exit Now.
Comments and thoughts follow.

1. The last time I looked, the Immaculate Conception has only been written about in a very old collection of books, and has yet to be observed in nature. I assume that the equivalent injunction about sons is to be found on the Internets somewhere.

2. The age of puberty in the Western world has been dropping – and quickly. Here is a quote from a recent article in the Guardian:

“…the statistics provided by German researchers. They found that in 1860, the average age of the onset of puberty in girls was 16.6 years. In 1920, it was 14.6; in 1950, 13.1; 1980, 12.5; and in 2010, it had dropped to 10.5. Similar sets of figures have been reported for boys, albeit with a delay of around a year.”
This means that any rules like the ones that are enunciated in his article, which was presumably written by a parent or a grandparent, are already out of date. It also shows that girls enter puberty on average one year earlier than boys.
This creates all sorts of awkward issues. In practice what it means is that boys and girls are entering physical and hormonal adolescence at an age much earlier than that which is a safe age for them to be generally capable of informed consent. middle school education has not moved up 4 years to match human body development. This presents a challenge for today’s parents that did not exist 50 years ago.

3. One of the more frustrating phenomena in homo sapiens is that as a species we are lousy learners in one key area. We are not good at learning by hearing about other people’s bad experiences. When we are young, we always tend to have a preference to find out how hot the fire is by sticking our own hand in it. And, when we are adolescents, we think We Know It All, we tune out most advice that comes from anybody who looks like an authority figure, and we are lousy at handling hormonal drivers.
This means that all adolescents are at high risk of making poor decisions, often based on Trying Something Out rather than acting on advice from older people that it might be A Bad Idea. They are also at an age when they tend to regard parents (at least part of the time) as elderly, killjoy nitwits.

4. Parents have wonderful amnesia. They quite cheerfully engage in all manner of tactics, stratagems and actions in attempts to prevent their children from engaging in physical contact with people they are sexually attracted to, while cheerfully forgetting that they themselves once did exactly the same things they are trying to prevent. What I believe tends to happen (based on some observation) is that parents, instead of channeling their past experiences into sensible, pragmatic advice, tend, often without realizing it, to simply repeat the advice that their parents sternly intoned to them, ooh, at least 15 years ago – advice that is out of date and not mediated by modern experience and a parent’s own experience.

5. Normal arguments against under-age sexual behavior, once standard injunctions about self-restraint and respect seem to be falling on stony ground, often revolve around some combination of “you don’t want to be pregnant” for girls, and “you don’t want to be in jail” for boys.
I have bad news for some parents.
Those are not useful or viable tactics for scaring people into different behavior. When I was in school, being in trouble with law enforcement was actually seen as a badge of honor by many boys. It showed that they were “tough”, “pushing the boundaries” etc. etc. These kinds of dire warnings are similar to the “descent into hell” messages that a lot of anti-drug campaigns consist of, which have been shown, when repeated stridently, to actually attract young people to drugs.

This brings me to my central arguments.
A. The idea that parents can somehow prevent their adolescent children from sexual exploration is naive and unworkable. It won’t work, for most of the reasons that I already laid out. Hormones, seeking of peer group approval and social status, and the natural rebellion mindset mean that young people will engage in sexual experimentation. If you think you can stop that, I suggest that you try getting water to flow uphill first as a rehearsal before you try making that happen.
(Abstinence-only programs, one day, will be seen as one of the most ludicrous wastes of government money ever).
B. As is depressingly normal, there is a focus on the girls, and less focus on the boys. Girls don’t get pregnant on their own. I still detect too much of an element of “boys will be boys” and “we better lock up our daughters” in these kinds of communications and discussions.
C. The nature of the existing laws that criminalize sexual conduct under the age of 16 are not helping the situation. The possibility of felony charges makes parents and school authorities desperate, and desperation leads to silly decisions. And no, before some of you start forming an online lynch mob, I am not advocating that those laws be scrapped. However, they are not useful in their current form, which forces everybody pretty rapidly into defensive, lawyered-up responses.

The pragmatic course of action is to accept that adolescents will experiment, and work to educate children that this is not necessarily bad, but that it carries risks that they need to learn to evaiuate. There are limitations to this, since we are not good as a species at risk evaluation, and the education system we have does not cater to this (if you are a parent, try answering the question “does my child’s school curriculum contain logical analysis and critical thinking education?”. If the answer is Yes, you and your children are lucky).
If we try to wrap young people in cotton wool by attempting to steer them away from inevitable life experiences, we are delaying their learning. They will learn sooner or later, the objective should be to have them learn sooner and more comprehensively. Tussles over sexuality are both hormone-driven and driven by peer group pressures and norms. They are in the “least likely to win” category if you are a parent. This I do know, having been a step-parent for a while.


Voyages of Discovery – the AHCA and GOP negligence

In modern IT, I have, on way too many occasion, found myself trying to sort out a a project where, as a work colleague once said. they were trying The Nike Approach To Software Delivery.
As in, “Just Do It”.
An analysis would soon show that more often than not, said project had no detailed plan, limited structure and quite often, no clearly defined destination.
If an expedition by a human pioneer organized along the same lines had set off into the distant unknown 3-400 years ago, those were the guys that would have appeared in history books with some entry like “Met an untimely end at sea” or “was boiled alive by unfriendly natives in a distant continent”.
In other words, a project with no clear objectives or end point, no clearly defined approach to getting stuff done, and no clear structure becomes a Voyage Of Discovery, a project whose purpose, in hindsight, may well simply be to act as a warning to others.
I was reminded of these realities when reading yet another quote from a member of the Trump administration. The tweet, no matter which way you process it, speaks to a level of glib, insouciant negligence that is simply jaw-dropping.


Proof that America and the UK are still neck and neck on some things

When I was growing up in the UK, I was in a household where sex was The Subject That Must Not Be Mentioned.
In addition, nudity, since it was seen as an obvious precursor to sex, was also a largely taboo subject. My parents’ opinion was that there were these oddball people called “nudists”, who, to the general amazement and amusement of the population, would take their clothes off and run around naked in the Summer. According to my parents, they were either weird or crackers.
When I started traveling in Europe in the 1980s, I rapidly discovered that for the rest of Europe, nudity was seen quite differently. If you were on a beach in Crete and it was 92 in the shade, with a water temperature of 80 degrees, why the hell would you want to wear any clothing anyway? I soon discovered the advantages of informal nudism in countries where nudism, instead of being seen as some form of warped behavior that clearly showed tendencies for weirdness and sexual perversion, was a perfectly logical thing to do, at least on beaches.
Fast forward to the mid 1990s when I moved to the USA. I swiftly discovered that the USA rivalled the UK in it’s lack of understanding of nudism, and it’s post-puritanical schizophrenia about sex. Apparently you could not even say “fuck” on network television, so if you did, it was bleeped out. The sheer unmitigated stupidity and pointlessness of this action (“fuck” is just about the easiest English word to lip-read) was clearly lost on legislators and TV companies. It was all about appearances. As a person who grew up dealing with the English class system and the facades that families erect to paper over all sorts of dysfunctionalities, I find the whole idea of keeping up appearances to be artifice, bullshit and nonsense.
At the time that I was relocating to the USA, Sting gave an interview to an English magazine where he mentioned that he and his wife Trudie Styler engaged in Tantric sex, and had studied it with teachers.
You can guess what happened next. The English tabloid newspapers lifted all manner of quotes from the article and printed them interspersed with ribald and juvenile speculation on Sting’s sexual habits. One implication being, surprise surprise, that Sting was a sybarite who really spent most of his night hours in orgies with all manner of women, and Tantra was just a cover story. This was all accompanied by chortling and “nudge nudge wink wink” innuendoes.
Newspapers in countries usually reflect the attitude of the country towards talking about sex. The English tabloid newspapers are juvenile, the broadsheet newspapers uncomprehending and engaging in subtle cluck-clucking, with occasional attempts at slut-shaming if the people under discussion are female.
So it brings us to the present day, and the latest piece of muck-raking by a US newspaper. The Washington Free Beacon has discovered that Rob Quist, a Democratic Party candidate in Montana who is also a musician, appears to have performed concerts at…yes, you guessed it. A nudist resort.
Quite how this amazing revelation is relevant to his qualifications to run for elected office is, needless to say, not discussed in the Free Beacon article.
The article is fairly standard tabloid smear journalism. The article produces the revelation that Quist has been seen (GASP) at nudist resorts (with the obligatory link to a nudist resort with the salacious warning “may contain inappropriate images” (Translation: Surf on over there for the smutty stuff, har har). The article then concludes with the news that the nudist resort where Quist performed has erased all mention of him from their website (Translation: See! He or the resort must have something to hide).
I am going to surf on over and donate some money to Quist’s campaign. This article is hopeless, muck-raking nonsense. It’s a good example of why I tend to pay limited attention to newspapers and mass media outlets in the USA. They have their editorial priorities all screwed and scrambled as they search for some attention-grabbing headline.


Slogans, Dissent and other random postings

Random thoughts for the day:

1. Sloganeering
Phrases like “burdensome regulations” and “unfair trade deals” which are becoming standard utterances by members of the current Administration, are slogans. By themselves, without context or explanation, they carry no meaning. They are like a blank canvas upon which a listener can project any idea or meaning that they want.
This, of course, is exactly why slogans are so useful. They allow the listener or reader to replace analysis and information searches with projection. (see also Make America Great Again).
2. Dissent
Dissent is NOT disloyalty. Everybody (and I mean everybody) needs to understand this, so that they can defend people who are penalized or marginalized simply for uttering ideas that are temporarily unwelcome. When people who laugh in Congressional hearings are arrested, tried and convicted, this is nothing to do with “law and order” or “respect” (two more classuc slogans usef by the authoritarian and the insecure).This is about criminalizing peaceful dissent, an activity that forms part of the protections that are enshrined in the First Amendment.
3. Domestic Terrorism is real, but it’s not just Scary Brown People
Another reminder that instead of obsessing over Muslims, we should be paying one hell of a lot more attention to domestic crackpots.
4. The wonderful world of political insults
Once upon a time, the old cynical political Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, once proposed to his staff that they should spread a rumor that one of their political opponents was a goat-fucker. When his staff protested “but sir, we all know it’s not true”, LBJ is said to have replied “well of course it’s not true. But let’s watch the s.o.b. try to deny it”.
This attempt to smear Rep. Keith Ellison is therefore not only juvenile, but stunningly unoriginal.
5. The “bring back coal jobs” myth
An explanation of what the obsession with “bring back coal” is really all about. It is empty symbolism ungrounded in reality
6. How euphemism allows us to avoid reality
Stephen Pinker’s explanation of how talking in euphemisms can allow us to dress up or obfuscate Bad Stuff.
7. Why did Fox News fire Bill O’Reilly?
This article, with its concept of brand consumers as “secondary stakeholders”, provides a good explanation for why Fox News decided to part ways with Bill O’Reilly. Ultimately, although there was no direct damage to the corporations advertising on Fox based on any effective consumer boycott, the corporations realized that the actions of O’Reilly were creating a fundamental messaging and credibility gap that they were going to have a good deal of trouble explaining.
8. the strange story of restaurant job losses in San Diego
Back in October 2006, almost unnoticed by most people, the residential condo market crashed in San Diego. That was the beginning of the property price collapse that rippled up through California in 2007, and which impacted several other over-priced areas (most notably Las Vegas, Phoenix and south Florida).
Now, somebody digging into government data has found this interesting graph showing a steep drop in food sector employment in and around San Diego. This is very interesting, in a “why is this happening?” sort of way.
There are several hypotheses being floated for the drop. One possible explanation is the increase in the Minimum Wage, but other cities that increased minimum wages have not seen this trend. Another is the flight of restaurant employees back over the border to Mexico.


The vexed question of loyalty oaths and “Catch-22”

Those people who have read “Catch-22” will know that it is a multi-faceted novel, being part anti-war, part comedy and part satire.
This excerpt from the novel deals with the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade that overtakes the military unit. This is kind of an extension to some of the ideas that George Orwell introduced into “1984”, where loyalty to the state (represented by the imaginary patriarchal image of Big Brother) was prized above all else.
My observation on loyalty oaths is that they are generally symbolic features of closed organizations and dictatorships, where unquestioning unconditional loyalty is demanded and expected. A proliferation of loyalty oaths is, in my opinion, an indicator of a slow move towards a more closed, judgemental and conformist society.


Fearanoia (n.)

Mental state of residents of the USA characterized by one or more of the following:

1. a belief that the Supreme Court positions on marriage will result in one or more of the following:

– A man marrying his dog

– The legalization of incest

– The appearance of widespread polygamous marriages

– The destruction of the family

– The end of civilization as we know it

2. A fear that Muslim terrorists are entering the USA across the Mexican border in significant numbers

3. A conviction that the ACA is a terrible infringement on personal rights

4. A belief that the borders of the USA can be secured (as in, hermetically sealed so that nobody that I Do Not Want In The Country can enter by any means)

5. A conviction that either people you disagree with should leave the USA and live somewhere else, or that you are ready to leave the USA and live somewhere else

6. A belief that Texas has the right to unilaterally secede from the USA, and should be working on it Right Now.


The recycling of the Golden Age fallacy. Analysis of a Facebook rant.

I found this rant posted on my Facebook wall today.

It is a classic example of a user seeking validation. There is no explicit or implied attempt at discussion or analysis, which is just as well, since most of this rant contains assertions that are flat-out unsupported by facts or evidence.
Rants of this type usually have a predictable structure:

Part 1 – List a number of fear-inducing, dystopian assertions with little or no supporting evidence (in this case, opening with an ominous and doom-laden statement like “RIP America” gets you bonus FUD points)
Part 2 – Make a claim that the assertions prove X, where X is something that they consider to be Very Troubling and Dangerous
Part 3 – Implore readers to pat them on the back via Amen or some affirmation that They Are Right, plus Please Pass It On.

Part 2 is the Compelling Statement. In this particular case, the author makes the claim that young people are disrespectful brats. Etc. Etc.

Now, I want to reminisce up to and including the present day.
When I was 16 and in school in the UK, I read and listened to people the same age as my grandparents complaining about how “the youth of today” had no respect for their elders, dressed terribly, behaved badly etc. etc. Some of the complainants (usually military veterans) were of the opinion that “a spell in the armed forces” would sort these reprobates out and magically convert them to that generation’s idea of “responsible adults”. They would write their complaints in letters to the BBC and newspapers, usually signed with bylines like “Yours, Disgusted, Godalming”.
(Nobody ever did get a good answer whenever they asked the “put them in the military” proponents whether it really was a good idea to take immature, borderline nasty jerks who already knew how to engage in vandalism and assault, and teach them to, you know, really be effective in using handguns, military weapons and other mechanisms of mass destruction.)
When I was in my 30s and making my way in the world in London and elsewhere, I read and listened to people the same age as my parents complaining about how “young people” had no respect for authority, behaved badly etc. etc. This time, instead of the “put them in the army” panacea, they apparently needed “a good dose of discipline” or “tough love” or the irresponsible parents needed the discipline. Once again, they would write to newspapers and the BBC and huff and puff about the imminent threat that this posed to The Future of Civilization.
This was the era of the infamous “short sharp shock” cure being touted by the Conservative Party, which was quickly abandoned as its proponents discovered that it made no difference to crime and recidivism rates. This law and order thingy is really a lot more complicated than most politicians think it is.
Now I am turned 60, I am reading and hearing people my age complaining about “young people”, “Millennials” etc. Apparently they are over-privileged little shits who have had way too much handed to them on a plate, and need a good dose of Reality or some such. See the rant above. Since we are now in the Age of The Internet, this generation rants on Facebook, and any other social media platform they can find, preferably where people will pat them on the back and say “yes, you’re right, we are indeed Doomed”.
Do we see a pattern here?
Every generation complains about successive (younger) generations, unfavorably comparing their behavior to their own (remembered) behavior.
This, folks, is a variant of what social scientists call the Golden Age fallacy, the idea that there was a time, that we can all remember, when Everything Was Better. It is usually that time when children were always well-behaved and respectful, the law was respected and obeyed without question by everybody, people worked hard etc. etc. (With the more, exclusionary or class-focussed, one usually finds more sinister phrases like “people knew their place” entering the conversation, often in whispers).
We are good as a species at forgetting all of the Bad Stuff that we did or which happened to us, and burnishing the Good Stuff in our mind. This is actually a good thing in many ways, since it makes us more able to put bad events in the rear view mirror and retain a necessary sense of optimism. However, it has a downside, the downside encapsulated in the old phrase “rose-tinted spectacles”.
If you want an illustration of how selective memory of the past works, try engaging a mother who is attempting to protect her daughter from under-age sex, and ask her when she lost her own virginity. I have done this. The results are instructive, hilarious and bizarre in equal measure. The responses prove that amnesia is not just for Iran-Contra suspects.
My conclusion: none of this complaining is new. I find it more amusing than anything else. It is also pretty much unserious. We live in an age where we have never been safer. There has not been a major war in over 70 years. Life for many people is a damn sight better than that of our grandparents. At least 2 of my grandmother’s siblings did not reach adulthood. And try asking the descendants of the World War II combat veterans who did not make it back about the Good Old Days.
So when I hear and read very old people talking about “The Good Old Days”, part of me nods sagely and smiles. No, the Good Old Days were, for many people, not at all good. There is a good reason why it is called the Golden Age Fallacy.
Rants like this one are not new, and are no more compelling to me, even as I get older.


United Airlines and how to not treat any paying customer

By now many of you will have read or seen the story of a paying passenger who was physically removed by law enforcement from a United Airlines flight. The underlying cause of the issue was that airlines routinely overbook seats on flights, in order to take account of no-shows and people who fail to arrive at the departure zone on time for other reasons. In this case, passengers did not volunteer to give up their seats in order to address the overbooking situation, so the airline arbitrarily decided to bump a passenger who, since he had paid for a seat and was a medical doctor with patients to see, declined to be bumped. At which point United had him removed from the plane by law enforcement in a way that caused him bodily injury.
The United CEO has, inexplicably, refused to issue an unconditional apology and has instead chosen to defend the airline publicly.
There are a bunch of different backdrops to this issue, but here are a few that spring to mind.

1. United Airlines has a worse reputation than many airlines for customer service, in an industry that has a lot of deep-seated dysfunctions when it comes to customer service. There was a good reason why a disgruntled passenger started the website a few years ago. (This site is now being subjected to a campaign of lawsuits from United Airlines in order to shut it down.)
2. The airline industry routinely overbooks planes and (mostly) gets away with it. The strange thing in all of this is that buying and paying for a ticket does not automatically give a passenger the right to be carried on the flight that they booked. This is definitely at odds with most other industries, where if you book a service, you expect to avail yourself of the service at the specific date and time, and you can sue the provider for breach of contract if that does not occur.
3. Airlines continue to get away with these sorts of behaviors because, at the end of the day, their stock prices and business performance do not suffer. As this article makes clear, consumers are not willing to punish airlines sufficiently for poor attention to customer service to get the attention of airline leaders and stockholders.
Another article makes the same point using stock price diagrams. Bad treatment of customers pays off.

The bottom line is that airline behaviors will only change when consumers refuse to buy airline tickets from airlines who provide bad customer service, or who engage in devious business practices. So it is up to We The Customers.


Day 3 of vacation and we are in…Sin City

So, by a process of (mostly) straight-line driving, we have arrive in that most surreal of recreational locations.
Las Vegas.
My relationship with Las Vegas could fairly be described as ambivalent. For me, in terms of cities, Las Vegas is the equivalent of the major motorway accident that you come across, where you know you should not be looking at the mess, but part of you takes over and you start rubber-necking. I find Vegas to be equal parts fascinating, bizarre and kitschy. When I first arrived here in 1999 to see a Long-EZ at North Las Vegas airport, I found myself driving along the Strip in broad daylight, then North. The city seemed to be a collection of butt-ugly concrete jungles, interspersed with ersatz scale model clones of most of the Wonders Of The World. The effect was…jarring. That, plus the fact that I found a slot machine in a restoom at McCarran Airport.
It is difficult, at least some of the time, to fathom how a low desert basin became home to one of the great monuments to excess and self-indulgence. I suspect that what really enabled Las Vegas to grow into a major resort was the creation of the Hoover Dam, which created Lake Mead, a source of year-round fresh water, and generated electricity for the many high-consumption light arrays that would slowly appear on what is now known as “The Strip”.
So, thanks partly to government building programs (a lesson to all of the laissez-fair pseudo libertarians who persist in asserting that All Government Is Bad), I am sitting on the 27th Floor of Treasure Island Resort, looking out across the world’s largest mall-cum-hotel-cum-casino-cum-all-you-can-eat-watch-and-imbibe center.
Mary and Catherine have gone off to walk the Strip and then watch Cirque de Soleil, which leaves me time to reflect on the vacation thus far, and summarize some salient points.

1. The Grand Canyon is an example of the simple rendered impressive by sheer size
All young rivers, given enough time, wear holes in the bedrock on which they sit. However, it takes a special set of circumstances for a single river to relentless carve its way through thousands of feet of sedimentary rocks, finally reaching much older (Archaen) rocks, which it is now also carving down through, albeit much more slowly. This, in geographical or geological terms, is not in the slightest bit remarkable. However, the results are visually spectacular.
The Grand Canyon was probably formed in the last 6 million years by an at-times-very-large Colorado River, swollen by different palaeoclimates and the water run-off from the Pleistocene ice ages.
The youngest currently visible rocks that form the surrounding plateau are 270 million years old, but there were probably much younger rocks above those top layers that have already been removed by earlier erosion events.
The sheer size of the Grand Canyon (nearly 300 miles long) gives it a special place in the world’s great natural features. The size is only apparent when you actually stand on one side and look across to the other side. Below, there are numerous deeply dissected channels, some only flowing with water once every few years, some dry today. In the middle, the Colorado River looks insignificant from above, even though it is an impressive-sized river. The river is very slowly carving down through the much older bedrocks of the North American continent, rocks that have been altered over billions of years in a way that makes them very tough, unlike the much softer sandstones and limestones that form the variously colored layered walls of the canyon.
Like all large structures, one needs to hike down into the depths and explore. We had no time to do that, but I certainly want to do that.

2. Railway lines are friends, and information sources
For a large percentage of this trip, we have been driving in parallel with the main BNSF railroad across the United States. This is a busy freight line, with dozens of trains a day in both directions. It is partly double track, and partly single track with numerous passing loops. There are lots of trains stopped in loops awaiting other train arrivals at the loop so that the train can get back on the single track and start moving again.
These trains are like a microcosm of the transportation of goods and raw materials. We see commercial and private shipping containers, truck trailers of various types, raw materials carriers, petroleum carriers, ore and coal hopper wagons, all being pulled and pushed by multiple BNSF diesel locomotives. These locos are rates at between 4000 and 4400 hp each, and many trains have up to 6 locos, pushing out 24000+ hp to propel the trains.
Some of the trains are ludicrously long. We came across one train that comprised two separate rakes of mixed container wagons, heading west, but coupled in the middle. At the front were three diesel locomotives, in the middle were 2 more diesel locomotives, and two more diesel locomotives at the rear. The whole train was probably close to 2 miles long, rolling steadily west at around 50 miles an hour, presumably using LocoTrol to sync up and operate all of the remote locomotives from the front locos. It was so long that none of our camera lenses could cover its entire length.

3. Navigation style differences between men and women can be intractable
Mary and I have different approaches to navigation. I am adopting the careful interpretation that this is more to do with the difference between how the sexes tend to view driving.
Many men (myself included) regard driving as a skill to be practiced and refined. The art of keeping a car well balanced while negotiating curves, hills and bends, is one that I personally find to be fun.
However, when it comes to navigation input, I consistently and persistently struggle with both electronic navigation aids like GPS, and with humans.
GPS devices have a tendency to lag, informing you some of the time that you should have taken the exit that you just passed. I think we can all guess how welcome that message is likely to be. They also sometimes provide bizarre routes to a destination, which a local expert would burst out laughing at. I learned, via a couple of unpleasant incidents where a GPS device sent me in totally the wrong direction to an important event, to have a healthy skepticism for the accuracy and fidelity of GPS devices. I sometimes ignore the GPS if I know or suspect that it is giving me a bum steer.
This is going to be the subject of a much longer posting…but the main challenge for me when driving in a higher-intensity zone is that Mary does not consistently provide navigation directions in a way that I can rapidly incorporate into driving actions. (For the hold-the-wheel-straight straight-line parts of journeys, there is no navigation to speak of).
Here’s the underlying issue.
If I am focussing to a large extent on Driving The Car, I need short, concise and non-ambiguous directions that I can immediate translate to a car driving action. A direction like “Take Exit 12A, stay right” is instantly processable, provided it is timely. (Saying that instruction when I am passing the exit is a cardinal navigational sin, on a par with a cricket bowler chucking, or a baseball pitcher tampering with the ball).
By contrast, an instruction that comprises “You should have gone the opposite way” fails the usefulness test on just about every level. It tells me I just made a mistake. OK. But it provides no clear, unambiguous instruction about what I should do NOW. If I am on a road with a junction that I turned left onto, I could infer that I should perform a u-turn. However, that might not be allowed, or it might not be the best answer. What I need is another navigation instruction that is clear, concise and actionable. If it comprises “do u turn when able”, then so be it. We all make mistakes. But a lengthy silence or a string of “I dunno” responses is the sort of thing that rapidly causes me to want to stop the car and start screaming.
All of this has led to some…friction on this trip.
This issue is not exactly new. Many people have commented on the difference in navigation approaches between the sexes. The issue is sort of understood in the worlds of biology and science. I might be better at navigation (who knows? My spouse probably differs), but I sure as hell am lousy at remembering where I put my damn keys. (If there is one personal failing that is likely to drive me to a mini-meltdown, it is being unable to find valuable and/or important small stuff).
In the meantime, an uneasy tension always fills the air whenever the topic of navigation comes up. I have to admit that my patience is fairly miniscule on this topic. Probably not a good admission.


Authoritarianism, grifting and what it should teach progressives

Back in 1992, I watched from the UK as Ross Perot came from nowhere to capture a significant share of the vote in the Presidential Election campaign.
While I liked a lot of the overall approach of Perot, it was very easy to see, even from 5000 miles away, that he would have made a poor President. Like many entrepreneurial builders of corporations, he saw government as just like a business, only bigger, and relished the chance to impose his own brand of “business discipline” on it, not realizing that the US governmental system is not built to facilitate command and control by a single person. He would have been a miserable, frustrated POTUS.
Now we have an even more extreme example as POTUS, and it is every bit as bad as I feared. Donald Trump makes Ross Perot look like a genius every day.
However, Donald Trump is not some left-field aberration. His appearance on the national political scene is the end result of over 40 years of progressively more strident resentment politicking from the GOP.
Which brings me to a more detailed consideration of what is known as “grift”.
A lot of the promulgation of resentment politics has been via talk radio, and other forums dominated by aggressive, contentious commentators at the authoritarian end of the political spectrum. Those kinds of channels require money to operate, and there is plenty of money fuelling that communications process. Some of it comes from rich donors, some of it comes from advertising, but some of it comes from old fashioned grift. Call it begging or pleading, or call it the selling of snake oil, asking for money is as old as the hills, as organized religions show us.
The history of grifting by authoritarian groups affiliated with the GOP and other organizations in that area of the political spectrum is a long and sometimes sordid one. Almost every crackpot website that I read by End Times proponents, and SovCits, contains some variant of the crawler at the bottom of the browser window saying “send money”.
In some cases, the money is not going to any useful political activity. There is an entire infrastructure of web sites and movements whose leaders are living off of grift, just like the televangelists, whose tactics they often adopt. They trade in FUD and demand money to “protect the USA from evil”.
Unfortunately, as we have seen in the USA since 9/11, fear sells.
The obsession with persuading supporters to cough up money is interesting on another level however. It shows that authoritarians, unlike many progressives, realized a long time ago that if politics runs on money, they should be collecting as much of their own as possible. In politics, money is always very useful.
A lot of the issues that the progressive end of the political spectrum has with messaging are due to lack of money, which is in turn fuelled by a conviction that politics ought not to be driven by money, so they will refuse to go grubbing for dollars.
This is somewhat self-defeating.
The current alternate universe information dissemination echo chamber in the authoritarian area of the internet has become pervasive due to the application of large sums of money over a very long period of time by rich individuals and PACs. The contrast with progressive communication channels is an instructive one. There is no progressive talk radio infrastructure worth a damn in the USA since Air America ceased operations. At one time, by virtue of having progressives in the IT innovation space, progressive organizations knew how to use the internet better, but those days are gone, and there is a lot of evidence that outside authoritarian entities have learned how to manipulate the online world in order to distort messaging and simulate popularity.
The reason for a lack of progressive channels has a lot to do with both lack of money, but also the lack of a progressive power structure that matches the networks of authoritarians. Authoritarian followers are always more cohesive than progressive followers, since many of them are happy to be told what to do. Progressives are, almost by definition, mostly freethinkers. Think “herding cats”. Many of them also believe that money is grubby and that ideas should speak for themselves.
There is a somewhat complacent worldview in many progressive groups that believes that America is undergoing a demographic transformation which will see the regressives die off. This is a flawed analysis. It assumes the continuation of a level electoral playing field, and as we are seeing, the GOP is not interested in a level playing field. It wants to tilt the playing field in its favor, distorting the electoral process at all levels to enshrine a permanent GOP majority. (The ends justifies the means as far as the GOP is concerned, since they see progressivism as an existential threat, and are often unable to distinguish between dissent and disloyalty).
The 2016 election should have been a wake-up call to progressives in the USA. I fear that the message has still not been properly absorbed.
In order to avoid the permanent distortion of the electoral process, which will lead to decades of authoritarian rule, progressives need to be able to do several things that they have shown themselves to be poor at doing in the past:

1. Organize around a simple set of coherent, short, appealing messages
2. Repeat the messages and not get trapped into using the other side’s terminology (see Lakoff, George)
3. Be prepared to FUND FUND FUND. Call it grifting if you must, but money makes the political process go round.
4. Be prepared to use economic power in other ways such as boycotting corporations who align themselves with their opponents, or do not behave equitably. If there are 60 million progressives in the USA, and 6 million of them stop buying goods from a major corporation, that will have a significant impact.