Thoughts – Friday 4th May 2018

1. Facebook
I have de-activated my Facebook profile. This occurred after I responded to a somewhat contentious and pointed posting from a dear friend who, in the posting, seemingly forbade people from commenting on the posting.
I unfollowed the friend on Facebook, not wanting to be placed in a situation where I could read postings, but not be allowed to comment on them. (NOTE to readers – this is not Unfriending. That is something else). That’s not really how an open-exchange platform like Facebook works. I then was challenged by a mutual friend of the friend about my response. In hindsight, I made a mistake by announcing that I was unfollowing somebody and explaining why.
Although I did not name names (I never do that, naming and shaming is not generally a useful interaction approach in life), the discussion that started under my posting started to reach the point where it was possible for people to find out who I had unfollowed. This was not what I intended or wanted.
Additionally, I was informed that I was behaving badly.
So, I am off of Facebook. I spend a lot of time on the platform (maybe too much time). The platform is useful, but it has frustrations in the level of balkanization and poor quality of debate and discussion. But, the bottom line is that, having been socially rejected as an adolescent, I determined a long time ago that I don’t stay anywhere where I am not wanted or appreciated.
I will decide later whether it is worth returning, based on what reactions I get. In the meantime, I will communicate via other processes and forums. I have joined and I now can be found online there, also on this blog, and on Twitter and Ello.
White Cat Publishing also still exists, and has its own area on Ello.

2. Great Lawyer letter responses
The best response ever is probably Arkell v. Pressdram. However, this one runs it close.

3. Stupid advertising copy of the day

4. Remember Jade Helm? All of the paranoia and fear? Well, it may have been an attempt to seed nonsense
This analysis by JJ MacNabb explains how Jade Helm was actually an attempt to tap into conspiracy theory thinking in the service of undermining trust in government, and the Governor of Texas fell for it hook line and sinker.

5. You Cannot Be Serious! Entry for today
In which blogger Matt Walsh has a mini-sad over the supposed inequitable way in which men are treated in their own homes. Phrases like “cry me a river”, and “here is the world’s smallest violin” do spring to mind when I have to read this kind of “poor widdle me” nonsense.


My day at jury service (or not)

I was invited to Jury Service in Dallas County in Mid-March. This being in the middle of System Integration Test for Release 2 of the solution our Testing team is supporting, I applied for a postponement.
So I was told to come back on 1st May. This was not convenient either, but best to get it out of the way before things became even busier on Release 3…
So in due course i got up way too early, and drove into Dallas in the morning rush hour, suffering the usual accordion-slinky speed increases and sudden decreases, as the incompetent and insufficiently-coffeenated were driving like doofi up I-35. By dint of getting stuck in a traffic jam on Riverfront Boulevard, I arrived 5 minutes late at the court building. The usual security line, turn out your pockets etc.etc.
Then I found myself staring at a set of wall monitors, looking for my name on the display.
No “Graham Shevlin”.
No “Shevlin Graham”, “Graham Chevlin” or any other distortion of my name.
Hmmmm. So was there some mistake?
I wandered over to a court official and asked why my name was not on the video panel display.
His reply was wry. “You probably don’t want to see your name on that display” he said. “That lists all the defendants for the day”. He took my Jury summons from me, removed the juror id tear-off, and pointed round the corner.
Thus it was that I found myself marching into the main jury assembly room at the Court building, to be greeted by the sight of 200+ other jurors, all sitting in neat rows like a high school assembly. Most of them had facial expressions indicating tiredness, resignation or boredom. Some were texting on phones. The power guys were walking up and down talking into phone earpieces as they fixed Important Stuff At Work.
Since The Powers That Be decreed no standing (fire codes), some of us were shuffled off to an overflow room. This was good since it had comfy chairs, and more space. No sitting in rows like confused penguins.
We then got to listen to several speeches from court officials, and then we all stood to recite the rather wordy juror’s oath (of which more later).
Then, they announced that jurors 1 though 142 were to go to District Criminal Court 1. (I was #88). Up to the 6th floor to the ante-room for the court, where they handed out…The Juror Questionnaire. Strangely, they called people’s names off a list one at a time to do this, instead of just handing out forms and pens.
Aha! I said inwardly. Time for me to fashion a cunning response that would signal my total lack of suitability for anything as serious and weighty (and potentially time-consuming) as being on a jury. However, after examining the questions, the cynic in me concluded that simply answering each question honestly would probably disqualify me anyway (“WHAT? We’re not having HIM on OUR jury!”).
So, using the court-supplied blue pen, I set to work, scratching my head over some of the questions.
The one that really made me laugh out loud was the one that asked me to rate where I was on a scale of Liberal vs. Conservative. Clearly no room in this universe for people of the libertarian persuasion then.
I was able to inform the court that I considered the criminal justice system to be defective, with some good aspects and some bad aspects, and that i considered The War On (Some) Drugs to be a waste of resources. That would surely work if it was a drug trial… I was trying to convey my fairly strong skepticism of a system that is not only defective, with far too many innocent people being railroaded or convicted, but a system that is pathologically unwilling to admit to any error, and which denies victims of miscarriages of justice fair compensation and accountability within the system for mistakes.
After a while they started to call out names of people being selected to form the panel from which the twelve good people would be selected. Again they named people, this time in a completely different sequence. I marched up, handed over my questionnaire, and marched into the court room, listening for (and failing to hear) any laughter from the court official as he began to read the questionnaire.
They packed 62 of us into every available chair, including temporary chairs.
Judge Robert Burns was already at his podium, so we had none of the usual “all rise for the Judge” hoopla.
So there we were, all looking around and at each other. We were all doing the usual sizing up of others, looking at them thinking stuff like “I wonder what he does for a living” etc. etc.
The case was listed on the courtroom monitors. State of Texas vs. Somebody. The defendant was an African-American man, who looked sullen and not at all at ease (well duh, I think if I was a defendant in a criminal trial, I would not exactly be jumping up and down and saying things like “Oh goody, this is going to be a shitload of fun”).
The defendant’s lawyer looked like a public defender; a smiling, amiable-looking guy in his late 50s or early 60s with tousled gray hair and a very conservative off-the-peg suit.
The prosecution team comprised two young female Assistant DAs. They were dressed sharply but not flamboyantly. No doubt they were eager to ensure that the defendant would ultimately get to feel the firm and compelling Hand of Justice.
After some preliminary whispering to his stenographer, Judge Robert Burns began to speak, and I was impressed by his demeanor. He even cracked a joke against the legal profession; when asking if anybody in the court had not yet taken the jurors oath, he remarked “you can tell it was written by a lawyer, because it is rather long”. He seemed un-stuffy, not a stiff, pompous, authoritarian gavel-banger.
We sat through the usual injunctions – defendant innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt etc. Then we were reminded that juries in Dallas County get to decide not only guilt, but also sentencing. The judge also told us that they expected the trial to commence on Wednesday and last no more than 2 days, so everybody would be finished by Thursday pm. This disposed of some questions from jury candidates who had appointments on friday.
The judge asked if any prospective jurors had any personal conflicts. He listened patiently as several jurors tried variants of the “I am needed at work” line, then pointed out that no employer is allowed to penalize an employee for participating in jury service. He even said “if you have a problem, I will call your employer and remind them of what the law says”.
One juror whose mother had end stage Alzheimers was immediately excused.
Then the judge revealed some of the details. The defendant had been indicted for Aggravated Assault on another man. The judge explained that he had been indicted via a Grand Jury hearing, which (interestingly) did not require the disclosure of any of the evidence that the prosecution was going to present at trial. (this I found odd. How do you persuade a Grand Jury panel to issue an indictment without revealing any evidence?).
At this point, a lady in the room revealed that she had been a victim of an assault that weekend. Asked if she had any injuries, she showed bruises all over her hands and forearms, as in significant bruising. The judge immediately excused her.
Then, it began to get interesting. The judge informed us that the sentencing range for the offense was anything from 2 years of jail time up to…life. Yes, life imprisonment. A very large range (more later).
In response to a question from a prospective juror about why probation was not an option, Judge Burns had an interesting response. Under Texas law, probation is only a sentencing option for Aggravated Assault if the defendant has no prior convictions. Since the defendant had a prior conviction, probation was off the table, not an option. The judge went on to say that he was not allowed to tell us what the prior conviction was for.
At this point, the Prosecution lawyer took over and began to walk us through the definition in law of Aggravated Assault. This is where it started to get really interesting…
The main fact that soon became a topic of feedback and discussion was that under Texas law, Aggravated Assault does not require that the victim actually suffer physical or mental harm. Merely being and feeling plausibly threatened is enough if you are a victim.
At this point a lady piped up and told the prosecution attorney “I cannot be on a jury for a case where the victim is not even harmed”. This triggered a discussion about what feeling threatened might comprise, with the judge opining that if a defendant (for example) was to point a gun at somebody and threaten to shoot them, that would meet the definition of Aggravated Assault.
After some amusing back and forth over the evidence that would be required to show that the victim felt threatened, the judge reminded us that, you know, finding the defendant Not Guilty is very much an option…
The discussion then moved on to the credibility of witnesses, particularly prosecution law enforcement personnel. At this point, several prospective jurors began to signal that they did not trust law enforcement to tell the truth in court. One African-American woman explained how her son had been charged with an offense and two police officers had lied on the stand, so she had no confidence in the veracity of law enforcement tendency.
As she was explaining this, a woman next to me snorted “well she would say that wouldn’t she”. Hmmm, I thought to myself, if you’re going to be a racist, you might not be so casual about it.
As he had been doing throughout, the judge was writing down juror reservations and issues on a pad. From his careful process of making sure that he got the right names, it seemed clear to me that he was probably red-lining certain people before the prosecution and defense even got to make any objections.
However, we now reached the discussion of the sentencing guidelines. And this is where a whole slew of us began to state our discontent with the sentencing guidelines. The judge asked for a show of hands about whether we felt that the maximum sentence of life was not something we could consider. Over half the hands in the room were raised, including mine. A similar request for feedback on the lower level of the sentencing guidelines resulted in many of the same hands (including mine, for the second time) being raised.
A background to my objections. In the UK, where i grew up, this defendant would likely not have been charged with Aggravated Assault. Threatening somebody in the UK will most likely result in a charge of Threatening Behavior, which usually results in a fine and probation for guilty defendants. Then the next level is Assault. Then Assault with Intent to cause Grevious Bodily Harm. Then murder/manslaughter.
From the hints being dropped in court, it seemed likely that the defendant had not been physically harmed in the encounter. In the light of this possibility, the idea that one should consider a life sentence was, I think, bonkers to most of us. Also the inability to consider probation was another troubling aspect.
After the completion of the questions about sentencing guidelines, I said to the lady next to me, “At this rate,they will not have enough people left for a jury”.
Less than a minute after I said that, Judge Burns called the lawyers up to his podium and talked to them for a minute. Then he turned on his mike and announced “ladies and gentlemen, we cannot empanel a jury today. You are all free to go”.
So we all trooped out and checked out of the building, not to return this time around.
I drove home, and was back on the day job by 2.00pm.
My conclusion is that the judge, after reading the show of hands responses on the sentencing guidelines, concluded that indeed there were insufficient juror candidates left to even move to the next phase. We had effectively rebelled as a group against sentencing guidelines that most of us felt were way past proportionate to the alleged crime.
So, no more jury service for me for a while Now back to getting a Testing project to the finish line…


The Joy Ann Reid postings flap – Part 1

Short summary: Joy Ann Reid, assumed by many to be a liberal Democrat commentator, is found to have posted numerous anti-gay comments and articles in the past on the Internets.
Shitstorm erupts.
Reid, after first hemming and hawing and then issuing bizarre and contradictory statements, now announces that her blogs and accounts online must have been hacked. Her representatives are now running around all over the place attempting to persuade the owners of internet archives and other forums to delete her old postings and comments, on the grounds that her accounts were hacked, and have seemingly demanded that the FBI conduct an investigation.
There is a big problem with this approach, quite apart from the reality that it is a really good way of keeping an unflattering story alive. It is unlikely to be true. Here is one reason why.

The idea that your accounts were mysteriously “hacked” by bad actors loses credibility when (for example) contemporaneous commentary and discussion, based on those comments, is found. In order for this to be plausible, you have to accept that there was a Joy Ann Reid impersonator operating on the internets from 2007 or earlier for several years, and that Joy Ann Reid never once noticed. Hmmm. Somehow that seems highly…unlikely.
People do change their views over time. Sometimes people holding exclusionary, odious or obnoxious views abandon them later in life. George Wallace famously abandoned the open racism he espoused in the 1970s towards the end of his life, and publicly recanted many of his previous positions.
And..Americans just love redemption narratives. Think of all the times that people rise, fall and are redeemed. The image of the imperfect defective human failing or falling, only to rise again, is a deeply enduring positive narrative that fuels hundreds of news stories, movies, and books a year.
So, if Joy Ann Reid had held and espoused anti-gay views 12 years ago, it would have been way way smarter of her to have owned up to it, said “look, I used to believe these things, I moved on, I realized that I was wrong, and I ask for forgiveness for my earlier ignorance”, then sure, there would have been a shitstorm for maybe 72 hours, then everybody would have moved on to the latest scandalous utterance by Donald Trump, or whatever the latest media-entrancing shiny object was.
Now, instead of that rapid shuffle out of the limelight, Joy Ann Reid is going to be in the news for days, probably weeks, as thousands of internet sleuths of varying capabilities, seeing prima facie evidence of a cover-up, start digging. And one thing that is true is that just about everybody on the internet has stuff that lurks just below the surface and which can be uncovered.
Along the way, whatever remaining credibility that Joy Ann Reid has will leach away, slowly and irredeemably, just like the inevitable drop of the sand in the hourglass from top to bottm.


The Posturing Rambo tendency of gun nuts

I know a number of people who own guns.
I know people who own multiple firearms.
As far as I can tell, none of those people are what I could term “gun nuts”. I have yet to see any images of them prancing around in camo gear waving their firearms in the air, pointing them at real or imaginary targets, standing looking purposeful with their main weapon posed next to The Bible, or taking part in the Texas elimination heat of the World Shooting-In-The-Air Competition.
However, there are definitely people who do those things.
There are also people who cannot stop talking confrontational, macho smack online about how they are going to defend themselves and anybody else they feel like defending against all enemies, foreign and domestic, using…their guns.
“enemies”, depending on who you read and whatever is happening in the world, appears to be one or more of a long laundry list of anti-American groups, including (but not limited to):
1. The Government (at whatever level they currently despise the most)
2. Liberals, Communists, Marxists, Atheists
3. Antifa
4. Colin Kaepernick and any other sonofabitch who dares to kneel for The Anthem
5. Scary Brown People (who are assumed, most of the time, to be either terrorists or muslims)
6. Gun grabbers
7. Gun grabbers
8. Gun grabbers
9. Did I say “GUN GRABBERS?”

The verbiage used is wearily familiar, reading like a mutant combination of John Wayne, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Charlton Heston and whatever mangled quote from the Founding Fathers they can recycle (including numerous fictitious or mashed-up quotes they find in the meme bucket).
The premise is simple: there are good reasons why they own firearms, they have a Right to own as many damn firearms as they like, they intend to own those firearms until their dying day, and anybody who they think is Coming For Their Guns can expect to be met with Lethal Force from Their Guns.
The mindset is like reading a cross between the outpourings of a desperate schoolyard bully, and Rambo on an off-day. Here is an excellent example from Twitter:

You could probably create this kind of verbiage using a machine algorithm. That is how predictable this juvenile smack is.
The question is: who are they trying to impress. Not me, that’s for sure. I came to the conclusion that they are really just desperately trying to convince themselves they are Tough Guys. Because, in most contexts this sort of braggadocio simply reads and sounds like desperate chicken-strutting from little guys.


The Dawlish Question – Part 2

The main Network Rail route to the South West of England, ending at Penzance in Cornwall, is the only contiguous route through that part of the country.
At one time, other routes, both main and branch, existed, but most of those routes were closed and dismantled in the period 1964-1972 as a result of the rationalization of the UK rail network that implemented the Beeching Report.
The route runs through the countryside of Somerset and Devon down through Exeter. It then runs along the estuary of the River Exe before reaching the English Channel coast near Dawlish. At that point the line runs along the base of the cliffs, carried on a concrete bed behind a sea wall built in the 19th Century. The coastal strata and cliffs behind the sea fortifications and the railway line are also vulnerable to erosion.
The vulnerability of this part of the rail route has been known and understood for many decades. The coastal wall and other fortifications are over 100 years old, not built using modern materials and techniques, and like all infrastructure, they have a finite life. There has always been a fear that The Big One – a destructive storm, would damage or destroy the coastal part of this important rail route as it runs along the sea at Dawlish.
The fear was converted to reality on 5th February 2014, when a massive storm hit the UK, and enormous seas and winds hammered the sea wall East of Dawlish. A significant section of the sea wall was breached by the sea, carried out to sea, and the waves eroded out the strata and the road behind the rail line. When the storm subsided, a 100 yard long stretch of rail line was hanging in the air…literally, with all of the base gone. Elsewhere either side of the breach, ballast was washed away from the track, and massive amounts of wood, damage debris from the sea wall and other flotsam were thrown onto the rail tracks and surrounds.
The damage took nearly 2 months to repair, with Network Rail crews working close to 24×7. In the meantime most of Devon and the whole of Cornwall had no rail connection to the rest of the UK.
Services on the route were finally restored on 4th April 2014.
At this time we need to examine some history. In the 1800s, railway companies competed to reach many major cities in the UK, to bring the iron horse, with its promise of fast and easy travel. In the West Country, the Great Wester Railway and the London and South Western competed to reach the city of Plymouth. The GWR and the South Devon Railway company went South and along the coast, building the current route via Dawlish. The LSWR decided to build a route around the North side of Dartmoor, from Exeter through Crediton, Okehampton and Tavistock down the Tamar Valley to Plymouth, reaching Plymouth in 1876, some time after their rivals.
That northern route, steeply graded and curved, was a main route through until the 1960s. At that point, the Beeching Report was published. One of the principles of Beeching was to eliminate route duplication. The LSWR route via Okehampton to Plymouth was squarely in the crosshairs of the Beeching report. It was well-maintained but expensive to operate, had been transferred to the Western Region from the Southern Region, and the Western Region regarded it as superfluous to requirements, and there were question marks about the health of Meldon Viaduct, which carried the line over the West Oakment valley West of Okehampton. The route ran through rural villages with limited passenger traffic, so it was losing money.
So, the Beeching axe swung on this route. The section between Okehampton and Bere Alston was closed in 1968, and dismantled in late 1969. In 1972, the remaining section between Okeampton and Crediton was closed to passengers and the line singled, although the line was retained for transporting railway ballast from a quarry at Meldon. At the same time, the line from Bere Alston to Plymouth down the Tamar Valley was singled also.
So, via the Beeching Report, one alternative backup route for the route via Dawlish had been eliminated. At more or less the same time, another alternative route via the Teign Valley had been closed as part of the Beeching cuts. This line, originally built by the GWR, was never a main line. It was a branch line , ran through countryside that was vulnerable to flooding, and had sharp curves and a low speed limit.
So, when the Dawlish route was severed in 2014, it took…ooh, all of 24 hours before people began asking the obvious questions (1) why was there no alternative route into Devon and Cornwall, since everybody knew that sooner or later a storm would close the Dawlish section of the line, (2) was it not time to consider adding an alternative route?
The resulting furore from people in Devon and Cornwall, and their elected representatives, led to a Route Resiliency Study, which discussed (among other options that included spending more money on sea fortifications, and building a new alternative route inland) re-instating the 19 miles of missing line between Meldon Quarry and Bere Alston, in order to create an alternative route.
Although everybody was in agreement that this would be a Jolly Good Idea, the Route Resiliency Study was never a proposal. It was simply a collection of possible alternatives thrown together with not much detail work or estimation. Part of the reason being that nobody could agree on the likely costs for most of the options, including the reinstatement of the route via Okehampton.
The low-end estimates for this option (probably way too optimistic) were of the order of £150m. The top end “Rolls Royce” estimate for a high-speed route with double track were up near the £875m mark. As a general rule, a medium-speed railway line costs around £10m a mile to create, even without factoring in special projects like large bridges and new earthworks. The likely cost for a long single line with high-speed passing loops would be around £600m+. In other words, not cheap.
One reason is that the cost of re-instating the route to Plymouth via Okehampton is a lot more than simply re-instating the 19 miles of track. The entire route from end to end will require upgrading, since the disconnected ends have been treated as branch and freight lines for 40+ years, and the track infrastructure is worn out. This is therefore not a simple “lay some track in the middle again and start the service” project. Issues are as follows:
1. Meldon Viaduct, used by the original route, is now a listed monument and cycle trail, and is almost certainly not safe for use by modern trains. (The viaduct was nearing the end of its life when the route was closed in 1968, and was under single-line use with a speed restriction). So, a new bridge will be needed across the West Oakment valley.
2. The line is blocked in Tavistock by the city council offices.
3. 2 stations (Bridestowe and Brentor) are now in private ownership, which may require the sensitive use of eminent domain.
4. The route from Meldon down to Coleford Junction near Crediton is currently owned by a subsidiary of Iowa Pacific. This section will probably need to be bought back from that company
5. The track from Meldon through Okehampton to Crediton will require renewal, since it has not been properly maintained for some years, since Meldon Quarry was closed in 2011. (it currently has a speed limit of between 30 and 55 mph)
6. Okehampton needs a new station, since the current station is at the wrong end of the expanding town and has no car parking.
7. The route down from Bere Alston to Plymouth will also require upgrading since it is used only by stopping local trains.
This is not the work of a moment. However, if the government had started work on this project after the initial big storm in 2014, they would probably already be close to having an alternative operational route.
And, in true “bright shiny object” fashion, the government’s top spending priorities are the HS2 link, which is going to consume up to $50bn of money in the next 19 years. That is the Big Glamour Project.
An additional complicating factor is that the rail network has been staggering from crisis to crisis for 15 years, with RailTrack (the original infrastructure corporation) essentially going bankrupt and having to be bailed out by the government. The current two-part operating model for railways in the UK; an infrastructure company to run track, signaling etc. and stations, and Train Operating Companies (TOCs) to run the trains on a franchise basis, has a number of issues. Some franchisees want out of their current contracts, and the current move by the UK to leave the EU may cause more TOC franchisees to not renew their contracts. In a worst case scenario, the government may have to effectively re-nationalize the network. In the meantime, there is no obvious pile of money available for projects to re-instate alternative routes.
So, fast forward to March 9th 2018. Once again, a powerful storm showed up in the West Country, pounding the Devon coast. And once again, the line near Dawlish was closed. This time, it was not due to obvious storm destruction. Ballast was washed away, and line communications damaged. This required the line to be closed for several days of inspections and checks before it could safely be re-opened.
However, the lack of an alternative route is starting to remind me of the old definition of madness:
i..e. doing the same thing over and over again but still expecting the same result.
We are heading into an era of atmospheric instability as the Earth warms. We can expect more serious storms, not less. Sooner or later another storm will damage or destroy another section of sea wall and the railway line, and the line will be out of action for months. 100 yards of route were destroyed in 2014, and that took 2 months of flat-out work to repair. If half a mile of track is destroyed next time, the line could be shut for a year or more. This will lead to even more light heat and sound as millions of people West of Dawlish once again have no rail link to the rest of the UK The political consequences will be significant. As in, litigation, as the TOCs using the infrastructure sue the infrastructure companies, and the government has to fend off the question “why did you not do anything about an alternative route?”
Oh, and by the way, just to make matters worse, the UK is planning to leave the EU, so any route improvements or duplications will not be getting any EU grants.
Right now, if another big storm shows up next Winter, there will be no alternative and Devon and Cornwall will be cut off once again.
This is an avoidable cluster.


African-American blindness to discrimination and animus in their own house

Sheesh, here we go again…
One of the more distressing aspects of race relations in the modern USA is the tendency of the African-American community to sign onto anti-Jewish ideas and conspiracy theories, and, when challenged on their public statements, to behave like rhetorical shitweasels.
There is a rich vein of such rhetoric, including the Rev.Jesse Jackson’s infamous “Hymietown” outburst about New York, and Louis Farrakhan’s numerous anti-Jewish references and comments, which he often tries to weasel out of when challenged.
Now we have another eye-opening instance from D.C. Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), who apparently thinks that “the Rothschilds” control the climate. When challenged on the statement, he engaged in rhetorical shit-weaselling of the first order.
This is distressing. It is distressing because, at a time when animus by white nativists is manifesting itself against anybody who does not look white, and is being accompanied by a clear rise in anti-Jewish rhetoric, plus the return of active campaigning to roll back gay equality, communities impacted by this animus should be forming a united front to push back on it, not being divided.
The African-American community in the USA has multiple challenges on this front, since it is dismissing discrimination against other minorities, or itself engaging in the very racially, ethnically and religiously based discrimination that it rightly decries in others. Some commentators seem to realize this, but other leaders in the African-American community engage in rhetorical tap-dancing when asked about (say) the latest pronouncements of Louis Farrakhan.
Some contemplation in front of a mirror is required.


How to be useful on the Internet

Just a quick note about profiles and postings in this morass that we call the Internet.
Onlne, there are two extremes for how you present yourself. You can be a person, a three-dimensional individual, defined by your underlying personality and values, with useful and illuminating things to say.
Or you can be a slogan-based cipher, a source of nothing better than word salad and contentious nonsense, useful only as unserious troll-bait for fellow in-group members and the easily impressed.
Don’t be a slogan-based cipher.
In order to not be a slogan-based cipher, there are some things you should NOT do.
1. Don’t define yourself in your profile by your political positions or religious affiliations
Phrases like “constitutional conservative”, “commited socialist” or “devout Christian” are borrowed slogans that tell me you would rather be part of a herd than an individual in your own right. Talk about who you are, not which club you belong to.
2. Don’t brag about your skills or qualifications
A self-aggrandising phrase like “High IQ” immediately activates my bullshit detector. Really smart people don’t feel the need to assert their smartness. They expect that it will noticed over time. Only bullshitters and/or deeply insecure people try this.
3. Don’t include statements that make you look like a mean-spirited dick
Statements like “hates liberals” may get you an attaboy from Bill down at the bar, but they activate my Avoid Like The Plague switch. If you want to live in an echo chamber with other dicks, however, go right ahead.
(By the way, anybody who “hates Liberals” is telling me that they have somebody else living in their head and destroying them as a person).
4. Don’t plaster visual symbols all over your postings or profile to show how patriotic or American you are
Symbols, by definition, are not tangible things. Those pissed-off-looking eagles and the Stars and Stripes are being used in lieu of explanations. When you put a row of eagles on your avatar instead of an image of yourself, you tell me that you would rather signal virtue to an in-group than provide any useful information about YOU.
5. Don’t use memes to communicate on serious subjects
You should know my opinion on this by now. If you post a meme, you are using somebody else’s voice, not your own. I can find a meme for anything in 1 minute or less on Google. I want to read YOUR voice, not somebody else’s.
6. Extend the principle of charity
When somebody says something that you think is wrong or stupid, don’t assume that they are stupid. Assume that they merely see things differently from you, and inquire rather than attack.
7. Don’t use logical fallacies
If you don’t know what a logical fallacy is…well, there is still time to find out. Here. Here. Here.
People who are not interested in good-faith discussions almost always use logical fallacies, often without realizing it.
8. Don’t be a juvenile.
If you are discussing on a serious subject, talking like a school playground yahoo completely undermines the seriousness and credibility of anything you might say or write. Serious subjects generally require that you behave like an adult and devote some attention.
9. Don’t be a dick.
It’s not difficult to be kind.
10. Don’t be a dick.
Try to be nice. It’s not hard.


Kaepernick vs. the NFL – Part 3

The collusion complaint by Colin Kaepernick against the NFL is slowly shifting into a higher gear, as persons of interest are deposed by Kaepernick’s lawyers.
Yesterday, Bob McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans, gave a deposition in the case in Houston. An interesting aspect of the process was that Colin Kaepernick himself chose to attend the deposition (which he has a right to do). But even more interestingly, Kaepernick chose to work out in a local football facility. He was videoed throwing footballs and participating in a gym workout.
All of this is clearly a carefully calibrated series of actions designed to drive home the message that Colin Kaepernick is not retired, still wants to play in the NFL, and is working to stay fit and sharp for when an opportunity arises. The case, from the viewpoint of Kaepernick and his advisers, is now as much a PR exercise as a legal exercise.
The odds are still stacked against a ruling of collusion; Kaepernick has to prove that multiple owners acted in collaboration to deny him employment, which is a high bar to clear. Unless attorney Mark Geragos and his team can find a “smoking gun” – an item of compelling evidence that teams were collaborating to not sign Kaepernick, the case may fail in the court of arbitration.
However, if the case drags on into the Summer, it risks still being in progress at the start of next season. If, in the meantime, more damaging titbits emerge in the depositions about the racist nature of owner comments, and their seeming willingness to kow-tow to President Trump, from a PR perspective, this will not be good for the NFL. It will cement the image of the NFL as being dominated by owners who are racially tone-deaf and willing sycophants for an unpopular President.
The level of the PR damage may also depend on whether Trump finds himself in progressively deeper troubles himself. The deeper the troubles of the President, the more gullible the Trump-supporting owners will look.
I expect that the collusion case will be a detail topic of conversation at the next NFL owners meeting. I suspect that Roger Goodell will probably be advising the owners in private that they need to seriously think about settling the case before the formal hearing. It will cost the NFL upwards of $75m to do this, but the PR damage may start to exceed that if the case drags on, and more damaging revelations emerge.
As to who pays for the settlement, that is an interesting topic in itself. Teams who clearly were not in the market for a quarterback may resent having to push money across the table as part of a collective settlement effort. They may argue that they should not have to pony up for part of the settlement to assist other teams and owners that should have been a lot more subtle in their private actions and public comments.
The NFL is a strange organization…well, it is, a lot of the time, not an organization at all. It is more like 32 destroyers sailing in close formation, with a commissioner who works for the owners, which makes him only a titular leader.


Kaepernick vs. the NFL and The First Law Of Holes

In November, Colin Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL alleging collusion.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, grievances are processed within the NFL according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This means that a discovery period occurs, where both sides get to review the evidence, and where depositions can be requested and taken under oath from witnesses and interested parties.
We are now entering the deposition period of this grievance. One of the underlying weaknesses of the NFL is beginning to undermine the NFL’s whole defense to the collusion allegations.
What is known in the public eye as “The NFL” is really 32 independent businesses, all of which (with one exception, the Green Bay Packers) are privately owned, usually by a family that controls the majority of the equity in the team. The NFL organization, with Roger Goodell as its commissioner, has very limited authority over the 32 teams, because it really functions as a head office, PR front, and mechanism by which the NFL, under its limited anti-trust exemption (codified in the Sports Broadcasting Act) can negotiate broadcasting and other league-wide contracts.
Roger Goodell is employed by and is subordinate to the NFL owners. As one might expect from a collection of businesspeople who own private businesses and have (mostly) total control, the team owners are a feisty bunch of sometimes-cranky folks who mostly intensely dislike being told what to do by ANYBODY. They are also, with one exception, elderly white guys.
Because Goodell has no ability to tell owners what they can and cannot say in public on any subject, the NFL is now slowly, but inexorably, digging itself into a hole over the Colin Kaepernick collusion complaint. Any lawyer with a functioning brain would gather all defendants and persons of interest in a case like this into a room and the first piece of advice would be “stop talking in public about this case or any subject related to this case NOW”. Roger Goodell may have already told the owners this, but his words do not seem to be getting through. Via their own public comments, and a slow but growing number of leaks of information (possibly from Kaepernick’s team), the NFL is being backed into a cross between a corner and a hole over the collusion complaint. In the last 2 weeks the following information has become public:
– Steven Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, apparently announced that he would require all Dolphins players to stand for the National Anthem (despite the reality that he cannot legally do that), only to walk that statement back publicly a few days later
– At least 2 NFL player agents reported that the Houston Texans are “not interested” in signing any player who has protested during the playing of the National Anthem
– John Harbaugh, the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, was apparently advised by a military officer that signing Colin Kaepernick was not in like with the core values of the NFL

None of these actions (and two of them are rumors, not fact) prove that collusion occurred. However, they are slowly placing the NFL in a situation where, even if they win the collusion grievance against Colin Kaepernick, they will emerge having lost in the court of public opinion. The picture that is emerging from the unguarded public comments of owners, and rumors and leaks, is not a flattering one. It shows a league whose ownership is determined to squash dissent from the players, and which is more scared of offending hyper-patriots than it is in supporting social justice.
We can be sure that Steven Ross, John Harbaugh, and the two player agents are now on the list of people who will be requested to give depositions. Their names are going to be added to a lengthy existing list which includes Roger Goodell, his wife Jane Goodell (who ran a fake Twitter account on his behalf), Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, Bob McNair, and Steve Bisciotti.
Kaepernick’s lawyers also want to depose ex-Pappa John’s CEO John Schattner, but that is unlikely to occur since the NFL no longer has a relationship with Pappa John’s (notice how quickly they have been replaced as the NFL Official Pizza supplier?) and Schattner had no direct contractual affiliation with the NFL.
The NFL has emerging challenges that are unavoidable, with viewership steadily declining as more people bail on network and cable television, and its core viewing demographic is ageing.
At the point where the NFL needs a positive relationship with the players, it does not have one. Goodell is widely distrusted by the players over the bruising negotiations at the time of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, and his approach to player discipline which is seen as capricious and arbitrary.
These are challenges that will be difficult to overcome, and the drip-drip of negative news about the Colin Kaepernick case is making matters worse. If the NFL does not have a plan to settle the grievance in advance of a hearing, it needs one, and fast. Winning the hearing will be a loss if the public perception is that Kaepernick was railroaded out of the NFL.

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