Monthly Archive: August 2016

The meaning of the word “support”

One of the reasons why I am rarely posting directly to Facebook any more is because I am fed up with binary thinking.
A good example of binary thinking that keeps rearing its ugly head is when the subject of law enforcement comes up. When anybody makes a comment or suggestion that perhaps the police are not the infallible guardians of the law and society that most people think they should be, a shitstorm immediately blows up. Many of the prime contributors to the shitstorm begin to respond with angry interrogative statements along the lines of “well, do you support law enforcement or not?”. The implication, obviously, being that the people pointing out that law enforcement are not infallible are somehow hostile to law enforcement, and therefore they are Part Of the Problem, un-American etc etc.
The people asking these interrogative questions are wasting my time, and are unserious. What they are really saying is that they expect everybody to show uncritical deference to law enforcement at all times.
Uncritical deference and support are two different things. I support law enforcement, since it seems clear to me that high-quality law enforcement is a key indicator of a functioning modern society. However, it should be clear to anybody with more than 5 minutes a day to read and process information that there are police forces and police officers in the USA that are far from infallible. It is also clear to me that many police supporters are either blind to the failings of law enforcement, in denial, or are simply closing ranks and engaging in defensive, binary rhetoric to paper over the cracks.
I do not dispense uncritical deference to anybody or any organization or symbol. The only people that demand uncritical deference are the highly insecure and dictatorships, and neither of them are entitled to it. My lack of uncritical deference to law enforcement or any other government body is not an indication of lack of support, and anybody who tries that rhetorical trick on me is going to get a sharp conversational correction.


Spare me the faux outrage

Some of you need to get a grip on your sense of perspective.
The backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kapernick, decided to sit for the playing of the National Anthem at a pre-season game.
He was within his rights to do so according to NFL rules, which recommend that players stand for the National Anthem, but do not require it.
There is a reason for why he decided not to stand, which he has articulated since the event. As a bi-racial UA-born adopted son of US parents, he has noticed the extent to which people of color have been discriminated against, and he did this as a protest.
Colin Kaepernick committed no crime. He did not threaten anybody, or foment disorder. (Reminder – there is also a section of the US Constitution that specifically allows people to petition peaceably for the redress of grievances).
However, you wouldn’t believe that based on the amount of sheer horseshit that has been uttered following his actions. And, sadly, some of you out there on my Facebook wall are among the baying mob uttering horseshit.
Telling me that Colin Kaepernick cannot claim to be repressed because he earned $11m last year? Sure. If you think that is what he said, you need to significantly increase either your reading comprehension or the quality of your bullshit dispenser. You know he was not talking about himself personally, so don’t try that line of bullcrap.
Those of you who think it is clever to call him Kaeper-dick?
You’re behaving like small children in elementary school playground. Knock it off. Grow up.
Those of you who think he should leave the USA?
Is that really the best argument that you have? Is that the best, most intellectually sound response you could think of?
Because if it is, you’re talking juvenile, unserious nonsense.
Shouting (use of ALL CAPS)? Capitalizing words does not magically convert nonsense to useful conversational contributions. It merely convinces me that your emotions have overwhelmed your brain, which likely means that you are talking unserious guff.
Calling Colin Kaepernick a “loser”? Sure, if you think that getting to the Superbowl as an NFL quarterback and earning $11m this season makes you a loser, you keep making that claim.
How about, you know, actually stopping to think for a while, instead of merely hurling verbal nonsense?
Or are you so hooked on the idea of the National Anthem as an opportunity for uncritical idolatry that you have no time to consider broader issues? Like the fact that the USA is less than perfect? (HINT- every country is less than perfect. Get used to it.)
For a nation that likes to frequently proclaim that it is the Best Country In the World, some of you sure seem to have thin skins and massive insecurities. If you were really secure about the USA, you wouldn’t be engaging in ratchet-jawing dickery right now about a professional athlete deciding not to stand for the National Anthem. And if you are that hot and bothered about people “disrespecting” the country, maybe your ranting and raving would have a lot more credibility if I also saw you complaining about all of those GOP partisans who are constantly whining about how the USA is a weak shambles of a country that needs to be made Great Again, because those people seem to me to be saying things that are every bit as bad as Colin Kaepernick’s complaints about discrimination.
Of course I won’t hear that from most of you. I won’t hear it because those are the Right Sort of Americans who are complaining. Colin Kaepernick is the Wrong Sort of American. He is a highly paid professional athlete who is supposed to, you know, be grateful for his salary, and shut the fuck up about anything other than Xs and Os. Of course, at more or less the same time that he made this protest, we found out that the Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, a walking talking exemplar of resentful nativist dickery, stated that he considers “people of color” to be the enemy of modern America. But there was no comparable shitstorm of outrage from most of you about that little utterance No sir.
To hell with that.
Colin Kaepernick has every right to stand or sit for the National Anthem. The only countries that I learned about in school that required children and adults to stand, recite loyalty oaths, salute flags and sing songs were totalitarian dictatorships. If we insist (formally or informally) on compulsory fealty to flags and other symbols, and require people to sing songs, we are no better than all of those tinpot dictatorships that we affect to despise.
If you don’t like Colin Kaepernick not standing for the National Anthem, so be it. But do us all a favor and stop the fake outrage, the childish insults and the intellectually bankrupt suggestions. It makes you look like you are so insecure about your country that you demand lockstep fealty to all of its symbols, and that your answer when people fail to show what you consider to be the required level of fealty is to behave like a collection of elementary school playground bullies, a baying pack of online hounds, utterly devoid of seriousness.


Credibility Part 2 – Medical letters

There is a lot of internet and media activity about the supposed health of the presidential candidates (well, not Gary Johnson, who is presumably not serious enough for the mainstream media because he is one of those oddball Libertarians).
Trying to ignore faux outrage in election season is pretty difficult. However, this explanation by a practising doctor of all of the issues with Donald Trump’s claimed letter from his doctor is rather compelling evidence for me that this letter is not worth the electrons used to carry it to my laptop.
It’s that credibility problem, folks.


Walking back incendiary rhetoric

A lot of discussion bytes are being used on how much, to what extent etc. etc. Donald Trump is “walking back” his original comments about his views on immigration.
This discussion is mostly pointless.
It is pointless because of one of the oldest quotes about the promulgation of false information, courtesy of Mark Twain:

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Most people do not remember the correction to a comment or falsehood. They mostly remember the original comment or falsehood. To put it another way; Lyndon Johnson once proposed that his campaign allege that his opponent fucked goats. To protests that this was scumbag behavior, LBJ’s response was “I know it is, but let’s see him try to deny it”. LBJ, one of the more cynical modern politicians, knew quite well the power of unfounded initial statements.
Politicians know this very well. They utter incendiary or inflammatory statements as part of a carefully calibrated strategy to appeal to specific groups of people. If those remarks cause a shitstorm, they have a clever rhetorical get out of jail card in the form of a Notpology. The Notpology signals to their core supporters that they really did mean what they said originally and they are pretending to express contrition for people who “can’t take the message”. Those people are not their core supporters so they don’t give a damn about them.
So when you read all of the column inches about “regret”, “clarification” etc. supposedly being engaged in by Donald Trump over his immigration comments, ignore it. It’s all flim-flam. Trump knows that his core supporters remembered the original ideas, which sounded good to them. All of the regretful hand-wringing is for show, merely to attempt to quell a shitstorm. It’s meaningless twaddle.
He doesn’t care what people like i think, namely that he is pandering to nativism and racism with juvenile solutions unworthy of a serious political candidate. He only cares that his initial ideas were well-enough received to propel him to the GOP nomination. So uttering nonsense had a positive payback. We can expect to see more incendiary statements followed by “what I really meant to say” clarifications all through this election cycle. Politicians do it because it works. It works because we remember initial statements more than corrections. Our bad.


Credibility, Facebook and the election season

It is a single, very powerful word.
It is impactful in personal relationships, and leadership situations across the board.
If you are interacting with people in a work situation who you do not believe are credible, your willingness to help them, work with them, work for them, and go the extra mile for them is compromised or eliminated.
If your interactions with people in a social or relationship context, or when discussing issues of mutual interest, like politics, leave you to conclude that those people are not telling the truth, or are talking nonsense, then you will likely cease to regard their utterances on the subject as credible.
A loss of credibility may be selective (as in, they are smart in some areas but hopelessly uninformed in others), or it may become more pervasive. Actions such as lying, for example, tend to reduce people’s credibility in all interactions. There is that other side of the interpersonal interaction process called trust that eventually kicks in.
I have to confess that I am tough on credibility. I am also a pain in the ass because i like to debate, in an era where the process of debate is being marginalized by soundbite communication or the curse of the modern age, the Internet Meme.
One of the reasons that I left Facebook in May of this year is mainly because my wall was being increasingly dominated by people expressing opinions that were often based on bullshit that they were uncritically repeating. (Memes were being passed around that were easily debunked, sometimes in 90 seconds or less). I was also seeing all of the classic rhetorical fallacies being deployed in discussions by people seeking to justify statements they were publishing. In one or two cases I was specifically warned that I was not to challenge people’s utterances. (Whether or not the people in question really understand social media is another question for another time).
The impact of those behaviors led me to conclude that on many issues related to politics, many of these contributions were unserious and therefore not credible.
One of the enduring fallacies that many people cling to is that admitting to error is a sign of weakness. It is not. The most powerful and credible leaders are the ones that gather people around them and either admit to error and/or ask for help. One of the more revealing aspects of Bill Belichick’s coaching leadership style, shown more than once by NFL Films, is how often he gathers players during a game and essentially says “we are being killed here. Help me. What do we need to do?”. He is both admitting that the coaches do not have all of the answers, and engaging the team in making them part of the solution. It is something that only enhances his credibility.
On the other hand, posting an incorrect or deceitful meme and then engaging in intellectually dishonest defense, with no effort to engage in an honest debate that becomes a mutual learning experience, is an action that reduces your credibility. If you were simply seeking affirmation, then you could say that. It would be a more honest answer than to spin paragraphs of increasingly nonsensical assertions in a vain attempt to support your position.
A lot of people have let their standards of intellectual honesty in discussion and debate drop below what I consider to be an acceptable level during this election season. Whether those people will return to a more sensible level of honesty and good faith after the election season is over is something I will wait to evaluate. If they do not, then a number of them will probably be removed from my Friends list. They will be removed mainly because, on balance, their opinions and ideas are no longer credible.


The wonderful word of Internet and Facebook memes

A lot of people post memes to Facebook. Some of them are funny, some of them are tongue-in-cheek humorous. Some of them are intended to be serious.
The main challenge is that many of the serious ones are politically polemical, and most of the polemical ones are wrong. Actually wrong is being too polite. A lot of the memes are based on bullshit and lies. Here’s a great example:

This is an excellent example of a meme stuffed full of lies. It is yet another attempt to claim that there is a significant voting fraud issue in the USA. There are plenty of studies already out there to prove that those sorts of arguments are grounded mostly in bullshit, but that does not stop partisans from “joining the dots” via yet more memes. Politifact has demolished every assertion in this meme if you click on this link.
Stay away from political memes this election season. Most of them will be total crap.


The tendency to label opponents as stupid

One of the most useless approaches to dealing with people who think differently is to label them stupid, brainwashed or otherwise incapable of independent and rational thought.
It is a seductive way to think, because it allows for rapid and complete dismissal of opponents and their worldviews. However, it does not lead to any understanding of why they hold those views, and how to effectively argue against them.
An enduring example from Texas is Rep. Louis Gohmert. He specializes in making incendiary and utterly stupid-sounding statements on a variety of issues. The tendency among most commentators is to regard Gohmert as an idiot as a result. I do not see Louis Gohmert as an idiot. He is merely doing a very good job of obeying two fundamental rules of electoral politics. (1) stay in the public eye (2) say things out loud that your electoral base is thinking. One of the enduring themes of the last few years is how nativists and racists feel persecuted because their opinions are, quite rightly, excoriated. Many of them feel that they should be able to say almost anything they want in public without having to endure criticism for saying it. They are wrong, but emotional butthurt is difficult to process. A politician like Louis Gohmert appeals to those people by making them feel that they are not alone. Hence the cliched dismissals of “political correctness” that many GOP partisans engage in. This is code language for “I want to be able to say all the obnoxious things i believe in public without fear of contradiction or ridicule”.
Which takes us onto Donald Trump…many people, including media commentators, have given up trying to process Trump’s constantly changing series of pronouncements on most issues. They regard him as some sort of hopelessly non-directed person who simply says the first thing that comes into his head at any point in time. This, in turn, permits them to wave off his statements and speeches as unworthy of serious analysis.
This article by George Lakoff explains why that might be a mistake. Lakoff’s view, contrarian as ever, is that Donald Trump’s entire communication style is in fact a lot more carefully considered than most people give him credit for.


Wankers Of The Week – 26th August

The United States continues to be a place containing a lot of people who cannot prevent themselves from behaving like assholes. Here are some of this week’s gems.
1. A person who used to be a credible expert witness on the validity of bite marks as evidence in criminal cases, until the credibility of his evidence was reduced by various successful criminal appeals, is clearly in a bad mood these days. So he decided to show how big a dick he could be during a deposition session.
2. The Governor of Maine, Paul LePage, has been known as a dick for a long time. In this incident, the Governor trash-talks a fellow legislator in a manner that would be regarded as punishable for a high schooler, and then brags about it afterwards to the media. Clearly, when it comes to elections, voters in Maine do not regard dickery as a disqualifying attribute for a Governor (and people wonder why my patience and opinions of groups of electors is intermittently, shall we say, low…).
UPDATE – The Governor has issued his rationalization for his outburst. It definitely falls into the category of a notpology. He claims he was speaking metaphorically, and accuses the legislator of calling him a racist without providing any supporting evidence.
3. John Dubois, the Deputy Mayor of Palmetto Bay in Florida, is clearly one or both of a man with too much time on his hands, or a thin-skinned little bully. I vote for the latter, based on his track record of suing anybody who dares to criticise him.
4. LATE ENTRANT – The Mayor of Midland City AL lost her bid for re-election to somebody of a different skin color. So, suddenly a posting appeared on her Facebook using the n-word. Now the defeated Mayor is claiming that her Facebook account was hacked. This allegation suffers from a lack of credibility, since although the post containing the n-word was deleted, but another posting referring to President Obama is still there. I call bullshit on the explanation.

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