Monthly Archive: October 2017

Harvey Weinstein and Colin Kaepernick…

…represent two slightly different outcomes of the same underlying pathology.
The pathology that is on display here is the excessive tolerance of assholes simply because they are perceived to be successful.
Weinstein had been, by all accounts, behaving like an asshole for decades, and not just towards women. As this article explains, he really should have been fired a long time ago, not necessarily for abuse and harrassment of women, but simply because he was, most of the time, a weapons-grade jerk.
Bob Sutton has documented the many reasons why corporations should not tolerate jerks and assholes in the past. They poison the entire corporation in which they operate, and create other little monsters who emulate their behavior, on the grounds that, gee, it sure seemed to work for the guy at the top.
At the same time, a long and dishonorable tendency for the NFL and most of its teams has been unfolding, with the teams seemingly doing their best to turn a blind eye to misbehavior by players off the field, as long as those players are perceived as important performers for the team. Beginning with the Ray Lewis affair, where Lewis ended up being arrested on suspicion of being an accessory to a murder, and was defended by his team until and after he accepted a plea bargain conviction, through the Michael Vick dog-fighting conviction, the deeply unsettling Ray Rice domestic abuse incident, and numerous other examples of players engaging in domestic violence, the NFL has shown itself to be astonishingly willing to ignore or minimize player misbehavior. And yes, Michael Vick, post-retirement, is now a television commentator.
But…then Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel for the National Anthem. Suddenly, he was the Devil Incarnate, the personification of un-American-ness, the lightning rod for every faux-patriot ranter in the USA. He terminated his contract with the 49ers after being informed that he would be released anyway, and has now been passed over by just about every NFL team. He remains a free agent in a league that has a severe deficit of capable quarterbacks, and where almost every week, at least one starting quarterback leaves a game with a significant injury. (Two more starters suffered injuries on Sunday that will probably end their seasons).
Kaepernick’s example is a polar opposite one, of how the NFL treated a player who started a structured, peaceful protest against racial injustice by engaging in an unofficial boycott of that player, while tolerating and sometimes willingly embracing numerous other players who behaved like assholes, in many cases committing felonies. The double standard is glaring.
The examples of Weinstein and Kaepernick show just how far we really are from a mode of operation where being an asshole is derided instead of venerated.


Follow-up to my TSA posting

Yesterday I ended up having a spiky exchange with a TSA agent who treated me in a pompous and dickish manner. There was no need for her to have behaved that way, it is actually quite easy to not be a dick. However, I remain fairly convinced that the entire paranoia-based training ethos of groups like the TSA, coupled with the need to hire people who will show that they can be unvarying enforcers of petty regulations, is very likely to result in those hired people determining that being a dick is actually OK, and might even be required.
Dickish behavior aside, my main frustration with the sudden confiscation of my toothpaste was that I was being treated to a prima facie example of totally inconsistent application of rules. For the last 3 months I have been shuttling backwards and forwards most weeks to Kentucky via DFW, and for nearly all of those trips, I came through the same outbound gate at DFW. I was carrying an identical tube of the same brand of toothpaste all of that time (with varying amounts of toothpaste in it), and yet not once was I stopped and informed that this was a breach of the rules. Not in DFW, not in Louisville KY.
Of course, the sudden change in the level of enforcement might have had something to do with the fact that there was a completely different crew of TSA people at that gate on Sunday, a crew who clearly had a far more humorless and censorious approach to enforcement. I was brusquely told that I could not put my shoes in the same container as my toiletries, and when I asked why, I was informed “new rules last week”, in a tone of voice that suggested that it probably would have sounded a whole lot better in the original German.
and lo and behold, when sat down in the regional jet en route to Louisville, I was informed in similarly brusque terms that I could not put my laptop on my lap for takeoff. It had to be “stowed”. By this time I had had quite enough of petty officialdom, and having swapped seats, I told the flight attendant “you give me my bag, I will stow it”. I then ended up being told that my stowing the bag next to me on the floor was insufficient, and it had to be under the seat in front. So I jammed it under the seat in front.
All the time this was happening, with the plane taxiing, the woman across the aisle was talking to somebody on her cellphone…and she continued to talk to the other person until the plane was several hundred feet in the air.
My respect for authority is formed on the basis of equitable enforcement of sensible rules, by people who don’t behave like dicks. Respect is not given, it is earned.
None of the groups of authority figures that I interacted with on Sunday at D/FW airport did anything to cause me to respect their actions. They were attempting to enforce arbitrary and non-sensible rules (strike 1), hopelessly inconsistently (strike 2) and were being dickish about it (strike 3).
All of this is part of the charade that Bruce Schneier memorably termed “security theater”, an expensive, time-consuming and irksome game of charades designed to create the illusion of order and safety, while assuring neither. Schneier’s essay is as applicable now as it was when he wrote it in 2009.


Reminder – Encyclopedia of American Loons

When evaluating the pronouncements of public figures, it always helps to know if they have a track record of uttering nonsense, bullshit or plain unpleasantness. That may not invalidate their latest pronouncements, but it helps to put them into context and allow for some critical assessment of the credibility of their utterances.
The Encyclopedia of American Loons tries to keep up with the wackadoodles. It is always worth checking out people on this. Just this morning I checked out Rick Wiles, another one of the End Times wackadoodles. He is every bit as wackadoodle-ish as I suspected.


Statement of the bleeding obvious

In life, there are some old cliches that are often used in conversation. Two examples spring to mind:

“The grass is not always greener on the other side”
“Out of the frying pan, into the fire”.

Both of these are cautions against impetuous decisions to walk away from a situation that is perceived as bad, only find yourself in a far worse place. We have probably all come across people who, failing to take these sayings on board, and suffused with a mixture of anger, frustration and hubris, proceeded to show that you can indeed swap a poor situation for an even worse one.
Right now, in the world of geopolitics, the USA is faced with two sub-optimal scenarios, both involving countries who, feeling threatened by larger and more powerful countries, determined a long time ago that the way to improve their bargaining power and military position was to create the capability to assemble nuclear weapons, and deliver those weapons via missile technology towards perceived near and medium-distance adversaries. (In the case of Iran, that meant being able to plausibly threaten Israel. In the case of North Korea, that meant being able to threaten both South Korea and Japan, with the added more ambitious idea of lobbing a missile in the direction of the United States).
The world powers involved in both of these stand-offs long ago determined that, on balance, the right approach was containment. Both countries were leaned on heavily to agree to scale back activities that could lead to the creation of nuclear devices. However, given the large gray areas that exist between peaceful and non-peaceful use of technologies that can also be used to create nuclear devices, containment was never likely to prevent progress in both countries towards their possession of nuclear weapons.
However, possession and ability to use are two different scenarios. In neither case has Iran or North Korea demonstrated their ability to launch a nuclear device from within their territory and have it strike the correct pre-determined target. In fact, close to 50% of the North Korea missile tests over the years have been duds.
Robert Farley (one of them experts, so if you are reflexively against reading proper arguments, stop right now and get back to something else), has written recently about what a conflict designed to acheive “regime change” in Iran would look like. Short answer: Nothing good.
The scenario in North Korea is probably more intractable, because of the lack of leverage that the rest of the world has over a country that does not need outside assistance, whose (reluctant) supporter is China. This article explains just how messy the geopolitics in that part of the world has always been, and why the idea that Rocket Man (or whatever juvenile name Donald Trump invented this week can be removed from the scene with a few dozen military strikes is one that is likely to ignite a murderous regional conflict. One perennial suggestion is that the USA could assassinate the North Korean leadership. However, it is far from clear that this would be a constructive action, and there are significant legal and geopolitical obstacles.
Bottom line: these are complex and intractable regional conflicts, and anybody who says “the answer is obvious” is either an uneducated idiot, or somebody who wants a binary solution. In other words, exactly the sort of person who would leap out of the frying pan into the fire.


Things I think – Monday 23rd October 2017

1. I am tired.
2. All of my encounters with airport staff yesterday were either frustrating, or an example of people granted temporary power abusing it. It seems that the less power that people have in their employment, the more they abuse the power that they temporarily possess over the public.
3. I have everything that I need in my life at this point in time.
4. The most precious commodity is the time I have left on the planet. At the age of 62 and whatever number of days, I have determined that I need to be more self-centered in the remainder of my life. I have invested a lot of effort since my early childhood on interacting with many people, and too many of the results of those interactions have been unsatisfying. Many of them devolved into relationships where I came to realize, usually after a significant period of time, that I was doing most of the work for not very much tangible reward. This will not continue.
5. I am slowly and positively embracing all of the personal quirks that people told me needed to be eliminated, such as my low boredom threshold, and my reluctance to follow group thinking and actions. Coping with your natural behavior pathology is a lot less frustrating than trying to fight it.
6. Social media is becoming a place where I will spend less time. It has become a toxic environment. I will decline to participate in interactions if I can immediately determine that the person or persons on the other side of the interaction is not interested in a good-faith exchange of views.
7. My book writing represents my chance to create something that will endure after my death. This will be my art, my children. I will devote most of my non-work energy to it in the next 3 years.
8. I will move into a new phase of my life on or before my 67th birthday, no matter what happens with book writing.
9. Music is more important than ever in my life.
10. Stuff is an encumbrance. I intend to try and dispose of it over the next 2 years.


Wellllll now…

I sure hope that this guy has a guaranteed cushy job in a family business waiting for him somewhere, because I have a feeling that he will have trouble explaining this to potential employers. Although, having had to wade through a lot of Tweets and other extracts from the authoritarian echo chamber, I am sure that he is probably still being high-fived online, by both real people and bots saying “yeah! that showed those pissy whiny-ass snowflake libtards! Way To Go!”.


Why it is not a good idea to be immediately swayed by speeches

I grew up in the UK on the tail end of the oratorical age, an era where, lacking the immediacy of world wide satellite networks and the internet, in-person commmunications were the currency of messaging.
I was introduced to many famous speeches by leading world figures. Winston Churchill’s jaw-jutting defiance in the early days of World War II where he intoned “we shall fight them on the beaches, we shall fight them in the hills; we shall never surrender”. JFK’s memorable “ask not what your country can do for you; ask instead what you can do for your country”. (There was also his famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” statement, which actually caused some amusement in Germany, where a “berliner” was slang for a form of cake, so, to many people’s ears, JFK was actually saying “I am a cake”). Then we heard Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. Harold Wilson’s memorable catch-phrase “the white-hot heat of the technological revolution”. And so on.
However, I was also introduced, via world history studies in high school, to some of the less uplifting, more sinister and malevolent uses of rhetoric and oratory. We watched the German pre-WW II propaganda movies shot by Leni Riefenstahl. There, we watched as Adolf Hitler, Josef Goebbels, Rudolf Hess and Herman Goering, utilizing to the fullest extent the cadence and flow of the German language, whipped huge crowds into a frenzy of applause, cheering and massed salutes with promises of what they were going to do to make Germany Great Again.
These were not uplifting tales about the use of technology for peaceful aims such as space exploration, the extension of life, and world peace. These men were peddling messages based on demonization, extermination of opponents and non-Aryan groups, and the permanent militarily imposed supremacy of Germany and the Aryan race.
What those movies showed me was that there was a way for men to engage human emotions and energy that was not necessarily positive or uplifting. This was not necessarily a new thought. After all, mob rule was a well-known historical feature. Before countries decided that maybe it might be a good idea to start from a presumption of innocence instead of guilt when accusing people of crimes, plenty of incidents occurred where innocent people were persecuted and killed for no other reason than that a large number of people suddenly decided that, yes, they should be persecuted and killed. Somewhere in the middle of that process one would usually find one or more men yelling wild accusations in loud voices, inflaming and activating emotions. A less polite term would be rabble-rousing.
The rabble-rousing pathology lives on in some entertainment contexts such as wrestling, and also in English pantomime. Those, however are choreographed and relatively harmless when compared to actual Nazis, Fascists or demagogues loudly and excitedly threatening to exterminate entire ethnic and religious groups and take over the world.
Given that the emotions aroused by oratory can be extremely powerful, for good or bad, I effectively, without entirely realizing it, began, a long time ago, to pay as little attention as possible to speaking styles, and general interaction modes. I started paying a lot more attention to words and actions. There are quite a few skilled orators who can probably promise the world on a silver platter to eager followers and convince them that the silver platter will arrive Tomorrow. (One of the most charismatic speakers of recent times, Steve Jobs, was so compelling that the effect of the combination of his charisma and oratory became known as a “reality distortion field”).
Delivering on bold rhetorical promises is a whole lot harder. When somebody promises you that world on a silver platter, or promises to make your country Great Again, a perfectly reasonable thought that everybody should have and articulate as a response is “and how do you intend to do this?”. However, that requires intellectual engagement, which tends to get crowded out, in a crowd, rally or emotionally-driven situation, by the more viscerally satisfying instant gratification of emotional connection and affirmation. (“Yeah! Right On!”).
So, these days, when I hear that somebody made a speech, I tend to not watch or listen to the speech. Frankly, some people are go gifted at oratory or speaking that they could read a laundry list and make it sound exciting. (Conversely, some famous people are actually poor at public speaking). I try instead to get hold of a transcript of the speech. Stirred emotions are largely transient, although over time, via repetition, they can gradually and dangerously distort people’s sense of right and wrong.
Written words form a permanent record. They also allow for a careful examination of how the speaker uses language and rhetoric, and allow a separation of content from rhetorical devices.
Using this approach allows for a much more rigorous examination of ideas, speeches and communicated messages, and in turn the proper deployment of critical thinking. This is an essential modern skill, since politicians, business leaders and other front-persons for ideas and ideologies have become very skilled at communicating ideas and concepts, both good and malevolent, using both direct and indirect speech.
George Orwell would be nodding his head today, if he were still here, about how comprehensively “1984” has been adopted as a field guide for all manner of political leaders. Many of the communication techniques first named by Orwell, such as DoubleSpeak, are now part of the communications processes for modern political parties.
So…addition to the sheer physical presence and oratorical skills of modern communicators, the analysis of which requires separation of style from content, we also have to guard against the use of DoubleSpeak and other forms of what is known as Orwellian language.
And…being carried away by the excitement of a speech in a large crowd puts you in a bad place to discern the use of duplicitous, dangerous or malevolent communication techniques.


The level of corruption and mendacity in the modern USA is laid bare

…in this bizarre series of events, where a Cub Scout asks a State Senator to explain remarks that she made in a 2013 radio interview, remarks that at best are negatively and dumbly stereotypical, and at worst downright racist. It seems that one or both of the State Senator or the Scout group did not appreciate the Cub Scout’s line of questioning, because he has now been expelled from the den.
This story has so many bad looks in it, from the mendacity and casual lying and bullshit of the State Senator, through to the idea that the right way to handle awkward questions from people is to simply shut them up and punish them. It is an excellent example of the underlying authoritarian culture of impunity that infects the modern USA.


Friday Round-up – 20th October 2017

1. UK Crime and more Donald Trump nonsense
As usual, Donald Trump was talking mostly bullshit when he claimed that the 13% rise in UK crime was due to Muslim terrorism.

2. Normalizing Donald Trump
Jay Rosen wrote this posting a month or so ago about the dangers of normalizing Donald Trump, who, as Jay Rosen points out, is not a normal President.

3. Brexit and its impact on UK motorsport
In 2016, shortly after the shock vote in the UK referendum to leave the EU, motorsport journalist Joe Saward wrote a posting summarizing the results, the likely dynamics between the UK and EU, and some cautious thoughts about the potential impact on the UK motorsports industry.
The posting is still as relevant as it was over a year ago. Motorsports teams want the best people no matter where they come from, and any clampdown on the free movement of labour in motorsport will result in an exodus of high-tech teams from the UK to Europe. Now that aerospace has declined, motorsport is one of the remaining UK high-tech success stories, but it may not be for much longer.


Roy Moore, fascist bullshitter, as explained by Ken White

Ken White, unlike most of the ratchet-jawing amateurs who seem to think that they know that players not standing for the anthem are breaking the law, actually knows a bit about the law. He is a lawyer specializing in First Amendment litigation.
This is his concise explanation for why Roy Moore is talking deliberately deceitful bullshit, extracted from this Twitter thread,

Here, very briefly, is why Roy Moore is wrong — almost certainly dishonestly wrong — in saying taking the knee is “against the law”
Moore said this as part of a deeply disingenuous paean to the rule of law
The law he’s talking about is 36 USC 3001, which sets forth anthem etiquette
Two points. First, the statute uses “should” throughout. Under common rules of statutory construction, that makes it permissive.
Mandatory statutes use words like “must.” No factors here suggest that “should” is to be read, unusually, as mandatory.
Second, it’s been black-letter constitutional law for 74 years that the state cannot compel patriotic displays.
In other words, even if the statute purported to be mandatory, it would be unconstitutional as applied to civilians.
(The conduct of uniformed military officers is a different question, naturally.)
Moore is many things, but ignorant isn’t one of them. He’s dishonest, and a traitor to the most central concepts of American liberty.
This concludes today’s installment of “Things I Once Assumed Were Obvious And Widely Agreed Upon.”

You cam argue that the players are disrepecting the Anthem or the flag (one is a tune, the other is a piece of cloth) but you cannot sustainably argue that they are breaking the law.
This, by the way, is why Roger Goodell, in his public statement about player conduct, said “players should stand for the anthem”. As a lawyer, he knows that forcing them to stand for anthem is flat-out illegal, as ruled multiple times by SCOTUS.

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