Current Affairs – US

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.


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.


Looking back beyond Donald Trump

The success of Donald Trump in capturing the Republican Party nomination for POTUS seemed to take a lot of people by surprise.
It should not have been a surprise.
The conditions that led to a self-proclaimed “non-politician” and insurgent steamrollering his way to the GOP nomination are not new. The GOP has been vulnerable to, and taking account of, insurgencies for over a decade.
Back in 2010, for example, Sharron Angle, a surprise winner of the GOP Senate primary in Utah, made a statement in a radio interview that was, in tone and substance, almost identical to Donald
Trump’s recent expression of hope that Second Amendment sympathizers would help the USA. This is Angle’s statement from 2010:

Angle: I feel that the Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry. This not for someone who’s in the military. This not for law enforcement. This is for us. And in fact when you read that Constitution and the founding fathers, they intended this to stop tyranny. This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical…
Manders: If we needed it at any time in history, it might be right now.
Angle: Well it’s to defend ourselves. And you know, I’m hoping that we’re not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems.

This looks remarkably similar to Trump’s recent statement.
Those of us who have been following the “birther” movement since 2007 know that many of the supporters and cheerleaders of that movement are also fans of “second Amendment remedies”. There is a lot of overlap between “birthers” and Sovereign Citizens, many of whom regard the Federal government as illegal and illegitimate, and who are, based on their numerous online pronouncements, simply waiting for the day when they can pull out their weapons and go Vanquish Evil. They are all geared up to fight the Second American Revolution, they just need a good excuse.
The takeover of many State-level Republican parties by the Tea Party since 2008 is a classic example of practical insurgency. The purpose of the Tea Party was to remake the GOP into what they considered to be a “true Conservative” party. One of the favorite tactics of Tea Party activists has been to paint opponents as “insufficiently Conservative”, “RINOs” etc. Effectively, they subjected incumbents to an ideological purity test, and if they were deemed to have failed, the Tea Party members would run their own candidates in an attempt (often successful) to install representatives more to their liking. Sometimes, as in the recent unseating of Renee Ellmers, the Tea Party not only installed their preferred candidate, but also deposed that candidate if they did not (in their view) adopt a radical enough approach once in office.
Sen. John McCain’s nomination of Sarah Palin as his Vice-Presidential running mate in 2008 was a hint of what was going to occur in 2016. Palin fitted the insurgent mold. She was from a state (Alaska) not noted for producing national political figures; she was a woman from a seemingly hardscrabble background who had risen to be the Governor of Alaska; she was married to an authentic-looking outdoorsman; she had a family tragedy (Down’s Syndrome) that she used as a publicity prop; and she was good-looking, albeit in a clumsy and goofy way. She also had the ability to talk in disconnected, semi-nonsensical streams of consciousness, very similar to the speech patterns of Donald Trump. Her themes were a pervasive shout-out to God, Guns and Real America, with implied or actual sneering at “elites” and other groups who were clearly not Real Americans. (The desire to label anybody with a non-matching worldview as “not Real Americans” is now a well-developed obsession for practitioners of resentment politics in the modern USA).
The nomination of Palin proved to be a mini-disaster for the GOP. Palin lacked gravitas, and her dismissal of established norms (such as winking to the camera in the VP debate) made her look unserious. She became the butt of a thousand jokes, and further reduced her credibility by quitting as Governor of Alaska halfway into her term. However, for a long while, she was a heroine to the GOP, who saw in her a reflection of True American Values.
However awkward Sarah Palin was for the GOP, she at least was only the VP nominee. John McCain was there to provide the Gravitas and remind people that here was a serious person running for the office of POTUS.
The GOP today has no such get-out-of-jail card with Donald Trump. By definition, his position as the Presidential nominee puts him at the top of the pecking order, and his insurgent status allows him to ignore established norms in favour of anything that he thinks will work to get his message out. As a result, we are now being treated to a bizarre roller-coaster of speeches, tweets, and interviews where Trump zig-zags all over the map in terms of ideas, policy positions and claims, often contradicting himself multiple times a week. He appears to have no idea what he said yesterday, but hell, it doesn’t matter, here is what I am saying today. Most of what he says is provably nonsensical or untrue, but when challenged on it he either changes the subject or repeats the falsehoods.
However ludicrous and unserious Donald Trump appears to people who expect elected representatives to be sensible, thoughtful and careful, there is a serious underlying issue that his rise is signalling. While Trump’s behavior is the standard behavior of many demagogues throughout history, his attacks on “the establishment”, and his fire-hose offering of grandiose, simplistic solutions, are appealing compellingly to an audience, who, based on numerous studies, appears to comprise a significant number of Americans who believe that America is not meeting their needs, desires and expectations. The fact that Sharron Angle, promulgating a similar (although less scatter-shot) set of messages, could come within 4% of defeating Sen. Harry Reid in 2010 showed that a lot of electors were voting in favor of messages that asserted that the American Dream was not working for them.
One of the more important books of this year is J.D. Vance’s memoir “Hillbilly Elegy”. It is a revealing portrait of the economically depressed and deprived areas of Appalachia and the Rustbelt, where recent changes in the structure of the US economy away from manufacturing and labor-intensive heavy industry have resulted in massive multi-generational unemployment, as formerly productive blue-collar workers were laid off and reduced to scrabbling to survive. Trump’s eager audience is disproportionately comprised of such people, who believe that neither of the major political parties gives a damn about them. Well, except for Donald Trump. He gets them!
Personally, I believe that Trump is playing the majority of his audience like a cheap violin, like the narcissistic huckster that he really is. I also believe that the GOP has been playing that audience for decades, using all manner of resentment dog-whistles. (I have never seen a Democratic party leader talking about “coastal elites”, but I read that kind of doublespeak all the time from GOP partisans). The fact that Donald Trump has found an audience of this size sends a powerful message that there are a lot of people who consider themselves to be losers in the modern American lottery. The hollowing out of many communities has been occurring for decades (and this is not confined to the USA), and the resentment that has been largely hidden (poor people generally don’t run websites, write memoirs or vote in large numbers) has taken a while to truly hit the national stage. We can see a similar pattern in the UK, where the voters who voted to leave the EU were either older, with ingrained suspicions against Europe, or from deprived areas of the UK, where they saw no upside to being in Europe, and in fact saw a downside as “foreigners” came in and took low-wage jobs that they thought were theirs.
The more interesting and dangerous issue is what will happen if Donald Trump (as seems likely based on current opinion polls) loses his bid for the Presidency. He and his supporters are already pre-messaging their unwillingness to accept a defeat by claiming that the system is rigged against them. This is, in my opinion, dangerously close to sedition. If they have evidence that the system is rigged against them (other than the fact that, you know, they have to have a majority of the votes to win), then they need to produce the evidence, or the rest of the political actors in the USA have to tell them to shut up. We may yet see rioting after the fact if the result does not go the way of some of the insurgent supporters. Dealing with riots by poor people in Appalachia will be difficult. They will not be black, or foreign, so they will not be dismissable on those grounds.


Thoughts about the defeat of HERO

Some thoughts about the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) that was voted down by a clear majority on Tuesday night. My comments are less about the vote itself and more about the bigger picture issues.
1. The ballot for HERO was ordered by the Texas Supreme Court. IMHO, this is a second example in recent months of what I consider to be a dangerous trend – the negation of local decision-making processes by elected representatives or electors by state agents and courts. The current GOP, which dominates Texas politics, is always banging on about devolving powers down to local level, often ranting and complaining about the Federal Government, yet twice in the last year (once for HERO, once for the Denton fracking ban) we have seen state courts step in and completely override decisions taken at a local level. The cynic in me believes that right now, the GOP leadership in Texas is in favour of local democracy and decisions, but only as long as those local districts and cities make decisions that they agree with. Once they refuse to do that, they will invoke higher powers to countermand the decision.
2. The whole premise behind HERO, that the scope of equal protection and rights for people can be determined by a popular vote, is, from my perspective, unconstitutionally nonsensical. The Fourteenth Amendment (containing the Equal Protection Clause) was invoked recently by SCOTUS in its ruling on same-sex marriage, where a majority of the justices held that marriage was a protected right, equally available for all. That ruling applied country-wide (despite what some religious crackpots try to claim) and HERO, being a piece of legislation designed primarily to extend equal protection under various laws to gay and transgender people, falls into the same logical category as same sex marriage. I expect that even if no further changes are made in the laws in the city of Houston, sooner or later, a gay or transgender person or persons will be discriminated against or penalized, and eventually SCOTUS will become involved. I would then expect them to hand down a fairly simple decision along the lines of “you cannot discriminate – fix it”. If you adhere to the conceot of the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as defined in the Declaration of Independence, then putting other people’s rights up for a popular vote is a ludicrous negation of that concept, a narrow-minded penalistic approach rooted in the fallacy that rights are a zero-sum game, that by giving people equal rights it diminishes the rights of others.
3. There may yet be an economic downside to the defeat of HERO. Houston has a lot of conference business, and businesses do not, as a rule, like to host conferences in cities with discriminatory and controversial local legislation. Arizona lost a lot of conference business after the passage of SB1070 (I personally know of 2 IT conferences that left Phoenix shortly after the passage of that bill).
4. The turnout for the election cycle was, by any standards of the health of democracy, appalling. 30% of the electorate voted, so nearly 70% of the electors sat on their posteriors. This speaks to a fundamental malaise in democracy at local level in the USA. Low turnout results in a progressively smaller number of voters being able to determine the result of elections. Elderly and retired electors tend to vote more than younger and working electors, for obvious logistical reasons, so it is likely that


A quick word about “gotcha” questions

Every election cycle, one or more political candidates will be heard whining and pissing and moaning about “gotcha questions”. We are hearing it right now from several GOP candidates following the most recent debate.
Be careful about taking that whining at anything like face value. If you define a “gotcha” question as a question to which there is no answer that makes the answerer look good, there are very few true “gotcha” questions. (Questions like “when did you stop beating your wife” or “does this dress make me look fat?” while amusing, are not exactly common in the political arena).
Most of the time, when a politician is whining about a “gotcha” question what they really mean is:
Question that if I answer it, either makes me look like an ill-informed doofus, or which makes my political party look like it is dominated by squabbling children.
If a question is genuinely defective, it should be possible for a political candidate to explain to the questioner why the question is defective. Whenever I hear somebody dismissing a question as a “gotcha” question, I know I am hearing somebody who is trying to shut down the conversation instead of providing any useful answer.


Questions about the religious affiliations of candidates

The right answer by any candidate for POTUS as to whether they are Christian, or whether any of their opponents are Christian, should be to refer the questioner to Article VI paragraph 3 of the Constitution which states
“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
If they give any other answer that involves guessing or hinting about somebody’s religious affiliation, they are engaging in one or more of dog-whistling or pandering, and they either don’t know the Constitution, or they don’t care enough about it.


A quick word about drones

The word “drone” is being used in a debatably incorrect way when people talk about quadcopter RC devices. Those devices are merely, for operational purposes, updated versions of RC aircraft that have been flown by hobbyists for decades. Hobbyists have flown RC helicopters with hovering ability for a long time. They are nowhere near as sophisticated or lightweight as the current generation of quadcopter devices, but they perform the same function.
The paranoia (and yes it is mostly paranoia) about the new generation of RC air devices is fuelled by the use of the word “drone” to describe them. That word has acquired a very sinister meaning because of its use to describe larger, long-loiter military devices used elsewhere in the world to engage in surveillance and targeted assassination.
A quadcopter RC device is not a “drone” in any military or malevolent sense. They cannot carry any military payload. They have extremely limited personal surveillance capability, since they mostly contain GoPro or other cameras that have next to no zoom ability. They also have a flight time of 20 minutes at best, and require line of sight to the operator for reliable flight control.
Do quadcopters have the ability to cause problems? Well yes. RC aircraft and helicopters have the same ability, but there are regulations applicable to all of these devices under FAA rules. If a quadcopter strays into controlled airspace, that will be a safety issue, and the FAA has the ability to sanction the operator and possibly have him charged with serious offenses.
Quadcopters are regarded at this time by the FAA as aicraft, subject to many of the same rules and protections as aircraft. Hence people are being arrested and hit with charges for trying to shoot quadcopters down. The airspace above your property does not belong to you. It never has. If you don’t like that you need to campaign for a change in the Constitution. (BTW, there is no right to individual privacy defined in the Constitution, so if somebody threatening quadcopter vandalism says “It’s my constitutional right”, you can dismiss that claim. It’s horsepuckey).
The paranoia and unconstitutional attempts at restraint by local districts and counties in the USA are making the US into a laughing stock worldwide, and the results are going to be a lack of aerial device development in the USA, and loss of commercial opportunities.

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