Wednesday, August 3, 2016

At Fighting In the War Room, They Make a Mean Casserole

A message to the Fighting in the War Room podcast. Maybe my last. It's a trilogy.

Hmm #1 Why would your conservative listeners prefer you didn't inject politics into your discussions? Possibly because, at best, you end up talking about them like they belong in a zoo (you guys know that half the country voted for Romney, right?). I mean you've run across a conservative or two and it was nice, but not the *crazy* ones! (Given your attitude, do you think they'd tell you what they really think?)

Because you laugh at how conservatives are blackballed in Hollywood and Journalism because progressives are so intolerant - especially toward social conservatives. Ha ha! Lighten up, everyone!

Have you considered that your conservatives listeners kinda like you and would prefer you didn't portray yourselves in that light?

#2 Why is it painful for conservatives to listen to you guys mix politics and pop culture since Joanna has a token conservative friend with whom she enjoys discussing the political angle of movies? Because when the 4 or 5 of you talk politics, there is no discussion. You all essentially agree. You're just nodding at each other. It makes you sound smug. Apparently, David E. couldn't even HAVE a civil conversation of any sort with a social conservative. Joanna said it would break her heart to learn that an artist she likes doesn't agree with her about Hillary. Free your minds.

#3 How do your conservative and libertarian audience engage with pop culture? They appreciate music as music, literature as literature, film as film. They regard artists as artists. They don't reduce people (no, not even the black ones or gay ones) to a political cypher. They take their arguments -- even ones they disagree with -- at face value rather than reducing them to "Democrat B.S". I recall Bob Dylan answering critics (haters) who objected to him playing songs on his radio show from time to time with religious content. He told them , "Try just appreciating it as music." But conservative fans go further than that. When I listen to Spoon's "Don't Make Me a Target", I know it's about George W. Bush and his foreign policy. So what? Doesn't he deserve his point of view? I enjoy it as a song. When I listen to Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", I know more than most people that he intended it as a Marxist argument against private property. But when Obama shut down the national parks (and the ocean, and roadway views of Mt Rushmore and Mall monuments that didn't even have government minders) to win a political argument with the Republican Senate by holding America's heritage hostage, that song resonated WITH ME.  Good art outlives contemporary politics. Guthrie's music transcends any politics, even his own.

Your conservative listeners don't discount the work of an actor or director (or put an asterisk by their praise) based on her political opinions. They certainly don't see it as the righteous choice. I know some conservatives do that. If they're listening to your podcasts, they don't.

For a movie like "In the Valley of Elah" with an overt, tired political agenda? Yeah, that's tougher. But progressives don't line up to see that kind of movie either. When conservatives in your audience are aware that a movie is oh-so-not-so-cleverly injecting a progressive social message like the "X2" movie (not as a discussion but as a sermon), it's tiresome but conservatives deal with it the way most of them deal with YOU GUYS when you can't resist a political aside during your podcasts: How's that? Well...

Pretend you're black (I know this is a stretch) and you go with a white friend to a party of all white people. You hear them talking about the recent shootings of police and they are (reasonably) horrified. But it never occurs to any of them to discuss it in a wider context. Because they don't recognize that there IS a wider context. Not a legitimate one. But these are nice people. They welcomed you to their party. So you make excuses for them. "Well, I'm not going to stir things up because they just don't get it. They can't get it right now. They make a mean casserole though."

Conservatives FORGIVE you guys for being limited in your perspective and occasionally even small-minded. Even though your world is so small that you assume only ignorant people think Hillary Clinton ought to be in jail and that she ran around shutting down women after Bill harassed and raped them and she's been incompetent-to-a-non-entity in every job she's had and that all that disqualifies her from leadership.

I have a lot of very conservative friends (and progressives ones too! Crazy, I know) but I'd be appalled to have any of them say they couldn't be friends with someone who disagreed with them about abortion. I've never met one. I'm stunned to discover that David E. is so crabbed and narrow-minded. That's not sarcasm. I'm really surprised. Give that guy power and he'd be Robespierre. He makes a mean casserole though.

Addendum

I can understand anyone down-voting "The Passion of the Christ" on it's merits. Slow. Relentless. But then don't tell me what a master Werner Herzog is.

Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" is an amazing song. That violin makes you feel like you really are in a horrifying storm of injustice. The pacing of the story-telling is unsurpassed. Of course, the details of the story are completely unrelated to the facts of the actual murders and the case against Rubin Carter. It actually smears the bleeding-heart Liberal judge in the case. "The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd" also makes no attempt at being historically accurate. Who cares? I don't have to actually buy in to the belief that C.A. Floyd was a great guy to enjoy hearing the Byrds sing it.

David, check out the articles by the progressive Kristin Powers in the Daily Beast regarding Wendy Davis and Kermit Gosnell. You'll learn that not only is the circle of good people wider and more varied than you supposed, *progressivism* is too.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Traveller has come! What did you do, Joanna?!

Fighting In The War Room, a podcast I like, has done it again. Previously, I used them as a foil to rant against an irrational obsession with Girl Power when critiquing pop culture. Their consensus, at that time, was that we should cheer the work of female directors even when their work is not so great. Why? Because there aren’t enough female directors (by some weighted model) so any movie directed by someone identifying as female is a definitive Good based on that criteria alone. Ugh.

This time, the topic was the Ghostbusters all-female cast and the offender was the onliest Joanna Robinson of Vanity FairJoanna -- who didn't seem to like the movie at all -- expressed concern that the failure of this property would undermine support for genre movies with an all female cast. So, even though she says it’s not a good movie, she advised  audiences to “Go see it!”

Now, before I say anything else, I haven’t seen the movie. For all I know, I’ll love it when I rent it on Redbox. At the least, I’ve liked the work – to varying degrees -- of most of the core cast. The actual merits of the movie are not relevant to me at this point. This issue here is that the inestimable Ms Robinson thinks it’s a bad movie but never-the-less is recommending the poor and down-trodden common people support (with their inequitably distributed time and money) a product of a wealthy, powerful, cold-hearted movie corporation ONLY because they cynically remixed an old successful property with an all-female cast. That’s crazy. And it devalues the overall recommendations of this prominent female pop-culture columnist. That can’t be good. I suspect such writers slant heavily male. Can we really afford to sacrifice Joanna Robinson for the sake of the profitability of a major patriarchal media empire?

Secondly, her premise is dubious. Is it really believable that a production company would pass on a vehicle with an ensemble cast of proven bankable female stars because Ghostbusters didn’t do well? No. However, it might be a valid warning regarding lazily rebooting a franchise thus:
“Lets revive a thirty-year-old property with an all-new cast. Now how do we make it fresh? Let’s reverse the genders of the cast. Done.”
Arguably, Ghostbusters is contemptuous of female-core casting. The Female Ghostbusters compels proven funny women to slavishly service in a novelty homage to a story written for male actors decades ago -- a time (the 80s) when male-female roles were far more backward than they are today. Why couldn’t these women have been employed in a NEW genre movie that isn’t tied to a property invented, designed, and well-worn by MEN? We wouldn’t have watched these four female actresses in that?

And in joylessly converting Ghostbusters to an all-woman cast, the writers have locked every other aspect of the thirty-year old movie in place. We need one –and only one—black ghostbuster because that’s what the original had. A Polynesian-looking ghostbuster? An Indian ghostbuster? No! That would be nuts! We can change genders but there needs to be four ghostbusters and three of them must be white! 

Assuming Joanna is right about the quality of this movie, the fanboys who reflexively denounced this movie’s concept on social media were right…100% right. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Blogger Reimagines His Family as Disney Princesses

Snow White and Aurora

These orphan girls (Aurora thought she was an orphan) were forced to take their naps by baddie old ladies. Not dirt naps, but nice comfortable feather bed naps that came with handsome man alarm clocks.
IF THEY WERE MY NEPHEWS



They would be a gruff but lovable Middle School teacher and a scarlet haired hipster. And check out those beards. Watch out for chaffing, princes

Belle, Jasmine, and Pocahontas

These strong-minded young women were put in perplexing situations by their family meddling in their romantic choices.


IF THEY WERE MY DAUGHTERS
They would have left a trail of thousands of bodies behind them on Xbox. Disney offers lots of opportunities for kids to interact with princesses online. But if these princesses were my daughters, you would never want to meet them online. Online, they would be serial-murdering psychopaths.

Rapunzel

This coiffured lass was locked in a tower by an evil witch and had to turn her own hair into a stairwell.


IF SHE WERE MY BROTHER

She would live in a fourth floor walk-up in West Harlem which, it turns out, is a good deal harder to get in and out of. And if Rapunzel ever did without hot water for half a year while her witch landlord secured the proper permits to fix it it and then trudged through small claims court for the rest of the year to work out the rent, that part ended up on the cutting room floor.



Friday, May 27, 2016

Corporations Are People

You say corporations aren’t people. If corporations aren’t people then they don’t have Constitutional rights. Only people have Constitutional rights.

In that case, the New York Times corporation doesn’t have First Amendment rights. The NAACP doesn’t have standing to file law suits for civil rights violations. In that case, the government doesn’t need a warrant to enter the property of the Sierra Club and peruse their membership files or bug their phones. If corporations are not people then they can’t own property. They can’t enter into contracts.

English Common Law has always treated corporations as people for the purposes of the law. Boston and other colonies were founded by corporations. If corporations are not people, where did all the people in the Massachusetts Bay Colony come from?

Typically, no one claims corporations don’t have *those* rights. They usually argue that they merely don’t have the rights (especially free speech rights) that they don’t want them to have. It’s very picky-choosey.

But what is a “corporation?” Where do they come from? Do they condense from the morning fog or spontaneously generate from rotten meat? Answer: Corporations are PEOPLE who have combined their after-tax labor, resources, and stored labor (money) in order to accomplish some endeavor, such as making a profit, performing some public good (as they see it), or effecting political change. Corporations are legal fictions representing actual, distinct people. They inherit their constitutional rights and the right to act in the political sphere (as when the New York Times endorses a candidate) from the people they stand for.

If we revoke our own ability to cooperate together in the physical sphere, we hand control of our government to whoever has taken its reins at any time. Because those people certainly act in concert with privileges and powers not available to any other human association. And those people are not disembodied parties or departments, nor esoteric goals, nor angels descended from Heaven. They are politicians and bureaucrats who have very particular ideas of what is best for the rest of us formed from their own PERSONAL interests (it’s THEY the People; not WE the People).

As De Tocqueville said in “Democracy in America”:
“Among democratic nations it is ONLY by private associations that the resistance of the people to government can ever display itself; so [governments] always look with ill-favor on those associations that are not under its power. And it is remarkable that among democratic nations, the people themselves often entertain a secret feeling of fear and jealousy against these very associations which prevents the citizens from defending the very institutions that they so greatly need.”

The “Citizens United” Decision

“Citizens United” was a small media company that wanted distribute a film that would influence political debate just as Paramount and Miramax do and have done; just as national newspapers do. Unfortunately for them, they were not powerful, wealthy, connected big-shots like those corporations. They were a small media company. So when they tried to distribute a film about the politician Senator Hillary Clinton, the FEC prevented them from doing so.  The FEC ruled that advertisements for the film constituted a violation of the McCain–Feingold Act that prohibited broadcast, cable, or satellite communications that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary (essentially everything any network or cable news organization does). Senator Clinton had not yet officially declared that she was a candidate in the primary, but the FEC ruled that the law applied because they *assumed* she would be.

To understand the degree to which the Supreme Court’s final decision protected American civil rights, it is important to note that the Obama administration’s Solicitor General argued that the FEC could ban print books published or distributed by a corporation or union that had a single sentence expressly endorsing or calling for the defeat of a candidate. Further, he said that the government could ban the digital distribution of political books over the Amazon Kindle or prevent a union from hiring a writer to author a political book.

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Crucifixion of the Executive

Subtitle: Time Is a Quagmire


This is post was initiated upon reading Donald Trump's interview in Time where he said he couldn't say for sure whether he would have done what President FDR did and interned American citizens of Japanese-decent during World War II.

The legal argument is easy: There is no Constitutional authority for the US government to imprison Americans when they have done nothing wrong.

But, of course, FDR didn't really give a hoot about the Constitution and that's how we got the New Deal. And if I read Mr Trump right, he's probably the same. He'll come up with argle-bargle to justify whatever he decides wants to or has to do. It is a contemporary political quirk that the interment of Japanese in WWII is a such a dangerous third rail, but President Obama does not suffer for assassinating/executing an American and his 16 year old son in Yemen because that American was speaking his mind in ways that was punching holes in the current administration's foreign and domestic security policy. So... so much for the the Constitution.

The easiest attack on any executive decision is to wait for something bad to happen that can be tied to that decision. The context of the decision will be mostly lost. The bad events will be viewed within the narrow perspective what what historically happened. Not with the uncertain future that was faced when the decision was made. The best defense in that case of any person given the responsibility of Decision-Making is the one that is so hard it is almost pointless: What would have happened if we had not done it? This is especially vexing for the executive when there was no vigorous resistance against the decision at the time (or even general, positive approval ala The Iraq War).

So, that's a question I want to ask here, What was the possible downside to not interning Japanese? What might have happened?

Nobody at the time knew of the event that probably had the greatest single impetus for the decision to intern all Japanese: The Battle of Ni'ihau. In summary, a Japanese pilot was shot down during the Pearl Harbor Attack. He landed on the tiny remote, rural Hawaiian island of Ni'ihau. The residents had no direct contact with the mainland and didn't know initially about the attack. On this island there were exactly three people of Japanese descent, the only people who could directly converse with the pilot and knew immediately about Pearl Harbor. Two Americans and one immigrant. All three quite quickly began to conspire for the pilot -- eventually, violently -- against their neighbors.

Why did the Federal government keep the details of the event secret until 1956? Likely, because revealing that 100% of Japanese on the island of Ni'iahu quickly turned against the US it would have led to a panic that would have then led to an effective genocide of  all people of Japanese heritage in the US -- maybe of all Chinese and anyone who looked like they might have been Japanese.

What if the Defense Department had considered the Constitutional rights of Japanese Americans and opted to not treat Japanese Americans as an active security threat? And then suppose (as was almost inevitable) a Japanese American was caught conspiring with the enemy to do something that cost American lives? What would have been the public reaction then? Would you have wanted to be one of the tiny minority of Japanese-descended people in America in that case? This happened with German Americans in both WWI and WWII, but if you were an American of German descent, you could just change your last name and move. Japanese couldn't just Americanize their names and manners and move on. There were other reasons I think for why German Americans proved to be view as less of a risk than Japanese immigrants and citizens.

But the question remains, Did FDR's decision prevent an event that would have led to an irreparable stigma on all Japanese within the United States?

The problem is that the answer is unknowable. FDR's illegal act might have had a better practical result than following the Constitution. Or it might not. It is more that merely arguable that the Japanese on a remote island (technically American soil but it probably didn't feel that way) were not a good proxy population for the Japanese living in San Francisco. The reason we have a Constitution that is not supposed to be malleable to contemporary events is that it will constrain the government from acting (without the difficult process of obtaining an Amendment) when certain authoritarian courses of action seem like such a good idea.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

False Dichotomies v Real Dichotomies

I listened to the You Are Not So Smart podcast today. It was episode 69: The White and Black Fallacy. I'm subscribed to it so I guess it is obvious I enjoy the show. But it was hard to listen to this one and I knew immediately it would be hard because of the first example they used: the quote from George W Bush's Nov. 9, 2001 speech:
Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.  
I knew, when this quote led off the discussion that the analysis of this fallacy would be at least a little bit muddled. Unfortunately, the episode confirmed...well not the worst of my potential expectations, but definitely my more pessimistic ones.

On the good side, the panel gave an accurate definition of the fallacy: "Presenting an argument as if it offered only a specific limited number of choices when in fact there are more." They also pointed out the limited number need not be only two. And they gave the other terms for the fallacy: The False Dichotomy and The False Choice. After that, the episode was a woeful mess.

1. An argument does not fall into the False Choice fallacy simply because it only offers two or some other limited number of choices.

This point must come first. If a woman tells you that in order for her to marry you, you must join the Methodist Church, that might not be a fallacy. Those might well be your only choices: Join a Methodist Church and marry her or not marry her.

Consequently of all the potential titles for this episode, the one they chose was the worst.  The term False Dichotomy is a bad term for the fallacy because, as the panel pointed out, it need not be limited to two choices. The arguer could offer 3 or 4 choices when in fact there are 5 or 20.  But the term White and Black Fallacy doubles-down. It carries an implication that an argument is fallacious because it only offers two choices: "You are saying we only have two choices, therefore you are making a White and Black error. Life is not only white or black."

This is the fraternal twin of the False Choice: The False Equivalency. A statement offering two choices is not in error if only two choices exist. This is an important caveat that the panel failed to point out.

2. George W. Bush's statement was not a False Choice error because he was not making an argument. 

Fallacies only apply to logical statements -- not declarations of intent. The panelists made a Category Error. Pres. GWB was not making a persuasive argument. He was announcing a policy. He was not engaging in moral philosophy. He was a president with an actual military that dwarfed every military on the planet by many fold. He was not at that point attempting to convince anyone that what he was saying was metaphysically true. He was saying that his administration would act as if it were true going forward and nations who harbored international terrorist organizations should set their expectations accordingly. The following  is the quote in context:
"Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes.  Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.  It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success.  We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.  And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.  Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.  From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
Remember that the United States was, at the time, toppling the Afghanistan government known as the Taliban that had refused the demands from the United States to turn over the Al-Qaida leadership based in their country -- who were effectively operating as the head of the Taliban's army. The Taliban's response was essentially "Very sorry hear about your problems in New York City, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania. But stay out of Afghanistan. And, no, we're not going to do anything about the AQ organization operating more than freely within our domain." Previously, the foreign policy of the US government was to openly treat this as, to some degree, an impediment. GWB was declaring that he was eliminating that wall as even a public policy.

But even for less morally supportable contexts, this has nothing to do with the False Choice error. When Captain Hook offered the Lost Boys the choice of joining his crew or walking the plank, that was not a false choice. It was a real one. Many child soldiers were offered a similar choice by the pirate African armies. In this case, they are offered practical choices, not classically logical ones. Yes, there might be a world of other choices, but those are the only ones available to them at that moment.

A forced choice is not necessarily a False Choice problem. There comes a time in almost everyone's life when they are offered a chance to commit to some course or action or to ally with a particular side or employer -- a situation where if they opt to reject the offer, a middle-option is not available. That is not a submission to irrationality.

3. Even if George W. Bush's statement was intended as a logical statement, it would not have been an error simply due to its construction.

a. Again, see False Equivalency. "You are with me or against me" is not the same thing as "You are with us or you are with the terrorists." There might have been a practical equivalency (as opposed to a logical one) or there might not. But if the panel was aware of this, they didn't say so. The podcast even said that GWB's statement was a mere reformulation of  that well-known choice, and presented Annikan Skywalker's quote from Star Wars Episode 3 as an example:
Darth Vader: "If you're not with me, then you're my enemy."
-- a quote which Lucas wrote with the intention for it to be an unsubtle reference to GWB's speech.

To which Obi-Wan responds, paradoxically, with an absolute of his own: 
"Only a Sith deals in absolutes."
And lets not forget that Yoda said "Do or do not. There is no try." The lesson here is that if you are going to George Lucas's screenplays for positive examples of classical logic, you have truly gone over to the Dark Side.

b. And again, the statement "You are with me or against me" or some superficially similar statement is not necessarily an error. The panel made a very strong implication that it was. Disproving this sort of statement might not be as easy as the panel implied. This is especially true if the statement is "You are with me or you are effectively against me."

For an example, I'll offer George Orwell's argument that the British pacifists in World War II were effectively supporting the causes and gains of the Axis Powers:
'Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security. Mr Savage remarks that ‘according to this type of reasoning, a German or Japanese pacifist would be “objectively pro-British”.’ But of course he would be! That is why pacifist activities are not permitted in those countries (in both of them the penalty is, or can be, beheading) while both the Germans and the Japanese do all they can to encourage the spread of pacifism in British and American territories. The Germans even run a spurious ‘freedom’ station which serves out pacifist propaganda indistinguishable from that of the P.P.U. They would stimulate pacifism in Russia as well if they could, but in that case they have tougher babies to deal with. In so far as it takes effect at all, pacifist propaganda can only be effective against those countries where a certain amount of freedom of speech is still permitted; in other words it is helpful to totalitarianism.'
Do better, You Are Not So Smart podcast. Or do not. There is no try.

UPDATE
David McRaney, the host of YANSS podcast, responded over email very nicely regarding my problems with the podcast and thanked me for my feedback. The following was part of my re-response to his email:
...I don’t think ["You are with me or against me] is a good example for a White and Black fallacy. And White/Black is tricky. Although a False Choice can be easy to counter (as the panel explained), whether or not the final solutions to a question are effectively white and black is not so easy. Even though the real world is full of gray, it is also persistently binary as well – in aggregate and in the particulars – as those logicians, The Lovin’ Spoonful, taught us. Even natural selection, with all its potentially diverse results, has a binary solution for traits that are eliminated. Much of the process of producing well-formed arguments (or coming to a rational decision) boils down to drilling far enough into a question until the positive-negative elements reveal themselves. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Systemic Ideological Segregation vs Systemic Racial Segregation

In an earlier post, I explained that while a white-looking person is less likely to be discriminated against for their skin-color, that doesn't prevent her from from being discriminated against for every other possible reason in the world.

In Megan McArdle's recent Bloomberg column, she demonstrated how impacting this can be by presenting a woman likely rejected for a doctorate program, at least in part, because she was home-schooled and went to a Christian college which the reviewers derided as an institution of “right-wing religious fundamentalists” that was “supported by the Koch brothers.” She opened this by telling the story as if the woman grew up in a high poverty neighborhood and went to a small, historically Black college. She framed the issue the way "white privilege" is typically outlined (remember she is actually talking about a white ideological minority in academia):
No, no one said “we don’t want blacks in this program”; they don’t have to. They just have to decide that traits common to black candidates, like growing up in a high-poverty neighborhood, or attending a historically black college, disqualify you from being “one of us.”
But the paragraph the that resonated strongest with me was her assessment of stereotypes:
[T]he problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue. (Lee Jussim has done a lot of work showing that stereotypes are often quite accurate.) The problem with stereotypes is that people use them instead of other, better information. Women are, on average, less likely to be interested in science, technology, engineering and math. That wouldn’t make it a good policy for a STEM program to discard the applications of all women, on the grounds that most women don’t want to be engineers.
 As I said in the earlier post:
[The bigot's] error is that ancestry is a useless proxy for weighing the human soul or guessing the path of a human life.