Tuesday, August 30, 2016


I found this at Whisper.sh
I'm going to follow the wind today.

It's gone way past ridiculous. LGB turned into LGBT, then LGBTQ, etc. At each attempt to make people feel special, other people feel left out and offended. Then they have to be included explicitly, which offends someone else. So they have to be included. So now it's LGBTQIAPD, which stands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans*, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic, Pansexual/Polysexual, and Demisexual".

In other words, ABS ("Anything but straight"). Or if you prefer the newer terminology, ABC ("Anything but Cis"). These are shorter and easier to remember... and they still mean exactly what's intended by the longer alphabet soup.

I don't care much about labels. Call yourself a gazebo, and it won't bother me. But if you're picky about your own label, then I do have to remind you that imposing a label on other people is a completely dick move. So if someone tells you that they're Straight -- not Cis -- and you want to correct them, then you're the jackass*. That's your label. Wear it with pride. And because I am a dick, I have no problem saying that or using "ABC".

Of course, to be all-inclusive you have to just drop the labels entirely and treat People as People. But that's not the point for people who collect letters of the alphabet.


This actually came to mind today by way of analogy, from an unrelated conversation, so I'm going to let myself wander back into a completely different interpretation of the ABCs.

Hey, STEM folks... an Artist made this!
Created by Colleen Simon for opensource.com
In education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), has relatively recently given way to STEAM (the "A" is for "Arts").

It's another case of being "inclusive" so as not to offend, even though in the process you dilute your message. (The "Black Lives Matter" group understand this for their own movement). I joked that this would eventually become STEAM HEAT (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, History, English, Athletics, and... uhm... "Things" (gotta make it spell stuff). In other words, "school".

It's not that the listed things are objectively more important overall than those things that aren't explicitly listed. Rather, they're subjectively more important to those who focus on them. That's why the focus exists. But really, it's all important, as you learn from the people you exclude the moment you make your focus public. The people who aren't doing STEM are often feeding the people who are. Take them away and see if they're not important.

Personally, I don't think you have to "push" STEM, and I say that as someone who works in a STEM field. We should offer it, but not push. People who are interested in it will seek it out, and those who don't tend not to be very good at it. The people who are pushed into it are often resentful and leave it for something more satisfying. And those who weren't pushed sometimes just fall into it. Surprisingly few of the programmers I work with received computer-related degrees.  I think we are waaay too focused on technical fields as the panacea for all educational problems and a road to The Good Life. Our educators are so focused on their vision of society that they forget that they're neither the boss nor the architect of that society. They get too enraptured by quotas to remember to allow people to choose what they want to do for themselves. As a result people are made to feel bad about becoming skilled workers, and feel like failures for feeding their own families with satisfying, paying work, whatever that might be. If you're going to be offended, be offended at that. It's an outrage perpetrated by people who think they're doing good.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Right Complains; I Answer

I'm so used to taking the Left to task that I'm happy to answer criticism from a Right-winger for a change, if only to prove to my Leftist friends that it does happen.

When I posted "Why I'll Vote Libertarian in 2016" in June, it was met by the usual complaint from the Right, which I'll quickly summarize in paraphrase:
You assume Gary Johnson has a shot at winning this election. He doesn't. A vote for Johnson is a vote for Hillary, and she will then select the next Supreme Court justices. If Hillary is allowed to make those appointments, you can kiss any conservative comeback in our lifetimes goodbye. America as we have known it will have the final nail hammered in the coffin. The stakes are just too important to allow that to happen. This would be suicide for the Right, so we need to suck it up and vote for Trump.
It was also specified that gay marriage and on-demand abortion are two issues that are "already decided", so they're red herrings used by others to "spook you into voting for them". The irony is that this particular argument is itself exactly crafted to spook a conservative into voting for Trump. It is exactly what it denounces. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

My Answer to the Right:

I think you missed it. I don't assume that Johnson has a shot at winning. I don't assume any candidate does. Rather, I'm telling you why I will not choose between your turd sandwich and their giant douche. No candidate has any chance of winning without votes. It's how voting works.

The hilarious part is that this argument... a vote for Johnson is a vote for the other side... is exactly the same argument offered by Democrats, practically word-for-word with only the names changed. It's the same bogus logic that a hostage-taker uses: "Give me what I want or their death is on your head!" Neither of you are right. A vote for Johnson is a vote for Johnson. It's not a vote for whoever the hell you don't like.

Perhaps it's been so long since they've had something to vote for that this is now a foreign concept to many voters. The first thing to understand is that I am neither Republican nor Democrat. I don't give a damn what the team colors are. I'm focused on Liberty for all Americans in all aspects of their lives. Not "the right" and not "the left". So when I have a chance to vote for Liberty, I'm not going to piss it away because you want to control my vote and use it on voting against something else... especially since that strategy of compromise is a clear and proven disaster.

Just look at your attitude about marriage and abortion. You speak as if you're not interested in a resurgence of anything. Rather, you're somewhat desperately trying to cling to what you have, constantly writing off loss after loss as the new status quo. Compromise simply means that you will lose more. It's inevitable given the rules under which you play. The Right seeks a "conservative resurgence" that will NEVER happen so long as their strategy is to move the halfway point after every occasion when you're already "met them halfway".

You anticipate a "nail in America's coffin" that was pounded in when people decided to stop voting on principle and start voting "strategically". Since that time you have not seen one single step toward any conservative comeback. Not one. Instead you've seen more government, more intrusion, more taxation, more usurpation of your rights no matter who takes office. You've seen bigger budgets and more spending under Republican and Democratic Presidents with both Republican and Democratic congresses. Conservative Republicanism is a zombie already. It's a pity that the dead know no pain, or else you'd feel it.

Know that I would give this same speech to the Democrats, except I would phrase it as the death of Liberty, and I would point out drones and surveillance and other things that matter to them. I would remind them of their own greed by exhuming Kennedy's exhortation to "Ask not what your country can do for you..." and invite them to examine how far they've strayed from that. I would remind them of their own hate and intolerance through their policies of censorship and repression and ridicule.

We will continue to have more executive orders to usurp the constitution and a constant stream of compromise whichever of these idiots takes office.

When most people are polled with questions of policy, not party, their answers are decidedly Libertarian. And yet, pundits tell them that though most people feel this way, they "can't win" if they vote their conscience. Obviously, if they all voted their conscience, they would. The problem isn't with their principles, it's that they have allowed other people to control their vote. They've been taught by politicians that politics is a team sport, and that there are only two teams. That's the bullshit thinking I want to get rid of in politics. From my perspective, the problem here isn't that I'm voting my conscience... it's that you don't yet value your Liberty enough to break this cycle.

My position has nothing to do with a desire to sit back and smugly say "told you so" when you lose. It has nothing to do with my satisfaction.

In fact, I'm intensely dissatisfied. I would not be doing this otherwise. In all of History, change is only effected through dissatisfaction. Nobody ever changed the way things are by saying, "yeah, that's not so bad." They will just weather the next incremental usurpation of their rights like a frog who will sit there in a pot until cooked if you turn up the heat slowly enough.

I want the winner to fall far short of a majority.
I want voters to know that others are willing to vote their conscience.
I want ranked-choice voting as a means of encouraging people to vote for policy over "teams"
I want them dissatisfied enough with the current process to take action to make that happen.
I want you and others as dissatisfied as I am.
I want you so pissed off that you won't continue to be the frog in the pot.

But most of all, I want to accurately let my position be known so that whoever wins will know that it exists and at least has the opportunity to govern accordingly.

It's not just your kids that live in this country; it's mine, too. And they're ready to vote for a new party... one that will actually represent them. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have been here forever, and there's no reason why they should be. They have no Constitutional standing, and their demise has nothing whatsoever to do with the structure of this country. There is no fantasy involved in the promotion of a third party. It has happened before and it will happen again.

Given the crap-ass choices that we have this election, I will vote for my candidate so as to more accurately reflect that neither the Red nor Blue candidate is won because the country voted for them.

An election is not an office pool. The purpose of an election is so that the People may make their will known. It cannot serve that purpose when you don't vote your will. The current divisive state of affairs is because of it. The problem with Trump is that he is exactly as you described... he doesn't give a shit what you think, except as a means of telling you what you want to hear. He will do what he wants to do, checked only by an obstructionist Congress. The problem with the system is that the problem with Clinton is exactly the same problem as the problem with Trump.

You who say you believe in one thing and vote to support another will never have an opinion that matters, because you have never expressed one that can be believed. I will vote my conscience with no regret whatsoever, and leave the rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic to you. I'm willing to let you lose it all slowly through a "win" or quickly through a loss in order to gain back Liberty, maybe not in this election but the next. If you lose this election, then it is because you have not felt enough pain to get you to stop running down the same stupid rut you've been traveling. If you lose, it's because you need to lose. As for me, I will always choose Liberty.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Speech is Free; Tweets Aren't

ECNmag.com reports:

Last week, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Twitter that accused the company of supporting Islamic State by allowing it to sign up for and use Twitter accounts. The judge agreed with Twitter that the company cannot be held liable because federal law protects service providers that merely offer platforms for speech, without creating the speech itself. At the same time, Twitter stressed that it was working to combat violent extremism on its service.
I think the suspensions are quite possibly a mistake. I'm not talking about any value judgments of the accounts that were deleted (although I think there's a hell of a lot of value in letting terrorists identify themselves). I think it was possibly a legal mistake. I think a savvy prosecuting attorney could argue in future cases that Twitter is not protected by federal law because it does not "merely offer platforms for speech without creating the speech itself." The reason is that Twitter is now exercising editorial discretion. Twitter picks and chooses the messages that are persistent, and those that are banned. In so doing, it creates an overall editorial message that could be regarded as original speech.

When you select what to print,
you also generate a new original message

I don't think Twitter can successfully argue that this is done merely in cases of terrorism and violent extremism. At least, in order to do so they have to resort to unique and shifting interpretations of "violent" and "extremism". By many reports, Twitter has banned or "shadow-banned" users for holding particular political opinions, notably peaceable conservative ones. And the abuse policies they cite are so vague that they could be paraphrased as "we'll ban you when we feel like it."

That could be a problem for them. This time, a judge bought the argument that Twitter is merely a platform for free speech. Next time they may not be so lucky.

I'll also hold you accountable if you act on it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Innocence, Murder, and Gary Johnson

There has been an 800 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to my discussions of politics. It's not so much noticeable from the Left, but my acquaintances on the Right notice it big-time.
  1. I vocally express the opinion that Abortion is murder; 
  2. I vocally support Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for President;
  3. Gary Johnson is unabashedly pro-Choice.
"How is it possible," I am asked, "that you can support this man for President."

Well, I'll tell you, but I'm going to get to it in my typically circuitous fashion.

That's the title of an excellent blog post by L. Jagi Lamplighter. Click the title to read it. I'll quickly summarize that in it, she recounts that she, as a Christian, opposes abortion; but that since her decision was the result of religious belief, she felt that she must support choice in deference to the First Amendment. An atheist friend of hers offered her a view of abortion that she had not considered. It is murder, for the purpose of convenience or expense rather than self-defense or the defense of others. He then asked, if that is OK, then why can't we murder our senile old grandparents rather than endure the inconvenience and expense of caring for them in their old age?

I had a similar question asked of me today. Upon sharing Lamplighter's post, I was asked if this line of thinking apply to the death penalty as well? Perhaps this was intended as a "gotcha" for the mean old right-winger who would presumably like nothing better than to kill off the criminals, but frankly I find Gandalf's admonition to Frodo to be compelling: "Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends." So my answer was "Should it not?"

And though I will not print my friend's name here in deference to his privacy, I will give you his response verbatim, because there is quite a lot packed into this short statement:
"There are so many easy ways to solve the abortion issue but too many groups on both sides are invested in fighting it that it will never be solved. We have forgotten how to compromise in this country."
I believe each of these three sentences carries a misconception: 1. This issue has easy solutions; 2. People are invested in fighting it; and 3. We've forgotten how to compromise. And this led us into the nature of compromise, and it will ultimately lead us back to my choice for President.

In the course of this conversation I pointed out that one form of compromise that has been discarded is to stop believing everything is the job of the Federal government. Murder itself is not a Federal offense unless committed on Federal land or against a Federal official. Some things... and particularly those things that are controversial... are best left to be decided closer to the People. That leaves open the opportunity for people to "vote with their feet", to join physically with like-minded individuals and be governed according to their local community standards. This is something that a central government cannot solve. Any attempt breeds dissent, as we've seen so often in the news.

I went on to say, "I can't help but observe that this is not a word that can be applied to the subject of death. Would you propose to half-kill someone? It's dead or not-dead." He suggested making abortion illegal but having the Right compromise on sex education ("so that children and young adults can make responsible decisions about sex") and agree to free birth control for all. I suspect he perceived this as another gotcha, because he concluded, "but both sides are unwilling to concede anything."

Now, I don't know about you, Reader, but I'm confident that I could talk any Pro-Life conservative in America into accepting those terms, Christian or not. An end to the murder of innocent children in exchange for the price of some free condoms? And sex education which, if it is to be responsible at all, must necessarily point out that a pregnancy means carrying a child to term?

I agreed immediately. But I wasn't sure he did. Obviously he thought it could never be acceptable instead of the being the slam-dunk it is. So I asked him outright if the Right agreed to every term he listed, did he think it would be acceptable to the Left?

Well, of course it wouldn't, because... and I'm going to make this as fair as possible again with a direct quote:
"Nothing is going to fly because, as I said before, no one is willing to compromise. We as a nation founded on compromise have forgotten how to do that. Your recent response proves that. Instead of discounting my argument why don't you offer a counter proposal? You can't because you are unwilling to compromise."
This is despite the fact that I had just acceded to every term he listed; despite the fact that I'm sure any conservative Christian would do the same given only a short explanation; and had already offered a counter-proposal of my own, that of leaving this issue at the level of the individual States.

This isn't limited to this guy, whom I have counted as a friend for many years (and still do!). Nor is he in any way disingenuous or evil. He does not recognize the heinous act of abortion as a heinous act. He believes sincerely that he is advocating Good. And he sincerely does not recognize the many compromises that have been made as compromises. He did not recognize a thing when it was laid before him on a silver platter.

Understand that my main point in what's to follow is not to declare "this side is right, that side is wrong," though I leave you with no doubt as to where my sympathies lie. Rather, it's to point out that this is a difficult issue on which the religious Right is not nearly so illogical and unbending as you on the Left may believe; and there are solid stone walls where you don't think they exist. If you've read Lamplighter's blog post, or even my summary, you know that it was the religious woman who was the pro-choicer, and the atheist who was not... and both were on purely rational grounds.

My friend alluded to the founding of our country in compromise. The fact is unassailable that this nation was founded in large part on the notion that there are rights that are unalienable... that cannot be compromised; that cannot be abridged. They structured the Federal government to be small and limited in scope, thereby allowing the People to make their own decisions in these matters, both for themselves and their communities. And though the right to Life was one of those unalienable rights specifically mentioned by the Founders, today's compromisers would have that read "unless it's inconvenient". I shared Lamplighter's blog because it puts the difficulty of this position in sharp relief.

And as to the matter of "compromise" and what we have forgotten... let's not lose sight of the form taken by the compromises of our Founders. Non-Federal control of Abortion is a huge compromise for those who believe that abortion is murder. It is as big a compromise as allowing slave-owning states was for the idealistic Founders. And it is hardest on those morally predisposed toward Life, just as it Slavery was morally hardest to accept for those predisposed toward Liberty. People berate our Founders because of their "hypocrisy" in allowing the slave trade. This is pure nonsense. They made a very hard decision to accept the best compromise they could negotiate.

Remember the arguments for Slavery... getting rid of it would be inconvenient: an expensive hardship. Slavery was a pro-choice argument: not pro-choice for the victims, of course... they had no say in the matter. But it was pro-choice for those who were privileged to make the choices. Today's abortionists make all the same noises. How might we think of them in a hundred years?

Let's hear no more nonsense about forgetting how to compromise. Local control is exactly the form of compromise that our Founders would and did choose.


Now... back to Gary Johnson. Where does all of this rumination get me? Well, let's see...

Gary Johnson is a Libertarian. You can argue whether he's a "good" one or a "bad" one, but I think these things can be set aside for a moment. I think that at this moment in time it's more important to break the two-party stranglehold on government than it is to worry about the purity of your candidate's ideology. Once that has been done even once, even by a mediocre Libertarian, it will be easier to elect another, better Libertarian in the next election.

His positions are the correct ones far more often than not. For instance, the illegal Mexican population in the United States has been shrinking. And we can grant work visas and tax people without making them citizens. This is far more rational than trying to net 11 million hardworking people and build a billion-dollar wall with the money they send home to their poor families (money that won't exist when you catch them. See the funding problem?). And our country's drug laws have incarcerated millions of Americans who might otherwise be working and paying taxes. And for what? To control a substance that's less dangerous than the beer you can buy at a gas station.

Yes, we disagree on Abortion. But Libertarians can disagree... it's part of being Libertarian. And this is an honest disagreement. Yes, he's pro-choice. But as you will have read in Lamplighter's piece, that does not necessarily make a person pro-death. He's pro-choice on rational Libertarian grounds, just as I am pro-Life on rational Libertarian grounds. He is defending individual choice. I subscribe to the view that the non-aggression principle would have me defend defenseless innocents, of which none are more defenseless or innocent than the unborn. (I've blogged about this previously here, and here, among others)

Gary Johnson will not make it worse.  As a Libertarian, he's more likely to listen to opposing views and take them into account. And he really can't screw it up. Abortion is already legal. Partial-birth abortions are already performed. And changing this on a national level by sheer force of will is beyond the ability of a President. Selecting a new Supreme Court Justice is important for sure, but depending upon this to overturn Abortion on a national level is... well... less likely to succeed than Gary Johnson's Presidential bid. But what is more likely to succeed is returning more power to the States in respect of the Tenth Amendment. In the end, this is more generally beneficial than the abortion litmus test alone.

Remember the Founders' compromise on Slavery. If they had held out for the purity of their vision, there would be no United States of America as we know it. Instead, they took a longer view. In the Constitution they explicitly put off any action against the Slave Trade until 1808, at which point they quickly banned the importation of slaves. But it took many more decades and a Civil War to rid us of this immoral institution. I believe we can rid ourselves of another immoral institution without a war, but it will require that we adopt a long-term vision as did the Founders. What's broken here far more than our country's laws is its heart. There is no "easy" fix for that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Today, while my son was signing up for additional educational debt, I asked him, "Now that you have a degree, are you still impressed by them?"

His response: "No, not really."

That statement made me so proud. If he learns nothing but this, then his time in college was worth it.


My house is full of books. All but a smattering of them have been read. I think that learning is a wonderful thing. And it sometimes surprises people when I express my opinion that a college education does not benefit everyone and that it doesn't benefit society in the slightest to require it of everyone or shame those who do not pursue it.

Nothing drives this home more effectively than actually going to college -- even for a while -- and paying attention while you're doing it. I think that for some people, nothing demonstrates the severe limitations of a college education more than getting one. Education is neither intelligence nor knowledge. Achieving a degree is the beginning of an education, not the end of one. It is not an indicator of encyclopedic knowledge of a subject. It's only an indicator that you have been instructed in how to approach the subject and demonstrated that you have absorbed this to your instructors' satisfaction... maybe only marginally so. But frankly, it doesn't indicate whether you have actually done so.

If you have an education, understand that anything you got in a classroom can be gotten outside of it. As you should well know, your own education took place inside your head or not at all. You have no idea what is in someone else's head until you talk with them, and their ideas are to be judged on their own merits. There are people who treat a degree as a table of contents for their brain, and who act as though the lack of a degree is the same as a lack of content. Don't be that person... sooner, rather than later, you will regret it.

If you don't have a higher education, or can't afford it, don't let that stop or discourage you in the least. Do not let it diminish your confidence. The Internet and your library are full of resources. The rest is supplied by you alone. But once you have established that you want to learn, then the very next thing you should do... something that embarrassingly few college students master... is to learn to reason. Before you apply your mind to anything else it's vitally important that you learn about logical fallacies; about the application of reason; about the scientific method; about the difference between religion and superstition; about Rhetoric. These should be required learning in the first year at any college, and they are not. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that this gives you a huge advantage. Do not let a degree intimidate you when you believe the person holding it is wrong. Make them prove their point. Appeal to authority is not proof.

The title of this piece is "Wisdom", but it contains no wisdom; rather, it's about wisdom. It's a reminder that the beginning of wisdom is a greater respect for ideas than authority. You don't know anything about a person until you've talked to them with respect. That goes for everyone.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Bad Meme about Bad Presidents

I've seen this meme (on the right) floating around quite a bit lately:

"Y'ever notice the people who think that Trump will be a bad president are the same people who thought that Obama will be a good one?"

Well, duh... that goes without saying. Obama's a Democrat and Trump's running as a Republican. It's not even an interesting observation. It's certainly not thought-provoking.

It's also not entirely true. Look... we know that memes use absolutes for dramatic effect, so we have to just infer qualifiers like "some", "many", or "most" (though which one you infer is subjective). But the far more interesting observation is that many of the people who thought Obama would be a bad president also think that Trump would be a bad one. Those people foresaw the narcissism, the inexperience, the self-aggrandizement, and the willingness to ignore the legislative process and rule of law that Obama brought to the White House. They have a proven track record predicting bad presidents. And they see exactly those same tendencies in both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

And here's a corollary I have noticed... that many of the people who think that Obama's a bad president want to elect an unqualified narcissist who is very much like him in many important respects. They would follow up what they think is a bad president with another bad one... only this time it's ok because he's on their side.

It has nothing to do with policies or sense... common or otherwise. It's pure Team politics, rooting for the Red or the Blue without regard to anything but "winning". Of course, "winning" doesn't ever have to be defined. Trump certainly never does it. But he'll tell you when you're winning, and there will be "so much winning" that you'll be tired of it. Don't think about it.

So little thought is necessary in Team Politics that you might want to imagine those words -- and most "insightful" political comments -- emblazoned over an image of Jim Carrey's persona from Dumb and Dumber instead.

In the South, we could just replace
that bottom part with
and it would mean the same thing.
Or you might consider whether the actor whose image you're using actually endorses your views. After all, anybody can stick some words on a picture. I found this with a Google search on "Sam Elliott politics":

By the way, that same search turned up links that claimed that Sam Elliott's politics are "none of your business" or that he's conservative; but also that he himself declares he's pro-choice. I don't know what his politics actually are; but he sounds like a man who speaks out to the issues, and doesn't cheer for the team.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

The Cult of Constancy

"Everything is as it has always been and shall always be and nothing ever does or should change."
I have observed that this is the unofficial, unheralded credo of what I'm starting to call the Cult of Constancy: Those people who think that things should continue exactly as they always have for all of recorded history.

Would you nod your head in agreement if I were to apply that to strict religious Creationists who claim that all of the lifeforms that exist today have existed since the beginning, when God created them?

Okay... so would you nod your head in agreement if I were to apply it to scientists, "science geeks" and environmentalists who firmly believe in Evolution and Climate Change?

Well, you should. While it's appropriately applied to significant members of both groups, but it's the second group that's surprising. You see, although they claim to know better... they give lip-service to Evolution and to Ice Ages and various warm and cold periods that preceded them... their actions speak louder than their words.

Global warming looked a lot like this the last time it happened.
(Mariott Falls Vegetation by JJ Harison via Wikimedia)
As a quick example, let's look at the fear of climate change. Remember that practically all of the carbon that's currently trapped in fossil fuels made its way there because it was formerly in the atmosphere. Plants ingested gasses from that carbon-dioxide rich, exceedingly warm atmosphere (about 20° C on average compared to 14.6° C today), and then died, adding their carbon to the vast quantities of coal created in that aptly-named Carboniferous Period. And yet, members of the Cult of Constancy can't get a handle on the idea that life most obviously continues and even thrives on a hot Earth; and that the well-documented result of such climate change is an increase in plant life which once again removes the carbon from the atmosphere. Again, think it through... all of that carbon came from the atmosphere. You could release huge quantities of it back without increasing the atmospheric levels above those in which those life-forms thrived. That's pretty damned high, by the way... about 1500 parts per million compared to about 380 ppm today.

That doesn't mean that it would be comfy for us humans. We'd have to adapt, for sure. And there are other differences... for instance, the continents aren't in the same arrangement as then. But it does cast some reasonable doubt on the validity of climate change models that wind up with a Venusian-style runaway greenhouse effect. I don't think that anyone can reasonably say that "the science is settled". And frankly, I don't think anyone reasonably does. Rather, those who do are unreasonable. Irrational, even. Emotionally driven. They hear something fearful, and they fear it without considering whether it's actually likely. They're a bit like a Dubliner who won't walk in the park for fear of getting bitten by a poisonous snake.

Change itself terrifies them. I can't count the number of conversations I've had with people who have claimed, "it does not!" and then demonstrated otherwise.


What brought this line of thought to mind was a bit more immediate kind of change. Following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 I noticed a discernible increase in concerns about invasive species. A vast quantity of debris was washed out to sea and onto nearly every shore on the Pacific Rim. Alaska, Canada and the entire US West Coast have received and continue to receive Japanese debris, some of it as large as a ship, shipping containers, or even an entire dock. Plants and animals cling to that debris, and a serious concern is that these may include invasive species.

So what's an invasive species? Well, if you're Donald Trump, it's a Mexican.

Relax, that's a joke, but it does illustrate the point disturbingly well. In short, an invasive species is one that didn't used to live here, but does now, and is doing at least reasonably well for itself. We like to think of them as both dangerous and having been imported by humans, like cats into Australia or boa constrictors into Florida; but the Japanese tsunami illustrates the plain fact that natural forces spread Life anyway... naturally. If there had been no humans on Japan, those same organisms might have clung to trees and brush that eventually washed up on the California shore. In this case, the agent of destruction is also the agent of dispersion.

Invaded by Asian Carp?  Cool!
They are delicious!
There's nothing weird or unnatural about there being invasive species. Strictly interpreting the term, human beings are an invasive species on every continent but Africa. People are concerned about invasive species because of the disruption this can cause "native" species (those that evolved in that place, or moved there so long ago as to have forgotten origins). This is clearly observed in places like Australia, which has long been isolated from the forces of natural competition on other continents. Cats are a problem there because they are highly efficient predators. Rabbits are a problem there because rabbits have evolved in response to highly efficient predators. People, who brought the rabbits, now must step in, which is why Australians are visited by the Easter Bilby. This should tell you something about the efficiency of Australia's natural predators and prey. In evolutionary terms, they're simply not competitive. When placed in direct competition with cute little fluffy cats and bunnies, they lose and die out.

Not that there's anything weird about dying out, either. Almost every species that ever lived is now extinct. You might think me a heartless bastard for saying that, but it's both obvious and true. But members of the Cult of Constancy have some difficulty handling that as an ongoing truth. I think they should modify their assumption that the end of a species is the end of the world, when in fact it heralds the imminent birth of new species. For instance, in Australia there has been an increase in sightings of "big cats"... sometimes described as being like pumas. But nobody has released pumas into the Australian wilderness. These are simply feral cats adapting to a new ecological niche. It looks like some of these feral domestic cats can now be nearly six feet from nose to tail-tip. Eventually they will be a new species of cat, marvelous and wonderful in their own right.

If there is a secular point to Life at all, it must be the survival of one's self and progeny. If you need a universal moral basis for self-preservation and putting the needs of humanity first, there it is. Sometimes it's "us or them", but often our relationship with other life is symbiotic. There are fewer bison because of humans, but there are a lot more cows and pigs and chickens because of them, too. These, of course, do not count for very much as a species to an environmentalist, just as we humans don't. But an ecologist accepts them without bias as part of the big picture.

Lake Moultrie reservoir
just dripping with evil badness
image by Everett Leigh
We are not without compassion. The Tellico Dam was completed despite the snail darter, and we still have snail darters; partly because they weren't so rare as people thought, but also because we introduced them into other streams. Your irony gauge should have just moved a bit, as they're an invasive species there. But had that species ceased to exist, it would have been replaced by the myriad creatures that are attracted to a reservoir. So what?

Similar concerns have fueled ongoing opposition to the construction of just about every other dam since. This is despite the fact that hydroelectric power is clean, renewable, and would further the continuation of our own species by allowing us to shut down a few coal-burning power plants and keep some of that carbon in the ground. Environmentalists oppose this on two basic grounds. The first is simply that it may "alter ecosystems". Although this is quite often for the better, remember that this is the Cult of Constancy... any change is bad. You show them a reservoir full of wildlife, and they will show you where the bad man touched them. The second, newer claim is that they are not carbon-neutral. Note that this particular claim rests on the fact that it is impossible for a living creature to be "carbon-neutral", and reservoirs are both full of and surrounded by living things. Thus their argument that dams are bad for Life are based on the observation that reservoirs are very good for Life indeed. This is not rational. It doesn't need to be. They just fear change and desperately rationalize that fear.

So they look for things that won't change anything.

I'm naming this one Francisco Franco
(He's still dead)
One of the inescapable facts of life is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The Cult of Constancy think they can get magical free energy just by wishing for it. They may not intellectually believe that the Law of Entropy can be repealed, but they refuse to do the serious math that proves it must always apply. It's not some D&D spell of illusion that can be disbelieved. But it does expose a mode of thinking that must be normal to children who were taught to treat dinosaurs as if they still exist.

Things change. They always have, they always will. It's certainly possible to recognize that, and plan for the inevitability of change in a reasoned, rational way. If you're doing that, this isn't directed at you. The Cult of Constancy is built on the assumptions that we humans are apart from the natural world; that we can halt the cycles of the past; that death can be avoided; that no rat, snail, or owl should have to move; no species should be 'allowed' to go extinct; and if they do die out it must be somebody's fault. It ignores the science of Natural Selection with its accompanying onus upon each species to adapt or die. Demonstrating that Catholics don't have a monopoly on guilt, it makes them all your responsibility. These are political opinions, and Nature gives no mind to politics.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Liberal Students are Destroying Their Own Future

The New York Times of August 4th offers this headline (click through to read):

The NY Times reports a general decline in alumni donations as academic rigor has given way to touchy-feeliness and increased student protests demanding that free speech be curbed (obviously I'm paraphrasing... read the article). And the comments to this article are as informative as the article itself... I urge you to at least skim through them.

Amherst College, mentioned in the NY Times piece,
has a truly bizarre approach to problem-solving.
First, let's recognize something obvious: the university system, and the higher-level degrees in particular, are constructed so as to be somewhat dismissive of conventional wisdom.

This is by design. A candidate must present a thesis or dissertation that is based on significant, original research. There's a weird little dance in which prior research is acknowledged, but the thesis itself should be original. That's difficult to claim if your research is confirming that everything we knew to be true is true. That's just the way it is. So there is a tendency of students to over-reach in their desire for a blatantly original thesis despite being told that a thesis doesn't have to be world-changing.  The fact that they are told this is evidence of that tendency toward over-reach. While your thesis and research should be original, there's really no requirement for it to be correct. It can be total bullshit. Many are. But it has to be defensible bullshit. And if your research backs your bullshit claim and nobody calls you on shoddy research, then there's no "right" or "wrong" about a thesis. (I'm speaking in absolutes here only for concision, but if you are familiar with a thesis you should be smart enough to figure that out.) 

So there is a built-in bias toward being dismissive of prior thinking... it doesn't get you a masters or a doctorate. It just gets you close. And it also means that as the body of academic work has exploded with theses pointed in every direction, it has become easier and easier to cherry-pick prior research that leads you in any direction you want to go. Thus, nobody should be surprised that each generation of students is at odds with the previous one. I think it's an obvious result of the system.


While we're stating the obvious, I've said this for years: private universities are businesses. They are in the business of selling education. However they were founded, whatever their mission charter, they must continuously bring in funds to maintain their facilities, pay their professors and staff, house their students, etc. For this purpose they not only require that students pay tuition, but they also regularly hit up their alumni for funds based on charitable or nostalgic arguments. In return for this, the university must deliver perceived value.

For instance, tuition buys you an opportunity to earn a degree that proves you are well-educated and capable of independent thought; and with it a "good job" and the prestige of that degree. For instance, you can be addressed as "Doctor". An endowment buys you immortality by putting your name on a wing, or exhibit, or scholarship; and it buys you prestige because you're obviously one generous and selfless son-of-a-bitch.

This "school is a business" thing is foreign thinking to a lot of students and educators alike, but it's on-target, and has begun to be reported as news. To me, this is like "discovering" that the sky is blue. Supply and Demand acts even upon socialist professors. Unpopular classes get canceled. Unfunded programs die. Everyone bemoans the political advantage that athletics enjoys over academics, but the plain fact of the matter is that athletics generate vast amounts of revenue. Money talks.


One of the side-effects of "universities are businesses" is that higher education has been aggressively marketed since the waning days of World War II and the passage of the G.I. Bill. That marketing has consisted in great measure of people whose business it is to sell education telling you how little you can do with your life without their product. If you want to "get ahead" and "be somebody" and "make something of yourself" then you need a degree. "White collar work" is good. "Blue collar work" is bad. You "settle" for Community College or Tech when you can't get into a "good" school.

There have been decades of concerted brainwashing on this issue. It is brainwashing. It is marketing. It is hype.

Until it isn't.

You see, those people who graduated with those degrees wound up in positions of influence in business. They decided that in the interests of efficiency they could hire based on the degree itself rather than by any demonstration of skilled proficiency as they had in the past. Thus their pronouncements of the value of a degree became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Idiots on parade.
The public has responded by responding favorably to pandering politicians who passed laws funding University degrees, which have never actually needed to be publicly funded. A result of all this freely-flowing money has been a veritable explosion in the cost of a University education. They can do it because the market bears it. But at a certain point it becomes questionable whether a degree will get you a good enough job to pay for the degree required to get that job.

Yet, the Snowflakes continue to buy the sales pitch. They pursue degrees that make no economic sense, funded by debt made "freely" available by those pandering politicians. And bless their brainwashed li'l hearts, they blame all their ensuing financial troubles on "Big Banks". Big Banks didn't raise your tuition. Big Banks didn't promise you pie in the sky served on a sheepskin. Big Banks didn't choose your college. Big Banks didn't seek out those loans and sign those guarantees. Big Banks didn't map out this future for you. YOU DID. If you had a better education, you'd know that.


And that brings us to the point. You see, whether or not it makes empirical sense to use a university degree as an indicator of job skills, HR managers and employers did not do that without a great deal of rationalization. Having acquired degrees of their own, they know that a classical liberal education provides a scholar with certain competencies. These competencies are valuable to the employer. And with the exception of those relatively few career academics, the degree is only valuable to the student because it's valuable to the employer. It's the student's ticket to a "good job". It's what he was promised by the salesman disguised as a guidance counselor.

But what happens when a degree no longer ensures those competencies are met? What happens when you have no core curriculum? What happens when the tolerance that is required for the discussion of competing views in an honest academic debate or a business negotiation gives way to the intolerance of "safe spaces" and speech codes? What happens when emotional self-indulgence takes precedence over achievement and service?

A student may feel it's a lovely thing to have no core curriculum, but an employer really has no interest in hiring you just because you felt that it was worthwhile to part with tens of thousands of dollars -- much of it someone else's money -- to do what you want and feel nurtured for four years. Frankly, it makes you look like an immature idiot, and nobody really thinks immature idiots are terribly productive. Nor will a self-indulgent diva do very well as a team player in a corporate environment. On the other hand, the kid from tech school is pretty bright, has some skills, and takes well to OJT. Her diploma is worth more because she is worth more. Providing in-house OJT looks cost effective once you get tired of cleaning up the messes of unqualified grads, and you realize that you've got to provide OJT anyway.

You can see this in the comments of that New York Times piece. Academics and students just think, "Gosh, those old white men are just mean old racists. They don't understand the diversity of this new generation." It's bullshit. Those "old white men" fought for that diversity so that more people could get the same quality of education they themselves received, not some watered-down useless pablum in its place. And those "old white men" are not complaining about diversity... they are complaining about the intolerant self-indulgence of identity politics; the frivolity and uselessness of the coursework; and frankly, all the bitching about "old white men" who have continued to fund scholarships and endowments for the ungrateful little whiny brats who receive them and then cry about the meanness and greed of their benefactors in the "one percent". And in return for these investments, made possible by money earned by competent executives in their corporate offices, the "old white men" (some of whom are neither old, nor white, nor men) get substandard job candidates who are not executive material.


Meanwhile, Mike Rowe has it right. There's nothing inherently wrong with American Capitalism. Where it's broken is that not everyone should be going to university. Fortunes are not made in Yale, they're made in the free market. And a very decent living can be had providing the services that have been abandoned by US citizens to immigrants... shopkeepers, hoteliers, landscapers, welders, plumbers, bricklayers, electricians, roofers, carpenters. Regular, ordinary people can and do become not just middle-class, but millionaires in this country, without a lottery ticket and without student loan debt. And people are starting to endow them, through initiatives such as the Mike Rowe Works Foundation.

We are still the Land of Opportunity, but only the idiots in college don't know it. I say "idiots" because in my opinion they're earning the label. How else can you explain their demands for opportunities at the same time that an immigrant from Pakistan can work at a convenience store, then own one of his own, then two, then a chain? We're talking about college students who are so stupid and ineptly educated that they can beg for $80,000 of someone else's money to buy something they want right now, and then claim that the lender is greedy for wanting his own money paid back over a period of many years; students who are so dumb they conclude that it's then OK to steal that same $80,000. That is the level of economic incomprehension of many of the people who are in college today.

Prediction: as university degrees are increasingly perceived as worthless, what we see in these "small, elite Liberal Arts colleges" will become a broader trend. Not only the alumni will continue to abandon them; but also employers. And even as the academics scream about the injustice of it all, those employers will have shifted their sights. Fewer jobs will require university degrees as opposed to certification or on-the-job training. For many of those who are attending only for "a good job", this will make those degrees worthless in fact. It won't matter who funded them.

The shame of it all is that a university degree should be a badge of achievement. It should be valuable. But should this current trend continue, who will have erased the value of that hugely expensive degree? It won't have been those mean old capitalist employers, my dear Snowflakes. They're not the ones who built that perception of uselessness and counter-productivity.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Two Churches

This is not a parable. It's a true anecdote. 

When I was first married I moved to Maryland. Andrews Air Force Base (now "Joint Base Andrews") was my very first duty station in the US Air Force. Once we had taken care of the little necessities of buying a car and renting an apartment, the very next thing we did was look for a church.

We found one really close by. It was a a big church, solidly built, and packed with well-scrubbed, well-dressed people. It was just the sort of vibrant, exciting place that this young couple just starting out wanted. 

We started attending services, and it quickly turned... well, not sour, but weird. You see, on the walls of the nave there were large maps and charts with tiny lights on them denoting the locations of missions around the world that were funded by this congregation. And there were a lot of them. These little colored lights denoted their location and status. And there were a number of thermometers on the walls that were marked at the top with monetary goals. The thermometers were painted in red to show how close to that goal they were.

They were exceptional fundraisers, and they were enthusiastic about it. There was a rock band and the preacher shouted excitedly. But it was very much like a business meeting. They talked about the missions. They talked about the places. They talked about goals and sales and outreach. They talked about stuff. And all of this was very worthwhile, necessary stuff, I'm sure. But this church, located near the Capitol Beltway, was one exit away from the poverty-stricken south DC minority neighborhood where I lived. After the service we would get in the car, drive one exit away, home to an apartment building where three murders were committed in the space of a few months... where the ice cream truck that visited was covered in spray-painted pot leaves and graffiti. That ice cream truck still made rounds in February, and grown Black men would line up in the snow. It didn't just sell ice cream. 

But with all of those lights in all of those maps indicating missions all over the world, this church didn't have one for the poor neighborhood in their own back yard in Washington, DC.

And of all the things that they talked about, they didn't talk about the people who were sitting in the pews of that nave. One Sunday, after a particularly rousing meeting, I got in the car with my wife and realized that they hadn't even mentioned the Bible that day.

We never went back. It's not that they were bad people or the things they did were wrong. But I think that as a congregation they got so caught up in the nice-to-haves that they forgot the must-haves entirely.


Later, we moved out of that neighborhood and into a trailer on the Air Force base. We started looking for a new church. And we found one.

I don't remember how we found this place. I think it was by word-of-mouth from another serviceman. I'm not sure I would have recognized this little building as a church otherwise. It looked like a converted house. It was non-denominational: they were just Christians. There were no pews... there were straight-backed wooden chairs of the sort you might find in a school. I think they actually were school chairs, purchased at auction. They had enough seating for maybe forty or fifty people, tops. There were no charts, graphs, or maps on the walls. There was a cross.

There was no choir. The preacher's son played the piano when the congregation sang. The preacher's wife greeted everyone personally while he was preparing for the service. Everyone there (except us) seemed to know everyone else. When the preacher spoke, he didn't say a word about missions. He talked about God, and love, and the kind of people we should aspire to be. And after he had delivered the lesson and the sermon and the prayers, then he mentioned that one of the church members, who couldn't be there, had taken ill and was now in a wheelchair. She had need of a wheelchair ramp for her house. But he didn't ask for money for that ramp, and the congregation didn't offer it.

Instead, they set a date. That very afternoon. One of them spoke up to donate 2x4 lumber. Another donated plywood and hardware: nails and screws. There were a couple of builders in the congregation, and they said they'd bring tools. There was some passing discussion of whether they'd need a permit, and they decided that they'd conform to the city building code and trust that they could get a permit waived or paid after the fact. They left the service, got their stuff, gathered at that woman's house, and built a ramp. That very day. I offered to help, but there were enough people working, and not much I could do except watch. 

It's a fashionable Christian meme to ask, "What would Jesus do?".  Well... Jesus was a carpenter. What do you think he'd do?  I think these people understood God in a way that right up until then, I did not, though I was looking for it. They didn't have a lot of money to spend, but they had talents and skills that they could employ. They thought of those talents and skills as gifts from God and they used them to better the lives of the people around them. They thought immediately about what they could do before considering what they could pay other people to do. And it's a good thing they did, because the folks in the immediate area got no love from some big, self-important, "successful" organizations. 


Despite colloquial use, the word "church" isn't intended to describe the building so much as the congregation it holds. And in my eyes that little wooden used-to-be-a-house was built on a much firmer foundation than the huge white stone building we'd left.