Category Archives: Politics

The School of Misdirection

* Masquerade *

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”
– Margaret Fuller

“Misinformation works.”
– Rand Paul

Before I became a computer programmer I was a student at a tech school. It was a fast-paced track that promised to teach employable programming skills in under a year.

On the first day the students in my class were also promised that many of us would drop out. That is what had always happened on this tough track.

But it didn’t happen to us.

The stereotype of introverted computer geeks hadn’t taken hold in the culture yet. Sociability was fairly high in the class and many of us hung out together, had lunch together, or had drinks together after class. We studied together. This group was very open, no one was excluded.

Along with a few others I was getting straight A’s and would help anyone who asked, answer anyone’s questions, keep trying to explain for as long as needed. We learned very quickly that doing this helped us to learn the material better. Things become clearer when you think them through and make them simpler.

Helping other students definitely helped me to improve.

And talking about the material made everything more interesting and studying was actually fun.

At graduation time they told us that we were the biggest class to make it through the course and we had the highest class GPA. We had a record number of students finish with an A average and few or no dropouts.

My class had gelled around a sense of mutual support.

Recently I’ve been told that some educational tracks are cut-throat. The students compete with each other for grades and ranking and the tactics can be vicious. A few weeks ago a United States Senator advised medical students to sabotage each other with bad information. Apparently within some fields of study knowledge is a zero-sum game and the incentives reward hoarding it for oneself and trying to prevent others from accessing it.

A few years after graduation I was looking for a better job. One of the students from my programming class spotted my resume on her boss’s desk. She told him that she remembered me from that class and that I’d helped her with the coursework.

I got the job.

In my career since then I’ve always tried to share whatever knowledge I have and tried to help and answer questions and offer ideas. In my spare time I became involved with a local technical group dedicated to spreading know-how and networking, and I served on the board of directors. Sharing has always enriched my life and I love it when I can make something clear enough that I can actually see the light in another person’s face as connections are clicking together.

Occasionally I’ve also encountered people who hoard knowledge or even are outright saboteurs, intentionally giving bad information in an attempt to cause the other person to fail.

I’ve found that people remember the ones who helped them and learn to distrust saboteurs.

As the use of social media rises, employers are catching on to the value of teamwork and sharing. Knowledge hoarders will find that they must learn to share or they won’t fit in.

And saboteurs? Saboteurs will find that misinformation will follow them.

Image:
Masquerade * by pareeerica, on Flickr

The Benefits of Exclusion

segregation

Oh make no mistake. There’s no doubt about it.

There are benefits to excluding other people from a pool, whether it’s a pool of applicants for jobs, schooling, or the risk pools for healthcare.

There are benefits to the people already in those pools that is. The people who have no access to those pools are out of luck.

So yes, it’s true. There are clear definite benefits there.

Arguments that those already in the pool might suffer a loss if others are included are potent and real and cogent.

But also, they are arguments for continued collection of the benefits of exclusion, arguments that those already in the pool have a right to benefit at another’s expense.

Image source:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dustin_senos/3106266316/”
title=”Segregation by dustinsenos, on Flickr”

Connecting Across Spaces

Construction

We spin out our webs, weaving a structure for others to cross between or after us, if they happen to chance upon them.

There must be tracks to span the spaces between worlds, between my world and yours and anyone else’s. How else can we reach?

When structures fail us, that’s when we fall. That’s when the homeless find themselves huddled on an uncaring street. That’s when the suicide grasps at the blade as if flailing for a line, because solid structure can’t be found; if it exists it’s unseen, unfelt, tragically unknown. The strand that was followed ends here, the trail fades out, drops off.

The tracks our lives leave are what matters. Our lives are short but the tracks we leave behind may support scores after us.

Without them our lives are written on the wind.

Image source :
http://www.flickr.com/photos/34439637@N08/3199422889/” title=”Construction by ook.com.sa, on Flickr”

The Myth Fights Back

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Zimmerman stalked Martin in silence, a menacing, alarming presence with ill will. He does not seem to have given any thought to how he appeared. It may even be likely that he intended to appear threatening, as posturing men with defensive mindsets often do.

He was a man in possession of a flashlight that didn’t work, a metaphor for the self-illuminating insights that he never had.

All of his preparations were aimed at having the edge in a fight. He worked his body regularly for this purpose with MMA training three times a week. He didn’t just work out to be fit, he worked to beat an opponent in a fist fight.

He legally carried a handgun loaded with hollow point bullets. Warning shots, incapacitating shots were not part of his vocabulary, not an option in his arsenal.

Zimmerman was a man fighting for his life before he ever drove down that street or left his car that night.

All of his preparations were for this moment. He showed no concern for avoiding or preventing a fight.

Across the country, many white people have been cheated or lied to or harmed in some way by another person but never by a young black man. And yet those same white people are still afraid of young black men, more than of any other group.

When Mel Gibson barked out his famous curse, “I hope you get raped by a pack of n*ggers!” – he was expressing his own worst fears, not an actual realistic threat. His target of intimidation was in more danger of being raped by Mel Gibson. There was no feral pack of other-race men imminently circling, about to attack her. It was a myth in his over-wrought mind.

Before the Civil War, southern gentlemen couldn’t stop talking about how scary the black men were. Controlling these mental threats required maximum posturing, intimidation, and force. No public punishment was ever too severe. Those white men lived in fear that someday their advantage might be reversed. Just as Zimmerman, armed and dangerous, was living in fear.

Being pursued, Trayvon Martin knew that George Zimmerman was up to no good and that he himself had done nothing wrong. If Martin had run away Zimmerman would have held him in contempt as another “asshole” who got away. Zimmerman didn’t want him to get away.

In the grip of the myth Zimmerman knew that the young man he pursued was up to no good and had surely done something wrong. He chased him because to his mind Martin was running away, and getting away.

Myths are part of the culture of a country. In the south, fear of the overwhelming number of slaves hardened into a myth that rationalized southern fear and violence.

In such a fear myth, increasing numbers of the feared only inflate the myth. Even positive encounters with black people seem to reinforce the myth, exceptions that may well be considered proof of the rule.

Out in the national conversation held on Twitter, fear of the myth has been palpable this week. Even such a highly visible demonstration of the injustice of the myth as Trayvon Martin’s death still reinforces the fear of the myth.

How do we integrate a myth with reality when the myth is impervious and resistant to reality?

The myth fights back.

Image source :

This Action Is Not Easier Done Than Said

DSC00001

They say that some things are just easier said than done. That was true when the first doubter thought it and it’s still true. It will always be true.

Easier said than done.

Because “said” represents the expression of an idea but “done” is about the behavior that it will take to make that idea happen. And in that sense, it is true and will always be true that everything that is or can be SAID is much less easily DONE.

Keep that in mind, Sayers.

Image: DSC00001 by Santacreu, on Flickr

Wisconsin Fight Club

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Governor Walker has a terrible problem that no one is talking about. He is an awful negotiator.

This goes to the core of his political problems. It is the one skill that is absolutely fundamental for a politician in a democracy. And he doesn’t know how to do it.

People who can’t negotiate often do one of two things, depending on the strength of their bargaining position. Either they walk all over the other party and create lasting ill-will and enmity that will become an obstacle to achieving future goals, or they give away the farm to anyone who makes them feel good enough about themselves.

I am astonished that the pro-business groups that supported Walker’s election didn’t and still don’t see this. Or it may be that they did see but considered themselves to be in the latter category, the soon-to-be recipients of the farm.

Unfortunately for them, Governor Walker had to walk all over some other interests in order to get rewards for his supporters, and the result has been a political firestorm.

Apparently forgetting about another business concept, “sunk costs,” they’ve decided that the only way to rescue their investment is to double-down and invest in his recall campaign too.

But surviving a recall won’t magically bestow negotiating skills upon Walker and his hold on the legislature has weakened, taking his bargaining strength with it. That means Wisconsin is increasingly likely to see the kind of inaction and stalemates that characterized Milwaukee County politics when Walker was the County Executive.

His stint as Executive ended in financial disaster for Milwaukee, a result that Walker blamed on some of the politicians that he had to work with, in other words, blamed on his inability to negotiate with them.

Walker has demonstrated this inability visibly and well. It’s right in front for all of Wisconsin’s citizens to see, if they would stop fighting about the issues long enough to notice.

This fatal flaw isn’t going to go away and it means that no one will get what they want, unless political conflict is its own reward.

Image: “Just Another Saturday in Wisconsin” by Flickr profile Jonbloy

Living for Babies

too many babies

It can get weird listening to liberals and conservatives talk past each other. Misunderstandings lead to frustrations and then the decibel levels rise.

Conservatives, who have been in full counterrevolution reactionary mode lately, have learned that ideas expressed in provocative language can trigger passions among their members.

Liberals struggle with the contradictions that they sense in the emotional terms used by conservatives.

Perhaps nowhere is the confusion more tangible than in the conflict between those who call themselves “pro-life” and those who call themselves “pro-choice.” Often, it seems to pro-choice advocates, the pro-life legalized abortion opponents are also in favor of death dealing in the form of the death penalty, of war, and of torture. Moreover, pro-lifers seem to show little concern for the life and health of women and children.

Liberals are further confused when they see that the people who most loudly profess anguish that unborn babies are being “murdered” are often the same people who are against provision of birth control and who want abstinence to be taught in schools in place of sex education, despite growing evidence linking abstinence focused education with higher pregnancy rates. If abortion is murder and the goal is to reduce abortions then these things are counter-productive since sex education and birth control reduce abortion rates.

Pro-choice advocates say they are actually seeking to reduce abortions through sex education and birth control and so they object when pro-lifers describe them as “pro-abortion.” Why would anyone be for abortion, they ask.

It doesn’t help when legislators then seek to define “personhood” as beginning at conception on the premise that life begins at conception. Biologically speaking, eggs and sperm are just as alive as zygotes and embryos; there is never a moment during the reproductive process when the components are not alive.

But all of these seeming contradictions dissolve if the goal of pro-lifers is instead described as birth rather than life. Opposition to sex education is pro-birth. Restriction of birth control and abortion is pro-birth. The death penalty, war, and torture become unrelated issues. Poverty and quality of life, physical and emotional health are irrelevant to a pro-birth position. Gay marriage becomes a relevant issue as a threat to birth because gays would no longer be forced into a traditional marriage where they would be more likely to reproduce.

As for soaring rates of single motherhood, a pontificating Rick Santorum or a ranting Rush Limbaugh see single mothers as being to blame for making themselves available to men without a publicly blessed commitment. Men are supposed to couple with every fertile female available to them, that is their job. The female’s job is to be fertile and to carry and care for the resulting babies. Making sure that she has sufficient resources is her problem to solve. The pro-birth position is unconcerned on her behalf.

In this sense, the members of the pro-life movement are nothing less than the modern guardians of fertility, a firmly entrenched and primeval instinct in the human psyche. Once upon a time virgin females were sacrificed to appease this instinct, a clear incentive for young females to couple-up, and fast.

For these reasons clarity will be enhanced if we recognize that the pro-life movement should instead be referred to as the pro-birth movement. Then people have a better chance of talking about the actual issues instead of feeling baffled by the other side’s positions. Neither side is primarily for or against abortion (or life) per-se because abortion is not the real issue. The real issue is birth.

In the end it may come down to this: Some of us want to be married. Some of us don’t. Some of us want to have babies. Some of us don’t want a baby right now, or maybe not ever. And some of us want to force everyone else to marry and produce babies, all other considerations be damned. Whatever side that we find ourselves on, let’s call it what it is and allow our arguments to stand on their own merits.

Because true freedom and liberty require and deserve honesty and clarity.

Image: “too many babies” by Djuliet, on Flickr