Actual evidence showing racism exists in America

Twice now in as many weeks I’ve run across a well meaning white friend who did not quite understand the nature of racism in America. I’m not posting this here to shame them, or for that matter to shame anybody, I’m putting this page up as a handy reference. My goal is to provide a single page with links to scholarly research (not reports, not news, and certainly not fake news) that indicates racial bias exists in America still.

Feel free to link to it if you wish.  (permalink)

For the most part the links go to original studies, not reports of studies. This distinction is important as I would like to present the data with as little slant or bias as possible. This is science, yo, not an opinion piece. Also, I respect that you came here, so I’ll try not to waste your time.

If you run across a good study that you don’t see here, feel free to email me a link. Likewise if you spot any errors please drop me a line. The goal is to keep this page as “objective” as possible with as little bias as I can offer.

 

An oldie but a goodie, from back in the early 1990s on how different races perceive each other:
Ethnic Images

This one is kind of surprising, especially the last part of the abstract. It’s about expulsion rates for children based on race (pdf link):
Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions?

This one is all about perception. It’s a Pew survey not a research paper, so consume with a healthy grain of salt.
On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart.

A paper using resumes and racially biased names. This paper is the one that started me down this path.
Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?

Even the police will not call you back as often with a black sounding name (pdf link):
Racial Discrimination is Local Public Services…

More about racially biased names and assumptions (pdf link):
Looming Large in other’s eyes….

A longer article that references the resume study above, but adds so many more that I’m just posting this here rather than fishing out all of the links.
Think you’re not racist?
Research uncovers our secret prejudices, and ways to overcome them.

One that came out as I was typing this. Apparently police cameras are useful for more than just video.
Language from police body camera footage shows racial disparities in officer respect.

I’m sure there is much more. I’ll be adding to this page as I find studies I deem worthy of your time.

On Dreams and Robust Systems

Last night I had the strangest dream, one that I think has a lot to tell us about the U.S. healthcare system.

I dreamed I was leading a team that was developing a robot. I don’t recall the purpose of the robot, but I do remember there were several teams competing for the same prize, and that my team was succeeding where the others were not.

Now, what you need to understand is that way back in the day (we’re talking the early 1990s) I came up with the idea of a robotic vacuum that I called the Yarn Shark. It was very similar in intent to a modern Roomba. I did a lot of booking up on robotic systems and architecture back then with the idea of making a sellable product. That robot never came about, but the knowledge remained.

So in my dream one of the things we’d done was run a string of LED lights along the inside of the wheels and mount opposite of the lights a single light sensor that could count them as they passed. This was an old school solution to help your robot know where it was at, what its speed was, and in what direction it was traveling. To give you an example, if the wheels on your robot are 3″ in circumference, and there are 8 lights along its edge, then if your sensor “sees” 8 flashes of light, it’s fair to guess your robot has moved forward 3″. Pretty basic stuff.

All of the robot teams in my dream had been using these LED lights to help them navigate. The main difference was that the other teams had very carefully wrapped their lights around the wheels so they were all spaced apart uniformly. But on our robot, we wrapped the lights any old way, not caring how exact the lights were spaced. Now that inexactness of our spacing should have lead to less accurate navigation, as you can imagine, and the other teams assumed. However, the opposite was true. Our robot consistently navigated far better than the others. This was not because randomly spaced lights are better than uniform ones, but because our software design was different.

The other robots relied upon their accurate spacing, and were programmed with the assumption that every flash of a light was a reliable indicator. Our system, by way of contrast, was designed from the get go with the idea that you could not trust what the sensors were telling the processor. In effect, our processor did not trust its sensors to be reliable, and therefore computed its location differently.

BTW this is largely true. In the real world a wheel moves forward and backward in ways that can be surprising, For instance, when a robot is turning the outer wheels roll a longer distance then the inside wheels. Which leads to the question, wheel is the reliable one? If a robot happens to back up and turn, then its possible a light will trigger the sensor while the wheel is going forward, and then backward. Your processor, not being able to know anything else about the wheel, might assume those flashes indicate consistent motion in one direction or the other, when in fact the wheel had gone both ways.

Our software was based upon the assumption that things could go wrong, and therefore it needed to ask itself more questions to be sure of its location. What did the other wheels indicate? What does the forward radar say? Etc. In engineering, this is called a more robust system. It assumes up front that things can go bad, and it reacts accordingly. Mind you, more robust systems are not perfect, among other things they require much more programming, and they take up more processing time than more simple systems. But they have one decided advantage, they’re not easy to surprise. Errors, in such a system, are expected. And this last part was the key to our robot’s success.

And now we get to the point of this essay. You see, I think Healthcare systems need to be designed more robustly. They need to assume from the get go that people are going to screw up, and have a solution at hand when it happens.

Mind you, I don’t go around assuming people are all screw ups, but when it comes to healthcare I think it fair to say us humans, even the most careful thinking of us, do not fully appreciate the inherent problems. For instance, one can be fully insured for medical problems, but if you’re in a bad auto accident, your health insurance will not cover your house payment that you cannot make because you’re lying in a hospital bed instead of at work. Or what happens if you meet the love of you life, get married, and then you both discover your partner suddenly develops a medical problem so severe it requires a transplant? (this is not an idol question, it happened to a family member) And most people do not worry that if they lose their job they will drink themselves to death, but this is happening so much that the life expectancy for white males of middle age has actually dropped in recent years.

Back before Obamacare our medical insurance system simply cut people off if they cost too much. This wasn’t as bad as it sounds, eventually the person cut off would usually qualify for medicare. The problem is that last step was pretty steep, because medicare requires you to be broke before its cuts in. In realty, what happened is your insurance would stop making payments, while you continued to need medical care. Next, you’d go through your savings like poop through a goose, and eventually medicare would kick in right about the time you declared bankruptcy. So you would get your medical care, but only after you lost your house, your kid’s college fund, and your car.

This is stupid for more reasons than I care to count, primary among them is the loss of a good tax-paying citizen, replacing them with a tax liability. And all for a cost that would have been simple to fix at the time of the problem. It used to be that upwards of 60-100k people a year went through medical bankruptcies. That is 100,000 tax payers were reduced to welfare recipients, every year! Not only were we still footing the bill for their medical care, but then we all but insured that these people would never help pay for their bills out of their own pocket. Poor people being notorious for not paying taxes like the middle class do.

This is what I mean by not being a robust system. If your healthcare requires you to go bankrupt, it’s not really caring for you, is it? It’s just keeping you from dying. We need something a little more robust than ‘keeping us from dying”. That is not a good standard for healthcare.

And this is where I get back to my dream and robust systems. As we debate our future healthcare system, I think it imperative we keep in mind that humans get sick in unpredictable ways, and all of us need healthcare for the day when the unpredictable becomes the real. We know the unpredictable will happen–we know people will get cancer, or get in car accidents, become an alcoholic, or suddenly need a new pancreas–the problem is we don’t know who. Even worse, us humans are notoriously bad at assessing our needs. Every healthy human you meet between the ages of 16 and 30 are sure they don’t need medical care, which is true for all of us, but especially the young, right up until the moment that it isn’t. And when that happens, when young adult suddenly needs healthcare, should we penalize them for acting in a way that every healthy person does at their age? That seems pretty counterintuitive to me, and yet it’s a part of the proposed new healthcare.

A better system, that is a more robust system, would assume that they young are going to act like the young, and plan accordingly. Like the lights along the rim of the wheels, we can assume they’re all correct, or assume they are not. Which one is the more likely outcome? Well 90% of the time it will be that they are correct, but it’s that 10% error rate that is the most costly. The same thing applies to healthcare. Humans will mostly pick wrong, and mostly they will be okay. But when things do go south, because we know it does happen to somebody, if there is no system to cover that, then the person without coverage goes from an asset to a liability. A liability in which we all foot the bill.

The most important thing to remember while looking into changes to our healthcare, is that at the end of the day we all pay for everyone’s medical care. Something I think the Republicans are not fully aware of. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your skin color is, or what side of the tracks your family came form–at some point if you don’t foot your medical bills, then we do. We meaning ALL Americans. The cost either comes out of medicare, or it comes out of higher premiums for the healthy, but we do pay for it. Ironically, this is perhaps the single most egalitarian thing we do as Americans, we pay for each other’s healthcare.

Knowing that, doesn’t it make sense to pay for medical care in the lease expensive manner? I ask because emergency medical care is a lot more expensive than preventative care. We’ve all know this. It’s far cheaper to supplement a poor person’s healthcare, and have that care be pro-active, than it is to pay for their care in a hospital emergency room. It’s far cheaper to lightly supplement a middle-class family’s healthcare, than to wait for them to become bankrupt and pay for all of their healthcare. In terms of outcomes, one is far more expensive than the other. In other words, one is far more robust than the other.

And when it comes to tax credits verses subsidies, which is the more robust system? Speaking for my family I can say we’d do far better with a tax credit. But I run my own business and we’ve been playing the tax game for years. We’re used to setting a certain amount of our income aside, setting aside more for healthcare is not an issue. Bear in mind, we are very much the exception here. Most people, who are not used to setting money aside with every paycheck, absolutely suck at it. Every time I talk to a new freelancer I hear the same thing, they know they need to set money aside, but they don’t do it. When I first started freelancing I sucked at it too, up until I ran into problems with the IRS. So what’s the likelihood that people are goring to budget for their healthcare sufficiently for a tax credit to be helpful? Just about zero. Again, like the lights on the wheels, is it safe to assume this is going to work, or is it better to assume that people are going to fail, and plan accordingly?

And that doesn’t even take into account that the two systems (tax credits and subsidies) are simply using different words to describe the same thing. Both of them are the government giving money to the people. Sure one can argue that tax credit favor those who are contributing to the economy, but it completely ignores that it also greatly favors the wealthy and those who are good at managing their income, over the poor and those who are poor at income management. Moreover, it penalizes the poor, the very ones who can least afford the cost. That is a system guaranteed to fail.

I’m not trying to sell everyone on Obamacare, or on anything for that matter. What I’m trying to do is look at healthcare like a problem that can be solved, and then asking what the is more efficient, and failsafe way to accomplish it. I think worrying about things like whether healthcare is an entitlement is a poor place to start. If we’re paying for everyone’s healthcare anyway, and we are paying for it, then worrying about which bank account the money comes from seems rather silly to me, especially if it costs us more. Why not instead look at  the problem from the point of view of what areas are going to fail, and then plan accordingly? Why not ask for, and demand, a more robust healthcare system?

Isn’t that best for everyone?

On the morning after a major election.

So Donald Trump has become the President Elect. Congratulations to him for his victory. As you can imagine, I have a few things to say about this, as well as some predictions.

  1. First of all I want to acknowledge that I was wrong on this. I was pretty confident Hillary Clinton has this election wrapped up in a bag. Now, I wasn’t alone in my predictions, there were A LOT of others out there who had similar ideas about how the election was going to turn out. Some of them were giving Hillary a 95% chance of winning. At least Nate Silver at fivethiryeight was saying there was a chance the election could go the way it did. In fact, just a few days ago people on FB were claiming Nate was much too pessimistic. They’re not any more. If anything he was too optimistic, but at least he was wise enough to leave room for a Trump Victory. I think his tear-down of his own mistakes (believe me, he will), and of polling in general, will be instructive.But still it needs to be said, I made a mistake.
  2. For my many friends who are freaking out right now, please calm down. I can assure you the experience is survivable. I know this because we’ve been through this before. Almost exactly this experience. A Republican candidate winning the electoral college, but not the popular vote, after a successful eight years of a Democratic President, and the Democratic candidate loses because of a third party protest vote. Sound familiar? Well that was the 2000 presidential election. The only difference is this time we won’t have the Supreme Court stopping the recount efforts. So yeah, we’ve been here before. All is not lost. If our nation was big enough to survive a George W. Bush Presidency, then its big enough to survive a Trump one.
  3. To that end I think imperative that all Americans take a moment and find a way to come to terms with the will of the American people. Donald Trump won the election, He is the President-Elect. I think it incumbent upon us as citizens to respect the peaceful transfer of power that our country was founded upon. Come January 20th Trump will be President.To that end I am willing to cut him some slack. Hey, if I can be wrong about him winning the election its possible that I am wrong about his character flaws. So I’m willing to give him a little bit of rope. But only a little. I made the mistake of extending trust to George W. Bush, especially in terms of invading Iraq, and I will regret that to my grave. So President-Elect Trump will get my support, but only a small amount. He says he wants to be the President for all of America, which I think a worthy goal, so I will lend him enough support for him to make good on that promise. But if he fucks that up, I will be merciless.
  4. For my liberal friends, especially those who voted third party. I think it’s pretty clear this was one of the decisive elements at play in the election. From what I’ve seen Hillary could have carried a lot of the states that were close (Florida, Pennsylvania, etc.)  if it wasn’t for the protest vote. So pat yourself on the back if you want, but seriously do not be surprised at my contempt for you. You’re vote is more than how you feel. We’re all connected to it. If four years of Trump doesn’t bring home the ignorance of your position I don’t think anything I can say will.
  5. For my many conservative friends and family. First of all, enjoy. You won yourself a victory. It’s a great feeling. Enjoy it. I mean it. But when all the dust has settled, I expect you to be as critical and as harsh on President Trump as you were on President Obama. I think we all know Trump is not perfect, and I think it’s abundantly clear he’s not going to hear people from my side of the aisle complaining about his mistakes. So it’s going to be up to you to keep him in line. Good luck with that. I suspect you’re not going to like the job, but you voted the man in, so you get to deal with him.
  6. Curiously, I see a few hopeful things for a Trump Presidency. I think a President Trump will have a much better chance of getting a major medical care reform bill through Congress than Hillary would have. He has stated he wants to kill Obamacare, and God knows the congress will be happy to oblige him. The key question is what is he going to replace it with? If he just guts Obamacare, and doesn’t replace it with something similar, things are going to get ugly fast. If you don’t remember, we used to see something like 40k-100k of medical bankruptcies per year before it passed. All of the caused by the twin medical insurance demons of “pre-existing conditions” and “max. payout.” If those two horsemen of the apocalypse are let loose again expect to see serious push-back.
  7. As it happens my family and I are in a position to be fairly magnanimous about the election. For one thing we’re reasonably protected by living in a liberal state, for another we’re fairly wealthy. These two offer a great shield against anything a President Trump might do. But also I am white, and male. Two things that almost guarantee me a certain level of protection and freedom. No one is going to be pulling me over soon saying, “papers please.” Not all of my friends can say that. In terms of costs, a Trump Presidency will not be all that expensive to us.
  8. So what is it going to cost our nation? That is the $100,000 question. Judging by our 2000 election and subsequent Republican rule,  I’m going to make a few predictions. We’ll have to wait and see which one of these comes true, if any. Remember I was already wrong about Trump (see #1, above), so there’s no guarantee I’ll be right about these.I think that by the end of his first term, Trump will:
    a) See the economy rise to 4% GDP, and then drop down to 2% or less.
    b) See the deficit (right now predicted to be $590B for 2016) rise to $1T or even $1.5T
    c) Raise the National debt from the projected $14T to $20T or more.
    d) See unemployment rise by 2%
    e) Have at least one major scandal (personally, or on his staff) requiring a Special Prosecutor.
    f) See at least one very large terrorist act on U.S. soil. (which to be fair is not directly related to his actions, although he’s claimed differently).
    g) Cause at least one major rift in the Republican party.
    h) Involve us in at least one open conflict that involves troops on the ground (not just military advisors), for which he will not raise taxes.
    i) Cause our international standing to plummet at least once in a major way.
    j) Cause the Dollar to drop dramatically at least once.

 

That’s it for now. I might go and add more to my list, but I wanted it posted here for posterity.

On the importance of being critical of one’s government.

People who know me know that at times I am critical of our government. Obviously I think being critical of how your country works is important. I know there are others who think we should love our country, accept it the way it is, and be uncritical of it. To them I say this:

I think you should love your country like you love your children.

Now that’s a pretty general statement, with a lot of wiggle room for interpretation, so let me take it out of the general and into the specific.

For those who do not know, my wife and I have been married for almost 17 years, and between us we are raising a child, a boy who is at the time of this writing 14. For the most part, loving our son is easy. He’s a good kid, does well in school, has a lot of empathy, and tries hard to do well. That doesn’t make him perfect, that just make him easier to parent when he isn’t. And let me tell you, no child is perfect. The truth is, almost anyone can parent a child that does well. Its when your child doesn’t do well that marks the difference between a good parent and a bad one.

For example, imagine if your child is having a problem at school; say they come home with a D or an F on their report card, If that happens a good parent isn’t going to sit around and say how much they love their child. No. They’re going to get involved and fix the problem. Getting involved may mean talking with the teacher, hiring a tutor, changing the child to another class, removing outside stimuli (like video games) that are distracting them from their homework, or a whole host of other solutions (including ironically, doing nothing). It almost doesn’t matter what the parent does, or even if they make mistakes (they will), what matters is that they make the attempt towards a solution, and that they target each solution to be specific to the child and the problem. This is because every good parent knows that if you love your child, and they’re experiencing a problem, its your job as their parent to fix it. They also know that if you don’t fix the problem now, its going to grow into an even bigger problem further down the road.

In the same way, loving our country is easy. For the most part America is an amazing and wonderful place. Living here is easy, especially when compared to almost every other part of the world. Its easy here to make a living, easy to make friends and form families, and if things go bad, easy to reinvent yourself. That doesn’t mean things are perfect here, or that you are guaranteed to not experience difficult times, it just means its easier here than most places.

But what if your country is having a problem? What do you do as a citizen? Well just like a good parent, a good citizen understands that ignoring your country’s problems doesn’t make them go away. They know that if you want to fix a problem you have to roll up your sleeves and get involved. Getting involved may mean anything from posting something on a social media site, to writing your political representatives, to attending a rally/protest, or even going to jail. All of these things, and more, might be part of getting involved. It almost doesn’t matter what a citizen does, or even if they make mistakes (they will), what matters is that they make the attempt towards a solution, and that they target each solution to be specific to the government agency involved and to the problem.

And just like with parenting, the truth is that almost anyone can be a good citizen if the government is doing well. Its when your government isn’t doing do well that marks the difference between a good citizen and a bad one. And also, just like with parenting, ignoring a problem usually means it will only get more costly to repair when you finally get around to it.

“But wait,” some of you might be saying right now. “What makes you think I should parent my government? My government is the one doing things to me, not the other way around. Its not my child. I didn’t give birth to it. Why should I parent it?”

Ah, but you see, you are the parent. Every time you vote you help to give birth, even in a small way, to our government. Our government truly is of, by, and for the people. This is the nature of democracy. Every time we vote we give birth to a new child, a new government. Just like with our flesh-and-blood children, this doesn’t mean our government is perfect (its not), or it will always treat you well (it won’t), or that you will always feel the government that won the election accurately represents your interests (it often won’t). But its still your government. Even when your government acts like an unruly child, it is still your government, warts and all. Exactly like your child is still your child, even when they act like a jerk.

Some of you might say, “But wait a minute, Eric. I didn’t vote for X,” (whomever or whatever X might be) To those I say, too bad. It doesn’t matter who or what wins. If the election was legal, then the winner is the winner. That’s how we roll. If you don’t like the result (and there is no law that says you have to like our government) then get involved. Do more. Work to fix what you think is broken.

And just so we’re clear, throwing up your hands and saying, “But the government is all corrupt,” (or broken or useless, or part of the illuminati, or any other message of helplessness that people say about our government) doesn’t cut the mustard either. You may feel completely helpless against the onslaught of the government. And if you do I will say to you, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” (because I am sorry). But I will follow that up with, “that still doesn’t change anything.” You see, there is no law that says you have to feel like you can make a difference about our government. (You can, but you have to get up off you ass to do so. Sometimes lots of times up off your ass.) Assuming your feeling are important actually gets in the way. How you feel is insignificant. Besides it will change anyway. Its what you do that matters. So do (or do do, whatever floats your boat), but don’t feel.

Finally, some of you might say, “But wait. I can’t be a parent. I don’t vote.” To those I say, “Fuck you.” And I mean that. People have died so that we might have the freedom to choose who represents us in our government. Would you ignore those deaths because you have to get up a little earlier to vote, or have to leave work a little earlier, or vote on your lunch break? Would you pretend those deaths didn’t happen because registering to vote takes some effort on your part? Seriously? If you live here, if you’re a citizen, voting is NOT and option. It is the bare minimum standard by which you should measure your citizenship. If you’re not up for that effort, I have no respect for you.

If it doesn’t have an MOE, its not the Truth

We talk about “truth” a lot, especially in politics. And what I’ve noticed is that we seemed to have blurred the lines between the things that are true, and things that are not. That is, there appears to be little separation between the things that can be verified as facts, and the things that are opinion. My secret pet theory about the fruit on the tree of knowledge (you know, the whole Adam and Eve story with the Serpent and the fruit) is that by eating it, it allowed us to mix up fact and opinion.

Democracy: War by another means

In case you missed it in the news, Scotland has apparently decided to stay with the U.K. a little longer. To my mind this election was a resounding success. I’m not talking about the decision to stay with the U.K. Frankly I’m so ignorant of the whole thing that I really could not give you a compelling argument for either side. Never the less, I think the election was a resounding success. I say this for one particular reason; a great political decision was reached, and nobody died.

Can you imagine how this would have been settled 400 years ago? How many people would have died (either by civil war or military conquest)? How much industry would have been lost? How much harm would it have inflicted? How many people would have starved to death? This is unsettling idea, but an important one. We used to solve political problems by killing people. Sometimes we still do. But we’ve also learned to solve them in a way that is bloodless. In the western world, this is perhaps our finest achievement.

Way back in November of 2008 I wrote a short piece about the election process for a group of guys who liked to discuss politics on the internet. I was struck by the use of language from both sides as they talked about the election. It seemed like there was a strong reliance on military metaphors, and it didn’t take much of an imagination to conclude that either side was more interested in a coup more than election. Fortunately this has never happened here in the U.S., but it did make me wonder, “where do these militaristic ideas come from?” In fact, the real question should be, “where do these democratic ideas come from?” For militaristic solutions to political problems predate democracy by thousands of years.

The piece can be found below.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

from 11/2/2008

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s an election going on. And this one, especially as evidenced in the race for the Presidency, is proving to be formidable both in terms of the piles of money spent, and the heat of overblown rhetoric. Watching all the recent news specials and polarizing images on FaceBook reminded me of an idea I had the last time Obama was running for office.

You see, I believe that a democratic election is a war, albeit one with no weapons (save words and money) and no death. Its not like our modern wars with our vast and impressive professional military, but more like the kind of war that was invented right alongside the birth of democracy. Its my belief that this was no accident; that democracy and hoplite warfare were both born out of the same need: to solve political problems quickly and at little cost.

The practice of democracy, and the word, both originated on only one spot on the Earth, and at one time. The time was some 2500 years ago, and the place was a little peninsula sticking into the Mediterranean Sea we now call Greece. This was back before the golden age of Athens, and well before Socrates (a famous solider in his day), Plato, Aristotle, or even Alexander the Great.

The practice of democracy started amongst the many Polis, or city-states. These Polis were poor enough that they couldn’t collectively support a large monarch, but rich enough that they could support a broad middle class of yeomen, or small farmers. Because of this, defense of each Polis necessitated the use of the local people banding together to form a militia. Political problems with neighboring Polis were often settled with their respective militias.

There’s a problem with this, though; farmers make lousy militia because they can only be away for a short period of time between sowing and harvest. So if a Polis had to use farmers in their militia, they were forced to fight their battles on an accelerated time-line. They didn’t have time for draw-out campaigns, or long sieges because the crops had to be harvested.

To solve this problem, the Polis developed hoplite warfare. A type of warfare that is essentially a giant shoving match.

Both cities would line up their hoplites a short distance across from each other. At some point they would charge into each other, shields interlocked, and with multiple rows of men, pushing towards the enemy. Think of the front line in a football game (American style), only the line would 5-10 men deep, and extended 1/4 mile long. The combination of armor and interlocking shields meant that almost no one would be injured, at least at first. At some point, one side or the other would fail, their line would crumble, and the victors would give chase. Most fatal injuries were to the back, and even these were fewer than you’d think.

What’s important about all this is that only one battle would happen, and both sides would agree to some kind of political resolution depending upon the outcome of that single battle. Much like having a lawsuit settled over the results of a football game. The best part is, the enemy never had to actually take over your land to win, (no Sherman’s March) they only had to win the battle.

So the farmers would come out, line up, smash into each other, patch themselves up, and go back to the harvest.

What is fascinating is the similarities between hoplite warfare, and democracy. Both require a middle class society of free men, both revolve around a single event to effect a political solution, and finally both allow for rapid political change, but in a manor that conserves precious resources.

For those that like to read, Victor Davis Hanson has an excellent book about Hoplite warfare, farming, and how the western world developed the concept of winning a war by winning a single battle. Its called “The Western Way of War“.

Even though Victor was the one who taught me where the word democracy comes from, and more importantly, why, I can’t recall him ever characterizing democracy as a kind of warfare.

Anyway, I posted this because these past few weeks have gotten pretty interesting around here, and I noticed the behavior has gotten pretty hostile. In fact it looks more and more like two opposing sides in the midst of a war. Which isn’t all that inaccurate a description, if one thinks that we are in fact at war; fighting to determine which side will get to set the political agenda for the next 4 years.

Oh, and the thread title is a spoof on Carl von Clausewitz.

Thoughts?

On outsiders crossing the wrong lines

…or an alternate explanation as to why Phil Robertson got into trouble.

There are lines in the world that don’t appear on any map. You will not find them in a travel book or a website, but they exist as ways of dividing otherwise comfortably homogenous areas, and if you cross them they can cause you harm.

The first time I can recall crossing one of these lines as an adult was just after I moved down to LA.  My roommate and I decided to got clothes shopping at a store called International Male. For those that don’t know, IM started as a clothing catalog. For all I know there’s still one today. At the time I first noticed it, I thought IM was just a catalog for trendy men. It was only later, when I visited the store in West Hollywood, that I realized there was something more to the store. Perhaps is the was unusually large number of good-looking young men on the streets, perhaps it was the absence of women in the store, but I think what clued me in the most was the giant billboard featuring two attractive men and advertising a gay cruise line. I had one of those, “I think we’re not in Kansas anymore”, moments, and did my best to act cool.

See I grew up in a smaller, more midwestern town. A town where you could openly call someone a faggot, and never be mistaken by your meaning. Nor would anyone stop you because you weren’t being political correct. This is because that was how the town’s social structure worked. There were no jack-booted thugs (presumably with red necks) wandering around making sure everyone was sufficiently homophobic. You didn’t need that. All you had to do was pay attention to those around you, and mimic how they acted. And in that town, at that time, being gay was an insult. In other words, it was politically correct to be homophobic.

And yet in parts of Los Angeles, only a few hundred miles south of Clovis, calling someone a faggot would earn you stares, and social rebuke. Everyone spoke the same language as they did in Clovis, wore (for the most part) the same clothes, but judging by the billboards it was such a different town that it might as well be another country. Just like in Clovis, there were no jack-booted things (presumably in pink satin with shirts reading “fag” on the front) wandering around keeping the PC standards in place. There were just people with slightly differing expectations of social intercourse.

And that the important point here. The lines were drawn by the people. It was the people who chose what was acceptable and what wasn’t. And it was the people who enforced these unwritten rules. There were no signs, there was no way to tell, except by close observation, but there were some places where “faggot” was an insult, and other places were it was only used for irony.

So yeah, for those that don’t know, there are places in the US that have been staked out by homosexuals. Again, they don’t rove the block in well-appointed gangs, but they do enforce their own community standards, and if you happen to cross those standards you can expect to get in trouble.

Which leads me to Phil Robertson, the guy from the show Duck Dynasty. Much ink has been spilled lately over his words in an interview, and his subsequent firing, and rehiring. I don’t have a lot to add to any of what has been said except to say, “so what?” I disagree with his expressed opinion, but I’m also old enough to understand that there and many people who feel the way he does. As a gay friend of mine said, “my skin is thick enough for the Phil Robertson’s of the world.” Indeed, it is.

But in the brouhaha over this incident, I’ve also read a lot about the gays taking over, and making everything PC. I don’t see that either. I think there’s another explanation, a simpler one. One which has the benefit of being easier to prove.

Much like that part of West Hollywood I mentioned, earlier, the city of LA has its own moral code. And while there are places which are exceptions to this rule, most of LA frowns upon homophobia. This goes double for what they call in this town “The Industry”, which is short for the entertainment industry. There’s a reason for this, and it shouldn’t be a surprise for any one near my age.

We all grew up with that special guy in high school who maybe liked musicals a little too much, hung around the drama club, or spoke in a high voice. Or maybe it was that gal who was a bit large for her size and excelled at sports, or wore here hair a little too short. We all knew people like this. You can’t escape this experience in high school. The point is not that these people exist, but what happened to them after high school. You see, a lot of them left their home towns, and moved to the big city. LA, NY, SF, and the like. Places where they would feel more at home, where they’d fit in. Places where knowing all the words to every Rodgers and Hart musical made you a star, not someone to be scorned.

And when these self same people moved to the big city, they needed to get jobs, because, well all those fancy close and trendy haircuts aren’t cheap. Amiright? And have you ever priced a good interior designer? OMG!

So where I work, meaning advertising for The Industry, probably one quarter to one third of the men I work with are gay. Maybe one quarter of the women are as well. Not enough to organize into squads in pink jack-boots, but enough that calling someone a faggot could very easily cost you your job, and would certainly earn you rebuke. Again, this may not be your social standards, but they are mine. They’re not enforced by thugs, but they are enforced all the same.

And this is where I think Phil Robertson caught so much hell. From what I can tell, Phil was merely expressing his own social values, values that honestly come from the place that he lives. Unfortunately for Phil, he doesn’t just work where he lives. A large percent of the people who work to make his show a success live in towns like mine, with social rules like mine. And this, I think, is where the people at A&E got mad. Phil had crossed one of their lines, crossed the unwritten contract that says, “that shalt not act the bigot, unless its against conservative politicians.” In short, he was an outsider who crossed the wrong line, and said faggot when he should have said, Republican.

This, I believe, is an easy mistake to make. Phil can rightly believe his show is an invention of his social structure, and not that of Hollywood’s or New York’s. After all, it is almost entirely shot on location, isn’t it? Except…except, its not just a show from his duck hunting swamps. Its also a show that is edited, advertised, sold, and distributed by people living in gay friendly cities. Moreover, I think Phil should know this too.

Perhaps he does. Perhaps Phil was just doing the red-neck version of using controversy to increase his value right when it was time to renegotiate his salary with the network. Personally, I hope this is the case. I would rather think of Phil Robertson as being calculating and shrewd than your garden variety bigot. But whatever he thinks, I doubt he’ll cross this line again. Or as the old adage goes, “Don’t shit where you eat.” Phil may work in the swamps of Louisiana, but his paycheck comes from an office in New York. And the odds are very likely that his paycheck was cut, ironically, by a faggot.

And that, I think, is the best irony of all.

Why Feminism is Good for Capitalism

This morning, while driving Trevor to school, we got into a discussion of Sparta vs. Rome. Its a common topic in the Tolladay household, at least among the menfolk, because its an idea that comes up often in the military games that Trevor likes to play.

Often Trevor runs across young men who have been exposed to the movie 300 and assume that Spartans were The Best Warriors EVR! This is a natural assumption, but fails once you start to look for other societal indicators besides martial prowess. Our shorthand for this argument is to ask about the many monuments left standing in the ancient city of Sparta. “What,” you respond with sarcasm, “there aren’t any?” Any classist worth her salt will tell you that the Spartans used to say, “The walls of Sparta are its young men.” Indeed they were, which is why if you go there today your find a bunch of farmland and a few small archeological digs, while if you go to Rome you literally have to watch you feet to keep from tripping over ancient stuff.

All that was on my drive to school. When I got home I read this rather marvelous blog post by Kelly Barnhill about feminism. Suddenly the two ideas smashed into my head like peanut butter and chocolate, the result of which I submit below.

For starters, lets go back to ancient Rome and Sparta. Most people don’t know this but ancient Sparta fielded such an excellent army precisely because it maintained so many slaves. Sparta was the only Greek Polis to field a professional army for precisely this reason. The other city states, with the exception of the Athenian navy which was itself an oddity, simply did not have the extra resources to pay for a long-standing army. This is because armies are expensive. You have to pay a man to stand around and train all day. And most importantly, to not do other work like farm work. Every other solider in Greece was a farmer first, and a solider second. Sometimes a distant second. This was because Greece at that time was relatively poor. There simply was not enough cash on hand to pay for professional soldiers, except on the rare occasion when you needed to hire mercenaries. Sparta by-passed this trouble by subjecting thousands of Greeks and forcing them to work for their Polis. That’s right, the Greeks known most for “fighting for their freedom” didn’t actually practice freedom at home.

But this is a post about Capitalism not slavery, right? So let me get to that.

See slavery has its own sets of economic conditions, ones that are easy to read about in that other place we often encounter slavery, the American South prior to the Civil War. Sparta and the American South both experienced a common limitation of slavery. They found that it is difficult to maximize ones profit when the people doing the work are doing so against their will. Which is to say, capitalism works better when the workers are motivated.

I know, pretty straight forward, right? I mean everyone gets this, at least everyone who was raised in a capitalistic society like ours. The carrot is better than the stick, or as Teri likes to say, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. This is also the reason why in Rome one finds thousands of monuments, while in Sparta one finds grazing sheep. Give the citizens a choice and you gain vast amounts of wealth. Give them no choice and you gain very little.

But there’s another side to this that often gets missed. If capitalism works better when the workers are motivated, it works better still if they have some capital to invest. This is the great lesson of the last century. Countries all over Europe and here in America, passed laws that allowed workers to earn more wages, and invest more capital. (just in case you’re not getting it, I’m talking about unions here) And when they did, low and behold, their national economies took off. This is because all those middle class families invested small amounts of their capital back into their communities, and all those small investments, when multiplied by thousands and thousands of families, added up to some serious wealth. Not only did the rich get wealthier, the middle class did as well. And everyone benefited.

And right there is the issue in a nutshell. The more people you have in a system that have capital to invest, the more that system will prosper. The bigger the carrot, the larger the cart.

Which is were I come to feminism. See I dig feminism as an ideal, but really its not my main approach. I look at it like this. If we, as a country, can harness more individuals to the capitalist cart, then the faster it will go, and the more it can pull. More individuals means everyone: Men, women, black, white, straight, gay, etc. And the more “everyones” we have pulling, the better off we all are.

In short, capitalism offers a good reason to be a feminist, because it is the best and easiest way to benefit more people in our society.

What Our Government Does Well… Corruption

This one gets missed a lot here in America, and I think its important. Its corruption. To give you some perspective, read this. I’ll quote it here, in case the link doesn’t work, but you really should look at the photo.

I know there is corruption in America. But I have lived here for a year, and have not seen it. In Kyrgyzstan, corruption is everywhere. You can not do anything without corruption. To send your child to school, to apply for a job, you must pay a bribe. If there is a car accident in America, the police and insurance companies determine who is at fault. If there is a car accident in Kyrgyzstan, the person with less money or less power is at fault. In Kyrgyzstan, if you build a business, you can do everything right, and pay all your taxes, and still have it taken away. In America, if you do everything right, it belongs to you.

 

Talk to anyone who’s been to Mexico, Central, or South America, and one things starts to stand out: Corruption. Obviously, as the quote implies there are other parts in the world where it also happens. So I find it intriguing whenever an American talks about corruption. Not that we don’t have corruption, its just not an everyday occurrence, Moreover, most people understand that its wrong, and if they are doing it, they try and hide. That’s because we punish people who destroy the public trust. We find it immoral.

Believe it or not, this is a freedom. The freedom from having to worry about the actions of every petty official, especially government ones. The freedom to report on those who are corrupt with an actual expectation you won’t be harmed in the process. That’s a freedom.

I think it gets missed here in America. We live in such a corrupt free world that it is hard to imagine how difficult and dangerous it can be. Its as transparent to us as water is to a fish. But this wasn’t an accident. Our founding fathers demanded a government worthy of their respect, and ours. They established a government with rules and laws that applied to those governing as well as the governed, and they set up a government with separate branches that oversee each other’s work, and have the power to stop each other. And  they established a government with some iron clad rules specifically designed to protect its citizens from itself.

Think of if as the legal equivalent of bubble wrap. Mind you, it doesn’t completely stop all harm–stopping all harm is a goal which is completely impossible, or at least it is not possible with free will–but it does offer a genuine level of protection, and it does minimize  risk. You still have the freedom to expose yourself to corruption if you want (usually by going to an other country) and you still have the freedom to be corrupt if you want (as long as you are willing to face the legal consequences), but for the most part you are free to not have to deal with corruption, at least on a major lose-your-house-and-all-you-hold-dear scale.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing.

 

____________

If you liked this essay. If you feel, like I do, that in the (often genuine) rush to worry about the size of our government we’ve overlooked its value, I’d like to challenge you. Please do something similar. Think of something you like about our government. Think of some value it brings, something it does well, instead of something it does poorly. And when you’ve thought of your thing, then post it. Put up your words. Put them up here in the comments, on Facebook, tweet them, whatever. It matters not how long it is, it matters not what you say, only that you say it. So say it.

What Our Government Does Well

We hear a lot these days about how inefficient our government is, how much it costs, and how wasteful it is with our money. I even hear on occasion how its going to ruin our whole country. Rather than counter these arguments directly as I usually do, that is to reply along the lines of, “yes, but…you see…” I’d like to try something different: I’d like to present the opposite point of view. That is, to talk about what our government does well.

To start with, I’d like to talk about libraries. Yes libraries.

There’s probably nothing better in our country than the local library. Well before the birth of the internet, well before our modern era, there were libraries. They first appeared way back in Roman times, albeit in a strictly limited capacity, and they limped along in little collections at large public monuments like this until the advent of two factors, the printing press, which made books both cheap and ubiquitous, and the middle class.

In America most of our public lending libraries are free to use, that is they are paid for by tax dollars and private donations. Many of them were initially set up as endowments, like the ones made famous by Andrew Carnegie, but even these were built only after local governments promised to pay for their maintenance. They are free to use, but they are not free, especially if you are middle class or higher. From what I can tell, our public libraries cost each citizen about $42 per year.

But what’s in that cost? To quote David Vinjamuri in his article at Forbes, libraries are,

Like the humble starfish that preserves entire marine ecosystems by eating mussels, the American public library is the keystone species in the ecosystem of reading.  Without public libraries to promote the culture of reading and build communities of interconnected readers, publishers would face a diminished market for their titles.  Indeed, the fact that reading remains a vibrant part of American cultural life is somewhat startling in the face of the competition for consumers’ attention: movies, video games, television, online shopping, browsing and social networking.

Indeed. Movies and video games clamor for our attention. There are more television networks putting out more shows than even before in history, especially when you consider what on-line viewing and DVD sales have done for that medium. And that’s not including youtube. And yet people still read. When I get on the subway most mornings I see about equal measure of books and e-readers, with many of the former sporting the distinctive stamp on their edges for the Los Angeles Public Library. I’d guess slightly over half of the riders use their time to read, the printed word still the preferred form of portable entertainment in a noisy and jostled world.

To my knowledge, reading is still maintains the highest entertainment/dollar value. Even the most expensive hard bound books offer hours and hours of entertainment. Compare that to the $14.00 you pay for a 2 hour movie.

Moreover, the ability to read–which is to say, the ability to teach oneself–is still the best, most tried and true, way to make it up the steep and often difficult ladder from poverty to middle-class. In a country that practically fetishizes the rags-to-riches story, books are the bootstraps by which one lifts themselves. Free public libraries are still the one place (besides public schools) where the proverbial poor youth can go to better themselves. Want to learn accounting? Want to fix your own plumbing? Want to know more about breast-feeding? What to surf the net but can’t afford a computer? The cheapest and often the best answer to your needs can be found at the local library. The only entry fee is the ability to read.

So what does it cost to keep a child’s mind open long enough to dream of making themselves better? What does it cost to help a working class man or woman teach themselves the rudiments of starting a business, or of surpassing the educational standards necessary to take college courses? All of these things cost much, or at least $42 a year, but each of them pay dividends well beyond their cost. Just one person transitioning from abject poverty to middle-class, goes from being a net cost to the system to a net benefit. For every year they stay out of poverty, they ad ten of thousands of dollars to our economy, not only paying back the cost for their library use, and public school use, but paying for another hundred or more poor people behind them.

And then there’s another thing often overlooked. Like almost everything else in America, libraries are both a public enterprise and a private one. A mixture of pure socialism (books and buildings being paid for mostly by the well-off, for the benefit of everyone), and yet strongly supporting capitalism. “Capitalism?” you say. “Libraries are at the center of a huge commercial endeavor?” you say.

Yes.

You see, the concept that books are media worthy of our consumption, like we are all crack-head book addicts waiting eagerly for our next paper-and-ink fix, is sold so effectively at our local libraries, and heavily reinforced by our public schools, that it has created a massive group of readers, otherwise known as book junkies. And these book junkies spend their money, let me tell you. Trade sales for last year were $15.05 Billion, according to Publishers Weekly, with an increase of 6.9% over the year before. And who do you think made this massive market? Why you did with your $42 per year investment. Not a bad return, eh?

And lastly, I’d like to point out what should be painfully obvious. A large and well educated populous is the first requirement for a successful democracy. In a political world where both sides seem to think slandering the intelligence of the other side is a requirement, its easy to assume only a few Americans, and only from one’s own political side, have actually taken their free education seriously. The truth is an educated public is a benefit to both sides of the political aisle. Say what you will, but an active and educated mind is still the most effective prophylactic against an over-bearing and over-reaching government.

In short, libraries make our country stronger.

 

If you liked this essay. If you feel, like I do, that in the (often genuine) rush to worry about the size of our government we’ve overlooked its value, I’d like to challenge you. Please do something similar. Think of something you like about our government. Think of some value it brings, something it does well, instead of something it does poorly. And when you’ve thought of your thing, then post it. Put up your words. Put them up here in the comments, on Facebook, tweet them, whatever. It matters not how long it is, it matters not what you say, only that you say it. So say it.