Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Some thoughts on Trump derangement syndrome

As you may have noticed, I am no fan of Donald Trump. Nonetheless, I think that one reason why so many people succumb to Trump derangement syndrome is the cognitive dissonance. The very idea that Trump could be President can cause them to doubt so many things that, for them, have to be true: that people vote rationally, that government is self-regulating as a result, and that when a government office acquires power, whoever ends up occupying that office can be trusted to use that power in the way they want.

Also, many people refuse to say his name. Are we back in an age in which people believed that names had magic powers?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Book review: Fantasyland

I have just finished Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, whose title could use a few more colons. The thesis is that "what’s happening in our country today—this post-factual, 'fake news' moment we’re all living through—is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character."

The author mostly at least goes through the motions of being evenhanded, and he gives the academic left a good shellacking, but he does show biases now and then. For example, he describes the rise of suburbia without mentioning the role of the federal government in promoting either suburban sprawl or suburban racial segregation. Similarly, he discusses the fantasy aspects of new sports stadiums designed to look old and of Disneyfied urban neighborhoods but never even mentions the pervasive fantasy that government financing of such things makes economic sense. Also, some views, particularly on religion, have always been untenable for reasons little better than "because I say so." I find that grating even on subjects on which I otherwise agree with him.

Still, it's true that the post-fact world is nothing new; anyone who has tried to argue with I-feel-it-in-my-heart politically correct people can tell you that. He also says something that I've been saying for ages, namely, that postmodernists and their ilk were useful idiots for creationists and their ilk.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Someone actually wrote this: Gay people and gun control

In The Advocate, Kevin Hertzog, cofounder of Gays Against Guns, writes,
On Sunday in Las Vegas, someone with a stockpile of guns and ammunition set out to inflict the maximum amount of damage on the greatest number of people. His motive is much less important than is the fact that there were very few roadblocks in his way. The gun laws in Nevada are among the most lax in our country. We should not be surprised that this happens so often. We should be surprised that it doesn’t happen more often.
Yes, we should be surprised whenever reality departs from the narrative. As for the laxity of Nevada's gun laws, has Mr. Hertzog seen this?
There’s virtually nothing stopping anyone from doing the exact same thing.
Yet most people don't. It's almost as though there were something stopping most people from doing the exact same thing; what could that be?
Gay people are uniquely qualified to attack government inaction, apathy, and complicity because we’ve seen it before and we know the price of silence.
Hey, you big, bad government, we're going to stand up to you by demanding that you take away more of our freedoms. It's not as though gay people had anything to fear from increased government power.
Massacres like the one that just happened get the most media attention, but they are not, in fact, the way that most victims of gun violence die. Suicide is responsible for almost two-thirds of gun deaths.
Bait and switch much? Suicide (what you do to yourself) and mass murder (what you do to lots of other people) are morally different.
We urge you to “come out” as a gun violence prevention advocate. We’ve been bullied into polite silence by the NRA and its trolls for far too long. Many people feel intimidated to argue with those who vehemently advocate for the Second Amendment.
In which alternate universe are LGBT people shy about supporting gun control? Also, how dare anyone advocate for a Constitutional right!

Friday, September 29, 2017

The major parties' heartfelt principles

The New York Times reports that Republicans have abandoned one of their favorite talking points, namely, the deficit:
“It’s a great talking point when you have an administration that’s Democrat-led,” said Representative Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of about 150 conservative House members. “It’s a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.”
This should surprise no one. The Republican Party is a mystery cult; when I was a College Republican, I did not get too far into it before hearing Maryland's Republican leaders admit that they did not mean what they said about smaller government.

I will not let the Democratic Party off the hook either. I once said to a Maryland Democratic activist that his party's politicians said exactly the opposite things to voters on opposite sides of the state. He not only admitted it but tried to argue that that was a good thing because Team Blue could cover all bases. In short, party prevails over principle.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Someone actually wrote this: We need to nationalise Google, Facebook and Amazon.

In The Guardian, Nick Srnicek writes,
Ello’s rapid rise and fall is symptomatic of our contemporary digital world and the monopoly-style power accruing to the 21st century’s new “platform” companies, such as Facebook, Google and Amazon. Their business model lets them siphon off revenues and data at an incredible pace, and consolidate themselves as the new masters of the economy.
That's pretty much what people said about AOL, which has not been called a master of the economy in a while.
Monday brought another giant leap as Amazon raised the prospect of an international grocery price war by slashing prices on its first day in charge of the organic retailer Whole Foods.
No, please, anything but cheaper groceries! The horror! The horror!
None of them focuses on making things in the way that traditional companies once did. Instead, Facebook connects users, advertisers, and developers; Uber, riders and drivers; Amazon, buyers and sellers.
I'm not sure that the author quite gets how Amazon works.
Reaching a critical mass of users is what makes these businesses successful: the more users, the more useful to users – and the more entrenched – they become. Ello’s rapid downfall occurred because it never reached the critical mass of users required to prompt an exodus from Facebook – whose dominance means that even if you’re frustrated by its advertising and tracking of your data, it’s still likely to be your first choice because that’s where everyone is, and that’s the point of a social network.
And that's why we all still use Myspace.
Facebook is a master at using all sorts of behavioural techniques to foster addictions to its service: how many of us scroll absentmindedly through Facebook, barely aware of it?
I don't know; how many people do that?
What’s the answer? We’ve only begun to grasp the problem, but in the past, natural monopolies like utilities and railways that enjoy huge economies of scale and serve the common good have been prime candidates for public ownership. The solution to our newfangled monopoly problem lies in this sort of age-old fix, updated for our digital age.
Yes, let's have government take over such important facilities of information distribution. Given the importance of U.S. companies to this sector of the economy, "government" to a significant extent means the Trump administration. What could possibly go wrong?
It would mean taking back control over the internet and our digital infrastructure, instead of allowing them to be run in the pursuit of profit and power.
Nothing says, "We're not doing this in the pursuit of power" like a government takeover.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Trademarks and free speech

On the blog Above the Law, Joe Patrice writes about "the path that most defines the Roberts Court: the provisions of the Bill of Rights are for making money." Sure, if you ignore all of the decisions of the Roberts court that don't suggest that.

Patrice points out that "no one was trying to ban any speech here" and continues,

Federal trademark protection flows from the congressional power to regulate interstate commerce, and in light of the broad grant of power the Framers gave the government here, it’s entirely reasonable for the government to impose limits on what marks it gives the imprimatur of nationwide recognition, in the interest of regulating the market. This isn’t banning someone from expressing a disparaging view. It’s not even banning someone from making money off a disparaging view. The statute barred the federal government from inserting itself into a potential dispute between someone trying to make money off a racial slur and someone trying to make bootleg products to make money off that same racial slur. And, as already discussed, it doesn’t even stop someone from suing the bootlegger.
Such limits stop being "entirely reasonable" when they are based on viewpoint. In fact, a long line of precedent forbids government to impose such viewpoint-based restrictions, even when government was under no Constitutional obligation to provide the service under consideration in the first place.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Someone actually wrote this: Is Pride Still for Queer People like Me?

In today's New York Times, Krista Burton writes,
Pride was a party, a huge gay party, and I had never been so excited to be invited, or felt so instantly welcome, anywhere.

That’s where Pride succeeds. It gets more inclusive and welcoming every year, and as the queers become less threatening, more straight people come, and more minds are opened to the possibility that we gays might just be regular people, after all. (Albeit with better decorating sense and the sass to pull off chaps that leave little to the imagination.)

Apart from the fact that Ms. Burton parrots outdated stereotypes of gay men, what's the problem?
Having allies is wonderful, but sometimes I wish they could be allies every other day of the year, and let us have a party as gay and naked and radical and un-family-friendly as we queers might like.
Given what she just said, she seems to want to argue with success.
Pride is clearly also for corporations who want to milk as much money as possible from a previously ignored demographic. In the past decade or so, companies have scrambled to prove how O.K. they are with L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ folks, and well, it’s embarrassing how transparent the scramble for our money is.
Quite unlike those politicians who "evolve" on our issues when politically expedient. Many people want the former to prove their ideological purity, while the latter get participation trophies.
We see you, Miller Lite, with your oddly wholesome, rainbow-spattered ads. Where were you before it was in your best financial interest to be accepting of queers?

Where were any of these companies when a single corporation standing up for queer rights would have stood out like a lit “Golden Girls” prayer candle in an endless night of straight missionary sex?

Where was Ms. Burton when many businesses were leading indicators of our progress even as politicians were so often lagging indicators? Where was she when businesses went to bat for us against homophobic or transphobic state legislatures? And what is it with those stereotypes of gay men that so fascinate her?
I hate that white, gay, cis men are the only kind of gays with real activist funding behind them.
And I hate that up is down and that the sun rises in the west.