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.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Where the LGBT movement can go right, and where it can go wrong

In today's Washington Post, we read,
Since 2001, there has been a clear and, apparently, irreversible, move toward more permissive, or, to use Gallup’s word, “liberal” social norms.

“Libertarian” might be a better term. Gallup documents what can only be called a strong live-and-let-live consensus regarding several practices — birth control, divorce, sex between unmarried adults, gay or lesbian relations, out-of-wedlock child-bearing — that within living memory were either fiercely contested or taboo.

The key words are "live-and-let-live consensus." Unfortunately, I see many LGBT people refuse to learn the lesson. Despite the evidence that live-and-let-live is a winning strategy, they want to replace homophobes' form of live-but-not-let-live with their own. We have already seen backlashes from stepping on others' First Amendment rights.

See also The perfect argument, if we hadn't forfeited it

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Libertarian derangement syndrome

One problem that I have encountered in discussing libertarianism is that while some people will hear me out and argue in good faith, my attempts to discuss it provoke libertarian derangement syndrome in others. Such people often respond to any approving or neutral mention of libertarianism with name-calling, appeals to ridicule, straw men, and just about everything else except an attempt to argue in good faith.

For example, once, I had two progressives agreeing with my libertarian views until they learned that those were libertarian views. They then accused me of holding several views that are not libertarian and one that is the exact opposite of what libertarians believe. Their working definition of "libertarianism" seemed to be "anything that I don't like and from which someone may make a profit."

Not only would they have failed an ideological Turing test, but they also wallowed in willful ignorance. When I tried to explain their mistakes to them, one silently walked away, while the other responded with, in succession, a deer-in-the-headlights look, an attempt to change the subject, and an appeal to ridicule.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Doublethink about majority rule

Right-thinking people have long said that because markets are not self-regulating, they need regulation by government. When I asked how government is self-regulating, a progressive told me that government is self-regulating because of elections. Apparently, the voting booth is like the Teacher from Star Trek.

Now, however, Salon (and I'm citing that fake-news site for the fact that people are saying something, not for the truth of what is being said) tells us,

Are tens of millions of Americans really this stupid? If the findings from a new ABC News poll are any indication, then the answer is yes....
So where does that leave us?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Someone actually wrote this: Pride fests and those evil corporations

In The Advocate, Alex Morash writes,
Today our rights are threatened again, and many in the LGBT community are afraid of what is happening to our country. We need a Pride that marches for our community’s struggles; it's time to march, protest, and resist!
What concrete suggestion does Morash make?
Pride celebrations in most major cities have gotten stale, using the same tired model that focuses on a parade that is filled with big corporate sponsors hawking their wares.
Businesses are increasingly willing to accept us, and that's terrible! It's bad when businesses choose to accept us but good when government compels them to, or something.
In these times we need Pride to courageously stand up to corporate interests and get back to being a march for our rights.
So we should stand up to those who are willing to be our allies? I thought that the point of such a march would be stand up to those who actually threaten our rights.
This is at the heart of why the national Pride march is getting so much attention; it’s not speaking to the affluent or to big corporations, it’s speaking to everyday working-class queers
So everyday working-class queers don't buy goods or services or otherwise participate in a market economy? That's useful to know.
— an audacious act in today’s LGBT community
How's the weather on Counter-Earth?
When Pride committees allow corporations to feature so prominently, Pride comes off as supporting corporate interests over the needs of our community.
False dichotomy is false.
Does anyone think the Pride events of today, filled with luxury brands truly speak to the one out of every five LGBT people living below the federal poverty line or, for that matter, to the rest of us who are not wealthy?
I've somehow overlooked all of those luxury brands. Are the promotional t-shirts by Brioni, or are the likes of Hot 99.5 FM, Food Lion, and Coca-Cola now luxury brands?
Pride needs to speak for us, and we need Pride to reflect who we really are — diverse, not all affluent, and proud to come in every color of the rainbow.
Should Pride reflect an ideologically diverse community in which not everyone buys into trendy anti-capitalism? Also, as the commenters ask, how will Pride get paid for otherwise?

See also Needlessly alienating potential allies and A movement, not a market?.

Friday, April 21, 2017

New York City's war on tobacco

The New York Times is valiantly engaging in investigative journalism, and by "investigative journalism" I mean "parroting whatever those in authority say."

De Blasio Backs Plan to Lift Base Price of Pack of Cigarettes to $13

Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged his support on Wednesday to a series of initiatives to cut tobacco use, proposing to raise the minimum price of a pack of cigarettes in New York City to $13 and vowing to sharply reduce, over time, the number of stores that may sell tobacco products.
What could possibly go wrong? It's not as though anyone ever smuggled cigarettes or as though New York City had good transportation links to any other localities.
In 2002, when Mr. Bloomberg took office, 21.5 percent of adult New Yorkers smoked, according to the Health Department. As Mr. Bloomberg banned smoking in bars and restaurants and set a minimum price for cigarettes, the rate fell to 14 percent by 2012, and it has fluctuated since.
Meanwhile, in the US as a whole in the same period, it fell from 22.5% to 18.1%. I grant that the rate of smoking fell faster in New York City than in the US as a whole, but the fact that it did fall in the US as a whole and the fact that the rate started out lower in New York City suggest that other factors were at work.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Someone actually wrote this: The Federalist on pornography

In The Federalist, Dustin Murphy writes a screed against pornography that is larded with the usual proofs by assertion. A few passages stand out, though.

According to Murphy, the antisocial effects of pornography include the following:

One of the greatest tragedies of porn’s antisocial effects is that it fuels an anti-child culture. Thinking sex should be open to procreation, or that the two go hand-in-hand, is regarded like VHS tapes: out of style. Some people consider parents with three or more children to be crazy, and children are generally viewed as a burden. Anyone with a large family has probably experienced negative comments in grocery stores or coffee shops.
In addition to the false dichotomy, the cause of the anti-child culture, if such a thing exists, is pornography because Murphy says so.

As for whether one person's use of pornography harms others, Murphy argues,

Recording sex devoid of love violates a couple’s right to share authentic human love and to experience the whole person, not just private parts, during sex.
No, it doesn't. People are still free to do just that. Murphy's argument is just a short stroll from "Freedom is slavery."

He continues that

laws ought to promote the common good, which is to perfect the community.
In addition to being exactly the sort of collectivist reasoning that conservatives at least used to oppose when liberals used it, that argument presupposes that perfecting the community is possible. It is odd that someone who elsewhere expresses a belief in God argues that secular government can perfect the community. Besides, I am not sure that I should want to live in Murphy's perfect community.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Planning on writing a gay novel? (expanded version)

If you are planning on writing a gay novel, take this simple quiz to see whether you should proceed.
  1. Will the characters live beyond-fabulous lives in Manhattan, Fire Island, or both with no discernible way to pay?
  2. Will you expose the reader to intricate details about the characters’ partying and sex lives but never tell the reader what they do for a living?
  3. If you do tell the reader what they do for a living, will it be limited to entry-level jobs, despite the characters' ages?
  4. How about the military or the police, unless relevant to the plot?
  5. How about sex work?
  6. Will you just make your characters independently wealthy?
  7. Will you make a character a student but never say what his major is or what he plans to do with it?
  8. Will a plot point be set in a location that you have never visited and cannot be bothered to research?
  9. Do you dismiss out of hand the need to research any location that is not New York City, San Francisco, or a part of Los Angeles County?
  10. Will the protagonist be impossibly gorgeous and universally desired?
  11. Will he be a Mary-Sue version of you? 
  12. Will the book be centered on his inner life, even though he doesn’t have one?
  13. Will he search for true love, find it, and toss it away without motivation?
  14. Will he basically live his entire life without motivation, like some supremely fabulous houseplant?
  15. Will he see everything, do most of it, and never learn from his experiences?
  16. Will he bewail a fate that is a foreseeable consequence of the way he chooses to live his life?
  17. Will he pine for an unattainable man whom he attains at the end?
  18. Will his moral code effectively be "It's okay when I do it"?
  19. Will the reader know what he looks like because he looks at himself in the mirror and describes himself in his mind?
  20. Will you provide another major character simply as a foil for the protagonist’s fabulousness?
  21. Will the protagonist and his love interest be the most physically attractive men in every room?
  22. Will you tell the reader that they have buff bodies but not mention that they expend any effort to maintain them?
  23. Will they be 100% sexually compatible upon meeting and remain so over time?
  24. Will the protagonist’s partying and sex life be the only reasons for the reader to care what happens to him?
  25. Will your characters have no hobbies or interests apart from partying, sex, and either being gorgeous or admiring gorgeous men?
  26. Will one of the characters be a magical “other” (person of color, lesbian, Jew, gender-nonconforming person, what have you) who sets the white, cis, male, nominally Christian protagonist on the right path?
  27. Will one of the characters be a designated villain, even though he never does anything particularly bad?
  28. How about a designated hero, even though he never does anything particularly good or behaves no better than the villain?
  29. Will you designate heroes and villains through physical attractiveness, penis size, or, heaven help you, both?
  30. Will one of the characters be a devout Catholic who later commits apostasy and becomes the party boy to end all party boys?
  31. How about a crazy right-winger who turns out to be gay?
  32. How about a politically correct puritan who turns out to be a whore?
  33. How about someone with a trendy name that is unlikely given when and where he was born?
  34. How about a lesbian who coaches a sports team or teaches physical education or women’s studies?
  35. Would it surprise you to learn that a lesbian can teach physics?
  36. Would it surprise you to learn that a gay man can teach anything?
  37. If one of the characters starts out devoutly religious and later leaves his faith, you will simply state that he has done so instead of showing us his thought processes as he does so?
  38. Do you take it for granted that all gay men are attracted to the same physical type?
  39. If one character is a gay man who is attracted to a different physical type from everyone else, will you use his attraction to that different physical type for comic relief?
  40. Do you only think you know what anal sex is like the first few times? Yes, Annie Proulx, you have to answer this one.
  41. Will at least one character be a gay man based on stereotypes of heterosexual women?
  42. How about a heterosexual woman based on stereotypes of gay men?
  43. Will your novel read like a novelization of a Hallmark Channel movie, except that the love interests are both male and that there is at least one sex scene?
  44. Do you think that you can get away with converting someone else’s heterosexual novel into your gay novel just by changing the first name and pronouns of one of the love interests?
  45. If you are not a gay man, do you refuse to care whether gay men will regard your novel as realistic portrayals of gay male life?
  46. If you are not a gay man, do you think that you have a special insight into the gay male experience that gay men need to hear and that you are, for whatever reason, the one to share that insight with them?
  47. Would your novel make more sense if one of the gay male characters were rewritten as a heterosexual woman who had magically acquired a penis and wanted to try it on a man?
  48. Will part of the plot or exposition center on a religion with which you are familiar solely through pop-cultural osmosis and whose doctrines and practices you cannot be bothered to research? Yes, Christianity and its denominations count.
  49. Will the characters engage in dialog that no one would say in real life, just so that you can make a point?
  50. Will something happen that would never happen in real life, just so that you can make a point?
  51. Will you make a point simply by having the protagonist state it as a self-evident truth?
  52. How about by having the protagonist attack straw-man counterarguments?
  53. How about by appealing to ridicule?
  54. Will the protagonist often get into political or cultural arguments and never lose?
  55. Will the protagonist criticize a viewpoint that you consider to be wrong or offensive and, in the process, inadvertently defend an even worse viewpoint?
  56. When the protagonist makes your point for you, will the other characters immediately fall into line, as though you novel were a Chick tract?
  57. Are you writing your novel to make a point for which the only evidence will be your novel?
  58. Will your novel make a point that will make you a darling of anti-gay social conservatives?
  59. Will everyone have HIV?
  60. Alternatively, will your novel be set in a parallel universe in which, even though it is well after 1981, no one has ever heard of HIV?
  61. How about a parallel universe in which no one has ever heard of any STI other than HIV?
  62. Will the protagonist’s HIV status be the only reason for the reader to care what happens to him?
  63. Will you include gratuitous praise of lesbians based on comparing gay men as they live in the real world to lesbians as they exist only in theory?
  64. Do you refuse to care how human nature works?
  65. Will you willfully rewrite human nature just to make a point?
  66. Just because one letter in the LGBTQUIMOUSE+++ alphabet soup applies to you, do you consider yourself qualified to be a spokesperson for everyone in the soup?
  67. Will you have characters of multiple races, ethnicities, religions, or socioeconomic categories just as tokens?
  68. Will you have characters of multiple races, ethnicities, religions, or socioeconomic categories who speak and behave in stereotyped ways rather than being fully fleshed-out characters?
  69. Will you have characters of multiple races, ethnicities, religions, or socioeconomic categories who never express differing perspectives or opinions?
  70. Will you have an important character who is transgender but not bother to find out what transitioning entails?
  71. Do you believe that a person’s identity categories tell everything there is to know about that person, including that person’s speech patterns and that person’s opinions on religion and politics?
  72. Do you believe that you have something new to say solely because of the intersection of your identity categories?
  73. Will your characters’ religions be solely identity categories that have nothing to do with what they believe or practice?
  74. Will you use your characters’ religions as a way to designate heroes and villains?
  75. Will you use your characters’ kinks for that purpose?
  76. Will you use a character’s kink for comic relief?
  77. Does “Tell; don’t show” make sense to you?
  78. Are you writing your novel just to capitalize on the success of a popular novel by someone else or a popular TV series?
  79. Will the ending make no sense in the context of the rest of the novel?
  80. Will your novel make just as much sense if the dog eats fifty pages?
How to score: If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions, I suggest that you not write your novel.
Shamelessly ripped off from Inspired by The Fantasy Novelist's Exam.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

LGBT rights as "the most conservative of causes"

In discussing Caitlyn Jenner's mission, Jennifer Finney Boylan writes,
As I listened, I wondered whether L.G.B.T. rights really ought not to be the most conservative of causes. Above all else we want to be left alone, without interference, to live our lives with truth and grace. What could be more conservative than that?

And yet the modern Republican Party seems to have no problem interfering with people’s privacy when it comes to sexuality and gender identity. From abortion rights to opposition to marriage equality, the Republicans have advocated more government intrusion into private lives, not less.

Sexuality and gender identity are not the only issues on which the modern Republican Party seems to have no problem with bigger and more intrusive government, as we are seeing now with Donald Trump and as we saw with Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Also, many LGBT activists take stances opposed to the right of others (or even of gay men) to be left alone, without interference, to live their lives with truth and grace (if I understand what she means by that term).

Ironically, both movements have roots in traditions of at least paying lip service to what Bolyan calls "the most conservative of causes." The Stonewall riots, after all, were hardly pro-government. If both sides took that cause more seriously and got over the notion that freedom is a zero-sum game, they would have a much easier time realizing both their own and each other's right to be left alone.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The post-fact society

It's now fashionable to say that we now live in a post-fact society led by Donald Trump. However, the post-fact society has been developing for a long time and is not attributable only to the right.

Right-wingers did not give us political correctness, although they now defer to no one in being PC when being PC suits them, nor did they give us the new age or postmodernism. Nor do they have a monopoly on the "This is how it makes me feel as a member of such-and-such identity category" non-argument, which someone actually used on me after I had cited epidemiological data.

See also Intellectual Unilateral Disarmament.