Category Archives: Culture

Franken Resigns and the Democratic Party Strengthens

So after eight women came forward and leveled accusation of misconduct at Minnesota Senator Al Franken the Senator announced his resignation from his position. Now Franken tended to provoke strong reactions, I know people who adored him as a senator and dreamt of presidential plays and I also know people for whom it seemed impossible to mention his name without a personal insult travelling along side I had no such passions about the man. His comedy was so-so and his political positions were fairly solidly liberal and predictable.

All that said the party forcing his resignation was in my opinion the best move that they could have made. Did the Democratic Party lose a high profile member with name-recognition? Yes. Did they lose a member whom could be counted upon as a consistent liberal vote? Yes. Will the Republicans be shamed into taking action against their members accused of sexual misdeeds? No. So how is this good for the Democratic Party?

It is the long game and there are two advantages in what has happened.

First, you cannot claim to be a party of values, standards, and principles unless you live up to them. Sweeping Franken’s accusations under the rug would be a bold loud proclamation that political victory matters more than any principle. That these women’s trauma matters less than getting a vote on policy. That is damaging. It corrodes the Party’s brand and helps erase any distinction between them and their opposition. For liberals it may hurt to lose one of their favorite stars but you can only hold the moral high ground by consistently being moral.

This is a lesson the Republican Party failed to learn. Over and over again when faced with this sort of thing they chose the path of political expediency and destroyed their claim to any moral standing.

Second, it builds a bulwark against sliding into chaos and angry politics. If the party turned a blind eye to Franken then when another crisis of principle arises it becomes that much easier to turn that blind eye again. When called out on it the only course to defend against such blatant hypocrisy is stoking anger and hatred in the Party’s base for all those who are not lock step with the Party. Personal destruction of all enemies, within and outside of the Party, becomes the norm and acceptable discourse plummets to the gutter. Soon only the loudest, angriest, voices carry any weight.

Does this sound like a familiar history? It should. No organization sets out to corrode what they fight for, and yet so many do. It happens because when faced with expediency over principle they take the easier path and like getting turned by an enemy intelligence asset, each step makes it that much harder to regain your proper course.

As I said I have no strong feelings for Franken, but my analysis is that the Democratic Party did the right thing and they should continue doing the right thing. And if you still think that his votes, his policy matters more than the things he is accused of then you are making the precisely same argument as those who intend to vote for Roy Moore. Choose politics over morals and eventually you will be reduced to no morals.

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Cultural Criticality

The sudden and widespread exposure of sexual misconduct across widely disparate fields feels like a cultural tipping point has been passed. This seemed to start with the Harvey Weinstein expose and then like a row of tumbling dominions it spread, but that dominion simile is not quite correct. No, this is more like a nuclear chain reaction. To my mind that picture is also a much better analogy for grasping what is going on and what could happen in other areas of the social sphere.

Imagine you have a large number of 1-gram blocks of Plutonium. In this thought experiment you take the blocks and assemble them into a cube. One by one you pick up a cube and add it to the others, and wow nothing is happening. They just sit there. You can do this thousands of times and nothing will happen, but somewhere around 11,000 times you will add one cube and the mass with become critical. At that point you are dead. The chain reaction takes off and the cubes that had presented no serious danger before are now all presenting a lethal threat. The last block you added? There was nothing special about that one. It was exactly the same but adding it to the pile did not provoke the same non-reaction.

Why the Weinstein expose and not the Cosby one? We can never know, here the analogy is not a perfect fir, but it still serves. It feels like we have hit a critical reaction and going back to the way it was before is looking less and less likely. (Not a bad thing in my opinion.)

I think we are still facing a similar situation with mass shootings. Newtown and a cowardly murderer targeting children did not change things, but we were and are still below criticality. It is not the individual event and its character that will matter but with some future some ineffable sense will change and sudden it won’t be the same game anymore. If there happens to be a Democratic controlled Senate at that time it would not surprise me to hear that they are suspending the filibuster for legislation in order to pass something. (And if they do pass something Trump would sign it. It costs him nothing and he can bask in the warm glow of praise. All that matters to him, that and money.)

This is the danger that I see pro-second amendment factions are ignoring. By taking no actions, by offering nothing at all, and there are things that they could offer that are not gun control and bans, they are removing none of the block from this growing pile.

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A Difference in Magnitude not Kind

It has been interesting watching the political debate surrounding Moore and Franken. On both sides there are people calling for resignations and on both sides there are people calling for pragmatism.

Moore may be a child molester and a hypocrite but he’ll vote for the right policies and his opponent will not

Franken may be a molester of adults and a hypocrite but he’s a good progressive, standing on the right side of almost every issue his replacement may not.

Do you see that these really are the same argument?

I am certain that I know the number of ‘free’ assaults Democrats would allow a conservative is zero, and I am equally certain that number of ‘free’ child molestations the Republican’s would allow a liberal is an equally low zero.

The Tea Party has taken ‘compromise’ to be a dirty word and for the most part politics is compromise but there are things upon which you should not bend and basic morality is one of them.

I walked away from the Republican Part when is embraced torture as a ‘pragmatic’ solution because party unity mattered more than right and wrong. As such I have no qualms about voicing my opinion that Moore is a terrible person and should be gone.

Franken’s assault, though not against children, are also terrible.

If you do not hold people to standards then they and you will never meet those standards. Be wary of pragmatism over morality for in the end you may be left with neither.

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The Lesser of two Evils is Still Evil

It would appear that for some Republicans and Conservatives the Senatorial effort of Roy Moore is a conundrum. Credible accusations have been laid out that he is a sexual predator. Those accusations have not been proven in a court of law and under that standard he remains innocent until proven guilty, but election a person to any public office, high or low, is more than just political philosophy, it is an endorsement of character. Character judgment does not require the high burden of proof of a criminal trail and we can still look upon the flawed character and ask ourselves ‘is this the sort of person who should have power over the lives of others?’

I have seen it argued in the pages of conservative publications that this should be a line in the sand, that to endorse this man would be a compromise too far.

Really?

The GOP has already embraced torture. It is headed by a man that many consider to be a cheat, a liar, a narcissist, and a sexual predator, but now you are trying to argue that the line you cannot cross has suddenly appeared?

Buddy, that line came and went years ago. I know I was a member of the GOP and I walked away because I will not compromise right/wrong for fell fickle politics.

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Feet of Clay

Well, Kevin Spacey has long been one of my favorite actors, going all the way back to his brilliant turn as Mel Profit on the television sires Wiseguy. While I have not love nearly all of the films but a country mile his performances in them have always been stellar. His rise as a beloved actor, based on his talents, was well deserved.

And, it the reports are to be believed, he is a reprehensible human being.

Quite damming for him is that fact that this is not a single episode, but as what nearly always happens with people who behave this way, there is a long history and once people start coming forward the avalanche starts and as the Vorlon said ‘it is too late for the pebbles to vote.’

Spacey’s apparently cynical ploy of coming out to distract from the story has rightly enraged a number of people in the LBGTQ community. He attempted to use their lives, their persecution, and their pain as a shield for his own hide. That alone says quite a bit about character. We do not need to hold him over the lip of a volcano to see his true self.

The word pedophile has been tossed around but from first blush this may not be the case. Pedophilia as I understand it is defined as sexual attraction to someone five or more years younger than you and who is pre-pubescent. It sounds to me like his victims, and yes I will use that word, were post-pubescent but still quite young and immature.

When you are 24 and you seduce a 14 year old sexually, that is not a level playing field. That is not an interaction between equals. It is predation. It is using the guile, authority, and power of adulthood over someone who has none of those attributes.

It doesn’t matter if you are an A-list star, or Mary Kay Letourneau, such actions, if true, makes you a predator.

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An Accusation Too Far?

The police in the United States often act like an occupying force.

Libertarian Conservative: Damn Right

The Police show little respect for the citizens, treating them like ‘little people.’

Libertarian Conservative; That’s so true.

The Police often ignore the law and run roughshod over the rights of the citizens.

Libertarian Conservative: They need to answer to the law.

The Police get away with too much, killing citizens when there is no need for it.

Libertarian Conservative: Ain’t that the truth.

The Police do all this will a racial bias, principally against minorities.

Libertarian Conservative: That’s an outlandish accusation!

 

That last turn always boggles me.

Cue the Libertarian conservative to tell me how wrong I am.

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Negative Identities

One of the things we humans do throughout our lives is craft our identities. The process starts very early, anyone with ever a modest about of exposure to babies knows that personality, the first basis for identity, establishes very early.

As we grow we add all sorts of criteria and puzzle pieces to our identity, things we hates, things we love, people we associate with, the people we don’t associate with, and our relationship to religion and all manner of spiritualism become key elements in our understanding of who we really are.

At some point for many people, and that number appears to be growing, we add politics as a key block in our identity foundation. With that element comes the terrible temptation to define ourselves in an almost purely negative manner.

That is not to say we view ourselves negatively, but rather we identify ourselves more and more by what we are not, using political opponents and what they stand for define us by reflexively standing against them and their positions.

I have seen this play out for people all across the political spectrum. An event or controversy will pop up in the news or social media and if side A has taken one position people who are opposed to side A immediately take a contrary position without have any knowledge of the situation. If this were just isolated cases here and there for these people this would be nothing more than surrendering direction and being a team player. (Though for myself it is always important to look at the facts and not just blindly follow the team but to try to be right for the situation.) However this process happens again and again the cumulative effect if that these people start having identities crafted principally by what they react against. They have surrendered one of the most basic things about being human, deciding who you are, to others and largely they have surrendered that power to people that they disagree with. To me this is madness.

The insidious aspect to this process is that one can be so blind to the course as it runs. It is not that people make a choice to surrender these aspects but rather they reflexively take a position or leap to a conclusion and then create a post-fact justification for their action.

Don’t be the negative image of someone else’s position. Think, question, your side and yourself, dig and work it out for yourself.

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The Limits of The Enlightenment

Our modern world is a marvel. By any measure of the ancient world we live lives that are simply miraculous. Our social structures, our technological triumphs, our incredible knowledge are built upon the foundations laid by the Enlightenment. With that revolution in thought we, for the most part, abandoned a world view dominated supernatural forces and acted the truth that the universe was governed by rationality and could be understood through reason alone.

The base assumption is that not only can causes be understood but that everything has a causal force. For the natural sciences this has been a tremendously successful assumption but it begins to break down when applied to the fairly fuzzy field of human action.

This need for causality was applied to the Leopold and Loeb murders, using the nature of the their backgrounds and lifestyles to explain but not excuse their murder of the 14 year old boy Robert Franks. Charles Darrow’s explanation for their hideous deed is often seen as the reason that they were not sentenced to death and the start of the processes where we search for why someone does the evil that they do.

I will admit that there is often a causal link between a person’s environment and their nature. It is noted that no known serial killer has ever come from a functional extended family and all suffered forms of abuse when they were younger. So there is a great deal of truth to Hannibal Lector’s line that Billy was not born a monster but made one by years of systematic abuse.

And yet we look at Paddock, the man who with greater care and planning than Leopold and Loeb, strafed a crowd of strangers and we can find no cause. Desperately we need a cause. we need a reason, even one cloaked in the vague generalization ‘insane,’ but we can’t seem to find it. So far nothing in his life comes within light-years of explaining such a monstrous and cowardly action. He was rich, he was successful, he lived a life of leisure, he apparently wanted for nothing except the blood of his fellow human beings. What can possibly explain that?

Have we reached the limits of The Enlightenment? Are we forced back to a supernatural assumption.

In our rational world is there room for evil?

Or will find a brain tumor like with Charles Whitman and call that the cause?

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Thoughts of Prohibition

Now, I do not mean specifically the 18th amendment and the USA’s disastrous experiment with alcohol prohibition, though that does factor into my thoughts. I want to expound on the nature of prohibiting the possession of items through the power of the state. Naturally that would encompass the events around the 18th amendment but the discussion is not restricted to just that terrible idea.

In general society engaged in prohibition when the misuse of an item or substance appears to carry such a heavy communal cost that the state bans the ownership in an attempt to curtail those societal burdens. This was the case with alcohol; the rampant drunkenness throughout the country empowered the temperance movement. It is also the argument, not persuasive in my book, on other drugs and of course on firearms.

Prohibitions perpetual problem is that by its nature it is trying to prevent an occurrence rather than render judgment for one that has already taken place. That means it must ensnare individuals who were never going to incur a societal cost in hopes of preventing those who may. People who drank responsibly and in moderation were equally impacted by the 18th amendment as the drunkards who squandered wages and impoverished families.

Think about it this way; you have two people, John and Bill. John will miss use a particular item or substance but Bill will not. Before you enact prohibition you can only bring the legal system to bear on john after he has inflected his damage, whatever that might be, and as you can never undo the damage, there will always be a cost.

After enacting prohibition you can now bring the legal system down upon John before he does his damage, but you also bring it down upon Bill who has never caused harm and would not have. Bill must face fines, courts, and imprisonment solely because John may present a danger at a later date. Or Bill must surrender his interest in the item or substance simply because John cannot be responsible.

Bill is a real cost created by prohibition. The cost of enforcing it against both is real, the cost to the people ensnared in the legal system is real, and cost to society, particularly if the prohibition, like the one against alcohol or drugs, is routinely flaunted by the populace, is real. This isn’t even the practical enforcement of a prohibition. With the coming revolution of 3D printing soon prohibition will also have to entail forbidding even the knowledge, i.e. the computer files, for making the banned item or substance.

When you advocate for prohibitions think not only about John and the damages he cause, but also about the Bills and ask yourself if it is worth sending him to prison over this?

It might be, the answer is by far not always no, but that is a very real consequence and one too often ignored when people say ‘there ought to be a law.’

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The Weekend’s Rampage

I will not call it a tragedy for that removes the sense of an actor with agency that performed this senseless murdering. I also will not go deep into the gun control debate, on that front both sides present few minds left to persuade. There is one prediction I will make, but without a time line, and that is unless things change the forces of gun control will eventually have their way. To me the logic is simple and inevitable, people, mainly men, will keep doing this, people will keep dying, and only one party in our two party system will keep advancing a solution. Eventually that solution, regardless of its efficacy, will be implemented. The conservative offers nothing to prevent such murders except platitudes and resistance to change, that is a holding action and given a limitless number of incidents it is a holding action that must fail. Lots of people will be murdered and I doubt that the GOP will ever break out of their siege tactics.

One thing I do want to address is the charge that is being thrown about that the NRA has bought the GOP politicians and that ‘follow the money’ explains their lack of action. This gets the cause and effect back to front. The NRA gives these politicians money because they already support the sort of things the NRA wants.

To put it in counter example; how much money would it take to get Diane Feinstein to vote the NRA way? Or how much to get Elizabeth Warren to push legislation in favor of big business and banks? You can’t buy those votes; it would destroy the politicians’ credibility with their constituents and their conscience.

The charge that the politicians are bought on a subject so emotional and so important to their voters is really just a charge that the politicians are bad people and your politicians are noble following principals over lucre. By the way that works perfectly in reverse as well, the conservative change that the Democratic Party is own by the trail lawyers is a way to avoiding the idea that the Liberals might be in favor of civil actions as a manner equalizing the power between individuals and corporations. The Democrats are ‘bought’ by the trial lawyer and the Republicans aren’t ‘bought’ by the NRA, both are political actors serving the interests, however much you may not agree with those interests, of their constituents.

The de-legitimization of the opposition is virus killing our democracy.

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