Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Trump - Most Dangerous or Least Dangerous?

I usually say "just tell me whoever the Republicans nominated come November.  That'll be good enough." I'm half-serious. With a criminal set to take the Democratic nomination, that should be even more automatic.

That approach is going to be challenged this year.

I expect that it's all going to blow over somehow. I also shrug and say I don't understand the Trump phenomenon.  As is to be expected from anyone who has read Haidt, the mainstream/liberal explanations of why this is occurring are simply insane.  There are in fact mirror images in some way - people who are so narcissistic and angry that any hateful explanation which says bad things about their enemies seems plausible.  Yet the conservative press is not very satisfying either. Those writers seem to apprehend a piece here and there, but not the whole package.  The best explanations I have seen so far focus on Trump's support as a reaction to the last x number of years. Some imperfectly defined but vaguely recognisable group of people are angry at Obama (and Hillary and Kerry and Holder and Jon Stewart and the MSM) - and may I say they are angry at their imperiousness, their tone, and their forcing things down throats more than their positions - and have gradually become fever-pitch angry at Republicans for not doing enough about it.

Okay, maybe.  I admit I don't get it.  I thought a friend at work who said she is a Trump supporter would be out once he said he would send more money to Planned Parenthood. (Did he really?  I don't follow this.) I mentioned this but she's still on board for Trump.  She wants Change.

But what about me? How do I navigate this?

First we step back.  That is the first AVI rule when I recognise that I am confused and uncertain. My usual measures are Positions and Character tied for first, Effectiveness a bit behind.  I'm not sure I've got much else.

Well, those aren't much help.  Trump can only win those in comparison to Hillary or Sanders, not by any objective measurement of doing well. So here's a thought that occurred to me today: how much harm is he going to do really? What bad thing will happen if Trump gets his way? There's a lot of wild card here. Because the future is unknown, I rely on character to help me estimate what might happen in various emergencies. That's not good for The Donald, but I am still left with that blank space.  What specific bad thing do I think will happen?  I can come up with answers for that for the two leading Democrats.  The lesser Democrats not so much, and James Webb could absolutely get me to break my 20-year rule and vote for him. Not going to happen, though.

I can imagine bad things that are more likely under Trump than under President Walker or President Rubio, but nothing other than a wall that seems far more likely.

Here's an irony: Obama has set down a lot of markers for things a president can simply order to be done, and stonewall, threaten, or wait out anyone who challenges that. Congress?  SCOTUS? Who cares? Democrats are really going to dislike that table setting for Donald Trump.  So will I, and not just for blowhards like him, but even for measured, reasonable presidents.  But they're going to hate it more.  Wind.  Whirlwind.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Greatest Novels of All Time

I never do that list because two weeks later it would be different.  LOTR would always be on top because of the personal changes it created in me, which lifts it out of objective evaluation. Everything else would be unstable in rankings.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Today's Sermon

I went to visit my previous pastor, now at an interim position down in North Easton, MA. With Jonah and Nineveh as the context, he focused on What question is God asking you? 

Simple but alarming.  Newer churches encourage visitors to bring their questions, and I think the many Bible studies and video series I have attended over the years have treated bringing one's questions to God as standard fare.  I don't think anyone has ever asked me to contemplate what question God is asking me.

He frequently asks questions, right from the start: Where are you?  Why have you done this?  Where is your brother Abel? When Jesus arrives, he shows the family style. Who do you say that I am?  Where is your husband?

I haven't the faintest idea what question God is asking me.  I suspect I'd better think about it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Jaed's Proposal

A regular commenter here had a clever bit over at Grim's Hall.
There is a relatively simple way to test the intentions of anyone who calls for mandatory training for gun owners: propose that such training be made a mandatory part of the public high-school curriculum. Mechanics of firearms, safe handling and storage, shooting practice, and the basics of self-defense law. Taking the high-school course to be considered sufficient for a carry license.
If the response is "Hey, that sounds like it would work," or some refinement about the details to be taught or whether students should be able to opt out, the person is serious about ensuring safety.
If the response is "OMG you BEAST how COULD you suggest corrupting the innocent CHILDREN with guns and besides they'll probably all SHOOT each other!!!"... well, then you know their true intentions.
Loved that.

I am not a gun owner and I'm not interested.  Four out of five of my boys shoot, but not often. Dropping the idea of "reasonable gun control legislation" was one of the last bricks to fall in my liberalism.  As well as I recall, up until about 1995 I think I believed that just having a gun around quietly encouraged people to violence as a first, rather than last, resort. I knew gun nuts who had poor judgement in just about everything else in their lives, and from my job I knew some very dangerous people who owned guns and made alarming statements about using them.

What I learned is that while those things should make a difference, when you run the numbers, they don't.

I have some fondness for the Bill of Rights as written, but so much of that has been bumped around that being a purist is not at the top of my political list. The cartoon version of how the government is going to make a list of gun owners so they know who to round up when the New World Order comes always put me off.  Liberals accuse all conservatives of believing it, and they can point to a lot of folks who actually do, even if it's not a majority. Ridiculous. Until...

Recently, that disquieting vision has become more plausible, if you get rid of the mental picture of commies knocking on your door.  The high-tech version, of impersonal bits of silicon programmed to keep track of who has guns because they are 17.4% more likely to be terrorists (and if you vacationed in the Middle-East you go on an even higher-profile list) is no longer far-fetched.  So that wasn't big in my conversion, but it may factor in the maintenance of my gun-freedom sympathies.

The big ticket item for me was always the numbers. The last 57 laws we passed didn't seem to reduce violence, so why would we think the next 57 would? The bad reasoning around the apples-and-oranges comparisons to European countries (which I admit look like our peer group at first), the attribution of bad motives to 2A people*, and the pernicious assumption that all people committing a gun crime must be conservative (because GUNS!), unless they are black or Hispanic, which doesn't count somehow - all these have only served to solidify me in the idea. All three are common themes in other things that make me crazy in modern political discussion.

If you've got an idea for a gun law that demonstrably does reduce violence, I'm glad to listen, as jaed is above.

* Sometimes true, but so what?  There are some people with bad motives behind all things, good and bad.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Got It Wrong

I suggested a few posts ago that I suspected a hidden third group among Bernie Sanders supporters: In addition to farther-left, OWS voters who really, really dislike the system, plus those who distrust Hillary, I wondered if there was an underground support for those Democrats who are fed up with illegal immigration but were reticent about exposing themselves to criticism on that account. Sanders has been clear that he considers the Koch Brothers (cue music) and Republican employers to be behind support for increased immigration, which depresses wages. (That's partly true, but protection of illegal immigrants is an overwhelmingly liberal cause in most of the US.)

As I know lots of Sanders supporters where I work, I though that if I engaged them and asked them straight out why they liked him I would sniff out some hints of this.  I could not have been more wrong.  Not only did none of them mention this, even obliquely. None of them even knew this was Bernie's position on immigration. Several of them assured me that I must have misunderstood and gotten this wrong, as they just didn't believe that Saint Bernard could hold such a deplorable view. All of them were behind Sanders because he is really big on taxing the rich and corporations, getting them to kick in a more equitable amount. Secondly, they think he is honest, unafraid, and not owned by corporate interests.  Well, maybe.  He's ahead of Hillary, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren in terms of not being owned.  James Webb and O'Malley are probably better however, as George Soros is coming in heavily on the Bernie train. (See Billionaires for Bernie - which has some weaknesses, but is largely true.)

Those conversations did confirm a less-original theory of mine, however.  Not one of the Sanders supporters mentioned what we could do for the poor, or the relief we could give the working poor, or the excellent programs we would have.  These are, I acknowledge, two sides of the same coin, so that in every individual case we cannot accuse the speaker of simply wanting to stick it to the rich. But when coin flips come up heads twenty times in a row, something is amiss.

Note: In the play, this is a sign that the universe is spinning out of control, foreshadowing that the characters have no chance of escape.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


When blogging, FB posting, or talking live about a political figure they admire, liberals are likely to say "regardless of what you think about his politics, you have to admire X for doing (some ostensibly good work)."  They never say it about conservatives, regardless of the goodness of the work.

Conservatives don't tend to say that at all, about anyone, unbidden. If they are asked, or if the person has just died or had some tragedy, they might lead with "I have always admired his generosity and compassion for (some ostensibly good work)" before proceeding to a criticism.

Both responses seem to lack a certain graciousness.  I'm not sure which one is worse.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Machines Are Biased

A regular reader sends a WSJ link.

Apparently social media software shows cultural bias. An image-scanning software's initial data set was predominantly white. (The article does not say what the percentages were, and whether the predominance simply tracked American demographics or was more than that.) Additionally, because there are more white faces than black ones on the internet, a software that continually learns from experience amplifies this bias.

Fixing the imbalance is certainly the first priority for the software developers.  But another use immediately occurred to me.  Observing how the software goes wrong might be useful in learning how we learn our biases, including the black box of what "initial data set" is hard-wired into us, and whether that can be compensated for.  In the examples from the article, there was some intuitive connection between how we act and how the software acts, making it quickly understandable.  There might be more that is not immediately noticeable.

There may be a hidden problem in that.  If software modification gives us insight into how we ourselves might be modified, couldn't it be used to increase our biases rather than decrease them, in a manner which reflected the desires of the more powerful?