37 Years, 8 albums, and 75 minutes

 

Mark Knopfler had me from the first time I heard Dire Straits with the opening bars of 'Sultans of Swings' from their 1978 eponymously titled debut album. It has been thirty-seven years and eight albums I have been seduced by this man's virtoso song writing and his unmistakable guitar work. 'Tracker', his latest album, was released last evening. It formed the soundtrack to the last two hours of my work shift last night. With this play through I have listened to the album three complete times since it was released a little more than 15 hours. Seduced is the word for my experience of being invited to a feast for the ears and soul that a new Knopfler is and has been for nearly four decades.

The adage of never having another chance to make a first impression holds true for albums as well as people or, for that matter, books. The first track of 'Tracker' is 'Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes' starts out with a cool jazz intro that put me in mind of the first few bars of 'Take Five' by Dave Brubeck and then suddenly morphs into Irish roots music. One of the joys of Knopfler, at least for me as a middle aged listener, are the various trips down memory lane he takes the listener. The chorus of this song reminds me of a group of women I lived with back in the early 1990s. We all shared a Victorian house on the edge of the Fillmore and the lower Haight-Ashbury and we were all broke as a joke. We all shared, laughs, jokes, drinks, smokes (and pot when we had it) aplenty during that time.

About 80% of the way of the through the album Knopfler shows one of this gifts and what he does truly is a gift. On the eleventh track, a haunting and mournful duet with Ruth Moody titled 'Wherever I Go', Knopfler takes us into a bar about 1:35 in the morning when its just the barflies and the staff. From the first time he did this to me on 'Your Latest Trick' from the 1984 album Brothers in Arms to now I have been amazed at his ability to paint a musical tableau. If anyone could put that painting 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' to music, Knopfler would be it. If you close your eyes, you can almost feel the cool early morning air as it rushes in each time someone opens the door and you can damn near taste the cigarette smoke in the air and smell the whiskey on the breath of the drunk two stools over. No one is able to do that with instrumentation like Knopfler.

This is not a rock album although officially Knopfler is considered a rock musician. It is not a country album although his North Umberland Celtic roots are surely on display. It is a wonderful, beautiful, moody album. the only songs that truly move are 'Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smoke' and Beryl and of those two only Beryl really swings and it is a subdued swinging. It is an album well worth listening to. Just don't expect a Dire Straits album. Knopfler doesn't go backward, even if he sometimes takes a look back.

 

Of Facts and Theories

This post is an experiment of sorts. This was what I was going to say about something on a discussion on my friend Steven’s Facebook wall. Instead, I’m going to post the response here and link to it on my friends wall. That way I don’t feel rushed to condense something that takes a 1000 words into 100


You actually can prove something in math. You cannot actually prove something in science. You can demonstrate a degree of fidelity between what a theory predicts should happen and what we actually see by experiment or by observing the real world. But you can’t prove anything. You’re familiar with the black swan example so I won;t belabor the point.

I would say that fact has a pretty good operational definition which is ‘that which can actually be observed in the real world’. By real world, here, I mean a first-order approximation that is decent enough for us to treat it as if it were actually true. So, it is true that the couch I’m sitting on and the keyboard I’m typing are not *actually* coming in contact with my skin. The electromagnetic forces repel one another but it is close enough that it certainly *feels* as if my skin is touching the actual keyboard and so I can treat it ‘as if’ that were happening. So for almost any day-to-day purpose we can take the solidity of non-liquid objects as real. True, most of the chair and most of us are actually empty space but we can treat ourselves as solid objects. A neutrino would see as lots and lots of empty space with the odd bit of matter scattered around. Both descriptions are valid but neither one of them is more True in an absolute sense.

Yes, there can be contradictory positions and sometimes those are very genuine controversies. I would put string/m-theory into this category. It may be right. It may be not even wrong. That is one kind of noise in the system. Ultimately, that will get sorted out as experiments are performed or, because experiments can’t be performed people abandon it since there is know way to determine if you’re wrong. In the example you’re using, you’re conflating facts with theories about those facts. So, here are what I see as the salient (if surface) facts:

  1. People with a particular condition take a drug that was designed to alleviate or control symptoms of that condition.
  2. The manufacturer claims to have done testing and claims to have found the drug safe.
  3. The regulatory agency accepted the drug company’s claims.
  4. People taking the drug died.
  5. The drug was found to be causitive in the deaths.
  6. The drug company is found to have cooked the lab books, burying studies that were less favorable or fudging data to paint a prettier picture than was warranted.
  7. The drug company did this knowingly. (There’s scientific error and then there’s scientific fraud.)

The fact that the drug manufacturer made a claim does not mean that the claim was factual. That’s why I said that you’re conflating the two. For the moment, let us grant the drug company good intent in wanting to develop the drug in the first place. The thinking would look something like this

“This disease, X, kills N number of people per year. Our drug can help 80% of them. With another ten percent possibly having a fatal reaction to the drug. Well, by pure random chance we would expect up to 20% to have a bad reaction and this is a disease that strikes a lot of people and therefore will be prescribed quite widely. The mere knowledge of the existence of this drug will make our stock rise by two or three points.”

Pause a minute and consider that so far every decision has been made from a corporate boardroom peerspective. I’m trying to be reasonably fair to the decision makers in organizations like Merck. I’m not imagining them as some kind of medical Mr Burns, cackling evilly as they decide to put out a drug that can kill people. I think they make what seem to be good, but terribly misguided and stupid, decisions at the time that are in the best interests of the company. The numbers of people are hypothetical at any rate. But let’s move on.

So in the actual labs, postdocs and ordinary worker bee researchers are toiling away at their benches. The senior researchers are doing their jobs. And there are directives coming down from on high that this drug needs to be ready to go to market. So numbers get cooked. If anyone decides to make a fuss then the small matter of that NDA you signed coming in the door will be very casually brought up and one will be given reason to ponder upon the consequences of having a gigantic multinational corporation deciding that you need to spend several years in court because your conscience told you to do the right thing. If you’re a postdoc just starting out, you can’t afford to get a reputation as a troublemaker. Troublemakers don’t get funding. Troublemakers might have to leave the steady paycheck of corporate science and try to make it in academia. If you’re a journeyman scientist, you’ve got your house and attendant mortgage, and a car and payment for that and the student loans and the kid’s college fund and equipment for soccer and a new saxophone for the child wonder. If you’re a senior scientist you’ve got 20 years in. You don’t want to start over at 50. That idea terrifies you. Everyone has a reason to keep their mouth shut, their head down and try to stay out of the way. If you can’t sleep, there’s always drink or pot or perhaps one of your company’s own wares.

None of that, however, was about facts. It’s about the things that got in the way of the actual facts coming out. The actual facts are that the company put out a drug that kills people at an unacceptable rate (nothing is foolproof) and that they covered up the actual facts which was that their drug caused a reaction that was fatal at a higher rate than would have passed regulatory muster. At no point was it ever a fact that the drug was safe. A lie isn’t a truth until it is exposed as a lie. A lie is always a lie, even when it isn’t known to be a lie by anyone but the one telling it. Even if it this were the result of an honest mistake it *still* would not change anything about there being a fact about the drug (that it is dangerous) and that fact was known (because it was) and covered up because it was inconvenient.

I would say that a fact is that which is true about the world whether you believe it or not, whether there is anyone around to do the believing. The Sun is the most massive object in our solar system. It was so long before there was a single living thing or even a single planet with the potential to have conditions suitable to life. The Earth is more massive than its moon and therefore the Earth has captured the Moon and it orbits the planet. This is a fact. Einstein gave us a what, at present, appears to be the correct answer for *why* the Earth orbits the Sun and the Moon orbits the Earth and not the other way around. The less massive object will orbit the more massive object. If all of the mass of the Sun were condensed into the physical size of, say, the Mercury, the Earth would *still* orbit the Sun even though the Earth would have a larger physical size. It would be true if the Sun were condensed to the size of an asteroid about six miles in diameter and 2 miles long. Now, it may turn out that in 1000 years it is shown that Einstein was actually quite wrong in his explanation for *why* the less massive Earth orbits the more massive Sun but it will not change the fact that it does so.

Theories are models to explain facts about the world within a specific domain. Facts are those things about the world that just *are* whether there is something around to know about it or not. They remain even if there are things to know those facts and those beings believe exactly the opposite. The facts themselves maintain their hold on reality even if all our thoughts about those facts are entirely out to lunch. Something is true if its fidelity to the real world is so tight that the Universe is actually obliged to be that way.

 

The Rise of the Post-New Left Political Vocabulary

AJ Kincaid:

Excellent analysis of the differences between the language used by the New Left and the post-New Left.

Originally posted on The Public Autonomy Project:

If a handful of time-travelling activists from our own era were somehow transported into a leftist political meeting in 1970, would they even be able to make themselves understood? They might begin to talk, as present-day activists do, about challenging privilege, the importance of allyship, or the need for intersectional analysis. Or they might insist that the meeting itself should be treated as a safe space. But how would the other people at the meeting react? I’m quite sure that our displaced contemporaries would be met with uncomprehending stares.

It’s not so much that the words they use would be unfamiliar. Certainly ‘privilege’ is not a new word, for instance. But these newcomers to the 1970 Left would have a way of talking about politics and political action that would seem strange and off-kilter to the others at the meeting. If one of the time travellers told others at…

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The ‘buts’ come out again

I took the title from a line in an articlein the Turkish daily Hurriyet Daily News.

We are going through days when sentences containing “but” have peaked. 

“I condemn this, but…”
“Of course killing is horrendous, but…”
“One would not support a massacre, but…”
“I would never tolerate what has been done, but…”

Here’s how to understand these types of sentences: Disregard all of the words before the “but.” Concentrate on what comes after the “but,” because the actual ideas are hidden there.

I think that the above is spot on. The writer, a man named Ahmet Hakan, is shows us our own statements and it baffles me that people otherwise of the left can’t see this when we start talking about the Paris massacres. Take the following statements and see if you can see the point.

“I’m not racist but, …”
“I’m not sexist but, …”
“I’m not anti-gay but, …”
“I’m not anti-fat but, …”
“I’m not anti-immigrant but, …”

Is there any doubt that odds are that the very next phrase that exists the speakers mouth is going to be racist or sexist or anti-gay or anti-fat or anti-immigrant? ANY doubt? So why is it that one can say, “I’m against all violence but, Charlie Hebdo was a really racist magazine”. The fact that you are of the left doesn’t make what follows the ‘but’ any less an excuse for all the perfunctory denials.

I shouldn’t have to say this but I’m going to anyway, this is not about being anti-Islam. I realized that, from the point of view of what we in the Western left should be focusing on, the issue isn’t about religion or even about race. The issue, for the left, should be about fear. Nick Cohen, my favorite columnist currently writing, was spot on when he saidthat we are not just afraid but so invested in our cowardice that we are unwilling to admit that we are afraid! And we are afraid! A message was delivered by militants with guns and that message was this, “we cannot stop you from writing, drawing, sculpting, or publishing something that we find offensive. We certainly cannot stop you from doing it the first time. We can stop you from doing it the second time if we so choose. So draw your cartoons. Write your screeds. Deliver your speeches. Publish your novels. But know this, never forget this, you will put a byline and we will know your name. Your publication has a masthead, a website and an address and we will know this too. We will know how to find you. We will know where to find you. We will find you should we take it in our minds to do so and when we do, know that we will deliver justice to you.” Who is this ‘we’ that is speaking? It is militants with guns. It is right-wing militants with guns which, at the end of the day, is what most baffles me about the left’s reaction to these massacres.

“You blasphemed against our religion.” There are more right-wing and revanchist statements possible but the one in the sentence preceding this one arrives in the same car, sits in the same room as other more obviously revanchist sentiments. How can leftists get in bed with some of the most right-wing, reactionary forces operating in the West today? You see, looking beneath the skin color of the militants, hearing past the accented voice, what I hear and see are reactionary forces who would happily make common cause with Opus Dei, the American Family Association, the National Organization for Marriage, Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schafly if only they didn’t agree about the Almighty. Women’s sphere is really in the home? Yep, you can get that on either side of the sectarian divide. Gays and lesbians really are a threat to society? Once again, no real disagreement there from either side. On and on, down the line, I see groups whose ideological imperatives are far more similar than they are different.

This is not to lump all Muslims or all Christians together. Not at all. This is to say that a revanchist is a revanchist and a reactionary is a reactionary and all the brown skin or non-Christian religious belief does not change that a wit. In my mind, except in the most dire of extreme cases, no left winger worth her quinoa gets in bed with reactionaries. You don’t do it. In trying to write about this subject, I’ve had to walk a perilous path because I want to stand up fully and fiercely for values I treasure and I see under attack and being abandoned by those with the most to lose and yet, I want as much daylight between myself and the likes of Eric Erickson or your random FOX News contributor as is humanly possible. I want to say nothing that gives aid and comfort to reactionaries. It is not that I look at American Christian reactionaries as ‘good’ reactionaries and non-American Muslim reactionaries as ‘bad’ reactionaries. I see reactionaries and I want as little truck with them and as much bright daylight between us as is possible.

Which is why I’m trying to shift the focus of the discussion, at least in my own circles, away from the fact that brown skinned Muslims committed these massacres and focus more on the fact that reactionary militants committed these acts.

Je ne suis pas Charlie, Je suis Voltaire.

Why I love my boss #42

This was in my work email today:

T’was the day before the night before the day before, the night before Christmas

When all through the Big Pink many TSE was stirring, even some Rogues

The tickets were stacked in the queue, like used copies of Vogue

The teams were focused on tickets to solve,

While visions of the lobby doors did revolve;

Around and around in their minds

Swirled fixes and patches of many a kind.

When over in Milliways arose such a clatter

Every TSM sprang to see what was the matter

Away to Zendesk they flew like a flash

“All TSE queue” and cleared their cache,

To see the results of last week’s bash.

The sunlight on the shimmering waters of the Willamette

Gave the luster of summer to the 29th, and 28th too, I bet

When what to my wondering eyes should appear?

But an Infinity team and 8 tiny reindeer

(And by “reindeer” we mean the 8 arms of Cephalopod

Which I realize is a picture quite odd).

With many a ticket drivers, so slippery and quick,

I knew in a moment Enablement is slick

More rapid than Eagles, these tickets they came

And so the BSE’s whistled and did tame,

Sending tickets to the queues with excellent aim.

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

The KAM team did also take to the sky

And up to the queue top they flew

Intuit, XOC, Bear Hug and some P1’s too.

And then in a twinkling, I heard in the queue

The echoes of tweets by Sweet Lew

As the day wore on and tickets wore down,

The fog cleared and there below was the town.

The tickets they are so many! How they appear!

Oh Java, oh Mobile these tickets I fear!

Team Mojave quickly joined in the game,

And I called to them, called them by name:

Now Toby, Now Jeanie,

Now Dara and Jesse

On Kaushik, on Jesse (rhymes with ‘Jesse’)

On Andy and PK Thunder,

On Luke and Adrienne,

On Donner and Blitzen.

Wait. Got carried away,

The last two are not working today.

The TSEs spoke not a word, but went straight to their work

They filed Jiras and Feature requests, then turned with a jerk.

And laying a finger on the elevator call,

Gave it a push, down to the lobby they did – ride. (what did you think I was going to say?)

The queue under control, tickets but a few

Away they did fly, upon wings of Mt. Dew

Code Red, anyway

I heard them exclaim, as they bolted away,

Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good day!

(By Brent Hara, Manager, Mojave team, New Relic Technical Support)

The purpose of a university education

I normally don’t post the complete writings of other people but in this case, I’m making an exception because this is so perfect and there is nothing more I can add to this:

Hello, Cross-Cultural students, I am writing to express my views on how some of you have conducted yourself in this university course you are taking with me. It is not uncommon for some-to-many American students, who typically, are first-generation college students, to not fully understand, and maybe not even appreciate the purpose of a university. Some students erroneously believe a university is just an extension of high school, where students are spoon-fed “soft” topics and dilemmas to confront, regurgitate the “right” answers on exams (right answers as deemed by the instructor or a textbook), and then move on to the next course.

Not only is this not the purpose of a university (although it may feel like it is in some of your other courses), it clearly is not the purpose of my upper-division course on Cross-Cultural Psychology. The purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to struggle intellectually with some of life’s most difficult topics that may not have one right answer, and try to come to some conclusion about what may be “the better answer” (It typically is not the case that all views are equally valid; some views are more defensible than others). Another purpose of a university, and my course in particular, is to engage in open discussion in order to critically examine beliefs, behaviors, and customs. Finally, another purpose of a university education is to help students who typically are not accustomed to thinking independently or applying a critical analysis to views or beliefs, to start learning how to do so. We are not in class to learn “facts” and simply regurgitate the facts in a mindless way to items on a test. Critical thinking is a skill that develops over time. Independent thinking does not occur overnight. Critical thinkers are open to having their cherished beliefs challenged, and must learn how to “defend” their views based on evidence or logic, rather than simply “pounding their chest” and merely proclaiming that their views are “valid.” One characteristic of the critical, independent thinker is being able to recognize fantasy versus reality; to recognize the difference between personal beliefs which are nothing more than personal beliefs, versus views that are grounded in evidence, or which have no evidence.

Last class meeting and for 15 minutes today, we addressed “religious bigotry.” Several points are worth contemplating:

Religion and culture go “hand in hand.” For some cultures, they are so intertwined that it is difficult to know with certainty if a specific belief or custom is “cultural” or “religious” in origin. The student in class tonight who proclaimed that my class was supposed to be about different cultures (and not religion) lacks an understanding about what constitutes “culture.” (of course, I think her real agenda was to stop my comments about religion).

Students in my class who openly proclaimed that Christianity is the most valid religion, as some of you did last class, portrayed precisely what religious bigotry is. Bigots—racial bigot or religious bigots—never question their prejudices and bigotry. They are convinced their beliefs are correct. For the Christians in my class who argued the validity of Christianity last week, I suppose I should thank you for demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry looks like. It seems to have not even occurred to you (I’m directing this comment to those students who manifested such bigotry), as I tried to point out in class tonight, how such bigotry is perceived and experienced by the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddhists, the non-believers, and so on, in class, to have to sit and endure the tyranny of the masses (the dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).

The male student who stood up in class and directed the rest of the class to “not participate” by not responding to my challenge, represented the worst of education. For starters, the idea that a person—student or instructor—would instruct other students on how to behave, is pretty arrogant and grossly disrespects the rights of other students who can and want to think for themselves and decide for themselves whether they want to engage in the exchange of ideas or not. Moreover, this “let’s just put our fingers in our ears so we will not hear what we disagree with” is appallingly childish and exemplifies “anti-intellectualism.” The purpose of a university is to engage in dialogue, debate, and exchange ideas in order to try and come to some meaningful conclusion about an issue at hand. Not to shut ourselves off from ideas we find threatening.

Universities hold a special place in society where scholarly-minded folks can come together and discuss controversial, polemic, and often uncomfortable topics. Universities, including UCF, have special policies in place to protect our (both professors’ and students’) freedom to express ourselves. Neither students nor professors have a right to censor speech that makes us uncomfortable. We’re adults. We’re at a university. There is no topic that is “off-limits” for us to address in class, if even only remotely related to the course topic. I hope you will digest this message, and just as important, will take it to heart as it may apply to you.

Charles Negy

(end quoted material)

I’ll have more to say about this topic later.

Goodbye Gytha Ogg

Today, we buried our bearded dragon, Gytha Ogg.

She had developed a tumor on her right hand side of her body. Looking at pictures of her from a couple of years ago, I realized that I may have caught the beginning of her cancer. She died Saturday midday. Her last night she got to eat a bunch of ground cherries, so her last meal was sweet and a delicacy. When we woke up on Saturday, we first thought she was very happy because she was bright orange but the we noticed her beard was black and she was sluggish. We put her in some warm water, which perked her up for a bit but she was dead by midday.

 

 

Do You Care Enough to Know?

Someone on a friend's FB wall said,in response to a very good article explaining why President Obama hasn't given a barnburner of a speech on the events in Ferguson, MO, that they did not care why he hadn't given the speech just that he hadn't. This moved me to ask the question in the title, if you don't care why something happened how much do you care that it happened at all? I am a technical support engineer by profession. One of first steps in solving a problem is developing the fullest understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Saying that one doesn't care about why something is happening is saying that one feels justified in shirking doing the unglamorous and not-particularly emotionally satisfying work of figuring out what the moving pieces are. Those moving pieces can make all the difference.

The sentiment behind “the reasons don't matter” is that actual politics really don't matter. It is a sentiment of defeat because the only way the reasons why something does or does not happen cannot possibliy matter is if there is absolutely no hope in doing anything about it. Saying, “I don't care why he isn't giving the speech I want him to” is a tacit admission that giving a speech would do absolutely nothing. If a speech or series of speeches would make a big difference and the president refused to give a speech that would do some good then knowing why that decision has been made would be useful. From where I sit, Mr Obama has done what could be done from D.C. Attorney General Holder is in Missouri this very day and the FBI and the Justice Department are looking into the matter. What else can the President of the United States do?

This isn't an autocracy, the POTUS doesn't have the means or authority to, for instance, have the cop who shot Brown arrested. The bully pulpit only goes so far. What possible words could he say that would help? And given the political realities on the ground in America, the fact of the matter is that if Obama made a strong statement then by the end of the day Darren Wilson would be a folk hero. The only statement that Obama could make about the shooting of Brown that would not elevate Wilson to the status of folk hero would be something like this, “My fellow Americans, Michael Brown was a thug who got what was coming to him as is every other black person shot by the police”. THAT would pass muster on FOX News or Drudge or Breitbart.com but nothing else would. But any expression of opposition to the shooting will just make people celebrate Officer Wilson even more. They will justify it that if Obama thinks it was wrong, then it MUST have been right. It wouldn't matter how old or young Michael Brown was. It wouldn't matter where he was. He could have been helping a little old lady across the street, right in front of his church, still wearing his choir robe and he could have been famous throughout the state as the boy who was a perfect child and if he were gunned down by a cop that was on camera shouting “gonna shoot a nigger, gonna shoot a nigger” the officer would still be celebrated as a folk hero by those who turn to FOX News. Why? Because Obama is against it and therefore it must be the correct thing. At best, some tut-tutting might occur that perhaps the officer shouldn't have shouted the n-word on camera. But the fact that Obama thought it wrong would suddenly make it right no matter what the specific circumstances were.

The fact that this is the political reality on the ground isn't a triviality for policy wonks and political junkies. It is material to how the Obama administration is trying to walk a tightrope. As the first black POTUS, Obama does have a particular duty to history to carry himself in a certain way. The politics of respectability, which was the political milk upon which I was raised, has fallen much out of favor to be replaced by a politics that celebrates not being respectable. If the politics of respectability requires me to grant someone with whom I disagree the benefit of the doubt that their motives might not be malevolent, the politics of in-your-face requires me to only consider that those on the other side are motivated by a deep malevolence. In other words, if someone disagrees with me it isn't because they might be ignorant or misinformed, it is that they are malevolently on the other side. It's not having no clue how blacks are treated by the police regardless of class background, it is actively wanting blacks harassed, locked up or killed by the police. It is not that Mr. Obama has to walk a tightrope, it is that his job, the long and short of it, is to 'uphold white supremacy' and not only does he do so, he does it with gusto. In the past, the other side might be deluded, ignorant, uninformed, misinformed or plain out stupid but not actually evil. You might get to evil eventually but that was only after you eliminated every other alternative. This was the politics of civility which is now entirely out of fashion.

The politics of incivility, requires that if I am talking about race I need not acknowledge any progress that has been made, I need not acknowledge people of goodwill who are white, instead I should do just the opposite. Any progress that has been made should not be seen as progress. In this formulation, blacks moving up the corporate ladder isn't a sign of progress. At best it is a sign of cooptation but that is not progress. So, if there are black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies now when that hadn't happened at all until 1999 (Franklin Raines at Fannie Mae) that isn't progress. Now, there are exactly 6 black CEOs currently and a total of only 13 in all. I was born in 1967, that means I was 32 before I lived in a world where a black person reached the highest summit of the economic food chain. I was thirty-three when we had our first black Secretary of State and we inaugurated our first black president less than 60 days before I turned forty-two. To me, that looks like progress but the current paradigm says that it isn't progress. It can't be progress because the politics of incivility requires that there be no progress. It doens't matter how many lives are materially better, we cannot acknowledge that.

As I said yesterday, I think that we have a rare window of opportunity to demilitarize our police forces before it is too late. It is something that you can get behind as long as you aren't an actual authoritarian. I would like to see us take this opportunity to come together as Americans and say “this is not us. We do not countenance this. It has been a point of pride for us as a nation, that we don't have paramilitaries roaming our streets dispensing rough justice.” We could say this loudly and strongly and in our own respective political vocabularies. But in order for that to happen, we have to navigate the politics of our nation as they currently are, not as we would want them to be. It will require us to work with people who we may find most parts of their polticial philosophy abhorrent but that should not detain us on the way to demilitarizing our cops.

On this issue, we need to be able to work with people who might have very different political agendas and commitments in other arenas but who agree with us on militarized policing. That means trying to understand why things are and why people believe the things that they do or why politicians make certain political decisions, such as what to say on a domestic issue involving race and law enforcement and when to say it. If you don't care about those whys, if the thought of holding your nose and working with libertarians to keep our police forces turning into some Balkan militia circa 1993 turns your stomach, then how much do you care? If you care, lots of things should be on the table and more dire the circumstances, the more you should be willing to put on the table. With my deficit hawk friends, I always ask if the national debt such a crisis that they would countenance raising taxes or cutting the defense budget or both. If they say 'yes' then I know that they really believe it is a crisis but if they say 'no' I recognize that it isn't or at least not the crisis they think it is. Why? Because if the deficit is an existential crisis then everything is on the table. If everything isn't on the table, then it isn't an existential crisis. Likewise, if police brutality is a crisis (and I think it is) then we should be willing to get in bed with just about anyone who wants to see the cops reigned in, including libertarians even if we find the rest of their philosophy unrealistic.

Whither the Patriots Now

My wife, along with a number of other friends and columnists, have noted the silence of Second Amendment advocates, on the matter of events in #Ferguson, MO. I noted on my FB wall this morning that there are at least two people who are on my FB wall, with whom I have debated the 2nd Amendment, and their silence on this matter is quite conspicuous and deafening. Conspicuous because the events in Ferguson, which to most of the rest of the planet looks quite rightly like an out of control police force running roughshod and rampant over peacefully protesting citizens. These protests are happening because a police officer, who at the time of this writing still walks free under the sun, shot and killed an unarmed eighteen year old black man. In the last few days, images have been put forth that try to portray Michael Brown as some kind of criminal. Him with a sheaf of bills in his mouth, etc. The Ferguson police have said that Brown was involved in the robbery of a convenience store. They are now reporting that there was marijuana in his system. All of these ‘revelations’ serve as a memetic tapestry to tell America and the world what we are ‘supposed’ to know about black American men–namely that they are criminals and thugs. If Michael Brown is a thug, then so are all those other black men and women, young and old, marching in protest. The consequence of this, inevitably, is the idea that these people protesting aren’t really patriots but Cliven Bundy on his Nevada ranch is.

Let’s examine that a moment. So, Mr Bundy owes the federal government $1,000,000 in back grazing fees. He refuses to pay it so the feds seize his property. Friends and fellow travelers show up with lots of guns which they proceed to point at federal officers who, wisely, descalated. This is hailed as patriotic. An unarmed black man, a day before beginning his first day at college, is walking in the middle of the street and is told to get on the sidewalk by a police officer. The officer then shoots and kills the young man. People turn out and protest peacefully (more on the looting later) and the local police show up looking very much like a militia with very good equipment. The kind of people you usually hear in connection to cities with names like Kiev or Sarajevo, not St. Louis. As a friend of mine pointed out, what happened in Ferguson was far more tyrannical than anything that happened out on the Bundy ranch and yet, the people who claim we must be prepared to take on our government by force of arms are no longer cheering and rushing to stand with the people of Ferguson.

We are supposed to maintain the fiction that none of this has anything to do with race but that horse left the barn, jumped the fence and is two counties over by now. For the most contentious of our rights, I have a simplistic but, reasonably effective, heuristic I use for determining whether someone really believes in a particular right. The test is quite simple, try to suss out whether someone is willing to grant a right they treasure to someone they wish didn’t have that right. This winds up making not just strange but kinkily bizarre bedfellows. On the right, the question is if the good people of Ferguson, a fair percentage of whom happen to be from the Chocolate Side of the Force, were to turn out with guns would the NRA stand with them. We appear to be getting our answer now. On the left, the question is whether or not the likes of Cliven Bundy or his more erudite fellow traveller, John Derbyshire, have the right to spill their racist bile through some media. There are some on the left who would very much like to see that kind of speech made illegal.

At some point in my political wanderings, I realized that you can approach questions of rights from the point of view of trying to secure rights for you and yours or for a more universal conception. If you are really and truly in favor of the 2nd Amendment on the grounds that it is proof against tyranny, then your only logically consistent position is to point to Ferguson as an example and to applaud any residents of Ferguson who decide to shoot at the police. The police are behaving tyranically and lawlessly. The Second Amendment was passed in order to give the government a moment of pause before behaving tyranically, therefore, the people of Ferguson are patriots by the terms the Tea Party has defined itself.

Shocking as it seems there are people who are supporting the officer who shot Michael Brown. I want you to let that sink in for a moment before you continue reading so I’ll repeat it. There are people in this country who are celebrating the killer of Michael Brown as a hero because he shot an unarmed black man to death. A hero. For killing an unarmed black man. Now, if we held everything else constant but changed Michael Brown from a black man to a white man, do you think that the people who are out there portraying this cop as a hero now would still be doing? Almost certainly not. These are people who, whether they realize it or not, are showing themselves to be racist in a most egregious and odious way. It goes without saying that racism of any sort is odious but it is one thing to look down upon a group of people, it is quite another thing to devalue the lives of the members of a group of people to such a degree that their lives are worth nothing. Every person speaking out in defense of this officer, every person saying he is some kind of hero, is saying, whether they realize it or not, that in their minds the life of a black person is not worth the same as the life of a white person. There are some on the left who would like to see laws passed that would prevent, for instance, the KKK rallying to the defense of this Daniel Wilson person. Just as with gun control and the right, it is one thing to want free speech for you and yours and something entirely other to want it for people like the folks who are protesting in favor of a man that looks, at present, to be a common murderer with a badge. I find them and their world view odious. Their aversion to people from the Chocolate Side of the Force means any interactions I am forced to endure with these people should be mercifully short. But I want them protected from what I would like to see happen to their ability to celebrate the murder of a young black man. Because if it were up to me, being shouted down in the streets would be the least of the worries of the KKK. So I want their right to call me the n-word to supersede my strong desire to see them have to pay a social consequence for doing so.

On that note, a h/t to Andrew Sullivan at Daily Dish who put paid to the idea that libertarians were hypocritically silent on what is happening in Ferguson. I will link to it later. I am not a libertarian and as readers of this blog know, I think that libertarianism is like communism, a great idea but for the wrong species. But here is a rare time when I think that people regardless of political loyalties can come together to get our elected officials to make illegal for police to have military hardware–surplus or no. It would also be a good idea to require every police car to have a dashcam and every single police officer should wear some kind of camera like a Go-Pro for the entire time they are on duty. Turning it off should be a disciplinary action. If you are of the left then you can get behind this idea because it will make the lives of black and brown people safer. If you are a conservative, you must be concerned with the break with 200 years of tradition of keeping a clear separation between those we employ to keep the peace and those we employ to defend the nation. If you are a libertarian, this is a no-brainer. In other words, unless you are so far to the left that anything this side of the complete tear-down of the West with its capitalism and its democratic republics is nothing more than being in favor for the system as it stands or so far to the right that you would be cheering the murder of an unarmed black man by a uniformed officer, not having our police look like they just stepped out of the latest issue of Militias and Paramilitaries Quarterly should be a pretty easy thing to get behind.