July 11, 2020

"Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency."

So reads the official White House statement about the commutation of the Stone sentence. I know — from my very slight dabbling in radio and TV news last night and this morning — that this issue is getting talked to death. It's the outrage of the day, blotting out whatever was the outrage of the day before, and soon to be blotted out by the next outrage. So I don't think my time is well used listening to any of that. If I know they're talking, I already know what they are saying — more or less. But I do think it's worth looking at the details of what the White House put in an official statement in this case. Most official statements are in bland officialese, though it can be interesting to try to read between the lines or just to translate it into plain English.

But this official statement is written in the style of Trump's rally rhetoric. Let's continue (the boldface is mine):

If this won't get you cancelled... well, it won't, so that shows you one more thing that's wrong with cancel culture.

A sign that says "The right to openly discuss ideas must be defended" brings out the absolute worst in people.

"This practice of reading someone's words in an attempt to look for 'dogwhistles' is the opposite of 'charitable interpretation'..."

"... which means 'interpreting a speaker's statements in the most rational way possible and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation.' In contrast, dogwhistle hunting is the practice of interpreting someone's words in the most unreasonable or offensive way imaginable."

Writes my son John, discussing a recent effort to cancel Steven Pinker.

I've been seeing this Steven Pinker story out of the corner of my eye for a while. I don't even know what the cancel ghouls even say that he did wrong. I just assume they're crying wolf. (Sorry to introduce a rival canine into this little post.)

"Mom went back to the gym, to aqua aerobics. Dad went out to pick up the recycling around town. So there you go, we expended 11 weeks of our lives, and now our parents are wading around in a cesspool of germs."

Said a woman whose parents are in their 80s, quoted in "As the pandemic surges, old people alarm their adult kids by playing bridge and getting haircuts" (WaPo).

Here's a quote from that woman's father: "Let’s face it, I’m 80 years old and I don’t have a whole lot to lose in the end anyway. It’s just at what level you’re willing to take your edge. I’m a Marine. I was in Vietnam, people shot at me, so this isn’t that much more dangerous than that, I don’t think."

It’s just at what level you’re willing to take your edge — interesting phrase. Some kind of Marine talk? I googled. Look at this hilarious failure to get what I wanted out of Google (click image to enlarge and clarify):
Back to the WaPo article:
Even when older people do understand the risks, it may not terrify them as much, said Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity. “Older people in general experience less stress in everyday life,” she said... “They absolutely see themselves at risk, [but] there is lots of evidence that as people come to the end of their life, they come to live in the present and they stop worrying about the what-ifs,” she said.
I think people at different ages have a different awareness of death — a different relationship with concept. Perhaps younger people have kept it at a distance and are therefore more shocked when it's suddenly in their vicinity and feel an urgent need to react and fight off what absolutely must not happen (not for a very long time). But old people are so used to having thought about it on so many different occasions that it's become a familiar part of life, and it's not so alarming. There's nothing to do about it. It's been walking alongside you for quite some time, and you know at any point your exit from the path of life may turn up but you walk on, enjoying the moment you're in, and don't worry about exactly where, up ahead, that exit is. It's somewhere, not that far.

"Reopening Schools Will Be a Huge Undertaking. It Must Be Done" — say the editors of the NYT.

I'm surprised to see this mainly because it accords with what Trump has been saying — at least at a high level of generality. I'm sure there will be pointed disagreements with Trump about the specifics. Let's read:
American children need public schools to reopen in the fall. Reading, writing and arithmetic are not even the half of it. Kids need to learn to compete and to cooperate. They need food and friendships; books and basketball courts; time away from family and a safe place to spend it. Parents need public schools, too. They need help raising their children, and they need to work.
We've got to get the kids away from their parents. Who knows what decline is setting in as parents dominate the lives of "their" children (our children!)?
In Britain, the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health has warned that leaving schools closed “risks scarring the life chances of a generation of young people.” The organization’s American counterpart, the American Academy of Pediatrics, has urged administrators to begin from “a goal of having students physically present in school.”...
Everything's a risk. It also risks making the children better. Wouldn't that be a kick in the head? But we can't do an experiment on a whole generation, suddenly homeschooling them all. What if we found out the kids did better? What if day-long incarceration in school buildings and the schoolteacher-administered compulsory education isn't the best way for the young human being to live? Quick! Get them back in before anyone finds out!

Most of the linked editorial is about all the money that must flow to local school districts. Also, President Trump should wear a mask. And...
He could work to get money to schools. Instead, Mr. Trump has sent tweets, demanding in ALL CAPS that schools reopen — and threatening to cut off existing federal funding.
But "money alone is not enough." The school buildings aren't large enough to put enough distance between the students. (They're assuming the kids will stay in the distanced spaces in which they are put.) So the editors promote the idea of doing classes outdoors — in the playground and "give serious consideration to closing streets around schools and hold[] classes there." But what about bathrooms? And what if it rains?
The limits of virtual classrooms were on painful display this spring. While some students thrived, or at least continued to learn, others faded away. Boston reported that roughly 20 percent of enrolled students never logged in. In Los Angeles, one-third of high school students failed to participate. In Washington, D.C., the school system simply gave up and ended the school year three weeks early. Evidence suggests schools particularly struggled to reach lower-income kids, exacerbating performance gaps....
This is the worst of it. The students with the best home life might do even better with school out of the picture and the parents left to figure out how to educate and feed and support beneficial play for their children. The children with the worst home life are worse off than ever.

The NYT editors end by knocking Trump for asking "the C.D.C. to relax its public health guidelines for safely reopening schools." But if you want to open the schools, what's the alternative? Here's the answer the editors crafted: "Take the measure of the best available science, implement the necessary safety measures and maximize the amount of time that children can spend in classrooms." I don't know how that gets you anywhere different from what the President said to do. It seems like the editors and Trump are all saying: Let's do the best we can but the kids need to go back to school.

"We are happy to welcome this block party to Hilldale although would have been grateful to be involved in the organization of it so that we could prepare the site to receive a crowd and work to insure that all COVID-related standards of mass gatherings were met."

Said a spokeswoman for Hilldale Shopping Center (here in Madison), quoted in "Hilldale Shopping Center closes stores ahead of protest" (Wisconsin State Journal).
Organizers in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Madison and Milwaukee said they came together at the shopping center in an effort to educate patrons on the plight faced by Black people in America. But the normally bustling shopping center was void of customers as businesses shut their doors at about 2:30 p.m., prior to the kickoff of the event....

Organizers said they were told by shopping center management that the stores were closed to accommodate the block party, but organizers were skeptical. They said shopping center security tried to block them from setting up a sound system and grill outside the Apple Store.
Oh! They felt unwelcome. And the customers of the stores didn't work as a captive audience for this proffered "education." They all went home! There was even free food... but who would eat protester-prepared food in the time of social-distancing?!
“We need to learn how to stop ignoring people’s voices and listen to them,” Frank Nitty, a community organizer from Milwaukee]. “People aren’t trying to be violent, they’re trying to be heard.”
Remember yesterday, we were talking about an essay by Damon Young, "You Want to Talk About Racism? Pay Me/And even then, maybe not"? Young, a black author of a book about racism, wanted white people to realize that when he's out and about in his ordinary life — "maybe I’m out walking, shopping or playing with my children" — he doesn't want people using that as an opportunity to talk to him about racism — even if they think they mean well and they're participating in this conversation about race we keep hearing about.

The feeling is mutual, it seems. The shoppers at Hilldale cleared out immediately. Now, part of that was probably concern about potential violence. And, frankly, Nitty's statement that his group isn't "trying to be violent" is not terribly reassuring. We've seen peaceful protests devolve into violence. How did the violence happen? I'm willing to believe the protesters, most of them, were not "trying to be violent," but then windows got broken and chaos happened. It's enough to make anybody who was at Hilldale to buy an iPad at the Apple Store or a flimsy blouse as Anthropologie to get in the car and go home.

But quite aside from the fear of disorder (and the lack of interest in street food in the time of coronavirus), few of us want someone to come up to us when we're "out walking, shopping or playing with [our] children" and force us into a conversation — or an "educational" lecture — about race.

I put the quote from the Hilldale spokesperson in the headline because it's so guarded and bullshitty.

July 10, 2020

At the Friday Night Café...


... you can choose your own topics.

Lin-Manuel Miranda jumps into the Goya boycott.

"President Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime friend Roger J. Stone Jr. on seven felony crimes on Friday..."

"... according to the White House, using the power of his office to help a former campaign adviser days before Mr. Stone was to report to a federal prison to serve a 40-month term. Mr. Stone, 67, a longtime Republican operative convicted of obstructing a congressional investigation into Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, has been openly lobbying for clemency, maintaining that he could die in prison and emphasizing that he had stayed loyal to the president rather than help investigators. 'He knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him,' Mr. Stone told the journalist Howard Fineman on Friday before the announcement. 'It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.' Mr. Trump has long argued that Mr. Stone was persecuted and lashed out at the prosecutors, the judge and even the jury forewoman in his case. The real villains, he argued, were former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom he has falsely accused of spying on his campaign, as well as the people who investigated his associates, including the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey."

The NYT reports.

"I guess I understand the compulsion to find somewhere to engage this national conversation... The white people who do this..."

"... don’t realize (or maybe just don’t give a damn) that we’re on different timelines. You learned yesterday what white privilege means? Great! Welcome to 1962. This, however, doesn’t mean I need to engage you about it today. Or tomorrow. Or ever. And most important, maybe I’m out walking, shopping or playing with my children, or out just, I don’t know, staring at a fire hydrant because I want to give myself a break from writing about, from speaking about, from thinking about and from raging about racism, and you’re asking me to work for you for free. And that’s what it is: work. Free labor. An absolution device for your conscience, provided by me, shipped for free. There’s nothing inherently valuable for me out of that exchange. I don’t have a bucket list. But if I did, a 17-minute conversation about lynching, while in line for ice cream, wouldn’t be on it."

From "You Want to Talk About Racism? Pay Me/And even then, maybe not" by Damon Young, author of "What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir In Essays" (NYT).

Conversation is not like money. Handing someone a conversation is not like handing them money, because money is neutrally useful and if it's given to you, doesn't take any of your time. But a conversation isn't just a giving. It's a taking of someone's time, and it's always about something specific. That person has some power over how the conversation goes and can try to move it somewhere other than where you had in mind, but that requires time and effort, and who are you to demand that from them? Did you think about that? Or do you imagine yourself to be a wanted gift?

I looked up where Young lives, because I was trying to picture a place where people see a black man, recognize him as an author of a book about race, and think it's perfectly okay to make an effort to engage him on the topic of race, and have a conversation right there on the street at that moment, because that's where they encountered him. He lives in Pittsburgh.

I'm giving this post my tag "etiquette." Don't people understand etiquette?!

"Becoming a Himbo."

Yes, you've said it before — blah blah blah TikTok is the devil. I'm not even going to put through comments that try to make that the topic. Write your own blog if you need to do that. This discussion is only for people who watch the video below, which I am recommending as funny and memorable. Once you see the graph and its 4 quadrants, you will never forget them, probably not, unless you're too offended by the realization that our Himbo-to-be would put you in the lower left quadrant, but get the hell out of there — become a Himbo!

"In San Francisco, where many locals push for... police reform, those same locals are tired of the break-ins."

"So how do they reconcile 'defund the police' with 'stop the smash and grabs'? [Tech businessman Chris] Larsen believes he has the answer: Put security cameras in the hands of neighborhood groups. Put them everywhere. He’s happy to pay for it.... Privatization is hardly a new thing in the city. Around a quarter of San Francisco parents send their children to private school... Plenty of people already have security cameras pointing toward the street. So would a privately owned camera network be so out of bounds?... Neighbors band together and decide where to put the cameras. They are installed on private property at the discretion of the property owner, and in San Francisco many home and business owners want them. The footage is monitored by the neighborhood coalition. The cameras are always recording. The cameras are not hidden.... When crime-fighting is put into civilian hands, new and unregulated behaviors can emerge. San Francisco’s police are controlled by many laws that do not apply to civilians. One of those laws is that the police in the city may not use facial-recognition technology.... The technology that Mr. Larsen is using is sophisticated... 'designed to scale up to do license plate reading and facial recognition'... Mr. Larsen balked at the idea of his cameras using facial recognition: 'We’re strongly opposed to facial recognition technology... Facial recognition is too powerful given the lack of laws and protections to make it acceptable.'"

From "Why Is a Tech Executive Installing Security Cameras Around San Francisco?/Chris Larsen knows that a crypto mogul spending his own money for a city’s camera surveillance system might sound creepy. He’s here to explain why it’s not" (NYT).

Taking security private and avoiding the limitations that apply to the police... who can object? Surely not the "locals" who are calling for an end to the police, but how will they get credit for their virtue if they themselves engage in behavior that is beyond what the law permits the police to do? Or is facial recognition technology different from the on-the-street brutality that has been the focus of the anti-police protests? If the answer is yes, that suggests where we are going — away from taking down criminals who are trying to resist arrest and into pervasive surveillance and tracking that ensures the ultimate capture of criminals who initially escape.

I'm assuming Larsen is bullshitting about his opposition to facial recognition. Do you think private citizens, doing their own security, are going to voluntarily take on the limitations that the law puts on the police?

In the news — the attack on individualism.

Having created a tag "the attack on individualism" — for reasons stated in the previous post — and gone back to find that subject in my archive, I wanted to look at the present and see how much of this topic was in the current news.

Here are a few things I found:

1. "Big Data Analytics Shows How America's Individualism Complicates Coronavirus Response" (UVa Today):
Painstakingly, and with tremendous amounts of data processed by 97 advanced computers, Jingjing Li, Ting Xu, Natasha Zhang Foutz and Bo Bian went county-by-county to track levels of individualism – measured by the amount of time each locality spent on the American frontier from 1790 to 1890 – and correlate individualism to social distancing compliance and COVID-19-related crowdfunding.... “We were astounded by the large magnitude of those numbers, because they suggest that variations in individualism could account for almost half of a policy’s effectiveness,” said Li, an assistant professor of information technology in the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce.
2. "Andrew McCutchen criticizes Yankees' hair policy: 'It takes away from our individualism'" (CBS Sports):
The Yankees' "appearance policy" has been in force since not long after George Steinbrenner purchased the team in the early 1970s. As the story goes, Steinbrenner didn't care for Thurman Munson's appearance during one singing of the national anthem, and he put in place the following mandates: "All players, coaches and male executives are forbidden to display any facial hair other than mustaches (except for religious reasons), and scalp hair may not be grown below the collar. Long sideburns and 'mutton chops' are not specifically banned."
3. "How Individualism Spreads Racism" by Jackson Wu (Patheos):

That last post finally pushed me over the line to create a tag I've been thinking about for a while...

... "the attack on individualism."

The pressure was building after yesterday's post about Seattle's effort to teach its employees about their own "Internalized Racial Superiority," which is "defined by" — among other things — "individualism."

What pushed me over the line into new tag creation this morning was a criticism of women who fall into the "trap" of talking about their individual struggle with motherhood.

I went back into the archive and added the tag to a few old things:

June 19, 2020 — This is a quote from a review of the book "White Fragility": "'I am white and am addressing a common white dynamic,' DiAngelo explains. 'I am mainly writing to a white audience; when I use the terms us and we, I am referring to the white collective.' It is always a collective, because DiAngelo regards individualism as an insidious ideology. 'White people do not exist outside the system of white supremacy,' DiAngelo writes, a system 'we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves.'"

November 29, 2015 — I quoted the Tom Wolfe essay, "The 'Me' Decade and the Third Great Awakening":

I'm trying to read "Urban Baby fell into a trap all too common of our time"...

... by Helaine Olen (at WaPo). I'd never heard of Urban Baby, but it was "the seminal mothering forum of the aughts" owned by CBS Interactive, which just shut it down and isn't preserving the archive. You get to a dead end if you go to UrbanBaby.com (but there's always the Wayback Machine). I had to look up exactly when it started — "the aughts" being an annoyingly vague factoid. It was 1999. And why did CBS close it? Because it "fell into a trap all too common of our time" — whatever that is? Or was it for some other reason, and Olen just wants to accuse it of falling into some trap she's going to tell us is too common?
Urban Baby, born shortly before the millennium...
Oh, okay, she did more nearly approximate the date. My annoyance was getting out ahead of itself.
... was, in the words of New York magazine, “the collective id” of upper-middle-class professional urban mothers. It was wild, it was raunchy, it was no-holds-barred. People — all anonymous — talked about breastfeeding and strollers, sex and infidelity, money and schools, and crazy encounters with other moms, family members or even strangers.... Urban Baby was part of the first wave of confessional Internet women’s writing about parenting... and the simultaneous ratcheting up of expectations of what makes for good mothering.... This new world of parenting was challenging and liberating, but, most importantly, optimistic. There was the almost-always unspoken assumption that the Internet was going to change the world of mothering for the better.

But that did not happen. For all the delights of the mom blogosphere, its members fell into a trap all too common to our time: We might kvetch about our problems jointly, but we struggle, for the most part, alone.
All right. There's the "trap all too common to our time." Individualism. Failure to do collective action:
[V]ery few connected their struggles to the greater society and economy causing their woes....  [T]he mothering blogosphere and forums lost ground to social media, to Instagram posts by neighbors and celebrity influencers alike about the wonderfulness of their parenting lives....
The "wonderfulness" Instagrammers were not uncovering the woes of motherhood, so they were even worse individualists. They propagandized for their individualized selves and gloried in their superior prestige.
[T]he little organizing done by moms connected via online communities often revolved around such things as convincing stores that banned strollers to change their policies.... [F]or all their complaints, all too many of the people doing the talking on sites like Urban Baby still believe that they can individually surmount the ever-increasing challenges of American life rather than changing the system that underlies them. 
They didn't go big and demand more and take to the streets. Okay, I get that Olen thinks complaining and working through personal problems by writing on line isn't showy and disruptive enough and that what "our time" needs is big collective action. But that doesn't mean that the mothers in these forums were in a trap. That just means they didn't process their problems into the kind of politics that a lot of us think is — to use Olen's awkward phrase — "all too common of our time."

And I still don't know why CBS ended the forum! I don't think it was because the participants fell into the "trap" of talking about life as they experienced it as individuals.