December 3, 2020

Biden (and the NYT) fail to notice ambiguity.

I'm reading "I feel like I’ve done something good for the country by making sure that Donald Trump is not going to be president for four more years" quoted in "Biden Made Sure ‘Trump Is Not Going to Be President for Four More Years’/Here’s what Joe Biden had to say about the future in our interview" (Thomas Friedman column in NYT).

I'm sure Biden only meant to say that he kept Trump from getting reelected in 2020, but the words can just as well mean that it will be 4 more years before Trump can become President again. 

"'What happens to us while we are making other plans,' per Allen Saunders" — what?!

So... that's from today's mini crossword in the NYT, and I and — I guess — a million mini-puzzlers are saying who the hell is Allen Saunders and how have I gone so long attributing this witticism to John Lennon?


Wikipedia says: 
Allen Saunders (April 24, 1899 – January 28, 1986)[2] was an American writer, journalist and cartoonist who wrote the comic strips Steve Roper and Mike Nomad, Mary Worth and Kerry Drake. 

He is credited with being the originator of the saying, "Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans" [published in Reader's Digest] in 1957. The saying was later slightly modified and popularised by John Lennon in the song "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)".

Mary Worth! Is there anything less John-Lennon-like than Mary Worth?

"Toxic positivity."

I encountered a new term in "As stay-at-home restrictions rise, here are ways to cope" (WaPo): 
Although a positive mind-set can be a valuable coping skill, experts caution against going overboard. Such an approach — known as “toxic positivity” — can be harmful to yourself or others. Research has shown that accepting negative emotions is more beneficial to mental health than avoiding or dismissing them. So, next time you find yourself wanting to tell someone to “look on the bright side,” try instead to acknowledge their pain and ask what would be helpful. This doesn’t mean you can’t be positive, clinical health psychologist Natalie Dattilo told reporter Allyson Chiu. “It’s okay to have a positive and optimistic outlook and feel sad at the same time,” she said. “Both of those are necessary for a healthy outlook and sense of well-being.”

When is positivity "toxic"? "Toxic" is an overused word. I don't like calling other people "toxic." But I understand the various problems when one person in a family takes too much responsibility for injecting positivity into things. It can be silencing and annoying. It can be shallow. It can backfire. But is that person "toxic"? 

The Wikipedia article on "Positive psychology" has a section on "Toxic positivity":

Divided government is "a ticket to obstruction and the very sort of partisan brawling that moderate voters can’t stand."

Argues E.J. Dionne in "The destructive myth about divided government."

I am a moderate voter — a voter who abstained this year — and I believe that divided government is a safeguard against extremism. I eagerly clicked on the column because of the title. I'm perfectly ready to have my belief challenged. 

The Dionne column is very short. His main point is that the GOP leadership is "committed to preventing a Democratic president from governing successfully — even when that president is willing and eager to compromise."

But what is the "myth" that Dionne is supposedly debunking? I had to go back and search for the word "myth." 

Here: "The belief that divided government guarantees moderate outcomes might once have been true when there was a solid moderate bloc in the Republican Party. But it should now be clear that it’s a destructive myth." The word "guarantees" makes Dionne's "myth" a strawman. Who believes in a guarantee like that?! Divided government can be a safeguard whether it's a perfect safeguard or not. The question is whether it's better than the alternative. Which risk would you rather take? 

The assertion I put in the post title uses a similar absolutism: "a ticket to obstruction and the very sort of partisan brawling that moderate voters can’t stand." If you want to know something this moderate voter can't stand, it's writing like that. 

"Barack Obama continues his rather strange mission to confront and correct young liberal activists...."

" Wednesday morning on Peter Hamby’s Snapchat show, 'Good Luck America,' Obama said this: 'If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan like "Defund the police," but, you know, you lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done.' It was not the first time Obama had taken aim at these young activists. Last year he also took a swipe at wokeness and 'call-out culture,' saying, among other things: 'If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.'... [T]he politician navigates the system, while the activist defies it. The politician builds a coalition by using middling philosophy and policies that appeal to the most and offend the fewest. The activist is driven more by purpose, morality and righteousness.... Obama is a good man and a great politician. History will always record him as such. But he is not an activist.... His presence as president was his greatest symbol of change: a smart, competent Black man, devoid of personal scandal, who brought class and professionalism to the White House.... That simple act, him doing his job well, was monumental in the quest for racial progress. But none of that negates the legitimate cries of the activist that much more must be done, that Obama altered a racial image, for the better, but wasn’t able to alter the system of oppression.."

My tag for this is "Obama attacked from the left."

"Airlines no longer will be required to accommodate travelers who want to fly with emotional support animals such as pigs, rabbits and turkeys..."

"... under a final rule announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.... Emotional support animals aren't considered service animals under the new rule.... Over the years, airlines have had to accommodate a growing variety of animals as the definition of what is considered a service animal expanded to include animals that travelers said they needed for emotional and psychological support when flying.... Service animals are those that have been trained to perform a certain function, and under the Americans With Disabilities Act, reasonable accommodations must be made for a person using one. However, no training is required for emotional support animals, which has led some to question their legitimacy. Before the rule change, federal law didn't address the issue of emotional support animals, so airlines had little recourse but to accommodate them.... 'This final rule will ensure that untrained pets will never roam free in the aircraft cabin again.'"

I'm happy to see this rule. Click on my "service animals" tag to see what I've written on the topic over the years. I'll just highlight this 2018 post that was based on a David Leonhardt column in the NYT, "It’s Time to End the Scam of Flying Pets" (NYT). Here's the quote from Leonhardt that began the post:
The whole bizarre situation [of emotional support animals on airplanes] is a reminder of why trust matters so much to a well-functioning society. The best solution, of course, would be based not on some Transportation Department regulation but on simple trust. People who really needed service animals could then bring on them planes without having to carry documents. Maybe a trust-based system will return at some point. But it won’t return automatically. When trust breaks down and small bits of dishonesty become normal, people need to make a conscious effort to restore basic decency.
Leonhardt did not want a rule! He imagined people working through the problem on our own! I'm inclined to resist overregulation, but I thought his "best solution" was a pipe dream. I wrote:
The best solution...

Voltaire said: The best is the enemy of the good. ("Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.")

I don't see how we're supposed to get to trust, when in a huge system, like airline transportation, you're always going to get some cheaters and it doesn't take many — 1%? — to create a problem like the one symbolized by Dexter the emotional-support peacock (picture at the NYT link).

And I'm not convinced trust is the answer. People need to be observant and skeptical.

I'll quote John Stuart Mill now: "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing."

Sometimes you need rules. 

"For the right, the kamikaze are a symbol of traditional virtues and a spirit of self-sacrifice that they believe is woefully absent from modern Japan."

"For the left, they are part of a generation destroyed by Japanese militarism, and a powerful reminder of the importance of maintaining the country’s postwar pacifism.... [In October 1944] Japanese officers explained to Mr. Odachi and his cohort the plan to use suicide missions and asked for volunteers. They were met with stunned silence. Only when the officers began to harangue them did the first few men reticently volunteer, he wrote. 'We were essentially cajoled into committing suicide,' he recalled.... Mr. Odachi’s Zero... was loaded with an 1,100-pound bomb, weighing it down so much that it would be impossible to outmaneuver the enemy. When American fighters spotted him, he jettisoned his bomb into the ocean and managed to escape. On his next sortie, his group failed to find a target. The next six missions also ended in failure. After each attempt, he would wait for weeks for new orders. Every night, the officers announced who would fly into battle the next day. It 'felt like the conferral of the death penalty, and it was stomach-turning,' he wrote. But by the end, he said, 'we had become indifferent to matters of life and death. Our only concern was making the final moment count.' That moment, however, never came. On his final mission, his plane was preparing to take off when a member of the ground crew ran onto the runway, shouting and waving for the squadron to stop. The emperor, Mr. Odachi learned, had just announced Japan’s surrender. He was going home.... 'We were the same age as today’s high school students and college freshmen,' he said. 'There wasn’t a single person among us who would have decided on their own to die.'"

December 2, 2020

At the Sunrise Café...


... you can talk all night. 

And please think of supporting this blog by doing your shopping through the Althouse portal to Amazon, which is always right there in the sidebar. Thanks!

Trump teases 2024 run: "It's been an amazing four years. We're trying to do another four years, otherwise I'll see you in four years."

The cough is an unnice touch.

There's a point in this Lou Dobbs rant where — if you been paying attention — you'll cry out loud "He" — Barr — "didn't say that!"

The expressive bridge.

"Though [Betsy] DeVos has been mostly stymied... her legacy will still be far-reaching and long-lasting. This is not a result of what she made, but of what she broke..."

"... a bipartisan federal consensus around testing and charters that extended from the George H.W. Bush administration through the end of the Obama era.... In response to Ms. DeVos’s polarizing influence, moderate Democrats including President-elect Joe Biden recommitted to teachers unions and adopted more skeptical positions on school choice that were out of the question just a few years ago.... Yet Ms. DeVos has also elevated the education policy agenda of the far right, giving voice and legitimacy to a campaign to fundamentally dismantle public education.... More than three decades ago, conventional Republicans and centrist Democrats signed on to an unwritten treaty. Conservatives agreed to mute their push for private school vouchers, their preference for religious schools and their desire to slash spending on public school systems. In return, Democrats effectively gave up the push for school integration and embraced policies that reined in teachers unions.... As Republicans continue to work to defund and privatize school systems, both Democratic governors and the incoming Biden administration can draw a sharp policy distinction, boldly defending public education in a way that resonates with voters...."

"Britain gave emergency authorization on Wednesday to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, leaping ahead of the United States..."

"... to become the first Western country to allow mass inoculations.... Britain beating the United States to authorization — on a vaccine codeveloped by the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, no less — may intensify pressure on U.S. regulators, who are already under fire from the White House for not moving faster to get doses to people. And it has stirred up a global debate about how to weigh the desperate need for a vaccine with the imperative of assuring people that it is safe. 'Help is on its way with this vaccine — and we can now say that with certainty, rather than with all the caveats,' the British health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Wednesday, as the government exulted in the authorization."

"How is Face Recognition Surveillance Technology Racist?... How is face surveillance an anti-Black technology?"

Question answered at the ACLU website. 
First, the technology itself can be racially biased.... Buolamwini and Gebru’s 2018 research concluded that some facial analysis algorithms misclassified Black women nearly 35 percent of the time, while nearly always getting it right for white men.... These error-prone, racially biased algorithms can have devastating impacts for people of color.... 
Second, police in many jurisdictions in the U.S. use mugshot databases to identify people with face recognition algorithms....  Across the U.S., Black people face arrest for a variety of crimes at far higher rates than white people. Take cannabis arrests, for just one example... 
Third... the entire system is racist.... Surveillance of Black people in the U.S. has a pernicious and largely unaddressed history, beginning during the antebellum era.... [There is] spying that targets political speech, too often conflated with “terrorism,” and spying that targets people suspected of drug or gang involvement. In recent years, we learned of an FBI surveillance program targeting so-called “Black Identity Extremists,” which appears to be the bureau’s way of justifying domestic terrorism investigations of Black Lives Matter activists.... Racial disparities in the government’s war on drugs are well documented.

I was reading that because of this vote in my city last night: "Madison City Council bans city agencies from using facial recognition technology" (Wisconsin State Journal).

December 1, 2020

At the Sunlight Café...


... you can shine all night. 

(Photo of me, by Meade.)

"The male is barricaded inside and not answering the door. Everyone else is outside the house. They are trying to get him to open up."

Said the dispatcher quoted in "Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh was 'barricaded' in a shed when blaze broke out, as colleagues suspect his addiction to burning candles, Grey Goose vodka, and nitrous oxide whippets triggered the explosion that led to his death" (Daily Mail). 
Recently... nitrous oxide had become his drug of choice, taking it in the form of 'whippets' straight from the cartridge of a whipped cream dispenser. 'He would take dozens of them a day,' the colleague said. 'He lived a crazy, eccentric life. The drugs often made him hallucinate, he became paranoid — that could explain why he barricaded himself in,' he added. 'Tony was very fond of candles. He liked to set the atmosphere.' 'The guess is that he managed to ignite one of the nitrous oxide canisters which caused a small explosion that killed him.'...