Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bill O'Reilly lies about statistics to whitewash cops - I know, it's SUCH a surprise!

Once again, troubles in America are perpetrated because counting is a skill few people seem to develop.  Please, America, learn to count!

Bill O'Reilly - who, admittedly, also thinks that NYPD Officer David Pantaleo shouldn't have choked to death Eric Garner - gave the statistics that 123 black people were shot by cops last year while 326 whites were shot by cops.

First, the caveat that there are no accurate statistics about police shootings in the US.  Police departments are not obligated to tell anyone when a cop kills someone.  So, let's bear that in mind.

Second, let's do the math.  About 50% of Americans are white.  About 12% of Americans are black.  The ratio, there, is about 4:1.  Even accepting O'Reilly's numbers as absolutely accurate and representative, he's saying that around 2/5ths of the people killed by cops are black.  Translation?  Black people are seventy percent more likely to be killed by cops than white ones.  If you can't figure that out, shame on you, because it allows assholes like O'Reilly to pretend that everything is hunky-dory and to convince other people that racism isn't a thing.

He's also just reprehensibly saying that, hey, cops killing 459 people is okay.  Dude, countries have gone to war over less provocation.  The Boston Massacre?  FOUR people were killed.  FOUR.  It was considered by those Founding Fathers O'Reilly claims to love as a clear sign of tyranny.  So when you're at the place when it's necessary to talk about proportions and percentages to get a better handle on how many people are killed, you're waaaaaaaaaay past that into the territory of "just stop it, already" and maybe into the territory of "maybe a revolution isn't that bad an idea".

Also, other countries don't feel the urge to shoot their citizens so often.  Places like Great Britain can go whole years without cops killing anyone.  This is particularly interesting because Britain - with the exception of murder, where we outstrip all industrialized nations, often by an order of magnitude - has very similar crime rates to the US.  Yet, English bobbies don't feel the need to kill over a hundred Brits a year (if you can count, you know this is about proportionally accurate).  Indeed, the last time a cop in Britain shot someone dead was March 3rd, 2012.  Before that, August 2011 and before THAT June 2007.  That's right.  Between 2007 and 2011 - four years - no English cops fatally wounded NO ONE.  (And, unlike the US, Britain does keep accurate statistics about police killings.  Though, granted, it's a lot easier over there since their cops kill so few people.)

So the idea that, hey, cops are okay because the only kill 459 people a year and only black people are only 70% more likely to be gunned down by cops than white ones, everything is hunky-dory.  Nope, no problem at ALL that police kill 459 people a year, a disproportionate number of them black.  Not a problem at ALL.  Not to Bill O'Reilly.

Okay, and here's the real bogus part - O'Reilly was just plain lying.  There were about 459 people killed by cops in 2013, sure, but not all of them were either black or white.  A lot of them were, y'know, Hispanic because about 1 in 3 Americans is Hispanic.  A whole bunch of them are unnamed, without any attribution of race and sometimes not even of gender!

Remember, the US does not keep police officer killing statistics.  So such records are usually compiled from police crime desk stories.  Often, the information given is very scant and is rarely accurately fact checked.

For instance, according to Wikipedia's list of people killed by cops in January of 2013, forty-six people are listed as having died that month.  Eleven of them - over 20% of them - are listed as unnamed.  Hmm.  I checked seven entries before exhausting myself, and in the news articles about the shootings, in no case was the race of the person identified.

So, since out of those 459 people (barring the unlikely event that O'Reilly has access to data taht I don't have), O'Reilly assigned everyone who got killed by cops in American as black or white (which is, itself, disturbing) - totally ignoring the fact that many people killed by the police do not have their race released AND that a bunch of Americans are neither white nor black . . . well, what else can I conclude other than O'Reilly lied.  He pulled this specious bullshit "fact" out of his pocket to distract an outraged guest and whitewash racist police brutality.

Fuck Bill O'Reilly.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My present thoughts about Ferguson and the drudgery of causation

The worst part about seeing fnords is that almost no one else does, so I find myself in conversations or making observations that not many people understand.  I find this frustrating so I shut up more often than I should.  What's the point of saying something when no one listens?

Anyway, here's the bit about Ferguson.  I'm not sure to what extent it is fair to take a specific incident and turn it into a referendum about broad social policy. While I understand the legitimate issues at stake in Ferguson, I find this specific incident far less touching and significant than the general trend that I don't think many people understand.  Here it is:

We have all been tricked by the "war on crime".  It has never been about crime.  Every other industrialized nation in the world has crime rates similar to the US without our crazy obsession with crime and punishment (and they all have a small fraction of our murders, due to the fairly strict gun control laws in every other country worth living in).  This very strongly suggests that crime rates in the US have been dropping due to outside factors (such as the fact we're a generally richer nation than we've ever been, leaving fewer people in utterly desperate straits).  No, no, the war on crime has never been about crime but about race.

As the social movements of the Sixties changed the attitude of Americans, it became unacceptable to perpetrate violence on minority communities merely because they were minorities.  Cops couldn't just go in to beat and kill minorities to satisfy the racist bloodlust.  Yet, all of these police departments and justice systems were top-heavy with brutally vicious racist assholes.  The cops and judges that came into power in the 60s were raised in the undeconstructed racism of the 50s and earlier.

It is likewise important to realize that this continuity extends forward - the cops and judges in power now arise directly from those people in the 70s.  It is very important to remember that there is direct continuity of personnel between then and now - that the people in charge of law and punishment are the chosen heirs to the people who played the trick I'm going to reveal.

The people in power of the justice systems in the US weren't cured of their racism simply because some hippies made it harder to bash in black people's heads.  So they invented the war on crime, which distributed the bulk of law enforcement assets in crime ridden areas.  Well, those crime ridden areas were poor and non-white neighborhoods, they were defined as crime ridden by those undeconstructed racist cops.  A bunch of laws and procedures were invented to rationalize this (and I'll talk about a couple of the specifics below) but the important thing to remember is that when you police a given neighborhood (even taking away stuff like racism, which was definitely a big player, but this is true even if you take that way), the neighborhood that is more policed will seem to have more crime.

This is easy to figure, right?  You take two identical neighborhoods and you put twice as many cops into one as the other, the one with more cops will tend to find more crime - because that's one of the key duties of the police!

In turn, this rationalizes even more police coverage of those neighborhoods in a vicious circle.  All the did was create the conditions through which the same behavior was permitted, merely changing the rational for that behavior to something that appeared less racist.  It also allowed police to characterize non-white communities as being inherently criminal, even though it was a condition they created in the first place.

I said I'd give a couple of examples.  They racists who set up this system consistently overplay their hand, but they aren't called on it because the more attenuated an argument becomes the less likely people are to pay attention to it in the first place.  It's easy to understand that cops beating and killing black people because they're black is wrong.  It's harder to understand that a bunch of racist people created a system to justify continued racist abuses under layers of statistically skullduggery.  Most people don't bother to penetrate the more complex argument and/or assume the people proposing the more complex argument "have a point" so they give violent racist assholes a pass.

Still, examples.  Both of them come from the major campaign of the war on crime, the war on drugs.

The first is that black people account for about 12% of the US population and about 13% of drug users and drug peddlers (the difference is due to wealth, by the way - poor people use more drugs and black people get paid about 3/5ths what white people do in another part of the complex and persistent pattern of racism in the US).  However, over half of the people arrested on drug related offenses are black.  This is what happens when you send your cops into black neighborhoods to look for drug dealers while ignoring the ones in white neighborhoods.  It is the natural consequence and it is racist, hidden under statistical skullduggery.  And it creates vicious stereotypes of black drug dealers and black drug users when the truth is that drug sales and use is almost perfectly evenly distributed by race.

(The sentences between black and white people for similar crimes is also greatly different.  In all, black people spend about eight times longer in prison than white people for drug related offenses.  Hella racist.)

The second clear and obvious example is crack cocaine.  Until very recently, 1 gram of crack cocaine (which tends to be sold in poor, black neighborhoods) was treated as 100 grams of powder cocaine (which tends to be sold in rich, white neighborhoods).  Now 1 gram of crack is as bad as 18 grams as cocaine.

The rationale behind this is that crack is some sort of superdrug.  It isn't.  The bioavailability of crack cocaine is about 15% more than snorted cocaine.  That's it.  It produces a short but intense high, but as with all narcotics how high you get is primarily a product of how much you take.  If you've got enough money, you can put as much coke up your nose to give you the same intensity of high as crack - and it'll last longer.  Likewise, if you don't have a lot of crack, you might smoke less, producing a less intense high.  Since the metabolites of crack are identical with powdered cocaine, there is no particular difference in the character of the high - it's the same high.  You just get it a little faster with smoking, per unit, though the high is shorter in duration.

Which is part of the reason why black people spend eight times as much time in prison vis-a-vis white people - when 1 gram of your drug is worth 100 times its weight in sentencing, you're going to be staying in the big house for a loooooooong time.

This isn't subtle, people!  But the essential trick is that the when blatant, overt racism became less permissible in the 1960s it wasn't like the cops stopped being racist.  They found a way to keep doing the same stuff, but buried under somewhat complex arguments.

Which is why it is vital to remember that the justice system of today is run by the hand picked successors to the guys who have always been running the show.  It is being run with the same eye towards permitting the overt racism of the 50s and earlier but with the new lingo.  They've had generations to tighten it up, to create the vacuous procedural bullshit that we've seen all over America, to solidify their "reasons" and cover up their racism with charts and shit.   But it's shit.  They're just racist thugs.

So, I very strongly feel for the people who have been trapped by the war on drugs.  But when I hear people talking about this specific indictment, well, Betty Bowers summed it up pretty well when she said, "Whether Ferguson and racism or 9-11 and terrorism, Americans always fixate on the theater of results rather than the drudgery of causation."  But the drudgery of causation is the important part!  Without discussion of that causation, no amount of riots over specific police actions is going to mean very much.

Monday, November 17, 2014

NaNoWriMo and the writerly culture of self-abuse - and a call to arms to stop it!

NaNoWriMo has been a very positive experience for me.  It's my first year of doing it and I'm very glad I have - it has been wonderful.  Still, I guess I'm just a critical person because there's one thing that vexes me: the extent to which wrimos are critical of their own work.  There is a persistent culture in NaNoWriMo that says to its participants that their novel will stink, that writing swiftly is somehow inferior to writing patiently, but there's no reason to think that's . . . true.  That's right.  My criticism is that you people think you suck when you don't!

My initial draft of this post included a lot of historical stuff about 19th century writers like Dumas and Tolstoy who have written enduring classics of literature on very tight schedules.  It is true.  Many of the finest novelists who have ever lived wrote in ways similar to wrimos.  My initial post included additional historical details about how this kind of writing fell out of favor due to changes in publishing that made centralized publishing houses more economically profitable and not because of the preference of the audience, and how that centralization lead to those publishing houses putting a premium on shorter works due to the cost of paper, glue and ink.  Yeah, that's right, all that "stay focused, write concise" stuff is primarily due to publishers wanting to save money on paper, ink and glue - it was never an artistic choice!  It was never a popular choice!  (Which is part of the reason why almost everyone who reads this will have their favorite works in some giant series like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or whatever.  Most readers don't want their favorite novels to end!)  I ended up saying that modern comic book writers also write in a fashion similar to wrimos and they have created many of the most enduring cultural icons of the past hundred years.  In short, I talked a fair bit about why writing quickly, as wrimos do, does not lead to inferior art and a brief history behind the often cruel modern editing practices that have more to do with the cost of physical books than anything artistic.

But that was long and boring, so I just summarized it and am going to move on to what I think is the more trenchant argument:

The odd of you failing to suck are in your favor - you're probably an average writer.  There, I said it.  Your book doesn't suck, it's probably average.  Some will suck, but the odds of your book being truly bad are about the same as it being truly great.  And for most of you?  Your book is somewhere in the middle.

But here's the thing - being an "average" writer is pretty goddamn incredible.  Just like the "average" of any other artist!  In any other artistic field, people are quick to point out that their local music scene, art scene produces things that are lacking only big budgets of major distributors and are more in sync with the local attitudes and culture!  Local artists rock.  You are a local artist.  This means you rock.

I don't understand why wrimos attack each other like this.  If this was musicians instead of writers, we'd be pretty goddamn awesome.  I assure you that musicians don't stay around their local scene talking about how much they suck!  They instead talk about the conformity and banality created by the big labels, they revel in their idiosyncratic nature and local culture.  And people would come from far away to listen to the products of that local musical culture.

What I'm saying here is we should adopt that mindset.  We would find that the "average" of unpublished writers is about the same "average" for published writers, just as it is for musicians who aren't signed by big labels, or indie filmmakers, or pretty much anyone in the visual arts who doesn't have a studio in Manhattan.  Because, let me tell you, I don't think a bunch of rich white people in New York City are any better at determining what's good for the three-hundred and fifty million people in the United States any more than a tiny group of rich white people in LA are very good at deciding what we should all listen to or make into movies.  (And, of course, this doesn't even count everyone outside of the United States!)  Most of us live in a huge country with incredible diversity and it is ill-served, I think, by the New York City centered publishing industry.  We should break free of the strange notion that a small group of people far away from us in terms of culture, education, needs and wants should determine what defines good writing!  I'm saying we're as good as the local artists in every other field, who are very good artists.

I think we should adopt that mindset.  We are good artists.  We are making good art.  As good as all those other local artists out there that we thing are good.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Lena Dunham is the liberal Paris Hilton

I wasn't going to write this but when Luke O'Neil called me a liar, I decided that I had to talk about Lena fucking Dunham.

Here's the scoop, if you ain't heard.  Lena Dunham was a really creepy seven year old.  She was the kind of seven year old who peeked inside her sister's vagina, who bribed her with candy for kisses and masturbated next to her - when her sister was a year old.

Some right wing women-hating assholes saw this and said, "Holy shit, that's sexual abuse!"  Some of the brighter ones said, "Her parents were abusive in allowing that kind of behavior."

This made Dunham flip out even though, let's face it, the whole point of her various stories is that she was a not normal child.  Indeed, her entire career is predicated on saying shocking things.  Banal, yes, but often shocking.  (Shock material is almost always banal, anyway, so this isn't weird in the slightest.)  She wrote these stories that were creepy about her creepy shit when she was a kid and is somehow freaked out when people find her creepy shit creepy.

But here's the thing - those conservatives?  They have a point.  Let me put it to you another way: what conversation would we be having if George Bush, when he was seven years old, shoved his fingers up inside a one year old girl's pussy?

The idea that some people are going to find Dunham's behavior akin to sexual abuse is pretty goddamn obvious.  What is wrong for adults is usually wrong when children do it, too, after all.  Sure, we often don't treat them the same way we treat adults who have done wrong, but if you're the kind of person who figures that it's wrong when an adult masturbates next to a toddler, you're probably going to think that it's wrong when a seven year old does it.

Then, Dunham is so . . . incredibly privileged that she doesn't see this is what disturbs me.  Just the same way that her and her family are responding with the stock language of abused-but-in-denial people everywhere - that in their family it wasn't like that, don't be crazy, it made me the person I am today, all of that.  Almost no one who engages in abuse realizes that they're abusers; many abused people think that the abuse is "normal".

To a certain extent, then, so what that the people who brought this to our attention were conservatives?  Sure, it is not possible to ignore the sexist context of their behavior and beliefs, but that doesn't mean that they don't have a point.  It is possible to be both a sexist and right, after all, if only by chance.

While the people who come to Dunham's defense, like Luke O'Neil, who called me a liar because I entertain thoughts that Dunham isn't really innocent, start off saying that, y'know, hey, let's ignore the really incredible privilege that Dunham has.  She has what, then?  A bad case of affluenza?  She's been raised in such a morally challenged environment that the normal rules of human behavior somehow don't apply to her?  Because I think that's the case, definitely.  She doesn't come off like a human because she's not much of one, she's just the liberal Paris Hilton.  She's never lived in the world, so she doesn't understand it at all - but that's okay because she will never have to live in the world.  So she can just put on this "gee whiz" look and act like her behavior wasn't inappropriate, regardless of age.

Seriously.  Just imagine if George Bush had, even as a young child, admitted to masturbating next to his one year old sister - where that would go.  Seriously.  The more he tried to say that it was okay and shit, the guiltier he would sound.  The more disturbed we would get because he wouldn't seem to understand that - despite it being absurd to hold a seven year old responsible in the same way one holds an adult responsible in that situation - that it's actually pretty creepy, that it actually is a whole lot like molestation, even if it is absurd to hold a seven year old morally culpable as we would hold an adult morally culpable.

So while it's true that conservatives are using Dunham's rather shocking revelations as a mask for their sexism, it is equally true that her defenders are using her gender to mask their equally vile classism.  When this fucked up woman does something between genuinely, legitimate criticism of her actions are forbidden because she's a woman.  That's as wrong as condemning her on false pretexts, if you ask me.

So, Luke O'Neil, fuck you.  You're giving cover to your rich masters because you're too much of a fucking coward to criticize wealth and privilege when it happens to be a liberal woman doing disturbing, fucked-up things.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

South Home Air in Dayton, Ohio, tried to rob me

I had my first scam artist experience here in Ohio!  It involves a company called South Home Air.

When getting our dishwasher installed, the installation man noticed that our boiler was leaking.  So we turned it off and called up someone to take a look.  The first guys who came are a local company called South Home Air, Inc.  The guys came down for a look and decided that we needed at least $1000 worth of work, but to be safe, we should replace the boiler, which had a crack in the heat exchanger.  That would be over $6000 but . . . well, if the boiler has a crack, it might be worth it, right?

I said I'd think about it.  That evening, I got two calls from the guys trying to pressure me into deciding.  This started to vex me because I generally mean it when I say, "I'll call you when I decide what to do."

We have a home warranty but we don't actually like the company.  But if the job was going to be somewhere between a grand and six grand, well, we decided it was worth the hassle to get them involved.  So I put in a service request.

This morning, South Home Air called again - despite having been told THREE TIMES NOW that I'll call them when I'm good and ready.  I told them that someone else was going to look at the unit.  They said I owed them seventy bucks.  I said that I don't like to pay for estimates so I don't want to do business with them.

A few minutes later, I got another call from different people at South Home Air.  At first, I thought there was simply a mix-up and they thought I wouldn't pay them the seventy dollars.  I told the guy on the phone that, sure, if they bill us, we'll pay, but we're not going to work with people who charge for estimates.  (The bigger problem is that I didn't KNOW they were going to charge for an estimate.  It appears the industry is in a bit of transition and contractors have started to charge for estimates, which sounds really shady to me.  It's like having someone charge you to tell you how much something costs, which I would prefer not to do.)  The guy continued to try to sell me, saying that the seventy dollar fee would be waived if we paid them a thousand or six thousand dollars.  At some point I used the word "goddamn" and he was, like, "Don't talk to me like that."  I told him, "You called me, you fucking thief, and I'll swear when I like!"  He objected to being called a thief and we argued for a bit.

After a couple of minutes, I said, "Look, it doesn't matter if it's a service call or an estimate or whatever - we're yelling at each other.  Clearly we shouldn't work together."  Then he insulted my intelligence ("I thought I was talking with an intelligent person!") and then I said I didn't want to work with him, then he gave me an insulting apology ("I'm sorry that you don't understand how this business works!") and then I hung up.

It gets worse!  Today, another guy came over to look at the boiler.  His findings?  "This pressure release valve doesn't work, so I can't tell if there are leaks in other places."

I asked about repiping.  He said that the pipes were old but in good condition and there was no sign of leakage.  I asked about the broken heat exchanger.  He said he didn't see anything broken but he couldn't be sure until they could build the pressure in the pipes.  I asked why someone would then suggest a new water heater.  He did not know.  He said that our model of boiler is "like a tank" and regaled me with a story of the sixty year old one he'd dealt with in the past.  He said that the new ones are more efficient, sure, and they'd happily install a new unit if we wanted a smaller, more efficient unit but that's not what the South Home Air guys said.

The upshot - South Home Air tried to rob me and my wife.  Fuck those guys.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why Sam Harris is a racist asshole

Sam Harris is another atheist racist asshole.  Who knew?  Recently, on Bill Maher's show - I've known Maher to be a toad for a while now, pretty much the distilled essence of everything I loathe about liberalism in America - Harris got into it with Ben Affleck about Muslims.  One of the things Harris said is that you can blame all Muslims, more or less, because they support the radicals who support the terrorist.

He said imagine a series of concentric circles.  (He's used this "argument" a number of times.)  In the innermost circle, you've got terrorists.  In the second circle, you've got radicals who give intellectual, material and moral support to terrorists.  In the third circle, you've got run of the mill Muslims who give intellectual, material and moral support to the radicals - and through them, to the terrorists.  THEREFORE, it's okay to hate all Muslims.

Okay, I'm going to mention, first, that in that second circle you've got to include the US government.  The US government gives tremendous, incredible support to the Wahabbist absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia.  In turn, Wahabbists give tremendous support to terrorists (including the 9/11 terrorists, I should add).  In turn, that puts American citizens in the third circle, since we give support (through taxes, if not ideologically) to the US government that supports the regime in Saudi Arabia!  (Further, in the past, we have directly supported guys like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  Really, the US government is in Harris's second circle and we are in the third!)

But put that aside for the next bit of reasoning, which is: it's possible to use this technique in a lot of different ways.

So, let's imagine those same three concentric circles.  In the first circle are "people who engage in illegal military actions" - the US government.  The second circle is, then, "people who give material, intellectual and moral support to those illegal military actions".  Let's call them the politicians, businesses, writers and such who have supported illegal military action abroad.  Sam Harris, for instance, falls in this group.  The third circle is everyone who gives support by association to the second circle - which would be pretty much everyone in the United States as well as the citizens of countries like Great Britain and Denmark.

Some Americans who object to the war might also object to being in the third circle.  They might go, "Hey, I'm against these illegal wars and bombing campaigns!"  Absolutely, sure.  But Harris's reasoning doesn't allow for that from Muslims, so why should anyone allow it for you?  That you're an American of principled conscious is utterly irrelevant to why people should hate you!

Some people might also go, "Chris, those categories seem awful arbitrary and really broad."  Again, true, but so what?  If you accept Harris's reasoning, then you accept arbitrary creation of sweeping categories for the purpose of condemning people.

Another person might also go, "Why stop there?  Draw more circles!  In Harris's diagram, add a fourth circle where religious people support religious expression and say kill all religious people, too!  Draw a fifth circle for agnostics and atheists who support Christmas give material support to religion and kill them, too!"

Harris's reasoning (insofar as one might call it that) is deeply, profoundly specious.  I mean, from his tete-a-tete with Affleck, at one point he said that 78% percent of British Muslims thought that the guys in Denmark who published those racist cartoons should be prosecuted.  Harris goes on, in the same breath, to suggest that 78% of British Muslims therefore support terrorism!  I think it is important to point out, here, that both GB and Denmark have anti-hate speech laws.  So in Harris's mind, British Muslims who objected to the racist caricature of Islam and considered it hate speech THEREFORE support terrorism.  This is intensely silly reasoning.  It's so silly that it baffles me how an intelligent person could say it in public, excepting racism.  When you add in racism, it makes perfect fucking sense.

So then this same dude goes on to create these broad, ignorant categories as if they were some kind of PROOF, objective proof, that people should discriminate against Muslims.  And this isn't racist because . . . he drew a chart?

(At one point, he also said Affleck didn't understand his reasoning.  Well, duh.  Ben's a bright, not racist, principled man.  Harris's reasoning makes no fucking sense so of course Affleck didn't understand it!  I'm sure it would have been much clearer if Affleck spoke racist.)

But this guy, who thinks that 78% of British Muslims support terrorism because they were offended by racist cartoons, is making these arbitrary categories, ignoring how he participates in the very categories he draws, for the purpose of further discrimination and military action against Muslims.  He equally stops drawing those arbitrary circles when they might effect him is simply icing on his racist cake - they are drawn and interpreted to keep his own hands clean!

What I'm saying here is that Harris full of shit and a racist asshole.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Short critique of modern atheism

I was recently asked to write a critique of atheism, so here it is.  This post applies to atheism in the Anglophone world.  I don't think I have enough understanding of global atheism to say anything meaningful about it.

There are two major problems with atheism in the English-speaking world that I can see - the first is that it is a club run for and by middle-class white people, mostly men, who are wedded to a very trivial view of scientific reductionism and the second is that there isn't much of a difference in attitude and action between atheists and religious people.

That atheism is a club for middle class white boys is almost transparently obvious.  Almost all the big shot atheist writers - Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens - are well-to-do white men.  When I was in Miami, almost all of the people who belonged to the atheist group I briefly attended were white men - and that's really saying something in Miami - and I saw a grand total of zero non-white people in the seven events I attended in Freethought Dayton.  In Freethought Dayton, seven of the eight board members were white men with one white woman.  It is my understanding this is pretty generally true.

And why not!  All the "serious" atheist thinkers from Diderot forward are well-to-do white men!  It is a culture that was created and has been fostered by the most privileged sector of humans that has ever existed!  While there are other brands of atheism - Marx springs to mind - it is the atheism of white prestige and privilege that is the foundation of modern atheism, I think.

They don't generally think this.  They give lip service to various liberal platitudes, but they are about as serious as the dudes who wrote The Bell Curve.  They are almost entirely wedded to a culture of material acquisition that is shocking in its breadth - but that's the well-to-do white person thing, right?  It's no different than any other group of rich white people from college frats to the World Bank, regardless of religious affiliation.

They also have a kind of profound love of scientific reductionism that rationalizes everything they say and do.  So, in Freethought Dayton, when they were initially writing their statement about inclusion, it was littered with phrases like, "Scientific research shows that racism isn't real" and "Current scientific understanding about gender issues . . ."  I'm pretty sure that kind of language would have made it into the final draft if I hadn't said that I would be against racism even if a bunch of scientists were for it, and ditto discrimination on gender issues.  I also pointed out that scientific racism is totally a thing.

The last meeting I was at in a Freethought Dayton group, likewise, included a long and grueling conversation where people were really digging into me saying "science says this" and "science says that", which seems to me to ignore two of the things about "science" - first is that science does not often speak with one voice.  So what a quantum physicist says about gravity is currently totally different than what an astrophysicist says about gravity.  And what an environmentalist says about the world has little to do with anything either of those other dudes say.  Science is a rambling, often chaotic enterprise and while there is sometimes a unified theory within a field to guide it, often there is not, and there is little to no unification of theories between fields.  No one can really speak for "science" and the field is so vast that I would seriously question anyone's qualifications for doing so.  Yet it is my experience that atheists are very quick to say what "science" says.

Second in this regard is that science speaks about matters of science alone.  Science tells us very little about ethics or beauty, though both are very important to us.  Many very important fields - government and law, for example - are not scientific.  Attempts to jam these fields into scientific reasoning exhibits a faith in science I find frankly religious in dimensions.  It is just as bizarre, to me, as when Bible-believing Christians say that the answers to all questions are found in a book compiled 1600 years ago.  I think that science is a highly productive epistemology, but it doesn't even try to answer all questions and to believe it does is where the religious canard that "science is like religion" becomes true.

(As I have said elsewhere, science isn't much like religion, but I'm not talking about science, here, but the crazy way many atheists believe in science.)

The second big problem with religion is that the attitudes and believes of atheists aren't different than religious people of their race and class, really.  There is this atheist saw: the difference between an atheist and a Christian is that the atheist believes in one fewer god than the Christian.  Yes.  Exactly.  It isn't much of a difference at all!

So the behavior of atheists is almost identical to that of rich white men.  Part of this - and you see it all the time with assholes like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris - is that they feel very free to attack in grotesque terms the same people that Christians in their society attack in the same ways.

So Richard Dawkins is this sexist pig.  Sam Harris can go on a TV show and say, seriously, that Muslims are extra special kinds of murderers and liberals need to really crack down on them.  This gets reflected on down, so at Freethought Dayton they were equally comfortable saying grotesque, racist crap about Muslims - they only study technology to murder Americans, they stopped thinking after 1500, stuff like that.  And going hand-in-hand with the first point, the only thing that mattered was their developments in science and technology.  I can find this kind of talk in after church social in America.

I contend that atheist culture is broadly like this.  They might have rejected the existence of supernatural entities like gods and devils, but their attitudes about many, many things are the exact same as religious people and driven by our culture of religion.  If the only thing you've abandoned is the belief in a supernatural god, that isn't such a big deal if you continue to perpetrate the patterns of thought and behavior created by religion.  I contend that atheists do precisely that.  They don't hate Muslims, all Muslims, for any reason - it is easy to tear apart the idea that Muslims are somehow more irrationally violent than people in the West, as I've done again and again on this very blog - but because people in the Christian West have hated Muslims for 1400 years.  As a result, they do precisely what Christians do - rather than trying to build bridges between the West and the Middle East, they attack them as backwards and needing a brutal lesson in violence for their own good.

Specifically on terms of race, atheists merely perpetrate the cultural misconceptions of our society, and from the same religious sources.  So, for instance, almost all atheists believe in a radical kind of free will - that we are absolutely free.  This isn't scientific.  Almost no one in psychiatry, psychology or neurology believes in a strong free will - many don't believe in free will at all.  Yet, I have met blessed few atheists that don't believe in an extreme form of free will - which has its origins in Christian dogma.  Christianity requires an extreme definition of free will in order to rationalize their beliefs about sin, heaven and hell.  I could go on about this, but I hope to have made my point - much of what atheists believe derives almost entirely from religion.

I also think that atheists who are in groups and sitting next to atheists who say these things are no different than Christians or Muslims who sit next to their coreligionists and tolerate their racist, sexist bullshit in church.  I understand the need to belong to something is very strong, but you're doing exactly what Christopher Hitchens said that moderate Christians do when they don't stand up to their racist and sexist peers - they give tacit support and approval to the atheists who do think and say such things.

One of the net results of this is it makes it very hard for religious people, particularly if they're not rich or white, to take atheism seriously.  If I'm a poor black person and I'm listening to that racist fuckwit Sam Harris talk about how liberals need to attack Muslims more, and I'm looking down at the local mosque and how they spend a bunch of their time improving the self-image of black people, doing community service and creating a safe space for black culture to flourish, I'm not likely to be very impressed.  Wearing a headscarf doesn't seem so unreasonable in the face of all that empowerment.  Harris is going to sound a whole lot like another self-indulgent rich white racist telling non-white people how they should act and behave . . . which is precisely what he is!  So I guess that's okay!

And if I'm some poor white person, it's the same thing!  Rich white people don't give a damn about the social and culture aspects of religion - how when people like Sam Harris either contemptuously dismiss or flatly ignore the poor, it's often the churches that are there to pick up the slack.  A sermon seems a small price to pay for the kind of cultural interconnectedness that churches in poor communities bring!

This isn't me saying that religion is good, broadly speaking.  I think there are a lot of problems with religion.  That teaching children that they'll go to hell unless they behave a certain way is psychological abuse, that religion teaches an inability to correctly determine what is true and what is not that has multifaceted and serious consequences for everyone, everywhere (climate change deniers are at the top of this list).  I think religion normalizes racism and sexism, it creates an us-against-them attitude that is unhealthy for the body politic and a bunch of stuff besides.  Unfortunately, atheists have inherited a lot of that, often wedded to the arrogant superiority of rich white people looking down at everyone else.

None of this is structural in believing there are no gods.  There are plenty of skeptical traditions from antiquity to the modern day that have little or no overlap with modern Anglophone atheism.  I think one of the reasons I'm relatively sympathetic to critique of atheism, for instance, is that I got into it through Marx.  To me, criticism of religion is inextricably bound up with that of class - and the bigger problem is and always has been that a certain group of people have cheated, lied and killed in order to command other people.  To me, that's atheism.  Most Anglophone atheists are far more in tune with Ayn Rand and Adam Smith than Karl Marx, though.  Still, that's where I think this comes from, even though I no longer regard myself as a socialist.  Religion is a way that a certain segment of the ruling class keeps everyone else in line; modern Anglophone atheists are almost uniformly from that class, they just think that neo-liberal capitalist democracy and a scientific bureaucracy are better at it than religion.

I give the caveats that I am not condemning everyone who is an atheist or religious.  Many atheists are good people; so are many religious people.  But insofar as I'm talking about broad cultural trends, I think what I've said is true.

For my own part, while I do not believe in god, I am finding it increasingly hard to call myself an atheist because it identifies me with a social movement I find increasing abhorrent.  And not just some of the talking heads on TV, but that the whole movement - in my experience - does reflect those values.  I prefer secular humanist, these days, with an emphasis on the humanist.  In the end, I'd rather spend time with a Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or whatever that believes in reducing the misery in the world with an bunch of fucking sexist, racist assholes who happen to agree with me that gods don't exist.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ben Affleck is okay, Sam Harris and Bill Maher more atheist assholes

A lot of people have given Ben Affleck hassle over the years and I've never really understood why.  Because he made bad movies?  What actor in Hollywood hasn't?  He's also made some good ones.  Honestly, I think it is because he was in a lot interracial relationship with a pop star.  I think that most of the hostility towards him is because he dared to be in love with Jennifer Lopez.

Anyway, he's really the kind of guy I like.  He's a comic book geek and he's actually got principles.  Which is why he was the only person on Bill Maher's show to defend Islam, with nasty atheist racist asshole Sam Harris there.

They brought up the old saws about how Muslims like to kill people who don't believe as they do.  This is really just so . . . childish that I can't believe that any intelligent people believe it.  While it is true that some Muslims kill people who disagree with them, it's also true of some Christians.  And in the US, those Christians who believe in killing for their beliefs tend to reside in the White House and vote in the Senate.

Of course 9/11 was a tragedy, but the US military killed between 66,081 (as per a Wikileaks document by the US military) and an Opinion Research Business poll that has the number at over a million civilians.

Sixty-six thousand is the low number!  Mind you, this isn't even combat casualties - these are civilian casualties!  Between 66,000 and 1,000,000!

But, y'know, Muslims kill people who disagree with them!

This is in no way a defense of murderers of any religion.  But, fuck, two wrongs do not make a right STILL.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What #MuslimApologizes makes me think about: Hyder Ali and Billy Congreve

With the hashtag #MuslimApologies, people are getting a lot of snippets of things Middle Easterns (mostly Muslims) invented.  But this is what this brings to mind, for me: William Congreve.  He is considered to be one of the founders of modern rocket science but here's the thing . . .

He stole it all from Muslim Indians in Mysore.  Hyder Ali and his son, Tipu Sultan, used iron rockets to fight the English, and did so quite successfully for quite some time.  When they were finally conquered, Congreve stole the technology and rebranded it into the Congreve rocket.

But no one goes, "Oh, yeah, modern rocketry was founded by Hyder Ali."  They also ignore the incredible metallurgy used in those rockets, generally superior to the English metallurgy (which is why the English rockets were more complex - English metallurgy was broadly inferior to Mysorean metallurgy of the period; simplicity in weapons is generally a good thing).

This wasn't in some remote medieval period, either.  This was the 1780s and 90s.  This was the Industrial Revolution, which was very much also happening in India until the English stopped it.  They destroyed the schools and cast the whole country into ignorance and part of that was the conquest of Mysore and destroying Indian rocketry.

Stuff like that happened all over Asia, as with Indian metallurgy and rocketry.  After the conquest of India, England wanted to export iron to India, but it was low quality compared to the iron India was producing.  So what did the English do?  Bought up the foundries and closed them.  Capitalism in action!  That was in the 1820s, well past the era most Westerners arrogantly assert that the Muslims had fallen altogether behind the West (and by "the West" we should also remember they mean a small handful of northwestern European nations and the United States).

Then we perpetrate this by placing a European as the person who "started" something.  Rockets don't become interesting to us until an Englishman does it.  Before that?  All that work done by Chinese, Korean and Indians is irrelevant.  The history of European metallurgy is central to the story of civilization, let's ignore Indian metallurgy's superiority by materially destroying it.

This becomes part of a great cycle where the West expropriates the culture of other places, Westernizes it, and then lays perpetual claim to it.  So, universities are inherently Western institutions - I have heard this time and again - despite the model of our universities coming from the Middle East.  Now, universities are fundamentally "Western" institutions despite their Middle Eastern origins.  Mathematics seems to arrive only with calculus - Newton and Leibnitz purified the Eastern albegra and now mathematics are a Western institution.

It's one of the things that made me quit Freethought Dayton!  They were talking about the lack of intellectual accomplishments of the Muslim world, and I was talking about how much of the basis of our modern world was first learned by Muslims - much of mathematics, physics, engineering, astronomy, universities, medicine, metallurgy and so forth and so on were based on the science of Middle Easterns.  Irrelevant because around 1500 (their words, not mine), "they" stopped using the stuff and it became ours.  Except, y'know, they didn't stop using it, I went on to say.  Even to this day, there are great Middle Eastern scientists and engineers.  Ah, they retorted, most of them are in Western schools.  But, I said, those schools are based on Middle Eastern schools . . .  Irrelevant!  Now they're in the West!  It seemed a circular argument to me.  Middle Easterns in Western schools weren't engaging in the cultural activity their ancestors invented, they weren't doing a Middle Eastern thing in a Western environment, the Middle Easterness of it had been altogether stripped away.  The same with math, physics, medicine, so forth and so on.  Despite the continuity from the past to the present and the presence of Middle Easterns at every step along the way.  It's a very good trick, if you can manage it.

We are told a great many lies about the supposed collapse of education in the Asia, in particular, and a great many lies about Western technological prowess.  We both ignore those instances when non-Western technology exceeded our own and don't pay attention to any given technological development until a Western does it well and create willful ignorance about the extent of Western complicity in destroying Asian education systems, economies, etc.  It's a pretty nasty piece of work, if you ask me.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thoughts on All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

I just finished All The Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr.  The short version?  It was okay.  It didn't offend me and I don't think I wasted my time reading it, but I don't think it was really my thing.  It was too literary.

I'm not even passionate enough about it to say too much what I did or didn't like, save in rough.  There are some pretty words and some superficial meanings.  Lessons were learned, but they were lessons I think every reasonably intelligent human already knows - war is terrible, innocents suffer, not all Germans in World War II were evil, hideous and pointless things happen in war and afterward the survivors go on.

If you like symbolism, you'll probably like this book, though.  There's a whole lot of lights a person can't see and ways of interpreting this metaphor.  You can really sit back and think about all the light we can't see.  If you like wrapping yourself in metaphor, you'll probably think more about this book than I did.

To the extent that I am confused by it, though, is that I have absolutely no idea why some quest to find a potentially magic rock was involved at all.  I understand why the potentially magic rock was there - I guess you can't have magical realism without some of that - but the bad guy's quest to use it as his philosopher's stone seemed tacked on because otherwise the love story would be too insipid for words, I think.  It could have been done better, even within the construct of the novel, I think.  Which is a fairly slight critique.

My bigger critique is that I feel that the novel did nothing to link the kinds of stupidity that happened then to any modern stupidity.  This book was written in the particular context of a time and place - this time, this place.  To write a novel about war and do nothing to bring it home that we, today, are engaged in a number of military conflicts around the world seems cowardly.  But the novel is very clear NOT to do that, even though it contains passages that are very modern, none of those people notice the Vietnam War or the modern wars on terror.  No comment was made or, I think, implied about anything modern, except to suggest that the evil dies with us and our good lives on.  As one of the people who read the book with me said, "The book doesn't judge either side."  I pointed out it wasn't a particular virtue to refrain from judging Nazis - they were the bad guys - and that it's okay to judge war since it is so terrible.  I will add, here, than a failure to judge war is itself a judgment.  By taking a "shit happens and life goes on" approach, well, that smacks of nihilism, or would if Doerr were making a point.  But he isn't.  He's just ignoring it, which I find chicken.  That's my serious critique, but I doubt most readers will care about it.

You can google the title to read about the particulars.  If you like that sort of thing, you'll probably like the book.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Purging Freethought Dayton: why it's not okay that Richard Dawkins insults everyone

Since I'm purging Freethought Dayton, I want to say that the argument that it's okay to be a racist and sexist because you're a misanthrope is bullshit.

In the first place, the argument that it's okay to be racist and sexist because you're vile to everyone is just using one vice to defend another.  "Richard Dawkins is a terrible human being generally so it's okay that he's also a racist and sexist!"  Oh, that makes it much better . . . ?  I don't think so.  You can be a jerk and also be a racist and sexist.  Being a jerk isn't somehow a defense.

Secondly, when a rich white man attacks another rich white man it has different significance if that same rich white man attacks a poor black woman.  The structure of society matters.  There is considerable difference in meaning depending on the context.  We all know this.  Something your friends might say - "You suck at your job" - has a different significance when you boss says it.  The social influence that a rich white man has is extraordinary and, to them, almost altogether invisible.  Which is why sexist and racist pigdogs like Richard Dawkins say those kinds of things - he isn't even aware of significance of his status in many ways.  It is also the reason why so many people defend him - they share in his status and like exercising it, too.

Anyway, that's what I think about the argument that it's okay to discriminate so long as you're also a jerk.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Leaving Dayton Freethought and the reasons why I left

Yesterday, I quit the atheist group Freethought Dayton.  As I often do with this sort of thing, I'm going to recap why.

Alas, none of it will have the . . . vigor of my debacles in Miami!  No guy lying about how he had seventy bachelor's degrees and the government had to "bring him back" because of what was in his head.  No stories of murder-suicide.  It was much more pedestrian than that - plain old-fashioned racism.

I will admit I am quite intolerant of racism.  Fairly normal, acceptable levels of racism leave me sick to my soul.  I think no racism should be acceptable!  Broadly speaking, I live up to this.

In particular, I was at an event and people were tossing out bullshit, racist comments about Muslims (which is the most acceptable form of racism allowed in the US, right now).  One person said that Muslims were only interested in technology if it could be used to kill . . . this infuriated me.  He was talking about people whose homes were invaded who have cobbled together a few bombs . . . fighting the most comprehensive and technologically advanced military that has ever existed.  The US spends about half the world's military budget every year but it's Muslims who are in love with weapons technology!  It was absurd.

Another dude said that Muslims stopped thinking after the year 1500 and all intellectual and moral virtues passed to the West (which they also asserted was somehow different than "the Christian world" . . . it made no sense to me, either).  Again, infuriating.  We think of Muslims as racist . . . but this dude is German.  There are people who are still living who remember being locked in concentration camps.  For Westerns, with our elaborate, multi-century history of genocide, conquest and colonization to believe that we are in some fashion morally superior to Muslims since 1500 is the intellectual position of a . . . well, racist.  Indeed, I find it very hard to assert that we're morally superior now, given how many missiles we fire into whatever country we want and how often we get into wars based on thin lies.

That same guy had mentioned something nasty about Muslims every time I saw him.  He seemed to be looking for the chance to talk shit about them.

When I mentioned that was racism, they asserted "Islam isn't a race!"  Since one of the common definitions of race is a group of people united by culture, language and religion, I beg to differ.  I mean, right then, I said, "It is common to refer to Islamophobia as a form of racism."  I further said that I had no interest in arguing the semantics of bigotry - even if Islamophobia isn't according-to-Hoyle racism (hint: it is, this is particularly true because almost all Muslims aren't white), it's a vicious form of bigotry - which is the problem regardless of the name, that they were telling ignorant lies about a huge, diverse group of people in order to smear them and make it easier to hate them.

They also asserted that Richard Dawkins isn't racist, despite his support for guys like Geert Wilder and his numerous examples of hate speech against Muslims.

Taken together, the group is racist.  Of course, they will deny that - "Islam isn't a race!" they will chant, covering their ears in case some information slips inside - but all racists deny it!  The KKK denies it!  Nazis deny it!  While they're not as bad as the KKK, they're still pretty darn racist.

It is also somewhat ironic, as Islamophobia is derived and sustained primarily by reactionary Christians!  Nietzsche said that god is dead but we will live for centuries in his shadow - this is what it looks like.  It looks like atheists, without consideration, enacting the principles of the very people they claim to reject.  (Pro tip: the reason why you want to acknowledge that the West is also the Christian world is that it helps you to see where your thinking is influenced by religious biases you consciously reject.  It's the same reason you should acknowledge that advertising works on you, so you can better observe its action on you with a mind to preventing it.)

(I didn't stay in the group to see what I figure will be a pretty big splurge of racism this coming weekend.  Freethought Dayton - which is run altogether by white people, which is almost entirely white - has a table at a local African-American cultural festival.  A bunch of white dudes will be trying to convince black people to be more like them!  As far as I could tell, none of them understood the cultural history of African-Americans and their relationship with churches - that from slave days, the church was the one place where they could go and NOT be watched by their overseers and masters.  It was the one place in all the world they could go to be safely black.  Lacking this kind of historical context - and it's not like I'm going to be there to tell it to them, now - I can only imagine that they'll come off as a bunch of patronizing crackers telling the Negroes how they're getting it all wrong.  It is my understanding that black people in America have seen quite a lot of this.)

Additionally, man, atheists are assholes.  I've noticed this whenever they get together - almost all of them seem bound and determined to prove they're the smartest person in the room.  Since no one knows everything, they often come off as real tools, speaking about things about which they have no knowledge because they can't stand the idea that someone, somewhere knows something they don't.  It's tedious.

It is also one of my bigger problems with a lot of religions - that show of utterly certainty, the inability to admit that maybe your book written in the Iron Age isn't 100% up to the challenges of the modern world, and the constant assertions that they're right and everyone else is wrong.  It's another way atheists are living in the shadow of god.  Until they learn to say "I dunno", they'll be perpetrating the same kinds of intellectual mummery as Christians.  Admittedly, about somewhat fewer things, but it'll still be there, poisoning the well for people like me.  I could have tolerated that if not for the racism, though.

Anyway, that's my review of Dayton Freethought.  While there are some good people there, there are too many racists for my taste - a culture that tolerates xenophobia and Islamophobia, and many members who express both.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dune and the US State Department

I think someone at the US State Department should read the sci-fi novel, Dune by Frank Herbert.

In it, the villain of the piece, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, sends his cousin, Beast Rabban, to rule the planet Arrakis.  The Baron tells Rabban to "squeeze and squeeze".

For those of you who aren't in the know - and shame on you, since Dune is one of the greatest novels of the 20th century - Arrakis is a metaphor for the Middle East.  A desert world, it provides the "spice" which is necessary to sustain the interstellar travel needed to support human civilization as well as having many, many other uses.  Control of the desert society of Arrakis is largely over control of water as hydraulic dictatorship - the Harkonnens control the water, so they control the population of Arrakis and, thus, the control of spice.

Except that's not really what the Baron has in mind.  It's what he says, but with his orders for Rabban to squeeze and squeeze, the Baron knows that this will do nothing but intensify and spread opposition to Harkonnen rule and make Rabban the particular target of their hatred.  The Baron's plan is to whip the population of Arrakis into a frenzy and then recognize their suffering, execute Rabban and install a relatively gentler rule under his nephew, Feyd.  It is worth noting that Rabban is an idiot - it's part of the reason the Baron is using him like this. Rabban is too stupid to see through the Baron's plan.

Which is to say that Vladimir Harkonnen better understands Arrakis than the US State Department understands the Middle East.

The United States is about to start a fight with the Islamic State.  The model that the President of the United States is going after is the "successes" the US has had in Somalia and Yemen.  Oh, sure, both places are war-ravaged places where al-Qaida cells continue to proliferate in great numbers than ever, real hellholes, but the reasoning is that neither has attacked the US, recently.  Therefore, success stories!

So the US is going to work along that model against the IS.  It's like they're Rabban being told to squeeze and squeeze again and, like Rabban, the US government is full of idiots.  They don't seem to realize that groups like the Islamic State are flourishing because of the political chaos created by the United States after destabilizing the whole area.  We squeeze in one place and something pops out in another.  We squeeze in Iraq and al-Qaida moves to Yemen.  We squeeze in Yemen, IS pops up in Syria.  Our response is to squeeze harder, imagining that things will eventually stop popping out but that won't happen.

Unlike Baron Harkonnen, we have no exit strategy.  There is no relatively benevolent Feyd in the wings or, really, any other plan.  The whole of our strategy is to squeeze and we have no notion at all, not the faintest whim of understanding, on a national level, that what we do in one place has consequences in other places.  That invading Iraq and bombing the shit out of Yemen and other countries, in violation of law and sense, has created the groundswell of resentment that is fueling the growth of these radical organizations.  We squeeze and that's the pressure that drives recruitment in these organizations.  But there is no plan beyond squeezing.

The US government is the Beast Rabban, but without the benefit of a Vladimir Harkonnen!  Which is truly awful.

Someone should really send a few copies of Dune down there.

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Visit to Aldi and Some Thoughts on Choices

Yesterday, the wife and I went down to the grocery store, Aldi, here in Xenia, and shopped.  For those of you who don't know, Aldi is a European-style (yea, Germany-based) chain of grocery stories which offer a greatly reduced number of items compared to the big grocery stores we're used to seeing in America.  In addition to having a smaller number of products, they have less selection in products, though they claim this gives them sufficient cost savings to give high quality goods.  Additionally, they don't bag your items - though they provide shelf space so you can - or provide bags.  To use a cart, you have to put a quarter into a gadget, though you get the quarter back when you return the cart.  This is another cost saving tool, meaning they don't have to have dudes wandering around collecting carts.  Nowadays, they market this as the greener alternative to big box supermarkets that most Americans shop at, though my understanding is the impetus is more pecuniary than environmental . . . but that's a trivial point!

For us, the upshot was, we really liked it.  The store here in Xenia has the right items, broadly speaking.  And given that the store is much smaller than a regular supermarket, we were in and out in half an hour.  Broadly speaking, we didn't feel the supposed lack of choice.  Even the big box supermarkets fail to have things I want, like spices for Asian cuisine.  Broadly, what we can't get at Aldi we can get online or by stopping, now and then, at specialty stores (like liquor stores for beer).

But this made me think about choices.  Recently, when Adrienne was at a convention up in Minneapolis, she spoke to a Danish collegue of hers, Jesper.  He'd been down at FIU and we had hung out a little, he's a nice guy.  At the conference, he mentioned he had forgotten how exhausting being in the United States was - that he had to translate everything in his head and then, surprisingly, to Adrienne and then to me, was the "number of choices".  Being an American has a lot of choices.

Jesper told a story about how he went into a burrito joint because he wanted to try this crazy American foodstuff about which he's heard, so he goes up to the counter and asked for a burrito.  He was then asked what he wanted on his burrito . . .

He had no idea.  He's Danish!  Their main exposure to burritos is, and I'm quoting Yona, who is my main source of all things Denmark, "Middle Eastern-owned fast food places that make them from store-bought components and have no real idea what they're supposed to be like."  The question drew nothing from him so he said, and I can see Jesper in my mind saying this, "A little bit of everything.  Which was not the right choice."

Everything in America is like this.  Once I started seeing it, I saw it everywhere.  Soda aisles with dozens and dozens of choices.  You want toothpaste?  There are a dozen brands and each brand has several different products!  There are forty linear feet of beer shelves at the local Kroger's . . . and that's not even a liquor store!  Americans are constantly asking other Americans what we want with that - do you want onion rings, house chips, French fries or steak fries with that?   What kind of cheese do you want on your hamburger?  It's everywhere!

And it is exhausting.  A supermarket is the precise kind of place that we hate and I'm sure part of it is all the damn choices.  And they're so identical!  How do you know which brand of toothpaste is actually better?!  Worse, most of the brands are functionally identical.

So you're in this supermarket and you're surrounded by choices and most of them are false choices.  But because there is this farcical illusion of choice, the store is goddamn enormous!  It's huge!  You can land aircraft in there, play football games!  So you wander around aisle after aisle, being forced to make false choices, searching around for the lowest price, or the price point you want, surrounded by other sullen faced people doing the same thing, trudging along, back and forth, making these same false choices.

Which is to say shopping in a store where there were many fewer choices was a great relief to me.  Jesper is right.  We have too many choices in America.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Richard Dawkins seems to be a sexist and racist asshole

I've never really liked Richard Dawkins.  At first, my dislike was merely philosophical - I think saying there probably isn't a god is wishy-washy.  The reasons he says there probably isn't a god amount to a repetition of the epistemological uncertainty into which the god of the gaps lives.  Since we can't be certain of anything, we can't be certain god doesn't really exist.

Or anything else!  So he should say, y'know, nothing exists, that it all is probably this and probably that - or we can live with the epistemological uncertainty and speak with conviction.  God does not exist any more that teapots whirling around the sun exist.

Then, when I heard him on some show or another . . . I was overwhelmed by the sense of class.  Here's a dude who is that upper crust British asshole - almost a parody.  He's everything that Monty Python has ever made fun of.  I just assume he has a stupid walk.

He is also a sexist asshole, to get to the thrust of this post.  He tweeted, recently "Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse."

Is it?  I'm not sure that getting raped by someone you know is better than being raped by a stranger, myself.  And I also know that date rape often includes threats of violence.  So, it was really just a stupid fucking thing to say, ignorant and nasty.

But here's the thing - why say it at all?  What would prompt a guy to, out of the blue, say something like that?

In short, it's that comic upper class English-ness.  He's an important rich white man.  He speaks with the confidence of being master of the world.  He knows his opinions are the opinions that count.  So he can dismiss anyone he wants who isn't an important rich white man.  Like, say, women.

(He also added, "If you think that's an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think."  Indeed, he is endorsing nothing, but he was definitely speaking out of turn - arrogantly, hurtfully and he was wrong, to boot.  But that's something arrogant rich white men do, too - they can throw out any rationalization to make themselves feel good about the shitty thing they just did.  No one has the status - and everything about Dawkins screams that he's obsessed with status, that he really, really likes being an important rich white man - to seriously gainsay him.  He can dismiss them, as he did, and does.  Learn to think!  It is you who is clearly the problem!)

A couple years back, he told a woman who dared talk about sexism in the atheist conventions that because she wasn't being beaten up by her husband that she should shut up.  He tells other people that they should think, but he often fails to do it, himself - two wrongs don't make a right.  Beating women - beating anyone - is wrong.  But so is sexual harassment that occurs at atheist conferences.  A person who bothered to think would recognize that . . . but this is Richard Dawkins.  He's an important rich white man!  He's got TITLES!  So women who aren't beating beaten by their husbands need to shut up.

He is also a racist.  He said that Cambridge has produced more Nobel laureates than the whole of the Middle East.  Should we be stunned that a prize created by a northerwestern European is mostly given out to other northwestern Europeans?  But he has the bigotry of a Englishman, including the arrogant belief that they are really the best at everything.

So, he's a pig.  There, I said it.  Fuck that racist, sexist asshole.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Childhood neglect, abuse and asthma

I don't really talk about my childhood abuse and neglect very often . . . well, I guess I talk about it more often than many abused children, but because I wasn't regularly beat up by my parents it's often hard to talk about.

(There was a period where I was beat up pretty regularly - when my mother was married to her second husband, Jerry.  It is weird.  Before and after, my mother didn't really hit me, but when she was with Jerry, she did.  I'm not even talking about with her hand, I'm talking about with a stick, a 1 inch by 2 inch stick, just wailed on me.  But only for those two or three years she was with Jerry.)

It's hard to talk about because the shape of the abuse was neglect (the time with Jerry notwithstanding).  While all abuse is tragic, I think neglect is insidious because it's often very difficult to talk about something's lack.  When you've been hit, you can go, "Holy shit, these adults kicked the tar out of an eight year old with a fucking stick!"  But when they don't do something, it's harder to parse.
In particular, there are a lot of things that happened to me that aren't normal but because no one really talks about (because they are pedestrian) so the abnormal, the terrible, seems normal to me.  I don't even realize that they are a sign of neglect.  Which is why it took me thirty years to figure out that I was neglected in the first place: I thought everyone had similar experiences.

The specific case is this: I have asthma.  I have probably had it since I was a little kid, but I only - right this very day - realized that I have it and have probably always had it.

A chief symptom of asthma is coughing at night.  I remember, as a child, coughing a lot at night, coughing until my sides hurt and my throat was raw.  I remember because coughing sucks and because my mother and grandmother's response to me coughing as to tell me to shut up.

It is only now that I'm looking back and going, "That's fucked up."  You have this kid of single digit years and he's coughing up a storm late into the night, just absolutely miserable, and the response isn't to take him to the emergency room or even to schedule a doctor's appointment - it's to tell this sick kid to shut up.  Hell, they didn't even come into my room to check to see if I was okay - they would just yell, "Shut up!"  They treated it like I was faking it, like it was some sort of ploy to get out of school or chores the next day - that a reasonable kid would put that much effort into not going to school or taking out the trash.  I submit this says more about them than me.

(Which puts a zap on a kid's head, too.  For a long time, I did think I was faking it - or, more precisely, that I had a weak character and found it easier to "pretend" to be sick than to do work, because we learn the meaning of things from our family.  It wasn't until I stood up to dozens of bullies, stared down cops, told the truth even if it meant getting fired that I realized that I don't have a particularly defective character.  I might not be particularly strong, but neither am I particularly weak.  It's something else.  But it was a hard road because I was taught that stuff like asthma was a ploy I used to get out of school and chores.)

The coughing was and continues to be a fairly frequent occurrence, by the way.  It is just this constant thing in my life that I've assumed is pretty normal because, y'know, it was treated it that way.  No one talks very much about their doctor's visits as a child but I had, basically, none unless I had a broken bone or was spurting blood.  I didn't know that was strange.  I figured everyone coughed. (And, to be fair, everyone in my family did, because they smoked like chimneys.)

I want to emphasize here, too, that I had insurance and both of my parents had good jobs.  It wasn't that.  Going to the doctor was quite affordable.  But I can't remember ever going to a doctor unless there was severe structural damage and we never had anything so high falutin' as a family doctor.  Ditto dental - I didn't have my teeth cleaned once, not once, as far back into my childhood as I can remember.

Also looking back, I am angry because this is the sort of thing that really effects a kid's - and adult's - life.  For instance, I have struggled with weight my entire life.  I have generally found exercise to be really hard.  Other kids would be running and I would have to stop to cough.  That is the classic asthma symptom, too, right up there with night coughing.  I thought it was just that I was really out of shape but now I'm wondering how much more difficult all exercise has been because I have trouble breathing and rather than checking it out, when I was a kid and coughing my lungs out, I was told to shut up.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Why I don't like Colton Smith's pathetic excuses

I read this article about why Colton Smith isn't a very good representative of the US Army.  It mostly comes down to the justifiable perception that he's a total douche.  He's a smug, self-important asshole who is a bit of a dirty fighter, who brags about cheating to win in the cage ("if you're not cheating, you're not trying hard enough") and is basically a jerk.

What bothers me about him, though, is that he makes excuses for his losses before there's even a fight.  Before his fight with Carlos Diego Ferreira (which he lost in humiliating fashion in 38 seconds . . . his third straight loss, I should add), he said, "On the base, we train soldiers, and I’m a combative instructor right now. But that’s life and death stuff, that’s not sport stuff like mixed martial arts.  Missions come first, soldiers come first, then MMA was a pretty distant second. Now it’s just changed, and the Army has been very supportive of me. I took a personal leave for this fight."

I could be critical of the US military's combatives training as a waste of time.  It is.  US soldiers have guns.  There is almost no unarmed hand-to-hand fighting in combat.  Additionally, it takes years of dedicated training to learn unarmed martial arts thus almost a tiny handful of soldiers ever learn combatives.  One would be hard pressed to find a single situation where military combatives actually saved a soldier's life in combat.  I did some googling and couldn't find a case - and even if you can, it doesn't change the point, it's rare as hell.

Though I did find that the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the dudes in charge of deciding how the US Army is trained, wants to get rid of the current combatives program and replace it with a two week course.  This is an ongoing thing.  Soldiers dig martial arts, so when some soldiers get good at them, they get a few officers behind them, get some funding, create a program and then someone notices once again that unarmed combat has no place on modern battlefields and the program gets scrapped.  Combatives is merely the latest in a long line of martial arts whose usefulness has been overblown to rationalize soldiers acting like tough guys who can kill a person with their commando moves.

OK, ignoring that TRADOC wants to get rid of combatives and there is no indication that it has saved any soldier's life, what Smith is basically doing is making an excuse why it's okay for him to lose.

It's bullshit for a couple of reasons, if you ask me.  The first is that it's just some chickenshit thing to say - he is giving himself an out, an excuse to lose.  Mind you, he is losing.  Three in a row.  But he's saving lives . . . oh, wait, except that there is no proof that Army combatives have done anything of the sort, to the extent that TRADOC wants to cut the program.

Second . . . Colton Smith isn't the first guy in MMA to be in a dangerous job.  I can't think of a single policeman who said, after getting their ass kicked in 38 seconds, the third time in three fights that he's been finished (which might not happen so much if he didn't give himself so many ways out).  Before fighting Ben Askren, Karl Amoussou didn't go, "Well, if Ben whips me, it's because my police work in Paris, fighting gangs, is why will have lost.  That's important work, not like this MMA stuff."  (Note: he did lose, but not as badly as Smith makes a habit of losing.)  Mirko Crocop never used his service with Croatian anti-terrorist special police as a justification as to why he lost.  Tim Kennedy hasn't done it when he was a Green Beret sniper.  Even though those guys could legitimately say they're saving lives, or at least fighting a war.

Most MMA fighters hold a day job, even many in the UFC.  Since the kind of guys who beat up each other in a cage have that mindset all the time, many MMA fighters have jobs that are risky - cops and soldiers have populated MMA's ranks from nearly the beginning.  Smith's excuses are a slight to every person in MMA who has done their job and fought and lost and never made excuses - Smith's excuses are doubly bullshit because he made them before the fight.

After three straight losses, it was normal for a dude to get bounced from the UFC.  Especially at lightweight, which is a shark pit.  Smith was never a very good fighter and he keeps getting his ass kicked so I don't imagine he'll be with the promotion very much longer.  Still, he's a jerk.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Talkin' to a communist - haven't done that in a while!

Friday night, I spoke with a self-described communist.

I have done considerably more than flirt with communism, socialism and anarchism.  I often describe myself as an anarcho-syndicalist, tho' I suspect that is much less true than when I was in college and had these kinds of conversations quite frequently.  See, nowadays, I don't let ideological purity get in the way of the practical nuts and bolts of human society.

My fall-out with communism occurred, for instance, when I noticed that every attempt at a communist government had collapsed into a cult-of-personality military dictatorship and never really left it in a way that could be described as communist.  Mostly, they stay military dictatorships, or become regular capitalist democracies.

So the socialist lacuna between the people's revolution and the withering of the state became troubling for me.  It seemed to me that on one side you had the worker's revolution and on the other side, across a bottomless pit, you had this wonderful utopia but no one knew how to build the bridge attaching the two.  So the primary question became, for me, "How do we fill the chasm or build the bridge?"

I have considered the question, off and on, for years . . . and no solution is forthcoming.  No one seems to know.  The practical nuts and bolts of building a better society don't seem to be very interesting to most people - the utopian fantasy seems to move them.

(Of course, this is just as true of radical capitalism.  Anarcho-capitalist fantasies are splendid but to get there we're just supposed to trust that megacorporations are going to let their power go to fit the ideology of Miltonian economics?  Preposterous.  Just as preposterous as imagining a communist dictatorship will cede its power to some ideal stateless society.  The reality of power and control make this nearly impossible to imagine.)

Which as both a writer and a sausage maker is unsatisfying.  Books are great, but they aren't the creative frenzy that, well, artists sell as the artistic process.  There's a lot of stuff that isn't obsessed dudes at typewriters spilling their heart and soul.  There's a lot of research and then a lot of editing.  The finished product is the result of a lot of hard work.

The same with sausage.  We all love sausage, but to get there requires pushing meat through a grinder.  It's sticky, messy, cold work.  The end results are great, but there are practical issues in sausage making that need to be performed before you sink your teeth into its utopian pleasures.

Finishing a big project is best accomplished with a solid, concrete plan.  If you don't have that plan, you'll end up with a shoddy product (the USSR), nothing at all (any failed revolution the world over) or you'll never start (dreamy eyed middle-class communists).  Without that concrete plan, don't expect most people to get worked up over your ideology.  Don't expect the revolution to happen if you don't know what that even means.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Miami: Day to Day

In addition to the big problems I've talked about, there are innumerable smaller ones that are similar to problems every place has but generally increased in rate of occurrence and intensity.  This will be the last one because I have exorcised my demons with it, I think.  I suspect everyone knows, by now, that I don't particularly like living in Miami.

Traffic is a big problem we have in Miami. Everywhere else I've lived with Adrienne, I have done almost all of the driving.  Adrienne generally preferred in Santa Cruz and Maine to take public transportation to work - she doesn't like to drive.  I do.  So I do most of the driving, sometimes even when it's not good for me.  For years, I drove every mile of every long distance trip we did, even when it made me sick.  When we drove from Maine to California, I did get sick at one point, literally vomiting, because I didn't relinquish the wheel.  (Nowadays, I drive for two hours and Adrienne for one - I generally start and finish, so I definitely do the lion's share, which is cool, but the breaks have totally stopped white line fever and motion sickness.)

Here in Miami, driving makes me so crazy that it makes Adrienne crazy.  Here, she would rather drive in the crazy than listen to me being crazy in Miami traffic.  I want to emphasize, here, that I learned to drive in Las Vegas traffic.  It isn't that I'm unused to dealing with densely packed roads.  It's that Miami traffic is noticeably worse than even other densely populated tourist destinations.

Which isn't to say it isn't crazy for her, either.  It is.  And she's on the road an hour and a half every day!

How is it crazy?  Well, I have never seen so many people so willing to cut people off.  Using your turn signal is generally consented to be a sign of weakness and usually provokes someone into cutting you off.  This insanity means that when a road narrows, no one cedes any ground at all, making Miami's already heavy traffic worse as numerous bottlenecks are created by jerks trying to get to the front of the line.

People in Miami also don't know how to use turn lanes.  They'll turn into them so their trunk is out in traffic.  This is nigh constant.

People in Miami also just . . . stop.  They'll stop their cars anywhere to do whatever business they have to do.

At every major street corner in town, there is a beggar or some dude with fruit, weaving in and out of traffic, trying to get paid.  This slows down the traffic, too, as people have to avoid them or they stop to buy things.

They won't get out of the way of emergency vehicles!

Cyclists are contemptuous of their lives and the lives of others.  About 90% of cyclists in Miami, at any given time, are doing something stupid.  Not illegal, though that, too, but bafflingly stupid - like driving down the wrong side of a busy road at night with neither a helmet nor a light.

Adrienne was involved in a crash that nearly totaled our car.  No one was hurt, but it was clearly unpleasant and dangerous.  Our rear bumper is also a mess because it has been hit at least three times while in parking lots.  Every so often, we'll come out and there will be more paint chipped off because of a low speed parking lot collision.  Of course, no one leaves a note or anything.

Those are fairly specific things.  More generally, Miami drivers are unsafe and selfish.  It is reflected in the danger of the roads.  Miami averages more than twice the average in traffic, bicycle and pedestrian fatalities than the national average - bearing in mind that most Americans are primarily city drivers, too, that Miami is about twice as dangerous as other big American cities.  It is, without doubt, one of the least safe places in America to drive, as reflected in almost every survey of bad traffic.

The city is also very car centered - moreso because even if you live in a place where you can theoretically walk to places, those places are likely to be terrible.

For instance, when we first got to Miami there was the Walgreens of the Damned where the workers were incredibly toxic - flagrantly rude and only grudgingly doing the basic elements of their jobs.  Most other shops nearby weren't any better, either.  We then lived close to an ice cream shop that we went into once because of the bad service.  You know that it's got to be bad if Adrienne and I are avoiding an ice cream place in Miami because of the lousy service.

Where we live, now, we are essentially across the street from a local market.  I've been in there twice, Adrienne has been in there once.  While pretending to be a store, it is really just a place where alcoholics and tweakers can buy beer.  Both times I went into the store to get a bottle of soda.  Both times, that bottle of soda was so old it was flat.  Not so old that it tasted a bit off - the soda was literally without carbonation.

The service is incredibly rude, too.  To buy anything, you have to reach across a freezer unit and counter to put your items in front of the cashier, who will not bag them nor hand them back to you.  Both times I was there, the cashier was incredibly sullen while he did this, like I was interrupting his day because I wanted to buy some pop.

More recently, the joint has expanded into the pawn shop business, to give you an indication of how classy it is.  Bringing together tweakers, beer and pawn shopping!  All the better to buy your meth, I suppose.

I went to another local market, but . . . it turned out to be a few bottles of South American sodas and a counter where people bought wings and fries.  Seriously, it was a weird place that seemed to do a lot of business but didn't really have anything in it if you weren't looking for too sweet sodas and congestive heart failure.

The problems with service don't end there, either.  Here at the house, we can't really get pizza delivered.  There is about a fifty percent chance of any given pizza we order actually arriving.  For a while, we were experimenting with delivery places but stopped due to the high rate of them either not delivering our order at all or there being some kind of serious problem with our order.  There are two places that we will order from because they have the normal kinds of problems, which is like magic in Miami.

I think that the problems with service are a piece with the bad driving.  People in Miami are pretty consistently self-centered assholes.  They drive like assholes and when they get to work, they keep on being assholes.  Regardless, it creates a culture of incompetence and rudeness that is pervasive.  If you look back to the big problems I've mentioned, almost all of them are grounded in people here in Miami either being rude or incompetent.

Unfortunately, this extends to city services, too.  We have a real problem that trash collection doesn't happen reliably.  It is supposed to happen every Tuesday, you can put out your big pieces of junk like ruined furniture or whatever and a truck is supposed to come by to pick it up.  The truck doesn't.  The only time I've seen it come is when I've complained.

Worse, it effects law enforcement - though I think this is made worse because of the culture of corruption that pervades all Miami government.

One of the big problems we have with where we live, now, is noisy neighbors.  They are rude.  People will blare music at all hours of the day so loud that I can hear it over the TV, inside.  It is unacceptable and also against the law.  If you are making noise that can be heard 100 feet from its source, that is prima facie evidence of guilt and punishable with a fine up to $1200.  I checked.

Most of the time when we call to report a noise problem, nothing happens.  I would say we have to average two calls to get someone down to take care of the problem.  Both Adrienne and I have been told that noise complaints can't be filed unless it is after 10pm.  That is untrue.  The 10pm thing refers to businesses, not residences, and is another example of that lazy, incompetent thing - you've got operators convincing people it's pointless to call the cops.  Which is probably why none of our neighbors who are actually close to the loud assholes do anything - how many times do you have to be told by a police operator that there is no violation before you give up?

About a month after I complained to my city council person, most of the noise issues stopped.  I have no idea if they were related, but it's possible that they did something and didn't tell us.  On the other hand, our city council person couldn't sit on the council for a year because she was still working off the sentence from her previous corruption charge - which means that after being convicted of fraud, she somehow managed to get re-elected.  That's very Miami, too.

My face-to-face interactions with Miami's "finest" are limited to one - but it is also telling, I think.

I was down at the airport, trying to pick up Adrienne.  This was at the Miami International Airport, and the cops there are Miami cops.  Anyway, I had stopped at a cutout to text Adrienne and a policeman came along and told me to move.  I was annoyed, but complied, and as I was leaving, the sonofabitch insulted me, calling me stupid.  I flipped him off and drove away.  I parked and was crossing the street to get into the airport because Adrienne's flight was slightly delayed.

The same cop came up to me and started an argument.  I was just walking along and he decided to take time out of his day to cross over and start a fight.  He insulted me, again.  I asked for his name so I could report him.  He was wearing neither a name tag or any identification at all, other his cop vest!  There was no way I could specifically identify the officer!  This stunned me.

He refused to give it to me, insulting me, again.  I responded in kind and we got into a shouting argument in front of MIA.  A crowd formed, including other cops.  I asked the other cops to give me the name of the jerk verbally abusing me.  They looked away and didn't do anything.  Neither did any of them come over to try to control the situation.  They let him keep shouting at me and I kept shouting back, trying to get his name and number so I could report him.

Eventually, I just walked away and he didn't follow me.

I could go in this vein for a while.  The specifics of bad service, dangerous and idiotic traffic and rude people are too numerous to really list, though.  Almost every time Adrienne and I leave, for any reason, something bad happens.  Mostly, its little things - getting cut off in traffic, having to deal with a sullen jerk doing their job badly, stuff like that.  Sometimes, it's something noteworthy, like getting into a screaming fight with a cop or having our car totaled.

Adrienne gets it worse than I do!  She has to drive to work.  For an hour and a half, every day, she has to sit in that fucked up traffic, surrounded by awful, mean-spirited and selfish drivers.  I can't imagine.

I think I've made my point, though.  In addition to the big things that people in Miami fuck up, way too many of them also fuck up the little things.  Which isn't to say that everyone in Miami is a fuck up.  Of course not!  But in any undertaking that involves more than a couple of people, you're probably going to have whatever it is you're doing stymied because of some lazy, rude and incompetent jerk.  My stories about house buying and selling are riddled with these sorts of people, of course, that person who just wouldn't do their job long past the point when doing it would have been easier than not doing it.  (Which is one of the things that stuns me - that so many people continue to fuck up long after they are sparing themselves any effort in doing so!)

The effects have been to limit the extent that Adrienne and I do anything.  For me, considering I work from home, this means an almost perfect isolation, save for Adrienne and my online friends.  Whole months have passed with me talking face-to-face to no one other than my wife.  Adrienne has become very protective of her unstructured time at home, often hostile to the idea of going anywhere after she's within our walls - after spending all day dealing with FIU bureaucracy, her boss who has fully adopted the Miami-eque management style and after a long drive in traffic, I don't blame her.  It can be a trick to get us to leave the house, though, most days.

I think this is going to be the last post, though.  My strength to complain wanes.  I framed a post asking why Miami is this way, but I don't really care enough to write it.  I had intended to write a post about the good things in Miami, but I have lost interest in doing so - and the good things do not even remotely make up for the bad ones, anyway.  There are some pretty buildings.  So what?

When the higher angels of my conscience are in charge, I can see why people like Miami.  If you're terrified of winter, there is none of that, here.  (Though there is none of it most of the South and Southwest, too, I should point out.  The West Coast is also almost entirely winterless.)  There are a lot of things to do.  (But not more than in any other big city.)  Many people have their families here, of course, though I do not and don't know why families don't leave, en masse, for better climes.

But then I think of the objective things.  The muggy, wet summers - with the added bonus of the occasional hurricane and annual tropical storm or two!  Is a little snow really so bad compared to that?

How about corruption?  Except for, like, Chicago, maybe, Miami has more corruption than any other American city.  Go ahead and google "Miami corruption".  It is a matter of public record!

Traffic?  You're more than twice as likely to die in Miami - in a car, on a bike, or on foot - than you are in the rest of the country.  Not to mention that commute times are awful!

Crime?  You're more than twice as likely to be robbed or killed in Miami than the national average, and three times as likely to be beat up!  And when you go to the cops, you'll find a legal system mired in corruption and incompetence - objectively so, publicly so.  Go to your city government about it?  Good luck, they're just as corrupt as the cops.

These are objective things that make me wonder why the people who live here are so adamant about living here.  In much better places, most of the people have been honest about the flaws and willing to leave.  Santa Cruz is a great place to live, but almost no one clutched onto the city with death grips like I've seen in Miami.

People will go, "Well, Miami has a lot of Latinos and they're close to their families."  Er, Santa Cruz is in CALIFORNIA.  You may have heard, but California is mostly Latino - moreso than Florida.  Miami and LA have about the same percentage of Latinos, after all.   So, no, not that.

But for some reason people cling to this rotten barnacle of a town where everything they say they want can be gotten in other, better places - try San Diego.  Try San Francisco.  Try Seattle or Tucson or Austin or New Orleans.  All of these places are exciting, have good weather and are just much, much better places to live!

Thinking that way exhausts me, though.  I don't know why people stay in Miami and, ultimately, I don't care.  Lots of people do things that confuse me and I accept that this is just another one.  I am happy to leave Miami with my soul, marriage and checkbook intact.  I gladly cede Miami to the Miamians.