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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Occam's Chainsaw update


My fav is "Population Control & Redution."

One of my Facebook friends posted this graphic. The Stupid on Steroids.
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Officials gird for a war on vaccine misinformation
Warren Cornwall


Within days of the first confirmed novel coronavirus case in the United States on 20 January, antivaccine activists were already hinting on Twitter that the virus was a scam—part of a plot to profit from an eventual vaccine.

Nearly half a year later, scientists around the world are rushing to create a COVID-19 vaccine. An approved product is still months, if not years, away and public health agencies have not yet mounted campaigns to promote it. But health communication experts say they need to start to lay the groundwork for acceptance now, because the flood of misinformation from antivaccine activists has surged.

Such activists have “kicked into overdrive,” says Neil Johnson, a physicist at George Washington University who studies the dynamics of antivaccine groups on social networks (Science, 15 May, p. 699). He estimates that in recent months, 10% of the Facebook pages run by people asking questions about vaccines have already switched to antivaccine views.

Recent polls have found as few as 50% of people in the United States are committed to receiving a vaccine, with another quarter wavering. Some of the communities most at risk from the virus are also the most leery…
Yeah.

DISPATCH FROM THE 2020 CAMPAIGN TRAIL


Is this a great country, or what?

ANNOTATION


Who/what you gonna believe? (Click to enlarge.)

When you mix science and politics, you get politics. With the coronavirus, the United States has proved politics hasn’t worked. If we are to fully reopen both the economy and schools safely — which can be done — we have to return to science…

During the 1918 influenza pandemic, almost every city closed down much of its activity. Fear and caring for sick family members did the rest; absenteeism even in war industries exceeded 50 percent and eviscerated the economy. Many cities reopened too soon and had to close a second time — sometimes a third time — and faced intense resistance. But lives were saved.

Had we done it right the first time, we’d be operating at near 100 percent now, schools would be preparing for a nearly normal school year, football teams would be preparing to practice — and tens of thousands of Americans would not have died.

This is our second chance. We won’t get a third. If we don’t get the growth of this pandemic under control now, in a few months, when the weather turns cold and forces people to spend more time indoors, we could face a disaster that dwarfs the situation today.
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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Some thoughts on "Justice."

I'm a decades-long subscriber to Harper's Magazine. It remains primus inter pares among my favorite literary / topical periodicals.

Encountered this online yesterday:

A Letter on Justice and Open Debate
July 7, 2020
The below letter will be appearing in the Letters section of the magazine’s October issue. We welcome responses at letters@harpers.org

Our cultural institutions are facing a moment of trial. Powerful protests for racial and social justice are leading to overdue demands for police reform, along with wider calls for greater equality and inclusion across our society, not least in higher education, journalism, philanthropy, and the arts. But this needed reckoning has also intensified a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity. As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second. The forces of illiberalism are gaining strength throughout the world and have a powerful ally in Donald Trump, who represents a real threat to democracy. But resistance must not be allowed to harden into its own brand of dogma or coercion—which right-wing demagogues are already exploiting. The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.

The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted…

This stifling atmosphere will ultimately harm the most vital causes of our time. The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation. The way to defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion, not by trying to silence or wish them away. We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom, which cannot exist without each other. As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes. We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences. If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.
Read all of it (and subscribe to Harper's). At the bottom of the letter is a signatory list of more than 100 prominent writers / journalists. Add your voice. Can we even come to a workable consensus on what constitutes "justice?" Would a "science of deliberation" even help? "Reinventing American Democracy?"
"Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it is not merely so."
UPDATE

apropos, from The Atlantic:

…[T]he advent of social media has transformed the way that social and cultural orthodoxies are enforced. But the problem of egregious police killings has been thrust back into the national spotlight by video of the white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man––and the nation now faces complicated, consequential questions about who or what to fight. Americans are protesting not only killer cops, the colleagues who abet them, and the unions that protect them, but also policing itself, Confederate statuary, “white fragility,” neo-colonialism, microaggressions, systemic racism, neoliberalism, and capitalism.

As a hearteningly broad coalition embraces policing reforms, a distinct, separable struggle is unfolding in the realm of ideas: a many-front crusade aimed at vanquishing white supremacy, hazily defined.

That crusade is as vulnerable to mistakes and excesses as any other struggle against abstract evils. Some of the most zealous crusaders are demanding affirmations of solidarity and punishing mild dissent. Institutions are imposing draconian punishments for minor transgressions. Individuals are scapegoated for structural ills. There are efforts to get people fired, including even some who share the desire for racial justice…

UPDATE: "au contraire"
The Harper’s Letter Is What Happens When the Discourse Takes Precedence Over Reality
Civil society is more than the feelings of professional writers and academics.

Tom Scocca

These are dangerous times for dissenters in America. Critics of the government’s immigration policies have been targeted for arrest and deportation. Protesters challenging violent and racist policing have been gassed and beaten and maimed with projectiles by police. On July 3, at the foot of Mount Rushmore, the president of the United States gave a speech denouncing the protesters and those who support them as part of a “left-wing cultural revolution … designed to overthrow the American Revolution” and promised to respond to their tearing down of statues by “deploying federal law enforcement to protect our monuments, arrest the rioters, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law.”…
Ordinary restrictions against protesters would be indefensible if they were applied to the press—if TV stations were temporarily shut down because too many people wanted to watch the news, or newspapers were restricted to distribution in off-site Newspaper Zones when a national political convention came to town, or websites needed a police permit to publish. But these are the standard conditions of protest, enforced by cops in riot armor.

That official violence is not far in the background of the Harper’s letter. And however sympathetic the signatories of the letter may consider themselves to the purposes of the protests, the focus on journalistic and academic rights undercuts the more immediate threats to the protest movement. The most vocal signers of the Harper’s letter, and its most self-satisfied defenders, have made it clear that they regard the resignation of James Bennet as the New York Times opinion editor to be a self-evident case of the mob having gone too far. Bennet lost his job because his section solicited and published, without his having read it, an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for federal troops to put on an “overwhelming show of force” against “rioters and insurrectionists.” The defenders of pure discourse noted that Cotton explicitly said in the article that he rejected “revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters.” People who’d been out in the streets, seeing demonstrators obstruct traffic or violate hastily issued (and unconstitutional) curfew orders, understood that Cotton—who’d tweeted that troops should give “no quarter”—was avoiding the central, material question of what the troops would do about protesters who peacefully refused to abide by the law.

Whose essential freedoms were put at risk by the Bennet-Cotton episode? In the world of the Harper’s letter, the threat that mattered was the one to the careers of veteran editors—not the threat that had bullets and bayonets behind it, a threat that the president himself would offer again in his Independence Day remarks. The promoters of the letter cast themselves as persecuted heroes, putting their names on the line to defend an embattled conception of liberty. The people putting themselves in front of police lines have a more expansive vision of what freedom means, and what risks they’re prepared to take for it.
Hmmm... Read all of it as well. He proffers a serious point.
Notwithstanding Tom's well-deserved props, I guess my only minor quibble would be with the implicit "reality versus discourse" thingy ("the focus on journalistic and academic rights")—though, I doubt that the Trump-despised "rabble in the streets" will be elbowing each other aside, amid the chaos of pepper spray, flash-bang grenades, and rubber (or actual) bullets, rushing to erect barricades in defense of comfy clean-fingernails journalistic / literary elites.
If you're not confused, you've not been paying attention.

ERRATUM

A commenter on author Tom Scocca's Twitter feed doesn't share my Jones for Harper's:
“Harper’s is exactly where this letter would land. It’s largely snuff porn for a sector of Boomers who write tendentious pieces about how the good things are ruined and can’t be fixed. Except the people in the streets and in the real world are proving that thesis false.”
LOL. Methinks declaring any verdict from "in the streets and in the real world" at this point might be just a tad premature.

…A forceful and sweeping case for free speech—again, a constitutional principle, not one governing private institutions or Twitter feeds—would require engaging with the history of discrimination in journalism, academia, and literature. But the brief and ambiguous Harper’s letter does not convey the complexity of the forces shaping open discourse today. Who has most often shared their ideas with impunity? Who is discouraged, even banned, from doing so? Who cannot afford to enter the field at all, because legacy publications such as Harper’s still do not pay their interns? Serious grappling with these issues, instead of virtue signaling, would actually help foster the conditions for more vibrant public dialogue. Instead, in their rush to fetishize civil disagreement, the would-be defenders of free speech reproduce the same circular logic that has powered elite circles for generations. Nobody needed an open letter to be reminded of that.
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More to come...


Friday, July 3, 2020

#COVID19 Independence Day weekend update: Buckle up, America


Not Good.

apropos,


This is interesting (below):


And then there's this:

Okeee-dokeee, then.

Prior to January 20, 2017, it was entirely safe to assume that the stupidest person in the country and the president were two different people. But, that was then, this is now.
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More to come...

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Army of One



Pay it forward. #NoJusticeNoPeace #BlackLivesMatter


Benign intent does not suffice. March March.        

My new read. Compelling.

UPDATE: Finished the book.
…It was the morning of Monday, April 27, 2015, and I was at Freddie Gray’s funeral. Three weeks earlier, on April 12, 2015, a police officer on a bicycle had made eye contact with the still-living Freddie Gray, a young man from the Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park section of Baltimore—the “wrong side” of Baltimore, a neighborhood where life expectancy was not quite sixty-five years, a full seven years shorter than in the rest of Baltimore and around the same as someone living in North Korea. Gray met the officer’s eyes and ran. The officer gave chase, soon joined by two others, and soon Gray was captured. The police searched him, and when they found a pocketknife in his pocket, they arrested him. When he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, walk to their transport van, they dragged him along the sidewalk. What happened next was a matter of dispute. But when Freddie Gray died a week later, from a severed spine, much of Baltimore believed the police had killed him.

That belief didn’t come out of nowhere. What was life like if you grew up like Freddie Gray? The fear of being a victim of police brutality was ever present if you were young and black in Baltimore—just one more trial for kids who already carried the mental anguish and physical adversity of growing up in chronically neglected neighborhoods. You knew neighbors, cousins, uncles, aunties, and friends who’d been victims of random or targeted violence. The violence was physical but correlated with the emotional violence that was often its cause or consequence. And the violence was pervasive, a factor in every decision you made—which streets you walked down, what time you started and ended your day, whom you trusted. The most quotidian decisions were shaped by structurally determined abnormalities. You called it life…

Moore, Wes. Five Days (pp. ix-x). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
The story unfolds day by day from the points of view of eight locals of varied backgrounds and station as they traversed the uprising. As a new resident (14 months now), I found it extremely illuminating.

From the author's concluding words:
…So how do we move forward? Our collective pursuit of justice must be as aggressive and intentional as the systemwide injustice that we now encounter. We must alter how we define the state and permanence of poverty. We must acknowledge and challenge our own complicity. And we must put forward policies that actively confront the systematic bias of past policies.

We call those living with the scourge of poverty “poor people,” as if it’s a title of choice, but it can become a phrase that gives permission to ignore someone’s humanity. Poverty is a condition our society does not have to tolerate or condone. “Poor people” signifies permanence. A birthright. Similar to the term “slave,” as if that’s what the individual was born to achieve. Slavery is a man-made inhumanity. A human mandate. Enslaved people are victims of the institution of slavery. The resilient souls living in poverty are victims of the institution of poverty. We cannot be true allies if we see our mandate as being saviors of a few deserving “poor people.” Everyone’s destinies matter.

Our country has a long history, and for much of it the intentional policy of the United States was to create hierarchies of people based on their class, race, and gender. We live with that legacy today, and it is an undeniable undercurrent in our politics. We need to formally and diligently examine the causes and traumas of generational economic inequality and their intersection with issues of race, gender, national origin, and sexuality. We have examples of nations that have stared into their deepest wounds and emerged stronger. In the late twentieth century, South Africa, Chile, and Northern Ireland, among others, all convened commissions dedicated to truth and reconciliation. Those commissions created a dialogue about the harm done in their communities across generations, much of it rooted in bigotry and demagoguery, and presented a path forward to better policies and the political solidarity needed to enact them. In 2015, Canada completed a seven-year process in which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada uncovered the history of the Canadian Indian residential school system and its lasting impacts on indigenous students and their families. The survivors had a chance to have their pain heard. The perpetrators had a chance to share their sorrow and apologies. Canada had a chance to begin the healing process. These processes have not been perfect and the aftermath in the respective nations has not come without false starts and setbacks, but that did not mean they stopped pushing for progress. This level of national courage is important. We individually must initiate our own truth and reconciliation process, in each of us, in our own hearts and communities. We must wrestle with the history of complicity and bias, and work to address these disparities. As Americans, we have a sacred responsibility to eliminate the myth and frequent talking point “It happened so long ago” or “Why am I being punished for what my ancestors did?” Our complicity in the ongoing harm unfolding in our neighborhoods and those of our neighbors is the surest way to guarantee that our country will not change for the better… (pp. 257-258).
Lots to ponder.

See my 2019 post "Bodymore Murdaland." See also "Baltimore Code Red."      
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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Picture a scientist


Alerted to this in my latest hardcopy Science Magazine issue.
Sweeping in scope yet intimately compelling, Picture a Scientist tells the stories of three female scholars, revealing the systemic and structural nature of gender discrimination and harassment in academic science. The film shows how intersections of sexism and racism shape experiences differently for white women and for women of color and how implicit bias both generates inequity and prevents us from noticing it. It reveals injustices ranging from subtle slights and salary gaps to bullying and physical assault. And it reminds us of the power of women’s collective action; the value of social science research in analyzing and responding to inequality; and the importance of allies and advocates, especially in university leadership...
Picture a Scientist is a world-class documentary from an experienced, award-winning crew that tells harrowing truths without sugarcoating, sensationalizing, or objectifying the film’s subjects. If I must have a quibble, it is that the film’s treatment of race is limited to black and white and its treatment of gender is too binary. Other axes of difference, such as disability, class, or sexual orientation, go largely unaddressed. Still, the film leaves openings to discuss these omissions and, more importantly, compels us to action. We might ask ourselves: What data could we gather on our own campuses? How do we become the accomplices of change-seeking colleagues? Can we muster the courage to share our own stories or hold someone accountable rather than looking the other way?

Picture a Scientist will be available to stream via select U.S. theaters from 12 to 26 June 2020. Invite campus leaders to attend the virtual premiere, and then host a screening and organizing session (2). This film could be the vehicle that moves us, as Clancy advocates, “away from a culture of compliance and towards a culture of change.”
HMMM... HOW ABOUT A BIT OF DR. NAOMI ORESKES?
Since the 1960s, feminists have asked: How could science claim to be objective when it largely excluded half the population from the ranks of its practitioners? How could science claim to be producing disinterested knowledge when so many of its theories embedded obvious social prejudices, not just about gender but also about race, class, and ethnicity? These questions were not necessarily hostile. Many of them were raised by female scientists who were interested in the natural or social world and believed in the power and value of scientific inquiry to explain it.

Sociologists of scientific knowledge stressed that science is a social activity, and this has been taken by many (for both better and worse) as undermining its claims to objectivity. The “social,” particularly to many scientists but also many philosophers, was synonymous with the personal, the subjective, the irrational, the arbitrary, and even the coerced. If the conclusions of scientists—who for the most part were European or North American men—were social constructions, then they had no more or less purchase on truth that the conclusions of other social groups. At least, a good deal of work in science studies seemed to imply that.

But feminist philosophers of science, most notably Sandra Harding and Helen Longino, turned that argument on its head, suggesting that objectivity could be reenvisaged as a social accomplishment, something that is collectively achieved.89 Harding mobilized the concept of standpoint epistemology—the idea that how we view matters depends to a great extent on our social position (or, colloquially, that where we stand depends on where we sit)—to argue that greater diversity could make science stronger. Our personal experiences—of wealth or poverty, privilege or disadvantage, maleness or femaleness, heteronormativity or queerness, disability or able-bodiedness—cannot but influence our perspectives on and interpretations of the world. Therefore, ceteris paribus, a more diverse group will bring to bear more perspectives on an issue than a less diverse one.

In her groundbreaking 1986 book, The Science Question in Feminism, Harding argued that the objectivity practiced by most scientific communities was weak, because of the characteristic homogeneity of those communities. The perspectives of women, people of color, the working classes, and many others were lacking, and the consequences were plain to see when one considered the obvious sexism, racism, and class bias of many past scientific theories...

Oreskes, Naomi. Why Trust Science? (University Center for Human Values Series) (pp. 49-51). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
'eh?
 ANNIE DUKE ON DIVERSITY

John Stuart Mill is one of the heroes of thinking in bets. More than one hundred and fifty years after writing On Liberty, his thinking on social and political philosophy remains startlingly current. One of the frequent themes in On Liberty is the importance of diversity of opinion. Diversity and dissent are not only checks on fallibility, but the only means of testing the ultimate truth of an opinion: “The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.”

    There is a simple beauty in Mill’s insight. On our own, we have just one viewpoint. That’s our limitation as humans. But if we take a bunch of people with that limitation and put them together in a group, we get exposed to diverse opinions, can test alternative hypotheses, and move toward accuracy. It is almost impossible for us, on our own, to get the diversity of viewpoints provided by the combined manpower of a well-formed decision pod. To get a more objective view of the world, we need an environment that exposes us to alternate hypotheses and different perspectives. That doesn’t apply only to the world around us: to view ourselves in a more realistic way, we need other people to fill in our blind spots.

Duke, Annie. Thinking in Bets (pp. 137-138). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Another must-read book.

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More to come...

Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth


Just saw this on the NBC Today Show. Beautiful. Spot-on. P&G is to be commended.

Goes to my recently expressed (prior post) sentiment.


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More to come...

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Concurrent pandemics


ON DECK? A BANKING (COLLAPSE) "PANDEMIC?"

Well, this is a bracing read:
The Looming Bank Collapse
The U.S. financial system could be on the cusp of calamity. This time, we might not be able to save it.
Frank Partnoy


After months of living with the coronavirus pandemic, American citizens are well aware of the toll it has taken on the economy: broken supply chains, record unemployment, failing small businesses. All of these factors are serious and could mire the United States in a deep, prolonged recession. But there’s another threat to the economy, too. It lurks on the balance sheets of the big banks, and it could be cataclysmic. Imagine if, in addition to all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, you woke up one morning to find that the financial sector had collapsed.

You may think that such a crisis is unlikely, with memories of the 2008 crash still so fresh. But banks learned few lessons from that calamity, and new laws intended to keep them from taking on too much risk have failed to do so. As a result, we could be on the precipice of another crash, one different from 2008 less in kind than in degree. This one could be worse.

The financial crisis of 2008 was about home mortgages. Hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to home buyers were repackaged into securities called collateralized debt obligations, known as CDOs. In theory, CDOs were intended to shift risk away from banks, which lend money to home buyers. In practice, the same banks that issued home loans also bet heavily on CDOs, often using complex techniques hidden from investors and regulators. When the housing market took a hit, these banks were doubly affected. In late 2007, banks began disclosing tens of billions of dollars of subprime-CDO losses. The next year, Lehman Brothers went under, taking the economy with it…

…reforms were well intentioned, but, as we’ll see, they haven’t kept the banks from falling back into old, bad habits. After the housing crisis, subprime CDOs naturally fell out of favor. Demand shifted to a similar—and similarly risky—instrument, one that even has a similar name: the CLO, or collateralized loan obligation. A CLO walks and talks like a CDO, but in place of loans made to home buyers are loans made to businesses—specifically, troubled businesses. CLOs bundle together so-called leveraged loans, the subprime mortgages of the corporate world. These are loans made to companies that have maxed out their borrowing and can no longer sell bonds directly to investors or qualify for a traditional bank loan. There are more than $1 trillion worth of leveraged loans currently outstanding. The majority are held in CLOs…

About a 27 minute read. Highly recommended. (Sadly) vindicates my little 2008 pissant view-from-the-subprime-trenches rant "Tranche Warfare."
I've been mulling writing this post for a long time, watching with increasing -- but hardly surprised -- dismay all year as the economic tailspin has accelerated, its increasingly debilitating effects impacting the lives of more and more ordinary citizens worldwide who had no part in its creation. Now, the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal seems as though it might represent the final nail in the coffin of financial system trust.

We seem to never learn...
I need a margarita.


What does all the foregoing portend for the future of U.S. democracy?

PDF
INTRODUCTION

Founded nearly 250 years ago, the United States of America is the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. Its infancy, under the Articles of Confederation, was turbulent. Its early prospects, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, were very much uncertain. At the Convention, Benjamin Franklin—catalyst of the Revolution, leading citizen of the republic, enslaver turned abolitionist—wondered as he observed the conflicts, compromises, and contradictions of the process: was the young nation’s sun rising or setting? With the signing of the Constitution, he concluded, the sun was rising.

Today, the question of rise or fall is more pertinent than ever. In this age of globalization, centralized power, economic inequality, deep demographic shifts, political polarization, pandemics and climate change, and radical disruption in the media and information environments, we face these converging trends in a constitutional democracy that feels to many increasingly unresponsive, nonadaptive, and even antiquated.
   
Consider the data. The public’s approval rate for Congress—our national legislature and the first branch of government established in the Constitution, charged with articulating the will of the people—hit a historic low of 9 percent in 2013. Now rates hover around a still-meager 25 percent. Income and wealth inequality levels have exceeded those on the eve of the Great Depression. Social mobility has stagnated. Inequities continue to track lines of race, gender, and ethnicity, revealing deep structural unfairness in our society. A surge in white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anti- immigrant vitriol has flooded our politics with sentiments corrosive to the ethic of a democratic society, while people of color continue to confront barriers to opportunity and participation. At all levels of our system, voter turnout remains low in comparison to other advanced democracies. Trust in institutions has collapsed while an online culture of gleeful, nihilistic cynicism thrives. Fewer than one-third of Millennials consider it essential to live in a democracy. Partisan rancor has not reached the intensity of Civil War–era America—but it is nonetheless very high. When Americans are asked what unites us across our differences, the increasingly common answer is nothing...
Below, this seems a good place to start, given my pedantic Jones for clear and effective definitions:
Our conversations about democratic civic life are now so polarized that we must pause to define our central terms. In the twenty-first century, democracy refers to a political system in which legislative and chief executive decision-makers are elected by majority or plurality rule by eligible voters, with a presumption that the franchise approaches universal adult suffrage among legal citizens and that mechanisms are in place to protect ideological, religious, ethnic, and other demographic minorities. This definition refers to representative rather than direct democracy, reflecting that all existing democratic societies are representative. While we use both constitutional democracy and democracy in this report, we recognize these as synonyms to other terms in common usage in the United States, including “republic” and “democratic republic”...
The bulk of the table of contents:


Within the six strategic categories are 31 specific proposed tactical initiatives, a number of which seem to me to be a heavy lift—all reasonably warranted nonetheless. Make up your own minds.

apropos, see my prior

"ocracies," "archies," and "isms"

UPDATE

Obtuse, or just cut-to-the-chase succinct?


Think about it. Goes well beyond "race." Shouldn't exactly come as "news." Uhhh... Aristotle, anyone?

I totally include my own obligation in the inferential admonition.
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More to come...

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Aghast: the brazen murder of George Floyd


I have no doubt what my late daughter Danielle would have said about this latest travesty.

I am not normally at a loss for words (just ask my wife), but this is one of those times. I will try to have something honest and constructive to say ASAP. It's all a bit overwhelming (says the comfy "woke" retired white guy).


I want to share parts of the conversations I've had with friends over the past couple days about the footage of George Floyd dying face down on the street under the knee of a police officer in Minnesota.

The first is an email from a middle-aged African American businessman.

"Dude I gotta tell you the George Floyd incident in Minnesota hurt. I cried when I saw that video. It broke me down. The 'knee on the neck' is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down, ignoring the cries for help. People don't care. Truly tragic."

Another friend of mine used the powerful song that went viral from 12-year-old Keedron Bryant to describe the frustrations he was feeling.

The circumstances of my friend and Keedron may be different, but their anguish is the same. It's shared by me and millions of others.

It's natural to wish for life "to just get back to normal" as a pandemic and economic crisis upend everything around us. But we have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly "normal" — whether it's while dealing with the health care system, or interacting with the criminal justice system, or jogging down the street, or just watching birds in a park.

This shouldn't be "normal" in 2020 America. It can't be "normal." If we want our children to grow up in a nation that lives up to its highest ideals, we can and must be better.

It will fall mainly on the officials of Minnesota to ensure that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd's death are investigated thoroughly and that justice is ultimately done. But it falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station — including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day — to work together to create a "new normal" in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions or our hearts.


REVEREND KRISTEN HARPER
When you go to create a post, Facebook asks, "What’s on your mind?"

What is on my mind is the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Aubery and George Floyd. While Minneapolis burns, most of the rest of the country remains sheltered; sheltered by COVID-19 because it's a great excuse to do nothing; sheltered by Whiteness because it's not your problem; sheltered by apathy because its just another news story.

I am not sheltered. I am afraid. Breonna Taylor was an EMT working to help and save people afflicted by the corona virus and was murdered in her home-a home that wasn't even the house the police were looking for. I have always been afraid of some of my neighbors with their huge American Flags and pickup trucks with gun racks but now I don't even like to take a walk around my neighborhood. 

This virus has only revealed how deeply rooted racism is within this country and how little Black lives truly matter.  Banners mean so little when people allow their Governments and Law Enforcement officers to impoverish and kill Black lives. We live under this constant fear and constant pain that so many pretend to sympathize with and yet do so little to change.

How can we look at our Black and Brown ministers, our Black and Brown co-workers, our Black and Brown teachers, nurses and nurses aids, companions and caregivers, our Black and Brown friends; and think reading a book will make the difference? How can we think that simply saying, "it's horrible" will really change our lives? How can we be paid less, treated with paternalism or condescension, allowed to clean your homes or keep up your property and expect us to be grateful for your "friendship."

Where are you when the brothers and sisters of my bones are being murdered? Where are you in my fear? No friends. I am not angry. I am just soul shattered.
Kristen was one of my late daughter Danielle's closest friends, and a fellow UU Minister. She posted this on Facebook. I asked her permission to post it here.

Kristen officiated at my grandson's wedding after his Momma died.


Keebo and KJ are soon to grace us with a baby boy great-grandson.


A CLOSE FRIEND AND 1964 HIGH SCHOOL CLASSMATE
I can’t imagine having brown skin. I can’t imagine being treated as less than whole because I have brown skin. I can’t imagine being the momma of a little brown-skinned boy that grows up to be a brown-skinned young man that I have to be scared to death, every day, about what might happen to him when he goes out into this bigoted, racist America, to just live his God-given life.

I’m so sad, and so sorry.
Me too.

"Coons, 'Boons, Baboons, Jigs, Jigaboos, Jungle Bunnies, Spear-Chuckers, Porch Monkeys, Spooks..."
And, of course, the now-radioactive "N-word."

I was born a first-wave Baby Boomer WASP kid (Irish/English/German) to middle class parents in western Long Island NY in 1946, not far from the Queens borough, and then grew up in northern NJ where my Dad worked for Bell Labs in semiconductor R&D. I would hear those racial epithets all across my childhood years, carelessly spewed by relatives, friends' parents, and random proximate adults generally. Those kinds of slurs inevitably got assimilated into our own budding vernaculars.

My own parents' bigotry was relatively subdued and passive (polite suburban "plausible deniability"). e.g., in Hillsborough, during my 7th grade through high school years, according to my Ma, our black mailman, Herbie, was "one of those nice negroes" (as opposed to those Uppity "N" troublemakers in Newark, etc).

Prejudice was by no means restricted to African-Americans. Italians were "Ginnies" or "Wops," Puerto Ricans (eventually extending to all Hispanics) were "Spics," Asians were "Chinks," and Jews (irrespective of ethnicity) were "Kikes." Gays? Need I elaborate?

Eventually, I would hear Native Americans referred to as "Timber Niggers."
These days we can add "Ragheads," "Camel Jockeys," and "Sand Niggers."
Fall 1960: I began high school (Somerville NJ) and went out for the freshman football team (on which I would absurdly become the starting Center, given that no one else wanted the position). We picked classmate Bill Dorsey (then 17 yrs old, and black) to be our starting QB. It was scandalous; QB was a white kid's position. Blacks could be linemen or fullbacks, period.
Times have indeed changed, but, the NBA Boston Celtics joke is not all that old: "How many blacks can be on the court at the same time? Two at home, three on the road, five when you're behind." And, black NHL hockey players still get bananas thrown at them on the rink.
After we ran roughshod over our entire schedule and went handily undefeated, most of the bigoted football fanatic parents pretty much just grudgingly STFU. "State Champs in 4 years? OK." (It would not happen.) Us kids were just having fun, without a shred of racial hostility. (I am often reminded of the hilarious movie "Varsity Blues.")


By the time I was a senior (and still starting Center [#50 above] for the now-21 yr old Bill Dorsey [#16 above] ), the U.S. was increasingly deep into the heated struggle for black civil rights. Me, my football Jones was fast waning. I was only 5'10" and 165 lbs and was tired of getting the crap knocked out of me week after week by dudes outweighing me by 40-60 lbs or more (we went 6-3 that year, and nowhere close to a state title). I just wanted to be a guitar player.

Playing black R&B music, in particular. Which some viewed as "cultural appropriation" (and not without some merit). We'd sneak into blues and jazz clubs in Newark and Manhattan on fake IDs, usually the only white faces in the crowds. We may have been playing the likes of Chuck Berry, but we were diggin' on the likes of Jack MacDuff, Maynard, Sonny Stitt, and the Oscar Peterson Trio.

My parents were not amused, to put it mildly. Neither were my coaches ("hanging with the wrong crowd"). I'd been accepted to Kent State, with a partial football scholarship. Right.

Nonetheless, straight out of high school, I headed out on the road in a bar band, commencing a mostly hardscrabble "living" of 21 years, guitar in hand.

By 1967 I'd wound my way to California. In 1968, I joined a local San Francisco start-up band: Italian-American drummer Fred Abruzzo, Mexican-American bass player and standup comic Jose Simon, black lead singer Rick Stevens, and me, the "Irishman." We called our band "Four of a Kind,"--or, jokingly, "the Spic, the Spook, the Wop, and the Mick."

Only Fred and I survive. We remain steadfast friends. He quips, "well, Bobby, we're down to Two of a Kind now."

I moved on to Seattle. On July 27th, 1970 my second daughter was born. And, racially speaking, as they say, Shit Got Real.

Danielle, ~ age 3
FAST FORWARD TO 2018


April 27th, 2018: Holding my daughter's hand the day she died.


2018
Were my Danielle still alive, there's no doubt she'd be all up in my grill over the George Floyd murder and its aggregate upshot.

While we frequently lamented and laughed SMH about racial bigotry, Danielle and I would sometimes heatedly disagree over what I often viewed as her over-the-top paranoia about Keenan (my grandson) during her repetitive admonitions while iteratively having "The Talk" with him from early on.

She was right; I was wrong. It does not suffice for Cheryl and I to be "post-racial non-bigoted white progressives." Her concerns were real, they were warranted, as we yet again unhappily see. We discussed it again shortly before she died. I apologized. Benign intentions are not enough. And, while I had no say in being born white, I have a subsequent say when it comes to actively promoting justice. I vow to Keenan and KJ (and our soon-to-arrive great-grandson and our extended multiracial tribe) to henceforth do better.

IMMANUEL ACHO: UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS...


Yeah.


JUNE 6TH UPDATE

Washington DC, blocks from the fenced-off White House, on the newly-named "Black Lives Matter Plaza."

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More to come...

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Annie Duke ROCKS!


One mitigative personal upside of our continuing "all-covid19-all-the-time" period for this Parkinson's-addled non-essential non-worker and life-long unlearner has been the recent volume of compelling books I've consumed while getting "three weeks to the gallon of gas" (and Netflix binge-watching) here in the Homeland "shire."    

No read more fun and illuminating than Annie Duke's delightful "Thinking in Bets."

I'd gotten one of my routine Amazon email book pitches. Intrigued, I clicked on the book cover link. It was offered up as a Kindle edition special, which, with my always-accruing credits (I continue to buy a ton of books), would only set me back 59 cents.

"What have you got to lose?" Nonetheless, after reading the Amazon blurb, I went, as is my custom, to first reading the negative one-star reviews, which can often be show-stoppers (afterward, I would muse "did we read the same book?").

Never before having heard of Annie Duke, I recall also having had the fleeting, snarky thought: "Oh, will the yummie Jessica Chastain play her too in The Movie" (successor to Molly's Game).

LOL.

ANNIE IN THE NEW YORKER
Annie Duke Will Beat You at Your Own Game
    
Late last year, I wrote to Annie Duke, a former professional poker player, about the possibility of profiling her. Duke, who for years was the leading female money winner in the World Series of Poker, retired from the game six years ago and has since refashioned herself as a corporate speaker and strategic consultant. She struck me as someone with a potentially unique and strange set of perspectives on gender, celebrity, and money. We spent the next few weeks engaged in a polite game of psychological warfare. I became attuned, moment by moment, to infinitesimal shifts in power and grew obsessed with the notion that she might be playing our negotiations like a card game. I’m still not sure how much of it was in my head.

At first, Duke enthusiastically agreed to be profiled, and often responded to my e-mails with smiley faces and exclamation points. She invited me to accompany her to a charity event and suggested that I come along to her brother-in-law’s birthday party. When I asked her to recommend friends and colleagues who might have insight into her career, she responded eighteen minutes later with an annotated list of twenty-seven names. It included all living members of her immediate family, her ex-husband, various professional poker players, and celebrities she has taught to play the game. Duke seemed to understand instinctively that affording a journalist access can actually be a form of self-protection: her avid participation would decrease my need to ferret out potentially unflattering material elsewhere.

Since retiring, Duke, who has four children and lives near Philadelphia, has travelled across the country delivering keynote speeches to conferences held by the likes of Citibank, Pandora, and Marriott. She has co-authored multiple gaming guides, and her first general-interest book, “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts,” came out in February. The book’s premise is that poker players live in a world in which “risk is made explicit” and are therefore trained to assess incoming information logically and judiciously in a way that other people are not. “A hand of poker takes about two minutes,” she writes. “Over the course of that hand, I could be involved in up to twenty decisions. And each hand ends with a concrete result: I win money or I lose money. The result of each hand provides immediate feedback on how your decisions are faring.”

Duke argues that we bet all the time: on parenting, home buying, restaurant orders. Betting is merely “a decision about an uncertain future,” and our opponents are not other people but, rather, hypothetical versions of ourselves who have chosen differently than we have. Her most urgent message is that we should all be more comfortable living with self-doubt—not for ethical reasons but for intellectual ones. Embracing uncertainty, she argues, makes you a better thinker. “Real life consists of bluffing, of little tactics of deception, of asking yourself what is the other man going to think I mean to do,” she writes, quoting John von Neumann, the father of game theory…

Read all of it.

Also buy and carefully study all of "Thinking in Bets." Not kidding.
INTRODUCTION:  Why This Isn’t a Poker Book

CHAPTER 1:  Life Is Poker, Not Chess

Pete Carroll and the Monday Morning Quarterbacks
The hazards of resulting
Quick or dead: our brains weren’t built for rationality
Two-minute warning
Dr. Strangelove
Poker vs. chess
A lethal battle of wits
“I’m not sure”: using uncertainty to our advantage
Redefining wrong


CHAPTER 2:  Wanna Bet?
Thirty days in Des Moines
We’ve all been to Des Moines
All decisions are bets
Most bets are bets against ourselves
Our bets are only as good as our beliefs
Hearing is believing
“They saw a game”
The stubbornness of beliefs
Being smart makes it worse
Wanna bet?
Redefining confidence

CHAPTER 3:  Bet to Learn: Fielding the Unfolding Future
Nick the Greek, and other lessons from the Crystal Lounge
Outcomes are feedback
Luck vs. skill: fielding outcomes
Working backward is hard: the SnackWell’s Phenomenon
“If it weren’t for luck, I’d win every one”
All-or-nothing thinking rears its head again
People watching
Other people’s outcomes reflect on us
Reshaping habit
“Wanna bet?” redux
The hard way


CHAPTER 4:  The Buddy System
“Maybe you’re the problem, do you think?”
The red pill or the blue pill?
Not all groups are created equal
The group rewards focus on accuracy
“One Hundred White Castles…and a large chocolate shake”: how accountability improves decision-making
The group ideally exposes us to a diversity of viewpoints
Federal judges: drift happens
Social psychologists: confirmatory drift and Heterodox Academy
Wanna bet (on science)?

CHAPTER 5:  Dissent to Win
CUDOS to a magician
Mertonian communism: more is more
Universalism: don’t shoot the message
Disinterestedness: we all have a conflict of interest, and it’s contagious
Organized skepticism: real skeptics make arguments and friends
Communicating with the world beyond our group


CHAPTER 6:  Adventures in Mental Time Travel
Let Marty McFly run into Marty McFly
Night Jerry
Moving regret in front of our decisions
A flat tire, the ticker, and a zoom lens
“Yeah, but what have you done for me lately?”
Tilt Ulysses contracts: time traveling to precommit
Decision swear jar
Reconnaissance: mapping the future
Scenario planning in practice
Backcasting: working backward from a positive future
Premortems: working backward from a negative future
Dendrology and hindsight bias (or, Give the chainsaw a rest)


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
NOTES
SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY AND RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER READING
I was gratified to see that a lot of the books she cites are ones I own and have read. Were I still teaching "Critical Thinking" her book would be a required text.
Once something occurs, we no longer think of it as probabilistic—or as ever having been probabilistic. This is how we get into the frame of mind where we say, “I should have known” or “I told you so.” This is where unproductive regret comes from.

By keeping an accurate representation of what could have happened (and not a version edited by hindsight), memorializing the scenario plans and decision trees we create through good planning process, we can be better calibrators going forward. We can also be happier by recognizing and getting comfortable with the uncertainty of the world. Instead of living at extremes, we can find contentment with doing our best under uncertain circumstances, and being committed to improving from our experience…

One of the things poker teaches is that we have to take satisfaction in assessing the probabilities of different outcomes given the decisions under consideration and in executing the bet we think is best. With the constant stream of decisions and outcomes under uncertain conditions, you get used to losing a lot. To some degree, we’re all outcome junkies, but the more we wean ourselves from that addiction, the happier we’ll be. None of us is guaranteed a favorable outcome, and we’re all going to experience plenty of unfavorable ones. We can always, however, make a good bet. And even when we make a bad bet, we usually get a second chance because we can learn from the experience and make a better bet the next time.

Life, like poker, is one long game, and there are going to be a lot of losses, even after making the best possible bets. We are going to do better, and be happier, if we start by recognizing that we’ll never be sure of the future. That changes our task from trying to be right every time, an impossible job, to navigating our way through the uncertainty by calibrating our beliefs to move toward, little by little, a more accurate and objective representation of the world. With strategic foresight and perspective, that’s manageable work. If we keep learning and calibrating, we might even get good at it.

Duke, Annie. Thinking in Bets (pp. 230-232). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


Very smart woman. Lots to ponder. You will do well to watch all of it.

THE CRUX
"Once something occurs, we no longer think of it as probabilistic—or as ever having been probabilistic. This is how we get into the frame of mind where we say, “I should have known” or “I told you so.”
Annie says poker players call this "resulting." An interesting chronic problem in this time of being fashionably "data driven," and the tendency to spuriously correlate the quality of individual decisions with their singular outcomes. "Hindsight bias," in brief.

So, how does this stuff cohere with the so-called "Science of Deliberation," scientific thinking directed at accurate decisionmaking?

UPDATE: ANNIE DUKE BOOK RECOMMENDATION

She touted this one on Twitter.


I'm a couple of chapters in thus far. Very good. I can see why she recommended it.

MORE ANNIE ON YOUTUBE

Really liked this one.


Additional thoughts shortly. Stay tuned.
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More to come...