Racists Are Emboldened

Imagine a sequence of events like this. I wrote this with the San Bernadino attack in mind:

 

People do attacks like San Bernadino.
People admit they were nervous about the attackers before, and think they could have prevented the attack if they’d reported.
People didn’t report out of fear of being branded racist.

~Fast forward a few years, Trump elected, alt-right is a thing, neonazis ranks swell (not that those things are all directly related, but there are connections that aren’t hard to notice)~

People call the cops or ICE (or threaten to do so) on people of color doing nothing wrong.
People do this at least in part b/c they remember the Monday morning quarterbacking of San Bernadino.
People remember those attacks and say, “not on my watch,” or some heroic phrase, and speak up, sensing their moment of greatness.
People correctly publicly shamed for being racist.

~future~

People stop reporting things out of fear of being the next viral racist sensation.
People do attacks like San Bernadino.
Repeat…

I don’t think the ending would be just like that, it’s all a bit too /r/im14andthisisdeep. But where do we go from here? I have to say, these viral vids of racist people are very entertaining, and they should carry a message of caution to people everywhere: you don’t get to call the cops on people just because you don’t like someone’s skin color. Hopefully the fools these people have made of themselves will be a deterrent to future would-be crusaders against people of color going about their business.

But we still need to talk about that other thing. The actual situation where people are actually planning to do a killing spree. As with everything, there is no simple solution. Setting the bar for what it should take to alert the authorities will reveal counterexamples that disprove it. For example, say you want the new rule to be, “people moving duffel bags that appear heavy” as a sufficiently suspicious activity. It might be that heavy duffel bags contain an arsenal of guns or incendiary devices, but let’s look at it. Heavy is relative. Duffel bags could contain lots of things. On the other hand, clever attackers would find ways to evade this rule. There’s a point where anything short of seeing people with guns in their hands would be considered rude or racist.

The real answer is that there is no. Bad people are going to do bad things. I don’t want to make this about gun laws, but, let’s be honest, there are gun laws that could definitely make it harder for bad people to get so many guns. Aside from that, there’s not much to say except some mealy mouthed shit like, “know your neighbors” or, “talk to your children.” Which is not to say that those things aren’t good, but they’re not public policy.

It should be noted that, while San Bernadino is the attack I referenced at the top and I claim that it’s at least part of the reasoning of the current crop of racist cop-callers, it’s rather unique in that the attackers were not white. Most of the other mass shooters have been white males. The only other notable exceptions are Omar Mateen and the Virginia Tech shooter.

Why is this significant? Why you pointing out race, man, isn’t that racist?!

It’s significant precisely because it gives the lie to this idea that these people calling police really think they’re stopping a major tragedy.

I’m probably wrong about this connection. The people calling the cops on brown people not doing anything wrong are probably just shithead racists who have been emboldened by the alt right and Trump. And there’s no question that right wing media has helped.

Image result for not racist but number one with racists

 

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Sharknado Is A Misunderstood Masterpiece

I think a lot of people view Sharknado through the lens of this obviously over the top premise, but in my view they’re missing the real heart of the film. A careful viewing of the piece reveals a subtle meditation on the unfulfilled dreams of the Post WWII period, the so-called “Belle Epoque” and how it was a thematic echo of Reconstruction.

Fin’s name is a reference to shark anatomy, sure, but notice that it’s also the name of Mark Twain’s most timeless character, Huckleberry Finn. No chance this is a coincidence, as we see Fin at the beginning of the film in almost identical circumstances as Huck at the end of his story – disillusioned at having seen the dark underbelly brought on by the economic conditions of their time. In Huck’s case it was the carpetbaggers and swindlers, particularly the “performers” he briefly linked up with, while in Finn’s case, it was the dot-com promises and Bernie Madoffs of the early and mid aughts, culminating in the Housing Crisis. The Belle Epoque was not without similar shenanigans. Suburban housing developers made a mint on the booming suburbs, while the inner cities suffered from redlining, gentrification, and other dishonest housing practices whose effects we are still reeling from today. The crumbling inner cities are featured throughout the film as Fin and friends fight for their lives, reflecting the struggle faced by those residents in real life.

Notice the use of weather as metaphor for socioeconomic concerns. Fin’s bar is going under financially, then literally as the deluge takes it. The loss of his bar echoes the sentiment of the female workforce, who arguably were a deciding factor in winning WWII, being collectively told that the men were back and they were no longer needed. The malaise created by this rejection percolated and contributed greatly to the Counterculture of the 60s and 2nd and 3rd Wave Feminism. In this exquisite work of cinema, April embodies this spirit best of all, her very name being associated with Spring, the time of year when those thought dead or dying rise again and bloom. Even the career arc of actor Tara Reid has had a similar rebirth, in a case of life imitating art.

In the film’s climactic scene, April’s place as the Sacred Mother archetype is never more clear than when she stands by as Fin cuts first himself, then his daughter out of the belly of the shark. Like Ethausva, Etruscan Goddess of Childbirth and Midwives, she is essentially the Midwife here. In fact, it’s an act of rebirth, another reference to Spring.

The weather metaphors continue. The currents of the ocean, which are the proximate cause of hurricanes and other big storms, reflect socioeconomic currents in society. The various movements that have shaped and continue to shape our civilization are ever changing and can be deadly, much like the weather phenomenon used in this masterpiece of film making.

Fin-ally, I want to point attention to the phenomenon of echoing, which this amazing work is rife with. The ocean, with its properties of being mostly cold and salty liquid, is the most extraordinary conductor of sound that we know of in the Solar System. Sound waves in the ocean can echo for decades before their amplitude diminishes. It’s only natural that a magnificent work of art such as this, about a Great Evil that Comes From The Ocean, is permeated with echoes of commentary on the past and current states of society. History is formed by echoes of the populations that preceded, that came before, and it continues, iteration upon iteration. In the same exact way, we’ve gotten, to date, four additional Sharknado films, each more cogent and impactful than the last, but also equally so.

It is truly the best time to be alive to see the creation of these masterworks. Endless meaning summed up in 90 minutes a pop. Godlike use of camera, lighting, sound, effects, and acting, yet also unmistakably human. The first time I saw the first installment of what will be known in the future as Man’s Greatest Achievement, I was basically Jodie Foster in Contact when she sees the celestial event. I had no idea such a thing could exist.

The Conversation About Guns: Can We?

More of This

There are many kinds of guns, and many ways to categorize them. There are many accessories. There are many ways to license, train, and certify owners. There are many enforcement strategies for laws. There are many ways to restrict the gun buying population, each with pros and cons. There are several laws currently being discussed in Congress, four in the top viewed on Congress.gov. Talk about any of these compared to current laws. Bring up pros and cons using relevant facts. Use meaningful comparisons when talking about policies in other places. Do your best to observe the Principle of Charity. Congratulations, you’re actually having the Conversation About Guns.

There are also ways to protect schools that could be implemented. There are many ways to fix mental health, and by extension health care in general, that could be implemented. There are cultural problems which may or may not involve technology that could be partially responsible for mental health problems. Any of these could be thought of as Solutions that should accompany, but definitely not replace, the Conversation About Guns.
Less of This
Bring up the ages of student protesters. Bring up the fact that some, but definitely not all, protests were sanctioned by the schools. Accuse someone of being a “crisis actor.” Accuse students of being coached by parents or CNN when they appear on TV. Assert that some of those calling for gun legislation have inadequate knowledge of guns. Bring up obesity. Bring up texting and driving. Tell students to, instead of protesting, “just be nice to the weird kid” as though you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a teen in the volatile but ultimately meaningless High School social hierarchy. Tell students that their opinion doesn’t count because Tide Pods were a viral meme that many joked about but very few actually went through with eating. Talk about how you’re really going to withstand the US Armed Forces with your little home arsenal in the event of some martial law situation. Talk about how other countries have gun deaths. Talk about how other countries have violence. Talk about how other countries have guns. Talk about violent countries having strict gun laws without acknowledging other factors. Talk about how Australia’s ban didn’t completely stop shooting deaths, therefore it wasn’t effective, even though mass shootings (the relevant category of crime) are greatly reduced. Talk about a mass stabbing that took place in 2014, but don’t mention that it was carried out by ten people or that it happened in China. Talk about truck attacks. Talk about a terrorist stabbing attack in FL that resulted in one death and how hypocritical that the media isn’t reporting on it, while sharing a link to a national media source. Cite the 2nd Amendment, capitalizing SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED to let people know you mean business before expressing that you do not wish to discuss the matter further. Talk about how God isn’t allowed in school, as though that were true or relevant. Talk about how violent media are to blame for school shootings. Talk about how the MSM love mass shootings. Talk about how companies refusing to give breaks to NRA members is unfair. Compare that to bakers refusing to bake same sex wedding cakes. Talk about poor parenting as though it were a one size fits all solution. Talk about beating children as a practice that would have prevented the most recent or all school shootings. Talk about how violent Chicago or some other major city is, and mention that they have “strict gun control,” while ignoring all other factors that make the crime rates much higher. Incorrectly point out that protesters are asking for fewer rights rather than more. Bring up abortion as though those statistics count the same as other death stats. Talk about the misuse of “assault,” and how it’s a scare word used by the gun-ignorant.
Talk about any of the above, and you are preventing progress in the Conversation About Guns. You are not helping. At best, you’re misguidedly trying to raise awareness of another issue. That issue may be a real problem that we should consider , and it may even be something you feel strongly about. Maybe you did just wake up this morning and decide that you wanted to crusade against texting and driving. OK, benefit of the doubt. However, if, on your crusade, you use the pretense of the Conversation About Guns to draw people in, now you’re doing something dishonest. You’re giving pro-gun people, the people that will do anything to avoid actually having the Conversation About Guns, an out. At worst, you’re doing it on purpose because you know you don’t want to have the Conversation About Guns.
Conclusion
This article is less of a call for specific policies, and more of a sincere request for people to try to approach the subject reasonably. I’ve been seeing almost nothing but items from the second section here on social media, and I’m really dismayed at the state of discourse. Wherever you’re at on this or any issue, try to operate in good faith. There are sincere people out there who want to hear different opinions on the issue. The whole reason for this post is that the opinions that people are sharing about guns is overwhelmingly off topic, or fallacious in some other way.
If you believe a certain thing, you are probably pretty good at pointing out where opponents to your position are putting forth bad arguments. People often have trouble doing this to their own position. They see something supporting their position or narrative and they’ll insta-like and probably share it if they’re so inclined, without looking for inconsistencies in the argument presented. Likewise, they’ll be quick to scrutinize something that doesn’t fit with their beliefs. If they feel strongly enough about it, they might endeavor to correct poor misguided OP.
Since I discovered /r/magicskyfairy, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to look at my own positions with a more critical eye. For those not aware, /r/magicskyfairy is a subreddit dedicated to taking the piss out of neckbeard atheism, that hardcore brand of atheism and anti-theism that regards all believers as ignorant morons, glorifies science communicators such as Sagan, and celebrates a lifestyle full of STEM, marijuana, and socially progressive politics. When I first stumbled upon it, I was kind of horrified, I kept saying, “hey, that’s not fair,” before I realized what the point of it all was. It allowed me to, just for a second, imagine what some of these memes look like to sincere believers who don’t fit the paradigm they seem to describe. It’s really unfair and shitty to have your own position misrepresented, so why should I do that to others? Since then, I’ve tried to have a more charitable view, or at least, not to take cheap, “lmao fundies r dumb!” shots. I’m still working on it, apparently.
Anyway, to sum up, try to stay on topic if you’re going to weigh in on things. Be aware of your own ability to engage in faulty thinking, and be kind to those you disagree with.

Destroy Your Rifle Because, Heck, We Gotta Do Something! #OneLess

You’ve probably seen this on social media: some responsible owner of a rifle, probably an AR-15, does a little speech about Parkland and how We Need To Do Something and how Thoughts And Prayers aren’t getting shit done, all the while holding a rifle. They also talk about how much they enjoy shooting, whether for hunting or at the range, and how much they approve of the Second Amendment. Then, as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with gun control advocates, they destroy their rifle so that “there’s one less rifle out there.” There have been several stories about this, and even a hashtag, #OneLess.

For a gun control advocate, this sounds like a ringing endorsement. People are willing to part with their rifles, which they’ve gotten so much enjoyment from, ostensibly because their minds have been recently changed, and drastically so. They now believe that the capability of these weapons to kill large numbers of people quickly is something that is a net danger to society. Further, they feel strongly enough about this view that they’re willing to destroy one or more rather expensive items. Forget the sentimental value or even the safety and security aspect that responsible rifle ownership may bring, think about the monetary investment. An entry level AR goes for around $600 according to a quick search, but can quickly run into the thousands with mods. Have you ever straight up burned several hundred dollars for a cause you believed in?

As a side note, if you click the Shopping tab on Google and search AR-15, it shows no results.

But…

As nice as this seems, is there a downside? It feels a touch virtue-signal-y, doesn’t it. See the above stories, all major publications, perhaps making it sound like it’s much more widespread that it really is. I’m not one to cry #FakeNews, and I certainly wouldn’t suggest that this is completely fabricated. I’m sure there are a number of sincere people that feel strongly, and whether you agree with them or not, you have to acknowledge their dedication. But I want to ask, what are the actual numbers? Further, what number of people doing this warrants a national or international (in the case of the Guardian and other overseas papers) story? The other thing that is making me think is the nature of the story. The story is that people are reacting to another news story in ways that have gone viral. These kinds of stories pre-date social media, but they seem much more prominent now that social media has permeated modern life. I haven’t looked into these questions, maybe I’ll take a closer look in a future post.

Is This Really Helping?

This is like the anti-gun version of those utterly stupid and pointless vids of ppl burning their NFL gear b/c they were taking a “principled stand” against peaceful protests they neither understood nor wanted to understand. Funny, literally all of the people I saw sharing or promoting this view on social media kind of forgot about it a couple months later. Seriously, I saw people disavowing their team using words like shameful and disrespectful to describe their team. I saw people burning their season tickets, and opportunistic people asking, “hey, if you’re not going to use those season tix, pass them this way.” By the time of the Superbowl, everyone had seemed to forgotten about it.

But in this case, destroying a rifle reduces the total number of rifles, so in theory it’s helpful. But aren’t there easier ways to achieve that? In theory, aren’t responsibly cared-for rifles not a significant danger to society? If you’re a responsible owner, you’re already doing the right thing. The idea that your weapon could make its way out of the secure safe that you keep it in and get into the hands of a deranged individual is rather hard to believe.

And Now For Some Whataboutery

In the wake of all these gun destroying vids, there’s this woman. In a three minute video, she spends like two minutes talking about guns and how important it is for people to be safe, and how guns are dangerous. Then, in a move of the most egregious whataboutism, she takes out a hammer and smashes a couple cell phones, saying that cell phones cause more deaths than semiautomatic rifles.

While she might not be wrong, she’s guilty of whataboutery. Changing the subject so as to avoid talking about the actual subject at hand. There’s a big problem with people using their cell phones while they drive. It results in a great number of accidents and fatalities. To point out such a fact is not controversial. However, it’s plainly dishonest to talk about guns for two minutes only to shift over to this talking point.

The conversation is about guns. The vids with regular people in their backyards with a rifle in frame are about guns. Pointing out that cell phones play a part in more fatalities than guns is not helpful to the conversation. Yes people need to pay attention when they’re driving, but to point out such a fact does nothing to help the problem of mass shootings. And we’re talking about mass shootings! Why are you bringing up this other, admittedly serious, but unrelated issue? Are you trying to steer the conversation away from guns? It certainly looks like it. I think this is far worse than any mass media attempt to promote the rifle destroyers. Because in the first case, they’re at least talking about the issue, whereas in the second case, the video maker seeks to shift the conversation away from guns, when it’s obvious to anyone who with a halfway decent understanding of the data that guns are a problem. And talking about cell phones, while true, is not helping that particular cause.

My Argument is Invalid, According to This Meme

I saw this on my FB feed, and I just can’t even. I’m super butthurt by this, and I’m a sensitive little snowflake that can’t handle facts. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s have a look at the facts and reason based argument that got me so poopypants:

 

Yes, one of those brilliantly constructed arguments in the form of a shareable image. Line by line, I am BTFO by the logic and facts. Let’s look at it line by line.

We start off with some basic facts about things that are illegal. There’s very little to dispute here, the little I will address below. This is a version of the salesperson’s “yes ladder” where you ask your mark a series of questions to which the answer is an obvious yes. You like keeping your family safe right? You want a car that has high safety ratings right? You like money, right?

Thing is, these aren’t all entirely true. That last item, about felons owning guns, is not exactly open and shut. Some states have a hard and fast rule about felons, particularly those whose convictions haven’t been expunged. But some don’t, and some have distinctions for nonviolent offenders. In many cases, the claim holds up, so I’d call it mostly true.

These are both noncontroversial, but look at the wording. “Shooting people indiscriminately”? Is that the way it’s worded on the books? I mean, yeah, assault with a deadly weapon, possible attempted murder as addressed above, but “indiscriminately”? It’s lazy writing. The word indiscriminately adds nothing. Look at that second one, “Using firearms in a criminal manner.” Could that be interpreted to include irresponsible gun ownership? It’s kind of a stretch, I think it’s written to mean people doing stickemups or drivebys or shooty-shoots or whatever it is that gun criminals do.

We continue on the Yes Ladder, but the focus changes from pointing out illegal actions to a broad, and rather speculative, statement about what criminals do to acquire guns. Notice also that the font got smaller from the eye-catching first line. I don’t know what criminals to to get their hands on guns, but I don’t imagine that it involves background checks.

So far, it looks like they’re setting up the following argument:

  1. Gun laws intend to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
  2. Criminals do not follow gun laws.
  3. Therefore, gun laws are ineffective.

If they stopped here, they might be doing a poor job of representing the relevant facts, but at least they would be sticking to facts. Even so, there are problems with this argument. Premise 1 is true, or likely true, but look at where they go in Premises 2 and 3. There’s no logical connection between P1 and the others, it’s a non sequitur. Further, P2 could be applied to any law, thus rendering it useless. But enough about the meme so far, let’s see where they go with it.

Now they take a drastic turn, imploring you to explain three things. Look at that first one, “how criminals will follow new laws.” Now go back to our discussion about P2 in the previous section. Criminals don’t follow laws, so why would they follow new gun laws? So far they’ve only implied that their position includes the premise that laws are only effective if they are followed by criminals, which is silly by definition. When you realize that that is the core of their position, it falls apart.

The second thing we are charged to explain is how new laws will make us safer. This actually can be done, but you wouldn’t think that by looking at the rest of this meme. By defining effective laws in the narrow way that they do, they make this sound like an impossible ask, but it’s not. New laws, along with more effective law enforcement strategies, better safety education, and probably a whole lot of other things can actually make us safer.

Finally, in much smaller type, it asks us to explain how restricting law-abiding citizens even more will make us safer. Even more? Like, when will it end? These persecuted, put-upon, law-abiding citizens are already doing enough! Now they want even more? The nerve. This is functionally equivalent to the previous one, but they amp up the sympathy for the law-abiding gun owners here.

All these questions would seem to be asking for a conversation to start, if a little strident and in your face about it. If it ended here, it could be seen as taking a firm stand in the gun conversation while omitting some important details and misstating the effects of legislation. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s one more line, and it’s a doozy.

Mic. Da-rop. The final line of this screed supposes that the reader hasn’t made an attempt to answer the three challenges above and thus declares a flawless victory. This is disgusting. I can understand a message being one sided, but this goes the further step to being an imagined one sided conversation, complete with a knockout punch at the end. I used to have imaginary one sided conversations with people as a child (now I do it in blog form), where I would convince my parents or my teachers that I was right all along about some thing, casting myself as a relentless attorney questioning them until they concede to my irresistible logic, at which point I declare, “I rest my case.” I can scarcely imagine a more fragile and intellectually dishonest take than what is presented here.

In case it wasn’t obvious, all the “I’m butthurt” stuff at the beginning was fake. I am disappointed that people are sharing things like this and passing it off as smart debate. It’s very telling about this age of information. First, that there are a lot of low-information people that have not bothered to learn what makes a compelling argument, or how to look at both sides of an issue. Second, that there are some slightly clever, but ultimately dishonest people willing to exploit the first group.

This problem makes it clear as day that we need to get better arguments. We need people to learn at least a basic foundation of epistemology. We need people to be able to identify fallacious arguments from their own side, and not just from their opponents. I’ve talked about this before in We Might Be in Trouble and The Principle of Charity.

The image we looked at here is not designed to win new supporters. It’s specifically written to prop up those who are already enthusiastically against any new gun legislation. Worst of all, it tells those people, “You’re right. You dont need to listen to those libs. Their argument is invalid.”

Look, if you’re a pro 2A person and you don’t want new gun laws, I’m not having a go at you specifically. My aim is to improve the quality of conversation. Don’t share the above image, it’s trash. Maybe next I’ll find a garbage meme that takes the other side of this just to show I’m not being partisan. I’m on the side of having good reasons for what you believe, and using the best information available to shape policy.

In Defense of Personal Experience

Tonight I responded to a question in a Facebook group about meditation. The questioner had read about mindfulness, and thought he had a good understanding of the practice, and wanted to know if it was worth it to spend the time in practice. Basically he was asking, hey I know that there are benefits to be had from living in a space with greater awareness, is there any use in cultivating that awareness?

I responded with my personal anecdote, that I’m a semi-regular meditator and that I observe great benefits in my cognitive and emotional life from maintaining a regular practice. The kind of benefits I described, I soon realized, were something that the questioner could only get from trying the practice on his own.

It got me thinking. It was like The Matrix, you can’t be told what it is, you can only be shown. I realized that that is very similar to the description given by those who claim to have had spiritual experiences, or many other experiences that can only be accessed by direct experience.

When someone tells me that God talked to them as a result of their prayer or reflection, I have been quick to balk at this claim. In view of my own experience with meditation, I have to consider, if they’re sincere about their claim, that they’ve had the experience they describe.

Mindfulness practices have clinical studies supporting their usefulness. Prayer does not, in fact the oft cited study on intercessory prayer finds that it doesn’t help those prayed for. One thing the study doesn’t address is the effects of prayer on the one who prays. This is often overlooked because we like to make snarky comments about how prayers don’t make the cancer go away, or make the amputated limb grow back, or make the school shooting not happen. I imagine that the one who says a prayer sincerely makes an effort to put their intention into it with a spirit of reverence. This could be seen as functionally equal to sitting for ten minutes and focusing on the breath.

What am I saying here? Does this mean that the next time someone testifies to you that you have to take them at their word? Not exactly. Does it mean that someone’s personal experience means that you need to believe their metaphysical claims? Definitely not. It does mean that we should recognize that other people may have different practices, but we are striving toward common goals of improving the life that we have.

The Shape of Water

I watched The Shape of Water, the latest Guillermo del Toro film. It’s about Elisa, a mute woman who lives above a movie theater and works the night shift cleaning at a government science facility. Before and after work, she visits her neighbor, an older bachelor who is trying to resurrect his career as a commercial artist. She brings him food and they watch movies together. At work, her best friend is Zelda, who chats with Elisa about her husband and her family life.

The film is set in the early 1960s, in a world that can be described as “when America was great.” Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a Heroic Alpha Male, a total badass who singlehandedly wrangled the Creature from the jungles of South America. The Creature, played by Doug Jones, looks otherworldly and is thought to be a menace. Elisa and Zelda are tasked with cleaning the room that houses the tank in which the Creature is kept. From the first time she sees the Creature, Elisa is fascinated with him. By degrees, their relationship develops with boiled eggs and Golden Age Hollywood showtunes.

This movie has, without a doubt, the very best and most affectionate human/fish love scene in film. Seriously though, there is major commentary about love, about identity, and about people standing up for themselves.

This is an amazing movie. It’s very weird, and very beautiful. Sally Hawkins is outstanding, and Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Richard Jenkins give excellent performances. This is a story about finding love even though you’re different, about standing with those you’re close to, and about fighting against forces that would remove the unique things from the world.