Tag: random

Middle East Peace And Avoiding The Civil War

Donald Trump thinks the Civil War could have been avoided — well, yeah it could have been. If slave owners had voluntarily ceeded their economic advantage (i.e. capitulated to the abolitionists position)  or if the nation had continue granting individual states the “right” to allow their citizens to enslave other humans … voila, no war. But there’s no middle ground between “I can subjugate and exploit other people based on some aesthetic aspect” and “humans are humans”. His ignorant musings worry me – if for no other reason than a great deal of study has been done into the proximal and distal causes of the Civil War (i.e. the exact opposite of “People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?”).

It is simply terrifying when the same individual is willing to “do anything” to broker a peace deal in the Middle East. I guess he’ll be learning that (just like health care, free trade, and South East Asian affairs) Middle Eastern discord is harder than he thought.

Why Some Jobs Matter

A week or two ago, Paul Krugman published an article titled “Why Don’t All Jobs Matter?” in which he explored the different narratives behind the decline of mining and manufacturing jobs and the decline of retail jobs. He tried very hard to avoid focusing on the sexist and classist snobbery behind the difference. To some degree, losing low paying jobs that frequently lack benefits is not as bad as losing decently paying jobs that include health benefits and pensions (although court ruling that allow companies to raid pension plans for operating cash basically rendered pension plans an empty promise).

All jobs don’t matter in public discourse because people lack respect for the retail, cell center, hospitality, etc staffs with which they directly interact. Mining and manufacturing jobs were afforded this mythos because the majority of people never interact with these employees. A sentiment echoed today in a newsletter from Sherrod Brown’s office:

“I heard from those miners and their families in Steubenville. I talked with them, and heard their stories – stories of years of backbreaking, dangerous work, but work that had dignity. They put in their time to earn better lives for their families, and they deserve the full health care and pensions they were promised.”

“Work that had dignity”!? And calling out that they “put in their time to earn better lives for their families”!? I hope he didn’t intend to imply that all of these other sectors lack dignity and working in them are not actually attempts to earn better lives for a family too. I wish they would at least pretend to care about all of the non-white non-male people who are losing their jobs too (hey, politicians … white dudes are probably losing non-mining and non-manufacturing jobs too … if that helps you care).

Fifty years ago, a high school graduate knew he could show up at the GE Locomotive plant in Erie, PA and have a job for life. And the downfall of American manufacturing has eliminated that path. But women in the same city knew they could show up at the GTE office on the other side of town, get hired on in operator services, and have a job for life too. They, too, no longer have such certainty (nor can they be positive that either GE or Verizon are even hiring).

Not a lot of people grow up dreaming of being a sales clerk or fast food counter worker – but I doubt people dream of being an entry level manufacturing line worker either. People enter into the field and work their way up — and, yeah, “working you way up” in the steel plant involved a lot of physical work whereas becoming a low level manager at a store or a call center team lead involved a lot of time and mental effort.

It’s not a job – it’s a period in time associated with the job. When coal powered industrial revolutions, white men had power and everyone else knew their place. Sadly, failure to bring back the “good” manufacturing and mining jobs may not doom Trump to perceived failure so long as his policies punish non-white non-male people.

Government as a Business

We’re getting another attempt to remodel the government as a business. If I had to run the federal government like a business, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to run it like one of Trump’s businesses! But lets ignore whose business.

The problem with the swat team Trump’s announced is that it seems to presuppose that the problem with government is a top-level management issue that could be sorted by sound business practices. What corporation has their top level leadership appointed by its customers? Or even its owners – sure, corporate boards are voted by shareholders … but not the C-level positions. Additionally, what business would almost guarantee multi-year positions to their high level leadership team? Regardless of performance?!

There is something to be said for bringing private sector innovation into government operations — especially at a lower level. Match up individual functions of government agencies with private sector businesses or even non-profits that have similar functionalities. Several government agencies have large logistical operations (FEMA, military) that a logistics company could help. Maybe Habitat for Humanity has ideas that would farther HUD’s goals. University teams may have interesting input too. And marketing — corporate experience would certainly be beneficial in selling legislation and initiatives.

But the fundamental problem I have with the principal that government should run like a business is that few businesses are monopolies. If you don’t like how a business operates, what values they support, the product they create … you shop around and select another one.

There was a whole thing a year or two ago with a baker who didn’t want to make a cake for a homosexual couple’s wedding. But as a customer, I can chose not to contract with a bigoted pastry chef for my events either. It is possible enough people don’t care and she remains in business. Or her choices mean her business goes under. Either way, you are not forced to support her beliefs because there are other bakeries.

Government provides services that cannot be privatized – for reasons of efficiency, non-profitability, or sensibility (privatizing the military security and prisons are a good counter-example of why government should provide these services). As such, I cannot just pick another military if I think the federal one is engaged in too many offensive operations. I cannot select a new environmental protection agency if I think the federal one fails to actually protect the environment.

If we’re going to operate the government like a monopoly (see: industries generally subject to a LOT of regulation), we are not just the customers! The government is a customer owned co-op. One that operates in hundreds of different verticals.

 

 

The Story Within The Story

There have been a lot of instances in the past few months where a story about Trump contains a throw-away line that seems more important than the story being conveyed. Not reading EOs in a NYTimes piece not long after the inauguration, for instance.

Today’s reporting on Paul Manafort seems to be following this trend. The guy had a multi-million dollar contract with Oleg Deripaska … who is, in turn, a friend/ally of Putin. There’s a lot of focus on the money involved, the farther involvement of Trump associates with Russians, and the speeches and policy changes that were made pre-convention last year. But the scope of the work seems to be overlooked. He provided strategies on how to advance Russian interests around the world and undermine Putin’s political rivals. Which sounds a lot like advancing Russia’s interests by undermining rivals … or hacking the DNC and releasing information that negatively reflects on Clinton. And releasing more when she still looked to be leading in the weeks prior to the election.

The campaign chair potentially came up with the strategy that may or may not have involved collusion from Trump’s team. Even if they’re a bunch of stooges … the fact that the chap who consulted on the policy in the first place then took a high-level position with the campaign looks REALLY bad.

“Winning” War

Lamenting a lack of “winning” — especially if the solution is increasing military budgets — shows a frightening lack of understanding the purpose of our participation in modern wars. We’ve entered into some untenable situations from which it was difficult to cleanly extract our forces. We’ve intervened in situations where we were not really wanted.

Money is not going to magically create “winning” situations. The problem is not insufficient tech, hardware, or troops. It is bloody impossible to hold hostile territory in the long run – and trying is socio-economically draining. Ask the Romans – demanding tribute engenders animosity. Consult the Brits – colonialism is quite possibly the technique most apt to succeed (create an economic incentive to accept the new rulers), but eventually the colony wants legal and economic independence to get a fair market price for goods. Replacing the government with one that supports you? Germans can tell you how well that works (La Résistance, for instance).

You hold a conquered territory by leaving sufficient military presence to continually re-take the area from the locals. So when I hear someone saying they want to “win” wars … I expect they don’t know exactly what it takes to win. Or what winning even means. Who really wins in a war? Executives and stockholders for companies with multi-million dollar contracts to manufacture equipment whilst remaining safely away from the combat zones.

 

Do you know …

Having a commonly recognized accent often leads to hearing similar illogical thread: Oh, you are from over-yonder-place. Do you know so-and-so. The polite response (“no, I do not”) does nothing to dissuade the asker. I suspect most people want to answer “no, I don’t bloody know David Beckham. There are fifty three million people in bloody England. You’re from Atlanta, do you know Usher?” Which might better get the point across that it is statistically unlikely that I’d know any individual from a country none the less a fairly famous one who, I imagine, has a fairly exclusive social circle.

Evidently it isn’t just accents that prompt this nonsensical assumption. Trump’s press conference today:

Black journalist: “Will you meet with the Congressional Black Caucus?”

Trump: “I would. You want to set up the meeting? Are they friends of yours?”

And he probably thought he was being nice in acquiescing to the meeting. I wish the reporter had responded with a terribly rude and likely honest answer: “No, they aren’t friends of mine. But, as a decently well informed citizen, I am aware of their existence and wanted to know if you planned to meet with them.”

Legal Precedent

This may set an interesting precedent:

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2017/0213/Bowe-Bergdahl-lawyers-say-Trump-s-comments-mean-he-cannot-get-a-fair-trial

Not quite the same as saying the preconceived notions broadcast by the now-CiC of the military branch means it would be impossible to achieve a just result from a military tribunal … but extrapolating a little can any minority get a fair trial in an executive branch run by Trump? Can a woman?

Innocence

“You think our country’s so innocent?” … now Trump was talking about murder, but I am thinking about it in light of Russian interference in the election. We’ve backed regimes coming into power, supported coups overthrowing foreign governments … sometimes both for the same individual (e.g. Ngô Đình Diệm). We distribute propaganda for favoured candidates, obtain and publicize embarrassing information about unfavoured candidates … and with the proliferation of computer technology, I am certain we have used hacking to obtain this information.

Trump’s seems to assume public objection to Russian meddling presupposed the US hasn’t taken the same actions. Not true. It isn’t anger that Russia turned these techniques on us … or even sour grapes that they managed such a stunning success. A significant number of people object to this behaviour when the US does it too — I don’t agree with assassinations, executions, or interference in elections be it by the CIA, MI6, KGB, China’s Ministry of State Security, or any other state security apparatus.

Ideas – not exactly a viral infection

I remember a stir not too long after Obama took office – mid-April 2009. He was attending a conference in South America, and Hugo Chavez gave him a book, “Las Venas Abiertas de America Latina”. And people who were already saying he was a disgraceful president who undertook an apology tour decided that the mere possession of a book chronicling the history of American imperialism in South America was just farther proof of his anti-American beliefs. The whole thing struck me as silly – I’ve read Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto. Managed not to become a Fascist or a Socialist. I’ve read stories about unicorns flying over rainbows too; didn’t turn me into one. I didn’t realize that making oneself aware of opposing viewpoints was so controversial.

What makes me think of this incident now? The problems the UC system has had with Milo Yiannopoulos’ speaking engagements. Discourse is civil discussion of issues with people – even if their opinions differ from ours. Compromise isn’t bullying others into taking up your beliefs. To have an effective governance of a large, incohesive population requires compromise. How can there be any compromise between individuals who fear being made aware of an alternative viewpoint? No matter how abhorrent you find someone’s belief, there is generally a reason for those beliefs. And without understanding the reasons, you have no way to find a path that addresses both people’s desires.

It’s easy to dismiss someone as a white-supremacist. Or a fascist. Or an ape, or any other ad hominem attacks that forestall the type of compromise that is necessary to govern effectively. We’re setting ourselfs up for marginalized minorities (even when there are three million MORE people in the “minority”) or radical swings between left and right leaning governments as they trade off every couple of years and un-do whatever the previous administration has accomplished / mucked up (depending on your point of view).

Educational Philosophy

I was discussing educational philosophy with my mom a few days ago — especially early childhood education, which wasn’t either of our specialties. But as Anya is getting older, it’s becoming relevant. And I’m surprised by the rigorous curriculum adopted by one of the local “elite” preschools around here. It’s got a wait list and enormous price tag. And it ignores a great deal of recent research regarding childhood learning – essentially that very young kids form the neural connections that are needed for formal schooling through free play. Not by getting them to sit down and listen to lectures at an earlier age, not by being told what to do and doing it … but by being left to their own devices to use toys “wrong” and run and climb.

Made me think of my experience with education — and I graduated top ten in my class, so this isn’t just “the school is why I’m failing, not me” complaining. School managed to take all of the fun out of any subject. Not sure if that’s just the Puritanical history of the country dictating that work shouldn’t be fun or just a reality of trying to teach 30 kids in a class.

I love reading. And talking with friends about what I’ve read. I do *not* love reading a few chapters and writing a five page double spaced Arial 12 point text essay on the allegory … you get the idea.

I started University as a history major – but I don’t care as much about the exact date that the Treaty of Versailles was signed as much as the socio-political impact the treaty content had on much of Europe. I don’t want a list of the crusades and their dates – but the cultural impact, the religious impact, hell even the political impact that having a large number of military leaders and men roaming across the continent had “back home”.

Chemistry lab experiments were graded on the % deviation between your results and the predicted outcome. You were essentially being tested on your ability to get exactly 12 milliliters into a container. Or you had the good sense to BS your way through the experiment, calculate the intended results, and reverse engineer your experimental values with a variance somewhere between 91% and 97%.

Art – first of all, I find the idea of grading such a subjective subject to be right silly. Personally, I would have graded on attitude and effort. Someone who lacks hand-eye coordination but put a lot of thought into the media and technique may have made an ugly picture … but they got something from the experience. A talented artist may have fobbed off the class but made a beautiful piece. I have to say, I had a physical education instructor who graded with that exact logic. Someone from the girls’ basketball team could grade poorly in the basketball unit not because they didn’t make baskets but because they were disruptive to class and weren’t trying. Someone who was putting forth a lot of effort but didn’t make any baskets could still get an ‘A’. Usually, though, physical education was graded on one’s ability within specific sports.

Maths and physics become a memorization challenge. Foreign language classes were recitation. Any class – they managed to turn it into an unpleasant experience.