28 January, 2020

Kobe Bryant and Complicated Legacies

Kobe Bryant, you have probably heard, died in a helicopter crash today, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and several other people who have not yet been identified. It’s a terrible, heartbreaking tragedy, another reminder that even those who seem iconic are not invincible. It’s all the more tragic that a little girl lost her life. There is such an outpouring of grief for Kobe — as there should be — and I know we are all also thinking of that little girl and her mom and her sisters. What an absolute heartbreak.
I’m not a basketball fan, nor a Kobe fan, but I understand the irrational impact a celebrity death can have on even a distant admirer. We live in what feels like an increasingly cynical culture. That there is something about the young, beautiful, talented and famous that still thrills us is less a sign that we’re shallow and more that we’re still optimistic, still capable of being awed. Kobe was a young man, one of the greatest athletes in the world, someone whose beauty and grace and power on the court was, even for total amateurs like me, still so very obvious and so very stunning. He was only 41, a father, a son, a husband, a friend — outside of his celebrity, he was a person, known and beloved by other people. They are grieving today, and my heart hurts for them.
And also.
You know the and also, don’t you? That Kobe Bryant raped a woman? I know, I know, it was not proven in a court of law. I know, I know, they settled the case, she got a payout — but not before having her real identity splashed all over the tabloids and radio, being hounded by Kobe’s most vicious fans, seeing her whole life crack apart, being tarred as that kind of woman trying to take down such a good, talented, admirable man.
My heart hurt for her then. It hurts for her now.

Smoking-gun evidence emerges for racial bias in American courts

Prior to 2010, anyone caught with more than 50 grams of crack faced a 10 year minimum sentence. After that year, a person caught with below 280 grams could get up to five years and someone caught with more than that amount could get 10 years.
Before 2010, the distributions of amounts people allegedly possessed in charging papers followed a normal distribution. Moreover, the amounts were the same for both white and black people. But after 2010, prosecutors started accusing black people - but not white people - of having exactly 280 grams of crack (i.e. the amount at which the charge doubles).
See this chart. (below)
Moreover, this change didn't occur uniformly across the US. It specifically occurred in states where people are more likely to Google search for racial slurs. In other words, the charging disparity cleanly matches with other, independent, evidence of racial bias. You can see a chart of those states here.
So unless you think black people randomly started carrying exactly 280 grams of crack in 2010, this cuts a huge hole in the argument that there are more black people in jail because black people commit more crimes. This shows that charging authorities go out of their way to accuse black people of more sever crimes under facts where they would charge white people more leniently.

26 January, 2020

Whatever Happened to ______ ?

Then, “If you’re good at it, work hard. If you’re original…cream rises.”
That’s possibly true, too, I concede. I’ve heard about cream rising before, in workshops and rejection slips. Very likely, it happens.
The implied corollary is that if you can’t make it, you’re not good enough. It’s a bootstraps philosophy.
Then I think about a particular pack of white men in Hollywood, how wealthy they are and have been for so long, and the famously wealthy neighborhood where at least one of them lives, and the single lunch I was fortunate to enjoy with a cluster of actors and one showrunner, before my idea — a successful indie novel — was lifted almost whole cloth, lightly disguised, and the main character’s gender switched to suit their needs. A show’s concept instantly emerged among these men, and their show had more than strong parallels to the work of mine we’d been discussing; I was turned into an unacknowledged muse, crushing a movie deal my publisher and I spent years establishing.
In interviews, the famous men said they’d been in a bind, running out of ideas, with the clock ticking on a deal already in place that they were struggling to fulfill. The idea came to them out of virtually nowhere.
They looked after themselves. It had nothing to do with who was or wasn’t, creatively, “cream.” Honestly, s**t floats, too.

22 January, 2020

BeeGravy on War

But, its only the modern era veterans that get shit on for it. That get called racist. By people that have no idea what we did, or who we are. I'm not going to lie and say no innocent civilians were killed, its war, it happens, but I can say the men I served with, we took casualties because we tried so hard to not hurt innocent people. We took casualties when we brought supplies and food and books and toys to the civilians. We could have been thr monsters we are labelled as now, but we werent, we thought we were doing a good thing, we didn't know ISIS would pop up 10 years later. We didnt know how our govt was going to handle the war. We just did our job, and tried not to lose our humanity while doing it. We tried not to hate the entire population, because we couldn't understand why they would blow us up or set traps for us, when we werent trying to hurt them. Some guys do hate them all, they could have warned us, thet could have turned on the insurgents, they should have fought for their country so we didnt have to.. but I at least realize its deeper and harder than that. I still dont hold any grudge.
I dont wish war upon anyone really, but I do wish people would understand how devastating war is for everyone involved.

20 January, 2020

Unless you are raising a special needs child, you don’t understand.

Unless you are raising a child with special needs, you don’t know what it is like to take everything you thought you knew about parenting and throw it out the window.
Standard parenting strategies work with my other children. Consistency and loving discipline are the key. Not with this child. 
This child doesn’t respond to time outs.
He doesn’t respond to typical consequences.
Spankings only exasperate the situation.
Rewards do little to help improvement. 
New strategies are needed, and they are hard to discover and hard to implement as a united front. There is a lot of trial and error. Failed attempts at discipline are the norm. Defeat is a reality. Yet determination and love persist.
Unless you are raising a child with special needs, you don’t know what it is like to yearn for normal. 

19 January, 2020

High-Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty, While High School Grads Line Up For University

In a new report, the Washington State Auditor found that good jobs in the skilled trades are going begging because students are being almost universally steered to bachelor's degrees.

Among other things, the Washington auditor recommended that career guidance — including choices that require less than four years in college — start as early as the seventh grade.

"There is an emphasis on the four-year university track" in high schools, said Chris Cortines, who co-authored the report. Yet, nationwide, three out of 10 high school grads who go to four-year public universities haven't earned degrees within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. At four-year private colleges, that number is more than 1 in 5.

"Being more aware of other types of options may be exactly what they need," Cortines said. In spite of a perception "that college is the sole path for everybody," he said, "when you look at the types of wages that apprenticeships and other career areas pay and the fact that you do not pay four years of tuition and you're paid while you learn, these other paths really need some additional consideration."

And it's not just in Washington state.

On "why does he do that? Inside the minds of angry and controlling men.”

The problem is that their main belief system is that “feelings cause action”. So they blame their actions on their feelings. And they think that you caused their feelings. So they never have to take responsibility in their mind... But if you put yourself in their shoes, would you start hitting people or calling people mean names if you were “angry”? No, you wouldn’t. They just lack empathy and gain too much from their abuse, so they see no reason to change. Why would they change when their manipulation and intimidation makes everyone bend backwards to their will?

18 January, 2020

Andrew Roberts’s Leadership in War: An Antidote to Cynicism

A reassuring conclusion of Leadership in War is that we don’t — and that, in fact, morally repugnant individuals are inherently less successful war leaders. Roberts’s chapter on Hitler is a tour de force of historical portraiture. Forget the clich├ęs about his bewitching charisma, Hitler was an absurd, boorish, banal, vainglorious, misogynistic “little weirdo,” incapable of normal human interactions, uncomfortable in anything approaching debate or discussion, hooked on juvenile conspiracy theories of all kinds, and whose ideas would not have stood up to 30 minutes of serious television interview. Both his and Stalin’s chronic insecurity, personal cruelty, and cynicism born of their guiding concepts of race and class wars, caused them to make errors and miscalculations at critical decision points in the war. They were all but incapable of taking on others’ ideas; or of operating within an alliance, habitually inclined, as they were to view their partners’ behavior not as goodwill to be reciprocated but as weakness to be exploited.

The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It

While the company was dodging me, it was also monitoring me. At my request, a number of police officers had run my photo through the Clearview app. They soon received phone calls from company representatives asking if they were talking to the media — a sign that Clearview has the ability and, in this case, the appetite to monitor whom law enforcement is searching for.

Facial recognition technology has always been controversial. It makes people nervous about Big Brother. It has a tendency to deliver false matches for certain groups, like people of color. And some facial recognition products used by the police — including Clearview’s — haven’t been vetted by independent experts.

Clearview’s app carries extra risks because law enforcement agencies are uploading sensitive photos to the servers of a company whose ability to protect its data is untested.[...]

“I’ve come to the conclusion that because information constantly increases, there’s never going to be privacy,” Mr. Scalzo said. “Laws have to determine what’s legal, but you can’t ban technology. Sure, that might lead to a dystopian future or something, but you can’t ban it.”

16 January, 2020

Mohammed bin Zayed’s Dark Vision of the Middle East’s Future

Even as he cracked down on the Brotherhood, M.B.Z. was working on a far more ambitious project: building a state that would show up the entire Islamist movement by succeeding where it had failed. Instead of an illiberal democracy — like Turkey’s — he would build its opposite, a socially liberal autocracy, much as Lee Kuan Yew did in Singapore in the 1960s and ’70s. He began with Abu Dhabi’s Civil Service, which was afflicted with many of the same ills as those of other Arab countries: bloat and inefficiency, with connections and family reputation playing a bigger role in hiring than merit. These features were partly a legacy of the Egyptian strongman Gamal Abdel Nasser, who built a dysfunctional prototype in the 1950s that was copied everywhere.
M.B.Z. deployed a group of young, talented people and authorized them to smash up the bureaucracy. Over the next few years, they fired tens of thousands of employees and reassigned many others, streamlining the state. Between 2005 and 2008, the Abu Dhabi government went from 64,000 people to just 7,000. At the same time, he began harnessing Abu Dhabi’s vast capital reserves to build up a non-oil economy. Using a new sovereign wealth fund called Mubadala, he attracted new industries, creating job opportunities that would help train the local population. He honed his progressive image by including women in his cabinet. Mubadala created an aerospace-and-aviation hub in Al Ain where 86 percent of the workers are women.

15 January, 2020

Rep. Justin Amash: ‘Most Members of Congress Don’t Think Anymore’

Why has Congress gradually abdicated this role in terms of war powers?It’s consistent with rank-and-file members abdicating almost their entire role. On ordinary legislative matters, most members of Congress don’t think anymore. They just follow whatever they’re told by their leadership. This is just a more extreme version of that. There is not a strong incentive — at least not a strong political incentive — to take a position. They prefer to have the president decide these matters and then they can later say, “Yeah, I supported it,” or, “No, I opposed it,” without actually having to take a vote and go on the record. It prevents them from ever having to take responsibility for whatever happens.
I think a lot of members of Congress are used to that lifestyle and they like it. They don’t want responsibility. They want the job, not the responsibility.

The Cilantro-Eater

It’s just that it’s already in some of the foods I like the most, the most fragrant and vivid foods, it’s in everything Thai and Mexican and half the world’s best dishes besides, and to have to scrunch up your face and ask, “Does this come with —? Do you mind if I ask —?” is degrading to the palate and dispiriting to every dining companion, who know it’s not your fault because of your soap-genes, but can’t help but hold it against you regardless. I must have done something to deserve it. Something unadventurous and unwelcoming, something foreboding and oafish is knit into my DNA, and my tongue bears the truth. The tongue is the mirror of the soul, and I can taste Hell.
I’ve already given up so much. Please, just don’t let there be any this time. If there’s not any this time, I’ll be so careful from now on, I promise. Every time, I’ll ask. Every time, I’ll find a way just to quickly and casually ask, or not even ask, just let them know, “I can’t eat cilantro,” and I’ll only apologize once, not compulsively, and the rest of the dinner will roll on into the evening like a lovely, broad stream, with everyone wading into it together.

10 January, 2020

Why Are We So Sick? Reflections on the state of health of my community.

The CDC has said that only 9% of Americans eat enough vegetable
s, that 3% of us eat enough fiber. I’ve read studies that show that ~50% of kids arrive to school dehydrated, which shrinks the brain, diminishes test scores, and inhibits a whole host of metabolic processes (1). We know that we are spending too much time on screens, which is disrupting our circadian rhythms, which undoubtedly is contributing to our collective sleep problems.
This is deserving of a whole post, but just to be clear: I do not believe that consumer choice is the most compelling explanation of this situation. In a world where 91% of us do not eat enough vegetables, “choice” — as my doctor says — “is a fiction.” Much more interesting is this question: How on earth did we create a society where vegetables are Rich People Food?

08 January, 2020


In our week-long drive, security was tight - we often couldn't stay to chat for long. But people told us they have interacted for years with North Koreans across the river.

07 January, 2020

On recent events


There's a famous quote from a French diplomat Tallyrand that I can't get out of my head. Napolean arrested and executed Louis Antoine de Bourbon on flimsy pretenses, a man who stood in his way, a tyrannical act and a crime. Tallyrand noted in the moment. "This is worse than a crime... This is a mistake." It was tyrannical, but worse, it betrayed his intent to the world, and the blunder showed weakness - and others immediately began plotting against him.

Jen Garner is all of us

06 January, 2020

The False Romance of Russia

In his landmark 1981 book, Political Pilgrims: Travels of Western Intellectuals to the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, Paul Hollander wrote of the hospitality showered on sympathetic Western visitors to the Communist world: the banquets in Moscow thrown for George Bernard Shaw, the feasts laid out for Mary McCarthy and Susan Sontag in North Vietnam. But his conclusion was that these performances were not the key to explaining why some Western intellectuals became enamored of communism. Far more important was their estrangement and alienation from their own cultures: “Intellectuals critical of their own society proved highly susceptible to the claims put forward by the leaders and spokesmen of the societies they inspected in the course of these travels.”
Hollander was writing about left-wing intellectuals in the 20th century, and many such people are still around, paying court to left-wing dictators in Venezuela or Bolivia who dislike America. There are also, in our society as in most others, quite a few people who are paid to help America’s enemies, or to spread their propaganda. There always have been.

04 January, 2020

Worker Voices: Technology and the Future for Workers

For many workers, the future is already here. Food, retail, and grocery workers have witnessed rapid change in recent years, especially in the front end of their stores. Most feel they lack a voice in these changes and feel pessimistic about the future for humans in their stores. Advancing technological change is not occurring in a vacuum, but rather in a time of increasing economic precarity and inequality; unequal care and domestic burdens; and the rootedness, responsibilities, and stories of workers’ lives. Low pay and economic insecurity sharply limit workers’ ability to prepare for—and access—a better future of work, and women face many barriers. Workers are thinking about, and responding to the possibilities of a technologically enabled and dehumanized future in the context of their current situations. The current educational and workforce systems make career transitions extremely difficult, and workers often have trouble acquiring the skills and credentials they desire. Policymakers will improve the odds of building effective programs by paying attention to the wider human context and by addressing the needs of a greater diversity of workers who will shoulder the greatest burden of the change.

02 January, 2020