Teenagers are reading and writing…and somehow, that’s bad?

I’m sure you’ve seen this meme or some variation on the theme:
meme-zombies-cell-phones
(ganked from here although I suspect it originated elsewhere)

Ye cats! Young people are staring at cell phones instead of <insert your idea of what young people ought to be doing instead of staring at cell phones here>! I’m not sure which horseman this is, but it’s surely a sign of the collapse of civilization because…well, why?

If you took the phones out of this picture and inserted, say, books or newspapers*, would it seem quite so apocalyptic? Because, you know, cell phones are books plus a whole lot more. The kids in the photo are reading and writing and interacting and basically doing the sort of things grumpy old fogies complain that kids don’t do anymore. Oh sure, they might be watching videos or playing games or listening to music, but that’s called “participating in culture**”, which, again, doesn’t strike me as something we ought to find alarming.

Personally, I don’t see the problem. It seems to me that “reading” and “writing” are useful skills and maybe we ought to encourage their practice rather than explode in a fit of hyperbolic panic about it.

 

 

 

* Ok, this is probably a whole ‘nother subject, but I could not disagree with the linked post more. I agree that “newspapers” and “cell phones” are not literally the same thing, but beyond that? Let’s go point by point:

No one at a table ever reached into their front pocket to pull out a newspaper while you were talking to them.

Well, no, most people didn’t keep their newspapers in their front pocket. On the other hand, I’ve seen the “pull out a newspaper and put it between you and the unwelcome talker” move in countless films and television shows.

Newspapers never vibrated or chimed to get your attention (and no, that waif on the corner shouting “Extra! Extra!” doesn’t count).

I think I’m safe in saying that this distinction is an artifact of the difference in technology rather than any intrinsic difference in the media. By this I mean: I strongly believe that, had it been possible to do so, newspapers would have had this capability. The did, after all, have newsies shouting “Extra! Extra! on the corner. You don’t get to arbitrarily discard information that hurts your argument.

There’s a finite end point to reading a newspaper, and it usually took no longer than 45 minutes to get there.

Again, this is a bug, not a feature. but regardless, don’t see how this is a material difference. A short book has fewer pages than a long one-they’re both books.

But the most important difference is what happens after the newspaper was done: people talked to each other about what they’d just read. They could engage in a civic discourse about the news of the day, because they were all reading the same basic material.

Is the suggestion that people don’t talk about what they read now? Because I think that’s bullshit. Ok, so we’re no longer restricted to a single source of information or a single, local group of people with home to discuss it. People can still have discussions with peer groups if they want to talk about an item with other people who’ve read it. I fail to see how being forced to read a single source is in any way a more desirable thing. These days, people can choose to read the same sources, or they can find other sources. I regard that as an improvement.

I’d also like to add that, as an introvert, having something to read so you aren’t approached by people is a godsend. Newspapers were good, but as the author noted, the amount of material was relatively limited. Having a device I can look at to deflect unwanted attention makes public transportation much easier to take. 

</soapbox>

** And please, don’t stick the word “popular” in front of “culture” in an attempt to make it seem inferior to “Culture-with-a-capital-C.” Classical music, opera, ballet, and their ilk are all fine if you’re in to that sort of thing, but they’re niche forms of entertainment and not representative of modern society’s tastes.

 

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Dark Days In Galt’s Gulch

In what has to be the most-shocking story of the month, Galt’s Gulch, the libertarian enclave in Chile, has suffered a few setbacks. Believe it or not, I find this genuinely upsetting. No matter what I may think about Ayn Rand’s works, seeing idealistic people swindled doesn’t make me happy. This isn’t the first time the promise of an idealistic paradise has cause an emptor to cavefacio, but that doesn’t ease the pain of the True Believer when they realize they’ve been taken in.

So…I went ahead and signed up as a potential buyer at Galt’s Gulch. My investment certainly isn’t imminent, but I could suddenly find myself ridiculously wealthy and eager to invest in Chilean real estate. Stranger things have happened. I just hope the essay section of my application doesn’t deter the sales crew at GGC:

I find this whole thing deeply amusing. The idea of people devoted to the concept of selfishness attempting to form a community is rich with comedic potential. Have you ever noticed that everyone who finds Rand’s ideas appealing believes that they are one of the productive members of society? I feel like as though a colony based entirely on the ideals of quidditch and wizardry would struggle to be as funny although it might have a somewhat greater chance of success.

Wish me luck!

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Trying to keep it positive, but…

There are stories that just get under your skin. Even with all of the sickness and sadness and unbelievably stupid violence in the world right now, nothing has shaken my view that people aren’t hopelessly stupid and are capable of acting decently. I say this even while the appalling events in Ferguson are unfolding. I say this even while Dinesh D’Souza says stupid stuff like (and I paraphrase here) ‘The people who are upset about an unarmed kid being killed by the police are like terrorists.’ I say this even though people like this suspended (but for some reason not fired) cop in St. Louis says “I’m into diversity. I kill everybody, I don’t care.*” Seriously, I can read that and stay positive because it’s obvious that these two folks are idiots and outliers who can be dismissed without serious thought.

This one, though, makes me sad: A 9-year-old accidentally shoots an instructor at a shooting range with a fully-automatic weapon. There’s so much about this that I find just fundamentally wrong that I get dizzy trying to work my way through it. The range in question is apparently some sort of automatic weapon amusement park. They advertise the opportunity to fire the same weapons used in movies like Rambo and The Terminator. They have a cafe called “Bullets and Burgers.” It all feels like the work of a mind completely alien to me.

Don’t get me wrong. As a third grader, I would have LOVED to go to a place that let me shoot the same guns they used in the movies**. But, and I think this distinction is key, third graders are not noted for having the best judgement in the world. In fact, they’re notoriously bad at making decisions about things like this. That’s why this line haunts me:

“Hypothetically” a 9-year-old would be able to shoot a fully-automatic weapon, but it’s a discretionary decision, he said.

In what world is it a good idea for third graders to be shooting live ammunition from a fully automatic weapon? I don’t think I’m going all liberal-hippie on you when I say that I don’t believe that guns are toys. They’re not something to be played with. I struggle trying to understand why this is a discretionary decision.

Maybe that’s the test. If you think giving a loaded, fully-automatic Uzi to a nine-year-old is a “discretionary decision,” you’ve just disqualified yourself from making decisions about children and weapons.

Needless to say, no charges were filed and no citations were issued.

 

* He also said ” If you don’t want to get killed, don’t show up in front of me. I have no problems with it. God did not raise me to be a coward.” Aside from his questionable understanding of how his Christian faith looks upon killers (not favorably), don’t you kind of want to know about his childhood given that “God” raised him?

** But were there any places that had the blasters from Star Wars when I was that age? Nooooooooooo…

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Trolling Google location services

Do you carry an Android phone, or even a tablet? Have I got a treat for you! Give this link a look-see:

Google Location History

Isn’t that cool? If your results are anything like mine, and you’ve had Google location services turned on, you’ll see a map of where you’ve been today. Even better, you can go back and see where you’ve been for quite a ways back.

Of course, if you’re even more like me, you’re running an app like, say, “Location Spoofer“, and your map will extremely accurate and utterly fictitious*. While I’m sure that anyone who really knows what they’re doing would have little difficulty in tracing where I really was, I see no reason to make it any easier for them.

*Yes, I know this makes certain services like weather apps and foursquare and the like less useful, but I can live with that. I generally know what the weather is going to be and I wouldn’t use foursquare if you paid me.

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On Policing In General

The events in Ferguson are as sad as anything I’ve seen inside the United States. I have powerful feelings about what’s going on, but I’m going to refrain from sharing most of them for the time being. Not all of the facts are in, or, if they are, I’m not sure I have them in my possession. I won’t pretend that I haven’t made accusations that were later proven to be ridiculous, but in theory I’ve learned from my mistakes. Time will tell, eh?

However, I would like to share a few general thoughts I have on the nature of policing. Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’m a member of almost every group which has few or no reasons to fear the police in the United States. If my views come across as naive, understand that my experiences with American police have, by and large, been free of tension, fear, handcuffs, and gunfire. My relatively benign experiences my inform my views in ways of which I’m not aware. Ok, with that out of the way, let’s move on.

1. It’s belief that, in exchange for the extraordinary powers granted to them, the police ought to be held to a higher standard with respect to upholding the law and be punished more severely when they transgress against it. People entrusted with enforcing the law ought to be above reproach when it comes to obeying it. If people do not trust that the police in their city follow the same rules they do and are subject to the same punishment, the system starts to crack.

2. In practice, I don’t think that there’s any reason to believe that the law is applied to the police any more strictly than to other citizens. Ian Walsh, among others, suggests that effective immunity from most laws is one of the most important ways that the police are compensated. If this is true (and I suspect it is), then the state of affairs is exactly the opposite of what I believe is ideal. This makes me…angry. If the police are granted this immunity, then they are beholden to the people who gave them the immunity, not to the population at large. This is extremely damaging to public trust, even if it’s only a handful of officer who are involved in this sort of transaction.

3. There is a limit to how much privilege of this sort the public will tolerate. People will put up with it so long as there is some semblance of equal justice. It doesn’t have to actually be equal justice (sadly, I don’t think anyone expects equal justice anymore), but as long as there’s some punishment for wrongdoing, even a little, most folks will go along with it. People will continue to play a rigged game so long as at pays out sometimes. But, as soon as it becomes obvious that there is no justice, that group A can act with impunity against group B and there are zero repercussions, the system collapses. There’s no reason to obey the rules because you’ll be punished anyway and nothing happens to the punishers.

4. Since the enforcers are beholden to the people who granted them immunity to the law, not the public at law, you’ll see them pick a side when the shit hits the fan. Their job is to protect their patrons from everyone else, not to keep the peace. I don’t think this is true of all police and certainly not of all police officers. There does, however, seem to be a pattern of this kind of behavior. Compare the strong police response to the anti-establish Occupy Wall Street movement to their utter indifference to the pro-establishment Tea Party.

5. WARNING: PARANOID CONSPIRACY THEORY HERE! Remember how the federal government outsource activity like, say, torture, in an attempt to get around all of those pesky laws and stuff? Rather than have government employees do, they paid private firms and even other countries to do it for them, which I’m sure is totally legal for reasons at which I cannot begin to guess. Welllll….I was trying to get my head around exactly why it is that so much military hardware is being purchased by police departments. It doesn’t make any sense for anti-terrorist or anti-drug work. But…what if one wanted to utterly violate the posse comitatus act in a plausibly legal fashion? I think this is VERY unlikely to be true, but I’ve yet to hear a plausible explanation of why police departments need military hardware.

So..I’m still working my way through all of this stuff. Ferguson is such a disaster that it’s hard to get everything I’m thinking/feeling/angry-ing at once, so consider this something of a rough draft, or really, just notes I’m taking while I’m trying to work out what is going on, why it broke down, and what this means, if anything, for the future.

 

 

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One of America’s most-accomplished trolls draws me in again

I’m not proud of the fact that, whenever I’m exposed to a Michelle Malkin column, I feel compelled to write something in response. She’s not trying to inform, or persuade, or even make sense; she’s just trying to get a rise out of people and damn it if she doesn’t succeed more often than not. This turd of a column crossed the transom of my consciousness this morning and I’ve been feeling agitated ever since. It’s already been thoroughly and expertly rebutted; there’s really no need to say anything. So, it with no small sense of shame that I’m going to take time out of my Monday morning to write about something that doesn’t merit publication, reading, or consideration.

If you don’t actually want to read the whole thing (and truly, I do not blame you), I’ll try to summarize it for you: Malkin takes Hollywood celbrities, Al Sharpton, “demagogues decrying systemic racism”, narcissistic liberal journalists, and hipster colleges kids for believing that race had something to do with the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Then, she…well, I’ll let you read it for yourself:

Here’s a reality check. While narcissistic liberal journalists and college kids are all posting “Hands Up” selfies in hipster solidarity with Ferguson protesters, it’s law enforcement officers who risk their lives in “war zones” every day across the country.

You see what she did there? Without explicitly stating it, she made the claim that ‘kids being killed by racists cops aren’t the problem, it’s the cops whose lives are truly in danger.’ Before going any further into this Gish gallop of a piece, we have to address the most damning problem with Malkin’s proposition: The fact that police do, in fact, have dangerous jobs, has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not racism played a role in Brown’s killing. Not. One. Damn. Thing. It’s a not-particularly-clever attempt to deflect the argument.

You can understand why she’d want to toss a red herring into the discussion: There is a mountain of evidence that law enforcement is racially skewed in the United States (click herehere, here, here*, or here for a few easily retrieved examples). Frankly, I struggle to believe that anyone who has ever so much as visited the United States would be unaware of the bias in law enforcement.

So, yeah, the premise that police have dangerous jobs somehow means we shouldn’t talk about the systemic racism in law enforcement if stupid. But, if you think I’m letting you off that easily, you don’t know me very well.

Malkin goes on to note that one police office dies “in the line of duty” every 58 hours. This statistic is accurate, but terribly misleading for a couple of reasons. One is that she is using a 10 year average which tends to overstate the current death rate, which is down 50% from that level. The other, far more serious, problem with her statistic is obvious when you look at the page. The numbers include all deaths in the line of duty, not just deaths from violent attacks or even deaths related to the police work. I’m not saying that these deaths aren’t genuinely sad, but rather that deaths by heart attack in the line of duty don’t really tell us much about how dangerous it is to be a policeman.

Even if we use these numbers, exactly how dangerous is police work compared to other jobs? Well, using 2013 numbers, 105 officers died in the line of duty. How many officers are there? There were ~1.22 million federal, state, and local, in the United States in 2013. That’s a rate of 8.6 per 100,000. How does that compare to other jobs? It’s high, but it’s nowhere near the highest. It’s below construction (10.8/100,000), transportation (16.3) and well behind mining (27.8) and agriculture/forestry/fishing/hunting (29.6).

But, to close this out properly, let’s compare the death rate of police officers, to, say, black children and teenagers. That seems fair, right? It turns out that a black child or teenager dies by gun violence every three hours. Even if we assume that “gun violence” is the only cause of death among black children or teenagers (and you know it isn’t), that means that “being a black child or teenager” is just over 19 times more dangerous than being a police officer.**

So, seriously, if Michelle Malkin were intellectually honest…you know, there’s no point in even completing that statement, is there? For what it’s worth, I believe that police have horrifically dangerous job, I am thankful for the sacrifices officers make to protect me, and I believe that there’s institutional racism in law enforcement. There’s nothing mutually exclusive about those beliefs. Malkin I’m certain, knows this but doesn’t care. She’s just trying to get a reaction.

And she just did. Well played, Michelle. Well played.

 

* OK, this one’s really about racism within the police departments. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb here to suggest that cops who are racist to their co-workers are likely racist in their enforcement of the law.

** I know full well that I’m not taking the number of black children and teenagers into account which isn’t exactly cricket, but, in fairness, Malkin uses the raw number, not the rate, so it’s very much an apples to apples, right?

 

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Progress report

I’ve contacted several city governments concerning their purchases of certain items (no hints yet) and I’m waiting on a response from all of them. There’s actually a pleasant degree of transparency in city purchasing. The trick is to figure out how these items are named and coded on the relevant documents. I hope to have something concrete to report by the end of next week.

I say “hope” because they’re was a certain reluctance in the voice of each and every clerk once they understood what I was asking for. That suggests I’m on the right track, no?

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Please consider helping Paul Galusha

EDIT: I messed up the donation link. It should be correct now.

This is the sort of story that makes me sick to my stomach. Paul Galusha of Pensacola, Florida, was driving his wife’s car when a city services truck ran a stop sign and ran into him. The car was totaled and Galusha suffered serious injuries.

I won’t recount the whole store here, but the bottom line is that this accident was ruinous for Paul and his wife and the city of Pensacola has refused to even consider covering the amount of damage they did to these people. It’s a really ugly legal situation that makes it almost impossible for the Galushas to even get back to where they were. As it is, they’re faced with crippling debt because of something the city did and the city isn’t stepping up to take responsibility.

If you have the time, please click this link for contact information for the city council in Pensacola. If you have the money, the page gives you a way to donate to these folks. I don’t know them personally, but it could just as easily have been you, or me, or someone we know.

Pensacola’s mayor, Aston Hayward, has promised to “run the city like a business.” Fortunately, cities aren’t businesses and are, in theory, accountable to voters. Help me prove that theory. Let them know how you feel, the louder the better. And, if you live in Pensacola, I urge you to vote against anyone in city government who doesn’t actively attempt to right this wrong.

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On a jet plane with Sarah Palin (figuratively speaking)

This is one of those “Hey, I’m writing from a plane” posts. Can’t wait to be back home. I have Things To Do. However, first things first: My inbox has been filling up with commentary on the early days of the Sarah Palin channel. The passage that’s been drawing the most interest is this one, Palin’s response to Elizabeth Warren’s claim that fast food workers should earn a living wage.

“We believe — wait, I thought fast food joints — don’t you guys think that they’re like of the devil or something? Liberals, you want to send those evil employees who would dare work at a fast food joint that you just don’t believe in — I don’t know, I thought you wanted to send them to purgatory or something. So they all go vegan. And wages and picket lines, I don’t know, they’re not often discussed in purgatory are they? I don’t know, why are you even worried about fast food wages? Well, we believe — an America where minimum wage jobs, they’re not lifetime gigs, they’re stepping stones to sustainable wages. It teaches work ethic.”

Let me start by saying that most extemporaneous speech looks pretty silly when its transcribed word-for-word. Style wise, I’ll give her a pass. She’s not very good at this, but I wouldn’t consider it a damning failure.

As for the content…look, this is Sarah Palin we’re talking about here. Her schtick is to act folksy and mix in as many buzzwords as she can in the time allotted. It’s nonsense, and not in the “oh piffle, she’s saying things that aren’t true or I don’t agree with” sense. The words she’s saying literally have no meaning. If you try to string together logical propositions from a Sarah Palin speech, you’ll fail, because they just aren’t there. That’s always been true of her and there’s no reason to expect her to be any different now that she has her own vanity project.

Mostly, I’m just tired of her. She hasn’t improved at anything since bursting onto the public stage six years ago. I watched one episode of her show. She’s not a better speaker, she’s doesn’t appear to have learned anything new, she can’t interact with other people. In short, she doesn’t add anything to the discussion. She just is, and that’s not enough for me want to pay any more attention to her.

Says the guy who just wrote a whole post about her…

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A quick one (while I’m away)

I’ve been doing some traveling and, while I love this weird, fever dream version of what we used to call a “telephone”, it isn’t terribly conducive to writing anything beyond one hundred and forty-odds characters. That said, I’ve noticed a disturbing feature that had quietly become ubiquitous in American cities that I find disturbing. I’d like to do a little research before I post anything, and, as luck would have it, I’ve acquired a couple of contacts who ought to be able to help. So…be patient. I think I have something good in the works.

Oh, and I still need to say something about the U.S supreme court’s curious compulsion to embrace the fallacy of composition, but I need a proper keyboard, our at least a Bluetooth one that works well with android,  to get that one down on non-paper. On the off chance you were wondering what to get uncle Pancakes for his birthday…

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