Sunday, June 26, 2016

White Supremacists Attacked in Sacramento


Things got violent and bloody in downtown Sacramento this afternoon not more than five miles away from my house. A white supremacist group assembled in front of the state capitol building to demonstrate white power or some such idea, and they were met by a large group of protesters who physically clashed with them.

I don't know all the details, but as of this writing, I understand that at least five people were transported to the hospital with stab wounds and/or other injuries, and two of the victims were said to be in serious if not critical condition. I've also read unconfirmed reports that the victims in question were all protesters stabbed and/or clubbed by the white supremacist demonstrators in self-defense.

In any case, the video I've seen shows quite the melee. It took state police on horses and city police to break it up. And in one video, I saw a young Asian woman representing the protesters triumphantly saying words to the effect that white supremacists aren't welcome to march in Sacramento and that if they do, they'll be turned away forcefully if need be.

As you might expect, Facebook abounded with a spectrum of opinion about the confrontation. Some blamed Donald Trump for creating a climate of anger and hatred. Others said the dastardly supremacists got what they deserved, with one of my "friends" calling the female Asian protester a "heroine" and saying, "To arms if necessary." Others said that while they detested the white supremacist message, they believed that everyone has a right to nonviolently express their opinion without being physically attacked. And then there were those who went further and excoriated the evil liberals who think only they have a right to free speech and that everyone who disagrees with them should be silenced in any and every way necessary. Before you knew it, the commenters were busy insulting each other. Suffice it to say that these kinds of discussions seldom bring out the best in humankind, and this was no exception.

I agree with those who said that the skinhead supremacists had a right to march nonviolently without being assaulted and battered. But I can also empathize with those who say that some views are so repulsive and provocative that they shouldn't be tolerated. I admit that a part of me felt a hint of glee that those odious supremacists were attacked. For not only were some of them injured, but the police prevented them from marching and dispersed them after the violence broke out. But another part of me felt saddened that people were seriously hurt by the violence and that human beings can't disagree with one another without turning physically and verbally violent about it.

Next time, if there is a next time, let the white supremacists march, and either just ignore them or hand them flowers and figuratively shower them with love bombs. But don't give them any grounds for legitimizing their derogation of non-whites and their liberal supporters.

But what if they were the local pastor and his congregation at a gay parade shouting and waving signs to the effect that all gays should be rounded up by the federal government and shot by firing squad? Or what if they were NAMBLA members demonstrating for the right of men to have legal sex with young boys? Or what if it was a group of white skinheads in Ferguson, Missouri marching down the street yelling "Ni**ers" when race relations there were already running very hot?

I guess a principled person would say that they should have that right no matter how provocative their demonstration happens to be, but one would nevertheless be hard-pressed to blame protesters for posing very vociferous if not physically violent opposition to them.

I just hope that if this sort of thing has to happen somewhere else, it doesn't happen anymore in my fair city.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Preliminary Thoughts on Brexit


Brexit seems to be the world's biggest story at the moment. The British people have voted in a referendum to exit from the European Union, and in the immediate aftermath of this momentous decision, ripples of uncertainty and chaos are coursing through the economies and politics of many nations.

I've done some reading about what Brexit is and what it's likely to mean for the UK and the world, but I'd be the first to admit that I know very little of what there is to know about the whole thing. And it seems pretty clear to me that even those who know vastly more about it than I do don't begin to know for sure what's going to happen as a result of it.

Some on one far end are predicting enduring economic and political catastrophe. Some at the other far end are predicting economic and political nirvana for the UK and for other nations that extricate themselves from the centralized mismanagement and evil of globalization and open immigration.

As for me, I'm intellectually agnostic and taking a wait and see attitude about it. But emotionally I'm angry about Brexit, and I haven't been reticent to focus that anger on a Facebook friend of mine who voted for Brexit and is happy as hell that it passed.

I think what I'm so angry about is that I see the British vote as largely the result of a misguided populism fanned by power-hungry demagogues appealing to the deeply entrenched tribalism, racism, nativism, isolationism, and simplemindedness of large swaths of the population, much like Donald Trump is doing in this country, and I hate it, just hate it.

But then I think that, aside from momentary ill effects of Brexit on our own economy, I really don't have good reason to care all that much about what happens in the UK. It's their country and their decision to make, and I need to stop engaging in one of my most frustratingly ineffectual pastimes--trying to control what others think and do.

I admit that I do have concerns that what happened in the UK could presage a Donald Trump presidency. After all, just as pollsters here are predicting that Hillary Clinton will win November's election, I think pollsters in the UK were predicting that Brexit would not prevail there, and look what happened.

I read an article somewhere arguing that the two situations aren't equivalent because whereas Brexit is largely the result of activated racism on the part of many if not most of those who voted for it, Trump's largely racist message of blocking immigration and condemning radical Islam will not win enough hearts and minds of our much more racially and ethnically diverse electorate to get him elected. However, I'm not so sanguine about this.

But the bottom line, as I see it now, is that frustration, anger, and fear about what Brexit means for the UK, the world, and the USA won't help me or anyone else. So, it's time to bring my emotions in harmony with my intellect and go on about my business.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What Kinds of Guns and How Much Gun Control Do We Need?


In the wake of the recent, terrible massacre in Orlando, House Democrats and Republicans worked together to author and pass a bill that would have imposed modest restrictions on legal gun sales to certain people deemed a credible threat for gun violence. Presumably the passing of this measure would have prevented the Orlando mass-murderer from legally obtaining the weapons he used to kill 49 people and wound 53.

But the bipartisan supporters of this bill were unable to secure the number of votes necessary to overcome procedural blockage to bringing the bill before the entire House for a vote, and the subsequent 25-hour Democratic sit-in aimed at appealing to the public and the rest of Congress to have the bill brought up for a vote was eventually swept aside by Republican House Speaker Ryan, and the Republican controlled House of Representatives continued on with business as usual blocking all gun reform.

Discussions I've seen since then on Facebook and elsewhere continue to plow the same fruitless ground, and, frankly, I don't know what to think. What if any restrictions should be placed on gun ownership? Who should be allowed to own guns and related accessories, what kinds of guns and accessories should they be allowed to own, who decides, and who enforces the decisions? And would implementing stronger gun control measures on a state-by-state or federal scale significantly diminish gun deaths and violence in a country plagued with gun deaths and violence?

Both sides of the issue marshal statistics to support their cause, and, especially given my uneasy familiarity with such maxims as "Figures lie and liars figure," I don't know what to make of them. The "pro-gun" people cite figures that gun ownership stops more crime than it causes; their opponents argue the opposite with their own figures.

And then, of course, "pro-gun" people cite the Second Amendment as ironclad proof that virtually every American citizen has a right to own guns, despite the counterargument that the Second Amendment refers only to gun ownership in a "well-regulated militia" and was authored at a time when muzzle-loading muskets were the standard firearm and posed far, far less of a threat for mass-shootings than assault style semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines do today.

But the impression I get from discussing this issue at any length with ardent "pro-gun" people is that the real reason to make widespread gun ownership free and easy is not because of the Second Amendment or as a means of deterring or stopping crime, but as a way of deterring or stopping the federal government from tyrannizing the American people.

That's right, if Obama or some godless Democratic president ever gets it in his or her head that we should all be thrown into concentration camps or subjected to complete government oppression, we can grab our assault weapons and fight off the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, National Guard, and Seal Team 6, and retain our freedoms as true-blue, flag-waving, apple pie devouring Americans.

In fact, one person on Facebook said, with less dramatic elaboration, this very thing to me this morning. And I responded by asking him whether, in order to counteract the awesome weaponry of the U.S. military, private citizens should be allowed, if they can afford it, to possess the same weaponry as the U.S. military, including fully automatic weapons, flame throwers, tanks, cluster bombs, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, and so forth. For if not, how credible a deterrent can the American people offer to a military takeover, and, if so, what danger would we be in from religious and political zealots and the mentally ill armed with military grade weapons of mass destruction?

I never got an answer from him. He just kept going back to the Second Amendment. I know the Supreme Court has traditionally interpreted the Second Amendment as granting private citizens outside "well-regulated militias" the right to "bear arms," but I guess I need to investigate the legal rationale for this as it seems to me very clear from reading the words alone that this right applies only to citizens manning said militias.

Aside from that, I'd like to see probing discussion in the media and elsewhere of the very issue I raise about which weapons private citizens should be allowed to own in order to deter or stop government tyranny, because I can't say that I've seen much or any such discussion.

I personally don't see compelling reason for why we shouldn't prohibit the sale and ownership of all assault style weaponry, high capacity magazines, and military type body armor, except, perhaps, with well-regulated exceptions, or why we shouldn't impose draconian sanctions on those who defy these prohibitions or, at least, who commit crimes using prohibited weaponry and accessories. People can still defend themselves with more modest weapons like conventional shotguns, hunting rifles, revolvers, and semi-automatic handguns, and they can still indulge their passion for recreational shooting or their need to hunt for food to put on the table without wielding AR-15's with 75-round drums.

These are just preliminary thoughts of mine about this perennial issue of gun control. Maybe I'll have more to say after I've investigated the matter further.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Are the Intellectually Mediocre Truly Oppressed?


I posted yesterday about an online magazine piece asserting that high intelligence is fetishized in this society while lack thereof is mocked and unfairly disadvantaged. And no sooner had I shared a link to that piece on Facebook than a thoughtful Facebook friend of mine largely disagreed with its thesis.

According to him, the media caters to stupid people with stupid "news" and entertainment content, politicians such as Donald Trump successfully appeal to the lowest common denominator in intelligence and thoughtfulness with the crassest and most simplistic political nonsense and manipulations, and stupid, thoughtless people show no shame in asserting their stupid, thoughtless opinions on Facebook and everywhere else. If anything, my friend opines, stupid, thoughtless people dominate political and other kinds of discourse in this country while intelligent, thoughtful people are given short shrift.

I concede that he may be right in some respects, but I think the article and my blogpost about it are also correct that people of average to below-average overall intelligence and/or academic achievement are looked down on and disadvantaged by a society that increasingly views high intelligence as the touchstone of human worth and which affords less and less opportunity to the intellectually and academically mediocre to earn a decent living and flourish.

Yes, the media and politicians will cater to and thereby reinforce mediocrity if there's money and power to be had from it, but this doesn't mean that those who control the media and society at large respect intellectually or academically mediocre individuals or that the mediocre consequently respect themselves and aren't filled with conscious to subliminal self-loathing, and it could and has been argued that strong support for the likes of Donald Trump and the ostentatious embrace of fundamentalist religion and racist, sexist, jingoistic, and simplistic conservative politics is at least partly the result of a backlash against feeling scorned and oppressed by the liberal intelligentsia.

In other words, I think both The Atlantic piece and my friend are right about what are two largely separate but concurrent phenomena.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

We Can't All Be Smart



"As recently as the 1950s, possessing only middling intelligence was not likely to severely limit your life’s trajectory...The 2010s, in contrast, are a terrible time to not be brainy...We must stop glorifying intelligence and treating our society as a playground for the smart minority. We should instead begin shaping our economy, our schools, even our culture with an eye to the abilities and needs of the majority, and to the full range of human capacity...Smart people should feel entitled to make the most of their gift. But they should not be permitted to reshape society so as to instate giftedness as a universal yardstick of human worth."
I just read an outstanding piece in The Atlantic that addresses an issue that's concerned me for some time. It decries the glorification of smart people and the corresponding derogation of not-so-smart people in our increasingly meritocratic society.

It says that while having a high IQ and/or high academic performance indicators is increasingly the gateway to the better jobs, people with lower IQ's and/or academic achievement indicators are perfectly capable of doing some of those jobs as well as anybody, but not only do they not get the chance, but they're also looked down on and even made fun of with impunity.

The article also points out that not everybody has the innate ability to score well on standard IQ or SAT tests or to graduate with honors from high school and college, and that it isn't fair for a society to essentially determine a person's worth on the basis of these standards and to award all the spoils to those who excel in them.

Yes, great head start programs can help elevate socioeconomically disadvantaged kids to higher IQ scores and academic performance, but we don't spend enough and hire and train enough capable people to produce enough uniformly excellent programs of this type. And, yes, better programs to find gifted children in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas and to provide them with educational enrichment to make the most of their superior potential can help them to do just that.

But none of this will help the lot of us who can't be molded into smart people by any special interventions. What's to become of us?

The article recommends that we should have more schools for solid vocational training. There are still plenty of fairly well-paying jobs for people with strong skills in non-academic areas that don't require conventionally high IQ's. However, one problem is that the few schools that now specialize in this kind of training still admit a disproportionate number of applicants on the basis of high academic performance.

And then there's the problem the article doesn't address of what to do with freaks like me. I've written ad nauseum in this blog about my learning challenges, so there's no need to elaborate here except to say that while my verbal IQ and fluency is relatively high, my overall cognitive functioning is severely compromised by my very low nonverbal ability, making me and people like me unfit for vocational training for most "skilled" jobs and hindered enough even in academic areas to be incapable of excelling there either.

I don't know what the answer is to the issues the article and I raise. All I know is that not all of us are or can be made smart enough to "make it" in a society that seems to be obsessed with high IQ's and academic performance and in which more and more of the jobs that remain after an increasing number of others are displaced by automation will undeniably require high IQ's. And I think we as a society need to find ways not only to make sure that those of us who aren't in the shrinking, privileged, intellectual minority can still survive and flourish economically, but that we are also not disparaged and excluded for being less than brilliant.

Human worth is or should be seen as a beautiful quality intrinsic to all persons, and everyone should be esteemed and treated accordingly. And to those who say, "In a perfect world, this might be possible, but in THIS world it is not," I would say, "Isn't part of the gift and purpose of humankind to dream things that never were and ask 'Why not?' and to work to make them so?"

Monday, June 20, 2016

No More Basketball in My Life


I used to watch a fair amount of NBA basketball and was a big Warriors and Lakers fan over most of that time. But I gradually lost most of my interest in NBA or any other level of basketball until the Warriors won the NBA championship last season and appeared to be on their way to winning another this season with the most exciting game and player in the game. 

They did set the all-time regular season record this season by winning 73 games and losing only 9, but toward the end of the regular season and then in the playoffs they began to falter.

I'm not sure why this happened. There are probably many interacting reasons: Other teams adjusted to what they were doing. Stephen Curry suffered some injuries that compromised his remarkable shooting and ball handling skills. They were physically and psychologically depleted after pursuing and setting the regular season record. They lacked the "length" and raw athleticism that tend to favor teams in very hard-fought NBA playoff games. Etc, etc.

The Warriors lost the seventh game in Oakland to the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James last night, and it and the whole series really pissed me off. They were up 3-1 in the series and allowed Cleveland to come back and beat them three games in a row. 

And it seems like they virtually handed some of those games to the Cavs with horrible passing, shot selection, and shot percentages. Curry made some particularly egregious plays in vital situations such as behind the back passes that went out of bounds or were easily stolen, and ridiculously long, forced shots at key times when there was plenty of time on the clock to set up better shots and it was so, so important that they score. 

Curry may well have had an injured shoulder, knee, and goodness knows what else that prevented him from working the miracles he did earlier in the season, but then he should have realized this and played within himself instead of making obscene mistakes when it mattered most. One of my Facebook friends said that Curry doesn't play smart basketball. I didn't want to admit it at the time, but he was right. Curry plays dumb basketball too much of the time on both offense and defense.

I'm very disappointed in Curry. But I think I can attribute this in no small part to doing what I said after the Ronda Rousey defeat that I wasn't going to keep doing--put people on a high pedestal that no human being, because we're all imperfect, warrants. So, maybe this time, I'll be able to follow through with my resolution.

In addition to this, I plan to stop watching NBA basketball or paying any attention to it. I find that when I do watch it or pay serious attention to it, it's because I've become so emotionally invested in a team that I get really agitated when they play poorly or lose, and I become very hostile to opposing players and fans. I don't need more of this in my life, nor do I need to keep wasting time watching basketball or reading about it when I could be doing so many other things that are more worthwhile.

Maybe over time I'll be able to enjoy watching basketball and even root for a team without getting emotionally bent out of shape over it the way I do now, but I don't think that will or should make a difference. Like I said, there's so much else I could and should be doing with the precious time left to me, and watching and following NBA or college basketball just doesn't rate on that rarefied list.

Monday, May 30, 2016

An Afterlife Under Any God?


A dear friend of mine is in hospice care with advanced Alzheimer's Disease. The decline has been shockingly rapid, and I don't fully understand why, although I think it's probably for the best for his family and friends that it's happening the way it is instead of being much more drawn out.

Anyway, I posted something to Facebook last night about my friend, and another friend of mine, Tom, who recently met the unfortunate victim of this terrible disease at my house, made a comment about his hopes for the afterlife, and I replied with my less sanguine thoughts about what any real afterlife would likely consist of.

Here is what he and I wrote:

Me: Sitting at the bedside of a good friend who seems, for reasons I don't fully understand, to be virtually comatose and close to death from cerebral hypoxia associated with an advanced stage of Alzheimer's. What an awful, cruel disease Alzheimer's is!

Tom: Terrible, terrible. While I have no faith in the Gods that write books, I do hope that there is some sort of "veil" we pass through after death where we get some sort of explanation what life, in general, and our life, in particular, was all about.

It's not that I think a life between just birth and death is meaningless. It is just that I think a reason and meaning for having been alive is due us. In Hamlet, the Bard talks about "defeated joy."

Me: Tom, if we die and that's the end of our personal existence and consciousness, it won't matter to us whether we find out why we were here or not. But if we go on to inhabit forever and ever some conscious afterlife, as much as I, like you, would love to believe that we would learn the answers to all our pressing questions and reap huge benefits from this, I'm more inclined to think that posthumously everlasting life could eternally make the trials and tribulations of this ephemeral lifetime seem like a joyous picnic by comparison.

In other words, if so much inequality, injustice, and suffering can dominate this life, what's to stop this from occurring on a far more iniquitous and torturous scale in any life to come? A supremely loving, just, and merciful God? What God is that? One of the "Gods that write books"? Any God that created and sustains THIS unholy vale of earthly tears?

What do you think about Tom's and my comments, and what do you think happens to us after we die, and why do you think it?