Dum Spiro Spero (pro Trump)

Here’s what I want for a Donald Trump Presidency.

In a word, conversion.

The story goes that Thomas Becket did not want Henry II to name him Archbishop of Canterbury.  Becket had a great life (he reportedly used gold, uh, silverware while the king had to use, uh, silver).  Becket was the king’s Chancellor and had no inclination to mess up his gig.

However, once invested with the episcopal robes, Becket changed.  He sold his goldware (?) and lived simply, often quarrelling with his former boss.

Eventually, Henry’s loose-lipped “Can no-one rid me of this damnable monk” or whatever put a very final end to their friendship.

And this is what I want for Trump.  I want Trump to metaphorically wet himself as he takes the oath of office, realizing the awful and terrible impact of what he’s gotten himself into.  I want him to wipe the damn smirk off his face and become a changed man.

I do not like Trump , even though I’m sympathetic to many who found themselves voting for him (which I’ve written about).  But the Creator has done far more with far less.

2016 was the year of Mercy (as proclaimed by the Holy Father).  Here’s to hoping that 2017 can be a year of humility (and repentance, where necessary).


Reactions and Counter-reactions

Beloved friends,
Some of you have asked me my thoughts on recent political developments.
The short: I’m cautiously optimistic although I did not desire or predict this outcome.
The long: (All except number 2 are things that I learned while at my liberal arts college, whose motto is Veritas (“Truth”), although most of my classmates here seem to have though it to be Sensus (“Feeling”)…).
Here they are:
1. According to Yoda, fear leads to the dark side. If you, as a parent or teacher, are inculcating a culture of fear in your children or students in which they assume that going to college means they are going to be repeatedly raped, or that the gestapo is coming to kick them all the minorities out of the country or put them into internment camps or other foolishness, you are producing little Anikans whose only coping mechanism will be the murder of younglings. We live in the free-est, best-est, most tolerant-est pluralistic society in the history of the world. No other country has ever granted so much freedom and equality to people from so many different cultures and backgrounds (except maaaaaaaybe Rome). America is not perfect, but it is the only country in the world that even tries to be a melting pot, and that counts for a heck of a lot.
Politicians say things that are not true to help themselves get elected. Sometimes these things are “I’m gonna build a wall.” Sometimes these things are “He wants to put ya’ll back in chains.” All are meant to persuade people (usually through fear) that their opponent is going to eat your babies like a dingo. If you are an adult, and you believe what politicians say, I sentence you to watch the “I’m shocked–shocked to discover that there is gambling going on here!” scene from Casablanca until you understand that lots of times people say things that are not true.
2. According to Leave it to Beaver, it’s not right to do the things that you criticize other people for doing. If your concern about a Clinton victory was that Trump supporters would protest, and now you’re protesting because Trump won, I sentence you to 30 hours of MeTV viewing.
Would you be calling for an end to the electoral college if Trump had won the popular vote and Clinton won the presidency? Because if not, you’re a shitty person. Don’t be shitty. You can change.
3. According to Plato, when Socrates was sentenced to death via democratic vote, he was given the chance to escape prison and his sentence. He response was that he had lived in Athens his entire life. He knew how the justice system worked, and if he was unhappy with it, he could have left before. But, it would be wrong for him to leave simply because he didn’t like the way a vote went.
If you don’t like the fact that there are winners and losers in political races, I recommend Cuba, Venezuela, or China, where you will never have to worry about which side will win or lose an election.
4. When I took my first class on American Indian history, I walked in there feeling very sorry for Native Americans, who were so stupid and helpless and powerless that they lost an entire continent by trading it for magic beans or beads or something. Poor, stupid Indians.
Over the semester, I found out that Native Americans were not the racial equivalent of rescue dogs. They (this is a big, generalized “they”) made rational decisions about the choices they were faced with. Many of them were brave and noble–others were conniving and opportunistic. “They” did not have some kind of Sid Myers’-esque hivemind guiding their overall actions.
In short, they had agency (which is the social science term that means “They were capable of making choices and being responsible for them”).
Black people, Hispanics, Muslims, and our friends in the LGB community are not rescue dogs. They are not waiting for us to kiss their boo boos and make them feel better. They do not cower in their kennels soiling themselves. However, if I were an anthropologist studying facebook, I would estimate that the nearly universal estimate of Americans thought them to be on par with invalids and abused dachshunds (which they, in reality, are not).
They are fellow citizens who, like us, got shit to do and, for the most part, just need you to stay the hell out of their way. They do not need your “Oh, I’m so sorry that Trump got elected and that now you’re going to get deported”s. They don’t need your “I support you!” safety pins.
What they need is that if they’re carrying a heavy box, you hold the door open for them. They need low taxes, effective government, and the rule of law, and maybe someone to get their mail when they go out of town, same as the rest of us.
This is pretty easy, Tony Danza-level stuff “How do you treat a gay/black/hispanic/muslim person?”
“Like a person.”
5. As a member of Knox’s Student Senate, I once saw the feminist bloc torpedo a fundraiser for a women’s shelter because it was run by Catholic Charities. Politics, like monopoly, is a game mostly played by assholes (like me). Do not expect us to be angels or truthful. Expect us to try to win and burn as much stuff as we need to do so. We are not your friends. Try to insulate our game from your actual lives as much as possible.
6. I met my beautiful wife’s grandfather while at Knox. He died a few weeks ago. He was 94. By the time he died, he had buried both his parents, both his wives, his only brother, and both of his children. In the Great Depression, his family lost his farm. In WWII, he was part of the cleanup crew after the bombs were dropped in Japan.
My grandmother’s 105 birthday would have been a few days ago. She raised 10 children, the youngest of whom was born the first year of the Great Depression. She buried her husband while the youngest was still in high school. One time when she was young, she won a contest by catching a monkey in a basket.
Neither of them ever got/needed a safe space or ever got to say “I spent all day crying instead of doing my job because something I wanted to happen didn’t happen.”
I want you to think about what your grandparents or great-grandparents would think about your actions over the last few days. If you think they’d be proud of your sniveling in a corner terrified of phantasms inspired by political rhetoric, you are wrong.
You are an adult. By now, you should know that the world is usually a cold and unfeeling place. If you haven’t, you have no prudence or wisdom, and nobody in their right mind is going to let you govern the country.
7. If your political candidate of choice is a less-charismatic version of Emily Gilmore and a white guy with weird eyebrows, you picked bad candidates to try to keep together the Obama coalition. Live with it, and fix the problem. The Republican Party has spent, since 1994, its time building up solid Center-Right majorities across almost the entirety of the United States. Democrats have spent that same time retracting more and more into urban centers. In terms of land mass, the Democrat message is persuasive almost nowhere.
Fix this.
In Indiana, I voted for Republicans because I thought they would keep taxes and government spending low, eliminate waste, and in general, stay off my back. The Republican governing apparatus in Indiana does not view itself as a tick trying to suck as much blood from residents as possible before they die, which is the exact opposite of how the city of Chicago treated me.
When the Democrat party can plausibly make the case that they are for lower spending, less government intrusion into citizens’ lives, and a reasonable approach to law, expect them to revive.
While they continue to act like children, expect the map to not change.
8. If you have not read Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, do it. There’s an audiobook version of it.
9. The great strength of our government are the firewalls against democracy that are built into it, which means that if someone(s) you don’t agree with comes into office, it’s really hard for them to actually affect your life.
The president essentially can’t do shit except exercise veto power and operate the military. (unless, like, we spent the last 8 years establishing the dangerous precedent that because the president has a pen and phone, he can will laws into being).
Congress can’t enact a law unless the same party controls the presidency, the house, and 60% of the senate (unless, of course, one party was dumb and de-toothed the filibuster and established “reconciliation” as a reasonable way to get laws passed).
The Supreme Court, as the least democratic branch, is our final bulwark, since it has no function to not pass laws but rather to make sure that laws conform to the easily readable Constitution (unless, of course, one party has been trying to use the Court as a cudgel to enact legislation that can’t make it through the regular political process.)
The final, strength, of course, is that our country is a Federal Republic, which means that Donald Trump and the rest of the federal government have almost no control over the laws of the individual states, so people are free to move to whatever state best meets their social/cultural/fiscal needs.


So, I was thinking about citizenship today, what with voting coming up and all.
And that got me thinking about my time in Boy Scouts, specifically the three merit badges that deal with citizenship (Citizenship in the Nation, in the Community, and in the Nation, and in the World).
None of which I earned while I was old enough to vote, which I think this is a good lesson for us. Voting is a right of citizenship, but not necessarily an obligation, which is how it gets portrayed. It is, least of all, our highest or only obligation as citizens.
Children and felons have as many obligations as citizens as citizens eligible to vote. In fact, even de facto citizens (businesses, resident aliens, etc.), have responsibilities to their adopted homes.
And so, here are some thoughts on some of our responsibilities as citizens based on the Scout Law:
1. Trustworthy: Obey the laws of your community, even when you’re not going to get caught breaking them. If you’re in a position of responsibility, don’t spread (even unintentionally) our state secrets to our enemies. If you’re in a journalist, report the news impartially and honestly. In any job you have, don’t steal time or money.
2. Loyal: Love your country for its best parts and work to change its worst. Honor our flag and our institutions for their promises of liberty, including those yet-unfulfilled. If you’re a soldier, fight bravely. If you’re drafted, serve willingly. If our country taxes you, don’t renounce your citizenship or try to hide your money overseas.
3. Helpful: Help your neighbors when they’re in need. Mow someone’s grass when they’re on vacation. Hold doors open for people. Look for opportunities to serve. Find your talents and share them.
4. Friendly: Treat people with respect, even if you disagree with their beliefs, way of life, or background. Get to know your neighbors and their kids. Join neighborhood clubs and organizations.
5. Courteous: Say please and thank you. Keep your voice down in public. Don’t park in handicapped spots. Push your carts into the cart corrals at stores after you load your car. Pay attention for other people and make sure you don’t unintentionally make their lives harder through your poor behavior.
6. Kind: Be thankful for your blessings. Understand that not everybody has had those same blessings. Volunteer at homeless shelters, food pantries, and literacy programs. Tutor someone.
7. Obedient: Obey your parents, even when you’re not a kid. Obey your spouse, your religion, and your nation’s laws. (Take this with the usual caveats.)
8. Cheerful: You live in the freest, most prosperous country in the world. People of all backgrounds have found success where you live in any field they’ve chosen to work in, although often times overcoming unfair obstacles. Be happy that you’ve been blessed to live in the USA.
9. Thrifty: Don’t waste resources (gas, water, electricity). Save money to protect yourself from bad times. Save money even when you’d rather buy yourself something nice. Take care of your clothes, your toys, and the rest of your stuff. Learn how to fix things around your home. Try not to spend money on things when you can’t pay it back.
10. Brave: Be willing to fail at new things until you get better at them. Understand that who you are right now is not who you have to be five minutes from now, as long as you are willing to try, to learn, and to fail sometimes. Try hard at school to learn new things, and try hard at work to get better at your job. Apply for promotions and leadership programs. Stand up to racism, sexism, and bigotry when they appear, but be as courteous and kind as you can be when you do.
11. Clean: Keep your home and personal appearance neat. Don’t spread diseases to your neighbors through unsafe activity. Stay faithful to your spouse and keep yourself chaste before and after marriage. Don’t poison your body with alcohol, sex, or drugs.
12. Reverent: Say thank you to God once in a while. Remember that there is something much, much bigger than you can understand that cares for you and that has certain expectations for you that you should try to meet. Treat matters of faith with more respect than you do other areas of life.

Butchers and Vets

So, the other day I was looking up some stuff on pistol/rifle ammunition.  Basically, I’d like to spend less money on ammunition and switch to only having to buy one for both guns.

The .22LR is the cheapest ammunition and there are plenty of good rifle/pistol combinations out there that will use the same ammo.

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about (but wheee! guns! I learned to shoot on a .22 rifle in Boy Scouts)

What I wanted to talk about were people’s comments on using a .22 rifle for hunting.  For small game, they said, it worked great.  Rabbits, mice, uh, squirrels, and such–perfect.

But when it came to larger game, i.e. deer (not bears), the argument against using the .22 rifle wasn’t that it was inaccurate, hard to use, or inefficient.

It was that it was inhumane to try to kill a deer with a .22.

(.22 indicates the caliber of the ammunition the gun uses–.22 is .22 of an inch, .45 is .45 of an inch, etc.  Bigger calibers mean bigger bullets, which mean more damage, usually).

Here were people talking about hunting, commenting on the humaneness of how an animal was killed. Using a .22 is an almost guarantee that the animal will die slowly and be in a lot of suffering.

[*to me, this is one of the best reasons that .22’s make good home defense firearms.  They are enough to scare away a burglar (who, I imagine, is not thinking to himself “hmm, he might shoot me, but the caliber is small, so maybe I can take him anyway” and is instead thinking “Eeek! a gun!”).  At the same time, if I did shoot someone, the chances of a .22 round killing them would be less than with a more powerful gun–and I, like a lot of people, am not looking to go around killing people, just stopping them.  You don’t have to agree with this; but I kind of think that we should be trying to use the minimum level of force to keep ourselves safe, and not necessarily the maximum allowed by law].

Which I think says something important about the hunting community, which is that hunters care about animals, which isn’t all that surprising.  Farmers love their farm animals, all the way to the dinner table.

Knowing that something is going to be your dinner doesn’t stop you from wanting it treated well before that.  Hunters are hunters, but their also conservationists and nature-lovers.  Hunters love the animals they kill.

I think this is a good contrast to vets.  Vets also love animals, but their goal is not to kill them.  Sometimes they do, but not with the intention of eating them.  In fact, vets spend years studying how to make sick animals healthy.

On the other side of the planet, though, are butchers.  Butchers might know a lot about the anatomy of a cow or pig, but nobody should mistake what they do as love.  Killing and cutting up an animal are a job.

You might even be able to confuse a conversation with a butcher about a cow with a conversation with a vet about a cow.  Both can identify where all the organs are, what physical problems an animal might have, and so forth.

The difference, of course, is in why they know that stuff.  Vets know stuff to heal, butchers know stuff to kill.

All of this got me thinking about euthanasia and abortion.

The first rule of medicine, of course is “First do no harm.”  The Hippocratic Oath explicitly prohibits abortion and euthanasia (and probably lethal injection).

So, like 2 millennia ago, at a time when Western Civilization enthusiastically embraced slavery, pederasty, war for conquest, and all manner of inhumane things, its doctors were still like “Nah, we don’t kill people.”

But not our doctors.  The moral vector of the vanguard of our medical community seems to be much more akin to butchers (we kill these babies so we can sell the parts).

Of course, vets euthanize pets all the time.  But then, to complete the analogy, if doctor and a vet are euthanizing patients for the same reason, then we’re saying that the same medical protections that apply to old dogs apply to old people (or young people).

But, like, it’s not like there hasn’t been a side history of evil-doctoring.  Just in the last century, and without invoking Godwin’s law, we have the Tuskegee experiments, the Guatemala experiments, the Milgram experiments (which were both unethical and good at showing why people do unethical things), and a host of others.

[Maybe those of who are a little skeptical of “science” wouldn’t be so skeptical of it if it wasn’t so easy to point out horrors inflicted in its name.  Like, you know how atheists are always like “more people have died from religion blah blah blah”?  Go look up and see what scientific socialism has done recently…]

So, I guess, in a sense, my big complaint is our looseness in what we call “medicine” and “physicians.”

I think historically, these things have been healers, and the idea that killing people or babies is somehow a form of healing just strikes me as fundamentally wrong.

I’ve argued this before, but the goal of medicine should be to make the human body work as it’s supposed to.  (This is why Viagra is medicine but contraception is not–the one restores the body to a state of wholeness, the other degrades it to a state of illness).  I just can’t see any squaring of the killing of humans and calling such practices “medicine”.

But, then again, Orwell was fighting against doublespeak back in the 1940’s.

But then again, maybe today, the medical community would embrace Boxer’s trip to the glue-maker as “health care” and require taxpayer funding for it.




Sympathy for the Devil

I don’t like Donald Trump.

I don’t like his politics, I don’t like his personality, I don’t like what he’s done to the Republican Party.

But, like, I can sympathize with parts of his movement.

Look, there are a lot of white nationalists, KKK-ers, and Alt-Righters who are deplorable human beings that have a natural home in Trumpville.  Screw those guys.

But there’re plenty of other people who are just sick of being told what bad people they are, when they aren’t.

Let’s define Gaslighting, first, though.

There was an old movie, called, I think, “Gaslight,” where a guy convinces his wife/girlfriend that she is going crazy by moving pictures, creating noises in a sealed attic, and adjusting the gaslights without her knowing he’s doing it.  When she tells him about these things, he tells her it’s her imagination, and she assumes she’s going crazy.

A similar fraud has been perpetrated against America over the last several decades.

Essentially, the Left has tried (and largely succeeded) to convince America that the reality that it sees is not the reality that exists.

Do you believe that people are equal and should be treated so?  Surprise! You’re a racist!

Wait, you don’t commit any acts of racism?  Surprise! You’re still racist because you engage in micro-aggressions!

You think that people who are genetically male or female are male or female?  Your ideas aren’t based in science or reality!  You’re a transphobe!  That human with a penis in the girl’s shower?  That’s a woman because ze zays zo!

What’s that you say?  You don’t care what they call themselves, as long as your teenage daughter doesn’t have to shower with girls with penises?  You’re still a transphobe because people should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want to, as long as Bruce Springsteen says so!

You notice that women don’t have as much muscle mass as men and so maybe we shouldn’t put them in hand to hand combat? Sexist!  You notice that old people get sick and maybe we shouldn’t ?  Sexist!  You noticed that women take more sick days than men do and that maybe they get promoted less because of it? Sexist!

Remember how you donated money to breast cancer research?  Remember how you wore red in support of women’s heart health?  Remember how women you knew got sick and died from diseases like that and you felt bad and tried to support their families?

Fuck you.  Don’t you know that the only time Republicans care about women’s health is when they’re talking about Hillary?  None of your support of those things counts because you want to not pay for Planned Parenthood to kill babies.  You hate women, reality be damned.

Reality be damned all around.  You’re actions and beliefs don’t define who you are.  The Left does.  And if the Left says that, in contrast to all your actual actions and beliefs, you are sexist, racist, anti-LGBT, then you must be.

Oh, also, the lady who says she wants to be in charge of the largest army the world has ever known and doesn’t want you to own any protection and whose husband was a rapist and she helped cover it up says that you’re “deplorable.”

So, yeah, I get the appeal of a guy who says “I don’t think you’re racist and sexist and anti-LGBT.”

Still not voting for Trump.


Scientia Contra Scientitatem (vel Fides et Sceientia, Manus in Manu)

Here’s an article titled Math is Racist, which is a misleading name.

Essentially  profiles a professional mathematician (sounds like a data analyst to me) who trucks with the Occupy Wallstreet crowd.  She claims that mathematics is being used to hurt poor people on loan applications, criminal sentencing, and so on.

A few thoughts:

1) It’s crazy easy to hurt poor people.  Want to not live by minorities?  Move somewhere with high property taxes.  Want to enmesh them in the criminal justice system and feel good about yourself at the same time?  Enact usurious vice taxes on things like cigarettes and alcohol and outlaw cheap vices like marijuana.  It’s not like you need to be a statistician to think of ways to hurt poor people.

2) One of the things they make you learn when you become a statistician is something called discriminant analysis, which is a fancy way for coming up with mathematical rules for separating things into groups.  The classic example is that you have a bunch of different flowers that look alike but are different flowers.  You create a mathematical model based on the size of the petals and sepals and it classifies them.

You don’t always get perfect rules to tell them apart, but you can do a lot better than random chance.  So, for example, if you had four types of flowers in a hat, picked one out and then randomly said it was one of the four types of flowers, you’d have a 25% chance of being correct.  Using discriminant analysis, you might be able to move that up to a much higher rate of accuracy (maybe 75 or 85%).

When talking heads talk about computer algorithms to predict our behavior, what they’re really talking about is discriminant analysis.  When you buy some stuff on Amazon, it uses discriminant analysis to figure out what “type” of person you are and then selects other stuff that your “type” might want to buy.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  But it’s not supposed to be perfect.  Amazon has an almost infinite number of products–if it randomly picked something to suggest, it would have a negligible chance of picking something you’d want.  But if it can improve that chance to even a few percentage points, it’s a success.

When you get turned down for a loan or face harsher penalties for crimes based on your zip code, credit score, and other things, that’s discriminant analysis.

3) My problem with the title of the article is that the profilee is clearly not anti-science.  She’s anti-a-particular-application-of-science, which is a very different thing.  She doesn’t not believe that discriminant analysis is a real mathematical tool, she believes that employing it in  loan applications or criminal sentencing is wrong.

A better way of looking at this is that she’s anti-scientism, which I’d define as the belief that “Science” and the scientific method is the only reliable guide for human understanding.

In a sense, anti-scientism is the entire underpinning of books like Frankenstein or Jurassic Park, which are essentially reframings of the question “Science tells us we can do this, but should we?”

4) We have a big problem politically (on both sides–but not with enlightened people like me who are moderates), wherein each claims that the other is “anti-science.”  (Liberal friends, you may not know that that conservatives think that you are the anti-science ones, but, like, it’s a thing. You need to read more NRO).

Sometimes the problem is legitimate dogmatic anti-scientism (opposition to an earth age in the billions of years or a belief that nuclear power is unsafe).  But that’s not really what we’re talking about here.  We’re talking about whether or not certain scientific methods or tools should be employed, which is a discussion of ethics.
Ultimately, ethics is something I have a hard time letting scientists police themselves on.  Scientifically, neuroscience can eventually tell us (maybe now?) which parts of the brain we could manipulate in order to create hordes of willing slaves, but nothing in the scientific method is gong to tell us whether or not we should.
I mean, heck, science tells us that H-bomb and mustard gas are super good ways of killing people, it tells us that forced chemical castration is possible, and that poor children are more likely to grow up to be societal drains.
But nothing in science or scientism can tell us not to gas the Southside of Chicago or chemically castrate the entire barrio population in Sao Paulo.
Instead, the woman from the article makes to me a very appropriate faith-based argument against using a scientific method to the detriment of people.
5) Faith is a funny thing, since it can be either deistic or non-deistic.  Lots of people believe in the golden rule because they think that a supernatural power wants them to.  Lots of others who are atheists believe in the golden rule because that’s the “right thing to do.”
But there’s nothing scientific about it.  It can’t be tested or created in a lab.  Sure, there can be studies on reciprocity in the natural world or game theory on outcome optimization and whatever, but nothing in the inductive scientific method could produce it.
Which means that believing that humans should obey the golden rule becomes a tautological “People should do this because people should do this.”  At this point, I’d argue, we’re talking about a belief that cannot be only rooted in logic or reason, which is another way of saying faith.
The great strength of science is answering the question “how?” and the great strength of faith is answering the question “should?”.
6) This implies, I think, that in order to utilize science to it’s best, we need faith to inform us (just as faith is best when it’s underpinned by rational and logical criticism).  Neither can exist in a vacuum.  Both are necessary for the survival of the other.

Doing Things the Hard Way (DTTHW)

A few months ago, I built a bedroom set for my goddaughter that included a storage bed, vanity table with mirror, and a little side table.

They turned out okay, and I’m sure that for the $800 or $900 I spent on materials and tools I used to build it, I could have bought her a much nicer looking, commercially made bed.

She seems grateful, but somewhere in my stomach is a little pit of doubt that says, “If they break, that’s your fault.  She can’t return them if she doesn’t like them.  She doesn’t really understand that your gift to her was the hundred hours or so you spent making them.”

Those are all okay things with me, because to me, the gift was as much for me as it was for her.  Am I proud of the work I did?  Sure, I guess.  But I have a really good idea now of how to build a storage bed and stuff, and I know what mistakes I could avoid if I made the same kind of set again for someone else, and I know that I would be successful if I ever needed to do those things.

I started out woodworking (cough…if you can really call it that) maybe a year ago, when I built a compost bin for my backyard.  That was followed by a few night stands, a storage bin for my basement, and some extra stuff to frame and pretty-up the solar panel installation I have on the side of my house.

Each time, I’m sure I could have gone to the store and bought a piece of furniture that was better-made than what I did at home, but with each project, I got a little bit better and made fewer dumb mistakes.  I also acquired more confidence that I could take the next step in what I wanted to build, and in what I believed it was possible for me to build.

But that confidence transfers to other things in my life.  If I can build a night-stand from scratch, surely I can grow my own potatoes or plant a cherry tree.  If I can re-floor my basement (which I did after it flooded a year ago), I bet I can build some cabinets down in my basement, or maybe install a new vanity in the bathroom in a year or two (or finish my attic, but shhhh, don’t tell my wife that’s on the horizon).

I guess for me, there are lots of times that there are easy ways of doing things (go to the store and buy furniture, use a calculator, ask someone to pick me up from the car repair shop) and harder ways of doing things (build my own desk, do that math problem by hand, walk the two miles home from the shop), and to me, there is more than just virtue in doing things the harder way.

Let me take a step back and tell a story.  When I was younger, my dad bought me and my brother new bikes for Christmas.  I was maybe 12 and my brother a few years younger.  My dad didn’t put them together.  Why would he?  He had two sons capable of putting together a few bikes by themselves.  They were our bikes–why wouldn’t we have put them together ourselves?

Note:  This was the same kind of house where if you wanted a sandwich, you made your own.

I was lucky enough to inherit a basement bedroom and bathroom after my older brother moved out, but when the toilet’s internals needed to be replace, guess who ended up with the ballcock in his hands?  Why would my dad have to fix it?  It was my bathroom…

Later, when I was in college, I lived with a few roomates.  One time, when our toilet started running, I went out and spent 7 or 8 bucks to buy new stuff for it.  My roommate had never fixed a running toilet, so I asked her if she wanted to watch me fix it so she could learn how to do it.  Her response: “Why would I want to do that?”

I don’t think I’m a better person because I like to do things for myself, and that I try to DTTHW.  But I know that being a bad craftsman teaches me to appreciate the work that goes into hand cut dove-tails, that taking the time to work my way through math problems reminds me of how easy it is to make mistakes, and that walking home from the car shop gives me time to think and notice parts of the street that I never pay attention to when I’m driving.

I do think that DTTHW makes me a happier person, though, because I feel like I have control of my life.  If I want a new gaming computer, but only have $600 to spend instead of $2000, I know that I can buy the parts and put together the machine myself.  I also know that if I don’t like the way the rockwall in my front yard looks, I can arrange it so that I do like it.

In short, to me, happiness is being able to arrange the world the way you want it.  The more control you give yourself over being able to change things to how you want them, the happier I think you’ll be.   Cooking a good meal with my wife has always been a happier occasion than eating a good meal.  Looking at something nice that I built to make my life easier makes me happy because I was able to be in charge of making my own life better, which, I think, is exactly where you want to be.

[This is turning out to be a much longer post than I intended.  My apologies. I’m sure there’s another thousand words in me about “kids these days!” but I’ll save it for a later time.]



A Grammatical Reading of the Second Amendment

The second amendment is variously interpreted by those on the left to mean “Only the army has a right to have guns,” and by those on the right that “blah blah blah…people can own guns” or “we make up the militia that has a right to own guns.”

Both readings are wrong, and my junior year high school Latin class proves it.  There is, in fact, only one clear meaning to the amendment, which is “Because the government needs an army, the people need guns.”

Here’s the text:

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

The second clause is pretty straightforward grammatically (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”).  Here, “the people” means what it does anywhere else when used by the founding fathers: “we—the citizens.”  Any other reading of this second clause is wrong.

The first clause (“a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state”) has long been recognized as what grammarians call an absolute (in English, it’s in the nominative—or subjective—case, in Latin it’s in the ablative, in Greek it’s in the genitive.)

An absolute clause has three interesting features to it:

1)      It lacks a proper verb, instead getting by with just a participle.

2)      It has a semantic connection to the rest of the sentence (i.e. it shows cause or circumstance).

3)      It is grammatically absolute, meaning “untied” (from the Latin absolutus, which mean, well, “untied.”  It’s the same word that gives us the theological word absolution, in the sense of our sins being untied from us).  That is to say, it’s grammar pieces (subjects, verbs) are not connected to the grammar pieces in the rest of the sentence.

It’s the second and third points here that help to elucidate the Amendment.

The connection between an absolute and the rest of a sentence is always as a qualifier, showing an idea of “because [the absolute], then [the other clause]” or “when [the absolute], then [the other clause]”

For example, another absolute in English might be “The day being rainy, we played inside.”  We properly see a causal connection between the first and second parts of the sentence and understand it as “Because the day was rainy, we played inside,” and not as two separate ideas like “It was rainy.  In a completely unrelated event, we played inside.”

Absolutes always show this kind of kind of connection between the two clauses.  The absolute gives the circumstance or reason why the second clause happens.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but this causal connection has to be there.  It’s an essential part of what it means for something to be an absolute.

An absolute not connected causally wouldn’t make any sense, as in “Tigers being striped orange and black, there is tea in the pot.”  Our mind naturally tries to put a connection between the two, because that’s how English works, and when we can’t find the connection, we reject the sentence as nonsense.

So, then, what’s wrong with reading is as “Since a militia is necessary, we, the people who make up the militia, get to have guns” or “We, the militia, are necessary and so we need guns” or “The people who are part of the militia need guns”?

It’s the third feature of absolutes that tells us why.  Namely, an absolute is unconnected grammatically from the rest of the sentence, which means that the subject of the first part cannot be the subject of the second part.  This means that the “militia” in the first part cannot be referring to the same thing as “the people” in the second part.  They’re not interchangeable.

Again, this is an essential feature of the grammar.  Something like “The cat being tired, it took a nap” would have to be read as “Because the cat was tired, something besides the cat took a nap.”  Again, any other reading would be a misinterpretation of what the grammar says the sentence has to mean.

So if the militia is not the people, what is it?

It’s the army.  Which we need for our security.  Because sometimes the British or French or Indians, or whoever, shoot at us or invade our country or try to steal our land or whatever.  Accordingly, the government (the citizenry incorporate), need to put together an army for the defense of our freedom from time to time.

A posse might be good enough to hunt down Senor Bandito in a Western, but if we’re gonna stop the British, we need a legit, well-regulated fighting force at our disposal.

So what about the second part? And both parts together?

Well, what was the colonists experience with armies?  In the 1760’s, the British army had protected them from the French and (some) Indians.  But a decade later, it was shooting Crispus Attucks in Boston.  Armies were necessary, but there had to be some check on the government using them against the people.

(The teacher in me really hopes light bulbs just went on above your heads)

Therefore, since we need to have an army sometimes, but also because that army can both protect and threaten our liberty, we have to have a way to discourage the army (and the government) from using the army as a tool of oppression: namely, we arm ourselves, as a polite reminder to keep their guns pointing at our enemies and not us.

Accordingly, the only fair reading of the second amendment is, to paraphrase, “Because we have to have an army, the people that the army is supposed to be protecting need weapons, too.”

It was the Founders’ answer to quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  Who will guard our guards?  We will.

There are implications to this.  First, it gives a definitive answer to the “Why are we allowed to have guns?” question.  The answer is not hunting or even personal self-defense.  The raison d’etre for our right to arm ourselves is to protect us against the army that we need.

(I will lead it up to the reader to decide if cops in riot gear and armored cars constitute a well-regulated militia or not.  And whether or not the Founding Fathers, who went to war when an unarmed black man was shot by police in Boston in 1773, would like what we’ve got going on in our communities).

More importantly, though, it completely destroys the progressive idea that somehow, the writers of the Bill of Rights felt the need either to say “we can have an army” or alternately “our army can have guns,” which would have been akin to “we can have secretaries” or “our secretaries can use pens and their pen-using is so controversial that we will amend the very laws of our government to enshrine their pen-ability in perpetuity.”

And my Dad told me that majoring in Classics was a waste of time.

Real and Imaginary

So there’s an element of the unequal treatment of blacks by police officers that I’m not sure has achieved much attention.

Namely, the matter of feelings.

Here’s the set-up:  some asshole puts up a flag with a swastika on it in his front yard.  He’s disabled war vet, a little disheveled in the brain pan, but is not actually a direct danger to anyone.  He just likes to think of himself as part of the neo-Nazi community.  He’s a fanboy of Hitler, much like a Brony admires Twilight Sparkle.  There is no actual danger here.

His neighbor, a kindly Jewish woman, feels threatened by this and asks the man to take it down.  “Free speech, you wrinkled old hag” he responds, thinking the matter settled.  The woman calls the police, who approach the man, who is then charged with intimidation/terrorization/hate speech/whatever local ordinance covers this.

“Hooray!” responds progressives, “the racist is going to jail!”  No actual threat has been averted, no danger deactivated, however.  The woman felt threatened, even though no actual threat existed.  The same level of actual threat exists to her, even with the man gone.  That is to say, a threat exists outside of one’s own perceptions.  It is its own thing.

Now, we move locales.  A police officer, new to the job perhaps, pulls over a car with the music thumping.  He approaches the car and is greeted by a black man.  The police officer, due to bias, racism, nervousness, or whatever other feeling, thinks himself threatened by the black man.  No actual threat, but the officer’s feelings are no less real than the old Jewish woman’s.  He orders the to get out his ID, and so the black man reaches for his glove box.

Seeing an unexpected movement, the officer, already in a state of heightened fear, starts putting bullets into the car and into the man, killing him.

Did the officer fear for his life?  Did the old woman? Of course.  Was there any actual, tangible danger to either?  Had either actually been harmed? No.

But both were made to suffer fear, and in both cases, both the neo-Nazi and the black man ended up being victims in a scenario where neither intended to give offense.

College campuses today are filled with trigger warnings, speech codes, and safe spaces.  These are meant to protect the student not only from real threat, but also from perceived threat, which is another way of saying imagined threat.  The girl in college who demands that all men resembling her rapist be removed from the school is not proposing a solution to a real threat any more than the phantom fears of whites in the 1940’s that kept blacks (or Jews) out of certain neighborhoods.

The school movements that claim that the mere mention of slavery in a book should allow some students to be exempt from studying it are figments of the same imagination-indulgence that allows us to say that if a police officer feels threatened, he is justified in shooting.

If his feelings are, well, feelings, and not accurate appraisals of a situation, and his feelings end up killing someone, he’s a shitty cop.  Just as we demand evidence in a criminal trial, we need to demand actual things as justification for actions.

All of us have known teachers (either as co-workers or as students) who didn’t have the mental toughness to deal with unruly students, which is a fundamental part of the job.  If you can’t do the fundamental part of the job, you shouldn’t be doing that job.

A teacher who can’t control a classroom should be fired.  A cop who misreads a situation to the point where someone dies should be fired.  A doctor who messes up diagnoses to the point where people die.  People who are bad at their jobs should be fired.  A student who can’t study because of paranoia shouldn’t be in school.

These might not be criminal offenses, and an officer who panics and shoots an innocent man probably is not a criminal, but he certainly is a bad cop who should be fired.  Training is training, and the job is the job.  There will always be people-in any profession-who make it through the training but then can’t hack it in the real world.

Like any other kind of job negligence, the family should be compensated by the police department who put someone out into the streets with a gun who shouldn’t have been there and the offending officer fired (and probably blacklisted from law enforcement).

But we can’t have our cake and eat it too.  We can’t both say that a police officer has to deal with real things and not just his fears, but then also turn around and allow our students special exemptions from learning for the sake of their imaginations.

That is to say, we can’t fairly allow some members of society to impose their will on others based on the imaginary without allowing everyone to.  Everyone has to live in the real world.

Flint is What Happens When Atlas Shrugs

Back when I was a middle and high school teacher, I often had to write students up for dumb stuff they did in the classroom.  They’d have their phones out during class or they’d be talking when they weren’t supposed to be or whatever.  Usually phones.

Anyway, so school policy would be for me to ask them politely for their phone so I could confiscate it and then give it back at the end of class.  Usually the kids complied.  Sometimes they wouldn’t.  At this point, I would have to ask them again.  Again, some of them would refuse.  At this point, I’d crouch down on my old-man knees next to their desks and whisper to them something like, “Look.  I’m not mad at you.  I’m not angry.  I’m not yelling.  I just need you to hand me your phone.  You’ll get it back.  I’ll make sure.”

At this point, almost all the kids have given me the phone.  Sometimes they would still refuse and, again crouching down by them, I’d say “Look, you know what happens if you refuse, right?”

At this point, their friends would usually be lobbying for them to “just give him the phone” because most kids are good kids and they don’t want their friends to get into trouble.

Some kids are just kids, though, and even when they know they’re going to get sent out of the room and get detention and have their parents called and maybe get suspended because they just got called down to the office for the third time that week, they still refuse.

At this point, I’d sigh, walk to my classroom phone, call the main office and ask that they send an administrator down to remove the child from the classroom.  Sometimes it was the dean, or a principal or vice-principal.  Sometimes it was the school safety officer.

And the kid would be escorted down, just like a perpetrator being escorted by the police, all because he had refused to comply with a very simple command.  A very routine situation, in which the kid was clearly in the wrong, had escalated almost to the level of a legal action.

Then, later, I’d have to fill out an incident report describing why I had asked for the child to be removed and what the problem was and how I  handled the situation.

For this last part–how I handled it–I would write down that my interactions with the student resulted in “the natural consequences of his/her actions.”

I’d like to comment on this idea that I hadn’t really punished the student, but that their getting sent out was just a natural consequence of their behavior.  That is to say, a reasonable person, if asked what should happen to someone who did something bad and refuses to obey an authority figure, would describe exactly what had happened: the offender would get hauled off somewhere. (Conversely, an unreasonable person would say that I “should have just left him alone”).

But, like, they’re kids, so they’re dumb and they don’t do what’s in their best interest to begin with, and they don’t think very far ahead.

But I don’t want to talk about just the kids being punished.  In a classroom of 20-30 kids there would always be the ones who “got it.”  These were the young adults in the sea of teenagers.  And you could see the frustration in their eyes while their class would be interrupted while some kid was getting in trouble.

Every once in a while, I’d look up from my little tete-a-tete with phone kid and lock eyes with the good kids and mouth “I’m so sorry about this.”  We understood each other.  They were as frustrated as I was.

There wasn’t a formula to produce them.  Some were rich.  Some were poor.  Single parents, two parents, whatever.  Sometimes they were twelve, sometimes they were eighteen.  What they had in common was that they were humans who had decided that they weren’t going to act like children anymore.

Those kids grew up to be leaders.  They grew up to be competent humans.  They’re the ones who work at the DMV and don’t mess up your paperwork.  They’re the ones at the office who refill the toner cartridge in the printer, even if they have to go google how to do it.  They don’t mind learning how to do something so that they won’t have to rely on someone else to do it.

Simply put, they’re the glue that holds society together.  They become the secretaries at your grad school that make sure your idiot professors (who make three times what they do) can sit around and BS all day instead of doing the administrative work that has to happen.  They’re the assistant principal who actually runs the show while the principal runs around being head cheerleader.  They’re the garbage truck guy who doesn’t just leave your cans lying in the middle of the street.

They’re the people who push the motherfucking carts into the motherfucking cart corrals at Walmart.

And they are fleeing the hell out of mainstream America as fast as they can.

You can call it brain drain, but it’s really competency-drain.  The competent humans are sick of picking up after everyone else’s messes and are segregating themselves from the rest of the population.

Atlas has already shrugged.  The John Galts are already gone.

Especially in places like Flint.  Flint has a population of 99,000 people, none of whom are even remotely capable of being competent humans.  Because competent humans do not sit around and let two separate governments that they elected poison their children.

If any competent humans had existed in the past, you can bet that at some point they thought to themselves “Hmm, we keep electing politicians who can’t balance a budget and can’t figure out how to provide basic services.  I could stay here, or I could move to another place where people have their shit together.”

It’s not hard to imagine where that line of reasoning went [hint: it’s why I moved from Illinois to Indiana.]

But Flint isn’t just Flint.  Flint is everywhere.  Detroit is Flint.  Stockton is Flint.  Harrisburg is Flint.  Apparently, most of Appalachia has been, is, and always will be Flint. Chicago is going to be Flint (I can’t even imagine the covered-up-oh-no-shit-piles that Daley the Younger left for Rahm Emmanuel upon the former’s departure).

But not everywhere is Flint.  Naperville, Illinois is not Flint.  Carmel, Indiana is not Flint.

People from Chicago could very well imagine their city government poisoning them.  People from Naperville could not.

The difference is that Chicago is full of children; Naperville is full of adults.  Chicago’s civil service is a jobs program whose main goal is not providing service, let alone civilly; Naperville’s civil service is, well, a civil service.

Charles Murray says that this is the white community “coming apart.”  And in part, this is true.  White Flight in the 1950’s and 1960’s was middle class whites trying to escape from poor blacks.  Today we’re seeing the same thing only with middle class whites fleeing from poor whites.

But that’s not the only problem.  Sure, competent humans have abandoned poor communities in droves, leaving them with ill-provided public services.  But the problem has metastasized into a national crisis, most evident in this presidential race and its dearth of support for actual, real adults running for office.

The Democratic Party has not seriously considered nominating a governor for President since 1996.  The Republican Party will not break bread with Kasich or Christie because they had the gall to be actual executives, which involves making actual complicated decisions instead of just giving nice speeches.

The same assholes who kept forwarding the little “miss me yet?” pictures of W in 2010 now refuse to support his brother because he speaks a foreign language.  The majority of Republicans want to either elect a used-car salesman who just got endorsed by a woman who found the job of governing Alaska, a state so rich in natural resources that the residents all get tax rebates, too difficult and quit or a man whose claim to fame is that he’s really good at making the government stop working.  The hope of conservatives in the party is a nice-looking, well-spoken, first term senator who talks very, very pretty.

At the same time, the Democrats have narrowed their field to two, one of whom literally made a career out of defending rapists, and the other of who lives closer to Canada, physically and mentally, than he does to Washington, D.C.

Some of us saw this coming. When the US in 2012 straight up looked at two candidates, one of whom was a competent, sober human being, and the other of whom was, well, not, and they picked door number two, that was it.  The American Electorate had firmly put themselves in the “children” camp.

There is no return from this.  The children aren’t going to grow up.  There is no super ego in America any more, just id.  Those of us who read our Nietzsche knew it was just a matter of time coming, anyway.

Like dogs resisting getting their nails trimmed, the large majority of Americans can no longer even see what’s good for them, let alone enact those things necessary for their survival (i.e. not poisoning one’s children unto death) or thriving (i.e. higher taxes and less spending).

But really, how could you expect a citizenry to be self-governing when they can’t even put their goddam carts away at Walmart?