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Friday, May 30, 2014

TRANSGRESSIVE

"We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."
-Fight Club

If there's one thing young people, particularly college people, like, its the feeling of being at the edge of revolution, being part of something big and important.  Most children to some degree grow up with this belief, and the more wealthy and safe the families, the greater the expectation.  But this confidence gotten more pronounced in later generations.
Raised to believe they are special and unique and destined for greatness by educators and parents more concerned about self esteem in children than being ready to face a cruel, uncaring world, children expect that they will be terribly important and pivotal in the future, and many never grow out of this stage.
This is played off of by the left, which presents the world as a horrible place that they can change.  The entire Obama campaign in 2008 was all about this; "we are the ones we've been waiting for."  Vote for Obama and together we'll fix all the problems!
So far they've been very successful with this approach, because young people, particularly those of college age, are just beginning to realize the way they were raised and the way they understand the world ought to be is very different from how it really is.
The left shows up and tells them it can be that way, if only everyone would do what they say.  That we can have that wonderful utopia, that we can fix it all with a few more taxes, a bigger government, a few more laws.  Some will have to give up things, but that's okay they're all richer than you are anyway.  Lacking discernment and experience enough in life to see through this, young people eat it up with a spoon.  Its been tremendously effective for 40 years or more.
But they're in danger of throwing all that away.
Recently leftist Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, gave a commencement address to the graduating class of Harvard University.  In it he said this about recent blocking and censorship of conservative ideas and speakers at institutions of higher learning:
It is just a modern form of McCarthyism; think about the irony: In the 1950s, the right wing was attempting to repress left wing ideas. Today, on many college campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species.  And that is probably nowhere more true than it is here in the Ivy League.
Putting aside the misconception about "McCarthyism" he has a point about ideological repression on college campuses.  He then went on to note how heavily the Ivy League's faculty donated to Barack Obama in the 2012 elections.
In the 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96% of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama.  There was more disagreement among the old Soviet politburo than there is among Ivy League donors.
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Neither party has a monopoly of truth or God on its side. When 96% of Ivy League donors prefer one candidate to another, you really have to wonder whether students are being exposed to the diversity of views that a great university should offer.  A university cannot be great if its faculty is political homogeneous.
Now keep in mind, this is the guy that banned large drinks and ordered restaurants in NYC to stop using lard in their cooking. This is Mr Nanny State, he's not a conservative in any sense of the word whatsoever.  He endorsed and enthusiastically supported President Obama for president in both 2008 and 2012.  Now Bloomberg went off on a weird tangent about gun control presumably to certify his leftist credentials and Ace tore him apart on that, but Bloomberg still makes a critical point. Even he can see a problem with utterly blocking and denying debate on any substantive issue in an educational setting.  
In just this year several commencement speakers and special guest speakers at colleges were blocked simply because they would not follow the leftist party line; they were outside the accepted range of ideas and thought and must be prohibited a voice at college. Harry Enten at 5:38 took a look at commencement speakers at major colleges and universities across America and saw a distinct and obvious pattern:
Former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice recently pulled out of giving the commencement address at Rutgers University after students protested. Rice was just the latest would-be commencement speaker to face criticism and withdraw. The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, bowed out of speaking at Smith College after students there protested. Robert Birgeneau, who was chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley when police used batons to break up an Occupy protest, declined to attend the graduation ceremony at Haverford College, where he was set to receive an honorary degree. Students and faculty had objected to the visit.

For the 2013 and 2014 commencement seasons, I looked up the guest commencement speaker at the top 30 universities and the top 30 liberal arts colleges as rated by U.S. News and World Report. In cases where there was no guest commencement speaker, I took the guest baccalaureate, class day or senior day speaker.
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As it turns out, I couldn’t find a single clearly aligned Republican political figure who spoke at any of these schools in the past two years. (Two tables showing all the speakers are at the bottom of this post.) Twenty-five Democrats spoke. Eleven Democrats gave the main commencement address among the top 30 universities, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Mississippi governor and current Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. At the top 30 liberal arts schools, it was 14 Democrats.
Even in years before that, few actual conservative speakers were ever allowed, even when Republican speakers manged to get an invite and successfully speak.  How much impact and how important are these speeches to young people?  I'd guess virtually nil.  But that's not the point I'm getting to here.
If you at college refuse to allow any dissenting voice to even be heard, what does that say about the quality and diversity of voices that are allowed?  Comedian Dana Gould has a bit where he goofs on his WASPY father who is willing to listen to anyone "be they white and Catholic, or Catholic and white."  And that's the attitude you get on too many college campuses.  They will celebrate and allow any diversity of voice and multicultural influence... as long as it agrees with their politics.
Now, this is bad for education and is more along the lines of an indoctrination camp, a cult campus where you get one party line and shun anyone who dares disagree.  Hundreds of stories and court cases from students and faculty who dared question the leftist perspective attest to how rigid this is becoming.
But there's a problem here for the left.  As Mayor Bloomberg points out, it wasn't all that terribly long ago when the left was the outsider, the guys trying to get control of culture.  And when they tried, the right often silenced them, shunned them, shut them out, particularly on college campuses.
That didn't work out so well did it?
See, the more you try to silence and shun something, the more forbidden, mysterious, and "transgressive" it becomes.  And as a result, the more attractive it becomes to college age kids.  By making conservatism the "other" it becomes the oppressed minority, the target of powerful tyranny rather than the source of it.  The more you keep something from young people the more attractive it becomes.
And further, the less free speech you allow, the more interesting and persuasive those alternate voices become.  Because the left is solidly and comfortably in power in every single institution and cultural structure in America, let alone the western world.  And the main lever that the left has on young people is to say "things could be better, do it our way."
Well we've been doing it their way for quite a while now.  And things are not only not better, in a lot of ways, they're worse.  The great voice of hope and change turned out to be just another politician, distinct only in his incompetence.  The left argues that they just need more time, more money, more power.  But as that happens, young people may very well begin to notice how this is turning out.
And when they do, they'll also notice a different point of view which is being denied them, a mysterious outsider voice, a group that isn't allowed to speak openly, which makes them mysterious and interesting.
So suddenly instead of being the institution and the mainstream which the left is distinct and attractively opposed to, the right becomes that attractive alternative, the rebel voice offering a different way to fix what has gone wrong.
Will that happen?  I don't know, I suspect we'll reach a crisis point at which all the old institutions and structures will fail and all the patterns we're used to and understand will collapse.  But this is something that the left really should consider.  Particularly the very people who out of one side of their mouth talk about free speech, tolerance, and diversity.
Even Rush Limbaugh says he doesn't want his opposition to disappear.  He wants them to always be around in a clinical way, like a batch of polio in a lab that teaches us how wrong they are.  Trying to utterly silence and remove the voice of dissent just has not worked out well in the past.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Psychological myths

"one “cannot think of a single psychological problem — from anxiety and depression, to fear of intimacy or of success, to spouse battery or child molestation — that is not traceable to the problem of low self-esteem."
-Nathaniel Branden, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem

There's a certain sense in which psychology has taken the place of religious faith for many in the western world. When people seek answers for the bad that we do, how we can deal with our faults, motivation for a better life, and deeper questions of meaning and purpose, psychologists and psychology are where modern westerners tend to turn.
Where previous cultures saw acts of evil as evidence of internal sin against an external code of righteousness, psychologists tend to explain this as the product of environment and upbringing, external pressures causing improper behavior.
Even many otherwise religious people have so embraced this system of understanding.  Many mainstream churches every Sunday have content very similar to the latest psychological teachings and popular psychology with a few religious themes thrown in.  Popular teachers and writers such as Rick Warren are less minister of the gospel than motivational speaker, with more in common with Dr Phil than Jesus Christ.
This perspective has become so pervasive that if a modern psychologist says something people tend to take them at their word, uncritically, because it sounds good and familiar.  But are all the things we've been told over the years about psychology true?  And are they even what psychologists themselves are teaching, or are they some distortion or misunderstanding?
It turns out quite a few of the things people believe are simply not supported by science or psychology at all.  Here's just a handful:
SELF ESTEEM:This seems to be waning slightly, but for decades, the most critical cause of teachers and parents was the "self esteem" of young people.  They had to feel good about themselves first, or they would always be crushed by low self esteem and never accomplish what they might.  They'd feel bad, and always be held back.
This one can be traced back quite a ways, but the modern version seems to have really got going with Norman Vincent Peale's book The Power of Positive Thinking.  This one kicked off the "if you just believe in yourself, you can do anything" that Disney movies have been promoting for decades.  Its the message of countless movies, TV shows, books, and other media: you can do it!
For decades, psychologists claimed that nearly every neurosis and psychosis could be traced back to self esteem problems.  People felt bad about themselves and lashed out in fury at the world.  Its not Jimmy's fault, he just wasn't raised to love himself enough. 
The world responded well to this, always eager to think better of themselves.  Competitive games were banned.  Prizes were offered for participation.  Kids were praised for whatever they did, no matter how awful.  Children were even allowed to be wrong in spelling and other basic educational areas to avoid damaging their self esteem with hurtful negative reinforcement.
A recent study has shown that to be just nonsense, and even damaging nonsense.  In 2003, a research team examined all the voluminous data on the topic and found that there's virtually no connection between low self esteem and psychological damage or trauma.  In the report “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness or Healthier Lifestyles?” they noted that self-esteem is minimally related to interpersonal success and not consistently related to either alcohol or drug abuse.
They pointed out that any connection between school performance and self esteem is probably the reverse of what educators expect: doing well in school results in higher self esteem and critical to changing modern perspectives on the topic is this quote: "low self-esteem is neither necessary nor sufficient for depression."
In fact, the opposite effect seems to be true when it comes to troubled kids and self esteem.  Young people raised to think wonderfully of themselves no matter how they do and avoid anything that might draw that into question become troubled later in life.  Research shows that such people tend to become aggressive and even violent when their superiority is drawn into question.
Which really is just common sense.  If you teach kids that life can be hard and how to overcome it instead of making sure nothing bad happens to them and praising them even when they're awful, they will grow up feeling an appropriate level of joy over triumph and challenge when things go badly.  If you give them participation trophies and never expose them to failure or sadness, they will have no skills or mindset to deal with those things when they inevitably take place.
SUBLIMINAL: For years subliminal advertising was considered a powerful trick to get people to do what someone wanted.  Its even been banned everywhere because it was thought of as so evil and manipulative.  Movie theaters used to experiment with it, flashing a single frame of an image of popcorn or a drink, to try to manipulate people into buying.
The theory is that it flashes by so fast your visual centers pick it up, but its too fast for your brain to process visually.  All you get is the mental information without even realizing it.  There are several problems with this theory, the main one being physiological.  Your brain and eyes can only pick up and comprehend images at a certain speed, and if you pick them up, you pick them up wholly, not in parts.  In other words, if something flashes by so fast you don't pick it up visually... you won't pick it up at all.  The human eye can only pick up images about 1/10th of a second long.  Some very gifted people can pick things up very slightly faster, but that's pretty much the limit.  Subliminal images are fired past at much, much faster speeds, 1/3000 of a second or less.  Your brain and eyes cannot even notice something that fast.
Where did all this come from?  I'm glad you asked, I'll let someone else give the history:
Most of the companies flogging subliminal products cite the work of a market researcher - one James M. Vicary.

In 1957 he announced that he'd made a breakthrough in advertising.. ...namely subliminals

Vicary described the results of a six week experiment that he had done in a cooperative movie theater. He claimed that a projector was was manipulated to flash "drink coke", and "eat popcorn" on the screen for 1/3000th of a second every five seconds.

Vicary claimed that the result was that popcorn sales went up 57.5 percent over the six weeks; Cokes sales were up 18.1 percent.

In the following months, Vicary refused to release any of his data including the location of the theater where the tests were supposedly done. Other scientists tried to duplicate his work but could not produce anything similar to what he claimed.

When challenged to reproduce his findings Vicary agreed to conduct a publicly announced test on CBC stations. In January 1958, the subliminal message "telephone now" was flashed 352 times during a half-hour show.

The results showed no noticeable increase in telephone use during or after the program. However, the CBC received thousands of letters claiming inexplicable desires to get a can of beer, to go to the bathroom, and to change the channel.

Not one single caller correctly guessed what the subliminal message was.
It doesn't work.  Your subconscious isn't any faster than your conscious mind, your eyes and brain cannot pick up images and concepts that swiftly.  Its still attempted, of course.  It just doesn't work.
RAGE AWAY: We're told this all the time.  Better to let it out.  Don't bottle up your anger, or you'll get ulcers, you'll become neurotic, you'll snap eventually.  Squeeze that stress doll, punch that pillow, let it out or you'll eventually let it out on something else.  That's what we're told, and its a very common theme in popular media.
The truth is, studies have shown it doesn't help at all.  Not only does research show that it does not actually reduce the building stress inside you, it actually suggests that it makes matters worse.  It seems that the release of violence and rage can actually be a rewarding experience, which leads people to want to become angry again and get the reward.  So instead of keeping you from getting out of control, it might even contribute to you going berserk.
And if you create a habit of beating things up when you get mad, then that's what you'll do instead of actually dealing with the problem or handling the stress, out of habit rather than anything beneficial.  The basic theory behind this is not wrong: you do need to deal with stress and anger.  Its just hitting stuff and the rest doesn't help deal with it.  All it does is release that adrenaline-fueled energy, and does nothing about the cause or your reaction to the cause.
OPPOSITES ATTRACT: This one we get pretty much every single movie and TV show that has ever been about romance.  Its an appealing concept: if you're a dumpy unattractive sort, you want to believe you can score with that hot cheerleader or the quarterback.  Every French romance ever put to film is about how someone ugly and old can score with an endless series of amazingly hot girls.  Gerard Depardeiu was a romantic lead in dozens of these sort of films.
Its generally not true.  In fact it is extremely rare that opposites do well together.  The truth is, we do best with people we are similar to and get along well with.  The things we agree on and share in common are the basis of what we are attracted by.  A friend is simply someone who we've found we share a common interest with, and that relationship builds around that interest.
Research backs this up, showing that different types of personalities tend to prefer the same type of personality, which is really just common sense.  Even in the "opposites attract" films they end up with a relationship built around finding things in common.  Except French films, unless misery and feeling life is pointless counts.

AUTISM EPIDEMIC: If you have watched the Oprah Winfrey show or listened to any anti-vaccination advocate, you'll have gotten the impression that there are more and more kids with autism today and its a terrible trend we must fight.
In fact, the CDC numbers show that before 1990, the prevalence of autism in the United States was estimated at 1 in 2,500. By 2007, that rate was 1 in 150. Very recently new numbers were released, showing that new autism cases were: 1 in 68. That seems horrific, clearly something dreadful is happening to our children!
Well, like a lot of this kind of thing, it comes down to definition and statistics.  Each time there was a big upswing in autism cases, they happened when the CDC redefined how autism is described.  In other words, there weren't that many more new cases, they just changed how you define autism and more people fit the definition.  Like "obesity" exploding in numbers, its not a case of more actual children with autism, but more being defined as autistic because the rules shifted.
LUNATICS: The full moon.  Every cop will tell you, at least on the TV shows, that things get crazier during a full moon.  More suicides, more murders, more violence, more thefts.  Its just like people go crazy during the full moon.  This is one of the most enduring and repeated ideas in modern drama and among actual cops, emergency room workers, etc.
Except, the data doesn't support this.  Researchers in 1985 examined all the police records, admittance data in hospitals, and other evidence from around the United States to see if there was any validity at all to this claim.  They looked at  crimes, suicides, psychiatric problems, psychiatric hospital admissions, dog bites, calls to crisis centers, suicides, and psychiatric hospital admission.
No correlation or pattern emerged. There were some times when it was more, some times when it was less, and the overall pattern of full moons every 29 days showed things were no different than usual.
So why do cops and other emergency service workers swear that it takes place?  Well, there's a trick our minds pull on us, a sort of flaw with how memories work.  We "hang" memories on events and sensory input to help us recall them, and the full moon sets apart some days from other days.  If a myth starts to build in momentum, then we come to expect that myth to take place, and remember the confirmation of that myth easier when there's something to hang it on.  On days when there's not a full moon, there's nothing specific or memorable to make recalling those events easier.
To make matters worse, we tend to recall things that confirm our beliefs better than things that do not.  When there's a big uptick in emergency room admissions on a full moon we take it as proof of our beliefs.  When there's a lull, we tend to forget about it.
SHOCKING: Shock therapy seems ghastly and terrifying.  It was one of the horrors depicted in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest that Jack Nicholson's character had to endure. And the very concept seems horrific: firing bolts of electricity into someone's brain on purpose?
The thing is... it appears that, if done properly, its not as awful as it sounds.  In fact, according to the evidence, its actually been very helpful to a lot of people.  Real Clear Science quotes from a book about psychological myths and explains:
"Nowadays, patients who receive ECT... first receive a general anesthetic, a muscle relaxant, and occasionally a substance to prevent salivation," Lilienfeld described. "Then, a physician places electrodes on the patient's head... and delivers an electric shock. This shock induces a seizure lasting 45 to 60 seconds, although the anesthetic... and muscle relaxant inhibit the patient's movements..."

There's no scientific consensus on why ECT works, but the majority of controlled studies show that -- for severe depression -- it does. Indeed, a 1999 study found that an overwhelming 91% of people who'd received ECT viewed it positively.
My guess is what they do now is a lot more controlled and less awful than, say, in 1968, but there's a reason that shock therapy has been in continuous use for decades, to this day.
CULTS: People presume that anyone who joins a cult is either weak, retarded, or insane.  They're the pathetic detritus of society, the losers who are easily manipulated and worthless.  Studies actually indicate that there's no higher level of insanity in cult membership than the general public, and that cult members are no more stupid than the general public.
There is, however, a powerful natural tendency in people to become very similar in groups.  Remember high school, when everyone tended to dress and talk the same?  Consider clubs and other groupings, even motorcycle gangs.  There's nothing retarded, weak, or insane compelling them to dress in leather and have big beards.  Its just being part of the group.
The main thing that sets cults apart is a charismatic leader that provides a family that people can belong to, tied to powerful psychological stress and manipulation, and isolation from anyone who questions or dissents from the official line.  You can see this happen all the time in general society; its part of why the Common Knowledge series exists, because people are so easily manipulated into believing and accepting things which are just patently false.
If nobody questions or disagrees except those who are demonized and destroyed by your peers, it takes a pretty strong and perceptive person to even question that.  Mindlessly going along with everyone else is how societies generally work, and powerful, immoral leaders take advantage of that for their own benefit and power.
Its just a good thing to consider: cults don't work all that differently outside a lunatic's compound than they do inside it.  Its easy to get swept up by what everyone else says and believes, rather than cling to objective, absolute truth.  Its easy to get swayed by a smooth talking charismatic figure.
HOMOPHOBE: One last one here.  This one is a favorite of popular media, and its a pretty common insult.  If someone is openly opposed to homosexual behavior, they are called "homophobic" and often that's followed with "secretly queer."  Consider the awful movie American Beauty for a popular example.  Its pretty much the pattern for Hollywood along with the hypocritical sexual creep prude and the evil businessman.
There's a lot of problems with this claim, the main one being there's absolutely no evidence whatsoever in any remotest sense for it.  There's simply nothing at all which shows people who are more "homophobic" are more likely to be secretly homosexual.  Zero.  Yes, its appealing for homosexual activists to think its so, and it carries a sort of schadenfreude level justice for some to cling to, but there's nothing which supports the idea.
And, while we're on the subject: "homophobia" does not exist in a psychological sense. Its not listed in any phobias, its not even a psychological term.  Its one of those wordfare terms that are used to attack people you disagree with when you don't have a logical, reasonable case to present.  Its a name to yell at people.
Its not even defined anywhere to any precision.  The closest you can really get is "a huge range of attitudes, from people who have strong moral objection to homosexuality due to religious beliefs or upbringing, to people who physically find homosexual sex disgusting, to people who brim with an inexplicable rage toward homosexuals."
Its just a brick to hit people with that tends to shut down and discussion; and when the word is examined more closely, its just ridiculous in the first place.  Given that about half of the population or more (especially older people) find homosexual behavior to be objectionable at some level, its a pretty stupid term to throw around and has zero scientific or psychological validity.
There are a lot more of these myths out there, of course.  Some I've covered before like the "we only use 10% of our brains" one, and others like "lie detectors are reliable" and "hypnotism can get you to do anything" are simply ridiculous.  There's a book out detailing 50 of these psychological myths.
The thing is, like all religions, most people who adhere to the faith don't really know very much about it beyond the parts they find useful and appealing.  And psychology fits the human need for religion while putting virtually no burden of required behavior on anyone.  For most people, psychology is about being able to force people into categories and feel superior toward them.
When done right, it can be a valuable tool for analyzing and describing human behavior and patterns.  When done wrong, you get nonsense like the above.
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.

Friday, May 23, 2014

I'M THE GOOD GUY HERE

"I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!"
-Stuart Smalley

Professor Material
On the very same day that the New York Times did a glowing piece about unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers complete with a photo of him standing on a flag in an alley, the US was attacked by Muslim terrorists.  Almost 4000 people died in a single day's catastrophic attack, and yet immediately voices rose about how we need to be careful about a backlash against Muslims.
For some, it seems like every time something awful is done by a Muslim, their first concern is how they and others will react to it.  Am I being racist?  We need to make sure people don't blame actual Muslims for what Muslims do, that would be oppressive.
Its an odd time to live in.  These days if Pearl Harbor was attacked, the cries in the press wouldn't be WAR and COWARDLY ATTACK but stories of concern about backlash, stories of heroic Japanese Americans, and a special about how great Japanese culture is compared to the US, with a picture of Custer.  We mustn't let this act by a small number of Asian peoples draw us to conclude negative things about the Japanese people.
It seems to me that we are living in a culture and led by a government more concerned with how they might appear racist than dealing with actual acts of evil.  A culture and government more worried about mythical backlash against Muslims than the evils that Muslims perpetrate.
For these kind of people, the concern over being seen as a good person and not racist by the world and by historians in the future dominates their worldview and concerns.  I am a good guy, people like me!
And for the left, that's their primary driving force.  Its why you can't use hypocrisy against the left; they're perfectly fine with being two-faced if it means they will seem like nicer people in the end.  Sure, I contradicted myself, but it was for a good cause.  That's why feelings and symbolism matter more than results.  I tried, you have to give me credit.  My heart was in the right place, even if it didn't work.
When it comes to Islam, that's what you get: a desire to seem like a good guy, the balanced, unjudgmental sort, who likes the other and will leap to their defense against those awful warmongering conservatives.  Daniel Greenfield explains this with the term "Muslimsplaining":
As bloody bodies and smoke rise into the air after a cry of Allahu Akbar and a bomb detonation, each Muslim terrorist attack is followed by “Muslimsplaining” why the latest act of Islamic violence had nothing to do with Islam.

Sometimes the Muslimsplainers are Muslims. Often they aren’t even Muslims.

When Boko Haram, an Islamic terrorist group aligned with Al Qaeda, kidnapped Nigerian girls, the media’s Muslimsplainers sprang into action to explain why it had nothing to do with Islam.

Time featured “5 Reasons Boko Haram is Un-Islamic”; a listicle friendly article from one of those non-Muslim experts on why Islam is feminist:

“With their sustained campaign of murders and kidnappings, the members of Boko Haram conduct themselves in a manner that could barely be more alien to the Prophet Muhammad teachings,” the article claimed.
This is known as the "No True Scotsman" fallacy in which you explain away all bad things about a group you defend as being inauthentic.  They aren't really Muslim anyway.
And to a certain extent, they're right, and wrong at the same time.  The Koran is pretty contradictory.  That's because it was written by Muhammad at different stages in his career as a would-be world conqueror.  In the initial stages of his inventing Islam, he presented it as a moral system and a warning.  The first chapters of the Koran read a lot like parts of the Bible, especially Jesus' sermons: repent for judgment is at hand.  It condemns immoral behavior and calls for repentence.  Then, as Muhammad gained followers and began his series of military campaigns to conquer all surrounding areas in the name of his new religion, the themes shifted.
Now it was all about defeating and subjugating the wicked.  About how Muslim warriors are the hand of Allah on earth and fighting against the evil unbeliever who will be punished.  Here instead of a call for personal repentance there are calls for conquest and destruction, slaughtering the wicked and cutting the heads off of those who will not submit or convert.
The News you didn't get from Egypt
Then, having beaten almost everyone and in power, the tone shifts again.  The last parts of the Koran are about how to govern, how to live, what to do in minute detail down to what hand to eat with, and information on how to live with the wicked Jew and Christian who are so close to Islam.  The calls for death and conquest are subdued and fade away in this last bit, but complaints about women and how to keep them under control are pretty much the exclusive content of the last few chapters.
Now, Muslims say that there is a principle where older parts of the Koran are understood or replaced by the newer; so if there's a conflict between part A and part C, the part C bits are the ones you follow.
But then it gets complicated.  Because the Hadith is a collection of stories allegedly about Muhammad from his life, collected anecdotes, quotes, information, and tales of his life that are then used to interpret the Koran and create Islamic law with.  And these can wildly differ, conflict with, and even completely contradict each other.  
To make matters worse, for a thousand years or so, different Sharia Courts and Imams have been making official proclamations about Islam that are not just suggestions but absolute total voice-of-Allah law of Islam and the countries that it controls.
And these, too, can be totally at odds.  So its a horrible contradictory mess of conflicting absolutes all claiming to be the total voice of Allah.  And, as Muhammad himself allegedly said, Allah changes his mind sometimes, that's why the conflicts in his writings.
The end result is that Islam can be honestly portrayed as both peaceful and opposing horrible violence against people... and violent conquerors out to behead anyone who disagrees.  Because both are true.
The problem with all this is that its academic.  The people doing these horrific things are not Buddhists, Hindus, or Presbyterians.  Its not Baptists or Shintoists, its not Sikhs or Mormons.  Its Muslims. In other times, those other groups may or may not have been terrible and violent but right now its almost always Muslims if a religious group is doing something.
And pretending otherwise, for whatever reason, is simply idiotic.  These guys claim to be Muslim, and they can make a good case for it - especially as Ismaeli Islam (that's the guys who think girls need to be circumcised to control their uncontrollable seductive evil).
This kneejerk need to claim they aren't Muslim has nothing to do with Islam at all.  It has to do with wanting to seem like a nice guy, like the upper road traveler, the one who doesn't judge and isn't a racist.  Its about me in other words, not them at all; and in the end, that's what it always ends up about for the left.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

ON WRITING AND SUCH

Just a quick note, I have shifted my writing-themed and author focused posts and will from now on to a blog called Inscribed I've had a while but was lying fallow.  It was originally just a place to park and back up old stories, but I've converted it and the layout to be full time just focus on writing and the business of writing.
So if you were or are interested in that content, that's where it will be from now on, instead of here at Word Around the Net.  The theory is if I have a writing blog and build up an audience there, its a "platform" from which to get sales and word of mouth about my writing and me, which will help as a business.  In theory.
Hey, I can't do any worse in sales so its worth a shot.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

BEING BAD ON PURPOSE

I had a huge post written about a couple of oddities, and it blew up without saving anything but a little shred of the post.  I'm just not in the mood to rebuild it all so I'll just post the stuff it was around without comment and people can just think about it themselves.
First: why some prices on Amazon are so crazy, regarding a 23 million dollar book on flies.
At first I thought it was a joke – a graduate student with too much time on their hands. But there were TWO new copies for sale, each be offered for well over a million dollars. And the two sellers seemed not only legit, but fairly big time (over 8,000 and 125,000 ratings in the last year respectively). The prices looked random – suggesting they were set by a computer. But how did they get so out of whack?

Amazingly, when I reloaded the page the next day, both priced had gone UP! Each was now nearly $2.8 million. And whereas previously the prices were $400,000 apart, they were now within $5,000 of each other. Now I was intrigued, and I started to follow the page incessantly. By the end of the day the higher priced copy had gone up again. This time to $3,536,675.57. And now a pattern was emerging.
And then a video about how the music industry is cutting its own throat with lipsynching and autotuning (content warning: Britney Spears singing without autotune or backup singers masking her voice):

With this comment on why autotune is worse than just weirdly robotic sounding stuff that ruins singing.
Even if A=432 Hz sounded better, music wouldn't sound a lot better because we use 12 tone equal temperament [TET] which is a bit dissonant tuning. What 12 TET means is that the distance between every half step is equally long and there are 12 notes in our scale.

For example to make major thirds sound good, you need to tune them down a bit. 12 TET is a compromise - it makes your instrument sound good enough in any key. If there was no 12 TET, music would sound better in one key but whenever there was a key change, you would need to change your tuning a bit or change your instrument - you would need to have an instrument for every key.

As I said, the major third in "perfect tuning" is a bit flat compared to 12 TET that instruments like piano and guitar use. If you have a good ear, you can hear when a major chord is perfectly in tune. Instruments that can do it (for example strings and wind instruments) play the third a bit flat. This has to do with the overtones. If you play harmonics on guitar, you'll notice why 12 TET doesn't sound perfect. If you play the harmonic on your fourth fret, that's the major third. Look at your tuner - it says it's a bit flat. When you play the open string, the note actually includes all the harmonics - one note isn't just one frequency. It includes the fifth, octave, major third (a bit flat), minor 7th (flat), major 2nd, augmented 4th (in between perfect 4th and augmented 4th) and major 6th (pretty close to minor 6th). This is the overtone scale (1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7) (also known as lydian dominant). And when you play a major chord on a 12 TET instrument, the major third you play isn't in tune with the overtones of the root note. That makes it sound slightly dissonant and that's why you need to play the third a bit flat.

I don't know about A=432 Hz but that alone won't make your music sound a lot better because of 12 TET.

A=440Hz isn't the only standard tuning. That's just a standard in popular music. But lots of songs are tuned a bit lower or a bit higher than A=440Hz (especially in a bit older music, for example some 80s Metallica songs were tuned a bit higher and some 70s AC/DC songs a bit lower). Also, in classical bands people tune to A=442Hz, sometimes even a bit higher.

I like some lousy music too, but I don't think it all should be that way.

Monday, May 19, 2014

MIRROR TAKE

All other ground is sinking sand...
-Edward Mote, "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less"

A judge is set to give a ruling in Oregon today on homosexual "marriage."  Voters overwhelmingly voted to define marriage in the Oregon constitution as being between one man and one woman, and the case went to the courts to overthrow this popular vote.  The judge deciding is a homosexual leftist, so you can guess how its going to turn out.  Some would say this is a conflict of interest, given the judge's status and desire to marry their "partner," but the judge disagrees and in the end it won't matter.
The controversy over this issue (I won't call it a debate, because to the extent there actually is any attempt at engaging people on the topic it tends to degrade into a shouting match, without any intellectual give and take) is odd to behold.  Consider this little bit from a recent news show.
William Rhoden suggested that perhaps the media and the NFL should show a little respect to people who disagree with a homosexual man's lifestyle, and the news personality on the show answered this way:
Tolerance, no, is not – it should not be a two-way street. It’s a one-way street.

You cannot say to someone that who you are is wrong, an abomination, is horrible, get a room, and all of those other things that people said about Michael Sam, and not be forced — not forced, but not be made to understand that what you’re saying and what you’re doing is wrong.
Now, this is on MSNBC and the person making this statement is one of their talking heads, so no surprise, right?  Except the sole virtue of MSNBC (besides giving conservative commentators red meat to post on) is that they tend to be the unabashed voice of the hard left; they say what the hard left is thinking, but tends to keep to themselves.  "Forced to understand" probably was a slip; what he'd like to see happen but knows shouldn't say.
Now, before you get all red meaty on me, consider a moment.  Why would he say something like this?  Why would he say that you cannot tolerate some people, that they must instead always tolerate you, turning tolerance into not a virtue but a law?
Well first off, this person is a fool and has no real comprehension of the term "tolerance" to begin with, other than it just being a bludgeon.  But besides that, he's doing what everyone does when faced with a basic moral quandary.  There are lines beyond which everyone won't normally go, the place they consider too far and too awful.  I'm not talking about behavior here, but beliefs, ideals, and thoughts.
You see, tolerance of any kind always has its limits: you cannot tolerate some acts or beliefs because they are considered evil.  Typically people will tolerate someone thinking all women are prey for their sexual appetites, but not someone thinking they should be dragged off and raped.  Most will tolerate someone thinking all of life is about money and acquisition, but not someone thinking theft and fraud are perfectly fine behavior.
Its a difference between "well that's a bad way to look at things" and "you need to change your mind on that topic."  Where this line is drawn is different for each person..  For some, the lines are pretty blurry; people who claim Libertarianism tend to be pretty flexible.  For others, those lines are very clearly drawn: if you disagree with abortion, you're a monster, if you agree with giving amnesty to illegal immigrants, you are horrible, etc.
Further, how you response to those lines being crossed varies as well.  Most people will stop at "That's awful and I think you should change" but often keep it to themselves and that's as far as it gets: a wish that someone would not be that way.
Increasingly, more people seem to be taking it a bit further.  If you disagree with me on x topic, you must be removed from office, lose you job, be boycotted, have your reputation destroyed.  Merely donating almost ten years ago to a cause that you disagree with is enough to have you run out on a rail.  I've had leftists literally admit that they care nothing about tolerance any more.  My way or the highway, they aren't even keeping up the pretense any longer.
But in the end, the basic principle is always the same: I will only put up with so much.  And for this MSNBC personality, the line is drawn at rejecting homosexual behavior.  Reject that and you cannot be tolerated any longer.
Here's the thing that people need to consider, though.  If you consider it horrible and unloving, an unthinkable violation of civil rights to oppose public homosexual behavior, you do so based on a set of morals which you adhere to and believe others ought to as well.
And the people who consider homosexual behavior sinful and ghastly do so as well: they are basing their reaction to a set of morals which they adhere to and believe others ought to as well.
Both sides on this issue have chosen or been led to hold a set of principles which they believe should shape life, thought, and activity.  Both sides are making their decision upon a set of moral principles.
Which is right?  Which is wrong?  How do we make that call?
In other words, why should we listen to one side and not the other?  What basis, what system do we use to decide which is correct?
And how can one side say that the other is absolutely wrong and horrible, how can you decide one so completely that you attack and try to destroy the other?  You believe you are right and they are wrong.  They believe the same thing.  Why should one side dominate the debate, culture, and legal system instead of the other?  How do you decide who wins in a fight like that?
For the modern person on the left, the system is simply "shut up!" far too often.  There's not even an attempt to defend what they are saying or persuade.  There's no argument, no set of statements intended to sway the listener, simply a series of attacks and insults meant to shut them up.
Because they believe their opponents are so wicked and awful that they must be silenced, that they are so bad that nobody should even listen to what they have to say.  That they're like some kind of plague that should be wiped out, not given any contact with, lest something awful happen.
And further, I doubt any of them have the first tool to even attempt to think through the whys and wherefores.  This is just how it is, and anyone who disagrees is a monster.  Everyone thinks this way, its crazy/evil to be different.  Everyone I know thinks like this, its obvious, who could possibly disagree but a horrible person?
And that happens on both sides: people so blindly insulated from the world, so separated from dissenting viewpoints that they are shocked and confused, lashing out when confronted with something they are unfamiliar with.  Yet there seems to be a section of society on the left today which has been exposed to different viewpoints but still holds to this kind of position.
See, the idea typically goes like this: we should be nice to people.  Making people upset or unhappy is bad.  If what they want to do doesn't directly, financially, and tangibly hurt me in some specific easily identifiable way, then they should be allowed to do whatever they wish.  Anyone who disagrees with this is unloving and awful, because there can be no possible good reason to question this set of principles.
Now, I'd argue that in almost every case, this is based not on some high set of altruistic principles but upon a basic fallen human one:
I want to be able to do anything I want without someone making me feel bad or telling me "no," but I'll shape it in terms of other people so it seems generous and good.
But either way, its the same concept: I hold a great position of kindness and love and if you vary from that, you're clearly horrible.
Yet this idea isn't based on anything except the latest trends in society.  For example, not that long ago, the idea of homosexual "marriage" was held to be oppressive and "heteronormative;" a laughable if not cruel concept that sought to dominate and control homosexuals based on a template straight people created for themselves.  That was the primary response to the idea in academia and the think tanks of the left.
Now suddenly its a violation of human rights to oppose the idea.  In just a few short years, it went from being evil to support homosexual "marriage" to being evil to oppose it.  Why?  Because the prevailing winds of society shifted.
Not that long ago, people understood that sucking burning materials into your lungs is a bad idea, and being stoned was damaging to your productivity and ability to function in society.  Now its a bad idea to oppose legalization of pot.
Not that long ago, Guantanamo Bay, eavesdropping on terrorist phone calls, "rendition" of terrorist suspects to other places for interrogation, and drone strikes were considered the very worst kind of evil imaginable demonstrative of a dangerously tyrannical warmongering, bloodthirsty government that must be overthrown at all costs.  Now its at worst a minor concern, something you wish would change but you're more busy boycotting a chicken franchise.
The changes here were not based on any overarching absolute system of principles and beliefs, but upon the latest cultural trends and politically useful positions.  What was once useful to a group has changed and now the opposite is useful.
And that's the main concern I have with this debate.  You have two sides here, each holding their moral position strongly, and between them the difference finally in the end breaks down to this:
  • Side A: I hold this position because the latest trends and leftist commissars say so, and will change, even reverse my position tomorrow if they change.  You must adhere to my position because I have the power to make it so.
  • Side B: I hold my position based on absolute, objective, outside laws of moral behavior, an enduring ethical system which has been true and reliable for thousands of years.  You must adhere to my position because God has the power to make it so.
And between those two, which seems to be the most stable, reliable, and least self interested?  Which seems to be the more constructive and effective way to build a society around?  Which seems like a better foundation, between these two choices, for a culture to be built upon?
And even if you reject these characterizations I must ask again: why pick one over the other, what is your basis for preferring Side A or Side B of this argument?  Because mine is based on thousands of years of human history and the stability, solidity, and reliability of a position, not how it makes me feel or makes me appear to peers.
In the end, we'll all have to decide.  Its just telling to me that increasingly Side A is taking the position that you must decide their way or pay a price.  And that seems... contrary to their stated ideals of love, tolerance, and kindness.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

POD WARS

“The good news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself. The bad news about self publishing is you get to do everything yourself.”
―Lori Lesko

I am an independent writer, which means I publish my own work instead of going through a publishing house.  That's as opposed to a vanity writer, who pays a publisher to print their own work; the distinction might seem obscure but its significant: I get paid for my work, instead of paying someone else.  Not much mind you, but paid.
Because I'm not a printing house, I have to rely on someone else to print my work.  At first, when I came out with my first book (The Fantasy Codex) in 2006, I used LazerQuik printers in town here.  It was a matter of giving them the files on a disc and they printed me a box of Codices.  Eventually I managed to sell most of them, but it was a major expense up front and difficult to reach out to more distant buyers.
Then  I found Lulu.com.  This company is an online print-on-demand (POD) business that lets you upload the files you desire and build a book, then print as many as you wish.  Even more handy is that they have a store so other people can print and buy your books as you wish; Lulu takes the lion's share of the money and give you some based on how you price your book.
Now, they take more than I wish, but the convenience and ease of sales make up for a lot of that.  Personally I'd prefer making more than about 10% off each book, but that's the best I can do right now and reasonably expect sales.
I've used Lulu for a while now and they have been pretty solid in terms of quality.  However, Lulu isn't the only game in town.  Amazon has partnered with (or perhaps owns, I'm not sure) a company called CreateSpace.  This company is set up to help people print their own books and materials as well, a POD company.  However, CreateSpace is tied to Amazon, so once you get a book set up and ready to sell on there, it goes on the world's largest book seller's website automatically.
This is, I admit, a major advantage, and one I'm looking into.  There are several other different POD companies out there of varying quality and validity, such as Lightning Source, but these are the top two.  I'm trying out CreateSpace but as I started working on it, I noticed some interesting things.
For example, Lulu allows you now to print books in proper paperback form, rather than "trade" which is larger and less popular with readers.  Book readers are strangely conservative and traditional, so they don't care for oddly sized and shaped fiction, and they want things the way they've always had it, even without realizing it consciously.  Having books printed in the right size makes Lulu's POD service very attractive, since nobody else offers it that I can find on the internet.
What's the difference?  Here's a photo showing both sizes: "pocket" and trade paperback size.  The smaller one is the same size as your basic paperback you have nearby:
Now I'm able to offer both Snowberry's Veil and Old Habits in regular paperback book size, which is a big help in promoting my work - and get this, the smaller book size is cheaper, a lot cheaper, so I don't have to charge 15 bucks for a book to get any profit.
However, there are drawbacks.  First, the paper.  This isn't something I remember ever paying attention to, but take a look at a sheet of paper from your printer and a page from a paperback (go ahead and grab them both, I'll wait).
See the difference in color and texture?  Printer paper is crisp white stuff and the pages of your paperback are softer and more cream colored.  There's historical reason for this: Paperbacks were the red headed stepchild of printing, the cheap crappy version of a book that was knocked off on cheap paper and printed quick and dirty for wider distribution.  They cost a lot less than hardbound books and are more disposable - you can cram one in your pocket and carry it around without feeling too badly about it.
But now, when people read a paperback, they expect not only that certain size, but the look and feel of a paperback.  They want that cheap crappy paper because that's what they're used to and comfortable with.  And Lulu does not offer cream colored paper with their paperbacks.  So that's a major strike against the company.  CreateSpace does, but again; wrong paperback size.
Now, both companies allow you to upload and will tell you if something is wrong with your basic text.  Lulu warns you if you upload an improperly formatted page size in your document that it is a different size from your chosen book.  Heed this warning.
See the problem with self publishing with a POD is that they want their money as bad as "gentleman" Jimmy Burke from Goodfellas.  Lulu won't show up where you work and beat your head with the phone as they strangle you with the cord, but they won't send you the book unless you buy it.  And you can't see how your book was truly laid out in Lulu unless you buy a copy.  Now, you don't have to pay yourself, so all you pay for is the base Lulu price for printing (and shipping, of course) but that's still going to be 10 or more bucks, all told.
CreateSpace, on the other hand will run some sort of computer magic and gives you a visual image, with specific warnings, of how your book has problems in formatting and where.  That's how I discovered my new wonderful "put more stuff on the page and looks good" formatting for the latest version of The Fantasy Codex was flawed.  Now I have to reformat 350+ pages of book :(
But that's a huge advantage for CreateSpace: it saves you a lot of money.  So far CreateSpace has a big plus by it in the comparison: connect to Amazon and preview book layouts vs real paperback size.
I've built covers with both companies, and they have handy online guides and systems to get it done.  Both work pretty well and while Lulu's cover designer takes a bit to get used to, it seems to have an edge; its a bit better and gives you more power over your cover.  Getting your cover exactly how you want takes a bit of graphical skill and some work on your end before you put it on the site, but that's to be expected.  When printed, Lulu's covers have that slick glossy feel (although you can get matte as well) that apparently CreateSpace does not - they don't feel quite as professional according to Dane Cavalier at Yahoo.
Lulu has an edge for global markets, however.  For now, CreateSpace is not as friendly with European formatting, and it takes a bit of effort to get them to go to other markets other than Amazon US.  Lulu also prints in other countries (they have European printers, for instance) so they can get your books to people's hands faster and cheaper and easier.
On the other hand, CreateSpace charges less to print your books so that means for the same price, you get a bigger slice of the pie.
CreateSpace only puts out paperbacks.  Now, since paperback is cheaper, you will not very likely sell many hardbound copies of your book, but that's a nice advantage for Lulu; they will let you put out a hardbound book, complete with a dust jacket over it like a regular printing.  And having bought a couple of my works through them, its very nice work, indistinguishable from other printers.
In fact, Lulu overall has many more options in terms of size and format than CreateSpace.  For example, my Fantasy Codex has always been spiral bound in paperback form, so it lays flat and can be folded under for reference.  Lulu does that, CreateSpace does not.
Both companies will produce ebook versions of your book for free and give you a lot of help putting that together as well.  Ultimately they are very similar in production, and neither one charges you a dime for simply putting a book together.  You can pay to have your book distributed a bit more quickly on Lulu, but it will show up on Amazon eventually through them no matter what.  Both companies will give you an ISBN with the printing unless you pick a format where you provide your own.  I bought a list of 10 a few years back and have a few left but I'm sparing in how I assign those.
Both companies will do more for you if you pay them.  This can run up to several thousand dollars for editing, analysis, promotion, cover design, etc.  If you have a lot of cash lying around, you can have them do all your work other than the bare writing, but I wouldn't recommend it.  Better you subcontract all that out before you get to the publishing level; it will be cheaper and more under your control.
Lulu offers an estimated price calculator up front so you can see what your book will cost before you start really building it.  CreateSpace makes you wait until you're done (but is almost always cheaper anyway).  Both 
Both will do wider distribution (libraries and bookstores, for instance) for a small fee, which I recommend if you can afford it.  Let me explain for a moment.
In the old days, book publishers would give signfiicant discounts on the cover price of a book to bookstores to entice them to pick up the book and sell it.  This helped with distribution and would get their product on the shelf.  POD companies didn't have this benefit: you had to pay full price to get that book on the shelf, and as a result, bookstores declined.
That's changed.  POD companies a year or two ago started offering discounts as well, comparable to what the big publishers were offering.  This probably started happening because a lot of big publishing houses are moving to POD as well.  So if you pay the fee to Lulu or CreateSpace (cheaper fee), they will make this available to bookstores.  That means your local bookstores and even what's left of big chain stores will find your book on their lists for discounts to make available on their shelves.
So if they get demand, they will make it available in small batches, and as they sell, buy more.  That's something to seriously consider.
Between the two it seems to come down to this: CreateSpace will give you lower cost and quicker distribution, with cream colored paper, with a nicer interface and no need to buy your own galley proofs.  Lulu gives you easier world distribution and hardbound books, plus a proper paperback size.  If Lulu ever offered cream colored paper for their paperbacks, they'd be the winner for me because of that size.  Because of the cost and the paper color, CreateSpace might be the way you want to go.
For hardbound, you have to go through Lulu, because CreateSpace won't offer you it at all.
So that's the rundown for me, at least.  I won't be using CreateSpace for the moment because of the size.  While I get less per copy by going through Lulu, I get the book I need to reach peoples' hands, and since I can offer Snowberry's Veil for 10 bucks plus shipping to people, that's a good enough deal for me.
Remember: going through an old publishing model with an editor and agent and all that translated into $1 per book profit.  If I can get at least that much per book, I'm still on the plus side.  And if people are turned off by the size of my book when they shop for it, I get no money at all.
Once CreateSpace offers the proper sized paperback, I won't look back: right size, right paper, cheaper costs, and instant Amazon distribution?  Yeah.

Monday, May 12, 2014

THOSE PEOPLE

"I'm keepin it real!"
Yeah, real dumb!
-Old Chris Rock

I have read a couple different articles over the years by police officers, parole officers, teachers, and other assorted people who deal with inner city blacks.  Almost inevitably they are incredibly bleak and paint a very unflattering and depressing image.
For example, this piece by a man claiming to be a Public Defender.  Certainly  he's got details and inside information that makes his claim seem plausible:
When I am appointed to represent a client I introduce myself and explain that I am his lawyer. I explain the court process and my role in it, and I ask the client some basic questions about himself. At this stage, I can tell with great accuracy how people will react. Hispanics are extremely polite and deferential. An Hispanic will never call me by my first name and will answer my questions directly and with appropriate respect for my position. Whites are similarly respectful.

A black man will never call me Mr. Smith; I am always “Mike.” It is not unusual for a 19-year-old black to refer to me as “dog.” A black may mumble complaints about everything I say, and roll his eyes when I politely interrupt so I can continue with my explanation. Also, everything I say to blacks must be at about the third-grade level. If I slip and use adult language, they get angry because they think I am flaunting my superiority.

At the early stages of a case, I explain the process to my clients. I often do not yet have the information in the police reports. Blacks are unable to understand that I do not yet have answers to all of their questions, but that I will by a certain date. They live in the here and the now and are unable to wait for anything.
...
Unlike people of other races, blacks never see their lawyer as someone who is there to help them. I am a part of the system against which they are waging war. They often explode with anger at me and are quick to blame me for anything that goes wrong in their case.
...
If you tell a black man that the evidence is very harmful to his case, he will blame you. “You ain’t workin’ fo’ me.” “It like you workin’ with da State.” Every public defender hears this. The more you try to explain the evidence to a black man, the angrier he gets. It is my firm belief many black are unable to discuss the evidence against them rationally because they cannot view things from the perspective of others. They simply cannot understand how the facts in the case will appear to a jury.
There's quite a bit more along those lines, including an analysis of the pros and cons of testimony by someone like Jenteal Rachel and the spirituality and religion of black women.  Overall, the result of these experiences has changed this lawyer.  He says he started out believing "that blacks are law abiding, intelligent, family-oriented people, but are so poor they must turn to crime to survive." He ends up saying " my experience has also taught me that blacks are different by almost any measure to all other people. They cannot reason as well. They cannot communicate as well. They cannot control their impulses as well. They are a threat to all who cross their paths, black and non-black alike."
Some would find this comforting confirmation of their worldview.  Told ya they was all like that.  Its easy to find something to support negative views of humanity because all too often humans are awful.
Now this is not an unusual response.  Many people who deal with awful folks day in and day out get a pretty low view of humanity, and if those people are a certain slice of humanity, they turn against that slice.  Blacks who had to deal with bigoted, hateful idiot whites get to where they figure all white folks are that way.  If this Public Defender had to deal with Appalachian poor whites in the meth and prostitution trade, he'd likely have a very dim view of whites, particularly if he was, say, Asian.
The truth is, blacks in the inner city are for the most part in an awful place, and a lot of it is self perpetuating.  Attempts to help them are attacked as racist, or "being too white" or "gentrifying" so poor folks can't live in the neighborhood any more, or destroying their culture, and so on.
It seems to me that the reasons they are in this condition can be narrowed down to this:
  • Their peers don't want others to succeed.  It makes them look bad by comparison and everyone is told they are "selling out" or "being too white" if they reject the culture that's holding them back.  If you do well, they look like losers, so you must be kept down with them.  What, you think you're better than me/us?
  • Their "leadership" has found it too profitable and useful to keep them in this situation, by blaming all problems on racism, rejecting any attempts to change things, and constantly calling back specters of the past as if always current because that puts money in their pockets and power in their portfolio. The man is keeping you down!  Now pass that offering plate around.
  • Their support network of government, social workers, welfare, and so on all works to keep them from becoming self reliant, and pushes a victim mentality upon everyone constantly, reinforcing the idea that everyone else is always to blame for everything that befalls them.  You can't make it in this culture without our help, there's too much racism.
  • Their culture praises and celebrates thug life, treating it as authentic where any other life is at best treated with suspicion, if not contempt for its weakness.  Music, movies, television, etc all depict "real blackness" in a way that tends to restrict, not build up or give hope.  I'm keepin' it real!
  • Their own selves refuse to find a way to get out, to break the mold, and to hope for more.  They buy into the nonsense and web of dependency they are sold.  It is very hard to break free of a life you've been raised in and all you know, so this is not a major factor, but it is real.  Not everyone buys into what they're sold.
And if you look around, you can see its not only blacks that have bought into this.  There are plenty of poor whites who blame others for all their problems. Its the government, its the Jews (??), its rich white folks, its always someone else.  And often it is someone else abusing and using them, but not always, and almost never exclusively - its a team effort.
But I'll tell you what's not the cause of these problems: something genetically innate about blacks.  That's the conclusion this Public Defender seems to have reached, and he's wrong.  He only deals with inner city criminals, so yes, he is finding out that inner city criminals are scum.  Big surprise.  But in that same area are hard working families that make it out of the mess, that start businesses, that move away from the culture and the problems.
And around the nation of America, most blacks are middle class.  Yes, I know that sounds crazy, because we've been told for 20+ years that "Cliff Huxable don't live around here" and nearly every depiction of blacks in popular media is poor (or the nerdy white-sounding blacks who learn to get soul and sound more like inner city kids to become authentic).
But its true, most blacks are either rich or middle class and the minority are poor.  A lot of people live in the inner city, but a lot more don't.  Overall, according to Census data, 48% of blacks in America are middle class, and 10% are considered "wealthy" ($200,000 a year or more in income).  That means the slice of people that this PD is dealing with is a minority, a small portion of the black population.  And of that population, only a portion are the kind of people he describes.
The problem is our culture sells folks a double bill of nonsense, saying x group is responsible for all your woes so you need our help and at the same time saying if only you got to college you'd be fine.  College won't solve anyone's problems until they change their worldview and attitude.  You can't make it far in most colleges if you refuse to learn out of concern you're "turning white" and if you do find a college that lets you do that, its giving you a horrendous education.
The truth is, these days, you're almost always better off without a college education, given its dubious quality and extreme expense.  And you're responsible for your own life, no matter what anyone else is doing.
We have a culture where white kids are told they are a wonderful glowing rainbow snowflake of special gleaming unique glory, and black kids are told they are being held back by everything and everyone and the world owes them everything.  And in the end everyone suffers for it.

Friday, May 09, 2014

FROM LIGHT INTO SHADOW

"These people are playing with matches… I don’t think they understand the scope and scale of the wildfire they are flirting with."

Can you hear the drums?  They aren't off in the distance any more, they're next door.  They are very rhythmic and primal, they get you at the gut, where your emotions are.
People write about civilization vs barbarism and the danger of collapse we face.  I've done it in the past, comparing barbarity with civilization and examining where civilization ends and barbarism begins, and I've written about how liberty seems to inevitably lead to collapse, that the end result of civilization is to suicide.  But the more I think about it, the more I think the danger is not barbarity, but turning primitive. 
Consider the culture we now live in.  We have all the trappings of civilization; we have a system of education, laws, a shared language, a written language, organized entertainment, artistic expression, and so on.  There is comfort, peace, safety, and structure of a society.  We seem civilized.
But increasingly, the culture is primitive.  Just look at a few aspects of our culture and how they display primitivism.
  • Our culture is increasingly tribal, with small groups of conflicting bands of groups identified more by who they oppose and hate than what they have in common.
  • Taboos are getting stronger, with specific, absolute laws of banned behavior rather than principles and ethical guidelines.
  • The music is more simple and primitive, replacing melody, harmony, and structure with a pleasing "groove" and a good beat, repeating words over and over.
  • The art is less and less about beauty, design, perspective, color, and other principles of art and more about the shocking and emotionally compelling, abandoning all those principles.
  • The writing is increasingly small in its vocabulary and lurid, more focused on strong emotional reaction and events rather than considering meaning and significance.
  • The film spectacles are mostly stunning visuals and events, like a shocking painted face and an animal mask dancing around a fire.
  • Our education is less about learning to face life and understand things than shaping someone to be a better member of our given tribe.
  • We're sacrificing babies daily to the altar of our greatest god: personal happiness and convenience.
  • We're daily scolded for breaking taboos which is bringing a terrifying judgement by nature unless we repent and change our ways.
  • Our spirituality is not about understanding and ideas, not about ethics and truth, but about superstitions and fears - driven by emotions and deeply internal rather than universal and absolute.
  • Our leadership is increasing becoming a set of untouchable, unaccountable absolute overlords who live off us in style and riches while scolding us for our greed and selfishness.
In the end, I'm left with the vision of not civilization at all, not even barbarism.  We're a bone's throw away from living in a cave.  We have some of the appearance of civilization, but we're increasingly pre-civilization.  We have wonderful comforts and distractions, but then so did people in Tahiti.  But that didn't make them civilized.
This is something cultural relativists actually get right: those barbaric cultures had a civilization, of sorts.  The Iroquois had a language, the Germanic tribes had education and medicine.  No group of humans on earth ever were utterly without any civilized structures whatsoever.  Even in a Lord of the Flies setting, people build up cultural structures and are as civilized are they are able.
The difference is the level of sophistication and meaning in a culture, not its furniture.  Having music and art and education doesn't make a group civilized, it makes them human.  What you do with that, why its there, what it says and how it affects the culture is what makes them civilized.  The bare existence of medicine and language isn't enough, it has to do something greater and more meaningful than mere pragmatic application.
Civilization is when you take that written language and write The Odyssey.  Civilization is when you take those instruments and write The Messiah.  Having the ability to discuss ideas matters only when you take it to places like The City of God or Plato's Dialogues.  Being able to craft art only matters when you produce something like Mona Lisa or The Maltese Falcon.
As much as I like The Avengers, it was meaningless junk.  It was entertaining but shallow as a sheet of paper.  There's a time and place for that, not everything has to be wonderful and deep, but if that's the pinnacle of your civilization... you're not civilized at all.
The film Idiocracy put this all down to demographics.  The film proposed that over the centuries the smart people didn't have many, or any, kids, and the dumb people bred like rabbits and just overwhelmed the world.  But if you look around you can see that its happening in less than a generation and not by breeding.  The stupid and shallow has taken over western culture while presenting its self as amazingly intellectual and erudite.
The truth is, this shift is ideological; that is, it is based on what people believe and why, what they think is important and true, and what they understand about life.  There's a piece at Taxi Cab Depressions which presents its self as an encounter with a curmudgeon which is very powerful and compelling.
Called The Pig Trap, its an examination of the slow prison we've allowed to be built around us and what it means to us.  The (probably apocryphal) person in the piece says:
...the sad truth is that 95% of the problems we have in this country could be solved tomorrow, by noon… simply by dragging 100 people out in the street and shooting them in the f***ing head.”

And lemme tell ya, he had the list… he rattled off 25 or 30 names of well-known, prominent politicians, mostly Democrats, but a few Republicans, several members of the current Cabinet, a couple of Obama’s “czars”, a couple of figures from the Bush administration and the Republican establishment, several media company executives and on-camera newscasters, reporters, and pundits, a couple of people who are active in leftist politics but not in elected office… he had obviously thought about this to some degree already.
He's right.  This is critical to understand: large cultural movements almost always are driven by small groups of very dedicated people.  The American Revolution involved a small segment of the population and only about a third of the colonists are estimated to truly back the idea of revolt against the King.
Its easy to be cynical about this and declare with condescension "well most people are stupid and worthless so they are easily led around like sheep mbaaa," but the truth is, I believe, much less cold.  People are busy.  They have their lives, they are chasing that naked toddler around the house with a towel trying to dry them off after the bath.  They have to get the dishes done, and that TPS report finished, and read that next chapter for their report, and tear down the transmission on that K-Car before noon.  Everyone has a life, and most of those people's lives are so full they don't have time or inclination to think about the whys and the wherefores.
So they trust others to do so, or at least rely on them when it comes up.  OK, what he says sounds right, whatever, I gotta get this done.  They aren't inclined and don't have the time it takes to get to that right away, and so they delegate the ideas and the cultural shifts to others, hoping they do it right.  Sure, most people are pretty easily manipulated by slick packaging, emotional appeals, and clever language.  That's why advertising works.  That's why politicians campaign.
So a combination of no time and credulity tends to work.  A small group of people can do an awful lot of damage - or good - by being tireless and focused and dedicated.  Now, my response would never be to shoot them.  Killing people for doing what I disagree with and believing things I don't care for is more evil than what they are doing.  That is the wrong response, and I reject it without qualification.
But the basic concept is valid: if this small group of people - and I have no doubt most of you can list a lot of them off the top of your head - were gone, then the rest wouldn't have the understanding, drive, or zealotry to keep it going.  They are driving this and claiming majority status in the process, but are a small number.
This isn't a case of just a demographic shift over time; if that was true, we'd becoming significantly more conservative as the left slaughters its own offspring by the thousands every day.  The truth is, its not a smart/dumb divide in childbirth in any case.  Its an urban/rural one in most cases; the urbanites have fewer children while the rural have more.  Often its ethnic as well, as immigrants have more children and long generational citizens do not.  That has nothing to do with intellect.  There's a snobbish appeal to the thought that we smart people are more cautious about childbirth and woe unto our culture, but that's just not very valid.
Our situation is the result of a change in worldview that demolished nearly everything in the past without anything substantive to replace it other than well meaning and hope.  Someone asked on Facebook what you'd say to someone who time traveled here from the mid 20th century to try to explain things and I responded with this:
Everything you held dear and believed in is now considered evil and banned, while everything you thought was crazy and sick is celebrated and protected
Patriotism?  Family?  American culture?  Faith?  All evil.  Homosexuality, abortion, adultery, pornography, etc?  All good.
This didn't happen because we bred ourselves stupid, it happened because we chose to abandon basic foundational truths for what we hoped and wished would be true instead.  This happened because of a shift in worldview from absolutes to relativism.  This happened because what you want and try is now more important than what you accomplish and succeed at.  Sure that idea didn't work, but you meant well and its a good idea, so it worked anyway because there's a deeper truth here and you're a racist homophobe for doubting it, you bitter bible-clinger.
And as this has taken place, all the things that make up true civilization have fallen apart and been replaced with the drum-hammering bone-in-the-nose primitive, dressed in hipster clothing and sporting a beard from Noah's time.
But what Idiocracy got most right is that all of it will fall to pieces, not because people are so stupid they water their crops with energy drinks, but because they will be shamed into thinking water is evil and we should abandon our old ways.
*Hat tip to American Digest for the Taxi Cab Depressions link.