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Shut people up; act hurt if they speak

It’s the new definition of free speech! What’s not to like?

Sady Doyle says it best:

1) “The people don’t want Clinton!”
2) Systematically harass voters into silence
3) “See? No-one you know is voting for her! It’s rigged!”

It doesn’t matter who you are, some little private citizen in comments, or a Hollywood celebrity, or a well-known male political worker, or a professional journalist, or, hell, even a superdelegate. (Edited to add: and another compendium of the harassment. Eta again: also more Sady Doyle, What online misogynists really want is silence.)

So the Clinton campaign finally, finally, launches Correct the Record. It’s intended to help her supporters catch the endless lies about her and point out the facts.

The response in Dudebro-land? Hillary Clinton camp now paying online trolls to attack anyone who disparages her online.

What’s next? Defending wife-beating because she had the gall to raise her arms to try to protect her head?

You know what? Silencing people, even women!, is not free speech. It’s harassment. It’s hate speech. People are gradually understanding its toxicity, but most of our laws haven’t caught up yet.

There’s this notion about free speech that the “marketplace of ideas” will sort it all out so long as everybody can say whatever they want whenever they want. Well, you know what else? Marketplaces only work when people don’t kick each others’ stalls down and nobody brings weapons.

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Bernie’s negative campaign is not the problem

 
The problem is it’s false. His accusations, innuendos, and slurs against Clinton are false.

Sanders repeats and repeats and repeats Wall-St-and-Clinton-money-corrupt-Wall-St-lying-Clinton-corrupt-money-Clinton-Wall-St on an endless loop until familiarity breeds truthiness and millions of people think they know something. It only helps his message that the Republicans have been marketing similar crap for a quarter of a century. It’s very familiar.

And where are the poor little facts in this? Over in that corner sitting all by themselves, crying into their coffee.

Start with the current ginned-up scandal, her handling of emails while Secretary of State. She set up her own server. Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell had the same setup. (Clinton’s server may have had better security than some at the Federal government like the IRS and the OMB who underwent devastating hacks. Hers was not hacked.) The emails involved were not classified at the time.

Note: not classified at the time.

The only recipients were other Federal personnel who were supposed to receive those messages. She was not quietly handing over the plans of the Pentagon to a faction of Greens in Slovakia. She was telling the truth throughout. She was handling data correctly. She was getting her work done, like Rice and Powell. Only in the fever dreams of some Republicans is any of this remotely problematic.

Continue with another ginned-up scandal, Clinton’s speaking fees. Hello? why shouldn’t she get paid speaking fees, same as every other rock star politician out there? Or is she only supposed to get 75% of what male politicians get?

If she was then a mole for Goldman Sachs in the Senate, that would be bad. But she was not. On the contrary.

There are no instances I know of where Clinton was doing the bidding of a donor or benefactor.

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And that’s Jill Abrahamson talking. As executive editor at the NYTimes it was her business to study politicians’ lies. As she says, “As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland.” Her conclusion after so much investigation of actual facts?

Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.

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(Interestingly, when news critters have to acknowledge that Clinton speaks truly, their next point is not how good that is. It’s how boring she is. No narrative, y’know?)

Meanwhile, Bernie in the first election he won did it with NRA support. Okay. Fine. But then he went his own way and did what was right, yes? No. Not at all. He’s voted for the NRAs horrid positions right up to recently. At the same time he slags off Hillary for receiving contributions without working for the donors. One rule for me, another for thee?

It goes on and on and on and on and on like that. He’s been on the keep-them-out side of immigration, he was against stem cell research when that was the easy position to take, he was for dumping New England’s nuclear waste on a poor community in Texas, he seems to think control over reproduction for women is not important. (Reiterated on Maddow’s show recently.) That’s far from all of it. A bit more here.

Hillary, meanwhile, has worked her whole political life to improve the lot of women and children. She’s worked since the early 1990s to make health care accessible to all. She’s stood on the side of rights for every deprived community including blacks, latinos, LBGT, and immigrants. Certainly, she represented Wall St. among other New Yorkers when she was Senator. They’re her constituents. She also understands the industry. She’s come up with detailed policy proposals to regulate mortgages as well as abstruse financial instruments in ways that will not blow up the economy we all depend on. The attacks against her are not only false, they’re coming from someone who has zero moral standing to make them.

Attacks, in the sense of pointing out where the other candidates are wrong, are part of the point of the election process. But throwing mud at the competition just to make them seem dirty isn’t even politics. That’s marketing.

 

1950s recipe idea marketing mayonnaise, showing a square loaf of spam stuffed with a green paste.

 
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Will nobody think of the (Drumpfian) hair?

A smart man I know — and men should really be thinking about this since it affects them all — pointed out a significant danger coming down the pike.

  1. Drumpf has hideous hair.
  2. Drumpf wants to be a dictator.
  3. We have recent evidence of what happens when a pie-faced dictator wants his peculiar hair style validated: North Korean men required to get Kim Jong-Un haircuts.
 

All I’m sayin is don’t pretend you weren’t warned.

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If sexism happens and nobody mentions it, did it hurt?

There’s much moaning about how the uncool uninteresting unrevolutionary candidate Clinton has only stodgy middle-aged (or even old!) women behind her. All the Cool Kids and men and thoughtful discussers of other people’s discussions prefer somebody else, anybody else. That is, Sanders. Some examples out of dozens: NYTimes, Salon, The Atlantic, LATimes, LATimes, LATimes. (The LATimes apparently really wants to be sure that none of those girl cooties stick to them.)

My mind reels at this stuff. I’m with Jill Filipovic. “Do ppl really not think that the first female pres would be a BIG DEAL?” And don’t try to tell me that it’s no different from first black or first Jew or first socialist or first candidate with curly hair. If they are male such people have been made leaders of countries dozens of times over. Women, on the other hand, not so much, and in the US of A, never. Never. N.E.V.E.R. Never.

Are so many people really that incapable of drawing the obvious conclusions from the obvious evidence? Somehow, I doubt it. That level of ignorance requires lots of work.

There’s a name for this situation:

1) We have a candidate with a list of accomplishments longer than a basketball player’s arms (both of them).

2) People say “Oh, that doesn’t count,” “Oh, those aren’t accomplishments,” “Oh, those aren’t her accomplishments.” ” She looks like somebody’s mom.” She is somebody’s mom. How uncool is that? Not like being a disheveled grandpa with big ideas.

Natasha Chart said it clearly. “This is a pressure that goes one way only. Men are cool, women aren’t — both are pushed to conform to stereotypical masculine norms. You know, if they want to be cool.”

The fact is, there is nothing Clinton can do that will be seen as right. She has boatloads of experience, so she’s part of the Establishment. If she had less experience, she’d be an airhead bimbo. If she’s ready for the cameras, she’s fake. If she has a hair out of place, she’s a wrinkled old fright. If she shows any military toughness, she’s a warmonger. If she didn’t, she’d be unfit to be Commander-in-Chief. If she makes money, she’s a shill. If she had no money, she’d be a loser. And on and on and on.

There’s a name for this, but nobody can say it out loud. It’s like that episode in Fawlty Towers where Basil Fawlty goosesteps around a party of Germans shouting “We won’t discuss the War!” Only in this case it’s a different war, which is ongoing and not funny yet. So it comes off more like pathetic climate change deniers sleepwalking their stupidity into disaster.

I saw a comment recently saying “When Hillary finds yet another way to lose,” and it went on from there. No, buster. When you’ve torn Hillary down enough to destroy her, you’ll land us all with the toxic two bit rabblerousers frontrunning on the other side. In a country with as much power as the USA, that will be bad.

Peter Daou said it best in an article on Hillary and the rage of straight white males.

You can’t stop a wild mob that wants to “burn the witch,” a mob that wants to dehumanize and degrade a woman, that wants to strip her of her dignity. It’s an impulse as old as humanity.

And it’s a monstrous thing to behold.

We will see if the inexorable transformation of the American populace will endure a dangerous setback with a President Trump or Cruz. Democrats must do everything in their power to prevent that outcome.

In that grave context, demolishing the public image of a leading Democratic candidate is unimaginably reckless.

But what about all this we hear how she has no support among the young, among young women? Surely, young women haven’t absorbed any messages about who’s cool and who’s old school? If they don’t support her it can’t be the bigotry-which-must-not-be-named. At least the media seem to desperately hope so.

So, what does explain the absence of the young? There certainly is a problem, but it’s not coming from Hillary. It’s coming from having fifty, sixty, seventy years of your life yet to live, from just starting out, from being incapable of seeing what you’re in for without being crushed. It’s a survival instinct. At the age of twenty five you may not yet have been kicked all the way to hell and back.

You’ve felt the crushing weight of sexism and misogyny, that starts before you can talk. You’ve dealt with the boys bullying, and the fathers putting a premium on pretty, and the street harassment, and all the instructions about how not to get raped even though you’re not at all in any way actually the perp, and you know the world isn’t for you and you better be invisible and hope some guy gives you shelter from the storm.

All that is already more than any human being can stand. Very few can face it squarely at any age. Most people cringe away from it, try to tell themselves that what it obviously means is not what it means. It’s just an accident. It’s isolated. It’s nothing to do with you.

But if you’re going to get excited about a female candidate for President, you have to acknowledge that there really have not been very many. You have to notice that there have been 44 of these people and not a single woman. That’s kind of high for just an accidental concatenation of circumstances. You’ll have to notice that the deck is stacked against you. What you’ve dealt with so far, all the stuff that’s so bad you can’t even look at it, is just the beginning. You’ll have to see that it doesn’t get better. It gets worse.

And people wonder why young women can’t bring themselves to celebrate Hillary Clinton.

But none of this can be mentioned. Instead let’s try to pretend that the pain of sexism, the damage it does to women, the amputations of humanity it causes in men, the crushed children, never have to be faced. We’re talking about people’s loves and families here. This hits everybody right in the heart. Unlike racism or homophobia or antisemitism, you can’t get some relief by living among your own kind. Nobody wants to do open heart surgery on their souls. Especially since there’s no anesthetic for it.

If you can’t even speak the name of the real problem, you’re reduced to coming up with cockamamie explanations such as that Clinton has some wrinkles, or she’s too reasonable, or too practical, or not exciting, or has too many pantsuits.

The problem isn’t pantsuits. The problem is the unbearable unmentionable burden which must be carried with an effortless smile. Once you see it, there’s no way to un-see it. Which is why it’s really really really important to look the other way.

The strange thing isn’t that young women are in denial. The strange thing is the unimaginably reckless refusal to face their own prejudices among all the people and pundits and thinkers and journalists and writers who are old enough to know better.

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Only fools and Democrats

So here we are. The Democrats have a once-in-a-hundred years candidate, a genius at issues and policies and details, good at running things, proven ability to negotiate with anybody and often get the outcome she wants, a decades-long history of public service in the face of nearly no thanks.

The Republicans have handed them a gift of testerical, fatuous, fanatical candidates who even Karl Rove couldn’t spin into something electable.

Hillary Clinton in 2008
(photog. unknown)

The Democrats can’t believe their luck, loudly and gleefully gloat about their candidate, and coast to victory waving red white and blue bunting.

Not.

They start tearing Clinton down. She outclasses any candidate they’ve had since just about FDR, but she takes money! From big business! Oh my God. Whoever heard of such a thing?

Has it affected her votes or her policies particularly? Is there any evidence she’s behaving like some bought and paid for politician? No. There isn’t. On the contrary. She’s been consistently on the side of the small folk through her whole career. If you look you can find a list even longer than this: CHIP health insurance for children, national immunization programs, cancer screening and making it covered under Medicare, investigation of Gulf War syndrome, pushed for attention to violence against women at the Department of Justice, worked to make adoption a less hit or miss thing, worked to help teenagers in foster care transition out of it. She hasn’t been as selfless as Bishop Tutu or Mother Teresa, but well up in the top ten percent of US polititicans. Above 90% is usually a grade of “A.” Is an A good enough for the Dems? Absolutely not. She’s not Bishop Tutu so she’s a corporate shill.

They ignore and tear down her international accomplishments. She helped end the Irish troubles. (But she didn’t do it singlehandedly! She shouldn’t get any credit for her work.) She laid the groundwork for the end of sanctions against Iran. (At the time, it was said she’d share in the blame if it all went wrong. Now the shout is she didn’t do it totally alone! She deserves no credit!). She worked hard to make visible and to halt current slavery. (But those are mostly women. Or even stupid girls! Didn’t she have any real problems to worry about?) She argued for intervention in Libya to prevent a longer war that would have cost more lives. That worked, but without resources for nation-building, they descended into a long war anyway. [Link added 2016-04-11] Obviously that’s her fault. She should be all-powerful and provide world peace. She’s failed. She’s a warmonger.

The amount of vile lies and slander slung at her is unthinkable. For me, at least. Every time I start reading about examples of it (toward the end), my whole mind shrinks away and I find something else to look at. It’s so revolting I can’t even hear about it. She lives it. She’s lived it for decades. And in the face of that she keeps carrying on, caring about people, and participating in public service work. Pretty amazing, right? No, of course not. She’s subjecting herself to it because it’s a plot to … to what? Own the world? It hasn’t gone anywhere near that goal in 25 years, but this supernaturally intelligent conniving witch keeps at it, cracking her knuckles perhaps, because it’ll pay off any minute now.

Or, maybe, she actually gets some satisfaction from helping people. She has actually done that. Maybe she notices even when the screaming meemies can’t.

Now we’ve reached the point where the Democrats and the leftists and the Very Progressive Men have poisoned the thought of her so much that even if her party is forced to nominate her as their candidate, more than half her voters will be feeling put upon at having to elect such a warmongering shill.

We’re reduced to depending on the most fatuous, the most testerical of the self-serving goons on the other side to ragequit when things don’t go his way. We have to hope he splits the I’m-even-dumber-than-the-Democrats vote by running in his own I Blow My Own Trump(et) Party.

Because unlike the election that swept in FDR to rescue us from the equivalent decades of greed, there’s a big difference in the current situation. Hillary Clinton is a woman.

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The migrant crisis and standing in line

[Updated post-Koln, January 10th, 2016, below.]

I get a kick out of seeing editorials in the United States (the NYTimes had one recently) lecturing the Europeans on being more humane and welcoming to migrants.

Irony is dead.

However, that’s a side issue. What I wanted to write about is the problem created by unbalanced idealism.

When it comes to the immediate crisis, the humane side insists help is the only possible response, which is right, and ignores the downstream consequences, which is wrong. It’s also stupid, and it provides no counterweight to the seal-the-borders xenophobes.

Just as a matter of numbers, imagine all of subsaharan Africa (about 800,000,000) and the Middle East (approx. 350,000,000) coming to Europe. And that means Germany, Scandinavia, UK, Benelux, and France, (around 250,000,000). Most migrants are not hoping to stop in, say, Slovakia. With that level of migration, those countries in Europe would indeed be swamped.

That is the future the anti-migrant people fear. You’re not going to change their minds by one neuron if your only response is to say, “How dare you be such an inhuman monster!” Inhumanity is not what they’re worried about.

It would be far more productive to say that nowhere near everyone is fleeing. And don’t try to argue that not everybody wants to, even though it’s true. The fearful people can’t believe that. Point out that even if everyone did want to, they couldn’t because they don’t have the money. Of the few millions who can or will, Europe is getting the cream of the crop: the most enterprising, the well-off, the better-educated. Europe, it could be pointed out, could use more workers than it has to support the aging pensioners. This could all be a win-win.

I realize none of those arguments would matter to racists. I realize that some of the loudest anti-migrants are racists. I’m not talking to them or for them. They’re not worth engaging on any level. The people who could be convinced of a better response than “Screw ’em!” are the non-racists, or are only minor part-time racists. They’re just afraid for what they hold dear, and they’re a majority of the anti-migrants. Those are the people who could be convinced of better solutions than what the racists want, but only if their fears are addressed. Telling them to shut up and help won’t do that.

There’s also an obvious disconnect when talking about mitigating the refugee crisis rather than sealing the borders. The extreme anti-migrants are consistent. They’re saying “shut them out, too bad if they suffer,” and that’s the same wherever the migrants are. If they’re suffering at home or traveling or at the border, the answer is the same.

But if you’re on the side of helping the migrants, then where do you stop? Helping those at the border does nothing against the devastation of the hundreds of millions who can’t flee. If letting migrants die at the border is bad, why is it suddenly okay if they suffer at home?

I don’t see how the answer could be anything rooted in principle. The only real difference is whether people suffer a continent away or right on Europe’s doorstep. The “migrant crisis” consists of those in and near Europe. But actual consistency in humanitarian help means understanding that nothing less than global peace, prosperity, and good government is the real solution. Toxic levels of inequality in safety and well-being are driving this thing. All I can think when I try to envision a true solution is “Good luck with that.”

As far away as that real solution is, though, I think we’d do better to acknowledge it. Be forthright that we can’t do more than apply a few band-aids. That’s not only better than doing nothing, it’s also part of the path to the real solution. Whereas the wonderfully consistent seal-the-borders attitude makes any solution, even their preferred one, impossible. Borders can’t be sealed. It’s been tried. It doesn’t work.

But as far as the immediate problem goes, all that is another side issue. The point I want to make is that not addressing plausible fears just makes them more plausible. It does nothing to help the situation. It convinces the fearful that there’s no good way to address their fears. It tells them the only leaders with plausible solutions are the Tony Abbotts, the stop-the-boats-even-if-they-all-die crowd.

Let me try to explain what I mean by plausible fears.

I’m a third generation migrant. My family has been fleeing dictators, wars, misogyny, poverty, and more wars for decades. It changes people.

For instance, when I’m in a busy supermarket, I figure my partner and I should each wait in a different line, and then one of us can hop over to whichever line turns out to move faster. Sure, it’s not entirely fair to the folks further back who suddenly have a brimming cart added to their line. Part of me, the decisionmaking part, just can’t care enough about that. His idea is that you patiently wait your turn and he’s always upset at my tactics.

My mother was one of the kindest people on the planet. She was a teacher most of her professional life and her students couldn’t say enough for her fairness and how much she cared about them. But when she wanted to bring back some extra bottles of champagne as gifts from a trip, she gave them to eleven year-old me to smuggle through so we wouldn’t have to pay duty on them. I loved it. And I did it rather well, if I do say so myself. I know plenty of US’ers who’d be horrified at contributing to the delinquency of a minor like that.

Okay. I know. Those examples are such small things they’d work as comedy. But my point is that when your survival depends on taking shortcuts, you learn to take them. Then, when you’re in a more benign situation, you have to unlearn that again. Otherwise the place you fled to for its peace and prosperity turns into the same kind of free-for-all you fled from.

Because, really, the social contract, civilization, is nothing but a promise we make to each other. It can be broken overnight. Look at ISIS and how few years it took for the 9th century to lay waste to millions of people. Civilization depends on everyone keeping their word, it depends on trust. Something as basic as cooking food requires trust. It doesn’t take very many people cutting corners to destroy that trust. And refugees do cut corners. It’s one of the things the fearful people resent about them. (Well, that and the fact that they’re usually a lot better at it than the locals.) That reduction of trust really does need to be addressed. Maybe something like a mentoring system for new refugees could help (re)teach those who could use it how to navigate the system in a rule-based, stodgy way. Yes, that would take even more money.

And then there’s a big one. Misogyny. That can’t even be mentioned, for some reason. Somehow, it’s racist or xenophobic to point out the glaring fact: way too many male migrants to Europe are used to treating women like dirt. That is not acceptable. It’s a valid objection no matter what the politics or gender of the person making it. Pretending the issue doesn’t exist or that it’s racist to insist on the human rights of half the population is not a solution. All that will do is drive people toward those politicians who don’t ignore it, who, at this point, are all of the seal-the-borders variety.

What to do about it is the really hard part. I don’t know, of course. I could see preferentially admitting female migrants and their children. Male migrants would turn out to be quick learners if, say, three complaints of harassment were automatic grounds for deportation. There could also be another mentoring program people could sign up for to learn local cultural norms. People with more experience helping migrants understand the local culture would have much better ideas.

The immediate objection from the left to any suggestions of acculturation is that it’s disrespectful, imperialistic, patronizing, and takes immigrants’ culture away from them. I don’t know about disrespectful and patronizing, but as to taking that aspect of their culture away from them, why, yes. Yes, that’s exactly what I think must happen. Kindness to migrants does not mean one has to destroy the good aspects of one’s own society or suffer the loss of rights for half the population, local and immigrant alike.

Humanitarian leftists, by refusing to acknowledge what validity there is in these fears and by failing to have solutions that would mitigate them, open the door to the other “solution.” People get more and more frantic. They vote for bloodyminded governments. (Just one more example from today to add to all the others accumulating.) Before you know it, you have Tony Abbott, stopping the boats at all costs, including the slow and horrible deaths of migrants. That doesn’t lead to revulsion among his voters, by and large. Don’t kid yourself. It increases his popularity. The refugees aren’t the only ones who can lose everything that matters in this process.

That’s the choice. Addressing fears rationally and usefully, or letting them take over.

 
Update, 2016-01-10. Four months after I wrote that, and the New Year’s Eve crimes happen in Köln. Der Spiegel has a summary of what happened as well as background and some analysis. There’s talk of the need to teach male immigrants about the local culture, on the Norwegian model. There’s talk of “it can’t go on like this.”

All that directly relates to and agrees with this post. But the most important comment on the Köln mess comes from Musa Okwonga.

So here’s what I propose we do. Why don’t we just start with the premise that it is a woman’s fundamental right, wherever she is in the world, to walk the streets and not be groped? And why don’t we see this as a perfect moment for men, regardless of our ethnic backgrounds, to get genuinely angry about the treatment of women in public spaces: to reject with fury the suggestion that we are somehow conditioned by society forever to treat women as objects, condemned by our uncontrollable sexual desires to lunge at them as they walk past?

Let’s do our best to challenge the rampant misogyny that has gone on worldwide for far too long, and reject whatever lessons of sexist repression we may have been taught. Because women are tired of telling us about this, and exhausted of fighting a battle that for too long has gone overlooked.

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The sound of freedom

Fighter jets roared by above our yoga studio. Breaks the ambience, right?

One woman put it in context by murmuring,

“The sound of freedom.”

And I thought Dear God, where do you even start?

I spent the rest of the class absentmindedly bent into various shapes and thinking non-serene thoughts.

If weapons were the sound of freedom, there’d be no such thing as dictators.

The sound of freedom is the woman yelling about underpaid janitors at Speakers’ Corner.

The sound of freedom is the boy pushing his little sister in her stroller, walking through the quiet park filled with bird song, and no parents shouting at him to come home because it’s not safe.

The sound of freedom is nobody wondering where their next meal is coming from.

Is there any hope we can hold on to freedom, when so many don’t even know what it is they want to hold?

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Terrorist Hunting Permit

That’s the bumpersticker I drove behind for miles. I didn’t see it at first. It was just small and black-and-white and down on the actual bumper. Higher up was an “Impeach Obama” sticker. Fair enough. You feel the current Preznit has not upheld the Constitution, you have the right to say so. Another had a picture of the Democratic Donkey and the words “Warning. Nuts Inside.” Also fair enough. Hard to argue with, even. Next to that (the guy is into bumperstickers and I had plenty of time to read them all) was one saying “Freedom isn’t free. Thank a vet.” As well as many other kinds of people. Then quite a long one: “I believe in the Constitution which says we still have freedom of speech.”

I’m getting the impression the guy is into America! Number One! Freedom!

Fine. Whatever. And then I get to the Terrorist Hunting Permit.

So, suddenly might makes right? After all that stuff about freedom and constitutions? How exactly are you going to impeach Obama if you dump the rule of law and just hunt down anyone you want? You do realize the size of the guns he controls, right?

The viciousness is heartsickening. But somehow — I can’t even explain it to myself — the stupidity is even worse.

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Congressmen should have at least room temperature IQ

Now I’ve heard everything. I know. This is an Idaho state rep. But it doesn’t matter. He’s not fit to empty bedpans, let alone make decisions that will wind up killing women.

This nincompoopery happened during hearings about an anti-abortion bill.

An Idaho lawmaker received a brief lesson on female anatomy after asking if a woman can swallow a small camera for doctors to conduct a remote gynecological exam.

I mean, ‘s obvious, right? Unlike men, who are known to have stomachs and lungs and hearts somewhere in their bodies, women are just bags for incubating fetuses. No doubt he’s also convinced they can get pregnant from oral sex.

Could we please have qualification exams for Congressmen? You know, they have to be able to spell their own names, know which end is their ass, stuff like that.

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Offensive offendedness

I haven’t commented on the murders of freethinkers at Charlie Hebdo or in Copenhagen because I’m too angry. Goons want to send us all back to the Dark Ages. We mustn’t let them. That’s beyond self-evident. Human rights, basic freedoms, secular governments, obliviousness to blasphemy rules, these are all essential to peaceful societies where everyone’s rights are equally respected.

(Yes, it includes blasphemy. Otherwise, if you can’t say anything I don’t like and I can’t say anything you don’t like, and nobody can say anything Joe doesn’t like, it won’t take long before everyone can say nothing and there is no freedom of speech.)

I do realize that free speech which gives offense is a complicated subject. It is said to justify harassing women into silence, soaking a crucifix in urine and calling it art, or drawing Mohammed to comment on the methods of violent loonies who call themselves Muslims.

Do I think it justifies these things? In the order given, no, yes, and yes. I’ll do a second interminable post on it some day explaining exactly why simply because I feel compelled.

But, really, there’s no need. It’s all been laid out by Evolving Perspectives in one cartoon. (I took the liberty of translating the French back to English. Click on the image or the link to the source for a full size version.)

What to do about offense: a flowchart. (Note the first fork: Is anyone harmed?)

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Vaccination (like everything else) is about rights

There is no controversy about vaccines. They work. The diseases they prevent are horrible. The vaccines themselves are about as harmless as it’s possible to be and still exist in the real world. For instance, Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, DTaP: fewer than one person in one million has serious complications. “Serious” means any reaction that requires medical attention, even if it’s temporary, such as high fever or a bad allergic reaction. Measles-mumps-rubella, MMR: fewer than one in one million with serious complications; inactivated polio, IPV: even fewer than the previous; shingles: none reported yet so “being monitored.” (Source: CDC)

As for the generated “controversy” about vaccines, it deserves as much attention as people who plan to fly by flapping their arms. It is nonsense. Yes, science and medicine have both been wrong about some very important things in the past, and they will be again. Vaccination is not one of them. The evidence in favor of it is beyond overwhelming. End of story. That is, it’s the end of the scientific and medical story.

Politically, it’s not the end of the story because there’s no law saying we always have to be rational. If I want to jump off a roof while flapping my arms and kill myself, I can do that.

But not vaccinating differs from the personal choice to be an idiot in one very important respect: it’s not just personal. It can take other people down with it. And there are laws against that.

So which law counts? The one that says I get to decide about my own medical treatments, or the one that says I can’t damage people?

Before the current measles outbreak, the comments on news sites would have fit comfortably into this Onion article. Now that there is an outbreak because so many people avoided vaccination, or had it avoided for them if they’re children, people feel vulnerable. Suddenly the comments are calling for these horrible parents to be jailed. Suddenly a lot of people are clear on the fact that vaccination is not a purely individual thing. Now they’re going nuts in the opposite direction, from loony libertarian straight to jackbooted totalitarian.

Both are wrong, obviously, because neither works, obviously. The only solution is a balancing act between the different rights.

I know that’s the last thing most people want to hear. It’s much easier to be simple and wrong than go to all the trouble of thinking things through. But the sad fact is that there’s no other way to get to what works. Luckily, in this case it’s not even difficult.

The right to make your own medical decisions is rather worthless if anybody can kill you at any time. The right not to be harmed by others takes precedence over all other rights because they are all meaningless if that one is not respected.

So the balancing act is quite easy: the public health issue of not infecting others with contagious diseases takes precedence over anyone’s personal medical choices.

This is yet one more example of the fact that rights are not equal, that there’s a hierarchy of rights, and that some are more essential than others. Some rights have to take precedence over others or else they all become meaningless.

Therefore the medical and public health requirements for vaccination take precedence over any non-medical objections. There can’t be allowances for religious or philosophical objections. It means the whole US has to follow the lead of Mississippi and West Virginia and have only medically necessary exemptions from vaccination.

A plague doctor. 1819

That said, though, the idea is to have as high a vaccination rate as possible. It’s not to beat people up for ignorance. So resources need to be directed toward the actual goal, vaccination, and not squandered on useless, resentment-building exercises like jailing recalcitrant parents. Yes, it’s important to stop the Onion mindset of “I Don’t Vaccinate My Child Because It’s My Right To Decide What Eliminated Diseases Come Roaring Back.” Even more important is to see that they get vaccinated, no matter what the voices in their heads are telling them.

Sometimes it takes very little to achieve that goal. For instance, in one health district [update-2015-02-04: near Duchesne, Utah], registering a philosophical objection to vaccination required nothing more than a tick mark in a box. Receiving the vaccination on the other hand cost $25. When the public health officials were trying to figure out how to get more people vaccinated, one bright worker noted that they should invert the incentives. So the vaccination was given free, but expressing a philosophical objection required payment of $25 for “administrative costs.” Which isn’t even a lie.

You know how that story ends. The number of objectors plummeted. The vaccination rates climbed above the medically essential 95% of the population, and the problem was solved, at least from the standpoint of public health. And that’s the first priority.

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The USA officially supports torture

I started this blog because I was sick at what the US was doing. The first post was on this horrible topic. I’d like to repeat one point.

There are two hallmarks shared by dictatorships: detention without trial and torture.

At that point, it no longer looked like the US might step back from the brink, but even then I assumed they would at least pretend to respect human rights.

Apparently not.

The US has just gone over that line. The head of state is supporting torture, out loud. Obama. Won’t be prosecuting anyone because, because, because.

[The Geneva Convention and US law] specifically bars any exception in the case of national emergency. Not to prosecute because of such an emergency is therefore to end the Geneva Conventions – which is what Obama has effectively done.

Rest in peace, Lady Liberty

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Ebola First World Problems

This is not to minimize the real suffering of the real people who have contended with the real disease in the First World. It is a horrifying disease wherever it occurs.

No, this post is about what I’ve been seeing in the news here. When the disease was limited to Africa, it wasn’t seeing much at all in the US. Thousands died, and there was hardly a blip. What I did see seemed mostly to question whether there was any point in sending medical aid.

Now that there have been about seven cases here (the two Samaritan’s Purse health workers, Thomas Duncan, his two nurses, a freelance journalist in Nebraska, and the Doctors Without Borders physician there’s currently a flap about)– now that there have been cases here, the country is hysterical.

NASA artist's conception of asteroid destroying Earth
(artist unknown. NASA)

A school in Maine put a teacher on administrative leave after parents “expressed concern” — meaning panicked — that she could have been exposed because she visited Dallas with one Ebola patient in quarantine in a hospital that she never visited.

I’ve heard of a caller to emergency services complaining about a pilot running around loose who’d been to West Africa, which later turned out to be the same place in the caller’s small mind as Western Europe. And, yes, that’s funny, but it’s also bad. While that drivel is going on, the dispatcher and the ambulance (they sent out an ambulance?!) can’t respond to actual emergencies.

People of West African extraction are being shunned because, because what? They’re catching it by quantum juju from people 5000 miles away whom they’ve never met? White Africans, interestingly enough don’t seem to be seen as quite as susceptible to magical infection.

Most recently, a bunch of governors saw a great opportunity to get out in front of the hysteria and Doooo Something. Let’s quarantine everybody, sick or not, who’s ever been near West Africa. So when a selfless altruist like Kaci Hickox returns, a woman who’s a nurse for Doctors Without Borders and has treated Ebola patients and actually knows something about the disease, when she returns she becomes a political plaything for Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo (bipartisanship!) to score points with ignorant voters by dumping her into a senseless quarantine.

Quarantine is for CONTAGIOUS people. It’s a useless waste of money and resources applied to any traveller some bozo happens to have fantasies about. Quarantine can be a medical necessity. It needs to be done on medical grounds. When it’s nothing but jerks lashing out in panic, it’s not only insane, it’s actually counterproductive and increases the spread of disease. (So much for Christie’s and Cuomo’s “leadership.”)

So, that’s the “Keep Calm” part. What about the “Carry On” part?
Are there things that could sensibly be done to help the situation? Why, yes. Yes, there are.

Number One. (This should be in bold all-caps, but I’ve done that already. Must ration myself.) The US needs to get itself an actual healthcare system. Using disease as a profit center for Big Medicine and Big Insurance just isn’t working.

When Thomas Duncan fell ill in Dallas everybody knows what happened next. After his first emergency room visit, he was sent home. Now, note this: Ebola is not contagious until after the patient has run a fever for some time, a day or so, when the virus starts being secreted in body fluids. (The main research paper so far on contagiousness: Bausch et al., 2007. Discussion in Science.)

So if the emergency room had actually worked, he went early enough that there would have been just about no chance he’d been contagious. But the emergency room didn’t work. What hasn’t been mentioned loudly enough is that he had no insurance. Stories about grievously ill uninsured people turned away from emergency rooms in the USA go on forever. There’s even a name for it: “patient dumping.” Some of them die, just like Thomas Duncan. But, this being the First World, most of them aren’t contagious. That was the only part Texas Presbyterian Hospital forgot. They needed a big sign in the physicians’ break room: “CAUTION. Do not kick out patients with incurable contagious diseases! Could have lethal Bad Publicity consequences!”

There’s the first culprit: a profit-oriented “health” system. If we really want to reduce the chances of catching Ebola from random strangers, then we need a health care system that encourages people to get help whenever they feel ill. Nor can it expect them to self-diagnose first so that hospitals see only “real emergencies.” And then the system has to actually treat them for whatever ails them.

Number Two in the list of useful things to do is to help deal with the problem at its source. (In fact, this is Number One, but this post is about first world problems.) They need many things to stem the disease in West Africa: Information distributed everywhere by trusted health workers on how not to transmit the disease. How best to treat ill family members. (There’s a surprising amount that could be done with that, as demonstrated by the knowhow and astonishing strength of the Liberian nurse who took care of her whole family and managed to save most of them.) How to reduce chance of infection. Contact tracing. Enough transport for sick people so they’re not crammed eight to an ambulance. Enough field hospitals and enough beds so contagious patients can be properly cared for.

Would that take money? Yes. But it’s peanuts compared to what it’ll cost if the disease continues to spread. And it’s not as if panic is cheap. (Panic is a total waste, but it’s not cheap.) Would the money have to be spent in Africa? Yes. Get over it.

Notice something about useful actions against Ebola: They involve admitting that fear is not useful. They involve restraining automatic reactions. They involve huge amounts of tedious work. They offer no excuse to lash out at anybody. They’re no fun.

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Two percent inflation is essential to the illusion

Jared Bernstein in WaPo recently said, “Why is 2 percent the Federal Reserve’s inflation target? Because it is.” The idea being that the world’s central bankers and economists and money men pulled this number out of their left ears because they didn’t know what else to say.

But Martin Wolf actually gave a real answer to that question, which had been bothering me for years.

[E]xperience shows that the low inflation targets to which policy makers are committed are not high enough to ensure short-term interest rates can remain above zero in all circumstances….

His article is on another topic — the need for financial reform — but that sentence gave me an Aha! moment.

Interest rates have to be high enough so that people with money feel they’re getting something for it, even if in reality they aren’t.

If, in reality, they’re not getting anything then the honest interest rate would be zero percent. But who wants that? You might as well have kept your money in your mattress and saved yourself the fifteen cents of gas getting to the bank to open an account. Then, of course, nobody could use your money to make money. The powers-that-be are terrified of people deciding to keep their money in mattresses.

So it’s vital to give people the illusion that they’re getting something for their money. Obviously, if the best you can do is zero, a 10% interest rate (and 10% inflation) is a much more exciting illusion than 2%. But the problem with high inflation is it starts running away with itself and the whole economy lands in the shredder. Two percent, on the other hand, seems to be about the lowest return that still motivates people to buy bonds. (Wolf’s point is that 2% isn’t working. The illusion needs to be set higher, at 4% perhaps.) The fact that it’s fictional if there’s matching inflation doesn’t matter. Even professionals buy the things so long as there’s at least a small positive number attached. (They report their year-end results in ordinary numbers, not inflation-adjusted ones.)

It’s a shell game, in which you provide money in the hope of gain. By the time you find out it was all fairy money, it’s too late to do anything about it.

And that’s why there’s a 2% target for inflation.

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Who runs US Mideast policy? Bozo?

Actually, scratch that. Bozo would do a much better job. You couldn’t run a clown show this badly. This is no way to even run a hamster on a wheel. Unless you actually wanted it to fall off and tangle itself up like this:

 

I, of course, did not listen to Obama’s speech about how he’ll clean up the Stone Age savages calling themselves a Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Life is too short.

But this morning I did see a headline that I was curious to read: Five potential pitfalls in Obama’s plan to combat the Islamic State.

The first “pitfall” is listed as:

Using Yemen and Somalia as success stories

 

It does not get better from there. God help us all. Nobody else is about to.

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Ebola is not Over There

It’s right here on planet Earth.

Current genomic work shows it’s mutating quite rapidly. So far, none of those mutations has changed how it’s transmitted — that is, only by direct physical contact — but high mutation rates in viruses mean you never really know what they’ll be able to do next.

Which is why articles like this, by a doctor affiliated with Stanford University, no less!, are jaw-droppingly stupid. His main point is that there are plenty of lethal and far more widespread diseases such as malaria and AIDS. So when the WHO estimates five hundred million dollars to contain this Ebola outbreak, all that spending would be a waste of money when there are other more pressing priorities.

No. It means that the fights against malaria and HIV are horribly underfunded. Using the atrocious lack of money for one set of diseases as an excuse to ignore another disease is called compounding the error, not solving it.

The consequence will be that Ebola is not contained, that tens of thousands or many more will suffer and die, and (if you’re the sort of person who worries only about yourself) that the virus keeps merrily mutating until one day controlling it may not even be an option. Then, you who felt too safe to worry about it may die no matter how much money you decide is worth spending then.

The consequence is that tremendous people working to actually do something about this awful and incurable disease have to spend their time drumming up funds instead of, you know, working to actually do something about this horrible disease.

The consequence is that people with the stamina to work against hopeless odds, in heat, packed into layers of sealed plastic, because everything they do can change their life to death in one unnoticed heartbeat — the consequence is that those people have to report scenes like this:

The new patients sometimes arrive eight to an ambulance, those with suspected cases and those with probable cases all mixed together.

That increases infections. That increases the number of people needed encased in plastic in the heat to feed and bathe the patients and carry out and disinfect the dead bodies.

The consequence is that we’ll be seeing the following horrors more and more, maybe even right in your face one day, until enough of us realize that hanging on to money is not the most important thing in the world.

Health workers prepare to remove abandoned corpse in Duwala market, Monrovia, Liberia. Aug 17, 2014.
(Reuters/2Tango)

 

Trying to enforce quarantine in West Point, Liberia. Aug. 22, 2014. (Very counterproductive. Quarantine order later lifted.)
(Guardian)

The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed.

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