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Taking up Michael Avenatti’s challenge

Stormy Daniels’ attorney said this:

 

For those that criticize my client for her profession, let he or she who has NEVER voluntarily viewed ANY form of pornography or gone to a strip club or burlesque show throw as many stones as they wish. As for the others (dare I say over 95%) – BASTA!!! #ownit #dontbeahypocrite

 

As a member of that tiny percentage —

I’m going to interrupt myself to say I bet it’s a lot larger than 5%. You do seem to be including women in “those” by saying “he or she.” Women are 50% of the population and only a minority have enough Stockholm Syndrome to watch that stuff according to research I remember seeing somewhere. (Yes, impressive, I know.) It was 25% or so. Which right there means about 38% of adults don’t do porn. Add in the 5% of men you generously credit with sense and we’re up to 43%.

Where was I? Oh, right. As a member of that not-so-limited class I get to throw stones.

But why would I want to? All I see of her is a person of huge courage and a sense of humor. (Troll: “your uterus fell out.” Stormy: “Oh shit. Could you pick it up for me?”) It takes a lot of training, whether by porn or otherwise, to despise women so much you can’t even see the stature of someone like Daniels.

So the irony is most stonethrowers are going to be exactly the people with no right.

It’s almost like there’s a pattern. White supremacists are the least supreme whites. Men’s “Rights” Activists are the ones with zero understanding of anybody’s rights. Snooty hipsters putting someone down for lack of cool are the uncoolest people on the planet. It’s always the same.

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Does conservatism have a point?

At this point the word “conservative” has lost its meaning. The people it’s applied to have made it synonymous with moneygrubbing bullies who have the moral code of an earwig.

Conservatism does have a dictionary definition, however. It’s obviously about conserving. The only question is what.

Officially, officially, they’re supposed to be just as solid on foundational rights as everybody else. They’re supposed to have the same respect for the Magna Cartas, Bills of Rights, Constitutions, and rule of law in the world as all the other stripes of democratic political thought.

They’re called conservatives because they’re supposed to place a higher value on conserving existing institutions rather than changing them when there’s not enough evidence that would solve problems. They’re not supposed to be against all change. They’re just supposed to be more cautious about fixing things that may not broken.

Anyone who’s aware of what happened with the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, ISIS/Daesh, Lord’s Resistance Army (which started out with some idealism!), and on and on and on, should be able to see why smashing the paradigm, or whichever buzzwords one prefers, does not necessarily end well.

Conservatism in the dictionary definition does have validity.

Granted, most of the systems in our current world are irretrievably broken. Start with the existential threat posed by climate change. On its own, even without the dozen other urgent problems, that requires changes in capitalism, social structure, and almost all industrial methods. (I have ideas on the full scope of that. Of course I do.) Climate change desperately needs a real, well thought out global revolution with funding levels appropriate to a global war. (See e.g. me twelve — 12! — effing years ago.)

Classical conservatism is not the solution now, but even now it is still good — it is always good — to tread carefully and to make sure that creative destruction is actually creative and not just destruction.

Modern “conservatism” is never a solution. It’s nothing but a grab to own women, weaker countries, anybody who doesn’t count. It’s conservative only in the sense that it’s the same thing tyrants have always done.

But it’s vital not to get carried away. It’s vital to remember that actual conservatives could have a point. In future, as the problems pile up and we get more desperate, it may be a very important point.

 

Brought on by David Roberts, Ed Burmila, neither of whom I disagree with at all in their analysis of what modern “conservatism” has become.

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Not even close

I love Joy Reid. Funny, true, insightful, informed, everything you could hope for in a journalist.

She’s not always deathly serious (laughter is the only balm these days) so on her twitter feed I found this, which led to many photos along these lines:

 

 

I was laughing till my stomach hurt at the whole series and many of the priceless comments, in spite of being clear on how likely compensatory (BIG) button-pushing would be in consequence.

But then further down in Joy’s feed was a link to an article in The Economist:

Conserve elephants: they hold a scientific mirror up to humans.

 

Fording the Ewaso-Nyiro River in Samburu, Kenya. 2013. Carl de Souza

 

You really can’t talk about the species in the first picture and elephants on the same page. It’s just lucky they’re too advanced to hire lawyers.

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There’s a lesson here

Somewhere. This is why science is useful. Scientists go to the bottom of the ocean (reported via Oceanwire and @azula) and find:

 

 

The redlipped batfish. A fish that’s serious about make-up. And here’s the thing: It uses those outrageously plumped up and fire engine red lips to lure predators toward its mouth. (No doubt they swim up expecting a meal and instead they become dinner.)

There’s a moral to this story, I think, if I could just remember which other species sometimes has this kind of display.

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Heather Heyer

Killed by a fascist yesterday. Thirty five others injured. I can’t shake the dread that in ten years we’ll be looking back on this as the good old days, when the problems had barely begun, when we could have yet turned back.

Ah well.

The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed. (William Gibson)

 
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Normalizing Malignancy

Everyone is right. It’s depraved to normalize evil. And that includes the horrible people who’ve decided to be its avatars. It’s wrong to muss their hair and discuss how to work with them, as if there was something well-meaning about them.

Not recognizing them for what they are and not rejecting the endless harm they do is to lose your immune system. Cancers kill because the immune system is fooled into not fighting them. Social cancers work the same way.

There are interesting articles turning up remembering normalization at work in the early Third Reich.

“The rough edges of the extreme anti-Semite and agitator of the masses were sanded away through the creation of a new, sophisticated persona that emerged in carefully crafted domestic surroundings. With silk curtains and porcelain vases, Hitler’s designers suggested an internal world that was both cultivated and peaceful.”

That kind of normalizing, which ignores the damage being done, is depraved.

But there’s another side to the issue.

Some of the anti-normalization outrage focuses on rejecting everything to do with people who do horrible things. You’re barely allowed to point out they had mothers once and were small and blew out the candles on their birthday cakes just like you and me. That’s also normalizing them.

It is, but it’s a very different sort of normalizing. It’s never all right to pretend the harm they do is okay. But it’s always necessary to recognize how widespread, how normal, the seeds of those horrors are in everyone. The seeds are just small. It’s easy not to see their potential. That’s why they can grow.

A writer with a pedophile father talks about this.

We don’t really just condemn the sexualization of children. Instead, we condemn the very existence of child abuse altogether. It’s as if the crime includes being victimized by it, or responsible for bringing it into the light. We take an ontological roach spray to the whole event, either denying its status in reality altogether, or competing with one another to proclaim the most exquisite forms of torture for the perpetrators. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen the most strident liberal break character to loudly call for the prison rape of perpetrators.

That this darkness is actually woven into and throughout the fabric of our society—that these abusers are among us—is simply too much to bear. So the darkness is ignored except for the most distilled, theatrical, and viscerally repellent cases. …

Most of us would sooner discard all parties who have been tainted by this event than we would look at how tenuous the sanctity of children really is, how commonplace abuse is, or see the capacity for the mostly good to do periodic evil. We live in the same universe as those who abuse kids. We walk among them. If we want to end the sexual abuse of children, it will begin with the recognition that we are simply not that different from them.

If you assumed cancer cells are evil extraterrestrials otherwise unknown on earth, you could never find a cure. It’s when you know they’re ordinary cells with some processes running amok that you have any chance of stopping it.

Wholesale monsters who kill millions and retail ones who destroy a few women or children or men are not some kind of incomprehensible Others. They’re ordinary people who started running amok with appalling horrifying lethal consequences.

Never underestimate or normalize the malignancy. Never assume that normal people can’t become malignant.

Then we could at least try to stop the transformation at the source, every day.

That’s less fun than performing virtue by stoning the devil, but more useful.

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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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What if everything is not bleak?

This post was triggered by a title I saw on Ars Technica. The 100 is the bleak sci-fi dystopia you should be watching.

You’ve probably noticed. All the entertainment worth reviewing is “bleak,” “edgy,” “gritty,” or some such nobody’s-foolin-me-I-know-the-score adjective. At least it is here in the USA. It’s a flag for not being some wishful thinking pansy who can’t face facts.

But, let’s face it, facts are a many-splendored thing. It’s impossible to face all of them, and the ones someone chooses to focus on reflect the person as well as the importance of the facts themselves.

So what does the insistence on bleakness by some of the world’s most comfortable people mean?

Approaching Port Charles, NZ

(MMolvray)

I’m thinking it’s the easy answer. If stories told us that people could treat each other right and because of that triumph in the end, well, we’d step away from the screen feeling like we sort of had to try to do that, maybe a bit.

But if stories say that our current lives are as good as it gets, and imagined realities are all worse, then, what the hell, no need to try to be generous or kind and run the risk of disappointment. You can just go ahead and be gritty yourself. It’s not selfish. It’s “realistic.”

I’m also thinking we ought to be way more careful of the stories we tell ourselves. They’re what the road to wherever is paved with.

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Kunduz

One hospital for a huge area.

Bombed by the USA for half an hour despite clear information that they were hitting a hospital.

Ten patients killed, including three children. Twelve Doctors Without Borders staff members killed. Thirty seven injured. Much of hospital turned to burned rubble.

Obama: “Too bad. So sad.”

[Update two days later.] General John Campbell, commanding the “NATO” forces: “The Afghans made us do it.”

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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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Just sayin

In an article about a scientific study of effective screen names for online dating sites, this minor point:

And would-be daters should take gender into consideration: men are more drawn to names that indicate physical attractiveness, such as ‘Blondie’ or ‘Cutie’ while women go for names that signal intelligence, such as ‘Cultured.’

Now, humans obviously think humans are very beautiful, but honestly in competition with something like this:

Spatule-tailed hummingbird

Dubi Shapiro

we’re nowhere.

On the other hand, the thing we’re most impressed with about ourselves is this:

brains of different primates from humans to squirrel monkeys and one rodent, a capybara

 

wikimedia

The inescapable conclusion is that the big decisions must be left to women if humans want to continue evolving intelligently. (That, or sexism hasn’t done men’s brains any good.)

Just sayin.

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Taking hostages is not okay

Maybe the worst thing about dealing with toxic waste like ISIS is that it infects people trying to stop it.

Now, apparently, we’re taking hostages.

The Lebanese army detained a wife and daughter of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as they crossed from Syria nine days ago, security officials said on Tuesday, in a move seen as likely to put pressure on the Islamist chief. …

The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported she had been detained in coordination with “foreign intelligence”.

It would be one thing if she were providing some kind of essential function — smuggling the secret code to the Mad Scientist’s Doomsday Weapon or something. But considering the standing of women in ISIS, which is somewhere below eggplants, there’s no indication that she was actually doing anything. The most I saw somewhere was that somebody thought maybe she’d know something about locations of some kind.

The kid, of course, has even less to do with anything.

So this is hostage-taking pure and simple.

Which means even when ISIS is driven back into the rubble it’s made, we’re becoming them. They’ll lose. And so have we.

(source unknown)

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I’m a writer. Not a spy.

I’ll come out with it: I’ve written a bunch of books. Most are just straightforward feel-good stories. (I like feeling good.) One is about how to govern so it interferes with feeling good as little as possible.

Besides not being a spy, I’m also allergic to salesmanship. So all I do with my stuff is post it on my website, and throw it on Amazon and the Nook where they make me charge a dollar. A little independent isn’t allowed to post free books. (Yes, I know about Smashwords. I have conscientious objections to the Terms of Service. And, yes, I have COs to Amazon’s TOS too, but I’m only pure mostly. Being really pure is too much work.) In case you’re wondering why the Nook, it’s because when I started doing this, that was a thing. That gives you some idea how much time has gone by. So I’m thinking of putting my books on a few more sites — Kobobooks sounds like a good one — and today I heard about Oyster.

Oyster seems like an interesting idea. You pay a subscription of $10/month and can read as many books as you have time for. A visit to the web site gives you about five ways to reach the “Join” page and no links to any actual information. Did I mention that I hate pushy selling? So I didn’t like being pushed to join and went searching for more information. Wikipedia pointed to an article in the NYTimes. There, as with every new thing in recent times on the web, it turns out that yes, this is just one more business looking to turn users into gold.

(I find myself agreeing more and more with Maciej Cegłowski and wishing that I still saw new technology with wonder instead of an automatic feeling of dread.)

But what astonished me was this:

[A writer] interacts extensively with her fans on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube, Flickr and her own website. … But having actual data about how her books are being read would take her market research to the ultimate level.

“What writer would pass up the opportunity to peer into the reader’s mind?”

Well, I would. I’d feel revolted. Just as I would if I caught an author peering over my shoulder, saying,

“Aha. You liked that bit, did you?”

No, not anymore.

Sometimes I feel like the only one left who feels put off at the thought of going around and sniffing people’s underwear.

Stop the world. I want to get off.

And, no, I won’t even try to publish anything on Oyster.

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Useless loud cheap (mis)targeted ads

There’s a multi-bazillion industry devoted to making me buy things. They have followed me through all of my days and tracked my every thought.

Searching for plum blossoms in the snow

(Xu Daoning, c. 1000 AD, Freer Gallery)

So you’d think they’d know I’m in the market for a vacuum cleaner, right?

Noooo.

I haven’t bought one in dog’s years. I don’t read articles about vacuums for fun. All they know about is the last thing I searched for, not what I need.

Well, I’m not a total newbie. I’ve been around computers since the days of punch cards. I’ve heard of Google. All I have to do is search, right? I want a machine in the neighborhood of $200, outrageously good at picking up pet hair, good at corners, and that doesn’t spew the dust right back out.

The search understands I want a vacuum cleaner, but that’s as far as it goes. To get what I want, I can spend hours — nay, days — of my life plowing through useless store websites full of obnoxiously happy beautiful people who find everything with one push of a button. Or I can dig through pages of search results, trying to find reviews that aren’t ads in disguise.

I am not a patient person. The first time, I put off the purchase after an hour or so. The second time it might have been two hours. Then I gave up for a couple of years. That’s what happens when there’s a massive selling industry in my face with everything I don’t want. You’d think they’d have an easier time hitting a great big bullseye like a customer looking to buy a product. By the time I finally bought a vacuum cleaner, they could have sold me a second one if the hucksters who’ve taken over the web instead made it easy for me to find what I want.

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You don’t believe facts. You understand them.

Update May 25th. This post has been utterly superseded. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Climate Change Debate. That’s the way to explain it. A sample:

You don’t need people’s opinions on a fact. You might as well have a poll on “Which number is bigger, 5 or 15?” [Spoken as if he really wants to know.] Or: “Do owls exist?” Or “Are there hats?”

[Original post, Feb 18:]
I keep seeing this stuff. So-and-so many people “believe” in evolution. Polls in the media ask whether “You believe in global warming.” Headlines mention people don’t believe in GMO food.

Fergawdsake.

Do you “believe” in carpentry? No. If someone builds a house that leans at a 45° angle, you stay out of it and the building inspector orders it torn down. You weigh the evidence and decide whether it works or not. You don’t believe in it.

Likewise with anything else based on tangible, measurable evidence, like all of science. Evolution is supported by a mountain of data with no, none, zero, conflicting evidence against it. There are people who may not understand that, but belief is irrelevant (as I’ve pointed out before).

Global warming is also, unfortunately, supported by a mountain of data. It’s not as solid a mountain as evolution’s; there are a few bits and pieces scientists don’t yet fully understand. But when over 99% of climate scientists agree the evidence supports that humans are changing the climate, you can bet your clocked socks that’s what the evidence shows. Ninety nine percent of scientists never agree on anything unless there’s no alternative.

As an example of that, I, for instance, don’t think the evidence on the safety of GMO foods is sufficient yet. Oh, sure, you won’t become a mutant green two-headed corporate executive if you eat it. But there isn’t enough evidence that it is environmentally and agriculturally beneficial or even that its long term effect on human health is acceptable. That’s not disbelieving GMO food. That’s arguing that the evidence is deficient. For instance, there are nowhere near enough independent, long term studies with large enough sample sizes to justify the soothing noises the industry makes about GMO effect on health.

So let’s get this straight. The right headlines would be: “Many Americans don’t understand evolution” “Politicians funded by Big Oil refuse to see global warming” “Lone biologist wants huge, expensive study of GMO foods.”

See? It’s not hard. Let’s do it.

Update May 14, 2014: Warning signs keep trickling in. Here, a BBC report about the “collateral damage” from higher glyphosate and pesticide use. There are all the obligatory sentences about tested and safe and that the evidence (so far) to the contrary has poor methodology. The dearth of independent studies of glyphosate toxicity that last longer than six months and include all humans, also the pregnant, old, or frail, is a bit of a methodological deficiency itself.

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Talk is cheap

Talk against racism has blown right through worthless and come out the other side into worse-than-useless. I’ve been trying to articulate what puts me off about the waves of self-congratulatory anti-racism that blow through the US at every excuse. Lately it’s been Cliven “Freeloader” Bundy and Donald “Past It” Sterling. Their crimes are not what they’ve done, although that’s plenty. No, it’s what they said.

What is wrong with that picture? Leonard Pitts says it best.

On race, meet dumb and dumberer:

[P]redictably, dutifully, media figures, pundits and pols have come together to blow raspberries in their direction, to say all the right things in condemnation of them and their diarrhetic mouths. And yes, they deserve that. Still, there is something facile and dishonest in it, something that reeks of unearned righteousness and even moral cowardice.The truth is, the idiocy of these men doesn’t mean a whole lot, doesn’t impact much beyond their immediate lives. We hyperventilate about it, yet somehow manage not to be overly concerned as black boys are funneled into prison, brown ones are required to show their papers, voting rights are interdicted….

I would only add that there’s no need to limit it to “boys.” What matters is that human beings, female ones all too included, are impoverished, humiliated, deprived, attacked, and killed.

That’s what we need to work on. We can have the luxury of a national flap about the blithering of twisted jerks when the real problems are gone, not as a substitute for dealing with them.

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