Chickens Coming Home to Roost

Not a few of us have said, over the years, that the PATRIOT Act was an over-reaction. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that the Department of Homeland Security was an ominous concentration of power. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that taking off your shoes to go through a full-body scanner before traveling is absurd security theater that does nothing to protect from random acts of violence. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that pervasive surveillance, whether by the NSA or AmazonGoogleFacebook or Equifax, is an attack. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that license-plate scanners are unwarranted search. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that there is no justifiable reason for mass use of facial recognition software, no matter how many teens are skipping school. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that extraordinary rendition is kidnapping and enhanced interrogation techniques are torture. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that service of a no-knock warrant is a home invasion. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that an authorization of the use of force is not a declaration of war. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that the killing of an American citizen by the United States is murder. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that the police are getting away with murder and rape and, well, anything. Not a few of us have said, over the years, that it doesn’t matter which party the President belongs to, Congress needs to restrain the Executive, not join in enthusiastically.

Not a few of us have said, over the years, that over-policing of poor neighborhoods, the war on drugs, and an us-versus-them mindset converts your friendly local police into paramilitary death squads.

Not a few of us have said, over the years, that the Bill of Rights requires constant defense.

If you want the right to remain free and secure in your person and effects, you have to fight for that for everyone, always.

But you would rather clutch your pearls and moan that you need protection from the corner drug dealer or that awfully swarthy terrorist. But you would rather ignore someone’s lack of character and jackboot fetish because we just simply must get the right people on the court in order to stop birth control and gay sex. But you would rather just do what they say as long you get yours. But you would rather voluntarily install microphones and cameras in your homes and neighborhoods. But you would rather excuse their behavior: “Why should I care? I don’t break the law. It won’t affect me.”

One day it will.

This Land is My Land

1981, bouncing along in the back of a shag-carpeted Chevy van barreling down the highway, windows down, Neil Diamond on the 8-track, singing as loud as we can:

Got a dream they’ve come to share!

I love this land, my country and the people in it. Just walking along the hills I would sing full-throated “America the Beautiful,” “This Land is Your Land,” “This is My Song,” “God Bless America,” “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends.” Sometimes I was a strange child.

I love this land, my country and the people in it–and sometimes I don’t. I hate that devotion to our country and respect for its flag, even the simple act of standing, has come to stand for so much less than “liberty and justice for all.” Now, it’s a gang sign for white supremacy and fascist violence, carrying a Bible and waving a flag.

I’ve long despised how patriotism is co-opted by a certain kind of nationalist: My country, right or wrong. America, love it or leave it–as if they had more right to it than I who say all are created equal; who hold that among these certain inalienable rights are life, liberty, & the pursuit of happiness; who would form this more perfect union to establish justice and promote the general welfare, with liberty and justice for all.

Instead they pledge allegiance to what? A flag they disrespect by flying it in the dark, in the rain, tied to the back of their shiny, new Ford? To bullying? To endless consumption? To so much winning? They’ve turned the American flag by their misuse of it into a symbol of their proud hate. They turned the anthem into a celebration of murder by their insistence on unthinking obedience: let us purge all who have the audacity to insist we are guilty! Rah! Rah! Go team! Or are they the true Americans, who with their behavior confirm what critics and historians note, that this Republic was made only for a few manly white men, and they would keep it that way?

So much easier to hate. So much easier to recite a civic prayer by rote without hearing the words. So much easier to relax by the pool waiting for the ceremonial burning of the hot dogs than it is to listen to 1,321 words written in June of 1776:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Listen.

Reflect.

Understand the causes of their dissatisfaction with England. Understand the arguments made. Perhaps seek to understand that these were men not gods, afflicted with all the hypocrisy, the greed, the insolence, the frustration with limits on their licentiousness, and other sins that have afflicted mankind through the ages. Understand their common understanding. Understand the challenge. Understand the burdens placed on their descendants by words chosen, written, and widely read.

And ask, is the country you love one where you don’t matter; where your life is worth nothing because are a poor man–and you most likely are poor–; where your only use is to die, to labor for nothing other than the fading pleasures of the flesh?

Or is it a promise that you too may live, you too may be free, you too may pursue happiness?

I should leave? GTFO.

You Kiss Your Mama with that Mouth?

Many years ago, as a young man in my early teens, what convinced me of the falseness of Christianity was the behavior of the Church and people who called themselves Christian. I could not reconcile the teachings of the Bible as I understood it with all the death perpetrated by a Church corrupted by worldly power. I could not reconcile Constantine, the Arian Controversy, the Great Schism, the Crusades, the Inquisition, battles between the Pope in Rome and the Pope in Avignon, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation wars of religion, the splintering of Protestant sects over exactly how poorly to mistreat others. I could not reconcile the obvious contortions the Church went through to excuse slavery and the attendant ills of segregation and apartheid, to inspire pogroms and ignore the Holocaust. I could not reconcile its apparent insistence on seeing others as less than human. I could not reconcile Bob Jones University’s not permitting my father to study math. I could not reconcile Jim and Tammy Faye fleecing devout old ladies of their last penny. I could not reconcile Pat Robertson preaching hate. I could not reconcile Jerry Falwell’s expensive suits and expansive corpulence. I could not reconcile the claim to absolute Truth with the daily practice of lies.

And so I did not join our local church, despite not seeing, personally, any of these problems among its members. And so, skeptically, expressed no opinion on matters of belief. Does God exist? Who knows? Does it matter? And yet kept certain ideals of behavior.

To this day, a knot of rage gnaws at me when the coterie of thieves surrounding Donald Trump includes fawning pastors of Mammon posing as servants of God. The rage is stoked when Trump beats his way through the crowd to stand sternly frowning in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible he hasn’t read and whose teachings are anathema to him. The rage burns hot as those who claim the Bible’s every word is literally true find it in their hearts to joyously exclaim over abuses of power, who give their time and money to help usher in the Second Coming, who welcome the trials and tribulations–of others–even though Jesus says explicitly that no one knows the day or the hour. The rage boils over when those who purport to uphold the tradition of the Church mock those who emphasize mercy–as if love and mercy were not the entire point of the Gospel.

Under the rage is sadness for all those for whom this is the example of the Church.

I’m just a poor preacher’s kid from Virginia and not some fancy-suited televangelist, celebrity priest, or professional theologian. Others are finer Biblical scholars. I don’t have a national pulpit or a famous byline. But it seems to me that if someone can’t get the basic order of instructions right, even in simplified form, perhaps their opinion should carry no weight.

If you can’t not be an asshole, if you can’t not support assholes, try not claiming to follow Christ.

Provide for … the General welfare

I am livid.

Those fine folks in Congress have an opportunity to help people weather the economic storm caused by COVID-19 and the responses to it, and so the Senate decided that it was more important by far to spend the last week arguing over pet causes and how much pork they could give to favored beneficiaries. And we are supposed to thank them because once again crumbs have been tossed to the masses. Even then presumably respectable Senators like the honorable Ben Sasse of Nebraska were concerned that the unemployment benefits might be too generous and could disturb “the employer/employee relationship.”

Bullshit.

Federal spending is always a decision about values, about what matters, about who matters.

It is never about the money.

Put the responsibility where it belongs: the manufacturer

Finally, someone bothering to talk about whose fault all this plastic crap is.

It’s not the consumer’s. It’s the producer’s.

Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47) have introduced legislation, the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act (H. R. 5845, S.3263), to require producers of certain products to provide for their disposal. In economic jargon, producers will be required to accept some of the negative externalities of their products, rather than continuing to shift those costs to the public.

The horror.

The thought was so horrible that the beverage industry created an organization to convince the public that consumers bore all the responsibility for waste: Keep America Beautiful. If you’re of a certain age, you’ve seen their work.

In 1953, Vermont’s state legislature had a brain wave: beer companies start pollution, legislation can stop it. They passed a statute banning the sale of beer and ale in one-way bottles. … That October, Keep America Beautiful was born

The Crying Indian,” Ginger Strand, Orion Magazine (November 2008)

This is a fantastic piece, because nothing in it is objectionable or wrong. It’s so subtle; even the tagline is true. The campaign’s genius, however, is in the unasked question: where does all of that waste come from? The wrapper thrown out the car window wasn’t created, ex nihilo, by the car passenger. It was sold to him by someone else.

Not One of Us

I started watching a confused video at The Atlantic about a purported End of White Christian America, and then leapt through the computer and throttled the person at the other end for not using the words “white” and “Christian” consistently. It’s almost as if those were shorthand.

Because they are. He means WASPs.

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Robert P. Jones doesn’t seem to be intentionally fear-mongering–his other articles on the subject are, as is his book, more measured. Yet his book’s title and this video irresponsibly play right into the white replacement trope with over-simplification. His audience lumps themselves into his categories because they think that they are a) white, and b) Christian–even if they aren’t using the same definitions–and are thus tricked into thinking their group is threatened.

The population of the United States of America is, statistically speaking, primarily white and primarily Christian. The U. S. Census Bureau, a nominally reliable source, says that those self-identifying as white are 76.6% of the population, which is NOT a minority. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study records 70.6% overall, and 70% of white respondents, as Christian, which is NOT a minority.

His numbers are arrived at primarily by eliminating the “white and hispanic” population from the definition of “white,” though removing Catholics, Mormons, and others from the definition of Christian also helps. The confusion here and elsewhere may simply be a difference in how social scientists and the rest of us define membership in a group: the former considers to be members of a group those who consider themselves to be members; the latter considers members those whom the members of a group consider to be members. Or it may lie in the decision to conflate race and ethnicity–that is, using Hispanic origin as an alternative to white. Despite attempts by the Census Bureau to insist that race and Hispanic origin are distinguished from each other, we do tend to see checkboxes as radio buttons, and so they become practically identical.

In any event, the distinction is being made between British North America and the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies–a distinction where the French and Dutch colonies (and Canada) exist only as rounding errors. So despite an Iberian obsession with race as intense as America’s in places such as Mexico and Brazil, many Americans just consider them all not our kind of people.

One aspect of our national project is the continual attempt to define exactly who is really American. We do that with statistics. They aren’t neutral.

Words matter.

So do numbers.

Neighborhood Sports

I’ve been enamored of the Kingston Stockade since reading Dennis Crowley’s announcement of the team, but as time goes on, and as my nostalgia becomes more of an affliction, I wonder why, other than insufficient hours in the day, there aren’t teams in all of the river towns along the Hudson. It seems there should be in Beacon, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, and Hudson as well as in Kingston.

Or, why, for example, is there such strong support for local football teams in Texas — and by strong I mean that high school games draw as well as the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — that isn’t matched elsewhere?

Or, why, for example, if there is a team in the community, no one other than the players knows? There are, I know, amateur adult sports leagues, the Men’s Senior Baseball League and U. S. Adult Soccer to name two, but where is the rabid discussion of town rivalries? There may be; I may just be out of the loop.

Or is it that the organization, what there is of it, of local sports is uneven and hard to comprehend, while that of the national sports is well administered and, for lack of a better word, professional?

It is a known fact in human nature, that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object. Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large, the people of each State would be apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union; unless the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter.  — The Federalist, No. 17

Or are our athletic passions reserved for the young and the professional alone? Why?

Leah Cox (no relation, as far as I know, though Leah is a family name on the Bell side) of Bard College, remarked in a 2017 Poughkeepsie Journal article on lifetime learning that “[u]nfortunately, dance is a discipline that quickly gets categorized as something for the young. Consequently it’s taught primarily to the young. This is such a disservice to everyone….”

This echoes the way I’ve felt about sports and movement since becoming the parent of dancers, swimmers, and soccer stars, yet it wasn’t until a back injury from sitting that I rediscovered what I’d wanted as a child: to run and jump and move. And realized while watching my sons tumble through gymnastics routines that I still wanted to learn how to flip.

Why are we relegated to the sidelines and couches, the audience of life? It’s almost as if in the same way that recess and gym are systematically cut out of a student’s routine as they age, movement itself is cut out of an adult’s, and granted only to the professionals.

“In sports we have created not a participatory culture but a Roman gladiatorial system in which most of us end up as passive spectators watching a few individuals on the playing field.” — Leon Botstein, “Music in Times of Economic Distress,” The Musical Quarterly, Volume 90, Issue 2, 1 July 2007, Pages 167–175, https://doi.org/10.1093/musqtl/gdn023

I took some ballroom dancing classes, and stumbled through them, but they fell to the side when schedules intervened. Meanwhile, I’d taken to lifting weights to stop a precipitous weight loss, encountering CrossFit and the Spartan Race along the way, and the novel idea that everyone is an athlete. It resonated.

No. 1 Son decided that soccer was his thing. He loved to play. He loved to run. He loved to turn cartwheels. (Baseball doesn’t offer much opportunity for cartwheels.) His coach left in the middle of the U9 season, and I, having no experience playing soccer, picked up the slack. My across-the-street neighbor from when I was 8-12 played soccer, but I don’t think that counts as experience.

I set out to learn.

The first thing I learned is that the organization of soccer in the United States makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

I mean, really, how is it that Team A and Team B, from the same town, playing similar players of similar ages and similar skills, play in different leagues, never play each other, and Team B is considered better than Team A because they pay more to play in League B? And there’s no way in hell that Team A will ever be able to play Team B without paying to do so. How fucked up is that?

And there are umpteen million different premier leagues. Premier, by the way, means first, so there should be only one, like the Highlander. Instead, not counting youth leagues, of which there are legion, we are confronted with the National Premier Soccer League, Premier Development League, the United Premier Soccer League, the Elite Premier League, the Premier National Judean People’s Front, the Judean Premier National Peoples Front, and the Monty Python Fund for the Implementation of the Possibility of There One Day Being a Premier League in the United States. So, obviously, Major League Soccer makes major sense.

I’m just looking for a local club to play with, while my son plays with the Beekman Soccer Club. The United States Soccer Federation says I should look at the United States Adult Soccer Association which says ask the Eastern New York State Soccer Association which OMG now I have to click among these various leagues just to figure out which one covers where I live is that what the Internet has come to since Google can’t differentiate between youth and adult soccer in Poughkeepsie and no one talks to their neighbors these days yes. It was easier when I worked in New York and I made fun of my co-workers playing pick-up soccer every Friday in Central Park.

It turns out that I live in the area covered by the Eastern District Soccer League, founded 1928, and invisible since.

This is absurd.

I live in Beekman, New York. If I, or my progeny, want to play soccer there should be an obvious choice: the Beekman Soccer Club, offering teams for anyone interested from /n/ to /n+1/. Or maybe we don’t play for Beekman. Maybe we play for the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Club of Beekman while those Others play for the Irish Club of Beekman or the German Club of Poughkeepsie or who the fuck cares as long as I don’t have to call the national director to find out what the fuck local club offers an O40 team.

Instead, we have this situation where there’s no obvious progression from playing with a ball at home to a local club to the local club’s first team which plays in a regional league and eventually gets promoted to a national league because they are so damn good. What we have is I, the parent of a soccer player, not the player himself, will make decisions about the rest of his life based on how much I’m willing to pay for the possibility that he might one day be “identified” by the one scout for the U.S. Men’s National Team or get a Division I scholarship.

Fuck that shit.

He just wants to play.

I just want to play.

And when I’m not playing, and when he’s not playing, we want to watch someone else play. Here.

No way in Hell are we driving two hours to New Jersey or paying $170 per month to Comcast. I could start my own league for that.

The Annual Rant About Daylight Time

Imagine the ridiculous conceit that the sun would change its place in the heavens or the earth pause in its rotations because some men in Detroit were unable to do the math necessary to talk with their business partners in Boston and New York, after the telegraph and telephone made that even possible. Or the perhaps more ridiculous thought that the better way to have “more” daylight after work is to move the hands of the clock to trick us into starting work earlier rather than, oh, I dunno, working less. These conceits function reasonably well, for some definitions of well that include its opposite, because the clock is, in these cases, providing less a means of measurement than a means of coordination.

The clock no longer describes the relation of the sun to a given point on the earth, and hasn’t since the invention of Standard Time, yet we insist on maintaining the fiction that it does, despite periodic affirmation to the contrary. We have, for the most part, given up attempting to attend to our circadian rhythms. We have, for the most part, surrendered control to our devices. The clock tells us when to rise, when to work, when to eat, when to study, and when to stop. Electric light provides the illusion of daylight, and our buildings — malls, offices, and factories — hide the sun to disguise the passing of time. The information age hasn’t changed these industrial habits, but made them worse: computers have no need for the Vitamin D, and we’ve adapted to their dim screens by staying inside so that we might see the moving pictures. Even cows stay indoors all day, lit by artificial suns, for convenient milking on schedule.

All of which makes the biannual altering of the clocks even more nonsensical than it was to start.

This weekend I was awakened just after falling asleep because someone couldn’t deduce the problem from the messages logged by their application telling them explicitly what the problem was. One of the ordering systems sets a default future due date six hours ahead of the order placement date, so every year, because timezone math is annoying, from 20:00 to 21:00, the damn system throws an exception because there is no time between 02:00 and 03:00. And this problem only exists because the computers are using America/Dallas, because that’s where the corporate headquarters are. Nor did it occur to anyone that a due date when people tend to be sleeping might be problematic.

Just pick something and stick with it. Using Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) for the whole Earth would seem a reasonable basis for discussion. It’s not like we’ll ever visit the moon or Mars any time soon.

The Browser History Fell Through a Memory Hole in my Pocket

If not careful, the brogrammers responsible for the attention deficit economy and big data collection will find their work has gone the way of interactive television. People use tools because they are — wait for it — useful.

You’re not the customer; you’re the product.

A web browser keeps, or kept, a history of where the user has browsed, what sites he’s visited, pages he’s read, where he’s been. It uses this information in the back button, but it’s also exposed as a list. The user can, more generally, retrace his steps. Additional windows and tabs in the browser interface led to discontinuities in the history, so while browsers still send referrers, they are, for the most part, lost to the user.

As my habits have shifted from a desktop to a pocket computer, I’ve noticed a key missing feature. Where has view source gone? And with my time being spent in specialized “apps” that are really just handicapped web browsers, an annoying behavior of iPhone memory management has me poking around Medium‘s and The Guardian‘s apps for something that should be there but isn’t: my reading history.

iOS has made what I consider odd design decisions, some of which have bled over to MacOS. (And speaking of questionable design decisions, that lowercase m I just didn’t use.) It assumes a well-connected network, values currency, and behaves as though local memory, storage, and power are tightly constrained. (The latter is a hoot considering how many years location services — and valuing currency — have been draining batteries.) In practice this means that if you leave an app for a minutes or seconds, say to check an incoming text, the app throws away its state and you lose your place.

Started that long think-piece on Medium on something dreadfully pressing, but it’s time to make dinner so you’ll get back to it later, where later is tomorrow or next week because life is like that? In the middle of cooking a new dish and scrolling along through a recipe as you add ingredients, then your mother calls, the page reloads, and now you’re confronted with adding another tablespoon of ghost pepper or none at all? That YouTube video you were meaning to finish watching later? Yeah, it’s disappeared. But, well, at least you can look for it in the vast store of clicks that Google has on you: you can see what was captured.

Safari will reveal your history. But Medium doesn’t. Facebook doesn’t. Twitter doesn’t. Other apps don’t. They haven’t been that considerate. It’s pretty obvious all these folks know exactly what I’m reading and watching and listening to, when, and for how long. They use that data to serve up recommended fodder, advertisements for my attention. But there’s no courtesy of a reach-around. No trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow back out of this dungeon to what led me here in the first place.

If you want to continue the data harvest, it’s necessary to feed the cattle.

The Customer Perspective

There’s too much wrong with the FCC — in all its various political, technical, and regulatory aspects — to get into arguments on the line. However, I’d like to point out one small piece of anecdata from Number Two Daughter’s iPhone 6. From the customer’s perspective, Internet access providers are common carriers.

Number Two Daughter (15) has service with Cricket (a subsidiary of AT&T) and pays $30/mo. for cellular service with a 2GB/mo. soft cap on data usage. It’s a soft cap because after using 2GB, the transfer rate is throttled. A hard cap prevents usage.

She primarily uses the phone to chat with friends, watch movies, and keep up to the minute with BTS. Most of that activity happens here at home, so in the best of all possible worlds she’d be using our domestic Internet connection provided by Frontier Communications rather than the LTE connection provided by AT&T. However, there’s a mechanical difficulty with either the antenna or the wifi chip in her phone, so she doesn’t connect to the 802.11n network.

YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video, nor even BTS, are not the top consumers of bandwidth; they are slightly more than bumps on the long tail. Apple Music and Spotify and Pandora don’t even register. iMessages and SMS chats are miniscule pinpricks. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are so 5th grade; only toddlers use those.

Snapchat was. And the month isn’t over yet.

The internet is NOT television. And no one wants “content.” They never have. They want a connection with other people.

Reach out, and touch someone.

My Sons Build Better Box Forts

My love and I put together the IKEA Billy bookcases for my library last Thursday. They had been occupying the hall, and my books boxes, due to certain logistical issues. Now the books are unpacked and shelved, but awaiting organization. I’ve sorted out the non-fiction and poetry, but I’m not happy with the result. I’m a bit too obsessive with things being symmetrical. The way this room is prevents shelf symmetry. If I didn’t already hate much of contemporary architecture, I’d despise it for this sophomore student’s effort alone.

One really should be able to execute traditional design before attempting something novel. There’s a good reason that roofs join the way they do. Well, at least now I can sit in the library rocking chair, hot tea by my side and cat on my book, while I watch the water damage for signs of a new leak.

And agonize over how to get the subjects to line up. Might have to buy more books.

a picture of the library ceiling

Daylight Saving Time (Revised)

The initial idea for Daylight Saving Time was not, as is commonly thought, to save energy or to give farmers more time to do their work. (Dumbass. Farmers and animals don’t use the clock: They use the sun.)

The initial idea came from a gentleman in the building trades who considered all the lay-abed clerks to be wasting precious daylight sleeping when they should be hard at work (see Seize the Daylight [2005]). The arguments for saving candles, kerosene, and electricity came later. More recently, demand for DST has come from people who like “all the extra time” after school and work.

So, to thumb our noses at the busybody jackass who came up with the idea, and to satisfy demand for more time after work, let’s shorten the “standard” work day.

I think this will be a win-win all around.

A Confederacy of Dunces

One style of fiction I most enjoy is what is known as alternate history or, if presented academically, counterfactual history. This genre asks what might have been if such-and-such had happened. Sometimes the counterfactual is presented as a more pleasant, net positive, outcome than what actually is, but more often than not as less desirable than the present. Or, as Pangloss so sagely put it, "all is for the best in this the best of all possible worlds."

It's a genre with a long, storied tradition.

And some people have never heard of it before this week.

HBO announced the production of a new show, Confederate, whose not entirely novel premise is that the Confederate States of America still exists. The North did not win the War Between the States; the South did not lose. And slavery still exists. The uproar, as I understand it, has been outrage at HBO's conceit that they could make a show celebrating slavery when all know it is horribly wrong. No one has seen a script yet, much less filmed work, and the assumption is that the show glorifies slavery? Because any show with the Confederacy in it would obviously celebrate slavery? Or because slavery when depicted theatrically is always glamorous? Much as it was in Roots or Twelve Years a Slave, right? One can portray slavery without glamorizing it, after all. And it's not like slavery is dead even now.

Tonight I learned that Some Other People are in a similar snit over a planned series for Amazon called Black America, about a black nation, not unlike an Indian reservation, extracted from the United States after the Civil War. Haven't y'all heard of Liberia, the twitterati shriek, completely forgetting that Liberia is in Africa. Here's a map:

They seem to have confused the American Colonization Society with calls by the Nation of Islam for a separate country. One does begin to wonder why anyone pays attention to these sorts of tempests. Is their teapot so large as to scald us when it boils?

You know what kind of alternate history I'd like to watch? One where losers don't blame their mistakes on some other group of people. That would be a novelty.

Who Forged These Chains?

For someone who works with computers, I have very little respect for them. Perhaps that’s left over from a programming class where the teacher reminded us that the computer only does what we tell it to do. It’s mindless. Or more likely it has been experience reinforcing this: the computer program is only as good as its author, and I’ve seen so many that aren’t. What this results in, however, is prejudicial treatment of the machines. I simply assume that my experiences with them will be even worse than experiences with human, so I despise voice mail jail (Press 0 for an operator.), interactive voice response systems (Hi, Siri!), time-sheets, and resume sifting by keyword. This disrespect is misplaced; it’s no fault of the computer’s own that it is incompetent and hard to deal with. It’s the fault of those humans who designed it. But they are anonymous and the computer sits there, refusing to take what I give it until I alter my behavior to suit its inflexibility. I’m not the one wrong; it is. Why? Because I am not the computer’s accessory. It is doing a task for me. Why does it end up being the other way ’round?

School, a Poem

Locks us inside

3 minute breaks in between

42 minutes

“School,” a poem by Number Two Daughter (13)

Number Two Daughter brought this poem home from school today. She’s expressed this unhappy sentiment several times before, more frequently since the recent increase in lockdown drills and procedural restraint on the movement of students.

I have particular opinions about how the schools are structured, which I may share vocally now and then, but I believe my children are developing their own opinions based on observed experience rather than any ranting I’ve done. The subjects of the system notice what the system is doing, even if they are powerless to prevent or change it. Later, as adults, they might forget, or perhaps accept it as “just the way things are,” and send their children through the same system. As has been remarked in other contexts, this is a feature, not a bug.

Math Hatred: A Systemic Problem

If you put a kid who’s teaching himself to read so he can play his favorite games, who can do simple sums, and who can count well past 200, in full-day Kindergarten, and he comes home saying he hates math and reading, you’ve done something tragically wrong.

If you take a kid who’s been proficient in math since before Kindergarten, and whose favorite subject was math until this year, and now he says he hates it, you’ve done something tragically wrong.

If you take a kid who loves math as much as she loves reading, who tells you she can’t wait for 4th grade so she can learn division, and who now thinks she’s bad at math, even though she scores high on tests, you’ve done something tragically wrong.

If you take a kid who loved math and science as much as she loves reading, but who left 4th grade thinking that she’s bad at math and science and is about to enter high school still thinking that — even though she’s grasping concepts faster than every one else in her class and is pulling up the school averages on standardized tests — then you’re still doing something horribly, tragically wrong.

Against Full-Day Kindergarten

The Common Core State Standards website asks,

Q: Why do we need educational standards?

A: We need standards to ensure that all students, no matter where they live, are prepared for success in postsecondary education and the workforce.

Let’s assume for a moment that that is the goal of primary and secondary education. (Let’s also ignore the missing hyphen between post and secondary.) Will full-day Kindergarten help in achieving this goal?

No.

Why not?

Because extreme differences in academic ability collapse by the fourth grade. All of us, including children, learn at different rates. In general, those differences disappear on average by the time we are about ten years old, or fourth grade. I understand the difficulty of scientific experiments on humans, but we do what we can; and what we can do shows that there’s no evidence that learning a subject earlier makes a difference.

So, what exactly is the point of full-day Kindergarten?

You’re Dead. Stop Kicking Me.

Interactive Television has always failed, and will always fail.

A lesson from the early days of telephony is significant. Early on it was thought that telephony would provide a subscriber with a way to listen to opera in the convenience of his own living room. And while that was sold for a while, it turns out that humans are social animals, and that the profit lies in enabling communication, not in delivering content. We want to talk to each other.

The ONLY reason that television has been around so long is that the cost of communicating with video was beyond the reach of all of us.

That is no longer the case.

Television as we’ve known it is dead. But like a chicken with its head cut off, it’s still running around.

Daylight Saving Tricks

Now that we’ve returned to Standard Time, let us pause for my annual rant on Daylight Saving Time (DST). Calling the boiling point of water 100 instead of 212 does not mean the water boils when it is colder.

We’re talking about a unit of measurement here, so people can agree to meet at a certain point in time, or so factory shifts can start precisely and predictably, or so polls can have a known start and end. My work hours are variable and cross all timezones, and have since I graduated college. I wake well after dawn and work well after dark, or wake well before dawn and work well after dark. I work generally apart from others; they are in Tokyo, Manila, Bangalore, Sarajevo, New York, St. Louis, Dallas, Sao Paolo, San Ramon. The people I must have real-time meetings live one to three hours west of me, and consistently schedule meetings during lunch or dinner.

What benefit does DST have? Most of the stores I visit are open all the time, because they are online or groceries. If I want to attend my daughter’s softball game, I don’t need the whole factory shift to let out earlier; I need the assholes in California to stop scheduling meetings when they’ve just returned from lunch.

The DST switch only coordinates activities with people local to me (e.g. the school district’s bus schedule), and only for people shoved into a tight schedule, and that could be just as easily done without bothering the rest of the world, or me for that matter. And the easiest way to do that would be to pick Daylight Time or Standard Time, or anything else for that matter, and stick to it.

How Stupid is the Mass Media?

Check out the headline on this article: CNN Poll: Still no front-runner in the battle for the GOP nomination.

Of course not, you stupid shit. They just started campaigning. It’s a [expletive and a half] horse race. Did you see the 137th Kentucky Derby last weekend? That was a fun two minutes. Shackleford started off well in front of the pack and led into the final stretch. But he didn’t win, did he? The favorite? He lost too. Animal Kingdom came up from 13th place to win.

Who the fuck cares who the front-runner is? It means nothing except bullshit headlines and cheap stories for the likes of you.