Monday, July 27, 2020

Who Are You Going To Hate Next?

The 2001 film Conspiracy has stuck with me for nearly two decades. It's based on the Wannsee Conference where the Nazis developed what became known as The Final Solution. The script is taken from the only surviving transcript of the meeting.

The film contains two elements that haunt me. First, the meeting is conducted in a matter-of-fact manner with a working lunch. The arguments are never about whether genocide should occur but how to most efficiently implement it.

Second, Kenneth Branagh who plays Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi who conducted the meeting, retells a story designed as a warning. 

The story's moral is that hate should not become so all consuming  so that when the object of hate is gone one has nothing left to live for.

The story is becoming more salient in 2020 as I foolishly read the comment threads on various blog posts or Twitter threads. Anyone to the political left of Joseph McCarthy is a communist who threatens to destroy the American Republic and anyone to the political right of Angela Davis is fascist who threatens to destroy American Democracy.

Politics has gone far beyond the "tastes great/less filling" type of debate. In fact, the political vitriol has become closer to the religious hatred satirized in Gulliver's Travels where arguments over whether whistling being a vice or a virtue could lead to war. In short, for some, political opponents are now someone to hate.

I don't know how widespread the hatred is or how deeply it has set in. I'm certain, however, that once hatred becomes entrenched as part of a pseudo-religious doctrine, there will always be a new target to hate. If that entrenchment occurs, we may all look back at 2020 with nostalgia.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Lincoln-Douglas Debate And A Pandemic, A Minor Musing

When I was a fair to middling debate coach instead of a retired debate coach, I had the opportunity to work with a number of great Lincoln Douglas debaters. For the nine or ten folks who read this blog and are not familiar with high school Lincoln-Douglas debate, Lincoln-Douglas debaters argue resolutions such as Resolved: A just government ought to prioritize civil liberties over national security. The affirmative and the negative debater usually begin her case with a statement like "Today, I will be upholding the value of justice" or "In this round I will be valuing human dignity." Each debater then supported the premise with practical examples, utilitarian philosophers, gerontological philosophers, virtue ethicists, or postmodern cultural critics.

My debaters used scores, if not hundreds, of values over the course twenty debate seasons, but valuing civility never provided the success I thought it should.

We tried using the concept as defined by Stephen Carter who asserts civility is "the sum of the many sacrifices that we make for the sake of living our common life. Thus civility isn’t only good manners (although it is that) and it isn’t only how we think about and talk about others (although it is that, too). Civility resides, for example, in acts of charity, particularly when they are truly costly to us." Elsewhere Carter asserts, civility is“a set of sacrifices we make for the sake of our common journey with others, and out of respect for the very idea that there are others … who are every bit our equals before God.”

I believed that debaters could win a round by arguing valuing civility, as Carter defines it, allowed individuals to use their freedom responsibly, preserve the common good, and respect the dignity of others. It was not a successful argument.

Now, in the midst of a pandemic and a summer of protest, both peaceful and violent, I wonder how I could have been so naive to believe the argument could have worked. There are, I am certain, numerous citizens who perform "acts of charity . . .[that] are truly costly to [them.]" Those acts, however, are drowned out by customers who refuse to follow the posted policies about waiting to enter a hair salon or customers who who scream at a teenage barista who asks them to follow a mask policy or those who use the cover of a peaceful protest to begin looting neighborhoods.

The idea that there are others who are our equal and that co-existing with our fellow citizens requires sacrifices that may be costly didn't win many debate rounds when it was discussed in the abstract. It doesn't seem to be valued in the real world when its needed most. Both facts make me wonder what will happen when he idea of a "common journey" is totally replaced by "my way or the highway." 

Sunday, July 19, 2020

A Chart, An Old Song, And An Older Poem

I probably should have entitled this a post that will change no one's mind.

The Chart:


The Song:

The first stanza of Thomas Hardy's "The Man He Killed":

"Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

It appears that Hardy may have been an optimist unless Covid-19 has caused Americans to desire sharing drinks with those they consider brainwashed, hateful racists.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

A Post Wherein I Try To Understand One Of Governor Noem's Favorite Cliches

In recent months, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has repeated two phrases "trust your citizens/constituents" and "one size does not fit all." Both have made her a darling of the populist right.

If I am being cynical, her use of the former phrase reminds me of Hulk Hogan's injunction to his little Hulkamanics: "say your prayers, take your vitamins, and you'll never go wrong." Hogan infamously went wrong in ways that indicate he didn't believe his talking points. Likewise, Noem's push for "riot boosting" laws indicate she doesn't trust her citizens to exercise their free speech rights responsibly. Either that or she believes they are overly susceptible to the wiles of out-of-state agitators, a belief that again belies a lack of trust.

Perhaps I am being unfair to the governor, free speech and pandemics are not the same thing. She may well be expressing the belief that Shakespeare was correct when he wrote “This above all: to thine own self be true,/And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to any man." If that sentiment is correct, citizens will naturally want to be true to themselves and, therefore, do no other person harm. 

The quotation, however, presents several problems. Polonius, the character who utters the phrase, is a windbag not a source of wisdom. Even if one accepts that Polonius, like the cliched broken clock, can be correct at times, the context of his speech is about personal finance and being true to oneself financially not emotionally, spiritually, or morally. Further, the context is about a trip from Denmark to London not about a pandemic. A string of cliches that may be sufficient for the former is hardly likely to suffice for the latter.

Noem's phrasing seemingly implies that citizens are to trust each other because she trusts them. This implication too causes some problems. South Dakotans are not a monolith. Some believe that Covid-19 is no worse than the flu. Some believe the virus was created in military labs or in Wuhan. Those people may believe that its sole purpose was to create a cashless society so that the government could track its citizens more easily. (That those same citizens believe that Donald Trump, who seems to be ignoring the pandemic, was chosen by God to save save Americans from such a fate reflects a weird cognitive dissonance.) Others may believe information posted on Facebook by someone with Jethro Bodine's intellect and education. Others take information from sources that assert wearing masks is ineffective while others may accept some scientists' assertion that virus is airborne, a term that itself seems promote confusion.

In the middle of pandemic, which citizens are Governor Noem or other South Dakotans supposed to trust? The one's who say mask mandates aren't about safety? The folks who deny Covid-19 entirely? The Governor doesn't seem to trust those who advocate wearing masks. She seems to deny the possibility that wearing a mask keeps others safe, so even she is being selective about which citizens she trusts.

If Noem's claim that she "trust the citizens" is, in reality, a claim that she trusts only those who agree with her, then her phrasing is merely a cliche designed to get her on Fox News, not a policy proposition to keep South Dakotans safe from the pandemic.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Minor Musing About Blogging

Perhaps I should have titled this post "A Minor Musing About Everything I Do Wrong When Blogging."

I have been writing, albeit irregularly, since 2007. Obviously, one thing that any successful online endeavor requires is a regular publishing schedule. That said, here are a few other observations.

First, blogs have entered their zombie stage; they likely will never die out, but blogging will never regain the clout it had in the halcyon days when Andrew Sullivan and others demanded attention multiple times per day.

Second, Cory may lament that old folks are the only ones who seem to be writing blogs, but they may also be the largest audience regularly reading blogs. The politically active young'uns I know are using Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram stories to spread their message. They are consuming podcasts or YouTube, but few seem to reference blogs. (I realize that anecdotal evidence may not be the best source of information.)

Third, blogs need a laser focus. South Dakota War College could easily rename itself South Dakota Republicans R Us (The demise of Toys R Us renders this suggestion an example of a bad marketing strategy.) At Dakota Free Press Cory follows a simple mission: be South Dakota's true liberal media. The blog is a consistent counterpoint to the views espoused by the state's Republican hegemony. 

In short, the successful bloggers don't chase shiny objects. One of my blogging failures is that comic books, folding knives, fountain pens, or Greek myth retellings all seem as interesting as South Dakota politics. The area where those interests intersect in a way to prompt regular blogging or create an audience is minuscule. 

Fourth, successful blogging requires a sense of mission, a belief that one's words can make a difference. That sense of mission comes from an ideology rooted firmly in either the right, left, or populist camps. In a sane political universe, I'm a centrist. In the current climate, I'm too far to the left for Republicans, too far to the right for Democrats, and too elitist for populists of either stripe.

Fifth, regular blogging seems to demand adherence to Marie Kondo's spark joy philosophy. Ehrisman alludes to  the lack of joy in his post.  I seem to exist in mental space that views work as work and play as work. Combine that personality quirk with the aforementioned shiny object syndrome and one has created the perfect storm for irregular blogging.

Sixth, style matters. Dr. Newquist  consistently writes like an academic. Cory's style reflects his passion. I use terms like "young'uns" and quote people like Marilynne Robinson. Once again, the audiences that appreciate these contrasts don't overlap.

Finally, successful blogging requires an ability to accept vagaries. A random post tossed out as an afterthought may well generate far more views than a post that demanded hours of research.

These observations create neither a resignation nor a resurrection post. I'll keep pushing out random musings or rants erratically. Serving as a bad example is something I usually do well.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Quotation Of The Day: Governor Kristi Noem's Favorite Scientist Edition

Yesterday, Governor Noem sent out the following tweet. Via Seth Tupper and The South Dakota Standard, this Wired article about John Ioannidis

First, the background.

Let’s face it, the field of epidemiology hasn’t so far covered itself in glory with regard to the coronavirus crisis. The field was for the most part fatefully slow to recognize that a pandemic was aborning; later on, it produced a stream of conflicting and sometimes wildly off-the-mark assessments of infection and mortality rates, and where they might be heading. 

 But even in this fast-paced and sloppy context, Ioannidis’ study is seen as standing out. Not just for its methodological weaknesses but for the apparent wrongness of its main conclusions—and the risk that these could have a harmful influence on public health recommendations. In a nutshell, Ioannidis and his study coauthors tested about 3,300 residents of California’s Santa Clara County for antibodies to the new coronavirus. The results, according to Ioannidis, imply that the disease isn’t nearly as deadly as believed. “Based on what we’re seeing now, the fatality of the virus is more or less the same as influenza, about 0.1 percent,” he says. “Most of the earlier data was completely bogus.”

The study, posted as a preprint on April 17, has been pilloried nonstop. Critics noted problems in the way subjects were recruited, potential defects in the antibody test, and apparent mistakes in the statistical analysis. Ioannidis might have received a pass if his involvement went no further than being listed among the suspect study’s 17 coauthors. But he’d already needled colleagues with an essay that he wrote in March, calling the response to Covid-19 “a once-in-a-century evidence fiasco”; and now, again, he took to the airwaves to hawk these new results as evidence that stay-at-home measures are misguided.

Now, the money quote:

Other epidemiologists’ assessment of Ioannidis’ claim, that staying at home will likely kill far more people than Covid-19, might best be summed up the way physics giant Wolfgang Pauli is said to have dismissed the lesser work of a colleague: It’s not even wrong. To be promoted to wrong, the Ioannidis position would have to be based on data and analysis that scientists could argue over. Even allowing his 0.1 percent fatality rate for the disease—which most epidemiologists think is way too low, but not beyond-the-realm-of-possibility low—there is almost no data to go on for the likely cost in human life of the lockdown. We know Covid-19 is killing tens of thousands of people, and that staying at home is slowing the spread; but we know virtually nothing about the number deaths caused by staying at home. As such, what Ioannidis is promoting simply isn’t science, says Loren Lipworth, a Vanderbilt University epidemiologist. “It’s impossible to do that risk-benefit analysis,” she says. “It’s just relying on anecdote and common sense.” In other words, Ioannidis is pitting his gut against the collective data-driven wisdom and analysis of medicine and public health.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Some Questions Prompted By Recent Events

When I was teaching and coaching debate to earn my bread, the young'uns often thought the only reason teachers asked questions was to determine if students knew the right answer. (There were, of course, some young'uns who thought that teachers asked questions because the teacher did not know the answer and needed help.)

While I often asked questions to determine if students knew the material, I also frequently asked questions to determine how they arrived at the conclusions they did. It is in that spirit that I offer the following questions for consideration. 

A. How should a just government deal with situations when an individual's exercise of her rights prevents or impedes another person's exercise of her rights?

B. What is incorrect about the following David French analysis?
  1. Slavery was legal and defended morally and (ultimately) militarily from 1619 to 1865.

  2. After slavery, racial discrimination was lawful and defended morally (and often violently) from 1865 to 1964.

  3. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not end illegal discrimination or racism, it mainly gave black Americans the legal tools to fight back against legal injustices.

  4. It is unreasonable to believe that social structures and cultural attitudes that were constructed over a period of 345 years will disappear in 56.

  5. Moreover, the consequences of 345 years of legal and cultural discrimination, are going to be dire, deep-seated, complex, and extraordinarily difficult to comprehensively ameliorate. 

It’s hard even to begin to describe all the ramifications of 345 years of legalized oppression and 56 years of contentious change, but we can say two things at once—yes, we have made great strides (and we should acknowledge that fact and remember the men and women who made it possible), but the central and salient consideration of American racial politics shouldn’t center around pride in how far we’ve come, but in humble realization of how much farther we have to go. [Emphasis mine]

C. How does one discern the point where the activists one supports have become the Mirror/Mirror image of the extremists one despises? (Yeah, I went to Star Trek for that one.)

D. What is the source of the right to refuse to take steps to prevent the spread of contagion, either wittingly or unwittingly? I am particularly interested in sources available to America's founders such as Locke, Hobbes, Hume, or Rousseau. Sources such as the Federalist Papers or Anti-Federalist Papers are also acceptable.

E. What is the reason to celebrate and commemorate leaders of the Confederacy who rebelled against the United States in order to preserve slavery?

F. Finally, a multipart question: Define community. Explain whether community is important and the reason for your answer. If community is important, what does an individual need to do to help create and preserve it. If community is unimportant, how can isolated individuals thrive in a 21st Century state of nature?

Any anwers should be in complete sentences. Please avoid the use of a color crayon when answering.