Monday, July 31, 2017

'Wizard of Oz' fans: Answer this before the hourglass runs out

The Wicked Witch of the West says: "See that? That's how much longer you've got to be alive. And it isn't long, my pretty, it isn't long. I can't wait forever to get those shoes!" Want to see the scene? YouTube clip

What was going to happen to Dorothy when the hourglass ran out?

Have another idea? Leave a comment!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Of course you can feel like a girl: Reflections on a recent anti-transgender essay

Jamie Shupe made history in June 2016 in becoming the first person in the United States to have a legally designated "non-binary" gender identity, represented on an identity card issued by the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. Shupe was born male and today prefers not to be classified as either male or female and wants to be referred to with the pronoun "they" rather than "he" or "she."



Image by "j bizzie." Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Shupe does not see eye-to-eye with people who choose to transition from one gender to another, although Shupe personally attempted a male-to-female transition for several years before settling on a non-binary identity. In a nearly 11,000-word essay "You Can't Feel Like a Girl," posted July 22, 2017 to a blog called "First, Do No Harm: Youth Gender Professionals" with the tagline "Professionals Thinking Critically about the Youth Transgender Narrative," Shupe tears into transgender people and their care providers. Everyone deserves to have their personhood taken seriously. That said, Shupe's argumentation in this essay does not need to be seriously entertained. The essay has no identifiable structure, apparently missing an introduction, conclusion, and section breaks, which makes it more of a rant. It has an infinitude of typos, suggesting a lack of editorial input from a second party.

The rant includes a lot of personal information, including Shupe's declaration that they have "Complex PTSD" and probably "Asperger's" and implying their disappointment that, after taking female hormones for the past four years, they still haven't achieved the body transformation results they hoped for. "None of it made me look like a female. Whatever changes you’re supposed to get are supposed to happen in the first three years," they say. Shupe never had genital surgery and is happy about that. It seems that Shupe does not, today, have much contact with people who identify as transgender. Shupe refers to people who have transitioned from male to female as "surgery queens," as here — "The surgery queens aren’t proper role models for these trans children. They’re what they get to see at the circus" — and as "monsters," as here — "Trans women are like the beast Cerberus, the monstrous multi-headed dog that guards the gates of the Underworld to prevent the dead from leaving." Thus, while Shupe styles themselves in this essay as someone who can give "insider" criticism because they attempted a male-to-female transition for some years, I'd argue that in certain respects they can only give "outsider" criticism about transgender lives. Using their invective as a reference point, I surmise they're not actively involved in transgender community or organizing and may currently not have a lot of transgender friends or acquaintances with whom they dialogue on these topics. The essay fails to explicitly acknowledge and identify the line between what they do and don't know from personal experience.

Some text is hyperlinked to questionable sources but there are no footnoted citations. Shupe says that their experience comes from reading endless mass media articles. In their words,

"due to my narrow interests and the fact that I have nothing better to do as a retired person, I’ve spent every day of the last four years studying transgenderism through the lens of media articles. I don’t have much use for academia or it’s [sic] articles. I like to see what institutions like the Daily Mail have to say about people like me. It’s not uncommon for me to get 100 Google email alerts per day for keywords like transgender or gender dysphoria. That’s how I spend my days."

It's a fine hobby, but it's unlikely to result in a high-quality essay. If one deliberately restricts one's reading to what is scrawled on the Internet in brief articles for informal consumption, studiously avoids anything that smacks of "academia," and apparently doesn't have conversations with the groups described in those articles because one believes they are monstrous, then one's arguments on that topic are less likely to be rigorous.

If you make it to the end of the rant, you finally see a statement of purpose in the final paragraph: "This is my coming out as a TERF and a SWERF." These terms are not defined within the essay, but they stand for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist and Sex-Worker-Exclusionary Radical Feminist, i.e. someone who identifies as a feminist but rejects the claims of transgender people and sex workers as valid concerns for feminists and who generally takes the opposite position on social and political issues that those groups would take. Shupe's position here is consistent with the title of their blog post: They believe a boy can't coherently say that they "feel like" a girl. A boy can feel feminine, but the boy remains a boy or perhaps third-gender and is not, and will never be, a girl. An important theme of this essay is that, since binary gender transition is invalid (in Shupe's estimation) for people of all ages, healthcare professionals should especially avoid putting gender-variant children on the path of medical transition. Shupe says that "these charlatans deserve to be fired at best and jailed at worst" and twice names a particularly well-respected children's endocrinologist as a "monster."

Shupe claims to be a better role model for gender-variant children than a gender-transitioned person can be, on the basis of their assertion of some kind of emotional superiority. Shupe says that all the emotional difficulty they've experienced in life has been caused by external sources (discrimination, shaming, etc.) and that they have never been suicidal, whereas people who go through gender transition have emotional difficulties that arise from the inside and they tend to be suicidal. There seems to be a lack of introspection and analysis here. Everyone has an inside and an outside, and our feelings arise from complex interactions in our inner and outer worlds. One should be skeptical of a person's claim that all their negative emotions were the result of others dumping those feelings nonconsensually into them. If you discover yourself to have become a reservoir for other people's toxins, you are still responsible for processing it and overcoming it, and whether and how you do it affects whether you are a good emotional role model for others. You can't say: There's toxic crap inside me but I didn't put it there so I'm not responsible for it. Nor can you point at others and say: They put their own toxic crap inside themselves and they must assume full responsibility for it. Furthermore, it isn't obvious that never having been suicidal in the first place makes one a better role model than having suffered with suicidal thoughts and still being alive — especially not for people who are suicidal and would like a role model who has dealt with that. And since Shupe says that transition promotes self-hate in transgender people, it isn't clear how Shupe managed to personally avoid this pitfall when they attempted transition.

Shupe says several times that transgender women are not "real" women. The argument? People who were born male can never menstruate or give birth. This overlooks the obvious, common counterobjection that fertility can't be the essential definition of a woman since many people born female are never fertile. (It would be best to avoid essentialist definitions altogether and admit there is no one essential thing that defines womanhood or manhood, but we cannot hope for too much in a rant.) Shupe goes on to say that the idea of "feeling like a girl" is incoherent; there can only be "feeling feminine." This is where the title of the essay comes from. Unfortunately, it overlooks that there are multiple ways of being feminine (some of them culturally specific) and that they can overlap with ways of being masculine. For example, nurturing can be interpreted as both feminine and masculine. Femininity and masculinity are not always polar opposites, so they are subject to interpretation. I believe that Shupe's thesis makes an incorrect claim here. It is possible to feel like a man or a woman. What that means is that you want to be seen as a man or a woman, no matter what gin joint in the world you walk into, no matter if you're feeling a bit more or less feminine or masculine than usual. You may feel very feminine and want to express your femininity and be perceived as feminine, yet you still want to be seen as a man. You may feel very masculine and want to express your masculinity and be perceived as masculine, yet you still want to be seen as a woman. The gender is a convenient box that you don't mind fitting into on a regular basis because it feels accurate or useful. That's what it means to feel like a man or woman. It's entirely reasonable to feel that way. Many people have that feeling about the sex with which they were born, and they are generally known as cisgender; a relatively smaller number of people have that feeling about the other sex, and they are known as transgender, and they are entitled to have that feeling, too. If Shupe's argument rests on people needing to acknowledge and accept the sex they were born as, then Shupe needs to reconsider their own choice to legally designate their gender as non-binary. That would be consistent only if Shupe were born intersex, which does not seem to be the case.

In one place, Shupe implies that children's gender transition is an attempt to straighten out gay kids. ("They can’t be gay, so they’re being surgically made straight instead.") There's no further discussion on this point, which is unfortunate. Many people who outwardly seem heterosexual before their transition will identify as more homosexual after their transition, as the object of their affections does not change. For other people, sexual orientation does shift during and after gender transition, and many transgender people partner with each other. As far as I know, most prepubescent children don't yet assert a sexual orientation at all, so it isn't clear what adult would be so distressed by a small child's apparent gayness (read: gender expression) that they would try to straighten out the child by changing their physical sex rather than by disciplining their gender expression. This just doesn't seem realistic. I don't think most parents who embrace their child's transgender identity do so because they are homophobic. That doesn't seem typical.

Shupe uses language that implies that transition is something that a doctor does to a transgender person. Language of autonomy — transition is something one chooses and does for oneself — is lacking. In Shupe's essay, transition is also treated as entirely medical, whereas in real life, there is an important social aspect. Throughout history, some individuals have always managed to achieve a complete binary transition without hormones or surgery because they happened to pass very well. That remains possible today. Some people just put on the clothes of the opposite sex and immediately pass. Shupe does not acknowledge this in their essay, probably because they are primarily upset about irreversible medical intervention. Would Shupe accept other people's binary gender transition if they managed to accomplish it without medical intervention or with mild or reversible medical steps?

Transgender men (people who transition from female to male) are largely ignored in this essay, which is probably beneficial for them, although there is an incoherent paragraph that refers to them in the context of the public debate over bathroom use.

"I wish right now that the doctors who are pausing puberty would instead pause for a moment and take a look at the chaos resulting from the mess they’ve created. It’s harming women. The ones that are real women. Trans men have yet to harm men. Testosterone injections have been around for decades and there’s still no trans guy in the NFL. All it’s good for is soldiers in the bathroom war. 'See, I have facial hair, that makes me a man! Women you should be scared.' Women aren’t scared of trans men, I’ve asked them. They’re scared of penises or people that used to have penises. That’s why we don’t have a peace agreement for the bathroom war yet with the conservatives."

The meaning is hard to ascertain, but it was probably intended to be construed more like this: Some cisgender women assert fear or disgust or hypothetical transgender women and say they are reluctant to share the bathroom with them because they assume that transgender women are essentially "guys in dresses" — lecherous, creepy, possibly dangerous, and easy to spot, causing discomfort in others as soon as their faces are visible. Someone might challenge this by asking the cisgender woman: If she indeed believes that transgender women are really men, then logically doesn't she also believe that transgender men are really women? So does she feel comfortable if a transgender man — a person who presents as a man, wearing masculine clothes, who might have a beard, flat chest, deep voice — walks into a women's public bathroom? Well, Shupe has helpfully asked "them" (at least one cisgender woman) whether they believe they are afraid of "trans men," and they said no, so really it's transgender women (not transgender men) who are the primary cause of conflict here. Great. Shupe's interview question is irrelevant. If a furry-faced person dressed as a man walks into a women's bathroom, he isn't immediately identifiable as a "trans man." He is identifiable as someone who doesn't belong in a women's bathroom. It doesn't matter if some cisgender women believe they're unintimidated by their imaginary conception of a transgender man. What matters is that some people who use women's bathrooms (whether cisgender or transgender) would be alarmed by a real transgender man, a stranger, entering it unannounced. The pragmatic conclusion at which transgender men generally arrive is that they should use men's bathrooms. Everyone involved is happier.

The scope of the essay is too wide-ranging. Sometimes it seems to be about children who are offered medical transition, but a lot of it is about adults who transition and don't adjust well, have botched surgeries, or other miscellaneous regrets and disappointments. It would be one thing if Shupe admitted that some adults really are better off transitioning and that there is simply some reason to be cautious with kids. But Shupe's argument isn't limited to kids. The essay says that no one (regardless of age) should transition because binary transgender (male-to-female or female-to-male) is not a valid identity, it increases internal distress, it doesn't dismantle patriarchy, and it injures women. To the contrary, it is a valid identity (given that many people successfully live it; how else, from a liberal humanist perspective, would we validate it?); gender transition greatly reduces the internal distress of many people; our personal gender identities as "woman," "man," or "other" do not need to dismantle patriarchy (everyone is responsible for being an ethical person and taking actions to address injustice, but our identities do not have to dismantle patriarchy while we sleep because that does not make sense); and it isn't at all obvious how the existence of transgender people harms cisgender women (Shupe asserts this multiple times without providing a clue what kind of harm they are referring to).

People with non-binary gender identities deserve a space in society. This is true whether they were born intersex, male, or female, and whether they always identified as non-binary or whether they arrived at it through a process of self-examination or gender transition or adaptation from a binary place to a non-binary place. I am glad that Jamie Shupe has helped clear the way to make legal recognition possible for people who don't feel like either a boy or a girl. For those who do feel like a boy or a girl (although Shupe says it is impossible), I hope that they, too, can feel free to assert that identity, and that they have access to hormones and surgery if that is part of their gender affirmation process. I hope that we can have inclusive politics and move away from terms like "TERF" and "SWERF" whose second letter stands for "exclusion."

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Willie Parker's 'Life's Work' is informative as a physician's perspective on abortion

Dr. Willie Parker has released a great new book in 2017, Life's Work, that describes his experiences as an abortion provider, his formative years, and the evolution of his personal beliefs as a Christian. He grew up in poverty not knowing who his father was, and his sister became pregnant as a teenager. Initially a hardliner on the subject of sexuality, he negatively judged girls and women who had sex outside of marriage and he refused to perform abortions. But as he continued his medical studies, he came to realize the value of personal autonomy to make this decision. This was so important to him that he gave up a penthouse apartment in Hawaii whose wide windows looked out over the Pacific and he moved back to the South so he could help communities who needed a competent, dedicated abortion provider. In Life's Work, he eloquently describes a wide range of issues related to working in an abortion clinic without shying away from the challenging parts.

He shares a compelling picture of what women go through:

"Every woman sitting in one of the high-backed chairs in the Montgomery clinic has missed a menstrual period. She has peed on a stick at home or in a public restroom or at a friend's house or in a dorm and seen the result; in a flash she has had to digest how a new child will alter the future she imagines for herself. She has had to decide who she can confide in and who will judge her or disapprove and thus needs to be lied to or kept in the dark. She has confronted whatever private thoughts and yearnings she may have about her vision for her life, including deeply held and possibly heretofore unexamined ideas about professional fulfillment, love, parenthood, and God. She has had to consider the sometimes viselike practicalities that circumscribe her days: school schedules, work demands, the responsibility of caring for other children or ailing relatives, the reliable and supportive presence — or not — of the person whose sperm entered her body more than six weeks ago, her financial circumstances, her age, the limits of her own health. By the time a woman is sitting in a clinic awaiting my attention, her intention has been focused and clarified. She has figured out how to scrape together $550 if she's six weeks pregnant, or as much as $1,400 if she's further along. She has had to be true to herself, despite the fact that her decision process has been disrupted and corrupted by these new state laws requiring her to be 'counseled' — by me, a credentialed doctor, or a psychotherapist — in a ginned-up 'protective' encounter that often passes along to these women false or biased information about abortion disguised as scientific truth.

* * *

To the point: A woman who wants to terminate her pregnancy has to make her decision in the context of a culture that shames her and, increasingly, within the constraints of laws that dramatically inconvenience her. They demean her humanity by presuming to know better than she does what her best interests are. They limit her access to clinics and doctors and they convey to her false information. The underlying assumption of all the new laws is that women can't be trusted to make their own health decisions; their doctors can't be trusted to tell them the truth; and scientific knowledge must be subverted in the name of religious truth. I strictly abide by these laws, which I believe violate human freedom, because my first priority is to continue to be able to provide abortions. If I break the law out of frustration or fury and get put out of business, the antis win." (pp. 8-9)

Later in the book, he does complicate this picture by mentioning that some women who enter his office do not yet know what they want, often because they are being pressured by someone, and some women are mistaken about how advanced their pregnancy is.

He also talks about what he goes through as a provider:

"But at that early hour, sitting in my car, sometimes around dawn, I am infuriated that I, who am in my fifties, gray-bearded and entirely bald, a physician with a medical degree from the University of Iowa and a master's in public health from Harvard University, have to do a version of a perp walk in order to enter my own place of work. And I am aware that, even though the intention of these protesters is to throw sticks, not stones — the truth is, you never know. One of them might come unhinged at any moment; any one of them might be carrying a gun. (p. 6)

How his understanding of race informs his understanding of abortion

Women's autonomy is important to Dr. Parker in part because of his awareness of the collective trauma of African-Americans not being allowed to make their own decisions about their bodies since the days of slavery. As he describes it:

"'William James, I'm sure glad you came to see me,' Miss Lula said to me as I sat by her bedside. 'Lord, Lord, Lord, I wish people could see you now. So many people said you were never going to be nothing.' And I realized then that, even though I was considered smart and even though I was 'a good boy,' the people who loved me were betting against me because of the circumstances in which I was raised. Now that I have brought all that I was and all that I've learned back to the communities of my youth, I can truly relate to my patients: I understand how being poor and coming from a racially stigmatized group can threaten your sense of self-determination and agency. The women who come to me for abortions are choosing a path different from what others would script for them." (p. 73)

"I am not the first person to say or think this, but having returned in my adulthood to make my home in the South, it is impossible not to think constantly about the analogy of the limits on women's reproductive rights to slavery. As an African American man descended from slaves and raised in the South, it is too easy for me to imagine what it's like to have no control over your body, your destiny, your life. Less than two hundred years ago, white men owned black people's bodies, and the southern legislatures that represented those white men's interests protected their right not just to buy and sell humans as they passed but also to own the babies the black women carried, even before those babies were born. White men maintained jurisdiction over black women's bodies, in that they owned them and took possession of their babies. Insofar as abortion access is limited, this abuse of power extends to all women. I believe that the men who are passing the laws that limit medication abortion want to control women's bodies, which is not so far from wanting to own them outright." (pp. 107-108)

"But no matter what brought them here, they do not deserve to bear the brunt of a culture's historic and dysfunctional shame." (p. 14)

What is sacred and miraculous?

He identifies as a Christian, but his value system around abortion is based in science and liberalism. As a physician, he maintains that the fertilization of sperm and egg is a natural process. It's not a miracle; a miracle would be an event that intervened in this natural process. As someone who grew up in a neighborhood where parenthood was something that just happened, he sees parenthood as a fact of life. What is sacred to him is an individual woman's freedom of choice, the way in which she consents to become a parent (or not), and the medical skills he has cultivated to support women in their choices. His approach is humanistic: People decide what is sacred. The implication is that we have to listen to each other and respect each other's choices to a large extent. When he calls his clinic a "judgment-free zone," he means he sets aside his judgment and defers to the woman's judgment. He feels that women should focus on their own choices and not be holier-than-thou about their parenting choices or their abortion choices when they look at other women. He understands that these are life decisions and behaviors to which women give careful thought and place a lot of stake on a good outcome, and he would like his patients to understand that people may have different psychological experiences of their abortion and may express their feelings differently and that they should all be taken seriously and should not be invalidated.

"I do not engage in or perpetuate any of the culture's sentimental notions about the primacy of motherhood in women's lives; I regard the meeting of sperm and egg as a biological event, no less miraculous but morally and qualitatively different from a living, breathing human life, imbued with sacredness only when the mother, or the parents, deem it so." (p. 13)

"Who enables the desperate isolation of the women of Mississippi? In part, it's liberal women with children who themselves became enraptured with the sonogram images they saw at the obstetrician's office and who wept when they heard the fetal heartbeat. Especially when I travel in upscale, liberal circles I see a fetishization of motherhood and children that I don't quite understand, a universe away from the hardscrabble world in which I grew up. This sacralization of motherhood in every sector of the privileged classes enables a widespread social conservatism that, at base, diminishes women's liberty: a consensus that motherhood is a woman's most important role. When a society tacitly agrees that a morally neutral, biological process — procreation — is 'miraculous,' then any intervention in that process can be seen as desecrating, and any choice against motherhood will be met with widespread disapproval. (In the churches I come from, a 'miracle' is God's intervention in the natural order of things — an ability, say, to turn a flask of water into wine or one loaf of bread into many. The way I see it, through a doctor's eyes, there is perhaps nothing on earth less miraculous or more ordinary than the animal process of human procreation, which was happening long before the Bible was written and will continue long after today's newborns are dead.) But among the elites, the same people who write checks to Planned Parenthood, the whole enterprise of parenthood has taken on a hothouse aspect, which allows a blurry consensus about the 'sanctity of life' to flourish — instead of a clear-eyed definition of what 'life' really is. Mommy blogs, conversations about 'having it all' and 'helicopter parenting' — all contribute to a cultural neurosis around motherhood that obscures what ought to be a value-free choice. A cultish preference for motherhood is so embedded in culture that even well-meaning women reflexively judge one another for their reproductive choices. Now a 'broad-minded' woman may be heard to disapprove out loud of her sister-in-law's abortion ('She could afford another baby!'), or to privately judge her friend's decision not to have children as 'selfish.' The truth is that there is no intrinsic moral value to becoming a mother or not becoming one. A woman who pursues a pregnancy is merely prioritizing her life around motherhood. And a woman who has an abortion is prioritizing her life around not wanting to become a mother or around devoting herself and her resources to the children she already has. Homo sapiens will continue to reproduce and evolve, with or without any individual woman's participation in that process. (p. 178)

"In the abortion clinics where I work, I try to cultivate compassion — not just in myself, but among the staff and even among the patients themselves, who meet in my waiting rooms having come from all different walks of life and whose pregnancies and abortion decisions mean something different to each one. I have zero tolerance for women who judge one another or who presume that their abortion, and their circumstances, are somehow more stressful or more extenuating than anyone else's. I remember a lawyer who came to see me in Montgomery. She was well educated and charismatic. But as she lay on the table, she began to complain about the irreverent jokes and wisecracks that the other patients were making as they sat, stressing, in the waiting room, drinking soda and eating chips. She said, 'Don't they know that this is very difficult for some of us? Can't they show some respect?' And though I didn't show it, I got angry, because no one is entitled to sit in judgment of others, no matter their education, their status, their station, the circumstances that led them through our doors. She wanted her abortion to be sacred, and more, she wanted others to express their feelings in a way that was compatible with her sensibility. Well, all of this — the procedure, every woman in the waiting room, the nurses and aids and administrators who provide this excellent care, my own hard-won skill — is sacred to me. When she wrote a letter to complain of the atmosphere in our clinic, I was unmoved." (p. 202)

"If God is wholly Other, then the miracle of life is not some ordinary meeting of sperm and ovum — a morally neutral, purely biological event — but the agency and responsibility that come with being able to participate with God in a creative process. God is not human. God is not on the planet. God does not have babies, or make babies. People do. As part of a greater intelligence, as a lover of beauty and creativity, God made the world. And sexual reproduction is part of a collaborative process — between a male and a female and between God and humans. In that process, all distinctions disappear. God has no hands but your hands. God has no ability but your ability. That is what the Bible means when it says that you are God's child.

And if you look at it that way, if you set aside the idea that God is like Siri, telling you to go left or to go right, then the whole business is sacred. All of it. A pregnancy that intimates a baby is not more sacred than an abortion. You don't become sacred, like Mary, just because you conceived, and the termination of a pregnancy is not the resolution of an error. It is merely one of the reproductive outcomes. So is miscarriage. So, now, is surrogacy and in vitro fertilization — all these are on a continuum and they all hold moral weight. The God part is in your agency. The trust — the divine trust — is that you have an opportunity to participate in the population of the planet. And you have an opportunity not to participate. Is God vested one way or another in whether you, as an individual, become pregnant? No. Is a pregnancy sacred because there will be a baby, ultimately, in a bassinet, beautiful, maybe the next Obama? No. The process is bigger than you are. The part of you that's like God is the part that makes a choice. That says, I choose to. Or, I choose not to. That's what's sacred. That's the part of you that's like God to me.

The procedure room in an abortion clinic is as sacred as any other space to me, because that's where I am privileged to honor your choice. In this moment, where you need something that I am trained to give you, God is meeting both of us where we are. (pp. 211-212)

If you think this is fascinating or challenging, you should buy this book and consider the meaning and implications of this — not only for one's views on abortion, but for one's overall worldview.

Book

Dr. Willie Parker. Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice. New York: Atria, 2017.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Seeking a replacement ethical analysis of support for a replacement healthcare plan

After years of asserting that they intend to strike down or replace President Obama's Affordable Care Act, Republicans are struggling to come up with a replacement plan that can be passed. However, they cannot get consensus among their own party to vote for the replacement plan in the Senate. Why? Largely because the replacement plan is bad. It's unethical and Americans are uncomfortable with it.

If Americans eventually do get a replacement healthcare plan that resembles the current proposals, we will have a psychological need to rationalize it to ourselves. This means we'll need a replacement ethical analysis.

Here's the current analysis I've been seeing. It's not direct criticism of the details of the replacement plan but rather criticism of the character of people who would support such a policy approach. With strong words (and strong headlines) the Republicans are criticized:

"The fact that such detached cruelty is so normalized in a certain party’s political discourse is at once infuriating and terrifying."
(Kayla Chadwick, "I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People," Huffington Post, June 26)

"Republicans...have repeatedly broken their promises and defied public opinion in order to release health care bills that cut spending on the poorest Americans to fund massive tax cuts for the richest Americans....at some point, we need to take them at their word: This is what they believe...I want to see a better, more decent conservatism drive the Republican Party. I don’t want to believe that this is the bottom line of GOP policy thinking. But this is clearly the bottom line of GOP policy thinking."
(Ezra Klein, It turns out the liberal caricature of conservatism is correct," Vox, June 29)

"Whether it passes or not, however, remember this moment. For this is what modern Republicans do; this is who they are."
(Paul Krugman, "Understanding Republican cruelty," New York Times, June 30)

I do not want to believe this ethical analysis either but I do not have a replacement analysis.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Dear Readers: Should you buy Week One of Covfefe?

Within one week of the infamous covfefe tweet, a dozen e-books were published for Amazon Kindle with the neologism in the title.

I Can Has Covfefe? by Bruno Zogma

This guy has prepared a piece of literature that simultaneously is and isn't about covfefe. The word is used here simply to mean "nonsense." This e-book is a monologue by a character who is yelling at a friend. It's pretty original, and not only in its use of a word inadvertently coined by the president six days ago. I mean that it is original in its utter strangeness.

Covfefe: A Collection of Unrelated Short Stories by C. L. Mann

A normal, properly book-length collection of short stories with a sense of humor, despite some distracting formatting problems with incorrect paragraph indentations and random line breaks.

Toward the end, the mood goes somber. One paragraph contains bright blue links to Wikipedia which opens up the most plausible explanation that the author was doing research for historical accuracy and then did not reread his or her own book to notice and remove the links. From this last part of the book, there are nine intentional citations of URLs (no titles/authors). Such references are a little odd for a short story collection.

The magic word appears nowhere in the book. I have no idea where the title came from.

Covfefe Bigly: An Erotic Wonderland by Biff Bowen

Fake erotica using a fake word. This is an actual story, though a silly parody. Not bad.

Donald Trump's Best covfefe Moments: Quotes By Donald 'Covfefe' Trump by John Citizen

Replaces the nouns in familiar Trump quotes with the word 'covfefe.' The quotes make just as much nonsense with the replacement as without. Point taken! The man never made sense to begin with. This is really quite funny.

Covfefe: A word by any other name... by Sage Smith

Similar to the effort of John Citizen, this book replaces the nouns in familiar movie quotes and aphorisms, but this works somewhat less well than Citizen's take. No reader will recognize all of the quotes, especially with the keywords blotted out. Moreover, the lesson seems to be simply that these quotes are flattened by taking out the most powerful words, which is not at all surprising. The collection sells at the stiff price of $5 which leads one to conclude that this special formatting of one small quote per page was planned to milk the Kindle Unlimited per-page pricing structure. The formatting was not executed well, seemingly with carriage returns instead of page breaks, causing the user to see arbitrarily centered text depending on their device. You might profit from this collection if you want to select a quote or two to start your own line of meme merchandise.

Covfefe: Prince of Words: A History of the Most Important Lexical Advance of Our Time by Breaking Burgh

Like a blog post. A couple of the quotes are shared with Sage Smith's version. Rather funny. $2.99 seems a bit overpriced.

Covfefe: A "Coffee Table" Book by Anon

Again, like blog post interspersed with clip art, but shorter than most blog posts and making less sense. $2.99 is not a good price for it.

Donald Trump and the Mystery of Covfefe by Doctor Conservative

Ditto. Very poor formatting. The clip art is cut into quadrants and displays in random places.

Covfefe by Liv Augusta and Jay Kistler

A collection of a dozen acrostics, one word for each of the seven letters in the holy name. That would be 84 words in the entire book; there is no introduction. It is a fool's errand to place a value on poetry based on word count, but the enduring quibble is that the book description does not exactly indicate that you are buying only 84 words of anything when you pay 99 cents for it. The book description is: "A short digital booklet of acrostic poems exploring the meaning of the word 'covfefe.'" That it is, and now we know.

Various Things That Are NOT COVFEFE by D. D. C. Books

Compelling photographs of wildlife, plus still life with waffles and vegetables in the kitchen, plus swimming pools and Earth orbit. This is obviously the work of professional photographers. Photo credit is not given. There are no words of any kind.

Mein Covfefe by Courtney Driver

Based on the book description, this looks like it would be the most politically substantial. Unfortunately, the content is technically corrupted and will not download.

Covfefe! Donald Trump's Craziest Tweets compiled by Al Freedman

These are screenshots of Trump tweets. Only four are visible. It appears that the author intended to include another half-dozen, but they do not display. There is no commentary. $2.99 is a very bad price for this. The President will tweet at you all day for free. You can even follow him on Twitter.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

'This is Pride Month': So simple, even a burrito can do it

Making a statement in favor of LGBTQ rights and dignity is easy. Today in the United States, it isn't even politically risky, since a clear majority of Americans say they believe that same-sex relations are morally acceptable, should be legal, and should be permitted the rights of marriage.

A football team can make a statement. Two Los Angeles football teams, the Rams and the Chargers, are sponsoring June 2017 Venice Pride in Venice, Calif. Spokespeople for the teams mentioned motivations like "acceptance and equality" and "equity, diversity and inclusion."

A fast-food chain can make a statement. In Massachusetts, the burrito restaurant Chipotle will donate 50% of the proceeds of each sale on Sunday, June 4 to Boston Pride if the customer mentions the promotion, according to an email sent by Boston Pride.

The president can make a statement, but he will not. On June 1, the White House issued proclamations to celebrate June as "National Homeownership Month," "National Ocean Month," "African-American Music Appreciation Month," and "Great Outdoors Month," according to Nick Duffy, who added that the president "maintains a hardcore base of gay Republican supporters. They mainly point to that time he waved an upside-down rainbow flag." (The event in question was one week before the election; the flag was hand-lettered with his own name. Note its literal message "LGBTs for Trump," not "Trump for LGBTs.")

(Update: As of June 30, the White House still would not comment on CNN's question about the neglect of Pride Month.)


Photo by Carlo Allegri for Reuters | Huffington Post

In the past, then-Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama issued proclamations supporting Pride Month. Obama also hosted receptions for leaders in the movement. Zack Ford wrote that the current president, "who has long claimed to be an LGBTQ ally, could have become the first Republican president to acknowledge Pride Month with a proclamation, but he didn't — and the silence is deafening." Furthermore, Ford wrote,

"he hasn’t taken a single pro-LGBTQ action in office. Instead, he’s withdrawn guidance protecting transgender and gender-nonconforming students, dropped out of several court cases related to LGBTQ rights, and appointed countless personnel with viciously anti-LGBTQ records."

LGBTQ issues were mentioned during his campaign only "when he was trying to convince the queer community to embrace Islamophobia."

As candidate, on June 13, 2016, he implied that supportive words may not be necessary because he was going to demonstrate his commitment with actions. What kind of actions? Cracking down on immigration. He was blaming immigrants for holding anti-LGBT values and, by making this comment, he tried to shift attention away from his own values.

"Why does Hillary Clinton want to bring people in in vast numbers who reject our values? Why? Explain. Ask yourself who is really the friend of women and the LGBT community, Donald Trump with actions or Hillary Clinton with her words?"

Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, stated:

"LGBT Americans face an assault on their rights from the White House and House Republicans, who are gutting HIV prevention and treatment initiatives, dismantling protections for transgender children in public schools and conspiring to render LGBT Americans invisible in the census."

The website of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group that self-describes as "the nation’s largest Republican organization dedicated to representing LGBT conservatives and allies," does not publicly challenge the current administration on the subject of Pride Month. In fact, their website does not mention Pride Month at all. It is not clear if they celebrate it.

My burrito will make a small statement, but the president will not.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

With headlines like these, it is normal to feel anxious

Apart from my four newspaper subscriptions, TV, and radio, here are some articles about the current U.S. government that I've stumbled across online over the past month, most of which I haven't had time to read or digest in full. The headlines alone are intense. Mostly what I am learning is that it is normal to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and worn out. If you feel the same way, you are not alone.


Artwork: "Collaboration between Scarlett Raven and Mind," The Mental Health Charity, April 4, 2016. Wikimedia Commons.

"A display of unbelievable ignorance: In a real country with a real president, Trump’s AP interview would destroy him." Our president thinks the Pentagon is a company, terrorism was a recent invention and 9/11 was a ratings coup. Bob Cesca, Salon, April 25, 2017.

"Trump’s Ignorance Is Radicalizing U.S. Historians," Graham Vyse, New Republic, May 3, 2017.

"Trump's Fitness To Serve Is 'Officially Part Of The Discussion In Congress'," New Yorker writer Evan Osnos with NPR's Fresh Air hosted by Terry Gross, May 4, 2017.

"One Of America’s Largest Cities Just Voted To Impeach Trump," Brian Tyler Cohen, Occupy Democrats, May 6, 2017.

"Why the Sally Yates Hearing Was Very Bad News for the Trump White House," David Corn, Mother Jones, May 8, 2017.

"Days Before Firing, Comey Asked for More Resources for Russia Inquiry," Matthew Rosenberg and Matt Apuzzo, New York Times, May 10, 2017.

"Experts on authoritarianism are absolutely terrified by the Comey firing," Zack Beauchamp, Vox, May 11, 2017.

"Trump Has Batted A Hornet’s Nest And The Sh*t Is About To Hit The Fan," Ann Werner, Liberals Unite, May 11, 2017.

"Trump admitted he obstructed justice. Now he needs to go," Michael A. Cohen, Boston Globe, May 12, 2017.

"The End of Trump," Robert Reich, RobertReich.org, May 14, 2017.
"The law is reasonably clear. If Trump removed Comey to avoid being investigated, that’s an impeachable offense."

"NATO asks world leaders to play dumb so Trump will understand them," Abigail Tracy, Vanity Fair, May 15, 2017. (See also previous article from before the election: "Trump stuns U.S. allies with terrifying comments about NATO," Abigail Tracy, Vanity Fair, July 21, 2016.)

"Why the FBI might wage “war” on Trump — and how they would actually do it," Zack Beauchamp, Vox, May 16, 2017.

"Michael Moore promises secret film will end Trump presidency," Joey Nolfi, Entertainment Weekly, May 16, 2017.

"Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation," Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times, May 16, 2017.

"Don’t Impeach: The Liberal Case for Not Removing Trump," Cliston Brown, Observer, May 16, 2017.

"James Comey and the Revenge of Washington's Professional Class," Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New Yorker, May 17, 2017.

"Trump Team Knew Flynn Was Under Investigation Before He Came to White House," Matthew Rosenberg and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, May 17, 2017.

"Former Israeli spymasters rip into Trump, say Israel must reassess intel sharing," Judah Ari Gross, Times of Israel, May 17, 2017.

"Senate Moves Forward With Bipartisan Bill to Rein in Jeff Sessions," Tana Ganeva, Rolling Stone, May 18, 2017.

"Chaffetz to resign, raising doubts about Trump probe," Michelle L. Price and Brady McCombs, Associated Press, May 19, 2017.

"Here Comes the GOP Bloodbath," Erick Erickson, Washington Post, May 19, 2017.
Quote: "Trump is increasingly disliked, and the Republicans who enable him are increasingly distrusted....Unless Republican leaders stage an intervention, I expect them to experience a deserved electoral blood bath in November 2018."

"Sources: White House lawyers research impeachment," Evan Perez, CNN, May 19, 2017.

"Press advocates appalled by Trump’s reported call to jail journalists," Joe Strupp, Media Matters, May 20, 2017.

"Trump’s budget is so cruel a Russian propaganda outfit set the White House straight," Dana Milbank, Washington Post, May 22, 2017.

"Watch Netanyahu's face while Trump says he never mentioned “Israel” to the Russians," Sarah Wildman, Vox, May 22, 2017.

"President Trump's Budget Proposal Calls For Deep Cuts To Education," Anya Kamenetz, NPR, May 22, 2017.

"Donald Trump’s Budget Breaks These 7 Campaign Promises," Jane C. Timm, NBC, May 23, 2017.

"Trump releases budget that slashes government programs," Niv Elis, The Hill, May 23, 2017.

"Former CIA Director Brennan: “With every last ounce of devotion to this country, resist," Kaili Joy Gray, ShareBlue, May 23, 2017.

"Obama’s CIA chief just offered a Trump-Russia quote for the ages," Yochi Dreazen, Vox, May 23, 2017.

"Trump Budget Based on $2 Trillion Math Error," Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine Daily Intelligencer, May 23, 2017.

At the NATO conference in Brussels on May 25, 2017, Trump shoved his way in front of Montenegro's Prime Minister Dusko Markovic (VIDEO) and publicly lectured the allies that they were not paying enough into defense (CNN VIDEO).

"GOP strategist admits he colluded with Russian hackers to hurt Hillary Clinton, Democrats," Sophia Tesfaye, Salon, May 25, 2017.

"Researchers say they’ve uncovered a disinformation campaign with apparent Russian link," David Filipov, Washington Post, May 25, 2017.

"Zombie Trumpcare at a glance, from the CBO," Joan McCarter, Daily Kos, May 25, 2017.
"By 2026, 51 million people will be uninsured...the [cost] increase would be disproportionately larger among older people with lower income...premiums for people buying comprehensive plans would be unaffordable...It would cut $834 billion from Medicaid in the next ten years, and cut 14 million people out of Medicaid coverage."

"German news magazine rips Trump, calling him 'unfit' and 'a danger to the world'," Jen Hayden, Daily Kos, May 26, 2017.

"Big-time backlash: When all polling on Donald Trump is dismissed as fake," Howard Kurtz, Fox News, May 26, 2017.

"No, White Friend—You Weren’t “Embarrassed” by Barack Obama," John Pavlovitz, JohnPavlovitz.com, May 26, 2017.

"Coal Miners Crushed As White House Admits Trump Lied About Bringing Back Coal Jobs," Jason Easley, PoliticusUSA.com, May 26, 2017.

"Republicans continue to lie about cutting Medicaid." U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders shared a video on May 26, 2017. Republican Joe Scarborough has a message for his own party: Stop lying about cutting Medicaid by $850 billion.

"Sources: Comey acted on Russian intelligence he knew was fake," Dana Bash, Shimon Prokupecz and Gloria Borger, CNN, May 26, 2017.

"Boehner: Trump's presidency so far is mostly 'a complete disaster'," Deirdre Shesgreen, USA Today, May 26, 2017.
"The Ohio Republican [and former House Speaker] said Trump has handled national security and foreign policy issues well, but added: “Everything else he’s done (in office) has been a complete disaster...He’s still learning how to be president."

"Intelligence expert: Kushner's security clearance must be pulled 'right now'," Kerry Eleveld, Daily Kos, May 26, 2017.

"Two top Trump advisers dodge Kushner questions," Jeremy Diamond and Jeff Zeleny, CNN, May 27, 2017.

"Malcolm Nance's Stunning Analysis of the Kushner Scandal," NedSparks, Daily Kos, May 27, 2017.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Use bipartisan energy to rein in power

Sci-fi author David Brin suggests that both U.S. political parties seize the general opportunity of the moment to institute more checks and balances on the president. Why use up political capital merely exchanging the 45th president for his vice president, Mike Pence?

Specifically, in his Facebook post, Brin proposes enabling a way to delay military orders and send them for congressional committee review; allowing for “the other party” to make the president's appointments for one afternoon a week; and creating a bipartisan "Fact Checking Institute."

During his campaign for office, the 45th president selected Mike Pence to be his vice president "as impeachment insurance," in Brin's analysis. In other words, Brin believes that Pence will also pose significant troubles for Democrats and their agenda, and that Trump "knew what he was doing" in picking Pence to discourage opponents from bringing down Trump.

Some of David Brin's popular books:

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The 2017 persecution of gay men in Chechnya

Čeština: Nebeská etapa, 2007. Art by Eugene Ivanov. Creative Commons license, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eugene_Ivanov_800.jpg

Gay men in Chechnya already had to use assumed names to meet at cafes, but today Chechnyan police agents are leading sting operations in which they conduct online chats with gay men, arrange in-person meetings, then ambush, kidnap, and torture them and force them to inform on other gay men. A possible triggering event for the violence:

"The crackdown began after GayRussia, a rights group based in Moscow, applied for permits for gay pride parades in the Caucasus region, prompting counterprotests by religious groups, the men said. In Chechnya, it became something even worse — a mass 'prophylactic' cleansing of homosexuals, the security service agents told the gay men as they rounded them up."

The persecution was first reported on April 1, 2017 by the newspaper Novaya Gazeta as having resulted in over 100 arrests and three deaths up to that point.

In response to these reports, the press secretary for Chechnya's leader Ramzan A. Kadyrov essentially affirmed his support for the policy of killing gay men without directly admitting to it. "If there were such people in Chechnya," the press secretary said, "law-enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning."

Of the three reported fatalities, one was due to torture and the other two were victims of so-called "honor killings" by family members after they were released. Tanya Lokshina, the Russia Program Director for Human Rights Watch said that, in Chechnya, "victims of torture and other horrific abuses refrain from seeking justice or withdraw their complaints as a result of threats, including death threats and threats of retaliation against family members."

On April 13, the Geneva-based office of the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights said that Russia should "put an end to the persecution of people perceived to be gay or bisexual." On April 15, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said: "The United States must lead the way to demand an end to these egregious violations of human rights." On April 18, a CNN video interviewed one man whose face and voice were blurred to protect his identity. On April 19, Putin said the claim of the pogrom was "libelous," and the next day, Putin's spokesman maintained that Russia had found no evidence of arrests in Chechnya.

Andrew E. Kramer interviewed several men for his article "'They Starve You. They Shock You': Inside the Anti-Gay Pogrom in Chechnya." Published in the New York Times on April 21, it provides disturbing details. One man in his 20s reported that he was brought to an apartment where five other gay men had already been brought for the same reason and that his assailants "strapped him to a chair, attached electrical wires to his hands with alligator clips and began an interrogation." The men were held for up to several weeks.

On April 21, Sir Alan Duncan, Britain's deputy to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, told the House of Commons that "sources have said that he [Kadyrov] wants the [LGBT] community eliminated by the start of Ramadan." Ramadan begins on May 26 this year. Duncan also said that he and British Embassy representatives had spoken to the Russian government about the persecution.

On May 2, Lewis Corner wrote for GayTimes that a man had told France 24 News: "They tell the parents to kill their child. They say ‘Either you do it, or we will.'" On May 3, Will Stroude wrote for Attitude "that the families of those imprisoned are eventually summoned to the prison, where they are tasked with carrying out their own relative’s execution" in the account of a victim who spoke to France 24. Stroude wrote that Novaya Gazeta had increased its fatality count to over 30 men "executed by the authorities or their own families".

Stroude wrote:

"Russia has faced increasingly loud calls from the international community to bring an end to the violence, and while a Russia Foreign Affairs minister confirmed to Yahoo News’s Katie Couric last week that an investigation into the situation was currently taking place, she was reluctant to comment on the matter further."

In a July interview with HBO's Real Sports, Kadyrov tried to evade a question abut the persecution of gay men and then said: "We don't have those kinds of people here... If there are there take them to Canada... Take them far from us so we don't have them at home... To purify our blood, if there are any here, take them." Of the reports of torture, he said, "They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people." And of the United States, he said, "Even if our government was completely destroyed, our nuclear missiles would be automatically deployed. We will put the whole world on its knees and screw it from behind."

Assistance

Emergency legal and travel assistance is coordinated in Russia by the Moscow Community Center, the Russian LGBT Network, and by Canada-based Rainbow Railroad that says it is working with the Russian LGBT Network. The head of LGBT-Set-Russia has been quoted in the news regarding the need for such assistance. Amnesty International UK has petitions called "Chechnya: Stop Abducting and Killing Gay Men" with over 170,000 signatures and Protect Journalists Who Revealed Abuse of Gay Men in Chechnya with 30,000 signatures as of May 4.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Quotes on lying

Robert A. Burton:

"As a lifelong poker player, I have spent considerable time developing a winning strategy, yet I am not a great player. I have long suspected a variety of flaws, but haven't figured out a clear solution. With the recent popularity of televised poker tournaments where the viewers can see the players' hole cards at the start of each hand, the problem has become transparent. The players with the best overall results are those who aggressively make selective large bluffs, a style with which I have never been entirely comfortable.

* * *

Trying to figure out what the other players have turns out to be of less value than just making the large bluff periodically."

Thomas S. Szasz:

It [the term "lying"] comes into play only when the assumption is made that the communicants have pledged themselves to truthfulness. Thus, the term "lying" can be used meaningfully only in situations in which the rules of the game prescribe truthfulness. This is often assumed in everyday human relationships, and especially in those which are emotionally close, such as in marriage and friendship. Perjury is a special kind of lying, committed in a court of law by a person giving testimony. Here the rules of the game are explicitly formulated; lying (perjury) is punishable by legally enforced sanctions.”

Lisa Kogan:

"Honesty is a delightful policy, but I'm here to tell you that without at least a few lies, Thanksgiving with the family would be a thing of the past, first dates would end faster than you can dismiss your biological clock with a jaunty "Que sera, sera... ," every political figure who intentionally linked Iraq with Osama bin Laden would be forced to resign in disgrace, and any number of plastic surgeons throughout the greater Los Angeles area would end their lives in the gutter holding large cardboard signs that read WILL BOTOX FOR FOOD.

* * * 

To this day, Julia believes that Toys "R" Us is only open when my parents visit Manhattan; the shelves are stocked as Grandma and Grandpa's plane touches down and the doors to the store lock as soon as they head back to Detroit.

Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: My name is Lisa, and I am a liar, though a good marketing consultant could probably finesse the word into something a bit more palatable: "Reality Stylist" might be good, or "Pinocchiotologist" could work. My mother insists that, at the end of the day, what I am is a storyteller — and she might have a point.

Joan Didion says that "we tell ourselves stories in order to live." I think that's right. Forget what I tell cabdrivers for sport or dental hygienists for spin control or "Bambi" readers for peace of mind. It's the lies we tell ourselves that determine the particular arc of our stories."

M. Veera Pandiyan:

Liars, it seems, are wired differently from the rest of us. On the average they have between 22% and 26% more prefrontal white matter and 14% less grey matter.

The study by Dr Yaling Yang, from the psychology department of the USC, and psychology professor Dr Adrian Raine, who is now at University of Pennsylvania, used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to explore differences in brains among pathological liars, anti-social disorder personalities and those who were normal.

According to Dr Raine, more white matter provided liars with the tools necessary to master the complex art of deceit.

“Pathological liars can’t always tell truth from falsehood and contradict themselves in interviews. They are very brazen in terms of their manner, but very cool when talking about this.”

“Lying takes a lot of effort. It’s almost mind reading. You have to be able to understand the mindset of the other person.

“You also have to suppress your emotions or regulate them because you don’t want to appear nervous. There’s quite a lot to do there. You’ve got to suppress the truth,” Dr Raine was quoted as saying in a USC article after the study was published.

He said the more “networking” there was in the prefrontal cortex, the more the person had an upper hand in lying, adding that their verbal skills were higher and that they had a natural advantage.

In normal people, the grey matter helps to keep the impulse to lie in check. With the surplus of white matter and a deficit of grey matter, liars have more tools to lie and fewer moral restraints than normal people.

Sources

Robert A. Burton. On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2008. pp. 112-113.

Thomas S. Szasz. The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct. New York: Delta, 1961. p. 246.

"Lies are good for family and friends." Lisa Kogan. Oprah.com.  Sept. 5, 2008.

 

"Inside the Lying Brain." M. Veera Pandiyan. The Star (Malaysia). Aug. 28, 2008.

Quotes on perception and interpretation

Sen. J. William Fulbright:

“...people in different societies look at the same facts and "see" different things, that what they see, or think they see, is largely determined by what they expect to see.

The point is illustrated by an experiment in which a psychologist had two groups of schoolteachers, one Mexican, the other American, look into a device that simultaneously showed a picture of a bullfighter to one eye and a picture of a baseball player to the other. When asked what they had seen, most of the Mexicans said they had seen a bullfighter and most of the Americans said that they had seen a baseball player. Obviously, what each individual saw had a great deal to do with whether he was a Mexican or an American.”

Steven Lukes:

“He recalled James Thurber's encouraging thoughts about the strange pleasure of going blind. As one's eyesight fails, the role of the external world in fixing what one sees declines while that of interpretation increases, so you only have to be optimistic for women to be attractive, buildings to be elegant, the sun to shine.”

Tom Hayden:

"As Fritjof Capra pointed out in The Tao of Physics, the intellect in such Asian philosophy is a means to clear the way for the direct mystical experience of oneness, not a tool for endless filing of data."

Gary Zukav:

"During the Lebanese civil war, a story goes, a visiting American was stopped by a group of masked gunmen. One wrong word could cost him his life.
'Are you Christian or Moslem?' they asked.
'I am a tourist!' he cried.
The way that we pose our questions often illusorily limits our responses."

Sources

Sen. J. William Fulbright. The Arrogance of Power. New York: Vintage Books, 1966. p. 176.

Steven Lukes. The Curious Enlightenment of Professor Caritat. London, New York: Verso, 1995, reprinted 2000. p 2.

Tom Hayden. The Lost Gospel of the Earth: A Call for Renewing Nature, Spirit, and Politics. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996. p. 169.

Gary Zukav. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1979. p. 286.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Quotes on time as illusion

Lee Smolin:

"Is the flow of time something real, or might our sense of time passing be just an illusion that hides the fact that what is real is only a vast collection of moments?"

Robert Lanza, author of the book Biocentrism which lays out his theory of everything:

"But if you remove everything from space, what's left? Nothing. The same applies for time — you can't put it in a jar. You can't see through the bone surrounding your brain (everything you experience is information in your mind). Biocentrism tells us space and time aren't objects — they're the mind's tools for putting everything together."

William Poundstone:

"If you are sure that time is not running backward, ask yourself how you know this. You probably cite your memories of the past. It is now 1988. You have memories of experiences in 1987, 1986, 1985, etc.; you do not have memories of 1989, 1990, etc. But you would, for the moment, have the memories you do whether time was going forward or backward from 1988. The question is whether the moving finger of time adds to or deletes from this stock of memories. There is no way of telling!"

Nancy S. Atlas:

”Holidays, albeit imposed by man, provide us with the framework and opportunity to honor the individuals and the events that have shaped our lives, and might otherwise be taken for granted. Although the scheduling of leisure time might appear to be rigid and confining, it actually has a salubrious effect, as it relieves anxiety and reassures us that our goals can be met and our needs can be satisfied. Structuring time assuages the 'ought to' syndrome and sets the stage for 'free time' to be really free.”

Matthew May:

”Still, customers visiting FAVI are often astounded at what they perceive to be a total lack of control. A favorite story Jean-François tells involves a customer’s site inspection at FAVI: ‘They asked to audit our procedures,’ he says. ‘They were not pleased because we had no measurement system for tracking late orders—nothing in place, no plan, no process, no structure in case of delay. They are a customer for over ten years, so I say, ‘In that time, have we ever been late?’ They say, ‘No.’ I say, ‘Have we ever been early?’ They say again, ‘No.’ And so I ask them why they want me to measure things that do not exist.’ Good point.”

Douwe Draaisma:

"In 1997, the psychologists Crawley and Pring performed an experiment in which the estimated time interval was compared precisely with the real time interval. They drew up a list of events that anyone in Britain even vaguely familiar with the news was bound to remember. ... The earliest event was the Queen's Silver Jubilee (1977); the most recent the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). Next, Crawley and Pring asked their experimental subjects to give as nearly as possible the year and the month in which these events had occurred. The answers revealed an interesting difference to do with the subjects' age. Experimental subjects of middle age (between thirty-five and fifty years old) dated the events too recently, thus confirming the telescopy found in earlier experiments. But older subjects (on average aged about seventy) placed the events too far back in time. I was as if they had turned the telescope round, thus extending the interval.

'This can help to explain why time seems to fly by as we grow older', wrote Crawley and Pring. The underlying idea is probably that time in the subjectively longer period must have gone by more quickly. This conclusion shows how difficult it is to interpret the results of research on time perception. For something can also be said for the opposite conclusion. It is precisely those who think something happened three years ago when in fact it was five, who will exclaim, 'Gosh, how time flies.' The speeding up of the years seems to be due to telescopy rather than to reverse telescopy. Crawley and Pring's theory can only be saved by the assumption of a reverse connection between the overestimate of the duration of a period of time and its subjective tempo. That does indeed manifest itself with the quickened pace of a week on holiday, which upon one's return home seems longer than an ordinary week. However, in that case, both telescopy and reverse telescopy will make us feel that time is rushing past, and that robs them of any explanatory value."

Sources

Lee Smolin, quoted by Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. New York: Penguin Group, 1999. p 25.

"What Happens When You Die? Evidence Suggests Time Simply Reboots." Robert Lanza, M.D. June 10, 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-lanza/what-happens-when-you-die_b_596600.html Accessed June 12, 2010.

William Poundstone. Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles and the Frailty of Knowledge. New York: Anchor Books, 1988. p. 66.

"The Structuring of Time." Nancy S. Atlas. Jewish Reporter (Massachusetts), February 2003.

Matthew E. May, In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. New York: Broadway Books, 2009. pp. 128-129.

Douwe Draaisma. Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes Our Past. (2001) Translated by Arnold and Erica Pomerans in 2004. Cambridge University Press, 2005. pp 216-217.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

'From Enemy to Asset: Israel’s Moment of Regional Opportunity'

J Street national conference, Washington, D.C., Feb. 26, 2017

The panel "From Enemy to Asset: Israel’s Moment of Regional Opportunity" was moderated by Attila Somfalvi, Political Analyst.

The three panelists:

Member of Knesset Akram Hasson, Kulanu Party
Brigadier General (Ret.) Israela Oron, Former Deputy National Security Advisor, Israel’s National Security Council
Nadav Tamir, Director of International and Government Affairs, Peres and Associates Global Consulting

How should Israel approach peacemaking in the broader Middle East?

Should Israel first speak to other Arab countries about regional politics (as PM Netanyahu says he wants to do), or should Israel first speak to the Palestinians directly? Hasson said it is necessary to speak with the Palestinians directly and not assume that other nations will take the lead. Oron, by contrast, said that Israel shares security concerns with Arab countries that are moderate on these issues like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and "the marriage can happen only when they can bring the bride. The bride is the Palestinians." Tamir said "I don't think the Arabs will move without the Palestinians and I don't think the Palestinians will move without the Arabs. That's why I think it has to be synchronized."

Tamir said he preferred to refer to Israel as "the homeland for the Jewish people" because it is more welcoming and potentially inclusive of non-Jews than the term "Jewish state."

Tamir said in response to an audience question about the importance of promoting dialogue at the grassroots level: "I totally agree with you. It's not enough to do peace from the top-down; you have to do peace from the bottom-up." He also said he believes that the people will support a two-state solution if politicians lead the way.

Who should take responsibility for the past? For the future? Israelis, Palestinians, Americans?

In response to Somfalvi's question about whether it's appropriate to "blame the Palestinians" and ask for "concessions" from them, Oron conceded that "the Palestinians have a very fair share" of blame for the failure of negotiations. Hasson acknowledged that Palestinians have not been able to stop the tide of extremism among young people, and he also pointed the finger back at Israel. He said that Abu Mazen personally told him that his hands were politically tied as long as Palestinians continued to see Israeli military presence in Area A and Israeli construction in the West Bank. Oron said, "They are not in the position to cut deals with the Israelis" in part because they have a difficult economic condition and their leader Abu Mazen is not very powerful.

Tamir said that he preferred to avoid the "blame game." "I think all of us should do our work and then we can move forward. I actually think the project of Zionism was to make the Jewish people not the object of history but the subject of history...People in J Street have to work on the American scene." Hasson said, "I know Kerry spoke with Abu Mazen, and when he came to speak with Netanyahu, everything broke. For that reason, the game must start on our field."

Why is it important?

Tamir said, "If we cannot create a two-state solution, it's the end of Zionism. For me, there is nothing more important in my professional life." Oron said, "Basically, we are occupying millions of Palestinians and they don't have their own state...We are in a one-state for the last fifty years. The question is how can we make it more like a two-state, because the one-state is the end of the Zionist dream." The ideal would be to live in harmony with everyone in a single state, but "unfortunately, it's not practical."

A peace deal also has implications for Israel's reputation. Hasson said he believes that great leaders around the world will be reluctant to develop a relationship with Israel "without a solution for the Palestinians."


This panel was held Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 at 3:15 p.m. Official panel description from the conference program:

"For decades, the Arab world cited the very existence of the state of Israel as the region’s number one problem. Yet over the past decade, the regional dynamics have shifted dramatically. The Arab world’s list of strategic challenges today is topped by Iran, extremism and the economic challenge posed by a massive generation of young people lacking economic opportunity and hope. Rather than being seen as a central threat, Israel today is perceived by regional players as a potentially key asset in addressing these challenges. Join us in exploring the opportunities and challenges Israel faces at this historic inflection point and whether, for Israel to take advantage of these strategic opportunities, it must first resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

'A Security-Driven, Two-State Process'

J Street national conference, Washington, D.C., Feb. 26, 2017

The panel "A Security-Driven, Two-State Process" was presented by Israel Policy Forum, chaired by Dr. Michael Koplow, Policy Director, Israel Policy Forum, and moderated by Ilan Goldenberg, Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security.

Introductory remarks

Ilan Goldenberg, Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security demonstrated an outline of a "final security system." The purpose is to show the public what it would look like, to assist future negotiators, and to set the goal so it is possible to take steps to reach it. A key parameter is placing some limit on Israel's military presence in the West Bank while still upholding Israel's right of its own national defense. It is also important to establish timetables, or at least to establish rules for ongoing collaboration on how to schedule implementation of each step of the agreement.

The three panelists:

Rolly Gueron, Ret. Mossad Division Chief: How to get from the "status quo" to a "permanent status agreement"? Avoid ideology and pursue "a constructive dialogue with reality." First, it is important to address security issues. Taking a long-term view, this means, in part, addressing the difficult conditions under which many people grow up. There is a three-fold proposal of "security measures," "civil-economic measures," and "policy clarifications." The goal is a Zionist state that is both Jewish and democratic, and any means to that end is "welcomed." The two-state solution is one possible means to that end. It is not itself an end.

MK Omer Bar Lev, Zionist Union: An agreement may need to deal with Gaza first and then deal with the West Bank. Today Hamas has a single leader; whether that is convenient for Israel can be debated. Most Israelis do not trust that they have a partner for peace. The international community also needs to be convinced that Israel "does not want to rule the Palestinians." He prefers the slogan: "Israel should be a secure democratic state with a clear Jewish majority." In the first stage of separating the Israeli and Palestinian states, there would be certain key steps, such as Israel ceasing to build in contested areas and Palestinians taking responsibility for governance in areas previously under Israel control.

Brigadier General (ret.) Israela Oron, Former Deputy National Security Advisor, Israel’s National Security Council: "The 'security argument' is used all the time in order to make the peace plan fail. It's not as if we don't have serious concerns about security." However, "Israel really enjoys a very good period of security. We really don't have serious security issues that we cannot really deal with." She said, "A temporary plan that is dealing only with the current situation, from my point of view, doesn't give a serious answer....We cannot talk about security plans disconnected from a peace plan." There are many needs, such as a neutral third party involved in policing a future arrangement, but this in itself is not a sufficient plan.

Panelists' remarks in response to audience questions at the microphone

Bar Lev: There needs to be an ongoing process of convincing everyone involved that it is possible and progressing toward a two-state solution. Leaders need to demonstrate that it can be achieved without any negative impact on security. "We can and should begin a two-state solution today."

Gueron: Israel should suggest economic measures to improve life in East Jerusalem. No more radical steps are likely right now. "Any radical step in Jerusalem, by the way, can bring about hell."

Gueron: "I don't think it's fair to compare the Israeli extremists and the Palestinian extremists. These are different volumes and, I would say, different atrocities." "There is no ultimate solution to extremism...and nobody is immune to extremism." The first step is separation. Israelis and Palestinians cannot live "inside one another."

Bar Lev: If everyone in Jerusalem is allowed to vote, "we'll have a Palestinian mayor in Jerusalem." The borders of Jerusalem were drawn hastily after the '67 war. "It's not [merely] a stigma, it's true: We are occupying the West Bank."

Gueron: "Politics of morality in the Middle East do not work...Obviously, it's not moral to occupy territories, but it's not moral for a nation to commit suicide."

Oron: "I don't know of any polite way to characterize what's going on in the West Bank other than 'occupation, occupation, occupation.'"

More detailed security plans

Available at TwoStateSecurity.org


This panel was held Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 at 1:45 p.m. Official panel description from the conference program:

"Engage with top Israeli and American security experts as they address Israel’s security needs, including the preservation of a two-state solution. Come hear about two complementary plans designed to ensure Israel’s security needs are met through a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), a non-partisan movement comprised of former senior Israeli security officials, will discuss “Security First,” a plan to improve Israel’s security and international standing that preserves conditions for a two-state agreement. The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) will then present “Security System for the Two-State Solution.” Join us to hear and discuss responses to the plans from veteran senior Israeli security and policy officials."