Eusocial Polygamy

Sunday, May 21st, 2017 12:08 am
flwyd: (rose red sky blue)
The Wikipedia article on Eusociality notes that E. O. Wilson has claimed that humans are eusocial, but his arguments have been refuted by a large number of evolutionary biologists, who note that humans do not have division of reproductive labor.

Human colonies certainly don't have a single queen and a separate cast of infertile workers. But I can't help but wonder if the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, polygynous Muslims, and other historic polygamous cultures meet a reasonable version of this criterion since they free up many worker or soldier males without fathering duties.

A Nation of Hives

Saturday, May 20th, 2017 08:57 pm
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
When a single hive is scaled up to the size of a nation and is led by a dictator with an army at his disposal, the results are invariably disastrous. But that is no argument for removing or suppressing hives at lower levels. In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy and satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls. Creating a nation of multiple competing groups and parties was, in fact, seen by America’s founding fathers as a way of preventing tyranny. More recently, research on social capital has demonstrated that bowling leagues, churches, and other kinds of groups, teams, and clubs are crucial for the health of individuals and of a nation. As political scientist Robert Putnam put it, the social capital that is generated by such local groups “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.”
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, “The Hive Switch”

The driving metaphor for the final section of the book is “We are 90 percent and 10 percent bee.” He spends quite a while arguing for a limited form of group selection (specifically multilevel selection theory which I previously resonated with in David Sloan Wilson's Darwin’s Cathedral). Haidt says that humans usually act with the familial interest that any evolutionary biologist or economist could explain. But we’re also capable of switching into a eusocial hive mode akin to ants, bees, some shrimp, and naked mole-rats. This hive capability (which other primates do not possess) has allowed humans to build progressively larger groups from tribes to city-states to nations to empires to multi-national corporations. It's at work with sports teams, religions, politics, and any scenario where groups compete with each other and can form a strong internal bond.

Cheap travel, mass media, and the Internet have allowed the last few generations to develop and scale hives which are much more geographically diffuse than we could at America’s founding. I wonder if this, plus our winner-take-all political system, puts us more at danger of one hive being able to impose that hive’s will on all the others.
flwyd: (Trevor shadow self portrait)
I've been weighing myself a couple times a day for seven months. The first three months feature a slow decline as I would have days where I couldn't get enough food in my body and was then unable to recover. Then there was a rise as I had a drug that let me eat food (and also triggered water retention). Then a drop after surgery and I was on a liquid diet, then a rapid rise as I started eating like a normal person, then a plateau at what appears to be a new stable weight, though it's 10 lbs lighter than I used to be.



One thing worth noting is how noisy the numbers are: my weight before urinating at night is often 2 lbs higher than my weight the next morning after urinating. There are also several periods where I'm up a couple pounds for a few days and down a couple pounds for a few days as my body retains or excretes water and waste. The upshot of this is that the number on the scale is an overly precise measure of a person's general weight, especially if they're wearing clothes—my weight at a doctor's office was often five pounds higher than when I was naked at home in the morning. If you're weighing yourself hoping for a psychological result (you want the number to be high or low), you can cheat a little by timing when you step on the scale. If you just want to know how much you weigh, just round to the nearest 5 lbs and don't worry about weighing in more than once a week.
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
In the same way, each individual reasoner is really good at one thing: finding evidence to support the position he or she already holds, usually for intuitive reasons. We should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play. But if you put individuals together in the right way, such that some individuals can use their reasoning powers to disconfirm the claims of others, and all individuals feel some common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly, you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent property of the social system. This is why it's so important to have intellectual and ideological diversity within any group or institution whose goal is to find truth (such as an intelligence agency or a community of scientists) or to produce good public policy (such as a legislature or advisory board).
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

I think that's an excellent case against one-party rule. It also suggests that majority rule, when a single homogenous party is in the majority, is less effective than majority rule with votes requiring cross-party collaboration or at least heterogenous thought within the party.

The focus of the first part of this book is "Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second," using the metaphor of a rider on an elephant. Haidt offers a lot of evidence that our intuitions and emotions (the elephant) typically make decisions and our consciousness and reason (the rider) is mostly focused on justifying those intuitions. This contrasts, of course, with the Rationalist world view (exemplified by Plato) in which consciousness and reason are in charge and can act independently of intuition. Haidt aligns more closely with Hume and his claim that reason is "ruled by the passions," though Haidt softens the "rules" claim.

Liberty and Death Sticks

Saturday, May 6th, 2017 04:53 pm
flwyd: (spencer hot springs feet)
I'm sympathetic to a lot of libertarian arguments, but I've always felt put off by the prominent position in which American libertarians place firearms. I just thought of a punchy way to express why it bothers me.

You're not at liberty as long as someone's pointing a gun at your head.

Libertarians tend to focus on unchecked power in government hands. But I'm worried about unchecked power in anyone's hands, particularly if I don't trust their trigger reflexes.

(Previous thinking about libertarian gun arguments.)
flwyd: (pentacle disc)
I was saddened to hear that [livejournal.com profile] teal_cuttlefish Margaret Alia Denny passed away today. It sounded like her body couldn't quite readjust after a surgery a couple days ago. If you have a Facebook account, you may be able to read more on her wall; as a non-user, I had to have Kelly show me what folks posted.

I knew Alia as the co-leader of Hearthstone Community Church, which she founded about 25 years ago. Hearthstone most prominently hosts Open Full Moon events in Denver, providing an important venue for folks curious about Paganism and Pagans, often new to town, who are seeking to connect with the community. As organizer, Alia got a diverse cast of characters to take their turn leading a ritual and sharing their approach to Paganism. Open Full Moon provided the venue for many folks to organize and lead their first ritual. Since neo-Pagans tend to be solitary practitioners or gather in small private groups, Alia's nurturing guidance and commitment to community and diversity of practice was a great asset to countless Pagans. She helped us find each other, helped us find our path, and gave us the space and encouragement to grow as leaders. Alia also performed a lot of ministerial services, from weddings to personal counseling.

I really admire the demonstration of courage and commitment to openness that Alia displayed when I hosted an Open Full Moon ritual about Jesus (my journal post, her friends-locked post). I knew it would be a very controversial ritual in the group; a week in advance the church leaders almost cancelled the event, but Alia stood by the principle of diversity of view. I didn't realize how big of a trigger issue it would be for her. But to her great credit, despite being emotionally and visually upset, she stayed in the circle and extended her energy to help support others in the group who were taken aback. At the end of the night she told me "Never again," and I think OFM has stayed a long way from Jesus in the last dozen years. Yet I continue to give her respect for giving me the opportunity to give it a try, and I think a lot of folks got a lot of value from the experience. It would've been easy for the group to say no, but Alia had the great strength to see through the fear and worry and say yes. In a comment thread on her post, she wrote When principles and preferences battle, I try to go with principles. That was definitely her character.

Alia had a lot of strengths in addition to her skills as a religious leader. She was on the on the Board of Directors of Dragonfest when I first attended and continued to advocate her ideas in the community for a few years after the traditional BoD burnout. She was politically active; she fought for feminist ideals, disability rights and more. At least once she ran for office, garnering 37% of the votes for Arapahoe County Commissioner as a Libertarian. She was a mother; although I haven't seen Alyria in over a decade, she was a fantastic tween. She was a techno-acolyte, communicating through computers years before the Internet was a big thing and working in software for more than a decade before the dot com crash put a major kink in her employment trajectory. She was crafty; crocheting up a storm and more. She had a geeky sense of humor that I quickly grokked. She also had an immense drive: her body faced a lot of challenges, but she wasn't one to give up—she made things happen, kept commitments, and raised energy through force of will.

Not long after the Jesus ritual, I stopped going to OFM—not because of any conflict but because life happened and other community attractions grabbed my Friday nights. Around the same time, Alia stopped going to Dragonfest, so our circles have drifted apart. I hope I have a chance to go to a memorial, or at least this Friday's Open Full Moon.

CWA Notes 2017

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017 12:21 am
flwyd: (Trevor glowing grad macky auditorium)
I made it to eight panels at this year's Conference on World Affairs at CU. Back in college, I would skip most of my classes during CWA week and listen to at least 20, but recently I just pop in for a few interesting talks. Some interesting notes:
Hurricanes! )
Refugees: Crisis? )
Ambassador to Vietnam )
From China with climate data )
Politics, comedy, and lady parts )
Revelations of Art and Symbolism )
Equal opportunity Internet access )

Wow, that took a long time. I typed notes on a tablet during the conference, but it would've been hard to interpret. Retranscribing and contextualizing involved a lot more time-consuming typing than I expected.

flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That's because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today's reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn't to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

The thrust of the book is that people support environmental protection when their more basic needs have been satisfied and they're less focused on basic material concerns. The authors argue that we can better address environmental concerns by raising standards of living rather than focusing on limits and restriction. It's worth noting that the book was published in 2007 before the financial crisis, but I think many of their ideas hold in the post-crash world where even more Americans are worried about job security.

Retroactive Fortune

Saturday, April 15th, 2017 04:29 pm
flwyd: (step to the moon be careful)
Cleaning out the pantry shelves, I found a fortune cookie that was at least a year and a half old (and smelled it). The fortune said You will be selected for a promotion because of your accomplishments. Sure enough, I got promoted to Staff Software Engineer a year ago.
flwyd: (escher drawing hands)
At lunch, a coworker said she used to be a bookkeeper. Another coworker asked if that meant accounting. This suggested alternate ways in which one could be a bookkeeper:
The Guard
This library is a fortress of knowledge. Anyone seeking to assail these volumes must first contend with The Sword of Dewey!
The Dragon's Hoard
I shall keep these books for I have not yet read them all. If you borrow a book and do not return it, I shall raid your village!
flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
In chapter 1 we described how a common psychological effect of rising insecurity is for people to become more conservative, less generous, and more zero-sum: think pre-Hitler Germany or pre-genocide Rwanda. Many decades of social science literature strongly correlates rising insecurity, fear, and pessimism with authoritarian politics. In difficult situations, the insecure and the pessimistic seek out authoritarian leadership. What's more, social psychological research conducted in laboratory settings has found that manufacturing insecurity and fear, particularly of one's own death, can have the same impact as real social circumstances of fear, such as during a terrorist attack or rising economic insecurity.

Collapse [by Jared Diamond] was intended to help Americans change their social values and create a more ecological society in order to avoid the fate of groups like the Grenland Norse. But in terrifying himself and his readers about the growing risk of social collapse, Diamond's eco-apocalypse narrative risks having the opposite effect. What extensive research finds is that the more scared people become about social instability and death, the less likely they are to change the way they think. Fear of death, wrote a group of social scientists in 2003, engenders a defense of one's cultural worldview.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility

Nordhaus and Shellenberger argue that people will be more motivated to take action on environmental issues if they're presented as positive opportunities, not dire warnings.
flwyd: (spiral staircase to heaven)
[livejournal.com profile] brad et al's decision to build LiveJournal code as open source and let folks access the platform as an API helped content and connections formed on the site survive negative decisions made by the folks who would later lead the company. Defense against future management is a practice that deserves more consideration.

Edit, April 29, 2017: the new LiveJournal Terms of Service was introduced and enforced on April 3rd. I was really busy that week and the following, so I didn't have time to read it. On April 10th, without having accepted the terms, LiveJournal automatically billed me for a year's extension to my paid account. Regardless of whether charge-for-a-service-I-haven't-agreed-to is legal, it suggests that Sup Media didn't put a lot of thought into the user impact of the change. For a service that stores a lot of user content, it's imperative to inform users of changes in terms in advance so that they can consider the change and choose to export their content rather than be subject to the new terms. I think Google did an exemplary job of proactive "Our terms are changing" outreach a few years ago; LiveJournal could at least have sent everyone an email a month in advance.

Reading the terms themselves was a slightly surreal experience. I've read at least one hundred terms of service or end user license agreements. They're normally dry, unnecessarily long, and overbroad, but this is the first time I've read one that didn't seem like it was written by a native English speaker. The page ends with ATTENTION: this translation of the User Agreement is not a legally binding document. The original User Agreement, which is valid, is located at the following address: http://www.livejournal.com/legal/tos-ru.bml which adds further unease to the "I have to accept terms with which I disapprove in order to change my account settings to opt out of your service" situation. (To be fair, non-English speakers face a similar problem when agreeing to the terms of most major websites.)

Finally, I'm quite miffed that the new arrangement forces advertisements onto everyone's journals, even though "ad free" was the main feature I was paying for. After supporting the service financially for over ten years, I'll be discontinuing automatic payments and I don't plan to renew next April.

For anyone still reading my writings on LiveJournal, I'm hereby declaring that https://flwyd.dreamwidth.org/ is the primary source for my blog. I'll continue crossposting for now, but who knows when that may break. Userpics will probably revert to a random smaller set once my paid subscription expires, too.
flwyd: (step to the moon be careful)
Imagine what would have happened if environmentalists had proposed that the nations of the world make a shared investment in clean energy, better and more efficient housing development, and comfortable and efficient transportation systems. Opponents of global warming would have had to take the position against the growth of these new markets and industries and for limits. Proponents could have tarred their opponents as being anti-business, anti-investment, anti-jobs, and stuck in the past.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through, “The Pollution Paradigm”

In this chapter, the authors make the case that the pollution-focused tactics of environmental activists are inappropriate for addressing global warming. Carbon dioxide, unlike CFCs or mercury, is not in itself problematic—the trouble is that we emit too much of it. Rather than focusing on limits, they want the environmental movement to call for investments in new and better energy sources; rather than worrying that there are too many people on the planet, they think we should create more efficient cities.

The authors don't cast this as an issue of balance, but as a Taoist I will. The proper ratio of carbon emission and ingestion must be maintained on a worldwide basis, much as an individual needs the right balance of inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide. We won't reduce the planetary fever by suddenly stopping to breathe. Instead, we must steadily work to rebalance our sources of energy. With better technology, we can save our carbon dioxide budget for situations where fossil fuels are especially useful.
flwyd: (intense aztec drummer DNC 2008)
Senator Bennet,

I am writing you regarding this week’s American missile attack on a Syrian air base in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria. Thank you for your statement on Thursday condemning the attacks and calling for action to be taken only with proper approval.
Senator Gardner,

I am writing you regarding this week’s American missile attack on a Syrian air base in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons against the people of Syria. Thank you for your statement on Thursday in support of “saving the Syrian people from slaughter.” I share your goal of ending the suffering of the people of Syria and effecting an end to the civil war which has ravaged their lives for the last six years.

I have three concerns about this situation, and I would like you to address them through the Senate and in conversations with members of the administration.

First—Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress, not the executive, the power to declare war and to punish offenses against the law of nations. President Trump launched this missile strike without Congressional approval and news reports indicate that he didn’t inform any in Congress about the action until it had completed. This attack on Syria was thus unconstitutional and not in accordance with the separation of powers granted by our founding fathers. I urge you to insist that any further military action be taken only after approval from Congress and in accordance with the Constitution. In matters of military action and foreign intervention, the American people deserve to have our voice heard through our elected representatives.

Second—American military intervention in Syria does not have a clear path to success and is likely to make things worse before they get better. Iran, long-term allies of Assad’s Alawite government, and Russia with its sole Mediterranean naval base at Tartus, are unlikely to let the present regime fall. Additionally, the opposition groups best positioned to defeat the government are aligned with Salafist jihadi movements. A military defeat of the Assad government could easily lead to an even bloodier battle between the Islamic State and the al-Qaeda-aligned Army of Conquest factions. An eventual victory by either would likely lead to brutal crimes against religious and ethnic minorities across Syria. Rather than American military escalation, please urge President Trump to apply his famed skill in negotiation through talks with the Syrian factions and their international backers, including Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Successful negotiations will involve groups with which the U.S. is not on friendly terms—including designated terrorist groups—but military de-escalation and broad support for a peace deal is the only path to long-term stability in Syria.

Third—one of the most important actions the United States can take to help the people of Syria is to provide support to the more than 3 million refugees who have fled the country’s conflict in the last six years. President Trump has sought twice to ban Syrian entry into the United States. I urge you to instead support expansion of the U.S. Refugee Admission Program. The Department of State is well positioned to evaluate refugee applications—no traveler to the United States is subject to more rigorous security screening than the refugees the U.S. Government considers for admission.[1] Additionally, I hope you will support humanitarian and financial aid in concert with our allies in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, and elsewhere who play host to millions of Syrians in refugee camps. The cost of Thursday’s missile attack has been reported at $90 million. A similar sum could provide a great deal of food, clothing, and shelter for those affected by the conflict.

Thank you for your consideration,
Trevor Stone
Boulder, CO 80304

[1] From the State Department’s USRAP FAQ
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
The Conscience of a Conservative, Senator Barry Goldwater's 1960 slim volume (ghostwritten by L. Brett Bozell, Jr.) advocating for conservative values, had more impact on right-wing and Republican politics in postwar America than any book besides The Bible and, perhaps, Atlas Shrugged. I sought the book out because I wanted to understand where conservatives are coming from and be able to have more productive political conversations. Since my political thinking operates with a different set of frames I was expecting to disagree with a lot of what Goldwater wrote, and I did. My focus in this review is therefore not to critique the book but to characterize it and highlight its arguments.

The book is an easy read. It's short and readable in an afternoon. My 50th anniversary copy, with foreword (George F. Will) and afterword (Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.) is 137 pages of roughly mass-market paperback size. It is not a work of technical political theory and is thus accessible to almost any American adult. It takes a personal and casual tone, clearly the broad appeal words of a politician and not the jargon of an academic. I think this accessibility is at least as important to the book's success in the conservative movement as any specific policy idea expressed in its pages.
The book starts with a few chapters on general principles followed by several chapters applying those principles to specific domestic issues that were prominent in the late 1950s.

Goldwater argues for Conservatism in opposition to Socialism and also in opposition to Liberalism and the (then-ascendant) moderate wing of the Republican Party. He starts by quoting Vice President Nixon, Republican candidates should be economic conservatives, but conservatives with a heart, and President Eisenhower, I am conservative when it comes to economic problems but liberal when it comes to human problems. Goldwater is conservative on both fronts and emphasizes that Conservatism isn't just about economics: The Conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, these needs and desires reflect the superior side of man's nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Growing up in an Arizona which had recently gained statehood and in which the wild west didn't seem so long ago, it's not surprising that the focus of Goldwater's philosophy is individual freedom. Man's most sacred possession is his individual soul—which has an immortal side, but also a mortal one. The mortal side establishes his absolute differentness from every other human being. Only a philosophy that takes into account the essential differences between men, and, accordingly, makes provision for developing the different potentialities of each man can claim to be in accord with Nature. We have heard much in the time about “the common man.” It is a concept that pays little attention to the history of a nation that grew great through the initiative and ambition of uncommon men. The Conservative knows that to regard man as part of an undifferentiated mass is to consign him to ultimate slavery. (Despite this emphasis on spirit and soul, Goldwater did not want the church to be actively involved in politics and he did not like the rise of the Religious Right.)

Goldwater's political framework is focused on the Constitution and a limited federal government. While some people's political approach is to devise a solution to a problem first and then shape it to match the law, one gets the sense that Goldwater would prefer to start with what's constitutional and then work out a solution which is permitted. In the way that some folks on the right treat the Second Amendment as the most important while some on the left elevate the First, the Tenth Amendment is, I think, most fundamental for Goldwater. (The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.) Goldwater objects to several federal programs not because they're bad policies but because he thinks the states should implement them, with structure and prioritization driven by local voters and legislators, not a nationwide legislature and bureaucracy. He argues against federal involvement in education because the Constitution doesn't grant any federal powers over education, thus leaving the subject up to states. Yet if there were a constitutional amendment in place regarding education, Goldwater would seem to have no objection to the execution of it.

Many on the left, citing rhetoric of the Confederate and Jim Crow South, characterize the phrase “states’ rights” as an innocuous phrase meant to mask an underlying policy of racial discrimination. Goldwater acknowledges this perception, writing It is quite true that the integration issue is affected by the State's Rights principle, and that the South's position on the issue is, today, the most conspicuous expression of the principle. So much so that the country is now in the grips of a spirited and sometimes ugly controversy over an imagined conflict between State's Rights, on the one hand, and what are called “civil rights” on the other. He goes on to argue that civil rights are not universal rights granted by virtue of our humanity but rather a right defined in law: Unless a right is incorporated in the law, it is not a civil right and is not enforceable by the instruments of the civil law. There may be some rights—“natural,” “human,” or otherwise—that should also be civil rights. But if we desire to give such rights the protection of the law, our recourse is to a legislature or to the amendment procedures of the Constitution. We must not look to politicians, or sociologists—or the courts—to correct the deficiency. Goldwater was not a racist, and although he spends much of the chapter on civil rights arguing against federal efforts to desegregate schools and questioning the legitimacy of the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education, he speaks in favor of the principle of desegregation.

In a political world following Goldwater's philosophy, one might expect a great many constitutional amendments be proposed. (He argues against high tax brackets, for instance, but not against income tax itself, since that power is granted by the Sixteenth Amendment.) Addressing an issue like education, air pollution, or Internet crime would start by passage of an amendment granting federal jurisdiction on the matter. Yet amending the Constitution is hard, and in the half century since The Conscience of a Conservative was published, the Constitution was only amended five times—thrice regarding voting rights, once regarding presidential succession, and once regarding congressional compensation. Only the latter came after Ronald Reagan and Goldwater's intellectual heirs took power in Washington (and that one was proposed with the initial Bill of Rights). Many more amendments have, of course, been proposed but not passed in Congress—depending on one's perspective, this might speak in favor of or against an amend-first model.

Reading the book after it influenced half a century of politics provides an interesting sense of retrospective. For instance, a book written today wouldn't focus so much on the power of unions, yet it is precisely this book's arguments about unions which provided the framework for the legislation that weakened union power. Goldwater's arguments reverberate through contemporary conservatives: reading Goldwater's complaints about depression-era laws paying farmers to not grow crops (and thus avoid a market crash) reminded me of several folks I've heard rail against the same practice, even though it was ended by the 1996 Farm Bill.

Unfortunately, some of Goldwater's advice was not heeded by conservatives. He ends the “Freedom for Labor” chapter by saying Let us henceforth make war on all monopolies—whether corporate or union. The enemy of freedom is unrestrained power, and the champions of freedom will fight against the concentration of power wherever they find it. The Republicans who came to power with the help of Goldwater's rhetoric duly set about disarming the power of labor unions, yet they simultaneously enacted policies to boost the power of capital and corporations. Conservative-championed deregulation has led to a handful of companies controlling most broadcast and publishing media outlets, granting significant power and control of information to corporations. And despite the breakup of Ma Bell in the mid-80s, many consumers have no choice over telecommunications providers and the companies wield near-monopolistic power (Comcast revenues exceed every state government but California).

Goldwater's recommendations in “Taxes and Spending” were likewise only followed half-way. Goldwater wanted to reduce taxes by cutting back on federal programs: The government must begin to withdraw from a whole series of programs that are outside its constitutional mandate—from social welfare programs, education, public power, agriculture, public housing, urban renewal and all the other activities that can be better performed by lower levels of government or by private institutions or by individuals. I do not suggest that the federal government drop all of these programs overnight. But I do suggest that we establish, by law, a rigid timetable for a staged withdrawal. Yet the oft repeated mantra of today's Republican party is Reagan taught us that deficits don't matter, and Republicans have tended to propose tax cuts without spending cuts, program elimination without reducing taxes, and spending increases (particularly for military expenditure) without corresponding tax increases. While academic fiscal conservatives decry these policies, the party doesn't seem to care: tax cuts are a good way to get elected and eliminating popular programs are a good way to get voted out of office.

Goldwater's last chapter, “The Soviet Menace,” consumes the final third of the book and feels the most incongruous with the modern world. Goldwater begins in no uncertain terms: And still the awful truth remains: We can establish the domestic conditions for maximizing freedom, along the lines I have indicated, and yet become slaves. We can do this by losing the Cold War to the Soviet Union. He rails against the policies then in place to combat the USSR, from NATO and the UN to negotiation and diplomacy to foreign aid. He proposed instead an offensive (and quite so) strategy, The key guidepost is the Objective, and we must never lose sight of it. It is not to wage a struggle against Communism, but to win it. He proposed development and use of “small, clean nuclear weapons.” Recalling his fiscal conservatism, he writes As a Conservative, I deplore the huge tax levy that is needed to finance the world's number-one military establishment. But even more do I deplore the prospect of a foreign conquest, which the absence of that establishment would quickly accomplish. One wonders if he would similarly quiet his objections to spending on social programs if it were presented as a choice between liberal welfare or the election of an American communist or socialist party to congress. Goldwater's commitment to conservative constitutional law was also conspicuously absent from this chapter: socialist regimes generally installed a new constitution and American support for anti-socialist rebels would presumably violate the laws under which they found themselves.

While the flashpoints, proxy wars, and immense military buildups that characterized the Cold War definitely bore Goldwater's influence, the mechanism of victory fortunately took a significantly different tack than Goldwater's plan. He writes We may not make foreign peoples love us—no nation has ever succeeded in that—but we can make them respect us. And respect is the stuff of which enduring friendships and firm alliances are made. Yet despite the trillions of dollars spent on military hardware, the Socialist states collapsed not because of a respect-as-fear of U.S. power and might but thanks to a love-as-admiration we were able to foster in the people. While leaders threatened each other with weapons, support for the state was whittled away rock 'n' roll, hip young people, material comforts, and the gradual awareness that there was a world where grocery stores were always full of food.

The Conscience of a Conservative deserves a place in collections of key American documents, alongside The Federalist Papers and the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. Like the others it took relatively few words to influence generations of political action and government policy. Many on the left believe its ideas were taken too far; many on the right that they weren't taken far enough. But taken they certainly were, and they continue to frame contemporary discourse.
flwyd: (spam lite)
It's my body's half birthday and my new swallowing mechanism is five weeks old. Sounds like a good time to check in. If you're just tuning in, I had surgery in February to address achalasia.

As previously reported, I took the week of surgery off from work. This was a really good move: even though I was feeling a lot better than I'd expected (and my work basically involves reading words on a computer screen, typing, and occasionally talking to people), the dedication to resting and relaxing really helped my mind reset, my energy rebound, and focus on readjusting to food.

I spent the second week working from home, which was also a smart move. I was still on a liquids-and-purées diet which was made much easier by having a refrigerator and a fancy blender fifteen feet from my desk. My dad brought over a big ring of red Jello (a food with strong Stone family associations), Lucky's Market recently started carrying nice cashew yogurts, and I had several bunches of bananas with staged ripeness. I noticed that I pretty quickly transitioned back into "Wait, there's one more thing I should do" mode while working, but since I'd handed off a lot of responsibilities, the number of just-one-more-things was fairly low.

A week and a half after surgery I drove back down to the hospital for another x-ray barium swallow to see how thing were going down. After about two swallows of barium liquid the lab tech got a worried look on his face and called a doctor in to look at the images and compare them to what they saw the previous month. After conferring and calling my surgeon's office, they announced that the study was done and I could leave. Not particularly reassuring…

I had a "review the barium study" appointment scheduled with the surgeon two hours later, so I hit up the army surplus store between the hospital and his office. While trying on a pair of nice "tactical trousers" the hospital called and asked me to return (also not very reassuring…). My surgeon showed me the imagery sequence and pointed to a pattern of liquid spreading that looked like it could be a leak. He was suspicious of this interpretation, though, because I didn't show any signs (like total misery) of having been eating with a perforated esophagus, stomach, or junction for ten days. He had me lie down for a regular x-ray and then conferred with the folks from the barium swallow. After a few minutes he came over and said "What I thought was a leak and what they thought as a leak were two different parts of the image." The additional x-ray and mutual second opinions ruled out leaks in both cases. Thank goodness for questioning data and interpretation.

The recommended diet progression is soft food for the third and fourth weeks. I returned to work since I knew I could depend on tuna salad, egg salad, and hummus in the daily lunch salad/sandwich bar and soggy Cheerios (working up to granola) for breakfast. These were my work-food staples for the second half of last year, so I was confident I'd be able to handle them. I was also very excited to reintroduce things like moist grains (rice, barley, oats, and friends), noodles, berries, and tofu. In week four I made three peanut butter, tofu, and chocolate pies for our office's π Day celebration. The puréed legume goo was a little challenging for my swallowing skills, but not problematic. I was also able to eat several folks' apple pie filling and even some flaky crust. I was able to survive some corned beef, potatoes, mustard, and lamb stew on St. Patrick's Day, though I had a regurgitation episode and concluded that was a little too ambitious.

By the recommended diet progression, I should be more or less back to a normal diet. I'm still eating slower than a normal person, but I can now finish most or all of a large lunch in an hour, which is 80% faster than I could handle a medium plate four months ago. I can get through about 75% of a meal at a restaurant before taking home a box. Spices, dry fish, and little bits that slip through without chewing are still challenging and have led to a few regurgitation episodes, but I'm able to respond to most issues by just pausing a meal and walking around. I've been fairly shy about meat that hasn't been soaked in soup, but I was able to handle ground beef today. I think I'll wait at least another week for meat that I have to cut, but I'll be trying sausage in a day or two.

I've had several intense reflux bouts, usually about half way through the night, though yesterday featured an extended before-bed adventure with mild heartburn. Combinations of Altoids, crystalized ginger, and water only sometimes help settle symptoms. When planning surgery I was aware that a significant fraction of folks experience ongoing heartburn and acid reflux. Having spent 2015 dealing with painful reflux and 2016 dealing with regurgitation and weight loss, I'd decided that I'd gladly trade the latter for the former. I need to get better at building up sleep reserves, though, 'cause I can lose an hour to three of sleep from heartburn without advanced warning.

This month I switched projects at work (still under the umbrella of Drive). We're in the "Figure out what the heck our users really need" phase which means our engineering pace is fairly relaxed and we spend a lot of time reading and theorizing, which has been helpful in continuing my "avoid stress" plan. Unfortunately, I've easily fallen back into the habit of going to bed at 1am, so I'm not making many deposits in the sleep bank, despite not needing to take a lot of withdrawals.

I've still got a "eat as many calories as you can" mindset, but I thankfully don't have to micro-optimize my decisions around it. I'm finally back to having alternating phases of hunger and meals rather than a continuous stream of slow eating and reduced metabolism. I've got way more energy than I did during the second half of last year and I don't feel like I'm in survival mode. I was able to quickly get my weight back to the low 120s but haven't been able to make progress beyond that. I guess my normal metabolism—which has basically been at late-teenager levels for twenty years—has returned. I've abandoned my "eat a pint of ice cream for dessert" weight gain plan, since it seemed to be more effective at triggering heartburn than fat storage. Maybe I should try increasing my beer intake :-)
flwyd: (mail.app)
I've been using Twitter a lot more lately. Here are some clever things I've said that are worth repeating. I also set up a perl6 script to post a #quotefile quip every day.
  • A smile is a hammock for your face
  • I tried to order an extra large T-shirt from Rome. I received forty shirts.
  • Bitcoin is a commodity whose foundation is the artificial scarcity of numbers.
  • When @realDonaldTrump said he'd drain the swamp he didn't tell us that the effluent would flow into the Potomac and then into Chesapeake Bay (re: this story)
  • Chuck Berry transported listeners to a simpler world where we pursued our crushes, drove fast cars, and the week ended with a rockin' dance.
  • Imma let you finish @NCAA, but the March Hare and Mad Hatter are the best #MarchMadness team of all time. #DownTheBasketHole
  • The 2010s surge in white nationalism is in large part a reaction to a century of white internationalism.
  • Hypothesis: Trump thinks girls have cooties. (re: not shaking Angela Merkel's hand)
  • Odd that we live in a culture that stigmatizes seeing a psychologist but not seeing a pastor. They do similar work with different specialities.
  • If your house is too big of a landslide risk you can in theory get a new house. If you have a chronic disease you can't move to a new body. (re: America's model of health insurance)
  • Sets to the left of me, sets to the right / Here I am, stuck in the middle with ∪ / #MathHumor
  • alice@rabbithole> cd wonderland
    alice@rabbithole> ls
    DRINKME
    EATME
    README
    alice@rabbithole >
  • When you gaze into the void, the social media ranking algorithm answers back.
  • The tyranny of Daylight Saving Time is not that you lose an hour of sleep or an hour of sun. It's that you let a clock decide when you act.
  • More people lived in Kentucky in 2010 than lived in the US in 1790. Constitutional suspicion of federal power should apply to state gov't too.
  • I'm more confused reading #Perl6 docs as an experienced programmer than Learning Perl as a novice: "Why'd you make the sausage that way?"
  • Don't defend the status quo. Describe a better system and work to make it happen. Legislators gonna legislate–ensure they enact your vision.
  • Regardless of the benefits of "like a business" governing, Trump's management style isn't fit for leading a country.
  • None of us are as strong as all of us are.
  • Best part so far of a two-week liquid+purée diet? Eating a bowl full of mayonnaise. #TastyRecovery (later that day, my stomach regretted that decision)
  • A good approach to cleaning up public discourse on the Internet: you must listen before you speak. (re: a Norwegian news website's new policy)
  • There are no high-paying jobs at family ethnic restaurants, but it's a crucial role played by immigrants. #JointAddress (re: proposed immigration policies that focus on high-paying tech jobs)
  • For every war we start, we must end two more.
  • The best way to stop drugs from coming into America is to grow marijuana in the U.S. #JointAddress
  • Key change in gay marriage support was folks knowing more gay people. Let's create opportunities for Americans to meet ordinary scientists.
  • Biologists are pro-birth, pro-life, and pro-death.
  • Framing: refugees and immigrants are freedom seekers. They're willing to give up even home and family ties to pursue American values.
  • Freedom isn't free. It's made possible by hard work and generous support from taxpayers like you.
  • Hapless Hank wanted to be the "go to programmer", but instead became the goto programmer.
  • Don't want to be subject to any government? 2000+ sqkm between Egypt and Sudan are claimed by neither.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bir_Tawil
  • Honk if you fly south for the winter.
  • “I'm not racist, I have black friends!” “This bill isn't homophobic, several closeted legislators voted for it!”
  • I don't declare war on xenophobia. I declare peace. May it rest there.
  • It's a travesty that America will have to navigate the era of alternate facts without George Carlin
  • You can't keep evil out of a country; it doesn't travel on a plane. Evil casts its spores through ideas, sown in a heart fertilized by hate.
  • Don't just make art. Be art.
  • Humans are my ingroup.
  • Obama sought dissenting opinions and input from experts. Trump surrounds himself with like-minded people and thinks he knows everything.
  • Hey @POTUS, while you're making it harder to hire foreign workers, please invest in US education system so there are good Americans to hire.
  • Halal food in NYC doesn't come in meal deals. It's Allah carte.
  • If I told you that you tested positive for antibodies, would you hold them against me?
  • Flotsam and jetsam are the mass noun equivalents of odds and ends.
  • Pancakes crêpe me out.
  • Just to keep things surreal @realDonaldTrump should nominate Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. She's got experience and is unemployed.
  • Strange times when a populace, concerned about decades of job loss, votes in a president whose catchphrase was “You‘re fired”
  • Folks advocating for unfaithful electors in next month's electoral college have moved past shock, denial, and anger and are on to bargaining
  • Two generations ago, GOP was the party of education, business, & taking blacks for granted; Dems the party of labor & southern xenophobia.
  • 2020 campaign promise: free electoral college tuition for all Americans
  • To tap into the wisdom of the crowd, maybe pollsters should ask respondents who they think will win their state and the electoral college.
  • Next time can we choose the greater of two goods?
  • To pay a parking ticket, I have to click "Add to Basket" as if I went to the Municipal Justice Store and browsed around for a nice citation.
  • Maybe Republicans would get serious about #climatechange if we called it "Recapitalizing snow and ice banks."
  • "Wake of the Flood" was the tidal track of the Grateful Dead's 1973 album. #pun
  • Atlas Hugged, in which John Galt attends Burning Man.
  • What do you call a really cute cephalopod? Squeed!
  • I know I'm not going to eat half the food I bring to @burningman. I just wish I knew which half.
  • I'm into second-order psychedelics. I don't take drugs myself, but I thoroughly enjoy consuming the output of those who do.
  • When God closes a door He goes to the window, opens it, sticks His head out & yells “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
  • Thank you Mario, but the princess is the protagonist in her own feature film!
  • Mallard abduckted. Fowl play suspected. #terrible #pun
flwyd: (Trevor glowing grad macky auditorium)
We have forgotten that the proper function of the school is to transmit the cultural heritage of one generation to the next generation, and so to make them capable of absorbing ancient learning and applying it to the problem of its own day.
– Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative, “Some Notes on Education”

Senator Goldwater expressed many points of view in The Conscience of a Conservative which I approach from a very different perspective, yet perhaps none as concisely as this one. He wrote this passage in the context of arguing that the federal government should divest itself entirely of involvement in education, leaving the matter instead to states and local school districts.

The transmission of cultural heritage from generation to generation happens naturally and effectively in the home, at religious and social gatherings, and as young folks interact with their communities. The unique value offered by a school is the opportunity for children and young adults to learn ideas and techniques which were unavailable to their parents. A child sent to boarding school in the 1820s might return as the first person in the history of the family who could read. A young man in 1870 who went off to a land grant college could return home two to four years later and teach his father and their neighbors newly developed techniques in farming. In 1900, a student could leave a town without electricity and pursue a degree as an electrical engineer, learning things in his senior year which were not known to the world when he arrived as a freshman.[1] And in the 1980s and 1990s, my generation played with computers in our public school classrooms and went on to teach our parents, with varying levels of success, how to use the most crucial tool of the modern age.

Goldwater makes clear that he is arguing against John Dewey and progressive education:
Subscribing to the egalitarian notion that every child must have the same education, we have neglected to provide an educational system which will tax the talents and stir the ambitions of our best students and which will thus insure us the kind of leaders we will need in the future.
In our desire to make sure that our children learn to “adjust” to their environment, we have given them insufficient opportunity to acquire the knowledge that will enable them to master their environment.
Earlier in the book, Goldwater said that he was in favor of school integration (I believe that it is both wise and just for negro children to attend the same schools as whites, and that to deny them this opportunity carries with it strong implications of inferiority) but he didn't think the federal government should bring it about (I believe that the problem of race relations… is best handled by the people directly concerned.). The belief that integration is desirable, yet it's fine if entrenched state political interests deny it, can be easily understood when Goldwater explains that his interest in schools is for the development of future leaders–and the unspoken conclusion that black children in the South would not be the future leaders of those states.

In the intervening half century the Dewey educational position, particularly the emphasis on adaptation to a changing world rather than mastering a static one, has been held widely in colleges and universities. Deans and chancellors are likely to craft mottoes like “preparing students for the challenges of tomorrow” and liberal arts departments emphasize that they teach critical thinking, not just classic knowledge. Yet in many locales primary school (which answers much more directly to local and state political pressure) is shifting away from a path where each generation knows more than their parents, requiring instead that children be taught the same misconceptions that their parents believe. The designated future leaders, of course, are still afforded access to accurate facts through private schools, thanks to their parents’ ability to succeed, whether through a privileged position or personal skill. One of the biggest failings of public education in the last two generations is that it’s funded and run at the local level while the rich and middle class have fled integrated areas, taking their tax revenue and school board engagement away from areas with poverty and students of color and into suburbs with higher school ratings. (There's a great two part piece from This American Life on this topic.)

[1] I’m using male pronouns in this discussion because secondary education was at that time overwhelmingly meant for men, another major failing of the traditional approach of schools whose goals were to educate a pre-screened set of future leaders.
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
The turn will come… when Americans, in hundreds of communities throughout the nation, decide to put the man in power who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic. Who will proclaim in a campaign speech: “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promotte welfare, for I propose to extend freedom… And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that case I am doing the very best I can.”
– Barry Goldwater, The Conscieence of a Conservative, "The Perils of Power"

Folks on the left are often surprised when Republicans support economic policies which negatively impact a majority of their constituents. Some folks use this observation as a rhetorical barb (e.g. these tweets). But for politicians inspired by Senator Goldwater and the last half century of conservatism, policies which favor liberty (freedom from) at the cost of opportunity (freedom to) are the goal, not an accident.
flwyd: (transparent ribbon for government accoun)
The New York Times published a set of articles this week about U.S. military efforts to hack North Korean weapon systems to stymie the regime's goal of demonstrating an ICBM which could deliver a nuclear bomb to a city in the United States. The attempts so far seem to have been fairly successful, causing failures in most launch attempts of the current generation of North Korean rockets.

While the political and military tactics in this particular case and how the North Koreans may react or retaliate are fascinating, I'd like to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The U.S. military is using "cyberweapons" and committing what one might term "cyberwarriors" in an offensive operation attacking infrastructure developed by a foreign state. This is also not a new policy: ample evidence indicates that U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies built and deployed the Stuxnet worm to cause physical damage to nuclear centrifuges at Natanz in Iran, setting the Iranian government's nuclear ambitions back by a few years (and driving them batty in the process). The Stuxnet attack was authorized by George W. Bush and reauthorized by Barack Obama. The North Korean attacks were authorized by the Obama administration (probably the president himself) and is now under the direction of the Trump administration.

In many ways a "cyberweapon" is just a collection of software vulnerabilities packaged in a way that helps the attacker obtain information from or disrupt the operations of a particular network or computer system run by a target. A cyberwarrior and a common hacker use, by and large, the same tools–they differ primarily in motives and focus. The same vulnerability in, say, Microsoft Windows can be exploited to steal bank account credentials or to further infect an industrial control system and disrupt a nuclear fuel operation. The Stuxnet attack on Natanz and the current North Koraen attacks have had significant physical-world effects: large and dangerous objects were destroyed. Criminal and ideological hackers have thus far focused on digital payloads–stealing data, transferring money–but there's nothing preventing non-government attackers from creating havoc in the physical world, from disabling the power grid to releasing a flood of water from a dam to potentially triggering a nuclear meltdown.

Unlike the military hardware of the last century, governments, businesses, and individuals around the world generally use the same software and hardware from a small group of companies with worldwide scope. The Microsoft Windows on laptops, Android on smartphones, and firmware in Cisco routers is code that's used by people in every country. By and large, there's no "Iranian software," "North Korean software," or "American software"–with the Internet, it's all "world software." Every security bug that a military or intelligence agency discovers but doesn't disclose is one that goes unpatched by the vendor and could be exploited by another government or crime gang, harming the citizens, businesses, and government agencies that the military and spy agencies are tasked with protecting. This presents a particular problem for an organization like the NSA which have an explicit commitment to both defend American computer and communication networks while intercepting foreign communications of interest.

Physical war and military operations are, in large part, studied and debated in the open. The public and our elected representatives don't know the details of all military plans and technologies, but we're broadly aware of where military force is being used offensively and defensively and what sorts of tools and tactics we're comfortable with the military using. The country is able to have a public debate about topics like whether we should invade a country, how much money we're willing to spend to achieve military objectives, and whether we consider torture or cluster bombs to be acceptable tools of war making. (The pro-war advocates are often able to start their framing of the issues well before the public starts to engage in the debate, so we tend not to have a very effective public debate, but the opportunity is still there.)

"Cyberwar" and offensive security compromises by the government, by contrast, have been conducted under a thick veil of government secrecy. The people of the United States and our representatives in Congress have not had an opportunity to have a public debate about whether we're comfortable with the military, without declaring war, instigating digital battles with sovereign states. We haven't had a proper conversation about what sorts of cyberattacks we're comfortable and which are beyond the pale. We haven't effectively discussed the balance between concealing and weaponizing computer vulnerabilities for attack and defending our country's digital infrastructure by helping companies patch software when intelligence agencies find bugs. And we really haven't come to grips with what we'll do when a "cyberweapon" targeted at a narrow military objective is too effective and causes unintended damage elsewhere on the Internet, including to American assets. We also haven't taken an opportunity to establish treaties governing digital offensive activities, so other nations may take a cue from U.S. operations and decide that hacking is a legitimate tactic and invest in their own "cyberarmies" which attack and hurt American computer networks.

There are reasonable arguments both in favor of and opposed to offensive military hacking. Proponents can point out that a well-executed cyberattack has the potential to achieve its objective cheaper and with a lot less loss of life than a conventional military operation. Opponents can point out that a hacking operation that gets out of hand–as the Stuxnet worm did, infecting millions of computers around the world–it's a lot more work to halt than just calling off the bombers and withdrawing the troops. But so far these debates have been held quietly behind closed government doors and in memoranda stamped Top Secret. The public doesn't know what conclusions were reached and their interests were not well represented. Once Congress is done with their current project of attacking affordable health care and defunding public agencies, it would be great if they could demand that military, intelligence, and executive agencies include the American people in the conversation about the rules of engagement for offensive hacking. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Anyone interested in this topic should watch the fantastic documentary Zer0 Days. It features a detailed technical explanation of how the worm works from the security researchers who studied it (and impressive cinematic techniques to make this explanation engaging), insights from anonymous NSA employees, and some remarkably frank on-the-record interviews with government officials. I'd read the initial reporting on Stuxnet in 2010, but the movie exposed several fascinating facets of the story of which I was unaware. The interviews with government-associated figures help shape the views I expressed above, and some of the officials seem to share my position.

Bruce Schneier often writes well about this subject, too.
flwyd: (Om Chomsky)
Any progressive activist and anyone involved in the Democratic Party who has not read Don't Think of an Elephant! should put it very near the top of their to-do list, above any political action that's longer-term than "this week." It's short and practical, so it can be read in a day or you can read an essay-chapter each day and be done in two weeks. Many of the key insights also appear in articles on the author's blog, so you can start there.

George Lakoff is a professor of linguistics and cognitive science at UC Berkeley. I first encountered his work in Metaphors We Live By, a fairly academic book which argued that metaphors aren't just manners of speech, they actually provide structure to how we think and form a framework through which we perceive the world. This led him to research on frames, "mental structures that shape the way we see the world" and investigations on how liberals and conservatives think and the frames they use. He published Don't Think of an Elephant in 2004 as an accessible and practical guide for progressives to understand how people make political choices, why conservatives are much better at framing than progressives are, and what the left needs to do in order to activate progressive frames in the minds of voters. The All New Don't Think of an Elephant! is a 2014 edition which adds chapters and updates many of the essays to cover political developments during the second Bush term and the Obama presidency.

Frames help us make sense of the information we receive. For instance, the frame "Countries are rational actors" provides us tools for interpreting international relations and actions of governments. Given that frame, a speech by a particular politician or an attack by an army is evaluated as though it's a single person (the country) following a considered strategy. An alternate frame, say "Countries are herds of animals," would lead to a different conceptualization of the same presented facts, like an assumption of acting on instinct and a focus on the power dynamics within a government.

Frames are wired into our brains: the more often the language associated with a frame gets activated, the stronger the neural linkages become. When information is presented which doesn't jive with the frames in our brain, cognitive dissonance results. Cognitive dissonance is uncomfortable, so we tend to resolve the situation by rejecting the information or selectively reinterpreting it so that it can form a narrative supported by the frame.

The most important insight in the book is that people don't vote based on a list of policies and they don't necessarily even vote for their rational self-interest. They vote for candidates whose message activates the frames that drive their values. People aren't swayed by facts, they're swayed by narratives that resonate.

Lakoff identifies the major frames for political values as the "strict father model" and the "nurturant parent model." The former leads to values like law-and-order policing, military power, and "tough love" economic policies. The latter leads to values like restorative justice, soft power diplomacy, and opportunity-focused economics. Everyone has both frames in their brain to some degree, and political ideology reflects the frame which is stronger, or is present in more aspects of their life. He also talks about "biconceptuals," folks that have a balance of both models, the cognitive version of "swing voters."

The family models do a great deal to explain why positions which seem to be logically unrelated are so correlated in the political sphere. Why do so many folks both oppose gay marriage and support use of military force to achieve foreign policy objectives? Corporal punishment (or the threat thereof) is how order is established in a strict-father family, and gay marriage violates the whole premise of a strict-father family, because there's either no father (two women) or no single father figure (two men). Why do so many folks oppose firearm ownership and support public education? In a nurturative-parent family, providing opportunity to kids has a very high value (free public school provides opportunity even to kids whose parents don't have any resources) and guns represent violence, which is anathema to the protection and nurture values.

Conservative elites, starting with Barry Goldwater and the Powell Memo, have spent several decades carefully experimenting with ways to frame their policy goals so that they will resonate with the values frames of American voters. Progressives and liberals, on the other hand, have not had an organized approach to framing and tend to run on a set of specific policies, not on a set of values. Since the left haven't developed language to activate frames, they tend to use the frames provided by conservatives. This is self-defeating, because repeating the conservative framing of an issue activates the same neural pathways, even if the idea is negated (hence the title of the book). For instance, conservatives developed the phrase "tax relief," which activates a metaphor of taxes as a burden. If a liberal says "I'm against tax relief," it reinforces the idea that taxes are burdensome and the voter is left wondering why the politician is in favor of burdens. If the liberal instead recast the issue in their own frame–"I think the wealthy should contribute their fair share"–it would activate the frame that tax is a shared investment in society.

Lakoff advocates for progressives to rethink how they present their ideas. He urges the left to shift from talking about facts and policies to talking about values, principles, and policy directions. He instructs people to affirm the progressive world view rather than use the negated language of the conservative world view. He tells politicians to stop focusing on policy polls and start presenting a coherent narrative. And he recommends the left invest–intellectually and financially–in creating organizations (think tanks and so on) devoted to finding ways to frame progressive values in ways that resonate with American voters. This is a long-term investment: the right has spent over four decades building their current ideological power position and the left can't suddenly adjust the neural circuitry of the public next month or even this year. But the longer progressives wait, the more they'll lose ground and the harder it will be to make progress.

The book's final chapter, "How to Respond to Conservatives," has some solid tactical advice, including showing respect, remaining calm, and positively reframing the issue. It ends with the crystalized guidelines: "Show respect; Respond by reframing; Think and talk at the level of values; Say what you believe." His approach is good for spreading the progressive world view, but I think there is occasion to use the frames of the "other side." When you're working on a specific policy measure like climate change or health care, it's important to have allies on both sides of the spectrum–this eases passage of an initiative and makes it less likely it will be repealed when the legislative balance of power shifts. Shifting a Republican member of congress from a strict-father model to a nurturative-parent model is a long game indeed, but convincing the same representative that climate change is a threat to national security or that it will create an undue burden on business might get an important piece of legislation passed. This is also communication that can be more focused: a letter to a legislator can be tailored to resonate with the specific framing a person has demonstrated whereas a letter to the editor tries to activate the framing of thousands of different people.

My goal in reading this book was to improve my ability to communicate with people who don't share my worldview, and it definitely helped. I'm someone who's immersed in facts and tend to overcommunicate details. This is important when figuring out how to create software or working with scientists to learn how the world works. But it's a hopeless technique for reaching non-experts, and by necessity most politicians, and certainly most voters, are not experts on a vast majority of subjects. I intend to do work to verbalize my own values and organize them into a coherent story, one which I hope can inspire folks who are already on my side, resonate with folks who aren't there yet, and help folks with a strict-father model empathize with the nurturative values.
flwyd: (Trevor over shoulder double face)
Surgery was a success, and recovery has been smoother than I had imagined.

On Monday, I had a laparoscopic Heller myotomy and fundoplication. It was performed at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood by Dr. Reginald Bell, Nurse Practitioner Kate Freeman, and an anesthetist whose name I very quickly forgot.

My almost eery sense of calm about the surgery continued on the day of the procedure. I think scheduling it for noon rather than 10am helped a lot. I was really relaxed and upbeat in pre-op and got to hang out with my wife and our friend Michelle–who happens to be a hospital chaplain–for at least an hour. We also had a great conversation with Deb, the nursing liaison. Michelle said this position was created for Deb, and I think it's a model which should be adopted widely: she acts as the point of contact for family members, providing patient status and helping the family navigate the hospital and recovery process. She overheard my wife calling my dad to ask him to pick up my prescription in Boulder before the pharmacy closed but after we got home (since he'd need my ID); Deb made a couple calls and got the prescription sent to the Walgreens across the street from the hospital so we didn't have to race the clock.

I would love to provide a fascinating narrative about the experience of having my torso inflated like a balloon and tools cutting my lower esophageal sphincter, relocating my stomach (I had a 3cm hiatal hernia), and wrapping it around my esophagus. (Un)fortunately, very quickly after I was wheeled into the super-bright operating room and I shifted onto the operating table, the anesthesiology drugs kicked in and my next memory is grogginess in post-op.

My "wake up, the anesthesia is wearing off" progress was counterbalanced by hydromorphone for pain relief, so I kept closing my eyes and trying to sleep in recovery. But the act of falling asleep would cause my breathing to get shallower and the pulseox would trigger a noisy desat alarm, pulling me out of sleep. This process went on for an hour or two–taking deep breaths was hard because I had new stitches in my diaphragm–until the drugs wore off enough that I was fully conscious and just in dull pain. I spent another hour or so working up to walking around the floor and drinking water, though a few sips of a protein shake proved too adventurous.

Concerned about the breathing danger posed by the opiates, I only took acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain. I'd been expecting the pain to be both sharper and stronger; instead, it was more of a big ache. I also hadn't expected my shoulders to hurt significantly more than my abdomen (where the incisions were) or chest (where the esophageal operation took place). The shoulder pain was apparently partly from laparoscopic gas but mostly because of the diaphragm stitches. I had not previously realized the connection between shoulders and diaphragm, but I think it may explain some of my recurrent issues. I'll need to notice their relation in the future.

I had the presence of mind to pee right before the procedure. Through post-op and several hours at home I wasn't able to urinate, despite having gained 7 pounds of liquid that day. After my third bout of trying different positions on the toilet produced no results, I decided to try taking a shower, since I often reflexively open my bladder when immersed in water, even if I just peed. To my surprise, I didn't even have to turn on the water: stepping on the wet floor of the shower was enough to remind my nervous system how to let go.

The first night of sleep was a challenge. I find it difficult to fall asleep on my back, so I spend most sleep time on my side, which is a big challenge with painful shoulders. Five seconds after lying down, I could tell that my bed was not going to be conducive to sleep. I set up some thick pillows on the arm of a couch so my head could be significantly elevated and laid on my back with a pulseox on my finger. My wife curled up on the other couch and asked my oxygen levels when she'd hear me rustling around. She's so sweet.

Other than being tired, having sore shoulders, and a very raspy voice, I felt really good on Tuesday. I had wisely planned to take the rest of the week off work and set no goals for the week beyond resting, hydrating, and reading books. I spent the day sitting on the couch, reading about public discourse and drinking water and vegan protein shakes. The recommended diet progression is two weeks of liquids, two weeks of soft foods, and then careful reintroduction of more challenging items to swallow. This week I've progressed from coconut water and nutritional supplements through apple sauce, gelatin, fruit smoothies, yogurt, creamy soup (think split pea), and ice cream. I think I need to cut back on sugar content, not because it'll make me fat (that's what I'm hoping for), but because my mouth feels pretty overwhelmed. After ⅔ of a pint of vanilla coconut ice cream last night and a probiotic, my stomach was feeling pretty queasy and I woke up with some really intense heartburn and liquid stool at 5:30, so I think I'll back off on the pint-a-day-for-weight-gain plan I concocted last fall.

After leaving the hospital, the pain was never enough that I wanted to take an opiate. I took Tylenol for less than three days, and a COX-2 inhibitor took care of aches for the rest of the week. My body hurts less a week after surgery than it has many times after a week sitting at a desk. With luck, this spring will feature fewer pharmaceuticals than any season since the early autumn of 2014.

My accumulated vacation time is usually focused on travel and adventure, so since I started working professionally I haven't really spent a week just relaxing at home, except when I'm sick enough that my brain doesn't work well. Spending several days in a row casually eating, reading, thinking, and listening to music brings back a sense of what I really enjoyed in college. I should do this six-day-weekend thing more often :-) I also had a really relaxing craniosacral massage on Friday which put my perisympathetic nervous system in a state conducive to some really good sex, so hopefully my libido will recover in tandem with my GI system.

While my body feels really good (the major shoulder pain only lasted about three days and my abdomen is only mildly tender), I'm planning to work from home for the next week so I can have a high-powered blender and a fridge full of low-viscosity foods handy. (A career as a software engineer and an employer who believes in flexible working conditions have been crucial to my ability to handle this disease.) My intolerance to dairy products would've made this adventure difficult two decades ago, but I've been able to find cashew yogurt, garbanzo pesto, and soy sour cream, and coconut/tapioca cream cheese cream, adding to hummus and guacamole in my "condiments I can eat with a spoon" repertoire. Between soy, almond, hemp, macadamia, coconut, and oat, I've also got a tasty variety of liquid milk alternatives.

I occasionally walk past a bag of crunchy snacks and instinctively start to grab for a cracker or something. We loaded up on frozen fish yesterday and I'm excited about my office diet plan next week of soggy Cheerios, tuna fish, egg salad, and canned peaches. I'm not craving solid food so much as I am excited about it, as though I'll be embarking in a week on a long-planned trip to a regular vacation spot: at once familiar and novel.

Thanks to everyone who sent me well wishes and offered to help. Not bringing me food and inserting themselves into my healing process turned out to be the best assistance folks provided. My mother-in-law's delivery of soup turned out to be somewhat stressful (mostly for my wife) and not particularly helpful (since I'd already collected weeks worth of liquids).
flwyd: (darwin change over time)
Programs are a major problem for attempts at unity. As soon as a policy is made specific, the differences must be addressed. Progressives tend to talk about policies and programs. But policy details are not what most Americans want to know about. Most Americans want to know what you stand for, whether your values are their values, what your principles are, what direction you want to take the country in. In public discourse, values trump policies, principles trump policies, policy directions trump specific programs. I believe that values, principles, and policy directions are exactly the things that can unite progressives, if they are crafted properly. The reason that they can unite us is that they stand conceptually above all the things that divide us.

Having those shared values, largely unconscious and unspoken, is not good enough. They have to be out in the open, named, said, discussed, publicized, and made part of everyday public discourse. If they go unspoken, while conservative values dominate public discourse, then those values can be lost–swept out of our brains by the conservative communication juggernaut.
Don't just read about these values here and nod. Get out and say them out loud. Discuss them wherever you can. Volunteer for campaigns that give you a chance to discuss these values loud and clear and out in public.
– George Lakoff, The All New Don't Think of an Elephant!, “What Unites Progressives”

Put another way, values, principles, and policy directions are how you build a movement. Policies are how you implement the vision once the movement has critical mass. When building a movement you don't worry too much about folks with a drastically different world view; you're just trying to find all of your friends. But when it comes to policy, it's important to work with folks from “the other side.” A policy which is supported by many members of some movements has a better chance of surviving than a policy which is supported by all and only one team.
flwyd: (Om Chomsky)
Unfortunately, all too many progressives have been taught a false and outdated theory of reason itself, one in which framing, metaphorical thought, and emotion play no role in rationality. This has led many progressives to the view that facts–alone–will set you free. Progressives are constantly giving lists of facts.

Facts matter enormously, but to be meaningful they must be framed in terms of their moral importance. Remember, you can only understand what the frames in your brain allow you to understand. If the facts don't fit the frames in your brain, the frames in your brain stay and the facts are ignored or challenged and belittled.

When George W. Bush arrived, we got "compassionate conservatism." The Clear Skies Initiative. Healthy Forests. No Child Left Behind. … This is the use of Orwellian language–language that means the opposite of what it says–to appease people in the middle as you pump up the base. … Imagine if they came out supporting a "Dirty Skies Bill" or a "Forest Destruction Bill" or a "Kill Public Education" bill. They would lose. They are aware people do not support what they are really trying to do.

Orwellian language points to weakness–Orwellian weakness. When you hear Orwellian language, note where it is, because it is a guide to where they are vulnerable. They do not use it everywhere. It is very important to notice this and use their weakness to your advantage.

– George Lakoff, The All New Don't Think of an Elephant!
flwyd: (pensive goat)
I'm Right and You're an Idiot: The toxic state of public discourse and how to clean it up by James Hoggan with Grania Litwin, 2016

I went book shopping last weekend so that I would be better prepared to have conversations with conservatives about issues like climate change. This book sounded like exactly what I was looking for. James Hoggan is a professional in the public relations field. He runs DeSmogBlog, a site devoted to "Clearing the PR pollution that clouds climate science" and has published a book on the topic. He set out to write another book devoted to climate advocacy and highlighting climate facts, but he realized that there was a bigger problem: the public space in which our society discusses issues and comes to agree on policy is polluted, sickening democracy and making progress on any tough issue almost impossible. So he decided instead to explore what was clogging the public square and how we can engender more productive communication and enable action on important problems.

Hoggan structured the book's chapters around people he interviewed, most experts in some mode of communication. The result is a book where each part is clear and interesting, but it can be difficult to find an overall narrative. I came away with several important insights but without a full practical framework for making things better. The epilogue does help tie things together, and I'd recommend reading that first, then deciding if you want to read the rest of the book.

Hoggan's background concern of climate change and environmental concerns shows up throughout the book; most chapters share the interviewee's thoughts on how people relate to environmental facts or arguments. And while I bought the book hoping to improve my ability to have conversations around climate change, I think the book would have been stronger if he'd dug into specifics on several distinct issues. He mentions migration, gun violence, and other "big challenge" problems in passing but never talks about how someone might approach those particular problems using the ideas in the book.

Some of my key takeaways:
Experts on a topic (e.g. scientists) make decisions based on facts, rational debate, and deep investigation. Most non-experts make decisions based on emotion and narrative.
In a modern democracy, the support of non-experts is needed for any major policy. Facts are important in deciding what to do, a story (particularly one with values or a moral) is crucial in getting people to do it.
People have a self-conception in which they generally do the right thing and believe in the truth. When something challenges this view, people experience cognitive dissonance, which is uncomfortable.
If new information is presented in a way that's too shocking to that belief, people are more likely to assume that the information is wrong than that they've been wrong. It's therefore very important not to structure an argument as "You're wrong" or, especially, "You're a bad person." Instead, find shared values and express a policy proposal as a way of expressing those values.
Tell your own story; otherwise people who oppose your idea will tell your story in a way that undercuts you.
Once you've told your story, avoid responding to attacks. It's easier for folks to see an attacker as offensive if you aren't playing defense.
Anger is important in motivation, and appealing to anger "on your side" can be a good way to get folks involved in an issue.
But it's super important to drop the anger as you start talking to folks who don't get angry by the same things you do. If someone feels that you're speaking to them out of anger or that you perceive them as an enemy, they aren't likely to take your words to heart.
Self-righteousness and purity can hurt your position.
If the public sees two sides loudly asserting their own position, they aren't in a good position to evaluate the arguments and they may conclude that the issue is just a matter of personal preference or align with the side that has better hair or a slicker marketing delivery.
Change is scary.
People resist imposed change more than when they feel they have agency.
Inevitability is a terrible motivator.
To take action, people need to feel that there's hope and that what they do will have an effect.
Compassion is key to communication.
You can't make progress working with an enemy. But you can make great progress working with a fellow human being that you understand, respect, and disagree with.

One of the best paragraphs in the book comes in the epilogue:
People don't start out mired in hostility. The situation evolves. When someone publicly disagrees with something we feel strongly about, we perceive them as aggressors and we begin to question their motives and intentions. When people criticize or condemn our cause or our reasoning, our defense mechanisms kick in. Anger simmers and escalates. When people on both sides of an argument draw their positions from the perceived bad behavior of the other, they eventually start treating each other as enemies, and this provokes a perpetual shoving match and eventual gridlock.
flwyd: (darwin change over time)
The scientific community assumes the same rules of communication are always applicable and rational, that people are attentive, open minded, persuaded by facts and believe that those who are presenting information are people of goodwill, and not deliberately trying to manipulate them. But none of those things are true.

Yankelovich and Rosell have identified a process that they call the public learning curve that describes maturing public opinions, where people's views evolve from poorly informed reactions to more thoughtful conclusions. The three-stage process begins with building awareness and consciousness (where advocates and the media typically do a good job). The seecond stage involves working through wishful thinking and denial, resistance to change and mistrust, grasping at straws, deliberate obfuscation and lack of urgency (which is where dialogue comes in). The third part of the learning curve is when people come to resolution (which is handled by decision-makers and government institutions). "Much of our work focuses on improving the 'working through' stage, which our society does not handle well and where critical issues like climate change can get stuck for years or decades," said Rosel.
– James Hoggan, I'm Right and You're an Idiot: The toxic state of public discourse and how to clean it up, chapter 1 with Daniel Yankelovich and Steve Rosel

It is not a wise strategy to define a situation as inevitable or out of control. "This is a negation of politics–because you don't do politics with inevitability," explained Latour. If you send a message to people that there's no other possibility, that it's too late–the result is inaction. Latour suggested that the message must give them the will to find a way out of the dilemma.
– ibid., chapter 7 with Bruno Latour

Weighing In

Monday, February 20th, 2017 08:28 am
flwyd: (spam lite)
Close to two months ago, my weight was hovering just about 110 pounds.
With a calcium channel blocker, I was able to eat a normal day's worth of food and not regurgitate most of it, so I managed to gain about 10 pounds in a month.
Making further progress on my annual goal of gaining 30 has been challenging, and I've hovered around 120 for the past month.
I weighed in at 120.5 on Saturday morning.
After a weekend of clear liquid, I'm heading into surgery at 115.
I'm quite glad I was able to invest in that fat buffer.
Here's to hoping I'll be able to swallow a lot of soft calories in the next two weeks.

Liquid Clarity

Sunday, February 19th, 2017 10:28 pm
flwyd: (spencer hot springs feet)
I've been surprisingly calm about my achalasia surgery tomorrow.
After scheduling it, I haven't had any second thoughts, bouts of dread, or even niggling worries.
Most of our office is playing musical chairs at the end of this coming week, when I'm out. So my last act of heavy object lifting for a while was packing my desk on Friday. This should help me unplug from work while I'm at home recovering: there is no longer an ethernet cable connected to my computer, so I couldn't SSH in and hack on something if I wanted to. (Email, of course, is a much more sinister temptation.)

I spent most of this week fighting a cold, which helped put me in "Hang around the house not expending much energy" mode but didn't help in the "fatten up before surgery" department. The cold reduced my appetite and severely depressed my appetite for sugar. Not wanting sugar sounds like it would be a good thing, but I had to spend this weekend on a clear liquid diet, so I'd been planning to get most of my calories from sweets.

My mom got me a jar of unflavored gelatin for Christmas (before she knew I was having surgery). Gatorade powder, gelatin, and water turns out to be a pretty tasty way to get some calories, protein, and electrolytes. And if you halve the recommended gelatin to water ratio it's pretty easy to drink. I should try this combo at Burning Man.

I had my last meal, of sorts, at Sushi Zanmai on Friday night. I wasn't especially hungry (because of the cold), but ate a bunch because it was so tasty. Rice and fish are some of the first items in the solid portion of the recommended recovery diet progression, so maybe I'll be able to return before too long. I had a hamburger at lunch and probably won't be able to do so again until the end of March. Maybe it'll be my half-birthday treat.

Part of my plan for recovery time was to read The Conscience of a Conservative so I'll be better prepared to have conversations with Republican lawmakers and potential issue allies on the conservative side of the spectrum. My plan for Saturday was to visit used bookstores until I found a copy. After five bookstores and $120 I didn't have any Barry Goldwater, but I did end up with a copy of A People's History of the United States. I also overheard a Bookworm employee tell a customer that they were sold out of 1984. I didn't end up without materials to strengthen my transpartisan dialog skills, though: Don't Think of an Elephant!, I'm Right and You're an Idiot, and The Righteous Mind are now in my possession. I still intend to read TCoaC, but now my plan is to borrow a copy from the public library, which seems like an especially apt approach to that book.

Side Effects

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 12:30 pm
flwyd: (sun mass incandescant gas)
A somewhat surprising side effect of taking calcium channel blockers for achalasia:
20 minutes after I take a pill, my thighs get really warm right above my knees.
flwyd: (copán ruinas stone face)
With all the tests and specialists visits last year, I accumulated quite the list of diseases and ailments that I don't have. I can now happily add Chagas disease to The List, which is pretty comforting because "your esophagus is a little too big to squeeze things" is hard enough on its own without "… and your heart might get too big to squeeze blood, too."
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