Is it racist?

We’re pretty good at recognizing explicit racism and bigotry when certain groups are targeted. We are pretty good at seeing racism against people of color, especially African-American/Black people. We see it pretty well when it’s pointed at Jews also. But sometimes it’s harder to see. A way to check is to change the subject of the discussion to a black man, or a Jew, and see if it sounds any alarm bells. Here’s one that I posted on Facebook yesterday:

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Trump and Russia: my best guess

There are conflicting narratives in the political world. This has likely always been true, but the separation of the narratives feels more palpable than any other time in my life. Sure, we’ve had conflicting narratives before: Reagan painted a picture of a world where the poor were living large on the handouts of the rich, and the counter-narrative was that nobody is “living large” and that people need help. There has been the belief that deregulation is good for us because regulations provide a costly burden, and this is countered by the cost is worth the protection that regulations provide. But these were issues of perspective, not issues of mutually exclusive views of the world. That feels quite different from what we have now, especially when it comes to Trump and Russia.

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Is there a cure for guns?

I am pleased that the gun debate continues in the United States. I am saddened that it takes the killing of children in school to reignite it from time to time, and wish it would continue without any tragic events. I think we’re making a fundamental mistake in the approach though, much like the mistake many make when talking about curing cancer. There is not one cancer, there are many cancers. An effective treatment for one type of cancer may have no effect on another. Likewise, there are many issues related to gun safety, and what might prevent injury or deaths caused by one of those issues could be quite different from what is needed to prevent harm from another. But when somebody proposes something that might help one cause, it is dismissed because it won’t help all causes, so we end up talking past each other. I think recognizing that is an important step forward.

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The memo that caused a howl turns out to be a peep

I read the memo, which the FBI has called misleading, and these are my thoughts:

In general, some takeaways:

Like most congressional democrats, and unlike most congressional republicans, I am concerned about the use of surveillance of Americans. I am happy that this is now a concern of republicans, most of whom voted to authorize this kind of surveillance of Americans. Welcome to the club. Maybe start caring about stuff before it affects things you like or care about next time, and care about things that affect others before it comes to haunt you.

I don’t really know what is news here. I’ve been following the story for a while, and all of  these claims have been made already. Maybe not in any official capacity, but it’s been argued in the news that the Steele dossier was the critical evidence for the FISA warrant, and others have said that it was only a piece. It’s hard for me to imagine that seasoned folks at the FBI wouldn’t think carefully about stuff before going for a warrant, but I could be wrong about that.

The whole thing reads like a motion to dismiss filed by a defense team for Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. I’m not sure how that will play out, but it’s noteworthy that it never asserts their innocence, but seeks a means by which their cases should be dismissed on technicalities.

Here are my thoughts to the specific points, in order:

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We are a nation of immigrants who don’t like immigrants

Germans-emigrate-1874Immigration is a hot topic today. The blending with racism and nationalism is hard for me to ignore, and it’s interesting to watch the rationalization that people use to avoid confronting their own racist views and implicit xenophobia. This kind of thing takes several forms, each revealing. On the whole, I’m pleased that people struggle to rationalize this, because it shows me that they see racism/xenophobia as a bad thing, and don’t want to think of themselves that way. I wrote about this earlier; the relevant quote was “I know that most people don’t want to be racist. I know that most people get angry when somebody calls them a racist. That’s good. It tells me that they and I share the belief that racism is bad. That makes me happy, and I’m glad we agree that being a racist is not a good thing to be.” But that doesn’t make it go away. We need more. We need to see it out in the open, so we can end it in ourselves if we truly do not want to be racist. Immigration and our views on this is a good place for this exercise, so let’s spend some time looking at a couple of issues, and what people have said about immigration policy that may reveal some not-so-kind, but correctable, views.

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Crime and Punishment

I have conflicting views, and I find that troubling. It’s not the first time it’s happened, and it certainly won’t be the last time it happens. My conflict has to do with crime rates and mass incarceration. I am against mass incarceration, but I like low crime rates, and, because the two are correlated, it makes me worry about a cause and effect relationship. Let’s delve deeper.

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Fuzzy memories

My memory for some things is awful. It’s a running joke at work, and my graduate students have teased me by admitting their strategy of coming back to me with a research idea that I dismissed weeks ago, with the hopes that I will have forgotten dismissing it, and will get excited about it the second or third time. I can’t say that this strategy hasn’t worked…largely because my memory can be pretty rotten at times. I don’t think it’s pathological, or a sign of early-onset Alzheimer’s. I think some things are salient, and stick, and others are easily dismissed, and forgotten. I also know that memories are quite flexible, and often we remember things very differently from how they actually happened. An article in Vox reminded me of this, and there are other excellent examples out there.

Fair warning, there’s a spoiler below, so if you haven’t listened to the episode of Radiolab called “Reasonable Doubt” and want to/plan to, you might not want to read below the fold just yet.

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