Shutdown Reality Check from China

Dear Americans:

Today, in quite a rational and well-reasoned statement China argued that other nations would be wise to “de-Americanize” their investments … that is (at least in part) the US dollar is held as a reserve currency for many nations around the world and many nations invest in the US financial system because of its stability.

Why did China urge this? Because our embarrassing internal politics is costing them and all of the other countries that we do business with money, the politics of “no”, the childish bullshit surrounding a MINORITY in the government holding up Obamacare 43 times, and frankly citizens lack of intelligent and thoughtful discourse/demanding better from our politicians suggests we’re no longer responsible enough to be a financial grounding for the world. We’re basically the petulant 13 year old who’s too big to spank but not yet too old to kick out of the house.

I know a lot of you are not comfortable with controversy and politics on social media nor in person, but guess what? It’s time to put on your big boy/girl underwear, learn something about what’s really going on, and be a part of the political process. Bitching and moaning no longer suffices, choosing to surround yourselves with like-minded people (from both ends of the political spectrum) is a cop out, and engage each other, read some real news (and not news entertainment), and start being responsible citizens. That… or just don’t vote and let everyone else who does actually pay attention discuss it and vote.

Folks — we get the government we deserve. The buck stops with the citizens and not with Congress. And now back to living in a country where the social good outweighs selfish individual concern… you all can return to your regularly scheduled reality TV show.

Signed,
A very cranky and embarrassed me.

How do you people not get the diplomacy game?!

I’ve been watching the events unfolding with Syria, the US, Russia, the UK, etc. etc. etc. like most people with interest, concern, and a bit of a dubious ‘what the hell?’ kind of initial reaction…. that is up until the moment that President Obama sent the request for action to a Congress that has held absolutely EVERYTHING up for the last 4+ years. At that point, the situation was clarified. Yet, I’m befuddled as to how so many people in the US — including folks that usually understand this kind of thing — still don’t get what all of this is about.

For example, a friend of mine (like many commentators) saw President Obama’s message last night and reacts like this:

So, the POTUS translation is: “Alright, fine, we’ll play with the Russians, but I don’t buy that it’s going to work, so heads up, we’re probably going to end up striking anyway. It’ll probably cause a big mess, and I dunno what we’re going to do with that, but it is what it is.” Did I miss anything?

In short… the answer is yes, my friend and many others are missing a whole lot.

The President’s speech was designed to hold Russia’s feet to the fire, maintain pressure on Assad, and keep pushing forward a diplomatic and non-military resolution to the problem. It’s simple leveraging in negotiations. So, let’s look at this from both historic and persuasive perspectives….

If you study the old days of diplomacy this is how the ‘leveraging’ game is played. Without the credible threat of force (and ‘credible threat’ being the operative word), there’s very little to leverage to make sure that countries/ leaders follow through on their word. Of course it’s chest beating and posturing, but it’s an important message to communicate. Hell, in the old days (from the Greeks on through the 17th’ish century), the troops would often be paraded out and the negotiation took place on the battlefield and then everyone went home. 

It’s a much more effective strategy to prevent war than the Teddy Roosevelt’s approach of speaking softly but carrying a big stick… instead it’s more of a speak loudly and have a really big ass stick and the perceived reluctant willingness to use it. 

So, yes, many people are missing the point of the President’s speech last night as well as his interview the night before that. It’s a question of objective… if the objective is to actually go to war, you just start the strikes once there’s evidence of naughtiness because… well… you can. If, however, the objective is to minimize the likelihood of armed conflict while simultaneously preventing future harm (i.e., the weapons were already used and we can never likely “prove” it was Assad that ordered it), then you come out with a strong statement but then turn it over to Congress under the pretense of the rule of law, you have your chief foreign diplomat beating the war drum, and then you go to a conference of foreign leaders and create a situation where the ally of the enemy is pushed into stepping up in order to avoid an even greater potential international conflict. In so doing, the naughty boy realizes he’s shit out of luck and pays lip service to compliance, but absent the threat of force and follow through, you risk losing the long game. The president has already demonstrated he’s willing to use military force when he views it as necessary (e.g., controversial drone strikes, Libya, Somali pirates, oh yeah and Bin Laden), so the threat has to be viewed as credible.

But the communication of a cautious optimism with the underlying threat still there pushes Putin/Russia to pressure Syria, pressures Syria to comply, and falls in line with how the diplomacy of conflict prevention has been done for thousands of years. Oh yeah, and remember the strategy works uniquely because Russia is the agent of action — that is, without Russia exerting its “friendly” pressure on Syria to act, this probably doesn’t work… Assad has no way to maintain face and international credibility (in his own world). Yet, with the pressure coming from Russia, not only does Russia get the opportunity to look like the peace broker but it’s done in a way that gives Syria a reasonable way to comply with international demands AND maintain their own efficacy. Wait, now why did Obama send the military strike action to Congress again ahead of the G20 Summit? ;)

The strategy is sound, interesting, and with a history of willingness to use airstrikes creates just enough fear to motivate behavioral change but not so much that the target of the message goes into a fear control process (see EPPM from Kim Witte) where Assad doubles down because there’s no “winning” scenario for him. So bottom line, from both history of conflict AND a fear-based persuasion perspectives, Obama’s strategy and message are based in sense with a clear objective of AVOIDING bombing. For now, the strategy is working… with a rational actor (i.e., Assad — he’s not stupid nor does he want to be deposed… he’s too familiar with the West and likes the material trappings of it) interested in maintaining his own power, the strategy should work.

If that was the design from the start, then Obama’s a fucking awesome game player in international diplomacy… if it’s just luck that it’s worked out this way, then groovy… I’m glad that luck happens and it’s clear that he’s rolling with this strategy now.

In the mean time people…seriously… put the critical thinking caps on and try to see a big picture (i.e., this is why understanding history and actually knowing stuff is really useful… it keeps Chicken Little from thinking the sky is falling).

 

Women are people too, Andy Murray IS the 1st in 77 years….

Dear overzealous feminists (male and female) whose knickers have been in a wad for DAYS now about Virginia Wade’s 1977 Wimbledon win being somehow irrelevant in the promotion of the Andy Murray winning Wimbledon story: VirginiaWadeWomenPplToo

Perhaps American coverage has forgotten the qualifier “of winning the Men’s Championship at Wimbledon” (I don’t know for sure since I don’t live there), I can assure you is what the British have been explicitly talking about for weeks because they also had the English women’s player to promote — Laura Robson.

However, the qualifier itself is completely UNNECESSARY to anyone who knows ANYTHING about the tournament. The qualifier of “Men’s” is implied for one simple reason — the tournament’s actual name is the “Wimbledon Championships(as in plural) because there are multiple events occurring at the same time. That means that to refer to Andy Murray as being the first Wimbledon Champion in 77 years MEANS EXACTLY for the Men’s event. Since Virginia Wade doesn’t have dangly bits, she was never entered in the same event tournament as Murray competes in; therefore, it’s actually impossible for anyone to be forgetting her and talking about Murray’s win.

It is just as silly as being worked up into righteous indignation and passing stupid memes throughout social media because everyone is ignoring poor Jamie Murray — the last Brit to win the Mixed Doubles event in 2007, Virginia Wade who also won the Women’s Doubles event in 1970, or even Jonathon Murray (wow… Murray = a British tennis name :) ) the 2012 British winner of the Men’s Doublesevent. Oh the tragedy… no one is talking about these Wimbledon championships yet these are championships all won by British tennis players more recently than 1936. Why? Oh yeah — because they’re different events.

So, before you post another meme or bitch and complain some more, please understand the definition of terms and quit being so damn fast to jump to conclusions — it’s annoying because it’s just an incorrect argument.  Let me reiterate your argument/ complaint is just WRONG since Wimbledon has multiple tournaments EVERY YEAR????? (I thought I would repeat for those who are a little slow on the uptake).

Here’s the bigger picture — if you actually care about issues of gender equality there are plenty of things to be upset about all around the world with issues related to gender equity for men and women alike. Yet, what seems clear in the social media world’s indignation of the Murray coverage (aside from it being from a bunch of people who clearly don’t know anything about professional tennis), is that people have rushed to judgment without actually understanding the issue. Shockingly, this is largely the source of legitimate complaint about gender inequality — that others judge people based on gender identity. Ironic that … almost as ironic as the people who don’t believe the government should make stricter gun control laws, yet who would force a woman to have an invasive ultrasound before an abortion. Yes, I am comparing your hypocrisy to the very people you SHOULD be railing against because it’s the same stupid logic.

Maybe you’re not forcing women to undergo unnecessary medical procedures, but aside from misplacing your indignation you also make it harder for people to credibly argue about gender equity issues (especially in sports) because the more you cry wolf, the less likely people are to actually listen when it matters. In the end, this means your advocacy is not only likely to fail on this, but to have knock on effects of derailing many important gender equity conversations.

So, by all means rant and rave, just do it about issues that are #1 real issues and #2 actually matter.

Quintessential Americanism (defined)

A few weeks ago I watched The Newsroom pilot for the first time and the title character is asked an utterly American question, ‘Why do you think America is the greatest country?’ — his response — ‘It’s not’ and in true Aaron Sorkin form offered a whole lot of information to support the argument. I had a small home cheering moment, but the thing that bugs me are exactly these silly assumptions — #1 that the US is still a great country and #2 that we’re the best in the world. Unfortunately, neither assumption is true — we lag in most measurable categories including education, health care, vacation/leisure time, our economy has shifted from a balanced economy to one that has gutted manufacturing and shifted ‘working class’ jobs to a model of inequality focused on poorly paid service sector, even higher education is showing evidence of not being worth the cost. Essentially, we are living in an age of rising inequality in the US.

Yet in the face of this stark reality, Americans remain bizarrely convinced of our overall infallibility and greatness.

Thus….

Quintessential Americanism… defined

So, what do I mean by Quintessential Americanism — very simply, “A blanket refusal to change your opinion, even when confronted with direct evidence to the contrary…”

Why did this come up, in particular right now? Well, my Mom had lunch the other day with two of her friends from high school (they do this for each other’s birthdays and major holidays… it’s very sweet and they have a good time) and is updating them on what I’m doing, etc. since I’m in Germany. At this point in the conversation one of my Mom’s friends says that Germany’s on the brink of economic collapse, unemployment is dire here, oh my goodness, yadda yadda yadda. My Mom tries to respond with the stuff she and I’ve been talking about (e.g., quality of life, economic growth projections, the very low unemployment here … that kind of thing) but her friend will have none of it because Fox News said…

Obviously, Americans aren’t the only ones who are dogmatic — frankly all societies have quirky stupidity, but we seem to revel in our own ignorance and arrogance combined — that’s the heart of this ‘quintessential Americanism’ — we’re confident and we don’t have a good reason to be. FFS … opinions and facts should not be confused… the latter should inform the former — not the other way around.

Why is it so hard for Americans to not only be informed but also be open to new information? Of course, all peoples’ have blind spots and annoying belief structures (that’s the nature of the social animal); however, Americans are increasingly less informed, more dogmatic, and more rigid in our ways of thinking. We’ve been indoctrinated since really the McCarthy witch hunt for Commies and more recently with the GW Bush Administration to believe that if someone criticizes Uh-Mer-Ika or Uh-Mer-Ikans they’re not a patriot because those in power have a much easier time maintaining order and control when people are not engaged nor informed about basic social, economic, and political issues. There is no GOOD reason that the US can’t and shouldn’t be the country we once were (economically at least… I do think we have ups and downs in our social and political system over the years), but there are a whole lot of bad reasons — the ignorance of average Americans, our poor education system, our systematic disenfranchisement of the poor and working class, our shift away from a balanced economy, a media that simply doesn’t work, and an ethic in the US that would silence anyone who would have the audacity to suggest we could do better.

When I posted a quick frustrated comment about this on Facebook yesterday, someone I would have thought would have better sense responds to me with the following:

 i wonder if anyone has attempted studies to test that claim. a cursory google search yields nothing, but it seems like it’s taken for gospel among so many people that i can’t help but wonder. 

It seems it’s basically the liberal side of the house’s answer to “the average gun and freedom loving American,” except it’s “the average American moron who can’t think for his or her self.” both have this weird privilege of being viewed as hard fact despite their near-caricature status. Maybe it’s b/c i’ve never lived in middle america but I can’t think of a place I’ve lived where I could say anywhere near the majority of people I was around fit either description.

This is someone, who should frankly know better than to claim a “uh, I couldn’t find anything and therefore, it’s probably wrong” kind of response; unfortunately, this is also a person who represents a very typical American response to critique of the US/policy/Americans — they’re quick to dismiss and not really that interested in engagement.

But leaving the hard evidence aside for a moment (oh, don’t worry, I’ll come back to it :) ) — what’s made me come to this conclusion? Is it because I’m a liberal who sheepishly follows talking points set out by the oh-so-coordinated ‘liberal agenda’ people? LMAO… not so much. I have literally lived from coast to coast in the US and north to south — mostly living and being around working class folks. Add in 15 years of teaching at a range of institutions of higher education from flagship state institutions, to small/local state institutions, to city-run colleges, and private colleges I have a pretty good sample of the general knowledge base of average 18 to now about 35 year olds (geez I’m getting old) that I have taught and/or coached. And then, I have the nearly innumerable random “pub” conversations about life and people with folks from all walks of life. I’m pretty confident in my understanding of different demographics in the US (and that doesn’t even count the actual research I’ve done on American demographics, attitudes, and belief structures). I’ve lived with someone from a different country (who comes from a working class background and can compare his blue collar parents with my blue collar parents) since 2006, traveled and talked with lots of folks (sustained and policy-based conversations) from lots of places, and now, I’ve had a chance to spend about 3 months immersed in a seriously working class/ struggling part of the UK and 5 months mostly in rural Germany (nice thing about not working, you get to know the community and locals) and outside of the ‘academic’ knowledge, my personal knowledge seems to verify it. Why does that matter? Well, it doesn’t/ shouldn’t to most folks… only tells me that from a variety of sources, I can feel comfortable with my conclusions.

But what about the hard evidence? Are Americans really less informed than people in other countries about politics, policy, social issues, etc.?

In two words — hell yes!

A quick peak at the evidence and keep in mind, while I haven’t done an exhaustive search, I’ve also NEVER run across ANY hard evidence to the contrary….

And how about outcomes or consequences of Quintessential Americanism? There are tons; however, I’ll give four examples…

American ignorance is dangerous — mostly to ourselves, but not exclusively to ourselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if being patriotic meant actually wanting to critically examine the US, without the veil of “taking our country back” or any of the other crazy bullshit that people articulate? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could elevate the level of conversation so that we could examine what’s working and the vast amount of stuff that isn’t? But we’re not there yet.

Instead, we continue to dumb down everything. Awesome job you quintessential Americans!

Tyranny of the minority – geez it’s embarrassing

Yesterday in on of the most ridiculous Senate votes, the US Senate rejected background checks for gun sales by a vote of 54-46 — no, 54 Senators did not vote against the bill only 46 did. Let that sink in — because Harry Reid, Democratic Majority leader did not push to get rid of the ridiculous “super majority” required to do anything in the US Senate (which, he could have done) a MINORITY of US Senators rejected the most mild form of gun control legislation possible — a background check — despite around 90% of the American public supporting it.

When was the last time 90% of Americans agreed on anything in the first place? And in the second place, democracy is supposed to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority, but also supposed to protect everyone from the tyranny of the minority. Yet, the American Congress fails in both respects. How does this happen? Well, a solid campaign of misinformation from gun control opponents using one of several logical fallacies to support their fear campaign. You’d think that Senators would be ‘above’ campaigns of misinformation, but it feeds the GOP objectives of being obstructionist, even to the detriment of the American public. It’s not like this is the first time they’ve placed politics above people. We need only look at how many peoples’ jobs, program funding, and the most vulnerable have been/would be negatively affected by silliness of the fiscal cliff political wranglings as a recent example, but the list is long of how the GOP/Tea Party obstruction approach to governance has hurt Americans in the last four years.

The disinformation campaign worked though — the poorly informed in the US (i.e., a sad majority on both sides) really thought that the background check was more restricting on gun rights than it actually was. So, from the blindly GOP we see little gems like this popping up today throughout social media. SecondAmendmentBSFlag I hate to tell you all, but law abiding citizens were never at risk of losing much with this particular piece of legislation.  We already have background checks that have been in place since 1993 with the passage of the Brady Bill. It denies the privilege of owning a gun to the following people:

  • People convicted of a felony with a sentence of 1 or more years in prison
  • People convicted of a misdemeanor with a sentence of 2 or more years in prison
  • Being indicted by a crime that would carry a sentence of 1 or more years.
  • Being a fugitive from justice
  • A user of illegal drugs or ‘known’ addict
  • Being involuntarily committed to a mental institution
  • Being an illegal alien
  • Being dishonorably discharged from the military
  • Renouncing your US citizenship
  • Being subject to a restraining order for threatening a family member
  • Being convicted of domestic violence

Here’s the problem with the Brady Bill — it doesn’t cover guns sold over the Internet (because in 1993 the Internet didn’t exist as it does today… hell, we were using DOS-based email) nor does it cover gun shows. So, if you go from the most conservative estimates of 15-20% or use the figures from a 1997 white paper pointing to a figure of closer to 40% of all gun sales are not subject to background checks.

We probably shouldn’t get so hung up on the specific percentages, so let’s break the information down another way.  The ATF estimates that in 2005 (as the ‘sample’ year) it was estimated that were around 5000 gun shows in the United States with varying amounts of gun sales… but at big shows moving likely 1000 guns in a weekend. If I whip out my calculator here, that makes 5 MILLION guns (give or take a million or two) moved in the United States that require no background check at all!

Let’s also offer a couple of quick responses to slippery slope fallacy that background checks will lead to a national registry and some kind of Orwellian control over guns (yes, you people sound just that silly). Response 1: we’ve had a damn gun registry since 1993 and we haven’t seen the emergence of a national registry. That 20 years of data seems to suggest you’re just wrong. Response 2: and by far the better response… had the background check bill actually been passed, it would have literally outlawed the emergence of any kind of a gun registry and anyone attempting to start one would have faced a 15 year jail sentence for it.

Alright — all of that was for the ill-informed knee jerks who thought their world would have ended. For supporters of any kind of gun control legislation — you also don’t help when you’re misinformed either. IF the opposition gets to debate whether a national registry is a good or bad idea, then guess what we’ve already lost the conversation because we’re spending time and energy offering good arguments to a point that’s utterly irrelevant. Of course we have registries in this country associated with things like our driver’s license and change of address forms. Hell — we just passed tax day and if you filed your taxes, the government has a registry of where you live and how much money you have. Not only that, but we have background checks in an increasing number of our jobs, to get a house/apartment, credit card, or any number of things. But those don’t help to refute a well-crafted and disciplined misinformation campaign. We can’t have 50 arguments all over the place.

So, let’s come back to the point — it’s embarrassing to be an American sometimes — like days when our world education and health care figures come out pointing that the United States is falling behind developing nations. It’s embarrassing to be an American when our elections are corrupted by corporatism under the guise of the freedom of speech. It’s embarrassing to be an American when I’m trying to explain Fox News and their viewers to anyone outside of the United States. And it’s embarrassing when an old guy on the train asked where I was from and I responded and in broken English and German he jokes, “oh yeah, George W. Bush — thanks for that”. But, it’s not just embarrassing but fundamentally soul wrenching when the most basic and watered down effort at sensible gun control at a national level is defeated by a minority vote even though it’s so benign that 90% of Americans agree with it AND some people actually think it was a “win” for freedom.

<face in palm>

REPOST: Boston Baseless Speculation, & Celebrating Goodness

The following is a really nice summary and critique of the craziness in reporting and social media following this week’s explosions in Boston…. I definitely recommend checking out Cogent Comment if you like the flavor, tenor, and directions of my ranting. :)

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Boston, Baseless Speculation, and Celebrating Goodness

To say yesterday was exhausting wouldn’t do it justice. Emotions are running high in the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon. If you’ve seen any of the video from when the explosion took place, one thing is clear: that is what terror sounds like.

People across the country are frightened and hurting. They’re desperate for information. In some cases, they’re searching for loved ones. In others, they just want answers about what this means and what comes next. It’s a scary time.

The quest for more information has created another uncomfortable reality that’s been hard to wrap our minds around. As people took to Twitter and Facebook for news and context, they encountered a disconcerting labyrinth of conflicting reports, and sometimes genuinely offensive commentary. Anger has begun to bubble up. Fingers are being pointed towards militia groups and Al Qaeda. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have any evidence to support that finger pointing. It’s happening anyway.

So I want us to press pause. I want us to take a step back, think about what’s taken place (attack and beyond), and reflect on what it means. You might not be at a place to do so yet. That’s fine. Grieving is not a uniform process. Coping with fear is not a standard affair. But if you’re one of the people who has been calm enough to begin the finger pointing or lament the quality of the press, read on.