Some politics observations, 2017-02-28

Some observations:

It’s been a long time

It’s been a long time (over a year) since I’ve posted on this blog, because I have (to put it mildly) been very busy with other responsibilities and passions that have taken me away from blogging. Also, I serve as a (low-level, volunteer-basis) officer in a political party, and as a result, I am sometimes reluctant to post my opinions in public, for fear that they might be taken (or portrayed) as official statements, despite my disclaimer (which, to be clear, says that everything written here is my personal opinion and does not reflect the position of my employer or any organization of which I am a member).

However, we are now facing a national emergency, and it is important for people to speak out. And I’ve decided that I distrust Twitter and Facebook as platforms for doing so (a topic on which I will elaborate later), leading to my desire to start writing again here. I certainly don’t have time for this, but I am going to try to make the time, hopefully posting here more frequently than once every two years.

I have also added https/SSL to this blog, using Let’s Encrypt. I took this step a few months ago, right as the national emergency began, and promptly could not log into the interface for this blog. Because I was (and continue to be) so busy, I put off fixing the problem, only to discover that the problem seems to have fixed itself. Go figure.

While I do plan on talking about politics on this blog, I also have other interests (mathematics, for example), and so I will be posting on these as well.

By the way, I don’t have time for comment moderation, so I don’t plan to enable comments on my posts.

Some thoughts about online discourse

Not all cars


Imagine there was a serious manufacturing defect present in about six percent of cars. This defect caused a malfunction that could seriously injure the car’s passengers. Of course, consumers would demand action to eradicate this defect. Suppose auto industry representatives dismissed these concerns by protesting “Not all cars blow up because of this defect.”

Um, some conservatives DO dispute E=mc^2

A few times on my Facebook news feed, I’ve noticed a graphic with a photo of astrophysicist and (awesome) science popularizer Neil deGrasse Tyson and this quotation of him (emphasis and ellipsis in original):

Climate change has taken on political dimensions… That’s odd because I don’t see people choosing sides over \(E=mc^2\) or other fundamental facts of science!

It appears that Dr. Tyson has not checked out Conservapedia, a right-wing competitor to Wikiepdia. (I certainly don’t blame him for this—he’s got to have much better things to do than read a web site full of stupid garbage.) Conservapedia takes issue with relativity overall, and says of \(E=mc^2\) (emphasis in original):

Political pressure, however, has since made it impossible for anyone pursuing an academic career in science to even question the validity of this nonsensical equation. Simply put, \(E=mc^2\) is liberal claptrap.

(The whole \(E=mc^2\) Conservapedia article is actually pretty funny. My wife, who is a physicist, thought it was a joke.)

Conservapedia is a project of Andrew Schlafly, son of prominent conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. Indeed, you can see from my link above (adorned with rel="nofollow", of course!) that the most recent edit to the \(E=mc^2\) article was by Mr. Schlafly himself.

Stop punching down at millennials

I absolutely hate millennial-bashing. While I don’t consider myself a millennial—I’m just a tad bit too old—I have a great deal of sympathy and affinity for that generation. That generation has been dealt a bad hand. Many of the manufacturing jobs that provide a path to prosperity for those without college degrees have been moved overseas, and as a result millennials desiring prosperity were told they had to go to college. Alas, millennials did not enjoy the same level of government subsidy for their college education as their parents, so many of them have been saddled with crippling amounts of student debt. Furthermore, many millennials came out of college right as the economy tanked due to the financial sins of their parents’ generation. Yet, it’s common to hear people blame millennials for their inability to launch.

Annoyingly, much of the millennial-bashing you hear boils down to complaints about how they were raised. Millennials, many baby boomers will tell you, were praised too much as children. There was too much emphasis on self-esteem. They were given too high of expectations by their parents. For whatever it’s worth, I think these complaints are over-wrought. In my experience, millennials don’t suffer from too much self-esteem and many have adjusted expectations—I think more than they should have to—to today’s economic realities. But even if these complaints were accurate, it takes quite a bit of chutzpah for someone to say, essentially, “Ha ha, your generation sucks because we did a poor job raising you!”

Millennial-bashing by older people is good example of “punching down”, that is, it’s people using their power to attack someone with less power—which I find very distasteful. And criticism of millennials is used as a convenient excuse to avoid questioning the policy decisions (such as financial deregulation, globalization, and defunding of post-secondary education) that have put that generation at a disadvantage.

Congrats, Oregon! Welcome to marriage equality!

On Monday, a federal judge in Eugene struck down Oregon’s state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which was enacted by citizen initiative nearly a decade ago. This ruling was unsurprising, given that the defendants in the lawsuit, such as Oregon’s attorney general, agreed with the plaintiffs’ contention that the ban violated the federal constitution, leaving no one with standing willing to defend the ban’s constitutionality.

I cannot tell you how happy I was about this ruling. I grew up in Oregon, and lived there through the first decade of my adult life. I voted against Measure 36, the ballot measure that added discrimination to the Oregon Constitution, and was quite upset when it passed in 2004. Seeing pictures of Oregonian couples finally able to be married was really heartwarming to me.

Furthermore, my wife and I were married in Oregon; a framed copy of our marriage record from the Oregon Department of Health Services hangs on the wall near my desk in my home office. We chose our officiant, a senior judge, because she was on record as enthusiastic to marry same-sex couples during the brief window in 2004, before Measure 36 passed, when Multnomah County was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. We encouraged our wedding guests to donate to Basic Rights Oregon, in the hope that same-sex couples could someday be married under the same laws we were. I am very happy to see that day finally come.

Yet, I must echo the sentiments expressed by a friend, who wrote on Twitter:

I am sad that marriage equality didn’t come to Oregon by the voters or their elected representatives, but through the actions of a federal judge. Now, please don’t get me wrong, I think it’s completely appropriate that a judge strike down a law if it violates the constitution. I’m not saying it’s bad that a judge overturned the will of the people—judges absolutely should overturn the will of the people when the people want to violate the constitution. But I am much less happy when a state does the right thing because it’s forced to, rather than because it chose to.

Fate has decided that my wife and I make our home in the wonderful state of Minnesota. I have discovered a number of reasons to love and be proud of my new home state. One reason (out of many) I am proud is that, a months after we moved here, Minnesotans rejected at the ballot box a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Furthermore, within a year after that, Minnesota enacted marriage equality through a legislative process. I am proud that Minnesotans did the right thing without needing a judge to force them to.

There is some talk of a ballot measure in 2016 in Oregon to repeal Measure 36. I do hope Oregon voters have a chance to formally repudiate Measure 36 at the ballot box at some point.

By the way, I was inspired by the beautiful language in Judge McShane’s ruling. I think it’s worth quoting at length:

Generations of Americans, my own included, were raised in a world in which homosexuality was believed to be a moral perversion, a mental disorder, or a mortal sin. I remember that one of the more popular playground games of my childhood was called “smear the queer” and it was played with great zeal and without a moment’s thought to today’s political correctness. On a darker level, that same worldview led to an environment of cruelty, violence, and self-loathing. It was but 1986 when the United States Supreme Court justified, on the basis of a “millennia of moral teaching,” the imprisonment of gay men and lesbian women who engaged in consensual sexual acts. [. . .] Even today I am reminded of the legacy that we have bequeathed today’ s generation when my son looks dismissively at the sweater I bought him for Christmas and, with a roll of his eyes, says “dad … that is so gay.”

It is not surprising then that many of us raised with such a world view would wish to protect our beliefs and our families by turning to the ballot box to enshrine in law those traditions we have come to value. But just as the Constitution protects the expression of these moral viewpoints, it equally protects the minority from being diminished by them.

[. . .]

My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.

Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other … and rise.

Arizona State Senator opposes Common Core, in part, because ALGEBRA!

According to the Arizona Daily Star, the Arizona Senate Education Committee passed a bill that would prohibit the state from implementing the Common Core standards. Quoth the Daily Star (emphasis mine):

[Gubernatorial candidate and state Senator Al] Melvin said he understands “some of the reading material is borderline pornographic.” And he said the program uses “fuzzy math,” substituting letters for numbers in some examples.

Later on in the same article, Senator Melvin is quoted as expressing concern about the rigor of American academic standards, arguing that “We have cheated several generations of Americans out of a decent education.” I might argue that the person who has been cheated out of a decent education is Senator Melvin, who is apparently unfamiliar with fifth-grade mathematics.

Of course, it’s entirely possible Senator Melvin is fully aware that this “fuzzy math” line is completely ignorant poppycock and is only saying it in a cynical attempt to appeal to ignorant people in his gubernatorial campaign. (This possibility, to be frank, would be even more distressing.)

Intel’s second largest U.S. site is in Arizona. I wonder how Intel executives feel about their company’s investment in a state where members of the state senate education committee oppose the teaching of algebra.

(To be absolutely clear, I’m not saying that all Common Core skeptics and opponents are as ridiculous as Senator Melvin.)

HT: Matthew Arbo