📰 The Beautiful People

[This post makes me feel like Ira Glass. So perhaps I should assume the persona]

Recently, we’ve been seeing a whole lot of ugly. Ugly behavior in politics. Name calling. Bullying. Lies, innuendo, and gossip. But I’m tired of talking about that. I’d like to focus on a different type of ugly — one triggered by a number of articles that I have read, and a podcast I listened to on the way home. Some of this makes me think of someone we know… and I’ll leave it at that.

So the question is: What makes a person beautiful? Is it how they look? How they smell? Their size? Their behavior? Here are some items I’ve seen of late that explore the issue, and like Ira Glass of This American Life, we’ll divide it into four acts.

Act I: Beauty is Only Skin Deep

Most of us — at least in the technical field — don’t care about makeup. We see the inner person, and judge beauty based on how someone behaves, how they treat other people, and what they do. But there is a subculture of young women (and I’m guessing some guys) that are obsessed with looks and makeup. I’ve seen this first hand: I know someone who is obsessed with makeup — so much so that their Instagram is filled with faces of their face with various different makeups. There’s a name for that phenomenon: Instragram Face. Alexandra Jones describes it in a fascinating piece from the BBC:  “the make-up look that has dominated social media for the past three years… Search the make-up hashtag on any social media site and you’ll come across it. The unique flaws that make us who we are, that make humans so attractive, have been replaced by one face. The Face. Photo-perfect skin and sculpted, contoured cheekbones, wide almond-shaped eyes which taper up into a feline point, and that full, inescapable mouth. This look is what Twiggy’s lashes were to the 1960s and what Kate Moss’ dewy skin was to the 1990s.”

I know it well. The person I know worshiped that look, which we all thought hid her natural beauty. But she would not be deterred. Jones’ piece, which is well worth reading, describes her quest to live with that look for a week. What was once a quick dab before she left because a routine that took, at best, 45 minutes in the morning. She couldn’t go out in the sun because her face would melt. Men start making lewd comments at her; it is something my wife refers to as a “fuck me” face, designed to be attractive to the male patriarchy (and, due to the time and cost, it keeps women in 2nd place). Further, it actually makes skin worse. Take off the makeup for a year, and your skin is much much better.

Then there is what this makeup subculture does to people. Gimlet’s Reply All touched upon this recently in the 2nd “Yes, Yes, No” segment of their show “Alex Jones Dramageddon”. They explored a recent incident in the Beauty YouTube subculture where a number of beauty vloggers had to make apology videos due to their poor behavior. I’ve known folks that are addicted to watching these videos, faces in screens for hours at a time. More on that in Act IV.

People need to realize that the best makeup is … none. Our flaws and our imperfections are what make us beautiful, what give us character. We aren’t all the same; we shouldn’t look the same.

[ETA: A reader in another venue pointed out that my commenting with my attitude on makeup may be sexist. That certainly wasn’t the intent — I feel the same way regardless of sex. However, it was a fair comment in that it was judging on looks, which is wrong. If you find makeup something that improves your self  esteem and makes you feel better, go for it. I do suggest you read the linked articles however — they were talking more about doing it based on a cultural pressure from others. If you use makeup, or make other fashion choices, do it because it is right for you.]

Act II: Something is in the Air

My wife likes to tell the story of an exchange student that lived with them when she was in high school. This person never bathed; instead, they used excessive cologne. As someone who suffers from migraines, I can just imagine what that fragrance in the air would do. A recent article explored how fragrance is the new second hand smoke. As the article notes; “Hundreds of studies over the last two decades are finding “fragrance” in beauty products and household cleaners are just as bad or worse for our health than secondhand smoke. Is it time for fragrance-free workplaces, hotel rooms and sections in restaurants?”

As a migraine sufferer, I can say, “Yes, please”.

Let’s look at two things fragrance does, both bad. First, it covers up the smell of clean, which is…. nothing. Using fragrance to mask BO is silly; just take a shower instead. You want your house to smell clean: air it out, instead of using air freshener, use fresh air. And as for perfume: why try to imitate animal pheromones when your natural ones will attract much better. People should be attracted for you for who you really are, not a fake image created through makeup and perfume. That image will always be destroyed when they see the real you.

As for fragrance, it can be bad for you. As the article notes:

“The average U.S. consumer today is as uneducated about the dangers of synthetic fragrances as the average American was to the dangers of second-hand smoke in the 1960s… Those dangers include chemicals that are known neurotoxins, carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, DNA mutagens, allergens,  hepatotoxins  and  reproductive toxins all hidden under the simple ingredient label “fragrance.” Manufacturers of beauty and cleaning products don’t have to disclose the hundreds of potential chemicals that could be used to make their fragrance, because they are considered “trade secrets” by the FDA. Around 90% of the chemicals included in the label “fragrance”  are synthesized from petroleum or coal tar.  Toxic chemicals commonly found in products with “fragrance” on the ingredients list include acetone, phenol, toluene, benzyl acetate, limonene and formaldehyde. A 2008 analysis of 6 top selling laundry products and air fresheners found “nearly 100 volatile organic compounds were emitted from the products, and five of the six products emitted one or more carcinogenic hazardous air pollutants which the Environmental Protection Agency considers to have no safe exposure level.”

Act III: The Last Acceptable Discrimination

Society is increasingly frowning on discrimination and making fun of the attributes of people (well, unless you’re the President or those who find his behavior acceptable). Sex, race, religion, orientation — all are out for teasing. But fat? Fat seems to be the last area where you can discriminate, where you can make fun — because we all know that obesity is bad for you. But what if it isn’t?

A great article in the Huffington Post was going around Facebook recently titled “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong“. The article talks about how obesity has grown in society, and notes the establishment response to it:

And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat.

But, as the article goes on to note, the solution of dieting doesn’t work. Most people that go on diets gain it all back. Further, “the second big lesson the medical establishment has learned and rejected over and over again is that weight and health are not perfect synonyms. Yes, nearly every population-level study finds that fat people have worse cardiovascular health than thin people. But individuals are not averages: Studies have found that anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy. They show no signs of elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance or high cholesterol. Meanwhile, about a quarter of non-overweight people are what epidemiologists call “the lean unhealthy.” A 2016 study that followed participants for an average of 19 years found that unfit skinny people were twice as likely to get diabetes as fit fat people. Habits, no matter your size, are what really matter. Dozens of indicators, from vegetable consumption to regular exercise to grip strength, provide a better snapshot of someone’s health than looking at her from across a room.

Our society wants to have someone we can intentionally hurt and look down upon. But why?

Act IV: The Screens

Earlier, I mentioned the young person we know that was addicted to Beauty YouTube. How many of us know young people that are addicted to their screens, and who seem to have no attention spans. How do we address it? ADD medication. Perhaps that’s the wrong answer. Perhaps we need to address the screens.

A recent study shows a connection between heavy screen use and ADD in teens. It’s not at the level of a causal relationship yet, but studies show that teens who spend a lot of time using digital media show an uptick in symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). That doesn’t mean parents should panic about teens texting at the dinner table; it just means that if your kid is a heavy media user, maybe you should have a conversation about why they like it so much. The study monitored ADHD symptoms in a group of nearly 2,600 high school teenagers. Students who used multiple types of digital media multiple times a day were roughly twice as likely to report new symptoms of ADHD over a two-year period than their less digitally active classmates, according to the study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Now, combine that with the images they are seeing — the prevalence of Instagram Face, the emphasis on weight, our leadership role models — and we wonder why kids today are as they are.

Take off that makeup, get rid of the fragrance, don’t worry about how you look, and pick up a good book. You’ll be much happier.


🗯️ Chickenheart, Chickenshit, Grab Me Some Tail

Yesterday, when I read about the prison sentence for once-comedy-icon Bill Cosby, I sent myself a note with the words “Bill Cosby and Suge Knight”. I had planned on writing a blog piece on a subject I’d touched upon before: What do we do about the art, when the artist is problematic? Or, to be more concrete: What should I do with my Bill Cosby comedy albums (I’ve always loved “Chicken Heart”) now? Did folks stop listening to rap artists when the artist or the artist label committed murder?

But then, during my shower, an interesting contrast hit me: We have a black man attempting and committing sexual assault, who gets those charges investigated, and gets convicted and sent to jail. We have a white man, Brett Kavanaugh, who also has charges made against him from multiple women for sexual assault, and we can’t even get those charges a proper investigation, and the white man will likely go to the Supreme Court as a justice. He was nominated by another white man who has also assaulted women, and those charges were never formally investigated. All three are men of power. So what are the differences? Why do the white guys dodge responsibility? What does this say about our attitudes?

I’m not trying to defend Bill Cosby — far from it. Rather, I’m disturbed by the fact that when the person who has allegations of sexual shenanigans is black and/or an entertainer, we get investigations and prosecutions. When it is a white politician — especially a politician from the party in power — we get … excuses. Oh, why didn’t she bring this up earlier (note: she did). Oh, these charges are politically motivated. Oh, the woman is lying. Oh, she can’t remember every detail, so it must not be true. Oh, he has friends that vouch for him — he couldn’t have done it. The Cos had friends that vouched for him as well. He still did it. Oh, he was drunk, so it shouldn’t count.

What message are we sending to our daughters and sons?

In an interesting bit of parallelism, the LA Times has an article on the impact of the #metoo movement and its connection with both Cosby and Kavanaugh. Interesting reading. These are very different times than the days of Anita Hill, or the days when Bill Clinton was being impeached for lying about an affair. Today, Clarence Thomas might not be on the Supreme Court, and Bill Clinton might have been charged with sexual harassment, abusing a position of power. It is completely wrong that a man with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct is not having those charges seriously investigated, even if he is from the party in power. Political affiliations does not make it right. The Republican members of the Senate Judiciary committee, and the politicians that support them, are sending a message to the women of this country (and the men that stand with the women).

I’m not sure they will want to hear the reply in November.


🗯️ Shaving Brett Kavanaugh (with Occam’s Razor)

All week long I’ve been reading posts about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh. I’d like to share some ruminations with you. I should disclose that I’m not a Kavanaugh supporter, although that is independent from the line of reasoning here. I’d be making the same arguments here if Merritt Garland was the nominee and she was accusing him:

  • Why didn’t she come forward at the start of the hearings? Most likely, fear. After all, we’ve all seen what has happened to her and her family for her coming forward: she’s been doxxed (had personal information released on the Internet), and her family has received death threats and had to go into hiding. Her personal life has been ridiculed. All for making public that someone attacked her. This is often why women are reluctant to speak up: there are men in the world that don’t like women who report their bad behavior, and take it out on them. Here’s a longer article on why some women take so long to come forward.
  • Why didn’t she report this to the police when it happened? Less than all half of all sexual violence is actually reported to law enforcement. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, rape is the most under-reported crime; 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to police. There are numerous reasons: fear, shame, worries about retaliation, post traumatic stress. The treatment many women get when they do report — being blamed as if it was their fault — is a large part of it. Some are afraid to admit they might have been drunk when it happened. But remember this: even if the women was drunk, that does not give a man excuse to attempt rape. This also means that we shouldn’t blame the woman if she didn’t report, or discount her claim that the incident happened. Believe her and investigate it.
  • Why should we believe something from 30 years ago? Funny how we believe boys who say they were molested 30 years ago by a priest, but doubt a woman when she says she was forced to do something sexual by a man. What does that tell our daughters about how much we value their word? I’ve even seen some people pointing out that she must be lying, because the Bible says that all women are liars. In any case, her claim is a starting point, but we must believe the claim and that she believes it to be true. This is true even if the memory is spotty — many trauma survivors have spotty memories due to the trauma itself.
  • But could she be lying? She could, but people rarely ask the FBI to investigate them when they are lying or have something to hide. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that  a review of research finds that the prevalence of false reporting is between 2 percent and 10 percent. Just look at the President, who specifically does not want the FBI investigating him. If he was clean, they will find nothing. In this case, having the FBI investigate will determine if there is any corroborating evidence to back up her story, making it more than “he said, she said”. Ask yourself: What is in it for her in making such a claim? The DNC doesn’t have deep pockets, and even if they paid her, it would be discovered. Coming forward is asking to be insulted online, have your family harassed. There is no upside, other than possibly righting a wrong done years ago.
  • But they were teenagers, and boys will be boys. Being young doesn’t excuse you from your actions; indeed, we teach our children from the earliest ages that actions have consequences. I’m willing to believe that Kavanaugh was young and stupid when he did this. Many teenage boys let their little head control their big head, and try to force themselves on women. However, that doesn’t make it right or legal. Further, being drunk doesn’t give him a pass. We hold drunk drivers responsible for their actions. If you commit a murder in a drunken rage, you’re still liable. Drink doesn’t excuse criminal behavior.
  • But it was 30 years ago. So? The question here is what Kavanaugh did afterwards. If he realized that he was wrong and apologized, changed his ways, and never did this again — then I might give him a pass. But if he was unrepentant — if he continued to behave that way towards women, then there is a bigger problem.
  • But it was one time. Was it? This is the second reason there should be an FBI investigation: There needs to be a determination if this was the start of a pattern of behavior towards women, or a one-time drunken incident. If one time and unrepentant, it is still a problem — although one where redress and restitution might be possible. If there is a pattern — if throughout his career he has devalued women and treated them only as sex objects, then there is a significant issue (for example, if he hired clerks based on how sexy they looked as opposed to their legal skills). [ETA: Since this was written, a second women has come forward with a claim, and Michael Avenetti is reporting there is yet a third women with a claim.).
  • But the FBI has already investigated him. True, but they didn’t look specifically in this area. Ask yourself what the FBI was looking for, for they will only discover findings in that area. Unless, of course, they were looking for your lost car keys. Then they’ll find loads of stuff. Seriously, the FBI likely didn’t investigate claims of sexual harassment — rather, they were looking for reported criminal activity, involvement with foreign governments, and so on. Legal reviews and background checks would also not look in this area. There might not have been previous claims, for the simple reason that many women are scared to make claims against powerful men, because of the backlash to them.
  • But this hearing has gone on long enough. Much as you would like the hearings to be done and done, we are talking a lifetime appointment to the highest court of the land. Better to take a little extra time and do the job right. After all, we went almost an entire year when Congress sat on its hands and didn’t even meet with President Obama’s nominee. Surely we can investigate for a few more weeks.
  • But is an attempted rape from 30 years ago significant in the scheme of things? That’s an interesting question. If it was a one time, childish indiscretion, an apology and restitution might suffice (and recall that I said I opposed Kavanaugh for reasons separate from this). But if there is a pattern of this behavior, that implies a number of things. First, it implies that Kavanaugh puts his personal attitude towards women above the law of the land — and a SCOTUS justice must put the law first. It also indicates that he might discount the word of women or the value of women, which would translate to putting them at a disadvantage in the courtroom — either when testifying or bringing a case. And that would be wrong.

We should and must take the time to slow down and investigate this properly. Believe her enough to start the investigation and determine if the story can be corroborated. If it is true, discover if he understands and admits what he did wrong. Discover if there was a pattern of behavior towards women. Then, and only then, can we move forward based on those findings.

One additional note: There are those who still blame the victim (the woman) for the attack: for not reporting it, for being drunk, for wearing provocative clothes, for doing it to get ahead. However, it is the man’s responsibility to be moral and ethical, and to not take advantage of situations and to obtain informed consent. Nothing is forcing us men to attack; we have the ability to keep it in our pants, and keep our hands to ourselves.



🗯️ Do You Own My Heart, or Is It Just a Long Term Lease?

A 🎩tip to my friend Howard for finding this article for me: Americans own less stuff because of the internet, and that’s a worry. Alas, it is paywalled, so I’ll excerpt some of its concerns, which focus on “the erosion of personal ownership and what that will mean for our loyalties to traditional American concepts of capitalism and private property.”:

The main culprits for the change are software and the internet. For instance, Amazon’s Kindle and other methods of online reading have revolutionised how Americans consume text. Fifteen years ago, people typically owned the books and magazines they were reading. Much less so now. If you look at the fine print, it turns out that you do not own the books on your Kindle. Amazon.com does. […] We used to buy DVDs or video cassettes; now viewers stream movies or TV shows with Netflix. Even the company’s disc-mailing service is falling out of favour. Music lovers used to buy compact discs; now Spotify and YouTube are more commonly used to hear our favourite tunes. The great American teenage dream used to be to own your own car. That is dwindling in favour of urban living, greater reliance on mass transit, cycling, walking and, of course, ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

This is true even with devices you purportedly “own”, like your cell phone or computer, it notes:

What about your iPhone, that all-essential life device? Surely you own that? Well, sort of. When Apple decides to change the operating software, sooner or later you have to go along with what they have selected. Gmail is due to change its overall look and functionality, maybe for the better, but again eventually this choice will not be yours either: It’s Google’s. The very economics of software encourage standardisation, and changes over time, so de facto you rent much of what you use rather than owning it. I typed the draft of this column using Microsoft Word, and sooner or later my contract to use it will expire and I will have to renew. […]  As for that iPhone, it is already clear that you do not have a full legal right to repair it, and indeed more and more devices are sold to consumers without giving them corresponding rights to fix or alter those goods and services. John Deere tractors are sold to farmers with plenty of software, and farmers have to hack into the tractor if they wish to fix it themselves. There is now a small but burgeoning “right to repair” political movement.

I’ve had some similar concerns. Usually, it hits me with respect to music. After all, I own an iPod Classic with lots of music (approaching 45,000 songs). Some of these are recorded from LPs, some are from CDs, and some are digitally source. I take care to use a source that gets me the files without their controlling them, but I’m still being held hostage to the format of the files (MP3, M4A) and having a device that can translate them, and having a player that can play them — which Apple could invalidate quite easily. The only sure things are my LPs and CDs (if the latter don’t rot away).

We’re seeing an increased emphasis from the younger generation (hey, you, get off of my lawn) on downsizing and getting rid of stuff. Whereas we amassed large collections of books, they are being digitized — and that puts them in the hostage category to digital formats and readers. Paper wasn’t subject to that.

We’re being pushed away from personal vehicle ownership. Companies want us to lease our cars and replace them. Kids in urban areas even eschew cars, going for shared rides.

Housing is similar. High housing prices push people to lease instead of buy; this is the norm in New York where people are long term renters of apartments. Services like AirBNB take that to a new level. You’ve never owned your home on the Internet: Domain names have annual fees and are essentially leased — there is no perpetual domain names.

Now ask yourself: What does this do to the American notion of private property and its ownership? Are we moving to a model of shared services and shared ownership? The economic divide seems to be pushing things that way, with the top economic individuals and companies owning more and more, and we’re just leasing it from them. After all, for the person selling something, private ownership is horrible. You sell it once, get your price, and make no more income from it. But if you lease it or license it, you have a continuing income stream.

I’ve seen this in moving my wife’s computer to Windows 10. Whereas before I would buy the software, now I’m subscribing and getting the annual fees.

So what are your thoughts? Should we be worried about the erosion of private ownership and the move to subscription, streaming, licensing, and leases?


🗯️ Urban Privilege

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on adding maps to my highway pages (I just finished). As I do this, I’ve been essentially seeing both urban and rural corridors in the state, and my mind has been thinking about the entire state. I mention this because of an interesting phrase that popped into my head recently while on the van to work: “urban privilege”. The notion arose when I was thinking about all the building of freeways, and all the proposals for freeways in all these rural areas that had no need for them. It popped into my head as I thought about all the moves away from individual cars and car ownership, into shared ride systems, commuter trains, and pushing people to bicycles and other forms of personal transportation that are perfect for dense, urban areas. It popped into my head when I thought about the state routes and the road system, and how much of a lifeline that is to rural areas of the state. It popped into my head as I thought about the push for electric vehicles, which have a limited distance they can go on a charge: great for dense urban commuting, not so great for longer rural distances.

In the urban areas, there’s a lot of talk and a lot of thought about “white privilege“: the implicit, inherent benefits one gains by being white in American society. Examples abound, from the shampoo that is given out in hotels that is perfect for Caucasian hair, but less so for ethnic hair, to the fact that there’s no question when a white jumps ahead in line, but not for someone whose black. We’re well aware by now about the “white privilege” in the interaction with law enforcement. For this post, I’m concentrating less on the “white”, and more on this notion of implicit privilege based on a characteristic.

So here’s the premise: Is there such a thing as “urban privilege”? How much of this notion of “urban privilege”, and the unconscious resentment it engenders, be a contributing factor in the rise of Donald Trump?

Think about it: Under the Obama administration (translation: Under an administration perceived as liberal and progressive), there were loads of actions that encouraged things that worked well for those in urban environments. Pushes towards increase ride density and housing density. Pushes towards services in cities. Pushes towards the Internet. Even the Affordable Care Act worked better for people in cities with larger sets of providers and insurers. And because those who have the privilege don’t see it, we were blind to how this played in the rural areas — who were feeling forgotten, neglected, and that no one was listening to their concerns.

And, just like the “Black Lives Matter” movement was an expression of: WE ARE NOT BEING LISTENED TO. Just like Occupy was an expression of WE ARE NOT BEING LISTENED TO. … the rise of Trump was the rise of an electorate and a constituency that was no longer being heard to say: WE ARE NOT BEING LISTENED TO. Donald Trump, for all of his faults, was listening to them and they responded. They, in turn, and responded to being loyal to a fault. [And, by the way, one might argue the same is true for Bernie-crats, who were being ignored by the Clinton wing of the party, and the party was giving an implicit bias towards the Clinton wing]

I’m not writing this to try to apologize for Trump, or excuse his behavior. Rather, this is what we might call “a learning opportunity”. With our eye on the prize — getting Donald Trump and his offensive ideas and behavior out of office — we must learn from this. Here’s what I see we must learn:

  • We must take off our urban privilege blinders. We must think about how our progressive ideas play throughout the country.
  • We must listen. We can’t think that just because we might be urban and better educated, that we are some how smarter or better than the rest of the country. We must hear the concerns of all, and design solutions that work for all.
  • We must realize segments that feel wronged or ignored can choose to work for us, or they can choose to work against us. We’ve seen what happens when they work against us; we must figure out how to turn that energy in a different direction.

The “12 Steps” teach that the first step is recognizing the problem. Then you work on changing your behavior, and making amends for what you’ve done wrong in the past. That is what we as liberals and progressives must do. We can’t, with blinders on, think that we weren’t (at least partially) a contributor to this mess. We have to recognize that to start down the path of fixing it.

So (to bring this back to highways): How do we address this issue? How do we ensure that tax dollars and other funds raised for transportation purposes benefit not only the urban commuter, but the rural transportation user? Is it more effective trucking of goods to lower costs? Better design and maintenance of rural roads to prevent closure during adverse weather conditions? Is it figuring out how to make the notion of ride sharing work in a less-dense environment, or an environment with more on-demand vs. regular usage.

I don’t have the answer. But the question is worth asking.


🗯️ Flaws in the American System

While eating lunch the other day, I was reading an article about the rolling back of EPA regulations, and it got me thinking. Specifically, it got me thinking about how the current Republican administration has shown the danger of governing through regulation and executive order: it is far too easy for a subsequent administration to roll things back. The administration has also uncovered a number of other flaws in our systems — ways that the rules are being exploited in ways that do harm, or ways that allow manipulation of the system in ways that are… less than good. Here are some stream of consciousness thoughts on this:

  • Governing by executive order or regulation is proving far too easy to undo, or too easy to institute. It is also particularly one sided. There should be a requirement (likely a constitutional amendment) that Congress needs to consent to the Executive Order — or reject it within a specified number of days — for it to take permanent effect. Regulations currently require publication and review before they go into effect; there should be similar requirements before they are removed or modified.
  • Recent elections have highlighted flaws in the current Electoral College approach. Our current system has become a cascade of winner takes all — from districts to electors to the White House, and the voice of the people (i.e., the majority) gets lost through manipulation of the process. The system needs to move — at least at the Presidential level — to the winner of the popular vote. Smaller states can still make their voice heard through the Senate.
  • Gerrymandering has gotten ridiculous, and has seen district boundaries drawn to benefit parties, not the people. The requirements for district determination should change to require them to be drawn by an independent, politically balanced board, with the goal of having compact districts. One would like to have commonality of interests, but that can be easily exploited to serve one group and disadvantage the other. However, diversity can and should be a goal within compactness — and that diversity includes political diversity to have competitive districts.
  • The 14th Amendment promotes equality, but has been problematic with the categories of equality. It must be clear that equal protection under the law — equality — covers a broad swatch of protected categories: skin color, sex, gender, religion, orientation, size, and other characteristics out of control of the individual.
  • The 1st Amendment has shown itself to be badly written in a number of ways. Looking at Freedom of Speech in particular, it has been used to achieve freedom of hate speech. There needs to be some specific categories of speech with limitations — specifically, speech advocating violence or hatred based on “protected categories” needs to be limited. The flip side of this, alas, is that haters will always find a way to exploit the rules. Hate, unfortunately, is like water — it always finds a path.
  • The 1st Amendment expression of Freedom of Religion needs to be similarly clarified. It needs to be clear that the government must not establish a national system of beliefs, nor give preference to one form of belief expression (or lack thereof) over another. Citizens must explicitly be free to practice their belief system as individuals, but that freedom only extends to them, and cannot impinge on someone else’s practice of their belief system. In other words: I cannot impose my belief system upon you, even thought I believe I’m doing it for your own good. That also means we need to learn to not judge others based on our beliefs; reserve judgement for whatever higher power you believe in.
  • The 2nd Amendment has proven equally ambiguous. It must be clear that gun ownership is allowed, but that gun ownership is subject to reasonable regulation to protect other citizens. In general, the type and quantity of guns permitted must be appropriate for their intended use, there should be requirements for training and securing of weapons, and the weapon owner must be responsible for any crimes committed by someone using their weapons. Only legal gun owners and registered gun ranges should be able to purchase ammunition. Yes, this won’t stop criminals, illegal weapons, or weapons already out there (although ammunition restrictions might), but risk reduction is better than doing nothing.
  • The Supreme Court has become politicized. The intent of life-time terms was that justices might become independent of politics and judge based on the law alone (similar to academic tenure), but that hasn’t happened. To address that, justices should have term limits that don’t cleanly align with Presidential terms — I’d suggest 21 years.
  • The Constitution has shown itself to be far too weak when faced with a deranged President. There are also Constitutional issues with respect to disputed elections, and elections that are subsequently determined to have been subject to tampering. The Electoral College was supposed to be able to address this, but the power of party politics have destroyed that. There needs to be a recall and reconsideration process instituted other than impeachment or the 25th Amendment. My thinking in this area has two prongs: First, the ability for a joint session of Congress to examine the past election, declare it void, and select new temporary executive officers from the remaining candidates of that election (who were running in the primaries) until a special election can be held within a specified time frame. Second, the ability for the people to initiate a recall through a cascade of recall requests from some greater-than-majority percentage of the states, using state procedures; again, this would invoke temporary leadership until a special election.

All of these would likely require constitutional amendments. I’d rather these changes go through the amendment process; opening up the entire document to revision would be disastrous. But this administration has highlighted some areas that truly need addressing in light of the changes in society.


Signs that You are Old

The world is changing — fast — and you don’t often realize it until it slaps you in the face. That happened this week. I’m starting to plan for an office move, and that means figuring out a new office layout. I’m going to a smaller office, and that means getting rid of the table and keyboard tray I use for my computer. As I needed to get a smaller computer table, I asked our office assistant. She pointed me to a website where I could get a new table (or I could go to the warehouse and rummage around). It was at this point, I realized I was living in a different era.

I wanted a simple table with a keyboard tray, possibly with a riser for the monitor so that I could have good ergometrics. What I could order, however, were standing desks with motors to rise or lower them; keyboard trays were an options. Standing desks. You mean I need to do something other than sit at my desk all day.

I also asked about boxes for the move; I was told that we no longer do that. Now we get reusable plastic bins.

As for whiteboards: Now, when I started, we had real chalkboards. But then we went to whiteboards, which were, well, white. Now we have these Quartet Boards, which are glass things all fancy. My old whiteboard? Going into the trash.

We’re being encouraged to downsize and get rid of paper. I’m getting rid of two four-drawer file cabinets and a 3′ bookcase. We’re being encouraged to print less and review on the screen more. Many are moving to open offices, or offices where you camp and share your space.

I understand why this is all being done. We need to use less paper and cardboard, and standing is much better for your health than sitting all day. Cognitively, I know this is a good thing. But it is also wasteful. Think of all the perfectly serviceable furniture and boards that are being tossed and not reused; manufacturing energy going to waste. We used to have Steelcase desks that lasted 50-80 years. Now tables less than 10 years old are considered obsolete and are being toss. Everyone wants the newest and greatest; the whole notion of “reuse” is disappearing. It makes me think of an article I read recently about trying to move to a new apartment without using anything new. You used to be able to do that when you changed offices. But upgrade mania has overtaken the workplace.

Emotionally? It’s making me feel old. I’ve gone 30 years in the workplace with traditional desks, and traditional computer tables. I’ve gone 30 years reviewing documents on paper and marking them up. I’ve gone 30 years of having historical files of paper that I could go through. As they sing in Working, “It worked for me then, what’s wrong with it now.”

I am increasingly feeling old, and am increasingly understanding how seniors feel the world is moving too fast and passing them by. I know that I must keep up with it, but it is shocking when you think you’ve been keeping up, and discover you’re out of date for the modern workplace. This could very well be one reason why older workers find it harder to fit into new tech.

It’s very disconcerting, but I’ll eventually figure it out (and probably grow to like it). Inertia is a hard thing to overcome.


I’m Tired

I’m tired. So tired. Here’s what I’m tired of:

  • I’m tired of Trump. I’m tired of dealing with his hate and intolerance, especially of anyone who holds a different view, or didn’t vote for him..
  • I’m tired of the Trump followers — and the Trump haters — who feel that screaming at each other or that making fun of each other will accomplish anything. It might make you feel better in the moment, but it won’t change any minds. It could even do harm, cementing the view of intolerance of the one doing the screaming. Just shut up, and use your energy to actually change the situation. Yes, this goes for both sides.
  • I’m tired of memes. Taking an arbitrary quote, pasting it on top of a picture from a completely different time, and spreading it around the world is meaningless. The picture is out of context and often intentionally misleading. The quote is often out of context. It is, to use an overused term, fake. I want real news, with real context.
  • I’m tired of Whataboutism. If an action is wrong, it is wrong no matter which side of the political spectrum is doing it. Just because “the other side did it” doesn’t make it right. Just because you have the right to do something, doesn’t make it right. Going along with that, however, is understanding the context of the action. Just because sound bites or memes make something seem similar that doesn’t mean the context is the same, or that they are actually similar.
  • I’m tired of oversimplification. The political world is intensely complicated. Things that seem the same may be completely different, depending on context. Social media pushes us to oversimplify for sound bites, tweets, or memes. Resist the urge to do so, and actually study and understand the differences.
  • I’m tired of people seeing other people as a single, one word label. Life is complicated. People are complicated. Rarely can a person’s views be summed up in one word. Note, however, that if you insist on seeing me as a single label; the same may be true.
  • I’m tired of people calling each other names, like we were children in a schoolyard making fun of someone’s big ears. Grow up. How someone looks or dresses or even how they speak makes not one whit of a difference. It is their actions and behavior — what they do and what they say — that matter.
  • I’m tried of Trump: what he does, what he says, how he views as acceptable behavior that was unacceptable before the election (and vice-verse), how he oversimplifies, how he views people as labels, and his calling people names.

I’m also getting fearful:

  • I’m fearful of the hatred that this President has encouraged to come to the surface. Hatred based on origin. Hatred based on skin color. Hatred based on orientation. Hatred based on religion. Hatred based on political orientation. Enough already. This country has had enough hatred over its history. It was shameful then, and it is shameful now. It is time to accept others, in the spirit of freedom that this nation was built upon.
  • I’m fearful of the hatred that hasn’t come to the surface, and what it will do.
  • I’m fearful of the growing anger in this nation.
  • I’m fearful of the fear of the immigrant. I’m not, however, fearful of the immigrant, because almost all are good hardworking people, looking for a better life for their family, safety and security, and to be a part of this great nation. The percentage that are not is quite small, and is likely smaller than the percentage of citizens that wish others harm.
  • I’m fearful that the exhaustion that is setting in from this President will lead people to give up, and not fight to bring this nation back to its ideals of fairness and justice and equality for all. It is easier, after all, to give into the mob and not fight for what is right.

Most of all, I fear that society is getting a collective case of PTSD, although I don’t know how much “Post-” there is. There is certainly a traumatic stress disorder that is growing with every day of the continued partisanship and hatred, and the continued attack on our senses and sensibilities. Recovery for society — once we eventually move past the mishegos — will be slow and painful.

When you get the urge to lash out and scream, to share a meme, or to do any of this, ask yourself the simple question: Am I just doing it to make me feel better? Will it change any minds to help my position? If you are only doing it for yourself, and it won’t advance your cause, don’t do it. Take that energy and redirect it into something that would actually make a difference: fundraising, getting out the vote, and so on. Just imagine how much more good work the non-profits you support could do if you donated the price of a cup of coffee each time you got angry reading something, or wanted to lash out.