And Don’t Call Me Late For Dinner

Perhaps you remember the old saying, “I don’t care what you call me, but don’t call me late for dinner.” The truth of the matter, however, is that it is vitally important what you call me (and still, don’t call me late for dinner). A number of news articles and incidents have brought this home to me.

USA Today is reporting that President Trump has ramped up his rhetoric, and is now referring to undocumented immigrants as “animals”: Specifically, in a White House meeting, the President said, ““We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.”

Think about that last sentence. And then think about how we treat animals. We put them in cages without their permission. We euthanize them when they are terminal. We take their children away from them and give them to others to care for. This is how we treat animals. NPR reported back in 2011 how Germany during WWII refered to Jews as rats to dehumanize them. Referring to classes of people as animals opens the door to cruely, genocide, and other horrors.

Now put this into the context of the latest policy change of ICE: separating children from their parents at the border. That is the act of someone that sees an undocumented immigrant as an animal, who isn’t worthy of being a parent or capable of loving their children.

I’ve written before about the importance of treating people with respect, even if you disagree with their ideas. Even Conservatives will argue that human life has value — after all, I don’t see Conservatives arguing that abortion should be legal for undocumented immigrants. So why isn’t the entire country up in arms about this? Why don’t we insist that there is a minimum level of treatment any human on this planet deserves. People deserve to not be treated like animals, people deserve not to be forcibly separated from their children. Even if you feel you must refuse entry to this country, at least don’t separate families, provide humane living conditions, and treat people with respect during the process.

Mass murderers and serial killers start small, on animals, and work their way up. It desensitizes. Similarly, starting the treatment of undocumented “others” as animals is only a first step. Next comes similar treatment for documented others whose otherness we don’t like. I”ve already personally seen more hints of that against Jews; I’ve seen posts detailing that treatment against other minorities.

We fought against people who did that during WWII. We must never let that happen here, and so we must protest the treatment of undocumented immigrants as animals.

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Yerushalyim Shel Shalom

Yesterday, the US officially moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It has brought up a number of discussions, so I thought I would share my thoughts this morning before I start the day. I refer people to my statement of core values from a few days ago.

Why was the embassy moved? Ostensibly, it was in recognition of Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capitol, but as that had been on the table for a long time before, it wasn’t the real reason. The timing behind it being done now was to please Trump’s evangelical base: it fulfills a biblical prophesy that supports Covenent Theology and hastens the end of days. If you read my core values, you know my thoughts on that: I think it is presumptuous for humans to take the place of God and to do things to fulfill prophecies of a particular religion. Let God fulfill God’s prophecies in God’s time.

I saw others seeing yesterday as a “dark day for the US” because no Democratic Congresscritters attended. Given the Congress normally doesn’t attend embassy openings, I’m glad they didn’t waste the money. In the long run, who attended the ceremony won’t matter one bit. Unless is it the catalyzing action for a war, even moving the embassy won’t matter 100 years down the road. All that is significant is US support for Israel, through monetary support and military and trade alliances. For some segments of Judaism, moving the embassy is vitally important (again, often for prophetic reasons). For most American Jews, however, it is more problematic. It is likely good that it is in Jerusalem, but the timing is problematic. Right now, there was loads of violence and death as protests erupted; and unsurprisingly, the Israeli government may have responded in a way that hurt their image. Did the Israeli government overreact? Probably, but I don’t always agree with what the Israeli government does, nor do I have to. I do predict there will be chaos over this for a while, but eventually things will settle back to the normal level of hatred between the parties. After all, it’s just an embassy. In fact, one article I read noted an interesting side effect: It might lead to the opening of an embassy for the Palestinians, also in Jerusalem, which they consider as their capitol.

Finding peace in the region is a difficult goal, and it ultimately depends on the parties agreeing to compromise with each other — and that means formally recognizing each other. Palestinians must recognize that Israel must be allowed to exist in peace in some form; that to achieve their nation means not wiping Israel from the map. Israel must agree that that Palestinians have the rights to some land and some level of reparations, and that how their government has been treating them has been wrong. Both are hard recognitions to make. Trump may stumble into a solution (just has he has in Korea), not through any particular action other than pandering to his base and being batshit crazy and having a much more personal style. Being crazy and focusing on personal relations is normal operations in the Middle East, and I’ve at least one article suggesting the Palestinians work with Trump. Consider that his pulling out of the deal with Iran has not only given Iran the power to look like a good guy by staying in the pact with the Europeans, but has put fear into the Saudis and gotten them talking … to Israel. Who knows what will happen because of the unpredictability of Trump, and the fear of the unpredictable may push parties together. If in the long term the balance of powers shifts in the Middle East so that the US’s power is diminished, well, at least the US is taking care of itself, right? After all, that’s worked with China and Russia? Right? Bueller? Bueller?

However, the point of this is that the opening ceremony for the embassy in Jerusalem is noise in the larger geopolitical issues. It may seem a big deal now, but it will be overshadowed by other things quickly. Despite evangelicals seeing it as important and the fulfillment of prophecy, it ultimately is at most a sentence in a history book (if indeed there are history books — the world is coming to an end, right?).

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Who Are You? Identify Yourself!

Establishing your identity? Seems a simple thing, but it is quite complex. In the past, when our social circles were smaller, you could do it by sight or with a letter of recommendation. But today it is much harder. Here is a collection of articles all dealing with identity, and how it is changing.

 

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Booking It

The dying American bookstore — or, perhaps, I should say “mediastore”. Brick and mortar venues where we purchase physical media containing words, sounds, or visuals are disappearing. Historically, we started out with the independent bookstores and videostores and record stores. We all remember these — the neighborhood bookstore, the Licorice Pizzas and Music Odysseys, the local video store. They were pushed out of the way by the big boys — the Borders and the Barnes and Nobels, the Virgins and the Towers, the Blockbusters. But they too have been pushed out by the monster online retailers such as Amazon and Apple Music.

Here is a collection of news chum articles on the subject:

 

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On The Road Again

As I plan my summer vacation, travel is on my mind. So here is some news chum related to travel, with some articles you might find of use:

 

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Interesting Visualizations

Visualizations are fascinating things. Taking data and then adjusting a map based on that data can often provide insight that would not be readily apparent otherwise. Here are some examples I’ve seen over the last few weeks that have, at least for me, made me realize something I hadn’t realized before:

  • Segregation in America. We like to think of America as a diverse society, a melting pot of peoples and cultures. But in our day to day reality, is it? Is the mixed neighborhood we see in the media the reality? The answer is, unsurprisingly, no. Here’s a fascinating article from the WaPo that uses maps to highlight segregation in America (if you run into their paywall, use Incognito or Private mode). As the article notes, “…some cities remain deeply segregated — even as the country itself becomes more diverse. To explore these national changes, The Post analyzed census data from 1990, 2000, 2010 and the latest estimates from the 2016 five-year American Community Survey. Using that data, we generated detailed maps of the United States using six race categories: black, white, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American and multi-race/other for the available years.”  The maps show significant segregation within each city, and for most cities, allow you to enter an address to see how segregated or diverse your local community is.
  • Jews. Here’s a map that purports to show American Jews by county as of 2011. There’s a bit of controversy over it, but for me the main takeaway is how concentrated the pockets of Judaism are, and how empty other areas are. If you were to correlate this to areas where antisemitism is the strongest, my contention is that antisemitism flourishes where Jews are scarce. If people don’t see Jews regularly, they fear the unknown. Now connect this to the first map, and explore the theory of whether the areas of the strongest hatred of the immigrant and the Muslim are precisely those areas that have the fewest immigrants and Muslims. If we don’t see diversity — if we see people only as categories and not people — hatred flourishes. Stereotypes are believed, and fears magnify. These two maps, taken together, show why we have so much work to do in this country.
  • Density. This map (and alas I don’t have anything better than the FB image) shows areas with equal population: first the coasts, and then the major cities of NYC and LA. Again, this visualization explains quite a bit, especially when you think in terms of politics. The politics of population dense areas — and the needs and concerns — tends to be very different than the less dense areas. The nature of crime is different, the diversity is different, the pressing needs of homelessness and economic distribution are different. Is it any wonder there is such a tension between the dominance of heavily populated areas in the popular vote vs. the power of less dense areas in the electoral college? [ETA: Here’s a better source for this mapping, which points to an even better source.]
  • Property Value. A similar interesting visualization comes by looking at property values. A handful of counties in the US account for the bulk of the value of the property in the US (and guess where those counties are — especially in light of the previous three maps). This demonstrates one reason behind some political trends we are seeing (combined with the adage from the musical 1776 about conservatives: most people would like to protect the possibility of being rich than face the reality of being poor). Here’s an example: “New York City’s 305 square miles make up 8/1000ths of 1 percent of the land area of the United States. Yet New York City accounts for 5 percent of the nation’s housing value—more than every single state but four (one of which is, of course, New York state).” The article’s conclusion is also interesting: “Folks who can’t afford to live in those places don’t get to take advantage of those labor markets. The demand to live in these places is soaring, but the desire among incumbents to accommodate newcomers is low. Hence NIMBYism, high housing costs, severe inequality—the whole shebang.”

In terms of non-map visualizations, here are two:

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Art, Artists, and Accusations in the #MeToo Era

The conviction this week of Bill Cosby brings, once again, the distinction between art and artist to the fore. Whereas it might be possible to look the other way for an artist that had problematic behavior at the level of “only unsubstantiated accusation” or a single incident once way in the past, Cosby’s history makes it clear that he was abusing from his first stand-up days, and throughout his film and TV career. It raises the question of how we view his media output in the light of this. For some, Cosby has made his media work a betrayal of the values that it conveyed. But for others? Does his behavior make his standup less funny? I grew up thinking his album “Wonderfulness” was one of the best, with routines like “Tonsils” and “Chicken Heart” memorized. There was none of his abusive behavior in those stories. Indeed, throughout much of his early standup, shows like “I Spy” and his various TV series (The Bill Cosby Show in the 1960s, Cosby, etc.) were mostly wholesome entertainment. How is that tainted by the abhorrent behavior of the artist? Or to put it bluntly: You’ve got the LPs, the CDs, the DVDs of those performances, although paid for. He makes no money whether you view them anymore. So what do you do with them? Is listening to them betrayal of your values or support of his behavior?

This, in essence, is the broader question of how we separate the art from the artist. It would be wonderful if all of our artist were good people (same for our politicians). If we enjoy their work, we want the artist to be good. But people are complicated, and art is complicated, and complicated people produce art with complications. Do we abandon the artistic output of people like Woody Allan, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski? Do we not listen to bands where the rock stars slept with underage groupies? Do we delay doing so until the artist is dead, or will no longer make money from us that they can use towards abuse?

It’s not an easy question.

Complicating this is the fact that in having abusive sexual behavior, the victim is not the only one who is screwed. Think of all the other innocent actors on Bill Cosby shows, who are now not earning residuals because of Cosby’s behavior.  Think of the media companies that no longer make money, the writers that no longer get exposure. The people for whom their association with Cosby is now a stain on their resume. They didn’t ask for this. In penalizing the man, we hurt a larger community. [By the way, in saying this, I want to make clear that I don’t support his behavior or think we should look the other way. I’m only noting that his behavior hurts a far wider circle.]

It also raises the question of how we view art and artistic output in the #MeToo (and post-#MeToo era). Cosby has raised the question of good art from badly-behaving artists. But there’s also the question of the #MeToo lens. I’ve noted how our new environment has made me look at shows I watch and see differently — both for the good and bad. Some shows, like Steel Pier, resonate more post-#MeToo. Others are painful to watch because of the stereotypes they perpetuate or implicit privilege they capture (How To Succeed is an example of this, but far from the only one — perhaps Gone With The Wind is the best example). What do we do with this art, and how do we handle and reinterpret it. Do we need to explicitly express the historic context to enjoy it. Do we hide it away, embarrassed? Does art transform from good to bad because of its message?

Just as with people, art is complicated. Would there be simple answers?

I certainly don’t have them. But I see the conflict, I see the lens. I recognize the bad behavior of the artists, and (at least for some time) may set aside the artistic output. But I remain conflicted? What should I think when a song from Beyond the Sea with Keven Spacey comes on the iPod? To that end, what do I think about when I hear great music from artists that abused women? No easy answers.

I’m open to your thoughts. How are you dealing with the question of art and artists, in the post #MeToo era?

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The Law of Unintended Consequences

Did you ever do something, only to discover there were side ramifications you hadn’t considered? Today’s collection of news chum (prompted by some podcasts I listened to yesterday), examine a number of those cases:

  • Sex Trafficking and Prostitution. A month or so a new law called FOSTA-SESTA made a change in the safe harbor provision in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This was the provision that protects a website from being liable for what a user posts. Based on the change, sites like Backpage shut down, and Craigslist closed its personals section. The law was intended to stop sex trafficking of underage girls. But a recent episode of Reply All showed how it could have deadly consequences for sex workers. Essentially, those sites moved workers off the street and allowed them to vet their clients, saving lives. With the sites gone, the dangers has come back, and women are dying. A really interesting listen.
  • Opioid Addiction. Another podcast I listened to yesterday explored the unintended consequences related to opioid addiction. Basically, a few flawed studies led doctors to believe that opioids were non-addictive, and this combined with new industry standards to ask people about pain and to treat it led to overprescription of these drugs, which led to dependence. But then again, Heroin was created to have something less addictive than Morphene. Now opioids is an “epidemic”, and the unintended side effect of those with real pain, who don’t overuse opioids, often now have to live with more pain. Note that they have a second part on kicking the habit. There may be a similar problem with anti-depression meds.
  • Gas Prices and Electric Cars. A little thing like price can have such an impact on things. For example, gas prices go down briefly and cars get more efficient fuel wise. The government changes laws requiring a lower average MPG for an automaker’s lineup. As a result, people more people buy more SUVs and Trucks. The automakers don’t have to keep the higher MPG cars in their lineup to satisfy the government, so they gravitate to the higher profit SUVs and trucks. The unintended result: more and more American car makes abandon the passenger car and sedan marketplace. For example, Ford just announced its withdrawal from that marking, reducing the number of its cars to 2.  Chevy is doing something similar, dropping the Sonic, and Dodge previously did the same. A market is being ceded to the Europeans and Asian automakers — and what will happen when fuel prices go back up and people want higher MPG cars? Where will they turn? They might go electric, but then there’s another unintended consequence: people are buying so many hybrids and electrics that the toll lanes that allowed them for free are getting crowded. As a result, Metro is now thinking of charging tolls for electrics in the toll lanes.
  • Grading on a Curve. What happens to a class when you announce you are grading on a curve, where the highest grade will get an “A”, and everyone else lower? The class might band together and refuse to take the exam, so that everyone has the highest score – 0. That’s exactly what happened at a computer science class in at Johns Hopkins. All the students boycotted the exam.
  • Finding Gold. Where is there more gold? In the recycle bin, or in a gold mine? If you said “recycle bin”, you were right. There’s tons of gold — and other precious metals — in electronics. But it takes work to get those electronics to a recycler, so they sit in a garage (broken), or go to a landfill. This makes it more expensive to get the metals for electronics, and creates pollution. By making something harder, electronic retailers hurt themselves. But then again, don’t try to refurbish and repair them either — do that, and add a free to download operating system, and Microsoft might sue you.
  • Changing Alphabets. Kazakistan is changing its alphabet again, and that could have quite a few unintended consequences. The linked article explores the economic aspects of the change, and the unintended consequences for private business. But think further, about the impact on search engines and user names and all that rot. Quite complicated.
  • Streaming Music. The music industry had a problem. No one was buying albums and CDs anymore, and that was hurting record labels. How to save the music industry? Streaming? You only get a fraction of a penny for a play. How can that make up for an album? Well, it turns out streaming is saving the music industry. People may lease their music, but all that streaming adds up: You pay each time you listen to a favorite son, and when it is on a playlist, that’s $$$$$$.  What is an unintended consequence? Well, you don’t have your music when you want it. Labels can pull back their music whenever they want to, as in the pre-VCR days of TV. You go someplace you can’t stream, and you can’t listen.
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