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My dad [Apr. 17th, 2018|08:01 pm]
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Several decades ago, I came to realize that virtually all things that we think of, nouns, whether concrete or abstract, are really systems of smaller things. The solar system makes a very good illustrative example. These parts interact with each other, following some laws of their nature and the nature of the larger system.

Nothing is ever in perfect equilibrium. A system that lasts long enough for us to notice it and to give it a name must withstand perturbations--the forces that keep it coherent must constantly push everything back toward some never-reached equilibrium. Up to a point, the more the system is perturbed, the more strongly it is pushed back toward its canonical form.

But if the perturbation is too strong, the parts escape the forces keeping them in order and the system rapidly ceases to be.

On February 20, one of my favorite such systems, the man who taught me to look at disparate things and to consider their commonalities and differences so I could conceive this idea of systems, my father, suffered a major perturbation. For nearly two months, the forces holding him together and the momentum pulling him apart were in close balance. So that even this morning, we had great hope he would return home, almost as healthy as he had been before.

But today, he was overcome by the many ailments that were pulling him apart. What remains of him is the effects he has already had on the world and the voice--the way of thinking that he has left in many of us. Chaos has sundered the rest.

The funeral will be on Thursday, April 19, at 1:00 PM at
Crabiel Parkwest Funeral Chapel in New Brunswick, NJ 80901.
(Please note that is a different place than the similarly named funeral home in Milltown.)

The funeral service will be followed by burial at the cemetery of Conngregation B'nai Tikvah, the cemetery being
Washington Cemetery, 104 Deans Rhode Hall Rd, North Brunswick (South Brunswick Township), NJ 08902

There will be an informal gathering after the burial at a place yet to be determined.
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Freedom isn't free. It requires your attention, if nothing else. [Nov. 19th, 2017|03:50 am]
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This is nominally about baseball, but it's really about the shared responsibility of elections and the shared responsibility of living in society.

In 1999, the Gold Glove Awards for being the best fielder at each position in each league were still decided solely by a vote of managers and coaches in the league.

The previous two years in the American League, Rafael Palmeiro, a very good fielder, won the award for First Base. In 1999, nobody was getting a lot of attention as an outstanding defensive first baseman, so Palmeiro again got a plurality of the votes, winning the award.

But in 1999, Palmeiro wasn't a first baseman. Sure, he played there about 1/6 of the time, but nobody would give the award to someone who only started 28 games at the position out of 162.

Even the voters were aghast when the winner was announced. They each (most of them) individually knew that Palmeiro wasn't a regular first baseman anymore. But they were busy, voting wasn't what they were paid to do, so they voted for the familiar name and relied on everyone else to make a better choice.

Living in a society, like relying on formal institutions to handle justice rather than taking individual revenge--works because we all (most of us) understand that's the way it is and we participate. In places where people don't have any faith in the justice system, it doesn't work. People in the US sometimes complain that it doesn't work, because indeed, there are horrible problems with it. But in the places where 95% or so of Americans live, it works well enough that we participate.

Elections, too, work when we participate with real attention, but they don't work when we don't.

Some of you will point, with justification, to the relatively small number of protest voters in swing states who voted for Trump (or Stein or someone else) to send a message and were horrified to find Trump had won. And it's true that because the election was so close, there were likely enough such voters that had they voted for who they actually preferred to win among the two who who might have, we would have a different president (whom they despised, but would still prefer).

But the bigger issue is all those who can but don't vote. Many of whom pay so little attention that by the time Election Day rolls around, indeed they should not vote. Paying attention is not what they're paid to do, so they rely on everyone else to keep things going.

Democracy works when casting an at lest semi-informed vote is just what you do. Democracy has many problems, but when people do pay attention, it is demonstrably better than any alternative ever discovered, by a very wide margin. But when people readily cast the responsibility of choosing leaders to nameless others, democracy does not work for long.

Too often, we see messages that the system is hopeless. Yet it used to work well enough. The only real difference is that we assume it's hopeless, so we ignore it. We don't want to get our hopes up, only to be betrayed--to be made fools of. Or maybe our families come from countries where democracy has always been a sham, so we have no way of knowing in our guts that it can work and has in the not too distant past.

If we want to salvage our heritage, which includes a whole lot of good along with the bad everybody wants to talk about, we need to remember that paying attention, figuring out what's bullshit and what isn't, is part of being an American. If you can do that, you're pulling your weight. If you don't, you're dead weight. Not dead weight to your family or the things that matter most right now, but dead weight to where your family lives. And by the time the young ones have kids, that will matter more than anything.

Political campaigns aren't going to educate people this way for us. They're focused on likely voters, Even if they try to talk to non-voters, especially in communities where voting is rare, they'll be tone deaf. That's not the business campaigns are familiar with. So it's up to us, the more specific us that's reading this, to convey the attitude. You're American? That means it's time to pay attention to how politics works and to vote.
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Neither 1984 nor Lord of the Flies [Oct. 2nd, 2016|10:58 pm]
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We will not accept Lord of the Flies as a defense against 1984. Nor will we accept 1984 as a defense against Lord of the Flies. It doesn't matter whether oppression comes from something that calls itself a government.

The only defense against both Lord of the Flies *and* 1984 is a government strong and active enough to prevent oppression by others, but restrained by custom and law and committed to serving the people who grant it sovereignty. That includes mitigating the effects of oppressive power imbalances that are intrinsic to any complex society.

We have a government that has done a somewhat decent job of that at times, and was getting steadily better through much of the last century. That time ended about when I became an adult, and before many of you have first-hand political memories, so it may seem like a fairy tale. But it happened, and people's lives are vastly better and longer because of it. And there remain many ways the government still acts as a real check on the abuse by the powerful.

When all we focus on is the shortcomings of the government--when we take for granted and do not praise its successes, we undermine the political viability of the very notion of a government that is an agent of the people. We let its political profile be defined by those who want to get it out of the way, so they can increase their exploitation. That is the great mistake of the left.

The single most critical factor that will decide whether power grows more fair or less is whether people feel that of course it should grow better and it is some sort of offense against what we should expect that it is not. On the other hand, if you teach people that abuse is just the way things are and maybe some day we'll have a revolution to fix it, you will get Russia.
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Bullying [Oct. 2nd, 2016|10:57 pm]
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Bullying affects people you know, even if you don't know it.
I was bullied throughout my time in public school. It was worst in 2nd grade, but even as it got better, it never stopped.

The most physically damaging incidents came as I got older.

  • I have hearing loss from a firecracker (M80, probably) thrown into an enclosed stairwell I was in.

  • The cartilage damage in my knee dates from when I was skinny, but I don't know if it was caused by the time someone jammed by lower leg between the wheel well and seat of a school bus and tried to break my leg.

  • One that was younger: the ventral hernia that has dogged me including 3 operations, one preceded by excruciating pain of intestine nearly dying due scar tissue adhesions from a previous operation--the first time I felt that was when I got punched the last day of second grade--by a guy who likes a lot of what I post here and probably doesn't remember the incident. Again, I'd bet against him having caused the hernia, but I don't know.

But even worse than the physical effects is the psychological trauma of living in fear all the time. And knowing that if I show I'm afraid, that will only bring on much more bullying. If I seem well put together, needing to put on that front is why. I have done some damned good things in my life, but I could also fairly be called an underachiever, with PTSD and an anxiety disorder. My experiences at school account for half of that, if not more.
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(no subject) [Jul. 7th, 2016|04:24 pm]
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Let's put that question I asked in May in plain language.

I have a bag of unfair coins. Some will come up heads half the time, some less, some more. I don't know if they're wildly spread out, usually stay between, say, 45% and 55%, or what.

I take a good handful of the coins and I flip each of them several times. I'm not systematic, though. So coins don't all have the same number of flips. But at least for each coin I flipped, I know how many heads and how many tails I got.

I want to know just how bad the whole bunch of coins are. Or at least, the best guess I can make from the data I have. If I took the whole bag and flipped every coins millions of times, I could easily calculate the standard deviation of heads probability among the coins. But what's the best I can do from the limited information I actually have?
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Pro-Left, Anti-Revolution [May. 19th, 2016|02:35 pm]
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When I was young, I gave serious thought to the morality and technique of overthrowing the government. I came to realize that a literally revolutionary movement here could not destabilize the government, could not win a civil war even if it did destabilize the government, and had no way to avoid becoming even worse than the status quo as it would change in any serious attempt to win such a civil war.

Still, those destabilizing techniques remained interesting to me, even if only to monitor others' behavior. And for the first time, since the 1970s, I'm seeing them used on the left side of electoral politics, by a minority of Sanders supporters. That's interesting, but by itself wouldn't be alarming, as there aren't enough of them that they should be effective. There have long been a scattering dispirited revolutionaries on the left, who never did the soul searching I did as a teenager and it's interesting to see how similar they are from one generation to the next.

What I find much much more troubling than the revolutionaries themselves is how credulously many other Sanders supporters lap up their propaganda.

This nomination is not being stolen. Clinton could have won it more easily (though it would have greatly harmed her general election chances) by doing the kind of red-baiting that the Republicans would if Sanders were nominated. But she figured she'd win the nomination anyway, so she didn't go negative in that way.

The nomination process is arcane and prone to minor controversies along the way. That should change. The revolutionaries have mischaracterized those speed bumps and sometimes intentionally caused them in order to attack the legitimacy of the nomination.

That kind of disinformation should not work. I think in most past years, it would not have worked on the left. But along with the actual revolutionaries, there is a mood among many other Sanders supporters to believe any charge against the system, no matter how bogus. That will not serve us.

The Sanders campaign has presented the actual left in this country a wonderful opportunity, both to change the terms of debate (outside leftist circles) on basic economic issues and to energize people who have previously been apathetic. We should continue moving the movement forward through Sanders' candidacy to the convention and his probable speech there.

But we should not kid ourselves about where we stand. With a center-left candidate against a Democratic Socialist, both of whom have serious flaws along with real assets as personalities, we will probably fail to nominate our candidate--not because the nomination process itself is rigged, but because in a coalition of interests that form the more leftward half of the electorate, we comprise slightly less than half of that coalition.

That says we have work to do, but also says we have considerable strength. We won't further our cause by turning people away from electoral politics by fanciful charges of rigging. And we won't further our cause by adopting the revolutionary tenet that things have to get worse (Trump) before they can get better.
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Statistics Question [May. 17th, 2016|03:38 pm]
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I have a class C of objects. I have a sample of objects of the class. And each object O has its own sample with a number of trials NO. NO has a range of 1 to several hundred.

Each object O has a parameter PO. What I want is the variance of PO in the class C.

The true values of PO are not known. But from each object's sample, I have XO, which is an estimate of PO. And I have VO, which is the variance of XO as an estimate of PO, given NO. (I don't know if XO is an unbiased estimator, but if need be, I can use a function f where f(XO) is very close to an unbiased estimator of f(PO).)

I think this is something I ought to know how to do. Or at least be able to find the answer via Google. But so far, no such luck. And it's not just curiosity this time, but a business need.

Note that I can't just take the variance of XO, because the limited sample size NO means that each XO contains variability both from the variance of PO (which is what I'm looking for) and from the variance of XO as an estimate. If I already knew the class variance of PO, I could use that to refine my estimate of PO for each object. But I'm trying to do more or less the reverse of that.
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In limited but sincere defense of Trump and his supporters [Mar. 4th, 2016|08:15 pm]
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So John Oliver does a great, well-deserved take-down of Donald Trump. In which, he includes reference to in indirect accusation that Trump has a small dick. (Are you really going to say you didn't understand than when watching Oliver?) Oliver says there's really nothing wrong with Trump's fingers (and indirectly his dick) but he uses the reference again later in the piece.

Shortly thereafter, Trump responds to the same crap somewhat more explicitly, but still in a safe-for-work-and-maybe-children way.

And you're all on Trump for being so immature, but fine with what he was responding to. Because Oliver did it with humor aimed at your education level. And you wonder why so many people are so pissed off at political niceties that they end up supporting Trump's dick.
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On the Bifurcation of the Miiddle Class and Today's Anti-Establishment Candidates [Feb. 25th, 2016|08:13 pm]
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The Industrial Revolution never stopped. It is a rolling wave that occasionally gains a new beachhead on a distant shore, but mostly moves gradually fro where it is. People in one locale move off their subsistence farms (which are in truth inadequate for assured subsistence and survival) into the new factories, where their lives are in some ways even worse, but on balance just enough better to they go.

These first-generation workers have limited literacy and no experience living by an artificial clock. They do basic assembly, because that's all they can do. Those who can't resist germs, a surfeit of alcohol and other drugs, or who can't live by a clock and get along with others in close quarters, die. In the mean time, their willingness to work in poor conditions for low pay keeps the pay for simple assembly at a low level everywhere. Well, everywhere that doesn't have high tariffs, anyway.

What propels the Industrial Revolution forward are the second and third generations of workers and the capitalists who have invested in their regions. Those workers can follow a clock and can read and therefore learn new complex techniques rather quickly. Their bosses have established markets to sell their produce, so their factories stay open, but they outsource the simplest parts of production to new first-generation workers, usually not very far away.

And so it goes. Marx observed Western Europe running out of subsistence farming regions, and predicted the collapse of this system. 200 or years so too early. His prediction for what happens after a revolution was meshugenah. But his description of what happens when there is nowhere left to absorb into the modern economy is interesting and yet to be tested.

In any case, in any generation, the 'natural' result of capitalism is to concentrate economic power and for that economic power to seize political power, which leads to even greater concentration of economic power, and so on.

Seeing how that played out in Europe, with breakdowns in civil order that were bad for all economic classes, this country in the middle third of last century intentionally tilted the system, both to lessen the concentration of economic power and to hinder the application of economic power in the acquisition of political power.

Later, as the upheavals in Europe became a more distant memory and as social programs greatly reduced the number of very poor who literally had almost nothing to lose by sacrificing their lives in revolution, the wealthy in this country decided they wanted their power back. The convinced the lower middle class to back policies that helped the global poor economically, helped the global elite economically, helped the US elite politically, were initially neutral toward the rest of the US middle class, and directly hurt themselves economically. The US wealthy did this by completely misrepresenting the nature of what had been done in the previous two generations here and by playing on racial resentment (of which there was tangible cause in many cases, no matter how much African-Americans have been the ones taken advantage of throughout our history).

Now, with political power being ever more concentrated by wealth, the economic level below which the rich won't pillage is rising. The use of disingenuous metrics to demonize and pauperize teachers is but one example of this.

Trump mostly represents a continuation of the scam that has gotten the lower-middle to work against themselves. His proposal is that the beatings continue until morale improves.

Sanders mostly represents the middle-middle saying enough of this. Politely telling the lower-middle they've been acting like fools hasn't worked, because from the listener's point of view, there's no polite way to tell someone they've been acting like a fool. So we're going to stop being polite. We'll tell it like it is and let the chips fall where they may.
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On Morality and Property [Feb. 11th, 2016|02:20 pm]
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This is from a conversation elsewhere, that started in this direction when someone objected to the notion of college education as a right (even if it's a good idea) because others would have participate by paying for it. He wanted to substitute the word "privilege" for anything that requires others' participation. It went back and forth several time, with me referring to a moral right and him prodding on what that meant, too.

I hate going back right after I write something that takes real thought to edit it. So I'm just going to copy it here. I'd organize it differently if it had been meant to stand on its own, but I think it's comprehensible enough to be of interest to some.

First, way up-thread, I wrote: Easier to define by its opposite. Immorality is that which is wrong because it undermines standards of behavior that we accept as good. If the only reason something is wrong (unethical) is because of its direct affect, morality is beside the point. If all things considered, an act is ethical, it is not immoral. But when the breaking of standards is critical to determining an act is wring, the act is immoral.


Breaking promises is immoral, absent overwhelming need. That's why I mentioned a moral right. Freeing the slaves was imperative. Even at the cost of breaking the promise that came from the legal recognition of ownership. But that was a cost.

Morality is the upholding of standards of behavior, so that in future situations, people will behave in ways you deem consistent with the well-being of society and therefore its people.

If you believe that pre-marital sex is wrong because it offends God, then engaging in it might only be bad for yourself and your partner--if you are 100% confident no one else will ever know, consciously or otherwise, and there will be no earthly consequences. But if it will be recognized and not punished, it (from this perspective) sets a bad example and is immoral. It breaks a societal compact not to act in such a way.

Morality, as I said, is subject to the opinions of which standards exist (which is somewhat testable) and which of those standards are worth caring about preserving (less testable, closer to pure opinion). The majority is sometimes wrong. So majority opinions on morality is sometimes wrong. Slavery was not moral, as far as I'm concerned. There was a standard, but it was an evil one.

The concept of morality has been poisoned in American debate, because it has been used almost exclusively by religious conservatives, referring to standards that the rest of us do not accept. Therefore many people reject the notion of morality itself. Rather, we should talk about things we consider morally necessary, such as treating each other decently. Not merely because being a jerk is harmful to the person you're being a jerk to, but because when they learn that being a jerk is how people are, they do it themselves, to others. The standard of acting decently gets broken.

Back to your question: I used the term "legal right," which I think is sufficient. It points out by the egregiousness of the system that not all legal rights are morally or ethically proper, but within the framework that existed, it was recognized as legal.

I think that any definition of privilege that goes against distinction made by the old saw "driving is a privilege, not a right" is swimming against too great a tide, at least in my generation (Born 1960). The distinction is that privileges are revocable and may be given to some but not others.

Which bring me back to the discussion of property. We have a right not to have our economic system suddenly changed beneath our feet--not to have private property suddenly abolished, to take an extreme example. But we do not have a fundamental right to keeping the details of how our economy works stay just the same, in perpetuity. Land is granted by governments and title is enforced by governments. Everything we use ultimately derives from the fruits of that land. Those fruits are not yours, without the constant maintenance of force by the government, or by other forces in situations where governments disintegrate. So to say that you're participating in the payment of someone else's college because your income is taxed to pay for it, is no more true than to say that I'm participating in in your home ownership because societal resources are used for police and deeds registrars.

You would be mistaken if you take that to mean I'm challenging private property. But I do challenge the assumption that the right to such property is more fundamental than the right to any other long-established parcel of our economic system. The question at hand is whether tuition-free higher education should be added to the list of such parcels.
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What the Iowa Caucuses generally show (not specific to 2016) [Feb. 2nd, 2016|09:12 pm]
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On the Republican side, the caucuses are good at selecting the candidate who to represent one faction of the party. The faction whose reason for being politically involved is to assuage their existential fears by attempting to impose their religion on everyone else. The faction that loses the nomination to another faction, whose reason for being in politics is to exploit those fears for profit.

On the Democratic side, the caucuses choose a regional candidate, if there is one. Otherwise, it gives a reasonable indication of who has party support, but it skews White.
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Both campaigns are full of it when they say they can stuff done in 2017-18. [Jan. 31st, 2016|05:37 pm]
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I think so long as there's a GOP House majority that depends on the Freedom Caucus, Congressional obstruction will look much as it does now, whether the President is Clinton, Sanders, Bloomberg, Kasich, or whomever. But the Sanders campaign talking point of breaking the deadlock by sweeping in a new Congress *in 2016* is at least as unrealistic as the Clinton campaign's that somehow they'll be more responsible with her in the White House.

The only two way it changes is if someone like Cruz gets elected (I much prefer deadlock) or if a Democratic President runs hard in 2018 against Congress, being willing to lose a big battle or two where the public is on her/his side leading up to the election.
It's imperative to do that, even if the Democrats hold a nominal majority, but not a solid enough majority to prevent obstruction.

Bill Clinton should have done that, but didn't. He was too much of a people-pleaser to not take whatever the best deal he could get at the time, because he'd be litting people down (as he saw it) if he didn't. So we got things like DADT.

Obama didn't, I think because the economic conditions left him very little latitude in public opinion. When the public is already scared but not angry, it's dangerous to challenge them too much.

Who'll be more likely to take that aggressive approach, should they get in? I think Sanders. But I'm not sure he'd be effective at it. That's why I support Sanders, but I can't yet promise to keep supporting him. The primary season is an audition. And despite how long some of us have been following it, it's all Spring Training until Monday. I want to see how both Sanders and Clinton handle the ups and downs of a real campaign with real voter feedback.
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It's not jut the right wing. The left has also helped create the atmosphere Trump exploits. [Jan. 26th, 2016|07:56 pm]
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As correctly noted by people NPR interviews, it's counterproductive when the FBI monitors mosques and discussions in the mosques about terrorism. Even when tweens express sympathy for violent and/or extreme positions, it's much better for the adults to explain why that's wrong in a calm manner, safe from surveillance, so everyone is speaking authentically.

Trump is a pernicious troll, and deserves the criticism he gets. But we create opportunities for him and those like him when we shut down discussions where people honestly try to reconcile their prejudiced perceptions of the world with what the rest of us have realized.

It's easy to get tired of teaching the basics of seeing through the news' oppressive tropes over and over again. It's easy to assume that everyone who doesn't already know better is actively trying not to know better. But sometimes, they aren't. In those cases, when we shout at them and tell them to shut up, we push them more firmly into the bigots' camp. It is better to teach, patiently--being wary of trolls, but not being too quick to conclude someone is one.
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Robert Reich gets it right. [Jan. 26th, 2016|07:53 pm]
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"Political 'pragmatism' may require accepting 'half loaves' – but the full loaf has to be large and bold enough in the first place to make the half loaf meaningful. That’s why the movement must aim high – toward a single-payer universal health, free public higher education, and busting up the biggest banks, for example."
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Does Trump see this? [Jan. 26th, 2016|07:51 pm]
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I wonder if Trump is too much of an egotist to realize he's better off not winning Iowa by too much, if at all. He needs Cruz to be a strong factor in the race going forward, or the winner of the Bush/Christie/Kasich/Rubio fight will surely beat him over time.
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Trump [Dec. 14th, 2015|12:46 pm]
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Fascism grew out of far worse political conditions than we have. With far more fear of non-fascist revolution, and so less willingness on the part of the body politic to defend the status quo.

We here live in a society where the status quo is considered by most to be virtually unchangeable. There is no *immediate* danger of fascism here, for that reason. Trump's campaign does undermine that certainty, just as economic stagnation of the middle class has. But overreacting to Trump's campaign, proclaiming our system is far more fragile than it actually is, does every bit as much to undermine the confidence in the current system.

Hyperventilating about Trump is the political equivalent of calling for a run on the bank by shouting we must protect the bank from everyone who's about to make a run on it. It is related to how professional activists always try to raise money from you by talking of immediate dangers (which are often exaggerated) rather than long-term goals.
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Refugee Status [Nov. 17th, 2015|02:31 pm]
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For folks who don't know what it actually takes to get into the US as a refugee. It's not the same as entering as an immigrant or as an asylum seeker. It's a lot harder. The folks saying the system should be revised probably don't know it already looks like what they want it to.

Quoting a friend who has long worked resettling refugees from many parts of the world:

...the average Syrian refugee goes through a vetting process that is 2 years long, and involves multiple agents at multiple agencies. They end up being more heavily scrutinized than a prospective CIA or secret service agent.

Of course, this level of scrutiny can be increased, if we're willing to pay for it. But to call on the vetting process to be even more 'updated' and intense is pretty absurd.

Especially when there are a number of rather easy ways to legally enter the country.

The US has resettled 750,000 refugees since 9/11 without any of them being linked to a domestic terrorist incident.

None of this means nothing will ever happen with a refugee. It does mean people should direct their worry elsewhere long before focusing on refugees.

The US refugee program is something Americans should be proud of. Millions of people have fled from terror and found safe haven in the US.

It would be really nice if in this present culture of fear and hatred, it remained that way. But it's up to us, as Americans, to remain sensible.
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Democratic Debate [Oct. 14th, 2015|12:32 am]
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I am very sad. Sanders is effective at convincing people of truths. But unless tonight was a fluke, he is uninterested or clueless about to convince people to positively imagine him as president. He can keep doing fine among people who are highly motivated by issues, but he's almost certain to lose the nomination and if he were nominated, he would lose to Rubio and probably to Bush.

Clinton was competent, I guess a little better than that. But she also reminded us that she's wrong about important stuff more often than we should expect, even taking electability fully into account. Yet if she can keep up tonight's level of performance, she will be nominated and that's probably for the best.

O'Malley started out every bit as badly as those who've seen him in person over the years told me he was. But he got better as the debate got toward the middle. And then he kept getting better--he was really good in the final half hour. I have real doubts that he will keep it up, but if he does, he becomes a possible vice-president and may even make the nomination interesting. He may also keep Biden out, if Biden would otherwise be in.

The other two are not factors at all.
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