Friday, December 16, 2016


Today I have watched a woman, in tears, be THOROUGHLY patted down by a TSA agent.  I have also watched an anti-democratic coup go down in North Carolina.  THIS IS HAPPENING IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Reasonable Generosity

Photo via Jon Feinstein, creative commons
A couple of years ago, Andy and I were walking down the street to a sandwich shop and ran into a guy asking for money or food.  We promised to bring him a sandwich after we ate, and Andy gave him some advice about using Google Voice if he was looking for a reliable way to be contacted by social services or an employer, which is a good idea.

Over the next week, I was walking down the same street and hoped that the same guy would be around and I'd run into him, but then I was like, "You can't hang out with that presumably homeless guy!"

But why not?  I guess there's stranger danger (eyeroll), but we'd found a few sort of intimate things in common when we talked, so it wasn't fair of me to assume we wouldn't connect.  I was also afraid of taking on a charity case that I didn't know much about.  If I was going to hang out with him, I'd feel obligated to try and help him fix his problems, and I didn't know if I'd be able to do what was necessary to be a friend to him, if he wanted one.

I do my best to share and be generous with my time and money, but if I had this fellow over for dinner one night, I'd feel terrible to let him find a place to sleep later that night.

It's not right that I just keep people out of sight and out of mind.  There are practical limits to sharing,  but they're very hard to see in the moment. As of now, I can't exactly see why it would be unreasonable to offer my couch up to anyone who wants to sleep on it at night.  It's not like I'm sleeping on it at night.  But that's not how things work, I guess.

I'm going to keep pushing until I feel like I am serving my fellow man, regardless of which kleptocrats are in charge.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Pumpkin Spite Latte

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

If someone is not nice to those who serve them, they are just not nice.  Ordering your drink at Starbucks as"Trump" is a way to tell a barista, "I own your ass,"  while enriching the corporation that employs them.  

On the one hand, I like how ineffective it is at hurting Starbucks' bottom line.  On the other, it's a meme meant to humiliate people in the service industry.  Maybe if I wind up in  Starbucks I'll say my name is Miranda, as a nod to the patron saint of no-nonsense niceness Lin-Manuel.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

Skeptical but Hopeful on Infrastructure

Donald Trump has a long record of graft in his real estate dealings, so his push for infrastructure improvement feels not-so-altruistic to me.  This is the area where he's confident that he's got everyone outsmarted, but there's a lot more scrutiny on this than he's ever had.  This is an important problem that needs to be treated seriously, and I'm going to have to have faith that checks and balances will keep it from being a boondoggle.  

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Am I The Only One Trying To Have a Society Here?

I honestly believe that most Trump voters don't really care about race.  That's a double-edged sword, because it doesn't take being a Klan member to be a part of the problem (or as some people say, "racist.").  Often you don't care about race because you're white, and race is something for liberal crybabies to scream about.  It may not be our fault that America's systematically racist in many ways, but as Americans, it is our responsibility to stop it.

I am jumpy about white supremacy's footholds in the White House (not to mention truly ashamed).  Donald Trump doesn't strike me as a guy who truly hates people of color - he seems like a guy who will use racism as a tool when it helps him out.  I hated it when Clinton did it, but she seemed to regain the trust of people of color in the interim, so I followed their lead.

I loved Patrick Thornton's piece on how isolated rural America can be.  I identified with it strongly.  My childhood was spent in a notoriously-white area.  The general etiquette about race was not to mention it ever, since we're all colorblind.  To learn racial slurs, I had to read them in books.  I didn't want to be grouped in with the Aryan Nations just because I grew up close to them.  I know a vanishingly-small number of people of color very well, and it's not because I avoid people who don't look like me.  This all amounts to me being passively racist.

I realized that mass incarceration and the achievement and wage gaps between races in America are problems that are being maintained by a racist system that needs to end, and colorblindness has no effect on those problems, so it's not good enough.

It's not just in my libtard imagination that nonwhite votes are suppressed.  Maybe that's not enough overt racism to convince you that you have a responsibility to act, but that's the half-assed attitude that kept me safely self-respecting in my white bubble 50 miles from the Aryan Nations compound.

I trust the instincts of oppressed people more than I do the white guys who are telling them to calm down.  It's not possible to really get into the feel of moments in history when things went bad, but I think it would behoove us all to be slightly paranoid about things looking eerily similar.  We still haven't really answered the question of how any number of human atrocities happened, so it's not safe to assume that we're safeguarded against doing it again.  Maybe the PC culture is a pain, but that's a price I'm willing to pay.  The way this campaign ran, I think it's safe to say that Trump's ideology vacuum was left open for exploitation by white supremacists.  He said things that were racist enough that the alt-right felt welcome and validated, and moved right into his organization.

It reminds me a lot of hostile responses to Black Lives Matter.  Being a police officer must be challenging, but if the people who do it aren't up to that challenge, they should quit.  Same goes for the people trying to make a fair and equitable society.  If they can't see the problem with the hateful rhetoric in this campaign, they haven't done their due diligence.

If this all seems imprecise, that's because it is.  I'm sticking with the methods that have worked and working against the ones that have failed.  Maybe we're seeing some returns diminish on some methods, but I don't have the perspective to really tell.  In that case, I like to keep it simple.

We can't prevent people from exploiting their power over others, but we can try and empower everyone so that it's a fair fight.  I am allowed to vote, but that can be taken away.  I'm not allowed to assault anyone, but I still might have the power and inclination to do it.  Donald Trump has shown no interest in maintaining a fair society, and that's why this is scary.  In fact, his whole persona consists of exploiting his power over others.    That can be a fun fantasy once in a while, but it's not an ethos a free society can glorify.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pity the Swing State Voter

This isn't one of those elections you just let happen.  You make it happen.  You head down to the volunteer office of your candidate, and ask how you can help out.

There's a Democratic Volunteer Center just around the corner from me, and I've been doing a lot of phone banking on behalf of Hillary Clinton.  We know that California is locked up for Democrats, but Nevada's got some swing to it.  Harry Reid is retiring, and I'd like to see that seat keep its D designation.  So would Catherine Cortez-Masto.

Phone banking is the kind of thing I like to do.  I like talking to new people, and helping them participate in the political process.

If you're in a swing state (or even a safe one) you've probably gotten a few calls from people like me.  You might have gotten a lot of them.  And may I please say: I am so sorry to disturb you.  There are a lot of wrong numbers in the system, and sometimes I'm just sifting through a giant pile of them.  The bummer is that I don't know exactly what happens after I mark the "wrong number" box, but I can tell whoever is on the phone that I've done that.

This afternoon, I probably got 75% wrong numbers of the people who actually answered.  The good news is that most people who I talk to at that point have already decided that they're willing to talk to a phone bank volunteer, and are either going to give me a piece of their mind or just deal with yet another call.  I'll happily talk to either person, but I don't like annoying people so much.

The setup is a lot like I've heard telemarketing is.  Usually I'm set on an autodialer that screens disconnections or voicemail.  It's strangely compelling in a gambling kind of way.  I keep thinking "I should get up and blah blah blah, but what if the next call is a good one?"  I guess they're not kidding about that intermittent reinforcement thing.  So it's a good thing that gambling never appealed to me.

TL;DR I'm sorry if I'm driving you insane, but as far as I can tell, this stuff works for getting people elected.  PLEASE VOTE ON NOVEMBER 8.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

When Time is Money, Cash Assistance Only Does So Much

I'm a little ashamed of it, but I subscribed to Blue Apron.  I love cooking, and I don't have a job, but planning meals stresses me out a lot.  I grew up in a home with one income-earner, where cooking food at home made an enormous difference in the household budget.  When I was little, my family relied on food stamps from time to time, and my parents made it work.  It takes a lot of discipline and patience to feed a family on a budget.

One of the meals I made a while ago

I don't always have that discipline and patience (thus the shame), so I figured I'd give this program a shot.  It turns out it's really fun!  (It feels like being on a cooking show, with all the perfectly-portioned ingredients.)  It distills all of the things that are fun about cooking - new ingredients, new recipes, new techniques - and lets some schmuck deal with the shopping and menu planning.

This is how we should do food stamps and WIC.  The current system of cash assistance (if you can get access) feels slightly punitive and has almost no room for error, but Blue Apron is empowering.  You can come home from work, open a box, cook for a half hour, and then a healthy dinner is on the table.  No more low-blood-sugar panics in the grocery store, and you pick up recipes and skills along the way.

I haven't done any kind of CBA, but I suspect that the costs involved in packaging and distribution would stack up pretty well against what mere mortals waste in their kitchens.  (And anecdotally, it's instructive to bear in mind the number of people who rely on prepared foods every day.)  Maybe the math doesn't quite work, but I would argue that the convenience and learning opportunity that come with the program are worth paying something for.  (Note that it's a viable business already.)

The moral hazard objections are pretty obvious, but I suspect that a lot of it could be ironed out in implementation, and most of them are already present in the current system.  I'm sure we'd see a hell of a lot better outcomes for poor families than we get from the way we spend TANF funds on marriage counseling, even if it just comes down to better nutrition and more time for kids to interact with their parents.

So hey, Blue Apron, if you want to hire me to propose this to HHS,  I am completely untrained in business, but that would he one hell of a contract.

P. S. If you want to know how I really feel about Blue Apron, it really is fun and convenient, but I am underwhelmed when it comes to the veggies.  The amount of vegetables in a given dinner usually seem to be about half the mass I would try for, and probably 50% of the tomatoes I've gotten have not been any good at all.

P.P.S. As of the end of September, I've quit the service.  It's a little bit hard to keep up with all the food, and I only really am excited about one meal per week.  I have gotten a few good ideas, but I've been feeding myself for a while now, and I kind of want to go back to choosing what I eat.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Two-Party Pooper

Medicare for all makes sense.  So does paying for college for Americans.  And better regulation of financial institutions.  I have no real argument with this stuff.  The details deserve a close look, but that's not something we get from Sanders.  As long as some loud, white political junkies are pleased, he's got a campaign on his hands.

It's possible to make these things work, but if we only do it halfway, we end up with a total disaster.  There's definitely an element of the sunk-cost fallacy in there, but that's a theme in American elections.  "Am I better off than I was 8 years ago?" is the too-simple frame that our too-simple party system forces us to use.

I loved this interview with Barney Frank.

I am disappointed by the voters who say, “OK I’m just going to show you how angry I am!” And I’m particularly unimpressed with people who sat out the Congressional elections of 2010 and 2014 and then are angry at Democrats because we haven’t been able to produce public policies they like. They contributed to the public policy problems and now they are blaming other people for their own failure to vote, and then it’s like, “Oh look at this terrible system,” but it was their voting behavior that brought it about.
He's not being diplomatic, and probably not taking enough credit for government dysfunction, but overall, he's right.  It takes some work to support an ambitious agenda, but Americans should be honored to be a part of making things better.  If we're not going to bother, we are effectively signing on with the Republican self-fulfilling prophecy of broken government.

People have needs that are being unmet. Polarization along party lines has become its own end, which may in fact be the end of the parties.

Bernie Sanders tells us he's part of a revolution, but when he fails, he's giving us a nice feeling while we burn a potential movement down.  And we'll just blame him (like a lot of Bernie supporters blame Obama), instead of looking at why nothing changed.  A president is just an administrator.

So maybe I'm not just mad at Bernie, but the asinine black-and-white system that produces lightweights like him.  If the opposition party didn't basically live on another planet, it might work to refine the details of good ideas.

You could say a lot of this about Barack Obama, but I'd respond that his administration has given us about as much progress as possible in the system we have, with the electorate we are.

So what exactly do I think we should do?  For now, I think electing Hillary Clinton President is our best move.  Keep people like Wyden and Warren in the Senate, and concentrate on actual lawmakers before we let presidents break our hearts again.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Disrupting Social Mobility

There's a company I've seen a lot of advertising for lately, called SoFi, which creeps me out mightily.  It's a bank, but won't call itself that.  Kinda like how Uber doesn't have any employees.

SoFi aggregates a bunch of information about its clients and then bestows on them the honor of SoFi's approval for loans and refinancing - for life.  They pick the best financial bets and give them loans.  (Isn't that what a bank does?  Yes, except a bank does this on a loan-by-loan basis.  SoFi signs you up for life.)

The for life  part is what I hate.  I don't think it's bad business, but it seems like an ideal way to permanently separate members of different economic classes.  

And I didn't even get to the most dystopian part yet: they want to create a dating platform for their clients.  Forget about subtle class markers like accents or dental work.  

The most insidious part of this is that it makes perfect business sense.  SoFi offers unemployment insurance to its clients, so that they don't lose their big bets to the random financial setbacks that throw careers into chaos.  

Granted, taxpaying Americans all have access to unemployment insurance, but the public program is not always sufficient to keep people afloat during bad times.   I imagine that SoFi's offering is significantly better than what you'd get from the government.  

But if availability of unemployment support makes Poors too lazy to find work again, why won't it foster indolence among the SoFi class?  

The better we get at figuring the odds, the better we get at stacking them.  

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

More than an Oopsie

I fit in pretty well to the category of cissexual woman.  My phenotype, and I assume genotype, are pretty easy to read.  I have occasionally gotten lazy about how considerate I am to those who don't quite fall on one side of the spectrum.  But I've decided to shape up, mostly spurred by Naomi Gordon-Loebl's essay on The Toast.   I usually think that if you don't comform very well to a gender binary, people will occasionally misgender you, and it's probably on accident so it's no biggie.  However, I've heard many times that it's almost always hurtful, regardless of whether it's an accident.

I have a few trigger issues like that, so I'm going to be extra-sensitive about the things I know are others' sore points.  To that end, I was reading some stuff about gender-neutral language and found a pretty exhaustive guide to making languages less gender-binary.    The languages I am acquainted with are not very accommodating to gender-neutrality.  In fact, when I have taken Spanish classes, I've gotten somewhat stern lectures telling me to shove my feminist sensibility, and I have to admit I've just accepted highly-gendered language as the way of the world.

But now I'm inspired to pay more attention, and not just retreat into a safe ignorance of these issues.  I don't expect that the whole of the Spanish-speaking world will ever go for it, but the way I've seen English pronouns like "zie" or "hir" take off in some parts of the Internet gives me hope that degendered language variants could have viability.

I can't speak much for languages other than English, but if I use new gender-neutral pronouns, I feel I can safely assume that anyone who has a hard time understanding what I'm saying is playing dumb in the hope that I'll switch to their preferred pronoun scheme.  People learn words by context, and a gender-neutral pronoun is a simple concept.

I am not sure exactly what I'm committing to here, but I'm trying to be more careful.  I am not quite ready to give up "he" and "she."  On the one hand, it seems like it would be ideal to use gender-neutral pronouns in situations that demand formality, but on the other, formality usually comes alongside conservatism.  When I think about the way I tend to speak and write, it will probably be sort of random.  I've always liked to keep a variable tone in my writing and speech - it keeps people paying attention, and adds an element of humor.  

Now, as a reward for reading a long discussion of pronouns and their gender politics, here's a song I loved from the 90s, from a band that really seemed to rebel against gender expectations.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Reporting about Sexual Assault Sure Seems Hard

Buzzfeed has come up with something alarming and strange: a huge number of customer support contacts made with Uber include the terms "rape" or "sexual assault."  Buzzfeed got some screenshots from a former Uber customer support representative.

In one screenshot, a search query for “sexual assault” returns 6,160 Uber customer support tickets. A search for “rape” returns 5,827 individual tickets. Other variations of the terms yield similarly high returns: A search for “assaulted” shows 3,524 tickets, while “sexually assaulted” returns 382 results.

That seems like an awfully high number of criminal acts happening in conjunction with Uber rides.  Uber suggested that the search used was returning a lot of typos or out-of-context text strings (and has now been shown to be wrong that this would be why these results are coming up in a search of their software.).  Since I am not a huge fan of the company, my first instinct was to jump on the "They're scum!  Hang 'em!" bandwagon. But a few hours later, it struck me that this is a really strange find.  There do seem to be a strangely-high number of Uber horror stories out there, but the indication of the Buzzfeed findings is that Uber drivers are engaging in an up-to-now invisible, systematic campaign of sexual assault on customers.  It's not impossible, but I'd be truly surprised if that were the case.     

This was brought to my attention on Jezebel, where the implication is that Uber is doing a terrible job of to cover up a huge problem with sexual assault in the face of damning proof.     

Uber did respond to Buzzfeed's piece, but then retracted some of its claims about how the search worked.  

So that's the story so far.  

This all seems very weird.  In my experience, high-profile stories about sexual assault tend to fall apart in strange ways.  That's probably to be expected, given the sensitivity of the subject and the pressure on the parties involved.  

I've learned not to draw conclusions as these stories spin up.  Usually, it's fair to assume someone did something bad, which may or may not rise to the level of a criminal act.  

Given Uber's clumsy attempts to save face in this, I am growing ever more secure in that assumption.  

Monday, March 07, 2016

Voting my Conscience

Hillary Clinton is too much of a hawk, and has caused thousands of unnecessary deaths.  She's also a weird rich person, with whom I have almost nothing in common.

I still admire her ability to keep a strong, progressive career going in the face of opposition at every turn.  I suspect a lot of that ability is related to the things about her I really despise.  The personality and way of thinking it takes to be a truly powerful politician are fundamentally a mystery to most of us.  Ultimately, I think she has what it takes to be a good President, and I'm voting for Hillary Clinton this year.  

I'd be happy to vote for Bernie Sanders in the general election, and I like how he's kept a lot of focus on economic equality in this primary.  But I hate how his campaign has mutated into a Hillary Hatefest that's convinced otherwise smart and strategic people to think they should vote for Donald Trump instead of Clinton.  The overtones of voting to punish Clinton for her sins just come off as delusional.  Voting is a lot more like a duty than a joy, and that's okay.   Maybe my calculations are wrong, and Clinton is a horrible bet for the presidency this year, but I don't think so.               

I can't make the powerful feel anything in particular by casting a ballot.  It reminds me a lot of when the ACA was painfully being cobbled together and progressives wanted to kill the bill because it was going to let those assholes get away with what they've done.

They already have (and had, in the case of the ACA) gotten away with it, and revenge is not just around the corner.  It will probably never come, and even if it did, some truly bad people would be living in truly bad circumstances.  The idea of making them sorry is not a fantasy I am so attached to that I can risk contributing to the Trump agenda.  

I think there is a nonzero chance that Trump could be elected president, and I want no part of that.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Don't be a Backlasher

Top Image from #SharesFromYourAunt

People hate change.  I hate it too, especially when I'm not expecting it.  Whenever a magazine I read changes format, I flip out a little. (That's the least-embarrassing example I can think of in my life, and I'm sticking to it).  You wouldn't know it from populist movements, but change is hard for everyone even when it's for the better.  It requires you to actually think about all your behaviors you'd set on automatic.

Beyond protecting their privilege, this is why people love complaining so much about political correctness.  They were used to a world where they could assume that everyone was straight and or white, and now they have to put new steps in their system before they're being polite.  In that world, no one had a chance to point out that they're getting screwed.  There's an impulse to react with a lot of anger at being asked to change, and that's where backlashes come from.

I, like everyone I've ever met, hate it when somebody tells me to "calm down."  But sometimes I need to calm down.  In calmer moments I've decided that if somebody tells me to calm down, I should consider that I am not calm, and need to be.

But sometimes people do upsetting things they shouldn't do.  America's laws are unfair to minorities, and sometimes majorities.  "Unfair" is an understatement.  I'm reading The New Jim Crow, so that's what's on my mind at the moment, but I don't really want to make this post a list of injustices.

If you'll allow me to make a generalization, there are two types of populists: those trying to correct an injustice and those trying to sabotage progress made by the first group.  The latter are backlashers, and they are loud right now.  They want they're country back - you know, to make it great again.  They don't want to change their pronouns or bother with social and professional circles that truly include nonwhite non-hetero people.

I was horrified when I realized that a lot of people truly value white supremacy and/or patriarchy.  They don't want to call it that, but they are so used to the results that they don't notice what the root cause is.  When you don't want people to understand the facts about sex, you don't want people (but mostly women, since they're the ones who get pregnant) to have a say in their sexual and reproductive lives.
So maybe the SJWs aren't just whining and making your life difficult.  Take a moment to think about it later on tonight.  

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

15 years on birth control and I had no idea

I have teeny tiny muscles.  I've always been a weakling, and it turns out that taking birth control pills has not been helping me out.  I just figured it was genetic.  Then I stopped taking birth control and started lifting weights and all of a sudden I had a muscle or two.  It wasn't a coincidence.

I don't have a fun tangent, I just wanted to inform the masses.  

Monday, February 01, 2016

Ragequit the Machine

I hoped in 2008.  Things changed a little.  I got frustrated when it came time to put together the PPACA.   I thought I was just burned out, and distanced myself from politics for a while.  The political process has broken my heart a few times, but I also can't ignore the world around me.  I can definitely vote, but I can't promise much more than that.  For now, this is going to have to be what I do instead of fully burning out.

It makes me nervous when a politician gets me excited.  Sometimes I am proven to be too pessimistic, and I love it when that happens.  Who really expected Sanders to get this far in the nomination process?

As it stands, I don't think I'll vote for him in the primary.  He's got a few positions on policy I prefer to Hillary's, but he doesn't seem to have any strategy to speak of.  If he sought to change the dialog in the primary, he did that, but I get the feeling it's flaming out into general Hillary-hatred.  The political seems to be just turning personal, and once a campaign veers into a popularity contest, it's just running out the clock.  When you're still telling people that "If people got to know me, they'd vote for me," you haven't made your case, and it's too early to coast.