25 July 2016

A Conversation on my Post Before Last

I got some in depth feedback on my post before last.

That's the parts in black.
My response follows in red.

Hi Bakari
My reply is too long to post into your "comment" box, so I am emailing it instead:
First, I want to thank you for taking the time to try to articulate your thoughts and beliefs more clearly so we can understand what you are thinking. 

Thanks for this reply!
I think that I understand your beliefs a little better now. 
That being said, I have many mixed feelings about your analysis and conclusions. ... who cares enough to want to influence things to be more just and fair and better for all; and ... that you are so intelligent and do so much research to try to discern what is real and true and what is not; and that you have the courage to express your beliefs regardless how unpopular. 
However, I believe that you oversimplify many things to make them fit neatly into your analysis

That is without a doubt true!  Topics the encompass hundreds of millions of different individuals can never possibly be discussed without oversimplifying.  If I were to flesh out every caveat, I'd end up with a book instead of a blog post.
(just as do many other people whom you accuse of making false allegations about the current state of affairs.)  Yes, the left ("liberals"), generally plays the same game of "us & them" as the right.  (The oppressed vs the oppressors or the disadvantaged vs the privileged, etc.)  But so do you.  The difference is just that yours is a team of one, rather than a self-identified group.  It is bright Bakari vs all those idiots out there on left & right who cannot see that the emperor has no clothes. 

Hee hee!  I'm not the single unique person - I actually often get more supportive comments than push back on what I think are going to be very controversial - including comments like "I always thought that, but you ar the first to ever say it".  I think many people who share my understandings are less vocal.  In general, most people aren't vocal, and especially not in the face of (usually angry) opposition.  
Besides, most of what I know and understand comes from other sources.  I just happen to have a particular nexus of not identifying with a particular side, being exposed to very different populations, finding certain things interesting, and - this is important - having a blog.  Anyway, I don't feel particularly "opposed" to everyone who sees things differently.  People with strong affiliations to one side or the other tend to write things to their own side, since the opposition is incorrigible. If I felt that far removed from everyone, I would have no incentive to write.

Re: "race" issues
I think you underestimate how much racism still exists in this country and oversimplify the causes. 
I agree that people often falsely assume they are being targeted for reasons of racism rather than due to their own behavior or in situations where they are not being targeted at all (as in the examples you gave).  However, I disagree with your apparent belief that, with all other things being equal (dress, behavior, etc.), that dark-skinned &/or African-featured people do not get harassed and/or discriminated against disproportionately more than lighter-skinned people.  There have been too many examples of well-behaved middle-class men in suits being targeted by police, as well as of white people acting just as poorly and dangerously being handled more gently, to be able to agree with your apparent assumption that race is not a large factor in how people in the U.S. are treated by police (and everyone else.) 

Not that I expected you (or anyone) to actually read all of every one of the links to past posts, but I tried not too repeat too much of what was in them (since it was already so long), but I have acknowledged previously that there is an element of genuine racism in many areas of life.  Most notably (and confirmed by statistics, not just anecdote), is the outcomes of criminal trials.  Incidentally, (and significantly), those outcomes are NOT determined by the "justice system", by police or DAs or judges.  They are determined by juries of random citizens.  Which makes that more evidence of a racist society than of "systemic" racism.
Even that said though, I also acknowledge there are disparities to be found other places.  
What I'm trying to emphasize is that these disparities are much much smaller than people assume when just looking at raw statistics without controlling for all the relevant factors.

By analogy, much has been made of the pay gap by gender.  Now, granted, there really is one.  But what people look at when they are trying to make a case for how bad our sexism is is just the overall average rates of pay.  The huge thing that doesn't take into account is the differing fields people tend to choose.  A female college student is much more likely to go into teaching or social work the business school or petroleum engineering.  Women are more likely to forgo career advancement if it means not being able to spend time with family.  When you factor those things out, and compare apples to apples, the 79 cents per dollar (a woman makes compared to a man) turns into 95 cents per dollar.  Absolutely, in a egalitarian society it would be 100 cents per dollar once you accounted for different choices people make, but it still wouldn't be 100 per dollar if you merely compared total compensation over total working hours.  Apparent sexism accounts for 5% of the disparity.  Different interests and values accounts for 16% - more than 3 times as significant a factor. 

Citing a misleading statistic, one that is 3 times higher than the "real" (adjusted) one leads to misleading conclusions, which in turn gets people to focus all their efforts in a place that isn't going to make any significant difference.

Similarly, yes, racism has more than zero role to play.  What I believe, what I am making a case for, is that leveling the economic playing field would make a MUCH larger difference in ending racial disparity than it would if we could wave a magic wand and make every decision maker "color blind" over night.  I actually think very little would really change if everyone stopped being at all racist, but nothing else changed.

I know you live by statistics; please refer me to your source that proves your case in this regard.

Much was made of how "disproportionate" stop-and-frisk in NYC was.  Opponents to it pointed out that young Black and Latino men made up only 4.7% of the population yet made up 41% of all stops.
Yet, they gloss over or ignore that that same population comprised about 90% of all murder suspects.
So looked at differently: Blacks and Latinos made up 90% of murder suspects, and yet despite that only 41% of stops were those demographics.
Even if by some enormous conspiracy of injustice where cops look the other way in cases where a murder suspect is white so often that that statistic is off by half, that still means that these minority youth were being stopped disproportionately LESS than the population's violent crime rate would suggest.

In one of the past blog posts I linked to in my post is a graph showing that in NY in 2011, while Blacks and Hispanics made up about 90% of people caught with illegal firearms, over 90% of shooting suspects, and 100% of those who shot at the police, they only made up around 80% of those shot by police - again, disproportionately low, when adjusted for behavior that would justify police shooting.
The irony is, I got this graph from a Mother Jones article, which was trying to prove how racist the NYC cops were!  Had they just used raw numbers, it might have been much harder to see how whites were actually being shot at disproportionately often when considering crime rates, but they put it in graph form, and didn't even notice it undermined their own argument.

In your analysis, you speak of patterns of stereotyping of different immigrant groups as they first arrived and how the stereotypes faded as each group became more wealthy and successful in society.  What is your analysis of why each of the groups you named were able to overcome the discrimination and go on to become successful and mainstreamed in a few generations, while African-Americans and Native-Americans (who were here before all of those groups of immigrants) still suffer with a much higher proportion of poverty and attendant crime?

I am not 100% sure, but I think a big part is that European immigrants reasonably quickly assimilated, and to a large extent, Asian and Hispanic immigrants make efforts to as well.  This is why "separate but equal" was a problem.  Even if it really was equal, "seperate" alone would always have been a problem.  Culture is why Black youth are so disproportionately anti-social.  The American Indian has the option to assimilate today - they are legally citizens, and nothing keeps them on reservations.  But there is a long cultural heritage of isolation.  In Eastern Europe, there was no particular racial distinction of townies from gypsies, but they lived separately, maintained separate language and culture, and poverty and crime - and prejudice - all followed them.
  This is why I was opposed to the idea a few years back of legitimizing "ebonics" - its true that linguistically it is no better or worse, but it is also a surefire way to prevent young Black people from getting good jobs.  Its why I think liberals were right to decry "white flight" in the 60s 70s 80s, and why I think they are WRONG to decry "gentrification" today, which is just "white flight" in reverse (note: people don't get evicted purely for rent in rent control cities, and people don't get foreclosures purely for property tax rates in CA after prop 8).  Because one part of changing a culture of poverty and crime is integration into the main society.
As I mention in the blog, there is still cultural isolation in Asian neighborhoods, but there is also the availability of in influx of money since many keep ties with home, and Asia has a lot of money, plus more recent immigrants are more likely to be let in if they have money or skills that make them money, and then they support older relatives and circulate money locally.  Heck, even going back to railroad building times, they may have come as indentured servants - and fit a pattern of poverty and crime at first, but (unlike slavery) that ended within a single generation, so the opportunity to build wealth could start before a culture of poverty got too ingrained.
This is all speculative, I'm not wedded to the theory.
One thing that I can show conclusively with statistics: the disparity can not be primarily due to racism by the rest of society.
Consider that African immigrants do dramatically better than multi-generational US blacks in (for example) education and income


Same skin color, different culture.  The averages are closer to white immigrants than they are to native African Americans.
Just like the women and pay thing, even after controlling for culture and poverty, there is still a disparity, but it becomes a tiny disparity.  So while racism may be more than 0 factor, it is the wrong thing to focus on if we want to make a significant difference.
Re: Your basic analysis & conclusions about economic disparity and change
I find your analysis of economic disparity to have a stronger foundation in research than your beliefs about the degree of racism in this country.  But I do think you are oversimplifying here as well.

Of course there are individual differences!  I'm not sure how that's relevant when we are looking at population averages.  There are some Black people who save and break out of poverty, and some white people who waste their money on stupid crap and become destitute.  There are Blacks who go to college and Whites who live life in prison.  If we wanted to just say "individual responsibility", I suppose you could make a case for that (plenty of people do), but there are also real statistical disparities.  Poverty (regardless of race), while it can almost always be climbed out of, the fact is most people don't.  It creates a self-perpetuating cycle.  Its an unfortunate, but well documented, fact of human psychology.  When a person is focused on paying a bill today, it is harder to think about the consequences of that payday loan next week.  Literally harder to think about.  The same person, under more pressing circumstances, will tend to make the same sort of (in the long run, bad) decisions, because the human mind defaults to immediate problems.  

While your theories all sound very factual, I do not know them to be true.  Many successful and productive people throughout history began with lives of wealth and privilege and were completely supported through college by their parents and inherited from their parents and still worked hard and were productive. Many people born in poverty remained in poverty whether productive or not.  Many times productive and unproductive people were born to the same family and raised in the same poverty, wealth or somewhere in between, and had the same gifts and support bestowed upon them by their family. 

Again, I never meant to imply that what I was saying applied 100% of the time to 100% of individuals.

I think there is a difference between support and assistance and "spoiling."

Agree.  Perhaps we disagree on where that line is. 
  I agree that if children are usually given everything they want and nothing at all is expected of them, they will be likely to take things for granted, and feel entitled to be taken care of all of their lives.  On the other hand, giving unconditional love and meeting all their basic necessities as infants and children is the best way to raise healthy happy people.  

I don't in anyway think that children should have to "earn" their food, shelter, clothing, or education.  I do think that adults who are capable of it, should, and that to have an equal society, any help one person gets everyone should get. 

Even as young adults, to give support and assistance when they are doing their best is not the same as "spoiling."  If I had the money to put children through college, I would not want to waste it on a child who cuts class all the time and refuses to study.  But I see no reason not to help the child who is getting straight As or who is struggling to work while in school and it is interfering with their studies.
I would like to see what scientific study, done scientifically, ruling out other factors, with bonafide statistics, etc., has convinced you that children who have parental support through school

I posted this link in the blog post:

and/or receive a substantial inheritance are generally less productive than those whose parents either cannot provide or intentionally deny them assistance.

I'm not sure about "less productive".  It would be impossible to measure, because in our economic system there is no real distinction between value produced by capital investment versus personal effort.  If a person owns a multinational company that, among its 50,000 employees, creates value of 10 million a year, is that owner producing 10 million a year?  What if they are a very involved CEO, personally making important decisions and micromanaging and working 80 hours a week?  What if they hire a very talented CEO, and sit back and live a life of leisure?  In either case, how much of that 10 million do they get credit for?  Which has been more productive, the person who builds such a company from scratch, and then retires early, or the one who inherits the company without working for it, but then begins working hard?
No right or wrong answers that I can see.

What I do know is

1) that the majority of middle class Americans get significant levels of help as adults, cash amounts large enough that the class you are born into becomes a major factor,
2) that the majority of the Middle class has an entirely self-imposed scarcity due to not understanding the value or power of money and making consistently bad decisions.  I

 believe these things are related, though I have no independent data to support that belief.
As to "doing the right thing," it sounds like you are saying that no matter how much you may donate to worthy causes (including economic justice agencies and scholarship funds), it is meaningless if you also give anything materially substantial to your own children.  Is that your intent? 

Hmm. I'd say "meaningless" and "materially substantial" are both rather ambiguous terms.  That's like asking if it is meaningless to ride a bike to work if you eat meat, or if it is meaningless to recycle if you use incandescent light bulbs. I think it would be best for society, as well as to individuals, if money spent on people's children instead went to leveling the playing field.  I think any degree of step in that direction is positive.  Its up to individuals to decide on their own what they find "meaningful"
To insist that one can't do both, or that it is meaningless if you do?

I think that, except for particular special circumstances, in general, in the long run, even if large cash handouts to adults who don't need it permanently raise the economic class, they rarely if ever make a person happier in life, so I don't see the point.  I think it is more valuable to teach life skills and values  - and that inheritance actively undermines those skills and values.  Why would I want to do that?
  You cited 2 examples of ridiculously rich men pledging to leave 99% of their wealth to charity, and then admitted that still left hundreds of millions for their children.  Most of us can't leave hundreds of millions to our children even if we gave nothing to charity.  So I do not see how these two examples support your points (about what the rich understand about not coddling children or about the injustice of inheritance).

I noted the caveat that a 99% pledge could mean leaving hundreds of millions and still meet the pledge.  I didn't say any of them said they actually were going to leave their kids 1%.  People generally like using the number 99, even when (like with the Occupy movement), 99.99% would be more appropriate.  Any anyway, this is in contrast to most billionaires who leave everything to their own kids.  I don't see how this has any bearing on the point about the injustice - I feel like that in self-apparent, regardless of what these particular people do.
It also seems that you expect the change to occur by just convincing people one by one to deny their children the inheritance that they would otherwise have given them, and refuse to help their children through college.  I believe that it takes systemic changes (like laws and govt. programs) to change the habits of masses of people.  For example, most people did not start to recycle until curbside recycling was made available. 

Agree, 100%!!  But before laws change, the people's opinions have to change.  The government rarely acts in a bubble completely removed from public opinion.  This is a democracy.  The people vote for elected officials based on their platforms.  
And it isn't just conservatives and rich people who oppose taxing middle class inheritance.    Only when enough people understand that this system is perpetuating inequality will there by any chance of changing laws.  
At the same time, individuals have complete control over only their own actions.  I can't force the city to implement curbside recycling, but if I believe it makes a positive difference, I can save up my own recyclables and take them to the recycling center.
I can't change our dependance on oil, but I can bike to work and power my truck on used veggie oil.  If everyone did that, it wouldn't matter if the laws changed.  And if enough people thought it was a worthwhile goal, the laws would change.
Either way, its the same message I want to spread.
And either way, I personally want to avoid contributing to the problem.

I think that, if your analysis of economic disparity is correct, than it needs laws limiting inheritance (&/or greatly taxing it) to make change on a scale large enough to make a difference.  Expecting conscientious individuals to do it alone, is like expecting a few to lose their houses to the IRS for refusing to pay taxes due to war, while the wars go on unaffected by the actions of so few.  Though I suppose it may be helpful to get people thinking about this stuff.  But I still question the efficacy of sacrificing your personal inheritance for an imagined change in our unjust economic environment.

That's the thing though!  Its actually perfect, because of the two unrelated things: inheritance has a negative effect on society, and it also has a small or zero positive effect (or even possibly a negative effect) on the individual!  It fits together perfectly (like how me riding my bike to work saves me money and provides healthy exercise).  There is a perfect convergence.  It is Win-Win.

One more point I want to make in reference to motivation.  You clearly think assistance (if you say "too much assistance," than I can agree) is de-motivating.  Has it ever occurred to you that many people are motivated to work and produce in order to provide for their children, and that if you denied them the ability to do that, they will be much less productive? 

Absolutely!  In fact, when I argue inheritance with conservatives this is a point they bring up often.
If someone has gotten so much wealth that it now has zero marginal utility in their own lives (there is nothing left they want to buy), then I am VERY ok with them not continuing to "be productive" (build wealth).
This is just suggesting that if people couldn't pass wealth on to children, they would stop amassing wealth once they had enough.
GOOD!  That means less inequality.  That means the job they continue to hold even though they don't need it becomes available to someone else.  We have no need to maximize productivity in this country.  We have more than we need already, as clearly evidenced by how much stuff we throw away, how much we put in storage, how much we replace things that are still useable.
But getting into the economics of infinite growth is a whole different topic...
The idea of just working for the public good without any personal incentive to work harder did not work very well in many of the communist countries where that was attempted, leading to a return to private enterprise in Russia, China and even in Cuba.

Now you are completely changing the subject!  I never said people should not be able to earn more money to buy themselves luxuries in their own lifetime.  In communist countries people received a fixed, subsistence level wage, no matter how hard they worked.  So the person who works 80 hours and innovates lives in the same house as someone who works 35 and does the bare minimum.  No incentive.  I am not suggesting people work "only for the common good".  I am suggesting that "parent" and "child" are not a single unit with interchangeable parts.  
My own analysis of what would make a fairer economic system & environment without denying people the ability to provide their children with any of the financial fruits of the parent's labor, is to try to even things out better through taxation.  I have no problem with laws to tax inheritance, and to heavily tax extremely large gifts.  Personally, I think that is the best way to deal with the issue. But even that gets huge push-back from the population, especially the rich.  I don't think your idea to do away with inheritance altogether is ever going to fly.  I especially don't think the 99% are going to be willing deny their own children while the rich families continue to hoard the mass of the wealth.  Case in point: [I am] willing to skip a generation to ensure that my descendants (whether biological or adopted) reap some of the benefits of my labor.  If even I am this corrupt (or "selfish"), one can hardly expect the rest of society to do away with inheritance altogether, don’t you think?

I think this is a very culturally ingrained idea.  It is not as universal as you seem to assume: Japan, for example, has a 55% inheritance tax.  More significantly, most of the developed world has an exemption on the order of $100-400k, compared to the US 5 million.  In other words, it applies to much of the middle class.
For example: http://www.uhy.com/uk-imposes-highest-taxes-on-inheritance-of-all-major-economies/

True, every culture has some non-zero degree of inheritance just like every culture has some degree of violence, drug abuse, and xenophobia.  But, as with those things, they degree is highly variable, and  cultures with inheritance taxes that apply to more people also have significantly less income inequality, and significantly less poverty.  The US has the largest exemptions of any country (that has any inheritance of gift taxes at all), and it also has the most inequality. 

I think that considering how many people care about race and poverty, and how strongly, that if more people considered the link between middle class family economic choices and society as a whole, we might eventually start to see change. 
I think if we don't, we are guaranteed not to - and the tragedies we have seen on the news every few months will just continue to accelerate as well meaning activists and attention seeking media continue to foment a race war.

22 July 2016

Cat Superstition, and the Origins of Religion, Astrology, and all forms of Supernatural Beliefs

A few years ago, my (late) kitty cat friend and roommate Fushi jumped up on the table.
On the table was a large object of some kind - I don't remember exactly what, maybe a book, maybe a pot; whatever it was, it was kind of near the edge.

Supposedly cats are naturally graceful, but that seems to vary as much by the individual as it does for humans.

He bumped into this object, which teetered a bit from the impact, and he jumped right back down.

And the thing tipped over and came down behind him, crashing just barely behind him.

As anyone would, in such a circumstance, he quickly jumped out of the way.

But then he did something more interesting...

He continued to run.
In fact, he ran not only completely across the room, but right out of the room, and kept right on going across the entire house, before finding a safe hiding place in the bedroom.

Now, Fushi was not a particularly skittish cat.  He wasn't bothered by loud noises, he trusted human strangers, and even strange dogs as long as they didn't chase or bark at him.  He stood up to bully cats and went on adventures, sometimes for days at a time.

But this object, set in motion by his own actions, and continued in motion by gravity, had just scared him away.

And I realized that I recognized that particular sequence of startle - run - hide.
It is exactly what he - or really anyone - would do if someone jumped out of hiding to attack you.

The fact that he didn't just dodge out of the way, but continued to move after he was well out of range of the treat strongly implies that, at least on some level, he expected there was a chance that the inanimate object would continue to follow him.

I can't guess whether he literally "thought" that, in any concrete way.  Maybe he did think something along the lines of "that's probably not alive, but just to be on the safe side I better get out of here", or maybe all he experienced was a sense of fear and reacted purely on instinct.

It doesn't really matter.  Those two things are essentially the same thing.  Especially for behaviors that happen within a split second, not even humans really consciously make choices and carry them out (we just feel like we do, as we justify what we observed ourselves to do after that fact - uh, yeah, I meant to do that, of course...)

And then I realized, too, that from an evolutionary stand-point, this isn't actually so irrational.

Consider the possibilities: you can't ever really be 100% sure of everything around you at all times.
Maybe that rustling in the grass is just the wind.  Or maybe its a wolf.  If you assume its a wolf, chances are you waste some energy and time running away from nothing, when it turns out it was just the wind.  And chances are it is.  Probably 92 times out of a hundred it's just the wind, or a rock tumbling down hill, or a branch that broke off of a tree.
But if by default you assume that its just the wind, and it really is a wolf, well, that's it.
No second chance.
Game over.
And unless you already got a lifetime of reproduction in, there go all your genes along with you.
Including your genes of being laid back and assuming by default that things are not out to get you, just because they usually aren't.

The one who assumes by default that everything is out to get you has a better chance of survival, and therefor that's the default that's going to survive down the generations.

Now add in on top of instinct a part of the brain that is conscious, logical, and that demands information in narrative form.  A part of the brain which seeks to explain its owners actions with some form of rational intentionality.  Remember, "I meant to do that on purpose".

Well, when you reason it out - you know that no one is in the house but you and your human friend, who is on the other side of the room.  There is no one on the table.  But you just reacted as though this apparently inanimate object might get up and follow you - as if it fell down on you on purpose.
That's the key point here. 
Just like how we humans feel like it is far worse to murder someone "on purpose" than to kill someone with your car "by accident" - even though 99% of "accidents" are really "gross negligence", and even though in both cases the end result is exactly the same; we put special emphasis on "intention".
Intention, after all, is what distinguishes the branch falling off a tree due to gravity from a falcon diving from the tree to attack you - either may hurt, but only the falcon intends to hurt you, and only it will keep coming after you step out of the way.

What is really being assumed then, is that all things that happen, all physical motions and actions, may possibly have been done with intension.

And, well, if there is no living animal making an object move, the only remaining conclusion is that the inanimate object itself may have intention.

In other words, the cat figures there is a possibility that the box on the shelf meant to fall on him, in which case running away is a pretty smart reaction.

From there its only a small step further to feeling that maybe everything happens according to someone's plan, or that rivers and trees and the Earth might all have some sort of "spirit" in them - the source of their intentionality. 
Since maybe the rustle in the grass implies consciousness even when there is nothing there, that opens the door to the very idea of there being consciousness, even when nothing is there. 
That could mean ghosts, or it could mean gods.  Belief in both come from the same place.
If a box can decide on its own to go crashing down behind you - if it has both the power to move around in space, and an interest in you specifically - is it really that much more of a stretch to think that the stars have their own will, and care about you, and have the power to affect your life?

If you think about it, an awful lot of superstitions, religious, spiritual, and supernatural beliefs, all have at their root the projection of some form of consciousness or intention to something other than living animals.  It is the idea that things which happen, which we can't personally pinpoint the cause, must have happened for some reason, and the default reason is that someone else decided to make it happen.

Sometimes it really is just the wind, but maybe its safer for us to assume that it was God.

19 July 2016

Protesting Police Shootings VERSUS *not* Helping Your Kids with a College Degree and DownPayment

From the outside, it could look an awful lot like the liberal Left is populated with tens of thousands of Donald Trumps.  Trumps that just happen to have different values, but watch them on mute for a while, or listen to the emotion with the meaning, and there is the exact same self-righteousness, the exact same outrage and contempt for who ever they consider the "other" side. And with it, a complete and total obliviousness to anything they or their allies may be doing to exacerbate the very problems they rail against, while instead placing blame on the most immediately visible target. 

There are lots of details that vary, but they are fill-in-the-blank details that everything above applies equally well to.  Everyone is angry and loud and makes proclamations of fact which are just plain false.  Everyone is so confident that their own values are the "correct" ones that it doesn't even occur to them to qualify conclusions of what "should be" with an "if we want..."

But nobody seems to notice...

For quite a few years now the left has been very preoccupied with unjustified police shootings of Black men.

I have already written about this, and related racial issues a bunch of times:

15 Jan 2009 A Little Perspective

17 Jul 2013 Cops Shooting Unarmed Black Men

04 Aug 2013 "Culture" and "Race" are not interchangeable

27 Aug 2014 It has to be disproportionate to be racism

11 Dec 2014  I can't stand it anymore; OR - No, actually, violent Black men don't represent all Black people.

24 Mar 2015 Cops are the New Blacks

01May 2015 No One Ever Claimed Black Lives Don't Matter

Wow!  7 essays on essentially the same thing.  I hadn't even realized I had written so much. 
Yet I feel like the points are all so spread out, each with some much layers of complication, that the overall conclusion could be a bit obscured.

Its hard, because it the first step always has to be correcting the simple factual information, which nearly everyone has wrong (for example, that when you take into account the rate of committing violent crime and the rate of directing violence at police, statistics show zero bias against Black suspects, and in some cases even a bias in their favor), and the second step has to be finding a way to point out to people that they are interpreting one situation with special rules that they wouldn't apply to any other situation to get to the conclusion (for example, no one takes the fact that 93% of non-traffic police stops and 93% of prisoners are men as evidence of rampant sexism in police, DAs, judges, and juries).

I pointed out, in various different essays, how overwhelmingly more Black men are murdered by civilians (the majority of murders being other Black men), that White men are the victims of unjustified police shootings just as often (those cases just don't get news coverage or protest movements, because they don't fit the Narrative of Oppression, and therefor don't generate the same levels of outrage), that profiling based on clothes and other style choices may happen to look identical to profiling on race, but are not the same thing (its a rare exception that a non-white person in a business suit who drives a minivan is the victim of police brutality).

The last post on the topic touched at least a little on all those various points.
But each time I end up spending so much time correcting misinformation and explaining logical errors, that the overall conclusions, if they make it in at all, are relegated to a brief note at the very end.

So for once I'm going to try to gloss over all the evidence, and just make some categorical statements, and if you think those statements are wrong, feel free to read the links above where I justify each of them.

Some popular misconceptions corrected:  Unarmed Black men are not shot at any more often than unarmed white men.  The rate if being stopped by police for suspension of committing a crime is proportionate to the crime rate in a given area (in other words, a random white person in a high crime neighborhood has a higher chance of being stopped than a random black person in a low crime neighborhood), and the only time there is variance from that pattern is when within a particular neighborhood one demographic commits disproportionately more crime.

People who want to believe in the Narrative of Oppression will say that the statistics are flawed.
Except that, because of the anti-law-enforcement culture, crimes in Black communities are the ones least likely to be reported.  If anything, the crime statistics are likely to be skewed in the direction of seeming less disproportionate than they really are.

Then Social Justice Warriors will default to anecdotes: "talk to any Black person, and they can tell you about being stopped unreasonably".  Anecdotes - in the greater context of a society that makes very clear to people from childhood what to expect - are meaningless.  Of course if you tell someone their entire life that the cops are out to get them, the first time they get stopped for any reason they will assume it is because of prejudice.  Were you stopped because of race, or because you were speeding?  Did the store employee come up to you because they were afraid you were going to steal, or just to offer you help?  If no store employee came up to you, is it because they were busy, or because they don't feel inclined to serve you?  Anyone can interpret any circumstance to fit the narrative they are already sure is true.
While if you search for it, you can certainly find isolated individual examples of legitimate racism, true, you can also find examples where the bias in in favor of the "oppressed" group, and all in all it balances out.

What really does exist is a dramatically higher rate of violent crime - perpetrated by and against all races - in the United States than in most of the developed (and not currently at war, civil or external) world.  Both with and without guns.  Whatever the merits of either strict gun control or, on the other hand, armed civilians, may be, is beside the point.  In most first world nations neither one is necessary in the first place, because, other than the occasional spurned lover, people just don't have as much desire to attack other people.

The rate at which police arrest, as well as shoot at, citizens is directly related to the rate at which citizens are violent.

And even if 90%, or even if 99% of police shootings are justified by the actions of the suspect, in a high-pressure fast-reaction-time life-or-death situation, you are never going to be able to avoid mistakes 100% of the time.  People can't even avoid killing other people with their cars under normal, no-pressure situations.  But even a low 1% error rate becomes an awful lot of accidentally unjustified shootings if the crime rate, and therefor the rate of potentially violent police interactions, gets high enough.

So, if what we ultimately want as an outcome is less innocent people being shot (by the cops, yes, but hopefully we are even more interested in the far larger number of innocent people who are shot by civilians), then we are focused in the completely wrong direction.
We need to be looking at the ultimate causes of our ridiculously high crime rate (particularly of the violent variety)

It can't just be the multitude of effects, both economic and cultural, of slavery and Jim Crow, because the crime rate among White people is much higher than most other nations as well.  When you hear about how excessively high our prison population is compared to the rest of the world, realize the majority of those inmates are White.  About 58%. Which makes it disproportionate to the population of 62%, (though not by that much), but still means White people are committing a whole hell of a lot of crime, and getting caught and being sentenced to prison for it.

Reducing sentences, especially for non-violent offenses, would unquestionably be good for society overall - but it wouldn't address the issue of so many Americans committing so much crime in the first place.  Addressing prions is dealing with a symptom.

Assuming you haven't given up on this blog post this far, hopefully we are at a point where we can agree that some of the deeper core issues are economic and educational.

But it can't be absolute levels of wealth or education, because the average "below the poverty line" person in America today has access to technology and a level of basic needs security that most humans in most of the world, and almost all humans for thousands of years, could never have dreamed of.  While there are certainly plenty of homeless people who fall entirely between the cracks, we do have a very well funded safety net, and the (relatively) poor never experience famines, which are a real threat in many places, and for most of human existence were a real threat for everyone, whether peon or king.  In America most people below the official poverty line even have cars for cryin out loud!
Even a highschool drop out has had more formal education than much of the world gets, and then nearly all people got until just the past couple hundred years.
And yet, despite the wealth, relative luxury (go to a welfare waiting room and see how many people have pocket computers), and high level of free education (almost everyone can read!), we still have much higher crime than many other cultures without those benefits.

That doesn't mean that we're wrong about the significance of wealth and education.
But its not about the absolute level.
Its about the relative level.

In fact, throughout history and cultures, the same two factors are associated with high crime: a significant wealth inequality, combined with cultural isolation within a society.
Even just in America history, the identical pattern emerged with every single wave of immigration.  Aboriginal Americans (obviously not "immigrants" in the literal sense, but similar in being a separate culture which was only brought into "America" as a country after it had been long established), the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Mexicans, they each got their turn as being the people suspected by the mainstream of criminality - and generally because there was at least an element of truth behind it.  It wasn't about skin color, as demonstrated by their being Europeans included on the list.  But there was distinct cultures, and there was a significant difference in average wealth.  These preconceptions disappeared as the stereotypes stopped being true, which in turn happened as the two factors stopped being true.  The Europeans basically fully assimilated.  In many communities the Chinese never have, so the fact that there isn't especially high crime in China Towns demonstrates that ending average wealth inequality itself is enough to break the cycle.  Ending the crime ends the discrimination.

We have in the United States today the highest amount of inequality that humanity has ever seen.

On the one hand, for all the attention the "1%" versus the "99%" got in recent years, the disparity of the .01% compared to even just the rest of the top 1% is even higher.
On the other hand, the level of luxury of the entire upper 80% of society, compared with the poor, is already staggering.  As Mr Money Moustache reminds us every month, the average member of the American middle class wastes more money every month than most working poor can even earn.  In dramatic contrast to popular opinion, the American middle class is not remotely hurting economically in anyway, they are just collectively making lots of stupid decisions.  There is no level at which it is impossible to live paycheck-to-paycheck, because there is no limit to the things you can buy that you don't actually need.

But in a system in which 100% of societies gains from productivity go to the investor class, an ever increasing unemployment rate (the real unemployment rate, which, unlike the official number the government releases, includes all the adults who have given up on trying to find a job) and ever decreasing wages (real wages, adjusted for inflation), is inevitable.
With no rules in place to lower working hours as technology displaces jobs and nothing to automatically and consistently raise minimum wage to match inflation, that also means an ever growing pool of poor people is also inevitable, even if each individual is ready and willing to work.

Here is where conservatives and Republicans and libertarians will generally jump in and say "of course there is inequality - everyone has the same opportunity, but some people have more talent, some people work a lot harder, and those people deserve to have more!"

Having more if you work harder is fair enough, only everyone doesn't have the same opportunity.

In that fact the liberals get it right, but not for the reasons that they think, (that certain people are oppressed by the system).  Yes, obviously slavery and Jim Crow oppressed Black people for hundreds of years.  However those institutions have gone away a long time ago now.  As much as people want to see versions of them in today's systems, the objective evidence simply isn't there.
If you go by anecdote, well, individual people see what they are primed to see, and are not a reliable source for what really happens and why.  If you go by statistics - and factor in all the relevant factors - then by most measures it would seem that there is no system bias (there's just the natural consequences of different groups of people making, on average, different choices).

However, that doesn't mean that everyone's opportunity in wealth and education (remember, the variables we noted as being significant about 1/2 a blog post ago?) are equal.
Lets start with education.  Every child citizen and resident is guaranteed 12 years of (free!) education.  With even a small amount of self-motivation and/or parental guidance, barring mental disability, that is enough time for anyone to become, at the very least, literate and able to do basic arithmetic.  Within that system, however, is a wide range of effectiveness:

Which is why school districts is one of, if not the largest considerations of families with children in deciding where to live.

And it isn't just the wealthy who can afford to choose what neighborhood they live in, it's the regular old middle class - though if you can't afford rent anywhere but near the worst schools, that's where your kids are going to go.  This class segregation gets magnified when parents with money to spare donate money and materials to their own children's schools, so that even if the entire city provides equal funding per student to every school, the school in the hills still has a computer for every student while in the school on the other side of the tracks teacher's are buying their own blank paper and bringing it in to school because there is none in the supply room.
This isn't because of government policies or subconsciously racist administrators or teachers, this is simply lots of individual people making (what seems on the surface to be) reasonable personal choices.

Once graduated, anyone who can not afford college is eligible to automatically receive $5-6K in grants per year, regardless of high school GPA, which is more than enough to cover tuition at a public junior college.  In other words, at least a basic college education is well within reach of anyone who wants it.
However, again, the range of educational options, from 2 years of community college to medical or law degree, is very large.  And reaching the upper end of the spectrum, even using public colleges, is very expensive.

Between 40%  and 60% of college expenses are paid by parents (or other relatives), with only 11% of contributions coming from the student's own work or savings.

So clearly some people are going to have a massive head-start compared to everyone else, from HeadStart all the way to University.  If the majority of people who get advanced education get help from mommy and daddy, then that means anyone unlucky enough to be born to parents without a savings account are at a severe disadvantage in life, through no fault of their own.

According to sociologists the single biggest factor in "success" in life - not just income and status, but even relationships and reported life satisfaction - is education, and the single biggest factor in success in college is the very first few years of early childhood education.
Of course - that's why parents puts so much time and effort and money into providing the best they can afford for their own kids.

Now lets look at wealth.  Certainly having a degree is, in itself, a major factor in most people's earning potential.  But there's more.  The single largest holding of wealth of the majority of the middle class is in the form of an owner occupied home.  Over half, about 65%, of all residences are owned by an occupant.  About 55% of adult Americans own the home they live in.  Which means just under half have to live in someone else's home, usually paying rent for the privilege.  The already poorer lower 45% spend the largest portion of their income every month paying down someone else's mortgage.  Over 1/2 of renters spend over 30% of their income on rent.  1/4 pay half.
By race, the home ownership rates for Whites and Blacks is 75% and 46% respectively.
While it may have been pure racism and oppression that set up this trend many generations ago, it doesn't require any of either to maintain it today.

What is going to happen to all of those properties when the current owner is no longer among the living?
As a society we have decided that the dead person still has rights, and gets to designate who gets the house, and that person - usually the (grown) child - gets all of that (unearned!) wealth with absolutely zero income tax.

People generally associate the term "inheritance" with the very wealthy, or at least the top 1%.
They think of people like the Walton's, who's 7 member family is all in the top ten wealthiest people in America due entirely to having been born to the right father.
But as extreme as it is at the top, most of it happens in the middle.

While there doesn't seem to be any really definitive data, somewhere in the range of 25%-75% (it varies quite a bit with the economy, so it depends on what year / age you focus on) of American's
receive some form of inheritance in either cash, property, or other assets.   The average is around $180,000, while the median somewhere in the range of $30k-$60k.
While 50 thousand won't make you a millionaire, it is more than enough for a downpayment on the Average US home.
Homes are the single biggest source of wealth, and around half of people have one essentially handed to them, while the other half - generally the same half who also don't have the employment opportunities of a (partially or fully paid for) university education.
That's on top of the roughly $25k average cash a third of adults receive from living family members.

In addition to inheriting property outright, 27% of new home buyers get some to all of their downpayment money as a gift from a relative, and 10% have a "non-occupant cosigner".

And then there is the smaller, impossible to track, but still significant smaller ways that those who can afford to give their own kids an early boost that is unavailable to the poor.  A gift of a car can greatly expand the job and college options of a young person compared to relying on bikes and public transit.  Most middle class families give new adults a car.  Most poor families can't afford to.

These seemingly relatively small things add up, and what they add up to is a divide between not the 99% and the 1%, but the roughly top 80% and bottom 20%, with all of the American middle class getting a huge advantage that makes the idea of a "meritocracy" or that wealth is really proportionate to hard work and talent laughable.
What few Americans making more than just $34,000 a year realize is that they already are the top 1% of the world.  The lower middle class, and even the upper "working class", are, by any reasonable objective measure, rich.  And of the wealth held, somewhere on the order of 50% of it was in some form inherited - primarily in the form of property, whether direct transfer of title or a parent essentially buying an adult child their own.
Among the very rich, only 35% didn't started out born into the upper class, (and 100% built their wealth using the government backed system of capitalism to corrupt the free market into providing unearned income), yet 70% of them consider themselves "self-made".
But among all the ordinary people, even more consider themselves to not have had any advantages, despite the majority of them building wealth on a foundation of their parent's gifts.

Its always easier - emotionally - to point to other people, other institutions, whatever, and blame them for whatever one feels is injustice.  Its hard to see when the roots of it are millions of individual people making individual choices in their own lives.  Its even harder to admit when it is ourselves making choices in our own lives that are perpetuating the trends we claim, in principle, to deplore.

On an individual level, of course every human, for all of time, has wanted what is best for their children, as their offspring are, quite literally, an extension of one's self.
Every society that has ever existed has had some form or degree of passing down possessions and wealth, and especially property rights, from parent to child.
On an individual level, its an entirely reasonable desire, and it seems (on the surface at least) to be an entirely good thing.

But society is made up of lots and lots of individuals, so you can not remove an individual personal decision from the trends and demographics that make up the whole of society - at least, not if you want an honest and accurate assessment of how things are and why.

While "wanting what's best" for your offspring may be entirely natural, there is plenty of entirely natural human instincts that we, collectively, choose to repress; usually because of the negative impact it has on the rest of society.  Violence is ubiquitous in the natural world, but we don't accept it as inevitable just because it is natural.  Evolutionarily speaking rape is entirely understandable, but no one concludes that therefor it is ok, and can be ignored or even encouraged in human society.   Infidelity is seen in every monogamous specie. Xenophobia and in-group loyalty, an "us vs them" mentality is found in some extent in every culture that has ever existed.

Every form of selfishness and greed is entirely natural and understandable in the context of a living organism.
And in most manifestations of that we see it directly as a negative for society as a whole, and at least discourage it socially if not make it illegal, with enforced consequences for violators.
But since one's offspring is literally (biologically speaking) an extension of one's self, then wanting what is best for your children IS a form of selfishness!

We (collectively) treat the "family" as a single unit (for example, in a system that assumes parents will pay for an adult child's college education, or the lack of any income taxes on any level of inheritance of cash, property, or business assets) - and then in the very same context act as though each person was their own individual so as to see a transfer of wealth from one person to another as an act of generosity, rather than one of selfishness!

This viewpoint is no less common among liberals than conservatives.
And as long as this double-think is the norm, it is inevitable that there always be inequality well above and beyond that produced by natural differences in talent and hard-work.

Perhaps the worst irony of all is that all this well-meaning giving may not even be the best for the adult children receiving it!
While there are occasionally Howard Hughes' who take a massive inherited fortune and leverage it into inventions and companies that benefit humanity, they are the exception, not the rule.  In general, there is an inverse relationship between how much a person gets for free and how much value they personally produce.
While 90% of millionaires plan to leave fortunes to their children and half plan to leave them the entire amount, only 20% actually inherited significant funds themselves.
The more parents pay for college, the worse grades students get.
The more expensive one's house, the higher the chances they inherited it, but the lower average "wealth building productivity" they engage in.  There is a whole host of negative psychological issues that receiving unearned money creates, which is why for the most part fortunes don't stay in family lines for more than 2-3 generations: inheriting a fortune prevents a person from ever developing a work-ethic, from ever truly internalizing the value of money, and encourages the feeling that buying stuff is the key to happiness.  Which is all a recipe for not only squandering one's wealth, but perhaps more importantly (for the real goals of the parent), a lifetime of relatively less happiness.

This reality is not lost on many of the rich, most notably Warren Buffett, as well as Bill Gates, who have both pledged to give the vast majority (99%) to charity, rather than their children (although note that even 1% of 80 billion is 800 million!), and many of the less extreme but still wealthy 1%ers and upper middle class people are of the opinion that giving too much wealth to their children is likely to do more harm than good to their overall lives (at least in principal - while almost 1/2 say they are concerned about giving "too much", 91% still plan to give the majority to their own offspring).

46% percent want to avoid giving an amount that "provides a disincentive for the recipient to achieve their full potential", and only 25% believe that no one person should ever get a large chunk of an estate or "too much" absolute cash.
28% say it only becomes too much when it is enough to "provide the opportunity for the recipient to live in “perpetual leisure”.  I suppose even that is better than nothing - 22% say explicitly "no amount is too much" (there are overlapping categories - some people agree with more than one statement).

But as we have seen, most intergenerational transfer's of wealth (certainly in number of transactions, if not total wealth), are made by the middle class, not the top 1% and above.
And among this group, the majority of America, no such culture of awareness exists.

And - as a predictable result - the American middle class has in fact adopted a lifestyle much as the classic "trust-fund" baby does: one with lots of luxuries purchased at an unsustainable rate. Around 60% of people buy their cars brand new, 84% of those buy them on credit, and despite reliability increases that make a typical car last anywhere from 1 to 3 decades, the average new car is replaced after just 6 years.  Half of American's don't pay their credit cards in full, and over half have zero emergency cash.  68% of American's own a pocket computer, typically paying $100-200 a month for the privilege of not waiting until you get home to check Facebook.  Despite government mandated digital TV, which created access to dozens of channels and subchannels of mostly high-def content for free, nearly 90% of households pay an average of $100 a month for TV.
As much as stories of people who had been in their homes for 30 years and were just caught up in the foreclosure crises made for good copy, the vast majority of foreclosures were from people who bought during the bubble, bought more house than they really needed, and bought far more than they could afford.

Perhaps this is why recent and second generation immigrants to America not only do better on average than minorities that have been here for generations, but on average even better than White folk who have been here for generations.  As well as why, after the second generation (the one that makes the most money), that advantage disappears.

So if (parental) hand-outs actually tend to make people's lives worse overall, what is a concerned and loving parent to do?

Well, simply not giving an adult child large cash or property gifts would be a good start.  Ideally, though, one would start as early as a child can understand English, helping them learn the lessons of the Marshmallow test, one of the biggest indicators of later success in finances, relationships, health, and life in general.  From the youngest age, have them earn any allowance they may get, and give them the opportunity to save those earnings, with interest.  Let them know well in advance that they will be expected to pay for their own college through a combination of summer jobs, whatever scholarships they can get, and - only if absolutely necessary - loans, and encourage them to go to the best college that they can afford, preferably after transferring from a 2 year institution.
Not just if you are poor.  At any level of wealth, this is what will set a child up for the best possible career of their own, and their best chance to live consistently within their means, which is the only possible way to continue to save and build wealth throughout a lifetime.

The old "give a person a fish and they eat for a day, teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime" is just as true if you have just one fish as it is if you have a billion fish.
And there is a neglected part 2 to the old saying: "give someone a fish, and they will be significantly less motivated to pay attention during your fishing lesson" (or, well, it should be, anyway...)

So now lets finally go back and put the first half of this essay and the second half together, explicitly.

-The majority of the effects of racial inequality in America (today) are a consequence and symptom of economic and educational inequalities.
-Economic and educational inequalities are primarily a result of regular, non-wealthy people giving unearned cash to their (mostly adult) children.

Therefore, when you read a report of yet another unarmed Black man shot by the cops, maybe take that opportunity to rethink your plans to leave your house to your kids.

If our goal as a society is equality, perhaps that college fund should be donated to the NAACP.
Instead of giving your child tution, how about giving that same cash to a scholarship fund instead?  Instead of leaving your assets to your children, what about donating it to United for a Fair Economy instead?

It makes no sense to (pretend to) be concerned with the world at large when it comes to self-righteous conversations with your neighbors, and then use what control over the worlds wealth you have to perpetuate the status quo in your own private life.

Society as a whole is just a collection of private lives.
Change doesn't happen because of what you say.  It happens from what you do.
Instead of being angry at someone else "out there", start with doing your part.

17 July 2016

Surprise! A Flamboyant Introvert Blog Post!

I've been trying hard to avoid the news and social commentary for the last couple years.

Humans naturally focus on bad things more than good, are irrational, and there are patterns that have been around for as long as there has been such a thing as human society (despite what many idealistic amateur anthropologists choose to believe).

For a while it made me feel better to write about my own take on various interpretations of events out in the world, but I have a total number of 36 subscribers - my writing is not going to change the world.

I just found it forced me to focus on the worst parts of humanity all the time, which could start to cloud my experience of all the wondrous things in real life in front of me.


Try as I might, sometimes an event just gets so much attention that I can't avoid it, and even though it may be a topic I have gone over plenty of times already, I notice a new side of it, another piece that everyone else is apparently missing, or I realize that something I took so much for granted I never wrote down is not even on most people's radar, or that something I have said in verbal debates and discussions many times has never made it into the bog in writing.

And then when that happens, I usually try to ignore the unsettled feeling that leaves as long as possible, and then at some point I end up with a bunch of free time and nothing in particular to do, and so here I am, I find myself typing a bunch of words into a keyboard...

11 January 2016

Ninja Warrior

Compressing my entire life into a minute and thirty seconds was almost as much challenge as actually doing the obstacles! 
This is a quick summary of my life followed by some samples of stuff I can do. Even if I don't make it on, making this video was a whole lot of fun already.

Guest Starring the beautiful intelligent and generous Rachel Williams, (who took most of the video I didn't take myself)

Cameo by Didi the dog

Extra Special Thanks to Joe Zimmerman of Alameda Ninja Warrior (i.e. Joe's back yard) who encouraged me to try out. Dude built a whole mini course by himself, and then invited people to come play there - for free! Awesome guy.

Music credit: Pork and the Spork / Flumberger Fishbulb (i.e. my high school band, music and lyrics by Alex Staten and Bakari Kafele)

The wall at the end is "only" 10ft high, but on the other hand, all 10ft of it is straight up!

23 July 2015

Or... maybe its neither

I am not really sure exactly what to think or feel about the fact that within the span of a couple months I can be accused of being both a libertarian and a communist.
By different people, of course.
But on the same general topics, and with my stance staying consistent.

As far as I can tell, the reasoning goes something like this:

"This guy [me] doesn't agree with my viewpoint, therefor he must hold the views of those other people".

In discussions I am regularly told, after stating my beliefs and understandings, something along the lines of "I bet you think ___________, too".
Well, no, I told you exactly what I think.
That other part you just made up.

That is always a pretty good sign that the statements the other person is making aren't even really their own.  They are things that person heard, and agreed with, and now they are repeating them.  Possibly in their own words, but unoriginal none-the-less.  It means they have subscribed to an ideology.
There is no "right" ideology.  There is no good ideology.  By very definition, one must accept an entire ideology as is, which intrinsically means not questioning anything.  It is exactly like a religion: all of your beliefs are handed to you, externally.
It is anti-scientific, and it is intended to be.

07 May 2015

OUTRAGE! (is to the left as fear is to the right)

I've heard it repeated a few times from different sources recently how people who tend to lean politically "right" frequently have a slightly larger amygdala, which controls the basic fear response.  As a result - so the theory goes - they are more easily frightened, and this leads to a desire to take the safe option in all questions; generally we think the option with the least unknowns is "safest", and so those more prone to fear are more likely to stick with things that are tried and true - in other words, to be "conservative".

Proponents of this theory - the scientists who noticed the trend in the first place, certainly, but much more so activists and armchair politicians - will point out the fear-mongering used by conservative political leaders and media.  Crime!  Terrorists!  Illegal immigrants!  Communists!

And since I've heard it, sure enough, I do notice just such a trend in media and speeches geared toward conservatives.

But then, since I was looking at news reports with the kind of eye you use to catch marketing psychology in advertisements, I started paying attention to what media geared toward liberals always tends to have in common.

Its outrage.