The Great Debate: A Game Show

The Great Debate Game Show

Tagline: live gameshow where two contestants debate over a hot topic of the times.

Layout:

  • One person for each side of the debate.
  • Each side has two other people in his/her “dugout” whom they can call on for advice; thus, each side has a total of three people: one speaker and two supporters.
  • One moderator.
  • A panel of three judges, separate from the moderator.
  • Each side will have a microphone, and when it is that side’s turn to speak, the other side’s microphone will be silenced to prevent interruption.
  • Eight Sections: (1) The Introduction; (2) The Facts; (3) The Positions; (4) The Main Argument; (5) The Regrouping; (6) Addition of Facts; (7) The Closing Statements; (8) The Judges’ Results.
  • Each side will obtain a Twitter handle to receive input from the audience at large; e.g. in an abortion debate, the pro-abortion side will get @greatdebateproabortion or something like that, so that they can get assistance from the crowd, if they so choose, during The Regrouping round.
  • The Twitter handles will not be announced until The Introduction.

First Round: The Introduction

  • The purpose of this round is to introduce the game and everyone involved.
  • The moderator introduces him/herself, the premise of the game, the rules, the debaters and their teams, and the judges.
  • The moderator will announce the Twitter handles for each side so that the audience can participate in anticipation of The Regrouping round.

Second Round: The Facts

  • The purpose of this round is to do away with any waste in the debate scheme, so that each side does not begin arguing one point, only to find that the other side already concurs.
  • Each contestant takes turns submitting incontrovertible facts that both sides agree on for the remainder of the debate; e.g. in an abortion debate, both sides may concede that killing a human life is wrong, but they may not agree on what “life” or “human” mean, or they may agree that abortion during the third trimester is wrong, but not on whether abortion during the second trimester is wrong.
  • The facts will be used throughout the game to stop any argument that controverts those facts.
  • The facts should be simple and easily articulated.
  • There should be some limit; e.g. 10 facts submitted per side.
  • Any fact may be disputed by the other side, at which point the moderator will decide, subject to an override by a majority of the judges.
  • If a fact is overridden by either the moderator or the panel of judges, the side who submitted the fact gets a redo, capped at 2 overrides; e.g. if Side A has 2 “facts” overridden, she/he forfeits the number of overridden facts going forward; e.g. if Side A submits 3 facts that are overridden, then ultimately Side A only gets to submit 8 facts (10 total facts minus 1 override); e.g. if Side A submits 2 facts that are overridden, then Side A gets 10 total facts submitted.
  • Once the facts are totaled up, the moderator will restate them and they will be numbered and placed on the board.

Third Round: The Positions

  • The purpose of this round is to clarify what each side will be arguing, and to dispel with any confusion about what will be debated.
  • Each side gets to submit a brief introduction to his/her position.
  • The positions should be short and to the point, articulating the overarching argument to be made; e.g. in a debate over abortion, one side would state his opposition to abortion after the first trimester, while the other side would state her opposition to restricting abortion before the second trimester.
  • Once the positions are stated, the moderator will restate the positions succinctly, with each side getting a chance to clear up his/her position if needed, at which point the moderator will then restate the position clearly, to ensure that everyone understands the crux of each position.

Fourth Round: The Main Argument

  • The purpose of this round is to present the heart of the debate and allow each side an opportunity to clarify his/her position and any support for that position, as well as to persuade the other side and the audience to agree.
  • Each side will have a turn to present his/her argument in two steps:
    • Step One: state the main argument.
    • Step Two: state any qualifiers to his/her argument.
  • Once the main arguments have been made, the moderator will restate them succinctly for clarity, with each side having the opportunity to clarify if needed.
  • After the moderator’s restatement of the arguments, then Side A will go again for some set period of time, and Side B will have an opportunity to respond and make his/her own argument.
  • After Side B responds and makes his/her own argument, then Side A will have a chance to respond and make his/her next argument.
  • The cycle between Side A and Side B will continue for some preset timeframe.
  • At the end of the allotted time, the moderator will call the end of The Main Arguments.
  • Each side will go to his/her supporters to regroup.

Fifth Round: The Regrouping

  • The purpose of this round is to allow each side to regroup and to strengthen his/her arguments and counterarguments in light of what was said during The Main Arguments.
  • At the end of The Main Arguments, each side will go to his/her supporters to regroup outside the earshot of the audience.
  • Each side can use books, internet, their Twitter handle, or whatever else at their means to determine how to move forward in light of the arguments made during The Main Arguments.
  • The moderator will try to summarize The Main Arguments to the audience innocuously, just for clarity.
  • At the end of The Regrouping, the moderator will announce that it is time to proceed to the The Closing Statements.

Sixth Round: Addition of Facts

  • The purpose of this round is to clarify the truth or agreement of any information discussed thus far, so that The Closing Statements can be made more effective and to avoid retreading old ground.
  • Each side will have an opportunity to submit additional facts in light of what was said during The Main Argument and based on information gathered during The Regrouping.
  • There should be some limit, e.g. 5 facts, and the rules for fact submission will follow the initial round of The Facts, except that each side only has 5 chances to submit facts; e.g. if Side A submits 5 facts, and 1 is overridden, then Side A ultimately gets to submit 4 additional facts in total.

Seventh Round: The Closing Statements

  • The purpose of this round is to finalize the arguments for each side.
  • Similar to The Main Arguments, each side will have an opportunity to present his/her argument, but Side B will start and Side A will respond and deliver an argument, and then Side B will respond and deliver, and the cycle will continue for the allotted time.
  • At the end of the allotted time, each side will have two minutes to deliver a final statement summarizing his/her position and addressing any unclear points.

Eighth Round: The Judges’ Results

  • The judges will rule on three categories: (1) Style; (2) Clarity; and (3) Persuasion.
  • Additionally, the judges may remark on any disagreements they had, which they have not yet stated, with the rules or any other matter.
  • The third category, Persuasion, will determine the winner of the debate.

Georgia Ballot Measures: 2016

Pretty much everyone knows that the presidential election is on the ballot this November. What you may not know, though, is what else is on the ballot. See below for what’s on the ballot if you’re in Fulton County, City of Atlanta. There’s also general ballot measures for all Georgia residents. Just listen to the sweet, patriotic sounds of Lee Greenwood singing America the Beautiful while you read, and check here to search specifically for your address so you can get a sample ballot to see what’s happening in your county/city. To find your polling place, you can click here.

All Georgia Residents:

Write-ins are available in every category.

Elections:

  1. U.S. President
    1. Democrat: Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine
    2. Libertarian: Gary Johnson, Bill Weld
    3. Republican: Donald Trump, Mike Pence
  2. U.S. Senate
    1. Democrat: Jim Barksdale
    2. Libertarian: Allen Buckley
    3. Republican: Johnny Isakson (incumbent)
  3. Georgia Public Service Commissioner
    1. Libertarian: Eric Hoskins
    2. Republican: Tim Echols (incumbent)

Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot:

  1. Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  2. Multi-part: Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to (1) allow additional penalties for criminal cases in which a person is found guilty of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, pandering, pandering by compulsion, solicitation of sodomy, masturbation for hire, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, or sexual exploitation of children, and (2) allow assessments on adult entertainment establishments to fund the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative and social services for individuals in this state who have been or may be sexually exploited?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  3. Multi-part: Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to abolish the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission; require the General Assembly to create and provide by law for the composition, manner of appointment, and governance of a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, with such commission having the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges; require the Judicial Qualifications Commission to have procedures that provide for due process of law and review by the Supreme Court of its advisory opinions; and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  4. Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to provide that the proceeds of excise taxes on the sale of fireworks or consumer fireworks be dedicated to the funding of trauma care, firefighter equipping and training, and local public safety purposes?
    1. Yes
    2. No

 

Fulton County Residents:

Elections:

  1. U.S. Representative for 5th Congressional District
    1. Democrat: John Lewis (incumbent)
    2. Republican: Douglas Bell
  2. Georgia State Senator for 36th Congressional District
    1. Democrat: Nan Orrock (incumbent)
  3. Georgia State Representative for 38th Congressional District
    1. Democrat: Park Cannon (incumbent)
  4. District Attorney for Atlanta
    1. Democrat: Paul Howard Jr. (incumbent)
  5. Clerk of Superior Court of Fulton County
    1. Democrat: Cathlene “Tina” Robinson (incumbent)
    2. Republican: Lewis Pittman
  6. Sheriff of Fulton County
    1. Democrat: Theodore “Ted” Jackson (incumbent)
    2. Republican: Ben Cowart
  7. Tax Commissioner of Fulton County
    1. Democrat: Arthur Ferdinand (incumbent)
  8. Surveyor of Fulton County
    1. Democrat: Arnaud Huguet
    2. Republican: William Daniel III (incumbent)
  9. Solicitor-General of Fulton County State Court
    1. Democrat: Keith Gammage
  10. Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor (pick 2)
    1. No Party: Preston Mason
    2. No Party: Alan Toney

Special Elections:

  1. Shall Fulton County be authorized to grant a Freeport Exemption to E-Commerce goods stored in fulfillment centers from taxation?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  2. Shall an additional 0.4% sales tax be collected in the City of Atlanta for 5 years for transportation improvements and congestion reduction?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  3. Shall an additional sales tax of 0.5% be collected in the City of Atlanta for significantly expanding and enhancing MARTA transit service in Atlanta?
    1. Yes
    2. No

 

Why you should support the Libertarian Party, at least until the November election

The premise of this piece is simple: if you don’t firmly support Trump or Clinton, you should openly support Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s nominee, at least until you actually vote in November. Also, politics and elections are a big picture long game, so you need to think about your support and vote as not just impacting this election, but the elections to come.

Although I would like to see you actually vote for Johnson in November, all you really need to do is openly support Johnson until then. The reason for this comes down to basic math: Johnson will be invited to the presidential debates if he is polling at a minimum of 15% based on the “average of five selected national public opinion polling organizations’ most recently publicly reported results, at the time eligibility is determined.

Brief History of the Presidential Debates

The Commission on Presidential Debates (the “CPD”) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1987 to regulate presidential debates in the U.S. It doesn’t receive government funding, but it was created by the Republican and Democratic parties for the supposed purpose of ensuring that presidential debates offer the best information to prospective voters. Since the 1988 debates, the CPD has controlled every general election debate and, only in 1992, has a third party been present at them. That year, Ross Perot attended the debates and went on to win 19% of the popular vote.

Why  Debates Matter

Not only do the presidential debates give candidates the ability to participate in high-profile arenas where they can share their views, but they also give the attendees an air of authority and significance. Millions of people watch them, pundits endlessly comment on them, and they expose the attendees to the public at large. Without a spot on that stage, a candidate has almost no chance of reaching the public at large. This means that third parties languish on the sidelines as  topics of interest for only the most politically-attentive Americans.

The debates also provide the only potential opportunity for candidates to directly engage with one another. Outside of the CPD-sanctioned debate stages, candidates tend not to interact directly, opting for indirect opportunities through their campaign machines and media to attack their opponents’ positions. But in the debates, they’re head-to-head, and this sharpens their contrasts.

Why Supporting Johnson Matters…even if you’re not a Libertarian

Getting a third party on the debate stages is important for our democracy. Voters have more than two choices, although most either don’t know that, or think it isn’t significant because the likelihood of a third party winning the election is too unlikely. To some extent, the latter camp is correct, because it would take a political miracle for a third party to win the general election this year. Getting Johnson (or any other viable third party candidate) onto the debate stage is a step towards breaking our country’s dependence on the two-party system. More candidates means more choices, and more choices means a better chance of breaking down the beleaguered beats the two major parties have gotten so good at walking. A third party could shake up the (increasingly transparent) holograms being broadcast by the two major parties.

Think of it this way: if you’re in a fight against one other person, you only have to watch out for attacks from that angle. But bring a third fighter into the mix, and now you’re vulnerable from positions you otherwise wouldn’t have had to defend. This makes it more likely for weaker fighters to get knocked out and strengthens better fighters whose stance can actually hold up against attacks from all sides.

Why You Should Vote for Gary Johnson in November

Put simply, a political party convention is eligible for federal campaign financing in a general election if it wins at least 5% of the popular vote in the preceding election. Getting this funding would be huge for a third party, because one of the biggest barriers to entry into this protected field is money. We have to think ahead, and although you might be right when you say that a third party could never win the election, you’re only partially right. After this election, another will occur in at least four years. After that, at least another four. And so on. To create real and lasting change, you need to play the long game. Your vote in November will have consequences for the next cycle. Don’t waste it on Trump or Clinton, unless you’re in a battleground state like Ohio or Florida and you actually want one of them to win.

 

 

 

If you don’t vote, you’re probably a Donald Drumpf or Bernie Sanders supporter

Mildly provocative title, I know.

Yesterday I went to the Donald Trump rally at The Fabulous Fox theater. The best way to describe the noon day crowd at such a rally is to liken it to a rural Wal-Mart on a busy Saturday night: lots of strange people who you can’t imagine seeing in any other public place, yelling incoherent statements and getting really excited about things that shouldn’t excite adults in the modern world.

I’m certainly not a supporter. I wore all black with a Social Distortion shirt to make sure I wasn’t mistaken for such. I stuck out. I didn’t have a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap or an inexplicably vented, white, synthetic button-up shirt on. I didn’t have cargo pants. I didn’t look like that very uncool kid in your youth group who tries way, way too hard to be cool with his hipster hairdo and vague hillbilly-meets-prep-school attire. I’m not obese. I don’t yell at people I disagree with. I’m generally uncomfortable around televangelists and their fans.

I went for the same reasons that I went to New York’s Zuccotti Park for Occupy Wall Street, tea party rallies in Georgia, and Barack Obama’s campaign stop at Georgia Tech leading up to his 2008 victory. I went for the same reason I’ve stopped countless times to have full conversations with homeless people. I went for the same reason I like to talk to the soapbox preachers on the corner shouting about infidelity and Armageddon. I’m politically and socially curious. I want to know what people think, and why, especially if we disagree. It’s worthwhile to hear someone out on a topic about which you agree, because they may have different reasons for sharing your view. But it’s far more educational to listen to the views of people with whom you disagree. It helps you to sharpen your own opinions and, sometimes, it can change them. If you’re really lucky, you might even be able to use what you learn to change theirs.

The First Amendment is awesome in that way. I believe it’s First for a reason. It’s the best amendment. It’s the best because it offers the greatest safeguard for our way of life, and it’s what allows us to enjoy our lives as fully as we’re currently able. Two terrible things would happen if we lost the ability to speak, pray, and assemble freely.

First, our lives would lose their luster. Speaking your mind is one of the most liberating and exhilarating things you can do. Practicing your religion as you see fit gives you satisfaction beyond belief, no pun intended. Assembling peacefully helps you to achieve goals with like minded individuals working towards a common cause to better your lives. Without these things, we would work, play, and die, and life would seem more like a waiting room than a destination.

Second, we would lose our ability to challenge powerful institutions and enemies. We wouldn’t be able to speak truth to lies, hold onto something greater than ourselves during struggles, or gather together in solidarity to stand against tyranny. We would be weaker, and we would lose more battles than we already do.

But some people prefer the Second Amendment as their greatest protector. I get the feeling that the crowd at The Fox theater held that view. I don’t come to this conclusion lightly; it’s not just that they’re very vocal about their love of the NRA and their guns. I think it’s also because, ultimately, they’re lazy.

This laziness is pretty unique among Trump supporters (and probably Bernie supporters, although I haven’t been in a roomful of them yet), I believe. These two candidates appeal to the people who believe that they’ll waltz into the White House and wave a wand (or AR-15) and magically improve their lives, without the people having to lift a finger. They can’t be bothered with any level of civic engagement, save for maybe one day in November every four years. They don’t want to take the time to formulate a coherent explanation for their views. They can’t be asked to articulate, without yelling, why their positions provide the best solutions to the problems of the day. In fact, I doubt they even know or understand their problems. They sure as hell don’t know why their opponents believe the way they do.

This is harsh, I know. But I mean all offense. These are the same people who hardly vote, if ever, and complain about the political system being rigged and corrupt. Unfortunately, there are a lot of these people. And the corruption they’re so vaguely yet intensely mad at, well, it’s probably their fault. Bad political actors get away with metaphorical murder, because they’re not held accountable. And they’re not held accountable because the people tasked with holding them accountable (“We the People”) aren’t paying attention. They’re watching reality television, serving as unwitting participants in the rise of an empty-headed authoritarian. They’ll be his henchmen or his targets if he comes into power, and the rest of us will suffer.They’ll suffer, too, but since they’re so unambitious, the restrictions placed on their freedoms won’t hit them as hard. After all, they never use any of them except for that Second Amendment.

You might think this will hurt some people’s feelings. But it won’t. They’re too lazy to read an article like this, with so many words and no pictures of guns or inspirational quotes or would-be dictators. I mean, come on, I’ve already mentioned two constitutional amendments.

These people are too lazy for the First Amendment. They’re too lazy for the greatest gift to civilization the world has ever known. They don’t exercise their rights; they barrel into rooms, yelling and screaming about God-knows-what, and then leave, feeling satisfied at their righteous indignation

.

They blame the democrats, they blame the republicans, they blame the “establishment” or the “system” or other indefinable words that they don’t realize simply mean “a group of individuals that they can’t describe with particularity but think are the root cause of their problems.” They see people as groupings of physical or financial attributes, and they engage in group-think. These are the people who say, “I hate cops,” or “Rich people are evil,” or “The liberal media,” or “This [race/organization/nationality] all [do/think/say] [something I don’t like].” These people don’t have answers to questions of why, how, or when. All they know is how they feel. People who prefer feelings to thoughts and action are lazy. And people like Trump and Bernie Sanders make them feel a whole bunch.

And I think that’s what they like about it, just sitting there, rocking back and forth, feeling the Bern, feeling the power of potentially violent authoritarianism, feeling like righteous underdogs. Bernie and Trump will do everything for them, and they can go on not paying attention to anything except whatever fad b.s. television show they watch.

But that’s awful and it worsens the world in which we live. The United States is a constitutional republic founded on democratic ideals of self-government. This can be translated thusly: for our society and system of government to work, we have to actually participate in it. We wouldn’t be so vulnerable to “insiders” in Washington if we all made ourselves a little bit more like insiders ourselves. We can’t just piss and moan about our problems. We have to actually find ways to solve them. We can’t simply criticize whomever is in power and assume the next person will kiss it and make it better. We need to propose meaningful solutions in thoughtful ways.

Fittingly, Trump and Bernie are perfectly paired with their supporters. They’re idealistic, but don’t really get anything done. Trump has managed to take his daddy’s money and track inflation by selling a brand, which is just a capitalist term for “a feeling with financial value.” Bernie is a senator from Vermont serving his second term where he sells a drug he can’t actually deliver. These men aren’t problem solvers. They’re salesmen, and they’re slinging “good” vibes.

To demonstrate the caliber of person that we should all strive to be, I direct you to something so exciting, all of the people I’ve disparaged so far will find it boring. In a Supreme Court case concerning a university student group’s ability to deny membership to students who don’t share the group’s core beliefs, a team of people adversely affected by the group’s discriminatory practices wrote an argument in defense of their antagonist’s right to discriminate against them. I read this in law school, and it still brings me to tears for its honesty, wisdom, and courage to stand for something greater than themselves. These people didn’t just “play a card” or drop a platitude; they developed a rational, thoughtful argument to advance an ideal, and their action represents the virtue I wish that all Americans shared. Here’s the link to the whole article, but I’ll summarize it below: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/publishing/preview/publiced_preview_briefs_pdfs_09_10_08_1371_PetitionerAmCuGLIL.authcheckdam.pdf

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez

A Christian student group at a California university challenged the school’s decision to bar the group’s membership at the school based on the Christian group’s refusal to admit members to the group if those members supported pro-homosexual politics. The group did not advocate violence or hatred towards homosexuals, but they advocated a literal interpretation of the Bible that views homosexuality as sinful. Although they did not deem homosexuals inherently evil or suspicious, the group did not want homosexuals obtaining membership (and therefore voting) rights within the group for fear that they would undermine the group’s causes.

One could easily look at this case and, depending on your leanings, immediately agree or disagree with the Christian group’s position. But, if you immediately agree or disagree, then you are lazy, and you likely support Drumpf or Bernie.

Brief of Gays & Lesbians for Individual Liberty as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner

A group advocating for the advancement of LGBTQ causes submitted an amicus brief, which means a brief from “a friend of the court.” The Supreme Court gets these all the time, where special interest groups join with one side of the case and advocate their own position in favor of that side. It presents a more fully-developed argument (and a more overwhelming one, at times) for the court to consider. In case you’re wondering, the “petitioner” in this case was the Christian group seeking to bar homosexuals from being members. So why did they advocate in favor of a group that sought to prevent their participation in a school-related group? They’re homosexuals, after all? Shouldn’t they be easily lumped into a “progressive” category whose knee-jerk reaction is opposing anything remotely adversarial to their cause? Nope. Because these people aren’t lazy. I doubt they support either of my much-aligned candidates from above. These people articulated their points of view, if you’d like to read them, because they take full advantage of the First Amendment. They didn’t show up with guns and demand membership rights. They didn’t yell and shout and scream about their feelings. They made a solid, moving argument, and they’re heroes of mine because of it. I can still remember where I was when I read it. Well-formulated arguments have that kind of impact on people. Guns just kill them and start a cycle of revenge.

“Rigorous protection of minorities – including gays and lesbians – from invidious discrimination does not require sacrificing expressive associational freedom. To the contrary, these values should complement and reinforce each other.”

A lazy person would simply say, “You’re a racist,” misusing the term. But this group of superheros used words. Powerful, powerful words. Those words are how this case was won. As far as I can tell, no ideological or political battle has yet been won by yelling obscenities. Calm, deliberative words have won them all.

Someone once said that we get the government we deserve. I believe that. I also believe that our government sucks right now. In Georgia, it’s estimated that less than 50% of the voting-eligible population actually votes. But that’s not necessarily bad news. I would argue that, based on knowledge of the issues, less people should be voting right now. Of course, I would advocate that people should learn more about the candidates and issues, and then we should have a much higher proportion of our population voting, which would promote a more just and rational society. But this year, I’ll just keep dreaming. We’ll have President Hillary Clinton, and nothing will improve. That’s better than Emperor Trump, though. Despite what the non-voting nihilists say, things can totally get worse. We’ve got it made, compared with historical standards of human existence go, and a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad president could make things much, much worse. Saying you’d rather have Trump than Clinton because you hate the establishment is like saying that, because school isn’t perfect, you’d rather have your kids sit in a moldy room with an old bigot who just farts out of his mouth for eight hours straight. School ain’t perfect, but at least you get something out of it.

So that’s why I say, if you don’t vote, you probably support one of these candidates. You’re lazy. You don’t realize how much work the rest of us do to keep our heads (and our loved one’s heads) above water. You don’t know what’s going on around you, and you don’t want to try to solve your own problems, much less your neighbor’s. You just want someone to solve them for you, and your lack of action allows the world to remain as frail and messed up as it is. You’ll be the reason that we lose the First Amendment but keep the Second. You’ll be the reason that the film Idiocracy becomes reality. The next incarnation of Trump won’t be saying “Make America Great Again.” He’ll be muttering “Where My Country Gone?

And we won’t be able to speak, pray, or assemble in protest. Thanks, ‘Merica.


 

Feeling lazy and uneducated? Here’s some stuff to read that doesn’t have to do with costumed animals or Kim Kardashian (usually):

https://www.govtrack.us/

http://www.c-span.org/

http://fivethirtyeight.com/

http://reason.com/

http://www.theatlantic.com/

http://www.slate.com/

http://www.cnn.com/

http://www.vox.com/

http://www.npr.org/

 

 

 

Police Shootings: By the Numbers

According to Census data, there were roughly 318,000,000 people in the United States in 2014. A Justice Department report determined that in 2012 there were roughly 750,000 sworn police officers in the U.S. The Washington Post reports that roughly 1,000 people were killed by police in 2015.

Doing the imperfect math on this data, that means that police killed less than 0.01% of the total U.S. population in 2015. Assuming a one-to-one ration of officers-killing-civilians, that means that roughly 0.13% of officers were involved in the killing of civilians in 2015. This doesn’t consider the ratio of people who were engaged in violent behavior when shot, but it’s almost impossible to really break down the numbers of people who were “instigating or escalating” versus “blameless of” their killings.

Although that’s still a troubling percentage, it’s worth keeping in perspective the very low number of officers involved in fatal shootings of civilians. Of course, this doesn’t account for the people that the police shot but didn’t kill, or harmed in other ways not quantifiable by death statistics, but making inferences from this data, it appears that the vast majority of police do not commit acts of violence against people.

Nonetheless, it’s also worth noting that in 2012 black Americans accounted for about 31% of police killings even though they make up about 13% of the total population. That means that blacks are far more likely to be killed than are whites, or any other ethnic group, period. This is true even when you factor out the number of unarmed people killed by police.

In light of the most recent high-profile and disturbing police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, it’s distressing to realize just how few officers are ever even tried in court for these killings.

The Takeaway: the overwhelming majority of police don’t kill people at all, but when they do, they’re more likely to kill black Americans.

 

The Statue of Liberty: A Roadmap for Navigating the Syrian Refugee Debate

In the wake of the highly coordinated terror attack in Paris, the U.S. has begun a debate about whether or not to bring in Syrian refugees. Unfortunately, much of this debate has been tone-deaf and devoid of fact or even a cursory understanding of our laws and history.

More disturbing than this stunning lack of context, however, has been the shunning of our most cherished ideals and morals.

The most heinous example of blindness to American values comes to us in the form of republican presidential candidate front-runner Donald Trump. I will make my biases known: I think this man is an idiot. This is a man born so rich that he had the ability to, and did in fact, fail miserably in numerous business ventures with such extravagance that he had to declare bankruptcy on multiple occasions. As to be expected, this made him ridiculous enough to become a reality television star, which is the worst thing a human can be. On top of that, he’s a hypocrite and a liar.

But Trump, not to be outdone by his past self, has decided to up the ante and double-down on reasons to dislike him. Now he’s espousing spectacularly fascist ideas, which aren’t even good ideas. They’re not good ideas because they lack any basis in data, history, foresight, or morality. They will not solve the problems they (allegedly) seek to solve, and instead may exacerbate them. Of utmost concern is the fact that he’s not alone in his ill-advised thinking.

In the opinion of Donald Trump and those who share his views, the greatest nation on Earth – a phrase I don’t say ironically – should (a) shut its doors to Syrian refugees, and (b) create a national registry of mosques and Muslims. Following closely behind him in the asinine-worldview category is Jeb Bush, who wants to admit Syrian refugees, but only if they’re Christian.

These ideas are un-American, unintelligent, and for whatever it’s worth, un-Christian.

I am proud to call myself an American. I’m proud to be well-educated. I’m proud to come from a working-class home. And I’m proud to have been raised in a Christian family that taught me the very best values Christianity has to offer. Each of these elements of my identity cause me to vehemently reject the views of Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and their cohort. Then logic and knowledge cause me to reject their explanations.


The argument that we should ban all Syrian refugees from the U.S. because we cannot properly vet the applicants, is premised on a lack of understanding about refugees and the process by which they gain entry to the U.S.

The argument against bringing in Syrian refugees, carte blanche, goes like this: ISIS and other terror organizations are sophisticated enough to implant terrorists into the ranks of the refugees as a means to gain entry into the United States and other countries where they can then wreak havoc. Our immigration system is unable to properly vet these refugees, because Syria is in turmoil and doesn’t have a great history of keeping good records on its citizens. Thus, considering the risk of harm to Americans and the insufficient means of mitigating those risks, we should not bring any any Syrian refugees.

This is flawed on many levels, but it is important to note the few merits to this thinking.

First, it is absolutely a real possibility that admitting Syrian refugees will lead to the inadvertent admittance of some terrorists. However, this risk is blown out of proportion to the actual likelihood of this happening, and it is absurd to attempt to implement a zero risk policy with regards to, well, anything we do. There’s inherent and unavoidable risk in everything, and humans accept some level of risk every single day, all over the world, in every single aspect of our lives. We should never consider banning a choice based on risk where the reward outweighs the risk. Here, the risk is minimal and the reward is maximal. Since September 11, 2001, with over 700,000 refugees being resettled in the U.S., only a tiny fraction of 1% of refugees in the U.S. have been arrested or removed based on terror charges. Although the exact number is in dispute depending on how words like “terror” and “refugee” are defined, one thing is clear: the vast, vast majority of refugees in the U.S. are not implicated in terrorist threats. Barring entry to thousands of human beings posing a risk of less than a fraction of a percent is not based in sound risk-aversion theory.

Second, our refugee and asylum laws are tough. I briefly worked for an organization involved in legal asylum and refugee resettlement, and in that time I came to the conclusion that the process by which we admit refugees and asylum seekers is rigorous. But don’t just take my word for it. You can actually read about the process, for free, to see for yourselves: here and here are good starting points. Basically, both the U.N. and multiple government entities within the U.S. have to approve every refugee’s resettlement in this country. The process can take years. We are not letting people just wash up on shore from Syria with guns and bombs. It just doesn’t work like that. Also, despite the fear that we won’t know enough about the refugees because of the lack of reliable record-keeping by the Syrian government, it is important to note that we do this all the time anyway and, again, refugees aren’t murdering Americans in the streets.

The argument that we should only allow Christian refugees, to minimize the risk of terrorism, fails to appreciate the inherent difficulty in determining who is “Christian” and how many “Christians” commit acts of violence and terrorism.

Jeb Bush is afraid of letting in Syrian refugees due to a lack of proper record-keeping, because we won’t know who they are or what they’ve done; nonetheless, he assumes we can parse out the Christians. Presumably, he thinks that terrorists won’t lie about being Christian to gain entry into our country and kill us all. But something about the premise that they’ll blow themselves up to kill us, but won’t lie to do it, just doesn’t sit right with me.

It’s also important to note that we have plenty of “Christians” committing acts of violence and terrorism every year in this country. Just look at terrorism committed by white supremacist groups claiming ties to Christianity.

Although there is probably some truth in assuming that, if we could somehow only let in Christian refugees, we would expose ourselves to less risk than if we let in both Muslim and Christian refugees (based on sheer volume, if nothing else), it still seems hardly plausible that we can, and even less plausible that we should.

In light of the rhetoric being used by U.S. politicians and political candidates, it seems that the age-old caricature of the French sissy may no longer be relevant, and should be replaced by that of the American wimp.

It would be remiss to fail to appreciate the fact that this debate was sparked by horrific attacks in Paris, France, of all places, and that it has not shaken President Francois Hollande’s resolve to accept Syrian refugees, including Muslims. That, coming from France. And this, coming from the U.S.

We should, above all else, prioritize the words emblazoned across the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” In times like these, that beautiful proclamation should not be forgotten. As we navigate these difficult times, it is of tantamount importance we remember that those words come from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. Picture it: a Jewish woman named Lazarus wrote about the U.S. being a lighthouse of hope for refugees, then we put it on a statue given to us by the French commemorating our determination to proceed forward with liberty and democratic ideals.

And now, in 2015, my fellow Americans have Donald Trump as the front-runner in the race for our nation’s president, vowing to refuse all refugees, women and children included, from a country devastated by religious conflict, sectarian violence, and anti-democratic ideals. Piling on the historical irony, he wants to create a database of one minority group and use the military to force his views. He’s a failure at his first venture, he’s a hypocrite, he has weird hair, and, for some strange reason, a lot of people love him.

When I was growing up in the 20th century, conservatives always used “being French” as shorthand for cowardice. I wonder if the 21st century will reverse that trend, where French people can – rightfully so – call Americans the cowards and make mocking caricatures of us hiding under our blankets in fear of the downtrodden, scared, hurt refugees.

Our country thrives on doing for others, and I believe that we can best defeat evil and hatred through love and courage. Freedom ain’t free, these colors don’t run, yada yada. What happened to that? What happened to my brave, strong countrymen and women, willing to face off against perilous danger and evil overlords to protect the weak?

Or did we ever even exist?

Inherent Problems in Defending Microaggression Theory

In an article written at The Atlantic, Simba Runyowa, sets out at least in part to rebut an article written recently by Conor Friedersdorf regarding the efficacy and value in discussing “microaggressions.” Runyowa’s piece is muddy, at best, but he brings forth some good ideas. Unfortunately, it is the weak, contradictory arguments that he intends to highlight, and it’s important to parse through these conflated ideas to better think about the topic.


First, Runyowa correctly points out that people sometimes say things that cause offense even without intending to do so. Runyowa does not lack empathy with the microaggressors and, in a somewhat even-handed fashion, admits to being on the wrong side of these slights at times. However, he incorrectly (and flatly) states that “the fact remains that those words were fundamentally inappropriate and offensive.” The problem, here, is that one would be hard-pressed to characterize his examples as “fundamentally inappropriate and offensive.” In fact, if anything, his interpretation of the allegedly offensive statements is, in itself, a “microaggression” by his own standards, and possibly greater than that by others.

Runyowa argues that it was offensive for a college peer to tell him that her dog shared his name, Simba. Why or how this is offensive, on any level, I do not know. Does Runyowa think it was offensive for the peer to name her dog Simba? Or was it offensive to tell him? And what should she have done if the topic ever came up? Lie about her dog’s name? Apologize?

To back-up his claim, Runyowa states in a clumsy (and some would say “fundamentally offensive and inappropriate” manner) that Americans associate the name Simba with animals. Painting broadly, Runyowa sweeps all Americans under one rug, disregarding the wide diversity of this nation. But, although some proponents of microaggression theory might argue that this was “fundamentally offensive and insensitive,” I would have to disagree. The reason I disagree is because, even if my knee-jerk reaction was to interpret this statement as lazy and stupid, upon further consideration I realize that there is merit to it, and I do not believe that Runyowa intended anything negative towards Americans by it. If I told him that my black friend has a dog named Austin, which is a common name in America, especially among white Americans, I’m sure he would not be surprised. Yet, when the black woman told the white Austin about her dog, Austin, nobody was offended. They had a good laugh, and the Austins became friends. However, Runyowa, presumably, would characterize either (a) naming the dog Austin as offensive, or (b) telling the human Austin about it as offensive.

But how can this be? The black friend did not intend any offense, but Runyowa argues that the “impact of her words and actions mattered more than her intent.” This cannot be true. On the contrary, if the human Austin were to take offense, I would say that he would be taking offense at a so-called “microaggression,” and I would have to disagree with him. More offensive would be his act of turning something meaningless into something that carried a meaning decided by him, and him alone. In the parallel Runyowa universe, doppelganger Austin has decided, without regard to the friend’s intent, what her actions mean, failing to consider context. Is it fundamentally offensive and inappropriate to name a pet anything that could be associated with a human’s name? The problem with this line of thinking is that anything is within the realm of possible offense. No action is safe if all actions are left up to frivolous interpretation.

And if we are interpreting things willy-nilly, why are we supporting negative interpretations over positive ones? Would it not have been just as reasonable for Runyowa and Austin to interpret their namesakes as flattering? After all, people (usually) don’t give their pets names they dislike or find degrading. So why was it a microaggression instead of a microcompliment? Unfortunately, in Runyowa’s world, and the world of the alleged victims of such microaggressions, nobody is given the benefit of a doubt.


This brings me to my second point, which deals with the ultimate issue that Friedersdorf takes (clumsily) with microaggressions and what he terms “victimhood culture” in his piece on the topic. There is something disturbing about the rise of knee-jerk offense-taking, and I don’t believe the creepiness of this “victimhood culture” is well-articulated in our society, yet. So, I’ll make a flawed attempt here.

To answer the question of why, when given multiple options for how to interpret a micro-statement or micro-action, people would as a matter of course choose the negative (aggressive) interpretation, we must look to human nature. Specifically, we must consider a concept called righteous indignation. Basically, when given an opportunity to feel like the good-guy (or good-girl; please don’t be offended by my default use of male pronouns; after all, I am a male, and it’s therefore logical for me to default to terms of male-ness) versus a bad-guy (or bad-girl; see immediately above), some people will revel in this opportunity. For Runyowa, this seems absurd. He argues that “there is nothing glamorous about being subjected to racism, and certainly no social rewards to be reaped from being the victim of oppression in a society that heaps disadvantage on historically marginalized groups.” But he is wrong. Although nobody wants to actually be subjected to racism when applying for a job, dealing with the police, or making friends, there are many, many people who take deep joy in making themselves out to be the underdog in the fight. If you don’t believe me, please ask yourselves whether you wanted Rocky to win, or Apollo Creed? How about the Na’vi Clan in Avatar? Pocahontas or the colonialists? Have you ever fantasized about being in a situation where you, or someone you love, is being mistreated or maligned, and you get to swoop in and tell the bad guy/girl all about how wrong they are? You get to be the hero, right? And who doesn’t want to be a hero? But how do we know who the heroes are? We give them a villain, of course!

And what about life accomplishments? Would you rather feel as though everything came easy, that you had it made and had a leg up because of something outside your control, like your family ties or skin color or sex? Or would you rather feel as though all the cards were stacked against you, but nonetheless you triumphed?

Now, at this point you might start saying that I, a white male from America, am unjustly ignoring the real and impactful consequences that racism, sexism, and all other -isms play have on people not from my background. But I’m not arguing that those things don’t exist, nor am I arguing that they shouldn’t be brought up in challenging ways by people from all walks of life. In fact, to the contrary, I want to discuss them. I am right now.

What I am arguing is that these microaggressions are many times meaningless situations blown out of proportion to give someone a (softball) problem to overcome, making him or her feel like the “victim” even though no wrongdoing was commenced. Remember, we’re not talking about situations where the speaker/actor intended to cause harm; we’re talking about microaggressions, which are situations where small, unintentional words/actions create a perceived slight.

Regarding the issue of whether it is worthwhile to confront these microaggressions, I would like to insert an imperfect, but helpful, analogy. When you’re driving and someone cuts you off, do you follow them to their destination, out of your own way, to pull over and confront them? No. If they actually hit you, then yes, of course. But the difference is in the amount of injury. When they actually hit you, they cause measurable damage. You incur costs in having to fix the car, go to the doctor, miss work, etc. But when they miss you while causing a close call, the damage is more minor. Nobody would argue that the anxiety the incident caused is completely trivial, because it does have an impact on your well-being. But a close call isn’t worth engaging. And even if it was worth engaging, would you jump to the conclusion that they were trying to kill you? Would you assume they have no disregard for your life? Maybe you would, but that would be mighty presumptuous, especially considering the real reason for the close call very well may have been that they simply didn’t see you in their blind spot. Although it is still an issue, it’s such a minor one that it isn’t even worth engaging. Perhaps you tell your friends the story if it’s good enough to recall, but that’s it.

And I must say, what is more offensive? Accidentally saying/doing something that was taken the wrong way? Or assuming the worst out of someone when given the option to assume anything else? I argue that the latter is far more problematic and offensive. It’s self-serving and it seeks to demonize someone else for personal gain.

Of course, there are situations where the actor/speaker does not intend to offend, and the listener/receiver did not seek righteous indignation. These situations are called “misunderstandings,” and terming them “microaggressions” necessarily sets them up as bad person versus good person scenarios, which is a false dichotomy that perpetuates division in our society. Were Runyowa to argue that such a distinction is trivial, he would undercut his own points about “exercising vigilance in interacting with those whose lived experiences are different than our own,” because, as he correctly points out, words matter.


Which brings me to my third point: Runyowa is right about a few things. He’s right about calling out the offensiveness of his African-American friend’s academic adviser trying to direct her towards easier classes, presumably based solely on her skin color and/or sex (using only the facts that he has given, of course; more information might tell a different story, but he points out that his friend’s credentials were great, and there was no other impetus for the adviser’s demeaning attempt). But this is not really a microaggression; this is an example of actual racism or sexism, where one person believes that another is incapable of something based solely on skin and/or sex.

Runyowa correctly asserts that universities are supposed to provide an “environment in which everyone feels welcome,” but he incorrectly argues that PC culture serves those goals. I disagree.

At Georgia State University, I took an African-American literature class, which required me to read lots and lots of books by black authors. The majority of these books applied the word “nigger,” and all of its other iterations, in heavy doses. I had to read these books out loud in class on occasion. Although my professor did not require it, she preferred that, when reading, we actually said “nigger.” Not “the N-word.”

As stated above, I am a white male from America. In most circles, it is not acceptable for me to say that word. Needless to say, I was very uncomfortable. But, I was in an African-American literature class. And I was in college. That was kind of the point: to confront uncomfortable realities and engage in social issues, giving us all a better understanding of each other and our world through education and experience. Which is what Runyowa gets right when arguing that PC culture and the theory of microaggressions seeks to bring people into feelings of empathy.

He’s right. We should all be mindful of what we say, to whom, how, and when. Yes, we must strive to empathize with others, especially when they come from very different places, mentally, emotionally, and physically, than we do. But we must also challenge each other, and making people uncomfortable is part of that.

So I don’t argue that PC culture is all bad. Nor do I argue that taking issue with PC culture is all bad, either. To me, the worst things you can do are either bury your head in the sand to avoid confrontation or pick one “side” of the debate and actually believe it and espouse its views. We should all be trying to empathize with one another while also pushing one another to grow. Speaking in favor of empathy while exempting oneself from its virtues is not that path, as Runyowa does (perhaps unintentionally and in fact well-intentioned) when he chooses an interpretation of insult (failing to empathize with the “microaggressor”) over another interpretation.

For example (my final one), I bring up the statements made by peers at Oberlin which Runyowa interpreted as expressions of “dismay” at the “ability of a person of color to master English.” Why did Runyowa interpret these statements as racist? He’s from Zimbabwe, which has three official languages. These peers were most likely fascinated with how well he mastered a second (or third?) language, not that someone who looked like him could do it. It is not racist to be impressed with someone’s ability to master something as complicated as a language, especially considering many fluent speakers of multiple languages will make many, many mistakes when speaking their second language. I know many people who speak great English but who don’t speak it as well as Runyowa does (or at least how well I presume he does, considering all his praise and his near-perfect use of grammar in this piece).

While he’s right about the existence of problems like imposter syndrome and stereotype threat, he incorrectly implies that it only affects minorities. In fact, many white male Americans feel this. Just ask any one of us who has ever been bumping Dr. Dre through downtown, loving every second of it, only to get (perceived) dirty looks from a black (or sometimes white) person at the red light. This is not to say that such a feeling is more sinister than, or equally as sinister as, the consequences suffered by minorities; I’m just saying that having a one-sided victim party isn’t the best way to teach empathy, and so it invalidates a lot of what adherents to PC ideology say, pushing people (emotionally, and thus intellectually) away from the valid ideals it holds.

In conclusion, I leave you with the best quote from Runyowa’s piece, one with which I agree whole-heartedly:

“The ability to deftly navigate these finely textured strata of diversity in the face of changing demographics and societal values, coupled with the intensification of globalization, is a skill that can only pay dividends for all students as they prepare to confront a future that will be marked by an intricate pluralism.”

War of Memes: Black Lives Matter

This is the War of Memes: “Black Lives Matter” edition.

A War of Memes is a where an issue that should be respectfully discussed using the highest and most nuanced and direct linguistic tools known to man, instead gets #hashtagged on the bumper stickers of the internet. Enjoy wasting your time for the next couple minutes.

Easy listening:

Black Lives Matter and Cancer-Arthur Chu

Black-All Lives matter-graffittiWomb Rights Vomit over Black Lives Matter All Lives Matter may be one's personal position eCards Stop Polarizing This Killed by police during arrest Police Actions Illustrated
Melatonin
How Liberals Think
Focusing on Black Lives Matter Because Judicial Doesn't Know
Death of the Unarmed-Abortion Dear Hip Hop DangCop says Black Lives Matter White Lives Matter More Church Black and All Lives Matter Black on Black Murder Black Lives Matter when killed by White Cop Black Lives Matter except at abortion clinics

All Stores Matter

Glen Beck Think of the White People Point of Black Lives Matter-Star Trek SMHPoint of Black Lives Matter-Star Trek SMH

Psychology is a “Soft” Science

http://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2015/09/sweeping-psychologys-problems-under-the-rug/403726/

For many, the contention encapsulated in this title is controversial; yet, for many others, like myself, it is simply a fact that psychology is a “soft” science, and facts cannot be controversial. To the first group, the statement that “facts cannot be controversial” is, itself, controversial; yet, for the second group, this statement is gospel.

Listening material for this read:

The differences between these opposing points of view are significant. The problem with psychology as a field is that there are adherents who believe that psychologists’ findings are more important than they are. The whole point of science is to observe effects and causes, causes and effects, to make the world more predictable. But soft sciences like psychology and economics are rarely useful in attaining these goals. The reasons for this are not the fault of psychologists or economists, and criticizing their fields is not an attack on the intellect or ethics of those who practice them. Instead, these criticisms seek simply to excavate the inherent problems with trying to make decisions in Scenario B based on observations from Scenario A, where there are almost infinite opportunities for slight variations in the scenarios that could make A and B incomparable.

A hard science, like algebra, is far more reliable than a soft science, like psychology, because hard sciences are able to boil down the scenarios to their basest forms, eliminating slight variations that make Scenario A incomparable to Scenario B. The problems discussed in the Atlantic piece inserted above hit on these problems. What the piece doesn’t talk about is how dangerous soft sciences are.

When economists use poorly-equated analogies to solve present problems, the course of conduct that a government or business takes (e.g. Federal Reserve raising interest rates or a business buying corrupted assets based on bad data) can have massive effects. But we know this about economics, and few people would take any economic theory as gospel. This truth is easily observable in our Congress. But with psychology, for some reason, there are those who follow the theories as if they are proven realities, when in fact they are not. Ever. This is true because psychology deals with a topic that is inherently complicated, and many of the subtle variables that go into the causes and effects of human behavior are not reliably observable.

Of course, the danger I mentioned above arises from the faith put into these practices, and the fact that the believers follow their psychologists into the behavioral battlefield blindly, without seeking to find the solutions to the problems.