Friday, November 10, 2017

Where harassment is concerned, take nothing for granted

The New York Times finally ran the piece I'd been expecting somebody to run: "Men at Work Wonder if They Overstepped with Women, Too".

If there's one thing any man who claims to be aware of the possibility of sexual harassment in the workplace should know, it's that even the wokest man needs to do a gut check periodically.

We all fall into behavioral ruts and stop paying attention to how we're acting when we're comfortable. That's not a bad thing: to be on eggshells all the time would drive us insane. But it's precisely when we're comfortable, when we think all's right in our little corner of the world, that we can fail to see that something's wrong.

We don't see it because we're comfortable and we assume all's well. And that's the problem.

After quoting a number of men who wonder if they are behaving appropriately, or might have behaved badly in the past without knowing it, the piece pivots to men who aren't worried. One company founder queried his female employees:

“I came into the office and said, ‘Hey, guys, I’ve got a question for you: This sexual harassment stuff, all these things, do you guys ever worry it’s going to happen here?’” Mr. Lencioni, 52, recalled. “And they were like: ‘No, because we know you. We know who you are.’”
Maybe the women in that office were being perfectly truthful. However, if men should have learned anything from the recent spate of harassment stories coming to light, it's that the harassed party often doesn't feel that he or she can afford to speak up: the power dynamics of the work environment make them fear for their jobs and even livelihoods. The higher up the man who's asking is, the more likely people will think they need to tell him what he wants to hear.
Other men said they had not talked about workplace harassment with anyone because they already knew what they needed to know. “This is a liberal town,” said Philip Rontell, a real estate agent in Walnut Creek, Calif., who added that he supported the #MeToo campaign. “We all already know this stuff.”
No offense to Mr. Rontell but that is possibly the dumbest attitude one can have. If as a man you think you already know everything you need to know about harassment, you are part of the problem.

The number of reports of harassment by high-profile men in different vocations is only the tip of the iceberg: I'm certain of that. That kind of behavior afflicts high-status men because to an extent every man has enhanced status in this culture. You may think you are despised by the world but if you are male, a woman in the same circumstances has it worse than you do.

Even if you are a paragon of equal-mindedness and proper behavior, you need to be on guard because male privilege is baked into this society's morés.

Businesses need to have systems that allow employees to report harassment, and those systems need to respond promptly and equitably. Yes, it's a giant headache for managment and it's open to abuse — but can you honestly say that not taking proactive steps to discourage harassment is a reasonable response to what we've been seeing these past few months? Indeed, if you consider the Catholic Church's horrific sexual-abuse outrage (made infinitely worse by the Church's attempt to hide it), we've known about institutionally-facilitated abuses for decades.

As a man you don't have to walk on eggshells all the time but you — we — can't afford to be complacent, either. We have a giant blind spot that our culture permits us to ignore too often. That has to end — and the first step, as always, is to admit we have a problem.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The child-man shames us all

Children should be seen and not heard. That was a behavioral edict from my childhood that I, like every child, resented. It was a counterproductive rule, too, as it tended to squelch kids who were wise enough to see that the emperor had no clothes but who were raised to respect their parents.

Still, I wish we could apply that dictate to the child-man in the White House.

I'm not sure which is worse, his instinctive bullying of those he can bully with impunity or his colossal, unfailingly astonishing ignorance. At the moment, I give the edge to the latter following a report in the Japan Times headlined, "Trump said 'samurai' Japan should have shot down overflying North Korean missiles".

U.S. President Donald Trump has said Japan should have shot down the North Korean missiles that flew over the country before landing in the Pacific Ocean earlier this year, diplomatic sources have said, despite the difficulties and potential ramifications of doing so.


The U.S. president said he could not understand why a country of samurai warriors did not shoot down the missiles, the sources said.

It's understandable that defense technology wasn't something he followed in his private life as a licenser of his own name and professional foulmouthed braggart, but once he became president defense technology became part of his job. Nobody expects him to repair the systems if they break down but he goddamned well should have checked what those systems could do before shooting off his mouth about them. (News flash for DJT: it ain't easy to shoot down ballistic missiles. Ask anybody who worked on Reagan's "Star Wars" program in the '80s.)

Nor can any of us, as private citizens, be expected to know other cultures intimately, though I think it would serve us well if we did. Again, though, a president has a responsibility to learn enough about them that he doesn't insult them or make asinine assumptions about them. Trump sounds like he thinks Japan is still stuck in its feudal era hundreds of years ago. I wager his idea of Japanese culture comes from Hollywood's warmed-over efforts to depict historical Japan. How else could he have missed Japan's decades-long efforts to renounce (or more accurately, to ignore) the fanatical militarism, not to mention racism, that led it to commit atrocities before and during World War II? How else could he have missed the U.S.'s historic efforts to get that war's aggressors to stand down and embrace pacifism not merely as an ideal but as a core element of their modern national characters?

No country is summed up by its leader: she or he represents only some of that nation's multiple facets. In the case of the U.S., I regret to say that Trump is sadly representative of some of our most woefully ignorant and belligerent citizens.

However, on behalf of the majority of voters who did not choose him in the last election, I offer an apology for our impossibly ignorant, boorish, and reckless chief executive. He is a sadly exemplary distillation of much that is awful in the U.S.-American character: arrogance, boastfulness, hostility to rational thought, xenophobia. His ignorance will result in more ethnic and cultural slurs being uttered before his time on our national and international stage is up.

But I call on you, our fellow humans who live in other nations, to remember that however badly he may slander you, we are subject to his rule.

You might wish we would rise up and overthrow him. Some of us might even wish that, too. That, though, would be a betrayal of our principles of self-rule. In fact, that would be a final act of submission to Trump, who embodies the dead-end principle of strongman rule. We can't let him undo our national character, which was forged in opposition to monomaniacal self-interest and arbitrary rule.

The price of holding fast to our principles of self-rule, however, is endless embarrassment about the child-man who cannot comprehend the job he isn't doing.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Trump and condolences

Trump said something insensitive to the widow of a soldier recently killed in Niger. She also said Trump struggled to remember her husband's name. And Trump has been in a name-calling spat with a Congressional Democrat, Frederica S. Wilson, over not just his initial remarks to the widow but also his subsequent efforts to deny that he said what he said. Even White House chief of staff John Kelly has gotten into the fray, backing his boss and belittling Wilson.

This is a big deal to the family, of course, and I can't blame them (including the soldier's mother, who has also weighed in) for being upset.

However, why the hell are the rest of us following this story?

Trump didn't commit gross malfeasance here. He was simply Trump, a man who doesn't feel empathy — who, by the evidence of a lifetime's worth of stories, doesn't even comprehend it on an intellectual level. And be honest: most of us are not good at consoling even those we know well, and the most skilled and empathetic can drop the ball now and then.

So at a human level, however much you may hate Trump, cut him some slack about the call. You might have stuck your foot in your mouth, too, if you were simultaneously contending with the other demands of the presidency.

His subsequent denial and fight-picking with Wilson are a different matter, of course: he was a whiny idiot for getting into it with her, and Kelly lost a lot of his own patina by joining his boss in the pile-on. Whether you think Wilson behaved appropriately by calling Trump out in the first place, Trump and Kelly have made things worse for the White House.

But again, this is business as usual for Trump the troglodyte. It's a classic distraction from his other woes, a distraction that takes advantage of the halo the country has built up around the military since Reagan's days. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders even had the gall to say to a reporter, "If you want to go after General Kelly that's up to you but I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that's something highly inappropriate".

It's important to know that the White House press secretary has the same contempt for the First Amendment and the role of the press in our republic that her boss does. Nevertheless, again, this is something we already knew: any Trump loyalist is going to parrot his undemocratic sentiments and probably shares his authoritarian instincts at some level.

So, whether or not you believe Rachel Maddow's hypothesis (which some might call a conspiracy theory) that Trump picked this fight to distract from diplomatic missteps in Chad and adjoining West African nations, the fact is that the Trump administration's inflaming of the controversy surrounding this condolence call is a deliberate distraction from bigger issues.

Stop rewarding the media for keeping this story alive.

And media, stop falling for the oldest trick in Trump's playbook. Get your heads out of your asses. Tell us what he doesn't want us to know — what we need to know.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Enough is never enough

I heard a Congressional representative — a Democrat, of course — say "enough is enough", referring to the slaughter in Las Vegas.

Fifty-nine dead and some five hundred injured as of this moment. The worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Well, that's what most are saying. I think the Newtown (Sandy Hook) massacre was the worst. More have died in Vegas but the Newtown victims were children.

At any rate: dozens dead, hundreds injured. But is enough, enough?

Well ...

No. It should be but ... no, it isn't. It won't be.

To my mild surprise it was Bill O'Reilly who put his finger on the problem, though it's not so much a problem for him as the whole point. He wrote:

This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are.
That precisely sums up the effect of the laissez-faire attitude toward gun ownership espoused by the most zealous gun-rights advocates, including but not limited to the National Rifle Association and its supporters. They will never come right out and say that mass murder is "the price of freedom" (specifically, the freedom to own guns), but it's the logical conclusion of their unrelenting drive to make even the merest discussion of gun control politically impossible.

(Why did BillO blow the secret? Because he has adopted the NRA's fatalistic stance that gun control is futile: "[H]aving covered scores of gun-related crimes over the years, I can tell you that government restrictions will not stop psychopaths from harming people." What he does not say is that those psychopaths would have to work a hell of a lot harder to harm the same number of people if they didn't have access to firearms that can be modified to shoot a lot of bullets in a very short time.)

But back to the salient point: this nation will never say "enough is enough" as long as enough gun owners and gun rights advocates hold fast to the principle that mass killings are an acceptable price for unfettered access to guns.

Gun rights advocates demand that every possible contributing factor to mass shootings be investigated and addressed by legislation — except for gun ownership itself. Gun ownership is not only axiomatically sacrosanct (i.e., you can't ask why gun ownership is an untouchable right), but isn't the root cause of the shootings, gun-rights advocates claim.

That position is no longer credible.

Whenever a mass shooting occurs, the NRA and its allies unfailingly denounce criminals and/or the mentally ill and/or unjust local laws that prevented "good guys" from carrying weapons that could have redressed the balance with the shooter.

Let's see how feasible addressing each of these (putative) alternative factors is.

  • Criminals should not have guns, we're told by the NRA. Well of course not. The trouble is that many of the mass shooters of the 21st century weren't criminals until they committed their mass shooting. The Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, for instance, had no criminal history.
  • Mental illness of a sufficient degree should disqualify one from possessing a firearm. However, we are nowhere near understanding the mind well enough to make such judgments infallibly. If you argue that the answer to mass shootings is a test that can tell whether a person will ever commit mass murder with a gun, you aren't being serious. You're trying to postpone the discussion indefinitely.
  • Now, about those good guys with guns whom some claim are the solution to mass shootings: how exactly would these good guys, with their presumably street-legal weapons, have stopped Paddock? He was around a thousand feet from his victims, thirty-two stories above them. He had the element of surprise and his victims (and would-be counteraggressors in the crowd) had no shelter. To analyze the situation well enough to figure out the shooter's location would require a person with rare presence of mind and coolness under fire.

    Yet assume that in a crowd as large as the one in Las Vegas, a few such people would have been present. They would have to have brought their weapons with them, the concert's organizers would have to have assented and it would have to be publicly known that audience members could be carrying.

    • Would you feel comfortable attending an event where an unknown number of your fellow eventgoers were armed?
    • What if they were drinking or imbibing other controlled substances? Could the organizers require total sobriety as a condition of carrying within paid areas?
    • Would you be comfortable assuming, as you would have to, that all those armed attendees were genuine good guys, rather than bad guys taking advantage of the permission to carry?
    • If shooting broke out, could law enforcement figure out who were the good guys and who the bad guys?
    (There's also the question of how common weapons that can shoot accurately over 1000 feet are among the civilian population. I have no idea.)
Talking about criminals, the mentally ill and "good guys with guns" is all smoke and mirrors. It's an attempt to distract us from the reality that while we all agree that the wrong people shouldn't have guns, we cannot discern with certitude who the wrong people are. Absent mind-reading, which would (or at least should) raise privacy objections that make gun-ownership arguments look trivial, we will not be able to keep guns out of the wrong hands — as long as the nation's default position is that gun ownership is a right that outweighs virtually all others.

If we want to address the plague of mass shootings, we have got to stop treating gun control as taboo. Greater restrictions on firearms and ammunition are presently our only practical options.

Until gun-rights advocates acknowledge that reality, enough will never be enough.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Manage your outrage

I'm not the best person to be recommending restraint vis-a-vis Dear Leader. Even calling him "Dear Leader" displays my disdain and thorough dislike of the current president, yet I can't stop myself.


For as Robert Wright reminds all of us in his piece "Mindful resistance" is the key to defeating Trump", indulging our outrage at Dea— er, him, just plays into his strategy of fomenting hyperpolarization to bind his followers ever more closely to him.

Instead, we have to stop playing his game. We have to stop reinforcing the narrative that "they" are out to get "us" — that non-Trump supporters have nothing but contempt not just for Trump, but also for his supporters. To this end, Wright suggests cultivating "mindfulness", which is not hair-trigger reactiveness but a centered, objective and sensibly distanced perspective when Trump tries to push our buttons.

Mindfulness is connected rather closely to meditation and that might make it a non-starter for you, as it does for me. However, you can figure out a path that works for you as long as you dedicate yourself to the goal: stop reacting viscerally to Trump.

What does that goal entail? What must you do or not do as part of getting to that goal?

  • Don't type until you've had a chance to think (and to cool off).
  • Stay focused on the issue, whatever issue it is, not what Trump says about it. If there's a reasoned argument to be made against Trump's point, make that argument, and leave it at that. Don't make ad hominem attacks on Trump as part of your argument.
  • Don't make ad hominem attacks on Trump, period. It makes you feel good but does nothing to lower the temperature of our political debate.
  • Don't dump on Trump's followers. You may think you're pissed at them, and you might have good reason to be pissed at some of them, but whatever happens to Trump, we all have to share this country after he's gone, however that happens. After he's gone Trump's followers will still be our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends, our family members. We won't be close to all of them, of course, but we'll know enough of them to make painting all of them as an undifferentiated group a hazardous exercise unless you're willing to write off people you want in your life.

    Not convinced? Then consider this: cutting Trump supporters out of your life — or from the other side, cutting Trump opponents out of your life — gives Trump way more influence over your life than he deserves. Even if you think Trump's doing a great job, you shouldn't let him cut you off from people who were part of your life before he came on the political scene. You shouldn't let any public figure do that.

Now, I certainly haven't followed Wright's advice in my blog posts here: only seven of my 54 posts since the election didn't have to do with Trump or didn't mention him. However, I used to post much more frequently. I've been tempted many times to comment on something he said or did. However, I've said more than once that not only should journalists stop paying so much attention to his statements, but so should the rest of us. I've fallen off the wagon a lot since Trump's election, but, however fitfully, I was trying to follow Wright's admonitions even before I read his piece.

I'm trying to be more mindful. Are you?

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The heartless Trump

The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, frustrated by the federal government's inarguably ineffective recovery efforts to date, hurled a damning accusation: "We are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency". She didn't name names (that I can see), but it's clear that acting Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke was one target. Duke claimed that the recovery effort from Hurricane Maria was, in many respects, "a good news story", and she has been taking figurative rotten tomatoes for that spectacularly wrong statement ever since.

Yet an attack on a Cabinet secretary is almost always an attack on the current president, too, and if there's one thing we can count on, it's that the unbelievably thin-skinned Dear Leader is always up for an unnecessary fight. In tweets (of course), he suggested the mayor was a Democratic tool, was showing "poor leadership ability", and that the people of Puerto Rico "are not able to get their workers to help" and "want everything to be done for them".

Oh, fuck off, you sorry, short-fingered son of a bitch.

You have no fucking idea what it's like to recover from a disaster.

You have no fucking idea what it's like to be hungry and thirsty and without a place to sleep.

You have no fucking idea what condition Puerto Rico's in or you wouldn't have fucking dared to shoot your tiny fingers off on Twitter.

You are a pampered, privileged, useless fucking waste of space.

The one thing the U.S. President is supposed to be able to do is to see to the needs of victims of disaster. It doesn't require extensive knowledge (thank God, since you have none about anything). It requires only the common decency to be able to put yourself in the victims' shoes, to imagine what it would be like not to be able to secure the most basic of human needs. Then, as President, you just have to make sure the first responders and support staff who do have specialized and extensive knowledge of how to help people can get in and do their job.

The federal government has people who can do the job. A lot of the supplies have reached Puerto Rico.

What the effort lacks is anybody with the authority or will to make shit happen.

Isn't "making shit happen" supposed to be a lifelong businessman's specialty?

What the fuck are you, our vaunted businessman president, doing? You're sure as shit not making anything happen in Puerto Rico. Only in your delusional dreams is aid reaching the people who need it.

But then, why should that surprise me? Puerto Ricans don't look like you and they don't have any money, so of course their fate doesn't matter to you. The fate of ordinary Texans and Floridians didn't, either, but you know a lot of wealthy folks in those states who are important to your political survival. It was nice to hear all those English-speaking Southerners saying nice things about the administration's relief efforts, and the visuals of them on cable news was not just a political boost but an ego boost as well, so, um, yeah, that all worked out. But it was really the rich donors who were on your mind. Puerto Rico's lack of such donors means the island — very much a part of the country you allegedly lead — just doesn't engage your interest.

Doesn't engage your interest, that is, unless somebody dares to tell you in the most public way that you're not doing your job. That gets your attention.

If you were an adult, you'd be more concerned about how well (or badly) the effort was going than what people were saying about you. But you never grew up. You're still four years old, only capable of understanding the world as it relates to you.

This failure to grow up left you emotionally deficient. You have a hole where your heart should be.

And that deficiency has had and will continue to have tragic consequences for the rest of us.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

All I need to know about Trump's tax overhaul

Dear Leader had this to say about his tax overhaul proposal:
“Tax reform will protect low-income and middle-income households, not the wealthy and well-connected,” Mr. Trump said, framing a proposal that would affect hundreds of millions of Americans in terms of his own self-interest. “I’m doing the right thing, and it’s not good for me, believe me.”
You've heard of gamblers' tells? "Believe me" is Dear Leader's. When he says that, he's lying.

So his proposal will be good for him if it's enacted. Color me shocked.

Even so, his profiteering — like his corruption, his contempt for law and justice, and instinct for authoritarianism — must be resisted.