In his seminal work 1984, George Orwell imagined a dystopia where “Big Brother” government monitors every aspect of society. The technology of the surveillance state is here and becoming ever more pervasive. But Orwell missed something: the state didn’t get a lock on the technology, and now it’s being used by regular folks to surveil the state right back.
There’s a lesson here somewhere
By Mike Cronin
Teachers in my state are currently pushing for higher salaries and better funding. For they most part, they do deserve higher salaries. But there are some education and teaching realities that our governments, our public education system, and teachers’ unions would rather we not notice.
We are supposed to believe that public schools are the best place to put our kids, yet homeschooled and private school kids generally do better on the SAT.
We’re supposed to believe that public schools have such a dismal record on test scores because they are so under-resourced, yet public schools have the highest average per-student spending of the three. And federal spending, which went up 375% over 30 years, has done nothing to improve test scores. And private school teachers make less money and have fewer benefits.
We’re supposed to believe that only a qualified, professional teacher is capable of teaching our children, but we’re supposed to ignore that parents can and do teach their own children just fine – else the kids wouldn’t generally be speaking or potty-trained before they get to pre-school or kindergarten. We’re also supposed to ignore that “Research over the years has indicated that education majors, who enter college with the lowest average SAT scores, leave with the highest grades.”
We are supposed to lament that a teacher might pay a few hundred dollars out of her own pocket for materials she desires in her classroom, but we’re seldom informed that a mechanic, welder, plumber, or electrician fresh out of trade school has to spend $7-10,000 or more on tools, or that a new cop might have to spend $2-3000 for her body armor, weapons, footwear, and leather gear. And an independent trucker? A new semi runs $115-125,000 off the lot, but runs to $400,000 for parts, tires, and service over a 15-year expected lifespan. And that doesn’t include fuel, taxes, insurance, or other expenses. Our independent trucker may have to gross $180 K in order to bring home less than a teacher’s salary!
We’re supposed to believe that public school teachers deserve more money – but we aren’t supposed to suggest that yes, the good ones do…but the mediocre ones don’t, and the bad ones need to be fired. We aren’t supposed to suggest that merit-based versus tenure-based compensation and career progression might stimulate performance and hiring, even though it works quite well in almost every other occupation.
ACT LIKE A PREDATOR, GET OSTRACIZED; ACT LIKE PREY, GET PREYED UPON
By Mike Cronin
With all of the celebrity sexual misconduct coming to light in recent weeks, you might be tempted to believe that all men are created predators. Certainly, some prominent figures want you to believe exactly that. But is it true? Let’s look at it.
To start with, homo sapiens are indeed predators – the most successful predators on the planet. In a very real sense, we are animals: vertebrates, mammalians, primates, at the very top of the food chain. Or at least we still have all of the genetic traits of animals, including the drive to survive – both as individuals, which we fulfill by eating, seeking shelter, etc., and as a species, which we fulfill via the individual drive for procreation. With a few specific exceptions, we use the same physical equipment and engage in similar behavior for both drives: We use our senses and our appendages to seek out suitable “subjects.” This makes it is easy to equate predation for food with “predation” for sex.
Much more recently we evolved the capacity to reason. Some animals can adapt their surroundings to themselves in very limited fashion. A variety of animals make nests. Termites can make temperature-controlled mounds. Various other animals have some rudimentary problem-solving skills. They can use a stick to dig, or a rock to smash open a nut. Some very bright primates can even use sign language to communicate with humans. But no other animal can derive abstractions from concretes and principles from abstractions. No other species has mastered fire, or the ability to make more complicated tools out of simpler ones, or to make written language, or to do any of the myriad other things that only humans do.
This highest function has given humans something no other animal species has: the ability to consciously override our most basic drives. In contravention of the drive to survive, humans can commit suicide, go on hunger strikes, and take crazy physical risks. In contravention of the drive to procreate, humans can be chaste, or they can resist the full force of the sex drive in subtler ways, such as monogamy and self-restraint, for example. Holding our animal natures under a degree of restraint has enabled the rise of civilizations.
On the other hand, the actions of sexual predators are easy to interpret: they are the actions of people (usually men) that have chosen to give in to their animal urges. Some of their actions are completely natural in the context of animal behavior, but they are abhorrent in the context of civilization, and absolutely destructive in the context of rights-respecting societies. Perpetrators of such acts deserve to be ostracized and punished.
In the case of the ongoing sexual misconduct revelations in the mass media: clearly, many powerful men have either chosen to stop being civilized, or they felt entitled to take such liberties as reward for their prominence, or both. Dozens (and perhaps hundreds, by the time the dust settles) of men will be implicated. This is not typical of all, or even most, males. If most males engaged in such behavior, there would be no such thing as civilization; we would be stuck at the hunter-gatherer stage of technological advancement.
So, what about women? Just as surely as men, women have animal drives. In females, the drive to procreate manifests in attraction to males who are best suited to ensure their offspring achieve physical maturity. The preferred indicators of such suitability vary among women, but they boil down to “Alphaness.” A suitable male might be regarded as such for his dominance (not domineering) behavior, wealth, physical appearance, intellect, confidence, prominence among others, or some combination of such factors. Regardless, a male with a high degree of “Alphaness” will be more attractive to more women than a male with less.
In the context of cases now being played out in the media: There are women who are naturally attracted to prominent men for their “Alphaness,” such as the ones now being revealed for their sexual misconduct. While it is true that no criminal liability should attach to the victims of sexual misconduct, it is fallacious to think that any and all such victims were selected completely at random. Predators look for easy prey. So, what was it about these victims that screamed “prey” to these predators? Youth/inexperience. Incapacitation/innebriation. Low situational awareness. Low confidence. Isolation. False or misinterpreted willingness signals. It could have been any combination of any of dozens of factors. If sexual predators can notice these “victim signals,” they are ipso-facto noticeable. We can identify them and teach people how to avoid giving them – or to mitigate their effect.
So, what can we make of this?
- Most men are not sexual predators, but a few are.
- Sexual predators choose to ignore civilizing restraint and act on baser animal drives. This often results in criminal conduct.
- Most victims of sexual assault are not random. They were selected based on giving some combination of “victim” signals the predator found enticing. The victims might not have been aware they were giving off such signals. “Victim signaling” is not criminal. We shouldn’t blame or punish the victims for it. But it’s not undetectable; we can identify it and teach people to avoid it.
Stop The Hurricane Blame Game
By Mike Cronin
“You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Those are the words of Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and former Chief of Staff under President Obama. Plenty of people are taking him up on that advice by exploiting notable natural disasters (presently, Hurricane Irma is their wellspring) to further their own agendas. Curiously, people on (supposedly) opposite spans of the ideological spectrum are finding ways to blame Irma (and Harvey before her, and Katrina before both) on human activity they don’t like:
The first variety are stories that repeat the oft-heard statistic that Hurricane Irma is the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history and that she is a result of human-caused global warming. Let’s break this down. First, whether or not a given natural phenomenon is the “most powerful” in recorded history makes good headlines, but it’s almost irrelevant – because recorded history is a vanishingly small slice of time on the geologic clock. If we scale the lifetime of the earth to be represented by a human lifespan – say eighty years, then all of recorded human history represents the span of an eyeblink or two. Indeed, reliable recordings of meteorological phenomena such as hurricanes have only been commonplace for perhaps the last 150 years or so.
Another angle: Right now, there are three hurricanes: Katia in the western Gulf of Mexico, Irma, and Jose east of the Caribbean. Some articles are noting this as another bit of evidence that global warming is to blame – but there have been at least two recorded occasions when four hurricanes existed at one time, and the earliest of those dates to 1893.
Then there are the religious extremists who claim that natural disasters are God’s punishment for our sins, especially homosexuality and abortion. This pastor claims Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment of Texas for failing to pass an anti-LGBT law. Actor Kirk Cameron claims Harvey and Irma have been sent by God to teach us humility and to make sinners repent. The same tone was on offer from some of the more extreme branches of the religious right for Hurricane Katrina over a decade ago.
Bottom line: We have no way to know whether Irma is in fact the most powerful hurricane in Atlantic history, ergo we can’t possibly know if her notable strength is truly the result of human-caused global warming, or of natural climate change, or if she is merely a “normal” large hurricane among the millions that have crossed the Atlantic over the eons. Since the conditions that cause hurricanes pre-date human industrial activity, we can safely assume the sin of emitting too much carbon dioxide is not the cause of Irma. What about biblical sin? As the late Christopher Hitchens once pointedly observed, Hurricane Katrina, allegedly sent to punish us for the sins of homosexuality and fornication, destroyed almost every part of New Orleans except the French Quarter, wherein lies the red-light district!
The jury is out on the effects of humans on climate change, but the fact that the climate is changing is irrefutable – it is always changing. Likewise, the idea that God punishes us through disasters is ancient, but “disasters” only result when humans are affected by specific incidents of naturally occurring phenomena that have been occurring since before the rise of humanity. The real tragedy of disasters is that we continue to put faith ahead of reason. Reason tells us that if you occupy a place that is in a hurricane zone, you are at risk. You can either mitigate that risk by being well-prepared to evacuate or to survive, or you can deal with the consequences of failing to make such preparations. Neither God nor global warming are responsible for that, you are.
Eclipse of Reality
How many times did you hear that last Monday’s solar eclipse was a “once in a lifetime” event?
While solar eclipses may be “rare” in any given place, and while it may be rare to be in the path of totality, solar eclipses are not “rare” overall. As astrophysicist and science popularizer Neil Degrasse Tyson has pointed out, solar eclipses happen about every two years or so. They are more common than presidential elections!
Overall rarity notwithstanding, the eclipse on Monday was unique in at least two ways. It was the first solar eclipse since the late seventies to cross nearly the entire US, and thus it was the first one in the US to be covered by millions of cell-phone and Go-Pro toting Americans in the age of social media.
This led to an amazing phenomena the news media have largely ignored: Far more Americans, of all colors, creeds, and classes, voluntarily gathered in peace across the country to observe the spectacle of nature than ever willingly gather together to hate and destroy, a la Charlottesville or Phoenix.
So we have at least two cases of the media presenting an alternate reality: One is in perpetuating an inaccurate understanding of astronomical phenomena in order to increase excitement…so that they can be seen to be reporting on the excitement of the “once in a lifetime” event, in the hopes that if you weren’t out looking at the eclipse yourself, you’d be tuning in to catch it on live TV.
The second case is more insidious. The mass media, so jaded by their constant purveyance of crises, largely neglected to report on, or even notice, the good news that Americans can be far more united in common cause than we are supposed to believe. No, it might even be worse than that. The second case may be an example that the media actively ignores, or even tries to “reverse engineer” facts and events that run counter to the lie narrative that America is being destroyed by greedy, right-wing, white, trans-, homo-, and Islamo-phobic, Christian middle-class men, as alluded to in several political cartoons about the eclipse:
Instead, too many media personalities have been indoctrinated to believe, and worse, promote, the idea that the solution to all our ills is to let the anointed class do our thinking for us and lead us to more “diversity” (of grievance groups), more “rights” to the time and/or property of others, and more restrictions on freedom and liberty. That idea has proven to be destructive in every time and place it’s been tried.
All news is fake; some news is useful.
Q: What is an idiotic thing to do to a country?
A: Drag it down from being one of the strongest economies in Latin America to being on the verge of failed state status, all under the banner of “Bolivarian” Socialism. Hugo Chavez started the process in Venezuela (with plenty of help from the Castro brothers from Cuba); now Nicolas Maduro is overseeing it. How can these men destroy their own countries? What tools do they use? Hatred and envy. It is human nature to lay blame on others for one’s own failings; charismatic leaders like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez master the art of convincing the masses that their troubles are the result of the machinations of the rich and powerful, then ride the wave of popular support to positions of…wealth and power, while their countries burn around them.
Q: What is an idiotic thing to do “for” a news audience?
A: Provide them convenient (but not necessarily accurate) labels for the apparent factions involved in the Charlottesville, VA riot. Attendees of a “Unite the Right” rally were protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. Because some part of that crowd contained white supremacists, KKK members, and “neo-Nazis,” the mass media took an accuracy short cut and simply branded the entire crowd as “white nationalists.” Another crowd was protesting the first crowd. This second crowd contained “antifas” (anti-fascists) and “Black Lives Matter” supporters; yet the media neglected to apply a hot-button label to this crowd, simply referring to them as “activists” and “counter-protesters.” The facts are that one crowd containing some people hanging on to irrational hatred clashed with another crowd containing some people clinging to their own hatreds. Because drama and conflict get better ratings than cold facts, the media turned the riots into the Battle of Charlottesville in a nascent Civil War II, with the heroic leftist crowd battling the evil right-wing crowd. There’s nothing quite like fanning the flames so one can report on the fire, eh? It’s almost arson.
Q: What is an idiotic thing to do with your time?
A: Indulge in hatred or envy; especially in hatred or envy that others tell you to indulge in. Think for yourself when charismatic leaders peddling vitriol try to attract you into their orbit, and think for yourself when the media shows you burning conflicts in-camera, while what is left unreported may be the more important (if less sexy) part of the story.
By Mike Cronin
Most of my blog posts have been, I hope, informative, perhaps even instructive. However, I have to admit they probably are not very entertaining. Time to lighten up a little.
Medicine and law love to use exclusive language. Lots of Greek and Latin words. The military, being full of hyper-competitive types, had to go one better, and develop an entire language using jargon and acronyms and the occasional bit of “poetic vulgarity.” I mean, why use a simple term like “car bomb” when a multi-syllabic mouthful like “VBIED” (vehicle-born improvised explosive device) will do?
All news is fake; some news is useful:
I got called up for jury duty. When my group showed up at the appointed place and time, clerks showed us a propaganda video explaining how jury service was a civic duty because we have all enjoy a right to a trial by jury. A little cheesy, but valid. Then the video tried to pump up our patriotism by showing waving flags and national landmarks while the narrator gushed that jury service was crucial to our democracy. Since we don’t have a democracy, and since jury duty can be required or not of citizens under almost any form of government, I had to wonder who put together and/or approved the video, and whether they deserved a trial by jury for inflicting that pious excrement on us!
While commuting, I sometimes see a pink Jeep on my route. Said Jeep has a custom license plate that says: “PINK JEEP.” Thank you, Captain Obvious.
Sometimes my office has to assess whether an engagement mission between the USAF and a foreign air force has had the effect of building a partner relationship. It is extremely difficult. How does one detect “love-trons,” let alone “count” them?
The 1960s TV show Get Smart, a spoof of James Bond movies and the secret agent genre in general, was prophetic in its portrayal of absurd spy gadgets that were meant to keep conversations secure, but actually hindered the agents using them while making the goings-on clearly understandable to any bystander. The “Cone of Silence” was one such ludicrous device. When lowered over the heads of agents, they could not hear each other clearly, but anyone not under the cone could hear the agents perfectly well. The modern security environment on government computers is sadly reminiscent of such shenanigans. It is becoming increasingly difficult for users to actually communicate and collaborate using the communications and collaborations tools meant for the purpose. Hopefully it is not as easy for those who wish us ill to get our information as it was for the opposition on Get Smart!