Aug 29

McCain makes a bold move

Picking Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential nominee was a clever and gutsy thing for John McCain to do. I think he has just wrong-footed the Democrats on several levels.

First, this choice looks bold and change-making in exactly the way Obama’s choice of Biden did not. Instead of a tired old pol with a history of scandal and gaffe (not to mention the bad hairplugs), McCain chose a fresh-faced frontier girl married to an Inuit Yup’ik Indian. And one with a history of whistleblowing on corrupt Republicans.

Second, this tells us something about McCain’s relationship to the Republican base: either he figures the more reactionary end of the red-meat Right has no place else to go, or he thinks they don’t actually care what shape a President’s gonads are any more, or the color of the person the President sleeps with.

Third, it puts the PUMAs further in play. The most obvious message here is that McCain wants all those disgruntled Hillary-voting older women out there voting for him. Just going on her tough-babe bio, I think Palin has a pretty good chance of drawing them, too, especially if she’s any good as a stump speaker.

Fourth, McCain just put a helluva spoke in Hillary Clinton’s wheels if she’s got ambitions for 2012. I’ll see your fake working-class-woman persona and raise you with the real deal, he says. There’s no way a Wellesley and Yale Law grad can win an authenticity competition with a woman who shoots moose and pilots her own float plane.

It’s a pass-the-popcorn moment for sure. How many politicians can both play the “diversity” card and brandish a lifetime membership in the NRA? And just to put the cherry on top for Republicans, this move might upstage all the hope-and-change posturing at the DNC.

All in all, a very clever choice — and not in isolation. The McCain campaign is starting to punch seriously just as Obama’s seems to be losing momentum; the choice of Biden was a hard stall, and their attempt to suppress an issues ad tying Obama to terrorist Bill Ayers via lawsuit threats isn’t winning them any friends. Couple these with the dead-heat poll numbers at a moment when on historical patterns Obama ought to have a huge lead, and I see trouble for the Democrats.

I’ve begun to wonder in the last week if the epitaph on Obama’s political grave will read “He peaked too early.” I’m thinking that looks increasingly likely now.

Update: Heh. And there’s already a picture circulating of Palin aiming a a scope-sighted M-4 like she knows how. In Iraq. That’s gonna cause heartburn in all the right places.

Aug 25

Why I hate identity politics

I was born with a congenital defect. That’s a value-free statement that nobody can conceivably insult me by repeating. It is a fact that I have cerebral palsy, probably caused by neonatal oxygen deprivation. It is a fact that my central nervous system (specifically the motor-control areas of my right temporal lobe) does not function as in quite the same way as that of a a developmentally normal human being.

It is not quite a fact, but a plausible inference based on statistics on other Persons Of Palsy, that I am significantly more intelligent than I would have been if un-palsied. It is not known how to permanently raise a human’s intelligence (some drugs can do it temporarily) but most people don’t drive their brains up to their personal genetic limit. Palsied people try harder; as a group, their mean intelligence is high relative to the general population.

In fact, the compensation effect is strong enough that you could argue that the sum of my palsy impairments and the compensation effects has been a net benefit to me. Imagine an Eric who walks normally but isn’t quite capable of reinventing hacker culture and blowing up the software industry and you’ll begin to see what I mean.

(It’s not necessary that you believe that; I’m not sure I do. Maybe I wasn’t required for open source to blow up the software industry, or maybe I’d have done it if I hadn’t had palsy. Doesn’t matter. It’s enough that you grasp the possibility that a congenital defect with an intelligence-boosting side effect can be a net positive.)

I have never, ever, had any interest in constructing my identity around the fact that I am technically “handicapped”. That would just be damn silly. I didn’t choose to have palsy, it was a developmental accident with no more significance or meaning than the fact that I have blue eyes.

Now let’s suppose that I had been born with a normal motor cortex system, but something else went just…slightly…wrong. I could, in that case, tell a very similar story. It would read something like this:

I was born with a congenital defect. That’s a value-free statement that nobody can conceivably insult me by repeating. It is a fact that I am compulsively sexually attracted to other males, probably due to my prenatal brain being exposed to abnormally high levels of feminizing hormones. It is a fact that that my central nervous system (specifically the amygdala and portions of the cerebellum and thalamus involved in sexual behavior) does not function as in quite the same way as that of a a developmentally normal human being.

It is not quite a fact, but a plausible inference based on statistics on other homosexuals, that I am significantly more intelligent than I would have been if I were straight. It is not known how to permanently raise a human’s intelligence (some drugs can do it temporarily) but most people don’t drive their brains up to their personal genetic limit. Gay people either try harder or gayness is allotropically linked to genes that set a high limit; as a group, their mean intelligence is high relative to the general population.

In fact, the compensation effect is strong enough that you could argue that homosexuality has been a net benefit to me. Imagine an Eric who is at near-zero risk for contracting AIDS from anal sex, but isn’t quite capable of reinventing hacker culture and blowing up the software industry and you’ll begin to see what I mean.

I have never, ever, had any interest in constructing my identity around the fact that I am “homosexual”. That would just be damn silly. I didn’t choose to be gay, it was a developmental accident with no more significance or meaning than the fact that I have blue eyes.

(Those of you who are PC-twitchy are probably screaming “WHAT MAKES GAYNESS A DEFECT?” at the monitor right now. Why, exactly the same measure that makes palsy a defect: it reduces the affected individual’s odds of reproducing significantly. “Inclusive fitness” is what biologists call it. Your problem is that I have been writing “biologically defective” and you are reading “morally defective” or “inferior” or something. That is not a useful interpretation of either palsy or gayness, so please stop now. Thank you.)

Back in observable reality, I’m heterosexual. But the point remains…

My identity is not the accidents that have happened to me. It is what I choose. What I make of myself. It is irrelevant that I have palsy; it would be equally irrelevant if I were gay.

People who construct themselves as professional victims because they have palsy disgust me. People who construct themselves as professional victims because they are gay disgust me. The choice to play professional victim is in fact a defect of character and morals, leading to self-sabotaging behavior in individuals and their societies.

Identity politics, whether it’s about the “identity” of being palsied, or gay, or white, or black, or anything else, is a symptom of deep failure at choosing for yourself, at becoming a fully individuated and fully functioning human being.

And that is why I hate identity politics.

Aug 15

A welcome outbreak of sanity

Instapundit links to this interesting news story: Texas school district lets teachers, staff pack pistols. While this is a step in the right direction, I think it does not go far enough.

I think all teachers, day-care staff, and other adults in loco parentis for groups of children should be required to carry firearms on the job. Maintaining continued proficiency at rapid-reaction tactical shooting should be a condition of their continued employment. Their job is to protect children; if they are not physically, mentally, and morally competent to do that job, they don’t belong in it.

I doubt any explanation of the threat model is needed. But I will point out that the Israelis require schoolteachers to be armed – and the only successful terrorist attack in memory on a group of Israeli schoolkids happened after the teachers, on a field trip, allowed themselves to be disarmed at a Jordanian border post.

Aug 14

Deducing From What Isn’t Reported

There are a couple of things we can deduce from what the national press is not reporting about the killing of Arkansas Democratic Party Chairman Bill Gwatney:

  1. The killer has no particular ties to the Republican Party or any other right-wing political organization. How do we know this? Because that is without question what the national media went looking for before the corpse had cooled, desperately hoping they’d hit. If they’d found anything, they’d be screaming it from the rooftops now.

  2. The killer has no particular ties to the Democratic Party’s activist left or any other left-wing political organization. How do we know this? Because that is without question the second thing the national media went looking for, desperately hoping they’d miss. If they’d found anything, Gwatney’s death would be a non-story now.

Just another note in a series that probably should have included “How much sooner would the Hunter affair have been broken if John Edwards were a Republican?” Of course, such questions almost answer themselves.

Aug 11

George Lakoff Framed Himself

I’ve been a fan of George Lakoff’s writings on cognitive linguistics since reading Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things around 1990. Later, I observed his foray into political advocacy with increasing concern for him as the trajectory from expected savior to derided scapegoat became increasingly obvious. Now, the Chronicle of Higher Education gives us a retrospective, Who Framed George Lakoff, on Lakoff’s failure and eventual flameout as a political philosopher.

But the Chronicle stops short of the conclusion it could and should have reached, which is that George Lakoff framed himself. The man is a brilliant linguist, but never delivered better than an idiot’s travesty of his own best work when he tried to apply it to winning political campaigns.

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Aug 04

On Enjoying a Fight – a Genetic Speculation

Sword Camp 2008 reminded me how much I enjoy fighting. I’m not speaking abstractly, here; by “fighting” I mean physical hand-to-hand combat.

Now, on one level, this revelation shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who knows what I do for fun. I’ve trained to black belt level in tae kwon do, studied aikido and wing chun kung fu, fought battle-line in the SCA, and achieved considerable proficiency in Sicilian cut-and-thrust swordfighting. One doesn’t do all that unless there’s some pretty hefty primary reward in there.

But I’ve actually had quite an interior struggle with this. It used to bother me that I like fighting. I had internalized the idea that while combat may sometimes be an ethical necessity, enjoying it is wrong — or at least dubious.

So I half-hid my delight from myself behind a screen of words about seeking self-perfection and focus and meditation in motion. Those words were all true; I do value the quasi-mystical aspects of the fighting arts very much. But the visceral reality underneath them, for me, was the joy of battle.

In 2005 I finally came to understand why I enjoy fighting. And — I know this will sound corny — I’m much more at peace with myself now. I’m writing this explanation because I think I am not alone — I don’t think my confusion and struggle was unique. There may be lessons here for others as well as myself, and even an insight into evolutionary biology.

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Aug 02

Sword Camp 2008: Graduation Day, Day Seven

The final day of Sword Camp. We spent our morning learning advanced field medical techniques, up to and including learning how to suture a wound by stitching together a slash through the skin of a banana with actual surgical sutures. We also learned how to use a trach tube for clearing an airway in cases of anaphylactic shock or gasoline inhalation or whatever.

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Aug 01

Sword Camp 2008: Live Steel Day, Day Six

Live Steel Day arrived, and we spent the first half of the morning attacking a couch.

This is a much less trivial exercise than it sounds. Couches are tough, full of padding and wood and springs and more difficult to cut than flesh. We had a tablefull of weapons — machetes, a parang, a couple of swords, a tire iron, a crowbar, miscellaneous stabbing and slicing knives, and a couple of axes. The objective: destroy. It was hard work, even for eight sword students who knew a lot about exerting force with a weapon.

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