Categories
society

Proof of Capacity for Change

If we learn no other lesson from this plague, let it be that we are, in fact, still capable of widespread change. Of rapid change. Of drastic change.

So are the monuments and flags coming down—many are remnants of a false value system and in their pigeonholes new symbols can be made to replace them.

That when we pick a symbol, when we choose a pattern of organization, if it serves well enough we keep it, flaws and all. But when it becomes a harm, when it impedes moving forward, we uproot it. Going to the offices and shops amid a pandemic meant a risk of life and limb, so people stopped abruptly. But for many, those trips or any trips meant maybe they would be pulled over and face the possibility of a false value system of policing that represents everything that a flag can’t: you aren’t secure in your person, your house, your papers and effects. You are a forced plea or a gunshot away from ruin.

That system is harder to replace than a monument. It’s got no grommets hooking it to a pole, instead it’s woven into so much of our governments’ budgets, bolted down, shackled to our culture and media. But we can, as sure as we all wear masks to stop stray particles of pestilence.

Our lack of change is not down to inability. It is often not even a lack of will or of political disagreement, but of instinctive pushback. Take the Senate, where McConnell and the Republicans put already-cold milk into the cooling saucer and are now waiting for it to cool some more. They acknowledge a need for change, but enough of their members rely on being opposition that they can’t push a comprehensive bill.

The way to overcome this kind of nothing-by-default system is to use their pressure points. Qualified immunity, for one. Instead of their bill being a carrot for states that reform, it should be: states that do not reform will lose qualified immunity.

The argument that nobody in the Senate can make is that the officer that murdered George Floyd should not be subject to a lawsuit for it. Donald John Trump and some Republicans want to protect qualified immunity, then that’s the barrel to get them over and make them pay at least table stakes for it: reform to enable qualified immunity.

It’s a reasonable proposition: jurisdictions that make reasonable efforts to guard against civil rights violations by police should be given some greater measure of assurance as a result.

But that’s for this limited case. For the greater case, change means changing. Look for opportunities big and small to do differently tomorrow than what you did today.


In 18 weeks the nation can vote to change.

Categories
society

Bostock: What Does Sex Mean in Antidiscrimination?

The SCOTUS decided to recognize the law protecting employees from firing for discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The decision hinges on the meaning of sex in the statute banning discrimination on that basis.

The question arises, what does it mean to ban sex discrimination? And that’s what the court had to answer.

Imagine for a moment you are trying to hire a person to push buttons in your factory. The applicants all come in dressed in those big mascot costumes. Their names are all types of clouds, like Cumulonimbus and MicroAmazon. But, you, being of the false belief that women are better at pressing buttons, want to hire a woman for the job. So you try to find some way to decide one mascot is a woman, and hire that one.

But over the course of ten years, you never do find out who it is in that mascot suit pressing all those buttons. It remains a mystery.

That is what the Supreme Court decided. We all have to buy and wear mascot costumes. I, personally, will be getting a costume to look like a Supreme Court justice, so you’ll have to find some other idea. Sorry.

Anyway, the above situation is meant to elicit the basic idea of expression. Without expression of sex, there is no discrimination of sex, because nobody would know how to discriminate on that basis. This happens to be true for the other protections in Title VII, as well, though oftentimes race and sex are assumed on some apparent characteristics, ultimately it comes down to expression. And religion, of course, always relies on expression, as nobody knows what anyone truly believes and only knows what they espouse. Also, national origin, which relies on express documentation and perhaps an accent or knowing a lot about your home country.

Without expression of these characteristics, there is no basis to discriminate. One could still be a bigot without, as in the example trying to hire the mascot with a woman inside, but one would never know if one was a successful bigot. And, besides, unsuccessful bigotry still violates the law against discrimination. If you fire someone because you believe they are one of those things, even if they aren’t, that’s still discriminatory.

Okay. So once you arrive at the realization that what sex really means is expression of sex, what is that? People don’t generally go around introducing themselves: “Hi, I’m Silver Lining and although I am dressed as a rubber chicken, I’m actually biologically female.” People almost never say what sex they are. Think about it, when was the last time you said aloud what sex you are? (And no cheating and saying it right now!)

Expression of sex, your social sexual identity, is based on some behaviors including how you dress, speak, your sexual orientation, the type of bicycle you ride, etc. Now, some people may express their social identity differently, by biting the heads or feet off the gummy bears first, for example. The court has to decide where to draw the line on what is a protected expression of sex, and what is just being a bit weird with your candy, dude.

And that analysis, which wasn’t really done in Bostock, probably comes down to commonality of a type of expression. That is, just because you express yourself in a unique way doesn’t mean it’s not protected. But is that expression of a type that is common to humans generally expressing their sex?


Anyway, the election is in nineteen weeks.

Categories
society

Realignment of Police Responsibilities

What passes for defund is really a mixture of policies around policing and other responsibilities. If the police have to be ready for a dozen different calls, they can’t be very prepared for any one of them. They have to be versatile, and that means giving up on specialization.

If you don’t know if the weather tomorrow will be rainy, snowy, or hot and sunny, when you go out you’ll need three different hats. Knowing the weather and dressing for it is a luxury that the police currently do not have, due to overloading them with too many different tasks.

Instead, realigning policing means:

  1. Police aren’t the first responder for as many situations.
  2. Police will often take on a supporting role, rather than lead.
  3. The police can specialize more as other organizations take over some of their current responsibilities. This should make the job of police safer and steadier.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests give a good working example for how policing should be reworked. Instead of having the police be the front-line response to protesting, communities could have folks employed specifically to coordinate and work with protests. The new function would be able to observe and listen to protesters without being the face of violence or force, and so that already would reduce tension.

Throughout the opioid crisis, police have had to administer anti-narcotic-shock drugs to revive people (though, many other community servants have also been put in that position). There needs to be a dedicated civic health response, which is something that requires healthcare reforms. Involving the police complicates the health response, because they have a duty to enforce the broken drug laws, and the drug users have good reasons to seek to avoid interacting with police.

The reimagining of policing is often about shifting the social landscape around policing so that the community is safer—and the police are part of the community that is made safer through changes.

These changes will go hand-in-hand with reducing criminalization, which will lead to lower institutionalized populations. Overpopulation of prisons and jails makes the job of guards harder, as density, per se, endangers the orderly operation of those facilities.


A longstanding hope of mine has been for self-driving cars to become a reality, so that police wouldn’t have to write traffic tickets. Black folks wouldn’t be pulled over as much, and policing would shift as a result. With self-driving cars, there will still be stops, but they will be nonpretextual. They will be situations where authorities get a call that something wrong happened. If the problem fits in the narrowed police jurisdiction, they would still respond. If it fits in to a different jurisdiction, then the other authority would respond. It’s among many reasons that government should be investing more heavily in accelerating self-driving.

That’s the kind of innovation that we need. The average duty of police is very much a rollercoaster of adrenaline and downtime. It’s not a healthy way to live—jumping from all-out to tumbleweeds and back. One of my hopes is that as policing is realigned, part of that shift will involve the police workers themselves gaining new light-duty roles for half of their work hours. Giving them more opportunities to experience the community in an engaged, non-aggressive task would do a lot to help heal their own traumas and smooth out that rollercoaster.


The election is in 20 weeks. Please do enroll to vote if you haven’t yet.

Categories
society

The Scientific Approach to Reducing Police Violence

I don’t know what combination of changes will reduce police violence. But I do know:

  1. It will take some combination of changes. One change will not do it.
  2. There is a way to find that combination of changes.
  3. Changes to policing will make the job of policing itself safer.

I can come up with plausible ideas, like an alternative to jury duty (those who are called in for it would skip their next jury call) where members of the public are tasked with hanging out with cops from their community (in a group of up to six (yeah, I know it won’t work at the moment due to the pandemic)) for an hour or two and engaging in some activity where they talk. Bowling or a shared meal, whatever.

But all the plausible ideas that might build connective tissue and bridge the gaps that have contributed to the problem, along with the other ideas, may sound fine, but will they actually work?

Have the federal government pass a law. The law will condition existing funds or new funds to communities that try some change that is intended to reduce policing problems. Think of it like opportunity zones, but without all the greedheads twisting it to only enrich themselves.

Anyway, if you have 500 municipalities with significant data available across the country, and they all try some changes, some of those will yield what at least smells like progress. And then those changes can be adopted in other localities, and sooner or later we’ll find some things that help.

It’s the scientific method, applied to a problem in the real world!

Now the changes can’t be anything. Having all police wear green shoelaces isn’t (or would it?) going to make the nut. There would need to be some reasonable review process for developing and vetting the ideas. Possibly—depending on the change—an ethics review (like the above idea of conscripting civvies to hang out with cops—is that a kosher use of their time?).

But one plausible prediction is that a good portion of places that do make some change under such a program would see positive results. That is to say, sometimes doing something visible and meaningful is enough to change the attitudes that have long-persisted and wrought harm. Not always, but sometimes. Even if it’s just wearing green shoelaces.

Set that aside, as it could be temporary. But even accounting for a kind of social placebo effect, some places will make changes that have a bigger effect than that. And we can replicate. And we can mutate the changes to see if we can get a stronger effect.

Or we can wait for the next act of violence and throw up our hands again and feel fucking impotent and dread hearing from the right-wingers who want to blame anything but the broken fucking record of the system that is incapable of change.

Other cities haven’t waited. There were diamonds in the rough of these protests, cities that have better records currently. The rest should emulate the ones who get it right.


Given the plague is still around, local governments should be coordinating with protesters more closely to both avoid these horrid incidents of violence by police against peaceful protests and to minimize the opportunity of transmission of a deadly disease.


The election is in 21-ish weeks. You should register to vote! You should plan to vote! You should close your eyes and visualize yourself voting! You should go to the mirror and look yourself in the eyes and say, “I’m gonna vote.”

Categories
biz

Giving Scroll a Shot

Scroll is the latest attempt to monetize news sites without advertising. It’s another variation on a theme, as there is demand for a better model and there is some amount of reader money sitting idle, and there are very annoying ads to not be served.

Their model is $5 monthly and they say they give a cut to the sites based on how much you read. So their model is really about like cable television: if they can match enough readers with enough sites, it works. You won’t read every site, and so it’s a numbers game of hitting the right mixtures to attract enough readers.

My preferred model would still include a per-article split, plus some way to influence the split if you really enjoyed a particular article on a particular site. But it’s worth a shot.

There are a few things I hope will eventually happen, regardless of this iteration of pay-news’ success. First, some kind of standards for advertising is obviously needed. Readers should be able to set what kind of ads they find acceptable, whether that’s text-only, no-animation, no-video, no-sound.

Sites should be prohibited from replacing ads after the page has loaded. The Washington Post has been bad about that for some time, and Ars Technica does it, too.

Sites should not shift text while loading ads or while you scroll. It is a mortal sin to pull text out from under the reader’s eyes. Anyone in the business of putting words in front of readers should know better.

The other thing would be a better relationship between readers and news sites. There’s a kind of hostility by the sites (I don’t interact with the readers, so maybe there’s hostility there, too), where using an ad-blocker or trying to read a one-off article is met with a kind of creepy store clerk hovering on you as you browse. “What, you don’t want to see our obnoxious (potentially malicious) ads?” “You know, you can’t come in the store again if you don’t buy something.”


Probably the big problem will be—for now—lack of selection and lack of easily knowing which sites are which. I tend to read articles on sites I’m more familiar with, because I know what to expect ad-wise. Will a random site be a clusterfuck? Happens often enough. So I’ll actually search for an alternative site with a similar article, if I think it’s less trouble than clicking through to a mess of a site.

Which is the other thing I eventually hope to see: standards of content display that go beyond advertising standards. Most dead-tree newspapers had pretty similar formats. They were built for reading, and they did it with minimal nonsense and minimal stylization. But the web, every site has to be overdesigned. That’s one of the reasons I’ve mostly given up on customizing styles on this site—hopefully it makes things a bit more standard, a bit less of a bother to whoever the heck reads this.

Anyway, for now I’m giving it a try. I don’t actually read most of the sites in Scroll’s list, but some of them were excluded because of their paywalls. So maybe now I’ll read them some more and see what’s what.