Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Progress Slow, then Sudden

After generations of discrimination, society has become far more accepting of homosexuality. This rapid transformation offers hope for other progressive changes in attitude.

Disclaimer: the post below discusses offensive language which I do not endorse.

A buddy recently mentioned his young son had just seen the animated film Despicable Me 3, which included a scene featuring '80s rock staple "Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits. Accordingly, he later played the song for his kid, and was shocked to discover the lyrics prominently featured the word "faggot". I was similarly surprised, having never noticed that in a song I've considered an innocuous bit of "dad rock" used in movies and car commercials aplenty.

In the song's lyrics the epithet is used to insult the protagonist -- a disparagement of the lead singer and his supposedly cushy lifestyle. It is not an affirmation of the flagrant homophobia of, say, early '90s NWA or early '00s Eminem (or the Beastie Boys' 1986 debut album, originally titled Don't Be a Faggot). But its casual appearance arguably makes it more jarring -- no popular artist today goes anywhere near such language.

"I used to use that word so freely in middle school," my friend noted. "I had a hard time typing it just now." It's a sign of how far treatment of the LGBT community and consciousness about the impact of language have come in such a short time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Family Feud

Democrats need to de-escalate the blood feud between the Clinton and Sanders factions of the party, significantly elevate new faces in the party leadership, and embrace ambitious policy goals.

On a very depressing election night, I wrote on this blog that the "struggle to explain how this happened will probably be infuriating". I anticipated the inevitable "Monday morning quarterbacking" and score-settling and post-facto smugness, but lately what's most frustrating is a Democratic Party that insists on deepening a "Hillary vs. Bernie" internecine conflict. Yes, still. I'd hoped we'd be past this by now -- I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary and then, obviously, was strongly in favor of Hillary Clinton in the general election. I'm disappointed that so many other people still haven't come to terms with "what happened".

In this conflict, emotions run high -- even among my politically-obsessed family, where we are usually at least directionally aligned. My progressive sister and many like her are understandably defensive about the mountains of unfair criticism that smart and accomplished public servant Hillary Clinton has received, but they seem unable to accept that any criticism of Clinton is not sexism or "haters gonna hate". Sorry, she lost, and that loss involved some strategic missteps and branding blunders that should be addressed.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A More Perfect Union

The Charlottesville white supremacist march was a horrifying escalation of recent racial tensions. Confronting overt racism is necessary, but far more challenging is dismantling entrenched policies propping up racial inequities.

"in Order to form a more perfect Union..."
The first step is admitting that ours is an imperfect country, with flawed institutions, including our military, law enforcement, government, media, and more. Without acknowledging that, there is no way to move forward to account for the sins of the past and the continuing inequities of the present. But without believing, as I do, that all of these institutions are redeemable – and that with mindful striving, they can be continuously improved in pursuit of an unattainable perfection – there is no reason to try.

This is a critical point to convey to those who would retort "America, love it or leave it!" That, despite a history that includes the displacement of indigenous people, the chattel slavery of blacks, legalized segregation, and the internment of Japanese-Americans, America's professed ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity are worth fighting for. Progress can feel slow, but over two centuries this country has vastly expanded whom it covers under the protective cloak of its ideals.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

President Donald Trump

Here are some raw, in-the-moment thoughts about the surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election by Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

The saddest reaction to the unfolding election I've heard is from a friend who said to me "It makes me wonder if I really fit in as an American". There may be many hyperbolic opinions expressed in coming days, but hers definitely is very identifiable right now. I'm forcing myself to write down some thoughts on what has been a profoundly surprising, deeply depressing night.

The obvious: regardless of political viewpoint, it is unconscionable that a vulgar individual who has enthusiastically indulged in insults and violent threats, cons and scams, religious and racial bigotry, gross misogyny and debasing conspiracies and outright lies--that such an individual will be the leader of this country. I try to convince myself that Italy survived Silvio Berlusconi, and we too, can withstand the psychological embarrassment of a Donald Trump presidency.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Future on Autopilot

Self-driving cars are not science-fiction. This generation will grapple with the societal implications of the automation of much of personal and commercial transportation.

Many desired technology innovations—personal jetpacks, thriving moon colonies, an iPhone that doesn't need to be charged daily (ha!)—may never be realized, but one is a lot closer than most people think: self-driving cars. While interning at Google this summer, I witnessed sister company X's autonomous vehicles on Mountain View roads and attended speaker events with people on the project (with which I had zero involvement), and have become convinced this is the future. The technology, while still improving, is indeed viable—a when, not if situation—and the changes it represents could improve personal safety, relieve congestion, lower transportation costs, and reduce environmental impact.

The most salient benefit of self-driving cars is that they will eventually be able to perform inarguably more safely than human drivers, whose errors account for hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world each year. Able to "communicate" with one another, self-driving cars will also maintain speed and handle relative positioning more efficiently than human drivers, improving traffic flow and changing development patterns. But there's much more to it. Currently, the cars we own remain unused most of the time, taking up space when they are not taking us from Point A to Point B. Optimally, a (clean emissions) vehicle would be in operation as much as possible, serving the needs of many commuters, so fewer people would require vehicles exclusively their own. Among the smaller pool of total cars needed to serve a population, those in use would be far less likely to idly occupy a parking spot. Much of the urban and suburban space currently dedicated to parking lots and garages could be repurposed for more productive ends, including green space.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Make America Whole Again

Donald Trump's rise seriously challenges U.S. openness to, and engagement with, the world. The system he attacks is worth defending, but must be modified to work for people it has left behind.

For months, Donald Trump was treated by the media and non-GOP-primary-voters as a sideshow attraction -- someone to gawk at, to raise one's eyebrows at, but ultimately to be dismissed when the time came. Unfortunately, for a man who utilizes attention the way the rest of us do oxygen, that was enough to propel him past a crowded field of unappealing Republican candidates. Since his unlikely ascension to the nomination there has emerged an appropriate focus on the obvious: that a vain and crass blowhard who espouses bigoted views against ethnic groups and religions, who has a poor business track record despite that being his claimed competency and source of fame, and who hasn't demonstrated a grasp of the details of any key aspect of public policy -- such an individual is a poor choice for president.

Even so, these criticisms have always been obvious to Trump's detractors and largely irrelevant to his supporters. It may yet be that, having come this far, his competitiveness has only been sustained due to former foes, critics, and the Republican Party apparatus dutifully falling in line behind him. And it isn't a stretch to think that Trump's unforced errors, such as a spat with the parents of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq, combined with his seeming lack of interest in actual governance (versus personal brand-building), lead to a resounding defeat this November. And yet...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Go Left, America!

Bernie Sanders' candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination should be lauded for, at a minimum, unapologetically bringing liberal/progressive social justice views to the forefront of the national dialogue.

For most of the decade-and-a-half I can claim to have followed politics in the U.S. closely, it's been the Republican Party's right-most wing that has set the terms of the debate1 and the Democratic Party that has largely emphasized moderation rather than countering with stridently left-wing ideas. The roots of this dynamic lie in recent history.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan won re-election while carrying 49 out of 50 states, a little more than a decade after fellow Republican Richard Nixon accomplished the same feat. It cemented a rightward re-alignment in American politics that has resulted in compromised liberal politics to this day. Bill Clinton was famously a "New Democrat" and leader of the "Third Way", which was successful in winning elections but required, for better and worse, adopting numerous conservative positions: proclaiming an end to "welfare as we know it" and "the era of big government", pushing for deregulation and free trade deals, passing the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, and harsh anti-crime stands.