Why Mask?

There seems to be some controversy over this for some reason. Maybe it needs a visual demonstration, so I made one.

(Stated estimates of SARS-CoV-2 transmissibility in the above are based on the September 10 update of https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html)

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Iowa Disaster? Not at all.

                A lot has been said today about the complete mess of the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses. Every news outlet is full of commentators sharing their own takes on how this massive flub is a disastrous beginning to the 2020 election season.

               I don’t care to duplicate all the words already being said, so I’ll only offer the one thing I think hasn’t yet been said about this disaster: it isn’t a disaster at all.

                 Just for a second consider what has happened. Iowa voters have chosen their delegates to the national Democratic convention. The state’s party has taken the time to make sure the count is accurate. And what is the purpose of the Iowa caucuses? To choose Iowa’s delegates. That’s it. And that has happened. The delegate counts, whether released an hour after the caucuses end or a month after, are what Iowans have chosen for Iowa, and those delegates are going to the convention. Absolutely nothing important has failed.

                In fact, I assert that the narrative assumed by most of the press coverage today has it completely backwards. What is the go-to story being told today? It is about how embarrassing it is that nobody knows the results yet, how it is another knock against Iowa’s position at the start of the race and against their unusual caucus system. Pundits have pointed out how it is likely even to doom Iowa’s results to far less relevance in today’s extremely short news cycle, because the results won’t be available until the nation’s attention has already moved on to the State of the Union, the Presidential impeachment vote, and the New Hampshire primary. Campaigns just have to keep on trucking without even knowing who won.

                To which I ask: how is any of this a problem? Every other day of the year, commentators are wringing their hands about how just a few states, by virtue of calendar positioning, get absurdly disproportionate influence on the overall result. And today we are expected to think it a calamity that Iowa’s caucuses may mostly just decide Iowa’s own voter preferences and not everyone else’s, too? Is it really a tragedy if entire campaigns aren’t doomed by the very first voters before any of the rest of the nation arrives at the decision-making table? Wouldn’t it be better if every state’s voters decided only what their own position would be at the national convention, and nothing more?

                Let Iowa give us its results when it is ready. And let them be accurate, and let Iowan delegates have no embarrassment about this, but proudly represent the people of their state who have made those decisions. And let the rest of us, whose votes come in the weeks and months ahead, make our own decisions, which may mirror Iowa’s and may not. And precisely because those decisions may or may not be the same or even similar, let us set aside the notion that this accidental pause is something gone wrong. It might be a great discovery. Maybe we should even delay results on purpose in years to come. Many people are committed to “slow food,” arguing that its intentionality and focus helps preserve local food traditions and enhance the economy of food. Maybe it’s time we should also consider “slow voting,” however counter it may be to the trajectory of our increasingly instantaneous culture, as a means of preserving all the local voices throughout the country, and thus as enhancement to democracy rather than misfortune.

                I will interestedly await Iowa’s results. But I am in no particular hurry.

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Inauguration Day 2017

There are a lot of people who are very concerned about what is taking place in the United States today, and about what will follow after.

I’m one of them.

And there are a lot of different things people are doing about it. And some people have no idea what to do at all.

But I’ll tell you what I’m doing.

I’m buying an American flag.

And I’m going to put it up somewhere.

Maybe you think that’s a strange response. There are a fair number of thoughtful people who care a lot about what goes on in America, who when they see things that disturb or worry them—things past, present, or on the horizon—sometimes get a little squeamish about overtly patriotic symbolism. And I understand the hesitation, but now is not the time for squeamishness. Now is the time for us to rally to the defense of the soul of our nation, to stand up and guard its sacred values, and to insistently claim our ownership stake in it.

This is my flag, and it stands for my country. And I refuse to yield them.

Let’s talk about this country and its symbols for a moment.

America is fairly unusual in the course of history so far. Unlike most nations that have ever risen on the stage of this world, this country isn’t just a particular band of people who share a place and a ruler. The United States of America is an idea that we’re trying to live out. The rare and ingenious act of the founders of this nation was that they did not just establish a form of government; they set up, enshrined in written word for all time, a purpose for that government.
And they were ambitious about it. The goal they set for us when they founded this American experiment was, as Abraham Lincoln put it, that of “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

The symbols of this country therefore stand not just for America as it is or has been. Even more than those things, they stand for America the ideal, America the democratic hope, for which dedicated Americans have striven and fought for over two centuries, shedding their own blood in trying to make this republic a more-perfect union.

Second, if you’re an American, the flag and other symbols of America inescapably, unavoidably represent you and me. When an American flag goes up somewhere, it represents you to the world whether you like it or not, and whether or not you choose to take any part in defining what connotations that flag may also carry.

Third, the symbols of America represent, well, America. All of it. Our next-door neighbors and the people living on the other side of the nation; the rich, the poor; they are all America.
And so if we choose not to respect those symbols, no matter what our reasons may be, it will always, unavoidably, also convey lack of respect for America—not just America the set of leaders or laws, but America the ideal, too; and America the people themselves.

So if you’re someone who inclines toward discomfort with open displays of national loyalty, this is a simple fact you need to understand and take into consideration: whenever any group of people intentionally avoids patriotic gestures, it sets up a visible, public contrast, between those who appear to respect and honor liberty and justice and their fellow Americans, and those who do not. This is a foolish and misguided contest you can never win and shouldn’t try.

Yes, a lot of people proudly put on an ignorant caricature of patriotism, one that’s about applauding themselves just for being born here. But real patriotism isn’t self-congratulation; it is aspiration. It is love of country, a love that combines a fiercely protective determination to watch over its well-being with a lofty desire to help it become the best possible version of itself.

So don’t let anybody ever be able to say you oppose your country just because you oppose certain people running it, or certain things taking place in it. You’re fighting for your country when you stand up, and speak up, for its betterment.

So my encouragement to you is this: don’t back away now from the outward signs of loyalty to this nation. Take them up with gusto. Don’t relinquish this country or the symbols which represent it—which represent you. If you surrender them, you are abdicating the opportunity to define what these things mean and the chance to declare your own love of country as real and legitimate, leaving the narrative of patriotism to people who would gladly define loyalty to country as loyalty to the present leaders and their policies.

But as long as you and I instead keep flying this flag in the name of freedom and equality, as long as we keep insisting, every time we pledge allegiance to it, that the republic for which this flag stands is one of liberty and justice for all, as long as we refuse to hand it over willingly, it cannot be taken from us. And as long as it remains ours, whoever flies it while working to undermine liberty and dismantle justice is foolishly waving the symbol of their own ultimate defeat.

So…I’m putting up a flag. And I’m going to fly one proudly these four years as a proclamation of what I stand for. I invite you, too, to consistently, openly, and unashamedly show your love of this country. It is, after all, your country.

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Making Us Safer?

When I say I am concerned about mass government surveillance, is it just personal squeamishness about privacy? Is it that I “have something to hide?” Shouldn’t those things be considered less important than making us safer?

Yes, as a matter of fact, they should be. The question of whether or not to accept constant surveillance of private citizens is about making us safer. Only it is vital that we remember all the kinds of safety we need to preserve. There are many dangers in the world. We cannot allow ourselves to wear blinders and see only some of them. Here I talk a bit about what is really at stake when we give people the power to watch everything we do.

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Our Right To See A Fair Trial

As we thankfully hear of the apprehension of the remaining suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, many of us are glad that he was taken alive and hope he remains so for trial. The reason I and many others have this reaction is the sense that without a trial, we would be denied the opportunity to see justice done, to gain understanding of the crime rather than leaving it forever a mysterious attack, and to collectively experience the resolution of this awful event. We want to see him stand up before a courtroom and face his accusations rather than escaping from them, if there is anyone in the world who insists on his innocence or speaks sympathetically to his cause (should there turn out out to be one), we want those sympathizers’ faulty proclamations to be undeniably corrected as a matter of public record.

But a few people out there, including, sadly, sitting United States Senators, apparently need to be reminded that giving people their Constitutional rights and a fair trial is not being soft on them. Rather, it is a chance to demonstrate publicly and incontrovertibly their guilt, and to serve out justice—which, in this case, could even include death—in a transparent way on behalf of and in view of the entire public, while keeping the actions of the government visibly and unquestionably above reproach.

Moreover, when it is “the public” who has been attacked, every one of us has a stake in seeing things done right, and in understanding and getting to experience the outcome as clear justice done.

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Hearts and Minds

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In which we discuss how the relationship between government and governed is transformed when it is mediated by flying robots.

Chapter One

I was too young to remember the early part of the war except in hazy impressions. My first solid memories are of shortly after Berlin fell. I didn’t understand the politics, and the fear, and the destruction, but what did make an impression on me at that age was the candy that the American drones gave us. I remember catching glimpses of disapproving adults sometimes looking out from their windows, but my friends and I didn’t pay much attention to them. Those unmanned aerial vehicles from across the ocean were just so friendly, and so interesting. They had such a different atmosphere around them than the drab, determined sorrow I saw from everyone else around me, and they seemed to be just as happy to see me as I was curious to see them.

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Free Money Forever! Or: "Know When to Walk Away"

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My state, like many others, is considering further expanding gambling. Since the state is in awful financial shape, this is not surprising. Unfortunately, it is also not wise. Perhaps it is astonishing to hear the assertion that something promising to deliver massive piles of free cash might not, in fact, live up to its claims. So let us take a good look at what gambling is, and what more of it really means.

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