The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Your evening reading

Just a few:

And finally, atheist sci-fi author John Scalzi...bought a church?

Something new, something old

A nearly-all-white Kenosha, Wis., jury acquitted Killer Smurf Kyle Rittenhouse of all charges today, which will have the immediate effect of turning Kenosha into a war zone, and the long-term effect of escalating violence at what would otherwise be peaceful protests nationwide. I haven't followed the case closely, though I do trust the sources I've read who say an acquittal would make sense under Wisconsin law. But I doubt that most people who haven't gone to law school will see it that way, or even care.

Also this morning, in a more positive vein: President Biden availed himself of the 25th Amendment while undergoing a routine colonoscopy, temporarily making Kamala Harris the first woman ever to hold the power of the presidency in this country. I don't know of another member or former member of the British Commonwealth that hasn't yet done this, and in all of those other countries, the women in question held permanent authority, not just power for an hour or two. In fact, the first one held absolute power from 1558 to 1603, without missing a beat. Still, it's a milestone.

The Battle of Bamber Bridge

In June 1943, a group of white American MPs attacked a company of Black American soldiers in the town of Bamber Bridge, England (near Blackpool). The English took the side of the Black soldiers:

During the war, American soldiers accounted for the vast majority of black people in Britain. Britain’s population was overwhelmingly white, most of the country almost entirely so. Black Britons numbered around eight thousand in total, and were clustered in London, Liverpool and a few other ports. For the residents of most towns and villages near US bases, the proximity of black people was wholly novel.

Given that most Britons had seen black people only in films or books, you might have expected them to distrust or fear the new arrivals. Instead, as the historian David Olusoga remarks, the natives were “extraordinarily welcoming” to their black visitors. In fact, black GIs were offered a warmer reception than their white counterparts. In the letters and diaries of British inhabitants, White GIs are portrayed as arrogant, flashy, and unruly, while Black GIs, by contrast, are described as courteous, self-disciplined, and charming.

For black GIs, the warm and respectful treatment they received in Britain’s shops, pubs, and church halls threw their relationship with fellow countrymen into sharp relief. At home, black Americans from Southern states were strictly segregated from whites and systematically oppressed. Jim Crow laws ensured that they were politically disenfranchised and economically marginalised, eighty years after the abolition of slavery. The oppression was cultural too: black Americans were routinely  and openly treated as contemptible by their white counterparts.

For many black soldiers, the experience of Britain renewed and sharpened a sense of injustice over how they were treated in the United States. As one put it, “we are treated better in England than we are in a country that is supposed to be our home.” Naturally enough, it led some of them to question why they were fighting. Another GI wrote: “I am an American negro, doing my part for the American government to make the world safe for a democracy I have never known.”

I recently watched the Channel 4 miniseries Traitors, in which American race relations right after World War II in London mattered a great deal to the plot. Learning about Bamber Bridge added more depth to my understanding of the show.

Sunday morning reading (and listening)

Just a couple of articles that caught my interest this morning:

Finally, today is the 65th anniversary of the collision between the Stockholm and the Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket in which 1,646 people were saved before the Doria sank.

Andrew Sullivan moves left a little

But he still has a lot to say about what he calls "successor ideology:"

The best moniker I’ve read to describe this mishmash of postmodern thought and therapy culture ascendant among liberal white elites is Wesley Yang’s coinage: “the successor ideology.” The “structural oppression” is white supremacy, but that can also be expressed more broadly, along Crenshaw lines: to describe a hegemony that is saturated with “anti-Blackness,” misogyny, and transphobia, in a miasma of social “cis-heteronormative patriarchal white supremacy.” And the term “successor ideology” works because it centers the fact that this ideology wishes, first and foremost, to repeal and succeed a liberal society and democracy.

In the successor ideology, there is no escape, no refuge, from the ongoing nightmare of oppression and violence — and you are either fighting this and “on the right side of history,” or you are against it and abetting evil. There is no neutrality. No space for skepticism. No room for debate. No space even for staying silent. (Silence, remember, is violence — perhaps the most profoundly anti-liberal slogan ever invented.)

And that tells you about the will to power behind it. Liberalism leaves you alone. The successor ideology will never let go of you. Liberalism is only concerned with your actions. The successor ideology is concerned with your mind, your psyche, and the deepest recesses of your soul. Liberalism will let you do your job, and let you keep your politics private. S.I. will force you into a struggle session as a condition for employment.

Obama was a straddler, of course, and did not deny that “so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.” I don’t deny that either. Who could? But neither did he deny African-American agency or responsibility:

It means taking full responsibility for own lives — by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

To say this today would evoke instant accusations of being a white supremacist and racist. That’s how far the left has moved: Obama as an enabler of white supremacy.

Personally, I favor liberalism, and I always will. We have the most successful multiracial society in history. We can do better; we must do better; but damn, we're not all good or all evil.

UIC's Dis/Placements project maps Uptown

Via Bloomberg CityLab and Block Club Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago started a project in 2017 to chart the "displacements of people and struggles over land, housing, and community in the city of Chicago:"

The issue of displacement and the efforts to stop it, in fact, has been present in Uptown for nearly 200 years. That history — in the words of the people who were displaced — is now being recounted through a new University of Illinois Chicago research project.

“In general, it’s poor communities and communities of color that have faced the brunt of the efforts to develop neighborhoods,” said UIC Professor Gayatri Reddy. “Uptown captures some of these remaining issues.”

The project also recounts the efforts to stop displacement and points to how modern activist movements have picked up the mantle from previous generations in the still very-much-alive fight in Uptown, the professors said.

Displacement and development that adversely impact the poor and communities of color have been happening in Uptown, and America, since its founding. But at least in Uptown, the scale of displacement has accelerated in modern times, Reddy said.

“It seems to us that there has been a steady rise in the breadth and scale of such efforts in the last 20 [plus] years,” she said. “With gentrification and other displacement mechanisms impacting an even wider swath of the population.”

The project site has interactive and VR visualizations of Uptown's history, with scads of GIS data and spotlights on specific instances of uncomfortable history.

We're dumb, but we're not that dumb

Two sad-funny examples of how, nah, we're exactly that dumb. The first, from TDWTF, points out the fundamental problem with training a machine-learning system how to write software:

Any ML system is only as good as its training data, and this leads to some seriously negative outcomes. We usually call this algorithmic bias, and we all know the examples. It's why voice assistants have a hard time with certain names or accents. It's why sentencing tools for law enforcement mis-classify defendants. It's why facial recognition systems have a hard time with darker skin tones.

In the case of an ML tool that was trained on publicly available code, there's a blatantly obvious flaw in the training data: MOST CODE IS BAD.

If you feed a big pile of Open Source code into OpenAI, the only thing you're doing is automating the generation of bad code, because most of the code you fed the system is bad. It's ironic that the biggest obstacle to automating programmers out of a job is that we are terrible at our jobs.

I regret to inform the non-programmer portion of the world that this is true.

But still, most of the world's bad code isn't nearly as bad as the deposition Paula Deen gave in her harassment suit in May 2013. This came up in a conversation over the weekend, and the person I discussed this with insisted that, no, she really said incredibly dumb things that one has to imagine made her attorney weep. She reminds us that the Venn diagram of casual bigotry and stupidity has a large overlapping area labeled "Murica."

Just wait for the bit where the plaintiff's attorney asks Deen to give an example of a nice way to use the N-word.

I will now continue writing code I hope never winds up in either a deposition or on TDWTF.

Down the Memory Hole

Yale history professor Timothy Snyder warns that "memory laws" recently passed in several Republican-held states bear a strong resemblance to similar laws supported by horrifying regimes:

After the Soviet Union came to an end in 1991, citizens of a newly independent Ukraine began commemorating the dead of the 1932-33 famine, which they call the Holodomor. In 2006, the Ukrainian Parliament recognized the events in question as a genocide. In 2008, the Russian Duma responded with a resolution that provided a very different account of the famine. Even as Russian legislators seemed to acknowledge the catastrophe, they turned it against the main victims. The resolution stated that “there is no historical proof that the famine was organized along ethnic lines,” and pointedly mentioned six regions in Russia before mentioning Ukraine.

This ordering became habitual in the Russian state press: Mentions of the famine included an awkwardly long list of regions, downplaying the specificity of the Ukrainian tragedy. The famine was presented as a result of administrative mistakes by a neutral state apparatus. Everyone was a victim, and so no one was.

This spring, memory laws arrived in America. Republican state legislators proposed dozens of bills designed to guide and control American understanding of the past.

[T]he most common feature among the laws, and the one most familiar to a student of repressive memory laws elsewhere in the world, is their attention to feelings. Four of five of them, in almost identical language, proscribe any curricular activities that would give rise to “discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

In most cases, the new American memory laws have been passed by state legislatures that, in the same session, have passed laws designed to make voting more difficult. The memory management enables the voter suppression. The history of denying Black people the vote is shameful. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to protect young people from feeling shame. The history of denying Black people the vote involves law and society. This means that it is less likely to be taught where teachers are mandated to tell students that racism is only personal prejudice.

The Republican Party continues to follow established patterns to further its goal of minority rule. Memory laws fit them like a comfortable pair of jackboots.

Partisan court takes another swipe at the Voting Rights Act

The two most recent US Supreme Court appointees may have agreed with the moderate justices on a couple of issues this term, but as the last opinions come out this morning, they have reminded us that the Republican Party's anti-democratic policies remain their top priorities.

Despite no evidence of retail election fraud, in 2016 Arizona's Republican majority enacted a law making it a crime to collect ballots from voters. Many voters in Arizona and elsewhere have difficulty making it to the polls, and in some cases, to the nearest mailbox. Ballot collection drives helped ensure they could still cast votes. Given who benefitted most from these drives, no one had any illusions about why Arizona Republicans passed this bill.

The Court today ruled, in a 6-3 decision right along party lines, that this does not violate section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Justice Alito delivered the opinion, which repeats the Republican Party's canards about voting fraud as if channeling the voice of Mitch McConnell:

Finally, the strength of the state interests served by a challenged voting rule is also an important factor that must be taken into account. As noted, every voting rule imposes a burden of some sort, and therefore, in determining “based on the totality of circumstances” whether a rule goes too far, it is important to consider the reason for the rule. Rules that are supported by strong state interests are less likely to violate §2.

One strong and entirely legitimate state interest is the prevention of fraud. Fraud can affect the outcome of a close election, and fraudulent votes dilute the right of citizens to cast ballots that carry appropriate weight. Fraud can also undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections and the perceived legitimacy of the announced outcome.

(Brnovich v DNC, opinion at 19; citations removed.)

He then retreats deep into his epistemological bubble to declare that, even though Arizona has no documented instances of such fraud, and even though it will make it harder for Black, Hispanic, and poor people to cast ballots, the law doesn't really discriminate. Because, of course, the Arizona Secretary of State's office are all, all honourable men:

The State makes accurate precinct information available to all voters. When precincts or polling places are altered between elections, each registered voter is sent a notice showing the voter’s new polling place. Arizona law also mandates that election officials send a sample ballot to each household that includes a registered voter who has not opted to be placed on the permanent early voter list, and this mailing also identifies the voter’s proper polling location. In addition, the Arizona secretary of state’s office sends voters pamphlets that include information (in both English and Spanish) about how to identify their assigned precinct.

The Court of Appeals noted that Arizona leads other States in the rate of votes rejected on the ground that they were cast in the wrong precinct, and the court attributed this to frequent changes in polling locations, confusing placement of polling places, and high levels of residential mobility. But even if it is marginally harder for Arizona voters to find their assigned polling places, the State offers other easy ways to vote. Any voter can request an early ballot without excuse. Any voter can ask to be placed on the permanent early voter list so that an early ballot will be mailed automatically. Voters may drop off their early ballots at any polling place, even one to which they are not assigned. And for nearly a month before election day, any voter can vote in person at an early voting location in his or her county.

(Id. at 26-27, citations removed.)

So, once again, the Republican justices take the position that because the Voting Rights Act has done its job over the years, we don't need the Voting Rights Act anymore. (Kind of like how we taught the Germans a lesson in 1918 and they hardly bothered us after that.)

In her dissent, Justice Kagan expresses no patience for any of this crap:

If a single statute represents the best of America, it is the Voting Rights Act. It marries two great ideals: democracy and racial equality. And it dedicates our country to carrying them out. Section 2, the provision at issue here, guarantees that members of every racial group will have equal voting opportunities. Citizens of every race will have the same shot to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. They will all own our democracy together—no one more and no one less than any other.

If a single statute reminds us of the worst of America, it is the Voting Rights Act. Because it was—and remains—so necessary. Because a century after the Civil War was fought, at the time of the Act’s passage, the promise of political equality remained a distant dream for African American citizens. Because States and localities continually “contriv[ed] new rules,” mostly neutral on their face but discriminatory in operation, to keep minority voters from the polls. Because “Congress had reason to suppose” that States would “try similar maneuvers in the future”— “pour[ing] old poison into new bottles” to suppress minority votes. Because Congress has been proved right.

Today, the Court undermines Section 2 and the right it provides. The majority fears that the statute Congress wrote is too “radical”—that it will invalidate too many state voting laws. So the majority writes its own set of rules, limiting Section 2 from multiple directions. Wherever it can, the majority gives a cramped reading to broad language. And then it uses that reading to uphold two election laws from Arizona that discriminate against minority voters. I could say—and will in the following pages—that this is not how the Court is supposed to interpret and apply statutes. But that ordinary critique woefully undersells the problem. What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten—in order to weaken—a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses. What is tragic is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about “the end of discrimination in voting.”

(Kagan Dissent at 1, 3; citations removed).

When a few commentators tut-tutted that the Court "is less one-sided than liberals feared," they missed the point. Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh seem less unhinged than they did at their confirmation hearings, but they never lost their party loyalty. Sure, they upheld Obamacare (for the 17th time); sure, they ruled that children don't lose First Amendment protections just because they say something their school doesn't like. And just as sure, they will vote every single time to limit the franchise, because voting rights have become an existential threat to the Republican Party.

The Republicans' 40-year program of selecting and promoting young, partisan judges continues to pay off. Until we Democrats start using the political power we actually have, the Republicans will continue to drive the United States toward minority corporatist rule that will take decades to undo.

Guilty

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is, officially, a felon and a murderer. The jury deliberated for longer than 9 minutes and 28 seconds, but not much longer.

Good luck in gen pop, you racist thug.

Some reactions:

  • Barack Obama: "[I]f we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that true justice is about much more than a single verdict in a single trial."
  • Jennifer Rubin: "Tuesday’s verdict, which is likely to be appealed, does not mean the overarching problem of racism in policing is resolved."
  • US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY): "That a family had to lose a son, brother and father; that a teenage girl had to film and post a murder, that millions across the country had to organize and march just for George Floyd to be seen and valued is not justice."
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY): "I'm thankful for George Floyd’s family that justice was served. America was forever changed by the video of Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd. However, a guilty verdict doesn’t mean the persistent problem of police misconduct is solved. We'll keep working for meaningful change"
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY): ""
  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): "George Floyd should be alive today. His family’s calls for justice for his murder were heard around the world. He did not die in vain. We must make sure other families don't suffer the same racism, violence & pain, and we must enact the George Floyd #JusticeInPolicing Act."
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA): ""
  • Andy Borowitz: "Chauvin’s Defense Team Blames Guilty Verdict on Jury’s Ability To See"
  • The Onion: "‘This Is Strike One, Mr. Chauvin,’ Says Judge Reading Guilty Verdict Before Handing Gun, Badge Back"

We have a long way to go. But maybe, just maybe, this is a start, and not an aberration.