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Charles Hogg
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an open-minded skeptic
an open-minded skeptic

191 followers
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Worth reading and pondering life from somebody else's perspective.
A note before proceeding: This post is going to talk about some serious issues, and the linked article, even more so. This is a good one on which to stop and think carefully before replying, especially if it makes you angry. If it does -- and honestly, it should -- stop and ask yourself why it makes you angry, and how this shapes your perspective, before you comment. Because the heart of this post is not to advocate any policy, or to criticize anyone, or even to state a position: it's about listening to the stories of other people, and thinking about them. I'm not asking you to feel guilty, or justify yourself, or anything else: just to listen.


One of the most interesting things I've heard said in the wake of Ferguson (and unfortunately, I can't find the source to quote properly) was in response to the statement that "93% of blacks are killed by other blacks, so why are you so angry about Michael Brown and never talking about your own problem?" The response was that this is exactly like a foreigner saying, "99% of Americans are killed by other Americans, so why are you so angry about 9/11 and never talking about your own problem?"

I think that this response is quite profound, and it speaks to the fact that not all death is equivalent. And these deaths are inequivalent in an important fashion: ordinary murder happens for any number of reasons, and in almost all cases only creates a risk to the person actually murdered. (The few cases where there is a broader risk -- e.g., mass murders by someone opening fire in the street -- in fact likewise attract our attention quite broadly) But the death of a member of a community at the hands of a member of another community, especially when that other community has a history of violence against one's own community, represents a profound danger to all and sundry. And most importantly, if that death is not promptly censured by the other community, it's likely to be taken as approval of the action -- and other members of the second community are likely to remember this, and act with more freedom and violence.

I'm saying "community" and "other community" here, rather than "black" and "white," because this is true for more than one community. My own family history has been entirely shaped by this kind of violence, but the communities there were the Jews and the Christians; around the world, there are hundreds of other examples of this kind of dynamic as well. 

There is something important in common in every one of these cases. When you are a member of one of these communities, the threat of violence from a member of a different community is omnipresent and something that shapes every aspect of your life.

This is something that can be very hard to explain or understand if you haven't ever been on the receiving end of this. Being a member of a community which is considered a legitimate target for violence by another community shapes your entire life.

"What’d you do for your 16th birthday? Mine had me face down eating grass with a shotgun to my head."

In that context, I want to share this essay by +Ward A. The essay is angry; it's not an easy read. But it's worth reading because it's a snapshot of what it's like to grow up in a world shaped by this. I've chosen to share it not because its story is unusual, but because it isn't: if you talk to people who have grown up black in America, or in any other similar situation elsewhere, you hear this same story, over and over, with variations.

If you read my intro, or Ward's essay, you may be tempted to respond with "but that doesn't justify [X]!," or "So obviously, what they need to do is [Y]." That's not the point of this share. It's not meant to justify, it's not meant to advocate for any policy.

The reason I'm posting this is that, if you want to understand what life is like in the United States, and if you want to understand why Ferguson happened, you need to understand what the world looks like from this perspective. And if you want to learn what the world is like for other people, the single best thing you can do is to just listen to what they have to say, and acknowledge it, and file it in your mind. 

Nothing more is expected of you here: just to think.
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A terrifically clear and thorough explanation of the state of the evidence on the Kenya tetanus vaccine controversy.

(Spoiler alert: it's not a clandestine population control program.)
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Breathtaking dishonesty (or incompetence) by the CPSC.

They estimated the number of magnet ball incidents over a 3-year period.  When you apply their same method over a different 3 year period -- before the magnets existed -- you get a statistically identical result.

Maybe they should rethink their methodology?
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Ebola in West Africa still is a very serious problem.  Now you can help fight back: Google will match your donations 2:1.
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Always a pleasure to see nonsense rebutted.
Apple today released a statement containing the quote, "...when an online service is free, you're not the customer.  You're the product."

This is an oft-repeated line in the past couple of years, but it's a stupid one, and someone today pointed me at a good explanation of why.

http://powazek.com/posts/3229

While the whole article is worth reading, I'd like to especially suggest the section titled "Assumption: You’re either the product or the customer."

The "you are the product" maxim is to me an example of H.L. Mencken's quote, "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."  "You are the product" is simple, it's catchy, it sounds like it works.  But it doesn't.  It simplifies and generalizes in invalid ways, and it leads people to bad conclusions that will serve them poorly.

If you use it, please stop.
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This is utterly horrifying.  Not only is racism alive in America, it is thriving.
Note to the reader: Some people have been upset that I'm writing more about issues like these lately, and don't want to hear about things like race in America. If you feel this way, you may continue to be disappointed: these things are important, and we need to talk about them. Consider yourself forewarned: there will be more of this. If this makes you unhappy, you may want to stop reading now. But you probably shouldn't: if you find that this brings up lots of complicated emotions for you, that's a sign that you should read more, not less.

I wish that I could give you a short version of this article. But you need to read this, because it's going to be important to our national conversation about many things. Radley Balko has written a deeply researched, detailed article about the system of institutionalized corruption by which municipalities across Missouri are essentially treating their poor -- especially their black poor -- as a resource to be harvested and consumed to line their own pockets.

The basic idea is simple and should be familiar to anyone who's watched loansharks at work: they start with a fine for something -- say, having expired tags on your car, not having proof of insurance, or (I kid you not) "wearing saggy pants." If you don't have a lawyer (and they've made sure that you won't have one unless you're rich enough to hire one), then you don't simply pay the fine; instead, you have a series of court dates. The message seems to somehow have gone out to the public that if you go to one of these dates and can't afford the fine, you'll go to jail -- so people miss the dates, and are then arrested for that, instead. Then they get fined for that, as well. As well as fines for not paying the fines, and so on, and so forth. 

It's brutally effective, and it's why you hear so much concern about towns which are 90% black with a police force that's almost entirely white and living in a different town: that police force is, generally, running one of these schemes, together with a local government that's arranging all of the payments. (Guess where all the money for this goes? Hint: it's not the town general fund. At least, not the town where any of the people being imprisoned live.) When the people writing and "enforcing" (I use the term loosely) the laws have no ties to the people being charged under them, you have a sophisticated extortion racket, and no rule of law.

This article is extensive and detailed, and by the time you get through it, you should have a painfully clear picture of how it works. There are probably two other things you should read in conjunction with it: Ta-Nehisi Coates' now-famous article about similar corruption of the housing system (http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/), and the book I'm working through now, Douglas A. Blackmon's Pulitzer Prize-winning Slavery by Another Name. (http://www.amazon.com/Slavery-Another-Name-Re-Enslavement-Americans/dp/0385722702) I suspect that these three will give you a very good picture of some of the "hidden corruption," of the darkest form imaginable, which plagues our country to this day.
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