Assorted Items on Friday the 16th

About evidence and reason; conservative book bans; automobiles as creators of inequality; anti-vaxxers and traffic crashes; Trump as the emblem of a half population of semi-literates.

I’ve seen this comment on Facebook before, but have never quoted it. It’s apocryphal, but demonstrates its point.

Facebook, via David Gerrold: i still think my favorite thing…

I used to think people were amenable to evidence and reason, but eventually became convinced they are not; thus #11 of my Provisional Conclusions.


NY Times, 12 Dec 2022: A Fast-Growing Network of Conservative Groups Is Fueling a Surge in Book Bans, subtitled “Some groups are new, some are longstanding. Some are local, others national. Over the past two years, they have become vastly more organized, well funded, effective — and criticized.”

Again, it seems to me, conservatives are all about suppression. Liberals are about expanding options. No liberals are forcing gay marriage on anyone else; all they ask for is for everyone to be allowed to live their lives as they see fit. Conservatives cannot stand this. Conservatives want to prevent everyone from anything (reading books, getting married) that they personally disapprove of. There is no equivalent.


NY Times, Andrew Ross and Julie Livingston guest essay, 15 Dec 2022: Once You See the Truth About Cars, You Can’t Unsee It

The answer is in the URL: car ownership exacerbates inequality, creating a division between those who have cars (or several), and those who can’t afford even one. Hasn’t this always been the case? Opening:

In American consumer lore, the automobile has always been a “freedom machine” and liberty lies on the open road. “Americans are a race of independent people” whose “ancestors came to this country for the sake of freedom and adventure,” the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce’s soon-to-be-president, Roy Chapin, declared in 1924. “The automobile satisfies these instincts.” During the Cold War, vehicles with baroque tail fins and oodles of surplus chrome rolled off the assembly line, with Native American names like Pontiac, Apache, Dakota, Cherokee, Thunderbird and Winnebago — the ultimate expressions of capitalist triumph and Manifest Destiny.

But for many low-income and minority Americans, automobiles have been turbo-boosted engines of inequality, immobilizing their owners with debt, increasing their exposure to hostile law enforcement, and in general accelerating the forces that drive apart haves and have-nots.

Now, offhand, I would say the dependence of Americans on cars — more so than in European nations, say — is because of our expanse. We have a huge country. We have the situation of suburbs. Most of us don’t live in concentrated cities where one can live in an apartment, condo, or even house, and take public transit to work, and walk to nearby bodegas for daily groceries. Thus Americans have become dependent on cars.

The article details those problems — debt, hostile law enforcement, inequality — in considerable detail. But what solutions do the writers offer? Well, public transportation, though that won’t work in most areas; and host of minor refinements.

Aside from the profound need for accessible public transportation, what could help? Withdraw armed police officers from traffic duties, just as they have been from parking and tollbooth enforcement in many jurisdictions. Introduce income-graduated traffic fines. Regulate auto lending with strict interest caps and steep penalties for concealing fees and add-ons and for other well-known dealership scams. Crack down hard on the widespread use of revenue policing. And close the back door to debtors’ prisons by ending the use of arrest warrants in debt collection cases. Without determined public action along these lines, technological advances often end up reproducing deeply rooted prejudices. As Malcolm X wisely said, “Racism is like a Cadillac; they bring out a new model every year.”


Vice (via), Aaron Gordon, 13 Dec 2022: COVID Vaccine Refusers Have 72 Percent Higher Risk of a Serious Traffic Crash, Study Shows

A disregard for their own safety as well as those of others.


Salon, Chauncey DeVega, 16 Dec 2022: Trump and his movement are symptoms of America’s profound disorder — but not the cause, subtitled “In a culture of pathological distraction where half the population is semi-literate, this isn’t a huge surprise”

(Again, no period at the end of Salon’s subtitle.)

Nothing here that hasn’t been said before, perhaps, except for the explicit identification of Trump supports as being “semi-literate.” This is certainly true of the various videos Facebook feeds me of reporters in the field asking Trump supporters their opinions about this and that; many of them are truly moronic, but of course the only ones who get into those videos are the worst ones. Still, you think, they vote too!

But again, is there a solution here? A solution to what? Authoritarian numbskulls getting into power, then tearing down what all the smart people built over decades and centuries? Their supporters don’t consider themselves a problem, but the solution. As they live in a society that depends on the technology and health benefits created by the smart people they dismiss as elites. Perhaps the greatest irony of our times.

(And let’s not get in to Trump’s announcement of his virtual trading cards, portraying himself as various kinds of superheros, which sold for $99 a pop, even though they’re only virtual. And have apparently sold out. This is your greatest president of all time, Trump fans? It’s embarrassing that this should be an American face to the world.)

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