Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dear Liberals, Stop Saying Pence is Worse Than Trump

Dear Liberals,

Please stop saying that Pence is as bad/worse than Trump.  To put it simply, Pence is a conservative, Trump is a fascist.  If you can't tell the difference then that is a you problem, not a Pence problem.  Yes, Pence is an extreme Religious Conservative, but you know what, conservatives get to win elections too.  If you can't differentiate between a threat to our democracy and a politician you disagree with it makes opposition to Trump come across as sour grapes.

Trump ran on a platform in direct opposition to the Constitution (Here's another better link), in collusion with foreign powers, is a walking conflict of interest, is a threat to the rule of law, and with his reckless belligerency is endangering human life on this planet.  That is not conservative, that is madness, and that is far worse than a very conservative president who acts within the law.  Anything that a President does that leaves the rule of law and our system of government with its checks and balances in place can be undone when the pendulum swings again.  That is how it works.
I always try to include a graphic, and this fabulous, detailed and huge infographic by Randall Munroe does an excellent job of capturing the complex, ever-changing ebb and flow of the left-right pendulum swings of our government.
I am not trying to downplay how bad Pence would be for a lot of people, particularly the LGBT community.  Yes, Pence hates gay people, wants to take away their rights to marriage and adoption, and has in the past appeared to support conversion therapy (if you are unfamiliar with conversion therapy, some methods have included electroshock, but I have not found any actual clear unambiguous support of conversion therapy by Pence).  So yes, Pence doesn't like gay people and doesn't think that they deserve or are entitled to equal rights and protections, but Pence is far from alone in this.

It is fortunately true that homophobia is in sharp decline in the US, and the majority of Americans believe in equal rights for homosexuals.  However, there was always going to be hard pushback on gay rights.  If Hillary had won the election it would not have meant that politicians who wanted to deny gay people the right to marry and who wanted to break up non-traditional families were never going to win again.  This was always going to happen, it was just a question of when.  That doesn't mean that the LGBT community should just say "oh well, no problem if you want to take my rights away Mr. Pence," of course the coming assaults on equal rights for all Americans need to be fought, I am simply arguing that you can't fool yourself into thinking that Pence is a wild aberration.

Pence is extremely conservative, but so is the majority of the Republican party (thanks to the ascendance of the Tea Party), and about half of the country is conservative.  And even if it was a smaller portion of the population that was conservative, we have a liberal democracy in this country which is designed to prevent the majority from trampling over the rights and voices of the minority.  We are all used to thinking of groups like African Americans and the LGBT community as minorities, but the Anti-LGBT crowd is actually a minority now, and they still wield significant power.  The same system that keeps anti-gay politicians from rounding up and imprisoning the homosexual minority also keeps the majority of Americans who think that all Americans deserve equal rights from silencing those who want to eradicate homosexuality.

The good news is that the majority of Americans no longer side with people like Pence (on LGBT issues), but the bad news is that anti-gay rhetoric is still very popular among the Republican base, which means it isn't going away.  It is division politics in its clearest form.  By catering to people who hate gays you can win your primary, and then once you have won your primary you have other wedge issues to campaign on to ensure that the unpopularity of homophobia doesn't cost you the election.  Anti-gay politics is not going away until the Republican party breaks from it cleanly, which will fracture the religious vote.  The last time a similar policy pivot was made by a major party was when the Democratic party abandoned segregation.  That shattered Democratic power in the South, and continues to this day, and that Democratic power in the South had been in place since the Civil War.  Decades later the Democratic Party has still not recovered in the South, and the fallout from that decision led to massive changes in the US political system that are still with us today.  This should give you a better idea of why anti-gay politics are not going away.

But I am not trying to convince anyone to support Pence.  I am a centrist, I don't support extremists on either side, and I especially don't support anti-gay politicians.  As far as I am concerned, gay people are human beings; that means that they are entitled to the same rights as anyone else.  I don't really understand how this is a political issue.  But Pence is not "worse than Trump."

If you want to effectively fight the rise of fascism, authoritarianism, and ethnic nationalism in the US then you are going to have to realize that conservative ≠ fascist.  Trump is not the same as other Republicans, and he is not conservative.  If you conflate the two then it means lumping the half of the population (and vast majority of territory) into the same pile.  That "Basket of Deplorables" rhetoric is a big part of what got Trump into office, and if you cannot distinguish between the moral depravity of someone like Steve Bannon and a politician that disagrees with you then it is going to be a very long road back from Trumpism.

I will quote David Frum, a staunchly anti-Trump staunch conservative:

The point of this post is that Trump is not just another conservative, and when you cast conservatives as the same or worse than Trump, then you empower Trump.  More than anything else right now I am struck by how the demonization of political opponents has paved the way for Trump and our scary slide toward authoritarianism.

This didn't start with Trump.  It also didn't start with Obama, but I am going to use Obama to explain why division politics are so dangerous.  Obama came into power on promises to bring change and to undo the authoritarian overreach of Bush II.  Instead, confronted with a steadfastly oppositional legislature, Obama doubled down on the authoritarianism.  Liberals have given him a pass on this since after all, as Benjamin Netanyahu has said to justify his belligerent approach to Palestinians, "there is no one to negotiate with."  When you can just blame the other side for intransigence, any measures taken can be justified.  But politics swing like a pendulum, and when we do not stand up to authoritarianism we invite worse erosion of the rule of law.  You might not have minded Obama's authoritarianism, but his actions have made Trump more dangerous.

Now we need to be clear about what we are opposing when we oppose Trump.  We are not opposing conservative values.  We are opposing fundamentally un-American demagoguery.  We are opposing authoritarianism.  We are opposing fascism.  We are opposing ethnic-nationalism.  We are opposing a short-tempered, corrupt, and unstable politician who will soon have the ability to start nuclear war based on his lack of tact and huffy truculence.

When you say that Pence is worse than Trump you turn all of that into "I don't like Republicans."  Stop it.  You don't have to like Pence, but don't equate him to Trump.

The Center Gnome
(AKA Jon Krier)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Now Is Not The Time To Run.

I'm not going to tell you that everything is going to be okay.  The chances of everything being okay seem about as good as the proverbial snowball's chance in hell.  Chances are very good that a significant number of Americans (specifically those with serious chronic illnesses) might not survive the next few years of our new government if the protections provided by the ACA are lost.  Chances are good that the families of people I love are going to be torn apart, and that people I care about will lose the right to marry and adopt (I presume that the constitutional protections against retroactive laws will protect the marriages of those already married, but we will see).  The government we have elected campaigned on promises to harm people I love, and that does not even consider the campaign of our presumptive President Elect, Donald Trump.

So no, I can't tell you that everything is going to be okay.  But I do want to tell you not to give up hope.  There is a future, and that future can still be better.

But for that better future to come we will have to stand and fight.


It has been hard to stay hopeful these last few days.  A man who campaigned on a platform of ethnic nationalism won the US election.  He won that election at a time when unprecedented obstruction by our legislative branch means that he will immediately be able to alter the balance of the Supreme court.  Simultaneously, the Republican party won both the House and the Senate.  This means, in essence, that despite our Constitution's careful system of checks and balances, Donald Trump comes into office with no branch of the government to oppose him.

Trump comes in to power following a campaign that saw unprecedented foreign interference in a US election.  Foreign interference on the part of Russia in support of Donald Trump.


Long ago, in those far off days of the 1990's the US had a monitoring program set up to keep North Korea from getting nukes in exchange for aid.  It was controversial, but it worked for as long as the US maintained it.  Following the 2000 election, Bush II decided to abandon the monitoring program in favor of stiffer restrictions on North Korea.  Following the 2002 US abandonment of the agreement, North Korea resumed their nuclear program, and in 2006 successfully tested a nuclear warhead.

Today we have a similar monitoring agreement with Iran (which had been on the verge of gaining nuclear capability prior to the agreement) which has kept Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities for the past year.  Donald Trump has promised to violate that agreement.  If Trump keeps his word, then it seems almost certain that we will have a nuclear armed Iran shortly thereafter.


Talking about Iran and North Korea might seem like a digression, but I bring the issue of nuclear armaments up because I fear that if the US ceases to act as a restriction to Russia's ability to act more openly and violently, particularly against Muslims, that we could end up facing a true clash of civilizations (If you are not familiar with Samuel Huntington's article The Clash of Civilizations? I suggest you familiarize yourself with it).  If that clash does occur, and if it involves nuclear armed nations on both sides, nuclear war is as likely as it has been since the end of the Cold War.


So how do those of us who value human rights and cultural diversity find hope?  Well I can't speak for you, but I can speak for myself.

My immediate reaction to Trump's victory was to start thinking about moving to Canada.  I know that this seems like a trite bit of hand-wringing, but I am serious.  I am a dual-citizen of the US and Canada, as is my daughter.  I actually can go.  I was motivated in my fear by the shocking rise in antisemitism I have seen in this country over the course of the Trump campaign.  Thousands of years of history also suggest that when ethnic nationalism picks up things get dangerous for Jews.  My immediate thought was that I don't want to wait for our synagogue to get firebombed before I get my family to safety.

But that is a false choice.  There is nowhere far-away enough in this world to protect us from nuclear war.  And even if the people who want to harm my family have been empowered, we are not on Trump's hit-list.  At least not yet.

Not everyone can say that.  My gay friends ARE on the GOP's hit-list.  My chronically ill friends ARE on the GOP's hit-list.  My Muslim friends ARE on Trump's hit-list.  And my Latin American friends and family ARE on Trump's hit-list.

Considering all the people who ARE in harm's way right now, it would be cowardly to run because danger MIGHT come my family's way.

If WWIII happens, then Canada won't be far enough away to protect us.  And if WWIII does not come, then we need to do what we can to protect those who are vulnerable.  In the face of this wave of dehumanization there is no moral choice but to fight.  I spoke to my ex-wife following the election to see if she had plans to move back to Canada.  I think she said it well when she said "There is no running away from this.  Neither do I want to, I think it's better to stay and be the change."


I can't tell you how to fight just yet.  I am still getting my bearings.  This is an uncomfortable place for me to be.  I have no choice but to consider the GOP the enemy until they repudiate ethnic nationalism.  And with the defeat of Hillary it seems that the liberal wing of the Democratic party is ascendant.  For a centrist like myself who doesn't particularly care for all of Bernie Sander's Democratic Socialism this is extra hard.  Yes, I support human rights, cultural openness, and environmentalism, but I don't really think of those things as political values, I think of those things as human values.  On the things that I do consider political values (economic policies, limited government, gun rights, reproductive rights, etc.) I am a mixture of positions.  There is no political home for me right now.

When it comes to how best to organize from here on out, I am not yet sure.  But I do know that we have to be vigilant, and ready to fight.  We cannot stand by idly when our government moves to harm people in our name.

To end off I will quote my friend Eric:


P.S. On the topic of people lobbying to try to get Electors to vote unfaithfully.  Yes, I understand that the electoral college was created explicitly to prevent someone like Trump from gaining power, but I feel very strongly that electoral college shenanigans could trigger civil war right now.  Trump is set to harm a lot of people, but open armed conflict in this country would hurt a lot more people.  This feels like a perilous time.  I do not support trying to subvert the electoral system. (I also consider there to be other value in having the Electoral College.  You might not agree, but here is a video that captures what I normally like about the system.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Well So Much for My Political Prognostication Powers

Since 1988 (when I was 8 years old) I have correctly predicted every presidential election.  For the last since 2004 I have made my predictions at least 13 months out.  I predicted Hillary this time, and I was wrong.  Sure, she won the popular vote by millions, but she resoundingly lost the electoral college.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Why I Can No Longer Morally Justify Voting for Republican Candidates

I usually avoid really sharply partisan posts in this blog, but I feel like I have something to say.  Plus, at this point, everybody has their mind made up about the Presidential Race.  I don't imagine I will change any minds, but I have things I want to say.


It seems like there have been a lot of things that have upset me lately.  It makes it hard to figure out what I want to write about when everything just seems to pile onto the mass of anger and sorrow I have been feeling.  The acquittal of the Malheur Occupiers a few days ago certainly triggered a major surge of anger for me.  The idea that armed occupiers who had seized control of the wildlife refuge for 40 days, while damaging public property, stealing government equipment, damaging archaeological sites, and interfering with curated archaeological materials, all while publicly documenting their actions and publicly proclaiming their intention to permanently take control of the refuge away from the government could somehow be found innocent by a jury of their peers boggles my mind.  When the handling of the Malheur Occupiers and their subsequent exoneration is compared with the ongoing #NoDAPL protests and the stunning relative lack of media coverage as hundreds are arrested while trying to protect water and cultural sites the irony takes on the aura of a surreal caricaturization of injustice rooted in institutional and individual racism.

The acquittal of the Malheur Occupiers makes me question the integrity of our legal system.

Have the forces of division and disunity in our culture become so pervasive that even the matter of guilt in the commission of publicly documented crimes can be denied by a jury?  It's as if the nature of reality is a partisan construct.  That is the only way I can understand the verdict.

The in-your-face racism of the response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests makes me question whether our culture is progressing to a more racially equal society.

The apparent lack of interest among those outside of indigenous circles, the brutality with which the protesters are being treated, and even the (unsubstantiated) law enforcement claims that the protesters have been doing things like shooting arrows at helicopters is amazing.  The worst part is that the total lack of real media coverage means that all that can be known about the situation is essentially competing unsubstantiated claims and social media memes.


But I think that the crescendo of anger, sorrow, and frustration that I have felt over the last few days was not just in response to the news, it was also rooted in a deeply personal space that may seem strange to some of my readers: For the first time in my voting life I did not vote for any Republicans.

I'm sure that for many people that would not feel like a cause for sorrow, but for me it is.  I couldn't bring myself to vote just for Democrats, but I feel that there is no morally justifiable way to vote for Republicans at this point.  Even as the Republican party has steadily lurched toward Constitution shredding institutionalized corporatocracy while flogging the pony of theocracy, I have been able to feel like there were enough individual Republicans trying to do good work for good reasons, that I could justify voting for individual Republicans.  But this election cycle has changed that for me.

Growing up, and throughout my young adulthood I always thought of the GOP as the grown-up party.  Yes, I disliked the explicit linkage of Christianity and politics (particularly linking Christianity with economic and social policies that are the diametric opposites of those espoused by Jesus), but I believed (and still believe) that empowered individuals, limited government, and personal responsibility are fundamental keys to a free society.  And I think that freedom is a virtue.  Despite the cleaving of the GOP to Evangelical Christianity, I still thought of the GOP as the party of limited government, prudence, and personal responsibility.  So even though I am a centrist, and have never been totally on board with modern Republican planks, I retained a fondness and partiality to the Republican party.  I'm not a conservative, but there are certainly conservative values that I feel at least partial agreement with.  If you want to understand the kind of conservatism I value, this article by Russell Kirk is a good example.

That was why the George W. Bush years felt like such a betrayal.  It wouldn't have felt like a betrayal for the Democrats to shred the Constitution, engage in wars of aggressive choice, and tolerate massive graft because that would have been more in line with what I would have expected from the party of Tammany Hall.  But from the Republicans it felt even worse.  Still, I could vote for individual Republicans.  I looked at people like Senator McCain and thought, there are still principled Republicans committed to good governance who understand the need for compromise.

Then I felt deep conflict in 2008 when the candidate I had wanted for president in 2000, McCain, finally got his chance.  But I felt that the leadership of the Republicans had taken the country into dire straits, and I wanted a regime change.  Sadly, Clinton did not win the 2008 nomination, but I was sure that Obama would still be better than four more years of Republican evisceration of the Constitution, rampant secrecy, and executive overreach.  After all, he promised to be more open, to pursue compromise, and to close Guantanamo.

In 2008, for the first time ever, I voted for a major party candidate for President of the United States of America.  I voted for Obama.  For change.  Instead I got Obama.  Who did not close Guantanamo.  Who did not curtail executive overreach, but instead doubled down on signing statements and executive actions.  Who did not govern more openly, but instead became the most secretive president in history.  Who did not rein in the transgressions against the rights of US citizens and shredding of the Constitution represented by the Patriot Act.  Who did not end the practice of Presidents waging unending wars at the sole discretion of the executive against nations that do not threaten us, instead he broadened the unilateral war making of Bush II into new countries and added assassination via drone to the US arsenal.  In short, Obama doubled down on everything that I had hated about Bush II.

But it didn't feel quite like a betrayal the same way.  In 2012, when the GOP nominated a candidate that promised no improvement on anything I cared about, reactive rollbacks of social liberties, and an even more irresponsible economic policy, I returned to my roots and voted for Johnson (Libertarian, my usual POTUS vote).

Yet I was unprepared for the 2016 primaries.  To make a long story short, the 2016 Republican field was narrowed down to a choice between a toddler and a fascist.  Cruz's whole platform is that he won't cooperate with anyone and he doesn't compromise.  That isn't conservatism, that is being a toddler.  I have a toddler at home, I know what I am talking about.

Then there was Trump.  Surely Trump had no chance.  This was America.  We fought against people who proposed ethnic cleansing as government policy.  We stood for religious freedom.  We stood for democracy and decorum.  We were the moral compass, the shining city on a hill.  We were America, and America was exceptional.  There is no way that the GOP could ever nominate a candidate who stood in opposition to every value I had ever associated with American virtue.


The nomination of Trump has shaken my belief in American exceptionalism.

If a man like Trump could become a major party candidate then the US was not exceptional.  We have no moral core to our beliefs that keeps us from becoming endlessly debased, corrupt, and violent.  Could it really be true that there is no moral and spiritual core to the American people that makes us any better than the forces of authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and ethnic nationalism we once fought so hard against?


I am not quite ready to abandon the idea of American Exceptionalism.  I still believe in the values of freedom, democracy, and personal liberty, and I still believe that the US has a singular importance in promoting those values and opportunities for all of humanity.  Let's be clear, I don't believe that the US has ever lived up to those values fully.  Nor do I believe that other nations are incapable of such values or leadership.  But I do believe that the US has had a unique spirit of always trying to perfect our union.  A spirit of always trying to live up to our values.

Because I do not think that the values that we must try to achieve are truly achievable.  Perfect freedom, equality, democracy, and personal liberty are ideals we strive for.  But one of the keys to truly becoming better, as individuals or as a country, is to always have our guiding principles be aspirational.  If you can actually live up to your own standards, then there is no room to improve yourself.  You cannot become better than what you are unless you accept your own imperfection and then try to improve your flaws.  Your reach must always exceed your grasp if you want to become better.

And that is what I feel is the truly exceptional and uniquely American value that makes us exceptional, our reach.

The very first line of the US Constitution is "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union..."

(The full Preamble: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.)

The first line of the founding document of our government and nation is a statement of a People reaching for the ungraspable.

You cannot make things better unless you first acknowledge that they are not perfect.  This means on the one hand that hypocrisy is essential to improvement.  We cannot demand moral perfection as a prerequisite of those trying to make things better.  That also means that denying problems is an obstacle to the betterment of our society.  You can't fight racism if you deny it exists.  You cannot repair the relationship between the public and the police if you deny that there are problems on both sides.  And you can't improve the public's relationship with the government if you deny the need for a government.

That for me is the heart of American Exceptionalism, and that is what I have believed has made our nation great.  It is not wealth or military might that makes America great.  It is not even, as Hillary likes to say, our goodness.  What makes America great is constantly trying to be better than we are.  That means that it is our patriotic duty to acknowledge our imperfections, but the belief that we CAN be better is what allows us to in fact become better.


Donald Trump does not believe in American Exceptionalism.  He is not alone.  I have many friends and colleagues who no not believe in American exceptionalism.  In fact I expect that I will catch a lot of flack from my Anthropological peers for defending the idea.  But I do believe that the US is special, and historically, the political home of that belief has been the Republican Party.

But no more.  The GOP has nominated a candidate who disbelieves in the greatness of our society.

Donald Trump wants to bar Muslims from entering the country.  He wants to bar almost a quarter of the world's population from the US.  That is clearly in direct contravention of the first line of the first amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  The US certainly does not have a spotless record when it comes to freedom of religion, but to my knowledge Trump is the first candidate to run on a platform that includes doing away with the First Amendment protection of religious liberty.

But that is not what scares me most about Trump.  Trump's promotion of ethnic nationalism scares me much more, and that starts with another constitutional amendment that Trump wants to do away with, the 14th amendment.  The first line of that one is "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."  Trump wants to get rid of birthright citizenship.  The worst part is that this is not just Trump, it seems that much of the Republican party has decided that American-ness is an ethnically derived quality.  Just witness the rhetoric around the idea of an "Anchor Baby."  The very concept of an anchor baby is that such children are not true Americans.  In an immigrant nation that is a pretty astounding claim.  If that idea had held currency in the past then no one who is not of Native American ancestry would be a real American.  The idea that there is some group that can be considered "real Americans" is the very heart of ethnic nationalism.

Nationalism is the idea that a nation is made up of a people (As opposed to being made up of people).  A separate, defined people, different from all others in the world.  For example, the Jewish People, the Ethiopian People, the German People, the Chinese People, etc.  The idea is that each of these peoples should have their own country independent of other people.  In order for there to be "real Americans," rather than just American citizens, it means that there has to be a distinct people who make up the entirety of the American People, and that those American People have the right to exclude all others from the nation.

For an example of this idea in action, consider Trump's claim that a US born judge was incapable of judging him fairly because he was a Mexican.  Trump believed that the ancestry of the judge precluded him from being an American.

But Trump does not simply stop at the promotion of ethnic nationalism.  What I find scariest about Trump is that he actively promotes ethnic cleansing, and his supporters love him for it.

Make no mistake, when you claim that Mexican is an ethnicity that is not American, and then you call for a force to be created dedicated to the rounding up and deportation of "illegals" you are calling for ethnic cleansing.  There is no two ways about it.  And there is no moral justification for ethnic cleansing.


When Trump calls for a wall between the US and Mexico, he is calling for a physical manifestation of the other-ness of Mexicans.  A physical proof that those people belong on that side, and we belong on this side.

When he calls for a halt to Muslims entering the US, he is calling for an explicitly religious partitioning of humanity.  And he is making the claim that Americans inherently cannot be Muslim.

When Trump says that he will make "America Great Again" he is arguing that the root of America's greatness is ethnic in nature.  That there is something in the American ethnicity that has been contaminated and debased by immigrants and Muslims.  And he is arguing that the way to restore American greatness is through cleansing America of those ethnic contaminants.


Of course, no scapegoating ethnic-nationalist ethos is ever satisfied with just labeling people as others.  The world is full of examples of what happens when ethnic-nationalists come to power.  In the US we tend to go straight to Nazis, but they are far from the only group to engage in ethnic cleansing, even limiting ourselves to the 20th century we have examples all over the world.  There is no continent or religion that has been immune to nationalism.  For example, there is a tendency in the US to think of Buddhism as somehow above such things, but the Sri Lankan Civil War is an excellent example of Buddhist ethnic nationalism and ethnic cleansing.

Unlike Trump supporters, I can not think of the ethnic others as strangers.  In particular, as an archaeologist and father of a Jewish family, I can't help but think of the history of ethnic nationalism in the West.  Everybody gets fixated on the Nazis, but for roughly the last 2000 years, every time a Western power has whipped up the fires of ethnic nationalism the Jews have burned in those fires.  The closest that the Jews came to extermination was not actually the Nazis, it was the Romans.  According to Constantine's Sword the grand total ended up being about 90% of Jews being killed by the Romans, and the remainder were sent into diaspora.

And from that time on there was a seemingly endless series of atrocities and pogroms.  In the Crusades, while Muslims may have been the main enemy, Jews were also collateral targets.  I won't go through a list (you can find a partial list here if you want), but the example that comes to my mind is the Spanish Reconquista.  The Reconquista was the cleansing of Muslims from the Iberian Peninsula; but, as is always the case, the ethnic cleansing did not stay tightly focused.  Jews were persecuted and murdered for centuries.  The Spanish Inquisition was famously brutal and terrible in their persecutions.

But you might wonder what 2000 years of repeating history has to do with today.  Okay, you are probably only wondering that if you don't like history, but let's get to specifics.  Trump has not explicitly called for violence against Jews.  Sure, he re-tweeted an obviously antisemitic anti-Hillary picture, but he claimed it was supposed to be a "Sherrif's Star."  And Donald Trump actually has Jewish grandchildren thanks to Ivanka converting and marrying Jared Kushner.  But that has not stopped Trump from repeating claims by Alex Jones.  And that has not stopped Trump spokespeople like AJ Delgado from re-tweeting things from prominent antisemitic voices.  A specific example my friend Ben brought to my attention was:

By itself, this tweet seems innocent enough.  But if you go to TheRightStuff's feed you can see the tweet they put out before that one:

And if TheRightStuff's other tweet doesn't seem that bad to you, then I will state that TheRightStuff is also the originator of the alt-right movement to put (((echoes))) around the names of Jewish journalists.  And if that still isn't enough for you I will point out that TheRightStuff's avatar is an oven.

A fucking oven.

But surely I am catastrophizing.  Surely, even though Trump is advocating ethnic cleansing, even though Trump is advocating religious criteria for being American, even though Trump and his proxies pander to antisemitic groups, and retweet antisemitic messages, surely conflating all of that with a pattern that has been pretty reliable for thousands of years I am being needlessly alarmist.  Just because Trump retweets crap from people who apparently want my daughter put in an oven doesn't mean that there is anything antisemitic about his movement...  right.


Let's be clear here.  I don't think Trump hates Jews.  I just think he doesn't care enough to not stoke the flames if he thinks it helps him.  And he certainly has helped bring antisemitism back in a big way.  Speaking anecdotally, a few years back I was telling a story to a group of my college classmates that involved the derogatory term "kike."  None of those 20 somethings even knew what the word meant.  Today I get to hear about 20 somethings getting called "kike."

Trump is advocating for the ethnic cleansing of Mexicans and Muslims.  The problem with ethnic nationalism is that it does not obey rules, and it doesn't stick to scripts.  It is an ugly problem endemic to all human cultures.

But I had always thought that the US was an exception there.  I didn't think that ethnic nationalism could take hold here.  That the great American melting pot could turn into a refinery.

But Trump doesn't believe in American Exceptionalism.  He doesn't believe in freedom of religion.  He doesn't believe in pluralism.

And the Republican Party nominated him for President.  And that is a betrayal I cannot forgive.


At this point I cannot imagine anything less than a radical reordering of the GOP that would make me feel comfortable voting for them again.  No party that is willing to stand behind a candidate advocating for ethnic cleansing can be supported.

Trump stands in opposition to just about every American virtue I can think of.  He stands in opposition to the values that the Republicans have claimed for decades.  Trump stands in opposition to fundamental human decency.

And a party that stands with Trump is a party that needs to end.


Maybe someday I will get to feel morally okay with voting for a Republican again, but that won't happen until the Republicans abandon the Trump base.  I would like the party of Lincoln to stand for American values and our exceptional reach once again.  I'm not about to become a Democrat, but I can't imagine voting for a Republican any time soon.

And for now:

Good night, and good luck.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Who Should You Vote For if You Hate Trump AND Clinton? (Especially if you are in Alaska)

Who should you vote for?  It depends...

Mike Rowe makes a good argument in support of the idea that if you cannot be bothered to educate yourself on issues and political worldviews, then perhaps you should not vote.  He argues that voting is a right, like the 2nd Amendment; and, like the 2nd amendment, that right is not a duty.  You are not obligated to own a gun that you do not know how to use, and you are not obligated to vote for leaders whose positions you do not understand.

I take a different view.  It is perhaps not a coincidence that I think that gun safety training should be mandatory for all Americans.  Because I believe that in a country where gun ownership is a right, you have the obligation to gain a functional understanding of what guns are and how they work even if you choose not to own or operate them.  Likewise, I believe that all Americans have an obligation to educate themselves about our political system and to make their voices heard, even if they do not choose to vote for one of the two major party candidates.

Even if your vote goes against mine.

Even if your vote is for someone who can't win.

In fact, especially if your vote is for someone who can't win.

This is probably the image you have of US electoral maps.  The 2004 electoral map that was seared into the American consciousness as the modern normal polarization.  The common phrase in 2004 was the United States of Canada and Jesusland.  For the last quarter century this has essentially been the political partitioning of the USA.  In any given election there has been variation in battlefield states, but the essential shape of the geographic divisions stays pretty stable.  2004 was unusual in having all of the battleground states vote Republican, but this is essentially the electoral world that more than 60% of Americans have known.  If you are under 46 then you have not voted in an election where the outcome was not dictated largely by geographically determined tribalism mixed with a smattering of battleground states.  For most of us, presidential elections have essentially been the urban archipelago against the rest of the country.

Sure, in any given election there are factors that can sway certain individual states.  Bill Clinton was able to swing more Southern States along the Mississippi than subsequent Democrats, but even in 2012's very lopsided electoral victory, the basic shape of the American divide remains visible.

But it wasn't always this way.  The major parties did not always have the luxury of simply having to appeal to fractured demographics.  Once upon a time Politicians tried to persuade the whole county that they were the better candidate.  We used to see electoral maps like:

While geography clearly played a role in the 1964 election, it played a much smaller role.


But this doesn't answer the question of who you should vote for, or why.

Obviously, if you feel that one of the two major party candidates truly represents a political philosophy that you support then you should vote for that candidate.  However, since both candidates have majority unfavorable ratings, the chances are very good that you do not feel that either candidate is a good candidate.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I actually do like Hillary Clinton, and I think she is an excellent candidate, as I have written in the past.  However, my personal support of Hillary in this election, and my abhorrence of Trump is not the basis for this post, nor is it tied to the party affiliation of either candidate.)

For a great many Americans pondering the candidates this election, the idea of choosing between the lesser of two evils has never been more extreme.  If, as immortalized in the ERB between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the 2012 election was seen as choosing the "shiniest of two turds," the 2016 election is seen by many as choosing between two world devouring devils.  Do you vote for the evil treasonous Killary, or the racist nationalist Drumpf?

My position is that, if you feel that way, you should vote Libertarian.  It is never wrong to vote your conscience, and if you cannot bring yourself to vote for any of these three options, then feel free to write or vote for the candidate of your choice.  But a vote for Johnson should not be viewed as simply a vote against either of the two main candidates, it can be a vote for a future in which the parties actually have to appeal to the country, not just their bases.

The widespread dissatisfaction with the two main parties is nothing new.  And yet, despite quadrennial griping about choosing between the lesser of two evils, in election after election only two candidates get any electoral votes.  The last time that any third party candidate got an electoral vote was 44 years ago.  And in that election the American Independent Party (AIP) won as many states as the Democratic Party.

(If it is unclear what issue the AIP campaigned on, the 1968 electoral map should make it clear.  The AIP began as a segregationist party working to undo the Civil Rights Movement.)

Both of these maps reveal a very different America from the one we know today.  It should come as no surprise that rapid change in issues surrounding civil rights can cause major instability.  The 1960's were marked by massive social changes and upheaval, and that upheaval marked the last time that large numbers of Americans were angry enough to act against the two party system.


In a lot of ways we are at a similar point today.  We are a country locked into ongoing expensive foreign wars for opaque reasons.  There is major conflict over civil rights, including friction over extending the definition of who can marry (back then it was about miscegenation rather than gay marriage, but the arguments on both sides were the same).  And then, as now, unrest over police brutality and racism was leading to massive protests and frequent rioting (people opposed to contemporary civil rights reform like to pretend that the 60's civil rights movement was all MLK, sunshine, and rainbows, but that is a patently false misrepresentation).

In the late 1960's neither major party was willing to be the party of segregation and Jim Crow, and so that led to a fracturing and the emergence of the AIP.  Whereas the Republican party has remained steadfastly against Gay Rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, women's reproductive rights, police reform, and addressing racial inequality.  The Republican party has also been trading heavily on anti-Muslim sentiment.  All together this has meant that the even though the Republican elites had maintained a more measured practical stance on governing based on small government and free market they were pandering rhetorically to a socially regressive base.

In this election cycle the decades of divisive rhetoric resulted in the Republican party nominating a candidate who is essentially running on an AIP platform.  In fact, Donald Trump and Pence are in fact the AIP nominees in this election.  Rather than trying to appeal to the majority of the population, the nomination process has become so centered on division politics that the Republican candidate for President is literally the same person as the American Independent Party candidate.

In a political ecosystem dominated by division politics, the extremists determine the shape of the national debate.  Neither party is trying to represent the entire country.  In earlier eras extremist and fringe political movements were the third parties.  Today the major political parties pander to the Fringe elements while trying to actually nominate far more centrist candidates.  The nomination of Trump and the major insurgent movement by Bernie Sanders illustrate the ways that the division politics ecosystem has made political positions that were once fringe into powerful elements of the parties' bases (I am not equating Sanders to Trump, but Sanders as a Democratic Socialist does represent a set of positions far to the left of traditional Democratic nominees for the last 80 years or so).

In the past third parties represented the fringe.  Today the major parties represent the Fringe and no one represents the majority of the population.  Today we need an empowered third party to drive the major parties back to campaigning on governance, rather than on division.  The largest third party in the US is the Libertarian Party.


The Libertarian Party is not really very centrist, but if they can capture a significant portion of the vote it could force a more diverse set of voices into US political debate.  The Trump campaign is seriously threatening the cohesion and viability of the GOP.  The Libertarian Platform is in many ways closer to a traditional Republican platform than Trump's platform.  If enough voters abandon the major party candidates it could lead to a fracturing of the Republican party.  I doubt the GOP would be supplanted by the Libertarian Party, but it would necessitate a major shake up.  My hope is that it could lead to a more powerful centrist party.

But the only way that we as a country can get parties that do not campaign based on dividing the country into Balkanized tribes is by forcing a realignment.  The best way to do that is to vote in large numbers for a third party.

Realistically, barring some Earth-shattering revelations the chances of Trump winning are minuscule at this point.  As of the writing of this post, Trump is polling so badly that Arizona is potentially in play as a battleground state, and Arizona has only voted for a Democrat once in the last half century.  A vote for Trump is not realistically a vote against Hillary at this point, it is just a vote for Trump.  But a vote for Johnson is a vote against the system that gave us the choice of Trump or Hillary.

I'll admit that Johnson has not shown himself to be adequately informed or prepared to be President of the United States of America, but I cannot conceive of a scenario that allowed him to win the election.  But if Johnson could win a state it would be a major moment in US political history, and it could loosen the stranglehold of the current political system.


Why is this particularly important if you are Alaskan?

Alaska has a history of voting heavily for third party candidates.   In 2000 a full 20% of the Alaskan vote was for Nader.  That was 4 times as large a percentage as the closest state.  In current polls Johnson is not far behind the two main candidates in Alaska, and by some polls third party votes might actually be beating Hillary.  Johnson has a real chance to win Alaska.

Alaska is not likely to ever decide a national election, but if Alaska did vote for a third party it would send a very strong message, and it would change the nature of the the 2020 Presidential Race since it would show that third party candidates can win states in modern America.


So to sum up, if you actually support a candidate, vote for that candidate.  If you like Trump, vote for him.  If you like Clinton, vote for her.  If you like Johnson or Stein, vote for them.  But if you are really just angry at the system that gave you Trump and Clinton, I think you should vote for Johnson.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Knife Review: Spartan Harsey Folder (SHF)

The Spartan Harsey Folder.  This particular one that I reviewed is a custom version that I bought from Spartan Blades.  The standard versions are either all stonewashed or all black.


It's finally here!  My Spartan Harsey Folder, the aptly acronymed SHF.  This is the knife whose future existence I teased in my review of the Lone Wolf T2.  At the time of that review the SHF was still in development.  Now that I finally have mine in hand and have had a month to test it out, I have to say it was worth the wait.  Given the fact that the SHF won 2016 American Made Knife of the Year at Blade Show, I'd say that other people feel the same way.

The SHF is a knife with a lineage.  Renowned knife designer Bill Harsey has designed a number of iterations of knives similar to the SHF over the years, but he really hit a home run with the Lone Wolf T series.  Unfortunately Lone Wolf went out of business, and so the T2 design went defunct.  Bill really wanted to make sure that when he brought the design back that it was an improvement, and the best knife it could be.  After some successful collaborations with Spartan Blades they developed the SHF, which is an all metal, framelock version of the knife.
My little collection of Harsey designed knives.  You could say I am a fan.  From left to right: The Spartan Harsey Difensa, the Gerber Applegate-Fairbairn Combat Folder, the Gerber Applegate-Fairbairn Covert Folder, the Spartan Harsey SHF, the Lone Wolf T2, The Tacops Falcon (designed by Bill Harsey and Chris Reeve), and the Fantoni HB-02
The T2 and the SHF side by side
The result is something more than a remake.  It is a new knife.  Stouter and more, well, spartan, but also refined.  The T2 was an amazing value at the time (the pricing on the resale market for the Lone Wolf T2's is comparable to the SHF these days), it was a great quality knife for the price.  The SHF on the other hand is simply an outstanding knife.  It's price is comparable to other high quality American made knives in its bracket, but there are no compromises made to keep the price down.  So it costs more, but the SHF doesn't have fiberglass reinforced nylon (FRN) handle scales like the base model T2 either.  The SHF shares the fantastic ergonomics of the T2, but there are a lot of little differences.  And this review is about the details.

The TL;DR review summary: 
This knife is a special knife.  It is pretty big, it is not super light.  It is solid and impressive.  It is exquisitely balanced, and a very good slicer, especially for a modern tactical style knife.  The thumbstud deployment takes some getting used to, and the lockup seems a little too early for my tastes.  But on balance, I think this is an outstanding knife.

The Version Reviewed is a Custom:

The SHF usually comes in one of two versions, the all stonewashed version, or the all black physical vapor deposition (PVD) diamond-like carbon (DLC) coated version.  I have a personal distaste for handles that look like the blades (and honestly, a prejudice against metal handles in general), so I didn't really want the all stonewashed version.  On the other hand, I don't like black coated blades either.  I just personally don't like them, and I don't like my knives to be too intimidating to people, and black coated blades seem a little too "tactical" to me.  So I decided to be a little picky.  This knife costs between $450 (stonewashed) and $500 (DLC Coated), so for that kind of money I want to make sure that I get exactly what I want.

Spartan Blades' first production run of the SHF went out as pre-orders to retailers, so there wasn't a chance for me to get a customized one in that first run.  The second production run was when Spartan Blades was able to get their system ready for more rapid production, and since I had been in touch with Spartan on an ongoing basis they let me know when they had more knives coming up for sale.  I asked if it would be possible to get a knife made with the black handle and the stonewashed blade.  Kimberly at customer service told me that they were getting ready to do some customs, and that she would let me know when they were ready to start making them.  I was very surprised that it was just a week later when she let me know that my custom knife was ready.  My patience paid off in the opportunity to have a knife made for me to my specifications, and I am quite happy with it.

This is the most expensive knife I have ever bought, and it is the first custom knife I have had made for me, so it is a first for me in those ways.

Let's Start With the Specs:

  • Blade Length:        4"
  • Overall Length:      8 13/16"
  • Finish:                    Black PVD (Handle), Stonewash (Blade)
  • Blade Thickness:   0.154"
  • Thickness:              0.5"
  • Blade Steel:           CPM S35VN
  • Blade Hardness:    58-60 RHC
  • Frame:                    6AL-4V Titanium
  • Weight:                   5.888 Oz
The SHF is a substantial folding knife.  Coming in with a four inch blade and an overall length of almost nine inches when open.  That said, this knife does not seem overly large.  It is a good sized knife for general use in my opinion.  Some people might prefer a smaller knife (or live in a jurisdiction that bans knives of this size), but for my money this size knife is just right.  Plus the handle size is a great fit for my hand.
The SHF in my hand.  Note, I have pretty big hands which is why I usually avoid having my hands in the picture, but it shows the handle fit for me.
The blade on this knife was given a stonewashed finish, which is one of my favorite finish types.  A stonewash finish is created by... tumbling the knife with pebbles.  It is what it sounds like.  In my experience stonewash finishes feel pretty low friction, and they are more resistant to corrosion than bead blasted finishes.  Additionally the stonewash hides scratches pretty well, which helps keep the blade looking nice.  The stonewash finish also keeps the blade from being too reflective if that is a concern.
I feel like this image captures the stonewash finish nicely.  The bright high-desert sun also captures the subtle prismatic effect of the DLC coating in bright lights.  While no one would call DLC sparkly, it is subtly prismatic for a very subdued iridescent shimmer.  It is really only noticeable in full bright sunlight, but it is one of my favorite minor details.

The steel of the blade itself is the very fancy supersteel CPM S35VN.  This is a very tough, hard wearing, corrosion resistant, stainless steel that is able to take and hold a very keen edge.  It is a particle steel, which as I have written before is made with science magic.  The fantastic performance has something to do with carbides... I think.  I'm no metallurgist.
The blade stock of the SHF seems to be a little thicker than the T2.  I didn't break out my calipers, but I'm pretty sure.

The handle is titanium, which translates to an extremely solid feeling knife.  I was initially surprised that the knife still felt surprisingly (to me) heavy in the hand.  I expected the titanium handle to allow for a very light knife, like with the Fantoni HB 02.  However, the thick slabs of Titanium (while strong) are not milled out at all, and leave the knife with a substantial weight.  I wondered about that heft initially, until I checked the balance:
That balance is right at the index finger groove.
The knife balances right at the index finger groove.  This is the same point of balance one finds on Harsey's knives like the Difensa.  Having the balance a little back of the blade, right at the fulcrum of the index finger provides a lively feel in the hand.  Bill Harsey has made his reputation designing tactical and fighting knives, and this knife reflects that, and manages to capture the same balance point in a folding knife.

A Note on the Clip:

The T2 on top, with it's tip-down clip, and the SHF below with its titanium tip-up clip.
One of the big changes between the T2 and the SHF was changing the pocket clip from an obligatory right-handed tip-down clip to a left/right reversible tip-up pocket clip.  I personally prefer a tip-down clip since I usually carry my knife in my back pocket.  Plus the T2 clip was one of my favorite things about the old design, and it fit my hand more unobtrusively than any other pocket clip I've used, despite the beefiness if the clip.  That said, I actually wanted the SHF for use in the field, and I typically wear pants with back pocket flaps in the field, which makes the front pocket carry of the SHF actually a bonus.  Also, the titanium clip is strong and fairly unobtrusive in the hand.  Plus, the arrow cutout is pretty cool in my opinion.



I feel that CPM S35VN is an excellent steel, and a good fit for a knife in this price range.  I'd say that the steel is an unequivocal positive.  I know that some steel snobs might prefer a more esoteric steel (like S90V or M390), but for balance of metal characteristics I think S35VN is hard to beat in a tactical/EDC knife.  Additionally, Spartan Blades has a proven track record with their heat treatment of S35VN.  They know how to get the most out of the steel, and the performance has been excellent.

Blade Finish:

As I stated earlier, the stonewash finish is one of my favorite finishes for a knife.  It's attractive, hides scratches, and it provides a lower friction coefficient than a DLC/ZRN coated blade, especially when wet.  I like the easier slicing a lot, especially in a blade that has some thickness.


I really think the blade on this knife is excellent.  I was initially a little sad that Spartan was not offering a full-flat-grind option on the blade (like my T2 Ranger), but I was willing to accept the modified spear-point sabre-grind blade for an all purpose knife.  It has been my experience that sabre-grind blades tend to not slice as well due to the more obtuse angles and increased thickness.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the slicing performance of the SHF has been quite impressive.  Even though the SHF is thicker at the terminal bevel than the T2 Ranger was, the terminal bevel grinds and blade geometry work to create a blade that is the equal of the Ranger for the cutting tasks I have put it to.

(The SHF actually is even better at apple slicing than the Ranger, which is handy since my two-year-old demands that I slice up her apples one slice at a time daily)

A final nice feature of the blade is the jimping.  The jimping strikes a neat balance between echoing the jimping of the T2, and also recalling the jimping on Spartan Blades' fighting knives.  The jimping is effective, but not obnoxious, and manages to strike a good balance both in performance and aesthetics.  It is the little things that really make a knife for me.
A look at the jimping


The handle, while nice, is one place where I really missed the T2.  The wood handles and radiused edges of the T2 made for a handle that really melted into the hand.  The all-metal handle and chamfered edges of the SHF make for a knife that has a much more positively grippy feel in the hand.  You feel the SHF much more than the T2.  The chamfered metal looks and feels more modern and agressive.  I liked the old fashioned feel and look of the wooden handle.

In actual use I found that the SHF performed nicely, and the handle did not result in hot-spots on my hands.  The handle jimping is attractive and effective.  And the knife is very comfortable to use, and the same excellent ergonomics are there.  But I miss the soft rounded comfort of the T2.  Of course you can't buy a new Lone Wolf T2 anymore, because the company is gone, so the comparison is unfair.  Even more unfair since the wooden handled version was uncommon even when they were getting made.  The SHF handle compares just fine with other production Harsey designs currently on the market, like Fantoni's HB series.

It is worth noting as well that all of the screws and standoffs on the SHF are also made out of titanium.  That detail is a part of the reason for the cost of the knife, but it is a neat detail.

Locking Mechanism:

The locking mechanism on the SHF is an integral frame lock with an internally mounted Hinderer Lockbar Stabilizer (a patented feature licensed for this knife).  Since the handle is also the frame of the knife, a part of the handle functions as a spring and moves in to lock the blade in place.  The mechanism is similar to a liner lock, but with a liner lock there are handle scales over the metal frame.  The advantage of the integral frame lock is that when you hold the knife handle it actually holds the lock in place, which provides additional reliability.  The frame lock is very popular, particularly on high end knives.  I personally prefer liner locks, but that is because I am biased against metal handles, and I dislike having different materials on different sides of the handle.  But this is a detail where my tastes run counter to most folks who buy higher end knives, so I am pretty much out of luck.

(Note on lock terminology: with frame and liner locks, early or late refer to how far the lock travels over the blade tang when the lock engages.  Over time, like years, the metal wears down where the lock engages, and this means that over time the lockup gets later.  An early lockup means that even as the metal wears down there will be plenty of additional surface to ensure secure lockup.  However, if the lockup is too early then the lock can fail to fully engage, which can be dangerous.  Three Sisters Forge has a patented adjustable cam [stop pin] that allows for lockup timing to be adjusted, but they are the only ones I know of with this feature, so in my experience you are mostly stuck with the lockup you get from the factory.)

The locking mechanism on the SHF is probably my biggest issue overall with the knife.  The lockup is very early.  There is no issue if the blade is flipped open using the thumbstud, or simply opened with a little authority, but when the knife is opened gently with two hands the lock fails to engage.  Over time I am sure this will change, and it is not an issue for me in normal use, but when I let people borrow the knife they tend not to be "knife people" and try to be too gentle with the knife, which creates an unsafe situation.


The deployment of the SHF required some learning on my part.  The strong detent and shape of the thumbstuds meant that the knife actually did not work with quite the same hand movements I was used to.  Additionally, the extremely smooth opening (comparable, in my experience, only to a Sebenza) meant that when I did get the knife opening, the blade flew out way faster than I was used to/expecting.  I expected the knife to open exactly the same as my T2:

However, the SHF is not the T2, and nowhere was this more evident than with the deployment:

As you can see, when the thumbstuds are used right, the blade pops right out.  With practice this became easy to do, and quite satisfying, but it did involve a learning curve.  I was used to a controlled opening arc, and the SHF essentially just needs to get launched.  At the end of the SHF video I demonstrate the pinch method that I have found works easiest for me if I want to do a controlled arc.
Note the grooves leading to the thumbstuds.
The best tip that I can offer for opening the SHF is to use the thumbstud access grooves as a guide.  The grooves guide your thumb-tip to the correct angle and position to open the knife with ease, but the mechanics are a little different than I was used to.

Fit and Finish:

The fit and finish of this knife is absolutely outstanding.  My only complaint is the too-early lockup, but otherwise I detected no irregularities, misalignments, assymetries, or flaws.  The knife was literally flawless as far as I can tell.  This is the first knife I have owned that I felt exceeded the build quality of the Fantoni HB 02 (of course the HB 02 costs about half the price, but Fantoni makes fabulous knives).
A comparison photo with the Fantoni HB 02
The factory edge on the knife was very sharp, and is still the only edge put on the knife thus far.  I have had no need to resharpen the knife.  I have been very pleased with the edge on this knife.  The edge seems a great balance of stable geometry and... sliciness (for lack of a better word).  It cuts like a dream.

One last touch that I really liked was having Bill Harsey's signature on the blade.  It is a little touch that makes me very happy.
The William W. Harsey signature.

Use Review:

In use this knife has performed excellently.  It works very well for most every task I have used it for.  As a modern style folder, it simply can't compete with a little old-fashioned slipjoint knife for apple slicing, but even in the apple slicing department it outperforms other similarly sized knives.  The excellent ergonomics make the SHF a very handy all-purpose knife.  It handles most kitchen tasks very well.  Most any cooking task that calls for a petty knife can be handled ably.  And it also slices up cardboard cleanly and chops through blackberry vines nicely.

One particular use where the SHF really outperformed my expectations was in whittling.  I have not really found modern folders to be very handy for whittling for the most part, but the SHF actually makes a pretty decent whittler.  I whittle when bored, and so I am happy that the SHF actually tackles that task ably.


The SHF really is a different knife from the old T2.  The shared lineage, similar appearance, and design of the SHF invites comparison, but the two knives feel quite different in use.  The T2 is still my absolute favorite knife of all time, but I really feel like the SHF is actually a nicer knife in almost every way.  The quality of the SHF is certainly top-notch.

The SHF is a spendy knife.  The price is comparable to other high-end mid-tech production knives (Hinderer, Strider, Chris Reeve, etc.), but that price is still awfully high for your average knife buyer.  That said, for myself, I am very happy with this purchase.  I fully expect to get decades of use out of this knife, and I find it a pleasure to carry and use.

The SHF in nature

I just love the green of that high desert lichen

A nice view of the blade with the signature

Knife in nature

Knife in nature

And one last knife in nature

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Racism and Bears: How systemic racism leads to minorities viewing police as predators

There is so much I want to talk about right now, but I cannot talk about everything at once.

I've written before about how the social contract between the public and the police in this country needs to be renegotiated.  We've never truly come to a real cultural agreement about police in this country.  And I think that the lack of a real understanding of what police are leads to these cycles of violence.  I wrote that post two years ago during another round of killings by and of police.

I've written before about how gun control, Second Amendment rights, and police militarization are linked and all applied very differently to black people in America.

I've written about how "common sense" type weapons laws are actually used to abuse and persecute minorities.

I've even written about how complicated actually trying to understand violence statistics is, and how many ways there are to mess up data with subtle errors.  And that is assuming that there is no agenda, and when people (including myself) write about violence there is almost always an agenda.

And yet there is ever more to talk about.

I want to talk more plainly about things I've already touched on.

I also want to talk about what police go through.  The dangers they face, the things they have to experience, and how little attention their heroism and sacrifice receives.

I want to talk about the problems of police being used as revenue generators by governments.

I want to talk about so many things, but what I want to start with today is by trying to explain how structural racism works.  I want to explain why complaining about a racist system is not the same as calling police racists.  It's not.  I realize that I will probably fail to change many minds, but I need to at least be able to say that I've tried.

Philando Castile, even though this article doesn't focus as much on Mr. Castile, I still felt that he is emblematic of this current cycle of violence by and against police.  Particularly since he did nothing to become an emblem of violence.

I'm going to start my explanation with an example and position that I am sure will be seen as wrong by many:  The Police Killing of Alton Sterling was justified.

As far as I am concerned, based on the video, the police were totally justified.  Despite having two police officers on top of him trying to subdue him, Sterling was still clearly struggling with the officers.  Even if he had not been armed (which he was), continuing to resist at that point would have been monumentally inadvisable.  Alton Sterling had a gun in his pocket.  You can shoot through a pocket.  Police were responding to a report that he had already threatened someone with his gun.  From the perspective of the police they were going to arrest an armed suspect who had already demonstrated dangerous actions.  When you are armed and police are arresting you because of reports of you threatening people with a deadly weapon, continuing to resist goes from being monumentally inadvisable to being suicidally inadvisable.

But notice that I am not saying it was suicidally stupid.  Because the question of why anyone in that situation would be so unwise as to foolishly invite lethal actions by the police leads us to try to understand the ways that racism affects people and groups.

Why was Alton Sterling struggling with the police?

He knew he was armed.  He knew there were two cops on him.  He sure as heck should have been smart enough to realize that you don't get to shoot your way out of a situation with police (at least almost never).  And yet he continued to fight.  Overwhelmed, outnumbered, and out-gunned, he fought vainly and suicidally.  There was no possibility of anything positive coming from his actions, but he struggled.

There is a comparison that I can offer that I draw from my Alaskan upbringing.  He fought like he was being mauled by a grizzly.  When you are attacked by a grizzly there is really nothing you can realistically do to make yourself survive once they have their jaws and claws on you.  You might survive, but not because you really have a chance of killing the bear.  And yet people fight back.  If you are going to die anyway then maybe you can take the bear with you.  And sometimes miracles happen.

I cannot say what was going through Alton Sterling's mind, or whether or not he thought things through when he decided to struggle, but my suspicion is that he wasn't thinking.  My suspicion was that he went into fight or flight mode, and flight wasn't an option.

But why?

For myself, if police came to arrest me, I would not resist.  Even if they abused me and violated my rights I would not resist, because I know that no good can come from it.  Plus, not resisting increases my chances of surviving, and if they do violate my rights it puts me in a better position to turn around an sue them.  My underlying assumption is that the police are not going to kill me, and if they break the law I have the resources to sue the police.  (This underlying assumption is pretty much the dictionary definition of privilege)

For many white people it is easy to point to the ways that so many people killed by police seem to bring it on themselves.  When you assume that the police aren't going to kill you it changes the way you perceive them.  To go back to the bear analogy, many white people's relationship with police is a lot like urban environmentalists relationship with bears.  People who don't have to worry about getting eaten by bears think of them as beautiful creatures that serve a vital ecological role.  People who do have to worry about getting eaten might still appreciate and respect the ecological role that bears serve, but they don't want the bears near them.  Because they don't want to get eaten.

If you are one of vast majority of Americans who are statistically less likely to be killed by police it is easy to assume that #blacklivesmatter people are being overly dramatic, and that all people need to do to not get shot by cops is to not do stupid things.  But if you are part of the 14.5% (13% African American, 1.2% Native American, source) of Americans that are more than 3 times as likely to be killed by police as white Americans (source) then it doesn't seem so dramatic (Native Americans are actually more likely to be killed by police than blacks).

It just so happens that this week provided an object lesson in why so many dark skinned people fear the police.  Philando Castile was a law abiding, licensed firearm carrier, and school employee.  He was killed despite following the rules, and complying with the police.  Killed by a police officer while in a car with his girlfriend and her four year old daughter.  After he was shot he was allowed to bleed out rather than receiving prompt medical attention.  The killing of Philando Castile serves to effectively confirm the idea for many people that even if black people follow the rules the police will still kill them.

(Just to be clear here, I do think that the killing of Alton Sterling was justified, and I would be shocked if any inquest found otherwise, but the killing of Philando Castile is unquestionably minimally Manslaughter in my opinion.  If the officer who shot Philado Castile is not minimally charged with manslaughter I feel it would be a gross injustice.  But I want to avoid going too far down the rabbit hole of parsing what killings are acceptable, and which are not.)

This is where we start to see the real impact of systemic racism.  I am NOT talking about the killing of Mr. Castile in this case.  While I have no doubt that race played a key part in Mr. Castile's death, that was an individual act.  The real impact is in the reinforcement of the narrative that police kill black people for no reason.  When black men get killed for no good reason by police officers, and then the police officers get away with it scott free, it supports the idea that cops are looking to kill black people.  And that idea of persecution is self-fulfilling.  If the cops are just going to kill you anyway then why not go down fighting?


We can talk all we want about the importance of respecting police, but you can't really respect someone you think is trying to kill you.  It's like respecting bears.  You can respect bears, even if you are scared of them, but when they get their claws on you then you can't really respect them in that moment.  This is the effect that a racist system has between those who are discriminated against and those who are charged with enforcing the system.  In the aggregate it doesn't matter if most cops are good and non-racist, the environment of fear and distrust that has been created is self-reinforcing.  If a population responds to police doing their jobs like they are rabid bears then those police are going to get used to having to fight, and that population is going to have ever more reasons to believe the cops are after them.


And let us be clear, the police do a dangerous job.  There are roughly 800,000 sworn officers in the US which comes out to roughly %0.26 of the population.  In 2015 130 of those officers died in the line of duty (source).  That means that the death rate, in the line of duty, for police officers in 2015 was 16.25 per 100,000.  For comparison, the homicide rate for the US in 2013 was 5.1 (source, figure 18).  So police are 3 times as likely to die in the line of duty as the average American is to be killed by anyone.  So far this year there have been 59 officers who have died in the line of duty, which puts us on pace for a similar death toll.  One of those officers killed this year was Steven Smith, the brother of a friend, a 27 year veteran, and very much the epitome of a heroic police officer.

Law Enforcement Officers are very much aware that they have dangerous jobs, and they would have to be mentally incompetent not to realize that certain groups are far more likely to get violent with them than others.  On individual levels this is frequently wrong, but people would have to be inhuman not to make associations.  Danger can feel color coded for cops and blacks alike.  African Americans learn to fear blue, and Police learn to fear brown.  That is simply human nature, and there is only so much that can be done to address this problem without addressing the underlying racist structures that create this situation.


Because we really can't understand how this situation where blacks view police as predators arises without understanding the ways that police are saddled with fundamentally racist law enforcement priorities.  Those are not priorities set by the police, those are priorities set by elected leaders.  There is plenty of attention paid to the ways that black people are scapegoated and vilified in the media, but the police are also convenient scapegoats for elected leaders who don't want to admit that their own actions force police to behave in racist ways.

In particular here I am referring to the doctrine of "broken windows policing."  Broken window policing is based around the idea that if you aggressively go after visible symptoms of crime that you will drive down crime rates.  This approach does work, and it is great for property values.  If you eliminate the visible signs of crime then people are more willing to invest in properties, thus property values increase.  New York city is the prime example of this.

But visible signs of crime is effectively code for visible signs of poverty.  What broken windows policing does is it criminalizes poverty.  When property values are driven up it drives out lower income people.  In the case of New York, since the 1990's values have gone so high that families with six-figure incomes can barely afford (and often can't afford) apartments.  This is great news if you are a property owner, and as a politician you get to brag about how you've gotten rid of crime.  Rudy Giuliani became a nationally prominent politician based on how effectively he criminalized poverty in New York.

But it is a problem if your skin color is a visible sign of poverty.  Not all brown people are poor, but a higher percentage are than pink skinned people.  And that is really how racism works.  You don't pass a law that makes it illegal for black people to be in a neighborhood, you pass a law that makes it illegal to do things that poor people do.

Here is a scenario:
More lower income people smoke than higher income people, so if you jack up cigarette prices you will disproportionately cause hardship for poor people.
If you make it harder for poor people to buy packs of cigarettes you will increase the purchasing of single cigarettes, so if you pass a law banning single cigarette sales then you will create a demand for an addictive good that can now only be satisfied illegally for many poor people.
Now that you have created a demand for illegally sold single cigarettes the local government can set an enforcement priority on cracking down on people selling single cigarettes.

That is how Eric Garner died.  He was selling cigarettes, because the New York City government created a demand that disproportionately affected poor people, who are disproportionately minorities.  And those laws specifically included criminalizing a behavior common to lower income people (resale of loose cigarettes), and then policing of that crime was prioritized as a part of a broken windows strategy.  Then Eric Garner died while resisting arrest for selling cigarettes.

The national dialog focused on the apparent racism of the police choking a black man to death for selling cigarettes, but it didn't address the fact that those police were doing their jobs enforcing a racist system of policies designed to persecute the poor.  Those laws aren't limited to cigarettes, that is just a specific high profile example.  I have also written in this blog about New York's knife laws that have clearly racist application and orientation.  Police in New York have the power to make almost any modern folding knife illegal if they want (even though those same knives an be purchased legally), and people who work physical jobs (lower income) need knives at work more, and so those laws once again disproportionately affect black people.


This is what people mean when they talk about racist systems.  Saying that there is racial inequality in the US is not about saying that individual cops are all racists, it is about saying that there are structural elements in our society that systematically negatively impact minorities.  Too often people on the side of law and order take cries of racism as personal accusations of bigotry.

Explicit racism is certainly dangerous when we are talking about lynchings and cross burning type stuff, but it is the systemic issues that perpetuate racial inequality.

An individual racist is fairly easy to avoid.  In today's world there aren't many people who tolerate open racism.  But it isn't bigots who are the real power behind racial inequities, it is all the people who fail to acknowledge the racist structures that perpetuate violence and discrimination.  It is politicians who pass laws and policies that discriminate against poor people and then don't acknowledge their complicity in killing poor people.


Eric Garner died because police were enforcing racist laws.  Those kinds of racist laws lead to feelings of persecution among minorities.  Those feelings of persecution lead to inappropriately violent confrontations on both sides.  That is why people like Alton Sterling continue to struggle when they should just lay down with their hands on their head.  And then killings like Alton Sterling's lead to increased agitation, and scapegoating of police leads to retaliatory shootings like in Dallas.  Then the police feel targeted.  That leads to cops getting extra jumpy when doing routine things like pulling someone over for a broken taillight.  That leads to innocent people like Philando Castile getting shot for no good reason.  And those types of unjust killings, precipitated by fear, perpetuate the fear and violence that drives this endless cycle.

That is how racism works.