28 April 2014

Sterling v Eich

In contrast to the Mozilla situation, the Clippers' owner is in a different place

1) He has a demonstrated history of actual discriminatory behavior. Indeed, he's settled lawsuits for having black and Hispanic renters evicted from his properties that he owns (Sterling's main income comes in real estate). Eich was to be running a company that had numerous inclusive policies for homosexuals as employees even where the government did not require them.

2) He has a demonstrated history of saying absurdly racist things. Eich did not.

3) Eich gave some money to a political campaign that was at the time marginally popular and remains only marginally unpopular, however morally problematic I find that behavior for the cause it promoted, it is a much smaller gesture on the scales of bigotry. Sterling gave some money to a political campaign (NAACP) in order to cover up the fact that he's a dick essentially.

I don't know how much direct pressure can be placed by the league to remove him, but I do know that if nothing happens and the purported statements are true, the Clippers players (and coach) may play slash and burn to get out of LA quickly and they won't be attracting free agent talent for many years, or may have difficulty even getting a team on the court next year. Sterling has never cared about this futility of his team as long as he made a profit (his team is among the most famously inept in all of sports throughout his tenure as owner), but there are new requirements of minimum salaries that may reduce that ability to keep making money off of a bad team. It may not even be practical and profitable for him to continue to own the team even if the league cannot remove him over these statements and documented history of bigotry.

24 April 2014

brain dump

1) Game of Thrones so far has been good. With much going on. (Spoilers hence)
a) Arya finally gets back on the scoreboard. The Hound is still a poor companion to travel with, but better than most. As he might say
b) Baelish has a rather spooky reappearance and continued ruthless pragmatism. "Gold can buy a man's silence for a time. A bolt to the heart buys it forever" is not quite as good as the chaos is a ladder speech.
c) Joffrey, in case people didn't know, dies. Commencing most of the season's whodunit routine to kick in (but immediately setting that in place with a "I did it" routine that everyone on the show must then figure out, poorly)
d) Dany continues to be a badass. Dragons are going to be a big problem soon.
e) Dorn sounds like a fun place. This might have something to with Oberyn having an orgy every other scene he is in though.
f) Tywin's use of the Socratic method to school poor Tommen was worthy of Socrates too. The Socratic method is designed to get people to arrive at what you want them to arrive at, not to reason together. "Oh you have listed a virtue, here let me find the worst possible exemplar of that virtue. Pick another" is a fun game for a self-serving power-mad man. That entire scene with Cersei's nearly silent protests is very reminiscent of the sequence in season 2 with Arya telling him anyone can be killed for how well the silence speaks.
g) I think they mangled up the Jamie-Cersei scene. Badly. I have a hard time understanding the "well she doesn't want it, but then she does" as something that isn't a rape or isn't a problem for both of their characters' arcs. This has a lot to do with how it is depicted. I do not think it was somehow intended to calculate a degree of sympathy for Cersei. The previous sequence with Tywin was. That was not (she was asking Jamie to kill their brother after all). And I do not think it was intended to calculate a degree of "oh yeah, Jamie's a bad guy" either. His arc in the book makes more sympathetic than almost anyone (Tyrion, Dany, Jon, and Sansa being the possible exceptions).

2) I do not have a strong opinion in the great ranchergate standoff or whatever it is. From what little attention I have paid it, it seems like a conflict between the power of states to tax and the power of states to create takings, both of which to be enforced by court rulings, versus the recognition of states of the rights of individuals to own property and to use that property unmolested without unwarranted government seizure. Despite this apparently libertarian-ish theme, it is not crossing my typical political radar screen and isn't so over-the-top sensationalized in what I do see that it commands unreasonable quantities of media attention like the Malaysian airliner disappearing to make it unavoidable as a story.

In truth I do not find it very interesting except as another narrow anecdotal point about armed people who don't want to pay taxes. The fact that there are apparently snippets of him making absurdly racist and ignorant statements about slavery and the welfare state does considerable violence to any contention that he should be regarded as a heroic figure in this context.

My mostly-libertarian-ish politics may find resistance to government incursions worthwhile, but I also don't think it worthwhile to oppose the precepts of the existence of property as a commodity, which in effect requires the existence of those states to protect it. Eminent domain abuse or the related concept of asset forfeiture laws are very common issues that run through libertarian threads, but they typically are ignored in coverage where they are most commonly used (eg, against poorer people or minorities). If this entire hullabaloo encourages more reporting and coverage of such things where they impact all people, and not just favored classes such as reasonably wealthy ranchers as private land owners, I would consider that a success. I do not think most of the people cheering this on would.

05 April 2014

The culture demands a commentary

1) McCutcheon. I would place myself in the camp that says this is a refinement and potentially an improvement over Citizens United. I was in a camp that was already roughly in favor of CU though, and have not been persuaded that it negatively impacted national elections. It's possible it does violence to local and state elections by promoting more extreme candidates. But to me those were elections that were already in grave trouble from public choice theory problems as local and state politics are cheaper to influence and the solution was not going to be limiting the amounts of money involved or the sources of that money. The problem to me was never about "corporate personhood" or "corporate free speech", but rather the ability of government to limit speech by placing limits upon the sources and amounts of funds for political campaigns. I have a hard time seeing how transferring funds to organisations advocating for positions one agrees with, or ideals one would like to see promoted, is not a manner or method of speech that was being constrained. I don't care that it was a corporation or unions or advocacy non-profit corporations who are the ones paying for that promotion.

The main improvement is that money in the actual political parties is intended to be more transparent. SuperPACs are intended to be somewhat also, but in practice have become ways to obscure sources and intentions of funding for political advocacy. If Sheldon Adelson or George Soros wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a political goal, I would rather that we in the swelling masses of not super rich people would be able to know about it and that it be clearly connected to the fortunes of particular candidates or issues that we may decide whether those are candidates or issues we wish no longer to support, or wish more to support, on these grounds.

What I don't like is the strengthening of political parties. I'm not a fan of the two-party model. I'd rather we just have greater and greater transparency on the money used as speech that is clearer what a political entity wants to achieve by that speech. I'm somewhat less concerned about who that entity is so much as what they are saying, what policies they support, and who they support as elected officials.

2) The Mozilla-internet situation.

Speaking of people spending money on advocacy.

This I view somewhat differently and skeptically than say, Duck Dynasty. Silicon Valley has it's own sometimes conservative, sometimes ultra liberal, culture surrounding the operations of major firms there, but so far as I am aware, it does not as a whole tend to stake out an notable-anti-gay agenda in the treatment of consumers and employees either. So the idea that the CEO of one of those firms gave money to an anti-homosexual agenda some years ago is notable in that it is probably an outlier and does demand some explanation and response by that figure to a consumer and investor public.

Here's where it becomes a strange comparison to the vilification of the words and actions of social conservatives however. What has he said since then? If we consider that various states have since overturned or passed pro-gay marriage and civil union laws, that obstructions by the federal government have ended, and that various major political figures have "evolved", it would be reasonable to give some benefit of the doubt that these may or may not be currently held views, and it would be reasonable to reward any evolution, however slight, toward a more progressive or inclusive and tolerant view. It is also reasonable to presume there has been no evolution, and that these views are not recanted but rather the topic changed to the behavior of the company suggests perhaps there has not been a grand personal revelation amending his views.

It is less reasonable, but still plausible given the actions of the company, to extend a benefit of the doubt that opposition to gay marriage in a legal sense was not also including a general hostility to the treatment of homosexuals. That is to say, that our understanding of the opposition to same-sex marriages is sometimes very narrow itself and that this makes it more difficult than it needs to be to make reforms and improvements to the status quo. Even as it rapidly changes. The likelihood is indeed greater than there will be many people caught in a middle ground of their own personal views or discomforts and misgivings which may be small or slight, and willing to adapt to overcome these failings, but finding it more difficult by an environment which does not permit these misgivings to be voiced and debated that they may be reformed and advanced and overcome. These views are distinct from the great waterfowl debacle late last year, where these are current views, hardened by ancient religious textual interpretations and expressed openly and consistently.

The one we may find can be forgiven, permitted, and accepted over time. The other is not so much in a view moving toward a tolerant and egalitarian society and will ultimately, if not already, become a regressive and vilified view, unacceptable in polite society. This can be itself unfortunate, but the level of misfortune is far less significant if people disassociate themselves from current views and expressions of co-workers, family and friends, employees, corporations, and so on than if we must also disassociate ourselves from every past view and expression, and can accept or allow no progression or apology in the development and acceptance of other human beings in dealing with other human beings who are in some manner distinct from ourselves. I do not know if Mr Eich privately holds views as repugnant as those of the duck people clan, or those of the Phelps clan, if one wants to find ever more repulsive social expressions, or if he ever held such views and has realized the error of his ways. But it does not appear that he has given those views a public airing either, so it seems strange to assess that he does, or does still on the basis of actions taken some years ago, versus actions which were more supportive of same-sex couples and relationships through company policies he supported or permitted as an executive.

It does not however offend me greatly that his donation to a particular cause, and his lack of presenting some form of evolving view in contrast with them, attracted the attention of consumers and they organised in some format to protest or boycott the company on his the matter of his appointment. This seems like a use of speech that is permissible also, even if it not always wise or not always this effective.

3) Captain America 2. I'd say that other than the Avengers movie itself, this was probably the best of the Marvel movies so far. The last round of them did much better than the previous one (IM3>IM2, Thor and Cap 2 > originals). Iron Man 1 still has some competition on it but that one had a unique advantage in that there were not really other characters upon which to build a plot so it revolved entirely around the most interesting character making things up as he went essentially. This has a plot and gives people some interesting things to do instead. Spoilers ahead, some.

Lots of little touches to the comic book fan, couple of amusing easter eggs for other films (Jackson's most famous role being among them). There are some obvious lines being set up for the future run of the Captain America-Avengers films (even without the obvious X-Men-ish crossover set up in the end credits).

Fight choreography. Considering they use a UFC fighter for one of the fights, that might have something to do with it. But it's generally much crisper and longer than the slapstick insanity of Thor or Hulk running around hitting things. It's essentially a super-hero martial arts movie in parts. Nobody has the speed of a Bruce Lee (or Stratham or Li) for a fight but it also doesn't have to go all-out CGI for once to be entertaining.

Black Widow. They gave her a lot to do and made much of it more spy-like beyond running around in a war zone as in Avengers. Which finally made her more of a character. She still hits and shoots people of course.

Falcon. Mackie was very good in that role. That becomes an actual character in his work. Iron Patriot/War Machine/Rhodes still isn't quite in that role in the Iron Man movies after 3 appearances, other than "Iron Man sidekick". Falcon already is in that role in half of a movie with Captain America with a back story and motivations and abilities.

Plot was basic and predictable, but the film thematically touched on the "why is the government spying on us?" and "how do we know who to blow up" problems of many current government policies. Other than Iron Man (with the sort of war-monger set of the US selling weapons abroad or to domestic sources and in Iron Man with the government trying to seize Stark's invention), and some quips in Avengers here and there, Marvel films have been distressingly, even grossly, apolitical. Considering that many other big budget action films end up with some stupid and completely bizarre political views getting a lot of air time (anything made by Michael Bay for example), it was nice to get at something approaching a perspective in between things going boom.

This basically results in Captain America: civil libertarian. As if he would be anything else.

Funny. Not as funny as Iron Man or Avengers, but it lacked a good comic actor/foil for that without RDJ/Stark around.

There are some touches, as with IM3 on the sort of emotional toll these missions and world-saving accomplishments take. It's connected here to Rogers/Captain and Wilson/Falcon losing their friends in combat, which is undoubtedly a major part of the stress and emotional pain of fighting wars. And also the questions over who and what you are fighting for, whether it was worth it, what did it really do to make the world a better place?

Ending felt like it tapered off rather than resolved much (Iron Man 3 felt this way too). There's some touching on Snowden vs NSA style activities, but it feels like they left that unresolved. Presumably if Captain America had leaked what Snowden did, or had what Snowden had, we in the public might think of the motives in a different or clearer way than we do about Snowden, but it's unclear to me that this should be enough to protect even him from the government reprisal.

Redford lends some old style connections to the 70s era paranoia of government activities films (3 Days of the Condor comparisons are overdone, but it is similar in some respects). But he doesn't seem all that engaged or committed to some ideology he is to be portraying. That makes the villain part more reliant on some other bit players to be the sinister or dangerous parties. Winter Soldier himself was not an actual character so much as an occasional source of explosive combat. (yet). Between those two, it lacks the punch of having Loki or Joker or Red Skull from the first film as a chaotic foil against which the hero is pitted and must stop on a philosophical grounding.