Saturday, October 3, 2015

Gun Safety Laws, Mass Shootings, and the Iraq Invasion

I enjoy the challenge of trying to explain the right to the left (I'm myself near the center - a pox on both their houses, etc. - which gives me some perspective). Here are my previous efforts at right-whispering (this one is a good start).

I hate guns. All they've ever done is maim my loved ones. But I've lived in urban and suburban areas, where they're not part of a legitimate culture. If it were up to me, we'd melt them all down, but I recognize (and am apparently rare in the recognizance) that we share the country with other cultures and values, which deserve consideration and compromise.

Whenever these mass shootings happen, many people, understandably, advocate for tighter gun control. But the more intelligent, less emotional voices on the other side make good points:

1. There is nearly one firearm for every man, woman, and child in the US. So "lots of guns" is a given for the foreseeable future. It's politically unfeasible (not to mention unconstitutional) to take firearms away from their lawful owners; so any proposal hinging on meaningfully reducing guns is demonstrating Trumpian intellectual integrity. If the mass shooting problem is to be addressed, it must be done with the assumption of a landscape flush with guns as a given, whether we like it or not.

2. The crazies will always find access to guns. We can try to tighten their access a bit (mostly to the inconvenience of non-crazies), but crazy people tend to be, if nothing else, persistent. And further stigmatizing and segregating the mentally ill would be no solution (who among us, for one thing, is completely mentally well 24/7?).

3. I'm no expert, but I gather that current gun-control/safety proposals would likely have prevented scant few of the mass-shootings we've seen in recent years. This point seems well-conceded by pragmatic voices on the left.

To me, that last one is pretty convincing. Since it's already unlawful to kill innocents with guns, further legislation either needs to be very smart, or else simply fulfill a kneejerk desire to "do something", and good government oughtn't work that way. And, alas, no one claims to have the smart answer. Leaders shouldn't simply flail, even amid horror.

Let me be clear: every single gun safety law I've heard about makes abundant good sense to me. I'd love to see them all implemented! The gun trade is horrendously under-regulated, and most Americans are sane enough to recognize that we need to tighten them. But none of them would prevent the shootings we're seeing. These solutions wouldn't fix the problem.

That's why the right is outraged by these seemingly common sense proposals. Remember after 9/11, when neoconservatives seized the opportunity to invade Iraq, a long-time to-do item for them - for reasons completely unrelated to 9/11? And do you remember how the rest of us screamed our heads off about exploiting tragedy to pursue unrelated political aims? That's how the right feels when liberals renew pushing for gun control (always on their to-do list) after these tragedies, when those laws wouldn't prevent these sorts of tragedies any more than Saddam's demise would have prevented 9/11. It's not that they're against gun safety. It's that they've spotted the misdirection, and it gets their backs up.

Another thing to remember: anytime you hear astronomical statistics on American gun violence cited by the left, know there's a catch. Suicide accounts for way more than half of it - though it's seldom noted by gun-control advocates. So it's not just the right who bugger statistics and blur fact. Dissemblance makes people mistrustful, and mistrust explains why sane conservatives, otherwise inclined to gun safety laws, push back so hard against them.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

No One's Deleting the Chowhound Archives!

At the bottom of a long comment thread in reply to an old posting to this sparsely trafficked Slog, I noted that when Chowhound is no longer economically viable, it will be turned off, along with the incredibly important archives (I also ripped into a commenter who'd cavalierly and wrongly insisted that archive loss was a non-concern).

So now people are in a panic, worried that CBS is about to delete the archives. Rumors spread fast when people are upset. Sigh, sorry about that.

As I reassured hounds here, there is NO reason to think CBS will EVER delete the archives so long as there's a Chowhound on the Internet. The archives are a huge part of the attraction!

But if the "Fuck CBS!" paramilitary partisans were to succeed in killing all Chowhound participation (they have nowhere near such power; it ain't gonna happen), the archives would die with it...and that would be bad news for all Chowkind. So my point was "be more careful what you wish for". That's all.

I've long urged more people to open more forums, and I wish luck to everyone doing so now. May their communities flourish, and may Chowhound benefit from some welcome churn and new blood at year seventeen in its long history. Everyone eat, post, and be happy!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

More Chowhound Redesign Angst

Another day, another email from a disconsolate Chowhound member (here was the last one).

Hi Jim --

You don't know me, but..... Is there any chance I could prevail upon you to use your considerable power [sic] to do something about that disaster of a new site?

You've no doubt seen the reactions of others. I was hoping I could take advantage of a desire on your part to preserve the incredible gem you created.

THANK YOU, in advance, just for reading this.
Hi! Thanks for writing!

Some historical perspective for you. The old Chowhound site, while I ran it, delivered 100mb index files to every user every three clicks or so....over dial-up connections. If you’re not technical, what I’m saying is that the software was almost completely unviable. It was sheer torture to use. It was something to work around and put up with. (Here's an explanation of how this came to be, though you may want to read this series from the beginning).

It also worked really well to ensure that the only people who stuck around through the duress were really serious food lovers. To this day, whatever level of expertise remains in force is due to that adversity, which did a fantastic job of filtering our usership by repelling nearly all the casual eaters.

No doubt, this redesign was awful. It’s almost unusable. But it’s still way more usable than it once was. Here’s the thing: the hounds who remain, who squat within this awkward new landscape and calculate ways to work around it, will be awesome. The community will be better than ever. All the causal ditzy users will give up and split.

I’m not a masochist, but I kinda look forward to apocalypse. Great things happen amid ruin. That’s where humanity does its best work. Make people comfortable in the perfect software environment (or any other perfect environment) and they'll get lazy and ditzy. That’s when the Olive Garden people took over. Now they'll be gone (and hopefully CBS will keep the lights on in spite of the traffic dip).

Just some very long view perspective; hope it helps!


My previous posting about this redesign spurred many comments. I think my final reply within that comment stream managed to get to the heart of things. I'll reprint it below:
What really makes no sense are the folks in total anguish about losing this really important community and part of their existence, when there really is nothing chasing them away.

Exactly. Even as one of them even insists it's about people, not software.

I've seen the same happen after every make-over, upgrade, and re-do of every online forum I've ever run or participated in. Even when the changes are smart, reason has no part of the response. Freaking out and acting irrationally (e.g. the notion that a FB group would provide a better environment) is what humans do when their communities are radically upended.

It's easiest to understand by visualizing reaction if real-world communities were radically and unilaterally changed overnight. Even if you woke up to discover that the water faucets pour champagne, there'd be extreme angst. It's deep. It's limbic.

Obviously, this ain't just software. And companies like CBS Interactive should understand that change (even positive change) must be gentle if you don't want to outrage the citizenry. And, 20 years into Internet culture, community members should have learned that they're ALWAYS forced into workarounds. The old workarounds feel comfortable, and the new problems will spur new workarounds that will come to feel equally comfortable. We're all squatters; always were, always will be.

But, no. It's the ancient dynamic of ham-handed administrators and anguished users. They can't even hear each other.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Famous Rosa Making Orecchiette

Holy crap. I had no idea this is how orecchiette are made. You can stop around the 2 minute point.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chowhound Redesign (and the urge to stomp away in a pique)

Chowhound's completed a ghastly convoluted redesign, making the site so crazily flexible that no one could possibly make use of it.

For years now, I've heard complaints of CBS's neglect of the property, and have frequently reminded people that neglect is not necessarily a bad thing (see "Leff's Four Scenarios of Authority" here). Now we're seeing the proof - i.e. what happens when authorities get their hands all up in it. It's not pretty.

So I just got an email from a longtime user:
Hi Jim,

The new chowhound site design is awful, so I'm helping migrate [my local user community] to a Facebook group. I recognize Facebook Groups might not be the perfect platform choice, but I figured the reach provided might enable the communities to get back to critical mass. Perhaps you can suggest others setup similar local groups (that can be loosely strung together)? Would be sad to see such a great global community die as a result of this redesign!
I'll offer my reply publicly, in case it's of use to others.


I'd urge you to carefully weigh, clarify, and separate issues in your mind.

It would, as you suspect, be super uncomfortable using Facebook for this. It will be particularly hard to access/search previous discussion, and, as you know, previous discussion's where the gold is.

So you can scout alternatives, e.g. Google Groups and other forum communities, or the installation of forum software on your own server, etc.. Any solution will involve huge compromises; none will feel "right". But, after much consideration, you may settle on something, at which point you may need to recruit a techie to set it all up, plus you'll need to get word out to participants.

Then you'll need to moderate the discussion, and that's a nightmare (for an idea of what's involved there, see my tale of the sale of Chowhound, where I reveal what goes on behind the curtain). Even if you make it private and keep out the kooks, it will be no surprise to any student of human nature that groups of people resist management, so bad feeling is inevitable. Unmoderated discussion, even in a closed group, quickly devolves to useless chat, off-topic sprawl, and fighting.

I'm leaving out a couple dozen other hurdles, but understand that, no matter what, you'll kill yourself to maintain a community amid an uncomfortable, inadequate, ill-fitting software environment.

Or… can use CBS's current uncomfortable, inadequate, ill-fitting software environment, with no time/work/recruitment/tech/moderation overhead whatsoever.

I feel your pain. I understand the impulse to angrily walk away. But consider what you're walking into. No matter what, you'll have to find clever workarounds to make wrong software work, but, hey, Chowhounds are good at workarounds! Finding workaround to the current obstacles would be eminently saner than leaving in a huff and finding yourself out of the frying pan and into a fire. OTOH, I wish you godspeed (and vast deliciousness) either way!


See also the commentary, below, as well as this follow-up posting.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sucrose = Fructose

Guess what? The high-fructose corn syrup furor was yet another trumped-up diet hysteria. Sugar, in any form, isn't good for you, especially in excess. But it's been proven that high fructose corn syrup's no worse.

See: Consumption of Honey, Sucrose, and High-Fructose Corn Syrup Produces Similar Metabolic Effects in Glucose-Tolerant and -Intolerant Individuals

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

5 Minute Tacos

After thousands of experiments, this is the most reliable, fastest, easiest taco recipe I've devised. With no prep, you can be eating delicious chicken tacos within five minutes.

The principles, obviously, also work with other proteins.

Applebee's Forever

Still going with the Applebee's.

Monday, September 7, 2015

I'm (Provisionally) for Lessig

I can't vote for any of the Republicans. I believe immigrants are the engine of our economy (plus I value diversity), I don't think taxes are too high, I think austerity's a self-defeating approach to recession, I've had it with dim-witted neo-conservative hawkish hubris, and I prefer an evenly-split Supreme Court (a Republican's appointee(s) would skew it firmly conservative for at least a generation).

Plus, I'm incensed over a few Republican moves that struck me as near-treasonous - the government shutdown brinksmanship, the letter to the Iranian mullahs insisting we won't honor an elected president's negotiated treaties, and the openly-stated policy to oppose literally every Obama proposal from day one (no matter how much the nation might need it, like the Jobs Bill), including even Republican-originated policy such as the Affordable Care Act. The Democrats were certainly obstructive under Bush, but nothing like that. Dems came together for the good of the country (and, re: the Military Authorization Against Iraq, for the bad of the country, too). You can put party ahead of nation, but you'll have certainly lost my vote. Buh-bye.

Hillary's a hawk (pretend long enough and it freezes), and I honestly suspect something's seriously wrong with her (if you're Hillary Clinton, you do not give scandal-happy foes red meat like this clunk-headed email situation, which was perfectly avoidable; it eerily reminds me of Bill and his blowjobs).

I admire some of Bernie Sanders' positions, but while I've long ago outgrown my Libertarianism, and no longer see the government as my enemy, I recoil from someone so callow as to call himself a Socialist. As I once wrote:
I wouldn't want to return to 1973. We went too far. You could feel society slogging and smell the rot (and pay a tax rate north of 90%). 1973 could have made a Tea Party partisan out of any but the most fervid of current liberals.
Sanders seems downright fond of 1973. And while no one president has the latitude to sharply change a society's direction, I'm mistrustful of his hand on the rudder. Like Trump, he strikes me as more of a venter than a political pragmatist. The left rues Obama's half-measures, but he's gotten an enormous amount done via patient and skilled realpolitik. He's been an incredible centrist president (and I suspect history will judge him so). And Bernie ain't that.

That leaves Lawrence Lessig, who declared his candidacy yesterday after raising $1M in small donations. As someone who creates for a living, I was incensed by Lessig's "Information Must Be Free" shtick - his defense of file-sharing, etc.. I saw him as pandering, and found it hypocritical from a guy who writes expensive books, himself. In fact, I at one point planned to dump the sum total of Lessig's on-sale writings into public domain, but finally decided not to, because it would have harmed his publishers.

But he's right on this one. He announced yesterday he's definitely running for president, and you ought to read his statement, which is short, readable, and persuasive. He'll be a one-issue "referendum" candidate; the plan is to win office, effect drastic campaign finance reform, and immediately quit. I agree that the issue of money in politics precedes all other problems (for example, climate change will never be addressed unless we ease the chokehold of billionaires on's one of many issues the people want addressed but the donor class does not).

I'm not normally a referendum kind of guy, but I agree this issue has developed into a cancer, and must be stamped out. Even if Lessig loses, his support base will register with the other candidates. I want to see that base be huge. If you feel likewise, please consider contributing (so he can communicate more) and spreading the word. Let's all be his collective billionaire.

In the end, it will all come down to the quality of Lessig's VP candidate (the person who'll actually serve). But for now, I'm in.

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