Shaun King: unwitting tool of white supremacy

Shaun King is a black lives matter activist. I follow him because it’s good to see what points others have, especially if I don’t agree with them. He claims to stand against all injustice, but a quick review of his social media posts reveals that he heavily favors painting whites as evil and blacks as innocent victims. He often leaves out relevant facts or neglects to correct previous misstatements if doing so makes the story less enraging.* He also paints incidents as racist when there’s no evidence of racist motivation.** As a result, his followers stay at a low simmer of rage and frequently comment in favor of starting a race war or getting weapons and protecting themselves [against the police].

How does his work benefit white supremacists? They can point to Shaun King’s poorly informed followers (mostly black) and generalize about the ignorance of black Americans. His followers are angry and comment on nearly every post in favor of starting a race war. This fuels the narrative that blacks are hostile, threatening, dangerous, and need to be shot before they can hurt others. Psychology research shows that feeling annoyed, feeling you’re the victim of injustice, makes you more likely to commit antisocial acts. This creates a vicious cycle of law enforcement treating blacks as a larger threat, blacks feeling this is unjustified, and subsequently behaving in antisocial ways that make cops see them as even more dangerous. Relatedly, feeling the world is targeting them makes them commit more criminal acts, also raising the rate of incarceration and contributing to violent crime stats which white supremacists can point at in support of the idea of segregation. they can say “it’s not about racism, it’s about safety.”

An activist truly concerned with improving the lot of black folks wouldn’t focus so heavily on police violence or interracial violence because it’s a relatively small portion of all violence visited upon the black community. Sure, it’s injustice, but isn’t all violence a form of injustice? Shaun King’s work may punish individuals for acts perceived as racist, like Permit Patty, but his activism does more harm than good if he’s helping perpetuate white supremacist stereotypes about black people being ignorant and violent with his deliberately inflammatory and one-sided reporting.

*examples where Shaun King presents stories without all of the facts, in a way that maximizes outrage:

  • He initially reported Antwon Rose‘s age as 13, never corrected this mistake
  • He never reported that Rose and another passenger were suspected shooters in an earlier incident, and that the car had ballistic damage that matched the shooter’s car.
  • Markeis McGlockton‘s girlfriend was parked in handicapped spot and was confronted about this — he presents it as a man threatening someone over “a parking spot,” making the man sound crazy.
  • He says McGlockton was “defending his girl and his kids” without mentioning that he escalated to physical violence first by shoving the man to the ground.
  •  He never mentioned Permit Patty‘s claims that she tried to talk to the girl and her mother to have them be quieter, but the mother cursed her out instead of cooperating, which led to the cops being called.

** examples where Shaun King claims racist motivation without evidence

  • Nia Wilson: “Investigators are still trying to determine what led to the attack. Rojas says they have no information it was racially motivated, but they are not discarding that as a possible motive.
  • Donesha Gowdy: He claims this would never have happened “to a white girl” — implying racism. In the comments, some claimed the cop was also black, further complicating matters.
  • Chicago bait trucks: He calls this “fundamentally racist” — which is not true unless it’s his contention that blacks are less able to avoid committing theft than people of other races.
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Being frugal is for everyone

Everyone smart, that is. I read an article claiming that being frugal is for the rich, and I wanted to use it to point out a common fallacy: that because there may be larger societal-level factors at play, it doesn’t matter what the individual does. This simply isn’t true. Sure, making coffee at home instead of buying Starbucks daily won’t make you a billionaire, but it also can’t hurt your finances!

In general, there’s too much of this type of argument. “Look there! A Big Societal Reason that explains the unfortunate situation you find yourself in. See? Not your fault. All you have to do is continue to call it out.” In other words, we are taking from people perhaps the last thing they have: their agency. Even worse: we’re taking any sense of control they have over their own life outcomes. Is it ever useful to have individuals with little power focus on the larger scheme of things that may take generations to fix? Especially to focus on those factors as an excuse to ignore very simple choices that they can make for themselves every day?

I find that there’s no contradiction in saying that the U.S. health care system is one of the most inefficient in the world and also that personal expenses should be cut where possible. The latter won’t fix the former, but I think everyone can agree that a financial setback hurts less when there’s a savings/investment cushion to fall back on. And such a cushion can be built, at least in part, by frugality. Put another way, the fact that you’re saving money by going to clothing swaps rather than J.Crew in no way detracts from whatever work you do towards getting single payer health care enacted. You can do both. What’s harmful is saying “there are problems much larger than my shopping habits” and using that as an excuse to do nothing to reign in unnecessary spending.

The author brings up financial savvy and either growing up with wealth, or having high income as factors which are “glossed over and not given the weight they deserve.” While I agree that it would be useless to take advice on financial independence from a wealthy heiress like Paris Hilton (who has a situation that few could hope to replicate in their own lives) the popularity of bloggers like the Frugalwoods or Millenial Money Man comes from their situations having the feel of replicability. Financial independence blogs generally share that critical piece that not everyone was raised with: information. They take the form of “I did this, and so can you. Here’s how.”

What is the complaint really? That the masses are being deceived into thinking that being frugal like Warren Buffett will make them billionaires like Warren Buffett? That really it isn’t frugality that leads to financial independence, but starting with a high-paying job and parents who taught you about finances? That mitigate, on an the individual level, the harms from the less than stellar economic prospects we’ve inherited from previous generations absolves them of the bad decisions that put us here? I don’t think any of these are true, but even if they were, I wouldn’t take any of them as an excuse to throw aside the useful tool of frugality in favor of complaining about what a sad financial situation we were born into. We can acknowledge a bad system without ignoring the things we can do to make our own lives better.

Why I don’t read sci fi*

I know, what a snob. It seems strange that I don’t, given that science fiction is probably one of the favorite genres of those in my social group. But I have reasons!

Bad writing. People are quick to make fun of the writing abilities of authors of romance novels like 50 Shades of Gray and Twilight and bodice-rippers. But somehow the same formulaic overuse of adverbs and descriptions of things no one cares about is fine in sci-fi.

Unnecessary terminology. I get it. It’s often set on a different planet, in a different universe, where people look different, etc. But it doesn’t matter. The distracting new terminology is never necessary. Remember Dune? I tried to read that book, and the author made up so many new terms for mundane things that there was a glossary. I wish I were joking. No, somehow it was necessary to call a poisoned needle on a thimble a “gom jabbar”.

Endless descriptions. Again, people make fun of Jane Austen novels for going on and on about curtains or clouds. In sci-fi books, the author should describe the scenes to an illustrator and or leave them mostly to the imagination. Long descriptions + bad writing make it hard for this reader to continue.

Lack of compelling characters. The characters are not written in such a way that we can imagine them well or start to care about their struggles. It’s as if after all the effort spent on making up new terms and describing a different world, the author doesn’t have the energy to describe the main characters or give the reader an idea about their motivations or personalities.

Lack of generality. One oft-cited feature of good literature is that there is a timeless portrait of the human condition. It gives us a way to understand ourselves or others better, or see society more clearly or through a different lens. In contrast, science fiction is more of a “what if”. Because it’s speculation on a “what if” situation by a single author, it doesn’t usually give insight beyond what that one person thinks will happen in the event the setting is real. Which makes it less like literature and more like a conspiracy theory.

In the end, reading sci-fi feels to me like a slog through a technical paper written by a crackpot. Maybe amusing for a page or two, but depressing and unreadable after that.

* Asimov is an exception. His work (I, Robot at least) reads more like moral philosophy edge cases illustrated in allegory and he didn’t do anything too frilly with descriptions and terminology.

The ideal society

It’s Japan. Okay, no. But Japan is close. I’m just discussing freedom in this post: public and private freedom. The ideal society has a high degree of private freedom and a low degree of public freedom. Here’s what I mean.

Public freedom

Places with a large degree of public freedom don’t have restrictive laws or social rules about what you can do in public. You can be loud. You can rub yourself against a willing participant. You can spit, smoke, eat, play music, block the street, shout, sing, drink, chew gum. You can go in public without showering first. Hell, in San Francisco you can even inject drugs, piss, masturbate and lay in the street moaning and screaming with few, if any repercussions. I don’t mind if you want to do these things: but do it in privacy. Find a refrigerator box, at least. No one else needs to see it.

Private freedom

In places with a large degree of private freedom, you can do whatever you want in your private life without legal intervention from the state or much in the way of social censure. In Japan, you can have your penis surgically removed, cook it, and feed it to a crowd, and it’s perfectly legal. In privately free places, you can have abortions, get married to someone of the same gender, have sex with a dead chicken and then eat it for dinner*. Whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t involve unwilling victims.

The ideal society

Now, you might think that it’s better to have a society that is free in both public and private spheres. But you’d be wrong. While I agree that government intervention isn’t effective for maintaining a pleasant public experience, places with less public freedom are more pleasant to live in. Think Singapore or Japan. In the latter, I get the feeling that the average person would rather cut off their own arm than get in someone’s way or annoy them in public. This is fantastic. It keeps us from living like lower animals. Imagine if no one was ever in your way. And no one ever made a scene in public unless they were actually dying. No one forces you to listen to their crap music on even worse phone speakers (because they’re doing it on public transit). No one tolerates whiny children. No sexual harassment in the streets. Everyone treats you as if you don’t exist and minimizes their own impact on everyone else.

Generally, people should care less about things that don’t affect them at all. Like what others do in private. In the United States, we care too much about what others do in private. Abortions, gay marriage, laws about what who we can feed our penis meat to…

The ideal is that no one draws anyone’s attention in a negative way. Everyone should live by this principle. It’s easy. In public:

  • Do not make any more noise than necessary
  • Be aware of others, and stay out of their way
  • Do not take up more space than necessary
  • Never be in public with children you cannot control
  • Never be in public smelling strongly of anything
  • Don’t smoke
  • Do not talk to strangers, especially not to sexually harass them

Even in places which are more publicly free, like San Francisco, you’ll find that those of a higher socio-economic status already tend to restrict themselves by the rules above. Maybe we can get someone who appeals to the masses to spread this ideal? Maybe the Kardashians can do a tutorial on how to behave in public?

* This was a real example given in one of my classes.

Not so perfect

Ever heard a song and wish it were written in a different language so you could enjoy the melody in perfect ignorance of the lyrics? I feel that way about this song. Current goal: fix the lyrics. I’ll make it a song dedicated to an imaginary friend.

What’s wrong with the lyrics? They’re perfect for their intended purpose: appeal to the masses as a wedding song and make Ed Sheeran tons of money. I’m going to over-analyze them now though. For fun.

“‘Cause we were just kids when we fell in love / Not knowing what it was”

The latter clause is how I like to describe finding plastic detritus in my ramen. Or something that has been in my backpack for the entire school year and was edible once upon a time.

“your heart is all I own”

I was unaware that hearts could be owned. And I’m sure you own something. Like the pair of underpants you’re currently wearing. Makes that heart sound pretty worthless. “This pair of underpants is all I own. Please do not sue me.”

“And in your eyes you’re holding mine”

Holding my what? My heart? My eyes? Mon pantalon? Eyes have hands and hold things? Disturbing visual.

“Baby, I’m dancing in the dark with you between my arms”

Isn’t the phrase “dancing in the dark” a reference to depression? “Between my arms” makes me picture a hopping zombie with arms outstretched stiff and straight. Swaying back and forth with someone wedged between them. I guess I’d be depressed if my arms were stuck like that.

“listening to our favorite song”

Two distinct people have one favorite song? Or is it that both parties have well-ordered the set of all songs they know and identified the first song that appears on both lists? If so, that could be pretty bad. Like Pomp and Circumstance, or something.

“I found a love, to carry more than just my secrets
To carry love, to carry children of our own”

Thanks to this song, I learned that even men considered the epitome of gentleness and romance think of women as receptacles. In this case, for secrets, love and children. Also note the interesting characterization of both secrets and love as a burden, or something heavy that must be carried.

“Be my girl, I’ll be your man”

Is she Lolita? This line is bad enough without the lack of symmetry. A girl with a man is still illegal in most states.

“I don’t deserve this, darling, you look perfect tonight”

A few issues. “I don’t deserve this” is commonly used to mean “This is terrible, why me.” As in, “I have always looked both ways when crossing the street. I was hit by a truck out of nowhere. I don’t deserve this.” In the context of romance, it’s also commonly used as a “nice” letdown. “I am just a grub. All of this attention, it’s extreme. I don’t deserve this — I’m sure you’ll find someone who does deserve your love.”

I’d also like to know who does deserve someone who looks perfect? And once you’ve fulfilled the requirements do you apply for your perfect-looking partner at the DMV? It’s a weird concept. Like martyrs getting 72 virgins.

Both “look” and “tonight” are interesting choices. The implication being that the rest of the time, the object looks… who knows. Probably homeless. Not so perfect.

Goodbye Christopher Robin vs The Florida Project

Both of these movies are about how childhood can be both wonderful and dark. But the point of this post isn’t to review or contrast and compare. I’m just using this pair of movies as an example of why you shouldn’t let critics decide what you’ll enjoy.

As of the time of writing, Goodbye Christopher Robin has a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.2 on IMDB. The Florida Project has a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 8.1 on IMDB. I watched both movies in theaters anyway. I liked Goodbye Christopher Robin better.

So, what does it all mean? Don’t trust critics? No, not exactly. If you read the reviews, pay attention to what the critics liked and dislike, and figure out whether you value the same things. Most of the reviews for The Florida Project rave about the actress who plays Moonee — how mesmerizing and authentic a performance she gave. Sure, I was convinced that she was an average 6 year old girl, but “authenticity” isn’t that important to me in a movie. If I want to see regular 6 year olds just be themselves, I can watch real children. I prefer my movies to have an interesting narrative or story arc, which The Florida Project lacked. It painted a bleak picture and did so the long way, leaving me wondering if the director was trying to show how bored the kids were by making the audience bored too.

On the other hand, critics who disliked Goodbye Christopher Robin mentioned how unlikable his parents were, or how the movie was a stiff period piece. But those things are the point: his parents aren’t sympathetic characters, and the historical context was important to the story. I love a good period piece. I like being transported somewhere that’s far removed from my everyday life. Somewhere with interesting characters who have complex motivations, not just “authenticity.”

In general, I think film critics are overly fond of the French style of movie making: so many pointless scenes of walking down the street, sleeping, eating spaghetti, shaving and staring off into space that it feels like your own real life. And then a sudden ending when the funding has run out — not at any natural stopping point in the story. Knowing this about critics, and understanding that these aren’t my own preferences, it makes sense for me to ignore ratings and just give movies a chance based on the trailer or summary. I’m guessing this is true for most people: that your tastes don’t line up with what the critics say. It almost makes me wonder why we even have them? I guess it made more sense for a time before Moviepass. Well, you don’t have to listen to them now — you can make up your own mind: it’s the same monthly price whether you watch one or both!

But, it’s not even price gouging…

I saw an article posted on social media that was churning the outrage machine. Perhaps you saw it too? The one about Best Buy charging $40 for a case of water. While there are some who would defend price gouging from an economics perspective, I’m not even going to do that. What happened at Best Buy is not an example of price gouging and should not inflame anyone who reads the entire article and knows basic definitions.

First, what happened? Best Buy doesn’t sell cases of water. But an employee realized there might be demand for entire cases, so he took the single bottle price and multiplied it by the number of bottles in the case to arrive at a case price. That would work out to $2.50 for a single bottle of Smart Water, or $1.79 for a single bottle of Aquafina. These are standard Best Buy prices. In Texas, price gouging is defined as “Selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price” (taken from the Texas AG’s site). That is vague. Certainly, some may find $1.79-2.50 for a bottle of water “excessive” — it isn’t the cheapest bottled water I’ve seen. But the way of determining price gouging appears to involve examining whether prices in the “declared disaster area spike beyond what the normal market forces set.” Indicating that price gouging does require a raising of prices. Which Best Buy simply didn’t do.

The upsetting thing about people not reading is that this article has been a vehicle for virtue signaling. Anyone who argues with the premise that this is an outrageous example of corporate greed is derided as immoral, callous, or a capitalist.

If we buy the narrative that this was price gouging and someone was taking advantage of vulnerable people during a natural disaster (despite the previous discussion of the meaning of the term “price gouging”) then we have to ask ourselves “which greedy entity profited here?” The employee? Best Buy, unfortunately, doesn’t have a commission scale, so the employee who did the pricing didn’t see any profit. The pricing wasn’t done by or condoned by Best Buy corporate, so that’s out too. Looks like we don’t have a villain here.

Another relevant question: who was the victim? Did someone die because Best Buy wasn’t giving out water for free? Who goes to Best Buy to buy water, anyway?

So where is the outrage coming from? Is it really our mentality that enduring a natural disaster makes us entitled to bulk discounts on water from the electronics store? Unfortunately, it seems that what sells these days is outrage. If an article helps the reader feel moral outrage (and thus, morally superior), then they’ll click, share, vent, and really… what more could an advertiser ask for. Don’t be pawns. Save your outrage for something that matters.