Thursday, March 31, 2016

How would the DC Metro area deal with shutting down entire subway lines for months at a time for major renovation?


Wednesday, late in the day, DC Council member and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, and Metro General Manager Wiedefeld announced to the media that the public should be braced for possible shutdowns of entire Metro lines or segments thereof for as long as six months for major renovation. The most complete story as of this writing appears in the Washington Post, by Robert McCartney, here.   The print headline in the Washington Post Thursday is “some riders may go for months without Metro”.   There are precedents: Chicago had a five-month shutdown for major rebuilding in 2013, and Baltimore plans a short shutdown this summer.

Wiedenfeld suggested it would take until early May to announce his decision on extended closures.
 
There are so many obvious questions.

First, with all the single tracking and shuttle-arounds of recent years and “rebuilding”, what has been going on?  Why only now the announcement of possible major shutdowns? Weren’t all the most critical problems really found on the one day shutdown March 16?



The announcement mentioned the Blue Line twice, but the Blue Line shares major tracks in Virginia (must of it above ground) in Virginia, and with the orange-silver from Rosslyn through most of downtown DC.  It’s unlikely that there are as many major problems above ground, so the logical implication that the underground space from Foggy Bottom to the Capitol Hill area (including Metro Center and L’Enfant) has drawn the most concern.  Evans suggested that the Red Line, which does not go into Virginia, while older, is farther along in substantial repairs and is less likely to be affected.

The Silver Line extension is new and would not be affected. The Green Line is slightly newer, and does not seem to have as had as many single tracking needs in recent years as the main Orange-Blue-Silver trunk through downtown.  The portion of the Orange Line through Arlington County, underground, seems to have more than a proportional share of incidents, especially around the longer tunnel segments. Slowdowns are common, especially inbound and approaching Rosslyn, for the train junction with Blue.  There may be serious issues with that specific intersection.

One obvious question for any line shut down is, will Metro replace the service with express busses during all service hours?  To approximate the effectiveness of the service from Ballston downtown, Metro would need to run a full bus every two-three minutes, or a double “train” bus, every five-six minutes down Clarendon Blvd and up Wilson through all service hours.  Arlington County would need to close off one lane each direction from cars, for busses only (something Cleveland, OH does along Euclid Ave, as a good example to follow), for maybe a few months, at least during weekday business hours.  All parking would have to be eliminated, although more garages could be built. Bicycle lanes could be maintained.  But the biggest bottleneck would be getting through Georgetown, as the District would also have to close many lanes to car traffic for express busses.  But “Cleveland” seems to have the best idea (and I don’t refer to the GOP and a brokered convention with this pun).  I think other cities, like Pittsburgh, have done similar things.

When I was a George Washington University college student and commuted to “home” in Arlington, I used the 2T and 2V Washington Boulevard buses in  the 1960s. Post streetcar, transit was somewhat cumbersome and inefficient, partly because the City was preoccupied with political and racial problems (the same reason the Senators baseball team was so bad).  Service was very slow through Georgetown. I also had the experience, in the latter part of 1962, of dealing with the Wisconsin Ave. buses out to NIH in Bethesda, and then to a job on Connecticut Ave, at Van Ness (the old NBS) in 1963-1964.  It was slow and inefficient.

A check of Metro shows that there is direct service from Arlington along line 3 today into downtown, but not Route 2, which would have to be restored.

Alternatives could be considered.  Could the lines be shut only on weekends?  Evans says no.  Furthermore, many people work odd hours, and depend on Metro and public transit off hours and off-direction. That’s particularly true of lower income workers, or of people who work in hospitality, or in bars and restaurants.  (Jack Evans, with his historical support of LGBT, knows this.)  It could be difficult for much of that industry to survive a prolonged shutdown near its location if effective alternatives were not available.

Likewise, other concerns come to mind.  How will service continue to major sports teams (Nats, Redskins, Capitals, etc)?

I’m reminded of a film “Five Lines” (2001), by Nicholas Panagapolus, and Brainbox, of which I have the DVD, after seeing it at AFI Silver in 2005 – getting there on the Red Line.
  
Update: April 20, 2016

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has issued a scathing letter to Metro ordering many more safety changes immediately.  Some of the changes have to do with training of employees and some are simple.  Here is a WJLA-AP report by Tom Roussey, Suzanne Kennedy, Brianne Carter with video and an embed of the letter.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Strip mining is within easy sight of towns in western Maryland


On  a little “field trip” today, I found that strip mining is still “alive and not so well” in Maryland.  On highway 36, south of Frostburg (on top of the Allegheny Ridge behind Cumberland) there is a huge strip mine scar visible to the south.  When you drive south over I-68, you drive past what looks like an active mine.

There is one spot where there seems to be a “black hole” pit about 200 feet deep below the highway, immediately W of 36, with no place to stop and photo it without trespassing.

As you drive down toward Barton, Luke and Westernport, you see some more strip mine scars on the ridges.   There's a stream through Barton. I am reminded of Luke Andraka's winning science fair project on acid drainage from mines.
 
Also, east of Cumberland, off I-68, to the immediate south, near Martins Mountain and the town of Flintstone (with its “Stone Age CafĂ©”) there is a large quarry which looks like a typical strip mine.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Amtrak service disruptions an increasing problem for NE corridor customers who have to depend on it for work


Vulnerability of rail service to disruption is becoming an increasing problem it seems, given an incident on the MARC tracks north of the Washington DC Beltway in PG County, MD at 7 AM Monday, resulting in stopping both MARC and Amtrak trains for almost four hours.  It was not clear if Amtrak actually used the same track (the "model train" problem).  The Washington Post story is here.

Passengers at Union Station would have had no way to leave for NYC until close to noon, probably many of them missing important work-related meetings. It’s hard to imagine that bus service, which also leaves upstairs from Union Station on the H Street side, could have filled the void.

Most of my events in NYC are in the evening, and I have all day to get there.  But sometimes, as with film festivals or weekend concerts, they can occur in the afternoon.  Delays like this would cause loss of pre-purcased events.  With air travel, I am more expecting of this and almost never fly to an event on the same day, although many people have to.  How do artists (like concert pianists) guarantee they will be there, with travel so easily disrupted?

I do find the Acela less prone to slowdowns than regular trains, and usually only slightly more expensive if purchased in advance.  Usually the hotel discounts are pretty decent.

But years ago, I never was concerned about train interruptions.  In the past few years, all that has changed, for the worse.  Remember, of course, the horrific wreck north of Philadelphia last May, still not completely solved.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Should everyone have to pass algebra in high school? Same question for swimming in PE


Do we fail high school students by forcing traditional math, with all its abstraction  (Algebra 1) down their throats?  That seems to be the theme of a new book “The Math Myth” by Andrew Hacker in Queens College, as reviewed by John Wihbey in National Geographic, here.
 
A group of students doesn’t get the abstraction of, say, high school algebra and wonders why they have to pass it.  Problems with math may be driving social inequality farther.



I can remember that working as a substitute teacher, a patronizing attitude from some students.

Middle schools often put their best students into algebra in seventh grade today, and everyone by eighth grade; when I went to school in the late 50s it was ninth grade. Remember those algebra tests with word problems, or with long division problems (and the “check”).

On the other hand (as indicated in a post here Feb. 12 from AoPS) it’s abstract problem solving that drives so much of technology, and particularly code.

I wonder if you could make up some algebra test problems from current presidential race “delegate mathematics” – both parties.

Also, WJLA in Washington DC today is asking if swimming should be mandatory in high school PE (including passing it).  My high school did not have a pool when I graduated in 1961; today, the new facility (Washington-Lee in Arlington VA) does indeed have it.  Here's a perspective.from US Maters Swimming. It doesn't meed to be "competitive" (I went to one meet at SMU when living in Dallas in 1982, so I remember the "natatorium").

Friday, March 25, 2016

Flint and environmental racism


The New York Times has a stinging editorial Friday, “The Racism at the heart of Flint’s crisis”. There is a lot of commentary about the apparent insularity of Gov. Rick Snyder and of many in the legislature, because of who the consumers were. Yes, “black lives matter”.

The lead problem comes from two processes: one is the lead in the old pipes themselves, which should be replaced;  the other is the corrosive water from the river.  It’s supposed to be acceptable to continue using lead pipers with non-corrosive water, but one would wonder.


The problem is existential:  children who grow up with heavy metal poisoning may have lower IQ’s and learning problems, and then be “blamed” for their own behavioral issues in school and later as adults.

There’s even a potential issue when people sell old homes to young families, where children could bv exposed to unnoticed lead or asbestos.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

DOJ charges on foreign hackers bring back debate on security for power grids


Several people in Iran have been charged formally with hacking attacks on US banks and a dorm north of New York City, according to many news sources, such as NBC.

The attacks on the banks were regular Denial of Service attacks, with cruder techniques common since about 2001.
 
The hackers also broke into a control system for a dam north of New York City, which fortunately was not connected at the time. It is not clear how they were able to get in, if the controls were not accessible through the normal Internet.  (Computers not normally addressable online still have IP addresses.)

All of this follows the concerns raised in Ted Koppel’s book “Lights Out”, reviewed in the books blog, Nov. 10, 2015.  Bloomberg has an article on a Russian attack on the Ukraine power grid, which gives some perspective on the relative risk in the US,
 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Ryan apologizes for "Makers vs. Takers"; Trump and Cruz fight on Twitter; Trump faces "extra innings" in Cleveland's "Progressive Field"


House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) has reportedly apologized for past comments grouping the poor, especially minorities, with “takers”, referring to past conservative comments that welfare culture encourages the poor to have babies outside of marriage.

“Makers and Takers” is the name of a 1998 book by Minnesota libertarian author Edmund Contoski. The terminology has been associated with Ayn Rand, who used the term “second handers” in her novel “The Fountainhead”.



In the meantime, Donald Trump’s campaign seems to have sunk to a new low, with his Twitter exchange with “Lyin’ Ted” shown on CNN here.

Cruz’s overwhelming victory in Utah, capturing all the delegates, seems to keep alive the significant chance of a brokered convention in Cleveland.  But Trump captured Arizona.  CNN’s latest take is here. Trump could go to the convention with a strong plurality, close to the number he needs but still not enough to win outright on the first ballot. This is a case where an “extra inning ball game” really favors the home team because of batting last. In Cleveland, thankfully, "The Mistake By the Lake" (which I visited repeatedly during the summer in the 1950s)  has been torn down and replaced by a "Progressive Field".

Monday, March 21, 2016

Prosecutors should be required to share information with defense to prevent wrongful convictions


On both my Movies blog and TV blog, I’ve reviewed a number of documentaries about wrongful convictions, with some mention of the Innocence Project.  For example, on Jan. 22 I reviewed Andrew Jenks’s film “Dream / Killer” about the Ryan Ferguson case in Missouri, and yesterday I reviewed a Dateline segment about a questionable and now overturned conviction of an author in North Carolina.  I’m reminded of gratuitous prosecutions of the past, like against lacrosse players, also in North Carolina.



One problem is that prosecutors sometimes withhold evidence from the defense, even if illegally according to the laws or criminal procedures of many states.  (Virginia is one of the states with safer procedures.)   The Washington Post has an editorial Monday morning “Getting prosecutors to share what they know,” about inadequate protections in the federal system, and about a new rule, supported by the GOP in Congress, that would at least apply now in the District of Columbia.


The government says it needs to withhold information in certain kinds of situations involving terrorism and particularly witness protection (the film "Family in Hiding"). The idea of becoming someone else to stay alive is anathema to me (like the Molly Norris case).

 Along these lines, it’s well to look at the front page article “In Louisiana, the poor lack legal defense” by Campbell Robertson in the New York Times Sunday May 20.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

NRA argues that Merrick Garland could tip the scales back toward strict gun control even in the home


Chris Cox, an executive director (admittedly) of the NRA (which I drive past frequently on I-66 in Virginia), provides an op-ed on p A19 in the Washington Post today, “Why we oppose Gordon Merrick’s nomination” .

Cox believes that four of the sitting Supreme Court justices would want to overturn Heller in Washington DC, and that Merrick Garland would join them.  They believe that a new court would re-interpret the Second Amendment in a more collectivist fashion.

I have very mixed feelings about all of this, sometimes resonating with Ted Cruz and other times not. As an older gay male, I do know of an instance where someone several decades younger was recently put in jeopardy in a particular situation.  Although he is OK now, he might not have been.  This is an individual who, were I born several decades later in an “alternative universe”, I might have been a partner of, in my own estimation.  I’m left to wonder what it would be like to be in a relationship with someone maimed for life when he could have defended himself.  Fortunately for me, this remained a thought experiment.  It might not have.  In fact, shortly after moving to California to start Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, then 20, unarmed, gunned the accelerator to drive away from a gas station robbery.  He might have been lucky.

At the same time, it’s obvious that major public venues in western countries regard allowing weapons on their premises as unworkable and unacceptable.

But the right to defend oneself at home or when alone or with family in less public circumstances should not be put at risk.

I do understand the arguments from Piers Morgan and others that gun control has curbed a lot of routine crime in places like the UK and Australia.  With the shootings all the time in parts of Washington DC, I wonder how gun control would play out.  But more aggressive statist gun control may leave individuals in the public more vulnerable to very determined attacks from enemies, whether business related (as with organized crime) or due to ideology (often religious) and international enemies, that is, terrorists.

And whether people have a moral duty to learn to defend themselves and others in their families (and that isn’t limited to just their children and spouses) is a good  question.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Major League Baseball and family values for players (at least the White Sox)


So, Major League Baseball has a scuffle with family values.

Adam LaRoche, home run hitter now with the Chicago White Sox, retires when told by Chisox Executive Vice President Kenny Williams not to bring his son, now 14, to the locker room every home game.

USA Today supports the team here
 
I don’t think this was an issue when La Roche played with the Washington Nationals, through 2014. I suspect the Nats would be glad to have him back, if there’s a “room”.


 
LaRoche was reported to take meds for ADD, but had always insisted that setting an example for his son was the highest priority for him. Some commentators say that other players have to be on their “best behavior” even in a fraternal space like the locker rooms, with kids around.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trump makes provocative speculations about Cleveland this summer; the GOP is hamstrung by Garland's nomination to SCOTUS


This is scary.  Today, Donald Trump warned that there could be unrest (to say the least) in Cleveland if he doesn’t get the nomination, because of a brokered or manipulated convention, July 18-21, as in this. ThinkProgress story (typical)  Trump can reasonably claim that any other outcome disagrees with the wishes of the votes (most of all on immigration and trade).

But some of these voters were crossovers in some states.  Cruz tends to do better in states that don’t have open primaries.

And recently Trump was ordering attendees at rallies to sign pledges to vote for him.

Although his policies on some issues like trade and health care, even social security, may move more to the Left than normal for the GOP, his authoritarian strategy, possibly ignoring law and order, is more worrisome than ever.



This may not be good for user-generated content on the web, because of the kind of arguments Trump could make against it (nor paying its own freight, for the people who write it, while opening up to cyberbullying and terrorist recruiting, among other things).


Update: March 17

NBC News has an article by Chuck Todd and others about the "Sophie's Choice" faced by the GOP now, both in handling the convention in Cleveland, and in dealing with the nomination by Obama of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court -- who was tough enough as a prosecutor. NBC thinks Trump is not "kidding" on the "riots" -- an alarming statement from a major news network (which I worked for in the 1970s, and would do so again today).  .

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Washington DC Metro orders unprecedented safety shutdown for at least one workday


All Metrorail service in Washington DC is suspended at least for the entire day Wednesday March 16, 2016, for emergency inspections of jumper third rail cables.  WMATA’s official story is here and the agency admits the incident on March 14 near McPherson resembles that near L’Enfant Plaza in Jan. 2015.

Many observers were not confident that the system could open March 17 normally, if more problems are found (which sounds likely, quite frankly). There could be questions about continued weekend service, when the district doesn’t have adequate 24-hour garages (as do many other cities).

 Businesses have never organized to provide this as they do in places like West Hollywood.  There will be Uber.

The minimum time for the shutdown is 29 hours; the first in history non-weather related.  Metro was shutdown over the weekend during the Jan. 23-24 blizzard.



Metrorail was also criticized even for allowing commuters to ride home today if they thought the system unsafe.  The announcement wasn’t made until 4:30 PM, when I was at Landmark E-Street downtown.

New York City MTA has been very reliable (except for strikes and citywide power failues),  However, on Dec, 29, 2014, there was a power failure on the IRT in the Bronx, forcing me to take a cab to get to the train show at the Bronx conservatory.  But the power failure was fixed in about two hours.
Top picture: track work.  Bottom: the "Mobius" metro in my screenplay "Epiphany" on Titan -- it has the ability to make people who risk riding it both sides younger.

Update: March 16

The latest is that the Metro is supposed to be open 5 AM Thursday.  The most serious problems, still to be resolved this evening, are near McPherson Square, Farragut North, and Potomac Ave. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

For-profit universities and student debt


The New York Times has a stinging editorial about the tuition at “for profit” colleges, the useless degrees (for “college level work” even online), and then the load of student loan work at the end.   Is this an example of crony capitalism or corporate welfare?

And some of the ads about people who started businesses based on the skills they learned at these online schools seem rather quaint.



The WB show “Jack and Bobby” about a decade ago presented the sons of a college English professor who talked about residential college as the start of adult life.  I got a campus experience in graduate school at KU, but lost out on the undergraduate part.
 
But I emerged from all this with no debt, in 1968.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Ted Cruz is GOP's best chance to win in November (by far); protests cause Trump to cancel rally in Chicago (breaking story)


OK, there’s a breaking event right now. Donald Trump had to cancel his rally in Chicago tonight over security concerns after unruly behavior by many gathering to rally at the University of Illinois. CNN has a developing story.  There will be a lot of arrests and some serious felony prosecutions (just look at some of the other stories).  All major media outlets are covering this live now.

The very latest, as of 8:45 PM EST, was that most of the crowd had calmed down, even as it was spilling into the streets.


It’s pretty obvious that activists can try to stop any Trump event this way.  Commentators are comparing to George Wallace.

Lindy West has an interesting perspective in the New York Times, “What Trump supporters are ‘afraid’ to say” and that is probably what Trump won’t say directly.  She may be right as far as she goes.  

I agree that a lot of things in US history are not “great” (including what happened to me in 1961), but many things are – how we ended the Cold War, how we developed the Internet.  Some things are mixed – how we responded to 9/11.  For example, Trump was right in what he said about New York after 9/11.  He is right about the hatred from some parts of the world. He may be right about the way you do deals with the currency and trade issues with China and other authoritarian countries. He seems right in his assessment of the war in Iraq. 
         
I don’t think Trump can beat Hillary Clinton in a general election, maybe close to zero chance. Ted Cruz is the GOP’s "last best chance."  And it’s encouraging that Cruz’s latest comments have taken a more libertarian stance and stayed away from Santorum-like social issues.
  
Trump just told CNN, "Our freedom of speech was violated totally." 

What would happen if a journalist ran for president?  Imagine Chris Cuomo in a debate -- as a candidate rather than moderator.  



Update: March 12

OK, a rally in Cleveland (which has a "Public Square", but so does Singapore) went OK for Trump, and there is another one in KCMO tonight.  Someone has already said I am wrong, that Hillary can lose to Sanders, and Trump can beat either one.  Here's an "opposing view" on the Chicago protests sent to me on Facebook by a friend overseas, on YouTube. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A day visit to a tornado-damaged area less than 70 miles from Washington DC


On a day trip Thursday, I saw the extensive damage from the February 24 tornado, SW of Tappahannock VA, especially on Kino road and route 619, off route 360, just as it veers west from US 17 south of town. 


The damage is extensive, for about 300 yards, and it appears many small homes must have been destroyed, given the debris.  The tornado apparently was on the ground for 28 miles, crossing the Rappahannock.


People said it was very warm that day, 75 degrees or so, whereas it reached 65 in Washington.  On a straight line, this damage is only about 60 miles SE of Washington, and the tornado struck just after dark.  There was an EF4 in La Plata (30 miles from DC) in April 2002, and an EF3 in College Park Md (bordering DC) in 2001, in late September. 

North of town, on US 17, the tornado crossed but the damage to homes appears less.

One would hope people had homeowner’s insurance.

The degree of wind shear in this storm in a winter month is frightening.  It’s not clear if climate change is related to the storm, or whether it was a product of El Nino.  The severe squall line tracked farther north and west than had been expected. But anyone can wind up in a shelter. 

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Washington DC will try some more bilingual elementary education; why this is a good idea everywhere


Should elementary school students be immersed in dual-language (English and Spanish) elementary education?  Here is a story about such a program in a low-income area in Washington DC that is not primarily Hispanic, in the Washington Post, by Perry Stein, March 7

We did have some Spanish in third grade when I was in it in 1952 in Arlington VA.  But it takes a lot to become fluent enough that you can understand it when it is spoken (can follow a movie in the idiomatic language without subtitles).  It’s easier to learn this the younger you start.

Despite the right wing, this kind of immersion would probably help with cross-cultural understanding among future generations.



In Europe, everyone learns English, which is difficult to spell, and which is very analytic compared to most other major western languages.  The grammar is simple, but there are many uses of separate words to express auxiliary function accomplished by conjugation (or various forms of endings) in other languages.  It is sometimes easier to ascribe precise meaning in other languages because of stricter grammatical “agreement” rules on endings.  Here’s a table on the relative difficulty of many languages.  I think German is actually easier than French and Spanish (the base words are so similar to English, but word order can be different).  German is the easiest language for me to follow in a movie without subtitles.   Dutch is so close to English as to look like a remote dialect.  Norwegian, Swedish, and Afrikaans are said to be easy.
 
Mark Zuckerberg has taught himself Chinese.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

I rode "DC Streetcar" today, for free, felt like a Lilliputian; remember how cities lost their light rail in the past


It is well known that in earlier decades, oil companies pressured governments to pull up streetcar lines so there would be a better market for their oil. (See movie reviews, “Pump!”, Jan. 27, 2016.)

When my own mother moved from Ohio to Washington DC in 1934 to start working for the YMCA downtown, she lived in a Y herself and traveled by streetcar.  I remember the streetcars as a boy as later as the early 1950s. Gradually the tracks were removed, and when I commuted from Arlington to GWU in the early to mid 1960s, I depended on an inefficient bus system.

Today I tried the DCStreetcar and “It’s free” for a while. I missed the Metro Union Station stop (reading) and tried to walk to it from NOMA.  On 2nd St, there is no intersection with the overpass of H St, and you can’t easily walk to it from 3rd ST (there is a narrow sidewalk along the track that is closed off at the top), so I had to border at 3rd St.  The ride to Oklahoma Ave. on Benning Road was slow and noisy.  The lane needs to be kept clear of cars, and lights need to be timed.  The end of the line is about ½ mile walking from the DC Eagle bar (across the river and 295).

Using the train made me feel like a Lilliputian in somebody’s model train set.  The ends of the line look like typical streetcar setups in model railroad layouts.



The businesses along H Street are colorful (like the Atlas Theater) but some are in disrepair.  The streetcar line should lead to gentrification, real estate development, and condo, office and retail development, and increasing property values (and driving the poor people out to PG County even more).

There has been a controversy over a possible streetcar line in Arlington on Columbia Pike, but it was turned down.  An effective light rail line is effectively another Metro line.  Right now, the streetcars don’t take SmartTrip, but that ought to be fixed.  (In fact, why can’t one system be developed to serve all the transit systems in the East Coast with one card, like Ezpass?)
 
Dedicated “bus train” lines (electric or natural-gas two-coach vehicles) can work well, as in Cleveland (along Euclid Ave.) and are cheaper than laying down track.  

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Donald Trump's "popularity" shows the resurgence of authoritarian values in the electorate (maybe it never went away)


Amanda Taub of Vox media has a  booklet-length study on the rise (or resurgence) of authoritarianism in American politics.

In a general way, Trump has been appealing to voters who tend to follow an authoritarian mindset.  This portion of the electorate may be splitting the GOP in to mainstream and authoritarian branches, and the mainstream could further fracture off with a libertarian branch.

Authoritarianism is one of the four major modes of the Nolan Chart , or “World’s Smallest Political Quiz” (along with conservative, liberal, and libertarian;  Sometimes authoritarian is called “statist” (like modern China and Russia).

Authoritarians tend to like “order” and tend to value social loyalty within their own family group highly. They tend to view social status as “earned” and needing respect from others for its own sake, regardless of underlying merit. They tend to see roles in social relationships (especially gender) as critical to protecting society.  So they may value “loyalty” or “obedience” (or not attracting adverse attention to others in a family regardless of truth) as a moral virtue.  It would be interesting to how it fits into the theory of mass movements, as in a famous book (“The True Believer”) by Eric Hoffer, which I will review soon.



My own father was somewhat authoritarian, beyond what was really necessary.
 
It's possible to believe one is progressive, but use authoritarian values in dealing with other people in person, not giving importance to compassion or helping others personally.  So authoritarianism has personality connections, particularly to schizoid-types.
 
Particularly disturbing in the article was the attitude of authoritarians toward their own children when adults, not welcoming their independence.

In this link of thinking, homosexuality is frowned upon merely because it questions the importance of established biological family relationships.

Donald Trump showed shocking audacity tonight in demanding a loyalty "to me" from the crowd gathering in Florida, CNN story here. This sounds a bit like Germany in the early to mid 1930s.

Update: March 6

Colbert King has an op-ed in the Washington Post Sunday, "Trump: the authoritarian's candidate of choice."

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Moral Foundations Theory, applied to all the presidential candidates (not just Donald Trump and Ted Cruz)


Vox has published an interesting study by Emily Ekins and Jonathan Haidt about Moral Foundations Theory today.  The title, “Donald Trump’s supporters think about morality differently than other voters: here’s how” is a bit leading.
 
The article decomposes moral tastes into six categories: (1) Care / harm; (2) Fairness / cheating; (3) Liberty / oppression; (4) Loyalty / betrayal (or “snitching”); (5) Authority / subversion ; (6) Sanctity / degradation.

To study the presidential candidates, the article compacts these categories to just four.  Category (1) becomes  Compassion and Empathy with the color blue, and tends to emphasize the relative fairness to people conceived first as members of groups.  Bernie Sanders seems to emphasize this area.  Race obviously fits, but some people see religion and sexual orientation as having more elements of personal behavior and choices embebdded.  Category (2) becomes Proportionality, or just desserts, with the color green.  The ability to justify one’s own station in life with one’s own effort and accomplishment is a virtue.  Therefore, professional athletes (Bryce Harper) or software prodigies (Mark Zuckerberg) may be viewed as earning what they have competitively, even if the rewards are excessive (“winner take all” – along the lines of Donald Trump).  This idea is popular with libertarians.  Rand Paul and (to a surprising extent) Ted Cruz are depicted with this quality.  Sometimes this quality is important to stir technological innovation;  will Taylor Wilson answer Zuckerberg by re-inventing the entire power grid?  Will Jack Andraka put an end to most forms of cancer?  Marco Rubio (“Little Rubio”) shows a lot of this quality, having become a United States Senator from a humble background.  Category (3) becomes Liberty, and pretty much defines libertarianism.  It emphasizes freedom from bullying and oppression, and can involve prevention of the misuse of government, in areas like crony capitalism, overuse of trademark and copyright to protect the establishment, and accepting personal personality differences, including their influence on sexual orientation, as beneficial in the long run. Cruz and Rubio may turn out to be better in this area than expected;  and both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump worry me about possible misuse of some government powers.  (4), (5), and (6) are grouped together as “loyalty-authority-sanctity” and typically occur with authoritarianism, with both communism and fascism, as well as theocracy. Huckabee was viewed as the most dangerous, and Trump and Cruz were about the same, with both Clinton and Sanders below the line; the color is “red”. These qualities matter more in smaller, tribal communities where there are plenty of external enemies or natural dangers, and where socialization of everyone is perceived (maybe sometimes with some good reason) as essential for the long term survival of a relative compact group. But it is easy for demagogues to use  theories of mandatory socialization to blame specific groups or the embedded behaviors (Jews, gays) as posing a danger for everyone else, to advance their own power status. For example, Vladimir Putin tends to suggest that homosexuals add to Russia’s low birth rate and threaten its ability to maintain its population.  The narrative of Walter Shaw (the film “Genius on Hold”, yesterday’s Movies Blog) shows how authoritarianism can destroy lives even in a society that thinks it is democratic and means well.

My own view is that personal morality plays out a differently when looked at “relativistically” by a person rather than as a component of political theory. The libertarian starts with “do unto others” and emphasizes non-aggression, keeping voluntary promises (Cato), and more recently, as in Mary Ruwart’s writings, a certain compassion.   There are some postulates, like essentialism, immediacy, secularity (or ecumenicalism), relevance of intent, and existence of some common good interest;  and there are  derivable components, that I see as (1) accepting interdependence (2) starting with some kind of immediately loyalty (3) facing inequality (4) resilience (a big one) (5) sustainability and (6) respect for life.