Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Can you cut that on the bias?

It's a ranty one. Just to warn you.

Okay, so I was going to stay away from politics for awhile but I have to post something that has been bugging me for a week and I just can't hold it in anymore.  It's all about bias and how it colors your world and in particular how you are ruining things by letting it do so. Or in particular one thing. Which I will get to in a second.

Bias is really interesting to me. I'm always fascinated to see how it plays out in life. Reading yet another book right now that talks about how we make judgements based on biases that we might not even realize we have. I've read a lot of books like this. I've read a lot of articles about this. I find it incredibly interesting. I also really try to be aware of them when I am talking to people about their beliefs. The more strongly biased they are in one direction or the other the less likely you are going to be successful in changing an opinion.

I also know that I have my own biases that color my thoughts and I know that I have some I'm not even aware of. And when I become aware that I have already made a judgement about something I try to figure out if it's valid or if it's strictly my own bias. As you all know there are some things that you are never going to change my mind on. I'm strongly biased in one direction. But there are other things that I am willing to look at other ideas and ways of thinking and shift. I lean left in my politics but I am much more centrist than a lot of my other left leaning friends. And much more centrist than a lot of my right leaning friends. And because of this I feel I am in a pretty good position to tell people to stop a certain behavior that is driving me crazy. Just stop it. STOP IT.

What is it? Ruining a joke. Political jokes to be specific. I want to point out something that should be obvious but isn't. You cannot just substitute one president or prominent political figure for another and expect the joke to work. Presidents and other figures have personas. Those personas work within a joke. Last week in my feed was a joke that was popular in the Bush era with Bush as the punchline and I saw it again yesterday from someone else. It's a clever joke all about word play. I'll link it here and another version here. Now this joke is making the rounds again but with Obama substituted for Bush. And it doesn't work. Let me tell you why and it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with personas and the story.

When you think of Weapons of Mass Destruction whose presidency do you think of? Bush or Obama? When you think of a President who would have to count on their fingers for a math problem who do you think of Bush or Obama? See? It doesn't work to drop in Obama. You can dislike the man and his policies but being a bit on the lighter side academically isn't part of his persona. It would be like if Mitt Romney had won the election and someone sent out this joke, "The Presidential luncheon took longer than planned as President Romney realized that Speaker Boehner had more croutons on his salad than Representative Pelosi and wouldn't move forward until they were redistributed equally."  Doesn't work for Romney because that's not his persona, it's Obama's.

And it works with all jokes. My brother sent me one today (the tipping point for the rant) that I originally read years ago as stupid things people ask airline employees. It was funny, even if you doubted the veracity of some of them. But being from New Mexico I can absolutely vouch for the general lack of geographical awareness of some of our fellow Americans. (It's the GIANT state between Texas and Arizona) But the version he sent me had been changed so every stupid thing was now supposedly said by a prominent Democrat in Congress. I get it, it's fun to make fun of politicians but now the joke doesn't work. It goes from being slightly unbelievable to completely unbelievable  From being a general oh my gosh, some people! To a specific, THOSE people. And it stops being funny. Because it doesn't work. It wouldn't work if you changed them all to Republicans either. I can't stand Newt Gingrich's politics, or smugness, or religious hypocrisy but I also know he's extremely smart.  A Gingrich joke has to focus on multiple marriages or overconfidence, not on a lack of IQ, or it doesn't work.

So let's all try to agree, when making jokes try very very hard to set your bias aside and make sure the joke works before you send it out.

For instance:
Jokes about chasing women: Clinton
Jokes about marrying women: Gingrich
Jokes about binders of women: Romney
Jokes about living with a lot of women: Obama
Jokes about misspelling women: Bush the Younger

My name is Denise Mastenbrook and I approve this message.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Well shoot....

Amendment II

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.


1.Control or maintain the rate or speed of (a machine or process) so that it operates properly.
2.Control or supervise (something, esp. a company or business activity) by means of rules and regulations.

So here it is the blog I set out to write a month ago. Or actually a month and a day. December 14th, 2012. Earlier in the week we had a shooting at a local mall and I was tired of seeing all of the same arguments being played out on my Facebook feed. So I came in to the study, sat down to write, opened my browser and...well Sandy Hook. So the blog waited while I continued to read what people thought.

The funny thing is that I actually thought for a second that Sandy Hook might change some minds, but it didn't. What it did was drive people further into their own rhetoric. Because as a country we have failed in a lot of things and on the top of the list is the ability to think. Critical thinking. We don't teach it to our kids in school. We only want them to learn what is going to be on the test so we can be #1 in the polls! Yay! We teach them that 1+1=2 but we don't teach them how to look at information and form solid thoughts and opinions around that information. We don't teach them to ask questions. And we sure as hell don't teach them to listen to answers.

Even as I am writing this I know that most of the people reading already know what they are going to say. Because it's what we do instead of discuss and reason. We toss sound bites back and forth. And the odds of you changing my mind on an issue with a clever little sound bite is the exact same as me changing yours. Take for a second the appearance of the NRA CEO on Meet the Press after Sandy Hook where he was willing to talk about whatever it would take to change the gun violence problem in our country. Well talk about everything except actually controlling access to guns that is. He was adamant about that not being something he was willing to entertain for even a second. He hit all of his soundbites. Say them along with me, Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Guns are tools. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun....and on and on.

Which makes me roll my eyes. Don't give me trite sound bites. Don't give me slogans. Give me a real reasoned argument. Give me something I can look at and think about. And give me the respect to listen to my arguments and concerns as well.

So back to my opening. The reason I printed the Second Amendment up there is because people need to read it to talk about it and you would be so surprised how many people have never bothered to read it, or our entire Constitution for that matter. So I went ahead and put it up there for you. It's shorter than you imagined isn't it? The second thing I did is post the definition for regulate. Because this is the one that I seem to have the biggest sticking point on. Regulate means control. So why do you assume that when I talk about being pro gun control I don't know the Second Amendment?

This is where most arguments break down and people go to their corners to shout their slogans. I think we need more control. You think that means I want to take away all of your guns. No, it doesn't. It means that I think we need more control. You shout at me about cars killing people. I say, I have to have a license, insurance and registration to operate my car and if I move to a different state I have to re-register my car and renew my license there. And every few years I have to renew my license to operate my car. AND after a certain age I have to take the test to show I can safely operate my car every year. AND I am only allowed to drive a certain speed and have to obey other traffic safety laws. Because the use of my car is well regulated.

Then you tell me about knives. Well okay. Yes. Knives can kill people as well. They can also cut my steak. Or a length of rope. Or spread butter on my bread. What else can your gun do beside shoot someone or something? And if a knife is so dangerous why don't you carry that instead of a gun? Oh that's right because a gun is more dangerous. And it's true. I've been cut by other people wielding knives twice in my life. If they had shot me instead odds are I would be dead. So you are right; knives aren't as dangerous as guns. Wait, no your point was knives were just as dangerous as guns, so now I'm confused.

And we can do this all day. You give me a slogan and I break it down for you as to why it doesn't work for me. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. You are right. People kill people. Guns just make it easier for them to do it. Give me a handful of bullets and let me throw them at you it's not really going to do a lot. Not just because I have lousy aim when throwing, but because I don't have a gun. Give me a gun and a handful of bullets and let me shoot at you. Which, funny enough, I have better aim shooting than throwing. So I still sent a bullet your way. Because people are the ones to do it. But which one do you think is going to cause the damage? Guns are tools. Yes, yes they are. Tools used to shoot things.

You want a gun to defend your home. Okay. Here is a real world example I read the other day. Someone was talking about wanting and having an AR-15 because he had once had a gun held to his head and he was never going to have that happen again. He was talking to someone who was pro-gun control and asked what she would do if three guys broke in to her house because he would be prepared. And this is where it falls apart for me again. Okay, first off, you once had a gun held to your head, but you weren't shot. Scary, I get it. I have been threatened by a gun as well, terrifying. More so than the times with a knife. Much more. Because you know how close you are to death. But you weren't shot. If you had a gun as well would you have been? Would the person threatening you have been? A threat from a gun only works if you are willing to kill someone. Don't pull it unless you are willing to shoot it.

So his next step was if his home was broken in to he would be ready. Really? Would you? Say there is a group of three guys who have been planning a home invasion on your house. They are going to bust in knowing what they are after. They will have their guns ready. Will you be sitting waiting for them holding your AR-15 locked and loaded or will you be sitting on the couch wondering how those 2 Broke Girls are ever going to get their cupcake shop off the ground? Because that's the thing. Even if you do have a gun in your house your worst case panic scenario is armed men breaking in to your home and most likely that gun isn't sitting in your lap ready to go. Because that's not what you are thinking of right then. But they are. They have the jump on you. Now what?

The NRA wants an armed guard at every school. The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Because it worked so well in Columbine. See again, the bad guys are making plans for their shootings. The armed guards are protecting against the possibility that something might happen. They can't be everywhere at once. I know quite a few good guys with guns. People I would trust to protect me in case of shooting. And they are mostly law enforcement. A few former military. But people who have had significant training. And on going training. And understand what it means to be a good guy with a gun. Because their usage is well regulated. You having a gun doesn't automatically make you a good guy with a gun. It just makes you a guy with a gun.

The shooting that happened here is getting a lot of pro gun press because there was a guy at the mall with a concealed carry gun on him. He says he caught the eye of the shooter and believes that the next shot that was fired was the shooter taking his own life. So obviously the good guy with the gun won there right? Well except that we don't know that the shooter ever saw him. We don't know that the shooter didn't accidentally shoot himself while trying to un-jam his gun, another theory that is out there. But I do know that if you told me about the guy at the mall who wanted to be a cop but wasn't so instead did mall security and got a concealed carry permit and brought his gun with him shopping in a busy mall (not the one he worked at) the week before Christmas I wouldn't be so sure if you were talking about the good guy with the gun or the bad guy. But maybe that's just me.

So now you think you know where I stand on gun control. Except you don't. You know what I think when you toss your arguments at me and why they don't work for me. Except I don't think you know that either. Because I think that your opinions are so fully entrenched that you didn't really read what I wrote and filled in your own beliefs about what I believe instead.

I have family that hunts. I have no urge to take away their guns. They enjoy it. It's not for me, I prefer to get my meat the natural way, fully dressed, butchered and wrapped in saran wrap. But they hunt. I have no issue with that. They also don't use high capacity magazines and shoot round after round of bullets in to the animal because it would ruin the meat.

I have friends and family that live in rural settings. I live a mile away from a Sheriff's office. They are 20 minutes at least from help if they call. And they feel the need to protect themselves. Wild animals of the four and two legged variety. My grandfather had a rifle for this very purpose. I see the logic in that. And most of them also hunt. So they have guns for that as well.

My father-in-law was a prosecutor and my mother-in-law worked as a psychiatric nurse for troubled teens. They decided it would be a good idea to have a gun in the house because they really did work against some bad guys. They also took other steps to protect themselves. Unlisted numbers. Careful about personal information. A variety of things, because that's what it takes to really be safe, looking at all the options. But they also had a gun. Which was locked up in a gun safe when we would come to visit with C when he was a baby. Not because I'm a bad parent who didn't watch over their child or because they were careless selfish people who shouldn't have been responsible for kids, which is what you read as comments when a child dies in a gun accident. But because kids are fast and sneaky and will find the things you don't want them to quicker than you ever thought possible. Any parent who has cleaned up a lipstick mess, or a baby powder mess, or a soap mess, knows this. So while we were there, or he was there with them without us, the gun was locked away where he couldn't get it. Absolutely no good for protection against anyone else. But the only safe place for it to be when a little one was present.

Do I think any of them don't have a right to have a gun? No. I don't. I understand why they want them. I understand why they feel better having them. But does that mean I don't think we need to do something about the easy access we have to guns? No. I do. I think we need to look at our laws and see what is working and what isn't. We need to have an honest debate where reasonable people who know there is a difference between types of guns are allowed to speak about reasonable controls. We already have some laws on what you can own, so why is this different? Because you want the cool boom stick so you can look like an action hero? Too fucking bad. I want all the money in the bank but the law says I can't just walk in and take it.

The bullshit line about gun laws meaning only criminals will have guns makes me roll my eyes. Criminals break laws, does this mean we shouldn't have any? Because I am pretty sure that's not what you mean. We have laws so we have an avenue to punish those that break them. If robbing banks were illegal only criminals would be bank robbers.

Nobody is taking all of your guns. There is no way a law would be passed allowing it. So stop freaking out over a make believe problem and start looking at what the real problems are. What will it take to change things? To make all of us feel safer?

Me? I'm a Second Amendment gal all the way. Well regulated. You want a gun. Okay. You have to be a certain age to own one. It must be registered. You must be licensed. You must renew your license every few years. It must be insured. You can't just give your gun to someone else. There has to be a transfer of title and it can only go to someone who is licensed to operate that particular type of gun. You want a concealed carry permit? Okay. You must show just cause as to why you should have one. Not just because you want one, but really why do you need one? And that's a whole additional level of testing and regulating. And if you want access to a gun then we are going to have to make sure you are mentally sound. There is a lot of discussion right now that mental health is the issue, not easy access to guns. Okay, that's fine and I think fair. I think anyone who does these sorts of crimes is insane. So part of being well regulated means you get screened when you get licensed.

A lot of these are already on the books. They should be enforced. Stop with the loopholes. And if you break the law you go to jail. Your right to own a gun is gone. Forever. Will it fix the problem overnight? No. There is no answer that will fix our problems overnight. But start with something.

And if you want to shoot a more powerful gun with a bigger clip, join the Army. Though they are going to screen you for mental health issues as well. It's part of being well regulated after all.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Write this down...

"Oh my God, did you see this story on my wall?"

Grace handed her phone over to Jill to read.

As Jill read the first lines of the post she looked down to check how many people had clicked share from Grace's post and smiled.

"Six people have shared this story. This is awesome!"

"That people are sharing it? Why is that the awesome part, you haven't even read the whole story yet, it's so moving. You have to read the whole thing. I totally cried."

"I don't have to read it, I wrote it."

"You wrote it? It's about a boy and his dog. You don't have a dog and you aren't a boy. What do you mean you wrote it?"

"I wrote it. You don't have to have a dog to write about having a dog."

"But this isn't a fiction piece, this is an essay. This guy had a dog when he was little and the dog saved him from a snake and the boy thought the dog had run away but..."

"When he was older he had an accident on his motorcycle the dog came back out of the desert and barked until someone heard and came to rescue him. I told you, I know. I wrote it. I wasn't really sure if it would work or not. It seemed like it might be a little too, I don't know, improbable, but people love stories about dogs so I've found I can get away with a little more in them."

"You mean you write other things like this?" Grace was starting to think her friend Jill wasn't kidding and she actually had written the story about the boy and his dog.

"Yes, I told you I was a copywriter, what did you think I meant?"

"I thought you worked in advertising or something!"

"I do. Sort of. Marketing really. I write stories that move you, you share them, other people read them and share them. Out of everyone who shares them maybe a third go back to the website the story started on and like the page. More likes means more advertisers for the site. More shares means more likes. More likes means a bigger bonus for me and a higher price for my next piece. Last year my most shared story went out over a million times and was attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Einstein and Morgan Freeman!"

"What?" Now Grace was even more confused.

"Oh, that's when you know you've written something really good.  When you see it reposted somewhere with a famous person's name attached to it. Screen shots of those  got me a big enough bonus to pay for my trip to Hawaii."

"Okay, wait, so you write stories like this for Facebook?"

"Well, now for Facebook, my first story was actually in HiLights magazine when I was a kid. But Facebook has been a huge boon to my industry. Or at least my sub-specialty. I write sad-tivotional things. Sad but moving. Things that make you cry when you read them. Animal stories are really good for that though a good military homecoming works as well. Though you have to be really careful with those because the anti group loves to post on those that they are fake. Drives me crazy."

"But they are fake!"

"No, they aren't fake. They are real. I wrote them. They are real stories. The emotions are real, what you feel is real."

"But the people aren't real! Isn't this super cynical?"

"No, I was never really good at the cynical stuff. Which turned out good for me in the end. Before the internet the cynical stuff was a big seller. Letters to the editor, stories for kids to pass around on playgrounds, bar stories, those were big sellers, but it turns out that everyone online thinks they can write cynical so they sort of glutted the market with the amateur stuff. Every once in awhile I will run across a piece of pure cynicism and know one of ours wrote it, but not as much anymore."

"That's not what I meant, and what do you mean one of ours? Do you all work for the same people? What the hell, Jill?"

"I think most of us work for one or two companies. I work for Aesop's. They've been around for ages, but there are some that are older than them. Aesop always liked the animal stories though so it was a good fit for me. But in this day and age they can't talk, they have to be heroic without seeming too much like people. It's a fine line. Parables are tough. Each generation takes their lessons from different places and you have to go with the flow, you know? In today's day and age you have to watch out for stories that are too good to be true. Pics or it didn't happen right? Water to wine wouldn't fly today unless there was a chemist on site to verify."

"Water to wine? Are you saying that someone like you wrote that?"

"Oh, Grace, now who is being cynical?"

"You didn't really answer me."

"But it doesn't matter, that's my point. The story about the boy and his dog? You read it, it moved you, you thought it was lovely, you shared it. Other people read it, they were touched, they shared it. That's what's important. You were moved. You probably sent your brother a nice note or gave your dog an extra treat after you read it as well."

"Both, actually."

"See? That's my point. It's all real. Are you telling me you cried when Dumbledore died because you thought he was a real person? Or was he just real to you in that moment? When you go to a movie do you watch it thinking, 'I will like this less because it's fiction.' or do you just enjoy it for what it is?"

"But I thought this was a true story. Now it's not as moving. Now I will wonder if everything I am reading is fake. It won't be as special because it's not true."

"But what does it matter? If it moved you then who cares if it's true? You sound like an anti."

"What the hell is an anti?"

"My theory is they are all of the out of work cynic writers. They are the ones you see posting on a really cool photograph 'shopped' or in the comments of a wonderfully crafted story,'snopes says this never happened' I can't prove it but I am pretty sure snopes itself is run by antis. They are the bane of my existence. They can stop a sharing train right in its tracks. So freaking annoying. You spend all day working on a piece to get just the right balance between freaky cat and helpful cat and one of them ruins it!"

At that point Grace started to laugh. "Oh my God, you've totally been pulling my leg haven't you?"

Jill smiled at her friend, "Yeah, totally. Come on, I had you going for a minute though didn't I?"

"You did! I always fall for your stories!
 I have to go use the restroom, I'll be right back."

As Grace walked to the bathroom Jill checked her phone. The story was up to 12 shares just from Grace's page now. She signaled the bartender, "Next round is on  me!"