High status people do good things

Posted in Random thoughts at 8:33 pm by ducky

In an article for Slate, Daniel Gross points out that the Davos attendees, who are quick to lionize Great Men (yes, usually men) when there are big successes, are blaming the system now that things are going wrong.

I am not at all surprised.  As I have blogged before, Larissa Tieden’s research shows that people think that high-status people do good things and that low-status people do bad things.  In this context, low-status people are not powerful people who do bad things, but the invisible, the drones, the unseen — the system.

In this case, it is rather obvious that many, many people were complicit in the financial collapse: from those who made financial policy, to those who perpetuated the policy, to those who made bad deals, to those who took risky deals.  I don’t find fault with saying that the system caused the failure.

I do think that we under-recognize how many people are “complicit” in successes.  While it might be tempting to say that Google’s success, for example, was the success of the Great Men Larry Page and Sergey Brin, perhaps it really was the system: the fertile technical environment, the fertile financial environment, the fertile educational environment, the hard work of many early employees, and so on.

This doesn’t even factor in all the people who were positive influences on the people involved prior to Google’s birth.  For example, their early, key employees were alive, while in other times and places not all of them would have survived to adulthood.  The entire health care system — consisting of surgeons, doctors, epidemiologists, vaccine producers, hospitals, clinics, and insurance bureaucrats — were thus important.  It’s the system.

If the Davos attendees really recognizes the importance of all the other people in any success, and by extension in their success, it would probably be harder for them be comfortable about their wealth and power.


Waiting dogs

Posted in Random thoughts at 9:00 am by ducky

I have been struck and somewhat puzzled by how happy my friends’ dogs have been to see me. My old housemates’ dogs, for example, would get all excited to see me, even after a gap of several years.

I realized last weekend that the dog has no idea where I’ve gone, when I am coming back, or even if I am ever coming back. It must be like someone going off on a sailing ship 200 years ago: no idea where they are, when they will come back, or even if they will come back.


Thank you, Barack Obama

Posted in Politics at 12:06 pm by ducky

From time to time since the election, I have burst into tears.  Oftentimes it hits me without warning.

Today, I burst into tears twice.  The first was at seeing a picture of Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and their wives in a group hug with Obama’s inauguration on the TV in the background.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos were the two who gave the “black power” salute on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games.  That picture really gave me a sense that we have closed a chapter in our national history.  The story of racism in the United States has not ended, but a chapter has closed.  Slammed shut.

The second time, I could only eke out a “Honey!”  Jim asked what, but I couldn’t answer because I was convulsed with sobs.  Jim rushed to me, concerned.  All I could manage was, “He signed it!” and point at the article saying that Obama had signed an anti-torture executive order.    Thank you, Mr. President.  I have been waiting for this for a long time.


Two miles of cheers

Posted in Gay rights, Politics at 4:56 pm by ducky

Watching the inauguration today, I couldn’t help but be reminded of gay pride parades.

There are very few mass events where everybody is really happy.  Most large gatherings are sporting events, and there is almost always an undercurrent of hostility somewhere.  If nothing else, the losing team’s fans are unhappy — usually.  (I went to the 1994 Men’s World Cup match between the US and Brazil.  Everybody knew that the Brazilians were way better than the USA, so in this case, the losers didn’t care that they were losing.  Furthermore, it was the Brazilians!  Their spirit of joy and fun was infectious.)

Maybe rock concerts are also places of fun sometimes, but I never had much fun at rock concerts.   The band was always too far away to see and yet too loud.

The C-SPAN feed of the inauguration didn’t have any commentary, but instead just broadcast the ambient noise of the crowd.  For two miles, almost all you could hear was people screaming their heads off as the motorcade (and microphone) moved down the route.

Ten years ago, when I marched in the SF Pride Parade with PFLAG, I experienced two miles of people cheering their hearts out.  The straight public was not as accepting of gay and lesbian people back then, and thus (I guess) it meant a lot to see straight people standing up for gay rights.  So they cheered.

In recent years, the cheers for PFLAG have been polite, but not overwhelming like before.  That’s a good thing — that means that public acceptance is greater, so PFLAG isn’t as needed.  The cheers for PFLAG were a reflection of how bad things were elsewhere, and how PFLAG represented a beacon of hope.  It is a very good sign that the cheers for PFLAG are tamer now.

Similarly, the cheers for Obama reflected how bad things were.  It would not have been so moving for African-Americans if African-Americans had not faced such brutal ill-treatment in the US.  It would not have been so moving for me, a white person, if I had thought that G. W. Bush had done a competent job.

I hope that at the inauguration of the next non-white president, the crowds are much smaller and tamer.

Postscript: Apparently there were exactly zero arrests at the inauguration.  I once asked a cop at the SF Pride Parade what it was like to work the parade.  His answer: “Four hundred thousand people, no arrests, no injuries, what’s not to like?”  (I had just gotten off of my shift as a Safety Monitor, and had first-hand knowledge that “no injuries” was a sligh exaggeration, but the injuries were all very mild — e.g. people skinning their knees, not e.g. getting beaten, hit by cars, falling 30 feet, etc.)

No to Caroline Kennedy

Posted in Politics at 1:59 pm by ducky

Do not take my silence on Caroline Kennedy as an endorsement.  I’ve just been busy.

I am almost as offended that Caroline Kennedy is being considered for New York senator as I was when McCain picked Palin.  I say “almost” because Senators do not have authority to fire nuclear missles.  Selecting Caroline Kennedy is merely a bad idea, not scary.

I am dismayed with my own party that they are not raising a bigger stink about her.  Somehow the magic of the Kennedy name seems to be enough to quiet lots of people.  Huh?

Now, I am willing to believe that being part of a political family can be useful.  You do learn things at the dinner table.  (My father was a professor of Physics;  I was in college before I realized that not everybody drew free-body diagrams on napkins over dinner.)  So Caroline Kennedy might have learned something from her father.

Except that she stopped having dinner with her father when she was six.

Maybe her mother helped instill political savvy into Caroline.  I wasn’t there, I don’t know, but I never heard much about Jackie Kennedy Onassis being much into politics.

I think Sarah Palin would be much more credible as a senator.    Palin’s limitations — her lack of sophistication in both foreign and national-level — made her IMHO a poor choice to represent the U.S. to the world.   However, she’s held office, she understand politics, is a proven campaigner, and is strongly Alaskan.  She is certainly a legitimate choice to represent Alaska to the nation.  (I wouldn’t vote for her, but that’s because I don’t like her politics, not because I think she’s unqualified.)

Kennedy, sorry.  I don’t see how she qualifies.