On One Hand

July 3, 2014

A simple trick to stop ‘arguing’ and be really persuasive

Filed under: culture,science — ononehand @ 2:07 pm
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There’s a tendency to think of persuasion in terms of winning an argument or debate. You’re trying to be rational: you’re thinking that if you defend your position with logic and evidence, and prove that the counter-arguments are false, the other person is now obligated to switch to your view.

If only life were so simple. In your mind you have proven you are right, but the other person is just thinking she or he needs to do some homework to come up with a better rebuttal tomorrow. Once you set someone up as your intellectual adversary they are not going to cross the line to join you.

That might be why political debates don’t have a significant influence on elections, no matter how well one side does or how eloquently the positions are argued. People root for the candidate they already support, and the arguments can stir up enthusiasm but they don’t “convert.” There’s a very different way that candidates vie for votes.

The reality is that people in the day-to-day world believe things because they want to. There are just far too many competing ideas and decisions to make to investigate each one objectively. Everyone is able to weigh different factors — pros and cons — to arrive at an opinion or decision, but the weight people grant to each factor comes down to how much they like and identify with it.

Persuading effectively comes down to this simple approach:


  • Identify an idea that you and your audience can already agree on. (Common values or principles, something you might both say is a problem, a universal need, etc.)
  • Validate your audience’s existing beliefs, observations and experiences.
  • Explain that those same reasons drive you to stand where you do.

And that’s basically it. People are very inclined to side with you simply because you are someone with similar concerns and reached the conclusion you did.

The main goals are to be relatable — the person you are trying to persuade is your peer, not inferior to you — and to emphasize your area of agreement so much that the other factors fade from mind.

Here’s the important part: DO NOT argue points where you disagree. Acknowledge them as valid points and then steer the conversation away from them. No matter how ridiculous you think they are and no matter how strong your evidence against them is, you’re not going to convince people their own interests or ideas are wrong. They will always be a factor, but you can say that a different set of factors (the ones that support your cause) are more compelling for you.



Think back to the last time you observed a political campaign. One thing you won’t see a candidate do is try to get voters to change their minds about their basic ideals and principles. They won’t try to convert liberals into conservatives or convert conservatives into liberals, but the candidates will jump and tumble over each other trying to validate the experiences and values of crucial swing voters.

They’ll say, “We know that families in Ohio are struggling.” (something that they’ve poll-tested to be sure the audience they’re targeting agrees). “Jobs have been shipped overseas, and too many people are worried whether the manufacturing industry — once the backbone of the American economy — is ever going to come back…” (validating the audience’s existing worries and experiences) “…which is why I have a plan to create more than a million new manufacturing jobs over the next five years.”

This candidate might disagree with the target audience when it comes to immigration policy, foreign policy or social issues, but isn’t going to try to sway their minds on those things. She’ll just keep hammering on areas where she and the audience agree, and try to make the election all about those things.



Now I call this a “trick” because that’s what it is; while it comes instinctively to many people, it’s a technique that can help you towards high-minded goals as well as goals that are very selfish and manipulative. If you’re trying to get people to turn against their own interests, eventually they’re going to figure that out and you might never gain their trust again. And if someone senses over time that you’re only feigning commonality to persuade them without being open to their ideas as well, they’re going to get really annoyed and stop listening to you. You’re better off if you’re looking to learn from people as much as to persuade them.

So be genuine and authentic, approach everyone by trying to find your common ground, and stop wasting your energy arguing! (Unless it’s something you really enjoy doing.)


December 4, 2010

The Era of “Safe” Causes

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:22 pm
Tags: ,

Maybe I lack the perspective of age, but it seems that politics are getting lazier and lazier.

It was only a few years ago – 40 at most – that people would take to the streets and protest or riot, putting themselves at major risk to express something, or try to change something that seemed impossible to change. Granted, even in the thick of the tumultuous 1960s, Suburban America was thriving in its quaint monotony, and most kids were going to school like ordinary kids and most dads worked and most moms stayed at home and cooked. So perhaps it is only the Left that has lost its spark in 2010.

In 1969, the Stonewall riots sparked the modern gay rights movement when a bunch of drag queens and transvestites and a few gay men and lesbians battled the New York City Police Department for days in an all-out brawl. And the gays won – it was the moment they switched from being a deviant underclass to an oppressed minority. Just ten years earlier, freedom riders fighting for civil rights were yanked off of buses and beaten, and some were killed, in a fight to end the brutality of racial segregation.

Now, the Facebook “like” button is the venue for expressions of solidarity.

I get dozens of “causes” invites per week, and yes, I support the troops, yes I support repairing cleft lips in Thailand, yes I support ending breast cancer, yes I support feeding the hungry, yes I agree child abuse is bad, yes I support people with diabetes. To make that stuff easier to follow, can there just be one general button that says “I’m generally in favor of things that nobody in her right mind would oppose?”

How about this cause: “if you are against the Earth getting sucked into a gigantic intergalactic black hole, put a ‘<3 EARTH' in your Facebook profile."


Imagine asking your friends about it; “well it’s not smart to talk politics on a first date, but I’m just curious where you stand on an gigantic intergalactic black hole swallowing the Earth.”

“I don’t know who I’m voting for for state representative, I’ll have to see how the candidates would vote on the Earth getting sucked into the intergalactic black hole.”

“You know Anderson I’d love to answer your question about the Senate blocking a vote on tax cuts for the middle class, but first I must take a moment to bring up an important issue and say that I absolutely condemn the idea of a gigantic intergalactic black hole sucking in the Earth.”

Thanks for taking a tough stance on a divisive issue, everyone.

What if we took it a step up in controversy: instead of saying “I support American troops not dying in war,” say “I support NOBODY dying in war, I support there not being a war.” Instead of saying “I support feeding the hungry on Thanksgiving,” saying “I support asking why the 1 in 5 Americans are jobless when corporations are turning record profits, I support asking why there are still hungry and homeless people who need psychiatric or medical attention for disabilities that keep them unemployed in a country that spends $2.5 trillion annually on healthcare.” Instead of saying “I think animal cruelty is wrong” which really only means pet cruelty, what if we said “I will only buy pets from shelters and refuse to eat animals slaughtered in factory farms” and put major institutions of suffering out of business. Instead of saying “I am against bullying,” saying “I will question every judgmental instinct that comes into my mind and will call out other people on their judgmental instincts against people they see as socially inferior, to stop the kind of culture that causes kids to kill themselves.”

Instead of saying “I’m against racism” as in not being a member of a hate group, saying “I’m against racism” as in being against a society that wants to call “truce” after hundreds of years of one-sided bullying, when the damage is still there, when a sense of cultural superiority is still there, and white people still enjoy higher income, more wealth, longer life expectancies, better representation in public office and better access to higher education than people of color.

So instead of putting cartoons in our profiles to protest child abuse, why don’t we protest it vows of nonviolence in our own lives. That means physical, verbal and psychological, towards our friends, our families, and ourselves. Lets make a sacrifice for what we believe in. Lets do something that takes effort and ask each other to do something that takes effort. Without effort there is no change.

Or, you know… ❤ Earth.

June 4, 2010

The Media Needs To Focus on Where Economy is Working

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 9:05 pm
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Economies are mobs. Prices are set by the number of people who are willing to buy something and what they are willing to pay for it – they are determined by collective, rather than individual decisions. In times like these, they are increasingly characterized by mass panics and mass rallies – by emotions and fear.

As much as economists like to cite historic trends or graphs or abstract indicators about what is going to happen and when, there is no intrinsic rule that says oil will become less expensive in the month of June or that gold will skyrocket in even-numbered years. There is especially no intrinsic reason why all stocks should rise and fall together, like they did today, by news stories that have nothing to do with the individual companies being traded, but rather, the collective abstract sense of the entire economy’s well-being. They move together because of collective emotion. The prices of these things go up or down because of our collective choices, which essentially means they go up or down as much because of other peoples’ choices as our own, and under the premise that people tend to act alike under similar circumstances.

For all the Objectivist’s claims about the intrinsic ties between capitalism and individuality, there is no one less individualistic in this world than an investor in a volatile market.

Similarly, the rise and fall of the entire economy is determined, not so much by complicated graphs and hidden variables that nobody can understand, as much as by one simple thing: our collective actions.

So when you’re trying to figure out whether the economy is going to grow or shrink over the next six months, it boils down to one simple question: are people going to be more productive over the next six months than they are now, or less? That breaks down into two specific areas to look at: are people going to spend more money, or less? Are companies going to hire more employees, or fewer?

Businesses right now are in a place of hesitation. Collectively, when you read the stories you hear nearly all of them saying that they’ve been making more money than they were last year. On its face, that is proof-positive that the economy is growing. On the other hand, they’ve been saying that they don’t want to respond to this growth by hiring more employees – even when they feel they could use them – because they don’t know if the boost in sales is going to last. Sales are tied to the collective actions of all potential customers, choosing to buy or not to buy. They are tied to the entire economy.

In other words, Companies don’t want to hire and be more productive because they don’t know what the whole economy is going to do over the next six months.

Imagine the absurdity of that statement, considered simplistically. When businesses hire and do more, that is growth in the economy. If every company in America decided today to add 1 employee for every 10 employees currently working – a 10 percent expansion in workforce – the entire economy would roar ahead at a tremendous speed. Unemployment would plummet. Profits would skyrocket. The vast majority of the companies would almost certainly be able to profit from the investment, because more people working would mean more people would have money to spend, there would be more demand for goods and services, and on top of that there would be more work actually being done. So refusing to hire because you don’t know what the economy is going to do is literally stagnating the economy in case it stagnates. It’s circular.

This would imply that taking action, choosing to hire or invest, is good. The only downside of action, is being the only person to make the choice you are making. Companies are timid. In one sense, being first to act can be good; being first to buy stock that suddenly rises in value can be immensely profitable because you get it cheap and can sell it for more money. That’s part of why the stock market has done well over the last year, as the first segment of the economy to expand. Being first to come up with a product that people need has produced millionaires and billionaires throughout recent history. On the other hand, if nobody acts – if you attempt to be first in a trend and the trend never materializes, the outcome could be rocky and even a loss. Hiring ten people and not having sales increase means that everything you paid those employees is a loss for you. In other words, adding employees to your workforce only works when all other companies do so too.

Ideally, the best economic stimulus that the government could possibly offer is an order that every business expand workforce by five percent. This, of course, is illegal and unconstitutional. But it would work.

This is an extremely simplistic view of the economy. People don’t pay thousands of dollars and work for four years to learn economics in a form as simple as this, which is something a fifth grader can understand. Still, the fact that the economy is as much a matter of psychology as it is material remains true.

We are now in an economy ruled by fear. Growth boomed in April, but then in May, bad news abounded. A leaky pipe in the Gulf of Mexico is pumping millions of gallons of petroleum into the ocean, which is shutting down the fishing and tourism industries in the area. A bad financial situation in some of the smaller economies in Europe is creating a financial crisis there, which has the potential to impact the United States. It’s causing the Euro to decline in value, which causes the U.S. dollar to rise relative to other currencies, which causes a state of deflation in which stocks decrease in numerical value even if they are keeping the same absolute value. These things have little real impact on you and me. However, they have immense psychological impact in the U.S. American companies are saying maybe right now isn’t the best time to invest or hire, even as their bottom lines show that it would be relatively safe to make such an investment, just because, you know, we’re watching the news and it looks like it might be risky.

That is a self-fulfilling prophesy. If a huge number of CEO’s and managers decide it may be too risky to hire now, based on a slight possibility that the economy won’t grow, then the economy won’t grow. They will make it become true.

Right now it is those who are mediating the information that have all the power.

Optimism is the medicine that will save us right now. That can come from a number of places. One potential source of optimism is inflation. If the value of a rising dollar can create the perception that everything is worth less and less than it used to be (which can have a very detrimental effect when you are trying to sell your product or wondering if you should invest in a new home or in stocks), then it reasons that the alternative, inflation – the lessening of the value of currency so that people will have a sense that things are increasing in value – has a huge positive psychological effect. People get paid more than they were getting paid last year. People can sell their product for more money.

In a state of inflation, even stagnating wealth feels like growth. It’s an illusion, but a very effective one. That’s why the last ten years – an era of absolute stagnation for most middle-class Americans – wasn’t perceived as a total loss for Americans during those years. If you make a thousand dollars more this year than you did last year, you’re quite proud of yourself, even if it is exactly as much as the price of everything you buy increased.

Printing more money and causing inflation also has the effect of making a given federal debt less significant, and increases the dollar value of GDP so that current government expenditures shrink by comparison. Economic conservatives call it a hidden tax, but it’s hard to see how even economic conservatives want to stagnate the economy when deflation is part of what is destroying it.

Another thing that can have a huge difference is to focus on the good when it comes to media and news. That’s something that nobody, regardless of their ideology, should dispute. Newspapers and magazines should run regular features on businesses that have been thriving in spite of the recession; they should feature companies that choose to hire anyway, and root in favor of them. Give investors the sense that the economy is doing better, and it will.

My cynical suspicion is that secretly, a lot of people either want or think the economy will fail because the government is now run by Democrats, and they distrust the Democrats on economic matters. A lot of people with money prefer a divided or Republican government. Whether it be by desire or just circumstantial, they can refuse to invest right now out of distrust, and the economy will suffer.

Thus, my suspicion is that whatever happens, November 2010 will be a month of growth. The moment midterm elections are over, Democrats will have either won or lost. Conservative economists and investors may want to see Obama out of office, but they are not going to want to wait another 2 years until 2012 to move; they’ll act in November 2010. If Democrats win, conservative investors get over it and start investing anyway, and the economy will grow, because they aren’t going to sit around and get older without doing anything productive. If Democrats lose and Republicans take Congress, they will be elated that we now have a divided government that is now more favorable to the wealthy, they will start investing, and the economy will grow.

This, of course, is all psychological. They could choose to invest right now and the economy would grow.

Or, we could talk up what’s going right with this country, try to put all the bad news in perspective, and watch growth and prosperity begin to return right now as people glean some hope and make an effort to do something with their time.

April 21, 2010

On Religion

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 10:05 pm
Tags: ,

I have been, and am, somewhat critical of organized religion from time to time. However, a lot of people will note, and have noted, that I am a lot less critical of religion than a lot of other liberals, and I don’t rant against it or argue that it is all nonsense. I am also quite critical of those who condemn religion or refer to all believers as idiots or selfish miscreants. My thinking is very different from that of Bill Maher or other famous iconoclasts.

I’ll note that I grew up Catholic and do not “hate” my religion of birth (though I am extremely critical of Church politics at times), I spent two years of my life leading a youth program in a Unitarian Universalist church, I minored in Religions Studies in college, and I have and continue to support groups that use the word “ministry” or “stewardship” as part of their mission statement. Those who read my theological views know I differ greatly from many on the concept of “god,” the “soul,” and “afterlife.” Still, I find myself siding with certain kinds of “believers” or religions adherents quite often.

Religion is complicated, and people in the West living in the shadow of European-originated Christianity critique along the same paradigmatic lines that Christian conservatives/conservative Christians support it. This seems complicated; hopefully this will make sense as I explain.

Different religions (and different believers) use religion to answer different “questions.”

For example, most Americans think religion asks/answers:

1) what happens to me when I die?
2) who does God love/favor and who does he not love/favor?
3) how do I get to heaven/how am I saved from hell?
4) what is the origin of the universe and what is historically/factually true and untrue?

Even atheists and agnostics may accept a “Christian” definition of religion, so they oppose it for what they see to be rational reasons. I agree that religion is BAD at answering most of these questions; people who pursue these kinds of faith tend to favor their group and hate others, have unrealistic certainty about the nature of life, and decide that mythological stories are factually true. In most of these cases, science and philosophy are better at answering them, and in some of them nobody knows the answer and its foolish for a devout person to claim certainty or even any kind of evidence for belief.

However, for some people, religion addresses:

1) what is the ultimate purpose of my life?
2) how can I get out of my individual experience and care for others/community?
3) what is the value of deep reflection and how is it enhanced when we pursue it as a community?

These questions are asked by “humanistic” religions such as Unitarian Universalism, Progressive Christianity, Reform Judaism and others. Other religions will ask:

1) what is the nature of the individual/mind/consciousness?
2) how do I liberate the individual/mind/consciousness?

These are questions asked by Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as other lesser-known religions around the world. Still other religions ask:

1) how do I define my people and what are our shared values?
2) what defines membership in my community?
3) what are our most valued/sacred traditions and histories?
4) what defines my community’s struggle and what are the lessons we learn from it? How does it tie to other kinds of knowledge such as scriptural/spiritual knowledge?

These questions are asked by ethnic religions such as Judaism and a lot of Indigenous religions in the world. It might also refer to “non-practicing” Muslims, who encompass a surprising percentage of the world’s adherents of Islam; in some cases even the majority of people in Muslim-dominated countries are not particularly religions and see “Muslim” as being primarily an ethnic identity. These questions are also, to an extent, addressed by Black churches and other religions groups that are associated with a community. Finally:

1) where did we come from?
2) how do I explain my connection to the objects/creatures/living things around me?
3) what is the value and being of me and of these objects? How are they like me and not like me?

This encompasses the rest of the indigenous religions in the world.

In most cases and for most believers, a particular religion or spiritual worldview will leak over into other categories; there are plenty of Humanist Christians, mystic Muslims, radical Buddhists and followers of indigenous religions who shun other groups or “prophesize.” There are plenty of American New Agers who fancy themselves Buddhist or Hindu but still have Christian-esque concepts of the soul, prophesy, and the afterlife, even with a more liberal moral system and an embracing of alternate mind states or reincarnation. These are general categories, addressing the fact that not all believers are concerned with the same things, and there are certainly many of them who distance themselves from our most recognized concepts of the “supernatural,” from the afterlife, and from heaven vs. hell.

Religion is mutli-faceted and complicated. One person’s religion is another person’s “philosophy” and another person’s “culture.” You cannot affirm or condemn religion in broad strokes. When you step outside of a Euro-centric, American-centric and Anglo-centric look at the world, it becomes harder to pigeonhole.

Most people who condemn religion do so because they see it as conservative. Ironically, they are taking a rather conservative position in regards to religion.

April 15, 2010

Yes, This is Really what I Believe about the Opponents of Healthcare Reform

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:57 pm
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We’ve gone over the suffering that people without access to health insurance face.

We’ve gone over how expanding access to healthcare can save costs.

We’ve gone over countless plans at making access to healthcare universal, with minimal impact on those who already have health insurance.

We’ve gone over countless plans at making access to healthcare universal that would actually benefit most of those who already have health insurance.

And for many Americans, the answer is still, no. We don’t want that. It’s too expensive, it’s “too much government,” it’s too big, it’s too fast; those are the arguments that generally rise to the surface in the news. You hear polls indicating that people continue to believe that the uninsured still have reasonable access to healthcare even though this is clearly not true. People seem to be willing themselves into denial.

But if you listen closer to ordinary Americans who oppose healthcare reform, you hear things like “healthcare should be a privilege, not a right,” and “I don’t think everyone deserves healthcare.”

It’s time to admit what’s really at play here.

The opponents of healthcare reform, or anything that expands access, are not really concerned with compassion, cost, with the role of government or even with taxes.

It’s about protecting their privilege. “What good is my health plan,” they ask, “if people without my health plan can actually see a doctor too?” You don’t want to win a coupon to pay $2 for a sandwich and get to the stand and find out that the sandwiches are free anyway. If another country were to come in to the United States offering “foreign aid,” saying “we will pay for your uninsured to have healthcare at absolutely no cost to you,” I believe that many Americans who oppose healthcare reform would see even this as a negative.

The history of humanity is full of undeniable cruelty, and undeniable persecution based on constructs of class, race, or other identifiers. Think about American segregation, where white southerners overtly perpetrated their cruelty towards Black Americans for decades, to no benefit of their own. Think about the American Civil War, where poor white Southerners who did not own slaves or personally benefit from slavery still fought and died to protect slavery as an institution.

Look at Roman society, where people of all kinds derived immense pleasure from watching poorer people be tortured and killed in the arena. Look at Greek and Roman slavery, look at South African oppression of blacks, and look at the American genocide of the Native Americans, where white Americans actually overtly stated that extermination of another group of people was the goal. Look at the Holocaust, the irrational hatred so many Germans had for Jewish people, and the cruelties enacted that were of no tangible benefit to their perpetrators.

Look at every school yard where bullies taunt and persecute the outcasts, and you’ll see that even in Suburban America humans continue to exhibit a natural enjoyment of cruelty before they reach the self-criticism and maturity of adulthood.

It seems to be quite an audacious accusation to say that class cruelty is at play today; it is a thought that has been more or less banished from the general rhetoric. But if humanity is so wrought with unnecessary suffering, and even our own history is wrought with it, why do we think that we, modern America, are exempt, uniquely enlightened, and suddenly the only motivation of American Conservatism is economic pragmatism?

It’s not that rich or middle-class Americans don’t want to pay for universal healthcare, it’s that they think that limiting access is a good thing, that privilege is something to be enjoyed when you have it, and that one’s wealth or advantages are discernibly less enjoyable when they are given to others. Classism still exists. Americans feel good thinking the United States is the richest country in the world. Americans feel good thinking that their neighborhood is wealthier than another neighborhood, and that their home is bigger than another home. Americans, in a tendency that all human beings are prone to, feel good knowing how bad others have it. In other words, when you are not suffering, you see others’ suffering as deserved or even good.

The idea that this is what motivates American politics is cringeworthy. It suggests that the views of some on the Right come damned near being definable as hatred; it paints Tea Partiers or other status-quo groups clearly unethical, while we all like to see ourselves as moral and kind. That is why we come up with all kinds of rationalizations to explain the causes we support or oppose: Americans will argue that the uninsured don’t suffer that much, they’ll say fixing the problem would be nice but is too expensive, or they’ll say that they don’t believe it is a realistic goal. Most of these arguments are tacitly false, as demonstrated by many successful programs in other countries that make access to healthcare universal, but it is impossible to win the debate over healthcare by pointing out the falsehood of those arguments when those arguments are not what is actually motivating their proponents.

If you listen closely to Right-wing rhetoric, to the Tea Party protesters and to Conservatives who are not in public office who explain their views on healthcare, you will catch this – many people see universal access to medicine as a NEGATIVE thing. In other words, they’d pay extra to maintain their privilege and others’ suffering. They derive joy from a stratified world in which others are disadvantaged.

If you open up the New Testament, you see Jesus talking quite a bit about the Kingdom of God, and Heaven and Hell. When he talks about who is going where, the conversation is not about “sin.” It’s about how you view the structure of society. The rich and powerful are condemned. The poor and destitute are lifted up. Jesus forgives countless sinners, be they sexual deviants or tax collectors or adulterers. He does not forgive authorities who neglect the poor.

In the many parables in which Jesus discusses someone who is not forgiven, there stories of people literally entering Hell. The Rich Man from the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is an example. They are people who hoard their wealth and enjoy their privilege so that others may suffer; they are people who refuse to share their table scraps with a beggar. Jesus says that your treatment in the hereafter will be determined on how you treated “the least of these,” the poorest and most reviled in your society.

I am not a Christian, and am not advocating the view that rich or conservative Americans are going to Hell. I don’t believe that the Bible is literally true nor do I think it is free of countless distortions favored by the early Church. But of the reasons I will likely never be a Christian again (aside from lack of evidence and some absurdities in Christian theology) is that the modern church continues to be so self-damningly silent on the issue of privilege, which Jesus opposed more than anything else. The Church condemns homosexuals and birth control, to the extent that it advocates against the election of pro-choice Democrats, yet it allows the persecution of immigrants and uninsured people? The hypocrisy is palpable, and so is the hypocrisy of those who think our current stratification is a good thing.

But that is, ultimately, why people opposing universal healthcare are so careful to couch their sentiments in other arguments, to claim their opposition to reform is simply selfishness and not overt hate, or to claim it is pragmatism and that the bleeding-hearts are the ones who are irrational. Conservative Americans overwhelmingly identify as Christian, and don’t want to position themselves as the one group the Bible condemns more vehemently than any other. What intellectual acrobatics they’ll go through to claim other motives for supporting the same general consequence, of concentrating human suffering on one class of people: look to the last 18 months of healthcare reform to find the answer.

Another Stupid Legal Response to HIV

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:44 am
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Darren Chiacchia, an American equestrian athlete who won an Olympic medal in Athens in 2004, is on trial.

The charge? Exposing his partner to HIV in the state of Florida, where it is illegal for an HIV+ person to have sex with someone without disclosing HIV status. According to Chiacchia’s bitter ex-lover, Chiacchia hid his status from his boyfriend for years. Chiacchia said he was afraid to tell his lover about his HIV status because he was afraid it would go public. His lover found out and made it public anyway. Chiacchia probably deserves that much.

I don’t need to go into detail to explain that knowingly exposing someone to HIV is a shitty thing to do. I’m not going to talk about it – not because I don’t think it’s terrible – but because it is already obvious to everyone reading this and nothing needs to be added. There will be plenty who pile on Chiacchia for his actions.

But what I will say is that the situation has already been irredeemably mishandled, and that the law is bogus in the first place.

Laws criminalizing the transmission or HIV have been misused by ignorant prosecutors and public. In 2008, for example, a Dallas homeless man who is HIV+ was sent to prison for 30 years for spitting on a police officer. The jury, either unaware or indifferent to the fact that HIV is not transmitable through saliva, decided that the saliva was a “deadly weapon” before issuing a guilty verdict.

This is like charging someone with attempted murder for shooting somebody with a squirt gun.

It is hard to get HIV. There are two ways for adults outside a medical setting to get it: through sexual intercourse, and through injections. Inject HIV+ blood into your body, and you stand a good chance of getting HIV. Have unprotected sex with an HIV+ and you have chance of having HIV (between 1 in 50 and 1 in 200; have unprotected sex with an HIV+ person 100 times, as people in a new relationship may do over the course of a year, and your chance of having HIV is pretty high.) But getting HIV through tears, saliva, urine, feces or skin is impossible. Oxygen kills HIV. Nobody has ever gotten HIV through a cut or scratch; you can roll in a puddle of HIV+ blood on the floor, even with cuts on your body, and it’s not going to infect you.

HIV needs to be injected fresh, without exposure to air, from one body directly into your body. This happens during IV drug usage and through sex, it happens through organ transplants, it can potentially happen when an infant drinks dozen gallons of her or his mother’s infected breast milk over the course of a year, and can happen to an infant during childbirth if the mother is infected.

Source: Wikipedia: HIV Transmission

In the Florida case, too, there is much to question. It is more likely here that the two had sex, which can lead to transmission, but prosecutors have not said what risky behavior Chiacchia and his partner engaged in, or if protection was used. Chiacchia could have feasibly insisted on condoms knowing he was infected. Nor can anybody ever prove whether Chiacchia really lied about his HIV status; it is possible for any person in a relationship with an HIV+ person to claim not to have known about his partner’s status to satisfy a vendetta. Chiacchia’s partner has not become infected with HIV; the charge is that Chiacchia wrongly placed his partner at risk, though his partner has not been harmed.

The problems with criminalizing HIV transmission are numerous, but in my mind, the ultimate reason why I think the laws fail is because they do not prevent the spread of HIV – they actually promote it. I am more concerned with stopping a deadly disease than with some sentimental form of “justice” where people are locked up for selfish behavior. When the goals conflict, I side with the practical: with preserving human life and health is paramount. I do not allow innocent people to suffer to punish guilty people; that is not a good trade.

The reason criminalizing HIV is dangerous is explained:

Imagine you are a person who has engaged in some risky behavior; perhaps drug use, perhaps unprotected sex, and you are unsure of your HIV status. You think (as many hypochondriacs do) you might have it, but your mind waffles. You might wake up in the morning convinced you are going to die and go to bed at night feeling reassured, talking yourself out of it: “I felt great today,” you might think; “I had so much energy!” You might panic every time you get a cold or allergies thinking it is an early sign of AIDS. Even without treatment you will probably live for 10 years as an HIV+ person – which is why many people procrastinate on getting tested. You can put it off for a few months. It is February: lets say you resolve to get tested before the end of December.

An added deterrent is that if you do get tested and the result is positive, it will suddenly become illegal for you to have sex, and you know this. Perhaps you are already in a relationship, perhaps there is someone you have your eye on. Sure, if you tell your partner or partners your status and they consent to having sex using protection, it would be safe and not illegal. But you are convinced no one would have sex with you if they find out you have HIV. You are scared and irrational, and still believe that the world ends when you find out you have HIV. You still think that everyone you love turns their back on you – and sometimes they do. You wake up each morning terrified. You talk yourself down during the day; you’ve had panics before, and in the past you got tested and everything turned out OK. Almost everyone has a false panic sooner or later. You go to bed convincing yourself that all is well.

In the midst of this, you have sex with several people. You go to a bar and get drunk, and in your intoxicated euphoria you don’t even think about your risk; when drunk you decide that you are sure you don’t have HIV, and you have sex. Your anxiety actually drives you to the bars more often, or to use other drugs that lead to unprotected sex.

Lets say for the sake of the scenario that you actually are unknowingly HIV+, and infect several other people.

This could have been avoided had you been tested, and told, through counseling that is often provided with the test, that you have a wide number of options available to you as an HIV+ person, that you are not likely to die anytime soon because medication works very well now, that it is still safe to have sex if you follow certain procedures, that HIV+ people continue to find and have romantic relationships and this is actually encouraged by their doctors, and that the first step to reducing the spread of the disease is knowledge.

Instead, you have unknowingly infected people with HIV (and this is not illegal, since you never knew you had it), because the law terrified you away from getting tested. Many will say that putting others at risk in this way is still selfish and wrong, and sure, that is true, but many, many many people do it, far more than would knowingly infect others with HIV. Many people alive and healthy and HIV- today have had sex while not knowing their status, and are all equally guilty of putting others at risk though they got lucky.

That is just one way that criminalizing HIV transmission leads to more transmissions. The other problem is that it gives the community a false sense of security; if you are in a high-risk group, you may think it’s safe to have unprotected sex with strangers because they are required by law to tell the truth. You ask your partner or your acquaintance if he has HIV, he says no, so you decide not to use a condom. This is a common assumption. HIV activists fight to prevent it all costs and think it’s wrong, wrong, wrong, but many people do it anyway.

The problem is, most HIV transmissions come from someone who didn’t know her or his status in the first place. Your partner may say “I tested negative two months ago – I’m negative” and still infect you. You are most contagious when newly infected, which is ironically before you know you are contagious; it could be days after a test. The false sense of security encourages people to take more risks. The risks lead to more HIV transmission.

People who work full time to stop the spread of HIV know: the answer is to educate people to get over their fear, to encourage testing, openness, honesty, and to most of all, remove the stigma associated with HIV+ people. The view is that human beings are naturally good. They don’t want to spread HIV around. Very, very few want to willingly infect others, especially when they are given positive support and hope. Remove the fear, and they will get tested, live openly and honestly, and take steps to protect those around them. Research has shown that people do this and it works.

I do think that Chiacchia’s public trial will have a chilling effect on people considering getting tested in Florida. It will put unnecessary stigma on HIV+ people and it almost definitely will lead to more people getting HIV than would have otherwise. Is that a fair tradeoff in the District Attourney’s mind?

That’s up to the prosecutors, and apparently their answer is yes.

April 9, 2010

Journalists: Stop Rolling Over For Your Detractors

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 4:50 pm
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Journalism is an important institution in the free world. Few dispute this. Journalism is an important institution in America, too; one so valuable that the framers of our Constitution chose to codify the freedom of the press in the First Amendment.

We live in a complicated world. Few dispute this. Nobody has time to absorb information found in every corner; ordinary Americans do not have time to resolve, for themselves, the inner happenings of the titans on Wall Street or the troubled alleys in Afghanistan. Ordinary citizens do not have time to investigate potential corruption in government or the potential outcomes of current economic trends.

We the people rely on other people to gather that information for us: we rely on journalists.

People will criticize the press for doing just that. This is not a new or controversial statement. The act of journalism has been imbued with constant accusations of “bias,” since its beginning, and on many occasions in history governments as well as private institutions have tried to shut it down. The way this story is written clearly benefits the Left, or benefits the Right, a detractor will say.

That may be true. But a story is still a story.

So when I read things like this – commentary on how most people just don’t seem to listen to journalists anymore – I’m disheartened. Timothy Noah’s article discusses one broad example: collectives endeavors by newspapers, magazines and networks all over the country to explain, as fairly and precisely as possible, what has been wrong with healthcare in the United States, and what a person without health insurance goes through in America.

About 85% of American adults are currently insured (it’s a lot lower for children), so most of us do not have the experience of trying to get medical care without insurance. A lot of others may have some individual plan that they think is working great for them, but haven’t gotten sick yet and hadn’t tried to use it, at which point they may find it less of a good plan than they expected. Our own healthcare costs are inflated by uninsured people who use expensive, late ER-care to treat conditions that should have been simpler, but ultimately can’t pay their bills and pass the costs on to us.

So for those of us who aren’t in the know – we benefit from having someone else to tell us what uninsured people go through, and we benefit from having independent parties, who are members of neither the health insurance industry nor government, mediate the conversation and bring us facts about what we pay because the system is broken.

People in the media know that the Republican party has been lying for approximately 16 months on healthcare. Exaggerations and politicking are strangers to no party and to no issue, but it is also a bona-fide FACT that Obama’s healthcare reform looks like what Republican Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts, It is a bona-fide FACT that Republicans in Congress worked hard to get their moderate members to oppose a bill that was, ultimately, exactly what they had always been asking for (See Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins). It is a bona-fide FACT that the Republican plan for healthcare failed address most problems with American healthcare, and it’s a bona-fide FACT that Obama’s clan is close to the minimum amount of intervention required, far less than progressives wanted or advocated.

It’s a bona-fide FACT that most people polled on the healthcare bill don’t even know what’s in it, and it’s a bona-fide FACT that most people, in general, remain largely ignorant to the inner workings of business and government. It’s a bona-fide FACT that Barack Obama has cut taxes for most Americans since becoming president, and a bona-fide FACT that he has no plans of increasing taxes on the vast majority of Americans beyond what they were when he assumed office. It is a bona-fide FACT that a lot of voters form opinions, not on facts and information, but on how often they hear a certain sound byte, or on vague and general sentiments they see coming from the political party or pundits they trust.

This is not to their discredit, it is just how people process information when they are bombarded with countless, contradictory bits of information every day, and they have no time to do a thorough investigation for themselves. They try to find the “middle” of what they are hearing, or they find someone they trust, and take sides. They come to see anyone who tells them what they don’t believe (even if it’s the truth) as the enemy.

And the Right has, for years, been running against the media when it comes to truth on healthcare, immigration, the military and Wall Street. If you can’t come up with a clear and cohesive argument as to why you should should get to hang on to power and privilege to everyone else’s detriment, run against the media instead, and tell people that the media is lying.

Journalists need to speak up for themselves. Their institution is crumbling. The way to re-gain the public’s trust is not to suddenly try to side with your detractors and question even for yourself whether you are trustworthy – and hope then that your detractors will look more favorably on you.

Journalists need to insist, firmly, that they know how to tell the truth from a lie and that they have no incentive to perpetuate the wrong side. Liberals do not pay the media, corporations do. So when they public information that insults or damages the reputation of corporations, there’s no reason for it to be fabricated.

What we’ve had, though, is a timid, frightened and trembling media run away from itself, fearing detractors.

They hire opinionated pundits and columnists when they don’t trust their reporters; a liberal to praise Barack Obama, and a conservative to damn their very own reporters.

They think that somehow, taking a small step to the Right – which translates to talking less about what uninsured people are saying and a little more about what Republican congressman are saying – will put them in the clear or help them find the perfect center. They think that following the polls will work.

Sadly, politicians, who are often accused of bending their views at popular whim, aren’t nearly as poll-driven as reporters, who scatter like flocks of pigeons when Gallup or Rasmussen comes chasing. And what happens is that voters, also, try to find the mushy middle. If the media takes a step to the Right, the voters will take a step to the Right, and and then the media will take a step to the Right trying to keep up. Even the Right-leaning media will take a step to the Right.

News to CNN: Fox is still going to accuse you of being “the liberal media” no matter if you report the facts straight or if you uphold Ronald Reagan as the second coming of Jesus. Same for network news and MSNBC.

My advice is to stick to your guns. If you weren’t lying when you said all that stuff, then for heaven’s sake act like you weren’t lying and defend yourself. Run a clean, clear and professional news operation, consider all sides, and tell the truth. Hit back at Fox, hard, and hit back at Conservative lies about who journalists are and what they do.

This country depends on it.

January 11, 2010

Confession: I Have a Farm on Farmville

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:34 pm

Cross-posted to On One Hand.

I used to reflexively put all my friends’ application items on “hide” when they showed up on my Facebook news feed. That included annoying, meaningless notifications like “Christina could use some help fertilizing her crops!” or “Dan found a baby calf on his FarmVille, will you give it a home?”

When I saw a friend obsessively tending to her FarmVille Farm, I asked what it was about, and she was happy to explain. Farmville looks kind of like SimCity – a game I loved as a kid – except that instead of zoning for homes you plant crops, and come back to harvest them when they are grown, which brings in money you can put into buying equipment or more crops. In the communication era there is an added social element that traditional computer games from my youth didn’t have, and that is in peer networks; in Farmville you can send gifts to other users or add them as “neighbors” in the game so they come fertilize your crops, which scores you both points. You can decorate your farm to make it look nice for when visitors see it on their own computers, and there are even certain items on Farmville that you can only get with the help of others, which help you advance or bring in cash.

The game looked amusing enough, so I said why not and signed myself up – it’s free, and I figured you can put in as much or as little time as you want to. But there’s a problem with that kind of test-the-waters approach – FarmVille is addictive. It’s designed to give you early rewards, along with increasing responsibility. They start you off with a surge of excitement as you harvest fast-growing crops (strawberries mature in four hours) and advance through the early levels quickly. But as soon you plant something, you give yourself the requirement of coming back soon or face the risk of having unharvested crops linger too long and “wither” to brown twigs, turning moneymakers to money sinks.

A quick google search will indicate how many people are hooked on this game – there are dozens of blogs devoted to Farmville tips and strategy, and communities both for and against the rapidly-growing phoenomenon. At the time of me writing this on January 11, 2010, there are about 75 million people using Farmville across the world (and growing exponentially as each user brings in two or three friends). To put that in perspective, if each of those users spent an hour a day on the game (which would not be far-fetched and many people put much more time into it), the application would be accumulating as many hours of attention as the entire economy of a small country or a medium-sized American state. Picture every working-aged person in Ohio waking up at dawn to harvest the digital pumpkins, working intensely till dusk to plant daffodils, which will be ready in 2 days.

I remember when I was sixteen and people treated the Internet as a geeky thing that socially-awkward people were drawn to. “You actually have a website up there?” someone would ask with a wrinkled nose, talking about my Friendster account or, later on, my profile on an early version of Myspace. “How creepy. You talk to people? Are they, like, stalkers or something?” Now, virtually everyone under the age of 40 along with a hefty dose of those over 40 have Facebook accounts. Maybe Farmville is the next Facebook, if the 70 million users (and growing!) are any indication: this stuff can catch on fast.

Now I’m checking my Facebook friends’ news feeds for brown or golden chicken eggs somebody found in a chicken coop that, if clicked, will give my farm new chickens or occasionally other treats like a fig tree or water trough.

A friend told me I was being ridiculous. “That isn’t even real,” she told me, and asked me how a pursuit that can only serve to be cyclical (harvest crops to earn money to plant crops) is worthwhile.

Well, I said, isn’t that cycle a lot like the way the real world works? FarmVille like capitalism, intrinsically connected to the idea of perpetual growth. Think about it: all you really need to survive as a human being is 2,000 calories a day, a roof over your head and maybe, you could argue, medicine. Things like television, computers, brand name clothing and updated styles in furniture are all vanity and excess. Things we grow so used to that we consider them “necessities” and couldn’t imagine living without them. Plop a guy from 40,000 BCE into our society and he’ll be thinking how about I set up a leather tent in your back yard, work an hour a day to pay for canned beans and rice and have 23 hours of free time to do whatever the hell I want? That’s the life! Most people aren’t the caveman, though; most of them work hard for extra pay and buy nice things all for the sake of keeping up with the Joneses, which is all I’m doing on my farm – harvesting crops, buying expansions and keeping up. I don’t want my friends reaching level 15 before I do!

I have only been on FarmVille for three days. I am generally motivated by novelty, but novelty by definition doesn’t last. I’m sure that as time goes by the excitement will wane and harvesting virtual crops will settle into the same smooth daily predictability of checking my inbox or brushing my teeth. I’ll let the artichokes sit ripe for a few hours till I have time to get them, maybe losing one or two to withering every now and then but generally keeping things regular and comfortable.

In the meantime, my first crop of yellow bell peppers is ninety-five percent grown and I am absolutely thrilled. A few of my friends fertilized them for me, so we’ll have bulging, sparkling yellow produce in no time. I could leave them alone to look pretty on my farm, but instead I’ll harvest them the second they finish, to plant new seeds – time is money! We value hard work here on FarmVille!

In the beginning, and I suppose even now, I’m a little embarrassed to be caught up in this. I’ll click “ignore” when the game prompts me to post eggs on my wall for friends to collect from me – instead I email them directly to someone who sent eggs to me first. I don’t want people to see lots of FarmVille notifications on my public wall and realize that I’m obsessed with a computer game.

But outsiders oughtn’t be so quick to judge, really. If you haven’t gotten on FarmVille yet, open an acre and see if you can play for a half an hour without getting as hooked as you were as a kid when you brought home your first baby pet.

Seriously, I dare you.

July 16, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are is Either Awesome or Ruins my Childhood

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 6:34 pm

Where the Wild Things Are, a forthcoming 2009 film written by filmmaker Spike Jonze and writer Dave Eggers, faces expectations higher than the moon.

There are three storybooks that define my earliest memories: Green Eggs and Ham, The Little Engine that Could and Where the Wild Things Are.

Where the Wild Things Are is the only one even vaguely resonant with me today. Green Eggs and Ham is too bizarre, and reads too much like a grammar lesson to be anything but cute, and Dr. Seuss’ styled characters have long been comercialized in freakish CGI movies and ancillary products that destroy their timelessness. The Little Engine that Could is similarly repetitive and sing-songy, and the pencil-thin lines of its memory have become too crossed with the cheezy stories about Thomas the Tank Engine.

But Where the Wild Things Are is, as my grandma always called me, something else. The protagonist in the book is mischievous and misunderstood – I can grasp that feeling even to this day. There is a celebration of deviance and our deepest, uncivilized desires – desires that struggled with conventions and professionalism, desires that were tortured to sit through boring lessons in church and school, desires to explore the world alone, to stick our hands in the mud, to imagine ourselves befriended to terrible beasts part fairytale legend, part wild animal and part made of the very dirt and clay that our mothers scrubbed off our cheeks with their spit.

Maurice Sendak, born of Jewish Polish immigrants in Brooklyn on the eve of the Great Depression, wrote the story in 1964, when my parents were children. President Obama read the story to a group of kids at the White House during a children’s egg hunt there this spring, and told them it was one of his favorite childhood stories. I was born in 1985 and my parents read it to me then, so there are a lot of people out there who rank the story among their fondest childhood memories and are eagerly awaiting this movie.

There’s a thing that happens when you see a reflection of your youngest self, set to upbeat music and wrought with the message that something both innocent and soulful is happening in this moment. I was practically in tears watching the trailer, which perfectly fit what I remember Where the Wild Things Are being about.

The trailer’s soundtrack lyrics reveal the intended audience: “children don’t grow up / our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up.” Kids don’t spend their lives thinking of poetic relationships between adulthood and childhood; adults do that when they look back over their lives. I think this film will be geared towards adults who read the book as children, or more specifically, to the never-grownup children that read the book 20 or more years ago.

Every single aspect of that trailer is brilliant, from its immodest declarations of what is in all our hearts, to its repeated return to the image of running, something that decorated our early years along with our persistent, latent desire to flee all the soul-killing routines and boundaries that have become our lives since then.

Also brilliant is the choice to not have any dialog from human characters in the trailer. That too evokes memory, because visual images stick around longer than words. It also means there is less there to weigh down the impact.

One of my theories about literature draws from something all good writers know about their craft: less is more. That’s because a vague, quick impression gives a reader a sense of perfection as a Platonic form. Saying “imagine the most terrific, powerful spaceship!” leads to a sense of something more exciting than “a truck-sized gray cylinder with ninteen-foot wings and large round engines.” Anything you make more specific with your words is almost guaranteed to be less compelling than the unfulfilled expectation. A monster is always more terrifying hidden in shadows than it is when it steps out into visibility. That’s not to say description is bad, but it is very difficult to do it right if you want a sentence to be universally evocative. In literature, words more often chip the spectacular down to something tangible than build it up.

Similarly, a silent character is always more compelling. In her or him we instill all our own inarticulable thoughts and conflicts. When the character speaks, we are made aware of how we wouldn’t put it quite that way, and become less and less engaged if she or he continues to get wordy.

So all of our wildest dreams for What the Wild Things Are are left possible by that trailer. The first bit of dialog in the movie will rule out a million directions the film could take, and as each minute ticks by, a thousand more viewers will say to themselves, “hey, that’s not what I thought the book was about!”

It could be magnificent, if it keeps to the limits of what it is capable of and leaves some things delightfully vague. The writers and producers must strike a careful balance between saying enough and saying too much, and if they try too hard to make the film contain the whole universe – hope, fear, and adventure, as the trailer indicates – it will stop being about those things.

And this is a case in which the stakes are very high. Even the president is watching. It must awe us the way we were awed as children, but we approach it with the cynicism of adults. This isn’t an epic novel we read when we were twelve, like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, which can win us over with special effects because the dialog is predetermined by a lengthy novel. This is bedtime storytime, when we are most vulnerable. It is the first five years of our lives and the last five minutes before we fell asleep. And finally, it is a feature-length film based on ten pages of text and illustrations.

Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers, I expect nothing less than awe and wonder at this movie. And if you ruin this story for me – if you ruin this part of my life – I will hunt you down.

June 25, 2009

Headlines from 4:30pm Thursday, June 25

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 6:34 pm
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