A World Series Worth Noting

Washington Nationals

The World Series is over and for once I cared. Really! Admittedly, it had nothing to do with baseball. It was all about my love of symmetry. Let me explain.

Early Sunday morning, I was forced to evacuate my home because of the Kincade Fire. And it was a bit scary. When I first left, the fire was 16 miles away. Within 24 hours, it made a bee-line toward me — ending up only 5 miles away.

Having nowhere else to go, I went to stay at my sister’s place down in Millbrae. That meant spending quite a lot of time with her husband, Harold. And that led me to watch game 6 of the World Series.

A Pattern in the Making

At one point, I realized something. I asked Harold, “So if the Nationals win tonight, does that mean that the home team has lost every game in this series?” He seemed vaguely impressed that I noticed that and told me it was so and that it had never happened before.

And sure enough, the Washington National won. So the first two games were at Houston and Washington won them. There was even some speculation that they might sweep the series. But during the next three games in Washington, Houston won each time. In fact, the Nationals looked pathetic. They managed to score only one run each game, while the Astros won with 4, 8, and 7.

The obvious outcome of the next game back at Houston was for Washington to lose badly. But instead, Washington won easily, 7-2. In fact, Houston didn’t score a run after the first inning.

So even though I made it back home today and so did not have to watch the last game of the World Series, I did. You see: life is constantly disappointing. It is unpleasant and chaotic. But here was an opportunity for a little clarity — perfection, in fact. This was seven isolated games during which the team with the home-field advantage lost each time. Six out of seven was no good. It had to be seven.

And it was.

Some Pointless Math

If the outcome of these games were random, then this seven-game streak would happen less than one time out of a hundred. But the home team in MLB wins 54 percent of the time. If we assume that this distribution is random, the number falls to 0.4 percent.

But I don’t think this is simply a statistical fluke. I suspect it is some form of mass psychology. I don’t have any proof, course; but I’ve seen this thing too many times.

Or maybe it is just the normal human tendency to find patterns where none exist. That combined with my own idiosyncratic love of odd patterns. Regardless, this was a very good World Series.

After the fire, it’s nice to have a little clarity in the universe.


Trea Turner by Lorie Shaull. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Cropped.

What Trump, Erdoğan, and We Have Done to Syrian Kurds

YPG Fighter With Child

The Kurds are an ethnic/linguistic stateless people living primarily in Eastern Turkey and northern Iraq (where they make up about 20% of the national population), northeast Syria and northwest Iran (where they make up roughly 10%).

Since 2012, northeast Syrian Kurds have formed an essentially independent government, based on libertarian socialist principles (non-authoritarian socialism). They’ve been able to do so by fighting off the ISIL faction in Syria’s civil war, and as such were loosely allied with American troops in the region.

On 7 October 2019, President Trump announced his plans to reassign these troops elsewhere in Syria. Since the troops will be taking their air support with them, this leaves Syrian Kurds vulnerable to invasion by Turkey. Turkish president/thug Recep Tayyip Erdoğan then indicated he would do so, using ethnic cleansing to clear a 20-mile deep area along the border as a new home for some of Turkey’s 3.6 million Syrian refugees. Attacks began almost immediately. Erdoğan has threatened to release the Syrian refugees into Europe if he is opposed (how he would do so is unclear).

Why Does Erdoğan Hate the Kurds?

There’s been resentment in Turkey towards its Kurdish minority for decades, roughly since a Kurdish separatist movement arose following the end of the Ottoman Empire. Authoritarian politicians, there as here, sporadically stoked this resentment in hopes of bolstering their own popularity. Repressions have included sometimes banning the language, deposing democratically elected Kurdish politicians, jailing and murdering leaders and journalists, and so on. After a failed 2016 coup attempt (probably started by members of the Turkish military), Erdoğan used the coup as an excuse to crack down even further on Kurdish civil society.

The mostly Christian Armenian population now coexists peacefully with the mostly Muslim Kurdish population.

And ethnic cleansing is not new to Turkey either; during WWI the government is estimated to have murdered between 700,000 and 1,500,000 Armenians (some Kurds helped, as is often the case with genocides: turn one oppressed minority against another). Some who fled for their lives ended up in Northeast Syria, where Armenian culture has existed for centuries. The mostly Christian Armenian population now coexists peacefully with the mostly Muslim Kurdish population. They are sure to be among hundreds of thousands at risk of losing their homes if Erdoğan fulfills his invasion plans. This has caused some prominent American evangelical leaders to criticize Trump’s strategic decision. (I don’t imagine they’ll stay mad for long.)

A Common Fate for American Proxy Allies

It’s not the first time America has used Kurdish fighters as allies then abandoned them to regional enemies; as Jon Schwarz observes, it’s more like the eighth, usually involving our obsession with ruling Iraq from Washington.

Nor are the Kurds our first recent foray in exploiting the self-determination dreams of a stateless people; we did it in Southeast Asia with the Hmong, who faced reprisals from the Laotian government after supporting the US side.

Thousands died in Laotian re-education camps or trying to reach refugee camps in Thailand. We allowed a handful to escape here. There are sizable Hmong populations in California and Minnesota today as a result.

Why Is Trump Doing This?

America has used Kurdish fighters as allies then abandoned them to regional enemies many times before.

Who knows. Trump apparently made the decision following a call with Erdoğan, one of the endless series of tyrants our would-be Mussolini admires.

Probably it’s a win-win-win scenario in his mind since it pleases a tyrant, pretends to be disentangling the US from endless Middle Eastern wars, and screws over suffering people. The US foreign policy establishment, naturally, considers any example of even slightly successful socialism to be a strategic threat, although it’s unlikely Trump pays any attention to such matters.

He did promise that “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off-limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).” No doubt Syrian Kurds feel better now. Besides, as William Rivers Pitt points out, Trump owns a hotel in Istanbul; “financially firebombing your own properties” is not a typical Trump move (except via his own stupidity and narcissism).

The Time I Needed Kurdish Tea

Which brings to mind a personal anecdote. I used to live above a Kurdish restaurant in Saint Paul (one of my favorite restaurants, ever). The building owner, a serious Trump-type super-jerk who inherited the building from his dad, was a slumlord and a sleaze; he’d hang out in the lobby at the beginning of every month to hit on college students moving in.

It was impossible to interact with this man without him being insulting and demeaning, making fun of you for having a low-rent apartment. One time he really got under my skin, I don’t remember with what. It was right before I was meeting someone at the restaurant.

And boy, did I vent. I let loose a tirade of f-bombs that would make a mobster blush. The place was pretty empty at the time, and I’m sure my voice was audible all the way in the kitchen.

The owner, a conservatively dressed middle-aged woman, came over to our table. “I think you need some Kurdish tea,” she said, and comped me a cup.

She was right! It absolutely calmed me down.

I’m happy to report that not long after I left that horrible landlord, the restaurant did, too. They’re doing fine in a new location nearby. Same owner, same excellent food, and the same tea.

How to Follow This Story in the US

Right now, there is major media coverage in the US, largely because a few Republican members of Congress have criticized Trump’s withdrawal decision. (This is presumably because of the risk to Armenian Christians and the possible resurgence of ISIL in the region, not concern over the Kurds.) This coverage is already beginning to fade; simple humanitarian crises don’t make our evening news.

One can, of course, trust Al Jazeera English to stay on the story and to see updates from Democracy Now! Economic anthropologist David Graeber (a strong supporter of the Kurdish socialist movement) has, for years, been providing links to coverage of anti-Kurdish repression on his Twitter feed, including many local news sources.

We should follow what happens because, in large part, we did it. And the great anti-war writer, ex-soldier Danny Sjursen sadly notes, betrayal is American foreign policy; “next time, and there will be a next time, don’t even think about trusting Uncle Sam. You’ll thank me later.”

Update

Since I wrote this, the Syrian Kurds have asked corrupt Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for military assistance resisting the Turkish invasion. Assad has virtually no support from anybody in Syria, but he does have lots of guns, probably half of which we sold him, if the history of US interventions is any guide.

Accepting Assad’s help means the end of a socialist Kurdish society in northeast Syria. And that’s correct; preventing murder or forced relocation is more important than protecting an experiment in actual democracy. It’s what Sjursen predicted, and it’s terribly sad. Why not actually flex our international muscle to support the locals, for once? Because we’re America, and that’s not what we do.

Trump claims the relocated soldiers will be returning home. He says, “Those that mistakenly got us into the Middle East Wars are still pushing to fight. They have no idea what a bad decision they have made.”

That’s a good campaign bit, but it’s utterly untrue — we’re not getting out of the Middle East, we’re just repositioning troops. Our war on and about that region never ends. Trump didn’t start it, Trump will not end it, and the suffering will continue, far away, to people about whom we couldn’t give a damn.


Kurdish YPG Fighter by Kurdishstruggle licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Can We Start Killing Gender-Specific Pronouns?

All Genders Matter

I come at the gender-pronoun question from the opposite perspective of most people — but especially social conservatives. Ever since I started writing, I have hated gender-specific pronouns. But for a long time, I resisted the use of the plurals “they” and “them.”

For some time, I was very fond of “it.” It says a lot about me that I thought “him” and “her” could easily be replaced with “it.” My friends thought I was crazy. But why? I don’t mind being referred to as “it.” If all humans were referred to as “it,” there would be no stigma. Yes, I am weird. But after a few years, I realized this fact about myself and gave up on the idea.[1]

Back at the start of 2016, I gave up on solving the gender neuter problem in what I considered an appropriate way. I accepted the plurals as the best option. But to be clear: the issue remained contentious.

And then transgender issues made it to the mainstream of discussion.

Transgender “They” and “Them”

I noticed that a lot of transgender people — especially non-binary people — used “they” and “them” as pronouns. For me, this has been like manna raining down from the heaven where all grammar inadequacies and contradictions are solved. “Yes!” I said to myself. “Let us all act as non-binary people! Let’s destroy gender-specific pronouns for good!”

Let’s start the party!

Transgender People Are Not a Monolith

But there is a problem. There are a lot of transgender people who identify with the opposite gender as their sex.[2] And many of these people would like society to acknowledge their gender just as most cis people do.

We can’t dismiss this desire. Sure, in a perfect world, there would be no need. “We are all individuals!” But I fear we are a good deal further from that world than most liberals would like to think.

What’s more, it doesn’t really matter. There are plenty of pretend alpha males who live in terror of their true selves ever being made public.[3] Who am I to say that they aren’t deserving of society’s reinforcement of their identities? I’m not going to misgender someone even if they take pride in misgendering others.

Toward Gender Neutrality in Grammar

My concern is about grammar and finding language that is accurate. So there’s never a problem saying, “Annette Hanshaw came to sing, and she was great.” But I would like to move toward a language that didn’t include gender — where the standard was, “Annette Hanshaw came to sing, and they were great.”[4]

As a result, I think those who feel comfortable should forsake gendered pronouns. So please: use “they” and “them” for me. But don’t do it because my gender is indeterminant or fluid. I reside very comfortably in the male gender category. This is an opportunity to simplify the language. And I’m always keen on that.[5]


[1] Given the way that many treat transgender people, I can well imagine some awful people using “it” in an effort to dehumanize those in the transgender community. So there is another reason not to use “it.”

[2] I understand that sex is a complicated subject. Forgive me for simplifying there.

[3] I don’t mean to imply anything specific here. However, it has long been my contention that bisexuality among men is far more common than normally believed.

[4] If we ever reach the point where the plural pronouns are default, I might want to discuss getting rid of the plural verb. “Annette Hanshaw came to sing, and they was great.” For now, it sounds odd and grammar needs to change slowly.

[5] Note there are cases where having gender is helpful. For example, when writing about a man and a woman, you can use gendered pronouns throughout without having to use names or descriptions for clarity. But this is a very small advantage that does not begin to compare to the advantages of gender-neutral language. What’s more, even the most barely competent writer can easily solve any problems that come up because of a lack of gendered pronouns.

Trans Solidarity Rally and March 55401 by Ted Eytan licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Elizabeth Warren’s Different Stories — Updated

Elizabeth WarrenI’m not particularly good at being a member of a tribe. I am only in a tribe because I like and agree with it. Usually, I’m the first to sound the alarm. But this is because I do care about the tribe. And that’s how I feel right now being an Elizabeth Warren supporter.

It hasn’t broken through to the mainstream media, but there is a story about why Warren stopped being a special needs teacher. According to her now, she was effectively fired because she was pregnant. Back in 2007, in an interview on Conversations with History, she seems to be saying that she left voluntarily.

More recent reporting indicates that the Board of Education renewed her contract.

Alternative Narratives

The allegations don’t disturb me all that much. First, I have already written that Warren is going to face challenges now that she’s doing so well in the polls. I welcome that. Warren shouldn’t be the nominee if she can’t deal with stuff like this.

And I can well imagine what the counter-narrative will be. She can say that, as an academic, she didn’t want to mention that she was fired. So she mentioned a few details but left out that embarrassing bit about being fired. That actually goes along with how she discussed it in 2007. It certainly isn’t the case that she said, “Oh, the Principal begged me to stay but I had to follow my dream!”

As for the Board of Education, that doesn’t mean anything. If Warren was going to be told she needn’t come back because she was pregnant, it wouldn’t have been done in an official capacity. This was 1971. They would know they’d be facing a lawsuit.

None of this is to say that Warren is telling the truth. From my own experience, I know how stories change over time. I’ve seen friends tell the same story over decades and seen how they change even though my friends absolutely believe they are telling the truth. But obviously, this kind of explanation won’t work because regardless of all we know about how the brain works, people won’t buy it. It’s certainly true that my friends do not accept the fact that their stories change over time.

Conservative media presents this as “another” case of Warren lying. What they mean is “second.” And the first was not her lying regardless of how you feel about her claim to have Native American blood. In truth, this whole controversy isn’t substantive. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t enough to destroy her candidacy.

Let’s Have Answers

What most bothers me is that the Warren Campaign hasn’t issued a statement. This thing has been going on for about five days. I realize it hasn’t gotten traction. But it’s better to kill it now than to allow a firestorm once the mainstream media picks it up. And it will eventually be picked up because another Democrat will bring it up or Trump will in the general election.

Of course, if Warren doesn’t have a good answer for this, it is a major problem. This is a lot like Biden in 1987. But if this really is nothing, I’d like it to be resolved. Actually, I want it resolved either way.

Update

CBS News reported, Warren Stands by Account of Being Pushed Out of Her First Teaching Job Because of Pregnancy. It’s almost exactly what I figured above. I find it credible. Of course, conservative media will continue shouting, “Liar!” They would never accept her regardless. I don’t see how this becomes a narrative used by the mainstream press the way it did (wrongly) for Al Gore. But we’ll see.

Warren Supporters: Sanders Is Not the Enemy

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie SandersEric Levitz wrote an interesting article over at New York magazine, The Bernie vs Warren Debate We Need. It’s a good article and worth checking out. The gist of it is that people are making too much of their differences because the existing Democratic Party (to say nothing of the Republicans) will limit what they are able to do. So the debate should be about how good Sanders and Warren will be on foreign affairs and economic regulation — two things they can do on their own. What I like about it is that he recognizes that both candidates have potential advantages and that these need to be debated. What I’ve seen is mostly Sanders supporters claiming he is in all ways better than Warren, and Warren supporters ignoring the whole debate because she’s winning.

Levitz was on Majority Report Thursday. Sam Seder tried to be very even-handed in this. But he brought up an analogy that I think is telling. (I don’t want to spend the time to find the exact quote; it’s a 42-minute interview.) Roughly, it’s this: “It’s like Bernie can go 70 mph, Warren can go 60 mph, and Biden can go 30 mph. But it doesn’t matter because the speed limit is 50 mph.” Levitz more or less agreed with this. I don’t think he should have.

Stop Begging the Question

The article wouldn’t be that interesting if it were just, “Bernie’s better but it doesn’t matter.” That wouldn’t be something we should talk about. What Levitz is saying is that Sanders has better policies on foreign affairs. What’s that going to do for us if he’s president? Similarly, Elizabeth Warren has much more aggressive ideas for taming the domestic economy. What’s that going to do for us if she’s president? The point is that we should be discussing this and not just assuming that “Sanders is better” or “Warren is more popular.”

So Seder’s analogy begs the question. It assumes that Sanders is better. A more accurate analogy of Levitz’s argument is that Sanders can drive faster on freeways and Warren can drive faster in the city. Are we looking at the next administration driving more on the freeway or in the city? Discuss.

In conversations with Sanders supporters, Warren’s abilities to reform the regulatory framework through executive action are simply ignored. Nowhere do you see Michael Brooks doing segments on Sanders’ timidity when it comes to taking on big business. I understand that there is an argument to be made that the US is such a pernicious force in the world that foreign affairs are all that matter. But you need to make that argument. And the truth is, it isn’t an easy sell.

Engage Substantively — Not With Talking Points

I’m not naive enough to think that any of this will change minds. Those going in as Sanders supporters will still find that he is the candidate to support. The same is true of Warren supporters. But there are some important things here.

First, it means that Warren supporters and Sanders supporters can engage with each other on an honest level rather than caricaturing the other candidate. Second, it will allow supporters of one candidate to see the other in a more nuanced way. Third, it won’t lead to the creation of a bunch of talking points for the Trump campaign to use against whoever wins the primary.

I’m mostly talking to Warren supporters here. The truth is, we’ve lost the battle with Sanders supporters. And the worst time to talk to them is when the Sanders campaign is struggling.

I want to get Warren supporters on board with this now when she is ahead. Anything could happen. It might turn out that Elizabeth Warren has been having an extramarital affair with a Marine. (Note: actual smear campaign!) Sanders could pull out in front and win the whole thing. And I really don’t want to see Warren supporters do to Sanders what Sanders supporters are now doing to Warren.

Because I will fight just as hard against that.