Saturday, November 19, 2016

Crying Wolf

There is a blog post making the rounds entitled "You Are Still Crying Wolf". The thrust of the piece is that it is inaccurate and unfair to call Trump a racist, and that doing so is counter-productive and scares people unnecessarily. It argues that calling out Trump is calling wolf.

If it is, then let me join the call. There is a wolf.

To me, the piece reads like holocaust denial literature. It uses statistics and clever argumentation to convince us to deny the evidence that has been placed plainly before us.  Trump made a name for himself in politics by peddling the "birther" lie. During the Republican primary he jettisoned all conservative orthodoxy and boiled it down to the different groups of brown people we need to expel and be afraid of. During the general election he advocated for targeting racial minorities for voter suppression and mass incarceration. In the early days of staffing his administration, Mr. Trump has already appointed a racist, rogues gallery who openly oppose the civil rights and sacred laws they will be entrusted to defend and enforce.

These choices will have terrible consequences for real people. American citizens, lawful residents, and people, whose only crime is a desire to live and work in America, are going to be persecuted. They will be intimidated, insulted, beaten, disenfranchised, and have their rights denied. They will be detained, imprisoned, deported, tortured and killed. Some of this will come from people who have been inspired and energized by Trumps rhetoric. The worst of it will come from the administration itself and be backed by full force of executive and law-enforcement authorities.

This is not based imagination or speculation. These are promises that were made. Looking at the what's going on, day by day, it is clear that the pledges of persecution are promises Trump intends to keep.

I fully expect, indeed I am counting on, the majority Trump voters to say this is not what they want. That they are not racist. That they do not support it when people are attacked based on their race, color, or religion. Trump voters are not some unknown other. You are my friends, colleagues, neighbors, gaming-buddies, and family members. I know you and have always known you. You say it's not about race. And I believe you. I live in New Hampshire. We've really only got the one race. Why would it be all about racism? I believe you.

But you had a choice. And you made a choice. And you chose the wolf. You may have had any number of reasons for your choice. You didn't hear the cries. You didn't trust the crier. Whatever the reason, if you voted Donald Trump, then this is the choice you made. It may not be what you want, but it's a consequence of your choice. And you are responsible for those consequences.

If this isn't what you want, if these aren't your values, then you need to stand up. And you need speak up.

We chose the wolf. We need shepherds more than ever.





Crying Wolf

There is a blog post making the rounds entitled "You Are Still Crying Wolf". The thrust of the piece is that it is inaccurate and unfair to call Trump a racist, and that doing so is counter-productive and scares people unnecessarily. It argues that calling out Trump is calling wolf.

If it is, then let me join the call. There is a wolf.

To me, the piece reads like holocaust denial literature. It uses statistics and clever argumentation to convince us to deny the evidence that has been placed plainly before us.  Trump made name for himself in politics by peddling the "birther" lie. During the Republican primary he jettisoned all conservative orthodoxy and boiled it down to the different groups of brown people we need to expel and be afraid of. During the general election he advocated for targeting racial minorities for voter suppression and mass incarceration. In the early days of staffing his administration, Mr. Trump has already appointed a racist, rogues gallery who openly oppose the civil rights and sacred laws they will be entrusted to defend and enforce.

These choices will have terrible consequences for real people. American citizens, lawful residents, and people, whose only crime is a desire to live and work in America, are going to be persecuted. They will be intimidated, insulted, beaten, disenfranchised, and have their rights denied. They will be detained, imprisoned, deported, tortured and killed. Some of this will come from people who have been inspired and energized by Trumps rhetoric. The worst of it will come from the administration itself and be backed by full force of executive and law-enforcement authorities.

This is not based imagination or speculation. These are promises that were made. Looking at the what's going on, day by day, it is clear that the pledges of persecution are promises Trump intends to keep.

I fully expect, indeed I am counting on, the majority Trump voters to say this is not what they want. That they are not racist. That they do not support it when people are attacked based on their race, color, or religion. Trump voters are not some unknown other. You are my friends, colleagues, neighbors, gaming-buddies, and family members. I know you and have always known you. You say it's not about race. And I believe you. I live in New Hampshire. We've really only got the one race. Why would it be all about racism? I believe you.

But you had a choice. And you made a choice. And you chose the wolf. You may have had any number of reasons for your choice. You didn't hear the cries. You didn't trust the crier. Whatever the reason, if you voted Donald Trump, then this is the choice you made. It may not be what you want, but it's a consequence of your choice. And you are responsible for those consequences.

If this isn't what you want, if these aren't your values, then you need to stand up. And you need speak up.

We chose the wolf. We need shepherds more than ever.





Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Do Not Vote for Donald Trump

After everything that has been said and done in this campaign, I know that nothing I can say is going to sway anyone. But everyone who cares about the country has an obligation to say this. So, I am saying it.

Do not vote for Donald Trump.

If you already hate Donald Trump, then this isn't for you. If you're on the fence, or you don't like Trump but kinda agree with what he's saying, think maybe he's the best of some bad options, or are a sincere Trump support - then I am asking you-  Please. Think about this. 

You should only vote for Donald J. Trump to be President of the United States if you can honestly say he is prepared to honorably and capably serve in that office. He is not. Trump has shown us time and again, in so many ways, that his not someone well-suited to be President of the United States.


Donald Trump is a horrible person. We require many virtues in our president: Wisdom, sound judgement, intelligence, eloquence, the ability to soothe the American people during times of trouble. Trump lacks all of these virtues. He is thin-skinned, cruel, vindictive, paranoid, undisciplined and self-centered. He associates with bigots and conspiracy mongers. Trump has been enthusiastically embraced by our nation's racists and white nationalists. His treatment of women make him, at best, a foul-mouth, pervy, serial-adulterer. At worst, he's a sexual assault repeat offender. He lacks the temperament and good judgement to be president.


Trump does not know anything. About anything. Most people running for President don't start out as a expert on every issue. There is a certain expected learning curve. Trump has not shown even a rudimentary understanding of any of the issues facing the nation. Time and again, in interview after interview, debate after debate, Trump has shown the same pattern. He gets a question, he spouts some vacuous campaign slogan, pivots to some nonsense on a vaguely relevant or unrelated topic, and then just spins to whine and complain about something he thinks Democrats have done. 

On issue after issue, Trump claims he knows more than anyone else on the topic, and then demonstrates he knows nothing at all. He has no idea what his wall will cost or what impact it will have. He has no understanding the economy, how to craft a trade deal, or how to bring back manufacturing jobs. Trump's foreign policy consists of insulting, alienating, and abandoning our military allies and economic trading partners. His military strategy consists of vague notions that vary from naive, to childish, to dangerous.

His ignorance could be mitigated if he surrounded himself with "good people" and accepted their guidance. He doesn't. He surrounds himself with sycophants and yes-men and isn't interested in their advice.


His secrecy and corruption should trouble you. Trump's primary claim to the presidency is that his successful and reputable business career has prepared him for the office. And yet, in defiance of decades of tradition, he has refused to release any of his tax returns. Without them we can't evaluate how ethically, honorably, and effectively he has run his business. It is expected that the President of the United States will place his assets in a blind trust to avoid conflicts between his self-interest and the interests of the nation. This too Trump has refused to do. Trump has business interests around the world and, incredibly, he wants to serve as president without severing these ties or even revealing his debts, obligations, holdings, conflicts, domestic and overseas partners and debtors. The reason he won't release his tax returns if that if we knew the truth, we would find it unacceptable. We can't accept that.

This might be tolerable if Trump had a history of ethical behavior and putting others before himself. He has no such history. He's been avoiding paying his taxes with dubious loopholes. His charitable foundation is a sham. His "Trump University" was a fraud designed to con money out of the poor dupes who put their faith in him. Trump has been involved in thousands of lawsuits. Many of them stem from his failure to honor contracts and willingness to stiff, rip-off, and abandon the individuals and business, large and small, that are foolish enough to work with him or put their trust in him. 


Donald Trump does not understand or respect the constitution. There was a time when Trump supported reasonable gun control measures. He doesn't any more. For some people, that'll be enough to say he supports the constitution. He doesn't. Trump opposes freedom of speech. He has repeatedly tried to use the legal system to silence his critics. He opposes freedom of religion and plans to persecute religious minorities. He opposes freedom of the press. He supports torture, the very definition of cruel punishment. He supports "stop and frisk" searches without a warrant. Trump advocates voter suppression and voter intimidation efforts to deprive people of their right to vote. 

Trump's admiration of authoritarian leaders, like Vladimir Putin, is well established. His unwillingness to stand up to an aggressive, expansionist Russia should be deeply concerning. His emulation of Putin's tactics is even more disturbing. Democracies can die. They can become dictatorships. Trump has put up plenty of signposts to indicate where he wants to take this nation. When politics is criminalized and political opponents are imprisoned; while minority rights are not respected and leaders focus more on stoking resentment against some scapegoat "other" than trying to address the real problems in the country; when a free press is attacked and discredited; when the truth no longer matters; when the electoral process itself is threatened - then we are on our way to tyranny.

Even as private citizen, Trump abuses the legal system to extract revenge and silence his critics. We should be fearful of what he will do with the full powers of the executive. He can not be trusted to be an impartial executor of the law and to safeguard our democracy.


Trump is not a protest vote. You might be hoping to "send a message" or that, somehow, Trump is going to work some outsider magic in Washington D.C. He won't. Trump is the nominee of one of our two main parties. The main arguments for supporting him are: the supreme court, passing the Ryan agenda, and that he's "better then the alternative" (because the alternate is a Democrat). Notice that these arguments could be made no matter who the nominee is. They allow you to rationalize and justify overlooking Trump's own failures and shortcomings. Voting for Trump sends the message that you'll vote for literally anyone the GOP chooses to nominate, no matter how awful. That's not a protest vote. That is a puppet vote.


This is your vote. Who you support is a reflection on you. It is a reflection of your priorities and on your values. Donald Trump is not worthy of your vote. Whatever your principles are, he does not share them, and he does not live by them. Whatever your standards are, he does not rise to them. Whatever you want for America, he cannot provide it. Whatever qualities you look for in a President of United States, Donald Trump does not have those qualities.


Do not vote for Donald Trump.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Second Thoughts


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


The founders of our country included the right to bear arms in the Constitution's Bill of Rights. That 18th century decision has serious, often tragic, and too-frequently horrific repercussions in the world we live in today. It is past time to consider the text, meaning, limitations, and implications of an amendment that, for better and worse, still has its hold on us today.

It was included as a bulwark against tyranny, as protection against internal and external powers that threatened the fledgling Republic. The founders were suspicious of standing armies and, having just won a war with them, felt that the individual states' citizen militias were indeed necessary for the security of a free country.

Beyond authorizing state militias, the amendment states that "the right of the people to keep and and bear arms shall not be infringed". Keep. This implies ownership and that the 2nd amendment confers rights upon individuals as well.

On first consideration, the 2nd amendment appears to be quite broad in scope, and specifies a sincere restriction on governmental gun control. On further inspection, we can see the limitations.

We relied on armed militias at the nation's founding. But things have changed. The stated premise of the amendment is no longer relevant or true. Armed, citizen militias are not necessary to the security of the state. More often they are a threat to it. The US has a substantial and very well equipped standing army that is perfectly capable of protecting the nation and projecting power abroad. The old state militias have been folded into a National Guard that is funded, armed, deployed by, and effectively under the control of the federal government. It is no longer the case that a well regulated militia is necessary to have a free country.

Even if the premise is no longer valid, the amendment can still have force. It's text still holds meaning. It confers a right but, like all Constitutional rights, it is subject to limitation.

There is already a consensus agreement that citizens do not have the right to own any weapons they may desire. Explosives, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and all manner of military equipment, are banned from private ownership. It is illegal to own these things because we recognize that there are obvious, practical limitations to the 2nd amendment. Allowing everyone to access the means of mass murder and wanton destruction is a threat to a free society. It is not required by our constitution. There is ample precedent for restricting weaponry simply because of its lethality and destructive capacity.

There is also precedent for controlling not only what weapons are available, but who may have them. Guns are designed for the purpose of killing other people. We can lawfully attempt to keep them out of the hands of dangerous individuals. Felons, fugitives, and convicted domestic abusers are currently prohibited from owning guns. This list could be expanded. People are rightfully aghast that someone being investigated for terrorism ties can still lawfully purchase a semi-automatic rifle.

The Bill of Rights was intended to place limitations on the powers of the federal government. Typically, its restrictions apply to the states as well. Freedom of speech is protected against actions by both state and federal legislatures. The 2nd amendment is the exception. And the exception is written into the amendment itself. The militias were state entities. The amendment plainly states that they are to be well regulated. It's a straightforward reading of the text to see that it does place limitations on federal regulation of firearms. It is also clear that the amendment confers not only the right, but the obligation of the states to regulate access to weapons. Mental gymnastics are required to read the phrase "well regulated" and conclude that it means unregulated. The 2nd amendment gives states the authority to regulate firearms as they see fit.

The second amendment prohibits the federal government from fully disarming the states and their citizens. It does not prohibit a national ban on military weapons that can be used to commit murder on a massive scale. It does not stop us from enacting stronger background checks and keeping deadly arms out of the hands dangerous and unstable people. It does not mean that the states can not regulate guns to any extent that they desire, including creating a total ban. We can create gun-free states.

Honoring our constitution does not require inaction after each horrific slaughter. It is not true that there is nothing we can do. That is our choice. We can make a different one.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Breeding a Love of Board Games

I’m an avid gamer. So, with my own children, I launched a concerted and sustained effort to impart my love of board and card games. I wanted to make them into good gamers. That effort has yielded spectacular results. Here is my proven system for getting the most out of playing games with children.


Start Early


You can start very early. As soon as my kids could speak we were playing games. At age 2 we got plastic holders that little hands could use to hold a hand of cards. We played many games of Loot and other simple games.


Early on, you’re really just introducing the concepts. Wait for your turn. Take your turn. Participate in a structured activity. Understanding the concepts of rules and restrictions. You don’t need to worry about strategy or who’s winning. That’ll come soon enough. Start by getting them used to playing games, participating, and having fun.



Don’t Emphasize Winning and Losing


Playing games means winning games and losing games. Playing lots of games means winning a lot and losing a lot. These things should be treated as inevitable parts of playing games for everyone. The important thing is not the winning or the losing but that you have fun playing. Like so many things, you’re better off modeling this truth than explaining it.


Have fun playing. Get in character. Provide color commentary. Praise the clever play. Recognize when you’ve been outmaneuvered. Engage in some good-spirited gloating when they’ve fallen into your trap. Cherish the tension of the tight game when the outcome hangs in the balance.


When it’s over, you can acknowledge who won and who lost. But it should almost be an afterthought. The play's the thing.


Games should be fun. Part of making a game fun is being gracious in victory or defeat. For children who have trouble with either, make it clear that good sportsmanship is a requirement. If they want to play games with you, they need to do their part to make the game fun for everyone during and after the game.



Play to Win. But Level the Field.


When I taught my kids to play chess I started by taking away my own rooks and my queen. Then I played to win. Early on, I taught them useful lessons about protecting your pieces and the power of a promoted pawn. It wasn't long before I really needed to be in top form or a blundered move would cost me the game. Soon after that I was reintroducing my pieces to avoid certain defeat. When my son reached kindergarten he became a competitive member of the 5th grade chess club.


Kids should earn their victories. But playing games where they are at a huge disadvantage isn't fun for anyone. Start by choosing games that involve a lot of luck, or that rely on skills like pattern recognition, or memory - where adults don’t have a clear advantage. When you go for the strategy game, stack the odds in their favor to make sure your victories are well-earned as well.



Don’t Explain the Rules


With most adults it’s considered unfair to start a new game until everyone is familiar with all aspects of the rules. Often this will lead to lots of context-free explanation of arcane and unfamiliar systems. This often concludes with an agreement to “just start playing and figure it out as we go”.


With kids your best bet is to skip to the just-start-playing part. Give an overview of the point and very basics of the game. Then deal out the cards. Go first. Play with an open hand. Explain what you’re doing, and why, as you do it. When it’s the next player’s turn, explain their options. But let them make their own choices. Until everyone gets the hang of it, don’t worry about optimal plays and good strategy. Make a “bad” play if it helps introduce a new rule. Your focus is on getting players to understand the game. Dive in, and have fun. Cutthroat can come later.



Come Prepared


If you’ll be introducing a new game, make sure you come to the table prepared. Read the rules. Make sure you understand them. Think about how you’ll be teaching the players to play.


If a question comes up during the game, you can spend a few seconds looking it up in the rules. But if you don’t find it quickly, make a ruling. You can come up with your ruling by consensus, by your best guess off the designer’s intention, or by giving the younger player the benefit of the doubt. But make a decision. After the game you can look up the real rule (returning to the rulebook or looking it up online). Make sure to explain if you ruled incorrectly and how you’ll handle it next time.


If you’re less comfortable with your own game-design skills then stick with the rulebook. But experienced gamers can consider modifying games for younger players. Many games can streamlined, simplified, or rebalanced to make it a better game to play with little kids. If you’re going to do that, make your modifications beforehand, and explain any changes to players before you begin.



Choose New Games


Monopoly is not a good game. Chutes and Ladders is not good. Battleship is OK. Clue has some really clever bits and some pointless, tedious bits. Stratego is still great.


Over the last 15 years or so there has been a renaissance in board and card game design. There are now ridiculous numbers of games you can choose from. There are game appropriate for every taste and age group. Game designers have learned a lot of lessons about the different means and mechanics to create a fun experience. There are more games available today. There are better games available today.


Check with your friendly local game store for suggestions. Here are a few of mine:


Loot by Gamewright. - Loot is my-all-time favorite game to introduce to little kids. It’s got simple rules, fun artwork, a jolly pirate theme, supports most any number of players, and has enough depth to make it fun for all ages. The publisher GameWright is also my favorite publisher of games for kids and their catalog is good pace to look if you’re looking for a new game.


Survive: Escape from Atlantis! by Stronghold Games :  The object of Survive is have member your little tribe escape on the last boats from an ever-shrinking island. You want strand your opponents in the hopes that the ground will disappear beneath their feet and you can send sharks to devour their little people. Good family fun for all ages.


Forbidden Island - Gamewright again! Another game about about escaping from a sinking island. Unlike the cutthroat Survive, Forbidden Island is a cooperative game. Everyone is working together to escape with the loot and their lives. Co-op games can also be a great way to play games with kids. The trick is to work together while still letting younger players makes their own choices rather than playing the game for them.


Villains and Vigilantes Card Game - Superhuman Games - Ok. Villains and Vigilantes isn’t really designed for young children. It was designed by me. My kids were the lead playtesters and really enjoy it. But it is a “gamer’s game”. When you’re ready for some superheroic action, with a little complexity, check it out.



Be Careful What You Wish For


These days it seems like every room in our house is overrun with gaming paraphernalia. Dinner-time conversation inevitably revolves around the merits of some obscure card. Our Sunday afternoons are spent at Magic: the Gathering tournaments. “Dad. Do you want to play a game of something?” is a constant refrain. I don’t get together with my friends as much since I get more than enough gaming at home.

Once the seed is planted it may grow beyond your control. Enjoy.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Obamacare Before and After

For a long time we didn't get health insurance from our jobs. I purchased health insurance for my family on the individual market. Last spring, I switch to a new employer that does provide health insurance. If we hadn't switched, I expect we would have been one of those families being told that because of Obamacare, we would be losing our health insurance plan. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that our previous insurer is no longer selling individual insurance in New Hampshire.

But that's OK. We didn't like our plan. We didn't care if we could keep it.

I didn't like the sign up process. The price quoted to me online was totally misleading. I couldn't sign up on online at all. I had to contact an independent broker to actually navigate the process. The actual price was much higher than the one quoted on the website.

I didn't like the fact that they wouldn't insure my entire family. They would insure some of us, but they would not sell a policy to cover my son - who is a generally healthy, normal kid. He was born prematurely with a low birth-weight. Preexisting condition. For him we had to buy a separate, more expensive plan. From a different insurer.

They wouldn't cover maternity. That would be too risky given our history. We aren't planning to have more kids. But I didn't like the idea of a for-profit health insurance company making that decision for us. Whether or not to have children is the kind of decision we should be able to make for ourselves.

We didn't really like having a $5,000 per-person deductible. The insurance didn't end up covering much of anything. If we had more than one incident in a year we could be out $10,000+ in addition to the money we were paying in premiums. That didn't happen every year. But it did happen.

We contacted the insurance company when the law changed and they could no longer reject children due to preexisting conditions. They waffled, delayed, and refused to quote us a new price for a policy that covered our entire family. When they finally relented, they jacked up the price so much that we were better off sticking with the separate plans. I didn't like that.

One time my wife had knee surgery at our local hospital. We were informed that the hospital was in-network. But the anesthesiologist in the hospital was not in the network. So, we were supposed to pay for that. We appealed that decision and won. But the insurance took the novel approach of simply never, ever paying the money they agreed to pay. I didn't like being told a dozen times, over many phone conversations, over several years that this would be taken care of. I didn't like collection agents calling us to demand the money that the insurance company had promised, but never paid.

We did not like our insurance plan. But we kept it. We renewed that plan year after year, ever as they kept jacking up the premiums. We kept our plan because there is no way we would take the risk of going without health insurance. We kept our plan because the alternatives were worse. Other options had ever more strict underwriting requirements and wouldn't sell  us policies at all. Or they were ever more expensive. Or provided even worse coverage.

I supported the ACA and was very much looking forward to being able to purchase insurance on the health care exchange. We started getting insurance through my new job before the exchanges were launched. But it's instructive to compare what's available now compared to what we were going through.

The insurance exchange in New Hampshire is far from ideal. We're part of the federal exchange and have had to deal with the complications that came with that. What's worse is that there is no competition, and not much to choose from within our exchange. Currently, there is exactly one insurance company that offers policies through our state exchange.

The good news that the sole insurer is the biggest, most reputable insurer in the state. They can no longer pick and choose among members of our family. They don't get to decide if we're allowed to have more children. And getting an accurate quote from the web site was quick and easy

Under our old plans, we were paying a total of $832 per month for multiple plans, each with a $5,000 per person deductible. On the exchange today, a comparable plan would cost us $730 a month. Even without subsides, we could save over $1,200 a year. Or we could pay what we're paying now for superior coverage, fewer hassles, and a more reputable insurer.

I've been a supporter of health care reform. I didn't support that effort because I wanted everything to stay the same. I recognized that system was terrible. The whole point of the reforms was to change it.

That's not a promise that was broken. It's a promise that was kept.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Stopping Gun Violence in America

The goal ending gun violence in general, and horrific mass shootings in particular, is one that is shared by most all Americans.

It is also true that a great many Americans own weapons and keep and use them responsibly. We have a strong traditions of gun ownership and guns are tightly intertwined with our history, our politics, our entertainment, our mythology, and in many cases, our sense of self.

This combination had made ending gun violence very difficult in America. But I wonder if we can find some common ground and move towards a solution. Ideally we should all seek a system that preserve our traditions and allows for continued gun ownership while keeping these uniquely lethal capabilities out of the hands of criminals and psychopaths.

My proposal goes like this:

  • Existing regulation regarding the purchase of firearms is left unchanged. No additional restrictions are added on who can purchase guns or what people can do with the weapons they already own.

  • A federal law would make it illegal to sell any firearm ammunition to individuals for private use.

  • During phase 1, there would be no new restrictions on ammunition people already own or purchase before the law goes into effect.

  • Licensed gun ranges, gun clubs, and similar operations would be authorized to purchase and sell ammunition in most any type and volume. 
    • All of this ammunition would have to remain on and be used on the premises.
    • These gun clubs would be given a very wide latitude in terms of the their scope, size, and the variety of tactical, recreational, and sport opportunities they offer.

  • Whenever a valid hunting license is purchased, the individual would also be able to purchase a small quantity of ammunition appropriate the weapons they will be hunting with and the game being hunted.

  • After 10 years, phase 2 would go into effect. At this point private ownership of firearm ammunition would no longer be legal. 
    • The penalty for owning ammunition would be minor - more like a speeding ticket than a jail sentence.

The goal with this proposal would be to immediately limit access to lethal capacity to new gun purchasers. People could keep their guns and get new ones. But, over time, the intent is to move the capacity to use them as lethal weapons out of peoples homes, out of the hands of criminals, and into more controlled settings. This would preserve the use of guns for hunting, sport, and recreation. It would also bring about a fundamental shift in the unrestricted availability of deadly force and end much of the tragedy that comes with it.