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It's impossible to separate racism from the long train of abuses and usurpations that police departments in this country have perpetrated, but even if racism could be made to go away overnight, that by itself would not be enough to solve the problem with policing. There's another dimension that needs urgently to be addressed.

If you ask a police officer to tell you what his job is, he will most likely say something like, "To get criminals off the streets."

And there's the problem, right there.

The officer thinks of "criminals" as a category of beings. He has a certain idea in his head of what a "criminal" looks like. That idea may be influenced by either conscious or unconscious bias. He has to make dozens of snap judgments a day, under stressful conditions, of whether the person he's dealing with is a "criminal" or not. And if he decides that person is a criminal, he understands that it's his job to "get the criminal off the streets," by whatever means necessary.

A "criminal" is a bad person. A "criminal" is dangerous. A "criminal" doesn't deserve respect. A "criminal" has no rights. A "criminal" abuses the public, so abusing a "criminal" is righteous vengeance. It's justice.

There are many things wrong with this mentality, but a key problem with it is that deciding who is and is not guilty of crime is the domain of the judicial system -- the courts. Jurors are supposed to decide guilt, not the police. Judges are supposed to hand down sentences, not an officer's service weapon.

Moreover, "criminals" do have rights. They're spelled out explicitly in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and, indirectly, in the Fourth. "Due process of law" means that criminal defendants have the right to be judged guilty or innocent not on impulse or emotion but by standards of evidence, honestly obtained and fairly presented in court. And once they've served out their sentences, they're not supposed to be considered "criminals" anymore.

But this is hard to remember and harder to honor, because we're so accustomed to thinking of "criminals" as the enemy, the destroyers of peace and order. And if it's difficult for us regular folks, it's even more difficult for police, who see every day of their lives as an unending battle against "criminals."

This is why the thinking -- and, crucially, training -- of police needs to undergo a fundamental shift.

Police departments and police officers need to stop thinking of their job as "getting criminals off the streets."

They need to start thinking of it as restoring citizens who are committing crimes to the status of citizens who are not committing crimes.

There are two elements to this change in framing. One is the recognition that all the people a police officer interacts with are citizens with rights that he must respect. (Of course, not all of them are U.S. citizens -- and it's not only U.S. citizens who have rights. But this is a matter to confront another day. For now, let's settle for defining "citizen" loosely, as a human being with social and political rights and responsibilities.) The second is the emphasis on criminal activity rather than criminal identity.

There are not "criminals" and "civilians." There are citizens who are committing crimes and citizens who are not committing crimes. Citizens who are not committing crimes must be treated with respect, dignity and full recognition of their legal rights. Citizens who are committing crimes also must be treated with respect, dignity and full recognition of their legal rights as well as be made to cease their criminal activity and to submit to the process of law for what they've done.

A person who is not committing a crime should not -- must not -- be treated like a "criminal." An African-American man driving a nice car, a Latino teen hanging out on a streetcorner, a protester in the street: none of these people is committing a crime. There is nothing that they need to be made to submit to. Their "compliance" is not an end in itself. They are free people, citizens with rights. Unless and until they commit an actual crime, there is no reason and no justification for the police to make them do anything.

As for people who have committed or are in the process of committing crimes, the domain of the police is to investigate and apprehend, to stop the crime in progress and to hand the perpetrator over to the court system for judgment. That's it. Because the perpetrator is still a citizen, just one who at the moment is not abiding by the law and needs to be restored to the status of one who is. It is not the domain of the police to administer punishment.

Refocusing the mission of the police from what people "are" to what they are doing or have done will make it more difficult to justify police brutality and detention without charge. It will dismantle the logic underlying racial profiling. It will lay a foundation on which police and communities can build mutual respect and trust. It will bolster people's freedom to exercise their rights of conscience. It will make evident the moral necessity of restoring people's right to vote and right to free choice of employment after they've paid their debts to society.

It's something we need to do right now.

Discuss
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
Of all Eleanor Roosevelt's achievements, the highest and best is her chairwomanship of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In this role, she oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the most thoughtful, comprehensive and forthright expression of the freedom and well-being to which every human being is entitled by right of birth.

A repudiation of the defeated Axis powers' ideology of authoritarian domination, the UDHR unabashedly and explicitly proclaims "the inherent dignity [and] the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family." More than any other document written before or since, the UDHR serves as a yardstick for measuring policy against the most advanced understanding of people's rights and needs which the world has ever reached. It's our pole star of liberty, equality and justice.

Or, as the Preamble to the UDHR puts it:

The General Assembly proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.
There's nothing in the UDHR that any liberal or progressive would consider controversial. There's nothing in it that would be controversial if not for the persistence of retrograde cultural and political forces that, if given their way, would ration liberty, abolish equality and subvert justice.

So we should expect that any Democrat would stand fully behind every article of it.

Right?

Or would that be expecting too much?

Continue Reading

I had an interesting debate with a fellow on Disqus concerning inter-ethnic homicide rates. OK, it's not one that looks particularly interesting at first glance, because he's pitching the tired assertion, with little attempt to veil it, that black people are more violent than white people. What makes it interesting is that he brought out some data that I was able to work with -- and from which I reached what I believe is an airtight conclusion refuting his assertion.

Transcript follows.

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A Long Island woman claims she was drugged and locked in a hospital psych ward for 8 days because a doctor didn't believe Barack Obama followed her on Twitter.

Kamilah Brock's lawyer told the New York Daily News that the horrible ordeal started last September when the NYPD pulled her over in Harlem and seized her BMW after accusing her of being high on marijuana. Her lawyer says no weed was found in the car.

Brock, 32, says that when she went to the station to get her vehicle back the next day, she was forcibly sedated and sent to Harlem Hospital as an "emotionally disturbed" person. . . . She says she told doctors that she works at a bank and that the president follows her on Twitter—both of which are true, and neither of which the doctors believed. According to her lawsuit, they thought she was delusion[al] and bipolar, so they sedated her and kept her in treatment for more than a week.

OK, so it wasn't really Barack Obama who follows her on Twitter, but @BarackObama, an account run by OFA to which the president occasionally contributes. Even so, her story could have been corroborated in a second if anyone had even glanced at her Twitter account, which is public. Her followers are visible to anyone.

The doctors also didn't bother to verify her employment at the bank where she told them she worked. Turns out she not only works there but had been cited at a bank where she worked previously as one of its most productive personal bankers.

Nevertheless, her treatment plan would not allow her to be released until she admitted that Obama did not follow her on Twitter and that she was actually unemployed.

To add insult to injury, when she was finally released, they socked her with a $13,000 bill for hospital services.

Oh, yeah, she's suing the city of New York, all right.

Discuss

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, "No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

That's a direct statement, admitting no exception.

It doesn't say, "unless a police officer feels threatened." It doesn't say, "unless he flees or resists." It most definitely doesn't say, "unless he's black."

And yet we allow police officers to sidestep due process entirely, delivering both verdict and sentence at gunpoint, if they believe -- or claim to believe -- that a situation warrants it. And the same people who yowl that Obama is trampling on the Constitution cheer for this trampling of the Constitution.

Beyond simple racism (although racism is an inextricable part of it), this is the fundamental problem behind the epidemic of white-cop-on-black-civilian violence: that we've created this loophole allowing the police to administer extrajudicial penalties up to and including execution and are unwilling to face it, let alone close it.

It doesn't matter what color one is. It doesn't matter whether one acts like a jerk or a bully or a thug. It doesn't even matter whether one has a criminal record.

Every person who is suspected of a crime, no matter who he is or what he does, deserves to have his guilt or innocence decided by jurors in court, not by bullets in the street.

And if a police officer can't apprehend a suspect and obey the supreme law of the land at the same time, you know what? He's just gotta let that suspect go. That's what the Fifth Amendment says. That chafes, but there it is.

You say you revere the Constitution, conservative white America? Well, there's a chapter and verse you forgot about. Go back and read it again.

Discuss
[A]s we know, there are known knowns: there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.

-- Donald Rumsfeld

So I'm watching this back-and-forth between Daily Kos's atheists and religious from the sidelines, and I'm shaking my head.

Let it be stipulated that everything that's been said about the discrimination that atheists are subjected to, most of all in the sphere of electoral politics, is true.

Let it also be stipulated, however, that atheists don't know something that the rest of us don't. They're not smarter than we are. They're not more in-the-know. They haven't cracked the cosmic code. Rather, they've formulated a conclusion based on incomplete information which differs from the conclusion that billions of other human beings have formulated based on their own incomplete information.

If there is a God -- or more than one -- that God exists beyond anything we can know via measurement or observation. If there is a being or force capable of creating and organizing the entirety of the infinite universe, we have no more chance of comprehending it/him/her than a dog has of comprehending a doorknob. Or the Large Hadron Collider.

So much blood spilled, so many angry words exchanged, so many relationships sundered, so many idiotic laws passed, so many customs fobbed off as essential morality, so many terrible decisions made, so many unlucky people persecuted, over what we must admit, when pushed to the wall, that we have no way of knowing.

But if we have no way of knowing that such a God exists, we also have no way of knowing that such a God does not exist. Just as we cannot begin to comprehend a being or force capable of creating the universe, we cannot extend our intelligence far enough to be certain that there is no such being or force. To state as fact that there is no God is as presumptuous as to state as fact that there is.

In my early adolescence, I called myself an agnostic, but that word means "one who does not know." There's plenty that I know. And rather than dwell on things that I not only don't know but can't know, I think it's much wiser to begin by looking at what we do know already.

We know we live on this Earth in this time. It's divided up into nations, societies, cultures, ethnicities. We know that none of these is perfect.

We are human. We know that humans are social animals. This is essential to our nature. It's the source of what's good about us and what's bad about us: the drive to associate with, share with and care for others, but also the drive to seek higher status within our groups and to fight with groups we believe are encroaching on us. We know that the former brings out the best in us and that the latter brings out the worst in us. Therefore, we know that we'll bring out the best in ourselves when we can enlarge the definition of "our group" to embrace as many people as possible -- ideally, everyone.

We know that we're born and that we die. We know that for every one of us, time will pass between those two occurrences. We know that it's better to be safe, happy and healthy during that span of time than to be sick, imperiled and miserable. Some may see life as a gift, others (like me) as a predicament, but regardless, it's in our nature as human beings to share it with others and our responsibility to ease each other's burden as much as possible.

We know that we thrive on this Earth and that we have found no other place in our universe that can support our needs as well. Actually, we have found no other place in our universe that can support our needs at all -- at least, not one we can get to. We know that life will be really damn hard for us if we mess with the air, water and land enough that it can no longer support us like it used to. There will be a lot more sickness, danger and misery in the world if we do that.

We know that individual people can make bad decisions that harm many others, and that consequently it's better to spread the decision-making responsibility around. We know that ideas that seem crazy sometimes turn out to be right after all, so it's a bad idea to suppress ideas we don't agree with, at least until we've had the opportunity to test them.

We know that the techniques and practices of science enlarge the scope of what it's possible for us to know, even as it reveals to us the existence of things we still don't know -- but at least it allows us to know that we don't know those things.

This is why I'm not a theist nor an atheist but a secular humanist. We are humans, and we live in this world in this time: these are incontrovertible facts. There is so much that we do know, and so much of it needs our attention, that it seems irresponsible to me to waste our time and energy thinking -- let alone arguing -- about things that we can neither know with any certainty nor change to any degree.

The wisest teaching I've ever read in any religious writing -- which, it's worth noting, has been hit upon separately by multiple traditions -- is that one shouldn't do to others what one wouldn't want done to oneself. The second-wisest is in the Analects of Confucius:

Ji Lu asked about serving spirits. The Master said, "You aren't capable of serving other people yet. How can you serve spirits?" He asked about death. The Master said, "You don't know about life yet. How can you know about death?" (11:12)
Let's learn as much as we can about this knowable world we all live in and the other knowable human beings we share it with, and act on that. Because if there's one other thing we know about life, it's that it's too short to waste it worrying about things we don't know and can't change.
Discuss

Dear Citizen:

It has come to our attention that there are wanted terrorists on your block. We are therefore going to demolish your block. The demolition will take place in the next 20 minutes and will be instantaneous and total.

You have the right to remove as many personal valuables as you can carry with you before demolition begins.

Appeals may be directed to the Department of Homeland Security after the demolition is completed but will not result in the restoration of your property or any compensation for your losses.

By vacating your premises, you acknowledge and accept that this is a deprivation of property through due process of law as required by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and is not an act of collective punishment as prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Department of Homeland Security takes great care to spare the lives of civilians in our anti-terrorism operations. We thank you for complying with this directive and apologize for any inconvenience you may experience during your temporary dislocation.

Sincerely,

B.J. Theodoros
Department of Homeland Security

Discuss
"Of course I filed charges as soon as I reached Jadamborazo. It was a simple matter to find out where I had been held and on whose orders. Of course it came to nothing; the great lie of democracy, its essential paradox, is that democracy is first to be sacrificed when its security is at risk. Every state is totalitarian at heart; there are no ends to the cruelty it will go to to protect itself. . . . "

-- Ian McDonald, The Broken Land

It seems like not so long ago, we were talking about nothing but Gaza. Now we're talking about nothing but Ferguson, Mo., and the killing of Michael Brown. But this isn't a case of the latter story bumping the former story out of the headlines. This is all one story: the story of how the creed of equality and inalienable human rights is held in contempt, routinely, brazenly and unapologetically, not only in autocratic countries such as Russia and China but in countries that we praise as exemplars of democracy, as well as right here at home.

This is the story of how some people are deemed deserving of life and others are not. This is the story of how justice is made available to some and not others. This is the story of how some are presumed to deserve kindness and others brutality. This is the story of how "accountability" reaches no farther than the front doorstep of privilege.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

-- Declaration of Independence

The creed of equality was written into this, the paradigmatic founding document of the United States. Yet from the beginning, there has been a competing worldview struggling for dominance of this country's culture and affairs.

In this competing worldview, all people are not equal. Some are born to rule, others to be ruled over. Liberty is a privilege conferred by rank: some people deserve many liberties, others deserve only a few, and the vast majority deserve none. "Equality" is a con job designed to pull the best and noblest down from their mountaintops and drag them down to the level of the common folk. Governments are instituted to safeguard the position of the rightful rulers and keep the rabble subdued through force and fear. And a commoner's life holds less value than a patrician's property.

This worldview has never gone away. It survives and thrives today. In this country, its seeds were planted in the slaveowning South, but its influence extends far beyond those boundaries. It flourishes everyplace where people hold other people in contempt, where people judge other people to be less than fully human. It lives in the Kremlin and the Forbidden City. It lives in Israel. It lives in ISIS. It lives in Ferguson. It lives in Waukesha County, Wis., and Maricopa County, Ariz. It lives on Fox News and in the Washington Post. It lives in the Supreme Court.

It is incompatible with equality. It is incompatible with democracy. It is incompatible with humanity.

It is not "conservatism": it seeks to destroy those institutions and traditions that promote and safeguard equality. It is not religion, or capitalism, or nationalism: these are simply tools that it wields and discards according to the needs of the moment. It is racist, but it is more than racism. It is rankist, but it is more than rankism. It is authoritarian, but it is more than authoritarianism. It is tribal, but it is more than tribalism. It is a wholesale rejection of the Enlightenment, a reversion to the arbitrary, unrestrained exercise of power by whoever happens to hold it -- the boss, the church, the police, the generals, the domineering majority, the anxious minority.

It does not need to justify itself to you.

Continue Reading

To imagine that our times are defined by the struggle between "left" and "right," between "liberalism" and "conservatism" or between the Democratic and Republican parties is to be perilously distracted and misled. There is a struggle that defines our times, all right, but it's not any of these.

At the heart of this struggle is what the United States of America is all about, what America "means."

To many of us, America is defined by the words of the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

To others, America is defined by the strides it has made toward full representative democracy since those founding documents were written, such as the extension of the vote to non-property-owning men, then African Americans, then women, then African Americans again (since we didn't get it right the first time).

To others, America is defined by its openness to immigrants from other nations, by the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed upon the base of the Statue of Liberty, and by the promise of prosperity and opportunity to all comers.

What these meanings have in common is that they represent an aspirational ideal: a country where we're all equally deserving of life and liberty, health and happiness, security and opportunity, rights and dignity, and where we're all treated equally in our pursuit of these blessings. It's an ideal for which America has been widely, and rightly, admired for its pursuit of.

But we can't overlook or forget that since the Colonial Era, there has been another, competing idea about what America ought to be.

America is not one people but many, and these peoples have historically disagreed on whether all human beings truly are equal, on who does and doesn't deserve to take part in government, on the purpose and appropriate role of the federal government, on whether immigrants deserve to be full citizens and—perhaps most crucially—on the meaning of "freedom" itself.

Times change. This competing idea hasn't, not much. From time to time, it pops up unexpectedly, in a revealing gaffe or a shocking mob action, an audacious new state law or an inappropriate and excessive application of force. But where we see it most consistently today is in the relentless campaign to characterize the Obama presidency as illegitimate and thwart every perceived "liberal" goal.

This is not simply a matter of having different policy priorities; it's a different, incompatible concept of what America is and ought to be. It's also been around longer than our contemporary idea of the "political spectrum," which is already fraying at the edges. Consequently, words like "right-wing" or "conservative" are unsuitable to describe it, and it's not enough to simply associate it with the Republican Party (or the Tea Party).

This competing idea originated in the South and is inseparable from it, but to call it "Southernism" would be wrong, partly because not all Southerners ascribe to it and partly because its influence extends far beyond those geographical boundaries. I've wracked my brain to try to come up with the right label to apply to it. "Oligarchy" and "aristocracy" are hobbled by other meanings; "dominionism" runs the risk of emphasizing its religious dimension over its political and economic dimensions, which in reality the religious dimension serves rather than vice versa. In addition to being too specific to a particular historical era, loaded words like "fascism" shut down thought rather than stimulate it.

The most accurate term I've found is "kyriarchy": a word coined by the feminist philosopher Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza to describe any social system built around domination, oppression and submission, in which a single individual might be oppressed in some relationships and privileged in others. It's precise, rich and fitting, but unfortunately, it's also obscure and unlikely to catch on. Its literal English translation, "boss rule" (or "bossism"?), is awkward and unpleasing to the ear. "Patricianism" is at best an interesting compromise, ultimately not all that much better than "aristocracy."

I invite further discussion of a catchier label, but for the purposes of this essay, I'm going to go with hegemony: leadership or dominance over others through indirect means, particularly by the ever-present threat of force.

Colin Woodard's American Nations. Hegemony is primarily a Deep South ideology,
with influence and support from Tidewater and, after the Civil War, Greater Appalachia.
The hegemonist ideology is set against a progressive ideal which I see defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (It's no coincidence that hegemonists see the United Nations itself as illegitimate and abominable.) When Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrased the abolitionist Theodore Parker in a speech before the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice," he must have had in mind the rights encapsulated in the UDHR, or something very much like them. One could refer to this ideology as "liberalism" or "democracy," but in this essay, I'm going to refer to it simply as equality. (Although I briefly considered calling it "fraternalism," in a nod to the words of Article 1 of the UDHR that call for all people to "act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood," I figure it's better to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible.)

This, then, is the central question: Does America stand for, and should it stand for, equality or hegemony? And the follow-up question: If we want America to stand for equality, what must we do?

Poll

I support—and I expect my representatives to support—

91%76 votes
1%1 votes
1%1 votes
4%4 votes

| 83 votes | Vote | Results

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In a unanimous decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law that prevented anyone from standing within a 35-foot buffer zone outside of abortion clinics. The law was intended to prevent abortion opponents from blocking women's access to the facilities; local law-enforcement officials testified that significant clashes frequently occurred just outside clinics' doors.

"The Last Person You See Before Getting an Abortion," Atlantic

Set aside, for a moment, the merits of being for or against abortion rights. Set aside the question of whether a woman seeking an abortion has the right to do so without having to run a gantlet of strangers who object to her decision.

The first thing that came to my mind when I read the paragraph quoted above is that the Supreme Court has essentially stated that there's no legal basis for insisting that a protester maintain a certain distance from a place of business that he or she is protesting -- that the nature of the business cannot trump the First Amendment rights of an activist.

If this is the case, anti-inequality activists need to put this idea to the test, stat.

They need to form crowds outside investment banks and trading houses on Wall Street and in every financial district in every city and peacefully, quietly, hand out leaflets and try to talk to every person who goes in or out "one-on-one." And try to persuade them that they're doing great harm to the American economy, the American worker, the American citizen.

Because surely an anti-inequality protester has the same rights, may exercise the same civil liberties, is entitled to the same kid-glove treatment, as an anti-abortion protester.

Right?

Right?

Discuss

All right . . . since folks are complaining about kos's poll being biased toward Hillary Clinton, and other folks are complaining about MikePhoenix's poll being biased against her, here's one that I hope will reveal the true level of nuance (or lack of it) in users' opinions about her candidacy. Hopefully, this will reveal not only who falls where on the support/no support spectrum but what their real reasons are, to what extent attitudes differ between the primary and general election seasons, and how many on either side feel like the choice has already been made without them.

Commenters are asked to refrain from pie fighting, mind reading and expressions of binary thinking. Nuance, brothers and sisters. The watchword of the day is nuance.

Poll

Which of the following statements comes closest to your opinion of a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy?

17%43 votes
7%19 votes
10%25 votes
3%9 votes
2%6 votes
3%8 votes
8%21 votes
0%1 votes
2%5 votes
1%3 votes
4%12 votes
10%25 votes
10%26 votes
16%41 votes
0%2 votes

| 247 votes | Vote | Results

Continue Reading

Dear kos:

If Daily Kos is anything like most other major websites these days -- and in this respect, at least, I'm hoping that it's not -- you're in the process of redesigning the site to be more "tablet-friendly." What I'm discovering lately, as I give up in frustration on various other sites, is that "tablet-friendly" can also be taken to mean "desktop-/laptop-hostile."

A couple of days ago, Facebook broke Facebook. It redesigned the News Feed to be "tablet-friendly," which is to say, suddenly pictures are huge, typefaces are huge, only two or three status updates fit on a single screen, and you have to scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll to read just the last few hours of updates. It's a pain in the ass and murder on my eyes, which are wearing themselves out searching frantically for the words wedged into the cracks between the giant pictures. Facebook has made a lot of obnoxious changes in the past, many of which made me want to quit using the site in protest. This one isn't going to make me quit using Facebook in protest -- it's going to make me quit using it simply because I can no longer stand to use it for more than about 45 seconds at a time.

The new Facebook News Feed: because you don't have the attention span for more than one story at a time.
Meanwhile, some few months ago, Kinja/Gawker changed its page layout and commenting system to include a strange new comment-threading system that I still don't fully understand and to include tablety elements like a rotating link spotlight in the upper left corner. Recently, to deal with an unrelated problem, I had to clear my cache and cookies; ever since then, I can't log in using my Burner key. (I use Burner instead of Facebook, Google, etc., for the sake of privacy.) When I try, using the login lightbox, I get a "Login successful" message -- and then I'm still not logged in. What's more, suddenly the rotating link spotlight becomes a rotating headline spotlight that includes no links. It's been two weeks since I got a message from the help desk, which doesn't seem to care.

It's not as though I'm using a pile of antiquated junk: I'm running the latest version of Firefox in the second-latest version of Windows, on a laptop that I obtained new seven months ago. (Unless any technology less bleeding-edge than a tablet is considered antiquated junk now, which would disappoint me but not surprise me.)

These are just symptoms of a greater problem in the culture of the Internet industry, which seems to forget that a computer (or a tablet or a smartphone) is, first and foremost, a tool. It's not a toy, it's not a television, and it's not a magic lamp. It's a device that people use to do things -- which is why we're called "users." And the applications that programmers design for this tool are like attachments for this tool, or tools in their own right. People learn to use them, then get used to how they work and how they feel. This is no less true when the purpose is superficially trivial -- recreation or socialization -- than when it's serious information-gathering or business productivity.

If you were a machinist, a woodworker, a surgeon or a chef, and you had your own tools and were used to how these tools functioned and felt, and one day the manufacturer of those tools stole into your workplace and replaced all of them with new ones that looked, felt and functioned differently -- and told you, moreover, that you could never have the old ones back -- you'd be outraged, wouldn't you? And rightly so: This would be an unacceptable and unconscionable disruption of your work. Yet the companies that produce online applications do this all the time, some as often as every six months. And we all know from ample experience that once an application changes, however disruptive the change, it never, ever goes back to the way it was.

So I'm asking you (and every other Kossack who works in this industry) before you make whatever changes you're contemplating: Think of all your users, not just the early adopters. Consider that desktop and laptop owners use their information tools very differently from how tablet and smartphone owners use theirs -- horizontality vs. verticality being a critically important one, but also only one of many. Remember that much of the whiz-bang code that underlies the tablet experience doesn't work in the software and operating systems that many of us desktop and laptop users are still running. And remember also that while many users, perhaps even a majority of users, are visually oriented and respond primarily to pictures, more than a handful of us are verbally oriented and respond primarily to words, and when we can't find the words, or when the words are dominated and crowded out by giant pictures, we lose the ability to find the information we're looking for on the page, and we get frustrated and leave.

Thank you.

Discuss
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