Does the “right” family = political aptitude?

When I take Brian and his friend Lucas to school in the morning, we drive by a very large political yard sign for a Republican candidate for the Georgia House of Representatives named Matt Bentley. In and of itself, this is not that unusual. There are signs on most every yard on this particular road. And yes, the vast majority of them are for Republicans of some sort. It’s certainly the neighborhood for it.

What was remarkable about this one was the blatant use of the image on the sign. The picture is of the aforementioned Matt Bentley and his wife and infant baby girl. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the picture. In fact, it’s a very good picture, and one they probably proudly hang in their own living room. But there’s something about the picture being used how it’s being used.

In what way does the idea that he has a wife and baby girl translate to his possible success in the Georgia House? The little baby is cute and the wife is attractive. Ok, I’ll give you that. But even that is not what the actual picture is about. It’s meant to play off of the “family” nature of this particular man. The “family values” vote is what’s being targeted here, I’m sure.

But, is that qualification enough? What are his motivations? What’s his platform? What does he believe in?

(Oh there they are, hidden in the darkness of the black couch: “Lower taxes”, “Less government”, and “More Jobs”. Really checking off the Republican talking points on that one, huh?)

Does anyone care about those things? Or is it simply because he’s a “family man”? Or could it be because they’re a white family? A heterosexual family? Man, woman, and child = healthy living, right? I mean, where’s the dog? The white picket fence?

(Oh wait, I just saw the dog’s head. Now it’s complete.)

Imagine for a second that this family was not a straight, white family with a dog. Imagine if the wife was a husband. Would that family be “suitable” for a sign? What if Mr. Matt Bentley was bald because he had cancer? What if he had tattoos? What if his wife was African American? Muslim? Japanese? Nigerian?

Would that matter?

I understand and firmly believe that it should absolutely not matter. But does it? Given the location of this particular sign and the neighborhood I’m driving in when I pass this sign, I’m guessing it matters a great deal.

And that makes me sad.

P.S. I don’t know Matt Bentley at all, or his family. This is in no way a condemnation of him, personally. This is really a commentary on society and the current social norms, specifically in Georgia.

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Of Two Minds

I read Ethan Marcotte’s article about Google’s recently announced service / product called Duplex. In it, he lays out the following argument:

Frankly, this technology was designed to deceive humans. That’s not a value judgment, mind: the aim of the product is to act as human-sounding as possible. What’s more, the demos above are impressive because Duplex specifically withholds the fact that it’s not human. The net effect is, for better and for worse, a form of deception. Duplex was elegantly, intentionally designed to deceive. (And given that reality’s on shaky ground as it is, I don’t think this is the most responsible goal.)

I’m of two completely separate minds on this. One the one hand, I completely agree with the doubters thinking. Let’s not mince words here, Google, given its history, stands to be viewed upon with a hefty bit of skepticism when it comes to doing what’s “right”. But let’s say that’s not it. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say Google has every good intention in this particular space. What about others? What about the malicious folk out there? What about the people who are out there to scheme and cheat and rip people off? Isn’t Google giving them, right out of the gate, a tool to aid in their shenanigans?

This ultimately comes back to the old adage of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. I don’t know that we’ve held technology to that standard enough recently. A perfect example of this is the creation and, more importantly, the use of self-driving cars when the tech is not absolutely rock-solid.

Having said all of that, I was reading a tweet last night from someone whose name I have known for a while, but didn’t know a particular fact about. This gentleman stutters. Like me. He viewed this in a completely different light. His idea was that the Duplex “product” could be used in a very nice and productive way by people who have speech disabilities. Like he and I do. It was eye-opening. I think I even re-tweeted it with “Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep, etc.”

Because I can completely see his point. I HATE talking on the phone. It makes me anxious, nervous, and scared. I get over it, and conquer it, but it’s an every-single-situation kind of thing. What if I didn’t have to do that but 40% of the time I do it now? That would help me. Would I like to be 60% less anxious? You’re damn right I would be.

The well-being of global society is still winning in my head, and I will go on record as thinking this might not be the best thing. But it’s not as much of a slam dunk as I would have originally thought.

Time to check myself

On Episode 278 of “Roderick on the Line”, Merlin (Mann) encapsulates exactly something that a friend of mine said about 2 years ago, well ahead of the 2016 election. Merlin said:

There’s so much reckoning going on about strangers. There’s so much reckoning going on about millions of people who are disadvantaged culturally in a way that so many of that 32%-36% are not. And yet they have found some way to find agrievement in every cultural improvement in the last 50 years, Every time somebody who’s not them gets something, it’s a zero sum game. Everything that somebody who has always been treated like shit for their entire life gets is necessarily one less thing that they get, in their mind.

I can’t tell you how right he is, how right my friend was back then, and how wrong I was to write it off as something of an ignorant opinion. On a car trip to/from Seattle, we were having a discussion on the phenomenon that was candidate Trump at the time. Speaking for myself, I just didn’t understand how he was still in the race, much less leading it. During the course of that discussion, it was pointed out that there was a certain group of people that felt disenfranchised because of the cultural changes that had been happening (especially in the past 7 years of the Obama presidency). And that this group of people felt left behind, or left out, of the benefits that were now coming to the historically disenfranchised. And that was pissing them off. So much so, that they would absolutely invite into their house this loud-mouth, boastful, pussy-grabbing-and-proud-of-it shitbag for a possible president.

At the time, I thought that was ridiculous. I thought that people would surely be smart enough, informed enough, to see him for what he was. And the danger he imposed to a civilized notion of government, norms, and order. I believed in the basis of a morality, and believed that these people would ultimately end up siding on the basis of that morality and not on the idea of “anything but (her/establishment)”.

I have to say that I didn’t believe my friend then. Didn’t want to believe that narrative. But I believe it now. And I realize that, even now, I still have some thinking outside the box to do.