Friday, October 17, 2014

Shep Smith is far too good for Fox 'News'



Shep Smith is far, far too good for Fox 'News.' Because this is also Fox (and much more typical):
Dr. Keith Ablow, a member of the Fox News Medical A-Team, on Tuesday said that Obama won't protect Americans from Ebola because "his affinities" are with Africa, not the U.S. "He's their leader." ...

“How can you protect a country you don't like? Why would you?" Ablow asked.

He then dove into Obama's "psyche" and explained what Obama is thinking right now.

"You miserable people have destroyed so much in the world in terms of good things, and now you're going to build a wall? Really? To insulate yourself from things that are devastating other nations when your gains are ill-gotten?" Ablow asked, pretending to be Obama.

Ablow said that even though American citizens elected Obama, he isn't our leader because "his affinities, his affiliations are with them, not us." ...

He also compared Obama to Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein while claiming that Americans elected Obama because he hates the U.S.

"I think that we became psychologically mired in a form of national Stockholm Syndrome," Ablow said. "We said to ourselves, and the world, 'Look at this guy. We're going to elect this guy president. Why would you attack us? We're not even voting for somebody who likes us. This guy, who has names very similar to two of our archenemies, Osama, well, Obama. And Hussein. Hussein. Surely you won't attack us now because we've got a shield here of a guy who, as the leader of our country says we're bad.'"

Get that? Our president hates America, so he's not going to protect us from the Ebola virus. And how do we know this? Well, it's because his name is "very similar to two of our archenemies."

And yeah, we elected Barack Obama - twice - because he hates America. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

No, this isn't a parody, though it's hard to tell the difference, isn't it? His name? Note, too, that President Obama tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden, the one "archenemy" who actually attacked America. (Saddam Hussein was our ally for years, and never attacked America. Of course, he was also dead before Barack Obama was even elected president.)

Sadly, this is more typical of the people on Fox than Shep Smith.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The exorcist(s)


Do you really think that one of these guys is more ridiculous than the other? Why? It's primitive superstition in both cases.

Is it crazier to think that garlic will ward off vampires than to think that a cross will do it? It's not. It's equally crazy, because vampires are just fictional.

Whether you think that demons can be cast out of people using Skype or you think priests need to use a hands-on method to perform exorcisms misses the whole point that demons don't actually exist.

OK, OK, I can't prove that demons don't exist. I can't prove that vampires don't exist, either - or werewolves, or leprechauns, or pixies. But we have no good reason, no good evidence, to believe that they do.

In both cases, this is just superstition, religiously-based superstition. These two priests are equally faith-based. Their beliefs are different - slightly different - because they've got no good reason to believe what they believe, anyway. They're both just believing what they want to believe.

If faith is a valid reason for believing anything (it isn't), you can literally believe anything you want. The priest using Skype to perform exorcisms is no more ridiculous than the priest performing exorcisms any other way, because exorcisms are ridiculous no matter how you perform them.

(Note that all exorcisms aren't equally dangerous, because people have been killed in attempted exorcisms. But they're equally ridiculous. Before you cast demons out of people, why not show us some evidence that demons actually exist?)

Democalypse 2014 - funding or die


The sad thing is that Jon Stewart isn't even exaggerating. If you get on any Democratic Party email lists, you're just bombarded with fund-raising pitches, every single day.

I'm disgusted with it, too, and I find it hard to believe it even works. After awhile, I just ignore everything (or unsubscribe from the list, which at least works when it comes to individual candidates).

Well, at least it's not phone calls (which do stop when you tell them not to call you). And I'm more sympathetic than Jon Stewart, because I understand why they do it.

Partly, it's because the Republican Party has most of the billionaires on their side. Because they're so firmly dedicated to cutting taxes on the rich, the rich tend to support them. No surprise there, huh? So the Democrats really need to get smaller amounts from more people - a lot more people.

The other thing is that money has become critically important in American politics. Sad to say, attack ads work. And with the Supreme Court firmly (5 to 4, anyway) in Republican hands, it's just getting worse and worse. Big money - dark money - is becoming more and more dominant in our political system.

The Democrats, at least, tend to oppose that - not all of them, and maybe not as firmly as I'd wish, but they're the only hope we've got. Republicans have made themselves the party of big money. Yeah, Democrats might like to rake in all the big money, themselves - and they compromise with big money far too often for my tastes - but you just have to look at Supreme Court votes to see which side is which.

At the very least, the rhetoric coming from the Democrats is right on the button. And rhetoric does matter. The more people convinced that big money is legalized corruption, the more chance we'll have to change the system. Meanwhile, though, Democrats need campaign donations, too.

I tend to think that money isn't as important as they think - not once you have a certain minimum (which is plenty big enough, don't get me wrong) - but what do I know? Certainly, when you're hugely outspent by your opponent, you commonly have a much worse chance of winning the election.

So, yeah, this is ridiculous,... but it's also understandable. I just hope they're spending the money wisely (in get-out-the-vote efforts, rather than idiotic attack ads). I have my doubts about that, but I really don't know. Some of both, I suppose.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Republicans, come out of the closet


Republicans are people, too? I thought they were just corporations. And maybe elderly white billionaires.

In fact, I still think so, since they apparently couldn't find enough real Republicans to put in their ad and had to use stock photos.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A shot in the dark


Jon Stewart was sick last night, so that's what's going on at the start and the end of this clip. Funny, huh?

But, as usual, the clip addresses a very serious issue, too - a nearly unbelievable situation, in fact. This is funny, yes,... if you can keep from weeping.

Parenting advice

OK, I'm not going to blog about marriage, but maybe I should give some parenting advice? Here it is: don't listen to Catholic archbishops:
Meanwhile, Archbishop Gadecki warned that encouraging boys to clean up after themselves so as to subvert gender stereotypes could have dangerous consequences.

“Some parents like to teach boys that they should clean up after themselves, and not wait until girls do it for them.”

The archbishop suggested that such leanings should be treated with caution, because “parents often do not realise” that same-sex partnerships are also championed under the banner of “overcoming stereotypes.”

Right. Don't teach your boys to clean up after themselves; make your girls do it for them.

Man, why didn't I think of that? I guess it's because I don't have a god to teach me such things, huh?

Marriage

(xkcd)

No, I'm not going to blog about marriage! :) But I thought this graph was interesting.

I remember reading that, at the time, only 15% of Americans approved of the Supreme Court decision legalizing interracial marriage (and that was in 1967!). Heck, some people still don't approve of it.

But civil rights don't depend on majority support. Well, as a practical matter they do, since as a people, we still have to believe in minority rights. But in modern democracies, "minority rights" is the flip side of "majority rules,"... and arguably even more important.

But look how badly popular approval of interracial marriage lagged - and still lags - its legalization. It's different with same-sex marriage, probably because, as gay people have left the closet, most Americans have come to realize that they have friends, co-workers, and even family members who are gay.

That makes a huge difference. Given our legacy of racism and segregation, most Americans - most white Americans, certainly - don't have friends, co-workers, and family members of another race. Coming out of the closet, as difficult as that was for many homosexuals, was hugely important to the LGBT community.

And to change the topic a bit here, that should provide a lesson for us atheists, too. Note this quote from the latest Pew Research study on How Americans Feel about Religious Groups:
Knowing someone from a religious group is linked with having relatively more positive views of that group. Those who say they know someone who is Jewish, for example, give Jews an average thermometer rating of 69, compared with a rating of 55 among those who say they do not know anyone who is Jewish. Atheists receive a neutral rating of 50, on average, from people who say they personally know an atheist, but they receive a cold rating of 29 from those who do not know an atheist.

I'm not particularly concerned at the low rating of atheists, even from people who know one of us. Partly, that's because we really have nothing in common, except just that we don't believe in any gods. That's really a very minor detail, nothing to hold us together in any positive sense. (Atheists aren't even, necessarily, skeptics.)

But also, atheists are threatening to Christians and other believers in a way that members of other religions will never be. After all, if you're a Christian, you're not going to convert to Judaism or Hinduism or Islam. Yes, converts do happen, but very rarely. The whole idea would be laughable to most people.

No, the risk to believers is that they'll just stop believing the religion they were raised to believe. By and large, they're not at risk of switching to some other superstition, but they do fear losing their faith entirely. There's a reason why they fear atheists, and it has nothing to do with what kind of people we are.

But as with homosexuals, it still matters that they know an atheist. Well, they do know an atheist, almost certainly. But most atheists remain in the closet. You might have a good reason for that. I'm not urging anyone to out themselves if it's going to cause them problems.

But for the rest of us, it's important that we be open about our non-belief. We should learn that from the struggle for gay rights.

OK, I'm getting a bit off the subject here, huh? But you're not actually surprised by that, are you? Heh, heh. It certainly happens often enough!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Portal" by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor

(cover image from Amazon.com)

Portal (2013) is the third, and presumably final, volume of a SF trilogy by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor. (The other two books in the series are Boundary and Threshold.)

In my review of the latter book, I noted that I enjoyed both volumes, but I kept thinking I should have liked them better. The story was great, but I found the characters less than completely appealing. And that's probably why it's taken me awhile to get around to reading this one.

But Portal is the best of the three, and a fine conclusion to the story. Partly, that's because it's not really character-based (so the characters aren't especially important in this one), and partly, it's because it starts in desperate circumstances, with a dozen characters marooned on Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter.

I thought the first two books started slowly - mostly because the characters never really grabbed me. But in this case, we already know the characters, and the focus of the book is on survival. Right from the start, they're in a great deal of danger, stuck with a wrecked ship on a hostile moon.

Another reason why I liked the book is because it reminded me - in a good way - of the classic science fiction of decades ago. The survivors are mostly scientists, and they have that same "can do" attitude of capable engineers which I always enjoyed in classic science fiction.

If there's a problem, you know they're going to find a solution. They're all very capable, they use their training and their minds, and they never give up. I like that!

No, I never object to capable characters. I like capable characters. My problem with the first two books was that they didn't seem particularly appealing - all being super-achievers without any significant problems at all. Indeed, they were so perfect at everything, they were almost supermen. (Why couldn't a superior engineer be a bad cook? Joking about the food would have at least made them seem human. But no, they're gourmet cooks, too.)

But that doesn't come up so much in this book. After all, we already know the characters. (Admittedly, I had a little trouble remember who was who, since it's been three and a half years since I read Threshold, but that wasn't particularly important.) And the fact that they're very capable at their jobs just makes sense. In fact, it would have been hard to believe if they hadn't been superbly capable in their own specialties.

And the characters were appealing in this book not just because of their "can do" attitude, but because, as scientists, they never stopped doing science. Even in desperate circumstances, they couldn't all stay busy all the time. And they were stranded in a location where no human being had ever been before.

So of course they're going to want to investigate. Scientists want to learn. They were all smart enough to understand priorities, but while working on the solutions to their immediate problems, they still wanted to do scientific research. That kind of attitude did make them appealing.

Madeline, the intelligence agent, was still pretty much an unbelievable super-hero, but I could shrug that off. And of course they're going to succeed, they're going to survive - most of them, certainly. That was never in doubt. It is fiction, after all.

But it was great fun watching them do it. Furthermore, the book - indeed, the whole trilogy - was fundamentally optimistic. This isn't just a survival story, but a story of discovery, too. Could our solar system have such wonderful surprises waiting to be discovered?

Well,... probably not. But the possibility is always there. And with science, with new technologies, and with determination, we could find out. The journey will be valuable enough in itself, whatever we discover.

___
Note: My other book reviews are here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Richard Carrier on the mythical Jesus



Fascinating, isn't it?

"The Sea of Time" by P. C. Hodgell

(cover image from Amazon.com)

The Sea of Time (2014) by P. C. Hodgell is the seventh in her Godstalker series (or Chronicles of the Kencyrath, as it's also known), which began 32 years ago with God Stalk (1982).

That was long before I started blogging, but I described the whole series - and my long wait for sequels - in my review of Bound in Blood (2010), here.

As I noted then, and in my review of the following book, the series has always seemed wildly imaginative, and I've certainly been entertained by it. But the story didn't advance much in the last two books. In a series with imagination in spades, staying in the same setting (the randon college at Tentir) for three books has been a bit frustrating.

But that's over now. This book begins with Jame's arrival in Kothifir, the southern city that hires her people as mercenaries, and ends with her being summoned back to Gothregor. In the meantime, we get to see another weird city and learn more about the past.

After 32 years, the whole thing is starting to make sense. I think. :)

The Kencyrath people hate their Three-Faced God and despise their priests. But there's real power there. The temples - which were built before their people had even arrived on this world, 3,000 years ago - tend to be unstable. And in this case, the instability creates... temporary gods from the Kothifir townspeople.

It's funny, but we've been hearing about Kothifir for a long time, but it's only now that we hear the details about what happened there. Mostly, that's because Jame dreams about what happened to her twin, Tori, years ago. (Her twin is ten years older than she is. Yeah, don't ask.)

I have to say that I'm impressed that it all hangs together so well - especially given the long times between books. Has Hodgell had the whole thing planned out?

It does jump around a bit. Mostly, things are seen from Jame's perspective, but sometimes from Tori's. And both of them dream about the past - about the past of the other twin, too - and there's often no clear divide between past and present. It can be a bit confusing.

It's also a little hard keeping track of characters, especially since they don't all appear in every book. There's a list of characters - four pages long! - at the back of the book, but the descriptions are so brief they're pretty much useless. (And those are only the characters in this book.)

I didn't find that any of that a real problem, though. In most cases, it doesn't matter much if you can't remember the details from previous books - or even earlier in this one. It's still lots of fun.

I didn't intend to read this book - not when I did read it, I mean. I bought the book, and I certainly planned to read it, eventually. But I made the mistake of picking it up and reading the first few pages of the prologue. That was it. I just couldn't put it down.

I love the whole series, though I was getting impatient for progress in the last two books. In this one,... well, I can't say there's much progress. But it's a new setting, and apparently just for this book. That's good enough for me.

___
Note: My other book reviews are here.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Lost in Minecraft

There are flowers everywhere, in this biome

Version 1.8 of Minecraft was recently released, and since it's been a couple of years since I last played it, I've really been tempted to start a new game.

However, I'm already busy with Wasteland 2 and Dwarf Fortress, among other games, and I play Arma 3 with my friends several days a week. So I really couldn't start a new game of Minecraft, could I?

Or could I? I've been building an above-ground fort in Dwarf Fortress, and screenshots just don't do it justice. So I thought I might build a copy in Minecraft, just so I could show it off here.

Well, that was the idea, anyway - supposedly. But if I wanted to do that, I should have started the game in Creative mode, rather than Survival mode. And when I did install the new version, I ended up with some problems with the graphics.

Most of them are fixed now, but I'd turned the game to 'Peaceful' difficulty, so I wouldn't have to worry about monsters while I was struggling to see stuff. Meanwhile, I've been looking around for a location similar to my Dwarf Fortress embark site.

And now I'm hopelessly lost. I started next to a vast ocean, and I thought I'd take a look to the south, along the shore. So how could I get lost? But now, I can't even find the ocean, let alone my respawn point.

You see, I thought I'd circle around to the west, then go north and east again. Well, that's what I thought I was doing. But now I'm completely mixed up.

I did find a place along a river which might work for my Dwarf Fortress construction. It's grassland, rather than tropical woodland, but there are forested hills nearby. And if it's not very far above the river, at least the surface is relatively flat.

Now, there isn't any marble in Minecraft, but I figured I could make that part of the fortress out of sandstone, which is at least light in color. There's a new stone in the game which would work lots better, but I wasn't sure I could find enough diorite. And I've never played Minecraft without having a vast sand desert nearby.

Except for this time, apparently. In all my wandering, I have yet to discover a desert biome. (Again, this would be no problem at all if I'd started the game in Creative mode, since then you're given unlimited resources for building. And if I'd enabled cheats, I could have always switched to Survival mode later.)

So I still don't know what I want to do. I was already lost by the time I found that grassland site, so I just kept going. After that, I did mark my way with torches, along the rivers I traveled. (Going out, torches are on the right, so they'll be on the left coming back.) So I can probably find it again, even if I can't find my respawn point.

Bunnies, too (one right in front of me; another in the top of a tree).

Afterwards, I discovered this beautiful area just packed with flowers. Really, the screenshots don't do it justice. (Still, click on them to see the full-screen version.) There's a flat plateau nearby, too, so I could build something on that, if I wanted. But that wasn't the point of starting up Minecraft.

And I'm enjoying looking around on 'Peaceful.'  Days last only ten minutes real-time, so nights are a constant interruption if I have to contend with monsters. However, unless I have a plan in mind, there's not much point to idle wandering, either.

One thing I might do is build a gravel path straight east and west, and north and south, from that grassland area. There's a ton of gravel on that plateau, near the flowers. Well, it wouldn't last long, doing that, I know. But maybe I could keep from becoming even more lost than I am. :)

***

Speaking of Minecraft, I want to point out that Microsoft has just bought Mojang, the game's developer, for 2.5 billion dollars.

Only Mojang didn't actually develop the game. Markus 'Notch' Persson developed the game on his own. He created his small company after the game became successful.

Here's what I said about it four years ago:
According to this, Markuss Persson is selling one copy of Minecraft every three seconds. That's about $15,000 per hour - for a downloaded game, still in alpha, developed almost entirely by himself alone. Apparently, he's reached $350,000 in a single day!

Minecraft made 'Notch' Persson a millionaire. Now, it's made him a billionaire! Not bad for a one-man indie game developer, huh?

Dawn, on the other side of the plateau

And what is Microsoft getting for its billions? Well, not Persson, apparently. The developer of the game isn't staying with the company. (I don't know what he plans to do, but billionaires can do pretty much whatever they want to do, can't they?)

Four years ago, I also quoted this from an article in the Escapist:
One guy, alone, has made a game which is more interesting, cheaper, and has better replay value than games that took an entire studio full of pixel-pushers and codemonkeys to produce. It's also amazingly popular despite having no marketing behind it at all. And the game is profitable even by AAA game standards. This is exactly the kind of thing you can't pull off when you're enamored of buying development houses for hundreds of millions so you can then spend tens of millions of dollars to make sequels of clones of games that were getting old a decade ago.

Think about that. Then consider that the money managers at Microsoft are spending $2.5 billion to buy a four-year-old game that's already been wildly successful. How does this make sense?

It's not even a story-based game, so a sequel would be nonsensical. Spending millions on graphics would do nothing for Minecraft, either. The pixelated graphics are part of its charm. And they're not even buying the developer of the game!

But for big corporations, it's always about the money. With enough money, you can buy anything, right? I suppose they think that, if they're spending $2.5 billion on it, it must be a valuable property. (Either that, or they know a lot more about what they're doing than I do, which - admittedly - wouldn't be too surprising.)

I'm just glad 'Notch' Persson has made out so well. And I hope he turns around and creates another great game, just in his spare time. :)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Blessed are the fully armed



Crazy, isn't it? Faith-based people really can believe whatever they want to believe.

You wonder why so many different Christians can believe so many different things, when all of them claim to be following the same holy book? It's because, even when they've actually read the book (which most of them haven't), they're still going to believe whatever the hell they want to believe.

No doubt libertarian Jesus Christ is coming back, with his AK-47, to kick some ass. Because that's the kind of god these people want. (It's not that the left-wing 'God' is any more real, of course. But it's not quite this stupid.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

John Oliver on the Miss America Pageant



"The largest scholarship pageant in the world for women." Well, maybe. But as John Oliver demonstrates, most of that is nothing but hype.

Right-wing heads explode,... again


It's the last half of this video clip I really wanted to post. Yeah, Republicans are all about respect, aren't they? Why hasn't Fox 'News' been laughed off the airwaves by now?

Jon Stewart got it exactly right: "When Bush took us to war, any criticism was shouted down as treasonous. But when a president you don't like has the country poised on the same precipice, no transgression, no matter how immaterial and ridiculous, is too small to cite as evidence that this president isn't as American as you are."

This is about politics and - dare I say it? - race. Of course President Obama isn't as white American as they are. I mean, just look at him!

Eric Holder has the same problem Barack Obama does. His skin is the wrong color for these people, especially since he's a Democrat.

Think I'm exaggerating? Here's Fox 'News' claiming that Holder runs the Justice Department like the Black Panthers:
Fox News host Andrea Tantaros said Thursday during a discussion about Attorney General Eric Holder's reported resignation that he ran the Department of Justice "much like the Black Panthers would." ...

"He didn't enforce the laws on Obamacare," Tantaros said. "He was droning terrorists without a trial while he was giving them trials in downtown Manhattan. He ran the DOJ much like the Black Panthers would. That is a fact."

Yeah, that was certainly tailor-made for their elderly white viewers, huh?

And the Cato Institute compared Eric Holder to segregationist George Wallace!
In the column, senior fellow Ilya Shapiro said that Holder had the "most divisive tenure of any attorney general I can recall, tearing the country apart on racial and partisan lines," according to a cached version of the piece.

After arguing that Holder was the worst attorney general ever, Shapiro jumped into the George Wallace comparison.

"Like a modern-day George Wallace, Holder has called for racial preference now, racial preferences tomorrow, racial preferences forever," he wrote.

As ThinkProgress noted, this was likely a reference to Wallace's inaugural address as governor of Alabama in which he used the phrase "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Shapiro said that Holder only worked to protect minority groups.

"According to our outgoing attorney general, and the 14th Amendment, Civil Rights Act, and Voting Rights Act only protect some citizens (members of the right kinds of racial minority groups) – and should be used to extract political and financial concessions for them," he wrote.

Oh, we poor white men, so beaten down by the powerful black establishment. These days, you can't even shoot an unarmed black teenager without getting lynched. ("Lynching" does mean "being criticized," right?)

Yeah, it's Holder who's been tearing the country apart ever since the election of our first black president. Of course, these right-wing loons would never dream of 'playing the race card,' would they? Why, the whole idea just gives them the vapors.

And these are the crazies Americans plan to let take control of the U.S. Senate (either through voting for them or through inaction)? Even crazier, polls show they're favored when it comes to foreign policy issues! The same people who got us into all of these messes in the first place? The people who haven't been right about anything in decades?

Sometimes, I really have to despair for my country.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Charles Krauthammer's mental state


Say what you will about Barack Obama, the fact that he's got enemies like this is pretty impressive, don't you think? All I'd really have to know about Obama is who hates him.

Does that let him off the hook? I don't think so. I still criticize people I support. After all, I'm not going to agree with anyone about everything. (Why would I ever expect otherwise? So we disagree about some things. Big deal. If I required a politician to agree with me about everything, I'd have to run for office myself.)

But show me a politician Charles Krauthammer hates, show me a politician Rush Limbaugh hates, show me a politician Fox 'News' hates, and I'll have to think that's a politician I could support. And the more hysterical they get, the better.

These people make Barack Obama look good.

The one place science isn't accepted


Jebus help us, these are supposed to be our elected leaders!

These Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology don't even have a fifth-grade understanding of science! (Of course, they're also being paid off by the oil industry. But they're not being paid to look dumb. That's all natural.)

Frankly, "pushing a million pounds of idiot up a mountain" would be easy compared to educating these guys. But, as I say, they're being paid to remain willfully ignorant. (Yup, best government money can buy, huh?)

Keep in mind that Republicans control the House of Representatives despite receiving more than a million fewer votes than their Democratic opponents in the last election. They've stayed in control of the House only because Republican politicians gerrymandered House districts so they can remain in power as a minority party.

And now, there's a very good chance they'll take the Senate, too. Yeah, many Americans are actually stupid enough to vote for these guys (and even more are too stupid or too lazy to bother voting at all).  Depressing, isn't it?

It's not inevitable, though. We can still vote. No matter how much money they get from oil companies, no matter how much they spend to buy elections, they still have to get votes. It is pure laziness to give up. It is pure laziness to say that your vote doesn't matter. It's pure laziness to say that, well, 'both parties are the same.'

The really depressing thing is that only a minority of Americans will bother voting at all. Yeah, they've all got an excuse. But this is how we get idiots in Congress. Their supporters might be stupid, but they're smart enough to vote.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Militarizing... public schools?


Yeah, it's not just police forces we're militarizing, but school districts, too! But of course every school district needs a grenade launcher. Just think of how useful that would be!

Again, this is the military-industrial complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about. Defense contractors don't have to stick with pushing weapons to our, and other country's, militaries. Sure, we spend more money on our military than the rest of the world combined, but it's never enough.

So now, they've got our military distributing gear to police departments and public schools, too - thus wasting even more money requiring even bigger purchases and even bigger bonuses for defense industry lobbyists and contractors.

Well, thanks to Republicans on our Supreme Court, we've already sold our country to the highest bidder. So what else did you expect?

PS. And yeah, speaking of the Supreme Court, it's not just Citizens United, either. We're starting to see problems from their incredibly inane Hobby Lobby decision now, too:
A federal judge in Utah has ruled that a member of a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon faith may refuse to answer questions in a child labor investigation as a result of the Hobby Lobby ruling on birth control. ...

Erwin Chemerinsky, the Dean of UC-Irvine School of Law, said Sam's decision reveals the pitfalls of Hobby Lobby, calling it "stunning" and contrary to precedent for a judge to use RFRA to let a person get out of testifying.

"I think it is quite predictable that the court's decision in Hobby Lobby would open the door to such claims of an exemption from laws for religious reasons," he said. "I fear it is just the start of cases of people claiming religious exemptions from general laws."

Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA, said the ruling shows how "Hobby Lobby threatens to make religious believers a law unto themselves."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

John Oliver discusses student debt



Student debt in America is bigger than credit card debt and auto loans. Incredible, isn't it (especially when education is free in some countries, our economic competitors)?

Yet student debt differs from other debt in that you can't get out from under it even through bankruptcy. Funny, isn't it (especially since it's guaranteed by the U.S. government, anyway)?

Actually, it's not funny at all. It's a travesty. As we've decided we don't want to pay taxes for anything but prisons and the military, college costs have shot through the roof. But instead of helping students get an education, we're helping banks and other financial institutions take advantage of them, so the rich can get even richer.

And we're helping for-profit colleges take advantage of them, too (and of us, don't forget - this debt, again, is guaranteed by the government).

I know I say this every time I post a video by John Oliver, but he does a great job, doesn't he? I might note that he spends enough time to really get at the key points. And he's very entertaining while he does it, too.

Nightmare on Graham Street


"This president needs to rise to the occasion before we all get killed back here at home."

Heh, heh. Why hasn't Lindsey Graham - and others like him - been laughed out of politics by now? How could it be any more clear that he's pushing irrational fear simply for his own political advantage?

Remember, we over-reacted badly after the 9/11 attacks, causing us to invade two countries, one of them having nothing at all to do with the attacks. (Saddam Hussein had never attacked us and was no threat to America whatsoever. Yet remember the "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" rhetoric used by the Bush White House to push fear?)

And we're still struggling to extricate ourselves from the quagmire that's Afghanistan. All for nothing, too. George W. Bush never did get Osama bin Laden - you know, the guy who actually did attack us - and by the end of his presidency, he'd even stopped trying. (It took Barack Obama to show us how we should have gone after bin Laden in the first place.)

Heck, we even allowed our hysterical fear - or the Bush Administration desire for political cover, take your pick - to cause us to torture prisoners of war. Isn't that more than enough over-reaction for this century, already?

Note that you can't stop every determined terrorist. That's just impossible. It doesn't require a brilliant plan, but just the will to do harm. Yet we've seen very little of that in America since 9/11. Doesn't that also seem to indicate that our fears were overblown?

Heck, when it comes to terrorism in America, we've had a bigger problem with right-wing Christians than with Muslims since then, at least until the Boston Marathon bombing (which definitely was a horrific event, even if only three people died).

But terrorism - which is inevitably a sign of weakness, not strength - is designed to instill fear, and it works best on cowards. When our own politicians and news media aren't just cowards, but are actually eager to push that fear themselves, for their own purposes, it's literally helping the enemy.

How did America get through two World Wars if we were this cowardly? How did we get through the Great Depression? How did we get through the Cold War? We had real fears back then, but we faced them bravely. How can a ragged band of religious nuts overseas cause us to panic now - even when politicians are pushing panic for their own selfish reasons?

When will the rest of us say enough is enough? When will be start reacting with laughter, instead of fear? ISIS has been doing some terrible things (overseas, not here), and that's not funny. But the fear-mongering we're seeing from Lindsey Graham and John McCain, among others, deserves nothing but our ridicule.