Saturday, July 31, 2010

Target donating to right-wing candidate

Now that the Supreme Court's conservative wing has decided that corporations are just people, too, Target has donated $150,000 to the campaign of Tom Emmer, Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota. This is a homemade video by a Minnesota grandmother - and the mother of a gay son - who wasn't willing to let that go without protest.

Think about it. Even if you support Emmer, how do you think your $50 donation to his campaign stacks up against $150,000 from Target? Do you really think that Emmer will care two hoots for what you think, compared to the views of his corporate benefactor?

From Target's point of view, purchasing a politician might be just a good business investment. Or, alternately, this could be just because of the right-wing political views of its CEO, using corporate money to advance his own agenda. But what if you own shares of the company, perhaps through a mutual fund in your IRA. Technically, you're a part owner of the company, so it's partially your money going to fund this right-wing politician. But you've got absolute no say over the decision. (You'd have very little say over the decision even if you owned shares directly, not compared with, say, wealthy investors in Saudi Arabia or Hong Kong, who might be able to influence Target management.)

According to the right-wing fanatics on the Supreme Court (as usual, the Citizens United decision was 5 to 4), multinational corporations and their wealthy CEOs apparently didn't have enough power in our political system as it was. And the fact that such corporations are foreign-owned, at least in part, didn't dissuade them, either. Well, what's good for multinational corporations is good for America, right? Heck, why don't we just let them run for office themselves, and skip the middle-man?

The fact is, corporations aren't people. Corporations don't make decisions, their management does. Furthermore, ownership isn't control. You may own shares in a corporation without having any control over what they do. In fact, for most of us, that's almost always the case. So a CEO can give your money to a right-wing candidate who'll pledge to lower the CEO's taxes, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Well, you can protest. You can contact Target. You can cut up your Target charge card, like this woman did. But for the most part, you probably won't know when corporations do this kind of thing. And when they all start doing it, you might have trouble shopping anywhere.

Long-term, you can simply vote for progressive politicians, especially for President. The Supreme Court is making such loony decisions - this is far from the only one, all made on a 5-4 vote - because past Republican presidents have appointed far-right extremists to this lifetime position. Now, their decisions are making it easier to keep electing corporate shills. We're paying for our previous mistakes - paying in so very many ways.

For decades now, we've been on the wrong path in America. When will we citizens wake up and change course?

We need more Democrats like this

Sometimes we need to get angry. We need this passion. Frankly, the whole country should be angry about what the Republicans are doing, putting partisan politics above our country. I don't know how Weiner's outburst will play out politically, and I don't care. Sometimes, you just have to do the right thing.

In this case, it was a bill to provide health care aid to 9/11 rescue and recovery workers who've faced health problems since the attack. Republicans claimed that they supported the bill, but voted against it for "procedural reasons." In reality, the GOP is trying to stop - or at least delay - all legislation, simply because the Democrats are in charge. If it hadn't been this excuse, it would have been another.

There's an editorial in my local newspaper today which praises Sen. Mike Johanns (R - NE) for voting against the DISCLOSE Act, the current campaign finance bill. No, Johanns didn't actually vote against the bill, because - as usual - Republicans didn't even allow the bill to get a vote. (It would have passed easily if they'd permitted a vote.) He joined every other Republican in their filibuster, and his excuse was the exception carved out of the bill for the NRA. Seriously. That was his excuse.

Leaving aside the laughable suggestion that any Republican would object to giving the NRA exactly what it wanted, the fact is that Johanns, like every other Republican, would have filibustered the bill no matter what it included - just like they've filibustered everything. It has nothing to do with the contents of the bill and everything to do with partisan politics. After all, Republicans could always have proposed an amendment removing the exemption. Why didn't they, if that was their real objection?

Indeed, the only reason the exemption was included in the first place was in a vain attempt to get some Republican to put our country above partisan politics (and because, while the GOP continues to play its partisan political games, bills must try to get every single Democratic vote - even those from very conservative Democrats). That means that bills are weakened, and loaded with exemptions, in order to get every single Democrat in agreement - including some who are Democrats in name only - and in the further hope of getting just one Republican to do the right thing.

The pattern has been that one or two Republicans - no more - indicate that they might be willing to break a filibuster if the Democrats accede to their every whim. So the Democrats compromise, and the Republicans find new objections. Eventually (all this takes time, which is the whole point), there's only a small kernel of value still remaining in the bill,... and then the Republicans don't break the filibuster after all. It was all just a head-fake, just a political game, just a way to keep the Democrats beating their heads against a brick wall.

This is not how our government was ever designed to work, and it has never been this way in the past. Our democracy is broken because Republicans are playing political games and we citizens aren't holding them accountable. Indeed, hard as this is to believe, their disgusting political tactics actually seem to be working. How dumb can we be to not just let this continue, but to actually reward them for it?

Normally, when a political party moves to the extremes, as the Republican Party has, they lose in the general election. Normally, when a political party plays partisan games instead of working for the good of our country, they fail to get majority support. This tends to keep both parties near the political center. But when the economy is hurting like this, when times are really bad, voters almost always punish the party in power,... even when it was the other party which collapsed the economy in the first place!

Furthermore, these days we've got Fox "News" pushing right-wing propaganda day and night. Thanks to previous Republican administrations, we've got the Supreme Court packed with right-wing extremists who've decided that multinational corporations need even more power to influence our elections. Sure, none of this would work if we Americans were smart enough and courageous enough, but it seems that we're not. And with our first non-white president in office, racism is also a big part of this. It's easy for many whites to believe the worst of blacks, even when it's nonsensical.

But the biggest problem right now might be the enthusiasm gap. After nearly destroying America in recent years, thanks to the worst presidential administration in U.S. history, you'd think the right-wing would be hanging their heads in shame. But given this bad economy (which the Republicans are doing their best to prolong) the extremists sense blood in the water.

Progressives, on the other hand, are discouraged. Government is harder than they expected. Americans are dumber. And Democratic politicians are all too eager to compromise with people who have no interest in compromising. Democrats, you need to start behaving like Anthony Weiner if you ever hope to bridge this enthusiasm gap. Progressive politicians need to start fighting for what is right. What's the worst that could happen, you'd lose? You're losing already.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I feel like such a geek

<a href="" target="_new" title="Season 4 - Music Video - "Game On"">Video: Season 4 - Music Video - "Game On"</a>

OK, The Guild must be about the geekiest thing in the world anyway, but this takes it to a whole new level, don't you think?

I don't play these kinds of games, but I'm close enough to the gaming world to get a real kick out of The Guild. If you've never heard of it, check it out on YouTube . You'll want to start with Season 1, Episode 1. Don't worry; each episode is only a few minutes long.

It's a web series about obsessive gamers who get to know each other in real life, and if you have any online friends at all, you'll start to wonder how real this might be. Heh, heh. Well, maybe not, but it is pretty funny - at least if you're a gamer yourself.

Note the balding gamer with a toaster, microwave, and refrigerator, all within reach. Maybe I need to set up something like that.  :)  And there's the neglectful mother, with her kids gnawing on a power strip or locked away in the kitchen. (Let's hope that's not realistic!) Really, the characters are all strangely plausible.

Apparently, they're up to Season 4, but I haven't seen it since... Season 2?  So I guess I'll have to get caught up now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Race baiting

I've been wanting to post about the Shirley Sherrod incident, but what can I say that's not obvious? This isn't the first time Andrew Breitbart has published a fake video. Remember that fake ACORN video which destroyed that non-profit community organization? So why did everyone automatically believe it this time? Was it just that no one could believe that even he would be this blatant, to manipulate a video so that it would give the exact opposite impression from what was really being said?

That does take gall, I must admit. But why not? Breitbart hasn't seemed to suffer a bit from either shameful incident. In fact, he's the new hero of the far-right. David Frum talks about the shame of conservative media, but he's very much an exception (Frum has suffered already for being a conservative honest enough to tell the truth):

By the morning of July 20 the Sherrod-as-racist narrative had collapsed.

What is most fascinating about that second day, however, was the conservative reaction to the collapse. At midday on the 20th, Rush Limbaugh was still praising Breitbart: "I know that Andrew Breitbart's done great work getting this video of Ms. Sherrod at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and her supposed racism and so forth saying she's not gonna help a white farmer."

By the evening of the 20th, however, conservatives were backing away, acknowledging that an innocent women had been defamed. ...

But you’ll never guess who emerged as the villains of the story in this second-day conservative react. Not Andrew Breitbart, the distributor of a falsified tape. No, the villains were President Obama and the NAACP for believing Breitbart's falsehood.

Breitbart went almost universally unmentioned. Erickson even justified Breitbart's falsehood as a tragic but necessary and justifiable measure of conservative self-defense...

Progressives aren't any too happy with Barack Obama on this one, either (aren't, indeed, overly happy anyway, having gotten a far more moderate president than they expected, and one apparently so intent on getting along with his enemies that he won't fight for what's right), but there's an obvious reason why race baiting works with this administration. It's not admirable that they were so willing to believe the worst, especially on the shaky evidence of a man already proven to post fake videos, but this kind of narrative is kryptonite to our first black president. (And all too many white people are shamefully eager to believe that whole "reverse racism" thing.)

When it comes to the NAACP, you've got to contrast their response - quickly denouncing an apparent instance of black racism - with the right-wing response to Breitbart's shenanigans (he's now headlining a Republican National Committee fundraiser in California). The NAACP may indeed have shown gullibility, but at least they were eager to do the right thing. Republicans, on the other hand, seem to have no problem with deliberate falsehoods (having become inured to such things from many years of watching Fox "News," I suppose).

At any rate, the fact that the right-wing is trying to blame Barack Obama and the NAACP for this incident is just disgusting.

Politico blames partisanship. It's "the age of rage." Yes, yes. Always, when we see something like this from the right-wing - something deceitful, something shameful, something beyond all reasonable standards of correct behavior - we inevitably get the response that "both sides do it." Yes, it's terrible how partisan politics plays out in America, isn't it?

But this kind of response excuses the inexcusable. No, both sides don't do it, certainly not to this extent. If, whenever something shameful like this is discovered, we "tsk, tsk" about politics in general, we are just giving a free pass to the worst people in our society. We don't excuse a murderer by regretfully noting the general amount of violence in America. Some things are wrong, and the perpetrator should be soundly condemned.

I like how Alex Pareene puts it in this jab at Politico:

Real-life reporters are supposed to be baffled as to how to respond to this fact-lite outrage? Shouldn't they have just found the full video, or interviewed Sherrod, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution did? If you have to write about the latest Breitbart outrage RIGHT THIS SECOND, you write, "Bomb-throwing propagandist with history of disregard for factual accuracy posts race-baiting video intended to score political points against NAACP and black people in general." It was a really easy story! And the next Andrew Breitbart outrage will be the same story! It is not "partisan" or "biased" to call Andrew Breitbart a liar, because he lies.

Now, right-wingers apparently have a new strategy, to call Shirley Sherrod a liar because she claimed that her father was lynched, when he was actually beaten to death. As TPM points out, these lunatics need to buy a dictionary. "Lynch" means to kill without a legal trial. You don't have to hang a man in order to "lynch" him.

But still, what kind of mindset would think that an appropriate take on this situation in the first place? Sherrod's father was murdered by white men. And later, when working for a non-profit organization (none of this happened when she worked for the government), she felt some reluctance, at first, in helping a white couple save their family farm, especially when so many black people had lost theirs. But she overcame that natural feeling.

It's a truly inspiring story,... and then for race-baiting purposes, a right-winger deliberately edited the video to make it seem just the reverse. So now they're going to argue - erroneously, like all of their arguments, it seems - about the meaning of the word, "lynch"? You've got to be kidding me!

Here, incidentally, is a video interview of the white couple Sherrod helped:

As it turned out, both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were on vacation when this story broke, but each had something to say about it last night. I'll embed the video clips below the fold. Click to continue.

The fierce competition for crazy

TPM points out the fierce competition for crazy in GOP primaries around the country, with Republican candidates desperate to prove there's no one loonier than they are. In the three-way struggle for governor of Tennessee, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey suggests that Islam is not "actually" a religion, and therefore might not be entitled to First Amendment protections. Incredible, isn't it? Yeah, big deal, huh? It's just the Constitution.

Remember the effort after 9/11 to convince Muslims that we weren't a Christian nation waging a "crusade" against their religion. Well, that's too reasonable for the right-wing crazies who've taken over the Republican Party these days. The hot topic in Tennessee right now is the community center which Muslims in the state propose building. How dare they!

Well, Ramsey has to out-crazy his competition. You can't afford to appear lacking in the crazy department in the GOP this year. Just a few days ago, one of his opponents, Rep. Zach Wamp warned that states might have to secede from the Union if the health care reform bill isn't repealed. He's echoing Texas governor Rick Perry on that. Apparently, secession is how real patriots show their patriotism (kind of like how Sarah Palin demonstrated that she wasn't a quitter by... quitting). But clearly Ramsey was feeling the heat and needed to demonstrate real lunacy himself.

Earlier this month, Bradley Byrne lost the Republican gubernatorial runoff in Alabama. You see, in May, he was hit by accusations that he actually supported... teaching evolution in public schools! Yes, shocking, isn't it? He fought back, vehemently proclaiming his belief in creationism and the "infallible truth" of the Bible, but apparently just the hint that he wasn't loony enough sealed his doom.

Not all Republican politicians are dumb enough to actually believe what they're saying, but they'll say anything they have to say - and support whatever policy they have to support - to keep the real crazies happy. (Actually, they've been doing that since they adopted the "Southern Strategy" of appealing to white racists forty years ago.) Ken Buck, who's actually supposed to be the Tea Party candidate in Colorado's Republican senatorial primary, was just caught on tape saying, "Will you tell those dumbasses at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I'm on the camera?" That's probably not going to do him a lot of good among his fans, is it?

Now, ordinarily, any political party that goes off the deep end like this loses in the general election. When the crazies select their favorites in the primary, or when politicians at least have to kowtow to the crazies, it usually spells doom for their party. But it doesn't seem to be working like that now. Mostly, that's because we're still in a terrible recession. Sure, it's the GOP that gave us this recession - and the record-breaking deficit and the never-ending war in Afghanistan - but voters just aren't that smart.

But I've got to think that racism is working here, too. Republicans from Fox "News" on down have been pushing racial fear and animosity like, er, crazy. There's a reason why that fake video pushed by Andrew Breibart targeted a black woman in the Obama administration. And sadly enough, with our first black president, it seems to be working. Apparently, it's easy to think the worst of people who aren't white like us, even when the accusations are laugh-out-loud ridiculous.

I fear for my country, I really do. I thought that, after the Bush administration, we might have learned something. But it sure doesn't look that way now. Republicans aren't even bothering to propose new policies. They're simply proposing the same policies that already failed - thoroughly and undeniably - in the Bush years. I don't know if the craziest stuff can get through Congress, but that might not matter. This country needs to change course. If we do nothing, that will destroy us just as effectively - if a bit more slowly - as the worst GOP policy.

In fact, despite Fox "News," the loonies aren't a majority in America. But younger progressives just don't VOTE like the elderly white folks - easily frightened and oh, so gullible - targeted by the right-wing. After all, you might not have voted for George W. Bush, but if you were too lazy to vote at all, you're just as much at fault. And if you don't vote going forward, no matter how discouraged or unhappy you might be, the results will be your fault, too. A democracy requires an intelligent, informed, and active citizenry, and two out of three ain't any good at all.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Anxiously awaiting the next bubble

Ed Stein's commentary:
Financial reform actually passed. Another victory for Obama, despite the furious objection of the other party and their Wall Street masters. Much too late, of course, and not strong enough, but at least they’re turning the Titanic slowly away from the deregulatory daze that got us into this mess in the first place. That’s little solace to those of us who have watched our investments dwindle. We could use a little old-fashioned irrational exuberance. Where’s the next bubble going to come from if Wall Street is held accountable? I’m going to have to go back to making money the old-fashioned way, by working for it. And I don’t like it one bit. Let’s have one more round of insanely inflated stock prices. This time I’ll get out when I have enough to retire, and I won’t care when the inevitable bust comes. Then you can regulate all you want. Sound like a plan?

Heh, heh. I thought this was funny, because I'll bet there are a lot of people with the same idea. But irrational exuberance doesn't work that way. When the next bubble comes along, more people will be getting in at the top than will be getting out. That's just the way it works.

Of course, you don't have to be one of them. But tell me, in March of last year, when pretty much no one was optimistic, were you scrambling to put as much cash into the market as you could? That's when you need to invest, you know, when the sky is falling. But it's not easy. And you can't expect to time the market exactly. It's quite likely that you'll invest and then see the market continue to fall. Do you have the courage to accept that?

When Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall of 2008, panic struck the stock market. Stock prices seemed to be in free fall. But following Warren Buffett's dictum to be greedy when others are fearful, I was a buyer. Prices rose again almost immediately, but in a few months, the market tanked, going even lower for awhile. Again, we were in panic mode, and again, I tried to scrape up some cash for more investments.

I was lucky. There were good reasons to be fearful (there always are), and the market could have continued to drop. Heck, we could easily test those lows again, since we may well be dropping back into recession (not enough stimulus spending and the deliberate attempt of Republicans to sabotage our economy for political purposes). My point is that it's not easy going against the crowd. Good investors make their money when everything seems to be going to hell (and through patient accumulation the rest of the time).

Bad investors, on the other hand, cash out at the bottom and then jump back in when everyone is talking about the easy money to be made in the stock market. Well, they don't call it irrational exuberance for nothing. It's when prices go up - and up and up - that you should start to get worried. But again, that's not how it works.

"This time, yes, give me a bubble and I'll get out at the top." But you probably won't. For one thing, it's seldom easy to tell that we're in a bubble, not ahead of time (hindsight is always 20/20). For another, irrational exuberance can go on for a long, long time. What if you get out and the market continues up for another year, or two? And for a third, seriously, no one can reliably predict such things. Getting out of the market at the top of a bubble is probably not anything you should even attempt.

Don't take financial advice from me. I'm nobody, and I've certainly made my share of mistakes. But here's how I do it. As a general rule, I stay diversified and fully invested (except for an emergency cash reserve). I don't think that anyone can reliably time the market, not in ordinary circumstances. After all, you're competing against the wisdom of crowds.

People are always buying and selling, so no matter what happens, some people will always get it right. But you can't predict that ahead of time. If monkeys were throwing darts to make investment decisions, you'd see the exact same thing. Some of them would look like great investors, at least in the short term. It's simply a product of statistics.

But in times of widespread panic - and also in times of irrational exuberance - the wisdom of crowds breaks down. Crowds turn into mobs. You lose diversity of thought. You lose independence. People tend to follow the mob, because of either fear or greed. You need to take advantage of these occasions, at least to some extent. When it looks like a bubble, I try to take some cash out of the market. I never get out completely. After all, I could be wrong. And I'd have to pay taxes, which means that I'd lose some of my return right off the bat. But when times are really good, it never hurts to accumulate a bit of cash. (The market may continue to rise, sure, but you probably won't make the big money from that point on.)

For the rest of it, I try to underweight what's really been booming and overweight what has lagged the market. During the tech stock mania at the end of the 1990's, I took some profits in the tech sector and invested in small-cap value stocks, which had been lagging badly. When the tech bubble collapsed, small-cap value stocks rose strongly, at least the first year. There were several bad years then, but they were far, far worse for tech stocks than for other parts of the market.

One of the problems with timing the market is that you have to be right twice. You have to get out of the market at the right time, and then you have to get back in the market at the right time. Neither of these are easy, not at all. If the market goes down, you might be tempted to buy again. And you might be right. Or it might be the very beginning of a terrible bear market. It's just really hard - nay, impossible - to tell. But when you need to buy again is when panic strikes. If everyone is running for the hills, that's the time you can find some real buys.

Of course, you have to have the cash in order to buy. One of the problems at market bottoms is that cash can be hard to come by. If you've taken some cash out of the market during the bubble (and resisted the urge to reinvest at the first sign of weakness), that will help. But when times are bad, your job may not be secure. You might just need that cash. None of this is easy. Do not expect to get it perfectly right, and do expect for things to go horribly wrong sometimes. (Note that I recommend keeping an emergency cash reserve at all times. How much depends on your own circumstances, but the volatility of the stock market will hurt you badly if you're forced to sell at a low point.)

This is more than you wanted to hear, no doubt. If you're still with me, are you looking for my current forecast? Frankly, I have no idea. I'm not optimistic, not in today's political climate. As a people, we're apparently not smart enough to learn from experience. We learned during the Great Depression that government stimulus was the best answer to an economic collapse. Since private demand evaporates, with people either losing their jobs or worried about the future (and therefore saving what money they have), government must temporarily step in. This gets people working again, and money going to low and middle income people will get spent, which doubles and triples the effect. (Extra money for the wealthy is almost useless, since they won't spend much of it.)

But Republicans see a political advantage in keeping us in recession. The average voter isn't too bright, and we tend to blame the party in power for bad times. Of course, these bad times were caused by Republican policies, not by Barack Obama. And the deficit - which the Tea Party movement supposedly abhors - is the result of actions taken during the Bush administration: tax cuts for the rich (which were supposed to pay for themselves with a "trickle-down" effect, but didn't), two unnecessary wars (fought on credit, since they were also supposed to "pay for themselves" - needless to say, this was just fantasy, too), the economic collapse itself (due to their mania for deregulation and the bubbles created by those tax cuts for the rich), and the interest payments for all this.

The GOP isn't even bothering to change policies. They're pushing the exact same policies that were proven failures during the Bush years. Hard to believe, isn't it? What's even harder to believe is that we seem to be dumb enough to buy it! I don't care how hard Fox "News" pushes this stuff, it's still incredible. How can we be this dumb? Or is it more a matter of cowardice? We Americans seem to have become hopeless cowards in recent years. Is fear simply making us irrational?

At any rate, I'm not optimistic right now, not at all. But I certainly don't see irrational exuberance in the market, either. For the most part, I'm hearing doom and gloom, and that tends to be a positive indicator. The stock market always "climbs a wall of worry." If people are worried, they don't create bubbles. But that's not to say that they're wrong to worry, either.

In times like these - which is pretty much the normal state of affairs for the stock market - I'm quite willing to admit that I have no idea. Whatever happens, I'll ride it out. Stocks are volatile. I know that, and I'm prepared for it (or I think I am). At the moment, I can't see any part of the market that seems exceptionally cheap, so I don't intend to move things around, either.

Deflation or even a double-dip recession would be bad for stocks but good for long-term government bonds. But bond yields are already so low that it's hardly worth the bet. Inflation (which appears less likely to me) would be bad for bonds, but possibly good for stocks, at least in moderation. Stagnation would be good for no one. But in the short-term, at least, I just don't know.

In the long-term, things don't look good if we don't wise up. Here in America, we've been on the wrong path for decades now. Since the 1970's, we've been ignoring the energy crisis. We've stuck our heads in the sand in regards to global warming (and we'll have to pay for that, eventually). We've let the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The average worker was better off in the late 1970's than he is today - actually, than he was even before this economic collapse.

We no longer lead the world in education, and we're becoming virulently anti-immigrant (odd for a nation of immigrants, isn't it?). We've stopped creating anything but arcane financial instruments - which have just been shown to be mostly a scam. And the Supreme Court has decided (5 to 4, as usual) that multinational corporations are people, too. If you're extremely wealthy, you're probably happy as a lark. But how long can that last if America slowly disintegrates into bigotry, fear, and superstition?

Yes, I'm pessimistic. But frankly, long-term pessimism doesn't make sense. Pessimistic people never accomplished anything. America used to have that can-do spirit, that sense of optimism that often seemed crazy to other people. How could we be optimistic when the future looked so black? But optimism is necessary for change. No matter how bleak things might seem, we can't lose that. And there is a lot of good in America yet. Turn off Fox "News." Ignore the Tea Party. And kick yourself in the butt, if necessary, to lose that apathy. Vote, damn it! The future is ours to make. So let's make sure that it's a good one.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Girl raised by Wolf

Girl Raised From Birth By Wolf Blitzer Taken Into Protective Custody

It's simple

Superheroes vs. the Westborough Baptist Church

Fred Phelps and a handful of anti-gay loonies from his Westboro Baptist Church decided to picket Comic-Con in San Diego, but the nerds were ready for them:

Unbeknownst to the dastardly fanatics of the Westboro Baptist Church, the good folks of San Diego's Comic-Con were prepared for their arrival with their own special brand of superhuman counter protesting chanting "WHAT DO WE WANT" "GAY SEX" "WHEN DO WE WANT IT" "NOW!" while brandishing ironic (and some sincere) signs. Simply stated: The eclectic assembly of nerdom's finest stood and delivered.

There are more photos of the counter protest at the above link. It's really pretty funny - not as weird as the Westboro Baptist Church itself, but much more fun.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dummies, take back America!

Check out How Dummies Protect Marriage, too. Actually, they're all pretty funny.

Is experience the best teacher?

We often hear that experience is the best teacher. Of course, no one actually believes that. If we did, we wouldn't teach our children. We certainly wouldn't send them to school for so many years. Experience is one of the worst teachers, in fact.

Do you tell your children to look both ways before crossing the street, or let them learn from experience? Do you warn them against eating holly berries and drinking antifreeze, or do you let them learn from experience? Do you caution them about pots on the stove, perhaps filled with boiling hot liquids, or let them learn from experience?

Obviously, one of the problems with learning from experience is that you first have to survived the experience. If the only way we can learn not to jump from a tall cliff is by experience, few people will learn not to jump from a tall cliff. If you expect your children to learn by trial and error, they may or may not learn to look both ways before crossing the street. And if they do learn it, they might not survive long enough for it to matter.

But there's another problem with learning from experience, and that's what you learn. If you vaccinate your kids and, soon after, one of them is diagnosed with autism, what do you learn? You should learn nothing from that, since there's no evidence vaccines cause autism. Children are given vaccines and children sometimes get autism, but that doesn't indicate a link between the two. You might as well connect autism with drinking milk or playing games.

If you have a bad cold, and you go to a homeopath, an acupuncturist, or a faith healer, after which you feel better, what have you learned? Again, nothing. Obviously, there's no evidence that the treatment actually cured the cold, especially since colds normally go away on their own. (Experience might teach you that, true enough, but if you catch something serious, it could easily be another story.) Or maybe it was simply the placebo effect.

In the Middle Ages, if you were very lucky, you might have survived the plague, but what would you have learned from it? Since the Jews were frequently blamed (human beings are always eager to find a scapegoat), you might have "learned" to burn the ghetto and keep Jews out of your town. Jews tended to avoid the worst of the plague, simply because they were cleaner than Christians. They had fewer fleas and their homes had fewer rats. But, ironically, you might have "learned" to stay dirty, so that you wouldn't be mistaken for a secret Jew.

We human beings have language and culture, so we don't have to learn from experience. We teach our children. We learn from others. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. We build on our store of knowledge, so that we know far, far more than any individual could ever learn from his own experience. And one of the things we've learned is a better way of acquiring knowledge: science.

The scientific method is easily the best way we've ever discovered of determining the truth. We've almost certainly learned more from a few hundred years of the scientific method than from all of human history - and prehistory - before it was developed. We've learned more than faith has ever taught us. And experience,... well, experience is part of the scientific method, no doubt, but we don't each have to learn from experience ourselves. And experience without the scientific method is unreliable.

Experience is not the best teacher, far from it. Sometimes, people refuse to learn any other way, but even then, they might well learn the wrong thing (i.e. not really "learn" anything at all). Most people, in fact, will cling to their own biases, rather than learn from their experiences. We need to recognize that, and guard against it happening to us (another reason to value the scientific method).

Here's an interesting take on this, with a slightly different perspective:

The old joke says "Experience is the worst teacher. You get the test first, and the lesson after." And that little jest has more than a grain of truth. Many people assume, as you do, that you learn by doing, that reading is a poor substitute. But reading allows you to learn how many people in many different circumstances have lived their lives and dealt with the complexities of life. You get to experience what it is like to be another person, to live in different centuries, to be old, or young. or dying or in battle. The really important lessons of life have been explored and re-told for centuries. Why should you blunder ahead and make the same mistakes others have made (for the "experience") when a thousand books can bring you the wisdom to make wiser choices. Learning trivial things (how to tie shoelaces) are probably best learned first hand - but the really big things, how to think or love or be kind or value what's important - first get some advice from Shakespeare and Moliere, from Dickens and Updike, from Frost and Tolstoy and a thousand others.

I've always been a reader, so I certainly agree with this. I doubt if reading can ever give the full experience of some things - like dying - but then, I doubt if we really want to learn those through experience. This is a more literary take on the question, while I focused on the scientific. But with either perspective, experience is not the best teacher.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


But soft, what light from yonder window breaks? It is the East, and I can see Russia from my front porch. (freehawk)

No doubt you've already heard about ShakesPalin on Twitter, but it's just too funny to pass up. Here's Matt DeLong in the Washington Post with a succinct explanation:
A Twitter posting Sunday from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, in which she claimed common ground with Shakespeare, started the blogosphere's week in rollicking fashion.

Palin tweeted that "peaceful Muslims" should "refudiate" the New York mosque being built near Ground Zero. This prompted plenty of retweets at her expense -- "refudiate," of course, is not a word.

After deleting the offending tweet, Palin replaced it with another, calling on "peaceful New Yorkers" to "refute the Ground Zero mosque plan" -- although the word she was apparently looking for was "repudiate."

Then came the kicker: To quell the ribbing she was receiving on Twitter, Palin  posted another tweet: " 'Refudiate,' 'misunderestimate,' 'wee-wee'd up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"

This spawned plenty of scorn Monday in liberal blogs, as well as a new meme on Twitter,  #ShakesPalin, in which participants revamped classic Shakespeare quotes, Palin-style.

It's not just liberals, either. The following tweet is by Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute:

To suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous liberals, or to quit halfterm, and by opposing, rake in speaking fees. (normative)

IMHO, this shows both the power and the limitation of new media, not just Twitter, but cell phone and internet-driven communication in general.

Mine is a tale told by an idiot — full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (lesleyabravanel)

On the one hand, it's not just a handful of reporters, these days, watching politicians and other celebrities. And where reporters often need to maintain a friendly relationship with the people they cover (or, being human, just want to be liked by the people they're with), ordinary citizens are less likely to practice self-censorship.

Neither a thinker nor a reader be / for thought oft loses both itself and friend / and reading dulls the edge of Fox TV. (djsamk)

And when something breaks, it can be all over the internet in a flash. Plus, we see the incredible creativity of ordinary people. These tweets aren't all great, but the gems certainly do rise to the top. And this is only a sample of the humor - text, videos, cartoons - which is widespread on the internet these days.

To be, or not to be...wait, I wrote the answer on my hand someplace. (Archer070)

It's not just humor, of course. Political commentary is becoming ever more democratic in general. But let's not dismiss the value of ridicule. After all, do we really want another political leader as dumb as George W. Bush - or even dumber? We hear a lot about "elitists," but I want my president to be better educated, more experienced in government, and, yes, smarter than I am. Our founding fathers weren't a bunch of uneducated, inexperienced hicks.

Is that a book deal I see before me? The contract towards my hand? Come let me clutch thee. (phuul)

But there's a limitation to modern technological devices, and Sarah Palin demonstrates that, too. Yes, she's tweeting, but her supporters tend to be the elderly, not the internet-savvy young. And her fans are almost proud of their ignorance. How many of them even know that "refudiate" is not a word? How many care? How much will this really hurt Palin's popularity? Very little, I suspect.

If this were played upon a stage now, I could refudiate it as an improbulous fiction. (dceiver)

But these things certainly cheer me up, and that's not bad, not bad at all. The election this fall is looking bleak, not because so many people have lost their minds, but because of the enthusiasm gap. Republicans plan to vote. Democrats are discouraged - mostly because governing has turned out to be hard work - and discouraged people don't vote. So laugh a little and lighten up. Then, damn it, buckle up and do something! In particular, vote!

The lady doth refudiate too much, methinks. (LonMDR)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Non-belief, Pt. 4: Theodicy

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Well, why wouldn't they? Why wouldn't bad things happen to good people sometimes? Why in the world would we expect good people to be immune to such things? You see, this isn't a problem for atheists, since it's exactly what we should expect. Of course bad things happen to good people. We wish it weren't that way, but it's certainly not anything that has to be explained away.

Remember when Christianity was clinging desperately to the Earth as the center of the universe, with the sun and stars and planets all revolving around us, as clearly indicated in the Bible? When better telescopes began to show the errors in that, Christians developed increasingly elaborate models to try to explain what astronomers were seeing while still maintaining their faith that the Bible was true. Of course, there was a relatively simple explanation, that the Earth was not the center of the universe, but believers simply couldn't accept it.

(Ptolemaic astronomy, from Wikipedia)

Likewise, there's an obvious explanation for why bad things sometimes happen to good people, but Christians won't accept that, either. For any believer in an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent god, it's a profound problem. Countless essays and books have been written about it, and theologians have been pondering the question for centuries. But the debate resembles the argument about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. If you recognize that angels don't exist, there's nothing to debate.

Historically, I don't believe it was a problem. Long ago, gods were capricious, jealous, self-centered, vindictive, and cruel. And randy, always very randy. In fact, they were very much like powerful human beings (not surprisingly). You had to placate the gods with sacrifices - generally to their priests, of course - in self-defense. But for the most part, you just wanted them to leave you alone. Coming to the attention of a powerful deity - or a powerful human king, for that matter - rarely turned out well.

You wanted to keep your god pleased with you just so he might pester some other mortal instead. And, unfortunately, you also needed him for defense against other gods. Your god might be dangerous, but your neighbor's god was positively malicious. You needed your own god just like you needed your own king, but you never expected either of them to love you. And like your king, your god was far from perfect.

Back then, gods were neither omniscient nor omnipotent. They could be tricked (though seldom for long). They could be defeated by other gods. They could be distracted by lovely mortal virgins, or just lose control in a jealous rage. So it was no surprise at all when bad things happened to good people. No matter how much you sacrificed, it was just to give yourself the best possible chance. There were no guarantees.

But our ideas of deities slowly changed. The Old Testament god is as jealous, vindictive, and blood-thirsty as they get, and it's pretty clear that he wasn't the only god around. He was the tribal god of the Jews, but other peoples had their own deities. Eventually, though, he evolved into the only god of Abrahamic religions, the all-powerful, all-knowing god of everyone (whether they realized it or not). And in this modern interpretation, he supposedly loved his creations.

But this interpretation had a serious flaw. If God was omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly benevolent, why was there evil in the world? More importantly, why did bad things happen to good people? A Pandora's Box kind of mythology might serve to explain the existence of evil - well enough for people who wanted to believe, at least. But if God was all-knowing and all-powerful - and if he actually loved his creation - why did bad things happen to his faithful worshipers? That's been a problem for Christians, and all sorts of explanations have been advanced to try to explain it.

Naturally, it's not a big problem when bad things happen to other people. In that case, clearly, they just weren't good enough. They must not have given enough money to the church. Or their faith just wasn't strong enough. Did they have doubts? Well, that explains it, right? Satan can sneak through the tiniest crack. Obviously, if bad things happen to other people, it must be their own fault. That's simple enough.

Unfortunately, bad things don't just happen to other people. Sometimes, they happen to you. Sometimes, they even happen to God's priests. Theologians were never too eager to advance that "personal error" explanation then. And seriously, we all know that bad things do happen to good people. You'd have to be the world's biggest cynic not to recognize that. We don't always deserve what happens to us. In fact, we seldom do.

For a long time, magic was used as an excuse. Christian churches always believed in magic (they opposed it, but they always believed it existed). Maybe it was your neighbor, giving you the evil eye. Maybe it was the witch down the street who regularly cavorted with Satan (in your dreams, at least). Human beings always like to find a scapegoat. So when bad things happen, just burn a few witches, just torch the ghetto. What could be simpler?

But God is omniscient and omnipotent, so how could a witch hope to overcome his protection, even with Satan's help? If you really believed, if you faithfully worshiped your god, if you did everything you were supposed to,... why didn't God protect you? Why did he let your children die, one after another, before they even had a chance to grow up? Why were your crops stricken with disease, flattened by wind and hail, and dessicated by drought? If God had both the power and the will to defend you, why didn't he?

OK, maybe there are still some bad people in your neighborhood. Maybe you haven't driven out every Jew. But is God so inept that he can't target the bad guys and leave the good ones alone? Can't he use a blocked artery, rather than a region-wide famine? And when he does use a blocked artery, or some painful, disfiguring disease, why is his aim so poor? Why does he so often strike down the good, rather than the bad.

Free will has been the traditional explanation. Mankind has to be allowed to make the wrong choices, not just the right ones, and suffering is the inevitable consequence of this. But that doesn't explain natural disasters (so-called "acts of God") and it doesn't explain disease. The bad things that happen to good people aren't always due to human errors. Sometimes, they just happen.

Furthermore, is that much suffering really necessary? Coveting your neighbor's wife is supposed to be a sin - just the thought itself. So certainly the intention of committing rape should be enough free will for God's purposes, don't you think? Why should some innocent woman have to suffer the rape itself, just to allow the rapist free will? And if the act itself really is necessary, why should rapes sometimes result in pregnancy, venereal disease, and/or subsequent death in childbirth? Surely those are things God could easily prevent, without the slightest effect on the free will of a rapist.

Frankly, when it comes to a vengeful god, free will doesn't make any sense anyway. If a mugger sticks a gun in your face, threatening to blow your head off if you don't give him your wallet, you'll probably comply with his demands. So are you giving him your money of your own free will then? Of course not! So when God threatens to torture you for eternity if you don't do exactly what he wants, where exactly is your "free will" in that?

Below the fold, I'll continue looking at religious explanations for why bad things happen to good people. Click to continue...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Best sign ever?

According to the photographer, Susan Renee, "This sign wasn't a joke ... there were hundreds of penguins on the beach, under bushes, and wandering in the adjacent parking lot." The park is in South Africa.

Is the Tea Party racist? Is the sky blue?

OK, this started July 13th when delegates of the NAACP unanimously passed a resolution asking for the repudiation of racist Tea Party leaders:

The resolution condemns the bigoted elements within the Tea Party and asks for them to be repudiated. The NAACP delegates presented this resolution for debate and passage after a year of vitriolic Tea Party demonstrations during which participants used racial slurs and images. In March, members of the Congressional Black Caucus were accosted by Tea Party demonstrators and called racial epithets. Civil rights icon John Lewis was spit on, while Congressman Emanuel Cleaver was called the “N” word and openly gay Congressman Barney Frank was called an ugly anti-gay slur.

“We take no issue with the Tea Party movement. We believe in freedom of assembly and people raising their voices in a democracy. What we take issue with is the Tea Party’s continued tolerance for bigotry and bigoted statements. The time has come for them to accept the responsibility that comes with influence and make clear there is no place for racism & anti-Semitism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry in their movement,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.

The right-wing hit the ceiling, of course. Here's how Mark Williams of the Tea Party Express put it:

We are dealing with people who are professional race-baiters who make a very good living off this kind of thing. They make more money off of race than any slave trader, ever. It's time groups like the NAACP went to the trash heap of history where they belong along with all the other vile, racist groups that emerged in our history.

So the NAACP is a "vile, racist group" that "makes more money off of race than any slave trader, ever." Wow! Inflammable, you think? Well, not compared to what he said next, on his blog. It's in the form of a mock letter to Abraham Lincoln, supposedly from NAACP president Todd Jealous:

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government "stop raising our taxes." That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.

Yes, as TPM notes, this is how an official of the Tea Party Express points out how not racist the Tea Party is. Incredible, isn't it?

Stop the stoning!

Sign the petition here.

"The Dragon Masters" by Jack Vance

(image from

The Dragon Masters, first published in 1962, is our July reading selection in the ClassicScienceFiction Yahoo group. It's actually a novella in length, and contrary to the cover on my Ace Double paperback, it won the Hugo Award for best short fiction, not best novel. (The 1963 best novel award was given, deservedly, to Philip K. Dick for The Man in the High Castle.)

This story is set on a rocky planet settled by human refugees, perhaps the only humans left in the galaxy following a war with reptilian aliens. They have no spaceflight capability themselves, and they suffer under periodic alien raids. But at the start of the book, the last raid had been generations previously, at which time they'd captured 23 aliens. Since then, they've bred their captives into different bizarre forms to fight for them (the "dragons" of the title). Of course, being human, these people mostly just fight among themselves.

There's also another human culture on the planet, the strange "sacerdotes" who settled there originally. Unclothed in all kinds of weather, they will answer any question with the truth, but with such circumlocution and evasion that their answers tend to be completely useless. Seemingly unconcerned about the human/alien conflict, they just want to be left alone. But that's not going to happen.

[Note that "sacerdote" isn't an English word, but it means "priest" in Spanish and Portuguese (from the Latin sacerdos: literally, "one who presents sacred offerings"). Sacerdotalism is the idea that priests are needed to mediate between humans and God, apparently by offering propitiatory sacrifices to atone for sin. I don't see any religious implications in this book, and I wonder at the use of the word. These sacerdotes want nothing to do with other humans. In fact, they hope for all other humans to become extinct, so they're certainly not interested in mediation. And there's no sign that anyone in the book believes in gods. If there's a reason why Vance used this word, I'm missing it.]

I thought this was a fun little story, and quite unique. I'd read the book years ago, but I didn't remember anything about it until I started reading it again this month. But as soon as I began, I remembered the "dragons" - the Termagants, Fiends, and Juggers, the Long-horned Murderers, Striding Murderers, and Blue Horrors. As I mentioned, these are descendants of alien prisoners bred into various fighting forms (mostly for fighting between the groups of humans living in different valleys).

But the aliens have done the same thing with their own captives, creating bizarre forms of human beings to fight for them. So when the aliens return, as we know they will, we see transformed humans fighting on their side against transformed aliens on the human side. It's not at all plausible (not, at least, without advanced genetic engineering), but the imagery is great. It's a unique idea that still seems typical of classic science fiction.

Why else did I like the book? Hmm,... this might involve spoilers, so I'll put it below the fold.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What, me worry?

Ed Stein's commentary:
It’s becoming increasingly clear that global warming is real, and that human activity does have a profound effect on the global environment. Remember the recent dustup over the veracity of climate change experts, in which emails seemed to show that some scientists were doctoring the results? Two independent analyses have absolved them completely, and confirmed that the scientific findings of accelerated global warming are indeed accurate. The only people left who still believe that climate change is a hoax are those who don’t want to pay the price of cleaning up their businesses and their political allies (and the gullible citizens they continue to manipulate). Yet we dither, as the damage mounts, and reaches a point at which it is irreversible. We continue to believe that new technologies will somehow bail us out at the eleventh hour.  We also believed that the space shuttle wouldn’t fail. And that our understanding of the economy, aided by number-crunching super computers, had become so sophisticated that the markets were immune to risk. And we believed that oil drilling was safe, that the technology was so advanced that something like the disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico was highly improbable, if not impossible.

OK, there's no bigger fan of science and technology than me, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't use our brains. Generally, this "What, me worry?" attitude doesn't really come from people who value science or know anything about it. It's just an excuse for doing nothing. In fact, it's an attempt to cover up greed, laziness, and short-term thinking. These people want to leave their problems for someone else to fix, while grabbing any short-term value for themselves.

We mine the oceans for cheap seafood and leave the resulting devastation for our descendants to worry about. We keep fossil fuels cheap and dump massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and let our children and grandchildren cope with a planet short of energy and less hospitable to human life. We clear-cut forests for cheap lumber. We blow up mountains for cheap coal. We shrug as millions of species go extinct from our actions and also while man-made chemicals accumulate in our own bodies.

Right now, we could be living in the peak years of human civilization. It's not inevitable, not at all. But it's certainly possible. After this, overpopulation, resource depletion, pollution, and energy shortages could lead us into a spiral of decay. Does this make you feel good, knowing that you yourself lucked out? Not me. I appreciate my luck in being born when and where I was, but I'm embarrassed as hell at what we're doing with all our advantages.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

All you ever wanted to know about sewage treatment

(free clip art from

Seriously, this is a fascinating account of sewage treatment in Scientific American. Ten pages long, but in a light, entertaining style, it covers the history of sewage disposal, the complexity of the problem in large cities, the continual maintenance required, and the actual process of sewage treatment.

Sure, this is a problem we'd prefer to flush and forget, but it's a serious health issue. And with more than six billion people on the planet, the poop really adds up. We can ignore it ourselves, but only if we've got skilled people doing what must be done. An article like this - which really is very entertaining - helps to remind us that we live in a complex, interrelated society that requires careful planning and some esoteric knowledge.

Give it a try. You might be surprised.

PS. My continued apologies for the slowdown here. I've got lots to discuss, just little time for it right now. So you might have to make do with cartoons and videos, rather than my usual long-winded monologues. (Hmm,... that might not be such a sacrifice after all.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Automatics for the people

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Automatics for the People - Ilya Shapiro & Jackie Hilly<a>
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionFox News

What's with this gun worship these days? Do you understand it? I certainly don't. It's not just a weapon, a tool, a possession, it's become a holy relic. You can't be parted from your gun, even for an instant. Nothing else seems to be as important as the almighty gun.

Is it just insecurity, timidity, cowardice? Are gun owners so easily scared that they can't bear to be unarmed? Or is it more a symbol of manliness, of potency. I've often heard it called a penis substitute. Is it that in truth? Do gun nuts feel emasculated without their steel penis?

Clearly, it's more than just a weapon. You can defend yourself with a knife or a steel pipe, but no one treats those objects as divine. The thought of leaving your knife at home won't make you hysterical. You don't insist on carrying a baseball bat with you everywhere you go. Almost anything can be used as a weapon, but nothing else has this effect on people. Why not?

And what's the point? If you enjoy hunting (I used to hunt, myself), I'm sure you'd hate to give up your gun. But do you really need a fully-automatic assault rifle and cop-killer bullets to hunt rabbits? No one has ever been talking about banning legitimate hunting weapons. And even then, it's just entertainment. I didn't get hysterical at the thought of giving up my binoculars, back when I was an avid birder. What's the difference? Binoculars weren't gifts from Jesus?

And you can't be dumb enough to think that you could hold off the U.S. army - or any army - with your beloved pistol, can you? Or even your submachine gun? Do you really think that your gun is keeping the government from attacking? Why is it essential that you can carry a gun everywhere - in church, in bars, in schools? This kind of obsession just seems really weird, don't you think?

Yes, there's the Second Amendment, which talks about a "well regulated militia." But what part of a private citizen carrying a gun in church or in school has anything to do with that? OK, sure, according to the right-wing, God gave us guns, and apparently it's part of their faith to never be parted again. But the government is supposed to be neutral when it comes to religion. And that seems to have nothing to do with a militia, well regulated or not.

Note that the First Amendment says, in part, "Congress shall make no law... abridging the freedom of speech." But despite this, freedom of speech still isn't absolute. Libel is still illegal. Treason is still against the law. You still can't falsely yell "fire!" in a crowded theater. Despite the First Amendment, there are reasonable laws limiting our freedom of speech. And none of that is controversial at all.

But when it comes to the Second Amendment, the slightest, most reasonable, most sensible restrictions are rejected with horror. No, you've absolutely got to be able to carry your automatic weapon to political rallies, right? Leave your bazooka at home when attending church? How could you? And if you can't carry your flamethrower into your child's elementary school, well, there's no telling what might happen!

As far as I can tell, the left has nearly given up on this issue. (Certainly, politicians have!) Legal experts used to argue that the Second Amendment applied to militias - the National Guard - not individuals. They used to claim that weapons of mass destruction - like machine guns and assault rifles - could still be regulated. Like the First Amendment, the Second also could have reasonable restrictions. But I hardly ever hear anyone arguing those things these days. The loonies seem to have won.

OK, then, I'll be happy as soon as I get my pocket nuke. Don't worry, I just want a nuclear bomb for hunting purposes and personal protection. If everyone had a nuke of their own, people would be a lot more polite, I'll bet. My neighbor probably wouldn't let his dogs bark so much. I wouldn't be flipped off on the highway, and fewer people would argue in bars. Never more than once, at any rate.

And why not? Nuclear bombs don't kill people; people kill people. And if you outlaw nukes, only outlaws will have nukes. Don't worry, though. I'm not interested in taking my pocket nuke to church.

Friday, July 9, 2010

More crazy from Arizona

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Latino 911!
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

These are two related video clips from The Daily Show, both dealing with Arizona's immigration law (and both very funny). Above, we see Arizona's attempt to make a racial-profiling law seem politically correct. No one can be arrested for not having papers, but if you don't have papers, you'll be "detained" by police. Nice distinction, huh?

And just think of the bullet we dodged two years ago. We could have had Insane McCain - new slogan: Just Tell Me What to Say And I'll Say It - and Caribou Barbie in the White House right now. (Admittedly, Palin would probably have quit by now, since the vice-presidency doesn't pay enough.)

We get a nice slam at Fox "News" there, too. (I always love that!) But the second clip is, if anything, even funnier. White Republicans in Arizona are up in arms about an unconstitutional law. No, they don't care how many Hispanic Americans are hassled by police. That's their fault for looking Mexican anyway. But cameras checking for speeding vehicles on the highway? Man the barricades!

Yes, this is a "gross invasion of privacy"! Because we all have an expectation of privacy when we're driving down the highway, right? And this system targets speeders by... seeing who is actually speeding. How can you get more unfair than that? How about all of us law-abiding speeders? Benjamin Franklin would be outraged!

I loved Olivia Munn's realization that "speeding is probable cause for checking immigration status, but speeding is not probable cause to give you a ticket for... speeding." Honestly, could Republicans be any more ridiculous if they tried?

Tragically, the murder of a rancher, presumably by illegal immigrants, was one impetus for the immigration bill. Well, the GOP has always found it easy to scare people (and all too many of us Americans seem to have become hopeless cowards.) But these radar cameras are apparently cutting highway deaths by 19%. Doesn't that matter? Well, not alongside the fact that even white people are getting ticketed, apparently.

"Clearly it's better to have officers issuing tickets," according to State Rep. Carl Seel. I mean, a real human being can tell if the violator is white or Hispanic. I guess that's the American - or at least the Arizonian - way. And if you start handing out speeding tickets to truckers, well, just imagine the potential for disaster!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Arizona's Photo Radar
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Muslims in Space

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Wish You Weren't Here
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Funny, isn't it? Fox "News" claims to be worried about Muslims trying to legislate Islamic religious views - and even about Muslim missionaries - while being eager for Christians in America to demand government support for their own religion. How could any American be this dumb, more than 200 years after our forefathers established a nation of complete religious freedom and the strict separation of church and state?

And that's especially the case now, when our worst enemies are religious fanatics. Why do so many Americans want to imitate the Taliban? Why do we see so much "fatwa envy" among American Christians? Are right-wing Christians still upset that they can no longer burn witches? Get over it!

Our founders had seen religious wars devastate Europe. For centuries, war had raged over the most minor differences in belief (none having any evidence backing them up). Wisely, our forefathers didn't want this for America, and their solution was revolutionary: the strict separation of church and state. That wonderful experiment became a model for the whole world.

In America, you could believe whatever you liked. Your religion, if any, was your own business, not your neighbor's and not the government's. You couldn't force anyone to follow your own religious beliefs, but they couldn't force you to follow theirs, either. You couldn't use the sword - or government taxes - to convert anyone. If you wanted to convince them in the free marketplace of ideas, you were welcome to try. But the government would remain strictly neutral.

Of course, Christians were always a majority in America, so there were always some eager to force their beliefs on the minority. That's just human nature. Some people tend to be authoritarian, even in a liberal democracy. And politicians, being natural cowards, allowed some chipping away of our protections. Luckily, we also had the Supreme Court, so the worst of these were not allowed. It hasn't been a perfect protection, but by and large, we've maintained our freedom of religion.

However, the separation of church and state traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support in America. Both political parties used to support our Constitution. These days, that's less true. And as the Republican Party lurches further and further to the right, it becomes less and less true. They've almost succeeded in packing the Supreme Court with far-right extremists. So how much longer will our freedoms last? Recently, the right-wing has launched a relentless attack on freedom of religion, and we Americans seem to be too dumb, or at least too ignorant, to understand how dangerous this is. How could we let this happen?

I guess I could understand the previous assault on religious freedom in America, during the McCarthy era of the 1950's. After all, our enemy then was "godless" Communism, specifically the officially atheist regimes of Red China and the Soviet Union. So I suppose it was natural, at least for people who weren't too bright, to equate religion - and specifically Christianity - with patriotism. (In reality, of course, freedom of religion was the real difference between our societies. We let people decide for themselves.)

But these days, our enemies are clearly religious nuts determined to force their own beliefs on everyone else. Obviously, the opposite of that is freedom of religion and the strict separation of church and state. It's certainly not becoming religious nuts ourselves! I don't get it. Why would we want to imitate our enemies? Do we admire the Taliban that much? Why isn't there now a renewed appreciation for our religious freedoms? Why isn't it more clear than ever that the strict separation of church and state is the way to go?

Are religious believers that insecure that they think they can't win in a free marketplace of ideas? Do they really think that their beliefs make so little sense that they must force people to believe them? How can Americans look at the Taliban and think, "Yes, that's the way we need to run our country"? I really don't get it.

I guess the opposition to building mosques in America seems particularly bizarre to me. Why in the world is it any of your business? Do you really think that your children will flock to Islam if there's a mosque in the neighborhood? How insecure is that? Is your own religion really that unappealing? OK, I suppose a lot of it is just fear, irrational fear of terrorism pushed by right-wing ideologues. But that brings up another question. How come that tactic works? How did we Americans become such hopeless cowards, anyway?

I'm an atheist, but I'd object just as strongly to the idea that the government should favor atheism as I would - as I do - to the suggestion that it should favor Christianity, Islam, or even just religion in general. I stand with our founding fathers on this issue. Church and state should remain strictly separate. That's the American way.