Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More political cartoons

Well, today is the Florida primary, so I figured it's time for some more political cartoons.

Of course, since it's Florida, Republicans are all rushing to bash Fidel Castro, instead of Hispanics in general, for a change.

Funny how that works, isn't it?

Mitt Romney's SuperPAC has spent a fortune in Florida, and he's long had a commanding lead there. But there have been grumbles of discontent.

Luckily, Mitt is all rested up, ready for a fight. Or at least, his money is.

But Newt Gingrich, after crashing and burning twice before, is coming on strong. Well, I guess third time is a charm for him, huh?

However, it's not as though he hasn't run into opposition, himself.

And gee, I think there might be some others in the running, too. Or in the walking. Or whatever.

And you've got to wonder how much this really matters.

Luckily, we're all cheering for America, right? Can we agree on that much?

Rectal probe amendment fails

From Indecision Forever:
With polls showing voters are most concerned about jobs, economic growth and the continuing foreclosure crisis, state governments have responded in their usual fashion: with anti-abortion bills and "personhood initiatives."

While the latter have failed in state after state, with voters probably realizing that recognizing a bunch of blastocyst persons would be hell on a state's unemployment rate, legislation mandating trans-vaginal ultrasound has been debated from Texas to Kentucky. Virginia is the latest to ride the sonogram emotional-extortion bandwagon, but not before one State Senator suggested that what's good for goose is good for the anus…
To protest a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, Virginia State Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) on Monday attached an amendment that would require men to have a rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before obtaining a prescription for erectile dysfunction medication.

"We need some gender equity here," she told HuffPost. "The Virginia senate is about to pass a bill that will require a woman to have totally unnecessary medical procedure at their cost and inconvenience. If we're going to do that to women, why not do that to men?"

The amendment failed on a 21-19 vote, while the underlying mandatory sonogram bill was adopted, but at least the bill's opponents got to say "Up yours" in the snarkiest way possible.

Heh, heh. This is why we need more women - progressive women, at least - in public office!  Right-wing men have no problem mandating these medical procedures for women - or forcing women to undergo an unwanted pregnancy - because it doesn't affect them in the slightest.

Women might look on these things a little differently... Not all women, of course, but diversity is valuable. I've never in my life had to worry about rape, and certainly never about getting pregnant. I can go anywhere I want here in Lincoln, at any time of the day or night, and not have to worry about my personal safety.

It infuriates me that women can't say the same, but that's not my point here. My point is that women tend to have somewhat different concerns than men. Most of our concerns are the same, no doubt, but women might look at some things differently (just as members of racial or religious minorities might look at some things differently).

This amendment made that point pretty well, don't you think? Too bad the Virginia senate as a whole wasn't smart enough to see that.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Atheist Experience: don't care if your beliefs reflect reality?

This is from the Atheist  Experience TV show, episode #640, hosted by Matt Dillahunty and Martin Wagner.

It's funny, but they tend to get variations of this call, where a theist admits that he doesn't care if his belief is true, as long as it makes him feel good.

That's just an incredible admission to make, don't you think? I really can't understand it. I care about the truth. And if I knew I was just believing something to make myself feel good, I wouldn't feel good. I'd feel like a complete coward.

Most of these callers back off a bit when questioned, but not this one. Apparently, he just doesn't care if he's believing complete nonsense. Well, he's honest, I guess. But this is really hard for me to understand.

QOTD: impeachment is not a toy

Quote of the Day:
Grover Norquist, the Republican uber-activist, sat down with National Journal last week, and shared some thoughts on what he expects to see in Washington after the November elections. His use of the "I" word was rather striking.
NORQUIST: If the Republicans have the House, Senate, and the presidency, I'm told that they could do an early budget vote -- a reconciliation vote where you extend the Bush tax cuts out for a decade or five years.... And, if you have a Republican president to go with a Republican House and Senate, then they pass the [Paul] Ryan plan [on Medicare].

NJ: What if the Democrats still have control? What's your scenario then?

NORQUIST: Obama can sit there and let all the tax [cuts] lapse, and then the Republicans will have enough votes in the Senate in 2014 to impeach.

By all indications, Norquist wasn't kidding. From the perspective of this leading GOP powerbroker, presidential impeachment is on the table in 2014 unless Obama extends Bush-era tax cuts.

There are three larger angles to this to consider. The first is that Republicans, 14 years after an impeachment crusade against President Clinton, seem a little preoccupied with the subject. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) has raised the specter of Obama impeachment over DOMA; Fox News has brought up impeachment over immigration policy; Herman Cain wants to see the president impeached over the Affordable Care Act; and not too long ago, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said he likes the idea of impeaching Obama simply because "it would tie things up" in Washington for a while.

The second angle to keep in mind is that if GOP officials and their allies are serious about this, they might want to give additional thought to the meaning of the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors."

And third, Norquist's impeachment talk may seem ridiculous on its face -- and it is -- but that doesn't change the fact that this is a powerful figure in Republican politics. It was, after all, Norquist's anti-tax pledge that played a direct role in scuttling any possible super-committee agreement.

The point isn't that presidential impeachment is a serious idea; it clearly is not. Rather, the point is it's unsettling to have a major GOP insider, with considerable influence throughout the party, talking up nutty ideas like this.

As Ed Kilgore explained, "[W]hen it comes to taxes and the long-term drive to 'starve the beast' of the New Deal/Great Society legacy, Norquist still walks tall in the GOP. So when he lays out getting rid of Medicare as we know it, or a drive to impeach Barack Obama, as strong alternative possibilities for the years just ahead, we should probably pay attention." - Steve Benen

Are conservatives just dumb?

We'd all like to believe that the people who disagree with us are stupid, right? Maybe it's not just that they're wrong, but that they aren't very bright in the first place.

So here comes a study which claims that low-intelligence is correlated not just with prejudice, but also with socially conservative beliefs. From LiveScience:
There's no gentle way to put it: People who give in to racism and prejudice may simply be dumb, according to a new study that is bound to stir public controversy.

The research finds that children with low intelligence are more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes as adults. These findings point to a vicious cycle, according to lead researcher Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario. Low-intelligence adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies, the study found. Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice, Hodson wrote in an email to LiveScience. ...

"They've pulled off the trifecta of controversial topics," said Brian Nosek, a social and cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia who was not involved in the study. "When one selects intelligence, political ideology and racism and looks at any of the relationships between those three variables, it's bound to upset somebody."

Polling data and social and political science research do show that prejudice is more common in those who hold right-wing ideals that those of other political persuasions, Nosek told LiveScience.

"The unique contribution here is trying to make some progress on the most challenging aspect of this," Nosek said, referring to the new study. "It's not that a relationship like that exists, but why it exists."

Earlier studies have found links between low levels of education and higher levels of prejudice, Hodson said, so studying intelligence seemed a logical next step.

As Hodson himself pointed out, this doesn't mean that all conservatives are stupid and all liberals are brilliant, nor even that all conservatives are racist and all liberals racially tolerant. These are averages. But still, it sounds like just what I want to hear.

So maybe I should remember that I'm supposed to be a skeptic, huh? What would I say about this if it wasn't what I wanted to hear?

Obviously, the biggest problem is that this is just one study. It's not the scientific consensus, and it may never be. As far as I can tell, their findings haven't even been confirmed by independent researchers, not yet. So, at the very least, it's too early to give this much credence.

I'm also skeptical about "intelligence" as a single, overall measure. What was it that was really being measured - problem-solving, memory, vocabulary? And note that most of this research was conducted in Great Britain, so certain factors could possibly be specific to the United Kingdom.

Finally, it's just correlation, not causation. In other words, this research didn't necessarily find that low intelligence causes people to lean right. Instead, assuming this research is correct, low intelligence and conservative ideology could be linked in another way (something else causing both, for example - see below).

If you're a liberal like me, this study might make perfect sense to you,... but then, it would, wouldn't it? :)
As suspected, low intelligence in childhood corresponded with racism in adulthood. But the factor that explained the relationship between these two variables was political: When researchers included social conservatism in the analysis, those ideologies accounted for much of the link between brains and bias.

People with lower cognitive abilities also had less contact with people of other races.

"This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice," said Hodson, who along with his colleagues published these results online Jan. 5 in the journal Psychological Science.

Hodson was quick to note that the despite the link found between low intelligence and social conservatism, the researchers aren't implying that all liberals are brilliant and all conservatives stupid. The research is a study of averages over large groups, he said. ...

Nonetheless, there is reason to believe that strict right-wing ideology might appeal to those who have trouble grasping the complexity of the world.

"Socially conservative ideologies tend to offer structure and order," Hodson said, explaining why these beliefs might draw those with low intelligence. "Unfortunately, many of these features can also contribute to prejudice."

In another study, this one in the United States, Hodson and Busseri compared 254 people with the same amount of education but different levels of ability in abstract reasoning. They found that what applies to racism may also apply to homophobia. People who were poorer at abstract reasoning were more likely to exhibit prejudice against gays. As in the U.K. citizens, a lack of contact with gays and more acceptance of right-wing authoritarianism explained the link.

I've already explained why I'll be reserving judgment here. Other than that, I'll let conservatives fight their own battles. I'm sure they'll be eager to do so. :)

Right now, I want to go in a little different direction, myself. Note this quote: "This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining." Assuming that this research is accurate, could it be that the causation is actually the other way around, that conservatism and prejudice cause low intelligence?

I was struck by a recent remark by Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum:
Rick Santorum's crusade against higher education continues. The presidential hopeful explained Wednesday that President Obama doesn't want all Americans to go to college simply because he's a snob. It's also because he wants them to be pushed into liberalism. Because that's what American colleges and universities do. "It's no wonder President Obama wants every kid to go to college," he said while campaigning in Florida. "The indoctrination that occurs in American universities is one of the keys to the left holding and maintaining power in America. And it is indoctrination. If it was the other way around, the ACLU would be out there making sure there wasn't one penny of government dollars going to colleges and universities, right?"

This seems to be pretty typical of the right-wing, at least in America. Conservatives are often terrified of the "indoctrination" that threatens their children, meaning that they might encounter someone who thinks differently than their parents do.

They can go to great lengths to keep their children isolated. They may home-school, or send their kids to private religious schools. They'll socialize within the church. They want their children to hear nothing which might cause any doubts.

Often, their kids grow up among people just like them - the same race, the same socioeconomic background, the same religion. And as I say, much of that is deliberate. Their parents are scared to death that their child might start to think for himself. Heck, among the more cult-like religions, this voluntary segregation extends to the adults, too.

It's a scary world out there. The Devil is everywhere - some Christians think so, literally - and you mustn't listen to him. As Rick Warren says, "Don't ever argue with the Devil. He's better at arguing than you are, having had thousands of years to practice." Think about that message. Don't even try to think about what you believe. Certainly don't try to defend your thinking. That's just Satan's trap!

But if you never use your brain, except for rote memorization, how is that going to affect your intelligence? If you aren't challenged by people who think differently, you don't get to exercise your thinking skills.

Liberals tend to be more open to diversity, and their kids aren't as sheltered from diverse opinions. Their children still tend to believe what their parents believe, but at least they have to think about why.

Frankly, I'm often astonished at some of the crazy things conservatives believe. Frequently, when they argue about evolution or religion, they don't seem to know the first thing about the subject. I keep thinking that they must have led very sheltered lives, and I just don't think that makes for a healthy brain.

Rick Santorum is a good example, I think. Right-wingers like him are just terrified of universities, where their kids might finally get to hear diverse views. They call it "indoctrination," but isn't it easy to inoculate a kid against indoctrination? Just let them experience diverse views right from the start, so they're not completely unprepared for such things. And maybe that will encourage them to think, increasing their intelligence a bit, too.

Well, I don't know if prejudice and social conservatism cause stupidity, or if it's just the other way around. Heh, heh. Yeah, as I said above, I don't even acknowledge the correlation of low intelligence, prejudice, and conservative ideology, not yet. It might be true, but so far, it hasn't been conclusively demonstrated. This is just one study, not the scientific consensus. Not yet, at least.

But it's something to think about, isn't it? It's good for our brains to be challenged. When you have to think for yourself, it can't help but strengthen the little gray cells. It can't hurt, anyway, can it?

But if your beliefs are foolish, if they can't hold up in the free marketplace of ideas, thinking about them risks the danger that you might see how foolish they are. Well, that's the danger many on the right fear, though they may not put it exactly that way.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snopes: the wordy cabbage

I've been thinking of posting an occasional piece of urban legend, email rumor, or other misinformation from Snopes.com.

I mean, have you seen the crazy stuff that gets passed around in email these days? And not just in email. Bloggers pick up these things. Politicians pick up these things. Even the news media, to their shame, repeat some of this stuff.

And in many cases, all it would take is a quick check of Snopes.com to determine the truth. But no matter how often I point that out, the crazy keeps coming (though not to me, often enough, which is one advantage of replying to those emails!).

At any rate, I get the Snopes.com newsletter, so I might pick out an occasional piece of misinformation to highlight here. Today, let's look at cabbages:
Pythagorean theorem: 24 words
The Lord's Prayer: 66 words
Archimedes' Principle: 67 words
The Ten Commandments: 179 words
The Gettysburg Address: 286 words
The Declaration of Independence: 1,300 words
The US government regulations on the sale of cabbage: 26,911 words

The wordy cabbage memo is often held up as a telling illustration of needless verbosity and prime example of the sort of pointless government spending everyone is in favor of seeing cut from the bone. It's a shame such an archetype is naught but pure invention, yet it appears it was never anything other than the product of someone's fertile imagination.

Versions of the showcased list have been around for at least a half a century, with earlier ones decrying a memo by the government of France specifying the price of duck eggs, a British one referring to "shell eggs," and an American one (from 1953) about fresh fruits. While not all accounts agree on the precise number of words used in the various religious and patriotic texts pointed to as effective models of brevity, the 26,911 words expended in the cabbage tome eerily remains almost constant. [Funny, huh?]

In 1977, Mobil Oil was fooled by this thing — it vectored the legend in its "Pipeline Pete" print advertisement as a bit of revealed truth. Mobil had found the item in a house organ published the year earlier by FMC Corporation, an agricultural concern in Chicago. That version went back to yet another publication that had found it printed on a card someone was carrying in his wallet.

A 1987 book (Pearls of Wisdom: A Book of Aphorisms) claimed an "EEC [European Economic Community] directive on the import of caramel and caramel products requires, apparently, no fewer than 26,911 words." Once again, someone was so charmed by a bit of authoritative-sounding apocrypha that he chose to pass it along as revealed truth. ...

(We note that a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture document from 1945 which details "Standards for the Grades of Cabbage" falls about 26,000 words short of being a 27,000-word memo.)

Funny, isn't it? But this fits the meme that many people believe, and which many politicians want to spread, that of hopelessly incompetent government bureaucrats and the over-regulation stifling business in America. The fact that it's not true,... well, who really cares about the truth?

The fact is, there's plenty of incompetence in government, just as there is everywhere else, too. With a little effort, these people could probably find examples that were real. Apparently, that's too much effort. But is it too much effort for the rest of us just to make a quick check at Snopes.com?

Or just do a search on Google. You'll find plenty of websites which repeat that misinformation - without attribution - but you'll also find plenty of places which express doubt about it. At the very least, you might realize there's reason not to just forward that anonymous email to everyone in your address book!

PS. While looking around, I stumbled across this and thought it was pretty funny:
If a bureaucratic document is one that takes tens of thousands of words to describe how to do something in stultifying detail, here’s my revision of the document, taking out the fake cabbage claim and putting in reference to a document with which most of us are familiar:
All you Need to Know about Bureaucracy:

* Pythagorean theorem:………………………………………..24 words.
* Lord’s prayer:…………………….…..……………………….66 words.
* Archimedes’ Principle:………………………………………67 words.
* 10 Commandments:……………………………………….179 words.
* Gettysburg address:……………………………………… 286 words.
* Declaration of Independence :…………………….1,300 words.
* US Constitution with all 27 Amendments:…..7,818 words.
* God’s Biblical instructions for building a place of worship and making sacrifices:…............. 18,672 words.


Sources: King James Bible,
Exodus 23:14-19… 161 words
Exodus 25:1 to Exodus 31:11… 6201 words
Exodus 35:4 to Exodus 40:30… 4872 words
Leviticus 1:1 to Leviticus 10:15… 7438 words

(Note that I didn't fact check that. I just thought it was funny.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Jessica Ahlquist

(borrowed from The Wayward Willis)

I haven't blogged about this before now, because it's everywhere on atheist blogs. What could I say about it that Pharyngula hasn't? I'd feel like a male mosquito, buzzing impotently, not even able to draw blood, next to that huge, lurking PZ Myers beast, with his sharp, glistening fangs. :)

But now it's in the New York Times, so I can't just ignore it. Besides, this is a brave and honest girl. My praise may not be worth much, but she deserves all of the praise she can get.
She is 16, the daughter of a firefighter and a nurse, a self-proclaimed nerd who loves Harry Potter and Facebook. But Jessica Ahlquist is also an outspoken atheist who has incensed this heavily Roman Catholic city with a successful lawsuit to get a prayer removed from the wall of her high school auditorium, where it has hung for 49 years.

A federal judge ruled this month that the prayer’s presence at Cranston High School West was unconstitutional, concluding that it violated the principle of government neutrality in religion. In the weeks since, residents have crowded school board meetings to demand an appeal, Jessica has received online threats and the police have escorted her at school, and Cranston, a dense city of 80,000 just south of Providence, has throbbed with raw emotion.

State Representative Peter G. Palumbo, a Democrat from Cranston, called Jessica “an evil little thing” on a popular talk radio show. Three separate florists refused to deliver her roses sent from a national atheist group. The group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, has filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights.

“I was amazed,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the foundation, which is based in Wisconsin and has given Jessica $13,000 from support and scholarship funds. “We haven’t seen a case like this in a long time, with this level of revilement and ostracism and stigmatizing.”

Crazy, huh? This prayer banner - titled "School Prayer" - starts with "Our Heavenly Father" and ends with "Amen." In a public school. Open and shut case. And that's exactly how the federal judge saw it:
According to the Justice’s decision “The purpose of the prayer banner was clearly religious in nature,” and that “No amount of debate can make the school Prayer anything other than a prayer, and a Christian one at that.”

The school board could have avoided all this if they'd removed the prayer when a parent - not Jessica - objected. But no, they wanted to spend tax money in a futile quest to force their own religion on everyone else. I guess Rhode Island is still struggling with this whole religious freedom thing, huh?

And what's been the result? The whole town has gone batshit crazy! State Representative Peter G. Palumbo - a Democrat, no less - called this 16-year-old high school girl an "evil little thing" for standing up for the U.S. Constitution. (Some clever atheists are now selling t-shirts to support Jessica's college fund.)

Cranston florists refused to deliver flowers to Jessica, she'd become such a pariah in the town. And she's even needed police protection in school:
Ahlquist was at the meeting and said she would "definitely" do what she did again, even if she has been getting frightening threats.

"A lot of people are saying that they hope I get beat up," she told [ABC News' affiliate] WLNE. "That they would hurt me physically in school if they could. It is hurtful. It kind of disturbed me. It's mostly hurtful when it comes from students in the school."

Ironically, lawyers for the city and school claimed in the lawsuit that she was acting as a "zealous advocate," not a "frightened student." As PZ Myers put it:
If the prayer were a problem, students would be cowed and fearful, and would not be complaining. A student is complaining, therefore she isn’t fearful, therefore it’s not a problem.

That’s some catch, that Catch-22.

But you know what this is about, right? They can't intimidate Jessica Ahlquist. But they can make it clear to everyone else the penalty they'd pay for rocking the boat. Not everyone is as brave as Jessica. Whenever the Christian Taliban makes it tough for someone who stands up for her rights, they keep everyone else in line.

And Jessica is only 16 years old. She has to live in this town. She has to go to this school. Most of these Christians won't harm her, I'm sure. But they'll do their best to create an environment of fear. And if someone else harms her, oh, well, that's terrible, right? But she should have expected it...

Maybe the next person tempted to stand up for the U.S. Constitution will have second thoughts. That prayer banner wouldn't have remained in the school this long if someone had stood up and objected previously. The law hasn't changed, only the willingness to stand up.

Because rights on paper are worthless if everyone is too cowed to do anything when they're violated. The Soviet Union, too, recognized civil rights,... on paper. But everyone knew what would happen if they'd actually demanded those rights for real.

Jessica was standing up for everybody.
Does she empathize in any way with members of her community who want the prayer to stay?

“I’ve never been asked this before,” she said. A pause, and then: “It’s almost like making a child get a shot even though they don’t want to. It’s for their own good. I feel like they might see it as a very negative thing right now, but I’m defending their Constitution, too.”

A very, very smart 16-year-old, isn't she?

Freedom to beat your spouse

Ilya Gerner, at Indecision Forever, makes a good point:
One thing to keep in mind whenever a presidential candidate suggests that some issue is best handled at the state or local level is the fact that this relegates lawmaking to state and local legislators and absolutely nothing about the history of governments suggests that is a good idea. Our "laboratories of democracy" are basically 50 self-contained arguments against federalism.

I think of this whenever I hear the arguments against "professional" politicians, too. We want amateurs writing our laws, just like we want amateur surgeons, and amateur financial advisers, and even amateur plumbers, right? After all, why would we want people who actually know something about government?

And in many states, including my own, state legislators are very poorly paid. The intent, I'm sure, is so only rich people can run things. But all too often, we end up with retired people with too much time on their hands, obsessed kooks riding their particular hobbyhorse, and others who give us the kind of government we deserve (unfortunately).

Yeah, anyone can write laws, huh? It's not like driving a cab, where you need a license. It's not like hauling garbage, where you need some knowledge of what you're doing. If anyone can vote, it follows that anyone can legislate, right? And have you seen the terrible job these people do? They don't deserve more money! (I think you can see the logical flaw in that without me pointing it out to you, can't you?)

And even in the best of circumstances, it's easier to get crazy legislated locally, or even at the state level, rather than nationally. I know it doesn't always seem like that, but historically, that's been true. Sometimes, the states can work as laboratories for civics experiments, but the federal government still needs to maintain an oversight role.

Anyway, what's the particular crazy here?
Take New Hampshire, which in some populist conceit has decided that every dozen residents need their own severely under-resourced and under-paid state legislator, who will somehow remain "close to the people." Of course, the natural conclusion of "citizen legislatures" isn't home-spun wisdom and incorruptibility, insomuch as a bunch of part-time real-estate agents throwing monkey feces at a wall and calling the result a "House Bill."

The latest in the New Hampshire legislature's attempt to beclown their state as the Arizona of New England is House Bill 1581, which would stand up to lobbyists from Big Battered Spouse and prevent police officers from making an arrest in a domestic violence case without first getting a warrant unless the officer witnessed the crime. The Concord Monitor explains
An officer is called to a home where she sees clear evidence that an assault has occurred. The furniture is overturned, the children are sobbing, and the face of the woman of the house is bruised and bleeding. It's obvious who the assailant was, but the officer arrived after the assault occurred. It's a small department, and no one else on the force is available to keep the peace until the officer finds a judge or justice of the peace to issue a warrant. The officer leaves, and the abuser renews his attack with even more ferocity, punishing his victim for having called for help.

... The legislative mastermind behind H.B. 1581 is Republican Representative Dan Itse, whose own political philosophy he explains in ways only a guest on the Glenn Beck and Alex Jones Shows can…
Today our nation, though still the freest in the world, is in danger of sliding into tyranny. The reason is best explained in the prelude to the movie "Fellowship of the Ring." The elf queen Galadriel is giving a discourse on the history of the ring, and man's lust for power over other men. Near the conclusion she states "…and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth…"

Naturally, Itse's conclusion is that Galadriel should shut her elf queen mouth and go back to making him a Lembas bread sandwich.

If you think we Americans know little about our national government, try us on state politics. Most of us are concerned with our own lives, and we spend little time or energy doing our civic duty. All too many of my fellow citizens don't even vote. And when we do vote, we generally vote our prejudices and our ignorance.

Well, to paraphrase what I said earlier, we tend to get the kinds of politicians we deserve. It's probably a miracle we manage as well as we do.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Terry Gross, NPR's attack dog

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Terry Gross
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogVideo Archive

This clip is actually from two nights ago. But it stuck in my mind, because I thought it was kind of funny that this is the bully Bill O'Reilly whines about.

If you've ever seen how O'Reilly behaves on Fox "News," it's hard to believe he'd have the gall to complain about anyone else, let alone this woman. But the right-wing loves to play the victim card. Even the wealthy, politically powerful right-wing.

So here's the monster from National Public Radio. Don't get too scared. It's just a video clip.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

QOTD: a dogfight with... this guy?

Quote of the Day:
Buzzfeed reporter McKay Coppins asked an anonymous Mitt Romney adviser tonight if he’s worried about the South Carolina primary results. "Oh God, no," he sneered. "I mean, to face Newt Gingrich?"

The man has a point. Newt Gingrich? Tubby, philandering (and note that the most famous philandering pols, unlike Newt, generally have the compensating trait of physical attractiveness) has-been, unelectable, distrusted by conservatives Newt Gingrich?

But if you turn the same thought around, it leaves you wondering: How can Romney be in a dogfight with this guy?

My view all along has been that any remotely plausible candidate could beat Mitt Romney. My current view is that there are no remotely plausible candidates, which leaves us with Newt. So we have the immovable object meeting the irresistible force, except the exact opposite. Like almost everybody outside Gingrich's immediate family, I had already written him off twice. But he really seems okay. If some really crazy rich conservatives decide to write him some seven- or eight-figure checks, who knows? - Jonathan Chait

Protecting cherished beliefs

This is an issue in Great Britain more than here. It's not that we don't have crazy and viciously stupid believers in America, but we're somewhat protected by the Bill of Rights.

Criticize my beliefs all you want. If they can't withstand a little criticism, what good are they? In fact, I'd thank you for convincing me I'm wrong, because the truth matters more to me than my feelings.

Ridicule my beliefs, if you think they deserve ridicule. I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, only ridiculous beliefs need protection from ridicule. If my beliefs can't withstand a little ridicule, what good are they?

Attack me with a stone, a gun, or a bomb, and I'll object. Attack me with words and I'll give them the consideration they deserve (i.e. none, if they're just epithets; serious thought if they're based on reason and evidence).

Do you think my beliefs don't matter to me as much as yours do to you? In fact, it's just the reverse. My beliefs matter so much to me that I want to be sure they're true, and not just wishful thinking. Can you say the same?

You have the right to believe whatever you wish. But you don't have the right to be free from criticism or ridicule, because that infringes on the rights of the rest of us. And if you actually care about what's true and what isn't, you shouldn't want to be protected from criticism or ridicule.

Mr. Deity and the quitter

I never saw the first part of this, if there even is a first part. And I have to admit, it's the sly digs at  Republicans that I especially like in this one.

Scapegoating immigrants

Last summer, I hired a locksmith for a minor problem. He was a young guy, pleasant and personable (admittedly, I think he was cheating on his taxes, because he wanted the check made out to him personally, not to the company he owned).

But just before he left, he got a phone call, which he put on speaker. It was a prospective customer, a guy with a pretty strong accent who struggled a bit with English, wanting to hire the locksmith. So this contractor just hung up on him. "Hey, if they want to hire me, they need to learn to speak English!"

Think about that. As an American, my contractor was the descendent of immigrants himself, some of whom probably didn't speak perfect English themselves. My own ancestors certainly didn't, not all of them. This is America, the land of opportunity. We're pretty much all descended from immigrants (even Native Americans, arguably).

And learning to speak a foreign language as an adult is hard. Here in Nebraska, that might be easy to forget, since we can go a thousand miles in any direction without needing to speak anything but English. But I know how I struggled just as a tourist in Europe, despite my high school Spanish and a some German, French, and Italian in college. Learning to actually use a new language is hard.

As I say, our ancestors went through all that, so if any people on Earth should be sympathetic to immigrants, it should be us Americans. I really don't understand it.

When my mother was a little girl, her great-grandmother lived with them for awhile before her death. The old woman couldn't speak English, despite living in America for most of her life. And my mother couldn't speak any German. They couldn't communicate at all, except with hugs and other gestures.

A hundred years ago, there were German-language newspapers in America, German social clubs, German-language schools. For the most part, that ended when America went to war with Germany in World War I. It wasn't considered patriotic then (and, as usual, we got a little hysterical about the enemy - in this case, even renaming sauerkraut "liberty cabbage"). But today, the descendents of those German-Americans, many of them, just hit the ceiling about using Spanish in America. Funny, isn't it?

My grandfather fought in Germany (for our side, I assure you) in World War I, suffering poison gas damage which affected his lungs for the rest of his life. He was an American citizen, but all of his grandparents had come from Germany. They came here for the reason all immigrants come to America, to make a better life for themselves.

But these days, we're not even willing to grant permanent residence to soldiers who fight and sometimes die for us, if they were brought to America illegally as children. How crazy is that? We won't even reward the very best of them who struggle against overwhelming odds to get a college degree. Yeah, we don't want no furriners here, do we? It's absolutely insane!

When my Irish ancestors arrived in America, there were riots against them in some American towns. I used to hear stories about the discrimination they faced. But their descendants, many of them, are all too eager to discriminate against immigrants now. P. J. O'Rourke once said, "We are, after all, a country full of people who came to America to get away from foreigners." Maybe that's it.

Sure, the right-wing claims that they're only against illegal immigrants. Is it their fault that you can't tell a legal brown person from an illegal brown person? Besides, they're all just "Mexicans," right? We all know how lazy they are...

Yeah, here in Nebraska, at least, it's all about the "Mexicans." Wonder how that  happened? When I was a kid, Iowa Beef Processors built a big packing plant just outside my hometown. There were a lot of problems with the plant (including a horrible stench when the wind was from the north), but at least it was a union plant and the jobs paid pretty well.

Unfortunately, IBP found a way to make more money. They sent buses to the Mexican border to find workers desperate enough to work for peanuts, then used them to break the union. Nearby towns saw a huge influx of poor Spanish-speaking people, which cost taxpayers more in school and social services costs. Meanwhile, those well-paying jobs had disappeared, so the taxes from them did, too.

And who do the locals blame? Those wealthy executives at IBP who made out like bandits? Not hardly. Most blame the Spanish-speaking workers who were simply desperate for work. Well, it's easy to scapegoat people who seem different from you, isn't it? Those executives were white and spoke perfect English. And we all know how the "job creators" deserve everything they get, right?

Generally speaking, the real hysteria about immigration, here in Nebraska and nationally, focuses on the "Mexicans." But discrimination hardly stops there. That guy on the other end of the cell phone sounded like he had a Pakistani or Indian accent, as far as I could tell from the speaker. But it was enough that he spoke English with an accent. Obviously, he was just another no-good foreigner, huh?

The fact that all of us, pretty much, are descended from "no-good foreigners" ourselves doesn't seem to matter to these people. Well, bigotry is alive and well even in good economic times. When times are bad, that's when you really see the hysteria. And the average middle class American has seen his standard of living decline since the late 1970s (funny, that coincides exactly with the start of "trickle down" economic policies favoring the wealthy).

It's especially bad in the GOP, of course, since the Republican Party has been deliberately wooing racists with their "Southern strategy" for decades. Politically, that was a huge success, since they succeeded in taking the South from the Democrats. But now, the racists are the Republican base. And you know? When you take most of the crazies from one political party and combine them with all of the crazies from your own, you get a lot of crazy.

Now, all of the Republican candidates for president must try to appeal to those people. Mitt Romney, mostly because of his flip-flopping, has to be especially vigorous. And, although Newt Gingrich is holding his own when it comes to implicit racism, Romney is setting a whole new standard for crazy when it comes to immigration.
Mitt Romney unveiled a novel solution for illegal immigration during Tuesday night's GOP debate, saying that he'd rely on "self-deportation" to reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants in the US. ...

This is the right-wing's answer to the question of how you deport 11 million unauthorized immigrants: You don't. You force them to "deport themselves." Although immigration reform advocates would prefer a solution that involves a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already here, Romney and his top immigration advisers believe they can remove millions of people through heavy-handed enforcement that makes life for unauthorized immigrants intolerable. This approach is notable for its complete lack of discretion and flexibility. Unauthorized immigrant parents with citizen children who need to go to school? Americans who are married to an undocumented immigrant who needs medical treatment? "Self-deportation" hits them all with the same mailed fist.

We can see how this concept has been applied in states like Arizona and Alabama, where local authorities have been empowered to act as enforcers of immigration law. Alabama takes the choke point theory even more seriously than Arizona—everything from enrolling in school to seeking health treatment has been turned into a so-called choke point. The moral, social, and economic consequences of the strategy are secondary to inflicting enough suffering on unauthorized immigrants in order to force them out of the country. ...

Alabama's immigration law has actually been such a disaster that the state is trying to figure out a way to repeal parts of the law. But make no mistake, when Romney is discussing "self-deportation," he's talking about creating a United States where parents are afraid to register their kids for school or get them immunized because they might be asked for proof of citizenship. He's talking about the type of country where local police can demand your immigration status based on mere suspicion that you don't belong around here. "Self-deportation" is just a cleaner, less cruel-sounding way of endorsing harsh, coercive government polices in order to make life for unauthorized immigrants so unbearable that they have no choice but to find some way to leave. The human cost of such an approach, let alone what it might do to American society, is viewed as a price worth paying.

Brilliant, isn't it? We're going to make America such a hell-hole that no one will want to live here! Wow! Why didn't we progressives think of that?

And if you're enjoying the "war on terror," then you'll really be in for a treat. We're going to make sure that American kids - children legally American, but born here of illegal immigrant parents - are going to hate America with a passion. Well, at least future terrorist groups won't have to worry about recruiting American citizens, huh? They'll be lining up to attack us.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Navy SEALs rescue hostages in Somalia

This is gutsy! A lot of things could go wrong in an operation like this. Politically, the safe bet would probably be to do nothing at all.

I've got to say it's impressive that Barack Obama hasn't been taking the easy option, the safe option, neither here nor in getting Osama bin Laden.

Shit skeptics say

A few of these might be more obscure than others, but if you're a skeptic, you should find most of this pretty familiar.

2012 State of the Union highlights

And here's the Young Turks' analysis. Note that Cenk Uygur isn't a big fan of Barack Obama.

Well, I've been disappointed, too (though not as disappointed as I am in the American people in general), but I'm not the kind of progressive who's willing to cut off his nose to spite his face.

Mitt Romney's taxes

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2012 - I Know What You Did Last Quarter
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

This sums it up pretty well, don't you think? Unfortunately, the rest of us just don't have enough high-powered lobbyists.

Incidentally, Elizabeth Warren was Jon's guest last night. She's really impressive. If you're interested, here's the interview (Part 1 and Part 2).

These are a couple of lines that really got me: "It comes out that 30 of the largest companies in the United States are now spending more on lobbying than they pay in federal taxes." ... "Right now, the people who are sucking up the real resources in this country are the people who can hire the lobbyists."

This is all because money has become all-powerful in our political system - and even more-so since that lunatic Citizens United decision from our Republican Supreme Court. Heck, billionaire Stuart Adelson's money has kept Newt Gringrich's presidential campaign afloat almost single-handedly. What kind of influence do you think he's buying with that?

But libertarians completely miss the boat, too. They fail to remember that we're social animals. We're all in this together. Elizabeth Warren is absolutely right about this: "Government is what we do together. Government is the part that lets us come together and build the basic conditions - the infrastructure, the education, the research - the basic pieces together that let us build a future for ourselves and for our kids."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

QOTD: the GOP's radical transformation

Quote of the Day:
The nation is still recovering from a crushing recession that sent unemployment hovering above nine percent for two straight years. The president, mindful of soaring deficits, is pushing bold action to shore up the nation's balance sheet. Cloaking himself in the language of class warfare, he calls on a hostile Congress to end wasteful tax breaks for the rich. "We're going to close the unproductive tax loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share," he thunders to a crowd in Georgia. Such tax loopholes, he adds, "sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying 10 percent of his salary – and that's crazy."

Preacherlike, the president draws the crowd into a call-and-response. "Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver," he demands, "or less?"

The crowd, sounding every bit like the protesters from Occupy Wall Street, roars back: "MORE!"

The year was 1985. The president was Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Today's Republican Party may revere Reagan as the patron saint of low taxation. But the party of Reagan – which understood that higher taxes on the rich are sometimes required to cure ruinous deficits – is dead and gone. Instead, the modern GOP has undergone a radical transformation, reorganizing itself around a grotesque proposition: that the wealthy should grow wealthier still, whatever the consequences for the rest of us. ...

The staggering economic inequality that has led Americans across the country to take to the streets in protest is no accident. It has been fueled to a large extent by the GOP's all-out war on behalf of the rich. Since Republicans rededicated themselves to slashing taxes for the wealthy in 1997, the average annual income of the 400 richest Americans has more than tripled, to $345 million – while their share of the tax burden has plunged by 40 percent. Today, a billionaire in the top 400 pays less than 17 percent of his income in taxes – five percentage points less than a bus driver earning $26,000 a year. - Tim Dickinson

Minecraft fortress

(click images to embiggen)

Note: This is the second dispatch from my latest Minecraft world. The first is here.

This is a cold land, but rich. My crops grow well, despite the occasional snowstorms. My livestock seem to need little care. So I've had a lot of time on my hands.

Too much time, probably, since I've started an absolutely massive stone fortress. It really is pretty ridiculous, isn't it? I can't even claim that it's for protection, since these walls enclose only a small part of my homestead. With the time I've spent building those vast towers, I could have enclosed the whole place with sturdy walls.

Indeed, I'm still having immense trouble with creepers. The other day, one sneaked inside my stone wall and ran up behind me. Only at the last minute did I hear it hiss, and the explosion tossed me clear across the room. Luckily, I've taken to wearing armor, even inside. But I was badly injured, even so.

And I'm still living in a shack, little more than a lean-to against the south wall, while I spend my time creating this monstrosity! It really is pretty ridiculous, don't you think? I haven't even explored this land, not very far, not further than I can see from the top of one of my towers. I've just been laying stone.

Whenever I run out of stone, I head into the caverns below for more - and for more coal, too, which is the bigger problem by far. I've got lots of trees, so I've used some wood to fire my forges, but that seems wasteful. Yes, trees are a renewable resource, while coal isn't. But I still hate to burn wood.

Besides, I need to explore the caverns, anyway. They are really extensive. Previously, I mentioned that deep crevasse that bisects the upper caverns. But I'm beginning to wonder if it's just one crevasse or two. Or more. I don't know. It gets really confusing, as those caverns twist and turn.

I've gotten to the bottom of at least one crevasse, maybe more. The problem is that I haven't been able to walk along the bottom. It's not just the obstacles, but the darkness that's a problem. I can use torches to light my way, but there are countless dark ledges above me, and those ledges can pretty much rain monsters.

Again, creepers are my biggest problem. I've had creepers drop out of the dark almost right on top of me. And I've been badly injured a few times there, too. Again, my iron armor has saved my life, but I've had far too many close calls. Frequently, I've had to stay holed up in the caverns until I recovered enough to limp on home.

For a long time, skeletons were a problem, too. I couldn't seem to find bowstring material, so an archer on a ledge or across a ravine could shoot at me with impunity. It's not that I like spiders all that much, but their webbing can be very useful. Unfortunately, spiders don't seem to be very common in this cold land.

When I got deep enough, I discovered another danger. There's lava just everywhere. Even without monsters, it would be very, very dangerous to explore the depths of these caverns. But as it is, pretty much anything could knock me off a narrow path into lava, if I'm not careful. And my armor wouldn't help me at all, then.

So I've had to be very, very careful. There are caverns stretching for miles and miles, lava and waterfalls everywhere, and multiple levels, all the way up to the surface. Even without making a misstep into lava, even without the ever-present danger of creepers and other monstrosities, I could get hopelessly lost at even a moment's inattention.

On the bright side, there are many valuable resources down there. I've found lots of coal and iron, some gold and some redstone, and even a couple of diamonds. And I've only just begun to explore the place. But it's sure been rough on my nerves!

So I think I need a break. I recently built a compass, so I should be able to explore this land without getting hopelessly lost. I think I'll take my dog and explore on the surface a bit, maybe even draw a map as I go.

I wonder what lies on the other side of the eastern desert? I wonder how far this pine forest extends to the west? I stopped at the river's edge to my north, but I could certainly craft a boat without too much trouble. And there are mountains to the south. I'll bet I could get a pretty good view from up there.

And yes, I'm sure there will be monsters, but maybe I won't have to worry that my next step will put me neck-deep into lava. And I could always try taming another wolf or two. At the very least, it will be a break, and I think I need a break. I really, really think I need a break.

Gingrich can't imagine anything more despicable

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2012 - The Gingrich Who Stole South Carolina
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Sure, I blogged about this a few days ago. But I love how worked up Jon Stewart gets about it. Hey, I know exactly how he feels. It's just incredible, isn't it?

So much for those right-wing "values," huh?

This part was great, too:
"You're not a small-business owner. Your 'small business' involved selling access to the insides of Washington!

You're not a Washington insider? You, the former Speaker of the House and Freddie Mac-consulting millionaire, are the Washington insider. When Washington gets its prostate checked, it tickles you!"

Stewart's final line is also pretty good!

So much for global warming

Last year was actually cooler than the previous year. So much for global warming, huh?

True, 2010 tied for the hottest year on record. And 2011 was still in the top 11 (by other measurements, the top 9) hottest years on record, warmer than any year in the entire 20th Century except 1998.

But hey, clearly we're on the downward path now, right? I mean, what other explanation could there be? :)
One reason 2011 was milder than recent years was the La Nina cooling of the central Pacific Ocean. La Ninas occur every few years and generally cause global temperatures to drop, but this was the warmest La Nina year on record.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Bertrand Russell on God

From 1959, apparently. More that 50 years ago, but still just as valid as ever.

"Religious people, most of them, think that it's a virtuous act to tell lies about the deathbeds of agnostics and such." Yup. Because although the Ten Commandments states that "thou shalt not bear false witness," it's OK when you're lying for God, huh?

Non-Belief, Pt. 8: Obeying God

An acquaintance - let's keep this completely anonymous - asked me a question this morning. I'm paraphrasing,  but basically, he said, "If you believed in God, if he appeared to you and convinced you he was real, you'd do what he said, right? If he told you to kill someone, wouldn't you do it?"

Those aren't his exact words, and if you think he's implying something with that, you'd probably be wrong. But I thought it was an interesting question, interesting enough to blog about and, indeed, to add to my Non-Belief series.

Let's mention the obvious problem with this, first. I'm supposed to assume that - somehow - I was convinced the Christian God actually exists and that he wants me to kill someone (that he wants me to do anything, actually, but killing someone is something I wouldn't normally do).

Suppose I was absolutely convinced of this. Well, I could still be mistaken. I'm not infallible. No matter how sure I was, I'd still have to consider the possibility that I was wrong. (I haven't lost my mind, right? I've just become convinced that this is God?)

In this particular case, how would I know I wasn't delusional? Just because I see and hear God, that doesn't mean he really exists. I might be absolutely convinced of that, but still wrong. It's one thing if he doesn't want me to eat shellfish - or even bacon, I guess - but when he wants me to murder someone, I have to consider the possibility that I'm just hallucinating.

I don't actually see how a god could convince me that I couldn't be wrong, do you? OK, God is supposed to be omniscient and omnipotent, so by definition, he can do anything he wants. If that's true, then he certainly could make me believe that he exists. Could he make me absolutely certain that I wasn't just delusional? I don't know how, but if he's truly omniscient and omnipotent, he can do anything.

I don't think I'm going to be murdering anyone, or doing anything else really bad, just because I think I'm right. No matter what, I always have to consider the possibility that I'm wrong. (This is something fanatics throughout history have failed to understand.) But let's assume otherwise. Let's assume that I have been convinced and that I'm absolutely certain that I couldn't be wrong. Would I do what God told me to do?

Well, why would I? Suppose I accepted Christian mythology lock, stock, and barrel. God created the universe just for us. He created Adam and Eve, then kicked them out of the Garden of Eden for disobedience. He flooded the whole world once, drowning men, women, and children, when there were only a handful of righteous believers left. And he sent his only son to die on the cross for us.

Assuming that I believed all that, should I obey God? Should I do whatever he says, without question? Why would I?

My parents did create me. They sacrificed for me. They raised me, they fed me, they protected me. They loved me, and they taught me right from wrong. Should you obey your parents then, without question? No matter what they tell you to do? Of course not!

Naturally, I'll hand a mugger my wallet, if he holds a gun to my head. If we're talking about threats, then I might obey out of fear. I would hope that I wouldn't murder someone, just because God threatened to torture me if I didn't obey. But heck, I don't even like hangnails. With enough torture, I'd probably do anything to make the pain stop.

I'm not even particularly embarrassed by that. No one could hold out against an infinity of torture. Some of us might break sooner than others, but we'd all break.

If God threatened me, I'd absolutely obey him, at least to some extent. I'd hand him my wallet, if he wanted it, just like I'd do to any mugger. But in neither case would I murder someone, not just because of threats to my own well-being. Torture would break me, I'm sure, but threats alone wouldn't do it (not threats to myself, at least).

But what if it's liberal Christianity I believe in? What if there is no Hell? What if God isn't threatening me, but just asking me to kill someone? Or to stop eating bacon, for that matter? Would I obey God, just because he is God?

Remember, the assumption is that I'm absolutely certain this is God, with no possibility that I could be mistaken. But even so, why would I obey him, necessarily?

I'm going to need a good reason, even from God. Heck, I already know that I shouldn't be eating bacon, but I'm not willing to stop. Does God have a better reason than the ones I already know? I'd certainly listen to him, and I might even agree to stop.

But if he wants me to kill someone, I'm going to need a very good reason. Why would I obey God for no reason? Assuming that I'm not being threatened or forced to obey, why would I obey just on his say-so? Why would God want my obedience, anyway? If he's got a good reason for me to obey, then I want to hear it.

An omniscient god would be vastly smarter than me, of course. But maybe my father was smarter than me. I still wouldn't have killed someone just on his command. I loved my father, but I would have needed a very good reason before agreeing to kill for him. I owe my father a lot, but I don't owe him my complete, unquestioned obedience.

So no, I wouldn't kill someone just because God told me to do it, even if I believed wholeheartedly that he actually existed. I wouldn't even give up bacon because he told me to do it, not without a good reason. And I'd need a lot better reason before agreeing to commit murder.

Islam is supposed to mean "submission," apparently. But even in Christianity, believers are supposed to obey God. Why would you do that? If God wants me to do something, I want to know why. If anyone wants me to do something, I'd like to know the reasons why. If your reasons are valid, I'll probably do it. But I'm not a slave. And I am going to think for myself.

What I don't understand is why believers think that obedience is a virtue. Obedience is a virtue in a slave, no doubt, although only from his master's point of view. But why would a free man or a free woman think that obedience is a virtue?

If you believe that God created us, why did he give us brains, if we're not supposed to use them? The Bible praises obedience, but not rational thought, not doubt, certainly not skepticism. Why not? Were our brains just a error then? Did God screw up? I guess he isn't omniscient after all, huh?

In fact, if he does ask me to kill someone, without having a very good reason for that request, then that will prove he's not omniscient. Because I'm going to say no.

Note: The rest of this series is here.

Fox News really admires Newt's cheating

So, South Carolina Republicans decided they didn't care about Newt Gingrich's serial philandering, about his cheating on his first two wives, about his hypocrisy.

The latter is my big problem with this. His personal life is his own, but not when he's criticizing others for what he does  himself, not when he's campaigning as a "defender" of traditional marriage, not when we're supposed to think that his supporters are "values" voters. If those are your values, you should be ashamed of yourself!

But apparently, Fox News disagrees with me. Hmm,... fancy that.

From Indecision Forever:
Let's get clarification from the values upholders over at Fox News
Here's what one interested in making America stronger can reasonably conclude—psychologically—from Mr. Gingrich's behavior during his three marriages:

1) Three women have met Mr. Gingrich and been so moved by his emotional energy and intellect that they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him.

2) Two of these women felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married.

3) One of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife (Marianne) who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.

Conclusion: When three women want to sign on for life with a man who is now running for president, I worry more about whether we'll be clamoring for a third Gingrich term, not whether we'll want to let him go after one.

You got that? The issue isn't that Newt Gingrich "broke his marriage vows" or "led a life of lies/hypocrisy." It's that women–with their superior insight–recognized the inherent goodness of Newt Gingrich, his raw intelligence, his ability to last for hours whenever there was a premise to be challenged.

The real shock here is that Fox News suddenly thinks that women's opinions are important, especially when one of them is lacking in the looks department.

Funny, yes, but note that there were additional points and additional conclusions in that column at Fox News. For example:
4) Two women—Mr. Gingrich’s first two wives—have sat down with him while he delivered to them incredibly painful truths: that he no longer loved them as he did before, that he had fallen in love with other women and that he needed to follow his heart, despite the great price he would pay financially and the risk he would be taking with his reputation.

Conclusion: I can only hope Mr. Gingrich will be as direct and unsparing with the Congress, the American people and our allies. If this nation must now move with conviction in the direction of its heart, Newt Gingrich is obviously no stranger to that journey.

I don't know about you, but I'd worry that President Gingrich would "follow his heart" to another country and not tell us about it for years. I'd worry that he'd be cheating on America, and especially that it would take him years before he came clean about it.

Is he, in fact, cheating on America now? After all, everything Republicans propose seems to be designed to bring us down. Is that deliberate? Most of what they propose was tried during the Bush administration, with truly disastrous results for our country.

And Newt even wants to bring child labor back to America. Is he clueless, or has he just fallen for one of America's competitors? Will we find out in six years or so that he's been sleeping with a younger, hotter country?

It's not just that we have to worry about Newt "following his heart" elsewhere, but that it might already have happened. After all, Newt didn't sit down with his wives, delivering his "incredibly painful truths," until he'd been cheating on them for years. So when Newt whispers sweet nothings in our ears, is it some other nation he's really thinking about?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Defending our freedom to share

Note that this clip is also available on YouTube here.

This is an interesting talk. SOPA and PIPA were pushed as anti-piracy measures, and that might seem reasonable. Certainly, copyright holders are being ripped off by organized criminal operations, usually based in China or elsewhere overseas, that often sell movies and games even before the legitimate products are available.

But these bills won't do anything about that. In fact, from what I can tell, so far nothing has had much of an effect on piracy. This is the excuse for these bills, but is that the real reason? In this TED talk, Clay Shirky explains why we should doubt that.

Do you ever watch YouTube videos? YouTube makes it very easy to create and share your own videos. But every amateur video clip you watch on YouTube is time you could have spent watching a commercial television show or movie.

Is that what really has Hollywood running scared? Most of that amateur content isn't very good, but there's a lot of it. At the very least, it's a real time-waster. And some of it is pretty good. Either way, it's competition that big media companies don't want.

At the very least, it's competition for your time. As Shirky says, it used to be that television networks had only two other shows as competition in each time slot. Sure, you could do other things, rather than watch TV at all. But you didn't have the internet, with a pretty much unlimited amount of content available.

This reminds me of Digital Rights Management (DRM) in computer games. That's also claimed to be an anti-piracy measure. Mainstream game developers, huge multinational corporations which spend hundreds of millions of dollars developing a computer game, want to protect their investment.

That seems reasonable enough. And piracy is rampant. But DRM doesn't work on pirates, since they always crack the code pretty much immediately. Generally, what it does is cause lots of problems for legitimate users, the people who actually purchased the game. How is that a good thing?

But there's something else it does. When you buy a game these days, you don't actually own it. You can't sell it to someone else when you get tired of it, or if it turns out you don't like the game. All you're buying is the right to play the game for awhile. How long? Well, as long as the game developer wants you to play it.

Now me, I often play old games. These are games I bought years ago, games which don't have DRM. I do own those games. But when I'm happily playing an old game, that means I'm not buying a new one. And game developers, reasonably enough, want us to buy new games.

So, is DRM really about piracy, as they say? If so, it's completely ineffective. Or is it about planned obsolescence? Is it about making sure that no one can keep playing old games, that we have to buy new ones, instead? After all, as soon as a company stops supporting that DRM, the game is useless. (Unless you'd bought a pirated copy, of course.)

I don't know. Maybe that's just a crazy conspiracy theory. Maybe these multinational corporations are so inept that they keep using DRM for piracy, just as they say, despite the fact that it doesn't work. I don't know. All this is pretty new, so we'll just have to see how it plays out.

When it comes to SOPA and PIPA, those bills have been pulled from consideration, at least for now. Internet users organized a mass protest, a flood of complaints to their senators and their congressmen, that was very effective. But this issue isn't going to go away.

Big media companies have a lot of money to throw around, and Citizens United has basically made it legal to buy politicians. Corporations, after all, are just people, too, right? Thanks to that ruling, money is more powerful politically than it's ever been before.

The people still have the final say, but we're going to have to watch this. And we're going to have to contact our representatives, when necessary. Apathy isn't going to cut it.