Wednesday, May 29, 2013

You win one, you lose one

There's sad news for us comedy fans today:
Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville predicted on Wednesday that Republicans throughout the country would be “relieved” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has decided to retire.

“Sad day,” Carville quipped on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when host Joe Scarborough mentioned Bachmann’s retirement.

“It makes me so sad and you so happy, Joe,” Carville said later. “God closes one door for Michelle Bachmann and opens three to Louie Gohmert. Everybody in a political party feels some sense of: ‘God, why can’t these people just shut up?’...

I'm sorry to hear this. Bachmann was facing ethics scandals and a very tough re-election bid, even in her very Republican district (which will likely continue Republican now).

But if I'm disappointed, just think of how upset comedians must be! They'll probably be having a wake at Saturday Night Live, not to mention the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

But this might cheer them up:
Looks like Donald Trump didn't learn anything from his last failed run for office. According to the New York Post, he's spent $1 million researching whether he should make another bid for president in 2016. (We could have told him it's not a great idea for free.) "Everybody tells me, 'Please run for president. Please run for president.' I would be much happier if a great and competent person came along," Trump reportedly told attendees at a recent Republican dinner. (Clarification: The "great and competent" person Trump is referring to is himself. That confused us, too.)

Oh, yes! Please, please, please run for president again, Mr. Trump! And try to talk Michele Bachmann into another run, too. Or at least Louie Gohmert!

Anyway, I guess we can take political comedians off that suicide watch now, huh? :)

My baby pictures

I was surprised to find this video clip from my younger years. Really, I haven't changed that much, have I?

Oh, and with 16,000 hits, I must not be a loser, either. :)

HT to Arma John for the link.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Distant Worlds: Shadows

(all screenshots from Matrix Games)

The original Master of Orion was one of my favorite games of all-time. It was basically Civilization in space, and I just love that kind of thing.

You started with your home world, a single planet, and through research and development, you explored the galaxy, colonizing new worlds around new stars and - this is a game, after all - fighting the other civilizations you encountered.

As a game, the combat was necessary, but not the reason I loved the game. I loved the research, the exploration, the building - building your civilization, not just individual structures - and manipulating the environment (terraforming other planets to suit your species).

I've never found another 4X space game which appealed to me half as much as that one did. But now, there's a new contender, Distant Worlds: Shadows. And in my limited time with the game, so far, I'm very impressed.

First, the downside: Shadows is an expansion to the original game, but in order to play it, you need the original Distant Worlds plus the two previous expansions. And they're not cheap. Months ago, I'd looked at a previous expansion, but the cost was just too much for a game I wasn't sure I'd like.

It's even worse with Shadows, because now you have to buy four games, in effect, in order to play the latest one. However, they're having a sale right now - since they just released this expansion - and you can buy the complete set for $70. That's still expensive, but it's 40% off the usual price. That was enough (if just barely) to get me into the game.

The other downside, which I discovered as I started to play it, is that Distant Worlds uses your existing screen resolution, which makes the fonts very small for me. (My eyes aren't that great.) But when I discovered the button to "enlarge selection panel" - that little window in the lower left corner of the screen - that solved most of my problems with readability.

Now, in Distant Worlds, you can play in a galaxy of up to 1500 star systems with up to 50,000 different planets, moons, and asteroids. If you love the idea of exploring space, that should appeal to you. (Don't worry. The entire game can be automated as much, or as little, as you wish. You can handle, yourself, anything that interests you, while the rest of your empire is capably managed by the AI.)

What particularly attracted me to the Shadows expansion is that you can start before you have any FTL technology at all. Since this galaxy has fallen from civilization previously (there is a storyline here), pirates retain the ability to travel between star systems. But empires have to rediscover that technology on their own. I really like that.

I started with a homeworld much like Earth (I'm playing as human), and the first thing I had to do was build an orbiting spaceport around my planet. From there, I could build small exploration ships to slowly explore my own solar system. (A solar system is a big place, and this game really demonstrates that when you're just starting out.)

All empires start in a solar system with the basic resources they need to research hyperdrive, but it takes time. You have to explore for resources, then build mines to exploit those resources, while also researching new technologies. It's a slow process, but very rewarding when you reach important milestones (such as researching your first hyperdrive engine, which finally opens up the galaxy for your people).

Of course, pirates discovered us very early in this process, and I had to pay protection money for awhile. As I noted, they start with a technological advantage, and I didn't even have warships when they first arrived at our planet. On the other hand, pirate factions also have independent freighters which bring us raw materials, which is very useful to a fledgling empire.

Eventually, I felt powerful enough to stop paying protection money. None of the pirate factions have been too happy about that, but they haven't attacked us,... so far.

Now, there's a lot going on in this game, and a lot to juggle at once. As I say, you can let the AI handle anything you want. (In fact, you can let the AI handle everything. One option is just to put yourself into one of your ships and... do whatever strikes your fancy - exploration, piracy, whatever.)

But I always concentrate on scientific research in these games. I want to be the most technologically advanced civilization in the galaxy. (As I say, pirates start out ahead of everyone else, but they can't match an empire when it comes to research.) And I've done quite well on that front in my current game (my first).

You also have to juggle government finances, but I was well prepared for that. I was careful not to build too many ships, since you have to pay maintenance costs on ships and bases. Instead, I used the discoveries from my research program to constantly upgrade my warships and my facilities - quality instead of quantity.

That seemed to work. For most of the game, so far, I've had a very healthy cash flow. Note that you get money from taxes, but also by building ships for the private sector (all that happens automatically). My shipyard stayed busy with upgrades and new construction, and my finances stayed healthy, too.

But I forgot something. :)  Construction requires resources. So do upgrades. There are a lot of resources in Distant Worlds - some common, some uncommon, some rare - and that's one reason why you need to explore the galaxy. You also need to build mines to exploit those resources. Independent traders will automatically bring resources to your planets, but not nearly enough.

Anyway, with all my ship construction/upgrading, I started to run a deficit in some important resources. Then the shortages became so bad that work had to stop, through lack of (primarily) steel. I'm currently desperately short of steel - and short of many other resources, too - because I didn't build enough mines.

My construction ships - which actually build mines - became stranded at my spaceport, halfway through refit, because of my desperate shortage of steel. When they were finally completed, I discovered that I also needed steel to build the mines I needed to get more steel! Argh!

This is what I mean when I say there's a lot to juggle in this game. I expected financial bottlenecks, so I worked hard to prevent them. But these resource bottlenecks caught me by surprise. And my empire is really suffering now.

Of course, I'm still getting some steel from my existing mines. And independent traders bring us resources, if not in the huge quantities I need. I finally started paying pirates to smuggle steel to us, and that's expensive. My cash flow isn't looking so good now, partly because of that and partly because I can no longer build ships to sell to the private sector.

From all of this, we're getting just a trickle of steel and several other resources we need. It's a real problem. I'm doing exceptionally well on science and technology because I spent money building research bases. Then I had to build ships to defend those bases, and I've been upgrading them regularly with the latest technology.

But there's not an infinite supply of money or resources and, clearly, I should have balanced my spending better by building more mines. So, what can I do now? For one thing, I won't be building any more ships for awhile, and I'll try to avoid upgrading the ones I've already got, since I can't avoid the resource cost.

I've got several large projects on hold, due to lack of resources, and if I cancel them, I'll lose the progress we've already made. So I really don't want to do that. But my construction ships are also at a standstill, in their attempts to build more mines, because there isn't nearly enough steel available to build them. (Steel is the big problem, but not the only one.)

Frankly, I don't see much I can do but wait for the steel to trickle in. I'll continue to ask pirates to smuggle us steel, as long as my money holds out, but that's only going to get us another trickle. My empire is in a bind, and we simply won't be able to grow until I get this problem fixed (which means that my competitor civilizations will get a big advantage for awhile, and so will the pirate factions).

Neat, isn't it? So far, we've only explored a tiny section of the galaxy, too. It takes a long time to go from having no FTL capability - and not even a spaceport - to the kind of civilization which can dominate the rest of the galaxy.

Through pirates, we've opened a line of communication with two other empires, but I don't know where they are. So far, we haven't encountered anyone new (just pirates and a few dangerous space creatures). I've been playing Distant Worlds for a couple of days now, but I'm still at the very beginning.

(Note that you don't have to start without FTL travel. You can choose to begin a game at the "classic" starting point, where you have the ability to explore distant stars right from the beginning. But I enjoy starting much earlier - and so weak that I have to pay off pirates rather than fight them. Still, there are a lot of options in this game. For example, you can play as one of the pirate factions, if you want. The game is very different, then.)

If you'd like more information about Distant Worlds: Shadows, you might check out this video series at YouTube. That's where I first saw it. But if you want to buy it, I'd jump pretty quickly, while their 40% off sale is still available. Normally, it's just too expensive. That's their decision, of course, but it does make things difficult for newcomers to the series.

Note: See this page for more game posts.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Ricky Gervais in trouble?

I don't get that "pray for Oklahoma" stuff. I can't imagine how that would make sense even if I believed in a god.

Isn't that just a way to do nothing, while making yourself feel good? At least if you send money, you're helping.

And it's not just that your god, supposedly, sent the tornado. At the very least, he didn't prevent it - or shield his believers from damage. So what are your prayers supposed to do now?

Will an uncaring god be persuaded to actually help people if he gets enough petitions from his worshipers? Are you going to change his mind by doing that? What about the 'divine plan'? What about your god's omniscience? He already knows what he's going to do, doesn't he? So how are you going to change his mind?

Prayer seems to be a leftover from earlier gods who weren't so nice. You had to keep your god happy, so he wouldn't do nasty things to you. And you had to petition him for favors, because he wouldn't be inclined to do them otherwise.

But the Christian god is supposed to be good. So why do you need to ask for favors. And, unlike those earlier gods, he's supposed to be omniscient. So you can't fool him with prayers, and you can't tempt him with sweet sacrifices. So how does praying for storm victims make any sense at all?

Plus, of course, it doesn't work. It might make you feel good, but independent research has shown no result from prayers. In fact, if prayer did work, we wouldn't have science, since the results of actions would be so arbitrary, depending on who prayed for what - or, at least, depending on what 'God' decided to do at any one time.

Anyway, if you want to do something worthwhile, you might look at the Humanist Charities' Rebecca Vitsmun Fund. Rebecca Vitsmun is the atheist in this video clip with Wolf Blitzer. Standing in front of the wreckage of her house, she clearly could use our help. And she was quite impressive in that clip, don't you think?

Note that I would not support atheist charities which would help only atheists (or humanist charities which would help only humanists). There are atheist and humanist charities which help anyone in need, though most atheists just give to the Red Cross (which, despite the name, is secular).

But this fund is just a matter of helping an individual who caught our attention. She's an atheist, yes, and that's one reason why atheists are wanting to help her. But it's not a matter of just helping any atheist, or refusing to help any believer.

Rebecca Vitsmun is an appealing person who needs our help. But feel free to give to the Red Cross, or any other disaster relief fund, instead, if you want to spread the help around. Or give to both. :)

Human beings are... fickle when it comes to charity. We tend to donate not when the need is greatest, necessarily, but when something or someone catches our attention. That's not a bad thing, it's just human nature. But it's one reason why we need the government to provide a social safety net.

Private charity, then, can be just a little extra help, when we want to feel good by doing good.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Kaitlyn Hunt's dilemma

Crazy, isn't it? Sexual predator laws are a good thing, but high school kids dating each other is not an example of child abuse. How did we Americans become so insane as to think otherwise?

And you know what else is insane? 'Men's rights' lunatics are commenting on this video clip, whining about being the real victims here, because no one would care if this weren't two women. Jesus they're embarrassing!

If they even bothered to watch the video, both Cenk and Ana spoke up about how boys have also faced this kind of situation, when a parent didn't like who their daughter was dating. How could they make it any plainer that this isn't about the sex of the accused?

Pope Francis: even atheists will be 'redeemed'

So, for Catholics, belief in God is optional, huh? (Not just, as Stephen Colbert notes, ridiculous.) Well, the Pope is supposed to be infallible, right?

Seriously, this is progress. Faith-based thinking is still a terrible way to distinguish reality from delusion and wishful thinking. And the Catholic Church is still very, very wrong in its teachings about birth control, abortion, and other issues, not to mention still entirely patriarchal and very medieval.

But this might encourage 'cultural Catholics' - similar to 'cultural Jews' - people who take part in the traditional trappings of Catholicism without actually believing in magic. (As it is, American Catholics overwhelmingly ignore their church whenever they disagree - by readily using birth control, for example.)

And this should make it a lot easier for atheists who were raised Catholic - easier when it comes to family issues, I mean. Their families shouldn't think they're doomed to Hell now, right? This should make a big difference for many people, don't you think?

So I really have to applaud Pope Francis for this. But Protestants won't be happy, I suspect. From PuffHo:
Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists. ...

Of course, not all Christians believe that those who don't believe will be redeemed, and the Pope's words may spark memories of the deep divisions from the Protestant reformation over the belief in redemption through grace versus redemption through works.

The Catholic Church has been very conservative, politically. And in recent years, fundamentalist Protestants have found common cause with the Catholic hierarchy, especially when it comes to social issues, despite their views about "the whore of Babylon."

But this pronouncement will probably not go over very well with right-wing Protestants, and that's another reason to praise it.

After all, Catholics and Protestants may have found common cause in political issues, particularly when it comes to attacking the separation of church and state in America, but you know they'd turn on each other as soon as they got rid of us atheists and liberals.

So I'm anxious to see how right-wing Protestants will react to this. I hope it will be entertaining. :)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Glenn Beck's new conspiracy theory

OK, I posted that video clip yesterday of Wolf Blitzer and the Oklahoma tornado survivor who happened to be an atheist. I really liked the way she handled herself, so of course Glenn Beck thinks it was a setup.

Glenn, your remarks here are peculiar, even for you. Some producer who "doesn't like Christians" set this up? Er, exactly how does the mere presence of an atheist indicate a plot by someone who "doesn't like Christians"?

Yeah, it doesn't have to be nefarious, though, doesn't it? You're just "fighting the forces of spiritual darkness." Oh, is that all? Heh, heh.

I might have called Wolf Blitzer a moron, but that was before Glenn Beck set the curve.

Buycott App

You've probably heard of the Buycott App, haven't you? In case you haven't, this was in Forbes:
In her keynote speech at last year’s annual Netroots Nation gathering, Darcy Burner pitched a seemingly simple idea to the thousands of bloggers and web developers in the audience. The former Microsoft programmer and congressional candidate proposed a smartphone app allowing shoppers to swipe barcodes to check whether conservative billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch were behind a product on the shelves.

Burner figured the average supermarket shopper had no idea that buying Brawny paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper or Dixie cups meant contributing cash to Koch Industries through its subsidiary Georgia-Pacific. Similarly, purchasing a pair of yoga pants containing Lycra or a Stainmaster carpet meant indirectly handing the Kochs your money (Koch Industries bought Invista, the world’s largest fiber and textiles company, in 2004 from DuPont). ...

She wasn’t aware that as she delivered her Netroots speech, a group of developers was hard at work on Buycott, an even more sophisticated version of the app she proposed. ...

You can scan the barcode on any product and the free app will trace its ownership all the way to its top corporate parent company, including conglomerates like Koch Industries.

Once you’ve scanned an item, Buycott will show you its corporate family tree on your phone screen. Scan a box of Splenda sweetener, for instance, and you’ll see its parent, McNeil Nutritionals, is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.

Even more impressively, you can join user-created campaigns to boycott business practices that violate your principles rather than single companies.

Here are some examples of those user-created campaigns.

Now, personally, I'd go to great lengths to avoid products connected with the Koch brothers,... but how do you know? Did you know enough to avoid buying Brawny paper towels or Dixie cups? I didn't.

But there's more to it than that, much more. Corporations - and the wealthy people who control them - have grabbed control of our political system, and that's only gotten worse since Citizens United. We need a way to fight back. We need a way to discourage corporations from politics.

So I don't really care what your own concern might be. After all, there might be corporate behavior I like which you don't. Or vice versa. But if enough people start using the Buycott App, or find other ways to vote with their grocery money, maybe corporations will start to worry about losing customers when they buy politicians.

Or maybe they'll just put more of their money in 501(c)4's, which don't have to disclose donors, I don't know. Certainly one of the worst things about rulings like Citizens United was how they help keep corruption a secret. Corporations don't have to tell their customers or even their shareholders which politicians they're buying, or why (likely, just to get lower taxes for the CEO).

But hey, it's a start, right? It won't be easy to take our country back, but we have to start somewhere.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Even in Oklahoma

Even in Oklahoma, Wolf Blitzer is a moron.

Notice the leading question? In the media, people just have to thank 'God' after a tragedy. I don't know if that's because of corporate instructions, or if these 'journalists' have decided by themselves that it's required.

But either way, they make sure to get plenty of pious quotes, don't they? Even if they have to pretty much tell people what to say?

And this young woman obviously knew what she was supposed to say. Well, this is Oklahoma. How could she not? But to her credit, she didn't go along with it.

It seemed clear that she would have let it slide if she could, but Blitzer was too much of a moron for that. And she was honest enough not to lie about it.

"I,... I,... I'm,... I'm actually an atheist." Yes, and you make us proud.

Blitzer, on the other hand, just embarrasses himself and us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Scandal #2 - the IRS

Just as the Benghazi scandal seems to be turning around to bite Republicans on the ass, they come up with a new reason to be outraged. The IRS has been targeting Tea Party groups!

And that's true,... sort of. After Citizens United, which really opened the floodgates for corporate money to buy politicians, there was a huge increase in applications at the IRS for 501(c)4 tax-exempt status. (At the same time, the IRS budget was cut, thanks to the relentless efforts of Republicans to drown America in a bathtub.)

Now, 501(c)4 organizations don't have to disclose their donors, which means that corporations - and individual billionaires - can influence elections secretly. Unfortunately, they're not supposed to be political groups. After Citizens United, they can spend money on politics, to some extent, but they're supposed to focus on "social welfare," not political campaigns.

At the IRS, faced with a drastically-increased workload, and fewer people to do the work, someone decided to concentrate on 501(c)4 applications that seemed political (reasonably enough, I'd think). They weren't targeting just right-wing groups, and certainly not just Republican groups (the Tea Party claims to be nonpartisan, you know), and there doesn't seem to be any malicious intent to it.

Now, true, the IRS would be a potent weapon to use against political opponents, and many presidents have attempted to do so. But that's exactly why there's a degree of separation between the White House and the IRS. The White House is not supposed to get directly involved in IRS investigations, and absent any evidence otherwise, it's not surprising that they weren't aware of what was going on. That's kind of the whole point about keeping politics away from the IRS!

Now, yes, this was probably wrong,... although, frankly, it makes sense to me. If you're worried about political groups pretending to be social welfare groups so they can illegally get tax-exempt status and maintain complete secrecy about who's funding them, it would seem to make sense to focus on... political groups. And the real scandal here is that 501(c)4 groups exist at all, and can anonymously influence political campaigns as they do.

But there are two things which make this whole 'scandal' completely batshit crazy. The first, as mentioned above, is that the IRS director while this was going on was a George W. Bush appointee! Yes, Barack Obama fired the acting director of the IRS, but this didn't happen under his watch. So are we really supposed to believe that a Republican political appointee conspired with the Obama White House to attack Republican groups?

And the second thing, which Stephen Colbert explains so well in the second video below, is that these organizations do not need IRS permission to operate as 501(c)4 groups! Tea Party groups are complaining about delays in getting IRS permission - note that none have been denied tax-exempt status - but they didn't need that approval, anyway!

I repeat, you don't have to get IRS permission to operate as a 501(c)4 group. You can apply to them, if you want, but it's not required. Furthermore, no conservative group was denied 501(c)4 status, either. There were long delays for some groups, and requests for more information, but that's because the IRS was trying to do its job with limited resources.

Anyway, here's your humorous take on this:

Scandal #1 - Benghazi

We have a couple of new 'scandals' here, and maybe the Republicans have just cried wolf too many times, but I've been struggling to find a reason to care.

Sure, four Americans died in Benghazi, and that's terrible. But more than 6,000 Americans have died in Iraq, and where are the hearings about that? Where's the outrage about the Bush Administration lies that got us to invade an innocent country?

Even in Benghazi, the real issue is whether or not we're protecting our diplomatic staff as well as we should. But that hasn't been the focus of Republican critics, maybe because they've been busy cutting spending on security, or maybe because we saw far more attacks - with almost three times as many Americans killed - during the Bush years.

So what's the latest? A journalist "quoted" government emails which he hadn't seen himself. Instead, Republican sources described what was in those emails,... and that so-called journalist believed them. As it turns out, they lied.

Keep in mind that this is just about the "talking points" supposedly used by the Obama Administration immediately after the attack, when they really didn't know a whole lot about it, not for sure. Well, why would you expect otherwise? And frankly, I'd be upset with our government if they didn't coordinate such things.

Lying would be different, of course - we had more than enough of that during the Bush Administration - but there's no indication that anyone lied. There was, no doubt, a lot of concern about covering their asses, with the CIA wanting to shift any blame to the State Department, and vice versa. But again, what would you expect?

But Republicans are desperate to attack the State Department, because the Secretary of State at the time was Hillary Clinton, who's the odds-on favorite to run for president in 2016. That's all this is about. And Republicans are quite willing to lie if that will help them politically. Well, we've see that over and over again, haven't we?

As Richard Eskow points out, Dan Rather lost his job for reporting a story that turned out to be untrue. He didn't know it was untrue, but Republicans demanded his head. And now, when the shoe is on the other foot? You know that no journalist will lose his job for this, because the phony story was aimed at Democrats.

He also points out that it was a Republican appointee from the Bush Administration who wrote those emails in the first place. Do you really think a "Dick Cheney appointee" is going to help Barack Obama cover up a scandal which might help the Republican Party? Really?

At any rate, there's absolutely no evidence of that. But if you need more about this, here's Stephen Colbert:

That's a lot funnier, at least, huh?

Space Oddity

Neat, isn't it? The location really makes a difference!

I like the song, but the background reminds me that he's in a tin can, depending on rather primitive technology just to stay breathing. Still, we've taken that small step from our home planet - indeed, we took that "small step" some time ago - and it's critically important that we keep going.

Space isn't just for music videos. :)

Monday, May 20, 2013

This week in batshit crazy

I really haven't posted much batshit crazy political insanity lately, have I? Sorry. Maybe this will fill the void.

The above video is from the Victoria Jackson show, so you know it's going to be crazy. (Did you know that Victoria Jackson had a show? I didn't. Who in the world would give her a show?)

Anyway, it doesn't disappoint, because her guest claims that Barack Obama is an atheist and a Muslim. Nice trick, huh?

The next video claims that Obama is a "full-bore Marxist." Yes, of course he is. That's why the stock market has been booming ever since he took office. We all know how Wall Street loves Marxists!

That's Larry Pratt, the president of Gun Owners of America - the group that thinks the NRA is too moderate!

And, right, Obama "stole the election," because it's impossible that Americans actually rejected this right-wing lunacy, isn't it? I suppose it was ACORN? Is that how the Democrats gained seats in the Senate and House of Representatives, too? Oh, that ACORN is everywhere, huh? Or nowhere.

But, let's see... We've got Obama as an atheist. We've got Obama as a Muslim. We've got Obama as a Marxist. What are we missing? Oh, yeah...

Barack Obama is sure setting a lot of 'firsts,' isn't he? Wow! He's our first gay, black, atheist, Muslim, Marxist president. America must be a lot more progressive than I thought! :)

Hunting morel mushrooms

Is it Monday already? Gee, what happened to the time? Sorry, guys, but I spent the weekend playing Arma 3. Maybe this will tide you over. :)

I love morel mushrooms, but hunting them is another thing I haven't done in years. Admittedly, I had a harder time finding them near Lincoln than in northeast Nebraska, where I grew up.

And I don't cook, or not much. But they were incredibly delicious the way my mother used to cook them. Dust the morels with flour (so the egg will stick), then dip them in beaten eggs (so the crackers will stick), then roll them in cracker crumbs and fry in a pan with a lot of oil (bacon grease?).

Oh, man, that's wonderful stuff! And some years, we'd find a ton of these mushrooms - and sometimes, other kinds of edible mushrooms, too.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Elizabeth Warren denounces GOP obstructionism

Nice job, don't you think? She tells it like it is. This is obstructionism by the Republican Party for no other reason than that Barack Obama is a Democrat.

The GOP is deliberately breaking America's democratic system of government. If they can't get elected to govern, they're going to make sure that no one can govern.

And Democrats have been too timid to denounce them for that - and certainly too timid to reform the Senate's ridiculous filibuster rules which let the minority party control Congress.

Well, Warren isn't timid, at least. Whether she can get something done is questionable, but she's certainly trying.

Why people should learn statistics

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fighting for common ground?

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Olympia Snowe Pt. 1
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I don't know about this. As Jon Stewart points out, Olympia Snowe didn't write this book until she'd retired from Congress. Furthermore, she remains a Republican. So how much of this is just an attempt to excuse herself from what has happened to our country?

Remember, in 2009, when Mitch McConnell told Congressional Republicans that they would stonewall Barack Obama, that they would give him no legislative successes, that they would make sure he was a one-term president by refusing to go along with anything, our economy was in free fall.

These Republicans had crashed our economy - the world economy, in fact - and the collapse looked to have no bottom. Businessmen were beginning to panic. Investors were panicking. It was already the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, with the potential to keep collapsing even further.

So what was these GOP leaders' number one concern? To make sure they did nothing to help matters. Indeed, to make sure they did everything they could to thwart Obama's attempts to halt the collapse and start the economy growing again. To give him no successes at all, no matter what.

At a time of huge peril for America and their fellow Americans, it was all about politics with them. They were terrified that Barack Obama would be another Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat who came into office and fixed the disasters left by his Republican predecessor, dooming their party for the next generation.

Did Olympia Snowe quit the Republican Party then? Did she speak out publicly against Mitch McConnell? Did she stand up for America, or just go along with this unpatriotic plan?

Snowe says "the wheels came off so soon in the (Obama) Administration and with Congress." Note the passive voice? What she should have said is that the Republican Party deliberately removed those wheels, for their own political gain, at a time of great peril for our country (the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, two ongoing wars, plus the 'war on  terror,' and record-breaking budget deficits).

Instead, she calls that "surprising," when, as Stewart points out, she shouldn't have been surprised by that at all. Heck, they had a meeting where they decided to deliberately remove those 'wheels.' So how could she claim to have been surprised by the fact that the wheels actually came off?

That's why I can't respect Olympia Snowe. Yeah, she writes a self-serving book after leaving Congress. Big deal! Everyone does that. But she didn't stand up for America when it counted. And she still hasn't left the GOP or put the blame where it clearly belongs.

There's another thing here. She claims that we're the problem, that we haven't been vocal enough in communicating our wishes to our Congressmen. Maybe. But it seems to me that we were vocal as hell when it came to universal background checks for gun purchases. And we had 90% of Americans on our side, too. (90% when asked about the specific issue; less than that - those still a large majority - if it was linked to Obama's name, thanks to partisan politics.)

But one lobbyist for gun manufacturers managed to derail all that! That's not our fault, but the fault of the system.

OK, it is our fault, in a way, because we made the mistake, years ago, of electing Republican presidents who appointed right-wing extremists to the Supreme Court. And those extremists made a horrendously bad decision in Citizens United.

One more moderate Democrat on the court would have given us the opposite decision. One more moderate Democrat on the court in 2000 would have let Florida recount the votes in the presidential election, rather than appointing George W. Bush, the worst president in U.S. history. One more moderate Democrat on the court would have made the difference in many important cases.

And yes, we elected those Republicans who let the NRA dictate policy. This is our fault, in a collective sense. But given the situation we've got now, the immense stranglehold money has on our political system, it's naive, if not disingenuous, to blame the rest of us for not speaking up enough.

It's true, of course, that we need to speak up. Indeed, that's pretty much the only avenue for change we've got. And we need to VOTE.  Democratic constituencies - progressives, young people, minorities - are notorious for being unreliable voters, especially in non-presidential elections. That's why we fill Congress with Republicans.

So yes, it is our fault, technically-speaking. But this is still a snow job from Snowe. She's trying to excuse her own party - and her own inaction - by shifting the blame to us. It would be bad enough if she apologized, now that her apology won't hurt her politically, but she won't even go that far.

I have no respect for this kind of thing.

PS. The second part of her interview is here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A GOP empathy problem

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Funny, don't you think? I especially like how Jessica Williams points out how this Republican remains dogmatically ignorant when it comes to other issues. "Mostly, you're still not susceptible to reality." No kidding!

But just because he's had some slight insight into immigration - and make no mistake, that is admirable, for all she's making fun of him - he's now called "traitor" and, um, "excrement" by his fellow conservatives.

Oh, well. To tell the truth, I can't tell if he's really that clueless or just a good sport - probably both, I suspect. But it is funny.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

To hell with the Men's Rights Movement

This is a follow-up to Steve Shives' "Five Stupid Things about the Men's Rights Movement," which I posted here a couple of weeks ago.

Now, that was part of his "Five Stupid Things" series, which has covered just about everything and everyone, including himself. I mean, the video wasn't at all unusual. He did one about atheists, too (and he is one).

But he's clearly pissed off today, and I understand it. Well, I said it before. As a man, I find the so-called men's rights movement horribly embarrassing. As far as I'm concerned, it's pretty much equivalent to the white supremacist movement, which also claims, often enough, to just be sticking up for white people against rampant discrimination.

And the whining about what pathetic victims we poor men are,... well, how can I not be embarrassed by that? Yeah, we suffer so much from domestic violence, don't we? And we're always being sexually assaulted by women. It's enough to make you cry like a... man, isn't it?

Anyway, I agree with Shives about all of this, including the part about radical feminists, who are clearly on the fringe of the feminist movement, while the men's rights movement is misogynistic at its core. Similarly, there have been, and still are, radicals in the black civil rights movement, but that doesn't mean the civil rights movement in general is equivalent to white supremacist groups.

Yes, I even understand the anger of radicals in the feminist and civil rights movements, though I don't usually agree with their tactics. But I don't understand the men's rights movement or white supremacists at all.

Honestly, they're just embarrassing. (And it's especially embarrassing to find, not just patriarchal religious fundamentalists, but even atheists arguing that kind of crap.)

The Falkland Islands wolf

Have you ever heard of the Falkland Islands wolf? (The image above is from a 1773 engraving.) I hadn't.

Apparently, it was a large predator discovered on the Falkland Islands when explorers first landed there, but the Falklands are so isolated they had no other native land mammal - not even rodents. So it was quite the mystery.

These canines ate seabirds, and they were completely unafraid of people. So, of course, they didn't last long. It's really a fascinating, if rather depressing, story.

From New Scientist:
With no natural enemies, the wolves were unafraid of humans. The crew of the Welfare easily captured one and kept it aboard for months until it jumped overboard in the South Seas, reportedly startled by the firing of a cannon. ...

Because of their fearlessness the wolves were regarded as vermin. In The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin wrote: "They have been observed to enter a tent, and actually pull some meat from beneath the head of a sleeping seaman. The Gauchos also have frequently in the evening killed them, by holding out a piece of meat in one hand, and in the other a knife ready to stick them."

Darwin seemed to be the only person who understood the implications of this bloody relationship. "Within a very few years after these islands shall have become regularly settled, in all probability this fox will be classed with the dodo," he wrote. He himself contributed to the wolf's decline by bringing four specimens back to England.

During this era of exploration, the discovery of a new canid species was not in itself remarkable. They had turned up almost everywhere else, from the Arctic to the Sahara. But the Falklands were different. Isolated and remote, they belonged to ocean-going species such as penguins, albatrosses and seals. Until colonists arrived there were no land mammals whatsoever – except for the wolf.

The anomaly was not lost on Darwin. "As far as I am aware," he wrote, "there is no other instance in any part of the world, of so small a mass of broken land, distant from a continent, possessing so large a quadruped peculiar to itself."

According to this article, modern DNA testing indicates that the Falkland Islands wolf was closely related to an extinct fox-like animal which lived in South America. At the height of the last ice age, about 16,000 years ago, the oceans were lower, so there was just a narrow strait between the mainland and the Falkland Islands.

Apparently, most biologists think the ancestors of this wolf walked across when the strait was frozen over. Twenty kilometers of ice wouldn't be much for them, but would be a pretty effective barrier for rodents and other small animals. And there would be plenty of seabirds for food, even then.

This seems to be a pretty good explanation of the puzzle, if not guaranteed. But we can't expect guarantees in cases like this, can we? I still think it's fascinating.

But it's kind of depressing, too, that a harmless animal, completely unafraid of human beings, would be slaughtered like this. I was going to say "for no reason," and yeah, those sailors were killing them just for sport. But sheep ranchers wouldn't like to have any predators around, and I suppose their fur had some value.

But it is depressing that they'd slaughter all of them, completely unconcerned about destroying such a unique and interesting species.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Racist study targets Latinos

I just had to post this, given that, last week, I noted a Pew report showing that Hispanic high school graduates were attending college at a higher rate than white kids. Funny, huh?

But this kind of thing really isn't so funny. These racist IQ-based attacks - which aren't actually valid, not according to the experts - are nothing less than eugenics. But right-wingers like them, because if everything's genetic, then there's no reason to educate disadvantaged populations. Obviously, it's just God's will, right?

And, of course, the overwhelming majority of right-wingers are white, and who doesn't like to think they're just naturally smarter than everyone else?

But there's more to it than that, since Jason Richwine was the co-author of a recent, and very controversial, immigration report by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. That report wasn't about IQ, but was very much anti-immigrant, so this discovery of Richwine's dissertation is certainly pertinent.

Here's ThinkProgress:
The Heritage Foundation’s analysis of the economic consequences of immigration reform uses absurd methodology to come to conclusions entirely at odds with the organization’s own findings in 2006. Perhaps one explanation for this incoherence is that one of the paper’s coauthors, a new hire, opposes Hispanic immigration because he thinks Latinos are stupid.

Jason Richwine joined Heritage in 2010, after finishing his PhD in Public Policy in 2009. The Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews dug up Richwine’s dissertation, which was titled “IQ And Immigration.” In it, Richwine argues that Hispanics have and will always have lower IQs than whites. Matthews summarizes:
Richwine’s dissertation asserts that there are deep-set differentials in intelligence between races. While it’s clear he thinks it is partly due to genetics — ‘the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in IQ’ — he argues the most important thing is that the differences in group IQs are persistent, for whatever reason. He writes, ‘No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.

... The study of race and intelligence has long been a problematic area for conservatives. In 1994, conservative pundit Charles Murray wrote a book called The Bell Curve, whose argument that blacks are on-average less intelligent than whites kicked off a critical firestorm. Conservatives since have generally defended Murray (who currently works at the American Enterprise Institute), occasionally citing him to get to some unsavory conclusions. Recently published research does not support the idea that there is an identifiably racial IQ gap, and the difficulty in defining “race” as a biological term makes it hard to pin down an appropriate methodology for studying the question in the first place.

Richwine is not the only author of the Heritage report with questionable views. Robert Rector, the paper’s lead author, was the source for then candidate Romney’s racially charged attack on President Obama’s welfare policy, and has spent his career dismissing the idea that poverty hurts people. On Tuesday, Rector admitted he hadn’t read the whole immigration bill before coauthoring his analysis of it with Richwine.

I just want to make a couple of points here. First, the whole issue of race-based IQ differences is nonsensical for any number of different reasons, starting with the fact that we don't really know what we're measuring.

Or how about the fact that the average IQ of any group is meaningless, since there are always variations within the group? (Your own 'race' may average anything at all, but what does that have to do with you?)

But the stupidest thing about it might be that any genetic effect on intelligence is already part of the equation. You can't do anything about that, even if you are limited genetically. We've already got what we've got (and that applies even when it comes to immigrants, since millions are already here).

On the other hand, the genetic contribution to your intelligence is, at best, only a contributing factor, so that doesn't indicate what intelligence you'll actually have. We already know of many environmental factors which affect intelligence quite strongly, both positively and negatively. So if we were actually concerned about having smart citizens, we could do something about it.

But that would take spending on social programs - early childhood education, nutrition, etc. - which these same right-wingers adamantly oppose. Therefore, it's abundantly clear that they're not actually concerned about raising our average IQ,... so, what's the whole point about these race-based IQ claims? They don't seem to make any sense at all, unless they're just being racist for racism's sake.

Are you concerned about IQ or not? If you are, let's do something about it. There's plenty we could do, though it will cost tax dollars (and there's nothing we can do about our genetic potential for intelligence, whether it's race-based or not). But are these right-wingers going to put their money where their mouth is? Let's see them put up or shut up.

The second thing I want to point out is that this is apparently the conservative response to hugely losing the Hispanic vote in last November's election. Remember the soul-searching Republicans were going to do? They just couldn't figure out why they were losing Latinos like this.

They knew why they'd already lost African Americans. Obviously, that's a result of their notorious 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists. Well, Republicans, guess what? You've still got a party filled with white racists, and they don't like Hispanics any better than they like blacks.

And when your think tanks hire racists to create studies attacking immigration,... do you actually think that Hispanics are too dumb to notice? I think they're going to prove you wrong about that. (Maybe you should have noticed their rising college-enrollment numbers before trying something like this.)

Guns are not toys

Crazy, isn't it? It's hardly even news anymore when a child kills himself or someone else with a gun. (Last week, it was a two-year-old who shot himself with a pistol he was playing with.)

And now they're marketing guns as toys? Pink guns? Real guns? It's just insane. Guns aren't toys.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The big tent of secularism

I've noted that, even in the atheist community, there's a backlash against women's rights. Atheism Plus gets a lot of criticism, too, and message boards are flooded with angry objections from the so-called 'men's rights movement.'

In a way, that's not surprising (though it's certainly depressing), because we atheists don't necessarily have anything in common but our disbelief in gods. We can be of any political persuasion, accept any economic theories, and even believe in woo, provided it's not religious. The definition of "atheist" is rather narrow, after all.

We're not even all atheists for the same reason. I'm an atheist because I'm a skeptic. But you don't have to be a skeptic to be an atheist, and some skeptics - not particularly good ones, I'd say - are theists. (Many more skeptics, atheists themselves, just think that it hurts the skepticism movement to be associated with atheism.)

Given all this, I'll note that there's been considerable criticism of the Women in Secularism conference next week. Again, I'm disappointed by that, but I'm no longer surprised.

However, I really like this column by Jim Underdown of the Center for Inquiry:
Should women be motivated to strengthen their specific secular position in our society? Hell yes! Or do what? Sit back and take it for another 1000 years? I wouldn’t…

Which brings me to a general response…

ANY large group who feels like they have a particular beef with religion (or pseudoscience, or other wacky beliefs) has a legitimate interest in addressing that problem as a group.

At CFI-L.A., we’ve hosted Black Skeptics, Spanish-speaking atheists, gay and lesbian humanists, and others who’ve had specific troubles in our society based on who they fundamentally are. And I say, welcome to our tent.

Ideally, our whole movement is a coalition of individuals and groups who all have an interest in promoting a secular and reason-based society. And if some of those groups want to get together to fine-tune their methods for dealing with and changing this uber-religious society we live in, more power to them.

How can we help?

We're not all going to agree on anything. So what? Even theists should have good reason to support the separation of church and state - and many do. So I'll eagerly work with them on the issues where we do agree.

Atheism Plus isn't atheism. It's atheism PLUS. You can disagree without getting all bent out of shape over it. In general, atheists do support women's rights (maybe because religions are so often in opposition?). In general, we tend to be socially progressive and economically liberal, but that certainly doesn't describe all of us.

But more to the point, different subgroups within atheism have their own particular concerns. We're a varied people, and we don't all face the same issues.

Among African Americans, black churches historically took a strong leadership role in civil rights issues, simply because Christian pastors were pretty much the only black leaders who were allowed to exist by white racists, and churches were pretty much the only place black people were allowed to gather in groups.

This history makes things more difficult for African American atheists. It's certainly not an issue I face, but it is an issue for some atheists.

As Underdown notes, women "have been getting screwed by religion since well before whatever fiction writer dreamt up the story of The Fall in Genesis." Yes. And our whole culture has been patriarchal, since Christianity was - and still is, to a large extent - patriarchal. Even those of us who are atheists grew up in that culture, and we tend to think of it as normal.

That's a particular issue for women, and the misogyny of many male atheists shows that it's an important one. Furthermore, focusing on women's issues in a conference like this doesn't imply that men aren't important or that we don't face problems in a religion-dominated world, too.

It isn't dismissing men to focus on women's issues sometimes, just like it isn't dismissing white people to focus on African American concerns sometimes, or dismissing straight people by focusing on LGBT issues sometimes. That's the whole point of a 'big tent' approach.

Underdown is right. We all have the same basic interests as atheists, as secularists. We shouldn't be angry when different groups of people focus on concerns specific to them. Instead, we should ask how we can help.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A bold move on student loans

I love this woman! Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been asking the tough questions, thanks to her seat on the Senate Banking Committee (and again, I have to thank the Democratic Party for giving her that opportunity, despite her lack of seniority), and that's been wonderful!

But now? Her first bill proposes a really bold move on student loans - but one which is hard to oppose, don't you think? Why give the big banks such a benefit - pretty much a guaranteed profit - when we won't do the same for American students?

From TPM:
On July 1, without action from Congress, Stafford loan interest rates for some 7 million students are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

Warren’s first-ever standalone legislation, introduced Wednesday, would prevent that hike and take the additional step of cutting the rate to 0.75 percent — the same rate that big banks are allowed to borrow at — for one year until Congress can achieve a more permanent fix.

“Our students are being crushed by debt,” Warren told TPM in an interview late Wednesday. ...

“The taxpayers are investing in the big banks,” Warren said. “I think the taxpayers should invest in our students. And so I just want the same great deal for both of them.” ...

A study this year by the Congressional Budget Office found that for every dollar the federal government offers in student loans, it makes 36 cents in profit. ...

In her floor speech unveiling the legislation Wednesday, she said that if no action is taken, “the federal government is going to charge students interest rates that are nine times higher than the rates for the biggest banks — the same banks that destroyed millions of jobs and nearly broke this economy. That isn’t right.”

She's correct. That isn't right. And it's high time we invested in our country again, invested in our children again, instead of these continual giveaways to the super-rich.

Since we're speaking of education, here's something else from TPM which I think is very interesting:
Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college at a higher rate than whites for the first time ever, according to U.S. Census data analyzed by the Pew Research Center.

Sixty-nine percent of Hispanic graduates enrolled in college in fall of 2012, compared to 67 percent of white high school graduates who did so.

Is that going to blow some right-wing minds? We tend to hear Republicans complaining about Hispanics swelling welfare rolls or burdening social services, not that they're attending college at a higher rate than white kids.

Now, true, this study also notes that "Hispanic students are less likely to enroll in a four-year college, less likely to attend college full-time and less likely to finish their degree." And they might be less likely to graduate from high school in the first place. But Hispanics are not just migrant farm-workers, people! They're enrolling in college at a higher rate than whites!

That's impressive, given our history of bigotry and the lower average income of Hispanic Americans. Note that, while I'm not implying that "Hispanic" is equivalent to "immigrant," not at all, there are many first- and second-generation Americans in the Hispanic community, so this is doubly impressive.

Of course, I'd have to add that it's shameful to see the college rate of Americans of any ethnicity at less than 70% - this is the 21st Century, people! - but maybe Elizabeth Warren's bill will help with that. Let's not forget that China has more people in college than we have people.

Hmm,... I wonder how the bigots will react to this, if it gets much publicity. Well, I do enjoy seeing right-wing heads explode. After all, that's harmless entertainment. It's not as though they use their heads for anything.

Blasphemy riots: 'Offend me and I'll kill you'

I like how Cenk Uygur puts it:

"Think about how ridiculous this is. 'I'm so offended that anyone would say anything against my beliefs, that I'm going to do rioting that kills 20 people.' ... Well, you know what I'm offended by? The giant fires I'm looking at! The twenty people who were killed! Because you didn't want to have your feelings hurt!

"What are you so scared of? If you're so positive that your god is correct and that your religion is correct, why would you hide, why would you run, from a little debate? So somebody says you're wrong, and you say you're right,... you've got God on your side! What are you afraid of?

"You know that God is all-powerful, right? According to your texts, whether you're a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim. All-powerful. He's got heaven and hell. What are you going to do with your stupid riot that heaven and hell can't accomplish?

"But no, no, no, no, no, they're so insecure that they have to say, 'no, no, no, if anybody disagrees with us, violence,... and we're going to put them in jail.' In other words, you don't believe. You don't believe at all. If you believed, you'd have such great peace of mind. And you wouldn't have to worry what anybody said about Islam. ...

But the reality is that you don't believe. You don't think you're going to go to heaven, you don't think that guy's going to go to hell, and that's why you're so insecure. So that's why if anybody even whispers of saying something against Islam, or your interpretation of Islam, 'that's it, I'm rioting! Who do I murder? Who do I kill?'

Yeah, way to stand up for your religion. Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. No, that's the exact opposite of sense. It makes your religion look terrible, it makes you look ridiculous, it makes you look weak,... and not very bright."

Amen, brother!

As an atheist, here's how I look at it:

I'm an atheist. Of course I see it like that! But why do you see it like that, too? If you're supposed to believe in that afterlife you claim exists, and that god you claim exists, then why would you threaten, why would you kill, why would you worry about nonbelievers at all?

Is your god so weak, so ineffective, that he can't punish us himself, if that's really what he wants to do? Aren't we supposedly going to be punished for eternity after we die? So why does your god need you to punish us now?

Furthermore, maybe you'll succeed in converting nonbelievers. Maybe your argument will finally make sense and we'll see the light. But that won't happen if we're dead, will it? So you've just denied your god another convert. How will he like that?

Cenk Uygur is right. You don't actually believe what you claim to believe. In fact, you know it's not true, don't you? But you desperately want to believe it, so you think if you can only silence everybody else, then maybe you'll finally succeed in believing it, yourself.

But that's not how it works. You'll still have those doubts, even if you succeed in killing everyone on Earth. You're the problem, not me.

Abstinence-only sex education teaches rape victims they're worthless, dirty, filthy

Remember Elizabeth Smart?  Kidnapped from her home when she was just 14, forced into a polygamous 'marriage,' chained up and raped for nine months?

It was very good news when she was discovered and returned to her family, and, thankfully, it didn't take ten years or more, as it did with those three young women recently rescued in Cleveland (originally 14, 16, and 20 when they were abducted).

But there's better news than that, since Elizabeth Smart is really making something of her life, as she runs a foundation which helps educate children about sex crimes. And she knows what she's talking about, wouldn't you say?

From Think Progress:
She explained that some human trafficking victims don’t run away because they feel worthless after being raped, particularly if they have been raised in conservative cultures that push abstinence-only education and emphasize sexual purity:
Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.”

Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

Now in her mid-twenties, Smart runs a foundation to help educate children about sexual crimes. She now believes that children should grow up learning that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.”

Social psychologists and sexual abuse counselors agree that comprehensive sex education can help prevent sexual crimes. Teaching children about their bodies gives them the tools to describe acts of abuse without feeling as embarrassed or uncomfortable, and it also helps elevate their self-confidence and sense of bodily autonomy. A shame-based approach to genitalia and sexuality, on the other hand, sends kids the message that they can’t discuss or ask questions about any of those issues.

There are a couple of things I want to add about this. The first is that many religious groups and right-wing political figures are still pushing a shame-based approach to sex education. They're still pushing abstinence-only sex education, despite abundant evidence that it doesn't work. Many even refuse to let their daughters get a vaccination which can protect them from cancer, just because sex is all about shame with them.

Well, here's one more reason to oppose that primitive, superstitious approach. If, the gods forbid, your daughter gets abducted, she needs to know that being a victim doesn't make her worthless. It's the rapist who's worthless, not the victim. It's the rapist who should feel intense shame, not the victim. Your daughters need to know that.

And they need to know that consensual sex isn't shameful to either party. It might not be the smart thing to do, depending on the circumstances, but it's not dirty, it's not filthy, it's not shameful. Teaching kids to be smart will be a whole lot more effective than teaching them to hate themselves.

But the other reason I wanted to post this is because it's good news, don't you think? Elizabeth Smart hasn't forgotten her ordeal, but she seems to be a real survivor, doesn't she? She's making something of her life. She can be very proud of that.

I read these news stories, and I'm always happy when abducted women are recovered alive,... but I can't actually be happy when I think of how they must have suffered. And I know that experiences like that don't just go away. Even Elizabeth Smart is famous for having been a victim. How would that make you feel?

But what does make me happy is to see her rise above that. She's using her personal experience, tragic as it was, to make the world a better place. She's 25 now, she's been to college, she got married, and she's running the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to help others.

That is good news, don't you think?

The big Benghazi on Bullshit Mountain

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You know, it's not just the 54 attacks during the Bush Administration which didn't get this kind of attention from Fox 'News,' but also the Iraq War, which killed a thousand times - more like 2,000 times - more Americans for no reason but Bush's political advantage. (Remember "Mission Accomplished"?)

Of course, as Jon Stewart demonstrates, everything gets this kind of outrage on Fox if it's to President Obama's disadvantage - or if they can make it to his disadvantage, at least. This is about politics and it's about money, nothing more.

And damn straight this is important! Any time our people are killed, it's important, and whenever we can't protect our diplomatic personnel, we need to look into it, so we can fix any problems. But, of course, when it comes to terrorism, some attacks are going to succeed. We're simply not going to be able to stop them all.

Furthermore, that's not what this is about. This is about political advantage, and this is about making money, through feigned outrage at Fox and other Republican propaganda mills. It's just a convenient excuse for them, and if it wasn't this, it would be something else.

How cynical can you get, to make money and political hay over a national tragedy like this? And they've got nothing, nothing but "if" this fantasy of theirs actually happened. Given their track record of hysterical imaginings before, I'm going to need pretty good evidence before I even consider it as a possibility this time.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

North Carolina Republicans oppose... counting

From a blog at Scientific American:
North Carolina? You remember: the state against science regarding sea level rise? The state with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources head who doubts climate change science and believes oil is a renewable resource? The state that tried to appoint a head of early childhood education who believed the Fukushima earthquake might have been caused by ultrasonic waves from North Korea? That North Carolina?

Folks, that’s nothing. We have a new record. ...

The scientific method the Republican-run legislature is against now is … counting. Yep — in its desperate attempts to get rid of North Carolina’s renewable energy program, the legislature has given up the radical, liberal, lamestream, obviously subjective “science” of, um, actually counting votes. You see, when the votes were actually counted, the bill that would have removed the renewables program (and said that wind, among other things, was not renewable) died in the state house, failing to emerge from committee by an 18-13 vote.

Okay, hmm … you’re Republican legislator Mike Hager, you hate the renewables program, and your bill has just been defeated by an indisputable margin of five votes. What to do … what to do? Easy. You reintroduce the bill. And when it next comes up in committee, this time in the state senate? You have a voice vote — and have your finance committee chair, Republican Bill Rabon, refuse to count the actual votes. In a voice vote so close that both sides claim they would have won if the votes had been counted, Rabon declares that the bill has passed and runs off.

No, I wish I were, but I am not making this up. We have given up counting votes in North Carolina. The Reign of Error rules supreme here.

Crazy, isn't it? And as in many states, the Republicans have gerrymandered their own districts, so they're almost impossible to defeat. That's why they still control the House of Representatives, too, despite receiving more than a million fewer votes in November than Democratic candidates.