02. February 2019 · Comments Off on The Doomsday Clock And The MAGA Delusion · Categories: Uncategorized

Recently, a friend told me that things will get better… “They’re going to be rough for a while…” he said, but in the long run things will be better. I knew he was referring to the path that he thinks Trump has put us on… something I call the MAGA delusion. I don’t know what hard evidence he has to make this assessment, Honestly, I think he’s just hoping. His statement was so broad that there wasn’t really anything to grab, so I just nodded my head. It’s always good to hope. I could have asked for more detail on what he meant but I knew he would have picked from an endless list of stories in the expanding folklore of political rhetoric and I’m tired of chasing these stories down to the red herrings, misinterpretations and false claims that they so often prove to be.

In the meantime, back in Chicago, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists just pushed the Doomsday Clock to two minutes before midnight for the first time since 1953. For those who don’t know, the Doomsday Clock is a symbol of scientific concern about the future of humanity. The closer the minute hand gets to midnight, the closer they think we are to our own demise as a species.

Of course, this clock is an abstract of collective opinion. An intentional consensus on risk and repercussion. So take it for what it is.

Now my friend has repeatedly stated that science is “just another religion” which of course makes it easy for him to marginalize, or even dismiss scientific concerns.

This is a fundamental difference between us. While he insists that scientists make claims about the truth, which I agree is a religious practice, I understand science to be a practice of approximation. So when a scientific theory is disrupted by new evidence, my friend qualifies that as a discredit… a case where the scientists claiming the truth were proven wrong, so why would we trust anything else they have to say? But from my perspective, viewing scientific theory as approximation, a disrupted theory is perfectly normal. It just means science is improving its approximation based on new discoveries, a sign that science it’s is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.

So for me, navigating across an ocean of emotional rants, half-baked conclusions, ingrained prejudices, insults and rhetoric the collective voice of scientific concern is the closest thing we to a North Star. I guess that’s why I’m more concerned about Trump’s idiotic stunts with nuclear powers around the world and his spitefully destructive policies on the environment (two things which the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists cite as the major reasons for the most critical alarm they’ve issued in over 60 years) than I am about… immigration.

I just wish more of the people I share this planet with were better educated.

02. February 2019 · Comments Off on The Bad Call · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags:

Yes, I agree that the Rams defender, Nickell Robey-Coleman’s action prevented the intended Saints receiver, Tommylee Lewis, from catching the ball during the Saint’s last possession of the game. Technically, that IS pass interference. But I can also see that it wasn’t intentional. (I can already hear the ammo-clips being loaded) But seriously, it was a long pass, both players could see what was happening. Anyone who has ever played football knows that trajectories can be estimated in-flight. Bree’s threw a ball that was going to hit Lewis just a few yards short of the end zone and it was vital for Robey-Coleman to stop that run short. Being so close to the side-line the best option is to knock him over the side line which means he had to get there fast. Unfortunately, he miscalculated the timing and he hit the receiver BEFORE the ball got there. A more experienced defender would have noticed the ball wasn’t there yet and would probably have made an effort to play the ball instead.

I used to referee soccer games and I remember how intentions make a difference. Soccer and football, two sports that share common roots, are rough games and calling every infraction whether intended or not is an effort to bubble-wrap the players and it often interrupts the flow of the game. Still, if I was officiating the NFC championship game, I would have called pass interference anyway because it was such a critical play, but I would have chalked it up to sub-par defending not malicious intention.

So should the Saints be in the Super Bowl instead? Well, the teams were tied in sudden-death overtime and there was enough on the clock for the Saints to at least make a field goal so, I’d say the chances would be good, but it’s no guarantee. Anything can happen and as the Bears know too well, a critical field goal CAN be missed. So, do the Rams NOT deserve to be in the Super Bowl? Look, that call was a hard break for the Saints but the Rams DID finish the regular season with the best record overall… even better than the Saints by 8 points. Just because they caught a lucky break doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be in the Super Bowl.

I still remember when Argentina won the World Cup after eliminating England in the semi-finals when Deigo Maradona punched the ball in for a goal with his hand. The videos and photos show this infraction clearly and yet the hand ball wasn’t called. Maradona even admitted to it, calling the incident the “Hand of God”. And yet Argentina was allowed to continue toward the title while England was expected to pack up and go home. And this was a game between nations in a tournament that makes the Super Bowl look like a local tee-ball game. Sometimes, you just gotta roll with the punches.

11. March 2018 · Comments Off on Strip and Insert (Letter to Representative) · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

In this new environment of “fake news” and partisan planets of “reality” the value of expressing my concerns to the general public seems somewhat diminished. So, I decided I’m going to start expressing them to my representatives. This letter went out to the 11th Congressional District Representative Mark DeSaulnier and to my two Senators, Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris. 


Dear Mr. DeSaulnier ,

I just learned about a congressional procedure that’s been called “strip and insert”, where a bill that is focused on one issue is passed through one or more points of approval, such as a vote in the House or Senate and then the issue of focus is stripped out and replaced with an entirely different issue without changing the approval status of the bill. In the Indiana Assembly this is happening to HR1214, which was designed to allow for the sale and possession of CBD oil for medicinal use and having been approved by both chambers the references to CBD oil is being “stripped” out while new references to guns are being inserted.

The excuse lawmakers have is that another bill, SB52 is already well on it’s way to legalizing the sale and possession of CBD oil, making HR1214 a redundant effort. The problem that concerns me is that once HR1214, was determined to be unnecessary to the cause of legalizing CBD oil, it wasn’t destroyed. Instead, the bill in it’s current state of approval was kept around so that other lawmakers can pick it up and make it about something else, such as allowing the sale and possession of guns.

I’m not so concerned about CBD oil or guns in Indiana… HB1214 is just an example. My concern is that lawmakers are allowed to use this process to bypass due-process by using a bill that was already approved for something else, thereby allowing them to effectively pass laws without representation.

Please consider a new law that will prohibit this decidedly undemocratic practice. I believe the American people are asking for more honest and upfront representation and to that end there seems little choice but to stop these games.
Thank you,

Nigel Deans
Concord, CA.


I first learned about Indiana’s HR1214 through this article by Bob Segall for WTHR.

29. December 2015 · Comments Off on Can “Joe the Plumber” be any Dumber? · Categories: Uncategorized

Ever since I can remember there has always been a strong anti-socialist sentiment amongst certain Americans, especially those of conservative sway but from what I can tell most of that sentiment is based on political fallacy rather than a critical understanding of what socialism actually is.

Samuel Wurzelbacher (Joe the Plumber) provided a perfect example of this misled sentiment when he said that Obama’s tax plan “sounds like socialism” and the point of the fallacy itself became evident when Govenor Palin succesfully got a rise out of the conservative base by quoting the nescient plumber. So what makes Sam, or Joe, or whatever his name is (I’ll just call him Joe) think that Obama’s tax plan sounds like socialism and why do I think he’s wrong?

Well, if Joe is anything like the “anti-socialist” conservatives that I’ve had conversations with, he thinks that anytime the government takes money from someone who earned it and and gives it to someone else who hasn’t earned it, that’s socialism. The reason why I think that’s wrong is because every definition I’ve seen, and there are many variations, all base socialism on the public ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods and Obama’s tax plan isn’t calling for the public ownership of anything. All Obama is suggesting is that the government starts getting more of its revenue from a different bracket. That’s not socialism, that’s just taxes.

If Joe the Plumber wants to talk about socialism he needs to find an example of where the government actually controls production or distribution of goods such as the Pentagon, a tax-funded agency that controls the distribution of defense-related products… that’s socialism. Now I realize that the so-called anti-socialist conservatives are liable to take offense to such a claim, but that’s another example of the fallacy, where despite certain features of socialism being strongly supported by conservatives, the word “socialism” itself is simultaneously promoted by conservative rhetoric as a derogatory term, frequently used to describe liberal opponents. This leads many people to the false conclusion that the very socialist features that conservatives actually support can’t possibly be socialist for the simple reason that conservatives hate socialism. It amazes me how that social conditioning actually works.

So what DO we call it when the government takes money from someone who earned it and gives it to someone who didn’t? Can we call it wealth redistribution? Well, first let’s understand that tax plans are only concerned with collecting money, not dishing it out, so there IS no “giving it to someone who hasn’t earned it”, for that you need to look at welfare programs which is something completely different and although you can certainly make a case by connecting tax plans and welfare programs, the accusations of wealth redistribution being aimed at Obama is about his tax plan specifically.

So then, can we call it wealth redistribution when the government takes a greater percentage of earned money from one person than they do from another? Well, I think even that would depend on whether or not wealth is actually affected. As Alan Greenspan pointed out when he said wealth, not income is the true measure of purchasing power, those two quanties are not the same thing and since Joe was talking about Obama’s “income” tax plan the focus is on something that affects income directly, while its effect on wealth is dependant on other factors. For instance, a government could take a greater percentage of the money that would have gone into Joe’s profit margin while taking a smaller percentage of Mike’s paycheck. If Mike puts the extra money in his savings account then wealth is affected, but if he realizes that the extra money could be spent on fixing his bathroom sink that money could wind up back in Joe’s profit margin anyway and wealth hasn’t been redistributed after all.

So then, if Obama’s tax plan by itself isn’t socialism and if his tax plan by itself isn’t really giving money out to people who haven’t earned it and his tax plan by itself would have no direct effect on wealth distribution, then what is left for Joe to complain about? Actually, Joe’s complaint was much more honest and direct when he was actually talking to Obama… He asked why he should have to pay more taxes just because he makes more money, especially when he worked so hard to get to that point.” It became obvious that Joe didn’t like Obama’s answer when he later commented to the media that it sounded like socialism. I’m not sure to what degree he actually understood Obama’s answer, because it was essentially a bubble-up economic theory which uses the same fundamental free-market mechanics as Reagan’s trickle-down theory and yet he’s calling it socialism.

Seriously, can Joe the Plumber be any dumber?

07. February 2005 · Comments Off on Elections in Iraq · Categories: Politics, Uncategorized · Tags: ,

So the elections in Iraq went well… or at least it has that appearance. That’s nice, at least the Bush people have something to cheer about… Well, let’s be honest; isn’t it more about jeering than cheering? In the rhetorical battle between the conservative right and the liberal left, the Iraqi elections finally presents a chance for the pro-Bush conservatives to shove a victory in the faces of their opponents (I guess)… But what about the Iraqi people? Is there a real victory for them?

There are lots of arguments to suggest that the elections are a farce or even illegal under the international law but I’m going to put all that aside and assume for the sake of argument that the Iraqi elections are a real and valid expression of democracy.

I still have to ask the question… Does the election, however pretty it may look, really mean that the Iraqi people are better off? And how are we even qualified to know the answer? American people in general hardly know anything about the Iraqi people. We only think we’re experts because of our mainstream media reports about our war in that country. Before we invaded Iraq in 1991, most American high school students couldn’t even locate Iraq on the map. Iraq was like Tajikistan, Albania, Sierra Leone, Burma and many other countries suffering from tyranny that we Americans in general don’t give a rat’s ass about. But when we invade a country, all of a sudden we become experts.

What we seem not to notice is that out of the mainstream coverage of Iraq, surprisingly few reports are honestly focused on the realities of the Iraqi people. Most accounts of the conditions in Iraq are brief supporting arguments for or against our actions in that country. In general, the stories we hear aren’t really about the Iraqi people, they are about us. That is what we are interested in… ourselves. So it just seems a bit presumptuous for us to say the Iraqis are better off now, perhaps we should finish the sentence and explain what we are really trying to say… “The Iraqi’s are better off now thanks to us and our fabulous president.”

The point I am making is that we cannot know about the true condition of the Iraqi people, who’s culture is so different than our own, if most of our perceptions are based on our military actions there and the battle between factions of our own politics. How can we even compare the condition of their lives now to the condition of their lives back when we weren’t even paying attention?

Also, it maybe worth noting that elections don’t say a whole lot on the surface anyway. Lot’s of countries have elections that are nothing more than the cosmetics that make tyrannies look like democracies. Freedom House rates The Sudan, Cuba, Pakistan, North Korea and many more countries as “Not Free” and yet all of them hold elections. We of all people should know about the long distance between holding elections and securing a good government… In a nation that proclaims itself to be the most democratic nation on earth, the tenant of votership (at least among the minority of Americans that feel voting is even worth their time) seems to be “to choose the lesser of two evils”. Ultimatley, we don’t even pick our leaders, we choose between candidates that essentially, the government choose for us and even then, our votes are not direct, the electoral college sits in the way of that and even then, once a president is elected, he chooses the rest of the cabinet members without any further input from the voters and of course there is always the question of who the “elected” government is really working for, the people that provided the votes or the special interest groups that provided the money? This maybe hard to avoid in the third most populous nation in the world but the point is simple… The holding of elections does not automatically equate to freedom or even a real democracy.

I agree, it’s nice to think that we have improved the lives of the Iraqi people, but I think all we can say, in all honesty, is that we changed things for them… whether it’s for better or worse cannot be proven by the existence of an election… such proof can only come from the real changes in Iraqi life that comes from the government that comes from the election, not to mention the costs of these changes, such as the inevitable and violent reaction to a US-built democracy in an Islamic region of the world.

27. December 2004 · Comments Off on Does Conservative Policy Induce Abortions? · Categories: Uncategorized

The abortion issue is something I usually stay away from, probably because I am pro-choice which means the law is currently on my side, so no need to protest, and because I think the issue hogs up too much attention during election campaigns. Like most pro-choice people I know, I am not enthusiastic about the procedure. I am pro-choice only because I think there are cases where medical advice, rational judgement and compassion may be a better route than an impervious, insensitive, one size fits all law. However, there is a perspective on the issue that I have been hearing about lately that I think is worth exploring.

There is statistical and confessional evidence indicating that the rate of abortions may have increased since Bush took office. I’ve looked at the
CDC and
AGI
records and found that national statistics have not been recorded since 2001 (not sure why), but Dr. Glen Harold Stassen, a Christian ethicist and trained statistical analyst found some more recent state-level statistics.

(see article)

Only three states report statistics through 2003. Kentucky’s abortion rate increased by 3.2% from 2000 to 2003, Michigan’s increased by 11.3% from 2000 to 2003 and Pennsylvania’s increased by 1.9% from 1999 to 2002. Dr. Stassen found 13 states that report statistics through 2002, of those, eight states saw an increase in abortion rates (14.6% average) and five saw a decrease (4.3% average decrease). From these statistics he was able to conclude that under President Bush, the decade-long trend of declining abortion rates appears to have reversed. Stassen states that given the trends of the 1990s, 52,000 more abortions occurred in the United States in 2002 than would have been expected before this change of direction.

Stassen indicates that the abortions rate declined during the pro-choice Clinton administration (by 12%) and increased under the pro-life Bush administration – proof, perhaps that words are cheap and direct abortion policies are ineffective. Being one of many Americans that would like to see a decrease in abortions but would rather the blundering government stay out of difficult family decisions, I think this presents an opportunity to look for alternative ways to decrease the number of abortions.

Dr. Stassen reveals three basic causes of increased abortion rates…

First of all, there is the personal finance effect of the Bush administration. “Not since Hoover had there been a net loss of jobs during a presidency until the current administration. Average real incomes decreased, and for seven years the minimum wage has not been raised to match inflation. With less income, many prospective mothers fear another mouth to feed.” According to Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Web site, two thirds of women who abort say they cannot afford a child. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that 12.6 million American families either didn’t have enough food or worried about someone in the family going hungry last year. Making sure all children in America have enough to eat would be a wonderful place to start reducing the number of abortions.

Secondly, there is the marital effect. “Men who are jobless usually do not marry. Only three of the 16 states had more marriages in 2002 than in 2001, and in those states abortion rates decreased. In the 16 states overall, there were 16,392 fewer marriages than the year before, and 7,869 more abortions. As male unemployment increases, marriages fall and abortion rises.” Again, according to Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Web site, half of all women who abort say they do not have a reliable mate.

Finally, there is the health insurance effect. “Since 5.2 million more people have no health insurance now than before this presidency – with women of childbearing age overrepresented in those 5.2 million – abortion increases.”

Of course this is also a slam on Bush politics… something that can’t happen without a barage of heated counter challenges from those tightly wound conservatives. Most of the counter arguments I’ve seen center around a dispute over how Stassen uses the statistics and I have to admit that the statistical side of his analysis is incomplete and perhaps a little slanted. For instance he compares the average post 2000 abortion rates for only 16 states to the pre-2001 rates for the entire country and he concentrates on rates, which can mean anything, rather than the actual number of abortions. (The CDC records the abortion rates as number of abortions per 1000 births and interestingly, in the last year recorded by the CDC, 2001, the rate increased where the actual number of abortions decreased.)

But then again, it’s not that Stassen was picking and choosing which states to base his analysis on; the 16 states he concentrated on where the only states that reported any numbers. You have to deal with what you can get and he did make that clear and if you can get past the hang up about the statistics and move on to what I think is the more important part of his research, the “reasons” provided by the aborting mothers, then maybe you can see the connection between the economic well being of Americans and the unfortunate option to abort.

As far as the argument that Bush-style politics induces more abortions, I think it comes down to common sense… I mean what choices do you leave if your economic policies take away a mother’s ability to provide for a child? Of course adoption always comes up, but if the booming economy of globalized investment continues to leech the American economy of wages then the waiting list for babies will shrink. I just don’t see the synergy. What I see in the conservative path is a release valve in the form of a unfortunate reversion to illegal abortions, which will not save the lives of unborn children, but it should reduce the number of abortions officially reported, which would look very nice for conservative political statistics.

25. November 2004 · Comments Off on Do conservative politicians need liberals? · Categories: Uncategorized

So now that the Republicans have full control of the government for another four years, what can we expect? I suppose we’re all betting on different things, but I hear a lot of talking about how the conservative Republicans are going to bust up the liberal crap that corrupts and pollutes America. This is the kind of talk that’s been powering what Thomas Frank calls the ‘Great Backlash’ since the the 1968 Nixon campaign. The culture war on the counter-culture, the AM Radio assault on Godless liberal elites, communist college professors, leftist media and anything that remotely sounds socialist.

Over time, this culture war has won the voting hearts of more and more middle Americans from the lowest tax brackets to the highest and it’s not that unreasonable to suspect that the Republicans have this culture dispute to thank for their victory in 2004. So here’s an interesting question… Will the GOP really bust up the liberal crap if they need it to fuel the Culture War? I mean, wouldn’t that be like a super-hero that puts away all the criminals? Or the Cancer Society that cures cancer? Wouldn’t they exterminate their own validity? If all the immoral, pornographic liberal structures are knocked down and everyone converted to upstanding moral Christian conservatives, then what would AM radio have to gripe about? What would happen to the culture war?

I’m betting that we’re going to see a lot of changes, but I bet the bulk of the culture war targets will remain in tact. Especially abortion. That’s a huge issue in the culture war right there. Election after election the issue comes up and the nation rallies to one side or the other. It’s always seemed to me that the pro-life camp is the loudest, camp with more bumper stickers and more anger generating strong resolve to vote the liberals out. And even though the conservatives have had more control over the government since the Roe/Wade decision than the liberals, the practice still remains legal. Of course the Supreme Court can always be blamed for this, but today, as the conservatives control the Legislative and Executive branches, the Judicial branch is only one vote away from over turning the decision… Think it’ll happen?

After all, how concerned can the conservative lawmakers really be when underneath all the hype the abortion rate has actually increased since Bush took office, largely due to his economic policies?


(see ‘Bush = More Abortions’)

 

13. November 2004 · Comments Off on Who are the Insurgents? · Categories: Politics, Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Have you ever noticed that the White House tells us that the Iraqis are fighting on our side against foreign insurgents? Are the insurgents really foreign or are they simply the Iraqis that don’t agree with our solution? If the later case is true then why are we referring to them as if they aren’t Iraqis at all?

Roughly 37% of the Iraqi people are Sunni Muslim and 60% are Shia Muslim. The media seems to produce enough evidence to suggest that the Sunnis, in particular, are not happy with what we’ve done and are fighting back. Nevertheless, the Bush administration seems to push such evidence aside while emphasizing reports that some insurgents from neighboring countries are coming in to join the fight. Then there is the selective use of terms.

According to GlobalSecurity.org, the conflict in Iraq qualifies as a civil war, but civil wars tend to have a neutralizing effect on public opinion. So I’m sure for the purpose of generating public support for a ‘just’ war, it’s better to portray the mostly Sunni Iraqi’s that we are fighting as non-Iraqis. So what do you call them? Well, we could call them ‘rebels’ but that term has a close association with our own history and is often seen in our popular language in a positive light. The term ‘insurgents’ seems to fit the purpose… It’s a word that describes people that rise up against authority and has no association with anything in American popular language that can be held in a positive light. But to really complete the illusion it may be better to simply call the Iraqi’s that agree with us, ‘Iraqis’ and the Iraqis that disagree with us, ‘foreigners’. Ah, there we go… So we have liberated Iraq from an evil dictatorship and are now protecting Iraq from foreign invasion.

Our politicians have always been able to rely on the flexibility of language to achieve desired illusions.

05. September 2004 · Comments Off on Judging Wikipedia · Categories: Uncategorized
Wikipedia: This came in on my Slashdot feed… (For those WDK… Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia based on WikiWiki. WikiWiki is a document server for publishing/sharing content on the web, but with the added ability for anyone using their browser to edit the content as well.)
 
Here’s the Slashdot post…
Posted by CmdrTaco on Sunday September 05, @10:02AM
from the well-duh-people dept.
Frozen North writes “Recently, this article in the Syracuse Post-Standard caused a stir by dismissing Wikipedia as an authoritative source, and even suggesting that it was a little deceptive by looking too much like a “real” encyclopedia. Techdirt suggested an experiment: insert bogus information into Wikipedia, and see how long it takes for the mistake to be removed. Well, I did that experiment, and the results weren’t good: five errors inserted over five days, all of which lasted until I remoed them myself at the end of the experiment.”
 
All this really says is that Wikipedia can be corrupted. I think the point of many of these short-lived communities is best described by the honor-system in which something is safeguarded by nothing other than the good intentions of people.

The internet adds global reach to these communities making the popularity factor critical, as soon as enough people and machines come aboard the honor-code will be broken and the value of the community will disipitate.

It would be fair to point out the context of the

article
,
  receiving comment. The article is hailed as a warning to librarians and high school teachers not to allow Wikipedia as a valid source for research. Obviously this is a valid concern, Wikipedia is after all, an encyclopedia open to public manipulation. I’ve been using Wikipedia for a while now and i think it’s the most facinating encyclopedia I’ve ever read, most of it seems like very accurate content. It’s already the largest encyclopedia in the world and still growing fast. The last edition is always right on your browser. To an extent, I think the only people willing to spend the time editing content will be interested in delivering quality, understanding of course, that some bad nuts will be in the bag. So, with size will come corruption, but I will still use it along with my own judgement. The continued stregnth of Wikipedia after being emersed in distrust, will be the heavy use of links to show reference to validated sources. For me it’s just a pleasure to navigate, while exploring the content. A good site to meander through.

 

08. August 2004 · Comments Off on Blog Redesign · Categories: Uncategorized

Although it may not look like it, I’ve redesigned my blog. For those who could care less about the technical aspects of what I’ve done there really isn’t much difference aside from the search engine that I built in Perl. You can now search my posts for specific words.

For those who are interested, I also traded in my overly complicated blogger template for a PHP page that includes the output of my blog using a much simpler template. The side bars are now separate html files that I can manage independently of the main template. Eventually, the book reviews will be a blog on it’s own included in the same PHP page. I’ve also added the capability to comment on selected posts. Something, I’m still trying to decide if I really want or not.