Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Hiatus

I'm still here, I've just been busy. I just got a new job and there have been some other distractions as well. Posting may be scarce for a while.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The 110th Congress: The Congress that DIDN'T do Nothing

"I have bad news for you," Hoyer told reporters. "Those trips you had planned in January, forget 'em. We will be working almost every day in January, starting with the 4th."
January 4th happens to be my birthday, and I can't think of a better gift -- save the impeachment and removal of Bush and Cheney -- that the 110th Congress could give me than sacrificing some vacation time to begin to fix what the 109th broke.

Republicans have been quick to bitch and moan about the new schedule, which will require them to work 5 days a week:
"Keeping us up here eats away at families," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who typically flies home on Thursdays and returns to Washington on Tuesdays. "Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."
This congress will have to work nearly as much as the majority of their constituents. How sad for them.

The 110th Congress has not even convened yet, and it already has a far better reputation than the 109th.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A few more

A few more points to add to the new constitution:

  • Term limits for everyone, but with a twist. Limits are only placed on consecutive terms, so a candidate who can win re-election after reaching the limit without the inertia of incumbency can be re-elected after sitting out a term.
  • Shorter terms for all offices and annual instead of bi-annual elections. This would make bringing back officials who had reached their term limits easier.
  • Perhaps the cabinet should elected rather than appointed, and should have more direct power rather than advising the president. This seems the most obvious way to break up the presidential power, can you think of a better one?
I'm still looking for recommendations, and I've also posted this on Campaigns Wikia.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A New Constitution

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it and labored with it... We might as well require a man to wear the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
--Thomas Jefferson
Our founding fathers did some brilliant work, but with the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that there is room for improvement. The framers foresaw the need to update the Constitution, and created a process for amending it, but what would it look like if it was written today? I thought it would be a fun thought experiment to write a new one. Here are some points that I've come up with so far:
  • In the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights is a set of amendments. This conveys the message that these rights are an afterthought. In this constitution, the Bill of Rights will be Article I. This should include, among other things, an assurance of equal rights for same-sex and opposite-sex couples, probably by privatizing marriage, and increased protection for free speech and against censorship. The bidirectional separation of church and state must also be clearly declared.
  • I think that trias politica -- the separation of power among the legislative, judicial, and executive branches -- is a very good idea, but it's clear from presidents like Dubya and Nixon that clearer limits on the branches' powers need to be defined, particularly when the branch is so centralized. In practice, the US presidency resembles a constitutional monarchy. Those powers should have additional checks, and possibly be divided among several individuals. The need for a single figurehead leader, be it a president or a prime minister, is a throwback to traditional monarchies that modern governments may be better-off without.
  • No increased per-capita representation for less-populous areas. Red-staters may not like this one, but I think that the Senate and Electoral College are terribly un-democratic. Bicameral legislature is a good idea, but assigning Senators by state with no regard to population is un-democratic. With the current state of technology, there's no reason not to offer a more direct democracy, with less emphasis one outdated state boundaries, and there must be better ways to fairly represent the interests of smaller populations.
  • Speaking of technology, it also creates other possibilities that would not have been feasible when the Constitution was written. Perhaps one house of Congress should have proportional representation, and there's no reason not to use instant runoff voting. It's crucial, though, to provide for protection against electronic vote fraud.
  • Certain clauses, notably references to "free persons" and the three-fifths compromise, are concessions to the culture of the day an no longer hold any relevance. Many such clauses have been nullified by amendments, and such amendments should be rolled into the original version of this new constitution, but similar concessions to today's culture should be avoided where possible to create a document that would require as little amendment as possible.
Those are the points that I have thought of so far. Can you think of any others or any other nations whose constitutions with aspects that improve considerably upon that of the United States? Does anyone know of any similar projects?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Free Speech for the Terrorists in D.C.

Last night, Keith Olbermann delivered another in his series of special comments, this one in response to Newt Gingrich's assertion that it was necessary to curtail free speech to fight terrorism.

"We will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find," Mr. Gingrich continued about terrorists formerly Communists formerly Hippies formerly Fifth Columnists formerly Anarchists formerly Redcoats.

"….to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech."
Free speech is free speech for everyone, and is our single most fundamental freedom. Gingrich -- like with the president, vice president, and the rest of their ilk -- claims to want to protect America, to protect our freedom. They invoke images of terrorists who hate us because of that freedom, and want desperately to take it away from us. Then, in order to protect us from these alleged freedom-haters, they propose taking that freedom away. These charlatans either don't notice the contradiction, or hope desperately that no one else will.

We do.

You -- Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Cheney, Mr. Bush... -- you are the terrorists. You are the ones trying to take away our freedom, and you are doing so far more effectively than anyone with a bomb-belt or a box-cutter could ever dream. What's more, you are using fear tactics to do it, which is the very definition of terrorism. I do not agree with a word you say, Mr. Gingrich, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.



read more | digg story

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Proof

Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.
I knew it all along.

Correlation between mental illness and GW Bush voters | digg story

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Faith != God

(For those that don't know, "!=" is a common programming operator for "not equal".)

There was a recent debate between conservative radio host Dennis Prager and atheist author Sam Harris. There were many interesting points in this debate, and I may discuss it again, but one subject that particularly stood out to me was Prager's attempts to confuse the existence of God with the belief in God. This is especially apparent in this embarrassing paragraph from his closing statement:

You write: “If humanity can’t survive without a belief in God, this would only mean that a belief in God exists. It wouldn’t, even remotely, suggest that God exists.” This statement is as novel as the one suggesting that Stalin was produced by Judeo-Christian values. It is hard for me to imagine that any fair-minded reader would reach the same conclusion. If we both acknowledge that without belief in God humanity would self-destruct, it is quite a stretch to say that this fact does not “even remotely suggest that God exists.” Can you name one thing that does not exist but is essential to human survival?
This argument is so profoundly stupid that I had to ask a friend to verify that I had read it correctly. Prager repeatedly states -- even after Harris clearly and specifically points out the logical fallacy -- that the essentiality of the belief in God is a strong argument for the existence of God. On the contrary, as Harris states, this simply proves a point that no rational person would agree with: that belief in God exists. This fact that they both agree on in no way suggests that that belief is at all accurate, as Prager claims that it does. The last sentence clearly shows that Prager considers belief in God (something that Harris at least hypothetically agrees is "essential to human survival") to be the same as God ("one thing that does not exist"). I can only conclude that this is an attempt on Mr. Prager's part to make readers dismiss the debate as unfair by painting himself as a complete and utter moron. I guess that means that I'm not a "fair-minded reader" that he can easily imagine.

Belief in God has tangible benefits -- particularly for more primitive, unenlightened cultures of the past -- that few rational people would deny, but faith -- as a belief that can be neither proven nor disproven -- is utterly indifferent to its own accuracy. In the absence of the potential for proof, faith can only ever act as a placebo for the believer. To anyone who did not realize that, and for whom the placebo effect will no longer work due to the revelation, I apologize.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Dirty words

I began work on this post some time ago, but in light of current events, I thought it would be a good time to finish it up and get it out there.

Dirty words are stupid. I don't just mean the unnecessary use of them is stupid (which it is), I mean that the idea that certain words are vulgar or offensive and should not be used is stupid. Words are, by definition, simple linguistic constructs that have no meaning unless one is agreed upon. All of these words have definitions -- often sexual, racist, scatological, etc. -- but these meanings are barely understood anymore due to the stigma of their use. Many of them are also used figuratively to provide pejorative emphasis, and can be an effective and valid means of conveying ideas in such context, and to remove them from the permissible vernacular is no better than diluting their meaning through over-use. The use of censorship, even self-censorship, rather than one's own judgement in communication only causes problems.

Another oft-ignored meaning that they have is what they say about those who use them. While their use alone doesn't make an individual stupid, inappropriate or excessive use certainly demonstrates a lack of eloquence. Some are virtually meaningless beyond demonstrating the prejudice of the speaker. Epithetical remarks such as those for which Michael Richards has been receiving flak could just as easily be cognitively replaced with the phrase "I'm a racist". Beyond that, all that he stated was that the individuals that he was addressing were black, a fact of which I'm sure they where aware, and their reported attempt to extort money from a man who pointed out that they black and admitted to being racist is no less shameful.

Words have meaning because we give them meaning. They have no meaning that we don't give them, and we have no power that they don't give them, and it's foolish to give them the power to harm us.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Disinformation Show

Now Fox News Channel, a primary source of material for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, is teaming with the exec producer of "24" to try its hand at a news satire show for conservatives to love.
The Daily Show has often been derided by conservatives who claim that it encourages people to be uninformed, despite studies showing The Daily Show to be at least as substantive as other cable news sources and more informative than most news sources, but now the conservative propaganda machine seems to be changing its tune.

The problem with this tactic, of course, is that a Faux News clone would only be so much disinformation, just like most of the "fair and balanced" network's other programming. The Daily Show is an equal-opportunity satirical mockery, and conservatives only feel singled-out because it has been true in recent years that, in the words of Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondent Dinner, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias," such that his own show is as close as anyone can honestly come to a conservative counterpart to The Daily Show. There's a reason that Colbert's conservative talking points are so amusing, and shows like O'Reilly's would be almost as funny if the audience knew that he didn't believe them.

Satire is only funny if it rings true, so FNC will never air anything humorous... at least not intentionally.

read more | digg story

Monday, November 20, 2006

Depends on What Your Definition of "Succeed" Is

Recently, when asked if there were lessons about our situation in Iraq to be learned from the Vietnam War, Bush once again embarrassed us all by saying that "we will succeed unless we quit."

What's going on in Iraq is not a war, and it's certainly not something that we can win. It would be so much simpler if it was a war, because we could just complete the genocide and leave... or more realistically, we could finish the genocide and pave the land with oil pumps. Obviously, Bush would never be allowed to get away with this, so what are his goals? What would a "clear military victory" be? Kissenger interprets it as "an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control," which he doesn't believe is possible. Someone will need to explain to me how an independent government fitting that description could be brought about by any amount of military force.

Republican senator John McCain says that we're "fighting and dying for a failed policy", but this is wrong. We're fighting and dying for absolutely nothing. There isn't a plan. There isn't even a goal. If there was, we'd have to weigh whether it was worth the losses that we are suffering to eventually achieve it, but there isn't. We've passed the "quit while you're ahead" point, but we can still cut our losses. We can continue sending our brothers, sisters, parents and children to die while we search for a reason to do so, or we can admit our mistake and leave before more of us die. That is the lesson we should have learned from the Vietnam War.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Still sick

I'm still sick. Go listen to what this insightful 8-year-old has to say:

Monday, November 13, 2006

Sick day

Leave me alone, I'm sick.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Not-so-lame Ducks

I don't like the term "lame duck". "Lame duck" implies that a person is ineffectual and can be ignored. This does not take into account the fact that such politicians often have all of the authority or their office, but lack the accountability of an official seeking re-election. This can make an individual extremely dangerous. This is evidenced by the unpopular pardons, appointments, and legislation that these "lame duck" periods are known for.

I think a better term would be the "kamikaze period". During this time, when officials hold offices but do not need to worry about keeping them, they can concentrate on doing as much damage -- or furthering of their own and their party's goals -- without worrying about the ramifications, like a kamikaze pilot or suicide bomber attempting to do maximum damage to the enemy without worrying about his own survival.

I have some personal experience with this mindset from playing Halo online. In these games, I frequently kill enemy characters driving vehicles using a well-placed grenade thrown right before they run me over. Because my character will respawn a few seconds later, I don't have to worry about my own death, and when the character in the vehicle is carrying the flag in an attempt to score for his team, it's well worth standing still to aim my grenade -- ensuring my own death -- to ensure that the flag carrier is also killed. In the same way, an outgoing politician -- voted out of office to be replaced by a member of another party -- is willing to damage his own credibility to to ensure that his successor will be unable to "score" for his party. This, of course, is bad because it is the incoming politician who represents the will of the constituents.

The democratic Senate and House majorities may have been elected, but we're not out of the woods yet, and things are likely to get worse before they get better.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Racist Club: You may already be a member

A 15-year-old girl at Freedom High School in Oakley, California is trying to start an ethnic club for caucasians. The school, which already has similar clubs for Latino, Asian, and African-American students, has been unsurprisingly resistant to the idea. Some are saying that such a club would promote racism, while other argue that disallowing the club would be "reverse racism". I believe that both of these views are stupid and, ironically, both racist.

Racism is racism, no matter what racial group is being discriminated for/against. The idea of racism against whites as "reverse racism" is racist because it assumes that racism is characteristic of whites. In junior high, I was once accused of being racist by a classmate (who may or may not have realized the irony of his statement ahead of time). When I, hurt by the accusation, asked him why he thought that, his only response was "Because you're white." It is this mindset that is arguably the most prevalent form of racism in the United States today, and the belief that racism against whites is any different from any other form of racism is, itself, racist.

Some caucasians in the United States -- a few of whom may or may not have been my ancestors -- have done some terrible, racist things, but to assume that I am racist because of that is no less racist.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

2006 Midterms

Well, I was hoping to sum up the election for yesterday's post, but Senator Allen has yet to concede the loss of his seat, the last of the six that the democrats need -- and the only one for which a winner has still not been declared -- for a Senate majority to compliment their already-guaranteed House majority. With 100% of the vote now counted, the only thing Allen could be waiting for before conceding is a recount, which he cannot even request for nearly three weeks under Virginia law.

This majority, of course, is technically a 49/49 split, with independent candidates filling the remaining two seats. The first of these is Vermont's Bernard Sanders, a self-described socialist who who beat his Republican challenger by a margin of more than two to one and who caucuses with the Democrats. The second is famed Democrat-in-name-only and former vice-presidential candidate, Joel Lieberman of Connecticut, who lost the democratic nomination to Ned Lamont, but ran as an independent democrat. The two finished the race with 50% and 40% of the vote, respectively.

Counting both of these senators with the Democratic caucus, the Democrats are now the majority party in the Senate. Only one is required for a plurality, but both would be required to prevent tied votes, which would be broken by Darth Va- I mean Dick Cheney. This of course assumes party-line voting, which may not be the case with so many Republicans as disgusted with the President's actions as everyone else, and the Republicans' dirty tactics for maintaining control of the 109th Congress will be much more difficult without a majority behind them.

As I've been typing this, media outlets have finally begun declaring Democrat Jim Webb the winner in Virginia, with Republican Incumbent George Allen expected to offer his concession tomorrow. Allen is not expected to request a recount unless the margin somehow decreases in the meantime.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Symbols

I spent several hours today permanently transforming my hair into a knotty, matted symbol of rejection of "the establishment" and traditional values. I must admit, though, that creating this symbol feels a bit hypocritical, as I consider emphasis on symbols to be part of what I'm rejecting. In many aspects of our society, far too much emphasis is placed on symbols, often to the detriment of what they are supposed to symbolize. Update: The dreadlocks fell apart when I tried to wash them, so I'm back to my regular, long hippie hair.

This is especially true for religions. I am frequently disgusted to see borderline idol worship directed at crosses/crucifixes by those who claim the Holy Trinity as their one true god. This type of prayer by proxy, at best, shows an individual lack of understanding by those who engage in them of their own religion's principles. While I have problems with the way Christianity defines its deity as a trinity so that it can technically qualify as monotheistic, I don't buy the Catholic variant -- with all of its saints and symbols and superstitious rituals -- as monotheistic for a second.

This hypocrisy is not unique to religion, though. The recent attempt to pass a constitutional amendment to abridge our freedom with a ban on the burning of the American flag, which proponents of the amendment loved to call a symbol of freedom. This clearly shows the problem with putting too much emphasis on a symbol: When reverence for a symbol is used to harm that which it symbolizes, it's obviously gone too far.

Both of these types of symbols have been abused by the current administration to further its own goals, to the detriment of what they symbolize. Symbols, without knowledge of what they symbolize, are meaningless. The use of a symbol is little more than an invitation for its meaning to be misconstrued, and given the danger of a misconstrued symbol, it's a risk that's not worth taking.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Good and Evil

I've really been enjoying the new TV series, Heroes, and I was listening to a podcast about the show today. In the most recent installment of this podcast, the speakers discuss their uncertainty as to whether certain characters are good or evil. I quickly wrote them an email explaining that this was a gross oversimplification, not only of the themes of the show (which is more nuanced than most) but of the concepts of good and evil themselves.

Good and evil are not motivations, nor are they goals, and they're certainly not forces that act independently. Rather, they are subjective interpretations of actions and concepts. Racial oppression -- at least in the overt, white-against-black form that is so prominent in our nation's history -- is generally considered to be evil by most of the western world, but this was not always the case. Many of our religious institutions, which claim to be the highest authority on good and evil, used to be among the staunchest supporters of slavery and segregation. Now these groups are advocating similar forms of hate directed at homosexuals, and history will no doubt eventually cast this stance in a similar light.

It's been said that the victors write the history books. This would explain why good always seems to eventually win out over evil; The winning side is not necessarily more righteous, but the conflict would likely continue if the status quo was believed to be evil. It's easy to cast fictional characters as good or evil, but their stories are more realistic (and more interesting) if, like in reality, good and evil cannot be defined in such certain terms without the benefit of hindsight.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

On stem cells and abortion

Scott Adams discussed stem cell research today, and I donated blood. The link between the two may seem a bit tenuous, but it was enough to make me decide that it would be a good time to talk about the stem cell issue.

Ignoring the potential benefits of this research, the destruction of embryos for the purpose of harvesting stem cells is little different from abortion, and should be governed by the same laws. I think most people on either side of the issue would agree with that, as the people who oppose abortion seem to be the same ones who oppose embryonic stem cell research. If anything, the stem cell research should be less objectionable than any method of abortion other than the morning-after pill, because of the stage of development at which the various procedures take place. In short, harvesting embryonic stem cells should be legally tantamount to an abortion 4 to 5 days after conception.

So, should such abortions be allowed? Most pro-lifers seem to be opposed to abortion at any stage of development -- including the use of emergency contraception, or "morning-after", pills -- and some even take this to the extreme of vilifying (male) masturbation and the use of contraception because they result in the destruction of cells that could potentially be used to create life. Not to dismiss these people off-hand as lunatics, but by this logic, menstruation and nocturnal emission are, at the very least, involuntary manslaughter.

Such people are usually opposed these things for religious reasons. I will not argue with these reasons, except to remind the reader that creating laws to enforce religious values is unconstitutional. Without the religious basis, all that matters is what rights the embryo/fetus has at what stage of development. A living creature has rights that a collection of cells -- such as the blood that I donated -- does not, anyone but the most hardcore vegans would likely agree that a person has rights that a living creature does not, and persons is a subset of living creatures, which is a subset of collections of cells. I am all three, and if you're reading this, chances are you are too.

Now this will sound cynical, but I'm not entirely convinced that a child achieves the level of self-awareness required for personhood until sometime after birth. Now, I'm not suggesting that post-birth abortions should be allowed, but I do think that the reason they shouldn't has more to do with the psychological effects on the mother and others involved than it does with the rights of the child.

Well, there's more to say on the issue, but I hope I've given you something to think about, and I'm sure some of you will have something to say about what I've already written (I'm looking in your direction, Lou), so I'll finish discussing the issue later.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Sexual denial: It's not just for teenagers anymore

The federal government's "no sex without marriage" message isn't just for kids anymore.

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.

The government says the change is a clarification. But critics say it's a clear signal of a more directed policy targeting the sexual behavior of adults.
This is yet another example of the Bush administration abusing its power -- as well as taxpayer dollars -- to push a religious agenda, ultimately to the detriment of our society.

While it's true that abstinence is the most reliable method of preventing both pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease, no method will work if people aren't willing to use it. Most people are going to have sex no matter what you tell them, and according to The National Center for Health Statistics, over 90% of this new target group have already had sex. Teaching abstinence to the exclusion of safe sex practices only serves to ensure that when teenagers (and twenty-somethings) do have sex, they'll be blissfully ignorant of how to do so safely, making unwanted pregnancies and the contraction of STDs more likely.

To put a religious agenda ahead of a healthy and informed public is deplorable. Using government authority and tax funds to do it is a betrayal. Sadly, it's far from this administration's biggest betrayal of its constituents.

read more | digg story

Monday, October 30, 2006

A society without crosses or veils

So the ideal of a society where no visible public signs of religion would be seen -- no crosses around necks, no sidelocks, turbans or veils -- is a politically dangerous one. It assumes that what comes first in society is the central political “licensing authority”, which has all the resource it needs to create a workable public morality.
While there is truth in this, in that it is disturbing for a government to have the authority to regulate religion, the reverse is also treacherous.

Gang symbols have been outlawed in many contexts, and religions -- particularly the Abrahamic religions -- have become little more than street gangs, only on a much larger scale. Nations that are primarily Christian or Jewish are at war with the Islamic world, and the crosses and turbans have been reduced to the equivalent of red and blue bandanas, and like these rival street gangs, the Christian Right in the U.S. and the "Islamo-fascists" of the Middle East have far more in common than either side would ever admit. The prohibition of such religious symbols in public would make sense for the same reasons.

read more | digg story

Friday, October 27, 2006

NBC Sides with the Rednecks

NBC has rejected an ad for "Shut Up & Sing," a documentary about the Dixie Chicks, because it "cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush." From the variety.com article:

"It's a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America," Harvey Weinstein said in a statement. "The idea that anyone should be penalized for criticizing the president is profoundly un-American."
Now, let me be clear, NBC is a corporation, and has the right to decide what content to broadcast according to the best interest of its shareholders. That said, their stated reason for this action is a bunch of crap.

It was courageous of the Dixie Chicks to speak out against the aspiring dictator in spite of the fact that their target demographic is the very same nascar-watching, gun-rack-owning Red State inhabitants who would (and did) boycott them for speaking ill of the current administration. Given the current level of Bush's disapproval (pdf link), it wouldn't take any such courage for a national network like NBC to air this now, unless of course they've received some secret warnings against doing so from Bush's Ministry of Truth.

This action is at best cowardly, and at worst evidence of not just a conservative bias, but a bias in favor of the evil man in the Oval Office.

Update: As Bill Maher pointed out on his show last night, in order to avoid disparaging President Bush, NBC would have to take their evening newscast off the air (5:20 in this video).

read story | digg story

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Free Will

As another followup to tuesday's post, I thought I'd take on the question of free will. It's often asked whether humans have free will, or whether we are just, as Scott Adams likes to say, "moist robots". The answer, of course, is that both are true.

Free will, as the absence of some sort of predetermination, is in the context of humanity because that predetermination is not. If there is predetermination -- be it in a scientific "moist robot" form or something more transcendental -- humanity is entirely within that bubble, and predetermination has only meta-existence in that context.

In a more objective sense, it could be argued that this means that free will is an illusion, but this does not mean that we are not responsible for our (predetermined) actions. Everything you do is within the context of humanity, in which there is free will. On a larger scale, the action may be predetermined, but that predetermination takes into account your choices and the incalculable number of factors that lead to them.

This writing is predetermined and your reading (perception), interpretation, acceptance, and application of the ideas are all predetermined. You have the choice of whether or not to make your choices based on the belief that those decisions don't matter because they are predetermined, or based on the belief that you do have free will and that your decisions matter. These beliefs themselves are predetermined, but because you and your influences are all the creation and the tool of that predetermination, and because you do not know what is predetermined to be, it is useless to speculate as to what it is, or to introduce it into your decision-making process.

If predetermination is scientific, it would theoretically be possible to calculate every occurrence ahead of time given enough processing power and information about the influencing factors. Of course, this would realistically be impossible, since this would require a computer with enough computing power to not only calculate the physics of everything happening in the world, but in addition it would require the combined processing power of the brains of every human being and the ability to recursively precompute its own computations to factor its output into the computation of that output, a feat that's unlikely to be possible even for a quantum computer.

Time travel, then, would be the only possible method of discovering predetermination, but that's a can of worms for a future post.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Followup to "What is god?"

Well, it seems my last post was met with incredulity. Lou responded with the following:

"Given this model of reality" nothing exists. You don't exist. By that logic, your existence is subject to my perception and interpretation of you. That is the kind of useless drivel that you hear from philosophy majors (a/k/a future McDonalds workers). You do exist. Trust me on this one.
Yes, I do exist. My existence is not subject to your perception and interpretation because I also exist outside that context, just like you exist outside mine.
Let me ask you a question: Who was the first president of the United States? George Washington, you say? Are you sure?

How can you be sure that there even was a George Washington? You couldn't have met him - he died 200 years before you were born. Yet you still believe that, not only did he exist, but he was the first president? What a shocking leap of faith!
You're right, it is faith. I never experienced the existence of George Washington personally. I rely on my belief in the accuracy of historical record -- which, as Nineteen Eighty-Four teaches us, may not resemble actual events at all -- for my belief that George Washington was the first president of the United States. That historical record exists both within and outside my bubble, so it meets the qualifications for objective existence in the context of that bubble, whether it is true or not.
Another question: You have blogged about President Bush. Do you really believe that he is president? How do you know? Have you ever met him? Sure you see him on TV, but you see lots of things on TV that aren't real, don't you? How can you be so sure that there even is a George W. Bush? What? Another leap of faith?
That brings up another question. How would meeting him make me any more sure of his existence than seeing him on TV? Sure, it may be more difficult to pass fiction off as truth under those circumstances, but those experiences could just as easily be some sort of hallucination. He exists either way.

I have also quoted Apollo from Battlestar Galactica, whom I've also seen on TV but never met. Apollo exists in the form of a fictional character, both within and outside my bubble, but I rely on historical records of more recent events for my knowledge of that existence. If those records were false, Apollo could be real and Bush fictional (and we'd all be a lot better-off), but I have faith that that's not the case.
Put down the symbolic logic textbook and come back to earth for a minute. Three facts: George Washington was the first president, George W. Bush is the current president, and God exists. People who don't believe the first two facts are called uneducated. Why is the third any different?
The difference, of course, is that those who claim to know about the first two facts almost unanimously agree, but the existence of the christian god (as a true being, existing outside of humanity rather than as fiction) is much more widely disputed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What is god?

There is no doubt in my mind that god exists. In fact, every god exists, and every variation of each exists. Every thought that anyone's ever had exists, in the sense that a sketch on a piece of paper exists, in that their existence is subject to the perception and interpretation of them, whereas the paper exists on a lower, more absolute level. Paper, though, it just a name given to a certain range of configurations of molecules, and so it is just as abstract in its own way.

Perhaps "exist" is the wrong word... these things are, they have being, even if that being is not objective enough to fully constitute existence. Then again, for every layer of being, there is a corresponding layer of objectivity, so it could be argued that at any given layer of being, things which are on that level exist, while things that are on higher, more abstract layers merely are. Existence is a subset of being.

Logically, given this model of reality, for any given layer of being, the lower, less abstract things -- while in absolute terms would have some sort of meta-existence -- for all intents and purposes do not exist or have being. That is, they do not exist in the sense that pi does not exist in "2+2=4". While each two may or may not be the area of a circle, of which pi is a factor, pi is not observable as a component of the equation, and has been canceled-out of it if it was ever there. Of course, on lower levels, pi still exists, but as it is not observable from the equation and cannot be proven to exist based upon it, the existence of pi is neither confirmable nor relevant on the layer of the equation, so it is not.

Or perhaps layers are not the best model. Pi and the Golden Ratio can appear in the same equation, both being within a common layer, but each can also appear in its own equation, in which the existence of the other is neither confirmable nor relevant, so while their level of being is at least comparable, it is an oversimplification to say that they are on the same layer, except as part of some perceived and interpreted hierarchy. The existence of the layers is a layer of its own.

Holy crap, that was meta...

Anyway, perhaps a better model is a massive Venn diagram. This diagram would be composed of bubbles of irregular shapes and sizes, intersecting in an infinite number of dimensions, but the dimensions are unimportant. What's important is that, as with any other Venn diagram, there are only four possible relations that any bubble can have to any other: it can intersect it as a peer, it can be a superset that completely contains the other, it can be a subset that is completely contained by the other, or it can have no direct relationship.

In this bubble model, in the context of any given bubble, another bubble is if any part of it is within the context bubble; a bubble's subsets are in the context of that bubble. If it also exists outside that bubble -- that is, they intersect as peers -- the bubble meets the qualifications for objective being; a bubble's peers exist in the context of that bubble. Bubbles with no relation, of course, have neither existence nor being in the context of that bubble, but supersets can only have the irrelevant meta-existence, so these things do not have being or existence either. This all means that in order for A to be, in reference to B, B must include both A and not-A.

Discovery is the expansion of B to include either A or not-A, where before only one was included, and A did not have being in the context of B, either because it had no relationship or because it was a superset.

God -- as an abstract concept -- is, but in the context of humanity, an omnipresent creator of all things can only ever have meta-existence and cannot ever be, and thus is unconfirmable and irrelevant.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Bush's "Stay the Course" Flip-Flop

First, I'd like to take a moment to commend President Bush for finally realizing that "Stay the course" is stupid.

Ok, the moment's over.

It's ironic that Bush -- who famously called his opponent in the 2004 election a "flip-flopper" for changing his opinion on the Iraq war -- is now denying his own former position on the same issue. Contrary to Bush's implication, changing policies as a result of new evidence and admitting one's mistakes is always a good thing. Of course, it's preferable not to make those mistakes in the first place, but because nobody's perfect, the ability to admit mistakes and work to correct them is more important than the ability to avoid making mistakes.

Bush does not admit his mistakes. Instead -- in true Nineteen Eighty-Four, Oceana-has-always-been-at-war-with-Eastasia form -- Bush now denies that "stay the course" was ever his position, despite a mountain of proof that includes transcripts on the Whitehouse's own website of six different occasions on which he used those exact words to describe his plan for Iraq (detailed by thinkprogress) and video of even more that just appeared on Countdown with Keith Olbermann (video).

read more | digg story

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Weekends

I didn't forget to post yesterday. Well, ok, I did, but I've been thinking about switching to weekdays-only for a while. So, until further notice, don't expect new posts on the weekends.

Friday, October 20, 2006

More dirty trickes from the GOP

On the October 18 edition of his nationally syndicated radio program, Fox News host Sean Hannity encouraged Democratic voters to "stay home on Election Day," adding that, "your vote doesn't matter anyway." He added that Democrats should not turn out to vote "for the sake of the nation" because Democrats' votes "won't change who occupies the White House" and Democratic "candidates have absolutely no idea how to win the war on terrorism." Hannity also appeared to predict he would be criticized for his remarks, stating: "This is how the press is going to report this: 'Hannity says Democrats should stay home on Election Day.' " He did not explain how that would be a mischaracterization of his comments.
Is there anything more un-American than telling the opposition not to vote? Well, maybe trying to trick them into not voting.

It's one thing to debate in the hopes of convincing them to change their vote. The dissemination of ideas, good or bad, should always be welcome. Telling people not to vote because you disagree with their ideas is quite another, and if Hannity had any intention of making a good-faith attempt to argue against the the platform of any democratic candidate, his focus would have been on changing votes, rather than discouraging them.

While there is something to the argument that the result of a vote will be better without uninformed voters participating, discouraging them from voting rather than encouraging them to become informed is immoral. Encouraging people not to vote because they have an informed opinion that you disagree with is downright unscrupulous.

read more | digg story

Thursday, October 19, 2006

As habeas corpus goes, so goes the nation

With habeas corpus now only a memory, Keith Olbermann argues that this is the beginning of the end of the United States. Below are a few excerpts from his most recent special comment, followed by a video of the entire segment. This comment speaks for itself.

[T]onight have we truly become the inheritors of our American legacy.

For, on this first full day that the Military Commissions Act is in force, we now face what our ancestors faced, at other times of exaggerated crisis and melodramatic fear-mongering:

A government more dangerous to our liberty, than is the enemy it claims to protect us from.

...

We have listened to the little voice inside that has said, "the wolf is at the door; this will be temporary; this will be precise; this too shall pass."

We have accepted that the only way to stop the terrorists is to let the government become just a little bit like the terrorists.

...

(addressing President Bush: ) "With the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few: Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat?"

Wise words.

And ironic ones, Mr. Bush.

Your own, of course, yesterday, in signing the Military Commissions Act.

You spoke so much more than you know, Sir.

Sadly—of course—the distance of history will recognize that the threat this generation of Americans needed to take seriously was you.

We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that "those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

...

And if you somehow think habeas corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an "unlawful enemy combatant"—exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this attorney general is going to help you?

...

(addressing President Bush: ) "One of the terrorists believed to have planned the 9/11 attacks," you told us yesterday, "said he hoped the attacks would be the beginning of the end of America."

That terrorist, sir, could only hope.

Not his actions, nor the actions of a ceaseless line of terrorists (real or imagined), could measure up to what you have wrought.

Habeas corpus? Gone.

The Geneva Conventions? Optional.

The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.

These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be "the beginning of the end of America."


full transcript | digg story

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Proposition, the Opposition, and the Truth

You know, propaganda's not really so bad. It can be dangerous if you only get one side because it may be difficult to recognize the bias, but propaganda from two or more opposing sides can be a much more efficient and reliable way to get the truth than getting your information from one supposedly objective source.

A truly objective source is hard to come by. There are a lot of sources that try to appear objective, but that just means that they try harder to disguise their bias. An obvious bias is easier to filter out, especially when you have an equally obvious opposing bias to use a reference point. It's like the ultimate 'pro' and 'con' list.

With information from both sides, you can see the inconsistencies and boil the information down to distill truth. This method also gives you a more complete picture. For instance, in the case of a piece of legislation, if there's something important in the "fine print", one side or the other will usually point it out, whereas it might have gone unnoticed even if you read the bill for yourself. This was especially apparent when I was researching California Proposition 89. The government-provided summary was far less informative than the combining the bullet-point lists on the "yes on 89" and "no on 89" websites.

Of course, you still have to think for yourself in order to tell the truth from the lies and half-truths presented in propaganda, but an obvious bias makes this easier to distinguish, and this requires less thought than finding a truly balanced source.

Now, if you wanna be really sneaky, what you should do is create propaganda against your position, and do a shitty job of making the case, in order to discredit the opposition.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Reliability of Electronic Elections

Sometimes, paranoids are right. And sometimes even when paranoids are wrong, it's worth considering what they're worried about.

I speak here of all who are worried sick that those new, fancy high-tech voting systems can be hacked, fiddled with and otherwise made to record votes that aren't cast or fail to record votes that are.
This article discusses a House bill to require electronic voting machines to produce voter-readable paper verification, and for those paper ballots to be used to audit a random 2% of the precincts in which they are used. This will go a long way toward making these machines reliable, but there's a long way to go.

The software for these machines should be open-source, so that any voter (with sufficient technical knowledge) can verify it, unlike the secret last-minute patch distributed to Diebold machines at the last minute in 2002 that was verified by no one. Of course, there must also be safeguards in place to ensure that the publicly verified software is actually what the machines are running, and that there are no open I/O mechanisms that can be used to subvert this. All this is required for a voter to have a comparable level of confidence to reading a paper ballot and seeing it placed in a locked ballot box.

Lower-tech forms of vote manipulation, -- such as those used in 2004 in places like Ohio -- must also be stopped, but at least voters disenfranchised through such means are generally aware that their votes have not been counted, unlike electronic manipulation, which can result in votes being thrown out without leaving a trace that they were ever cast.

read more | digg story

Monday, October 16, 2006

Baby Steps

Nancy Pelosi, congresswoman from California's 8th district and current minority leader, is poised to become the first female Speaker of the House if the Democrats take control of the House in the coming election. In the digg story linked below, a few of the commenters asked why her gender is important.

It's important because it's a milestone in the agonizingly slow progress in weeding out misogyny from our society. Between that, the racism, the homophobia, and other forms of hate in our political process, I'm embarrassed to be American.

Now, that's not to say that all Americans are sexist, racist, and/or homophobic, but the fact that a large enough percentage of the electorate is that parties need to take those factors into account when selecting candidates is deplorable. The fact that that is more true among conservatives should be enough to make any reasonable person think twice before voting Republican.

I long for the day when being sexist is more damaging to a candidate than being female, being racist is more damaging than not being caucasian, and being homophobic is more damaging than being homosexual. At the current rate, the nation, if not the entire human race, is likely to destroy itself before that day comes.

read more | digg story

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wake up, and smell the conspiracy

According to a recent New York Times/CBS poll (pdf link), question 81:

When it comes to what they knew prior to September 11th, 2001, about possible terrorist attacks against the United States, do you think members of the Bush Administration are telling the truth, are mostly telling the truth but hiding something, or are they mostly lying?
Only 16% (down 8 points from 2004) of Americans believe the Bush administration's official story, and the belief that they are "mostly lying" has been accelerating to rise 20 points since 2002, for a total of 28%. Of the remaining 56%, a shrinking 3% are unsure, for a total of 81% who believe that the administration is not being entirely truthful.

Given the overwhelming convenience of the attack to the plan (pdf link) that was released in 2000 by PNAC (of which Dick Cheney is a founding member) and that the administration has since been following. This is not conspiracy nut stuff. The document, linked above on PNAC's own website, expresses the need for "some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a
new Pearl Harbor" -- which, as I've previously discussed, would be more accurately called a new Reichstag Fire.

At 81%, the belief that the Bush administration is being at least partially dishonest about having had information that might have allowed it to prevent the 9/11 attack is not only mainstream, it is a vast majority. The question is, given this information, how can 34% still approve of Bush as president?

read more | digg story

Saturday, October 14, 2006

October 14th's post

What? I didn't forget to post yesterd- I mean today. See? This post is proof. It was posted on the 14th, see the date?

Hey, if Bush can rewrite the past, why can't I?

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Gullible Right

Keith Olbermann is at it again. He's done several stories over the last couple of days on the new book, "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction". This book exposes the GOP plot to dupe evangelical christians into voting Republican while referring to them as "the nuts" and regarding them with contempt behind closed doors. For the Bush administration, The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives -- or in the words of Karl Rove, "a f-ing faith-based thing" (it's unclear where the term "f-ing" originated, but the indefinite article used suggests that Rove did not censor himself) -- was promised and established for the sole purpose of winning votes, and once those votes were won, the administration did nothing but undermine and complain about it.

In light of the administration's true position on these "Faith-Based Initiatives" -- programs to provide funding for humanitarian organizations -- which violate the constitutional separation of church and state by exclusively funding christian organizations rather than secular ones or those established by other religious groups, we must question their other unconstitutionally religious policies like the campaign against same-sex marriage. Is Bush really a homophobe, or is he just after the homophobe vote?

This is why the Constitution requires the separation of church and state. These abuses and manipulations of the electorate, whether a candidate legitimately shares their beliefs or not, is the inevitable result of mixing religion and politics.

read more | digg story

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Accountability is "silly" and "gratuitous"

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, when asked if President Bush believed he had made any mistakes in his dealing with North Korea, responded by calling the question "silly" and "gratuitous".

What you do as president of the United States -- and I have said this repeatedly from this podium, and you need to give presidents the benefit of the doubt when national security is involved -- is the very best, in their judgment, of what they can do.
When it comes to the president, there should never be any doubt. The public needs to know what's going at the desk in the Oval Office (no, not under the desk, as long as it doesn't affect what happens above). If there is doubt, the president should most certainly not receive the benefit of it. The only reason there would be doubt is if the president has something to hide.

From Iraq to Foley to the usurpation of our Constitutional rights, the GOP has become the party of no accountability. As I've previously discussed, corruption turns good governments into bad ones, and accountability is a must if corruption is to be combatted.

read more | digg story

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Keith Olbermann on the Death of Habeas Corpus

Last night, Keith Olbermann did a brilliant piece (video below) on the unconstitutional atrocity known as the Military Commissions Act of 2006, whose nicknames include "The Torture Bill" and "The Death Warrant for Habeas Corpus". He begins by noting that -- despite the fact that this is "his bill" (in fact, it even pardons him retroactively for several of his many impeachable offenses), and he rushed it through too quickly for many members of Congress to read it, much less allow for proper debate -- he hasn't been able to be bothered to sign it into law in the two weeks since it was passed by Congress.

Still, getting the Military Commissions Act to the President so he could immediately mull it over for two weeks was so important, some members of Congress didn't even read the bill before voting on it. Thus, has some of its minutiae, escaped scrutiny.

One bit of trivia that caught our eye was the elimination of habeas corpus. which apparently used to be the right of anyone who's tossed in prison, to appear in court and say, "Hey, why am I in prison?"
He explains, using a deliciously satirical video entitled "Why does habeas corpus hate America", that the bill violates the constitution, which says "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." After which he shows footage of Patrick Leahy (D-VT) arguing before the Senate that the act "would not merely suspend the great writ, the great writ of habeas corpus, it would eliminate it permanently." Well, I guess since the Constitution does not explicitly mention the elimination of habeas corpus, only its suspension, this bill is ok. It's the Founding Fathers' fault for not foreseeing such usurpation of the government.

Olbermann goes on to explain how each amendment in the Bill of Rights, save the third, is neutered by this elimination of habeas corpus, ending on the sardonic note:
So as you can see, even without habeas corpus, at least one tenth of the Bill of Rights, I guess that's the Bill of "Right" now… remains virtually intact.

And we can rest easy knowing we will never, ever have to quarter soldiers in our homes… as long as the Third Amendment still stands strong.

The President can take care of that with a Signing Statement.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"DIY Impeachment"

The following quickly appeared as a comment on my last entry. For anyone who might be reading the RSS but not watching for comments, I thought I'd share:

Do-It-Yourself Impeachment Due this Thursday!!! (Oct 12)

The day the nation demands impeachment is almost upon us. This coming Thursday (Oct 12), sacks and sacks of mail will be sent to congress demanding impeachment via the House of Representative's own rules. This legal document is as binding as if a State or if the House itself passed the impeachment resolution (H.R. 635).

There's a little known and rarely used clause of the "Jefferson Manual" in the rules for the House of Representatives which sets forth the various ways in which a president can be impeached. Only the House Judiciary Committee puts together the Articles of Impeachment, but before that happens, someone has to initiate the process.

That's where we come in. In addition to the State-by-State method, one of the ways to get impeachment going is for individual citizens like you and me to submit a memorial. ImpeachforPeace.org, part of the movement to impeach the president, has created a new memorial based on one which was successful in impeaching a federal official in the past. You can find it on their website as a PDF.

STOP WAITING FOR YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS TO ACT FOR YOU.

You can initiate the impeachment process yourself by downloading the memorial, filling in the relevant information in the blanks (your name, state, etc.), and sending it in. Be a part of history.

http://ImpeachForPeace.org/ImpeachNow.html
I'm in.

Monday, October 09, 2006

In for a penny...

In theory, a democratic system with impeachment at its heart creates an obvious conflict in the wake of any (honest and credible) presidential election. How could the people's representatives impeach, and ask the Senate to consider removing from office, a president whom the people have just elected? In practice at present, quite a different conflict takes center stage: How can a Congress complicit in many of this President's criminal acts be asked to impeach him? Perhaps by focusing on crimes Congress was not complicit in, by allowing Congressional representatives to plead ignorance or remorse, and by electing new representatives better tuned to the present will of the people.

And how do we get the media to cover investigations of crimes the media too have been complicit in? Same answer (minus, of course, the elections).
To all of the members of Congress and the media referred to in this statement, I have one thing to say: You suck.

The cowardice of this "in for a penny, in for a pound" mentality is arguably even worse than the party loyalty that has caused the Republican majority in Congress to facilitate the president's atrocities rather than rather doing what is right for their country and their constituents. Congress has fucked up, and rather than admit their mistakes and attempt to rectify them, they have "stayed the course", acting as enablers for Dubya's vice, compounding the problems and creating new ones in the process. We need a Congress that will stand up to the president -- any president -- when he's wrong, regardless of party affiliation. While the Supreme court has done better, they too have not managed to put a stop to Bush's unconstitutional abuses of power. It has been argued that if Bush were impeached and removed from office, we would be left with a president who was just as bad, if not worse, but getting him out of office is the first step to repairing the damage he has done at home and abroad, not to mention the only way to begin to restore our credibility with the rest of the world.

read more | digg story

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Republicans giving new meaning to "Make love, not war"

From Andrew Sullivan's "Now the Iraq war hinges on a sex scandal":

The base of the Grand Old Party has been fed homophobia for years now. It was partly how Karl Rove, the president’s chief aide, won Ohio and the presidency in 2004.

Now, the very homophobia he stoked is suddenly turning back on him with fury. The Christian right, led to believe that the Republicans were keeping gays out of power, now discover that their own leaders may even have turned a blind eye to gay sleaze in their own ranks.

So it’s payback time. Internal Republican polls are now showing that this scandal could cost them up to 50 seats in next month’s election, as their base is so disgusted.
Republicans are making sex, not war, the issue. Scandals, especially sex scandals, should not be allowed to affect politics as long as there are real issues to discuss. It's always fun to see someone knocked off of their high horse, but to allow it to distract from real issues is stupid.

That said, homophobia is evil, and the way the GOP has encouraged and exploited it is deplorable. The party's handling of the issue has also been disgraceful, but regardless of whether the timing of the issue is politically motivated as Republican finger-pointers allege, if the party's own hatred and small-mindedness work against it in the upcoming election, they will deserve what they get.

read more | digg story

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Patriotism of Dissent

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
This quote is often misattributed to Thomas Jefferson (they are actually the words of historian Howard Zinn), but regardless of who actually said it, it couldn't be more true. Now, some will argue that not all dissent is patriotic (such as dissent against an ongoing war), while others (like Bush) seem to think that patriotism means never questioning one's government, but both groups are dead wrong.

Waving a flag as so many did after 9/11 doesn't make you a patriot. A patriot is "a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors" (Oxford American Dictionary). People like Bush seem to be under the mistaken impression dissent is a form of detraction. On the contrary, dissent is an attempt to protect a nation from potential threats from its own government by righting or averting a perceived wrong. While it's true that not all dissenting opinions are actually beneficial, even those that aren't require a conscious effort to attempt to better one's nation rather than following blindly, and that is patriotism. Supporting the government's decision can also be patriotic, but only when one does so after analyzing that decision and coming to the conclusion that it is a good one. Blind loyalty is unpatriotic. As the preceding implies, patriots can be on either side of an issue, and can even disagree with one another. Patriotism speaks only to ones effort and intentions, and a vehement but misguided patriot can also be an enemy of his country, from whom other patriots try to protect the nation.

President Bush is such an individual. I believe that he is convinced that he is doing good, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and he is doing more harm than terrorist or military force ever could.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Molding Young Minds

As I mentioned, I was at the World Can't Wait protest yesterday. There were a lot of people there, but it was the young children with their parents that got me thinking.

I had a mixed reaction when I saw a few young children walking around with their parents at the protest. While I thought it was good that these children were being exposed to some positive principles (even the average Bush supporter would agree that war is generally bad and standing up for what you believe is generally good), but then I started thinking about the children that weren't there. Specifically, I thought of the children from the Jesus Camp documentary, and how they were being exposed to (if not indoctrinated with) values opposing those of the protesters. This lead to issues that I had previously pondered of the dynamics and ethics of parents attempting to instill their own values in their children.

I believe that parents' influence on their children is one of the biggest reasons that the evils -- especially flavors of hate like racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia -- in the world are still around today. Not that hate is always inherited, but parents who hate raise their children to hate (some more effectively than others), and children who are not raised to hate at least have a fair chance to grow up not hating. The impractical solution to nepotism that I discussed in a previous entry would seem to solve this, but I think we can all agree that having the government raise children is something that must be avoided, lest we risk ending up with our own version of the Hitler Youth. If we could trust all parents to expose their children to as many different beliefs as possible and raise them to be open-minded and make their own decisions, the issue would be moot, but that requires a level of altruism that is hard to find.

Or is that just me? My parents exposed me to different beliefs and raised me to be open-minded and make my own decisions, so how can I be sure that my belief that children should should be raised that way rather than with rigid religious dogmas is my own decision and not just a product of my own upbringing?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sorry, nothing today

No blog today (this doesn't count), I spent all day at the World Can't Wait protest.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Foley Coverup

In case you've been living under a rock, Mark Foley, Republican Congressman from Florida's 16th district, recently resigned after news broke of his sexual email and instant messaging conversations with underaged, male Congressional pages. I don't plan on making a habit of talking about stupid scandals like "Foleygate" that have little or nothing to do with real issues. What warrants mention, however, is the Republican Party's reaction to the news.

Overwhelmingly, Republicans have tried to distance themselves from Foley. Lou says that because of his hypocrisy, he's not really a Republican at all (if that was really a qualification to be a Republican, it would be the US's smallest political party). Fox News -- the conservative propaganda machine that is perhaps more truthfully spelled "Faux News" -- seems to agree with Lou, because they went to the extreme of labeling Foley as a Democrat at least 3 times during The O'Reilly Factor (insert "O RLY?" joke here) (Update: They've done it again). Then again, they're no better, since they reportedly knew about it last year, but kept it under their hats. That's hypocrisy.

Others have tried to blame the whole thing on anyone associated with the Democratic Party. These tactics range from unfounded claims that the timing of the story's release is politically motivated (Fox News could have broken the story at any time), to attempts to downplay the issue by evoking images of Monica Lewinsky, to slurring homosexuals and blaming both Foley's actions and the cover up on America's "Tolerance And Diversity". These people don't even subscribe to the philosophy of "love the sinner, hate the sin". All they know how to do is hate.

Foley's actions may have been disgraceful, but they can't match the disgrace of his party's reaction.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Thoughtcrime

It is unacceptable to think that there is any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children [...] to achieve an objective. --President George W. Bush (emphasis added)
In the video below, Keith Olbermann asks the question "Is it EVER unacceptable to think in this country?"

No. What is unacceptable is that anyone in our government -- particularly the single most powerful individual, by a rapidly widening margin -- would presume to dictate what is and is not acceptable to think. That is a duty reserved for fictional villains, the likes of Big Brother and the Though Police from George Orwell's 1984. The unrestricted right to think is not only the single most fundamental right of a democratic society, it is a basic human right. As Olbermann points out, it is not only the right, but the duty of every member of such a society to do so. As Olbermann says,
When a President says thinking is unacceptable, even on one topic, even in the heat of the moment, even in the turning of a phrase extracted from its context, he takes us toward a new and fearful path -- one heretofore the realm of science fiction authors and apocalyptic visionaries.


digg story

Monday, October 02, 2006

Don't check me

Among the many outrages in the Military Commissions Act of 2006, better known as the Torture Bill, is the following gem:

No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever, including any action pending on or filed after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, relating to the prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission under this chapter, including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions under this chapter.
Perhaps the single most potent and important check defined by the Constitution is the Judiciary's ability to evaluate the constitutionality of legislation. This clause removes this check, removing the last recourse against this atrocity.

I think they knew that they wouldn't be able to get away with this for long. They were intentionally violating the Constitution, and they knew that the Supreme Court would eventually do the right thing, so they removed their ability to do so. These people have to be stopped.

read more | digg story

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sworn to protect "a goddamned piece of paper"

"Stop throwing the Constitution in my face," Bush screamed back. "It's just a goddamned piece of paper!"
This same "goddamned piece of paper", in Article II, Section 1 says:
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Bush swore this oath twice, once at each of his inaugurations. The above statement alone is a failure to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution," and constitutes a violation of that oath.

The Constitution mandates the separation of powers with checks and balances to prevent any individual or group from becoming too powerful, but Bush thinks he's above the law. Addressing members of Congress, he was quoted as saying: "I don't give a goddamn, I'm the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way."

I'm reminded of a line from Battlestar Galactica, in which Lee "Apollo" Adama said:
I swore an oath. To defend the Articles [of Colonization (the equivalent of our Constitution)]. The Articles say there is an election in seven months. Now, if you are telling me we are throwing out the law, then I am not a captain, you are not a commander, and you are not the president. And I don't owe either of you a damned explanation for anything.
read more | digg story

Saturday, September 30, 2006

How quickly they forget

Remember Abu Ghraib? Remember all of the outrage over the illegal abuse of prisoners? 65% of the Senate and 58% of the House do not, because they've just made it legal for dubya and co. to continue doing it.

My representative and senators voted against torture, did yours?

digg story

Friday, September 29, 2006

Followup to "A few good blogs"

Well, the response to my request for recommendations of political blogs was a bit underwhelming, but this one's pretty new, so I shouldn't expect much. Here are a few of the blogs that I've started reading:

  • The Dilbert Blog: The blog of Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic. This blog is sometimes political, but always entertaining.
  • My Soapbox, by Chad Lupkes: A blog by another member of Campaigns Wikia, Chad Lupkes. Chad is a progressive activist in Seattle, WA.
  • Indeterminate: Another Campaigns Wikia member, Ferguson. This blog isn't particularly political, at least not overtly, but his analyses are intriguing.
  • ...a liberal who’s been mugged: Lou Franklin is probably the most outspokenly conservative CW member. Most of the time I think he's nuts, but he provides a valuable insight into how the other side thinks. If I've misrepresented conservative beliefs in this blog, it's probably his fault.
  • The Dead Planet Network: This one is written by Deadplanet, who is, you guessed it, another CW contributer. I saved this one for last because it's not technically a blog (which is made painfully obvious by the lack of an rss feed). Nevertheless, his writings are eloquent and insightful, and definitely worth a read.

I'd love to get some more, so don't hesitate to add your recommendations to the comments. I'd also like recommendations for political podcasts and the like.

This feels like a cop-out, but I have stuff I have to do today. I'll try to have something better tomorrow.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Your word of the day: Polyarchy

In the video below, Noam Chomsky points out, as everyone should already know, that the United States is not a true democracy. He argues that it is instead a Polyarchy, which he describes as "a system in which power resides in the hand of those whom Madison called 'the wealth of the nation', the responsible class of men, and the rest of the population is fragmented, distracted, allowed to participate every couple of years [...] and they have a little choice among the responsible men, the 'wealth of the nation.'" He goes on to explain that our government was "founded on the principle, explained by Madison in the Constitutional Convention that the primary goal of government is to protect the minority of the opulent minority against the majority." This would certainly explain McCarthyism, and the country's general aggression in fighting the spread of communism, as the opulent minority have the most to lose from communism.

He also argues that we are a one-party state, and that that one party has two factions claiming to be opposing parties. I disagree with this assessment, not because I believe that Republicans and Democrats are completely different animals, but because I don't think that the two are well-defined enough to be classified as factions. As I discussed yesterday, the division between the "parties" is based on an arbitrary and overly-simplistic taxonomy. Both perpetuate the current form of government rather than pushing for real change, but the issues on which they do differ are so disparate and tenuously connected, with so much disagreement within the broadly defined "parties" that calling them "factions" is even less accurate.



digg story

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Amorphous Lines in the Sand

Looking at issues in terms of what party supports them is really an absurd idea. When individuals have their own opinion on every issue that they're concerned about, and the average person probably doesn't care at all about more than half of the issues, how do you lump these individuals into groups?

As far as I can tell, the deciding factor is that beliefs described by terms like "Conservative" and "Right" which fall under the Republican Party in the United States are based on the idea that things are are good now and/or were better in the past, and "why mess with a good thing?", while "Liberal" and "Left", represented by the Democratic Party, revolve around the belief that we can work to make the world better than it's ever been. I came to this conclusion largely based on an argument that I saw, from someone who seemed to be a Libertarian voting Republican, that the Democratic Party was too "anti-personal freedom" because it advocates increased taxation and gun regulation. This initially sounded insane to me, as the Liberal values of the Democratic Party tend to fall on the side of increased personal freedom on most issues (this might be partially in reaction to the authoritarian tendencies of the current Republican administration, which are not supported even by many Republicans). So, if the Democratic Party is generally pro-personal freedom, but takes the opposite stance on these issues, what really defines the line between the two? The answer is in the justification for these stances.

The reason for gun regulation is the belief that the need for the average individual to hunt and to protect themselves, particularly in a militia-like fashion as they argue is the purpose behind the second amendment, is outdated, and that the average well-intentioned citizen is more likely to accidentally hurt himself or another with a gun than defend himself. They believe the the primary usefulness of firearms outside military and law enforcement duties is for nefarious purposes, and if, say, a mugger is not able to obtain a gun to mug you, you won't need one to defend yourself from him. In this way, gun regulation attempts to create a better future.

The other issue mentioned is taxation. Nobody likes being obligated to pay money to the government, but taking the money isn't the point of taxation. The purpose is to provide for public programs to increase the general welfare. Everything from road maintenance to business subsidies to universal healthcare requires money. Liberals don't advocate increased taxation, they advocate government programs designed to create a better future that have the side effect of increased taxation because those programs need to be funded.

It is, of course, absurd to agree with either of these solely based on party affiliation. Parties are just a way of organizing these beliefs, and its unfortunate that our system forces voters to decide between such arbitrarily-divided groups rather than voting their own beliefs on individual issues, because that would become so unwieldy with so many issues that even the career politicians elected to represent us can't keep up.

As always, these are my conclusions drawn based on my own observations, and constructive criticism is welcome and encouraged. What do you think defines the division between the parties?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How do you solve a problem like economics?

I am a strong, even radical social progressive and civil libertarian. Individual freedom is most important to me, but when it comes to the other big division between the Left and the Right, I'm a bit less sure what "the way it should be" is. I've yet to see the subject summed-up as simply and brilliantly as Oliver Wendell Holmes summarized the issue of individual freedom with his quote, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Previously, I have not been particularly interested in the subject, but in reading political blogs and discussion, I've begun to become more interested in these issues simply because they present more information that is new to me, and provide a logical question that I have yet to solve.

The first problem that I see is that we know historically, that communism -- at least in the Leninist form demonstrated by the Soviet Union -- does not work because it fails to encourage hard work and innovation, but inheritance and nepotism prevent the laissez faire ideal that those who work hard and innovate will be the ones with access to capital from working. An interesting but entirely impractical solution to this that came to me is to eliminate parenthood as in Huxley's Brave New World. This would prevent people from becoming wealthy by inheritance and would allow the for all people to enter the workforce with level footing, as assumed by the capitalist ideal. Because it would mean that wealth can't be bequeathed to ones descendants, and of course, you can't take it with you when you die, this would remove much of the motivation to accumulate vast amounts of wealth beyond what one can use, and the excess wealth would either be donated to charitable organizations or used to purchase goods and services for ones own enjoyment (stimulating the economy in the process) rather than being hoarded indefinitely, and any remaining funds would presumably go to the government (reducing or eliminating the need for taxes) and/or to charitable organizations upon the individual's death.

A more practical idea that I came up with to offset the barriers to accessing capital and encourage competition would be for the government to provide special loans to new/struggling businesses to replace the need for venture capital. There would obviously need to be safeguards to ensure that this money is not pocketed by business owners, and the the assets bought with the money would become property of the government (most likely to be auctioned-off) if a business fails. This would not only decrease the barriers to entry, but by making these loans indefinite and only requiring them to be paid back with interest in the case of a merger or buyout by a company that has already received such funds (or absorbed a company that has), it would discourage the formation of monopolies. Of course, more loosely-linked trusts would still be an issue, but by providing these funds, the government would in a sense become an investor, giving it a right to monitor the actions of the business to avoid such abuses.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Republican Congress: Robbing our children of their rights AND their clothes

From digg, "House bill HR 5295 made it out of committee and passed, and is now going to the Senate for review. This bill allows education officals and local police to just randomly search, all the way to a strip search, any student they want to, any time, based on suspicion only, basically whenever they feel like it and say the magic words."

Random searches are bad enough. Aside from contradicting the fourth amendment's guarantee of protection from unreasonable search and seizure, this is an obvious invitation for pedophiles and potential rapists who are (or can convincingly pretend to be) in the education or law enforcement field to abuse these students. This is how the GOP protects our children?

I can't believe that even the Republican party would put minors at this much risk of sexual abuse just to indoctrinate them to believe that they have no rights. This is disgusting on so many levels.

read more | digg story

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Against which all governments are measured

There's been a lot of discussion over forms of government, which is the best, and which are better than others. A more interesting question, however, is what makes one form of government better or worse than another. With so many vast differences between various forms, it can be difficult to pin down the single factor that most closely ties to "goodness". Many would argue that the factor is freedom, equality, or accurate representation of the beliefs of the populace, but these values represent an obvious bias toward democracy and the enlightenment values from which it derives. I submit that the "best" form of government is defined not by freedom or representation, but by its inherent level of susceptibility to corruption.

The values behind a form of government may determine its agreeability to a particular individual or group, but its corruptibility determines how likely it is to adhere to those values in the real world, when subjected to the rigors of human nature. Dictatorships are generally reviled as the worst form of government, but an incorruptible, benevolent dictatorship could easily create a far better society than the best democracy. The problem with dictatorships is that they endow an individual with absolute power, and as Lord Acton famously stated, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

But if all power corrupts, why give it to anyone? It would seem that anarchy, which does not grant anyone power over anyone else, would be the least corruptible. Anarchy, though, is not truly an absence of government, but rather is individual self-rule for every individual. It's a billion tiny dictatorships struggling for resources. Now, while this would preclude all but the most masochistic from being abused by their own government, human nature desires power, and alliances would begin to form among the micro-nations creating gangs and eventually leading to mob rule, a de facto government born of the corruption of the ideal of anarchism. In this way, anarchism is like laissez faire capitalism with power as capital -- the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Similarly, alliances and power blocs can form within a direct democracy, and groups can be influenced through propaganda and strong-arm tactics as well as mutual protection schemes like the alliances on Survivor. This decentralization of power does, however, have the advantage over representative democracy that corruption requires direct support from a plurality of voters, rather than simply a few politicians with the ability to conceal their corruption.

A theocracy is arguably the most corruptible, because while it claims to be under the rule of a deity, power is actually concentrated with the leaders of the religion who purport to speak for that deity, but who are as susceptible to human nature as anyone else. In a society fanatical to install a theocracy, this would mean unchecked power for those leaders, and the ability to put down any dissent without reproach. This fact, more than their inherent conservatism and rejection of enlightenment values like freedom of religion, makes theocracy a bad form of government.

An interesting means of discouraging corruption is illustrated in one of the multiple story arcs in Ambrosia Software's Escape Velocity: Nova. In this game, there is a race known as the Polarans, who have a strict caste system in which the Mu'hari caste, who among other duties serve as judges, juries and prosecutors, are considered the most disgraceful of all castes and must render assistance to any other Polaran in any way asked. Passing judgement on ones peers is considered the ultimate punishment. This also parallels my own experience as moderator in internet forums, where moderators were encouraged to think of themselves more as janitors than as police officers.

If corruption is what makes a government bad, and government by definition has a level of power that promotes corruption, then it is the ability to keep corruption in check that makes a system of government good. This means that a good government must provide a framework for the public, possibly in addition to the government itself, to limit the government's power and keep its members accountable for their actions. Government transparency and freedom of speech, and particularly of the press, create accountability. If the government is corrupt, it will lose support and, in the absence of a means of replacing officials as provided by democracy, will ultimately be overthrown. Likewise, religious freedom is beneficial to prevent the use of fanaticism to mask corruption. Concepts like term limits and separation of powers with checks and balances are also designed to limit the effectiveness of corruption. The less centralized power is, the more obstacles it must overcome.

What is the best form of government that exists today? Probably some flavor of democracy, but it will never be perfect until corruption can be prevented entirely.