Charity: Not Doing It Right

August 22nd, 2014 2 comments

There are supposedly heart-warming stories going around about people at Starbucks starting “Pay It Forward” chains. One customer decides to pay for their drink, but then adds the payment for the next customer. That customer, hearing the story, figures, “Well, I was going to pay this much anyway,” and so “accepts” the gift and then pays for the next person in line. In the end, you get something like 378 people doing this, one after another, until someone eventually says “no” to the “free” drink and pays for their own and doesn’t pay anything forward.

I don’t find that inspiring at all.

Essentially, what you have here is 378 people who can afford to pay $5 for a cup of coffee playing tag with their bills. All but two of the people in the chain are just paying for their own drinks and then feeling cool about themselves because they theoretically engaged in an act of kindness.

Here’s the kicker: in the story linked to above, the first person in the chain paid double for their drink, and the last person, according to the report, did not accept the previous person’s drink, and instead paid for their own. There is nothing in the report about anybody accepting a drink for free without paying for the next drink. Which means that the story is really just about one person paying Starbucks double for their coffee, and nobody getting any actual favor from anyone else—save for the super-rich corporation.

Hard to get all weepy-eyed about that.

And even if Starbucks did eventually give one person a drink and they paid nothing, then the end result is one person paid for another person’s drink, and everyone else was just saying “me too!” without actually doing anything.

Another way of looking at it is that you have hundreds of consecutive people refusing to accept a gift from someone because their sense of self-sufficiency won’t allow them to. Sometimes it is just as good to accept a gift as it is to give one—but people too often have too great a sense of personal pride, seeing the gift as an insult rather than a kindness.

You know what would have been a lot more inspiring? If 378 consecutive people at a Starbucks paid for their drink and snack, and then paid for a homeless person to get the same order. That would be cool.

Because that’s what “Pay It Forward” is supposed to be about: you find a person who is in real need, and you just give them what they need. When they ask how they can repay you, you tell them that when they are back on their feet, the next time they encounter someone in need, you do the same for them.

And when you do so, you don’t brag about it on Facebook.


This is also a good time to bring up the whole ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge.” I guess it’s a good way to generate publicity for a cause, but the challenge is supposedly about making a donation… or pouring a bucket of ice water over your head. Which means that all those people pouring ice on themselves are essentially saying, “I’m so cheap that I’d rather do this than donate to a worthy cause.”

Now, probably many people who do this also donate. However, people started criticizing others for donating and not pouring ice-water over themselves, as if it meant they somehow were being wusses or something.

At that point, it’s just a kind of messed-up dare.

A much better idea would have been to have people promise to pour the ice water on themselves if “x” number of people promised to donate to the charity. Then you would generate a lot more donations—“Hey, if we can get six more people to donate $20 to ALS, Frank will douse himself!”

The ALS Association says they got an extra $40 million or so in donations, so OK—but I think it could have been more had it been done right.

Or, you know, people could just donate to worthy causes without having to be goaded or anything.

Categories: The Lighter Side Tags: by

Not All Situations Are Alike

August 21st, 2014 2 comments

On August 19, Kajieme Powell, a 25-year-old man, reportedly with a history of mental illness, walked into a convenience store armed with a knife and took two drinks without paying for them. After leaving the store, the owner followed him and asked him to pay for the drinks. Powell went back into the store, picked up a package of pastries, and came back out. When the owner asked him again to pay, Powell threw them into the street. The owner then called the police.

Powell did not try to go anywhere. He remained where he was, having put the two drinks down on the ground near the curb. It was at this point that someone started shooting a video of the event. Powell can be seen walking back and forth near the drinks. He is wearing a blue jacket, with his right hand in the pocket. A police cruiser arrives, and two officers step out of the vehicle. Powell approaches them and starts to yell, “Shoot me!” The officers tell him to take his hand out of his pocket; he does so. Although it cannot be seen clearly in the video, Powell is holding something, and the officers begin to shout, “Drop the knife!”

Powell approaches, then stops about 12 to 15 feet away, continuing to shout at the officers to shoot him. He then turns to his left and climbs up on an elevated parking space perhaps three feet above the sidewalk, describing an arc which leads him to walk towards the officer who exited the right-side door of the cruiser.

When Powell is about 8-10 feet away from the closer policeman, the officers begin firing. By the third shot, Powell is falling, by the fourth, he is down. The police continue firing, the first seven shots in quick succession. There is a moment’s pause as Powell rolls on the ground in front of the officer, then two more shots are fired—a total of nine shots. It is unclear from the video which officer fired how many shots.


One thing is clear: Powell was attempting to commit what is often described as “suicide by cop.” He was clearly not interested in consuming the food he took from the store, nor did he make any attempt to escape; he was, almost certainly, trying to cause the police to arrive, and was waiting for them. When they arrived, he did what he needed to do to get them to shoot him.

People are outraged at this video for a few very obvious reasons. Especially in the wake of the shooting in Ferguson, the shooting of a young black man by white police officers seems galling. The reports that Michael Brown was shot six times despite having his hands up in the air in a gesture of surrender brings to this event the idea that Powell was similarly helpless. The video itself, however, appears to be the most damning evidence: we see a man who appears to be unarmed walking to the police, and for this, he is shot nine times, more than half of the fusillade fired when Powell was falling or on the ground.

There are some exculpatory facts. Powell was in fact armed with a knife. He was trying to get the officers to shoot him. It seems clear that he was not going to stop where he was, and had he not been shot, he would have continued at the officer. Whether he would have used the knife at all, whether he would have done real harm to the officer he was approaching, is a question to which we will never know the answer.

There are objections raised:

Powell does not move like a man who poses a threat.

You mean, other than committing a crime and then coming at police officers armed with a knife?

There is no evidence that anyone felt threatened before the police arrived.

That has no relevance to the situation; the police act according to what they find, and not according to what they have not been told.

Even when he advances on police, he walks, rather than runs. He swings his arms normally, rather than entering into a fighting stance.

I do not find this a convincing argument; if a man with aggressive intent is walking towards you with a knife, and will be upon you in two or three seconds, I do not see this as being so less threatening that a defensive reaction is unwarranted. Similarly for the argument that he was not in a “fighting stance.” If a guy comes at me with a knife clearly intending to start an incident, I do not consider the fact that his hand with the knife is at his side a very comforting one.

Powell looks sick more than he looks dangerous.

What difference does that make? Is a mentally ill person armed with a knife less likely to commit an act of violence?

But the police draw their weapons as soon as they exit their car. They begin yelling at him to stop.

This is actually not surprising, as they are responding to an armed robbery and they find the suspect with his hand in his pocket.

There is no warning shot, even.

There has been discussion about warning shots, which many police departments have policies against; nonetheless, in other situations (this one in Missouri), it has worked.

On the other hand, by the time Powell was shot, it was clear to the police that he wanted them to shoot him, and was willing to endanger them to accomplish this. I doubt that a warning shot would have done much.

All in all, I find the objections less than compelling.


There is one rather simple yet significant fact: had the police waited a few more seconds until Powell was, in fact, just a foot away and (possibly) raising the knife, then our reaction to the video would be meaningfully different. Instead of seeing an apparently unarmed man being shot from a distance of 8-10 feet, we would see a man raising a knife a few feet away from officers shouting at him to stop. Self-defense would be arguably much easier to understand. Add to that the fact that these officers probably understood very well that this man wanted them to fire and therefore would probably do whatever it took to accomplish that, and it is somewhat more understandable.

And that is where the shooting becomes, if not less objectionable, then at least less incriminating in hindsight: there is almost no doubt that Powell would have continued to close the distance. Nor do I think that it would have made much difference had Powell never raised the knife. The fact that the officers shot from 8-10 feet instead of 2-3 feet is not meaningfully significant.

Despite my initial shock and horror of seeing the video, upon considering the situation, I do not see the officers’ actions as remarkably abhorrent. Disturbing, yes; tragic, yes. However, did the police act wrongly, when it is clear that two or three seconds more time would have made no difference in the outcome, except to make the officers’ actions appear more reasonable?

Below is the video in question. It is graphic in content (not bloodiness), and shows Powell being shot to death. At the key moment, if you play the video in full-screen 1080p resolution and zoom in on what happens, it is possible to see details that might be missed if you look less closely.


But then we have the firing itself. Powell is not just shot; he is shot nine times, in three seconds.

However, it seems that this is how officers are trained, and that “muscle memory” may be an issue. Police are trained to shoot several times, not just once. When they are trained, they may not practice shooting once or twice, evaluating, and then shooting again. They are likely trained to shoot many times, and this, in a panic situation with a live assailant walking towards you, could lead to the excessive firing.

Not knowing which officer fired how many bullets could be a factor; there is something called “contagious shooting,” where a gunman will fire on the signal of another firing. It is possible that the closer officer fired the first one or two shots, and then his partner, prompted by his partner’s shooting, fires his own gun several times, providing the latter shots.

We are also misinformed by television, where we most often see the “good guy” taking extra caution to avoid killing someone. How many times have you seen a video of a cop firing a bad guy in the arm or the shoulder, so as to remove the threat without deadly force? We see this and accept it as something that could happen in real life. However, if a man is coming at you with a knife with clear intent to do damage, and you have no idea what drugs he may be on, and he could be on top of you before you have time to evaluate after a single shot or two, and you know that a shot to the arm or shoulder could miss—do you really think you would try for just one or two shots to slow him down?

It’s easy for us to watch a video taken from afar and judge; it would be extraordinarily more difficult to actually be in that officer’s situation and have to make a split-second, adrenaline-fueled, life-or-death decision.

That is not to say that there was no wrongdoing by the police. I am not sure if the officer closest to Powell was right to remain between Powell and the vehicle, giving him no room to maneuver. I am not sure if the assailant having a knife and not a gun made the situation significantly different. I do not pretend to be knowledgable about any of this, so I could be very wrong in my assessment.

That said, before knowing more, I would tend to assume that, while appearing trigger-happy and excessive in shooting, the officers involved may actually have been justified in their actions.

It hurts to say that, considering the Powell deserved medical attention, and not to be shot to death. Most likely, this is much more about our failure to treat mental illness than it is about police procedures.

Not that police procedures should not be questioned. In fact, there was an incident in Toronto last year where a younger man was also shot by police nine times as he wielded a knife—this shooting appearing far, far less justifiable.

And then, of course, there is the shooting of Michael Brown, which also seems indefensible.


I know I will probably catch a lot of flak from people who have the same political beliefs and human sensibilities as I do; the same thing happened when I tried to understand Rodney Peairs’ actions when he shot Yoshihiro Hattori to death. Nevertheless, I believe it is necessary to come to as complete an understanding as possible, and then to judge reasonably, and not just in a way that justifies your sense of moral outrage.


There is still something else that disturbs me greatly about this incident. This is from one report:

When police arrived, they said Powell walked toward them clutching his waistband. They say he then pulled out a knife and held it up in what Dotson described as an “overhand grip.”

We see this again and again: police reports, filed after the fact, differ greatly from what we later find to be the facts of the case. In this case, the police reports make it sound like Powell was in fact right on top of the officer, with the knife raised over his head, ready to strike.

The video clearly belies this account.

We saw something similar in the arrest five years ago of Henry Louis Gates Jr. by a police officer whose official report was fairly clearly filled with inaccurate statements intended to justify the officer’s action.

This is what worries me as much as anything else: that police misconduct if much more common than we believe, and that much of it is covered up by police reporting which is to a great extent self-serving, and designed to the greatest extent possible to make the suspect appear guilty, and the officer completely justified. We saw this in Ferguson as well, when the police released a video intended clearly to justify the officer’s actions, despit that video having zero relevance to the misconduct in question.

But then there is the statement of the Saint Louis police chief describing the reaction to Powell’s killing. He stated that police officers have the right to defend themselves. This is true. But then he says something more:

“Officer safety is the number one issue.”

Which I find interesting. I thought public safety was the number one issue. And that may be part of the problem: the police do not see keeping the public safe as their main job—“to protect and to serve.” Instead, they appear to see it as a public management issue, with their own safety being paramount.

I do not begrudge the police the ability to defend themselves. However, when they view their safety as much more important than the safety of the public in general, that’s when things become worrisome.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

Nixon Sabotaged the End of the Vietnam War?

August 18th, 2014 2 comments

That’s the claim made in a new book by a historian working at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs:

In “Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair and the Origins of Watergate,” [historian Ken] Hughes recounts that Nixon ally Anna Chennault was suspected of having interceded with South Vietnamese leaders to keep them from attending the late 1968 Paris peace talks, with or without Nixon’s knowledge and approval. When President Lyndon Johnson confronted Nixon with the report, Nixon flatly denied having anything to do with any such sabotage.

But Johnson had the FBI put a tap on the South Vietnamese embassy that caught Chennault telling Ambassador Bui Diem that her “boss” wanted the nation’s leaders “to hold on, we’re gonna win” — implying they would get a better deal under a victorious Nixon.

Hughes heads up the Nixon team of the center’s Presidential Recordings Project; presumably, he knows what he is talking about, and this is not some questionable headline-grabbing half-invented folly.

It’s a pretty serious charge, given how long the war lasted afterwards, and how many people were killed. And it would kind of be a violation of U.S. Law, the Logan Act to be specific. To the level of treason.

Strangely, at least a few articles going around the web now are claiming that George Will “confirmed” the claim—however, a read of Will’s article seems to be nothing more than a retelling of the claim, and not a confirmation. Will just recounts what Hughes claims, and then ends up by making it seem like Obama’s now-completely-debunked IRS “scandal” is somehow analogous.

That seems to be in line with the reaction by many right wingers—even if it did happen, it didn’t go as high as Nixon, and it was justified because Johnson was the one perpetrating the dirty trick by trying to end the war in tim for an election.

I would not at all be surprised if Hughes’ claims are real. I would be just as unsurprised to hear in 20 or 30 years that Reagan did the exact same thing with Iran and the hostages, or that Bush’s team was involved in the use of Florida felon’s list to disenfranchise Gore voters.

On the other hand, I will be more surprised to hear any evidence of Reagan doing that, and shocked if I hear evidence about Bush—not because I don’t think they did these things, but because I am pretty sure they would not have left any evidence tying any of it to anyone near the presidents involved.

Categories: Right-Wing Slime Tags: by

Rick Perry Indicted for Abuse of Power, Threatens to Punish Those Involved

August 17th, 2014 1 comment

So a Democratic Texas D.A. did something stupid: got drunk, and then drove. She was arrested and served time, but refused to resign under pressure. She was within her rights under law: she is under no obligation to resign.

Rick Perry pressured her to do so anyway. His motives were not just for show; if the D.A. resigned, Perry would get to appoint a replacement.

That’s no small deal, as the D.A. in question, Rosemary Lehmberg, is the D.A. for Travis County, home to Austin, the state capital.

Why is that a big deal? First of all, Austin is one of the few counties in Texas with a Democratic majority. Second, the D.A. for Austin, it being the state capital, runs the state’s public integrity unit. The public integrity unit is kind of the like ethics committee: it investigates government corruption. And it’s run mostly by Democrats, in a state where most politicians are Republicans. And Texas Republicans have a long history of corruption.

Naturally, Republicans would like nothing more than for the public integrity unit to shut up and/or go away. They have tried to defund it in the past, but failed. Getting a Republican appointee in there could potentially throw off all current investigations and damage the unit, even if the appointee were replaced by a Democrat in the next election.

So, when D.A. Lehmberg was arrested, and, as a bonus, acted like a tool on camera in jail, Republicans saw this as a big political opportunity. Unfortunately, the position is locally elected, and so Republican politicians couldn’t touch her. A grand jury set on her by Republicans refused to indict her. Lehmberg refused to resign, but said she would not run for re-election in 2016.

Unwilling to accept that, Perry decided to play hardball: he demanded that Lehmberg resign, or else he’d cut the funding for the public integrity unit.

She refused, so Perry defunded the unit.

Normal hardball politics, right?

Except for one small detail: Perry, like so many Republicans, was so used to getting away with illegal crap that he forgot that he could still be prosecuted for it. And he had committed an abuse of power: he threatened to defund a legally operating government office if a legally elected public official who was not under his authority did not resign so he could appoint a political ally to that seat. What’s more, he didn’t try to hide it: he made it quite clear what he was doing.

Well, you’re not supposed to do that, it turns out. The governor is not supposed to get involved with county business, he’s not supposed to coerce public officials, and he’s not allowed to use his office or powers as governor to do so.

Think it’s no big deal? Well, imagine if Obama, citing Perry’s corruption, demanded that Perry resign, or else Obama would cut the $1 billion-plus federal Transportation Equity Bonus funds for Texas, citing a corrupt governor’s inability to disperse those funds honestly.

Do you believe that, if Perry refused and Obama actually cut those funds on the basis of his threat, that Republicans would not immediately impeach him?

Of course they would. They would call it the foulest, basest, most despicable act of illegal “Chicago politics” imaginable. And they would see no irony in defending what Perry did at the same time, claiming they were totally different.


Perry, predictably, is not taking this sitting down. He is, however, kind of going over the top.

“This indictment amounts to nothing more than an abuse of power and I cannot and I will not allow that to happen,” Perry charged. There’s your standard conservative move: accuse those you are against with exactly what you have done wrong.

However, he went much further:

I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes and I intend to win. I’ll explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter. I am confident that we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is. And those responsible will be held accountable.

So, what is his evidence that this is a political attack? Nothing, of course.

Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor appointed to the case, is a respected attorney from San Antonio, and was actually backed by both Republican Senators for the U.S. Attorney position in Texas. Hard to call him a flaming political hack.

The grand jury who indicted him, on the other hand, consisted of residents of Austin—a county with more Democrats than Republicans. While not his “political opponents,” they potentially could have bias. On the other hand, the grand jury was selected by Special State District Judge Bert Richardson—a San Antonio Republican, appointed by Bush.

So, all in all, it does not look especially like this is a political witch hunt; a Republican-backed prosecutor convinces a grand jury selected by a Republican judge from a county which is roughly 60% Democrat and 40% Republican.

What really sounds over-the-top in Perry’s response is that “those responsible will be held accountable.” Really? Will he be holding the Republican judge who seated the grand jury responsible? Or the highly-regarded prosecutor who received Republican backing, will he be “held responsible” for playing politics? Or maybe the governor intends to track down and punish the members of the grand jury who voted to indict?

And what will Perry do to them, exactly? He calls it an “abuse of power”—what, did any of those people threaten Perry with the indictment unless Perry resigned? Nope—nobody involved said or did anything remotely political—so exactly what will Perry do to “hold them accountable”?

Perry’s bluster is not just game-playing, however: he levied a rather serious charge and a threat of retaliation, in a case where he very clearly demonstrated that he does follow up on such threats.

I’m sure it will play well with the home crowd, but from a distance, Perry sounds even worse than he did when he started.

GOP Motto: Vote Against Democrats Because We Turned the Country to Crap

August 15th, 2014 2 comments

From a New York Times article:

Voters’ deep frustration with both sides explains why few election analysts, including people in both parties, predict a wave that would wipe out Democrats like in the 2010 midterms (or like 2006, when George W. Bush was president and Republicans lost their House and Senate majorities).

That’s not a good analogy: Republicans lost in 2006 because they had held almost total control for six years and had made a huge mess of things. Democrats were more or less bystanders there, and were the alternative. None of that applies to Republicans under the current situation: most of the bad stuff that has been happening has been their fault; all they can do is say, “Hey, look how much we were able to screw things up while Obama was in the White House!”

Look, I’m no huge fan of what Obama has been doing, and while Republicans are even more of an obstacle for Democrats in Congress, Congressional Democrats—especially those in the Senate—have not taken the drastic action made necessary by conservative intransigence.

So does that mean I’m going to refrain from voting in the upcoming elections, or that I’m going to vote for anyone opposing Democrats?

Hell, no!!

When one party is merely lame and unwilling to act forcefully, but the other party is going batshit insane, you don’t vote for the batshit insane people! When a president has gone too far trying to accommodate diehard hacks bent on ruining the country to make that president look bad, you do not reward the ones who have driven us into the ground just because they can make you unhappy.

Now is exactly the time for all Democrats or fellow travelers, anyone who feels that the past 6 years of gridlock and sabotage is a horrendously bad thing, to vote Democratic across the board.

Think that voter suppression and Jim Crow 2014 is bad? Then vote out the Republicans in state houses nationwide, who made all of this happen.

Think that gridlock in Congress is bad? Then vote out the Republicans who have made that obstruction and inaction their mainstay policy.

Think that Democrats are the ones who ran up the debt? Then get your head out of your ass and look at the facts and figures, and then vote out the lying blowhards who actually put us in this mess.

Think that Citizens United or Hobby Lobby are travesties of justice? Then don’t let the people who want that kind of crap expanded a hundred times win any more elections, or vote in the next Supreme Court justices.

I could go on and on, but it should be clear to anyone who sees and thinks.

But here’s the key: so many people don’t vote that a surge in Democratic turnout could win elections.

Rewarding Republican politicians for any reason is the most disastrously insane solution anyone could possibly dream up. They are dying anyway; put them out of their misery now before they add to the astonishingly catastrophic devastation they have already wrought upon this nation. The sooner we stop their policy of ruin, the more we can salvage.

Samsung and Wall-hugging

August 14th, 2014 No comments

Samsunggalaxys5AdIf you ask me, this new ad campaign by Samsung is not very well thought-through. I’ve done my share of “wall-hugging” (usually “pillar-hugging,” actually), and I can attest to the BS charge they are making.

First, my use of airport power outlets has chiefly been for my laptop, and unless Samsung has a laptop that can run for 10 hours in full use, then this looks kinda stupid.

While I do top off my iPhone and iPad while I’m charging my laptop, I have found it unnecessary for the past few years, as both devices’ batteries lasted quite nicely through the entire journey, even the 13-hours-plus trip back.

The people who usually use these outlets for smartphones nowadays tend to be people who forgot to charge their phones before leaving home, or wherever they came from—or are people who have been on the road for quite a while before getting to the airport. And that will include a fair number of Samsung users as well, long battery life or not.

Then there’s the alienation element; the ad is more or less mocking the viewer’s poor judgment, right in their face, in a publicly embarrassing fashion. You don’t win people over by ridiculing them. If I were sitting at a pillar like the one pictured with my iPhone, and a Samsung user saw me and smirked, I would not feel like switching to Samsung. I’d feel like they and their users were obnoxious assholes.

Not to mention the fact that this will be relevant for only a very short time, as airlines are installing power outlets in their fleets; this trip home, I am told that both my planes, outbound and inbound, will have them in economy. So, the whole airport power thing will be completely unnecessary.

And finally, let’s not forget that Samsung users will hardly be immune to low battery issues. When your battery runs longer, you tend to forego charging more often, and sometimes that leads to accidentally letting the charge run too low when you really need to use it.

And there is where Samsung has opened itself up to ridicule: all it will take is a photo of someone with a Samsung Galaxy S5 sitting at one of those outlets with the ad, and they’ll become a laughingstock. They could be mocked further by a caption that pointed out that the reason there was only one Samsung user there because so few people have Galaxy S5s…

Categories: Corporate World, Gadgets & Toys Tags: by

Oh, Steve…

August 13th, 2014 1 comment

Steve Ballmer, in 2007, when the iPhone was introduced:

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

In a video interview, he said essentially the same thing, concluding, “Let’s see how the competition goes.” That seven years ago.

From a report on mobile devices released today:

net activation by platform: iOS=67&, Android=32%, Windows Phone=1%

And that’s for enterprise, traditionally a market dominated by Microsoft. In the video interview, Ballmer said it wouldn’t appeal to business customers “because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine.”

Poor Ballmer; you’ve got this other Steve, Steve Jobs, who now is secure in his reputation as a tech visionary, while Ballmer’s claim to fame will probably be as “Monkey Boy.”

Categories: Gadgets & Toys, Technology Tags: by

Who?

August 12th, 2014 No comments

I was going to write a post about Sarah Palin’s most recent cringe-inducing statement—and then I realized that, no, I shouldn’t. Because commenting on Sarah Palin is like commenting on Ann Coulter. Getting pissed off at their outrageous ejaculations is kinda what they want you to do. Insulting them feeds their egos. If one could identify a thesis statement representing everything they say, it could be expressed as, “Pay attention to me!”

So, no.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags: by

Jesus Is to Save Christians, Not Guide Them

August 11th, 2014 1 comment

One element of Christianity that I have discovered over the years is that, for many Christians (in America, at least), Jesus is most emphatically not a role model. He is a savior, a rescuer, a hero image. Christians are to worship him as they would a hero—and like a hero, they leave the saving and rescuing to him, and otherwise adopt a “don’t try this at home” attitude.

Have you ever heard Christians say, “When it comes to turning the other cheek, I’m more of an old-testament kind of Christian”? Have you noted so many Americans who have plenty for themselves coldly shouting to turn refugee children away at the border? Have you noted a preponderance of Christian values claimed by people who clearly prefer money over morality?

It crystallized for me when I read about reactions from Christians in a neighborhood where a sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man on a bench had been placed:

Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help. We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy.

To this woman, Jesus was not someone who you emulate. You do not have to actually follow his teachings, because, I assume, they’re just evidence of how great Jesus was. It’s not like Christians are supposed to do those things.

No, Jesus is more like Superman: he flies around and rescues people, not you. You admire him, and depend on him to help you. But you don’t try to go around flying or stopping crime yourself.

For such people, Christianity is not about becoming a better person. Instead, it’s mostly about the perks.

This understanding clears up a lot.

Categories: Religion Tags: by

To Be Polarizing, You Have to Actually Do Something Polarizing

August 10th, 2014 1 comment

I am getting pretty tired of people referring to Obama as a “polarizer” or a “polarizing” figure. Sorry, but that’s complete bull.

Scenario A: you get a job in an office where there are desk workers and field people. As a person who works in the field, you start making all kinds of insinuations about the desk workers, calling them “desk jockeys,” “do-nothings,” and “lazy fatasses.” You begin to advocate for budget increases for field workers at the cost of the desk workers, and you spread rumors about the desk workers stealing supplies, taking too many days off, and spending most of their time playing games or surfing the web on their computers. Worse, you claim, the desk workers are spreading malicious rumors about the field workers, trying to get them fired so the rest will be disorganized and easy prey for office politics.

Pretty clearly, in this scenario, you are polarizing the office, trying to create a rift between the two groups.

Scenario B: you get a job in an office where there are desk workers and field people. You have a field work position. You do nothing untoward, just your job and not much else. Instantly, several of the desk workers arbitrarily decide that they hate your guts. They get most of the desk workers to agree with them, and begin a campaign to make your life miserable and get you fired. They start spreading lies about field workers, using you as a poster boy. They start sabotaging your work and the work of other field workers. They begin trying to cut every bit of the budget that might make field work easier, and every time you hand in work that they will later process, they “lose” parts of the work and blame you. You suddenly become the reason they cite for every bad thing that happens in the office, and some even claim that they will go on strike or up and quit unless “something is done” about you.

Are you a polarizer in this scenario? Pretty clearly no. Are you “polarizing”? Perhaps in a starkly technical sense—but not because of anything you did. Describing you as “polarizing” is patently misleading, as it implies that the polarizing is somehow your doing. Worse, if you object to this patently unfair treatment, you are even more strongly labeled a “polarizer”—“See? Look how he’s bashing the desk workers!”

To polarize is to “divide or cause to divide into two sharply contrasting groups or sets of opinions or beliefs.” The thing is, when you do nothing that could reasonably cause such division, but others overreact bizarrely because they decide they do not like you, then you’re not doing the polarizing. If you come to a group of people and say, “I’d like to do something about this issue, so let’s begin by using your plan with a couple of my ideas thrown in,” and they react by rejecting not only your ideas but their own plan, calling it the most drastically radical and disastrous idea ever, and instead spend all their time twisting and distorting the proposal and fighting against it only because you are proposing it—I’m sorry, but no way on Earth are you the one being “polarizing.”

And that’s the case with Obama. Despite constant references to Obama “polarizing” the country, he has done nothing of the sort. He has gone a great distance to give everyone what they want, to ameliorate the dissatisfaction of his political opponents. He has done pretty much what he promised when he campaigned in 2008: to try to bring everyone’s concerns to the table, address them, and find a solution that everyone can get behind.

I am not saying this out of admiration; I wish he wouldn’t do that, because it’s stupid. When your opposition is bent on making you fail, when they obviously will not cooperate no matter how much you give them, when you wind up giving them more than they originally asked for and still they vehemently oppose you—then you’re an idiot to keep on trying that strategy. When someone not only refuses to work with you but takes every opportunity to knock you down and crack your head open, you don’t keep on trying to shake their hand. You have to deal with the situation you’re confronted with.

The point, however, is that Obama is not the polarizer nor is he in truth polarizing. Republicans are clearly, undeniably responsible for the divisions we see today, taking extremist positions solely out of an unreasoning hatred for Obama—a hatred founded in the desire to crush the opposition for the sake of gaining power, money, popularity, and influence.

Going a Bit Too Low on the tech

July 21st, 2014 7 comments

Headline: Foreign Governments Consider Reverting To Typewriters To Thwart NSA Surveillance. From the story:

In a television broadcast, German politicians said members in the Bundestag — Germany’s parliament — are strongly considering dropping email altogether, opting for typewriters and penned notes to prevent the United States’ National Security Agency from eavesdropping, the Guardian reported Tuesday. Russian government officials also said last week they were reverting to paper communications. The FSO, an agency that protects the Kremlin government and other top officials, has already ordered nearly two dozen typewriters, according to USA Today.

“Any information can be taken from computers,” former head of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the domestic successor the KGB, Nikolai Kovalev, told Izvestia. “[F]rom the point of view of keeping secrets, the most primitive method is preferred: a human hand with a pen or a typewriter.”

Seriously? Nobody ever heard that computers and even entire LANs can be disconnected from the Internet?

Categories: Technology Tags: by

What Do You Think of These People?

July 17th, 2014 6 comments

There is a crisis going on in Northern Africa, one causing immeasurable violence in impoverished areas. The situation is intolerable even for the strongest of people, but the children are being hit the worst. If they stay, they face worse and worse fates, many likely to die. Thousands of children are forced to flee, and make their way across the Mediterranean to France, a nation with not just proximity but political investment in their home region. Boatloads of young children, wave after wave, wash up on the shore, hungry, desperate, frightened, and lost. It is a refugee crisis, but made up of the most innocent of the displaced.

The French, however, are pissed. Sure, they had a hand in what happened in that region, but these children are unwanted. They don’t give a crap about their plight, they don’t even care that they’re children. Thousands of French people, backed by millions throughout the country, mass at the shores and around the holding camps where the children are, yelling and screaming at the children. “Nobody wants you!” those in the crowd shout angrily at the kids. “Go back where you came from!” they spit. “They should come here legally,” protesters tell reporters. “These kids carry disease, and they expect us to pay for their needs,” one French patriotic group claims, distributing fliers vilifying the children. “They should go back to where they came from.” When reminded that such a return would likely result in their deaths, the protesters shrug. “Not our problem.” As buses filled with the young refugees drive out of holding centers, protesters surround the buses, beating on the side of the vehicle and shouting angrily. Some even go so far as to call it a literal “invasion” for which the military should be tasked to respond.


This, of course, is not happening in France. But reading the story, tell me: if it were, what would you think of these people?

More importantly, what would the people who are doing this now have thought if this were France doing it a year ago? Having helped create a crisis in a nearby developing country, to have waves of innocent children forced to flee for their lives… and then have the wealthy, comfortable first-world nation callously treat them like vermin and go ballistic at the thought that we might actually help them or something. No, let’s go out of our way and scream at them.

And send them back to the slaughter.

I think that even these wingnuts would have been taken aback at that—had another country done it. But us? No, that’s perfectly justified.


The idea of looking at things from a different perspective works with immigration in a more general sense as well:

Imagine you are married with two kids. The country hits really hard times, akin to the Great Depression of the 30′s (we almost went there a few years ago, remember). You lose your job, your house, almost all of your possessions. No work is available, though you would take any job and are constantly looking. You are reduced to living in a shack in a filthy part of town. Your kids frequently border on starvation, gravely need basic medical care. You are desperate.

Then a well-off family in a gated community tells you they will hire you to clean their house. It’s for way less than minimum wage, but you are way past that by now. Anything is better than going without food. But in that gated community, they voted in rules to disallow such hires—only approved cleaning services. The problem is, those services charge a lot, and this family would rather hire you for cheap—so they’ll bend the rules for their own sake.

However, because of these rules they passed and supported, they demand that you sneak through the hedges in the park near the creek in the back area of the community. If you’re caught, they’ll deny knowing you, and you could go to jail for trespassing. It’s degrading, not to mention a pain to do this at 5 a.m., but you have no choice. You do what they demand.

Later, reports come in that grungy-looking people have been spotted in the community. The neighborhood is outraged, fearing for their safety and worried about property values dropping. “These people just steal things, use drugs, and are violent,” the refrain goes—and the people who hired you echo these complaints. Worse, they scream at you because the landscaper is charging extra because of lawn damage in the private park—something you can’t help because the only way in is across that field right after it has been watered. But you employers blame you for it anyway.


What would you think of people like this? Because the gated community asshats are pretty much who we are.

We hear all the time about illegal aliens causing all these problems. How come we never hear about illegal employers? Because they’re far more at fault. You think the immigrants are the ones causing Americans not to be hired? You think the immigrants are the ones making off with the loot? You think they would not rather come into the country legally? No, they don’t want these things—but they have no choice. We have the choice—but instead of doing the right and responsible thing, we do it the screwed-up way.

You know how often illegal employers are caught or penalized? Almost never. And the “penalties” are a joke—usually a pittance, and then negotiated downward from there.

The immigrants are not the problem. Not by a long shot.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

What Stereotype Do You Fit?

July 15th, 2014 3 comments

Pew has a “Political Typology” quiz you can take, but fair warning: it’s a very blunt tool, and shouldn’t really surprise you much at all. Unsurprisingly, I was tagged as a “solid liberal,” but was very unhappy with a lot of the choices I was forced to make. You could very easily see where the questions were taking you to, and you will probably find yourself making statements you don’t agree with, being steered towards a group you don’t feel comfortable with.

The questions, mostly polar opposites, tend to be incredibly simplistic and often force you to extremes. For example, you either believe that you have to do “whatever it takes to protect the environment” or that we’ve “gone too far” already. Answer one way, you’re a tree-hugger; answer the other way, you’re a hard-nosed industrialist. In terms of U.S. international involvement, you have to decide if we usually make things worse or if things would be worse without us. Answer one way, and you’re an isolationist; answer the other way, you’re an adventurist. What if you believe in tempered involvement? Not major land wars, except in true emergencies (WWII was the last one to qualify), but definite strategic involvement with a military element. How is that factored in? The answer is that it isn’t—you’re forced to choose way too far in either direction.

In fact, I am not sure that you can test out as a moderate—the results do not even allow that. The categories in the center are called “hard-pressed skeptics” and “young outsiders,” but you get there by being polar on some issues that are left and some that are right. There is pretty much no allowing for people who want middle-of-the-road solutions.

Some questions are too politically vague for the spectrum they are laid upon. For example, is it best for our future to be active in world affairs, or should we concentrate on problems here at home? That supposedly falls along a spectrum from liberal to conservative—despite the fact that I have seen people on both extremes, and in the middle, voice that particular sentiment.

Finally, many of the questions and vague in a general sense; for example, “stricter” environmental laws are good or they are bad. Well, what does “stricter” mean? Stricter than we currently have? Stricter than is currently acted upon? How much more “strict”? Strict in a harsh, arbitrary way, or strict in terms of protecting the environment while maintaining the best future for business? Does this allow for or discount laws which encourage green technology which can be a significant economic benefit?

In order for this to be a meaningful quiz, it should be allowed more depth. For example, take this choice:

This country should do whatever it takes to protect the environment
This country has gone too far in its efforts to protect the environment

These should be changed to:

The country should do whatever is necessary to protect the environment
The country should focus all available resources to stem the damages
caused by global climate change
The country should use strong economic incentives to discourage
non-renewable energy sources and encourage renewables
The country should focus on using nuclear power to stem coal, oil,
and gas use until renewables become economically feasible
The country should allow market forces to determine the best use and
development of energy resources and technology
Renewables are a pipe dream and should be abandoned in favor of all that
can be done to make coal, oil, and gas resources more available

My list is probably incomplete or not properly balanced, but you see where I am going with this. The answers could then be sorted into more coherent political identities. Questions could be added which would determine specific tax policies; instead of “taxes are too high” or “corporations make too many profits,” we would be able to set what we believe would be proper fundamental tax types–e.g., income, capital gains, and corporate taxes.

Such a poll would be much more complex and would require quite a bit more work—but I would be really, really interested to see how that comes out.

Categories: Journalism, Social Issues Tags: by

What’s a Jobs Bill? Who Cares, SUE OBAMA!

July 13th, 2014 3 comments

Boehner’s petition to sue the president included this claim:

After years of slow economic growth and high unemployment under President Obama, they are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’ The House has passed more than 40 jobs bills that would help. But Washington Democrats, led by the President, just ignore them.

Wow! More than 40 jobs bills! Why haven’t we heard of this before? Must be the Liberal Media just trying to make the Republicans look bad.

So, what were the bills he’s talking about? There’s a list of 46 “pro-growth jobs bills” on this page.

One thing you notice right away is that six of the bills listed here were either signed into law or are supported by Obama. We know that because Boehner’s list itself makes this clear. So, exactly how are “Washington Democrats, led by the President” just ignoring them?

But hey, that’s still 40 jobs bills that Democrats haven’t approved! They must be anti-jobs!

Let’s look at the list, starting at the top. Right there is the Keystone pipeline bill that Democrats refuse to pass in the Senate. They’re preventing oil from being more easily delivered from Canada!

Umm, wait. That’s a jobs bill?

Ah.

A piece of legislation called a “jobs” bill should be first and foremost focused on creating jobs. If it is focused on a very different task, even though it results in some jobs being created, then it’s not a “jobs” bill.

For example, let’s say I write a bill proposing that all businesses must submit 100 extra pages of forms every year for some purpose or another. Those businesses will obviously need to hire more people to collect that information, confirm it, and submit the forms. Arguably tens of thousands of new jobs must be created to accomplish this task.

Did I just write a “jobs” bill? No.

No, a “jobs” bill is one that is at the very least mostly about creating jobs, and should be directly about creating jobs. For example, in 2012, Obama was pushing strongly to pass a bill that would give tax incentives to companies which would bring jobs now outsourced overseas back to the United States. That’s clearly a “jobs” bill, as creating jobs in the United States is the primary objective. Republicans opposed it because it would make it less advantageous to hire cheap foreign labor.

Then there was the “American Jobs Act” in 2011, which Obama was also pushing, and Republicans also blocked; Obama split the bill up and got a few elements passed, but Republicans stopped most of it. The bill called for suspending some payroll taxes for employers and employees; unemployment benefits and jobs training; spending for creation of infrastructure, construction, teacher, firefighter, and police jobs; prohibiting discrimination against the unemployed; and loosening regulations on creating capital for new business projects. Again, the theme of all of this is clearly to create jobs, both directly and by economic stimulation.

So, how is the Keystone pipeline a “jobs” bill? The primary objective for the Keystone pipeline is to support the production and sale of controversial tar sands oil. It’s kind of hard to argue that approving an oil pipeline to profit oil companies—one of which is not a United States firm—is somehow primarily an American “jobs” bill. It is, however, part of a distinctly partisan pro-corporate agenda.

In fact, an estimate of the impact of the project says that the project would create only 2,000 short-term construction jobs over two years, with as many as 40,000 “indirect” jobs (providing food services for workers as one example) which are just as if not more temporary. That’s a job increase worth just 15% of last month’s job increases—and those are temporary jobs that would expire after two years, creating a jobs lurch whenever that happens.

Remember back in 2009 when Obama was really pushing the economic stimulus, and a big part of that was to create jobs on infrastructure projects? At the time, Michael Steele and the GOP claimed that these weren’t “jobs” because they were not permanent:

Steele: “You’ve got to look at what’s going to create sustainable jobs. What this administration is talking about is making work. It is creating work.”

Stephanopoulos: “But that’s a job.”

Steele: “No, it’s not a job. A job is something that a business owner creates. It’s going to be long term.”

Stephanopoulos: “So a job doesn’t count if it’s a government job?”

Steele: “Hold on. No, let me finish. That is a contract. It ends at a certain point, George. You know that. These road projects that we’re talking about have an end point. As a small-business owner, I’m looking to grow my business, expand my business. I want to reach further. I want to be international. I want to be national. It’s a whole different perspective on how you create a job versus how you create work.”

So, if Keystone passes, how many “actual,” that is to say, permanent, jobs would be created in America? About 50. More jobs that that would be created—but in Canada. The real profit from this would not be in jobs, it would be in the source of oil. This oil must be refined, but there is no new refining going on, we’re just using a different source. Which means no more new jobs on that end, not in the United States.

But wait a minute. The pipeline delivers oil, but is not the only delivery method. Is this oil that would never be delivered without the pipeline? No. It’s not like we’re not getting the oil—we’re just transporting it by less cost-effective measure, namely rail, truck, and/or barge. Which creates jobs for people running those lines of transportation. Which are currently well-paying, permanent, full-time jobs—which will be killed by the pipeline.

Then there is the fact that the pipeline will lead to higher fuel prices in the midwest, which will have a negative impact on jobs. Oil spills kill jobs over time. The costs for the pipeline will have an opportunity cost on investment in green energy, an industry which has been a true job creator and source of economic value for the United States.

According to various reports, Canadian oil companies would be the biggest winners for this project, with a few jobs spilling over to the American side, which will probably be offset by job losses created by the pipeline. Oh, and tar sands oil is incredibly polluting. In contrast, look at clean-energy car technology initiatives—which created 150,000 long-term manufacturing jobs in the United States. But that’s the kind of industry Republicans mock and deride.

So, no, Keystone is obviously not a “jobs” bill. It’s an oil-industry bill, aimed to mostly profit oil producers and refiners, mostly in Canada, with a minimal or negative jobs impact.


But hey, maybe they just really like the Keystone project, so they topped the list with it. Maybe the 39 other bills on the list are actually “jobs” bills.

How about the “Offshore Energy & Jobs Act” which will “revitalize manufacturing, create jobs, and restore our nation of builders”? That’s offshore drilling with the word “jobs” attached to it. There are other bills for “onshore drilling,” and for deregulating fracking, and other general “drill anywhere” and “get rid of all environmental protection regulations.” Essentially, most of the energy-related jobs bills are “drill & pollute as much as you like” legislature—which, like the Keystone project, is about energy interests making tons of money, and oh yeah, some jobs may be created in the process. Those are not jobs bills.

In fact, nearly half of the “jobs” bills are actually let’s-give-billions-to-morbidly-profit-rich-energy-corporation giveaways, mostly bills which attack Democratic policies to keep air & water clean and not completely wreck the environment.


But hey, maybe the other two dozen or so bills on the list are actually “jobs” bills.

The first non-energy bill listed: kill Obamacare. Which would result in millions losing the first affordable healthcare they have seen in a long time, and in many other greatly beneficial policies getting struck down. But hey, the CBO said 2 million jobs would be lost!

No, the CBO said that the equivalent of 2 million jobs in hours worked would be reduced, mostly from people working themselves half to death to pay for pre-ACA health care, which now they don’t need and so can work less but still get the same benefits. Overall, the ACA is probably more job-neutral than anything else—primarily because it’s not a jobs bill. Killing it will not create jobs, that’s GOP fantasy politicking.

So, what’s next on the list? Oh, the next three “jobs” bills are also about killing Obamacare. Go down the list, and you’ll see that they are mostly of this stripe: partisan laws trying to get Republican political agendas signed into law and Democratic political agendas repealed. Privatization of schools, half a dozen limits or prohibitions on government regulation, importing cheaper labor in high-tech industry, more attempts to get rid of the ACA, defunding welfare, spending cuts (which ironically fund jobs), cut food stamps (which are actually job-stimulative due to increase sales business), tax cuts & credits for corporations—stuff like that.

You can read it on the list. Once you get past the hyperbolic “jobs, jobs, jobs!!” titles & language adorning the proposals, you will see that none of these bills are in fact focused on creating jobs, but depend on side effects (many of them fictional) to create the jobs. But the bills themselves are all about something other than jobs.


So, essentially, John Boehner and the Republicans are complaining that Obama is not passing their partisan legislative agenda which is not about jobs, but instead is about rewarding Republican constituents and breaking down Democratic ones.

Of course, since then, the Republican “justification” behind the alleged lawsuit has been revealed as a delay in enforcement of the ACA for some businesses—a move which Republicans not only approved of at the time, but actually pressured the president to do in a different form—until they realized they could use it as a way to attack Obama, at which point they suddenly opposed such delays.

I can imagine that a lot of Americans who are not favorably inclined towards Obama will believe that there is something to the lawsuit, but only because they do not listen, think, or study the issue seriously. They will hear Boehner and other conservatives saying something like, “Obama blah blah blah failed blah blah blah killing jobs blah blah blah shameful blah blah blah destroying America blah blah blah gerbils blah blah blah fluoridation blah blah blah therefore we must [ sue / impeach ] him.”

Apparently, in conservative politics nowadays, this is what is referred to as “Thursday.”

iPhone 6

July 12th, 2014 1 comment

There has been an unprecedented amount of leakage concerning Apple’s iPhone 6, due to be released in 3 or so months. It seems all but certain that there will be two versions, both bigger than the current size, with 4.7“ and 5.5” screens. We know the phone will have more rounded edges, and will be around 6.7mm thick.

So what do we not know?

Premium Features

It has been rumored that there may be more than just a difference in screen sizes between the 4.7“ and 5.5” models. You might have to pay extra to get some of the fancy features this time, similar to what happened with the iPhone 5s compared to the 5c:

Sapphire Screen: Apple’s new sapphire glass technology, being produced in large quantity at their new plant, has long been rumored as a replacement for the surprisingly fragile Gorilla glass. (A key difference is scratch resistance, as a scratched screen is much likelier to break.) It is currently used only for the Touch ID sensor in the iPhone 5s home button. Apple has been ramping up production, and it looks like it is setting up to produce much more sapphire than could be used in an iWatch only. However, you may be only able to get it in the 5.5“ model, if certain rumors are to be believed. Not everyone is saying so; competing rumors hold that there will be enough sapphire to go around, allowing for both iPhones and the rumored iWatch to get the goodies.

Optical Image Stabilization: This should be coming also, but again, maybe only to the 5.5” model. Presumably this would allow users to take movies with a lot less hand-held jitter.

Standard Features

Several more features have been rumored, but nothing is set in stone. What should be included, from most likely to least:

Apple’s New A8 Chip: Apple has been designing its own mobile CPUs for a while now, and these chips have very good performance, at least since the A6, with the A7 showing very good numbers. The A8 will hopefully deliver even more power and speed. Th A8 may deliver better power consumption as well, so you should expect slightly improved battery life—unless the bigger screens take a bite out of that.

Better Camera: which might not mean a higher resolution camera. The built-in back-face camera might still have “only” 8 megapixels. However, the autofocus might be faster and better, and the camera app might have more features—the apparent time-lapse feature to match the previously-added slow-motion feature, for example.

NFC Chip: This would be a surprise, because Apple has said that it is not currently on their radar. However, several reports have come out saying that Apple is ready to deploy a mobile payment system, and that the iPhone 6 could be equipped with the ability to tap or swipe your phone over a sensor and then use Touch ID to clear the payment. Presumably, the charge would come out of your iTunes Store credit card account.

While NFC is still relatively underutilized in America, it is pretty widely used in Japan. I know that I would love it if the iPhone 6 could hold my train pass (I currently swipe my wallet), but in all likelihood, train lines will not let Apple carry their monthly passes, instead favoring their own system. The best that I would hope for would be to use the iPhone for straight purchasing of items or individual train fare payments.

Inductive Charging: We’d all like it if this were true, but it’s one of the rumors I’ve heard least about. This would allow you to charge your phone just by placing it on top of a pad. Apple presumably would supply that (at a higher-than-usual cost, natch; these cost from $20 to $25 and up, so expect Apple to start in the $40 to $50 range at least). It would go along with Apple’s new Cloud initiative, updating less through iTunes than from your iCloud account. This would be nice but far from a huge deal, which is why I am doubtful.

Haptic Screens: Haptic screens provide touch feedback by vibrating as your finger runs over the surface. Aside from the battery drain, this just sounds like to much trouble for too little return. It seems like a nice ornament but not much else—and Apple is trying to make these machines smaller, and not add anything instead, especially for a throwaway special effect. But who knows?

Categories: iPhone Tags: by

Jobs

July 4th, 2014 3 comments

Wow. The job market improved so much that even Fox News couldn’t find anything bad to say about it. That’s a rarity.

But seriously. 288,000 jobs, 5th straight month of 200,000 or more added jobs, unemployment back down to 6.1%.

We still took dramatic damage since 2001 and 2008 that has not been repaired. We are still crippled by debt. Taxes for wealthy people are still too low. Spending on infrastructure is still too anemic. Jobs still pay less. Who knows, maybe if Republicans in Congress hadn’t obstructed Obama for the past six years solid, maybe things would have improved a lot more—though Obama did not exactly try nearly as hard as he should have.

Bottom line, economies recover sometimes just because they do. But the political bottom line is, for better or worse, whoever is in office when something happens, they get the credit or blame.

Of course, just because Fox can’t find anything bad to say, doesn’t mean they give Obama any credit at all—a search of their main article on the story or other articles shows they do not mention Obama once, even indirectly, alongside good economic news. The opposite holds for bad news, naturally.


On a related topic, Obama shows promise to finally dig himself out of the hole that Bush dug for him. In the past, it has been a reliable fact that job creation under Democrats has been better than under Republicans—so consistently so that the poorest-performing Democrat (Kennedy) did better than the best-performing Republican (Nixon).

Obama’s problem: In his first year, his performance was crippled by Bush’s disastrous recession. Although Obama immediately turned job prospects around for the better, he still had to pull up out of a record-breaking dive. In that first year, 4.3 million jobs were lost. No fault to Obama, as I said, but he gets those losses put onto his portion of the ledger.

As it turns out, with the latest reports factored in, Obama has added a total of 4.8 million jobs net—and more than 9 million jobs if you don’t count the first year. Which is more fair—Obama only improved things, he did not create the abyss he dragged us out of. Obama’s record looks even better when considering that Republicans in Congress not only obstructed but did everything they could to sabotage things, up to and including the debt default threat, which did serious damage.

Compare this with Bush, who only added a net of 1.1 million jobs over 8 years. More fairly, if you count from February 2002 to January 2010, assuming it takes a year for one’s policies to get started and wind down, Bush lost 1.3 million jobs. But the official record, however undeserved, is +1.1 million.

Obama has overseen job gains of 1.4 million in the past 6 months alone, and 2.5 million in the past one year.

Alas, even at that rate, by the time he leaves office, he will only have added only an additional 7 million jobs or so—maybe a total of 12 million jobs added, net, over his eight years. That would probably end up being only a 1.1% average increase over his term, placing him of Ford or Coolidge territory.

Sadly, even if you don’t count that first year of climbing out of the hole, his yearly average job creation would only reach about 1.8%, still below Reagan (2.1%) and Nixon (2.2%).

Unless job creation really takes off and we regularly see numbers over 300,000 until January 2017, Obama will break the trend of Democrats always performing better than Republicans.

Categories: Economics Tags: by

The Imperial Presidency

July 3rd, 2014 1 comment

Boy, that Obama is just out of control. Boehner just has to sue him!


Republican charge: Obama rules by decree. Evidence: Has issued 180 executive orders.

George W. Bush: Supposedly not ruling by decree. Evidence: Issued about 210 executive orders by the same time in his presidency.


Republican charge: Obama lied when he said you could keep your health care plan if you liked it. Evidence: Undetermined number of Americans forced to change health care plans; some got somewhat worse plans, many more got more advantageous plans. Obama made a formal apology for his statements, saying that his assurances had been wrong.

George W. Bush: Bush lied about Iraq having ties to al Qaeda and terrorism, about Iraq working on a nuclear program and having massive stockpiles of WMD, about how an invasion would be short-termed and not costly, how we would be greeted as liberators, and how sectarian concerns would not be a problem. Evidence: A decade-long was costing trillions of dollars, 4489 American soldiers killed, 32,000 wounded, Iraq destabilized and sent plunging into a sectarian civil war. Bush never admitted doing anything wrong, said he would make the same decision again if he could go back; Republicans blamed Obama for anything bad happening concerning the war, including costs and outcome.


Republican charge: Obama’s “Imperial Presidency” via executive orders and end-runs around Congress is “Unprecedented.”

George W. Bush: from an article in 2007:

As he tries to end-run a balky Congress, Bush is taking a page from Bill Clinton’s playbook by adopting a series of mini-initiatives to change policy through executive orders and administration actions that don’t require legislation.


Let’s face it, this is just a media stunt. According to Republicans, every Democratic president is “the most corrupt ever,” or “the most imperial president ever”—just like every single Democratic presidential nominee is immediately and automatically labeled as “the most liberal nominee ever.” It’s a knee-jerk political attack, similar to how every domestic mass murderer or terrorist suspect is automatically labeled as a “Registered Democrat” in Freeper forums.

This is not about Obama doing anything even remotely controversial. It’s about Republicans running out of ideas about how to attack Obama and still make it look serious somehow.

Japan’s Mac Tax

June 28th, 2014 3 comments

DriveThere’s a spiffy Mac accessory, a 128 GB SD card from Transcend that sticks into your SD slot and doesn’t stick out. I’d love to get it, as my 256 GB SSD is just too small for me.

The item costs $80 at Amazon in the U.S.

The same item in Amazon Japan costs $126. That’s priced down from $146 just a few weeks ago.

Both are sold and shipped by Amazon. They’re the exact same item.

I’ve encountered this repeatedly in Japan. Whenever I look for peripherals or accessories, anything labeled “for Mac” or which lists OS X compatibility is bound to be half again as expensive as similar PC-ready models, which most peripherals are marked as. I refuse to believe that creating OS X drivers for most basic peripherals (e.g., DVD drives, web cams, film scanners) is that hard—and in the case of the Transcend device, drivers are obviously not the issue.

Instead, it seems that Japanese sellers believe that people who buy Macs are willing to pay a premium. They may be right about a very small subset, and they may just be able to fool a larger subset into thinking they have no choice (and thus helping create the myth that Mac ownership is too expensive). But for the most part, it’s a stupid presumption, because that only applies to products which are, in fact, worthy of being labeled “premium,” which most of the overpriced stuff is not. The Transcend thing is a nice idea, but it’s just flash memory inside a frame; its main advantage is simply that it doesn’t stick out when it’s plugged in. That’s it.

The idea that I’d be willing to pay a $45 premium just because I use a Mac is asinine. I imagine that some people pay the higher price because they don’t know any better and think that’s the only option; a lot of Mac users, however, simply look around for the best price, and read customer reviews which tell if items not branded as Mac-compatible will actually work with a Mac. At worst, I’ll just wait until I go back to the U.S., by which time it might be even cheaper, or a 256 GB version might be priced competitively, which would be cool.

Until then, anyone wanting to sell me exorbitantly priced stuff can bite me.

Categories: Gadgets & Toys, Mac News Tags: by

Conservative Projection Syndrome

June 25th, 2014 4 comments

This out of Wisconsin:

Robert Monroe, a 50-year-old Shorewood health insurance executive, was charged Friday with 13 felonies related to his voting a dozen times in five elections between 2011 and 2012 using his own name as well as that of his son and his girlfriend’s son.

… Monroe was considered by investigators to be the most prolific multiple voter in memory. He was a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker and state Sen. Alberta Darling, both Republicans, and allegedly cast five ballots in the June 2012 election in which Walker survived a recall challenge.

According to the John Doe records, Monroe claimed to have a form of temporary amnesia and did not recall the election day events when confronted by investigators.

Amnesia. Right. Because forgetting that you cast your vote in one state five times causes you to vote in two other states. Under different names.

I’m pretty sure something else caused this, and I’m pretty sure I know what it is. There’s a phenomenon amongst conservatives to accuse liberals of a wrongdoing, claim it’s destroying the country—and then proceed to do that very thing yourself, to an extreme. Conservatives feel justified in doing this along a specific train of thought: Democrats did it, they got away with it, so why can’t I do it in spades?

We’ve seen this a lot of times before. Democrats used the filibuster—in what was truthfully a limited fashion—to stop Bush’s most extremist judicial nominations, which he repeatedly nominated for court seats. The Republican response? Claim that Democrats are abusing the filibuster, call that the worst crime in history, and then, once they lost power, use the filibuster to block every last thing in sight.

Republicans accused Democrats in 2006 of being so adamantly hostile to Bush that, if elected to power in Congress, they would hold endless investigations of Bush and would try to impeach him, all of this being a dire threat to America. Democrats won and did not investigate or impeach—but in 2010, when Republicans won the House, they began exactly that process, to extremes.

They claim that Democrats are on a campaign to “annihilate” the Republican Party, despite no evidence to support that—and then launch campaigns to destroy traditional Democratic power bases, such as unions and teachers, vilify liberal causes, deny any compromise for the purpose of destroying any chance of opposition success, and even attempt to destroy the very names for the other side—“liberal” becomes “The ‘L’ Word,” and “Democratic” becomes “democRAT.”

They claim that Democrats are reckless spenders responsible for the debt, and then go on a spending spree that takes a budget surplus and transforms it into a (second!) Republican-generated record-breaking national debt. They claim that Democrats are “takers,” a then acquire more government handouts for red states than the more-productive blue states are given. They claim that Democrats voted for Obama just because he is black, and then vault men like Michael Steele, Herman Cain, and Alan Keyes to high-profile roles in the shadow on Obama. They cry “class warfare!” and say it’s tearing the nation apart, and then seek to destroy the minimum wage and actually raise taxes for poor people even in light of a supposedly inviolable “no tax hike” pledge.

And then, on the issue of election fraud itself, Republicans claim Democrats steal elections, their claim based on nothing more than rumor and conspiracy theories… and then launch the grandest, most thinly-veiled nationwide campaign for election fraud imaginable.

The list goes on and on and on. This is what conservatives do.

So why did this Robert Monroe guy think it was perfectly fine for him to commit exactly the kind of voter fraud that conservatives claim, without any evidence whatsoever, is rampant amongst liberals? My guess is, this exact phenomenon: conservatives make up ludicrous false claims about liberals, believe their own fairy tales, and then feel perfectly justified to do exactly what they have railed against, only to more egregious extremes than they imagined liberals were doing.

We already have ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome); what we see here is another conservative malady—call it “CPS”: Conservative Projection Syndrome.

The Straight Sell Wouldn’t Have Gone Over Well

June 23rd, 2014 1 comment

So, in 2003, if Bush and Cheney had approached the American people and given a truthful summing up of what they wanted to do?


“Look, folks, we know that there is no link between Iraq and the terrorists who were behind 9/11—in fact, we’re fully aware that Iraq has been hostile to them and other terrorist groups—and we’re pretty sure that Hussein is not really a threat to anybody, and might even be preferable to the alternative, holding the unstable religious and ethnic groups in check. However, we really want to invade this country because we have this vision of American dominance, spreading our moral values in the Middle East, and, let’s face it, it would be really great to control the flow of oil in the region. Not to mention the Cold War ended and we need continued justification to finance our military spending.

”For the Iraq War alone, it will cost at the very least about $16,000 per U.S. household over the next decade—we’ll be billing you in advance—and about four and a half thousand U.S. soldiers will die over the same period of time. An additional 32,000 soldiers will be wounded, many of them permanently so. That cost, by the way, is only the direct cost; there will be a lot more to pay in many other ways, and a lot more soldiers will die indirectly as a result of the war. There will be a tremendous psychological burden on countless thousands of troops, and the cost and resources needed to treat them will pile up over the decades—if we feel like seeing to those obligations, that is.

“And let’s be frank here: this is a quagmire. We will either have to stay in Iraq indefinitely, or resign ourselves to the fact that, once we leave, the country will break down into fundamentalist-led chaos which will only create more problems than we have there now.

”So, how about it, folks? Each American household pays $1600 a year for ten years, for starters. About 4500 troops will be killed, 32,000 wounded, countless more disabled or traumatized, and, well, let’s face it, our good name and influence around the world more than a little battered. In return, we’ll kill Saddam Hussein and tens of thousands of Iraqis, we’ll try but ultimately fail to spread our moral and political values, and we’ll be able to control, for as long as we stay there, the flow of oil.

“What do you say?”


It’s not really a mystery as to why they lied to get us into Iraq, when you think about it.

Remember what they were selling? They said that Hussein was a ruthless dictator, which was true enough. But then they also said that Hussein was building a nuke and had vast stores of other WMD, had ties to terrorists and would shortly be giving the nukes and other WMD to al Qaeda which would lay waste to America. (Remember Bush’s “mushroom cloud over an American city” in his State of the Union speech?) They claimed that the estimates of $50 billion in costs were probably too high, that Iraq would pay for it in oil revenues. They said the whole enterprise would be a cakewalk, lasting only a few weeks, and we would be greeted as liberators. They said that the Sunni/Shi’a/Kurd factionalism would not be a problem. They said it would spread peace and Democracy throughout the region. I am not exaggerating; quotes to the exact effect are easily found on video. They then ordered tailor-made fake intel to support their claims, cherry-picked and distorted what was known, and presented it is solid fact.

The only true thing they said was that Hussein was a ruthless dictator (though they exaggerated the hell out of even that). They did not mention that a ruthless dictator was just about all that could keep the artificially-drawn country from falling apart.

And now they claim it’s all Obama’s fault that anything has gone wrong, that we should still be in Iraq. They shift blame by claiming that everyone believed that Hussein had massive stores of WMD, which was not true, and to the extent it was true, it was because they lied to everyone and made so many believe it.

What is happening now was inevitable the moment we toppled the Hussein regime. The only alternative would be paying endless billions to maintain our own ruthless dictatorship in the country with our own troops, our own blood spilled on a regular basis—something the American people would not choose to do.

Blame is easy. We want out, and we want to blame somebody. But the people who are almost wholly to blame are the same ones now granted a TV spotlight to spout their revisionism, when they should righty be in The Hague.

Categories: Iraq News Tags: by