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Courage

February 25th, 2015 2 comments

Every once in a while I find conservative web sites espousing views I disagree with, and so I write a response. Not a drive-by, not a quick, general insult—usually, in fact, a comment I spend a lot of time on, giving as much evidence and example as I can muster, trying to be respectful (aside from taking the stand that their reasoning is terrible) and to the point. No foul language, nothing clearly objectionable—just an opposing voice.

I am rather disappointed, therefore, when I find that, about half the time, my comment gets deleted, or never passed through moderation. A few sites then actually block my IP, without note, as if I were never there. These are not sites with tons of comments, but usually more private forums with limited numbers of commenters.

I have to say, I would be pretty ashamed to sink so low, not to have the courage to allow anyone disagreeing with me to post, much less actually try to answer. Very discouraging.

Categories: Political Ranting Tags:

I Demand My Right to Take Yours Away

February 23rd, 2015 4 comments

If I’m not allowed to deny you your rights, that’s an infringement on my rights.

Does that make sense? No? Didn’t think so.

However, that’s how conservatives are trying to paint civil rights issues today. Take this reaction to a judge’s decision that a business cannot discriminate against customers based on sexual orientation:

Conservatives criticized the judge’s ruling because it infringes on a business owner’s right to refuse service.

Todd Starnes, host of Fox News and Commentary, said he thinks the court’s ruling shows how the government singles out Christian business owners for their religious beliefs.

“And it appears the courts are consistently ruling that gay rights trump everyone else’s rights,” Starnes said.

It shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to figure out how ridiculous that is. Yes, businesses have the right to refuse service on an individual basis. Businesses, however, do not have a right to discriminate against a class of people based on an innate characteristic. You cannot run a business and refuse to serve black people, or poor people, or disabled people. You can turn away someone if they are behaving badly, or are not wearing a shirt, or for some other individual grounds. But not because they are gay. Remember how lunch counters used to be whites-only? Yeah, that was based on “a business owner’s right to refuse service” too.

Second, if Christian-owned businesses are being “singled out,” it is only because Christian-owned businesses are the ones violating the civil rights of others. It kinda works out that way—but it’s not the fault of the government, it’s the fault of the Christian-owned businesses for breaking the law.

As for “gay rights trump everyone else’s rights,” it is everyone’s right to not be discriminated against, while it is no one’s right to discriminate. So, yes, in that standoff, gay rights trump the right to discriminate. How terrible it is to be you, you poor oppressed soul.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Show Your Love

February 22nd, 2015 8 comments

Let’s see: under Obama, we’ve had 59 consecutive months of private-sector job growth, including six straight months of healthy job gains over 200,000, after Obama came to office while the economy was cratering and we were losing up to 750,000 jobs a month; unemployment has gone from 10.1%—something Obama was not in the least responsible for, despite conservative allegations—to 5.7%; the Dow Jones Industrial Average has nearly tripled, from 6627 to 18,140, since Obama took office, while the NASDAQ had nearly quadrupled, going from 1294 to 4956; most of this economic turnaround has been due to a greatly successful stimulus package Obama shepherded, which while imperfect has nonetheless undeniably turned the economy away from what was certain ruin; about 10 million Americans without insurance are now insured, while crippling restrictions like denial for pre-existing conditions have been outlawed; the auto industry has been effectively saved where conservatives wanted it to collapse so money could be made from the restructuring; and, oh yeah, Obama got Osama bin Laden.

Sure, even despite the effects of massive obstructionism and opposition to almost everything he does, Obama still hasn’t been as strong on ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, shutting down Guantanamo, fighting for gay rights, overseeing Wall Street and political reform, ending the harmful drug war and easing massive incarceration of mostly minority citizens, or helping us achieve energy independence—but overall, he has been moving us in the right direction on all of these issues.

Meanwhile, Republicans have obstructed the political system because “it works for us,” held the American economy hostage as a political ploy to the point where the American economic rating was downgraded, tried to lower taxes for the rich while raising them for the poor, attempted to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, torn down long-standing civil rights, refused to repair the Voting Rights Act while passing laws to suppress voting, incessantly tried to deny health care to millions of Americans, have insulted, browbeaten, lied about, disrespected and even threatened to sue the president for no discernible reason, while generally working against the welfare of the majority of American citizens.

Which is why Obama doesn’t love America, and Republicans do.

Categories: Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags:

One Problem with Windows

February 21st, 2015 1 comment

It’s that you really don’t know when the computer you buy is going to be compromised from the word “go.”

Recently, Lenovo sold more than 43 different models of laptops and desktops on which they loaded the usual assortment of crap bloatware. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a collection of various programs which the maker is paid to load onto the computers it sells. Often the bloatware is questionable, producing annoyances for users. More than once I have known people who were incredibly annoyed by it, but could not figure out how to uninstall it—and so were forced to make calls to the maker’s technical support line to find out how they could rid their computer of it all.

Usually, the worst of the annoyances are System Tray popups, like you get now from software like Avast. Stuff that has to constantly be dismissed until you’re annoyed enough to pay—nagware, as it’s often called.

However, recent Lenovo users started noticing that their computers were doing more than the usual amount of intrusions. They began to notice that web site that shouldn’t have any ads in them started showing ads.

I’ve seen this before. I create web sites for the classes I teach, and of course there are no ads. So I was surprised when a student in the computer lab asked me why I had put ads on my site. I looked, and lo, there were huge sidebar ads on the page! For a moment, I thought my site had been hacked, until I checked other machines in the lab, and it became clear that only this one PC was affected.

Another time, a family member was suffering from all kinds of unwanted ads appearing, including those pop-up banners across the bottom of the browser window. Turns out that a browser add-on was responsible.

That’s the kind of thing Lenovo had built into a large number of their computers sold in past months—specifically, adware going by the name of Superfish, which is not just adware, but adware which opens gaping security holes in your system. Worse, Lenovo’s “solution” is to remove the adware… but leave the gaping security holes intact.

It’s hard to tell if this is worse than the time Dell sold computers for a couple years that had severe hardware defects—defects which Dell knew about, but still sold the computers and lied about the flaw to customers. I was acutely aware of this because my school had bought these very computers, and just weeks after the one-year warranty expired, fully half of the computers in our lab failed in the exact same way over the span of just a few weeks.

Nor are these fly-by-night operators: Lenovo is the PC unit of IBM that was sold to a Chinese manufacturer, and Dell is hardly an unknown lightweight in the market. Nor are they the only ones with problems like these.


Discussing this at work, a colleague (who hates anything Apple) complained that Apple computers are loaded with bloatware. And it is true that when you get an Apple computer, there are dozens of apps pre-installed. However, to call them “bloatware” is, I think, more than a little unfair. If you define “bloatware” as nothing more than “potentially unwanted software pre-installed on a device,” then technically the statement is correct.

However, the term “bloatware” has come to mean much more than that. The most powerful connotations include:

  • Demo Software which quickly become useless nagware;
  • Software which runs on startup and consumes significant system resources;
  • Adware, as noted in the Lenovo/Superfish report above;
  • Spyware, collecting data on the user without the user’s knowing consent;
  • Software which creates security risks the user is unaware of;
  • Software which takes up an inordinate amount of disk space;
  • Software which is difficult to remove.

Of all the above connotations, only one, possibly two apply to any Apple products. GarageBand comes pre-installed on most, if not all Macs, and includes almost 3 GB of support files (mostly loops and tutorials) which can be difficult to delete only because most people don’t know where to find them. Once you know, it’s simple—just throw them in the trash, along with the app. iLife and iWork, the next biggest offenders, come with less than a gig of support files between them.

And that’s about it. That’s the worst of it. Most other Apple apps have a relatively small profile before they are used. No demos. No adware, spyware, or malware of any sort. What little that runs on startup is part of the operating system, providing as-advertised system functions. Most are dead simple to get rid of.

And, unlike most of the “crapware” that comes on Windows boxes, Apple’s apps are, for the most part, pretty decent. Take a look at the a list of the the more notable apps:

  • Activity Monitor
  • Automator
  • Boot Camp Assistant
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Dictionary
  • Disk Utility
  • DVD Player
  • Font Book
  • GarageBand
  • Grab
  • Grapher
  • iBooks
  • iPhoto / Photos
  • Keychain Access
  • Keynote
  • Maps
  • Messages
  • Notes
  • Numbers
  • Pages
  • Photo Booth
  • Preview
  • QuickTime Player
  • Reminders
  • Safari
  • Terminal
  • TextEdit

You may not like all of them, or even most of them, but frankly, there’s some excellent stuff in there. I am unimpressed with Pages and despise Numbers… but Keynote is an excellent app. Dictionary is invaluable, especially how it works system-wide. Most people get a kick out of playing with Photo Booth. Keychain Access is imperfect, but very handy, and is much more useful now that it works over iCloud. Previous versions of Messages was so-so until Apple hooked it into your iPhone’s SMS app. Disk Utility is useful in addition to being simple and easy to figure out.

Perhaps the most overlooked app is Preview, which acts as a PDF reader and an image editor… and is really good at both. Not to mention how OS X, from the start, has had built-in system-wide PDF authoring capability.

Out of the 28 apps listed above, I use about half on a regular basis, and others from time to time.

If you want to call this bloatware, fine—but I would take Apple’s bloatware over that on any Windows PC any day of the week and twice on Sunday. There is a massive qualitative difference between the two. Apple’s is designed to be valuable, useful software of use to as many people as possible without cost or annoyance. The crapware on Windows boxes, even when not a major security risk, is put there primarily to make money off of you and annoy the fracking hell out of you.

So, yes, slight difference.

Categories: Computers and the Internet Tags:

Giuliani Is a Moron—Not That I’m Questioning His Intelligence

February 20th, 2015 4 comments

Giuliani on Obama:

I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

Later, he explained:

I’m not questioning his patriotism.

Right. because when you say that someone doesn’t love his country, that has nothing to do with his patriotism.


Late edit: Giuliani is now taking the coward’s way out. Instead of apologizing or at least admitting that what he said was stupid, he’s now trying to make himself the victim by claiming that he’s getting death threats. This is a common tactic, used for example by Sarah Palin as an excuse to cancel an event that had to close because attendance would be so low, and as a general “I’m the victim” ploy to avert unwanted attention for a gaffe.

This is not to say that Giuliani didn’t receive any death threats (though there is no evidence and no known police report); rather that death threats are kind of ubiquitous in this day and age. Obama has gotten endless overt and covert death threats on a regular basis throughout this presidency.

Now, if Giuliani had any evidence that he was getting an unusually high number of explicit death threats, that might be something of note; otherwise, it’s just another politician using his usual hate mail as a diversion from something idiotic they did.

Hypocrisy Can Bite You in the Ass

February 13th, 2015 2 comments

For eight years, after Democrats won control of the Senate in 2006, Republicans had a single strategy: obstruct. They famously became the party known for its “Audacity of Nope,” often called the “Party of Nope.” Session after session, year after year, bill after bill, Republicans blocked pretty much anything and everything—and not even because they always disagreed with the legislation, but rather just because it was on Obama’s watch. It was just No, No, No, No, No, all the time, for eight long years. They weren’t even shy about admitting it:

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott boasted, “The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail. So far it’s working for us.”

Well, Republicans finally won back full control over both houses, winning the Senate majority last November. Sessions barely started a month ago, and Republicans have spent much of the time shooting themselves in the foot.

However, one bill passed the House, and Senate Republicans would love to vote for it. The problem: the bill is extremely partisan, essentially destroying all the positive work Obama accomplished on immigration reform over the past 2-3 years, assuring the Democrats would never let the bill through. And that’s what they’ve been doing.

Yep, that’s right: the Democrats filibustered their very first bill. After eight years of Republicans filibustering almost every last bill in sight.

How do Republicans respond?

Well, they’re just livid. John Boehner could not restrain his frustration:

The House did its job. We won the fight to fund the Department of Homeland Security and to stop the president’s unconstitutional actions. Now it’s time for the Senate to do their work. You know, in the gift shop out here they’ve got these little booklets on how a bill becomes a law. All right? The House has done its job! Why don’t you go ask the Senate Democrats when they are going to get off their ass and do something other than to vote no!

Do I even need to point out the extraordinary hypocrisy?

Nope.

Done with Maher

February 11th, 2015 2 comments

After watching the vaccination discussion from the most recent Real Time with Bill Maher, I’m pretty much ready to throw in the towel on this show. That episode was just painful to watch.

I’ve been borderline about Bill Maher for a while. Discussions on his show can be interesting, and Maher himself can be funny (though his “You’re all jerks for not laughing at that bad joke I just made” schtick gets old fast). However, I’m looking at his show in the same way I used to consider CNN’s Crossfire before I stopped watching it, some time before it got canceled: it has become only barely watchable. I may still keep watching the “New Rules,” but I’m not ever sure about that.

(Want a good show to replace Real Time? It’s even also on HBO: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. It is as brilliant as Maher is dumb. I’d say “more brilliant than” instead of “as brilliant as,” but I’m not feeling generous to Maher at the moment.)

Like Crossfire, a lot of the discussion on Maher’s show is just meaningless babble. Too many guests are pushing an agenda, and are just there to spout completely ridiculous factoids hoping that they either get unaddressed in the rapid back-and-forth, or that no one on the panel knows enough to refute them. Often times a single guest will dominate the discussion and just spew misinformation left and right. Maher, who should have staff whose job it is to prep him on the issues, in particular regarding common and specific tropes his guests are known to champion, often just lets them slips past or feebly says that that “sounds” wrong.

Were Maher to find panelists who vary in their politics but at least stay factual and debate reasonably, that would go a long ways toward making the show better.

But Maher himself is all too often the biggest problem. Aside from not preparing worth a damn, he’s simply too much of an gullible, alarmist schmuck too much of the time. He acted like the fact that 250 tons of radioactive water being released daily from Fukushima is going to kill the oceans or something, when he had no idea how radioactive that water is, or even how much it is, apparently (1 swimming pool has 2500 tons of water, so that’s about 1 swimming pool of water every 10 days), and reacted with disbelief when the scientist he was talking to told him that dissipation in the ocean meant that there was no reason for alarm at the global level (reason: it’s a big-ass ocean; when dissipated, Fukushima’s contribution is hardly even a tiny blip). He’ll accept alarmist crap from dodgy sources and then cast doubt on solid figures provided by respected scientists.

PZ Meyers does a pretty good job explaining how Maher was being an idiot this week—but it didn’t really take a scientist to tell that.

Categories: Entertainment Tags:

Oh, You Finally Realize It Now, Do You?

February 8th, 2015 2 comments

Because his insistence, his lawlessness, of he, trying to get his way, it tramples our constitution—so—from debt—and I won’t even get into all the details of everything. But from debt.

—Sarah Palin, Freedom Summit, Jan. 24, 2015

C-SPAN has the video and transcript. It’s pretty breathtaking. Jon Stewart did a great job making fun of it. It’s not just the bits like you see above where her sentences were incoherent; it’s also where her entire train of thought just rambles aimlessly around. It was reported that her teleprompter broke—well, that’s happened to Obama, who did fine, and Clinton, who just sailed through magnificently. And considering how much Palin has utterly sneered at Obama for using a teleprompter at all, I don’t think she really deserves a break for this, if the teleprompter indeed broke.

The thing is, when I heard it, I laughed, but was not in any way surprised. It was simply what I expected from her. Palin’s word salad and rhetorical wandering is nothing new. No, what surprised me was how some conservatives, after six years of so much exposure to Palin, only now recognize that she is a moron.

Matt Lewis wrote a piece which got a lot of attention, admitting that finally, after years and years, he has realized that Palin is a schmuck. Noting her nearly incomprehensible speech at the summit, he conceded, “Demosthenes, she is not.” Ya think?

Lewis, despite writing a contrite retreat from Palin, nevertheless attempts throughout to excuse, rationalize, and justify the support given to Palin by him and others. He stresses the times she did not sound like an idiot. He makes it sound like almost all conservatives abandoned Palin as quickly as possible in late 2008. He dredges up samples of his writings which were not entirely supportive. You come away with the impression that he and almost all other conservatives realized long ago she was unworthy of support, despite the fact that he is trying to explain why the exact opposite was in fact true. In short, he does not so much explain why it took him so long to see the obvious as much as he tries to whitewash the fact that he did in fact miss the obvious, for more than half a decade.

And obvious it was. Incredibly obvious. It so happens that I have a blog, and I can look back at my reporting from that time. And yes, it became quickly clear that from the very beginning, Palin was a morass of scandal, idiocy, and nonsense. Anyone with a shred of sense could have seen it immediately.

It only took a day after McCain announced her as his running mate to catch her in her first big lie—that she had opposed the “Bridge to Nowhere.” Two days in, another lie—that, as mayor, she had not terminated the Wasilla librarian and the police chief; it was later revealed that she fired the police chief for trying to curb drunk driving and promote gun safety, and the librarian for refusing to ban certain books. By day three, we were learning a lot about the state trooper scandal. By day four, the McCain campaign was lying not just about her Bridge to Nowhere lie, but also about how she never supported Ted Stevens, when she clearly had. Five days in, we heard Palin’s utterly bizarre story about how she delayed a high-risk childbirth after her water broke so she could give a political speech and then take a slow series of flights and car travel to a small local hospital in Wasilla. That and the Palins’ associations with a secessionist movement.

So, it did not take long to see that Palin was failing miserably in the role of vice presidential candidacy, the major part of which is making the ticket look good, or at least not worse. She was nothing but embarrassment from day one, and it never stopped. In fact, Palin had not even displayed her worst skills as a speaking representative for her campaign.

It was only two weeks after joining the campaign that Palin touted Alaska’s proximity to Russia as good reason to believe she would make a capable leader:

PALIN: … And, Charlie, you’re in Alaska. We have that very narrow maritime border between the United States, and the 49th state, Alaska, and Russia. They are our next door neighbors. We need to have a good relationship with them. They’re very, very important to us and they are our next door neighbor.

GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?

PALIN: They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.

GIBSON: What insight does that give you into what they’re doing in Georgia?

PALIN: Well, I’m giving you that perspective of how small our world is and how important it is that we work with our allies to keep good relation with all of these countries, especially Russia. We will not repeat a Cold War. We must have good relationship with our allies, pressuring, also, helping us to remind Russia that it’s in their benefit, also, a mutually beneficial relationship for us all to be getting along.

She then tried to dodge by pivoting to energy policy; Gibson hauled her back, asking if she had met with any foreign leaders, to which she replied that “international trade activities bring in many leaders of other countries.” After a minute more of dodging, she admitted that she had never met any of them.

Later in the interview, her lack of political knowledge was further revealed:

GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN: [pause] In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush — well, what do you — what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN: His world view.

GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.

PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that’s the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

She obviously had no clue what the “Bush Doctrine” was; her “in what respect” response was clearly an attempt to get the interviewer to fish her out of hot water by telling her. Gibson almost fell for it, but caught himself and did not give her a break on that.

By now, any self-respecting sentient being would realize that Palin was way out of her depth. But hey, let’s give her a chance. Give her two weeks to prep and drill, to take the crash course in Politics 101, so she could have a lightweight interview without looking foolish. Not to mention, come up with a halfway decent way to deal with the foreign policy question.

Here’s how she did, just 4 weeks after joining the ticket, two weeks after the Russia comment:

COURIC: You’ve cited Alaska’s proximity to Russia as part of your foreign policy experience. What did you mean by that?

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It’s funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don’t know, you know … reporters.

COURIC: Mocked?

PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.

COURIC: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of. And there…

COURIC: Have you ever been involved in any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?

PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth, we do. It’s very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.

Seriously. She not only doubled down on the whole “Russia is next door to Alaska, therefore I am strong in foreign policy” idea, but she then claims that Vladimir Putin flying over her head gives her foreign policy credentials as well. Despite the fact that a quick check of air routes makes it clear that flights from Moscow fly over the Atlantic and come nowhere near Alaska. Not that she’d notice if an Aeroflot flight flew over her head in any case.

Additionally, you can see that her word salad style of speaking is not just a recent thing, you can see clear elements of it in her speaking shown above. Really, read that last paragraph, check out the wording, try to figure out what the hell she means when she says “we send those out.”

No, the audacious stupidity Palin demonstrated was immediately apparent—so much so that Tina Fey, to get outrageous laughs from her audience, only had to quote Sarah Palin verbatim.

I really cannot stress enough how breathtakingly manifest it was that Palin was an idiot. I wrote and asked aloud many times in the years since then how conservatives could possibly listen to this person and still take her seriously.

But no, instead of cringing, they actually gushed. They loved her winking and folksy expressions, as if the gibberish she spouted was somehow astutely charming.

Seriously, if Obama had chosen the Democratic twin of Palin, there would have been cries of outrage and despair from the faithful from day one. Possibly some would hold out for a few weeks, but few if any would stay beyond the whole Russia thing.

Conservatives, however, not only stayed on with her through that, some of them actually came to like her better than McCain! And while some let go after the failed election bid, most kept on giving her love and support. She maintained her position as a popular movement figure for years—even well after it became clear that her first priority was to cash in.

And although that popularity waned quite a bit over time, the fact remains that she was still invited to speak at the Freedom Summit, and has appeared at numerous high-level conservative events—hell, she was the keynote speaker at the 2014 CPAC conference, and still appears to be slated for the 2015 CPAC coming later this month.

It is not really so amazing that Palin has retained so much support for six years; what really takes you breath away is that she kept support for six months. Six years is so inconceivable that you cannot register astonishment simply due to the numbness of such long-sustained shock.

To Matt Lewis, I can only say, nice attempt to cover up the fact that you championed an obvious lunatic for several years. It still does not explain how you somehow overlooked the obvious for so long.

Unbundling Is Overdue

February 7th, 2015 1 comment

The FCC’s recent stance on Net Neutrality is nice and all, but one critical elements is still missing: unbundling, which requires carriers that own infrastructure to lease their last-mile connections with competing services at low, regulated rates. You might think that it’s unfair to force companies to share private resources, but (1) these resources are built on public land, and (2) were heavily subsidized by federal, state, and local governments—i.e., you, the taxpayer. They may own it, but you mostly paid for it.

This egregious sop to the telecoms largely goes unnoticed, but the lack of bundling more or less prevents meaningful competition, thus causing higher prices and slower service. Unbundling in Japan and Europe has created healthy competition and far superior service. For example, I get fiber-optic FTTH Gigabit service at home, which includes telephone service (we could add TV for a nominal fee if we wanted) and my monthly bill is less than $60. Plus we get $150 – $300 per year off our two cell phone contracts for using the same carrier for both. $30 a month can get you 100 Mbps service.

In the U.S., how many choices do you get for Internet service? In Japan, it’s not uncommon to have your choice of half a dozen providers offering various deals and packages when you go to any electronics store and visit the carrier counter.

My Computer students are always shocked to hear that Internet service in the U.S. is slower and more expensive than in Japan. Yes, some of it is due to the U.S. being a larger country, but the lack of strong government incentives, too little regulation, or any kind of comprehensive national policy to promote a healthy market are far more responsible for the shoddy product so many Americans suffer with nowadays.

Apple Security Myths

February 6th, 2015 2 comments

How many times have you heard Apple users say that Apple devices are invulnerable to malware, 100% safe from viruses, and simple are so secure that they can never, ever be hacked?

It might seem that you have heard it said countless times.

However, I’d be willing to wager that you have, in fact, never heard any such thing.

What you have likely heard is a combination of two things. First, Apple users saying that their devices are more secure than other devices, and second—and likely much more commonly—you have heard people annoyed by Apple users claim they have heard Apple users make such claims countless times.

Here’s an interesting test: go to Google, and search for “Apple” along with terms like “invulnerable” and “hack-proof.”

I guarantee you that you will not find hordes of Apple users gushing about the bulletproof nature of their products. In fact, you will probably not see even a single result of that nature.

Instead, you will find an endless stream of results which impugn the purported claim. These consist of two basic groups: reports which “debunk” the “myth” of Apple’s invulnerability (often by security companies making overblown claims about the vulnerability of Apple products so as to sell their Mac-based products), and non-Apple users expressing undying irritation at Apple users smugly claiming that their devices are invulnerable.

But not anyone actually making the claim itself.

This tracks with my own experience: I have never heard any Apple user claim that Macs are 100% secure.

In short, the myth is not that Apple products are incapable of being hacked. They myth is that Apple users make that claim at all.

Here’s what Apple users will claim:

  • Apple devices are more secure than Windows or Android counterparts (true)
  • Most Apple users have never experienced any kind of malware attack (probably true, though some may have just never discovered the attack)
  • There have been very few successful attacks against Apple devices that have resulted in any harm (true)
  • Hackers less often target Apple devices, often because the target is much smaller (probably true, though ironically, an argument more often made by Windows enthusiasts trying to prove that Macs are equally vulnerable)
  • As an Apple user, they don’t really need security software (a matter of opinion—not a claim of invulnerability, but rather like not having to buy insurance against being struck by lightning)
  • Apple’s OS software has built-in security (true)

When Apple users make such claims, this is inevitably translated into the often-heard “My Mac can’t be hacked” claim.

Imagine telling people that you live in a safe neighborhood, and then later hear other express exasperation at your smug claims that you live in an impenetrable fortress and criminals could never, ever break into your home.

Wouldn’t that kind of irk you, just a little? ‘Cause it does me. I get really tired of the endless whining about how Mac users are just so smug and so stupid.

Here are the actual myths: (1) that Apple users commonly make the claim, and (2) that Apple devices are “just as vulnerable” to attack as Windows and Android devices, and happen just as frequently.

Regarding the second claim, it just isn’t true. That does not mean there are no successful attacks against Apple devices—the 2012 Flashback trojan, which could infect a Mac without users helping it, infected a large number of Macs.

However, one should note that that event was the single worst successful attack against Macs. Almost all other malware for Macs consists of social-engineering trojans, or else fringe attacks which have little actual effect.

The social-engineering trojans are inevitably going to appear on any system, and no security system will ever be able to fully protect a computer from them. They are essentially programs which the user is tricked into installing, usually software purporting to allow videos to play.

What you hear about more often are the fringe attacks, usually things like rootkits which require physical access to the device, or else proof-of-concept hacks and attacks which do not penetrate the community deeply and/or do little if any damage at all.

These are usually ballyhooed by security firms like Sophos or Kaspersky, made to seem like dire universal threats so that Mac users will be frightened into using their software. However, apps claiming to protect your Mac are usually more trouble than they are worth. They give the impression that they provide a wall of security for your computer, but in fact cannot block any exploit which is not already in their libraries—thus, any new attack will slip by them. This happened with Flashback, which Apple fixed with security updates almost as quickly as apps like Sophos added the ability to detect and thwart the attack.

When I myself used these anti-virus apps to do sweeps of my Mac, I was eminently annoyed by the fact that the apps reported dozens of threats. I was not annoyed because my Mac was infected, but because it was not infected. What the “security” app reported was all the Windows malware that sat in my Mail app’s attachment repository. Not a single Mac threat among them—but this “security” app I used did not note that fact, and so I wasted an hour or so looking up every last one on the list, only to discover that none were in fact a threat to me.

I do use security on my Mac; I won’t go into detail about the specifics for obvious reasons, but I will say that I don’t use Sophos, Kaspersky, or apps of that nature on a regular basis. From time to time I will install one and do a sweep out of curiosity, but then I’ll delete the app, for good reason. I have several other solutions, one of which protected me from the Flashback trojan at a time when the “security” apps would have missed it.

I also follow some basic common-sense rules which every computer user, Apple or otherwise, should know and follow. Don’t trust pirated software. Don’t follow email or other links which claim to give you profit or protection. Try to download apps or plug-ins only from trusted sources, and ensure you are doing it right by directly entering the URL (to update Flash, for example, I never follow a link from a broken video; I type “http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/” into the address bar). Before clicking on a link, check the URL displayed in the status bar, and watch the address bar for any suspicious redirects. If I do install something, I get 1000% more suspicious when the installer requires the system password. And I monitor the news for emerging malware threats to the Mac.

Am I invulnerable to attack? Hardly. But I live in a good neighborhood, have a security system, and I keep my eyes open. That’s about as good as it gets.

Flying in Style

January 26th, 2015 2 comments

I recently booked my flight back to the U.S. … for next December. Award miles, you see. Booking award miles last-minute, or even three months in advance (when I usually book when paying) can be a real pain. Turns out that they open up the flights about 11 months in advance, so you kind of have to book early. If you catch them when they open up, though, you tend to have a nice selection, and can get pretty much what you want.

I’ve been flying back and forth between Japan and the U.S. for years. I have no idea how many award miles slipped past me during years I did not fly, but now I am finally up to an amount where I can travel to San Francisco and back twice on miles alone. This is possible if I take Economy the trip over, and Business on the trip back.

That combination is pretty much ideal. The trip to the U.S. is shorter, a bit over 9 hours; the flight back is longer, about 11 hours and a half. Naturally, booking Business for the longer half makes a lot of sense, for various reasons. First, it’s just a longer trip. Making that easier

Second, it’s more arduous. On the trip over, my father picks me up to drive me home when I arrive; on the way back, I face a long train ride home from Narita, lugging two larger suitcases plus a carry-on case and a backpack. What’s more, Business gives you two free checked bags versus the one checked bag for Economy; on my trip from Japan, I have mostly empty bags, so I just put my smaller case inside my larger one.

Third, it fits the strengths and weaknesses of my benefits. I have mileage-based perks, which give me lounge privileges and priority boarding… only if I fly United from an airport which has United facilities. The flight back will be operated by ANA (it usually is), so taking Business with the ANA leg allows me to get the benefits I would miss on Economy.

Taking the Economy flight to the U.S. is also better now that I have found a flight I like: United recently scored a berth at Haneda, leaving from 1:00 a.m. You might think that the Haneda part is the real advantage, as it’s in central Tokyo as opposed to Narita, which is way out in Chiba. Ironically, however, the train rides are about the same for me. Because the Skyliner makes the trip so rapidly, both routes are about equal in terms of transfers and times. No, for me, the real sweet part is leaving at 1:00 a.m. Normally, I leave Narita at 4 p.m. or so on Tuesday, and arrive in SFO very early in the morning. It means that I don’t have time to do anything useful on Tuesday in Japan, and as I am wiped out arriving in California, that whole day is more or less wasted as I struggle to stay awake all day.

Haneda

Instead, I get to use all the daytime hours on Monday, and late Monday evening, I roll out for the airport. By the time I get to Haneda (which has much nicer facilities than Narita, including lots of power outlets and easy-to-access free WiFi), I am about ready to go to sleep. And on my last trip over to the U.S., I shocked myself: I actually did go to sleep, for about 4 or 5 hours. Unexpectedly, without trying. I’m never able to sleep on airplanes, even with drugs. I couldn’t believe it. But the timing appears just about perfect for exactly that.

Also, there may be something about the lack of air traffic at such times: my late-night flight from Haneda last month not only took off right on time, but also was able to arrive earlier than expected.

As an added bonus, I arrive in the U.S. late afternoon Monday (thank you, International Date Line), with enough time to get tired again, and wake up bright and shiny Tuesday morning, able to use that entire day as well. Sweet!

Another great improvement is the airline amenities. Now, all the flights I take have those in-flight entertainment screens on the back of the seat in front of you. Which is nice, but ironically less relevant, now that they also have the far more significant power outlets for every seat, allowing me to use my laptop throughout the flight. My iPad made even that somewhat irrelevant recently, but having the nice 15“ Retina display for the whole fight is nice. I can rip more than enough media to keep me occupied, not to mention do end-of-semester clean-up work.

I chose a center-aisle seat because the aircraft layout has only three seats in the middle group, meaning you only have a 50% chance of someone climbing out over you, as opposed to the window-side aisle seats, which have a 100% chance two people will have to ask you to leave your seat during the flight. Not to mention that usually the other two seats are occupied by a couple, who lean together and leave their seats together, or you get another solo on the far seat side, so the middle seat, being the least desirable on the plane, is more often empty if the flight is not full.

On the Business side, though, ANA makes the deal far sweeter. Flying business on United is nice (I once got upgraded on the way over to the states), but nowadays, they mostly offer very strange arrangements where half the seats face backwards so you are facing the person in front of you. The seats may recline 180°, but even if they do, the window/interior seat occupants still have to shuffle past you, or step over you if you are reclined.

On ANA, however, they have little partially-enclosed seat-islands, only four per row, meaning each person gets their own aisle access. You definitely are able to lie down flat, and have not just your own armrests, but two tables—one sliding table for your laptop and meals, in front of the 17” LCD monitor, and a largish side table to boot. There’s storage for my backpack so I don’t have to fish things out of the luggage bins, and even a shoe storage space.

Seatview

Better yet, I was able to get seat 1K—first row! Cool. The nice part of that is not just being right up at the front, but rather that the seat is right next to the bulkhead, so there’s the table and a partial wall separating you from the traffic, and no one walking past your seat in-flight except the flight staff. As far as seat reviews go, I could not get better than this one, which was a highly detailed review for the exact seat on the exact flight I’m taking. Impossible to be more spot-on than that.

The Business seat on ANA cost 10,000 more miles than the United arrangements, but ANA’s Business is actually closer to United’s First seats, so, deal.

Using award miles, you still have to pay for airport fees and travel insurance, but the round trip came out to $72. And, I still have enough miles to do the exact same thing next year as well.

Categories: Travel Tags:

Republicans: We’re So Awesome

January 8th, 2015 9 comments

So, Republicans won more seats than before in the last midterm election, and now control both houses. One day after they started their new session, Mitch McConnell tried to take credit for the economic upturn that has been years in the making:

After so many years of sluggish growth, we’re finally starting to see some economic data that can provide a glimmer of hope; the uptick appears to coincide with the biggest political change of the Obama Administration’s long tenure in Washington: the expectation of a new Republican Congress. So this is precisely the right time to advance a positive, pro-growth agenda.

Yes. Sure. Because so many people were just so ecstatic and hopeful once Republicans gained their completely meaningless majority in the Senate. That’s what caused the economy to surge.

What asshats.

Look, I don’t even credit Obama with this, though the fact that more Americans are insured probably has a bigger effect than anything concerning Republicans. In the end, the economy will tend to swing around despite anything happening in the political sphere. However, if anyone in politics has the right to claim credit for what we’re seeing now, it sure as fracking hell is not the obstructionist, hostage-taking, shut-down-the-government pack of loonies that right now is strutting like a bunch of idiots who you know are going to self-destruct pretty soon.

For several charts and a general rundown proving what anyone could intuitively guess, The Washington Post has the goods.

Categories: Economics, Republican Stupidity Tags:

Fair Is Fair

December 20th, 2014 5 comments

Nebraska and Oklahoma are suing Colorado for legalizing marijuana:

Colorado voters in 2012 passed Amendment 64, which allows the personal use of marijuana for recreation and creates a system of marijuana growing and marketing across the state, which is taxed and is supposedly regulated closely.

While this scheme is confined within the boundaries of the state, its two neighbors argued that Colorado-sourced marijuana is showing up increasingly in their states, in violation of their anti-drug laws.

Does this mean that California, with the strictest gun laws in the country, can sue Arizona and Utah, which have the most lax? I would think that guns from those two states have done infinitely more damage in California than pot could ever do in Nebraska and Oklahoma.

Categories: Law, Social Issues Tags:

Religious Persecution

December 17th, 2014 2 comments

In Northern California, a Christian group has been blocked from using a private commercial space in a local strip mall. The congregants do not have a common church within more than an hour’s drive, and so want to rent the 2200-square-foot space in order to conduct daily prayers and Sunday services. However, the local city council, dominated by atheists, voted down the proposal in a 4-1 vote, which was celebrated by many atheists protesting outside the city council, bearing signs that read, “Ban Christianity!” and “Christianity Destroys Lives!” One demonstrator said, “To me, that church is a threat to my freedom, my liberties, and everything I own.”


OK, it’s pretty obvious that story is not correct. It’s clearly pretty outrageous, though a sizable number of right-wingers hungry for an opportunity for righteous indignation would probably believe it if it appeared on Fox or Breitbart, or if it landed in their email box.

However, it’s not exactly untrue. It is simply inaccurate on some details. That event really did happen—except it wasn’t in Northern California, it was in Georgia. And it wasn’t atheists protesting and blocking the use of a space for religious purposes, it was Christians doing that. And they were doing that because it wasn’t a church that wanted to use the space, it was a mosque.

When you hear claims of persecution, it’s almost always Christians complaining about how oppressed they are, about how there’s a war on Christmas, or a war on Christianity, and how much their religious rights an freedoms are being violated every day. But when you look at the specific claims, it’s always because of either (1) imagined slights, like people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”; (2) situations falsely perceived to be restrictions, like children not allowed to pray in school (they can); or (3) pushbacks against Christian actions which actually violate the First Amendment rights of others, like having required prayer for all students in a school, or using public land exclusively for their religion and none other—but which Christians see as assaults against their own liberties.

In terms of actual persecution in the United States, however, that is something which almost exclusively is committed by Christians against people of other beliefs. For example, the Christian reaction to one of the most common perceived slights—the “Happy Holidays” well-wishing— is to demand people say “Merry Christmas” as a generic greeting—something which actively excludes people of other beliefs, forcing the Christian greeting on everyone.

This story, however, is the more common example of significant religious persecution in the United States—which is most often Christians persecuting others.

Categories: Religion Tags:

Process of a Smear

December 10th, 2014 6 comments

Recently, I’ve heard more than a few people in media express wonder at why people in general have such an adverse reaction to the word “feminist.” Considering that the word simply expresses the idea of equality between men and women, why is there such a negative sense to the word?

The answer is easy: feminists are a liberal constituency. And if you’re a liberal constituency or issue, there is a process of denigration that is rather consistently carried out.

Here’s how it goes:

Step One: Find the most extreme, worst example of that issue or group.

Step Two: Assume all the worst imaginable motives for the worst possible intentions.

Step Three: Subtract or diminish any redeeming qualities.

Step Four: Exaggerate what remains.

Step Five: Add imaginary negative qualities to it to suit common fears and build scapegoats.

Step Six: Claim that this is wholly representative of the issue or group.

Step Seven: Popularize and reinforce as much as possible in the media.

This happens for pretty much any liberal constituency that you can imagine. Feminists? Arrogant, aggressive, ugly, butch, man-hating lesbians intent on dominating men because they were never admired by them.

Minorities? Shiftless, aggressive, uneducated, drug-using incipient criminals with a sense of entitlement enabled by feeble-minded liberals, looking to get free government handouts paid for with taxes taken from hard-working conservative whites. Ignore and whitewash the centuries of relentless discrimination which has kept so many minorities in poverty and/or jail.

Unions? Corrupt thugs who command high salary and benefits only for those in their lodge; union workers are under-qualified oafs demanding constant breaks, more concerned with union rules than efficiency, demanding union fees like a protection racket while stifling efficiency and production at the cost of the taxpayer, their padded paychecks causing American companies to fail and be less competitive. Ignore and whitewash the endless accomplishments of unions to create universal standards for strong, well-paid jobs with safe working conditions.

The poor? Welfare queens, the indigent 47%, either unemployed by choice or stuck in low-end jobs because they refuse to work hard, always on the make for another government handout—food stamps, welfare checks, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security—while living in taxpayer-funded government housing with all the modern conveniences (they have refrigerators!), always ready to convert food stamps into liquor and fine dining or welfare checks into big-screen teevees and nice cars. Ignore and whitewash the fact that these people do the lion’s share of the most difficult and necessary work to keep our society functioning, and pay a great deal in taxes to earn their fair share.

Educators? Lazy ivory-tower socialists unable to get a real job in the free market who opt for a job with banker’s hours and three full months off in summer while demanding tenure so they can never be fired no matter how inept or harmfully incompetent they are—because of union protection. Ignore and whitewash how overworked and underpaid these well-trained professionals are in doing one of the most important tasks in society.

Same thing with issues. Abortion? Late-term abortion, happens all the time, bloody fetuses resembling newborns, used frequently and callously by feminists as an alternative to virtuous self-control.

Affirmative Action? Reverse racism, allowing any and every unqualified minority to grab a college slot they do not deserve or demand a job that would have gone to a better-qualified white person, after which they are bulletproof and exempt from the same requirements and standards whites must satisfy.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Think of any liberal constituency or issue and you’ll find the same laundry list of extreme, exaggerated, irredeemable, negative qualities applied to the entire interest. This has grown to include cities (San Francisco, Hollywood, Chicago, Boston, etc.) and any professions where liberalism is considered dominant.

If a group or issue begins to lean liberal where it did not before, or becomes more significant than it previously was, it is added to the list and put through the same process. Scientists were not one of the constituencies until evolution and climate change started to become bigger issues; when that happened, we started hearing about scientists whoring for government grants and so forth. If, say, nurses or farmers begin to emerge as a group supporting liberals, we’ll begin to see similar stereotypes begin to form.

So, no, I am not surprised that feminism has gotten a bad name. That constituency was smeared a long time ago.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies, Social Issues Tags:

I Want My Country Back

November 30th, 2014 2 comments

We’ve heard conservatives saying “I want my country back” nowadays, a refrain begun soon after Obama took office, a cry marked by the fact that what they claim they lost never went away—except for what they won’t admit, that being a white or Republican president.

Well, you know what? I want my country back. The one I was born and raised in. Not in terms of which political party runs things or what race the president is, but the principles and ideals we were all taught were the foundations of our country.

I want back a country where torture is reviled, not a widely condoned or even a reluctantly accepted practice.

I want back a country where civil rights were things we gained, not lost.

I want back a country where you don’t have to half undress before getting on a plane, and we weren’t so willing to surrender our liberty for the flimsy perception of safety.

I want back a country where a strong education is universally seen as vital and desirable, and a college education does not break you financially.

I want back a country where if a politician says something so outrageously stupid or untrue that anyone could tell, that politician would be hounded out of office, not cheered. Or that most of the nation could actually tell.

I want back a country where the social priority was to fight poverty, not to pander to billionaires.

I want back a country where the press gives us news, not propaganda.

I want back a country where at least most people felt it was a good thing to sacrifice for the common good.

I want back a country where corporations are not people and money is not free speech.

I want back a country where unwieldily corporate conglomerates were broken up, not where entire markets—especially media—are dominated by fewer and fewer controlling entities.

I’m not saying we should have a perfect society or any other unreasonable expectation; I am not pining for a political or social ideal. I’m not asking for anything we never had but thought we did. These are all things that actually used to be real for us, but are gone now.

Can I have that back?

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Consumption Tax

November 22nd, 2014 2 comments

If one counts out the recessions caused by U.S. economic concerns in 2001 and 2008, then it is noteworthy that 2 of the last three recessions in Japan—including the current one—have closely followed increases in the consumption tax.

It should also be noted that the initial consumption tax was accompanied by a lowering of taxes targeted at the upper end of the economic spectrum, and that in Japan, consumption tax has no exemptions for food or other necessities for lower-income people. Japan’s consumption tax just happens to remove large amounts of income just where it is needed most—not just out of personal needs, but out of the need for disposable income to fuel purchasing and therefore production.

If Japanese politicians want to raise the consumption tax yet again to 10%, as is currently planned, I think they would be well-served by doing so only after a 3-year experiment in which the tax is brought back down to 3% and original higher-end taxes reinstated. If the economy is doing worse after those three years (and not depressed by the world economy), then they can try a 10% consumption tax.

Not that that’s going to happen.

Categories: Economics, Taxes Tags:

It Never Left

November 18th, 2014 2 comments

One of the hallmarks of modern racism has been its covert nature. For better or worse, racism, while still strong in the United States, has gone underground. People with racist inclinations have learned that it is no longer acceptable to make outright public statements of a racist nature.

Or, actually, not. Racism in recent years has bounded back, largely helped by institutional racism and the ability to go largely anonymous in public thanks to the Internet.

You still cannot make outright racist statements in public, but you can use a rather well-established code. Racists have found cover in this, encouraged by the institutions of the media—Fox News and even more extremist outlets reporting relentlessly on minorities in a fashion that all but screams racism—and of politics—conservatives nationwide showing contempt for minorities, blaming them for the nation’s woes and passing laws to cut off their voting rights.

This is further spurred by the widespread insistence, legitimized by the Supreme Court no less, that even in face of some of the most racist policies and mindsets that we have seen in decades, America is supposedly “past” racism, that it is no longer a problem. In the same way that historical revisionism whitewashes the wrongs done by the nation and gives us the confidence to march forward into more wrongdoings in the world, this so “post-racialism” gives cover to those with racist intent, making them feel that so long as they conform to the new rules of the game, then their rather overt—even blazing—racism is not actually “racism.”

Reading the comments in an ABC News story about how the FBI expects violence in the wake of an upcoming grand jury decision in Ferguson, MO, I was truck by how baldly racist the comments were, using the rules of New Racism:

Any decision will lead to violence. Violence is what the DOJ and Obama want. It is what the Jacksons and Sharptons do. The protesters can’t wait to loot any business.

And they should be shot down for the criminals they are. They have been on the dole so long they cannot accept “No” for an answer for anything or any situation. They are a bunch of uncivilized hoodlums.

Guilty or not guilty it does not matter…They are getting their free TV’s and Rims one way or the other…And none of them cares or knows who Michael Brown is.

Don’t knock ‘affirmative shopping’ ! the brothas gotta eat !!

The FBI is obviously a racist organization. Blacks are peaceful people. They would never ever hurt anyone or destroy anything. They are the pillars of intellectual achievement across the globe. They are simply misunderstood. When they burn down a small business, it’s because they have visions of putting in skyscrapers of achievement in their place. White folk just don’t grasp the higher (ebonic) math needed to burn down a small business and injure or kill innocent civilians.

When Ferguson happens it will saturate the media. That is exactly the time Obama will give executive amnesty to untold millions. Don’t waste that crisis.

The story had more than 1600 comments at the time of this posting—and was gaining dozens of new comments every minute. Most of them were like the ones above.

One of the key rules of New Racism: avoid using classic, outright epithets; instead, use names of prominent people of color in a disparaging way, in addition to a variety of widely-disparaged names, terms, and stereotypes. Obama, Sharpton, Jackson, Holder; Affirmative Action, food stamps, ebonics, handouts, amnesty; looting, lazy, hoodlum, moocher, thug… not hard to see where all of it leads.

It is sadly ironic that one of the few posts to be editorially questioned was one which labeled some of the above posts as “racist.” It was available on a link, but marked “held for moderation.” And the commenter who made that remark was immediately attacked by several as being racist himself—another standard tactic in the New Racism: anyone who calls you a racist is a racist. Pile on, quickly and in force.

Not far behind the New Racism, however, does the Old Racism lurk. Spurred by enough sentiment going their way, those who would gladly dispense with the more politically correct racism soon come out—and too many of the comments are not held for moderation:

If violent Negroes want to burn businesses and not accept the verdict, they should be dealt with with water cannons first and then guns. There’s no place in the USA for Violent people to kill and burn because they don’t agree with grand jury court verdict. This is the USA, not some third world toilet bowl country and if Negroes can’t live under the rule of law, they need to move overseas and leave the USA, period.

Feral animals at it again. And, of course, that’s how this whole situation began.

Back to trees Boogies!

all i see is organized terrorists. time to squash the savages

And:

Time for a race war. Let’s just get it over with.

Yep. No more racism in America. We’re all clean.

Categories: Race Tags:

When You’re Privileged, the Irony Is Hard to Catch

November 9th, 2014 4 comments

In Tracy, CA (about 50 miles east of San Francisco), a couple of kids are in danger of failing a high school speech class because, in a school assignment to recite the pledge to the school, they left out the words “under God.”

In one sense, the kids are out of line: they were told that they were required to read the pledge as presented, and if they felt uncomfortable with the assignment, they could get an alternate one. Instead, they chose to lead the recitation, and violated the rules given. While one of the students claimed he felt he would not be graded fairly with the alternative assignment, one kind of gets the feeling that they in fact wanted to make a statement.

And that is where they are not out of line; instead, the pledge, or more specifically, those who feel it must be forced upon the student populace, are out of line. I focused last month on the idea that the pledge itself is inane, but that was a more general assessment based on the fact that it requires young people to take an oath they do not understand. The inclusion of the words “under God” is another very solid reason the pledge is not a good idea.

Aside from the fact that the inclusion of “under God” is a late addition (the pledge was introduced in 1892, and the “under God” was tacked on in 1954), it is a clear violation of the First Amendment separation of church and state. Like making the national motto “In God We Trust” and slapping it on every piece of currency, it not only deviates from the original intention (the national motto was, even if not codified by law, “E Pluribus Unum” since the time of the founders), but it foists religion, indeed a specific religion (we all know which God is being referred to, after all), upon the people by government fiat, in stark contradiction to the establishment rule. In fact, the addition of “so help me God” to official pledges is expressly forbidden not by the Bill of Rights, but by the main body of the constitution itself, forbidding religious tests for public office. If you don’t think it’s a religious test, imagine what would have happened to Obama, or any other president, had they specifically omitted those two words from their inaugural oaths.

And yet, these illegal incursions are allowed to persist, usually under the spurious excuse that it’s not important, just a “little thing,” why are you even making a deal out of this at all? And then a Supreme Court justice attempts to overturn the First Amendment on the very basis that these incursions have become accepted in everyday government and social business.

And this is highlighted beautifully in the Tracy Unified School District’s public response to the two students’ actions:

“When you’re leading the pledge, you’re representing the school,” Strube said in an interview Monday . “I would say it’s not appropriate to leave it out when you are leading it for 2,000 people.”

This perfectly shows up the fallacy of the inclusion of religious text. How is it appropriate to direct a diverse group of students to make a religious statement on the direction of a government agency, but somehow inappropriate to not direct them to make a religious statement? If you are harming the religious students by leaving out the religious statement once or twice, how are you not harming the non-religious students every other time?

To say that it’s tradition or even law only makes it worse.

Seriously, it is time to retire this rather silly and, frankly, unconstitutional ritual.

Categories: Religion Tags:

People Are Stupid

November 5th, 2014 10 comments

It’s not like the Republicans really fooled anyone. It’s pretty damn clear that the stimulus did more good than bad, and at the very least staved off a depression. That Obama did more than most to help save the auto industry. It’s just as clear that Obamacare is a good thing. And that the economy, however tepid, is improving. Gas prices are even lower. Obama and the Democrats are trying to give most Americans a raise and to serve their interests in many other ways.

But it is outrageously clear that Republicans had nothing to do with any of this, have been fighting against the people’s interests, and have only been trying to run things into the ground. Holding the economy hostage and damaging our credit rating. Obstructing and stonewalling for the sake of obstructing and stonewalling. Blaming even the most bizarre things on Obama, like Ebola or Katrina, things he clearly had no effect on.

What is most bizarre, however, is that the Republican claims are clearly false, and their motives are clearly harmful. They suppress voting on the claim of voter fraud when it is strikingly clear they are suppressing the opposition vote. They state openly that it is their intent to ruin Obama. They state unashamedly that they will obstruct while saying it’s Obama’s fault.

All that they blame Obama for and so much more that is at the heart of our nation’s problems is clearly their fault.

So how do the people react? Things really stink… so let’s reward Republicans!

The blind stupidity is breathtaking.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags: