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No, It’s Not Religion That Gets You Dragged Off to Jail

October 19th, 2014 1 comment

For a while now, there has been paranoid claims from the religious right that society is becoming so hostile to religion that Christians could be arrested for their beliefs. Much of this is over Christians who condemn homosexuality and see hate laws and anti-discriminatory measures as direct legal attacks on their faith. Back in 2009, some Christians fretted that they could face “legal sanctions” for merely expressing their God-given beliefs.

Earlier this year, three congregations were shocked when actual city police officers marched into their churches and arrested three pastors. The police officers and the pastors all claimed in the video of the event that the arrests were for “defending the faith.” The congregations later learned that the entire event was staged, the arrests mock ones, intended to show how difficult it had become to preach one’s beliefs in current times.

Recently we have seen a series of movies showing Christians being persecuted for their beliefs, from a ridiculous movie about a college Philosophy professor forcing his class to admit God doesn’t exist, to a movie literally titled “Persecuted,” about a government conspiracy to create laws to, apparently, mute Christianity by mixing it with all other religions, or something. I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know if the reviews or the movie itself is bizarrely unclear. The main character is framed for a crime he did not commit, and stands to be imprisoned.

And just now, Texas Senator Ted Cruz stated that he believes there is a “real risk” that clergy will literally be arrested and imprisoned for advocating “traditional marriage.”

All this despite the fact that, not only are Christians not being arrested and imprisoned, but the law is trending very strongly against any such eventuality. While others are being granted legal rights that these religious conservatives deplore and wish to stop, any law which even seems to infringe on religious freedoms, even tangentially, is being struck down—even if it means limiting the freedoms of people who believe differently.

Indeed, if you want to find anyone being sent to prison for their beliefs, you’r going to have to look at atheists. In California, in 2004, Barry A. Hazle, Jr. was arrested for meth possession. California law, in the wake of Prop 36, states that you have to be given three chances to remain sober. Hazle was in the process of being served with his second warning when police serving him found an unopened bottle of Whiskey in his apartment; that liquor got him sent to prison. The sentence was later overturned, as a court decided Hazle was arrested for a third offense which was committed before he was informed he had expended his second one.

In the meantime, Hazle went to prison for a year. After one year, he was offered a chance at parole—but only if he agreed to enter a rehab program. Hazle agreed, and was released on parole. However, a problem soon turned up: the rehab program demanded that all its members “recognize a higher power,” i.e., God. Hazle, an atheist, had problems with that. According to records, he “congenially” stated his concerns and requested a different program. Since no secular program was found, his parole officer sent him back to jail for another 100 days.

He sued and won a sizable settlement, and California has since changed its laws not to so discriminate.

However, Hazel essentially served 100 days in prison for being an atheist; a Christian would have been allowed to go free.

In a society where Christians win national news coverage for their alleged “persecution” just because a business refuses to print religious material for copyright reasons, can you imagine what the reaction would be if a Christian were sentenced to jail because they refused to renounce God? Holy Crap, the Internet would explode and there would be weeks of non-stop coverage on Fox. Hazle’s story barely made the news, mostly just local reports.

And although California changed its laws, there are many states which have not; and in many other ways, atheists are marginalized and given second-class citizenship—something Antonin Scalia (who calls atheists “irrational,” believers “worldly wise,” and believes that atheism “certainly favors the devil’s desires”) recently claimed was completely constitutional.

No, it’s not religion that is being persecuted in the United States.

Categories: Religion Tags:

What’s With Maddow?

October 14th, 2014 12 comments

I’ve always liked Rachel Maddow. She’s right on the nose on so much stuff, and often times is ahead of the curve; she’ll see a national story developing well before it’s a national story, and will be there, in force, well before the crowd. She can also be overly persistent sometimes. Both of those qualities were on display with her coverage of the New Jersey Bridge Scandal, reporting on it long before it became “a thing.” And though it was patently clear something was going on, there just wasn’t enough of a smoking gun, and so the story died out. Maddow hung on, though, and although she has stopped covering the story on a daily basis, she still maintains that it’s alive and kicking.

Often times she will highlight a cause that really needs to be highlighted, championing a story that deserves attention but would never get it otherwise. A lot of people are not fond of her meandering connect-the-dots story intros, but I think they’re great, establishing context and/or apt analogies. Yes, Maddow is extremely partisan, but so long as you stick to the facts and give a story fair coverage, partisanship is not that big a deal, so long as you account for it.

So, long story short, I like Maddow, and watch her show regularly—it’s one of the few that is run in full, video and audio, in a podcast, commercial free. Nice for political junkies living overseas, like me.

However, recently Maddow has started staking out some pretty strange positions. For example, with the recent re-engagement in Iraq against ISIS, Maddow has glommed on to the air-strike strategy as being bogus. It’s clear that few people want “boots on the ground,” but are OK with air strikes and other support roles, as they are not as significant a commitment.

Maddow’s response, strangely, is to claim that the aircraft involved could be shot down, and once that happens… “boots on the ground!”

Um, yes… for a few hours, and then they’re off the ground. However, Maddow seems to be suggesting that planes going down in Iraq would somehow be equivalent to a ground war. Which is pretty weird. I mean, we had mostly air coverage in the Balkans under Clinton, and some aircraft went down. We got them out, and it never led to a ground war.

If Maddow wants to speak out against any engagement in Iraq, then OK. I think there’s a lot that could be said for that position, unpopular as it may be. But her current stance, which she hammers away at with her trademark persistence, is pretty groundless, if you’ll forgive the unfortunate pun.

Then today, she takes on Leon Panetta. After a long and less-connected-than-usual intro covering tell-all books under Reagan and Clinton, she essentially attacks Panetta as being an attack dog for Hillary Clinton. Though I’m not exactly sure how that works, but whatever.

However, in the midst of this takedown, one of her big, let’s-laugh-at-how-ridiculous-this-is pieces of evidence is that Panetta’s criticisms of Obama in his book clash with… Panetta’s statements when he was testifying on Obama’s behalf as Defense Secretary.

Really? Rachel, you do know that cabinet members commonly espouse positions they may not necessarily agree with, don’t you? That Panetta could easily have disagreed, but as Secretary of Defense, he pretty much had to represent the president’s point of view. But Maddow scoffs at this as if it is some huge act of hypocrisy on Panetta’s part.

Really?

Kinda bizarre.

Categories: Journalism, Political Ranting Tags:

Making the Pledge Meaningful

October 12th, 2014 1 comment

When I was a kid, I remember saying the pledge, and for years, I thought the pledge had the words, “one nation, under god, invisible….” True story—never having heard the word “indivisible,” I didn’t hear it, and instead filled in the word I knew which was closest. For years, I was pledging my allegiance to an invisible country. Which I though was kind of cool.

For that matter, in the first grade, I really didn’t know what the words “pledge,” “allegiance,” or “republic” meant, and was fuzzy on concepts like “liberty” and “justice.” Come to think of it, kids that age usually have a very sketchy idea of what “God” and “the United States of America” are as well.

Let’s face it: kids do not understand what they’re doing when we have them recite the pledge. To them, it’s just one of those things they do because grown-ups tell them to. But they have no clue as to what they are saying.

That, in my opinion, is why we should never have the pledge recited in schools.

Think about it: what is a pledge? It is a “solemn promise or undertaking,” committing one’s self to an organization, a cause, or a course of action.

When we testify in court, we take an oath to only tell the truth. However, when we have children testify, they don’t take that oath—precisely because we know that they do not understand the concept we would be asking them to swear to.

So why do we make kids, incapable of understanding what they are doing, take the pledge, especially if we take the idea of the pledge so seriously?

The answer is, we don’t take the pledge so seriously. We take it mindlessly. Because, sad as it may seem, most adults are still fuzzy on the concepts in the pledge. Go ahead, try to get most of them to accurately define what a “Republic” is. Most would have difficulty making a distinction between “freedom” and “liberty.” And if you ask them what the consequences of the pledge are, they would probably have to compose such a list on the spot, never having done so before.

To me, having kids recite the pledge is not just nonsense, it’s bad civics. If a pledge is to mean anything, it must be made solemnly, with full and clear understanding of both the meaning and the consequences of the action. Having it be a forced, rote recital voids it of actual meaning and makes it at best a pro-forma ritual, and at the worst, indoctrination. As a result, most Americans do not understand the very country they live in, but think that they do. They have been trained to accept without thinking, while being weak in the fundamentals of good citizenship.

I would say that we make the taking of the pledge a serious event, making it clear what the pledge means in full, and what the person is actually promising to do. Don’t have it be a mass recital, but instead a personal statement.

This could not be done early or quickly, but over many years of time. Include the concepts involved in classes throughout school. Have kids take various pledges—not to steal, not to bully, not to get into fights, for example—and have consequences if they break those pledges, so they understand what a “pledge” is.

Have students engage in exercises to demonstrate allegiance, but throw in the ethical permutations. Should allegiance trump morality? If a kid has pledged his allegiance to a team, does that mean he should not point out cheating by his teammates? If the group they pledged allegiance to asks them to do something wrong, should they do it?

Make students aware of what the flag is: a representation of the nation, which is defined by its constitution. How well do you know the constitution? If you’re like most people, you don’t know it very well, just the vague outlines. So, we’re pledging our allegiance to something we don’t understand? Hmm. How about, instead of pledging allegiance, we bring back Civics as a required course, and learn what we would be pledging to first.

That would help cover the understanding of what a “Republic” is—and how it differs from a Democracy. I think you should probably understand the distinction if you want to make a solemn pledge to one of them. The same with “liberty” as opposed to “freedom,” and even “justice” as opposed to what most people really think that is, which is vengeance. Making all of these terms clear to young people would also be required for the pledge to be meaningful.

Then we should cover the consequences of such a pledge. Most people, like politicians, say the words without really meaning it, as if it were some lodge ritual, except they don’t have to sweat what the actual meaning is. If you asked most American adults what they have to do as a result of taking the pledge, you would probably just get blank looks.

I would say that taking the pledge means taking the republic seriously. I would say voting in all elections is the absolute minimum required for that. Availing one’s self of the free press and all other resources to become responsibly aware of the issues, so as to vote responsibly. Paying your taxes, not dodging jury duty, following the law—I would assume all of these would be concomitant with the pledge. Not just cheering for the country in the Olympics and taking our side in any international disputes, but to actively work to make the country a better place. Public service of some kind would not be a bad means, either.

When a child reaches some level of maturity, we should put them to a test, to see if they truly understand the terms of the pledge—the meanings of the words and the responsibilities implied. If they agree, fully understanding everything, then they take the pledge. Each person could, without fear of repercussions, decide to add or subtract the “under God” phrase. The oath would not be taken ceremonially, not ritually—that could be turned into a compulsory action—but meaningfully, as one takes a citizenship pledge.

This would not be required by law, one’s rights would not depend upon it to be realized. Instead, it would simply be what the pledge is purported to be: an oath of allegiance. Except fully realized, not mindlessly recited.

Then the pledge would have some sort of meaning. Then it would be worthwhile to ask our kids to take it. Then it would be a positive force in our society.

But now, it’s carried out in a way that is devoid of meaning, and unsurprisingly, used as a political weapon to boot. It is, as currently carried out, probably more detrimental than it is patriotic in any way.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Religion Is Only the Cause When It’s Those Guys

October 11th, 2014 1 comment

How is it that whenever a Christian attacks, maims, or kills someone based upon hateful scripture, it’s not really Christianity that’s at issue—the guy is obviously mentally unstable! Has nothing to do with the actual religion!

But when a Muslim beheaded someone? That’s definitely Islam, a religion of hatred.

Slight double standard here?

Categories: Religion Tags:

Wrongful Birth

October 10th, 2014 No comments

Astonishing. There are doctors out there who, upon discovering a crippling or fatal condition in the fetus of a pregnant patient, would deliberately withhold that information. Why? Because the doctor’s personal beliefs make them pro-life, and passing on that information would probably lead to an abortion.

Not so surprisingly, there are Republican-controlled states out there which have passed laws which prohibit lawsuits against these doctors.

This brings us back to the whole Hobby Lobby debacle: those with a peripheral interest in a situation put their own religious beliefs before the rights of the people centrally involved. As if only the people who are on the sidelines of a situation have rights, and the people directly impacted have none.

I understand the concern: the doctor, having given the information, will feel complicit in the abortion. The problem: that’s not how it works. He has a duty, one he has professionally sworn to. I know he probably feels like he just told the Nazis that the little Jewish girl is hiding in the attic, but that’s the case only if his beliefs are true and no one else is correct in theirs.

Let’s call this doctor “Dr. Smith.” After having salved his own conscience by forcing a couple to have a child with Tay-Sachs to go to term, Dr. Smith goes to his own physician, Dr. Jones. Dr. Jones performs Smith’s annual exam, and finds evidence of cancer—a highly treatable, easily curable form, if the patient gets early treatment. However, unbeknownst to Dr. Smith, Dr. Jones is a Christian Scientist, and believes the cancer treatment to be prohibited by God. So he withholds the diagnosis and lets Dr. Smith leave his office. Smith’s cancer, of course, worsens, and before Smith finds out about it, progresses to an incurable stage.

Would Dr. Smith feel that Dr. Jones acted appropriately? Hell, no—he would be furious. And rightly so.

Now, you might say that Dr. Smith shouldn’t have chosen a Christian Scientist doctor—but how many doctors that withhold medical information from pregnant couples warn them in advance that they are pro-life? And any argument about a Christian Scientist becoming a mainstream doctor would only highlight the impropriety of any doctor allowing their religious beliefs to affect the treatment they offer their patients.

If a state allows doctors to do this kind of thing, then there must be a companion law that doctors must warn their patients beforehand of their religious beliefs and how that might affect their treatment—otherwise, what you have is no better than malpractice and fraud.

Bet you any amount you like that these states, which pass laws requiring that doctors lecture inform women seeking an abortion about all the dangers, real and imagined, of the procedure, to the point of showing them horrific images and so on, see no need to force doctors to inform patients about what kind of treatment they can expect to receive…

An article on NPR which recounts several cases, and shines light on the situation:

In Suffern, N.Y., Sharon and Steven Hoffman’s son, Jake, was born with Tay-Sachs, a genetic disease that mainly affects Jewish families and is usually fatal by age 4 or 5.

“There’s no treatment. There’s no cure. There’s nothing,” Sharon says.

She says her doctor did not test for the disease. At six months, Jake was diagnosed with it. The couple says he lost control of his muscles and had constant seizures. He died two years later before reaching his third birthday. Sharon says she would have had an abortion if she had known.

“There is no quality of life,” Sharon says. “The only thing that you would be bringing this child into the world to do is to suffer. And die.”

This couple sued their doctor for wrongful birth and settled for an undisclosed amount.

In most states, parents can sue for negligence or if doctors fail to provide information about the condition of a fetus. But more than a half-dozen states have adopted laws that ban those lawsuits, and several others have been debating the idea this year.

Categories: Health Issues, Social Issues Tags:

“Bendygate”

September 26th, 2014 6 comments

Really? People buy giant-screen phones, put them in their back pockets, and sit on them? Then get upset at the manufacturer when the phones get bent out of shape?

I’m sorry, but that sounds really, really stupid. Two days ago, I broke a pair of glasses by sitting on them. I had laid them on the bed and forgotten where they were. Twenty minutes later, I come back to sit down, and crack! Oops. I felt a bit careless, but these things happen. (Got them fixed, by the way—Japanese glasses shops do that for free, so long as the damage isn’t too great.)

But I didn’t put them in my back pocket and then sit on them. That would have made me feel stupid. Also, I would not have gone to the glasses shop and complained to them if I had done this. It would be like going to a car dealer and saying, “I drove my new car into a brick wall at 30 mph, and now look at it! What are you going to do about it?”

Seriously, I would feel nervous about sitting on my iPhone 5 in my back pocket, and that’s a much sturdier phone.

A general rule of thumb: don’t sit on electronic devices.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags:

Literally Rewriting History

September 24th, 2014 1 comment

A school board in Colorado is considering the formation of a “curriculum committee” for local high schools that would review and filter the content of the schools’ U.S. History courses.

In what way?

…the committee would make sure that U.S. history materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in U.S. history should present balanced and factual treatments of the positions.”

The panel “would review curricular choices for accuracy and omissions, conformity to Jefferson County academic standards, and to inform the Board of materials that may reasonably be deemed objectionable.

The committee shall regularly review texts and curricula according to priorities that it establishes,” according to the Jeffco School board proposal.

The more you consider it, the more you realize that the description cannot possibly be defended. The board president claims that the proposal will in no way “change the history curriculum,” but if that were so, then what would a “curriculum committee” do? The whole idea of such a committee would be to revise and change the curriculum. In fact, the more you read the wording, the more apparent it is that whoever wrote it is almost certainly a Fox-News-watching Tea Party advocate. Nor should it surprise one that the people pressing this agenda are indeed Koch-backed conservatives being cheered on by right-wing pundits.

The proposal states that materials in history classes would have to “promote patriotism,” for example. How exactly do you do that? History is supposed to be an objective study of past events. It seems clear that if certain historical facts are deemed not to promote a sense of love for country, they would be revised to do so. Under this metric, one could easily presume that not only would national icons have their reputations brightened beyond factual descriptions, but anything in the history course which reflects poorly on the United States would be removed or reworded so that it would not appear that the United States did anything wrong. Political scandals, corruption, and specific wrongdoing by public agencies would be on the chopping block. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, slavery, and the campaign of genocide against native Americans might all be suppressed under the review of such a committee. If the committee were to work to “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage,” that could easily be interpreted as a license to whitewash history in general.

Then there is the “essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system,” essentially the ideology that private business should be free of state control and regulation—a very specific political tenet. Exploitation of child and immigrant labor, the history of labor unions and their positive effects, evidence of corporate malfeasance—all would likely be rewritten so as to glorify the idea of corporations as heroes, and any state regulation or intervention as meddling bureaucrats making things worse.

And “respect for authority”? What is that supposed to mean? Most political movements in our history, such as the Civil Rights movement, were based upon a respect for peaceful protest, but not a “respect for authority.” Besides which, the whole idea of education is not to create a class of subservient drones, but to develop minds capable of critical thinking and analysis, one basis of which is to question authority. Not to disrespect it outright—but questioning it could easily be classed as “not respecting” authority, and so removed from the curriculum.

As for the rule that the content of history courses must “not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law,” that pretty much means that labor unions, political protests, peaceful civil disobedience—essentially any protests against the status quo, which would include the suffragette movement, the civil rights movement, Occupy Wall Street, you name it. Naturally, these are progressive movements for the most part.

But then we get to the last item on the agenda: “Content pertaining to political and social movements in U.S. history should present balanced and factual treatments of the positions.”

You know what that means: someone read a history book, didn’t like how their favored positions were represented, and decided it was time to do a little rewriting. The Second Amendment was not about militia! Separation of church and state was not about secularism! “Balance” has become a new code word, one that allows for “both sides of the argument” to be presented. History texts look poorly upon McCarthyism and blacklists? Well, let’s see the other side of that argument, just to be balanced.

The real clincher that these are die-hard conservatives comes from a line from the proposal strangely not included in the report cited above: “Theories should be distinguished from fact.” That’s deep-red code, absolute dog-whistle language which just screams, “We’re angry, paranoid wingnuts intent on revisionism!”

Seriously, school boards should be outlawed. I mean that. Consider what they are: Bands of local citizens, mostly chosen in elections few people pay real attention to, who have absolutely no prerequisites for any knowledge or expertise regarding education, who nonetheless exert authority over and pressure professionals engaged in providing children with a quality education. These are not experts. They are all too often people with personal and political agendas.

Imagine the idea of a school board applied to any other profession. How about medicine? How would you feel if your doctor, your surgeon, were forced to follow the mandates of a bunch of yahoos elected by friends in your neighborhood while you weren’t looking, deciding what medicines should be prescribed, or how surgeries should be performed? Can you really say that wouldn’t scare the crap out of you?

And yet, somehow, this is the standard for education. Spiffy.

Categories: Education Tags:

iPhone 6 Sales in Japan

September 23rd, 2014 2 comments

When I went to the SoftBank and Au shops last week, I was surprised that there were very few people there, and thought perhaps the iPhone 6 was not doing all that well here… until I learned that most people were just ordering online.

The numbers are out for first week of sales, and so it should not be surprising that the iPhone 6 is in the #1 spot. That is, the 64GB version from SoftBank. The Au 64GB is in the #2 spot, while the DoCoMo 64GB version is at #4—the SoftBank 128GB breaks that up in the #3 spot.

Yep, we have the stupid “let’s break down iPhone sales by carrier and capacity despite doing so for no other phone” strategy so as to keep the iPhone from dominating the #1 spot perpetually. Except it usually captures the #1 spot anyway, and most of the top 10.

So, how many of the top 10 did the iPhone 6 capture? As it turns out, eight of them. The other two spots were taken by the iPhone 5s. Interestingly, the 6 Plus did not make the top ten at all—but it dominated the next ten spots.

In fact, the iPhone 5s, 6, and 6 Plus occupied all top 18 sales spots, followed only by the Kyocera Gratina in the #19 spot, and the Sharp Pantone Waterproof at #20.

After that, the iPhone occupied #22, #24 (both 5s), #27, #28, #32 (those three being all 5c), #34 (5s), #41, #42 (5c), and then we return to the 6 Plus at #48, #50, and #51 (all the 16GB version). More iPhones take up later spots, but I think you get the picture.

Kinda amazing to recall that even after the iPhone was released in Japan, the “common” wisdom was that Japan would reject it… because it lacked emoji and strap holders.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

Stop Being a Jackass about Your New Toy

September 17th, 2014 No comments

New Rule: just like the rule in debates where the first person to compare their opponent to Hitler automatically loses, the first person to use the word “fanboy” in an Apple/Windows or Apple/Samsung discussion has to admit that their argument is based on resentment or annoyance. Anyone who uses the variant “fanboi” gets beaten with a large stick.

Here’s a good idea: try not to get annoyed by someone who is really jazzed about their new toy. It’s like rolling your eyes and putting down a kid on Christmas morning. If someone really loves a device which you really hate, either don’t say anything, or congratulate them on being really happy. It might even start a trend.

How about we all really love our respective devices, because mostly it’s the subjective points that make them magical for each of us. Just because green is my favorite color doesn’t mean I get all snide with someone who really loves blue; allow this attitude to extend to everything else. I really don’t like the feel of Samsung phones, but that’s just me. If someone else loves their Galaxy, I don’t try to tell them they’re wrong. I’ll be happy that they have something they can enjoy.

Remember when you were a kid and you got a bicycle for Christmas and your friend got a Big Wheel? I remember that in situations like that each of us would show off a feature of the new plaything, and the other would go, “COOL!” and then would show off a new feature of their new thing, with a similar reaction right back.

Why can’t we do that? “My phone has 16 megapixels!” “COOL! Mine has 240fps slo-mo!” “COOL!”

Instead, we act like little kids who denigrate each other to make ourselves feel good.

Kid #1: “Well, MY bike has three gears, and yours has stupid girly strings hanging out the handlebars! You’re such a Big Wheel Fanboi!”

Kid #2: “Hold on while I find a large stick.”

Categories: Gadgets & Toys Tags:

TV Trends

September 15th, 2014 No comments

Seems like half of all new TV shows and movies are about vampires or zombies. Which is bad for me, because I like neither zombies nor vampires. Fortunately, though, I do like mutants and time travel, so I am fairly well-covered.

Categories: Entertainment Tags:

The iPhone 6 and Carriers in Japan

September 13th, 2014 5 comments

So Sachi and I have been with Softbank since the iPhone first came out in Japan—me because Softbank was the only carrier with the iPhone at that time, and Sachi because she wanted to be on the same carrier as I was. There are good reasons for that: family members get to call each other for free, for example. Also, when we renewed last time, Sachi opted to use my old iPhone 4 (the one I repaired, in fact) for a substantially reduced data fee, something like ¥3000 a month. I believe that was only for family members also.

With the iPhone 6, Apple has upped its prices, however. The low-end iPhone used to go for ¥55,000 ($515), the iPhone 6 will go for about ¥73,000 ($675) in Japan.

So a few days ago, I went to Au, and asked what they could offer. I couldn’t get much information at the time, though, because it was Thursday and they wouldn’t give any info on pricing before the official sign-up period started on Friday at 4:00 p.m. (it had to be timed to start with the U.S. release, which was midnight PST).

Instead, they printed out a sheet showing me what the would offer were I to sign up under the iPhone 5s: ¥5985 ($56) per month with the iPhone discounted to zero—free with the 2-year contract. Then I went to check with Softbank; same thing, they couldn’t give me the new pricing, but they could tell me how much I was paying for my iPhone 5, and it was much higher: around ¥7100 ($66) a month. That’s a $20 difference per month for two contracts, or $480 over two years.

Well, that seemed like a no-brainer. I figured we’d go with Au. I knew we’d have to wait until November, however, since that’s when my Softbank contract runs out (a month after my payments for the iPhone 5 stop).

Then Friday came, and for fun, I thought I would pass by the Au shop on the way home to see how miserably long the lines were.

To my shock, there were no lines. Previously, with almost every other iPhone, there were long lines of people signing up. Not this time. I saw all of two people in the store. Interesting.

I figured I’d go in to get the pricing then. I did, and got a shock: a discount they offered before was now dropped. Monthly pricing: ¥7425 ($70) per month. For the entry 16GB iPhone 6. Softbank was cheaper than that!

OK, I thought. Back to Softbank!

So I went there today to get their new pricing. As it turned out, I had overlooked something: The new entry-level iPhones were free with a 2-year contract… only to people who switched carriers. That was not something that had been in place last time I renewed. Continuing customers pay ¥610 ($5.70) a month, or about $137 over 2 years. That rises to ¥1160 ($10.80) a month, or $260, for the 64GB iPhone 6.

Yikes. That would bring my monthly bill to about ¥7700, or $72 a month, even just for the 16GB model!

OK. Back to Au.

On my way, I thought I would drop by DoCoMo, just to see what they offered. The rep asked me, “Do you want the 2GB monthly data plan, or the 5GB plan?” “Um, how much for the flat rate?” “We don’t offer one!” Buh-bye. (It’s not even halfway through the month, and I have already racked up 5GB; I had no intention of counting packets and pennies all the time.)

When I go back to Au, I am in for a pleasant surprise: not only do I qualify for their ¥0 discount for switching customers, but they neglected to inform me before that I qualified for another discount: I have Au’s Fiber-optic plan for home Internet. This, they tell me, gives me a $14/mo. discount. For the 16GB iPhone 6, that brought me down to ¥5390 ($50). For the 64GB model—which I plan to get—it goes up a similar ¥540 per month, setting the price at ¥5930—about $55 a month. That I can live with.

But I was not through with problems: when you leave a carrier, your number portability is free for only a 1- or 2-month window. After that, you pay a fee of about $100. The problem: iPhones take several weeks between ordering and delivery, and you can only pick up the phone when after the portability window opens.

My Softbank contract only allows me to get off the bus between November 1 and 31. It is impossible to predict how long it will take for an iPhone to be delivered. They say 3-4 weeks, but it might arrive in 2 weeks. Or it could arrive in 6 weeks.

Let’s say I order my iPhone with Au early, on October 1. It arrives October 25. Au allows only 3 days to pick it up, else you lose it and have to re-order. I can’t leave Softbank until November 1, and the handoff has to be immediate. So I lose the phone I ordered, and have to re-order. Only this time, it takes 6 weeks, arriving December 10, and now I have to pay a $100 fee to Softbank to get loose. Argh.

So I have to time my order just right. Find out what delivery expectations are for the iPhone 6, and try to aim for the early middle of November.

Sachi, in the meantime, has a nice 2-month window—but one that started September 1st. So we’ll be going down to Au very soon to order hers, and maybe will wait 3 weeks or so to order mine.

She brought up an interesting point: if you quit your existing contract with your carrier inside the free number-portability window, you can avoid the fee, though you are without cell service until your new phone arrives. That sounds reasonable, though I would not be surprised if the official policy was not reasonable.

Hopefully, I’ll at least be able to get the phone before I leave for the U.S.; that way, I’ll be able to try out the Apple Pay system, and use the new camera for photographing Rica (my Dad’s dog) and other stuff.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

It Was 100% the Violator’s Fault AND You Were Incautious

September 13th, 2014 1 comment

Ricky Gervais caught hell for tweeting this:

Gtweet

This brings up an incongruity which has always kind of bugged me: the idea that somehow pointing out incautious behavior must be interpreted as “victim blaming.”

I understand the principle involved. Women have been blamed for being raped since time immemorial, that blame often being linked to even the slightest or even imagined provocation; as a result, there is great objection to any indication that a woman who was raped was somehow doing anything that, if avoided, could have prevented the rape.

Women should be able to wear whatever they like, should be able to go to any party, drink any amount of alcohol, and should be able to expect not to be raped. Just like any person of color should be able to wear anything they like, walk down any street and into any shop, do any legal behavior, and not get stopped, frisked, arrested, beat up, or shot by police.

The problem is, that doesn’t fully represent reality. This is not to say that the people who are in fact in the wrong should not be 100% blamed, nor does it mean that we should not focus strongly on fixing those societal ills. It also does not mean that victims brought any injustice down upon themselves. However, until what is unjust is eliminated from our society, it is stupid to ignore the fact that such injustices exist and that people should be aware of them and try to protect themselves against them.

Let me give you an example. This will be an extreme example, so, please don’t immediately assume I’m one of those people who blame women for rape. Perhaps it would help if I mentioned beforehand that I agree wholeheartedly that not just rape, but any crime is 100% the fault of the perpetrator. With that in mind, consider the following:

I drive downtown in my nice, brand-new Infiniti G37 Coupe. It’s a really hot day, so when I run into a shop to get a frappuccino, I leave the keys in the car and the engine running so the air conditioning can keep the car cool. When I come out a few minutes later, the car is gone.

Keep in mind: in the above scenario, the person who stole the car was 100% at fault. I don’t care if I literally had shouted before going into the shop, “I’m leaving my keys in my car, no one take it, okay?” There is no excuse for anyone to steal from me.

Does that mean that no one should warn me against incautious behavior? Upon hearing what I did, would you really say nothing about my behavior?

Again, to ward off indignant fury, (a) this was an extreme example, (b) was not meant to mean that women are ever responsible for being raped, no matter how incautious their behavior, and (c) does not even imply that many or even most rapes or other crimes of a sexual nature involve any incautious behavior at all.

Nevertheless, this is not a perfect world; there are dangers out there; and there are times when people do things that open them to some kind of assault by those dangers. And by “open them to dangers,” I am not saying “it was their fault.”

Sometimes the lack of caution, despite the lack of blame, nonetheless can be of a type that honestly could, and even should, be pointed out.

Let me give an example of something much closer to what happened to the people in the recent hacked-photo incident.

Let’s say I purchase a Windows computer as my main computing device. Such computers often come with antivirus software, but only as a demo or trial. After the trial ends, maybe after 90 days, a few pop-ups appear, but I dismiss them as just being ads. I might even take steps to just get rid of them—and I don’t install any anti-malware application in the process. I surf the web without thought to where I am going, feeling that somehow I am safe—maybe I am simply unaware that just visiting a web site can trigger an infection, or maybe I believe that if that should happen, I will notice what’s happening. As a result, a hacker is able to insert malware onto my computer, and then has the ability to hurt me in any one of several ways. One way would be take photos of me in a compromising position with my own webcam, and then distribute those photos over the web.

This is actually a situation where I would have been less incautious than those celebrities, as I did not take nude photos of myself, nor did I store them on my computer, or on any cloud account, or send them to anyone.

In this case, like all other violations, the perpetrator is 100% at fault.

However, it is still fully true that my own actions made it possible for that perpetrator to do what they did. I shouldn’t have to install software to protect me from criminals. I shouldn’t have to worry about whether just visiting a web site could get my computer infected. However, in the world we live in, these are dangers which we should all know about and take steps to protect ourselves. It’s not my fault that the hacker did what he did, I’m not to blame for any of this. And I didn’t take precautions to keep it from happening.

Tell me, if someone knew all the facts, and then told me that I really should have installed antivirus software on my computer, would it really be reasonable for me to flare up in anger and accuse that person of victim blaming?

Not at all. I have a feeling that you would agree. What happened to me would be horrible, the responsibility lies completely with the hacker—and I failed to make my computer secure.

I would even go so far as to say that if we shied away from warning people against their lack of caution, we are simply making them even more vulnerable to attack.

The key point: there is a distinction between “blaming the victim” and pointing out incautious behavior.

Gervais was 100% correct: none of those people should have put nude photos of themselves on their computers. Especially not in a cloud account, or in email or any kind of message to others.

Yes, that sucks: we should be able to do anything we want, and expect privacy. And yes, the fault lies wholly with the asshats who hacked the accounts and stole and distributed the images.

That said, if I were a celebrity, the last thing I would do would be to have naked photos of myself on a publicly-accessible network anywhere, security or no security. Basic truth: no security is 100%. Any security, Mac or Windows, local bank or Vegas casino, can be hacked. If I had to have nude photos, I would store them on a USB drive kept in a safe. If I felt the need to take them and send them to someone, I would simply quash that impulse, knowing that I was a prime target of people who would intercept those images and make them public.

Celebrities, in general, already know that they are targets; they know that they are more vulnerable to such crimes. And they regularly modify their behavior to avoid such violations of privacy and decency. They know that if they do things in public that most people can get away with unnoticed, it will get plastered all over the Internet. Again, that sucks, but Celebrity 101 mandates caution about such things. The nude photos on a networked computer fall into that category.

Gervais wasn’t blaming the celebrities for being victimized. He was pointing out, with stinging irony, that they did something which was rather obviously incautious. Yes, it was insensitive, but it was also true.

We simply have to expand our understanding to make clear that doing something incautious, or even downright stupid, does not in any way excuse someone else from taking advantage of it. Nor is anyone who points out the lack of caution necessarily a villain for doing so.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Apple Watch, iPhone: First Impressions

September 10th, 2014 1 comment

I still am a little in the dark; I stayed up until 4 a.m. watching the live stream (or trying to), and just woke up a little while ago. I probably missed a lot about the iPhone 6 because of Apple’s screw-ups with the stream, and won’t know what that was until I have a chance to catch up (not until this evening), but I did get to see the iWatch portion.

I will almost certainly not be getting an Apple Watch—yet. Frankly, I just don’t have a need, but there’s another strong reason: the Apple Watch 2, or more probably, the Apple Watch 3. Apple did a fairly good job with the design, working with the compromises of thickness to deal with things like hardware demands and variety of features, but I am pretty sure that successive watches will be thinner, sleeker, and better-designed—just look at the iPhone.

Not to mention the health sensors—did I miss something, or is the heart rate the only physical sensor on the thing? I read somewhere that other sensors take a longer time to be approved by government agencies; it seems likely that future versions will have more of them.

While the Apple Watch would be nice now, I am fairly confident that in a few generations, it’ll be much nicer. And since the iWatch is something I am more likely to buy only once every 4 or 5 years at most, I am reluctant to jump in so early.

As for the reviews which are panning the physical design… yeah, it would have been cool to see something radically different. A lot of people are moaning about design possibilities without thinking about how it would affect the health sensors, for example. However, I’ll go with functional and still-beautiful.

People kind of forget that with Apple devices, the #1 draw is not the product’s appearance. It’s the user experience. The physical design, while usually striking, is secondary—though very often, it’s a huge secondary feature. This is essentially the iPad all over again: people wanting to find fault with Apple jump all over the design as a major failing, and completely miss the fact that how people feel when using the device will be something unexpectedly good.

And then there’s the pricing: it’s no mistake that they only mentioned the starting price. Knowing Apple, the version of the watch that you want will cost $600 or something.


As for the iPhone… well, my contract with my carrier is up, and carriers here have given no indication or dropping phone subsidies. I’m not sure how carriers in the U.S. are able to do that—if Softbank dropped the subsidy but KDDI’s au kept it, I’d switch in a heartbeat.

With that in mind, as for the iPhone 6 being worth it, I’d say the answer is a definite “yes.” For me, just the camera is a big deal; I have a dog, and the 240fps slow-mo will be irresistible. Transitioning from an iPhone 5 to a 6 will be a very nice jump in processing speed as well.

While the big sizes look nice, I am not so interested in carrying around a huge slab. The 4.7-inch device will be quite sufficient.

The Apple Pay system was not advertised as ready in Japan, and there is no telling how it might work out. If they can arrange for it to work like current NFC systems do, allowing for train passes and fast payment at shops, then great—but I have no idea if those existing systems are exclusive and will require a whole new set of gear to accommodate Apple. But if they can work it into existing systems, that’ll be a pretty big deal for me. Ironically, I’ll probably be using it in America before I can in Japan, as I’m visiting again in December.

And, really, there’s not too much more than that—at least that I know of. The iPhone 6 won’t be revolutionary or something, but it’ll be well worth it to get one.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

Apple CrapCast

September 10th, 2014 8 comments

Well, if Apple is trying to royally piss me off, then mission accomplished. I stay up to 2 a.m. to watch their live stream of the special announcement, which they have hyped for weeks—only to see that they are completely fucking it up. The picture goes out to a color-bar test screen every minute, and when the video does show, it has Chinese language translation over it—and I’m not in Fracking China. I hate idiots who try to “help” me by geographically locating my IP and giving me a language I cannot understand. I expect this from 3rd-rate web sites, but Apple?

Goddamned unbelievable.

Now:

Access Denied

You don’t have permission to access “http://www.apple.com/live/2014-sept-event/” on this server.
Reference #18.5ab8f648.1410283041.168966b

Well done.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Question What You Agree With

September 8th, 2014 No comments

The Dish just cited a recent survey which says that 34% of Americans support removing “under God” from the pledge. I have always supported this point of view, so of course I want to check if this is a legit survey, or somehow slanted. You always have to do that: check the legitimacy of any fact you hear, but especially those that agree with your worldview. Not to mention that one-third sounds a bit high for such an idea in the United States as it is right now.

Sure enough, the survey was commissioned by a Humanist organization—not enough to negate it, but enough to arouse suspicion. Interestingly, the report begins by citing another such survey, in which an “evangelical research firm” found only 8% support for the same idea. That survey reportedly only asked the question about removing the words “under God” without context.

In contrast, the poll commissioned by the Humanist organization had the question presented within a fairly specific context:

For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase “under God.” During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase “one nation indivisible” was changed to read “one nation, under God, indivisible.” Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.

And that got the 34% positive response.

Both polls were clearly biased. The first poll, by the religious organization, asked the stark question without context, “if they believed ‘under God’ should be removed from the Pledge.” Given without context, it has the sense of asking the respondent to make a choice against religion. Otherwise, it is up to the listener to apply a context, and many, having heard so much of the “war on Christianity” in the media, doubtlessly allowed that to influence their answer.

The Humanist take on it, however, was even more biased. It provided not only a very specific context, but a justification as well. It noted that the original pledge did not have the words “under God,” and that pressures from the now-defunct Cold War caused the new inclusion (thus providing the justification for removal), and then set the context for removal as one which promotes national unity. Essentially, it became a question about whether or not you support unity.

So it would appear that both are not accurate, and the actual range of support is somewhere between the two.

A context does need to be provided, but the tricky part is, what context? If people are asked if they approve of the “new health care law,” about 50% don’t like it; if asked about “Obamacare,” the disapproval is likely to be higher. However, if you ask people about the specific contents of the law, supports increases dramatically.

So, what context to provide for removing “under God” from the pledge? Probably one which presents the two primary arguments for and against. For example:

Many believe that the words ‘under God’ should remain in the pledge to demonstrate the religious nature of the country; others believe that the words, added during the Cold War, violate the separation of church and state and actively exclude non-theists. Do you believe the words should be removed from the pledge?

When polling, the two views should be swapped in order of presentation half the time, and the question should also be worded, “should be kept in the pledge” half the time.

I’d like to see what that wording gets in response. My guess would be about 20% in favor of removing it—about the number of non-theists in the country, give or take fence-crossers on either side.

Of course, the response should be 100% for removal; I believe strongly in the principle that any inclusion of religion, especially in a pledge so closely associated with citizenship and national fealty, is a threat to the freedom of belief—and indeed, Supreme Court “Justice” Antonin Scalia has used exactly this camel’s nose to justify the negation of separation and church—in his words, “manifesting a purpose to favor . . . adherence to religion generally.”

Nevertheless, when I see evidence presented which supports my point of view, my first reaction is to embrace it—but my considered response is to question it.

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags:

Seat Reclining

August 27th, 2014 3 comments

Remember when economy seats on international flights were spaced far enough apart that you could have a window seat and still leave without waking up the other two passengers between you and the aisle? That was actually how things were back in the 80′s when I began flying.

I recall things getting more an more cramped; soon, you had to squeeze past the other people’s knees, then you had to kind of step over them in a strange contortion. Finally, it got to the point where egressing from the row required everyone to spill out of their seats first.

That’s not too bad in itself—typically, such seat departures can be an opportunity to take care of business—a toilet trip, getting a drink or snack, getting something from the overhead bins, or even just a leg stretch, which you should do several times anyway on long flights.

However, the closer spaces created a much more annoying difficulty: when the person in front of you reclines their seat.

I hate that. It makes the already confined space you’re in even more claustrophobic, and as a person who prefers to use his laptop on the plane, that becomes almost impossible.

Worse, I have terrible luck when it comes to this. After many 9- to 13-hour international flights (I take one round trip a year on average), I got the feeling that I was almost always behind a recliner. Knowing that often it just seems that way because we remember the bad times and not the good, I started tracking it—and lo, I found that while about 1/3rd of people in my section of the plane reclined fully for most of the flight, I got recliners more than 2/3rds of the time.

I can usually predict it: the moment the seat belt sign goes off after takeoff, WHAM! The seat in front of me rocks back, while the three other seats adjacent to me don’t get that. (I always choose an aisle seat in the center group of seats—only one person to let out instead of two.) I don’t know, maybe people in aisle seats tend to recline more—it seems to make sense, they already arranged for a seat that gives them a bit more comfort.

Yes, I should probably try to sit in the emergency exit row. Except that, for one thing, it usually is filled up by the time I buy my tickets, and, for another thing, the airline I usually fly charges about a hundred dollars extra for these seats.

Now I hear about a product that in one sense sounds nice, but in another sense is totally dickish: gadgets that prevent the person in front of you from reclining. It would not be hard to predict that this would cause fights that could ground airlines, which it has.

The idea of these devices is that some people’s legs are so long that when the person in front of them reclines, it hits their knees, hard enough to cause pain. The person with the “Knee Defenders” will apply the gadgets before seats can be reclined at the start of the flight, deciding how much the person in front of them is allowed to recline.

Now, as you can tell from my previous writing, I would love to avoid recliners. However, I see this gadget as totally asinine.

First of all, imagine being in a seat when the person in front of you reclines. You have not reclined, so you feel squeezed. The only relief you have is to recline your own seat—but then you discover that they guy behind you has locked your seat frozen. For his comfort.

If reclining is such a problem for your knees, there are a few other solutions. If contacting the airline ahead of time and arranging for the problem won’t work, you can try to find an airline that has non-reclining seats. When I fly, ANA is the choice, versus United—ANA has seats which have solid backs. Instead, when you recline, your seat slides forward, sending your legs further under the seat in front of you, which was designed to have more space. It actually works pretty well, and wherever I can get such a seat, I try to. I wish United would change that way.

Alternately, you could just grumble and put down the extra money for their “economy plus” seats that are still smaller than 1980′s economy seats but are marginally bigger than regular economy. Yes, it’s unfair to have to pay a premium for body shape or size, and airlines should be the ones responsible for making it so no one has to suffer unduly. Until they can be forced to change that, though, it may be the price you pay.

One thing is for certain: you cannot just unilaterally decide what comfort the person in the seat in front of you enjoys.

Categories: Travel Tags:

History Repeats

August 25th, 2014 1 comment

A week ago, I made the case that Republicans should not be rewarded for trying to turn the country to crap so people would be unhappy with Obama and vote Republican more:

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. …

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.

I just saw a post along almost exactly the same lines come up on my “This Day Past Years” list. Two years ago, I made effectively the same case:

The key point: Republicans have been far more destructive to the economy, even openly stating goals which work against economic recovery, again openly admitting their goals in this are to gain political power.

The answer to this is not to reward them with more power.

The answer is to give that power, definitively this time, to Democrats, even just for two years, so we can see what Democratic policies would reap without Republicans poisoning everything.

Unfortunately, the American people will probably wind up giving the GOP even more power.

At least, if they do, and if Republicans take control of the Senate, it won’t make too much difference. The Senate is hardly passing laws at all right now, and the president still has his veto power. Democrats would still have the filibuster, which Republicans will no doubt immediately vilify once again, as always completely unabashed in their barefaced hypocrisy.

So the Republicans will have a few more committees to investigate their fictional “scandals.” So they’ll have a few more podiums from which to rant. Otherwise, things will stay the same—and conservatives will continue to call it Obama’s fault.

At some point in the future, demographics will begin to undo what Republicans have done with gerrymandering and Jim Crow. The problem is, what will be left of the nation by then?

With all that we will have lost by then, at least we’ll have the comfort of knowing that conservatives are certain that it was all the Kenyan Socialist’s fault.

More on Why Conservatives Fail at Comedy

August 25th, 2014 No comments

A writer at Murdoch’s New York Post is really upset that comedians don’t make as much fun of Obama as they did of Bush, Cheney, or Palin:

We learn this from Jim Downey, the longtime “Saturday Night Live” specialist in political japery. “If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, ‘Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10,’” the writer says in the expanded new edition of the “SNL” oral history book, “Live from New York.”

“It’s like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled,” Downey says. “There’s not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature. [Al] Gore had these ‘handles,’ so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior. So that’s the way I wrote him.”

Therefore, the writer sees comedians as portraying Obama as “completely unmockable.” Despite, of course, the Downey quote being about how he mocked Obama. Talk about missing the point.

Not to mention that Obama has been the butt of his share of SNL skits and late-night comic’s barbs—just not nearly as often as many recent Republicans, and the jokes don’t sting as much. As if there could be no reason aside from bias as to why that’s true. The author of the NYP article makes the clear implication that it’s not because Obama is harder to make fun of, but simply that comedians give “Democrats like Obama a pass” because they’re biased—as if there is some equivalency of humor, that all subjects are equally susceptible to ridicule.

To prove his point, he reserves a whole paragraph for examples of how comics could easily mine a rich vein of humor that should make Obama just as ridiculous-looking as Bush or Palin:

Got that? The charter Choom Ganger, confessed eater of dog and snorter of coke. The doofus who thinks the language spoken by Austrians is “Austrian,” that you pronounce the p in “corpsman” and that ATMs are the reason why job growth is sluggish. The egomaniac who gave the queen of England an iPod loaded with his own speeches and said he was better at everything than the people who work for him. The empty suit with so little real-world knowledge that he referred to his brief stint working for an ordinary profit-seeking company as time “behind enemy lines.” The phony who tells everyone he’s from Chicago, though he didn’t live there until his 20s, and lets you know that he’s talking to people he believes to be stupid by droppin’ his g’s. The world-saving Kal-El from a distant solar system who told us he’d heal the planet and cause the oceans to stop rising. The guy who shared a middle name with one of the most hated dictators on earth.

Okay, let’s take a look at the list.

I had to look up what the hell a “Choom Ganger” was. Turns out it is, at least supposedly, the name chosen by kids at Obama’s high school to describe the kids who “choomed,” or smoked weed. Turns out I had not heard about it for the same reason I had to look up names like Frank Marshall Davis or Saul Alinsky—they are names that won’t roll off the tip of your tongue unless you watch shows like Sean Hannity all the time.

Here’s the thing, though: I do not recall anyone making fun of Bush being an alcoholic or a cocaine addict—which he was just as famous for as Obama was for his own past. Why? Because it’s not really funny to mock addictions people has earlier in life, partly because it comes across as caustic. Like making fun of someone who stuttered as a kid, or was overweight.

Did Obama eat dog meat? In his autobiography, he noted being “introduced to” several strange foods in Indonesia, which also included snake meat and grasshoppers. Obama was a child at that time. Not exactly super-funny stuff; this was more of a hardcore right-wing false-equivalency jab used to defend against the Romney story about driving with his dog on the roof of his car.

That Obama thought “Austrian” was a language: this actually did happen, in a passing remark, Obama noting that he didn’t know what a term was in “Austrian.” Turns out Austrians speak German.

Okay, you could maybe have fun with that—it is, in fact, possibly the only actual comic opportunity of the whole list—after a fashion. Maybe an SNL skit about Obama requiring translators for people who speak “Canadian” or “Australian,” and then asking for different interpreters for countries that all speak Spanish. If you had enough comedic flair, you could make that work.

The problem: as far as gaffes go, it’s pretty damned mild. Again, I had never heard of this one. I did hear about his “fifty-seven states” gaffe, but not many others—because, frankly, Obama doesn’t make very many gaffes.

Sure, he mispronounced “corpsman,” and you can find others. He misstated the number of dead from a tornado as “ten thousand” when it was actually twelve. He said that “Israel is a strong friend of Israel’s.” He once even slipped up and said that McCain talked about “my Muslim faith,” immediately correcting himself. He said, “The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries,” and “We’re the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad.”

The thing is, that’s a pretty exhaustive listing of his verbal gaffes—and that’s the point, that he’s not known for them. For every true Obama gaffe, you can find a dozen from Bush, most of them a hell of a lot funnier. Yes, he called Sunrise, Florida, “Sunshine,” referred to being in Asia while in Hawaii, and called Kansas City “St. Louis.” Which are pretty much par for the course, as anyone traveling so much will inevitably make mistakes about location. Probably any president, national politician, singer, comedian—you name it—will have a list of such errors as long, and probably most will have lists much longer.

If you look up lists of Obama gaffes beyond that, they are either about insensitivity (referring to Nancy Reagan’s seances, or his bowling belonging in the Special Olympics) or include a lot of statements which conservatives simply disagree with, and are not gaffes in their own right.

What it comes down to is that you’re not funny because you make the same number of gaffes as most people in your position, you’re funny because you make an unusually large number of gaffes. Which is why Dubya and Dan Quayle are ridiculed for gaffes, but not Reagan or H.W. Bush. Biden is commonly mocked for swearing and having poor impulse control in speaking. Why? Because comedians are biased right-wingers? No, it’s because he does it more.

About ATMs being “the reason why job growth is sluggish,” that’s not really true. He gave ATMs, along with automated airport kiosks, as being examples of automation, which was one way that businesses cut payroll costs—by being “much more efficient with a lot fewer workers.” Which, actually, is exactly true. It’s not a gaffe, it’s a political attack which takes something out of context. So, not so funny.

Was Obama an “egomaniac” because he gave the queen of England an iPod “loaded with his own speeches”? Actually, no, that was mostly made up also. The iPod was loaded with songs from Broadway musicals, which the queen is noted as being a fan of, and a number of videos of the queen herself. The only Obama speeches on the iPod were Obama’s 2004 convention speech and his inauguration speech. Obama was no more an “egomaniac” for adding a few of his speeches to the iPod than the queen was an egomaniac because her gift to Obama was an autographed photo of herself.

As for Obama saying that he was “better at everything than the people who work for him,” I couldn’t even find that one. Sounds like ironic self-deprecation, but I couldn’t say without the original quote.

He did write that he felt like “a spy behind enemy lines” when he worked as a research assistant at a multinational corporation, because he was used to working for civil rights causes—not big corporations, which do tend to occupy the other end of the spectrum from activism. Many young activists would see working for Wall Street as “selling out.” Which makes what Obama said not a gaffe, nor anything to make fun of, really. As a young man, he was idealistic. So?

You can see the list deteriorating around here, and from then on, straight through to the “punch line” that his middle name is Hussein, it’s just the same hateful, vindictive spew that you hear on any right-wing blog.

So, what do we have? Obama smoked weed as a young man, had a fewer-than-average number of verbal slip-ups, gave the queen of England an iPod which contained a few of his speeches along with lots of other music and videos, and said some things that rankled conservatives—and Obama is a fake Muslim tree-hugger who thinks you’re stupid!

That’s pretty much the case for how much fun we could have doing nothing but 24-7 comedic jabs at Obama. Yeah, that’s gonna sell a lot of tickets.

The thing is, it was tried—on Fox News, which should have been the perfect platform for such a show—and it failed, even with that audience. The NYP author’s list is really just another example of why conservatives have a hard time with humor—because their idea of a good guffaw is for an environmental activist to get set on fire, or someone making fun of Obama’s family, listing them as crack addicts, gay porn stars, and assorted criminals. It’s bully humor, and is mostly just funny to the bully.

The reason comedians made a lot of fun of Bush was because he was a non-stop gaffe machine who truly looked stupid and foolish a lot more than is usual for a president. Sarah Palin is an endless cornucopia or word salad, and says stuff like that she’s a foreign policy expert because you can see Russia from Alaska, and Putin flew over her head. And Cheney—jesus, Cheney shot his friend in the face.

You could write a book about how these people are far richer comedic fodder than Obama. It’s not bias. It’s how ridiculous you look. Criticize Obama all you like, you just won’t get many people agreeing that he’s particularly ridiculous.

Categories: Republican Stupidity Tags:

Here We Go Again

August 23rd, 2014 1 comment

I am beginning to believe that with most articles written for the web, it’s not just the links which are shamelessly designed as click bait, but the articles themselves. And they work: if you say something stupid enough, people will come and gawk at your idiocy.

One example which brings up just enough topic matter which deserves discussion by way of thought-deprived commentary can be found in this article about why the iWatch is “never going to happen.”

While the idea of an iWatch is intriguing, especially for those of us in the tech world, this is a case where the idea of a device trumps the actuality of it. Sadly, we may never see an iWatch and here’s why.

Oooh, I just can hear the author thinking, “That’ll bring the flame wars!”

Seriously, though, the “reasoning” used to support this statement is very representative of the naysaying and lack of foresight displayed virtually every time a new category of Apple devices is introduced.

Vapid “Reason” #1: There Are No Add-on Sales.

Unlike Apple TV with it’s iTunes connection and iOS devices with the App Store, the iWatch would have very little add-on purchases that could be made after the device it bought.

Yes, because the iWatch will not run apps. Or, no, that’s stupid—of course it’ll run apps. And the platform brings the apps. I said it when I analyzed the iPad when it was announced in January 2010:

Apple’s mission was very simple: make a platform, and they will come. … Remember, ground-breaking innovations are not always appreciated or understood when they come out.

An Apple watch device could be home to a plethora of apps which will have special utility on a wrist-mounted platform. Communications, health, productivity, mapping—any number of categories come to mind. I imagine that app developers will find no end to mining all the possibilities.

And then there’s the fact that Apple does not need add-on sales. Apple does not make most of its money from App Store or iTunes Store revenue, these are well-known as draws for people to buy the devices. I know several people who would buy the iWatch just for the health monitoring features alone. But if it could also be a display for map information, calendar events, weather information, or updates on traffic or travel data?

And then there’s connectivity. The watch will obviously link to and interact with the iPhone, iPad, Macs—what about Apple TV? How will AirPlay figure in? And who believes that iBeacon technology was developed with only the iPhone in mind? I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that iBeacon and the iWatch are being released at roughly the same time. How about the latest ability for an Apple device to handle iPhone calls remotely? Why couldn’t the iWatch do that?

Even if one could not run any apps on the device, the list I have just given would be more than enough to sell tens of millions of the devices.

Vapid “Reason” #2: Good Design & Functionality Are Not Possible.

The problem with smart watches hasn’t been their functionality, but instead their looks.

Yes, and Apple has a horrible record of entering markets famous for design shortfalls and making a breakthrough device. </eyeroll>

To add in all the features that would make a smart watch worth the purchase, it generally has to be large enough to house the components as well as a battery that will give the iWatch enough life to last more than a day. This size is a major turn off, and one of the reasons that smart watches haven’t caught on with the enormous iPhone market yet.

And that’s exactly why Google Glass weighs two and a half pounds and requires a backpack in order to… oh, no, wait, that’s incredibly stupid. So much of the iWatch will depend on connectivity that a great deal of the device’s components will be stored elsewhere. If the author’s point were applicable, then the iPhone would have to be the size of a laptop in order to store and run all that is needed for Siri, mapping apps—and hey, what about the Internet?! That won’t fit on an iPhone!

Sheesh.

Vapid “Reason” #3: People Won’t Buy Upgrades.

It’s all we can do to wait for our cell phone contracts to be up so we can get the new and substantially more powerful iPhone, but do we really want to trade watches in this quickly too?

Yes, because people don’t buy iPhones outright. OK, well, some do, but who would buy a device that costs $500 every 2-3 years? I mean, remember when the iPod came out and cost $500? Nobody ever bought a new-generation device after a few… um, no, wait, they did.

Seriously. People buy new laptops worth $2000 every 3 years. I’m one of them. If the device is useful and attractive enough, people will buy it. Nor would the life cycle have to be 2 years like an iPhone, or 3 years like a laptop. I could imagine buying a new watch every 5-6 years. I bet Apple could profit plenty from a cycle like that.

On top of this, the iWatch would ideally have an expensive price tag on it, making it fit more into the long-term purchase category instead of the short-term as other iPhone add-ons do. All this together means that the iWatch could actually hinder iPhone and iPad upgrades, further hurting Apple’s bottom line.

Huhwha? Aside from him likely being wrong about the “long-term purchase category,” how exactly would that affect iPhone and iPad upgrades? What, are people going to think, “Hmmm, I don’t need to buy a new iWatch, so despite longing for the latest iPhone, I’m gonna hold back”? Seriously? Do people hold back from refreshing their iPhones because their iMac has several more years of usefulness?

This also comes back to the interconnectivity point he missed: people are probably going to want to buy new iWatch iterations because of iPhone and iPad refreshes. If Apple comes out with a new iOS and iDevices which work well together (such as the connectivity features in iOS8 and Yosemite), there will be added impetus for consumers to buy the latest iWatch which will have the ability to use those new features best. In short, he’s got it ass-backwards.

And then there’s his “ideally” high price. I can easily imagine Apple having 2 or 3 models, the bottom-end device selling for $299, but lacking a camera and a larger array of health monitoring sensors, with maybe $399 and $499 versions adding more and more functionality. Say, you would get a camera and iPhone call answering at the $399 price, and stuff like blood glucose and other special health sensors at the $499 price point. I bet Apple could make that work with healthy enough profit margins. They probably would not lose too many sales at price points starting $100 higher.


Like I said, his analysis is pretty unimaginative; I have little doubt that he chose his topic first, before having any ideas or content, primarily because the troll-like fatuousness of the headline would attract people like me. (Mission accomplished! Except I use ad-blocking software! Sorry!)

However, like I also pointed out, there are a lot of people who really do miss rather important principles regarding the design and marketing of technology. Microsoft has never understood why people use tablets, for example; instead, like Samsung and so many others, they simply believe that if you make the specs robust and add a shiny plastic case, people will of course want to buy it—nary a thought to the user experience.

This is a big part of the secret to Apple’s success: they really do understand why people use the products that they make. That’s how they are able to make stuff that people didn’t even know they needed—or stuff which people don’t actually need, but would really love.

Categories: Gadgets & Toys Tags:

Kajieme Powell and Police Responses

August 22nd, 2014 3 comments

Well, a new fact has come up that puts a new face on the situation: the police officers who shot Kajieme Powell had tasers.

To me, this makes a world of difference. One fact I had not been aware of was that these days, metropolitan police forces tend to make tasers standard issue. The St. Louis PD reported that the officers did indeed have the non-lethal weapons.

Looking at the video, the officers do not appear detailed enough to see if they were wearing them. If they were not, then they were derelict; if they were wearing them… that adds a whole new light to the situation.

When the police arrived, they could not know what situation faced them. As they got out of their vehicle, they saw a man who appeared to be the suspect, standing in front of them, approaching them with his right hand in his pocket. That is justification for drawing their weapons; they could not know if the man had a gun or not, and if he did, then he could begin firing very quickly.

Powell then took his hand out of his pocket, and held out a kitchen knife. That action should have had two effects: first, it should have heightened the tension with the officers, as he was armed; and second, it should have “lengthened the fuse,” meaning that the police should have given them several seconds more space to deal with the situation.

If a suspect, even with a knife, begins coming at you, you still have to make a decision. At first, I thought, shouldn’t the police have made allowances to back up to extend the space between them should he approach? It’s not as if Powell was running at them.

However, there’s a problem: if you back up, you could fall over something you don’t see. Not optimal.

Still, the officers should have known that, with the knife, they had those extra seconds. Without the tasers, it would have made no difference; with the tasers, it made all the difference in the world.

What the police chief said:

“So you’ve got an individual armed with a knife, who’s moving towards you, not listening to any verbal commands, continues, says ‘Shoot me now, kill me now.’ Tasers aren’t 100%. If that Taser misses, that subject continues on, and hurts an officer,” he said.

One of the officers should have drawn the non-lethal weapon. Once Powell started approaching, the one closest to him should have made a sign to the other that he was going non-lethal, which would have signaled to the other to keep his gun drawn and ready. If the taser didn’t work, lethal force would still have been an option from the second officer.

If this is not in their training, then the department is negligent. It should be obvious that if tasers don’t always work, a partner can provide backup.

The chief also said:

Sam Dotson, chief of the St Louis metropolitan police, said the officers may not have been able to Taser Powell because of his sweatshirt.

That’s bull. The sweatshirt was clearly open—and his partner was right there.

Had the officers been armed only with guns and batons, I would have given them the benefit of the doubt. But having tasers, and with ten seconds to draw them, a tactic which should have been in their training and well-practiced….

No.

This was not a necessity. This was not a situation where the officers had no choice. With the option of a non-lethal response with the ability to back up that response with lethal force if things went wrong, the officers clearly were not trained or not inclined to do the responsible thing.

If what happened is not murder, it is at the very least manslaughter.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: