Archive for the ‘People Can Be Idiots’ Category

Assumptions and End Logic

December 31st, 2011 4 comments

This Rand Paul quote won the Malkin Award at Sullivan’s blog:

With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses. … You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free health care would be.

This did not make sense to me the first time I read it; it sounded like a completely absurd non-sequitur, that having compulsory health care enslaves everyone in the health care industry. No doctor would ever be forced to do anything at gunpoint or by any other means of coercion, much less for no pay as the charge of ‘slavery’ would imply.

He did make this rationalization:

Basically, once you imply a belief in a right to someone’s services — do you have a right to plumbing? Do you have a right to water? Do you have right to food? — you’re basically saying you believe in slavery.

The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t work that way. I have a right to legal representation, but that doesn’t make a slave of the public defender. Such public services are paid for by the government, and no one in the service industry is forced to participate, nor is forbidden from making their own private practice.

So one has to wonder, is Paul deranged? How did he make the leap to slavery? I didn’t see it at the time.

However, reading it now, I see a code statement there which completes the “logic” circuit of the statement (if “logic” is a word that can be used here):

You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you?

Out of context, that just sounds like a statement which supports the wild claim of enslavement, but it actually opens a window on the basis of the entire view (with the word “ultimately” in the next sentence modifying the sentiment).

This is something I did not realize before because I had not heard a core belief of Libertarian anti-taxation reasoning.

The reasoning is this: taxes are mandatory, which means that if you steadfastly refuse to pay them, the government will, ultimately, send people with guns to your door to force you to pay. Therefore, taxation equals theft at gunpoint. This reasoning is especially applied to compassionate acts, government activities to benefit the downtrodden. This is bad, as the use of tax money to do good acts is essentially use armed robbery to accomplish charity, and that is wrong. You can’t force people to do good things.

For some Libertarians, especially those of the Randian stripe, this is a fundamental concept which is thoroughly ingrained in their thinking.

In light of that reasoning, re-read the Rand Paul statement above, and suddenly his thought process becomes apparent. He wasn’t thinking through a real-life scenario where the issuance of the Affordable Care Act would literally lead to him being dragooned into medical thralldom.

Instead, he was taking the Libertarian maxim that taxation (especially for government acts of compassion) equals armed robbery, and applying it to the context of health care reform. Since taxation means that eventually the government forces you to pay at gunpoint, he reasoned that the equivalent is that compulsory health care eventually means that doctors will be forced to treat at gunpoint. From there, he got to the idea of health care workers being enslaved. Confusing the point is his statement that it was not an abstraction–but that’s exactly what it was. It just wasn’t an abstraction for Rand Paul, because the idea of taxation being armed robbery is so solidly hard-wired into his world-view that he takes it completely literally, and thinks it is a concrete step in a chain of reasoning.

Without the Libertarian concept in mind, one gets lost along the way. Paul could see the sense in it, as could many who have the same core philosophy. Without that knowledge, however, his claim sounds not just ludicrous, but wholly nonsensical.

This is the problem with any kind of interpersonal communication, really: many of us have basic assumptions which may differ greatly from those held by others. Since we form chains of reasoning which employ these assumptions, we come to conclusions which confuse other people because they lack that assumption.

For example, let’s say that I believe that computers put out radiation which causes all manner of health problems with just limited exposure. Let’s say that it is so core a belief that I either assume that everyone else knows it or can’t imagine anyone else not knowing it. Consequently, when you take out your laptop when you are around me, you will not understand why I get upset or accuse you of trying to kill me. I’ll sound like I’m insane.

In short, the key to understanding the madness on the conservative side of politics today is to know what particular brand of utter bullshit the people you hear talking take for granted. That will allow you to better understand their lines of thinking which lead them to believe that Obama runs death panels and other crap along those lines.

Alternatively, all too often there is no line of reasoning–they believe all manner of demented nonsense simply because they heard it somewhere and want to believe it. They’ll hear bullshit from sources like Fox News and simply assume that there is a line of reasoning which leads to the story they enjoy hearing.

That’s how, for example, they can believe Obama is a communist and a fascist at the same time–they heard one pundit say he’s a communist, and another say he’s a fascist. They trust both sources and simply accept whatever they say as truth. Since they did not go through the thought processes which lead to the conclusion, nor did they question either conclusion, they believe both at the same time and see no problem with it.

Republicans and Economics: Reputation for Expertise, Track Record for Cluelessness

October 23rd, 2011 8 comments

A few weeks ago, I posted a stump speech I felt Obama should be making. In it, I pointed out that while Obama is trying to push a modest jobs plan, Republicans are blocking it. I also claimed that Republicans have no jobs plan of their own. They would deny this, of course; they have pitched a plan that they call a “jobs” plan. The plan: erase even more regulations so corporations can pollute. The idea is, if we stop holding back industries from making our air unbreathable, our water undrinkable, and our soil packed with toxic wastes, they will be free to create more jobs. That is logic along the lines of letting criminals serving time for assault & battery out of prison so that we can hire more doctors and nurses.

Paul Krugman (hat tip to Ken) meets this proposal with scorn from the economic side, debunking the idea that it will create loads of new jobs. Pay close attention to the last sentence in the excerpt:

Mr. Perry has put out a specific number — 1.2 million jobs — that appears to be based on a study released by the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association, claiming favorable employment effects from removing restrictions on oil and gas extraction. The same study lies behind the claims of Senate Republicans.

But does this oil-industry-backed study actually make a serious case for weaker environmental protection as a job-creation strategy? No.

Part of the problem is that the study relies heavily on an assumed “multiplier” effect, in which every new job in energy leads indirectly to the creation of 2.5 jobs elsewhere. Republicans, you may recall, were scornful of claims that government aid that helps avoid layoffs of schoolteachers also indirectly helps save jobs in the private sector. But I guess the laws of economics change when it’s an oil company rather than a school district doing the hiring.

This is really what is at the heart of Republican thinking, especially when it comes to economics: “facts” are things we make up to benefit ourselves.

When people listen to conservatives speaking about economics, they tend to give them credence, in part because they sound so confident giving all of these “facts,” but also because conservatives have a long-standing reputation for fiscal responsibility and know-how.

The truth, however, is that they play fast and look with the facts, and when they want to argue their own points or lambaste the opposition, they tend to do so in reckless disregard for even the most fundamental economic principles.

For example, one claim they have been making for a few decades now is that during the Reagan years, taxes were cut and revenues doubled. I heard this just last week, coming from a conservative on Bill Maher’s show. This claim is not just wrong, it is actually fraught with distortion. It tries to proves the claim that cutting taxes increases revenues, but ignores that fact that while some taxes were cut during that period, other taxes were raised, arguably for a net tax increase.

However, the big lie in the assertion is that Reagan doubled revenue, based on the fact that government revenues went from $517 billion in 1980 to $1,031 billion in 1990. First, this calculation includes Carter’s last year in office as well as Bush 41’s first two years. To be accurate, we must actually run from Reagan’s first year in office–1981, by the end of which Reagan’s economic policies were just beginning to kick in (his first tax cut did not take effect until 1982)–as a baseline, and then take the last year in office as a reading of actual increases. That gives us a rise from $599 billion to $909 billion, an increase just a shade over 50%. So, right there, we see the claim half-shattered.

But that’s not even the main point–remember, I am positing the idea that conservatives abandon the most obvious economic facts and principles to distort reality. What was the fundamental economic idea they ignored here?

Inflation. In order for any judgment to be made on revenue, inflation absolutely must be factored out–otherwise Jimmy Carter would come across looking like a magician. So, when you look at the numbers honestly and factor out inflation–using 1987 constant dollars–how did Reagan fare? Well, he went from $767 billion in 1981 to $877 billion in 1989. A net increase of 14%. Add to that the fact that the U.S. population grew by 7% during that time, and we see the net increase which could be attributed to tax policy brought down to a mere 7%.

So, instead of Reagan cutting taxes and doubling revenue, we have him raising taxes overall and increasing revenue by 7%.

Conservatives, however, would prefer to credit Reagan for things that happened when he was not president, and conveniently forget fundamental economic factors such as inflation and population growth.

Nor is the conservative habit of playing fast and loose with economics limited to Reagan. A more current example is their claim that Obama is responsible for the unemployment rate hitting 10%. Sure enough, unemployment hit 10.1% in October 2009, fully 9 months after Obama took office. So, hard to refute that one, right? Pretty sound fact conservatives have to nail Obama with, right?

Of course, no. First of all, when Bush took office in 2001, the unemployment rate was 4.2%; this rate rose to 6.3% by June of 2003, a fact which, one can be sure, conservatives would quickly attribute to the recession they claim Clinton saddled Bush with. It was another two and a half years–five years after Bush took office–before the rate fell below 5% again.

Jump forward to early 2008, a full year before Obama took office. The unemployment rate was at 4.8%, near to where it had been hovering for the previous three years. Then, in mid-year, the effects of the sub-prime crisis, the beginning of Bush’s Great Recession, started to show; the unemployment rate rose until, in February 2009, when Obama was in office, it hit 8.2%. (Unless you want to credit Obama with numbers that represent a month 2/3rds presided over by Bush, in which case it was 7.8%.)

So, right off the bat, we have Bush overseeing a rise in the rate from 4.8% to 8.2%–a 3.4% jump, or a 70% increase. Conservatives conveniently pretend this never happened–that the rate rose under Bush at all, or that the trend began with him. While they would eagerly attribute two years of rises in the Bush unemployment rate to Clinton, they would not dream of crediting Bush with any of the rate’s rise in Obama’s first nine months.

But still, the rate rose from 8.2% to 10.1% under Obama, right? That’s a 1.9% rise, or about 23%–so, still we can criticize Obama, right? OK, let’s blame Bush for the rate’s rise once he started office. See? I can be reasonable when it helps my argument. Can’t we then blame Obama for the 1.9% spike up to 10.1%?

Here, again, is where conservatives conveniently forget Economics 101. The unemployment rate, you see, is what you can call a “lagging” indicator–in other words, it does not immediately reflect changes in the economy. It takes 2-3 quarters to do so. For example, consistent job losses did not begin until January of 2008–but it took until May or June for these figures to have an effect on the unemployment rate.

Which means that at least the first six months of the unemployment rate under Obama is actually a direct reading on the last six months of the Bush administration. That would mean Bush was directly responsible for taking the unemployment rate not just up to 8.2%, but up to at least 9.5%–a total rise of 4.7%, roughly double the rate. Obama, then, is only responsible for the rate going from 9.5% to 10.1%–a mere 6% next to Bush’s staggering 98%.

And that is only if you blame Obama for the unemployment rate increases that started the moment he sat down at his desk, which is unrealistic, as he had to slow the plummet before he could turn it around. It is completely fair to claim–I would even say it is a solid fact–that Bush was completely responsible for the rise in the unemployment rate. Considering also that job losses did not begin to slow until just after Obama’s stimulus and therefore can easily be attributed directly to that act, it would be just as fair and factual to attribute the subsequent lowering of the rate to 9.1% to Obama.

So, instead of Obama causing the unemployment rate to shoot up to 10%, Bush is fully responsible, while Obama stopped the increase and actually brought it down a bit. Conservatives deny this simply by ignoring Bush’s existence and then conveniently forgetting the fundamental economic fact that the unemployment rate is a lagging indicator.

Not that any of this is a surprise. Whatever financial & economic clout, aptitude, or reputation conservatives might have had, it has now been thoroughly trashed. Yes, there are undoubtedly conservatives with good economic smarts around–but they seem to be in hiding.

In fact, the Republican party seems to be going completely around the bend; instead of just claiming that tax cuts for the rich will create jobs, now they are clamoring for significant tax hikes on the poor and the middle class in addition to tax cuts for the rich–and are arguing that in order to create jobs, all we have to do is open the flood gates on pollution. And, oh yeah, they want to dismantle health care.

If the American people–the 99%–vote Republicans into office next year, they will get exactly what they deserve: a trashed economy, higher taxes for them, even more tax cuts for the rich, and air, water and soil so polluted they’ll start getting sicker faster–just as Republicans shatter the last remnants of public health care.

In other words, they will not only be idiots–they will be suicidal idiots.

Seriously, could the Republican Party be more openly hostile to the American people? They’re like a mugger who just stole your money and knifed you in the gut, then told the you that it was all the fault of the cop who tried to stop him but failed–so vote for the mugger!

Post-Independence-Day Musings on Patriotism

July 6th, 2011 6 comments

Patriotism is love of one’s country. However, what does that mean? Of course, it means to recognize all that is, has been, and will be good about your country. It means to respect its achievements and know its admirable qualities.

However, does it also mean that you never question your country? Never recognize its wrongs? Never apologize to others on its behalf when has wronged them? Does patriotism mean always believing your country is better than all others? Never criticizing what its leaders do?

Many Americans become furious when other Americans do these things. However:

  • If you never question your country, it will never improve.
  • If you never recognize its wrongs, it will commit then again and again.
  • If you never apologize on its behalf when it has wronged others, no one will respect it.
  • If you believe your country is superior to all others, people will see you as arrogant.
  • If you never criticize what its leaders do, they will do anything.

So, if you want your country to be an arrogant international pariah, its leaders repeatedly committing terrible wrongs and its people never trying to stop them, never making it a better place, this is called “patriotism”?

The right-wing idea of patriotism is anything but–it is a recipe for disaster. If anyone else acted in such a way, these self-styled “patriots” would hate their guts.

You question and criticize your own country because you love it. You criticize its leaders and recognize its wrongs because you want it to be even better than it is. You apologize when it has wronged others because you know that this is the mature, responsible, and respectable thing to do. Only if you do all of these things, then you may recognize your country as being first, but first amongst equals. Without also humility, pride is nothing but vanity.

Think of it in terms of an individual. He makes mistakes, like everyone else–but he never recognizes these errors or takes responsibility for them. He refuses to apologize when he is wrong, denies that he ever erred. And despite all of this, he thinks he’s better than everyone else.

Would you respect that person? Do you want to be that person?

And yet, somehow, millions of Americans believe this is what Americans must be, or else we are self-hating apologists.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags:

Sometimes As Bad As Crossfire

June 5th, 2011 4 comments

I do like Bill Maher’s show, but sometimes it gets me as upset as the CNN show Crossfire used to, in that obvious right-wing lies get spewed without any rebuttal from Maher or his left-wing or moderate guests–even when the lies are obvious and the rebuttals well-known.

His panel guests this week were Melissa Harris-Perry, Rick Lazio, and Larry King. Harris-Perry, the liberal, is a writer and former professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton. Rick Lazio, the conservative, is a former Republican Congressman from New York.

Lazio was spouting all kinds of BS throughout the show. One of his big points was about how the stimulus failed–that it did not accomplish anything, and had in fact a negative effect. He trotted out the tired old statistic that When Obama took office, the unemployment rate was 7.8% and it went up to 10.1% from there.

Forget that Lazio, like all conservatives, forgets to mention that in the previous year, under Bush, the rate jumped from 5.0% to 7.8%–a more significant jump–or that it was on an upward incline when Obama took office, meaning that inertia was bound to carry it that way.

I say to forget that because they are moot points. What nobody said on the panel, and everyone should have known, is the well-known fact that unemployment is a lagging indicator, and it usually takes three quarters for changes in the real world to be reflected in the unemployment rate.

Taking into account an accurate reading of the unemployment rate, we see that Bush took unemployment all the way from 5% in January 2008 to 10.1% in October 2009. That’s three quarters after he left office, so that’s when his effect stopped. Obama’s effects are seen from that point onward–which means that Obama has seen the unemployment rate down from 10.1% to the current 9.1%. That’s still a sucky number, but the idea that Obama’s policies made unemployment increase are a bald-faced lie–and I think Lazio knows that full well. It just makes for an easy talking point that’s much harder to explain is wrong–but shame on Maher and Harris-Perry for not catching something they should, by now, know well.

But that’s only half the lie shot down–the other half is that the stimulus failed. I have covered that in depth in this post, pointing out that job creation was plummeting to staggering depths and showed no sign of improving–but when Obama came in to office and instituted the stimulus, the numbers turned on a dime, in a way they never do naturally, and shot straight back up in the opposite direction.

Again, we have not yet returned to the place we’d like to be. Job creation is still lackluster–but light-years better than Bush left us with. The stimulus worked, and worked magnificently. The only problem is that we needed more than magnificent, we needed miraculous. And we could have gotten that, had the stimulus had more spending on things like infrastructure and less in the way of tax cuts for people who didn’t need them, as Krugman pointed out. And who was mostly responsible for changing the stimulus into something half as much as it needed to be? Well, Obama let them do it, but in the end, it was the Republicans who short-circuited the recovery. The stimulus itself worked.

Harris-Perry gets credit for making that last point–that we needed more spending–but she did not make the whole point. Granted, she’s not an economist, but she missed the greater argument which could have sent Lazio down in flames.

Lazio also made the argument that Obama has failed to pull us out of the economy, and used other recessions to make that point, noting that “in 1982, Reagan inherited a 10 or 11% unemployment rate; coming out of that recession, they ended up creating about 14 million jobs.” Guess what? Lies.

OK, first, the unemployment rate was 7.5% when Reagan entered office. Taking the lagging indicator into account, we move to October, when it was 7.9%. Then it became Reagan’s figure, and over the following year, rose to 10.8%. It then stayed in double digits until June 1983, almost two and a half years after Reagan took office, and did not drop below Reagan’s inherited 7.9% until February 1984.

Had Obama performed like that, Lazio would be even more aggressive in his criticism. Instead, he trots Reagan out as the hero standing heads and shoulders above Obama. A liar and a hypocrite.

Also, remember that Lazio held Obama responsible for the unemployment rate the moment he took office–by that metric, Reagan did not lower unemployment below his inherited rate until May 1984–a full year later in his term than where Obama is now. Even more hypocrisy.

Next, the 1981 recession started in July 1981, six months after Reagan entered office. Again, Lazio claims Obama immediately owned unemployment, a 9-month lagging indicator, but Reagan “inherited” a recession that began six months after he took over. I will not argue that Reagan was responsible for the recession, but that Lazio is being brazenly dishonest in comparing the two.

Furthermore, Lazio expects Obama to pull out of a recession twice as deep as the 1981 recession even faster than Reagan pulled out of his.

Worse, Lazio then uses a job creation number–14 million jobs–that spans the whole of Reagan’s two terms in office. Obama hasn’t had that kind of time yet–but in the past 14 months, 1.8 million new jobs have been created. What’s more, if you compare the number of jobs created relative to the 820,000 that were lost in his first month in office, where Bush left him–taking that as a baseline, 20 million jobs are now held that would not have been had we just maintained that level. That’s an artificial number, of course, job loss could not have been sustained long at that level–but it demonstrates the hole Obama has dug us out of.

Another way of looking at it: Starting a full year after each president took office, allowing each one time to dig himself out of whatever hole the previous occupant had dug for him, Obama has created a net total of 1.6 million jobs. Over the same period in his first term, Reagan lost 1.25 million jobs.

Despite the fact that Obama was handed the worst recession since the Great Depression, and when Reagan took office, there was not yet a recession and he had positive job growth.

These lies are blatant, egregious, and hypocritical to the extreme–but went almost unanswered on the show.

On this show, even Larry King managed to frustrate me. First of all, King tried to take the moral high ground in the Edwards case, making a very pointed remark that “In the era of 24 hour news, he’s judged guilty already, right? I believe in not guilty till proven, so why don’t we wait?”

This incensed me because, back in 2000, when Chandra Levy went missing, The Larry King Show more or less became the Let’s Convict Gary Condit in the Public Eye Show, with Nancy Grace on all the time proclaiming his guilt, with Ann Coulter, Barbara Olsen, and Laura Ingraham echoing her, and King himself casting aspersions. During July and August, King hosted roughly 40 shows on the topic, almost every night, in fact, until 9/11 took over the headlines. He issued a “standing invitation” for Condit to appear on his show, and repeatedly hammered away at how Condit not “coming forward” made him look suspicious.

This, in fact, is what made me stop watching his show. Keep in mind that King stood to profit handsomely were Condit to appear on his show. Keep in mind that King himself was perhaps the primary reason the case remained in the public attention for so long, placing even more pressure on Condit. Also keep in mind that if you have been wrongly accused of a crime and might stand trial, appearing on TV and talking about the case is the most monumentally stupid thing you could ever do, and any lawyer would tell you that immediately.

Nevertheless, King, on his show, said that he found it dubious that Condit was not appearing on TV and spilling his guts–King said that it’s what he would do, and he found it telling that Condit was not doing it, supporting the idea that Condit was guilty, or at least sure looked that way.

So, to have King now acting all non-judgmental, criticizing the TV talking heads for jumping to conclusions, after what he did to Condit–that just struck me as the most hypocritical thing imaginable. Well, almost–Republicans tend to do stuff that bad on a daily basis, but outside of that.

Maybe King has changed his beliefs on this and regrets what he did to Condit–who was eventually cleared of wrongdoing–but he sure hasn’t said so, not that I know of.

Then he said something almost as stupid:

I’ve been interviewing economists over the years. Answer me something. The deficit. I’ve heard about the deficit for fifty years. Did the deficit ever call you? Did the deficit–what did the deficit ever do to you? I don’t understand what the deficit does…

Hmm. Let’s see. The deficit adds to the debt. The debt is currently over $14 trillion. Last year alone, we paid more than $400 billion just to service the debt, to pay interest on it. That’s a huge chunk of the deficit right there. Not to mention that if we were spending that much on, say, infrastructure, every year, our economy would be in far better shape.

$400 billion could buy 18,000 new schools–or five thousand magnificent new schools, an average of a hundred for each state. Each year. One year of interest payments on the debt would pay for a manned mission to Mars. It could pay to convert most of America to solar energy.

So, Larry, that’s what the deficit has been doing to you. It’s been robbing you, and all of us.

Which brings up another Lazio distortion–that Bush wasn’t responsible for half the national debt. Technically, maybe–it’s $14 trillion and counting only from Bush’s first day in office to his last, it increased by $5 trillion–but if you count the money that Obama had to spend because Bush committed the nation to spending that money, not to mention the fact that Bush was handed a surplus and was the one who turned that around–then it is more than fair to say that Bush, all by himself, is responsible for half the U.S. national debt., and possibly more.

I swear, I have to stop watching this program. It gets me all wound up and makes me spend hours writing blog posts.

Seat Fight

June 2nd, 2011 Comments off

An airplane leaving Dulles for Africa was turned around, escorted back by fighter jets, and had to burn off fuel for half an hour before landing.

The reason: airline seats.

Well, it was a little more than that. In order to squeeze every last penny out of flights, Economy seats on airlines are now packed so tight that one person reclining their seat can result in the person seated in the row behind being hit by the reclining seat back.

That’s what happened–a passenger reclined, hit another passenger, and a fight broke out. The pilot, following procedure, had to report it and return, despite the fact that the offended/offending passenger had calmed down and the scuffle was over.

There is no real excuse for the passenger’s behavior–no matter what, you do not get into a fight of any kind when on a plane in flight. That’s a rule, and if you can’t follow it, you shouldn’t be flying.

That said, while I cannot condone such behavior, I can sympathize with the general situation. And the solution is not just to have better-behaved passengers.

Honestly, it’s time for a regulation to be set, creating minimum space between seats. If such a regulation exists, then it has to be modified to increase the amount of space. If prices go up, so be it. But this is beyond ridiculous, it is stupid and dangerous, and not just because of potential fights between passengers.

Seriously: time for new regulations on seat spacing.

Scientists Being Tried for Failure to Accurately Predict Quake

May 31st, 2011 1 comment

At first I thought this was satirical news, but I was wrong. In Italy, six seismologists and a public official are being tried for manslaughter over a public statement by the official that an earthquake was unlikely–a week before an earthquake hit the town and killed 308 people. If convicted, they could spend up to 12 years in prison.

In the days before the destructive earthquake, there were precursor quakes, and the defendants were called upon to analyze the potential threat. After the meeting, the public official, working for the Civil Protection agency, made the statement, “The scientific community tells me there is no danger, because there is an ongoing discharge of energy. The situation looks favorable.” As a result, people in the town did not prepare for the quake, leading to many of the deaths.

The problem here is, the public statement is almost certainly not representative of what the seismologists said. That’s their claim, and it is most likely true: no self-respecting seismologist would say in such a situation that minor quakes release tension. That’s something a non-seismologist might think. The meeting minutes revealed no such assurances, instead revealing that they said something more reasonable: there’s no reliable way to predict earthquakes.

What’s most likely is the classic case of the public official wanting to calm fears and protect business interests, and so releasing the most favorable statement he could think of. But even that is not a criminal offense. On the other hand, government officials apparently do not require building codes to be strict enough to prevent people from being killed when quakes hit; no one is being prosecuted for that, however.

Instead, the seismologists are being blamed. Scapegoat, anyone?

Categories: People Can Be Idiots, Science Tags:


May 3rd, 2011 4 comments

Inevitably, we now have “Deathers,” who believe that bin Laden was not killed yesterday. Some believe he was killed a while ago but was kept on ice until now. That makes no sense because (a) if Bush had him, he would have used him, and (b) if Obama was keeping him for political profit, he would have used him at a better time and would not have dumped the body–otherwise, why keep it around?

For those who might think bin Laden is still alive, that’s even dumber. Obama would have to be fantastically idiotic to leave bin Laden in a position where all he has to do is show up on tape with a newspaper dated after May 1, claim the news of his death is fake, and Obama would become such an object of ridicule and scorn that he would never, ever, ever recover.

No, neither theory makes the least bit of sense. Bin Laden is dead.

Which is why I expect future polls to say that at least 40% of Republicans don’t believe it.

RIAA: A Classy Act to Follow

April 5th, 2011 Comments off

Yep, the RIAA really set a class act for others to follow, all right.

For years, the RIAA waged a campaign against piracy. Blaming piracy for revenues lost due to a slumping economy and their own poor choices, the RIAA successfully lobbied Congress to pass an intellectual property law with ridiculously bloated penalties. They then used that to threaten file sharers. Knowing that taking thousands of individuals to court would be unfeasible, they took a page from the satellite TV anti-piracy attempts from a few decades earlier and also accepted “settlement” fees, nothing more than extortion really, usually at $3000 a head. Targets of the campaign usually had little choice, as defending themselves would cost more than the settlement fees would–the classic nuisance lawsuit. That was the idea: the RIAA wanted to establish that file sharing could cost users far more than they were comfortable risking; it was the whole point to be scary and intimidating. They cared little for fairness, propriety, or even guilt or innocence.

Although they now claim to have ended their campaign, they established a dangerous precedent. Others with even less scruples than the RIAA are now using the tools the RIAA left behind not as a means of discouraging piracy, but rather as a means of simply shaking down thousands of people at a time for money. It’s not about protecting intellectual property any more; it’s now seen as a revenue stream for shady film producers.

It started with the producers of The Hurt Locker. They changed the game by altering the method of shaking people down: instead of suing file sharers individually like the RIAA did–expensive due to individual filing fees–they came up with the plan of suing thousands of people all at once in a single venue. This would still allow them to extort people for thousands of dollars apiece, but to do so more quickly and inexpensively. Where the RIAA probably lost money, these producers saw a chance to enhance the earnings of their films.

While the Hurt Locker suit was eventually dropped, it didn’t take long for really scummy B-movie producers to pile on. Soon enough, small-time producers of cheesy and/or pornographic dreck started employing ratty ambulance chasers to file legal extortion rackets of their own, jumping into the game with the same enthusiasm–and just as much legitimacy–as Nigerian scammers. Now as many as 130,000 people have been sued in these new mass filings. Often they are thrown out, but the producers hope that, before that happens, they can scare enough enough people into coughing up settlements that they’ll end up with a tidy profit.

I don’t think anyone expects any of the lawsuits to come to anything, but there’s money to be made by giving these people the choice between paying a certain amount as a settlement or paying more in legal fees to defend yourself–especially if the extortionists are able to sue people all over the nation from one courtroom, forcing 70-year-old computer-illiterate grandmothers in Florida to defend themselves in Los Angeles courtrooms.

In fact, one movie producer, the Camelot Distribution Group, makers of the widely-acclaimed Nude Nuns with Big Guns, is jumping into the game, suing nearly 6,000 people for tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars, unless, of course, they pay the $3000 or whatever the scam goes for today.

The problem, in this case? Aside from it being a quasi-legal extortion racket? Camelot, it turns out, doesn’t even own the rights to the movie they’re trying to sue people over. That’s the level of scumminess we’re looking at now: scumball hack excuses for movie producers churning out pornographic trash using the court system to legally extort thousands of people… for a piece of fecal matter they don’t even own.

Thank you, RIAA, for setting the bar so low.

Speaking of the RIAA, a case going to court could, potentially, change the landscape of these scam lawsuits. One of the two lawsuits that the RIAA did actually follow through on is going to a federal appeals court, which will be asked to judge on the legitimacy of the vastly inappropriate penalties in the intellectual property laws–the ones that the RIAA bribed Congress to get passed. There’s no question that they are far too excessive; the question is, will the court, often setting aside its own moral outrage, treat this as a purely technical matter and refuse to recognize the impropriety of fining an individual $150,000 for copying a $0.99 item and sharing bits of it between other people.

The whole idea of the penalty is flawed: it holds each file sharer responsible for the downloads made by a large number of other people in the network. If all users were penalized, the payoff to the title holder would be vastly disproportionate to the actual value lost–if any.

Let’s hope that this court will finally do away with the outrageously inappropriate penalty and remove from these scumwad movie producers the weapon they’re using to extort people for fun & profit.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots, RIAA & Piracy Tags:

Count on Fox to Lighten the Mood

March 16th, 2011 6 comments

A little comic relief from Fox. At least, I am assuming this really happened–hard to believe, but then again, this is Fox we’re talking about, and the site reporting on it is usually pretty dependable about getting the facts straight. On Your World With Neil Cavuto, Fox reportedly showed a graphic depicting the location of nuclear plants in Japan:


First, that list seems a bit sparse; there are dozens of reactors in Japan. A quick check on Wikipedia (the IEAE site isn’t responding now) shows some of them clustered, but the Fox graphic is incomplete anyway. No big surprise there.

However, one of those names Fox does include seems a little funny: Shibuyaeggman, and it appears situated right here in Tokyo. We have a nuclear plant? And is that supposed to be in Shibuya? And “Eggman”? What the–oh, yeah, this is Fox I’m looking at. Neil Cavuto, even more to the point.

If this report is accurate, and I am betting it is, Fox identified a nuclear reactor existing in a Shibuya nightclub.

I would love to hear how Fox managed this one. I have to say, it makes me feel a bit better about having been taken in by Oehmen & Co. But then, I do expect more from myself, a random guy sitting in his apartment in Tokyo, than I do from the Fox News organization.

Irony Broken Again

February 23rd, 2011 1 comment

It hurts me to see a news organization get involved in politics to that level.

–Juan Williams, talking about CNN on Fox News

CNN, for the record, had a guy on the scene who rather simply and straightforwardly said that doctors were “helping out” teachers in Wisconsin by writing false notes that the teachers were ill when they were participating in a sick-out. The statement was not even sympathetic to the teachers or the doctors, it was simply stating that the doctors supported the teachers, nothing more than what actually happened. That was Williams’ assessment of how CNN was “getting involved in politics.”

Jumping at Shadows, Oblivious to the Oncoming Freight Train

February 11th, 2011 2 comments

Right-wingers are angry about how taxes are so high, despite the fact that taxes are pretty much as low as they have been for a very long time. They’re also agitated about inflation, despite the fact that inflation is as low as it has been for a long time, and shows no signs of increasing. They’re fearful of Muslims and Sharia Law taking over America, when there’s pretty much zero chance of that happening. They are perennially up in arms about a “War on Christmas” which just isn’t there. They fear a New Black Panther Party which is nothing more than a phantom. They fear that gays getting married will destroy the institution of marriage itself. They fear Death Panels. They fear a communist president born in Kenya who is robbing us of our freedoms and will confiscate all our guns as he imposes a fascist dictatorship.

Exaggerated fears are one thing. But right-wingers today seem fearful of things that mostly just don’t even exist.

But don’t try to tell them that global climate change is anything to worry about. There’s simply no conclusive evidence for that. I mean, really, folks, let’s not get carried away.

High-Speed Rail

February 10th, 2011 4 comments

TPM’s slideshow of high-speed rail in Europe and Asia demonstrates how far behind America has fallen in this regard. But hey, you can’t blame us–rail projects like this are socialist, maybe even communist!

After all, anyone who knows anything about American history knows that Capitalism and Railroads have never gone hand-in-hand, and Americans were never associated with those socialist-communist train-thingies. Nope. Never did, never will.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags:

Wasn’t He in a James Bond Movie?

January 1st, 2011 Comments off

Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County, Florida, is offended by how good prisoners have it. As he drove by the Polk County Jail not too long ago, he saw inmates playing basketball, and that just royally cheesed him off: “I’m working for a living and these guys are sitting around on my tax dollar and playing basketball.”

Yeah, imagine that. These guys are locked up in overcrowded jails, and for a whole three hours a week they get to go outside into a chain-link cage and shoot hoops. Posh! “I’m not going to have an environment where they feel like they’re at a fitness center,” Judd complained. Yeah! What did they do to deserve such luxury? Committed crimes, that’s what they did. I bet they even broke the law just for the chance of playing basketball for 3 hours out of every 168. Totally worth it. Slackers.

After all, they’re all criminals. “Inmates come to jail because they violated the law,” Judd pointed out. Except that the jail also holds people who are awaiting trial and are not convicted of anything–some of them could be completely innocent. This makes no difference to Judd. “They’re all there because of probable cause that they committed a crime,” he points out. “The solution is if you don’t like county jail, stay out of it.” The message, boys and girls, is don’t become suspected because of probable cause. Exactly how one does this I have no idea.

Nevertheless, Judd was having none of this coddling-of-mostly-criminals-and-maybe-some-innocent-people crap, and so decided to take away the basketball hoops. What he did with them next created a bit of controversy: he took the equipment, paid for by taxpayers, and (in front of local news cameras he invited) gave it away to churches, where they will attract the use of children.

Sounds OK, except for the part about giving public property to churches and the First Amendment and all that. That did not sit well with a secular group, which said that the equipment should go to local parks and schools, where kids can use them just as well, without having to go to a religious institution. Judd chafed at that, asking why he should “kowtow” to the atheists’ “silliness,” looking forward to fighting a legal battle with them.

Everyone, meet the next Republican congressional candidate from Polk County and future presidential candidate.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags:

Obama to Give Manhattan Back to the Indians: Development of a Bizarre Right-wing Meme

December 29th, 2010 4 comments

When I saw this first, I thought it was out of The Onion. Then I figured, OK, it’s true, but it’s just some unknown blogger or wild-eyed rant rag publishing some looney conspiracy theory that even they didn’t take too seriously. It was a report that right-wing sites are clamoring that Obama is planning to give America, or parts of it, especially Manhattan, back to the Indians. OK, I thought. A left-wing site has taken some random post by a nutball wingnut blogger and had fun with it. The sad fact is… not really.

It regards something called the “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” a document intended to symbolically recognize the suffering and mistreatment of the 370 million indigenous people around the world. It recognizes their equal rights and generally how they have been shafted throughout history. Naturally, this has aroused the ire or many who exist among the “shafting” peoples, worried that they might be called to actually do something about it, or worse, in the areas of the world where people are still being displaced because they live in areas others want to use, development of these new resources might be inconvenienced.

But in the U.S., this is a sore point primarily because of the fact that it points out rather unfortunate aspects of our own history. In short, we’ve done some pretty nasty stuff–stealing what they had, violating our agreements, and generally treating them like crap. Just recognizing this fact chafes the right wing, which prefers to whitewash history so that we never did anything wrong (or you are an America-hater who apologizes to people, as if America ever needed to do something so shameful and self-vilifying) or at least had really good reasons for doing things that kinda looked bad, but it wasn’t as bad as those left-wing traitors are trying to make you believe.

This, and their relentless quest to find anything to smear Obama with and make the American people fear and loathe him, have led right-wingers to find news in the fact that Obama has reversed Bush’s policy and now backs the UN declaration. They are making the claim that this will lead to court cases which will return U.S. property to Native American tribes. Well, at least that’s the tamed down version of the claim.

Keep in mind that the declaration is wholly non-binding, and has no real legal relevance.

Conservative coverage of the otherwise tame story started in the right-wing Washington Times, which dredged up concerns that Obama’s support for the declaration would lead to legal restitution battles:

Objections to the declaration include its potential to conflict with U.S. law, its failure to define exactly who indigenous peoples are, and its support for tribes seeking claims on lands occupied hundreds of years ago. Article 26 of the declaration states that “indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.” …

Article 28 states that indigenous peoples “have the right to redress,” which can include “restitution” or “just, fair and equitable compensation” for lands and resources they have traditionally owned or occupied, but which have been “confiscated, taken, occupied” without their consent.

The article, printed on December 16, fell short of saying we were giving America back to the natives, but definitely raised concerns about reparations.

On the blogger level, this started generating concern, with the article reprinted on a number of right-wing sites.

Then, a few days later, right-wing news sites started reworking the story to a gradually more alarmist tone:

( – President Barack Obama, addressing a tribal nations conference at the White House last week, announded that the U.S. government is now supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which includes a sweeping declaration that “indigenous peoples” have a right to lands and resources they traditionally occupied or “otherwise used.”

“Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired,” says the U.N. resolution.

The story goes on to emphasize several points in the U.N. declaration which give the impression–especially to those steeped in right-wing mythology–that America will soon be awash with apologies to others, reparations, liberal-media-driven national self-recriminations, and so forth. Weight is given to the declaration as a driving legal force:

Brent Schaefer, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation, told that although the U.N. declaration now supported by the Obama administration is non-binding, it represents a “significant policy shift” from the Bush administration.

Schaefer also said that before crafting legally binding international treaties, the U.N. usually starts the process with a non-binding resolution — a fact that will put the U.S. in a more difficult position if it objects to similar language in a formal treaty.

“It puts our negotiators in a weaker position going forward,” Schaefer said.

Introduced into the story at this point is a minor Obama PR event where, like pretty much every president before him, he welcomes members of a Native American tribe and accepts an symbolic offer to become a tribe member–in Obama’s case, the Crow tribe. Emphasis is put on the Crow name he is given: “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land.”

This again stirs a number of right-wing blogs into spreading the meme. Other sites jump forward to more alarmist language, but we’ll get back to that a bit later.

A few days after the CNS account, the story swings back to the Washington Times, which attempts to fan the flames with an editorial:

Some of UNDRIP’s articles are so vague that they promise virtually unlimited government largesse, such as Article 21: “States shall take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of [indigenous peoples’] economic and social conditions.” Those concerned that UNDRIP is a devious means to justify some form of reparations to American Indians for the sins Mr. Obama has declared the United States guilty of need look no further than Article 11. This proposition explicitly states that the government “shall provide redress through effective mechanisms, which may include restitution, developed in conjunction with indigenous peoples, with respect to their cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free, prior and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.”

Articles 26 through 28 are even more alarming. They deal in detail with the issue of the “lands, territories and resources which [indigenous peoples] have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.” UNDRIP compels governments to “establish and implement, in conjunction with [the] indigenous peoples concerned, a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process” for addressing historic land claims and asserts the “right to redress” for “confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged” lands. Compensation is to take the form of “lands, territories and resources equal in quality, size and legal status or of monetary compensation or other appropriate redress.”

It would be easy to dismiss UNDRIP recognition as the type of symbolic gesture the embattled president has to make to placate his left-wing base. The declaration is not yet legally binding, but it lays the groundwork for the next stage in the process of codifying its mandates as international rights in an international convention or covenant. And even though UNDRIP is not binding, it plays to Mr. Obama’s personal sentiments and post-colonial worldview, and his administration is certain to formulate policies that treat the declaration’s mandates as compulsory even if they aren’t. UNDRIP is the ultimate “evil white man” guilt trip. For those who would wipe clean the past 400 years of “European colonization of North America,” this is the next best thing.

Again, the writing is distributed around the right-wing blogosphere. A few days after that, Fox News adds its voice–not an editorial, so a bit more tame, but still alarmist, using John Bolton this time:

But John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the “abstract” document — which in several sections discusses the “right to redress” — will probably be used to fuel new legal claims. And he predicted the issue would complicate those cases more than it would help either side actually resolve them.

“It’s a kind of feel-good document that has so many unclear phrases in it that nobody’s really sure what it means when you agree to it,” Bolton told “It’s wrong and potentially dangerous to sign onto a document that you don’t fully understand the implications of.”

Get that? It’s “potentially dangerous” with frighteningly vague “implications.” The Fox article does some interesting gymnastics to both mention the non-binding status of the declaration, but alternately to stress that there is something insidiously binding to it, but we can’t really say, it’s just this thing we’re trying to tell you but can’t without being called out on it, wink wink.

Tellingly, the article ends thusly:

Carl Horowitz, a project manager with the National Legal and Policy Center who follows discrimination cases against the federal government, used the r-word — reparations — to describe those implications.

“It reflects a global egalitarianism,” he said. “It’s a shakedown.”

So now, by Christmas, we have the meme pretty fully established. All that is left is for the minions to run with it. By this time, the alarm has already started to spread at the lower levels; even before some of the more alarmist media stories ran, we saw stuff like this, people like Bryan Fisher, writing for a blog hosted by the fundie AFA org, on December 21:

President Obama wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians. He wants Indian tribes to be our new overlords.

The Bush administration rejected this proposal in 2007, on the common sense grounds that it would give a sub-national group veto power over the laws enacted by a democratic legislature.

I see no reason why the president, after he leaves office, can’t submit himself to the authority of any Indian tribe he wants to. Perhaps he figures that, as an adopted Crow Indian, he will be the new chief over this revived Indian empire.

I’m pretty sure that’s not satire. I tried to check the site but could not find an “About” page, where satire is usually announced, and checked out other portions of the site, which seem to be just as serious, or at least apparently so. The problem is, this is so lunatic in its tone, it comes across as outrageous satire. But I think that, while he may have been using what to his sense was a a bit of sarcastic hyperbole, the article was serious in its intent.

So by Christmas, when the major media outlets have already hyped up the story, the stage is set to take it further at higher levels. WorldNetDaily jumps in with an article titled–not sarcastically or satirically–Obama to give Manhattan back to Native Americans?

President Obama is voicing support for a U.N. resolution that could accomplish something as radical as relinquishing some U.S. sovereignty and opening a path for the return of ancient tribal lands to American Indians, including even parts of Manhattan.

The issue is causing alarm among legal experts.

So now Manhattan, for its symbolic value as the incredibly valuable land we cheated Indians out of for cheap jewelry, is being given away. “Legal experts” are expressing “alarm” now. This shored up with an editorial. Again, with the reprinting and echochamber effect.

As for the Manhattan bit, the WND article buried its justification for that bit at the bottom of the article; apparently, a major source for the story, a college professor who (from what I could tell of web searches) is either an itinerant adjunct or perhaps now has a position at a community college in Arizona, noted that some tribes want to repurchase land in Manhattan. That, apparently, is it–this somehow morphs into “Obama to give Manhattan back to Native Americans.”

This is what passes for “spreading truth” in the right wing. A story which, in any other venue, would be laughed off as a joke, or presented as rank satire, is taken seriously, making the top conservative news outlets, including newspapers and media networks which reach millions of people who take what is printed there as gospel.

I’m still having trouble accepting the fact that this is the level of their “journalism” and that so many on the right actually seem to think there is some real-world relevance to what they’re ranting about. In one sense, it simply is yet another example of the craziness we have been seeing for years; but even after seeing stuff like this again and again, I still cannot fully accept that this crap is actually happening.

Is It Ethical to Scam Someone into Keeping to a Deal?

December 16th, 2010 3 comments

Normally I would say that two wrongs don’t make a right, but I think this is an example of a loophole in that particular ethical dilemma. If you’d rather read the whole story directly instead of the summary below, visit the page on Reddit, and then skip the next two paragraphs.

A fellow had four tickets to a sporting event scheduled to take place in less than three days, but he could not attend, so he decided to sell them on eBay using a one-day listing. The auction would end at 10:00 am the day before the event, and the terms made it clear they would have to be picked up. A woman bid $600 for the tickets, so the seller emailed her to arrange the pickup. She did not reply to the emails until almost 12 hours later–late on the night before the event–and when she did, it was to back out of buying the tickets, commenting coldly, “It’s eBay, not a car dealership. I can back out if I want.” No other buyers were still willing to purchase, so the seller was stuck with his goods, unable to use them or sell them.

So the seller comes up with an idea. Using an alternate eBay identity, he sends a message to the woman claiming to be someone who saw the auction too late, and wanted to know if she would be willing to resell the tickets for $1000. By telephone, the woman says she’ll sell them–for $1100. The deal is made, and the woman contacts the seller’s original address–not knowing it’s the same guy–and says she’ll buy the tickets after all. However, she demands that the seller come to her–and by now it’s midnight. He goes to see her, gets the money–and then cuts off the deal via the fake account. When the woman blows her top, he replies, “Ma’am, this is eBay, not a car dealership.”

Now, assume–as the seller claims–that the story is not the least bit embellished or exaggerated, and is told 100% accurately. Was the seller within his rights to do what he did? In effect, he did nothing to her that she did not do to him–promise to buy and then renege on the deal. Under ordinary circumstances, I would say that it’s not right to do so, any more than it is right to assault someone who assaulted you.

This case is a bit different, however. First of all, buying something on eBay does obligate you to pay up–in eBay’s own words, “A bid or commitment to buy on eBay is considered a contract and you’re obligated to purchase the item.” I am not clear on how far that extends legally, but my impression (not being familiar with eBay) is that a seller really doesn’t have much option save to give the non-buyer a complaint against their eBay buyer’s record–something that would probably be less than a slap on the wrist. Maybe they could sue in small claims court, but with only an email address and an eBay user name, it might not be so easy to do.

Second, the (non) buyer deprived the seller of the value of his goods by promising to pay for perishable items and then waiting until it was too late to back out of the deal; this furthered her obligation to compensate. Had she immediately informed him of her intent soon after the auction ended, he probably could have found an alternate buyer. That she ignored emails for most of the day suggests that she knew early on that there would be a problem–and even if not, it was still her responsibility to live up to her side of the contract.

The final straw, of course, is the fact that she finally agreed to the sale only to profit. This, in my mind, completely deprives her of the right to object, if she had one to start out. She claims to have backed out of the deal, but when offered a $400 boon–which she jacks up an extra hundred bucks out of greed–she quickly reclaims the buyer’s title. Now, had she told the seller, disguised as a re-buyer, that she had backed out and the original seller would probably be happy to find a new buyer, then the seller would have been screwed–and the woman would at least come across as genuinely regretful. However, as she instead tried to get $500 extra for herself out of the deal, she pretty much cements the impression that she deserves no sympathy.

From the seller’s perspective, yes, he did use a short con to get the woman to pay–he lied in order to complete the sale. And yes, he did jack up the price by $20 at the last moment, in his mind to compensate for his troubles, which included driving across town at midnight, a term not in the original deal (a compensation one can easily accept, considering the circumstances). However, he may well have been able to jack the price up even more, claiming he had found another buyer, etc.–which he did not. In the end, he did nothing but persuade a person who had wronged him to live up to their obligations.

I would call no foul on his part. But then, maybe it’s just because this kind of story is so much fun to read about.

One final–and not so satisfying–consideration: technically, the woman could probably still make her $500. When making the fake counteroffer, the seller nonetheless establishes a “meeting of minds” on the $1100 deal. If I were in the woman’s position–and had no shame–I could probably take the guy to small claims court, and might possibly win. Hopefully, the woman in this case will not figure that out.

It’s that Time of Year

December 8th, 2010 20 comments

Yes, time for those in the vast majority, who already enjoy their beliefs having predominance in the culture, and who regularly oppress others, to make themselves feel better by acting like they’re the victim: the now-traditional right-wing celebration of the imaginary and invented War on Christmas™.

In the town of Tulsa, OK, the organizers for the annual parade, for the second year running, are calling it a “Holiday” parade instead of a “Christmas” parade. Conservatives are (still) outraged.

If only there were some term that could be used instead of “Holiday” which would include Christmas instead of excluding it!!

Seriously, the question is, why are the wingnuts offended? “Holiday” includes Christmas, so Christmas is not being snubbed. On the contrary, “Holiday” includes everyone, meaning that if you celebrate other traditions, you will now officially be included in the festivities. Using “Christmas” only, and in particular protesting the more general, inclusive term, means that you are offended when other people are included in the celebration.

Essentially, they want to celebrate their holiday alone and tell everyone of differing beliefs to go screw themselves, they’re not welcome. This is America, where only Christianity is welcome, and if you don’t like it, then shut your yap or move to China, you treasonous commie punk.

The rest of us would like a nice, enjoyable celebration for all.

Sorry if the word “bigot” offends anyone, but as they say, if the label fits.

WikiLeaks and Secrecy

December 6th, 2010 5 comments

The whole WikiLeaks thing is becoming a bit ridiculous. Whatever you think of the leak itself, the nature of diplomacy, and the motivations of Julian Assange, how the government is handling the incident is somewhat absurd. I am not speaking of the rather heavy-handed way Assange is being treated–you may find it excusable or even a good idea so as to discourage interruption of diplomatic efforts. Instead, I refer to the way the government is dealing with the spread of the information.

So far, WikiLeaks has been removed from a variety of servers, and various URLs have been revoked. Sorry, but this is rather stupid. If I wanted, it would be child’s play to get the data. Not only did they find an alternate URL (U.S. news outlets link to it in their articles), but mirror sites have popped up all over the Internet. Additionally, file-sharing sites are spreading the documents as well. If you can’t stop the recent cam of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from spreading like wildfire, how can you stop this? It’s a practice in futility, makes Assange into a martyr, and steels the resolve of people who believe this stuff should be made available. In this day and age, once information is out, it’s out.

Worse, there’s the reaction against Americans reading the WikiLeaks documents. Federal workers and contractors, including all members of the military, have been warned that they must not view the documents. Even college students have been given notice that the documents are off-limits to them as well, and could kill their career prospects–especially if they demonstrate that they have viewed the cables through their posts on social networking sites. Government contractors, trying to stay in line with this campaign, are blocking any URL with “WikiLeaks” in the address, like they’re the Chinese government trying to keep foreign influences away from its people.

This also is nonsensical. Not just because the information is out there, and not just because it would be near-impossible to monitor home usage (or would it?)–instead, it is bizarre because everyone else in the world knows this data, and has access to it. All they’re doing is trying to keep Americans from knowing what their government is doing–which is supposedly the reverse of what such secrecy is usually about, namely keeping the information out of foreign hands. It’s like it was back in the Cold War, when information was already well-known by the Soviets, but the U.S. government kept it classified from its own people. It didn’t make any sense back then, and it makes no more sense now.

All that is being accomplished is that the U.S. government is coming across to its citizens and the world at large as being both inept and oppressive. Were it to simply now treat the information as being “out there”–which it undeniably is–and focus solely on investigating the origin of the leak and the prosecution of those who released it, then they would at least come across as reasonable and responsible in their reaction to the event.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots, Security Tags:

At Least MSNBC Is Being Consistent in Its Stupidity

November 20th, 2010 Comments off

I guess they felt that they had to have “balance”: MSNBC has suspended Joe Scarborough for making campaign contributions without alerting MSNBC brass first. It even makes sense in a “We’ve Been Stupid, Now We Have to Stick with It” kind of way. If the public found out that Scarborough had made campaign contributions in the same election as Olbermann but did not penalize the right-leaning guy, they would have been attacked for more than just stupidity.

It also seems clear that before Olbermann, their policy was a vague, unclear thing which had no application to real-world events, but one which they hastily decided to execute when they discovered Olbermann’s actions–thus the lack of clarity in its first application. This time, they’re more clear from the get-go: Scarborough gets a two-day suspension without pay. That pattern–sudden, rash execution with a hastily reduced penalty which quickly became the rule despite its arbitrary nature–has all the earmarks of a policy no one paid attention to until someone got upset all a sudden and groped for some rationale to act it out with.

In Scarborough’s case, the policy makes even less sense than it did with Olbermann: Scarborough gave money to family and friends in local races which were not competitive, the contributions being more for personal reasons than political ones.

To be quite honest, I would have respected MSNBC a lot more if, after the Olbermann affair, they had simply announced that a review of the policy found that it was a bad idea in the first place, and simply scrapped it. Now, instead, they doubled down and stuck with it no matter how idiotic it comes across as.

Categories: Journalism, People Can Be Idiots Tags:

Why Not Both?

August 25th, 2010 Comments off

This segment from Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show is simply too good to pass up posting here. After having shredded Fox’s tissue-thin logic in their smears against the New York Sufi community center / mosque, Stewart & Co. today caught them in an act of hypocrisy of the worst kind: accusing the mosque of taking money from a Saudi they claimed had terror connections … but they “neglected” to mention that this same Saudi is part-owner of Fox News itself. In fact, they “neglected” to mention the guy’s name, so it would be harder for viewers to look it up and discover the link back to Fox. In classic Daily Show form, they then proceed to hilariously rip Fox a new one. Enjoy:

Me, I vote for equal measure of both Evil and Stupid. There’s room enough for everyone here.

So, then, what does that make their viewers? Not good at fact-checking, to be sure. But probably, more likely, simply people who want to believe a certain set of things and so look for a news source they can fool themselves into thinking is credible so they can tune in and hear their worst suspicions not only vindicated but actually evolved to even further levels of paranoid delusion. These are millions of Americans who boast of knowing “facts” but really just are intellectually whacking off to the hardcore stuff. They believe the dialog to be realistic and letters to the magazine “forum” to be real-life true stories. Oh yeah, baby!

No, the viewers aren’t necessarily evil–they’re just intellectually lazy and/or dishonest in the pursuit of a nightly ideological climax.

But Fox? Evil and stupid. And crazy. Ergo, high ratings. It follows.

Talking to the Little People

August 11th, 2010 6 comments

These people really are living in a fantasy world. After quitting as governor mid-term, Sarah Palin started cashing in big-time–book deals, speaking tours, and now even a reality show of her own. But filming the show, she came across an Alaskan who was none too happy with Palin leaving her post for profit. Palin approached the woman, who had put up a large sign reading “Worst Governor Ever,” and apparently attempted to talk her down. Excerpts are extremely telling:

Gustafson: You swore on your precious Bible that you would uphold the interest of this state, and then when cash was waved in front of your face, you quit.
Palin: Oh you wanted me to be your governor! I’m honored!

Wow. I know that it’s a standard political technique to dodge a hard question by answering a different question, but that’s quite a stretch there–unless Palin was trying to be snarky and condescending.

Gustafson: I wanted you to honor your responsibilities. That is what I wanted, and to be part of the political process instead of becoming a celebrity.
Palin: That’s what I’m out there fightin’ for America to be able to have a Constitution protectin’ us so we can have free speech…
Gustafson: In what way are you fighting for that? In what way?
Palin: Oh my goodness! To elect candidates who understand the Constitution to protect our military interests so that we can keep on fightin’ for our Constitution that will protect your freedoms…

Here’s where we see a strong element of what we’ve seen before–the self-anointed hero, actually believing that resigning her duties so she can get millions from a book deal, write trash from her social networking sites, and then start her own reality show is “fighting for the Constitution” and “protecting our freedoms.” Here’s someone with, to put it mildly, delusions of grandeur.

Gustafson: By using your celebrity status.
Palin: How am I a celebrity? I’m honored that you think I’m a celebrity.

Again with the snarky condescension. And, hey, I could swear that in the 2008 elections, Palin chimed in with McCain and attacked Obama for being a “celebrity.” Not that consistency is one of her strengths.

Here’s where it gets a bit sad:

Gustafson: You’re certainly not representing the state of Alaska any longer.
Bristol Palin: She’s representing the United States.

Sad that her daughter has apparently bought into the mythos, believing that her mom has somehow been elected to the presidency or some similar office. You represent people when they elect you; so far, America has not elected Palin to anything–she lost, last I heard. And unless she is taking all the millions she is earning and giving them to the people somehow, then resigning from the post she was elected to and cashing in is not in any way “representing America.”

But then it gets even better: Palin discovers what the woman’s profession is…

Gustafson: Yes, I know, you belong to America now, and that suits you just fine.
Palin: What do you do?
Gustafson: I’m a teacher…
Palin: (eye roll)

You have to watch the video: Palin actually does do an eye roll, a rather overt eye roll, with a look to her people, as if to say, “Oh, Jesus, one of those a-holes, great.” And if Palin was thinking it, one of her daughters said it, to the man who was with the protesting local woman–called him an “A-hole” for filming the talk, or perhaps for letting the woman put the sign up on his property.

A sign which the Palin team illegally tore down soon after the little talk. On a public pier where Palin’s private security people were patting down and searching local residents who came too close–as if they had any legal right to do so. As if they were Secret Service agents carrying out law enforcement, or that the public pier belonged to Palin and her entourage. Not to mention the irony of Palin making such big noises about the freedom to carry arms, but not apparently when they’re around her. It is as if Palin and her team did just about every about every little thing possible to aggrandize themselves at the expense of those around them, talking about rights and then stepping on the townsfolk like they were the little people.

And these people call liberals “elitists”? Irony of ironies. It’s a personality cult, built on a rather bizarre personality, based upon lack of desire to serve and all the desire to make as much money as possible and act all superior and self-important. I’d expect this kind of stuff from people even younger than Bristol, and even for them, it would be embarrassing. This, this is just pathetic. And those who adore her… just plain sad.

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