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

November 9th, 2014 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Religion Tags: by

People Are Stupid

November 5th, 2014 10 comments

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

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

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

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

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

The blind stupidity is breathtaking.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags: by

An Unreasonable Standard

November 4th, 2014 Comments off

Why is it that when there’s a tragic death in space travel and exploration, it’s considered a huge black eye and a major setback for the entire endeavor, but not with anything else?

There are tens of thousands of deaths in automobiles each year; why isn’t that a setback for the car industry?

There is a very high death rate for serious mountain climbers; Mt. Blanc along accounts for about a hundred deaths a year. Why is not each new death a setback for the sport?

In fact, insurance companies regularly estimate the number of deaths in any particular industry over certain projects or periods of time.

So why is it that, apparently, only in space flight, is a death rate seen as unacceptable? Did anyone really expect that such an endeavor would never expect an accidental death?

Categories: Science Tags: by

Carrier Nonsense

November 2nd, 2014 3 comments

Usually I get new iPhones as soon as they come out, but my carrier kinda screwed me on that; somehow, over time, they added a few months to my contracts, and I couldn’t get out of it until November 1st. That, and a bunch of other stuff has me good and tired of SoftBank. For example, they offer “points” with your service, but after three years (after which the points expire) I had a grand total of ¥1090 (about $10) after about $5000 worth of bills for myself and Sachi over that time. To add insult to injury, you can’t buy squat with that at their store, which means you can only do so at the online store. And their online store is so convoluted that after 20 minutes, the staff member there couldn’t figure it out either, and started to give me a phone number which I am sure would have inevitably been staffed by a teineigo operator who would use such obscure vocabulary that they would only confuse me more.

I changed to a new carrier, Au, for a couple of different reasons. First, switching carriers means you get a discount in the first two years just for that. Au’s prices in general were already a bit lower than Softbank’s, and that was further sweetened by an additional $15 a month discount (each) because our home Internet connection is with KDDI, which is the same company as Au. Au was also much more accessible and open about the terms; for example, I had never known that the “unlimited” data plans get severely throttled after 5 or 7 GB of use in one month; Softbank’s people never mentioned that over the years, but Au was very upfront about it.

In addition, Au did me a solid on timing. While some orders can take a month, and commonly two weeks to fulfill—a problem with me because I had a short window in which to switch carriers else suffer a $100 penalty—Au happened to have an extra iPhone 6 the color and capacity I wanted, and decided kindly to hang onto it for me for 10 days after I signed up, so I could pick it up immediately as soon as my shackles to Softbank evaporated.

On top of that, KDDI (and, it seems, Au) have English support—if not total, they do try their best, and it’s appreciated.

Long story short, instead of paying about $75 apiece per month to Softbank, our contracts are now for about $55 for each of us. Over two years, that saves a lot of money (almost a thousand dollars over our first two years). We lose about $10 a month on each contract after that, as the switching discount is not renewed and the home-Internet discount is cut to $10 a month instead of $15—but even then it’s still better.

Not to mention I was getting the Worst Sales Rep Ever at Softbank every time I went, who was royally pissing me off. Glad to be rid of them.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014, iPhone Tags: by

Vote for My Secret Agenda!

October 28th, 2014 1 comment

The latest thing in Republican politics which is not being reported by the “Liberal Media™”?

Keeping your political agenda secret.

You know how campaigns are supposed to be about telling the people what you plan to do so they can make informed choices about the government they want, right?

Not according to Mitch McConnell!

[McConnell] refused, when asked by a member of the club, to identify the first three issues he would try to push through the Senate if he becomes majority leader.

“Obviously, I’m not going to answer that question,” he said. “To lay out an agenda publicly at this point makes it look like you’re measuring the drapes.”

Instead, he laid out his plans in broad terms, including passing a budget, voting on whether to allow the Keystone oil pipeline project to proceed, and repealing the individual mandate to buy health insurance and the tax on medical devices that were part of the Affordable Care Act.

After the speech, in response to a reporter’s question, McConnell refused to say if, as majority leader, he would back legislation to privatize Social Security. “I’m not announcing what the agenda would be in advance, we’re not in the majority yet. We’ll have more to say about that later.”

Since when has this been the case? Well, it’s not exactly new. McCain did this some when he ran in 2008. Remember when he told everybody that he had a secret plan to catch Osama bin Laden, it was a surefire guarantee—but he would not tell anyone what it was unless he was elected?

McConnell seems to be upping the game, making his entire legislative agenda secret.

Essentially, politicians are like salesmen: if there’s something they don’t want you to see before a sale is made, they do their damnedest to hide it from you.

Interestingly, the news media is largely silent on McConnell’s quotes. Apparently they think what he said is nothing significant enough to note. Spiffy.

Categories: Political Game-Playing Tags: by

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: by

What’s With Maddow?

October 14th, 2014 13 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.


Kinda bizarre.

Categories: Journalism, Political Ranting Tags: by

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: by

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: by

Wrongful Birth

October 10th, 2014 Comments off

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: by


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: by

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: by

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.

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Stop Being a Jackass about Your New Toy

September 17th, 2014 Comments off

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: by

TV Trends

September 15th, 2014 Comments off

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.

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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: by

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

September 13th, 2014 1 comment

Ricky Gervais caught hell for tweeting this:


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: by

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: by

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.


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: by

Question What You Agree With

September 8th, 2014 Comments off

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: by