Sunday, July 31, 2011

Love, Liberals and Conservatives

I was reading an article about the algorithm uses to make "fuzzy" matches. The interesting thing they found is that people's stated preferences often diverge quite drastically from what they actually want. That is, people say they want one thing in another person, but very frequently they will wind up marrying someone who doesn't meet all those criteria. For example, people will actually marry someone who a few years older, or black instead of white, or stocky instead of athletic, even though their preferences would have ruled that person out. The trick is to write an algorithm that will suggest dates with people the person will actually like, whom they apparently think they shouldn't.

One quote from a developer of the matching algorithm caught my eye:
Indeed, says Thombre, “the politics one is quite interesting. Conservatives are far more open to reaching out to someone with a different point of view than a liberal is.” That is, when it comes to looking for love, conservatives are more open-minded than liberals.
I generally avoid making generalizations about conservative vs. liberal personality traits, but I wondered if this was really true. The conclusion of the article's author is that "conservatives are more open-minded than liberals." This is a typical "gotcha" kind of comment that conservatives love. "Liberals think they're so tolerant, but they won't even consider marrying conservatives."

But thinking it over, I don't really think that "open-minded" is really the right word. I think "naive," "short-sighted" and "delusional" are more apropos.

I am reminded of all the conservatives (Gingrich, Limbaugh, Beck, Reagan, etc.) who have been married two, and three or more times, yet they keep carping about the sanctity of marriage. Yeah, liberals divorce too. But they're not hypocritically calling for more onerous divorce laws. There have also been many stories over the years (such as this one and this one) that find the divorce rate in liberal Massachusetts is almost half the divorce rate in conservative Texas.

There are many suggested reasons for this: shotgun weddings for unexpected pregnancies rarely work out in the long run. The conservative delusion that abstinence-based sex education is in any way useful: it takes two minutes to explain that you shouldn't screw someone you don't want kids with, don't want to get pregnant with, or get a disease from. Marriages of older and wealthier couples are less likely to result in divorce. The old conservative saw, "Liberals just live together in sin instead of getting married" (I don't know if that's true, but conservatives love to say it even though it doesn't seem to true from the out-of-wedlock birthrates). The various conservative fatwas against premarital sex, birth control, the morning after pill and abortion will tend to cause marriages of younger and poorer couples, which will more likely end in divorce.

But in all honesty, the "liberal" vs. "conservative" divide is mostly about women having more freedom vs. men having more power. If you're a self-identified liberal woman, how likely is it that you'll want to marry a self-identified conservative man who thinks you shouldn't have control over your own body, aren't fit to make your own decisions, own property, vote, hold public office, and that you should just shut up and do what you're told because that's what the bible says?

Michele Bachmann famously made some comments in a church about how the bible tells us that wives should be submissive. She studied tax law -- something she never wanted -- because her husband told her to. How could any self-respecting moderate or liberal woman even consider marrying a jerk like that? (And how could anyone elect a woman to Congress who told that story? Who's making the real decisions in Congress? Michele or Marcus?)

Then there's the whole droit du seigneur mindset that so many conservative men have: conservative Muslims and Mormons believe in multiple wives, and so many conservative men think it's okay for them to have sex with other women, before, during and after marriage, but the woman is chattel, must remain pure, yada yada yada. Real men boff lots of chicks, you know, so when a conservative luminary like Rush Limbaugh was caught at an airport with a prescription for Viagra labeled as being issued to his physician, fellow conservatives winked and nodded and give Rush the thumbs up.

My own personal experience squares with national statistics. By coincidence, both my parents and my wife's parents had six kids; four daughters and two sons each.

The most conservative daughter on my side, the second oldest, has now been divorced three times (her even more conservative ex-husband has been divorced twice now). The second-most conservative son-in-law was married once before marrying my third-oldest sister, who is not as conservative as her older sister and is still married. My brother and oldest sister will likely never marry, and the youngest daughter (the one whom my arch-conservative father disowned for marrying a Hispanic guy from Texas), is still married. My wife and I have been married for 32 years.

On my wife's side, the most conservative brother-in-law is now in a very messy divorce with the youngest and most conservative daughter. This divorce has devolved into a ugly fight over money, most of which is tied up in the family business, the house, and secret investments the husband hid from the wife, and has going on two or three years now. His very conservative family has gone through three or four equally messy divorces, beatings, visits by cops, trips to jail, and so on. These people are very well-off owners of several businesses in multiple states. The rest of my in-laws are all moderate to liberal, and have all been married for 25 to 30 years. My wife's mother died 20-odd years ago, and her father remarried.

Then there are all the obnoxious comments I hear from conservative friends and family members about "the wife" and "the old ball and chain." The whole objectification of women gets old real quick. And I really hate the way my Tea Party dad treats my mom like a servant. He was an old-school conservative (i.e., a closet racist) and now a new-school Tea Partyer, and she's apolitical.

They're still married, but it was very rocky for a couple of years when I was 8 or 9. My mother had joined the Jehovah's Witnesses, and my dad was up in arms about it. She refused to do . . . certain . . . things that the Witnesses claimed were forbidden by the bible. My dad shopped around for various religions and eventually settled on a church a block from his office (which was coincidentally owned by one of my wife's divorcing sister's in-laws). Ultimately he convinced my mom that she had to leave the Witnesses because one of the Witnesses' central tenets was that the wife had to be submissive to the husband. (Have I mentioned that I find religion to be illogical in so many ways?)

And it's not just conservative men who think that women are somehow not equal to men. I have a conservative woman friend who told me in all seriousness that she thought women were too emotional to hold elected office (during a discussion about Sarah Palin).

If you have strong political views, enough to categorize yourself as a liberal or conservative, how can you really not care what your spouse thinks about them? I suppose it's easy to imagine a conservative man saying,"Yeah, she's a stupid liberal bitch, but she's got nice tits and is a great lay. And I can just trade her for a younger model when she starts to sag. Ha ha." And it's easy to imagine a conservative woman saying, "Yeah, he's a real creep, but I just married him for his money, and the prenup expires in two years so I'll just suck it up and then soak him for child support." But it's hard to imagine a liberal man marrying a conservative woman ("Everything is Jesus this and God that, and now that we're engaged it's not like I'm asking to get the milk free forever, but I want to make sure she's not frigid") or a liberal woman marrying a conservative man ("He hates everything I believe and say and do").

So is it really open-minded to think that you can marry someone who has diametrically opposed views on so many practical issues of married life and expect the union to last in the long term? Or is is just foolish and short-sighted?

The idea that opposites attract is a fairy tale. Yeah, sometimes love conquers all. But unless two people have a basic agreement on the important issues in their lives -- kids, sex, money, religion, the role of women -- the marriage isn't going to work in the long run. So, yeah, liberal/conservative marriages will work if there's agreement on the key issues. But that reduces political affiliation to something pretty meaningless, along the lines of "I like pizza."

Conservatives also like to bitch endlessly about the rise in divorce being the fault of no-fault divorce and the economic independence of women (as if somehow forcing two people who hate each other to live together is a good solution).

The divorce rate debate totally misses the reality of history. In times past, when divorce was not easily available, outright desertion was common, as were mutually agreed separations. People were for all practical purposes divorced: they moved out, they fell in love with other people, had sex, moved in with their new loves, and many even had children, all appearing to their new neighbors to be married. In every practical sense they were divorced and remarried. And sometimes they even remarried, committing bigamy. This was usually very hard to catch, because if you moved to another town there was almost no way of finding the records of previous marriages. But recent digitization of court records from London allowed the discovery of an increase of bigamy in late 19th-century England, especially among women.

Why? That was when the modern "liberal" concept of mutual love as the basis of marriage gained primacy, instead of the conservative notion that marriage was merely an economic union with the primary purpose of procreation, often arranged by parents for monetary gain through the exchange of dowries.

The mistake that liberals do make is that mutual love is all that matters in a marriage. Conservatives are right that it is an economic and social union, often for the purpose of procreation. But the days of dowries and arranged marriages are long gone in this country, and mutual love, respect, and a desire that your spouse be happy are just as important.

And, then we get to the personality end of things. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to be demanding, critical, uncompromising, rigid, angry and spiteful. It's all well and good to talk of open-mindedness and tolerance in others, but if you're actually going to marry someone, would you really want to live with someone who displays the emotional maturity of the Tea Party members in Congress who want to throw the government under the debt-ceiling bus?

Not wanting to date conservatives doesn't make liberals intolerant. The willingness to try something that is most likely to fail spectacularly is not a hallmark of tolerance, but of foolhardiness. Liberals, especially women, will naturally be more inclined to marry a man who believes in true love and mutual respect and the right of the women to make her own decisions, rather than a man who thinks any female body will do as long she can get knocked up and do the laundry.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fifth Largest

With all the talk on the debt lately, it seems like our country has a lot of problems. One would think that our debt is worse than other countries if you listen to the pundits. "We're going to become like Greece," is the phrase we hear most often.

Greece is actually second among the bigger economies of the world if you measure debt to GDP standing at 161 percent. We are at 95 percent of our GDP which is actually the fifth largest in the world today. So we have quite a ways to go to "become like Greece" although we might get there if people continue to be ridiculously unapologetic about dodging their taxes here as they do there.

If people really wanted to use scare tactics, they should say we could "become like Japan" which has a debt to GDP of 245 percent. Wow! Given this ridiculously high number, why are they still even functioning as a country? My buddies in the Tea Party have assured me that if we go over 100 percent, our nation will be ruined (never mind the fact that we have been over 100 percent before, have a 15 trillion dollar GDP, and have 65 trillion dollars of wealth in this country).

Given these figures and the fact that these countries, while in bad shape for a variety of reasons, are not ruined, should we completely lose our head about our debt?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Baby, You're A Star! (A Voice Inside My Head Story)

And one more for to make it three for Thursday....

Check out this recent post from Politifact.

Comedian Victoria Jackson, a Saturday Night Live alum and tea party supporter, recently penned a column titled, "The 3 scariest things about Obama." Jackson is a regular WorldNetDaily columnist and is slated to attend the WND Tea Party at Sea cruise of Alaska later this summer.

To quote the piece, the three scary things are "private army (like Hitler), socialist (like Hitler), media control (like Hitler)."

She continues: "A clause hidden in the Obamacare bill, which is now law, gives Obama the right to form a private army. Why isn't anyone freaking out?"

My first reaction was...they have Tea Party at Sea cruises now? I suppose it fits given the demographic.

I think I'll pass on the totally insano comment about private armies in lieu of what really struck me. Apparently, if you are a D lister these days, a surefire way to get back on top is to become a right winger. Dennis Miller....Janine Turner...and now Victoria Jackson. I can't say as I blame them with the built in audience but it really makes me crack up. They don't really stand for anything anymore. They just play the hits. Here is a sample set list:

La-la-la-lamestream media
They's A Comin'!
From My Cold Dead Hands
Barack, The Magic Negro
RINOS In The Rearview
Hopey Changey Stuff (A Medley)
Missing Bush (The Good Years)
Uncertainty (All Obama's fault)

Houston, We Have A Spending Problem
Don't Retreat, Reload (Never Surrender)

I'ts Not _______ When We Do It!

Remember Bradlee Dean? Well, apparently he just filed a 50 million dollar lawsuit against Rachel Maddow for defamation of character.

I don't get it. I thought conservatives were all about TORT Reform and against frivolous lawsuits. Oh well...


Any of those people below him regular readers of mine?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Disgusting Stew

Take a look at this article from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (in order to read it you must give them your email...sorry)

But a crowd of more than 500 -- far larger than the ones most candidates attract on the Iowa campaign circuit -- sat in rapt attention as Bachmann told the story of how she confessed her sins and found Christ as a teenager in Minnesota. She received a standing ovation.

"It was just a wonderful witness," said First Assembly of God church member Mark Linebach, who described himself as spellbound by the telegenic congresswoman. "She is 100 percent comfortable in the setting of a church."

My first thought upon reading this was that I think it's about time we reviewed the tax exempt status of some of these churches. There was nothing religious about this visit at all. It was purely political.

My second thought was complete disbelief at how so many people don't grasp the simple fact of how hauntingly close this is to Muslim extremism.

"Michele wants Iowans to see her faith as a major part of her decisionmaking process," said Steve Deace, a Christian broadcaster who has had her on his radio show in central Iowa. "It's wise of her to do that."

I'm a Christian but I have no problem voting for an atheist for president. My faith in Jesus doesn't extend to civil religion and that is exactly the cancer that has taken over a large part of our culture. Somehow both of them have become mixed up in this disgusting stew that bears no resemblance whatsoever to our democracy nor Christianity.

When I talk about True Believers, these are the people of which I speak. These are the "voices inside my head." There is no doubt in my mind that these people want a fascist culture in which there is no compromise and no room for individual thought and freedom. They may say that they are for less government but that is a complete lie. In fact, the opposite is true. They want everyone marching in lock step in a newly founded theocracy.

What we are seeing with Ms. Bachmann right now could be the start of that. I doubt she will get very far in a national election but the simple fact that she has people following her should give us all pause. We don't want people like her in leadership in this country.

History has shown us it always leads to the same place.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Conservatives Don't Get America

Conservatives like Herman Cain, who wants to prevent mosques from being built in the United States, and the right-wing Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who murdered dozens of people last weekend, are afraid free and open societies like America and Norway will be invaded by Muslims who will institute Sharia law.

Conservatives just don't seem to get how America works and what makes it a great country. As immigrants come here the vast majority quickly comes to appreciate the freedom to live their lives as they choose. Sure, some first-generation sticks in the mud will never change, and there will always be some fruitcakes who want to revert to the Middle Ages.

But over time the children -- and especially the daughters -- of even the most conservative Muslims will become disillusioned with the oppression of women, the crazy dress codes, the hatred, and they'll join the American mainstream. They'll see the lives that the rest of us live and they'll want that too. Unless, of course, we treat them like animals, and make them feel hated and hunted.

Furthermore, all Islamic sects are not the same -- the Sunni and Shia sects are constantly battling it out. But more importantly, Turkish Islam is very different from Saudi Islam. The majority of Turks are Muslims, but the government is secular and Sharia is not the law of the land. American Islam will be more like Turkey's than Pakistan's.

For generations people like Cain have worried about the influence of new minorities. The same sentiments were held against former slaves, Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Poles, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanics and on and on. And religion has always been touchy -- Jews certainly understand this, and as recently as 1960 people seriously questioned whether a Catholic could be president and hold the United States' interests above those of the Vatican.

But over time those minority ethnicities and religions have been stirred into the melting pot of America. Their children have ultimately become full-fledged Americans, learned English and forgotten their parents' native tongues. And at the same time they've brought new things that the rest of us have come to accept as normal: pizza, Kung Pao chicken, sushi, reggae, hip-hop, jazz, and on and on.

The United States is a liberal democracy, something that even conservatives like George Bush and Dick Cheney think is a good thing -- they invaded Iraq to create a liberal democracy in the Middle East. Why? History tells us that conservative regimes are ultimately controlling and repressive. They don't tolerate differences and change, and as they gain more and more power anyone who strays from the prescribed orthodoxy is harshly punished. These escalate into internecine conflicts that cause society to splinter and disintegrate.

Freedom and tolerance of differences are the strengths of our society. Yes, these freedoms pose some risks. There will be a few bad Muslim apples who kill their fellow Americans, just as there have been bad Christian apples like Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph who killed and maimed hundreds of their fellow citizens.

But conservatives should understand and accept those risks. They're the ones who believe everyone should own a gun, and if a few innocent bystanders get killed when someone is exercising their second amendment rights, well that's the price of freedom.

Why does Herman Cain put more stock in the second amendment than the first? The first amendment says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.*
Herman Cain wants to prevent Muslims from peaceably assembling for the purposes of religious worship. Does Cain have so little faith in the strength of our way of life and our Constitution that he has to trash it in order to protect it? Does he really believe that there could ever be enough Muslims in this country to totally overwhelm the rest of us, enough to amend the Constitution and establish Sharia law, or to overthrow our government by force of arms? Or is he just parroting Republican talking points to cynically exploit the fear people feel after 20 years of terrorism at the hands of Al Qaeda?

Anders Breivik's fears over immigration and multiculturalism are almost understandable. He comes from an ethnically homogeneous country where for centuries almost everyone belonged to the same church. There's no history of immigration and the melting pot in Norway. But Herman Cain should know better than this, being a black man whose ancestors may well have been enslaved by his fellow men.

Yet Cain is tuned to the same crazy radio station that broadcasts intolerance and hate that Breivik is. The difference is that Cain has the volume turned up half way, whereas Breivik has it all the way up to 11.

*And weaseling out of the first amendment by saying it's okay for the states to deny those rights is wrong on legal, practical, moral and ethical reasons, and is the height of hypocrisy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Take a look at his chart.

The right is constantly telling us that higher taxes means job killers. But the United States has lower taxes (as a percentage of GDP) than many other countries as we can clearly see here and many of them have lower unemployment rates. Denmark, for example, has close to 50 percent taxes to GDP and yet unemployment stands at 6 percent. From the Heritage Foundation:

With its economy open to global trade and investment, Denmark is among the world leaders in business freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom, property rights, and freedom from corruption. The overall regulatory and legal environment, transparent and efficient, encourages entrepreneurial activity. Banking is guided by sensible regulations and prudent lending practices. Monetary stability is well maintained, with inflationary pressures under control.

Even with all of those taxes? Wow, that doesn't really fit the fictional narrative at all, does it? In fact, it ranks one spot higher than the US on the Economic Freedom matrix set up by the Heritage Foundation.

Let's take a look at Sweden. Sweden has slightly lower taxes (47 percent of GDP) yet has 8 percent unemployment). According to the Heritage Foundation, Sweden also has an "efficient regulatory framework strongly facilitates entrepreneurial activity, allowing business formation and operation in Sweden to be dynamic and innovative" earning it a score of 95 percent in regards to business freedom. Sweden has all of this despite higher taxes.

Higher taxes do not necessarily mean job killers. This is a lie that really needs to put in the fucking ground. It's sole purpose is meant to bamboozle frightened people out of their vote. I have no problem giving on the spending side of the equation. It's time for you folks on the right to give on the revenue side so we can adequately address our debt issues.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It Ain't Trickling...

I was sitting around with a friend recently and the topic of trickle-down economics came up. He said he's conservative, but agreed generally that the policy hadn't made any real effect on employment. Many corporations are experiencing huge profits, but aren't hiring. But, he said, it might be working a little.

He told me about a machinist friend who had been laid off. The guy has had an interest in flying model planes. That landed him a job with a local millionaire who has a hobby of racing full-sized planes. This millionaire has a crew of 10 guys who build and maintain the equipment. It's a dream job for the machinist, and some day they might turn this rich guy's multi-million dollar hobby into a business (supplying other rich guys with plane parts, I suppose).

I don't know how the rich guy makes his money or any of the details of how he does his racing. The details don't really matter because anyone who's rich can set his life up the way I'm describing. But let's say he's set up the racing gig as a business because he can win prize money and has "business expenses." Since he has so much time to race planes, it's obvious he isn't working any more. So let's say he's a typical trust-fund baby, who inherited his wealth from daddy, or he's a retired CEO who still got loads of stock options when he was fired for driving the company into the ground.

Since he's able to race planes, he obviously has millions of dollars a year in disposable income, all of it coming from long-term investments in the stock market and qualified dividends. Let's say he also has some investments in tax-free municipal bonds (diversity is good).

He hires a personal broker to do all the work of investing his money (which he can write off), and all this income is taxed at the 15% long-term capital gains tax rate, and is not subject to payroll taxes.

Now let's say this rich guy also has a second home in Florida. Both multi-million dollar houses are mortgaged. He spends most of his time flying around the country in his plane to races ("on business"), and claims citizenship in Florida because it has no income taxes. He incorporated his "business" in a third state that has the lowest possible corporate tax rate. Or if he's really daring, he'll incorporate in another country and further reduce American taxes.

His total tax liability will be that 15% tax rate on his "investment" income, plus whatever "income" he earns as prize money in the races, minus the "business expenditures" in the salaries of the guys he hires to work on his planes. Likely he'll be running at break-even or a loss every year (this is just a hobby, after all), so he'll basically pay no taxes on any winnings. He may even be able to reduce his tax liabilities further if he really tries to max out his racing expenses, but he'll have to be careful to avoid doing so in too many years out of five, otherwise he'll get audited. He'll also pay property taxes on his homes, but that'll be reduced by the interest deduction he gets on both mortgages.

Now to the machinist who he hired. Let's say he's a regular guy making $50K, living in an apartment (he lost his house in the bubble), and will pay federal taxes at a rate somewhere around 18-20%. He pays payroll taxes at 4.2% this year (down temporarily from 6.2%). He lives in Minnesota so he pays state taxes at 7%. He gets no mortgage interest deduction because he's living in an apartment.

We'll ignore the sales tax the two guys pay, even though the machinist will be paying a much higher percentage of his income as sales tax.

The rich guy putts around in a plane all day for the hell of it, while the machinist works his butt off so the rich guy can putt around. Guess who pays the bigger percentage of his income in taxes? The 15% the rich guy pays is half the rate of the 30% the machinist pays. Warren Buffett made this same sort of comparison between himself and his secretary several years ago. And it's still just as outrageous today.

The justification for low long-term capital gains tax rates is to encourage entrepreneurs to invest in new job-creating enterprises. But we're not seeing that. The rich are buying planes and yachts and racking up big bills at Tiffany's. They're not investing in new business opportunities here in the States, as unemployment has been stuck at basically the same rate for years now. Renewing the Bush tax cuts last year removed the "doubt" that conservatives claimed had been holding back business investment, but they haven't start hiring en masse. Now the story is that the debt is causing "doubt," but the truth is that as long as there are countries that have a lower standard of living than the United States, our businesses are going to continue to expand their workforces overseas instead of at home -- as long as our tax policies encourage them to do so.

Conservatives love to talk about how lazy and worthless people on welfare are. But, honestly, how can you defend taxing the wealthiest people -- who can literally sit around all day and do absolutely nothing -- at half the rate that people who have to sweat and bleed for every penny?

The logical conclusion of Bush-era tax policies will ultimately be a new idle rich class, similar to the nobility of old, where the children of the wealthy never work a day in their lives, and CEOs live like kings even after making colossal blunders that cost thousands of people their livelihoods.

The low capital gains tax rate is the most immoral thing about our tax system. It devalues honest work and promotes lazy money-grubbing.

The Bush tax cuts are now scheduled to expire in 2013. At that point the "qualified" dividend tax rate will return to the regular income tax rate, and the capital gains rate will go to up 20%. I can only hope that the fight over the deficit brings some sense into the Republicans in the House, and we get rid of the special treatment the wealthy are receiving sooner rather than later.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Massacre In Norway

The recent massacre in Norway should be a wake up call to the rest of the world. As Nikto and I have been saying for quite some time, the people that commit these despicable acts these days are generally conservative. Christian...Islamic...Atheist...doesn't matter...conservative.

Anders Behring Brevik, one of the suspects they have in custody, belongs to a right wing extremist group and is a fierce nationalist. He has written posts on the web that are critical of Islam, lists his religion as Christian and his politics as conservative. He also enjoys playing "World of Warcraft" and the book "1984" by George Orwell. Combine all of these things together and you pretty much have your garden variety right wing blogger.

An important difference to take note of, however, between right wing extremists around the world and in this country is perhaps the naivete of a country like Norway. Gun ownership is allowed in Norway and Mr. Brevik apparently registered his Glock under one of the extremist group names. Something like that would raise red flags in our country. Why it wasn't there demonstrates a lack of understanding of what these people are capable of which is odd considering the problems they have had in the past with such groups. I'm also at a loss as to why, if gun ownership is allowed, people didn't have any on the island. The shooting spree could have been halted a lot sooner.

I have to say, though, that I think it is doubtful that this sort of ideologically obvious attack would happen here in the current political climate. It has become very apparent that our right wing groups are kept pretty much in line by their masters and our government, specifically the DHS. The leaders of the conservative movement in this country (Kochs, Norquist etc) know that they would very quickly lose power and leverage if any sort of violent act was tied to their ideology. Essentially, they'd be done. And the Department of Homeland Security keeps fairly good tabs on what these groups are up to and it all seems very low level these days largely due to the aforementioned reasons.

I guess I'm hoping that countries in Europe get the message after this horrific nightmare and being to take steps to keep people like this in check. Their rose colored glasses need to be tossed in the garbage.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Porn a Good Thing?

The long-running joke about the Internet is that it was developed as a porn-delivery system. Conservatives have been fretting about this furiously. But it turns out that porn may actually be a good thing.

“Rates of rapes and sexual assault in the U.S. are at their lowest levels since the 1960s,” says Christopher J. Ferguson, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University. The same goes for other countries: as access to pornography grew in once restrictive Japan, China and Denmark in the past 40 years, rape statistics plummeted. Within the U.S., the states with the least Internet access between 1980 and 2000—and therefore the least access to Internet pornography—experienced a 53 percent increase in rape incidence, whereas the states with the most access experienced a 27 percent drop in the number of reported rapes, according to a paper published in 2006 by Anthony D’Amato, a law professor at Northwestern University.
Jon Stewart was right!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

From A Giggle To A Chuckle To A Deep Belly Laugh

Imagine my delight when I cracked open my paper this morning and saw this headline.

Radio host gets charged in Ponzi scheme

Conservative radio show host Pat Kiley claims he was just reading from a script when he told his worldwide radio audience in weekly broadcasts that he was a senior financial adviser and they could avoid financial Armageddon by entrusting him and his business partners with their money.

Don't give your money to the evil Gubmint. Give it to us!!

But federal authorities say he did much more than that. In an indictment unsealed Wednesday, Kiley was portrayed as an integral figure in the $194 million Trevor Cook Ponzi scheme that defrauded more than 700 investors.

Kiley's program, "Follow the Money," was carried on more than 200 stations nationwide, including KSTP Radio (1500 AM), and on the Worldwide Christian Radio network. He called his listeners "truth seekers" and drew them in, rich and poor alike, with promises of financial security, just as the bottom began to drop away from the stock market.

Oh no. Say it ain't so. Of course, this is even the best part of this story.

In court, Kiley told U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Keyes that he had "probably $9 to $10" in the bank, $11 in cash and an as-yet uncashed Social Security check, "which I live off of."

I thought it was Social Security that was the Ponzi Scheme. Now he says that he's living off of it? Pardon me for just a moment...


Maybe the "Gubmint" does know how to handle money better than the private sector. They always come crawling back to it, don't they?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Would Reagan Do?

A fine example of how the image of Reagan and the reality of Reagan are in direct conflict. If Reagan were president now and asking for the same things that President Obama is asking for regarding our finances, it would be alright because he is REAGAN!! But since it is Obama, it must be bad.

Sad, but not surprising. Like they do with Jesus Christ, the right makes up whatever fiction they want to create in order to further their (dangerous) beliefs.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Deal?

It looks like we might be moving closer to a deal regarding the debt ceiling, the debt, spending cuts, and taxes. President Obama and several senators on both sides of the aisle are embracing the "Gang of Six" plan which is considered the grand bargain that the president was looking for for the last few weeks.

The question is how the House will respond. Not well is my guess. Hence, the symbolic vote of a balanced budget vote this week. Much of this is nauseating political theater but it's going to be interesting to see if the GOP can pass up an opportunity like this one. This plan limits the growth of Medicare and Social Security which is vital to reducing the debt we currently hold.

The right has been squawking about this for decades. Will they break their purity pledge on taxes to fulfill their life long dream? Hmmm...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cancer in Murdoch's Empire Metastasizing

Now we've learn that Murdoch has been paying off people to keep quiet about his illegal and monopolistic activities on this side of the pond as well. Hundreds of millions of dollars of hush money and his control over much of the news media have kept these stories out of the public eye for years.

According to a New York Times article, in 2009 a Murdoch subsidiary, News America Marketing, was involved with computer hacking against a competitor, as well as monopolistic activity. The company is involved in newspaper advertising inserts. After this and other legal entanglements, NAM wound up paying more than half a billion dollars in legal judgments and pay-offs to other companies to drop their lawsuits.

The CEO of NAM, Paul V. Carlucci, reportedly required his employees to watch a scene from The Untouchables in which Al Capone beats a man to death with a baseball bat. This, apparently, best illustrated his business philosophy.

One would assume that a guy like that would be tossed out after costing the company so much money. But no. Carlucci became publisher of The New York Post, and continues to lead News America.

(Why do so many conservatives like Jack Abramoff and Carlucci like to pretend to be gangsters?)

Then there are the two Scotland Yard officials who resigned over the weekend because of their involvement with Murdoch's companies and their attempts to influence the investigations of their crimes. Apparently there has been a long history of coverups with Murdoch.

We can only hope that, as it was with Watergate, the coverup will get the guys at the top even if the actual crimes they incited didn't.

Years back it used to be illegal for one organization to own newspapers and TV stations in the same town. And there was a limit on the number of media outlets one company could own. But Murdoch has successfully lobbied to remove these restrictions so he could build his media empire. It still is illegal for foreigners to own American TV stations, which is why Murdoch became an American citizen. Not because he believed in the American way, but because he wants to buy our country out from under us.

Notice how the roll-back of regulations on media ownership have benefited the right-wing's biggest booster and the official propaganda arm of the Republican Party, Fox News (official because Dick Cheney required only Fox News to be shown in his presence)?

Conservatives are always worried about too much power being concentrated in the hands of the government. Why aren't they concerned about too much power in the hands of guys like Rupert Murdoch, who is an American by convenience only?

At least with government we can vote for the guys, and effect real change. (Remember the 2008 and 2010 elections? It puts the lie to the idea that it doesn't matter who you vote for. Your vote really does count.) With international corporate monopolies like News Corp, Sony, Merck, Exxon, BP, etc., the only control we have over them is what government can do through regulation and taxation.

And conservatives are doing everything they can do to eliminate what few remaining regulations and taxes there are that restrain people like Rupert Murdoch.

We need to put stop the growth of international media conglomerates like News Corp and Comcast/NBC/Universal. These monopolies are corrupting our police, our laws and even our mindset -- reality TV as pushed by Murdoch and his ilk is a blight on the soul of humanity. They need to be broken up before they do irreparable damage to this country and the world.


Sean Hoare, the man who blew the whistle on the Murdoch phone hacking scandal, has been found dead. Police say that there was nothing suspicious about the death.

Are these the same police who are resigning in the wake of this scandal? Holy crap does this thing keep getting more fucked up...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Are These Numbers Accurate?

Take a look at these numbers.

2001 – $5.871 trillion in debt
2008 – $10.640 trillion in debt

Jan 31st 2009 = $10.569 trillion in debt
Jan 31st 2011 = $14.131 tr­­illion in debt

But of the $3.56-tril­­lion increase, 98% was carry over from Bush programs:

Bush: $910-billi­­on = Interest on Debt 2009/2011
Bush: $360-billi­­on = Iraq War Spending 2009/2011
Bush: $319-billi­­on = TARP/Bailo­­ut Balance from 2008 (as of May 2010)
Bush: $419-billi­­on = Bush Recession Caused Drop in taxes
Bush: $190-billi­­on = Bush Medicare Drug Program 2009/2011
Bush: $211-billi­­on = Bush Meicare Part-D 2009/2011
Bush: $771-billi­­on = Bush Tax Cuts 2009/2011

So that means...

Bush’s contributi­­on:

2001 to 2008: $4.769-tri­­llion
2009 to 2010: $3.181-tri­­llion

Total: $7.950-tri­­llion

Increase Since 2001 = $14.131 – $5.871 = $8.26-tril­­lion

Bush’s contributi­­on: $7.950-tri­­llion / $8.26-tril­­lion = 96%

Increase caused By Bush’s Programs: 96%
Increase caused by Obama’s Programs: 4%

My simple question is...are these numbers accurate? And, if so, why is Obama's spending portrayed as much worse when the numbers show quite clearly that it has not been worse.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Watch It Unravel

The finest example of the corporate force I've been talking about for the last year or so is unraveling before our eyes in the form of the News Corps scandal. Most of us who weren't willfully ignorant knew that Murdoch and his people were up to shit like this and now we have the proof. I take several things away from all of this.

First, here is a shining example of a private organization fucking people over by attacking their liberty. If you still don't understand what I am talking about, go have your head examined.

Second, the implications for this in the 2012 election could be staggering. As most of you probably know, News Corp owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal-two organizations that are not friendly to President Obama. Even if the scandal stops here, this will weaken them.


Third, the initial reaction by Mr. Murdoch struck me as very typical of the adolescent power fantasists on the right. They actually think that only certain laws matter. This is especially true if they have a lot of money as Mr. Murdoch does.

Finally, pay attention to the FBI investigation for a couple of reasons. I'm sure we are going to see the right wing blogsphere explode soon with cries of derision for Eric Holder and jack booted thugs. I can't think of anything more anti American than hacking into the cel phones of 9-11 victims and their families. It will be interesting to see how the true believers spin this hypocrisy.

I'm not sure where this will all go but I think that those of you who are corporate apologists need to do some serious reflection.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Republican Messiahs

Listening to the debate in Congress and in the states, it has become clear that the Republicans have developed a messianic complex.

Democrats, in general, seem to believe that they were elected to do the job of making the country or state run smoothly and efficiently. During the campaign they tell us the way they think things should work. Once they get to the capitol they do what they can to make things work that way, but when push comes to shove it's more important to have the country continue to function than to get their way.

But that's okay, because a broad swath of progressives, moderates and independents voted for Obama and the Democrats in the 2008 election. It was obvious that all the people who voted for them didn't expect or want Obama and the Democrats to carry through on every single promise they made during the election. They sent Democrats to Washington to clean up the messes that Bush and the Republicans had made of the economy, the wars in the Middle East, international relations, and so on.

On the other hand, Republicans and especially Tea Partyers like Michele Bachmann seem to go to Washington with the delusion that they're doing the bidding of the people who voted for them if they ram through every crazy notion that ever spilled from their lips.

Bachmann is perfectly willing to let the US government default and lose our AAA bond rating. Or she pretends that nothing bad would happen, and all we really need to do is pay off creditors like the Chinese government, Wall Street, and wealthy individuals who bought treasury bonds, and stiff FAA flight controllers, USDA inspectors, and Social Security recipients.

Republicans won the House in 2010 not because the American people wanted the things the Tea Party was promising. They won because the people who voted for Obama in 2008 stayed home, and many independents were angry about the poor state of the economy (caused by Bush's errors) and the bailout (engineered by Bush) and bought into the rhetoric of the Tea Party. There were a lot of protest votes.

In 2000 Bush lost the popular vote 47.87% to 48.38% (winning 271-266 electoral votes). In 2004 Bush won by 50.74% to 48.27% (winning 286-251 electoral votes). In 2008 Obama beat McCain 52.92% to 45.66% (winning 365-173 electoral votes).

Clearly Obama and the Democrats had a much wider margin of victory in 2008 than Bush and the Republicans did in the 2000 and 2004 elections. For the first eight years of the century Republicans pretended that they were granted a huge mandate and were entitled to do absolutely anything they felt like. In 2006 and 2008 they were trounced by Democrats, who received an obviously much larger mandate.

But if the Republican House victories in 2010 indicated that the American people wanted massive budget cuts and no change in the debt ceiling, why didn't the Democrats' much larger victories in 2008 indicate that Americans wanted single-payer health care? Why are marginal Republican victories always mandates, and solid Democratic victories aberrations?

This country was founded on the basis of compromise, coming together for the common good of the people. The founding fathers didn't all speak in one voice, and they made serious compromises to make sure this country got started in the first place. Compromises like allowing slavery -- which had essentially been outlawed in England since 1701.

Obama has been running the country from the middle. He gave up on single-payer health care and instead accepted a plan like Romney's in Massachusetts, a plan that Bob Dole -- who deep-sixed Clinton's health care initiative -- supported. He accepted Republican insistence on extending Bush-era tax cuts. And on and on. Attempts to portray him as radical and liberal are simply lies. He's right down the middle of the road on just about everything -- much to the annoyance of many Democrats.

And that's not a ploy to get reelected. That's how all politicians should operate: work together to get the job done and the best deal for the greatest number of people.

Americans in general are disgusted by politics. They hate it when politicians promise something and don't deliver. But they hate it more when politicians can't even do their basic job and keep the country or state functioning properly.

Republicans elected to Congress are not messiahs anointed by god to enforce Grover Norquist's will on the country by throwing us down the rathole of default. They were hired by the American people to keep the country running smoothly.

They need to get on with it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Times They Are A Changin'

I've been coaching tennis this summer with a very diverse group of instructors. Most of them are much younger than me and are in college or just starting. A few were my tennis students long ago and have since grown up and are now teaching with me after having played high school varsity tennis.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have attended several of their grad parties. At one of these parties, in honor of my friend Ben, something crystalized for me that I had been thinking about for awhile. Ben is Chinese and has several Chinese friends who were all at the party. Two of his closest friends are Penny (also Chinese) and Sam (from India). Ben, Penny, and Sam are all tennis instructors with me this summer. Sam and I were chatting as we watched Ben and some of his friends play Foosball.

"I've never seen so many Asians standing around a Foosball table before," Sam remarked. They all laughed and I turned to look at him.

"You're Asian," I stated
"Well, I guess so...South Asian," he replied.

Later at the party, Penny told me about this web site and showed it to me on her iPhone.

High Expectations Asian Father

Her friends (also all Chinese) chimed in and said it was exactly what their fathers were like as well. I began to notice at subsequent social gatherings and during tennis lessons how Ben, Penny, and Sam were all very relaxed about race. In fact, they weren't simply relaxed...they were decidedly not PC at all. I've noticed this in school as well. Towards the end of the year, I overheard the following conversation.

"Hey, Marcus, I can hear you all the way around the corner," Tim (a white student) said, "it must be because you are black."
"Black people are loud," Marcus replied, "It's because of all that friend chicken and watermelon."

We hear stuff like this all the time and it's mostly done just to get a rise out of the staff. But after a conversation with Ben, Penny, and Sam, I think it's more than that.

"We just don't care," Sam said. "We're more open about this stuff. People are what they are."
"I actually don't like being Asian," Ben remarked, "In most photos, I look too Asian."
"I hate what Chinese culture did to my dad," Penny added, "He's an absolute asshole."

I'm sure part of this is your typical teenage apathy but I have to say I was shocked at some of what they were saying and, after some reflection, it was a pleasant surprise. Racism ends when no one cares anymore about epithets. Certainly when there is actionable hate behind them, we still have problems.

Like the gay issue, young people today are shaping a very different view of race. It's not framed in the classic PC vs. Bigot debate. It's completely different. New rules are being written every day and many people across the entire spectrum of debate on race are going to be metaphorically hit in the head with a shovel.

I don't think they are going to be able to handle it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Not Good

I have to say I disagree with the recent federal court ruling that struck down Michigan's affirmative action ban. Affirmative action was necessary in the past but honestly is no longer needed. Back when it was a good idea, the power of the state to enforce biased hiring practices was suspect. This is no longer the case.

If you sit and really think about it, having a ban on hiring practices based on race actually works to the favor of those who want more diversity. If a company decides to not hire someone because they are black, for example, the state can get up their ass with a tweezers for discrimination. In other words, you can't refuse to hire someone because they are black as well as hire them because they are black.

Supporters of affirmative action argue that it gives people of diversity more opportunities. I say that it's another way of avoiding the real problem which is our education system and, more importantly, our culture in general. We do indeed live in a society of entitlement largely pushed by the mass media as well as the symbolic interaction of our daily lives. Having affirmative action makes this worse and gives the true believers another reason to hate the government. We need less of those reasons.

Currently, California, Washington, Nebraska and Arizona have banned affirmative action. I think California's wording should be a model for how to move forward on this issue.

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

Now that's civil rights!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

High Taxes?

Take a look at this chart.

Oh...really? I thought that US Corporations where woefully overtaxed compared to other nations.

Here's a nice breakdown of the table if you are interested.

And to think I actually believed some of the lies about corporate taxes. I was even willing to give the captains of industry the benefit of the doubt. Fool me once...

Monday, July 11, 2011

What Do You Want Him To Do...Pull Your Car Around For You?

A few days ago, President Obama called on Congress for a much bolder plan to reduce the deficit. He asked for double the amount of reduction ($4 trillion dollars) that is currently being discussed. This was in line with the Bowles-Simpson plan from last December. The GOP response?


They only want $2 trillion in reduction.

I'm trying very hard to find the logic in what they are doing but I can't. In all honesty, I feel for John Boehner He's a good guy but he simply doesn't have the votes because his party has been hijacked by true believers. Like the socialists who believe in their utopia, the Tea Partiers have their own unicorn fart land and they are not budging from attempting to realize their warped dream. The word "compromise" isn't in their fucking vocabulary. Part of me thinks they would love it if the government defaulted on its loans so then it could be destroyed and everything could then be privatized. They may yet get to realize their dream.

Rick Ungar breaks this down quite nicely over at Forbes.

What Boehner likely understands – better than those who he is supposed to be leading – is that the GOP is permitting the fundamental change, long at the heart of the conservative cause, to vanish into thin air and that it is happening in the name of protecting corporate subsidies that are the very antitheses of a free market economy – another of the inviolate tenets of conservative policy.

I've been saying that for the last couple of weeks. At least Ungar has an explanation to my confusion.

I don’t know about you, but I can only think of one other explanation – fealty to the wealthy corporations and wealthy individuals who keep your Republican leadership rolling in the campaign cash so they can remain in their powerful jobs.

I fear we are witnessing one of the most perverse and dangerous games our leaders have ever embarked upon. I’m stunned by the sheer audacity of these elected officials so ready to play chicken with the financial lives of so many simply to benefit a very few.

And yet people keep supporting them. As Maher said the other day, I get the 1 percent that support the GOP. What I don't get is the other 99 percent. No doubt, this is one the greatest achievements in propaganda in the history of the world. A very small (and wealthy) group of people have convinced a very large group of people that anyone who makes up the the entire left half of the political spectrum (as well as the 25 percent to the right of center because, let's face it, they're RINO pussies) are actively working to destroy our country when in reality the complete opposite is true.

The GOP has a chance here at very serious entitlement reform but they are letting in slip through their fingers. Even Krugman admits that Obama is out GOPing the GOP. So far the markets are acting like the debt ceiling will be raised and there will be a deal. I guess I'm not so sure.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Uncertainty Unhinged

Oh, I'm sorry, did I say rich? I meant "job creators." Yes. That's actually a prevailing theory on the right...that Obama's rhetoric towards Wall Street has been so hostile that is has created an uncertainty in the business community because he called them fatcats once and they're still suffering from some sort of jobs creating he burst into the bathroom while they were trying to pee and now they can't go at all.

When did the business community become so sensitive that we have treat them like some rare and exotic animal? Don't startle them or they'll fly away! We need to sooth them so they can nest here and lay their magic eggs full of jobs.

And that's the end of all this uncertainty bullshit. Thanks again, Bill!

Saturday, July 09, 2011


Listen to this quote from Marcus Bachmann, husband of GOP presidential hopeful, Michele Bachmann.

I'll leave the jokes about how Marcus Bachmann is so clearly gay to the stand up comics.

Of course, my first reaction to this was to question whether or not this was a voice inside my head:) After I realized (like so many other voices) that it was, in fact, real, I thought about something that Ms. Bachmann said a while back. In a speech to congregants of the the Living Word Christian Center in 2006, she stated that she pursued her degree in tax law only because her husband had told her to. “The Lord says: Be submissive, wives. You are to be submissive to your husbands,” she said.

So, does that mean that if she is elected she will start homosexual re-education camps for the barbarians?

More importantly, if she is submissive to her husband, won't that mean that he is the actual president? And an unelected one at that!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Bachmann's Oath

To become a candidate for president in the Republican Party, you are expected to take half a dozen oaths to assuage the doubts of fanatical special interest groups. These range from Grover Norquist's extortionary pledge to not raise taxes, to the anti-abortion pledge Rick Santorum is exercised over, to Michele Bachmann's recent marriage pledge.

Bachmann is taking heat for taking the pledge because it implies that blacks were better off as slaves:
“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President.”
This ignores the fact that slaves were often forbidden to marry, were told who to breed with, and were often used as sex toys by their masters. Slave families were split up and children sold like calves. The pledge is full of other nonsense that has no bearing on anything, such as married couples having better sex and "robust ... childbearing is beneficial to ... security." Yes, we can screw ourselves silly to foil the terrorists!

All these pledges serve only to prevent our legislators from properly carrying out their official duties by a form of blackmail.

The only pledge members of Congress should make is the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution that they take when they assume their office. Any other oaths are a conflict of interest that places their true loyalties in question.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Murdoch's Empire Crumbling?

The phone hacking scandal in England took an abrupt turn when Rupert Murdoch's son announced that the News of the World is being shut down. The British tabloid has been accused of hacking the voice mail accounts of numerous people, from royals (reporter Clive Goodman and PI Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for this crime), to kidnapped children, to victims of the Underground bombing of 2005, to family members of soldiers who died in Afghanistan. There are also allegations that police were bribed in the affair and that the paper interfered with a murder investigation involving employees of the paper, a matter which the police chose not to prosecute because of their fear of the paper's power.

What's surprising is that Murdoch decided to shutter the entire paper, rather than sack the individuals who actually committed the crimes. This seems to be a move to offer a sacrificial goat in order to get what he really wants: the British pay television company British Sky Broadcasting. He's trying to buy the broadcaster, but is meeting opposition from those who think Murdoch has too much power in the media.

These crimes have been swirling around for years now. Earlier this year Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's press secretary, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, resigned from that position earlier this year because of questions raised again this past January (he resigned from the paper in 2007). According to The Guardian, Coulson will be arrested tomorrow.

What does this British scandal have to do with the price of coffee in America? It shows a blatant disregard of the law and ethics in the management of News of the World, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox Broadcasting, Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, etc. These practices have been going on for 10 years, and it's inconceivable that Murdoch knew nothing.

Politicians in Britain walked in fear of News of the World, and even Conservative PMs are rejoicing in its demise. In Fox News Murdoch has successfully created a media outlet in which truth is subservient to political machinations; those who watch Fox are the least well-informed news consumers. With The Wall Street Journal, Murdoch is able to shape and perhaps control the financial markets. With News of the World he has demonstrated he knows no shame, has no ethics and has outright contempt for the law.

Which brings us to the age-old question that must be asked of all men at the top of corrupt enterprises: what did Murdoch know about this scandal, and when did he stop knowing it?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Brooks Hits A Grand Slam

Well, David Brooks has done it again. His latest column works as a nice book end with the Cohen piece from two days ago.

That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

No shit. But why?

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name.

Well, the name of their theory should be called the "You're Wrong and Stupid" theory as that is largely the only concept in which they are capable of working. That and rich corporations are Jesus.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.

Yep. Every climate change scientist is an apocalyptic nut. Any person who is smart and a liberal is a condescending and arrogant elitist trying to force his opinion on the poor, sweet and innocent conservative whose ignorance is purely imagined by the fascist progressive. Please ignore the profoundly ignorant things conservatives say as they are really the fault of Katie Couric.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms.

Either with us or agin' us! Liberals/Progressives=all bad and Hitler.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency.

Well, their ideology dictates that fucking people over is enlightened self interest.

The good news is that Americans (based on several polls) want taxes raised, want to end subsidies (which distort the market just as much as taxes), and will undoubtedly now blame the right for any problems that result from a possible government shut down.

In other words, a very massive turn out at the polls next November. So please, do continue...:)

The Wisdom of Youth (Part The Second)

I informed Michael, my tennis student today, that most of you don't believe that he exists. His response?

"Well, isn't that just trying to prove you wrong...just like I said?"

We can learn much from the youth today.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Cult or Gang? You decide!

Not long ago I urged Markadelphia to swear off accusing conservatives of belonging to a cult. I said the cult meme wasn't really very accurate, the Republican weren't all that monolothic and dogmatic, they actually were more tribal or clannish, and so on. Imagine my chagrin when Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote an opinion piece reiterating Mark's thesis.

I still don't go along with the cult idea. The Republican Party likes to think of themselves as a band of revolutionary firebrands or guardians of an ancient and noble trust. But they're more like a criminal gang that sees its influence slowly leaking away as new people move into the neighborhood.

They've still got a mean streak a mile wide, and aren't afraid to bust a lot of heads to get what they want. They don't mind smashing up the store fronts of our economy to keep the protection money flowing to the oil company capos. And they're perfectly willing to kidnap the opposition's debt ceiling and hold it hostage, even if it'll bring the whole neighborhood down around their ears when the mob from Beijing comes to collect their cut.

Monday, July 04, 2011

A Fourth of July Voice Inside My Head

I find it highly amusing the deep need that some have for me to comment again on Kevin Baker's site. A couple of them email me every new post that he puts up. Odd, considering each one essentially torpedoes the "voices in my head" bit.

Take this latest one, for example.

First of all, huh? I've never heard of this. I love the 4th of July and celebrate just like everyone else. And what a fine example of adolescent behavior we have here as well. So much for claiming to be "adults."

No, stupid fucking liberals, I fucking will not shrink from embracing the beauty and freedom encased in our Celebration of Independence.

Wow. Nice 8 year old boy with a temper tantrum drawing at the end as well, "voice" in my head.

Happy 4th everyone!

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The July Invasion

It's summer and it's hot: the perfect time to go to an air-conditioned movie theater and chill out for a couple of hours. Later this month Cowboys and Aliens, with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig, will hit the theaters. From the trailer it looks like a typical alien invasion flick, with plenty of explosions, along the lines of Independence Day, or TV shows like Falling Skies and V.

Last year Stephen Hawking raised some eyebrows when he said that humans should avoid drawing attention to ourselves, because interaction with aliens would turn out poorly for us. Others, like skeptic Michael Shermer, pooh-poohed the idea that aliens are dangerous. Shermer says evil aliens are a "myth" and we have nothing to worry about.

So, how likely is it that there are planets like Earth, and that there are intelligent aliens living there, that those aliens can travel between stars, and that aliens will come here?

These days astronomers are finding Earth-sized planets at an amazing clip. Since its launch in 2009 the Kepler telescope has identified almost a hundred earth-sized planets, hundreds of super Earths (rocky planets bigger than earth), and many hundreds of gas giants like Neptune and Jupiter.

Kepler orbits the sun in the same orbit as Earth, trailing millions of miles behind us. The telescope is pointed at a small patch of sky in the area of the constellations Cygnus, Lyra and Draco. Kepler detects planets when they "transit" their stars. That is, when the planet comes between its parent star and Kepler. A planet transiting its star reduces the star's observed brightness ever so slightly. The amount of light blocked roughly indicates the size of the planet. Results are often verified by examining the tiny wobble that the planets cause in the star's position, to give an estimate of the planet's mass. (Stars actually orbit their planets too, but the amount of motion is relatively small.)

For Kepler to detect the planet, it has to be in a very particular orbit around its star: it must be orbiting its star in the same plane in the direction of us and Kepler. The odds of that happening are, uh, astronomically small. Which means that if we're detecting hundreds of planets by their transits around the hundred thousand or so stars we're observing, there are probably many, many thousands more that we can't see because their orbits are in a different plane.

So now we know there are almost certainly billions of planets out there, and that planets similar in size to Earth are probably very common. What we don't know is how many of them have atmospheres like ours, and how many have life, and how many have intelligent life. Astronomers like Frank Drake have tried to calculate this, with his famous Drake Equation. The honest truth, though, is that we have no way of knowing what values to assign to the terms of that equation.

So, is Hawking justified in fearing that aliens would be dangerous? His basic thesis:
“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.”
Shermer represents the other view:
I am skeptical. Although we can only represent the subject of an N of 1 trial, and our species does have an unenviable track record of first contact between civilizations, the data trends for the past half millennium are encouraging: colonialism is dead, slavery is dying, the percentage of populations that perish in wars has decreased, crime and violence are down, civil liberties are up, and, as we are witnessing in Egypt and other Arab countries, the desire for representative democracies is spreading, along with education, science and technology. These trends have made our civilization more inclusive and less exploitative. If we extrapolate that 500-year trend out for 5,000 or 500,000 years, we get a sense of what an ETI might be like.
Shermer is being naive. Even if we posit that galactic civilizations advance socially and morally, not every group or individual will be so enlightened. We have plenty of examples today of dictators who murder their own people, oil companies that turn countries like Nigeria into a swamp of toxic oil residues, and criminals who traffic in sex slaves -- even in our own country.

Any galactic civilization capable of interstellar travel would have the technological wherewithal to give small gangs of thugs or even one individual the capacity to drive our entire civilization into the stone age. Given a base on the moon, we could do this ourselves. With lunar mass drivers (electromagnetic catapults) we could bombard terrestrial cities with rocks that would strike with the force of an atomic bomb (as described in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

And even if an alien civilization is truly benign, the discovery of its existence could have a very destructive effect on the fragile psyche of humanity. If we detected an alien spacecraft heading our direction, reactionary elements on Earth could very well bring about Armageddon before the aliens even got here.

So Hawking is right that we shouldn't be intentionally sending radio signals into the void. It's very unlikely that anyone will pick them up, but we certainly shouldn't be trying to draw any attention to ourselves. At least, as long as we have no means to protect ourselves from a space-faring civilization. Why take an unnecessary risk?

But it seems doubtful that any alien civilization would bother coming to Earth. If they have the capacity to travel between stars, there's nothing here that they couldn't get in their own solar system, or a closer one, with less effort. It would be far easier for them to terraform other planets and moons in their own solar system, or build their own habitats in space from raw materials in their asteroid belts or the moons of gas giants. No matter how you slice it, they'll never be able to send enough colonists to other solar systems to relieve their own population pressures; in the end they'll have to learn how to live within the means of their own solar system or perish. The only ones that would come here would be small groups of explorers, exploiters, or people with an ax to grind.

But still and all, Earth is the only planet we've got. We should be very careful with it.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

What Would Ronald Reagan Do?

Well, it's pretty easy to find out.

Ghost of Gipper looms over GOP

More importantly, what does his top economic guy say now?

Americans Support Higher Taxes. Really.

Get the message yet?

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Wisdom Of Youth

Before our match yesterday, one of my tennis kiddos (Michael) arrived early for our match. Since it was extremely hot, I told him to hold off on warming up and sit in the shade for a while. We started chatting a bit about Wimbledon and at a lull in the conversation he asked me if I was into politics. The inner me chuckled.

As I do with every student, I asked him what he thought. Nearly all students are more interested in talking than listening. The first words out of his mouth?

"I want you to know that I'm a Democrat. It seems that all the Republicans are about these days are trying to prove people wrong."

Out of the mouths of babes...