Monday, June 30, 2014

Supreme Court Okays Corporate Interference in Personal Lives

The Supreme Court decided in favor of Hobby Lobby's claim that paying for birth control violated "the company's" freedom of religion.

This is wrong on two counts.

First, corporations are not human beings and cannot have religions. Corporations do not attend church. They cannot be excommunicated. They cannot be married. They cannot partake of holy sacraments or receive communion. They cannot be baptized. They cannot vote. They cannot go to prison.

Corporations are legal entities created by government. They exist to prevent the owners from being held personally liable for corporate debts and actions. If Hobby Lobby goes bankrupt, the company's creditors cannot go after the owners' personal assets to recoup debts. The CEO is not culpable for crimes committed by other employees.

That means that the owners of Hobby Lobby are not personally responsible for actions that corporation takes that are required by law.  The owners and officers of the company are not the company, unless they are a sole proprietorship that is is not protected by the liability limitations that Hobby Lobby's incorporation provides.

Thus, if Hobby Lobby wants to force their religious beliefs on their employees, they can't hide behind the shield of corporate law that the government provides them. The Supreme Court should have  allowed this only if they dissolved the corporate entity the Hobby Lobby owners hide behind.

Second, the company's argument against providing coverage was this:
The companies objected to some of the methods, saying they are tantamount to abortion because they can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb. Providing insurance coverage for those forms of contraception would, the companies said, make them complicit in the practice.
They're saying that their religion prevents them from giving money to person A, who will give that money to person B to provide contraception to person C.

Then why is is acceptable for them to money directly to person C who will spend it on contraception?

What happens when Hobby Lobby finds out that one of their employees is spending that money on forbidden contraceptives? Or when they find out that an employee has had an abortion? Based on their victory in the Supreme Court today, won't they feel emboldened to fire that employee, because the employee is using their money to make them complicit in the practice? How can the government force them to pay people who violate their core beliefs?

How long before other "family-owned" corporations come crawling out of the woodwork saying that they can't hire Hindus because it would make complicit in paganism, or Jews because it would make them complicit in the death of Jesus, or women because their religion preaches that women should stay in the home, or gays because -- well, gays!

In the final analysis the Hobby Lobby case is not about corporate freedom of religion. It's about employers thinking they have the right to control the private lives of the people who work for them.

In particular:
[Hobby Lobby] said they had no objection to other forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery.
That means Hobby Lobby thinks corporations have the right to tell an employee the only method of birth control they will accept is sterilization, if they couch their reasons in appropriately mystical terms.

That should give even the most die-hard conservative reason to doubt the wisdom of this decision.

The Perception of A Conservative

Sunday, June 29, 2014

NPR Plays The Cult of Both Sides

Last Friday, the president spoke in my hometown and NPR in Minnesota aired a post speech analysis. At about the 12 minute mark, Keith Downy, chair of the Minnesota Republican party joins the conversation and, thus, any criticism of NPR being liberal goes directly out of the fucking window. For the next few minutes, Downy spins the usual yarn about how the free market can just sort itself out. If we had only left the government out of it in 2008, all would be well with our economy today.

What fucking planet are these people living on?

Worse, he's being terribly dishonest because he would have done the exact same thing the president did. I'd like Mr. Downy or any other free market fundamentalist to point to real world evidence of their theory. Show me a recession that was that bad and then show me how doing nothing worked out.

Of course the real treat of the segment was Andy from Sioux Falls, a small business owner fed up with federal taxes, who comes in at around 14 minutes into the segment. After hearing his remarks, I have to question whether or not this man was an actual small business owner or whether he was a Tea Party troll calling in to wax Ayn Rand. No business owner (large, medium, or small) turns down making more money because they are worried about paying federal taxes. What a ludicrous bunch of nonsense! After Downy's ad hom on the woman the president met with to discuss local economic concerns, I was left to wonder how NPR let themselves get into such a position.

When will the "liberal" media stop playing the cult of both sides? Sometimes there is only one side to a story. Supply side economics doesn't work. Even the guys that came up with it (David Stockman, Bruce Bartlett) have admitted they were wrong. You can't simply ignore aggregate demand and pretend it doesn't exist. The problem with our economy today is that there are not enough people buying things so businesses don't hire people. There isn't enough population at the top to support our economy.

The middle class is the engine that drives our economy and when they have more money, our economy will improve.

A Sunday Reflection

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Free Speech and Clinic Safety

Noah Feldman from Bloomberg breaks down the recent SCOTUS decision which allows anti-abortion activists inside the buffer zones that clinics have created in front of their buildings for safety. He notes that a first glance might reveal a big victory for abortion foes. Yet, a closer examination reveals much more.

The crucial element in the opinion — the element that got the liberals on board and enraged the conservatives — is that Roberts said the law was neutral with respect to the content of speech as well as the viewpoint of the speakers. That conclusion protected the possibility of other laws protecting women seeking abortions that pay more attention to what Roberts said was missing here, namely proof that the law was narrowly tailored.

What would be a real world example?

Consider a law banning sound trucks blaring on your street at night. It would probably be constitutional, because the government has a significant interest in citizens’ sleep, and there would be plenty of other times for sound trucks to operate, leaving ample alternatives for communication. It is this standard that Roberts applied to the buffer zone — and that will therefore be applied to other, similar buffer laws in the future.

Essentially, the details of the ruling give fair warning to abortion foes who may be emboldened to shout or threaten clinic patrons. The constitutionality of a ban or a buffer zone is still there because (surprise!) the freedom of speech is not unlimited.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Democrats Counting Cash

On behalf of all Democrats and liberals, I would like to personally thank John Boehner and all Republicans everywhere for helping out with our fundraising yesterday. The DCCC has the best day it's had this year with a cool half mil coming into the coffer. Thanks dudes!

Perhaps continued attacks on the president will also increase voter turnout in the midterms and he can kick their ass a third time:)

The Thad Tizzy

I'm still trying to figure out why the Tea Baggers and other malcontent conservatives are pissed off about Thad winning the runoff in Mississippi. Democrats can vote in primary elections. It's the law. Why are the being all whiny about it? Don't the Republicans want to expand their base? What better way to do so than by illustrating to African American voters in the state that Thad Cochran considers their interests as well.

It will never cease to amaze me how conservatives continue to do everything in their power to contract their voting base.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Getting Blood Out of a Stone

When you give money to a charity, you expect that they'll spend it on the things they promised to. Right?

So when people gave the American Red Cross $300 million for Hurricane Sandy relief, you would expect that the organization would be quite proud to show how well they did for their donors. Right?


ProPublica tried to find out the details of how the Red Cross spent the money it received for Hurricane Sandy. But getting the information from the Red Cross is like getting blood out of a stone:
If those details were disclosed, "the American Red Cross would suffer competitive harm because its competitors would be able to mimic the American Red Cross's business model for an increased competitive advantage," [Gabrielle] Levin [counsel for the Red Cross from the law firm Gibson Dunn] wrote.
People give the Red Cross their very blood for free, a donation which carries significant risk of personal bodily harm, and they turn around and sell it to hospitals for a hefty fee. And they're whining about trade secrets?  People give you blood and money. What's the big secret?

When a tax-exempt public charity starts spouting corporate-speak about trade secrets, competitors and business models, they seem to be hiding something.

But what? By all accounts, the Red Cross is doing a pretty decent job of turning donations into help for people in need (91% of every dollar raised goes to humanitarian services). They post the IRS form with the salary of CEO Gail McGovern ($628,386 in 2013). That's not excessive, even though some Internet nitwits pretend it is, and the five other corporate officers listed also have reasonable salaries.

There are a lot of unscrupulous charities out there that do a lot worse job than the Red Cross. The Red Cross is out there on the front lines whenever there's a disaster, so it's pretty obvious they're actually doing something.

Other charities, not so much. There are a zillion charities for veterans, children (foreign and domestic), animal shelters, wildlife, medical research, and so on. But you can never really tell that they're actually doing anything with your money: we'll always have homeless vets, cancer, heart disease, too many pregnant cats running around loose and endangered species. Lots of these charities are completely phony. Most of them spend far more on fund raising than the cause they're supposed to be helping.

The Red Cross is different. They're always around, always helping people when they need it most. But because we trust and depend on them, they really need to be up front about what they do with the money we give them. Because if they're not doing their jobs right, people are going to die.

All charities should be held to that same standard. If the Red Cross is afraid to divulge their "business model" because they believe that the weaselly worthless charities will start poaching Red Cross donors, then we need to strengthen the laws for charitable giving to stop the scum from ripping us off.

A Frivolous Lawsuit?

Conservatives like to whine and shriek about frivolous lawsuits right up until the point when they actually start one themselves.

House Speaker John Boehner confirmed Wednesday that he intends to sue President Obama in the long-running dispute between the administration and congressional Republicans over the scope of the administration's executive authority to enforce laws. 

"I am," Boehner told reporters, when asked if he was going to initiate a lawsuit. "The Constitution makes it clear that a president's job is to faithfully execute the laws. In my view, the president has not faithfully executed the laws." Boehner added: "Congress has its job to do and so does the president. And when there's conflicts like this between the legislative branch and the administrative branch, it's in my view our responsibility to stand up for this institution in which we serve."

I wonder how much this is going to cost the taxpayers.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When Every Quarter Is a Bad Quarter

The Commerce Department says that US economy contracted 2.9% in the first quarter, mostly due to bad winter weather. To be sure, there were lots of other factors:
The latest revisions reflect a weaker pace of healthcare spending than previously assumed, which caused a downgrading of the consumer spending estimate.
[Orders for durable goods] were dragged down by weak demand for transportation, machinery, computers and electronic products; electrical equipment, appliances and components; as well as a 31.4 percent plunge in defense capital goods orders.
Other drags to first-quarter growth included a slow pace of restocking by businesses, a sharp drop in investment on non-residential structures such as gas drilling and weak government spending on defense.
So, when people save money on healthcare and the government cuts spending, the economy suffers. No wonder economics is called the dismal science: even things that are supposed to good are bad.

But the largest single factor was the weather. Recently a group of economic and public figures from across the political spectrum released a report called Risky Business that details the economic effects of climate change. These include former Republican Treasury secretaries Hank Paulson and George Shultz.

Climate is just another word for long-term weather. Climate change will usher in bad weather every quarter: rising sea levels, more flash flooding, more torrential rains in some areas while other areas suffer perpetual drought, more powerful storm surges and tornadoes, and larger snowfalls. In states like Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana it will be too hot and humid to work outside without risk of heat stroke. In other words, when we're not digging out from snowstorms, mudslides, tornadoes, and floods, it will be too damn hot to get any work done. Productivity will go into the crapper.

The report states that some areas may benefit from a milder climate, like Minnesota and North Dakota. Hey, two out of 50 states ain't bad.

Wrong About Scott Walker

I didn't think there was much to the "Scott Walker is a criminal" stuff that has been floating around these last few years but it looks like that story might have a bit more to it. It's not surprising that Scott Walker says that the probe is all over. Far from it. 

The scope of the criminal scheme under investigation "is expansive," Schmitz wrote. "It includes criminal violations of multiple elections laws, including violations of Filing a False Campaign Report or Statement and Conspiracy to File a False Campaign Report or Statement."

Well, I guess I was wrong again:)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Revenge of the Nerds?

A recent study found that "popular" kids aren't as successful at real life as they are at impressing their classmates:
At 13, they were viewed by classmates with envy, admiration and not a little awe. The girls wore makeup, had boyfriends and went to parties held by older students. The boys boasted about sneaking beers on a Saturday night and swiping condoms from the local convenience store.

They were cool. They were good-looking. They were so not you.

Whatever happened to them?

“The fast-track kids didn’t turn out O.K.,” said Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. He is the lead author of a new study, published this month in the journal Child Development, that followed these risk-taking, socially precocious cool kids for a decade. In high school, their social status often plummeted, the study showed, and they began struggling in many ways.
As technology has become more important to success in the workplace, kids who studied in school, applied themselves and went to college are making more money.

Sure, drunken frat boys with rich daddies can still get into Harvard and Skull and Bones, and they can get high-paying jobs through their connections. But if you look at the list of the richest people in the United States, you see it's basically divided into two parts: the self-made techies (Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg) and the guys who got handed everything from daddy (the Kochs and the Waltons) with the occasional odd ducks like Warren Buffett and Sheldon Adelson.

The rise in popularity of video games (including computerized versions of D&D, a nerds-only activity at one point), films like Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Star Trek, Star Wars, Gravity, the entire Marvel canon, and the worldwide acceptance of and total dependence on the Internet have completely changed the face of entertainment, commerce and social interaction in ways that only nerdy science fiction writers and fans had contemplated thirty years ago.

And then there's this hoverbike, a sort of rev. 0.0 of Luke Skywalker's landspeeder or Anakin's airspeeder. What could be a surer sign that the future is here and that the nerds have won?

Yet, despite all that technological progress, I just know that the cool kids will still go out and get themselves killed drinking and shooting womp rats.

Can You Spot The Racism In this Photo?

Update: A couple of comments failed to note this. 

Racism isn't like a smelly fart. It doesn't always have to be that apparent.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Gaseous Form of Manure

During the recent Senate hearing on climate change, Republicans once again trotted out one of their stupidest talking points: the notion that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.
"I would say CO2 is a different kettle of fish," said [Senator Jeff] Sessions [(R-Ala)]. "It's plant food. It's not a pollutant in any normal definition."
Cow manure is also plant food. But you don't want it flowing freely through the streets or tainting your drinking water. 

Carbon dioxide is lung excrement.  It is a waste product of all animal life as well as the combustion of fossil fuels.

In other words, all that hot air Senator Sessions is spewing about climate change is almost literally the gaseous form of bullshit.

We can withstand carbon dioxide in small quantities, but it is deadly at higher concentrations. At 100,000 ppm (10%) it is deadly. Carbon dioxide poisoning -- CO2 retention -- is the direct cause of death by suffocation. It kills submariners and divers whose equipment fails.

If you put a plastic bag over your head the carbon dioxide pollution your lungs produce will kill you in short order. It's really that simple.

When people commit suicide in their automobiles or die accidentally from faulty venting of natural gas or propane heaters, the carbon monoxide (CO) from incomplete combustion kills them first (because CO binds to hemoglobin). But the carbon dioxide would also get the job done; it just takes a little longer.

Finally, plants need to respire oxygen in the absence of sunlight to drive their life processes, just like we do, and at that time they exhale carbon dioxide, just like we do. That means plants -- just like humans -- will die if the concentration of CO2 gets too high.

Carbon dioxide is therefore the very definition of a pollutant, though like many pollutants it is harmless in sufficiently small quantities. And since even oxygen is toxic at sufficiently high concentrations, Sessions' notions about "plant food" are idiotic from the get-go: it's all about proper concentrations.

Burning so much oil, gas and coal puts CO2 into the atmosphere far faster than plants and other natural processes can possibly remove it. That excess CO2 has been building now for 150 years, and it's heating the earth by entrapping the sun's warmth on the surface, instead of radiating that heat back into space in the infrared.

The earth is packed with life because it is has balanced systems, like the carbon cycle and the water cycle. Humans are knocking those cycles out of kilter on a massive scale: there are seven billion of us now.

We have doubled the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere over the course of several decades by burning gigatons of oil, gas and coal that had been buried over a billion years. At the same time we've deforested millions of square miles of forests that can no longer cleanse that "plant food" from the atmosphere because we're burning those all down too.

So, let me summarize in a folksy way that Mr. Sessions will understand: if you put too much manure on your petunias you'll kill them. And if we put too much CO2 into the atmosphere we'll kill the plants -- and ourselves.

Score A Big One For Breitbart

You won't find me praising very much on here but kudos to them for this series of photos showing undocumented workers in a holding facility about to be deported.

Pretty shocking, eh?

Now imagine, millions of people herded onto trains and sent out of our country because they broke a law that no longer works. Many would likely die hence the reason why I assert that it would be one of the greatest humanitarian crises the world has ever seen. Hell, we already have a massive problem with displaced people. If we did what the right wanted, we'd be making a horrible problem even more FUBAR. If we are truly a Christian nation, this is not the way to proceed.

Our current immigration laws do not work. It is time to change them. We can start with Marco Rubio's bill. 

Advocating Armed Insurrection Again

The Right just can't stay away from the catnip of armed insurrection, can they?

“I can sense right now a rebellion brewing amongst these United States,” Jindal said, “where people are ready for a hostile takeover of Washington, D.C., to preserve the American dream for our children and grandchildren.” The governor said there was a “silent war” on religious liberty being fought in the U.S. — a country that he said was built on that liberty. 

“I am tired of the left. They say they’re for tolerance, they say they respect diversity. The reality is this: They respect everybody unless you happen to disagree with them,” he said. “The left is trying to silence us and I’m tired of it. I won’t take it anymore.”

Actually, Bobby, what we won't take is attempts by conservatives to convert our nation into a Christian version of Sharia Law. Go peddle your DARVO elsewhere.

The Gun Cult's Worst Enemy is Themselves

Ana Marie Cox has an excellent piece up about how the Gun Cult is beginning to realize that they might end up causing their own undoing. I find it highly amusing that the open carry psychos are actually causing the very bans they are trying to eliminate. But isn't this always the case with the conservative (ahem, adolescent) mindset? They act impulsively and with much hubris. They also are under the very mistaken impression that a majority of people support them.

They don't. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Benghazi Ringleader

The capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala in connection with the Benghazi attack is certain to send the Republicans into a state of anaphylactic shock. According to the New York Times...

On the day of the attack, Islamists in Cairo had staged a demonstration outside the United States Embassy there to protest an American-made online video mocking Islam, and the protest culminated in a breach of the embassy’s walls — images that flashed through news coverage around the Arab world. 

As the attack in Benghazi was unfolding a few hours later, Mr. Abu Khattala told fellow Islamist fighters and others that the assault was retaliation for the same insulting video, according to people who heard him.

Of course, it's likely a lot more complicated than that as we already know. Yet, that's not even the worst part for those conservatives still clinging to the Benghazi Frisbee like dogs that won't let go.

Barack Obama just caught another Islamic extremist.

Friday, June 20, 2014

And Just When You Thought the Pope Was Becoming Reasonable...

In no uncertain terms, the pope is against drugs:
[...] Francis said, providing addicts with drugs offered only "a veiled means of surrendering to the phenomenon."

"Let me state this in the clearest terms possible," he said. "The problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!"
As with most opponents of drugs, he's misstating the problem. The problem with drugs is not that they are being used, but that some people get addicted.

But the prohibition against drugs introduces other problems that are several orders of magnitude greater: criminal gangs slaughter each other, the police and innocent bystanders. Law enforcement expends massive sums of money and resources to deter behavior that does no harm to the vast majority of people who engage in it, including most law enforcement officials at some point in their lives. Prisons are filled to bursting with people who were just looking for a buzz when they went in, but emerge hardened criminals when they come out.

In the United States alcohol and tobacco use cost society more than illicit drugs do: $185 billion and $193 billion, compared to the $181 billion drugs cost by this estimate.

The pope's tirade against drugs is rather hypocritical. The pope uses alcohol on a regular basis for religious purposes. Freakily, the pope even believes he can personally turn alcohol into his god's blood, through the miracle of Transubstantiation. What were they on when they thought that up?.

But alcohol is a huge problem worldwide. It kills millions of people annually through cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease, and stroke, as well as by impairing people's judgment, causing death and destruction through vehicle and heavy machinery accidents, and battery and murder in booze-fueled drunken rages.

For that reason, alcohol is banned in many countries. It was even banned in the United States for a dozen years (and still is in some counties). But Prohibition failed miserably, becoming itself an engine of death and destruction worse than alcohol abuse itself. By any measure, the prohibition against drugs is failing just as miserably.

Some drugs, including tobacco, cannabis and peyote, are used in certain religions, apparently without harm. I don't endorse alcohol or drug use. But as with alcohol, it's clear that some drugs can be used by some people, sparingly and without risk of addiction or bodily harm.

Furthermore, it's clear that many of the drugs prescribed for medical purposes are as potentially addictive and harmful as alcohol or marijuana, based on the problems we've had with oxycodone and ADHD drugs.

So, if the pope and Christians worldwide can be trusted to use alcohol responsibly, why can't people of other persuasions be granted the same rights for their drug of choice? This would eliminate a lot of crime, reduce law enforcement spending, lower prison populations, and it probably wouldn't even increase the number of drug addicts by a significant amount. Finally, it would make it easier for addicts to get treatment, because they don't have to hide what they've done for fear of ostracism and criminal charges.

I personally think drugs, tobacco and alcohol are a stupid waste of time and money and a senseless risk to body and mind. But I don't think I should be able to impose my will on everyone. Truly destructive and hopelessly addictive drugs should be illegal. But as long as people taking relatively harmless drugs keep their filthy habits to themselves and don't hurt anyone else, it's really none of my business.

But I suppose the pope can't be expected to have such a reasoned attitude, since his job description demands he tell everyone everywhere what to do all the time.

The Boiling of Immigration Reform

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Gun Cult Dealt Setback

The Supreme Court dealt the Gun Cult a blow this week with the decision on Abramski v. United States. The court ruled 5-4 and affirmed the lower court's decision that regardless of whether the actual buyer could have purchased the gun, a person who buys a gun on someone else’s behalf while falsely claiming that it is for himself makes a material misrepresentation punishable under 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)(6), which prohibits knowingly making false statements “with respect to any fact material to the lawfulness of a sale of a gun.”

In a nutshell, no more straw purchases.

SCOTUS Blog has a great breakdown of the decision with this great pull quote.

Although Congress in recent years has been unable or unwilling to pass new gun-control laws, the elaborate scheme of background checking that was at issue in Monday’s ruling remains fully in force. The decision in Abramski v. United States almost certainly will make that scheme work more reliably to track the movement of guns across the U.S.

“No piece of information is more important under federal law ,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority, ”than the identity of a gun’s purchaser — the person who acquires a gun as a result of a transaction with a licensed dealer.” Answering a form that asks about the actual purchase, Kagan added, “is fundamental to the lawfulness of a gun sale.” A sale cannot even occur unless the true buyer is correctly identified, and is at the counter seeking to buy a weapon, the opinion noted.

Why this was legal before today is illustrative of the idiocy of the Gun Cult. Worse, it shows the level of dishonesty to which they will sink when they say they are "responsible" gun owners. What kind of responsible person would support this sort of activity? They claim to want increased law enforcement and crackdowns on criminals but straw purchases essentially gives the bad guys a blank check.

Oh well, that shit is over now and the Supreme Court finally got something right.

This Photo=Bowels Blown

Two scientists and the president hanging out. I can just hear the insecure and most definitely suffering from inferiority complex conservatives' blood pressure rising and the anaphylactic shock taking hold with a dash of Joan Collins thrown in...

Liars!! LIARS!!!!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Glenn Beck Admits the Right Was Wrong on Iraq

Miracle of miracles, Glenn Beck has admitted that the right was wrong: he says the people who opposed the invasion of Iraq were right.
“[Liberals] said we couldn’t force freedom on people,” Beck said at the start of his Tuesday radio show. “Let me lead with my mistakes. You were right. Liberals, you were right, we shouldn’t have.”
“In spite of the things I felt at the time when we went into war, liberals said, ‘We shouldn’t get involved, we shouldn’t nation-build and there was no indication the people of Iraq had the will to be free,’” Beck said. “I thought that was insulting at the time. Everybody wants to be free.”

On Tuesday, Beck admitted, “You cannot force democracy on the Iraqis or anybody else, it doesn’t work. They don’t understand it or even really want it.”
Though Beck understands now that the right was wrong, he still doesn't seem to get why the right was wrong. The problem isn't that you "can't force freedom on people." The problem is that you can't invade a country and force people to be reasonable, fair and considerate. Too many people -- though not all by far -- are selfish and tribal. These bad actors say they want freedom, but they want it only for themselves. Freedom and power for their own religion and their own leaders to do whatever they want, while denying certain freedoms to their enemies.

They want to enforce their religion, their morality and their worldview on everyone in the country. They believe their religious leaders should be able to dictate the most intimate details of everyone's lives, even in the privacy of their bedrooms. They believe that their version of religion is the only correct version, that god is on their side, that he guides their every move and that this justifies and blesses everything they do.

They do not believe in justice for all, they believe in vengeance. They do not believe that everyone is created equal, they believe they are superior to those who are not just like them. They believe that women are less than men, that women should marry who they're told to marry (and certainly not other women), that women should only wear the clothes "that keep them safe," that women should behave a certain way to avoid giving men the wrong idea.

They think there's nothing wrong with preventing others from exercising their basic rights, such as women controlling their own bodies and deciding what hormones to take, letting women decide for themselves whether or how to delay having children. They have no problem using intimidation and other means to prevent their opponents from voting.

They don't believe in negotiating with their opponents to reach an accommodation that will satisfy most of what each side wants: they want everything their way and want to deny their opponents even the smallest victory. They view the tiniest compromise as a total betrayal of their core beliefs that will result in total destruction of their faith.

These bad actors don't believe that the whole country should work together in order for everyone to succeed. They separate everyone into us and them. They believe that themselves to be the only real defenders of their country, and that there are too many of those people -- people who are not just like them -- who are destroying it.

They believe that violence and the force of arms are a legitimate and immediate recourse against anyone whom they view as a threat.

Oh, wait a second. Were we talking about obstacles to democracy in Iraq or the conservative American political machine?

A democracy only works if there's give and take, if people negotiate in good faith to come to an agreement that lets everyone get some of what they want and need. Democracy fails when too many people insist on having everything their way and refusing to work together, demonizing opponents, constantly lobbing bombs (physical and verbal) at their opponents, constantly trying to gain the upper hand and gain control of everything, and then rig the system so that they can maintain that hold on power, by hook or by crook, forever.

By watching how Iraq is falling apart, we might learn a thing or two about how to make Americans work better together.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Benghazi Litmus Test

How can you tell if a Republican has gone off the deep end? Try this litmus test...

If you are a Republican who feels Benghazi was a tragic and regrettable incident involving violence against an American diplomatic mission abroad that was essentially the same as the numerous incidents of violence against American diplomatic missions that took place under the George W. Bush administration, then ... cool. We can (probably) have a rational conversation.

If you are a Republican who feels Benghazi was a deliberate betrayal of America by the dastardly Barack Hussein Obama who gleefully cackled and rubbed his hands as brave Americans died because he knowingly refused to save them, then ... you are a f***ing RWNJ and we have nothing further to discuss.

Which one are you?

Most Excellent Words

From an answer to a question on Quora...

The gun rights community isn't the only community in which one might find hostility directed towards those who, by some measure, are a member of that community but do not tow the party line. I'd suspect some gay Republicans feel like they're not tolerated; perhaps an animal rights advocate might get some flack for not being a vegetarian; someone who identifies as a progressive might find themselves unwelcome among others because they like guns.

Having said all of the above, I'll throw it out there that...

  • I do believe responsible citizens can own guns.
  • I own guns, and enjoy them for sport (as well as appreciate the technology that often goes in to them).
  • I enjoy spending time at the range and genuinely find many firearms quite neat (not to trivialize them for what they are and are capable of doing).
  • I do see parallels in overzealous attempts to curb 2nd amendment rights with such attempts to curb 1st amendment rights and other constitutional rights.

At the same time, I...

  • Find many among the "We need guns to defend against an oppressive government!!" types to be more of a threat to all of our collective safety and freedom than any government will ever be.
  • Quite firmly believe that our own country's history post-Revolution shows us these self-styled militia types are more likely to be the ones marching alongside the "jackbooted thugs" of an oppressive regime to persecute fellow citizens, rather than standing up for overall freedom.
  • Think there are some completely absurd weapons out there, and it is likewise absurd they're so often easy to acquire.
  • Am thoroughly disgusted by the leadership and tactics of the NRA's lobbying and political arms (though, beyond the usual indoctrination that takes place when among them, can appreciate the organization's efforts on gun-safety and training fronts).

Well said!

Monday, June 16, 2014

If You Have No Exit Strategy Don't Enter

The media is full of Republicans blaming President Obama for the current mess in Iraq. Articles like this one in the New York Times paint Bush as being prescient, saying that leaving Iraq prematurely would have dire consequences.

Yet in 2003 George W. Bush and his cronies said that the invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk, a brief brilliant burst of glory. We would emerge victorious in six days, or six weeks, or six months at most (remember the Mission Accomplished banner?). But when Bush left office in 2009 our forces had been fighting there for almost six years and more than 5,000 Americans had died there.

Bush's lies were not just about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, or his involvement with 9/11. The real lie was that we could successfully invade and pacify Iraq in a short time, for a minimal investment (they said the invasion would pay for itself), with no help from the rest of the world.

Yes, we invaded and occupied Germany and Japan, turning them into upstanding world citizens and allies. Those countries were united and coherent to begin with, but it still required a huge cost and a permanent military presence for the last 70 years. We've had troops in South Korea for 60 years keeping North Korea at bay.

Iraq is fractured by centuries-old ethnic and religious differences held in check only by ruthless tyrants like Saddam. Yet Bush went into Iraq on the pretext that we'd be done in a matter weeks or months at most.

Bush never developed an exit strategy for Iraq because there is no exit strategy: we would have to maintain troops in Iraq for the next century keeping the Sunni, Shiite and Kurd populations of Iraq from killing each other.

Because they've already been at it for centuries. How many American lives and trillions of dollars would we have had to sacrifice before the Iraqis realized the futility of their age-old hatreds and make peace with each other?

To make it worse, as long as we had troops in Iraq, there would there would be an endless stream of outsider incursions engineered to cause problems for us: Al Qaeda proxies funded by Saudi Wahabis, Hezbollah proxies funded by Iran, Taliban proxies funded by Pakistan, Sadrist proxies funded by Russia.

We could win World War II because Germany and Japan attacked us. We could chase them back home and destroy their war machines. But the we can't win the civil war between Shiites and the Sunnis in Iraq. It's not our fight. You can't invade a country and make them act reasonably.

The best you can do is pick one side and help them destroy the other. So do we help the majority Shiites led by the corrupt Iranian puppet prime minister Nouri al-Maliki who has been tormenting minority Sunnis since Bush installed him in 2007? Or do we help the Sunnis, who tormented the Shiites under Saddam's rule, and most recently stood by and let ISIS commandos overrun Mosul and slaughter thousands of Iraqi soldiers execution-style? Or do we just let the country fall apart and help the Kurds establish their own nation and keep all the oil, letting the Sunnis and Shiites wallow in perpetual poverty and war?

When all of the options are bad, does it make any sense to risk American lives and spend trillions more dollars on wars that will only make us more enemies and put our troops in the crosshairs of every terrorist in the Middle East?

The Bodyguard Blanket

Well, I guess it's come to this...

I can hear the Gun Cult shrieking like old ladies now..."If we could only have anyone carry a gun in a school, then kids wouldn't need the Bodyguard Blanket."

Or maybe if our society could be arsed to leave behind a troglodytic perception of mental health, guns, and violence, then we wouldn't need the fucking Bodyguard Blanket

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Can Parenting Be Taught?

The biggest problem in education today is the parents. Period. I've written about this before and now it seems that a trend is emerging in education discussions. We need to start teaching people how to be better parents and this recent cover story from the Christian Science Monitor illustrates just how we can.

The stakes are high. Parental improvement might seem like a national pastime these days, given the unprecedented volume of advice books, blogs, and lectures coming at moms and dads across all demographics. But for lower-income women like those in this classroom, and others like them across the country, improved parenting skills can not only increase a family’s happiness, it can also dramatically improve a child’s long-term educational achievement, lower the chances of juvenile delinquency, improve health measures, and reduce poverty, according to a growing coalition of child-development experts and scientists.

Further, we instructors do not have the time to teach students basic manners and respect for elders. We don't have enough time to hit the standards in a school year as it is. I'm really sick and tired of having students look at me with that quizzical expression when I tell them to do something. It's as if they have never heard an adult tell them what to do. Over the years, a greater percentage of students are showing up to junior high without the foggiest idea of how to behave. Far too many parents have done a very poor job raising them.

Of course, this is a big reason why I am a big supporter of the president.

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act allocated $1.5 billion for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program to expand parent home visitation initiatives, such as the Nurse-Family Partnership, which pairs registered nurses with pregnant, at-risk women. School systems across the country are collaborating with programs such as Families First to expand their parent education classes.

It seems like a small amount but ECFE is absolutely vital if we are going to turn this tide around. And it can't all be done federally as the CSM article notes.

Local governments are also getting involved, coming up with their own ways to try to improve parenting. (Providence, R.I., for instance, recently launched the Providence Talks program to “close the 30-million-word gap,” a reference to the difference in the number of words spoken to a baby with lower-income parents by the age of 4 compared to a child with higher-income parents – a difference shown to have long-term educational repercussions.)

All of us at the community level need to work together to be better parents. The rest of the CSM piece details how we can do that. So, let's get started!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Daily US Gun Deaths

The Eric Cantor Pooping

My oh my has there been one massive shitting of the bed over the loss Eric Cantor experienced on Tuesday night to Tea Party Challenger David Brat. Some of the diarrhea..

"It's about amnesty in immigration!"

"The Tea Party is back"

"He was too much of a Washington insider so the conservative masses voted him out!"

And my personal favorite...

"This signifies a conservative tsunami this fall!"

Well, here are my thoughts in order of the pooping. First, we already have amnesty in terms of illegal immigration. That's the result of doing nothing. We're aren't going to deport 11 million people and be the cause of one of the worst humanitarian crises the world has ever seen. Further, the poster child for "evil amnesty" is Lindsey Graham who handily won his primary so this comment makes no sense.

Second, the Tea Party never left. Their ideology is now the ideology of the "mainstream" candidates. No conservative today can win without being far right because of the nature of their base which basically means they are digging themselves into a deeper hole for national elections. 2014 may end up being bad for Democrats but 2016 is going to be a fucking disaster for Republicans. Imagine, Hillary Clinton and both houses of Congress controlled by the Democrats.

And we haven't seen David Brat yet on the national stage. I doubt the Democratic challenger can beat him in VA-7 but if he goes Akin or Murdock, say goodbye to that seat.

Third, conservative masses...yes, all 36,000 to 28,000 people at 10 percent voter turnout...8,000 votes...some mass indeed! All this says to me is that a lot of people couldn't be arsed to show up. There's also the fact that this was an open primary which means there could have been some Democrats in their voting as well:)

Finally, it warms my heart when the right gets over eager and shit. We've seen this before only to have it followed by stubborn disbelief (Karl Rove, Ohio, 2012 Election). I realize this is the last chance for the 12 year old boys to "beat" Barack Obama but they are going to put themselves right out of business jumping the gun with this kind of talk. Don't they realize how hard organizations like the OFA and other Democratic groups are going to be working to get the vote out? They vastly underestimated the president and his election operation before and look what happened.

Honestly, I am very happy to see Eric Cantor being shown the door. He's an asshole and a giant metaphor for all of the bullshit the president and the Democrats have to put up with every day. And I want far right candidates running in all elections this year. It just helps out the moderate Democrats. Perhaps all of this is over analysis, though. Don't both men look the same?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

How To Tell The Difference Between An Open Carry Patriot And A Deranged Killer

Now I get the Oreos from the other day. Nope, no racism here. Please move along...

Move Over, Walmart. The Internet Is Here has been making news for the last month with its open war against Hachette, a New York publisher, over e-book prices. In the process Amazon has earned the wrath of many writers, including Steven Colbert, whose books are published by Hachette:
"I am not just mad at Amazon. I am mad Prime," he said, punning Amazon's premium service.
When started out 20 years ago, it was great little revolutionary startup. It used the power of the Internet to deliver products customers wanted without having to leave their homes, or fill their mailboxes with tons of catalogs that just wind up in recycling bins, or have to deal with corporate behemoths like Barnes & Noble and Walmart.

But along the way became one of the big bad companies that it rebelled against. In the process it put a lot of small and large bookstores (including Borders, a major chain), out of business. Amazon now sells pretty much anything you can think of, including books, music, videos (streaming and on disc), computer equipment, hardware, even major applicances.

Money that was once spent at local bookstores, record stores, video stores, hardware stores and  computer stores is now going off to Seattle.

Amazon doesn't just sell physical products. It provides server farms for other companies with Amazon Web Services. Netflix uses AWS to deliver streaming video, even though Amazon is a direct competitor with Amazon Instant Video. Amazon also snatched up a major news outlet with the Washington Post.

Amazon doesn't just sell its own products. Like eBay, it acts as a front-end to thousands of small bookstores and merchants. When you look for certain products you're offered several sources, with Amazon's items listed first, and other suppliers listed with their prices. To compete with Amazon, those small suppliers have to offer substantially lower prices. Of course, Amazon gets a cut if you buy from those other sellers, reducing their profit margin even further. Amazon's "referral fee" runs from 6% to 25% (it's 15% for most things), depending on the product category, plus a one-dollar fee per item (sellers can buy a subscription to waive the item fee).

Amazon will tell you that they're helping independent bookstores and merchants by giving them an easy way to sell used books and specialty products. But are those businesses thriving, or simply dying a long, slow death?

Other Internet companies have been following Amazon's lead in diverse realms. Uber's car service has a lot of taxi drivers worried. Driving a cab is not very profitable, and cabbies often make less than minimum wage considering all the idle time, fuel costs, fees and cab leases:
“Poverty among the drivers in Chicago is just palpable, worse than elsewhere,” Ms. Desai said. “Most drivers work 60 to 70 hours a week and earn below the minimum wage, and that’s sad because Chicago is the second-largest taxi market in the United States. Drivers have been suffering in such deep poverty, and that’s been compounded by the threat of the ride-sharing companies.”

Uber often runs afoul of local taxi regulations. The company defends its ride-share service by saying it's more convenient, faster, and provides an opportunity for more people to profit. It may seem like a great deal to Uber drivers now. But they're completely dependent on Uber. Like Amazon, Uber gets a cut of every ride. That money used to stay in the local community is now going off to San Francisco.

In the long run, how good a deal will Uber drivers get? Uber sets the rates and takes a 20% cut. Over time Uber can afford to reduce rates because they get a slice of millions of small transactions. How long will it take for Uber drivers to wind up in the same position as cabbies are today? Also, most  Uber drivers are not dedicated to driving. How reliable will the service be in the long run if their drivers are a bunch of amateurs only doing it because they have a spare hour?

As more people rely on the Internet, advertising gravitates there. Every time you do a Google search for a restaurant Google gets paid for popping up ads for local eateries. That's money that used to be spent on advertising in local phone books, newspapers and television stations. And it's not just ads in Google. When you visit the website of a local news outlet, the advertising is being provided by an Internet company that pays the operator of the site a pittance for each click or view.

The Internet is a two-edged sword: it has allowed startups like Amazon, Google, eBay and PayPal to become hugely successful competitors against monoliths like Walmart and Visa/Mastercard. At the same time, after only a few years these Internet giants are savaging local businesses in the same way it took decades for Walmart to do.

But Internet companies are even worse for local economies than Walmart because they hire no local employees. They contribute almost nothing to the local economy, other than the delivery service that drops off your package (which is another corporate behemoth like FedEx or UPS, or the Post Office).

People once thought the Internet would empower the little guy, but it may not be shaping up that way. Instead of increasing local control, is the Internet centralizing resources, money and power in the hands of fewer and fewer companies?

In the near future it's likely that the very infrastructure of the Internet itself will be an unregulated monopoly owned by a just a couple of humongous conglomerates, such as Comcast, who are intent on dictating what content you can get. But that's a topic for another day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Palling Around with Putin

While Republicans have been blasting Obama's "failure" and "weakness" in Ukraine, executives at the giant oil companies have been palling around with Putin and his cronies. On the right are pictures of BP's David Campbell shaking hands with Igor Sechin, one of the Russian officials hit by US economic sanctions, and Ben van Beurden, chief executive of Shell.

And it's not just the foreign oil companies. Neil W. Duffin, an executive for Exxon Mobil, signed a deal with Sechin last month. Exxon has been working hard to sabotage America's efforts to economically isolate Russia for its slow-motion invasion of Ukraine:
Mr. Tillerson, Exxon’s chief executive, told reporters last week in Dallas that the company was making its skepticism about sanctions clear to the United States government. “Our views are being heard at the highest levels,” he said.

“There has been no impact on any of our business activities in Russia to this point, nor has there been any discernible impact on the relationship” with Rosneft, he added.
How can we trust giant energy conglomerates like Exxon Mobil when they cut deals with tyrants like Putin, undermining American foreign policy? How can we believe for an instant that these companies have the best interests at heart for the United States, its land and its people when they tell us that fracking doesn't poison our water, that drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is completely safe, and that carbon dioxide doesn't cause global warming?

Hey Gun Cult, Wake Up!

I'm still thinking about this quote from yesterday...

While I don't believe a majority, or even significant chunk, of anti-government, pro-Second Amendment types are violence-prone and comparable to this delusional husband and wife, I can't help but think much of their rhetoric encourages certain [already] unstable people to act out violently.

Nancy Lanza proved this to be absolutely true.

Consider this quote as well from a recent Quora discussion. 

They seem to think we all look at them as "good guys with guns". I don't feel safer when I see a random dude carrying an assault rifle in public. I feel like they are essentially the same as the people they pretend they are protecting us from. Like they are a mass shooting waiting to happen.


So here's the mess that makes zero sense when you look at all of it. The Gun Cult asserts they need all their guns to protect themselves from a possible (in their minds...super likely and any day now!!) tyrannical government that will oppress them. Yet they take no responsibility for the myriad of people that subscribe to this ideology (see: brainwashing) who are mentally unstable and are causing exactly the violent society they claim to not want to have.

Further, the open carry idiots that parade around with guns honestly leave one to this person going to start shooting? How can you tell if they are or aren't? Consider that the guy with concealed carry who got shot in the Jerad and Amanda Miller rampage didn't even know that there was more than one shooter which shows just how much a a lie the "good guy with a gun" meme truly is.

Listening to anything gun activists say these days is completely nuts. Their analysis of this issue is so fucking bad that I have to wonder why there are still some people who believe them.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cooking the Books to Get Their Bonuses

There's been a lot of noise about the problem with vets getting appointments at VA hospitals. So here are some numbers for the VA hospitals in Minnesota, where I live:
The average wait time for a patient seeking primary care for the first time is 28 days at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and its outpatient clinics and 25 days for the St. Cloud system, the data show. But the waits are much shorter for established patients who are already in the VA system -- three days for Minneapolis and two days for St. Cloud. Nationwide, the longest average wait for new patients seeking primary care is 145 days in Honolulu.

Waits for new patients seeking specialty care are longer -- 50 days for new patients for the Minneapolis system and 47 days for St. Cloud's, compared with four days for established patients to see specialists for Minneapolis and five for St. Cloud. The longest average wait for new patients nationwide is 145 days in Harlingen, Texas.
The Minnesota times are typical for what I experience when I make appointments to see a doctor with my private insurance. If I want to see a specialist for the first time I have to wait two or three months. But if I'm already an established patient, it only takes a few days, just like it does for vets. There's no catastrophe occurring in Minnesota.

There were similar findings in the audit for California: wait times were mostly in line with what I see in private practice. Note that some of the problem San Diego VA clinics are are operated by private contractors.

The map on this page shows the distribution of wait times across the country. There are basically 12 or 13 clinics in the country out of maybe a hundred that have long wait times; most of the country is experiencing wait times comparable to private medical practice.

So it seems like the problem at the VA isn't endemic. There are certain facilities where administrators are are committing fraud because they don't have the resources to meet the demand, but they still want to make their numbers so they can get their bonuses. These bonuses may well be the source of the problem:
According to congressional reports and VA employees, medical-center staffs nationwide were pressured to reduce waits even as backlogs grew. A carrot-and-stick approach provided cash bonuses and advancement to successful managers, but performance downgrades for failures.
In the words of whistle-blowers, that emphasis created incentives to "cook the books." 
So, it's not really a question of a generally incompetent government medical system, but the corrupting influence of money: instead of rocking the boat by complaining to upper management about resource shortages, managers lied to make sure they got their bonuses.

Yet Another Shooting

Well, we have had yet another school shooting. The president's words say it best...

"Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There's no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this," President Barack Obama said in Washington in response to a question about gun violence. 

He said the nation should be ashamed of its inability to get tougher gun restrictions through Congress in the aftermath of mass shootings that he said have become commonplace in America. Most members of Congress are "terrified" of the National Rifle Association, the President said, adding that nothing will change until public opinion demands it. 

"The country has to do some soul searching about this. This is becoming the norm, and we take it for granted, in ways that as a parent are terrifying to me," Obama said.

Yet we are putting up with it. Why?

Because the hysterical old ladies also known as the Gun Cult won't grow the fuck up.

Our Evolving Country

Good Words

As somewhat of a counter to Nikto's post yesterday, I have these words from a Quora commenter.

I have no sympathy for the types of people who gathered at Bundy's ranch, advocated violence against law enforcement officers, and actively threatened law enforcement officers all for the sake of a racist freeloader who mooches off the public. Having said that, I don't think one could fairly say the delusional murderers of two Las Vegas Metro officers and a citizen were part of any organization beyond their own insane pairing. 

What occurred here in Las Vegas struck a chord with me for a number of reasons. I've spoken out, in many instances here on Quora, about my belief many of these radical Second Amendment advocates seem a greater threat to the general public than anyone they profess to be using the Second Amendment to protect us from. I've made it clear my belief that, unfortunately, it seems these right wing groups and militant Second Amendment groups are dangerous, violent, racist, and attract extreme elements. 

I've spoken out in favor of gun control and discussed my own experiences with Nevada's concealed carry laws, and can't ignore the fact that it would seem a private, CCW-ed citizen very well may have lost their life (along with the officers) protecting countless others at that WalMart. I believe many of these extremists who flocked to Bundy's ranch were dangerous and delusional, racist and violence-prone. There has been a very noticeable increase in threats from these types of people, acts of violence carried out by them, and so on. 

Having said all of the above, though, it would seem this crazy couple were fringe extremists even at the Bundy ranch. They were unstable and reactionary above and beyond what many of their peers would be, even. But I don't doubt they likely fed off of information and statements they regularly heard from those who shared some of their anti-government views, websites they visited, literature they read, and so on. They reacted to the right-wing stimulus around them with actions that even many of those right wing folks would find reprehensible and unacceptable. 

It is likely not too unreasonable to think that the Miller's were delusional and unstable people in search of a cause, and had circumstances been different they could have ended up killing and causing harm to others for whatever cause they felt they could latch on to and would give their lives meaning. It just so happens, though, that right wing extremists with an affection for firearms and virulent hatred of authority find plenty of positive feedback from others that helps legitimize, in their minds, their views. 

While I don't believe a majority, or even significant chunk, of anti-government, pro-Second Amendment types are violence-prone and comparable to this delusional husband and wife, I can't help but think much of their rhetoric encourages certain [already] unstable people to act out violently.

Couldn't have said it better myself. I view Kevin and the TSM commenters in exactly this light. Their ideology is more dangerous than what they claim to be protecting the rest of us from and they encourage mentally unstable people to commit acts of violence. Oh, and that notable increase he speaks of? It's all being documented here at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Keep it up, fuckos. Your idiocy may end up making your apocalyptic predictions come true.

Not a Real Boy

The news is full of stories like this about Eugene Goostman, a computer program that "passed" the Turing test. It passed by making 30% of the judges in the contest think it was a human being and not a computer.

After reading the conversation captured by Time and my own discussion with Eugene Goostman, I wonder whether the judges who were fooled by Eugene would pass the Turing test themselves. You can try it yourself here:

People have been writing programs that pretend to be people for decades. One of the most famous ones was Eliza, written by Joseph Weizenbaum in the 1960s. The conceit of Eliza is that it's a Rogerian psychotherapist. It works by looking for keywords that produce specific response patterns, and by repeating things back to you that you said to it. For example, if you said, "My mommy took my teddy away from me," Eliza would respond with, "Tell me more about your parents."

In Computer Power and Human Reason (1976, p. 189) Weizenbaum describes how Eliza fooled people who knew it was a computer program into thinking that it actually understood something. He compares it to people who are taken in by fortune tellers, believing that these frauds have real insights and "know things." Eliza utilized a primitive form of "cold reading" that mediums and psychics use to deceive their victims.

The conceit of the Eugene Goostman "chatbot" is that he's a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy. This is probably the key to the success of the deception, because it sets the bar for language comprehension and attention span to a very low level.

Eugene appears to work much like Eliza, but it's got a bigger database of canned information that it can discuss, and has a better natural language processor. When you ask it a question, it answers as best it can, which is usually fairly easy if you ask it about things it's programmed to know. Then it throws out another conversation starter about its pet guinea pig, or some other non-sequitur to make conversation.

In the dialog I had with it I ignored the conversation starters and just asked more questions. I asked, "Can you answer yes or no questions?" it responded with, "Sure, anyone can. Anything else?" It gives similar non-responses to other questions about it's capabilities. Ask it, "What's the Ukrainian word for house?" and you get "I have no idea, sorry. And I forgot to ask you where you are from.." Ask it in Ukrainian if it speaks Ukrainian (which it claims to, as well as English, Russian, and a little Yiddish), you get "Err... And what it was? Maybe it was something hexadecimal?" This is because it's a computer program scripted in English that doesn't know what to do with the Unicode characters Ukrainian is written in.

About the third sentence it threw out a red herring about evil robots, as one might imagine a snarky 13-year-old could. When I asked, "Could you repeat what you said about evil robots?," it responded with, "I call all these chatter-bots "chatter-nuts" due to their extremely high intelligence. I hope you recognize irony."

And if you ask the most obvious question: "Are you a real boy?" You get, "I would rather not talk about it if you don't mind. By the way, I still don't know your specialty - or, possibly, I've missed it?" And if you repeat your question you get, "Could you repeat it once more again? Wonna ask me something more?"

Clearly, Eugene Goostman is not a real boy. Or maybe the judges don't consider 13-year-old boys to be real human beings?

And I forgot to ask you where you are from.. I hope you recognize irony. And I still don't know your specialty.

If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say

Note how idiots on both side of the political spectrum get ripped in this one...

Monday, June 09, 2014

Vegas Cop Killers Were Right-Wing Terrorists

Breaking news: the Vegas cop killers were racist right-wing terrorists who want to overthrow the federal government.

That isn't what the headlines will read, but that's the gist of the story in the New York Times:
LAS VEGAS — A married couple who fatally shot three people here Sunday — including two police officers — before killing themselves spoke incessantly about overthrowing the government and had ties to the anti-government Patriot movement, neighbors said Monday.

The police on Monday identified the couple as Jerad and Amanda Miller, who moved to Las Vegas in January and participated in anti-government protests at the ranch of Cliven Bundy, who became a symbol of opposition to the federal government this spring for his refusal to pay grazing fees for his cattle. Mr. Miller, 31, and Ms. Miller, 22, killed two Las Vegas police officers on Sunday at a pizza restaurant and fatally shot a third person at a nearby Walmart before dying in a suicide pact.
And then there's this:
Jerad Miller, 31, then covered the officers with a Gadsden flag -- a yellow banner with a coiled snake above the words, “Don’t Tread on Me” -- and placed a manifesto with a swastika symbol on one officer’s body, according to police officials speaking at a morning news conference. The flag, which dates from the American Revolution, has been adopted by a string of ultra-conservative and libertarian groups.
Clearly, this was a politically motivated assassination, an outright act of terrorism, no different from the killings committed by IRA and Al Qaeda terrorists.

The Millers' Facebook page was filled with anti-law enforcement postings and violent threats. The neighbor with whom the Millers left their pet cat said that Mr. Miller talked nonstop about his opposition to the United States government. "All Jerad wanted to do is talk about overthrowing the government,” said Ms. Fielder. “I thought he was talking smack.”

And there's this:
A post on Ms. Miller’s Facebook page from 2011 warns that people are “lucky I can’t kill you now but remember one day I will get you because one day all hell will break loose and I’ll be standing in the middle of it with a shotgun in one hand and a pistol in the other.”

Ms. Miller worked at Hobby Lobby, the "Christian" store who went to the Supreme Court to avoid providing birth control coverage for employees. A coincidence, or birds of a feather flocking together?

These rants are typical of the rhetoric of people demanding they be able to walk around in public with guns. Undoubtedly their compatriots will dismiss them as lunatics who went too far. But how close behind them are the people who spend their every waking moment glorifying guns and violence and imagining government-wide conspiracies to disarm them? What perceived slight will tip them over the edge and send them on a murderous rampage?

And finally, there's this:
LAS VEGAS — Police say a shopper armed with a concealed weapon inside a Las Vegas Wal-Mart confronted an armed man who entered the store with his wife moments after the couple killed two officers in a nearby restaurant.

Assistant Sheriff Kevin McMahill said Monday that 31-year-old Joseph Wilcox of Las Vegas was in the checkout line when he saw Jerad Miller fire a shot and went to confront him.

Miller's wife, Amanda, pulled out a gun and shot Wilcox in the rib area. He collapsed and died.
So, the final tally? Bad guys with guns: 5, good guys with guns: 0.

At a news conference on Monday Las Vegas police said, “We believe this was an isolated act.”

Sadly, I'm not so sure. There's a lot more of these nuts hanging out at Cliven Bundy's ranch with a whole lot of guns. And by their own admission, they're more than willing to use them.

Two Dead Cops and Typhoid Rambo

Two good guys with guns eating lunch just got executed in a Las Vegas pizza parlor:
Sheree Burns, 48, told the Las Vegas Sun she was eating at the restaurant, seated just behind the two officers.

A man came up to one of the officers and shot him in the head, Burns said. She said she ducked under her table but peeked up and saw the other officer being shot.

She said the man took an officer's handgun and the two attackers fled.
Having guns did nothing to protect the officers. The cops' guns only served to give the killers additional firepower.

At the same time in Texas we've got all these open-carry nut jobs walking into restaurants brandishing assault rifles.

How are the cops supposed to know that the clowns in Texas carrying AK 47s into restaurants aren't going to shoot them in the back?

Having even more guys with guns doesn't help the situation: the shooters in Vegas were suicidal nut jobs. As with the recent misogynistic suicidal nut job in California, and most other suicidal nut jobs who've gone on killing sprees over the last several years, the threat of death does not deter them. They are the bad guys, and they shoot first. Plus, they want to commit suicide! Dying is the whole point!

The open-carry nut jobs in Texas are rather dense. If some mass murderer wants to open fire in a restaurant, or a dope fiend wants to rob the joint, who's he going to shoot first? The cashier or the egocentric nitwits who thought it was a good idea to scare everyone half to death by bringing guns into a restaurant?

So, at this point, if a cop just up and shot one of these open-carry idiots, who could possibly question his judgment? Two of his fellow officers were just gunned down in Vegas. Anyone with a gun is a clear and present danger, not just because they might be wacko, but because any wacko can grab that gun from them.

And it's not just about mass murder or suicide by cop. Amateurs who carelessly brandish semiautomatic rifles in public places as if they were Super Soakers endanger themselves and everyone around them. Every day you read another story about how some moron cleaning his gun killed his son, or how some woman's gun fell out of her purse and killed her husband, or how some idiot with a gun in his waistband shot himself in the groin.

It's only a matter of time before one of these swaggering, overconfident open-carry idiots forgets there's a round in the chamber and shoots a waitress. Or leaves his weapon in the can and some little boy who thinks it's a toy finds it and shoots his dad. Or thinks he's witnessing a robbery in progress and shoots innocent bystanders in the cross fire. Or gets knifed in the back by a madman who takes his weapon and kills him and 12 innocent children.

All of these are low-probability incidents. But when you have millions of guns, all those low probabilities turn into thousands of dead and wounded victims.

Guns are a communicable disease: anyone exposed to them is at risk of injury and death. As with any disease, carriers are more likely to die themselves; six out of ten firearms deaths are due to suicide. If you openly carry a gun in public you can expect people to treat you like you have a deadly infection. You're a Typhoid Rambo.

You have a right to free speech, but you don't have the right to go into restaurants and harangue the other patrons about the atrocities that J.J. Abrams has wrought upon Star Trek. Why do gun nuts think that their supposed Second Amendment right to tote their deadly toys in public trumps the rights of everyone else to not get shot?

Reduction Emissions Already Achieved

With bowels being blown and predictions of the US economy swirling down a boiling pit of sewage due to the president's new carbon emissions regulations, the right has completely failed to note the following: the 30 percent reduction the president is calling for has already been achieved in some parts of the country. And guess what?

No boiling pit of sewage.

Take a look at this recent piece from the New York Times and the Georgetown Climate Center. 

At least 10 states cut their emissions by that amount or more between 2005 and 2012, and several other states were well on their way, almost two decades before Mr. Obama’s clock for the nation runs out.

That does not mean these states are off the hook under the Obama plan unveiled this week — they will probably be expected to cut more to help achieve the overall national goal — but their strides so far have not brought economic ruin. In New England, a region that has made some of the biggest cuts in emissions, residential electricity bills fell 7 percent from 2005 to 2012, adjusted for inflation. And economic growth in the region ran slightly ahead of the national average.

Once again, Republicans are essentially lying about the detrimental effects of these new regulations. They are also continuing to lie about cap and trade.

Through a program called cap and trade, the Northeastern states also impose a small price on emissions of carbon dioxide from power generation, and plow the proceeds back into energy-efficiency programs, such as retrofitting homes and businesses, lowering electricity bills. And the states have encouraged the growth of emissions-free renewable power and more judicious use of energy. David W. Cash, the Massachusetts commissioner of environmental protection, said he saw a direct link between the state’s above-average economic performance in recent years and lower energy bills for businesses and consumers. 

“Every dollar they’re not spending on coal that comes from Colombia or natural gas that comes from Pennsylvania is a dollar that stays here in Massachusetts,” Mr. Cash said.

So, there goes another bullshit myth.

When will the rest of the United States stop listening to these bozos?

Sunday, June 08, 2014

A Sunday Reflection

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism. ... And he gave them a formula for action, "Be ye therefore as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." ... We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

--Dr. Martin Luther King, Strength to Love (1963) (Ch. 1 : A tough mind and a tender heart)