Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Why Do They Vote Republican Again?

The clip below is really bad quality (looks like a smart phone recording) but pay attention to the guy at the 1 minute 40 second mark...


If voters were more educated, Republicans would cease to exist as a party because so few people would vote for them.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What Ever Happened to Good Old-Fashioned Police Work?

The poor FBI. Apple is going to make their job impossible by encrypting the contents of the iPhone 6.
The phone encrypts emails, photos and contacts based on a complex mathematical algorithm that uses a code created by, and unique to, the phone’s user — and that Apple says it will not possess.

The result, the company is essentially saying, is that if Apple is sent a court order demanding that the contents of an iPhone 6 be provided to intelligence agencies or law enforcement, it will turn over gibberish, along with a note saying that to decode the phone’s emails, contacts and photos, investigators will have to break the code or get the code from the phone’s owner.
Breaking the code, according to an Apple technical guide, could take “more than 5 1/2 years to try all combinations of a six-character alphanumeric passcode with lowercase letters and numbers.” (Computer security experts question that figure, because Apple does not fully realize how quickly the N.S.A. supercomputers can crack codes.) 
Since this code is "created by" the phone's user I also question that figure. If these codes are anything like the passwords most people use for their email accounts, it will take about five minutes to decrypt 80% of all the iPhones out there.

And, yet again, the FBI is trotting out the hoary old "kidnapper" fable:
He cited kidnapping cases, in which exploiting the contents of a seized phone could lead to finding a victim, and predicted there would be moments when parents would come to him “with tears in their eyes, look at me and say, ‘What do you mean you can’t’ ” decode the contents of a phone.
Huh? If you've got the kidnapper's cell phone, you've probably got the kidnapper. Which means you've pretty much got the case solved 99.9% of the time. Yeah, we've all seen this TV show: the cops have captured the kidnapper, but his victim is buried out in the woods somewhere with only 37 minutes of air, and if they don't get him to confess the victim will suffocate and there won't be any evidence with which to prosecute the bastard.

But does that ever happen in real life? I can't think of an actual case like that. In all the recent high-profile kidnappings around here, the victim disappears, the cops don't find anything for weeks, eventually they find the perp, and it's another six months before they track down the corpse buried in the woods or dumped in a lake. Or the victim has been living with the perp for the last five years as his sex slave. Or the victim is a child in a nasty custody battle.

And all those same TV shows tell us that if you don't find a kidnapping victim alive within 24-48 hours, odds are you never will. And since cops rarely investigate missing persons until they've been gone for 24 hours, what are the odds that being able to decrypt a cellphone will make it easier to find that kidnapping victim?

Does it make any sense have a legal system that makes it trivial for cops to snoop on 300 million Americans in order to make it slightly easier for them to solve a case that happens maybe once every 10 years?

What did the FBI do 20 years ago, before cell phones? Back then, kidnappers just remembered everything, or wrote it down on pieces of paper they could eat when they were gonna get caught. Law enforcement couldn't track everyone's whereabouts through cell phone towers, or read your email off the backups on your ISP's server without ever setting foot in your house. Kidnappers used paper maps instead of GPS units, which left absolutely no electronic trace whatsoever.

Back then, the FBI had to rely on old-fashioned police work and deductive reasoning. If you watch those same TV shows, you learn that other forensic techniques (pollen, trace evidence, telephone logs, cell phone tracking, lists of known associates from police files) lead them to the victims just as easily as text messages, contact lists and cell phone photos.

Is the FBI just getting lazy? Cell tower tracking data and call logs from the phone company will also lead them to co-conspirators, and kidnappers can't delete that data from their phones. And if the kidnappers are smart enough to turn their phones off so they aren't tracked and not call their partners in crime, odds are they're smart enough not to put anything useful in their phones in the first place: if you want to keep a secret, don't tell anyone and don't write it down. Anywhere. It didn't take Edward Snowden to tell us that: anyone watching any cop show for the last 20 years knows it inside and out.

The public should have the right to protect themselves against the theft of their data by criminals. If we should have the right to protect ourselves with guns that can just as easily be used to murder dozens of innocent victims at a time, shouldn't we have the right to use encryption to protect ourselves from blackmail and theft of intellectual property? If a business competitor steals your phone, you should be able to encrypt the data so they can't profit. If Kate Upton loses her cell phone, she should have the expectation that her nude selfies will not be spewed across the Internet.

Speaking of nude selfies, I would say that Apple is not going far enough with its encryption: several celebrities' online accounts were recently hacked and embarrassing photos were released. That should be much harder to do. In any case, everything in the Cloud should be encrypted to prevent poorly paid sysadmins from rummaging through your personal files and selling them to TMZ or your competitors.

The FBI is just whining. To reiterate, if these files are encrypted with a user-supplied code, that code will be relatively easy to guess most of the time. If it's not easy to guess, then it's probably not easy to remember, and that means any would-be kidnappers will have it written down on a piece of paper. Probably in their desk at home, or in their wallet, or on a USB flash drive in their possession.

In other words, easily found by good, old-fashioned detective work.

Kidnapping is a red herring. The FBI really wants contact lists to be unencrypted so they can more easily track down organized crime, drug dealing, terrorism and insider trading. Those are all things worth fighting, but the FBI shouldn't be lying about why they want to be able to spy on us.

Things I have learned from my Facebook feed recently...

1. Barack Obama is Lord Voldermort
2. The Koch Brothers are Lord Voldermort
3. The federal government is practicing black magic.
4. Monsanto is practicing black magic.
5. Climate change, nuclear energy, GMOs and vaccines are all black magic practiced with nefarious intent by THEM.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Military To Fox News: Fuck you!

An Open Letter To Fox News About 'Boobs On The Ground'

First, foremost, and most obvious to everyone other than yourselves, your remarks were immensely inappropriate. Your co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle was so right to call attention to an inspiring story of a woman shattering glass ceilings in a society where doing so is immeasurably difficult. We never heard an answer to her question: why did you feel so compelled to “ruin her thing?”

As it turns out, women have been flying combat aircraft since before either of you were born.Over 1,000 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) flew during World War II. Seeing as U.S. Army Air Forces Commander “Hap” Arnold said “Now in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men,” we can probably guess he thought their parking was adequate. The WASP legacy reaches into the present day; on 9/11, then Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney scrambledher F-16. Completely unarmed, she was ready to lay down her own life to prevent further devastating attacks on American soil.

Thus the skill of women as fighter pilots is well established. And before you jump to the standby excuse that you were “just making a joke” or “having a laugh,” let the men amongst our number preemptively respond: You are not funny. You are not clever. And you are not excused. Perhaps the phrase “boys will be boys”—inevitably uttered wherever misogyny is present—is relevant. Men would never insult and demean a fellow servicemember; boys think saying the word ‘boobs’ is funny.

The less obvious implication of your remarks, however, is that by offending an ally and cheapening her contribution, you are actively hurting the mission. We need to send a clear message that anyone, male or female, who will stand up to ISIS and get the job done is worthy of our respect and gratitude.

We issue an apology on your behalf to Major Al Mansouri knowing that anything your producers force you to say will be contrived and insincere. Major, we’re sincerely sorry for the rudeness; clearly, these boys don’t take your service seriously, but we and the rest of the American public do.

Very Respectfully,

Michael Breen, U.S. Army
Shawn VanDiver, U.S. Navy
Kristen Rouse, U.S. National Guard
Andrea Marr, U.S. Navy
Kristen Kavanaugh, U.S. Navy
Richard Wheeler, U.S. Army
Leo Cruz, U.S. Navy
Aryanna Hunter, U.S. Army
Geoff Orazem U.S. Marine Corps
Scott Cheney-Peters, U.S. Navy
Jonathan Murray, U.S. Marine Corps
Timothy Kudo, U.S. Marine Corps
Welton Chang, U.S. Army
Michael Smith, U.S. Army
Gordon Griffin, U.S. Marine Corps
Kelsey Campbell, U.S. Air Force
Matt Runyon, U.S. Army
Richard Weir, U.S. Marine Corps
Scott Holcomb, U.S. Army
Jon Gensler, U.S. Army
Erik Brine, U.S. Air Froce
Rob Miller, U.S. Marine Corps
Josh Weinberg, U.S. Army
John Wagner, U.S. Air Force
Terron Sims II, U.S. Army
Sonia Fernandez, U.S. Marine Corps
Dan Hartnett, U.S. Army
Dan Futrell, U.S. Army
John Margolick, U.S. Marine Corps
Daniel Savage, U.S. Army
Matt Pelak, U.S. Army,
LaRue Robinson, U.S. Army
Anthony Woods, U.S Army
Margot Beausey, U.S. Navy
Dustin Cathcart, U.S. Army
Kayla Williams, U.S. Army
Dan Espinal, U.S. Army
Jonathan Hopkins, U.S. Army
Tony Johnson, U.S. Navy
Andy Moore, U.S. Army
Kevin Johnson, U.S. Army
Brett Hunt, U.S. Army
Russell Galeti, U.S. Army
Gail Harris, U.S. Navy
Katelyn Geary van Dam, U.S. Marine Corps
Mick Crnkovich, U.S. Army
Jonathan Freeman, U.S. Army
Chris Finan, U.S. Air Force
Robert Mishev, U.S. Air Force
Matt Zeller, U.S. Army
William Allen, U.S. Marine Corps
Sharmistha Mohpatra, U.S. Army
Adam Tiffen, U.S. Army
Alex Cornell du Houx, U.S. Navy
Jason Cain, U.S. Army
Rob Bracknell, U.S. Marine Corps
Karen Courington, U.S. Air Force
Justin Graf, U.S. Army
Lach Litwer, U.S. Army
Andrew Borene, U.S. Marine Corps

Saturday, September 27, 2014

False Patriotism and Scoring Points In A Game No One Else Is Playing

Election 2014 Update

Now that we are sufficiently past the Labor Day holiday, we can take a look at the polls for November election and see a much clearer picture. At this point in time, things don't look good at all for the Democrats.

The two main sources I use in predicting elections are RealClear Politics and Nate Silver's 538 Blog. The former currently has 45 D and 47 R with 9 tossups so let's start with that baseline and build from there. Silver has Michigan and New Hampshire going to the Dems with an 82 percent chance and North Carolina doing the same with a 76 percent chance. That puts the Senate at 47-47 with six seats up for grabs. This is exactly where control for the Senate will be fought.

Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, and Kansas.

Before we focus on these states, it's worth a moment to note Kentucky and Louisiana. It looks like Mitch McConnell is firmly in control of winning back his seat. Alison Grimes is a great candidate but she hasn't been able to make any headway. Given all the data that goes into predicting elections, the most important of which is turnout, things don't look good for her at all. Nor do they look good for Mary Landrieu with RCP having Louisiana as a lean R and part of that 47. She is also not a good candidate and will not get the 50 percent of the vote needed to prevent a runoff which will occur in December. At this point, I predict that this election will tip the outcome of the Senate. More on that in a moment.

Colorado will go for the Democrats. There is also an election for the state's governor there which means larger voter turnout. That always favors the Democrats. John Hickenlooper is in a tight race but I think he will prevail. So will Tom Udall despite the recent Quinnipiac poll which no one really takes seriously (compare them to other polls). I also think Iowa will go for the incredibly flawed candidate, Bruce Braley. There will also be a bigger turnout in this state because of the gubernatorial election (event though Terry Branstead will win) and thus, more Democratic voters. Iowa also does not elect women Senators.

So, that brings the Dems to 49 but at this point, I think that is all they are going to get. Silver has Alaska, Arkansas and Georgia all going R with over a 70 percent chance and I think he is right with one small caveat. The Alaska voters are very hard to poll and turnout is always low yet still favors incumbents so everyone could be off on this one. But let's say it goes red so now the GOP has 50 and that leaves us with Kansas. Greg Orman was recently courted by the failed Tea Party candidate, Milton Wolf and I think that he will eventually caucus with the Republicans. He could surprise everyone, however, and be the first truly independent candidate but Kansas is a red state so it's likely he will want to please his voters. That puts the GOP at 51.

Of course, on election night, it will be 50 GOP, 49 Dems with Louisiana into a runoff. Suddenly all eyes will be on Mary Landrieu and I don't think she will be up to the task. Millions will be poured into the runoff but it won't work for the Democrats. At this point, I predict that the Senate will be 51 R, 49 Dem. 

Could there be twists, turns and surprises which will alter my prediction?

Naturally. I could be off on Orman (a former Democrat) and the anti-GOP sentiment in Kansas, due to the absolute failure of the conservative economic policies of Sam Brownback, could tip him into caucusing with the Democrats. Or Begich, Pryor could pull it out. It's very hard to unseat an incumbent. Perhaps Iowa could surprise and elect a woman.

No doubt, things are going to be very exciting in the next few weeks!

Friday, September 26, 2014

How Much Longer Is This Gonna Go On?

Ever since Ferguson many whites seem to think that blacks are being hypersensitive about getting stopped by cops. Here's a reality check: this dashboard video shows what happens when a black man, Levar Jones, is stopped by a white Trooper, Sean Groubert, for a seatbelt violation in South Carolina.

This time around, however, the cop has been charged with assault. Here's a summary of what went down:
Jones was stopped Sept. 4 as he pulled into a convenience store on a busy Columbia road. With the camera recording, Groubert pulls up without his siren on as Jones is getting out of his vehicle to go into the store.

"Can I see your license please?" Groubert asks.

As Jones turns and reaches back into his car, Groubert shouts, "Get outa the car, get outa the car." He begins firing before he has finished the second sentence. There is a third shot as Jones staggers away, backing up with his hands raised, and then a fourth.

From the first shot to the fourth, the video clicks off three seconds.

Jones' wallet can be seen flying out of his hands as he raises them.

Groubert's lawyer, Barney Giese, said the shooting was justified because the trooper feared for his life and the safety of others. Police officers are rarely charged in South Carolina. In August, a prosecutor refused to file criminal charges against a York County deputy who shot a 70-year-old man after mistaking his cane for a shotgun during an after-dark traffic stop.
The defense lawyer's argument is preposterous: he essentially is saying this his client should go free because he shot an innocent man for complying with the orders of a police officer. This is like one of those dirty cop movies: if you want to kill a suspect, tell him to do something, and when he does it, pretend that you were afraid he was going to do something else. If he doesn't comply, you can shoot him for disobeying orders. It's win-win!

Black men have to deal with this crap all the time, and without the dashboard cam we would have no idea what really happened, and the cop would have walked away with a commendation for being so "vigilant."

But video cameras have their limitations: much of the action is out of the frame; Groubert can't be seen, and Jones is no longer visible after a few seconds. It's just dumb luck that things were lined up properly: if Groubert had been just a little smarter, and pointed his car in a slightly different direction, he would be getting a commendation for saving the lives of all the people at the convenience store. You gotta wonder: is the dashboard cam intentionally oriented to capture as little of the action as possible? Why doesn't it fully capture all the action in front of the vehicle, as one would naturally expect?

Right-wing closet racists will blame this all on Jones. As everyone knows, Jones should have had the "talk," which explains how black men must deal with the police: they should move extremely slowly. They should tell the officer what they're going to do, then ask permission to do it in simple terms that a four-year-old can understand, with as "white" an accent as they can muster. Then they should move only after verbal confirmation from the officer, and then only as slowly as an arthritic 90-year-old man

To be fair, cops do get shot in cases like this. A month before this shooting, Michael Pimentel, the chief of police in Elemendorf, Texas, stopped Joshua Manuel Lopez at 11:30 AM and was killed at a in a subsequent "altercation." It appears that Pimentel was after Lopez for spray painting city vehicles.

The suspect had an outstanding warrant for graffiti. None of the stories I can find explains exactly what happened. My question is, was Pimentel killed by his own service weapon, or did Lopez have a gun? If Pimentel was in fact shot with his own weapon, it's clear he was a victim of his own shoddy police work.

A lot of the stops cops make on blacks and Hispanics are for trivial stuff like this, frequently for an unfastened seatbelt, or minor traffic violations, or suspected marijuana possession, things they never bother with in ritzy white neighborhoods. They call it "broken windows" policing, and they claim it gets results and they insist the numbers bear them out.

But when you stop blacks at 10 times the rate that you stop whites, of course you're going to get 10 times as many people holding drugs, and 10 times as many people who resent being harassed by the cops and resist arrest. And 10 times as many "unfortunate incidents."

Even More Diversity!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Finally, A Decline...

For the first time since 1980, the number of federal inmates has fallen. The drop in nearly 5,000 inmates comes as a direct result of the polices of Attorney General Eric Holder.

Holder wants to reduce the number a further 10,000 by 2016, which would be enough to leave six maximum security prisons empty. His package of policing and justice reforms is designed to divert nonviolent criminals away from prison and is seen as a rebuke of the so-called 1994 “crime bill,” which expanded the list of felony crimes, pumped $10 billion into new prisons, and gave incentives to states to mass incarcerate even low level offenders.

Considering we have only 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's inmates, I'd say this is a very large step in the right direction. My hope is that our government goes even further and begins the process of decriminalizing drugs.

Prohibition never works.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Monday, September 22, 2014

Talk About Lazy...

During a talk-radio interview, the Wisconsin Republican spoke of a "tailspin of culture in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value of work."

Ryan later said his remarks were "inarticulate."

At the time, Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, said Ryan's remarks were a "thinly veiled racial attack" in which "inner-city" was a code word for "black."
That got me thinking about the entire concept of laziness.

When I was kid my dad would at times call me lazy because I spent all my time reading, mostly about science and science fiction. When I was in junior high computers just started becoming available in schools, and I spent hours and hours playing around writing silly little BASIC programs (I even got into a little trouble doing this). I did the classic kid jobs, delivering newspapers and cleaning little old ladies' apartments. But my "lazy" leisure activities did much more to prepare me for work than the meager paychecks I received for my menial labors -- my first real job was at a library and after college I went into software engineering.

I was not unlike all those "lazy" inner city black kids who spend all their time on leisure activities such as playing basketball (like Michael Jordan and LeBron James). Then there all those "lazy" suburban burnouts who spend countless hours in the garage pounding on drums or hammering out guitar chords, while their parents and neighbors complain about the noise (like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan). Then there are the "lazy" daydreamers who spend all their time in a fantasy world, reading about hobbits and spaceships (like Steven King and George R. R. Martin). And then there all those "lazy" kids who spend their every waking moment playing video games (like Michael Morhaime, CEO of Blizzard Entertainment, producer of World of Warcraft).

Are you really lazy if you devote a huge amount of time and effort to get really good at something?

I was lucky that my youthful "laziness" primed me for a career in software, which happens to pay well. When I going to college my younger brother told me I was wasting my time going to school. Two years later I was "lending" him money to take a course in heavy machinery operation. I retired in my forties and he's still scrambling to find a job after getting laid off recently. It is really hard for a 54-year-old man to find work, and after 35 years of physical labor you start getting pretty beat up, which further limits your options. Are you really lazy if no one will hire you to do the job that you're good at?

I don't fault my brother for not going to college. Not everyone is cut out to be a programmer; we need heavy equipment operators. But because of the physical demands, it's a job that you won't necessarily be able to do for 40 years.

"Lazy" is what politicians call people who are doing something they don't approve of. Those "lazy" black kids playing basketball are working a hell of lot harder than they would be if they were mopping floors, but there's only so much demand for professional basketball players.

Millions of people want to be professional athletes, singers, guitarists, painters, actors, authors, songwriters and screenwriters, and have worked their butts off to make it. But success in those fields is hard to achieve, and the number of successful practitioners is relatively small. Not only do you have to be good at it, more importantly, you have to have the connections: if you don't know the right people, you will not succeed no matter how good you are.

That means all those people are doing jobs they really don't want to be doing. They settle for working as cooks and waitresses and janitors and used car salesmen because they can't do what they love. And just because they've had to settle for such jobs doesn't mean they should be paid slave wages: everyone should earn a living wage.

But millions of those who are on long-term unemployment aren't that kind of "lazy." They're middle-aged white guys who have lost their jobs because of the recession.

Millions of people, like my brother, can't find a job where they live. To find work they have to abandon their family and friends, take a risk and move to another state to look for a job that they're good at. But they need money to pick and move, money they don't have. Which may mean they have to embarrass themselves by moving back in with mom and dad while their employed friends are bouncing their grandkids on their knee.

Who is going to hire a 54-year-old diabetic heavy equipment operator with knee and back problems caused by an accident on the job? Retraining for a completely new career at that age is really tough, even more so because it costs money they don't have. And if they spend two years at a vo-tech learning a new job in something like computer controlled manufacturing, there's no guarantee whatsoever that any company will hire them, especially when they can hire their grandkids instead.

Unless they know someone who can get them a job, the only option for guys like this is to start back at the bottom in a job at Walmart. And they can't live on a Walmart wage. (Fortunately, because of the Affordable Care Act, most people stuck in this situation now have access to health care so their diabetes won't kill them. Except those people who live in a state run by Republican nitwits who have spent the last five years trying to sabotage the president in every way possible.)

Yes, it's true, if they're not too beat up physically, people like my brother can go to the oil patch in Nowheresville, North Dakota, and apply for a dirty and dangerous job on an oil well, where they live in a crowded and filthy town with no decent apartments, and prostitution and drug use are endemic. Sounds great.

My brother is not unskilled or lazy, but there are a million guys just like him in the same jam. He's a hunter and a fisherman. He'd make a great park ranger, a job he'd love. But so would a million other guys in the same situation.

If you really want to talk about lazy, consider John Boehner and Paul Ryan. All they do is whine about the president, call up rich people and badger them for money, and fly around the country to schmooze with wealthy campaign contributors and the Koch brothers' operatives. And every few weeks they hold another vote to repeal Obamacare.

Does they ever actually do anything?

The Genuine Progress Indicator

A recent discussion on Facebook regarding GDP as a measure of growth and stability led me to learn about GPI: Genuine Progress Indicator. GPI looks at 26 different indicators to measure citizens' well being. These indicators fall under three categories: economic, environmental, and social. After spending some time reading through the various benchmarks, it's become quite clear to me that this is a far more intelligent and detailed way to judge exactly how we are doing as a nation. Some states in our country have adopted GPI as a way to measure their successes or failures. Vermont became the first in 2012 and there is now a report on Maryland.

Consider what Robert Kennedy said when he was running for president in 1968.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Good Words (Renewable Energy Version)

Vivek Wadhwa's recent piece on solar energy really puts things in perspective. He notes one of my favorite thinkers and his astute prediction.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil notes that solar power has been doubling every two years for the past 30 years — as costs have been dropping. He says solar energy is only six doublings — or less than 14 years — away from meeting 100 percent of today’s energy needs. Energy usage will keep increasing, so this is a moving target. But, by Kurzweil’s estimates, inexpensive renewable sources will provide more energy than the world needs in less than 20 years. Even then, we will be using only one part in 10,000 of the sunlight that falls on the Earth.

In places such as Germany, Spain, Portugal, Australia and the Southwest United States, residential-scale solar production has already reached “grid parity” with average residential electricity prices. In other words, it costs no more in the long term to install solar panels than to buy electricity from utility companies. The prices of solar panels have fallen 75 percent in the past five years alone and will fall much further as the technologies to create them improve and scale of production increases. By 2020, solar energy will be price-competitive with energy generated from fossil fuels on an unsubsidized basis in most parts of the world. Within the next decade, it will cost a fraction of what fossil fuel-based alternatives do.

Yes, it will. And then all this silliness over the validity of climate change being a "hoax" won't matter. The free market will have simply taken care of all of it.

The rest of the piece contains some very interesting chestnuts. These two are my favorites.

There will be disruption of the entire fossil-fuel industry, starting with utility companies, which will face declining demand and then bankruptcy.

We will go from debating incentives for installing clean energies to debating subsidies for utility companies to keep their operations going.

Indeed. It will be a pleasure to see climate change skeptics, who rabidly defend fossil fuel producers, turn on them for taking government handouts. Or will they?

They are insanely stubborn people, after all:)

Friday, September 19, 2014

His Year In The NRA

There are a great many wonderful things about Rob Cox's latest piece on the Gun Cult that are all sure to blow bowels across the nation. It's a long read but most worth it. Here are my highlights.

And that’s when it really hit me. What the people of Newtown wanted — and indeed all Americans at that moment wanted and still want — was an honest discussion about how something as awful as Sandy Hook could happen, and how to prevent it from happening again. LaPierre made it clear the NRA was going to do everything in its power to thwart genuine debate. 

It goes way past LaPierre. The entirety of the Gun Cult wants to thwart genuine debate. One need only look at my comments section for evidence of that.

The most distinctive element was a general sense of impending doom, a pervading belief that America is swiftly going down the tubes. This sentiment was particularly evident at the 5th Annual Freedom First Financial Seminar, one of the many sessions taking place off the main exhibition carnival.

This was Cox's impression of NRA attendees...what an awful way to live your life...

The NRA’s political agenda is pretty simple: It works to perpetuate gun culture in America, and ensure that access to guns is unfettered. And unlike, say, tobacco or automobiles, the constitution gives the NRA an authoritative, to some religious, scripture to which it can continually refer when opposing regulation of the products its corporate supporters sell to its $25-a-head members.


Since joining, I have received countless calls to political action. On the day before a background-check bill failed to pass the Senate in April 2013, LaPierre emailed me that “anti-gun ringleaders in Congress and the national media are waging all-out war on our gun rights” and are “fighting to BAN tens of millions of commonly owned firearms… fighting to register and license gun owners…fighting to create a federal registry of ammo buyers…and fighting to destroy your right to defend yourself, your home and your loved ones.”

They's a comin!!!!

The best part?

A salesman with a country twang wanted me to renew my NRA membership on special terms. But before making the offer, he wanted me to answer a simple multiple-choice question: “What do you think is the single greatest threat to your Second Amendment freedoms?” Was it, he asked, Barack Obama? Was it the United Nations and its Arms Trade Treaty? Or was it the “gun grabbers” Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Schumer, and Dianne Feinstein? 

I told him I didn’t think the black guy in the White House, foreigners, or the Jews in Congress were the problem. Rather, I told him, I worry about my fellow Americans who routinely abrogate their rights by not recognizing the responsibilities that come with owning firearms. Every time I see the headlines about a toddler who kills his little sister with Dad’s loaded, unsecured pistol, I worry for my rights. I told him that when I see the horrors inflicted by yet another psychopathic young man who should never have legal access to the kinds of guns our veterans have become accustomed to on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, I worry about my freedoms. 

I think this will be my response the next time I get into it with a gun cult member.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Energy, the Dominion of Mankind and the Free Market

As an adjunct to Mark's post, The New York Times has a detailed look at renewable energy in general and Germany in particular. But if you look more closely at the numbers, it becomes clear that "green" energy still comes with an environmental cost. Of course, it can't be any other way: there are billions of humans using trillions of kilowatt-hours of electricity: that's gonna leave a mark. On the other hand, hydroelectric, solar and wind power already cost less than coal and gas.

The following table gives more detail for power generation:

The thing to note is that Brazil and Canada lead the world in renewable power generation, and they do it with hydroelectric.

On the ideological front, conservatives love to hate renewables because they think it means caving in to namby-pamby Bambi lovers. They seem to think that using renewable energy somehow surrenders our God-given dominion over the earth.

But environmentalists hate hydroelectric power. It covers up huge areas of land, interferes with spawning fish and causes any number of other environmental problems. Huge dams can burst and kill thousands of people.

Ditto with wind power. Some environmentalists don't like wind turbines because some birds are killed flying into the blades. This is something that the fossil fuel industry loves to play up, even though the number of birds killed by wind turbines is infinitesimal compared to the billions of birds killed each year by pet cats, flying into glass buildings and oil spills.

Ditto with solar power. Some environmentalists don't like solar power because it uses so much land, and endangers some tortoise in the middle of the Mojave desert. They also don't like solar thermal power plants because the reflected sunlight scorches birds in midair.

So, conservatives need not worry that mankind will cease to assert our dominion over the earth just because we stop burning coal, oil and gas: with hydro, wind and solar we use will still make our mark on the world and run roughshod over other species. We just won't be pumping as much CO2 into the atmosphere and warming up the planet to the detriment of humanity.

On the economic front, Germany is finding is that solar power and wind power are already cheaper than coal and gas, due to improvements in technology, economies of scale and a Chinese push for cleaner energy (because of the intolerable air pollution in China).
Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.

A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.
The problem is that power companies make most of their profit during times of peak demand, when they can charge much more for power. Peak demand is usually during the day, when it's hottest. That coincides with peak energy generation from solar power. 

In Germany, cheap solar power is already undercutting fossil fuel power generation during the most profitable time of day.

The free market is making coal and gas plants obsolete. Up till now most power utilities have been monopolies that have in turn been captives of the fossil fuel energy monopoly. But now, as the price of renewables has tumbled and governments have opened up power generation so that anyone can feed power into the grid, the utility and fossil fuel monopolies are endangered. Consumers benefit by not getting screwed for running the dishwasher at the wrong time.

In the long run, how can energy from coal, oil and gas compete? You have to pay fossil fuel energy monopolies a lot of money to dig through billions of tons of rock to extract billions of tons of oil, coal and gas, often in countries that are openly hostile to the Free World, and then ship that fuel thousands of miles at great expense and risk. Hydro, wind and solar plants get their fuel for free, right where they are. And when battery technology is improved to allow greater storage and fast charging, oil will no longer be an economical fuel for transportation.

Free markets and the dominion of mankind over the earth: for conservatives, what's not to love about renewable energy?

Cleaning Up Our Act

Turning towards good news once again, this recent piece from the Christian Science Monitor shows how the world is quickly embracing renewable energy.

Last year, new global capacity of hydroelectricity, wind, solar, and other renewable power grew by more than in any year before, according to a new report by the Paris-based International Energy Agency, continuing a run of record-breaking additions that stretches back to the beginning of this century. Renewable electricity now accounts for about 22 percent of power generation worldwide, up from 18.4 percent in 2005. The rise is largely due to the emergence of the onshore wind industry and the spread of solar photovoltaic technology. By decade’s end, the IEA projects that more than a quarter of the world’s electricity will come from sources that are carbon-free and naturally replenishable.

Here is where we are at right now with energy usage in the world

Looks like we have some catching up to do!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

“We’re going to be bankrupt in two or three years if we keep going his way.”

The state of Kansas has become an excellent example of exactly what happens when you run a government with they type of policies championed by right wing bloggers.

In his 40 years living in Kansas, Konrad Hastings cannot remember voting for a Democrat. He is the type who agonizes over big purchases, trying to save as much money as possible. He is against stricter gun laws, opposes abortion in most cases and prefers less government involvement in his life.

But when he casts his ballot for governor in November, he plans to shun the leader of this state’s conservative movement, the Republican incumbent, Sam Brownback, and vote for the Democratic challenger. “He’s leading Kansas down,” said Mr. Hastings, 68, who said he voted for Mr. Brownback four years ago, when he easily won his first term. “We’re going to be bankrupt in two or three years if we keep going his way.”

Apparently, other Republicans feel the same way because Brownback is down in the polls in a deep red state like Kansas. Just to put this in perspective...Barack Obama lost Kansas by more than 20 points in the 2012 election. And look who else is in trouble because of his policies. The one thing that both Kansas and Wisconsin have in common?

A right wing blogger view of government and economies.

Ironic that their predictions of doom and gloom are actually self-created:)

Speaking of the fall elections, where is that Republican wave I kept hearing about? Kay Hagan is pulling away from Thom Tillis in North Carolina. Bruce Braley (not a good candidate) has continued to stay ahead of Jodi Ernst. The GOP challengers in Alaska and Arkansas are barely staying ahead of their opponents. This does not look at all like what we saw in September of 2010.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the GOP approval rating is half of the president's approval rating. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Good Words

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Changing Times

It's been a bad week for the NFL. The elevator video of Ray Rice punching his wife Janay and knocking her out was terrible. Adrian Peterson taking a wood switch to his step son and leaving welts and cuts is simply awful. I've enjoyed watching AP play for my beloved Vikings over the years but these recent revelations are simply too much. Both he and Ray Rice should never play in the NFL again.

Although each situation is markedly different, there is an overriding issue that bind them together in commonality. To illustrate this similarity, I have to begin by noting how thoroughly sick I am of the media and their race to prove which one of them is a bigger defender of abused women. I'm a very proud liberal and Democrat but I am completely disgusted by outlets like ThinkProgress, HuffPo, and MSNBC for their hyper over reaction to the Ray Rice story. Here's the deal, folks.

No one is going to dispute that Ray Rice is awful. He should be charged with assault, not a petty misdemeanor. But guess what? Janay Rice is also awful. She spit on him and charged him. That does not give him the right to do what he did but it most certainly means she's not a passive victim from an ABC afterschool special about spousal abuse as the media is making her out to be. That's what makes the Ray Rice story different from the AP story. AP's step son was a passive victim who simply got into an argument over a video game with this brother.

As soon Janay's payday was threatened, she showed her true colors. Both Ray Rice and his wife are emotionally unintelligent people who need years of intensive therapy to be better members of our society. So does Adrian Peterson. So do millions of other couples or parents who think it's OK to solve their problems through violence. This is a problem within the NFL but it's really our society as a whole that has failed to address this issue properly.

If the media wants to perform an actual public service here, they should stop trying to get an "A" in Women's Studies 101 and start promoting good mental and emotional health for all US citizens. Encourage people to go to therapy for their problems and become more emotionally intelligent. EVERYONE needs therapy and the day domestic violence ends is the day the stigma about mental and emotional health is gone with people talking about it as openly as they talk about going to the dentist.

At an even higher level, our revulsion to Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson represents just how much society has changed over the past fifty years. I recall a debate on TSM a couple of years back in which one of biggest fans (DJ) advocated corporal punishment. His support of this shows just how out of step his mentality is with our current society. What we are seeing with these stories is a shift away from that "golden age of America" that conservatives childishly pine for on a daily basis.

There was no fucking golden age of America. Blacks were treated like shit, gay people were arrested, men beat their wives and got away with it because women were considered inferior, and dads whopped their kids leaving welts and cuts. It was a very emotionally unintelligent culture and we are seeing the remnants of that being swept away.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Maher Announces Winner of Flip A District Contest

Bill Maher announced the winner of his "Flip A District" contest and it's none other than Minnesota's own John Kline! The Republican Representative from the 2nd congressional district. RCP currently rates this district as "likely GOP" but Kline's opponent, Democrat Mike Obermueller, is going to get a big boost from this national attention.

My hope is that voters in MN-02 will take a look at Kline's voting record (detailed most eloquently by Maher in the clip from the link) and turn out to vote. If that happens, Obermueller has a chance of winning. Perhaps Maher could do a live show from MN-02 as well. It will be interesting to see if the polls shift over the course of the next few weeks:)

George Zimmerman...again

‘Do you know who I am?’ George Zimmerman threatens to kill driver in road rage incident: Florida cops  

“I looked over - George Zimmerman was the driver - and they were threatening to kick my ass and to shoot me,” Apperson told a dispatcher. “I said, what are you going to do, shoot me? I’m not messing with you.”  

The truck followed Apperson “in an aggressive manner” into the lot and Zimmerman threatened to shoot Apperson “dead,” he told police. Zimmerman “peeled off” after Apperson went inside the store to call police.

I wonder if there is still anyone out there who still supports this guy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Good Words

From a question on Quora about guns...

Like much of public debate and politics in the US, a small fringe element, with support from a willing press, tries to control the narrative by making extreme statements. Sometimes this gets picked up worldwide and it 1) is a successful coup by the fringe group to drive the direction of the dialog and 2) it leaves the remainder of the world with a distorted perception of American society. Most Americans, like 99.9999999%, have no desire for teachers to be armed. 

The idea of a kindergarten teacher "packing iron" to save her students makes little sense except to someone who has never had children and has lived under a rock for twenty years. There are "certain things in everyday life that have gone terribly wrong" in the US, this is not one of them. Declining "civil" discourse, increasingly invasive government and corporate data collection, and wealth disparity are signs of things going terribly wrong. The gun control debate is a sideline issue used to divert people's attention from the real issues that are impacting their lives.

Excellent point and it makes me wonder...perhaps the whole gun debate is a distraction that pushes liberals away from accomplishing the bigger things.

She Stood Her Ground!

A teacher in Utah was wounded when the gun she was carrying discharged while she was in the staff bathroom. It's legal for teachers in Utah to carry guns in schools and they don't have to let their administration know about it. Here's my favorite part from the story.

Police initially thought the gun had discharged directly into her leg but now believe she was injured when the bullet struck a toilet and caused it to explode, sending bullet and porcelain fragments into her lower leg.

So, Toilet 1, Gun Cult paranoid who thinks she needs a gun at a school in fucking Utah 0.

Ah well, she may have lost but at least she stood her ground!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Good News Round Up

Most of the news that is heavily reported these days is bad news. There are number of reasons for this but the main one is that bad news sells better. I think this is complete bullshit and, quite frankly,  a cop out by the media. They could decided tomorrow to focus on all of the progress in the world (like the Christian Science Monitor did) and people just might feel better about the future. In fact, they could evolve away from anger, hate, and fear into much more reasonable beings. I haven't talked about good news on here in a while but starting today, it's going to become a more regular feature here at Markadelphia.

First up, we have this story about the Earth's ozone layer.

The ozone layer that shields the earth from cancer-causing ultraviolet rays is showing early signs of thickening after years of depletion, a UN study says. The ozone hole that appears annually over Antarctica has also stopped growing bigger every year. The report says it will take a decade before the hole starts to shrink. Scientists say the recovery is entirely due to political determination to phase out the man-made CFC gases destroying ozone. The study was published by researchers from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). "International action on the ozone layer is a major environmental success story... This should encourage us to display the same level of urgency and unity to tackle the even greater challenge of tackling climate change," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

Very good news on a problem that has been around all of my life.

Next we have this report on US child wellness and education which concluded there have been gradual and incremental improvements in the lives of American children. Child-wellness indicators in four main areas – economic well-being, education, health, and family and community – reflected an overall increase in the well-being of America’s youths.

Areas of improvement included the drop in teen births per 1,000 (from 40 to 29) and a decrease in the number of children without health insurance (from 10 percent to 7 percent). All four education trouble spots addressed in the study – children not attending preschool, fourth-graders not proficient in reading, fourth-graders not proficient in math, and high school students not graduating on time – dipped at least slightly, between 2 and 8 percent. All health issues improved as well, with fewer low-birth-weight babies, fewer child and teen deaths, and fewer teenagers abusing drugs and alcohol. The CDC also confirms some of these improvements.

Very cool!

Finally, we have news from the United Nations that Rwanda and Ethiopia have the fastest growing economies in Africa. This is especially amazing when you consider that, historically, the names of each of these countries meant violence, death, famine, and literally, a boiling pit of sewage! Each country has provided better access to health care, diversified their economies, and reduced child mortality by nearly 30%.

Look for good news like this every week at Markadelphia!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


As the country prepares to take on the Islamic State extremists currently located in Syria and Iraq, we still have a lingering quandary that needs to be solved. What the hell are they called?

The Washington Post has a piece explaining why our government and the UN calls them ISIL or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

In Arabic, the group is known as Al-Dawla Al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. The term “al-Sham” refers to a region stretching from southern Turkey through Syria to Egypt (also including Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan). The group’s stated goal is to restore an Islamic state, or caliphate, in this entire area. The standard English term for this broad territory is “the Levant.” Therefore, AP’s translation of the group’s name is the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

To be certain, this is something only social studies teachers like me geek out to but I think it's important nonetheless because they geography explains why ISIL is who they are. This is where they believe the next Islamic state should be located. Of course, as the rest of the article notes, even this acronym is up for debate.

The president will address the nation tonight at 9pm Eastern regarding ISIL.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Founding Fathers A Go Go

There have been some pretty strange assertions over the past couple of years about our founding fathers. Politifact has a piece up which collects some of them and rates them for their accuracy. Here is a classic:

"By the word religion in the First Amendment, the founders meant Christianity." Bryan Fischer, Tuesday, December 10th, 2013.

Uh, no they did not.

I will always be amazed at the fervor on display by conservatives in regards to the founding fathers. They feel as though they have some sort of deep and special connection with them. More troubling is their invention (quite literally out of their ass) of what the founding fathers really believed.

Do they think that people aren't capable of picking up a book and verifying their assertions?

Monday, September 08, 2014

Obama Outperforms Reagan

Well, this will most certainly lead to conservative heads exploding, the predictable 8 year old boy tempter tantrum and the overly emotional belief that people are entitled to their own facts.

Obama Outperforms Reagan On Jobs, Growth And Investing

Holy shee-it! Forbes, a bastion of conservative thought, went and done did it. They sacrileged Saint Gip and completely torpedoed the irrational belief that President Obama's policies were bad for the economy. My message to conservatives today.

Stop playing make believe and thank the president. 

It's because of him (and the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) that you still have money.

Big History

recent piece in the New York Times led me David Christian's Big History project and I have to admit I am completely fascinated by it. Professor Christian divides history-ALL history-into sections he calls Thresholds and shows how all scholastic subjects relate to the history of the world. Here is an example..

It's a different way to teach history and Bill Gates has gotten the class in several schools. It also adheres to the Common Core standards which will remove some hassles if teachers want to get it in their schools.

I think it's way past time that we change the way we teach history in our schools. Big History is an excellent first step!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Cartoon Beatitudes!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Architects of Supply Side Economics Recant

I came across both of these videos recently and thought it would be nice of have one post of both of the chief architects of Reaganecomics not only admitting they were completely wrong but also accurately assessing conservatives today and how completely batshit they are.

Mr. Stockman, Mr have the floor...

Friday, September 05, 2014

Thursday, September 04, 2014

R.I.P-Brave Sir Marxy

Without a doubt, the most hilarious thing that conservatives do is accuse liberals of doing the very thing that they, in fact, are doing. This is more commonly known as 'The Rove," named after Karl Rove who consistently used the tactic of attacking an enemy with what was most clearly the attackers greatest weakness.

They say liberals aren't logical yet their entire ideology is based on appeal to fear and misleading vividness. They say liberals are too emotional yet they behave like adolescents given to fits of irrational outbursts. They say liberals are weak on national security yet they allowed the worst attack on US soil in history and failed to capture or kill the person behind it. They say everything they believe in is based in facts yet they believe they are entitled to their own facts (Benghazi, climate change, racism, evolution etc). The list goes on and on.

In short, they excel at Projection/Flipping. This simple truth becomes crystal clear when one is engaged in the comments section of web site or blog. My interactions with conservatives here, on The Smallest Minority and now on Quora illustrate that they project/flip consistently and it really cracks me up. They are just that fucking insecure.

My favorite project/flip of all time has to be the accusation that I was a coward, running away from discussions when they didn't go my way. They called me, in all too typical adolescent bully-ese, "Brave Sir Marxy" (after Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python's Holy Grail). It was truly a classic because I wasn't so much running away as calling them on their bullshit way of framing questions to "win." Man, did that really piss them off!

Even with all of their childish whining about it, the forum at The Smallest Minority still voted me off their island. This happened right around the time I made Unix Jedi my son in a very long economics discussion. It was also after I invited any takers to debate me in an open and unbiased forum. No one has, as of today, accepted my challenge.

My regular commenters on this site (a few TSM holdovers) have also not accepted the same challenge. In fact, they have not come forward to reveal who they are on Quora although I do have my suspicions. They prefer to throw snipes at me here, where the readership is far less than Quora, and where their comments go unchallenged from those pesky facts (largely because the same seven people read, Nikto and the five of them).

And just last week, the head cheerleader of the "Brave Sir Robin" crowd, Kevin Baker, blocked me on Quora. Someone who prides himself on being a courageous, critical thinker, completely unable to handle the reality that is slowly shrinking his bubble...stunning. I've had about a half a dozen people block me on Quora and they are all the same personality...conservative, childish, insecure, clear inferiority complex, angry, filled with hate, and afraid. Not surprisingly as well, Kevin and these others that have blocked me don't really offer much on their own on Quora. It's upvotes and a few comments but never any questions and rarely answers.

I don't block anyone there. People can comment as freely as they like on my questions, answers, and comments. With such high traffic at Quora, it's a much more interesting forum with all of the diversity of thought. I've got over 100 followers now and have posted around the same number of questions and answers. I've also been asked, via message, some changes I'd like to see to the site. Pretty cool!

So, with Kevin blocking me and Guard Duck, juris, Larry, and 6Kings completely failing to come forward on Quora, the "brave Sir Marxy" meme is officially torpedoed and the true cowards are revealed for who they are. Of course, this could change if anyone decides they want to see how they fair on Quora or any other larger forum.

The challenge is always extended and I hope that someday it's accepted.

Nothing Is The Matter With Kansas

The withdrawal of Kansas Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Chad Taylor spells big trouble for the GOP's chances to take back the upper chamber in November. Independent candidate Greg Orman is polling much higher than Pat Roberts and is running a very effective campaign that appeals to both Democratic and Republican voters. When asked who he would caucus with if he was elected, Orman replied that he would work with whatever party wanted to fix the problems our nation faces.

Hmm...I wonder which party that is?

Imagine if it's 50-49, GOP, on the morning after election day. Greg Orman will be the most popular man in the country!

Meanwhile the last two polls from Georgia show Michelle Nunn ahead of David Perdue. The Republicans can't lose either of these states if they hope to take back the Senate. They already have to sweep Iowa, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Real Clear Politics has them doing that with razor thin leads but much of that polling is old, summer numbers. It's going to be interesting to see what polls we see in the next few weeks.

One thing we can definitely glean from all of these tight numbers is that it's very unlikely to be a wave election. Politico's LARRY J. SABATO, KYLE KONDIK and GEOFFREY SKELLEY all agree.

So where’s the wave? This is President Obama’s sixth-year-itch election. The map of states with contested Senate seats could hardly be better from the Republicans’ vantage point. And the breaks this year—strong candidates, avoidance of damaging gaffes, issues such as Obamacare and immigration that stir the party base—have mainly gone the GOP’s way, very unlike 2012. 

Nonetheless, the midterms are far from over. In every single one of the Crystal Ball’s toss-up states, (Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina), the Republican Senate candidate has not yet opened up a real polling lead in any of them. Democratic nominees have been running hard and staying slightly ahead, or close to, their Republican foes.

The reason is quite simple. The voting public dislikes the Republicans more than the president.

So, now we starting to see stories like this one.

Why Democrats will keep the Senate: A contrarian analysis of the 2014 midterms

Or this one.

How Democrats Can Hold Their Senate Majority

Here's another cool site for all you statistics and polling nerd.

We're in the home stretch, kiddos. Buckle up for a crazy ride!!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Back To School Round Up

With a new school year under way, I thought I would clear out my "Education" folder of saved links in one post. The first story comes from my favorite news source, The Christian Science Monitor (daily news feed located on the right side of this site). They have a great piece up about Common Core and why both the left and the right hate it. Why do the Republicans hate it?

Most people agree that for Republicans, the seeds of the backlash were planted when President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan got behind the standards, encouraging states that wanted to apply for federal Race to the Top funds to either adopt the standards or adopt comparable ones deemed “college- and career-ready.” What had been sold as a state-led effort, supported by the National Governors Association, suddenly became associated with Mr. Obama, and rumors circulated quickly of a national curriculum (the standards don’t actually prescribe curriculum) and a federal takeover of education.

So the usual adolescent rebellion. I'd also add in that Common Core critics from the right have religious objections to what is considered basic standards (evolution, climate change, etc) as well as any sort of history being taught that paints the US in a negative light (unless it's criticism of liberals). Of course, this sort of thing goes on all the time.

The letter takes the framework to task for its "negative" approach to U.S. history. As an example, it attacks the framework for portraying U.S. colonists as "oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country." The signatories also say that at 98 pages, the framework essentially replaces the five-page topic outline with a full-blown curriculum, and one that conflicts with many states' social studies standards.

Essentially, they want to be entitled to their own facts:)

What about the left's criticism of Common Core?

There has also been vocal opposition from blue states – some around the standards themselves, particularly for younger grades, but much of it around implementation, as well as the tests and high-stakes consequences tied to the new standards.

Here we see the usual reluctance to be accountable for student learning. Part of this I get because the real problem in education today is the parents. Students also have different learning styles so the assessment mechanism should be altered. But this still doesn't excuse the fact that teachers should be held accountable and high stakes testing should be implemented for ALL subjects including basic civics. There is a reason why states have standards and there needs to be more serious consequences for instructors that don't follow them.

Interestingly, it's a Reagan era report that is driving Common Core.

The report’s five proposed solutions – improving content, raising standards, overhauling the teaching profession, adding time to the school day and year, and improving leadership and fiscal support – are clear in current reform. They can be seen in the spread of the Common Core standards, a set of streamlined but intense new standards introduced in 2009 that, though controversial, are still in use in more than 40 states; in new teacher ratings based partly on standardized test scores; and in the invention and rise of charter schools with longer school days and no union contracts. 

Initially embraced by a coalition of conservatives and liberals, the solutions offered in “A Nation at Risk” stoked a backlash among many on the left who argued that its criticisms of public education were over the top and that its solutions ignored poverty and inequity in the system. But the Republican-driven revolution is being driven home, as never before, by a Democratic president. The Obama administration admits there’s a connection. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the report was “influential” in the administration’s education reform strategy.

Huh. I thought President Obama was presiding over a mass indoctrination program turning our nation's children into communists. Instead, he's embracing Reagan?

Well, guess what. So am I. I fully support Common Core because there needs to be some sort of umbrella for our nation's 100,000 schools and 13, 000 school districts. Everyone complains about how we seem to be falling behind the world in education but no one does anything about it. Well, Secretary Duncan (Best SecEd ever in my view) and the president have done something and it's about fucking time.

Criticism from the left is beginning to take its toll on the unions as we see in this piece from Politico.

Responding to all these challenges has proved difficult, analysts say, because both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are divided internally. There’s a faction urging conciliation and compromise. Another faction pushes confrontation. There’s even a militant splinter group, the Badass Teachers Association.

In many ways, they are starting to sound more and more like the Republican Party:) Ah well, I've been persona non grata with the union since I questioned tenure. I have the same advice for them that I do for the GOP...change or become irrelevant. 

Speaking of conservatives, one of their big pet peeves has always been zero tolerance laws so they should be happy about this story from NPR.

Saying that "zero tolerance" discipline policies at U.S. schools are unfairly applied "all too often," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is urging officials to rethink that approach. The Obama administration issued voluntary guidelines today that call for more training for teachers and more clarity in defining security problems. The move by the Education and Justice departments comes after years of complaints from civil rights groups and others who say the policies are ineffective and take an unfair toll on minorities. The zero tolerance approach has been blamed for boosting the number of suspensions and expulsions and for equating minor infractions with criminal acts.

Agreed. Although it's not as big of a problem as the right wing bubble will have you think (misleading vividness and all), it is something that needs to change.

Turning to the world of the wacky, we have this...


My favorite?

5. “The woods” is a perfectly normal location for a party. Want to get drunk and shoot guns and make out? So does everyone else! Meet us in the forest half a mile off the highway–take a left at the big rock.

Party, dudes!

Finally, we have this amazing piece from Sarah Blaine called "The Teachers."

We need to stop thinking that we know anything about teaching merely by virtue of having once been students. We don’t know. I spent a little over a year earning a master of arts in teaching degree. Then I spent two years teaching English Language Arts in a rural public high school. And I learned that my 13 years as a public school student, my 4 years as a college student at a highly selective college, and even a great deal of my year as a masters degree student in the education school of a flagship public university hadn’t taught me how to manage a classroom, how to reach students, how to inspire a love of learning, how to teach. 

Eighteen years as a student (and a year of preschool before that), and I didn’t know shit about teaching. Only years of practicing my skills and honing my skills would have rendered me a true professional. An expert. Someone who knows about the business of inspiring children. Of reaching students. Of making a difference. Of teaching.


He Who Dies With the Most Toys in His Cold, Dead Hands Wins

The death of an instructor at a Nevada shooting range at the hands of a nine-year-old girl is the perfect example of what the Gun Cult is all about.

It's not about protecting our Second Amendment rights, or defending ourselves from a tyrannical government. It's about the toys.

When Barack Obama was elected president the Gun Cult ran around shrilly screaming that Obama was going to take their guns away from them, like nine-year-old girls afraid their parents were taking away their Barbies.

Guns are weapons. Tools of particular trades: hunting, policing, national defense. It is sheer folly that this poor girl's parents, the instructor, the shooting range owner and the state legislature allows and encourages children to play with fully automatic weapons as if they were toys.

It's clear that many in the Gun Cult think of guns as toys from the way they leave them lying around their houses where children can get them. Or the way they think it's perfectly safe to take them into public places, where they can fall out of their purses and pockets and shoot themselves and others. Or the way they show them off to each other at parties where everyone is drinking.

Would these parents have placed a jackhammer in this girl's hands? Would they let her use an electric drill that was too heavy for her to properly control? Or operate a table saw? Or light birthday candles with a propane torch? Maybe. But probably not, because those tools aren't fun.

In a culture where hunting is common, you can argue that responsible children should be taught how to properly handle weapons at an early age to instill the proper respect and care for weapons. To that end my dad gave my 11-year-old nephew my grandfather's ancient bolt-action .22 caliber rifle. It's a long weapon with minimal recoil.

If the nine-year-old girl in Nevada had been using such a rifle, that instructor would almost certainly be alive today. Even if she couldn't handle the weapon's kick, she couldn't accidentally get a second shot off.

But her parents wanted their spindly nine-year-old to fire a fully automatic Uzi because it's fun!

The Gun Cult rejects reasonable gun laws not because they're protecting their rights, but because the Government is a bunch of big meanies who want to take away their fun.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Needed: An Airline Passenger Bill of Rights

It's official: flying on airplanes is now even worse than riding a bus. Human beings packed into the flying crates that pass for airliners may even be more uncomfortable than cattle packed into semitrailers on their way to the slaughterhouse.

In the last nine days three flights have had to make emergency landings because passengers are fighting over reclining seats. You might blame hot-headed passengers who are stuck in unbearable conditions. You might blame airline execs who cram more and more seats into less and less space to make an extra buck in an industry in which every airline is perpetually on the brink of bankruptcy. You might blame the federal government for allowing consolidation in an industry in which a few major airlines have a monopoly on major routes, or the FAA for allowing airlines to get away with collusion in ticket pricing, which they accomplish through temporary ticket price changes that other airlines watch for.

In one incident air marshals blew their covers to subdue and handcuff an unruly passenger.

But the real problem is the deregulation of the airline industry that occurred in 1978. This has led to numerous problems besides the wretched state of affairs in the coach cabin, including massive consolidation in the airline industry creating de facto monopoly routes; airlines bailing on their pension commitments and letting American taxpayers pick up the tab; rural areas that have lost service; airlines going to the Supreme Court to argue that lying about ticket prices is free speech.

Passengers are being squeezed in every direction: going through the airport security checks is a nightmare, and sitting in coach is like being stuck between two puling brats on a cross-country road trip.

The state of affairs in the air has become dangerous. Not because terrorists are going to take over the plane, but because the guy sitting behind you might haul off and slug you because you reclined your seat -- because the guy in front of you reclined his seat.

Of course, nothing will be done about this because the decision makers and the 1% are completely unaffected by the chaos in the skies: they are literally wined and dined in business class and first class. They get to skip airport security, board first, and miss out on all the indignities the plebes are made to suffer.

And the thing is, the airlines are intentionally inflicting misery on their passengers in order to squeeze more dollars from them. They claim they're just making everyone pay for the services they use, but this is nonsense. Charging for carry-on baggage should be classified as a crime against humanity. And they intentionally use the slowest boarding method possible, just to rub it in.

And the stupidest thing is, all these shenanigans have not made the airline industry any more profitable: they're always on the brink of bankruptcy.

The experiment in airline deregulation is clearly a failure. Exactly how much latitude they should be given is not clear, but a good first step would be a passenger bill of rights that specifies minimum services and personal space for all passengers, regardless of what class they're flying in.

It's either that, or withing 10 years we'll be reading about riots aboard airplanes, air marshals whose guns have been taken away and shootings at 30,000 feet.

Good (and a very many) words.

From a question on Quora wondering what the future is of the Republican party. I am reprinting the entire answer because I couldn't pick a favorite part, although I will highlight:)

It's starting to become a monotonous preamble, but I identify as a Jeffersonian Republican with a dash of Teddy Roosevelt. At this point, I'm not sure the party has a future, because the party is no longer Republican. 

Ensuring that government is funded adequately to meet what we charge it to do? As Dick Cheney said, "Deficits don't matter." Enshrining fundamental rights? The Bush administration brought us indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition, and torture, and tossed aside habeus corpus. Responsible, considered foreign policy? Nope. Civil rights? Nope. Conservative ethics? Utterly gone. Pursuing scientific advancement? Not so much. Right to live your life as you like? Gone as well. Valuing education? Don't be silly. Separation of church and state? *&@# that, we don't need religious freedom! Value the Republic? No need for that, right? 

In the end, the party has become something of a self-parody, steeped in hypocrisy and weirdness, and I'm sorry to say that most of it can be traced to the absorption of the Southern Democrats (who were pissed off at JFK's and LBJ's acceptance of the civil-rights baton from the Republicans who had been carrying it all those years) during the Nixon administration during the period of his "Southern Strategy." Certainly, the false piousness, the surge in racism, and the hysterical xenophobia started around that time, and has now virtually taken over the party—and I don't see it changing. 

I'm not saying that the Republican party has always done well in this regard, either. Historically, we've had brilliant moments, and we've had appalling ones. Actual conservatives would admit to this, but those are scarce in the GOP now as well. McCarthyism was a black stain on the Republican Party's reputation that we will never be able to erase, but at this rate, we'll never overcome it, either. 

The modern-day GOP cannot convince any person who puts rationale and logic before hysteria and panic, and so it has devolved into playing election shenanigans through voter intimidation, lies, and laws designed to block people from voting. This isn't a new tactic, but it used to be the Southern Democrats who did it a lot. Thanks, Nixon. 

These aren't conservatives—they're theocratic, hypocritical, dystopic radicals who cannot compromise, think, or be productive. They have spent four years blocking this president's policies, so that they can point in his direction now and claim that his policies don't work. They lie, insult, smear and distort; they are full of bile and feces, and fling it indiscriminately. 

There will always be people who delight in this sort of behavior, and so there may always be what this party has become. But if enough thoughtful people who know what Republicanism was meant to be, who understand the constitutional principles at stake, who would dare to shout down the hysterics and the liars, who would dare to be honest, who would dare to shame those who would sacrifice the Republic on the basis of some of the most bizarrely inaccurate interpretations of the Bible and the Constitution ever rendered in this country, finally come together with one voice, the party might be restored. 

I wish I could see that happening. The GOP has become a threat to the Republic, and will be so until it comes to its senses. Perhaps another party will come along to replace it. Something will eventually happen, but I dread some of the forms that could take.

And all of this was written 2 years ago and it's still fucking happening!!