Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Man, Obama just keeps going after all the wrong things.

Everything is wrong with this article. 6,000 killed by driver distraction? So, yes, let's target cell phones. That's obviously the problem. You know what else is distracting? Kids. We should outlaw kids in the car. And reading books. I'm sure some people do that. Ooh ooh! We should also make sure to outlaw putting on makeup and changing clothing while driving. Some people do that.

Now, to pick apart specific aspects.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Distracted driving is an epidemic and it seems to be getting worse every year."

Seems? SEEMS? You fucker. Show me the money! And by money, I mean evidence. If you don't have evidence, DON'T SAY ANYTHING. Stop acting like you know what you're talking about. Stop acting like you're correct because you can use words like seems.

"The meeting gathered experts to examine the potentially deadly mix of driving with cell phones, mobile devices, and other distractions."

And other distractions? Wow. That's a huge "and." Might as well talk about attacking the causes of cancer by listing bad diet, power lines, and other things.

None of this is right. Two anecdotal stories discussing people who lost loved ones does not negate that the stories are anecdotal at best.

All of the data show that driving deaths are decreasing. Driving deaths peaked in 2005, but the crashes-per-capita and crashes per-miles-driven is the lowest it's been since 1994. Oh yeah, this is one hell of an epidemic. The roads are safer than ever before. Something must be done. Maybe more red light cameras!

The only area that is showing a marked increase is motorcycle deaths, and that heavily involves more people driving motorcycles. Since 2003, the number of registered motorcycles has increased by 19%, 58% since 1998. Moreover, motorcycle deaths have increased as laws about wearing helmets have ebbed. This is fine, since I see it as an issue of personal freedom. Someone who doesn't wear a helmet is an idiot, but that's their right. Moreover, the lack of helmets can't explain a significant increase in just the past ten years.

Perhaps it's just the Fast & Furious culture combined with bad driving? It seems that way (see, I can pretend like I have facts, too). The fact is that people are going to drive poorly. No matter what you do, people are going to try and eat, read, sleep, have sex (more common than you think), talk, and otherwise do things besides driving while driving. It cannot be legislated away, and all more laws do is give cops excuses to hand out more tickets that do nothing more than pack more money into the general fund. Just what we need. An even more parasitic government. Good job, Obama.

By KEN THOMAS, Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas, Associated Press Writer – Wed Sep 30, 6:42 pm ET

WASHINGTON – Driving while distracted is a growing peril in a nation reluctant to put down its cell phones and handheld devices even behind the wheel, the Obama administration declared on Wednesday. Officials said Congress and the public must team up to reduce the danger.

Opening a two-day meeting to find ways to reduce drivers' use of mobile devices, the Transportation Department reported that nearly 6,000 people were killed and a half-million were injured last year in vehicle crashes connected to driver distraction. That includes drivers talking on cell phones and texting.

"To put it plainly, distracted driving is a menace to society," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "Distracted driving is an epidemic and it seems to be getting worse every year."

The meeting gathered experts to examine the potentially deadly mix of driving with cell phones, mobile devices, and other distractions that divert attention from the road. LaHood said he would offer recommendations on Thursday that could lead to new restrictions on the use of the devices behind the wheel.

While the meeting focused on drivers using cell phones and mobile devices, participants noted that distractions could include reaching into the back seat, applying makeup or eating.

"I have nightmares about the last moments of my mother's life," said Greg Zaffke of Chicago, whose mother, Anita, was killed in May when a vehicle rear-ended her motorcycle at 50 mph. The driver had been painting her finger nails at the time of the crash.

Congress is watching the issue closely. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and other Democrats are pushing legislation that would require states to ban texting or e-mailing while operating a moving vehicle or lose 25 percent of their annual federal highway funding.

"We need every state to put safety first," Schumer told participants.

LaHood said the government would draw lessons from past efforts to reduce drunken driving and encourage motorists to wear seat belts, urging a "combination of strong laws, tough enforcement and ongoing public education."

The government reported that 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 were injured last year in crashes where at least one form of driver distraction was reported. Driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008 and prevalent among many young drivers.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws making texting while driving illegal and seven states and the District have banned driving while talking on a hand-held cell phone, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Many safety groups have urged a nationwide ban on texting and on using hand-held mobile devices while behind the wheel.

Researchers grappled with the question of whether using a hands-free device was safer than using a hand-held phone behind the wheel. One researcher cautioned that hands-free devices could still cause distractions if the driver needed to dial the phone or handle the device.

"I think it's important that we recognize that hands free is not risk free," said Dr. John Lee, a University of Wisconsin researcher.

Others said laws banning hand-held cell phone use by drivers would be easier to enforce and warned that total bans could preclude technologies such as General Motors' OnStar, an in-vehicle system that alerts emergency rescue officials to a crash.

"You have to be really careful about unintended consequences of just saying we need a complete, total cell phone ban," said Dr. Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Family members of victims called for a complete ban by drivers and suggested technologies that prevent the mobile device from receiving e-mails or phone calls while the vehicle is in motion could address the problem.

"This isn't just a small problem. This is an epidemic," said Jennifer Smith of Grapevine, Texas. Her 61-year-old mother was killed last year in Oklahoma City by a young driver talking on a cell phone.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Green light... RED LIGHT!

Red light cameras cause more accidents. Speed cameras do the same. They are not about helping you. They are about revenue generation. The police and government are NOT your friends. They might not necessarily be your enemies, but they are certainly not your friends.

Despite All Sorts Of Laws And Automated Ticketing Cameras... Car Injuries Increased In The UK

Give's New Meaning to Sugardaddy.

Apparently, Mackenzie Phillips had a sexual relationship with her father, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.

There's been a lot of debate on whether it's possible for a relationship like that to be consensual, as stated by Ms. Phillips. While the details of Ms. Phillips relationship are weird and drug-addled, I think it could be entirely possible that the that type of relationship could be consensual.

First off, to properly address the situation, we have to set aside our initial disgust at the idea. Basically, as men, we have to set aside the unsettling idea of sex with our daughter, and as women, our father. In the paradigm of social interaction, models of parent and child are very strongly defined. This paradigm is inculcated at a young age. But why is the concept of father/daughter sex essentially disgusting?

Obviously, we understand that this is genetically wrong, because any children born would be highly likely to have developmental issues. This need to avoid malformed children seems to be genetically programmed into us and many advanced species, so that may be why it's seemingly "wrong" to us. Still, many types of social monkey groups seem to have only one sexual taboo: mother and son.

Is the reason it's disgusting because of our socially programmed idea of what defines a father and daughter? Would it be any less disgusting if a man who raised a girl from babyhood began a sexual relationship later, while was not genetically her father? Or what about a man and woman who fall in love, only to discover later that they are father and daughter? Why should the genetics make one scenario disgusting while not the other? Genetics are something we can't see, touch, taste. If the pair never have children, why is the situation at all wrong?

I admit, that I have a hard time separating the roles of father and daughter in the scenarios. Perhaps it's impossible for me to do so. But we cannot pass judgment so quickly. We should question what it is about our formulation of the concepts "father" and "daughter" that negates the possibility of sexual relations between the two. Is it evolutionary programming we cannot avoid? Is it social? I may find it disturbing, but must I?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Home School Yo' Ass.

Jezebel has a commentary about an article in Salon. Basically, it's someone with a minor pulpit from which to speak to defend an action of theirs that obviously gets a lot of flack. So, they have a chip on their shoulder and a computer. Stand back.

"The real purpose of all this formal schooling is to get the kids out of the house and train them to stand in line and follow instructions while mommy and daddy get back to their ultra-important lives as economic production units."

Oh great. Paranoia and anti-establishment all in one.

"Ordinary schools tend to socialize children by way of enclosed, age-homogeneous pods, while home schooling tends to socialize children through a wide range of interactions with older kids, younger kids and adults, as well as peers."

That would be great if at all true. If all the other kids are in school learning how to be good little robots, how the hell are your kids interacting with anyone? Show me the scientific paper supporting your view. Oh right. It doesn't exist.

I'm all for some of the happier, shinier aspects of home-schooling. Schools pretty much teach nothing. Worksheets are useless, most teachers up to high-school border on vegetative, and the efficacy of the whole damned thing is pretty debateable.

But that's not what school does. School lets us learn to socialize in an environment with very few real-world consequences. That's all that's important. In first and second grade, I went to a hyper-exclusive local school that gave me hours of free time to write books, paint, hang out, and do puzzles. My parents couldn't afford to send me after second (the price went up with year), and I went to a local public school for third. I am incredibly happy that I did.

I'm glad because the world is not full of rich white kids. It's full of blacks, and poor people, and assholes, and everything else you can imagine. Home schooling can not prepare you for these things, no matter how much the parents would like to think.

I have forgotten nearly everything I learned in elementary school, middle school, and only vaguely remember high school, but I'm glad I went.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

More School Will Not Help

Obama continues to parrot the inane idea that our kids are falling behind the rest of the planet because we're simply not wedging enough info in their heads.

First off, this is beyond wrong. Everything with it is wrong. Nothing about this idea is right. Do you know what research shows about information taught during middle and high school years? That we hold on to almost none of it. We hold on to basic chunks of info, the grosser aspects, and the details are gone within a year. That means to me that school from an information stand-point is useless. Socially, school is critical, but for the actual education part? Damn near pointless.

Second, by what metric do our kids fall behind? Math tests? Well there's a huge surprise. They have fucking abacus competitions in Japan. But look at what Japan has been having to do over the past two decades. They've had to actively try and abandon their old ways because America showed them that simply knowing everything ever doesn't equal innovation, invention, and success.

Oh, and about Japan and its success with drilling students. Short quiz: What western country has the highest suicide rate by a country mile? That's right! Japan! And Korea isn't far behind.

Now, I'm not against school. School does teach us the basic skills that will allow us to succeed in whatever we decide to invest our time, otherwise known as a career, but that takes up a small amount of the time. The rest of the time is taken up with useless memorization.

I'm all for a redesign of our school system. Especially by high school, we need an entirely new paradigm. Unfortunately, I doubt it will ever happen. It would require lots of time, a dissolution of the teachers' union, and buckets of money. And even though politicians like to say children are our greatest resource, you didn't see Bush spending over $700 Billion on education.

Please, redesign the schools. I love the idea of school as a haven for children, where it's open for long hours. But please, for the love of God, don't make kids stay in longer learning shit THAT DOESN'T MATTER.

By LIBBY QUAID, AP Education Writer Libby Quaid, Ap Education Writer – 1 hr 16 mins ago

WASHINGTON – Students beware: The summer vacation you just enjoyed could be sharply curtailed if President Barack Obama gets his way.

Obama says American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe.

"Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

"Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Fifth-grader Nakany Camara is of two minds. She likes the four-week summer program at her school, Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville, Md. Nakany enjoys seeing her friends there and thinks summer school helped boost her grades from two Cs to the honor roll.

But she doesn't want a longer school day. "I would walk straight out the door," she said.

Domonique Toombs felt the same way when she learned she would stay for an extra three hours each day in sixth grade at Boston's Clarence R. Edwards Middle School.

"I was like, `Wow, are you serious?'" she said. "That's three more hours I won't be able to chill with my friends after school."

Her school is part of a 3-year-old state initiative to add 300 hours of school time in nearly two dozen schools. Early results are positive. Even reluctant Domonique, who just started ninth grade, feels differently now. "I've learned a lot," she said.

Does Obama want every kid to do these things? School until dinnertime? Summer school? And what about the idea that kids today are overscheduled and need more time to play?


Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school.

"Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here," Duncan told the AP. "I want to just level the playing field."

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it's not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).


Regardless, there is a strong case for adding time to the school day.

Researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution looked at math scores in countries that added math instruction time. Scores rose significantly, especially in countries that added minutes to the day, rather than days to the year.

"Ten minutes sounds trivial to a school day, but don't forget, these math periods in the U.S. average 45 minutes," Loveless said. "Percentage-wise, that's a pretty healthy increase."

In the U.S., there are many examples of gains when time is added to the school day.

Charter schools are known for having longer school days or weeks or years. For example, kids in the KIPP network of 82 charter schools across the country go to school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., more than three hours longer than the typical day. They go to school every other Saturday and for three weeks in the summer. KIPP eighth-grade classes exceed their school district averages on state tests.

In Massachusetts' expanded learning time initiative, early results indicate that kids in some schools do better on state tests than do kids at regular public schools. The extra time, which schools can add as hours or days, is for three things: core academics — kids struggling in English, for example, get an extra English class; more time for teachers; and enrichment time for kids.

Regular public schools are adding time, too, though it is optional and not usually part of the regular school day. Their calendar is pretty much set in stone. Most states set the minimum number of school days at 180 days, though a few require 175 to 179 days.

Several schools are going year-round by shortening summer vacation and lengthening other breaks.

Many schools are going beyond the traditional summer school model, in which schools give remedial help to kids who flunked or fell behind.

Summer is a crucial time for kids, especially poorer kids, because poverty is linked to problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less involvement by their parents.

That makes poor children almost totally dependent on their learning experience at school, said Karl Alexander, a sociology professor at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, home of the National Center for Summer Learning.

Disadvantaged kids, on the whole, make no progress in the summer, Alexander said. Some studies suggest they actually fall back. Wealthier kids have parents who read to them, have strong language skills and go to great lengths to give them learning opportunities such as computers, summer camp, vacations, music lessons, or playing on sports teams.

"If your parents are high school dropouts with low literacy levels and reading for pleasure is not hard-wired, it's hard to be a good role model for your children, even if you really want to be," Alexander said.

Extra time is not cheap. The Massachusetts program costs an extra $1,300 per student, or 12 percent to 15 percent more than regular per-student spending, said Jennifer Davis, a founder of the program. It received more than $17.5 million from the state Legislature last year.

The Montgomery County, Md., summer program, which includes Brookhaven, received $1.6 million in federal stimulus dollars to operate this year and next, but it runs for only 20 days.

Aside from improving academic performance, Education Secretary Duncan has a vision of schools as the heart of the community. Duncan, who was Chicago's schools chief, grew up studying alongside poor kids on the city's South Side as part of the tutoring program his mother still runs.

"Those hours from 3 o'clock to 7 o'clock are times of high anxiety for parents," Duncan said. "They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table."


Associated Press writer Russell Contreras in Boston contributed to this report.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Jackson Christ

This is absurd.

People claim that Jackson Pollock hid his name in a painting. I can't even begin to explain how silly this is. For one thing, after learning what I was supposed to be looking for "Jackson Pollock," I went through the image and found the name. I then clicked on the full-size image of the painting to see where it was and, lo and behold, none of the letters I had found corresponded to the letters that supposedly exist. More interesting, many of the letters I found are more distinct than the ones listed. That means that if I found the name in the chaos, and someone else found the name in entirely different lines in the chaos, it either means that Pollock hid his name many times, or there's nothing there.

An experiment: I will try and find my name "Aaron Martin-Colby," in the chaos. It took me less than two minutes to do it.

There was a window near my local Stop & Shop that had an image of Bozo the Clown in it at certain times to day.

People see Jesus in almost anything.

After the DaVinci Code, people see secrets and codes in almost anything. If you're simply looking for patterns, post hoc analysis of anything is going to yield lots of crap that seems to make sense and be significant, but in all likelihood isn't. It's called pareidolia, and it's illustrated perfectly in this episode of Penn & Teller's Bullshit.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No morals.

Morals do not exist.

First, let's discuss what morals are. "It is wrong to kill" sounds like a good starting point. If we dissect that statement, we have basically two parts and an implied third. Something is right or wrong, and that something is an action. The implied third part is a rule that the action that is wrong should not be performed. "It is wrong to kill" implies "do not kill."

That's fine, but are morals really as simple as a rule? A dictate on action? Considering how highly we regard moral concepts, and how frequently they are spoken of in reverent tongues, the idea that they are nothing more than a rule seems antithetical to common thought. I am saying exactly that, though. Morals are nothing more that rules.

Depending on the semantics of the situation, I something classify morals as a very special kind of rule. Namely, a rule without which the system in which the rule applies would cease to function.

I must differentiate morals from ethics at this point. Many people regard the two words as effectively interchangeable. Morals can be part of an ehtical system, and I can be guided by my ethics as a human. Still, I think that the nebulous nature of the two words renders them useless in many terms, and I think that my distinction is one that is commonly held, even if it's rarely stated expressly. Morals are rules are behavior that apply to all humans simply because they are human, and ethics are rules of behavior accepted by an otherwise free person after accepting a certain post without society.

I am morally bound not to steal from anyone, but a doctor is ethically bound to not have sex with his patients. Since I am not a doctor, I am not ethically bound to do anything regarding patients. Truly, I have no patients. So, it seems that ethics could be considered a special class of morals, whereby they are in fact universal (all doctors cannot have sex with patients), but apply only if you become a doctor.

That brings up another aspect of morals: they are universal. They apply to everyone. Ethics possibly apply to everyone, because everyone could possibly become something to which ethics apply, so ethics are morals, just a specific type. Morals are one step up, they are universal if you are human.

My definition of morals are universal rules that are required. A rule against killing is required for society to function. It doesn't necessarily need a law or a large governing body, only a tacit agreement that those within a group won't off one another. I think that this may actually be part of evolutionary programming. Wolves in packs almost never kill one another, but they don't have advanced moral systems. The rule is required because without that recognized rule, society could not function. I'd always be worried about, and defending myself from, my neighbors.

Let's try stealing? There must be some recognition of stealing being bad since without it, the economy wouldn't function. Or lying? Communication would break down if lying wasn't wrong. Many things fall under my definition of morals, but many things that are frequently called moral wrongs do not. Rape is not a moral wrong in my book. A society can in fact function with lots of rape. It might not function terribly well, but it can. And since my morals and ethics are based on groups (humans, doctors, etc.) I could argue that it is not morally wrong to go outside of your group, kill everyone in an opposing group and take their stuff.

I think that for a moral to be a moral though, as opposed to tribal ethics I suppose, it must apply to all humans. I think that history supports this view over the view of tribal ethics allowing my group to kill a neighboring group for their stuff. History has been an irrevocably drive towards a larger, more global community, where my "neighbor" in Africa can be just as close as my neighbor across the street. I can talk with them and see them every day. I can mail things to them overnight. The world is so small, now. The world has also gotten progressively less violent when it comes to hot nation-on-nation action. Not only are morals actions to rules to live by, but the human animal seems to naturally move towards an acceptance of these values. Perhaps it's those mysterious mirror neurons and the empathy machine in action.

Whatever it is, people don't seem to naturally want to kill one another. Or rob from one another. And I think it's obvious why. A world that is low on violence, crime, and hot nation-on-nation action is a world with ever wider boundaries. The limits of what I can achieve and how easy and fun life is expand with increasing numbers of people accepting these rules.

Unfrotunately for my formulation of morals, it doesn't really make it sound like morals. Morals are right and wrong. As such, many people have many different kinds of morals. My formulation has removed the concept of right and wrong and replaced it with a somewhat self-serving economic perspective. That's not what people generally think of when they say the word "morals."

It is because of that, the morals in this popular sense are so fluid and flexible. That what is right for one person is wrong for another, that leads me to only one conclusion, morals do not exist. They exist in my sense of the word, but not in the sense of right and wrong. For example, my arguments work very well against Islamic extremists, but many Americans seem dead-set on saying that the Muslims are amoral monsters, when it's the Muslims saying the same thing about us. There is no firm ground onto which one can build arguments for either case.

Or take this article on Wired. Here, Hummer owners are actually embracing what they see as moral attacks on their viewpoint. So what do they do? Fully convinced of the righteousness of their own morals, they wrap themselves up in the very attacks directed at them, put a patriotic spin on them, and call themselves red-blooded Americans fighting the anti-American bias of the rest of the world. There is no way to win a moral argument, which means you're arguing about nothing, because if you were, someone could win. It would mean there was some substance underlying the conversation.

For example, I could argue that raising prices will increase sales (ignore the fact that newspapers are actually arguing this). But there is substance under this in the form of economics and econometrics. We can turn to measurements and history to show, unequivocally, that raising prices decreases sales. But that doesn't work in morals. I could argue that it's morally wrong to cheat on your wife. But you could argue that it's fine. Both stances are valid. Perhaps your wife doesn't mind that you sleep with other women. Perhaps you'll point out successful polygamous cultures while I'll point out statistics of marriage failure because of cheating.

There is no way to win a moral argument, which means there's no such thing as morals. They are only things that we like and dislike. Are comfortable with or uncomfortable with. I think that moral pursuits should be about finding that elusive solid ground from which unavoidable conclusions can be reached. An economic perspective seems to work well, where we do what's best for us, but that seems dangerously Randian. I think that a good moral argument is against a behavior that, if allowed, either increases danger or decreases freedom of other people. Strangely, many people's arguments against gay marriage is similar to this formulation, whereby they argue that letting gay marriage through would endanger traditional marriage.

Regardless, I think an immoral action is something that increases danger (as in the possibility of physical harm) or decreases freedom for others. I do not believe it is possible to be immoral against yourself. The finer aspects os ethics are complicated, e.g. doctors cannot have sex with patients for fear of psychological harm. Psychological harm can frequently lead to physical harm, but it's a pretty foggy boundary as to where that happens. A doctor cannot have sex with a patient, but I doubt that psychological harm could come from someone seeing pornography on a billboard.

Now that I think of it, perhaps the differentiation comes in the form of emotional harm and psychological harm. Yes, this must be the case or breaking up with a boyfriend would be morally wrong. Yes, you will hurt his feelings, but you will not damage him psychologically. A doctor, with a position of authority over a patient, could cause long-lasting legitimate psychological harm to a patient. Even though that is possible in the breaking up scenario, it is of low likelihood, and trying to avoid all instances of that possible outcome would have a serious impediment on our daily lives. We would be unable to say anything, do anything, or act in almost any way around anyone for the moral fear of hurting them psychologically.

I would argue that morals exist on a spectrum, where breaking up with a boyfriend is indeed morally wrong, but the degree of immorality is low. The immorality of killing your boyfriend is high, so that's where we have a rule. This is somewhat appealing to me, but it does damage to the idea that morals are easily stated rules of behavior that can be universally applied. But really, can anything be universally applied? It's wrong to kill. Unless you are defending yourself. Or a loved one. Or your friend. Or your pet? Or someones property? Or someone's good name? Where is the moral line drawn?

Ah well. My original formulation stands. A moral is a rule without which society could not function. We can break up with our boyfriends and society continues to function. We can kill in self defense and society continues to function. Our doctors can even sleep with their patients, and society continues to function... doctoring might not do too well, but the rest of us will be fine. As that, morals are absolute and easy to determine. Beyond that, morals are nebulous at best, don't exist at all at worst, and barely seem worth discussing either way. So why bother?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Atheism

I love this HuffPost piece on neo-atheists and how many of them are right-wing when it comes to international affairs. It's all terribly Randian to me, insofar as the outside world are a bunch of savages and we should just exercise our strength over them and do whatevs because they're a bunch of fuckers.

It was precisely that about Christopher Hitchens that turned me off to him: his support of the Iraq war. In my mind, basically, anyone who supported the Iraq war is an idiot. The fact that those who were against the war have pretty much been proven right (or left, I suppose) confirms that my position (no reason to invade) may have not been perfectly correct, but it was leagues more correct than the opposing viewpoint (good reason to invade).

I like Dawkins and Hitchens well enough, but their hyper-militant viewpoint about not just God, but a wider system of beliefs that are connected with religion, does damage to their position. The more points you try and open, the easier it is for your opponents to dig in at inconsistencies in your arguments. Stay focused and avoid ideology on your own part. Fighting ideology with ideology doesn't work.

Why the "New Atheists" are Right-Wing on Foreign Policy(

Community Service.

I have briefly mentioned my love of community service, but never in detail. Basically, I think that integrating the concept and practice of community service within a society is one of the great goals for any culture. I'm completely against conscription, such as found in Germany, since I view it as a total violation of a person's freedom. That's not to say that government shouldn't encourage community service through tax credits, organizations, and publicly recognized awards for the dedicated.

Just imagine, a department of community service where organizations, be they clean-up crews, churches, or Habitat for Humanity, sign up at the department and people who want to volunteer can either be sent where they're needed or pick what they want. The department than makes sure to advertise the benefits of volunteering and hosts parties, picnics, and other events to draw people in. It could be a place to meet friends, find dates, earn tax credits, hang out, get free food, and otherwise have a social and productive life when you're feeling bored.

I also see community service as the primary form of punishment for criminals. Incarceration doesn't work; two-thirds of criminals end up back in jail. Simply locking them up achieves no social good. If prison achieves no social good and the majority of criminals are not rehabilitated, what can be done?

I argue CS. It forces criminals into the world, where they learn social skills with otherwise upstanding people. They're out building and doing instead of hiding in bars or alleys with criminal friends. I don't want to sound too much like Big Brother, but it indoctrinates the criminal into the concept of an upstanding life. It draws a social good from their punishment, gives the criminal freedom and a life, and reduces the currently crippling prison load.

Let's use a drunk driver as an example. In Rhode Island, a drunk driver loses their license. Not a very good option since, unlike a city or a state with a better public transit system, a person in RI needs a car to survive. Imagine, instead, that the person gets 2,000 hours of CS. That's a full time job for a year. Combined with a real job, that person would have no time to drink and drive. They'd be too busy working. Yes, it would be difficult, but I imagine anyone with a brain would choose that over losing their license or going to jail. And frankly, they don't have the choice. They drank and drove. It's now the society's prerogative to punish and derive something good from something bad. That good can be CS.

Only the very worst criminals are incarcerated, which is as it should be. Prison does not rehabilitate and it serves no good, so it must be seen only as storage for those too dangerous to be roaming freely.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Minimum Wage.

I must admit having never given much thought to the minimum wage. It's such a massive element of modern economic practice, and was a part of my life for the period of time that I worked at a grocery store.

Still, I just read up on the issue and I'm torn. First, there has been a consensus among economists of any politcal ilk that the minimum wage raises unemployment: bad. But later studies are questioning this conclusion as biased: bad in a different way. Many studies show no connection at all between employment and minimum wage, indicating that the minimum wage is already near the equilibrium point for low-pay labor: good(?).

But then I have to question if the minimum wage is already set at the equilibrium point, why bother with the law at all? If all it does is make us feel good, like we're sticking up for the common man, we need to ditch that delusion and act based on reality. It doesn't matter if the law has no effect in either direction, merely having a pointless law is inefficiency we cannot afford. Get rid of the minimum wage.

Alternatives to a minimum wage likewise seem irrelevant to me. If the MW does nothing, and the world is adequate now, why bother with "alternatives." Any alternative to something that does nothing would also do nothing because there's nothing to replace. If we replaced the government-set minimum with something like collective bargaining, we end up with the same problem, namely wages are set in stone for minimum workers, restricting flexibility.

Logically, this could hurt workers who would, in a perfectly free market, be able to sell their labor for more than the set minimum, but with so much activity set on and around that minimum, all they can hope for is to at least start with everyone else. And if the worker disagreed, the totality of the labor market would be against him since it was he and his fellow workers who negotiated for the wage. I don't really know if that lost flexibility would be offset by higher pay for those who would have otherwise been paid less. And since this discussion should be about the health of the system and not the individual, lamenting one valuable worker's inability to get paid more cannot be lamented as an unacceptable injustice. If ten workers get paid more than they would in a perfectly free market, and only one worker gets paid less than he would, the system is likely better off.

I have to admit, I find little to disagree with in the concept of a refundable tax credit, aside from the fact that Britain's implementation of it is apparently a circus. But what I like most about the credit system is that we can apply credits to anything we want.

I am a huge advocate of community service. Encourage people to do it. Use it as the primary form of punishment for criminals. Hold state run service "parties" that act like giant socials where people clean up garbage or fix playgrounds. Implement a department of community service where people can sign up and be sent to wherever needs help. Attach tax credits to it. It's great. For every hour of community service a person can get a dollar in tax credit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Holy Year/Month/Week/Day/Hour

I was thinking about how bizarre an idea holy time is. Assumedly, whenever one does anything for holy purposes, it's to communicate with, or otherwise get closer to, God. But since this is about God and not about the human, and any serious believer must admit that an omnipotent God doesn't exist in time, but instead beyond it, there is no such thing as a "week" to an entity like that. In fact, a God like that wouldn't give two shakes about some particular time since all of existence is happening simultaneously for such a being.

As such, ALL time is holy to a supreme entity. Setting aside particular days or weeks, be it Holy Week, Ramadan, or whatever the hell Jewish people do, seems antithetical to the very concept of a supreme deity to which those religions supposedly subscribe. So why bother? If you must fast between sunrise and sunset (which compliments of modern cosmology, seems adorably quaint), why not do it all year? Every day is equally holy to such a god.

Stunted Stunt.

Stunt is a funny word.

Regardless, the House has voted to officially rebuke Joe Wilson for his now-infamous "you lie" comment during Obama's big speech. The GOP is calling the issue over and of course labeling it as a political stunt... which of course it is.

Aaaaaand of course, if the roles had been reversed, the GOP would have been crying and hollering about some evil liberal senator slighting their golden boy. Hell, if it has been them, they'd be calling for the guys resignation. The GOP is good that way.

But that doesn't matter. This is politics afterall.

Monday, September 14, 2009


I live in Rhode Island. 180,000 people are on Medicaid, here, and another 180,000 are on Medicare. 360,000. That's over one-third of our entire population.

Governor Carcieri, a few years ago, argued against Harrah's building a casino on Native American land saying that Rhode Island didn't need a casino and that a casino would be "a bad deal for Rhode Island."

Unfortunately, we have two casinos. An ex dog-racing track and an ex-jai alai center. Twin River is getting rid of the dog racing, which loses money, and Newport Grand hasn't had jai alai in years. They're effectively giant rooms filled with video slots and card games. The only thing they don't have are table games. Oh, and behind income tax and property tax, these casinos that don't exist are the biggest source of revenue for the state. As with government run health care, just because politicians say it doesn't exist, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

I am a conservative. Sort of. This all connects, I promise. I am also a liberal. Sort of. Strangely enough, I am far from a moderate. In fact, I'm pretty darn radical in many of my views. The problem is, anyone who really thinks about the issues and tries to access as much objective data as they can about any given subject would invariably find it hard to slot themselves neatly into any particular political ideology.

Unfortunately, most of those involved in politics are there for the same reasons people join religions, support Africa, and eat organic food: irrational dogma. It's one of the reasons why I think that, even though politics is held up as some incredibly important thing, it's remarkably unimportant. The system as a whole operates more or less just as well regardless of whatever government is doing. Politics is entertainment for self-important people. The only time politics becomes important is when it deals with freedom. That's the conservative side of me coming out, because in that freedom is free markets. But "conservatives" also support lots of spending on the military, which I think is retarded.

The more liberal side of me, though, recognizes that, while on a systemic level government actions has little effect on fuck-all, on a personal level, government actions can have a great effect. Because here, this is more like the group getting together to assess and deal with specific problems. For example, if the government had not so royally screwed the pooch, Hurricane Katrina is a great example of a government spending lots of taxpayer money to take care of its people.

Another great example is the town of Treese, Kansas. Its sister town Picher, Oklahoma, which is right over the border, was one of the Superfund sites that was basically shut down. A conservative viewpoint is that those living there benefited from the mining and development, so the fact that the land is no 100% fucked shouldn't concern us. They made their own bed, so they can now sleep in it.

But that's not what happened. The EPA, in a rare step, "bought out" and moved the entire remaining population of Picher, which was about 1,800. They then began the cleanup process to remove the epic amount of crap in the ground and water. Unfortunately for Treese, they live just over the border in another state, so they received no buyout. They've been sitting there, waiting. I suspect that the buyout will eventually come, but what's funny is who supports the Treese buyout: Pat Roberts.

Yes, the same hyper-conservative who voted with his party 92% of the time. Who says torture is not so bad. Who voted against TARP. Oh yes, government spending is bad... unless it's for his constituents.

This especially funny since the EPA ran out of Superfund money back in 2003, when Roberts' golden boy, George W. Bush refused to reauthorize the tax. And it's even FUNNIER since Roberts was part of the reason the Superfund laws were not reinstated to begin with after they expired in 1995, much to that evil Bill Clinton's chagrin, who wanted to keep them going. Conservatives believe in sleeping the bed you make. Well, Roberts has been laying down linens for some time. I think it's about time he sleeps in it.

Unfortunately, that would be politics. Government works best when politics are left out, and as such the town should be moved. Hell, pass a bill specifically for it. Government spending can help sometimes. It helps with medicine. And it helps with a dead town, filled with sad people.

Go Go Gadget Conservation!

Hey! Not too shabby, Rhode Island. We made it on the international scene for our conservation efforts with some little-known beetle. A little recognition is nice, especially since one of our best efforts, the Save the Bay foundation, has received little attention outside of the state even though its success is the most salient. I can now walk down to the Chafee Reserve and see harbor seals. They're noisy. Still, the wildlife has returned in a big way, and that's a thrill.

R.I.’s burying beetles gain international renown (

Friday, September 11, 2009

Creepy Religious Communities are Creepy

Well, this is pleasant.

There's a great episode from Penn & Teller's Bullshit! called The Good Ol' Days. I'd embed it if I could, but Showtime is part of CBS, which still thinks the internet is a fad. I've found it here, but lord knows how long that will remain up. It's real, no viruses, just lots of ads. Keep clicking play and closing pop-ups and you'll eventually get your video.

Basically, their point is that for the good ol' days to appear good, you must dislike the... um, bad youn' days. If you hate what you are/have now, the past will always seem better. That means that communities built entirely around the concept of now being bad and then being good, you have an entire community built around people that are not right in the head (that's a scientific term. Just look it up. DSM-IV. I swear).

I'm all for alternative life-styles. I love them. If you want to live without electricity in a house powered entirely by decaying compost, that's wonderful. I wish you the best of luck in your experiment. But that's not what we're dealing with, here. We're dealing with people that deserve to be mocked. Dressing like it's Little House on the Prairie is just ridiculous. Everyone should wear pants. I assume they don't because dresses make it easier to rape the women.

But no. The women dress like good little women. The children are seen and not heard. And the men control everything. That's archaic, sexist, dogmatic, and outright idiotic. I mock them. I deride them. Every ounce of subjectivity that goes along with this statement I embrace; their way of life is inferior to mine.

We can look at every metric by which to measure a life. Health. Happiness. Satisfaction. Modern medicine, from that evil OUTSIDE world, keeps us healthier longer than ever before. There is no doubt in my mind that we are happier now than we were one hundred years ago. Our children don't die in comical numbers. The legal system protecting us is stronger. The systems that aid us in achieving our goals are larger. Our world is larger, more diverse, and more stimulating.

We can pick apart everything about our modern world. Over-reaching pharmaceutical companies turning us into hypochondriacs. Constant government bickering. Pollution. Yes. We have lots of problems. But they don't even begin to touch the problems faced by our ancestors. We have more food, more resources, more entertainment, more friends, more everything. Transplanting someone from one-hundred years ago and our world would be a paradise of clean streets and plentiful, high-paying work.

The good ol' days sucked. And any society where systemic sexism and violence is accepted, and a utterly simple paradigm of human goodness is the generally held view is a broken, antiquated, dead system. The people in these communities are not good people. They're bad. They're some of the worst.

'The work of the devil': crime in a remote religious community
Vow Of Silence: How Do Hundreds Of Rapes Just "Come To Light?" (
Sexual Abuse in the Amish Community (


We're not supposed to do this! This crap is done by the side with the crazies on it. There is some information that makes it sound like the guy who did the shooting was more pissed about the graphic images the victim had on his signs, so it may have little to do with actual pro-life/choice debate. I certainly hope that's the case.

That still doesn't excuse the death threats received by the pro-life group. Nasty letters? Fine. Your mother wears army boots? Great! I'm going to kill you? No! It doesn't work. You can't call them retarded extremists if you go and do the same thing!

Anti-Abortion Protester Shot to Death (

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Damned Lazy Theologians

I hate theology, but I hate philosophy of religion even more. I consider it lazy philosophy. Generally, it requires laying down an ostensibly arbitrary set of rules and ideas (religion), and then commencing intense contemplation of it. At least theology makes no bones about what it actually does. It's meant to be the Supreme Court of sorts for whatever religious formulation you take to be true. If something isn't very clear, you call upon the theologians to think about it and eventually they get back to you. The fact that this process sometimes takes hundreds of years is your problem.

Philosophy of religion, on the other hand, has that pesky word "philosophy" in it. That means that it must deal with things like knowledge and justification and an unerring quest to drill down ever deeper into the fabric of the world and understanding. As such, philosophy of religion has one major issue: it must prove the existence of God.

Until you've done that, speculation on the nature of God is pointless. Hell, you could even go so far as to take the skeptic's argument and say that speculation on anything ever is useless until we prove that the world itself exists. While I, and just about every major philosopher, thinks that the skeptic's argument is a bit extreme, proving the existence of a supreme entity is not.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Let Them Play Together.

I am utterly convinced that men and women should play sports together. Sporting associations must eliminate the boundaries between the sexes and allow anyone who can compete to play. Currently, a 350 pound, 6-foot-tall woman could not play in the NFL. Why? Because she's a woman. But a 5-foot-tall 180 pound man could. I'm not saying the man doesn't deserve it. But the metric is not performance, and that's what it should be.

Yes, in many sports the performance will skew male, but why exclude? In sports where there's no reason for a performance deficit, women under-perform men. Skiing, snowboarding, auto racing, bowling, darts, you name it, men perform better and earn more money. Raise the women to the same competitive level and just watch as the performance figures rise.

I mention this because of Caster Semenya. The only reason any of this matters is because of the separation of the sexes. Eliminate them. I mention this because if women knew that other women were highly competitive, they might watch sports. As opposed to how it is now, where male sports garner attention from males.

Women In Sports: Sex Objects, Mothers, Or Too "Manly" To Count (
Caster Semenya was told lies while she had gender test (

Monday, September 07, 2009

Designing With Purpose.

I hate artists.

I have a lot of friends that are either currently in, or have gone to, art school. There is a strange prevailing notion that if you must survive by selling your art in a commercial sense, then you have failed. As though not getting people to part with god-awful gobs of money for your artistic flights of fancy which you have barfed onto paper, or clay, or stone, means that you are not a TRUE artist.

I think that this is entirely backwards. Art for art's sake is art, but it's also useless. Unless you attach a purpose to it, then you've achieved nothing. Is the purpose to inform? To entertain? To enlighten? Great books live on, enriching and delighting people generation after generation. There is value in that. A painting can have purpose, but the artist must know what it is. The artist must know what he is trying to communicate.

Art is best when it has that purpose. Art without purpose is aesthetic masturbation in the same way that the more esoteric aspects of philosophy are mere mental masturbation. Fun for the person doing it, but why should anyone else care?

I hate artists who think of themselves as geniuses. Andy Warhol, for all of the cool things he created, was not a genius. He was a self-centered twat who thought the absolute world of himself. If Warhol had never lived, the world would be damn near identical to how it is, now. And what have you done as an artist? Why is a painting by any of the manifold artists alive today worth a gajillion dollars? What value does it have that any other aesthetic production doesn't have?

You do not succeed as an artist by selling blowing an artistic cum load to people who are so puzzled by this strange thing whizzing past them called life that they need to reach out and grasp at experiential things to validate their own seemingly meaningless existence. Art critics, grand galleries, bah! It's all worthless.

From an economic standpoint, I cannot argue with the financial value of many of the paintings. They are worth what someone will pay. If someone is willing, regardless of whether I think them an idiot or not, that's how much it's worth. But the entire system built up around that process. The critics who give thumbs-up or thumbs-down, the rich fools who fall in line and purchase and re-purchase as though they have some fundamentally valuable resource.

I find it no surprise at all that all the hollow, ridiculous fools who populated Wall Street, donated such epic amounts of their money to the arts. They began to realize how inconsequential and pointless their little life of number games was. And what do fools without a sense of existential confidence do? The turn to art. Half of the museums in New York announced financial problems as soon as all the rich twits funding them went bankrupt.

There is no value to art for art's sake. It must do something. That end goal may be artistic, but the application must be understood. Some pompous shit can't just barf onto canvas and expect that someone will want it for $50,000. He must know what his art is for.

And that's the key problem. So many artists think that art is an existentially pure entity. They think that it can exist by itself, free of other things. I argue that it cannot. It must be attached to something. Whether it's a painting for a room, or a wall; or a sculpture to welcome people to a stadium. Art is the icing on the cake, but artists think that it's all that exists. A room without a painting is still a room that can be lived in. What is a painting sitting in a field? It's nothing. It's paint on paper in a pattern that is meaningful to only a few.

I love art. Flights of artistic fancy in architecture give a building character, communicate something about the architect, the time, the place, truly the zeitgeist of the building's construction. An artistic building is more valuable than a non-artistic building, but it must still be a building.

Even a great work of art like Starry Night. Once it is created, people enjoy it, they stare at it. But what do they do with it? They put in on their computer desktop. They get a poster of it for their bedroom. They get it on a credit card (like me). They enjoy it as art for its own sake, but they apply it to things. They apply it to the trappings of life, of which art is not a part. They use art to make life better, but art without that life is worthless.

Why am I ranting about this? Because I think that pestilence of opinion in art schools does a disservice to art students. Instead of encouraging them to find new and novel ways to apply their art to things, they are told that art as anything other than a mere expression is inferior. And if you fail at that, well youre' just not good enough.

In economic terms, you are making a product. It is your job to make people want your product. I got to the websites of artists who only upload low-res versions of their work, and then try and sell prints. No! No no no no! You should be doing your best to disseminate your work, get it out there. Give it away! If you don't know what to do with your work, let others see it and decide. You may get a commission to do a mural on a wall. Or a portrait of a family dog. Art was once like that. The great artists of the renaissance usually made their money appealing to the vagaries of the wealthy. They loved their art, but they knew what they made. They made a product that they damn well better sell.

By that useless art school paradigm, 99.9% of artists will fail. By my paradigm, you can become a world-renowned artist, or a great local one, and everything in between. There are many different levels of success in a world of art-as-product, but very few levels of failure.

Friday, September 04, 2009

More Anguish.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is all up in arms about a photo of a dying marine that was published by the AP, gasp, even after the family asked the photo not be published.

First off, two things. Whether the family wants news published or not is of no importance. He was a soldier representing the entire country, not just one family.

Second off, this smacks of the same garbage about which the government complained during the vietnam war. That publishing photos of war, and blood, and dying soldiers helped those damned commies. This isn't new behavior from our "free" government, either. Freedom of press and speech is absolute. News is news is news. Facts can, should, and must be disseminated. I'm also not the only one to make the Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan connection.

The government has always been desperate to hide images of war from the masses. As though some mass delusion about war being not so bad will allow them to continue willy-nilly sending soldiers off to die in far-flung hell holes. Just keep the American populace ignorant of the real damage. American consumerism will take care of the rest (note: I love American consumerism, but it can be used as a tool).

Gates “was greatly disappointed they had not done the right thing." BAH! The right thing. He wouldn't know the right thing if it bit him in the face. He's a an ex-CIA, Air Force, and National Security Councel. They have never cared about what is right. They care about minding America's interests and keeping us safe. A noble goal? Perhaps. I think it is. But has nothing to do with what is right. He started work at the CIA in 1966, left in 1974, then came back in 1979. Let's see, during that time the CIA did... too many bad things to list. And what about now? Secret prisons? Black helicopters? Ringing any bells?

Gates' life has never, ever been about doing what's right. And the fact that he would be presumptuous enough to talk about right and wrong is not just infuriating, it's fucking disgusting. He should just crawl into a cave and die.

Robert Gates protests AP decision as 'appalling' (
Censorship in Iraq (
Point and Shoot: How the Abu Ghraib images redefine photography (

Thursday, September 03, 2009

All They Need are Giant Robots.

Japan is moving forward with a plan to lay down about $21 billion in an orbiting solar power station that will literally beam energy down to the ground 24/7. The orbiting collection grid, which is quite literally measured in multiple acres, sits high enough to never be within the Earth's shadow, thus eliminating many of the problems with ground-based solar energy.

I have mixed feelings. Orbiting solar is fucking cool and was in Sim City, but even in Sim City, it was an inferior alternative to the all-powerful fusion plant. But in Sim City, it was cheaper than fusion, which isn't the case today. In fact, it's the most expensive way to provide energy of anything this side of antimatter.

As such, while I commend the forward thinking objective, and the desire to achieve the unlimited energy promised by something such as this, the $21 billion could be better spent on here-and-now technologies. Newer, more advanced nuclear plants could be safe, low-pollution, and provide tens of gigawatts instead of the solar arrays one. $21 billion could buy nearly 10,000 GE wind turbines, producing a theoretical max of over 30GW which could be spread up and down the coast.

For Japan's cities, it could be put towards an initiative to install solar panels on as many urban roofs as possible. Government subsidies for research into LED lighting, advanced refrigeration, and lower-power electronics could help make serious cuts in energy usage, instead of increased energy production. There are so many areas that could put far-reaching and immediate use to the money that I can't help but see this effort as wasteful.

Why not spend $21 billion on solar power from space? (

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Obama and Teh Internetts

There's been quite the ruckus over the recent draft of the Cybersecurity bill coming out of Washington and its seeming ability to shut down the internet like some form of digital martial law. Wired Magazine has an article sort of debunking the fear as unfounded. While I'm not falling over myself in fear of the next great Fascist state, as Larry Clinton of the Internet Security Alliance is quoted as saying in the Cnet article, "I think the redraft, while improved, remains troubling due to its vagueness."

That's my exact issue with it. While I doubt Obama would try and stretch the meaning of the bill to fit some sort of agenda, The Bush/Cheney administration proved that we do have things to fear about future presidents.

In the event of an immediate threat to strategic national interests involving compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network — [the president] may declare a cybersecurity emergency; and may, if the President finds it necessary for the national defense and security, and in coordination with relevant industry sectors, direct the national response to the cyber threat and the timely restoration of the affected critical infrastructure information system or network.

If the President finds it necessary. It's amazing the number of things Bush found necessary. That's what scares me. There is no objective metric by which to determine a time for action. It's put entirely in the hands of the big cheese. Again, Bush and Cheney proved that presidents are not to be trusted. I doubt Obama would do anything as wonky and borderline immmoral as the Bush admin, but that's all it is: a doubt. Whether his acolytes want to admit or not, Obama's reversal on Telecom immunity proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he... is... a... POLITICIAN.

He's arguably a good politician, but he's still just that. And as the joke goes, politicians are like diapers, they should be changed frequently and for the same reason. I trust Obama more, but still not as far as I can throw him.

He may "direct the national response to the cyber threat and the timely restoration of the affected critical infrastructure information system or network." Again, the word direct can be taken many ways. Is he ordering the actions taken? Is he simply the de facto leader of a group of willing, private participants. And what's with the word restoration? Restoration? Restored from what? Restored from an ordered government shut-down? That's worrisome, again, because vague wording that in the hands of a moral and philosophical person may not be a problem, but vague wording in the hands of the next Bush could be a disaster.

Bill would give president emergency control of Internet (
Umm… Actually Obama Doesn’t Want to Take Over The Internet (
Wouldn't The Last Thing We Want During A 'Cybersecurity Emergency' Be For The Gov't To Take Over Private Networks? (