Allen's Web Log
My thoughts on current events, politics, economics, religion, culture, etc...


11/8/2014
Regarding voter suppression: If the goal of democracy is to take the most accurate measure of the will of the people possible, then fraud prevention measures should never prevent more legitimate votes than illegal votes. Imagine there are 5 fraudulent votes out of 10,000. This means that you have 99.95% accuracy in gauging the will of the people. If you enact a rule that stops those 5 bad votes but also stops 100 legitimate votes, then you have reduced accuracy to 99%. Why aren't the Democrats making this argument?

11/1/2014
My letter to the editor of Skeptical Inquirer Magazine, published in their November/December 2014 issue:

In your July/August issue, Dr. Steven Novella admonishes us not to treat all GMOs as equal, but then makes that very mistake himself by arguing that since GMOs old enough to have been researched have not been shown to be unsafe, all newer and future GMOs will be safe. (And since when is it acceptable to test new technologies on the public until they're shown to be unsafe?)

Dr. Novella indulges in the Straw Man fallacy when he argues that eating a fish gene is harmless when it comes from a fish, so it's equally harmless if it comes from a tomato. It's not the gene itself but its product and all the products of interactions of that product with the other molecules in the tomato. Biochemistry is extremely complex. We do not yet have the understanding necessary to predict all the chemical consequences of introducing new molecules into living cells.

When he claims that genetic engineering is equivalent to conventional breeding, Dr. Novella ignores two things the pace of change and transgenic GMOs. The human species has some chance of adapting to changes in its food that take place over millennia. Sudden, drastic changes pose a clear risk. And it is not possible to breed a tomato with a fish.

The issue with GMO labeling is not whether GMOs are safe but rather who should decide. With such things as fire codes and vaccines, the government has the justification of public safety to force decisions on the individual. What is the justification for stopping consumers from being able to choose not to eat GMOs? The expansion of corporate profits does not qualify.

10/9/2014
Isn't it an amazing coincidence that the United States got all worried about the terrorist threat ISIS/ISIL posed to our homeland at exactly the moment they started taking control of oil-producing regions of Iraq? You'd almost think that our real motivation in bombing them is to keep our puppet Iraqi government in control of the oil.

The Catholic church lecturing about sexual morality is like a one-armed safety expert with an eye patch.

10/7/2014
Jon Stewart has yet again disappointed me by demonstrating Fox News levels of deceptive bullshit when, in his Oct. 2, 2014 show, in response to the claim that gun control laws don't make people safer, he said, "I know. It's just that, well, you know, 32 thousand people in America annually, 88 a day...." According to the CDC, the actual number of people murdered by guns in the US is 11,000 per year. Jon is deceptively including accidents and suicides in his number without being clear about it. People are afraid of being murdered by a criminal with a gun. They aren't afraid that they're going to kill themselves with their gun. So, including suicides exacerbates the very thing he was criticizing: exaggerated fear of relatively low risk threats and consequential poor allocation of resources.

10/6/2014
Perhaps Sarah Palin got the address of the White House wrong on purpose in order to make it harder for those people who keep jumping the fence to find it. She might secretly be some kind of amazing genius. She can't possibly be as dumb a twit as she appears to be.

5/22/2014
I hope Stephen Colbert isn't accepting this network job as a way of cashing out. Broadcast network censorship may stop him from challenging the political status quo. Perhaps he plans to get paid millions of dollars for a three-year contract (or whatever it is), do banal material, let his popularity fade, and then retire. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the reason he was given this job was to shut him up before the mid-term election this year and the next presidential election.

3/17/2014
Watching Jon Stewart argue about Lincoln and the Civil War with Andrew Napolitano on The Daily Show, I was struck by the possibility that the weapon of choice now for the rich and the powerful is distraction. It used to be censorship. But now, rather than stop the truth from getting out, the entrenched beneficiaries of present-day injustice seek to distract the people from that injustice. If they can manipulate champions of truth and justice into wasting their time and energy on historical debates, their goal of protecting their unjust privileges will be achieved just as well as if they had absolute power to silence their critics. Those who have the ears of the public should be exposing unjust taxation, exposing trade policy that forces American workers to compete with slave labor, and warning that it is now a scientific fact that if we keep wantonly consuming fossil fuels, our grandchildren will need SCUBA gear to view the ruins of downtown Miami.

12/24/2013
Well, here we go, one of the first examples of corporations abusing information collected by the government. It's been reported that Ikea France illegally bought private information from the police about its employees, a union leader, and a customer who was suing the company. Two executives and four police have been criminally charged. Investigators suspect Ikea of using private information to quell workplace grievances and persuade an employee to resign. See reports at Yahoo and The Guardian. This is what privacy advocates mean when they talk about the enormous potential for abuse of unchecked digital surveillance. How many thousands of other times has this sort of thing happened without the perpetrators being exposed?

12/17/2013
Rich people have so much influence over public opinion with their control over mainstream media and their expensive political advertising that they've managed to get people to believe two mutually contradictory positions simultaneously: (1) Policies such as higher taxes on soda or making kids eat healthy in public school are evil nanny state nonsense, and (2) keeping you from knowing whether the food you're eating contains GMO's is just fine. If you apply the attitude of the first case to not requiring GMO labeling, it would be seen as a nanny state government making the decision for us that GMO's are safe and keeping the supposedly stupid masses ignorant of information that might frighten or confuse us.

11/26/2013
The issue with circumcision isn't whether it's a good idea. The issue is who should make the decision. If a man wants to be circumcised after he reaches 18, fine. But parents shouldn't be allowed to make permanent changes to their children's bodies when there is no clear, medical need. Would you let neo-Nazi parents brand a swastika onto their infant's forehead? It's a necessary evil to have parents make decisions for their children because the children can't make them for themselves. It's a parental job and responsibility, not a right or privilege. Parental authority over their children is not absolute. Parents must provide food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and education. They can't physically, sexually, or psychologically abuse their kids.

Circumcision being a religious tradition doesn't give it any special standing as something parents have a right to inflict on their children. Human sacrifice is also a religious tradition.

The hygiene argument is ridiculous. It's like saying you should cut off your arms so you don't have to wash your pits. Who would cut off a part of their body just so they don't have to wash it? As for STD's, if there's a chance of STD transmission, a condom should be used. It doesn't matter whether a foreskin slightly increases or decreases disease transmission without a condom.

Having been circumcised as an infant, I can't speak from experience, but it seems to me that the foreskin might mechanically reduce the sensitivity of the penis during intercourse by partially covering the head of the penis during the out stroke. This would be an adaptive function because it would make the man more likely to climax on an inward thrust so he deposits his semen as close to the cervix as possible thus increasing the chances of conception. If this is the case, circumcision reduces the duration of sex and robs women of orgasms. Perhaps women should be the ones up in arms against circumcision.

This article from Mothering magazine seems to cover the whole issue accurately and gives references.

9/24/2013
Transvaginal Ultrasound would be a great name for a band.

9/17/2013
An idea for Shareware: charge a percentage of the user's annual income on the honor system. Ask the user to multiply their annual income by 0.0002 or whatever and send that amount to a PayPal account. Have a timed nag screen when the software is started asking the user to pay, and explaining how fair the income percentage pricing is. After a delay, they can click a button saying they want to use the software without paying and there's no further nagging. Or they can immediately click another button saying they paid which leads to a couple of timed nag screens making the case for paying, asking if they truly paid, and guilting them for clicking if they didn't actually pay. Once they click through, there are no more nag screens on start-up. By making the price more fair, the guilt of not paying is stronger. By using only the honor system, the process is simplified, making it more likely the user will do it. All they have to do is send a payment by PayPal. There are no sites to visit, extra downloads, nor registration codes to type in.

9/7/2013
My letter to the editor of Skeptical Inquirer Magazine, published in their Jan./Feb. 2014 issue:

In his response to readers' comments, Kenneth W. Krause used nearly half his space to repeat the evidence for the correlation between obesity and disease. But nobody denies the correlation. The dispute is over causation. Correlation doesn't equal causation. A third factor, such as psychological stress, could be causing both obesity and disease. Restating the case for correlation seems like the Straw Man fallacy to me.

It's plausible that the obesity epidemic is largely caused by the increased psychological stress caused by the economic pressure on the working class which started around the same time as the epidemic. This would also explain the correlation between obesity and poverty.

There's also the issue of the actual consequences of medical advice. Even if obesity does cause disease, it doesn't follow that pressuring fat people to loose weight will improve their health. We know that yo-yo dieting is more harmful than obesity, and we know that most people who try to loose weight will yo-yo, so why are doctors telling people to loose weight?

We need to address the psychological, environmental, and economic reasons people are getting fatter and sicker. Focusing on "personal responsibility" and defending "legitimate businesses" will not help the situation.

7/23/2013
In reference to the revelation by Edward Snowden of massive government spying on all Americans, Bill Maher argued that such spying is justified by the new and horrendous threat of nuclear terrorism. In a world where millions could be killed by a nuclear bomb set off by terrorists, continuous, warrantless government surveillance of all citizens is justified. The flaw in this argument is that terrorists capable of obtaining a nuke, smuggling it into the US, and detonating it would not be caught by this surveillance. Such people would be smart enough not to send an unencrypted E-mail saying, "Muhammad, we're bringing the nuke into New York harbor on the 17th." However, this kind of surveillance can be very effective in suppressing political dissent. It allows political activists to be easily identified by the government and then various actions can be taken against them. They can be audited, or arrested on phony drug charges. They can be fired from their jobs, or be denied housing, loans, and scholarships. They can even be assassinated by staged car accidents, drug overdoses, and suicides. Ordinary citizens will be too afraid to openly oppose the powers that be. If you think this is paranoid conspiracy theory nonsense, then you haven't read much history.

7/20/2013
I hope that someday the vast majority of humanity will see religion the way Americans see the Nazi party today: as a marginalized, fringe group with an ugly history.

7/16/2013
Perhaps the best response to the Trayvon Martin killing by George Zimmerman is to pass federal legislation requiring a minimum level of training for a concealed carry permit. A basic test would be added to each state's individual requirements. This training would include how to deal with various situations: when to confront and how to confront a suspected criminal, hostage situations, etcetera. It wouldn't need to be an onerous test. It could be about as difficult as a driver license test. The killing of Trayvon Martin could perhaps have been avoided if Zimmerman had clearly stated that he was with the neighborhood watch, was armed, and suspected Martin of criminal activity.

7/2/2013
Congressional Republicans are so hypocritical. They say they want limited government. But when the Supreme Court limits government by forbidding it to treat homosexuals differently, forbidding it to do something clearly unjust, the Republicans start talking about how it's an affront to democracy. According to Republicans, when the people vote to stop industry from poisoning us, the government has clearly gotten too big. But when the voters want government to be bigoted, it's beautiful democracy that must be defended. Republicans are just spewing contradictory corporate nonsense to get campaign money.

6/28/2013
Consider the estate tax. Imagine a family where one parent lives to be 85 and then his son lives to be 85. In that 170 years, that family pays the estate tax only twice. Now imagine a family where the first person dies at 55, then his son dies at 30 in a car accident, then his son dies at 25 in the military, then his son dies at 45 of cancer, etc.... A family with more deaths in any given time period can end up paying the estate tax two, three, even four times more often. In that light, it's fair to call the estate tax the death tax. It makes families with more deaths pay more in taxes. That isn't good policy and it isn't just. If you want to tax the rich more than the working class, as seems fair to me, raise the rates on the upper brackets of the income tax instead of having an estate tax.

5/27/2013
The problem with these mass killings is that none of these lunatics ever kills the right people. Look, if you want to do a mass killing... first, follow the news for a few months. Worthy targets will present themselves.

5/13/2013
An open question for Bill Maher: You've made a career out of exposing and ridiculing the stupidity and corruption of the government. So why do you want to make the government more powerful compared to the American people by disarming the people? Is it because you like the current resident of the White House? Would you feel as sanguine about your personal liberty if the only people with guns were under the authority of George W. Bush? The most likely type of dictator to rise in the US would be a Christian Fundamentalist, and Bill, as an outspoken atheist, you'd be one of the first to be sent to the camps.

4/24/2013
A reason to preserve endangered species that I've never heard before is that they are examples of complex biological engineering that we can learn from. In 50 or 100 years, people will be able to completely re-design living things from the ground up. Endangered plants and animals will be gold mines of bio-engineering ideas. Over millions of years, natural selection has produced astoundingly complex chemical systems that bio-engineers might never be able to design from scratch.

4/6/2013
What's underappreciated about sexual cheating is that it's mainly caused by people being pressured by religion and cultural expectations into making unrealistic and unfair sexual commitments. Narrow-minded, sexually-repressive religious people may be able to keep their children ignorant enough to consent to marriage in their early 20's, but they can't keep them that sexually ignorant and limited for the rest of their lives. Then they cheat.

4/5/2013
Everybody was so impressed with how humble the new pope is when he washed and kissed the feet of twelve prisoners. But it isn't necessarily impressive. What if he's a foot fetishist?

1/20/2013
Gun control advocates lie. They're fond of pointing out that in The United Kingdom only 50 people are murdered with guns every year, while in the US it's 12,000. They are of course ignoring the large difference in population between the two countries. The US has five and a half times as many people as the UK. If the UK were the size of the US, there'd be 275 gun murders every year. Still a big difference, but it shows the willingness of gun control advocates to twist reality to support their emotional and personal dislike of private gun ownership. (The bigger flaw is the apples-to-oranges comparison, but others have pointed that out.) Another example is the frequent inclusion of suicides in the "gun death" numbers which makes it sound like those deaths are murders of innocent people by criminals.

There are 12,000 gun murders in America every year. To put that in perspective, 20,000 people die every year in car accidents and 5,000 die from food poisoning. On the other hand, between 100,000 and 2,500,000 Americans defend themselves or others from criminals using guns every year. It would be nothing less than stupid to allow possibly millions of innocent Americans to be robbed, raped, and murdered every year just to prevent some of the 12,000 gun murders, especially considering that many of those murdered by guns are criminals killed in fights over drug-selling territory. And how many of the gun murders could actually be prevented by banning guns? Many would happen anyway with other weapons. And how can we expect the government to keep guns out of the hands of criminals when it can't stop them from bringing literally tons of illegal drugs into this country every year? And what unintended consequences would there be? How many people would stop flipping burgers and become criminals because they'd no longer fear being shot by their would-be victims? We don't know, but the number isn't zero. Banning guns would increase the number of innocent people victimized by crime and send thousands of innocent people to prison for refusing to give up their guns. These innocent victims of gun laws would probably far outnumber the innocent lives saved from gun crime.

Perhaps we can tighten up restrictions on gun sales to make it harder for criminals and lunatics to get them, but there's no reason for the government to keep records of who owns what guns. That would seriously undermine the deterrent value of an armed citizenry against tyranny. Gun sellers could be required to simply check a person's photo ID number against a searchable Web-based list of people denied the right to buy guns. This requirement could be enforced by undercover cops trying to buy guns without ID. There'd be no need to ban private gun sales. To reassure gun advocates, it could be made illegal for the gun seller to make any record of the identity of the buyer.

1/14/2013
In all the criticisms of the faith-based initiative (a.k.a. charitable choice) I've never seen the argument made that providing social services through religious groups benefits those groups in two ways: it misleads the recipients of the help into thinking the religion is paying for it when it's actually the taxpayers, and it draws in converts to the religion. If the support is given to only one religion's charities, then it's clearly unconstitutional. But even if money is given to all the religions that want it, it's still unconstitutional because the government is supporting religions that try to win converts over religions that don't.

1/9/2013
The difference between liberals (who want government to make our personal decisions for us) and libertarians (who don't) is that liberals think that over 50% of the voters know best, while libertarians think that well over 50% of the voters are idiots.

12/31/2012
The less able the people are to violently rebel against their government, the more unjust that government is likely to become.

10/25/2012
Electricity distribution companies and power plants should pay for the batteries in electric cars because it will let them sell more electricity. Let them own the batteries in the cars. Treat the batteries as part of the electricity distribution infrastructure. Then people won't have to pay for the batteries up front when they buy an electric car, and won't have to worry about the battery wearing out. The companies will recoup their investment from the sale of the electricity to charge the batteries over a period of years. When the batteries wear out, the companies can recycle them and provide a replacement.

Both the words "atheist" and "agnostic" are unclear because religious people commonly misdefine them. Atheists are often accused of having faith that there is no god. Actually, almost no people who call themselves atheists think like that. They are rationalists who respect science and evidence-based thinking. Almost all atheists say they would follow the evidence anywhere it led and would believe in God if the evidence supported his existence. Agnostics are often portrayed as wishy-washy: maybe there's a god, maybe not. But, the most proper definition of agnostic is someone who thinks the question of God's existence is unknowable by human beings because such a creature could not be understood by humans and therefore we wouldn't know what evidence would support his existence, or God could make us believe whatever he wanted by choosing what evidence was available to us. What we know would be up to God, so we can't know if he exists or not.

10/24/2012
There are five characteristics that define a fascist government. On each of these characteristics, George W. Bush and the Republicans moved us toward fascism. (1) Expansionist foreign policy: We invaded and occupied not one but two countries, one of them on clearly false pretenses. (2) Suppression of political dissent within the country: Under Bush, protesters were restricted to so called free speech zones where the media could ignore them. The phony excuse for this was, of course, security. Electronic surveillance of US citizens was drastically increased which has a chilling effect on political protest. The justice department was used as a weapon against the political opponents of the Bush administration. This was exposed by the politically motivated firings of a group of attorneys. (3) Extreme nationalism: Love it or leave it. American exceptionalism. America can do no wrong. Support the troops. (4) Centralized government power under one person or a few: The Bush administration increased the power of the executive branch by claiming special secrecy exceptions. Ashcroft refused to reveal what he told the president. Bush used signing statements to undercut and alter legislation. Vice President Dick Cheney claimed he was not part of any branch of government so he wasn't subject to any rules. And (5) the union of corporate and government power: In Nazi Germany it was the state that took over the corporations. In America today we are in the middle of the corporations taking over the government. A politician can't get elected without obscene amounts of money that only big business can provide. It's not a literal but a de facto takeover of government by the rich and their business interests. Perhaps the Republicans would stop before reaching true fascism, but that is the direction they want to take the country.

9/17/2012
We need to change our attitude about the news. If it's entertaining, it's probably not real news. Keeping up with the news, understanding the truth about what's going on in the country and the world is not entertaining. It's a job. An important, necessary job that you must do to be a responsible voter. Real news tells you about the events most likely to have the largest effect on your life.

4/12/2012
Dick Cheney got a heart transplant. So I guess now we know why he didn't want poor people to have health care: spare parts. And how was this allowed? Isn't there some sort of war criminal exclusion from receiving donor organs?

1/20/2012
If it seems reasonable to you to doubt evolution because humans are so complex, consider this: Humans are the survivors of four billion years of struggle. Trillions of living creatures struggling for survival and reproduction for four thousand, thousand, thousand years. How could something amazing not come out of such a process?

11/26/2011
Discussing the right to bear arms recently Bill Maher said, "But it's a fantasy that somehow we, if we didn't like the government, could take it over. The government has nuclear weapons, and the Marine Corps, and the F-22. Are you telling me that Bill and Earl are going to take over the government? It's insane. This was written at a time when you actually could because they had muskets and you had muskets. That doesn't exist any more." This is a dangerous mistake. In urban warfare, house-to-house, street-to-street fighting, nuclear weapons and aircraft carriers are useless. Try telling our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan that an outnumbering force armed with rifles is no threat. There are 100 million armed Americans. We outnumber the military 50 to 1. That certainly would give a wanna-be dictator pause. I very much hope that Bill Maher's view of America never comes to pass, because then the people will be at the mercy of the military. I don't want my freedom to depend only on 18-year-old boys remembering that they're sworn to the constitution and not to a particular president or military commander, and being principled enough to blow the brains out of any superior officer who supports a president who disbands congress and suspends the constitution. Never forget that Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of democratic Germany and then turned his country into a dictatorship with the support of his military and his private army of thugs.

11/24/2011
Surveillance inevitably reduces our freedom. If you know that your eating habits recorded by the grocery store will affect your health insurance premiums, then you are less free to eat what you want. If you know that your car is being tracked by cameras reading your license plate, and the government can get you fired by telling your boss that you went to a political protest he doesn't like, then you're less free to participate in the political process.

11/21/2011
If a drug company could find a drug that could stop caffeine tolerance from forming, or counteract it by reducing the activity of the adenosine receptor gene, it would be extremely lucrative. Everyone who uses caffeine now would want to use this drug to make the caffeine keep working.

11/14/2011
Astounding. Any comedian would love to write something like this. In one breath, Rick Perry said that we don't need the Department of Education, and then immediately proved that we do. It's almost too perfect.

10/10/2011
Imagine the president challenging the nation to cure aging within 30 years, like Kennedy did with the moon landing. He could say, "Biotechnology has advanced to the point now that it is feasible to cure aging within 30 years if we make a serious national-level commitment like we did to reach the moon."

Atheists should argue that innocent, defenseless children need to be protected from the seductive lies of religion.

8/25/2011
Wouldn't it have been better for the US economy if congress had repealed the Bush tax cuts for the rich rather than let the country's credit rating be downgraded? Clearly the Republicans and the Tea Partiers don't care about the economy. They work for the rich, and they're happy to have the economy take a kick to the nuts if it'll help them get Obama out of the White House in 2012.

8/5/2011
We've all heard that obesity causes cancer and heart disease. However, despite the confidence with which we are told by health care professionals that everyone should make any sacrifice necessary to loose weight, researchers have not yet figured out the exact mechanism by which being overweight causes disease. What's most shocking is that there are no scientific studies showing that people who were fat and lost weight have less disease or longer lives.

It's true that overweight people are more likely to develop cancer and heart disease, but scientists have a saying: correlation doesn't equal causation. Just because two things happen together, it doesn't mean one is causing the other. Instead, there can be a third thing that's causing both. It seems to me that an obvious candidate is psychological stress. It's accepted as fact that (1) stress causes the body to reduce the activity of the immune system, and (2) psychological stress induces people to overeat as a way to cope. And it's likely that stress reduces the activity of DNA repair mechanisms. So psychological stress could cause obesity, cancer, and heart disease. If stress is the real culprit, then pressuring people to loose weight could actually worsen the health of overweight people by increasing stress.

There are several clues that being fat does not cause disease, but is just correlated with it: (1) Studies have shown that physically fit fat people have less cancer and heart disease than thin, unfit people. It's known that exercise reduces disease risk, but exercise reduces psychological stress as well as weight. (2) Psychological stress and obesity are correlated with the same diseases. (3) There are significant differences in the relation between obesity and disease in different cultural and subcultural groups. This suggests that there's a psychological element involved. (4) People dissatisfied with their weight are more likely to get sick no matter how fat they are.

This paper theorizes that psychological stress caused by the social stigma of being fat is part of the cause of the correlation between obesity and disease. The paper also provides a good overview of the state of research on stress, obesity, and disease.

This study indicates that psychological stress from negative life events increases breast cancer incidence independently of weight.

Could it be that the aesthetic distaste of obesity has caused health care professionals to tell us that loosing weight will improve our health despite a lack of conclusive evidence? Could the religious attitude against hedonism be part of doctors' motivation? Could there be pressure from employers on health care decision-makers to encourage weight loss not because being thin is good for your health but instead because it's believed that thin people are more productive workers? Could the billion-dollar weight loss industry be drowning out reasonable scientific skepticism of the obesity/disease link?

7/21/2011
Whether you buy health insurance is a very personal and subjective decision. Some people would rather have more money (or free time) now when they're healthy and can enjoy it than have a chance at an extended life when they're old and sick and can't enjoy it. It's a reasonable decision not to give up years of healthy life working to pay for insurance so you can have a $100,000 chemotherapy treatment that extends your life by a month when you're miserably sick. This decision is within the private sphere, it doesn't affect other people, so it's none of government's business. If someone is a parent and they have dependant children and earn their income working, then perhaps the government could require health insurance or life insurance benefiting the child. But if someone has no children or has provided for their children in some way if they die, there's no justification for the government to force them to buy health insurance. The government should be limited to preventing deceptive and unjust practices by regulating health insurance companies.

7/17/2011
On
Real Time recently, Marc Maron raised the question of why progressive talk radio isn't as successful as the right wing version. I have a theory about that. Right wing radio is like church. Delusional people need constant reinforcement of their delusions in order to maintain them in the face of reality. Sane people don't need to gather together once a week to have their sanity reinforced. Scientists don't need to have the importance of double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies preached to them every week. Right wingers need to hear their insane beliefs repeated frequently in order to silence the doubts that crop up every time they look around at the real world. The beliefs of left-wingers are evidence-based and so are reinforced by reality, hence there's less demand for left-wing talk radio.

7/13/2011
It's dangerous to have a citizen surveillance system in place (even if it's currently being used for legitimate crime fighting) because if a dictator takes over, he will then immediately have the means to suppress dissent and stop citizens from secretly organizing against him. If he has to build the system from scratch, then the resistance has a much better chance of overthrowing him early on.

5/20/2011
I have to admit that George W. Bush does deserve some credit for killing Osama bin Laden. After 9/11, Bush did not order the US military to march into the ocean and drown. He didn't disband special ops or shut down all human intelligence in the Middle East. He didn't order the execution of SEAL team 6 because 6 is part of the devil's number. So, yeah, he deserves some credit. Kind of like I deserve credit for saving many people's lives by not running them over with my car.

5/10/2011
President Barack Obama should put Donald Trump on the defensive by demanding that he be evaluated by a psychiatrist for psychopathy (a.k.a. antisocial personality disorder) using The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. Psychopaths lack empathy, remorse, shame, and compassion for their fellow human beings. They are untruthful, insincere, cunning, manipulative, egocentric, and superficially charming. Trump shows all these signs.

4/14/2011
Voters need to understand the limits of profit-driven medical research. Investment capital is available for research on expensive treatments and on minor but widespread diseases (like impotence), but not on serious but rare diseases, cures, or prevention (like vaccines). The government needs to fund research that profit-seeking corporations will not. We also must be vigilant against a company politically opposing the prevention or curing of a disease that they are making a lot of money from treating. In our economic system, some companies actually have an incentive to keep people sick.

3/27/2011
Today CEO's are making 300 to 500 times what the average working person earns. Calling this income inequality is a mistake that plays into the hands of corporatists. It should be called income injustice. Calling it inequality makes it sound like progressives want everyone to earn the same income regardless of their skill, knowledge, or productivity. That would be ridiculous and truly would reduce prosperity. What progressives actually want is for working people to be paid what their labor is worth rather than the minimum their employers can get away with by taking advantage of the ignorance, fear, and lack of organization of working people.

3/16/2011
Ignorant people think climate change is fake because they don't trust the motives of scientists. It's not that they think the scientists don't know more than they do; they think they're lying. This kind of suspicion makes sense on the small scale. The town car mechanic knowing more about cars than you isn't a reason to trust him. He may well have a selfish motive to lie to you. But when the global community of environmental scientists agrees, there's far less chance that so many different people could all agree on some lie that would benefit them all. And human-caused climate change being settled fact, as scientists say it is, actually hurts scientists financially because there's less research to do and less importance to doing it than if the issue were being hotly debated. This kind of argument about the scientists' motives would be more persuasive to uneducated people than listing all the arcane, technical evidence for climate change.

3/4/2011
I donít like vague words like "really" and "incredible" that have multiple meanings. Instead of "really," I try to use very/extremely, truly/actually, or literally depending on the meaning. And thereís a whole host of superlatives to replace "incredible." Food is delicious, women are beautiful, computers are powerful, etcetera. Using "incredible" instead of more specific superlatives is intellectually lazy and sounds ignorant to me. Stop it, English-speaking world. I'm not telling you again. Don't make me come over there.

2/19/2011
Polls show that militant fundamentalist Muslims are a minority in Egypt. For example, only 20% of Egyptian Muslims have a favorable view of al Qaeda vs. 72% unfavorable. 70% are very or somewhat concerned about Islamic extremism. The Egyptians are very religious, but they don't support terrorism. So why are US conservative political pundits spreading the fear that democracy in Egypt would mean militant Islamic fundamentalists taking over and creating a terrorist state? Is it perhaps because Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak has been very friendly to US corporations at the expense of the Egyptian people, and conservatives are trying to protect those unjust advantages? Are US conservatives trying to set up a phony justification for interfering in Egypt against democracy? I'd like to point out that the citizens of other nations do have the right to do things unfavorable to US corporate profits. It's called justice and freedom.

It's interesting that when mainstream news agencies quote the Pew Research poll on Muslim political attitudes, they never point out that Egypt is only 80% to 90% Muslim, so all the Pew numbers on Egyptian Muslims are higher than they would be for all Egyptian citizens. For example, while 20% of Egyptian Muslims support al Qaeda, the percentage of all Egyptians may be as low as 16%. That's a very subtle way to deceive. Never trust what anybody says about a poll or scientific study. Go read it yourself. There's no excuse not to do that in the age of the Internet. If you don't have time to do that, then reserve your judgement.

On Real Time, Bill Maher stated the fact that the richest 400 people in the US have as much income as the poorest 50 percent. Even if you understand nothing about economics, you can't doubt that this proves our economic system is unjust. There is simply no way that 400 people could be doing as much for our economy as 100,000,000 workers. I don't think that everyone should earn the same income, but the disparity in the US has become obscene.

2/2/2011
Anti-gun activists often argue that a gun owner is far more likely to have an accident with his gun or use it to commit suicide than he is likely to use it to kill a criminal in self-defense. This is an intentionally deceptive statistic. It falsely assumes that a citizen with a gun only benefits when he kills an attacker with it. But obviously a gun is still doing good if a would-be victim uses it to stop a crime without killing the criminal. This can happen in several ways. He can wound the attacker, or scare him away by a missed shot, a warning shot, or even just by showing the gun. The truth is that between 100,000 and 2.5 million US citizens use a gun in self-defense every year. People unwilling to use a gun in self-defense want to throw these people under the bus in order to make themselves marginally safer by banning guns so they're a little less available to criminals. Despite Herculean efforts, the government can't stop tons of drugs from being manufactured in, and smuggled into, the US every year. What makes people think they could suppress guns any more effectively? How many criminals would actually be unable to get a gun if they were illegal?

Additionally, there's the deterrent value of an armed population. How many fewer violent criminals are there in this country because they're afraid of being shot by their intended victims? There's no way to determine this, but it isn't likely to be negligible.

There's a lot of disagreement over how often guns are used in self-defense. The surveys showing lower use are often done in such a way as to encourage people to conceal their use of a gun out of fear of prosecution. See:

http://www.pulpless.com/gunclock/noframedex.html An easy-to-read summation.

http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_gcdguse.html Discussion of the flaws of some studies.

Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-defense with a Gun A survey by Kleck & Gertz published in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology of The Northwestern University School of Law.

Gun Politics on Wikipedia

1/31/2011
There are big differences between (1) teaching a child self-discipline, (2) conditioning a child to be obedient to authority, and (3) hitting your kid whenever you get aggravated. If you tell your son that he won't get dinner until he finishes his homework, you are teaching him to control himself so he can do what he needs to do to achieve his goals. On the other hand, if you hit or scream at your son when he asks questions or tries to explain something to you, you are teaching him to be blindly obedient to authority. And, of course, if you hit your kid because you've become angry regardless of his actions, you're teaching him that the world is an unpredictable and violent place, and the strong and powerful can do whatever they want to the weak and powerless. (A kid who absorbs this lesson will become a bully, then a rapist, or worse, a corporate executive.) Sadly, these distinctions are lost on many parents.

1/27/2011
I'm troubled by the misrepresentation by left-wing media of the recent efforts to allow guns in bars. I love Jon Stewart and Bill Maher and never miss their shows, but they've both misled their fans about this. In a couple of states, conservative legislators changed, or tried to change, the law to allow people who have permits to carry concealed weapons to carry those weapons in businesses that serve alcohol. It didn't apply to any yahoo with a gun in his belt, nor did it apply only to bars. To get a concealed carry permit, you have to pass a gun safety class and pass a background check. It's always been unreasonable that people with concealed carry permits couldn't carry their weapons into restaurants because they serve alcohol. As far as the law was concerned, it didn't matter whether the person with the gun was drinking or not. The purpose of a concealed weapon is self-defense when you're out of your house. Not letting people defend themselves when they go out to eat defeats this purpose much of the time.

Listening to Stewart and Maher, you'd think that gun-crazy Republicans had passed a law giving everyone the right to carry guns into bars. When right-wingers distort things in this way, political comedians rightly ridicule them. I'm sincerely disappointed when comedians do the very thing they frequently ridicule just to set up an easy joke. Jon and Bill should stay on the side of truth, however strongly they feel about guns.

1/22/2011
All this gun control talk is pissing me off. It's nothing less than dangerous. I like the fact that a hundred million US citizens have guns. That's a real, tangible guarantee of our freedom. If the authorities are the only people with guns, and they decide to support a dictator -- guess what, you now live in a dictatorship. That's how power works. Civil rights and democracy aren't maintained by magic. The constitution is just a scrap of dried animal skin with some black scribbles on it if the people with the guns don't support it. This isn't some crazy theory. We have a recent historical example of a democracy falling to a dictator. You may remember him, short guy with a toothbrush mustache, yelled a lot? Adolph Hitler was democratically elected Chancellor of Germany. He then proceeded to turn his country into a dictatorship because the people with the guns supported him. It astounds me that liberals who lived through the Dubya administration can't see the importance of an armed citizenry. Imagine if we'd disarmed the citizens of America in the year 2000 in the name of reducing gun crime and accidents. Then after September 11th, George W. Bush declares martial law, suspends elections, and disbands congress -- just until the terrorist threat is neutralized. I wouldn't put that past that evil fuck if he thought he could get away with it. If the military supported him, what would you do Mr. Gun Control Person? Have a protest? Okay, the National Guard shoots the protestors as terrorist sympathizers. If you don't think that could happen in America, I suggest you read up on Kent State. What's your next idea? Right. You'd have two options at that point: Shut your mouth and learn to enjoy your slavery, or get a fuckin' gun and fight. Read some history. The freedoms and civil rights we enjoy today in the Western world are very unusual compared to the preceding several thousand years. There's nothing preventing us from going back to being ruled by a rich elite and their mercenary soldiers, except The People being unwilling to accept it and having the firepower to stop them by force.

1/2/2011
Human beings are not naturally religious nor naturally rational. Humans are naturally programmable. We can be raised to be insane religious fanatics, or skeptical, rational, lovers of truth.

Large organizations allow a separation between decision makers and the consequences of their decisions. This separation subverts human compassion and empathy, allowing for greater injustice and cruelty than would otherwise be possible.

12/29/2010
Republicans argue that a flat income tax would be more fair than our current progressive system. This is a self-serving over-simplification. What would be fair is for the burden of taxation to be the same for everyone. Clearly, for a family earning $20,000 a year, taking $5,000 in tax is a significant burden. While for a family earning $2,000,000 a year, taking $500,000 isn't much of a burden at all. Only progressive taxation, under which the wealthy pay a higher percentage, can make the burden equal for all.

12/22/2010
If I had children, on December 25th we'd celebrate Science Appreciation Day. We'd put a large, folding step ladder in the living room, decorate it with tinsel and lights, and call it the ladder of scientific progress. The kids would find presents under the ladder on Science Appreciation Day morning. A positive alternative to Christmas for atheists. The Christians did it to the pagans. Turn about is fair play. Perhaps as they opened their gifts, the kids would have to say one scientific discovery that made the gift possible. This way, atheist kids wouldn't miss out on the fun of getting presents, nor feel left out among their Christian friends. Members of other religions could celebrate it. Imagine the expression on the face of a fundamentalist Christian as a Walmart greeter says, "Merry Christmas and happy Science Appreciation Day!"

On Real Time recently, Bill Maher made the point that conservatives resort to violence far more often than progressives. His conservative guests tried frantically but unsuccessfully to counter his argument. Conservative followers resort to violence more often simply because conservative leaders use fear, hate, and anger as political tools. They don't truly represent the interests of the vast majority of the people, so they resort to emotional arguments, in a word demagoguery. Later, Bill said that all the stupid candidates are conservatives also. This is explained by the fact that Republicans actually represent the interests of the wealthiest two percent, so they have to trick the dumbest forty nine percent to vote for them in order to win. This forces them to play to the things that stupid people tend to do and believe. They have to say new-kyoo-ler. They have to say how much they love NASCAR. They have to say that evolution is a satanic trick to destroy their faith. They have to at least be comfortable with racial and religious bigotry. To get elected, Republicans have to get stupid people to like them. I wouldn't be surprised if a Republican candidate in 2012 came out in favor of ending the government cover-up of UFO's. Oh, damn, I shouldn't have said that. I don't want to give them any ideas.

I recently experienced a strong coincidence that had the potential to seem very meaningful. I was about to plug in my new paper shredder for the first time. With the plug in my hand in front of the outlet, I paused remembering the recent news story about toner cartridges having terrorist bombs in them. A shredder is an office product too. It was heavy and bulky enough to contain a powerful bomb. It could've been manufactured in Pakistan for all I knew. As I was looking at the word Aurora on the shredder, its model name, I heard the name Aurora on the audio book I was listening to. A very strong coincidence, and a surreal experience. I plugged the shredder into the lamp post on my patio and flipped the switch on from inside my house. It didn't explode, but imagine if it had! I'd be one of those people with a story of my life being saved by a supernatural communication. Coincidences happen all the time. They donít mean anything. Most people forget them when they donít pan out. This makes the ones that do pan out seem more impressive. Selective memory deceives people into believing in the supernatural.

11/29/2010
Racial profiling is not racism. Racism is the belief that certain traits are more common in a racial group. Profiling doesn't imply that people from the Middle East are genetically prone to violence. It's no different from a description of a specific criminal that specifies his race. It isn't fair to innocent people who look like they're from the Middle East, but neither is it fair for an innocent person to be stopped by the police because he matches a description of a wanted man. It isn't fair, but neither is it anybody's fault. You wouldn't criticize the police for stopping someone who matches a description.

When Muslim terrorists murder three thousand American civilians, it's the crime of the century. It changes everything. But when rich people let tens of thousands of their fellow citizens die from lack of medical care, every year, it's just fine. Is it the motivation that makes the difference? The terrorists are motivated by religious ideology and not-entirely-unjustified revenge. The rich are motivated by greed. How is greed morally superior?

11/15/2010
I think homosexuality actually is a choice in one sense. Homosexuals do choose whether to (1) follow their nature or (2) conform to society's expectations. Rather than argue about whether homosexuality is a choice when each side is defining the word "choice" differently, people need to recognize that the issue is actually about freedom vs. conformity. It would be more effective to make the case that trying to conform your sexual behavior to other people's expectations is a path to unhappiness. The pro-gay position is not about whether homosexuality has a genetic basis. The pro-gay position is nothing more than the application of individual freedom to sexual behavior.

Anti-gay Christians who oppose equal rights for gays say that they're saddened when gay teens kill themselves, and they're offended when Christians are blamed for gay teen suicide because they don't want it to happen. Anti-gay Christians are in denial about the consequences of their position. It's like saying that you want to keep umbrellas illegal, but you're not to blame when people get wet because you take no pleasure in seeing it happen.

11/13/2010
Those in favor of the death penalty often pretend that the only issue is whether or not there are criminals whose crimes are so hideous that they deserve death. They act as if anyone who opposes the death penalty must think serial killers deserve compassion or can be rehabilitated. But that's not the issue. The question isn't whether we should execute horrible criminals. The question is whether we should execute people convicted of being horrible criminals by our criminal justice system. Big difference. My view is that our police and our criminal courts have been shown to have too much racism, and too much injustice for people who are not rich, to give them the power of life and death.

It seems to me that feminists and male chauvinists are both making the same mistake, just in different directions. They both believe that women must have the same level of assertiveness in the bedroom as they have in the other areas of their lives. Male chauvinists think that women naturally enjoy sex best when they play a submissive role, and they therefore must be submissive all the rest of the time too. Feminists believe that women should be equally as dominant as men in politics, business, and the running of the family, therefore they should not be submissive in the bedroom. Both positions make the mistake of assuming that a person's position on the dominant-to-submissive spectrum during sex must be their only position on that spectrum at all times. We know this isn't true. The hard-nosed, dominant businessman who orders around his underlings all day, and then goes to a dominatrix and enjoys submissive sex, is so common as to be a stereotype. There's no reason a woman can't be assertive in most aspects of her life, but enjoy a submissive role during sex. Feminists I think make a mistake when they at least imply that women should be ashamed of allowing themselves submissive pleasure with their chosen lover.

10/3/2010
People's opinion of illegal drug users is skewed by classic selection bias. Most of the people you hear about using illegal drugs are the people who are stupid, ignorant, incompetent, or poor enough to get caught by the police, or the people whose self-control is poor enough that the drugs become a problem that gets out of control. Hence, when you think of illegal drug users, you imagine such less-than-admirable people. This gives you an inaccurate picture of the typical illegal drug user. Most of the people who use illegal drugs don't get caught, nor do they loose control of their drug use.

Religious people are stuck in a fantasy in which God's presence is very real to them, like someone standing behind them with a hand on their shoulder. Having something like that is so comforting that they won't let the fantasy end. They're terrified of having it end, of waking up from the dream. Letting yourself get addicted to the fantasy of a protective father figure with you at all times is the path to the insanity that is religion.

9/14/2010
The ground zero mosque is being financed by the second largest shareholder of News Corp. after the Murdoch family. News Corp. owns Fox News. Isn't it obvious that this controversy has been manufactured to influence the upcoming election? If this election is about who's toughest on terrorism, the Republicans will win. As a result of the mosque controversy, nobody is talking about the oil spill which was the result of Republican deregulation, the health care reform bill which will help working Americans, nor any other accomplishments of the Democrats.

8/23/2010
The word eugenics just means good genes. It was turned into a bad word by the Nazis who did it by force and who defined good genes according to their non-rational racism. Western culture seems still to be in an overreaction against eugenics. People react with unthinking anger at the very mention of the word. But there are consequences for ignoring biological reality. Technology, government, and social organizations have removed many selective pressures (the dangers and reproductive limitations of having bad genes). In the absence of selective pressure, human genetics is drifting away from health. We are becoming dependant on glasses, braces, insulin, fertility treatments, and other technological interventions. This is dangerous. We should be taking public measures to encourage healthy genetics. At the very least, the government should be paying for genetic testing for people who are considering having kids. There should be an educational campaign. We should apply a social stigma against knowingly having kids when your genes are unhealthy.

Even seemingly good social support systems like adoption and public support for orphans can be dangerous to genetic health in the long term. In primitive times, if parents weren't well enough adapted to have the resources, or to survive long enough, to care for their children, then their children died before reproducing and those genes disappeared. Now we allow people with bad genes to reproduce successfully by caring for the children of others.

Longevity beyond the reproductive years, which we all want, is based on the assistance grandparents provide in caring for children. Children with the genes necessary for a long life will have grandparents to help care for them, so those genes will be selected. Public support for children whose grandparents died young necessarily leads to shorter lifespans for people in the future.

I'm not saying we should end social support services or outlaw insulin, but we need to recognize the damage these things do to the gene pool and compensate somehow. Survival of the fittest is brutal, but it serves a vital purpose. If we remove it without providing a kinder substitute, there will be harmful consequences. It's a real threat to the quality of life and longevity of future generations. We shouldn't let fear of seeming heartless stop us from protecting the genetic health of our descendants.

8/7/2010
Stand-up comedians have a reputation for being psychologically troubled. I have a theory about that. In order to develop the ability to write comedy, one must read, watch, and listen to an enormous amount of it. Most of the people who do this are people who need comedy to fight depression. They're self-medicating with comedy. And so, ironically, people who can write comedy tend to be depressed.

8/3/2010
It's suspicious to me that we seldom hear about the true core of the immigration issue in the United States. There is one true reason why we have twelve million illegals in this country: Illegal workers allow rich people to get around the minimum wage law. Rich people use their political influence to keep our southern border effectively open so they can get their lawns mowed, their fruit picked, and their babies' diapers changed more cheaply. Our security against terrorists and our low-skill, legal workers suffer as a result.

7/31/2010
The repression of sexuality necessary to make people abstain from sex until marriage and then remain monogamous for life was a cultural element (a meme) naturally selected in the past because it reduced sexually transmitted diseases and reduced early pregnancies which interfered with extended education. The fact that a meme has been naturally selected, though, only means that it was useful in the past. Now that we have condoms, birth control pills, safe abortion, disease testing, antibiotics, and antiretrovirals, and we have every reason to believe that these technologies will continue to improve, we no longer need the cultural meme of sexual repression. We can now begin phasing out sexual repression without fear of harming the survivability of our species.

6/4/2010
I don't disagree with the supreme court that corporations have free speech rights. Corporations are just groups of people acting together. I place the fault with the voters. Money should not be so useful in manipulating public opinion. People should not pay any attention to political ads. The only reason to watch political ads on TV is if you're curious what the rich would have you believe. We can't get the money out of politics. But we could make that money far less useful by educating voters. Voters need to learn to consider the source of everything they hear, and what motives that source might have. Voters need to understand that there is no fact checker preventing lies and deceptive half-truths from appearing on their TV screens. Voters need to learn about propaganda techniques. Campaign finance reform won't work. Voter education is the better and more lasting solution.

6/3/2010
People used to believe that God made it rain. Scientific knowledge has pushed God's role back now about 14 billion years. Isn't that far enough now to guess that material reasons just keep going back forever in time and there is no God?

5/6/2010
Why isn't there a political party combining the Republican position against forced charity through taxation, with the Democratic position that we should have effective regulation of corporations on pollution, consumer fraud, false advertising, anti-competitive practices, etc...? The left/right political spectrum is a ridiculously simplistic way to conceptualize all possible political parties and movements.

5/9/2010
The 70's sit-com Barney Miller is a very underrated show. It deserves to be listed along with All in the Family and Cheers. It was politically relevant and daring, and regularly laugh-out-loud funny. If you've never seen it, I recommend buying it on DVD (or downloading it) and watching it instead of some of the crappy sitcoms on TV today.

4/29/2010
Why haven't all the members of the New York Islamic group that threatened the lives of the creators of South Park been arrested? Are people now allowed to make death threats in America as long as their motivation is religious?

Censorship on TV isn't just of "dirty" words. There are many censorship rules with political or religious goals. For example, most TV networks and cable channels have rules against any reference to illegal drugs unless the drugs are portrayed in a negative way. Censorship like that is nothing short of propaganda and cultural manipulation. The worst thing about this censorship is that most TV viewers are unaware that they are watching a censored view of reality that is skewed to encourage inaccurate beliefs that are beneficial to rich people and the profits of their corporations.

4/25/2010
I think ruling class people (rich people, business managers, aristocrats) see working class people like the rest of us see tools. You recognize that your tools are useful, they give you power, but they can be replaced. You don't want to waste or throw away your tools. You make some effort to take care of them so they'll last, but you don't worry overmuch about breaking them or wearing them out, especially if what you're working on is very important.

3/22/2010
A good portion of conservative ideology serves the purpose of making the rich feel okay about being callous, vicious, selfish pricks. For example: It's okay to oppose assistance for the poor because they're all lazy beggars.

It's truly shameless for the right-wing media to trumpet the polling that shows people don't like the Obama health care reform bill. The right-wingers successfully deceive the American people about the bill, poll them to get their own lies repeated back to them, and then act like this proves the bill is bad.

3/9/2010
I would make the case that the nature of health care prevents it from being well regulated by consumer choice, which is the conservatives' preferred method of controlling the behavior of corporations. There are three differences between health care and other services: (1) When you need health care, you often need it immediately. You don't have time to shop around or do research to find deals or pick the best doctors, etc.... (2) Modern health care is highly technical. Few people can be expected to, for example, detect unnecessary treatments or be aware of less expensive alternative medications. (3) Health care is a life-and-death matter. It's one thing if you make a poor choice buying a portable music player, but quite another if you make a mistake in selecting your doctor, hospital, or medication. For some things, a market-based, laissez faire approach is simply not appropriate.

It's yet another Republican deception to say that we can't afford health care reform now because of the weak economy. Health care reform isn't some expensive luxury. If done properly, it would help people deal with economic hardship. Regulating health insurers to reduce their profits and increase their services, setting up a public option to provide competition, and preventing people from loosing their insurance when they change jobs would all help working people.

Some people are inclined to explain the replacement of journalism with infotainment as nothing more than a profit-driven media simply giving the people what they want. But I fear that it may be more sinister. What if the people chosen to run our mainstream news media understand that their job is to distract people with dramatic, salacious, but unimportant news, and also to make them feel like they know what's going on so they won't look elsewhere for real news?

2/24/2010
In order to accelerate the construction of clean energy sources, Congress should pass legislation requiring all electricity utilities to give their customers an option on their bills to pay a fixed dollar amount extra per month for solar- and wind-generated electricity. The extra money collected would be added to the price paid by the utility for the clean energy, thereby raising the price clean energy would command. The defenders of the status quo would find this difficult to attack because it's completely voluntary.

CBS has refused to broadcast more than one progressive ad, but recently they showed an anti-abortion ad from Focus on the Family. NBC has also been accused of this sort of ad discrimination. TV networks don't have the right to act as gate-keepers for political speech. An argument can be made that they should be able to do whatever they want since they're private businesses. However, the goal of maintaining a free and open exchange of political ideas is far more important to our nation than the relatively minor right to choose with whom you do business. The networks' behavior is an abuse of power. They gain nothing by their action other than censoring ideas they dislike. Actually, they loose money by refusing certain ads. If the primary motive is to censor constitutionally-protected political speech, then it should be illegal. It's like a cab driver refusing to drive someone to a political protest he disagrees with, or a printer refusing to make posters for a cause he dislikes. Congress should require TV networks to accept all political ads or none. If the networks are only concerned about offending their viewers, then they should welcome such a law because it would shift any blame for the ad onto the law.

Some right-wingers, including Sarah Palin, have tried to twist this issue. Their statements seem to be intended to mislead people into thinking that Progressives want the anti-abortion ad censored. Progressives are not calling for that. We want equal treatment for all political ads. This is a deceptive tactic oft-used by Conservatives: The Straw Man Logical Fallacy.

2/22/2010
There's been some recent controversy about the use of the word retard as an insult. Insulting a normal person who's done something stupid by calling them a retard is not an insult against retarded people. Imagine that someone had spent all day in their recliner watching TV, and you said to them, "Why don't you get off your ass and do something? What are you, a paraplegic?" That wouldn't be an insult to paraplegics. There's no shame in having a disability. However, there is shame in acting as if you have one when you don't.

2/18/2010
The whole "death panel" thing is excellent evidence that the Republicans are systematically deceiving people. It was based on two things: (1) the health care reform bill paying for end-of-life counselling, and (2) an implausible misreading of one version of the bill. Obviously, you'd have to be insane to think that the government paying for a doctor to council a patient could be some plot to trick patients into agreeing to sign away their lives. The bill said nothing about what choice the patient had to make about their end-of-life care. A living will can say "Keep me alive no matter what!" you know. Patients would obviously benefit from having end-of-life medical facts explained by a doctor, especially the fact that pain can usually be controlled, and the fact that palliative sedation is an option (keeping the patient unconscious if the pain can't be controlled). The misreading was even less believable. The bill said that doctors' pay would be partly based on how many of their patients established living wills, and how well the wills were adhered to. The lying Republicans pretended to misunderstand this as saying that doctors would be paid by the government to force their patients to obey their living wills even if they had changed their minds. This is absurdly ignorant. Living wills only come into effect after the patient is incapacitated and can no longer communicate their wishes. It's literally impossible for a patient to be forced to obey their living will. Obviously, it's the doctors who will be encouraged to follow their patients' living wills by basing their pay partly on whether they do so. The Republican leaders can't possibly have made this mistake honestly. Most of them are lawyers. They know what living wills are. The only explanation is that they seized on this slightly unclear bit of the bill as an excuse to terrify the American people with images of elderly people sick in bed being told they had to die now because that's what it says on some piece of paper.

The Republicans' have systematically and repeatedly used fear and scare tactics against the people of America. Perhaps the Democrats should start calling them terrorists. Or at least start talking about the "terrorist-like scare tactics of the Republican Party." It wouldn't be just name-calling. The definition of terrorism is the creation of fear in a population to achieve a political goal. It's true that Muslim terrorists use bombs and bullets to produce the fear, but producing fear by deception to achieve a political goal still fits the definition of terrorism. The Republicans don't murder people to produce fear, but their policies do kill people. It's estimated that 45,000 Americans die every year due to a lack of medical coverage. By attacking health care reform, the Republicans are trying to kill far more Americans every year than Al-Qaeda has ever killed. They're doing this to protect the profits of the health insurance, pharmaceutical, and hospital corporations so they'll keep giving them campaign money. At least the evil, religious fanatic terrorists are doing it for something they believe in.

2/16/2010
Republican leaders and spokespeople keep hysterically screaming that President Obama wants to turn the US into a socialist state. This is ridiculous on its face. In a socialist system, all the elements of the economy are owned collectively by the people. Obama and the Democrats haven't proposed anything even approaching this. Regulating health insurance companies or setting up a government-run, non-profit health insurance provider that people can use or not use (the "public option") isn't even slightly socialist. Even the takeover of some US auto manufacturers by the government isn't socialist... because they were bankrupt! They weren't worth anything. Their debts were greater than their assets. The government took them over, bailed them out actually, to prevent them from going through formal bankruptcy proceedings and turning all their employees out onto the streets. The Republicans are shamelessly taking advantage of fear based on ignorance.

Economic conservatives argue that corporations are best regulated by the purchasing decisions of consumers rather than the government. This might have worked in the days of small villages. If the town blacksmith were burning sulphurous coal and stinking up the town, his customers could certainly force him to stop. But the idea that such a system could work in our modern, highly technical, global economy is simply ridiculous. It's unreasonable to expect every consumer to understand all the consequences of the manufacture of every product they buy. The only explanation for this ridiculous consumer regulation argument being made is that it's a cover for letting corporations do whatever they want at the expense of the vast majority of the people. This view is backed up by the fact that during the Dubya administration, when Republicans had a majority in Congress, they tried to repeal the law mandating the standardized nutrition labels on food products that we're all familiar with. If the Republicans truly believed in regulation by consumers, they certainly wouldn't try to reduce the information available to consumers.

The Tea Baggers style themselves as freedom lovers who fear having their freedom taken away by the government. But our government is a democracy answerable to the voters. Why aren't the Tea Baggers more fearful of loosing their freedom to profit-driven corporations that are answerable only to the rich elites who own and run them? The government doesn't poison our children's brains with mercury from coal-fired power plants, test us for illegal drugs without probable cause, search for excuses to deny us medical coverage, nor dictate how we spend our working lives. Corporations do.

Why do people respect the law? Everyone hates politicians. Everyone thinks they're a bunch of corrupt, self-serving bastards. Well, who do you think writes the law? Politicians! Once you get beyond murder, rape, and stealing, the fairness of the law becomes suspect.

2/13/2010
Here's a suggestion for dealing with the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend without restriction on political advertising: Rather than beginning the long and likely to be unsuccessful process of passing a constitutional amendment, Congress could immediately pass a law requiring corporate-sponsored ads to carry a clear statement of who ultimately paid for them. Rules would prevent deceptive names of shell companies from being used. The corporate names most recognizable to the viewer would be required. Or the government could write the disclosure and specify the industries who provided the money. For example, an ad attacking climate change would have to say that it was paid for by the petroleum and coal industries. Bush's Supreme Court has opened the flood gates of corporate money, but Congress can at least make sure the American people aren't kept in the dark about where the money's coming from.

The right-wingers always say they believe in freedom. But they define the word freedom to mean their own freedom and the freedom of people just like them. That isn't believing in freedom. Everybody selfishly wants freedom for themselves and their group. Therefore, truly believing in freedom must mean something more, otherwise it would be a useless term. It must include tolerance for people different from you to also be free to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they do no tangible harm to others.

2/2/2010
What if the left wing of the Supreme Court decided to allow foreign corporations to spend as much money as they want to influence American voters? What do you think Fox News and Rush Limbaugh would say? I'm pretty sure the word treason would involuntarily explode out of that corridor to Hell Ann Coulter calls a mouth. -- But the right-wingers on the court do it, the guys appointed by Dubya, and what does Fox News say? What does Limbaugh say? It's a victory for free speech! What's happening here? Are we not racing toward some sort of global plutocracy? Are rich people forming a global government that ignores national boundaries? Does it already exist, and this is just its latest move?

Working class people need to wake up and realize that expensive TV ads are not telling them the truth. Instead, TV ads are telling them what rich people and their corporations would have them believe. If American voters don't learn the difference between journalism and propaganda -- and learn it in a hurry -- we're going to find ourselves trapped in a global, fascist plutocracy. It sounds like alarmist paranoia, especially to those who get all their news from television, but it's happening.

3/6/2009
We ought to have a gasoline tax large enough to pay for all of our military operations in the Middle East. That would get people buying electric cars in a big hurry.

7/19/2008
There's little difference between deceiving a stupid person and getting a stupid person to believe a truth they don't understand. Global warming is a good example. It's true, but that fact doesn't help much in convincing the stupider members of the public.

3/31/2008
Those who preach intolerance have no right to expect to be tolerated. It's a dangerous mistake for those who value freedom and tolerance to extend that tolerance to those who are vigorously attacking those very values. It's not a contradiction to be intolerant of the enemies of freedom.

2/27/2008
Christian charity is tainted by the underlying motive of winning converts. To see it from my perspective, imagine an atheist charity running, say, a soup kitchen. They bring homeless people in with a promise of free food, lock the doors, subject them to a sixty minute lecture on evolution and all the reasons God doesn't exist. Only then do they hand out the soup. Would you as a Christian say, "Look at those fine, charitable atheists helping the poor."?

12/27/2007
People believe religion because of the way it makes them feel emotionally, not because they have any valid reason to think it's true. Until you understand this, you have no hope of talking anyone out of religious fanaticism.

12/16/2007
What percentage of people understand the difference between the subjective and the objective, between facts about the real world on the one hand and values, motivations, and morality on the other? I didn't for a long time. I don't think most people get it, or if they do, they don't properly identify all their own subjective beliefs as such.

7/25/2007
It seems to me that refusing to accept the truth of his own origins diminishes a human being far more than having evolved from simpler creatures.

3/23/2007
In the not too distant future, it may become possible to medically detect if a fetus will grow up to be gay. Then Christian fundamentalists will be faced with an amusing quandary. They'll have to choose to either abort gay fetuses or allow gays to continue to be born. I predict that the fundamentalists will choose to support aborting gay fetuses because they don't actually care about unborn babies. Their actual motivation against abortion is their hatred and fear of sex for pleasure without consequences.

3/19/2007
If you believe that God made us, doesn't it make more sense that he wants us to behave as the inborn desires he put into us dictate rather than by a set of written rules? Especially when the two come into conflict. Written rules are likely to be a deception by our fellow humans, but our inborn drives can't be.

2/15/2007
Obsession can be a powerful source of motivation, which is good. But there's a little-recognized danger. If you allow yourself to become obsessed with a project to the point that you can't stop working on it even when you're so frustrated that you want to throw things, you can develop an emotional aversion to working on any kind of project. When you consider starting work, your subconscious remembers the frustration and makes you feel anxious. The solution is to remember the danger and force yourself to stop working when you become seriously frustrated.

6/2/2006
If you teach people that they must not dare to question or doubt their religion, when you put up that psychological barrier to thought, you have no right to complain when critics use ridicule and offensive humor to break it down.

3/6/2006
It is my hope that the ultimate destiny of my species is to be more than just a cautionary tale for alien archeologists.

2/3/2006
When you point out the inconsistencies and improbabilities in a person's religious beliefs, he almost never reacts by saying, "Thanks, I didn't realize that. I'll adjust my beliefs now to correct the flaws you have so kindly pointed out." Instead he reacts by thinking, "What this person has just said has upset me. Therefore, he is bad and his beliefs are bad." This emotional, and foundationally hedonistic reaction is obviously a major barrier to deprogramming religious people. The solution is to prepare the religious person, before attacking their religious beliefs, to accept, and actually seek, detection of his own errors, despite the emotional discomfort.

Use a parable, like a man trying unsuccessfully for an hour to get apples out of a tree by hitting them with a stick. An observer sees that the stick is obviously too short to reach the apples, and tells the man so. There are two ways the man with the stick can react. He can say, "Thanks, I didn't realize that. I'll go find a longer stick." Or, and this is the more common reaction, he can hit the speaker with his too-short stick. Get the religious person to understand that the man with the stick should welcome correction of his error even though it's emotionally upsetting for him. Point out that if a person actually values truth, then he should react with gratitude to having his mistakes pointed out despite the embarrassment. Get the religious person to agree that if the man rejects the truth because it's upsetting to have to admit his error and because it's depressing to have to accept that he can't get the apples, then the man will continue swinging his too-short stick at the apples until he dies of hunger under the tree. Now, after opening the religious person's mind to the correction of error, religious criticism has a better chance of taking root.

11/20/2005
If you don't think America has a caste system, try going to a yacht party and telling everyone you're a plumber.

2/23/2005
Psychologically conditioning an adult to believe something irrational is called brainwashing. Psychologically conditioning a child to believe something irrational is called Sunday school.

1/11/2005
The idea that you should treat others as you would have them treat you, the Golden Rule, can be derived from (1) accurate, objective thinking and (2) the capacity to feel anger at someone who victimizes you. If you hate a person for harming you, then you'd have to hate yourself if you do the same harm to others. The only way to avoid this is to believe that there's some difference between you and others that justifies your actions. False beliefs about race, religion, class, nationality, etc... provide this differentiation. But these things are not supported by the evidence, so a rational person can not use them.

12/19/2004
I find it most efficient to assume that everything politicians and business people say is a calculated deception, and then work backwards from there. I believe them only when evidence from multiple sources overwhelmingly supports them. And even then, I'm suspicious of their true motives.

11/28/2004
Being fat and lazy simply means that your ancestors evolved in an environment where food was scarce and where it was an effective survival strategy to build up fat when food was available and conserve energy whenever possible. It's not a moral failing deserving of punishment and condemnation. Being fat and lazy is simply being exquisitely adapted to a particular environment.

10/2/2004
Going to church can be seen as insanity maintenance. People go there to have their delusions reinforced. It shows how untenable religious beliefs are that they have to be chanted once a week to keep believing them.

6/04/2004
We need to make deception illegal so when someone is caught in a lie, they get dragged into court, the prosecutor proves they lied, and they get twenty years. But instead, we have the opposite. We reward lying. We have schools that teach people how to deceive others. When people study advertising, marketing, and public relations they are learning how to deceive and manipulate their fellow citizens. Business interests have made it socially acceptable to lie. The toleration of systematic deception is a disease that threatens to destroy this country.

8/23/2003
Power over others is dangerous. Once exercised, it must be maintained. Otherwise, your victims will take revenge on you. In this way, power is a trap.

3/10/2002
Abortion opponents claim that they are motivated to protect the innocent unborn. But then why do they spend so much more time and money working against abortion than, say, reducing infant mortality in Africa? What's the true reason deeply religious people actually hate abortion? The reason must be religious because anti-abortionists are disproportionately religious. I think the real reason is that abortion makes it less risky for people to have sex just for pleasure. This annoys deeply religious people no end. They feel that sex is an evil, base, animal pleasure and it should be severely repressed and only allowed when the goal is to produce children. This is the real root of their anti-abortion sentiments. If you look at it this way, it makes perfect sense that abortion was not an issue until it began to be used as birth control in the mid-20th century when medical advances made it safe and widely available.

1/5/1997
It's very easy for someone who doesn't own a gun, someone who's afraid of guns, to choose to outlaw them. Since they don't have a gun anyway, they aren't making themselves any more vulnerable to criminals. But they are making me more vulnerable. It's selfish.

8/5/1995
If we lived in a truly just society, and we educated everyone well enough that they could recognize this, we would have almost no crime.


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