Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why they can't be reasoned with

I can explain everything. When I taught high school in a blue collar-ish community decades ago, I found that the bulk of my students sincerely believed that they knew everything they needed to know--that what we teachers were trying to teach them was either true but useless or wrong (wrong if it intruded on any of their assumptions and prejudices). Their shining belief in their own mental perfection was a wonder to behold. What you see here is the subset of such folk who never grew up emotionally. They're still that cocky, callow kid who's convinced he knows more than the teachers do.

Actually this makes some sense, evolutionarily speaking. A 17 year old member of a primitive hunting and gathering tribe actually does know most of the knowledge he'll need in life. Where to find water, where to find game, which plants are good to eat or useful for other things, which are poisonous, how to chip a chunk of obsidian to make a blade, how to tie that to a stick to make a spear, what your tribes rules of engagement are, how to fight other tribes...honestly not a super-long list.

But look at what these kind of people would need to know to participate in an science forum--or for that matter to understand exactly how Wall Streets Master of the Universe managed to transfer the bulk of the wealth of the American middle class into their pockets. How an airplane flies. How the fine print in the contract you just signed is going to ruin you financially in three years. Why it matters that China cornered the market in rare earth production while Bush's Washington slept. What subatomic physics now knows, even at the descriptive level. Why fractal math can spot patterns but only make predictions probabalistically. How political solutions that are emotionally satisfying are often ruinous. How human brains contain heuristics that skew our understanding of probabilities in everyday life. 

Think of what most of us had to learn in the course of getting our college degrees, and then how much more afterwards, and how much of what we know keeps getting obsoleted. I learned how to use Pie Writer because it was the best word processor on the Apple II. So what? I haven't used a DOS command at the command line prompt for years. Everything I learned about subatomic physics in high school was wrong. "computer" no longer means "punch card sorter." I have some idea of how Greece's ills--which are totally beyond any American politicians's control--could tip the scale as to who gets elected President in this country. I only learned a few years ago that ocean Ph determines whether coral reefs can survive all the CO2 we're pouring into the air (turns out they won't--it's too later no matter what we do now). Over the years I learned how propaganda works on the human mind--how to do it, how to resist it.

Our Joe Lunchbox type o' guy didn't need to know any of that to be a proud, respected member of his tribe. 

So he's waaay over his head trying to grasp what's going on around him. He senses this, dimly. And it's emasculating. And it's counterintuitive. He KNOWS he knows enough--his intuition tells him so, and it would be right if it were 10,000 years ago. 

And we're the ones getting in his face with all this stuff that he will never grasp, no matter how long he lives. So we're the ones emasculating him. Do you then wonder that he lashes out? That so many ordinary Americans are deeply anti-intellectual. They don't mind smart if it's Romney-smart that only tells them what they want to hear, over and over and over. That's fine. They like a smart guy like that. But if an Al Gore stands up and awkwardly tells them they have to give up their hard-won lifestyle for some tree owl they've never seen...well, he must be lying. He just has to be.

Transitional fossils--it's so pitiful when you see these people trying to wield concepts when they just got them from some pandering website and have no organic sense of what they're trying to talk about. It's like listening to a jailed felon trying to be erudite in order to argue his case, but getting it all wrong. 

Really, I'd pity these science deniers except for them helping the truly dangerous people who are directing them without them even realizing it. They guys are just pawns. Foot soldiers. Distractions. 

But in their unpaid volunteer service to powerful, ruthless, greedy people, they're dangerous themselves. 

See why they can't be reasoned with? They don't hear what you think you're saying to them. They hear something really different, and it centers on feeling like you're talking down to them (you are; I am), and that's all they hear. The actual factual stuff just goes in one ear and out the other. It's all happening on the process level.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to prevent all that voter fraud that isn't taking place

There's an easy way to deal with the Republicans' claim that they need harsh voter ID laws to prevent the widespread voter fraud they've spent a decade looking for with no results: adopt India's biometric ID database program. If India has the technology, the infrastructure, and the money to do it, surely the USA does.

Using people's unique retinal pattern trumps photo IDs by a long shot. And there's no ID card needed--just show up with your eyes in their sockets. You can use photo IDs for the few that lack eyes.

You can automatically register everyone to vote who's elegible to vote--just enter them as "undeclared" unless they take a further step voluntarily and join a political party.

No muss, no fuss. The Republicans get the positive voter identification they say is required "for the integrity of the system" though, wink wink, we all know what they really want.

And the Democrats have all their complaints answered about difficulty of registering and money/time required to get a photo ID. India is doing it sending workers out into the communities to ID everyone.

As a plus, it makes it really, really hard for illegals to cheat the system and use fake IDs to work. Another plus for Republicans.

So why isn't the Republican party demanding this? It would cost far less than the bureaucracies they're building state by state.

Oh yeah. Adopting a universal biometric ID database would defeat their real goal: to win elections by hook or by crook.

That's why.

EDIT ADD: I just read an article about this in The Economist. You can see it here. You need to register but it's free.

The comment thread for this article had lots of comments by American Republicans justifying the GOP's voter suppression program and villifying the Democrats, accusing them of whining about the GOP preventing their massive conspiracy to commit vote fraud.

Here's what I couldn't figure out: do they really believe their malarkey? Are they so far gone into their alternate-universe haze that they believe, absent any actual evidence, that the Democrats are the fraudsters and not their own party carrying on the century-long fine old Southern White tradition of preventing blacks from voting? Or do they want to win so badly that they believe their party's immoral behavior is justified by the end: getting the Negro out of office.

That's it, isn't it? The bone in their throat. The bone that the Southern Republicans are fully aware of, but that other Republicans probably only "feel" in an unverbalized sort of way--just a general revulsion at Barack Hussein Obama's Otherness--his name, his skin color, his international upbringing, his non-Fundamentalist values...even his slightly Black speech patterns (probably acquired as an adult, given his having grown up outside any Black community). And of course his old pastor, Rev. Wright, whose grievances at the White America of his youth are completely dismissed as having any validity--as if America never wronged Blacks. As if he should have instantly forgotten it all the instant the Supreme Court banned school segregation (which persisted unchanged for over a decade after the first ruling, mind you).

Today's racism takes the form of denial of racism and vilification of anyone who dares mention it. I know, liberals have played the race card about everything under the sun--most egregiously about illegal immigration. Truth is, both sides play the race card constantly, each in their own vile way. Doesn't mean it ain't there.

The latest evidence: turns out Wells Fargo Bank and other big banks charged black home buyers higher rates than white buyers with identical credit ratings.

But no racism here, bro.

No parity in this election

I've been duking it out with an assortment of Rommey supporters on's Jackie Evancho "Dream with me" CD forum, on a thread titled "The Redford movie!"

Kind of curious to have a vigorously combative political thread on a forum devoted to the first major label CD of a soprano who sings classical crossover music--nothing remotely political about this singer's life, music, or political activities (none except for campaigning against the annual Canadian baby seal slaughters).

But her fan demographic includes the same kinds of older white males who call in to CSPAN programs to fulminate about them dayum Democrats, so there you are. The thread started with a Russian-American fan worrying that Evancho acting in a film by Robert Redford would damage her career since Redford is a Communist (!!!). It has evolved as place to send all political statements so the other threads on the forum won't get politicized, and they generally aren't, so it works. Yay.

I bring it up here because it has provided me with an interesting assortment of conservatives and a few more liberal folks to debate with. The conservatives include, at one extreme, the kind of people who look through or past you when they talk to you and fill their sentences with words like Socialist Marxist Obama's birth certificate college transcripts United Nations plots dictator take our guns know the type. At the other end are some literate conservatives who fill their entries with links to articles with at least some semblance of credibility.

But the latter type is in the minority, and for the rest, what most strikes is the fact that for them everything every Democrat has ever said or done is a lie or a crime, and everything ever Republican has ever said or done isn't just true but Truth and an expression of virtue. The only exception is a suspicion that Candidate Romney won't immediately act to ban abortion nationally and make it a felony to do or have one.

I've also noticed that when I write something that criticizes both Democrats and Republicans, they completely ignore my criticisms of Democrats and act as if I'm as doctrinaire a leftist as they are rightists.

They're utterly credulous about their side's daily talking points--it all becomes Instant Gospel.

And it's all woven into a narrative they'll line out at the drop of a hat, blaming the Democrats 100% for the Big Recession, the national debt, our trade deficit with China, Iran's nuclear weapons program, and everything else.

President Obama gets zero credit for being a good father and husband. Zero for killing Bin Ladin and innumerable Al Qaeda officers mostly via UAVs striking deep in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Obama's intelligence is dismissed as affirmative action/teleprompter reading. They talk endlessly about Ayres/Wright/Pelosi/Reid/Barney Frank/Holder yada yada, because they need to focus their wrath on people as talismans of evil. Political ideas are too abstract--individuals must be constantly named--invoked, really, in a kind of mantra--and demonized.

I also know some real live Republicans at church who are like this, but most aren't. They'll still vote for   Governor Romney, even though they wouldn't dream of lying constantly like Romney does--but even the milder ones completely overlook his constant lying.

And that, folks, is what we're up against. Eisenhower would be aghast. One after another, lifelong moderate Republicans take a hike or at least opt out of campaigning for the craziness that is Republicanism today. Think General Colin Powell or Judge Posner or Justice O'Connor. They aren't campaigning for Obama, but they just can't take the nuclear glow-in-the-dark crazy of today's GOP.

Is this what happened to Germany in the 1930s? The gradual slide into tribal ideology, into an extremism that's so black and white, and which justifies anything short of physical violence if it helps My Side win? I don't think it will go that far but after spending a day with the crazies, as I did today, it makes me wonder...

It is not a parity of lying. The Right's lies are crazier, more extreme. There's no law of nature saying both sides must be identical in their devotion to demagoguery, and they aren't. It's the Republicans that have gone off the deep end. I feel personally betrayed because it would have been easy to be a Republican back when the Republican party was conservative. It is not now. The word "conservative" has become decoupled from its denotation. It now means "reactionary."

I'd love for us to have a parliamentary system with a liberal, a conservative, and a moderate party, eternally vying with each other to serve America best.

We all need out dreams, eh?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Colorado shooting

When gun nuts make it easy for nuts to get guns, the results are predictable. And even now the gun nuts are rushing to the comment threads and their legislators to make sure no one draws the obvious conclusion from such a tragedy.

In nations with the most guns per capita, such as Iraq, ordinary citizens don't appear to feel safe because of all the guns. Think about it.

Gun control can't stop them all. I'm sure Norway has thorough gun control laws, and that didn't prevent that right wing psychopath from murdering over 70 people.

But in general proper gun control keeps the death count down, and in the case of berserkers, limited to a couple of knifing victims instead of dozens of shooting victims.

The real reason people fight so hard against gun control is never stated, even in the more liberal publications: the gun industry has managed to convince white men without a college degree, who feel threatened by their greatly reduced job and financial security these days, that a gun is essentially a penile implant. They may not feel like a man at work or in their home but when they've strapped on their piece they feel ten feet tall. However, for the very reasons this is true, no one for whom is it true is about to admit it. Instead they'll get all puffed up with outrage. Pity.

No one can say gun control would have prevented this. Not at the moment at least. It will be interesting to see how he got his guns. We can say gun control would have reduced the likelihood of this.

Neither Romney's nor Obama's domestic policies matter

If Romney's elected he will simply sign the bills Congress sends him. His domestic/economic policies don't matter, therefore. He needs his right hand to work. If you want to know the policies he'd promote, you have to look at the bills Congress would send him. That will be his policy.

If Obama's re-elected Congress will do nothing he wants. But unless they can assemble a veto-proof majority--extremely unlikely--he can veto the bills Congress sends him, thus forcing either stalemate or a compromise between Republican initiatives and Democratic moderation of those initiatives.

Even with Supreme Court justices only relatively liberal justices are likely to retire or die in the next four years, and they're already in the minority, and the GOP will block liberal nominations. So any justices Obama nominated would have to be relatively moderate ones--and they wouldn't change the political makeup of the Court.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Boy Scouts & homosexuals--issue solved

I can understand why the Boy Scouts wouldn't want homosexual boys in its troops. Even if you don't share the religious orientation of most Scouts and their leadership, you don't have Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts go camping with each other, sharing tents.

So the solution should be obvious: let homosexual boys join Girls Scout troops, and homosexual girls join Boy Scout troops.

Problem solved--no hanky-panky, right?

Of course the Scouts have another problem--excluding acknowleged non-religious people, presumably on moral grounds. As a private organization, they have every right to do this. But since the Boy Scouts itself isn't a church, but rather an organization to teach children both practical outdoors skills and moral values, I have every right to regard them as immoral, engaged in teaching American children that non-religious people are bad people--and whatever weasel words they use that's what they're teaching kids.

For that reason I oppose supporting the Scouts organization with any public monies, tax exemptions, or letting them use public facilities for meetings for free.

That is, I'm advocating treating them the same way we'd treat a children's organization run by White (or Black, or Yellow) supremacists.

Especially if they don't adopt my solution to their homosexual problem...

ID theft's biggest villains: illegal aliens, Russian mafia, Republican Party

We all know that illegal aliens commonly "buy" fake Social Security numbers in order to get work. This isn't a victimless crime, because it creates two audit trails of work data for the real owner, and when that real owner applies to the SSA to go on Social Security, it can be blocked for months or even years while the person and that SSA try to figure out what happened--and the real owner has to prove that he isn't committing fraud by applying.

And of course the Russian (and Ukranian etc.) Mafia constantly phishes for American ID data and then uses it to empty bank accounts and for other nefarious schemes.

What isn't common knowledge is the fact that the Republican Party is also engaged in ID theft, in the form of taking voters off the voting roles who are legal voters. This, too, is stealing someone's identity for gain. Part is trying to prevent the 10% of Americans who lack photo IDs that the Republican state governments have deemed are lawful. Part is disenfranchising minorities through an elaborate system of differential legal processes that throw blacks in jail for crimes that either shouldn't be crimes or that are defined differently for whites and blacks (not in so many words of course--but it's how it pans out), and then removes their right to vote for life or makes it so hard to get back the right to vote that most don't even try, or give up after hitting one roadblock after another.

And it's not just the right to vote that can get stolen. Today I saw an interview with a lady in Florida who'd been taken off the voter rolls for being dead (she had the same first and last name and birthdate as another Floridian in another city who had indeed died). But then the state of Florida also took away her driver's license and notified Social Security that she was dead. The lady spent months of her life getting back her rights. Mind you she had a different Social Security number from the dead lady, a different middle name, and a different city of residence.

But the GOP's vote suppression conspiracy prefers to disenfranchise valid voters rather than risk not disenfranchising one single invalid potential voter.

The irony is that when you talk to rank and file Republicans they usually express a fear of the State invading the lives of individuals, invading their privacy and robbing them of their freedoms. And then they claim it's the Democrats who they have to fear of doing this! Yet at the same time the leaders of their own party are the ones actually doing to citizens the very thing that Republicans give as their main reason for voting Republican.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

America benefited from the American Indians' demise

Here's a perverse thought for the day.

We were going to get the American Indians' lands regardless. But we weren't able to enslave them as the Spaniards and the Portuguese did with the Indians in their lands.

We couldn't enslave them partly because we killed most of them through European diseases they had no immunity to. I don't know why this didn't happen as much in Latin America. It did in the Caribbean and Argentina at the least.

But also they didn't live clumped together as the Aztecs and the Mayans did. They were scattered about mostly. And we settled America with large numbers of European immigrants, each a viral/bacterial Indian-killing bomb, while the Spaniards and Portuguese maintained their lands with far less European immigration, more along the lines of large plantations with relatively few Euros. Perhaps this gave their  Indians' gene pools more of an opportunity to adapt instead of getting whacked before they could, as ours mostly did.

Note that the average Mexican is Mestizo, with lots of Mexican Indian blood in their veins.

Instead of plantations, outside the South we mostly had farms and towns, both full of transplanted Europeans.

At any rate, whatever the reason, we couldn't enslave the American Indians--and so America outside the South didn't become a slave-based society.

That was very good for us. Instead of becoming rent-seekers we had to produce goods and services ourselves, until we were conquered by people who move money around instead of producing goods and services.

Odd that the Indians did us a favor by denying us the benefits of their slave labor.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Governor Romney loves the middle class

Yes, Governor Romney loves the middle class...

In the same way that lions love zebras.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Guess what it costs to vote to repeal ObamaCare?

I heard a plausible estimate today that it has cost about $2 million each of the 33 times the Republican Congress has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (which they invariable call ObamaCare because most of their voters aren't heavy on complicated thinking), knowing full well that the Senate would never pass it and the President would always veto it even if it did.

So that's $66 million in yours and my taxes devoted to building a legislative bridge to nowhere. I can think of better uses for $66 million of our money. Can't you, regardless of whether you're liberal, centrist, conservative, or a fringer?

The biggest point this makes is that the Republican Party's alternative to the Affordable Care Act is nothing. They haven't been passing an alternative healthcare reform bill designed to supersede the ACA. So now they've made their legislative healthcare agenda clear: their alternative to the ACA is nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch-o.

Then their patrons, the health insurance (until you need it) industry, get to return to:
a. denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.
b. forcing seniors to pay the highest prices any citizen of any country on Earth pays for prescription drugs.
c. forcing college-age offspring off their parents' healthcare plans.
d. enabling employers to deny covering preventive health services for women.
e. enabling health insurance providers to continue their death panels in the form of setting lifetime caps for medical care.
f. enabling employers to continue the lucrative practice of finding and using any excuse to not just deny continuing coverage for anyone who gets really sick, but to sue people they dump for what the insurance company paid out for healthcare up to that point. It has been proven that the healthcare insurance industry employs substantial staffs of doctors and researchers to do just this, as they should if profit is their only goal (and the GOP says profit should be the only goal of any private company, since they're devout social Darwinists).
g. enabling freeloaders who'd never paid for healthcare insurance to avail themselves of doctor and hospital care when they're indigent, with the costs passed on to the rest of us (which Governor Romney said was contrary to the free market six years ago).

What wrong with the status quo? It's unsustainable. Anyone who has studied the current system, regardless of their political flavor, knows this. Yet this is the GOP plan: the status quo.

Governor Romney claims he has a detailed plan. I doubt it, but say he does. So? He's not running for King and he's not running for Congress. Only Congress can create and pass legislation. They could model a healthcare bill after Romney's supposed plans, but they choose not to. They choose to simply repeal the only healthcare reform bill passed in a century of trying by everyone back to Teddy Roosevelt, and replacing it with nothing.

So when they reiterate the mantra "Repeal and replace" they're being honest about the former and lying about the latter. It's Repeal, pure and simple.

Yet another example of how radicalized the GOP has become--and, in its efforts to root out every single scrap of Democratic legislation since the New Deal, it has become nihilistic--a legislative lynch mob, full of torches and pitchforks and ropes to throw over the nearest tree branch...

Governor Romney was smart to address the NAACP today

It's doubtful whether Governor Romney can get black Americans to vote for him against President Obama. Especially since many (probably a solid majority) of black Americans believe the GOP is engaged in a nationwide conspiracy to suppress black voting, and since so many blacks work in the public sector that the GOP also seems bent on shrinking massively.

So why address the NAACP? 
1. This will be a close election in all likelihood, and many blacks are very conservative about issues like homosexuality. So even a small shift could pay off, and it isn't inconceivable that socially conservative blacks might at least just stay home, which is pretty much the same as voting for Romney.
2. Getting a black crowd to boo you--as they did when he announced that he was going to repeal the Affordable Care Act, calling it "Obamacare" of course--will play very, very well with the GOP's base: angry white middle aged men without a college degree. 
3. It looks courageous as well as fair-minded. He gains plausible deniability--he can now say that he has reached out to blacks, so no one can accuse the GOP of pursuing a racialist strategy in this election--even though they are, on the down low, starting with the black voter suppression campaign.

We should have 19 Supreme Court justices

The Constitution says nothing about the number of Supreme Court justices we should have, and in American history the number has varied from five to nine. But in other countries there are as many as 140+, and the average number is 19.

Yes, yes, I know FDR tried to pack the court to change its political complexion. I'm not talking about that or anything like that.

What I am talking about is the third branch of government being surmounted by too few people, and given the slow oscillation of legislative control between the two major parties, many important issues are decided by one tie-breaker like Justice Sandra Day O'Connor or Justice Kennedy--and now Chief Justice Roberts--while most of the rest reliably vote one way or another on politically divisive issues.

There are 13 circuit courts. At the very least we should have one Supreme Court justice for each of these. 

Apart from that any number is pretty arbitrary. I think 19--has to be an odd number of course--would be big enough to ensure greater diversity of opinion and source of nomination. Add a term limit--say, 25 years, to lean on the generous side--and you wouldn't wind up with one person deciding major policy issues' constitutionality in case after case.

As for court packing, you could have five of the additional 10 nominated by the President, the other five nominated by the leadership of the other party. So the current political complexion of the Court would not be changed. If not that, surely both sides could agree on a way to get up to the 19 number that didn't tilt the playing field in a way that was substantially different than it is now.

I want that because it's critical that the American people believe in the legitimacy of the Court. And I believe having 19 justices instead of 9 would make the Court seem less idiosyncratic and less dependent on a handful of swing justices, and thus seem more legitimate.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Overpopulation is a hoax, say the head-in-sand-folks

From a comment thread in an article not about overpopulation:

"Over population is a hoax. You can fit all 6.9 billion in the state of Texas at a lower density rate the 50 most populous cities."

I've seen this trope more than a few times. If you know anyone stupid enough to say this seriously, here's the answer:

"You're right. We'd all fit. Until someone had to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, or eat something. 

"Each person needs 2.5 acres of farmland to have plenty of food, or as little as one acre to live like someone in a poor third world country. Texas has about 130 million acres of farmland. So theoretically it could support 130 million very lean people as long as they all lived in non-farmland areas of Texas (most American suburbs are built on farmland). 

"That leaves you 6,870,000,000 acres short of being able to support the entire human race in Texas."