Friday, April 04, 2014

Is the google listening?

Version 0.9

Is the google Listening?

This is actually a public and slightly redacted version of a message I sent to one of the google people I know:

If my mood does not improve, then I actually think I should avoid speaking to you .
Most of what you wrote was quite reasonable, but...

In my Gmail I just received the most beautiful piece of phishing crap that I've ever seen. Actually, I received it some hours ago, but it's future dated to this afternoon and I would not even trust my interpretation of such a beautifully written BS header.

In spite of my suspicious and paranoid nature, if I were an actual customer of American Express, I might well have been taken in and captured.

Why doesn't the google have any expedited mechanism to address this kind of excellent garbage? If I had the tool to do so, I certainly would annotate it for near the highest priority response, just below "imminent terrorist attack", and if that tool had existed for a while, it would also show that I rarely give such a high ranking, so someone should wake up and nuke something. Why is there no such spam-fighting tool in Gmail?
Because the google is EVIL and becoming more EVIL each day. I really believe that.

Let's start from the position that corporations are people, as the US Supreme Court again ruled a few days ago. If so (and I don't believe it for a New York second), then what kind of people are they?

If you knew an actual person who was so single-minded and absolutely focused on getting more money, then what would you think of that person? I think I would regard that person as a dangerous sociopath and I would be surprised or depressed or shocked (or victimized) to encounter such a person anywhere that wasn't that person's prison cell.

Of course the google isn't going to jail. Much too big to jail. That's another special rule for corporate people, since in practice they are much more equal that other folks.
Me? Yeah, I'm crazy, but at least I know there are things that are more important than money.
Actually, the main topic on my mind before the distraction of this marvelous piece of garbage was the genetic evolution of cancers in the context of the Fermi Paradox. I've almost reached a conclusion, but it is also unsuitable for polite table talk. In short, we will soon be extinct. If I were a gambling man, I would bet against any descendents.
Certainly not in corporate form a la google.
Wouldn't Gmail be more valuable if they fought against spam? Google makes money from advertising (that abuses your privacy) while protecting the spammers who are destroying other companies' reputations. I now think google is EVIL.
Obviously, this is extracted from a longer dialog, but in particular I don't feel privileged to reveal the other half, the part that I didn't write. This is the same interaction that led me to the conclusion that "All your attentions are belonging to the google", which is related to the titular question, so if you want to answer it in a non-rhetorical way, then the answer must be "Yes, absolutely and to everything."

Just throw it open to your comments or questions? If you feel you need more context, then ask about what you can't figure out and I'll try to answer without intruding on other people's privacy, as they say. 
Again, my apologies for the moderation of the comments, but again, I refuse to support spammers. I'm basically going to approve any comment that isn't spam, even and especially your disagreements with my positions. One of the reasons I like to formulate my thoughts in written form is to learn from the exercise, but I can learn even more if they are strongly challenged. Feel free to be impolite, if that's how you express your sincerity (but if you go too far along that path, then I'm liable to invert and hammer you).

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Nature versus Nuttier

Version 0.4

Nature Versus Nuttier in Texan Politics

Whenever I notice there is an election for which I am a qualified voter, especially an official governmental election, I feel obliged to participate. Recently two things reminded me that this is an election year in Texas. One was my voter registration certificate and the other was a bunch of unsolicited spam from rightwing lunatics. As a result, I initiated an attempt to perform my civic duty, and I ran into more of the usual obstacles. An old friend (actually one of my first computer mentors) asked me to explain what happened, and I decided to prepare this public statement of the situation

There are two underlying and extremely basic principles in this presentation: (1) Change happens and (2) Democratic government is good. Why do I need to start so far back? Because my conclusion (which will follow from considering these principles) is so sad, which goes back to the overlying theme of this particular blog, which is that America really is close to its end this time around.

As long as we are alive, as long as we participate in the flow of time, change happens. Some people argue that change is the very nature of time, but my concern is with two types of change that I'll call evolutionary versus revolutionary. Something of a strained metaphor, but evolutionary change is similar to the evolution of a species. After enough generations, the species is going to be different, but there is a line of continuity there. Revolutionary change is different because there is a serious break there, in the natural metaphor corresponding to the extinction of a species. In general, the niche is still there, but some other species (or several species) will fill it.

Now it's time to justify democracy and democratic forms of government. The basic problem of government is that groups of people are more powerful than any individual, and we are social animals that are going to live in groups and we need rules and laws to limit the chaos. The difference with democracy is that each individual can feel a vested interest in the survival of the society because they participate in it, at least to that degree. Rationally I know that my vote is unlikely to make any difference, and the likelihood goes down as the scale of the election goes up, but I still feel that the act of voting gives me some stake in the system. Maybe my candidate didn't win this time, but I can always hope to pick a winner the next time, and therefore I should go along with the system and even try to make it better.

Now the background of the current situation is that the elections in America have been turned on their head. Instead of voters picking someone to represent them in the political process, the professional politicians pick the voters who will keep them in office. The mechanisms have varied over time, but the current mechanism is legalized bribes, and the most cheaply bribed politicians write the laws on behalf of the greediest and least ethical businessmen. Since the goal is to make more money, of course American politics has become a kind of monetary game, where the goal is to buy just enough votes so that you have just enough representatives to dictate the rules of the game. In the last election, most voters wanted Democratic Party politicians to represent them in Congress, but the gerrymandering and other mechanisms resulted in a House of Representatives that is dominated by neo-GOP politicians. Getting too far afield in this paragraph, and I've said this stuff before, but...

Let me get back to my own situation, eh? I still have this delusion that democracy is good and that I am morally obligated to vote. However, over the years it continues to become more and more difficult for me to actually do it. I think that is a systematic thing. I am categorized as a troublesome voter who mostly opposes the elected politicians, and voters in my category should be discouraged from voting whenever possible. Over the years my so-called franchise has become more and more restricted and ever harder to exercise.

This year I sent in the forms and received a response that, although my forms were mailed before the deadline, they were received too late. I have no way to check that, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to find out they were 'mislaid' for a few days to make sure they were too late. I was told that there was still an option via FAX machine, if only I knew where one was and had the special knowledge required to send an international FAX.

If they actually wanted me to vote, then they could simply have assumed that I wanted to vote. Based on my past record of voting in almost every election in the past, then it's a safe bet that they could just send me the ballots if they wanted me to continue to vote. Even on this issue of the FAX, there is a viable alternative that I suggested and which was ignored. My suggestion was that they accept a scan of the FAXable forms attached to email--but that idea is evidently too convenient (for those pesky little voters) to even consider or respond to. It's just one of the suggestions I've offered several times, but...

Another option I considered was asking a friend in the States to FAX the form domestically, but I decided against that on the grounds that they might get prosecuted for improperly assisting an actual voter. These days one of the top strategies to disenfranchise voters is to go after people and organizations that try to help people vote.

Then again, even if I got the ballot, Texas persists in using a really bizarre and oddly sized ballot that is rejected by all of the international standards. It's only a minor injury added on top of the insult, but it's a rather expensive form of stupidity that they must have noticed over the years. Well, that they must have noticed if they actually had any sincere interest in encouraging votes, that is.

Now we get to the awkward punchline and the relevance of the stuff about evolutionary versus revolutionary change. In my situation, the only possibly meaningful election I can still participate in is the so-called Republican primary in Texas. I suppose it's possible the clerks who have been working so hard to prevent me from voting are just sincere public servants, but I think it much more likely that they are sincerely partisan as a job requirement of modern Texas. In the old days, that was actually tilted the other way, in favor of the so-called Democratic Dixiecrats of Texas, and the most meaningful election was the Democratic Primary.

How could my vote have mattered? Confession time. It could have mattered by voting in the primary against the candidate I dislike more. In other words, I think the neo-GOP has rejected any possibility of evolutionary change and they need to experience the revolutionary change of going extinct so that a better species of politician can take their place. Stretching the metaphor again, but sometimes a species commits suicide without regard to the competitive competition. In natural terms, the species goes crazy and commits itself to extremism that results in extinction. It certainly isn't pressure from the Democratic species that has forced the neo-GOP down this road. Rather, Abe Lincoln's progressive and liberal Republican Party evolved into the increasingly conservative GOP of Teddy and Ike, but has now branched into an evolutionary dead end as today's neo-GOP.

Anyway, I wanted to write more on the topic, but I also wanted to finish today, so the compromise is to decrement the version number and publish it as is... In closing, I want to clarify my personal policy regarding moderation: Spammers go away. Anything else is going to get approved, but I admit that I may take the last word if I strongly disagree with your comments. In extreme cases, I'm just going to say something like "See what an extreme lunatic supports the neo-GOP" and not waste any keystrokes arguing with the fool, however I'd actually be grateful to get useful new data or superior reasoning that obliges me to learn something new.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Trying to vote absentee in Texas

Version 1.0

Trying to Vote Absentee in Texas

Here is a now-open letter that I just sent to my voter registrar. Any questions?
Recently received my voter registration form, so I decided to request my absentee ballots for any elections in which I am entitled to vote. I just spent a while getting the runaround of your various websites. Links can be useful, or they can be designed to lead on a merry wild goose chase.
In conclusion, I still want to perform my duty and exercise my right to vote, but I'm convinced you don't want me to vote.

Wasn't it nice back in the old days? Back when the voters actually got to choose their representatives and before the politicians learned how to choose their voters.
I was going to thank you for the voter registration, but since it now appears to be an exercise in futility, I guess not. Let me repeat my ancient suggestion, though I'm sure you'll ignore it again. If someone has taken the trouble to vote in most elections ever since becoming old enough to vote, then you ought to assume that the person in question actually wants to vote in the next election, too. Instead, there is a clear trend over the years of Texas politicians doing their damnedest to make it as hard and as inconvenient as possible, but especially in the years since I became a resident of Japan. At this point, your anti-voter policies are one of the strongest reasons I am unlikely ever to return to the States.
Oh yeah, who am I? According to this new fangled voter registration certificate, I'm voter # .
Whoever you anti-voter bastards are, I hope you have a really bad day, and I still want to vote in any elections for which I am an eligible voter. It's my duty and supposedly my right as an American citizen, for what little that is worth, thanks to people like YOU.

Freedom = (Meaningful + Unconstrained) Choice ≠ Beer

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Bill Nye and the One-Legged Stool

Version 0.3

Bill Nye and the One-Legged Stool

Some alternative titles might have been "Bill Nye can't Tip a One-Legged Stool" or "The One-Legged Stool Beats Bill Nye", leading to the conclusions that he isn't much of a debater and that he took his opponent rather too lightly because he presumed too much upon the weakness of his opponent's position. The topic is actually his recent so-called debate against a prominent creationist. It was actually such a dour show that I didn't feel like watching it to the end. I'll reduce it to one impression and a metaphor that came to my mind afterwards. I'll also address a few of the one-legged stools, including the biggest one.

However, as part of the introduction I should justify it's inclusion under the general theme of this particular blog, the decline of America. Mostly that's justified by a point that Bill Nye returned to several times, America's need for sound scientific research based on science that is not tainted by or limited because of religious biases. However, I think it's also qualified under this theme because of the low quality of the debate itself as part of the broader public discourse and the strong sway of these peculiar religious views over the political processes in large parts of America.

My general impression was that Bill Nye didn't bother to prepare at all, whereas his opponent has been playing the same game for many years. Precisely because the foundations of his creationist argument are so weak and baseless, he has to focus on clever argumentation and on laying rhetorical traps. Nye's response reminds me of "Ignorance of the law is no excuse", though in this case the form is more like "Ignorance of specious arguments is not going to make them go away." Many prominent scientists such as Professor Dawkins said this debate was a waste of time and would just give credibility to the creationists' fantasies, but I think the result is even worse than that. I think they are fundamentally sophists and will continue to rely on sophistry. As it applies to this situation, they will apply two tactics. First, the creationists will go down the list of their arguments to pick out the ones that Bill Nye didn't explicitly refute and proclaim that those arguments, no matter how silly, were not refuted because they are actually valid or even strong. Second, they will go through Bill Nye's comments quite carefully looking for any mistakes or bits that can be taken out of context, looking for anything that can be used against him, as proven by the use within the "debate" of several clips of Bill Nye that the creationist had prepared for use in his presentation.

My metaphor is the titular one-legged stool, which starts by representing the Bible in this situation. A small one-legged stool can actually be useful for some purposes. You can actually sit on it in a stable way, as long as your own two legs form a stable tripod. You can't move too much or raise one of your legs, and you have to be a bit careful, especially in standing up, but at least you can rest a bit. You can say that a bit of religion has a corresponding limited but positive usage, as long as you don't go too far with it.

However, the creationists are going much farther than trying to comfortably sit on a little one-legged stool. Their one-legged stool is giant, with a base that's 10 feet across and a giant leg. You can stay balanced on such a stool, but you aren't going to do any resting up there. However, the creationist's go even farther than that. On top of their giant one-legged stool, they are balancing a bunch of other smaller one-legged stools, one for each of their supposedly distinct "debating points". The one-legged stool is the only design they can understand, and all of them actually rest on the same leg, the literal accuracy of the Bible. All of the arguments are weak and constantly trying to fall down, and the creationists are desperately running about and trying to keep things balanced--mostly by accusing people like Bill Nye of sitting on one-legged stools. Remember, that's the only design model they can understand, so it's only natural for them to project.

Time to break a few legs. Let me start by breaking the leg of the largest one-leg stool, the inerrant nature of the Bible itself. It's sufficient to consider the internal contradictions to see that something is wrong here, but I favor the approach from information theory. We imperfect humans only developed the mathematics in the last century, but any powerful and knowledgeable god would have figured this stuff out long ago. Now we humans could write clear and unambiguous messages (within the linguistic limits of Godel's Incompleteness Theorem), but the authors of the Bible could not (unless by lucky accident, and they obviously weren't that lucky). Now if you think a wise god inspired or even wrote the Bible, what is that god's excuse for the poor presentation? The clever god couldn't even figure out how to write clearly in one language, whereas we lowly humans are now capable of encoding arbitrarily complicated messages to withstand lossy transmissions and various transformations, even translations?

One of the creationist's favorite little one-legged stools involved the existence of a few scientists with strong religious beliefs. Evidently the idea is to claim it is possible to do sound scientific work in spite of creationist fantasies. The obvious leg-breaker there would have been Bill Nye citing himself as proof of how mixed human beings are. From the creationists' perspective, his religious beliefs are completely incorrect, but that doesn't prevent him from doing good scientific work in various fields. In other words, no one is perfect and all of us, even the best scientists, have some mistaken beliefs. The trick is to have accurate information in the areas where you are doing your actual scientific work.

Another one-legged stool that came up several times was the dating thing. The creationists insist that none of us really know the past, but we can only see things that we interpret as evidence of the past. This leg is broken because there we can clearly see evidence of continuous processes that have been going on long before the creationists' time limits. That means there are only two cases: (1) The processes have drastically changed at some point in the past, where there is overwhelming evidence that the processes are constant, or (2) The evidence has been massively forged. Either there is a highly malicious god who wants to fool all of us with apparently overwhelming evidence of millions of years, or there is a malicious anti-god with godlike powers who is doing the fooling. Any way you slice it, it comes out looking ridiculous and completely unprovable. We could just drop to solipsism, eh? The whole universe was created 5 minutes before the debate started along with all of our memories of anything that's older than that.

There were various other one-legged stools. However, none of them were any stronger or more plausible or any easier to balance on. Actually, their main trait was probably just how forgettable they were.

One of the audience questions did hit a bit towards the creationist's weak leg. The question was whether any evidence could change the creationist's mind, and he honestly answered "No" and Bill Nye answered "Yes", though not very strongly. A rather stronger form would have been something like "You expect to meet Jesus. What if you meet Him tomorrow, He proves to you that He is Jesus (according to whatever criteria you set), and then He tells you that you are mistaken and the Bible does contain errors. Would you believe Jesus and change your mind?"

In conclusion, the simple facts that this sort of debate is still continuing and that proponents of these ridiculous views are still affecting the public policy of America are large reasons America is failing and ultimately falling.

Monday, January 13, 2014

All Your Attention is Belong to the Google

Version 0.2

All Your Attention is Belong to the Google

This one is actually based on a social meeting and email exchange with one of the googlers I know socially. For the sake of social convention, I think I have to protect his anonymity and also preface these comments with a caution that I think he disavows my conclusion, which is summarized in the title of this blog. However I also feel that he has partially failed to understand my central points. Not sure if it is worth continuing that discussion with him, but for now I'm evidently just blogging my spleen, as they say.

One place to start is with the various kinds of realities we live with. Some examples include mathematical realities (absolute within the bounds of the assumptions), scientific realities (supposedly based on solid evidence), religious realities (where faith trumps evidence), business realities (reduced to the bottom line), and political realities (such as the dysfunction in today's USA). However, the particular kind of reality that is bothering me just now is social reality, where a particular social reality is based upon what some group of people believe about their society. The underlying problem is that a social reality can be wrong, can be changed, or, worst of all, can be manipulated. Today's questionable social reality is that advertising can and even should be shoved in your face.

Plodder that I am, I want to start with an example of a thoroughly discredited social reality. Take the ancient social reality of slavery. I think nowadays we have a pretty solid consensus that human slavery was always wrong, but it still prevailed as a social reality for thousands of years. The exact forms of slavery changed over the millenniums, but the operative conventions were that the slaves were supposed to accept their status (and treatment as property akin to domesticated animals) and therefore work hard for their masters. The exact rationale for their enslavement varied, though racial inferiority was a pretty frequent theme. Sometimes it was defined by their lack of military prowess that allowed them to be conquered or their lack of belief in the proper religion (of the masters), but the important thing was that the social reality said the slaves were slaves and should remain slaves. (Going tangential again, but actually, it isn't clear to me that we've fully eliminated slavery, though we continue to change the branding. About 35 years ago I studied a major church in Houston where South African apartheid was defended as upholding the proper blessed and sacred hierarchy, with the 'niggers' on the bottom (though I'm reasonably sure the preacher didn't use the N-word himself). In the last few years we seem to be developing new forms of indebted servitude and effective wage slavery based on inescapable student-loan debts in an economic environment packed with minimum-wage jobs that can never repay those loans. Separately, there's also the aspect that governments always have a strong preference for citizens who obey the government without annoying questions.)

Anyway, back to the main theme of why I believe "All your attention is belong to the google" is such a bad thing. The discussion in question actually started from my belief that time-based economics makes more sense, as jovially summarized in "Couch Potatoes of the World, Unite!" I was rather surprised or even shocked by his frankness in response. Google just wants the most precious time of all, the time with our attention attached to it. That's the time when an ad is most likely to do the most "good" and result in a paid click for the google and a possible sale for the advertiser paying for the click.

Consider the ethical ramifications of "All your attention is belong to the google". My position is that your time is a vital and precious resource, and you want to maximize the value of it. For example, if you have children, then I think you want to give lots of your attention to your children, but now that means you are intruding on the google's rights to claim all of your attention for more advertising. Yes, I'm overextending his position, but my point is that this claim on my attention fails the most basic ethical test: No one would not want to live in a world where that principle was broadly applied to everyone all of the time. Unfortunately, that is where the google is heading, in a desperate search for new and innovative ways to intrude on our attention and divert our precious and limited time to responding to ads.

My response to that meeting was to conclude that the google has become a kind of Russian Pravda joke. I'm pretty sure things have changed since the Soviet Union went away, but it used to be that the skill of reading the newspaper in the Soviet Union involved projecting backwards from the actual news stories. For example, if there were several articles about airplane crashes in other countries, the sophisticated Soviet reader understood it to signify that there had been an airplane crash somewhere in the USSR.

From that perspective, "Don't be evil" probably represented an understanding that the google was fundamentally an evil enterprise from the git go, whereas my original hypothesis had been that the google only became evil after it reached a critical mass and was 'captured' by the American legal system. (This is actually a diversion, but here is my brief summary of business in America: Most businesspeople are fine and upstanding folks who just want to play the game by the rules. Unfortunately, the rules are encoded as laws written by the most cheaply bribed professional politicians working for the greediest and least ethical businessmen. As 'big' businessmen, they are profiting from and therefore pushing forward a cancer-like economic model that must end with the death of the host.)

In the subsequent email, he had apparently concluded that I was arguing the world is generally evil, whereas my focus is simply on making things better. To be clear, I don't think the world is evil or bad, but that the world is a pretty amazing place and getting better—but only on the long-term average, and none of us live on the long term. For example, I believe that good people generally have better lives, but any individual can have bad breaks, no matter how good. (There are many religious and philosophic books on the theme of why bad things happen to good people, but you should be glad I'm not going there today...) I would diverge farther into consideration of evolutionary versus deliberative progress, but instead I'll just recommend a couple of the relevant books: The Blind Watchmaker, one of the best treatments of evolution, and The Omnivore's Dilemma, which has a lot on related topics from the perspective of what we eat and how. (Or is this diversion just another aspect of my zen collapse?)

Not sure how to bring all the threads together, but I strongly believe that "All your attention is belong to the google" is a joke of the sickest sort. Feel free to react, and my apologies in advance for the moderation (but I will not support the spammers).

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Neo-GOP Bully Christie versus Teddy

Version 0.5

Neo-GOP Bully Chris Christie versus Bully Pulpit Teddy Roosevelt of the Real GOP

This blog is mostly a response to a column on "BridgeGate" by John Dean. His surprising focus struck me as being on relatively trivial aspects, since there is an EXTREMELY direct link between the latest neo-GOP scandal and his own experiences with President Nixon. The only lesson the neo-GOP "learned" from Watergate was that the ostensible leader should be kept in the dark about the dark stuff.

Reagan provided the best example (to date) of how the deprincipled neo-GOP applied this lesson. As long as people perceived "the big boss" as a personally nice guy, then it didn't matter what crimes his subordinates committed—as long as they didn't tell the boss. Dubya was mostly following the same line, but he was largely undercut by the visible "evil genius" of the big Dick Cheney glaring over his shoulder.

Governor Christie was (and is) simply applying the same lesson of "Nixon knew too much" and was thereby too personally involved in Watergate. Based on the Nixon lesson, Christie's staff understood what to do and when NOT to tell the boss about what they did. Since I believe that Christie is relatively quite competent and even perversely intelligent, I am certain he understood full well the kind of environment he was creating. If Christie is now claiming he didn't understand what kind of vindictive person he had promoted to such a position of authority and power, then he is lying—and he is STILL responsible. Even if they can't find a law that applies specifically to closing a bridge for politically-motivated punishment, threats and intimidation are still considered crimes in most of the so-called civilized legal codes. (Your mileage may differ in today's America.) No, you can't criminalize the promotion that enabled a future criminal to commit crimes, but you can (and should) hold Christie personally responsible for crimes committed by the government (or even by a company) he leads.

Which political party is the one that keeps emphasizing "personal responsibility"? Oh, yeah. The neo-GOP (not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party or Teddy Roosevelt's GOP).

I think the best way to demonstrate the ultimately personal nature of the vindictive and intimidating policies of his administration would be to make a "best of the bully" video compilation from the YouTube videos Chris Christie himself has been ordering his staff to make. He actually orders aides to be ready to film his attacks on possible liberals and their progressive ideas, so he can publish those videos and gain so-called street cred with the neo-GOP fanatics. Yes, from Christie himself they are only verbal attacks, but he uses his aggressiveness and sheer size to make them seem quite threatening and on the edge of hate speech. After all, extreme hatred is what the extremists want to see—as long as they personally hate the targets of the speech.

However, it has long been OBVIOUS to me that Christie is a BIG bully, and I also believe he is an insecure coward, though the evidence of his personal cowardice is weaker and more circumstantial. Didn't you see the video of him viciously attacking the little woman who dared to ask him if he had any personally vested interest in the public schools? A simple "No, my children go to private school" would have sufficed. If he was as honest as his defenders claim, then he would have added an honest clarification: "... and it's just too bad YOUR children have to attend those lousy public schools I despise." However, what the big bully Christie actually did was get her name and go after her in a quite personal way, OBVIOUSLY seeking to intimidate her and threaten future intimidation to her and to anyone else who would dare ask him such nasty questions about his behavior and his beliefs. It was obvious that Christie is just a nasty BIG bully.

That his gang of junior bullies sometimes gets out of control is only to be expected with BULLY Christie as the leader of the gang. Why not close a bridge to punish the citizens who dared to elect a Democratic mayor? How dare a Democrat refuse to endorse Chris Christie just because he belongs to the so-called Republican Party?

Another aspect makes this bridge thing an even larger scandal to me. That's because Christie personally made the transportation problems worse by vetoing a new tunnel and other bridge projects. Instead of working to improve the traffic situation, he first makes it worse, and then his staff jumps on top of that badness and they use the transportation mess Christie had exacerbated to "punish" a trivial mayor. Apparently Christie's aides regard any trace of political loyalty to the Democratic Party as the kind of crime that deserves creative punishment.

However, I also think they followed the Nixon Rule and were quite careful NOT to tell Christie about their illegal actions, which is precisely what Christie expected them to do. Based on working with him and watching him in action, they were basically thinking that Christie certainly would approve of their thinking and actions, though he couldn't say so and MUST not be told, and they quite probably even expected him to pardon them even if they did get caught. I think they were wrong on that last expectation, and it doesn't matter if that's because Christie is a coward or cunning or a cunning coward. As for Christie's claim that he's standing on principle... Well, since when has politically safe BS been an actual principle? Oh yes. Ever since we had professional politicians.

That leads back to Teddy Roosevelt, who was such a highly principled but amateur politician that his last political act was to take the White House away from the GOP. That was the end of the first permanent-majority project of the GOP politicians. Unfortunately, now that looks like another one of those lessons no one learns from history.

New Jersey has a bad reputation, and Christie just made it a whole lot worse. Oh, and did I mention he's a big bad bully.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Candidates from Beyond the Absurd

Version 0.2

Candidates from Beyond the Absurd

The American political system is so broken these years that it has become impossible even to guess where to begin an attempt to fix it. There are just TOO many problems and flaws. Some of the systematic problems afflict both sides, and those are going to be especially hard to cure, because both sides are in effect equally committed to NOT curing them, which means it doesn't even matter how elections turn out since the so-called winners will have won because of taking advantage of the problems. Campaign finance and gerrymandering, I'm talking to you. However, some of the problems are sort of within the scope of influence of the voters. Kind of laughable to imagine putting anything within the actual control of the actual voters, eh? Perhaps that is the real sickness of the American political system?

The so-called democratic or even republican thesis so far is that it makes sense to begin with the problems that can be influenced by the results of the actual elections. Maybe we can get some reform by a focus on the places where there are clear differences between the political parties? In those places, the voters may actually have some influence, at least in theory. I've written elsewhere (though I can't find the comments so as to include a link or two) why the American political system is a winner-take-all system that essentially reduces to two parties, so I'm just going to take that as a given and focus on one of the key differences between the two main parties: Today's so-called Republican Party nominates nuts.

There are two proximate data sources that motivate me to address the topic now. One provocation was a recent final new rule from Bill Maher on the disastrous legacy of Ronald Reagan. [That's a transcript link on the HBO website, but I don't currently know of a video link that looks reliable, though he delivered it quite well.] The second provocation was reading Tina Fey's fairly recent book Bossypants, which included quite a bit about her comic impersonations of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign. These are just examples of the general thesis that the neo-GOP can and does nominate incredibly unqualified candidates, even for national offices. Two other examples are Dubya Bush and Dan Quayle.

There have been some competent Republican candidates, too--but as far as the neo-GOP partisans are concerned, those competent candidates are regarded as failures or losers or both, and therefore the obvious prediction is that the quality of so-called Republican nominees is going to continue to decline--if that's possible. In other words, the lesson the neo-GOP has learned from candidates like Romney, McCain, Bob Dole, and even Poppy Bush is that they were too competent and not sufficiently extremist. Many of them believe it was precisely because of his hand-on competence that Nixon himself was hounded out of office.

It might be nice if the self-immolation of the neo-GOP was going to help the nation, but there is little evidence of that. Instead, we are likely to have a collapse into permanent control of the White House by the Democratic Party, with Congress going the same way once the mathematical limits of gerrymandering are passed. Hopefully I'm wrong, but I think one-party rule is going to be disastrous, even if that party starts with the best of intentions... At least that's what the historical record indicates.

There's a need to clarify the use of "so-called" and "neo-GOP". That's because the modern neo-GOP is just borrowing the brand name, but there is no real connection the the progressive Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln or the rationally balanced conservative GOP of Teddy Roosevelt and his ilk.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lock and Load your Will for Gun Safety

Version 0.3

Lock and Load your Will for Gun Safety

Not sure where to begin, but let me list a few obvious points:
  1. Lots of Americans die by getting shot, at least 30,000 per year.
  2. America's professional politicians are incapable of addressing the problem in any meaningful way.
  3. Gun safety is not an unsolvable problem. I think every metric shows the United States has the worst record for gun safety--but you can't even find out how bad the problem is because the statistics are actively suppressed.
Actually that leads me to start with point #3. I already knew that the US government is basically forbidden to collect various kinds of statistics about gun deaths and gun safety. So I started my research by searching the Internet for gun deaths and quickly found an apparently useful lead on Wikipedia for firearm-related deaths organized by country. The United States was not included.

Wait a minute. Tens of thousands of Americans are shot to death every year, but it isn't worth mention?

I don't think the lives of Americans are worth so little. Do you?

It's obvious the data is being censored, even on Wikipedia. Censorship is NOT a neutral point of view. Sorry Wikipedia. It's a big FAIL, at least as of the date of this writing (23 April 2013).

So I've expanded a bit on points #3 and #1, so let's hit on #2. Why are politicians unable and unwilling to do anything about gun safety? Of course I'm mostly concretely talking about the recent use of the filibuster to prevent a very slight improvement in background checks, but in general terms we have an almost total political paralysis in Washington, DC.

"It's the MONEY, Lebowski!"

In this case, the particular is mostly the money of the gun manufacturers invested with the NRA and some rightwing media. Easy to understand why. Gun manufacturers make money when everyone buys more guns.

To paraphrase the NRA itself, "The only thing that stops a bad politician with bad money is a good politician with good money."

Here is my suggestion for a source for good money: Lock and load your will. Not sure how this should be written, but I suggest that lots of people should add a paragraph to their boots-on will. If you die because of a gun, then 10% of your estate will be donated against some incumbent politician who has a favorable rating from the NRA. If you are shot by a gun that might not have been there if Congress had passed some gun safety regulation, then it should go to 20%. Probably too long for most people to write, but your will could even specify the kind of gun safety legislation that would cancel the paragraph.

Remember we're talking about 30,000 deaths per year. Those are pretty much unplanned deaths, but if some of those deaths start producing political funding for gun safety, maybe enough of the politicians will become as afraid of opposing gun safety as Americans should be afraid of the guns.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Loss of the Republic of Franklin

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Franklin's Republic Lost

Probably another apocryphal quote, but Benjamin Franklin was supposed to have been asked what the new American government was, and his answer is widely reported as "A republic, if you can keep it." Well, we just lost it. Not because President Obama won reelection, though that was a widespread lament of the right-wing authoritarians--but sometimes there is a grain of truth even in the rantings of nuts. There are plenty of extremists out there who are ready to be certified, but in this case they came close to a truth they couldn't see. The death knell of the American experiment with a representative republic was actually the victory of the incumbents in the House of Representatives.

Let me repeat that the crucial results in this election were NOT at the top in the presidential and Senatorial elections, but at the bottom, in the local elections for the House. In brief, most of the voters actually voted for Democratic Party candidates for the House of Representatives, and yet the result is that the Democratic Party only has about 45 percent of the members of the new House. The Congress went into this election with an approval rating around 10 percent, and yet roughly 90 percent of the incumbents were reelected to their positions.

Before considering the reasons, it's worth considering the rationale behind the design of the House of Representatives. The House was specifically designed to be highly responsive to the voting constituents. That's why their terms were set to only two years. The idea was that their accountability would make them responsible and for that reason they could be given the primary responsibility for controlling the purse strings.

On one level, the outcome represents the power of partisan gerrymandering, which is basically a triumph of the targeted investment of conservative money in lower-level elections, especially over the last few years. Entire States such as Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania have had their Democratic voters packed into districts that essentially waste a large fraction of the Democratic votes. (My own district has been stretched 300 kilometers to flip away from the Democrats.) Meanwhile, the neo-GOP carefully distributes their own voters into statistically safe districts around 55% that maximize the number of districts they capture. At the presidential level, the Electoral College has the same effect of negating most voters as regards the presidency. (This pressure from big businessmen has been around for a long time, and it isn't the first time the GOP was trying to create a permanent majority. The major difference this time around involves the pro-money tilt of the Supreme Court, which certainly looks to be decisive as things stand now.)

There are several other factors that should be considered but mostly dismissed. One is the cooperation of the incumbents of both parties to insure their reelections. This is the only thing that both parties can agree on, but there is clearly a tipping point effect. It is quite clear that many states have passed the point where the Democratic Party has any influence on the redistricting process. Rather than cooperating with the more powerful politicians to make things smoother for everyone, they now target those opposition leaders quite deliberately. Another factor is the dominance of money, but correlation is NOT the same thing as causation. Yes, the candidate with more money usually wins, but the events are not independent, and it is more likely that the candidate who is most likely to win is going to have the easiest time collecting money. It's the motivation of the donations that matter. Some people donate as insurance, but the neo-GOP is now dominated by investors who expect specific returns in exchange for their donations. Let me reiterate that most businesspeople are fine and upstanding people who just want to play the game, but it is the LEAST ethical businessmen who make those investments in the most cheaply bribed politicians.

The next level is less obvious. The central idea of public elections is that the candidates are supposed to talk to the voters about the issues and their plans, and the so-called mainstream media is supposed to facilitate the political process by disseminating that information. However, what has actually happened is that the media coverage focuses on making the election look like an interesting horse race, and the serious, but difficult and even boring, discussions of the real issues get ignored.. The professional journalists are supposedly responsible to influence or even push the discussions so that the elections actually do involve substantial debates of the real issues facing the voters. What's wrong?

It's the money that drives the media to the horse races and away from the real issues. After this election, there has been some noise about how the neo-GOP wasted over a billion dollars in this election cycle, especially in the presidential race. Was that money wasted? Did it disappear? Absolutely not. The deeper story is where the money went. Most of it went to the media companies such as television stations that ran campaign ads, especially in the so-called swing states and hot districts. I read that the nonpublic SuperPACs sometimes had to pay 10 times the most favorable rates that the laws provide for the official public advertisements of the regular candidates. Talk about your windfall profits! It's also important to note that these profits were concentrated in only certain media markets. Not sure how large these profits were, but I am sure that the people who made them liked those profits and would be glad to get more in the next election.

So was the billion dollars wasted? If you got your beak wet, you wouldn't think so, would you? My new hypothesis is that the billion dollars wasn't wasted, but represents highly effective bribes invested in the mainstream media to insure they play the same games in the the next election. It's worth noting that negative money is less evidently less effective at the higher levels, both because the higher level candidates are stronger and because of the blow-back taint that sometimes affects such high-level candidates. In contrast, in the low-level elections, it's relatively easier to find and sling enough mud to control the results--and it pretty clearly worked for the House of Representatives quite well this time.

My final conclusion is that the presidential election was mostly just a distraction, the bright shiny object that kept the voters from actually looking at the real problems of the nation, including the problems in the election system itself. Yes, the presidential election mattered, and I think that Romney's performance as president would have been on the scale from harmful to terrible, but the real damage was being done elsewhere. The political system has been disrupted and destroyed in a way that makes a mockery of the intentions of the Founding Fathers.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Luck of Obama, but...

Version 0.7

The Luck of O'bama:
Is President Obama Secretly Irish?

This is basically a commentary on the election of 2012. I will explain why I think the outcome was mostly a matter of luck and why the entire thing (including most of the results) were just more symptoms of the ongoing sickness of democracy in modern America.

First I have to include a disclaimer to prevent neo-GOP authoritarians from claiming this proves liberals agree with their defense of their OWN incompetence and their OWN reality-divorced stupidity. They are projecting again. The rest of the world doesn't require monolithic thinking and conformance to the official party line. That was how the Bolsheviks, Nazis, and Maoists (among others) ran things, and for largely the same reason. When you actually represent an extremist minority position, you have to speak with a single voice and single opinion. If you try to cite my comments in defense of your propaganda, this disclaimer will emerge into the full context and I will be quite glad to say you are lying AGAIN. If there is ANY lesson you right-wing authoritarians should learn from this election, it is that there are limits to how far you can carry a lie. Even Romney reached his limits, and he is almost certainly the greatest liar I've over seen.

Here are my main points:
  1. President Obama is an extremely lucky fellow, and though luck is quite important, luck alone can't cure what ails America. Actually I feel like the best we can hope for is that Obama's luck helps keep the patient alive until a real cure appears. Unfortunately, even as an amateur historian, I'm unable to feel a lot of optimism.
  2. Superstorm Sandy was the primary factor that led to his reelection. Though it was bad fortune for a lot of people, the precise timing and location had a powerful and fortuitous effect on the election. I'm not saying it was the only factor, but it certainly mattered and in a narrow election, I tend to believe it was decisive. Extreme weather events are becoming almost routine as the climate changes, but the details are a matter of luck, uniformly bad in the case of Katrina (mostly due to poor preparations and responses), but relatively mixed in this case, especially considering how many more people could have died if the response had been weaker.
  3. The presidential election should not have been a close contest from the day when Romney picked Paul Ryan as his V-P nominee. Romney's statements about his policies and positions are meaningless, but picking Ryan was his first binding presidential decision, and it clearly defined Romney as part and parcel of the lunatic fringe of American politics.
  4. Even worse, the House of Representative, which is part of a Congress with a current approval rating around 10%, managed to reelect almost all of it's incumbents. The neo-GOP retained its House majority even though the neo-GOP candidates received substantially fewer votes than the Democratic Party candidates. The Founding Fathers intended that the House would be MORE responsive to the will of the voters, and this travesty is strong evidence that the system they created is on its last legs.
  5. In conclusion, if the neo-GOP extremists and authoritarians continue to block smooth evolutionary change, then the problems they are unintentionally and foolishly nurturing will lead to the chaotic revolution they most fear. Since the speed of change is so rapid these days, their catastrophe may arrive quite soon.
Now let me expand a bit on some of these points.

The tradition of how to win in American elections has been for both candidates to claim the center and sell themselves to the moderate voters. Romney's campaign had realized (probably from the start) that they needed to make a play for the center to win, and apparently their market research convinced them they could delay that play until the last few weeks of the campaign.

In the closing days of the campaign, Romney was pivoting to the center around a claim that President Obama was weak, incompetent, and too partisan to govern American effectively. Then Superstorm Sandy struck. Essentially for an entire week Obama received nothing but favorable media coverage showing how strong, competent, and bipartisan he actually is. Romney's attack ads were also cut from the air. It certainly helps that this view of Obama is basically the truth, and it put the lie to Romney's sales pitch. The attack on Obama as partisan was especially offensive insofar as the documented reality was that the neo-GOP had resolved NOT to cooperate in ANY way from the day that President Obama took his oath of office--and in spite of their OWN oaths to the Constitution.

However, the truth was never relevant to Romney's campaign, which was an endless stream of lies from beginning to end. At that point in the campaign Romney need to hold on to that particular set of lies for another week. There was no time to create plausible new lies with the appropriate new ads, and the result was President Obama's victory. I don't know how to price the week of free publicity and the loss of Romney's advertising airtime, but I think Romney's (mostly secret) monetary advantage was at least a billion dollars, and that was obviously cancelled out by Superstorm Sandy.

Romney's entire campaign was like a kleptomaniac visiting the lie store. I want to call it "Adventures of a Kleptomaniac in the Field of Lies", but a real kleptomaniac is sick and acting compulsively. As I've noted elsewhere, I think Romney just lies because the truth has no intrinsic value to him. He's like Nixon, in that I think he is smart enough to know what is true and false, but like Nixon, his only concern in his statements is instrumental, in whether or not he can use a statement to his advantage, and truth or falsity is irrelevant.

Romney never should have mounted a serious campaign because he didn't start with an albatross around his neck. It was more like several flocks of albatrosses, and President Obama's failure to use those albatrosses more effectively against Romney is the only reason I think the campaign was ever close. One flock could be tagged "Dubya", and even if you dismiss the junior Bush as irrelevant now, Romney had surrounded himself with many members of that disastrous administration. Another flock involved his business dealings and tax returns, and there was a third flock around his "severely conservative" performance as governor in Massachusetts. It wasn't until the end of the campaign that I learned how false were his claims of bipartisan leadership at that time, where the reality was large numbers of vetoes and many overrides of his vetoes by his legislature, sometimes even including the overriding votes of the members of his OWN party.

Early in the campaign I actually said this kind of outcome was worthless. We have already watched several years of the obstructionist Congress putting their neo-GOP partisan concerns ahead of the nation while loudly accusing their opponents of doing exactly that. I think President Obama should have almost turned his back on Romney in the campaign and focused great efforts on the worst of these political hacks. He should have made them into national figures and forced Romney to their defense, while also forcing the neo-GOP to pour money into those black holes such as Michele Bachmann, who barely managed to survive by outspending her opponent by $12 for every $1 (that we know of, but there was probably more money under her table). As it actually came out, only a few of these lunatics were defeated, and Romney was only caught in a couple of embarrassing endorsements. In one of those cases (the Senatorial race in Indiana), Obama's campaign advantageously exploited Romney's endorsement in a very powerful series of ads.

By the way, I only made two small donations in this campaign, and one of them was targeted at 11 of these extremists. Four or five of the 11 were defeated by relatively small leverage. Unfortunately Bachmann and the one Romney had endorsed were two of the survivors, but if the Democratic Party had gotten more heavily involved in these races, I think their defeats could have helped lead the way to the rout the neo-GOP Congress richly deserved. (My other donation was to Mother Jones for their part in publication of the 47% video, which quite probably hurt Romney's campaign as much as Superstorm Sandy.)

In spite of the pessimistic title of "Distant View of America's Fall", I want to end on an optimistic note. Maybe the neo-GOP will realize that there is no reason to be totally obstructive now. President Obama is done with his political career now, and he has nothing to do but run the country, more easily with their assistance (even if it is grudging), but it would suit me just as well if he did it on top of their political corpses. Most of them are going to have to run again in two years, and they could actually claim some credit if the country is in better shape at that time. So let me close with a few suggested issues that President Obama could use for seeking a more bipartisan working relationship with the same politicians who have tried to cut his hand off every time he's extended it towards them. Hope spring eternal, eh?

Here are some possible areas of bipartisan agreement:
  1. Disaster relief for Superstorm Sandy. No reason for the neo-GOP to punish the victims, even though many of them are still angry at Chris Christie for his 'treasonous' bipartisan behavior when his state was drowning.
  2. An agreement to defer to the states on marijuana. States' rights has been a favorite topic of many conservatives, and two states have just voted to decriminalize marijuana in spite of the federal laws.
  3. Normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Hey, even many of the neo-GOP pundits realize that their relationships with Hispanic-Americans need to be improved, and I think everyone should be able to agree that Castro is no longer relevant.
  4. Campaign finance reform. Unfortunately, there is already evidence that the neo-GOP extremists think the "real lesson" of this incredibly expensive campaign was that they didn't "invest" enough money in the campaigns, especially at the presidential and senatorial levels. Gamblers have a tendency to throw good money after bad.
  5. Stopping the neo-GOP war on women and their rights. Oh wait, now I'm babbling.

Friday, July 06, 2012

There will be more change

Version 0.4

There Will be More Change

An open letter to Lloyd Doggett (and Dan Grant):
There was once a time when I felt that I was participating in America's government and that my vote was just as good as the vote of any other American. That was a long time ago, and you [Llyod Doggett] were my representative to Congress in those days.

There will be change.

One of the older changes was that my district was gerrymandered. I didn't change my mind or move or decide that you no longer represented my [basically moderate] ideas. The district was deliberately changed and mangled to make it into a "safe" neo-GOP district. Amusingly, I just read that they had to gerrymander it some more to defend the trivial political tool whose name I can't recall. That district should be the poster child for anti-democratic neo-GOP tactics. (In response to the gerrymandering, you moved, and two Democratic representatives were reduced to one, which was the entire point of the exercise.)

Today I decided to do some searches on the big Internet. I was looking for a recent video of Lloyd Doggett and President Obama speaking together. Couldn't find one.

I searched for my district and found that someone named Dan Grant will apparently be the Democratic candidate for my district. I looked for a video of "Dan Grant and Obama". Nothing.

I visited both of your websites. You both want my money. Sorry, but that's a silly request. I can't help you against Sheldon Adelson and Mitt Romney and the Kolk Brothers and Karl Rove and a few of their extremely rich friends. For each dollar I would strain to give you, Sheldon Adelson can easily give a million.

The ONLY way my money donated to you could possibly matter is if there is a massive multiplier to make things more fair. Looking at the recent results in Wi$con$in and California (Proposition 29), that would take some convincing. You don't need to fool all of the people all of the time. You just need to fool about 20% of the voters on Election Day.

Here's a campaign suggestion. If I do that kind of search, I should get some videos. Show me President Obama endorsing the candidate and telling me that it's up to me--to ME personally--whether or not that candidate has a chance. It's up to ME whether democracy has a chance in America against the corporate money. I don't think Obama should go into the nitty-gritty local issues, but rather focus on corporate personhood. I actually think President Obama should endorse a simple Constitutional Amendment saying that human rights have priority OVER corporate rights, and I believe that ANY candidate I would support should agree to that position. (Of course, I think that the neo-GOP candidates would be lying about their agreement to negate the issue.)

Let's imagine that President Obama can flip a few districts from "safe neo-GOP incumbent" to "probable Democratic challenger". Here are my predictions for what would happen:

(1) Karl Rove and his friends would pour a FLOOD of black money into those districts, but it would be relatively visible (because of the concentration) and it would have a HUGE multiplier effect (since there would be almost no Democratic campaign money involved).

(2) Mill Romney would be obliged to respond by leaping to the defense, and most of the people he would be forced to defend and link himself to are extremist morons.

Here are some more changes America desperately needs: Joe Walsh, Allen West, Peter King, and a bunch of other rightwing lunatic neo-GOP politicians.

Some of those madmen should be black holes. They are SUCH bad candidates that NO amount of money will save them, but by making them prominent national figures and exploiting their irrational hatred of President Obama, the neo-GOP is liable to pour a LOT of money into those black holes before they figure that out. When they give up on those districts after accepting the challenge, they will be LOSERS in the most public and humiliating way possible--plus they will have that much less money to spend elsewhere.

Oh yeah. The neo-GOP thing. Today's so-called Republican Party is NOT the progressive and liberal party created by Abraham Lincoln. It is NOT the GOP of such leaders as Teddy Roosevelt and General "Ike" Eisenhower. The neocons were NOT conservative, and today's neo-GOP is even farther from their Republican so-called roots.

I want to rant on about political philosophy and flagrant liars in American politics, but let me try to reduce it to a simple theme. Most businesspeople are good folks, but the WORST businessmen are legally bribing the CHEAPEST professional politicians to write the WORST possible laws. At this point the rules of the game of American business require your company to become an evil cancer just to survive--and now, thanks to Citizens United, I think the corporations are calling the shots. The experiment in democracy in America was a glorious one, but I think it's over. Please prove me wrong.

A narrow victory of President Obama that retains an obstructionist Congress will NOT lead to change. We have seen that over the last years. The only hope for America is if the neo-GOP Congress is CRUSHED in November. Time to go on the offensive.

Freedom. It's about meaningful and unconstrained choice, not beer.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

There will be change

Version 0.5

There Will be Change

An open letter to President Obama:

America is dying, and it's my fault. I'm not a powerful person, so the degree of my fault is relatively small. However, insofar as America is a representative democracy and my vote is as good as yours, then I share that degree of blame with you.

Insofar as you are a MORE powerful and influential person than I am, it is MORE your fault. In particular, if you are a professional politician using gerrymandering, lies, and the bribes you've received to make my vote ineffective, worthless, and meaningless, then your fault is just that much greater.

Insofar as President Obama is a much more powerful and influential person than you or I, it is much more his fault. He's supposed to be the leader of America, and he is not leading to positive change.

While we are alive, we change. Only in death does change stop--but America is dying.

There will be change. Good or bad?

President Obama campaigned on promises of good changes. He has not delivered those good changes. Pick your favorite promise and cry. Now Romney is campaigning on promises of bad changes. Romney promises to change back to policies that are already proven failures. Weep some more.

The choice of this election is apparently between empty promises and bad promises. Once again it's apparently a choice between bad and not quite so bad.

Does President Obama have a good excuse? Sort of. I believe he sincerely tried to help America and he at least tried to put America's good ahead of politics while his opponents put their personal hatred of Obama ahead of EVERYTHING else. There was a time when patriotic political opponents could still hope the president could succeed insofar as that was part of the success of America. Kind of hard to believe now. John Wayne probably said it best when he said "I didn't vote for him, but he's my President, and I hope he does a good job," but...

Is there any hope for America? I really doubt it, but I think there is only one path that might lead towards good change.

If President Obama wins a narrow victory and continues to face an obstructionist Congress, we know there will be no change. If Romney wins, he will change America for the worse.

The only path for good change is with a massive defeat of the neo-GOP Congress. You'd think that would be easy given the low approval of Congress--but they've rigged the system in favor of the incumbents. That's the ONLY thing all of the professional politicians can agree on.

President Obama should mostly ignore Romney. That's just forces a choice between lesser evils.

President Obama should campaign DIRECTLY and primarily against the neo-GOP Congress. He should go to the districts of the worst neo-GOP Congressmen and try to flip them from 'safe neo-GOP incumbent' to 'probable Democratic challenger'. He should speak directly to the voters in those districts and tell them that they have the power of change. Not likely, but at least that would be a possibility.

Here are some of the things he could do in a target district: (1) Give a speech in the district focusing on the harms of Congress and the specific harms of that Congressman and personal attacks from that Congressman. (2) Appear with and strongly endorse the Democratic challenger. (3) Make short forms for advertising in that district. (4) Put videos of all of the above on the Internet addressed to the voters of that district. (Of course he should use similar tactics for the Senate, going for 61+ Democratic senators.)

Two helpful side effects of these tactics. First, he would provoke massive (and therefore relatively visible) expenditures of black SuperPAC money in those districts--and the natural and relatively inexpensive response is to ask those voters "Are you for sale?" How much money can the neo-GOP waste in such an uneven struggle against the bully pulpit? Second, he would provoke Romney into linking himself more closely to the most extreme elements of the neo-GOP. The American voters actually dislike extremists, no matter how much Romney lies about his own extremism. My own favorite target would be that West character in Florida. What about King in New York? Even my own district elected a progressive Democrat for many years until the gerrymandering--but maybe it could be flipped. Some of these targets are quite soft. At least some of those neo-GOP politicians are really soft in the head.

The Republican Party is no more. Abe Lincoln's original Republican Party was progressive and liberal, NOT conservative. The GOP of Teddy Roosevelt and Ike (Eisenhower for you children) was moderate and balanced, in favor of national parks and infrastructure such as roads, NOT extremely conservative, quite mindless and proudly ignorant, and against EVERYTHING that America needs for the future. Today's neo-GOP is something new, but a change for the MUCH worse. The only chance for positive change in America, the only hope for America's future, is if the neo-GOP is decisively defeated and crushed.

There will be change.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

President Obama versus the neo-GOP Congress

Version 0.7

Is There Still a Path to the Survival of Democracy in America?

In the future, there will be change. If it is not change for the better, then it will be change for the worse.

If President Obama is going to help America change for the better, then his only hope is to campaign against the Republican Congress. EVERY Congressional race for a seat held by a neo-GOP politician must become a referendum on the performance of Congress.

If President Obama wins reelection, but Congress remains a gang of noisy neo-GOP obstructionists, then there will be no change for the better. The last four years have proven this. A narrow Obama victory is a defeat.

I strongly believe that a Romney victory with a staunchly conservative neo-GOP Congress will lead to a change back to Dubya's failed policies (which were actually the policies of Rove and Cheney and their associates). Those policies did not succeed when Bush was in the White House, and they will do no better on the second, third, or 10th attempt. This will NOT be a change for better.

The only hope is if the neo-GOP politicians are punished for blocking constructive change. There is only one path to progressive and constructive change. The first step on that path is that President Obama has to win and the neo-GOP Congress has to lose.

In light of Citizens United and considering that so many Americans have been so well trained to obey the ads, the situation looks quite bleak. All good things must come to an end, and I fear that I am about to witness the end of America. I would much prefer to believe that I will not outlive my country.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Truth, justice, and the American way in Wi$con$in

Version 0.1
Truth, justice, and the American way? You silly rabbit! How much cash do you have? Thanks, Wi$con$in, and go to the devil.

Basically just recording my initial reactions to the debacle of Wisconsin. Unleash the hounds of hell? Well, the big, bad money has certainly been unleashed and we'll see its full wrath in November.

One question is why the same math (statistically sampling) apparently failed (again) for exit polling but apparently worked perfectly in predicting the final results within an hour of the polls closing. Apparently the exit polling showed a very close race. Statistically, that should mean that the actual result is quite close to even. Then they start looking at a different sample and almost instantly decide the result is NOT close to even. Do you believe in math? I think that's the real problem with the anti-evolution nuts. After all, genetics is really statistics, too. I would like to see detailed comparisons of the exit poll results and the actual results.

Obviously worth very little, but I can put my defense of democracy rather succinctly: Any system (1) will work better if all of the people involved care about making it work better and are trying to make it better. A system (2) will work worse in direct proportion to the number of people who are NOT sincerely trying to support it, and the system (3) will work worst of all when most of the people involved are working to destroy the system.

America was never a perfect democracy, but it used to be much closer to Clause (1) in a more democratic condition. There were periods of high social mobility when it really was possible for almost any white man in good health to succeed as an independent farmer. Most Americans could rationally feel they were roughly equal to most other Americans and had roughly equal prospects for the future. Not perfect, of course. For example, if you were a black slave, there was no reason you couldn't be worked to death, ordered to warm your master's bed, or worse.

The neo-GOP Congress is the perfect example of Clause (2), where an obstructionist minority is clearly most focused on their own political success to the point where they can't even stop themselves from cheering when they receive BAD news about the country. "Unemployment is up? GREAT--for US in November." I even think America is headed for Clause (3) in the style of the Russian Empire in the 19th century.

However, if you have enough money behind you, there are NO limits now. Our advertising and political propaganda technologies have reached the point where people routinely vote against their OWN future.

Rather safe prediction for the November is that there will be LOTS of secret black money poured into the campaign. President Obama's people have already realized that they will be badly outspent and that they need to focus their limited resources to have any chance of winning. However, such a narrow victory will be no victory at all. The only victory that would make a difference would be a victory that allowed us to get the money out of politics, a victory that would lead to LEGAL proof corporations are NOT people. For that meaningful victory, Obama needs a LARGE victory, not a narrow victory that will leave the obstructionists in place.

Yeah, I still love America, but it's evolving. It was already to the point where I had to compare it with love for a close relative in the last stages of an incurable disease. Now it's like the close relative has adopted crazy and self-destructive habits, snorting cocaine, juggling flaming clubs, and worse.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Secret Millionaire is EVIL propaganda

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Secret Millionaire is EVIL Propaganda

Just feeling morally obliged to at least briefly record my reactions to my first exposures to this this show. Actually, I'd heard of it a few times over the years, but never actually saw it until about two weeks ago, and then saw a few minutes of a second episode today. I then wandered over to Wikipedia and around the Internet a bit, but didn't even see any attempts to question the morality of this show.

Yes, it is emotional and I believe that the participants are sincere on most sides. However, the overall conception is so amazingly and obviously evil that it completely overwhelms every other aspect of the show. Why don't they just make a series of programs teaching poor people to gamble on the horses to reduce their suffering? That would be much more honest than this show. You can find plenty of other descriptions of what a lovely show it is, so I'm just going to present it in a rather bleak and cold-blooded way focusing on the evil side.

A rich person donates a few days of vacation time to visit a bunch of charities. One of the recurring themes of the shows (but remember that everything I'm saying is only based on watching parts of two episodes and reading some of the Wikipedia description) is that the millionaires are shocked by the poverty and even feel threatened by the dangerous neighborhoods. That's already a perfect tell for the utter falseness of the show. How much danger can you be in while you are surrounded by your very own film crew? If they want to be honest, they'd include a few pan shots of the crew, which probably includes as many security guards as necessary. That would be a touch of the awkward reality here.

Anyway, the rich person donates a few days to act all righteous. The money part is trivial to people of such wealth. Actually, I would start by asking whether or not they deducted the donations from their income taxes and continue by asking about any public relations value they received by appearing on television in such a favorable light. It's certainly not like they've reformed their lives and decided to donate the rest of their time and the bulk of their fortune to charity. I was actually being kind when I said I believe that they are sincere on the rich side, because the rich person could be lying about it and actually be showing a net profit on the deal while being coached on how to act. Given that the entire thing is canned, they can just burn the tapes if the rich person can't do the emotional part sufficiently well. The punchline here is that there might be some rich people who really are selflessly focused on helping, but whose tapes get burned because they just don't show their emotions so strongly for the camera.

On the side of the people running the charities, I think they are probably much more sincere. After all, they are not donating a few days, but have been involved in the work for some time, at least long enough to come to the attention of the producers of the show. However, from this side and considering the uses to which the video is being put, the important question is how the award decisions are being made. After they've had some experience making this show, I bet they've learned out how to avoid awkward moments that produce video like this: "Okay, thanks for the money. Now you've finished your puff piece about how holy you are, so get the hell out of here, go back to your stinking mansion, and let me get on with my work." According to Wikipedia, they've even followed up on some of the so-called winners, and I bet they don't show any videos where the prize money has caused the charity to collapse. (I saw "so-called" because this is fundamentally a situation where you win a few bucks by fighting a losing battle.) If I was a betting man, I'd bet that their selection criteria for the winners include how appreciative they will look and sound when they get the money--and even if the millionaire visited some much more worthy charities during the few days, that's just more video to burn.

Actually, that raises another important question that could be addressed by someone who has more stomach for this show than I do. (Obviously, I'm not planning to watch any more episodes.) How much of the show actually features non-winning charities? Maybe the entire game been rigged in advance? At this point, I can actually imagine the producers of the show visiting the target location in advance, picking the most suitable charities, and scheduling the entire thing even before the millionaire guest host arrives. In that case the winners are already known, and they are just playing around with which charity takes first, second, or third place.

The REAL point of this show is that there is no reason for large-scale efforts to reduce human suffering. You should just be quiet and wait for the millionaire to recognize your goodness, in this case in a cubic form by actively working to keep other people quiet in their suffering. Heaven forbid that the government should get involved in trying to improve the average of society! Perhaps this comic about the importance of considering the individual variance is the best illustration?

Lotteries are just taxes on people who are bad at math. Encouraging people to play the lottery is not a constructive solution to ANY real problem--unless you strongly believe in evolution and that it's just a great thing for the losers to die. Earlier, I asked the question "Why don't they just make a series of programs teaching poor people to gamble on the horses to reduce their suffering?" The answer is that most of them would only increase their suffering--and that's exactly the real purpose of this EVIL show.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Can Romney Lie His Way to the Presidency?

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Can Romney Lie His Way to the Presidency?

It seems to be time to make my prediction for this coming election. Pretty simple, actually. I think Romney will buy the GOP nomination and the neo-GOP will ride his coattails only because they sincerely hate President Obama, not because they think Romney is sincere about anything. It seems most likely that Romney will pivot SHARPLY to the left the day after he secures the nomination, possibly moving even to the left of Obama on many issues. Perhaps his final campaign slogan should be selected from this list:
  1. This time I'm telling you the truth! Really!
  2. Don't you just HATE President Obama!
  3. Vulture Capitalism Works!
  4. So that government of the corporations, by the lawyers, for the richest 0.1% of Americans, shall rule the earth.

You can certainly argue that Romney is a terrible businessman, at least when it comes to politics. While we know nothing about his real beliefs, we do know that Romney is spending a LOT of money to buy the nomination and will presumably spend much more to buy the presidency if he secures the nomination. Actually, if you're a sincere neo-GOP supporter, then you even regard Romney's only prior electoral success as a political liability, since he was a 'liberal' governor of a liberal state, so it certainly appears that he wasted ALL of the money he has spent on his numerous previous campaigns. All of that dough invested and NOTHING to show for it? So much for Romney's reputation as a so-called great businessman, eh?

Unfortunately, I feel that an election between Obama and Romney would be quite meaningless--which turns out to be an anti-freedom thing in my worldview. While I continue to feel that President Obama does stand for some good principles, his stands are mostly pretty weak, so it's hard to care much there.

In contrast, Romney stands for nothing that can be detected with any of my sensors. It seems that almost everything he has said at one time is contradicted by its opposite at another time for another audience. Perhaps it's a secret Mormon conspiracy to take over the afterworld with mass proxy baptisms?

Seriously, I feel there's no real choice there (because Romney is a meaningless choice), and meaningful (and unconstrained) choice is the essence of the important sense of freedom. For that reason, I conclude it would be quite good if Romney lost the nomination and the neo-GOP candidate (presumably the extremist Santorum) offered a REAL choice to the American voters. At least if Santorum or a neo-GOP politician won, then everyone would know for certain that America is finished. (I still love my country, but it's increasingly like the love for a close relative with a terminal disease. While I think Reagan and Dubya were rather minor symptoms, I definitely think Nixon and Cheney were quite serious indicators of malaise...)

Amusingly enough, I even think I know how to destroy Romney, but I don't know the person who could make it happen. What I 'think I know' is the central theme of a series of anti-Romney commercials. I think they will probably appear later on, but after Romney has the nomination it won't really matter even if they prevent him from winning, since the essential problem in America is now the lack of real choice (and thus the loss of freedom)--the so-called deficit of democracy in America. Maybe you know someone who can create some viral YouTube videos to get rid of Romney now? Before he wins the nomination and renders the election meaningless except as a contest in fund raising...

I can see these ads as running at various lengths, basically divided in two parts. The first part is essentially posing the question: Are you confused about what Mitt Romney believes? During this part of the video, the top should show the question, perhaps in the simplified form of "What does Romney believe?" while it shows paired clips of Romney contradicting himself on various issues. I think it might be best to do this part with a vertical split, freezing the first statement on one side as a visual reminder of each contradiction while it is showing Romney's second statement on the other side. Punch it up at the end with a big keyword diagonally displayed on top of each side? There are so many of these self-contradictions by Romney that they could run as long as desired, though of course the best pairs should be as diametrically opposed and as close together in time as possible.

Then it switches to a new theme: What I (the creator of the video) think Romney REALLY believes. In that part, it plays a pastiche video of Romney saying one sentence. I think it should be the Lincoln misquote mentioned in the facetious list above: "So that government of the corporations, by the lawyers, for the richest 0.1% of Americans, shall rule the earth." The punchline sentence is the only difficult part. You want it to show the cuts so that it is obvious it is not a claim of his actual in-context words, but you also want it to be smooth enough to be clearly audible and to get the message across... Perhaps display the words in a smooth scroll across the bottom as he 'says' them in the video snippets at the top?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Death of a Douche

Mostly I just wanted to react to a controversial public comment about the recent death of a prominent conservative agitator.

Reactions to "Death of a Douche" in the Rolling Stone

On one hand, I think it is not good to speak ill of the dead. On the other hand, I strongly believe in the Golden Rule. Not the neo-GOP version about people with gold making whatever rules they like by bribing the cheapest politicians. The old Golden Rule about doing unto others--and AB (Andrew Breitbart) certainly did a lot of things to other people.

Whenever I saw AB, my overwhelming impression was that he felt hate and anger towards his opponents. I can't even say they were political opponents, because he made it much more personal than that. In retrospect, I now wonder if he was just faking it. Knowing how often his statements were lies of various kinds, self-contradictions, counterfactual statements, partial truths, or even manufactured fake evidence, you have to conclude that he was either stupid or deluded. Some people claim he wasn't stupid, and I acknowledge that he showed plenty of cunning cleverness of the lowest sort. Does that mean he was deluded? Or maybe he was just faking the entire thing? Why would he fake it? Short, plausible answer: For the money. It certainly seemed he was doing okay financially, at least on the short term. That's the problem with so much of today's political fraud--the long term doesn't matter as long as you can get past the next election.

Does it matter? I guess that depends if you think there should be some lesson to be learned from his life and death. Oddly enough, the cause of death part is still pending. What's the complication there? Maybe the anger and hatred ate him up from the inside, and it's hard to figure that out from the autopsy results? I'm more inclined to the theory that he knew he was on the edge of death or at least likely to die young, and that motivated his anger and hatred. Perhaps there is evidence of foul play that they don't want to disclose for some reason? If AB was sincere about his public statements, I can actually imagine him trying to stage his own suicide to make it look like a murder committed by his adversaries.

Anyway, AB was just a symptom of the political dysfunction in America. He certainly wasn't the cause, and he certainly wasn't any part of a solution to any problem. I don't want to rejoice in his death, but I'm certainly not going to miss him and I'm glad that he will no longer part of making America's problems worse. Was he significant enough to matter one way or another? Obviously too soon to say, but I rather doubt it.

That was my comment about the article as added in the public comments of the linked article, but I don't know if I should add some additional context here...

I feel like it's just repeating myself to note that the American political system has become dysfunctional, and much of the problem is due to professional fakers like AB. It certainly seems he personally made a lot of money by destroying rationale political discourse, but of course the main financial beneficiaries are the corrupt businessmen who bribe the cheap politicians (referenced in my first paragraph about golden rules). The results are bad laws that remake the rules of the game, not just the game of politics, but even every game of doing business in America. Becoming more evil over time is no longer an option in America, it's the only way for a politician or business to survive beyond the short term.

Perhaps President Obama's greatest strength is that he hasn't been a professional politician on the long term? His entire political career has been relatively brief, and he didn't spend a long tine at any of the levels of politics.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Young Aristotelian Libertarians

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Young Aristotelian Libertarians

Another lightbulb went on today as regards the crazed Libertarians in relation to the Aristotelian Principle from Rawls' book on justice. As a brief review, Rawls argued that people were naturally motivated to excel, to seek to be the best people they could be. At the time it struck me as a ridiculous notion because most Americans (and lots of people elsewhere) have pretty clearly become couch potatoes. But ridiculous? Now I'd say "Not so much." It's a matter of age. Children really are driven by a kind of Aristotelian Principle because they eagerly want to grow up and become adults with full control over their own lives.

The concrete and probably genetically predisposed manifestation is that children love to play games. They just naturally want to spend lots of time playing, and they really do want to win and hone their skills. Without any incentives, they also want to learn or even create new games. Children really do have the kind of boundless enthusiasm that Rawls was claiming for humanity in general--but most of them grow out of it. I think that's mostly because as they grow they learn about the larger world and realize that there are always other more skilled and more creative players, so they realize they can't win. Or maybe the main influence is the need to go to work every day? Anyway, for whatever reason, most adults don't play as much as children or with the same boundless enthusiasm.

How does that relate to the Libertarians? They are quite like children in that they think they are going to win the game of life and they therefore deserve ALL the spoils of victory--just like children. The main thrust of Rand's writings was that the superlatively creative people are the only ones who should decide what they do, and the rest of the human scum are basically just parasites benefiting from their generosity in sharing their 'divine' creativity.

One of the pundits was describing Ron Paul's Libertarian supports as mostly being young, enthusiastic males. I'd like to see the demographics. but it certainly seems highly plausible. Libertarianism as a immature phase that they mostly grow out of? How many old Libertarians have you seen?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Boycott Bloomberg of New York City

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Boycott Bloomberg of New York City!

Sort of a joke because I have no plans to visit the Big Apple or do any business there, even via the Web. My detachment and disassociation is not a boycott per se, but just a natural extension of my increasing incredulity at the fantasy-based state of America. However there is a special and higher disdain, disgust, and even a sort of threat (of incarceration) that makes me want to stay far, FAR away from Bloomberg. It's not just that he's a dishonorable and hypocritical bastard. That's just the norm for American politicians these days, even for the amateurs like Bloomberg. (He's too rich from his Wall Street games to pretend he's any sort of professional politician.)

It's the lying that makes him a major threat to my personal liberty. I have a special dislike of flagrant liars, and if I were to meet him on the street, then I'd be likely to get so angry that I'd punch him in the nose. Boink! In the heat of the moment, I'd be quite likely to think (without real thought) that the jail time was worth it. If I was younger and as well armed as I was when I was in the service, then it might be much worse--and I'm pretty sure there are many such people among the large population of the once great city he rules with his little iron fist. I actually heard that he used to walk around on the public streets, but I don't think that's likely to be true these days. Never again, little Bloomy!

Why the special anger at Bloomberg? Because he is a BIG part of the problem, maybe even the leading part of most of the problems, and his pious mouthing about the First Amendment is hypocrisy above and beyond ANY legitimate call of his loyal duty to his own upper-upper class. His wealth came from his work in destroying the legitimacy of capitalism. I'm still convinced (but with less and less evidence over time) that democracy is the best political system, but I'm no longer convinced capitalism exists or can survive in any meaningful way, and Bloomberg is a leading part of some of the largest problems. His networked terminals have made him wealthy by encouraging technical analysis of share prices and thus discouraging fundamental analysis of the real values of the underlying companies. What does it matter if a company is making a good product or serving society when you can use a Bloomberg terminal to make money with a much more trivial question: "Can I sell this stock at a higher price in 10 minutes?" The more quickly it is sold, the better, and long-term thinking about the fundamentals lost out years ago. Not a coincidence that Bloomberg became rich at the same time. The entire notion of corporate shares as representing any real value in anything has been utterly destroyed. Congrats, little Bloomy!

Bloomberg made some noises about the First Amendment as he sent in the police to crush the protests against his OWN abuses of capitalism. However, my current feeling is that the "99%" protests are doomed. You might argue that the First Amendment protects the rights of the people to peaceably assemble, but that is for the purpose of presenting their grievances to the government. That has essentially nothing to do with the current situation, since the government has been captured by and become a facade for corporations. Corporations are people? No, the corporations are now running the show far above and beyond the pitiful people.

As a metaphor, for the 99% it has now become like individual cells complaining about what the corporate bodies are doing. (Actual, even the so-called 1% are quite self-deluded about their real and personal significance to the increasingly monstrous corporations. Does it matter whether the cell that used to be a CEO gets a golden parachute or a chartreuse chute?) Do you worry about doing something that might kill off a few of your cells? Well, that's just how the corporations feel about the people within them--or rather less so, since corporations don't even have the pretense of emotions to worry about anything. In the mindless corporations that conform to America's current legal system, it's more like asking a mindless cancer to worry about the death of the host.

Perhaps a Constitutional Amendment against corporate personhood would help. However, the bottom line is that there are things the government needs to do that are NOT business functions. For example, someone needs to be the referee and focus on keeping the game fair. If government doesn't do it, who will? The biggest cancer?

That part was mostly written before I learned about the pepper spraying of student protestors in California, but that topic is tightly linked and so I'm adding a comment here. There are various confusing aspects of free speech, but one aspect that is absolutely clear is that you can't speak freely in fear. It isn't just the fear of arrest now, but the fear of a face full of pepper spray no matter how quietly you're sitting there. That is the new atmosphere of America, and it has to be with the approval of the kleptocrats in charge.

Bloomberg? Where's my garlic?


About Me

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As a blogger from before there were blogs, I've concluded what I write is of little interest to the reading public. My current approach is to treat these blogs as notes, with the maturity indicated by the version number. If reader comments show interest, I will probably add some flesh to the skeletons...