Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
So soon we forget August 6, 2010 | 04:44 pm

I need to respond to PZ Meyer’s blog post on this, the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

The first thing to remember is that the main difference between what we did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and what we did to Tokyo, or what Japan did to China (see “The Rape of Nanking”) or the Philippines, or what we did to Dresden, or what Germany did to Coventry or Leningrad or Moscow, or what Russia did to Berlin, etc., etc. was how cheap it was. One plane. One bomb. Prior to that time it tooks thousands of men to utterly destroy a city and kill all or most of inhabitants. Dresden, for example, took 1,300 heavy bombers, many of whom didn’t make it back. But despite the cost, Tokoyo and Dresden and Nanking and Coventry and Leningrad and all the rest happened anyways. It was a time of horrors.

And maybe Japan would have seen reason, had we nuked a mountaintop instead, say, or an atoll (as PZ Meyer suggested). Or, perhaps not. We can look back now, with out comfortable seat here in the 21st century, and say with perfect hindsight that Japan should have immediately realized the consequences and implications of nuclear weapons. My experience is that people don’t learn that fast. A miscalculation on the Japanese response to a demonstration means either we end up vaporizing more cities or we invade Japan- which would millions of American dead, who knows how many Japanese dead.

Yes, there is blood on America’s hands. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were great crimes. But this is the first thing we forget- that is what war is. A great crime. Innocents get killed, generally in even greater numbers than the guilty are killed. Blood is spilled. It is not noble. It is not heroic. The only times it is remotely justifiable is when the greater crime is to not fight the war. At it’s best, at it’s most righteous, most clean cut, most honorable, it is the decision whether or not to kill hundreds of thousands of people to avoid the possibility of having to kill millions. There is no good here, only varying degrees of bad and worse.

Part of the problem is scale- one person dead is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic. So narrow the focus down, from the statistic down to the personal again. This is what it means to go to war: There is an eight year old girl. Picture her. Big eyes, dark hair, she loves her doll, her comfy blanket, and sweets. And oh yeah, Mommy and Daddy. She thinks boys are icky, and isn’t sure about school (she’s somewhat shy). War means she’s going to have her guts blown blown out. She’s going to die in excruciating agony, her dying gurgle chocked off by blood. And her father is going to get to hold the bloody hamburger that was his daughter, in the burnt out ruins that were their home.

That is war. Fix that image in your mind. That girl, she lived in Hiroshima. And Tokyo, and Dresden, and London, and Berlin, and Leningrad, and Moscow. And Korea and Viet Nam and Afghanistan and Iraq. In every war humans have ever fought, back to the dawn of time, little innocent eight year old girls died. And boys, and women, and old people, and innocents of every stripe. This is the cost of war, and it’s true nature.

So, on this date, the anniversary of an act of war only significant because of a technological advance, I hear the war drums starting again. When you tell me “we must go war”, this is what you are advocating- you are saying “we must kill that innocent eight year old girl.” This time it is Iran, last time it was Iraq. The only thing changing is which eight year old is killed. I must ask- is the goal we seek worth the cost? Is there no other way to achieve that goal other than ending an eight year old girl’s life in a paroxysm of blood and pain? Sometimes the answer is yes (I think Hiroshima was one of those times). But most of the time, all most all of the time, I find the answer is a definitive no.

“Never again”- I like the sound of that. But “never again” will only become a possibility once we start to remember the true nature of war. By singling out Hiroshima as something exceptional and noteworthy, as opposed to normal for war, he is (unintentionally, I’m sure) encouraging the very amnesia which allows for the crime to be replicated. All we have to do, according to this logic, is not nuke Tehran, and going to war isn’t that big of a crime. No, Mr. Meyers, it is. That eight year old girl, and her father holding her bloody remains, do not care if the bomb was nuclear or conventional. The technology does not matter.

So, by all means let us take this day, August 6th, to remember the true cost of war. And also Feburary 13th (Dresden), and December 13th (Nanking), and…

Dear deficit “hawks”: bite me July 26, 2010 | 09:18 am

Here’s the problem I have with the recent furor over the deficit and the debt: my long term memory still works. See, I remember George W. Bush. I know it was a long time ago (eighteen months), and for those with the memories of fruit flies, let me remind you: the debt philosophy of the Bush administration, as articulated by vice president Dick Cheney, was “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter”. And they lived by this philosophy. The debt in 2001 (Bush’s first budget) stood at $5.8 trillion- by 2009 (Obama’s first budget), it stood at $11.9 trillion, and increase of over $6 trillion. Over 8 years. That’s an average of $750 billion in new debt every year W was president. And, outside of the liberal blogsphere and Paul Krugman, I don’t remember anyone saying a god damned thing about the deficit. For eight years.

But then, some time in 2009, something changed. The deficit “hawks”, who had spent eight years silent, suddenly awoke to the massive danger the debt posed, and took up their abandoned positions yet again. Now, all of a sudden, we’re treated to daily broadsides on the danger of the debt, and the need to eliminate the deficit immediately. Which leads me to ask: why now?

Read the rest of this entry

Officially Insane: Peacebuilding is Illegal July 10, 2010 | 09:30 am

This is officially insane.

In Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the Supreme Court has ruled that is it illegal to do peace-building efforts with terrorist groups—y’know, nasty things like “training PKK members to use international law to resolve disputes peacefully; teaching PKK members to petition the United Nations and other representative bodies for relief; and engaging in political advocacy on behalf of Kurds living in Turkey and Tamils living in Sri Lanka”. Y’know, stuff that actually undercuts the divide which leads to desperate people feeling like they have no choice but violence.

“Beer Wars”: Another Small Business Story June 28, 2010 | 08:45 am

“Beer Wars” on IMDB
Watch “Beer Wars” on Netflix

Review

A fun and very informative documentary movie on the beer business in all its various facets. It channels a bit of Michael Moore at times when particular absurdities surface (like the beer lobbyist talking about “neo-prohibitionists”), but mostly it’s a very direct yet entertaining revelation of the beer industry from an insider. It’s particularly interesting to hear from the owners of Moonshot Beer and Dogfish Head Brewing, who are prominently featured throughout the documentary.

Commentary

Every day is election day in America, and you vote with your wallet. Every dollar you spend is a vote in favor of doing business one way versus another: when you spend your money, companies take that and they use it to advance their own interests. So when you spend money, you’re basically advocating for more of that kind of business. Buy at McDonald’s instead of a local fast food place (like a taqueria)? Then you’re advocating for more McDonald’s in the world fewer independent fast food places. Do you buy at Walmart instead of a locally-owned independent business? Do you buy RIAA music instead of independent musicians? You get the picture. Every day and every dollar is advocating for a way of life. And that’s just the reality of living in the market economy.

Although I have thought of this in terms of music (hence, The Indie3 Project), restaurants, groceries, and shopping, I never really thought about it in terms of beer. I’m not entirely sure why. This documentary really woke me up.

Like many other industries, the big players have invested in the status quo heavily, and shaped it to be what they want it to be. Like in other industries, they’ve done this through both market means (using their economic weight to shoulder out competition) and political means (shoring up federal legislation from the end of prohibition that excludes small brewers). Of course, when money can be used to buy politicians, then the difference between the commercial market and politics is just one of labels.

“Armchair activists” are probably saying that we can solve the problem by electing new politicians to change these laws—as soon as you can get politicians in office who are willing to take on non-popular and esoteric regulations in the face of powerful and well-funded lobbyists, let me know. Until then, we have to solve this problem through consumers changing the market. And that means spending money in counter-dominant ways: spending money locally, and spending it on underdogs.

Part of the shock from this movie was realizing how many brands and styles of beer that I thought were small labels really aren’t. In particular, I was deeply saddened to find out that Leinenkugel is Miller and Rolling Rock is Anheuser-Busch. You Pabst drinkers? That’s Miller-Coors. Which of the “big three” you buy is really moot these days, because Miller, Coors, and Anheuser-Busch are all owned by a single Belgian company. So much for any of those brands being patriotic: these “American beers” aren’t.

I’m going back to Big Boss Brewing’s Angry Angel.

Not wanting to connect the dots February 27, 2010 | 08:58 pm

So, there was a study that asked conservatives what programs they would actually like to cute- and surprise, most conservatives don’t want to cut spending! Or rather, they want to cut spending in the abstract, but a majority opposed cutting spending on any given specific program. Well, OK- foreign aid managed to sneak across the 50% line, but nothing else did. And nothing got the level of consensus I expected. This is rather like finding out that 60% of liberals oppose health care- smaller government has been a core conservative political philosophy from the get-go.

The problem is one of not connecting the dots. The conservatives do have a point here- per inflation adjusted dollar in taxes paid, the average American taxpayer is getting a much worse deal today than he was fifty, or even thirty, years ago. We’re paying more in taxes and getting less service. What happened? What’s different between now and fifty years ago?

One theory is that the Government got taken over by a bunch of incompetent crooks. I’d like to point out, if you’re advancing that theory, that 30-40 years ago we started electing conservatives again- before that point it was pretty much solidly New Deal liberals in charge. Eisenhower? The guy who expanded social security, spent billions on infrastructure improvements (the highway system), and shut down an unpopular war started by the previous administration (Korean)?

But I don’t think that’s it- I don’t think the government is any more corrupt or inefficient today than it was fifty years ago. I think what happened was simpler, if subtler, than that. I think what changed was the tax rate- specifically, the tax rate on the richest segment of our population.

When Ronald Reagan took office, the top tax rate was 70%. Back in the fifties, when Eisenhower was president and everything was so great? It was 90%. Today, it’s 35%.
Right or wrong (and for the record, I say “right”), fifty years ago, even thirty years ago, we were subsidizing the average tax payer. The average tax payer was getting government services that they weren’t paying for- the wealth were. The obvious way to get back to the “good old days” would be to just raise the taxes on the rich again.

If you want to make the case that we shouldn’t be subsidizing the poor and the middle class from the rich, by all means do so- but do so honestly. Step up, and either state which programs you wish to cut, or advocate raising taxes on the middle class (the poor don’t have any money anyways- taxing them is trying to get blood out of turnip).

The conservatives do want to cut government spending (at least on everyone else)- what they don’t want is to do is take the blame for cutting popular programs. Thus the “starve the beast” approach- accumulate so much debt that we are forced to cut the popular programs in a financial crisis. Which is why the conservatives cheered when Bush added trillions in debt for unfunded wars and unfunded tax cuts (why they went ape shit when Obama dared to do a stimulus package simply to avoid another Great Depression is a different matter).

At this point, I feed obliged to address the perennial bugbear in budget debates: pork. Here’s the thing: it’s real easy to say “we should cut pork”, because all pork means, apparently, is money spent on targeted programs from some one else some where else. Stuff doesn’t get added to the budget unless someone with some political pull (which usually means a congressman at least) puts it in there- and they’re going to fight against pulling it back out again.

You might think that spending $400 million dollars to build a bridge to an island with 50 people on it would be a good example of pork that no one would object to dropping- but Senator Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young would disagree with you. The Democrats pull similar sorts of stunts as well (maybe not quite as bad- I can’t think of a Democrat who would place holds on 70 appointees just to blackmail the White House into sending some pork to their home state). The point here is that one person’s pork is another person’s vital and important project brings jobs and needed improvement to their state/district. And asking other people to sacrifice for your convenience isn’t likely to work very well.

So this is where we sit. We have three choices. One, we could back to the way things were, and raise taxes on the rich. Two, we can cut services and programs, including things that are popular (at least in a limited area) and will be resisted. Or three, we can raise taxes on the middle class, which is even less popular than choice #2. I don’t see a choice #4. So the Republican’s unwillingness to choose, publicly, which of three choices they support, renders them either delusional, or deceitful.

You can not parody these people February 20, 2010 | 07:16 pm

So the right’s newest hero? Someone who flew a plane into a building. Apparently this is only a bad thing if you’re brown.

Rats leaving the sinking ship December 12, 2009 | 05:34 pm

So, there has started to be a mini-trend of notable conservative bloggers suddenly discovering, to their shock and amazement, that Conservatism today is racist, homophobic, misogynistic, global-warming denying, irrational, anti-science, and hateful. Here’s Andrew Sullivan’s GBCW letter, and here’s from from Charles Johnson at LGF. I especially like the one from Little Green Footballs, because among other things, he complains about:

8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)

Given the amount of vitriol that blog has spewed at Muslims, claiming to be offended by the amount of hate speech in other right wing blogs is ironic indeed.

But what is most notable, at least to me, about their professed reasons for leaving conservatism, is that the vast bulk of the reasons were blatantly apparent in conservatism decades ago.

What, you’re suddenly aware that the religious right has an out-sized influence on Conservatism? Where were you when the Moral Majority was around? The conspiracies and hatred directed to Obama? Have you forgotten the hatred and vindictiveness directed against the Clintons? Remember the Clinton death lists? Suddenly discovered that most Conservatives are racist? Google “The Southern Strategy”. Not believing in the rule of law and violating the constitution? Two words: Iran Contra. George Bush Sr., Ollie North, and that whole crowd committed high treason while in office. Selling classified weapons systems, which the Patriot missiles were and still are, to an enemy of the United States, which Iran was and still is, is high treason.

Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas. This is nothing new, people. The conservatives have gotten somewhat worse over the last 8 years or so (and even then, you didn’t see this coming say, six or even two years ago?), but it’s a matter of degree, not kind. So the question is, what has changed recently, say last 12 months or so?

I can think of just one thing: the Republicans have lost power. And, baring a total collapse of the Democratic party (which isn’t impossible, or even that unlikely if they keep pissing on their base), aren’t likely to ever gain it back. The modern conservative party, aka the Republican party, is a rump party of the south.

It’s easy to be a Yankee’s fan. They’re always at least contenders. It’s much harder to be a Cub’s fan. Without the visceral thrill of conservative victory, without a permanent conservative majority, suddenly they find there is no reason to be conservatives.

TSA should be renamed CYA October 27, 2009 | 09:29 pm

or maybe TFC: Totally Effin’ Clueless. So, I’m reading the TSA’s response to the recent XKCD, and it managed to do something surprising: lower my estimation of the TSA.

See, I used to think the TSA was a bunch of humorless bureaucrats who were doing the whole security-theater drill as a huge CYA. Classic “Yes Minister” logic: 1. we must do something, 2. this is something, 3. there for, we must do this. To really combat terrorism would require all sorts of fundamental changes to the way we do things (not bombing Muslim countries every time they do something we don’t like would be a good start- of course, the problem with that is that for some reason God put our oil under their sand). So instead they take away our water bottles. At least that won’t upset the rich (who fly private jets and thus don’t have to deal with the TSA).

But I’m beginning to suspect that the people who run the TSA actually believe the pile of bovine fertilizer they’re pushing. So they only allow laptop batteries through if they come with laptops- so our security rests on the fact that the terrorists are willing to sacrifice their lives, but not their laptops? Really?

A large part of my job- and the job of every programmer/admin- is to make things work despite bugs, limitations, restrictions, what ever. Figure out the work-around is the order of the day. Of course, once you get good at it, it’s hard to leave the skill at work. For example, here is a fairly simple and easy way for a terrorist to sneak large amounts (multiple pounds or gallons) of a liquid explosive onto a plane following the current TSA rules (I’ve encrypted it for security reasons- any terrorist smart enough to break this encryption is smart enough to have thought of this themselves):

V svaq bar vqvbg^u^u^u^u^ugehr-oryvrire jvyyvat gb qvr sbe gur pnhfr, pnyy uvz Lbhfrs va n pnfr bs onq fgrerbglcvat, naq a pbzcngevbgf jvyyvat gb uryc uvz (ohg jub qba’g arrq gb qvr, be rira eha n uvtu evfx bs orvat pnhtug). V obbx rirelbar (hfvat fhvgnoyr genpx-pbirevat fgengrtvrf) ba syvtugf bhg bs WSX be fbzr bgure rdhnyyl ohfl nvecbeg, nyy yrnivat jvguva na ubhe be gjb orsber Lbhfrs’f qbbzrq syvtug. Rirelbar pneevrf guebhtu n fvatyr 3-bhapr funzcbb obggyr gung’f orra rzcgvrq naq ersvyyrq jvgu yvdhvq rkcybfvirf. Bapr cnfg frphevgl, gurl znxr oehfu cnffrf jvgu Lbhfrs tvivat uvz nyy a obggyrf bs yvdhvq rkcybfvir cyhf gur bar Lbhfrs oebhtug jvgu uvz, juvpu Lbhfrs gura pneevrf baobneq uvf cynar. Rirelbar ryfr gura obneqf gurve frcrengr syvtugf tbvat ryfrjurer, naq qvfnccrne vagb gur jbbqjbex. Obbz tbrf cynar.

(For those who crack the encryption: keep it to yourselves)

Seriously, that isn’t even clever. That’s the truest measure of how stupid this all is: it doesn’t even take an above-average IQ to break this security.

bikelockfail.jpg
see more Epic Fails

Of course, those of us who raise these questions are considered the real security risk. This is the joke the TSA missed- that the XKCD geek not only isn’t going to get his water back, he’s now also not going to get his laptop back- but he’ll get his cloths back after the strip search. It’s not the terrorist these rules catch, but rather it’s the questioners, the explorers, thinkers, inventors, people who work around the problem as a day job. After all, at the end of the day no terrorist has ever managed to force a political change, anywhere, ever- terrorists aren’t a threat to the established political order. Programmers and techies have a disturbing history of inventing things which cause all sorts of political upheaval. They’re the ones you really need to watch out for.

And maybe that’s the saddest joke of all.

You are not their customer: realities of the media environment October 4, 2009 | 05:41 pm

So, I wanted to comment on this article about Paul Graham, about the dying of the print media. Unfortunately, his conclusions in the article are worthless because of a fundamental mistake he makes.

You see, he assumes that the customers of the media are their readers and/or viewers- that, by buying a New York Times, he is (one of) their customer(s). That the Newspapers are in the business of selling information (or at least paper).

They’re not. They are not in the business of selling information, entertainment, or even paper to readers, they’re in the business of selling audiences to advertisers. You are not their customer. You are their product.

Don’t feel bad about not noticing this before- the corporate media goes to some lengths to hide this fact from you. But many meat packing plants go to some lengths to keep the animals calm and unstressed up until the hatchet falls as well, but that doesn’t mean the meat packing plant is being run for the benefit of the cows.

Where they can’t hide the truth is in their financial statements. For example, in 2008, the New York Times made $1,779,699,000 from advertising sales, but only $910,154,000 in circulation- advertising made almost twice as much money as circulation did (see p.54 of their annual report for where I got that information).

Until you wrap your head around this basic fact, many of the things the corporate media does will make no sense. Like selling papers based on the marginal cost of production, and not based on the value of the information contained therein. This makes no sense if you’re thinking they are the selling information to readers- but if you’re selling readers to advertisers, it makes perfect sense. By charging the marginal cost of production, the paper is guaranteed not to lose money on the sale, the cost of producing the information in the first place isn’t effected, and an increased reader base generally translates to increased ad revenues. Note that this is why television and radio are free- the marginal cost of adding more watchers/listeners is effectively zero.

But again, although generally increased audience size translates into increased ad revenue, this is not always the case. What the media companies are trying to do is not maximize audience size, but instead maximize ad revenues. So increasing the audience size- at the cost of pissing off your advertisers- is a net loss.

This explains the recent “cease fire” between Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. This war of words (for details, see here) was helping both shows ratings. Which shouldn’t be a surprise, as grudge matches always draw crowds. But the grudge match had started hurting their corporate masters. Specifically, Bill O’Reilly started committing the sin of journalism and reporting on GE’s activities in Iran. At which point, even though the audiences were increasing, the ad revenue started being threatened, and the dogs were called off. Simply because it sells papers (or causes people to watch/listen) doesn’t mean that it’ll get publicized.

This explains why, even if you have the money to buy a superbowl ad, you don’t automatically get to. If your ad will annoy other, much more regular (and therefor profitable) advertisers, and thus drive down what these other, more regular, advertisers are willing to pay, it’s simply not worth it to run your ad. Sorry, MoveOn.org- freedom of the press only belongs to those who own one.

So who are these regular advertising customers? Returning the the New York Times’ annual report, over 50% of their advertising revenue across their whole company- and over 70% of the New York Times’ own advertising revenue- comes from national (that is to say, large) corporations. Large corporations who are- unsurprisingly- pro- large corporation and pro things that help large corporations and the insanely rich people who run them.

Note that I don’t need some massive conspiracy of the economic elite- I don’t need all, or even most, corporations to allow their political views to alter their advertising budgets. I just need some, possibly even just a few. Without any push back from the other paying advertisers, this leads to the corruption of the media from heroic watchdog of democratic freedoms to subservient lapdog of the corporate interests.

What’s happened with the media is two things. First, several, possibly even many, large corporations have long ago realized the influence they have over the media, and have been using it to shape the public discourse. But that’s been going on for decades- what has happened recently is that the audiences (or at least large chunks of them) have figured this out, and stopped trusting them. And second of all, an alternative has emerged. So the audiences have been “voting with their feet”.

Take me, for example. Both maternal and paternal grandparents subscribed to at least two news papers and one news magazine their entire lives, as did my parents (generally the Quad City Times and Des Moines Register for papers, and Newsweek as a magazine, my liberal roots go way back). I am very literate, highly educated, and very interested in news. I am the prime demographic for newspapers. And yet, I don’t subscribe to a single one- nor to any news magazine. Why is that?

The answer is: why should I? If I wanted biased information, questionable sources of news, and vitriolic opinion, I can get that for free on the internet. Yes, as a source of news, DailyKos is highly biased. But so is the New York Times. I still remember how the supposedly liberal New York Times sat on the warrant-less wiretapping story for over a year, until safely after the 2004 elections. And I still remember all those big, page-1 above the fold, articles on how Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Both DailyKos and the New York Times are selling me a political line- but one of these two isn’t lying about whether they are selling me a political line or not, nor are they charging me for the privilege of being sold a political line. Is it any wonder the other is having difficulties?

Personally, I don’t hold out much hope for the corporate media, long-term. On one hand, they have the corporate oligarchs who are still demanding they try and shape public opinion, or suffer the financial consequences. On the other hand, their main product is wandering away in droves. Any solution to this problem has to take into account this basic reality.

My opinion? Let ‘em die.

Economic Heresies September 20, 2009 | 09:05 pm

Right. I’ve gotten ticked off enough it’s time for me to tick other people off. Welcome to a grab-bag of economic truths, at least some of which will tick most people off. Republicans and conservatives should be especially wary. You have been warned. Not only am I not worried about goring your scared cow, I’m aiming for it.

Read the rest of this entry