Monday, March 14, 2005

Courthouse Shootings

I imagine by now all of my gentle readers have heard about the courthouse shootings in Georgia. A few thoughts occur to me in regard to this incident.

On The Connection on NPR on Friday, during a discussion about the unfolding news coming out of Atlanta, one of the two guests went on at length about how bad things like witness intimidation and threatening judges had gotten, citing this incident as well as the recent incident where a Federal judge's husband and child were murdered to intimidate her. He questioned whether the system could work with this short of thing going on.

Then, the other guest said exactly what I was thinking: "This isn't new. Witness intimidation goes on all the time. It's only now that it is leaving the inner cities and coming to white areas that all of a sudden it's a big problem." Much like school violence wasn't news or the subject of real discussion until after a bunch of white kids died in suburbia instead of blacks dying in the inner cities, these sorts of problems with the justice system haven't been news or the subject of real discussions until now, when it happens outside the inner city. The perpetrator, of course, was an African-American, but the important thing is that the victims were white. That's when an issue really becomes important, it seems.

So now, of course, as the guest last night pointed out, politicians are going to run around like chickens with their heads cut off spending millions and millions to add to courthouse security without ever looking at or dealing with the systemic problems of violence within the system. Just as metal detectors in the doors of high schools do nothing to address what is happening within schools to make kids want to shoot their classmates, adding security to courthouses won't change the culture of fear and violence that has grown up around our justice system.

And don't tell me that white people living in suburbia don't know that this is going on in the inner cities. My mother, who lived her whole life in a rich white suburb of Dayton, Ohio until moving to a rich white suburb of Los Angeles a few years ago, knows. She got called for jury duty recently in Compton and she lied to get out of jury duty because she was afraid that the defendant was "in a gang or something" and that if she was on the jury she might "get shot." White people know. They just don't care until it affects them.

I'm just sayin'.

Also, I think this incident shows the fallacy in the idea of gun ownership for self-defense. Now, I'm not talking about rights or gun control here... I don't like guns, but as a supporter of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, I have to allow that the owning weapons, including guns, is a right in this country. So, I'm not talking about the politics of gun ownership, but rather I'm talking about the reality in practical terms.

A friend of mine once related this story: A guy in a martial arts class thinks he has gotten better than his master. So, the guy challenges the master to fight him. The master agrees and immediately hits the guy. The guy says, "Hey! I wasn't ready!" The master, walking away, says, "It's mostly about being ready."

And therein lies the problem. Even in a society where everyone has a gun, most people are not going to be ready to use their gun when the time comes. Many just don't have the stomach for it, even if they think they do, and will never use their weapon no matter the provocation. And many people who would use their weapon if they had time to think and prepare themselves mentally for it will not use it when suddenly surprised by a situation they did not anticipate. Even people trained to defend themselves in dangerous jobs, like Sheriff's Deputies and Immigration Agents, just can't keep themselves at that high level of readiness all the time.

The fact is, that this guy could overpower a Deputy, take her gun, and go on a shooting spree in a place where there are lots of armed officers isn't that surprising to me. The fact is that one determined individual, ready and willing to use his or her weapon, will almost always be able to draw and shoot an unsuspecting person before the that person can realize what is happening and react. Reacting to a sudden unarmed attack takes exceptional awareness and reflexes. But with guns, everything happens quicker. By the time you realize that you're under attack and go for your gun, it's already over. You're dead.

As such, I don't really think much of the idea of "defending yourself" by carrying a gun. When everyone has a gun, the best you can hope for is a sort of mutually-assured destruction, such that if someone shoots you, they can be reasonably sure that other people will immediately shoot them. Unfortunately, given the way people react in such situations, even in a society with 100% of citizens carrying guns, in most situations a person could still go into a restaurant or a store, blow someone away, and leave without being molested. That's just how it is, guns or no guns. Most of us aren't predators and aren't ready to commit the ultimate act of violence on a moment's notice, and, as we know, "It's mostly about being ready."

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Pullin' 30 Gees

I was watching the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica last night. They had some good stuff about Starbuck not being able to fly with a bad knee because of the g-forces and how she wouldn't be able to keep the thruster pedal down. Commander Adama noted that Starbuck would need to be able to hold the pedal down while pulling 6 gees, which is 6 times normal gravity for the unitiated, meaning everything is 6 times heavier than normal -- including the blood in your head, which becomes too heavy at high gees for your blood pressure to keep it in your head, so it drains into your body and you pass out from lack of oxygen to the brain.

6 gees is a lot. But it isn't as much as F-16 pilots sometimes have to pull. They sometimes go up to 9 gees, beyond which almost everyone passes out. Most pass out before 9 gees. It varies from person to person.

But that's a human limitation, not a mechanical one. The F-16 is fully capable of pulling maneuvers that will make the pilot black out almost instantly. If the pilot just pulls the stick as hard as he can, the plane will execute the maneuver just fine, but the pilot won't be awake to see it.

Now, let's talk about the maneuvers we see Vipers doing. Specifically, in last night's episode, Apollo, while flying at what appears to be pretty much full out, whips his Viper around in the space of perhaps five ship lengths reverses his thrust and heads out in the other direction.

An F-16 is about 49 feet from tip to tail. Vipers look to be a bit smaller, but we'll go with that. That means that in perhaps the space of 250 feet or so, Apollo spun around, decelerated* from flying full-out, and began accelerating the other way.

Was Apollo pulling 6 gees? Uh, no. I could calculate how many gees he was pulling -- my guess would be something like 20 gees -- but I don't really need to. As I noted above, the F-16 is easily capable of pulling maneuvers that exceed the human factors limit of 9 gees, and it can't do anything even close to what Apollo's Viper did in that scene. In fact, he would have passed out just from the spin move, flying straight into a canyon wall, even if his decelerating and then blasting off in the other direction weren't enough to put his lights out all by themselves.

This isn't a serious complaint about the show. I like the fact that the Vipers now have directional thrusters along the fuselage that allow them to do cool maneuvers, even though almost every maneuver they are used for would knock the pilot out faster than a bottle of ether. And I like the fact that the show actually takes stuff like g-forces into account, even though they vastly underestimate the forces the pilots would be pulling. No "intertial dampers" like in Star Trek and Star Wars. Not that intertial dampers weren't a cool idea to explain the maneuvers Enterprise could do despite having long nacelles held on by thin little supports. But it's become an overused convention in SF television, I think.

Just don't think that fighters like Vipers, having those cool directional thrusters, could really work. Well, they could work, as long as they are operated by remote control or the pilot isn't human. But the human body is the limiting factor on these things, not engineering. The Air Force's new F-22 "Raptor" is actually more maneuverable than the F-16. Even planes operating under the limitations of gravity and an atmosphere can already perform maneuvers well in excess of what the human body can tolerate. Technology isn't the issue. Human physiology is.

* "Decelerate" is not the appropriate term from the physics standpoint, of course. Since acceleration is a vector, having both a value (speed) and a direction, Apollo was technically still accelerating as he slowed down. He was just accelerating in the direction opposite his current direction of travel.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Worst... Spy... Ever...

Apparently, the Israeli Defense Force feels that believing in all-powerful, magical being who talks to people in the form of a burning bush is okay, but playing D&D is bad (thanks to Ed for the link).

The IDF automatically gives a low security clearance to those who play D&D (and other, similar roleplaying games, presumably), based on D&D players being "detached from reality," having "weak personalities," and "a tendency to be influenced by external factors which could cloud their judgment." IDF soldiers who admit to playing D&D are actually sent to a military psychologist as if playing D&D makes one automatically mentally ill!

Bad idea, Israelis. If you don't let geeks have security clearances, you're never gonna develop any good high-tech gadgets or weapons. A lot of the engineers and scientists who work on sensitive programs in the US are avid roleplayers and removing them from sensitive work en masse would probably cripple a lot of cutting-edge military technology programs. I have personally known a number of geeks who were engineers in the Air Force. I know that there are geeks working on both the Air Force's new F-22 "Raptor" Air Superiority Fighter and also the Joint Strike Fighter. Cutting roleplaying geeks out of the mix is going to reduce your overall available brainpower a great deal, and given how small a country you are (smaller than New Hampshire), you don't have so much brainpower available that you can afford to waste it.

It also occurs to me that, of all the security breaches I had to become familiar with when I had clearance, exactly none of them were committed by roleplayers. Most were committed by seemingly upright, pillar-of-the-community types who never engaged in any fringe activities, and certainly not D&D. In fact, roleplayers tend to have an exaggerated idea of honor and patriotism compared to others, and in many ways are much less likely to commit espionage than the general public. I, myself, am not that great at following rules. But one thing I would never even consider, no matter how much money was offered to me, is giving enemies of the US classified information.*

Now, I'm not going to say that there aren't roleplayers who have "weak personalities," "a tendency to be influenced by external factors which could cloud their judgment," or who are "detached from reality." I have had the misfortune to deal with many, many roleplayers who possess one or more of these traits. But, during my life, I have encountered many, many more people who have never even heard of D&D who fit these descriptions just as well as any roleplayer.

I mean, George W. Bush, to pick an example at random, as an evangelical Christian, supports Israel simply because Jews have to control all of the holy land before the Rapture can happen and Jesus can return. Yes, that's right, Israel. While you're saying that someone who pretends to be a wizard for a few hours on saturday night isn't trustworthy to know sensitive information, your main ally in the world is a guy who likes you because he needs you to do something so he can then be magically lifted up into the sky while you burn and suffer plagues and torments.

Heck, presumably you let Jews into the IDF, right? Well, you know, Judaism tells us that there once walked upon this very Earth a talking donkey. And that someone waved his hand and made the sun stand still in the sky. And that the giant offspring of angels and women once walked free. And on and on...

Talk about being "influenced by external factors!" As if religion isn't one of the greatest "external factors" ever and has controlled many more people than a roleplaying game ever has. And "detached from reality?" C'mon. Talking donkey, man. Talking freakin' donkey.

Living My Politics

I don't always do a good job of living my politics. For instance, because I am terrible at managing my finances, I never have any money to give to causes I support.

But I am doing okay in some ways. I haven't eaten veal in years, since the conditions under which veal calves are raised are atrocious. In the past couple months, I haven't eaten hardly any beef or pork, so I'm almost to the point of not eating mammals. So, I'm not quite to my goal of vegetarianism, but I'm working on it.

And, of course, as most of you know, I have taken a significant pay cut to go back to work for the American Red Cross. I am putting my liberal, "helping others" ideology where my mouth is. But I am a bit worried that my politics are thereby going to come into conflict with each other.

You see, I have also stopped shopping at Wal-Mart because of their anti-worker, anti-union, pro-importing goods from countries where kids make them for 3 cents an hour stances. It wasn't easy, since I don't exactly make a lot of money now, working for the state. Wal-Mart, of course, is very cheap, and shopping there does help stretch the value I get for my dollar. But I also know that value comes at the expense of the working poor, who ironically help to lower their own wages and standard of living by shopping at Wal-Mart to get the good deals.

It's going to be a great temptation to resume shopping at Wal-Mart after I start my new job. It will definitely be harder to resist the temptation of lower prices when I am sacrificing my earning potential on the altar of doing good. I intend to continue my boycott of Wal-Mart, but my politics are definitely squeezing me at both ends right now.

The worst part of the boycott, though, which will only be exacerbated by my new, lower salary, is in buying fabric for making costumes, which is my big hobby right now. Fabric is super cheap at Wal-Mart, since it doesn't cost much to force blind epileptic children to make it for them in Kuala Lumpour for a bowl of gruel and a packet of ketsup each day, and they almost always have a bunch of bargain fabrics for $1 or $2 a yard that I can use. They also have Osnaburg Permanent Press, a khaki fabric that I use a lot for Jedi stuff, for $2 a yard every day. Going to Jo Ann's or our local chain The Fabric Place means paying $3-$6 a yard for everything, with Osnaburg being, I think, $3.66 a yard. Which still wouldn't be that bad, if I weren't 6'3" tall and 220 lbs., therefore needing a hojillion yards of fabric for every piece of clothing I make.

I shall try to be strong, gentle readers. I will keep you updated. For now, the boycott continues!

More On Kids and Violence

At dinner the other night, a friend of mine indicated that he thought teachers should be allowed to use violence to control kids. I'm not sure exactly what his overall argument would have been, as the conversation moved past before he outlined it, but that prompted me to say a little bit more about the subject.

While it is true that I have a moral problem with hitting kids or committing other violent acts upon them, the fact is that I don't even have to appeal to morality to make my case against using violence against children. The utilitarian argument fails as well, because hitting kids is completely ineffective in controlling kids or in helping them to grow up as better adjusted human beings.

When I first got married, I discovered that my wife and her ex-husband had almost exclusively used violence to control their children. She hit them whenever they misbehaved, talked back, or acted out. This disturbed me and I told her she had to stop it. Her response was always something like, "The kids are complete terrors now. If I don't smack them when they're bad, they'll be completely out of control."

I spoke with my parents on the subject, and my father said, "Well, you know, all the studies are showing that hitting kids doesn't work at all. It actually makes kids worse the more you do it, and while they don't necessarily improve when you stop, they don't get any worse either."

So, I looked up all the studies I could find and learned that my father was correct. As is often true, our "gut instincts" about how our own species works were completely wrong. The studies indicated that kids who were disciplined with violence became more withdrawn, more antisocial, showed greater incidence of oppositional defiant disorder, committed more crimes, and were more violent with their parents, friends, and classmates. They were more likely to run away, use drugs, have sex earlier, and get pregnant while underage.

Armed with this information, I went to my wife and said, "The kids won't get any worse if you stop hitting them. All the studies show it. If you won't at least stop hitting them for a trial period to see if they get worse or not, I'm going to leave." (Ultimately, I was going to leave if she didn't stop, period, but I just wanted to get her to agree to a temporary cessation because then I hoped then she would stop permanently when she saw the results).

She stopped. I had no better success with them after she stopped hitting them than before; they had never really listened much to me, because once kids get used to getting smacked for being bad they just aren't scared of a disapproving stare (like my father used to great effect on me) or other subtler techniques -- and they quickly become accustomed to and unafraid of being hit, too.

My also wife found the kids no easier or harder to control without hitting. After a few months, she admitted that the kids were no better than before, but also no worse, and agreed that hitting them was not an effective means of control and stopped. To my knowledge, she hasn't hit them since.

Unfortunately, of course, as noted above, while stopping the violence against the kids was a good thing, there's not really any way to make up for the damage already done. There's no way to start over and use punishments like the corner and the disapproving stare once you've escalated to violence. In fact, once you escalate to violence, nothing else works, and violence only works as long as you escalate it, kind of like taking drugs. At a certain point, you reach the limit of the violence you can commit upon a kid without permanently injuring him or her, and then you have exhausted all means of control. Or, as often happens, you end up escalating the violence anyway, and the kid ends up in the hospital or the grave.

Hitting kids doesn't work. Giving teachers the "tool" of violence to control kids is only giving them an option which permanently closes all other options and eventually exhausts itself. It produces kids who are more likely to act out, become violent, or cause disturbances. It accomplishes nothing. Teachers will not get more control of their classrooms if they are given the option of using violence. They will get less.

Even if you have absolutely no moral qualms with society, in the form of parents and teachers, using violence to control children, there is still no good argument to be made for corporal punishment. It produces no positive effects. It creates disobedient children and violent adults. It produces classrooms and homes in which the only way to keep control is to be more violent than the last time until, eventually, the only way to control a child is to kill him or her.

It doesn't work. Only a sadist could be in favor of violence against children given the weight of the evidence of its complete ineffectiveness.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Controlling People Through Violence

People like this, who claim that all would be right with the world if only we let parents and teachers beat children, sicken me. Because that kind of thinking comes from a really dark, angry, dysfunctional place that children don't need to be exposed to. And because corporal punishment not only doesn't work, but also teaches kids a terrible life lesson.

For some reason, these kinds of people think there is a bright line dividing controlling kids through violence and controlling adults through violence. Totalitarian states that control adults through violence? Wrong. Free societies that control kids through violence? Okay. And one never, never, ever spills over to the other.

But what lesson does using violence to control children teach? That they'd better behave, or that it is appropriate to exercise control over others through violence? Conservatives think that these kids are all going to understand when they grow up that it is only okay to commit violence on your own kids (or on the kids in your class, if they become teachers), and not on anyone you want to control. But this bright line isn't so bright for those on the business end of it. Once you teach someone that it is okay in one circumstance to use violence to control others, it isn't a big step to think it is okay to use violence to control others in other situations.

But people like Bill Cunningham want to go back to the good old days, when "the board of education would have met my derriere, and Ma Cunningham would have beat me about the face and head if I had done similar things," and when husbands beat their wives with impunity, beat their kids to within an inch of their lives, and used violence not to control others 'for their own good,' as Cunningham proposes, but to control others because they've been taught that it is okay.

I mean, sure, you can tell a kid who you've just beaten for mouthing off that violence isn't the way to solve disuptes or take out your frustrations. But the kid is going to see that when you are angry, you beat him or her, and drawing the conclusion that it is appropriate to express anger and frustration through violence is easy.

ALAN COLMES (co-host): Look, is it OK? Do you have a First Amendment right
not to stand up during the Pledge of Allegiance or "The Star Spangled

CUNNINGHAM: Alan Colmes, I think if you're a 16- or 17-year-old miscreant,
and you don't know the sacrifices of American soldiers from Iwo Jima through
Fallujah, if you have no idea what the red, the white and the blue stands for, I
think to have the chair pulled out from under you is the least of what should

Yeah, 'cause that kid is really going to respect the sacrifices of American soldiers after his teacher beats up on him. Or maybe the kid is going to become more withdrawn and sullen, as studies have shown, and maybe he or she will stand up at the Pledge of Allegiance afterwards, but he or she is more likely to do so with rage and mocking in his or her heart than respect or love of country.

I mean, what sense does it make to tell a kid, "This is America. The land of freedom. You'd better love it," then hit him or her for not standing during the Pledge? First, the kids is learning that America isn't free, that America is a country in which it is okay to hit people to coerce their loyalty, and to associate the flag and the Pledge with violence and pain. Yeah, that'll learn 'em. I'm sure that after that kid had his chair pulled out from under him in New Jersey that he went outside and shed a tear for the soldiers of Iwo Jima. Or maybe he decided that he hated school and didn't want to learn anything. Which is more likely?

For the record, no matter what Mr. Cunningham thinks, kids do have a constitutional right not to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. Because one of the reasons having rights is important and the Bill of Rights is a great document is that everyone gets them, whether Bill Cunningham thinks they deserve them or not.

CUNNINGHAM: ...we need more teachers beating people about the face and head,
especially on the derriere. If we had more of that, believe me, we'd have less
people thinking like you [Colmes].

Well, first off, Mr. Education, it's fewer people, not less. Wow, I know that and my teachers didn't even beat me!

And, I'm no doctor, but I think beating kids, whose skulls and brains are still developing and particularly vulnerable, "about the face and head" seems medically inadvisable to me. Of course, Cunningham would say, "Beating kids about the face and head in school never killed anyone." But, actually, Bill, it did. They just hid it from you and the other kids so you wouldn't think you were stuck six hours a day with homocidal maniacs.

And here we go again with the control through violence. Cunningham apparently believes that the ends justify the means here, that making sure other people believe as he does through violence is acceptable. So much for the so-called "marketplace of ideas" we hear from the conservatives so much, where ideas can compete on a level playing ground and the best emerge. No, Cunningham wants to shut down the marketplace in favor of government-funded coercing of kids into conservatism through violence. Cunningham is admitted, in essense, that his views cannot stand on their own and win out through merit, and therefore government coercion and violence are necessary to support them.

HANNITY: ...No wonder why kids aren't learning anymore, Bill?
Yeah, that's it! Kids only learn in an atmosphere of fear and violent reprisal! That's how you teach 'em that learning is fun. What kid isn't going to love learning after being beaten around the face and head for a while and then trying to do some math with his or her head still ringing? A scholar in the making, for sure!

Or maybe it's the underfunding of public schools. The unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind. The deterioration of urban schools. The lack of resources and computers. The lack of qualified teachers due to the poor pay and working conditions they suffer, as well as their low status in society. No, none of that has anything to do with it. Nope. It's beating the kids. That's what's doing it.

Boy, it's amazing that I learned a damned thing, since my parents and teachers didn't beat me. But what the hell do I know? Oh yeah... Science, physics, electrical engineering, astronomy, history, philosophy, religion, writing, politics, psychology... Actually, I would love to put my violence-less education up against Bill Cunningham's any day. Do you even doubt who would win?

CUNNINGHAM: ...But the Alan Colmes and the Michael Moores
would jump on the side of this miscreant [the student who did not stand during
the Pledge] and act as if he has rights and no responsibility.
What responsibility, exactly? To stand during the Pledge? Perhaps, instead of pulling the chair out from under this kid, he should have been taught about the sacrifices people have made for this country. Do we know that happened? No. But, even if it did, guess what? The failure of responsibility is not the kid's. It is the teacher's, the school's, the educational system's, and the Washington politician's. Minors are deemed, by law, not to be capable of taking responsibility for themselves or their actions. Either the kid is responsible for himself, in which case he doesn't have to stand because that's his right, or the kid is not yet able to be responsible for himself, in which case it is wrong to commit violence upon him for something he is not responsible for.

Further, Mr. Cunningham, Americans do indeed have "rights and no responsibility." That's how our government was set up and that's how the Constitution was written. There is no clause in the Constitution that mandates "responsibility" or "honoring the symbols of the nation" or anything like that in order for the Bill of Rights to apply. That's what a "right" is. It's something you get simply from virtue of being an American. You may not like it, Mr. Cunningham, but there's a reason for it: Not everyone would agree on what "responsibilities" others must uphold in order to keep their rights. Who would get to decide that, Mr. Cunningham? What if it wasn't you? I can only guess at the stink you would make at having to uphold some of the "responsibilities" I would levy upon you, including helping the poor ("oh my god, how can the government make me give my hard-earned money to the poor? Foul, I say!")

HANNITY: ...parents are saying, "Good, good for this teacher. Finally, somebody
is fighting back."

Against lazy teenagers? You're making it sound like storming Omaha Beach or something. We already have the amazingly unsuccessful "war on drugs" and "war on terror." Is the "war on lazy teenagers" next?

CUNNINGHAM: And I hope the students in New Jersey, the former home of
Governor [James] McGreevey, who had his own difficulties -- I might add that
Jersey, of course, is a blue state. We don't have these kind of problems in Ohio

HANNITY: In Cincinnati, my friend.

CUNNINGHAM: -- Kentucky or Indiana.

COLMES: All right.

CUNNINGHAM: We don't have those problems in Cincinnati.

Oh, Christ. Are they just trying to make me disavow my home state? Listen, I am from southwest Ohio, a bit north of Cincinnati. And I can tell you a few things. First off, my high school is in the top 1% of the nation's schools. Secondly, there was no corporal punishment of any kind in any school I attended, other than that administered upon me by other students. Thirdly, there were, indeed, slackers and what Cunningham would call "miscreants" in our school. And yet, somehow, we still managed to learn something and survive to graduation without getting the shit beat out of us by our teachers. Amazing, huh?

Won't Y'all Stop Terrorizin' Me?

Media Matters is reporting that Bill O'Reilly has now declared the ACLU to be a terrorist group. He claims, "They're terrorizin' me and my family. They're terrorizing me. I think they're terrorists."

So, let's examine what Bill O'Reilly defines as "terrorism." Basically, he is saying that because he doesn't feel safe unless the government is allowed to take people who don't look like him away in the middle of the night without ever revealing what happened to them, Bill O'Reilly is being "terrorized." The government not being able to violate the civil rights of people O'Reilly thinks are dangerous -- unsurprisingly, people who don't look like him? "Terrorizin' me."

Come on out and say it, Bill. You just want to be able to point out anyone you feel unsafe around, notably people who look different than you, think differently than you, or are "weird," and have the police take them away, never to be seen again. If you can't have the government do that to people who aren't like you, you're being "terrorized." It never once enters your mind that if you were a member of one of those groups having the police take you away because someone thinks you looked "weird" or were acting strange is definitely a form of being terrorized by the government.

What makes your accusation even worse, Bill, is that your chances of dying in the kinds of terrorist attacks that you want to violate others' civil rights to prevent are freakin' infinitesimal! Let's see... in 2000, your chances of dying in a terrorist attack on American soil was... zero! But then, in 2001, it jumped to a whopping 0.0000115%. Oh, but calm down, because in 2002 it once again dropped to -- you guessed it -- zero! And it has remained steady at zero through 2003 and 2004.

The upshot? You are almost certain not to die in a terrorist event, Bill, with or without the Patriot Act and the other draconian measures you are derided the ACLU for opposing. But others absolutely, 100% guaranteed will suffer unlawful incarcerations while being denied access to an attorney, suffer humiliation at being not allowed on a plane because someone of the same name is on the "no-fly list," and be wrongly tortured and abused by US military and civilian personnel. But it doesn't matter who suffers how much to make you feel safer about that one-in-a-billion chance of dying in a terrorist incident, does it?

This ACLU has no strategy to fight the war on terror at all.

Yeah, and the grass is freakin' green, Bill. So what? The job of the government is to come up with a strategy to protect America from terror. But guess what? The government doesn't have completely free reign to do so. You see, this pesky document called the Constitution of the United States of America mandates that the government perform its functions, of which homeland security is one, in accordance with the Bill of Rights. If the government's strategy to protect America from terror requires the government to violate citizens' civil rights, then it isn't the ACLU that is wrong to challenge that strategy: the government has adopted the wrong strategy in the first place!

The ACLU is simply saying, "Your plan to protect America from terror is against the rules. Your job is to find a strategy within the confines of the Constitution, not outside." Your response, Bill, is, "You don't have a plan, so shut the hell up. You're terrorizing me by asking the government to work within the rules." Dumbass.

Think about it, Bill. For one thing, of course it would be much easier to fight terror if we just let the government do whatever it wants. Hell, why stop at habeus corpus? You'd be much safer if the police could just kill anyone who looks suspicious or acts strange. And it would be a lot harder for terrorists to acquire weapons or for sleeper cells to exist if the government just put an agent in your home to watch your activities 24/7. I mean, heck, we wouldn't need all these highly-trained Federal law-enforcement agents, intelligence agents, and analysts then. It wouldn't take any skill or ability to keep Americans safe by imposing martial law and taking away all rights. Hell, I could run homeland security then. Even an idiot like Himmler could do it in fascist Germany.

But the reason we have all these highly-trained people is because we expect our government to protect us without resorting to draconian, unconstitutional measures. So, you know what, Bill? Instead of bitching about how the ACLU is "terrorizin'" you, why don't you get pointed the right way and demand what Americans deserve: a government that upholds their civil rights while still protecting them from terrorist attack.

Can't be lookin' at people checkin' out weird things in the library

This, here, is the definitive proof that Bill O'Reilly is a total idiot. Hey, Bill, guess what? Whatever you think "weird stuff" is, if it is in the library, it is there to be checked out! So why should someone bring suspicion upon themselves for checking those things out as intended? And who decides what "weird" is, anyway? Have you ever heard of intellectual freedom? There's no chance that the government could us this power to find out who has been reading stuff critical of the government and/or that the government doesn't like and intimidate them into submission, is there? I'm sure that when a couple of Federal agents come to your house to ask you why you checked out, oh, say, "Naked Lunch" or "A Clockwork Orange," you won't feel at all intimidated and violated. No.

Controlling access to information is one of the keys to totalitarianism. A free society requires free access to information without worrying about the government keeping track of what information you are absorbing. For many who can't afford to buy books, the library is an important source of information. Tracking what people check out from the library would essentially allow the government to control what less affluent people read. Once you cut people off from sources of information, controlling them is only a step away.

And, lastly, to go back to the statistical argument, far more people who aren't and never will be terrorists check "weird stuff," whatever that is, out from the library than do dangerous people and terrorists. The ability to rifle through someone's library record is amazingly useful for intimidating people, but it will hardly ever turn up a terrorist. It is awesome for violating civil rights. It is almost completely ineffective for finding terrorists. If you can't see this, then you are truly a retard.

Guantánamo Bay -- all of 'em have to have civilian lawyers. No enemy combatants
-- no way, uh-uh.

I'll speak slowly, Bill, so your malfunctioning mind can keep up. If all the guys at Guantanamo are really enemy combatants, then why would the Bush regime be so deathly afraid of proving it in court? Hmm...

Could it be, Bill, that government just rounded up all kinds of people, many for no rhyme and reason, and that it knows that a lot of them are innocent bystanders and not enemy combatants? Could it be that the Bush regime is afraid to ever admit a mistake and so doesn't want it exposed that a bunch of the detainees should never have been there? Could it be that the government doesn't want to have to stand up in court is not because they are so sure that these guys are all enemy combatants, but because they are sure many of them aren't?

Here's one way we can tell. When the government has a really good case against someone, does it shy away from court, or rush into court as fast it possibly can? I'll give you three guesses.

You know what, Bill? You're the "terrorist." Why? Because you are standing up against freedom and for government oppression and terror. The government can terrorize people much, much better than the ACLU, and you are all for it.

Is Bush Snorting Cocaine Again?

Take this quote from this recent Washington Post article:

Meanwhile yesterday, Bush warned that Democratic lawmakers may suffer
politically if they continue to oppose his plan without offering alternatives.
Americans are beginning to agree that Social Security needs revisions to
safeguard its long-term stability, he said, adding: "In my judgment, ultimately,
I think politicians need to be worried about not being a part of the solution."

So many things wrong in so little space...

For years and years Social Security has lovingly been known as "the third rail of American politics," that is to say, if you touch it, you get electrocuted. So here we have Bush, feet in a puddle of water, hand in death-grip on the third rail, hair standing on end, the smell of burning flesh wafting from him, saying to the Democrats, "It's gonna be bad if you don't grab this with me!" Uh, yeah. We'll be right there.

So, Bush asks, why are the Democrats "oppos[ing] [my] plan without offering alternatives?" Well, Mr. Bush, the reason is that your plan is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. Democrats would offer alternatives if they agreed with you that Social Security is in "crisis" and will be "bankrupt" in 2018, both of which are factually false. This is kind of like having your spouse say to you, "You can't tell me we shouldn't blow up the house to get rid of the demons unless you have a better idea," when, of course, you know there aren't any demons in the first place!

"Americans are beginning to agree that Social Security needs revisions to safeguard its long-term stability"? This is true in the same sense as "Americans are beginning to agree that they want the government to give them random electric shocks throughout the day." Support for Bush's plans to "revise" Social Security has been dropping like a rock and fewer people think that Social Security needs any "revision" or "reform" than did when Bush started into this whole mess. In other words, this is an outright lie.

"In my judgment, ultimately, I think politicians need to be worried about not being a part of the solution." Solution to what? There isn't a problem! At the very least, the problem you keep blabbing about doesn't exist. And, even if there were a problem, I am happy that the Democrats don't want to be a part of "the solution" as you envision it, since you want nothing less than the abolition of Social Security.

You see, Mr. Bush, it's becoming more and more apparent even to those you tricked into voting for you last November that you aren't dealing with the problem of preserving the Social Security program for future generations by proposing solutions that will keep it viable and funded for the forseeable future. No, wrapped inside your rhetoric, what you are reallying trying to do is solve the problem that you and your cronies don't like Social Security because you're rich and don't need it by proposing solutions that will lead to its demise. They say you can't go broke underestimating the stupidity of the American people. But, just like you kept leading oil companies into bankruptcy while looking for oil in Texas, you, Mr. Bush, have actually managed to overestimate the stupidity of the American people. Bravo!

March Is Red Cross Month

March is officially Red Cross month in the US. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage my readers to contribute to the American Red Cross if at all possible. You can find information on donating to the American National Red Cross here. I would also like to encourage you to give to your local Chapter. Click here to find your local Chapter and where to send donations to it.

Also, check out the American Red Cross website and look at the services they provide, particularly in Disaster Services. Look at what you're getting if you donate. I think you will find that it is worth it.

I would also like to encourage you to check out the section on volunteering on your local Chapter's website. The American Red Cross will train you in a variety of disciplines so you can help in your local community and across the country. Volunteers make up the core of the American Red Cross and without them it could not provide services to those in need.

Again with the Faith-Based Initiatives

A friend of mine just sent me this article about the Justice Department's so-called "civil rights" division intervening on behalf of the "right" of the Salvation Army to discriminate against non-Christians administering public funds.

First off, the obvious: Bush lied to us when he told us that religious groups given public funds under his faith-based program wouldn't be allowed to use those funds to promote their religion. Telling employees they must "embrace Jesus Christ to keep their jobs" is not only at attempt to promote Christianity, but is, in fact, an attempt to use public funds to coerce nonbelievers into converting. That it is being done to the employees who administer public funds rather than those who are serviced by those public funds is irrelevant. Bush lied.

Let's consider the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The Justice Department, in supporting the Salvation Army, is actually demonstrating why faith-based initiatives are inherently unconstitutional: For the Salvation Army to be able to freely exercise its religious rights, its must be able to discriminate against non-Christians. But for the employees to be able to freely exercise their religious rights, they must be allowed to believe whatever they want. Giving public funds to religious entities forces the government to either limit the exercise of religious freedom of the organization or to allow the organization to use public funds to limit the religious freedom of its employees.

In other words, it is logically impossible for Bush's faith-based initiative not to result in the Federal government either respecting an establishment of religion over the rights of the individual, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof by imposing economic penalties on employees who do so.

Bush has said he believes that, so long as they do not infuse their social
programs with religious messages, religious groups should not have to sacrifice
their religious character — by employing nonbelievers or followers of a
different faith — in order to qualify for federal funds.

Do you see the inherent contradiction here? In order to qualify for public funds, religious groups must not "infuse their social programs with religious messages." That is to say, they must not promote their religions, which is their whole point in existing. Right there, the government is violating the rights of religious organizations by employing coercion -- possible loss of funding -- if they exercise their religious right to proselytize.

Further, does anyone doubt that religious groups have, and will, continue to proselytize to those receiving aid from public funds through them? Of course not. In fact, religious groups have been doing exactly that, though it is not widely reported (I read an article on this a while back... I'll post a link if I can find it again). The Bush regime's defense, of course, is, "We told them not to do that, and they shouldn't do that."

But giving religious groups whose mission is to proselytize public funds with the admonition, "now don't use these funds to proselytize!" is no different than giving a bank robber a job in the vault of a bank and telling him, "now don't steal anything!" If you know someone is likely to do something and you furnish him or her the means to do it, you're responsible for what happens no matter if you told them not to do it. I doubt that the Bush Justice Department would be lenient if you left a child alone with a pedophile and your defense was, "I told him not to molest her!"

In 2003, according to a lawsuit filed by more than a dozen workers in its
Social Services for Children division, the Salvation Army began requiring
employees to divulge information about their faiths, including the churches they
attended and their ministers.

They were also called on to embrace a new mission statement — included
in job postings and job descriptions — that declared the top goal of the social
welfare operation is "to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human
needs in his name without discrimination." The previous mission statement was
"to empower each person who enters our doors to live with dignity and hope," and
contained no religious references.

Protections against discriminatory employment practices were excised
from the employee handbook, and an effort was made to compile a list of
homosexual employees, according to the suit.

This isn't just refusing to hire non-Christians with public funds, this is a witch-hunt to rid the organization of all non-Christians being paid through public funds. This is an active, aggressive act that shows that the Salvation Army cares nothing about the public trust they are given along with public funds to serve every American equally. Otherwise, why is it so important to the Salvation Army that only Christians be allowed to do good work and help others? The reason is obvious: Christians will promote Christianity to those they serve, and non-Christians won't. Further, non-Christians present a danger to the Salvation Army's proselytizing efforts, since they are much more likely to report violations of the "no proselytizing with public funds" rules, and thus make it much harder to proselytize on the public dime.

And, when reading the Salvation Army's new mission statement, did you see the trick they're trying to pull? Our goal is "to preach the gospel" but still to "meet human needs in his name without discrimination." By acting as if those things aren't mutually exclusive, they can claim to do both. But they are mutually exclusive. If I have to let someone "preach the gospel" to me in order to get publically-funded help, I am being discriminated against because I have to participate -- even listening is "participating" -- in a religious activity I may well not want to participate in or even object to. How can anyone seriously think that an organization whose first goal -- listed before the disingenuous "without discrimination" line -- is to promote a specific religious doctrine, namely the gospels?

The [Justice] department said the discrimination claims were "irrelevant."

Which is the most honest thing I have heard from the Bush regime in a long time. Let me translate: "Your civil rights, unless you are a straight, white, male evangelical Christian, are irrelevant. And, if you aren't all these things, you are irrelevant too."

Friday, March 04, 2005

Is It Any Wonder This Guy's Been Married Like Five Times?

Rush Limbaugh, actuarial statistician:

The life expectancy of men is drawing closer to that of women. Women still live
longer than men because their lives are easier.

I'll take broad generalizations for $500, Alex. Rush Limbaugh, a guy who lived half his life on welfare before getting a cushy job lying on the radio all day and popping pain pills like candy, is, of course, only too qualified to talk about how hard the lives of men are in the US. Show him an unmarried teenage girl whose boyfriend is happily going to college, leaving her to support the child herself, and Rush will tell you how he got so fat sitting around collecting welfare checks that he could barely get out of his double-wide trailer. That was a real trial. What does a teenage mother know about hardship? Get a job, kid. Jeesh.

Sexual discrimination. Spousal and boyfriend abuse. Rape, torture, kidnapping, assault. Yeah, women sure have it easy, don't they, Rush?

It's Okay To Cut Off People's Hands As Long As You're Friends Of The Family

FOX News and the conservative spin-machine have been going to town on the usual suspects like Iran, Syria, and North Korea that were given poor marks in the State Department's annual report on human rights. The conservative media has been conveniently ignoring the fact that Saudi Arabia was mentioned by the State Department in the same breath as those nations.

I'm sure that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that President and his family are bestest buddies with the House of Saud. Naw.

When I hear conservatives crow about how the UN is worthless because Syria has (had?) a seat on the UN Human Rights Commission alongside the US, I can't help but think, "How is the US, who openly supports one of the worst human rights abusing nations on the planet, being on the Human Rights Commission really any worse?" Denouncing evil is a far cry from doing good, but supporting those who do evil is not a far cry from doing evil at all. In fact, there is no difference at all. Supporting evil is evil.

Only with the blinders of zealotry and ideology can American conservatives convince themselves that supporting Saudi Arabia and condemning Syria is not hypocritical. But self-delusion is rarely convincing to others, and it isn't here either.

I Hate Ann Coulter Too

Here's one of Coulter's recent snippets of insanity (or should I say 'inanity?'):

[The Democratic Party] is a party that supports killing, lying, adultery,
thievery, envy.

Yep, that's the Democrats all right. Because Democrats revel in war and the deaths of countless servicemen and women and innocents in Iraq. Oh, no, wait, Ann Coulter is the one who speaks with an orgasmic gleam in her eye of all the carnage in Iraq, including her wish that someone would kill the reporter who took the footage of a US marine shooting an unarmed man.

And, of course, the Democrats lied to the American people about the real reasons for the war in Iraq. Oh, wait, no, that was Coulter and the Republicans too.

Adultery? Yeah, those damned Democrats and their cheating hearts. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich should be strung up by-- Oh, wait. Gingrich was a Republican, wasn't he? Well, what about the guy who was briefly House Speaker before Frist, until his adultery was made public? Oh, right, he was a Republican too.

Thievery? Well, yeah! What about when Nixon had his goons raid his opponents in the Watergate Hotel-- Ooh, bad example. Uh, what about stealing budget money to buy weapons for the Contras in defiance of Congressional order? Oh, that was Reagan, wasn't it? Hmm.

And the Democrats certainly do envy those Republicans, I'll give Ann that. When you have a soul, it's awfully hard not to envy those whose soullessness allows them to do whatever they damned well please without those annoying pangs of, what's the word? Oh, yeah. Conscience.

Yes, Ann, you certainly hit it on the head. Take John Kerry, for instance, as the prototypical Democrat. He certainly displayed his love of killing when he came back from Vietnam and testified before Congress in hopes of stopping the atrocities being committed against civilians in that war. And he sure demonstrated his propensity for lying when he lost the campaign because he not only kept telling the American people the truth, he wouldn't shut the hell up about it, but instead would drone on and on. And, of course, Kerry is all about the adultery, except for the part that he isn't. And Kerry showed what a thieving, untrusthworthy individual he is when he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor in combat in Vietnam.


Who, Us?

During the Clinton presidency, Senate Republicans blocked 60 or so of Clinton's judicial nominees by not allowing a vote on them on the Senate floor or not even allowing them a hearing in the Senate Judiciary committee.

So now that the Democrats are the opposition party and have blocked ten (yes, ten) of Bush's 229 first-term judicial nominees, the Republicans are claiming, with a straight face, that "conservatives never use these tactics because they approach the controversy in a much more gentlemanly fashion." The Republicans seem to not only have conveniently forgotten that they used "these tactics" 10 times more often during the Clinton administration than the Democrats have during the Bush regime, but also that they were the first ones to use the filibuster to block a judicial nominee way back in 1968!

This is yet another example of the depths of hypocrisy conservatives have fallen to into order to control the political discussion in this country: Use any kind of dirty tactic but then act like a unspoilt virgin white as the driven snow when those same tactics are used against you. I don't have my copy of The Prince in front of me right now, but the conservatives must have been reading Machiavelli lately because this sort of deception (read: bald-faced lie) is encouraged by Machiavelli.

Which part of "family values" does "the ends justify the means" fall under, I wonder? In what part of the Bible does Jesus preach hypocrisy, deceit, and character assassination? I must have missed it.

Of course, like the wife of an abusive husband, the Democrats refuse to fight back, just cringing under these assaults of propaganda and hoping if they are really quiet they won't get hit again.

Stand up, you idiots! Own your opposition! Tell everyone who will listen yes, we are blocking Bush's nominees, here's why, and we're going to keep doing it! How much air time can the left fill with file footage of Republican filibusters and taking about them? A lot, I would bet, if every Democrat and liberal on TV talked about it incessantly just like the Republicans do their lies.

Wake up, Democrats. There's one important thing an opposition party absolutely must do: Oppose.

Right now, you're failing.

Why I Will Not Be Reasonable

On Wednesday, Laura Ingraham was bitching about the recent Supreme Court ruling that overturned a 1989 ruling that allowed the execution of minors aged 16 and 17. Apparently, Justice Kennedy, the swing vote, cited the standards and laws of Western Europe and the rest of the industrialized world in his opinion. Ingraham could not get over the fact that Kennedy had "used foreign law to make his ruling instead of the constitution" and that "liberals pick-and-choose what foreign laws to cite to back up the conclusion they have already come to."

If, indeed, Kennedy had made his ruling entirely or even primarily based on foreign law rather than the Constitution, I would agree with Ingraham. But Kennedy's ruling is simply informed by the fact that the rest of the Western world has repudiated capital punishment, not determined by it. Kennedy based his ruling on the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, not foreign law.

Now, there are a lot of questions and issues about how Kennedy arrived at such a decision and by what criteria such decisions are made which are legitimate topics of discussion. But, as usual, Ingraham and the conservatives don't discuss those, because subtle discussions of law don't get the rank-and-file all fired up. Instead, they focus on something that they think will get their constituency pissed off and fired up: "Activist" judges making rulings based on the laws of other countries.

So here's where I will not be reasonable. Ingraham may be right. Kennedy may have decided he wanted to rule against capital punishment for minors and then sought a legal argument that would allow him to make that ruling. And, under normal circumstances, I would agree with her that that is wrong, even though it produced the correct result.

Screw that. Ingraham can shove this ruling up her ass as far as I am concerned, because she doesn't give two shits about how this ruling was made. She only cares about the outcome, just like she accuses others of.

In a recent book written by several Supreme Court clerks about the 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore, we learn that Scalia openly pressured his fellow justices to find arguments that would let them rule in Bush's favor. That is to say, Scalia did not care about the merits of Bush's case at all. He had decided to rule in Bush's favor regardless of whether the law supported Bush's case (it didn't). In other words, he did exactly what Ingraham was accusing Kennedy of doing!

So, where was Ingraham's outrage then? Hmm... strangely absent. Now, she's all about the law and the Constitution and how judges should follow the law and not what they want to have happen. But then? Nary a peep.

So, you know what? I don't give a shit if Kennedy really just wanted to outlaw the executions of minors and then looked for law to support it. Because the conservative judges do exactly the same thing. Conservatives don't care about law or the Constitution or rights. They care about being able to tell other people what to do and they use reasonable arguments a smokescreen to get the gullible on the left, earnest and reasonable people, to believe that they actually care about the rule of law.

They don't. In fact, Ingraham's guest, who wrote some book about how the Supreme Court is "out of control," suggested that the 17 states who have capital punishment for minors on the books should just go ahead and execute those minors and say to the Court, "What are you going to to about it now?" From the rule of law party? "Rule of law" does not mean that you only obey the law when you agree with it! It means you obey the law and the duly constituted authorities no matter what. But these people care nothing for the rule of law: They care about making everyone else live according to their standards and then telling them to obey the law.

Ingraham's guest also noted that Kennedy had claimed that no other countries execute minors or something to that effect. I presume Kennedy was speaking of Western countries. But this douche bag said, basically, "What about Iran and Bangladesh? Has Kennedy ever heard of them?"

Isn't it interesting that, when it suits them, conservatives call countries like Iran "evil," but then turn and use those countries as an example? Is there any clearer definition of hypocrisy in this world, do you think?