Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Horror Story - The Voting Dead!

Yes, my children, it's Halloween... when the dead walk the earth, beg for candy, and often try to vote!

Huh? Try to vote? Here's one of my favorite "true" voting dead stories:

Back when Lyndon Johnson was in one of his first Congressional campaigns he and his aids were "registering voters" in the local cemetery. One of the staffers got frustrated with an old tombstone that had eroded past the point of legibility and started to move on to the next grave.

LBJ pointed him right back to the offending marker and told him, "Son, that man has just as much a right to vote as any one else in this cemetery."

Much as I love that story, and often tell it as if it's verifiably true, I know that as legends go it's probably much embellished.

So to are many modern Voting Dead stories. Justin Levitt, an Associate Counsel in the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice, writes in TomPaine.com about Raising the Dead Voter Hoax. While these stories tend to be very popular this time of year, Levitt explains that these accounts are typically without much basis, greatly exaggerated, and used to create a distrust of the democratic process and politics in general:
When the deceased show up in unfounded reports of election fraud, it's not just good holiday entertainment. Indeed, a recent status report on an investigation of voter fraud under the auspices of the bipartisan federal Election Assistance Commission noted the large number of unsupported fraud claims in recent stories, and cited allegations that the unfounded charges were "an effort to scare people away from the voting process."
So, what's wrong with these stories? They're kind of fun, and certainly don't hurt anybody, right? Well, these stories are not so harmless when they're used to justify legislation that could make voting more difficult and possibly disenfranchise legitimate voters. Levitt continues:
For example, consider the recent voter-ID legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and justified in substantial part by dead-voter stories. ... This new bill would instead confront the illusory dead-voter problem by placing a new burden on the electorate: all citizens would be required to show government-issued documentary identification with a photo and proof of citizenship before voting.

It is appropriate that the bill was first sponsored by Representative Hyde - a name with substantial Halloween resonance - because it would have some truly ghoulish effects. At the moment, only a passport or a driver's license from one of three states would satisfy Hyde's standards. Any voter without the magic documents - even those citizens legitimately voting for years or decades - would suddenly find the doors of the polling place mysteriously shut.
Now there's your Halloween horror story. Boo!

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Monday, October 30, 2006

I'll believe it when it happens

There's been much anticipatory celebrating about the seemingly apparent end of the Republican controlled Congress. Personally, I don't care what the polls say; it ain't over till the fat lady sings.

Some pundits have been asking why Rove and company are still talking as if they're going to hold on to both houses of Congress. I'll tell you why, and it has nothing to do with conspiracies or pre-programmed votes hiding in Diebold machines. It's simple, lazy, human nature.

Sure, we all say we want to throw the bums out. We always say that to pollsters, it's nothing new to this year or this election. But once we enter the voting booth, most of us still stick with "our guy." What we meant when we talked to the pollsters was, "throw all the other bums out.

So, next Tuesday, when you go to cast your ballot, I don't care if you vote for a Democrat. Just don't vote for a Republican. Consider really throwing the bums out. Vote Green, vote Libertarian, vote Reform, vote Democrat if you have to, just don't vote for more of the same.

And, yes, it's going to be more of the same with Republicans in control. Just because the administration is backing away from the phrase "stay the course" doesn't mean that their policies or goals have changed any toward the war in Iraq. There's no plan on the table to end our involvement, only more abstract goals without penalties for the Iraqi's to meet. More of the same. Staying the course.

Reminder: Next Monday will be the special pre-election edition of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - You can submit your article by clicking here and filling out the form.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Random Quotes Friday

"I think I am too sarcastic to believe in myself." - Friedrich Nietzsche

"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not." - Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra

"To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards out of men" - Abraham Lincoln

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier - just so long I'm the dictator." - George W. Bush, December 18, 2000

"You can only be young once. But you can always be immature." - Dave Barry

"Please fill out my reader survey, it's only nine questions, just click here, I beg of you." - Me

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fun with Dick and Chains - "A no brainer"

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyIn an interview on Tuesday, vice president Dick Cheney finally admitted that the U.S. does use water-boarding as an interrogation method. The method involves securing a suspect to a table or board that is angled with the head lower than the feet, and then either dunking them into water, or pouring water over their faces, preferably with the face wrapped in cloth or cellophane. This causes the suspect to gag and choke and feel like they're about to drown.

But don't worry about whether or not this is inhumane or dangerous; the VP has assured us that this is not torture.

In the interview on Tuesday with WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., host Scott Hennen asked Cheney, "Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?"

The VP then replied, "It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president 'for torture.' We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in."

Now, that seems pretty clear that he was asked about water-boarding, and replied in the affirmative, but apparently I may have mis-interpreted the response. Luckily, Lee Ann McBride, a spokesperson for Cheney, was able to clear it up:
"What the vice president was referring to was an interrogation program without torture. The vice president never goes into what may or may not be techniques or methods of questioning."
Thanks for the clarification there, Lee Ann. Being tricked into admitting you use a certain technique by answering a direct question is not the same thing as admitting it. Kind of like when somebody who's being tortured admits to anything just to get the torture to stop.

Meanwhile, Cheney's old buddies at Halliburton are up to their old tricks again. This time they're submitting bills to the government for their contract work in Iraq that included 55% in overhead. But I'm sure it's all legit. They wouldn't be awarded no-bid contracts if they weren't on the level, right?

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Charity is better than sex!

Well... maybe not better, but at least as good!

Researchers, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have scientifically proven that charitable giving activates the brain's reward center. Known as the mesolimbic pathway, the reward center is responsible for the euphoria associated with sex, money, food, and drugs.

So, how will you react this holiday season when you start receiving solicitation letters promising an orgasmic experience in return for your donation? Will you open up and give like you've never given before?

You know what else feels good? Helping a blogger improve his work by answering the nine short questions on his reader survey - Click here to find out how good it feels!

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Introducing Uncle Joe Bile...

Your Uncle Joe Bile shares his views on the upcoming mid-term election, the Mark Foley sex scandal, the Iraq war, and other issues...

I'm still hoping to get more feedback about this blog. Click here to take my reader survey - only 9 quick questions - Thank you!

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round 11

Welcome to Round Eleven of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Blogging 'till the secret police take us away.

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyHell's Handmaiden presents Time to Choose Sides - We start off with an examination of how the torture bill clashes with our Jeffersonian view of individual rights.

Phil for Humanity presents Do Not Elect Wealthy Politicians - An innovative approach to rebuilding democracy, but where do we find the non-rich candidates to vote for?

Bill Losapio presents What we can do as individuals to begin regaining our freedom - A libertarian point-of-view that doesn't include voting...

Largest Minority presents Sunnis Establish an Islamic Republic Inside Iraq - Details on our failure to establish democracy, as promised, in Iraq.

We Stand Divided presents Third in line - What says "decline of democracy" better than graft that would make Boss Tweed blush?

Madeleine Begun Kane presents Trade Deficit, Budget Deficit, Truth Deficit - An entertaining poem on the decline of truth concludes this week's carnival.

Thank you for joining us on our bi-weekly look at the decline of democracy (and occasionally hopeful responses to it). The next edition of the Carnival will be posted on Monday, November 6th, with entries requested by Saturday, November 4th, at midnight. This will be the Election Eve edition, so keep that in mind when submitting!

Submit your blog post for the Election Eve edition of the carnival of the decline of democracy using our carnival submission form. More information on future carnivals can be found on our carnival home page.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Follow-up

In follow up to Wednesday's posting, about the letter warning Southern California Latinos not vote... The letter was sent out by the campaign of Republican candidates Tan Nguyen and arrests will be forthcoming.

Nguyen has fired the staff person responsible, and claims not to have known the content of the letter, despite having called the mailing house to expedite it's delivery. 14,000 of the letters went out, in all.

Also, this week I've been asking readers to respond to a short (9 question) survey. Your answers will help me improve this blog. Click here to submit your input.

Yesterday I mentioned that over 4,000 people had watched my Is the President Always Right? video on YouTube. In the last 24 hours, that number has nearly doubled. This blog, on the other hand, averages about 75 visitors each day, meaning that the 24 hour increase in video views is equal to three-and-a-half months of blog visitors. For those who are keeping score.

Finally, for the truly entertainment starved, order your Burger King Halloween masks today, go trick-or-treating at McDonald's.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Response to "The President is Always Right"

The other day, my blog entry here was a video that I made called, "Is the President Always Right?" It has been viewed by over 4,000 people so far on YouTube, and has generated quite a few comments, as I'm sure you can imagine.

Most of the comments have been supportive, and in agreement with the point of the video. Then there are a handful of the predictable haters ... lots of implications about my sexuality, or comparisons to certain parts of the female anatomy, but very little real debate. I appreciate the supporters, and ignore the haters who just like to see their names on the page.

But what really disturbed me, however, was a comment made by a user called goldrushnumber1:
i think bush is a good guy, just not the person i want leading my country, but i think the reason bush got re elected is because kerry wanted gay marrige and bush is aginst it, and i would rather the country get blown up with 1000 nukeular bombs than to have my children raised thinking homosexuality is OK... (my opinion, sorry if this offends anyone)
What gets me is that goldrushnumber1 actually sounds like a reasonable guy. He doesn't curse, or make aspersions about my motivations, sanity, or lifestyle. He recognizes that his opinion is no better or more valid than mine, and apologizes for any offense. Only the spelling gives him away as not being very bright.

The spelling, and that other thing ... He'd prefer Armageddon to civil rights for homosexuals. 1,000 "nukeular" [sic] bombs would pretty much destroy this nation. The bombs we'd release in return (in whatever little time we had to do it in) would destroy a couple more nations. The radioactive clouds all these explosions would send around the globe would take out a few more. Then chaos, starvation, etc., until the end of days. So, yes, Armageddon.

Is goldrushnumber1 such a true believer that he thinks this could be a good thing? Hastening the Rapture by selecting a leader who is likely to bring about Armageddon?

I really don't want to say anything nasty about goldrushnumber1 as a person. As outrageous as I find his views, I appreciate that he was polite in expressing them, and I want to return that courtesy. I'm just trying to understand the thought process.

Select one:
A) Global nuclear war.
B) Respecting other people's private lives.

Which would you choose?

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dirty tricks time in California...

Hispanics living in Southern California received an interesting little note in the mail the other day. It said (in Spanish):
"You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time."
Note the use of the word "or" ... if you are an illegal OR an immigrant ... you may not vote.

Of course, immigrants who do become naturalized citizens are legally allowed to vote, just as any other citizen is. But, it would seem, somebody is concerned that they might not vote the right way. These concerned citizens have taken the lead in discouraging those newer citizens from making a mistake at the polls three weeks from now.

The state's attorney general's office is looking into possible felony charges against the sender of the letter. That is, if they can figure out who sent it. The good Samaritan who penned the warning chose to be anonymous. What a surprise.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Is the President Always Right?

Acting Deputy Attorney General Steve Bradbury testified before Congress that "the President is always right." Was he serious? Let's look at some of the evidence of presidential infallibility...

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Am I a conspiracy nut?

For some reason, I think Friday the 13th is a good day for talking about conspiracy theories, and whether or not I typically believe them. This comes up because of a conversation I had recently about my posting of some of the 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Let's just say for now that I am generally interested in conspiracy theories. Most of them are obvious garbage that don't deserve a second thought, and a few bring up good questions that point out holes in "the official story" or require further investigation.

There are many different reasons why people believe in conspiracy theories...

One is a matter of control. At some level we like to think that there is some order to the universe, and that our world is not in total chaos. It is comforting to believe that the government actually is in control. When bad things happen (terrorism, assassinations) some of us can't accept that it was a lone gunman, or a small cell of criminals. To say that the government must have known, or even been involved, restores our sense of control.

Another major contributor is the question of trust. As much as we like to believe the government is control of the nation, we also have a healthy distrust of power. When a particular leader or government proves itself to be liars (as has the Bush administration) it is only natural to begin questioning everything they've ever told you. "If he lied about WMDs and Saddam's connection to Osama, he must have lied about everything!" It's not a logical argument (one does not necessarily follow the other), but it's one that the administration has opened itself up to.

Let's get away from current events, and I'll let you know where I stand on a few older conspiracy theories:

Did FDR know allow Pearl Harbor to be attacked? To a degree, this is a valid question. Officially, we say we had no idea it was going to happen. I don't really buy that. I think they did have some idea, and did realize that Hawaii was vulnerable to Japanese attack. But what were the choices? 1) Pre-emptively attack Japan - unthinkable until Bush took office, 2) Withdraw the fleet, still leaving Hawaii open, but making us less able to defend it, or 3) Wait for Japan to attack, then declare war. So, yeah, we probably knew more than we let on, but what could we really do at that time?

Did Oswald act alone? No way, man. Oswald could not have acted alone. That doesn't mean he wasn't involved at all, that doesn't mean the CIA killed Kennedy, that doesn't mean Castro and the mob did it either. Johnson was involved in the cover-up, that is a possibility to me. But why? Here's a theory that explains that, without proving he was involved with the assassination: The nation was in shock, their faith in the ability of the government to protect them was shattered, a quick recovery was needed. One assassin was publicly killed himself - let the nation believe that this closes the book and begin the public healing (and maybe deal with any other assassins in private).

Do I know the above to be true? Of course not. They're just some ideas, theories if you will. And I'm the first to admit that they're probably wrong. But they are ways to answer the nagging questions.

Back to 9/11... What do I believe?

I believe the official story. Al Queda, under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, planned and executed the attacks. The U.S. government was not involved. Neither were "the Jews" (we are a monolithic bloc you know, we have secret meetings every other Thursday at that Deli around the corner), Saddam Hussein, or the Saudi monarchy.

So, why do I give blog space to the conspiracy theories?

Because a) this administration is full of shit so often it is our patriotic duty to assume everything they say is shit until proven otherwise, and b) there are a few irregularities and questions.

The twin towers were most certainly hit by commercial airplanes, and that's what took them down. What about WTC building 7? It was not hit by a plane, and didn't collapse till around 5 PM. There's more to the WTC 7 story than we know. Not that this proves anything, there's just more to it than what they're telling us.

The Pentagon was almost certainly hit by another commercial airplane. Almost certainly. I don't think the U.S. military planned a missile attack ahead of time as part of a grand conspiracy. But then, why are the video tapes of the plane hitting (which we know exist, but were confiscated immediately following the attack) still classified? Why haven't we been allowed to see this footage, as we've seen the planes hitting the WTC over and over? Again, it doesn't prove anything, but it does require us to ask what's going on.

I don't think Bush planned 9/11. He's not that smart, or that capable. I do suspect that to some extent they may have ignored certain intelligence that allowed an attack to happen, much as FDR did with Pearl Harbor. I doubt they knew the details of the attack plan, and certainly not that the twin towers would each be reduced to dust, but they knew "Bin Laden determined to strike within U.S." and seemingly ignored it.

With all the lies from the administration, and all the attacks on free speech and the constitution, it is only natural that a growing number of people are questioning the entire 9/11 narrative. Where there is one lie, we assume there are two more. This is human instinct. We believe in conspiracy theories because reality makes no freaking sense.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

The truth about blogging...

Here's how I approach blogging. I see it as different than writing articles. When I post something to one of my web sites (or elsewhere) as an article, I consider it complete. I've written it, re-read, re-written it, thought about it, edited it, and written it again.

But, blog posts, I consider to be thinking out loud. I compose them pretty much with a stream of consciousness approach, and often have no idea where I'm headed when I begin. When I'm done writing, I click the spell check (sometimes) and take a quick look at the preview for any obvious major formatting errors, then I click "Publish Post." And I don't look back.

If something is in error, or I realize that it's stupid, I don't go back and change it or delete it, I just make a new posting that shows the new thinking. This is what I like about blogging; it's improvisational, extemporaneous, and unpredictable.

Blogging, for me, is a welcome change from the overly thought out, thoroughly proofed and edited (by many people) writing that I do professionally for nonprofit organizations (and others).

So, bottom line... Sometimes I step in [**]it, sometimes I have to admit I don't have any answers, and sometimes a reader points it out for me.

Barry Leiba left an excellent reply to my post the other day on Muslim cab drivers refusing fares on religious grounds. Barry took me for task for overlooking an important aspect of the situation: Taxis are closely regulated for a number of reasons. Because there are a limited number of taxis legally available in any given region, anytime one of them refuses a legitimate fare - for any reason - it puts pressure on the system and is contrary to the public good.

Barry made some other points that I don't think are as relevant. For example, he suggests that, "when people's preferences interfere with how they carry out their jobs... maybe they're in jobs that aren't suitable to their beliefs." I agree, but it's not up to any government agency to decide what profession any individual citizen or resident is suited for. This is one situation where the free market should take care of the problem by that person being unable to make a living through turning down customers.

But... the public good argument about taxis being a pseudo public resource... I'll think about that one. As Barry said, where will I draw the line? When a cabbie refuses to carry an unwed mother? When he refuses to carry any woman not covering her face with a veil?

These are different than the situations I wrote about (not carrying alcohol or dogs). In the real life examples I used, it was not the person who was refused carriage, it was their luggage or pets. In Barry's examples, it's refusal to the person, based on their life choices or beliefs. People have rights that can be violated or protected, bottles of booze certainly do not, dogs have some, but in a far more limited way than humans. So, yes, there is a clear line between my examples and Barry's, but still...

No answers today, just more things to think about. The issue is far more complicated than I obviously considered when I posted my initial thoughts before 8 AM Tuesday morning. And that goes along with this week's unintentional theme of growth and changing viewpoints.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bush and the Peter Pan Syndrome

"When I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong." - Jerry Orbach as Dr. Jake Houseman in Dirty Dancing

Yesterday in this space, I came to the realization that a point-of-view I had previously held was wrong. In looking at similar situations, from different sides, I concluded that a position I had taken in the past was not how I feel about the situation today. New evidence convinced me to change my mind on a matter of public policy.

Some might call it "flip-flopping" - others might call it "growth." To me, flip-flopping is going back-and-forth between positions multiple times, based on the audience, with no explanation of how one could support opposing ideas. Growth is a gradual process of discovery, analysis, and adaptation. Growth is good.

There's a psychological term for adults who refuse to grow up; The Peter Pan Syndrome. About the only thing behavior worse for a public servant to exhibit than flip-flopping would be the refusal to grow and adapt ones views, even in the face of overwhelming evidence of the failure of those views. Enter George W. Bush.

Of course, over the past five years, we've seen much evidence of this. There's been the refusals to accept that Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11, the refusal to accept the evidence that there were no WMD's in Iraq capable of threatening the U.S., the refusal to understand that by occupying a country against their will we might anger a few of the residents of that country.

The latest, glaring evidence of Bush's inability to learn from his own mistakes is his refusal to admit that his policy toward North Korea has failed. The world today is a more dangerous place, thanks to the president's steadfast refusal to return to the one-on-one talks that had started show some progress under President Clinton.

Now, some of you smart-ass conservatives who've stumbled across this blog are about to hit the comment button and write something like, "Yeah, but North Korea bought some of the nuclear technology that allowed this to happen while Clinton was in office." True, but who did they buy it from? A company that included Donald Rumsfeld on its board of directors at the time of the sale!

Not that Rumsfeld has ever made any mistakes that he should have learned from.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Religious freedom or discrimination?

I've seen several news accounts lately of Muslim taxi cab drivers refusing to accept fares based on their religious beliefs. Not the beliefs of the passengers, but the beliefs of the drivers.

In one case it was a refusal to allow packages containing alcohol in the cab. In another it was a refusal to allow a blind woman's guide dog in the cab. (Alcohol is forbidden, and dogs considered unclean, in Islam).

In the case of the blind woman and her dog (London), the driver was fined for violating British laws forbidding discrimination against the disabled. In the case of the alcohol refusal (Minnesota), officials at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport are considering making Muslim cab drivers identify themselves by placing a different colored light atop their taxi (to avoid future problems or confrontations).

Travelers are upset:
"They're really kind of imparting their religious views on the public," said traveler Katie Patterson of McKinney, Texas.
I'm not sure that's correct, however. Is it forcing your beliefs on another to simply ask that yours be respected? Are they practicing the freedom of religion that the Constitution promises them? Or are they practicing a form of reverse discrimination?

You are used to seeing signs in restaurants and retail shops saying, "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone." How far does that concept go, and on what basis can a business refuse a customer without violating anti-discrimination laws?

Obviously, if the Muslim business owner were ejecting every Sikh customer, regardless of alcohol, animal, or other impurity, it would be a clear-cut case of discrimination. But if the business owner welcomes people of all faiths, nationalities, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds, but asks that they not carry a religiously banned item, it's far less clear.

There is no constitutional right to carry alcohol on (or in) somebody else's property. The guide dog situation is a bit trickier, but as long as a business owner is willing to make some sort of "reasonable accommodation" and is willing to provide service to the blind or disabled, I'd question whether there's an absolute right to bring the dog in any particular cab.

To force either of these situations would create a situation where the Muslim cab drivers would have a good argument for a discrimination complaint of their own. You can't force people to perform acts (or sell services) that are against their religious beliefs.

Making Muslim cab drivers identify themselves by colored lights on their cabs is also crossing a line. It would allow passengers to openly discriminate against riding in their cabs, whether or not they have alcohol or dogs with them.

Really, what is the difference between making Muslim cab drivers shine a colored light, or making Jews wear yellow arm bands? It is singling out one group to be identified as "different" than any other citizen or legal resident.

Now let's talk about being fair with this precedent. If you cannot force a Muslim taxi driver to perform services that are against his religion, what about a Catholic druggist?

As a good "liberal" I have probably complained about pharmacies that refuse to carry birth control items on religious grounds. Am I a huge hypocrite, or does health care require an exception?

I'm thinking that I'm a hypocrite, and that as long as birth control is available elsewhere, no discrimination or deprivation of rights has occurred by a refusal to carry them by a single pharmacy.

I don't like it. I think it's a public health and safety issue to make birth control available as widely as possible.

But, I'd have to say, you can reserve the right to provide products or services that are against your religion.

You can't force a Muslim cab driver to accept alcohol or dogs, you can't force a Catholic druggist to supply birth control, and you can't force a Jewish medical clinic to stay open on the Sabbath.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

GooTube - Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion

It's official: Google is buying YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock. This will give YouTube the capital it needs to fix a few technical issues and figure out how to become profitable. Google promises that YouTube will remain an independent entity (in competition with Google Video)... at least for now.

Over the weekend, YouTube was buzzing with the rumors of the talks. Shortly before the sale was announced, I had posted my own opinion and analysis of the rumors on YouTube:

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Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round 10

Welcome to Round Ten of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Blogging 'till the secret police take us away.

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyThere are two difficult things to running this carnival. The first is narrowing down the entries I receive into a manageable - and relevant - posting on the topic of declining democracy. This week there were seventeen entries, that I cut down to eight. It was difficult, but I do need to set some limits.

The second is reading all the postings without resorting to either crying or shooting myself. Things are indeed looking bleak, as the postings relating to the recently passed torture bill demonstrate. But, as the included satire postings show, we must laugh. Either that or... well, I already listed the alternatives.

I must have needed the laugh, too, because this week I've selected as many satires as straight blogs. I didn't plan it that way; it just sort of happened.

Here's this week's carnival:

Bill Losapio presents Ten Reasons You Will Not Recognize America in Ten Years.

John Buehler presents The Financing of War.

Brandon Peele presents The Evolutionary Role of Ethnocentricism.

Riversider presents Local Residents: Have Your Say in Local Development.

In the satire department:

Madeleine Begun Kane presents Torture Bill Haiku.

Jon Swift presents Traditional Torture Values.

Avant News presents 19 Year Old Diebold Technician Wins U.S. Presidency.

Mark A. Rayner presents Ask General Kang: advice for a mayor with ambitions.

Thank you for joining us on our bi-weekly look at the decline of democracy (and occasionally hopeful responses to it). The next edition of the Carnival will be posted on Monday, October 23rd, with entries requested by Saturday, October 21st, at midnight.

Submit your blog post for the next edition of the carnival of the decline of democracy using our carnival submission form. More information on future carnivals can be found on our carnival home page.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

A penny for your thoughts... A dollar for your vote...

A fundraising gimmick you may have seen from time to time is to mail the potential donor a nickel, or some other small sum of money, with an appeal letter asking the reader to send the nickel back along with a generous donation. I've always found these to be a little bit offensive - trying to guilt me into returning the nickel - but they work. Many legitimate national nonprofits have raised quite a bit of money in this way.

But what happens when you apply that successful nonprofit fundraising technique to politics? Maryland Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is finding out right now.

He (or, rather, his campaign) sent his supporters each a nice, crisp one dollar bill. It's not a get-out-the-vote bribe, they say. It was an appeal to return the dollar bill, along with a check with a campaign contribution.

Two problems with this. First, the minor technical violation, is that Maryland election laws require all campaign expenditures to be made by check (for easy record keeping and tracking of funds). The dollar bills are [duh] cash.

The second problem is a little bit more serious. It is illegal to give people money in exchange for their vote. Now, I thought that by the 21st century this would be a well known fact by anybody outside of Chicago (sorry), but maybe this needs a little repeating: It is illegal to give people money in exchange for their vote.
Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver dismissed the matter as "ridiculous."

"We're confident that we've acted within the parameters of Maryland campaign finance law," she said, adding that Ehrlich used the same tactic four years ago.
Hello? Ridiculous? Used the same tactic four years ago? And nobody noticed? (And, obviously, he won).

I thought that Maryland politics had been cleaned up a bit since the days when Spiro Agnew was still taking bribes for Maryland public works projects from his office in the White House. I guess I was wrong. (For you kids out there, Spiro was once Vice President of the U.S. but resigned due to "tax problems").

Authorities are looking into the matter. According to the Washington Post:
If the state prosecutor determines that a criminal violation has occurred, the office will forward its findings to the attorney general and a local state's attorney. The potential violations involved with Ehrlich's mailer carry the possibility of fines and prison time, although the latter seems unlikely, according to those familiar with the case.
Ooh, goody! A slight chance of a fine. No jail time. And absolutely no mention of him being forced from office. A clear signal that it is now perfectly acceptable for candidates to purchase votes in the free market. Three cheers for democratic capitalism!

(Isn't it great that I got through the entire posting without pointing out that Ehrlich is a Republican?)

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Teacher hit you with a ruler? Lucky SOB...

Teachers will be able to pack a lot more weaponry than just a ruler if Wisconsin State Representative Frank Lasee gets his way. The Republican (what else?) plans to introduce legislation allowing teachers, principals, and other school personnel to carry concealed hand guns. This, of course, in response to the spate of school shootings over the past two weeks.

Says Lasee:
"To make our schools safe for our students to learn, all options should be on the table. Israel and Thailand have well-trained teachers carrying weapons and keeping their children safe from harm. It can work in Wisconsin."
Thailand, it should be pointed out, is near a civil war with Muslim separatists who view teachers as part of the government. Israel, contrary to what Rep. Lasee says, does not allow teachers to carry guns, but does station armed guards at certain school entrances. In Israel, too, they have a slight problem with Muslim terrorists.

So, as the spouse of a teacher, do I think this is a good idea? Am I looking forward to sending my wife off to work with her stack of graded papers, her sack lunch, and a holster under her blouse?

I could write something really sarcastic here, but Warren J. Bowe Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, has already written the masterpiece of a response. In a letter to the (Wisconsin) Capital Times, he writes (in part):
Finally, the Republicans have found a way to meaningfully support teachers!

As both a teacher and citizen, I spotted the win-win logic of such a proposal immediately. Not only would schools be safer, but the billions added to Wisconsin's economy by a new school gun industry would be a great windfall for the state.

With more than 60,000 teachers in Wisconsin's public schools alone, such a law would help both mom and pop gun shops and the big retailers ... as a whole new market would be opened. Specialty products could include guns manufactured in school colors or engraved with school mascots. ...

... [W]ould state taxpayers fund the law or would teachers have to pay for the heat they pack? Would there be a special ammunition budget? Would we be given extra in-service time for range practice? Could we implement merit pay for those of us who are crack shots?

And most importantly, how threatening would students need to be before we get to shoot them? ...
If the district that my wife works for is any indication, I can assure you that teachers will be paying for their ammunition out of their own pockets. But, we might be able to claim it as a deduction at tax time...

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Foley, Perkins, and abusing abuse

I've been silent so far on the Mark Foley scandal, partly because there's been plenty of coverage elsewhere (everybody loves stories of teenage sex), and partly because I've been so disgusted by it.

Disgusted by Foley's actions, first and foremost, disgusted by the way others in the House of Representatives have apparently aided and abetted in these crimes by covering them up for (possibly) several years, second of all, and now, finally, disgusted by the way the Republicans have spun the story to 1) make Foley immune from criticism, and 2) turn it around to attack homosexuality.

More detail... 1) Making Foley immune from criticism... This is a two-pronged strategy.

The first part is to make Foley the victim (rather than the teenaged boys he was seducing). First, he officially came out as a gay man. Do you have a problem with his actions? Then you are prejudiced against homosexuals! That'll shut those liberals up.

Then, he came out as an alcoholic seeking treatment (even though none of his associated ever suspected he drank). Still bashing Foley? You're insensitive to the plight of a sick man!

The second prong of the Foley immunization plan is to emphasize how it's all the Democrats fault. They simply want to make an issue of this poor drunk gay man's problems to try to swing the election next month. The timing alone shows that this is nothing but dirty politics.

Nevermind the fact that the same people shielding Foley (including Foley himself) were the same people who spent two years investigating Monica's blue dress and impeaching Clinton for getting a hummer. That was different, the Republicans say. After all, Clinton was a married man, whereas Foley is single!

2) Using gays to attack homosexuality...

The defense of Foley's advances on underage boys as a result of his homosexuality is, in itself, an attack on gays. How? By implying that homosexual men can't help but to be attracted to young boys. Let's get something clear here, "Gay" and "pedophile" are NOT synonyms!

Foley's problems are not the results of his being gay, and they're not the results of his being an alcoholic. They are the result of his being a criminal and a predator. There is no scientific evidence that gays are more prone to be attracted to children than anybody else. Just as the thousands of sexually abused girls doesn't prove that all heterosexuals are attracted to children.

Still, that hasn't stopped Mark Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, from claiming that "homosexual men are more likely to abuse children than straight men." Moreover, Perkins then uses that "fact" to say that if the Republican party "is giving deference and protection and safe haven to those who are on a path of sexual deviancy and abusing children, that's a problem."

Excellent. Perkins defends Foley by saying we should have expected this when we elected a fag in the first place. (And we'll just ignore the fact that this guy's name is the same as a famous gay actor).

Okay now, Foley has resigned. Now let's see if he goes to prison as any child predator should, gay or straight. Then, let's see how far the cover-up goes. Yes, this is serious, and I'm not being partisan when I say it is more serious than Lewinskygate.

Why is it more serious? Two reasons, the first and most important of which is the underaged victim. This wasn't just a personal breach of a marriage's trust with a consenting adult - this was a crime involving a minor. Second, if others were involved in covering for Foley, they are guilty of aiding and abetting in the crime, and should be prosecuted as well.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Updates in the face of cynicism

As cynical as I can sometimes be on this blog about the current state of affairs in our national government, I've sometimes joked about "IF there's a presidential election in 2008..."

Do I believe there won't be an election? Do I really think there will be a coup and the demise of even a pretense to democracy? No, not really. I'm sure that there will be an election in November 2008 to choose our next president. I wouldn't be surprised, however, to find out that the votes have already been tabulated.

So, how do I keep my spirits up in the face of the horrendous things I post about here? How do I not get overly paranoid about the secret police coming to my home to take me away to Gitmo? It's because I'm not alone.

I'm under no illusions to think that I'm important enough or reach enough people to be on the first list of people to be rounded up and disappeared. By the time they come for me there'll be hundred of missing bloggers already.

Meanwhile, I got an interesting phone call today. A reporter in New Jersey (from the Star Ledger) called to interview me about how the presidential campaign of Dave Koch and myself is coming along, and particularly about our use of MySpace. We had a nice conversation for about 15 minutes or so. If you're in the NJ area, look for the paper on Sunday.

Speaking of the campaign... Last month Dave and I came in second in The Next Prez Blog independent candidate poll. If you'd care to help us out in this month's poll, click the button bellow to vote:

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Operant Conditioning & Email Addiction

How often do you check your email? Are you constantly clicking over to see if you have any messages? When you've been away from your desk for a time, then return to it, is email the first thing you click on?

The good news is, you're not alone. The bad news is, you're an addict. Although email doesn't produce any chemicals in your brain or cause any physical change, an article on Mind Hacks says it's addictive nonetheless:
The key is what psychologists call 'operant conditioning'. This means the mechanisms by which behavior is shaped by its consequences; how what we do depends on the rewards and punishments of what we did last time... One surprising finding is that if you want to train an animal to do something, consistently rewarding that behavior isn't the best way. The most effective training regime is one where you give the animal a reward only sometimes, and then only at random intervals. Animals trained like this, with what's called a 'variable interval reinforcement schedule', work harder for their rewards, and take longer to give up once all rewards for the behavior is removed. There's a logic to this... Because 'next time' might always be the occasion that produces the reward, there's never definite evidence that rewards have stopped altogether... Email is addictive because it is a variable-interval reinforcement schedule.
The article goes on to suggest ways of breaking the addiction, but what's the point of that?

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sterilization for a New Century

Larry Shirley, a city council member in Charleston, South Carolina, had an interesting idea to prevent future crimes the other day. In response to an armed robbery allegedly committed by children, he suggested sterilizing the kids' parents:
"We pick up stray animals and spay them. These mothers need to be spayed if they can't take care of theirs. Once they have a child and it's running the street, to let them continue to have children is totally unacceptable."
Of course, Shirley's idea was immediately denounced by his critics as being "crazy." After all, by this time, the horse is out of the barn, if you know what I mean. The damage has been done.

But we're in a new world now. Government no longer needs to worry about things like speedy trials, or giving the accused access to the evidence against them, or using "coercion techniques" to get confessions out of the scum. So, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss Larry Shirley and his forward thinking.

Why just prevent crime when you can prevent the perpetrator? Or has it not yet been proven that you can predict criminal behavior by the actions of an older sibling? Damn liberals, always asking for "facts" and "data" before going on a witch hunt.

Just one question... Is it too late to sterilize George H.W. and Barbara Bush for the crimes that G.W. has committed over the last 5-1/2 years?

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