Sunday, September 14, 2014

Potential "The Onion" Headlines

Potential The Onion headlines:

Local man cares about fortune cookie prediction after leaving restaurant

After release of new U2 album, popular cover band switches to Hanson

To help mitigate team mascot criticism, Redskins cheerleaders to root for Ferguson cops at local rally

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Past v. Future: Which Trumps the Other?

Most religions: The best information is from the past.
Science: The best information is always yet to come.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Outrageous Inequality

In a society controlled by white males, it's difficult to find cases of white male aggression where the level of corresponding white male outrage or condemnation is anywhere near equal to comparable actions committed by others. The magnitude of this disparity is not dampened by the scope of malevolence; from individual attacks to military invasions it remains.

But the same is true for any group in power.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Interrogating For Validation

We have an unfortunate proclivity that goes at least back to Socrates where we attempt to prove a point by interrogating someone who is not in agreement with it. This is not only an invalid way of providing some measure of proof, it's annoying. In order for something being put forward to be authenticated, it must stand on its own; the validity of someone's position or idea is not dependent on anyone else's opinion of it. An interrogation is a fake form of discovery, a fool's gold version of confirmation.

Instead, we should labor to remove humans from the authentication process as much as possible because we can be the worst obstacle to verification by convincing ourselves that our opinion-based approval is required.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The War on Peace

Being constantly engaged in acts of war seems to now be a central tenet of American culture, so much so that when we can't satisfy this appetite for war abroad we declare it at home. These domestic wars include militarized police and attacks on those who cross the border (both civilian and government). But his nasty desire is so pervasive that "war" is declared on a just about anything--or claimed to have been declared by someone else--including women, drugs, voting, education, religion, and science, to name just a few.

Sadly, this cultural bent has many people seeing a desire for peace as unpatriotic.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Deceitful Tax Dodging

Conservatives consistently shout that raising taxes on corporations or wealthy individuals would result in businesses being closed because profits won't be high enough to stick around. Given the sister conservative complaint that taxes are too high already, it should be easy to put together as proof a list of services and products that aren't available now due to a tax issue, but such a list is missing.

The truth is, greed is not hampered by the tax rate. If so, we would be able to declare taxes to be a cure for greed and celebrate the discovery. The real reason behind the complaint about taxes is a desire by the wealthy and powerful to maintain their position and acquire allies among the poor by threatening the stability of their tenable position with an alternative enemy.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Elusive Ultimate Answers Fail to Discourage

In a very real way, science can be thought of as the search for ultimate rules that always accurately specify how things work. The same might also be said for philosophy, religion, astrology, parenting, teaching, and every gambler's "system." We engage in this goal-seeking behavior constantly, but seem to rarely worry about the overwhelming odds of failure that, to date, as always been the result.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fast Food Freeways

After traveling the Interstate highway system after some years kept away from it I think I can now safely confirm it to be a system that primarily connects fast food restaurants. This service must be vital because it is apparently also always under construction.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Syria: It's the Thought That Counts (or Should)

Headline: "The Unbearable Emptiness of a New York Times Op-Ed"
John McCain and Lindsey Graham want Obama to confront ISIS now. They don't specify how.

"You can either demand that Obama not bomb Syria until he's ensured he has a plan likely to win international and congressional support, or you can demand that he bomb as soon as possible. You can't demand both."
Excellent point. There have been extensive valid criticisms when past actions were taken without things like an exit strategy or a definition of success, but when some people want to go to war, nothing as trivial as thinking about these things matters much.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ugly Artifacts?

Every time an anthropologist digs up an ancient pot, figurine, weapon, jewelry, etc. it's almost always called beautiful. Just once I would love to hear a scientist pull something out of the dirt and honestly declare it to be ugly. ;)

Political Fear Factor

A component of politics that no one seems to do without is the creation of an enemy and then assigning it the blame for something. But a main difference between right- and left-wing politics in this regard is who or what is in danger from the type of enemy that gets named. For conservatives, the enemy that gets created can more easily be seen as a presenting a danger to someone personally, whereas for liberals the danger is more likely to be presented as something that can harm society as a whole, or large swaths of it. This often falsely generated personal fear versus general fear is an indicator of a fundamental difference in what motivates people and shows why those taking one stance or the other are overwhelmingly likely to ignore what is presented by others.

Conservative versus liberal religions are like this too, one emphasizing to individuals what bad things will happen to them if they don't behave as demanded--the other not so much.

Headline: "Laura Ingraham Tells Radio Listeners That Obama Considers Them, Not Islamic State, The 'True Enemy'"

Headline: "Africa and U.S.: Invest in human rights"

Friday, August 29, 2014

The End of Rape Strategy Debate

There is a current protest going on that pushes the idea that says "instead of teaching women not to be raped we should teach men not to rape.” This simple idea seems workable, but it's too simplistic—and dangerous—to be useful if taken literally.

There are several similar examples that can help shed light on why this idea is problematic, but perhaps the one that's most timely is the race issue that's come up again in the wake of the Ferguson, MO shooting of a black teenager by a white cop. If the thinking behind the anti-rape strategy was strong, then we should also consider its value in a race-based framework. But it would be difficult to find people who would be in favor of telling people who are victims of violent racism to not pay attention to steps they can take that will mitigate their chances of being victimized. While we need to keep focused on stopping the actions of rapists and racists, the need remains for their potential victims to take defensive steps.

Other examples that help to drive home the point include things that range from terrorist activities to motorcycle riders. Would it be reasonable to teach motorcycle riders to pay less attention to defensive tactics and, instead, teach other drivers on the road to stop running into them? For reasons of simple safety, teaching motorcyclists to take actions that reduce their risk of being hit by a car or truck is simply smart and necessary. It's not fair that motorcyclists are disproportionate victims of the actions of other drivers, but what purpose is served to argue against precautions? Similarly, for people who travel to countries where terrorist beheadings take place, I doubt anyone would advise people to not take precautions against being targeted by terrorists who do this.

We should accept that humans do awful things to one another and efforts to improve our behaviors need long-term and short-term strategies. To try and label one of them as detrimental doesn't seem prudent. It would be similar to not taking steps to mitigate the current condition of those suffering from a debilitating illness until a cure is found.

When it comes to rape, some may argue that it's ridiculous to think that all men can't be educated in a way that none of them will rape someone. Unfortunately, I'm not sure this is ever going to be true. While I don't have proof of this notion, it is a gut feeling that comes from my life as a man. For those who are not men, let me try and explain.

Just as a woman will notice things about other women that men will overlook or miss, it is also true that men notice things about other men that women don't notice. This ability/disability is not only true for genders, but for other groups that include professions (i.e. police, airline pilots, musicians, teachers, truck drivers, clergy, etc.) and cultures (people from Papua New Guinea will not  know why people from New York behave the way they do). Being a [fill in the blank] gives each of us the ability to know things about others who are also [fill in the blank] that others won't know. 

Because of this, and history itself, I think it's reasonable to claim that it is an unfortunate truth that some men have within them the very real potential to commit rape. Men are much more likely to “understand” this truth and notice its potential danger. But because the vast majority of us also tend to be protective of women by default, we find it hard to agree with the argument that reduces the importance for women to reduce their risk. This is why so many fathers are more protective of their daughters than their sons and do cringe when they see women express attitudes that seem to ignore the danger we know exists. 

Yes, it's totally unfair, but until we live in a much different world (which may never happen), the practical steps of reducing the risk of getting raped are just smart.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Language Not Up to the Job

Headline: "Pew Poll: Libertarians Don’t Know What ‘Libertarian’ Means"

Another example of how language, the tool we invented to communicate, is at least as often a tool to mis-communicate. Not sure how to fix or improve it, but we first need to recognize its failed status.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Slavery's Repitition

Instead of seeing it as outright slavery, today's society is accomplishing nearly the same thing with debt. An increasing amount of wealth being concentrated in the hands of a miniscule minority--added to a dismantling of the government services that are supposed to support everyone without direct individual cos--continue to move us in the direction of debt as a basic condition of existence. People who have little (or nothing) are increasingly unable to get any support with no strings. They will only be able to get what they need to survive by going into debt to those at the top who have accumulated the nation's wealth, allowing them to accumulate even more wealth--and power. This concentration of power has gone by many names in humanity's past, but each is a situation where a small minority controls the majority, enslaving one group to another. Unfortunately, this seems to be our default configuration.

Assholes Also Don't Care

There is a commonly shared idea that it is always a good thing to not care what other people think of oneself. But this notion ignores a downside, namely that this attitude is also contained within the creed of an asshole.

Exceptional Search

I wonder what percentage of those who most vehemently declare that rules be applied identically to all search just as powerfully for an exception that applies to them.

Power to Heal is Darren Wilson's to Unleash‏

It may not be obvious, but Darren Wilson has the power to begin a process of healing in Ferguson because he is the metaphorical keystone holding both sides in place. He can bring down the structure on which the conflict is built, but it will take a great deal of courage on his part to do it because it requires a true apology from him. If he comes forward and honestly declares that what he did was a mistake—even if for some reason it was legal—the framework on which the current battle hangs will be gone. 

If, however, he comes forward and declares that he did nothing wrong, it will only serve to strengthen his keystone role supporting what's currently happening. Even worse, if he ends up being charged and found innocent, I predict the riots of the '60s will be seen as quaint. If it is declared at some point that he won't be charged at all, the result won't be much different, I'm afraid. Along with an honest apology, he needs to accept a plea of some sort that delivers some kind of punishment to send a message that his actions aren't being seen as unconditionally valid. 

Darren Wilson has in his hands the power to begin a process of recovery or remain the keystone that supports an ongoing battle that will continue to rage. Fair or not, the future is now in his control.

Dangerously Sized "People"

Headline: Fox News guest: Was Michael Brown too large to be an ‘unarmed teen’?

Corporations are people, large people are weapons, so large corporations must be weapons too. I guess they can also be killed just for being big.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Evil Comparison

Potential college debate topic: Compare the suffering inflicted by U.S. slavery and Nazi Germany, including the period following the U.S. Civil War and World War II.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Devotion to People More Powerful Than Ideas

Article: "Republicans Are Devoted to Protecting the Reagan Myth, No Matter What"

The above article by Paul Krugman ends with the idea that many people use "faith" when they make claims about Ronald Reagan, implying that there is a religious-style attitude in play. I do think that is the case with a whole host of those who have been at the head of political organizations ranging from countries to small activist groups. For some reason many of us need ideas to be attached to a person, and that person then becomes a point of protection for those "living in the faith." There is a difference in the way we perceive an idea when we contemplate it in an abstract sense versus the same idea when it can be attached to a person, and seem to prefer the later.

It would be hard to catalog every religion ever created by humanity, but it's a pretty good bet that the vast majority of them contain people at their center. The most obvious include Buddha, Mohammad, Jesus, Joseph Smith, Lao Tzu, to name just a few. (Even ancient multi-god belief systems and animism personify their spirits and deities.) Defense of these individuals is at the top of the to-do list for dogmatic followers because, as the assigned source of what they espouse, faith in them must be maintained at all costs or the whole faith system falls apart.

This is an unfortunate aspect of our existence. Hopefully, some day, we can see the evaluation of ideas and events themselves as an ideal rather than protecting the persona of someone who's been attached to them.