Monday, December 21, 2015

Defending Steve Harvey's Miss Universe Blunder

Believe it or not, I'm going to come to the defense of Steve Harvey, and it's based on the format of the card he was given from which to read the names.

One of the things that is known (but often forgotten) in marketing when it comes to image ads is that a certain amount of consistency matters. It is a misnomer that the biggest, brightest, boldest thing in an image will draw the eye. We tend to keep focused on the things that are close to the first thing that draws our attention and subconsciously see things that are too different as distractions to be avoided.

As examples, two outfits who know this and make a fortune from this knowledge are Google and Facebook. Their ads look pretty much just like everything else on the page and they make incredible amount of money from people who click on their ads. If flashy images that look different from everything else worked, they would be doing that. But they don't because what they do works.

This is an issue in play with display ads in general, including billboards, newspapers, and other online display ads. If the ads themselves are too variable in colors, images, and font sizes--or too close in proximity to other ads that are too different from it--then the ads become less effective. Whatever catches the eye first tends to be the template on which we continue to pay attention. There are always exceptions, but in general this is what we do.

Now, looking at the card with the winners' names, the first two runners up were the first things on the top of the card with the winner being noted in much larger type and on the other side of the card. Given the enormous number of other distractions going on, plus the term "1st" being used for the first runner up, it's not surprising that Steve Harvey thought that name was the last name to worry about and was the winner. His eye was not drawn to the larger type, a feature that backfired.

If he was more aware of the general format of the event (maybe even had some sort of dress rehearsal for it), it would not have been an issue.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Coming Out Confirms & Counters Perceptions

There is always a wing of any advocacy movement for marginalized groups pushing the idea that members of the group should "come out" publicly, even if doing so could be detrimental to them, their jobs, or their relationships. It is argued that although it would be tough at first, if enough people quit hiding the eventual benefits will be worth the initial pain. It is argued that exposure diminishes discrimination because the falsehoods on which prejudices are based begin to be erased with more individuals countering the inaccurate impressions people hold.

When thinking about this, I can't help but also think of what's happening to people who support Donald Trump and other Republican presidential contenders. The racist and paranoid people who support him are now publicly out like never before, having found support for a coming out of their own. There is an identical downside for some members of this group too, but they are not countering misperceptions of their positions, they are confirming them.

A "coming out" strategy seems able to produce the opposite results of correcting or confirming perceptions. Not sure what to make of it.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Giving Attention To The Get-Better-Anyway Effect

Story: Placebo effects are weak: regression to the mean is the main reason ineffective treatments appear to work

In other words, this story talks about what they call the get-better-anyway effect, the tendency for all of us to recover from illness without any direct I intervention. It's something doctors know and are trained to incorporate into their treatment choices ("take two aspirin and call me in the morning"), yet not nearly as many patients know about it.

While reading this, however, I couldn't help but think of another placebo-based finding from another study that claims placebos work even when the patient knows they are getting one. What I think is likely the case in this study is also largely the get-better-anyway effect.
Along with the illusion of homeopathy being effective, I think this also points to a problem with "effective" drugs being approved that only show minimal positive results in trials.

We nee to give much more weight to this effect in order to not fool ourselves while wasting money and resources chasing illusions.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Needed: An Inoculator For What Trump Represents

Story: The Trump Effect, and How It Spreads

I hope that we have smart and educated people paying very close attention to what's happening in this latest convergence of humanity's worst ideas and behavior so that we can come up with viable corrective and inoculative strategies for the future. Maybe the phrases "Never Again" and "Never Forget" can also be re-purposed to remind us what awful people we can become when the next Trump comes along to hoax terrible human traits into virtues.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Vote For Benefits

If we want to require people on public assistance to do something for their benefits, it shouldn't be a drug test, it should be a requirement to vote.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On Refugees: Being The Worst We Can Be

This entire sentiment about barring Syrian refugees is disgusting.

It is no secret that the circumstances that resulted in the formation of ISIS are largely due to the policies and actions of the U.S. and other Western nations. The Syrian civil war is just one awful result. For people to freak out over promising to accept a mere 10,000 people fleeing that war over the next year is perverse. We already accept over 1 million immigrants per year. Ten thousand more is nothing. If we really wanted to do the right thing, we'd be taking a lot more and apologizing to the world for having be such a major cause of what's going on.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Violent Justification

If there is a philosophy of humanity it would certainly include the sentiment that there is no justification for violence unless you are the one perpetrating it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Death And Democracy

Story: 400,000 People Could Lose Their Health Care Because No One Turned Out To Vote Yesterday

We actually invade other countries, kill people and destroy countless lives on the claimed premise that it's worth it to impose democracy, yet we fail to take part in our own, voluntarily letting it die. This bizarre reality always makes me cringe.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Presidental Test We The People Deserve (But Won't Get)

With the attention being paid to Republican claims the CNBC debate was too tough for them to handle, I have developed a short list of questions anyone who wants to occupy the White House should be able to easily answer during a future debate. I hope a future moderator will offer these, but I doubt it as the answers would be more telling about each person's qualifications than anything else being asked.

1. Name as many federal agencies as possible represented in the president's cabinet.
2. Summarize the 12th Amendment (or any other generally unknown amendment) to the U.S. Constitution.
3. What is contained within Article VI of the U.S. Constitution?
4. Name as many differences as you can between a president and a prime minister.
5. Name countries with nuclear weapons.
6. How many countries does the U.S. maintain a military presence?
7. There are how many federal district courts; explain how they are connected to individual Supreme Court justices.
8. Explain the importance of the Gideon v. Wainwright Supreme Court decision.
9. What was the structure of the U.S. Government under the Articles of Confederation?
10. Talk about the president's foreign policy powers as outlined in the Constitution.

The questions could be a little different and could be expanded, but a civics-based test is something the public should demand. I doubt it will happen, but We The People deserve it.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Fear of Seven-Headed Dragons

Story: Ben Carson's Church Believes the U.S. Government Will Team Up With the Antichrist

This entire topic always makes me want to put humanity in therapy.

The beginning of Revelation, the book where all of this comes from, tells the reader that everything in there is to happen "soon" and "the time is near." I think time ran out not long after the ink dried on the papyrus. At most, the lifetimes of the people who were live at the time would be the end of "soon" and "near."

To still be talking about this as valid literally makes me look at people like they are dragons with seven heads.

Dictatorship Template New GOP Playbook

Story: 'Daily Show' denied credentials to Iowa GOP event

This, along with the cancelling of an NBC event, shows the GOP continues to move away from the very idea of a democracy of We The People. Instead, they are becoming a paranoid and closed group motivated by fear of anything or anyone challenging their claims. This is the model of a dictatorship.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Soup Kitchen Defense For Bad Behavior

Since the proliferation of online videos making the worst of police brutality available for all to see, defenders of police like to tout the "good cops" in an effort to rehabilitate the image of police. One recent example is the participation of a police officer in a street dance-off in Washington, DC. There are other stories out there attempting to instill this image that bad cops are mitigated by others.

But when I come across these stories I can't help but put them in the same category as the impression created by a soup kitchen run by Al Capone. This help for Chicago's unemployed during the Great Depression gave many people a reason to ignore the gangster's violent criminal empire. In Japan, something similar occurred when Yakuza, known as the Japanese Mafia, was joined by other criminal outfits in offering earthquake assistance.

In these and other cases the awful behavior should not be seen as being mitigated by separate good behavior. We should not be picturing a scenario where the good things done by a group allows for any amount of bad behavior in what I'll call the soup kitchen defense. Being a decent person on occasion should never be seen as a justification for otherwise being awful, especially when it comes to those who have the power to take away your freedoms or your life.

(Update: Here is an example exactly on point from Orlando following the massacre there in June 2016: "Chick-fil-A employees were at work in Orlando Sunday." A notorious anti-gay corporation can't undo the damage it's done by giving away food for a few hours.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Conservative Christians Deny The God They Claim To Trust

Story: When police embrace 'In God We Trust': Column

When I see these ludicrous claims that using these kinds of phrases aren't religious, I can't help but wonder if they consider verses like Matthew 10:33: "But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven." It seems pretty clear to be a denial if they claim this phrase is secular and isn't about their god.

As most who know me are aware, I'm not religious, but I would have way more respect for those who are if they weren't so openly hypocritical so often. I try, but it's so hard to see people in a positive light when these kinds of things happen.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fail: Letting The Past Trump The Present

Story: Ben Carson: Pledge of Allegiance and other ‘founding documents’ prove America is a Christian nation

One of the many things I don't understand about how the bulk of humanity thinks is the idea that the past trumps the present--and the future. Like no other time in history, we are privy to better information every single day. What we know tomorrow will be better than what we know today, something that will be true everyday. Yet, so many of us still tell ourselves that the past is better.

Leaving alone the claim that the Christian religion (or any religion) was anything close to a key factor in the "founding documents," (having religion as part of government was actually something feared--Article VI, First Amendment), all laws we write for ourselves are always going to become outdated because we are not anywhere near smart enough to predict the future conditions under which we live, including the ever-increasing quality of the information at our disposal.

If we want to be a nation of something valuable and laudable, it should be the ability to modify the rules we set for ourselves based on the latest and greatest information we have. We should not want to live in a world where past decisions and actions are seen as applicable in the present without consideration of what's changed. That's just nuts.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

When Being Unqualified Is A Job Requirement

I swear that when I see Tea Party types talk about how governments and societies should operate I can't help but think it's on par with what it would be like to listen to people who failed algebra give their opinions on running the Large Hadron Collider or the space station.

We have too many people who actually think people who are unskilled and uneducated in government are valid job applications. And what's worse, when those hired prove they don't know what they're doing once in the job, more people just like them are brought in. It's hard to think of a scenario where a type of group insanity would be more obvious when being unqualified is a job requirement.

If there was a wish to be granted for humanity's future, it should be to recognize our failures and do everything to fix them instead of seeing mistakes as virtues to be repeated while accepting new information as more valuable than the old information it corrects and improves upon.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Acknowledgment of No Knowledge Surprise

It's been said in various ways that the more someone learns the more they realize how little they know. While I've been doing what I can to keep learning as time goes by, I didn't think I would get to the place where I acknowledge I know nothing so soon and with so little warning after experiencing patches of the illusion of  knowledge.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Superpower Privilege Is A Thing Too

I accidentally caught a few minutes of a conservative round table on TV for recently where they were talking about the Middle East. The overall tone of it was very similar to the discussions we now hear about race- and sex-based privilege. After hearing a bit of this discussion, it seems to me that nation-based privilege is a thing too.

The comments in this program were all about the U.S. telling the Middle East (and the rest of the world) what they are doing wrong, and how if they would just listen to the privileged North American superpower they would solve their problems. This is the same attitude we get from conservative white males when talking about racism, bigotry, and sexism. It's where the terms mansplain and whitesplain come from. Maybe we should begin to add Samsplain, as in Uncle Sam, to give it a name.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Gun Advocates Think We Live In A Video Game

Story: Less than 90 minutes after Oregon shooting, CNN analyst suggests school’s ‘gun free zone’ to blame

The mind that comes up with this kind of thing must think we all live in a video game where everyone is always carrying around a loaded weapon, pointed and ready to shoot someone and then one person would only take one perfect shot at "the bad guy."

What an asshole.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

No, You Didn't Die For Your Country

Story: Tributes to war's fallen spreading

In the above story there is a common phrase that hardly ever gets challenged: "...gave their lives for their country..." Whenever this phrase is used it automatically shuts down any potential challenge to the claim because there is, for some reason, a built-in fear of doing so. That needs to change.

War is not something that is always done in defense of a country (or in defense of anything, for that matter). Even the name, Department of Defense, is inaccurate.War is more often an act of aggression, undertaken for the purpose of strengthening the power and increasing the wealth of those with the most power and wealth.

The way that people who are society's most vulnerable are convinced to fight in wars that bring them no benefit is to give them a false sense of danger. If people with no power can be convinced that another group is going to take away what little they have, they will be willing to fight. Add in a strong dose of simple-minded patriotism, and few will ever look past it to what's really going on.

The U.S. imperial war machine has been in operation since at least WWI, with the actual point in time being debatable. But since the invasion of Iraq, there is no question that our military is not an entity in place to protect the country. It's a monster that is unleashed to destroy and steal for the benefit of those who already have the most.

But we will never acknowledge this reality when people who fight these wars are seen by the general population as have done something noble. It's a terrible skewing of reality that is as ridiculous as it is evil. Tributes to those who have been duped into taking part is a part of the problem. Honoring them can't include the lie that they died for something they didn't die for.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

We Keep Acting Like We Hate Humanity

Two stories I ran across at about the same time:

Poor People Don't Have Less Self-Control. Poverty Forces Them to Think Short-Term.
"...poverty can force people to live in a permanent now. Worrying about tomorrow can be a luxury if you don’t know how you’ll survive today."
Education Gap Between Rich and Poor Is Growing Wider
"...the achievement gaps between more affluent and less privileged children is wider than ever..."

I couldn't help but see a future where we have at least two distinct groups, one with all the power and money and the other begging just to make it through another day. It is similar to what we supposedly left behind when we began moving away from feudal social systems. But, for some reason, our species seems to migrate back to this horrible model history has proven to create an awful existence for the vast majority of us.

If an alien race were to visit the planet, they could correctly conclude that we hate ourselves.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trickle-Down Heaven Should Be Happening Now

With the presidential debates now underway, we again hear in near unison the conservative talking point about how tax cuts for the rich will create jobs for the poor. This "trickle-down" idea has been at the core of just about every Republican's rhetoric when it comes to the economy and job creation. Leaving aside studies and expert opinions directly debunking this notion, have are living the middle of all the proof we need: rising income inequality.

There is no doubt that the gap between rich and poor is large and getting bigger. But if the trickle-down idea was valid, everyone at the bottom would be benefiting from the wealth increases being experienced by those already at the top of the economic heap; we would be living in trickle-down heaven. Instead, those at the top are hoarding it in amounts so great that they are eligible for their own Hoarders reality TV show. To allow them to accumulate even more money through tax cuts will only result in more of the same hoarding behavior.

Yet, despite existing within the proof of this false notion, people still push it as valid. Our fate need not be as sad as this direction is taking us.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Our Fundamental Worship And Praise Problem

This evening I watched on the National Geographic Channel "Inside North Korea," an hour-long special from 2009 with Lisa Ling. She accompanies a medical team visiting the country to do cataract surgeries and train North Korean doctors. Most of it was what one might expect from a documentary about North Korea, but the end of the program was a big shock for me as it showed how those who regained their eyesight due to the medical procedure emotionally thanked their country's former dictator for healing them, not the medical team.

The way the people reacted was exactly like fundamentalist religious people act when they give credit to their god for doing something done by doctors (or anyone, really). If you watch the episode beginning just after the 41 minute mark, you'll see what I mean.

I can't help but think we humans have a fundamental flaw that allows so many of us to worship in this manner. So many of us are willing to misdirect our praise, and we do this for real people as well as fictional ones--it doesn't seem to matter. Once that part of this unfortunate aspect of some of us is tapped, it is apparently open to be directed without integrity.

I can only hope that at some point our descendants will outgrow this serious problem.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Self-Defense, Fetal Personhood, Stand Your Ground All Support Abortion Rights

With misleadingly edited Planned Parenthood videos putting abortion in the news, I think it's important to again bring up a missing justification for abortion that hardly ever gets the attention it deserves: self-defense.

A pregnancy certainly is an assault on a pregnant woman's body. She, therefore, should be legally allowed to take measures to end the attack, including abortion. The legal recognition of self-defense as a valid action goes back millennia.

But adding to a valid self-defense claim are two tactics pushed by anti-abortion forces that actually increase the legality of abortion. The first is what's known as the fetal personhood idea. If, as supporters of this idea desire, a fetus is declared to be a person like any other, the claim of self-defense against that "person" becomes just like any other claim against any other person. There is no exception to the legal concept of self-defense when one person is being attacked by another. This is constitutionally supported  under the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection clause.

The second tactic comes form those who support "stand your ground" laws, the legal idea that "individuals can use force to defend themselves without first attempting to retreat from the danger." These laws exist in some jurisdictions now and are being pushed by conservatives to be enacted elsewhere.

People who to try to outlaw abortions don't realize it, but these combined legal points actually increase the legal justification for abortion at any time.

So, if a fetus is not legally seen as a person, there is no basis in the law on which to outlaw abortions because the pregnant woman is not harming anyone. On the other hand, if the fetus is declared to be a person, a pregnant woman actually has the addition legal support of the universal tenet of self-defense that clearly allows an abortion to be performed if so desired, and in areas where "stand your ground laws" exist, her legal justification is even more solid.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Little Evidence That Humanity Doesn't Hate Itself

I can find no evidence against the notion that our society is purposely configured by us to be our own enemy at just about every turn. This is not a new notion, of course. It was the point of a famous Pogo comic from 1971 with the line, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

But even though we all likely admit this failure when pointed out, we do nothing to correct it. And this adversarial relationship we've continually setup between ourselves and the processes we create to serve us is everywhere. A partial list includes health care, education, the act of voting, banking, environmental issues, commerce, Social Security and other post-retirement issues, law enforcement, the prison industrial complex, the plethora of agencies and individuals who spy on literally everyone, and more.

Our overall cultural practices also include this problem with examples including racism, misogyny, bigotry, poverty, and lack of support for varied family structures. It's so bad that even when an individual tries to help another individual directly outside of these awful conditions, there are people and systems in place to put up a fight. Perhaps the most obvious are feeding the homeless without a permit (which can't be obtained in many cities) and giving money directly to someone who needs help without some sort of potential penalty.

We could very easily be accurately tagged as a species that is suffering from some sort of mass mental illness. What else could it be when we are responsible for our own condition and we continue to purposely make ourselves miserable?

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Human Recipe Is Magic-Free

Story: Antidepressants affect people’s moral behaviour, study finds

This is yet another study showing the physical nature of what we traditionally attribute to non-physical forces. I always wonder why we find it surprising that we are what we are without trying to add something extra to the mix. We would have solved so many more problems by now if we stop being distracted by the mirage of a non-physical reality.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Unsuccessful The Norm For POTUS Seekers

Perhaps the most common trait among those seeking the job of U.S. president is being terrible at what they currently do. The fact that so many of us take so many of them seriously is not helping improve the situation. When the job of POTUS isn't attracting our most successful, and the public isn't demanding better, it's hard to image our path into the future being something other than hideous.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Dectrators Of Advancement

Story: For Same-Sex Marriage Opponents, The Fight Is Far From Over

This is the same unfortunate strategy that has been employed after a political loss in other cases that include abortion rights and Jim Crow. Instead of embracing positive change that brings a better life for more people, opponents of such advancements instead somehow motivate themselves to keep awful policies and prejudices alive. Such people make it difficult to be proud of humanity when we take steps forward, a state of mind that shouldn't have detractors.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

An Assertion Is Not Its Own Proof

A few tidbits I've been mulling over lately...

It seems that we are willing to accept ideologies based on hypotheses rather than what's demonstrable. This is part of an overall point of view that allows assertions to prove themselves through "common sense" or a distorted set of personal experiences warped by time and biases. We are falsely conflating an assertion with its potential proof.

There are people who are okay with the assertions made by a person as proof of that assertion. It's the appeal to authority argument that logicians deny as being valid. But for those who use it, they also tend to attack the person who brings up something that challenges that original person's assertion. With the frame of mind that what comes out of a person's pen or mouth is proof enough of what's being declared, then the challenger is the point of attack, not the actual ideas. If we could only make ourselves pay attention to ideas rather than the people who share them, we would so much better off and nothing would be personal. This would put humanity's advancement in overdrive.

We seem to find all kinds of ways to avoid taking responsibility for ourselves. They include the "free market" (the Invisible Hand), the Garden of Eden (no knowledge), shootings (we have to have guns, so killings are something we have to accept), "blind" justice, we must obey the Constitution (or any set of rules someone wrote down once), tradition ("we've always done it this way), it's God's will.

One of the things that keeps popping up in my head is the similarity between the privateers of the pirate era and today's one-percenters. Both use the authority of the government to take whatever they can from anyone they can.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Being An Ass For Jesus

I have joined others who have often said that one of the reasons atheists have such a hard time with a lot of conservative Christians is their personal behavior. There are the broad examples of misogyny, anti-LGBT hatred, racial discrimination, a push for theocracy, and more. But there are also cases of individual experiences that reinforce the view that those who tout Christianity the loudest are often the worst kinds of people.

The hotel where I'm staying this week provides one of these examples. The wifi password is J4life, which I assume is a reference to Jesus, but the woman who runs this independent hotel tried to charge me $15 more than I was quoted when I made the reservation. I didn't see the rate change until after she charged my card at check in, so she was pissed she had to reverse that transaction and do a new one, giving me the worst fake "I don't know what happened" face. But she also then moved me to a worse room (near road noise) and took away my complimentary continental breakfast coupon.

Being a Christian should not go along so easily with being an ass if they want any decent level of respect.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Conservatives Still Fear "Agitators" of Positive Change

Story: Ted Cruz blames Obama — saying the first black president has ‘inflamed racial tensions’

I don't think many people realize it, but this kind of rhetoric is just a reworded sentiment from the people fighting the abolition of Jim Crow laws when they cried about "outside agitators." This kind of language is based on the awful idea that people who are oppressed should just accept it and stop complaining, and others looking to help should also quit attacking the status quo. Change, even if it results in an improvement, is to be shunned for people who assert these positions.

I find it deeply saddening that we still have to put up with such nonsense.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Dimming of America

Story: US cited for police violence, racism in scathing UN review on human rights

It is not likely that major U.S. news outlets will pick this up, but this continuing deterioration of the country's behavior toward its own people and its standing in the world are things that aren't going away.

In addition to what's in this new report, the country's press freedom ranking continues to drop, now ranked 49th out of 180 countries (; many countries outrank us when it comes to education (; income inequality is atrocious (; and our health care system is ranked as the worst in the developed world (

With all these issues (and many more), we actually have large numbers of people who see as more important things like yet another war, nutty conspiracy theories like a federal invasion of Texas, denying climate change (and science in general), and putting more outdated religious ideas on the law books.

Our future doesn't look particularly bright.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Confusing Founders With Fortune Tellers

I've written in the past about a dangerous phenomenon I called founderism where we give past declarations power over us now. The most prominent examples are collections of laws and religious texts.

I recently saw a reference to something similar called "Founder's syndrome," a "difficulty faced by many organizations where one or more founders maintain disproportionate power and influence following the effective initial establishment of the project, leading to a wide range of problems for both the organization and those involved in it."

This situation is one that exists while a founder is still alive and in power, but the phenomenon I have previously mentioned is similar with the difference being proxies that take over for the founder(s) to cause the same problems. We can see this problem playing out every day with the people who see things like the U.S. Constitution and the Bible as somehow perfect, attempting to enforce it as they declare "the founders" would want.

We need to get rid of this idea that something that is declared or created at any point in time is somehow untouchable. Not only should everything be open to change, it should be a requirement. Nothing any human declares can include an accurate prediction of the future. It's just not possible. Thinking it is possible is the worst kind of thinking and does us a tremendous amount of harm.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Destroying Democracy With the Power of Concentration

Story: Republicans push for a permanent aristocracy

A large estate tax should be part of a larger overall philosophy that concerns itself with the concentration of wealth. Too much wealth in the hands of too few people destroys democracy and makes any political-economic system underneath irrelevant.

For those in favor of something resembling a pure capitalist world, that can't even be considered without a way to keep in play a very large number of very small players so that none of them has too much power and influence. This is the idea behind anti-trust laws, but they are continuing to be whittled away to nothingness, an ongoing effort with the same wealth-concentrating goal as estate tax elimination.

There is no way a democracy can survive as one unless a huge and continuous effort is maintained that stops the concentration of power. It can be successfully argued that this philosophy is the core idea behind the country's constitution with the "separation of powers" tenet being its main principle. Throwing away a respect for this key component of democracy is dooming We the People.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Democracy's Dead Canary

To me a valid democracy's canary in a coal mine would bee everyone showing an incredible amount of respect to the people elected to office because they are the ones chosen by the people themselves to take care of things. This deference would include the wealthiest and most popular among us. This would be a sign that the canary is still alive, democracy is working, and We The People are being respected as democracy intends.

But it's obvious that's not anywhere near our sad reality where the most wealthy and powerful are figuratively spitting in the face of We The People and choosing the ones who are in office to take care of them only. The very idea of democracy seems to have been abandoned for a system that keeps the name for appearances sake but does not even remotely resemble the idea.

The canary is dead. R.I.P.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Fear of Abstinence

Story: Two Georgia Prison Guards Resign After Photo of Beaten Inmate Leaks

The point in the headline of this story is not the issue I'm writing about. I'm writing about the reason the inmate was beaten: refusing to join a prison gang.

When reading this story I was reminded that this kind of reaction may be related to the way atheists are seen and treated by theists. The person who refuses to join a religion is also seen as a threat and open to attack, even when the real threat exists between religions (or gangs) and is openly acknowledged by adherents. Refusing to participate is, for some reason, unacceptable as an option.

This idea is also the central theme of the current popular book and movie Divergent, with characters in this story who do not join a "faction" being the lowest members of society and openly declared to be dangerous. This general motivation is also something I remember from post-Civil War America where African-Americans who wanted to be self-sufficient on their own land and not take part in the economics of the country in general were attacked and eventually either driven off their land or killed.

I think this trait also plays a role to varying degrees in other things that include sexual identity and practices, not having children or getting married, ethnicities, food choices, political parties, sports, and more.

It seems to be the case for a large majority of humanity that not participating in a recognized grouping system makes many of so uncomfortable that we can resort to violence over it. There are certainly circumstances where we need to come together in groups in order to function efficiently, but, like a lot of things we do, we take it too far. This trait is certainly one of the many things holding humanity back.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Capturing The Moment With Words

Writing should be seen the same way we see a photograph--a record of a moment of movement. Instead, we tend to give the written word an undue amount of authority when it is really only a single frame of the fluidity of existence, just like a picture. Each freezes a moment of time, one of light, the other of thought. Each can record those precious moments, but neither should be seen as an authority or source of truth when the future presents a question. These slivers of our past are markers of where we've been, but should not be taken as things that determine our future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Robertson Rape-Murder Fantasy Actually Justifies Christian Atrocities

Story: 'Duck Dynasty' Star Imagines Vivid Rape And Murder Scenario For Atheist Family

This incident is getting quite a bit of play from various media sites. The head of the Robertson clan of religious zealots is trying to make the case that atheists have no morals and would therefore have no alternative but to accept a family's brutal rape and murder. Not only is the assertion that atheists have no morals an outrageous falsehood, this scenario is actually one that fits better within a Christian framework.

The entire Christian religion is based on the idea that nothing anyone does matters because every believer eventually gets a pass and goes to heaven anyway. With this in mind, a more appropriately aligned scenario would have the Robertson clan raping and murder a family of their choosing each Saturday night and then get absolution from their god every Sunday. Then, when the Robertson clan and their victims all end up in heaven together, there would be no hard feelings and everyone exists side-by-side forever in paradise.

The moral of this story is that Christianity allows for anyone to do anything without suffering any consequences in the end. In addition, victims get to live forever knowing that their murderers and torturers get no different treatment than those who lived without murdering and torturing people.

It's no wonder people with the sickest fantasies and tendencies flock toward this religion.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Fake Gun Shop Bad, Fake Abortion Clinics Good

Story: NRA Affiliate Is So Scared Of This Gun Safety Video That It Wants A Criminal Investigation

This story is about a fake gun shop that captures the reactions of people who are told the real statistics about gun violence. The NRA members and conservatives in general are upset, but it is not too far from the tactic used by fake abortion clinics, something they strongly support.

Oh, we hypocritical humans. We can't go a day without showing that side of ourselves. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Discriminating Self

I like the sentiment in this image, but it won't be realized anytime soon because almost all of us conflate beliefs and ourselves even if it's not on purpose or realized.

As I've written before, our literal self-identity does include held beliefs, especially the strongly held ones. It is why so many people become defensive when their beliefs are challenged. To attack someone's beliefs is to attack them personally and the same self-defense mechanism kicks in that is used when physically attacked or threatened.

So this idea is ideal, but until we recognize the error we commit with making beliefs a part of our self-structure, it's not something that will happen, unfortunately.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Godly Sticks and Stones Exception

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.*

*Gods not included.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Laughing Revelations

This is not always true, but it seems to me that it is more often than not the case that when a progressive person laughs at something it reveals something about the level of their intellect, whereas when a conservative laughs it reveals something about their level of ignorance.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Igoring First Time Failures

It is a fairly common refrain in many circumstances that problems can best be resolved by returning to some point in the past. Phrases like "return to fundamentals," nostalgia for "old time religion," along with similar sentiments that want to return to some sort of beginning moment are so prevalent that they hardly ever get challenged when put forward.

This needs to change.

I would assert that the first go at anything is almost always a failure. Examples include the formation of the United States. The first document, the Articles of Confederation, was a colossal wreck and had to be replaced rather quickly. The U.S. Constitution has been updated so many times (and ignored and reinterpreted many more times) that it would be rather useless today if put forward in its original form.

Religions, too, are also constantly updated. Christianity and Islam are clear examples of this, both being modifications of Hebrew religious traditions, which also changed over time quite a bit because of their unworkability (among other reasons). Mormonism fits in this category as well, with major changes having been adopted since its inception because its original doctrines became unreasonable.

Other examples of the failure of first attempts include just about any scientific hypothesis, use of new building materials, the first airplanes, creation of musical instruments, learning to draw (or create any kind of art), how to farm, sex, and more. There is probably no case of anything in the history of humanity that can be declared to be better when it was first introduced or created, either as a species or individually. We improve things with time, not the other way around. Our experiences guide us to make improvements. It's what humans do, and a lot of the time we do it pretty well. We only harm ourselves with attempts to return to some fictional past moment because something is wrongly seen as having been degraded.

The past if full of failures, as is our future. But our future is also where corrections are made and improvements implemented, so it only makes sense to put our focus there, not the past.

Fake Associations Basis For Military, College Athletics

It seems to me that a country's military outfits are about as connected to their countries as college sports teams are connected to their schools. Both are in name only with their existence being for independent purposes.

Political Cult Pacifism

I'm not the only one who thinks that there are more than a few similarities between religious cults and Fox News. Find any list of criteria for religious cults and the Fox News organization and its viewers fit nicely.

The creation of this cult is no small matter and, like other cults, should be exposed by those who care. The best case scenario would be for mainstream media outlets to take up the task to expose what's going on, but they don't seem to have the ability or the will to do so.

If anyone wants a sign of horrible things to come, this is one of them. I can't think of a scenario where the rise of a fanatical cult was later seen as a positive thing for humanity.

Planetary Exchange Rate

Getting people to convert parts of the planet into money for others to wield as a weapon over them is the creed of the capitalist. Those who find this a compelling point of view hold a baffling position that defies what it means to be human.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Corporate Feudalism

Story: The rise of the non-compete agreement, from tech workers to sandwich makers

This is a scary and dangerous trend for a society that wants to remain focused on the people who live within it. It is a move by people who own and run corporations to control the company's employees in a way that pushes us back in the direction of slavery. That may seem like an extreme statement, but when an owner of something looks to restrict general freedoms of people providing its labor, what else should that be called?

As I've written before, a corporation is a virtual entity we, as humans, created. Therefore, it should be something that serves us--all of us--not the other way around. We are the masters and it should be the slave. By allowing the small handful of people who own and control corporate entities to become the master everyone else inflicting an increasing number of restrictions on their lives, then it's more closely related to feudalism and slavery than is likely to be admitted.

Hopefully our descendants will evolve to work against our constant movement for control of the majority by a tiny minority. Until then, we'll have to suffer the repetition of this continuing societal structure with the main adaptations being mainly a series of different names for it.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Indistinguishable Dementia

It seems to me that people diagnosed with dementia who speak on the subjects of politics and religion are only moderately distinguishable from undiagnosed extremists on the political and religious right. While it is certainly possible that people suffering from dementia rant about equal rights, consumer protections, peace before war, treating the poor with dignity, and support for science, but I think it's much more likely that you'll find the opposite. I know of no study to show if this is true or not, but it would be telling to find out.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Testify No More

I usually carry a small notebook where I write down stray thoughts hoping to do something with them later. Looking over a few notes from the past week or so, among the things I've jotted down are "we rarely go to the source, opting for someone else's opinion/summary" and "we tend to like 'witnesses' as proof for things as varied as religions, weight loss products, stop smoking programs, crimes, and more."

Even though I saved these thoughts days apart, I think there is a common idea, one that has to do with the tendency to accept what we're told if the person telling it to us is, for some reason, acceptable as a source. That acceptability can be simply that we like the person, that we have liked past declarations by this person (relevant or not), we don't wish to question authority, we see no reason to challenge what's being said, and a whole host of other reasons that include nothing independently viable. We tend to need a human voice to offer viability, and, unfortunately, often that's all we need or want. This is one of our greatest weaknesses because it falsely gives power where it doesn't belong (testimony), and, because it's human-based, it's open to honest mistakes and purposeful manipulation.

Instead, what I would hope we come to realize as a species is that we remember to discount what people say until or unless it is verified, and not just when it's a single human witnesses or storyteller. A bunch of people repeating the same thing does not give it any more weight than exists for a single person giving testimony. It's a shame that we can't trust ourselves, but given the proven tendency for lying, the inherent problems that exist when trying to communicate anything, and the inability to tell the truth even when we try because our memories aren't perfect, we need verification that eliminates as much of the human element as possible.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Fear Of People Power

Story: How billionaires destroy democracy

This is just one recent story of many that are consistently being written having to do with the problems that come with high concentrations of wealth under the control of a few people. We keep seeing the evidence that this is a bad idea but fail to really do anything about it. Why is something that is so obviously detrimental left unchanged?

Buried among the reasons we humans tend to not act in our best interest in this regard is something that I don't think gets discussed much. It is the tendency--maybe even a unacknowledged desire--to be ruled by a small group of elites. I think the main reason this may be true is because it allows us to point to someone or some group specifically when we want to know who's in charge. Even if we don't like something that's going on, there is a level of comfort knowing that there is a tangible something out there running the show. If power and wealth are too heavily diffused, then that ability is nonexistent and, to most, unsettling. It's more comforting to have something concrete (or close to it) that can be assigned responsibility.

(This is also likely the reason gods were invented, and the reason for the eventual move from a pantheon of gods to monotheism.)

This same principle is likely in play when it comes to monarchies, and all feudal systems. These systems are set up to funnel wealth and power to an elite few, yet they have their supporters among those under their control. If there is a problem that arises, the solution is hardly ever to give "power to the people," but to replace the current ruling class with another one operating with the same authority. They system isn't flawed, they will say, only the people in charge are flawed.

One of the ironic things about this condition is the usual support for democracy and capitalism that is repeated by supporters of inequality. The cognitive dissonance is astounding. When it comes to capitalism, for example, the "magic hand" so many tout as the key to it working includes the requirement that there be a large number of very small players so that none of them has the power of influence on their own. When it comes to democracy, it can only be operational if "we the people" can actually participate in it. Again, a large number of very small players is key. But we have those with the most wealth and power convincing us otherwise.

And here's the main matter what name we give a social system and what components we pretend to put in place under that name, we always seem to find a way to create a small number of off-the-chart winners with the vast majority of people accepting their lot as titanic losers. Until we, as a species, have the courage to actually put power in a non-distinct entity like "the people," we will continue to let a handful of us rule the rest, meaning our future will be more-or-less a series of minor name changes to the systems we pretend are different.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Unreasonable Right Reservations

"I reserve the right..." has to be one of the most irrational phrases currently in use. If something is indeed a legal right it doesn't need to be reserved. If something isn't a legal right to begin with, it can't be reserved.

I was reminded of this problem recently while listening to a radio program while traveling through New Mexico. The hosts were interviewing some sort of "expert" on business or legal issues when it comes to discrimination in the workplace. This guest was actually openly telling people that religious discrimination against Muslims was okay as long as it was done professionally (she used the term professionally over and over), meaning that people at a company doing the illegal discrimination just need to lie about it in a way that they don't get caught.

When asked by the radio hosts for an example of what someone should say in place of the truth, she included the spurious "I reserve the right" phrase along with several examples of lies to tell. While I was upset at openly advocating for people to break the law by lying about what they're doing, I was also flabbergasted that someone who is supposedly a legal expert would tell people that saying "I reserve the right" is valid. If something is a valid legal right, there is no need to reserve it because it already exists without any action on anyone's part. If the action in question doesn't exist as a legal right--such as religious discrimination--then it can't be created by declaring it into existence with a reservation.

Anyone who understands the law would know this. So would someone who isn't looking for an excuse to justify prejudice.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

What Might We Learn From Looking At Microcultures More Closely?

I've recently become interested in what is known as microculture. There are varying definitions, but it generally means the shared behavior and values of a small group of people. Most of the references I've read, however, are noting groups that are larger than what interests me, groups such as Native Americans and those who follow minority religious beliefs. What interests me are even smaller groups, those that contain something like 50 members or less.

I have a feeling that by looking closely at microcultures we can discover valuable information about ourselves that can't be obtained otherwise. What we learn will also likely correct or improve invalid information we think we know about our social behaviors and attitudes.

Examples of these groups include our closest 3-5 friends, those who do the same job at the same company, those who play the same position on a sports team, people who are energetic about a little-known hobby, individuals with a shared fetish, and family members who have a shared enemy within the family. In short, I'm thinking about any small group with a commonality that is cohesive enough to hold them together, even if it's temporary.

I don't have anything substantial to share yet, but some recent observations and experiences makes me think that we tend to be influenced more by microcultures than larger cultural groups--or at least more than we realize. I also think we tend to be members of multiple microcultures, and each person's unique combination of microculture memberships constitute that individual's personal culture. If we think of a person's behavior and attitudes with microculture and personal culture models in mind, I think we'll discover things about ourselves not previously revealed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Erectile Denial

We readily accept multiple causes for physical responses that include tears, crying, laughter, and sweat, but generally fail to do so for erections.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

White Riot Restraint

Story: Goal post torn down, 89 fires set after Ohio State's national title win

When white people riot...

"Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs said officers tried to use as little force as possible to control those celebrating."


The Limits Of Conservative Reponsibility Claims

This Rupert Murdoch-J.K. Rowling exchange is getting a lot of exposure, but the initial Murdoch tweet made me wonder why conservatives don't say the same thing about the police.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Search For Consistency

One of the many thoughts that have been bouncing around inside my brain for quite a while has to do with what seems to be an innate human desire to flush out inconsistencies. I haven't yet been able to work out something fully coherent on this, but it keeps popping up for me so I wanted to share my initial thoughts.

I usually notice this during a disagreement or argument when one party is trying to discredit another. They dig until they find some point of inconsistency (perceived or real) they hope will be an unraveling of the other's entire idea or position. If an inconsistency is declared, it is usually also hoped that their own position will then be seen victorious by default.

In these cases this desire for some sort of consistent truth is not truly genuine; it's merely an attempt to discredit something with which one personally disagrees. It's not really a search for something universally consistent as an independent goal. These arguments are almost always inane exercises producing nothing of value.

Interestingly--at least to me--is that this goal, usually twisted when pursued in a social, political or religious setting, is also in play in science. What is often considered to be the ultimate scientific prize is the discovery of a Theory of Everything, a single explanation of how the universe works. This ultimate explanation would never have exceptions and would explain every possible scenario that could exist in our universe.

For me it is frustrating to see this pursuit of consistency happening with little acknowledgment of the incomprehensively massive number of variables in play. When it comes to the unending silly political and religious arguments based on this notion, there will always be inconsistencies to be discovered. There are simply too many variables. No explanation of anything can take them all into account. Science has a better chance of doing so, but I think that's only a theoretical possibility. Nailing it all down may not be a practical possibility.

To make matters even worse, we have to consider the issue of change. Even if we could somehow create a list of every possible variable that needs to be considered, the conditions under which those variables exist is always changing. What makes sense under one set of circumstances will not necessarily be true under differing sets of circumstances. The issues of quantity and variability create an incomprehensibly gargantuan matrix of possibilities.

This idea is also a part of any legal system. Because each act in which a human engages is unique, there is no way to write laws that cover every scenario, meaning they are inevitably applied to circumstances with no exact match. Laws can't be written to cover every circumstance--there are simply too many circumstances to take into account. This means that every law is necessarily misapplied in every case. It simply can't be any other way.

As I wrote at the beginning, I'm still flushing this out so I don't have much more to offer yet. I guess all I can share at this point is the hope that these problems will one day be acknowledged. But I don't have high hopes.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Bias Of Ignorant Bliss

Among the basic tenets we should continually acknowledge about the human condition are the troublesome problems of ignorance and bias, with bias becoming more dominant as we age. We need to openly acknowledge them because each is a dominant cause behind a large percentage of the problem we either cause outright or fail to address properly.

Taking steps to mitigate the problems caused by these conditions is obviously difficult. Ignorance includes the absence of the knowledge necessary to know the problem exists; bias includes a rejection that the problem exists. But imagine the improved societies we would be able to create for ourselves if a serious attempt at mitigating these tendencies were to be undertaken. It's hard to imagine the reward not being worth the effort.