Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Making Sense of the Connecticut Shootings

The recent shootings in Connecticut were so heinous, so senseless, and so beyond the grace of God that we shudder with horror just thinking about it.  Imagining how those massacred teachers and children must have felt while that devil made his way through the school shooting away is not easy.

This type of tragedy brings to mind the reality of pain, suffering and death.  It forces you to reconsider the basic notions of good and evil.  One question that comes to mind for me is, "How could a good God allow this to happen?"  Why isn't there an upper limit on the amount of evil that God might permit?  These were young children.  They did nothing to the shooter.  They had barely begun their young lives and now their stories are over.  It is absolutely sickening.  These same sorts of questions come to mind when I consider the Holocaust.  

Hearing about the shooter's mental illness, or his troubled upbringing with a mother paranoid to the point of stockpiling supplies for the "end times" does little to make the basic problem of evil remain.  The standard reaction is "This happened because human beings have free choice."  If this is so, then that freedom seems to be more important than human suffering, which to me seems incompatible with the basic notions of a good and just God.  

Mr. Rodgers once said that in the face of suffering and tragedy, we must "Remember the helpers."  We must look to those who despite the overwhelming force of evil and wrongdoing, there are those who come together to help those in need.  It is through this that we see God's grace to work through the loving actions of others to bring healing to a broken world.  

Perhaps our basic notions of God as divine chessmaster are all wrong.  Perhaps God is impotent to directly influence human action.  It may be that God is a divine lover, but one who simply lacks the power to prevent some actions from happening.  At least this position makes sense.  I don't believe it diminishes God to reduce his metaphysical power.  It may be that we are ready for a real reconsideration of God's divine powers.  It certainly would be more consistent with the notion of a loving God who works through the loving example of Christ on the cross and influences the world through love, not divine power.  If God knew this tragedy was going to happen and could have prevented it and He chose to not do so, then he is directly implicated.  At the very least, he could have prevented the shooter from having been born, considering the circumstances.

The argument that this world is broken and we can expect better in heaven is unconvincing.  Even if this is true, it still remains fundamentally unjust that children should be dealt such a terrible hand in life while others live long and prosperous lives.  There are escaped Nazi war criminals still living.  How is it right that they are given a long and relatively prosperous life while little children are senselessly slain?  

This tragedy is so horrible.  We want to feel in control.  We want to feel that if we do the right things, our children will be safe.  The unfortunate reality is that we cannot prevent these shootings.  There will be more.  Nothing is going to stop them.  There are simply too many guns in America right now, and God help the sheriff assigned to round up the guns owned by those who won't give them up unless they are pried from their cold, dead fingers.  Both those on the Left and those on the Right all want the same thing--they want our children and teachers to be safe.  They want to live in a safe America.  Liberals believe that if you take away people's guns or have more restrictive gun laws, gun violence will decrease.  Conservatives believe that if you allow people to have guns to defend themselves, gun violence will decrease because of the deterrent effect.  

Norway, a country with restrictive gun laws, suffered a massacre by an extremist that killed 77 people.  Apparently gun control laws in Norway did little to stop the violence there.  When asked by forensic psychologists about the most effective way to end gun violence, the answer was interesting--they said not to publicize the details of the killings because these facts encourage other people with mental problems to act in a copycat like fashion.  Inevitably there will be an increase in school shootings now.  

From a mathematical point of view, the likelihood of your child being killed in a school shooting is insanely low.  70 million children are currently in school and this year less than 50 were killed by school shootings.  The problem with this is that human beings are not statisticians.  We react emotionally to senseless violence because it defies our sense of justice and goodness.  Hurricane Sandy created much more destruction and death than the recent shootings, but because this was an act of nature, we look at it differently.  

I believe in mental illness as a potential contribution toward violence.  I believe in evil as a cause of violence as well.  In this case, I think there was both.  There are plenty of people with mental illnesses who don't hurt people.  Most autistic people, Asperger's Syndrome patients, paranoid schizophrenics, and depressed people don't hurt anyone.  In this case, the shooter was trained by his mother to mistrust the world.  He was taught the end times were near and that he needed to be ready.  It is telling that the shooter had the rationality to wear protective armor before he went on his rampage.  He had the malice of forethought to do as much damage as possible before the police arrived.  He attacked a school because he wanted to hurt and destroy what his mother loved most--little children that she taught.  This was more than just mental illness.  It was unspeakable hate and evil combined with insanity.

I don't know whether there is a heaven or hell.  But I hope he's in hell.  I don't believe that we can only heal by forgiving this madman.  I believe we should hate evil and wish that it be banished from our midst.  Telling the families of the victims that they must forgive this man is an insult to how they are feeling.  They must be given the right to heal in their own way without theological or pop psychology platitudes.  Anything else diminishes the pain they are suffering, a pain that only someone who has lost a loved one to senseless violence can understand.

The truth is that this tragedy is beyond our ability to make sense of it.  It is beyond our ability to easily dismiss.  As Shakespeare once said:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Livin' La Vida Low-Carb Show with Jimmy Moore Website Review

The Livin' La Vida Low-Carb Show with Jimmy Moore is a website, blog, and podcast created by Jimmy Moore.  Moore used to weigh over 400 pounds.  Using the Atkins diet, he lost more than 180 pounds.  The dangers of obesity are no stranger to Moore.  His brother died as a result of complications from morbid obesity.  His mother underwent bariatric surgery.  Moore recognizes that he faces a daily struggle in keeping down the weight to stay healthy.  Since losing the weight in 2004, Moore has since regained some of the weight, despite following a low carb diet.  Refusing to give up, he reexamined his diet and through research discovered that for his body, low carb was simply not enough.  He needed to be mindful of the amount of protein he ate along with the carbohydrates because the protein in sufficient quantities was being turned to sugar in his system and causing weight gain.  Moore has recently been on a ketogenic diet.  He has reduced his protein and carbohydrate levels and consumed additional levels of fat.  The results of this have been successful.  He has recently lost over 50 pounds over the last few months.

Moore interviews a variety of health experts, diet gurus, and scientists on his podcast.  Many of the guests are fantastic.  A few are total crackpots.  Moore shows all of them respect, and is a skilled interviewer.  He also is co-host of a podcast entitled Low Carb Conversations with Jimmy Moore and Friends.  This podcast is informal and is similar to a paneled talk show like "The View."  The difference is that the focus of this program is diet, health, and nutrition.  Not risking any down time, Moore also hosts Ask the Low Carb Experts, a live call in show in which callers pose questions to nationally renowed health and nutrition experts. 

The best part of Moore's programming comes from Moore himself.  He is optimistic, determined, and energized.  Despite facing some very serious setbacks--including failed fertility attempts with his wife and having regained some of the weight he initially lost--Moore doesn't keep his head down for long.  He doesn't feel sorry for himself.  He doesn't give up.  He just picks up and keeps moving on.  Sometimes, when I am having a difficult day, I tune into the podcast just to feel perked up.  "If Jimmy Moore can face challenges and not give up, then maybe I should, too" I think to myself. 

Moore also has a Youtube channel in which he films diet and nutrition programs.  Some of the best, however, are those related to his personal life.  Through his channel we get to meet his wife Christine.  She is a delightful person who helps Moore with his low carb adventures.  She frequently travels with him to out of state locations for diet and nutrition conferences. 

Having lost 30 pounds on the Atkins diet over two years ago, I believe in the low carb message.  My wife suffers from Type 1 Diabetes.  Her body cannot produce insulin as a result of an autoimmune disorder.  If she eats a moderate or high carb diet, she becomes incredibly sick.  Eating low carb has kept her blood sugars in check and helped her avoid having to give massive doses of insulin, which can cause wild blood sugar fluctuations which can lead to her dying.  The Atkins diet has worked wonderfully for her.  Like any other diet, sometimes you lose a bit of your self-discipline.  This has happened to me lately and my belt is starting to show it.  I've been listening to Moore more lately, and becoming more inspired to not give up and get back on track.  Considering Jimmy has had struggles much more difficult than mine, it feels empowering to listen to his show.

His podcast is ultimately much more than one man's journey to maintain his health despite difficult genetic tendencies toward weight gain.  It is about maintaining a can-do attitude despite enormous challenges and not giving up.  Because when you have stopped fighting, they have beaten you.  And this is something Moore refuses to let happen.  Whether you are struggling with weight issues or not, the website is highly recommended.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

How Obama Won

Many seem surprised that now the election is over, the media coverage of the campaign seems to have born no resemblance to how the actual election turned out.  This shouldn't be surprising.  The media has no interest in reporting accurate, real news.  It is selling a product--middle class and upper middle class audiences to advertisers.  An election cycle without a horse race is boring.  One candidate cannot seem too far ahead of the others or things become too mundane and people tune out.  This means less revenue from advertising dollars.  The half dozen or so large corporations that own the media don't like that.

An excellent example of this is the Republican campaign.  Judging by the numbers, it was very clear that Mitt Romney was ultimately going to win the Republican nomination.  But the media had to pretend each week that somehow Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich were going to unseat the presumed candidate.  This never happened.  It never was going to happen.

The same goes with this presidential election.  Looking at the swing state likely outcomes, it has been clear for months and months that Obama was ahead just enough to pull off a reasonably large victory.  Nate Silver, a statistician, has been saying this for months, but the media refused to listen because it made for a boring news cycle.  Instead, the media reported on daily polls which didn't factor in the electoral college, which is the real decision maker when it comes to deciding the presidential outcome.

Now we hear about how the Republican "War on Women" has cost Republicans the election.  We hear about how the Republicans must now remake themselves or face permanent defeat.  This is nothing more than media hype once again.  The numbers themselves show how Obama won, and most of it has to do with his favoring of the auto bailout in Ohio, which tipped working class Ohioans toward him.  Romney also did worse with minorities and with women, but this had more to do with general Republican policies which are simply unfavorable to these groups.  Republicans spent a great deal of their time trying to disenfranchise voters, cut programs for the poor and sick, and Mitt Romney himself was the perfect avatar of Wall Street greed and outsourcing.  So was Paul Ryan in all his Ayn Randian glory.

The truth is that although the economy is improving slowly, most of the damage to it was not caused by Obama and so people didn't blame him for it.  Considering we were close to another Great Depression when he took office, things are certainly better than they were four years ago.  Obama hasn't been a terribly effective leader.  He is not a strong and confrontational personality.  But people also remember how the Republicans fought him every inch of the way and defeated his jobs bill, along with every other thing he tried to do.  His competent handling of  Hurricane Sandy was a stark contrast to the inept disaster that was George W. Bush's Hurricane Katrina response.  Obama is no FDR, but he isn't George W. Bush or Herbert Hoover, either, and people could see this.

Reporters keep saying that if Republicans intend to regain power, they must move to the middle of the political spectrum.  Tom Brokaw spent considerable time pontificating about this on election night.  You would think that years of reporting would have been instructive to him.  He seemed amazed that the two parties refuse to work together for the good of the common people.  The reason they don't work together is simple--it's because they have different principles and don't agree.  People like Paul Ryan and Michelle Bachmann are true believers.  They aren't going to throw their ideals out the window just to gain political power.  The same goes for members of the Tea Party.  To assume that these folks will do so just to gain power is incredibly naive.  After the massive Republican defeat in 2006, the party didn't become more moderate.  To the contrary, it became even more right wing.  In 2010, the Republican party bounced back and regained the House.  Moderates might be willing to move to the middle to gain power, but these folks are not the true believers.  The reality is that we are going to have far right Republicans, and they aren't going away.  The same goes for members of the left.  People like Jill Stein, Noam Chomsky, and Chris Hedges are not suddenly going to sell out their ideals to support candidates who are moderates.  This is contrary to their nature.  Members of the left and right aren't going to hold hands and sing Kumbaya any time soon.

The most stunning thing about this election is not that Obama won.  The stunning thing is that Obama did not win by a landslide.  Even with the economy being lackluster and the jobs growth meager, Mitt Romney was an absolutely horrible candidate.  He stood for nothing.  He spent his career destroying jobs and playing financial games.  He had no tact and was prone to frequent verbal gaffes.  His flip flopping on issues and incessant lying made him totally transparent.

I am glad the election is over.  I feel relieved that the war mongers in Israel won't be given the go ahead to start a major war in the Middle East concerning Iran.  I feel happy that the Obama support for net neutrality will keep the Internet growing and vibrant.  And I feel relieved that health care reform is here to stay.  Most of all, when it is time to appoint new Supreme Court justices, those chosen won't be crypto-fascists like Antonin Scalia.  Obama getting reelected is a very good thing for this country compared to a Romney presidency.  Four more years of peace is a hell of a lot better than four more years of war.  I would have been even happier with a Jill Stein presidency, but I will take what I can reasonably get.

God bless America.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Why Windows 8 Can Wait

"The tales of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

                                                                  --The PC

As more and more mobile devices based on Apple and Android are sold, Microsoft feels it has to get in the action to remain relevant.  Some of the sales numbers point toward a trend moving away from desktop PC sales and toward mobile devices like tablets and smartphones.  Bill Gates became the richest man in the world by monopolizing the desktop PC market.  If you wanted to run a program and have maximum compatibility with other users, Microsoft Windows was the way to go.

Windows XP was a major step forward in operating systems.  It was simple, easy to use, and has remained relatively decent for the last 11 years.  Many enterprise users, such as large corporations and many small businesses, still rely on Windows XP for their computing needs.  This is because making change is expensive for businesses.  Many custom made programs and other software are designed to work with a particular operating system.  Upgrading can cost time and money.  Therefore, enterprise users typically wait to change operating systems.  When Windows Vista was released, it was a disaster. It was buggy, resource hungry, and difficult to use.  Even Microsoft admitted that Vista sucked.  Everyone began to wonder if Microsoft had lost its edge.  Perhaps the software giant was finished.  Microsoft, however, came through and produced Windows 7, which is the best operating system they have ever created.  Windows 7 proved to be the anti-Vista:  it was light on resources, relatively stable, and easy to use.  The interface was beautiful and intuitive.  Microsoft had redeemed itself.  

But now the market seems to be changing.  Microsoft feels the heat to get into mobile.  So it is working on Windows 8, which is a complete redesign.  The look and feel of Windows has been radically changed.  Instead of a start button and the typical layout we are used to, Windows 8 has done away with the start button and moved to a tile system for the desktop, one that is more compatible with touch screens.  Initial reports are that the new operating system is difficult to use, counterintuitive, and plagued with other problems.  Some feel it has been too rushed and will take several service pack updates to remedy.  Enterprise users are feeling nervous and likely won't jump on the bandwagon.  Consumers, looking for something new and fresh, might bite.  The stakes aren't as high for them.

I believe the whole post-PC prediction is wrong.  Desktop PCs are still useful for power users.  The keyboard is larger and more amenable to getting real work done.  Serious gamers and video editing enthusiasts still rely on the desktop and laptop PC.  Tablets and mobile phones are great for surfing the web, but taking notes, writing school papers, editing photos, editing video, and other important tasks are unwieldy and awkward on these devices.  For serious work, you need a serious computer.  And this isn't going to change anytime soon.

As for me, I never upgrade to the newest operating system when it comes out.  I always wait a few years until the bugs have been worked out.  I don't feel like being a guinea pig for the latest untested code.  If Windows 8 sucks, I may even skip it.  After all, I can do everything I need with Windows 7.  Why change?  

The other factor is GNU/Linux.  I am having fun with my installation of Zorin OS 6 Lite, a lightweight distribution based on Lubuntu, a lightweight version of Ubuntu.  It is light on system resources and stable as can be.  It never crashes.  It was free to download, and installation only took 20 minutes.  I almost felt guilty it was so easy.  Updates are smooth and carefree.  Plus I am immune to Windows viruses and don't have to run antispyware and antivirus programs which slow down my computer.  My six year old laptop has been resurrected (mostly from a deep cleaning that was causing it to overheat) by GNU/Linux.  I can even play HD video on it now, something I couldn't do before.  

I have my hard drive partitioned so I can dual boot Windows 7 and Zorin.  This allows me the best of both worlds.  I can still use my specialized Windows programs, but for surfing the web, I prefer my Chromium (open source version of Google Chrome) browser.  I can also use Firefox.  For office software, I use LibreOffice, which is an open source version of Microsoft Office.  It works the same way and allows me to save in Microsoft Word doc format and in open source text document formats.  Using WINE, a Windows emulator, I can run Windows software in Zorin.  It's pretty amazing.  

A few years from now I may change to Windows 8.  I am in no hurry, though.  If I had to, I could even survive on Windows XP for the next few years.  It's hard to get excited about shelling out cash for an operating system.  Maybe that's why I'll just stick with GNU/Linux--it's free.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Ohioans May Decide The Fate Of The World

I've had my differences with Obama over the years.  In 2008, I worked for his campaign.  I believed in him. And I felt let down when he gave up on the public option during the health care debate.  I felt let down when he failed to close Gitmo.  I continue to oppose his use of drone strikes and the unfair treatment of whistle blower Bradley Manning.  And I felt let down when he allowed the Bush tax cuts to be renewed.  I saw a group of Republicans who were willing to hold the country hostage for political gains.  I saw them reject the jobs bill so they could use the difficult economy against the president during the election.  It angered me that Obama hadn't been more forceful against them.  I wish he had been more like Franklin D. Roosevelt, a president who was willing to challenge the status quo to stand up for the majority of Americans, not just the rich and powerful.

But just because Obama hasn't completely met my expectations, it isn't rational to assume that any other choice is the right one.  It is definitely not true that Mitt Romney is a better choice.  Obama isn't moving fast enough, but at least he isn't moving backwards.  Mitt Romney wants to take this country backwards to the policies of George W. Bush.  He wants to be overly aggressive on foreign policy.  We already saw how this kind of hawkish behavior led to two wars which have nearly bankrupted this country.  It has led to thousands of killed and disabled veterans who paid the ultimate cost of Bush's cowboy attitudes.  Obama has a greater respect for human life because he only sends troops into combat when he feels it is absolutely necessary.  He got us out of Iraq and is planning to allow the citizens of Afghanistan to police their own country.

Romney says he plans on repealing the Affordable Care Act.  Ironically, this legislation was modeled after Romney's health care reforms when he was governor.  The Affordable Care Act opens up health care to millions of uninsured Americans who previously who have had to use the emergency room as their only means of receiving health care.  This meant they were free riding off the system because they didn't have to pay health care benefits as emergency rooms cannot turn people away.  The Affordable Care Act provides health care to all while demanding that everyone pay their fair share to the best of their ability.  Independent figures have shown that the Affordable Care Act will reduce the U.S. deficit by almost a trillion dollars over ten years.  It has reduced inefficiencies as well.  The Affordable Care Act demands that 85% of policy premium payments be used to provide health care, not line the pockets of private investors.  Before, there was no policy like this.  It also ensures that people with pre-exising conditions like diabetes and cancer will not be denied coverage.  It provides health screenings for women.  It allows college aged children to stay on their parents' insurance until the age of 26.  Romney says he plans on increasing "competition" to bring down health care costs.  This idea is laughable.  Health insurers are not going to "compete" for the business of paying out money for AIDS, cancer, and heart disease patients.  They would go bankrupt if they did.  Romney simply has no plan to reform health care.

Obama supported the rescue of the auto industry.  Mitt Romney said he preferred to let it go bankrupt.  The implications of this are serious.  The auto industry helps keep Americans working.  It helps lead to innovation.  Many thousands of manufacturing jobs rely on the domestic auto industry for survival.  Many of the middle class jobs that provide health care, retirement, and a living wage come from these types of jobs.  Many members of my own family have worked in the auto industry.  Obama is a friend of the auto industry.  Mitt Romney has spent his career outsourcing jobs to China.  He made money bankrupting companies like KB Toy store.  He has no sympathy for ordinary workers or blue collar jobs.  He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He bullied gay teens in high school--which he has admitted.  Then, he went to Harvard and was able to get into Wall Street playing financial shell games and becoming a millionaire as a vulture capitalist.  Instead of creating jobs, Romney spent his career in "business" killing jobs, liquidating companies and tearing apart the remains, all while acting like a parasite and personally profiting on the misery of others.  I simply cannot imagine finding someone more qualified to dismantle this country than Mitt Romney.  He would be terribly efficient--at creating 1 million new jobs in China.  If you look at the bumper stickers of the Communist Chinese Leaders, most of them probably have Romney-Ryan signs on their cars.  It's the only political bumper sticker in China that won't get you tossed in a dungeon for seven years.

Even though the Bush tax cuts led to record deficits, Romney still claims that tax cuts for the rich and increased military spending is going to lead to a balanced budget.  Under Bush, we instead had record deficits, a loss of jobs, and a financial meltdown.  Under Reagan, we had huge deficits because of unfunded tax cuts.  To think that somehow Romney is going to grow the economy with this lame sort of plan makes absolutely no sense.  History has already proven him wrong again and again.  Basic arithmetic doesn't allow you to decrease revenue and increase spending while still balancing the budget.

The other issue is Iran.  Obama has already stated he won't let them get a nuclear weapon.  He has monitored the situation and knows that they are nowhere near being able to construct a nuclear weapon.  Romney, after having accepted millions in campaign donations from hawks like Sheldon Adelson, have taken an overly aggressive stance on the issue of Iran.  The last thing we need is another major war in the Middle East.  Too many Americans have died in war already.  We must be calm and rational on this issue.  Obama has been a strong and steady hand.  Romney and his aggressiveness will only lead to foreign policy disasters.  His foot-in-mouth tour of Europe and the Middle East a few months ago was proof positive of that.  He is completely tone deaf when it comes to dealing with people that are unlike him.  The problem is that foreign policy is exactly that--foreign.  Mitt Romney doesn't trust 47% of our own people and has said this very candidly.  On the issues of foreign policy, he is a mess.

Obama may not be my ideal candidate, but he is far better than Romney.  The decisions of the United States have a massive impact on the world because of our large economy and our large military.  Millions of people live or die based on the smallest decisions made by our president.  This election matters big time.  Ohioans may be the decision makers in this election.  That is why each of us must be personally committed to go vote against Mitt Romney and vote for President Obama.  Drive a friend to the polls, too.  Assist those whom you know to get there on election day.

America may elect Romney.  After all, we did elect Bush.  That turned out to be a complete horror show.  We may be close to making the same mistake once again.  I pray this doesn't happen.

 I plan on voting for Barack Obama because he is a smart, intelligent leader who will move us forward.  I hope you do the same.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Someone Call A Medic, Ryan's Out Cold!

Tonight we got to witness a great debate between two Irishmen looking to be the Vice President.  Not shying away from a good fight, Biden came out swinging, and didn't disappoint.  Aside from Biden's authenticity and passion, his 30 years of experience made the sophomoric Paul Ryan look like a schoolboy.  When Ryan offered his opinions du jour handed down from Romney's pollsters, Biden came back with real, substantive answers.  Paul Ryan knows the myth of Ronald Reagan and bipartisanship.  Joe Biden was actually a participant in the negotiations back in the early 1980's that saved Social Security.  Whereas Ryan would utter vague notions about how to deal with the war in Afghanistan, Biden shared his experiences actually travelling dozens of times through the war torn area, meeting with troops and the people.  The entire thing was frankly uncomfortable to watch, given the beating Ryan was taking.  It must have been uncomfortable to see him slither away at the end.

The strength of Biden here was that he exposed Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney for what they truly are--puppets for the ultra rich and the corporations. He called out their lies and their bullshit. He hammered Ryan for not being specific about his "tax plan" that is nothing more than a massive subsidy to the rich.  Ryan is considered a fiscal policy wonk by many on the Right.  Biden challenged him and exposed Romney and his "plan" for what it is--nothing more than hot air.  The formula is transparent--first they describe how bad things are--this part is true, and gives them perceived credibility.  Then, they move in for a massive criticism of Obama, refusing to accept their share of the responsibility for the problem (Ryan voted to block Obama's jobs bill, tax reforms for the middle class, etc.).  They finish up without offering any real solutions, other than the tired old mantra of trickle down economics, the same policies of George W. Bush that tripled the deficit and caused the meltdown of the economy.

Everyone knows where Paul Ryan's heart lies when it comes to Medicare and programs for the poor--he is hell bent on ending them.  His proposed voucher program for Medicare would utterly destroy the program.  His proposed budget makes massive cuts to programs that keep poor children from going hungry.  This is consistent with Ryan's Ayn Rand worldview.  His budget proposals are so savage, so heartless, that a group of nuns actually commissioned a bus to travel around America to describe the real impacts his proposals would have for the poor.  These nuns should know--Catholic social programs help many poor and disadvantaged Americans, and some of these funds come from federal spending.

Ryan's only strength was his answer on the pro-life issue at the very end.  Biden said that he believed that life begins at conception but was opposed to the law being changed.  If you believe that life begins at conception, it isn't morally consistent to advocate laws which go against this principle.  Ryan was right to challenge Biden on this, and held him to task for not standing by his principles.  The truth is, a Catholic voter has nowhere to turn in good conscience.  Democrats support legalized abortion.  Republicans support cutting vital heating, food, and other assistance to the poor and needy.  Millions of children will go hungry if food stamp programs are further reduced by the Republicans.  So there is no easy answer for the Catholic voter.  I believe the Democratic policy of providing everyone a fair shake, and assistance for those most in need.  I believe this will lead to more options for poor, young women, rather than abortion.  That's why the rate of actual abortions go down during Democratic presidencies and go up during Republican ones.  Just telling a woman she cannot get an abortion doesn't help her be a good mother.  It doesn't help her feed her children or care for them.  We need to do more than just make abortion illegal.  We need to build a pro-life culture in all areas.

Words are great.  They can inspire, leads us to imagine, and bring us hope.  But looking at the records of the two men, we see some stark differences.  Joe Biden has spent his career standing up for middle class people and supporting working people.  He has not voted to destroy Medicare and Social Security.  Paul Ryan, on the other hand, is a true believer in the philosophy of "every man for himself."  His budget proposals were so merciless, so heartless, that the Romney campaign won't even talk about them now.  His voucher program for Medicare would end the program by privatizing it, based on a ridiculous notion that insurance companies are going to compete for seniors and disabled people.  Why they would compete to pay out huge amounts for medical care defies all logic.  No company competes to lose money.  For someone supposedly gifted in the area of economics, Ryan falls flat on this one.  The truth is that he just wants Medicare to be wiped out and that's it.

Biden has proven his worth as a Vice President.  His vast years of experience in the Senate has proven to be a great asset to President Obama.  He has been a source of wise counsel to him.  Is he gaffe prone?  You bet.  But we also know his heart, which is good.  He is trustworthy and competent.  If something were to happen, I believe we would be safe with him at the helm.  I greatly fear for the poor and impoverished if Paul Ryan were to become President.  Listening to him, I don't get the impression that he has true compassion for others.  He comes across to me as being heartless.  Romney's choice in Paul Ryan speaks to his character as well--Romney is fundamentally a man who doesn't give a damn about the poor.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Is "Obamacare" Racist?

In literary theory, there's the concept of subtext.  Subtext is a hidden concept, idea, or implication veiled beneath a narrative.  It is veiled by more neutral language, but the "hidden" understanding is clear to anyone who isn't suffering from autism or some other form of mental disability.  So, for example, when Ronald Reagan told his story about the "welfare queens" driving their Cadillacs and living off society, the hidden subtext was not of white soccer moms from the suburbs of Connecticut driving their children to practices.  It was a reference to the stereotype of the lazy, black welfare mother receiving food stamps, free housing, and refusing to work while receiving more and more benefits while having more and more children.  In reality, most welfare recipients are in fact, white.  Reagan didn't need to use the term "black" to make his point very clearly.

The health care reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in 2010 is called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  Since that time, Republicans have referred to it pejoratively as "Obamacare."  "Obamacare" is an interesting term, considering the general narrative about Obama shared by many in the Republican community.  The name speaks volumes:  "Obama"--a Muslim sounding name--i.e. foreign, scary, threatening, combined ironically with "care."  It implies that a foreign, scary, threatening dabbler has intervened in the most intimate and invasive of relations--that of one's medical care.  In fact, Republicans often refer to health care reform being "shoved down our throats."  Not surprisingly, this term has seemed to stick.  Why?  Because it implies that Obama, "the Other," who is considered by many Birthers to be not even an American citizen, has put his uppity hands where they shouldn't belong.  The entire "Birther" movement is dedicated to the notion that the President is so un-American, so foreign, so different from us that he cannot even be a legitimate citizen of the United States, even though this objective fact has been proven countless times and verified by all objective standards by the state of Hawaii.

It has been shown in studies that over 60% of conservative Republicans still believe that Obama is a Muslim, despite the whole Rev. Wright controversy during the campaign of 2008.  Somehow it was lost on these people that Rev. Wright was a Christian pastor in Chicago.  "Muslim" in America, thanks to the propaganda from the "War on Terror" now means foreign born, dangerous, scary guys who surely cannot be one of us that are hell bent on secretly planning to kill us every chance they get.

So is the demonizing of Obama caused by racism?  This becomes harder to clearly pin down.  History is instructive.  As you may remember from the Clinton presidency, he also faced charges by the Right of being "the other."  He was accused of being a communist, of murdering Vince Foster, and accused of financial fraud concerning the Whitewater Scandal.  Hell, the Republicans impeached him for fibbing about an affair when Ronald Reagan got away with selling weapons to the Contras and George W. Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction which led to two illegitimate wars that cost thousands of American lives and nearly bankrupted the nation.

The interesting thing about Clinton, however, is that he was never considered un-American.  Birthers won't even grant that Obama is the most basic of Americans--a natural born citizen.  He is so different, so alien, that we cannot relate to him in any way, so he must be a Kenyan, and probably a Muslim, too.  Despite Clinton's failings, he isn't considered the Antichrist like Obama is.  Why is that?  Perhaps it has something to do with Obama's background--America is a notoriously anti-intellectual place.  It hates what it perceives to be effete, wonkish, liberal snobs.  Obama, as a Harvard educated lawyer, former instructor of Constitutional law, and community organizer, certainly fits this description.  He is also a city dweller, as opposed to coming from the "real America" as described by Sarah Palin--i.e. the country.  But Clinton had the similar "problematic" credentials--he was a Rhodes Scholar, lived abroad, protested the Vietnam War, was considered wonkish because he understood policy at something beyond a sophomoric level, etc.  So what is the difference?  Could it possibly be that Obama doesn't look like a majority of the population?  I will leave this for you to decide.  I can't say for certain that it is racism, but it very well may be.

Granted, there are some who dislike Obama for actual, genuine reasons on both sides of the political aisle.  There are liberals who feel betrayed by Obama's reversal on important policies--such as indefinite detention, drone killings, closing GITMO, the environment, etc.  There are conservatives who disagree with Obama on a variety of issues from social to economic that have nothing to do with his race or other personal characteristics.  These would be protests which come from reason, not fear.  And fear is the key difference.  Political disagreements based on reason and not fear of the unknown are legitimate.  The problems this country faces are too serious to be grounded in raw emotion.  Manipulation of public fear by greedy politicians leads to the destruction of our rights and the surrendering of our democracy.  The Bush inspired "War on Terror" is a prime example of fear mongering to boost the profits of the defense industry, strip away civil rights, and spy on ordinary Americans.

Someone can be conservative and opposed to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  There are legitimate reasons to be opposed to it on ideological grounds.  These would have nothing to do with racism.  Some have disagreements about the role of government and health care.  Others may have concerns about how health care is distributed.  These are all fine.  I don't agree with them, but these reasons have nothing to do with racism, and that is perfectly acceptable.  People can agree to disagree.

Finishing up, what we call something influences how we think about it.  A name has subconscious meanings embedded with it.  These affect how we mentally frame an issue.  So when I say "Don't think of an elephant," you can't help but imagine an elephant.  It's part of our cognitive structure to interact with language in this way.  In a similar manner, the words we use influence our ideas.  And these ideas have very real consequences.  Calling health care reform "Obamacare" isn't helpful because of the potential associations embedded within its subtext.  For this reason, I prefer to use "Affordable Care Act" or "health care reform act."

An excellent example of this is the attempt by the software industry to refer to file sharers as "pirates."  As RMS says, piracy is attacking ships.  You storm a ship, murder the entire crew, and then steal their loot.  People sharing Lady Ga Ga songs certainly aren't murdering anyone.  To equate the two is propaganda used to impose a false equivalency.  This serves the recording industry well, but for normal folks, not at all.  If you are looking to demonize people who share files by imposing a propagandized mental frame, this works quite well.

Regardless of how you feel about the health care issue, it would be helpful if people stopped saying "Obamacare."  It doesn't help anyone on either side.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

In Defense of Big Bird

At last night's debates, Mitt Romney said that despite his affection for Big Bird, he would cut funding for  PBS.  The question becomes, "Should the government fund Big Bird?"

TV didn't have to become a "vast wasteland", as described 50 years ago by Newton Minow, head of the FCC (and this was before Jersey Shore):

"When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it."

And this was said 50 years ago.  TV has become far, far more banal since that time.  But the moronification of television wasn't an inevitability when the technology was invented.  TV, as a technology, is neutral.  It can be used for educational purposes, civic purposes (such as the airing of public meetings), and for socially redeeming purposes.  It is only because the television industry was turned over to the private market and the advertising industry that it has become so horrendous.  

Television has to appeal to the lowest common denominator to vie for advertising dollars.  Your average person isn't an intellectual.  He or she is tired after work and wants to be amused and veg out.  Few people are interested in doing more mental work about serious issues after they get home from work.  And so television programming has become a race to the bottom, all in a mad grab for the almighty dollar.

The point of the the public, through government subsidizing of PBS, is to provide at least one channel that isn't dependent upon advertising and traditional market forces so as to provide content which is of a higher quality and not subject to the lowest common denominator.  That is why high quality programs like Sesame Street, Frontline, the MacNeil/ Lehrer News Hour, and Nova are on public television.  They couldn't survive in the traditional marketplace because they are simply too good.

Folks like Mitt Romney hate public television because they see it as being too liberal.  Because they don't agree with the political views of the program, they want to kill it.  This means bye bye to Big Bird and friends. While PBS would likely survive by virtue of donations from the public, this is beside the point.  

Why shouldn't the public support the arts, literature, and public programming?  After all, the public supposedly owns the airwaves and allows private television channels to make billions of dollars in advertising. Commercial broadcasting has an oligopoly on the market.  Private broadcasters are using the public commons--the airwaves--to make a killing.  The government funding one or two channels reserved for quality programming for the public isn't too much to ask.  It is too much to ask, apparently, for the Republicans, who see PBS as being run by effete, wonkish, Eastern liberals.  We need every channel beaming Jersey Shore, reality TV, and ads for Viagra and Cialis to every home in America, no exceptions.

This is a business run society.  The needs of business go before all else, particulary the public itself, which is considered secondary.  That's the same reason why a door to door used Bible salesman like Mitt Romney is so close to becoming President of the United States.  Instead of despising what he represents--vulture capitalism, outsourcing, selfish greed and feckless ambition, he is damn close to becoming elected.

After public television is wrecked, private power can go after the Internet and make it look more like television.  This battle comes in the form of "Net Neutrality."  If they succeed in that quest, the future of free speech and prosperity hangs in the balance.

God bless America.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Obama vs Romney: Who Won? Presidential Debate No. 1

Tonight we had the well-coiffed, white-toothed American hustler versus the embattled President.  This debate was similar to the famous Kennedy Nixon debate of the 1960's.  If you listened to that debate on the radio, you would have clearly thought that Nixon won.  If you watched the debate on TV, you would have given the victory to Kennedy.  Looks and body language make a big difference.  In this case, we had Romney standing tall and looking strong.  He was aggressive and didn't mind looking at Obama while attacking him.  Obama, uncomfortable in the attack role, appeared more hunched over and defensive.  He didn't look at Romney while answering him, which appeared to give him a more submissive posture, not a good thing when you are a sitting President.

This is bad news for Obama, because Romney is an empty suited, principle-bereft goddamn liar.  He is little more than a good looking con man who deserves to be in jail for his financial misdeeds instead of running for President. Obama was living in the real world during the debate, using facts and arithmetic to defend his positions and expose the consistent lies vomiting forth by Romney.  But the American people don't care about facts or arithmetic.  They want to believe the myth that cutting taxes for the rich will lead to increased revenue, even though this hasn't worked for Reagan or Bush Jr., and in fact increased the national debt. Tonight Romney managed to flip flop once again.  Like his stand on abortion, he moves according to what works.  So before tonight, he was all for reducing taxes on the rich and fully repealing Obamacare, good parts and all.  Now, all of a sudden, he wants to keep the taxes on the rich the same and keep the good parts of Obamacare.  It's amazing what being down in the polls and 5 weeks before an election can do for your platform.

Despite the tensions, the policies of the two men on many areas are unfortunately too close.  On education, both want to continue programs which lead to students taking more mindless, fact-driven standardized tests.  Both want to continue drone attacks and stomp on the civil rights that leads to more terrorism.  These facts aren't highlighted, however, because it's more comfortable for us to believe that we have a real choice in this election.

We do have a real choice, but not the one we need.  This election is only important because the United States is so powerful.  The little choices we make have a big impact.  So if we give Israel the go ahead to start World War III in the Middle East, this means hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake.  Or if we decide to elect Romney and have him choose another crypto-fascist like Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, then indefinite detention, extrajudicial killings, torture, and all the other civil rights violations are on the table.  And this has very real consequences for our freedoms.

The only reason the Republican Party even has any chance at winning is because it holds a trump card--abortion.  There are millions of decent, God-fearing, religious people in this country who are horrified by legalized abortion.  They believe that life begins at conception and this issue is very important to them.  As such, they put their faith in the Republican Party, hoping they will make abortion illegal.  The problem is that the Republicans know this, and they aren't going to give up their trump card by making abortion illegal.  Ronald Reagan and both Bushes were able to essentially do whatever they wanted during their terms, but somehow they expended almost no effort to end legalized abortion.  Other than discussing the issue at election time and banning stem cell research, they did nothing.  They appointed most of the current Supreme Court justices, and yet they still haven't gotten abortion overturned.  This is no accident.  This is amazing considering the fact that Ronald Reagan managed to get away with funding illegal arms sales to the Contras, illegally bombing whoever he wanted, and nearly bankrupting the country with debt by giving tax breaks to the rich and spending like Kim Kardashian on speed.  George W. Bush got away with lying about weapons of mass destruction to start two major wars that tripled the deficit.  His financial policies led to the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression.  He got away torture, indefinite detention, and illegal spying.  Yet we are somehow to believe that he couldn't pull off ending abortiont?  Please.

Regarding the debate--this sure wasn't the intellectual equivalent of the Lincoln Douglas debates.  That is for damn sure.  In an age of television, marketing, and the public relations industry running campaigns, it's all about sound bites, appearances, and manipulation.

We're all the losers in this election, regardless of who wins.  If it's Romney, however, we can add to our losses the increased demise of the middle class as well.  At the end of the day, abortion is still going to be legal and we will still be arguing about gay marriage while our jobs are outsourced, college becomes more unaffordable, and we can all work three shitty paying jobs to pay for our increased gas and food bills while Mitt Romney's friends on Wall Street look down from their penthouses and from their gated communities, laugh, and tell the remaining 99% to eat cake.  After all, "we can't worry about them."

God bless America.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Rethinking Texting

In an earlier posting, located here, I wrote about my reservations concerning texting.  After having thought about the matter further, I have some additional thoughts about the matter I thought I would share.

Twitter, much like texting, limits you to less than 140 characters or so.  If you have an important message to convey, this forces you to focus intensely and be as frugal as possible with your words.  This can mean cutting through the nonsense of ordinary conversation and getting right to the point.  During a busy workday, sometimes a text can save the receiver hours of small talk which is a necessary part of regular human interaction.  While these niceties make for the grease of human social relations, sometimes they are simply too expensive in terms of time.  For example, if I am readying for a court appearance, a text can save me several minutes worth of conversation.  Throughout a workday, this can add up, particularly when I am crunched for time.

Of course, not all messages are appropriate for text messaging.  Many are not.  This is the benefit of email.  Email eliminates the problem of synchronity--namely, you being ready to talk at the same time the other person happens to be calling.  If you don't have a secretary or assistant, this may be quite a bit of the time.  I actually prefer email when dealing with client matters because it is easier for me to remember discussions and detailed facts.  As far as productivity, email is much more efficient for me than discussing something on the telephone.  Plus, I can send document attachments, videos, and other files through email.  Email, assuming it is encrypted, is much more safe than discussing personal information over a cellular phone.  Cellular phones which are not encrypted are unsafe and easily hacked.  Interestingly, Linus Torvalds, the co-developer of the GNU/Linux kernel, does most of his complicated software development and task management through email.  It is my understanding that Microsoft also heavily uses email to coordinate their massive operating system development projects.  This sort of information is highly detailed, complex, and demanding--just like law work.

Email also saves my clients money if they are being billed on an hourly basis.  I can read very quickly, but I can only listen to a legal problem as fast as the person can tell me the problem.  Oftentimes, the client doesn't know which facts are legally important and which are not.  Therefore, they can sometimes get lost on a tangent.  These tangents take awhile to correct, which uses up more time.  With email, I can ask for specific facts and the client can give me specific answers without the increased risk of getting lost on tangents.  And, as Martha Stewart would say, "That's a good thing."

Texting is sort of like a modern haiku--with much less art.  It may be the fast food of literature, but sometimes a Nacho Supreme just hits the spot.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Intellectual Property Matters: Are We Becoming A Digital Essau?

As the economy rapidly shifts to an information based one, the importance of intellectual property rights law becomes increasingly important.  He who controls the digital controls the future.  Sadly, it is the megacorporations and the government who are on a wild, mad grab for all the goodies at the expense of the populace at large.  Cell phones like the iPhone have the ability to track your every move and report it back to Apple.  Microsoft installs back doors which allow them or the government to track what you are doing.  Amazon uses DRM, or digital restrictions management, to ensure that when you buy a book, you are merely buying a license to read the book, not the book itself.  The traditional freedom to share a book with a friend, give it to your family, or keep it indefinitely are controlled by the corporation.

Steve Jobs was the ultimate American.  He was essentially America's greatest hustler.  We loved Steve Jobs because he is us--hell bent on making a buck no matter what the cost.  We hate a guy like Julian Assange, however, because he is obsessed with telling us the truth, and we don't like that.  Only Jobs could turn the unveiling of an iGadget into a near-religious event.  Stephen Fry, the British intellectual, was quoted as saying that the iPad has "changed his life."  Waiting in line for the new iPhone is like a religious pilgrimage. In this age of techno-nihilism, the most we can hope for is what the megacorporation has to offer us next.  We are more than happy to trade away our basic freedom of privacy to have a little extra techno glitter.  The main problem with Apple products is that they are designed to minimize your ability to alter them.  They are designed to alienate you from the things you use most.  Your cell phone is an intimate item--it brings you closer to your friends.  Some teenagers even sleep with their phone near their beds so as not to miss a text.  In this context, the locked down iPhone represents a form of digital chains.  It is designed to control you and how you use it.  It tracks where you go and what you do.  If you try to jailbreak it, Apple will send out an "update" that will brick your phone, making it worthless.  If it becomes broken, you cannot fix it without having special tools and voiding the warranty.  With the Macintosh computer, you can't even change the battery without having big brother Apple do it.  The entire Apple product line, like the Amazon Kindle Fire, is like a cigarette--a delivery device for bittersweet poison.  Movies are locked down with DRM.  You are encouraged to use the "cloud", which controls your computing, to stream media onto your device.  This puts your computing in the hands of the corporation, who controls what you own.  At least when you buy a DVD or Blu Ray, you can share the physical disk by lending it to a friend.  You can keep it.  You can watch it on any working DVD or Blu Ray player.  You aren't limited to just one computer.  You aren't alienated from your neighbor in this way.

The PR industry has been going whole hog on selling the notion of "cloud computing" to us. Every advertisement is practically another propaganda commercial for this "service."  Between Netflix, Hulu Plus, and cable TV, we are becoming a nation of digital sharecroppers. The problem is that if you don't encrypt your data, this is information that is vulnerable to cyber criminal attack.  It is also subject to governmental snooping, which according to the Patriot Act, is common.  Big corporations cannot wait to collect everyone's data and use this to sell marketing data for huge profits.  I'm sorry, but I refuse to pay a corporation to make money off my data.  A 3 TB hard drive is now $130.  A hard drive this size is immense.  You can hold hundreds of thousands of photos on it, and hundreds of hours of video.  And best of all, you control what happens to the data.  Even if you don't encrypt it, if it is in a safe location, you don't have to worry.

Contrary to popular opinion, our current economic system is totally inefficient.  We have thousands of people who are homeless, but at the same time we have millions of foreclosures.  We have millions of people without work, yet the need for goods and services is higher than ever.  We have the technological capacity to feed everyone in the world three times over.  We have millions in the world who are hungry.  Yet we pay farmers NOT to grow more food.  We have the city of Detroit and parts of Cleveland literally falling apart, but construction jobs are scarce and no one is getting paid to fix up the blight ridden areas.  We have a world of knowledge that can be delivered digitally to anyone. This information can enrich the lives of all, yet we use DRM technologies to exclude others from reading, viewing, and accessing information.  Medical journals are locked behind paywalls.  This information could be used by researchers to find the cure for cancer, yet it is locked away.

People believe that capitalism brought us prosperity.  The facts of history beg to differ.  As Noam Chomsky has laid out, the standard of living was increasing in slave societies, yet we don't use that as an excuse to justify slavery.  Russia was a peasant, Third World nation prior to the USSR.  Joseph Stalin's reign of terror and his process of collectivist industrialization brought the nation into the First World.  The standard of living increased exponentially.  It was unprecedented.  Yet it was also tyranny and hellish for the inhabitants.  Red China today is a major violator of human rights.  Yet its economy is growing at 10% per year.  We must first recognize that capitalism is not the cause of the increased standard of living.  It is the increase in technology that has made life better for most people around the world.  Indoor plumbing, sanitation, vaccines, the Internet, computers, lasers, and other technologies have made life easier.  Modern agricultural methods that have made food production more efficient have done wonders for improving the standard of living for all.  Many of these technologies have been funded by the government.  The polio vaccine, computers, lasers, and the Internet were all funded by the government because it would not have been profitable enough for corporations to fund this kind of research.  It is only turned over to private corporations for profit once the technology works and is proven at taxpayer expense.

When the government creates a new technology that works, it often hands it over to the private corporations to profit.  This is what happened for Steve Jobs.  Once computers and the Internet were well underway, Apple and Microsoft were able to market these technologies successfully.  Medicine, in the form of biotechnology, is rapidly becoming a huge economic force.  He who controls the basic information of life becomes very rich.  Corporations are now able to patent not only drugs, but life forms and genes as well.  This is truly scary.

Yet we are in a kind of techno-drunkenness.  We are too worried about what features the next iGadget might have to see what is happening.  Unless we demand our rights be preserved, we are essentially fucked.  We cannot be so quick to permit Apple to get away with what it does.  We shouldn't be happy to let Microsoft install backdoors in Windows.  And we certainly shouldn't buy anything with DRM on it.  If we do, we are like Essau from Genesis 25: 29-34, who sold his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup and bread.  Let's not become that kind of society.

Friday, August 31, 2012

A Nice Charade--Watching the RNC

Thanks to the invention of modern television, we got to witness the public relations horror show that was masquerading itself as the Republican National Convention.  In true modern form, I couldn't help but notice how great Mitt's hair looked--nice and thick, greying temples imparting experience and wisdom, but the makeup was a bit too pasty and funeral-esque for me.  His skin looked creepy, making his appearance a bit uncanny.  Ever since the Nixon and Kennedy debate, candidates cannot go on television without makeup, but tonight it was overdone.   Nuance can never be left for the unwashed masses.

Romney's speech was little style, no substance.  A career politician with no enduring principals, Romney uttered the usual platitudes about American ethnocentrism, oops, I mean, "American exceptionalism."  He talked about his experience as a "business guy," trying to make the connection that somehow this qualifies him to be an effective president.  Considering his business was acting as a casino capitalism financier who helped companies send jobs overseas, it is clear why the business community loves him--he would probably be more efficient at dismantling the middle class than Obama.  A man who can more quickly accelerate this country's decline into a two-tiered banana republic of rich and poor is just the kind of man who becomes the Republican nominee for president of the United States.

Then there's Paul Ryan.  While Romney is simply a careerist robot with no soul--kind of like Bill Clinton--Paul Ryan is actually evil.  When he's not busy lying--which is practically all the time--he is worshiping his hero, Ayn Rand.  Rand is the author of books proclaiming the benefits of sociopathic selfishness.  Hell bent on making sure that the elderly and disabled are denied the meager social safety net and health care benefits that might help them simply to survive, he is lauded as a "serious financial guy" by market fundamentalists.  The Ryan House "budget" actually increases the deficit by giving tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, eviscerates Medicare, and increases military spending.  Yet somehow, this guy is considered a "deficit hawk?"  Only in the final days of a decadent Empire can such foolishness be taken seriously.

The thing that keeps me up at night isn't the fact that corporate money keeps only the most soulless politicians on the payroll.  The fact that we are stupid enough to allow this to happen is the thing that bothers me.  After all, if we had any critical thinking skills at all, we would see through both Obama and Romney's bullshit.  We would see that they aren't serving our interests.  We would see through douchebags like Paul Ryan who want to deny health care to disabled people like my father.  Instead, we are gullible.  We listen to words instead of paying attention to the actions of our politicians.  The Wall Street bailouts and the handling of the financial crisis by both Bush and Obama were both intensely anti-middle class. 

Obama is better than Romney.  I intend on voting for him because I am afraid of the next Supreme Court nomination turning out to be a right wing radical like Justice Scalia.  We cannot afford to lose more freedoms at the hands of crypto-fascists like him.  But Obama is no saint.  He has been a disaster.  He could have been like FDR and turned the financial crisis into a real opportunity for change.  Instead he squandered his opportunity by kissing Republican ass and trying to accomodate the right.  He needed to have more backbone and a fighting spirit.  His foreign policy is largely a continuance of the repressive Bush drone attacks, indefinite detention, and extrajudicial killings.  He is very largely an Eisenhower Republican.  Only in a country as radically right wing as America would he be considered a "socialist."  This country is probably more right wing than Iran.

The problem with Romney isn't that he is a soulless, empty suit, who believes in nothing but financial gain at the expense of all else.  The problem is that he represents what America has become--a place where short term profit, careerism, superficial looks, and selfishness rule supreme.  In a country of millions of people, anyone could have been the Republican nominee. Romney didn't accidentally become the nominee.  Ron Paul, a man of integrity, was a real, viable choice who was rejected outright by the people.  We chose Romney because he is us--a piece of shit.  America is not the exceptional, shining city on the hill.  We are a nation of individualists who want to grab our share of the cash, fuck everybody else, because "I gots to gets mine," has become the new spirit of the age.

Obama is more or less the same thing, with a slightly more human touch.  He's a nice guy who kills people with attack drones, and he is willing to throw a few scraps to the poor so they won't revolt.  But he's no saint.  Just like Cornel West said, he is basically a black mascot for Wall Street promoted by the public relations industry.  He serves his corporate masters well, although this time they like Romney more, so they've decided to give him a bit more money.

The media coverage of the RNC has been absolutely shameful.  On ORA TV, they quite literally had a public relations expert as a panel member discussing the event.  As a society, we have become so contemptuous of democracy that we actually have PR guys commenting shamelessly about the event.  For supposed "balance," there were the faux-liberal guys and the supposedly right wing pundits like Ben Stein to utter their commentary.  We would have been better off listening to the old guys making wisecracks from the Muppets.  This kind of "balance" nicely keeps the "debate" within the proper ideological bounds.  There is no discussion of substance.  We focus on how Mitt's hair looked, the horse race between him and Obama, and whether or not Paul Ryan will bring in more votes.  No challenges to the system are mentioned.  In a time when the media constantly yammers on about a person's "brand," democracy becomes a commodity, bought and sold to the highest bidder.  This reflects a total disregard for democracy.

It is telling that people care so little about the future of their country that the ratings for the convention were terrible.  This shouldn't be surprising, considering how few people even bother to vote.  They don't care enough to inform themselves and be engaged in the political process.  And it's not because they are cynical and believe their votes don't matter--it's because they don't care.  As a country, we are so misinformed that there are still a substantial number of people who believe that Obama was not born in America, that Obamacare was going to lead to "death panels" where the government was to decide whether granny would live or die, and morons like "Joe the Plumber' actually are actually considered serious political candidates--a man who shoots fruit with firearms while waxing poetic about Obama's "socialism."  The Internet is ubiquitous.  A world of knowledge is at our fingertips.  Such levels of ignorance are inexcusable.

The problem is that our politicians are us.  We elect them.  And the picture of America isn't pretty.  It's no surprise we are an atomized, selfish culture filled with people who idolize selfish pricks like Steve Jobs, a man who spent his life stealing handicap parking spaces, building sweatshops in China to sell overpriced devices which restrict our freedom, and getting us to build our hopes and dreams around iGadgets which are all style and no substance.  Only in America can a man who uses the likeness of Gandhi to sell iCrap at overpriced amounts be worshiped and glorified, while a man like Bradley Manning, who exposes the lies and misdeeds of government be reviled and hated.  We are too worried about Mitt's hair to fret over the fact that Manning has been locked up for over 850 days without a trial in solitary confinement, or that the President can now order robotic drones to kill American citizens who are suspected terrorists.

We have made our own bed.  Now is our time to lie in it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why Free Software Matters

In law school, I didn't focus my program based on IP or intellectual property law.  Many of my friends who had backgrounds in the sciences and engineering chose to do so and some of them are now patent attorneys.  Nevertheless, the subject does interest me.  Recently I've been learning more about the Free Software Foundation, run by Richard M. Stallman, founder of the GNU free software license, copyleft, and one of the founding fathers of the GNU/Linux operating system.  The areas of copyright, patent and trademark law are all critically important in the Information Age, because more and more of the economy is based on knowledge, not manufactured goods.  This means the laws governing how we regulate these areas will greatly affect human well being.  Instead of some arcane subject that has no relevance to non-geeks, this is an area that fundamentally affects who we are as citizens, creators, consumers, and workers.

Stallman is the founder of the GNU GPL license, which protects the freedom of the user of software against unfair power being exerted by the authors of software.  Usually, this means large corporations with large concentrations of wealth--i.e. Apple and Microsoft.

Here is the definition of free software coming from the Free Software Foundation:

When users don't control the program, the program controls the users. The developer controls the program, and through it controls the users. This nonfree or “proprietary” program is therefore an instrument of unjust power.
Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.
A program is free software if the program's users have the four essential freedoms:
  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Stallman makes the argument that as the world becomes more digitized, we become more and more dependent upon our machines.  When those machines are locked down by the makers of those machines, we become more dependent upon the makers.  This reduces our freedom.  An analogy he makes is that of a recipe for great soup.  What if a chef made a terrific soup, and you wished to make your own.  But when you ask him for the recipe, he refuses to share it.  Instead, he says "I will make the soup any way you want it, but it will cost you $50,000."  After all, he does have a monopoly over how the soup is made (this is what copyright does).  "Maybe I will get to making the soup the way you want it in two years.  I have a convention to cater so I may or may not get around to it."  You would think this is absurd.  Yet locked down software code creates a black box that makes altering the software impossible.  This alienates you from the devices which affect an increasing share of your life.  For tablet and cell phone users, this is no small power.

One of Stallman's biggest concerns is the erosion of traditional freedoms at the hands of technology by so called DRM or "digital restrictions management" technologies.  E-books are a great example of this.  A normal book cannot be locked out.  You are free to share it with a friend, leave it to your heirs, sell it, or keep it indefinitely.  Yet places like Amazon and Apple sell you e-books with DRM that limits all of these freedoms.  In fact, a few years ago, Amazon reached out to the owners of the Orwellian novel "1984" and took the title off their Kindles after there was a Canadian copyright dispute.  How ironic.  

Calling sharing "pirating" and equating it with theft is something that erodes the civility of a society.  "Piracy", says Stallman, involves the violent raiding of ships at sea and the murdering of the crew.  Equating this with sharing is a diseased way to think.  It is immoral.  It puts you in the awkward position of either being a bad neighbor or not using a software program.  Given this dilemma, you are better off not using the software rather than being a bad neighbor.

The other issue is that the sharing of software is something that improves society.  Traditional theft involves depriving one person the use of an object to the benefit of another who does not have the right to possess that object.  But with digital goods, the sharing of software is more akin to the sharing of ideas, and shared knowledge enriches everyone at the expense of no one.  In fact, it is less efficient to arbitrarily deprive the poor of useful software that might help empower them when sharing such knowledge is virtually at no cost to the software author.

But won't people stop writing software if people share their software?  This makes the assumption that people only code because they are getting paid.  Yet, like art and running, coding is fun.  Working on projects, even for free, is rewarding in itself.  Just look at the success of the GNU/Linux operating system, which is free, open source, and created mainly by volunteers.  The same goes for Firefox, the amazing web browser, Libreoffice and Openoffice are two rivals to Microsoft Office that function beautifully.  Thunderbird is an alternative to Microsoft Outlook, and Imgburn is a DVD/Blu Ray authoring program that is much more stable and less bloated than Nero Burning ROM and other crash prone programs.  GIMP is an alternative to Photoshop that is very powerful and useful.

While there may be an initial reduction in the amount of software due to programs being free, in the long run the additional collaboration, working out of bugs, and efficiencies built into the free software model will make up the difference.  

It is important to note, that Stallman is referring to "free" to mean "free as in freedom" not as in "free beer."  Programmers can still be paid for their work.  In fact, he envisions a future where programmers are still paid to code, making customized software for private enterprise and providing support for software products.  Unlike the Soviet Union where the ability to copy software and documents was heavily restricted and sharers of software were sent to Siberia, or in the United States, where recording industry trade associations send the police in riot gear to raid the homes of teenagers for making copies of Greenday albums, the free software movement is actually more pro-capitalist because it encourages openness, freedom, and customization because the source code can be viewed and modified.  It is pro-market and pro-capitalism.  It, however, anti-mega corporation.  It causes people to become less dependent on the corporation.

This is one of the reasons why I hate Apple so much.  Apple is the embodiment of anti-free.  The products themselves are locked down so you can't even change the battery without relying on the big brother Apple to do the work for you.  You can't change the software because the source code is hidden.  On the iPhone, you can't use apps that haven't been censored by Apple.  If they don't like something, you don't even get to see it.  You don't control the programs.  The programs control you.  And Apple controls the programs.

Stallman makes the important point that to lose your freedom in the name of convenience ultimately causes the user and society overall to lose.  Having your freedom is more important than having a new shiny gadget that is being used to maximize you as an economic commodity, not as a human being.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Simple Things, aka Slowing Down A Bit

Yesterday, my wife and I had a modest dinner.  For an appetizer, we split a garden fresh tomato.  It was perfectly red, ripe, and naturally sweet.  With a little salt and pepper, each bite was delectable.  The main course was farm fresh Italian sausage, made on the grill with garden zucchini and summer squash.  The entire meal came from our neighbor's farm.  Sometimes, simplicity is the best sauce.  What surprised the both of us was how quickly we became full from just the tomato.  Ordinarily, splitting a medium sized tomato wouldn't have this affect.  It's almost as if nature had packed it with so many vitamins and fiber, it filled us up in a deeper way.  Instead of just taking up stomach space, it actually provided nourishment, and the body could feel it.  In response, the appetite felt satiated because the body had finally gotten what it needed.

In a similar way, slowing down helps us to take in the spiritual vitamins and minerals we need.  In a time when people are busily running from this scheduled event to that, it is easy to get caught up in the anticipation and not savor the moment.  It's a form of spiritual fast food--you can gorge yourself with activity and be starving for meaning.  In my own life, I find myself harried on a frequent basis.  Running to the post office, the bank, filing things, drafting documents and meeting with clients, it is easy to forget to slow down sometimes.  I was looking out the window yesterday and noticing that summer is rapidly drawing to an end.  There won't be many more days of the leaves on the trees, and it will be cold here in Ohio.  There will be plenty of time for indoor activities.

A friend of mine was the postmaster of a small post office.  I used to see him every day.  We would chat about this and that.  He always took the time to be friendly and make the visit an authentic experience.  He was never in a hurry, and the pace of the post office was perfect in this way.  It is the little things like this that helps make life more flavorful.  He recently retired, and I am going to miss him.  In the big push to increase "efficiency", older postal workers are being encouraged to retire while many of the smaller offices are being closed.  The lucky ones are only having their hours cut back.  It's unfortunate, because these small offices and these seasoned workers in rural areas are like garden vegetables--they taste just a little more sweet because they are closer to home.  They aren't rushed, they aren't plucked early and shipped from afar--they are personal and thoroughly human.  The same goes for chatting with your local carrier and Saturday delivery.  In an increasingly atomized society, the mail carrier is sometimes the only human interaction some folks have all day.  As it stands now, we are encouraged to live more and more of our lives interacting with screens--computer monitors, television screens, smartphone screens, and iPad screens.  Going to the county fair, I saw more teenagers looking at their phones receiving text messages than the lonely animals and rides begging for attention.

The whole notion of modern "efficiency" is perplexing.  Somehow, we have become convinced that it is more efficient to ship jobs halfway across the planet so we can have the Chinese make things.  From a bottom line cost perspective, it may be cheaper to make goods this way, but it certainly isn't more efficient, not when you have people needing jobs in the U.S., and not when we used to have factories and an infrastructure designed to manufacture goods and ship them around the U.S.  But efficiency in the U.S. is only measured by cost, not by real-impact cost.  Externalities don't count.  So if I pollute a river to make a pair of shoes and then sell those shoes at a profit but don't have to pay for the environmental cleanup, I am acting "efficiently."  Never mind if this costs the community more in medical costs because more children get leukemia.  This doesn't count.

In a mad world, obsessed with profit and always running, it is nice to take the time to slow down a bit, enjoy a tasty tomato, and open one's mail--while the postal system still exists.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Working Man's Economic Survival Guide

The system isn't set up to benefit the average, working class American.  In fact, it is designed to impoverish the average American with unnecessary consumption fueled by the great Chinese credit card. Billions of dollars are spent by the advertising industry to create artificial wants and artificial "needs" in people.  The government issues bonds, prints money, and the Chinese buy these bonds.  The banks get lent the money, who offer it to consumers to buy things they cannot afford.  This is supposed to fuel "economic growth."  Unfortunately, this model isn't sustainable.  You can only play economic shell games for so long without creating real value before the system collapses.  The Chinese are currently in the business of making things.  We aren't.  Most of our manufacturing was offshored to create short term profits for investors and CEOs.  Sure, everyone's lives got ruined, but that's neither here nor there.

After the housing bubble burst and the financial meltdown of 2008, Wall Street got bailed out while Main Street got foreclosed on.  Debts were socialized while profits were privatized to the big banks.  In a system like this, if you aren't a big investor, you are going to lose.  Big time.  Due to the corruption of money in the electoral system, change isn't coming, regardless of the next set of elections.

That means you are going to have to rely on self-help if you plan on surviving.  The politicians aren't going to look out for your needs, not when they are busy giving large agribusiness more subsidies and cutting food stamps for poor children.

One of the big areas of inflation lately has been food prices.  The drought of 2012 is only going to make these worse.  People are going to need to start growing their own food.  If you have land in the country, this shouldn't be too difficult.  Living in the city is more challenging.  Thankfully, it only takes a small amount of space to grow your own vegetables, even if you have to do so in flower pots.  The other alternative is to join together with our folks in a food cooperative.  Everyone pitches in the money to work together in raising a community garden where the food is apportioned.  The other benefit is you can choose to grow your food organically and avoid pesticides and herbicides.

Meat is more difficult to come by.  I have friends who are big deer hunters.  If hunting isn't your thing, then networking with friends who are deer hunters is a great idea.  Many catch more than enough meat for themselves and are looking to sell it.  The benefit of deer meat is that it is rich with Omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation in the body and are good for the heart.  The same goes for fishing, although you have to be aware of where fish were caught to avoid eating fish contaminated by toxins.  Living in the country, you can also find farm fresh eggs at very reasonable cost.  The other option is to go together with another family and buy a whole, half, or quarter cow from an Amish farmer.  You buy in bulk and pay much less.  Many of these cows are not raised on factory farms, so it is much more humane for them.  It also supports local agriculture, which is better for the local economy, not to mention how much cleaner pastured beef can be and how much more health it is for the cow because it isn't feeding exclusively on grains which harm the cow's digestive system and make it sick.

Trading is another important survival skill.  Much of the time, friends and neighbors have skills you don't.  Both of you may be lacking money, but not the need for services.  My neighbor is a mechanic.  He can open my car hood and tell me what is wrong.  I look at a broken down car and make the sign of the cross.  I do know about fixing computers.  If your computer has a virus, then I can get rid of it.  My neighbor isn't into computers, although he has one and needs it to conduct his business.  Thanks to the fun of barter, he now has a working computer and I have a running car.  Not bad.

But what if you need something that a friend or neighbor can't do?  What if you need a plumber but you don't know one?  The first thing you should try is to look up the problem on the Internet and try to solve the problem yourself.  Many times there are tutorials on Youtube about how to fix things that are much more helpful than looking up the problem in a book with diagrams.  Most plumbing repairs can be done with a little patience and a lot of dedication.  You just have to be willing to get your hands dirty.  But if the problem is beyond you, then all hope is not lost.  That's where craigslist comes in.  By putting a free ad on craigslist, you can seek a plumber or handyman with experience and make an offer on the price.  In a depressed labor market, usually someone will be willing to do the work for a reasonable price.  This person might even be willing to barter with you if you have some special skill they need.  It could be that his or her computer is broke, too.

Getting rid of TV is the best thing you can do to keep your budget in survival mode.  The ads on TV are designed to make you think your life sucks.  Just watch TV shows and in them everyone seems rich.  Remember "Friends"?  Those people had shitty jobs and lived in a super posh apartment in New York.  Plus they never seemed to actually have to work.  When you live in Manhattan, you have to work your ass off just to live in a broom closet.  The same goes for clothing.

The Real Housewives of Whatever live luxurious lifestyles filled with gossip and ease.  Seeing how they live can really make you question your own existence.  This is especially true with the Kardashians, who are famous for being famous.  They buy Bentleys and pose for magazine covers.  This is how they "work."  Unfortunately, most of us have nothing in common with these kinds of lifestyles.

We aren't in a "Leave it to Beaver" world anymore.  America's days of producing things and creating value based on reality seem limited.  We are going to become more and more like a Third World country.  That means a huge number of poor people and a small number of immensely rich people, like Mitt Romney.  The remaining 99% need to start thinking creatively and out of the box if they expect to survive.  Now is the time to begin.

The books below are fantastic and highly recommended for the remaining 99%.

How To Survive Without A Salary: Learning to Live the Conserver Lifestyle by Charles Long

Your Money or Your Life