Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Saying No to Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu has to be the most politically tone def, annoying, aggressive shit on the world stage today.  He's like the annoying customer that a waiter can't please no matter what.  This guy has the balls to defend Israeli settlements at the same time that peace talks are scheduled.  Let's go ahead and take a shit on the same people we are supposed to be making peace with right before negotiations begin.

His hypocrisy is epic.  While Israel has a treasure trove of nuclear weapons and chemical weapons, this guy has the chutzpah to condemn Iran for developing nuclear weapons.  What makes Israel so fucking special?  If Israel isn't allowed to bully all nations around it, then it throws a fit.  Part of the reason for discord in the region is because Israel is already disproportionately powerful compared with its neighbors.  This creates insecurity amongst the other nations, and for good reason.  After all, the U.S. has already invaded Iraq and Afghanistan.  It has military bases surrounding Iran and troops in Saudi Arabia.  Iran would be insane not to be concerned about Israel given the American right wing and its lips being sown to the asses of the Israel government.

On the news, we keep hearing about the "Security of Israel."  Israel has enough money, weapons, and kick ass power to take care of itself.  In 1967 it kicked some serious ass.  They are fine.  It's practically a mantra in the U.S. that we have to worry about the "security of Israel."

Even if Iran were to get a nuclear bomb, the government there wouldn't actually use it.  The Supreme Leader has no problem treating its own citizens like shit, but he is not aggressive towards other countries.  If anything, it would balance the power in the Middle East sort of like the Cold War between the U.S. and Russia.  There's nothing like mutually assured destruction to make peace between enemies.

It's interesting how the right wing in America obsesses about Israel.  Why is that?  We don't see them worrying about the well being of Nairobi, East Timor, or other nations. 

The people who live in Israel are fine folks, but their government is run by assholes.  These are the same dickheads that joined forced with the Apartheid government of South Africa back in the day. 

We have been kissing Israeli ass for 60 years and there is still no peace.  Maybe it is time for a change in direction.  If Obama were to tell Netanyahu to go fuck himself, America and the Middle East would be far better off.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Toilet Seat Politics

Forget the health care debate.  The real issue of our time is that of the toilet seat.  Should it be left up or down?  That is the real question, one which affects all of us who live in mixed gender households.

Many men are admonished by the women in their lives to "put the seat back down" after using the toilet.  However, this declaration makes some presuppositions that shouldn't be considered automatic.  After all, what is the natural state of the toilet seat?  Does the design of the toilet seat lend it to being put down as opposed to being left up?  Are there safety considerations?  What about the convenience factor of the other members of the family?

Given the design of most toilet seats, they just as easily remain up as they do down.  The exception to this is the foam filled toilet seat.  These tend to fall down and pose a safety hazard to midgets, dwarfs, and three year old boys.  These seats are best left down for the benefit of all.

Some women make the argument that they might accidentally fall in the toilet while attempting to pee at night if the toilet seat is left up.  However, I have yet to hear about this actually happening to anyone.  Besides, this is a matter of conscientiousness--one should always be paying enough attention to one's surroundings that one doesn't fall into the toilet.  From a legal perspective, this would fall under the "open and obvious" hazard which would exempt one from legal liability.

Next we move to convenience.  From a utilitarian perspective, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.  If there are more women than men in a household, there is naturally going to be more convenience for the many as opposed to the one by putting the seat down after use.  If you also consider in the fact that both sexes do number 2, then this argument is also "solidified," so to speak.

From a deontological point of view, leaving the seat up or down remains a question in itself that needs to be asked, not whether it is more practically beneficial for a greater number of people.  It doesn't seem to be morally useful in itself to consider the vertical status of the toilet seat.

Applying the Golden Rule after doing the golden sprinkle might make everyone happy.  Like the O'Henry story of the "Gift of the Magi," men would lift up the seat after peeing to please their wives while always finding it up after their wives sprinkle because their loved ones had done the same.  WWJD?  It depends on whether he was married or still living with male roommates.  My guess is that if he can walk on water, he can make the toilet seat do whatever he wants hands free.

While Freud might say that women become so angry about this issue because they have penis envy and the lowered seat is a reminder of this, I beg to differ.  Maybe we should be like Soloman and order the toilet seat be placed half up after every use to accommodate everyone.  Whoever decides to relent would then be the winner.

Monday, December 2, 2013

When We Die

One of these days you will be on your death bed.  When that time comes, you will have to look back on your life and see whether or not you are ashamed of who you were and what you did.  Did you spend your life spreading goodwill, generosity, and kindness?  Did you spend that time trying to build up treasure for yourself you won't be able to bring with you?  What sort of unethical things might you have done to build up those riches? 

If you invent a cure for a disease and make money while making the world a better place, then you deserve  it.  But if you spent your life deceiving and manipulating others to gain wealth, or simply acted as a parasite on the system, then shame on you.  The horror of horrors is the privilege of looking back and seeing that your life was wasted.

Studies have shown time and again that the rich believe themselves more entitled than others.  As a group, they give less to charity and report more willingness to lie and cheat to maintain their riches.  No wonder the Bible says "Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."  Matthew 19:23-24.

Our society celebrates the life of Steve Jobs, a man who used his genius to build a company which restricts its customers, manipulates people, and treats its overseas workers poorly.  Most people have never heard of Richard Stallman, the man who invented the GNU operating license, which gave us free and open source software.  This is the type of open and free software which is used in Android mobile phones, NASA satellites, Internet servers, and many other applications.  Stallman was considered a computer genius who instead of focusing on profits, spent his life giving back and trying to make the world a better place.  Jobs spent his life building walls to enslave people while Stallman spent his trying to tear down these walls.

American society is still infested with the stench of the Protestant work ethic and the insane notion that people who are rich are better people who deserve what they have.  While many rich people are deserving, there are some rich people who have become so by swindling others--think of Wall Street bankers who orchestrated the prime loan meltdown, corrupt executives, and politicians who enrich themselves through greed and corruption. 

America hates its poor.  If you are poor, the notion is that it is your fault because you are either lazy or stupid.  This means you deserve to be subject to all sorts of indignities to make sure you feel even more useless just for surviving--these include drug tests for welfare recipients, making children who receive free lunches work after school, and the like.  Corporate executives who received bailouts for the companies they bankrupted were spared such indignities.  The bonuses went out like usual. 

The system is set up to be diseased and incentivize the wrong things.  But individuals have their choices as well.  If you are extremely talented and you use your talent to do something harmful, even if you are well paid for it, you are better off never having used that talent.  Adolf Eichmann may have been an efficiency and planning virtuoso, but his use of these skills to organize the murder of millions on an industrial scale is no excuse.  He would have been better off being a janitor.  At least then he would have do no harm.  Those who are blessed with the most talent are expected to have more responsibility.  Privilege brings responsibility.

The trick is not entangling yourself with burdens you must meet.  Debt for luxury items is one example.  Once the credit card companies have their teeth stuck in you, you become a slave to your paymaster.  That means fudging ethics when necessary.  Live simply.  Need little so little can be expected of you by those with the purse strings.  Move through life trying to do as little harm as possible.  If you have gifts, use them for good, not evil.  If the world has never heard of you and thinks you are a loser, that means you are probably on the right track.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

We Make God In Our Own Image

It has been said that we are made in the image of God.  This may be objectively true, but it is not true subjectively.  The truth is that we make God in our own image.  If we are fearful, hateful, ignorant, obsessed with control, and filled with anger, then our image of God will have those qualities.  If we are filled with love, kindness, generosity and compassion, then our God will look like that.

Our notion of God has nothing to do with any real qualities God may possess.  God's qualities are quite apart from our imaginative projections.  The danger comes in when people create a golden calf like version of God and then use it to bludgeon others. 

God cannot do whatever He wants and still remain a being worthy of worship.  If God really does commit atrocities, he doesn't get a pass just because he has the power to condemn someone to hell.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.  If God does evil, he is no longer the ultimate being worthy of worship.  As such, God doing evil is a logical impossibility.  For the same reason, it is absurd to imagine God acting like a spiteful dickhead as described in many of the Old Testament stories. 

If you worship God because you fear hell, then you are only acting out of selfish interest.  True principals are not conditioned upon one using strength and intimidation to control another.  The truly righteous man would thus have no choice but to give God the middle finger and happily depart to hell.  For these reasons, I reject the image of God described as an almighty tyrant, demanding supplication and using fear to control people.  If God is not one of love, compassion, and persuasion instead of coercion, I have no use for Him and gladly open my arms to eternal hellfire.

Thankfully we see an image of God best represented in the life and death of Jesus Christ.  Jesus brought a fuller picture of God, one who suffers for us and who offers himself in sacrifice for others.  He was one of healing and compassion for the most sick and vulnerable.  Jesus made demands that were principled and required much.  Jesus shows us an image of God worthy of worship, one who goes beyond what humanity ordinarily offers.  It moves beyond our feeble projections to show an image of God that really matters.

True love drives out fear. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hide Your Wallet

Whenever someone starts to appeal to fear--whether it be your plumber, exterminator, pastor, or politician--hide your wallet, because a swindle is coming.  It's no secret that fear is an incredible motivator.  It can overcome our more rational brain and cause us to make irrational decisions which can quickly separate us from our money. 

The appeal to fear is the foundation of the "War on Terrorism," which is nothing more than a way for politicians to make a mad grab for power at the expense of everyone's privacy and freedom.  The statistical probability of actually being killed by a terrorist attack is miniscule compared with real dangers, such as heart disease, cancer, and smoking cigarettes.  Yet compared to the risk, the money and cost of freedom and privacy spent to attack terrorism is totally out of proportion.

Politicians like to use fear to get us to vote for them.  Instead of discussing issues, it is easier to rely on mudslinging.  Better to make us fear the other candidate than to state our positions rationally.  The sad thing is that this works.

It takes work to counter our more primitive, fearful natures.  But in a world of atomic weapons, industrial grade weapons, and chemical warfare, we cannot afford to continue being tribalistic and seeing the world as divided into us, "the good guys" and them, "the bad guys."  The world is more complex than that.  The issues aren't always so black and white.  Our very future depends upon looking past fear and embracing the virtues of openness and understanding.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The GOP's New Attempts to Attack the Affordable Care Act

Turn on the television and you hear nothing but a litany of false cries from the GOP about how Obama "lied" because he promised prior to the passing of the ACA that folks would be able to keep their current policies if they wished but now insurance companies are cancelling individual policies.  The reason for this is because such policies do not comply with the minimum requirements of the new health care law.  These policies were cheap, high deductible policies which covered very little.  The ACA requires that a baseline of health care services are covered by health insurance policies.  The reason for this is to ensure that all people receive preventative health care services and that a minimum standard of care is guaranteed for all citizens.  The ACA protects against individual policies which formerly cost little but provided little and were essentially worthless.  These policies needed to be abolished anyway because they were essentially ripping consumers off.

But instead of sharing this information in a truthful manner, opponents of the new law are using it as an opportunity to attack the president and the new law.  This is just as much of a lie as anything the president has told, however, because they are failing to mention that the cancellation of these policies will essentially be good for consumers because they will be able to get new policies through the health care exchanges which cover more and are a better value anyway.

Turn on the Obama Hate Channel (aka Fox News), and you hear nothing but how the website has been a debacle and how Kathleen Sebelius must resign.  While the roll out of the website has been flawed, the attempt to get Sebelius to resign is designed to help derail the ACA by then causing several months of contentious confirmation hearings and attempts to delay implementation of the law.

It is unbelievable how stingy and backward this nation is compared with other industrialized nations.  The current GOP opposition is exactly the same nonsense they pulled when Social Security was passed during the Roosevelt Administration and during the Great Society legislation passed by LBJ.  The notion that as a society we must all contribute a little bit and share so that all people can receive life sustaining medical care isn't complicated.  It's patently obvious.  As I mentioned in prior articles, the real issue is the fear of uptight whites that blacks, immigrants, and "lazy" whites might get something for nothing.  They'd rather watch this country burn then see that happen.  If a few million innocent children, disabled, elderly, or very sick people die in the process, so be it. 

As a society, we cannot afford to have people continuing to use the emergency room as their primary care provider.  This is terribly expensive, inefficient, and harmful to people who have real medical emergencies.  Demanding that all people buy health insurance or pay a penalty is a way to avoid mooching by those who might otherwise go to the ER where they cannot be turned away for financial reasons.  If you don't want to buy health insurance, too bad.  You always run the risk of getting hurt in a car crash or having a heart attack.  These events will cause you to use the medical system and you won't be able to afford the cost of paying the hospital and doctor bills yourself.  This means everyone else must pay your way.  This is the true injustice that naysayers of the ACA refuse to acknowledge.

Despite the pathetic attempts of the GOP to derail the ACA, it is going to be implemented, whether they like it or not.  I just hope that during the next election, voters hammer their asses for being so obstructionist.  The sooner there are less members of the Tea Party in Congress, the better.

Good riddens.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Why the GOP Wants to Defund Obamacare

Despite being passed into law and surviving a Supreme Court challenge, the Affordable Care Act, sarcastically called "Obamacare" by the GOP, is still facing challenges from Tea Party enthusiasts and other members of the House GOP.  Tonight the federal government will shut down as the House refuses to allow the debt limit to be raised without Obamacare being delayed.

It's hard to believe that a group of people can be so contemptuous of a bill that allows everyone to have health insurance and helps reduce the long term costs of health care.  They would rather tank the economy than allow those whom they believe to be undeserving to receive health care subsidies.  This smug, self-righteous attitude is what fobs itself off as modern day "conservativism."  If this means fucking over the elderly and disabled who won't receive their Social Security money, or troops serving overseas, then so be it.  

You would think that most Americans would be tired of the brinksmanship and game playing.  But because the Congressional districts have been gerrymandered to suit Republicans, they will keep getting elected and holding this nation hostage.  It's embarrassing.  Other nations see these antics as ridiculous and backward.  America looks like a puritanical wasteland, filled with uptight whites who can't stand the notion of a bunch of blacks, Mexicans, and white rednecks whom they see as being lazy trying to get "free stuff."  They would rather be damned than allow that to happen.

I do blame some of this on America's excessive whiteness.  It is terribly uptight when it comes to sex and work--the two areas that show America's puritanical beginnings.  We love to get upset when Miley Cyrus twerks on TV or when Ronald Reagan tells his stories about welfare queens driving Cadillacs.  Your average uptight suburban white has a heart attack if you don't mow your lawn once a week.  Uptight whites are obsessed with nosing into the business of their neighbors and telling them how to live.  When they aren't doing this, they are busy supporting politicians who support intruding on other countries, forcing them to follow the "American Way."  This is the basis of American Exceptionalism--we are righteous white Christians who have the truth and we are going to impose it on others whether they like it or not.

The good news is that America is changing.  The uptight white stranglehold is being loosened.  Whites aren't multiplying fast enough to keep up with those of other races, which will hurt them at election time.  Many of these rising minorities grew up with different values, and these values rarely reflect those of white, suburban and rural America.  The day of reckoning for the GOP is coming.  

The sooner the better, I say.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Should We Bomb Syria?

Despite attempts at obfuscation, it is clear that the chemical attacks in Syria killing 1400 men, women and children were performed by the Syrian government run by Bashar Al Assad.  Medical personnel treating the victims described the attacks--victims had blisters in their lungs which caused them to drown in their own fluids.  Rows of body bags with dead children bearing glassy eyes is not something you forget soon.  Any person who would order such attacks has lost his or her humanity.  From a moral perspective, such behavior cannot go unpunished because it sets a precedent that such attacks are okay.  War is gruesome enough.  But there needs to be lines which cannot be crossed.  Members of the global community have to draw lines and say that as human beings, there are certain forms of violence we simply won't accept, and gassing human innocent people like you are exterminating cockroaches or rats is totally unacceptable.

In his op-ed in the New York Times, Vladimir Putin makes the argument that if the U.S. decides to attack Syria on its own, against the wishes of the U.N. Security Council, then this promotes future lawlessness which will ultimately result in increased global violence.  As a general notion this is true.  However, there are some occasions on which we have to look beyond the letter of the law.  What if we were back during WWII and we knew that the Germans were killing millions on an industrial scale but the Security Council voted to do nothing about it?  While it would technically be a violation of international law to act unilaterally, from a moral perspective a strike which would end the mass killing would be required.  The only caveat to this would be if doing something unilaterally wasn't likely to work or if it might make things worse.  As it stands now, limited strikes by the U.S. to destroy chemical weapon stockpiles and strikes to damage Assad's ability to use them in the future is limited and not a means of widening the conflict.  The Obama administration had no plans to put American boots on the ground.  The plan was not for an Iraq style invasion.

There have been many criticisms of the Obama administration over his handling of this crisis.  While some may argue that Obama's turning over of the decision to attack Syria to Congress was a means of political coverage by leaving the fault with Congress, in fact this decision was, from a practical point of view, correct.  This set a precedent for future presidents to allow Congress to weigh in before military power is used.  For American democracy, this is a good thing given the last 30 years of unchecked presidential power.  Further, the debate is good for the country.  Now some are criticizing Obama by saying he appears weak by going along with Russian plans to have Syria turn over its chemical stockpiles and avoid a strike.  Innocent lives are at stake here.  An attack on Syria would involve the death of at least some innocent people.  At the end of the day, if this solution leads to Syria being chemically disarmed, this is a good outcome for everyone.  Worrying about "saving face" should not be the primary goal of U.S. military policy.  We don't live in feudal Japan.

In his op-ed piece, Vladimir Putin criticizes the notion of American Exceptionalism, the concept that America is some sort of unique country among all others.  He is right about this.  America, like any other country, has its strengths and its weaknesses.  It is one of the freest countries in the world with respect to free speech and religious freedoms.  Unlike Russia, you don't go to jail for criticizing the government.  But America is also one of the most harsh when it comes to criminal punishment.  It has more people incarcerated and for longer periods than any other modern industrial nation.  It has some of the worst health outcomes and most inefficient health care systems.  Other nations also believed they were special--Ancient Rome and the former British Empire also believed the same thing.  It is called ethnocentrism.  Religious folks call it "pride."  The danger of American Exceptionalism is that it leads to self-righteous and predatory behavior.  If you are the good guys and everyone else is the bad guy, then you can do anything and be justified.

While Putin is right about the dangers of American Exceptionalism, he is wrong about whether the U.S. would be justified in attacking Syria or not.  We must look beyond pure legalism as embodied in U.N. law.  An attack by the U.S. would not be American Exceptionalism, but the equivalent of the police sending in the SWAT team to stop a crazed madman from continuing a shooting spree.  Putin's ad hominem attack against the U.S. is a diversion.  The truth of the matter is that beyond his arguments is a strategic alliance to Syria that serves the economic interests of the Russian Federation.  He will say anything to protect that alliance.  If he can find moral grounds to make this defense, then so be it.

While Bashar Al Assad is a bastard and evil, the rebels fighting against him are the same or worse.  Many of them are members of Al Quaeda.  They have been known to commit atrocities themselves.  Some of them  have brutally murdered priests and other religious.  The moron John McCain is hell bent on arming them.  If the rebels win the war in Syria, things could be worse than they are now.  History shows that arming the Taliban when they opposed the Soviets in Afghanistan was a terrible idea.  It caused blowback and terrible consequences for the U.S.  In the long run, it would be better for everyone if Assad remains in power.  Giving the rebels weapons which will later be used against us is not a good idea.  Further, by giving them weapons, we change the balance of power and cause the conflict to continue longer than if we just let Assad win and restore a sense of order.  But this does not mean that if he refuses to disarm his chemical weapons, we shouldn't strike at these capabilities.

Obama has played this one out just fine.  There are many reasons to bust his balls, but his handling of this matter is not one of them.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

On Miley Cyrus and Her Twerk

"As long as Miley Cyrus is a slut I don't care...about anything"

--Troy Seman

Once again, America is shocked by another VMA show.  This year, the flavor du jour was little Hannah Montana twerking on Robin Thicke while he performed "Blurred Lines."  I guess she's "all grows up."  The performance by Miley Cyrus shouldn't have been a surprise.  History never fails to repeat itself:  female child stars attempting to make the transition to adult pop star generally follow a predictable path:

1.  As a child star, cultivate a wholesome image.  You probably worked for Disney.  Sell a ton of albums and remain cute looking.  You got the job because you are cute looking and somewhat talented.

2.  In the later teen years, start to do some solo work apart from Disney.  This material is usually popish and light.  Keep the wholesome image thing going.

3.  Around the age of 18 or so, cut off your hair, swear, get caught using drugs, drink heavily, and perform racy lyrics and songs.  Garner as much media attention and shock for yourself as possible.  The more sexually suggestive, the better.  Tattoos are a bonus but not required.

4.  After a few years of getting shock attention and putting out racy albums, you have the option of calming down a bit.  Either way, in your late 20's and early 30's, the world isn't going to be shocked by your behavior anymore.

This formula has worked for Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.  Failing to follow the formula risks you falling into irrelevance as you move away from being a child star to an adult performer.

As for Miley's performance at the 2013 VMA Award Show, even Robin Thicke himself said the entire thing was no surprise--his wife wasn't angered because the entire thing had been rehearsed for weeks before.  Like everything else, it was carefully scripted.  Television producers don't like surprises.

America is shocked by these things because of its puritanical roots.  We aren't shocked by extreme violence on television or the images of drone strikes.  Parents let their children see violent movies way before they are allowed to see sexually explicit material.  This is part of the cultural ethos of America and performers like Miley Cyrus know to to take this ethos all the way to the bank.

What shocked me about the performance was how incredibly ridiculous it was.  There were dancing teddy bears with giant asses.  Cyrus wore a skin tight, see through outfit with a teddy bear on it.  Ever since she decided to emulate Pink and go for the punk rock hairstyle, her hair looks like shit.  She kept sticking out her tongue to add to the shock value.  The entire thing was totally banal.  Unlike sexually suggestive performances by Lady GaGa that are at least somewhat artistic, this one just sucked.

Miley Cyrus can do whatever she wants, but I refuse to be shocked when I already know the formula.  It's just too canned to be believable.  My wallet is staying closed.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"I Voted for the Black Guy and Got the White Guy"

Today a military judge sentenced Bradley Manning to 35 years in prison for whistleblowing.  Manley turned over thousands of documents to the journalism website Wikileaks.  One of the revelations was of a U.S. helicopter attack slaughtering over a dozen innocent people, including an attack upon first responders and children.  At the end of the video, one of the pilots says to the other after seeing children were shot "that's what you get for bringing children to a firefight."  These were the children of a man taking his kids to school and stopped his van to help the injured get a ride to the emergency room.

We live in a fucked up world when the Nobel Peace Prize winning president is a war criminal who has killed almost one thousand people in drone strikes.  A man who oversees a vast spying apparatus that records the communications of all Americans, a man who uses the resources of the government to crush whisteblowers and bully foreign governments into grounding the planes of foreign presidents in violation of international law.

Manning should be the one with the Nobel Peace Prize.  Obama should be impeached and sentenced for war crimes.  Most people are too brain dead to even care.  They are too busy pressing buttons on their smartphones and twittering about Kanye and Kim Kardashian's baby.

Manning's lawyers now report that he plans on asking Obama for a pardon.  The chances of this being successful is about 0%.  At the end of the day, the government monolith has crushed a man of incredible conscience and destroyed his life to make an example out of him.  The message is "We are the U.S. government.  We do whatever we want.  If you question us, we will crush you, so don't even think about it."

But people of good conscience like Edward Snowden flip their fingers at such fascism.  They refuse to bow down before the self-appointed masters of the universe.  The smug arrogance of the Obama administration and his pack of minions is disgusting.  In his earlier days, Obama was a community organizer who attempted to help the poor and downtrodden.  Now he uses his power to kiss rich white ass and outdo those who formerly looked down upon him.  He grovels before Mitch McConnell and John Boehner while cowardly playing videogame wars, ordering strikes to those whom he can't see and won't confront.  He's no man.  He's a coward.  If he had one hundredth the character of Bradley Manning, he would pardon him.  But he never will.  

These days, any intrusion by the government against our civil liberties is justified in the name of "security."  All our rights can be taken away so long as they try to scare us into becoming a police state.  These are not the values that America was founded upon.  These are not the values embodied in the Bill of Rights. 

As a liberal, in my ideal world Bernie Sanders would be president or Elizabeth Warren.  But in the next election it will likely be Hillary Clinton vs Chris Christie or Rand Paul.  Hillary has already shown that she approves of spying, foreign wars, drone strikes, and coddling Wall Street.  Christie is the same.  As much as I disagree with Rand Paul about social welfare programs (I fully support them) and healthcare reform, I will probably vote for Rand Paul anyway.  Why?  Because he believes in maintaining civil liberties.  He is opposed to drone strikes despite the huge force of the military-industrial complex being behind it.  He is against the unhealthy marriage of large corporations with the government.  And he is opposed to foreign wars which only cost huge amounts of money and American blood.  Most of all, Rand Paul is less full of shit than others.  Unlike the liar Obama, you at least know what you are getting. 

This is a sad day in America.  Look at the actions of a country to decide whether it is righteous or not.  We can talk all we want about liberty, freedom, and free speech.  But when this government crushes whistleblowers, harasses journalists and members of their families, and bullies other governments to chase down whistleblowers, we are no better than Stalinist Russia or Syria.  We must expect and demand more from our leaders and our government.  

The entire Bradley Manning trial was a farce.  It was a show trial reminiscent of Stalin's purges, right up to the part where Manning gave his "confession" for hurting the United States.  Total bullshit.

Edward Snowden was smart to leave the U.S.  He would never get a fair trial here.  Never.  Snowden would be well advised to never return to the U.S. or one of its colonies, aka Britain.

Today the Constitution was used as toilet paper and it fucking stinks.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fix It Yourself

In an age of economic insecurity, one has to develop self-reliance to survive.  Food costs going up at the supermarket?  Time to start planting your own garden.  Mechanic asking too much for that tune up?  Time to go to the library and find yourself a copy of the technical repair manual and get yourself some basic tools.

When my computer stops working, I have no problem troubleshooting and solving both hardware and software problems.  This is mostly because I've always been interested in computers.  I don't mind fixing my broken computer.  When some problem confounds me, I look up the answers on the Internet.  Google is the greatest repair tool ever made.  Somehow, somewhere, someone else has encountered the same problem as you, and more likely than not there is a solution somewhere.  For me, perseverance is key.  Don't give up and eventually you will solve the problem.

I've always been intimidated by cars.  Opening the hood, I see a tangle of tubes, wires and blobs that make no sense to me.  I've tried to repair my car in the past to no avail.  I don't have a car lift and painful arthritis limits my physical abilities.  Unfortunately, however, my vehicles don't seem to be considerate of my mechanical limitations.  Both my Ford Escape and my Toyota Avalon are currently experiencing issues.  After looking up the repair costs for both vehicles, it become apparent that without a little self-help and yankee ingenuity, I wasn't going to be driving them anytime soon.

"Necessity is the mother of invention," or so goes the saying.  I found myself stuck without answers.  So I decided to tackle the repairs as I would a computer problem--using Google and Youtube, along with using the Haynes Repair Manuals for my vehicles as a guide.  What do you know, the amount of information available to DIYers is amazing in the information age!  My Escape needed a tune up but half the spark plugs are buried underneath a labyrinth of tubes and components.  Youtube rescued me.  There turned out to be a video which showed me exactly how to change the spark plugs.  After watching the video two or three times, I was able to take on the job myself and complete it successfully.  What a tremendous sense of relief I had when it was completed and everything seemed to work fine.  And unlike my previous experiences, there weren't several "bonus" pieces left after I put everything back together.

With my new found confidence, I decided to tackle my electric dryer.  It sounded like a cat was being drowned whenever it would run.  After watching a Youtube video in which a repairman takes apart the same model dryer and replaces the blower wheel and the belt, I decided to give it a shot.  Judging by the sounds my dryer was making and consistent with the video, I was able to diagnose the problem, order new parts for $50, and put the thing back together again.  Now, instead of wanting to put it out of its misery, it quietly hums along as my clothes dry.  I just saved myself about $450.  Now that is a payday.

I'm not coordinated--dare I say "geeky."  If I can make some basic repairs on my own, I know you can too.  And who knows, you might save yourself a fortune and build your confidence in the process.  Half the time the broken thing is worthless in its current state so you have nothing to lose.  A broken dryer remains a broken dryer.

Good luck!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Making Sense of the Trayvon Martin Murder Case

One thing we can all agree on is that this case was a tragedy.  At the end of the day, a young man is dead and another man's life is ruined as he will live as a social outcast for the rest of his life.  The lives of the victim's family has been torn apart forever.  None of this should have happened.  If George Zimmerman hadn't been a wannabe cop, racial profiler and busy body, all of this could have been avoided.  It's telling how people who knew Zimmerman said he would call the police up to 20-30 times per day.  He's the kind of white (or at least half white) guy you would absolutely hate to live near--uptight as fuck, never minding his own business, and likely giving you shit about the state of your lawn.  If I were Trayvon Martin and this guy was giving me shit for no reason, I would have wanted to give him a good throttling, too.  Zimmerman had it coming to him.

The problem is that while Zimmerman deserved a beating, he didn't deserve to die, and Martin didn't have the right to kill him. A witness at trial and the pathologist both testified that based on eyewitness testimony and the nature of the bullet entry wounds to Trayvon Martin, he was on top of Zimmerman and pounding him in the head and wouldn't stop.  The injuries to the back of Zimmerman's head confirm this.  Getting your head slammed against concrete will kill you.  Based on Florida's "stand your ground" law, you can defend yourself with lethal force if you believe your life is threatened.  The facts of this case are clear here that Zimmerman could have reasonably believed this given the circumstances.

Initially, this case wasn't even going to be filed.  Prosecutors are charged with only bringing cases when the facts warrant them.  They have discretion to decide when something is worth pursuing or not.  Given how weak the case was against Zimmerman, the prosecutor wasn't going to bring this case.  It was only after the Obama administration weighed in on the matter publicly and political pressure was brought to bear that the case was brought against Zimmerman.  The problem with this is that the rule of law is inconsistent with playing political games.  As Obama has little respect for the rule of law given his disregard for the Fourth Amendment with respect to privacy rights and surveillance, this isn't surprising.

It wasn't right for Zimmerman to racially profile Martin.  It wasn't right for him to engage him, which led to a fight.  But under Florida law, this doesn't make Zimmerman a murderer.  A certified dickhead?  Definitely, but not a murderer.

There are folks like Al Sharpton who are saying that this verdict is an "atrocity" and that this case is reminiscent of the type of racial injustice served up by the Old South.  This inflammatory rhetoric doesn't apply to the circumstances of this case.  If people are unhappy with the expansive "stand your ground" legislation, they need to work on getting the law changed, but using the court system to punish Zimmerman for being racist is inconsistent with the rule of law.  When we violate that, then eventually we all lose because eventually every one of us is on the wrong side of politics.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Fighting For Our Freedom: It is in Our Hands

The greatness of America is not rooted in our current presidency.  It is not rooted in the vast military-industrial complex that has taken hold of our government since the 1950's and that was warned about by former top general and president Dwight Eisenhower.  It is not rooted in our economic strength, nor in our ability to kick ass using brute force.

The greatness of America is instead that conceived of by our founding fathers and written into the Constitution.  The notion that we would be a country run not by the whims and egos of politicians, but by a rule of law.  The notion that all people are treated equally under the law and that favoritism, nepotism, and other forms of tyranny would not rule.

The founding fathers through the Bill of Rights asserted that citizens have some rights the government may not take away.  These include the rights to free speech, religion, and peaceable assembly, among others.

Freedom isn't something we win so then can go rest on our laurels.  Men and women who run for political office tend to be narcissistic and selfish.  Power tends to corrupt.  When one has been in office long enough, power can go to one's head and lead to a sense of entitlement and arrogance.  The desire to control the people and subjugate them is an old story.  That is precisely why the founding fathers designed a system of checks and balances into our government.  The presidency is limited by Congress.  Tradition has led to the Supreme Court checking the power of Congress when it passes unconstitutional laws.  It is our job as citizens to remain aware of what is going on and hold our politicians accountable when they attempt to seize too much power for themselves and violate the Constitution.  If we fail to do so, we will eventually lose all of our freedoms.

Ever since 2000, the power of the presidency has grown totally out of control.  From illegal torture to drone strikes to mass surveillance, Bush started the abuses and Obama doubled down on them.  Instead of rolling back the abuses, Obama enhanced them.  As it stands now, he is far worse than Bush with respect to violating the rule of law and overstepping his bounds.  He has punished journalists and whistleblowers more aggressively than any other president under the Espionage Act.  He has violated international law by enhancing the drone strike program, and has even taken to killing American citizens without a trial. Hundreds of innocent men, women and children have been murdered by these strikes.  Each of them is nothing more than an American terror campaign which terrifies the locals in Yemen and Pakistan and leads to the creation of more terrorists, not less.

What is so reprehensible about Obama is how dishonest he is.  Bush was more or less honest about his Constitutional abuses.  Obama said he was going to reduce the power of the imperial presidency and Bush's abuses.  Instead he expanded them.

It is unfortunate that now in Washington, we have two parties which serve the same masters--corporate America, the rich, and the military-industrial complex.  So called liberals like Diane Feinstein team up with right wing politicians like Lindsey Graham to support mass spying and surveillance in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  Ironically, the only people still supporting the Constitution are strange bedfellows--right wing Rand Paul and left wing Bernie Sanders both oppose the drone strike program and mass surveillance.  Believing in the Constitution is not a Democrat or Republican issue anymore.  It is something we must all do.

It was just the fourth of July.  As usual, there is talk about how free we are and how special America is.  This won't be true forever.  Elites like Obama and Diane Feinstein are hell-bent on crushing whisteblowers and those who expose government abuses of power.  We must remember that it is America who has violated international law by putting pressure on countries throughout the world to extradite Edward Snowden, even though he has the right under the U.N. to apply and receive political asylum.  It is America that pressured France, Spain, and other countries to nearly cause the presidential plane of Evo Morales of Bolivia to crash by denying his flight over these countries on the mere suspicion that Snowden was aboard his plane.

It is America that sends flying robot drones to murder people in foreign countries, violating their sovereign status.  It is America that sends trained killers to murder people, not Bolivia or Venezuela.  Freedom is more than words.  It is more than Obama's lies and bullshit.  He can say whatever he wants, but what he does it what matters, and his record is horrendous.

As citizens we are called to apply pressure to our politicians.  If we say nothing, we are culpable.  Each day our freedoms are being rolled back.  If we fail to do anything because we don't want to be bothered.  Then under the name of "security" from terrorism we will become slaves.  We have already lost our privacy.

I believe in America.  I believe that this nation can be what our founding fathers intended.  And I refuse to lie back and say nothing while egomaniacs like Obama shred the Constitution.

The answer is not violence.  The answer is not terrorism against our government.  When enough Americans peacefully protest and raise their voices, change can happen.  It is a struggle that is long and hard.  Think of the civil rights struggle.  It took many years.  It is one of continuing to struggle and not giving up.  Grassroots efforts are important.

Freedom is in our hands.  If we lean back and focus on updating our Facebook statuses and texting while our rights are stripped away, then once we are reduced to the state of quasi-slaves we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Why Obama is Out of Control

Who is this man in the White House?  He certainly doesn't appear to be the same person who talked about transparency, hope, and change in 2008.  The shape shifter we have for a president now has turned out to be the reincarnated spirit of Woodrow Wilson.  Like Wilson, this man is drunk on power, hates transparency and governmental accountability, and is hell bent on smashing any political opposition he may face.  The Constitution, which he has sworn to uphold, has become his toilet paper.

Who would have known that he would invoke the Espionage Act more than any other president combined?  Who could have guessed that instead of apologizing after his administration was found to be spying on average American citizens and destroying their privacy rights, instead he defends such behavior under the guise of "protecting us from terrorism?"  Is this the same man who grew up to become a community organizer, church going Christian, and civil servant?

Ed Snowden, the whistleblower who exposed the lies and corruption is now being charged by the Obama administration with espionage.  Snowden should be receiving a medal for his heroism, not facing up to 10 years in prison and extradition.  The Obama administration is also behind the cruel and unusual punishment and prosecution of Bradley Manning, the whistleblower who exposed thousands of instances of government lies, corruption, and murder.  While Nixon was known for his hatred of whistleblowers, he is nothing compared to this administration.  In fact, Nixon is a raging liberal compared to Obama.

Anyone who still believes the nonsense about allowing the government to impose itself into every aspect of our lives in the name of "protecting us from terrorism" need only look to the Boston bombings.  The spy state didn't prevent that, now did it?  Hell, the Russians directly called the U.S. government and warned them about Tamerlin Tsarnaev and nothing was done.  It appears that the use of spying and information collection by this administration is being used to control, cover up, and smash its political opposition.  It views the enemy of the state to be the actual citizens of the U.S.

It is also interesting how this administration has no second term agenda.  The first term at least had the goal of reforming health care.  This term is all about playing political games and increasing the powers of the government.  It is about waging terror strikes using drones and ordering cyber attacks on other nations while hypocritically condemning other countries from doing the same types of cyber attacks.

The sad thing is that Obama is the president because our system put him there.  Romney would have been worse.  The system only promotes those who unquestioningly accept corporate power and elite control.  Around election time we get some well rehearsed propaganda to make us believe we are in control.  After the election, the real business of America happens--this means free giveaways to Monsanto, big banks, and other deep pockets.  The rich and elite of America ensure that their power remains strong.  We are fools to believe that if we simply elect the right man or woman, things will get better.  The system, with its corrupt campaign finance system, prevents that from happening.  True change can only come from widespread political organization by the masses and an involved and engaged citizenry.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Rethinking Texting: Taking a Second Glance

"Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief..."

Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

In an earlier post, I mentioned why I wasn't into texting.  Since that time, however, I have changed my mind.  In law school, we had a professor who required us to answer a single question for a law exam.  We had 24 hours to produce an answer to the legal question.  The rub was that we had to be concise and precise.  He gave a strict word limit that meant no bullshitting.  One had to know what one was talking about in order to properly analyze the problem and answer the question.  At the time I didn't understand why he required this.  His explanation was that judges, when reading briefs, want to read legal pleadings which are short and to the point.  They don't have time for trivialities.

In time I have come to recognize that brevity is indeed the soul of wit.  Being able to filter out extraneous information and distill information down to its bare essence is far from easy.  In fact, it is one of the more difficult analytical things we can do.

Just listen to the way most people tell stories.  A good storyteller won't waste time with irrelevant details.  He won't be overly descriptive, but will emphasize the right elements at the right time.  Having a sense of pace and proportion in storytelling is critical.  Most people, however, stink at telling stories because they ramble on and fail to get to the point.

In an age when cell phone calls and long distance are essentially free, the temptation to over talk is rampant.  Something that could be said in a few moments ends up taking much too much time.  Efficiency and productivity of the workday suffer.  At the end of the day, you wonder where your time went because you didn't get anything done.

A text message that limits you to a limited number of characters requires you to put some organization and thought into your message.  You are forced to distill things down to their bare essence.  For many types of communication, such as dinner plans, scheduling changes, etc., this is the perfect medium.

My phone is still old and not designed for texting.  It is slow and arcane.  Yet I am coming to appreciate the hidden beauty of texting.  It reminds me of my old law school professor and his brief exams.  Sometimes understanding comes slowly, but sometimes it finally does arrive.

The future involves texting, and I am finally okay with it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Angelina Jolie Deserves Applause

Yesterday, Angelina Jolie announced that after learning through genetic testing that she was a carrier of the BRCA 1 "breast cancer" gene, she underwent preventative double mastectomy surgery to reduce her chances of suffering from breast cancer.  Jolie's mother died from the disease after a decade long battle at the age of 56.  Jolie wrote an op ed article in the New York Times describing why she underwent the surgery and why she decided to go public with her decision.

Angelina Jolie is regularly rated by magazines and media outlets to be considered one of the most beautiful and sexy actresses in Hollywood.  In an industry obsessed with physical perfection and body ideals, a woman revealing that she had this type of surgery could endanger her career.  Yet Jolie felt that it was important enough to break the stigma and raise awareness of BRCA 1 testing and preventative mastectomy procedures to help save lives.  Instead of keeping this private decision private, she risked her career to reach out to others.

The choice to have a mastectomy even when diagnosed with breast cancer is usually very difficult for women.  The removal of one's breasts can lead to a sense of reduced femininity, apart from losing an important part of one's body.  To have one's breasts removed for preventative purposes is no small act.  It requires enormous courage.  In this case, Jolie said that the doctors informed her that her chance of getting breast cancer was 89% and the loss of her mother and the fact that her children would never know her informed Jolie's decision to have the surgery because Jolie didn't want her children to lose her like they did their grandmother.  Now her chances of getting breast cancer are reduced to 5%.

In 2004, at the young age of 49, my mother died from breast cancer.  The disease ravaged her body.  Watching her die was hell.  Every day I miss her and wish she were still here with me.  It kills me that she will never know her grandchildren.  She never was able to meet my wife, Cynthia, whom I know she would have loved.  I don't believe my mother had the BRCA 1 gene mutation.  But if she did and preventative mastectomy were available to her, no doubt she would have opted in.  She loved life and was a warm and glowing light whose cast was snuffed out too soon.  I hope that all women whose mothers, sisters, or aunts have had breast cancer receive genetic testing and discuss their options with their doctors.  Angelina Jolie's bravery in revealing her decision will no doubt save thousands of lives.

Much like her charity work at the United Nations, Jolie's choice to have a large natural and adoptive family, and her other actions, Jolie has shown that with age comes maturity.  She is no longer the wild child making out with her brother or wearing viles of blood around her neck with Billy Bob Thornton--she has grown up and become an amazing human being.

In interviews, Jolie comes across as down to earth, approachable, and warm.  This is refreshing given she grew up a privileged child of Hollywood (her father is veteran actor Jon Voight).  Her life partner is Brad Pitt and she makes millions of dollars starring in films and directing films.  If that doesn't cause you to act like a stuck up, entitled bitch, then nothing will.

I applaud Angelina Jolie on her decision to put her children first and to share her decision about preventative mastectomy with the world.  God bless her.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Google Fiber is a Paradigm Shifter

Google Fiber is a project by the Internet search giant to provide gigabit speed Internet access to selected cities around the U.S.  Gigabit Internet speeds are approximately ten times faster than what most people are currently receiving through their DSL and cable providers.  Internet at this speed is a game changer because it allows individuals to stream Internet video, upload files, and search the web at breakneck speeds.

Google also hopes to provide Internet access to those who traditionally have been underserved by giving slower Internet access away for free and only charging a modest installation fee.  This is an attempt to democratize innovation.  Children who might have only been able to access the Internet at the public library can now search for information on their home computers.

The current state of the Internet for most of the United States is a patchwork of service that is overpriced, underpowered, and deliberately capped for the sake of corporate profit.  Bandwidth is arbitrarily limited solely to increase revenues by cable and telephone service providers.  Multiple studies and reviews by experts in technology have proven that the cable providers in the U.S. are not facing a bandwidth problem and that 97% profits are being made by overcharging customers.

Google Fiber hopes to turn the tide by providing healthy competition to this monopolized and crippled market.  Once the consumer gets used to gigabit Internet speeds at reasonable prices, he or she won't accept the bandwidth caps and crippling speeds imposed by the cable providers.  Capitalism and the market economy sometimes do work.

Before Google Fiber was rolled out, one major cable company was experimenting with bandwidth caps for home service in an attempt to extort even more money out of its consumers.  Now those plans have been scrapped.  Their monopoly is being threatened.  That's a good thing.

The cost of hooking up every city in the U.S. to Google Fiber is beyond its capacity.  Its genius is its ability to inspire local municipalities and others to respond to the demand for an Internet that is like our public highway system--one that is open, free, and accessible to all for the greater good of the nation.   Google's foray into providing affordable and high quality Internet access may be a real paradigm shift for a nation that has become stagnant with respect to Internet speed compared with nations like South Korea which is vastly better connected.

For the U.S., the current Internet infrastructure makes us less competitive.  It is time that changed.  Since the government is currently in bed with the cable providers, it is up to all of us to demand more and expect more from our cable providers.  Thank God Google is leading the way to help us enable that demand.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Aggression--Thinking About the Psychology of Terrorists

While aggressiveness may serve a useful function for lions and other predatory creatures, in the human population it serves a distinctly counterproductive function.  If you are chasing down a gazelle or scaring away a larger animal hell bent on eating you, being the most outrageously aggressive works wonders--it may even save your life or the lives of your family members.

Living in the 21st century, a time in which we buy our food processed in well lit and clean supermarkets and need only run to catch the next elevator, things have greatly changed.  While early humans lived in small clans with peer groups little larger than 30 to 50 individuals, inter-tribal aggression was a real concern.  Suspicion, paranoia, and stereotyping served a valuable function--it kept you alive.  But now we live in a hyper connected digital age in which the global has been made local.  We live in cities with dense populations of diverse groups.  Aggression in these settings--such as the acts of horrific terrorism we saw in Boston this week--only highlight the point that aggression now threatens our survival as a species.  Indeed, where once humans could only inflict relatively small injuries using rocks and spears, we now have the capacity using nuclear weapons to literally make the planet uninhabitable for all but a few million cockroaches who may indeed inherit the earth.  

As a lawyer, I work in an adversarial role.  The legal system is essentially the use of the civil system to avoid self-help measures by individuals to resolve their differences without resorting to violence.  That is why it is called "civil" procedure.  Unfortunately, however, I run across many individuals who fail to understand this basic premise.  While they aren't advocating violence, they foolishly believe that only through the most extreme, rude, vile, and unpleasant tactics, they can win their case.  In their minds, a lawyer who yells the loudest is the most effective.  If you aren't abusing the other side, then you aren't "aggressive" enough.  

The problem here is that aggression in the legal system almost always backfires.  Judges are not morons.  Yelling and screaming doesn't persuade them.  When opposing counsel swears at me, screams, or acts abusively, it NEVER works.  Instead of working toward a resolution, such behavior inevitably leads to the matter being dragged out longer and the parties paying more money.  I am totally unmoved by Rambo litigators.  Other lawyers I know are the same way.  As lawyers, we weren't born yesterday.  We have been around the block a few times and know how the system works.  Bullying only serves to make things more unpleasant for everyone.  When I have clients who demand such behavior, I refuse to engage in such behavior.  If you are looking for a paid asshole that is going to run up your bill by being difficult, you can look elsewhere.

Much of this has to do with the nature of legal problems themselves.  Some people have constant legal troubles because they themselves are too aggressive. When interacting with their loved ones or with business associates, their aggressive behavior leads to legal problems.  Instead of recognizing this antisocial behavior and remedying it, they then believe that their lawyer should use the same tactics to help them resolve their problems.  In this sense, such people lack the social intelligence to realize that the source of their problems oftentimes is their aggressive behavior.  If they were able to put themselves in the place of others and imagine what they must be thinking, they would already be on their way to acting in a manner that might resolve their problems.  

Lack of such social intelligence is also rampant amongst the terrorist types.  Throughout history, radicals have believed that if they commit some shocking act of violence, people will change their minds about the current political or social system and change will result.  Such radicals often believe that governments may change the behaviors they don't like if some shocking act of violence is committed.  Yet history has proven them wrong.  Most of the time, it actually causes the governments to behave in even more repressive ways, ways that the radicals were originally trying to eliminate.  If Osama bin Laden thought pre-911 was bad, the Bush doctrine, the Patriot Act, and the Obama administrations are much, much worse.  Jihadists in Egypt believed that by killing President Sadat that the people would have been inspired to rise up and overthrow their secular leaders and impose a fundamentalist type government.  The opposite actually happened.  

Of course, that is why some people become terrorists.  They are usually frustrated social outcasts who have a warped sense of reality.  They are excessively paranoid, tribal, and unwilling to engage in civil society.  They are our modern day predators. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Hugo Chavez, R.I.P. (1954-2013)

"He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again."

Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2

And so ends the extraordinary life of Hugo Chavez. 

 Prior to his 14 year tenure as president of Venezuela, the country was a mess.  Although rich in oil reserves, most of the natural resources of the country were used to enrich a small elite while the population suffered.  After taking power and making constitutional reforms, Chavez was able to provide universal education, universal medical care, and a functioning social safety net.  The quality of life for most Venezuelans improved dramatically. 

Upon learning of Chavez's death, thousands of mourners poured into the streets of Caracas, expressing their grief over the loss of a man who had become something of a father figure to the South American nation.  The American media wants to hear nothing of it.  Most American and British news reports continue to focus on a single narrative--that Chavez was a "polarizing" figure.  Whenever reporters on the ground begin to mention the great love and admiration the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans felt for Chavez, the American reporter would immediately cut them off and distract them with more nonsense about how a small group of Venezuelan ex patriots disagreed with his policies.  The purpose of this is to discredit Chavez and the tremendous success of his movement.  

Chavez had the audacity to reject American imperial power and claim that the natural resources of Venezuela should be used for the benefit of Venezuelans instead of multinational oil cartels based in the United States and Britain.  Although we couldn't find it in the American press, Al Jazeera and RT News reported that several world leaders, including Ban Ki Moon, the president of Argentina, and many other countries expressed their sadness and praised Chavez for his accomplishments in bettering the lives of millions of average Venezuelans.  RT News reported that the majority of the nations of the world--excluding the U.S. and Britain--saw Chavez and his Bolivar Revolution as a success.  

There is no formal conspiracy by the American media to condemn Chavez.  People aren't meeting in backrooms to smear his name.  It is just that the American and British media select journalists who support the corporate interests of their respective countries.  Even NPR, which is supposedly liberal, offered nothing but anti-Chavez propaganda.  The sad truth is that to have learned anything useful about Hugo Chavez, you had to go to Google News, type in "Hugo Chavez," and research several international and independent sources of media to find fair coverage of his life.  The American media doesn't hire journalists who support leftists or those who have opinions which significantly deviate from the interests of their corporate owned masters and sponsors.

The "Polarizing" Death of Chavez

World Mourns Chavez as Hero

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Teach Yourself and Change the World

Sugata Mitra noticed a problem--the children who needed education the most were the least likely to get it.  Where teachers were most needed, they would not or could not be.  Therefore, he set out on an experiment to see if children could teach themselves:

Ted Talk

Mitra embedded computers into walls in the slums of India and South Africa.  He gave the children problems and left them to figure things out for themselves.  Using just an Internet connection, Google, and Google translate, the children were able to learn a remarkable amount of information.  In some cases, the children tested as well as those instructed by real teachers.  Weeks earlier, the children had never used a computer.  When he followed up, they were teaching each other how to take photos with the computer, do Google searches, and much more.

Mitra's conclusion was that given the right conditions, education and knowledge are a self-emergent, self-organizing phenomenon.  Which brings us to the the interesting proposition that formerly information was a scarce commodity.  Not every community could afford libraries.  Disseminating information via paper costs money due to its physicality.  The digital age has made information practically free, assuming you have Internet access and a computer.  For thousands of years, poor children in poor countries were shut out from the vast breadth of human knowledge.  Their mental powers were essentially wasted.

Mitra's experiments show that when children are given access to the right tools, they can and will teach themselves some amazing things.  Knowledge itself tends to be empowering.  This is the idea behind the One Laptop Per Child Project, which attempts to provide computer access to the poorest of the poor children around the world.

Imagine the ingenuity and brainpower that can now be utilized now that technology makes information access affordable.  Combine this with the power of these tools to allow children to create their own content, and you might have a real revolution in our world.  This is why the open source movement is so important.  When people can share information, great things can result.  Examples include the open sharing of courses taught at MIT and Stanford.  One can follow along and "take" classes in biotechnology, computers, and mathematics and receive the same information as those in the Ivy League paying $50,000 per year.  You don't get a degree, but you do get the education.

In a world now dominated by information and knowledge work, education is a great levelling factor.  The potential for empowerment here is very exciting.  Will it be a cure all for vast inequalities?  Of course not, but it certainly cannot hurt, and each step in the right direction is one step away from falling backward.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Adblock Plus: Freeing Your Internet From Annoying Pop Up Ads

Adblock Plus

Adblock Plus is an add on for Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome that stops annoying pop up ads.  It is free and works extremely well.  On Youtube, it allows you to avoid the annoying banner ads, commercials, and other ads which detract from your browsing experience.  On Facebook, it stops the clutter on your page.

Now that I have been using Adblock Plus for the last six months, I don't think I could ever go back to surfing the web without it.  While I appreciate the fact that Google and Facebook are giving me "free" services by forcing me to look at ads, Adblock Plus gives me a break from these annoyances.

I don't recommend Adblock Plus for Android.  It is too overzealous and blocks legitimate pages you might actually want to see.  The ads in mobile browsers like Google Chrome and Firefox aren't overbearing anyway.  If you are a Windows or GNU/Linux user, Adblock Plus will make your desktop browsing experience much more sane.

If you are really worried about computer security and use Firefox, instead of Adblock Plus you can install NoScript.  This add on stops Javascript, Java, and Flash from running on your computer.  The benefit is that it really stops potential viruses and malware in their tracks.  A Windows computer using NoScript is going to be much, much safer than one not running it.  The bad part is that NoScript will disable your ability to view many Youtube videos.  Fortunately, however, you can disable NoScript on the Youtube page to re-enable the viewing of videos.  If you play online games, you will also need to disable NoScript for those particular pages.

While the web is fun, it is also a dangerous place for those who click on the wrong ads.  Sometimes you can acquire a malicious program simply by going to a website.  Most viruses come from opening email attachments infected with malware and viruses.  Taking measures to protect your computer from the annoying frustrations of slow downs, pop ups, and other problems can save you time and your pocketbook, particularly if this saves you a trip to the Geeksquad to clean your infected computer.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My War Against Planned Obsolescence

"Use it up, wear it out, or make do without."    --Depression era saying.

Planned obsolescence, or "PO," is the intentional design of products to fail, even though the product might be designed differently so it lasts longer.  Manufacturers use PO to encourage product sales and stimulate new demand.  Products used to be designed to last as long as possible.  It was known early in the development of the light bulb, for example, that bulbs could be made which would last for a very long time.  Manufacturers found, however, that making the bulbs too reliable hurt sales because people wouldn't continue buying new bulbs.  Therefore, the makers of light bulbs got together and decided to make inferior bulbs and not compete against each other.  This conspiracy worked for a very long time.  It should be of no surprise that the light bulbs made by Edison over 100 years ago still work while a modern light bulb burns out after six months.

Another example would be cars.  Before Japanese competition in the late 1980's, American cars were designed for style, not reliability.  When Japanese auto makers started making vehicles which were twice as reliable, American manufacturers were forced to redesign their products to last longer.  The consequence has been that some American brands, such as Ford, are now more reliable than brands like Toyota.

Software is not immune.  Microsoft continues to produce new operating systems, each one larger and more bloated than the last.  As a consequence, your once fast computer is now slow.  Therefore, you feel the need to upgrade to a new computer as well.  This works out great for the computer manufacturers and the software makers.  Microsoft also produces new proprietary versions of Microsoft Word.  Wait long enough, and your computer will have difficulty reading an older version of a Word document.

If we lived in a world of infinite resources, then PO wouldn't be a problem.  It would be a way to stimulate the economy by purchasing new goods.  The problem is that the energy needed to build these products is non renewable.  Oil and coal aren't infinite resources.  One day they will be either used up or become so scarce that the production cycle will crash.  We are currently on a non sustainable path.  This may change with the introduction of highly efficient solar power and more efficient means of recycling.  Right now we aren't there yet.

My Fight


In 1999, I bought a 1996 Toyota Avalon.  It had 57,000 miles on it.  The engine went at 202,000 miles.  Instead of junking it, I had a used engine installed in 2007.  Since that time, I still own my Avalon and I plan on keeping it until this "new" engine goes.  Hopefully it won't be for another ten years.  Rebuilding a used car instead of replacing it with a new one every two years goes a long way to avoiding car payments and saving money.

I also have a 2002 Ford Escape.  It has 116,000 miles on it.  I plan on driving it until the engine goes.  Again, I am hoping this won't be for quite some time.  Considering the great shape of the body, I may just get a new engine put in this one as well.


My office computer is a Pentium 4 Alienware Computer.  I got it in 2002.  It is still my primary work computer.  It has no trouble surfing the Internet, doing research, editing Microsoft Word documents, checking email, and even watching Youtube videos.  Five years ago I had to replace the hard drive, which failed.  I replaced it myself.  One year ago the graphics card burned out.  I replaced this for $50.  So long as my computing needs are met, there is no reason for me to junk this computer.  The keyboard is 9 years old and still works great.

In 2006 I bought a Dell laptop for mobility.  Two years ago it began overheating and shutting down after using it for 20 minutes.  I almost threw it out the window in frustration.  Instead I put it in the freezer.  That bought me a bit of time for the both of us to cool down.  Considering this wasn't a long term solution, about six months ago I decided to see what could be done.  I found a Youtube video that explained how to take the laptop apart and clean the heat sink above the CPU.  I dismantled the computer and cleaned out the heat sink with my air compressor.  I cleaned the area with a microfiber cloth.  It worked.  My computer can now run for several days and it doesn't overheat.  For Christmas I received a laptop cooling mat, which also seems to help keep it cool.  No new laptops for me--at least for now.

One of my hobbies is fixing up old computers and installing lightweight versions of the GNU/Linux operating system on them.  This allows them to have new life as working machines.  Combined with my mini junkyard of computer parts, many computers can be repaired or upgraded for almost nothing.  Instead of filling landfills, these computers can then go to people who can use them.

Cell Phone

My wife and I refuse to pay for data plans and be subject to cell phone contracts.  So we use a regional carrier named Revol that charges $47 per month for unlimited text and telephone calls.  There is no contract. You have to buy your own phone.  Six years ago we both bought flip phones.  We are still using those same phones.  About two years ago my phone cracked and the hinge was about to come off.  Recently it got worse.  So I decided to get creative--I used Liquid Nails construction adhesive to glue the phone back together.  We both have been through about 3 batteries each over the years, but the phones keep going.  The more I can keep my monthly phone costs down, the better.


I also collect old Nikon photo equipment.  While I use digital much of the time, I also use my 35mm film cameras.  Combined with good lenses, these old cameras take beautiful photos and color slides.  There is no sense in getting rid of equipment that still has functional value.


I like to be in charge of my life and not be dependent upon manufacturers to meet my needs.  Being able to use products for a long time not only saves money and the environment, but it also is empowering.  You feel less alienated from the goods which are such a big part of your life.  Not having to worry about making extra credit card payments and car payments is kind of nice.  While getting new stuff is fun, the credit card statement that follows is also a hangover I would like to avoid.