POLITICS: You do not know what you think you know, Part II (Bill of Rights Edition)

4 Mar

This is Part 2 of a five part series about political literacy – What your rights really are and what is really at stake.

Part One is available as an introduction to these concepts and an explanation as to why I felt compelled to write it.

In a world where political strategists are using focus groups to research what word would work best to convince people to vote against their own interest or what word could be used to convince someone of a truth that does not exist, it is important to know some things about government.  It is especially important to understand what the law says, what it is supposed to do, and what precedents have been set regarding law.

Let’s talk about the constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, since these amendments to the constitution seem to get the most spotlight and are the ones that are most often bastardized to mean something that was never intended.

Amendment I - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

RELIGION This one is difficult for most people, because they have a tendency to read into this a little too much.  Let’s talk about not establishing religion.  There seems to be a misunderstanding about this plainly worded segment “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  I’ve heard someone say, whilst staring me dead in the eye, that this was intended to be about sects of Christianity, not all of the religions of the world.  Hmmm…I think that the plainly worded document that is the United States Constitution would have included that little piece of information, as it seems to be of the highest importance.

It seems strange that the party that screams about the constitution the most (Tea Party) would be the ones to blatantly charge against the first Amendment in the Bill of Rights by trying to establish a state religion in North Carolina.  This happened in March of 2013 and I am still disheartened by the fact that this was not cause for harsh rebuke by the entirety of the population.  On the flip side, my atheist comrades also add words that do not exist in this amendment.  Nowhere does it state that we will be free from having to witness others exercise their religion.  It does not imply that we would be Jesus-free in the public square.  In fact, to the contrary, it establishes in plain English, that there should be no law prohibiting the FREE EXERCISE of religion.  There is no freedom FROM religion implied, only freedom from an ESTABLISHED state religion.

SPEECH Also intertwined in this amendment is the idea that congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, press, peaceful assembly, or to petition the government.  In this country, you are allowed to say whatever it is you feel compelled to say without fear of incarceration or fine.  This, of course, does not include death threats or inciting a riot by, let’s say, screaming “fire” in a movie theater at a time when there is not a fire.  However, even these obvious exclusions from freedom of speech had to be hashed out in the courts before they became part of our law precedent.  These are common sense exclusions, as there are few, if any, people who would disagree with their exclusion from protected free speech.  

This amendment says nothing about saying something in public that may incense the public to hate you, therefore possibly ending your career or your standing in the public square.  Those are consequences of free speech, from which the constitution does not protect you.  Some people have felt that those consequences paled in comparison to living a life of silence, so they said what they had to say, consequences be damned.  These are people who have this thing called CONVICTION, and even when I disagree with it, I respect it.  However, that does not mean that I think people should expect to be protected against any rebuke for anything that they say.

PRESS Freedom of the press does not say anything about a reporter’s right to protect their sources.  That too, was hashed out in the courts in reasoned debates, arguing that if sources are to be revealed at the request of the courts, those sources would be not be inclined to report their knowledge to the press for fear of punishment.  Still, not all states have laws on the books that protect sources in a news story.  The free press operates without fear of incarceration because of the content of their stories, however if other law is broken in the pursuit of those stories, the players are not protected from punishment for those crimes.

PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY AND PETITIONING THE GOVERNMENT   While people have the right to peacefully assemble, many cities and states require permits for such assembly, seriously reducing the places and times in which such assembly is allowed.  Many demonstrations are time-sensitive and if you assemble PEACEFULLY to protest without proper permission, you can be arrested – a clear violation of this amendment.  Nobody seems too upset by this.  However, many people became criminals in the sixties for merely protesting against the government, and doing so peacefully.  Very few people ever bother to show any disgust that this has happened.

Petitioning the government has equally become an exercise in futility.  The mere size and scope of the government makes it difficult for representatives to give the time and energy necessary to address the concerns of their citizenry.  Top that off with gerrymandering of districts that keep few people in fear of losing their seat.  If there is no fear of losing votes for ignoring the concerns of the constituency, then what is the point in expending the time and energy to read and consider their petitions?  Voters are not stupid, nor are they crazy.  On the flip side, why waste your time and energy petitioning a representative that has more to lose by considering your argument that is contrary to his party’s platform than if he ignores you altogether?

Now, let’s talk about the second amendment.

Amendment IIA well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

You would think that with all of the hubbub surrounding this amendment that there would be more words to it.  Alas, there are not many words at all.  This amendment is in plain English with little to be left to the imagination.  “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  It says nothing about regulation – oh wait, it actually does.  We can argue about regulating the militia versus regulating the arms, but let us talk about what this amendment is intended to do.  Is it intended for people to form their own militias?  Is it intended for grandpa to amass an arsenal in his basement that could take out the neighborhood?  Should people be able to procure nuclear weapons, as this amendment does not specifically discuss firearms alone?  Should people be able to possess military weapons, with seemingly endless ammunition clips?

We have answered all of these questions to a certain degree in the courts.  You are not allowed to form your own militia to take up arms against the government.  The amendment states plainly “well-regulated militia.”  You are not allowed to procure or create nuclear weapons.  You are prohibited from owning a weapon-functioning tank.  You are not permitted to own a fighter jet equipped with bombs.  None of these things are of particular concern to gun nuts, but all of them should be protected under this amendment if we are to follow the logic of their constitutional arguments.

I own guns.  I own them because I live in the middle of nowhere and the possibility of someone hearing a commotion and coming to my rescue, should a person of nefarious intent enter my house, is very low.  I also like to shoot guns.  There is a target practice range on the property.  I take my .22 and .38 out there to shoot quite a bit in the warmer months.  I find it invigorating and at the same time, relaxing.  I like to hunt, though I do not have the time to dedicate to it and when I do have time, this is far down the list of activities in which I would most like to participate.  Now that I have established that I am not one of those “guns are for meanieheads” anti-gun people, let us move on to what I mean about the logic of the arguments.

The logic is that the government was intended to have the right to regulate the militia but not the arms.  By this logic, all people should be permitted to own any kind of arms, since there is nothing to specifically dictate what types of arms should be allowed. The logic states that if we allow them to regulate guns by requiring background checks, by excluding military weapons based on speed and range, and by limiting ammunition clip size, that we are then placing the very right to own guns in jeopardy.  The “slippery-slope” argument is one that has plagued American politics, with little or no proof that this is even a real phenomenon.  Take free speech into account; has the inability to threaten someone’s life led to further infringement upon this right?  What about peaceful assembly; has the requirement of permission to assemble led to further erosion of this right?  

The entire argument surrounding the regulation of guns is based on fear, not the constitution.  There is no real threat to gun ownership in the United States.  The specter of the slippery-slope is a red herring.  The only real threat that exists in this argument is the threat to innocent people should we not have a reasonable debate surrounding this topic.  That is not to say that gun regulation alone will properly address the issue at hand, but it must be allowed to be debated without screams of unconstitutionality – screams that are rooted in utter bullshit and purposefully manipulative language that continues to goad responsible and sane Americans to act like crazed lunatics with no regard for actual law or civil responsibility.

Amendment IIINo soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

You do not have to give up your house to the government to house troops, nor will you ever be compelled to house troops for the government in your home.  This amendment is not debated in these modern times, in fact it is the only amendment that has not been the primary subject of a Supreme Court decision.  Ever.

Amendment IV - The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

People give up many things when they feel threatened.  9/11/2001 brought about a new age of fear here in America, and I watched as the majority of Americans freely gave up their rights, especially this one, in an effort to be more safe.  If you watched the video from the first installment of this series of posts The Persuaders, you understand that “safety” was sold to the people of this country.  The people neglect to understand that freedom is this amazing thing, but in a free world, we can never be completely safe.  We can never be completely safe under ANY conditions.  While people can be resourceful, ingenious, and insightful, they can also be cruel, dangerous, and vengeful.  For every person who has the freedom to better themselves and beautify the world around them, another has the freedom to destroy themselves and threaten the world around them.

We cannot control the actions of people, with or without a bill of rights.  We can, however, control our reactions to the actions of others. If people decide to break the law, we can address how we deal with that breach.  There is little that can be done to prevent people from breaking the law, outside of addressing WHY people break the law and WHAT we will do once the law is broken.  For instance, rather than having a sex offender registry, why do we not address the variety of sexually-based offenses and decide which ones are heinous enough for life-sentences?  If someone is so dangerous that we need to flag their residence, should they not be in jail?  Should a drunk guy who took a piss in public really be placed on the same list as a man who raped a woman?  Should a twenty-year-old guy who had sex with his sixteen-year-old girlfriend be placed on the same list as a forty-year-old man who raped a five-year-old child?

Is it prudent to stop and frisk any person that fits some arbitrary profile that you could easily attribute to any citizen that you intend to target?  Is it sound policy to stop a person for merely walking down the street in clothing that suggests some sort of affiliation with criminals?  Is it okay for a police officer to pull you over, search your vehicle and detain you during this process without any reasonable suspicion or probable cause?  Does it make sense to pull over every car driving down a particular road at a particular time of night simply because drunk people may use this road as a way to get home?  Does this make us more safe?  

The “War on Drugs” seriously eroded the our individual rights against unreasonable search and seizure.  We concocted “RICO” in 1970 to combat organized crime, a statute that has been loosely interpreted to include not only organized crime as we understand it , but also Major League Baseball, Police Departments, and political organizations.  This act broadened the authorities ability to confiscate your property and wealth.  This act loosened restrictions on acquiring warrants and redefined what “probable cause” actually meant.  Citizens did not care, so long as it was saving their teenagers from drug abuse.  Guess what – it didn’t.

Drunk driving statutes dictate that police officers can pull over anybody, search their person, and their vehicle without having any probable cause to do so – as long as they pull EVERYBODY over on that street, thus making it “random.”  Random searches do not seem to be allowed by the plain English used in this amendment.  In fact, random searches would seem to be at the top of the list of the many things that are NOT allowed by our government by this amendment.  Could you imagine the police picking a neighborhood at random and searching every property?  What is the difference with a car?

Of all of the amendments included in the bill of rights, this one has been under attack the most.  It is also the one that has been clearly dismantled by this “law and order” era.  Just about nobody is arguing this case on cable news.  Why?  Jimmy who is a twenty-year-old quadriplegic because of some asshole’s fourth DUI is a powerful witness for the public.  Everybody wants to stand up for Jimmy.  The same cannot be said for kid who was arrested for a having a joint on him simply because he was wearing his pants the wrong way.  Even when the discussion turns to the revelation of what the NSA has been doing in their data mining, nobody seems to be that up in arms about it, unless they are interested in throwing mud at a politician they do not like.  Very little argument is heard about how incredibly unconstitutional all of this behavior really is.

“If you are not committing a crime, then what’s the harm?” is a question I hear far too often.  For one, sometimes laws are stupid, cruel, or wrong.  We all test the boundaries of law at some point in our lives.  What if I had been caught with marijuana on me when I was a teenager?  I would have never been able to go to college because I would have been ineligible for federal loans as a result of a drug arrest.  What if I had been caught because I was wearing a “suspicious” jacket and not because I was doing something wrong?  It is just stupid.  

As a second point, why should I be subjected to someone’s hands on me because of the look on my face?  I do not like to be touched.  Why should I have to be held aside while someone searches my person and property when I have done nothing wrong?  It is not about what they will find, it is about their right to do it.  I have been left sitting in a car for forty-five minutes while some yokel local cop runs my license and tags, making me late for my grandmother’s birthday party simply because I have out-of-state plates.  This amendment protects me from that kind of inconvenience, but it really does not, because nobody seems to give a damn about this amendment.  Search my property???  Sure, but do not try to regulate my owning a hundred-round clip for which I have ZERO legitimate use.

Lastly, it creeps me out that somebody could be listening to my every conversation, watching my every keystroke, and thumbing through my things with no reason to do so, except for the fact that they CAN.  My words are harsh at times and could be misconstrued if taken out of context, sometimes I go to websites that may be considered hateful or perverted, and I own things that I would like to keep private.  It is not about whether or not I am committing crimes because I am not.  However, that does not mean I want anyone to have the right to sift through my private life.

Does any of this make us more safe?  Maybe in some ways, but not in ways that could not be achieved without infringing upon the rights of Americans.  Also, any safety we achieve by stomping on this amendment creates another security issue, one that is far more important, and that is our freedom to move about in this country without living in a police state.  I am not talking about a slippery-slope of what “could” happen.  I am talking about things that are actually happening, things that are happening often, and things that happen with no substantial argument against it happening.

Amendment V –  No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Before you are to answer for capital crimes as a private citizen, a grand jury must decide that there is probable cause for you to stand for trial for said capital crimes.  This is designed to protect citizens, who may be seen as disruptive by the powers that be, from malicious prosecution for crimes that bear serious consequence.

Also, this amendment protects against double jeopardy which again is a protection against malicious prosecution.  If we are to talk about blatant disregard for the constitution, we can talk about cases that were lost in State Courts which were then brought before the Federal Courts.  While we all want to see the bastards who killed civil rights activists pay for their crimes, this tactic is clearly in violation of this amendment.  Again, few people have a problem with this perversion of our Bill of Rights, because it is “for a good cause.”

The last portion of this amendment is a protection against being compelled to testify against yourself and the protection against being deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.  You can see my arguments above regarding RICO.  People simply do not care about these provisions because most of us will never face the consequences of ignoring these rights as they are written.

Amendment VIIn all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

This is an amendment of which we are all familiar, especially if we have watched a few police procedurals in our lifetime. Coupled with the fifth amendment, you get “You have the right to remain silent, etc.”  Today, the most violated part of this amendment would be regarding the length of time it takes for a case to go to trial and the right to defend yourself utilizing your own witnesses with competent counsel.  Most cases never go before a jury in this “let’s make a deal” era of criminal prosecution.  People plead out, sometimes for crimes of which they are not guilty, because the consequences of losing in a trial are too great to risk.  

Cases that do go before a jury carry on for months and years before they actually go to trial.  The cost of these cases is prohibitive for most citizens, so if you are to take a case to trial, you will likely be stuck with an over-worked, under-paid public defender that will not give your case the time and dedication it would take to provide a robust defense.  Again, this does not affect most citizens, but for those who have been accused of a crime they did not commit, if you have the money for a proper defense, you are far less likely to be convicted than if you were left with a public defender.  If you are found “not guilty” you are likely to end up guilty by public indictment and you are left with a life in shambles with no job, fragmented family, and very little prospects for the future.  These are just the scenarios from which this amendment was intended to protect us.  Again, there is little outcry from the public, but try to take away the right to own an assault weapon and we are LOUD!

Amendment VIIIn Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

While this law has not been adopted by every state, nearly every state affords a trial by jury in civil cases.  The last time this law was ruled upon by the courts was in 1931 when it was decided that the states did not have to provide a jury trial in civil cases, however they were required to do so in cases decided under federal law.  This amendment is rarely argued in the courts and is it almost never addressed in the public square.

Amendment VIIIExcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

We have trampled all over this amendment.  Two million dollars bail?  What about $200,000?  What about $25,000?  What is excessive?  Probably anything over two grand is excessive to somebody who does not make that in a month.  Is there a number that will ensure someone’s appearance at trial?  Large bail amounts keep more poor people in jail than rich people from running. Our continued acceptance of ridiculous fines that keep poor people in jail during their long trial is a continued nod of approval to the disparities that exist between socioeconomic groups.  In contrast, keeping someone remanded because of their access to funds that could assist them in running is equally in violation of the spirit of this amendment.

Excessive fines?  What constitutes an excessive fine? Pharmaceutical companies, doctors, hospitals, and hospital staff have paid billions of dollars in fines for dubious claims against their drugs, treatment, and care.  “Big Pharma” has been subject to a lot of brow-beating over the years.  They test their drugs under some pretty serious scrutiny.  Every time you take a drug that alters the body’s response, you take the risk of unintended and unforeseen consequences.  I am not talking about side effects that were purposefully overlooked and data that was intentionally altered.  I’m talking about normal, realistic risks that we all incur when we seek medical care, take medicine, and undergo surgery.  

Just because you have had a bad reaction to a drug does not mean that the drug company owes you money.  Just because you had a bad reaction to the anesthesia does not mean that you should be able to sue the doctor, nurse, and the makers of the anesthesia. Just because a doctor did not do a CAT scan for your headache does not make him liable for the fact that you have a giant tumor in your head.  CAT scans emit dangerous radiation, if we scanned everybody’s head for every headache, we would all have cancer and then these guys would be sued for all of that.

It is hard to look at the woman, who underwent an appendectomy surgery who had a reaction to the anesthesia and is now drooling on herself for the rest of her life, and not want to help her.  However, excessive fines placed on companies who “can afford it” leads to an overall sharp increase in what we all pay for life-saving, positively life-altering drugs and interventions. It causes good drugs to be removed from the market because of a fluke and rare response. Frivolous lawsuits must be met with frivolous responses lest we end up with dangerous precedence.

Cruel and unusual punishment is a difficult one.  We all want to do cruel and unusual things to people who have brought great harm on others.  There is a fairness that rests inside all of us that wants to make the man who murdered a little girl pay a most awful price for what he has done.  It is primal.  It is even just.  However, there is too much room for error.  There are too many people who have been exonerated for crimes they did not commit.  There are too many factors including intellect (a person’s ability to understand what they have done) and sanity (a person’s ability to understand and appreciate the difference between right and wrong) that mitigate the wrongs that have been committed.  That is the very reason for this amendment.

I have heard people say, “Well, they just need to take one for the team.”  I have to say that that little sentiment may be the most disgusting thing I have ever heard.  I highly doubt that if they were the one “taking one for the team,” or their parent, or their child, that they would feel the same way.  I have been told that “They are probably guilty of something.  You don’t end up accused of something like this being totally innocent.”  The naivety of that statement is profound.  The sheer ignorance of all of this nonsense is far too much for me to take.

This amendment, like so many others, has been stomped on, pissed upon, chewed up and spit out so many times that it is hardly recognizable that this amendment actually sits in our bill of rights, along with nine other amendments meant to preserve our right to live a full and just life.  Again, there are so many people who are fine with this right falling to the wayside, but if some backwoods redneck stands to lose his job for saying that the era of Jim Crow was not bad for black people and equating homosexuals with people who fuck goats, we will gladly misinterpret the first amendment to come to his defense.

Amendment IXThe enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment XThe powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

These last two amendments were put in place to appease those who feared that the federal government would hold all of the power and that it would erode the rights of states and the individual that were not enumerated in the constitution.  It was feared that the enumeration of rights in the constitution would imply that other rights would not or could not be enjoyed by the states or by the people, thus the last two Amendments were to be included in the Bill of Rights.  

These amendments have been cited in serious controversy including Roe vs. Wade, firearms legislation, marijuana legislation, and Real ID laws.  The amendments have been used as stand-alone constitutional challenges, but they are usually used in conjunction with other amendments in the arguments.

There it is.  A brief summary of the first ten amendments to the constitution that we all know as our bill of rights.  It is important to have a basic understanding of these rights and how they have been interpreted and employed over the years.  There is an exhaustive pool of resources from which to choose.  There is Wikipedia, which is always a good place to start.  There is the official government archive page that has copies of the documents available for viewing and summaries of how these articles and amendments have been used over the years.

One should know their rights before they go off the rails about someone infringing upon them.  All too often we are quite reactionary about those that have the least impact on our lives while we ignore those that are of serious consequence.  This is the direct result of being persuaded to care about bullshit while you ignore real shit.  Tell me, which of these rights does health care legislation attack?  Which right does homosexual marriage attack?  Think about all of the things that you so vehemently stand against and please explain to me, how does it pertain to your rights?  Does it state anywhere here that your children should not be subjected to areas of intellect in which you have no expertise, to ideas in which you do not understand, and to people you find distasteful?  Does it state anywhere in these rights that you should have the right to dictate the rights of others or to take those rights away?  READ dammit, you all sound like a bunch of blithering idiots to people who have taken the time to do so. It is not like it was written in the King’s English whilst dancing around ideas with flowery language written in the style of an Irish Limerick.  The constitution is written in PLAIN FUCKING ENGLISH so that any idiot could understand it, yet here we are arguing back and forth about shit that is OBVIOUS and I am racing toward a stroke!

Now that you have been schooled about rights, let all of this soak in before the next segment is posted.  Prepare yourself for some real education.

Politics: You Don’t Know What You Think You Know Part 1

27 Feb

There are many issues thrown about in today’s ‘political’ arena.  I put political in quotes because I don’t recognize this grudge-match-to-the-death that is masquerading as politics in this country.  Last night, I watched as Rachel Maddow gleefully explained why MSNBC is right in their “Chris Christie is a bully” 24 hours a day, seven days a week endless marathon coverage of this pathetic scandal.  I wondered if some bridge closure should really trump all of the other news for weeks on end.  I will say that MSNBC is only following the FOX News lead, but that is hardly an excuse.  No wonder I can’t watch this shit anymore.

I used to have a regimen of news consumption.  I would watch the morning news while making coffee and grabbing a bite to eat.  I would open my computer and read the Detroit Free Press, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.  I did not read all of the paper, but I read very fast and I would consume the majority of each of them.  Once a month, Harper’s and The Atlantic would arrive.  Weekly, I received The Economist, The Week, and a weekly version of The Christian Science Monitor.  From these publications, I would delve further into issues utilizing books, databases, and journals.  I was enthralled by politics, history, economics, and public policy.  

I engaged others in conversation.  Many people are hesitant to talk about politics, but if you approach them in the right way, people are very open and I was able to find what makes people tick on both sides of the line (or actually, many lines) in this country.  Underneath all of the disagreements I found the same concerns, fears, and goals.  You see, we simply disagreed on how to address those concerns and fears and how to accomplish those goals.  During the era of Reagan and Clinton, politicians began to court demographics that had otherwise been ignored by politicians.  What they had to do to procure these votes would forever change modern politics in America.  Then, George was elected and this friendly debate took an ugly turn and it has never looked back.

I do not mean to imply that politics was never ugly before this time.  Politics is and always has been a hideously ugly business of profound brutality.  Politicians beat the shit out each other for sport.  They can take it because this is part of what drew them into the fray in the first place.  Extremists have always said and done ugly things to garner attention.  Sane and rational voices have always been relegated to the second segment, sandwiched between bloodshed and a cute dancing dog, because they do not lead well on the evening news.  People have always read the headlines and skimmed the story.  People have always believed the world is as they see it from their six-foot circle, even if that six-foot circle has never been outside of a twenty-mile radius.  You see, none of this is what has changed.  

What has changed is that the extremist voices have hit the mainstream.  They use coded language to engage the visceral part that exists within each and every one of us.  The hope is that we toss aside reason, logic, and empathy while we draw back in reaction based on fear, prejudice, and ignorance.  While politicians have played the fear card many times with extremism, this is the first time it has been systematically done.  They run experiments to see what words will sell their ideas best.  How do we get people to vote against their own interest?  How do we get people to join our group and defend us no matter what?  They are selling legislation like they are selling a computer.  This is our future, not a goddamned cell phone that will be out of fashion in a year and technologically behind the moment it hits the shelves.  This is the foundation of our society, the future of our country, and the fulfillment of the dreams of every citizen we are talking about here.  You are willing to sell it because you like feeling like you are a part of an exclusive club?

At the bottom of this page, there is a link to a PBS page.  Click on the “watch the full program” button, sit back, and prepare yourself because, if while you watch the credits at the end you do not feel used and stupid, then you are stupid.  For me, this program changed everything.  I became much more critical of the news I was reading and more importantly, how it was worded.  My skeptical nature began to consume that part of me that was once ruled by an insatiable appetite for the news.  I don’t read the news like I used to.  I research, I don’t consume.  If a phrase is repeated by more than two talking heads, I assume it is bullshit and make it my mission to find the facts behind the hype.

“It’s about freedom of speech!”

“It’s about taking care of Main Street!”

“It’s about religious freedom!”

“The founding fathers…”

“Jim Crow…”

Liberals invoke the specter of Hitler almost as often as conservatives invoke the holy ghost.  I think liberals need a little bit of a history lesson on the atrocities of the Nazi regime before they go throwing around that term the way that they do.  Hyperbole is a great way to rally the troops, but it is also a great way to belittle an entire people’s struggle.  While I feel the religious right’s attack on my homoness is gross and unconstitutional, I do not have to equate my struggle with those that were enslaved.  Slavery is a far cry from “I can’t get married.”  There’s more to the homosexual struggle than that, but still, whenever we try to draw parallels from one atrocity to another, it just isn’t the same and it weakens our argument and our position.  Nazis did murder homosexuals right along with Jews, but that is not our “NOW,” it is a part of our past.  Let us keep our arguments in the present, where they are relevant.  If you want to give a history lesson, do it properly.

Conservatives may benefit from reading the actual words of Christ before taking him on their crusade toward Libertarianism.  Jesus was NOT a Libertarian, not even a little bit.  The Tea Party is nothing more than a Libertarian infiltration of the Republican Party who lack any reasonable education as to how government actually works, what government is actually supposed to do, or what that bible they are beating actually says.  People embrace them because they talk about concepts that plague middle class Americans – jobs, inflated government, changing culture, people taking advantage of the system, a shrinking middle class, etc.  They are speaking to them, using their language.  The problem is – there is no actual plan on how to fix any of this.  They use this as a rallying cry – but if they were to actually employ any of these wacky ideas they have, it would collapse our economy and devastate the middle class.  Unfortunately, Americans understand economics almost as well as they understand science.  You don’t get it.  Here’s a clue – Trickle Down Economics is not actually an ECONOMIC POLICY! Whuh???  True story.

I’ll give you a few days to watch the PBS special The Persuaders and then I’ll post Part 2.

The Weekly Six – The Sweet Sound of Information Edition

24 Jan

Sometimes people ask me where I go to get information.  Well, that list is too long to address.  I first start with the media and then I go to the actual sources they cite.  If they don’t cite, I treat them as entertainment media and stop reading, watching, or listening.  There are websites, blogs, newspapers, podcasts, and radio that I frequently utilize as information sources.  There is absolutely no television program that  I currently watch as an information source.   This week, I will discuss podcasts.

I first discovered podcasts when I was in nursing school.  I spent a lot of time in my car, driving to and from class, to and from work, and to and from clinical.  On average, I spent twenty hours a week just driving from place to place.  I’m not sure when I first downloaded a podcast or to which one I first listened, but I do know that I was quickly addicted to the medium.  There is a lot of crap out there, but there are plenty of gems out there as well.  I subscribe to about fifteen podcasts.  There are six that I eagerly download as each new episode becomes available.

1. The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe – I have listened to every episode of this podcast.  I began listening around episode 90 and have not missed an episode since.  I even went back and listened to the episodes I missed.  If you want to learn about geeky stuff and how to critically think through this world of science misinformation, then this is the podcast I recommend.  If you are really nerdy like me, you will laugh at their jokes and if not, you will laugh at them.  However, I challenge anyone to listen to this podcast and not learn something valuable.  Sometimes smug, sometimes brutally honest, and always thought-provoking with references, this podcast is a repository of vetted scientific information about the latest science news.  You can read the show notes and find out where to access real information on a variety of scientific topics, those that are in the media and controversial, and those that are neither but super interesting. 

2. Freakonomics Radio – economics is something of which few people understand but all seem to fancy themselves experts.  This podcast takes an economist’s approach to everyday life and to issues in the media.  By using economics as a guide for their day to day pontifications, they are accidentally (or intentionally, I can’t decide) teaching economics in a way that anybody can understand.  From time to time, they address conventional economic issues such as poverty, and if you have listened in enough, many things start to make sense about the difficulty of balancing economy when so many things are still unknown.  As with the SGU, I have listened to every epidsode of this podcast.

3. Stuff You Should Know – this podcast is just entertaining.  Each episode, they answer our burning questions regarding topics like fire breathing, filibusters, handwriting analysis, fingerprinting, LARP, and cartography.  Part mythbuster/part trivia whore, this podcast quickly made it into my “can’t miss” category.

4. Quackcast – I love Mark Crislip, MD.  He is dry.  Not dry like baguette, but dry like Betty White’s Dusty Eighty Year Old Crusty Muffin. (I’m linking this SNL skit because it is still hilarious)  His website is no-frills. He references his growing multimedia empire with a white background and words in Times New Roman font with varying shades of black and grey text.  You will find no pictures, no banner ads, and no video.  His podcast is just his voice reading an essay he wrote, usually picking apart a terribly written article.  The podcast is not for everybody.  What is for everybody is the information that he has to offer.  With three decades as a medical doctor specializing in infectious disease while holding a variety of administrative positions, Dr. Crislip has a wealth of information on disease, medicine, and what it means to be a doctor today.  He is also well-known in the skeptical community as he has a knack for taking complicated issues and making them understandable to laymen.

5. The Partially Examined Life – much like economics, few people grasp philosophy.  This podcast may be the best of all six for its educational value.  People need to understand philosophy, especially the underpinning of philosophical differences that lead to many of the arguments we are having today.  I find this podcast seriously important, but it is also entertaining and not nearly as dry as Crislip’s podcast even though the subject matter would suggest it should be.  I recommend listening from the beginning, because they start with basic principles and move through philosophy with a purpose before they begin to apply it to our present day.  LOVE this podcast.

6. On The Media – I love public radio and there are many public radio shows that I listen to via podcast.  However, this is the one that I never miss.  Gentle skewering is how I like to put it.  Brooke Gladstone and company pick through headlines and address the topic of media, taking it to task for misinformation or just lack of information.  They cover stories others have missed that I think are quite important.  They cover the stories that have been poorly covered by the media as well.  The best thing about the podcast besides its impeccable content is the journalistic integrity that they manage to maintain while shining a light onto their very own medium.

The above links are to the official websites of the podcasts.  All podcasts are available via itunes and other podcast software platforms.  Find some of your own favorites…there is a whole world of information out there.

-that is all.

The Weekly Six – Growth Edition

16 Jan

Things that assist us in personal growth and satisfaction…

1. Criticism – we neither offer nor receive enough criticism today.  It has become taboo in our society to point out what people could do better.  Instead, we are to focus on the positives!  That is great, if the negatives were not so glaring.  In reality, we all need criticism as much as we need recognition and without them both – we are doomed into stagnation.

2. Fun – If we want to know how to have fun, watch some kids on a playground.  Spinning around in circles has its rewards!  We do not forget to have fun as adults be we do take everything so seriously that we find it hard to find the humor in life.  We need to do things that we not only enjoy, but things that make us laugh until tears are streaming down our faces.  We need to plan things that make us giddy at the mere thought of them.  We should find ourselves rocking with excitement and joy at least a few times a month.  If not, we are doing this life thing wrong.

3. Intellectual stimulation – If we are not challenged intellectually, then our knowledge, thoughts, and beliefs do not undergo any scrutiny.  Without scrutiny, our knowledge, thoughts and beliefs will not evolve naturally and we become a platypus – one of those weird throwbacks from an era when that duckbill made sense, but today looks a lot like some relic that should be in the Natural History Museum.

4. Let go – we hold onto two things that we should drop immediately; toxic people and the things they did to us.  People who add nothing but pain and conflict to our lives should be led to the pier posthaste, no matter how long they have been around or how much potential they may have.  Tell them to come back when they reach that potential.  The horrors we have endured are not what shape us.  It is how we deal with these issues that define who we are and who we become.  Stop walking around with your hands tightly clutched around your baggage, unless you are in the process of strangling it – then by all means, carry on.

5. Don’t make excuses – own your failures and let-downs.   Don’t make some lame excuse for why.  Apologies should flow as easily from you lips as the promises you were unable to keep.  Forgiveness is far better for personal growth than saving face.

6. Explain – take the time to explain yourself, especially when someone does not want an explanation.  This is hard to do without making excuses, but this is the true sign of growing.  People need to know what crazy ass shit led you to some wild conclusion or made you think doing something stupid was a fabulous idea.   If nobody knows you, then how can they criticize or intellectually engage you?  Better yet, how can they know what you would really like to do for fun?

- that is all

The Weekly Six – Ideologue Edition

7 Jan

One of the most difficult and important lessons in life one can learn is to understand our personal ideology to such a degree that we can set it aside when we need to weigh facts in pursuit of understanding a more refined truth.  We are all subject to the whim and will of our ideology.  It can lead us in our most righteous of endeavors and it can cripple us in our most vulnerable of moments.  Ideology clouds our judgment at the same time it lights our path.

Six signs you are letting your ideology close your mind:

1. You find yourself getting angry while discussing something with a person who disagrees with you: It is one thing to get angry when somebody is being a douche, but it is another thing entirely to get angry and indignant when someone simply disagrees with your position.  Over the years, I have learned quite a bit about huge topics like climate, poverty, economics, and countless others by engaging in conversation with people who knew much more than I did and by people who disagreed with conclusions I had already drawn.  Our experiences often shape our opinions, but unfortunately, our experiences are nothing but a series of anecdotal stories that require follow-up on our part.

In my rudimentary understanding of climate, I had always dismissed discussions about climate change much the same way I dismissed discussions about acid rain.  This was hyperbole spoken by crazed environmentalists that probably have a point, but one that will be lost in all of the cries of “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!”  Chicken Little they were not, it turns out.  I had several discussions with a meteorologist (not one who plays one on TV, but a real one) who explained to me the difference between climate and weather and how climate changes affect weather patterns.  Three other persons over time with degrees in geology, atmospheric science, and chemistry would continue the challenge.  Today, I choose to try to find things that refute climate science.  This is the best way I know to continue to ensure that I don’t miss something.  This brings me to the next point.

2. You find yourself researching information to validate facts that conform to your opinion:  If you are reading disagreeable things on Facebook which prompt you to look up potential information to prove that person wrong, you misunderstand the purpose of information.  Information is meant to expand your mind or expand the minds of those around you.  When information is used as a sword, it cannot accomplish either.  Information, in its most pure sense, is meant to be used as a tool of construction, not destruction.

I am guilty of dropping links in a comments section from time to time.  I admit that it is not always done as a way to expand the mind of the person I am confronting.  Sometimes, it is a link to show that something they posted is factually inaccurate, like most quotes from dead guys.  Sometimes it is a link to actual information after reading comments that begin with “Rubbish…everybody knows…the liberal media would like you to believe…Big Pharma strikes again…Monsanto anything”  In my defense, I really would like them to read what is attached to that link, but I know they will do nothing of the sort.  It makes me look smug, but hey, I am.

First, one must take into account the actual words, sentiment, and evidence that is offered to you.  Address those, not the ideology.  Second, one must take that information and see where and why it disagrees with your previously held conclusions.  Is it something you know or is it something you think?  Better yet, is it something you feel?  Finally, one must look up that information and the evidence behind it, even if none was offered by your perceived foe.  If it doesn’t add up, explain to them why.  If it does, well then, you have just learned something.  If you experience anything like what I have over the years, people will either hate you or they will assume that you hate them, because everything really is personal.

3. You find yourself arguing minutia in a debate, rather than the topic at hand:  If at any moment, you find yourself typing, “Well, technically that is not a part of…” then you are being an ideological douche.  There are only two reasons to pick at technicalities in someone’s argument.  The first, you have a huge inferiority complex and feel compelled to show how smart you are.  The second, you are baiting someone into a debate arguing the minutia because you cannot argue the real points effectively.  Stay on topic.  I assure you that, not only does nobody care that it is actually Title Blah from Blah Blah Act of 1974 instead of Title Fwah from Fwah Tufuh  Act of 1968, but it also not pertinent to the subject at hand.  Unless this is an argument between lawyers about the damn law, let us not cite it like assholes.

4. You find yourself deleting comments/people on your social media that do not conform to your ideology or you find yourself keeping people that should have been shed years ago:  This is a two-fer.  If you find yourself deleting comments from friends who disagree with your statement, then you are having a problem with your ideology getting in the way of good manners and likely, some important facts to go along with all that raging opinion.  If you mix the deletion of comments with a shaming of that person, see number one.

On the flip side, another spotlight on your ideology taking over your good sense is keeping a comment bomber around when they should have been banned long ago.  If there is one thing an ideologue hates, it is to be called an ideologue, so they do anything to avoid the label.  Unfortunately, keeping people around who are disruptive ruins the enjoyment of social media for others, and especially you.  Shed those people who constantly engage your feed with aggression.   Shed those people who have nothing to learn from you and have nothing to teach you, but have all of the opinions in the world.

5. You find yourself withdrawing from any meaningful discussion: “Don’t ever talk politics or religion with someone.”  I always found this to be a ridiculous statement.  I have often said, “if you don’t ever want to know anybody” should be added to the tail end of that declaration.  Politics and religion are not the only meaningful discussions in which we can engage but they can be very interesting and very enlightening if both parties are game.  Engaging in intellectual discussion is imperative to maintaining an open mind, even if that discussion is about parenting, schooling, or what you have been reading.  The further immersed we become in our own ideology, the farther we withdraw from mindful exchange and thus, the farther we withdraw from other people who will attempt to engage in such activity.

6. You have lost your sense of humor, incapable of laughing at yourself when jabbed by someone “from the other side”: No matter whether you are conservative or liberal, republican or democrat, libertarian or green, you have to admit that sometimes the other side has a point and sometimes that point can be hilarious.  Sometimes the people in our corner make a gaffe and it is hysterical!  If you cannot bring yourself to laugh at a well-crafted joke – you are letting your ideology ruin your fun.

I still laugh at this and I worked tirelessly on this man’s campaign:dean

Who has watched Tina Fey as Sarah Palin and not laughed their ass off?palin

There is plenty to laugh at, and with, when it comes to all of this heavy speak.  Take a load off and laugh awhile.  There is just about nothing that a good belly laugh cannot cure.  Well, it cannot cure disease, but it can make living with it more enjoyable.

obama christie

There is a lie that is spreading today, one that has been gaining steam over the last few decades, if not longer.  The lie proclaims that you have a right to live in a world congruent with your own ideology.  The lie argues that infringing upon others rights is perfectly justified when we are protecting our right to live in an ideological bubble.  This is a lie for an obvious reason – if we violate someone else’s right to protect our own, then not everybody has this right.  We are all guilty of this faulty thinking from time to time and some of us even get into the ideological bunker on occasion.  Exercising a little humility mixed with a little humanity may be a perfect cocktail for stepping outside of our six-foot circle long enough to realize that there is a big world out there with some very big ideas – and very little of it will hurt you bad enough to make you regret taking those steps.

-that is all

Climate and weather are not synonymous, so please, shut up.

6 Jan

Here is a conversation that I have too often.

Me: 97% of climate scientists agree – global warming is happening and it is correlated significantly with human behavior.

Some douchebag: Well, there was a time when 97% of scientists believed that the earth was flat.

Me: Actually that is not true.  You see, when humanity thought the earth was flat, we didn’t have scientists as we know them now.

Some ignorant douchebag: Well, there was a consensus that the earth was flat.

Me: A consensus of what? People looking as far as their eyes could take them?  A consensus of people who believed in Zeus?  A consensus of people who believed they had to sacrifice their first born to save their village?  There was a group of people at that time that would lay the foundation of science.  They were exclaiming the earth was not flat.  All of them.  That was the consensus.  In fact, this little thing that people mention ad nauseam is quite good at illustrating my point.  People were killed for insinuating that the earth revolved around the sun.  They were murdered for insinuating that the earth was round.  Anybody with a bit of understanding of math and angles could deduce that the earth was round and that the earth revolved around the sun by studying the horizon and the sky.  There was a consensus among them, but a holdout in the establishment that would not allow those facts to be accepted, let alone released to the public.  This was for a variety of reasons, mostly money, some strategic and others religious.  Hmmm…sound familiar?

Some stupid douchebag:  Some global warming trend – we are having the coldest spell on record for decades.

Me: Are you changing the subject?

Some blissfully ignorant, stupid douchebag: It is negative thirty degrees outside.  In Missouri.  Since when does that say global warming?

Me: You do realize there is a difference between the terms climate and weather, don’t you? <slides noose around own neck and steps up onto the chair>

Let’s consult Merriam-Webster:

Climate:  the average course or condition of the weather at a place usually over a period of years as exhibited by temperature, wind velocity, and precipitation

Weather: the state of the air and atmosphere at a particular time and place : the temperature and other outside conditions (such as rain, cloudiness, etc.) at a particular time and place

There are many scientific reasons for the current weather patterns and how it relates to the overall climate change.  This has to do with the reflectivity of snow and ice versus water and a bunch of other things that people, with an expertise in this, would better explain.  So, here is a blurb from an article in Quartz titled “How Global Warming can make cold snaps even worse.”

Snow and ice are disappearing from the Arctic region at unprecedented rates, leaving behind relatively warmer open water, which is much less reflective to incoming sunlight than ice. That, among other factors, is causing the northern polar region of our planet to warm at a faster rate than the rest of the northern hemisphere…the difference in temperature between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes helps drive the jet stream…atmospheric theory predicts that a slower jet stream will produce wavier and more sluggish weather patterns, in turn leading to more frequent extreme weather… when exceptionally wavy jet stream patterns occur mid-winter, it’s a recipe for cold air to get sucked southwards. This week, that’s happening in spectacular fashion.

I don’t really care what you ‘believe.’  This is not about what you believe or I believe.  It is about what experts, who have dedicated their lives to this study, know, predict, and surmise.  These experts recognize the difference between knowledge, prediction, and supposition.  They acknowledge those differences and that often results in some discrepancy between what one may say is true versus what the other may say is true.  That is where SCIENCE comes in.  They test things, over and over again.  They repeat tests more often than the morons on television repeat their talking points.  That is how science works.  They are constantly testing their hypotheses to prove themselves wrong – not prove themselves right.  That is how you reveal errors in your own thinking, errors in your logic, and errors in your calculations.  This is the main difference between “believing” something to be true and “knowing” something to be true.

There is always room for improvement in truth.  Truth is not fact.  Truth is something that can be refined with the input of more facts, parameters, and measurements.  There just happens to be a lot more room for improvement of blind belief-truth than of tested knowledge-truth.  This is mostly due to scientific truth being more open to refinement than true-believers, thus it is constantly and consistently refined over a given time period.  I am not sure what the non-believers of global warming are trying to prove, anyway.  Are they saying that there is no patterned climate change?  If there is no patterned climate change, what is happening to the North Pole?  Why do these deniers believe these scientists would lie?  This is something that has never been explained.  What is the motive to lie?  They have jobs no matter what – they study climate whether or not there is some massive change in it.  The study of climate is much more complicated than this argument alone.

On one side, you have all of these people yelling “It’s not true!  You are liars!  Lying for no reason!”  These people have no explanation for the lie.  They have no explanation for things that are clearly changing throughout the world, especially in the Arctic region, in relation to climate.  They have no expertise in the field.  They have nothing to offer except a loud scream of “LIAR.”  On the other side, you have rational people examining a variety of phenomena that can be explained by global warming.  They have empirical evidence to offer you.  They have no incentive to lie.  They are researchers.  There was money going into climate research before this global warming bell was rung.  With the exception of very few, nobody gets rich as an academic researcher.  There may be more money going there now, but that is because climate change is evident, not because somebody is cashing in on a ruse.  It is hard to make the Arctic ice caps melt as a hoax.  It is hard to change jet stream patterns at will to provide further evidence to boost the sham.

I do not have enough space to go over all of the climate change bullshit that runs over my news feed on a daily basis.  Fortunately, there are some websites that have already done that work, with references and everything provided for your reading pleasure.  Unfortunately, I’m sure the ones who scream the loudest against climate change are not the ones who will sit down and read a rational explanation as to why they are wrong.  If they were inclined that way, they would have found this information already.

Skeptical Science

And if Quartz and Skeptical Science do not do it for you, how about fucking NASA

-that is all

Weekly Six – Things I would like to see less on my social media news feed

2 Jan

I am going to try to make this a weekly segment if for nothing else than a forced weekly writing exercise.  Who knows, I may actually keep up with it and I may even make it a worthy read from time to time.  Since it is a new year, I decided that the first installment of my The Weekly Six will be six things I would like to see less in my social media feed and it is especially long.  I remember back in the day, I could hide posts from a user or hide posts from a page that this user is relentlessly sharing with the click of a button.  For whatever asinine reason, that button is gone.  Now, I am subject to all of the crap some of my friends subscribe to and share.  Oh how I long for the day when I could make their bad choices go away from my sight with a click of a mouse – but I accept that those days are gone and I concede that I want to keep up with them more than I want to see less of their disagreeable posts.  For those of you that are guilty – yeah, this one is for you…

1. Anecdotal evidence – the fact that one person, a dozen or even a thousand have suffered ill effects at the hands of some agency, corporation, law, statute, school, etc. does not mean that said agency, corporation, law, statute, school etc. is faulty, wrong, or ill-conceived.  It means that what is good for the goose may indeed not be good for the gander.  It means that what is wonderful for one person in one circumstance may totally suck for another person in the same circumstance or the same person in another circumstance.  It means that not everybody benefits from change in much the same way that not everybody benefits from the status quo.  Nothing is perfect.  Nothing.  Not even me.  Anecdotal evidence is not evidence – it is somebody’s sad story that sucks a whole lot.  If you are trying to make a real point, you need to have pertinent statistics, expert analysis, and well-designed studies – not someone’s sob story.  Is it sad?  Yes.  Is it relevant?  Not usually.

2. Misidentified authors – you are posting to Facebook which means you have access to Google.  Use it dammit.  Everyone is guilty of this.  I’ve done it a couple of times.  Then I get shamed, I remove the post, and apologize.  There is a good portion of people who will just leave it.  It is tiresome for others when we do not admit our mistakes.  Sometimes, I feel a little bad dropping Snopes links in someone’s comments section.  It makes me feel like a jerk.  Unfortunately, I cannot stand by and read “I’m 83 and I’m Tired” attributed to Bill Cosby, who is nearly a decade younger than that and who was offended to have the essay attributed to him.  It was written by somebody else who does not happen to be a household name.  George Carlin did not write about how we need to pray more, the man was an atheist.  No, Morgan Freeman didn’t say any of what is attributed to him and sticking his name on your quote doesn’t give it more meaning; it makes you look like an idiot. 

After I dropped what I lovingly refer to as a “Snopes Bomb” in the comments section of the Cosby article post, someone responded to me, “What difference does it make who wrote it?  This open letter has a lot of good meaning!”  Well, maybe the original author may want to get the credit for it, since he/she did write the damn thing!  I know it would piss me off if something I wrote was making its rounds on the internet with some famous asshat’s picture attached to it. Try this – look it up before reposting.  If you like it and realize that the celebrity did not write it, then copy and paste and add the real author’s name.  Use your power for good – not mediocre. Just because Sean Connery didn’t pen the masterpiece that has moved you so, does not make it any less of a masterpiece – give credit where credit is due.  There’s a lot of out of work writers who could benefit from the exposure of you sharing their articles if they actually get some credit for it.

3. Lies and misinformation – No, Barack Obama did not want to change the national anthem to “I’d like to buy the world a coke.”  However, several idiots petition the government each year to change it to songs even more ridiculous.  Oprah Winfrey has never been nominated nor has she ever been awarded a Nobel Prize.  However, George W. Bush was once nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and that same year, former President Jimmy Carter won the prize.  Mitt Romney never said that he could relate to black people because his ancestors once owned slaves.  Sarah Palin never said that Thanksgiving was for real Americans and that all of the Native Americans would still be running around in loincloths without the settlers.  All of these things are easy to look up.  It takes mere seconds.  Most of these things originated in spoof articles like what you would read in The Onion.  It is fine if you think these things are funny, but passing them off as fact is foolish and sometimes dangerous.  If you have a problem with a politician, could you possibly explain why without shoving a load of horseshit down my throat?

“Oh here is something disparaging about a Democrat!  It must be true and if I spread it, then I will show how much better my side is than their side.”

“Oh lookie here!  Some republican was caught with drugs.  They are all money grubbing drug addicts with double standards.  We all know they are and the world needs to know it too!”

“Oh here is something with which I totally agree.  Regardless of the fact that it has no foundation in reality whatsoever, I am going to repost it as fact anyway.  Then, when someone calls me out on it, I will start an argument on a different tangent and never once acknowledge my error.”

“It is funny” is not a reasonable excuse to perpetuate misinformation.  It is why this country is full of educated morons.  We all want to believe this crap more than we want to know things.

4. Experts with no expertise – Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, Brit Hume, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly are not experts in anything unless we are talking about the ability to entertain – and even then, Hume leaves something to be desired.  None of them have a degree in politics, foreign relations, law, finance, economics, or anything the like.  Bill O’Reilly who had a master’s degree in broadcast journalism did get a degree in Public Administration from Harvard after establishing his broadcast career.  Hannity never graduated college and Brit Hume has a degree in English.  Jon Stewart has a degree in psychology, Colbert was a theater major, and Maher earned an English degree with a minor in history.  I’m not saying that they know nothing because they do not have a specialized degree, I’m only saying that they are not experts in these fields.

Politics, economics, and foreign policy are complicated and nuanced subjects that require quite a bit of qualifying when engrossed in discussion.  There is nothing that can be said in a matter of a couple of minutes that would have any real meaning, let alone in a twenty second sound bite.  These folks are salesmen who have books and advertising to sell as well as speaker’s fees to charge as they are hired for speaking engagements.  There is no job waiting for them if this celebrity thing suddenly falls to shit.  The only information they are concerned to distribute is the piece that is the hottest sell this week.  Just because it falls from their lips does not mean that what they say is true or that they have the slightest understanding of what they are actually saying or the benefits/consequences of the ideas they are propagating.

There are pundits who have education and experience to back up their positions.  All of them would be employed in policy making, research or education (some are) should their careers in media suddenly wane.  George Will and Rachel Maddow are two with doctorates in politics and policy.   Paul Krugman and Glenn Hubbard are two with doctorates in economics.  Of these four people, all of them are partisans, but they can also reference the material on which they base their conclusions and make sound arguments for their positions.  They are not merely shouting meaningless butchered statements stolen from fragmented expert articles.  They are the experts who write the articles from which others steal. While they may be sitting on one side or the other of the line, they all have something to teach you.  We need to learn from one-another, both those with which we agree and maybe more importantly, those with which we disagree.  There is nothing to be learned from the talking head regurgitating the party’s latest talking point that appeals to your worldview.  This is about IDEAS, RESEARCH, EXPERIMENTATION, and LEARNING to build a better world.  It is not about winning and losing some election based upon imaginary boxes within which not one single American can fit comfortably.

5. Statistics with no meaning – ninety-one percent of statistics are made up on the spot.  It is a funny saying, but it is not true.  Statistics can be meaningless.  “There was a 100% increase in the incidence of pick your dangerous disease.”  It sounds terrible until you realize that only two people contracted the terrible disease the year before.  The statistic is true, but meaningless.  Most people cannot tell you the difference between incidence and prevalence.  Even less people can tell you the difference between statistically significant and clinically significant.  This leaves our society vulnerable to junk science.  It also leaves people prey for poor analyses and inept media coverage of good science.  It is why people gave all children ribbons for participation in the 90’s.  It was not that a study concluded that self-esteem was the single-most important aspect to childhood development.  It did not.  However, that is how it was interpreted and reported.  Voila!  A pretty large group of kids have no idea how to fail because we are terrible at grasping and teaching the skills of critical thinking and analysis.

Statistics are a necessity when weighing validity and generalizability.  Statistical analysis is incredibly difficult for a great many people, not because it is hard, but because many people dislike math resulting in them sticking their fingers in their ears and reciting gibberish every time they are presented with statistical problems.  Statistics, however, are an essential part of problem solving and, without a sound understanding of the subject, you are doomed to believe in horseshit to some degree.  This is why the vitamin industry is an industry at all.  It is why people believe vaccines cause autism.  It is why people believe poor people are a drag on the economy.  It is why people believe tax breaks are the solution to economic woes.  It is why people believe we live longer today than we did a hundred years ago.  It is why people believe in conspiracies that require more than two conspirators.  It is why people believe any simple solution to complicated problems.  They do not know how to break them down and they do not know how to do the math.  Do yourself a favor – get the book Statistics for Dummies – it will change your understanding of just about everything.

6. Captain obvious complains but offers no solution - if you are going to complain about our government,  it would help if you have an alternative solution rather than just posting meme after meme about  how stupid this law is or how terrible that politician is for our society.  Your solution should use pertinent statistics, expert analysis, and well-designed studies (where have I heard this before) or your solution should start us off by telling us how to obtain them.  Tell me how we make these big bad corporations stop doing their bad stuff.  Tell me how we fix our education problem.  Tell me how to rectify the mistakes of ill-conceived legislation. Don’t bitch about it.  WE KNOW what the problems are – how about we start talking about how to fix them?   I am not your enemy because I disagree with you – I am your neighbor who is stranded in the same boat as you.  I’ll tell you what, why don’t you stop beating me over the head with that oar and I’ll work on fixing the motor while you row with the oar.  In an hour, we can switch roles until we reach dry land.  Sound like a plan?

Our problems do not begin with what side passed what law.  Our problems begin with how laws are passed and their lack of reevaluation.  There is NO requirement for assessing whether or not the law that was passed is actually doing what it was intended to do.  In fact, they almost never set parameters to measure what success of ANY law would look like.  How are we supposed to know what is good legislation and what is crap?  NONE of it is measured in any consistent or meaningful way.  Want to change our country for the better?  Quit reposting this crap and start demanding our lawmakers measure the success of their legislation by tying projections, goals, and parameters of what success means to the legislation.  Every piece of legislation should come with specific measurable goals, tools with which to measure data, a time limit to reach the goals, and a set date for reevaluation.  If it did not meet the standards set, then the legislation is back on the table to be retooled and the process starts all over.  See – problem solved.  I LOVE CRITICAL THINKING!

7. And on the seventh point, she rested

- that is all

When Rednecks Attack GQ!

19 Dec

Here is a nice beginning, a meme with so many errors, I spit my coffee through my nose:

stoopid

Let us get a few things straight, ahem, before we begin with this madness.  First, Oprah has never been a recipient of the Nobel – or as this meme would suggest the Noble prize.  “Racists” are not a race of people, they are bigots and they come in all colors.  So, when Oprah suggested that the only way racism will end in America is for the racist generations to die out, she was not wishing the death of a race.  Moreover, race does not even exist.  It is something we have made up based upon skin color and facial features that has absolutely no biological significance, but now is not the time for that little lesson in science.  This meme pisses me off.  One, I’m pissed because it makes me have to defend Oprah and I hate to have to defend Oprah.  Two, I’m pissed because they don’t really know what the Nobel prize is or they would not have spelled it wrong.  Three, I’m pissed because it is just a lie, about Robertson and about Oprah.

I work for a hospital.  I am not the CEO. I am a peon in one department of the entire hospital and its outreach throughout the community.  In other words, I am not the “star” of this hospital’s show, I am just the gofer to a secretary.  If I were to get into an interview with any media outlet and spout off about how I feel about ANYTHING, I would be immediately fired.  I can express those opinions in my private life.  I can even express them here on this blog.  However, I can guarantee you that if I made statements attacking any minority group and this blog garnered any national attention, I would no longer be employed at that hospital.   “The only bad press is no press” only applies in certain situations.  In fact, I think this is only true of celebrity and even then, like in the case of Paula Deen, the truth in that witticism can be tested.

Bad press is terrible for a business that is trying to appeal to variety of consumers.  For instance, a hospital or restaurant chain, or let us say, any network on TV besides FOX News, who’s business model is based on bad press.  The same goes for celebrities.  Madonna made a career of bad press and Winona Ryder lost everything because of it.  The difference?  Madonna sold herself as a controversy and Winona was “America’s Complicated and Brooding Sweetheart.”  It depends on what you are trying to be, what you are perceived to be, and how what you have done affects that perception.  Paula Deen was “America’s Southern Mom” so we certainly didn’t want to hear about her use of the n-word.  “Cut off her head!”  And, it was so.

A&E removing Mr. Robertson from the show is based on their business model.  You cannot go out and piss off the gays and expect to remain on A&E, or any network right now.  Gay people have had enough of the snickering.  Gay people have had enough of the bashing.  Gay people have had enough of the fear-mongering.  Gay people have had enough of your use of Jesus to justify continuing to discriminate against us.  Gay people are organized and loud and we have had ENOUGH!  So, when you are stupid enough to talk about how the vagina should be more appealing than the anus to a man, not only do you give us all the heebie-jeebies (straight people included) but you make gays start talking loudly about your ignorance and grossness.  That makes networks nervous.

Networks do not like to be nervous, especially when it is endangering their new cash cow.  This does not have to do with the audience of this show alone.  People are so short sighted.  This is about the chain.  To begin, there is a chain of products that will advertise with the show.  They have consumers of their products.  If they advertise with the show, they may receive backlash from those consumers.  The network has other shows and if they continue to back a show with a star that has said disparaging things against a group of people who will get very loud about it, they have to worry about their other programming as well.  This is not about infringing upon Mr. Robertson’s free speech.  He gave that up when he signed a contract with the network.  “Think what you want, just don’t say it to the press while you are starring in one of our shows.” – love, any network.

This applies to any business that relies on public perception.  Take “Ender’s Game,” which was one of my favorite Sci-Fi books EVER.  Many people would have likely agreed with me on its awesomeness twenty years ago, before the author’s extreme views came under a spotlight.  The writer of the novel has a LOUD anti-gay activist history.  It began with an essay in 1990, but nobody read it, so nobody cared.  However, in the early 2000’s, his activism became very public as the gay rights movement gained steam.  A movie based on the novel hit theaters late this year, and has yet to break the 100 million dollar mark, worldwide.  Today, that is a flop, especially considering it cost $110 million to make the movie.  It should have been a hit.  It was not because when you are in the business of selling stuff to people, you have to watch your mouth.  It is that simple, no matter how badass your novel might have been.

I am not shocked that Mr. Robertson has disparaging things to say about gay people, just as I wasn’t shocked that Deen had used the n-word at some point in her life.  I am not shocked that he said those things on a public platform.  I am not shocked that the gays are up in arms about it.  What does shock me is that activism, on all sides, eventually loses sight of its original purpose.  Christians lost sight of Christ.  Gays lost sight of Stonewall.  Blacks lost sight of Martin Luther King.   The point of this activism was to gain acceptance and spread a message, not to exact retribution.  Every time we hear somebody say something with which we disagree, we start yelling and pointing fingers.

His comments were the equivalent of “EW!!!!” multiple exclamation points included, and then the quoting of bible verses to justify his “EW!!!!”  Does this really constitute the “stupid redneck” and “backwoods bigot” remarks that are flying around right now?  We could take this opportunity and turn it into a teaching moment, but instead we turn it into a moment of stomping our feet and holding our breath until all people who are grossed out by us homos stop talking.  First, we should inform Mr. Robertson that GQ magazine was a terrible platform to discuss this as it will end up on the coffee table of every gay man in America, some of which may have masturbated to your likeness had you not said those horrible things and even some who still will.  Talk about “EW!!!!”

Here is a teaching moment.  When I was younger, I was walking out of a gay men’s bar at about 1:00 AM.  My friend and I were hit from behind and kicked mercilessly until we stopped moving.  I assume they thought we were boys, because they kept calling us “faggots.”  I weighed about 130 pounds.  I am indeed a female and so was my friend.  It was not hard for the three men to take us to the ground.  It was even easier for the kicks to my head to result in my no longer moving.  When I confided in a member of my family regarding the incident quite some time later, I was lectured on what the bible says about homosexuality.  What does the bible say about beating defenseless people?  I do not share this very often.  Mostly because it results in pity and I hate pity.  However, it is important for people to know that when I talk about the effects of these issues, I have intimate knowledge of said effects.

So, my own activism began.  I never lose sight of that moment, or the months it took me to recover from it, or the residual problems I face as a result of the injuries I sustained.  I do not want retribution.  I want the mindless defense of this behavior and its beginnings to end.  This behavior begins with the justification of statements of ignorance and shrouding them in the veil of “free speech.”  This behavior continues when we demonize rather than educate, because we create martyrs of these ignorant people and make mantras of their ignorant statements.  This behavior hits a crescendo when we yell rather than listen, when we raise a flag instead of raise a point, and when we seek to justify rather than seek to reason.

-that is all

A Journalist, A Homosexual, and A Soldier Walk Into A Bar

10 Dec

In late October, a twenty-year-old server at a Carrabbas Italian Grill here in the Kansas City area, received a hate-filled scrawl on the back of a receipt instead of a tip.  Within the wording, they called him a fag and simultaneously told him that god was love and that it is “not too late” to be saved.  He did not alert the media.  He went to his friends who then went to social media to express their outrage.  It eventually ended up on the local news and many people in the area went to the restaurant to ask for “the kid who was called a fag.”  You see, he did not immediately reveal himself.  He did not place a neon sign above his head and say “look at me!!!!”  He went to his friends to unload what many of us ‘mos endure on a daily basis; the ignorance and audacity of people that is so profound I could not begin to do it justice in a few sentences here in this post.

One month later, a new version hit the presses, only this time it was a girl, she was twenty-two and she was a MARINE!  This one garnered the attention of the national news.  “How dare you disrespect a MARINE?!”  I was immediately skeptical of this story.  It was not the fact that this story aired exactly one month to the day from the original story.  It was not the fact that they found a female marine who was gay and had been harassed.  It was the wording used in the note.  It was so similar to the words of the note in the original story.  Below are links to both.  There is enough between the two stories to make someone at least QUESTION the veracity of this young woman’s claims.  Not a single news agency did.  Not a single person who reposted this story on my newsfeed did.  I said nothing, but I was not shocked when the truth started to emerge.

Here is the truth.  The accused couple has two pieces of proof that this young woman is full of shit.  They have the original receipt with the tip filled in.  Yes, I know that it can be falsified.  What is far more difficult to falsify is the credit card statement, with the amount (tip included) in black and white.  Yes, they produced that as well.  There was a mix-up in the beginning which is explained in the follow up to the article below.  It made Ms. Morales assume this was a family of jerkfaces.  Under the circumstances, I may have made the same assumption, since it is not out of the realm of a normal day for someone to say “Beth?? Or BENNNN?”

However, under these circumstances it was a misunderstanding and one that Dayna Morales is sure to regret not clarifying.  In fact, these people are not homophobic Jesus freaks.  They did not immediately stand up in defense of themselves.  However, when the girl began profiting from the ruse and the national news became involved, they figured it was their duty to come forward.  I am sure it also crossed their mind that it may be only a matter of time before someone got ahold of their names and began a harassment campaign of their own.  If these people were the homophobes this young woman thought they were, the truth would likely have never surfaced.  If this story had not made national headlines and stayed local like the Kansas City story, then the truth would have likely never surfaced.  But, it did.  I could not be more pissed off.

Journalism is dead and this story proves it.

My first bone to pick is with the media.  As I stated above, there was enough information to suspect that there was at least the possibility of deceit here with this story.  If they would have made a couple of phone calls they would have found that this girl has a credibility issue.  That credibility issue alone would have sparked an actual investigation into the claim before they stuck a camera in the girl’s face to tell her bullshit story.  The investigation would have revealed the credit card statement and this story would have died before it ruined this girl’s life and made everyone a little more cynical (as if we need that.)

Her credibility issue begins with her ex-Marine status.  She stopped showing up to her job as a Marine reservist.  She told people she was a combat veteran.  She is not.  She told people she has PTSD.  She does not.  She was less-than-honorably discharged from the military and served no time on the battlefield.  She told people she had brain cancer.  She did not.  She told people she was donating this money to the Wounded Warrior Project.  She did not.  This girl has a history of pathological lying especially when it garners her accolades or pity.  Someone wisely said “A person should not be judged by what they have done in the past.”  I agree.  If I were judged upon my worst moments, then there would be nobody who would want to be in my life.  However, when you make it your current pattern (all of these things noted were patterns of behavior still currently happening) to be a lying sack of shit to elicit pity and accolades from others – then you will be judged by that and it will be prudent of others to do so.

I do not believe it was this girl’s intention to be on the national news.  I think she thought she could get some locals to come in and tip her well for a couple of weeks like the kid in Kansas City.  I think she thought she would get some comments on her Facebook post that would make her feel wanted and supported for a few days.  She could not have imagined that it would have gone as far as it did.  It is hard to guess what will get legs in today’s media and what will fizzle out in a matter of hours.  I said the word “pathological” in the paragraph above.  It was not for effect, but for emphasis.  This girl is emotionally disturbed.  She needs attention and she has learned that making up stories of suffering will result in her getting that attention.  This girl needs help, not a CNN microphone in her face and an NBC camera filming her at work where the “incident” happened.  Nobody cared whether or not it was true.  It was a story.  If it turns out not to be true – well then, it is two stories!  All at the expense of an emotionally disturbed girl who does not have enough firing properly in the brain to have tried to stop this train before it ran her over.  Gross.

When fucked up gay people attack…

If there is one thing I hate more than Dykes on Bikes driving around topless on their Harleys when every single one of them should keep their fucking shirt on, it is some emotionally disturbed homosexual asshat flapping their jaws before the national media to make a mockery of the struggle some of us actually do face.  I have been called names.  I have been spit upon.  I have been shamed out of a restaurant.  I have been asked, on more than several creepy occasions, to come home with some disgusting couple as if lesbians really do that.  I have been taken to the ground and kicked in the head – I have permanent hearing loss in my right ear and vestibular damage that has irreparably altered my sense of balance.

I stood witness to a man’s family as they told him he deserved to suffer the death afforded to him by AIDS because he was a homosexual.  I loved him.  I miss him every day.  Thousands of men died in the eighties and nineties because of silence and fear surrounding homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic.  Before AIDS and the winds of change that struggle brought to the gay community, there were the Stonewall Riots which essentially started the gay rights campaign in this country.  Stonewall marked the time when the “fags and dykes” began to push back against a long history of brutality, prejudice, disenfranchisement and marginalization.

People have endured terrible circumstances simply because they are homosexual.  Many still do on a daily basis.  When someone makes shit up like this, it negatively impacts the public perception of us all and minimalizes the actual horror some of us have endured.  While I feel sorry for this girl, I do not excuse her.   Just because you are emotionally labile and need constant attention does not mean you get to seek it out by exploiting the horror show so many of us had to live.

When I hear people defend her, I want them to go to the Wounded Warrior Project’s page and take a look at those pictures.  Do these men and women deserve to be exploited?  When I hear people defend her, I would like to direct them to Torchsong Trilogy, a beautifully tragic film about the devastating effect of the AIDS epidemic.  When I hear people defend her, I would like to direct them to another film, Boys Don’t Cry.  This girl does not get to profit off from this legacy without being taken to task, even if I do think she was exploited by the media.  Her exploitation of soldiers, veterans, and the struggle of so many homosexuals is far worse in my eyes.

-that is all.

Kansas City Story

New Jersey Story

New Jersey Follow-Up Story

The Straw That Broke This Carpet-Munching Lesbian’s Back

25 Nov

What is in a word?

I posted this meme with the term “cuntcakes” and my brother, whom I know laughed his ass off when reading it – responded with “I want to share this so bad…”

cuntcakes

He did not, and the reason is that silly little word, ‘cunt.’  In his defense, most people draw the line at that word, though I am not sure why.  Why is cunt worse than bitch?  Cunt was used as a term for female genitalia for centuries and nobody batted an eye.  That is the origin of the term – whereas the origin of the term “bitch” is referencing a female dog.  Would I rather you call me a name synonymous with vagina or a name synonymous with an animal?  When I take offense to the word cunt, it is like I’m saying “Call me anything but a vagina!” The world of language is a strange one, especially when we are deciding what is acceptable and what is not.

People will tell you that the age of “political correctness” ruined our verbal exchanges.  However, politically correct speech has always existed, only recently did we decide to put a name to it.  For as long as we have used language, we have dictated that a person’s choice of words defines who they are and their character.  If someone uses the word “retarded” then they are insensitive to people with developmental disabilities.  If someone uses the word “disenfranchised” then they are a dimwitted liberal with developmental disabilities.  If someone uses the words “free market” then they are a money-grubbing republican who likes to see babies starve.  If someone uses the words “cock-sucking faggot” then he is a homophobic misanthrope who secretly hates the gays.

We cannot even type the n-word in a post about the use of language to incite because it will incite.  What makes one word more powerful than another?  At least with the n-word, we can draw a very straight line to the origin of why it is such a terrible word to use.  There is no innocent origin to the word derived from the Spanish word for black.  It has always been used in a way to degrade an entire race of enslaved people and then a ‘free’ people with no rights.  Today’s embracing of the word seems strange to me because there is no time in history when the word was used as anything but a slur of hatred.  But, it is not for me to understand.  Nobody has ever called me that word and I am not black.  When gays reclaim ‘fag’ or ‘faggot,’ we can point out, that at one time, a fag was a cigarette and faggot was a bundle of sticks.  When women reclaim ‘cunt,’ we can cite hundreds of years of the use as a simple reference to the vulvar area of the female genitalia.  Cock-sucking, however, is simply describing what actually happens.

Does the mere use of a word highlight the darker aspects of our character?  I use the word ‘retarded’ without thinking.  It was a common word when I was growing up.  Using that word to describe something stupid is second nature for me.  I am not using it with developmentally disabled people in mind.  I am using a word common from my childhood that means to me ‘something stupid’ or ‘something slow.’  Intellectually, I understand that this word can be offensive to people who themselves are developmentally disabled or have a child that is.  However, when my internet is moving at the speed of smell and I call it ‘retarded,’ I would like to point out that I am using the term within the accepted definition of it without a thought to the dated term ‘mental retardation.’

I am sure that the above explanation of my own with regard to the r-word is very similar to Alec Baldwin’s use of the word ‘faggot.’  That brings me to the real point.  Alec Baldwin has lashed out numerous times to reporters, fans, and even his own children.  It is not his choice of words that offends me.  I am offended by HIM.  He is arrogant and condescending.  He is volatile and violent.  He does not know how to properly apologize.  He does not ACT like a person I want to defend and certainly not a person I would like speaking on my behalf.    We place far too much weight on the words a person uses and not nearly enough on the actions and intent of the people using them.  When Mr. Baldwin is speaking about politics, he can be very persuasive and appear knowledgeable, fair, and measured.  His actions however, show him to be anything but.  Language can be used to make people appear to be better than they are, as well as to make someone appear to be worse.

The great thing about language is that it allows us to interact and engage.  It also opens the door to misinterpretation and offense.  Would it not be better to open a dialogue about words, their origins, and why a specific word may or may not be offensive?  I argue that this suppression of language by flogging people for the use of certain words only adds fuel to their inflammatory use.  I am not saying that we should not ever be offended again, nor am I suggesting that we not address others when we are offended.  I am suggesting that calling someone a homophobe every time you hear the word ‘fag’ is maybe not the best approach to addressing the issue at hand.  Oh, and a sense of humor would not be a bad thing to access either.

Cunt can be funny.  It can also be offensive.  It is all in how we use it.  Either way, the use does not define the person’s character, only the person’s vocabulary and the time within which they developed it.  I try not to use the word ‘retarded’ but I do.  I hear people use ‘fag’ and ‘gay’ to describe things/people they find distasteful.  They are not bad people; they just grew up in the seventies and the eighties.  I do not know who is more uncomfortable.  Maybe it is them when they say, “I am sorry.  I did not mean it that way.”  Maybe it is me when I think, “I knew what you meant.  I did not even flinch.”  Should I flinch?  Should I be offended?  Should they rewire their vocabulary center of the brain to make them forget the connotations those words have for them?  Should we expect that?

If we change our choice of words to an extent such as to not have the possibility to offend a single person, we would all be mute.

-          that is all

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