Sunday, February 28, 2010

Proposition 8 Trial Re-enactment Brings Closed Proceedings to the Viewing Public

From the press release for, a re-enactment of the federal Proposition 8 trial Perry v. Schwarzenegger: "January 18, 2010 (Los Angeles) -- Last Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling blocking indefinitely the broadcast of a video feed from the San Francisco Federal Court trial challenging California's Proposition 8. Within a few hours, a film production team in Los Angeles was readying a script from court transcripts, securing a courtroom set and casting actors in an effort to bring the trial to the people by way of re-enactment...
"We both jumped in and started calling all of our contacts and never looked back," says John Ireland, who is co-producing the "made for the web" series with actor and producer, John Ainsworth... The production is using professional actors and, where possible, they are casting as close to the appearance of the real people the actors portray.
The team is being advised by constitutional law scholar and Professor, David B. Cruz, from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, which has made the replica courtroom available. He is reviewing scripts and advising on courtroom dynamics and flow."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Olbermann and the UUA

Looking up the numbers, I find I made a mistake in my comments to my last post, Maybe Keith Olbermann has a point I said that the Tea Party movement was 5% whiter than the population as a whole; I was remembering old numbers (something I find happening more often these days- I must keep reminding myself I've been out of school for 30 years)- the country is 65.6% white, not 75%

That being the case, I must reassess the question Keith Olbermann asked: "Ask yourself: Where are the black faces? Who am I marching with? What are we afraid of? And if it really is only a president's policy and not his skin. Ask yourself one final question: Why are you surrounded by the largest crowd you'll ever again see in your life that consists of nothing but people who look exactly like you?"

Leaving aside for the moment that I've only been a spectator to, not a participant in any Tea Party rallies, I had to ask myself if the premise of the question is correct: is it the whitest crowd I'd ever be surrounded by? Not according to the article Can Unitarian Universalism change? in the UUWorld. The UUA is much whiter than the Tea Party movement, 89% vs. 80%, with 95.7 percent of active ministers being white; has half the number of African Americans, 1% vs. 2%; and far fewer Latino/Latina, 3% vs. 10%. (and yes, I know that your congregation is different)

This is an old argument, with liberals saying the numbers tell all, and conservatives saying sometimes you have to ask why the numbers skew the way they do. I’ve always presumed the two biggest reasons why UU tended to be so white were first, the reputation UU has for secular humanism; African Americans consistently poll much more devout than whites- they prefer having God in their churches, and second, the reserved, Apollonian, New England style of most UU congregations; many blacks and southern whites prefer a more Dionysian, “make a joyful noise” style of worship. Combine that with the BAC walkout in ‘69 and our demographics were inevitable. But if you agree with Keith Olbermann that numbers tell all, then to be intellectually consistent, you’d have to rate the UUA as the most racist organization in America not listed by the government as a hate group.

To me, part of assuming the inherent dignity and worth of all people is to make an effort to understand why people hold the views they do. To not presume evil intent unless it is demonstrated. I do not assume that all big government fans are budding Stalinists, nor that their opponents are budding Hitlers. When I know that Paleoconservatives and Libertarians have been bashing Bush for years for spending money like a drunken cliché, loudly protesting his deficits and bailouts, I am not surprised when they protest President Obama’s, too. If the protests are bigger now, well, so are the deficits and bailouts- you don’t have to be a racist to be afraid of the numbers.

I’ve written before about the need to take a breath, relax, and examine the arguments before leaping to conclusions and insulting people, posts such as How can you respect silly beliefs? and How theists and atheists can share UU and no doubt I’ll do so again. And sometimes I fail. But we have to try- not merely because it will make more light and less heat; but because, damn it, it’s the right thing to do.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Maybe Keith Olbermann has a point

UPDATE: Humor can be a subtle thing. The video above was not intended to agree with Olbermann, it was intended to ridicule him. Compare the faces of the NBC family surrounding him with the faces from these tea party videos:

Anybody else, any other network I would give the benefit of the doubt to, figuring that they had just automatically presumed the tea party people were racist, and so didn't bother to go to a rally and look. But as I showed in an earlier post, MSNBC has in the past actually edited footage to conceal African Americans.

Second update: Tea Party organizers respond directly to Mr. Olbermann

Thursday, February 18, 2010

An open letter to Bob Barr

When you changed your allegiance from Republican to Libertarian so you could run for President, many Libertarians- most definitely including myself- were appalled; I knew you as a religious bigot and the architect of almost everything wrong with the modern Republican party, one of the reasons I left after thirty years as a loyal Republican. Knowing this, you said a lot of reassuring things, recanting your entire political life. If I had believed you, I would today feel betrayed.

In your latest post on his blog, The Barr Code, you ridicule the Air Force Academy's decision to allow volunteers to erect a worship circle for Pagan cadets, and Pagan servicemen nearby. You say, "But I have to tell you, if I were in the Air Force and was being commanded by an officer who practices hedonism as a religion (another part of the definition of “pagan”), and who dances around a circle of stones in the woods carrying a lighted candle, I would be more than a little worried about following him into battle."

Let me ask you, Bob; would you have followed Air Force veteran Douglas Wilkey? How about Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart? How about Purple Heart and Bronze Star holder Abraham Kooiman? Or fellow Purple Heart and Bronze Star holder Stephen P. Snowberger III?

You say that a Pagan "has little or no religion..."... and yet, these Pagans- and many, many more, currently serving and heroically fallen- had enough faith in something larger than themselves to place their bodies between their country and harm's way- something you chose not to do yourself. And despite their willing sacrifice, you would deny them the solace of their faith while they serve. Take another look at PFC Kooiman's grave; notice that there's a before and after picture- when he died, he was denied the symbol of his faith on his tombstone by you and other religious bigots in power. It took the Supreme Court to force this simple last gift of dignity to our fallen heroes.

Bob, in your life you have left the Democratic party and the Republican party. If you truly have any belief in Libertarian ideals and the Libertarian party, I ask for the good of the party and the good of the country that you leave this party, too; for as long as you are the standard bearer, it will neither receive nor deserve the votes of anyone who believes in liberty or the Constitution.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Having it both ways

The last few years we've been getting warnings that Global Warming is reducing snowfall, which will be catastrophic for our economy...

Now we're told that the heavy snows that have paralyzed both Europe and the US are the result of Global warming- "these ‘snowpocalypses’ that have been going through DC and other extreme weather events are precisely what climate scientists have been predicting, fearing and anticipating because of global warming."

Sound familiar? Al Gore et al predicted that 2006 would be a disastrous year for hurricanes- 15 named storms, 9 or 10 being hurricane strength, 3 or 4 or those being major. What happened in 2006? Number of named storms: 9. Number of category 4 or 5: 0. (By the way, another nil hurricane season ended a couple months ago) Then, in April 2007, a new study came out: Global warming may sap hurricanes

Of course, it's not Global Warming anymore, it's Climate Change, I'm told. The Global Warming cause weather to become more extreme, both ways. Hmm... doesn't seem to click with NOAA's hurricane statistics; they show the period from 1900-1950 to be almost twice as bad as 1950-now: number of major storms, 1900-1950: 42; number of major storms 1950-2000: 28. By the way, the 1900 Galveston Texas hurricane was just a little bit more severe than Katrina, killing 12,000 people.

But never mind all that; the science is exact: CO2 causes Global Warming. Unless, of course, Global Warming causes the CO2, which the actual data seems to show , and Al Gore admits. But then, he has a scientific explanation: that was in the past.

This is all beginning to sound like Christian Apologetics... Global Warming causes droughts, and it causes increased precipitation... Global Warming causes more frequent, more violent hurricanes, and it reduces their numbers and intensity... it causes blizzards and bare mountains... it causes, and is caused by, CO2... Falsifiability? Know ye that all things work for the greater glory of the IPCC... (except for the parts about the melting glaciers , which were based on a student paper that used a skiing magazine as source material and a WWF letter, or the parts about crops being cut in half in Africa in only ten years, which were never peer reviewed, or obvious mistakes like claiming that half of Holland is below sea level.)

We keep telling creationists that the problem with their theory is that it can't be used; since we have no way of knowing the nature of or timing of miracles, we can't use creation theory to predict experimental results. Global Warming theories, however, do predict results- mutually exclusive ones. But they have a better answer for this knock than the creationists: their theories predict that weather will become unpredictable; therefore, by getting it wrong they are actually fulfilling their predictions!

Coming soon, but not next, an in-depth look at the controversies of the last couple of years without my tongue in my cheek.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A philosophical question...

inspired by the morning commute. Everyone in the northeast knows what this morning's drive to work was like- as we used to say when we were kids, H. R. Muck&stuff. 99% of the commuters were being careful and responsible, but in a city of a million people, 1% is a lot of troublemakers.

Driving my beloved to work, on the way up we- and almost everybody else- were doing about 30 in a 45, which was right at the limit of sanity... but zooming along in the left lane was a Lexus SUV, doing at least 50, spraying the rest of us with brown, salty slush. Now, I'm not a road-rage kind of guy, but I genuinely regretted that I was too busy driving and using the windshield washer to spare a hand flipping the bird. Then, on the way home, the same thing happened again, with the perpetrator being a Cadillac Escalade. But coming up to a stop light, the Escalade slid in the intersection and brushed another vehicle that was stopped in the intersection patiently waiting for his chance to turn left... this other vehicle was a snow plow, and the blade opened up the side of the Escalade the length of the vehicle.

Nobody was hurt; the airbags of the Escalade didn't even go off- the only result was many thousands of dollars of damage done to the Escalade. (no damage was done to the plow blade) I laughed like a maniac. But then I was ashamed of my laughter. Which made me wonder...

Is it schadenfreude if the other whose misfortune you're enjoying is a dick? I mean, after all, one could argue that what he suffered was not misfortune, but well-earned consequences. Is it OK to enjoy brutal karma, or is the enjoyment unworthy irrespective of the cause of his suffering?

A further thought is that this question is related to another one: is a snarky comment still snarky if it's true? I've never resolved that one, either.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Update to "Be here, now"

The banker caught on camera looking at girlie pics is keeping his job. After his international embarrassment, an internal investigation at the bank evidently decided he'd suffered enough, and anyway he was just surfing for porn; the pictures were an email attachment- and there is speculation he was set up as a practical joke. See news stories here and here

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Jobless recovery- or jobless economy?

It's a conundrum that seems to come up in every conversation that runs more than five minutes- we keep hearing about all the new jobs being created, but we all have friends who are unemployed, or maybe you're the one who is unemployed, and sometimes for a long time. What goes on? Is the government lying about the new job creation?

No. The problem is the term "new jobs"; when one hears of news jobs created, one envisions more people working- but what is happening is that for every job created, another one (at least) is lost. Permanently. Nowadays, when one loses a job, it often doesn't mean that you were laid off and later replaced; it means that the job- not just with that company, but the vocation itself- has disappeared, been rendered obsolete or unnecessary. It's no longer just the young or uneducated being laid off; now it's people in their 40s and 50s, with post-high school educations and long, productive careers whose jobs are disappearing. And there's little or nothing the administration can do about it, especially in the short term.

This assessment of the administration's impotence is not a critique of the Obama administration, or the new Democrat majority- this has been going on for a very long time. If you consider the term "new jobs" to mean "more people are working today than yesterday", then according to this article from , there hasn't been a new job created in the US for eleven years. That span includes three presidents, and two changes of majority in Congress. And as near as I can estimate, while there had been genuine job growth before 1999, the rate of job growth had been less than the rate of population growth for at least ten years before that- and that's using the lower estimates of illegal immigration.

How has this elephant in the room gone unnoticed for so long? Partially because in the past, the jobs being eliminated were either obviously obsolete, or low-paid jobs. It's not news when the underclass has high unemployment, or when a manufacturer of buggy whips goes under. But the major reason the elephant has gone unnoticed is that he was hiding behind an economic boom, with increased profits and American made products enjoying competitive advantages worldwide.

Paradoxically, the same phenomenon has caused both the economic boom and the job losses: increased productivity. Not just increased productivity, but really, really increased productivity. And not just in automated factories as you'd imagine, but in every part of the economy. But if one man can do the work of two, then Mr. Two loses his job. That's good news for the stockholders who see more product for less payroll, and therefore higher profits, but it's bad news for Mr. Two- and it's only going to get worse, fast. Let me give you a few things to ponder.

Have you heard of 3-D printers? It's a computer printer that spits out not printed paper, but solid objects. If you have heard of them, you probably know them only as a new technology that has thrown industrial prototypers and modelers out of business, but they're about to be a whole lot more. Watch this Popular Mechanics video of Jay Leno making a part for his car with one... notice that this 3-D copier is capable of printing an entire machine, with moving parts, already assembled! More amazing details here . Yes, the 3-D printer is pricey, but that was last year- forever, in computer terms. Meet The Desktop Factory , $4,995.00. That's a drop in price from corporate investment to middleclass gadget in less than a year; the price may well drop yet another three-fold in a couple years as sales increase, and competitors enter the market. There are other 3-D printers already in use that make copies in metal or ceramic, and are capable of printing circuit boards. How long before they're cheap enough to be in a neighborhood "factory"? There is even one in development called a "cell jet"- like an inkjet, except instead of spraying ink to make a paper copy, it sprays living cells to make artificial organs; you could "print" a replacement heart valve instead of having to kill a pig to get one, for example.

What's that going to do to hundreds of industries? Have you ever had a tooth crowned, or a bridge made? How about instead of filling your mouth with goo to make a mold, sending it to a lab, getting a temporary crown, and coming back a week later to have it fitted, your dentist could scan your mouth before he starts, and by the time he's prepped your tooth, out pops the "printed" crown- and it's a perfect fit first time. How many dental labs full of well paid, highly trained professionals have just been eliminated- permanently? How about instead of shopping online and having the doodad shipped to you, you just download and print it? That's technically possible right now- how soon before it's cost competitive, considering the labor costs, taxes, marketing costs, and shipping costs involved in factories? How many jobs lost worldwide- no matter how cheap labor is, it's more expensive than robot labor. About to make a cynical comment about how we'll all get jobs at the 3-D printer factory? I kid you not; there is one company (at least) already developing a printer that can print more 3-D printers!

Nor is that the only technical advance threatening the structure of our economy. Since this country was founded, we've gone from one farmer being able to feed himself and 3-4 others to modern farmers who can feed themselves and 150-200 others... now there are pilot hydroponic farms that are totally automated. How soon before you just put fertilizer and electricity in one end, and packaged food ready for the supermarket shelf comes out the other end? How many jobs, from stoop labor to skilled processor positions have just been lost? There are other entrepreneurs dreaming of growing cotton in those automated farms, and attaching it to the already automated textile mills... sunlight and fertilizer in one end, ready to wear clothing out the other?

I've only mentioned two technologies; I'm sure you're aware of many others- and each feeds off of and reinforces yet more. We're talking of hundreds of thousands of jobs lost forever here- millions worldwide- just in the next decade or perhaps sooner, given the explosive growth of technology . Unemployment is sitting around 10% right now, and that doesn't count those who went back to school after being laid off and are not currently looking; I've seen estimates that if you include those who are in school because of layoffs (as opposed to kids entering college or tech schools for the first time), the real unemployment rate would be somewhere between 13-15%- and when they graduate, who's going to get the jobs available, a twenty something kid, or the middle aged parent who has to ask for a salary that will cover their mortgage and children? Especially when both employee and employer know the technology they just spent a fortune to learn is already obsolescent?

Fact is, we're already reaching a point where even going back to school won't help- there simply aren't enough productive jobs to go around. Soon, as productivity increases, a large plurality of the population will be "Mr. Two". It amazes me that people can get their undies in a bunch over climate change that may or may not occur in a few centuries, when we're heading for major social upheaval in a few decades- or sooner. We must develop a new social paradigm... how do you run an economy and a society when only three or four people out of ten are actually needed to produce the necessities of life for all? What do you do with all the people who are no longer needed at the farms and factories- or even retail outlets?

Science fiction writers saw this coming long ago- Mack Reynolds wrote of a future America practicing what he called "People's Capitalism"- he saw it coming about when during an economic crisis, corporations were so broke they couldn't pay their taxes, so the government accepted payments in stock rather than cash; when the crisis was over, and profits started pouring in to the government, it was paid out to the citizens in a sort of negative income tax, allowing people to live without the jobs that no longer existed. Sort of like Alaska and the oil tax profits. Is that the best path? Who knows- there are plenty of problems with the concept; that was the basis of many of his stories. But we need to start working on the problem today, because it's coming a Hell of a lot faster than global Warming is.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Be here, now

Be aware of the world around you; live in the moment. If you do that, you won't get caught on national television looking at girlies pictures on the internet at work.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Westboro Baptist Church gets pwned

Westboro Baptist Church, the "God Hates Fags" folks who protest soldiers' funerals on the basis that they died defending fag rights, decided to hold a protest in San Francisco, and within minutes every local for as far as the WBC voices would carry (which admittedly is quite a way) showed up to counter the WBC street protest with an improv street theater protest ... I understand WBC's next project will be teaching New Orleans how to party.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Of G-Spots and God

Last month King's College, London, made news with the announcement that "...there is no evidence for the existence of the G-spot — supposedly a cluster of internal nerve endings — outside the imagination of women influenced by magazines and sex therapists."

The existence of the G-spot has been debated for decades; the King's College study was no surprise for many doctors. "“I think this study proves the difference between popular science and biological or anatomical science,” said Gedis Grudzinskas, consultant gynaecologist at London Bridge hospital." The issue is the type of evidence used- on one side, the G-spot deniers, to whom the only acceptable evidence is that obtained with a scalpel and camera: “This is by far the biggest study ever carried out and it shows fairly conclusively that the idea of a G-spot is subjective.” Those who believe the G-spot exists have the evidence of their own senses- they can feel their own or have found their partner's G-spots. Listen to their arguments:

"It is rather irresponsible to claim the existence of an entity that has never really been proven..." "The plural of anecdote is not data." "And you're basically telling people that they aren't experiencing what they're experiencing -- just because it isn't how you experience it." "Personal experience is not, by itself, enough reason to believe something is true." "I don't want to stigmatise at all but I think the Protestant, liberal, Anglo-Saxon character means you are very pragmatic. There has to be a cause for everything, a gene for everything,...I think it's totalitarian." "To be reasonably certain that what our experience tells us is probably true, we need to rely on rigorous testing of hypotheses."

Does that sound familiar to you? It should; some of those quotes are not from the G-spot debate, they're from the debate between those who have had personal experiences with the Divine, and atheists who argue that any such experiences are (at best) misunderstood psychological phenomena. Can you tell which are which?

Interesting, isn't it? There are atheists who dismiss the "personal experience" evidence of God out of hand, yet believe in, or believe they possess, a G-spot; there are theists who deny the existence of the G-spot... and yet the only convincing evidence for either is equally subjective. But both are convinced of the objectivity of their conclusions, regarding subjective testimony as mere anecdotes, or that science is inadequate in these matters. And neither one of them appreciate being told their experiences may have felt "real", but prove nothing. The only real difference I can see between them is that I know of people who have had profound religious experiences, but convinced themselves later that it "must" have been the result of some epiphenomenological stimulus of the limbic brain; I'm unaware of any women who have had earth-shattering orgasms through G-spot stimulation who later convinced themselves that there's no such thing as a G-spot.

Quotes 1 and 5 are from the recent G-spot debate: Timesonline and (hat tip to Ravenstone's Reflections for the Guardian story) Quotes 2, 4, and 6 are from Greta Christina's Blog , "Atheist Meme of the Day: Personal Experience /= Data" Quote 3 is also from Greta, but about sexuality, not God, in another discussion on Facebook, which I had trouble linking to- why don't you friend her? She's always a good read.