30 July 2011


I've had over a week to digest this event.

From what I can tell this is the order of prejudices held by the terrorist.

1) Anti-social
2) Anti-multi-cultural liberalism
3) Anti-feminism/garden-variety misogyny.
4) Anti-Muslim
5) Anti-immigrant
6) Anti-government

Other notes. Quoting JS Mill out of context and spouting anti-government rants does not make somebody "libertarian". In the same vein, declaring that Europe should be a Christian enclave of some sort, however disturbing a notion Europeans (as well as secularists everywhere) may find it, is not the same as being a "Christian fundamentalist". If Bravik were such a creature, I would have expected to find a lot of Biblical quotations peppered in there instead of the heavy doses of Robert Spencer and a lot of other fellow screed-ers that were in there instead.

The random raving neoconservative or anti-Muslim right only somewhat learned its lesson about tarring entire groups of people as "enemy" in response to lone wolf activity (as a result of the nuances between the people writing about such things and the maniac who decided to shoot a lot of people while quoting them favorably). But I'm impressed that there are/were people in that category capable of learning anything at all.

One most interesting distinction: man who claims to be demanding some sort of conservative religious vision of life and then goes on to commit an atrocity upon any society, tends not to be a very religious individual themselves. This appears to be par for the course regardless of religious affiliations.

Other notes for people freaked out about Norway's criminal justice system: This guy, if convicted, is not getting out, at least not until he is good and old. They have a loophole for that. They just haven't used it. Norway's system also has a very low recidivism rate compared to ours. Even with these supposedly cushy prisons. The reasons have more to do with a stronger focus on rehabilitation and reintegration, immediacy of punishment rather than length, fewer people to police and less dense population centers, and stronger social welfare structures that decrease incentives for crime and criminal behaviors. Where we are distinguished from Norway is that we have huge incarceration totals and percentages, higher rates of recidivism, few incentives and programmes for reintegration (and various pointless license laws that further hinder this effort that Norway generally lacks), generally poorly designed social welfare programmes, less effective school systems, and a system preferring "throw away the key sentencing", which takes considerable effort and cost, rather than a focus on swift and immediate penalties for criminal acts.

In my opinion, if the cost of the Norway system is that a few genuine crazies like this have to be worked into a loophole in the maximum sentencing system we here in America would be so lucky to have such cushy prisons (not to mention our jails, where people are merely accused of crimes and may sit and rot for years awaiting trials and appeals).

25 July 2011

List of events of which I have no comment

And am thus thoroughly annoyed take up valuable news time
1) Amy Winehouse death. I barely knew who this person was. I don't even need facebook posts about her, much less news stories. Thanks. Comparisons to Hendrix or Cobain et al seem really premature and overdone (and totally unsurprising, drug addicts often die "early", so to speak. This should be news to no one.)
2) News of the World/Rupert Murdoch scandal. This is journalists covering other journalists for doing things that journalists (sadly) do and thus is a masturbatory tale rather than important news.

I have no sympathy for Rupert and in particular his association with Faux. But unlike most of liberal societies, my criticism is of the PEOPLE who support by watching, not so much Faux itself, which is merely providing the service of telling such people what they want to hear (little different than their preachers or priests often do in a modern society with fluid religious associations). I see Faux as a follower, not a leader. The problem, as always, is other human beings, and not some criminal mastermind or organisation who is manipulating them. "They" are merely profiting by and exploiting the situation. "They" didn't create the demand for an alternative reality validating pre-existing beliefs.

The reason not to care about this as a problem is first that it's not a new problem (people telling us that it's caused by the internet for example should read Southern newspaper accounts during the antebellum period in US history particularly in relation to slavery and abolitionist movements and compare them to the accounts in Northern papers). Second, Wilde referred to it thusly: "Its failings notwithstanding, there is much to be said in favor of journalism in that by giving us the opinion of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community." Not only was that was over a hundred years ago, journalism has generally been used to provide not the service of reporting events to people that were not there, but to provide the service of confirming the pre-existing opinions of people who don't care to know what is actually going on. It's not a new story.

What is significant about the modern media climate is that it is reverting back to a previous state of peer-to-peer modes of information flow instead of the central model of news filtered through powerful media elites that came into being and prevailed through the industrial age of mass production. But that people have "news filters" which have often considerable biases and will seek out sources of information to confirm these biases as truth is not a new development. Pretending that it would go away if Rupert was somehow legally defamed and defeated is to ignore the problem: that there is an audience that Rupert's news organs are feeding.

How to properly insult a famous person

"Kevin Bacon of pseudoscience" indeed. Few people have profited more from well-intentioned attempts that will in fact harm other people than Oprah. There's certainly a few vaccine "skeptics" who do more actual harm (Bill Maher comes up for example), but they're not making as much money off the effort. They're usually donating time and energy in fact.

I also find the discussion on "alternative medicine" amusing. What do you call alternative medicine that works?: "medicine".

Note also, the debate on sexism in the skeptic/atheist/secularist community is very useful. As I'd note with the problems with right-wing Islamophobia, there is plenty of ruin in any nation, and plenty of problems to point out in any community that could be improved upon. People could still oppose genital mutilation of women in Somalia while also opposing ridiculous sexist behaviors of men in more polite, advanced societies. Just because something is "less bad" than the most terrible evils imagined, or in this case, real, does not mean it is somehow ennobled with the property of being a "good" about which we should say nothing. I compared this to the people who wished that we would stop complaining about the heat over the last week here, where heat indices were topping 100 pretty steadily and the temperature over night was dropping only into the 80s, because there were somewhere people who had heat indices around 130. It's still fucking hot people. It's not magically cooler just because somewhere, someone else is suffering more than you are.

On atheism

"so I consider myself an a-theist in pretty much the same manner in which most people are a-unicornists: they don’t believe in unicorns, not because they know that there aren’t any, but simply because they see neither evidence nor reason to hold that particular belief. As Hume put it, “A wise man ... proportions his belief to the evidence,” and when the evidence approaches zero..."

The comments threads included some gems.

"What ever the official etymology of "atheism" may be, in my experience most people who call themselves atheists are certain that there is no God. That is, they not only hold no belief in God, they hold the belief that there is no God, usually pretty darn strongly." - This is true, but as above, it is true largely because there is pretty strong evidence opposing the view that there is/must be/can be any deity in existence, and no evidence supporting this view. If we were to magically suppose that there were such evidence, many (not all, given the broad base of population) atheists would accordingly have different positions.

"The general atheist position appears to be an assertion about the fundamentalist God. So what? Everyone thinks fundamentalists are off their rocker." - More or less true. Except there are an awful lot of fundamentalists for the second part. And for the first, more generally MOST Christians tacitly if not explicitly accept some variety of mystical and supernatural elements of their underlying religious teachings. Since this is, in America at least, the preponderance of the atheist's experience, dealing with theists who hold something like a fundamental belief about the existence of an imaginary being, it is an unfortunate necessity to deal with the common-ness of those beliefs first before proceeding to more tangible and structural insights about theism more generally, including these more amorphous and impossible to define concepts about deities that are supposedly held by most religious people. Besides which, no evidence is provided to show that this is in fact the case for most religious people, in America at least, the experience is different in Europe or Asia. Most polling data I've seen suggest that belief in a "personal god" of the sort that atheists are explicitly arguing against by suggesting that such an experience is absurd (not to mention explained by some natural psychological and physiological elements of the "human condition"), is much more common as an underlying metaphysical assumption than mere belief in "god", as some sort of impersonal force or some such similar "lesser" confidence of belief. Usually the "personal god" question gets well over 50% in the US, I've seen it as high as 80-90% (In Sweden it is about 20%, for contrast). With this in mind, one has to wrestle with the notion that a very large percentage of the population takes considerable portions of the Biblical accounts of human existence (as well as divine existence) literally, despite often overwhelming evidence that it is in large measure false, and it is this position must be argued against.

"Granted all of that, doesn’t it still seem strange to define one’s life by a negative claim, by the non-existence of something."

"Atheism defines *my* life no more than a-leprechaunism--not at all. Along the lines of ianpollock's insightful comment above, only in the context of widespread theism would someone suppose that atheism is life-defining." - This is a crucial insight. Very, very rarely does someone's atheism become a life-defining element in the way that theism is often for the religious, particularly the religious fundamentalist. There are not, for example, universally held atheistic sentiments and behaviors. Some hold right-wing politics, others left-leaning, some are nihilists, others empiricists, some are big on science, others merely reject the version of a supernatural god but will still hold all manner of silly beliefs instead (ghosts, new age meditation, conspiracy of the week club, etc). There is certainly some notion that something like Skepticism is a life-defining element, and there's plenty of cross-over between Skepticism and atheism, but to suggest that the lack of belief, non-existence, matters to atheists more generally is a little strange. Atheism is not a very significant system and is more akin to a-unicornism as described above. It has very little of substance and importance to say on its own and without a subset of theists impressing their opinions and beliefs, would be inconsequential.

Similiarly, "The problem, of course, is that the concept of "God" lacks any rigorous set of identity conditions. The nearest "good faith" case for an atheist to make, given this state of affairs, is that insofar as the identity conditions of a god have been specified, there is simply no good reason to think that anything in the world matches them. This keeps the burden of proof where it belongs--with those arguing for the positive claim--while also eschewing the ontological grab-baggery that flies under the banner of speculative theology." - This has always bugged me about the situation of atheist-theist debates and does a great deal to define why I oppose religion as an organised social force. That is: the burden of proof should be on the theist to prove the existence of a deity, a positive belief, and in particular "their" deity, as opposed to some other deity, some other natural force, etc. Instead, the social force is angled for the atheist to prove a negative (generally this a logical impossibility). A defence of god-belief is rendered unnecessary by placing non-belief as the position requiring defence instead. This is only possible because the majority of people hold such beliefs of course, and is to me little different than any other occasion where a majority chooses to oppress unpopular views or minorities within its midst. Speaking up on such issues can, as a result, still lead to social ostracisation and general exclusion (much as a politician speaking about opposing the drug war does, again a position defensible on evidentiary grounds whilst the mainstream position is indefensible).

Concurrently, the same social force (organised religion) is motivated to create groups and foster group loyalties. In other words, the "strongest" arguments most theists will make in defence of their faith and beliefs is the size and broadness of their groups, which has little to offer in favor of the viability, utility, or truth underlying those beliefs. In so far as religion operates in an evolutionary aspect to foster group coordination, and that this function is a necessity for humans as a social species to form in some way, this is hardly surprising that it does pretty well at it, just as it also does pretty well at forming "out-groups" who must be opposed or even destroyed. What is surprising that it is then used as a supposed cudgel in reasonable debate that there are such groups based around such beliefs and that this is a meaningful proof of any kind.

24 July 2011

Mental note to "the" media

When there's a terrorist attack and many people are dead.....

Don't tell us, or suggest to us, that it's an Islamic terrorist and put it on the front page until we have actually ascertained that it is, or some crazy Muslim claims they had a hand in it, something that verifies these latent biases and suspicions. Because the sort of right-wing nutjobs who actually want a clash of Islam and the West (on both sides of that "divide") are the same people telling us that "all terrorists are Muslims", or worse "all Muslims are terrorists" and other pieces of lovely sounding bullshit that can be debunked in about two seconds if one has the care to examine the evidence.

My immediate reaction after hearing about the Norway incident was very much like "Oklahoma City". And in turn my reaction on the news media was very much like this

"...I remember Oklahoma when they put out the blaze
And put Islamic terrorist bombing, on the front page
It's like saying only gays get AIDS, propaganda..."

19 July 2011

Humorous footnotes

"Incidentally, I find it strange to recall that my education was utterly dominated by two stories: the Bible's and Rome's. Both were disappointing examples of history. One told the story of an obscure, violent and somewhat bigoted tribe and one its later cults, who sat around gazing at their theological navels for a few thousand years while their fascinating neighbors--the Phoenicians, Philistines, Canaanites, Lydians and Greeks--invented respectively maritime trade, iron, the alphabet, coins and geometry. The other told the story of a barbarically violent people who founded one of the empires that institutionalized the plundering of its commercially minded neighbors, then went on to invent practically nothing in half a millennium and achieve an actual diminution in living standards for its citizens, very nearly extinguishing literacy as it died. I exaggerate, but there are more interesting figures in history than Jesus Christ or Julius Caesar."

It's very possible that the (American) focus on Rome instead of Greece or the Phoenicians or Carthage, much less other powerful and/or influential historical cultures and states like the various Chinese dynasties, Shogunate Japan, Prussia, or the Ottoman Turks, in world history courses is due to the specific importance of Rome in the Christian dialectic and that these two end up twinned in over-importance. One obvious reason to note this is the decreasing importance of Rome in casual historical study as it moved to the East and became a Christian empire (the Byzantines). Almost nobody spends a lot of time looking at the sieges of Vienna or Constantinople in a high school history course, for example, relative to the amount of time spent on developments much further in our history, like the various Mesopotamian empires. So yes, when Assyria and Nebuchadnezzar take up more time than, say, Suleiman in our collective lore, there's a problem.

But, to be fair to Rome and Christendom, they're also very long-lasting developments and thus have considerable sway over history as a whole.

14 July 2011

Belief is belief

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Michael Shermer
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Usually it's bunk too.

More or less

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Dancing on the Ceiling - Tax Cut Religion
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

This is more or less how it works in debates with average conservatives on economics. Conservative economists are at least better informed and able to argue more substantively on tax policy, but the rank and file takes this sort of thing on religion and seems quite content to worship Reagan as a deity rather than to note what he actually DID during his administration (or be aware that most of it was Volcker and not Reagan, much as much of Clinton was Greenspan and some/much of Bush's problems were likewise, Greenspan and then Bernanke).

Now of course, Stewart's "cut taxes to zero" retort is pretty much par for stupid arguments also.

Another thought on language

If by "ghetto" people are describing a cultural enclave, principally composed of poor-ish ethnic minorities/immigrants (Asians, Blacks, Caribbeans, Latinos, etc), and thus a strange but possibly very interesting place within a city, fine with me. The historical references, especially relating to Jews, are pretty horrible, but it's at least a reasonable use of the term.

I don't think that's what they mean when they say it. My impression is that it usually means "part of the city that looks like shit, has too many "brown people" in it, and thus is where people should avoid because they, personally, are afraid of it" (or alternatively, people who look like they would "belong" to said locale). Which might be true that it would have more crime than the rest of the city, but unless you actually lived there, then I don't see what danger you are actually in as a traveler or tourist passing through it or even visiting it intentionally.

For example, a good portion of the murders in urban environments are of low level drug dealers (because we've criminalised drugs and created a huge and lucrative black market worth killing others to protect or to gain access to in impoverished neighbourhoods). Most people using this sort of terminology are not low level drug dealers and thus unlikely to attract bullets or even hostile attention. Alertness in a higher crime area is certainly sensible, particularly at night (when alertness generally is useful anywhere). Genuine fear and even hostility toward its residents is not.

13 July 2011

A note on google plus

So far, the main distinction there I've noted is the intuitive interface relative to how information or posts are shared. Facebook's main complaint (at least of people willing to stay on it and use it) is the arduous loops that one must go through to filter information and keep some of it private from, say, a boss/co-worker/professor/parent and yet still share it with actual "friends".

Google took all that problem of going into the privacy settings, setting up groups of friends, etc, and made it a visually satisfying drag and drop system. This has little impact on me since I don't use facebook to share photos and post what I'm eating for dinner or if I'm out and about, and instead am the annoying political facebooker that I'm sure most people filter out, but to whom most of my posts are readily visible. I don't care very much if people know I'm an atheist or know I'm libertarian, and so on, and these are the things I post on there. What concerns me is my actual private life, which I don't post on there.

It's possible this would be a distinction with google plus for me that would be worth using, but I imagine this difference is far more important and noteworthy for the average facebook-er. At least until (if?) Zuckerberg figures out that this is the principle market share problem he has going forward. Complex privacy settings and poor filtering controls that can be simplified into an intuitive interface? Check. Google's got that.

Otherwise, it's pretty much the same sort of stuff. "+1" instead of "likes" is a little more satisfying. More of a novelty satisfaction than a meaningful one. Other than the difficult decision of "liking" some story or post about something saddening or tragic, in the same way that Netflix users indicate that they "like" Schlinder's List but end up watching "Fast and the Furious" or some similar piece of crapulence. Or people listening to the car stereo self-report listening to more talk/news or jazz than the popcorn syrup stuff that they actually do listen to most of the time. This semantic change allows us to preserve our outward signaling that we are not all self-absorbed egomaniacs while the interface change allows us to continue being self-absorbed egomaniacs.

Bottom line: I suspect it will end up being more popular as it's more in line with human nature than total openness and transparency.

Why I am anti-exceptionalist

Because the people popularising "exceptionalism" are idiots

And don't quite understand what it is that makes the American system unique or functional or even superior.

It isn't that phrase, because governments around the world have now adopted some semblance of a republican virtue of self-ownership and self-determination. The variety of such is of course extreme, but as noted, a very secular country like say, Denmark, or even (supposedly socialist) Sweden possess actually considerable freedoms endowed to their citizens which their governments are bound to protect. The Danes in fact seem to come out "freer" routinely even on quasi-empirical "economic freedom" models used by right-wing American think tanks. There are gradients where these countries also use generous welfare states that American voters recoil and flinch from, largely because of their redistributive tax policies and emphasis on raw cash transfers instead of the inefficient transfer payments that we tend toward. But it is also much easier to start a business, run it out of your home, and so on, practical and meaningful freedoms that many Americans lack (not to mention fewer counter-productive moralising restrictions on narcotics, prostitution. Or fewer restrictive air travel screenings).

Freedom is not merely a straight line beyond which only Americans, much less god-fearing Americans, possess a such thing, and the sooner we understand this the easier it will be to improve our situation where we decide what to do with those tyrannical behaviors and government restrictions in our own society rather than to pretend that no other society may have a learned or practised freedom that we lack whilst protesting loudly and with impassioned speeches about a rhetorical freedom that we do possess instead.

09 July 2011

More on Independence Day

"Then I began asking what they were doing volunteering to engage in wars that are unjustified and unjust, and once I asked that question I no longer thought they deserve my thanks"

This is basically the problem with unblinkered support for "the troops". Realistically, some troops are volunteering to, euphemistically speaking, "serve their country", and some troops are volunteering, almost explicitly, to fight in its wars (as happened after Pearl Harbor and 9-11, among other historical events). The portion of the latter is probably somewhat smaller than is indicated here, but nevertheless with a volunteer professional military class it would be impossible to conduct such wars of choice or conduct them in the manner we have if people began to cease to volunteer entirely for such services. That means to me that there's a not small number of "troops" who don't deserve my support at all because they are engaged in practices that are tragic and wasteful at best, or immoral at worst (cops and other authorities fully engaged in the prosecution of the drug war, ATF/FBI/etc, are in a similar boat for me).

It's not necessary to protest that these people are themselves (all) immoral, merely that they're engaged in something hideous and cruel and that this action should stop before I would lend credence to their service and dedication to the country. If the people asked to carry such things out begin to refuse to do so, we might get somewhere. Because clearly the people asking them to carry it out (us, most of the time, sometimes just a few of us, but usually most of us are to blame)... aren't going to stop asking too much of a sacrifice of them for pitiful causes.

07 July 2011

On the theory of Hollywood

I had some thoughts watching the Hangover. (yes, sadly, I had "thoughts" while watching a thoughtless film).
1) It's not particularly funny overall. There are funny bits to be fair, but it's mostly useless to me. I'm guessing this was a movie intended to be watched stoned or drunk to increase it's effect. When comedy is constructed in that vein, I'm not surprised it is popular, but I have a hard time grasping its "genius". Music or poetry written on heroin, opium, or weed is a lot more successful and imaginative than comedy seems to be as it can still be enjoyed without sharing in the author's altered mental state.
2) I have to wonder why so many movies involving weddings include the following troupes.
a) That marriage is, for the man, the end of his meaningful existence.
b) That a wedding is an event that requires such careful planning and yet must be populated with disasters.

Neither of these strike me as particularly realistic.

Here's the problems.

Firstly, most of the people I know who are married seem quite happy with it. To be sure I'm aware not all marriages are happy and that bitter separations are somehow rendered impossible. But for the most part, when people try to find partners that help satisfy them in complementary ways and who are generally compatible in things like worldviews and habits, we tend to have pretty happy marriages result. That is more difficult than it sounds certainly. But the idea that a marriage means a man's life is over seems a little overdrawn. Unless the man's life is populated with the idea that he should remain a kidult and also sleep with many anonymous women and frequent strip clubs or prostitutes. In which case, no he shouldn't get married. But I'd have a hard time thinking up a woman who would want to marry such a man in the first place (without some other signaling effect like fame or money involved). So the idea that a plot line centered on this even exists seems silly to me.

Secondly, as I noted again over the weekend, the cost of interactions for a man relating to women increases as he gets older and adopts more responsibilities. It's just not that easy for most people to expend energy and time and resources to looking for women over and over and over. Eventually this process gets tiresome or tedious and is replaced by looking for particular types of women, narrowed down further to finding a relationship of some sort which has the added benefit of not requiring looking for women (or rather, sex). There are costs associated with relationships too of course, but these have to be measured against the benefits and the costs of the alternatives. In a world where men are getting married at 20 or 22, it might be true that these costs are more balanced. In a world like we generally have in developed societies when men get married later, those costs are heavily in favor of relationships. Considering Hollywood rarely depicts the couple getting married while in graduate school or college or even while working at McDonald's, I don't get their theory.

Thirdly, I don't see why weddings would require such careful and elaborate planning. I gather that ceremonies and rituals are more important to most people than they are to me. But it would seem like if as much effort and planning went into making successful MARRIAGES as goes into the ceremonial duties involved with these relationships, and in particular as goes into the duties as depicted in movies and television, we'd be a little better off as a society. I already find symbolism to be extremely troubling politically (it leads to a ton of ineffective, even immoral, policies), so when I see it at the individual level I get nervous. Maybe I'm missing something in the symbolism, but I do at least recognize there is an underlying set of work and effort required that escapes some people. Obviously such things are not easy to depict on film, but giving preference to symbols and idols over reality is not something I should think most people deign to do. Perhaps I'm wrong. As a side point, anything involving the complex moving parts of many human beings with their own demands on the event is liable to be a very disaster prone enterprise if "careful and exquisite planning" is involved. It's more or less the same reason why centralised economies and regulatory schemes fail because the "price signals" are different and even skewed and the planners do not actually know what they are, no matter how elegant their mechanisms are. Paying real money for such planning strikes me as a scam as a result.

Fourthly, the actual change and shift in life for men occurs when children arrive in a relationship. This is also true for women. Marriage isn't fundamentally all that different from a common two person relationship other than the public recognition of the relationship and a ceremony. The work involved is the same at least. Raising a child however a) doesn't have many symbols that can be easily presented instead of itself, so fortunately we have fewer illusions but a whole lot more mystery, b) is a three (or more) person relationship which heavily alters the dynamics of the pre-existing two person relationship, sometimes drastically or harmfully, c) is as a result much more work than a two person relationship and takes time and effort away from other non-children centered relationships outside of the parties involved (ie, a social life with mere friends as opposed to families). It might be better if more parents took a more loose approach to parenting, and realized that their children are other people in a relationship rather than pure extensions of themselves that can and must be molded in a particular way. But this still would require quite a lot of work and dynamic shifts in underlying relationships.

It is this shift that matters. And not the ring fingers.

Some thoughts on the debacle that is jury duty

1) Jury selection is necessary so long as we insist on using juries (I'm a little hopeful we could go to more online reviews of criminal cases). There are a lot of cases that get settled out of court of course.. which matters.
2) Juries should be selected a little more ahead of time, to prevent the inconvenience that it poses for the general public, what with jobs, day care, etc. This should be compromised with say a two week lead time by also removing more exclusions. The system used by my local federal court was completely designed it seemed to piss people off by not giving them a good idea whether they would be called in the next week until Friday. It should at least be available information the previous Monday. It isn't that complicated to use a computer programme to pull names out of a hat after scanning for routine exclusions or likely exclusions.
3) It wasn't even clear there was a big enough case load to justify the jury pool last month. Maybe they don't want the cases themselves individually identified to prevent jury tampering or whatever, but they should at least post a likely case load in terms of numbers of cases on their court website.
4) I still fully intend to try to get myself on a jury dealing with, in particular, drug cases. In order to nullify the convictions. There are other laws I might consider throwing out for civil liberties reasons or for political philosophical reasons as a form of civil disobedience, but considering there are thousands of laws on the books, it would be tiresome to list all of the ones I see as illegitimate morally and legally inconsistent with our civil liberties. And few of them are as destructive and commonly used as drug war laws.

An incomplete list of why I more than likely will not be voting for President in 2012

1) Gary Johnson won't be on the ballot. Based on the trends for the actual Libertarian Party, as opposed to libertarian-leaning politicians (Johnson or Paul), they will nominate someone truly insane. Or else someone too mainline (Barr in 08?, the guy was basically a Republican, fuck that). Give me a politician who talks openly about the failure of the drug war and admits that as governor he did not "create jobs" (that honor belongs to others, not the government, usually). Most crucially he puts everything on the table in his budget plan (and it's an actual plan unlike Ron Paul).

He does not have a chance of winning in the GOP primary as a result. So I won't get to vote for the guy. Without someone on the ballot who gives me a reason to vote FOR, as Johnson does, I no longer see reasons to vote AGAINST as fully legitimate and satisfying.

2) The GOP likely won't nominate someone reasonable instead, but it is sounding like it will be either Romney or maybe Rick Perry. Neither of these are very popular with me, but in Romney's case, the distinctions between him and Obama are mostly rhetorical emphasis rather than real political decision making. Perry is openly flawed for me. I would be willing to consider voting against if it is Perry. Perhaps (the Willingham case alone helps there, but so does his state's budget deficit. Again, Johnson just looks so much better there that it's not even funny). If it's Romney like it looks like, as much as his rhetoric and foreign policy positions bother me (double Gitmo?, no thanks), they don't look to be all that different from Obama's real positions on these matters. As opposed to the caricatures drawn by conservatives. There are therefore fewer good reasons to vote AGAINST. Romney doesn't give me a reason to vote for either, of course.

3) Local or state matters will take precedence for me. Mind you I'm not likely to see any of my local or state preferences reflected by other voters in my state or local area, what with the level of statism here in the Midwest generally being very high,... but I'll at least feel free to express them.

4) Obama has done the following to fail to distinguish himself from his predecessor in order to convince me that voting for a quasi-liberal candidate has any impact on the process as opposed to voting for quasi-conservative ones.
a) Bombed Libya. And essentially ignored Congress. This is actually more excessive from Bush's lame war with Iraq, which at least sought Congressional approval, but bears the advantage of not being as flagrantly expensive a waste of military assets, lives, and of course treasure. I bear no ill will over Afghanistan and Iraq, basically he already told us that these were the policies he would pursue (as asinine as I found them to be and as rhetorically oversold as they were, especially in Iraq)). And bin Laden is dead after all. So there's that.
b) Failed to prosecute or recognize the torture violations during the previous administration. 2 (two!) minor guys become fall guys for the many deaths and scandalous/flagrant use of torture "legalised" by Yoo and others. At the very least, they should have sought to have the lawyers disbarred and the doctors involved stripped of medical licenses.
c) Expanded immigration enforcement and deportations. Not that conservatives have noticed, but Obama's effectively a bigger "wall" guy than Bush was. There's also the matter of there being fewer jobs for illegals, or anyone, to get, but that's a side issue for which little new blame can be firmly attached.
d) Talked rhetorically about supporting school reforms, but allowed Congress to throw charters, even modest and successful ones, in DC under the bus. Weak sauce. Backing unions to the hilt is abstractly expected from a left-leaning administration, but it's not matching policy with talk. When somebody talks like he has about school reform I want to see some more deeds than we've gotten.
e) Drug raids on medical marijuana producers and dispensaries have expanded even while he's talked about ending them. Also, chuckling about even amending, much less ending, the drug war policies of this country is not an appropriate response to questions about it. We're not all stoners first off. More importantly, people are dying Mr President. In other countries by the thousands (Mexico especially), and in our own inner cities (and some rural communities too), by the hundreds. To say nothing of the many people incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses and the damage this does to communities (especially inner-city black neighbourhoods). I was personally annoyed that I didn't get plucked last month for federal jury duty on the theory that I might get to practice a little activism on this issue. But that's a whole other story.
f) Failed to nominate replacements on the Federal Reserve board. Monetary policy responses seem to be a lot more important to the growth or sluggishness of growth in the general economy, not to mention about the only way to deal with supply shocks in food and energy prices. We've had a lot of agitated discussion revolving around recess appointees to the NLRB, but that board is basically useless by comparison (other than the Boeing decision, which is a mite troublesome).
g) In general I expect left-leaning political figures to have economic proposals and especially economic rhetoric which I find to be troublesome, sometimes extremely so. I also expect right-leaning political figures to be generally as useless on these matters, but with a more tolerable rhetorical flourish as they both seek to support statist policies to satisfy their corporate masters to crush the free market (the biggest enemy of capitalism seems to be "capitalists", in the sense that most big businesses seek to control their markets by using the shields of regulation and taxation as cudgels against their competitors). All of this is certainly a problem. But what I naturally expect from left-leaning politicians is a stronger support for things like basic civil liberties, relative tolerance of other cultures, etc. I instead hear a big whiffing noise on these issues from this administration (see above). I will grant there's some modest progress regarding federal anti-homosexuality policies, but this more from indifference than actual leadership on the issue. I'm pleased DADT is ending, and that DoMA isn't getting a full fledged legal defence from the government that instituted it. But I cannot say I'm really impressed when there were Republicans who had positions to the left of this (hell even Cheney's position was more appealing).

True a libertarian should support there being no federal (or even state) consideration of marriage contracts between consenting adults. But since the public broadly speaking likes having government/public sanction for their choice of (one) spouse, the perfect is kind of the enemy of the good herein. We will need to recognize these as legitimate if we are going to have policies to favor marriages with benefits and privileges. One good analogy I've seen compares the thought experiment that we have Social Security set up to implicitly exclude non-white people from retrieving funds that they've paid into. Clearly the forced provision of a government annuity to provide for retirement is a limitation on human freedom, more so than even forcing a provision of income toward retirement anywhere in the economy, a more utilitarian argument that I favor. But if we're going to have such things, and it certainly appears Social Security isn't going anywhere in our lifetimes (medicare/aid are a different story), we should not start excluding from participation in retrieving those funds people based on non-meritorious reasons like race. The same applies to excluding full marriage benefits and rights from homosexuals. That we don't get this sort of argument out of liberal politicians should be a problem. Similar problems emerged during the August anti-Muslim scare of last year (the "Burlington Coat Factory recreation center" fiasco), in that there were few people willing to take up the torch of defending the civil rights of Muslims against populist (ie, ignorant) rage.

05 July 2011

On another matter

Nothing says "Independence Day" quite like sushi.