Monday, April 16, 2007

Rage from a Ranter

My blog is titled "Musings from a Muser", but I see that I've been posting more rants than amusing observations lately. I'm going to use this post to get a few of the most depressing rants off my chest (ever so briefly), and then try to return to writing about the absurdities in every day life.

Things that really depress me or piss me off...

Death. What a tragic waste of experience and potential.

Corruption. It's everywhere there is significant money and power. (And how did the concept of money become so disconnected from the original intent of representing the amount of contribution to a society?)

People who don't even try to use the brain that God/Darwin/Mother Nature/Parents gave them to think logically, to resolve contradictory positions, to look at evidence that disagrees with an existing opinion.

The treatment of veterans, particularly wounded ones.

The overwhelming damage to the good will and trust the U.S. had built up in the world prior to the Iraq invasion.

The overwhelming damage to the future economy from the huge amount of debt accumulating as a result of the Iraq war (and other out of control "off budget" spending) - by historically fiscally conservative Republicans, no less.

The overwhelming damage to our military defense posture due to overcommitment of troops (involuntary extensions of active duty and foreign deployments, overuse of active reserves, ready reserves, and now even dipping into the National Guard to sustain force levels in Iraq...)

The increasing inability for civil discourse and disagreement (driven by populist manipulations of distrust and hate mongering).

Populist Hate Mongering.

Rants from bloggers. (I mean, who really cares what they think? Unless they're a celebrity.)

There...I know I'm missing some, but if they're not currently at top of mind, then they must not be bothering me that much. Now maybe I can try to relax and chuckle again...

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In Tolerance

Perhaps it's just me, but for years now I've noticed a worldwide trend of increasing intolerance that I find intolerable.

What is it in human nature that requires so many of us to tell our neighbor how they should live their lives?

At it's mildest this compulsion takes the form of social approbation, Mrs. Grundy frowning, waggling her finger and saying "tsk, tsk." At the extreme this begets violence, where a group is willing to kill individuals who don't behave in the way the group wants them to.

Many religions are that way. In fact, a claim could be made that the primary purpose of any religion is to prescribe and proscribe how adherents should live their lives. It's apparently not a far leap to want to extend these rules to those who didn't volunteer.

Group behaviors aren't all bad. In fact, part of the development of civilization was the idea that a group should establish some behavioral standards for the good of the whole. Prohibitions against killing your neighbor made sense when living in a group, as did prohibitions against stealing, and other common laws.

But any good idea carried to extremes can result in more harm than good. Dictatorships, fascist regimes, theocracies all usually hurt the majority to the advantage of the ruling minority.

So where's the balance?

A modern debate regarding vaccination against disease is a classic balancing act between the good of all and abuse of power. Vaccines work to prevent disease - seems obvious that everyone should get them. And if everyone got them, then the diseases themselves would die out.

But some don't want them - they believe that the vaccines themselves are too risky, or just don't like someone telling them what to do. And a few can get away without getting vaccines, as long as the overwhelming majority around them are getting vaccines, because only then will the public health risk of transmission be low enough for the unvaccinated to not get ill. Every time the percentage of unvaccinated grows to high, you see an outbreak.

Take polio. In areas of extreme intolerance (and ignorance), polio still thrives. Mullahs in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries actually tell their flocks not to get vaccinated (because it is a western plot to sterilize Muslims). And because of these penis noggins, we have to keep vaccinating our children for polio (putting some small portion at risk for vaccine side effects).

So what's the right answer? Should we tolerate assholes, just because we're the tolerant ones? Or should intolerance itself not be tolerated?

How about the notion that we should tolerate any behavior, as long as it doesn't cause harm to others? Fine idea in theory, but who gets to decide? And then wouldn't the decider be accused of intolerance?

It seems that extremism usually has bad results. But extremists usually view themselves as either being the voice of the silent masses (who really want to do what we say but can't for some odd reason), or forcing the silent masses to "do the right thing" (which of course is decided by the extremists).

How to tell which voices are extremist, and which more closely represent the middle? (Or in a plurality of positions, which ones are extreme and which ones aren't).

I don't have the answers. But I'd be interested in hearing some ideas.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

To The Best Of My Recollection...

Sometimes I just have to laugh at how absurd politicians (and lawyers) can be.

Like this article, Lawyer: Rove Didn't Mean to Delete Email.

According to the article, Rove sent some emails using an official White House email system (which automatically archives all messages in accordance with the Presidential Records Act and other federal laws), and sent others using his "private" account at the RNC.

Rove, in direct contravention to said law, deleted emails from his RNC account. Now caught, he apparently is claiming that he didn't know that deleting emails from his inbox actually got rid of the emails.

Now, we're talking about one of the most computer savvy senior advisors in the administration, the man who almost single handedly invented the "microdemographic" voter analysis approach to winning elections; the man who spends hours pouring over data on his laptop, who by his own admission slices and dices "68 polls a week."

But because email is "technical" and hard for people to understand how it really works, he'll likely get away with this outrageous position.

Let's replace "email" with "documents", and "delete" with "shredding" and see if this still makes sense.

There is a law that says that all papers generated by people working the White House must be preserved. Rather than get thrown away, any notes, memos, etc are taken and stored in an archive, to be opened by historians downstream to help understand what happened and how in this government "of the people."

Karl took lots of notes, wrote lots of informal memos. But he took those notes and memos out of the White House over to the RNC, where no one could copy or store them. Then, when it suited him, he shredded those notes and memos.

Now if you worked for Enron or Arthur Andersen, all this should look very familiar. But those companies don't exist anymore, because their people shredded important documents. And they didn't even have a Presidential Records Act to compel them.

How about we all just say, "Yeah, Rove, Bush, Cheney - all those guys break the law when it suits them. And what can anyone do about it? Nothing."

Or let's impeach. But quit dicking around with it.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bless the Beasts, But Not the Children

I just read this story about this boy names Justin who was raised like a dog till the age of 6, and while the story itself was horrid, the scientific and societal implications behind the story struck me like a sledgehammer.

In the U.S. alone, there are about 3 million cases of child abuse or trauma reported each year. Many of these are repeat offenses, and at least a half million of these are new cases. That means that at any given time at least 8 to 10 million children are suffering from some childhood trauma.

These childhood traumas affect neurological development, sometimes in permanent ways. Which means that even given a good environment later in life (which is far from the norm for most of these children anyway), there is little to be done for the harm caused to emotional, social, and cognitive abilities.

What's worse is that these children grow into adults who have suffered from a childhood trauma (and resultant neurological disorders). Depending on the trauma, this can drive neurotic or even pathological behaviors in adulthood. So we have at any time 50-70 million neurotic or pathological adults running around.

Many of those who have children have a tendency to abuse or inflict trauma on their children. And so it continues, generation after generation.

And what do we do about it? Where does this huge societal problem fall in terms of political priorities? Is this less important than immigration reform? Copyright protection? Gay marriage? Animal abuse?

Not only is this not a priority, but it seems that a number of politicians actively strive to make it even worse for children. (See CHIP funding reductions, bills for eliminating medicare, even education, for children of undocumented immigrants).

I have a theory that a high percentage of really driven people (such as politicians, fundamentalist extremists, some business leaders) are part of this traumatized demographic.

I don't have studies to support this hypothesis (although perhaps that's because such information is discouraged from publication by strongly ambitious and pathological politicians.) I'll try not to derail into the swamp of conspiracy theories, but something needs to the cause of so much inaction on what should be a top priority.

Food. Shelter. Protection from harm. Health care (particularly for children). These must be the priorities of any society, because a lack of these has negative, long lasting impact on any other function.

If we could just get our priorities straight, we could accomplish so much more.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Ignorance is Blessed

The U.S. is about to hit escape velocity on the crazy bus.

From the most recent MSNBC/Newsweek poll...

13. Do you think the scientific theory of evolution is well-supported by evidence and widely accepted within the scientific community?

Nearly half (48 percent) of the U.S. public said no; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact.

These are the same people who go on to make educational videos like this one which "disproves" evolution.

It's times like this I start rooting for the antibiotic resistant staff bacteria to colonize the Discovery Institute...

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No Accounting For Easter

During a beer at happy hour on Good Friday, I commented that every Friday should be called Good Friday, given that it was the last day of the work week.

One of the people there was apparently offended at my cavalier commentary on "the day Jesus died." Delighted to find a religious scholar amongst the sea of suds, I thought I would seek some enlightenment for something that was puzzling me.

I asked him, "Help me out with something. Jesus died on a Friday, right?"

"Everyone knows that," he responded.

"So that's Good Friday. And Easter is when we celebrate his resurrection, is that right?"


"And how long did he lay in his tomb before being rising again?"

"Three days."

"Interesting. So even though Jesus supposedly died at three in the afternoon on a Friday, and was already off and gone to Heaven by the time Mary came to his tomb on Sunday at Dawn - a span of about a day and a half - they just counted it as three because they counted funny then?"

"I don't know. Asshole."

People get so touchy about their religion sometimes.

Actually, this did lead to another interesting discussion with someone else there who was actually educated in the religion he espoused (about the word Easter coming from the pagan Goddess Eostre, eggs from Spring fertility celebrations, the reconciliation of holidays in the early church days, the Council of Nicea, and how history gets rewritten over time). I actually learned quite a bit that I didn't know before.

The conversation wrapped up with a discussion about how why it was that so many people who categorize themselves as religious (over 90% in the U.S. according to a recent poll) know so little about the history or tenets of their chosen religion.

He smiled, and reminded me that faith rests not on reason, just belief. You don't need facts or logic for faith.

I then made some snide comment about so many with faith being assholes, and he asked me what I thought about Richard Dawkins.


We agreed that "turning the other cheek" does not necessarily mean you must must show your asshole as you turn them. We agreed that the dimension of faith/no-faith was orthogonal to the dimension of assholedness. And we agreed that it was the assholes the world needed to worry about, not necessarily those of strong faith.

If only everyone could be so reasonable.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Few, The Proud, The Crazy

It takes lots of people, working in group cooperation, to sustain a civilization.

It only takes a few idiots to wreck one.

I've been thinking about it almost always takes a large number of people to create something, but only a few to destroy it.

Iraq is full of examples. How many people need to cooperate to build a power plant, or an oil pipeline, or establish a market, or establish the rule of law? How many fewer does it take to blow up any of these?

All most people want is to be left alone. But when the bombs start going off and the soldiers start busting down doors and shooting, even people who want to be left alone get drawn into the violence - if for nothing else than to defend themselves. That's why large groups of otherwise disinterested people can be manipulated by remarkably small groups of determined people.

Prior to the build up to the invasion of Iraq, did a majority of U.S. voters want to go to war there? Hardly - we were pissed as hell at Al Queda, happy to root them out of Afghanistan. Were they in Iraq? Not then. But a small group of people were able to first manipulate the public into (perhaps apathetic,perhaps jingoistic) acceptance of the invasion. Then once troops were committed, even those who would remain apathetic get drawn in as those close to them or someone they know start getting killed. It becomes personal.

Why do societies war? Look at just about every damn war ever fought, and a couple things are clear. A few (usually very few) determined men got together and decided they wanted a war. Whoever they attacked had no other choice than to fight back. And for some reason, once started, wars are very hard to stop. (In fact, in so many cases, they really don't stop - they just pause for a generation to grow new soldiers, forget the horror, but remember the need for revenge...)

Why don't the majority of people, who wanted nothing to do with this war to begin with, do anything to stop it?

Because the majority of people just want to be left alone.

So the few crazies, zealots, and idiots of the world are able to have extraordinary impact on world events.

And it's usually not a positive one.

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