Monday, April 29, 2013

"This Time It's Different"

Every generation think it is special.  Their parents couldn't possibly have gone through what they did.

Yes, it is true that this country is slightly more divided now then it has been in the past, but the issues are not that different.  Here is a rough list of important issues by decade (give or take 5 years).

  • 1780s and 1790s: Tax issues (Whiskey Rebellion), creating the nation, Supreme Court 
  • 1800s  Louisiana Purchase, Slavery,  staying out of English/French war
  • 1810's  War of 1812 (see English/french war above), Federal bank?, slavery, Keeping Europe out of Americas
  • 1820's:  Taxes, Banking, Indian removal
  • 1930s':  Financial crisis, Indian Removal
  • 1840s:  Fighting with Mexico about Texas
  • 1850:  Slavery, civil war coming
  • 1860 Civil War/Slavery ends, Constitutional changes
  • 1870s: Reconstruction, civil rights, Female suffrage
  • 1880s:  Corruption in government, gold standard, monopoly/labor strikes, Female suffrage
  • 1890's Spanish American war, Hawaii, Gold Standard, Female suffrage
  • 1900's:  Trust busting, Female suffrage
  • 1910's  Trust-busting, federal income tax, corruption fighting, World War I  (keep away from Europe), Female suffrage, prohibition
  • 1920 's: economic issues - low taxes, then stock market crash,  prohibition
  • 1930:  Depression, World War, prohibition (repeal)
  • 1940's  World War II,beginning of desegregation
  • 1950's  Korea, Cold War  racism/civil rights
  • 1960's Cold War, Civil Rights, Space program,  Medicare and Medicaid, Vietnam, Abortion
  • 1970s  Nixon scandal, good buy Vietnam, goodby gold standard, Environmentalism, Salt I (nuclear proliferation), Abortion
  • 1980's  Anti-government, anti-=taxes, Abortion
  • 1990's  Gay rights become a real issue, Abortion
  • 2000s  Terrorism, attempts to cut entitlements  Healthcare bill, gay rights, Abortion,  Legalize Marijuana
  • 2010 Gay rights, abortion,  Legalize Marijuana

So at heart the four main issues have always been:

  1. Economics
  2. Prejudice/discrimination
  3. Wars
  4. Public Safety

There is one more issues that don't fit these four neat categories - specifically abortion.  While on the surface it is a public safety issue with a dash of discrimination, it is dramatically different from all other issues.

Abortion is a relatively new issue  that people feel strongly about and does not fit into those categories.   It might end up being a new, re-occurring theme.  Why is it so different?  The other issues are all at heart answerable by science, but abortion can not be 'solved' by science.

The true heart of the abortion issue is what counts as a person.  If you consider a just fertilized egg to be one, then abortion is killing babies.  If you don't, then abortion is a simple surgical procedure similar to getting a vasectomy in that it prevents you from having unwanted children.   But the question of person-hood is at best a philosophical one, or more likely a religious one.  Science can not tell us the answer.

But lets get back to the big four long term issues government fights over

In general the economic battles tend to get settled.   Eventually either people realize the new idea is garbage without trying it out, or they do try it out and it either works or fails.  If it works they keep it,  fails it gets over-turned.  Then someone comes up with a new idea and the process starts all over again. 

Prejudice appears to be the same battle fought repeatedly, slowly having the prejudiced people lose, then the anti-prejudice people move on to the next group that is being picked on.  There is real progress being made consistently on that issue, from the original compromises allowing slavery all the way to the current fight about gay marriage.

War on the other hand seems to be a constant issue - staying out of them, or getting into them, there is no real progress made on the general issue, we just keep changing the name and location of the war.

Finally, Public Safety is a rather interesting question.  This includes gun issues, drugs, alcohol, pollution, and healthcare in general.  In general, this gets treated like economics.   Slowly ideas get tested and then either accepted if it works or over-turned if it fails.  Strangely enough, liberals and democrats fight over this a lot.   If it is portrayed on moral grounds, the conservatives will spend money, otherwise the safety measures are considered 'too expensive'.  Unless of course they think the safety measure itself is considered unsavory in some way (HPV vaccine), then they complain on moral grounds rather than economic grounds.

But it takes a lot longer to solve Public Safety issues and people keep bringing up failed ones (assualt weapons), while simultaneously people keep killing successful ones as well (background checks on guns).

The heart of the matter is that we really only have 4 main issues in American Politics, (plus abortion).  Things are not all that different now than they 100 years ago when it comes to what we argue about.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Are the Boston Marathon Bombers Terrorists?

People have talked about them as terrorists.

Frankly, I am not sure.    Merely using a bomb to kill people as opposed to using bullets does not make you a terrorist (or every combat pilot would be a terrorist).  What makes these bombers different from the criminals that shoot up schools?

Terrorists kill non-combatants for political reasons.   Soldiers kill combatants for political reasons, criminals kill all for money or hate and crazy people kill for non-sane reasons.   Idiots do it by accident.

They definitely targeted non-combatants, which means they are not soldiers.

It was not negligence, they did it on purpose.

They did not do it for money.

They appear to be sane, but that has not been determined.   They very well could count as psychotic.  Some kill for the fame, others kill just to kill (anarchists).  An argument could be made that they are anarchists.

If their only reason was hatred for Americans (as opposed to hatred of America), that makes them criminals.  This is a rather subtle point and quite frankly no one cares.

(You see, there is no real difference between a terrorist and a criminal when it comes to the law.   It only matters to our government if you committed your deed outside of the country.  We don't like to arrest criminals outside of the country, but we do hunt down and kill terrorists outside of the country).

To truly be a terrorist they need to have some kind of political agenda.

They have not made that clear.  Yes, there is some indication of political agenda - letting a non-american car-jack victim live, talking about politics, etc.  Talking about 'radicalization'  But that is rather indistinct evidence.

To me, I want a lot more.  I want an explicit admission of political motivation.

What, you are are thinking - you want an admission - don't I know criminals lie?

Yes I do know that criminals lie - but you are claiming he is NOT a criminal.  Terroirsts are not criminals, that's why they go to Guantanamo not jail.

Terrorist organizations don't lie about being terrorists.  They proudly proclaim it.  Why?  Because that is the whole point of terrorism.  Oh sometimes they claim to be "freedom fighters", but they don't deny their goal is political.   Terrorists want people to know who they are and what they did.  That is why they do the crime - to get in the news and make trouble.

If you don't proclaim your cause, then no one knows what you want them to be in terror of.

Real terrorists proclaim their terrorism, and he is the only one left to proclaim.

I don't know yet if the bombers were terrorists.  We won't know that fact till the survivor speaks on the subject

But honestly, it doesn't really matter.  It won't really affect his punishment anyway.

Ridiculous Claims of the Boston Bomber - and also by Republicans.

One of the Boston Marathon Bombers, is reported to have made the outright ridiculous claim that most of the deaths in Afghanistan came from Americans killing innocent civilian (a.k.a. collateral damage)

Now, lets just ignore the incredibly unlikeliness of this claim.   Most deaths in the area are caused by guns, despite the higher profile bomb deaths.   But let's assume it is actually true, despite the shear stupidity and lunacy of the argument. 

I will illustrate his simple error using a simple story.

There once was a little boy, let's call him Steven.   He was not particularly malicious, but he definitely qualified as a prankster.  The kind of kid that Bart Simpson was based on.  Like Bart Simpson, he had a younger sister that he teased. 

One day, while at a pool party, the kids had water guns.   Steve came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea.  He shot his sister, than ran over to a bunch of toddlers, younger than his sister.

His sister followed him and shot him, getting a few of the toddlers, who immediately began to cry.  Of course his sister got punished.  But don't feel too bad, little Steven was also punished.

Because the parents knew exactly who had planned the collateral damage.  Some idiots may think that hiding behind innocents means you are not responsible for the collateral damage.  But any parent of a conniving little Bart Simpson wanna-be can easily see through this rather lame artifice.

When you intentionally put innocents at risk to trap your opponent, you are just as responsible as your opponent, if not more so.

So why do people pull this kind of crap?   It's not just terrorists.  American politicians use similar techniques by putting force amendments to bills to add 'collateral damage'.  The hope is to prevent the bill from being passed.     Then of course there is the reverse tactic - stealing credit for good bills.

Here, whiny little republican idiots in the state senate (not all republicans are whiny little idiots, but the people doing this are) refuse to vote in favor of any Democrat bills.  They want to lie and pretend that the Democrats are always wrong.   So whenever a Democrat authors a bull they like, they vote it down, then reintroduce the same bill , sometimes without changing a single word.  Then they lie and claim they authored the bill.  Apparently, Michigan Republicans think their constituents are morons.

I wonder, did they copy test answers back in school as well, or is it just legislation?

(Note, some Democrats do the same thing, but the tactic is much more common among Republicans, in part because so few state houses are controlled by Democrats and don't need any Republican votes.  But quite a few state houses are controlled by Republicans and don't need any Democrat votes due to partisan gerrymandering.)

They expect people to stupidly blame/credit the men that pull the trigger, rather than the evil sons of bitches that planned the operation.  This applies to both the ridiculously lame theory by the Boston Marathon Bomber, and the slimy,cheating, liars pretending to author Democrat bills.

They think we are fools.  They think we can't understand what happens.

They are wrong.   We know exactly who to blame - the idiots that plan, not the men that make the hard choices.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"I'm From The Government and I'm Here To Help."

Ronald Reagan once said:

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"  He said it 1986. Not content to say it once, he repeated it  in 1988 adding "Hi" and declaring them the ten most terrifying words.

It became an article of faith among the Republicans.

The reason is simple - not that the government doesn't help, but because when the government does help, it doesn't have time to introduce it self - or tell you what they are here to do.  Usually government does it's job very far from the people they are helping.  The EPA helps the millions around them, while pissing off the people they regulate.   They don't even talk to the people they help, they talk to the people that might be hurting the people they help.

  • When the firemen come, they don't stop to introduce themselves, they just jump right in and help.   But they are still from the government and are here to help you.
  • When the police officers come, they identify themselves as police, not 'from the government'. nor do they say they are here to help - even though most of the time they are there to help.
  • Neither do teachers whose sole job is to help your students learn (anyone who has ever seen a child learn knows teachers help the process, they don't force it.  
  • Nor do librarians when they help you find things you want.

Why do I bring this up?  Because it clarifies the basic problem with Republican thought.

  • They think of 'the government' in the abstract sense rather than getting to the specifics.  They say government spending is bad, but won't say what they want to cut.  Their argument only appears to work if you stick to generalities. 
  • They pay attention to the people being directly controlled/punished (often the wealthy and corporate) without even looking at the many more people being indirectly helped (often the poor individuals).
  • They like to pretend people are private citizens even when they are government workers.   Those firemen?  They are volunteers, not 'from the government'.   Despite the fact that their equipment is bought by the government.   Libraries - they are charities, not government employees.

How to destroy this joke and take it back as an accurate statement?

Simple - when the government ever helps you, require the people to say: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

When policemen, prosecutors, and judges talk to victims of crime, they should be required to say it.
When firemen, talk to victims of a crime, they should say it.
When doctors are paid by Medicaid, they should say it.
When you apply for Social Security, Medicare and Medicare, they should say it (and print it on the forms.)
When parents meet teachers, the teachers should say it.
When garbage-men see you when they are picking up your trash, they should say it.
When road-workers fix roads, they should say it.
etc. etc. etc.
Print it on your IRS refund check.  Also your social security check and foodstamps, etc.

If all the government employees and sub-contractors said it, then just maybe no one would have laughed at Reagan's joke.

Because it just represented a rather ignorant political ideology, not reality.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The United States Has Tortured Terrorists

At one point, President Bush, Cheney,  and pretty much the entire GOP  claimed we did not torture.  Later they said "History will Judge us".

Well, History has spoken, they tortured.  Worse, they got nothing worthwhile from it.  Unless they are hiding stuff in classified reports - which seems stupid.   They should be doing it the other way around - hiding the stuff they got from spies by claiming they got it from torturing people.

 This information is according to the US's own Truth Commission report, a bipartisan think tank.

Please note, as I have said previously, (Previous Post)  I am not actually against the government tortuing people.  I am against the incompetent way they did the torture.

To repeat, Torture is in general a very bad idea:
  • It encourages others to vilify and hate us, by giving them real, true actual claims of evil things we did.
  • The vilification is to such an extent that it endangers our own captured soldiers.
  • It destroys our own moral standing when we demand other countries do better - both among our allies and our opponents.
  • It is VERY unreliable - the victims have good reason to lie and in general their lies can not be detected - unless of course we could have gotten the information from another method, which means that the torture was not necessary
  • Worse it does severe damage to the minds of our our agents, making them less effective.
Now, these are all good reasons not to torture, but I still see the occasional need to actually do so.  In immediate circumstances (Tell us where the bomb/little girl you buried a live, 100 trillion dollars you stole), then sometimes it is neccessary.  But those situations are very rare, are NOT the cases where we actually used torture, and we do not need to publicly embrace torture to do it then.

My opinion is that torture should be illegal, and in the EXTREMELY rare circumstances where it is neccessary, then we 1) admit we did it immediately and 2) either accept the punishment or 3) accept the pardon granted by the governor/president.  Because if you are not willing to risk going to jail for torturing someone than that torture is not necessary.   Take responsibility for your own actions.

But that is not what we do.  Instead of pardoning the torturers we hide them.

This is wrong.   Also, make note that in my opinion this is Obama's fault.  He decided not to investigate, not to arrest, and not to pardon.

Well, let's look at the consequences if he had followed my advice - have them confess and be pardoned.

  1. We would effectively change the careers of a bunch of intelligence operatives.  Note, I said change, not destroy.   They would be forced out of the intelligence branches, but you can be sure that, given pardons, they would land on their feet.  They would get jobs in the private sector - such as speeches, books, private security, or even enter politic.
  2. It would change the culture of the intelligence agencies, making them far less likely to repeat their stupid mistakes.  They would still torture, but do it much more warily, only with much better reasons.
  3. It would affect the political races in an unknown manner.  It might have helped the democrats, but might have helped the republicans.   That would be very complicated, and no one can predict the end results.  But if we did it NOW, chances are it would not affect major political movements.
  4. It would risk revealing certain intelligence practices.   The quicker they plead guilty and were pardoned, the less secrets would be revealed.  If they did it all in one day, no secrets need be revealed
  5. It would bolster our failing moral credit.   By admitting our mistakes and pardoning our criminals we send a message to the rest of the world - we don't like this activity, but are willing to do it.
  6. It would cost some money and political capital.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What I want to hear from a Republican.

What would it take for a Republican to win my personal vote - without changing what it means to be a Republican?

Not all that much.  He can retain his personal beliefs - but he has to recognize that there are other viewpoints and be willing to let them exist.  So here is a fictional speech, that I wrote for a fictional "Abraham Reagan".  If any Republican is man enough to say something CLOSE to it, that man could win the Presidency.  But no one will, because they have become trapped by their own constiuencies as pets, rather than leaders.

"Hello and my name is Abraham Reagan.  I am a god fearing Christian man, from the Great State of Wyoming.   I believe, as my bible taught me, that abortion and gay marriage are wrong.  I know that is true because of my firm and unshakeable belief in Jesus.  But I also recognize that this country is not all Protestant.  We have freedom of religion.  There are Catholics, Jews, godless Atheists, Hindus and even damn Muslims.   They have the right to worship as they wish and that means we can not stop them from sinning.  We are not here to stop people from sinning, but instead to find a way to lead them to the righteous path.   As President, I will not support any attempt to ban abortion or  gay marriage.  The bible tells us not to kill and to go forth and multiply, both important instructions.  But when I chose to become a public servant, I realized that I must put my country above everything else, because I may have to sin to protect it.  Part of that sinning is to recognize that my opinions on abortion and gay marriage are inherently a part of my belief in Jesus, and that I can not force my religion on others.  Not in America.  That doesn't mean I have to pay for abortions, or give anyone special treatment.  But equal treatment is not special.

I believe that America is a great country that can not support every man woman and child that wants to come here.  I also know we need more manual laborers than can be found among our citizens.   As such, I offer ALL those that wish to work temporary green cards that will not count towards citizenship.   Every single person not charged with a crime that wishes to try and get a job here can get a temporary green card.  But they may have to pay a small fee to get that card - and a small tax to pay for the services they consume.   In addition, we will continue to offer the usual path to citizenship for all those we find worthy.

Energy means jobs.  And it is clear that natural gas is the clear winner for the next decade.  Fracking has proven it's value by providing us with cheap energy.  I will work to make fracking legal in all states - provided the frackers fully disclose to the EPA every chemical they use in the process.  We will continue to work on more energy sources that do not excessively pollute our environment, but for the immediate future, we will focus on fracking, at the expense of other, far more dangerous methods.

When it comes to Gun Control, I strongly believe you should hit what you aim at!    But we do not have to let every crazy person buy a gun.   We can either have a list of gun owners or a list of people that can't own guns.  I don't want the government to know who owns guns, so we must make a real list of people that are not allowed to own a gun.  If you are on this list, which by law shall not have more than 5% of the population on it, then owning or attempting to purchase or even hold a gun will be a felony.   When you purchase a gun, the buyer will by law have to check that list.  If they fail to check that list, then they will go to jail.  And yes, we will test them.

I believe in Healthcare.  Romenycare, oh, excuse me the liberals prefer we call it ObamaCare, is not perfect.  It needs to be reformed, but I will not eliminate it.   Chief Justice Roberts has declared it a valid tax, and I think there are far more pressing taxes that we have to lower than it.   But there are many portions of it that I do wish to drop, and you will be hearing more about that later.  Here's just a taste of the things I want to eliminate:   I won't let Obamacare's insurance be more generous that Medicare.  I will combine the second exchange type (Small Business Health Options Program) with the first (American Health Benefit).  There is no need to duplicate the work.   I will also end the Co-op's 3.8 billion program.   But again, I will be keeping most of Romneycare, whoops, I mean Obamacare.

Obama's short lived Big Government is over.  We need to go back to small government.  That means starting with the military.  One of the few things Obama did right was use more drones and less boots on the ground.  Drones are more efficient.  They save American lives, they save American money, and they save American training.   I won't entirely replace American soldiers with drones,  but recruitment will be half of what it once was, and the same goes for big ticket purchases.  I don't simply want anti-personal drones, I want anti-aircraft drones, and anti-submarine drones.   This technological boon will be at the cost of the heavy metal, but will save American lives as well as American money.

My plan is to shrink entitlement programs, not by eliminating them, but instead by making them more efficient and by reducing the number of Americans that need it.  Medicare is one of the cheapest ways to get healthcare in the US, but it is STILL more expensive than outside of the US.  Under my administration, we will negotiate prices not based just on what the healthcare companies tell us are 'normal', but by what they offer outside of the US.  This will lower our costs.   I will also reform Social Security, treating it more like an Annuity and allowing people to invest upto 10% of their social security 'annuity' in the market if they so choose.  If they do this, and they make a profit, they will keep half their profit, the rest goes to finance the system.  If they lose money, they still will get no less than 90% of their normal benefits.

When it comes to Taxes, once the budget is balanced, I will take half the surplus and distribute equally among every single tax payer, lowering taxes.   But that will not happen until we balance the budget and obtain a surplus.  Which I assure you will be done, THIS YEAR.  This will not reduce our total tax burden, but will be simplify certain things.  As a result, while some people's taxes may go up, most taxes should stay about the same or go down.

Finally, some among you think we can not get the votes of 47% of America.   I tell you you are wrong.   There is NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE whom I can not get to vote for me, given the chance to talk to them.  In fact, I'm going out to talk to ex President Obama shortly and I am going to do my best to get his endorsement.  Thank you and may God bless America."

Note I personally do not believe much of what I wrote above.  It assumes many things are true that I personally do not believe in.   It is not the speech I personally would give.  But it is a speech that could get me to vote Republican again.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston Bombing Likely Domestic, Not International

Yesterday was a shocking, horrifying day.

But at least it looks like a domestic incident, not international terrorism.

  • No one has claimed credit
  • The bombs were home-made, and half the bombs did not activate
  • They struck a great city but not an internationally famous one (Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston.)

When it comes to domestic terrorism, the groups are more afraid of the FBI.   They can brag internally, without needing international publicity.  International terrorism get minimal if any benefit if they don't publicly take credit (which is why so often you get multiple false claims of credit).

International terrorists have lots of opportunity to practice and gain professional bomb making ingredients.    Domestic ones do not have that opportunity.  They have to learn on the internet, with as little practice as possible to avoid attracting the attention of local police.

Boston is a great city, but it  #21 in population.  El Paso Texas has more people  (Source).   It is not an international center, like Washington, New York, or famous (from movies) as Los Angeles.  It's a great city but not a prime target.

For all these reasons, I think the Boston Bombing was done by domestic (probably non-islamic) terrorists.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The GOP is right...

Most of the things Republicans say about liberals in general, or the President specifically is true ... for the most leftist members of the Democrats, but not at all true about the President nor the party in general.

Similarly, most of the things Democrats say about the Republicans are true .... the most rightist members of the GOP.

But the real problem is the Democrats don't give power to the most leftist members.   That's part of what being a Big Tent party is about - we have crazy extremists, but most of us are moderates.

There ARE Democrats that want to take away all your guns.  But not the President, not any Senator, and probably not any Congressman.   We don't really know because no Congressman would dare to say it, even if he believed it.  There ARE liberals that want socialism - they joined the Socialist party because Democrats don't put up with that crap.  (Bernie Sanders is a great example,)

The Republicans on the other hand DO give power to their most extreme members.   They hold up Limbaugh and Beck and Fox people as their spokesmen.  They elect people like Sarah Palin, Todd Akins,and Christine O'Donnell.

Laura Bush said some GOP candidates frightened women, but that they were the exception to the norm (Source)  Guess what, there are Democrats that also frighten women.  But none of them hold office or are even candidates.  Do you want to know why?   Because we yell at them and kick them OUT of the party, rather than embrace them.

There ARE Republicans that hold office and want to (or at least are willing to)  take away the voting rights of Hispanics - they rule the Texan State Assembly.  Which is why both the Department of Justice and the Federal Courts told them their redistricting plan was illegal.    Their ARE Republican office holders (past and present) that blame women for getting raped.   Tod Akins, Phil Gingrey, Clayton Williams, Chuck Winder, Rick Snatorum are just a few of them.

That is the major difference between the parties.

It is also the main reason why I am a Democrat.  Honestly, the Republicans have some good ideas.  The problem is they let the lunatics run their party as opposed to the sane people.   If they kicked them out, the party would have a chance of getting my vote.  As it is now?  Never.

You need to laugh at and throw the lunatic extremists out, not throw the moderates out for being 'Republicans in Name Only'.

Embrace the main stream, the moderate, and you get the main stream voters.  Embrace the lunatics and the mainstream voters run away from your bat-shit crazy people.

Friday, April 12, 2013

How to Handle North Korea

North Korea has been spouting insane things recently.  They are most probably attempting to use an old technique to unite their country against an outside threat.  We are the obvious target, not South Korea, because 1) we have a history of restraint (Cold War) - as opposed to attacking China 2) No one will expect them to carry through on the threat - as opposed to attacking South Korea.

But it is a dangerous game.  While the US remembers the first Korean War, as well as Vietname and Iraq, we also remember World War II.  During World War II we ignored a psychotic dictator talking about invading and we paid the price.

We won't do it again.

So, what should the US do to solve the problem of North Korea?

In my opinion we need to do the following:

  • Don't speak to North Korea.  They are acting like a child and we don't want to encourage their bad behavior.
  • Privately assure our allies - particularly South Korea and Japan that we will stand by them, even if it comes to nuclear war.
  • Talk to our other ally China.  Explain that there are three possible futures for North Korea:   
  1. North Korea grows up and stop acting like a child - perhaps after China yells at them repeatedly and/or bribes them.
  2. China itself invades North Korea, killing the warmongers and publicly showing Kim Jong-un's dead body.  They can replace the government with anything they want - or just give it to South Korea.
  3. The United States takes military action inside North Korea, most likely resulting in South Korea taking over the North.
Make it very clear that choice number 3 is a very real possibility - and give them a deadline for it.

Given that North Korea touches China's southern border I don't think China wants US weapons being used there.  It is in their best interest to handle the problem themselves, particularly as they helped create it.  I am pretty sure that China would end up invading North Korea.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

War: win vs lose, good vs bad.

I recently read a conservative article which demonstrated how the GOP misses the point.

It basically stated that we won the Iraq war, and therefore it must be a good thing.

This is a very unethical but practical viewpoint.  If you use it then the Nazi's were bad not because they murdered 12 million innocent civilians (6 million jews, plus another six million homosexuals, communists, gypsies, and other undesireables), but because they lost.  If they had won, the writer implies than the Nazis would be the good guys and we would be the bad guys.

That may be how some ignorant people would have portrayed the war, but it would not be true.

The ethicalness of either side in a war has nothing to do with who won the war.  It is perfectly possible for the good guys to lose a war and the bad guys to win a war.   It tends to be less likely, because the good guys generally have certain advantages that the bad guys don't (namely social structures better able to handle stress), but by no means is that a law.

Victory does not determine ethical values.

Let's take a look at some of America's 5 major 20th century wars:  WWI, WW II, Korea, Vietnam, first Iraq war.

Note that of those wars, we clearly lost 1 (Vietnam), had a stand off for 1 (Korea), two undecisive victires that set the stage for a later war (WWI and first Iraq War), and had one clear decisive victory (World War II).

From history's perspective, we were on the clearly good side of World War II (pure win), Korea (stand off) , and the first Iraq war (indecisive Victory).   The Nazis are pretty much our go-to definition of evil, North Korea has continued to make it clear they are incompetent at feeding their own people and imperialistic belligerent, and Saddam Hussein simply attacked another country for it's oil wealth.

But in World War One the morality was less clear.  The Allies committed about as many atrocities as the Central Powers.  (Ottoman Genocide of the Armenians, Russian Pogroms against Jews, France kept some Central power POW's as slaves for 2 years after the war ended, Russia did it for 6, both sides used poison gas).  There was no clear philosophical difference, the wars were mainly caused by stupidity and imperialism on both sides   The Central Powers were slightly more imperialistic, but then again, they didn't keep our POW's as slaves after the end of the war.

Similarly, we intervened in Vietnam mainly to prevent the spread of Communism - we were scared it would become another Easter Europe, under the control of the China as opposed to Russia.   But history has proven that fear unfounded.  Vietnam stands in stark contrast with Korea as a stable, independent country thriving in a post-cold war landscape.   North Korea on the other hand, well, they continued to be ruled by someone without the ethics or intelligence to run a 7-11.

My point is that the of the five wars, we were on the right side of 3 the wrong side of one, and there really was no good or bad side of the last.  The one we outright lost (Vietnam) was mainly lost because we gave up - in part because we saw the morality was not clear-cut.   The one's we tied, could have been a loss if we didn't see how bat-shit crazy the rulers of North Korea were.

So while there is a relationship between good guys and winning, it is not as clear cut as the GOP likes to see.

The Second Iraq War.  The mere fact that we won does not make it a 'good war'. It was done for poor reasons, the victory cost way too much, the gain we got is minimal, and we won't know for years if our victory will be Pyrrhic.   It could very well end up costing us far more than we gained.

8,000+ American lives and almost $2 trillion, plus political capital  (post 9/11 the US was the clear good guys to everyone.)

Yes, we 'won' the war in the sense that we determined the political future of Iraq.  But that doesn't tell us if it was worth it (our national debt stands at $16 trillion), or if we were the good guys, or merely one of two opposing sides.

The presumption that because we won, it must be 'OK' or a good thing is ridiculous.   It proves that the writer of the article has poor judgements.

Finally, there are some wars we should fight even if we lose them.   If someone attacks Israel, Japan, Britain or similar allies, we should fight to the last drop and be proud, even if we lose the war. 

Why?  Because it's the right thing to do.   Sometimes you have to fight because it's right, even if you can't win.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Saving Face: East vs. West

One of the major differences between Eastern Culture and Western Culture is 'face'.  Call it dignity, prestige, reputation or honor.  It is all about what others think about you.

Most eastern cultures consider saving face to be extremely important.   What other's think of you - or more importantly, what they publicly say about your/what you can fool yourself into believing they think about you, is far more important in eastern cultures than in western cultures.

It's heavy in Japan, China, India and even as far west as the Middle East.  It's part of the reason why 'honor' killings still exist, as well as why suicide attacks are socially accepted.  It is all to retain or regain your 'face'.

The heart of saving face is not admitting that you did anything wrong - or publiclly stating that others did wrong.

As a result, telling someone that they have done wrong is in fact a huge insult - and sometimes considered a worse crime than actually doing the wrong.

When someone commits a social faux pas, and you point it out, you are the one shamed for pointing it out, not them for doing it.

Please note in all modern cultures I have found face is a thing for adults.  Childrens are not allowed face.  More about that later.

The thing is the west used to have that same attitude.  There are still remannts in our culture - which is why we understand the concept of face.   You can see it mostly in those with easy wealth - the celebrity saying "Do you know who I am???" to the cop.  But it also shows up in judges - Anthony Scalia is famous for his arrogance and insistence on face.  

But mostly we have abandoned it.  We did so for a very simple reason - "face" kills progress.

Sometimes face can even kill literally (read the book "Outliers" to hear how saving face caused airplane crashes - the eastern copilot wouldn't correct his boss the pilot, and neither would stand up to an air traffic comptroller).

If you don't admit you are wrong, you can never fix your mistakes.  When you prevent other people from telling you that you are wrong, you prevent them from teaching you.   In a culture where face is big, you can only learn from people that are clearly your superior.

That is why even eastern cultures don't give face to children.  They have to learn, so they are not allowed face.  Children must respect their elders and give face, rather than receive it.  Otherwise they could not learn.

But western cultures realized that it is quite possible to learn from people that are supposed to be your inferiors.  Yes, you may be 50 and your trainer may only be 20, but they can teach you how to exercise better.   One of the key advantages of the west is the constant attempt to learn - to better oneself.

And it's not just in specific relationships - it can be anyway.  Good teachers will learn from their students.   Bosses can learn from employees.   Parents can learn from their kids (especially how to use the newest electronic gadgets).  And yes, political leaders can learn from their constituency - even criminals.   Specifically we can learn that hey, smoking pot isn't so bad.  Or that they really shouldn't be kicking people out of their home to build a new mall (especially when an economic downturn lets that home be torn down, but does not let the mall get built).

Because we live without face, we come up with new ideas faster, improve our businesses faster, we catch corrupt officials faster, we fix malfunctioning government programs faster, we do progress faster.

If we are so fast, why is the east doing so well?  It's called shoulder surfing.  They looked at what we learned the hard way and are copying our answers.  But once they catch up, they will inevitablly fall behind again.  Because their is a big difference between modernizing an ancient system and inventing a better one.

Yes, it is hard to live without face.  To always be told we are wrong - by our inferiors?  It makes us look like we are lower than them.  But we can take it. We are strong.

But it makes life far BETTER when we do.

The west abandoned face on purpose.   We choose to live without it because it makes our lives easier and better.

It is our greatest secret weapon against the east.  Without abandoning face, the east will NEVER forge  the bleeding edge.  Because guess what westerns are doing while the eastern inferiors politely and carefully repeatedly explain the problems they are having to their superiors?  

That's right - we are building the future - and the east will always be running to catch up with us.

Of course, they won't believe this.  Because to admit your culture of saving face is holding you back would mean ... losing face.

Friday, April 5, 2013

North Carliona's short attempt at a State Religion.

The GOP continues to push the fantasy that the United States are currently composed of 50 soverign states with a loose federal government above it.

As a result, North Carolina had a short lived attempt to create a state religion.  While this clearly violates the First Amendment of the the Constitution of the United States:
"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."

They claimed that the law clearly only applied to Congress.  They would be right pre-civil war.  But the 14th Amendment was passed in in 1868 (shortly after and because of the civil war) whose Section 1 states:

 "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside  No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

  The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that this amendment means the states must also it applies to all states as well as the Federal government:

1947 Emerson v. Board of Education
1994 affirmment Board of Education v. Grumet

Luckily, not all North Carolina Republicans are uneducated fools that want to start a new Civil War.  The right honorable and intelligent House Speaker Thom Tillis, Republican of Charlotte killed the bill.
Of course, that does not kill the 'we don't have to obey you' spirit of the GOP's states.  They continue to try and nullify federal laws - whether they be gun laws, healthcare laws, etc.  Or North Carolina's newest bit of stupidity the attempt to arrest federal agents enforcing national gun laws.

Once and forever - you already tried that bullshit in 1860.  It didn't work out so well for you then and won't do any better now.  Only this time, it won't be General Sherman burning Southern cities, it will be federal tanks rolling down your streets.

The federal government is ABOVE you - in large part because you are both less competent and far more corrupt than the federal government.  Mainly because the federal government has a larger pool of job applicants for the job and economies of scale mean fewer people are needed to do the same job.  This results in a far higher quality of federal employees than state employees - and this applies to appointed, hired and elected positions.

But that is beside the point.   Democracies exist so that idiots that are outnumbered don't start a civil war by attempting to force a majority of the people to obey their dictatorial laws.   In America, the liberals and Democrats outnumber the conservatives and Republicans.  The only reasons why the liberals don't take up arms and kill the conservatives is the rule of law.  If you break it, we will do the obvious.   (Yes, I know the conservatives think they have all the guns and the skills.   So did the South in the Civil War - they swore they could shoot better than the North and had better generals.)

 So why do they make these pointless and futile attempts?  For the same reason North Korea is currently making pointless threats.   Local, partisan political reasons.  To liven up their base - despite the fact that it pisses off their opponent's base even more than it livens up their own.  But unlike North Korea, the US is a democracy.  Which means the GOP's saber rattling is counterproductive, doomed to failure.

And it's one of the reasons why the Democrats continue to keep on winning the national elections while the GOP sits back wondering what they are doing wrong.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Free Will

There is a common deterministic view of the human mind as being just a bunch of tiny, hard to see gears.  It claims that if you had omnipotence, then you could predict every action done by a human being.  By that belief no one is responsible for their behavior/actions because it was all per-determined at the big bang.  They think you have no free will, you are just a robot.

It came about from a 19th century view of physics  as a deterministic nature.

Now adays most people recognize quantum mechanics mean that no matter how much knowledge you have, you can not predict the human brain, because at at very small level, it is not deterministic.

The deterministic then respond that this just means everyone is random.  They claim that again, you have no free will, you are just a robot with a random number generator.

This again is lacking in understanding.  First, it misunderstands a lot of quantum mechanism.  It is NOT just a random number generator for Einstein's proverbial God's Dice game.  Instead, quantum mechanics is far more complicated and many claim that no one understands it.  Among other things, there is an 'observer' portion of quantum mechanics that is NOT random.  That is, when you observe things, it changes the outcome (see Schrodinger's Cat).

But lets ignore the physics and get back down to philosophy, as that is the core of the model and a far more important question.

Here are some given assumptions.
  1.  If everything is 100% accurately predictable, you have no free will, because your actions are predetermined.
  2. If your actions are random, or 100% accurately predictable except for a random factor, then again you have no free will, you are just a random number generator's output.
  3. For true free will to exist there must be some inherent core personality that is neither random, nor entirely predictable, but instead is internally consistent, not entirely determined by birth, (and therefore at least partially learned), and that determination is not random, but PATTERNED.
First note, there is a word for something that is not random, not entirely predictable, but is internally consistent and not determined by the creator/birth.  It's called Art.   Yes, Art, not Science is the key to understanding Free Will.  
Assume for example God exists (God is not neccessary for this argument, but positing his existence makes the discussion easier, as God acts as an Omniscient creator who could predict your actions).  God choose to create people as works of art, rather than either engineering projects (robots) or random number generators (robots whose programming was choosen at random).

Can God create something so he could not understand it?  The answer here is yes (Not sure if he could create a stone to heavy for him to lift, that's a different question).   He creates it in an artistic fashion instead of a planned one.  He looks at the over-all forest, not the trees as he creates us.  He lets the micro stuff fall randomly, but makes sure that the total creation follows a specific pattern.   

If we were talking about painting, think of God as randomly throwing balls of paint at a wall that has a specific stencil design protecting it.  Yes, the paint is random, but it will still spell out the letters "FREE WILL" because of the stencils.

Such a design is not random OR determined.  There is a third choice of patterned.   Patterned does not fall in between those two extremes.  Instead it is something VERY different from either of them.   You see, it is not a black/white choice of determined or random.  Nor is it a choice of 'gray'.  Instead it is a choice of the color purple (one of my favorites).    It is neither determined nor random, but something different.

Now, patterns are the key to life - on both all scales.  On the large scale, life has a set pattern of symmetry.   On a small scale, life is a complex pattern of cells, on a micro level, DNA is just a pattern.

Life is about patterns, and human minds are the ultimate expression of that pattern. We are not robots, nor random number generators.  We are patterns.  And our patterns have free will.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Crime Comparison

The four major crime types are:  Violence, Sex Crimes, Drug Crimes, Theft and Financial crimes.

We treat them very differently when it comes to punishment.

Violence is generally offered relatively low punishments, unless done repeatedly.  Even murder can get you out in as little as 6 years for a first offense.    But repeated crimes of violence often get stacked up.

Sex crimes committed by men tend to be heavily punished.  Sex crimes committed by women tend to be overlooked (Oh, the teacher has sex with a student?  Send him to JAIL FOR LIFE. Wait, it was a female teacher?  Let her off with a warning.  A STERN warning.)  Mainly because sex crimes get a bad rap.  We think a sex criminal is a violent kidnapping rapist, when they are more likely to be some poor shmuck that got drunk and peed on a school bus.  Mainly because the violent kidnapping rapists are so rare as to be newsworthy when they are caught, while people get drunk and pee all the time.  It's just bad luck if you get caught and the prosecutor decides to over-punish you.

Everyone knows that drug crimes tend to be punished with huge penalties.  Users get far worse than most think is appropriate, and don't even talk about dealers.  Of course a good lawyer can make it go away.

Theft crimes tend to be punished like Violence - light for first time offenders, heavy for repeat offenders.

Financial Crimes, either get you off with nothing or they throw the book at you.

Why is this?

Most violent crimes are done in a heat of passion and are unintended.  That is most people that hurt or kill someone did not mean to let it get that bad, but things got out of hand.  This knowledge is built into our legal system.

Well, Drug crimes and Sex crimes are generally considered 'habitual'.  That is, if you do it once, people think you are a 'criminal type' that will always do it.  As in "he's addicted to drugs, of course he's not going to stop'.  People falsely believe the same thing about sex crimes and it also offends our sensibility a lot more.  (Despite the fact that sex criminals are less likely to re-commit ANY crime, than other criminals and FAR less likely to to commit another sex crime.)

Theft tends to be planned, but it rarely pays - the amount of money/goods someone can still by theft/mugging/burglary, when divided by the relatively light criminal punishment offered means it becomes a rather poor paying job.  

When it comes to financial crimes, lots of people do minor misdeeds.   21% of people think it's OK to cheat on their taxes (Source).   Also, many financial criminals work hard at making their activities very complex and hard to understand.  Then they claim it was not illegal or, worse case,  that they didn't know that it was illegal.  What, you mean it isn't legal to create an international charity that owns my office if and pays no taxes if I also live in the office?  Sorry, didn't know that.

When you do simple financial crimes - getting caught embezzling money - you go to jail for a VERY long time.  Worse than murder, because people know why you did it, and you can't claim it was in the heat of the moment and you regret doing it.   But when you do the complex ones, you get away with it.

Worse, we have mandatory minimums that were put into law based on the 'usual circumstances'.  This takes away judges discretion, but does it poorly.

So that's why our laws work the way.  It has to do with excuses, motivation, reasonableness and difficulty of proving intent.