Saturday, September 16, 2017

London Bombings


Once again, a bomb has gone off in London. Once again, ISIS has claimed responsibility. Whether or not a faction of the so-called Islamic State carried out the attack almost doesn't matter anymore. People are convinced that Muslims simply do this sort of thing.

Which leads to the defining debate of our generation, especially in light of the humanitarian crisis involving Syrian refugees and others who will undoubtedly come after them from elsewhere in the Muslim world.

On the one side, how do we call ourselves civilized if we will not take in those who just want to live in freedom? How can we insist that nations like Syria, Egypt, Iraq or Afghanistan embrace democracy over there when we refuse to let them get a taste of it over here in the West? Don't people have a right to flee for their very lives? Shouldn't Europe and the United States be the destinations for freedom-seekers they have always been? And isn't the granting of freedom for refugees a fundamental value?

On the flip side, how can any Western democracy accept hordes of refugees who are irreparably tainted with a small but persistent minority of those who want to destroy the very democracy they are fleeing to? How can any economy take in so many people when most of them are unskilled and don't speak the local language? Why should indigenous residents have to flee for their lives from those who are fleeing for their lives? Why should one humanitarian crisis abroad lead to a domino effect that will create even more crises at home?

At the root of all of this is religion. Specifically, Islam. Many of my fellow atheists have pointed out that Islam is inherently evil, and they are far from unjustified in this accusation. But isn't religious freedom one of our core values? Isn't tolerance towards those whose creed differs from our own the very thing which defines us? Especially for us atheists, isn't it our duty to protect others from religious-based prejudice?

There are those I used to agree with, like the British video-blogger Pat Condell, who believe that taking in Muslim refugees is killing Europe. Oddly, these left-wing warriors find themselves in agreement with radicals on the right, who want the influx of Muslims stemmed in an effort to preserve cultural identity. Yet on the other hand, there are those who take an opposing view, insisting that speaking out against Muslim terrorism is somehow tantamount to "Islamophobia," xenophobia or even outright racism. And while it is surely wise to condemn Islam while not condemning Muslims, and to embrace individual Muslims as friends while damning minority Muslims who turn out to be terrorists, we do so at our own risk. Muslims consistently fail to blame their fellow Muslims for this, and there are those on the left who play along with this touchy-feely kind of myopia.

How does one square this circle?

I think I know how. It takes a form of wisdom which we are not prepared to hear, and which we may not be mature enough for as a culture, but we must embrace it if Western democracy is to survive. And it is simply this:

Religious freedom is not an absolute.

No, really! One cannot scream "fire" in a crowded theater. One also cannot commit libel, and cost another his or her fortune by spreading untrue slander. Freedom of speech is not an absolute. We have the freedom to scorn our leaders and poke fun at them, but we cannot use curse words on family programming. In like manner, freedom of religion has its limits too. If a Satanist wanted to sacrifice a baby, he would not be allowed to do so. The baby is a non-consenting person with rights. Laws against murder would override any claim of religious freedom. If a prison inmate wanted to file a lawsuit claiming that not getting chunky peanut-butter instead of creamy is a violation of his religious freedom (as once famously happened back in the early 90's), too bad. Religious freedoms don't extend to those who invent one-member-cults in order to try to game the system. By similar reasoning, if a Muslim father wants to kill a child for becoming an apostate, tough shit! The child has its own set of rights which cannot be violated.

Individual freedom outranks religious freedom.

In short, is there room for Islam within democracy? Yes. But is there also room for Sharia? Hell, no!

Sharia runs contrary to everything freedom stands for. It insists upon enforcing what is thought to be "God's laws" over and above laws which protect an individual's rights. To be perfectly blunt, fuck that bullshit!

It's a tricky line to take for an atheist, because here in the U.S., most Christians still struggle with the stupidly simple concept that putting up a nativity scene in front of a city hall is a clear-cut case of religious favoritism. When confronted with this sort of common sense, Christians actually still dare to scream "oppression!" What, then, will we do when the day comes where we must say the same sort of thing to Muslims? Where will we find the fortitude? What will we do when some of them want to force girls who are not their own daughters to stop wearing tight clothes in public schools? Or only serve halal meat in the cafeteria? What will we say when they threaten violence if they don't get their way? When they want to interrupt their work schedules five times per day when their secular coworkers must continue working until their regular break times? How will we have the strength to deny them undue favoritism if we cannot even understand the concept of denying undue favoritism to the relatively more benign and pacifist religion of Christianity?

We'd better figure it out soon. Because if we don't, Europe and the U.S. really are in trouble.

Am I saying Islam must water itself down or be outlawed? You bet your ass I am! Because religion is a drug, and drugs should be regulated. The softer drugs, alcohol or cannabis, can and should be legal. People need their recreational toxins.

But the hard shit can kill you.


Eric

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Change. Now!


Everyone is shocked and horrified at the terrible realities taking place in Charlottesville, North Carolina. Yes, people are actually defending a statue of Robert E. Lee which is being moved, not destroyed, to a location which no longer endorses our nations Antebellum slavery past. People are actually marching in KKK rallies, openly. And our president is actually being mute on how wrong all this is.

And yes, these neo-Nazis have just killed a counter-protester with a vehicle. Yes, Nazis have just killed an American on American soil.

In the midst of this is Peter Cvjetanovic, an undergraduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who got identified as one of the attendees there.

"I am not the racist you see in the images," he is telling the world. After all, he wants the world to know that just because he marched and yelled and screamed racist shit, that doesn't mean he's a racist.

No, really.

Well, here's a thought, Peter. You're trying to put your ideas out there, and are frustrated that people won't listen. You want the world to understand your point of view, but people just aren't interested in seeing your side of things.

Frustrating, isn't it?

And maybe this underscores what I've been saying for years, that when one is confronted with contrary evidence, the thing to do is change one's own position first. Don't like that the overwhelming majority hates you? Maybe the overwhelming majority is right, for once!

Maybe, the person whose mind needs changing is you!

Don't get me wrong, it's hard to change one's ways, believe me, I know. I lost everything when I gave up my faith in Christianity. My career, my circle of friends, my standing among those in my community. It was a rough patch. So I can relate to you feeling daunted about the prospect of you giving up your bigotry. I can understand how you might pale (pardon the pun) at possibly losing your fellow David-Duke-supporting friends. I can see why you would want to retain your rank as a junior lieutenant in a small (very small!) army, rather than become a mere private in the army of what you mistakenly presume to be your (much larger!) enemy. Yeah, I get why you hesitate to throw that away.

But likewise, I can also not understand why you don't! I did it, and I'm a wuss. What the hell's your excuse?

However, I'm not just talking about you. I'm talking about everyone. Yes, everyone. We all, ALL, hold onto beliefs which we shouldn't, myself included. (Okay, I've gotten the major ones out of the way, but the minor ones I'm still working on.) We all do stupid shit, like mistake real news for fake, listen to Alex Jones (instead of me!), prefer the evil to the good, and attack people for exercising their own private freedom in a way that we don't like, as if that were at all our business. We all have our pet demons.

Well, I say kill your pet. Because it's not a pet, it's a leech. And it's sucking your brain dry.

This doesn't excuse you. Just because we're all in the same boat doesn't mean you and your misguided buddies aren't drilling holes in the bottom.

Knock it off!


Eric

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

What About The REAL Thieves?


Many people are glad at the recent news story that Special Prosecutor Mueller brought in a grand jury several weeks ago as art of his Investigations into Russia hacking the 2016 presidential election. It shows that Mueller will not be gotten rid of easily, and that's a good thing. But in this development, I wonder, is anyone really going to go after the REAL election thieves?

Is anyone going to hold the media accountable?

Don't get me wrong. The Russia-Trump connection is huge. A foreign power attempting to interfere with our election process is something we can never tolerate. But Russia didn't cost us the election. Russia didn't give us Trump. No, Hillary had it in the bag 12 days out, so much so that Republicans feared losing the House and Senate.

Then the James Comey non-scandal hit.

The media, like a cat with a laser pointer, pounced upon thin air. The mouse, which was the reality that Huma Abedin, not Hillary Clinton, was the one in trouble, went unreported. To this day, I believe this fucking blog was the only news outlet to point this out! The media reported that the FBI was re-opening its investigation into Hillary's emails, even though this was not quite true. And then, three days out, Hillary was cleared again. But that's not how the media reported it, either. Instead, they reported, "Hillary cleared, but is it too late?" Well, fuck, it is if you report it like that! Seriously?

And the conservative media machine saw its chance. They kept up their ads which said Hillary was being re-investigated. This was where the media had a moral obligation to report this as flat-out lying! But they kept quiet. The public was fooled. The pro-Hillary bounce which should have happened, never came.

And where is our Special Prosecutor for this? Who will hold the media accountable for putting a headline-generating photo-finish ahead of the will and betterment of the American people?

Who watches the Watchmen?

Th Russia connection will eventually take Trump down. But let's not forget who the real thieves were. It wasn't Putin and his cronies. It is everyone from Hannity to Maddox who just plain dropped the ball. The picked up the bat and hit us over the head with it!

Let's not get fooled next time.

Eric

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Foxconn Standard


So Republicans are busy breaking their arms while patting themselves on their own backs over their major deal with Foxconn, bringing a major LCD manufacturing plant to Paul Ryan's district. It's a win, I'll grant. When the other team makes a great play, all you can do is tip the cap and say, "well one." But not everything is quite so rosy.

First, let's understand that most of these new jobs will not go to Wisconsinites. The brain-drain caused by Walker's slash-and-burn approach to education has created a dearth of marketable skills within the state, and Foxconn will have to bring qualified workers in from outside Wisconsin, or even the U.S., to fill their openings. The employees laid off by Chrysler in Kenosha will not find much here. Thywill remain stuck at Amazon, filling orders for $11.25 an hour, and pining for the glory days when an honest days work was something you could live off of. That's not to say that these jobs won't have a positive impact. Those people who come to Wisconsin from India or elsewhere will shop at local stores, buy valuable real estate, and eat at local restaurants, all of which will increase the overall well-being of Southeastern Wisconsin. But it won't be the boon that Ryan, Johnson and Trump claim it will be.

That being said, there is one additional positive effect, and that is the valuable lesson in economics this presents to us. You see, Republicans have now demonstrated that government spending to create jobs works - which is exactly what Democrats have been saying for decades. The only difference between the two parties on this one is that one party says government programs and education creates jobs, while the other says that corporate welfare creates jobs. Both are correct, as it turns out. The only question is whether you agree with lining the pockets of a foreign corporation to create those jobs or not.

Republicans are now forced to answer a fundamental question: If one believes that this government spending to create jobs is acceptable, what is the difference between this corporate welfare and more traditional welfare? In both cases government money is doled out to improve the economy. But who is the bigger deadbeat? The local citizen, or the foreign corporation who profits off our tax dollars? The answer is simple: if one believes in corporate welfare, one must also believe in traditional welfare.

I'll bet all the CEO's of this corporation play golf with a handicap.

We could have lured jobs here by having the best engineers and highest quality workers in the state. Instead, we chose to preach water and drink wine when it comes to believing in the "free market."

Because these jobs were anything but free.


Eric

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bill Maher


Well,  my last post was a bit far-fetched. I was convinced I was on to something, but there was a big hole in my argument. If Trump were really willing to kill Comey rather than allow him to testify, why then was he allowed to testify? Perhaps Comey only thought his life were imperiled, but it's just as likely that writing things down immediately when they are still fresh in one's mind is a good way to ensure accuracy. And, as my wife put it, I may have been "hearing zebras."

But I digress.

Today I want to discuss Bill Maher, and for once I'm not talking about vaccines and autism.

Bill Maher slipped up a week ago. While interviewing Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, the Senator told Bill he would "like to see you work in the fields," by which he meant he wanted Bill to come visit Nebraska sometime. Bill responded by saying "Work in the fields? Senator, I'm a house nigger." When his audience groaned, he said, "It's a joke."

Yes, it was a joke, and a bad one. The Senator was from Nebraska, not Alabama. What made Bill think of southern plantations instead of giant tractors?

I'm in the habit of watching Real Time on the Saturday morning after the show. Usually HBO GO has the episode available by then. But that weekend, they didn't. I only knew there was even an episode of Real Time because of the news stories covering Bill's faux pas. I checked again Saturday night, and again Sunday. Still nothing. Finally by Monday, it was available. I didn't get around to watching it until Tuesday. When my wife and I did, we saw the segment where Bill made his well-publicized use of the n-word. But HBO had edited out the audio for those few seconds.

Let me say that again: HBO censored it!

Bill apologized, and rightly so. But that hasn't  made it go away. He spent much of yesterday's show trying to make up for the mistake. It didn't work. Rapper Ice-T tried to school Maher by telling him, "It's our word now, you can't have it back."

And here's where I draw the line. Bullshit! It's nobody's word, Mr. T. Or should I call you Ice? Because America is all about freedom of speech, and therefore it's illegal to take any word and say "You can't say that." (Although the FCC still needs to learn this important lesson.) If nobody gave a damn about Quentin Terantino saying "dead nigger storage" in the movie Pulp Fiction, and if conservatives readily forgave Don Imus for referring to some black female college basketball players as "nappy headed ho's," then nobody has much of a case against Bill Maher, especially when he spoke off the cuff and then apologized after. No one should be calling for him to be fired, and the whole damned world needs to lighten up.

Here's the real problem: It's racial segregation of a word. And if racial segregation of people is wrong, it is equally so for language. Yes, "nigger" is a racially charged word, and rightly so, but if whites are not allowed to say it, even in jest, why do they want rebellious white teenagers to buy the rap music that uses it? It's a double standard (and bad art - an insult to the black gods of music who came before).

Frank Zappa said it best. "Any word may be used by anyone, anytime. Period." I'm paraphrasing, but he did say something very much like that. And he was right. Censorship is evil. Censorship based on racism, whether it be Afro-centric or Euro-centric, is even more evil. And such evil should not result in the firing of a man like Bill Maher.

Bill fights against conservibullies week after week, interview after interview. Even an expert swordsman can't avoid getting nicked all the time. Bill Maher is one of our best warriors, and we can't afford to lose him now, just as we couldn't afford to lose General Patton after he struck a private across the face before the invasion of Normandy. When even the Reverend Al Sharpton has to reach all the way back to Bill's days on Politically Incorrect to find another clip where Bill made a similar mistake, we have to be impressed with Bill's overall batting average.

If we don't fire sports heroes for beating up their spouses, then we can't fire Bill Maher for having one honest slip of the tongue.

There aren't many absolutes, but one of them is freedom of speech. And freedom of speech means freedom to misspeak, both accidentally, as in Bill's case, or even on purpose.


Eric

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Why Did Comey Write Notes?


Ah, so many things I've wanted to blog about lately. I've had so little time. But this time I've found a few minutes, and I can't help but make a simple observation that I think everyone ought to know about.

By now, many of you have been listening and/or watching the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey to Congress. Lots of interesting things can be found in what he's saying. But one thing stands out, and as usual, nobody but me seems to have noticed it. After Trump clearly told Comey to ease off on the investigations into his campaign's possible connections with Russia, Comey wrote down notes regarding what Trump said.

How interesting. He wrote down notes afterward?

Why on earth would he think that would do any good? If such written records were produced, it would still be hearsay, and he's smart enough to know that. So why write it down?

There's only one reason to write notes down after the fact. The notes can be hidden away and produced in evidence after one is killed.

Yes, James Comey was in fear of his life after his meetings with Trump.

Why wouldn't he be? After all, here was the president clearly breaking the law by telling Comey to break the law. Comey, as a smart FBI man, knew what that meant. It meant that he had just witnessed an impeachable offense, and that the best way for Trump to avoid the consequences was to kill the witness!

The fact that Comey felt the need to make immediate written records, I think, is the most damning part of his entire testimony. He feels that Trump will kill people, even FBI people, if it means staying in office.

You can't kill us all, Donald. You can't kill us all.


Eric

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Monday, March 20, 2017

MORE Military Spending? Really?


So, it appears that The Big Joke (read our current non-president), has released a wish-list budget outline. In it are funding slashes for every government program that does any good, and an increase in only one government program - military spending. In his words, he wants to "rebuild our military."

Now, the U.S. already spends more on its military than the next 8 nations combined. China, the second-largest military, spends roughly one third of what America does, and Russia one sixth. If we want to improve our military, the solution is not additional spending, but rather cutting the waste of what we spend now.

Eisenhower warned us about the dangers of the Military Industrial Complex, and he was eerily prophetic. Congressmen who want to create jobs in their district have always blindly approved appropriations for government contracts to build more planes we don't need, more tanks we will never use, and more jarheads that we will never deploy. The problem with our military isn't the amount of money we're spending. It's that our military is a fat, bloated, inefficient sauropod. And what's worse, it's obsolete.

The old saying goes that generals spend decades preparing for the previous war, and that's true with America's military. The next war will not be fought with planes, bombs and aircraft carriers. These things have their place, but there's a new front which has opened up. The age of nuclear weapons has imposed an uneasy truce among all nations when it comes to conventional warfare. Instead, wars are reduced to third-world skirmishes and Islamic turf-wars. But there's a new kind of warfare now, and the next true war will be fought in this way. I am speaking, of course, of cyber warfare.

This past election might have been the first battle fought on that front. And guess what? We lost! Our asses got kicked by Russia, a nation with an economy roughly half the size of France. We are woefully unprepared to deal with the realities of a tech war, and we are vulnerable. Truly vulnerable!

It is useless to build more missiles when hackers could potentially turn those additional missiles against us! What our military needs now is not more nuts and bolts - we're just fine there! What it needs are more cyber warriors! It needs the best hackers and counter-hackers that are trainable! And it needs them to protect not just military assets, but civilian ones as well. There needs to be a fifth branch of the service launched. Perhaps we can call it the Cyber Corps. And its mission must be to protect our power grids, our data systems, even our elections from outside cyber attack. Right now. Because at the moment, if an enemy wants to attack us, that's where to do it. The soft underbelly of our nation lies in its over-dependence upon technology which it only barely knows how to use.

How do we achieve getting the best hackers? There is only one way: education, education, education! Because the best hackers are also the best programmers, and the best programmers are the best students in math and science. We need to not only have an entire branch of the military devoted to cyber warfare, we need the personnel to staff it. And we cannot get that by slashing education funding or farting around with voucher programs that have been proven not to work in the field.

The biggest threat to our national security is Betsy DeVos!

Besides, if we really want to increase military spending, we could better do so by supporting the veterans of the wars we've already fought. We could actually fund our military hospitals and hire more doctors and nurses to care for our soldiers. We could clear the backlog of veterans waiting for medical services. We could train them for new occupations after they get home so that they are not unemployed after they set the uniform aside.

So let's rally around this theme: Less hardware! More cyber personnel! Because this is one area of over-bloated government spending where we really could get a lot more done for a lot less cash!


Eric

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