Saturday, November 22, 2008

Question of the Day

When the Mormon Church names the author of this book their second-favorite author, right behind Orson Scott Card, who should be more offended: Mormons, Twilight readers or Orson Scott Card?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

FCC, Meet the Constitution

I bring up the FCC because of this good news; Obama just named Susan Crawford, a strong advocate for the internet and net neutrality, his administration's co-lead on the FCC transition. Apparently, Crawford believes that internet access should be considered a "utility" - under which circumstances telecom companies would be held responsible for providing it faithfully, just as gas and electric companies are currently. I actually think a friend of mine made remarks very much to this effect this some months ago, remarks I dismissed as foolish - maybe he's prescient.

Mentioning the FCC, though, always makes me want to ask: how have the FCC's market-oriented policies never been labelled unconstitutional?

Now, just to be clear, I am absolutely not asking how a body like the FCC came to have the powers it does. I know how that happened: we're a puritanical nation run by anxious, busybody mothers who can't stand the idea that their children might be exposed to a four-letter word before they turn 18. I'm also not asking what practical purpose is served by the FCC; I guess you probably do need a body to regulate, you know, unlawful use of closed frequencies or unauthorized access to flux capacitors or something (it may be clear, in retrospect, that I don't really get what the FCC does). What I'm asking is how none of their "indecency" fines have ever been challenged and brought before the Supreme Court.

I mean, let's put this into perspective. Under the current censorship law (I can't think of anything else to call it), 2005's Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, the FCC is empowered to impose something like a $325,000 fine on every "indecent" act or speech in a public broadcast - that includes anything from a "wardrobe malfunction" to an f-bomb. In what possible way is that not a violation of free speech and free press? Isn't the very purpose of the Bill of Rights to ensure that Dan Rather can get on the evening news and tell me to fuck my mother without getting anything but fired?

You know what, this point seems so self-evident, I'm hard-pressed even to elaborate further. How has censorship not been seriously challenged in a country that claims it has anything like free speech?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Self-Righteous Pricks

DISCLAIMER: You’re totally allowed to not like Obama. I’m not saying you have to agree with me. I’m just directing this at a certain variety of idiot.

Well Obama has been elected. Glory and hallelujah. Yes we can. Etc. But there are some people out there in Amurica that aren't satisfied with the results. I'm not talking about McCain supporters. I'm talking about the guys that wouldn't have been satisfied no matter what the outcome was. The people that were declaring the outcome of the election to be negative after it became apparent that Ron Paul would never win, which took much longer than it should have for them. I'm not even really talking about Libertarians, whose philosophy I actual agree with in certain areas (I have a blog post planned on this topic for later). I'm talking about these fashionable cynics.

You know the guys. They're usually freshmen in college, at least in spirit. They take an intro to polisci class as an elective and annoy everybody with their retarded bullshit. They think they know more about politics than anyone in the country because they read a blog once. A blog with fucking revolutionary ideas. They insist that Barack Obama and John McCain are totally the same, perhaps using as evidence something vague like "they're in the pockets of the major corporations", and they like to drop truth on people, which basically amounts to being condescending jerks to Obama supporters and parroting political philosophy they read about on the internet, while not knowing anything about how to apply it to current events..

They're not completely wrong about Obama. They're just obnoxious and their ideas are unrealistic. And whether they admit it or not, most of these guys are just trying to be "edgy". They try so fucking hard to be outside the mainstream. It would be cute if they weren’t so goddamned unbearable. These guys, these guys. I tell ya.

Don't use the term Republocrats. It makes you look like a moron.

Don't tell me that Obama and McCain are exactly the same. It makes you no better than your slightly less informed cousin: the dreaded undecided voter. Such over-simplifications are unbelievably naïve.

And for the love of god, under no circumstances should you ever, EVER use the phrase "Wake up, Sheeple!" unironically. This is one of the only phrases in the English language that has the power of immediately letting me know that you are a worthless human being.

Yes, I agree that a lot of core problems with the government will probably not be changed under Obama. I am fully aware of this. Please stop telling me about it. The difference is that I am realistic, so I'm not going to bother getting mad about it. At this point, any sort of progress at all is positive. I don't care how small it is. Obama will (probably) do it, and it will be a step in the right direction. If you want guys like Ron Paul or whatever politician you support to be taken seriously, it's not going to happen now. Stop being shocked and appalled about it. Obama will start to open the door if we’ll let him. As long as we stay on his ass to do the shit we actually do expect him to do, real change will come. Eventually. Change on the level you're talking about doesn't happen overnight without a violent revolution. So either start a violent revolution or calm the fuck down and start trying to make gradual change from within the system. Just being a smug prick isn't going to help anything. Always remember, there is a difference between rational and thought out cynicism and the kind of bullshit you practice. You need to learn this before you go around lecturing "Obamamorons" (or whatever immature haughty word for Obama supporters is in style this week) about their own problems. To quote Carry On:

I thought the ideas we shared could only make us strong
But you're caught up in self-righteousness; it shows in the words of your songs
And now you've separated the best of us, the only ones that seem to care
You forced your ideas where they didn't belong
You separated the scene and that's fucking wrong
Fuck you and your politics
In the real world they don't mean shit
I know you're a fraud
It's only a phase
In time you'll be over it

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Case for Science

By now, some of you must have heard of this case, in which a doctor experimenting with leukemia patients may have accidentally discovered a cure for AIDs.

Now, the language I've chosen there was deliberately optimistic to the point of foolishness - there's no reason (yet) to conclude that this is anything other than a fluke, or that the principle established here can be harnessed in a practical way. It seems fairly likely that AIDs will be with us for a while.

However, this serves to illustrate perhaps the most fundamental law of science: "One sometimes finds what one is not looking for."

Don't recognize that quote? It's from Sir Alexander Fleming, who accidentally discovered penicillin in what may be the greatest medical breakthrough of all time.

Electrical current? Luigi Galvani, playing with frogs. X-Rays? William Roentgen, playing with cathodes. Vaccination? Louis Pasteur, playing with chickens. All revolutionary; all accidental.

What's my point? My point is that a year before each of these discoveries was made, none of these scientists could have stood before a Congressman, hat in hand, and said "Well, you see, Mr. Congressman, there's a good chance I'll make bacterial infections a thing of the past." "It's entirely possible I will render all our most serious pathogens harmless." "Odds are solid that there won't be an Industrial Revolution without me." The average scientist, if forced to give a one-sentence prediction of what his or her study will produce, won't manage anything better than: jumpier frogs. Dead chickens. The Higgs boson.

These discoveries are only revolutionary in retrospect - at the time, it seemed like ordinary men were doing workaday science with middling results. Every year, tens of thousands of studies just like the ones I've mentioned conclude uneventfully, contribute some minor detail to the body of human knowledge, and retire to the archives forever. All studies aren't immediately interesting; all knowledge isn't useful right now.

But it's knowledge. You get it because it's there. You discover it because you can. You learn everything that's out there because none of it is meaningless and some of it might even change the world. You play with mold, you might cure syphilis. You play with marrow, you might cure AIDs. You won't know until you try.

I guess what I'm saying is that whenever we go through a list of studies and grants with a red pen and say "What? $200,000 for bread mold? That's a mistake," we might be firing the next Alexander Fleming. Now, we might not; obviously we have to draw a line, and practicality must rear its ugly head. But nothing was ever discovered by people who said, there's nothing out here. Let's go home.

At Long Last, a Real Debate

This is unlikely to excite anyone else, but I've finally gotten someone to chomp my bait and engage in a serious debate about the history and future of marriage. It's over at EvolutionBlog; my first comment is about halfway down the page, and it's another dozen or so comments before someone gets in my face about it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Other Shoe

And if anyone needed proof that it ain't over yet...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

After the Storm

When George W. Bush was elected our 43rd President, I was 13 years old. It was towards the beginning of my eighth grade year, and I didn't know anything real. I knew I was a Democrat; I knew Gore lost; I knew Bush was stupid, and I knew he shouldn't have won. I felt something like outrage, very dim, akin to the feeling I got when I saw a massacre on TV, or read about the Holocaust; very bad things that were very far away. I was 13, and I thought I'd live forever. This too shall pass.

Less than eight months after Bush was sworn into office, terrorists struck the World Trade Center, killing thousands and spawning an international nightmare. Trapped as I was in an airtight bubble of liberal intellectualism, I didn't know anyone who thought Saddam was involved; I didn't know anyone who thought there were weapons in Iraq. Even I, who knew nothing real, knew something was happening in America. I knew things were moving outside my field of vision, and I knew no one I trusted was controlling them. Something was changing.

By November 2004, I knew a few more things, one of which was that no sane person would elect George Bush a second time. Nobody I knew was wild about Kerry - he was stiff, professorial, uninspiring - but nobody cared what he was. We cared what he wasn't, and that was Bush - Bush, the Antichrist. Bush, the Great Satan. Bush, the Bringer of all Evil, attempted killer of the American Dream. The Democrats could have run a corpse, and the corpse would win. I knew this. I was 17, and I knew it.

Bush won again, and the nightmare began in earnest.

There's no way I can explain to anyone from any other generation what it was like to spend those eight long years in Bush America. Everyone spent eight years, but my friends and I spent those eight years - those formative years, those years where you really learn the way the world works. We spent those eight years learning that the government would do anything it could to own us, and that the best we could hope for was to keep our noses down. We learned that you mustn't grow a beard, or you're a terrorist; we learned that you mustn't smoke a joint, or you're an enemy of the state. We learned that wanting universal health care makes you a communist, wanting universal marriage makes you a fag, and wanting free press makes you a tool of the liberal media. We learned that our enemies hated our freedoms, the greatest of which was to give up all freedom for some tiny measure of safety. We learned that this was one nation under God, and that God loves guns and hates gays and gave us the right to be America, World Police. Bow down, or prepare to be annihilated.

We learned that oil was thicker than blood. We learned that everyone has a price. We learned that the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, and only the good die young.

For the first few years, we were angry; we couldn't believe that this ignorant, bigoted oil baron had appealed to the lowest common denominator and won himself a country. We took to the streets, we protested the war, we talked among ourselves of something happening to change this. The cavalry was coming, and the world would soon be right again.

The cavalry never came, and by the time Bush took office again there was no one my age with much hope left. We were starting to realize how good the Clinton years had been; we were starting to think we would never see another surplus, that we would never end this war, that they'd strike down Roe v. Wade and then Fred Phelps would run for office and then nobody would care if Adolph Hitler took the throne.

We were starting to think that the great American experiment had failed. A hundred-year flare of hope and prosperity had sputtered and died, and we'd missed it. No one would ever want to come here again.

Barack Obama's election doesn't mean that we were wrong. It doesn't mean Roe v. Wade is here to stay, or that the poor will be rich, or that the sick will be well. It doesn't mean that my friends and I are free to say what we want, think what we want, write what we want or worship what we want. It doesn't mean that Bush and his kind are gone, or even that they don't have power anymore.

It means, though, that there is another America besides Bush America. It means that things change, and democracy still happens, and there is a chance - a chance - that I have not missed the American Dream. It means there is a chance that something better is ahead - that things do not always get worse.

It means that when I was 13 and I thought, this too shall pass, I was right.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It's just after midnight, November 4th. One way or another, our future begins today.

That's all.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Bright Side of Life

So today I opened up reddit, as is my wont, and saw a link entitled: "McCain four times more likely to win if Obama loses in PA! Come on, PA, GOTV!" The link led here, or more specifically here, to a site measuring McCain's odds for victory at just under 3%.

Now, a look at the reddit poster's history reveals (to my distress) that he is an Obama supporter, and that the headline was meant ironically. But man. For a second there, weren't you just praying that was someone's serious attempt to be optimistic?