Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Abortion protesters never get old

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

I don’t have much time to blog today, as Obama’s acceptance speech at Invesco Field (combined with the fiasco of the change of venue) is sucking all of the oxygen out of the atmosphere. It was actually hard just to find time on a computer. So I’ll focus this post on one little quirky aspect of every Democratic Convention I’ve been to so far (every one since 1992): abortion protestors.

In case you haven’t realized, the abortion protesters are really serious about what they do. They aren’t violent at least, so they tend to get a response of bemused indifference from the police instead of active hostility. This allows them to demonstrate a lot closer to the convention venues, so they’re typically the only protestors convention-goers ever see (along with all of the pro-Democratic protestors like Code Pink, anyway). The more violent demonstraters, like the anarchists, are typically relegated to having clashes with hundreds of riot-clad police blocks away, so you really only see them on television.

The abortion protester’s favorite tactic is to wave around large banners of partial-birth abortions. That their images don’t really have much relevance to the vast majority of abortions doesn’t faze them; they’re going for the extreme example. So as a result you get to see all sorts of fun pictures of mutilated fetuses on your way into and out of the convention. It’s kind of cruel to force the little kids who are going with their parents to see this kind of stuff, but I guess that’s the First Amendment for you.

Unfortunately, I think their tactic has backfired on me. I’ve seen these images so much that they don’t even viscerally affect me anymore (and a visceral reaction is all they have going for them). They only have so many pictures of mutilated fetuses to work with, and I’ve seen them all. So I’ve resorted to making sarcastic comments when I go past these people, like “Yummy!” or “Thank God that one was aborted, look at how ugly it is!” Consider it a counter-trolling of sorts.

In the end, none of the photographs these protesters have shoved in front of my face have changed my views on abortion at all. I’m still pro-choice, and that belief is not based on any visceral reaction, but rather a long and considered internal debate. And keep in mind, photographs of any number of surgical procedures are pretty much guaranteed to be visceral. I’m sure a photograph of a full face transplant surgery in progress is a lot more disturbing than any of their abortion photographs, but it wouldn’t serve as evidence to convince anyone to ban the procedure.

To their convention-goers’ credit, they are responding to the protesters well, which is to say they’re completely ignoring them. Trying to engage people this far gone in a debate is a non-starter, so it’s best not to even bother. That’s why my brief remarks to them are flippant at best, and I never stop moving as I deliver them. Plus, nearly all of their arguments are prejudiced on religion anyway, so when they try to “convince” me they completely miss the mark. We don’t even share the same worldview.

And on one last note, it’s interesting to see how the abortion protesters have recognized the power of language. They distort their language to their own aims, no matter how inaccurate it is. Thus every month-old embryo isn’t referred to as an embryo, but as a “baby” or “child”, which is of course thoroughly inaccurate.

Initial impressions of Denver

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Here are some of my impressions of Denver so far, in no particular order (you may recall I’m here for the Democratic National Convention).

The teenagers here suck. Talk about midwest suburban angst. I’ve seen so many piercings, bad haircuts, and outright horrible emo-style outfits. Columbine actually makes some sense to me now. The teenagers that weren’t busy pissing me off with their stupid appearances were busy pissing me off by begging for money. I’ve never seen so many young beggars before (some of whom appeared homeless and baked out of their mind). Seriously, get a goddamn job. Maybe dropping out of high school wasn’t the smartest decision you ever made. One group of hoodlums begged my parents for money, saying “I’ll be honest, I just want a beer” (that might work when begging from college students, but not from Baby Boomers). And then as we passed them for a second time in the night they got all hostile, hurling insults at us. I don’t think they quite get the idea of begging.

The Hyatt Convention Center Hotel is nice. The Colorado Convention Center itself is huge, and it’s just being used as a staging ground for the actual Convention, which will take place at a basketball stadium and then a football stadium. There’s a good pizza place a block away from the hotel.

I ran into James Carville in our hotel two nights ago (this was either my second or third time meeting him, I can’t remember). He’s still as freaky looking as ever.

The Media Party last night at Elitch Gardens (which is actually a Six Flags) was fun. Imagine going to a normal amusement park, except the lines are a lot shorter and everything — food, games, alcohol — is free. The games of chance become frankly unbalanced when one has unlimited free tries at winning them. I saw so many people struggling around with huge stuffed animals. I hope they’re not trying to bring them back on planes anywhere. Also, Flobots performed at Elitch Gardens, which was fun to see, because their single Handlebars has been getting a lot of play time on the local radio stations in Washington D.C. Their bassist was good, but to me the star of the show was their female vocalist/electric violinist who was hot as all hell and good at both of her roles. It’s too bad she doesn’t feature in their breakout single at all.

There are so many police officers in and around the convention center. They’re really taking things seriously. They meander around in groups of four to over a dozen, and travel on foot, in patrol cars, in armored convoys, on bicycles, and I even saw a squad of them hanging on to the outside of a police pick-up truck, garbage-man style. Most of the police officers I’ve seen are equipped with heavy riot load-outs, including fully-shielded helmets, bargain-sized canisters of mace, taser guns, three-foot-batons, and bunches of plastic riot handcuffs. There are parts of the convention center that have more police officers in them than staffers actually going about their convention duties.

So, that’s about it for the first two days. The convention officially kicks off tomorrow, so things will be getting really busy. I’ll bring my camera with me and hopefully I’ll find some interesting people to take pictures of.

The folly of trusting the Bush administration in military manners

Monday, August 11th, 2008

It’s looking like Georgia made the fatal mistake of trusting us, the United States, in military manners, and now they’re paying the price for it. But first, some back story.

George W. Bush is (or was until these past few days, anyway) very popular in Georgia. It’s one of the few countries he’s been on an overseas trip to in recent years where he was greeted with revelry instead of massive protests. And there’s a good reason for it: this administration has been intensely supportive of Georgia, though the way in which it was supportive is now proving to have been ultimately destructive. We’ve given Georgia hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, ostensibly to help them crack down on Islamic terrorism, but it was really about arming yet another break-away Soviet republic as a participant in a long series of proxy wars with Russia.

In response for all of our aid and hawkish military advice, Georgia sent many troops to fight our war of folly in Iraq. They have (or had, since they’re withdrawing to their own country now) the third largest contingent in Iraq, behind the United States and the United Kingdom. For a country of fewer than 5 million people, that’s quite the feat. So we’ve been hyping them up militarily for years now, teaching them that acting like we do (launching preemptive wars and such) is the proper way to conduct business. They missed an important distinction, though: unlike the United States, they don’t have the most powerful military in the world, so they can’t pull it off like we can. And they were fooled into thinking we would come to their aid if Russia ever did respond to their provocations. Essentially, they proved to be Bush’s pawn, discarded at the drop of a hat. It’s no wonder they feel betrayed.

This Russo-Georgian war is yet another disastrous result of George W. Bush’s terrible foreign policies. After the reckless manner in which the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were waged, you’d hope there wouldn’t be any country out there stupid enough to follow our lead on military matters, yet Georgia did, and is now paying the price. Hopefully when Obama is elected we can begin to sort out this mess and have a foreign policy that isn’t so fond of encouraging foolhardy hawkish militarism.

The good old days of American politics

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Man, how I yearn for the good old days of American politics, back when pandering to piety wasn’t a requirement of all candidates. Think Robert Ingersoll could be nearly as successful today? He was politically active for decades, yet gave huge speeches in nearly every city of America deriding religion. He was called the Great Agnostic. Yet he was respected for his views, and an adviser to presidents and candidates alike. His presence was highly desired on the campaign trail.

If you think nothing like this could happen today, you’re probably right. Religion has taken over the public sphere a lot more since those days (despite what Christianist revisionist historians would have you believe), and now every candidate on a national level is forced to pander to all of this nonsense. Obama and McCain alike have made pilgrimages to receive the blessings of various pastors of megachurches. It’s enough to make you sick.

It’s also yet more proof that, out of all minority labels associated with a prospective candidate, “atheist” is the one most likely to dissuade the largest number of voters. That’s right, more Americans would vote for homosexuals, any given ethnic minority, Muslims, women, even felons, than atheists. And people wonder why our country is going downhill — maybe if you’d stop being as damned bigoted as our enemies then it wouldn’t be!

War in the Middle East – this could be fun!

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Rumblings about a potential war in the Middle East with Iran keep pouring in. It makes you think there really is something to this. Is George W. Bush insane enough to launch a third war when we can’t even win the two we’re currently engaged in? Are the Israelis really stupid enough to preemptively attack Iran, which would surely cause them to lose even more favor around the world? Does anyone besides the OPEC countries want the much higher gas prices that would be associated with a regional war in the Middle East?

The difference between attacking Iran and, say, Iraq or Afghanistan, is that Iran can actually fight back. Hence why I put “this could be fun” in the post title — if you’re a hardcore military nerd, anyway. Iraq and Afghanistan couldn’t do anything but sit back and get bombed from the air during the initial stages of our assaults, then our ground forces mopped up the remnants. A war with Iran would be much different.

Iran actually has medium-range missiles capable of striking our forces assembled in the Gulf. Our preemptive strike would have to be perfect, taking out all of their strike capability outside their borders within a few minutes at most, or else we would definitely be experiencing materiel casualties on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War. Planning such an attack is incredibly hard, and it makes you wonder if anyone is seriously attempting it, or if this is all so much saber rattling.

So keep your eyes peeled. If we actually go down this idiotic path of a war with Iran, at least it’s going to be interesting. And Israel had better be very careful about it, or they’re going to have significant civilian casualties from Iran’s forces.

Authors are the only ones to see the fairer side of copyright

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Most netizens agree that copyright is pretty horrifically broken. It lasts far longer than it has any business to, its length keeps getting extended, it’s way too restrictive, and it benefits major corporations a lot more than it does individuals. Most of copyright’s terrible public image has come from the music industry and the movie industry (thank you RIAA and MPAA!). What it hasn’t come from, for the most part, is the book industry. Here’s why.

Across the entire book industry, authors retain the copyright to their works. That’s why they can pick up shop and re-release all of their older novels with a new publisher at the drop of the hat. This ever-present threat is what keeps the publishing industries in line: they have to give the authors good deals or else they’d lose all of their authors. It’s also how JK Rowling can make a billion dollars off a single series of seven books — she retains all of the rights to the series, so when a licensing deal is made to make a movie, she gets the money. You ever heard of a musician or a filmmaker pulling that off? Hell no! Musicians only get paid a pittance from their albums; the majority of the profit comes from concert touring. Filmmakers also don’t make (that) much off their work.

The reason for all of this? In the music and film industry, the publisher gets exclusive publishing rights. There are many musicians out there who’ve switched labels and who can’t legally sell their old music, because someone else owns the rights to it! The same thing happens in the film industry. How absurd is that? The “game” in those industries is so rigged that just to be able to play, you have to give away all ownership rights to something you came up with. That’s how broken copyright is that it allows this to happen.

Now granted, the novel is very much the production of a single person (and a few editors), whereas an album generally has a larger production staff, and a movie especially is made by a lot of different people. It’s harder in the latter two cases to argue that the work is completely owned by a small group of people, especially in the case of a movie studio ponying up hundreds of millions of dollars to produce a movie. But many indie films that are entirely self-financed still get the same raw deal, with their creators having to give up exclusive rights just to get them shown in major theaters. It’s a travesty of copyright.

So go out and support the book publishing industry when you have a chance, as it’s actually not rotten to the core and the authors retain ownership and earn a decent percentage of the profits. As for music and movies, well, you should treat those publishers the same way they treat their creative talent: by royally screwing them over.

This post was inspired by the recent move of the blog The Loom between webhosts for the third time. During each move, the author has retained full ownership of all of his posts, and has been able to move all of them forward to the new host. Yet such a thing in the music industry, simply moving all of an artist’s back catalog to the next label without having to draw up a lot of contracts and pay out a large sum of money, is unthinkable.

Update: After some further research and discussion with friends, it looks like I’m mostly wrong about contracts in the writing industry being more lenient than in the other industries. Dammit. Looks like I got the wrong idea from only considering people who’ve managed to negotiate good contracts. Check out some more book deal contracting issues at this link.

Attention American conservatives: Wikipedias are grouped by language, not by nation

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

Another day, another conservative commentator ‘discovering’ that Wikipedia is a bastion of left-wing liberal thinking. In this case, Lawrence Solomon, a climate change denier with a tenuous grasp on reality, is getting all bent out of shape that his attempts to insert oil company propaganda into Wikipedia are being reverted. He reaches the very tired and predictable conclusion that Wikipedia is left-leaning and biased against conservatives.

In actuality, Solomon just isn’t using the right frame of reference. He’s making the rookie mistake of assuming that the English Wikipedia is the American Wikipedia. It’s not. The Wikipedias are grouped by language, not by nation. This is a huge distinction: for instance, the Portugese Wikipedia has more readers and editors in Brazil than in Portugal. The English Wikipedia thus primarily serves not only the residents of the United States, but also the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, etc., and is also widely read and edited by hundreds of millions of people in other nations where English is used and taught as a second language.

That’s right, the English Wikipedia is even heavily read and edited in countries where English is not the first language of the vast majority of the inhabitants. The reason? Simply put, the English Wikipedia is the best one. It has the most articles, the most editors, the most comprehensive coverage, by far the most readership, etc. The German Wikipedia ranks a distant second. So even if English is not your first language, so long as you have a decent level of literacy in English (which many people do), the English Wikipedia is more useful to you than the one in your native language.

The English Wikipedia thus reflects a global perspective rather than a purely American perspective. This is where all of the complaints of the American-centric conservatives who claim that the English Wikipedia is biased fall flat on their face. The United States is a very conservative nation relative to most other nations. What we consider liberal is considered moderate or even right-wing in other nations. What we consider conservative is considered unthinkable in many nations. For instance, just try to find another developed nation that lets thousands of its citizens die each year of treatable diseases because they treat health care as a privilege for the rich who can afford it rather than as a basic human right. The United States pretty much stands alone in that barbarism.

A lot of really stupid things that we have manufactured controversies over here in the United States, like climate change and evolution, aren’t controversial at all from a global perspective. The English Wikipedia simply reflects that. It’s not a case of censorship of conservative opinions, but a conscious rejection of extreme viewpoints that very few people on a global scale hold. If you can’t handle that, go back to your Fox News, where you’ll never hear anything you disagree with. Meanwhile, Wikipedia is going to be doing what it’s always done, offering up a neutral point of view, which emphatically does not mean an American point of view.

Obama opens up 15 point lead over McCain

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

Hell yeah! Obama has opened up a 15 point lead over McCain. And hopefully, the lead will only grow larger over time. After eight disastrous years under George W. Bush, and now one candidate who represents a continuation of those policies versus one who does not, it’s pretty obvious what the American people prefer. We don’t want war against Iraq, we don’t want war against Iran, we don’t want continued violation of our civil liberties — we want change. Change that John McCain couldn’t possibly deliver.

Seasteading: A path towards real micronations?

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Just a few days ago, I was talking with my officemate about micronations and how awesome the concept is (he had never heard of Sealand before). We both liked the idea, but didn’t exactly see how it would be possible. All of the land on Earth is already claimed, leaving no room to create a new nation in, and the Sealand approach, declaring a new nation on an abandoned World War II-era naval platform off the coast of England, isn’t exactly a widely applicable solution. How conveniently timed, then, that Ars Technica should publish an article on seasteading.

The basic seasteading approach is to create more platforms somewhat akin to Sealand, but to do so far out in international waters, where there is no pesky United Kingdom around to claim ownership. The first few seasteading projects will be pretty expensive, and will only be affordable by the rather wealthy. Don’t look to them to alleviate the problem of overcrowding in developing nations anytime soon — although living on one would sort of be like living in a developing nation, thanks to the very limited real estate and the basic nature of the amenities — facts of life likely to scare off all but the wealthy most dedicated to the concept. I feel an amazing draw to living out in the middle of the ocean, though, and if I could make a living on a seasteading platform, I think I’d like to do so for at least a few years. I should point out that my attraction to the concept is based far more from a survivalist/return-to-nature viewpoint than from a libertarian one.

The concept is perfectly doable with today’s level of technology; that’s the really neat thing. All that’s missing is the capital investment. The basic structure of the platforms is very simple: ballast tanks underwater, a narrow concrete pole at surface level to minimize wave contact, and then a spread out platform on top. Multiple platforms can be attached with cables, gangways, flexible pipes, and wires. If the concept really takes off, a bunch of platforms could go in together on an underwater fiber-optic Internet connection to shore, and then share the connection amongst all of the platforms using a local network.

The Ars Technica article pretty thoroughly covers all of the technological and governmental aspects of making seasteading work, but amongst all the talk of libertarianism and being free from governmental intrusion, I think it’s missing something important. The concept of seasteading isn’t attractive just to libertarians. There’s an undeniable novelty to living in the middle of the ocean in a close-knit community that appeals to some fraction of the population. The idea is very survivalist, very individualist, very science fiction. If it can be done cheaply enough, I don’t think there will be any shortage of people clamoring to get into one, especially on a less-than-permanent basis. It’s true, most people have too many connections to family and friends in their communities to move out into the middle of the sea — but who wouldn’t want to go for a month at a time? Talk about the ultimate get away from it all vacation!

And in the long run, seasteading will play an increasingly important role in human society. As construction techniques get better and economies of scale come into play, land on seasteads will be significantly cheaper than in many places on Earth. Eventually, millions of people may be living in seasteads not because they choose to, but because there is no room for them anywhere on land. The oceans take up two-thirds of the planet’s surface; isn’t the spread of permanent human habitation to them inevitable?

Oh, how amazing it’d be to be one of those first lucky few who go by choice.

Kucinich busts out the Articles

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Dennis Kucinich is introducing 35 Articles of Impeachment against George W. Bush on the House floor as I type this. The best traditional media coverage of it is by the Associated Press, but it doesn’t look like anyone else has picked up on it yet. You’d think this would be big news on CNN, MSNBC, etc.; certainly newsier than the everyday Britney Spears story. But we’ve long known they’re far from unbiased. As usual, the best coverage is on DailyKos.

By the way, I don’t want to turn the comments thread into an impeachment flame war, but to anyone trying to argue that Bush’s conduct does not merit impeachment: what exactly would, in your book? Has any American president in history broken the law to this degree? If we let Bush get away with all of his crimes, what kind of message will that send to future administrations? Nixon was forced into impeachment for a lot less!