theferrett: (Meazel)

Here’s the scary thing no one wants to face: anyone with a grudge could be a terrorist.

That’s the only criteria. Could be a white guy, could be a brown guy. Could be a Christian, could be a Muslim. Could be left-wing, could be right-wing.

Yet we yearn in our hearts to have terrorists be a single, concrete mass.  It’s why everyone wears identical jumpsuits in fictional bad guy organizations.  We want to be able to look at a group of people and go, “There they are.  That’s what a homicidal lunatic looks like.”

The truth?  A homicidal lunatic looks pretty much like everyone else.  Some of them are intense, and weird, and withdrawn…. but so are a lot of people who don’t bomb civilians.  Some of them are well-liked in their neighborhood and sunny, and they have zero problem slaughtering anyone who gets in their way.  Some were bullied, some are bullies.  Some of are intensely religious, some atheists.

The truth is that homicidal maniacs are not a separate group, but a subset of us.  They crack in different ways, for different reasons; there’s no real unifying reason that people decide to kill others.  Anyone could do it, theoretically.  You’d have to know them real well, perhaps better than they’d let you, to realize this shit was boiling inside of them.

The real terror is that it’s fucking hard to tell when someone’s about to snap this way.  Nobody wants to think that their neighbors, their buddies, their friends’ sons would ever be capable of violence.  So we keep trying to slot the latest terrorist fuckery into some category for our comfort, going, “These are the bad guys.”  And then, having determined What Makes People Nuts, we can return to less-concerned lives, where once we deal with Those People we’ll have solved the problem forever and ever.

You can sleep easier once you’re absolutely certain that nobody you know would ever kill.  But you have to take some shortcuts to do it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“Name me the Senator or Representative who ever lost his or her seat because they voted against Gun Control.” – Mark Evanier

The reason gun control bills keep failing in the NRA – I mean, the Senate – despite widespread popular support is the same reason that effective environmental regulations rarely pass: the so-called support is pretty weak, but the opposition is vicious.

Which is to say that no Senator ever lost his job for voting down some green-friendly bill.  People like the environment, sure, if you ask them…. but are they willing to fall on their swords over it?  Will they hound Senator Traitor for months, make this weak-kneed failure on Mother Nature the centerpiece of the next campaign, elect someone who will protect the wetlands?  No.  That’s called “weak support,” in that the polls show a strong “Yes!” but the reality is a shrug.

Whereas if you vote against gun control, the NRA will magnify an already-vindictive opposition.  They do remember.  They will not forget come the next election.  And you will be out on your ass if they can help it.

If this upsets you, well, you’d better take the same approach for gun control that the opposition takes against it.  Remember who voted against the bill this day.  Write them letters.  Tell them you’re gonna vote them the fuck out of office.  Better still, write your local representative the next time you hear about any sort of gun control bill floated, and tell them in advance that they’d damn well better support it, or you will not support them.  Be proactive, not lamentably behind.

In case you need the help in remembering: Here’s the list of Senators who voted against it.  If you’re as upset as you claim, and not just shrugging, then write to them today.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

There’s no piece of news reporting that can compete with the speed of Twitter and Facebook.  That’s because the reporters are an intermediary layer, having to push it through a level of bureaucracy, whereas all someone has to do is Tweet “There was an explosion at the Boston Marathon finish line!” and wham, 10,000 Retweets later, the news is disseminated.

So anyone sane has pretty much abandoned the idea of getting breaking news from CNN.  Anyone who’s watched a major event unfold in real time knows that the official news outlets are often fifteen minutes, a half-hour, beyond the speed of actual events.

What CNN and Fox and the NYT have become, in effect, are the reality check.  Were you to have followed the Boston Marathon tragedy yesterday, you would have seen all sorts of crazy snippets of “news,” many of which turned out to be false.  Savvy net-users knew to take everything with a grain of salt until an “official” news source covered it… which is why, when a major source like the New York Post erroneously reported that a Muslim guy had been taken into custody, people got furious.  The news outlets don’t provide the news any more, they certify it.

Which makes me wonder how long that will happen.  It seems to me that eventually, there’ll be a way of certifying individual sources – i.e., “How trustworthy is Ferrett, anyway?”  You could look over my history and have people vote on how reliable I am at providing information, and in turn have that truthiness-percentage be a way of gauging how trustworthy my ratings for my friends are, and soon enough you would have a personal rating of how reliable a particular news item is.

I can easily envision a future where Fox News does nada – but an aggregator does some mighty complex calculations to say, “The volume of Tweets/Facebook posts about this Boston Marathon event have hit a critical mass, enough to bring it to my user’s attention with an 74% reliability rating.”  Reporters Tweeting directly from the scene would probably have more reliability, natch, but that wouldn’t be related to a news organization per se – it’d be that people had tuned into them before and trusted them.  Users with little experience online probably wouldn’t get a whole lot of traction right away, so if someone’s first post was “Check this video I took of the explosion,” it wouldn’t have much of an impact – but hour by hour, as other news sources came in and confirmed their post, that video would rise to the top of the news posts.

Eventually, the idea of “news” would go away, replaced by a large-scale network of personal probability calculations.  Maybe people would subscribe to groups of especially trustworthy people, making for erzatz news sources – but you could still get really good information just by sifting through people’s sources.   In many cases, more accurate than the stories that could only bubble up through a news department’s bureaucracy.

And when we can get news quicker and validate it on our own, what function will the news serve?  Will they wither away, or will such a movement force them to actually do what they’ve failed to do for years, and weigh in-depth reporting over trivial questions?  Or is our need to see random victims interviewed so strong that news will fall to the simple function of shoving a microphone into someone’s face?

And yes.  I know this new algorithmically-based methodology of news would only serve to deepen biases, for those you mark trustworthy are often those who you agree with politically.  But hey.  You think that’s not happening already?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

When I first read NPR’s “Unfit for Work: the startling rise of disability in America,” it told me something I did not know: we haven’t actually reduced welfare costs in America.

Yes, we’ve managed to give less money via welfare to people who aren’t working… but disability costs have skyrocketed in recent years.  And if you add the two together, it looks like a lot of people who were once on welfare have shifted to disability.  And, so NPR argues, there’s a lot of cahoots among the folks who grant disability payments to only give those payments to the poorest and most deserving.

This fact has, crazily enough, created a backlash among liberals, who are furious that NPR – NPR! – would join the “liberal attacks” on the disabled.  To quote Tiger Beatdown, “…she contributed to familiar hateful rhetoric about disability in the United States, and what it means to be disabled.  Scroungers. Sucking off the government teat. Fakers. Lazy. Slackers.”

But I read that same story a week or two ago, and I saw none of that.  And perhaps that’s because at this point in time, I should be (temporarily) disabled.

For those who are new here, I am a forty-three-old programmer who had a heart attack, and a triple-bypass surgery, about ten weeks back.  Having a triple bypass is tough on the body; they crack your chest open like  crab, breaking every single rib in the process, and then shove your lungs up and around so it takes about six weeks to get your breathing back. Even now, I still have problems lifting heavy objects (lest I strain the still-fragile ribs, which may not fully heal for another three months) and experience chronic exhaustion from the beta blockers.

And when I was in the Cardiac ICU, one of the case workers came up to me and said, “You’re going to need to take three months off from work. File the paperwork now. Get it in before they can deny you.”

Three months? I thought, being a fairly healthy person before that.  What the hell could possibly render me unable to work for three months?  And I trusted my job, who had done right by me for the thirteen (!) years I’d been working for them, and failed to file.

I thought I’d be back working full-time in three weeks.  And while I was working part-time at four weeks, it took me until six weeks out until I’d say I was really back on the clock.

So those foolish, greedy bastards at the hospital just wanted me to suck at the teat of my employer, right?  They were encouraging lazy slackers everywhere!  Forcing my job to subsidize lazy wretches like me!


My job consists of sitting at a keyboard and thinking.  That’s because I was lucky enough to have some connections and some college, and I lucked into a white-collar desk job.  But before that, for a good eight years, my job consisted of working retail – which, inevitably, consists of standing on my feet for eight hours a day and lifting heavy boxes.

I still could not do that.  I’ve recovered astonishingly quickly by heart patient standards, but if my job depended on me heaving around thirty-pound boxes of the latest Tom Clancy hardback?  I’d be fucked.  I’d be lying in front of the television, sweating the countdown, because at this point I’d have two weeks to go and if I couldn’t manage it by then, what the fuck would happen to me?

Now, admittedly, that’s just my temporary sojourn into the Land of the Disabled, and I’m lucky enough to get to walk out after a while.  But that was a constant worry, even when I was young and hale and twenty-five: what if I threw out my back?  Working for Borders, there were a lot of older guys with braces, chewing Advil like it was their last chance, wincing.  And management, who was kind back in those days of well-managed Borders stores, found ways to work the system – shifting these less-physically able folks to slower-paced jobs when they didn’t have to, moving them to the cash register while the rest of us hauled hundreds of pounds of books back and forth.  We all silently agreed we’d pick up the slack, if we could.

If we’d had a dickier management, those guys might have lost their jobs.  I might have.  My family has a history of bad backs.

And so, when NPR pointed out that more people than ever were on disability, that made total sense to me.  In my white-collar phase of employment, a bad back was trivial; my work was all in my head and hands.  But as a blue-collar or lower worker, you’re pretty much judged by your body… and if that can’t function, you can’t get a job.  That bad back may be a permanent lockout from any job available to you, ever.

That’s a problem, because the growing class divide in America means that more people can only get work based on their physical output.  There was a time when Americans could get good, white-collar, office jobs without a college diploma; those days are no more.  There was a time when America’s manufacturing was robust enough to support hierarchies of management, so you might move up from the factory floor; again, that’s mostly dead.

What we as Americans don’t want to face is that our concept that “Anyone can make it in America!” is mostly a lie at this point.  We have all of the social mobility of France or Britain.  And the truth is, if you’re stuck in the lower tier of jobs, your ability to provide for your family is dependent on health.  That flags, and you can’t bus tables for eight hours, mise well pack it in.

So to me, what Tiger Beatdown proclaimed was an article where NPR gave into the welfare-beating hatred of America, I saw as acknowledging a critical reality: we can’t make people work when we, as a society, have quietly engineered it so that the only jobs they can get are physical labor.  Tiger Beatdown makes the grievous error of thinking that stating the fact of “Disability payments on the rise” is the same as “…and that’s a sign that we’re pandering to lazy assholes!”

No.  What I read was an article where judges were desperately trying to be merciful to people in dire circumstances, tacitly acknowledging that there were two levels of existence in America and trying like hell to find the money for these bastards somewhere.  I saw a hellish process that took forever to get onto, the kind of thing you could only get onto if you were both desperate and persistent.  I saw NPR outlining a fiend’s bargain where you agreed to give up the rest of your working potential for a poverty-level $13,000 a year, forever, never getting a raise unless the government unlikely gave you one, forever condemned to living in poverty… and having that be the only sane option because you had some part of your body give out prematurely.

The problem I have with this “liberal attack” is that Tiger Beatdown let it be a liberal attack. I didn’t see slackers, or scroungers, in that article, and I think you’d have to hunt to find them.  What I saw were people getting fucked over by a country that’s slowly grown callous to these folks, and a hard reality that despite years of conservative poor-bashing, there’s a lot of folks who would like to work who utterly cannot, because the system has failed them, and no amount of so-called “fiscal responsibility” can avoid the truth that we have to help them or things are going to get a lot worse.

What I saw was the most stinging indictment of conservative thought I’d seen in a while… And if conservatives saw that evidence as “scroungers,” then I think it’s high time to raise that banner high and say, “No, these people aren’t suckling on your teat, they’re relegated to terror, poverty, and disease because you’ve robbed them of low-cost health care, jobs with benefits, and education.  Now you’re paying the bill, and that payment, as it turns out, cannot be avoided.  So how do we actually fix America and stop demonizing these folks?”

Which is why I’m disappointed. Some people read a pretty goddamned sympathetic article and called them “slackers,” presumably because they had their heads up their asses.  And rather than refuting those points and saying, “No, actually, this is how bad it is for poor folks that these limited options look good to them,” some liberals chose to yell at…. NPR.

I’m in the top 20% of America.  I’ve got a lawyer for my wife and a highly technical job.  And after I post this, I’ll go back to my job, laying on my couch for the next eight hours and refactoring some programs that need reworking.  And I’ll think about how it might be if my wife worked at Denny’s, and my job was the stock room at Target, and shit, how the hell are we going to pay the bills when I’m falling asleep after eight hours of just sitting down?

I wouldn’t be a slacker, then.  I’d be an ailing man in a dire situation.  And by God, I hope someone would devise some better way of helping me than what we have now.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

There’s been a big change in Ohio politics today: Senator Rob Portman has come out in support of gay marriage, stating that his views began changing when he found his son was gay.  Which is good from the more global perspective of “Life may get a little easier for gays in Ohio,” and status quo for the traditional Republican problem.

Because as nice as it is that we now have a new gay marriage champion, one wonders who else we have to truck to Mr. Portman’s door to get him to change his views.  He’s in favor of repealing Obamacare – must his son come down with a terrible disease before he finally considers that lack of health care may be a trouble for some?  Should his son have to work two jobs at McDonald’s for several years, struggling from paycheck to unexpected cost to paycheck, before he finally supports raising the minimum wage?

When can we turn his son black?  Or Hispanic?

Now, it’s not like Rob Portman didn’t know that his anti-gay marriage stance hurt people.  He’s a Senator.  Gays must have talked to him, petitioned him, told him all the standard stories of not being able to be with their loved ones on their death beds, being excluded from insurance, being legally bereft at the most stressful of times.  He knew.  But it gives us one of two unflattering opinions: he either knew, and didn’t care until these policies might have affected his boy’s happiness… or worse, he heard but didn’t really listen, writing off these tales as attempts to manipulate him into taking an unpopular political stance.

That’s the problem with the Republican party: these policies are all fine and well, until it applies to them.  It’s like they’re sociopaths, unable to have any empathy for anyone outside their tribe until someone close to them gets hurt.  And then, hey, maybe we should reconsider.

And because Senators are by definition wealthy – you can’t compete in a race without raising millions of dollars, so even if you’re not personally rich you’re sure not starving – you’ll never see a Republican say, “Well, I’ve seen my daughter go homeless, and so I’ve really come around on helping the poor.”  Won’t happen.

Republicans may get angry at this portrayal, stating that Democrats do the same thing. And we all do, to some extent; it’s a human failing.  And hey,I’m sure many Republicans do care about the poor in some abstract way, thinking a more Darwinian process is what we need to lift all boats.  It’s a poor approach, in my opinion, and often shot through with a preening, “Hey, I work for my money, and all those people are lazy bums,” but it may well contain some errant shreds of compassion for people who work just as hard and haven’t had your luck.  So there’s a pass on that.

But Republicans have been so magnificently cold-hearted in their anti-gay policies, so staunch in their anti-immigration issues, so willing to work to make voting harder for blacks, that one wonders at their ability to consider a question that, at our core, is really what makes us human: “What’s it like for that other guy, anyway?”  And if you can’t possibly get it until you have to experience – and, given the way some worse conservatives ignore their gay kids, perhaps not even then – then you’re missing a vital part of what it means to be a functional person.

Until then, Rob Portman gets a functional thank you.  Because he’s not helping the gays out of any particularly moral crusade.  He’s selfishly doing it so life will be better for his son.  Which is good as far as it goes, but it puts me in the uncomfortable position of wishing trauma and poverty upon his family so that his eyes might be opened some more to the realities he’s trying to inflict upon others.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

When you know you’re skirting Godwin territory, you might as well jump right in.  So.  Hitler has a goofy mustache.

There. I said it.

And when I complain about Hitler, I’ll concentrate on mocking that dippy nose-skirt of his.  What a ridiculous look!  What kind of barber would agree to those premature borders on a hair growth?  I’ll make LOLcats mocking Hitler’s mustache, and I’ll encourage my friends to add funny captions to pictures of Hitler mocking that misplaced soul patch of his, and by the time I’m done he’ll be a laughable cartoon to anyone who reads me.  Just a big old mess of facial hair.

What?  The Holocaust?

The wars he started?

The brainwashing of the young and the overthrow of a democratic government?

Well, as it turns out, anyone not paying real attention to Hitler (and getting their news through your feed) won’t hear a fucking thing about any of that.  Because instead of focusing in on the real and very tangible crimes the man committed, you have decided to focus in on the childish, school-room superficiality that a fifth-grader would find humorous.

Good job!  What you’ve done to the folks not paying attention – which is most of them – is convinced them that the reason you don’t like Hitler is because of facial reasons.  Which will strike many of them as unfair, and mean-spirited – which, yes, you totally are being.  And they won’t get to hear about Hitler’s many murders, because BWAH HAH HAH LOOK AT THAT MUSTACHE is what you’re spending the majority of your time publishing. In fact, by turning Hitler into a cartoon, you’ve actually made it easier to not discuss his policies, which lets your opponents spread the damage that your Hitler-hatred is personal and immature, which in turn lets them keep thinking that there can’t possibly be any valid reasons for disliking Hitler.

You wonder why there’s no real debate any more.  Well, that’s because you – yes, you, you nimrod – have supported this infantile desire to mock a mustache over the real work of dissecting Hitler’s reasonable-sounding policies and explaining the many subtle evils they will cause.  You’ve ignored a serial killer’s murders to focus in on his lack of fashion sense.

Good.  Fucking.  Job.

Likewise, today’s idiocy is that in rebutting President Obama’s State of the Union Speech, Marco Rubio took a rather awkward swig of water.  When I log into Facebook and Twitter, what do I see?  Tons of “HA HA RUBIO LOOKED SILLY ON CAMERA” jokes.  Not, you know, a breakdown of the actual promises in his speech, or a Fact Check of his statements, or even a discussion of why the Republican promises won’t work this time.  Just animated GIFs of a man drinking water.

Are we fifth graders?  Are we so idiotically concerned with style over substances that a man tripping, or coughing, or dressed slightly funny, is enough that it will obliterate everything else that person says?  These are the people running America, and when we reduce their many and potentially harmful policies to “neener neener, look at that stupid spray-on tan” you lower the fucking level of discourse for everyone.  You elevate a cheap, senseless laugh over content.  You train people to start looking for other funny bits to chortle after instead of actually using their fucking brains to debate.

“But it’s funny,” you say, getting surly.  Fuck you, buddy, that’s the point.  Sure, you can interrupt your CEO’s speech with a whoopee cushion and that’s a big fucking hoot, and when that’s all anyone talks about instead of, you know, potentially unionizing to protest the insurance cutbacks he just announced, then you can sure laaaaugh your goddamned way to an absence of doctor.  This is shit that affects people’s lives, and by shrinking it down to a punchline what you’ve done is squashed the level of discourse to an Adam Sandler movie.  Good on you!  You’ve made the world very funny.  And not at all functional.

So stop it.  Stop mocking politicians for the stammers and stutters on-camera, the bad suit choices, the ugly wigs.  Concentrate on the ugly ideas.  Because their wigs aren’t going to hurt you, their funny suits won’t take away your rights, but their policies will cut your budgets and erase your freedoms unless you combat them…. and there you are, making it seem like the most noteworthy thing that Rubio did was drink water funny.  No.  He was outlining the Republican opposition to Obama.  He’s convincing people who didn’t think the water drink was all that notable.  And you are drowning in a tiny bottle full of insipid humor.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

In the wake of America’s latest mass murder, I heard a lot of complaints: “These children are dead! How dare you use this tragedy as an excuse to push your latest political agenda!  Give it a rest and be respectful.”

Now, I can understand if you’re personally unable to deal with political discussions at the moment.  Hearing the raw details about an entire classroom full of kids gunned down was an emotional moment for anyone with a heart.  It’s understandable if you need to step away from the debate to grieve.  I think needing some space to process this is a very human and honest thing, and people should respect your need for silence when they’re in your presence.*

Yet some of those complaints went farther, as if anyone who tried to pass a law or push an agenda based on the latest set of fresh graves was a disrespectful oaf.  To which I say, shut the fuck up.

The reason we politicize this tragedy is because we don’t want any more people killed by maniacs toting weapons.  And like it or not, the only real way we can affect that change is by passing laws to change the shape of society.  Certainly there’s been enough uproar and grief over the repeated spate of killings that if social pressure were enough to change such things, it would have fucking been changed. So something clearly has to be done, whether it’s getting politicians to pass more funding for the mentally ill, or giving cops more leeway in dealing with potential killers, or restricting access to guns, or discovering an effective way of stopping the media from turning killers into celebrities, or even arming teachers.

As it is, your cries of “Don’t make this political!” are the ultimate form of disrespect.  It’s a way of saying: do nothing.  Let’s bury our heads in the sand and hope this doesn’t happen again.

Here’s the thing: I think the folks who want to arm teachers are idiots, but at least they’re trying to push a solution that they think will stop tragedies like this in the future.  They’re utterly, bone-headedly wrong… but I’ll at least give them the credit that they’ve acknowledged how horrible this is and are taking proactive measures to try to head this off at the pass.

Because a tragedy on this scale should create a big, messy argument.  This is a big, messy problem.  Anyone who thinks that one solution will solve all of this is hopelessly simplistic.  It’s not just about banning guns, or better mental health care, or the media, or a lack of morality; it’s a convergence of all these factors, and many hidden ones we have yet to uncover, that is causing this.  We need to have a discussion, an honest discussion, about all the things that led to this grotesquerie… and then, while we still have the motivation, to enact a solution that will help ensure that jackasses like this will never do this again.

That’s what politicizing does: it creates solutions.  And it’s uncomfortable.  It involves listening to things you do not want to hear.  It involves dissatisfying compromises.  It means that yes, any of us might bear some responsibility in this killing, whether it’s in the way we fought gun legislation or the way we eagerly turn the television on to hear juicy facts about the killer.  It’s not fun, and it’s not clean and easy, and it’s like wearing a hair suit because fuck, if it was an easy answer we would have fixed that.

But the debate needs to happen.  And it won’t happen if you’re going, “Don’t politicize this!”, which is usually another way of saying, “I’m made uncomfortable by the fact that I might have some culpability in this issue, so please stay silent in order to enable my lack of soul-searching.”

It’s not pleasant, having these debates.  Yet it was far less pleasant for those shot in this latest butchering, and I think the least you can do is endure a bit of discomfort in an attempt to ensure no one else will be murdered. Which is the true respect.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

There’s been a lot of talk about “the Republican Bubble” lately, and rightfully so.  But a lot of my liberal pals have been discussing the Republicans high-handedly, as though liberals have a one-to-one correlation with thoughts and reality.

I sort of mentioned this yesterday, when I said, “One of the problems that liberals have is that they often think that businesses are magic money-making machines.”  To flesh that thought out further, while conservatives generally think of the market as a continual force for good, liberals think of the market as an unkillable Golden Goose.  Doesn’t matter how many regulations you force companies to jump through, or how many taxes you lay on them – they’re business!  They’ll be all right.  What matters is the people who work for those businesses!

But every new regulation has a very real cost.  Every new tax puts some poor bastard out of business because he can’t compete any more.  Every new nice thing that businesses are forced to do via legislation for their employees means that someone can’t afford to hire a new worker – or may have to lay people off to make his quotas.

And these are not evil.  Because the other liberal bias is to think that any decision based on cash is evil.  Any layoff, any cut in benefits, any restructuring is just a greedy jerk trying to stick his nose in the trough.  But there are also good businessmen, people who care, people who get fucking ulcers because they’ve looked at their books and they can’t afford to keep ten people on-board any more, they have to let two go.

There are hard limits in business.  And whenever you make it harder for someone to do business, you’re hurting someone’s livelihood. And that’s not cool.  A guy’s sunk his entire life into making his own business, investing his life savings to try to make it in America… and suddenly thanks to a flurry of paperwork and incremental taxes nibbling him to death like ducks, he has to go to my wife and declare bankruptcy.

That’s a bad situation for anyone to be in.

Which is not to say that regulation is bad.  You need it to keep businesses in check, because otherwise we’re back to child labor and sawdust in our bread.

But liberals, think of regulation and taxes as surgery – you’re going to be doing some initial damage, and risking doing more permanent injury, in order to rectify a problem.  It’s something that may do more harm than good, if you’re not careful.  A poorly written law can bury someone in useless paperwork, increasing costs across the board and not actually fixing what you wanted to.

With every new law you’re affecting people’s lives just as surely as you are cutting welfare benefits or cutting back on libraries – you’re making it harder for these businesses to get by.  And they will not automatically just get by.  Some of them may go under.  Some people may lose their jobs.  Some people may be heartbroken.

I’m not saying not to do it.  I’m saying not to do it lightly.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Organizing and running a national campaign is such a monstrously complex thing that I’ve actually come to a strange conclusion: the system works.  The guy who gets elected President is, by and large, the one who’s more competent.

(Not “the most” competent, mind you.  Just more than the other guy.)

The reason I bring this up is because of this fascinating article in Ars Technica, describing all the technical problems Mitt Romney had in the last days of his campaign.  TL;DR version: Mitt’s campaign rushed out a huge, cobbled-together piece of software to coordinate efforts, didn’t test how it would perform under crushing, constant load (like, say, Election Day), sent the wrong passwords to large segments of their people, and didn’t actually provide documentation on how to use it until the day before.

And I’m thinking: this is the businessman?  The guy who’s making a series of chump mistakes that any competent corporation would avoid?

Compare to Barack Obama, who looked over the electoral map and said, “Each county is like the FBI and CIA, theoretically doing a lot of the same things but not talking to each other.”  And created a large-scale infrastructure so all the Democratic local offices could share data with each other.  To a large extent, Obama’s victory was about mastering IT.

But I’m not just saying this because I liked Obama!  I first started wondering about it in the disastrous 2004 election, when John Kerry got Swiftboated.

Because Karl Rove was (and is) well-known for going after people’s strong points.  Kerry had been warned by such luminaries as Senator Max Cleland – who lost his legs in Vietnam, and yet the Rove-managed opposition went after his patriotism, airing commercials that accused him of being soft on terror and showing his face next to pictures of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.  He lost, big-time.

So when the Swiftboat accusations arrived, and Kerry’s whole war record was put into question and his medals mocked, what did he do?  According to all reports, he spent three weeks staggered by the immensity of the falsehoods, not sure how to react, and by the time he finally did come out swinging the damage had been done.

And I thought: this is a guy who’s supposed to protect us from terrorists?  Karl Rove might as well sent a letter to his office, saying, “I’MMA GONNA SMASH YOU WAR RECORD,” and he wasn’t prepared for this?  What happens when a genuine terrorist attacks? 

And then I thought: is this man even qualified to be President?

Even now, looking back at the horridness of Katrina and Bush’s slow response, I honestly don’t think Kerry would have done that much better.  And Gore, well, if he couldn’t win the office coming off the immense popularity of the Clinton campaign, reducing what should have been an unbeatable lead to a scrap over 537 votes in Florida, you have to question his ability to lead.

Look.  Presidential Campaigns are a gruelling, two-year-long process at a minimum – one that requires deft political skills, a significant amount of organizing gigantic groups, reacting quickly to unforeseen events, and innovation – which is, largely, the skillset needed to be President.  And the guy who wins is the guy who did better at those skills.

I’m not saying that Bush or Obama is the best guy to be President.  I’m saying that of the two people running that year, going all the way back to my personal memories in 1996, the guy who won deserved the victory.  He was better at that skillset.

Maybe it’s a better test of leadership than we thought.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

It’s easy to see what I thought back in 2004, when the only public face I had was LJ.  You can see all my posts running up to the election (and the scathing condemnation I eventually uncorked after Kerry lost), and as such I’m pretty on the record of what I thought, going in.  Before I posted yesterday’s plea to Republicans, I went back and looked over my October posts to ensure that yes, I was pretty positive Kerry was on the losing side.

Today, however, I’m scattered all over – I make maybe one blog post a day on average, and most of my updates are on Twitter, which is like throwing confetti into the wind.  There’s no history to it.  And so, just to immortalize myself here, let me say this:

We could still fail big-time.

Look, it’s not that I thought Obama was my superhero savior, ready to erase our debt and heal our boo-boos with the might of his Presidential kissyface – it’s that presented with two options, I thought Obama was more fiscally responsible than Romney.  (Mainly because Romney never actually bothered to get into the details of what he’d cut.)  If there had been a choice who I thought was better than Obama (and who could potentially win), I would have enthusiastically voted for him.

But I think there’s a very real possibility that even Obama can’t pull this off.  The Republicans are all like ZOMG IT’S NOW OVER and WE’RE GOING TO DEFAULT and SAY HELLO TO OUR NEW POSITION AS GREECE, and I think that maybe we will wind up in an even worse economic meltdown.  Part of that is because the Republicans are horrifically intractable (filibuster what?), and as such I don’t know whether Obama can hammer out a compromise, and part of that is that I think Obama’s slightly more likely to cut than Romney (as Republicans, despite their rep as fiscally responsible, spend like sailors whenever war comes a-knocking).  But I viewed “a potential compromise” as way better than “Romney’s tactics unleashed.”

So many Republicans are framing the issue as “Oh, you think Obama will fix it all!  You’re so naive!”  No.  I think of Obama the way I think of an experimental drug treatment; hopefully, it’ll work.  It’s better than the side effects of the other drugs suggested.  But none of this is a sure-shot guarantee of success, and if it all fails, then I’m confident I’ve made the best choice of the ones I had available, with the information I had at the time.

So if things do go South, here it is: I wasn’t 100% positive about Obama.  Maybe, like, 70%.  But that was better than the 25% confidence I had in Romney.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Dear Republicans:

I know the despair you feel this morning, and sympathize, because I’ve been there.  In 2004 my stiff, robotic millionaire lost to a President he should have soundly thumped, and I was so hurt I took a week off from the Internet afterwards.  I am completely sympathetic with that slow terror that the country is now in the hands of an incompetent, and the voters don’t even know it.

But I noticed a weird difference between the way Republicans and Democrats reacted to a losing candidate.  In 2004, when the polls turned against Kerry and it was obvious he was going to lose, the Democrats asked “How can we fix that?” Oh, they asked in their glum, incompetent way, but when I personally talked to other Democrats both in real life and online, we were all pretty cognizant of the fact that Kerry was the underdog.

The Republicans of 2012, however, became increasingly convinced that Romney was going to win.

Everywhere I looked on Twitter and Facebook, I saw my Republican friends – not straw men, but actual people – talking about how terrible Nate Silver’s methods were, how these Rasmussen polls showed Romney’s real strength, and eventually you got the travesty of, which cherry-picked the data and even today has their prediction of not just a Romney win but a landslide, Romney 311 to Obama 227.  (Actual result: Obama 332, Romney 206.)

It all crystallized for me when my friend Brad Torgerson said, “Liberals and Democrats have Nate Silver and his 538 blog. Conservatives and Republicans have the U of CO guys. It’s an epic cage match of predictive numbers geekery!”

Look there.  Right at that post – one not too dissimilar from a thousand other dismissals of Nate Silver and the other aggregated polls.  See what Brad did there?  The way the guy bringing you news he didn’t like was automatically assigned a partisan bias, and the only rational solution was to get a guy on your side with better numbers?  As if reality was merely a function of getting enough guys on your side? 

That’s why you lost.

Stop confusing hard reality for partisan opposition.

It’s time to step out of the bubble, dear Republicans, because we fucking need you.   I don’t trust the Democratic party to run the country single-handedly.  I want a Republican party I can rely on for real solutions – and you’ve become lazy, voodoo-like, dismissing any data you don’t like as partisan opposition.

Jay Lake is fond of saying, “Reality has a liberal bias.”  That’s not because reality inevitably verifies liberal thinking, but because the Republican response to anything that challenges them is now to write off the data.

And let me repeat: we need you.  I want a counterweight to Democratic power, not a deadweight that refuses to acknowledge the issues.  I want a Republican party that will look at the numbers for climate change and not go, “I don’t like what those scientists are saying, so I’ll call it a silly liberal bias!” but say , “We’re business experts, we know how to motivate rich people to do what we want, how do we fix this?”  I want a Republican party that will realize while yes, we’re spending far too much and should cut down, the results of thirty years of trickle-down theory and tax cuts won’t actually provide enough revenue, because we are at the lowest effective tax rates we’ve had in thirty years.

And yes, you can argue all my statements here.  But in that, smart person, you’re like a driver with an SUV in Alaska.  A person with a car in Alaska is going to get stuck in the snow eventually; that’s a fact.  But if you have an SUV, you’re gonna get stuck way the heck out in the woods where no one can get at you, because you have the strength to do it and won’t stop when common sense tells you to. I had a ton of Very Smart friends dissecting all the reasons why Nate Silver was wrong, why his methodology sucked, why these pollsters who said what they liked over here had better ways of slicing the data… and all that flurry of so-called “facts” amounted to was an elaborate justification of personal biases that had no basis in reality.

It’s time to stop fighting the obvious.  It’s time to stop assuming that anyone who presents contradictory data is out to get you.

You should have won, guys.  You had a President with an economy in the doldrums, a guy who’d lost a lot of his electoral mojo in the realities of politics.  But instead of rising from the grave, you chose a candidate who never actually gave us firm numbers on what expenses he’d cut to fix the economy.   You chose a candidate who said he’d get rid of Obamacare, but never actually named the parts he’d destroy.  You chose someone who, though all politicians lie, lied a lot more than almost any modern Presidential candidate.

You had a guy who should have sliced Obama to ribbons – and he lost, in large part, because he said, “Trust me” instead of giving us a plan.  And you let him get away with it.

You let him get away with it because you’re indulging in a great deal of magical thinking.  You let him get away with it because facts have ceased to matter; as long as someone tells you something you want to hear, you’ll find a way to justify it with pseudo-science and trust and spit and baling wire.  You don’t like to hear how bad a candidate Mitt was, because you came so close this year, but it’s true; the problem is that so much of the country has abandoned listening to reality that you can get massive votes and never touch a fact.

If you can’t be honest today, in the aftermath of this great defeat, then you’re never going to see the truth.

If you seriously thought that Romney had a good chance of winning, then you’re part of the problem.  Wake up.  I implore you: learn from this.  Look at your deepest beliefs, and see whether the numbers support them.   Start thinking, maybe those people with data I don’t like are right.

If you think the lesson to be learned is “We weren’t conservative enough,” then you’re handing me a great victory in 2016.  I want to have a real choice then.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

One of the liberal complaints about Obama is, He didn’t do everything I wanted him to do. They had a laundry list of everything they wanted Obama to get done, including free socialist health care for everyone, and the fact that he didn’t do it means that he’s a bad politician.

Here’s my take: a politician who does everything you want is a bad politician.

See, politics is complicated.  Really complicated.  I couldn’t tell you who’s in charge of the Senate funding committees for the Pentagon, nor do I understand which Democrats have enough Republican constituents that they have to salve their conservative base periodically, nor do I have the slightest clues as to the rules of order for the House.  I have a general idea of how things go, but it’s about as vague as describing the cellular mechanisms of my body fighting off a flu virus as “I sneeze a lot.”

I elect a politician to learn these things for me.

Electing a politician, any politician, is an act of faith.  You vote for the guy who looks like he has enough of your concerns in mind, and then send him off to do your duties for you.  And you trust that he’s smart enough to a) know the overall goal, and b) do what he’s able to do with what he has.

Look, do I think that Obama really tried hard to push English-style, socialized health care for everyone?  No.  No, I do not, and that is what I wanted.  But did I also have a list of every member in both Houses, knowing what concessions I’d have to give to get them to vote for my desired health care bill, and a tally of the costs it would take?  Did I have a list of the huge numbers of polls Obama doubtlessly took, determining what America as a whole thought on the topic?  Did I know how much influence the insurance companies had in the House, or had I read any studies on the effects that a sudden shift to socialized medicine would have on America’s economy?

I did not.  So I’m disgruntled, but I’m also willing to admit that Obama may have wanted just as badly as I did to have socialized health care for everyone, and was “only” able to push through a huge bill that completely changed the face of American health care.  Politics is about realism, as in “What you can get done,” and I’ve read too many books on Lincoln to know that “what you want to do” and “what you can actually do now” are two very separate things.

If I had a politician who did everything I wanted, then I’d have a politician who had my expertise – which is to say, none.  And he’d vote in all sorts of things, regardless of who it would piss off, regardless of whether it would actually pass, regardless of whether there were actually hidden consequences I hadn’t thought about that would make this disastrous if it did pass.

That’s not to say Obama gets a free pass, of course.  It may well be that if I looked at all the secret data on Guantanamo Bay and the uptick in drone strikes, I’d be convinced to do what Obama is doing now.  But I find that doubtful, and so if I had a choice on foreign policy, I might consider throwing my vote behind someone else.  But, as the third Presidential debate pretty much proved, I don’t.

So no.  I’m not entirely thrilled with Obama.  But if I had a politician who did literally everything I asked of him, I’d probably have an inefficient puppet who made me feel good and accomplished zip.  I’d rather have a politician who does what I want if I was informed enough to follow all the news to the extent that a politician does… which is to say a politician who’s going to frustrate and contradict me from time to time.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So someone on my Twitter feed posted this most excellent link: “The Tea Party Will Win In The End.”  And by God, he’s right.  The money quote:

Such is the power of denial that we [liberals] simply refuse to concede that, by the metric of intractability, at least, conservatives are the cockroaches of the American body politic, poised to outlast us all.

The thing that’s always struck me about liberals is how blitheringly stupid they are in writing off an entire half of the goddamned country.  We’re so utterly convinced that we’re morally justified that we actually forget that opposition exists.  And so the history of me being liberal(ish) is watching people go, “What?  Bush won?  California passed Prop 8?  Tea Parties are winning elections?  How did that happen?”  And every time it’s like someone ripped off a Band-Aid, and there’s this sense of terror that the world has gone terribly wrong.

No.  It didn’t go wrong.  You just forgot to fight.

Dude, conservative rhetoric is here to stay, and no matter how laughable you may find their ideas, many people believe it and it does not cease to exist because you can’t take it seriously.  Stop being shocked that hey, they’re still here after every victory you accomplish.  You let down your guard, they come surging back.

Many of the liberals I speak to seem morally outraged that they even have to discuss their ideals, as though they’re as natural as water and it’s sheer stupidity of anyone to need to know about how noble you are.  Cut that shit out.  You gotta stay in there punching, man, because the conservatives sure aren’t, and they’ve never ever stopped taking us seriously.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Dear Republicans:

I think at this point, the whole “gay rights” issue is pretty much guaranteed to head the same way as “women’s rights” and “African-American rights.”  Oh, there’s still battles to be had, but if you look at the demographics among younger folks, most of whom see gayness as no big deal, then what’s going to happen over time is that the old homophobes will die off and the new homophiles will take over.

At which point, gay rights will continue to be an issue, in much the same way that discrimination against women and African-Americans continues to be a problem, but people will mostly agree that gays are folks just like anyone else.

At which point the Republicans will be screwed.  Their opposition to gay rights will be noted by this generation, and they’ll almost certainly abandon their anti-gay stances just to survive as a political party, but the stigma will continue.  You’ll have people going, “Well, I like the Republican party’s line on many issues, but we all know how much they hate gays.  I can’t vote for them based on that.”  Votes will be lost.

Those future Republicans will doubtlessly claim, “Hey, wait!  I didn’t have anything to do with those old anti-gay laws!  I actually like gay people!  I haven’t tried to pass any anti-gay legislation in, like, ever!”  At which point people will go, “Oh, sure, you say that, but everyone knows that if you got your druthers you’d try your best to drum gays out of the military and revoke all the gay marriage laws.”

That’s gonna suck for you.  But here’s the deal:

If you have ever agreed that the Democrats are going to take away your guns, then shove your fucking whining back in your pie-hole.

Hey, we seriously stopped battling the NRA shortly after the Brady Bill passed back in 1993, and it’s been almost two decades since we’ve given up the fight.  We got trounced so severely by our nation’s love of guns that Democrats don’t even discuss it any more.  And there are plenty of gun-totin’ Democrats who like to shoot, which inevitably evinces surprise from conservatives, because everybody knows how much liberals hate guns. It’s just how things are.  When a Democrat gets in office, he wants to remove every handgun.

So, you know, if you said at any time between his election and the end of his first year of Presidency, “Now that Obama’s in office, he’s gonna work to take away our guns!” (or stood silent when someone else did), well, you can eat a bowl of shut the fuck up when it comes to enduring the world thinking that all your kind hates gays even though you conceded the point decades ago.  Because hey, what goes around?  Comes around.

(And for those of you who didn’t?  Well, I’m sorry you’ll have to endure that.  Some day.)


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I have two apologies to deliver to Mitt Romney, and one kind-of defense for the Mittster:

I mocked him, via Twitter, for asking why airplanes don’t have roll-down windows.  It’s been reported that Mitt was joking, which I certainly can see happening, so sorry about mocking you for that, Mitt.

I also dinged Mitt for saying that “Middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less.”  Now, I think that this statement is thoroughly troublesome in that it defines the starting point of middle class way above what the average American earns, and I think it is symptomatic of Mitt’s inability to understand what normal Americans make.  It was a terrible phrasing to make on television.  However, Obama’s policies define the middle class as “under $250,000,” so what he said was technically true and in line with Obama, even if I’m pretty sure Obama understands that $250k is still an awful lot to make (and I’m not sure Romney does).  But Mr. Romney was technically correct – the best kind of correct, as the bureaucrats on Futurama like to say.

And lastly, I’m a little uncomfortable with the way Romney’s 47% comments have been taken.  Not that his interpretation of those 47% as being slacker wastrels with no sense of morality was good, at all – it summarizes the elitist way that Romney views anyone who disagrees with him.

However, his statement of “My job is not to worry about those people” was miscast.  He was discussing himself as a candidate, not a President.  His current job is to get elected.  And from a marketing standpoint, no, he really has no incentive to reach out to those 47% of people who will never vote for them.  He cannot worry about the people who will vote for Obama no matter what, just as Obama really can’t worry about the 47% of people who will never vote for him.  Both candidates have to worry about a) energizing their base to get out, and b) attracting swing voters.  If you’re a Democrat, fuck it, “pleasing committed Republicans” probably shouldn’t be a part of your campaign strategy.

Reframing that as “Here’s what I’ll do as President” was incorrect, and problematic on many levels.  The rest of those comments were sufficiently damaging, really.  I’m not sure you needed to take that bit out of the context. I feel the same distress I do at, say, the Republicans taking “You didn’t build that” out of context.

However, there is a certain irony here: in discussing what his job was as a candidate, he was sufficiently cold and businesslike that he’s alienated at least some swing voters.  His job wasn’t to worry about those 47%, but he probably should have thought how some of that 6% would have interpreted it if they heard him – which, in this age of “a videophone in every pocket,” he should have anticipated.

Anyway.  Sorry, Mitt.  Now that I’ve apologized and clarified, I’m sure you can rest easy.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

As an Ohio resident, Jezebel’s headline makes me wince: “Ohio Republican Party: GOP Chairman Made Racist Remarks Because He Thought He Was Speaking Off the Record.”

Doug Priesse’s racist remark was this: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter-turnout machine.” Which is the whole reason why they’re attempting to shut down early voting sites.

Now, let us be uncannily kind and assume that maybe, he’s not racist at all.  It is vaguely possible that he is not trying to shut down the “urban” voter-turnout machines because they’re black, but is merely noting that the early-voting policies disproportionately reward black voters.  And he’s not against the early voting policies because they are black, but because it’s not fair that voting procedures are twisted so much to accommodate any one single group – be they black, white, marbled, or pointillated.

Guess what?  That still makes him a fucking dick.

Because the whole point of voting, to any honest and objective person, should be to get as many legitimate voters as you can out to voteAny policy that makes it easier for anyone to vote in the single most important thing you can do for our democracy should be lauded, as long as it doesn’t lead to widespread vote fraud (like, say, online voting almost inevitably would).  As a liberal-leaning centrist, I support every Republican effort to get out their vote, because frankly the votes of my opposition should still be counted.

This isn’t just my fucking election.  It is the combined will of the people.  It is larger than just what I want – it’s a temperature taken of the population as a whole, and for this to be more than a dictatorship under my control, this needs to have as many people as we can get invested in the process.

So.  Early voting hours for blacks and fundamentalist Christians alike?  For it.  Mail-in ballots for the military and the civilians?  For it.  Better methods to make it easier to get involved, even if those methods disproportionately favor Tea Party members?

Fucking. For. It.

So what Priesse is saying here is that we should make voting a difficult thing.  Even in absentia of the concern that he’s purposely trying to punish black people for voting Democrat – which is almost certainly the case – it still makes him the kind of guy who wants to turn voting into an elitist machine where only the kinds of people who can jump through certain hoops can do it.

Fuck that.  The Republicans’ efforts to quash voter turnout via ludicrous measurements designed to shut down a voter fraud that even they have to admit doesn’t exist is shameful.  This is shameful.  And if you support them, you should be shamed that your support is, in part, covering this.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Two blocks away from the ruins of 9/11 was a Burlington Coat Factory that some muslims wanted to turn into a mosque. Conservatives went berserk, claiming that the mosque was an insult to all who had died in the Twin Towers attack, that it was too soon, and (not all, but enough) claimed that they didn’t want this statement of a religion they disagreed with in their city.

At which point liberals argued back that America is about free speech. If the space is available, and the Muslims are willing to pay, then they should have the right to open up a temple. Yes, Muslims may be an unpopular religion in certain circles, and no, you may not like some of the causes that this temple may be funding, but your like of their goals is irrelevant. Freedom of speech applies to people you disagree with – and the true test of America’s values is not, “How do we tolerate people we like?” but rather, “How do we handle people with opinions at odds with everything we believe?”

As long as they’re not doing anything illegal, liberals argued, the Muslims should have the right to be there. And they were Very Sure about this.

Then the mayor of Boston slammed Chick Fil-A, urging them in an angry letter to “back out of their plans to locate in Boston.” And liberals shared this letter with a great whoop and WHOO GO TOM MENINO and great acclaim.  Seriously. It was spooged all over my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Yet I think: What if the mayor of New York had expressed similar sentiments about the mosque?

Before we continue, I’d just like to express my credentials: I’m a big fan of gay marriage. Despite the fact that there is a Chick Fil-A literally across the street from me, and they are my favorite fast food chain, I have not eaten there in two years because of their anti-gay fundings. When the Muppets pulled out of Chick fil-A’s business, I immediately posted a link to Twitter that said, “Muppets do the right thing,” and I think that people have the absolute right to vote with their feet. This isn’t about me not being intensely pro gay marriage, or intensely anti Chick Fil-A, so if you’re starting a response along those lines, stop, delete your comment, and start over.

This is about freedom of speech for people you fucking hate.

But Ferrett, you’ll argue, this is a snack stand, not a temple!, to which I say, “So you’d have been okay with people telling Muslims that opening up a Muslim-run dry cleaning business close to the mosque was an insult?” Or Chick Fil A firing someone because they’re Jewish, because hey, work is different than worship and we only wanna hire nice happy Christians? No, guys, “freedom of speech” doesn’t mean “You get to be religious in firmly-marked areas with big symbols warning you so you know what’s going on,” but rather “People of all religions, even the icky ones, have an equal right to worship AND work, and express those beliefs through both.”

(And, you know, it’s not like all Muslims – particularly the fundamentalist ones – are a great bunch of well-adjusted people. All religions are nut magnets, and there were some very real concerns about where the funds the mosque raised were going. A lot of the mosques were funded by more virulent sects of Islam, even if the one in New York seemed to be largely run by a more peaceful branch.  If your worries about funding anti-gay causes are justified, then at least some percentage of the anti-mosque sentiments carried a similarly valid concern.)

Either way, you have a person in power telling someone, “I don’t like your religious beliefs, I don’t like how you spend your money, and I want you out of my fucking town.”  And your attempts to draw distinctions between that and the mosque are splitting some mighty fine hairs.

I hate Chick Fil-A, and I think they should have every right to build in Boston without having to worry about having permits pulled or being hassled because of their repugnant, stupid, backwater, bigoted, terrified, swamp-ass beliefs. That’s freedom of speech. They should have every right to go to Boston, build a franchise, have a constant stream of gays and gay-friendly straights picketing it and handing out fliers, spend months dealing with bad PR as the funds slowly run out and they realize that their anti-gay stance is costing them so much business they can’t afford to stay, and then maybe they’ll make a better choice. Or pay the cost of their opinions, because every opinion has a cost and if you’re willing to pay that price then you should be able to carry on with it.

The government, however, should not get involved.

This is not a popular stance, because so many liberals I know treat religion as though it were a disease. But that’s the point. Even if you dislike Chick Fil A, they have the right to their say – and part of their say involves selling chicken sandwiches to make a living. And a mayor telling fundamentalist Christians, “You are not welcome here” spreads the message to Christians that yes, they are persecuted, here’s the proof! And those dang liberals don’t practice what they preach.

Let’s practice. Let’s allow religious-run businesses to stand or fall on their own merits. And if it turns out that the fine people of Boston aren’t so pro-gay as to abandon Chick Fil-A, then I say that’s a problem we need to face in a different way than harassing them until they leave, and issuing bold threats from official pulpits. But as a government, let us make room for people of all stripes, even the foul and corrupt stripes of anti-gay bigots.

(And if you’re a conservative who is cheering now, yet was against the mosque? Shut the fuck up. The point I’m making is that we shouldn’t be as bigoted and closed-minded as you. If we should be ashamed, you should be ashamed doubly so.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

In the wake of the Batman shootings, the AMC theater chain passed a ban: no patrons would be allowed to attend in costumes that obscured their face.  In addition, no fake weapons would be allowed into the theater.

A moment’s thought would make you realize how foolish this is.

For one thing, “covering his face” wasn’t the problem: afterwards, he went and waited for the cops to come and get him.  If guns don’t kill people, face paint certainly doesn’t.  There’s the slight danger of maybe it’d take the cops longer to find the shooter if he’d worn a mask, but chances are that they’d have tracked him down anyway. And any good bank robber knows that if concealing your identity is a concern, you can just stuff a ski mask into your pocket and put it on before opening fire.

Then there’s the weapons ban, which is completely useless.  The actual shooter, so it’s said, entered through a propped-open exit door.  Even before the ban, the shooter realized that hauling in an armory on his back would have raised questions, so he sidestepped the existing personnel.  Post-ban, it means nothing, as I highly doubt the rent-a-cop security guards at the theater would be a serious deterrent to a murderous terrorist.

So why have these bans at all?  They won’t stop any prospective shooters, and they punish enthusiastic fans who like cosplay.

The answer is easy enough: because those things would make customers nervous. But those people are stupid.  Yes, these bans will make them feel better, but in reality they’re not one iota safer due to the stoppages.  I mean, if AMC had said, “We’re having all of our theaters hire emergency security to police our doorways,” then that would be an effective security procedure… But they didn’t do that.

They encouraged the ostrich route: Can’t see any people in masks?  Then you’re safe!  And yes, that makes people more likely to pony up at the box office, but it’s security theater: if a maniac wants to kill them, that maniac will not be significantly deterred.

So how do you fix that?  In a sense, it’s not the theater’s problem, because you know, hey, this is what the people want.  But what do you do when what the people want is stupid and shallow and not a real solution at all?  How do you train people that no, this thing that terrifies you isn’t what will harm you, and this thing that you could give two shits about would actually keep you safe, if you dared to actually do it?

Because I guarantee you, AMC did the “smart” thing.  They could have hired a ton of extra security, for a negligible risk of copycat killers, and still had people freak out over the guy in the Joker costume.  The extra security would be mostly non-visible, and the guy in the costume would have caused some people to ask for their money back.  So that’s the smart money, doing the thing that does nothing at all.

Yet in the end, feeding those stupid instincts gets us hollow exercises like the TSA – look at how incompetent they are! – where we figure, “Hey, we’re inconvenienced sufficiently, this must be good stuff!”  Meanwhile, we’re always one threat behind, searching shoes and making travel so hellish that people don’t want to do it unless they have to.

So how, if ever, can you educate people as to what a real threat?  Can you?  Or are we forever going to be stopping Batman and letting the Joker slip in through the back door?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If I was a kid listening to the news, I’d think OBAMACARE was some troll that lived under a bridge and ate people’s hearts.  The word gets tossed around like a football – and I mean that literally.  Have the Democrats fumbled OBAMACARE?  No, wait, the Republicans have got their hands on it!  No, wait, the Supreme Court saved OBAMACARE!  Who’s winning in the great OBAMACARE game?

And I’m pissed at Obama, because for a legislative package that’s literally got his name on it, he doesn’t seem to care that anyone understands what it does.

Look, I voted for Obama on the strength of one book: The Audacity of Hope made me think, “Man, this is a guy who knows how to communicate complicated ideas.  This is who I want in office, pushing my Democratic agenda.”

Instead, what I got was a genius politician.  Seriously.  For all of the Republican smear campaigns crying, “Why, he’s as inexperienced as a child!  He’ll paw like a confused kitten at the levers of government if elected!”, they forgot that Obama got his start in backroom-dominated Chicago, and wouldn’t have gotten as far as he had if he didn’t understand the rules of the game.  So he snuck through Obamacare in what was a magnificent act of legislative juggling, making all the right concessions to do something no other President has ever been able to do.

The problem is, he was so busy getting shit done in the halls of Congress that he forgot to speak to the streets.  And FOX News and company dominated the conversation, talking about OBAMACARE as though it was a dirty bomb someone had smuggled into a church.  Did the man on the street know what OBAMACARE did?  Fuck no.  But he DID know that Obama had pulled off kind of a sneaky trick to pass it, and Obama certainly hadn’t stumped for it in the same way he’d run for election, and he decided that OBAMACARE didn’t pass the sniff test.

So America dislikes it.  And they STILL don’t fucking know what it does.  The number of times I saw this “Explain Obamacare to me like I’m five” link passed around Twitter by people expressing surprise (“Oh, it does THAT?”) by progressives was amazing.  Here’s Twitter, where people are usually a little more politically involved, and here’s liberals, who should have a good grasp on the overall picture, and they’re still like, “What?”  To this day, when I’ve seen people polled on the individual things that Obamacare provides, and the results appear to be, “Yeah, I like that.  And I like that.  And that’s good.  But I despise OBAMACARE like it was the love child of Hitler and Sauron!”

I do not think, as many conservatives would have me believe, that the man on the street has done a complex analysis of the many contributing factors of the insurance companies and the overall economic picture and the long-term effects and come on the downside.

I believe, rather, that Obama’s done such an astonishingly shitty job of touting his plan that people don’t actually know what benefits it provides.

So now that it’s officially here to stay, why isn’t Obama taking ads out in every state talking about what OBAMACARE does?  Why aren’t there thirty-second commercials saying, “My child got cancer, and when I switched jobs the insurance company told me they wouldn’t insure him because, well, he had cancer.  Thanks to Obamacare, they can no longer deny children for pre-existing conditions.”  Or “My insurance company turned me down for treatment for my emphysema.  No reason.  They didn’t have to tell me why, and if I didn’t like it all I could do was hire a lawyer.  Now, thanks to Obamacare, there’s an appeals process I can go to without having to spend $2,000 to retain an attorney.”

Why is Obama so concerned with passing laws and so little concerned with changing hearts?  There’s a lot that people like in this bill, and he’s inextricably associated with it.  If people think better of it, they’ll think better of him.  So why is OBAMACARE still treated like a ticking time bomb that Jack Bauer needs to defuse, its innards mysterious?

That’s fucktastic long-term politics.  Yes, Obama, you passed the law and the Supreme Court, by luck more than skill, upheld it.  (I don’t think anyone saw Roberts coming down on your side, son.)  But because America’s still treating OBAMACARE like it’s a tumor in the genitals, but if they understood it, then at least they’d see that there are tradeoffs.

Obama needs to start using some of the Audacity of Hope on America, explaining the healthcare bill’s strengths in a bombardment.  Otherwise, it’ll remain so hated that legislators will have voter support in getting rid of it, without the voters even really understanding what they’re doing.

(And yes, he’ll get pushback from the Republicans on it, but at this point Obama literally can’t talk about pushups without Republicans bitching about it.  Blowback is not an excuse for inaction, because frankly there are enough stupid-crazy conservatives who feel Obama’s doing too much by drawing breath.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about high gas prices, and about two-thirds of Democrats say he can’t.

“But six years ago, with a Republican president in the White House, the numbers were reversed: Three-fourths of Democrats said President Bush could do something about high gas prices, while the majority of Republicans said gas prices were clearly outside the president’s control.”

I’m an honest Democrat, so I’m gonna tell you the truth: There’s not that much the President can fucking do about gas prices. So stop blaming him whether he’s Democratic or Republican or Libertarian or Green or Martian. Basically, we need this much gas to survive. Other, outside influences determine the cost of that gas, and there isn’t much we can do short-term to drop our collective usage. On a month-to-month basis, about the only thing the President can do is decide whether to open the strategic gas reserves, and even that’s a pretty stupid idea.

However, the President can influence the price of gas long-term by funding initiatives that reduce our reliance on gas. Oh, yes, I know Mr. Obama has taken a lot of heat from conservatives for investing in poor technologies like solar power, but those self-same conservative politicians back the funding of corn ethanol, which basically is like solar power except we spend infinitely more effort extracting the energy from corn farmers.

The truth is that America loves cars, and the only viable long-term strategy to reduce the effective cost of a limited resource that every other country in the world wants is to reduce our reliance on it. Sure, we can drill, baby, drill, but eventually oil’s going to get scarce enough that we’re going to regret having the transportation infrastructure of our entire country dependent on it.

Which is why we need a President who’s going to work towards other options – yes, I know, you conservatives, you have all the negative reactions towards “Let’s build trains” that most people do to kicking a baby, since it’s taking our freedom to drive wherever the fuck we want away from us! But the truth is that the paradigm of “everyone has a big ol’ expensive car” isn’t going to last forever, and we need to be prepared for the day that doesn’t work. Which will involve car regulation to mandate gas efficiency, the supporting of other technologies to at least the subsidy level and tax breaks we give to the oil companies, and – yes – an investment in public transportation that will not initially be profitable.  Just like all of those long-term military projects you never seem to mind funding.

I remember Borders, king of the bookstore world, going, “We’ll just let everyone make their mistakes in online bookselling, and then we’ll rush right in! We can make up that ground overnight!” And right now, conservative America’s going, “We’ll just let everyone else make their mistakes in creating efficient, non-gasoline-powered forms of energy, and then we’ll rush right in when we need to!” That didn’t work out so well for Borders, and it probably won’t work out so well for us. Especially since if gas hits seven bucks a gallon, which eventually it will barring the creation of biofuels, we’ll have a lot of poor people with no way to get to their jobs.

If you want someone who’s going to lower the price of gas long-term, then you gotta find a guy who believes that gas isn’t something America should rely upon. If you want someone who’s going to lower the price of gas next week, well, stop thinking that the President is a superhero who can break the laws of physics.  Whatever  party he belongs to.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.


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