Knowledge vs. Belief

I started to write this post after Jim posted Unknown unknowns over at Stonekettle Station, which was a post in response to the tempest in a teapot that represented the 24 hour news cycle reporting on the clinic standoff and shooting incident in Colorado Springs. I shelved it for various reasons at first, none of them really earth-shattering. Of course, a week later and we have the inexplicable mass shooting in San Bernardino, which instantly eclipsed the previous story.

I could easily spin this into an screed against the gun lobby and their paid cronies in Washington DC who won't let the CDC even study gun violence in an effort to figure out how to address it, considering that we have had more than one mass shooting every day of this year (2015) which has to be some kind of record that no society on the face of this earth is really interested in breaking...

...but that isn't the article I want to write. This isn't going to be the article I started out writing, either. The issue is much bigger than the specific subject of what we know or don't know about a specific person set on doing wrong, or having been caught doing wrong. It is even bigger than the problem that Jim was trying to address, the 24 hour news cycle, which I agree probably represents the greatest threat to human civilization in the modern age. The need to fill time, to produce facts and counterfactuals when no hard facts are known about the specifics of the incident in question, can lead to greater and greater flights of fancy.

I turn the TV off when that feeding frenzy starts. It is hard enough to separate the wheat from the chaff on good days.  On bad days like the two events above bring, listening to the news just feeds confirmation bias until you end up looking and sounding like an idiot.

I will include the specific arguments for the Colorado Springs incident in this post, but the point that I'm seeing come into focus now that the shooter has appeared in court and indicted himself is the argument about what we know vs. what we believe. How we can know what we think we know, and how is that different than belief?

That is the reason why the 24 hour news cycle is such a threat. Being not much more than the talking heads that sold soap in the early days of television, the current crop of news faces appear to have even less familiarity with what facts are and why fact-checking is important. They are after all just selling soap.  Keeping the most number of eyes on the screen is how they sell soap, and so the factual content of what they say isn't the important part of the equation.  That they tell you things that reinforce your beliefs on a subject so that you will keep watching is.

Most of the white-looking people in the US trust the police intrinsically, for example.  Most of us older types were raised on police dramas portraying the cops as the good guys who enforce the laws and keep the peace.  It is very uncomfortable for most of us to be confronted with stories if entire police departments covering up the details of killings done at their hands. And yet, time after time over the last few years, we have been shown just how human police departments are everywhere in the US.  Be it Chicago, Baltimore or Saint Louis, just about anywhere USA, there are examples of police who brazenly violate laws and procedures who are then protected by their brothers in uniform.

This really isn't news.  If you've been paying attention you would have run across stories by people like Radley Balko who have been documenting police excess for several decades now.  The police are after all only human.  If you were in their place you would act no differently than they would, because that is what humans do.  But that doesn't excuse the excess, it is a point of data that needs to be accounted for when deciding what you know or don't know about any given subject.

For the black or brown people who are almost always the bad guys in police dramas, the revelation that cops are only human really isn't news either. They've lived with the reality of constant police scrutiny for generations. So much so that stories abound of fathers and mothers cautioning their children not to become police statistics.  So it is no wonder that the chant black lives matter resounds with them. The counter offered by clueless whites that all lives matter is heard by these same people as just another call for them to sit down and be quiet. How is this possible?  How can realities and beliefs about these realities be so widely separated?

When it comes right down to it, what you know with certainty is a very small number of things. Whether it is night or day. Whether it is cold or hot. You know these things because you can test them directly with your senses. Solipsists will argue that you can't even know those things because we are all just brains in jars at best, but I'd like us all to pretend that the shadows on the cave walls actually represent something real, and try to make sense of that.  If that much can't be granted, then there is little point in continuing to read this.  Even less in my continuing to write.

Beyond what you can test yourself (fire burns) there are grades of factual knowledge which you can probably safely rely on.  At each point where the facts exchange hands, the ownership of that data has to be documented to be trusted. This is why, when doing research, it is important to seek out source material and not just rely on wikipedia.  The more obscure the subject matter the less reliable secondary sources are.

When watching the news on television or reading news stories on any other site than AP, Reuters or UPI you are already dealing with information that has been through at least three hands if not dozens. When you've gone beyond the point where the witness is being interviewed in person, you are dealing with evidence that wouldn't be accepted in court. That doesn't mean it is without value, it just means the news you are being offered could be just this side of fantasy.

It might even be pure fantasy. Case in point, the FOX/conservative/anti-abortion counter-narrative about the Colorado Springs shooter.  When I logged on Blogger that night, the first thing I saw wasn't the Stonekettle Station article. The first article that caught my eye was a piece over at Friendly Atheist in which Ted Cruz voices the notion that the shooter was some kind of leftist.  No, I could not make something that stupid up myself.  Let me quote a bit;
 Cruz is basing that characterization on a supposed voter registration form in which Dear was listed as a woman. Whether it’s a mistake, or Dear was just messing around, or simply not the right form, we don’t know, but no other evidence indicates that he was transgender.
There’s even less evidence that he was a “leftist.”
The problem that I had with Jim's Unknown unknowns piece now surfaces. Jim mentions this story in opposition to the reports (which he attributes to Planned Parenthood) that the shooter was heard to say "no more baby parts" as he was being arrested.  But the contrast between the veracity of these two stories is as marked as they are in opposition to each other.

The statement no more baby parts was repeated by an officer to a reporter directly on scene, who dutifully passed it on to their viewing audience. While that is hearsay and not evidence admissible in court; the officer if he were to appear in court could repeat the statement and it would be admissible.  It would also be accepted by an overwhelming number of juries who trust police officers to be truthful (see above) even in the face of so much evidence that police will lie to protect their own.

Since this case isn't about one of their own, and since the police showed remarkable restraint in bringing a cop killer in alive, I was inclined to believe the statement of the arresting officer.  That the shooter (not alleged, he plead guilty) repeated a version of the same statement at his hearing just confirms the motivation that lead him to commit the crimes he is guilty of.

On the other hand, the preferred story of conservatives/anti-abortionists is based on what? Essentially no evidence whatsoever, more wishful thinking than anything else.  And yet it is repeated by a Republican Presidential candidate as if it was the unquestionable truth.

That is the nature of belief. It doesn't require facts.  Facts are counterproductive because they can be questioned. If facts are presented that counter a belief, it only takes the briefest scrutiny to discover or manufacture an anomaly which the believer will use to discard the entirety of the factual information presented. Ted Cruz wants to believe that the shooter couldn't be one of his fellow anti-abortionists. Ted Cruz believes that leftists are dangerous people, and that LGBT people are a threat to his way of life.  The story he repeats is ready-made to fit into his preconceived view of the world, and it matters not one bit that the story makes no sense on its face.  That the average liberal and LGBT person would be in support of Planned Parenthood and consequently wouldn't see a need to attack one of their clinics never enters into the mind of a conservative repeating this laughable story.

Given the history of attacks on Planned Parenthood, and the current cloud of controversy artificially created by anti-abortion activists faking videos that purport to show Planned Parenthood selling body parts, the story of a shooter in a clinic almost serves itself up ready-made as a vehicle to attack the religious right and conservatives in general. Of course they would want to craft a counter-narrative (however flimsy) to give themselves an out, a way to disavow accountability for their actions over the last twenty years and more.

A conservative could easily counter all of the above (most probably will) with the adult equivalent of I know you are but what am I?  Since about the time that Reagan was elected, conservatives started to complain about the liberal media. Even I, for a time, fell for this notion that the media was somehow biased in general against conservatives. As the years have progressed, and conservatives have created their own outlets like FOX news, conservapedia, and uncounted news sites including the whacko fringe like prisonplanet and infowars, it has become clear that conservatives aren't satisfied with simply presenting news from their point of view.  No, what they want is their own set of facts which are unassailable.  Unassailable because they aren't based on anything real.

Another example is the softer, nicer language of pro-life and pro-choice adopted by the two sides of the endless argument over abortion. Having softened the language, pollsters can get majorities of citizens in the US to say they are pro-life. Who would be against life?  I'm pro-life, I'm also pro-choice; militantly pro-choice.  The fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans still believe that abortion should be legal gets lost in the conservative rush to declare the opposite, that the majority of Americans oppose abortion. This conservative view on the matter simply isn't true as polling shows.

What has occurred since the creation of FOX news is the division of the US into two camps; one of those camps thinks they are right, and the rest of us are liberal.  In their attempt to prove that the rest of the media is based on a liberal conspiracy, conservatives have consciously created a conspiracy of their own. A conspiracy where they tell lies which they know are lies, because the ends justify the means.

When you evade the truth, when you spin tales to hide your true goals, what you get are people who believe your lies so firmly that they will act on them as if they were truths.  You get what transpired in Colorado Springs yesterday, to the embarrassment of every single person who identifies as pro-life. Remember that the next time you hear the phrase liberal media.

Dublafluwitchy

Or maybe Doblafluwitchy. Possibly Dooblafluitchy. I appear to have made up a word.  Could have sworn I heard it somewhere, but no search for that character string turns up real results.

Which is too bad.  I find it far more satisfying as a word than thingamabob (thingamajig? Give me a break) or whozeewhatzits. Doohickey comes close, but really just doesn't roll off the tongue like dublafluwitchy.

I blame it on the contractors who insisted that pookie was a substance that you could fill gaps with. Was tempted on numerous occasions to notate drawings with pookie joint instead of the boring sealant that conventional nomenclature called for.

Convention is so boring. As a natural born contrarian and non-conformist, I do my damnedest to avoid marching in step whenever possible.

Fleek or cool, I really don't care. If you can't define it, then it's a dublafluwitchy and that's all there is to it.

JFK Assassinated 52 Years Ago Today

Originally posted here, radically enlarged and embroidered here, I've copied this to the day it should have been published on, and will be published on in the future if the wild hair suits me. Conspiracy fantasists are getting on my nerves these days, and I don't feel like cutting them any slack.


One of the most widely accepted conspiracy theories in the US remains the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Just last week I heard someone suggest that Oswald didn't act alone.  Statistics show that more than half of US residents agree with this statement, and are convinced to this day that Oswald was a patsy, silenced by Jack Ruby a few days after the assassination.

For many, many years I was one of those people. I read several books on the subject, watched every documentary, even went to Dealey Plaza once simply to stand next to the spot where Kennedy was shot. In many ways the assassination of JFK was the lynchpin for all of my conspiratorial thinking; it was the first conspiracy theory I had ever heard, it was the most solidly defensible of any of the many popular conspiracies that cropped up later (so much so that even the US government has agreed there was a conspiracy, contradicting the findings of it's own commission that investigated the assassination) and once I was led to question that theory, my belief in all those other theories also crumbled.

Why shouldn't they, when they didn't even have a magic bullet to hide behind?

The trip to reality was long and arduous for me. It started about the time I started writing this blog, and continues to this day.  Every single thing I read these days sends me off looking for corroborating sources and counter-arguments, just so that I can be sure I'm dealing with real facts and not some fever dream of the magical thinking majority.

I wish I had access to Case Closed when I was a young man looking for facts on the JFK assassination.  The depth of investigative research that Gerald Posner has gone to is unequaled amongst the many different authors on the subject.  Here is an interview with Posner from 2013, discussing the mountains of evidence linking Oswald to the killing, and detailing the kind of man Oswald was.





If Case Closed had been available to me when I first started looking into this subject, I never would have started down that rabbit hole of conspiratorial thinking in the first place.  Would have simply come to the conclusion ah, Oswald shot Kennedy and left it at that.  But I didn't have access to that book back in the 70's when I was into the subject.  I don't even remember the titles of the books I did read; but I do remember The Men Who Killed Kennedy documentary being something I watched and rewatched many times, as well as the Oliver Stone film JFK which I remember receiving quite credibly.

Except for one thing.  The repeated mantra back and to the right which Stone puts in Garrison's mouth in the film. I actually went back and reviewed the Zapruder film because of this, and discovered that the motion he insists is there really isn't there at all.  The film clearly shows the headshot coming from the back and above, just as Posner says in the video.

But I didn't have Posner.  Never ran across his book until recently, while listening to back episodes of the SGU (like so many good skeptical habits I have picked up) what I had was my own inability to ignore evidence when it is presented to me. What I stumbled across was this re-enactment (one of several) proving that the magic bullet was nothing of the kind. That the trajectory of the bullet is mappable and repeatable given an accurate reproduction of the events of that day.

First off is The Kennedy Assassination - Beyond Conspiracy clips of which are assembled here;




The second source of video was a very detailed recreation of the exact poses of the victims taken from Zapruder film footage, that were mocked up by Anatomical Surrogates Technologies for the  documentary JFK: Beyond The Magic Bullet .  (full video available in three parts here) While the shot does appear to strike too low, the trajectory is almost identical to the bullet on that fateful day.






Lastly we have the recreation of the headshot showing that the direction that Oswald fired from was indeed the only direction where the damage seen to the President's head can be replicated.  For those who simply aren't convinced by the replication of the magic bullet's trajectory.





Conspiracy theorists will of course come up with reasons why this proves nothing. Personally I see no reason to continue pretending that Oswald did not kill Kennedy.  If you feel the forensic tests are simply not enough evidence, then I encourage you to pick up a copy of Case Closed.  If none of this suffices, then I suggest you look to your own mental barricades. If your beliefs cannot be falsified, it says as much about your failings as a critical thinker as it does the indefensibility of your opinions.



h/t to NeuroLogica
New this year, the long derided photo of Oswald displaying the same model rifle as the one that killed Kennedy has been scientifically analyzed and found to be genuine.

As Dr Novella goes into on his blog entry, conspiracy theorists attempt to discredit evidence that would seem to destroy their preferred fantasies by picking apart the details of the evidence, looking for the slightest anomaly that they can then use to discredit it.

Having watched The Men Who Killed Kennedy I remember the attempts to discredit this photo and the autopsy photos quite vividly. I remember wondering at the time why anyone would go to such lengths to hide evidence, marveling at the scale of the conspiracy required to perpetrate such a massive hoax.

It is with a wry chuckle that I remember my own gullibility on the subject.  The understanding of the scale of the conspiracy should have been my first clue as to the implausibility of the conspiracy itself.  That understanding would take years to mature, though.

The computer simulation embarked upon to validate this photo is as much of an over-the-top effort to show the solidity of the evidence for Oswald being the shooter, as the series of videos I linked above was.  In the study linked here, you can see the many points of data used to determine if Oswald is actually standing in a stable position, and that the shadows in the photo match the shadowing that would have been present at that time of day and season of the year.

This is the kind of thorough analysis that is required to refute the claims of conspiracy fantasists who continue to insist that it simply wasn't possible for such a insignificant little man to have killed the most powerful man in the world single-handedly.  At least the computer modeling techniques showcased here can be used for many other instances of questionable photographic evidence, so that their validity can also be certified.
Sam Harris' latest Waking Up podcast,

Five minutes into this, and I'm already pissed off. Ted Cruz is right to call for only christian refugees to be let in? Only to the extent that an observation that only atheists be let in by an atheist is correct.

Atheists should be more welcome, they are under more threat, and they have no religious test to inflict on our secular government if brought here. Cruz's test would exclude these people as well as Muslims. Which is why no test should be allowed beyond ascertaining no inclination to violence and links to terrorist organizations. We will have to trust, as we do with all citizens, that the refugees will attempt to conform to norms (normative behavior patterns) Whatever those are.

Paris in Perspective

As the Charlie Hebdo artist said after the recent attacks in Paris, #ParisIsAboutLife. I tried to broach a tangent to this subject when I wrote the recent piece, Greece in Perspective. I sometimes wonder if I'm not too subtle in my writing.  Other times I know I am, because the message never seems to get across.
Joann Sfar on Instagram
h/t to Independant

Jim Wright wrote a particularly moving piece today that reminded me of the more subtle point I was trying to make with that other blog entry.  Titled The Price of Civilization he goes into precisely why I ended the Greek piece with a reference to war and the Marshall Plan.

I've always been struck by the apparent contradiction that the most humane policy ever adopted by the United States was crafted by a General who oversaw so much bloodshed.  But that was the wisdom of Truman and Marshall, overlooked by many these days.

Which is too bad.  Because Jim got it right when he said;
Terrorism, the kind we face today? It comes from the fact that we, us, we keep blowing up civilization and leaving nothing but death and ruin in our wake. Terrorists are like cockroaches, they thrive on chaos and destruction and we're damned good at creating that chaos. 
Those of us on the liberal side of the aisle like to point at Bush II for creating the problem of Daesh by removing Saddam Hussein from power (as his father predicted would happen during the first Gulf War) but truthfully it is the American people who are to blame. Our own imperial nature which we coyly disguise and defend as capitalism.

We're the ones who insisted that we wanted out of Iraq as soon as we could get out, instead of actually spending the additional decades it was going to take to make the region into a self-sustaining conglomeration of disparate elements.  The kind of time that was spent helping to rebuild Europe after the war. A Europe that was already embracing self-determination and democracy.

Maybe we're just blind to it, we inhabitants of the most egalitarian association of completely disparate influences, commonly referred to as the US.  Because, no matter what detractors might say, no where on Earth do you have the mixture of varying cultures like those present in the current US social structure (maybe Oz. Maybe) all of them more or less harmoniously governed as a single nation.  We take the bloodless transfers of power that occur here like clockwork as something everyone experiences, when the truth is that nowhere is there anything like the US when it comes to government, good and bad.

Listening to the Polish election celebrations, where a new isolationist government has been elected, it becomes apparent just how insulated most other places in the world are when it comes to exposure to other cultures.

Even in the conservative bastion of Texas all I have to do is travel to a different part of Austin to experience a whiff of almost any culture you can name. Asian cultures. African cultures. Native American cultures. These flavors are spread all over the nation in pockets. When I lived in Garden City several hundred Vietnamese refugees were dropped just outside of town in a little makeshift neighborhood constructed hastily to accommodate them. There was a lot of grumbling about this, but little violence. Why would there be? It's a free country, isn't it? Most of them moved away before too long, apparently to places like Austin where I live now, but we folded them into our society with hardly a hiccup, compared to the experiences of previous generations.  That is what America really is good at.

It is a shame that more people don't understand this. Even the average American doesn't get it.  As violent as we are, the thought of seizing control of the levers of government with force occurs to almost none of the citizenry.  This is because there is no need to use violence.  Those interested in getting involved in government do so; the doors are open, come on in and roll up your sleeves. If you are among the conspiracy-minded who doubt this is true, find your local precinct meeting place and show up for a meeting.  You might be surprised.

Yet the government we set up in Iraq was seized by the majority religious faction in the first election held there, and they proceeded to exert their authority over the other minorities in ways that lead directly to the creation of Daesh-held areas of the country in response. We allowed this to happen in a country we had effective control over. What did we do? We left, not that we really had much choice.  But we failed to impart the most important bit of knowledge that all of us should have gathered from our experiences in this free country before we left there. That is to our shame and the world's detriment.

Freedom doesn't mean you get to have your way. Freedom means you get to present your arguments. You get to present your arguments without fear of being killed for expressing them. If you are very persuasive, you might actually get to see your arguments accepted by others.

Pointing a weapon at someone will get you compliance, but it will ultimately lead to betrayal and violence, because coercion has a way of backfiring. That is why our military adventurism fails us as a nation. The civilizations we invade at the point of a gun just see the gun. They certainly don't see the America that the average American actually experiences. The America where guns are frequently a topic of discussion, but almost never used anymore. We all know that when someone points a gun at you, you do what they say. But we also know that the tables will turn, that the aggressor will one day be the victim. Because that is the way of all things human.

So it will be with the violence in Paris that we all witnessed yesterday. The perpetrators of violence will either die violently or be subjected to French justice, a good bit more genteel than American justice. But Paris will go on just as before. Cities are for the living.

In the end, that may be the best response to terrorists everywhere.  The best response to those people who encourage us to do violence out of fear. Create a civilization, a society, that can withstand their attempts to destroy it with fear.  To slowly smother those who believe that there are things worth dying for with the millions more of us who know that there are many things worth living for. To go on living as if these fear-mongers never existed in the first place.

To pay the costs of establishing a civilization that can withstand the trials of living.  Like Marshall did after seeing so many good men die. You either go on living or get busy with dying.  There aren't any other choices.

Quentin Tarantino Doesn't Hate Cops

One of my online comments on this article over at the Washington Times. The title alone was enough to set me off;
"Quentin Tarantino called police on home intruder less than two weeks before anti-cop speech"
For instance, the speech wasn't "anti-cop", that is simply repeating the misinformation spread by the police union representative. So even the title is inaccurate on its face. Tarantino had an interview on MSNBC yesterday in which he spelled out the context of his speech, and the reason why he used the term murderers in relation to the specific murders which have been committed by cops.



The hysteria surrounding the population's willingness to film and confront police officers who are clearly not acting in the best interest of the general population is just that. Hysterical. As in, hysterically funny.  My response to this is to start a Quentin Tarantino viewing marathon.  To plan on watching his new film even though I hadn't even heard of it until this story broke.  Congratulations fear-mongering police supporters, you've made money for Tarantino with your stupidity on this subject.

Cable Wars

I haven't mentioned this on the blog, but I've been watching The Walking Dead since 3rd season rolled around.  I dismissed the concept when it was bandied about before production started, because I didn't think you could do a television series that could be kept interesting throughout its run based on the the general idea of a post-apocalyptic setting.

The Wife has worked on zombie films in the past. Our garage has been turned into an effects studio and art studio more than once when the demands for getting effects completed for the films she has worked on grew larger than could be completed on set; if the film even actually had an official set they were shooting on.

So when The Walking Dead was proposed as a TV series, it crossed the radar here at the house simply because of the subject matter. When the series failed to disappear as I predicted, I decided to give it a viewing just to see what it was about. I binged-watched the first two seasons on Netflix, paid for the few of the third season episodes I had missed on Amazon, and started watching the show live after that.

I'd say I love the show, but really I'm just there for the characters and for Greg Nicotero's excellent effects work. The storyline has been inconsistent over the seasons and really could do with some long-term plotting in advance of shooting, in my completely amatuer opinion.  If there is storyline plotting across seasons, it isn't apparent in the progression of the story. However, it is one of the few things I do watch on television these days, my tastes ranging to the truly eclectic corners of rarely watched channels available on cable television.

I used to watch a lot of programming on BBCA, having a long-term love of a wide range of BBC programming including the recently relaunched series of Doctor Who and the even more recently canceled Top Gear. I was forced to give up BBCA last year because of costs increases phased in by my local cable provider.  That and the Science channel (which I wish had more actual science on it) and several other channels I watched more than the more normal fare available on basic cable were priced out of my reach in the latest price increases rolled out by US cable providers.

Rather perversely, most of the cost that I pay for my cable subscription goes to fund the incredible price tag placed on live broadcast of sporting events.  The last time I ever watched a sporting event of any kind on television was the first Superbowl that the Seattle Seahawks qualified for, because the Wife loved the Seahawks when fantasy football first appeared back in the 1980's.  She never watched a game in her life before that Superbowl, and I had to explain the most basic facts about gameplay (4th and ten? What is that?) to her in order for us to get through the game. That was also the game that was stolen from the Seahawks with a bad call by an umpire, reminding me precisely why I hated sports in the first place; that arbitrary interference by non-players on the field can alter the outcomes of games in ways that are patently unfair. So that was the first and last game ever watched in this household, and the common joke that my TV is broken it won't display sporting events has held sway ever since.

Consequently the news that my local provider may be removing AMC from the list of channels I can currently afford has gotten under my skin.  I remember when Paramount pulled Voyager from syndication and insisted that Austin had to create a broadcaster for UPN (and the local cable companies had to then carry that broadcaster) in order for fans of the show to be able to see it. That is the number one reason I stopped being a Star Trek fan, a change in my preferences that was solidified by the creation of the Abramanation.   I also remember when Time Warner threatened to stop carrying football games because of the costs that cable provider refused to underwrite for the NFL.

We are in the midst of yet anther cable war, with the various parties attempting to get more of the piece of the pie than they are currently getting, and I really don't have time for any of them. I am unconcerned about the profits of the various corporations who want to prove to their shareholders that they have the clout to get what they want, so buy our stock. All I want is to be able to watch the programming that I am interested in, however that content is delivered.  KeepAMC or TV on my side (one of the worst programmed sites on the internet, hands down) a pox on both your houses.

I have been threatening to cut my cable and get all my entertainment directly from the internet for a couple of years now. If my cable company really was on my side as their website claims, I would be able to watch the shows I wanted to watch without having to pay extra for programming I don't watch. The cost of providing me access to old and independent films and even well-produced television series runs about $8 for Netflix, why do I have to pay upwards of $100 dollars to my cable company for virtually the same menu of items? If AMC really wanted me to watch their programming, they'd make it available directly from their website and not force me to subscribe to a cable provider.

Those are the facts of the case, not the crap that they offer as excuses through their proxies. If AMC is priced out of my ability to pay for it as the rest of their network currently is, I will be cutting the cord like so many other Americans have done. I have no use whatsoever for continuing to pay for cable access that is limited to programming that I don't watch anyway.  Paying too much for that already. 

Reasonable Doubts - Calling Bullshit on Intellectual Dishonesty

Just listened to the final (?) episode of Reasonable Doubts. I'm actually still going through the back catalog of episodes but I have suspected for some time that the podcast was coming to an end.  Something in the tone of voice for the intro to the Shelley Seagal interview episode made my brain itch.

Doctor/Professor Luke Galen uttered the phrase that I used as a title for this entry in the last half-hour of the podcast. It struck a cord with me, because that was the facet of the podcast that first made me take notice and start going back through the archive to consume the episodes that had been made before I found the podcast stream.  Intellectual dishonesty is something that always sets me off. It is why I can't stomach 9/10's of conservative, libertarian or liberal rhetoric. Especially conservative and anarchist rhetoric. There are basic precepts to both those ideologies that make me call shenanigans on the whole notion that one can honestly believe that anarchy is desirable, that conservatism contains values that a person applies to their own behavior.

Reasonable Doubts really did enshrine the concept that intellectual dishonesty should be called out for what it is; bullshit.
Some atheists have argued that children are naturally non-believers. Were it not for indoctrination at the hands of parents and clergy children would never pick up supernatural beliefs on their own and religion would wither and die. But a growing body of research in developmental psychology suggests just the opposite. Children have a natural inclination to believe in invisible, immortal, super-knowing agents who are responsible for design in the natural world. For this first part in a series on the evolved origins of religious belief the doubtcasters review two books  (Justin Barrett’s Born Believers and Jesse Berring’s the Belief Instinct) which make the case that religious belief is not only natural–it is almost inevitable.Reasonable Doubts episode #105
Here is my take on what the study reveals; It is a survival trait to attach to your parents, to see them as what we deem 'godlike'. It is a survival trait to accept what your parents tell you is true. As children everything in our world appears designed because for most children it is. It was designed by generations of people who came before them, smoothing the edges, building the structures, taming the wild. These two facts go hand in hand, leading children to assign agency where no agency exists. These children grow into adults who simply accept that there is a divine purpose to everything; and they value knowledge that underscores that belief, discard knowledge that contravenes it.

The teleological explanations are just another flawed heuristic that humans utilize to explain the world around us.

Hillary for President?

I tuned in (very briefly) to watch Hillary Clinton testify before the latest of 8 separate investigations into #Benghazi, the most investigated event in US history and one of the most notable wastes of taxpayer dollars since whatever military weapons system was last funded by Republicans.

h/t to DailyKos
I say briefly because I had no stomach for listening to the latest Republican pretender attempt to justify yet another investigation into these events; as if the investigations weren't patently politically motivated the last 6 times (at least) that they were embarked upon. So the minute that the look-alike for the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz started speaking, I tuned out and went on to some other news item.

The Republicans are running around in terror at the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton.  They'll do anything, say anything to avoid the future where they have to acknowledge her (or any woman) as the leader of the United States. I myself have a pretty demonstrable hatred for Hillary Clinton, as a walk down the memory lane of this blog will easily demonstrate.

It bears mentioning that I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 in the Democratic primary specifically to lend weight to the candidate most likely to be President that year.  2008 was the last year I pulled the lever for the Libertarian Party in the general election.  In 2012 I voted Democratic, only shifting my votes down ballot in an attempt to unseat local Democrats that I really don't care for and have held offices for longer than I think is healthy. I voted Democratic because in 2012 it was an undeniable fact that Republicans were opposed to anything Obama did just because it was Obama who was doing it. It made me question how many other things Republicans are opposed to just because Democrats are in favor of them.

I changed my opinions in 2012; I confess, I'm a flip-flopper.  It's the kind of thing that happens when you aren't an ideologue, aren't married to concepts that could prove to be unworkable in the real world.  Having seen that Obama was doing a pretty good job at being President, better than I myself had expected prior to the election, I had to revise my opinion of Democrats in general, and of Obama and his cabinet selections in particular.

That wasn't the only thing that changed.  As the blog entry A Big Bowl of Crow goes into, I finally had to come to grips with some of the cognitive dissonance that I've been struggling with since I filed for and got disability.  The government has saved my family from ruin (albeit that it was dragged kicking and screaming into the effort) Accepting that fact meant that a number of other dominoes had to fall in sequence afterwards. Namely; that socialism is not a dirty word, that socialism is not opposed to capitalism but is actually opposed to feudalism (strange as that may sound) and  has never actually been credited for the benefits to the poor it has inspired since being introduced a few hundred years ago.

Part of this change has required me to revisit my beliefs about healthcare and other complex systems which rely on funding from government in order to do the necessary and valuable jobs that modern life demands.  Understanding that Hillarycare probably was a better plan than Obamacare has turned out to be. Grudging acceptance that Hillary Clinton was a damned good Secretary of State, largely because of the way she dealt with Republican criticism, rather than in spite of it.

So it is with some trepidation that I face 2016 and acknowledge that I really don't have a problem with a President Hillary Clinton. No one is more horrified by this than the tiny voice in the back of my head.  It's hard to argue against the logic of this. Let me spell it out for you.

When it comes to Presidents, for the foreseeable future, I will be voting for whoever the Democratic party nominates. I will be voting for the Democrat, because the Republican party has apparently gone over to the magical thinkers, and I don't believe in magic.  The entirety of the Republican Party has been dispatched on a fool's errand by the Tea Party's co-option. Until they can figure out who they are and what they stand for, I don't have the time of day for the party as a whole.  If they were to nominate someone who accepted science, wasn't knee-jerk opposed to immigration, accepted that women have a right to medical care including abortion services, if they nominated someone who didn't espouse belief in Reaganomics, I might have to revise my opinion of them.  I don't see much chance of that since none of the more than 10 potentials vying for the nomination meet this criteria.

Third parties are a joke, in case you are wondering what about the LP & Greens? I've wasted far too long working on third party issues (again, look at the history of this blog if you doubt it) The experience was invaluable, but having the power to effect change means actually winning elections, something that third parties in the US have failed at doing in every election since the beginning of the country, with the notable exception of the one where Republicans became the alternative to Democrats.  From that time forward it has been D's or R's and it will remain that way until the next big shakeup on the level of ending slavery occurs.  I don't see anything remotely on that scale occurring this year. Could be wrong, but I doubt it. I'll be writing more on this subject in the future, if I ever manage to get my notes in order.

I'm not opposed to Bernie Sanders, given my revised opinion on socialism.  I don't think the rest of the US is as willing to think outside the box as I am in large enough numbers to make a difference, so I don't think his prospects are good outside of the primary process. What the Democrats have to avoid doing is giving away the election to the Republicans as they have historically done many times in the past. While a goodly portion of the young people on the street really do seem to feel the Berne, will they show up on election day in enough numbers to secure victory for the Democrats for the next four years? That really is the only question.

Hillary Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the election among the betting public, in those areas of the globe that allow betting on Presidential races.  One of the mantras that I still hold to is follow the money, and the money says Clinton will win.  Of course, we still are a year out from election day, and a lot of things can happen in a year's time. Barring the appearance of a really centrist Republican nominee (one that isn't named Bush) or a bad fumble on the part of Hillary, we're likely to see her taking the oath of office in the early days of 2017.

I'm sanguine with that fact.



I have said on several occasions on various social sites "no one can compete with Hillary in full campaign mode". Many people may not remember the campaign that was run for Bill before his time in the sun.  These guys were fast on their feet.  The best that money could buy and they earned every penny.  Front and center in all of that was Hillary Clinton, and now she is the candidate herself.

Hillary's South Carolina ad came out last week.  When I said "no one can compete" this is what I meant.



Hillary Clinton is still the overwhelming favorite to win amongst the betting public.  Bernie Sanders' support is still high, but it isn't as high as Barack Obama's was when he won against Hillary, when she surrendered to public pressure and yielded the floor to the Democratic favorite.  That is one of the differences this time, her opponent is not a Democrat.  While I agree with much of Sanders' goals, I don't agree that he is deserving of the party's endorsement just because he gets a majority of the popular vote.  The process is what it is, and if Hillary gets the nomination by working the process, that makes her the better candidate.  Perhaps Bernie should have joined the Democrats years ago and then he too could be a Democrat rather than just seeking the bona fides of the Democratic party.

501c4 Means "No Politics"

I ran across a DailyKOS article in my Facebook feed today. I went looking and discovered they're doing what I did ten years ago on this blog. They wrote one paragraph, pasted someone else's content in as the body of the article, then wrote another paragraph and pretended it was their article. The original reporting is from CNN,
The Justice Department notified members of Congress on Friday that it is closing its two-year investigation into whether the IRS improperly targeted the tea party and other conservative groups.

There will be no charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner or anyone else at the agency, the Justice Department said in a letter. 

The probe found "substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia leading to the belief by many tax-exempt applicants that the IRS targeted them based on their political viewpoints. But poor management is not a crime," Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in the letter.

"We found no evidence that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution," Kadzik said. "We also found no evidence that any official involved in the handling of tax-exempt applications or IRS leadership attempted to obstruct justice. Based on the evidence developed in this investigation and the recommendation of experienced career prosecutors and supervising attorneys at the department, we are closing our investigation and will not seek any criminal charges."
This really isn't news. The Last Word With Lawrence O'Donnell was all over this more than a year ago. The stats showed that liberal groups were actually turned down while none of the conservative or tea party groups were, so the claim of targeting was demagoguery and nothing more.



The truth is that no political groups should be allowed to operate under the tax status of 501c4 since they don't meet the criteria for that bracket; or wouldn't if the IRS hadn't changed the wording of the law that congress passed.

It is the IRS that should be filing charges, and they should be doing it against all the political groups that wrongfully use this code to skirt the requirements for political contributions. I would love to see some tax cheats go to jail over this and related violations. Wouldn't hold my breath on that score either.

(Facebook status from this date published on the blog two years later)

The Planned Parenthood Frame-up

I don't watch gotcha films. I don't watch gotcha films on any subject, not just on this subject. The reason I don't watch gotcha films is because there is no way to know whether or not what you are seeing is in any way real. The protest that "these videos are unedited" is a claim which cannot be verified, in a general sense. It is possible to fake almost anything you'd like to these days, and that ability only becomes easier with time.

What I rely on instead is my established ability to sift through a large amount of written language and recognize currents through various writers and posts.  I take people at their word for goals and drives, and filter what they then say against those stated goals looking for what they say that isn't crafted to further those goals.

That is why my first stop on visiting a site is generally the about page. This is so that I can see who funds the site, what the stated goals are, what the makeup of the management of the site looks like.  With that knowledge in hand, it then becomes possible to determine what any entry on the site is placed there to achieve.

Case in point, the recent melt-down involving Planned Parenthood selling body parts from abortions they've performed. As the article on the subject over at Snopes.com points out;
Fetal tissue may only be used or sold post-abortion with the consent of the woman undergoing the procedure. Although some researchers may obtain fetal tissue directly from abortion clinics at their own medical facilities, others have to purchase it from middlemen who pay fees to providers such as Planned Parenthood for specimens and then resell those specimens to researchers. Planned Parenthood maintains they charge only what the law allows (i.e., what they need to cover their expenses in such transactions), while the middlemen charge a markup to cover their processing costs. But regulation of these types of transactions is somewhat murky.
So what the Republican candidates for President are tearing their hair over, and what the morons who lead the House of Representatives want to shut the government down over, is already illegal in the first place. It can't get more illegal than it already is; and since Planned Parenthood and its leadership have not been charged with violating any laws, I'd bet that what we are witnessing is just more demagoguery and not real revelations on the issue.

I am a certified fan of Planned Parenthood and a fan of it's current leader, the daughter of a former Texas Governor. Planned Parenthood provides vital and irreplaceable services for the poor all across the US, and services for women's health (be they rich or poor) which cannot be obtained from any other provider in many areas of the US. If your response to this declaration is that abortion is murder, I direct you to my previously posted article titled simply Abortion, and to the hopefully soon completed EPHN article on the misunderstanding of what human life is. Abortion is a protected procedure that every woman will contemplate at some point in their lives.  Those women who deny this are lying to you and possibly even to themselves.

h/t to Brian Bloomer
It is worth noting that the incident which is most often quoted, the one related by Carly Fiorina in the second Republican Presidential debate, never actually occurred in any of the video that Ms. Fiorina could have seen. So she was lying on national television during a debate.  This really isn't news because candidates lie all the time (Lips are moving? They're lying) but usually it's about things that they'll do if elected.  Rational types might hold out the hope that threats to end legal abortion in the US are equally lies since the President cannot override decisions set down by the Supreme Court, but there is plenty of other mischief that an activist President can do with his or her office.

The videos that started this whole fiasco are a frame job even so, cooked up by avowed anti-abortion activists (and a right-wing hate group) looking for material to indict Planned Parenthood with.  They have no remorse for the people whose lives they destroy in the process, either;
Arguably the worst aspect of this scam video, beyond the harm it will do to reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood, is the reality that Dr. Nucatela’s life is all but ruined for the foreseeable future. At this moment, anti-choice extremists are likely fanning out around the internet, collecting damaging information about her; finding out her home address and contact information; discovering whether she has children and where they go to school; planning rallies outside her house; or worse. Based on wrongful charges, she now represents Enemy Number One for googly-eyed radicals, fueled by visions of aborted fetuses and the false impression of Planned Parenthood as the Walmart of black market fetus organs.
Real people with real lives in the real world whose lives are ruined because of these faked videos. Faked in that the materials sold are not sold for profit, and are a part of a vital network of research and transplantation that saves lives.

If you doubt that this is true, then I highly recommend the episode of Radiolab titled Gray's Donation which goes into precisely how many lives the materials from a single aborted fetus can be impacted in a positive manner.  A fetus that had no chance for life because of the birth defects he would have suffered from, in the specific instance of the Gray's investigation.



That is the practice that this anti-abortion hate group wants to end. Let these facts sink in for a minute.

I've taken the time to write this because I was recently sent a link to an article on Rational Review News (a site I used to follow pretty regularly) that was so patently false on its face that I found it hard to believe that the same guy I used to rely on for libertarian news could be so demonstrably wrong on the subject. Proof that, if nothing else, the Balkanization of internet information continues unabated. Clear thinking and understanding of a subject has never been more critical than it is today, nor has it ever been more wanting, apparently.



The net effect of this blatant targeting of Planned Parenthood over the subject of compensation for the cost of obtaining research materials is that Planned Parenthood will no longer accept compensation for the costs of providing them. That cost will now have to come out of other sources such as donations to Planned Parenthood, because the research work will continue and the materials will continue to be available.

Stand with Planned Parenthood,
Support this lawsuit.
One can hope that the effect of exposing this obscure process to light will lead to more transparency on the subject, but I personally doubt it.  Few people really are interested in the details of transactions that occur all around them without their noticing.  Subjects like this only occasionally see the light of day, and the outrage in response is predictable and almost humdrum in its monotonous outrage. If the individual who is outraged over fetal tissue used for research were to spend time investigating the subject of medical history and the process of obtaining materials for research historically, the outrage over the acquisition of cadavers for medical schools would be something we'd never hear the end of.  Because that, historically, was a very dark process indeed.

The anti-abortion industry having beaten this dead horse long enough will simply find another soft target to attack in their never-ending drive to stop abortion in all cases.  They really aren't interested in truth, reality or the constraints of biology or biological life.  The procedure is evil in their eyes, and evil should not be tolerated. Their own blindness to the reality of human life ensures that the fight will never end, because women who do not want to have children will continue to end pregnancies whether the procedure is legal or not.  Whether the woman is pro-life or pro-choice, the choice occurs anyway.



The long and tortuous process of holding these fakirs accountable for their damaging actions continues to unfold in various state courts,
After the videos surfaced last year, Dan Patrick, the Texas lieutenant governor, a Republican, asked the Republican district attorney in Harris County to open a criminal investigation into Planned Parenthood in August. A grand jury ended up indicting Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt, and taking no action against Planned Parenthood. 
The New York Times, Last Charges Dropped Against Abortion Foes in Making of Planned Parenthood Video July 26, 2016
As the title of the source article states, the charges in Texas were dropped. Texas as a political entity hates itself in a very weird and self-destructive way. This comes out in events like the above, with religious crusaders elected to office attempting to score religious points in a political arena simply don't understand what the law says even though they are trained lawyers. Luckily for justice, there are other states who aren't as consumed with self-loathing as Texas,
Prosecutors filed 14 felony counts of unlawfully recording people without their permission — one count for each person — as well as one count of conspiracy to invade privacy.
Becerra, a veteran congressman who became attorney general in January, said his office “will not tolerate the criminal recording of confidential conversations.”
“The right to privacy is a cornerstone of California’s Constitution, and a right that is foundational in a free democratic society,” Becerra said. 
The Los Angeles Times, Two antiabortion activists behind undercover Planned Parenthood videos charged with 15 felonies March 28, 2017
The problem in all these cases, and there were cases being investigated in several states after the videos were released, is that the concerns and laws protecting privacy are butting heads with the first amendment right of the press and freedom of speech. It is a near-impossibility for a public entity like Planned Parenthood to win a case of slander or libel against the perpetrators of these fraudulent videos. It might be possible to seek damages from them if they weren't essentially penniless conspiracy fantasists in the first place. The chances of any case being successfully prosecuted against them on any grounds fades to a faint hope when you understand the hurdles placed in the way of justice in this case.

Justice would require that  Daleiden and his conspirator Sandra Merritt go in front of groups of people who think like they do and explain why what they did was wrong. This is the form justice should take, because I don't think that they or their supporters understand the injustice they engaged in. The harm that they have committed in their blind ambition to see abortion ended in the US and across the world. Real people harmed in real ways by their delusions about life in the womb. It is criminal that they cannot be shown reason that will convince them on this subject. 

Watching the Wheels Go Round & Round



This is probably as close as I will ever get to a themesong.  It describes perfectly (even though I don't hear it very well any longer) the recurring theme of my life.

Always and for as long as I continue to draw breath, I strike out in what my contemplations have shown me is a sensible direction.  I almost never embark on any task as a mere whim. This was true even when I had the strength and stamina to chase the random whims.  I contemplate directions in life for years sometimes before embarking on the task.

For every single task I've undertaken there has always been someone who approached me, for my own good, to explain why what I was doing made no sense.  When I was younger there were occasions when their advice turned out to be correct.  That is one of the reasons I take the time to contemplate a course in advance, seek out advice and wisdom on a subject before forming opinions and making decisions.

...And still, the helpful ones step forward to let me know just how nuts I am and don't I want to reconsider? No, I think I know what I'm doing; and even if I don't, the experience of failure is liable to be informative if it doesn't prove deadly.

When I applied for disability, everyone around me (aside from The Wife and children. And my attorney) was convinced I just needed to get back to work. Certain that I just needed to get back on that horse.  None of them noticing that I had been getting back on that horse for more than a decade already and could no longer hold the reins of breadwinner any longer if I wanted to be here to see my children grow up. How could they? They were not me.

So I let it go, because my children and The Wife were more important than my desire to be successful in architecture. Were more important than mere financial gain.

I well and truly do sit and watch the wheels go round and round these days.  I have little else to fill my time, and the newshound that I have always been will not let me simply ignore the machinations of the society that continues to grind on around me, like the calliope on the merry-go-round.

This introspection brought to you courtesy of this week's Freethought Radio tribute to John Lennon. I had forgotten how much beautiful music John made during his short life.  Were that he was still here watching with us.  I would love to get his insights on the world today.


Ben Carson Joins the Lunatic Fringe

I'm sure the title of this piece isn't news to most people.  Apparently the world is ending soon.  Again. At least according to Dr. Ben Carson;
So Republican demagoguery continues unabated and the only real fun to be had with this completely unsurprising trend is to lampoon the almost neverending predictions of the endtimes that seem to be accelerating.

I remember quite fondly looking forward to the end of days when the end of days rolled around. Those of us who reached adulthood in the 70's and 80's know what date that date, the end of days, was.


[As a side note I'd like to register my utter frustration with attempting to access video that I know exists, because it was impossible to escape this video during the 80's. Yet today, because of the ridiculously arcane laws we have in the US, things that were force-fed to us in our youth cannot be found because they (the rights-holders) don't want us to find it, view it, associate it with them. My response? Too Fucking Bad. Maybe you should have thought about the future when recording some of this stuff.  Accept your ad money, sit down and shut up. The social relevance of this video and the spirit of the times is perfectly applicable to the sentiments currently being voiced by GOP candidates and pointing out that these people are worse than broken records is something that needs to be done. Been here, done this, don't need to go here again.]

It was one of my favorite jokes, favorite songs, we milked it for all it was worth for about 20 years.  I had some Mormon missionaries who used to drop by the house and try to convert me to Mormonism for a few months back then. The Wife would get them to help her around the house if I wasn't at home; and when I was at home there were some pretty hot debates concerning the merits of religion. One of the last conversations I had with them was concerning the end of days and the approaching millennium. My parting words to them were I'll let you know my decision about converting to Mormonism after 2000 rolls around.  Needless to say, I'm not a Mormon and the world didn't end.

When 1999 finally did roll over to 2000, The Wife and I staged a Y2K party in our backyard complete with about 10 unpatched computer systems that were predicted to fail when the year rolled over.  Several of them did fail, none of them very spectacularly, but I figured that would be the end of the joke.

Then a relative told me about the Mayan calendar and it's end of days. Then there were the endless end of days predictions of various preachers, profits and fools.  At this point, the joke is well and truly over as far as I'm concerned.  Now I'm starting to think that the people who really believe the world is going to end soon need to invest in some decent personal psychiatry.

Because these end of days predictions?  Not new.  Been going on since we started recording history, pretty much.  Here is a list of predictions for the end of days on Wikipedia.  What that list fails to mention is that christianity itself was founded on the preachings of a man who saw his people as engaged in a final struggle; or that he wasn't even the first of such messiahs to appear in that region proclaiming the approaching endtimes.

h/t to Barb Padgett and Jim Wright
Apparently all of humanity has been seeing their personal approaching demise as an all-encompassing end for all living things.  I hate to break it to them; the world will spin on long after they are gone.

So congratulations Dr. Ben Carson.  You have reached the pinnacle of fame in the US today, you are a leading Republican demagogue. Try distinguishing fame from infamy in this day and age, though.  I can't.




Of course, the end of days predictions are on top of his just this side of lunatic statements shaming victims of the latest mass shooting;
How would Ben Carson have handled the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon? On Tuesday, the Republican presidential candidate said he would attack the gunman. "I would not just stand there and let him shoot me," Carson said on Fox News. "I would say: 'Hey, guys, everybody attack him! He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.'"
But this is what someone tried against the Oregon shooter — and it didn't work out, as the New York Times's Alan Rappeport reported: "The heavily armed Oregon gunman killed nine people before taking his own life. The fact that an Army veteran who did try to stop him was shot multiple times and remains hospitalized underscores the risks of attacking an armed attacker, as numerous critics pointed out Tuesday."
Statements which were promptly contradicted by the candidates own admissions concerning the one time he had ever experienced a weapon being pointed at him;
I have had a gun held on me when I was in a Popeyes [in Baltimore]. … A guy comes in, puts the gun in my ribs, and I just said, "I believe that you want the guy behind the counter." … He said, "Oh, okay."
I have had a gun pointed at me before.  It is not a pleasant experience, nor one that I would encourage people to act rashly during.  If the opportunity presents itself, I suggest running and hiding. If absolutely left with no other choice, piling on a gunman en masse is probably the only way to reduce casualties (as Sam Harris discusses in the latest Waking Up) but someone is going to end up getting shot when that happens.

It is demagoguery, once again, to assert "I'll do this when that happens" if the only time it has happened you didn't do that.



Further evidence that Ben Carson has left the building.  Ben Carson thinks he deserves Secret Service protection because he represents an existential threat to the secular movement;
“I’d prefer not to talk about security issues but I have recognized — and people have been telling me for many many months — that I’m in great danger, because I challenge the secular progressive movement to the very core,” Carson told WABC radio’s Rita Cosby Show on Thursday. “You know, they see me as an existential threat but I also believe in the good lord and we take reasonable precautions.”
Stop laughing, this is serious. It is serious because he says it is. Let's walk this notion back a bit and look at it. Let's say as a secular progressive I flip my nut and decide that killing is what is needed and it needs to be religious types in the crosshairs.  Who am I going to choose?

In Texas alone there are hundreds of already elected nutjobs who believe that their religion gives them the right to discriminate in a legal capacity, people who think Kim Davis is a hero much like the Pope does. The state is currently engaged in a witchhunt against Planned Parenthood inspired by the videos that were released in August and discredited the same month.  That's just here in Texas. If I were to expand the view and look at all of the religious right all across the nation, Ben Carson is lost in a veritable sea of wackiness.

What we have here (as the joke goes) is a target rich environment.  There is a whole lot of nutty coming out of the religious right these days, I'd be hard pressed to say just who would even make the top 10 list; and I don't think Ben Carson would be on it since I don't think he really believes the stuff he says. Don't get me wrong, the man is a genius when it comes to wielding a scalpel, and the other side of genius is a sometimes light touch on what the average joe sees as the real world.  So he could very well be nutty enough to believe the world is coming to an end, and that secular progressives are stalking him.

But just because he believes it doesn't make it true.

As Ed Brayton goes into over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars it doesn't matter what he believes anyway.  Secret Service protection is offered to candidates who meet specific targets as far as funding and popularity, and he doesn't quite qualify yet.  They may still offer him protection, but in my humble opinion what the man needs is a keeper with access to tranquilizers and a butterfly net.

Let's see how long he leads in the polls.  Who will be top dog next?

Good Guy With a Gun

Jim Wright asked this question on his Facebook page recently;
Responsible Gun Owner Exercise: You're in a public place. Lots of people. Guy in camo walks in with a pistol on his belt and an assault rifle in his hands.
Quick, is he a good guy with a gun or a murderous nut?
Well, which is it?
Come, come, seconds count, no guessing and don't fuck it up. How do you KNOW? Is there a secret hand sign? A T-shirt? Does his phone emit an IFF signal? Which is it, good guy with a gun or bad guy with a gun? For full credit, you MUST answer BEFORE HE STARTS SHOOTING. Show your work.
Extra credit: How does he know YOU'RE not a bad guy with a gun?
He followed it up with a (very long) response addressing the various answers that he got. The answers are almost irrelevant. Of course there is no way to know what the intentions of this person are.  As another Facebook friend pointed out as a counter you don't know what anyone's intentions are if you are just now seeing them.

But that isn't the question. The presence of the firearm alters the equation. This is a known fact, that visible weapons alter the behavior of people. It is true, as that same Facebook friend pointed out, the person could be carrying invisible weapons; a suicide vest, anthrax, firearm in his pocket, knife in his shoes. You name it. But that also isn't the question.

The question is simple. You are armed, you see another person that is armed. Do you shoot him or don't you? You have to answer this question before he starts shooting other people, or you fail the test. This is a very valid point that Jim has been trying to illustrate for several years and over about a dozen posts on Stonekettle Station; all of which I've read. The question isn't whether guns are bad or not. The question isn't whether we should be armed or not.

The question is, how do you know what your actions should be? That is all there is to it. The gunnuts are convinced that the solution to the mass murder problem is more guns in more hands, but that just makes the question that much more difficult since it muddies the waters as to who is the bad guy and who is the good guy.  If you shoot the guy before he shoots other people, are you the good guy or the bad guy?

You can't know. There is no way to know. It is the nature of the universe, the uncertainty principle. You can't know before the first shots are fired.  If you shoot first, you are the bad guy. But if you're carrying the weapon to prevent aggression, what good is it if you don't use it when you should have? What if his first action is to shoot you because you have a visible weapon? What if his first action is to demand that you disarm?  How many hours of time are we willing to waste making sure that each of us on an individual basis are good guys who are supposed to be carrying weapons and not bad guys who aren't? All day, every day, from now on?

We can't approach the problem from this direction.  It just isn't going to work.  This is the reason why laws are made. This is the reason why governments exist. It isn't for any of the paranoid delusions that individualists envision as they sweat inside their bunkers gripping their pistols in fear.  Laws are written to make sure that standards are met. Government exists to see that laws are followed.



I wrote and then shelved the above months ago. I had some notion that I would riff on a response from J. Neil Schulman who insisted the above question was meaningless.  However Mr. Schulman (surprise) really didn't have a response to the above aside from putting more guns in more hands.  He has since unfriended me over some trumped up excuse involving calls to use RICO laws to initiate civil prosecutions of climate deniers, similar to what was done to RJR after it was discovered that the cigarette manufacturer was paying scientists to muddy the waters surrounding the effects of cigarette smoke on the human body.

FYI, smoking causes lung cancer, and anthropogenic climate change is almost certainly as real as the findings concerning smoking and lung cancer.  I don't think it is outside of reason to use tactics similar to those used before in order to bring wayward corporate funded scientists to heel so that we can get down to the business of dealing with climate change.

That isn't the subject of this post, but the level of denial concerning climate change is reflected in his level of denial when it comes to weapons and who should be allowed to have them.

I had forgotten this little dust-up and almost forgotten this post until last week.  The subject of weapons is one of  the subjects that I suffer cognitive dissonance with; consequently I have a very, very hard time writing coherently on the subject.  I have owned weapons all my life.  My most treasured gifts as a young boy were the weapons that my father gave me.

However, being a good father as well as a responsible gun owner himself, he made sure that I went to classes to train me in the proper handling and storage of weapons before I was allowed to take possession of my first real shotgun.  I still have the certificate issued by the (irony of ironies) NRA for hunter safety training in cooperation with the State of Kansas.

It is a mark of how far down the road to crazy we have come that the NRA no longer thinks weapons training is important enough to be required before allowing weapons purchases, even though their website stresses the importance of weapons training.  I've known enough people who sleep with a loaded weapon next to their beds now that I no longer believe the argument that gun owners don't need weapons training because they've already had it.  A common refrain amongst gunnuts.

Then we had the latest mass killing, as well as the several other shootings on campuses across the US, even in Texas where campuses are no longer gun free zones (negating that counter-argument) and it seems that Jim's question from a few months ago now has recent real-life examples that really do beg the question (no longer a fallacy) how do you tell who the good guys with guns are?

Take, for example, the case of the concealed carry weapons holder who fired on a suspected shoplifter as they drove away in their vehicle.  Not the merchant, who might well have been forgiven for acting in the heat of the moment. No, it was a simple bystander (a good guy with a gun?) who happened to be armed and thought that the thing to do.

Or the guy who shot the carjacking victim, then took the time to clean up his brass before fleeing the scene of the crime? Jim Wright posts one of these types of stories virtually every day on Facebook, a tribute to the stupidity of the average American when it comes to owning and using weapons in a public setting. So these are not isolated events, rare occurrences that don't deserve our attention.  These are examples of the fact that there is something wrong in the US and we really should do something to fix the problem.

However, the minute you bring up examples of a clear lack of training like the above though, gunnuts (or ammosexuals, take your pick) start screaming about how we want to take their guns away.  I'd like to state for the record, yes.  If you think that the above is a reasonable use of a firearm, I want you to turn in your weapons, right now.  Because you don't know the first thing about firearm safety.