Sunday, October 23, 2005

Talkin' About My Generation

When I was a kid growing up in the seventies and eighties, it was pretty obvious the world was messed up. The environmental movement was exposing decades of criminal neglect on the part of industry. There was Watergate, Vietnam, race riots, nuclear accidents, and Future Shock. Above all, not a day went by in those times that I didn’t, at least once, think about how the end of the world could come about at any moment.

Adults were generally stupid (though now I know why), and I remember clearly that I and my friends were convinced that we would do a better job running the world when we got our chance.

So now it’s 25 years later, and I realize we couldn’t have been more wrong. Though my generation isn’t quite old enough that we dominate society in an economic sense, we are now the parents of the world, and that’s a very significant thing. So far, the news is not good:

We complain that our schools are not doing a good job, then bitch our kids get too much homework. We bitch when the school year, or school day, is too long. We blame the teacher when our child fails. Meanwhile, in Japan and Germany, where no such objections exist, students are outperforming us handily in academic achievement. Hmm.

Most of the school teachers are now from my generation, and across the board standards have dropped to the lowest common denominator. When I was in second grade, my classmates and I were entering creative writing contests; today, kids aren’t expected to learn to read until the end of the third grade. Standards have to be forced on schools by the Feds to make them do what they were able to do without help 25 years ago, and students still come out thinking that World War II was fought in the 1880’s, the earth orbits the sun each day, and that the Civil War was fought over slavery alone.

My generation seems to also have brought about the death of courtesy, by refusing to pass on the unwritten rules of American culture to their children. You don’t drive in the left lane of a freeway unless you’re passing someone. You hold a door for a lady, and give up your chair if necessary. You don’t cut in front of people in lines. You don’t drive 20mph under the limit so you can look cool (unless you’re actually “cruising,” which is limited to weekend nights in specific places). You don’t swear in public, and you don’t wear flip-flops to a White House meeting with the president. All of these things are lost on us and our children.

People my age are beginning to defile many other institutions, as well. They now run the military from the middle on down, and some of our soldiers are suddenly showing signs that they don’t consider human rights sacred. Not a coincidence. They are rising in the ranks of corporate governance, and corporate greed and corruption are on the rise. Workers are treated more and more like commodities (an intensification of the general dehumanization wrought by my parents’ generation), and no one seems to have a problem using dishonest business practices, even against their own customers (think banks). Quality has taken a back seat to bean-counting in all things.

In politics, we and our children seem to be uniquely ignorant of the values on which this nation was founded. In polls, people say the media shouldn’t be allowed to say whatever they want without government approval. They think that when Jefferson said “All men are created equal,” he meant that only Americans had rights “endowed by their creator.”—Muslims can be tortured and held without trial at will, because they’re not us. The religious right thinks that government should support their point of view, because the world would be a better place as a result—but no one asks the question, “better for whom?” At least our venerable founders were wise enough to realize that even their own religion could pose a danger to the freedom of Man, a lesson lost on my generation (and most religious people of any age).

Families have become so insular that they only function as security organizations. Everyone in my generation assumes the world is out to get them and their children. The crime rate has fallen steadily since 1990, but no one can let their kids out of their sight anymore. When I was a kid in the “crime-ridden” seventies, I walked or rode my bike to elementary school every morning, more than three miles. That’s unheard of today, even though statistics show it’s less dangerous now than it was then. My generation will even vote against its economic self-interest in exchange for perceived protection from terrorists, but never think twice about the much greater risk they take every time they drive their cars.

The bottom line of all of this seems to be selfishness and ignorance. No one thinks about the common good (and here I’ll send out a big “fuck you” to Ayn Rand and the Objectivists in the world). Everyone in my generation thinks their own rights and needs are more important than those of others. They think that the world owes them something for nothing.

And these are the lessons we’re passing on to their children, right now. We should all be very afraid.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Sex and the City" Sucks

I just have to say out loud that "Sex and the City" is a blight on television and society. And why stations would put a show that so shamelessly panders to women on at midnight, when probably ninety percent of women are asleep, is far beyond me.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Computer Mega-Scam

I don’t know if you’ve realized it or not, but internet service providers are trying to pull one over on you.

I think everyone knows what a megabyte is—a unit for measuring a quantity of data. Your computer shows you file sizes in megabytes (or kilobytes for files smaller than 1MB), and when you download, it shows you how many megabytes you have left to go. Unless you have a gigabyte or more, the amount of memory your machine has is reported in megabytes.

If you listen carefully, though, you’ll find that all ISP’s today are advertising their speed in Megabits. So what, you may ask, is that?

Here’s what they think you don’t know. Bytes (and therefore megabytes) are made up of bits, which are much smaller units—eight bits make up a byte. A megabit, therefore, is 1/8 the size of a megabyte. When ISP’s advertise their connection/data transfer speed in megabits, it inflates the number by a factor of eight. They’re hoping casual listener, used to hearing data measured in megabytes, will not realize the subtlety involved.

It’s just another example of how Corporate America tries to cheat and mislead us into buying their products. God bless capitalism.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Getting at The Truth in Religion and Evolution

So there was this feature in USA Today recently dealing with the creationism vs. evolution debate, undoubtedly inspired by the trial over intelligent design that's going on in Pennsylvania. They did their usual good job of glossing over the complexities, of course, and honestly I thought the piece was biased against Creationism. But I'm always looking for good quotes, and it did get me thinking about the issue all over again. I've written a longer essay on this subject already, but I just want to reiterate one point here because it apparently can't be said often enough: Religion and Science have different definitions of truth, and different approaches to finding truth, and the scientific approach is reliable while the religious approach is not.

As Jeffrey Palmer, biologist from Indiana University Bloomington, put it, "Evolutionary biology is famously full of controversy, but evolution remains the central organizing concept. If indeed deep flaws in parts of evolutionary biology of the kind speculated upon [by creationists] existed, scientists would be the first to change course."

Why? Because everyone that understands science knows that scientists go where the evidence takes them. Charles Darwin didn't wake up one day convinced that Natural Selection was real, then set out to prove it. He already knew of Gregor Mendel's earlier work on heredity, and then observed genetic variations across single species, a subset of which were using these variations as a competitive advantage. In short, he came to a conclusion based on the evidence he had seen.

The religious worldview works in the opposite way. One starts with an unshakeable first cause for everything (God), then interprets all subsequent evidence in terms of this paradigm. This way of thinking gave us such brilliant ideas such as:

1. The Earth is at the center of the universe.
2. The universe is about 6,000 years old.
3. The stars in the sky are the souls of our ancestors.
4. The world is too complicated to have been created by a natural process.
5. If your house is struck by lightning, you must be living in sin.
6. Two individual humans can create a viable gene pool for future human generations.
7. There were no dinosaurs.
8. Sex is bad.

In fact, arguments for intelligent Design are all, at some level, based on simple human judgment: How complicated does the world have to be before it becomes clear that a "designer" was involved? That's a judgment call, since there's no objective standard for the words "simple" or "complex." They're entirely human constructs. It's all the more ironic that opponents usually attack evolution basically on claims that it's a subjective theory created to discredit religion (essentially a myth), while they're completely fine with their own theory based on an invisible, all powerful being for which there is no objective evidence.

So, which method has a better chance at getting to the truth? Looking at evidence then making a conclusion, or making a conclusion then trying to fit the evidence to it?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Note to GOP: We're a Nation of Laws, Not of Men

Conservatives who lament what they call an "activist judiciary," or accuse judges of "legislating from the bench," are really just pointing out that the courts are indeed an anti-democratic institution. The way they see it, Congress represents the will of the people, so when courts declare a law unconstitutional they are in effect thwarting the right of the people to determine their own governance.

Of course, if you're a rich white Protestant, this argument makes perfect sense. Congress is unlikely to pass a law that will harm you or your friends. The majority wants a ban on flag burning, they want prayer in schools, they want "Under God" in the Pledge, and the courts are standing in the way of that. But would you fell the same way if you were a poor, black atheist? I doubt it.

And what about abortion? All surveys of the American people consistently find that a solid majority is pro-choice. Yet if Congress had the power to make it illegal, they would. The courts won't let that happen. So now which institution is being anti-democratic? Why would the right-wing nut jobs who oppose Harriet Miers declare that they don't want a justice who will uphold Roe v. Wade, despite the fact that most Americans want abortion to be legal?

What I'm getting at is this:

1. I never want to hear again the argument that there should be a ban on flag-burning (or prayer in school or any other stupid Bible-based policy) because a majority of Americans want it. Most of them want abortion, too.

2. America is a land ruled by laws, not men. When conservatives complain that the courts overturn the will of the people, they are forgetting this important point. All the courts are doing is keeping the "men" in Congress from making laws that discriminate against non-WASPs, and that's the way it's supposed to work.

So quit your whining, you theocracy-loving assholes. I live in this country too. And suck my balls.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Now, a Word About Sheep

The nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement, Harriet Miers, graphically points up an interesting facet of the party system in general, and the Republican Party especially: The fact that the people who make up a party's political base act, and are treated as, sheep.

It's already clear that conservatives are nervous about Miers, due mainly to her lack of a track record. After all, the last time something like this happened, they got David Souter, a supposed conservative who turned out to be anything but. ABC News reported that, "Conservatives in some cases are expressing outright opposition, some are in wait-and-see mode and some are silent, all bad signs for a Bush administration used to having the full backing of all wings of the GOP when it takes on the Senate's minority Democrats over judicial selection."

The hard-right loonies are even more irritated: Troy Newman of Operation: Rescue called for Bush to withdraw Miers' name from consideration, saying, "My position to these leaders is that we cannot afford the babies cannot afford to wait and see. . .We did it with Souter, we did it with O'Connor and we did it with countless others. Now's the time to be vocal."

Yet, within three hours of Bush's announcement of Miers, the Republican National Committee sent an e-mail to the base exhorting them to support, and show their support, for the nominee. The reason, it said, that Republicans needed to rally was: "Before Ms. Miers was even announced many Democrat groups said they would oppose her."

Do I really need to go on? Why would a party tell its rank-and-file to support a nominee on faith, when the leadership of that party is not convinced? It's because they're sheep. The party leaders treat them as if they have no thoughts except those placed there by the party, and for the most part they actually do think only what they're told. Doesn't that strike you as a bit un-democratic?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Thank God for Sandra

Well, I haven't had much to say for the last few days--not much has happened, it seems. But I couldn't let pass the replacement of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom I respect so much, without a comment.

So, thank God [sic] for O'Connor. Although the Rehnquist court was conservative in it's make-up, it turned out to be extraordinarily centrist in it's decisions. I can't think of a decision (except in the Eminent Domain case) made by the Court in the last ten or fifteen years which I thought was outrageous, partisan, or arbitrary. The main reason for this must be O'Connor, the swing vote in hundreds of cases, who consistently and objectively erred on the side of The People. You couldn't ask for more from a Court or a Justice.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Democrats Begin to Play Their Hand for 2006

For the first time in years, it seems, a new sign is emerging that Democrats might be working together on a cohesive message for the 2006 campaign: "The Culture of Corruption." The idea is to paint Republican officials in Congress and the White House as people who manipulate government, law, and the truth in order to promote conservative causes and, especially, enrich themselves and their friends at the expense of the taxpayers. Those who have been paying attention have known this for years, but the new Democratic PR push could gain traction with the public because of the unwitting cooperation of Republicans themselves, who suddenly are having trouble hiding their dirty laundry.

The General Accounting Office recently completed its investigation of the Department of Education over allegations of using taxpayer money to promote partisan ends. The GAO concluded that the department engaged in illegal covert propaganda when it made a fake "news story" and paid a syndicated columnist to promote "No Child Left Behind." They also paid taxpayer money to a consulting firm to determine who in the media was favorable to the Republican party.

In response to the GAO report, Ted Kennedy said, "The taxpayer-funded propaganda campaign coming from the White House is another sign of the culture of corruption that pervades the White House and Republican leadership."

When Majority Leader Tom Delay had to leave his post this week after being indicted for breaking campaign finance laws, Nancy Pelosi was there: "[this is] the latest example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption at the expense of the American people."

When you combine these scandals with recent revelations that Bush staffed the entire government with incompetent cronies, and that Bill Frist is an inside-trader, and that more no-bid contracts for Katrina cleanup were given to companies connected to the Bush Administration, it seems like a natural theme for the Democrats to seize on. Can you win elections simply by making your opponents look bad? Just ask the Republicans, who did it in 2000 and 2004. But perhaps the more important thing is that Dems are working on some unified strategy here, which implies they may be better organized than in the recent past.