Thursday, November 27, 2008

Islamist Fanatics

According to this story, Islamist fanatics (the mujaheddin, a generic term meaning thugs) have once again proven their highly trained suicide commandos are able to vanquish tourists, grandmothers, shoppers, business people and other various civilians in peaceful settings-- including, if the reports are accurate, a hospital. Great glory on them. For this they use weapons they buy from elsewhere (since no country where they live is able to create the infrastructure to actually manufacture something), using money they cheat (or extort) from their neighbors, steal from their mothers, and their children, or receive as handouts from distant allies who hope they kill each other off before they can spread the poison of their beliefs any closer.

Every time some muslim cause takes a step toward being sympathetically heard, some dim witted testosterone fuelled band of death worshippers decides to attack a shopping center, a school, or an airport. This is not the expression of a glorious cause-- it's people with spectacularly bad judgement and too much ordinance. They have besmirched the image of Islam in the eyes of the rest of the world. And unfortunately, they have contributed to the world's perception of a generation of young Muslims who are so cynical and alienated that when they're not finding Christian or Jewish civilians to attack, they attack their own. Will someone not tell them they are setting back their agenda rather than furthering it? Are there no voices in the Mulsim world to say, "no, suicide attacks are not glorious, they are a cowardly way to attack the helpless and achieve less than nothing"? Perhaps they should start listening to their women for a change. Or allow their wise people to speak, instead of gagging them with threats of violence. This is not extremism, it's a specific form of insanity.

Praise Allah for the band of small, hopeless, and stupid men who banded together, armed themselves, and planned the complex logistics for attacking a freaking tourist hotel and a shopping center and a hospital. It's ugly and tragic. And I wish only the worst to happen to any of them, and their families and communities-- their teachers, and ministers, and advisors-- for five generations to come.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Some Back-of-the-envelope Calculation

I was recently thinking about all the billionaires that have been popping up in America (and elsewhere in the world). Now a billion dollars is a difficult thing to wrap my mind around, but after whipping out my trusty calculator (actually, it's a program built into my computer), I calculated that a fifty year old man with a billion dollars has to have made a lot of money. How much? How about $54,795 every day since he was born! Almost fifty-five thousand dollars a day, over and above what he spent, and that's every day (including weekends, though I didn't include leap year days).

People seem to treat them as if they're extremely capable and, usually, extremely lucky. I'm going to toss out another thought. They're also extremely rapacious and greedy. How about Bill Gates, who recently retired with about 70 billion dollars? He made more like $350,000 for every day of his life. Every day since he was born! That's atrocious.

The only way to make a dollar in commerce is to sell something to someone for a dollar more than it cost you to acquire it. There are many ways to trim the cost of acquisition, such that it costs a merchant a dollar less than someone will pay. But think about the implications of that one-sided transaction happening over and over again, fifty-five thousand times a day, every day for fifty years.

I believe in community, in giving people a good deal, of helping out my neighbor when I'm in a position to do that. Drop a dollar in the poor box, tip the waiter 20%. People helped me out when I was in need, and I, in turn have helped others. This species of reciprocal mutual aid is the opposite of profit, and guarantees none of us will become billionaires. There are too many opportunities to eschew the dollar profit on every transaction when my customer is also my neighbor.

So how about I propose this as a theory-- a billionaire becomes that as a result of his non-communitarian actions. Far from being a productive and helpful member of the community, the billionaire has proven his greed and insensitivity to his community by acquiring and holding onto all that wealth in the first place. How about instead of lauding the billionaires and treating them like royalty, we instead tax them for their greed and parasitism. It's not exactly punishment, but it's not reward either. That seems fair to me.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Some Peculiar Numbers

In the last couple of days, there's been an interesting set of statistics being reported in the news outlets. Take this one, for example, from the Washington Post, headlined Election Turnout Falls Short Of Forecasts, arguing the turnout was lower than in previous elections. THIS IS NOT TRUE! I will repeat that-- the assertion that voter turnout was somewhat lower in this election than in some previous elections is an outright, bald-faced lie!

Here is how the Washington Post (normally a reliable paper) manages to shoehorn the headlined lie into the story:
Make no mistake: More people cast ballots this year than in previous elections. But preliminary reports show that the numbers paled in comparison with a surge in voter registration that has taken place since the 2004 presidential election. Turnout as a measure of registrants who voted -- a standard way of calculating the figure -- did not show dramatic increases.
In point of fact, more people cast ballots in this election than in any previous election. A lot more! Leading up to the election, there were unprecedented voter registration drives all across the country. Remember the ACORN debacle? Remember how they said they had registered 1.6 million new voters in the last couple of years? Just before the election they had to recant, and admit they'd only signed up one third of that. And some of the registrations were for Mickey Mouse and the members of the Dallas Cowboys.

Well now the source of this news item (lower voter turnout) is using these inflated numbers to find the ratio of voters to registrants, and finds the ratio has gone down. Surprise! Mickey Mouse didn't show up at the polls. This story is a lie, or at least the information conveyed in the headline is a lie. The statistic being used is meaningless because it's based on numbers that are meaningless.

But why would this particular piece of twisted-logic-from-bad-statistics be found in all the major media outlets? I have to admit I don't know the definitive answer right now. But what I am guessing is the conservatives, facing a more than 2 to 1 defeat in the polls, are doing damage control. A two-thirds majority of an election in which more people voted than ever before indicates a strong mandate for progressive change. Karl Rove and his cronies had their asses handed to them on a plate. The American voters are sick and tired of the status quo. So now they've come up with an imaginary statistic that says, "well compared to the number of new registrations, the turnout was average." Implying, thereby, that the progressive mandate doesn't exist. They're wrong. It does exist. And the newspapers who are reporting this crap news should be outed and exposed. I imagine the source of this item is Scooter Libby (ha, I'm kidding). But it's certainly some right-leaning PR group.

Corporate, conglomerate media are not the outlets or mouthpieces for progressive change, but they can be the opposite. The right's bogeyman of "leftist media" is just that-- a bogeyman-- because it doesn't exist. Instead, we have the Washington Post and most other major papers feeding the American newspaper reader with lies supported by ugly statistical hocus pocus. For shame!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reprising something I said some time ago

Here's something Andrew Sullivan from the Atlantic says about Sarah Palin's insecure grasp of the whole concept of that, you know, honesty thing. A lie is a lie, even when it's just conservative marketing speak. I said much the same thing a couple of weeks ago.

Stay in Alaska, Sarah. There won't be any open doors down here for awhile.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Go read this column


Tears to Remember


This is an incredibly inspiring piece of writing, an opinion piece in the New York Times, by Judith Warner. Memorable.

And what a giddy, crazy idea she proposes: an America we can be proud of!

Poor

More than one third of the people in this country are poor. I'll avoid a rigorous definition of the term for the moment, and just make some observations to establish why this is important.
  1. The poor are much more likely to have untreated and chronic health problems.

    • Bad nutrition
    • Lack of access to primary health care
    • High cost of health care, including follow-up and ongoing treatment

  2. The poor pay a higher percentage of their income on sales, property, and excise taxes, as well as routine fees like auto insurance and vehicle registration, than the non-poor.
  3. The poor are 10 times more likely to be jailed for a crime than a person of average income. (I know, I'm going to need some sources for a statistic like this).
  4. The poor are 10 times more likely to be the victim of a crime. (ditto, need a source)
  5. The poor pay more for credit, and are more likely to use it.
  6. The poor are much more likely to be holding a crippling expensive mortgage, and are much more likely to be foreclosed.
The poor are exploited by capitalism for cheap labor and for being easy marks for credit gouging. There's an entire industry based on gouging the poor for being in bad financial straits-- payday loans, rent-a-center, pawn shops, 25% and higher credit cards with fees, variable rate mortgages, cheap, low-quality goods available at discount stores which break soon after purchase and require replacement, phone plans which come with expensive pay-as-you-go service.