Modest Proposal for the Pledge of Allegiance

July 30th, 2010

Lately, I’ve found myself in situations where people are reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This hasn’t been the case very often since grade school, and I find all the reasons that made me object to it as a child renewed, and other ones added in. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is The Ranter Dead?

June 7th, 2009

I started this blog in the early days of the Bush administration when Bush was enjoying the highest approval ratings in history. I was worried about where he would lead the country and, by the end of his first week in office, I was terrified. I suppose only the long view of history will bear out which one of us was right, but so far I would say that The Ranter leads at least 6-0 at the half (environment, economy, Iraq, torture, rendition and appeasement, with Afghanistan and a few others undecided).

I tried a number of things to get the word out, to get people to join the ACLU and to buy my tshirts. For a while the site did rank #1 for "bush is evil" in Google. But I eventually lost interest for several reasons:

  • Realistically, as soon as Bush’s approval ratings started to really drop once the Iraq war started going poorly, I felt less need to keep writing. Everyone could see that the emperor had no clothes and I just didn’t see the value any more in being one more voice repeating it. I did on a couple of occasions write posts in favor of Bush, or at least critical of his critics, but it seemed like the right had plenty of people writing those types of articles, so there wasn’t much point there either.
  • The site never really got traction. I had no illusions that I would develop hundreds, let alone thousands, of loyal readers — there are just too many writers on politics and current events, most of them much better than me, but other things I did drew in more people in comments and more interaction, and this site never rose to the level of engaging readers. Perhaps if I had found some others to write and built more of a community, it might have stayed interesting longer to both visitors and me.
  • The fundamental vibe of most of the articles is negative, and I’m not a negative person. In fact, I’m a strong optimist. And I think most of the tshirts I designed were positive and at least a little humorous (“Proud member of the vast liberal conspiracy” which seemed even funnier in 2003). So I felt more and more out of step with my persona on Taken For Ranted. I could have tried to turn that around, but I felt constrained by the existing content here. I always imagined that what I wrote here would be free, fun, ironic. The truth is, with a couple of exceptions, it was plodding and boring. That wasn’t the point.
  • I have been enjoying thinking about other things and decided I wanted a new space to do it, so I started writing on an old domain I had, RaisedByTurtles.org. My original idea for that site was to get people, especially young people, to write fictional biographies, perhaps several, where they would be unfettered by the boring details of their actual lives and write the life they planned to live or just something offbeat. My official biography is, uh, unfettered by facts. I never did figure out how to spread that idea among young people, but I had positive associations with the domain and, given my slow pace at getting things done, it seemed a more appropriate name for a place for my thoughts. It is not political. It’s a place to put down things I don’t want to forget, without feeling constrained by the topic. Some are straightforward solutions to computer problems that I know I’ll need to solve again (forcing Firefox to open resizable popups). Some are just my reactions to doing business at this place or that (as my thoughts on how restaurant managers should count vegetarians). I don’t know as these topics will interest any other human being, but they interest me more than opposition screeds to an administration that is no longer in office, and I felt like they would go better somewhere else. Like buying a new notebook to keep your journal in I guess.

Maybe this all begs the question of whether I suddenly think everything in America and the world is great and Saint Barak has saved democracy. Sadly, no. But unlike with Bush, I’m just not sure where Obama is taking us and I’m not sure he’s making the right or the wrong decisions. And in any case, I suppose the answer to that really is in what happens a year or two from now (in other words, do we get our wars, health care, spending and tax system under control or not).

I might have something to write from time to time, but for now, that’s why I don’t. The closest thing I have to what I used to write here is my Twitter stream except it’s lighter and more whimsical and more like what I imagined the feel of this blog would be.

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How Can People This Stupid Hold Office?

May 5th, 2009

I missed this when it first came around I guess. It raises the question – how can Americans vote for someone as stupid as John Boehner, leaving aside the question of how the Republican Party make him the House Minority Leader?
– Carbon dioxide is a carcinogen? Huh? It’s a greenhouse gas John.
– CO2 from cows is a problem? Huh? It’s the methane John.
– When cows “do what they do” that’s a problem? Not that John can’t name it because he wants to use the word fart, but it’s not cow farts, it’s cow burps that are the issue. But since Boehner doesn’t know that….

Is he capable of getting a single fact right?

BTW, I don’t write here much anymore. When I have some short and outstandingly insightful (or stupid) remark to make, I make it on Twitter these days. Most of what I have to say, I’ve learned, can be said as well in 140 characters.

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Tom Friedman on Scientific American Podcast

March 18th, 2009

Scientific American has a great podcast, especially for those of us who believe in whacky theories like evolution, climate change and gravity. Tom Friedman has some great perspectives on why dealing with climate change is a good bet, even if the theory is wrong. To the doubters, he argues that our national security depends on a renewable energy source which, whoops, is what solving the climate change issue requires too.

Listen HERE.

Takeway quote: “Change your leaders, not your lightbulbs.”

Also, the interview with Jerry Coyne on evolution and creationism is worth a listen.

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Prop 8 Supporters Whining about Boycott

February 25th, 2009

Prop 8 Backers Whining about Boycotts

According to an article in USA Today, “Prop 8 opponents turn to boycotts” (Dec. 22, 2008, p. 5A), some of those who contributed heavily to backing California’s ballot measure against gay marriage are complaining that they are being blacklisted. First off, they are are being boycotted and one should never confuse the two. A blacklist is when an institution of authority (the government or the studios) make it impossible for a group to do business, regardless of market demand for their services. It’s what the studios did in the McCarthy era and what the Nazis did to the Jews before the decided that exterminating them would be a better solution. As my dear Professor Richard Sugarman, who knows a thing or two about the Holocaust used to say, the Nazis said “You can’t work here” followed by “You can’t live here” followed by “You can’t live.” The blacklist was the first step in that tragic progression.

A boycott is, on the other hand, what civil rights leaders in the US, anti-apartheid activists, environmental activists (e.g. with respect to Home Depot) and various Christian activist groups have done. It simply operates on the principle that in a free market, all consumers have choices about how to spend their money. Given that freedom, they can choose not to support business who donate to causes those consumers do not support. Thus a business that, for example, produces toys but also gives heavily to Planned Parenthood, may find conservative Christian groups organizing a boycott. A business that gives heavily to anti-abortion activists ay find itself boycotted by pro-choice activists as Domino’s Pizza did. I can’t for the life of me (which perhaps i shouldn’t say in that context) see anything wrong with this. In fact, I would say that it is far, far better than bombing abortion clinics or spiking trees.

But Robert Hoehn, who donated $25,000 to the Prop 8 campaign and is seeing his car dealerships being boycotted by Prop 8 opponents, says “I just hate being pigeonhoeld as a hate monger or bigot.” Well Bob, let me be the 5,481st genius to tell you that’s sort of the point of a most boycotts. That is to say that the point is to hurt you economically because of your choices which, typically, the boycotters see as immoral, unethical, bigotted, anti-evironmental or whatever axe they’re grinding.

Personally, I would be happy to have some group organize a massive boycott of Taken For Ranted because I have called Sean Hannity a dangerous and vicious man hell-bent on undermining fundamental protections of the US Consistution. Not that boycotting TFR would exactly hurt my income since I suppose I can afford to give up the $2/month I make off t-shirts (almost none of which are sold via this site anyway). But to be honest, I suspect that Sean Hannity, if he knew I existed, would be pleased to know that a whacko lefty nut job like me considers him dangerous and I would certainly be flattered if he would return the favor. Please Sean, boycott me. There’s no way I could ever afford to buy the kind of publicity that would bring me.

One of the great corrupters in a democratic society is the large flow of anonymous money into the political process. Of course, in theory, that flow of money is documented and not anonymous, but in practice we rarely know who is giving where. Making that knowledge available makes us responsible. If we knew that all our neighbors would know what causes we did and didn’t donate to, would that change our behavior. More importantly, if a week before an election, we got a list of the biggest donors and the biggest donors in our district and the total amount given to a candidate or ballot measure, would that not make the process more honest?

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Freedom of Information Baby!

February 18th, 2009

There has been a lot of reporting lately on Obama’s executive orders calling for closing Gitmo and secret detention centers, and classifying waterboarding as torture. These are important, but also expected since he promised to do so during the campaign. Another major victory that has made a lot less news is his executive order to make government more transparent through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

I’ve mentioned here that William Lederer long ago (1960) predicted that the US would be more successful in the Cold War if we were more open, not less open, and noted that much “secret” government information is classified only to save officials and politicians from embarassment. The trend in the last eight years has been terrible, most notably with Bush’s executive order telling government agencies not to expend resources to answer Freedom of Information Act requests. Finally, 49 years after Lederer’s book, we have a president who has directed all government agencies that they should have a “presumption of openness” rather than one of secrecy. In other words, instead of a citizen needing to prove that a document should be public, the agency has to prove that a document should be secret.

This is huge and, I should add, a non-partisan issue. In general, liberals who believe in transparency in government and conservatives who believe government should be small and responsive have long complained about the expense, the inefficiency and the lack of transparency the policy of secrecy causes. Meanwhile, government officials who believe in strong government and strong executive power (that is, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld) have been in favor of a presumption of secrecy. So this is good news for true liberals and true conservatives, for civil libertarians and plain old libertarians.

See the Washington Post story, New Obama Orders on Transparency, FOIA Requests

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Partisan Bickering or No Time to Think?

February 13th, 2009

I heard a legislator bemoaning that Republicans were blocking the stimulus package just as a matter of partisan bickering. Really? Someone wants to spend nearly trillion dollars on nobody knows exactly what and the only possible explanation for someone having reservations about this is “partisan bickering”? To put it in perspective, the stimulus package will cost, in nominal dollars, three times what we spent to fight World War II.

When we fail utterly to see our opponents’ point of view, we have no hope of hashing out a solution. I think that’s where the legislator in question is. She reminds me of my favorite movie line ever, from Canadian Bacon. John Candy is trying to wind up the locals for a “strike” on Canada and in his pep talk he says: “There is a time to think and time to act and this. is. no. time. to. think!”

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ACLU Not Rendered Irrelevant Yet

February 12th, 2009

I know that the Obama administration has made some important strides in civil liberties, but already the ACLU is seeing troubling signs. This from their newsletter:

Yesterday, ACLU lawyers encountered a recurring — and troubling — obstacle in our lawsuit seeking justice for torture victims caught up in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. But this time, the objections were not coming from the Bush administration.

To our surprise and disappointment, the new Justice Department urged a federal appeals court to dismiss our lawsuit charging a Boeing subsidiary with providing critical support for the CIA’s rendition program based on the same “state secrets” claim that the Bush administration had repeatedly invoked to avoid any judicial scrutiny of its actions. During the course of the argument, one judge asked twice if the change in administration had any bearing on the Justice Department’s position. The attorney for the government said that its position remained the same.

See also Justice Department Stands Behind Bush Secrecy In Extraordinary Rendition Case.

ACLU is asking that folks send a message to Senators Kennedy, Leahy, Specter and Representative Nadler

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Gingrich on the bailout and Obama’s transition

February 11th, 2009

Newt Gingrich was the grinch, the man attributed with bringing a new level of nastiness and partisanship to the Congress. And so I was surprised to hear an interview with him on NPR saying that he said he gave Obama “extremely high” marks for his transition and lauded him for, unlike Roosevelt, taking action between election day and inauguration. Gingrich actually argued for doubling funds for the National Science Foundation. This after a decade of Republican attacks on scientific research.

He’s critical of all these huge bailouts, saying that the money is being wasted, which I think most Americans agree with. However, deviating from the classic Republican playbook, Gingrich is not against spending these huge sums. He’s against what he calls “pothole projects” meaning projects that employ someone to wield a shovel while the money lasts, but have no strategic importance. He wants to see projects like the transcontinental railway and the interstate highway system — big strategic spending that will benefit the American people for decades to come (and he didn’t bother to point out that both of these projects were started by Republican presidents).

And, I would never have thought it possible, he seems to really believe that the current crisis has put us past partisanship for the next few years. Either Obama will succeed and the country will be better off in three years or he won’t and nothing else will matter in 2012, so there’s no point in partisan snarking.

Gingrich even said there are things government does well, and audacious projects like the transcontinental railroad belong in that category. So much for “government is not the solution, it’s the problem” (Ronald Reagan). He does worry about government frittering away money on meaningless projects in each congressional district. As he says, Lincoln didn’t push for a small railroad in each congressional district, but a transcontinental railway. There’s a difference.

I think at one point, Gingrich hoped me might become the party’s next Ronald Reagan, but in office he turned out to be a nasty, petty politician. Out of office, though, he seems to be running to be his party’s Jimmy Carter — the politician who had terrible execution in office, but seems increasingly effective with each year he stays out of office. Almost makes me want to forgive the guy ;-)

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Carbon Footprints and Executive Pay (Ranter Index III)

January 12th, 2009

I think this is the third installment of the Ranter Index. It could be #4 though.

  • 340,000: barrels of oil burned by the US military per day [1].
  • 0.2: grams of CO2 produced by each Google search [3].
  • 140: grams of CO2 produced by traveling one kilometer in a car that meets latest EU emission standards [3].
  • 36: average CEO pay as a multiple of average worker’s pay in 1976 [2].
  • 131: average CEO pay as a multiple of average worker’s pay in 1993 before legislation requiring CEO salaries of public companies to be published [2].
  • 369: average CEO pay as a multiple of average worker’s pay in 2008, 15 years after the legislation to correct the “problem” [2].
  • 525 million: total cost in dollars of all robberies in the US in 2004 [2].
  • 16 billion: total cost in dollars of all robbery, larceny-theft, and automobile theft in the US in 2004 [2].
  • 24 billion: total cost in dollars of bogus insurance claims in the US in 2004 [2].
  • 350 billion: total cost in dollars estimated by the IRS of underreporting on taxes in the US [2].
  • 600 billion: total cost in dollars of employee theft and fraud in the workplace [2].

Sources:

  • 1. “Rubber Tracks Make Military Vehicles More Efficient, Durable, Quieter”, Treehugger, Dec 15, 2008.
  • 2. Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, pp. 17, 195–96.
  • 3. Powering a Google search, Official Google Blog, Jan. 11, 2009. These figures from Google are in response to an article in the Sunday Times (London) which said that it took 7gms per search and cited research of Harvard physicist Alex Wissner-Gross. Unfortunately for the Times, Wissner-Gross emphatically states that he never even studied Google but did calculate that every second one spends online generates 200 milligrams of CO2, but that’s total for all aspects included and doesn’t consider search specifically. Wissner-Gross runs the CO2 Stats website

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