What I’m Doing as the World Changes

Given the inevitable dramatic shift to the right that is about to happen in the US government and the associated chaos in the wider social / political circles, I, like many others, feel helpless and adrift. My vote did not help defeat the self-identified anti-truth bigot now on his way to the white house. Now that the elections are over, there’s little I can do directly to prevent him from taking the most powerful office in the world. But while I can’t take power from him directly, what I can do is throw support to his enemies – the voices of reason, logic, civil liberties, and common sense.

Anil Dash has a great article on this :

“Don’t waste a single moment listening to the hand-wringing of the pundit class about Why This Happened, or people on TV talking about What This Means. The most important thing is that we focus on the work that needs to be done now. While so many have been doing what it takes to protect the marginalized and to make society more just, we must increase our urgency on those efforts, even while we grieve over this formidable defeat.”

I am not one of the fat cats who are overjoyed at this turn of events, though I am better off than many, particularly those who are going to be impacted directly by upcoming policy changes and direct action in the next few years. I’ve chosen to donate heavily… give to support those organizations who will carry the fight forward.

To that end, this is a list of the people I’ve chosen to support. I’ve set up monthly repeating donations – I feel that sort of regular, dependable revenue is important

  • Wikipedia – because accurate, globally available information should be a basic human right.
  • NPR – One of the few reliable, unbiased, professional reporting services left in the world
  • EFF – An effective voice in the digital landscape for digital freedoms
  • ACLU – Don’t really need to give reasons here, do i?
  • FeedingAmerica – A very good organization that supports food banks
  • Southern Poverty Law Center – A voice against racism and hate groups

Are there those I’m missing you think I should support? Please comment and let me know.

Edit I’ve added NARAL and Planned Parenthood to the list. Thanks for the recommendations.

Race Baiting 101 by Matthew Cooke

I am continued to be amazed by the work of Matthew Cooke. His videos are clear, direct, and beautifully done. This one is particularly powerful, and, having wrestled with my place in the world regarding race, privilege, and status lately, this piece struck me pretty hard.

If you think you understand race issues, classes throughout US history, and how the we handle inequality, you should watch this, and it will either validate your positions, or enlighten you to what is happening in our country right now.

Anti-Intellectualism is Killing America

This article on Psychology Today cuts through the current easily derailed conversation about race, gun control, and the lack of informed, civil discourse today…

America is killing itself through its embrace and exaltation of ignorance, and the evidence is all around us. Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter who used race as a basis for hate and mass murder, is just the latest horrific example. Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture of ignorance.

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are“lies straight from the pit of hell,” where the chairman of a Senate environmental panelbrought a snowball into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president, it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.

Anti-Intellectualism is Killing America

An Open Letter to MoveOn.org

To Whom it may concern…
I joined MoveOn during the Bush presidency because I felt it was a strong voice against what I saw as a rabid conservative bias in the government. MoveOn was taking a strong (sometimes too strong) liberal tack against the hawks, and I found this to be an excellent way to express my horror at what was happening in Washington.
Later, MoveOn took some positions I did not necessarily agree with, but, just as some choices by the ACLU are ones I might not support, I chose to remain a member because I felt the mission was still important.
Recently though, I’ve been bothered by MoveOn’s policy of taking political stances and setting up petitions to protest something, without really getting the constituency’s feedback as to whether this is something we, the members of MoveOn, would like to support.
Recently, MoveOn sent a request out asking for it’s members to sign a petition :
> **burning endangered sea turtles alive**
> News has emerged from the Gulf Coast that BP is burning endangered sea turtles alive.
> That’s right. BP is using “controlled burns” to contain the oil spill, and any turtles that are not removed from the area before the fire is lit are literally burned alive.
> With BP already facing so much public outrage, we can step in and stop this from continuing. But we have to speak up right now.
What does this have to do with balancing political change in Washington, where the populace needs a voice to counter right wing ideology? Even your home page states:
> **Stand for Democracy**
> It’s time to rescue our government from corporations and lobbyists. Endorse the blueprint to take back our democracy.
MoveOn is using petitions to be a ‘voice of the people’. Petitions are a poor mechanism for gauging the opinion of the membership. The only answer to a petition is “Yes!” – the other answer is silence.
MoveOn, when you ask your constituents to weigh in on an issue, offer them the opinion to say No.

Is it just me?

… but if you see this text on the home page of a vendor, on the internet – where the rest of the site seems… well, useable, but not particularly inspiring… would you reconsider doing business with them?

Born free American! fighting to stay that way. The government earns no money everything it spends is STOLEN from YOU your children and your grandchildren. STOP the madness, STOP the slavery. We the people surround them. Stand up for individual liberty and limited government. Help restore the constitution and honesty to our country. You are not free until the dollar again reads United States Treasury instead of FEDERAL RESERVE NOTE – END the FED!!!

I’m all for freedom of expression and political activism. But mixing personal opinions with business and commerce seems like an awful idea. It has personally made it impossible for me to consider doing business with these people (if they feel this much anger at the federal government, how can I trust their business is sound, legal, and not subject to closing down while they owe me a product or a service?)

Texas Board of Education – Rewriting History in favor of Political Ideology

The folks over at the Texas freedom Network decided to attend the Texas Board of Education as it debated revisions to the school curriculum regarding political history. What they saw was a board dominated by extreme right wing politics. TFN comments:
> These board members clearly haven’t got a clue how to craft a curriculum document that’s streamlined, coherent and focused. They are far more interested in seeding the standards with whatever ideological pet causes they have. Pity the students and teachers of Texas for the foolishness they must endure.
Some choice bits noted from the meeting:
> The board’s far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America’s exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America’s Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.
During a debate regarding capitalism and free enterprise, several of the board members object to the term ‘Capitalism’ because it is considered a negative term. One member states, regarding using the word, “I do think words mean things. . . . I see no reason, frankly, to compromise with liberal professors from academia.” When it is pointed out that the person who recommended the terms ‘capitalism’ and ‘free enterprise’ be used is actually a republican professor at Texas A&M, the information is ignored, and the board passes the measure:
> The Texas State Board of Education has stricken from the standards references to “capitalism” and “free market” because the board’s right-wingers think “capitalism” is a negative term. The only permitted term for such an economic system will be “free enterprise.” We wouldn’t believe this if we hadn’t just watched it happen. This is so stupid it makes our head hurt.
It’s this sort of subtle manipulation of curriculum, particularly in public schools, that has the greatest effect on the political positions of children and young adults. If ideology is allowed to triumph over fact (and in many points in this discussion, fact is trumped in favor of personal stance), how can people trust their public schools, and by inference their local governments? I ask that folks pay close attention to their local school boards, and when they see absurdity like this, raise the roof and call it out – that is the only way this sort of ideological undermining of education can be stopped.

Health Insurers Caught Paying Facebook Gamers Virtual Currency To Oppose Reform Bill

According to this article on BusinessInsider.com :

Health insurance industry trade groups opposed to President Obama’s health care reform bill are paying Facebook users fake money — called “virtual currency” — to send letters to Congress protesting the bill.

Sort of puts to bed the entire notion that the health care industry has a single care for your personal well-being.

Some repercussions. Jay Severin gets spanked.

On my way home from work I frequently tune to WTKK in Boston to get an idea about what the far right is saying. I think it’s good to hear “the other side” of things. In the spectum of social policy, I’m frighteningly liberal – so it’s good to hear what the conservative wanks are going on about.

This leads me to listening to Jay Severin, who is about as far into radical politics as you can go. He’s a foaming-at-the-mouth Libertarian, from which you can get an idea where his politics are.

I listen to him because it gives me perspective on how twisted a view of reality can be generated. This is the fellow who consistently refers to the president as Barack Hussein Obama, well known Muslim and Communist, etc etc etc.

Apparently WTKK had enough of him during a show Severin did on April 30th. I happened to be listening to this when it aired, remember going “Yep, it’s Jay completely off the deep end again. Ah well” – but here’s his words:

Now, in addition to venereal disease and the other leading exports of Mexico — women with mustaches and VD — now we have swine flu… When we are the magnet for primitives around the world — and it’s not the primitives’ fault, by the way, I’m not blaming them for being primitives, I’m merely observing they are primitives — and when you scoop up some of the world’s lowest of primitives in poor Mexico and drop it down in the middle of the United States — poor, without skills, without language, not share our culture, not share our hygiene, haven’t been vaccinated… Millions of leeches from a primitive country come here to leech off you…. Now, at this particular moment in history, they are exporting to us a rather more active form of disease, which is the swine flu.

Now, after hearing, er. commentary like this, before I get all indignant, I ask myself “Does he really think this? Or is he affecting a persona that believes this?” – Jay is very eloquent – he could easily be presenting this image and these ideas deliberately to push folks into the red.

TKK wasn’t having anything to do with it, and has indefinitely suspended him.

Maybe there is some sanity in the world.

House Defeats Bailout Bill – And now it begins

As I’m sure folks know by now, the US House of Representatives has defeated the bailout bill.
What follows is my own personal opinion. Disclaimers are put forth – I am not an economist, a financial investor, or particularly savvy in us world markets. I have, however, spent a lot of time reading, listening to level-headed reporting and commentary.
I think we’re in deep doodoo.
My opinion is that the US lawmakers just took the side of localized petty politics, instead of doing what is right for the nation. And we’re not talking about this whole “main street vs wall street” BS that’s been bandied about. To me that’s a distraction away from the real issues.
Most people don’t understand how the larger financial markets work. They think ‘credit’ is a bank loan to buy a car. It isn’t. The global credit market is about the hundreds of billions of dollars that are exchanged every night in short term credit between banks and businesses. This is about a production plant in Wisconsin that normally needs $1,000,000 a day to operate. The night before, the bookmakers say “We’re short $100k. We need a loan”. They call up their broker, say “Gimme $1,000,000, I’ll pay you back on Thursday”. They get the loan, the plant functions another day, they bring in $1.1million on Thursday, and pay off the loan. Done.
That is how industrial and business credit works. It is the lifeblood of our economy.
If that loan can’t happen, that plant either operates at a loss, or they shut down for the day. That daily shutdown means instead of making $900,000 that day, they make zero.
Which is worse?
This credit cycle is what this bill is… er… was… designed to protect. It was to keep the markets alive and ease the credit tensions so the banks wouldn’t continue jacking up the interest rates on those short-term loans, thereby making it very difficult for a business to make money on a day to day basis. There’s already stress on this market, already ‘credit freezes’ going on. Businesses unable to get the short term loans necessary to function. Now it’ll just get worse.
Unfortunately, the politicians and the general US population doesn’t understand this. They just see fat cat Wall street folks getting zillion dollar paychecks, and other people getting foreclosed on houses. They vote down what might have been the only thing that could have kept the banks in business, and the credit flowing.
IMHO, we are now in serious danger of a depression. And frankly, I’m scared.
Thank you Washington. You may have killed us all.

Orson Scott Card – Totally Nucking Futs.

I usually give authors some leeway in their personal lives and opinions. I mean, particularly SF authors are an odd lot, and entitled to their quirks.
I had heard that OSC had some pretty off the wall opinions regarding gay marriage and the like, but this latest rant, published in the July 24th, 2008 “Mormon Times” as an op-ed piece, takes the ‘batshit crazy’ to a new level.
I suggest you sit down and steady yourself with something soothing before reading that piece. There’s hardly a paragraph that doesn’t elicit a “WHAT?!??!” and “That’s a blatant lie” and “You have GOT to be kidding me”, but here’s a taste if you don’t feel like wading through the vitriol. The first paragraph pretty much sets the tone;

The first and greatest threat from court decisions in California and Massachusetts, giving legal recognition to “gay marriage,” is that it marks the end of democracy in America.

Got that? Democracy’s over, kids! Lets head for the caves!
How bout a few more tidbits:

Remember how rapidly gay marriage has become a requirement. When gay rights were being enforced by the courts back in the ’70s and ’80s, we were repeatedly told by all the proponents of gay rights that they would never attempt to legalize gay marriage. It took about 15 minutes for that promise to be broken.

Wait, who? what? Who promised what where? And I hardly remember laws being passed where it was stipulated “We shall not pursue gay marriage!”
It just goes on. Enjoy the humor value of his ravings, and know that in fact there are many people in the world who think this way. Mores the pity.
Thanks to laist.com and Digg for the pointers.

Clinton Digs Herself in Deeper

In the beginning, I was a fair supporter of Hillary. I thought she had the chops to do the job, and would be professional, honest, and hard working.

But as this race winds down, and for all intents and purposes, it’s over, she’s getting more vicious, more whacked, and just plain Not Making Any Sense.

I give as the latest example, as reported via ABCnews blogger Jake Tapper:

In Florida today, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., vociferously pushed her argument that the disqualified contests in Michigan and Florida should count, even though the DNC said the contests didn’t count, no candidate campaigned in either state, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., along with many other Democratic candidates, was not even on the Michigan ballot.

“I believe the Democratic Party must count these votes. They should count them exactly as they were cast,” she said in Palm Beach County, per ABC News’ Eloise Harper, apparently meaning that she should receive more than 300,000 votes from Michigan and Obama should receive zero.

In Sunrise, Fla., Clinton assailed countries “where votes don’t count. People go through the motions of an election only to have it discarded and disregarded. We’re seeing that right now in Zimbabwe — tragically an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people. So we can never take for granted our precious right to vote.”

As GC said… “Wait, WHAT?” Not only does this comparison make no sense whatsoever, but as Jake says later in his post, Clinton didn’t make an issue of this until she started losing so badly, AND her own advisor, who is on the DNC rules and regulations committee, voted not to count Michigan and Florida’s votes. Continuing from there, the states themselves broke the rules, as they themselves say, to try and bolster their position in the election process. The DNS’s rules are there for a reason. Break the rules, you don’t get seated. Done and done.

Mrs. Clinton, shut the hell up. You’re doing a disservice to yourself, the democratic party, and the entire election process. How you can possibly think what you’re doing is positive for any American besides yourself (and even then I disagree) I cannot fathom.

The XO Laptop – OLPC comes true.

I rarely get involved in rallying folks to humanitarian causes or try to entice people to donate time any money to charities. When I do, it’s generally about something I feel quite strongly about.
About 2 years ago the faculty members at the MIT Media lab launched a project called One Laptop Per Child, the idea being that if a laptop could be built for $100, millions could be produced and distributed all through the developing nations through donations, government support, and other forms of philanthropy. The driving force is to try and make a direct impact on the socio-technological gap that is so apparent across the worlds population.
The result of this project is the XO Laptop, a machine designed by the OLPC team to address the specific challenges that will be encountered by children using the machine where there are no power outlets, or no internet, and where conditions may not be as squeaky clean as they are in your typical home office. The laptop itself, by modern standards, is underpowered, but the design is so open, so green, and so sturdy, you can’t help but be impressed.
This is a laptop designed for children to carry around with them, anywhere, anytime. It is waterproof, dirt proof, the battery lasts many many hours, it can network itself to other laptops arond it (a ‘mesh’), and it can run off a $10 solar panel (and recharge from it too).
There is an excellent video review of the XO by David Pogue on the NY Times website. Even if you aren’t interested in the machine directly, watch the video for an idea of what it’s all about.
Now, the XO laptop didn’t come in at $100. It actually came in at $183. As things ramp up, they hope to get the price down, but it’s still a little more than they anticipated.
So as part of their launch, the OLPC project has a special offer.
On November 12th, you can go to XOgiving.org and enroll in the “Give one, get one” program. You pay $400, and get an XO laptop of your very own. “Wait, $400? That’s twice what you said!” – Yes, it is. Because if you purchase an XO laptop for $400, a second laptop will be sent to a child in a developing nation.
My wife and I are seriously considering one of these laptops for our 8 year old son, and the added benefit of benefiting a child elsewhere is just icing on the cake.
If nothing else, watch the David Pogue video for all the details on the machine. It’s a remarkably green, well designed, and rugged little machine.

AT&T Blinks…

I try not to just blatantly repost things I see on other blogs, but this one is worth boosting up a little bit.
About a week ago, it came to light that AT&T had truly heinous restrictions in their contracts that gave them the legal right to terminate your account if you said anything bad about them.
AT&T tried wiggle around it, saying they’d never actually prosecute using that clause, but the blogosphere wouldn’t let it go.
Yesterday, AT&T revised their contract:

5.1 Suspension/Termination. AT&T respects freedom of expression and believes it is a foundation of our free society to express differing points of view. AT&T will not terminate, disconnect or suspend service because of the views you or we express on public policy matters, political issues or political campaigns. However, AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; or (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines. Your Service may be suspended or terminated if your payment is past due and such condition continues un-remedied for thirty (30) days. Termination or suspension by AT&T of Service also constitutes termination or suspension (as applicable) of your license to use any Software. AT&T may also terminate or suspend your Service if you provide false or inaccurate information that is required for the provision of Service or is necessary to allow AT&T to bill you for Service.

As someone who is seriously considering an iPhone sometime in the not too distant future, seeing activism generating a positive response from the vendor is heartening.
Score one for the good guys.
(Thanks to boingboing for the article.)

A View of Truth

In Friday’s Swift, James Randi’s weekly column, he cited a remarkablebook by Andrew Keen called “The Cult of the Amateur“.
I’m reproducing the block that Randi mentioned – I believe his selection is excellent and states much of what I feel is at issue in internet commentary, and indeed, the way people perceive ‘truth’ today…

Truth… is being “flattened,” as we create an on-demand, personalized version of the truth, reflecting our own individual myopia. One person’s truth becomes as “true” as anyone else’s. Today’s media is shattering the world into a billion personalized truths, each seemingly equally valid and worthwhile. To quote Richard Edelman, the founder, president and CEO of Edelman PR, the world’s largest privately owned public relations company:
In this era of exploding media technologies there is no truth except the truth you create for yourself.
This undermining of truth is threatening the quality of civil public discourse, encouraging plagiarism and intellectual property theft and stifling creativity. When advertising and public relations are disguised as news, the line between fact and fiction becomes blurred. Instead of more community, knowledge, or culture, all that Web 2.0 really delivers is more dubious content, from anonymous sources, hijacking our time and playing to our gullibility.
Need proof? Let’s look at that army of perjurious penguins – “Al Gore’s Army of Penguins” to be exact. Featured on YouTube, the film, a crude “self-made” satire of Gore’s pro-environment movie An Inconvenient Truth, belittles the seriousness of [his] message by featuring a penguin version of Al Gore preaching to other penguins about global warning.
But [this film] is not just another homemade example of YouTube inanity. Though many of the 120,000 people who viewed this video undoubtedly assumed it was the work of some SUV-driving amateur with an aversion to recycling, in reality, the Wall Street Journal traced the real authorship of this neo-con satire to DCI Group, a conservative Washington, D.C. public relationships and lobbying firm whose clients include ExxonMobil. The video is nothing more than political spin, enabled and perpetuated by the anonymity of Web 2.0, masquerading as independent art. In short, it is a big lie.

Trying to navigate the information overload we have today to try and get ‘reality’ out of the morass is a challenge I personally face every day. Aside from the deep philosophical overtones, I have a firm faith (if that is the proper word) in reality and truth. Superstition and fantasy masquerading as fact has no place in my worldview. To me, spin, misdirection, and deception, like the video mentioned above, are no better.

Idiot AP Reporters

What is it with supposedly ‘technical’ reporters? They apparently haven’t clue ONE about the material they’re writing about.

Take for example an article appearing in the Herald Tribune – Europe. The subject is a good one, Tim Berners-Lee discussing research into the future of the ‘net. A worthy topic, but the short article contains this little gem:

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist who is credited with creating the Internet, said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. that the way the Web is used should be examined by a broad spectrum of experts.

NO. WRONG. TBL had nothing to do with the ‘Invention of the Internet’. TBL is credited with first linking hypertext documents with a mechanism for linking these documents to remote servers. He wrote the first webserver, and the first web browser, and coined the term ‘World Wide Web’. This is an application that runs OVER the internet.