100 Things To Shut The Hell Up About Before You Die

The only list you really need.

01 Mar

#7: The Republican Party

Posted in Uncategorized on 01.03.11

The Republican party in America is a joke. Where once could be found conservative ideals, today there is only corporatism. The modern-day Republican party is little more than a brothel wherein greedy self-serving opportunists service their corporate masters.

Don’t believe me?

Exhibit A: The “Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011″ (Aka H.R.1) passed on 2011-02-19. All but three Republicans present voted for this bill, with only three voting No. Thankfully, not a single Democrat voted in favor of it, so at least we don’t have to hear how it was a bipartisan effort.

What has me so upset about this spending bill is not the cuts that the Grand Old Party has worked in. For one thing, I expect Republicans to cut money going to poor people and the middle class. I’m not surprised at all when they cut the free fresh fruit and vegetable to schools program from $76 Million to $0, or when they trim over $700 Billion from the WIC program. Standard operating procedure, really.

The thing that has me wondering how any self-respecting conservative can associate with the Republican Party is the many amendments tacked on to the bill that are nothing more than a favor to big business at the expense of our health and safety.

Last fall, the EPA passed their National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants From the Portland Cement Manufacturing Industry and Standards of Performance for Portland Cement Plants. (Available here.)

SUMMARY: EPA is finalizing amendments to the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) from the Portland Cement Manufacturing Industry and to the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for Portland Cement Plants.
The final amendments to the NESHAP add or revise, as applicable, emission limits for mercury, total hydrocarbons (THC), and particulate matter (PM) from new and existing kilns located at major and area sources, and for hydrochloric acid (HCl) from new and existing kilns located at major sources. The standards for new kilns apply to facilities that commence construction, modification, or reconstruction after May 6, 2009.
The final amendments to the NSPS add or revise, as applicable, emission limits for PM, opacity, nitrogen oxides (NOX), and sulfur dioxide (SO2) for facilities that commence construction, modification, or reconstruction after June 16, 2008. The final rule also includes additional testing and monitoring requirements for affected sources.

These are new rules and regulations set forth by the EPA, as required by the Clean Air Act. Their purpose is stated clearly in the document.

[New Source Performance Standards] implement CAA section 111(b) and are issued for categories of sources which cause, or contribute significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.

The text of H.R.1 contains the following section (and several others like it):

SEC. 4008. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce the rule entitled ‘‘National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants From the Portland Cement Manufacturing Industry and Standards of Performance for Portland Cement Plants’’ published by the Environmental Protection Agency on September 9, 2010 (75 Fed. Reg. 54970 et 21 seq.).

This section of the bill was inserted as Amendment 88 by Representative John Carter of Texas. The purpose of this amendment is simply (as far as I can discern) to stop the EPA from enforcing the rule they passed last fall. The one that limits the amount of toxic waste a portland cement plant can spew into the environment.

This is not about curbing spending, this is about bowing down to corporate masters.

You see, it’s no coincidence that the Texas Lehigh Cement Company, which produces over 1 million tons of portland cement every year, is located within Representative John Carter’s district.

Representative John Carter of Texas has decided that the economic well being of the Texas Lehigh cement Company is more important than the health of the surrounding population. Predictably, the rest of the Republicans in the House agree with him.

There are several more examples of this sort of blatant disregard for the public’s well being in the “Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011,” blocking the spending of already appropriated money on things such as regulating greenhouse gasses, reporting the sale of multiple shotguns and/or rifles to the same person, and providing a publicly-accesible database of dangerous consumer products.

The list goes on.

I propose an amendment that forces us all to shut the hell up about the Republican Party and until they change their business-first mentality call them by their rightful name, the Corporatism Party.

The ayes have it.

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23 Feb

#6: The Academy Awards

Posted in Uncategorized on 23.02.11

Last year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, commonly referred to as “The Academy,” made a change to their awards show. They expanded the Best Picture category from five nominees to ten. As The Daily News’ Elizabeth Weitzman put it, this change “was meant to shake things up and bring in a new, younger audience…”

Interesting. What does bringing in a new, younger audience have to do with acknowledging the very best that the motion picture industry has offered over the past year? The same thing that the awards show itself does, which is to say absolutely nothing.

The Academy Awards show serves one purpose: to remind people that the movies are out there and to convince them that they want to see them. It is an hours-long commercial, nothing more. In fact, before receiving any such award, the recipient must agree to certain rules, the very first of which is:

I hereby acknowledge receipt of Academy Regulations for use of the Academy Award statuette and the phrase “Academy Award(s)” in advertising.

In advertising.

Even before the part about not selling or otherwise disposing of the award statuette without giving the Academy the chance to buy it back for $1.00, the potential recipient must agree to the regulations on using it for advertising purposes.

There’s also the increasingly important Oscar Boost that a nominated film receives. Bill Briggs of MSNBC summed it up nicely:

The thin edge between positive revenues and empty coffers also explains, in part, why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the 6,000-plus artists and movie professionals who vote on the awards) opted this year to swell the best-picture field to 10 movies — twice the usual number. A top-film nomination alone can extend or expand a movie’s on-screen run as theaters and studios seek to capitalize on the month-long buzz. In late January, “An Education” was being shown at 50 theaters. After becoming best-picture hopeful, “An Education” was on the marquee at 800 locations.

There’s big money to be had in the Oscars.

If the Academy wants to recognize the people who make great movies, I say let them. After all, there is a lot of talent in the industry, a great deal of it behind the scenes. However, by tweaking the awards show to try and get more viewers and give a financial boost to more films, the Academy has shown themselves to be slaves to the dollar rather than champions of art.

So to everyone who has their undies in a wad over the awards show, please shut the hell up. It’s only a commercial. And to the Academy, I say, shut the hell up about how awesome you are and get back to work making movies, already!

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22 Feb

#5: Ronald Reagan

Posted in Uncategorized on 22.02.11

Ronald Reagan was a shitty president.

Unless.

If you were rich or worked for a defense contractor, Reagan was like Santa Clause. But for pretty much everyone else, the 40th president of the US was a nightmare. For this reason I was disappointed, though not surprised, when The Gipper topped Gallup’s recent poll.

Reagan was an actor. He may have been a good actor, for all I know. After seeing him on TV so often during my formative years, I haven’t been inclined to seek out his movies. The part he played in the White House, though, led to the birth of modern conservatism. Problem is, the myth of Reagan is a whole lot shinier than the truth.

Reagan rode into town on a horse of unrealistic optimism. America was going through a tough time in the Carter years and had wearied of the man’s pragmatic approach to our woes (conservation, facing our troubles, etc.) Reagan stepped into the role of a weird gun-toting Pollyanna and the voters bought into his story of easy fixes and happy times for all.

The reality, of course, was not quite the double rainbow we were promised.

Reagan cut taxes, of course. Mostly for the rich, predictably. The cornerstone of Reaganomics was the belief in supply-side stimulus. Give enormous buckets of cash to the already well-off and they will trickle some down to the commoners toiling in the workplace. How well did this work? IRS data (pulled from here) shows that the top tiers of income saw a dramatic increase.

Percent Increase of Combined Salaries by Income Bracket, unadjusted for inflation (1980s)

Income Bracket Percent Increase
$20,000 – 50,000 44%
200,000 – 1 million 697%
Over $1 million 2,184%

For the middle class, as we see, the increase was not quite as substantial. In fact, inflation for the period 1981 – 1990 was very close to that amount. For all of Reagan’s benevolence, while the rich got considerably richer, the middle class was left treading water.

Another thing that Ronnie did was fire the air traffic controllers who went on strike and refused to go back to work until their demands were met. This move was cheered by the union-haters who made up Reagan’s base. It also played a large role in busting up private unions. One result of this was outlined in the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser.

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In his book, Schlosser explains, among many other things, that thanks in large part to Reagan’s union busting and deregulation efforts, the meat-cutting industry in the US transformed from a well-paying union job where a person could make a decent living and support a family to one of the most dangerous jobs in America with ultra-low wages and deplorable working conditions. The mostly undocumented immigrants filling these positions have no power to bargain for better working conditions, which is just the way the wealthy owners and greedy stockholders want it.

One of Reagan’s goals as president was to build up America’s military. In order to facilitate this, he abandoned the status quo of detente with the Soviet Union and instead declared them the Evil Empire. He made sure that US citizens spent their days fearing nuclear annihilation, so it would seem obvious that military spending had to increase substantially. He even spent billions on a pie-in-the-sky (almost literally) scheme of a space-based missile defense system.

Meanwhile, the federal deficit, which Reagan had promised to eliminate, ballooned. The massive tax cuts combined with a terrible recession (which I would have thought impossible after giving the wealthy such a tax break) caused the budget deficit to grow from $79 Billion in Reagan’s first year to over $200 Billion only two years later. Of course, this gave Reagan and the new breed of conservatives just cause to start slashing government programs that help the poor, like school luches, for example.

The worst thing about Reagan was not that he was out of touch, or that he was a economic supply-sider (though seriously, if someone can show me an instance of trickle-down economics working, I’d like to see it,) it was that he ushered in a new era of hostility. He and his ilk saw the poor as useless and lazy. Welfare queens and Willie Hortons. He popularized the wealthy urging the poor to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” even though they themselves were for the most part born into privilege.

He started the practice of using blowout deficits caused by tax cuts for the rich and massive military spending as an excuse to gut social programs that help middle- and low-income Americans. He busted unions and deregulated industries, robbing us of bargaining power against the business owners and reducing worker (and food and product) safety. He, more than even Gordon Gecko, taught us that greed is indeed good, and trying to give all Americans an equal chance to prosper is so much liberal bullshit.

So everyone, please just shut the hell up about Reagan already. He may have been a nice man, but he was a shit president.
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Read more about Reagan: (Affiliate links)

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16 Feb

#4: Mac vs. PC

Posted in Uncategorized on 16.02.11

In the seemingly eternal war between the armies of Windows lovers and the Mac devotees, the final result is this: OS-X is the superior operating system. Except when it’s not.

Want to know why Macs are better than PCs? Apple will tell you. Want to know why PCs are superior? Microsoft knows why. If you check out each company’s argument, you’ll notice something curious. The line between the two is getting thinner.

For example, Windows was originally a shell that ran on top of DOS. The Mac OS was entirely a graphic user interface. Eventually, the Mac OS evolved into a shell running on top of a Unix-derivative OS, and Windows changed to a GUI-based system. Both systems have a command-line interface, but neither company wants you to need it.

Time was, if you wanted to do graphical work (page layout, image manipulation, etc.) you used a Mac. If you wanted to do business-type work (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.) you used Windows. Nowadays, though, you can get Adobe’s software (Photoshop, et al) for Windows, and Microsoft recently released an updated Mac version of MS Office.

So which one is superior? The simple answer is..

Who the hell cares?

Try them both and pick the one that suits you better. Whatever you plan to use it for, the better system is the one that will do what you need it to in the way you want to do it.

You use a Mac? Bully for you. Think it’s the greatest thing since butter-flavored spray? No one gives a damn. You’re using a Windows machine? Awesome. Think Redmond’s shit don’t stink? Keep it to yourself. There’s no need to troll the Interwebs looking for people expressing a fondness for the system you don’t use, just so you can show them how smart you are for using an OS that they don’t.

And don’t even get me started on Linux users..

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12 Feb

#3: Bipartisanship

Posted in Uncategorized on 12.02.11

We in the US have been blessed, in our politics, with the gift of a two-party system. The contest for almost every elected office, from sheriff to mayor to president comes down to a choice between a Democrat and a Republican. This system was not drafted into the Constitution, it was created due to ideological differences between the Federalists, who supported a strong central federal government, and the Democratic-Republicans, who believed that the states should have most of the power, with a weak, limited federal government.

This split in American politics showed itself almost immediately after Washington announced he would not be seeking a third term in office. The result was that Adams defeated Jefferson by only three electoral votes, 71 to 68. The two squared off again in 1800, with Jefferson emerging victorious after a real nail-biter in which the Congress had to vote to break an Electoral College tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr. (For more on that drama, read Adams Vs Jefferson by John Ferling.)

It is telling that the chasm that exists in American politics to this day is essentially the same. On one side, there are the Democrats, who believe the federal government should be strong and provide many servies to its citizens. On the other side, the Republicans, who want a small, weak federal government, with most power residing at the state level. That is why it is so difficult to create true consensus in Congress. Our two-party system requires that each representative or senator choose one side or the other. Any third-party coalition has to glom onto an existing party or wither on the vine. (i.e. the Tea Party.)

In my opinion, no bill can be called bipartisan unless it receives at least 51% of the vote from the Republicans and at least 51% of the vote from the Democrats. After all, how can a party be said to support a bill if fewer than 50% of its members vote in favor of it? use of the term, though, has degenerated to the point where it means that one party wholeheartedly supports a bill and a small number of the other party do too. Watch the following clip for an example.

In the clip, the reporter from thehill.com refers to the House bill to repeal the health care reform bill as “bipartisan.” Notice, though, that a total of THREE Democrats voted in favor of it and 189 voted against it. This is bipartisan support? I don’t think so. The START treaty passed the Senate with only 13 Republicans voting in favor of it. Is that bipartisan? Not in my book.

The real problem is that the times that “bipartisan” is used correctly cheese me off the most. A recent example is the extension of the Bush tax cuts. That was truly bipartisan, in that 55% of House Democrats and 77% of House Republicans voted in favor of it. (In the Senate, the vote was 77% D’s in favor, 88% R’s.) This particular piece of legislation bugs me because the Republicans showed their true colors, refusing to pass tax cut extensions for anybody unless the ultra-rich got theirs, too.

The only reason the compromise passed was that President Obama stated flat out that he didn’t want to jeopardize the financial well being of the lower income tax payers who would actually feel the pain of having their taxes go up. So he pressured the Democrats to give in to Republican demands. Presto, bipartisan victory!

Makes me reach for the antacid.

So if everyone could just shut their yap about bipartisanship, it would be greatly appreciated.

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09 Feb

#2: Intelligent Design

Posted in Uncategorized on 09.02.11

I had originally planned on tacking my rant against Intelligent Design onto the end of the Creationism post, since the two things are so closely related. Intelligent Design (hereafter “ID”) is, after all, merely Creationism with a twist. However, the argument for ID is so much more irritating that I felt it deserved my full attention.

The ID argument has two points. 1) Certain biological systems are too complex to have developed by means of evolution by natural selection. 2) The most logical explanation for these systems is an intelligent designer. This argument is laid out in “DNA and the Origin of Life” by Steven C. Meyer, senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. The relevant part begins on page 262.

The ID argument is flawed, of course. That’s not the main issue, though. If it were no more than that, I would have simply added to post #1 that there are some slightly more creative creationists peddling the same wares under a different name. No, the real problem with the ID argument is that at first glance, it seems reasonable. It is still, however, just another argument from ignorance.

Humorously, Meyer states flat out in his essay that ID, “does not constitute an argument from ignorance but an inference to the best explanation.” After all, he says, an argument from ignorance is simply believing Y is true because there is evidence against X. He then provides the following example.

For example, both an earthquake and a bomb could explain the destruction of the building, but only a bomb could explain the presence of charring and shrapnel at the scene of the rubble. Earthquakes do not produce shrapnel, nor do they cause charring, at least not on their own. Thus, the bomb best explains the pattern of destruction at the building site. Entities, conditions, or processes that have the capability (or causal powers) to produce the evidence in question constitute better explanations of that evidence than those that do not.

So far, I’m with Meyer. We can observe (and reproduce) bomb explosions and their signatures. We can observe earthquakes and their aftermath. We can make predictions about how each will affect a structure, and then observe that structure if and when it is subjected to one or the other. This has nothing to do with the design argument, though, and Meyer knows it. He goes on to state:

It follows that the process of determining the best explanation often involves generating a list of possible hypotheses, comparing their known (or theoretically plausible) causal powers with respect to the relevant data, and then progressively eliminating potential but inadequate explanations, and finally, in the best case, electing the one remaining causally adequate explanation.

The important part is this, emphasis added:

comparing their known (or theoretically plausible) causal powers

It was tricky the way he slipped it in, but there it is. In order to accept the ID argument, we have to accept not only what is known (learned in science labs) but also what is theoretically plausible (learned in Sunday school.) Why should we accept the argument from design? Because if a designer (for which there is no actual evidence) does exist, it is theoretically plausible that it would embody characteristics that would enable it to cause the event in question. Thus, it is better to believe in this unproven, untestable, unscientific explanation, because the alternative would mean that Darwin was right and we descended from apes!

Yeah, that’s not an argument from ignorance.

Thought experiments are an important part of science. Einstein’s Relativity Theory was conceived through thought experiments. However, it only qualifies as science because it produced falsifiable predictions that have been tested and verified over and over again. ID was also conceived through thought experiments. That it where it stops, though. There is no way to test it. It is not falsifiable. Just like it’s sibling creationism, ID’s main fault is (say it with me…)

IT IS NOT SCIENCE!!!

Meyer addresses this fact as well in his essay. What is his response? Change science. After all,

[I]t does not follow that some nonscientific (as defined by methodological naturalism) or metaphysical hypothesis may not constitute a better, more causally adequate, explanation.

He then goes on to impugn science as “artificially limited,” and states that no theory can be taken seriously unless all metaphysical possibilities are considered. He wants to destroy science by incorporating unprovable, untestable, unrealistic make-believe scenarios.

Ultimately, that is what angers me the most about the Intelligent Design movement. They don’t simply want to argue from ignorance, they want to elevate ignorance to the vaunted position currently held by science. They basically want to destroy science itself.

So to all IDers, I say shut the hell up, already!

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Note: this post was adapted from my original 100 Things blog.

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06 Feb

#1: Creationism

Posted in Uncategorized on 06.02.11

Holy crap, creationism? Do I really need to start this list off with something as antiquated and pedantic as freaking creationism? Apparently, I do. Sure, we’re in the 21st century, a good 200 years since the Enlightenment, but there are still people who insist on pushing the Christian creation myth as a scientifically valid explanation of the origin of the universe. In fact, a recent Gallup poll revealed that 40% of people surveyed believe “God created humans in their present form about 10,000 years ago.” And the fight is on-going (and perhaps never-ending) to keep creationist textbooks out of public schools. Now, with the rise of the tea party wing of the Republican party, there has been a flood of new politicians who believe that creationism should be given equal time in public school science classes.

Perhaps I should state up front that I am not opposed to creationism in and of itself. If a person wants to believe in the literal truth of the Book of Genesis, it is not my place, nor my desire, to assuage them of that notion. People are free to believe what they want to believe.

That being said, here is why people should shut the hell up about creationism.

CREATIONISM IS NOT SCIENCE!!!

The thing that prompts me to speak out against creationism and its proponents is the suggestion (and often insistence) that creationism should be taught in public schools as a valid scientific theory, its backers typically demanding that it be presented right along with the theory of evolution. Whenever I hear this, I need to take a moment to allow my brain a chance to recover from the stupidity. You see, the Bible is not a scientific text. At all. It is ZERO PERCENT science and ONE HUNDRED PERCENT myth. Therefore, I would think, any reasonable person would be able to see that the “facts” presented within it are not actual facts, but rather elements of a fictional narrative.

This, however, eludes creationists. So allow me to present an analogous situation that may illustrate my point.

In science class, in public schools, children learn about weather. What makes clouds, what makes rain, what makes thunder and lightning. Basic stuff that is clearly rooted in science. Should we insist, though, that science teachers give equal time to the theory that lightning exists because it was given to Zeus by the Cyclops as a gift for freeing the brothers of Cronus from the dungeon on Tartarus? Why not? That’s how the story goes in Greek mythology. That story is AT LEAST as scientifically valid as the Christian creation myth, so shouldn’t we insist that both theories of lightning be given equal time and allow children to decide for themselves which they choose to believe?

Of course not, it would be absurd to demand such a thing. And yet, creationists make the same argument and we are forced to deal with them because there is a seemingly never-ending supply of believers that can’t get it through their skulls that mythology does not equal science.

So creationists, go ahead and believe whatever you want about how the universe works. But until you come up with a scientific hypothesis and experiment that will provide actual evidence for (or against) your theory, please shut the hell up about it.

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The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow provides an excellent summary of the latest grand unifying theory of everything, along with a history of the scientific discoveries that led to this point. It’s surprisingly readable and utterly mind-bending.
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After reading The Grand Design, I was left with a vague understanding of String Theory, which is the basis for the current best explanation of how the universe works. I picked up Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe with the hope of gaining a better understanding of the topic. Greene’s writing gets a little heady at times, but this book makes String Theory clear. (Well, mostly clear. It is String Theory, after all.)

Note: this post is adapted from my original “100 Things” blog.

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