Today is the 10th anniversary of this blog, so I’ll celebrate with a bunch of random items.
Sometimes we just want to be alone,
to meet the self, to commune with nature,
to hope to glimpse that ineffable;
to let our thoughts run shouting
down halls that we’ve never seen,
unthreatened by the jaws of other peoples’ arguments.
Our soul is set free by our heart’s acceptance
that alone is not lonely,
and graced from guilt, goes ranging far and wide
until the human world attracts once more.
In my woodworking days I learned how to sharpen knives on a stone, so when invited to Thanksgiving or Christmas, I would offer to sharpen the host’s knives. The offer was always well received, but such a high proportion of cooks promptly cut themselves accidentally that I now don’t offer, or add a severe caveat.
I conclude that the canard about blunt knives being more dangerous is wrong. The logic is that blunt knives cause people to press harder, but I think the added sharpness of a sharpened knife far outweighs the added force applied to a blunt knife.
I’ve always had a secret liking for split infinitives. Today I found a perfect example.
Therapists are trained not to tell you exactly what to do, no matter how much I ask.
I would much rather see (using brackets to indicate a sentence component)
Therapists are trained to [not tell you exactly what to do], no matter how much I ask.
To my ear, the original sentence implies a logical construction like this
Therapists are trained not to tell you exactly what to do, but to reflect your actions back to you.
Here’s what the corporate state has come to:
- You need a college education to get a job;
- You have to pay for it;
- You can’t escape that debt (it’s high interest, and not dischargeable in bankruptcy);
- Therefore you have to work for us until it is paid off.
Ergo: Capitalism has reinvented the feudal system.
The existence of elections, civil law and free speech gives the appearance of a functioning democracy, but in practice they are not acting as intended.
1. Voting is not Representative
Voting is skewed in America in many ways.
- Districts are gerrymandered to bias the vote:
“Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election.”
In the 2012 House elections, Democrats won 50.59% of the two-party vote but just 46.21% of seats, leaving the Republicans with 234 seats and Democrats with 201.
- Voting lines are up to 7 hours long in certain districts. “This is happening not because of a natural disaster or breakdown in machinery. It is happening by partisan design.” The NYTimes reports on studies suggesting that long lines at the polls cost Democrats hundreds of thousands of votes.
- Voter ID laws are being introduced to inhibit voting. The rationale of preventing voter fraud is spurious. Prior to the 2006 election, no state ever required a voter to produce a government-issued photo ID as a condition for voting. A five-year investigation by the Bush administration turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections.
- The number of voters represented by one senator varies by a factor of 30.
- Simple majority voting is the very worst system for electing a representative candidate, because losing votes — think Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, Green Party — are not taken into account. The problems are clearly explained in this entertaining video. There are many other voting systems which produce better results.
2. Justice is Unequal
There are very visibly two standards of justice.
- No top bankers went to jail because of the mortgage crisis,
Charlie Engle got 21 months for lying on a stated income loan of $400K.
- HSBC was fined $1.92bn for money laundering, including for Mexican drug cartels; no-one went to jail,
Patricia Spottedcrow received 10 years for a $31 marijuana sale.
- James Clapper committed perjury before Congress without repercussions,
Roger Clemens was charged with six counts, including perjury.
- The Chief Justice of the Texas supreme court criticized the disparity in justice: For those who can afford legal services, we have a top-notch judicial system. Highly qualified lawyers help courts dispense justice fairly and efficiently. But…. Nearly six million Texans qualify for legal aid. Yet our state’s legal aid programs meet but 20% of the needs of indigent Texans, forcing many to go it alone in our courts.
- A du Pont heir avoided prison after raping his 3-year-old daughter.
- Shaun Goodman crashed his Ferrari after a 100mph chase, his 7th DUI. He got one year’s work release but no straight jail time.
- The Iraq war was unjustified and illegal, but the only person punished was Scooter Libby, who received 30 months for lying about the outing of a CIA agent. His sentence was later commuted.
3. Political Protest is Suppressed
- Occupy Wall Street encampments around the country were suppressed by any means necessary. A law school report concluded that “there now is a systematic effort by authorities to suppress protests, even when these are lawful and pose no threat to the public.” Even though such suppression was subsequently found illegal:
Gov. loses lawsuit for arresting Occupy Columbia protesters;
Court declares 92 Occupy Chicago arrests unconstitutional;
NYC Settles With 14 Occupy Protesters for $583K;
Occupy Boise can restore tent city;
eventual justice counts for nothing when the goal is to disband the protests.
- There has been a major crackdown on whistle-blowers. John Kiriakou was sentenced to 2½ years for identifying the U.S. government’s use of waterboarding as torture. (Special exception: when the leak is by the White House.)
The net result of these distortions can be measured, and the results show that democracy is largely an illusion:
1. Budgets do not Match How People Want the Money Spent
People from both left and right want a budget that is well to the left of present allocations. A Program for Public Consultation report found that Republicans would cut defense spending by $56bn and Democrats by $131bn for an average cut of 18%. The public would increase energy conservation and renewable energy by 110%, job training by 130% and college financial aid by 90%.
2. The Wishes of the General Public are not Carried Out
A recent study by Gilens and Page analyzed 1,779 policy outcomes and determined that when a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose.
“the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”
The preferences of economic elites carries 15 times the weight of ordinary citizens.
A statement like this usually ends with a call to action.
I will leave that for another day, and instead make this a call for awareness. Tell your friends. Pass this on.
When enough people understand how they are being fooled, change will happen.
The NYTimes reports that how Supreme Court Justices vote on 1st Amendment claims depends on their political leanings. The worst liberal bias is 1.3, whereas the conservative biases range from 3 to 7.
This is unsettling enough by itself, but even more disturbing is the implication is that conservative justices may be more biased in other areas besides 1st Amendment issues.
I just ran into this sentence in Six programming paradigms that will change how you think about coding
You’re probably used to type systems in languages like C and Java
and marveled at its ambiguity. “Used” and “type” have several different grammatical meanings. As Hobbes (of Calvin and Hobbes) said
Verbing weirds language.
(The article itself is very interesting, and the reddit comments are good, too.)
The Electoral College. Disproportionate Senatorial representation. Gerrymandering. Congressional inaction on higher taxes on the rich, military spending cuts and removing marijuana’s Schedule 1 classification. All are disquieting signs that we may be living in a society that only pretends to be a democracy.
I’m not the only person thinking this. Check out the comments to the NYT article Behind Clash Between C.I.A. and Congress, a Secret Report on Interrogations. Some excerpts:
Is it possible America has experienced a peaceful coup via the powers of the CIA, the NSA and trade treaties?
It is laughably sad that there are two sets of rules in the US. There are the laws and expected morals that the average citizen must follow, and then there is the “law” that the government has established for themselves.
America pretends to be a democracy when in fact the CIA, the essence and structure of a Police State, negates its tenets of transparency and rule of law.
If this congress and this administration cannot or will not reign in the intelligence agencies, I believe our democracy is lost.