Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Big Picture, Revisited

A couple days ago I wrote a post about the topics covered in the film Ethos.  Today I wanted to follow up on it.

Let's say that the movie described the current conditions with some level of accuracy.  Let us surmise that the wealthiest people in the world, who are often heads of the largest corporations, use their influence to get politicians elected, to gain more money for themselves and shape public opinion using the large media companies.  If that's true, what can we do as citizens to combat that?  Pushing against it is good for freedom, democracy and the environment, so operating on the premise that it's true, a reasonable person could want to fight against it.

Fortunately, we have all the control.  In a profit driven model, the consumers have all the control.  In a republic or democracy, the voters have all the control.  We just have to use that control and we can turn things around.  We can make the world a better place.  Here are some ideas as to how.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


So, Syria has been embroiled in a civil war for a couple years.  On one side is Assad, who by many measurements is a tyrant.  He doesn't respect life, has been known to kill his people and in general is bad for civil rights.  On the bright side, the current government is secular.  They are not a theocracy or rule by religious law, unlike many countries in that region.  It's a place where people who aren't Muslim are not singled out and held to rather draconian Sharia law.

On the other side we have the rebellion.  They want a better life for the people of the country.  They also are primarily Muslim, many rather devout in their views, and have the support of some unsavory organizations, like Al Qaeda.  If they win they will likely impose Sharia law, and have a better humanitarian record than Assad.  Well, if you're their brand of Muslim anyway.  If you're Christian you may be subject to persecution.

It's a mess.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Big Picture

I recently watched a documentary called Ethos. They went cheap on the production of it, but it contained some very good information, all of it cited. I'm a sucker for work with citations. I highly recommend it. It's available on Netflix watch it now at the time of this writing.

What is it about? It catalogs instances where politicians, big business, central banks, media and the wealthiest individuals all work together to mislead us and work against us.  How their agenda ends up being bad for democracy, the environment and freedom.  I think it's a reasonable working theory.  Sadly most people don't.  Look at recent events- how many people are up in arms about a performance at the recent music awards show versus how many people are up in arms about the president talking about using missiles to kill people in yet another country we aren't at war with?  

I think The Onion nailed it with this article.  It's meant as parody but it really nails the current news environment.  They are multi-billion dollar corporations whose primary purpose is to make money.  We should probably stop considering them a reliable source of information.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Shoddy Construction

Here in my city it seems we are in a constant state of highway construction zones, at least for most of the year. No matter where I go there are traffic cones lined up on the side of the road or blocking off a lane or two. It's perpetual, a cycle that just moves from place to place and never stops. It seems like for every construction zone with active workers, there are 5 that are marked or bedazzled with cones and signs but completely devoid of anyone actually making any progress on the effort. But, that's part of living in an urban area in the US it seems.

What caught my eye today was travelling over a newly finished bridge. By “newly finished” I mean it became available for traffic today. The old bridge was torn down and a brand new one constructed. This shiny new robust piece of infrastructure should last 50 years like the last one.

Only I'm skeptical. Why?

A couple reasons. First off, a few years ago they closed an entire section of highway in my city for a year to rebuild it.  (they actually closed two sections this way for a year each)  They kept all traffic off so they had nothing to worry about- just tear up the old, put a new in. They didn't have to worry about doing it in sections or a lane at a time, but could pour a new section of highway without hassle.  And it wasn't a year before they construction crews were back on the brand new section doing repairs. In fact, each year since it's completion there have been lanes blocked off on the brand new section where crews make things right. That's unaceptable. Brand new highway should offer years of service before resurfacing is needed.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Understanding Perspectives

Today I hear a lot that the country is more divided, more partisan than ever.  It seems to be a theme with many supporting media posts in the last few years.  I have friends who hold very conservative and very liberal beliefs, and to me we all have a lot in common.  In fact, of the people I talk to the most, two of them voted for Obama and two of them voted for Johnson.  I play hockey with a couple guys who would rather die than not vote Republican.  But all these people come from similar motivations, it's just their perspective is different.  Everyone wants to make the world a better place, we are just divided on exactly how to do that.  As well, there seems to be an increased focus on the issues that polarize us than in the past.  I have theories as to why this is, mostly that it allows the two major parties to maintain their dominance.  But that's a topic for another day!

I have both liberal and conservative friends who are perplexed about why gun rights supporters seem unwilling to budge, but certainly more liberal friends who don't get it.  Today I'm going to attempt to draw an analogy.  I'm going to suggest that the motivation and stances chosen by proponents of two civil rights issues are very similar.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

All Hail the Police State, part 16

One of the things that identifies a police state is police using deadly or overwhelming force in trivial matters.  If a cop catches you committing a minor property crime and they beat you so you end up in the hospital rather than issue a ticket or summons, you're living in a police state.  And this week it went down like that in Miami.  Only the guy who was spray painting graffiti was killed by the cops instead of just beaten.  Not even Judge Dredd is that severe in doling out instant punishment.

But wait!  There's more!  Look at the picture of this lady who was caught shoplifing.  Beaten like a rented mule.

Cops enter a nursing home and tase then shoot a agitated 95 year old man sitting in a chair.  The only weapon he had was a cane.  Cops respond with deadly force to a man who was old and crotchety.

A disabled man is standing on bus and refuses to sit down.  Why?  Because a spinal injury he suffered when he was hit by a train makes sitting painful.  So cops tase him and drag him off the bus.

Lastly we have a incident in Florida where cops are looking for a suspect.  Without warrant they break into an innocent person's home and immediately shoot their dogs.  The people who lived there were suspects in no crime and the police entered their house with impunity.  Imagine being woken up by someone breaking into your house and firing guns, then being left with a dead dog and this to clean up:

Lastly we have a woman in New York City who stated a common opinion (wishing there the policy of "Stop and Frisk" would come to an end) and she's promptly arrested.  If this isn't a police state, what is?  Former societies that have been called out as police states have gotten the label for much more minor violation of rights.  Keep in mind this is a collection of news that has broken in a single 24 hour period.  Incidents like this happen every day in this country. 

These sort of actions will continue to happen until people start making this a priority at the polls.  Unless you are doing that, you are complicit with this escalation of violence by our increasingly militarized police forces.  It's up to all of us to enact positive change.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Education Beyond School

We live in a golden age of information.  Quite honestly, there is no reason to not know the answer to something.  Wikipedia is an amazing resource, complete with citations.  MIT offers most coursework online for free.  The internet is rife with scientific journals, raw data and how-to guides.  Want to learn how to play guitar?  Youtube has thousands of videos with lessons.  Want to know how to build a rifle? has a pretty solid guide for you.  Want to know how your representative voted?  Various government agencies and non-profits will tell you.

Because it is so easy to find accurate information it bugs me when people are misinformed.  It bugs me even more when they are passionate about a topic they know very little about.  I have a wide variety of friends and I'll respect anyone's opinions as long as it's based in facts, data or information.  I have less respect for people who are outraged because it's trendy to be so, but know very little about a topic.

George Gets it Right

I've always been a fan of George Carlin.  Here's an older video where he really hits the nail on the head.  Willful ignorance is the core of the problem, and it's something we can fix!

Disparity of Power

As I've discussed before, the reason we have to hold government to a high standard is the disparity of power between the government and the average citizen.  If my neighbor who is a plumber is a dishonest, some of his customers may be overcharged.  If the local sheriff is a dishonest, then serious crimes like murder can be swept under the rug.  People at the DMV and the IRS have access to my private information and can easily steal it for their own gain (which happens more than you'd think).  If my senator is crooked, then companies can thrive to the detriment of citizens and the environment.  If the President or a General is without morals, they can easily murder people in other countries without retribution.

If you are reported to the division of family services, you are often assumed guilty and have to prove yourself innocent and capable of owning a child.  Meanwhile, the bureaucrat who works there has power over the disposition of your child.  Because of that power, it's so important they are held to a high standard and held accountable for misconduct.

What made me think about this again is a recent story where a child was stripped from their parents because they smoked pot, and placed with a foster family where it ended up dead at the hands of the government chosen caretaker.  Likely the bureaucrats involved will continue doing a shoddy job screening and choosing foster families, which is a real travesty.