Category Archives: Speak Freely

Posts on current, often political, issues.

I haven’t seen this many people gathered in one place since they took the group photo of all the criminals and lawbreakers in the Reagan administration.  225 of them so far.  225 different people in Ronald Reagan’s administration have either been fired, arrested, indicted, or convicted… of either breaking the law or violating the ethics code.  Edwin Meese alone has been investigated by three separate special prosecutors and there’s a fourth one waiting for him in Washington right now.  Three separate special prosecutors have had to look into the activities of the attorney general!  And the attorney general is the nation’s leading LAW-ENFORCEMENT OFFICER!  This is what you gotta remember.  This is the Ronald Reagan administration–these are the LAW AND ORDER people.  These are the people who are against street crime.  They want to put street criminals in jail to make life safer for business criminals.  They’re against street crime so long as it isn’t WALL Street.

–– George Carlin from his 1988 HBO What Am I Doing in New Jersey? as quoted in Last Words p 238


I had a left-wing, humanitarian, secular humanist, liberal inclination on the one hand, which implied positions on myriad issues.  On the other I had prejudices and angers and hatreds toward various classes of people.  None of which included skin color or ethnicity or religion.  Well–religion, yes.  I used to get angry at blue-collar right-wingers, but that passed, because I saw that in the end they were just a different sort of victim.

I felt discomfort at having received positions on issues, simply because of my preference for the left of center, for people’s rights over property rights.  I was beginning to find that a lot of my positions clashed.  The habits of liberals, their automatic language, their knee-jerk responses to certain issues, deserved the epithets the right-wing stuck them with.  I’d see how true they often were.  Here they were, banding together in packs, so that I could predict what they were going to say about some event or conflict and it wasn’t even out of their mouths yet.  I was very uncomfortable with that.  Liberal orthodoxy was as repugnant to me as conservative orthodoxy.

–– George Carlin from Last Words p 232


How to Backfire

Sometimes the best way to avoid something is to understand how to do it.  In the case of the backfire effect, it’s really easy to do.  Years ago I read this fantastic post from You Are Not so Smart:

The Backfire Effect

This will give you some good perspective on the phenomenon itself.

More recently, here our old friend The Oatmeal makes a plea for understanding:

You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you.

Both perspectives are marvelously succinct.  Each is a delightful and informative read.  Do make an effort, won’t you?


Pledge of Allegiance

The Constitution
The Constitution

Since this occasionally arises in the wild and since it’s probably due for an update, here is my proposed Pledge of Allegiance.

I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, and to the principles for which it stands, one Nation out of many, with Liberty and Justice for All.

I look forward to your comments, questions, and hate-mail.


Ranked Voting Hyrbid and Other Ideas

I am interested in this as a voting system. However, the problems with it concern me (middling candidates and decreased turnout). I wonder if a hybrid system might be better?

For instance, suppose in the first round (first-choice candidates) there is a clear (more than >50% winner). Then that candidate wins. And it is only the case where there is not a clear (<50%) winner that the ranked voting scheme is employed.

(Obviously all the data is collected on the ballot and is just processed according to this rule.)

Maine Just Voted for a Better Way to Vote

I am against mandatory voting.  There are those will from time to time suggest that we should mandate voting and provide penalties (usually fines) for failing to vote.  This is bad for a couple of reasons.  First, we don’t mandate rights.  We are able to refuse to testify precisely because we have the right to free speech.  This right includes the right to remain silent.  We do not require that our citizens bear arms.  We are, in short, free to not exercise our rights (or more accurately abstention is a form of the same right).

Laws like this will also have a negative impact on marginalized voters.  So, for example, someone who is not able to travel to the voting location or is handicapped in some important fashion.  Why would we want to fine someone who already cannot afford the bus fare to get to the polling station?  There is simply no sense in this.

However, I am in favor of automatic registration.  Why does this right have a registration step?  No one has to register to speak freely.  No one is required to sign up in order to assemble peaceably.  No, registration can and ought to be automatic for voter-aged citizens.

I am also in favor of expanding mail-in ballots for everyone.  Paper ballots are a good thing, and allowing citizens to take as much of their leisure time as necessary to research and scrutinize their ballot is a good thing.  We should want to encourage this kind of behavior.

Now let me outline a couple of more radical ideas I have been kicking around.

For any ballot item, we should want to consider adding an abstention bubble.  This will help ensure that when a voter chooses not to vote on a particular ballot item, they have a way to clearly complete their ballot.  No ballot item should be ambiguously left blank.

Adding an abstention option helps to ensure that the will of the votary is being upheld.  This will also give us metrics and perhaps additional insight into specific voter apathy or ignorance.

This last one is certainly the most radical, but I’m curious what other think so stick around.

On ballot items where we are selecting from among persons (candidates) let’s add an additional bubble which is something like no-confidence.  If this is the clear (>50%) winner in the campaign then the office remains unfilled until a new set of candidates is presented in an emergency election.

Thanks for reading to the end.


Why Vote?

I responded to a comment being passed by someone claiming they do not vote.

Here is the poster’s quote (as written and unedited):

Every time a dumbass asks if I’m voting, I always tell them no, because we don’t actually get to choose our next president, and even if we did, they’d both screw us over somehow so I don’t want any part of that.

All these fights, and this talk about who did what, why we shouldn’t vote for this person, and the rest of the BS you people have been throwing around the internet the last couple of months is just a waste of time and energy! I wish everyone would realize they’re not actually voting for anything, so the ones who already realize this can go back to seeing more important things in their newsfeed, like cat video’s and funny memes. :p

Here is my response:

Let’s break this apart a bit.

First, only the presidential election is decided using the Electoral College.  Every other seat in public office in this country is determined by popular voting.  So, not voting in all elections because of the Electoral College is, literally, dumb.  Don’t be that person.

Now let’s look at the Electoral College.  It was implemented by the founders (especially James Madison) as a check against a tyranny of some particular “faction” (Madison’s term).  It would allow the Electoral College to vote for a different candidate in the event the Electoral College members deemed the popular candidate dangerous, for example.  That being said, it is of much greater importance to note that most of the states have legislated the popular vote as a guide for their Electoral College votes.  In short, for most states, the vote of the people is what determines the vote of the Electoral College members for that state, thus undermining the original intention of the Electoral College. This also undermines your position that the popular vote doesn’t determine the outcome of the presidential election.

Finally, not participating in the elections does not remove you from culpability in our elected officials.  Failure to participate just gives the voices you oppose more power than they would otherwise have.  You are thus just as culpable as if you had voted against your own ideals.

You are holding up bad judgment as though it were a fine prize.  It is more accurately viewed as a badge of shame.  Fortunately, you can discard that badge and do something.  You can participate.

Of course I would encourage you to learn a little something about how our government functions before you start filling in bubbles on a ballot.  An educated electorate is vital to a functional democracy.

It is important to note that though the pledges by the Electoral College members are tied to the popular vote (by those states which do so) it may still be in the right of the Electoral College members to vote as they see fit.  This has not been tested before the courts and thus far the Electoral College has always voted according to the will of the people as represented by the votes cast in their various states.

This is a different matter from the popular vote providing a different result from that result as measured by the distribution of the Electoral College.  This disparity has occurred a small number of times and is related to the other reason we have an Electoral College, namely as a check against the famous tyranny of the majority.

In short, don’t be dumb.  Learn something and then make sure you vote.


Ring-Ring Goes the Bell

I am a white-looking, heterosexual, male, working professional.  In spite of any humble beginnings I may have had, I’m the one getting all those privileges you hear some folks talking about.  I get this whether I want them or not.  I don’t even know it’s happening.

I worry for those who don’t fit into those categories.  Gay, hijab wearing, dark-skinned, homeless souls.  I’m concerned about the social policies (driven perhaps by Pence and the old GOP) and not so much the fiscal policies of the incoming administration.  Hell, there are often things to admire about being fiscally conservative.

The important thing is I’m not here to impose my belief system on other humans.  Humans have bodily autonomy.  I have the right to my beliefs, but I don’t get to impose them on you.  The doctor-patient relationship is beyond politics.  No rhetoric should attack humans for their genetic legacy or their personal lifestyle choices.  Further, politics must be driven by science and reason.  There is no substitute.

I caucused for Sanders and in the end voted for Clinton.  The trouble with Trump (for me–in case you thought I was speaking for anyone else) has always been that we simply have no idea what he is actually going to do.  On one side there are certainly folks who are utterly convinced he is going to do terrible and harmful things to and for America; on the other side are folks who are equally convinced by his promise to restore America’s awesome (wherever it was supposed to have gone).

But since every word he spoke along the campaign trail was a falsehood of some manufacture–and if certain reports are to be believed this was normal for him throughout his life–it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty what his true intentions are.  You can guess this will generate some amount of fear and anxiety.

But let’s talk about this election and the atmosphere surrounding it.

Surely at least some Trump supporters are realizing they are in the same awkward position that moderate Muslims have been:  why are you not doing something about your hateful bigoted peers?

Those (perhaps few) members of the Trump camp who can honestly embrace the title of deplorable, the KKK for example, are not the voice of the majority.  Yet they are also not decried by the majority, nor are their statements condemned by the official rhetoric of the campaign.  For the record the Trump campaign did reject the endorsement by the Klan’s newspaper, however quietly, but there was a consistent if tacit acceptance of a host of hateful rhetoric by the crowds and followers.

But what about the vitriolic Clinton supporters? Are they putting the moderate Clinton supporters in a similar position?

Keep in mind some who have been against Trump are now fearing for their lives (from direct threats by the extreme Trump supporters); some are fearing for their futures as Americans (even though born here).  There is a lot of fear over there.  And that fear is a direct result of the vitriolic rhetoric from the extremists among the Trump supporters.  We have to have some sympathy for that.

If you are not personally accepting at least a little responsibility for the state of our union today, you are mistaken.  It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican or Independent or conservative or liberal or “I never vote”.  We are all in this together for this is what we have built together over time.

Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit

Remember, half the country chose this.  Now they need our help.  Be kind and help others understand what it means to be equal.  Spread intelligence.  Be well.

When you disagree with some idea you see, you must take the effort to understand what the one espousing that idea actually means.  Take a closer look; take a closer listen.

Know I feel your pain.  Be kind.  They need our help more than our derision.  We must teach them about what it means to be equal.  Listen and then teach.  But listen well.

I recently described our public discourse as polarized rhetoric vomit wars.  Are we really that person our interlocutor describes us to be?

I’d go so far as to say that no person is really a liberal or a conservative, but rather that these have become handles to apply to opponents in discourse, typically used as derogatory terms therein.  They are even taken to further extremes as libtard and conservatard.  How is that helpful?  How does that move any dialog forward?

Most folks are somewhere on a spectrum between extreme poles on many diverse subjects.  I’m for gun rights and for social welfare programs.  I’m for free speech (including kneeling for the anthem) and I want to ensure the troops that guarantee that freedom are well cared after.  Humans are complicated.  Each one is a little bit different from the last.

It is easy to fall into intellectual pitfalls like dehumanizing one’s opponent in a debate and then disregarding all input they might attempt to offer.  Public discourse in America is littered with ad hominem attacks, pleas to authority, and straw-man positions. In fact I would go so far as to characterize the typical public discourse as polarized ad hominem attacks on the straw-men of the pretend opponents.

Polarized Rhetoric Vomit Wars™

Notice that I laid that all out with no reference to partisanship.  This is what nearly everyone substitutes for real and substantive debate of ideas, substituted for honest and in-depth engagement.  I suspect it is because these things require that we listen to one another.  Listen and not merely wait our turns to shout our preferred brand rhetorical monad.

The political actors have not be kind to we underlings.  It is time we work together, listen to one another, and tell our governing representatives to do the hard work of driving our nation as a unified whole.

Or something very much like that.

For myself I’m going to (of course) continue to advocate for science in public and in policy.  Education is an imperative for our democratic process.

Are you listening?  Are you?