F**k You NPR

Obama is once again inviting people on the internet to send in questions, this time via YouTube, which he will then select from and answer. The first time he said that the most popular questions would be the ones answered. Needless to say he learned his lesson and made no such promise this time. Why? Because last time one of the most popular questions was about marijuana legalization, and that is just not one that he wants to have to answer. As a dodge he pretended that the question was focused on using legalization as a way of stabilizing the economy, thereby making it seem ridiculous and deserving of no more than a cursory “silly stoners” type response.

Well, guess what. The most popular question by far this time is also about legalization. I’m guessing that he will simply refuse to answer this time since he can now choose which questions to address and which to ignore. What really got me, though, was that NPR has decided to follow Obama’s lead and present it as a silly question that few people actually care about.

The entire exchange here demonstrates NPR’s attempt to trivialize the matter by making it seem like a bunch of stoners were just having a laugh, and that real people know better (RAZ is Guy Raz, weekend host of All Things Considered, and Mr. JOHNSON is Clay Johnson, the technology director at the Sunlight Foundation. You can hear the interview and read the entire transcript here):

RAZ: Okay. So, can we infer that legalizing pot is the most important issue in America right now?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, you know, if that was the case, then we probably have a lot of marijuana users going, dude, where’s my polling place or something like that, because they certainly don’t show up to vote.

RAZ: I got you. So before we could continue, I do want to play a few other questions that were submitted to President Obama.

Unidentified Man #2: How many turkey sandwiches can you eat in one day?

Unidentified Man #3: Would you support legislation for a national bedtime?

RAZ: Is this really an example of democratizing this process?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, there’s a couple of things you have to look at here. First off, you know, YouTube is the venue where people are asking these questions, which is the home of cat on a Roomba punching a pit bull in a sweater vest.

RAZ: I didn’t see that one.

Mr. JOHNSON: Saying that this community is representative of American society at large is probably incorrect.

[…]

Mr. JOHNSON: …But it’s important to remember that just because, you know, an organization or a group or a community is the most well-organized doesn’t mean they’re the most popular. So when you see, for instance, marijuana questions being the top question, it doesn’t mean that they’re the most popular amongst all of America. What it means is this is the most organized community…

RAZ: Yeah.

Mr. JOHNSON: …that’s capable of getting their, you know, plus-one-ing their question.

Notice how the entire exchange is designed to make the whole issue look silly, from depicting the questioners as stupid stoners, to presenting obvious joke questions as equivalent to the legalization question, to making YouTube out to be nothing more than a place to find silly videos about nothing of consequence. Look, this is not a question being asked by a bunch of stoners sitting around a bong in their parent’s basement saying “Dude! Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get the Prez to say ‘marijuana’?!?” It did not get popular just because they all got their stoner friends to vote for it. This is a legitimate concern raised by those who understand that most, if not all, of the evils attributed to marijuana are a result not of the drug itself, but of it’s prohibition. It’s popular because so many people know this but are given no voice or are simply dismissed as stupid stoners who just want to get high without being harassed by the cops.

Read up on Alcohol Prohibition here in the US and tell me that we’re not seeing many of the exact same problems now with marijuana prohibition. Unfortunately those who prefer prohibition, whether for moral reasons or business reasons, have done an excellent job of convincing many people that the problems stem from the drug itself, and that prohibition is actually the remedy. It’s an amazing testament to the power of propaganda when skillfully employed.

Ideally the news media should create opportunity for discussion by presenting real information about important topics. Instead NPR is trivializing this issue by pretending that it’s just a joke made by people too high to know what’s really going on. It is extremely dishonest and serves only to shut down conversation on an issue that affects not only this country but the entire world in one way or another.

Fuck you NPR for running this big steaming pile of shit and calling it news.

Why The Lameness?

I’ve just recently realized why this blog has been so lame lately. I used to hang out at blogs whose owners I disagreed with, such as Uncommon Descent or Telic Thoughts. I’d get into debates about this or that and find myself really having to research and understand things that I would never have looked up on my own. I had something interesting to say because I was always learning something new by having to defend my own knowledge and beliefs.

Since being banned from those sites I’ve visited less and less because as an onlooker who has no chance of participating it’s not any fun. That means I’ve spent more and more time at places like Pharyngula and The Panda’s Thumb. I agree with most of the posts that appear there, so the posts here have slowly declined in value as I have nothing much more to add to such discussions. Instead of building on something like “You’re wrong and this is why…” I’m trying to build on something like “Yup…you’re right…” which doesn’t lend itself to much more than agreement.

Knowing this, I’m adding those two sites back into my normal site rotation in the hopes that they will kick start my blog again. I may not be able to interact with those people directly, but hopefully I’ll see enough that I disagree with to make this site interesting again.

Don’t Believe Everything You See

I follow a site called Mighty Optical Illusions which is a daily dose of…wait for it…optical illusions! The guy that runs it interprets the word “illusion” pretty loosely. They range from the kind of lame “spot the errors” illustrations from when you were a kid to the wierdest “is it moving, or am I falling over” type illusions and everything in between (impossible objects, B&W pics that look like they’re in color, photos of cats, 3D sidewalk paintings, sculptures that don’t make sense…until you look at their shadows, etc…).

The latest post was somewhat poignant I thought. It’s an image that demonstrates quite clearly…well…here, take a look at it:

 Media Manipulation Illusion Example

Want to demonstrate how cruel and violent the military is? Show the picture on the left. Want to demonstrate how humane and caring the military is? Show the image on the right.

Don’t forget, every image is potentially an illusion. Just because it’s clear and obvious what’s happening in a picture doesn’t mean that that’s what’s actually happening.

A Religious Conundrum

A friend of mine made a post on her facebook about a recent experience that she had on a religious forum. She was asking about interfaith relationships, specifically describing the case of a christian husband and an agnostic wife (her own situation). She got this response from one person:

“Remind her of the story of Jezebel. It clearly shows that a wife must adopt the religion of the husband. If she doesn’t do this, she is a horrible person.”

My wife, who is religious (though she doesn’t do the organized religion thing) had this response after hearing about it:

“Really? So I need to be an Atheist or I’m a bad person?”

It’s fun imagining the backpedaling and confused rationalizing that would follow this turn of events.

Fact v Hypothesis

I’ve been working massive amounts of overtime this week, so I haven’t had a lot of time to post. I’m taking the easy way out and posting a quote without a whole lot of commentary. So…um…here goes:

A fact is a simple statement that everyone believes. It is innocent, unless found guilty. A hypothesis is a novel suggestion that no one wants to believe. It is guilty, until found effective.Edward Teller

Cognitive Disfunction

I really enjoy the show Mythbusters. The science isn’t always as rigorous as I’d like, but the engineering can be really fun to watch.

One show in particular stands out to me because of the audience response. If you go the Mythbusters forums on this topic you’ll see a thread with posts into the thousands. I am, of course, talking about the (in)famous Plane on a Conveyor Belt episode. Here’s Adam Savage describing the problem on the show:

Let me spell it out for you, normally a plane sits on the runway, spins up its engines, moves forwards gets enough air over its wings and takes off. But in this case, the plane is sitting not on the runway, but a huge conveyor belt that is matching the planes forward speed in reverse, and the grand question is can the plane take off? The myth is that it can’t

Just in case you haven’t seen the show I’ll continue below the fold so that I don’t spoil it for you. Continue reading

Logarithmic Universe

I can’t help but love logarithmic scales. Most graphs and images that we see are drawn using a linear scale. By that I mean that the axes (axises? axis’?) count using the basic numbers so that it goes 1, 2, 3, etc… Logarithmic images, on the other hand, have axes that count using the exponents, usually with a common base number like 10. In this way it counts 101, 102, 103 or more commonly (amongst us non-mathematical types) 10, 100, 1000. In this way, things that are of greatly differing size or values can be compared.

One great example of this is the XKCD comic Height. It uses a logarithmic scale with a base of 2 so that every tic represents twice the height of the previous one. I fell in love with that image when I first saw it. But of course, “real” scientists have done him one better. Below is a (slightly and ineptly edited…by me) image of the logarithmic universe which apparently was posted waaaay back in 2005. It shows pretty much the entire universe. I’ve limited this image here to just the area near the earth. Click on it to see the complete image (warning it’s a big image…remember it’s the entire universe).

Logarithmic Universe

Open Season On Abortion Providers

The true test of your beliefs is your willingness to give up your life for them. For anti-abortionists this has been a test that many have “passed” with flying colors (the following list of atrocities comes from Wikipedia).

  • March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn of Pensacola, Florida was fatally shot during a protest. He had been the subject of wanted-style posters distributed by Operation Rescue in the summer of 1992. Michael F. Griffin was found guilty of Dr. Gunn’s murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
  • July 29, 1994: Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, a clinic escort, were both shot to death outside of another facility in Pensacola. Rev. Paul Jennings Hill was charged with the killings. Hill received a death sentence and was executed September 3, 2003.
  • December 30, 1994: Two receptionists, Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, were killed in two clinic attacks in Brookline, Massachusetts. John Salvi, who prior to his arrest was distributing pamphlets from Human Life International, was arrested and confessed to the killings. He died in prison and guards found his body under his bed with a plastic garbage bag tied around his head. Salvi had also confessed to a non-lethal attack in Norfolk, Virginia days before the Brookline killings.
  • January 29, 1998: Robert Sanderson, an off-duty police officer who worked as a security guard at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, was killed when his workplace was bombed. Eric Robert Rudolph, who was also responsible for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing, was charged with the crime and received two life sentences as a result.
  • October 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot to death at his home in Amherst, New York. His was the last in a series of similar shootings against providers in Canada and northern New York state which were all likely committed by James Kopp. Kopp was convicted of Dr. Slepian’s murder after finally being apprehended in France in 2001.
  • May 31, 2009: Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed as he served as an usher at his church in Wichita, Kansas.

The last one in the list is currently being prosecuted in court. It was apparently perpetrated by Scott Roeder who admitted to it both to reporters and in a court filing. Open and shut case, right? Right.

Except that a recent ruling by the judge in the case has created a whole new problem, not only with this case but possibly with all future cases of this type.

Let me ask you this. What do you think the effect would be if the penalty for murdering an abortion provider wasn’t life in prison or the death penalty, but rather a sentence of only 5-20 years? People obviously feel strongly enough to give up their lives, so what happens when it’s no longer your life at stake, but only a few years of it?

This may actually be a possibility now thanks to one of the judge’s recent rulings. According to the Associated Press “…Sedgwick County Judge Warren Wilbert decided he would allow Roeder to build a defense case calling for a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter because he sincerely believed the May 31 slaying would save unborn children.” So what does that mean exactly? Well, here’s the definition of Voluntary Manslaughter and the penalty (from the Office of the District Attorney in Sedgewick County, KS)

Voluntary Manslaughter is the intentional killing of a human being upon a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion or upon the unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.

The sentencing guidelines provide a range of sentence from a minimum of 55 months imprisonment [or about 4.5 years] to a maximum prison term of 247 months [or about 20.5 years].

Even if the judge eventually tells the jury that they aren’t allowed to consider a Voluntary Manslaughter conviction, simply allowing the defense to present their case for it means that the damage is already done. By allowing it he is implicitly saying that anyone that thinks abortion is murder can make the claim that killing abortion providers is justified, and even though we may disagree the fact that it’s an “honest belief” means that it’s not murder.

And if the worst happens, and the jury is allowed to consider, and subsequently convicts Roeder of, Voluntary Manslaughter then it’s truly open season on abortion providers. After all, killing an “abortionist” would no longer be murder. It would still be a crime, but one with consequences that I think far too many people could probably live with.