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      Previous: Identity (Introduction and Table of Contents) Politically active groups form because of ideology and identity: they have beliefs about how the world should be; those beliefs are emotional and create both identification with other people who have the beliefs and shared desire to change the world or keep the world in line with how the ideologies pres […]
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America’s 15 year old Festival of Dangerous Ideas

I’ve been watching the Festival of Dangerous Ideas from Sydney, Australia for 2015. This is the place where you can say controversial stuff and you don’t have to put up with Fox soaked friends and relatives with that glazed look in their eyes who talk word salad to the point where you give up and go away. Longer and less self-helpy than a TED talk, these presentations include followup questions and panel discussions. I’ll link to Peter Doherty’s talk on the war on science below.

But it got me thinking in the last couple of days about all the really dangerous ideas we been subjected to in the US since the Bushies took office, got us into a destabilizing land war in Asia, and gave us a semi-police state that, unusually, includes almost complete and unfettered access to guns.

How stupid are we? Maybe we should call ours the Festival of Incredibly Stupid Dangerous Ideas.

Let’s think about this for a second. We have been indoctrinated for 14 years that the terrorists are going to get us. OoooOOOOoooooo! Be afraid, be very afraid! And, yep, it’s not surprising that malefactors of evil would turn to soft targets. Our domestic terrorists have been doing that for years.

But when we put no restraints on getting a gun, that means the foreign born or radicalized American with a foreign born batshit crazy religious fundamentalist wife can get them too. Did our homegrown terrified fundamentalist not think about this possibility? It goes like this:

“If I, a regular white anglo-saxon protestant, can walk into a gun store and buy as much ammo and ammo propellant devices as I want, then some Al Qaeda or IS terrorist guy can do it as well. Hmmm, maybe someone should do something about that because it doesn’t seem very safe, considering my favorite news channels are telling me about how all IS wants to do is behead me and shit.”

I was under the impression all this time that our misnamed Patriot Act would have some built in protections to prevent this from happening. But for some stupid reason, it is easier for two IS converts to assemble an arsenal in their own home than for a traveller to bring a full 8 oz bottle of contact lens solution onto a plane.

There is something deeply wrong with that picture and I, personally, feel lied to for the last 14 years. I was told over and over and OVER again that no precautions would be spared, that it was necessary to suspend my right to Habeas Corpus, that all my emails are belong to them, and I didn’t like it but I was forced to go along with it because millions of my fellow citizens were terrorized by our political leaders and told us we were unAmerican if we didn’t just so they could stop trembling in fear every night.

Meanwhile, we didn’t even bother to make sure that guns didn’t fall into the wrong hands. I imagine that if someone had done a background check on Farook and Malik’s passports and asked them to explain what they needed thousands of rounds of ammunition for, or at least kept a national database that kept track of thousands of rounds of ammunition bought by these two, 14 people might be looking forward to Christmas right now.

You know what’s going to happen though, right? The right wing noise machine will wind itself up with some ridiculous argument as to why we shouldn’t take sensible measures to cut back on guns and ammunition sales. And why shouldn’t it continue to do that? The oil industry guys that talked the Bushies into going into Iraq don’t care what happens to the rest of us as long as we’re still consuming oil, getting in a high dudgeon about mass transit and solar energy, and ignoring the absolutely crazy idea that there are almost no limits to anyone making himself into a one or two person avenging army of a violent, capricious and callous god, whether that god is Muslim or Christian.

By the way, I’ll insert my own dangerous idea here in that fighting religious fundamentalism with a different religious fundamentalism doesn’t work. The antidote to religious fundamentalism is enlightenment and calm, assertive energy, ala the Dog Whisperer, applied on a global scale. Also, swift and appropriate corrective action does not mean we need to engage in an all out war. Neither the right nor the left is doing itself any favors by perpetuating the idea that there are only “hawks” or “doves”.

I’ll stop there at the dangerous ideas for today, although we really should revisit why so many Americans thought the dangerous idea of going into Iraq was so great and why so many American lefties thought that taking away the only stabilizing force in the region was nifty.

gits

Here’s Australian Peter Doherty, Nobel prize winner in Medicine for the elucidation of the immune system. I think I might have read some of his papers back in the early 90s.Yep, he was the dude who figured out the Major Histocompatibility Complex, self and non-self. There were a lot of structural biology papers related to this area of research back then. (You can take the scientist out of the science but you can’t take the science out of the scientist apparently. I still love this stuff.) Also, Doherty says read The Conversation for science related news articles that have been rigorously written by, um, scientists. In this Dangerous Ideas presentation, he talks about knowledge wars and the political and quasi religious attacks on science and reasoning when addressing energy use, nuclear energy, genetically modified plants and animals, and vaccinations. Enjoy!

 

 

 

The Confluence endorses Rush Holt for Senator of NJ

Rush Holt (NJ-12) for US Senate

I can do this because up until a few months ago, I lived adjacent to Holt’s district.  In fact, it’s a mystery why Hillsborough wasn’t *in* Holt’s district given our proximity to Princeton and how the shape of NJ-07 was drawn, dipping down in a weird way to trap the unfortunate residents of Hillsborough in a Republican district against their wills.

There are a few things the senate needs more of: women, African-Americans and scientists.  Let’s give it to the NYTimes for acknowledging that NJ has a male dominated political machine in BOTH parties.  There hasn’t been a single woman representative in the NJ Congressional House or Senate delegation for about 2 decades.  That’s disgraceful for a state that has as many people in it as NJ does.  It’s the densest state in the nation (in more ways than one) and over half of the population there has no representative in the House or Senate from either party.  NJ does not promote or mentor female politicians.  Just fugeddaboudit.  It’s not going to happen.

The US Senate doesn’t have enough African-Americans either and while they’re underrepresented, one would hope that the past African-American senators would prove to be more willing to step up and advocate vigorously for the needs of underrepresented groups.  Alas, this has not proven to be the case in recent history.  Cory Booker would be no exception to this rule.  Booker is a Democrat in the Barack Obama style.  His record in Newark might be admirable but in that case, his absence from NJ would be detrimental to that state.  Beats me why he didn’t run for Governor.  I blame Frank Lautenberg for his untimely demise.

Booker is Wall Street friendly and a happy corporate schmoozer.  Sure he’s done some super hero things during the recent hurricanes.  But he wouldn’t have to run into buildings and rescue people if his emergency services were running well.  If I recall correctly, his fire department refused to rescue a mother and her kids from rising flood waters during Sandy and Booker was nowhere to be found.  (Ah, wouldn’t you know, another news article that should be easy to find mysteriously disappeared.  Hmmmm…)That’s the problem with being a superhero.  There’s only one of you and you have to be everywhere at once.  What Booker has failed to learn is how to make his infrastructure run efficiently without him and how to delegate the rescuing to other people.  I mean, shouldn’t he have been in a central command center during Sandy directing things instead of riding around the city on fire trucks like some kind of department mascot??  There were whole sections of his city awash in flood waters, those sections still blighted by insufficient public services and poor infrastructure.  That wouldn’t have happened had Booker been as good with the poor as he is with the business community.

I’m going to venture a guess that Newark would have revitalized without Booker anyway.  Any politician with a sufficiently ingratiating attitude towards business could have done what he did.  Manhattan has finite real estate, housing and office space is expensive for businesses and people, and it was bound to expand. Newark is close and cheap.  It might as well be NYC’s sixth borough.  (Funny we’re not promoting the mayor of Hoboken who held it together during Sandy.  Oh, that’s right.  Dawn Zimmer is a girl.  Nevermind.) Amtrak, the PATH train and the NJ Transit NE Corridor train run right through it.  Sure, it has problems, and a history, and an educational system that needs help.  But gentrification was going to get there anyway.  All Booker had to do was get ahead of it slightly and take all the credit.

Enough about Booker.  He’s just another flashy aspirational candidate with a great Bonus Class funded PR campaign.  Besides, we don’t need Booker riding shotgun around DC putting out fires, walking little old ladies across the street and getting kitties out trees for little children.  We need a real Democrat in the Senate who will not be afraid of his own party’s platform and who will fight, vigorously, for it.  Even if that means pissing some people off.  Frankly, I can’t see Corey Booker doing that.

Now, for the scientist.  Rush Holt is a astrophysicist.  Presumably, he can think his way out of a paper bag.  That seems to be in short supply in the Senate these days.  Holt would be the only scientist in the Senate.

One of the reasons I like Holt is not just because his views on national security, single payer healthcare or the financial crisis make sense, though all of that is extremely important and his perspectives admirable.  He would be a credible successor to Lautenberg.  Holt’s stance to repeal the Patriot Act would put him ahead of Lautenberg.

No, the reason why I think Holt would be an important contribution to the Senate is because he was the author of H.R.5816 (112th): Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act of 2011.  That bill would put an end to unaccountable, tamper prone electronic voting machines and would ensure ballot accountability.   In this respect, Holt is way ahead of his colleagues and is truly looking out for the only way that citizens have to change the status quo- their right to vote.  If you want single payer, privacy from intrusive government spying, protection of your 4th amendment rights, and punishment for the financiers who blew up the world, you have to be able to protect your sacred right to throw Bonus Class toe suckers out of office.

If you’ve ever voted on an electronic voting machine without a paper trail, or a punch card machine with hanging chads, or some butterfly ballot designed by nitwit, you know how important it is to protect your only real right.  Eventually, the bad guys are going to run out of Voting Rights Acts to destroy and they’ll start outright manipulation of the outcomes, if they haven’t already (I suspect that the Democratic presidential primary in Indiana in 2008 was a precursor of things to come)  I have to admire the guy who used logic and foresight to cut through all of the extraneous bullshit going on in government these days to realize that protecting the vote is THE most important thing ever.  If recent rulings from the Supreme Court and actions of state legislatures in Republican dominated states haven’t proven that point, I don’t know what will.  We need that kind of mind in the Senate.  Maybe he can tag team with Elizabeth Warren.

Since Holt is in the House, that bill is going nowhere.  Maybe he’ll have a better chance in the Senate.

Vote for Holt in the NJ Senate Primary.

You can learn more about Rush Holt and contribute to his campaign here.

AAAAAND, last but not least, in honor of Geek Week on YouTube, this is a Geek Out session with Rush from four days ago.  Dust off your Geek Speak and Enjoy!

Are you better off now than you were 400 years ago?

My sample ballot for the New Jersey primary on June 5, 2012.

We all know what went on four years ago.  RBC hearing, rules manipulation, voter disenfranchisement.  All voters are equal but some voters are more equal than others, blah, blah, blah.  You know the drill.  You’ve heard it for so long now that it’s just a persistent, high pitched whine that has faded into background noise and can easily be ignored. Or avoided.

That’s not what I want to talk about today.  I want to talk about choices.  Back when I had to make a choice about whether I wanted to persist in taking math heavy science courses, which my years of switching schools did not prepare me for, or something less anxiety producing, my academic advisor suggested I go into law.  Yep, she said, you might make a good lawyer.  But did I listen?  Noooo.  All I could think of was that a class on torts would make my ears bleed.  So, now I am not only an unemployed scientist, I am also forced to figure out just what the heck a “kill list” is from a legal standpoint.  And the closest I can come to it is a Bill of Attainder.

It’s funny how Obama is falling back on Thomas Aquinas for moral guidance because a bill of attainder is positively medieval.  Basically, a bill of attainder is a sentence of punishment without the inconveniences of all that due process shit that just gets in the way.  King Henry VIII was the kind of monarch I have in mind when it comes to bills of attainder.  For example, Thomas Cromwell was stripped of all his worldly goods before he was executed and all he did to earn it, so the rumor goes, was arrange the disastrous, unconsummated marriage of Henry with the innocent Anne of Cleves.  With a bill of attainder, property could be confiscated, rights stripped and heads debodied with relatively little fuss.  You don’t like someone?  They threaten you, are treasonous or just phenomenally bad matchmakers?  Get a bill of attainder, problem solved.

Bills of attainder are legislative solutions, by the way, that were explicitly forbidden by the US Constitution, (Article 1, section 9).  Traditionally, an executive needed to go to a legislative body of government to get one.  I’m guessing that back in the day, this was probably pretty easy to do, considering parliaments were made up of your peers. If it was good for the aristocracy, by golly, it was good enough for you.  But then the commoners started taking their rights a little more seriously and government began to change in the 17th century to more of a constitutional monarchy and then to the US Constitution where bills of attainder were upstaged by the Bill of Rights and had to get around all those annoying amendments.  But the writers must have been really serious about banning this kind of activity because you’d think that the explicit prohibition of bills of attainder in Article 1, section 9 would have been sufficient.  Apparently not, so due process was spelled out in the Bill of Rights to put additional speed bumps in the way.

Bills of attainder have not disappeared.  In the past 230+ years, there have been attempts to fashion bills of attainders.  But they’ve been modified by the courts.  But the “kill list” takes bills of attainders right back to the divine right of kings.  It’s good to know that Obama has a moral conscience (that little bit from the campaign ops about the philosophers was probably aimed at the college sophomores) and consults with a bunch of other people (WHO are we talking about, exactly?) about who makes the list but that’s not really in his job description and it’s not a legislative solution.  Or is it?  Did we sign away all our constitutional guarantees with the Patriot Act and the NDAA?  Did we unintentionally (or intentionally) authorize bills of attainder through legislation?

It’s not the first time that losing basic constitutional rights, like Habeas Corpus, has triggered a bad reaction from me but this new twist blows my mind.

It means that the Democratic Senate and “Democratic” president must have wanted it to happen. How else should we interpret it?  Bills of attainder are about as loathsome as law gets. Anyone can be deprived of all of their rights and property by one or several individuals based on a sneaking suspicion.  It’s really hard to believe that the Supreme Court would let this stand.  But this is not an ordinary Supreme Court.  It would have been better to never pass or sign the stupid bills to begin with.  Why would any president do it?  Isn’t the US Court system adequate?  Or do we expect so many traitors in the next couple of years that the courts would not be expected to process them all?  If that thought doesn’t bother you, go to an Occupy march sometime and count the riot police in military gear.

Voters should think about those questions this year.  If the idea of a bill of attainder on your head frightens you, think about what that means to the future of the country. What kind of system of government do we live under these days and who is really running the show?

Should you have seen this coming four years ago?  Yes, you should have seen it coming four years ago.  A guy who is willing to invalidate the elections of two states for his own gain is a guy who should have raised suspicions.  I know some fans were suckered in and got a little infatuated and acted like lovesick teenagers.  But to the rest of us, it just looked like a bad precedent to let the party mess with the elections on behalf of one guy.  One guy with money.  Money from a small group of rich bankers.  His peers.

Now that the orgasm has worn off, think about what it means to write off California, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas, Florida and Michigan (list not exhaustive) to award the nomination to a guy who won caucuses in the sparsely populated states on the prairie.  And what the f&*( happened in Indiana?  That was just bizarre.  We just wrote those big states off, like they never even happened and we did if for a man who was in many respects a tabula rasa.  There are a lot of lefties who think our “problem” has something to do with Hillary Clinton but that’s a gross oversimplification of the issue.  Our problem is that more than half of the voters in the primaries were not counted and were silenced at the convention.  If it were Howard Dean who got the Hillary treatment, we’d never hear the end of  how outrageously unfair and unethical it is to disenfranchise 18 million voters. Right, guys?  You know I’m right.  But it’s Ok when it happens to someone else’s candidate.

Did we learn anything in the past four years?  I think some people have realized, too late, that they screwed up.  But is there something we can take from this example to guide us in the future?  I think the answer is that if you find out that a party and a candidate are willing to rewrite the rules on the fly and to apportion delegates to a candidate who wasn’t even on the ballot in one state in order to get a predetermined outcome, they will be more than willing to bend the rules to get what they want after the election is over.

I’d like to believe that there are still good people left in the party apparatus (still waiting for data on that) and that  those people would be willing to stand up and do what’s right.  If the primary system is meaningless, and all indications are that it is, then there should be little trouble questioning whether the “choice of no choice” this year is in the best interests of the party or the country.  Once upon a time, conventions were controversial and nomination votes went on for days until a nominee was selected.  Maybe this is the year to bring that back.

And there is still time for some of the more populous states of the nation to have their say.  Next week, California and New Jersey have their primaries.  Both states have a write in option.  Now is the time for voters to express their disapproval of the loss of their rights.  Maybe the spin doctors were able to write off the aberrations in the Arkansas, West Virginia and Kentucky primaries as racism.  But it’s harder to use that against California and New Jersey.

So, I am asking all voters in next week’s primaries to use your write in option to express your anger at the way this president and this Congress has trampled on your rights.  Write in a name.  You can choose whatever name you want.  Pick someone.  If you’re concerned with social/economic issues, why not Bernie Sanders?  If you are concerned with constitutional issues, why not Russ Feingold?  If you want a well rounded politician with experience, why not Hillary Clinton?  If you still think Howard Dean meant what he said about “the Democratic wing of the Democratic party”, write him in. YOU decide who that person is and write that name in.  These are big states and a write in campaign against the sitting president *will* get attention.

The Democrats, and particularly the Obama campaign, would like to control this election year so that nothing happens to distract the voters from the inevitability of Obama’s nomination.  And I say, fuck that shit. Don’t go down without a fight. What this country needs is a choice and some controversy and the ability to talk about stuff that concerns us without having some party apparatus muting our voices and changing the subject.

People are always asking, “I know it’s bad but what can we do??”.  You always have a choice.  Your vote is your own.  And just because Obama is the only named Democrat on the ballot in your state for President on the Democratic party’s ticket doesn’t mean you have to go along with the program.  All you need to do is tell two people and have them tell two people and so on and so on until there is critical mass (I’m guessing 30% of the voting Democrats would get their attention in a state the size of California).

Now, stop wringing your hands in frustration and worry.  You have 3 months to turn this ship around before the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina.  You can either be passive and allow the party to corral you because you are afraid of what might happen if you don’t go along with the program, or you can challenge the party and tell it to straighten up and fly right. Introduce some chaos so that the party isn’t just phoning it in this year.  Make them sweat. The last thing the party wants is a sign of disunity going into the general so its going to fight you.  But stand your ground and force it to have a national conversation about where it is planning to take the country in the future.

Because 400 years backwards is not my idea of progress.