Wednesday, February 20, 2008

McCain: Please 'splain

Senator McCain, quoted in NYT article:
“That’s naïve,” Mr. McCain said at a news conference in Columbus. “The first thing that you do is you make your plans and you carry out your operations as necessary for America’s national security interests. You don’t broadcast that you are going to bomb a country that is a sovereign nation.”
Really? You don't warn and threaten ahead of time? That's a bad idea? So it would be dumb to threaten Iran, or like, maybe Iraq, if they didn't, say, hand over their theoretical WMD's? And you shouldn't threaten Afghanistan if they don't hand over Osama, right? I'm glad that we agree that president newkyular's "naive". Although I think "naive" is putting it mildly.

But then how do you explain this:
" Senator McCain then gave a ringing endorsement of the president's approach to the war in Iraq, saying the mission was necessary, achievable and noble."
So this warn first, bomb later stuff is okay? I'm confruzzled. Please explain.

Corralling our superdelegate overlords

The Superdelegate Transparency Project is awesome. Letting us see how the superdelegates are lining up before they subvert the will of the people.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that my representative, Lynn Woolsey had pledged her support for Clinton when her district had voted overwhelmingly for Obama.

So I wrote her this e-mail:

Dear Representative Woolsey,

I'm writing to urge you to represent the will of the voters in the district you represent at the Democratic National Convention by using your superdelegate vote to support Barack Obama.

The electorate in your district gave Senator Obama 122 votes for ever 100 Senator Clinton received. There is a clear and overwhelming preference for Senator Obama. Not to use your vote to reflect the intentions of your constituency undermines the democratic process. In a year of unprecedented voter turnout, please send the message that voting matters. Give voters a reason to come back and to participate.

I think voters like myself, who are not affiliated with any political party, would find reason to be less skeptical of political party machinery if we were to see the Democrats act in accordance with democratic principles. It would be quite discouraging to see the will of the people overturned by our "Superdelegate overlords", as one blogger put it. Why vote, why participate, if the establishment will just cave to cronyism and subvert the will of the people?

I'll be watching your vote at the convention. I hope you'll do what the people in Marin & Sonoma are asking you to do. Vote for Senator Obama.



I'd encourage anyone who cares to check up on their local superdelegate and to make sure they know what you want them to do, and that you'll be watching them.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why I'm ok with GMOs

Since I didn't give much evidence in my prior post, but attracted some nastiness from a brave commenter who left contact details, I figured I'd be consistent with my principles of rationality and lay out my reasons why I like GMOs more than I fear them.

  1. Super useful in medical research. Want to cure cancer? HIV? Alzheimer's? Parkinson's? Having transgenic mice, pigs, rats and others that have human immune systems/ parts/ susceptibility to certain diseases is critical. They speed up science. So you can avoid GMOs, if you want. Just don't use any insulin generated from the transgenic cows that made it.

  2. Super useful in agriculture. Hate pesticides? Me too! Option 1: Breed selectively for many generations, hoping for a mutation that offers pest resistance. Maybe you'll get something in 30 years. Good luck. Option 2: Build in pest resistance at the genetic level and have something far better than random process and selection could get you in ten years or less. Which do you choose?

    The fact is that humans have been manipulating genes for thousands of years (our cultivated strawberries have up to 8 copies of their chromosomes per cell, instead of their "natural" two, thanks to human oversight. Frankenberry, anyone? Delicious!). Most of our domesticated animals and plants are maladapted for life in the wild, but well adapted to do what we like (Toy poodle, anyone? Miniature horse, perhaps?). The only difference is that we now have better tools for manipulating genes, and can do so directly.

    Yes, to be fair, transgenics is a bit different from selective breeding, and we don't really know all the potential long term consequences of what could happen with some of these genes and how they might interact with wild populations. But we never know the future of anything with perfect accuracy. We try to take a good guess at how things will work out. But we don't know. Maybe vaccinating against polio will cause harm in some way? Should we try it? What about Pasteurizing our milk? How about irradiating our food so it doesn't spoil? If there is strong evidence of benefits and little to no evidence of problems, we probably should. The only viable anti-GMO argument lies here, but they have to argue that the odds or the scale of the negative consequences of GMOs is so high that all the obvious benefits (higher yields, no pesticides, lower irrigation requirements: All those things that save humans from starvation and the planet) aren't worth it. And they have to argue that the rigorous ecological testing that happens before and after these new technologies are released are inadequate or wrong. And while it's possible that the Earth is 6000 years old and dinosaur bones are God's way of testing our faith, I believe the science (carbon dating is our friend). And when scientists tell us that GMOs are better than using insecticides, I believe them. In case you don't want to click:
    "The authors of the meta-study draw the conclusion that the Bt toxins of transgenic plants affect non-target organisms. However, such effects are significantly lower than those caused by the application of insecticides."
    Some people fear science. I don't. Please irradiate my food and serve me pest resistant corn.
What irks me about the anti GMO crowd is that they generally come from a place of fearing science (generally through ignorance, though not always) and often one of economic privilege. If you can afford to pay $5 per pound for low-yield, small batch organically farmed apples, go for it. (Not that this is a real example, but the economics of lower yield per acre and higher fixed costs is a higher cost product. Organic is nearly always a more expensive way of agriculture, barring GMOs from the process). But at time when we're trying to get poor folks in the US and abroad to eat fewer crappy, cheap calories from Mc Donalds and consume more high quality, expensive calories, like vegetables, practices which raise the costs of these foods only make the situation worse. I want poor people to be able to afford to eat right. I want to see cheap, mass produced high quality agricultural products with minimal toxicity. I think GMOs are part of the answer, and I'll continue to vote against banning them until I see clear evidence that they'll cause more harm than good.

If you're worried that the superdelegates will meddle...

Sign this. Forwarded by a friend.

Religion is just so awesome

Yeah, let's let Sharia law into the UK.

This is why Bin Laden hates us. Our government supports the travesty of human rights that is the Saudi regime. Because they keep the oil coming.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What I think of folks who want to ban GMOs

They're probably as scientific as she is.

My feelings on Valentine's Day

I'd be more enthusiastic if this were as widely adopted as it ought to be. I'm sure it could be adopted for vegans.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I wish we'd do the same

The Australian government is manning up about its treatment of aboriginal peoples. One more reason to like the Aussies.

I want Andrew Jackson off the $20. I suggest Crazy Horse instead.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A special kind of moron

From CNN:
But even with Romney out, Huckabee faces a daunting challenge. McCain has a significant lead in the delegate count after Super Tuesday. If Huckabee wins every remaining state with 50 percent of the vote to McCain's 40 percent, McCain would still be the nominee, according to CNN calculations.

"I know the pundits, and I know what they say: The math doesn't work out," Huckabee said Saturday morning at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. "Well, I didn't major in math; I majored in miracles. And I still believe in those, too."

Is this a guy people really want influencing economic policy? Or even military policy? "I know it's mathematically futile, but I believe in belief, not reason, so I'll take the irrational alternative."

Friday, February 08, 2008

Re: multiculturalism post

This article highlights the "Oh what fun it is to have government decide what's a real religion or not" problem I raised in the prior post.

I'll just say that if Scientology is a real religion, so is anything.

Please help, George

The great unitifier wants to spur the Republicans on to victoriousness by lending his influence.

Yes, President Nukyuler, remind America which party is yours. Associate yourself with the nominee as much as possible. Since people like you and your policies and leadership so much, I'm sure it'll be a big help.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Japan sucks

Yes, that's a mother and baby whale being killed by Japanese whaling ships.

This is so unnecessary. Go Aussies. I'm proud of them for being on top of this and fighting it. I wish my government was.

On the limits of multiculturalism and tolerance

Saw this article on the BBC today about the Archbishop of Canterbury arguing that Muslims in the UK should have the option to be governed/ tried/ dealt with under Sharia law courts, if they so choose.

Not an easy issue. On one hand, we want not to be France, and insist everyone become French. If a little Muslim girl wants to wear her head scarf in class, as her family's religious beliefs dictate, we should probably let her. That said, if that little Muslim girl's dad wants to stone her mom to death for being seen talking to a man not from her own family, as her family's religious beliefs dictate (and this may not be a legit action-consequence pairing from Islam, but we all know such "stone a woman for inappropriate action with a man" laws are in there), we should probably not let that happen.

And this is the problem of tolerance and moral relativism. If right and wrong come down to community standards, we have the problem of micro community and macro community with different standards. Micro community says women must cover faces, macro community says no masks in public. To reverse it, micro community says a beer after work is just fine, macro says the Koran says no alcohol (a la ex pat in Saudi Arabia).

So what to do? In the case of UK law, I see a real danger of coercion, given that a woman may lack sufficient power in her community to insist on a UK civil hearing instead of the Sharia hearing, which would treat her, from our perspective, harshly and repressively. This notion of "free to chose the system they want to work under" only works if all parties in a dispute have equal power in the dispute to choose the system. A key benefit of having one law is that power differences between disputants cannot shape the outcome by shaping the terrain upon which a dispute is decided. We all must show up on one, common, regulation playing field. One doesn't get to dictate that one will defend a goal that's 2' by 3' while one's opponent defends one 20' by 30'.

Essentially, this boils down to: Live with your country's laws; change your country's laws; or leave the country. If Muslims find the French "no head scarves for little girls" policy terrible, they must work to gain support from the broader majority to change the law, comply with the law, or choose to live someplace where they can be as they like. It's the story of human history. Puritains, Mormons, early Christians, etc. all found a way to coexist, or leave. And it works this way in reverse: Western women in Muslim countries, hot as they are, don't wear tube tops. And we don't open liquor stores there any more than we'd open kiddie porn stores. We accept local law and custom. And choose to live there only for a short while.

If the UK takes on this idea of permitting community standards of law, where does it end? Do Rastafarian communities get to smoke all the ganga they want to? Do African Muslim types get to practice female circumcision? (Why not? We let Jews & others hack off bits of baby boy penises...) What about Pagans? Satanists? Branch Davidians who need some shoulder fired rocket launchers to be prepared for the rapture/ apocalypse?

This puts the state in the position of deciding which communities are legit, and which community laws can and cannot supersede state law. And it's not up to courts to do this, as they are there to interpret and apply, it's up to legislative bodies. This, then, puts communities in the position of being able to bypass the macro society's law creation process. Forget parliament, our tribal elders just decided it's okay to leave baby Ngele out in the cold to die, since he was born with a club foot, and this, as we all know, is a bad omen. And is what we do back in Africa.

Moral relativism is a temporary appeasement which only delays the inevitable Highlander style clash between mutually incompatible ideas. And the problem with moral ideas is that they're "ought" statements. Which are directable not just at one's self, but at others. Which creates conflict between groups with conflicting ideas as soon as they direct their incompatible "oughts" at each other. The conflict is inevitable. Women either ought to have a male relative with them in public, or not. It's either fine to own, produce, sell and consume alcohol, or it's not. It's fine to practice infanticide, or it's not. It's okay to mangle your children's genitals without their consent, or it's not. Yes, we have the idea of "whatever happens between consenting adults in the privacy of their home is okay". But this breaks down any time the behavior is happening between parties of unequal power, like parents and children, humans and animals, or, in some cases, women and men or younger and older people. Can't lock your toddler, puppy, wife, or great grand mother in the closet for three days and not feed them, even if it is happening in the privacy of your own home. Even if the space aliens told you to. And when you get busted for doing so, don't expect to go to your own special "talking to space aliens" court.

So I disagree with the archbishop. I think the Brits must say to their Muslim citizens:

Hi! Welcome to Western democratic society! Don't like the laws? Then you can:
  1. Work to change the laws within our system
  2. Live with the laws as they are
  3. Leave
Update: More evidence of incompatibility. This kind of Islam is incompatible with contact with the rest of the world. And isolation isn't an option. Something's gotta give.