Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Republicans in Power are like Bipolar Patients

Several years ago, I read the book "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. He's a psychiatrist who wrote the best selling book based on his experiences treating patients.

There are several fascinating parts of the book, but one that has stuck with me was a discussion of some of his patients who would swing wildly through extremes because they never learned discipline. Parents who would alternate between complete license for their children or cruel, harsh punishments. One woman vacillated between sexual promiscuity and prudery, either inviting men to her bed on the first date or living like a monk. Always swinging between one extreme to the next.

Part of the problem is that living a realistic life is hard work. It's hard to have consistent, fair discipline for your children. I struggle with it. It's too easy to say "Here, kids, here's the TV shut up for a bit", then scream at them when they're too loud or they mess up their rooms. It's hard to pay attention to what really matters day after day, doing the little course corrections here and there with how you treat your family, your coworkers, your friends. When is it necessary to punish and by how much? Are you rewarding for a job well done or encouraging half-assed efforts? Are you putting in 20 hours a day at work because you spent the last 30 days slacking off?

Paying attention is hard. Which is why it's so easy to just swing back and forth between the extremes.

Which is why when I watch the Republicans in the last few weeks, all I can think about is that women who alternated between living like a nun and reenacting "Debbie Does Dallas."

You've got Mississippi Governor, Haley Barbour. First he started out by describing the bits of BP Gulf Oil on the beaches as looking like chocolate mousse. Not that dangerous! It's not that bad! Why are we beating up on BP?

And then - OMG federal government I need help right now this stuff is going to kill us all! Help me! Damn it, I could have called up the national guard but SOMEBODY HELP ME NOW!

It would have been the grown up, mature thing to say "Huh. Maybe I don't think we should worry, but maybe I should get my crap in order *just in case*. Spend some money. I know - government is evil, but I guess I *was* elected governor for a reason."

Then you've got the financial system reform. Remember 2008, when we learned that deregulating the financial market because they said "Hey, trust us, we'll stop doing stupid things before it gets to be a problem, because we're greedy - but we're not crazy?" And then the financial market collapsed, and even Greenspan, the Ayn Rand loving libertarian himself, had to admit that you know, maybe financial regulation was a good thing.

At the time, Republicans were screaming "let it die! Them them all fall apart and let the free market rule!" Granted, anyone who knew anything about history knows that's how the crash of 1929 happened. And while there should have been a better deal, "just letting them die" would have been far, far worse than offering them a loan to get them through. So it was Bush's team that pushed for the big bank bailout, and the Democrats agreed because it was better than nothing.

Now, we have a chance to do some regulation. To impose some boundaries so we don't have the complete and utter shit storm that happened last time. Nothing too crazy - how about some transparency in credit default swaps so we don't have people making tons of bets that things will fall apart and then they have every incentive to see it fail - crazy thought, but maybe people should know that. And maybe the big banks should pay when one of their own falls apart, instead of the American taxpayer. So how about a fund kind of like the FDIC, but bigger, where the money sits in an insurance fund and when someone like Goldman Sachs blows up - they get bailed out with big bank money.

And the response from the same Republicans who whined and complained about the bail outs? We should trust Wall Street. They built the economy. Sure, it was only 1.5 years ago that the thing came melting down like Chernobyl - but these are smart people!

Look at the whole war on terror. You have records about how people like Clarke warned about al Qaeda over and over again, and it wasn't until November 12 that it because something to care about. And then it was Patriot Act and illegal wiretaps and torture.

It would have been better to have a consistent, even, measured, mature method of checking a little bit here, a little bit there, and course correction as need be. It might require you don't see government as "evil", but a necessary component to keep the powerful from preying upon the powerless. It requires that you don't see "the invisible hand" as the ideal for how people interact, but just a term used to describe how prices normalize, not morality.

Sadly, after apologies to BP for having to take responsibility for fucking up the planet, candidates coming out saying that God has a plan so rape and incest victims shouldn't be allowed abortions and Texas rewriting history to fit their ideals - I don't see maturity as something to expect anytime soon.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Final Update to the Netflix Streaming Party plan!

For those who have been following, I'm setting up a sort of party for people to be watching the same movie streamed from Netflix from the same time.

The voting is over, and the movie picked, and based on your votes, it's going to be - Roshomon! You can find it here on Netflix: Roshomon.

It's a Japanese movie classic involving samurai, death, crime, and mystery. Oooooo!

Kind of surprised more people didn't go with Wargames.

Now, how to watch. At 8 PM, we start the movie. I'll be watching it on my Xbox 360 (which I'm about to go buy because the old one red ringed on me and I'm tired of fixing it). Those who are on my Xbox 360 friends list can just join me in the Viewing Room to be synced up as to when the movie starts. If you're watching it via your home systems or whatever, I'll be having the chat window available blow and counting down when the movie starts.

If you're on the Xbox 360, add user johnhummel before the event so I can get you added in!

Anybody can comment, and I'll ask that anyone watching comment through the Cover It Live chatline so we can all join in.

That's it! See you all at 8 PM EDT!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How to use Weasel Words to Boondoggle the Truth

I signed up some time ago to have Meetup send me notices of any groups in the Hillsborough, Florida county that I might be interested in. A lot of this is fluff, like "Dog Walkers Group of Bradenton" and other things.

But this morning, I got this gem of a turd in my inbox from the group called "Hillsborough Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation" by one Karen Jaroch. Who's previous groups it looks like were running the 9-12 groups inspired by Glenn Beck, which inspired people to show up at town hall meetings I attended and have intelligent, thoughtful discourse about why healthcare reform was a bad thing.

If by "intelligent, thoughtful discourse" you mean "screaming for 90 minutes straight and hurling racist calls like 'Get a job Oprah' to black people" - then sure.

But "Hillsborough Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation" - that sounds important!

And then my words fell on the word "sound."

Where had I seen that word used before? Usually in the phrase "sound science", usually meaning "I know that 99.9% of all climatologists agree that pumping carbon dioxide into the air is bad, and usually the 0.1% that oppose that notion are paid by the oil industry - but I support 'sound science' which means you ignore actual scientists because its inconvenient."

But I read on to see what the group was about. And man, what a bunch of weasel words it's filled with:

HiCOST - Hillsborough Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation is a group dedicated to save Hillsborough County from a 14% sales tax increase which will devastate business opportunity in the county for a boondoggle which will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion.

I'd like to grant a special award for the greatest number of weasel words in one paragraph! Come on down and take your prize, Ms. Jaroch!

We start at the beginning with the words "HiCost" - just in case you didn't get the message that, look out - something bad is coming for your wallet!

Oh, and then there's my favorite: " Hillsborough County from a 14% sales tax increase..."

Now, when I showed this to people I know, they went "OMG! A 14% sales tax increase? That's pretty nuts!"

Then they all paused. "Wait - I thought it's a 1% sales tax increase. From 7% to 8%."

That's right. It is. Let's so some math and show how Ms. Jaroch turns 1% into 14%.

Now, if we're talking money, and I say "It's going to cost you 1 penny more per every dollar so we can do something", most people will say "Oh. OK. 1 penny per dollar. That's a 1% increase."

BUT! You're not using weasel math! See, you have to take the sales tax by itself, which is 7%. Suppose you have 7 apples, and I give you 1 more. Now you have 8 shiny red apples.

1 apple out of 7 is 14% of the apples. So going from 7 to 8 apples is a 14% increase in apples. 7 + 1 = 8. 1 / 7 = 0.14.

In the same way, Ms. Jaroch uses her weasel math that if you look at just the sales tax, you're increasing it by 14%. And this is done on purpose, because 14% increase on sales tax is a big, scary number that makes people think you're going from either 7% to 14%, or 7% to a whopping 21% sales tax.

But let's move on from math, cause that's boring.

"...will devastate business opportunity in the county..." Devastate! That's right - when the light rail is built, it won't just impact businesses by some percentage one way or another. Or make it easier for people to reach the shopping areas. No devastation! Fire will rain down from the skies and utterly destroy businesses!

"...for a boondoggle which will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion." I don't know. I kind of like boondoggles. I boondoggled my wife last night, and she *loved* it.

Now, I know a boondoggle is something that's supposed to waste money. Like, building a rail system that cuts through Tampa, and provides fast transport to everyone from Brandon to MacDill to South Tampa all the way out to Town 'N Country.

You could go and read through the HART rapid transit plan located right here in this PDF file.

I used to live in Salt Lake City. Notice I didn't say I was born there - I moved and lived there for a few years. And people just like Ms. Jaroch, spreading misinformation and fears of the apocolypse marched and told people this was a waste of money and time and it would destroy everything.

And they built it anyway. And people rode it. For the first week, because it was a novelty. Then they realized "Wait - I can park here, and instead of a 60 minute drive into work, it's a 10 minute drive to the local light rail station, leave my car, and a 20 minute ride downtown."

It increased business along the rail stops. You could get off, walk to the local shopping centers, carry on. The Mormon church would buy the entire light rail every 6 months so everybody could ride free because it cut down on traffic and gas.

Now they're expanding the rail lines last I heard.

I might use Ms. Jaroch's weasel tactics against her. Ask why she supports more oil being burned so we have BP soaking our beautiful beaches with their black tarry filth as dead birds wash up. Or even question why she wants to support terrorists, who are mostly funded by every time an American fills up. It's not like the oil being pumped offshore is sold only to Americans anyway - it's sold worldwide, and we let oil companies get richer, terrorists get more money - but hey, Ms. Jaroch can save her "14% sales tax increase" - you know, going from 7% to 8%, paying an extra penny on the dollar, so we can have less cars on the road, less oil being burned, less money in the hands of people who hate us for our freedoms.

But then, I'd be a weasel.

Light rail works. I've seen it for myself. And all the fear mongering in the world won't change that fact.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Netflix Movie party plan!

Most of us live geographically separated from each other, across the country or even the world. But why not still have a movie party?

So here's the plan:

The When:On June 19th, we're going to watch a movie.

The What: Which one? Pick from the list on this survey site. You've got a choice of:

Gojira - the original Godzilla movie!
Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog
War Games
Time After Time
Roshomon - Samurai classic
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

The How: For those with Xbox 360 Gold accounts, we'll gather together. You'll have to send me your gamername before this happens.

My username is johnhummel . Yes, I make it hard to find me ;).

For those who aren't on the 360, that's all right! I'll be on Twitter, using the hashtag #NFMP . And yes, my username on Twitter - can you guess - is johnhummel .

And that's it! From there, we comment, we snark, we make jokes about the movie.

If you want to participate, you can sign up on my Facebook event page at: Facebook - and there we go.

That's it! Any questions? Comment away!