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American Terrorists

Matt Walsh has written another outstanding article, this time about how the Charlotte protestors are terrorists. Of course, every rational person is puzzled by this assertion, given Walsh’s unwavering support for domestic groups that kidnap young women on their way to their dream jobs and beat and starve them until they die, groups that regularly engage in drive-by shootings of children, that ambush men on the roads and highways and shoot them in front of their children and wives, and engage in numerous other acts of ongoing terror against Americans.

I wonder if Walsh would be brave enough to call this man a terrorist:

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history.

(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Or how about the group of men who, because their government refused to acquiesce to their demands, took it upon themselves to destroy the private property of merchants, and then go on to write the following? Let Walsh be a man and call them terrorists as well:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these [rights], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

(American Declaration of Independence)

Unfortunately, Matt Walsh is beyond reason, being instead committed to a narrative that exalts white, nationalistic, Christian America high above all.

Democratic Posturing on Gun Control

What are we to make of the current Democratic furor over gun control?

First of all, I think it’s clear from this past Democratic primary that the Democrats are oligarchs who think that elites should pick an elite to rule us. Additionally, their approach to this current gun control thing seems really confusing, if your model for their motivations is that they want to make Americans safer. Do they want to ban literally everyone from having assault weapons? Even the police? Even the military? If not, then there are exceptions. Who should be exempt from the ban? Do we expect they’d exempt security guards, perhaps those who had a background check from the FBI first? The shooter in Orlando was both those things, and he was trying to become a police officer. So it’s not clear that any of their restrictions would have actually prevented Orlando. In that case, what’s the point? Unless as elites who want to choose other elites to rule us, they would like to make a class distinction between who should have these powerful weapons and who shouldn’t…

Further, they rejected several Republican proposals to increase gun control: a proposal to ban people on terror watch lists, but only after a court review, a proposal to only ban those on the no-fly list (which is about 1400 people), and a proposal to increase funding for background checks, which is one of the current shortfalls of the system: background checks are required, but there’s no funding for anyone to do them. Why did they reject them? Unless they’re more concerned about making a good show in an election year than actually doing anything.

Additionally, the Orlando police have admitted that a number of the casualties that night were due to the police fire. There were four or five officers who opened up at the shooter with their fully automatic weapons when he came outside, but unfortunately they weren’t very good shots. They killed several people when their bullets went through the concrete wall. Why did the police need automatic weapons? Wouldn’t a sniper have done a much better job? If the argument against assault weapons is that they only point of them is to kill a lot of people, since there was only one shooter, there’s no reason the police should have had assault weapons.

Even the military falls under this argument. We don’t fight wars against battle lines where you’re trying to kill as many of the enemy as possible. The wars we’re fighting now are against guerrillas, where we want to target one person out of many. What’s the point of assault weapons? If all they’re good for is killing a lot of people, no one should be using them any more.

So using the logic that many are trying to use against civilians having assault weapons, I don’t think the police or the military should have them either. If we want to ban them, let’s really ban them, but don’t turn a blind eye to police and military violence and then pretend you care about people.

Living a Fantasy

A study has been done that suggests that children raised in religious households are less able to distinguish fantasy from reality. This morning I was wondering how this could help me understand some of the particular quirks I’ve noted about myself in contrast to other people. Ever since I could remember, violence in movies has felt unsettling to me. Actually, unsettling isn’t the right word–the feeling is more that my existence feels fundamentally threatened. A similar feeling occurred also in English class when I started going to public high school (newly out of being homeschooled) and I had to read disturbing literature (like The Yellow Wallpaper or The Handmaid’s Tale). I remember after reading some of those things, I felt a black dread inside that I couldn’t shake and had no idea how to handle.

As I’ve gotten older, the reactions have mellowed (to the point where I kind of want to re-read The Handmaid’s Tale), but I still find it hard to watch movies or TV shows with cruel violence (either physical or psychological). Even with books, I generally find myself more comfortable with young-adult fiction than adult fiction, because I find the raw emotion in the adult fiction to be overwhelming (as an example, I thought I Am Legend told rather an interesting story in an interesting world, but it left something of a black feeling in me after I finished, with the result that a lot of time has to go by before I try reading something like that again).

I feel like my reactions to these things could come out of an extremely-delayed development of the ability to distinguish fantasy and reality (although it could partly or fully be due to other things, like being a Highly Sensitive Person or the like). I think perhaps due to my fundamentalist religious upbringing (combined maybe with my staying at my parents’ home until I was almost out of college), I’ve had a hard time distinguishing between “threats” to myself from horrifying situations in literature and media and actual threats to myself from the objective world. It’s not that I couldn’t tell any difference, obviously–that’s why I think I felt a conflict about these feelings. I knew there was no real threat, yet I felt like there was a real threat, and I didn’t know how to understand that conflict.

Potentially this inability to distinguish fantasy and reality could explain some of my other quirks that result in my being mocked in social situations, too. One that comes to mind was an instance when I had been reading about the bacteria that live in your mouth, and why it’s important to spit out your mouthwash after swishing it around (even if the mouthwash was inherently edible, e.g. oil pulling)–the idea is that you can harm yourself by loosening the bacteria from your teeth and then ingesting them.

Around that time, I ended up eating a rather large quantity of Swedish fish, and then I rinsed my mouth out with water to dislodge the pieces that stuck to my teeth. I was lazy, so after swishing the water around in my mouth, I swallowed it. Shortly thereafter, I developed an extremely painful feeling in my abdomen, and I had to leave work early. I told some of my coworkers that I thought it might be due to swallowing the water I used to rinse my mouth (instead of just blaming it on eating too much sugar at once, which in retrospect seems more reasonable). That haven’t stopped making fun of me for that since. I wonder why I stuck on that rather unlikely explanation at the time instead of putting more weight on the more acceptable idea that eating a large amount of sugar can hurt you–perhaps it’s a lingering effect of a delayed ability to separate fantasy and reality.

Is Bernie a Nazi?

A blog post on Bipartisan Soapbox implicitly compares Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to Hitler (illustrating Godwin’s Law with a rapid convergence time) by using the title “Bernie’s Brown Shirts”. The article rehashes tired arguments against Bernie by criticizing his supporters, while (as usual) giving the behavior of Hillary’s supporters a complete pass. It objects to Bernie’s policy proposals in rather Republican-sounding terms (complaining about single-payer health insurance, the proposal to raise taxes on the rich, and the desire to see justice done with the bankers who gambled with the financial well-being of America’s poor) while repeating the inaccurate claim that Bernie doesn’t care about or receive support from people of color (frequently with the implicit or explicit accusation that Bernie’s movement is only one of young white males).

There’s more than a little hypocrisy in the article’s criticism of the behavior of Bernie’s supporters, given that Hillary has many supporters who are just as vicious and who raise cries of sexism at the first hint of criticism of Hillary’s policies (as a cursory inspection of some of the popular pro-Hillary Twitter feeds will show)–all without a hint of disavowal from the Hillary campaign. Further, the idea of “Bernie bros” has been misrepresented by the media from the beginning. I myself saw when a prominent female blogger laid forth, then retracted, an accusation of sexism against Bernie supporters.

What happened was that this blogger posted in support of Hillary, and almost immediately received a flurry of sexist insults and harassments that she initially assumed were from Bernie supporters. On further examination, however, she discovered that the comments were actually from normal male internet trolls with no connection to Bernie. This, however, did nothing to prevent CNN, BBC, and even Bill Clinton from using this as evidence of the regressive and vicious behavior of Bernie supporters–in spite of the loud and clear protests of the blogger herself! The truth was ignored for the sake of the narrative, though a minimal amount of investigation would have revealed it.

What this article amounts to, then, is a furthering of the effort to portray Sanders as fundamentally bad (hence the allusion to Hitler), instead of acknowledging the validity of his policies in general while disagreeing with them in particular (i.e. civil dialogue). It represents an all-too-pervasive instinct for demonizing someone you simply don’t like. I don’t like Hillary or her policies, but I am careful not to demonize her, because such behavior is not appropriate or helpful.

Trump and Evangelical Infidelity

I remember when W was being elected for the first time. The semi-fundamentalist community I grew up in was desperate for him to win. He was “our guy”, a true follower of G-d (determined using the fundamentalist superpower of being able to know who’s a “real” Christian on the inside), and just as importantly, a Republican, the chosen party of G-d. On the other side was Gore, who, if elected, would bring G-d’s judgement on America, and “probably wasn’t the Antichrist” (as we so reasonably conceded) “but would likely usher him in”.

The second time W ran was similar. I remember a woman at my university saying she’d probably vote for Kerry “to give him a chance and change things up”. She was in our Christian group on campus, and I remember feeling the default fundamentalist horror at someone who had deliberately blinded herself and was now walking in darkness. Kerry was evil, and if he got elected we would never escape G-d’s judgement on our country.

Things started to get weird with the Obama/McCain election (or possibly they were always that way but I finally started to see it). First, when Hillary was making her bid for the Democratic nomination, the fundamentalist email trains were aflutter with Biblical references to Deborah and grave pronouncements that a woman leader was a sign of G-d’s judgement on a country. But after Hillary lost the nomination and McCain chose Palin as his running mate, suddenly people were talking about their visions of bees (Deborah is Hebrew for “bee”) and praising her as a Deborah who would save us (what happened to the judgement?).

I also remember people struggling with McCain’s nomination, since the he had no kinship with fundamentalists. He was the one selected for G-d’s Holy Party, but he himself wasn’t holy (evaluated using the above-mentioned fundamentalist superpower). Someone else on this email train reported struggling over this very issue until she got a vision in which she heard “McCain, McCain, why are you rejecting My anointed?” (note that “anointed” is the English translation of the Hebrew word Mashiach, which is commonly translated “Messiah”).

That was the first time the whole thing struck me as odd. It made sense to me to vote Republican when the party nominated a “good Christian” like W–obviously any group would feel more comfortable with one of their own running the country. But McCain wasn’t one of us. Why would he be G-d’s “Messiah”? It could just as easily have been the Democrat in that case (although Obama, with his Arabic-sounding name, was being explicitly predicted to be the Antichrist by some of my friends).

Obama got elected, life went on, and then came Romney and with him the unbelievable attachment of fundamentalists to the Republican party got even worse. Romney was Mormon, a group that when I was growing up was synonymous with “infidel” (and was viewed in much the same way as Muslims are today by that group). Yet once again, the conservative Christians rallied behind the Republican former-infidel-now-brother as the savior of our country (though admittedly with less enthusiasm than I saw for Bush or McCain).

Now it’s 2016, and Trump is the front runner, and more and more evangelicals are falling in line behind him. This is insane. There’s nothing Christian about Trump. He uses people, he promotes immorality (via the “immodesty” of his beauty pageants), he’s on his third marriage (divorce was considered an unforgivable sin when I was growing up), and he obviously doesn’t even know the Bible! Yet Liberty University welcomed him enthusiastically, Jerry Falwell Jr called him a “servant leader” in the tradition of Christ (the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard from a Christian leader), and after Palin’s endorsement Christians are increasingly supporting him.

Trump is everything we despised growing up: an “obvious” unbeliever, an immoral and liberal businessman, and not a true conservative. The fact that he’s now being accepted as the chosen one shows that evangelicals are no longer even pretending to be choosing who to vote for based on their religious principles. They have merged with the “non-Christian” (their words) conservative culture and established that over their own religion and over the Bible. And consequently, they’ve lost their voice to talk about G-d in our society, and they’re deceiving only themselves with regard to what their political motivations are.

Saving the Earth with GMOs

I read an interesting speech on GMOs written by Mark Lynas, who claims to have been one of the founders of the anti-GMO movement in the 90s. The speech starts with an apology for having led the charge against GM crops for so long, and proceeds with an explanation of why he changed his mind.

With regard to why he originally opposed GMOs, he describes his reaction to Monsanto’s GM soya’s introduction in 1995:

Mixing genes between species seemed to be about as unnatural as you can get – here was humankind acquiring too much technological power; something was bound to go horribly wrong. These genes would spread like some kind of living pollution. It was the stuff of nightmares.

So the campaign began to ban GM crops, and it was wildly successful.

But Lynas later realized, “This was also explicitly an anti-science movement.” This became clear to him when he started reading scientific studies in order to write a book on why climate change is a real danger, and he decided to do similar research on GMOs in order to be consistent. What he found was:

– Instead of increasing the use of chemicals, GMOs frequently require less chemicals
– Instead of only helping big companies, GMOs actually made farming more affordable for small farms
– Instead of being dangerous, GMOs are actually more safe than conventional breeding methods like mutagenesis, because GMO methods only modify a couple of genes instead of randomly affecting an entire genome.

Lynas then starts to look at the other side of the GMO issue. Demand for food in the world is going up–not due to a population explosion like many think (the global fertility rate is actually dropping), but because of declining infant mortality and various efforts to eliminate poverty.

Higher demand for food means more land conversion to farms–with all the associated impacts on various plant and animal species and a decrease in CO2-consuming trees. It also means more demand for water from rivers, with similar impacts on the natural world. Finally, it also means more fertilizer, increasing the possibility of things like the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico from nitrogen runoff.

Unfortunately, “organic” farming techniques are essentially frozen to 1950s techniques, which require more land, more water, and more fertilizer than newer techniques. Worldwide, the use of chemicals in farming has saved 3 billion hectares of land from being converted to farms, or the equivalent of two South Americas. As Lynas said,

There would have been no Amazon rainforest left today without this improvement in yields.

Lynas emphasizes that he doesn’t have any problem with organic farming per se, “But organic is in the way of progress when it refuses to allow innovation.” He also objects to how the “organic” movement takes away freedom of choice from others, getting GMO crops banned because they might contaminate the organic crops.

He mentions how Greenpeace recently destroyed a test crop of GMO wheat in Australia. The part of the crop that wasn’t destroyed showed a 30% yield increase. Lynas points out that improvements like this could go a long way to helping us save the environment while keeping people fed. A GM omega-3 oilseed that could be used to feed fish could help reduce overfishing. An organization called Rothamsted Research is looking into an aphid-resistant GM wheat that would require no pesticides to deal with aphids.

Lynas’s opinion on the debate is:

So my conclusion here today is very clear: the GM debate is over. It is finished. We no longer need to discuss whether or not it is safe – over a decade and a half with three trillion GM meals eaten there has never been a single substantiated case of harm. You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food. More to the point, people have died from choosing organic, but no-one has died from eating GM.

And he concludes with a couple of points that sound reasonable:

…I challenge all of you today to question your beliefs in this area and to see whether they stand up to rational examination. Always ask for evidence…and make sure you go beyond the self-referential reports of campaigning NGOs.


…most important of all, farmers should be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt. If you think the old ways are the best, that’s fine. You have that right. What you don’t have the right to do is to stand in the way of others who hope and strive for ways of doing things differently, and hopefully better. Farmers who understand the pressures of a growing population and a warming world….

Link to the full speech:

Lecture to Oxford Farming Conference, 3 January 2013 on Marklynas

Wall Street’s President

On the one hand, President Obama’s Justice Department charged Aaron Swartz with 13 felonies possibly resulting in over 30 years in prison for downloading articles (many of which were in the public domain). On the other, his head of the Justice Department’s criminal enforcement division, Lanny Breuer, publicly stated that one of the things he considers when deciding whether to go after financial corporations is how much harm the charges will do to the corporation or the individuals responsible. In his own words,

We are frequently on the receiving end of presentations from defense counsel, CEOs, and economists who argue that the collateral consequences of an indictment would be devastating for their client…In reaching every charging decision, we must take into account the effect of an indictment on innocent employees and shareholders…

Yes, they’re concerned about the “devastating consequences” on the accused person when he’s the head of a financial company, especially because of what might happen to the “shareholders” if he’s charged, but they couldn’t care less about the “devastating consequences” of charging a 26-year-old free Internet pioneer with 13 felonies and 30 years in prison.

The Republicans (and Libertarians) get a lot of flack for being corporate-friendly. Yet President Obama is clearly just as deeply in the pockets of the major American corporations.


Land of the Safe and Home of the Secure

The Atlantic has a disturbing story that shows how razor-thin the margins of our liberty have become.

In summary: Robert Fleming is a 70-year-old glider pilot in South Carolina. One afternoon he took off from an airport that is a hub for a lot of light aircraft like the one he was flying. On his way back to the airport he circled over a nuclear plant that was only two miles from the airport–which is not illegal. There are no markers on either the land or the FAA’s flight map indicating a “no-fly” zone.

When he landed, he was arrested by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security and held for questioning overnight. Reportedly, local officials had even discussed shooting his glider down. A US citizen, flying over US airspace and doing nothing illegal, was in danger of being shot down by his own government.

The really depressing thing about all this is that it doesn’t have to be this way. If more people would vociferously complain to Congress about this sort of behavior by the Executive Branch, I have no doubt that they would act to curtail it. But as long as we silently tolerate it, it will only get worse.


Fiscal Relief

I’ve finally come across an article about the “fiscal cliff” that doesn’t involve invoking spectres of doom which, of course, are all necessarily a result of the character and principles of whoever you don’t like:


In short, there’s good reason to think that the results of the “fiscal cliff” will actually be largely beneficial. A number of indicators show that America’s economy is growing stronger (stocks, GDP, wages, inflation, etc.). The Congressional Budget Office study that says there will be a 1% recession as a result of the budget cuts and tax hikes only predicts that for the first half of 2012, and also says that it’ll switch to 2% growth after that. Much-needed defense cuts will take place which probably wouldn’t otherwise. And of course, the long term effect of the “cliff” will be reducing the deficit–which was the goal all along.

As far as the few real problems with the budget cuts/tax hikes package go, they can still be addressed by Congress without having to come to a deal to avert the whole thing. And while it’s annoying to have to pay more taxes, I think taxes for my household will only go up about $800 total. That’s hardly the crippling burden that the media have been portraying.

Media sources tend to thrive on disaster. But there’s good reason to think that most of it is just hot air, as usual.

Wilderness and Humanity

Slate has an interesting article on a new trend arising in the environmental movement which is challenging the older view that wilderness is the best and that human activity and technology is an unmitigated disaster for the world. Rather, they’re focusing on how human development and the natural world can intertwine with each other in a sustainable way. A particularly interesting criticism of the older view is that

“ecologists and conservationists have grossly overstated the fragility of nature, frequently arguing that once an ecosystem is altered, it is gone forever.” This belief has flowed from the long-held notion…of a pristine nature that exists apart from people.

But that is a false construct that scientists and scholars have been demolishing the past few decades…

The article describes how, instead of forcibly violating private landowners’ rights to protect endangered species, there are examples of the government and private interests working together to balance environmental needs with continuing development.

What I appreciate about this view is that it doesn’t lead to the inevitable conclusion that the older environmentalism leads to, which is that human nature and the natural world are fundamentally incompatible. Rather, it provides hope that we can find a balance between development and preservation, and that even if we make mistakes, it doesn’t mean everything is irreversibly lost.


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