Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics and the Administration

Yesterday I learned about the administration doing a couple of rather execrable things: buying a commentator to push their agenda, which commentator did not choose to reveal his status as bought to his audience, and lying about the dangers of marijuana. The first execrable item should explain itself, but as to the second, the big lie in the crappy anti-drug ad is the flat-out statement that “marijuana is addictive.” Huh? Oh, yeah, psychologically addictive. Sure, and so are pants, situation comedies, chocolate sundaes, yeah, sure.

The plain fact is that marijuana is not addictive at all. Does using pot make you more worthless than you might have been if you didn’t use pot? Heck yeah. But, as the ad also claims, does marijuana induce violent behavior? Sure, if you count eating a cupboard full of Pop Tarts as violence. But, that’s not all.

The administration, in an effort to promote abstinence, also flat-out lies about that. The claim is put forth that condoms only prevent AIDS less than half of the time they’re used. That’s grade A bullshit, my friends. Condoms prevent the spread of AIDS and other STDs about 99.9 percent of the time. Yes, they fail, but not nearly so often as these jokers claim. They make other outrageous lying claims, but I’ll work with the list I’ve just put down here.

Now, is smoking pot a good thing? Hard to say. Personally, I’ve found recreational drugs to be a waste of time on the good end, and they go downhill fast. It would be better for almost all of us if we didn’t use pot, and that’s the truth. So, why resort to stupid lies to convince people to stop? Same with abstinence. Heck yes, if you don’t have sex you won’t get an STD, and you won’t get anyone pregnant or get pregnant yourself. That’s the plain truth. Again, why resort to stupid lies to get your point across? I’m serious: why do that? Is there something about the plain truth that scares these people?

The real problem is that these lies are pretty obvious to their supposed intended audience, which is the youth of America. Young people are not so easily fooled as their elders who dearly wish the world were different. You know, if these arguments were put forth in a criminal trial they would provide any impartial jury with reasonable doubt. If they lied about these things, what else are they lying about? You know it worked for OJ, right? That’s all there was to that verdict: Furman lied about the nigger thing, so the jury didn’t think they could trust him on anything else. And the youth of America see these damned lies and wonder what else the ads are lying about. Is unprotected sex really okay after all? Should I just buy a pound of Hawaiian and stay stoned all summer? Why not, they’re lying about marijuana being addictive, they’re lying about condoms, and they’re buying off commentators. Hey, hell with everything they say.

I say if you can’t make a good argument with the truth, then your argument isn’t worth listening to. I tried to get these idiots out of office, but they’re pretty good at making lies believable, and the opposition wasn’t even seriously opposing them. Too bad. Four more years of this and there might not be all that much left of what’s been a pretty good country so far. Unless, that is, we see them for the lying assholes that they are and ignore what we know to be lies. I don’t love Democrats, quite the contrary, but I hate above all things being lied to. Sad for the administration, if they care at all, that makes me hate what they do whether it’s justified or not.

Hey, they called the game, I’m just playing along.

Get it Right, Will Ya?

There are as many political opinions in America as there are people, it seems. Trouble is, many of them contradict each other. However, when arguing one’s point, it behooves one to get the facts straight. Quite a few people don’t. Here are some examples.

An email that has crossed my desktop several times now says that, since we’re not a religious country, okay, I want my mail delivered on Sundays and Christmas, because by gar the post office is a part of the government and days like the Friday before Easter, and Easter for that matter, shouldn’t be special. Well, sorry, Charles, but here’s the problem with that: The Postal Service doesn’t use a penny of taxpayer money, so it can take any damn day off it wants to. I see the point of the mailing, I truly do, but it’s a total bag of hooey because, once again, the Postal Service Does Not Use Tax Money! If you don’t know that, then why are you polluting my email box with drivel? Get it right, will ya?

As for Christmas, you only need to look at the history of that holiday to see why the religious argument won’t wash. Jesus’ birthday is in May, actually. No cold winter’s night, I’m afraid. However, the Romans had a very popular holiday called Saturnalia, involving lots of parties, gift giving, drinking too much, late night revels, gay decorations, all that sort of thing. It ran from the solstice to the end of the year, and smack in the middle of Saturnalia was another Roman god’s day: Mithra’s Day, December 25th. Mithra was a sun god, but don’t be tempted by the “son vs sun” thing, because the Roman for sun is “Sol” and the roman for son is “pueri” or some such word. The homohponics are a coincidence, I’m afraid. In this country, Christmas was illegal in colonial New England, and it was the merchants of America and England who popularized Christmas, along the lines of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and Moore’s “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” Yes, like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day and a whole bunch of others, Christmas was an inaugurated as a device to get people to eat, drink, and be merry at retail. Jesus is the reason for the name of the season, but that’s about it. The merchants, who are probably the true high priests of our society, would be just as happy if it were called Blxfzzike, so long as we kept spending our money. Again, get it right, how about it?

Now, this is a biggie that really frosts me. There are three words that sound alike: to, too, and two. Here are the meanings, okay?

Two means 2, or 1 plus 1, or six divided by three, 2 = two.

Too means also or at the same time or as well. Such as in “We went to the movies, and to lunch, too!” If you’re confused, only use the word also. It means the exact same thing as “too.”

Also = too

That leaves to, which is a preposition. You have to, er pardon this construction “to” something. Like “to go” or “to run” or “to get it right, will ya?” Latin freaks might recognize the ablative.

Okay, to, two and too aren’t political, but nothing ruins a political discussion like some bozo that can’t get a simple thing like that right. Not only isn’t it rocket science, it is taught in the second grade. Second Grade! Great Honk, get it right!

The sexual abstinence crowd is spreading the good word that abstinence is the best form of birth control. That is the solid truth. They’re also saying that condoms fail to prevent AIDS in up to thirty percent of cases, which is an absolute lie. In a court of law, a lie like that provides reasonable doubt, which means that a jury will say, and rightly so, “if they’re lying about that, what else are they lying about?” Indeed. Well, in this case they’re also lying about the effectiveness of birth control pills, which is well over 99 percent. They claim about 80 something percent, which is another blatant lie. Come on, people, if you’re right, why are you lying? Is it an article of faith to lie often and broadly? If so, what else are they lying about?

(A much smaller prosecution lie is what got O.J. Simpson acquitted, by the way.)

So, come on, people. Argue your positions, please. I’m happy to hear a good argument. But by cracky if you lie, I’m turning you off right there. And if you can’t write decent grammar, I probably won’t understand a word you’re saying. So, one more time with feeling:

GET IT RIGHT, WILL YA?

Okay, enough of the liberal BS

I’ve about had it with American liberals. Come on, people, the election is over. Our boy lost, so that’s the way it is. The winners are being about as gracious as Custer toward the Indians, but what, you were expecting blintzes? Here’s the scoop:

Kerry lost the damn election, and that’s no doubt. Dean would’ve been the better candidate. He has a mouth on him, for sure, but at least, as the opposition, he opposes something. And he’s a good enough speaker and scrappy enough not to let himself get trapped in those Bushie mind games. But, I digress. On my real topic, I want to break things down into smaller bits here, starting with the idea of “liberal.”

LIBERAL:

Forrest Church, the minister of All Souls Church in New York said what I’m about to summarize really well in a book called God and Other Famous Liberals. Read it, you’ll like it. In short, think about our US constitution for a bit. The tenth amendment ends by saying, “all powers not specifically enumerated herein are reserved for the states themselves, or for the people.” That, friends, is a government giving away power! It’s hard to imagine being more liberal than that. And this was a government of volunteers, too boot! King John gave up some power at Runnymede, but only at the point of a sword. The guys who wrote our constitution volunteered to give up that authority, something few in history have ever done.

Then, since our opposition is using religion so well, consider the requirements to be a Christian. You must, in essence, recite the apostle’s creed, which says that you believe in god the father, Jesus his son, and god the holy spirit. As to what a Christian does, it’s simply, per Jesus, to tend the sick, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, and comfort the afflicted. In other words, be as nice to the world as you’d like the world to be to you. That’s it. Other than that, you’re free as a Christian to do pretty much whatever you please. Islam is about as simple. A Muslim must pray the prescribed number of times per day, be charitable, and accept that Mohammed is a prophet of Allah. Other than that, the door’s pretty much open. So, one wonders, with liberal religion behind us, and since we live in a liberal nation from conception, what is with all of the conservative influence these days?

CONSERVATIVE:

I’m not going to dispute the worst I’ve heard about the religious right. I remember that Hitler was a right-winger, and that’s enough. They’re not even conservative in the classical sense of thee word, because in that sense, the Soviet Union was one of the most conservative governments ever devised because of how much they feared change. But, fear of change is a big factor in our current problem, which I’ll get into in a moment. Right now I’m just going to say that while there is a lot of influence from the religious right on our current President, the awful things you hear are not true about most of those who recently voted for him. The problem is that nobody on the left is doing anything to appeal to the folks out in the heartland. First, the intellectual arguments, to wit:

The heartland, or the “red states” is a long way from the urban problems of the coasts. Those people in the middle have not been attacked by a foreign power, they have no conception of the difficulties posed by high population densities, and they’re fearful of big coastal city problems of crime, drugs, and other things they see on the news and in dramas every day. The sober statistical fact is that New York is the safest city of half a million or more in the country, but when all you see is the media depiction of a place, then that’s all you know. The isolation from the world is not conscious, either. They watch the news, they know what’s up. They like the “fair and balanced” stuff on Fox especially well because it gives the information quickly, in an easy to understand format, and allows the viewer to soak up what he/she needs to know and move on.

I can hear you screaming from all the way behind my keyboard: “but that’s wrong, it’s not adequate, there are no nuances, and it’s not balanced in the first place!” Uh-huh. So? It’s what’s there, it’s what they see, and if that’s what they see, that’s what the world is. For them. What is obviously an often repeated lie masquerading as the truth for a liberal appears simply as the truth to a frightened resident of middle America. Fear is, in fact, what seems to be driving political discourse in our country these days. And fear, as many have pointed out, really can’t be over estimated as a motivating force. Think about the recent campaigns. Kerry really was appealing to fear when he warned of the dangers of privatizing Social Security. Bush was correct when he labeled that “fear mongering.” The incredible chutzpah of saying that while his own spots showed wolves gathering in the woods speaks volumess about his own integrity, but the fact is, he spoke true. Kerry could have played the fear card over and over, but it would have only made things worse. Why?

The heartland folks are basing their world view on incomplete information. That means that they don’t really know what’s causing the trouble they see, nor can they imagine any reasonable way out of it. Giving them complete information isn’t going to work, because most people can’t absorb that much new data at one time. The world is changing, the world is staying the same, both true. For a lot of people, though, the rate of change blinds them to the underlying sameness. And they get scared. How do you respond to fear? By offering solace and respite, of course. We can “support the troops” and feel that we’re helping to solve the problem of terrorism. We can go back to church and listen to a sermon about old-fashioned virtues. We can elect someone who just “feels” safe. Are those bogus things to do in response to international terrorism? A moot question for sure, but those are the responses of a great many Americans.

You’ll notice that in the places that actually were attacked, New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania, people voted for Kerry. That’s because living through an actual devastating experience is a lot less frightening than anticipating one that you can’t fully imagine. What would a terrorist cell do to Omaha, for example? It may sound like a joke, but it’s no joke if you live there. I don’t know what a terrorist might do in a place like that. Nobody does, and that’s the problem. Terror, for heartland people, is an unknown, and as an unknown it has the same ability to frighten people as those closet monsters have to scare little kids. That’s why people voted to stay the course. Maybe Kerry would do okay, maybe he wouldn’t. Bush, we know how he’s doing, maybe you could criticize here and there, but at least we know where he stands. You getting this yet, liberal America? Try holding a discussion group about it, for cat’s sake! Here it is in short form:

You can not appeal to a frightened person by telling them that they’ve been misled or lied to!

Sure, it’s true that they’ve been lied to and misled. Lots of things are true but don’t matter any. As they say in the motivation game, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” Or, it’s time to quite bitching and change tactics.

TACTICS:



What to do? What to do? Well, you’re a liberal intellectual, right? Think about it? Think about it like you’re trying to sell those people something. Why do you buy things? Because you need them, right? You buy something because it solves a problem for you. There’s no other reason to buy anything, ever. So, you want to sell the heartland people the idea that diplomacy has a place in the fight, that reason has a place in discourse, and that people helping each other is better than rugged individualism a lot of the time. So, what are their problems, and how are your ideas going to solve them? (You may not use an argument like this one.)

Okay, short intellectual argument again. People are scared. They can’t know what to do, because nobody knows just what to do. They don’t need assured success, but they need someone who seems trustworthy to guide them in how to respond. So far the religious right is doing that rather well.

Remember FDR? He took office in the middle of a lot worse crisis than Osama Bin Ladin could possible dream up. Remember what he said: We have nothing to fear, except fear itself. Wow. Now that’s profound, intellectual, bang-on true and, oh, tremendously reassuring to people who normally don’t respond to intellectualism. You see? He made their fear the chief enemy, and thereby made it possible to attack the real problems of his day. He talked to people using words they understood, and he did it often. He was a New England aristocrat, for Pete’s sake, but he talked like a kindly old man. He demonstrated strength not through bombast, but through resolve and flexibility. But, and this is important, he never once said anything like We must be resolved and flexible to deal with a nuanced world. I mean, that’s true, we must, but you can’t get any votes by mentioning it. You get the votes, and the office, by talking to people in words they’ll understand about real problems they are facing. It’s as simple as that. The Republican National Committee understands that. So how about the liberal wing. Huh? Anybody?

WHY I’M VOTING FOR KERRY

One thing John Kerry got right in the second Presidential candidate debate was that labels don’t mean anything. I remember when it seemed as if everyone was complaining about the damned conservative press (oh, yes, they were.) Henry Luce, who was a conservative and a magazine publisher (Time among others) felt constrained to write an editorial explaining that yes, they took a position because you couldn’t tell a story without assuming a point of view. As I writer I can tell you that Henry was absolutely right about that. No point of view, no story. Now it’s the damned liberal press I hear so much about, and the complaint means just as much as it did when applied to the (exact same) media as being too conservative. It means that there are ideologues in the woodshed, or in office, or wanting to be in office, and that the press isn’t agreeing with them. Beyond that, labels don’t mean a thing, just like the Senator kept pointing out. I could write a chapter about why he kept saying that, but I digress enough, as any regular reader will agree.

The trouble with ideologues, or as I think of them, “true believers” is that they have a lot of trouble seeing outside of their ideology. The current crop of believers first got noticed during Nixon’s administration, calling themselves at that time the “moral majority.” A moot point, probably, but it got them a lot of press. They backed Reagan, who disappointed them on many fronts, but was so popular that they ended up making a virtual demigod out of him. I think it would have been polite to wait until he was dead to begin the eulogies, but Reagan airport is no better or worse than National airport was, so who really cares? (Hoover Dam was known for a couple of decades as Boulder Dam because of the ideology of Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior. It’s still holding back Lake Mead, though.)

Reagan’s man George H. W. Bush ran for and won the presidency. He talked the line from the true believers, but he didn’t run their game, and didn’t use their propaganda machine, and he lost to a trailer park kid from Arkansas. The fact that the obviously “immoral” (by their lights) Clinton remains so popular even out of office must really rankle the “neocons”, which is often a code word for “true believers”. Certainly when they chose their latest challenger to the “liberal threat to America”, as they call it, whatever “it” is, they picked a guy who would not just walk the walk, but also talk the talk, and very well. They found, in a phrase, a fellow believer. If the current President has been misled, as some have said, it is most likely by his own beliefs coloring his perception of reality, and not by the CIA or anyone else in the government.

If you want a short demonstration of the power of belief, I’ve written a humorous article about the subject that you can read here. It’s five hundred words, not political, about a true incident, and an easy read. Honest.

We’ll get through the war in Iraq. We’ll survive the threats of terrorism. We’ll survive a Kerry administration. We survived the Civil War, so what can one joker from Massachusetts possibly do to us? But we might not survive the blinders on our President placed there by his ideological stance.

George W. Bush is a man of principle. He’s most likely a good man, too. I wish him well, just in some other job. Heck, several influential companies owe him a favor by anyone’s reckoning, I’m sure he’ll do okay. If Clinton can get into the top tax bracket after he’s out of office, W. should be fine. The reason I want him to find another job is because of the nature of his principles.

The true believers in born-again Christianity are convinced that there is an end time. They believe literally in the stories in Revelations. Some of them are certain that the current troubles in the Middle East are the beginning of the end. Archeological evidence to the contrary, they see Armageddon as imminent.

Armageddon is a modern pronunciation of the name of a place in what is now Israel where many fierce battles were fought. 666 is the result of applying contemporary (to St. John) numerology to the name of Diocletian, a Roman emperor especially hated by the early Christians. I could go on, but you see the pattern. In truth, Revelations was a bitter rant about Roman tyranny, but the current fundamentalists in power take it as being about our own times. To some people, it’s a good thing to start the final battle, because then Jesus can return and laugh as the Jews in Israel all die in agony. (I am not making this up.) The result of these people having influence over the government is that funding for real science has been reduced, junk science has been glorified as legitimate, and the role of religion in the founding of this country has been badly misstated.

The founding fathers certainly believed in a god. They were deists, which means essentially that they felt the “creator” or “prime mover” had set everything up, started it running, and now sits and watches to see how it’s all going to turn out. Some of them, like Adams, were Unitarians. Some, like Jefferson, avoided religion like it was leprosy. Washington was a Congregationalist, which is about as close to Unitarian as you can get and still be a conventional Christian. Almost every one of them was a Freemason. Freemasonry, in case you’ve been bothered by the mystery, owes it’s origins to deism. In short, the founders of the United States of America scoffed at the idea of a personal god, which is the very thing the fundamentalists of today embrace whole-heartedly. Not only is belief in such a god the epitome of self-aggrandizement (I can’t imagine why any supreme being would care about me as a person. If Jesus wants to help me, then I’d ask him to find a nice girl, settle down, raise a family, and tell his followers to chill), a personal god running the country is a dangerous concept.

That’s easy enough to see: every personal view of anything is different from any other personal view. A personal god will, perforce, see the world from the point of view of the person. In church these believers are exhorted to “trust in the lord, trust in Jesus” while they listen to diatribes about the evils of the world. The “lord” and “Jesus” are represented by the preacher, the bishop, and to judge by the political ads I’ve seen lately, by “our leaders in congress.” Leaders in congress? Congress isn’t leading me anywhere, and never has. I’m glad they do the job, because somebody has to, but leaders?

Kerry talked like a Unitarian himself in the second debate when he said that he cannot impose the demands of his faith on society. That’s the essence of the establishment clause of the first amendment. For the record, and for the elucidation of school boards everywhere, anyone can pray whenever he or she wishes, in school or elsewhere. A publicly funded school can’t sponsor a prayer, because then you get into the sticky problem of just who’s god you’re praying to, and also into the issue of imposing one version of the demands of faith onto society at large. Not to belabor this point, but here it is in a simple chart form:

Praying in school or anywhere OK

A school paid for by the public sponsoring a prayer NOT OK

The fact that John Kerry can see that and W. Bush can’t is reason enough to vote for Mr. Kerry this time. But, just to be sure I’m not misquoted, here’s a summary paragraph:

The ideologues comprising a major part of the President’s base of support are blinded by their own beliefs into distorting the religious and political life of the United States and of the world in general until the picture they see and act upon reflects their beliefs rather than an objective reality. They believe wrongly that the founding fathers shared their fundamentalist Christian views, that there is an imminent end time, and that they need to help that end time unfold in order to ensure the salvation of true believers. Middle East strife is a good thing if it helps bring Jesus back sooner, according to their belief system. Further, “trust in god” and “trust in Jesus” is presented as blind trust in authority, which is not a position espoused by the founding fathers of our nation.

A quick example of the distortions caused by ideology, then I’m done. The current Republican leadership presents itself as being in favor of “States’ Rights.” Thus, the party of Lincoln, a man who promulgated the most terrible war in the history of this nation, a war that killed millions of young American men and left social scars that persist to this day, a war fought entirely against the idea of States’ Rights, claims to be for the very thing that Lincoln believed so passionately in fighting against. Only a very distorted view of reality could lead anyone to believe such claptrap.

So, I’m voting for John Kerry. I don’t really like the guy, and that’s the truth. I’d rather have a better choice, someone who combines the best of fiscal conservatism with the best of social liberalism would be a lot more to my taste, because frankly I don’t care what people do in private so long as it isn’t costing the public much of anything. But, Kerry seems to understand the reality about our government, our founding fathers, and the situation in the world in general. I doubt that I’ll agree with all of his decisions, but at least he’ll make them based on valid data.

Seventeen-hundred words to say one simple thing: Vote for John Kerry. Please.

Will Rogers Bites the Dust

“I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” — Will Rogers

I guess Will must’ve quit the party, wherever he is, or maybe the river Styx is setting up for a hockey tournament. Whichever it is, the Democrats are all of one voice this season. This is the first time that’s happened since, well, since ever. I hope that they don’t start taking themselves seriously. That’s been the major difference between Dems and Reps: the more leftward party seems to have more fun. If they get serious then we really will have nothing but old, tired anglos, or people who like like old, tired anglos, running the country. That would be truly sad.

On the commentary front, I think one reason Gore lost was because he tried to distance himself from Clinton. I maybe can see why, but when you look at Clinton’s numbers you realize that in spite of all the hot air spouted by his detractors, he was a pretty popular president. I note that Kerry is not making the same mistake. If they’re smart, the DNC will run snippets of Willie’s speech as campaign ads. The man sure knows how to deliver a speech, whatever else he might do.

later,

 

Why I Hate Idealism

Another article I wrote but couldn’t publish because it doesn’t fit the Humor Page content guidelines. I made them up, but they’re real, okay? Anyhow, here’s another not funny, but I think also not particularly bitter or carping, article, which I originally gave the title I gave to this post:

WHY I HATE IDEALISM

By Steve Fey

I saw a program on PBS recently about The SS-Ahnenerbe; the Nazi “Ancestral Heritage Society.” That organization was on a quest to prove the myths of Atlantis, the Holy Grail and an ancient German master race. It was founded and run by Heinrich Himmler, who thought he was the reincarnation of Heinrich I, founder of the “First Reich” in 922. They developed a plan to eliminate Christianity from German society and replace it with the old Teutonic religion. They thought of themselves as a society of knights, seeking, among other things, the Holy Grail. Sometimes they dressed like Knights Templar and marched in awe-inspiring formation. They were very idealistic.

What the SS went on to accomplish is well documented in historical records. They fabricated evidence where they had to, measured body parts in Tibet, dug up skulls in Venezuela, and traveled the world in search of evidence of German superiority. I learned some new things about the Nazi belief system while I watched. Some of what I learned was fascinating. Some of what I learned was highly disturbing. Most of what I learned was both of those things. For example, the widow of a senior SS officer says on camera that Hitler “never wanted the war,” and further that “We never imagined that we could lose the war. It was a sort of Holy War.” (She said that Hitler just wanted to unite the German peoples.)

So Himmler and his SS are an extreme example of what happens when ideals are pursued with too much vigor. They are not the only example, of course. The single biggest conflict ever fought by an American army is the American Civil War. In those days, idealists were everywhere in America. And in principle, it’s easy to see the differences between the sides. Lincoln would do anything to preserve and strengthen the Union. The Confederacy would do anything to preserve “States’ Rights”. Objectively, with the benefit of hindsight, things could probably have been worked out. Mr. Lincoln abandoned a number of Federal facilities in the South, for example, and there were voices of moderation on both sides that may have found a way to settle the issue without it turning into the bloodiest war in the history of North America.

Instead, the South Carolina militia fired on the Federal Fort Sumter, and the war was on. Why did they start that war? The North had many times more people, many times more wealth, and every banker in New England behind it. There was not a chance of the rebellion succeeding by armed force, and in fact it was only incompetent Union generals that allowed the Confederacy to survive as long as it did. Once some less idealistic, more pragmatic generals took over the fight, it was all over fairly quickly. Sherman marched to the sea, scorching the earth as he went, in order to end the war. It worked, too, although there is still lingering bitterness in parts of the United States over his march.

They started the war because they were fighting for principles, for honor, for the ideals of individual and state rights. Lincoln turned the tide of public opinion by making the war about slavery, a point bitterly recited by some people today, but really when he did so he was just illustrating his commitment to his own ideal, that of saving the Union. He said he’d do whatever it took to accomplish that goal, and he did it. The result of all the idealism in the Republic at that time was that a very significant portion of the men of fighting age were killed, mostly by disease and the rest by combat injuries. An even larger portion were disabled to some degree. This was especially true in the Confederacy, where some counties lost every male member of that generation. All for the sake of ideas.

History, at least modern history, abounds with examples of idealists starting wars and getting people killed. The Bolsheviks in Russia a century ago were idealists. They just knew that they couldn’t lose the election because history and destiny and the will of the people were on their side. When they lost in spite of all that, they staged a coup to set things right. Ultimately, they managed to kill more people than their idealist opponents in Germany. It seems that if you want a big dose of destruction and death, you might want to hire an idealist to set it up for you.

I can’t explain the phenomenon fully but I can speculate a bit as to why this is so. I think it goes back to the essential question every two-year-old asks when they figure out that they aren’t the entire universe. That question is, “Why the heck not?” Or, maybe it’s more something like “How do I prove my existence means anything?” I’m still waxing philosophical. Really the two-year-old is asking, “How do I get these people to give me what I want?” But, kids grow up, and as they do they add other layers to the basic questions and try to find the answers.

A lot of people try to find the answers in their work, or in literature, or in a lot of cases they just don’t know where to go for answers. These people are the ones that can be taken in, and there are plenty of takers-in to go around. Some of those who would take in those unsure of their meaning are people who for one reason or another did most of their searching internally. Through study, meditation, struggle, these people have managed to draw seemingly meaningful and effective conclusions about their own lives. Being highly introspective, they tend to think that other people must be in a similar condition, and must therefore be suffering the same life crises. These people have grown up to be idealists.

Lots of people grow up to be idealists, but if you’re smart, charismatic, quick-witted, and observant, you can figure out how to influence others to support your point of view. That is where idealism passes from being simply a response to individual experience to being a coercive and quite likely destructive force.

If you set up an ideal set of reasons for existence, the chances are excellent that you’ve missed something. For one thing, no one can possibly know everything, so there is bound to be a lot of data that you’ve never seen. Then you become blind to any possible contradictory evidence, and if you’re a Himmler your subordinates will hide it from you anyway. Before you know it you’re marching from the Capitol to fire on the Federal troops and the war is on, as it were. Actually, if you’re really Himmler, you’re rounding up “inferior” races and trying to eliminate them, all for a noble cause.

So, what would I do about the dangers of idealism? Here are a few ideas.

· If the person’s ideals involve meeting with some Supreme Being or other to live in happiness forever, I say we help them along right away.

· If the person has simple, easy to understand, emotionally satisfying answers to difficult questions, I say we laugh at them until they either jump off a cliff or simply go away.

· Anytime you hear someone say that what they are doing is best for “the people”, or “the spirit of _________”, or for any more or less abstract concept, run away fast. They’re selling you something, and you ultimately won’t like it at all.

It seems to me that if everyone concentrated on working on whatever part of the world they were in, trying to be helpful and contributing where they could, and didn’t worry so much about ideas and grand notions, the world would be a much better place.

Heck, It would be close to ideal!

I Just Got Back from Vegas

I was in Las Vegas Friday for an interview. While there, I got to see four guys who’d been drunk at 11PM the night before, drunker at 6:30 AM. I got an article out of it, which is good. The incident also made me think that Las Vegas is probably a very virtuous town, because in Vegas you’re good because you’re motivated to be, not good because you have no choice. It seems to me that having no temptation to overcome is a good way to lead a dull life, and to do a lot of evil. A lot of vices are best kept out in the open, but I seem to be in the minority in that opinion.

Oh, if only the whole world thought like me, huh?

AMERICA, OR SOMETHING LIKE IT

Here’s a rant I’ve never published because, well, it really ain’t funny. So I’m posting it here. That’s what this blog is for, right?

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Seriously, folks, I’m not sure how much sheer idiocy this country can stand, but I’m afraid we’re going to find out. Here are some true facts about the United States of America.

· We call ourselves, with pride, the land of the free.

o We have a greater percentage of our citizens in jail than any other country. More even than Joe Stalin locked away.

o We’re free, so long as we don’t smoke the wrong weeds, or buy unlicensed drugs, or don’t commit the horrible crime of being poor.

· We recite the words “and justice for all” every day, or at least make our children do it in school.

o If you like your cocaine pure, you’ll get a slap on the wrist if you’re caught. Chances are you’ve got money, too, because that stuff is expensive.

o If you like crack cocaine because it’s cheap and you can afford it, if you’re caught you’re looking at some hard time. (Try not to be poor if you can help it.)

o If you’re accused of dealing illegal drugs, your property can be seized and sold and the money given to law enforcement. If you’re subsequently acquitted, that’s too bad for you because they don’t have to give you back a thing.

Again, look at that set of idiocies. Come on, folks, are you worried about possible erosion of personal liberties due to the threat of terrorism? Well, you should be, because the last point above sounds like a form of terrorism to me. The trouble with all that stuff is that I thought we were supposed to be better than all that. We’re supposed to be an informed electorate too, but just look at what’s happening.

A judge in Alabama gets fired because he violated a Federal court order. He immediately rants on about the “biblical foundation for our laws” and vows that the “fight is just beginning.” If only that were the case. If you can handle it, here’s the truth.

The people who framed our constitution mentioned god quite a bit, but not once in that document. They didn’t think of themselves as Christians at all, in fact. They were, in their own words, “Rational Deists.” They called god the “Primum Mobile” or “Prime Mover” (I suppose the Latin version sounds more intellectual) and believed that once the universe was all set up and put into motion, the creator no longer intervened, but just sat back to see how his invention worked. They had Christian backgrounds, for sure, but I don’t think that a disinterested creator is what Focus on the Family preaches about.

The thing is, our constitution was, to quote the preamble, “ordain(ed) and establish(ed)” by “We the People of the United States of America.” See, we did it ourselves. Sure, they invoked the creator’s guidance (without much hope of receiving it, to judge by their theology) but it was “People” who wrote our government. That’s why we have so many lawyers, folks. With no divine mandate for our government, no holy book telling us what to believe, it’s up to us, the spiritual descendants of Adams, Jefferson et al to interpret what that document means. If that’s not to your liking, may I suggest a nation with an established religion and a government that rules, they say, by divine right. Great Britain, for example, where the Queen’s motto is “God and My Right”, in French of course.

Oh, yes, we fought to be independent from them, didn’t we? Why do you suppose we did that? To get away from divinely sanctioned government, among other things. It’s a tragedy that the world doesn’t conform to our idealistic views of what it should be, but it doesn’t. It’s tragic that other people don’t see the wisdom of our beliefs, but they don’t. They won’t. Why should they? They’ve got wonderful beliefs of their own, and to them it’s tragic that we don’t see the wisdom in their world view. What we’ve got, that nobody else ever had before we got it, is a set of shared rules of, by, and for us humans. God, whatever you see that as being, may be the best thing in the universe. May be the universe for all I know, but no god wrote our constitution. OK?

I think that the entire war on drugs is probably a crock. But, if we’re going to enforce drug laws, why not apply them fairly? I’ll bet a lot of people don’t know how drugs got to be illegal in the first place. Here’s some more true facts, then.

Opium was a favorite drug among Chinese immigrants. The anti-opium laws were marketed as a means to keep the yellow menace “under control.” I wish I was making that up, or at least exaggerating, but it’s simply the truth. Newspaper editorials of the time referred to the Chinese as “the yellow menace.” I like to remember that while I’m eating my sweet and sour chicken.

Cocaine was sold as a danger to society after some poor black guy went crazy and killed a bunch of people. He was using cocaine at the time, so of course we had to outlaw cocaine to protect “our negro citizens” as some people were referred to at the time. From what I don’t know, but to this day the poor black guy smoking crack gets hard time, while the white so-and-so movie star snorting the regular stuff gets put into rehab. Nice how things get better, isn’t it?

That leaves marijuana as the last of the original illegal substances to be made such. Marijuana is a Mexican term for hemp leaves. It means, as if you didn’t know, Mary Jane. Why Mary Jane I have no idea. But, again, there was a dire threat posed to our society by a group of people who liked to smoke a bit of the stuff. Guess who that was? (Save yourself time – guess Latino migrants.)

Now, we have a situation where, in apparent defiance of the constitution we wrote, someone suspected of selling any of the above or one of another illegal drugs can have his property seized without compensation. We have a multi-billion dollar industry devoted to imprisoning record numbers of our fellow citizens. It’s hard to see how the war against terrorism can erode that many more rights, but I’m sure the people behind it will try to find a way.

By the way, we also execute a lot more people than any other country. Killing people to solve problems: a proven way to get ahead. Just ask Joe Stalin, or that Hitler guy. Fine examples for the new America, apparently.

Computer Security

I think, as a public service, I will reprint here a short essay about computer security that’s published on my main web page. You can go to the original article from the front page of the Humor Page linked on my first post, or you can just read this, verbatim from my Humor Page:

A REAL DISCUSSION OF COMPUTER SECURITY

By Steve Fey

No jokes here, and no links back to the rest of my website, either. If you got here from outside, I’m sorry about that. If you got here from my website, just close this window when you’re done.

Actually, even though I make jokes about Apple Computer, and Linux, and Windows worms, the truth is that there are plenty of people in the world nasty enough to use your computer for things like “getting at” some company they don’t like. Some times the nasty program that comes in the mail is only for some guy’s amusement, or he’s trying to impress his friends. Some of these jokers claim that they do it to toughen security, by pointing out weaknesses. Sure they do, and I was just speeding to test your radar gun, officer.

Here is a description of some of what can happen if you actually get infected by one of these programs.

· Your computer can be used by someone else you don’t even know as a source for more mischief. The worm I talk about in the article from January 28, 2004 is one of this type. It mails itself to everyone you know, and then uses your computer to “get at” a company the writer apparently doesn’t like. Nice, huh?

· You may find your computer damaged in some way. This could be something small, like your browser window will now default to “HotSweatyPornCows.com.” It might be that all of the data on your hard drive will be erased. Usually it’s something between those two extremes, but whatever it is, you don’t need it, trust me.

· Somebody may just poke around your computer until they find your personal data, then steal your identity. Maybe you’ve got a file with all of your passwords listed in it, including the one to your bank account? They’ll read that, just before they browse on over to your bank’s website.

YOIKS!

Yeah, huh? But what about Windows versus, for instance, a Mac? There is a difference in virus infection, and that’s no lie. But, you must remember one thing: this is not because a Macintosh computer is inherently immune to viruses! If you think that, then you’re going to be rudely surprised someday because it’s just as easy to write some piece of nasty programming for the Mac as for any other computer. Apple runs ads that imply that their computers are somehow above all that, but the truth is that they say it in such a way that it’s technically not a lie, but it’s misleading. Like President Clinton, they know how to use language to split hairs. All it takes is one evil genius to decide he hates Apple, and your machine is toast. So, if you have a Mac, I urge you to keep reading and heed my advice. That’s because the real reason Macs don’t get a lot of viruses is that they only make up five percent of the computers in use! If that percentage grows, so will the number of Mac viruses.

Linux on a home computer? (Hey, I’ve used it.) You’re probably safe from viruses, because there are so darned few Linux desktops in the world that nobody would be likely to go to the trouble. If you run a Linux server then you already know that plenty of jerks try to mess with Linux, and you probably already know how to protect yourself. I wouldn’t ever let up, if I were you.

SO? WHAT DO YOU DO?

There are two basic things you can do to protect yourself. Buy some software to protect you, and be smart when you use your computer.

Software

The two kinds of software you need are Anti-Virus software and a Personal Firewall. If you have a dial-up connection, you might be able to skip the firewall, but I wouldn’t. They aren’t expensive.

· Anti-Virus Software is a program that has a database of known harmful programs (viruses) and the ability to block them, or oftentimes remove them from your system. That database needs to be kept up to date, which you can do for free if you log onto the anti-virus software company’s website, or usually you can pay a small fee, like twenty dollars a year, and your computer will keep itself updated automatically. That twenty dollars is money well spent. The two biggest sellers are Norton Anti-Virus from Symantec Corp., and McAffee Anti-Virus from Network Associates, but there are others. The key thing to remember is to keep the database current. New nasties are released almost daily.

· A Personal Firewall is a program that screens out other computers or people trying to connect to your computer. Just like the commercial firewall programs used by big corporations, these personal firewalls can be adjusted to admit or exclude various people or machines. New operating systems, like Windows XP or the MacOS X, have personal firewalls built in. With the built-in firewalls, though, you might have to know more about how the Internet works than you’d care to find out in order to make them work just the way you’d like them to. There are some commercial firewalls available that are simpler, like the one called Black Ice, or the one available in the Norton Systems Utilities package. There are some almost free ones available for download on the Internet, but you really do need to know how the Internet works to use them.

Be Smart When You Use Your Computer

This is free, which is usually a good thing. Malicious software isn’t aimed at you personally, it’s just let free to go where it can. That means that you have to be alert for signs that a bit of such stuff has gotten into your system.

· If something seems to download when you first go to a website, then some button appears in a window that says “click here to continue” or something like that, it’s a program that is up to no good. Close the window and run your virus-checker immediately.

· If you don’t know what an e-mail attachment is, no matter how innocent it looks, just delete it. If it’s from someone you know and they really want you to have it and can assure you that it’s safe, they’ll send it again after you contact them, trust me.

· See if you can figure out how to use the filters on your email program. All email programs have some ability to allow or not allow some types of mail, or to set rules about which folder certain mail is going to be put into. Use the rules, maybe putting all the mail from people you know and trust into one folder so you can look at them individually. Then remember that worms and viruses like to pretend they’re someone they’re not. If you get mail from someone you know with an attachment you weren’t expecting, delete it. Then write them and ask about it. Odds are that they’re not as smart as you and they’ve gotten an infected system.

SPYWARE

There is one more thing you should know about security. Spyware is a program that installs itself on your computer and watches what you do, reporting whatever it’s supposed to report back to wherever it’s supposed to report it. There are more than one kind of Spyware. The first you might even want to keep, but that’s up to you.

Cookies are tiny little text files left on your computer by websites. Some of them are just to let the website know that you’re a repeat visitor. Some of them store your logon information to that particular site, which can be very convenient, but is one of the things that guy I talked about above will want to steal. And some of them are gathering information to be used in marketing to you all sorts of things, some of which you might find a tad disgusting. You can adjust your browser to accept different levels of cookies. Mine, for instance, won’t allow them from a site other than the one I’m on, which cuts down on a lot of sneaky nonsense. (Some sites, for money I suppose, “set” cookies for other sites.) And I still occasionally go in and clean out any ones I think look suspicious. A cookie only operates by being read when you connect to a website.

Active Spyware is an actual program. Also downloaded from websites, usually at least, it collects data from your computer, as stated above. This stuff can’t be good. No matter what data it’s collecting, do you want it sent to who-knows-where? These are the sort of programs that can steal your identity and do who-knows-what with it.

You can get rid of Spyware with a program such as Lavasoft Ad-Aware, available for free from the Lavasoft website at http://www.lavasoft.de/. Ad-Aware will scan your system and remove any spyware it finds. (It asks you first if it’s okay to remove what it thinks is bad. This is handy, as a few system items occasionally are mistaken for Spyware.) I’d highly recommend downloading and using this program. It also checks for and loads updates to its database from time to time, just like the virus checking software. If you buy the full version (the free version won’t run automatically), it will watch for Spyware, just like a virus checker watches for viruses, and you won’t ever have to mess with it.

THAT’S IT!

Use a virus-checker, a firewall, and a Spyware remover, and you’ll be as secure as can be expected. Security on the Internet is really just like security in your home. If someone wants badly enough to break into your system, they can find a way to do it. But, nobody who does that sort of thing actually cares about your system in particular. All you have to do is make it relatively less convenient to get into your computer than it is to get into the one owned by that guy down the block with the loud Go-Kart. See? Easy.

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I intended the above to be a part of my computer service blog, but it never hurts to repeat some things.