Monday, June 30, 2014

I'm sorry, I should have known better

I've often heard one recurring problem with intellectuals, activists and journalists (hey, that's me) is that they bear no cost for being wrong when they advocate how our society should be run.

With that in mind, I'm issuing an apology for the immigration mess our country is facing where South and Central American children, some 52,000 so far, are being smuggled in and dumped over the border. That's just the kids who live, and as President Obama said recently; “We don't even know how many of these kids don't make it, and may have been waylaid into sex trafficking or killed because they fell off a train."

I'm sorry. This is partially my fault.

You see, I'm a supporter of the DREAM Act, a failed piece of legislation that would have granted permanent residency status to illegal immigrants who came to America as young children. These are kids in good moral standing who have no memory of their birth country and deporting them would be like deporting me to a foreign nation.

The DREAM Act has not been passed by the legislature, but instead on June 15, 2012, President Obama issued an executive order essentially mimicking the DREAM Act by refusing to enforce deportation on some of the same people who would have benefited from it. While technically that order doesn't apply to recent immigrants, I imagine the parents who shipped off their kids either didn't know that or thought it would be waived.

I opposed the executive order, as even though I support open borders I want to achieve it by changing laws, not by circumventing checks and balances and refusing to enforce laws. My concern was this sets a bad precedent and nudges us towards tyranny.

But I didn't stop to think of the obvious problem: People are smart enough to change their behavior when the rules change. It never occurred to me that parents in other nations would hand their children over to criminals and spill them onto the ground over the border.

Granted, I didn't support the executive order that caused this problem, but I supported (and continue to support) a similar piece of legislation that if passed would have caused the same problem. I failed to think of the consequences and supported something that lacks a safeguard, and now we have to send these kids back to avoid encouraging more parents to smuggle their kids.

It's been said that success has a thousand fathers but failure is an orphan. I'm unable to find any news reports where President Obama has apologized for this mess, but I offer my apology freely and sincerely. I should have known better and I was part of the problem behind this catastrophe.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Good riddance to abortion buffer zones

The Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law creating 35-foot buffer zones to prevent protesters from blocking access to abortion clinics. As expected, the mainstream pro-choice movement is howling mad.

Folks, a 9 to 0 decision should make critics of the ruling stop and think. At the very least it implies the decision was a wise one. Maybe I have too much faith in humanity, but I would expect more people who want to voice long tirades against the ruling would take the time to skim the ruling.

That isn't what I've witnessed, and it's frustrating to hear the same argument marched out over and over again - that the buffer zones are needed to protect people seeking to enter an abortion clinic from being physically blocked or even attacked. Well, the justices addressed that very issue in a statement that's easy to access. The majority opinion states that while safety is a worthy goal, lawmakers need to find a way to protect people without infringing on freedom of speech.

Specifically they said:

The buffer zones burden substantially more speech than necessary to achieve the Commonwealth’s asserted inter­ ests. At the outset, we note that the Act is truly excep­tional: Respondents and their amici identify no other State with a law that creates fixed buffer zones around abortion clinics.6 That of course does not mean that the law is invalid. It does, however, raise concern that the Commonwealth has too readily forgone options that could serve its interests just as well, without substantially burdening the kind of speech in which petitioners wish to engage.

What's troubling to me here is that so many feminist activists and organizations are complaining that pro-life protesters behave unreasonably and try to block access to abortion clinics, but they completely ignored when it when their allies blocked, screeched, swore, slandered and disrupted men's rights advocates at the University of Toronto.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Wasting food is a virtue

Most of the restaurants my parents took me to as a kid had free refills on soda and I found myself ending up in the same situation time after time.

I would get a soda during the appetizer phase and slowly sip it. I would try to pace myself, but fail, and it would be gone by the time my meal arrived. The waitress would see I'm out when she delivered my plate and bring me another one. After I finished eating and had no appetite left, I'd have two-thirds of a soda left and I'd force myself to finish it.

Why? Because I was told it's wrong to waste food.

People have a religious opposition to wasting food in America. Throughout the history of civilization starvation has been a major problem and there are still people in other parts of the world who go hungry. In those situations, one should see knowingly wasting food as an act of savagery.

But that has nothing to do with choosing to finish a glass of orange soda over allowing the waitress to throw it away. Soda is notoriously unhealthy and I was so stuffed that drinking it was unpleasant. I thought I was doing something noble.

But when one eats or drinks something just to avoid throwing it away, they are treating their body as a garbage can.

Food is plentiful and cheap in America, and the country has an obesity problem. I could stand to lose 20 pounds myself. Ideally, people should stop eating before they are full. That's why it pains me to see adults in a social situation plotting to eat unwanted surplus guacamole to save it from becoming trash. They have decided to become human compost heaps.

Food should never be eaten when one is not hungry, does not desire it, will not benefit nutritionally from it and is not socially obligated to try it, such as food prepared by an insistent host at a party.

Right now I have some cooked rice soaking in a beaten egg and soy sauce in my refrigerator. It's one of several things that I'm not sure I'll be able to eat before it goes bad. However, what I'm not going to do is eat extra meals to avoid the sin of letting food spoil.

The pushback I usually get from people when I try to break them of their food sacredness is that we shouldn't be taking on this much food to begin with and portion control will keep us from having to waste food.

Well, yes, we should. Prevention is usually the best solution for any problem, but what do we do when it's too late and the mashed potatoes are lingering on our plate but we won't be able to take any leftovers to the performance with us?

Throw it out and be gone with it, then smile at yourself for having the integrity to buck tradition. When I waste surplus food I am prioritizing my own health over a cultural obligation to dead plants and cooked meat. In a society that overeats, the ones who reject eating unwanted food show true virtue.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cards Against Humanity has castrated itself

I've enjoyed a few fun evenings playing Cards Against Humanity with friends. The premise is to play Apples to Apples using decks of purposely-offensive cards. The idea was to be without limits. Subjects in the game include the Holocaust, racism, genocide, date rape and gays.

I saw this as a late comer to the offensive humor renaissance that started more than a decade ago as a backlash to political correctness and hypersensitive social justice warriors. Sadly, it appears that Cards Against Humanity is mutating towards a social justice endgame.

Charles C.W. Cooke wrote in National Review about a card that a player thought went too far. It simply read "Passable transvestites" and the player made a blog post about it, showing himself burning the card. He didn't try to start a campaign, but the post when viral and he explained in a later interview that he was playing the game when the card came up:

"Somebody played that card, and somebody else was like, 'That's not okay.' I decided I didn’t want it in my deck."

Here's Cooke:

The entire purpose — quite literally the only point — of “Cards Against Humanity” is to be shocking and objectionable. Pretty much every single card in the pack is shocking and objectionable. The game is “offensive”? Gosh, what gave it away? Was it, perhaps, the words ”Cards Against Humanity” emblazoned on the box? Or, perhaps, the description, “A party game for horrible people”? Maybe it was that the stated aim is to be as “despicable” as possible? A card “wasn’t okay”? Well, obviously... 
Clearly, the guy who took such offense at the one card enjoyed the game too. He bought into the premise. He sat there through the rest of the rounds, which inevitably contained other “offensive jokes.” He just didn’t like it when the joke was on him... 
Do you know what we called people such as this before the age of sensitivity training? We called them people-who-could-dish-it-out-but-who-couldn’t-take-it. We called them people-who-take-themselves-too-seriously. We told them that it was only a bit of fun. We asked sarcastically when they had been appointed emperor. We told them to get over themselves and have another drink. We rolled our eyes. What did Cards Against Humanity’s creator do? He apologized, of course:

That's the worst part of this. It's amusing and completely unsurprising that hypocritical lefties would take a stance after being offended by a game about being offensive.

What's not amusing is that Max Temkin, once of the game's creators, responded by saying. “I regret writing this card, it was a mean, cheap joke. We took it out of the game a while ago.”

In an interview with, he added.

"It's embarrassing to me that there was a time in my life that that was funny," Temkin said... 
Temkin says he and the other creators know there's a big difference between cards that make fun of public figures and ones that victimize people in marginalized groups. 
"We talk about the idea of 'punching up, not punching down' all the time," Temkin said. "It's something that we stand behind: making fun of those power structures, because they're already powerful. Making jokes about rapes, making jokes about trans people, they don't have the same cultural power." 
To that end, some of the newer cards have a decidedly social-justice-friendly edge: You can now play "heteronormativity," "the patriarchy" and "white privilege."

So this is the future of Cards Against Humanity? Glenn Beck jokes, fight-the-power messages and cooing apologies to the easily-offended community for the tamest of jokes? No thanks. It's confusing that he would continue to work on the game while apologizing for the premise of the game. Did they cave, or did we all simply misunderstand their intention from the beginning?

I remember earlier this year when some not-funny feminists decided to make their own complaint-based version to advance social justice, complete with trigger warnings. I thought at the time they just don't get it.

Now I feel that I'm the one who just doesn't get it.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A requiem for the prank phone call

The Boston Globe printed a short essay by Kate Levin about how modern communication technology has destroyed the tradition of a good prank call. Everyone has caller ID and cell phones have made phone books less useful for getting everyday people to pick up at home. It's not the same world anymore.

I share her lamentations.

I never made prank calls to strangers, but I was an enthusiastic follower of the Jerky Boys. My prank calls were always directed to friends and they took two forms.

Around 2000 the first soundboard pranks went online. Someone took a series of voice clips from Arnold Schwarzenegger, mostly Kindergarten Cop, and phoned up a drunk over and over again, making him increasingly frustrated and vulgar as he was forced into a conversation with the same 15 clips of audio.

The raw audio clips were free for the taking online. Today they are available in the form of soundboards, which let a user click a button on a webpage to play the clip and easily manage a pile of different options, but back then I had to open a formation of WAV. files and play them into a phone.

The high point was when my friend's sister Jaime answered the phone and I played the clip of Arnold pleading "Jaime, please!"

Soundboards are still available with many, many different voices to choose from. Users all learn the hard way that it's only funny when the mark talks, and one has to suppress their urges to fill in pauses with multiple clicks in a row. The humor is in the reaction.

After that I graduated to making my own calls using my own voice. It was the classic approach, but with a twist. I called the homes of my friends and left impossible messages for them with their family members. The messages would sound reasonable to the family member, but prove impossible when presented.

Here's an example.

Hi, this is Edward, I'm in a class with Jordan. I let him borrow my biology textbook and I really need it back. He has my number, could you please tell him to return it.

The friend would get the message, but they were never in a biology class and would be completely bewildered.

This one actually backfired on me one time. I wouldn't try to disguise my voice and apparently the message one friend got from his sister was "Some gay guy called you about his textbook."

The best one I ever did, by far, was to a friend named Nate, who was in high school at the time. Two of us called when he wasn't home and left on the answering machine:

Hey Nate, we really need you to get the bibliography for the group project done by Monday. Please, please get on this. We can't miss another deadline, this is super important and it's starting to hurt our grades. 
Yeah man, we're really behind the 8-ball here.

Nate's dad heard the message and confronted him about it, accusing him of slacking at school. That made it even better than we had hoped.

Prank calls certainly have a mean streak to them, but for me, a good prank ends with a debriefing and allows the target a chance to laugh along with the prankster.

As Levin wrote in her piece, online high jinks really aren't on the same floor as phone calls. I think there's still a future for prank calls, but caller ID has changed everything. It's not simply enough that one can block caller ID, because displaying the call as an anonymous number automatically makes the target suspicious.

It's a different world and the golden age of prank calls has certainly passed.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Accounting vs. Economics

I've never been a big Scott Sumner follower, but I read something he wrote earlier this month and I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

Here's a common theme I see. Most liberals prefer to think like accountants, not economists. The dismal science focuses too much on the "no free lunch" concept. The idea that there are trade-offs, that incentives affect behavior. The idea that making failure less costly, also makes it more likely to occur.

That was a huge eureka moment for me. A few days after I read that I attended a left-wing anti poverty conference for work. I wasn't impressed with the framing most of the issues received, and I felt like Scott Sumner was yelling in my ear the whole time. The policies they advocated assumed a static world, where people will keep doing what they're doing now ever after new policies are introduced that will change their incentives.

For example, the minimum wage was introduced as a way to help the impoverished. It came up over and over again as a basic transfer of wealth from the business owners to workers. There was zero pushback, such as concerns about jobs being cut, people with more impressive resumes taking the jobs away from unskilled poor workers or price increases that will harm poor consumers. They simply assumed a static world, except with money moving from one pile to another.

Frédéric Bastiat famously wrote:

There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen.

Sumner did not call liberal economists bad economists. In fact, he praised them for coming around in the 1990s and championing market-based policies - something left wing economists still embrace. Instead, he was talking about the left in general.

It's normal for non-economists to have terrible, warped view on economic matters. It is the default, sadly. But what's troubling here is the way progressives attempt to mettle with economic matters by treating it as a series of accounting issues. They don't seem to realize that their attempts at moving money around changes the way people behave, and it explains why so many of their policies don't work as planned.


Monday, June 16, 2014

The obnoxiousness of open carry

I'm a gun owner and I have a concealed weapons permit that I use occasionally. I generally support gun rights and oppose many gun control measures.

That being said, I don't understand the activists who insist on openly carrying long guns, such as magazine-fed rifles and shot guns.

Recently an NRA staffer penned an online post criticizing the practice, calling it "weird" and adding, "Using guns merely to draw attention to yourself in public not only defies common sense, it shows a lack of consideration and manners."

I agree, but the NRA officially does not. After a Texas open carry group got upset the NRA retracted the statement. They said was only one person's opinion and the organization disagrees with it.

Look, I can understand open carry for a handgun, as sometimes it's cumbersome to try to cover up my weapon with a loose shirt or jacket, such as during the summertime. It makes sense to have holstered handguns available as an option.

But what doesn't make sense is carrying an AR-15 across one's back and pretending to go about one's day as if it's perfectly normal.

The ability to posses a weapon for one's own protection is a human right that I believe strongly in, but this is just showboating. What happens when you try to sit down somewhere or drive? This is not a casual item one throws on loosely.

Open carry long gunners are the gun rights equivalent of gay pride parade dudes in speedos and platform shoes. Yes, they have a right to do so, but must they do that in public?

It's revolting to see police punish people for actions that are legal, and it's also revolting to see political fanboys giggle with evil glee as Americans are illegally arrested because the police fail to understand the law. But as Ken's Law states, just because one group is obnoxious doesn't mean the other side is clean. Open carry advocates are being unfairly targeted by the police AND they are inconsiderate freaks.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Concentrating on the symptoms

Let's all applaud these activists who are working tirelessly, even breaking the law, to keep homeless people outside and on the streets.

I'm trying to imagine the vision they have for the world. Perhaps they want all new buildings to have shallow alcoves that the homeless can use, or buy public land and build a bridge to nowhere overhead that can be used as a crude shelter.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Three cheers for Terry Gross

I'm usually not a fan of NPR's Terry Gross, I don't care for fawning interviews with left-wing blind sculptors, but I have to give her props for today's interview with Hillary Clinton where Gross would not let her swamp the interview with hollow chatter and platitudes.

Gross wanted to get the truth out of Clinton for why it took so long for her to publicly support gay marriage. Did she change her opinion recently, or keep her opinion to herself until it was politically feasible to come out as a gay marriage supporter.

I listened to Clinton's response twice and read through a transcript and I'm still not sure what she was saying. The jackals at one-eyed watchdog Media Matters tried to come to her rescue, but all they did was illustrate how muddled her respond was.

It's clear that shoveling horsecrap at a question until it goes away is just watch Hillary does.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

George Will vs. The Liars

George Will said exactly what I've been saying for years. His opponents on the left found themselves unable to form an argument against what he said and are instead responding to a fictional argument.

Let's be clear. George Will wrote:

Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (“micro-aggressions,” often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate. And academia’s progressivism has rendered it intellectually defenseless now that progressivism’s achievement, the regulatory state, has decided it is academia’s turn to be broken to government’s saddle.

His point is that to the left it is desirable to find a way to label oneself a victim. I have noticed this trend as well, and I think it partially explains why the left gets so upset when conservatives try to label themselves as victims. To the left, there is power in the victim label.

The usual suspects, writers for outlets such as Media Matters, the National Organization for Women and the Huffington Post can't touch that argument, so they wish to pretend that Will said people want to be victimized and become actual victims. They are trying to make it sound like he said people want to be raped.

It's a repeat of the Todd Akin fallout, but unlike Akin, Will had a good point. The statistics activists are the Democrat party are wallpapering the country with are fake. Will joined a growing list of people speaking out against overly-broad new definitions of rape, deceptively-worded surveys and the "consent" crusade that assumes all sex is rape until proven otherwise.

Honestly, it's hard to pretend to be too upset about this. I'm a big fan of George Will and I hate to hear lies told about him, but at the same time this fake outrage is downright boring. Modern feminists have created these phony scandals so many times that everything they're now saying is predictable and cliche. Dogs bark, cats meow and feminists scream "rape apologist."

I've never seen a group of people more eager to misunderstand their opponents than modern feminists.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

PETA doubles down on crazy

I recently wrote about a pseudoscience campaign from animal rights extremists PETA that claims dairy products both cause autism and causes problems when consumed by autistics. That post came from links provided by neurologist and skeptic Steve Novella who broke the story on PETA's autisim campaign.

Well, PETA just responded to what Steve wrote and is trying to justify their fear mongering campaign with what they describe as "anecdotal evidence."

Here's the meat of PETA's response, with the juicy bits in bold.

PETA’s website and campaign serve to provide parents with potentially valuable information, albeit mostly anecdotal, from families’ findings—for example, just this week, the editor of Autism Eye magazine, Gillian Loughran, who has a 14-year-old son with autism, contacted us in support of our campaign and wrote a letter to the editor on our behalf (see below). Until such time as there is a large study into whether there is a dairy-autism link (and one we hope will not be funded by the dairy industry), it seems unwise to overlook a growing body of anecdotal information supporting that removing dairy and gluten from the diet of a child with autism may improve the child’s sleep, behavior, and concentration.

As Novella wrote, there are plenty of good studies that already exist showing no link. PETA did something noble in admitting that they are using anecdotes to support their view, but then had the audacity to argue that anecdotes are a valid form of information - and powerful enough to overturn empirical evidence.

By the way, in case one is curious, Autism Eye Magazine is an pseudoscientific publication run by award-winning journalists who cherry pick information to persuade people that autism is caused by stomach and immune system issues. They don't seem to be anti-vaccine, but as an award-winning journalist myself I can see they are no authority on links between milk and autism.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Ensnared in the social safety net

There's a conservative line about how the social safety net shouldn't be a hammock. Instead, I see it as a fisherman's net that traps people.

Each political group likes to talk about America's poor who receive government money as a single unit. Left wingers talk about people who want to work and contribute to society, but are victims of circumstance. Right wingers talk about lazy freeloaders who are scamming the rest of us. Both sides say there examples of the other group in there, but they are a minority.

Both of those groups of welfare recipients exist, but I see a third group as much more prevalent: People who want to work, but aren't willing to be poorer in the short term in order to work.

Sean Mulholland narrates this excellent Learn Liberty video outlining the issue:

By the way, this is the exact scenario I found myself in when I was on unemployment starting in January 2009.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

That animal just turned on you

I'm a huge fan of Harvey Silverglate and his Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. For several decades left-wing academic administrations have been violating the free speech rights of students. Most of these students were attempting to spread conservative messages, and Silverglate warned left-wing censors that they were crafting their own doom.

In an interview released last December, his exact words were "Eventually that animal is going to turn on you, and you're going to end up the victim."

Well guess what folks, the beast just turned.

University College of London has just banned a philosophy group from campus for spreading the works of Nietzche, which they (correctly) believe has lead to fascism in some cases.

From a British tabloid:

The union ordered the UCL Nietzsche Club off campus because they say it promotes fascism and racism – even though they don’t know anything about the group. 
Concerned students had called for the SU diktat after posters emerged advertising the society under the title “Equality is a false God.” 
Although they knew nothing about the society except the 31-word content of the posters, the Union Council banned it from meeting or advertising on campus, accusing it of promoting fascism and racism on campus.

So what if Nietzche's words were twisted nearly a century ago by the national socialists? I see it as a result of misunderstanding his philosophy, and there are plenty of other ways to interpret what he wrote. Nietzsche's words didn't kill anyone and the public deserves the choice of reading them or rejecting them.

It's not too late to cry out in anguish, my left-wing friends.We warned you and assured you that standing up for speech is a virtue unto itself, even when it's speech you disagree with. Some of you stood with us, but many did not. This is what happened.

I'm sure there are plenty of other examples of left-wing censorship victims, but this one is especially troubling. If Nietzche is going to be banned from campus, what philosophers are next? What subjects will be banned in turn? Is this the society you want?

The cost of GMO phobia

The Farmer's Daughter blogger compared nutrition labels to find that the public's preference for GMO-free food is causing some breakfast cereal companies to change their nutritional content for the worse.

So far she has documented Cheerios, and now Kashi's Go Lean Crisp:

The calories went from 180 per serving to 190 per serving. Saturated fat when from 0 to 0.5g. The potassium went from 250 to 210. Soluble fiber dropped from 5 to 4g, while insoluble fiber went from 3 to 4. Sugar also increased from 10 to 11g. Phosphorus from 15% down to 10%. Iron went from 8% to 10% of RDA. Finally, magnesium went from 10 to 8% of RDA. 
In other words: the non-GMO cereal is less healthy for you. 
Just more proof that the war on biotechnology isn't about health and nutrition and making food safer. It isn't about protecting consumers from "big ag" or "evil Monsanto."

I will add that the change did increase dietary fiber from 30 percent of one's daily need to 32 percent, but that is more than offset by the calorie increase.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Solar Roadways are still an awful idea

A few days ago I wrote that the "solar roadways" project, which has raised nearly $2 million at this time from the public, is a terrible idea.

It's still a terrible idea, and I'm glad to see even more people are speaking out. While I think good criticism stands on it's own merits, I'm glad to see environmentalists speaking out about this bad idea. In the first post I shared a 2009 criticism from, and now Shea Gunther of Mother Nature Network has chimed in with a fresh piece of criticism:

The Solar Roadways website is light on numbers when it comes to costs and for good reason — as soon as you actually run the numbers, this project becomes completely untenable. It costs more money, produces less electricity at a higher cost, and introduces major new complexities into an already complex transportation system. The numbers won’t lie... 
Technically speaking, the video is a work of art. It obviously accomplished its purpose of bringing in the Indigogo dollars and has been shared far and wide on social media. But the video’s technical mastery doesn’t change the fact that the technology being described within is a bad and sketchy solution in search of a problem. 
The United States does not suffer for lack of space to mount solar panels. Just look up. There are millions of rooftops just waiting for solar panel installations to say nothing of the range of wide-open spaces found throughout America.

Defenders of the project keep promising that the technical issues are possible to solve. That may be true, from an engineering standpoint, but it doesn't mean it's smart from an economic standpoint.

I'm reminded of the first Game of Thrones book where King Robert's council is discussing hiring a Faceless Man to assassinate Daenerys Targaryen, and Littlefinger chimes in that it would be cheaper to hire a band of mercenaries to kill her. While the flashy supernatural shapeshifter approach is appealing on an emotion level, the rank and file soldiers would get the job done without breaking the bank.

By the way, while it's good that the crowd sourcing project is only taking the money of people who want to waste it, the solar roadway creators have already received $100,000 of the public's money through a federal grant. That's a complete scandal.