Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Make No Law Respecting The Establishment of Religion and Free Exercise Thereof

This is posted without comment, because both Cenk and Craig Scarberry are pretty eloquent in their views:


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Airport Body Scanners and Privacy

To add to the hassles of airline travel, now we've got to deal with X-Ray body scanners, or, if you are opposed to that, rather invasive pat-downs. This is yet another in the long line of reasons that I really dislike flying these days. I'm going to rather agree with this article on CNN. This is more invasive, more onerous, and more...well...disturbing than any other country puts up with.

Now, TSA wants to argue that they are merely trying to keep us safe and working "with" the American people, and like to point out that in 2009 a majority of Americans agreed with the idea of having body scanners in airports. I'd like to cite a bit of buyer's remorse in this case, but moreover, I'd like to add that this a strange case of invasion of privacy. Now, for security purposes, the courts have largely argued that these agencies are able to circumvent certain laws that bind the rest of us. Certainly we've all heard of warrantless wiretaps, and how the courts are sort of okay with this, despite the fact that it violates a lot of civil liberties. But now we have a case where, if these people were not TSA agents, are undertaking actions which could easily be taken to court, or grounds for immediate termination. I mean, if I demanded to perform an "extended" pat-down on anyone, I'd be fired. If I used a backscatter X-Ray to gain images of people's bodies...well, I'd likely be charged with a lot of things, including sexual assault.

While I am all for a certain measure of security in flying, I find this excessive. I find it sad that we've had to give up on a lot of our liberties and privacy for the sake of "safety." I don't think this is ever a good trade-off, and I hope that sometime in the near future we can have sensible security measures at airports that are not this invasive and...well...absurd.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Day After

The day after the election, and the Republicans have taken the House, a lot of them promising to repeal basically everything that's been done in the last two years. The Democrats kept control of the Senate by a narrow, narrow majority. Lessons to be learned? People still aren't huge fans of the Republicans, but they'll vote disappointing Dems out. The other major lesson? The Dems are not unified, and did not have a strong message this go-round.

This piece from the Chicagoist sums up a lot of my feelings on the matter.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Confidence Breeds Error

Click through to here to see an interesting article, showcasing the effects of confirmation bias. You really have to put in some hard work to be worse than random chance, but confirmation bias is a strong predictor for it.

This is why the majority of my posts on politics are opinion-based, and, likewise why I would strongly urge you to vote. It's probably about the best thing you could do to screw with the pollster's predictions.


Election Day 2010

Today is election day. I strongly urge to go out and vote. I say that no matter your politics - one of the most important things you can do as a citizen is to actually voice your opinion at the ballot box. Unfortunately, most of us, as private citizens, don't have the kind of money to really influence our politicians. We don't have the social pressure either. What we do have, however, is a large group effect - that is to say, the one power that we do have is to vote into office people we like, and do not vote for those we don't want. Now, the sad thing is, in most races you're going to be choosing between the lesser of two evils, and for the foreseeable future, that's the nature of the game.

So why vote? Well, it's your one true option for putting action to your opinions. It is the rare one of us that is invited to speak in a public forum, and much less than that are invited to appear on TV (in fact, most of us are far too moderate and reasonably-minded to get on TV...we don't make for good ratings). So, aside from standing on a street corner or attending your local poetry jams, you've got the option of voting your conscience, and thus, in some small way, holding your politicians accountable. The real trouble comes when your only other option for an office is so, so much worse...to my mind, that recalls Harry Reid and Sharron Angle. I've been highly disappointed with Reid most of the time...but Angle...Best of luck, Nevada.

Let's consider a little bit of the atmosphere today, and what it could mean for the future, after the jump.

By almost all the polls out there, today is supposed to be a bloodbath for the Democrats. They're expected to lose the House and potentially the Senate (though probably not). A lot of the governor races are close, and the news is slightly better there, but in many cases, slightly better means, "You might not lose!" How has it come to this? Two years ago, Obama rode on a groundswell of voting and actually captured a lot of young voters. The Democrats rode into power as well in 2006 and have stayed in power for four years. For Democrats, in this day and age, that's pretty good. There's a reason why there's a mantra about the Democrats always finding a way to screw up their own election, clutching defeat from the jaws of victory, and all that. But how did it happen?

Well, first an interesting point. According to most polls, people actually prefer Democrats to Republicans, in pure opinion. When you start asking people which way they're going to vote, though, most lean Republican. What does that mean? Well, on the face of it, it means that even though most people don't prefer the Republicans, they're tired of the Democrats, and in this country, that almost always means you have to vote Republican. People are angry - they see the economy as stagnant, unemployment too high, and a lot of people feel that Obama focused too much on the grand ideas (health care and the like) without first fixing the economy.

That's an interesting point, and one that I go back and forth on. One the one hand, I'm incredibly disappointed in the financial reform bill - it's got too many loopholes and does nothing to actually fix the underlying system. On the other hand, now that we're living in a country that requires a super-majority to get anything passed (wait until the Republicans take control again...that word will more than likely disappear for the simple reason that Democrats don't have the sort of party-line unity Republicans can muster, and a lot of them are actually pretty willing to compromise. I mean, seriously, check out the Rep's "YouCut" website. They maintain records of the voting on their issues, just check out the numbers), it's unlikely that Obama could ever have gotten anything near good enough through Congress. That's disappointing, but it's the world we live in. So, Republicans get to crash the economy and then blame Obama for not fixing it fast enough and use the crash itself as a platform to get re-elected. It's a bit sickening, really. They also get to use the TARP funds, which were the previous administration's idea originally, to hammer at Obama and the Democrats in general. Now, I'm not a huge fan of TARP. I realize that some bailout was probably necessary, but I don't like how the money was handed out, with not strings attached.

So we have an angry populace upset with the way the administration is handling the situation, who are likely to vote the Republicans back into power, regardless of their previous record. This seems like a dangerous situation, and if they do gain power again, I'll guarantee that their first order of business is eliminating everything the Democrats have tried to get passed since they took office. Farewell, any thoughts of a regulated health insurance industry, farewell financial regulation, farewell any sort of fiscal responsibility (not that the Democrats have really got a hold on that either, but letting some of the tax cuts expire would be a pretty smart move. The other, smartest move, that no one is willing to make - cut the Defense budget. It's way...way...over-bloated, and for what?)

Unfortunately, we can expect the House to go Republican, and maybe the Senate as well, and then watch whatever small baby steps in a more liberal direction we've taken in the past few years get immediately cut off. And then we have to ask, what will the Democrats have learned? If they decide that their problem was that they were too liberal, and they should be more like the Republicans...well, that's just a sad, sad state of things. Especially considering that many of the seats in the House that are up for grabs are more "moderate" Democrats, this would have been maybe their first chance to actually present a good, liberal, face. The other thing that they may learn is that when they say they're going to change the system, to fix some of the most basic problems, maybe they should actually make that case, forcefully, and often, until the myths and lies from the opposition party are actually exposed. Offer the hand of compromise, yes, but at this point it's rather clear the Republicans want nothing to do with you. John Boehner is gloating right now that this is not the time for compromise, and if they win, you can expect none of it from the Republicans. After the first few times they smacked your hand down (and let's be honest...they did it on basically everything you ever brought to the floor), well, maybe it was time to move on without them. I know which one is more likely, and sadly, I think it's the worse choice.

This doesn't have to be the case, however. Only around a third of the eligible voting populace is actually expected to go to the polls today. It's only a little past noon on the East Coast right now, and you have time to go and make your voice heard. Massive effects can be made by small individuals, each taking part in a collective action, so, I implore you, exercise your hard-earned rights, and vote.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Finishing up the Bartending Posts on Bases

I've finished my review of alcoholic bases in a three-parter.

Find Part II (rum and gin) here, and Part III (tequila and whiskey) here.

Expect an update on mixers and what not soon, as well as crepes recipes and others.

Also expect a more politically-influenced post in the near future.