The Apocalypse is Upon Us

I never thought I’d be saying this. In fact, I’m both embarrassed and scared by it. See, I have this sudden feeling stirring for Paris Hilton.

What’s that? Attraction? Oh god no! I think she’s barely passable. No, this feeling is far deeper and more disturbing.

It’s respect.
http://www2.funnyordie.com/public/flash/fodplayer.swf?96d0a705
I thought the end of the world would be more chaotic.

It’s not a big truck!

Hey, look at what I read about on the series of tubes today: Sen. Ted Stevens was indicted on seven felony counts for taking gifts and services (to the tune of a quarter million dollars) and subsequently covering it up.

In case you’ve forgotten, that’s this Ted Stevens:

Couldn’t have happened to a more coherent guy.

Haterade

So, PZ wrote a post recently that, among other things, got me thinking about hate crimes legislation. I think the story in the post is utterly ridiculous, that the church overreacted terribly, that the kid was (at worst) a jerk, and that suggesting that “not immediately eating a holy cracker” is some kind of hate crime is an absurdity beyond measure.

But, hate crime legislation is its own kettle of fish with its own set of problems. Generally, from my understanding, the hate crime statutes tend to increase the punishment given for something that is already a crime, based on the perpetrator’s obvious feelings of hate toward the victim’s particular minority group.

On one hand, this looks an awful lot like thoughtcrime. You’re punishing someone for what they think of some group–gays, women, blacks, foreigners, whatever. Thoughtcrime is pretty much universally dangerous, impossible to prove without telepathy, and the first step onto a very slippery slope toward various Orwellian nightmares.

On the other hand, and this is the way I tend to see it (at least, so far as I understand hate crime statutes–they may differ from place to place, and my opinion’s a bit conditional on the details), we already change the punishments for various crimes based on thoughts. The difference between first degree and second degree murder is premeditation–planning the crime before committing it. Things like conspiracy and collusion are similar to various degrees.

It seems to me that hate in a hate crime is similar to premeditation in a first-degree murder. It’s not entirely the same; it seems to me that hate crimes would tend more to be crimes of passion, crimes of the moment, while premeditation implies planning to harm a specific person or group or place in a specific manner at a specific time. In a hate crime, it’s more of a loose plan to harm some member of a specific group under some condition or as a principle. A gay-basher probably doesn’t walk into his local redneck bar thinking “I’m a-gonna drag Queer Charlie ’round behind my pickup truck tonight,” but if he’s gone around for years saying “if a fag hit on me in a bar, I’d kick the shit out of him,” and then he kicks the shit out of some gay guy for hitting on him in a bar, I’d say that qualifies for a harsher sentence than if he’d just beat up some random guy. It’s not quite premeditation in the sense of first degree murder, but it’s certainly a voluntary predisposition. It’s a soft sort of premeditation, but it suggests that there’s more than just passion and the heat of the moment at work.

Keep in mind that my legal knowledge is almost entirely culled from courtroom dramas, so I may in fact be talking out of my ass. Feel free to tell me if I am.

Spreading the Dumb

It’ll still be a few days before normal posting resumes: finals, papers, etc. In the meantime, everyone should head over to Jon’s and listen to this insane phone call. Move your keyboard; you don’t want to break it in the inevitable barrage of “headdesk” incidents.

I need a word that means “both bizarre and awesome”

So, Jon linked to a new Andrew W.K. song recently. I haven’t heard much from Mr. W.K. in the last few years; last I saw he was making the “VH1 gets moderately funny people to make fun of current and not-so-current events” show circuit. I bought his first album for reasons I don’t entirely recall, but this new song made me go back and reconsider that purchase. After watching the video for “Party Hard” again, I remember how much fun the music was the first time I heard it, and I realize that, perhaps, Mr. W.K. never took himself as seriously as some of the fans did. When you listen to his stuff as though it’s sung with tongue in cheek, it’s a lot more acceptable.

Why might I come to that conclusion, you ask? Behold, for it is awesome:

Groovy.

Mercury Militiaman McCain

I know, I'm shocked at your stupidity too.Apparently John “Million Years War” McCain has decided to divorce himself even further from reality by joining up with the whackjobs and denialists in the “vaccines cause autism” crowd. There’s not a whole lot I can say about how wrong those jackasses are (you can start here if you’re interested), but I have to wonder what would possess John McCain to make such a stupid statement. I mean, I’ve seen him embrace anti-science positions in the past, then reject them when he was more correctly informed (as he did with Darwin several years ago), so it’s possible that the Mercury Militia merely misinformed McCain, and he hasn’t yet found out about their fallacious follies and factual flaccidity.

The other possibility is that he sees some kind of political advantage in this position. How? Is he trying to win the “credulous parent” vote? Is he hoping to steal tinfoil-hat-wearers away from Ron Paul? Could he be courting “arrogant unemployed gamblers” as a significant voting block? Or is he just trying to add to the Republican Party’s ongoing campaign of anti-intellectualism, anti-science sentiment, and unsubstantiated fear?

Oh. Nevermind.

Damn it, Ralph Nader

Wrong finger, Ralph.Ralph Nader, what the fuck?

Yes, that’s right, the election-killer is entering the race once more. He talks about wanting to end the cycle of corporate pandering and Pentagon waste that hurts the working class. Instead, once again, he seems poised to draw votes away from the only candidates with a realistic chance of doing that, effectively donating them to John McCain, who he describes as “the candidate for perpetual war.”

Nader apparently denies that his role in the 2000 election handed victory over to George W. Bush on a silver platter, despite getting almost three million progressive votes in a race decided by less than 600. The man isn’t a maverick; he’s either a closet Republican, or he’s fucking delusional. Really? You don’t take any blame for what happened in 2000? That’s okay, I suppose; the Repbulicans haven’t taken any blame for anything that’s happened since, so it’s really par for the course.

Never have I hoped more for Ron Paul to enter the race as a Libertarian candidate, and hopefully cancel out the poisonous Nader influence.

To anyone seriously considering dropping their vote on this ancient electoral vampire, I emplore you: isn’t eight years of disastrous Republican rule enough? Do you really want to increase the chances of another Bush-mold Republican becoming Commander-in-Chief? If your answer is no, then vote for someone who can win.

And Ralph? Why don’t you court a cabinet position? You’ll be able to do more with that than with another failed Presidential bid that would inevitably divide the electorate in a race that progressives desperately need to win. Please, Ralph, for the love of all that is pro-middle-class and progressive, drop the fuck out.

Ssssmokin’!

Clearing the air.So, Illinois just passed a state-wide indoor smoking ban. It’s an interesting situation, because it’s a place where various bits of my politics and my self-interest come into a difficult conflict.

I guess I’ll hit the self-interest first: I’m hypersensitive to cigarette smoke. If I’m around people smoking for more than a few minutes, I start to get a pretty nasty headache. Even smelling it on people’s clothes or in cars affects me in rather uncomfortable ways. As such, I tend to avoid places where the smoking is otherwise unavoidable, such as bars, dance clubs, and some restaurants. The ban has removed that danger, and so my recent trip to a bar was actually a moderately enjoyable experience. I didn’t have to venture out into the cold for fresh air even once.

On the other hand, I think businesses ought to be able to decide whether or not they allow smoking on their premises. Some businesses cater to smokers, and I, as a non-smoker, can always decide to take my business elsewhere. For the government to step in and legislate what happens on private property, especially when it may be to the financial detriment of these businesses, seems unnecessary and intrusive.

On the other hand, the employees are the people really at risk in these situations, spending hours in smoke-filled surroundings and suffering the ill effects. While the employees can always quit and get jobs elsewhere, it would be unscrupulous to the point of potential negligence for a business owner not to at least consult his staff in decisions regarding whether or not to allow smoking, when it could seriously affect the employees’ health. This ban takes that decision out of the hands of both employer and staff, leaving even totally voluntary smoking establishments out in the cold.

On the other hand, smoking is not anyone’s goddamn right, and I’m tired of hearing smokers complain that it should be. Yes, you absolutely have every right to stick whatever you want into your body. But your right to spew noxious chemicals ends at my lungs. Since you can’t smoke without exposing those around you to harmful substances, thus infringing on their equal right to choose what goes into their bodies, it’s your problem, and your right to indulge yourself doesn’t trump my right to stay healthy. It’s your right to choose whether or not to smoke, but you don’t get to make that choice for anyone but yourself. Don’t want to go out in the cold? Quit.

Bottom line: I think this was the wrong way to go about the ban. It fuels people’s concerns about the “nanny state,” it’s going to cost businesses some business (though I wonder how much will be balanced out by new customers who wouldn’t have patronized smoke-filled bars and eateries previously), and it denies entrepreneurs their rights to decide what happens on their premises. Granted, we do the same for any number of other health hazards (health inspections, fire hazards, etc.), but I think this situation is slightly different. What I would have liked to see instead would be an opt-in situation, where businesses could get subsidies and/or tax breaks for going smoke-free, with the caveat that employees must be consulted if the business is to remain a smoking establishment (and, potentially, could seek damages if failure to consult resulted in health problems down the line). Businesses that want to keep the smoking clientèle could opt to do so, businesses that want to go smoke-free could have their losses off-set by having lowered taxes, and everyone’s rights are respected to some degree.

But I’m not going to complain too much. After all, I like breathing.

The Day the Terrorists Won

Six years ago today I was moving from class to class, a Senior in High School, trying to catch the latest news as it came in. The attacks happened just before the start of the school day, as I was settling into my Biology II classroom. The science teachers were listening to the radio in the little office that adjoined the two lab rooms, and at some point my Bio teacher brought in a TV.

We watched the continuous news feed, where reporters tried to hide their panic as they broadcast every piece of news and rumor as it came in. There’s another plane circling over the Atlantic, there was a bomb in the Pentagon, there was a mysterious truck parked outside the White House, and so on. Information got distorted through a lens of fear and confusion.

If I learned anything in my classes that day, I’ve long since forgotten. But there was a lesson to be learned on 9/11, and sadly few ever paid it any attention.

The purpose of terrorism is not to kill large numbers of people, it is not to strike at guarded targets in order to cripple military might. The purpose of terrorism is to incite fear. Terrorists are not powerful armies, they are not superpowers, they are not nations. At best, they are guerrilla soldiers fighting dirty against superior numbers and superior firepower; usually they are loose confederations of desperate individuals united against some common enemy. They are mice against lions, relying primarily on psychological power. By making the lion cower in a corner, the mouse can claim an uncontested victory.

Look at our nation, six years later. We have given in to fear, to panic, to that fluttering terror that gripped us when we first saw the footage of the symbolism-laden attacks. We have allowed ourselves to be manipulated by power-hungry politicians and corrupt corporations. We have traded our essential freedoms–against warrantless wiretapping, against unlawful searches, against imprisonment without representation and due process, against cruel and unusual punishment, and so on–for the mere promise–the empty, unfulfilled promise of temporary security. And when we have thought to speak up, to cry out, to make a stand and say no more, we have stepped aside every time, for fear of being called “unpatriotic.”

We have allowed an idiot to lead us into an unnecessary war, needlessly spending billions of dollars and thousands of lives, and bringing the criminals behind 9/11 no closer to justice. We have allowed his cronies to run roughshod over the Constitution, and to fill the highest levels of government with people who refuse to be held accountable for their actions, who undermine checks and balances at every turn, who commit high crimes and misdemeanors and laugh at our inaction. And we have allowed–encouraged!–it all to happen under the banner of “9/11.”

We have lived six years in fear, planted by nineteen hijackers and carefully cultivated by a corrupt government. The time has long since come to suck up our pride, to recognize our mistakes, and to take responsibility for them. The time has long since come to bring our young men and women home from an endless war, to actually do something about national and international security, and to take back our rights and our country from the people who have perverted and purloined it. Foreign terrorists won on September 11, 2001, and they got away with it. Let’s make sure that the domestic terrorists, who have won every day since, aren’t so lucky.

Neo-Contradiction

For some reason, I was about to log into MySpace, when I saw the following (emphasis added):
How can you possibly call someone who has a haircut from the Eisenhower era 'new'?
Here’s a closer look:Cool as 1845!
Bwahahahahahahahahahaha! Aha…ahahahaha.

Oh, Sam Brownback. You’re so cool.