Thursday, April 24, 2008

More Brilliance from Microsoft

I was just trying to open Powerpoint, but it froze when this dialog box popped up:

I wonder if this dialog box knew that it was the very dialog box that prevented me from opening Powerpoint...hmmm...

Clearly someone at Microsoft is a big fan of Catch 22. I am not making this stuff up I swear!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Fear Hillary!

When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Fear Itself

I used to be pretty undecided about who I wanted as our next president. I am not a Republican, nor a Democrat, nor Republicrat. I do not follow a dogma, but rather prefer to think carefully through each issue, look at evidence, hear arguments from all sides, and make up my own mind as much as possible. In the end, I am conservative about some things, and liberal about others. So, I have tried my best to go based on the actual priorities and stances of the candidates in this election.

First step, I tried going to the websites of the top 8 contenders from both parties early on, in order to get a good take on their priorities and stances. No luck. It was all glittering generalities like, "I am for the children" and other teary-eyed hogwash.

So then I watched all of the major debates of both parties, in order to get a sense of their policies. I decided that my priorities and stances seem to line up rather well with what Obama, Clinton, and Edwards were saying; basically that we need to pull our priorities away from a baseless war and get them back on problems such as education, poverty, civil rights, and dismantling militant networks such as Al Qaeda. That is pretty much the opposite of what I took most of the Republicans to be saying.

That left me stuck between Obama, Clinton, and Edwards. Well, Edwards dropped out, so one down, one to go.
Lately, Clinton helped me make up my mind. She has demonstrated that she will stoop as low as she needs to in order to sway people's votes based on fear and negativity. This was capped off yesterday with her last ditch effort to appeal to the rural population of Pennsylvania: an ad meant only to instill fear in order to gain political credibility. As the quote from Plato implies above, this type of evil manipulation is as old as politics itself.

Watch the ad here:
Clinton's "Kitchen" Ad

Displaying images of the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the 1970's gas hike, and Osama bin freakin' Laden, among other things, does nothing more than try to conjure up negative emotions in the viewers.

The only claims being made in the ad is that being president is "the toughest job in the world," that you "need to be ready for anything, especially now," while showing a video of what people really seem to fear the most—the digits of the gas prices going up on the pumps, in fast forward no less.

The video closes by asking "Who do you think has what it takes?" What is the point of the ad? Since there are no real claims made, no evidence cited, and no policies even hinted at, it is clear that the only message to the viewers can be "you need to be afraid, and vote for the candidate that will ease your fear."

Kind of reminds me of this ad, from another candidate who punched people in the gut in order to get elected: "Changing World" Ad, oh, and this one: America!

This is based on a common theme that has been used throughout history to win elections; that today's world is a dangerous place and candidate X is the one who 'has what it takes' to save us.
What war hero General Douglas McArthur noted in the past is just as true today:

"It is part of the general pattern of misguided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear."
~General Douglas MacArthur

I have decided I don't want to vote for more of this fear crap. This leaves me with two questions in order to decide who to vote for…

#1 Is Obama Any Better?

Now, Obama is trying to punch you in the gut too, with his messages of Hope and Change. EVERY dang politician EVER has said, "Blahblahblah what we need is CHANGE blahdiblah rabble rabble." I don't know how Obama cornered the market on Hope and Change, but I DO know that Clinton and others have literally and verbally conceded this to him. That is perhaps WHY Hillary has gone to fear, in a last ditch effort to corner ANY market. And when it comes to choosing between hope and fear, I think Bill Clinton has said possibly the only sensible thing of his life:

"If one candidate is appealing to your fears, and the other one is appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope." --Bill Clinton

#2 CAN we have hope, or SHOULD we be afraid?

The candidates have agreed that we are voting between fear and hope. Which one should we actually be feeling? Perhaps Hillary and the Republicans are right. Maybe the world is going to shit and we need to vote for the only one that can save us. I'm pretty sure it would be Indiana Jones. Maybe Luke Skywalker.

It sure seems like the world is crazy and only getting crazier. Is there any evidence of this? Well, it seems there is. We can get a sense of how the danger in the world is changing by examining, for example, the change in the risk of the average person dying in a war, or by murder, or by state sanctioned violence. By all of these measures, the world is a much safer place than at any time in history. Moreover, the present United States just about the safest place in the history of the world.

If you're interested, here is an interesting talk that argues this point very well and displays some of the evidence: A Brief History of Violence

Why do these politicians claim that the world is getting more dangerous? One reason is that they actually may believe it. It's hard to imagine that they would so blatantly lie to so many people, but it would certainly not be without precedent. Another is that they know that the American people believe it—the press has seen to that.

Whether politicians believe in this fear or not, certain politicians believe it is in their best interests to utilize the fear. Hillary has just shown that she is one of these politicians. If we are to believe what Obama says, he is not. In that case, the only thing Hillary has to fear is...not enough fear.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

T-Shirt Design #2

If you want one, I'll kick your name and take your size.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Shame on you, Ben Stein (part 1)

I just gave in and clicked on one of the advertisements that gmail subtly displays while I check my inbox. What I saw when I clicked it was so disturbing that, against my better judgment, I will discuss it here since chances are you will probably hear about it anyway from other sources.

Ben Stein, THE Ben Stein, i.e., Ben "Beuler? Beuler? Anyone? Anyone?" Stein, former speech writer for two U.S. Presidents and former Emmy-winning game show host of an entertaining know-it-all game show, has made an anti-Darwinism "documentary" style movie that is set to hit theatres soon. What the?

For many months, I didn't click on the link that taunted me by saying, "Expelled – Ben Stein - - Why is Big Science suppressing the evidence of Intelligent Design?" It was the "Ben Stein" part that first caught my eye. "Why is Big Science suppressing the evidence of Intelligent Design" part did not catch my eye, because in my time on the internet I'm used to seeing such ridiculous statements all the time. But then what really caught my eye and made me click on the link was the fact that Ben Stein and this ridiculous statement were for one and the same link. Surely, they mean some crackpot religious zealot that happens to be named Ben Stein—they don't mean THE Ben Stein—the intellectual and hip pop-culture icon Ben Stein, right? Wrong.

Creationists used to make me really uncomfortable. I used to get in heated debates with them until we were both literally red in the face. This is no longer the case. I have gained some understanding of a few things. The first that I realized is that I cannot, by arguing with them at a Starbucks, convince a creationist to a doctrine that they perceive to be completely at odds with what they believe. The second, and more important, thing that I realized is that it makes sense to me that certain people are creationists. If you believe that God created this world, AND you believe that the Bible is the immutable word of God, AND you take all the words of the Bible at face value, THEN it seems you must believe that the world was created about 10,000 years ago. And if the purpose of life is to fulfill God's will, than what could be more important? It now makes sense to me why certain people believe their religious beliefs over their scientific beliefs, even if I don't see it that way.

Am I a little surprised that Ben Stein, presumably a gifted and intelligent academic, is a creationist? Yes, a bit. But in my eyes, that does not make him a zealot or an idiot. You can be plenty rational, plenty intelligent and be a creationist.

What I am appalled at is the message Ben Stein is about to send to millions of viewers, that Darwinists are getting defensive because they are 'hiding something.' What I am even MORE appalled at is the fallacious propaganda he is using to send this message. And I do not use the word propaganda in any hyperbolic sense of the word; I mean it quite literally and seriously. It is disgusting.

Let's take a look just at the advertisement itself, shall we? "Why is Big Science suppressing the evidence of Intelligent Design?" This alone already contains at least seven clearly identifiable propaganda techniques. Let's spell them out, shall we? The first is a fallacy known in the practice of law as the "loaded question" or "presupposition of a question". In Walton (1989, p. 28), a presupposition of a question is defined as a proposition that is presumed to be acceptable to the respondent when the question is asked, so that the respondent becomes committed to this proposition when he gives any direct answer. A good example of these would be to ask a witness, "Are you still beating your wife?"

But wait, there are more fallacies. The phrase "Big Science" reeks of the techniques of ad hominem, the technique of attacking the opponent rather than their ideas. It would be the equivalent to if I had decided to refer to Ben Stein in this article as B.S. (which I was tempted to do…) The idea that "Big Science" is "suppressing the evidence" also relies on the techniques of "appealing to fear", "common man", and "demonizing the enemy." Big Science is not even a real entity, just a propaganda placeholder for "science." The phrase "Intelligent Design" itself utilizes the propaganda technique of "virtue words." See the links at the bottom of this page if you'd like more details on what these propaganda techniques entail.

So far, we've only talked about the advertisement banner, and we've seen how Ben Stein is "aiming below the belt" to convince people without facts. He has presented it in such a way that facts aren't even on the table for discussion, only emotions. But granted, all I've discussed so far is an advertisement banner, and such banners are notorious for saying controversial things to get you to click on them. Perhaps the movie trailer will be different?

Nope. It's much, much worse. Take a look at it for yourself…I'm going to comment on that trailer in the next post…TO BE CONTINUED...