Saturday, June 05, 2010

Ethics, Blowback and Why Shit Happens

Banksy nails it, doesn't he?

This is a perfect illustration for blowback. When shit happens, it rolls downhill. This is the thing people do not understand about ethics. It's NOT about morality; the concequences of all actions manifest in the here and now, regardless of any afterlife payout, and it's certainly not about assigning blame. It's about avoiding harm to others. 

The current oil spill happened because BP was trying to cut corners, to save a few pennies by doing things on the cheap, avoiding best practices because, of course, a company's first duty is to maximize shareholder value.

One wonders what proportion of their shareholders will be directly or indirectly impacted by loss of value in other investments in aquaculture, tourism or complete loss of personal livelihood.

While it's certainly a good idea to lay down a few extra layers of Moral Fibre to strengthen one's resolve against doing the wrong thing or taking a stupid risk for the sake of convenience, the essential argument is simple. We act in ways to minimize the risk to others, and we act to maximize the rewards to others for putting up with the slight, but inevitable risks that remain. Then we insure ourselves against the liability for those risks. 

This understanding - that reward is due those who share risks and not due those who profit by offloading costs and consequences on others - is the heart and soul of civilization. 

When most people act to avoid harm to others to the best of their ability, there is less harm done overall. It is always in your own interest to act ethically. It's the single best protection there is against the unforeseen. All law, regulation, good government and every word of your insurance policy comes from this understanding - and those who's living depends on a general failure to understand.

When you do not understand this, shit happens. And if you are in the vicinity, it happens to you. 

When you refuse to deal with the shit you happened to cause, and if perchance you manage to put off paying for the clean-up by gaming the system - you put the entire system at risk. A system that everything you know and love relies upon. 

If you wish to parse through history to see examples of the rich and powerful acting without regard to the consequences to people they thought powerless to affect them.. well, I'd suggest starting with the French Revolution. There are many others, but one will serve for most. In the end, one set of bastards heads ends up on a decorative array of pikes... brandished by another set of bloody bastards.

Banksy sees as far as the most likely outcome - which is better than most oil executives and politicians, who for greed and lack of foresight, generate an opportunity for their likely successors.

The real trick is to avoid buying into the whole drama of "regime change to achieve change" drama, for so long as we do, nothing will change. Rather, we must each choose "To become the change we wish to see."

Fortunately, this is not difficult.

When someone tells you that so and so is responsible for your misery and pain, that they are your personal and lifelong enemy - check it out. There are two good reasons for this. First, you want to absolutely ensure that your enemy is who you think, doing what you expect, at the time of your intended retribution. The only way you can be sure of knowing these things well enough to take action against them is to know why they became your enemy in the first place.

But this does open up a frightening possibility - realizing you both fell for the "It's Bobby's Fault" gambit.

You see, very often the person, group, company or nation would very much like to divert consequences onto someone who is barely involved. Of course, once you have taken revenge upon them, they will be your enemy, and whoever is actually responsible tiptoes away in the night, giggling. 

Blaming Iraq for 9/11 was a masterstroke of misdirection - as was blaming the US financial system for the social plight of the average person in the Middle East. 

We should all be embarrassed for falling for it, and it's human nature to prefer to be wrong in a crowd than to be right alone - but you don't have to call attention to your new-found cynicism. You just need to stop acting as if the powers that be have your best interests at heart, when that bet costs you money and puts your livelihood at risk.

The single best thing you can do to bring peace to the world is to stop listening to people who have a vested interest in sustaining a conflict. 

The second thing is only a tiny bit more difficult. Start thinking about reducing your energy footprint. Take the tiny steps first. Weather-stripping. Insulation. It's not a sign of privilege to live in a draughty home! Paint your roof white. ONE afternoon can slash your cooling costs by 20 percent over the life of the coating, and almost certainly, you need to do it anyway - it's the chore EVERYONE puts off until the roof starts leaking. So pick the WHITE bucket instead of the BLACK bucket. It's just that easy.

Get into the habit of checking to make sure your tires are properly inflated.  Take the bus or the train when it makes sense to do so and vote for sensible public transit, even if you will never use it. Think of it as a really good way to take other people off the road. 

Stop listening to people who's argument boils down to the moronic idea that wasting money is the hallmark of the American dream. I bet you could think of a lot of things you would rather waste money on than a power bill. Check out LED lighting - it's even more efficient than compact fluorescents.

Are you a national security voter? Well, there is one thing that you can do to help ensure national security - and that's securing your nation's energy independence. Demand that any power generated by you surplus to your needs be purchased at a priority by the local power grid. Germany did it. Now, they say it's because being green is a national priority, and no doubt they are sincere in spots - but all nations have history, and lessons they learned about it. 

Germany learned in WWII that you cannot win a war for energy. It's always cheaper to blow up your supply lines than it is to keep them secure. The other lesson is this - if you have an enemy who wants to really, really hurt you - that enemy doesn't have to attack you - they merely need to deny you what you need to live. This should have been a lesson learned in 1972 - with the OPEC embargo. 

But the people who control the distribution of energy are in control of policy - not those who produce it, and not those who use it. Insecurity on both ends translates into money in their pocket. 

But this is where ethics comes in - for ethics speaks to us of human nature, of right actions, and knowing when doing the right thing will bring the greatest reward.

Paint your roof white - and while you are up there, check to see if it's suited for a solar array or two.  Once you have secured your own energy independence - help your neighbour do it. Then each of you help a few more - and soon your neighbourhood will be secure. Talk about it. Blog about it. Other neighbourhoods will follow, and for damn sure, soon politicians will be right there, pretending that it was their idea all along. Some may even be reasonably sincere about it. 

But never pin your hopes on a political figure doing the right thing for you. Even if they sincerely want to, "politics is the art of the possible." And that is a statement of politics under ideal circumstances. More usually, political figures are sponsored by powerful interests or even more powerful fears - and if you wish them to do something in particular, they must be persuaded that it is something that will enhance their influence and prolong their careers.

Before you sneer - when  was the last time you did the "right" thing when it might cost you money or damage your career?  Well then. Let's stop demanding magical transformations from people no better able to achieve such change than you are. Take the steps you can most easily take. Change those light bulbs. Use cloth shopping bags. Shop in a way that minimizes the number of trips you take to haul stuff home. 

Expect no more - and no LESS of them. Take ten minutes to think of something useful for a politician to do that would be politically beneficial to them. Make them aware of it. Give them all the glory - and remind them of it when you need them to show up next time. 

The best form of payback is the sort that you can be absolutely sure will punish the right persons in direct proportion to their greed, without having to think about it. And if feeling mildly smug is not enough reward for you - you will be saving enough to buy that plasma TV sooner than you might think.

Save ten percent on your fuel costs, ten percent of your heating costs, ten percent of your cooling costs and factoring in the fact that a plasma consumes less energy than your old tv... and yes. Yes you can.

After you paint the roof. 

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Looking Back, on words in a row.

I've been gradually dragging myself out of a serious writer's block, arising out of a sense of utter futility. On any number of issues, I feel as if what I write is of no value and has influenced nobody who would not already agree with me.

Well, that's not true, of course. And not in the sense of bragging. It's literally impossible for anyone who communicates with other people to avoid some degree of influence. And as I climb slowly out of what now seems to have been a rather profound depression that eventually forced me to take some time off, I look back at what I've written.

And some of it doesn't suck at all. Some of what I've written is pretty good. Some of it continues to bring traffic. If it does have any influence at all, it looks like it will have the sort of influence I would like. Aside from a few spelling and grammatical errors, I see nothing I OUGHT to have been embarrassed to have said in public. Even when moved to use rather rude words in a very consciously offensive way. 

Take this post about Bridget Keeney. My treatment of her was either more or less merciful than the rest of the blogosphere. I'm not entirely sure which, myself. But it's a wildly different way of looking at the situation, quite possibly unique, and refreshingly distinct from the partisan and ideological responses which, aside from the relative merits, we all should know by heart by now.

Erotic writer "Bridget Keeney" outed as South Carolina Republican.

Here at Graphictruth, any day that I have the journalistic duty to link to outright pornography is a good day.

When the reason I must do it is that the author of said hardcore fapfesting textviles is a right wing, social conservative who presumes to tell other people what their publicly educated children must and must not learn while home-schooling her own, it is not just a good day, it's a frigging good day. Via Fitsnews: (H/T The Progressive Puppy)

Let me quote my wife, in the moments in which I or someone else manages to unconsciously reveal Total Catastrophic Thought Failure.
"Oh, HONEY!"
She manages to covey the recognition that one has committed a cognitive act not at all unlike a sudden failure of toilet training, but without any sense of attempting to shame the puppy.
There is deep sympathy for how very humiliating the situation must be for the poor creature - and she will go get a towel. Further, should the puppy be blessed with thumbs - as Kerstin is - she will hand the towel to the puppy, with the expectation that it do something more productive that attempting to pretend that it did not happen. Sadly, Kirstin has tried to pretend it didn't happen - by deleting every instance of her writing but two - thereby proving that she had access to the author's account.
That's not an actual cover-up, it's even worse than a failed cover up. There was an allegation these writings were yours, but it was all gossip and conjecture - UNTIL they were deleted. Now it's not just gossip and conjecture, it's a fact in evidence.
Yep, I'm pretty happy with that. And I attribute my different viewpoint rather directly to my rather different brain.

I'm aspy, of course. A person who can be usefully described as being an Asperger's Autistic. That is to say, regardless of whether you believe it's primarily a disability, or a difference; if you want an illustration of what that set of traits looks like in every-day life, take a picture of me - an encouragement and a cautionary example, all at once, I think.'s another Asperger quotation that is perhaps more to the point of the month:

We are convinced, then, that autistic people have their place in the organism of the social community. They fulfil their role well, perhaps better than anyone else could, and we are talking of people who as children had the greatest difficulties and caused untold worries to their care-givers. [3]
Yeah. What he said. I perhaps might add that one's success may well be inversely proportional to the degree with which worry and difficulty translates into "interventions" designed to minimize autistic distinctions that serve our distinct social purpose.

What is that, you may well ask?

Well, I'd have to say, if I were forced to explain my own role and generalize based on other aspies I know, it would be reality checking and social criticism. (Or systems analysis, looking at all sorts of different systems and rules sets.)

As children, our expectation that rules, strictures and diktats should make sense often gets us into a great deal of trouble, and as adults we tend to look back and try to make sense of it all.
He [Asperger] followed one child, Fritz V., into adulthood. Fritz V. became a professor of  astronomy and solved an error in  Newton’s work he originally noticed as a child.
I can just imagine how well that went over in a properly Germanic pedagogical context.
Of course, this means that when you wave your flag and loudly proclaim a set of ideals, I genuinely expect you to do your damedest to live up to them, in your own person. You don't get to pick and choose, for instance, which parts of the US Constitution you like, or what sorts of people are not "granted rights" under it.

It doesn't apply to anyone if it doesn't apply to everyone. And if that really cannot be enforced outside of the US borders, it's not due to a lack of military ability - it's because other countries have the duty to protect the human and natural rights of their own people, and some do a better job than others. However, the Constitution recognizes and celebrates natural rights, drawing very narrow and conditional exceptions as required in the specific. If you want to trumpet something about what makes America great - or what made it great in the past tense - that would be it.

Now that your rights and mine as recognized under US law are considered conditional and exceptional - when citizens are asked for their papers and the president can reserve the right to imprison or kill anyone they choose - that's no different than any other statist nation. Well, then. It comes down to competence and execution, for there's no moral high ground left to note.

Nowhere in the commonwealth has anyone ever considered "inalienable human rights." We have, however, learned that when you do alienate someone's rights, there's usually some sort of unintended consequence, and one had best budget for the expense.

I used to consider myself rather lucky to be both a Canadian and a US Citizen by birth. Over the years - and you can track that evolution on this blog - I went from being somewhat optimistic and patriotic about my US citizenship to the point where I am now, where I will not cross the border. Not as a matter of principle. I simply consider the risk to my liberty and my dignity to be more than I'm willing to accept.

This following post pretty much marks the turning point for me, the time when I folded the flag up and threw in the back of the closet, along with a few other relics of mis-spent idealism.

Would I grow pot, smuggle meth, steal cars or participate in a gang, if the alternative was starving alone in an alleyway in a cardboard box? If course. So would you. And hell, we are speaking of the foundations of civilization. People "ganged together" to ensure their mutual survival. If you exclude people from belonging to the "Ahumurikin" gang - because "poor people" don't deserve to belong - they won't just starve politely. They will band together to mess you up, take your stuff and, ultimately, do unto y'all what the Vandals and Visigoths did to Rome. And you will deserve it.
Not that I've given up HOPE for the nation of my youth - but I now think of myself as Canadian. I was born here, after all.  But more directly, all the things I truly value about Canada, the things that most of the world, and conspicuously all the things that US tourists marvel at when they visit; our courtesy, our clean and relatively non-violent culture, our  stable economy and our lack of visible poverty and despair - all of these things come directly from the things that US conservatives revile as inherent evils leading directly to The Killing Fields, or worse. That is to say, that as a people, we give a damn about what happens to other people. 

If this be "Socialism," make the most of it. And on this side of the line I shall stand against those who think we should remake ourselves in the image of the US. That is to say, a country that values a rich white, sociopathic thief over an honest, hard-working non-white taxpayer.

A Churchillian Fortitude
 There's yet much to be done - but one by one by one, we must take back the organizations and structures that they have polluted, the school boards, the charities, the political organizations, the precincts - and I don't just mean "along partisan lines." They need to be taken away from the crazy people, by sane people of all political and religious persuasions.

From what I see out there, from the near absence of intelligable voices from the Right - when it used to be the core of political intellect, councelling against emotionalism and populism as the greatest enemies of democratic representative republics - there are a whole lot of utterly disgusted Conservatives trying to pretend it will all go away.

Well, it won't. Not without your help, ladies and gentlemen. And if you fear being called a Liberal or a "RINO" for your stances - remember, you are being called that by people capable of calling Obama a Communist and a Nazi in the same paragraph. What they really mean is "poopy-head," and all it shows is that they are simply not capable of behaving as functional, responsible adults in public places.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

When did "Asshole" Become a Christian Denomination?

A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.

When I was a boy I was privileged to have a great deal of exposure to a variety of denominational views of Christianity. Well, at the time it seemed more like an imposition. At times, I'm frankly surprised I'm not an atheist. 

But then, Christianity is a simple thing, and it's core tenants so utterly inarguable and self evident, it hardly requires a religious infrastructure. Go read the Beatitudes. And then keep on reading the rest of the Sermon. If you think those exhortations require the threat of hell-fire or agreement on the absolute nature of God and the Afterlife to be believed or followed - I think you have a problem. But many do. Factions and wars have been fought over what was meant, when the thrust of it all is clear enough. "Be excellent unto one another."

I'm perfectly able to believe in the God I know, while being entirely sceptical of the existence of the god anyone else claims to worship. I tend to think that worship gets in the way of any sort of personal relationship, and personally find being placed on a pedestal distinctly un-comfy. I imagine hanging on a cross in someone's mind would impress me rather less, and I would like to do unto my God as I would have Them do unto me. 

Therefore, I am devout disbeliever in religion and a sceptic regarding doctrine; militant in refusing to give undue weight to the Authority of Scripture, if for no other reason than that critical thinkers are better and safer company than people like this. 

"Never let your morality get in the way of doing the right thing."

The more violent the language and sanctions directed toward social and religious dissent, the more reason I have to distain their advice. I've no reason (other than fear of death or torture) to presume they are right and in many cases, if they were actually correct about the god they supposedly exemplify, a sane and sensible reaction would be to seek out the disloyal opposition. (And at one point, that WAS Christianity...)

We have been given some particularly noteworthy examples of attempts at enforcing religion in a way that would most likely make Baby Jesus cry. It's so hard to choose, but here's one, the asinine idea that being prevented from oppressing and verbally assaulting other people is a restriction on the practice of your faith. 

No doubt many devout head-hunters could make exactly the same argument. As, indeed, could the Aztecs - why, if they did not grant the flowery death to captives, the world would end! 

Or how about the church excommunicating a nun, for following the ethical guidelines of her Catholic hospital in granting an therapeutic (eg, life-saving) abortion? What's the message here? She, the mother, doesn't have a right to life? That if she were a faithful Catholic, she would choose to lay down her life on the off chance her child COULD live through the organ failure and death of her mother (and would become catholic in order to cope with that level of guilt?) 

No, wait - we are speaking of a woman being punished for NOT withholding a life-saving procedure from another woman. Being excommunicated for such a cause says more of those making the judgement than the one being judged. Shake the dust from your feet, sister!

I have no problem with you sacrificing your comfort or convenience for your faith. I can even respect the choice to sacrifice your OWN life. Requiring the slightest sacrifice from others, particularly on the part of others your religion vilifies as "unworthy" - well, that's not faith. It's an organized excuse for odious behaviour you would indulge in any case. It doesn't make you a person of faith exercises it in a protected way - it makes you an asshole. And you should lose your job.

Well, anyone who can say that out loud fails to understand society, justice, the social forces that made people settle North America; it further reveals that they cannot possibly comprehend Communism, National Socialism (or fascism in general) and are no doubt rather confused about Christianity. 

Perhaps it's rude to observe that one would have to be paid very well indeed to be willing to say something that obviously foolish in public - but while rude, it's certainly true to observe that Glenn Beck is very well paid indeed.

Being an Asshole is not a religion, nor a faith, nor a doctrine. It's a lifestyle choice, a popular choice of those who are obsessed with the use and supposed misuse of the arses of others. One might say it's a tenant of Christian Fundamentalism. I would say that is a pun so vile that those who don't understand it deserve to have it explained to them. 

But more properly, a tenant from the Sermon on the Mount comes to mind: "Judge not, lest ye be judged also." 

Speak your mind and folks will know what's in it. Demand a standard of behaviour from others at your own risk, for folks will hold you to it. It's such a blinding statement of the obvious that I suppose it can't be said often enough. It's so obvious that entire careers in theology have been devoted to making it seem as if Jesus didn't actually MEAN that.

I was aware by the age of 14 that a choice to belong to any particular Christian religion was to be an heretic by the lights of most others, and certain of none in which the actual teachings of Christ were served unsalted. Meanwhile, the disconnect between what was preached in public and practised in semi-private was so conspicuous, I thought it best to follow Christ's own example, which seems to have been better for me than taking the sort of council that seems to lead one to the very peak of religious accomplishment.

Philosophy and ethics are best discussed in company where the answers are not predigested, much less dictated by those who's moral authority to be considered an authority is at best ambiguous. Those who insist that no dissent can be tolerated probably have greater reason to be personally concerned than might be immediately apparent. 

More to the point, a tavern is a center of community, where beer, pizza and comfortable seating come together. So "Above the Wineshop" it was, and in the company of Whores and Cynics by preference. 

Those whom "good people" are certain are "irredeemable sinners" are generally better at practising tolerance, compassion and charity than the folks you will find in church. This is something of a commonplace observation - indeed, a prudent scepticism regarding the practical virtue of religion pre-dates Christianity by a long chalk, and one of the most noted critics of organized religion - well, that would be Rebbe Jesusa Bar Joseph of Nazareth.

So, it seems to me obvious - if a little oppositional - to follow Christ's example in preferring the Tavern to the Temple.

How to Debunk Age of Autism

Of late, the amazing concentration of stupidity that is the "teabagger" movement has just stunned me with it's ability to gain attention all out of proportion to the merits of the... oh, let's just call it "argument," as I'm a charitable man.

One subgroup of this movement feels (or at least profits from saying that they feel) that there is a conspiracy to restrict the freedom of parents to make informed decisions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations, versus, say, the risk of your child getting mumps or polio.

But then, as a group, they also believe that if you take the word of "science" on Important Matters - like disease, climate change,evolution, or the age of the earth.. you are a gullible chump. This message - by the way - is often brought to you by The Franklin Mint, Amway or the latest system for making thousands of dollars at home, working only minutes a day!

Orac writes:

But wait. Orac's typing hand is twitching over his keyboard. Julie Obradovic at Age of Autism is laying down nine Burning Man-sized straw men about supporters of science-based medicine and vaccines and then setting them on fire with napalm-grade burning stupid.

Well, I WAS looking for a worthy target... so I went over to see what flaming straw men Orac had thought to be worthy of note. As you might expect, the entire thrust of the article was to point out the unholy conflict of interest between the "unscrupulous vaccine makers" and the unholy federal gumment, (they who use the Vaccine Courts against the Helpless Victims of Vaccines.)

I understand why Orac wants to asplode. People who can say things like this aloud with no apparent sense of shame or perception of irony, are like unto an Hydrogen filled Zeppelin to a man with ten rounds of tracer left in his Maxims...

This culture of corruption in the scientific community is not a product of fantasy; it is a sad reality society is becoming increasingly aware of as more and more investigations are launched. Fake medical journals. Phony research. We hear about this everyday.
Sadly, yes. They know Andrew Wakefield personally.

Despite involving just a dozen children, the 1998 paper’s impact was extraordinary. After its publication, rates of inoculation fell from 92% to below 80%. Populations acquire “herd immunity” from measles when more than 95% of people have been vaccinated.
Last week official figures showed that 1,348 confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales were reported last year, compared with 56 in 1998. Two children have died of the disease.
So you see, this is a case where a reliable way of discerning the truth matters. A lot.

I started to consider what I was about to say - when my eye was drawn to the banner just below the header..

Now, far be it from me to suggest that advertising is bad or that commercial associations are inherently improper. Speech is free - but bandwidth is not. It's entirely reasonable for any group to seek sponsorship, and they their right to associate with people, ideas and products that support their own ideals is entirely proper.

Just as you and I are free to draw conclusions as to why those associations exist.

I would say that ...and I put this as dryly and neutrally as I can... the advertisers at AoA feel that the audience it attracts are likely to reject any idea or assertion that has any dangerous science cooties on it...

Oh damn. Let me try again...

It will appeal to those who value a firm, authoritative assertion of Truth over "evidence-based approaches" that Liberal Atheists are trying to Force on our Chil.... damn, that's not working out well, either.

However - when I go to the major sponsor of AoA and find that they are marketing a "supplement" with ingredients I have never heard of to the parents of Autistics, based on the discredited idea that autism IS heavy metal poisoning ... and the page features testimonials as to the effectiveness, rather than links to the studies establishing how and why this expensive patent nostrum should be introduced to any child's precious bodily fluids... 

All I can say is that P.T. Barnum would be embarrassed. He took pride in the craft of separating the gullible from their cash. 

There is a point beyond which routine skepticism need not go. Before I even examine an argument for or against any idea that may cost me money, I want to know if the self-styled merchant of truth happens to be working entirely on commission.

AoA is clearly seen as a good place to advertise by folks who tout "cures" of unsubstantiated benefit.  AoA profits directly by this. It's really quite remarkable to damn near blend one's header with a product banner. Speaking as someone who's worked in print journalism on both the editorial and advertising sides -

It's reasonable for me to presume they would have no particular motive for telling me anything that would have negative impacts upon them. This is advice that applies to Fox News, Time Magazine, Orac and me. This is what the entire idea of "conflict of interest" is about. I'm unlikely to tell you something that will take money out of my pocket.

But, you see, the people at AoA have clearly dismissed all tools of critical thought, to the extent that it never once occurred to anyone over there to wonder how it might look to host a rant about the "Obvious Conflict of Interest" of the federal government  under a banner for a compounding pharmacy.

It's sad and it's ridiculous. It's tragic that takes time, money and attention away from autistics - but sadly, the people persuaded by AoA that they are shrewder than people who believe in all that "atheist science" are natural marks, and the real tragedy is that some of them have children at all.

Not that I'm saying that AoA believers are bad parents. Nope. I am saying, however that those parents likely to believe AoA have a definite challenge that makes it difficult for them to be good parents.

Perhaps someone should start a support group.


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