An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Posts tagged ‘Government’

The Massive Shift in Social Interaction

Now, brilliant psychologists a thousand times smarter than this columnist have and probably are writing books about how the psychological world and social interaction has changed because of sites like Facebook, but honestly, their books will be dry and boring and few people will care to read them.  This is going to keep it simple, and hopefully be more enjoyable.

Facebook changed everything.  Despite how factually inaccurate the film was, The Social Network did get one thing right – this was a once-in-a-generation “holy shit idea.”  This idea changed things forever and for always.  It has changed the entire face of social interaction with people.  Even as I write this, my Facebook page is open in another tab, telling me what is going on with my friends.

There isn’t much of any college students in America right now, or teenagers, or adults, who are without a Facebook page, and I think it’s a safe bet that you just leave it on while you look at other pages like YouTube or any other sites.  It is amazing how much we have incorporated Facebook into our lives.  It is like the constant connection to your social life.

Think about this: you leave it on why?  To get information about your friends, or strike up a quick conversation, or put up pictures of what you and your friends have done and see what the response is.  The same things that we used to do with phones, visiting people’s homes, and email (back when people actually checked that).

It truly is remarkable just how far that humanity has come within such a short time.  The last 12 years have seen a massive paradigm shift in human interaction and cultural behavior.  This kind of thing used to take place within 100 or dozens of years.  Now, within the space of just 12, we have completely changed how we interact with our fellow human being.

But more than that, this also ties into the fact that everything is becoming digital.  Truly, this is the greatest time to live.  Say what you want about the fact that America’s culture is dying, but the fact is that life has never been as wondrous as it is right now.  Where once people had to travel across great oceans to see what was happening in Britain or Japan, we can now link up webcams and talk to people thousands of miles away.  Video of a person’s adventures can be loaded up and streamed quickly, giving the rest of their friends the chance to see what is going on with the click of a button.  Of course, it will never be as good as going and taking part yourself in these kinds of things, but it does bring us closer together as a species.

Granted, there are problems to this.  For those like myself, chatting online does feel horribly impersonal, not really connecting to the person in a very deep level, but that is a small price to pay for how much progress our species has made.  The internet brought us the world in a way that nobody ever thought before.  It’s so ironic that the government is just now trying to get bills like SOPA, PIPA, or their latest incarnations, ACTA and CISPA to bring the power of the internet to a halt.  It is ten years too late for that.  Sites like Facebook have made the internet something that not only controls business in this country, but has become an integral part of the social contract of the human race.  This government, nor any other, will ever be able to reign it in.  There was a time when it could have been done, but not anymore.

Another great thing about the social sites is that they bring the world of knowledge ever-closer as well.  When a story gets out about something big, it is viral in a second.  Within the span of an hour, there can be a massive viral video that changes how we look at an issue or another person.  Videos like the ones with the police brutalizing the Occupy protestors.  TV-esque networks are even trying to tap into this, like the new network on YouTube, WIGS.  They are making a series of videos on YouTube, much like a TV show.  The idea is ambitious, and although they aren’t getting the views I’m sure they wished, it still shows how much power the internet has over this world.

The government is going to have to come to terms with the fact that the internet is beyond them now.  It is more powerful than any government, or any force.  If they pass something like SOPA someday, there will immediately be a group of hackers who will work to bring us what they don’t want us to have.  Just the way that Prohibition didn’t work, and the drug war isn’t working now.

The world of social interaction has changed, for better and for always.  People will complain about how this is wrong or whatever, but the fact is that they don’t seem to realize that the truth is that what has happened with these sites is that they have linked the world in a way that has never happened before, and never will happen again.

It is an amazing time to be alive.  For sure.

Florida, as well as America, Wants Stupid Kids

Americans should feel ashamed, and the sad fact is that most of them probably have no idea about this.  The Florida Board of Education has recently made a decision to dramatically lower the standards on the writing exams that they give 4th, 8th and 10th grade students at public schools.  This comes on the heels of their last test periods showing dramatic failure of the writing portions.  Among the cited reasons from educators as to why this happened is because these tests now count punctuation and spelling, but hadn’t done so before.

First, a test administered to 10th grade students didn’t test punctuation and spelling?  The levels of failure for such a fact are so ridiculous.  The fact that our education standards are so low is appalling.  This country’s education system is a joke to the rest of the world, as it should be.  The students are not held to anywhere near an appropriate standard.

One of the first problems is that we think that a test is going to tell us what we need to know about a student.  Florida is a perfect example of how that is wrong.  Gauging the success of schools and students solely by what we think is a “one size fits all” test is beyond ridiculous.

A lot of people will blame the teachers for this failure, which is totally unfounded.  Teachers at public schools in this country are among the most underappreciated groups of people in this country.  There was a great sign at a rally talking about how much work a public teacher puts into their job for which they get no respect.

If teacher just worked and 8 hr. day, your student would get:
NO graded papers
NO letters of recommendation
NO tutoring
NO school plays
Fewer coaches
NO IEP
NO concerts
NO parent emails, online grades; H.W.

And that’s the absolute truth of the matter.  Teachers are working very hard to do a job for which they won’t get any respect.  The failure of this lowering of standards falls many places.  The first is the parents.  Parents in this country hardly ever hold their children up to any standard.  It all starts at home. A kid who feels like their parent supports them will work harder at school.  The next is the education system.  Teachers aren’t able to teach to their own style, aren’t able to put learning above testing, so instead of getting integrated places where knowledge can be gained, we have teachers teaching to tests and students who clearly don’t understand how those tests work not able to get it.

When one looks at this issue, along with the fact that the educators in this country are treated like America’s dog, it is becoming increasingly clear that no solution for ground-up reformation of this country’s education system is ever forthcoming.  It will be just another issue that we can chalk up to a bureaucratic mess that will never be solved.

America is a nation which is failing, consistently.  Our infrastructure is falling apart.  We don’t have universal health care.  There is a war on drugs that has made America famous for having 25% of the entire world’s prison population.  We are spending more on our military than any other nation combined, along with being involved in pointless wars that are giant iron balls around the ankles of America’s economy.

This is another issue which is such a gimmie, such an easy thing to grab, but this country won’t do that.  It is so pathetic how this country’s government can’t even do this.  But as Cenk was saying on The Young Turks, this is a macro problem.  The culture doesn’t demand execellence.  The culture of this country is accepting of stupidity, accepting of failure, accepting of the worthlessness of the people in it.

Once again, as George Carlin put it –

Garbage in, garbage out.

America, our youth are getting stupider, and we are falling further and further behind the rest of the industrialized world.  Do you even care?

Probably not.  So You Think You Can Dance is on.

The Question of Morality

There was a question that was posed by a public figure who isn’t known as a great intellectual, and yet he has some very poignant message about the way things are in the world.  His name is TJ Kincaid, also known on YouTube as The Amazing Atheist.  In a video on Bing, he posed a question –

If morality controls human behavior, then who, or what controls human morality?

While he furnishes his own answer, I thought that, while it is late and I am unable to sleep, I would write up what I believe to be the answer to that question.

The first thing that one has to accept when they are looking at this question is that morality is a human invention.  There will be those that argue for absolute morals.  If that is to be taken seriously, then the question comes – where did those morals come from?  Many will respond to this – God.  He created the world, and gave us this moral code.  However, this cannot be taken seriously.

There is no evidence for the existence of God, and if something cannot be proven to exist, saying that we must follow a code that is by it, and even more disturbingly, unchanging is absolutely false.  To do so is madness, in every sense of the word.

The reasons why are obvious.  What if the religious figure which you get your morals from is not the real deity?  What if it is something completely different?  If that is the case, then you are deliberately disobeying that absolute morals that you claim to cherish.

The next is that the fact is that the predominate source that Christians claim to be the source of their morality, the Christian God, has a holy book that is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions.  To obey such a text, absolutely to the letter, is not only impossible, but completely ridiculous.

The final reason is that to obey any set of principles, absolutely, without change or even the ability to discuss change, is nothing more than a way to be manipulated.  A moral code of any kind must be flexible, it must be open to change.  It must be willing to accept that there may be issues that one can take with it, and willing to change to accomodate that, along with changing social values.

According to the Bible, slavery was not only acceptable, it was encouraged.  God encouraged his various armies to take their slain enemies families and cities as their slaves.  He made rules about how much a master could punish their slaves.

The bible had a lenient punishment for rape, and virtually no punishment for murder.  While The Ten Commandments stated that murder was wrong, this didn’t stop those from murdering others in the name of God, did it?  Not only that, but God, on numerous incidents, commanded his followers to murder, telling his armies to kill the girls and women who were not virgins, and to tear open the bellies of pregnant women.

So, by that logic, the absolute moral code that is given to us by religion is a farce.  But if that is the case, then where can morality come from?  This brings us back to the question at hand, who controls morality?  Well, take a look at the previous statements about religion, and how it works.

Back before the days when literacy was high, the Bible was taught to the people by priests and preachers.  The growth of education and the growth of skepticism has led to the increas in the atheist population, because reading these books and judging them on their own merits naturally leads to questioning the absolute system they are taught.  However, these religious leaders are giving people the system as they believe it to be from their holy book.  These people have power over their congregations and give them the values that they have.

Next up, we have governmental systems.  The laws that we make are secular in nature, designed to be fair to all parties, while still using a metric that is within the purview of people’s understanding, such as how killing and rape is wrong, and should be severely punished.

There is a pattern that you are seeing with these systems, aren’t you?  The people in power.  The religious leaders have power over their congregations.  They are informing their congregations of the values of the book that they are teaching, since it has been shown that most Christians are unfamiliar with the bulk of what is in their Bible.  Likewise, the people in government have power over the entire nations.  This power gives them the ability to dictate the morality of a nation.

Take Sparta, for example.  In the ancient city-state, there was the belief that kindness was weakness, and to show any kindness took away some of your honor.  In the Hindu-guided states, if you were suffering, it was your fault, for what you did in a past life.  There are parts of culture, even here in America that encourage hate, seperation, bigotry and being divided.  This tactic has been used by the powerful to keep the lower-classes in line.

So, where do morals come from?  Well, the answer is simple – they are a tool that is used by the powerful to control those without power, or those who are ignorant of their power.  Moral systems are simply a device that is to keep order in a society.  But what of morality?  How do we know that things are right and wrong?  How do atheists like myself know that killing people is inherantly the wrong thing to do?

The answer is empathy.  Those have this knowledge within them based on their ability to empathize with other people.  Through that, the real natural morality is born.  Perhaps, when we abandon these systems that we are taught and embrace empathy, then real progress of acceptance and kindness between people can be born, away from the systems that drive us apart, and teach division, rather than working together.

Of course, given how gullible people are, probably not.

Peace out,

Lefty

Is Anonymous as Bad as the Government?

There is a line or reasoning that you see in the comments section of YouTube videos that the group Anonymous puts up.  They are a group who randomly accosts groups of people who they perceive as acting injustly.  To date, their actions seem to be keeping with a good standard, not just striking the defenseless.  They have gone after Scientologists groups whose crimes are no well-documented.  They have gone after this government for disabling internet, something that our own government attacked Egypt for doing.  They have also attacked the government itself, after the failure of SOPA and PIPA to pass did nothing to stop them from getting rid of MegaUpload.

However, many people now seem to be of the mindset that Anonymous is as bad as the government and corporate forces that they attack.  This is an interesting theory, for many reason.  Let’s compare the actions of Anonymous and the government, to see which is the more malicious.

1. The government passed The Patriot Act, which has effectively destroyed the Fourth Amendment, and made the government be able to wire-tap any phone or computer they want, without the user’s permission.
Anonymous has leaked the personal information of people who it views as unjust.  In many instances, this doesn’t seem out of bounds because these people, like the police officers who brutalized Occupy protestors, have done reprehensible things, and seem to not be taken to task for it.

2. The government created a bill that would allow them to censor the internet, but when it didn’t pass, they simply disabled a site anyway.  It is abundantly clear that they didn’t seem to care that this didn’t pass.  They had every intention of acting anyway.
Anonymous has disabled sites, but only after the people have acted in what they perceive as wrong, and their reasons are justified.  They are not destroying countless pieces of information, like the government did when they got rid of MegaUpload.  Gigabytes of data, completely destroyed in a micro-second.  The government and the corporations were only bothered, and for a brief amount of time.

3. The government has put an American citizen (Bradley Manning) in prison, for over a year, without charge or trial.  The trial that they did have was a show-trial, and everybody who cared and saw this knew it.
Anonymous has done nothing of the sort.  They have leaked information, and made a lot of people look really bad, but nobody has gotten hurt from their actions, despite what Fox News will say about how dangerous these people are.

4. The government has an army of people who have been brutally quashing the peaceful protests of people who are trying to exercise their First Amendment rights to have a redress of grievances.  They have put innocent people in the hospital, like the Iraq veteran who they shot in the head with a canister, and who now has problems speaking.
Anonymous has explicitly said that they do not endorse violence.  They have come firmly out and said that all protests should be peaceful, and that violence cannot solve anything.  Disagree with that point, but they have never endorses violent behavior.

5. NDAA is a new bill that has stipulations that allow American citizens to be hauled off to jail, indefinitely, without trial or charge, and also allows them to be tortured.  All they have to be is viewed as “terror suspects.”
Anonymous has never even come close to doing something of that nature.  They are online hackers, not a bureaucracy that will attack and now can indefinitely imprison its citizens, along with torture them.

When you look at the facts, it’s pretty clear.  Anonymous is a group who is acting in the interests of what they believe to be right.  If you believe that they are wrong, that’s fine.  However, to say that their actions are just as bad as the governments and corporate entities that they are fighting is a compete falsehood.

It’s good to argue about the things that matter to people.  Debate means that people are thinking.  But don’t go saying that this group is just as bad as a group that has clearly shown itself to be the more nefarious.

Peace out,

Lefty

Can our government please grow up?

There is a story in the news right now about a girl named Jessica Ahlquist.  She is a 16 year old high school student in Rhode Island.  She joined with the ACLU and got a prayer banner removed from her high school.  She did this amidst endless amount of bullying, taunts and threats from not only students, but parents too.  She’s a brave kid, standing up for the Constitution.  But the really sad part is that Ahlquist has been getting flak not just from her high school, but also from people in government.

No joke, a Representative from Rhode Island was quoted saying that Ahlquist is “an evil little thing.”  He went on to say “she is being coerced by evil people.”  The idea is that all atheists are evil, or at least the ones who endorse the idea of keeping a public school from endorsing religion.

When will our government grow up?  Can we please have a moment where people who lead this nation don’t appear to be angry children?  Between all the bigotry coming out of Rick Santorum’s mouth, and all the insanity from Rick Perry, it is getting so hard to see where the grown-ups are.  We need a grown-ups right now.  America needs some adults to be in the room and actually lead this country, rather than do their usual routine of blaming other people for what is wrong.

That’s all.  It’s a short post, but it needed to be said.  America, we need some grown-ups to run for office.  Any ideas?

Peace out,

Lefty

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