Monday, June 30, 2008

FSM Has Pride

Check out this awesome photo I saw on the Pervocracy blog of the Seattle Pride Parade:



Yarrr!

Morning sickness isn't a curse from God, after all.

There is an interesting post up over on "Greg Laden's Blog".

Basically, there is data that backs up the hypothesis that morning sickness in women is not just God cursing us with hormones. Instead it may be an adaptive trait that keeps women from eating the plants and meats that would be dangerous to the fetus during the delicate stage of organ formation.

There is even evidence that more intense morning sickness is correlated with fewer spontaneous abortions. This would show that there really may be toxins in the food morning sickness was keeping out.

It is always nice to hear that the craziness of the human body is not just chaos theory messing with the weaker sex, or God being pissy since Eve took an apple. There are reasons behind the random tortures of being female. We just haven't figure them all out yet.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

#1 Song Derogatory to Lesbian, Bisexual Women

The number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart this week is a song that seems like it would be a step in the right direction for the LGBT community. "I Kissed A Girl" by female solo artist Katy Perry, however, is extremely derogatory to lesbian and bisexual women.

Let me just go right into the lyrics to explain.

VERSE ONE:
This was never the way I planned
Not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand
Lost my discretion

So, the only way a woman should even consider kissing another woman is if it the thoughts are brought on by alcohol. She "lost her discretion", implying that, had she been sober, she never would have even considered these crazy thoughts.

PRECHORUS:
It's not what, I'm used to
Just wanna try you on
I'm curious for you
Caught my attention

Nothing specifically wrong with this. In context, though, it's saying it's odd, thinking about kissing a girl.

CHORUS:
I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
I liked it

So the chorus. She does like it, that's a plus. But she states, again, that she's just trying it. This is a one time thing. She's definitely heterosexual. She thinks of her boyfriend while it's all happening. It felt wrong and right, leading the listener to believe that this is a particularly odd happening. She, again, makes sure to drive home the point that she's not in love, that's out of the questions.

VERSE 2:
No, I don't even know your name
It doesn't matter
You're my experimental game
Just human nature

Again, just an experiment. This isn't normal. I'm just checking it out.

PRECHORUS 2:
It's not what, good girls do
Not how they should behave
My head gets so confused
Hard to obey

This is the worst, I think. "It's not what good girls do." Do I really have to say anything about this section? She's blatantly knocking down lesbian behavior, saying it's not normal in any way.

BRIDGE:
Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist so touchable
Too good to deny it
Ain't no big deal, it's innocent

Here we stereotype women. Soft, red lips, blah blah. And again demeans the act by saying it's not serious, just innocent. She doesn't mean anything by it.


So we make leaps forward through California's lift of the gay marriage ban, and only a few weeks later, somehow this song flies to the top of the charts. Just what we need to keep the tolerance train rolling along.

*Side note: it seems Ms. Perry used to be a Christian singer by a different name. Check out the story here.

Blogologue Update!

Susan has sent me a response in our bogologue on socialism and free markets. It's up over at the original blogologue post.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

George Carlin's last interview.

Jay Dixit, a senior editor of Psychology Today, recently posted the last in-depth interview with George Carlin.

I just read through the interview, and it is certainly worth your time. Even Carlin, near the end, says "I really appreciate all the thought you’ve put into all these questions. Really, it’s the most complete interview I’ve ever done."

Take your time, read through it. Carlin was a great man, and his insight and crude take on the world will be missed.

Science Rocks

You know you are a science nerd at heart if this video gives you cold chills:



Science nerds for teh winz!!

Springfield, MO FAIL

Recognize this intersection?

It's Glenstone & Primrose in Springfield.



I would like to note that I did not take this photo, just found it on FAILblog, which is the funniest thing ever.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Blogologue with Susan Shelly on Socialism

Today I stumbled upon a post by an author named Susan Shelly on a blog called America Wants to Know that I disagreed with. The post concerned Barack Obama, but I was really more interested in her thoughts on socialism. Now, I'm an American, and as any Red-Blooded American would, I decided to engage her in a friendly blogologue regarding socialism.

As usual, I'll update this, post-by-post.
I'll also use positive-yet-readable colors. I'll go ahead and take blue, and let Susan have green, unless she has any qualms with that.
The only thing I've changed is HTML formatting links, and a tiny formatting thing ("---") on mine for clarity.

---

Dear Mrs. Shelly,

My name is Ryan Culbertson-Faegre. I am a 19 year old Junior at Missouri State University.

I, and a group of other bloggers, host a group blog entitled Teh Juggernauts.

I recently stumbled upon your post titled "Barack Obama Explains Socialism," in which you explain, in brief, your beliefs regarding the injustice of socialism.

I would like to have a calm, rational, give-and-take discussion regarding the merits of socialism. I would like this discussion to be posted on my blog, and, if you want, your blog. I would like this discussion to not be an argument, but rather a sharing of ideas, and an adoption of the better ideas. Certainly, if you can display why socialism is unjust, I will feel an intellectual obligation to alter my views.

If you are interested, I can send you a brief outline of the version of socialism that I would like to defend, explain why I believe that it is just, and then answer any criticisms of it.

Thank you for your time.

-Ryan Culbertson-Faegre

---

Hi, Ryan,

Thank you so much for the note. I'd be honored. There's nothing I enjoy more than a calm, rational, give-and-take discussion.

Well, almost nothing.

I'd be very interested to read an outline of the version of socialism you describe, along with your defense of it. Send it to me at your convenience and I'll answer you point-by-point as best I can. I think it's great that you're open to changing your mind.

Thanks again.

Susan

---

Susan,

I am glad to hear that you are interested in discussing this topic with me. I firmly believe that if more people were willing to sit down and reason through their differences, instead of engaging in stereotyping and name-calling, we'd live in a much better world.
Thank you.
I want to emphasize, once more, that I really am willing to change my opinions. That's not a talking point. I've been contemplating democracy, socialism, and free trade heavily for a few years, and only during the last semester have a begun to think that a society based around a certain level of socialization could be a solution to the problems that I see in the world.

Without further ado...


Let's begin by outlining the major advantages of the Free Market System, which emerges from Capitalism.
First, the Free Market System is an economic system that states that a worker may sell their service to the highest bidder. This is to ensure fair wages, guaranteed by the natural supply/demand of the labor market.
For an example of the labor market I am referring to, let's say I'm a plumber. If Joe's Plumbing and ACME PlumbCo both want my labor, they have to compete. If Joe's Plumbing can offer me $12.00 an hour, ACME PlumbCo will have to pay me more if they want to secure my labor. This ensures that I, as a worker, receive the highest wages possible.

In the same way, the Free Market System grants consumers the ability to choose which goods and services they consume. In this way, the Free Market System is supposed to be a tradeoff between product innovation (guaranteed by economic evolution) and fair wages (guaranteed by the natural supply/demand of the labor market.
For example, if I don't like the truck that Chevrolet manufactures, I can easily purchase a Ford truck. This leads to competition, which is good for the consumer.

Finally, the Free Market System rewards those who innovate and pay fair wages. If I make a better, less expensive truck than both Ford and Chevy, or if I pay my plumbers more, I will become economically successful. By rewarding me, we, as a society, do what's best for the good of all of us. After all, who doesn't want a better truck, or to make more money?

At least, that's the theory. The problem is, this Free Market System that emerges from Capitalism doesn't work on a large scale. What we end up with is a wildly out of control and deadly system.

First, an increase in the number of workers and a decrease in the number of jobs leads to a workforce that's unemployed, underemployed, or scrambling for work at any wage. This upsets the balance that is supposed to be maintained by the Free Market System.
Another thing that offsets the careful balance between labor and employer is the obscene wealth difference. Imagine, for instance, that I have a job working for WalDonalds, a delicious hamburger vendor. I am only making $6.00 an hour, which is barely enough to eek out a living for myself, let alone to support a small family. If I decide to strike, not only will I be replaced instantly, but my employer can maintain their business a lot longer than I can survive without food, housing, or other basic necessities.
With the invention of the technologies that allow long-distance travel, such as planes, trains, and automobiles, this situation has been exacerbated. While workers are still required, they are now a decentralized commodity. For example, the union cuts that we've experienced over the last few decades coincide with massive outsourcing to Mexico and other impoverished nations. If unions make a hard stand here in America, or even refuse concessions in their contracts, they are subject to the same outsourcing.
While some say that higher education is the way to end this widespread poverty, like Lyndon B. Johnson did, this is simply a non-sequitur on a large scale. Even if everyone in the United States had a doctorate, someone would still need to pump gas, flip burgers, clean houses, and do other mundane work.

Let's discuss products, next. The Free Market concept that ensures us great products due to competition for consumer spending has been eroding almost since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
Price-fixing between competitors ensures that wages and product pricing never surpass a certain point.
Mergers between previously established, massive corporations ensure that the competition reduces itself. For example, if Exxon and Shell merge, what is the American consumer to do? Start his own oil drilling/refining/distribution service? In reality, it's nearly impossible. While competition brings us "advances" in plenty of entertainment services and products, this advancement and pricing competition rarely reaches necessities, such as food, healthcare, and housing.
Finally, monopolization allows some companies to sell their products for whatever they wish. While monopolization is illegal in America, that doesn't do much to stop it. The results can be (and have been) deadly in many industries, such as the pharmaceutical industry.

Our American political system is also plagued with corruption because of large, influential corporations who buy out politicians through lobbyists. In fact, lobbyism has run rampant in the American political system since its inception. The government, designed of, by, and for We the People now acts largely as an influence for the largest and most powerful corporations.

There are defenses of the Free Market System. The most prevalent of the ideas not listed at the beginning of this article is the idea of personal property.
I've often heard the lemonade stand example used to defend this idea. It usually goes something like this: just as we shouldn't take away a child's lemonade stand money that he earned fair and square, we shouldn't take away the profits of the people who run companies.
Let's return to this in a moment. First, however, let us dissect a hypothetical situation.
While most of us will readily agree that human beings are entitled to their personal property, we will almost all agree that there are limits. For example, let's say that my neighbor has a comic book. This harms nobody, and he's got just as much right as anyone to it. It's his property. To contrast this, let's say that my neighbor has weapons grade plutonium. Suddenly, as most people will agree, we've got a potentially world-ending situation on our hands. Most reasonable people will agree that we have, if not a right, then an interest in taking away somebody's personal property. Hence America's Iran/North Korea worries.
So how does this relate to the lemonade stand? Well, we'll generally agree that there are limits to somebody's personal property, and when they effect the lives of innocent people, they should be carefully regulated. That's why nobody's lobbying for decriminalizing the possession of weapons grade plutonium.
So, similarly, if we have a society built around a certain production and distribution system of vital resources, where the abuse of this system could mean the end of lives, we have a right, as a people, to demand control of this system.

Here it must be established that I am not talking about a bureaucratic, overzealous, controlling, Chinalike government. I believe that capitalism works wonders in the private commodity sector, and should be encouraged.
However, I believe that it is necessary that we, as a government derived from the people, begin to buy out or nationalize vital means of production, and provide our people with healthy, quality, and necessary food, housing, and clothing, fuel, vehicles, and jobs.
While there are certainly a few obstacles in the way, I do not see any other feasible option.

---

Hi, Ryan,

Thanks for sending your interesting analysis.

It's an excellent illustration of how an intelligent mind can reach a wrong conclusion by beginning with false premises.

Your first false premise is your characterization of the "Free Market System" as something that was designed to achieve specific goals "for the good of all of us." You use phrases like "to ensure" and "is supposed to be," as if free-market capitalism was a product that was not living up to its ad copy and ought to be returned for a refund.

In fact, free-market capitalism wasn't designed by anybody. Capitalism is the economic system that results when the government has very limited power to take your property and restrict your movements.

Free-market capitalism is the economic system of a free country.

Your unspoken assumption, and second false premise, is that the United States government has the power to decide how much freedom individuals ought to have in order to advance society's goals.

Actually, that's backwards.

We are not a society headed up by a government with the power to grant freedom to individuals.

We are individuals who have granted some power to a government in order to establish a society.

The United States didn't exist until the people, through their state governments, formally agreed to delegate some powers to a new national government, which would co-exist with the state governments.

Some powers. And not others.

Freedom is not a privilege bestowed by government. Freedom is a condition that exists under a government of limited power.

Many people misunderstand the idea of freedom and think it means the absolute right to do anything, anywhere, anytime. On this mistaken premise, all government actions are the same. If the government can force people to obey a speed limit, then it can also take one of a family's three cars and give it to a family that doesn't have a car at all. And if it doesn't, it must be because the government doesn't care enough about the poor. Or because lobbyists have undue influence. Or for some other nefarious reason.

This is your third false premise.

Freedom doesn't mean the absolute right to do anything, anywhere, anytime. It means the federal government has specific powers that it cannot exceed, and you have specific rights that the government cannot infringe.

The federal government's powers and your rights are spelled out in a Constitution, which all federal officials take an oath to uphold. Officials who don't live up to their oath can be impeached by Congress or expelled from the House and Senate. The Constitution isn't just rhetoric, like the Declaration of Independence. It's a legal document representing the consent of the governed.

Nowhere in the Constitution does it say the federal government will provide food, or education, or housing, or jobs, or clothes, or heat, or economic equality.

Although you wouldn't know it to listen to politicians on the campaign trail, the federal government does not have the responsibility or the power to level out the distribution of wealth in the United States.

That's because the Constitution protects what its framers called the "fundamental rights" of free men: life, liberty and property.

And when you do that, you get free-market capitalism.

So your fourth false premise is that it's possible for a free country to nationalize the "vital means of production" while remaining a free country and avoiding "a bureaucratic, overzealous, controlling, China-like government."

Rather than cite a list of all the failed socialist experiments of the past, I'd like to illustrate why socialism, or any kind of collectivism, always and inevitably fails to deliver on its glowing promises of shared prosperity.

For this exercise, it's necessary to leave the clean and orderly world of academic theory, where people are just so many faceless crash dummies sitting passively behind the wheel, and put yourself in the shoes of a person living in a collectivist-socialist society.

You work, the state takes all your earnings, and you are guaranteed everything you need in life for free.

How hard are you going to work?

Are you even going to show up for work?

Tell the truth, if you were guaranteed the same level of support whether you worked or you didn't, would you ever set an alarm clock? Would anybody?

It's day one of our collectivist-socialist experiment, and already the crash dummies are getting out of the cars.

Production requires effort, and effort requires motivation. Businesses and factories and goods and services don't just spring up under the feet of whoever is lucky enough to be standing there at the time.

In a free country, where property rights are protected, you can build and invest and farm and study and innovate, secure in the knowledge that when your efforts finally pay off, you will get the rewards.

In a collectivist-socialist country, with no financial motivation for long-term thinking and hard work, it's human nature to do the minimum necessary to avoid unpleasant consequences.

Fortunately for governments with unlimited power, unpleasant consequences are no problem.

I could give you examples, but I'll credit your intelligence.

Yet no matter how repressive the government becomes in its effort to force production, the economy of a collectivist society gradually becomes stagnant. You can't force people to think of new ideas and better ways to do things. Perhaps in theory a government-owned enterprise can be efficient; in practice, a government-owned enterprise is run by people with absolute power, and we all know how that works out.

Eventually, the society that kicked off with a promise of prosperity for all finds that there isn't enough to go around.

If you want to live in a country that enforces a one-child policy, there's your road map.

The fundamental error of collectivism is the premise that the quantity of goods in a nation is fixed and therefore it is appropriate for the government to divide it up equitably.

In fact, there are no limits to what can be produced when people have the freedom to do what they want to do and enjoy the rewards of it. Production in a free economy even generates enough of a surplus to support, through the tax code, a modest welfare state.

But it is a mistake to believe that taxes can be raised endlessly on productive people in the name of fairness. There will always come a point when the crash dummies get out of the cars.

Ryan, I'd like to thank you again for writing to me and giving me the opportunity to change your mind about socialism. I hope I've succeeded, and if I haven't succeeded, I hope you don't run for office.

Best wishes,

Susan Shelley
AmericaWantsToKnow.com

---

Susan,
I was happy to receive your response. I'll try to clear up my propositions, and see if we can reconcile our beliefs regarding the morality and effectiveness of free market systems versus socialist systems.

First, I'm afraid that I haven't adequately explained the economic system that I'm proposing. As I've tried to explain, I'm not discussing a repressive Communist society. I don't believe that you can base a society around the concept of honor-based work. That's sort of retarded. I mean, come on, if I'm working at some necessary-but-bland job, like pumping gas or flipping burgers, I'm not going to want to come in unless I have incentive. So what I'm proposing is not Communism. It is distinct, in that I'm endorsing government ownership of a few key properties, and a guaranteed standard of living for all full-time working citizens.
Think of it as a continuation of the current American government. For example, in America, we have a public education system. While it has its flaws, most people will agree that you get out of it what you want. Most college students graduate from public schools.
In America's public education system, we're not asking teachers to come to school and teach for free. We offer them a government-paid salary, as crummy as it is.

I hope I'm beginning to demonstrate how this economic system seems viable. After all, America's doing okay.
The thing is, this extends past America's school systems. Look at the Post Office, for example. It's government owned and operated. It's cheap, standardized, and affordable. We pay postal workers pretty well, they show up, and we end up with a pretty good system.
For another example, look at the healthcare in most developed nations. It's socialized, and it seems to work fine. While some people argue that healthcare is better here, we need only look to worldwide rankings done by international medical boards to see that, clearly, this doesn't seem to be the case. Look at the World Health Organization's ranking, for example (http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html). We're 37th, between Costa Rica and Slovenia.

Further, I'm not suggesting that people have their personal property taken away in order to equalize people's wealth. Nobody's giving up cars, or horses, or lemons, or anything like that. Instead, I'm suggesting that we tax the ultrawealthy corporations that run America in order to give the workers -their workers- the benefits necessary to survive.

Let's forget all that for now, though. I want to discuss the morality behind socialism, since it seems to make sense from the perspective of the citizens of a society.

You don't seem to defend the poverty that results from the free market system, and I don't suppose you'll persecute many of America's equalizing advancements, such as the public school system, any more than I would support something as ridiculous as the notion of pure communism.
Instead, I believe that we now have to turn to government's role in peoples' lives.
Now, I'm not one to support big government. I believe that government, at both the Federal and State levels, should leave consenting adults alone to do whatever they fancy on their personal property. I also believe that without the right to keep and bear arms, we are at the mercy of the government (a most unhealthy position).
However, I disagree about the roles that government should play in shaping society.
I've already provided you with the uranium example. Amost nobody will agree that a man should be able to keep weapons-grade plutonium on his personal property. Why? Because it could cause harm to others. It is society's right to take that plutonium away from that man.
Similarly, almost everybody will agree that the government has some right to protect the people from pollutants. I'm not allowed to dump toxic waste on my property, for example, because it could endanger my neighbor's personal safety.
So, obviously, there are some cases where the government is justified in revoking rights to personal property. We, as citizens, need to keep a close reign on government and make sure we maintain our rights, while still making sure that government serves us. Since it seems like a lot of of pain and suffering is caused by this false idea of unerring personal property, perhaps we should consider other justifications or systems before we settle into the (apparently) most destructive one.

In America, a lot of people are born into poverty. While it may seem like a land of opportunity to anyone with a little money, the vast majority of people who are born poor die poor, just like most people who are born rich die rich. The current economic system allows the rich to exploit the poor. If the poor don't like it, they can starve. This has only changed a little bit recently, and only through "socialist" laws . Does protecting the workers' economic freedom, the so called "Freedom from want," seem just to you?

Would you be open to the idea that, since we, as a society, allow the radically wealthy to profit off of the people, we, as a society, have the right to take some of that back in order to provide for the common good? I mean, if we can keep immigrants out, 'cause it's our land, then shouldn't we be able to keep the people profiting off of us off of our land? What are your thoughts on that?

Finally, suppose the government set up its own self-sustaining system that competed with free market industry. Say, for example, that it bought and sold oil at something close to cost, and outbid the oil companies. Would this situation bother you, if it was completely government owned and operated?

Susan, the thing is, I'd like to explore all of the options before I jump into supporting a system that is clearly more harmful than the alternatives. It seems difficult to justify such a system, so I hope that I've clarified my feelings on the matter, and possible concessions that could be made. I know that we're both good people, and I'm glad we're working together to figure out the best way to manage society.

-Ryan Culbertson-Faegre

---

Oh, Ryan.

Do you really want to defend the idea of government-owned enterprise by citing the examples of the public schools and the post office?

I'm going to leave that alone, except to say that when you run for office, you should probably take that line out of your stump speech.

I'll address your main point, which seems to be that it is possible have a free country in which the government owns "a few key properties" and provides "a guaranteed standard of living for all full-time working citizens."

That does sound peachy.

Who could be against a guaranteed standard of living for all full-time working citizens?

Well, maybe the people who have been laid off from their jobs. You couldn't very well discriminate against people who were laid off from their jobs. What kind of a society would provide a guaranteed standard of living for people who were working and then abandon them just when they're most in need?

No, you'll have to guarantee a standard of living for people who are working full-time, and certainly you'll have to help people who can't find full-time work and are only working part-time, and you'll have to pay the living expenses for people who have been laid off.

And for people who are retired but not wealthy.

And for people who are disabled, and that includes anyone with ADD or any of the other I-need-more-time-for-the-test disorders. And also alcohol and drug dependency.

Otherwise it wouldn't be fair. It might even be immoral.

This is going to be expensive.

Good thing you've bought out the shareholders of all the major oil companies and now run the oil business with the efficiency of the post office.

Because in addition to paying for exploration and drilling and equipment and overhead and transportation and refining and environmental protections and salaries, you've got to subsidize the living expenses of everyone who works for a company like Starbucks, not to mention the 12,000 people that Starbucks just announced they will no longer be exploiting because they're closing 600 stores and firing them.

You might run into a problem when all the businesses in the United States get word that the government is going to guarantee a minimum standard of living to everyone who works full-time. You're going to have to find a way to keep them from cutting a lot of their employees down to minimum wage and letting the government effectively augment their salaries.

And you might have to adopt the kind of highly restrictive immigration policies that are common in every industrialized country except the United States. Otherwise people will be flooding into the U.S. to work full time and get in on that guaranteed standard of living.

Or were you planning to check citizenship papers?

This is going to be very, very expensive.

You might have to pass a law forcing landlords to rent to people for half the rent they were charging before, and don't forget to prosecute the ones who fail to maintain their buildings.

You might even have to impose price controls on food, because it's essential that people eat well and it's just too expensive. And when the price controls lead to shortages, as they always do, you might have to issue rationing coupons to limit what people can buy at the grocery store. It's important to make sure everyone gets a fair share of healthy food.

You're probably going to have to raise taxes.

Well, that's no problem, because the businesses that are living off all those worker-decent-living subsidies deserve to be taxed. So ratchet it up.

What's that you say? They're leaving? They're relocating overseas? They're outsourcing every possible job to India and moving the headquarters to Dubai?

No-o-o-o-o!!!!!

They can't leave! They have to stay! They have to pay!!!

Maybe if you can't keep them from leaving, you can deny them the right to do any business in the United States. Maybe you can throw the executives in jail for something. Maybe you can force them into bankruptcy and out of business.

Good idea.

That'll teach them.

Selfish, ultrawealthy corporations, responsible for all that's evil in the world, how dare they go out of business.

Don't they know people depend on them for a decent standard of living?

All right, that concludes tonight's performance of Socialist Dinner Theater. I can see that I will never convince you of the errors in your thinking, but I will answer some of your specific points.

First, your plutonium example is, respectfully, sophistry. The Constitution protects your right to life, liberty and property, but it quite clearly says that the government may deprive people of life, liberty and property with due process of law. That means what it meant in the 18th century, that the government cannot use arbitrary power against you, but it can lawfully and with due process throw you in jail for a crime and seize contraband. Unless someone convinces the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment protects the right to own plutonium, the government certainly has the power to pass a law restricting the possession of nuclear bomb-making material.

That doesn't mean it has the power to nationalize the oil industry. The Constitution says private property may be taken for public use with just compensation, but to force the sale of an entire industry would be a wildly unreasonable reading of the power of eminent domain.

Your idea of having the government go into certain businesses in competition with private companies strikes me as unlikely to be very profitable, certainly not profitable enough to pay for all the social programs you propose, even if it were found to be legally possible and politically desirable.

Next: Your health care example does not quite make the point you intended.

I looked at the World Health Organization report that was the basis for the list you cited, ranking the United States 37th among the world's health systems, behind Oman (#8) and Colombia (#22).

The rankings were based on five factors, of which "responsiveness" was one. This is an excerpt from the report:

"Responsiveness includes two major components. These are (a) respect for persons (including dignity, confidentiality and autonomy of individuals and families to decide about their own health); and (b) client orientation (including prompt attention, access to social support networks during care, quality of basic amenities and choice of provider)."

The United States ranked number one in responsiveness.

The other factors weighed by the World Health Organization to determine its rankings were "Fairness of Financial Contribution," "Overall Level of Health" (to determine this, the report says, "WHO has chosen to use the measure of disability-adjusted life expectancy [DALE]"), "Distribution of Health in the Populations," and "Distribution of Financing."

You can decide for yourself what is most important to you and your family in a health-care system.

By the way, you might not have noticed that the list you cited is titled "The World Health Organization's ranking of the world's health systems." It's not titled "The World Health Organization's ranking of the world's health systems by quality and availability of care."

Something else to remember when you run for office.

Now, let's talk about poverty, which you suggested I did not want to address.

First, I take issue with your characterization of poverty as something "that results from the free-market system."

The U.N. is full of well-dressed ambassadors from countries that are not free and do not have free-market capitalism, places where vast numbers of people live in a grinding, oppressive poverty much worse than anything that exists in the United States or any free country.

If the free-market system causes poverty, why is poverty even worse in countries that are not free?

Maybe there's a hint in this excerpt from a 2004 World Bank report, "Fighting Poverty: Findings and Lessons from China's Success" (http://go.worldbank.org/QXOQI9MP30):

"Across China, there were over 400 million fewer people living in extreme poverty in 2001 than 20 years previously. By 2001, China had met the foremost of the Millennium Development Goals — to reduce the 1990 incidence of poverty by half — and it had done so 14 years ahead of the 2015 target date for the developing world as a whole."

There are two things I'd like to point out from that paragraph: first, there were hundreds of millions of people living in "extreme poverty" in a country that did not have a free-market system; and second, China discovered a method to reduce poverty by half in eleven years.

What was the method? The World Bank report said this:

"Consider the specific situation in China at the time reforms began: the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution had left a legacy of severe, pervasive rural poverty by the late-1970s. Arguably, there were some important but relatively easy gains to be had by simply undoing failed policies, notably by de-collectivizing agriculture. Much of the rural population that had been forced into collective farming with weak incentives for work could still remember how to farm individually. Returning the responsibility for farming to individual households brought huge gains to the country’s poorest."

I think this demonstrates the fallacy of your assertion that poverty "results from the free-market system." In China, poverty resulted from collectivism. It was reduced by moving toward free-market principles.

I also take issue with your characterization that "the current economic system allows the rich to exploit the poor."

Why is it exploitation to offer someone a job?

You are operating on the premise that everyone is entitled, by virtue of living in the United States, to be subsidized by someone else. You're arguing that people have a moral right to make more money than anyone is willing to pay them.

By logical inference, you are arguing that what no one is willing to pay them, someone must be forced to pay them.

Now you are in the position of having to think of a justification for force. You can call it by a sweeter name, and you can spread it out so everyone only feels a little pinch, but it is still going to be force.

Conveniently, you've already come up with this: "Since we, as a society, allow the radically wealthy to profit off of the people, we, as a society, have the right to take some of that back in order to provide for the common good."

When you say "the radically wealthy" who "profit off of the people," you apparently mean businesses and the people who run them. You're making the argument that businesses take from the society, or they take from their workers, so it is reasonable and fair that they should be required to "give back."

The fallacy of this argument can be seen in the frantic efforts made by cities to lure businesses inside their borders. Businesses bring jobs, tax revenue, and economic development. The closing of a factory doesn't bring a happy end to exploitation and oppression. It brings poverty.

This is why politicians give tax breaks to businesses. If they don't, and the businesses pack up and go elsewhere, economic pain is the result.

The point I'd like to leave you with is this: All forms of collectivism can be placed on a continuum somewhere between freedom on one side and totalitarianism on the other. The closer it is to freedom, the more likely it is that the failures of collectivism will be masked by the surplus from the capitalism that surrounds it. But as you move further away from freedom -- by asking or allowing the government to become more powerful -- the economic stagnation worsens and the government becomes more and more repressive.

You can certainly argue that the welfare state is not the same as socialism, and socialism is not the same as communism.

Belladonna is not the same as arsenic, but what they have in common far outweighs the significance of their differences.

If you are interested, I can suggest a couple of books that you might find thought-provoking, or aggravating.

I wish you nothing but success in all your future endeavors, and I sincerely hope the government allows you to keep most of what you earn.

Best regards,

Susan Shelley
AmericaWantsToKnow.com

---

Susan,
I'm glad to hear from you.

I'm deeply concerned that you don't believe that I am willing to change my mind. It is a matter of personal pride that I change my mind whenever I am wrong. I've done it before, on numerous large ideas and issues, and I'll no doubt do it again. I don't pretend to know everything. I only hope that you can give me the benefit of the doubt and address my concerns before you expect me to change my mind. After all, if you are correct in your defense of the free market system, then it should only be a matter of time before you whittle my objections down to nothing.

First, let's touch on post office and public schools. Are the ineffective? To certain degrees, yes, as I've readily conceded in my last letter. But they are consistently improving over time, as we figure out ways to make them more efficient. While I probably couldn't win a political campaign based around the idea that the public school system and the postal system are perfect, I doubt that you could win a political campaign based around dissolving those systems. I mean, when you get down to it, are you willing to publicly disavow support of our public school system, on the grounds that it steals from rich corporations?
Next, let's touch upon healthcare. While the speed and effectiveness of healthcare is important, there are other necessary issues, as the World Health Organization affirms. In other areas, such as Fairness in Financial Contribution, the United States is still embarrassingly behind other countries at 54th-55th place. In Overall Level of Health, we've taken 72nd place. Frankly, we may be leading the way in medical advancements, but what's important is applying those advancements to sick people. We're not very good at that. So, if anything, that 1 you cite means that some of the other numbers are much higher, as I've demonstrated.

Regarding China: You'll remember from my last few letters that I don't support public collectivism. As I've previously stated, I'm talking about either government-run industry or a government-guaranteed minimum standard of living for everyone willing to work.
While I thoroughly enjoyed that episode of Socialist Dinner Theater, which I heartily endorse as a viable script for an animated series, most of the outcomes you discuss deal in speculation based upon anti-communist talking points.
The thing is, socialist societies, or capitalist societies with a healthy safety net, do not deal in these draconian concepts.
May Socialist societies do quite well, comparatively. Look at Venezuela, for example. While it is on shaky economic ground due to the inherent unpredictability of oil, it is doing much better now that the oil industry is nationalized, and has been pouring its oil profits into social programs.
(Cool Graph Stolen From Wikipedia and Compiled With World Bank Statistics)

Further, some of the problems that you're citing are beneficial to a free trade system. High unemployment rates are to the employer's advantage, as they guarantee a minimal rate of worker compensation.

Really, the problem with most small, impoverished countries seems to be that large international companies, often working with U.S. military powers, economically invade and conquer them, making their rich richer, and their poor poorer. There's an interesting Wikipedia list of U.S. Military actions. It's surprising how many of them are against democratically elected leaders fighting for local change.

Look, Susan. Let's be frank. I don't care if some people are making more money than other people. I don't care if somebody wants to drive nice cars or own lavish houses. I don't want to turn the entirety of the known universe into a hippie commune. I don't want to enslave America under some sort of red empire. I really don't. I'm just trying to figure out a way to ensure that people aren't dying from lack of food, housing, healthcare, and other basic necessities while other people are living like kings off of their poverty. What I'm looking for is a way to ensure that people are living decent lives free from economic subjugation. So far, you've only took issue with my ideas. What I would like you to do now is present me with some solutions to the problem of extreme poverty.
Believe me, I want to change my mind and find solutions as much as you do. So give me a solution. Give me a reason to embrace free trade.

-Ryan Culbertson-Faegre

---

Sorry, Ryan, you're going to have the last word on this. My spec script
for Socialist Dinner Theater just got me a job offer to write for
Communist Radio Cavalcade, and as I am paying for my own health insurance,
I am very motivated to work.

I'll stand by what I've already
written to you. I think I've given you ample illustrations of how and why
free-market capitalism is a solution to extreme poverty, while
collectivism is a path to greater poverty and government repression.

You certainly have the right to express your own opinion and
advance your own policy proposals. You live in a free country.

Very best wishes,

Susan Shelley
AmericaWantsToKnow.com

---

Susan,
I honor your desire to end this conversation.

I'd like to thank you again for taking the time to speak with me about free market capitalism and socialism. While I'm sad to say that you have not changed my mind on the subject, I appreciate your willingness to discuss these important matters as openly and as honestly as you have.

Best wishes,
-Ryan Culbertson-Faegre

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Retroactive Immunity

The government is stomping on the fourth amendment, in case you hadn't heard.

Telecommunication companies that helped the government tap phones and listen in on the private conversations of Americans without a warrant are now being sued for their actions. Around 40 lawsuits have been filed against these companies because these actions are illegal based on the fourth amendment, which states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Sounds good, right? Upholding the Constitution and whatnot.

Unfortunately for the constitution, a bill has passed in the House and is now sitting in waiting in the Senate that will give retroactive immunity to these telecom companies because Bush told them to do it. According to this Reuters article, the suits stem from their participation in a warrantless electronic surveillance program Bush secretly began shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Again from Reuters, critics also charge Bush violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in authorizing the spy program without court approval. He maintains he had the wartime power to do it. But in January 2007 he put the program under FISA court jurisdiction.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

More From Richard Carrier

These can be found in the comments of his blog on Obama.

A choice that has no effect is not a choice. Voting for a third party candidate is like pushing that button at intersections for the walk signal when it isn't even wired up to anything. Yet people keep pushing it, thinking it will have some effect. Like pushing a button that does nothing, a choice that can have no effect is not a real choice at all. It is only an illusion of choice. And that's worse.


And then this:

I am disturbed to see yet again people claiming there is no difference between the candidates. I saw people claiming that of Bush and Gore and again with Bush and Kerry. No difference between them? That's irrational bullsh*t. There are two new judges on the Supreme Court that are decisive proof that there was a difference and that same difference is still operating, and in fact is now far more dire, because if McCain puts even a single ultra-conservative on the Court, we're all screwed.

The one thing you can be absolutely sure of, for all the ways Obama falls short, all the mistakes he will make, all his flaws and gameplaying, all the ways he isn't entirely different from the stock politician, he will not destroy the future of this country by handing the Supreme Court to the religious right. McCain will. And I'm not guessing he will. He actually said he will.

This is far more serious than it was in the last two elections. Though it was serious then, and everyone who didn't vote for Gore or Kerry is directly responsible for the current Supreme Court. Because no matter who you voted for or even if you didn't vote at all, had you voted for Gore or Kerry you could have stopped that disaster (of a Roberts-"Scalito" Court), at the very least, though if anyone thinks there were no other disasters of the past eight years that the same vote would have stopped, they must be delusional.

But now there is just one seat away from a majority. Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas. Add one more and the religious right controls all laws in this country. The religious right decides what the Constitution says. Anyone who doesn't vote for Obama in the next election is voting for that very outcome. That's true whether intentionally or not--intentions are no excuse when the effects are known, and you cannot deny that you know what the effect will be of helping McCain win this election.

To focus on the failings of a politician, all the ways he isn't breaking the mold, to the exclusion of all the ways he is in fact different, is a bizarre kind of blindness among the American people I cannot explain. Surely you must agree that anyone given a choice between sawing off their leg and sawing off their toe, who then chooses the leg, is an idiot. Right?

The man is brilliant. He is a research junkie (think about one hundred times anything you've seen a Juggernaut do on this page) and has a razor sharp eye for bullshit. The guy is tireless in his pursuit of truth, and fearless in facing those who are untruthful.

Be sure to attend October 10-12, when Richard Carrier and PZ Myers (and possibly Phil Plait and Steve Novella) speak at MSU.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Richard Carrier weighs in on Obama



Richard Carrier
is a skeptic, historian, and philosopher (and previous editor-in-chief of the secular web - see some of his works here), who will be speaking at MSU this upcoming semester along with PZ Myers and possibly Phil Plait and Steve Novella, probably on the weekend of October 10-12. As is his usual style, he has just posted a very thorough assessment of John McCain and his candidacy that is very much worth the read.

Enjoy! :D

-- JT

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A lovely sabbath to you all...

The News-Leader had a whole pile of stupid on it's "Voices" page today.

A lovely old gent named Clyde Berg (seen on the left) took it upon himself to rant and rave about how bulls (as in boy cows) don't mate with other boy cows, and therefore we should make a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. There were a lot of references to procreation. As if homosexuals having legal rights will cut down on the population of the human species. There were a lot of references to sex as well. I won't mention what my clinical-psychology training tells me about old men who write extensively about the sexual activities of other creatures... =P

He starts out with this winner of an intro...

Same-sex marriage should be carefully scrutinized. I know there is a popular opinion that this falls under the pursuit of happiness doctrine. Under this theory, some people are born with a sexual attraction to members of their own gender. I have my doubts about this; not being afflicted with this problem, I don't know.

I may not be "afflicted with the problem" either, but I have certainly posted a few responses, including this video...



=D

You should all pop over, and join in they fray!!

Jedfest 2008

As you know, JedFest was a hit. We teamed up with our arch rival Brother Jed Smock and raised all the moneys for Heifer International. Check out the video.




Saturday, June 21, 2008

Springfield Pridefest

Live. Love. Be.


Image CC Philippe LeRoyer

Tomorrow kicks off NYC's week long Pridefest. Springfield happens to be throwing its own Pridefest event tomorrow.

If you support the LGBT community, it's important that you don't just speak your support, but show your support.

Springfield Pridefest
Sunday, June 22
3pm-8pm
518 E. Commercial St.
Next to the GLO Center
Vendors, games, giveaway booths, drag entertainment, T-shirts and inflatable activities for kids will be featured all day.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I can has teh gospil?

kitten

Cure for cancer? It turns out science isn't evil.

"The priests used to say that faith can move mountains, and nobody believed them. Today the scientists say that they can level mountains, and nobody doubts them." ~ Joseph Campbell

I swung by Lauren's blog the other day and saw an article announcing that we've cured the first cancer cell. Here's the thing though, we did it using technology that most religious people want banned - cloning. The thing is, while exit polls show that most religious people kicked and screamed over cloning before voting it down, I'll wager that virtually every one of them that contracts cancer will use this and every new life-saving technology weened from it - and that we'll never hear any mention about how mankind is playing god. Kinda funny how that works out.

You may recall recently that Ben Stein (star of EXPELLED, read my review of it here) made a comment about science that science geeks like myself found a little disheartening:

"…Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people."

Is this discovery that so many believe to be diametric to god's will really leading us to killing people? Not at all. In fact, science like this has given us quite literally every single means of extending human life that we have. Medicine, clean water, abundant food - the list of how science makes our lives longer and more enjoyable is so long as to defy concise description.

The sad thing is that many of the people who will leap at the chance to use this newfound cure, as well as every other blessing of science, will still somehow agree with Stein that science is somehow evil. Can it be argued that anything but the unreason encouraged by religion is responsible for this insanity? Ever since its inception, religious certainty has slowed the progress of our race by encouraging us that make believe gets precedence over what makes sense. Every time, reality eventually wins and we move forward, yet the battles still must be fought.

Imagine what we could accomplish without regard for imaginary things like souls being a part of the equation?

"We would be 1,500 years ahead if it hadn't been for the church dragging science back by its coattails and burning our best minds at the stake." - Catherine Fahringer

-- JT

Thursday, June 19, 2008

McCain visits Springfield.

[Saturday]

4:00pm - Hear a rumor that McCain is coming to Springfield on Wednesday. Make a mental note that it sounds worthy of attention. Promptly toss it on the backburner, and focus on more interesting things... like shiny objects.

[Tuesday Evening]





7:00 pm - Realize that "Wednesday" is in 12 hours. Begin calling everyone in your phone, using phrases like "We are all getting together...", even if "we" means... the three of us. Sound confident. Send out a couple of Facebook messages to relevant groups.



8:30 pm - Go to Walmart, buy posterboard, markers, and Diet Coke.

10:30 pm - Begin making signs. Use an old sheet to make the banner. Toss around a lot of really crude tactless ideas, and then use only the press-friendly slogans.




12:30 pm - Pass out.

[Wednesday Morning]

9:30 am - Get a call from a friend saying that the crowds are arriving. Throw the signs in the car, grab sunscreen and a few bandannas, and roll out.

10:00 am - Arrive at the campus. Meet up with friends, and discuss the best strategy to increase visibility. Discuss where our protest can be, without violating Missouri State policy.

10:15 am - Set up signs. Watch the Secret Service watching us.





12:00 pm - As the reinforcements begin rolling in, smile big at all the McCaininites wandering mindlessly into the building. While they will occasionally shake their head, they never really want to discuss or debate their beliefs.











Our fears that the signs will not be used diminish. Soon a second run for poster board is required. More signs are made, and I begin seeing my signs in the hands of random smiling faces. Success!!







Until 4:00 we just chill, holding our signs and swatting down the AWFUL attempts at logical debate we have tossed our direction.




4:00 pm - Go home. Sit down. Eat. Sleep.

Overall, I think the event was a success. The protesters, our group and a group that spoke out inside the Plaster Student Union, were covered on the news and in the Springfield News-Leader. Not bad, considering that it was tossed together in one evening, between a game of Scrabble and walking the dog.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

McCain

John McCain strolled through our neck of the woods today (not to be confused with John McClane from Die Hard), and we figured we should go down and give him a healthy dose of what for.
We worked closely with members of a local Anarchist Infoshop called The Radish (we call 'em Radishites), Peace Network of the Ozarks, and Planned Parenthood to combat the politically corrupt retardation that is John McCain.
We ended up getting quite the gatheration going. Although some moronic Creationists operating under the guise of "pro education" came out, we were able to keep control of the situation, and we certainly had the numbers on our side. Video and pictures should be up later tonight.

You know, it's funny. We got a lot of McCain's supporters walking past us saying things like, "Don't you have anything better to do?" and, "Pffft. What's your definition of 'Peace'?" and, "My father fought so that you would have the right to make that stinking sign!"
However, not a single person was willing to calmly and rationally stand and discuss their beliefs. We were asking them nicely to discuss why they believed what they believed, standing there calmly and explaining that we were here to be accountable for what we believed, and trying to meet their accusations will logical conjecture, but not a single person would stand and discuss their beliefs with us.
Huh.
It's almost as if they're weak, corrupt bastards who know that we're right.

(Note to any McCain supporters out there: hit me up in the comments section with your email address and we'll have an online dialog. You can be accountable for what you say!)

-Ryan Culbertson-Faegre

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Amazing Pictures...

******
Warning:
If you are grossed out to know how your body works, don't read this.
It is science, and amazing.
******

When you consider how detailed our understanding of the biological processes of the human body are, down to the DNA helicases which unzip the foundational blueprints for life, our understanding of the reproductive cycles of women seem fuzzy at best.

Physiological study of the processes and disorders that affect only women have historically been behind the times, but there is more to it then just that. Men are constantly producing sperm, so we investigate the exact processes surrounding this process basically anytime.


We can constantly see the immature sperm, known as spermatozoon, forming and growing within the seminiferous tubules. We have filmed this process, and we have thousands of close-up photos of sperm as they are swimming, and photos of the sperm bonding with the ovum.

One of the reasons that we have such amazing photos of sperm while they are swimming is because we can create a laboratory environment to keep the sperm alive and allow them to flourish. We can even film conception in a petri dish, taking away variables of time or physical constraints.


Ovulation, however, has always been a tricky little bugger. It has been assumed that ovulation in humans is quite similar to that which occurs in other animals, such as this film of rabbit ovulation, but most photos of human ovulation have been blurry and often only showed the follicle before it released the ovum.

NewScience just published an article announcing that Jacques Donnez, a Belgium scientist, accidently captured the clearest detailed photos of human ovulation yet. He was performing a hysterectomy on a woman, and happened to capture the ovulation. The most interesting feature, apparently, was the amount of time that the ovulation took. It has been assumed that the actual process of ovulation took only seconds, but in this instance Donnez reported that it lasted at least fifteen minutes.


This is really exciting, if only because it means that we have cooler pictures for future editions of overpriced textbooks. For centuries our only understanding of the human body came from a limited number of autopsies which had been done in Alexandria, before the church had outlawed human dissection completely. When Rene Descartes finally explained to the church that the soul was located in the pineal gland, in the mid 17th century, they began to allow scientists to dissect human bodies.

Even after dissection was allowed, the female reproductive system was not well understood. Even the most basic anatomy of the female sexual organs was misunderstood. For instance, a Stanford science teacher says that our understanding of the uterus has changed greatly over the years:
"For centuries, its structure was thought to reveal the mysteries of the number and sex of its offspring. "It is hollow and villous within, smooth outside, divided into seven cells, and has two openings," wrote Master Nicolaus, reflecting the standard view that the womb had as many divisions as the days of the week and could yield a maximum of seven children at a time. Mondino de' Liuzzi affirmed this idea in 1316. Others divided the womb simply into two parts, arguing that males were born on the right side and females on the left. "Woman was endowed with two wombs," wrote Moses Maimonides in the late twelfth century, arguing that they corresponded to the number of breasts. Many insisted on a central cell in which hermaphrodites were born. Finally, anatomists argued for the presence of uterine horns, an error that arose from dissecting animals."
Thankfully, most of these misunderstandings have been cleared up with time and further investigation. That is why science rocks. It is able to self-correct the false assumptions or confused conclusions of the previous thinkers.

These newest photos by Donnez can only help to further expand our understanding of this fascinating step in the process of human reproduction. To finally be able to clearly see that exact moment of ovulation, is invaluable as a teaching tool, and may possibly spark future research in this area.

If you haven't picked up on it, the science nerd I keep hidden inside is super super excited. =D