Didactic SynCast #62: Class Size and Fish Farts

Here it is — bam! And you say “Hurray!”

DS #62: Class Size and Fish Farts

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Gift of Gab: “Way of the Light”

Rick and Ron on the Union

This is a FILE photo.

So apparently former Texas Governor Rick Perry is running for President. The man is fascinating for many reasons, but the one I think most important to point out here is that he once suggested Texas might secede from the union.

That seems like kind of a big deal. Seems like one of the most important questions we should ask ourselves about a potential leader of the nation is: “Do you believe the nation should remain united as a nation?” Of course most of us would never ask this question because the answer in almost all cases is “Duh, yes!”

But it seems that Perry isn’t the only Republican candidate who feels this way. When Perry’s comments caused such a commotion in April 2009, Rom Paul said the following:

I’m receptive to the principle of secession. You should have the right to leave.

So, to review: Two Republican candidates for President of the United States think it’s okay is states want to leave the union. God Bless America! (Or at least God Bless those who wish to stick around and remain part of America. The rest of you — you know, whatever. Do your thing.)

UPDATE: I can’t support Rick Perry, but this ad makes a good case for Rick Parry.

TimeWaster™

From the Amazing Grace file.

Today I’m listening to: James Hariman!

Why I (Can’t) Hate Ron Paul

I want to hate Ron Paul. I wish I could just write him off for being crazy and single-minded. But I can’t! He stands for a number of really good positions. Even Dennis Kucinich said he would choose Ron Paul as a running mate, especially since they share very similar views on international policy.

Dr. Paul is a superb example of the annoying complexity of human existence. Lorraine Hansberry spoke to this in her play Les Blancs. A white man accuses a black man of hating all white people, and the black man responds: “No, I don’t hate all white people. But I desperately wish I did. It would make everything so much easier.”

It’s tempting for us on the left to write off someone like Ron Paul (and the libertarians who adore him). But this is a mistake. I disagree with him on several key issues, and therefore I can’t support him as a candidate. But I’m glad he’s running.

Rather than run through everything there is to say here, I’ll simply encourage people to read this Wikipedia article. I’m not going to vouch for everything on there (it’s neither a Good nor a Featured Article), but it’s got over 250 citations so you can check things for yourself if you’re doubtful.

The Good

He’s a real believer in non-intervention. He was the only Republican candidate in 2008 who had voted against the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He opposed Congressional support for Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2009. He calls for an end to the embargo of Cuba.

He’s opposed to the WTO and NAFTA because they benefit wealthy elites and not citizens. He voted against the PATRIOT Act, and the REAL ID Act. Although he personally believes life begins at conception, he believes abortion should be a matter for states to decide. (He’s big on states’ rights.)

He voted to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”. In 2007 he spoke out against the death penalty at the federal level, since (in his words) “it has been issued unjustly. If you’re rich, you get away with it; if you’re poor and you’re from the inner city you’re more likely to be prosecuted and convicted”. He opposed No Child Left Behind. He supports an end to the so-called War on Drugs.

The Bad

He wants us to withdraw from the United Nations. He opposes most departments of the federal government, including the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Interstate Commerce Commission. He wants to let young workers opt out of Social Security.

He said the Civil Rights Act was bad because “not only violated the Constitution and reduced individual liberty; it also failed to achieve its stated goals of promoting racial harmony and a color-blind society”. He is opposed to network neutrality legislation. He believes the federal government should play no role at all in education, which means no compensation for vast disparities between schools in wealthy and poor states.

He believes in real free-market trade policies, which — while more authentically libertarian than NAFTA and the like — could erode even further the safeguards of smaller, weaker nations against economies of scale and commodity price manipulation. He believes in free-market solutions in the areas of education (voucher systems), the environment (“The environment is better protected under private property rights”), and health care.

Capitalist Libertarianism vs. Socialist Anarchism

Dr. Paul’s devotion to free-market fundamentalism is at least a refreshing and principled change from the quasi-free-market ideologies of neoconservatives who support corporate subsidies and bailouts and loan guarantees and etc. But I cannot support a system of mere force and unenlightened self-interest as promoted by most libertarians (and Tea Party activists) in the United States. This comes to the heart of my disagreement with the US libertarian worldview.

It’s not enough to have personal freedom; we have responsibilities to each other as citizens and as human beings. Any system of economic or political organization which ignores these responsibilities or assumes that individuals will take them on is fundamentally flawed, and I will not support it.

I believe in small government, but it has a role to play. (Public libraries rule!) I don’t like the idea of us giving up our sovereignty to multinational organizations, but the United Nations is a vital (if deeply imperfect) instrument for peace in the world. I dislike the brutality, racism, and class privilege that police departments tend to serve, but I would probably not want to live in a city without a police force. And so on.

So while I can’t endorse Ron Paul, I’m happy to see him bringing important issues to the national stage. And while I’m delighted to have a critique of the WTO and World Bank presented to the American people, I wish we could have a more progressive vision put forth instead, rather than a simplistic refrain of “let the market do its thing”.

TimeWaster™

I know we usually have an inline video here, but I can’t pass up this list of 40 Things That Will Make You Feel Old. From Buzzfeed, via HighDef.

Today I’m listening to: Soma FM!

I Don’t Understand Wall Street

I’ve been casually (but eagerly) studying the US economic system for over ten years now. In 1999 I convinced a friend to take my place in Seattle for the corner-turning anti-WTO protests (since I couldn’t make it). I’m reading Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail and I’m waiting to get a book copy of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Report.

But sometimes I see a story and I just feel baffled. Or at least confuzzled and sad. Take this story from last month: Profit Drop Shakes Up Goldman Sachs. Oh, man. Sounds like bad news, right?

But look at what the article actually says:

Goldman Sachs shares fell 2% Wednesday morning after the investment bank reported a 53% drop in profits in the fourth quarter to $2.39 billon.

Goldman turned a profit during the quarter in question — a healthy profit, by most normal peoples’ standards. (Small business owners! If you made 2.3 billion dollars in three months, wouldn’t you say that was pretty good?) But it’s less than Jim Cramer expected them to make, so it’s time to hide the razor blades over at Forbes! (And every other financial-sector outlet.)

This really points to the fundamental incongruity in our economic system: It’s not about companies being competitive. It’s not about capitalism simply requiring some sort of profit margin. In the USA right now, it’s all about feeding huge trucks full of cash into the gaping mouths of investors and financiers. And all public policy must also suit this goal.

Meanwhile the rest of us work overtime and watch our benefits get slashed.

I Don’t Understand Sarah Palin™

That’s not a typo, people — she’s trademarking her name. Apparently it’s a pretty common thing for celebrities to do, but it’s still weird to me. We’d better use it as much as possible before it’s illegal! Sarah Palin Sarah Palin Sarah Palin!

My Ears Don’t Understand This Ring Tone

My students played for me the mosquito ringtone. It’s really creepy! Try it for yourself and tell me you’re not worried about what this could mean. Once they learn how to talk at that frequency, we’re done. (Although an entire album at that frequency would be a cool idea. Maybe a new take on John Cage?)

Too bad Sarah Palin wouldn’t be able to hear it.

My Brain Doesn’t Understand the Concept of Sleeping In

I woke up this morning at 4:00 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. I told myself I was going to take a nap, but then I started cleaning out my big To Do file on my desk and when I looked up it was 5:00 PM. I’m not sleepy, but I expect I’ll have a headache or just be run-down tomorrow. Fun!

I bet Sarah Palin gets plenty of sleep every night.

The Tea Party < The Muslim Brotherhood (At Least According to the Orthodoxy of Most Pundits I’ve Heard Lately)

Every story I hear these days about Egypt features some self-important white guy wetting his pants about how Egypt is destined to become the next Iran, and anyone who wants to be a part of the next Egyptian government needs to promise to be non-violent. (For the record, The Muslim Brotherhood has on its website a statement of principles which affirms “the right to public gatherings, the invitation to them, and participation in them, all within the limitations of public of public safety, so long as the usage of violence or arms or the threat of doing so is not included.”)

Can you imagine if we applied the same stringent requirements on political organizations in the US? Imagine if pundits went on NPR and FoxNews saying that Tea Party leaders will have to commit themselves to nonviolent action if they want to be a part of the US government. Sarah Palin would strangle a moose when she heard the news!

TimeWaster™

Speaking of Egypt: Today we have two TimeWasters™, both courtesy of Davey D’s superb hip-hop politics blog. First up is from Moroccan rapper MasterMimz: “Back Down Mubarak”

And we’ve also got one from dead prez’s M1, with Jasiri X (who also did “What if the Tea Party Were Black?“): “We All Shall Be Free”. Yay, Egyptian democracy!

Lyrics here and here.

Today I’m listening to: The BGM Show! (They should do an episode with music about Sarah Palin.)

Sarah Palin Sarah Palin.

The SuperWonderful, Mega-Long 100% AWESOME Synapse Update Post: NOW IN HD!!

You’ve waited a month, but it’s finally here — my new blog post! (wild applause) I’ve been emailing myself links and stuff for four weeks, but every time I get ready to blog, something comes up: Papers to grade, a live podcast to do, bike rides for international solidarity, goats to sacrifice & etc.*

* Dude I’m totally loving this way of writing “etc” these days. It’s way olde-timey. Looks like it belongs in a Married to the Sea comic.**

** Dude I’m totally stealing this footnote thing from Mimi. Also it’s a chance to link to her site so any squares who don’t know about her can be all like “Oooh, interesting.. what’s this all ab–OHMYGODtheAWESOMENESS!!!itHURTSmyEYES!!”***

*** Dude I’ve totally been starting all my sentences with “dude” and “totally” lately. I need to make the switch to “all-encompassingly”. RIP Mitch.

Speaking of cool sites, I swear to Umberto that this awesome hot dog picture is the third thing that came up when I did a random Google Image search for “awesome”. It’s from the AWESOME webcomic artist Natalie Dee, who made one of the coolest shirts I’ve never ordered. I suppose I should, because she rocks. But I already have several other webcomic tees that I never get to wear.

Attention Robots Who Find Things For Me

Stop searching before I’m done telling you what I want!! I am sick to nuclear apocalypse DEATH of search engines and the Mac OSX search function and every other robot search box hijacking my typing process before I’ve even finished a f@#&ing word being all like “is THIS what you want? oh no wait I got it — you want THIS!” NO!!! Let me finish telling you what I want, and THEN you can go find it!

It’s like if you went into Subway and you had this conversation:

Sandwich Artist™: Hello, welcome to Subway. What can I get you?

You: I’d like a footlong—

SA: I know! You want a footlong cold cut combo! Right?

You: No, I want a footlong veggie sub on—

SA: On whole wheat! With cheddar cheese, is that it?

You: No, on herbs and cheese, with pepper jack.

SA: But you want it toasted, right? With—

You: I have a gun.

SA: Mr. Squidbag, please leave our store right now.

You: Best hat-tip EVER!

And speaking of robots doing stuff for us, check out the PBS Frontline interview with Sherry Turkle, about education and 21st century technologies. She makes some very good points. To wit:

I think not understanding how to write a simple program — things are built out of simple programs to more complex programs, and these programs are cultural creations, cultural constructions; you can change the program — I think that has been a shift that’s not all to the good.

Education has dropped that out of the curriculum. The most used program in computers and education is PowerPoint. What are you learning about the nature of the medium by knowing how do to a great PowerPoint presentation? Nothing. It certainly doesn’t teach you how to think critically about living in a culture of simulation.

Wall Street Scumbags Gone Wild

Paul Krugman linked us to this fascinating document from 1993, called Looting: The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit. (It’s from JSTOR, which is supposed to be only for those who pay, but if you don’t say nothin’, I won’t say nothin’.) I haven’t read it all yet, but it’s very interesting, especially since it came 15 years before the most recent lunacy on the NYSE.

Speaking of scumbags on Wall Street, doesn’t it seem a little silly for Obama to go down there and encourage the same high-rolling jerkbutts that got us into this apocalyptic economic meltdown to join the push for reform? Of course they won’t join the push for reform, moron! (Aside from meaningless PR flourishes.) That’s like Chief Wiggam asking Fat Tony to support a new law cracking down on organized crime.

Fat Tony: I am glad you’ve brought this to my attention, Chief Wiggam. I am sure we can find some accommodation that will be mutually beneficial to the both of us.

Chief Wiggam: Hey, great! Thanks, Tony! Y’know, you’re not so fat. (snort)

Grease and Greece

Hey, look — the Obama administration can bumble around and f#@% things up too! Yesterday I passed a banner at a supermarket advertising a discount on gas from BP. I’ve never had to resist the urge to purchase a Sharpie™ and scrawl nasty words on a banner so hard before in my life.

And of course, let’s not fool ourselves. No one from BP or Transocean will go to prison. Any fines paid will be a simplistic not-even-very-hard slap on the wrist, which the “responsible” company will laugh off like Jack’s equation in Fight Club. And we all get to suck down the crude-soaked sea water, because we’re too weak and scared of Wall Street to force them into compliance.

And now for the story in the midst of all of this most likely to break your heart. The award goes to: NPR’s interview with Transocean rig worker Christopher Choy! Hurray! After 40 hours of chaos and madness, watching friends burned alive, how does Transocean reward them for their sacrifice?

At the hotel, there were representatives for Transocean who asked Choy to initial a line that said: I was not injured as a result of the incident or evacuation.

Now the company says the form means he can’t get treated for his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and nightmares and flashbacks.

As for Greece, I don’t have much to offer that can help make sense of it all. (I have no idea why anyone would come here looking for such a thing.) However, in my digging over the past week, I’ve come to understand several things. First of all, the previous government (Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, 2004-2009) went crazy with the budget, lying about debt and cooking books. Apparently Goldman Sachs was involved.

Also, Greece does apparently have a bloated public-service sector. This is not the apocalyptic smoking gun for why socialism is demon feces, but rather a concrete lesson on why bureaucracies — like corporate giants — must be controlled and restrained from becoming too big to fail. Also, let’s remember that the elderly pensioners and working-class people having austerity measures crammed down their throats by the IMF are not the ones who caused the problems in the first place. As usual, it’s the middle class paying heavily to make up for the taxes that rich people ducked out of.

For more, check out the Dollars and Sense piece about it.

Halftime

Man, we’re not even done yet! This super-awesome blog post is eating up my Sunday! You better appreciate it, stupid readers! Leave some real comments so I can finally approve one, instead of wading through constant cesspools of spam every day!

There’s three more sections, so you better go get some popcorn and use the bathroom.

I’ll wait.

Tea Party Over Here

Turns out people in the Tea Party are doing very well under Obama, despite all the socialism and insane bloated government spending and the tax increases. (TPCQ: “It’s the biggest tax increase in history!” “Actually, dad, it’s the smallest tax increase in history.”)

In the results of the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, they are better educated and wealthier than the general public. They are just as likely to be employed, and more likely to describe their economic situation as very or fairly good.

Stupid New York Times! It’s the principle of the thing! Also Obama is a secret Muslim! And has anyone else noticed how stupid it is to refer to the Boston Tea Party, whose motto was “No taxation without representation”? I’m fairly certain that every single person at those rallies is represented in our government. By three different people. Maybe they’re all just stupid morons. (No, no no. They’re simply misguided by an over-reliance on media sources offering a woefully simplistic vision of the modern world and we must show compassionate support for.. AH, SCREW IT! Glenn Beck is SATAN!)

Meanwhile, it looks like Tea Party protesters are sometimes getting a free pass from police, for the same actions that usually get anti-corporate-globalization protesters tear-gassed.

“Tea party” activists successfully lobbied security officials in Raleigh, N.C., last Thursday to reverse a ban on carrying full-sized flagpoles and signs at a tax day rally. Antiwar protesters, however, argue that they’re often not afforded such luxuries.

Also, one of the groups backing the Tea Parties, The National Center for Constitution Studies, is selling pocket-sized versions of The US Constitution. The creepy thing is the cover: Check out George Washington holding the quill pen toward you, as if Bob Schmuckington of Bumtoad, Kentucky is the most important signature left to add to our founding document. And the way he’s looking at us.. creepy!

As the web page points out: “On the front cover of this pocket Constitution there is a four-color picture of George Washington holding a quill in his hand, inviting each of us to pledge our support for and commitment to The Constitution of the United States by maintaining and promoting its standard of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”

And I assume everyone has heard about Sarah Palin’s new book, due out in November? Guess who just made an Amazon.com Wish List for the first time ever?

James Cameron Is a Pathetic Hypocrite

I still haven’t seen Avatar, and it’s doubtful I ever will. From what I hear, it’s Dances with Pocahantas, only with really cool special effects. But I was supposed to see them in IMAX HD 3D SUPERVISION. And I didn’t.

I was pretty skeptical anyway, since these movies always preach about the sanctity of nature and the need for privileged oppressor-class people to recognize their culpability in greedy homicide, but they’re made by Hollywood fatcats who are always crypt-silent when it comes to greedy homicide in the real world.

So I was overcome with profound admiration for James Cameron after watching the interview with him on Democracy Now!

And a lot of what I thought I was doing with this movie was commenting on the colonial period, the manifest destiny period, in American history, so much of which is in the past. And, you know, we don’t have the cavalry charging in and cutting down whole villages now. You know, we think we’ve evolved beyond that, when in fact it is happening in other countries. You know, there have been incidents in Peru just recently where, you know, guns were used on protesting indigenous people, who fought back with bows and arrows, and deaths on both sides.

He’s been taking action against a bogus dam project in Brazil, and even addressing Israel/Palestine a little. (Though he says — and kudos to him for saying it — that he can’t say too much because he doesn’t know enough about it to have an informed opinion.)

So, given his willingness to stand up in the real world for some true and worthwhile political purpose, how can I call him a hypocrite? Well, why didn’t he speak out against real-world evil companies researching murderous alien lifeforms, like the Weyland-Yutani corporation in his documentary film Aliens? Why doesn’t he take a stand against the killer robots in our world, that are so obviously similar to the homicidal killbots in Terminator 2? It’s a dangerous world, Mr. Cameron, and we can’t afford to ignore the most urgent threats. Your childish wavering on the real problems we face is pathetic.

Demon Hell Dog Buys US Military Contractor

My favorite corporation named after a multi-headed infernal guardian hell-beast, Cerberus Capital Management, has reached a $1.5 billion deal to buy US defense contractor DynCorp International. I’m speechless.

And in other news: Exhausted Noam Chomsky Just Going To Try And Enjoy The Day For Once.

“I just want to lie in a hammock and have a nice relaxing morning,” said the outspoken anarcho-syndicalist academic, who first came to public attention with his breakthrough 1957 book Syntactic Structures. “The systems of control designed to manufacture consent among a largely ignorant public will still be there for me to worry about tomorrow. Today, I’m just going to kick back and enjoy some much-needed Noam Time.”

Thanks to @Adam Root for the link. I’m gonna grab some Noam Time for myself!

TimeWaster™

Matt Damon! Sarah Palin! Matt Damon talking about Sarah Palin!

Today I’m listening to: Famfeud! (Warning: MySpace sucks! Why do so many indie hip hop acts use MySpace? It sucks!)