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Jun. 16th, 2014

10:35 am - Technology Reminder

Always back up your data, and … oh, yeah, what was that other thing?

Jun. 15th, 2014

11:09 pm - The Most Important Movie in Town

Every believer in democracy should see Citizen Koch, currently playing at Sundance Cinema in Madison.

Remember how Douglas Adams entitled his book about endangered species Last Chance To See? Well, this film was originally scheduled to be shown on PBS before that network's big bankroller, David Koch, pressured them to drop it. No need to wonder why. You can see the movie and figure it out for yourself.

Feb. 1st, 2014

01:42 pm - Marching Moronically on Metrics

Dear Time editors:

How ironic that I finish reading your article bemoaning America's reliance on 40-year-old magstripe technology for its credit cards, then flip the page to see people advocating that we retreat even further into the past by abandoning metric measurements on food packaging "because most Americans don't deal with grams on a daily basis". That's sadly all too true. 95% of the world (AKA the people who used to be our customers) has gone metric, but the US is the last holdout for ACHU (the Accidental Collection of Heterogeneous Units), and here some geniuses are saying we should dig ourselves even deeper into our backwards, isolationist hole in the ground. Evidently using their preferred technnology, the teaspoon.

No, the correct solution is the one that should have been advocated for the credit-card industry as well — the same solution that worked wonders for digital television — a strict government mandate and timetable for finally catching us up to the 21st Century, where we'll all be spending the rest of our lives.

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If God had wanted us to use the metric system, he would have given us 10 fingers.

— Ashleigh Brilliant

Jan. 6th, 2014

11:29 am - Why We Atheists Ridicule Theists

Every weekend, publishes a new essay on what they call their Belief Blog — something to do with religion and occasionally atheism. And I’ll often join other atheists in the comment section as we point out the many, many flaws, fallacies, and outright lies in the cases the religionists are trying to make. I in particular often favor the use of humor in my observations, but I’m hardly alone in that regard. And this has led any number of religionists to whine that we have no respect for them or their faith, and that we’re just mean to poke fun at them.

I don’t deny that I derive a certain glee in doing so, but I submit that it’s a perfectly normal, utterly human reaction, in defense of which I offer up one of Jesus’s favorite tactics ...

= = = = = = T H E   P A R A B L E = = = = = =

You’re sitting around your favorite table at the corner tavern with the usual gang, when your friend Norm comes in, all excited.

“Norm, where ya been, buddy?”

“Guys, you’re not gonna believe this, but I swear it’s true, every word of it. I was just leaving the house and heading for my car when I heard voices coming from my back yard. That was strange, so I went around back to see what it was. And you’ll never believe what I saw.”

“So don’t keep us in suspenders, what was it?”

“It was a leprechaun. And he was talking to the Easter Bunny. Not exactly talking, they seemed to be arguing, but they were using some language I couldn’t understand. Loud, tho, that’s why I heard them all the way around the front of the house.”

Some sniggering, but Bob down at the end of the table rises to the bait. “Easter Bunny, huh? How do you know it was the Easter Bunny and not just a regular rabbit?”

Norm shoots the questioner a reproachful look. “Because he was 6 feet tall and wearing a polka-dot vest. And talking! OK? And while I was just standing there goggling, the leprechaun reaches behind his ear and pulls out a big gold coin and just throws it at the bunny, like he’s really mad or something.”

“Oh, do go on!”

“Well, I kind of slid into the shadows, hoping they wouldn’t see me, and just then the flying saucer shows up.”

“Flying saucer, eh? We’ll probably get lots of coverage of that on the news tonight, then?”

“No, probably not, because it was only about the size of my hand when it appeared. I didn’t even see it coming, it just settled down on the lawn out of the sky. And then it suddenly just grew, right before my eyes. Got about as big as my garage. And then ...”

“Yeah, then a little green man came out, right?”

Will you please shut up and let me tell it? I was there, and you weren’t! Yes, he was little and had those slanty eyes you always see in the movies, but he wasn’t green, more grayish. And only 3 fingers on each hand. And he didn’t say anything but he kept waving his arm at the other 2, trying to get them on board the saucer.”

“And did they go?”

“The leprechaun did. Right away. Just scooted in past the space alien. But the bunny didn’t look like he wanted to, and you could tell that the little green man, I mean gray man, was getting irritated, because he waved harder and stamped his foot. Finally the Easter Bunny hopped on up the ramp and got on. Had to duck a bit to get thru the doorway.”

“Norm, if you think ...”

“Will you wait a minute? Then the opening in the side of the ship just closed up, the saucer shrank back down to about hand size again and took off straight up, faster than I’ve ever seen anything move. It was out of sight in about 10 seconds. So that’s what happened and why I’m late.”

And everybody else just looks at each other and then busts out laffing. Norm is miffed. “I’m telling you, that’s exactly what happened!”

“Norm, my friend, we are just simple everyday working guys. Our drug of choice is beer. What on Earth have you been smoking?”

“Nothing! Nothing at all! Haven’t had a drop to drink, either. I’m stone-cold sober.”

“Been doing a little experimental cooking with mushrooms, then, have you?”

No! I’m telling you that’s exactly what happened. God’s honest truth. Would I lie to you?”

A round of nods and a chorus of “Oh, yeah!”s, and Norm gets really pissed and stomps off.

= = = = = = = = T H E   E N D = = = = = = = =

OK, be honest, now. You would’ve made sport of Norm, too, wouldn’t you? What an incredible crock of shit! He’s practically begging for scorn and ridicule.

And if, in the coming days and months, Norm stuck to his guns and continued to insist that his account was true, despite lack of any evidence whatsoever, you’d eventually fear that your buddy had suffered some kind of psychotic break and start urging him to seek professional help.

But at least Norm had the advantage of claiming first-hand, personal, eyewitness experience. And, no matter how far-fetched his tale, it didn’t contain any outright impossibilities. How much crazier do you have to be to solemnly subscribe to the even more incredible bullshit from the Bible, all of which (supposedly) happened 2,000 years ago and is attested to only by 4 pseudonymous authors, otherwise unknown to history, who didn’t even live thru the events they wrote about?

And you religionists wonder why we jeer, scoff, roll our eyes, and poke fun at you. Put yourselves in our position, and imagine the self-restraint we have to use to hold it down to only that. The only reason we take you at all seriously is because you wield political power and have historically shown that you’re perfectly willing to barbecue people like us for pointing out your idiocies, so you’re not merely pathetically funny, you’re irrationally dangerous.

"People who don't want you to laff at their beliefs shouldn't believe such funny things."

Dec. 21st, 2013

11:56 am - Seeing the World We Live In

I am so pleased to be able to share this insightful 3-minute video with a wider audience.

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I touch the future. I teach.
— S. Christa McAuliffe, teacher, astronaut

Dec. 19th, 2013

11:35 pm - The Brain-Dead "Increased Tax Base" Mantra

It is a source of continuing frustration to me — hair-tearing-out frustration — that it has been HALF A CENTURY since the State of Wisconsin adopted its system of shared revenue for municipalities and general equalization aid for school districts, and their effects are STILL being ignored by supposedly "expert" analyses like the one from Paul Fanlund in Thursday's Cap Times.

Fanlund not only beats the "benefits of TIF" drum himself with his mention of "city experts" having identified "73 projects that provided $106.7 million in subsidies that resulted in $1.6 billion in added tax base", he cites unnamed proponents of Judge Doyle Square lamenting that "taxpayers might lose out in perpetuity on the bigger tax base", unnamed "others" who "think TIF is vital because we desperately need an increased tax base for schools and city and county governments", and Mayor Paul Soglin as saying "I want something that’s going to pay off for the public. That means a long-term benefit to the school district and the county as well as the city. It means developing the tax base.”

Yes, yes, we get it. Building more taxable property does in fact increase the tax base, practically by definition. And the owners of that property will in fact be paying property taxes on it. The unstated corollary is that "Well, if they're going to be paying more, then you and I must necessarily be paying less!" But that's true only if, by "you and I", you mean "the State of Wisconsin". Because every increase in locally collected property taxes is matched by a decrease in state aid. It's not quite dollar for dollar, but almost. So we could build a 12-story hotel every 10 blocks for the entire length of Washington Avenue, East and West, and you might see the property taxes on your home drop by 5 or 10 bucks a year. Or you might not.

State law figures, quite rightly, that if Madison is doing really well in terms of its own local tax base, state money is needed more elsewhere, and so the aid formulas reallocate it to poorer communities and school systems. The net result is the admirable principle that cities and schools that spend at the same level (per capita or per pupil) will tax at the same rate everywhere in the state, regardless of tax base!

And, as I said, this has been true for over half a century. Why do these guys continue to ignore it?

= = = = = =
The fundamental rule of analysis: Always ask "Compared to what?".

Dec. 6th, 2013

01:16 am - When Is Less More?

When is less more? "Greatest living human", now only 2/3 true.

Nov. 27th, 2013

03:30 am - Promote the Meme "Neo-Theo"

I invite you to join in propagating a new meme: "neo-theo".

Despite its obvious resonance with "neo-con", the term "neo-theo" more closely parallels the rebranding that the creationist movement undertook after getting repeatedly slapped down for making its religious motivations too visible. They went back into their burrows and emerged again as defenders of "academic freedom" (religious zealots have a free-speech right to indoctrinate school children about "evilution") and "intelligent design" (a pseudo-scientific label for the laffably named Discovery Institute, which operates no labs, runs no experiments, publishes no papers, and has never discovered a damn thing). The legal, academic, and scientific false fronts they put up are mere sham, of course, but they help to preserve the legal facade of not being religiously motivated.

It's the same deal with the neo-theos. Instead of being repackaged creationists, they're gussied-up dominionists. In their heart of hearts, they believe the United States should be (and probably all along was intended to be) a theocracy, but they've learned from bitter experience that they can't come right out and honestly say so. Instead, they take refuge behind nominally secular legal concepts, such as the idea that corporations are people (which gained legal credibility after the eye-opening Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC) and thus entitled to "human rights", such as conscientious objection.

There's another case currently headed for the US Supreme Court, in which the newly minted "person" known as Hobby Lobby claims its conscience has been shocked by being required to provide the same kind of health-care coverage for its employees as, say, General Motors or Microsoft. In fact, while the fundamentalist owners of Hobby Lobby may have just such an attitude (the same way that the owners of Chick-fil-A are opposed to gay marriage), the corporation itself, not being a human being, is devoid of opinions on the subject. And the law applies to the corporation.

Just as with the "academic freedom" claims of the creationists, the neo-theos are attempting to put a smiling secular face on their ludicrous claim, wrapping it in shiny colored paper with a ribbon, a bow, and a label reading "religious liberty". Well, "corporate personhood" (either as such or in its guise as "church personhood") is as much an oxymoron as "intelligent design" and deserves to be exposed for what it truly is: dominionist dogma rebranded for secular consumption.

I believe that identifying its proponents as "neo-theos" (which has the added advantage of rhyming) will help to do that.

Nov. 10th, 2013

01:03 pm - Perspective

Remember how breezy it was yesterday in Madison? Steady winds of 12-15 MPH, with gusts up to 20-25? Flags standing straight out from their poles?

Badger Flag

In the Philippines the winds were 10 times that speed.

Philippines Flag

It was like being in a 100-mile-wide tornado that went on for hours.

I wonder if there might be something to that global-warming stuff.

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The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

— Bob Dylan, American singer-songwriter, Blowing in the Wind

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