Category: Words

April 10 2013

“This guy really likes to think outside of the box.”
“How outside of the box are we talking?”
“On a scale from 1 to 10?”

January 23 2013

“So, having a good time so far?”
“Yeah, I am. How about you?”
“Well, you haven’t crushed my heart yet.”
“This is just our first date.”
“Then we’re off to a good start!”

October 17 2012

Mitt Rmoney and others have continued to push the claim that unemployment was higher than when Barack Obama took office. This is (at best) a misinterpretation of the facts and (at worst) an outright lie. The unemployment rate was not higher back then than it was when Barack Obama took office. In fact, it was lower. And it continues to drop. Just take a good look at the chart below. It chronicles the unemployment rate in the United States from the time of the 2000 presidential race through the most recent data available.

Fact 1: The unemployment rate when George Bush took office was 4%.

Regardless of what you thought of Bill Clinton, the fact is that he lowered unemployment consistently throughout his presidency. This goes for most presidents. Very few have presided over a nation that saw a constant increase in unemployment. The pattern is fairly consistent: a new president takes office, unemployment rises, and it eventually comes back down at a steady rate.

Fact 2: The unemployment rate when George Bush left office was 7.8%.

Although this number may seem like an exaggeration, that’s a 95% increase in unemployment under the Bush administration. And this only counts the actual end of his term. It ignores the trend that started well into the Bush administration’s last year and how it carried into the Obama administration’s.

Fact 3: When Barack Obama took office the unemployment rate had already been rising for over a year.

Unemployment started to rise in May 2007, and this could not possibly be blamed on Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. Clinton hadn’t been president for several years, and Obama hadn’t even begun running for president. Whether it was the president’s fault or merely the state of the economy, this rise began directly under the Bush administration. By the time Obama took office, the unemployment rate was skyrocketing, and the economy was undergoing a massive depression.

Fact 4: Obama pressed Congress to pass the American Jobs Act in September 2009.

Obama went on a nation-wide tour and even took to television in an attempt to force Congress’ hand. It wasn’t popular among Republicans simply because he’s a Democrat, and it wasn’t popular among Democrats because many were seeking re-election. This meant that both parties were working against Obama and the nation, and it was up to the president to make sure the American people realized how important this was.

Fact 5: The unemployment rate peaked one month after the America Jobs Bill.

Less than a month after the passage of Obama’s jobs bill, the unemployment reached its highest point. Though there have been a couple of months where the rate was higher than the previous month, the overall trend clearly shows that unemployment has been going down since October of 2009.

Fact 6: The unemployment rate has gone down more than twice as fast under the Obama administration than under the Bush administration.

If we ignore the sudden upswing in the last year of the Bush administration, unemployment went down (from its highest point of 6.3% in June 2003 to it’s lowest point of 4.4% in May 2009) at a rate of 0.026% per month. Since the American Jobs Act was passed under Obama the rate has gone down (from its highest point of 10% in October 2009 to it’s lowest point of 5.5% in February 2015) at a rate of 0.059% per month. That’s more than twice as fast as anything Bush was able to accomplish.

Fact 7: The unemployment rate is now lower than it was when Obama took office, and it is continuing to drop.

Though there will inevitably be hiccups on a week-to-week or month-to-month basis, the trend over the past three years has indicated that the unemployment rate will continue to drop at least over the next few months. This is, of course, assuming that Congress can reduce the political in-fighting and keep working towards creating jobs for the American people.

Fact 8: If the current trend continues, unemployment will be below 5% when Obama leaves office.

That’s 2.8% lower than it was when he took office, and that’s also after one of the worst economic collapses in US history. This is just an estimate based on the current trend. This trend could speed up or slow down, but there’s no reason to believe it will simply reverse.

Fact 9: When a new person takes office the unemployment almost always goes up.

Regardless of who the president is or what party they’re from, the unemployment rate almost always goes up near the beginning of their term. This is due to a number of factors, but mostly because of the uncertainty surrounding the change in leadership. So this implies that if Romney is elected the unemployment rate will start to go up next year, and it will continue to do so until he figures out a way to create jobs.

So, the next time you hear someone say that Obama has done nothing for jobs and unemployment, politely inform them that they’re mistaken, and share these facts with them. Because knowing an uncomfortable truth is better than believing a comforting lie.

August 2 2012

If you look at my Facebook posts over the past few weeks it might seem like I feel otherwise, but I really do want the Chick-fil-A conversation to come to a conclusion. I’m as tired of it as everyone else. But for some reason, we just can’t stop talking about it. We even have people who are complaining about people who are talking about it, and those people are just adding fuel to the fire. This is such a controversial topic that these discussions tend to be more emotional than intellectual. I mean, people are genuinely getting upset. People are fighting, enemies are being made, friends are getting unfriended,

target=”_blank”>our pet’s heads are falling off, etc.

So why can’t we let this go? Well, we are just now learning why memes go viral, so I can only speculate. But clearly, it has a lot to do with the presence of social networks like Facebook and Twitter. If you just look at the visceral nature of these discussions, you might think that Dan Cathy held a press conference to state that his company was going to engage in armed combat with homosexuals. But even his critics should recognize he was only answering questions that were put forth to him. Many people view the criticism as a breach of first amendment rights, while others base their criticism on a breach of basic human rights. But really, this conversation has proven that it’s not so much what people think as much as how they feel about it. That’s why the conversations get so heated. The mind of humanity is busy trying to decide where it stands, and that leaves the soul of humanity embroiled in this internal moral struggle.

Even though the discussions are extremely vitriolic, I do think it’s a good thing we’re finally having them in public. I mean, many of the people I’ve spoken to on this issue are relatively unknown to me. That sets up a situation where people are either very civil or downright antagonistic. And since we’re evolving socially, you see fewer and fewer people needlessly insulting each other. People are being forced to stop and think about this stuff, and it’s driving some people crazy.

Even those that don’t give a damn about it are having to deal with it. And honestly, I hope it does annoy people. This “meh…politics” attitude is how we ended up in the mess we’re in today. It got us into the Iraq war, which cost trillions of dollars and over 130,000 human lives. It plunged us into massive debt by allowing people to gamble with the nation’s economy. It allowed jobs to be outsourced while cutting critical programs at home. It neglected our education, our health, the health of our environment, and so on. We can blame the Republicans or the Democrats all we want, but we the people are ultimately to blame.

You don’t have to be a Republican to see that people’s first amendment rights are being protected, and you don’t have to be a Democrat to see how people’s human rights are being denied. The left and the right will always be at odds, especially if we oversimplify every debate into two sides. Really, it’s the people in the middle (including those who try to stay out of the discussion) that make all the difference. Only about half of all voters turnout for presidential elections, and only about a third turnout for congressional elections. That means a minority of Americans usually decide the leadership for the nation, and the majority just lets them do it then complains about it later. One of the only things on which George Carlin and I disagree is

target=”_blank”>his view that staying out of politics absolves you of any responsibility later on. Well, that’s just idiotic. You’re a part of this society whether you’re an active participant or not. Choosing not to take part in the discussion is still a choice, just like choosing not to vote is still a vote.

If you’ve eaten at Chick-fil-A with the intention of supporting their stance on gay marriage, then I genuinely commend you for sticking to your principles and voting with your wallet. There is hardly anything more capitalistic or democratic. Having said that, I want you to know that I also condemn you in the strongest possible terms for supporting discrimination and misunderstanding the issue. This never was about chicken, religion, or the first amendment. You’re free to believe whatever you want and to donate to whatever causes you support, but your beliefs do not empower you to infringe upon the basic human rights of others.

If you’re tired of talking about Chick-fil-A, then just stop doing it. Stop bringing it up, stop complaining about it, and stop bitching at the people who are talking about it. But if you think that avoiding the issue is going to make the whole issue of gay marriage go away, then you’re just fooling yourself. There are generations of discrimination to account for, and claiming that you don’t care and/or hiding behind your religion isn’t going to resolve the issue. The next time something like this happens (and it will…very soon) we should all remember this debate. You can’t sweep these things under the rug anymore. The Internet has given new life to these discussions, and people like us will continue to have them. It’s your choice whether you want to join in the discussion or let us do the thinking for you.

April 13 2012

Interaction is a superficial form of communication. We have known how to communicate for tens of thousands of generations, and we have been interacting with each other for even longer. For the most part, this hasn’t changed. We still just interact with people; we don’t communicate. A few of us had to learn how to communicate effectively, and many of them became politicians, diplomats, teachers, counselors, etc. But the vast majority of us are rarely expected to communicate much. What we have learned to do is interact. We interact with our co-workers, we interact with our family members, we interact with people randomly in public, but we don’t really have to do much communication. When we do, it’s usually boiled down to something as simple as we can make it. “What time is?” “Is that the 6 train?” “Pardon me.”

The internet, oddly enough, is forcing us to communicate. Everyone interacts with text, not people, so our interactions are all basically the same. For example, the wonderful thing about forums is that every line typed in a conversation is there for anyone to read. So people quickly learn that misrepresenting other people is a bad idea, especially when the proof that you’re misrepresenting them is just a few lines up.

The media is in the business of communication, not interaction. The only interaction they care about is the one in which you consume their product. And since journalism/marketing has historically been about communicating ideas to large audiences, they are well-positioned to take advantage of our tendency to interact instead of communicate. They inflame our passions and focus our beliefs, and then they dumb everything down to a yes/no viewpoint. Why? Because it makes for passionate interactions with poor communication, which leads to even more passionate interactions with even worse communication. And as long as the public is arguing about something, people are opening newspapers, buying magazines, turning on televisions, and logging onto websites.

Politics is a particularly heated topic because people usually interact during controversial debates or in an already inflamed environment. An argument that has turned into a yelling match is just an interaction. The only thing they are communicating to one another is their emotions. It isn’t until the reasonable part of the mind takes over that the yelling subsides and the conversation progresses.

And then there’s the Internet, that massive repository of human knowledge and suppository of human interaction. If humanity seems so infantile online, it’s because we are. When they first introduced the telephone, the telephone companies had to invent the greeting “Hello” to stop people from simply hanging up at the silence on the other end. When they first introduced the car, people were driving so recklessly that they make modern teenagers look like AARP members.

The Internet didn’t even exist a generation ago, and we’re still learning to use it. We’re still experiencing things that humanity has never dealt with before. How do you turn the Internet off when your government is trying to manipulate an election? How do you hide illegal weapon caches when there are images that anyone online can google? How do you convince millions of people they are being lied to when everything they see/hear/read tells them otherwise? These are just a few of the seemingly limitless problems that we face.

The irony of the information age is that we are learning more about everything than we are taking the time to understand. We need to hold onto our humanity during this unprecedented transitional period in our development. We have to remember that communication, even on the most basic levels, is more important now than ever.

April 29 2010

If you’re shocked or confused by the Nobel committee’s decision to give Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, don’t be. It makes perfect sense. They selected him because of his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” In this sense, he has definitely accomplished something and shows promise that he will continue to do so for the next few years.

If you believe that Obama hasn’t done anything to deserve this honor, you’re completely missing the point of the prize. Saying that Obama hasn’t done anything to achieve peace is like saying Bush never did anything to combat terrorism. Sure, Bush ultimately wasn’t able to stop terrorism, but that’s because it can never be stopped. Peace, similarly, can never be fully attained. It’s the efforts towards attaining peace that really matter.

And in that sense, Obama is a champion.

He has accomplished a lot towards peace, no matter what people say.

What do you think the point of an olive branch is? It doesn’t actually do anything. It’s the symbolism that’s important.

Well, Bush spent eight years as the leader of the “greatest free nation” on the planet. What did he do with it? He beat the shit out of the rest of the world with the olive tree.

What has Obama done in the past eight months? He has *tried* to bring about peace, something that will never be truly accomplished. It’s like saying he hasn’t accomplished anything with universal heath care because the law hasn’t been passed.

I think it’s far more important that the international community start recognizing America as one of the leading voices for peace than waiting for Obama to, for example, solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

They gave it to him for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

He has, in fact, done this.

Bush’s speeches in front of the UN were too often contentious, provincial, and self-concerned. Every time he spoke he undid years of progress between our nation and the rest of the world. And that is how the world began to view America.

Obama may not have saved us from ourselves, but no one should expect him to do that. He has, however, thrust America back into its rightful place as one of the leading promoters of peace, which is far more than the war-mongering members of our society will ever achieve. The Nobel committee’s decision does not state that we have achieved peace. What it says is: yes we can.

February 28 2010

I often get accused of being an Obama worshiper, usually by people that don’t know me. They base that belief purely on me supporting anything he says. Somehow, the fact that I’ve always had a soft spot for the environment means that I can’t agree with the president without appearing to be bowing down at the man’s feet. They think that the president should represent their views, and if he doesn’t represent them perfectly then he isn’t doing a good job.

The reality is that America is a nation of the world, and it is our duty to consider the entire planet when we make certain decisions. We have most of the world’s wealth, an over-abundance of resources, many of the most intelligent and powerful people on the planet, and a military complex unlike any in history. Our behavior affects almost every corner of the world. As the self-proclaimed greatest nation on Earth, it’s our duty to act like it. Our local officials will take care of local issues, our state officials will take care of state issues, our federal officials will take care of federal issues, but our president represents us in the world stage. In order to succeed in the 21st century we have to recognize that we are part of a larger effort. No matter how much we try to isolate ourselves or alienate others, we are inextricably linked to the entire web of life.

We may not (as individuals) like everything that Barack Obama does. There are many things that he has promised that he has yet to deliver. But that’s not entirely his fault. Change comes slowly, especially when there are so many people resistant to it. The fact that he’s doing things I don’t agree with just shows that he’s not simply catering to his base. That’s because he recognizes he is the leader the entire United States, which is a diverse and complex collection of individuals. If all you do is please your political base, then you become as effective a world leader as George W. Bush was.

The Americans that aren’t comfortable with Obama’s inclusive behavior (e.g., speaking in Arabic to Muslims, pronouncing country names in a native dialect, offering to sit down to speak with our rivals) are an increasing minority in our nation. Their xenophobia consistently proves unwarranted and unproductive. Regardless of their protestations, our world continues to progress, our technology reaches almost everyone on the planet, our wars (and peace) spread to other nations, our behavior directly affects the environment, and we are beginning to recognize the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. Like it or not, this nation represents the world.

Obama clearly understands all of these things and has consistently worked towards making these ideals into reality. Though people will fight him every step of the way (and though he may not be able to achieve all of his goals), the important thing is that he continues to aggressively work toward world coherence. As the president of the United States, Obama represents the people of our nation. But as a citizen of the world, Obama represents every person on the planet. One doesn’t have to support the man, but I don’t see how one could not support the message. After all, the message is: peace through cooperation leads to progress. No sane individual could disagree with that.

January 20 2010

I don’t believe what the media tells me about science because they are not experts in it. I believe what the scientists tell me because they have a long-standing history of knowing what they’re talking about. And the only scientists that doubt climate change are those who are simply taking a responsible approach to the data…as any good scientist would. They are hesitant to state with 100% certainty they know anything about anything because that’s just how science works. Even gravity is “just a theory” because we know how it works but don’t fully understand why (yet). But the numbers of scientists that outright deny humanity’s effect on climate change are a vast minority.

Long before this turned into the idiotic debate it has become, scientists were giving us plenty of warnings. The nuclear arms race came to a halt once they made it clear that nuclear winter could be a reality. Countless calculations show that an all-out nuclear war would destabilize the environment in very real and dramatic ways. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine what billions of people, hundreds of millions of vehicles, and thousands of industries working in concert over several decades could do to a planet as delicate as ours.

If you need an example of what atmospheric destabilization can do, just take a look at Venus and Mars. Venus is closer to the sun and suffers from a runaway greenhouse effect. Mars is farther away and has lost most of its atmosphere. A little warmer and you get the insane environment of Venus; a little cooler and you get the inhospitable environment of Mars. We can literally point to our sister planets and say, “See that? That could happen to us!”

The reason they changed the name from “global warming” to “climate change” is due to simple logistics and the fact that it’s far more accurate. After all, there are people that still don’t understand what the word “theory” means, so imagine if they called it “global atmospheric and climate destabilization theory.” People misuse terms all the time, and it was quickly becoming clear that the term “global warming” was misleading people to think that it was simply getting hotter. The reality is far more complex than that.

Accept it or not, humanity is playing a serious role in the continued degradation of the environment. There are *three times* as many people alive as there were just half a century ago, and that growth shows no sign of slowing. All of those people consume and produce waste, and their lifestyles require certain levels of consumption and waste production. Without regulation, everyone’s self-concerned and short-sighted behavior is eventually going to catch up with us. We can either sit on our hands and debate it endlessly or we can be responsible humans and do something about it before it’s too late to fix.

Think about this. What if the people who are claiming that climate change is real are wrong? What harm could come about from following their advice about reducing greenhouse gases, responsible fuel consumption, and alternate forms of energy? How is improving efficiency and protecting the environment even kind of a bad thing? Now think about this. What if the people who doubt climate change are wrong? What good would come about from unregulated greenhouse gas production, wanton fuel consumption, and a single (limited) form of energy? How is running out of fuel and exploiting the environment even kind of a good thing?

Politics and the virulent nature of memes are the only reason there is even a debate on climate change. The vast majority of people talking about it aren’t even qualified to do so. Our opinions about scientific facts have zero bearing on the truth. Regardless of whether it’s true or not, we are wrong to cast it aside as the rantings of financially- and politically-motivated people just trying to impose their will upon the rest of us. We may have become cynical over the past few decades, but that is no reason to justify irresponsibility just to prove a point.

December 10 2009

Agnosticism is often thought of as scientific because it appears open to new ideas. It implies that there is a possibility that evidence might exist that would prove that deities are real; we just haven’t found that information yet and we may never find it. Well, atheists aren’t that different. They haven’t seen evidence for deities and therefore they do not believe in them. But every true atheist is philosophically scientific, and new evidence will lead to new conclusions. So, if ample (and credible) evidence was uncovered that proved that deities do exist, then all true atheists would become theists. That’s no different than people claiming agnosticism.

There is, of course, that old argument that the difference is over belief and knowledge. Well, if you believe there are no gods, that makes you an atheist. If you believe the answer can’t be discerned, that makes you an agnostic. Though one claim refers to belief, the other claim refers to a belief about knowledge. And if you truly believe that there is even a possibility that deities might exist, then you are not an atheist. One cannot claim “I know X” and “I can’t know X” at the same time without being logically inconsistent.

Having personally gone through theism and agnosticism, I fully understand why people would want to call themselves agnostic atheists. It has a (slightly) better connotation to it than atheism, it sounds more open-minded, and it appears to be more scientific. But the truth is that claiming agnosticism gives credence to the idea of theism, and that is the polar opposite of what a true atheist believes.

October 30 2009

We are all born atheist. Once I hit my teenage years I became as devout of a Christian as I could possibly be. I went to church, prayed, and all the usual stuff. When I was in 10th grade I met a guy that had no qualms saying things like, “If there’s a Hell — and I highly doubt it — I’m going there.” I remember saying it once, laughing, and then realizing how liberating it was. I realized that all that religion was just me attempting to find myself as a young boy.

After that point I considered myself agnostic, and I remained this way for several years. Though deep down I didn’t believe in the existence of gods, I had this unshakable feeling that something was there, watching my every move and listening to my every thought. No matter what evidence I heard/saw/read, I didn’t see proof of God’s existence. But I also didn’t see proof of God’s non-existence, so it was easy to claim agnosticism. Though I was essentially atheist, my inability to shake that feeling left me referring to myself using an inadequate term.

And then I discovered Carl Sagan.

A friend gave me a copy of Cosmos and I consumed the whole thing in just a few days. Before I’d even finished the first chapter, my whole life had begun to change. It pried my third eye wide open and allowed me to begin my intellectual awakening. Before the year was over, I’d read over 30 books about science, biology, evolution, skepticism, physics, and astronomy, including almost every book written by Sagan. The whole process of rediscovering the beauty of nature and the purity of science didn’t just change my beliefs, it reshaped the way my mind worked. I can honestly say it made me into a smarter, more critical, more humble, and more compassionate person.

Right in the middle of all this, I read Sagan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Dragons of Eden about the evolution of the human brain. Sagan never once told people they should be atheists. What he did was reveal the world to you in a way that made you realize where the whole deity thing comes from. We have always been a part of hierarchies, and we have always had alpha males. I don’t remember the exact line but I do remember the point he made: being part of a hierarchy and submitting to alpha males is an integral part of our biological heritage. It explained why people all over the world and in every culture believed in higher powers, why we elect supreme leaders (almost always male) even in nations that call themselves democracies, and why we literally worship sports like football and soccer.

When I realized that the feeling for God and other higher powers is a naturally occurring aspect of our biology, my whole world changed. I suddenly found that proof that agnostics were always claiming didn’t exist. I suddenly felt that assurance that I’d never felt when calling myself atheist. And, most importantly, I no longer resented religious people for believing in higher powers. Though I don’t wear my atheism on my sleeve (because of the stigma attached to it), I finally have complete confidence in my beliefs. No uncertainties, no doubts, and (most importantly) a sensible explanation for the existence of all spirituality.

I’m not an atheist because I have yet to see evidence that God exists; I’m an atheist because I understand the biological explanation for it.

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