I’m Not A Democrat, Republicans Are Just Batshit Crazy

Posted in Politics on August 31, 2015 by Genius

A little over seven years ago, I wrote about how bad I felt the Republican Party had gotten. Shockingly, I now look at the primary field two election cycles later and I can’t help but feel it has somehow gotten worse.

This is important to me because if I’m stuck in a two party system, I’d like to have two parties that are at least not batshit crazy. I think it was George Carlin who said (paraphrasing) that two options for President is only one more than people in a totalitarian regime have. And when one of them is legitimately crazy, where does that leave us?

I’m using the word a lot here, so I should clarify. By crazy here, I don’t mean “I think we should have single payer health care and you don’t agree with me so you’re crazy”. I mean literally crazy. Like hearing voices crazy.

Let’s look at the Republican polls right now. We have Donald Trump at 28% and Ben Carson at 12%. Jeb Bush is in third at 7%.

Trump, I maintain, is a sideshow. There’s a valuable lesson to be learned from his popularity, which is that people are legitimately sick of the status quo. Love him or hate him, Donald Trump is not just another politician. He doesn’t play the game. I could go on and on about how the big problem in democracy right now is campaign finance, and that corporations have essentially bought both parties. But Donald Trump is the first guy who can honestly say they haven’t bought him. If he had a mind to, he could finance his entire campaign out of pocket and he honestly might. He’s one of the buyers.

I like to think Americans still require some level of decorum from politicians, and that they’ll never vote for a guy who tweets daily about what a bimbo a reporter is. But the fact that he’s come as far as he has shows that we really are tired of politics as usual. Probably not enough to do anything about it yet, but closer. Still, he is a homophobic, misogynistic racist, and that ain’t good in a general election. It will be just too easy for the Democrats to nail him to quotes and crush him among the 70% of the country that isn’t a white male. The Republican Party knows this, and they’re already turning on him because of it, like they did to Huckabee 8 years ago.

Number two is Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon who doesn’t believe in evolution. That’s like a computer programmer who doesn’t believe in electrons. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. If someone I loved needed brain surgery, and that guy was in the OR, I’d pay out of pocket to life flight them to another hospital.

I realize there are two sides to a lot of issues. I’m often sympathetic to the opposing side. For instance I’m pro-choice, but I get that the people on the other side think life begins earlier than I do and therefore it’s murder. And even though they all say that if we ban guns criminals will still get them, they think banning abortion will stop them from happening which is, you know, not what happened last time. So I disagree, but I understand.

Evolution is not one of those issues. If a candidate said “I don’t believe in gravity, I just think angels are pushing everyone down all the time. Gravity is just a theory!” you’d think they were crazy and not vote for them. Saying that the earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago is no less ignorant or insane. Even the organization that wrote the Bible, the primary “evidence” (insofar as a 3,000 year-old folk story can be evidence of anything) against evolution agrees. And yet not one major Republican candidate will take a pro-evolution stance.

The Republican stance on global warming is equally crazy. I realize they get a lot of funding from people who make money causing global warming. If one of them got up there and said “Anthropogenic climate change is real, but we should let the market deal with it.” I’d probably piss myself out of happiness. But instead they say “the science isn’t conclusive” even though 97% of scientists, including basically all governmental science institutions, say it’s real and needs to be dealt with.

I’ve come to realize that on the evolution issue, some Republicans actually believe in it but they can’t say that because too much of their primary chances are dependent on the nutjob wing of the religious right. So their code is “I think it should be up to local school districts to decide what they teach.” For some reason the religious right loves states’ rights, so it works. Or they simply dodge the question, which also is good enough. I think John McCain sold his soul in his run for President by picking Palin and not disagreeing with Bush on torture, but at least he had the balls to raise his hand and state he believed in evolution. When you find yourself wishing the new crop of candidates had the political courage of the guy who picked Sarah Palin as his running mate you’re in bad shape.

Jeb Bush falls into that camp on both evolution and global warming. He’s obviously smart enough to know the truth, but his party is crazy enough that he can’t say it. And that’ why he’s the obvious candidate for the 2016 nod. He’s smart enough not to fall into the traps. And also smart enough to understand science as well as your average twelve year old.

Why can’t I get just one candidate who believes in getting our government out of debt but also isn’t anti-intellectual and anti-science, and is willing to admit it? Is just one rational conservative too much to ask? Does America have to choose between a Democrat and a crazy person, or someone who at least caters to crazy people, every election cycle? Because I don’t like either of those options.

People think I’m a Democrat, but I really am not. I just can’t pull a lever for someone who is anti-science, anti-intellectual, has less than a sixth-grader’s comprehension of science and wants to base public policy on 3,000 year old folk stories. I can’t do it. Whatever disagreements I may have with the other side, they at least have a rational decision-making process. And I’ll take a reasonably intelligent guy I disagree with over a nutjob, no matter what his politics, every time.

The Police Problem

Posted in Law and Disorder with tags , on June 9, 2015 by Genius

It seems like every day now there’s another video of a cop going ape-shit on someone. Nobody’s really sure why this is a sudden trend. Some people think it’s just the fact that everyone now has a video recorder in their pocket, and I’m sure that’s a factor but that’s been largely true for years now.  Everyone got a flip-phone that could take video a decade ago, and a smartphone at least five years ago.

Maybe it’s that cops are becoming more violent. The lack of reporting around that is shocking. We don’t know and never will. I can’t imagine they’re too terribly much more vicious than they were a decade ago, but I guess you never know. They have effectively no oversight.

Maybe it’s a combination of the two. Regardless of reason, I think the current trend is a great thing and we need more of it. We Americans have accepted too long our slide toward a police state. We have too many police, who are too well-armed, enforcing far too many laws. We have them because like any large bureaucratic organization, the police state constantly seeks to increase its size and influence. Politicians, who don’t want to look soft on crime, go along with it.

Over a million people are employed by state and local law enforcement agencies. That’s a big business. Only one American corporation, Wal-Mart, employs more than that. The second largest employer, Yum Brands! (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut) employs half that.

I’ve written before about how local law enforcement uses unreasonable means like excessively low speed limits to fund itself. This is at least not directly, physically harmful. Cops don’t shoot people for speeding. But it does cause accidents and loads of economic damage.

In a year, cops make about 11 millions arrests in the US. (See link below to FBI Data.) But they write about 41 million speeding tickets. Seriously, they’re about 4 times as likely to annoy a motorist for revenue as they are to do anything of actual use. And that’s implying that the arrests are of use, which many aren’t, but I’ll get to that in a second.

Cops no longer serve the public, they oppress. Their unstated purposes are to incarcerate the poor and raise revenue so they can justify their existence. They’re of little utility beyond that. If someone broke into your house, how quickly do you think they’d get there? (In my case I know the answer because I once accidentally tripped my alarm while leaving the house and didn’t know it. They showed up 40 minutes later. When they got there, they talked to the girl I was dating at the time, who said “I’m his girlfriend.” They didn’t ask any questions, not even whose girlfriend she was, and just left. Had it been a strange woman who broke into my house, she could have looted it for over a half hour, told the cops she was my girlfriend, then kept on looting.)

Ask yourself this: when was the last time a cop did anything good for you? Now when was the last time they cost you time, money, or worse when you were doing nothing that was of any harm to anyone else?

As for things other than speeding tickets, by far the largest group of arrests are drug-related ones. The most frequent is possession of marijuana. Does it make you feel safer to know that cops are arresting hundreds of thousands of pot heads every year for holding dime bags? Me neither.

Drug laws in particular give police forces an excuse to buy military-grade weapons and vehicles. They don’t restrain themselves to using them against meth labs though. I wasn’t there for it, but a a low-stakes poker game I used to frequent, full of little old ladies gambling for amounts in the low three digits, was raided by a SWAT team with machine guns and flashbangs. These weren’t hardened criminals packing heat. There weren’t hundreds of thousands of dollars to be protected. The cops even knew that because an undercover agent had played in the game and filmed it with a hidden camera three times. And yet they brought an armored van and put a bunch of harmless old retirees’ heads to the ground with machine guns pointed at them. Luckily nobody was injured, but it’s easy to see how a slight accident, like a nearby car backfiring, could have turned that scene really ugly, when all they had to do was walk in the front door.

Drug laws don’t reduce drug use. Our country should have learned that by 1933, when we repealed prohibition. Making alcohol illegal didn’t stop people form drinking, it just empowered violent, organized crime. Despite incredibly strong penalties, Americans do more drugs than anyone else. We use four times as much cocaine as the next country. Suck it New Zealand!

For awhile we were lucky. We have actual law and order (often too much) so it’d be hard to get away with a giant poppy farm in the states. So most of the violent organized crime was restricted to areas south of us. Our drug prohibition became Central and South Americas’ problems. Violent cartels grow the drugs in Columbia and ship them up through Mexico, destabilizing the entire region. We ship hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cash and weapons to their governments in an attempt to counter it, but it’s nowhere near enough when the drug lords are making hundreds of billions. We didn’t care because they kept their violence out of our country, but in the post 9/11 world, having a large group of paramilitary organizations who are very good at the logistics of smuggling things across our border has gotten scary.

As far as I’m concerned, pretty much the only good things cop do at any scale is bust drunk drivers. I’m glad they’re out there giving DUIs. I’m glad DUIs are extremely expensive. And they’re about 10% of arrests. Driverless cars will solve that problem for us entirely in a decade or two, but until then this is really the only thing cops are doing that benefits us law-abiding Americans.

The solution to our cop problem is obvious.

1. Decriminalize drugs. All of them. You should be able to walk into a CVS and buy cocaine or heroin. I know that might sound scary, but remember, pretty much every real bit of data we have says that making them illegal doesn’t reduce use. Instead regulate drugs so that users can easily access clean needles and services and know what they’re buying, and tax it so we can pay for treatment.

2. End the practice of local governments using speeding ticket revenues to pay for services. All fees from speeding tickets must go to charity (and not the local F.O.P. chapter.) Between #1 and #2 here we’ve just reduced our police force staffing needs by 75% so we’ll save a lot of money anyway.

3. Enact effective oversight of police by third parties. We can’t trust internal investigators and local prosecutors to be fair when it comes to their colleagues. Cleveland made national news for agreeing to a federal oversight program in the wake of the Michael Brelo verdict. This is a great program and every police department should be subject to it.

These things are starting to happen, bit by bit, around our country. I’m not optimistic about legalizing all drugs anytime soon, but perhaps marijuana will be a gateway legalizer. Demonstrations and riots will force police departments to agree to oversight. Perhaps more importantly, they’ll make fewer people want to become cops, and reduced police forces will (hopefully) have to prioritize better.

Modernist Cookware

Posted in Cooking, Startup, tech with tags , , on March 26, 2015 by Genius

I was checking out Y Combinator’s recent batch and was surprised (and elated) to see two low-temperature cookware devices in it! As someone working on a product in the space it’s good to see the segment of the market heating up. Pun intended.

For those who don’t know, low-temperature cooking is a new(ish) method of preparing food. The old style of cooking (we’ll call it high-temperature cooking, for lack of a better term) had a good run. It had a near monopoly from the dawn of humanity until about ten years ago. The idea is that you throw food onto or into something much hotter than the desired final temperature of the food (a grill, a pan, an oven, etc.) and then pull it out when the center of the food has reached your desired point. For instance if you’re trying to cook a steak to medium rare (130F) you toss it on a 500F grill and pull it off when the center reaches 130F.

The downsides to high temperature cooking are numerous. For one, it’s extremely easy to overcook your food. I’ll spare you the thermodynamics, but suffice it to say that while it may take 10 minutes to get your juicy rib-eye to medium rare, it may only take one more to get it to well and still one more to be burnt to a crisp. The chef must play what Modernist Cuisine calls “the role of human thermostat.” This is why you’ve probably eaten more food in your life that was overcooked than properly cooked.

Worse yet, the heat in the final product is distributed unevenly. Even if you cook a steak to perfect medium rare, cut it open and look at the inside. You’ll see a ring of well-done meat around the outside. It’s because heat is overcooking the outside as it diffuses toward the center.

Because of this there’s also something chefs call carryover cooking. Carryover cooking is just heat that continues to diffuse from the outside in after you take the meat off the hot surface. If the outside of the steak is 500F, and the inside is only 130F, it’s easy to see that heat will transfer toward the center, cooking it more. So a chef must actually guess at what temperature to pull the steak off (probably more like 125F) based on the cooking that will happen afterward.

With low-temperature cooking, things are much simpler. Thanks to accurate temperature control technology, which is now very cheap, it’s much better to just cook the steak at 130F. Now you no longer have to guess when to pull it out. A simple formula (don’t worry, you can just use a chart or app because nobody wants to do that math) tells you how long it will take to get your steak to the same internal temperature as the heating element. Because you’re cooking it at the final temperature, if you wait a little too long nothing bad happens. The steak will never get hotter than the 130F.

Your food is cooked to one internal temperature throughout. Here’s a graphic from Cooking Issues (thought I’d replicate it here before that blog’s takeover by Viagra spammers is complete) showing you the difference.

So low-temperature cooking is considerably better. You’ve probably had a ton of food cooked sous vide (one type of low-temperature cooking) and didn’t even know it. Chipotle cooks their barbacoa and carnitas that way. Panera cooks their steak, turkey, salmon, and even their oatmeal that way. High-end restaurants cook many things sous vide, in fact you’d be hard-pressed to find a Michelin-starred restaurant without a rack of immersion circulators.

So needless to say, Y Combinator made a smart move investing in the space. I don’t know much about the two specific companies but am excited to see them.

The first was Nomiku, which is a decent home immersion circulator. An immersion circulator is one type of device for cooking sous vide. Sous vide is a form of low-temperature cooking in which food is (almost always) sealed (sometimes in a ziploc bag, sometimes a vacuum bag, sometimes in its own shell like an egg) and cooked in an accurately-controlled water bath. If you’ve watched shows like Top chef, you’ve probably seen contestants cook in something that looks like this:

That’s sous vide. You can see the carrots are bagged (probably with a little oil) but the eggs shells serve as sufficient packaging. 

I actually pre-ordered Nomiku’s upcoming Wi-Fi model months ago on Kickstarter. I’ve been cooking sous vide for years, having built my own from some schematics I found online. Back then the Polyscience models shown above were the primary option and cost close to $1,000. In recent years we’ve seen the prices on immersion circulators fall to $200, and I think they will drop all the way down to $100 in the near future. (More on that later.)

More interesting, though, was Cinder. Cinder is kind of a cross between a George Forman grill and a low-temperature cooking machine. It’s not really sous vide at all, despite using the term many times on its website, it’s low temperature cooking. I have a lot of questions as to how exactly this thing works for many types of meat. But it does look like an incredibly simple way to cook a steak or pork chop! That thing would be really awesome for someone in a situation where a full stove is impractical too. Imagine having that in your college dorm.

I have a lot of thoughts about the space in general, having been doing this for a few years. I’ll get more into depth on that in the not-too-distant future.

Brief Update on Speeding Ticket

Posted in Politics with tags , on March 17, 2015 by Genius

My first step in fighting the speed trap I mentioned last time was the arraignment. The ticket was in the Village of Oakwood, which has a mayor’s court. For those of you who live in states where mayor’s courts don’t exist, which is most states because they’re ridiculous, they are basically kangaroo courts in which a magistrate appointed by the mayor finds people guilty of speeding violations and misdemeanors to raise revenue for their towns. Ohio has been slowly eradicating them, as they’re a flagrant conflict of interest. If you ever find yourself in a mayor’s court for any reason, and it doesn’t matter at all what it is, plead not guilty at your arraignment and ask for a change to a court of record.

Of course on my way to the courthouse I was blasting Rage Against the Machine, because what else would you listen to when fighting the man? I was singing along, getting hyped up for my encounter with the justice system. Right when I got to the end of Killing in the Name and was screaming “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me!” a cop pulled alongside me at a red light. Thankfully it wasn’t yet windows-down weather in Ohio or I probably would be fighting two charges instead of one.

I got to my arraignment early, and was surprised at what I saw. Now, I’m not going to say the justice system is racist. But there were five white people on my side of the room. Other than myself, there were two lawyers (representing black clients) and two white fellow freedom fighters. This is in a room of probably a hundred people. The two white defendants were wearing sweatpants and t-shirts. There were exactly four people wearing a tie in the whole place, the two lawyers, me, and the magistrate, who looked like Doc Brown from Back to the Future. I was waiting for men with machine guns to raid the courtroom but thankfully there hasn’t been a Libyan terrorist in about thirty years.

I sat there for about a half hour listening to the other defendants before I got called. These were the sort of crimes for which people should have an attorney. DUIs. Driving under suspension. Lots of driving under suspension. Minor drug possession charges. People who missed their last x court dates. The magistrate told one girl “I’m going to pretend you aren’t here, because if you were I’d have to take you into custody. Go get a lawyer and send him.”

When I finally got called Magistrate Doc Brown said “A speeding ticket? Haven’t seen one of those in awhile.” I pleaded not guilty and he looked surprised. He warned me that I wasn’t going to win just because there was a typo on the docket. I told him I didn’t know about the typo until he pointed it out. He looked at my quizzically. I asked about getting the venue changed to a court of record. He said “Ok, we’ll get you an arraignment in Bedford.” And that was it.

A few weeks later, I got a letter in the mail about my arraignment in Bedford, of course 5 days before it was scheduled, and of course when I was out of town on business.  I motioned for a continuance, which got denied because I hadn’t waived my right to a speedy trial and we were already 40 days from the date of the ticket. I resubmitted with a waiver, which required some expert Photoshopping from me since I was in Chicago and didn’t feel like going to Kinko’s to print, sign, and scan some forms, and it was granted.

So now I have an arraignment in a few weeks in Bedford. Wish me luck.

Why I’m Fighting My Speeding Ticket, & Think You Should Too

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on February 13, 2015 by Genius

TLDR: Speeding tickets are an unsafe, uneconomical, and unethical way of raising revenues without taxes and by fighting them you prevent that from happening.

A few weeks ago I got pulled over in what could only be described as a routine speed trap. I was on my way to dinner with a friend in a little town called Solon. I got off the expressway, and was on a state route that started off at 35 mph. I didn’t realize it dropped to 25 in a little town called The Village of Oakwood, and of course there was a cop right there waiting to snag me.

This has happened to me (and everyone else) a dozen times, and every time I just called the phone number and paid the ticket. That’s easily the most economical use of my time. A ticket is something like $150, plus probably a couple hundred more when you count in the raised car insurance rate that will result. So let’s say the total cost is $350. It wouldn’t need to consume much of my time to make it not worth fighting, monetarily, even if I knew I would somehow win. And you never know you’ll win. In fact you know you probably won’t.

But I am nothing if not a man of principle, and speeding tickets of this kind are, in principle, abominable. See what happens is little podunk townships like The Village of Oakwood want to have a nice town. They want to have nice schools, and nice parks. They want the garbage collection and snow plows to run on time. But of course the residents don’t want to pay for it, because having a nice town is expensive.

So they erect a speed trap. They drop a speed limit by 10 mph and then essentially tax passing motorists. This works especially well if they’re located between two spots people actually want to be, because then the speeding tickets won’t be issued to locals. They’re almost always on a highway or a state route as a result.

Speed traps are problematic for citizens for a few reasons, the largest of which is that they are a safety issue. It sounds counter-intuitive, but lowering speed limits can make roads unsafe. What causes accidents isn’t necessarily high speed, but high speed differentials. Research conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation showed that the percentage of accidents actually caused by speeding is very low, 2.2 percent. An expressway on which everyone is traveling 65 mph is fairly safe. A road on which half the people are traveling 25 mph and half the people are traveling 40 mph is dangerous.

People tend to drive at a safe speed regardless of speed limit. Studies show that raising the speed limit of a highway, for instance, barely alters the speed at which people drive. Traffic engineers know that know matter what speed is posted, about 85% of people will travel at or below safe speed.

In Ohio (and many other states) speed limits are proscribed by state law. Localities can deviate from them, but to lower them they are supposed to have a traffic engineering study showing that the legally proscribed speed limit is unsafe. This is quite simple, engineers just measure the speeds of passing motorists and set the new speed limit such that 85% of people are at or below it. You’ve probably seen engineers do this on the side of the road with a device mounted on a tripod and didn’t know what it was.

Speed traps cause accidents. Accidents cause injury, and death. Seriously. By setting speeds artificially low to collect revenue, townships are literally maiming and killing people. Let that sink in. They’re funding their schools by physically harming passing motorists. I’m not being hyperbolic.

Then there’s the economic damage. Slowing traffic wastes time, and time is money. The speeding tickets add points to licenses, which is great for car insurance companies, but bad for those of us buying the insurance. Car repair bills from the non-fatal accidents, hospital bills from when people get injured. The economic impact is a multiple of the tax revenue generated. Instead of taxing the citizens for a buck, they’re doing $5 worth of economic damage and getting $1 of it. Why? Because nobody has to vote to approve it, whereas a tax hike is hard to get passed on a ballot.

On top of that, revenue-based speed enforcement fosters a hatred of the police. For most Americans, traffic tickets are pretty much the only interaction they have with cops. There’s a reason even middle-class white people who’ve never had even a misdemeanor say “fuck the police” when I tell them what’s happening. I have a couple cop friends, and they tell me they hate writing speeding tickets for that reason, but their job security depends on it. Most people become officers to protect and serve. Nobody gets into policing because they want to issue tickets and harass passing motorists. But it fattens the town budget, and therefore their police department’s budget and their salary.

Because speeding tickets are entirely about revenue, they rely solely on your compliance. Unless you’re going highly in excess of safe speeds, a ticket doesn’t cost very much. In Ohio they max out at $150 (I think) which has to cover the time the officer spent writing the ticket, the time the prosecutor spends on your case, the time the judge and all of the other courtroom personnel spend, etc. Pretty much by challenging a ticket at all you’ve turned it into an unprofitable venture for the city. If you just plead no contest and pay your ticket, the city makes $150 for very little. (Basically ten minutes of an officer’s time.) If you fight it, they lose money. But you do too, and they know that. They are relying on you to be selfish.

To put that another way, if everyone started challenging their tickets, the whole system would crumble. Hell, if probably ten percent of people challenged the ticket, the system would shut down. Insurance rates will drop. Commute times will be shortened. Accidents will be prevented. Lives would literally be saved. Think about that. If we all challenged unreasonable speeding tickets actual lives would be saved.

So while I realize I’m not exactly Dr. Martin Luther King for fighting this one, I consider it my civic duty. Some day I hope to be in a position to end speed traps and revenue-based traffic enforcement altogether. But for now all I can do is fight this ticket. I’ll keep updating here as I do so about how it went.

I’m Baaaaaaaack

Posted in General Thoughts on February 6, 2015 by Genius

Anyone still here? It’s been a long time, I know. I’ve been doing most of my writing for the last year or two anonymously. It’s been enjoyable to say whatever I want, even if my readership was relatively tiny as a result. I had even hidden this site for a bit. Don’t worry, I’ll bring back the good posts bit-by-bit. I felt the need to more carefully curate what had been over a decade of assorted grabasstic raving. After all, this place has my name in the domain.

This blog has been with me for a very long time. It’s seen a major change of career, from poker player to entrepreneur. It’s seen marriages and other relationships come and go. It’s seen the world change in numerous ways.

Unfortunately my personal blogging had been suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. And as distribution outlets like Google Reader went down one by one, succumbing to things I either barely comprehend (Twitter) or don’t much enjoy (Facebook) it began to feel pointless. There’s a certain dread you can only experience when your blog has just enough readers that you have to be careful what you say, but not enough that it really matters to your life.

I’m trying to avoid the totally cliché metaphor of the phoenix here, but you see where I’m going. I’m ready to start again. I’ll keep some of the more niche items I care about anonymous, like my totally bitchin’ cocktail blog. But the general purpose brain dump will go here.

So it’s good to see you again dear reader. It’s been too long.

Gay Marriage

Posted in Politics on October 6, 2008 by Genius

I was thinking about gay marriage a bit today. It seems to be the hot button issue of the last 4 years or so. When the Republicans needed to get George W. Bush reelected despite a low approval rating, their most powerful tactic (and the one that may ultimately have worked) was putting anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballot to drive the religious right to the polls.

Gay marriage is clearly the new abortion, the topic separating the red half of the nation from the blue. It seems that the social conservatives are more or less admitting defeat on abortion, at least as far as ballots are concerned, and moving on. They know they can’t do much about it other than to hope they can keep electing Presidents until they’ve stacked the Supreme Court in their favor, but that’s too long-term a plan to make much difference at the polls. So they had to go digging for another hobgoblin, and lo and behold, Massachusetts and then California dropped it into their lap.

When you really think about it, you realize that something like 95% of the population doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome, so it’s clear that it isn’t the issue itself that’s bringing people to the voting booths. At least with abortion, there was a clear rationale for wanting it to be illegal. Many of us disagree with the premise (that life begins at some definable point, such as conception) and prefer to err on the side of civil liberties, but at least we can sort of understand where the opposing side is coming from. They believe, for whatever reason, that a fetus is still a human, and therefore abortion is murder, and that our government has a responsibility to protect unborn babies from murder just as they do born ones. Again, many of us may disagree, but we get the argument.

Not so with gay marriage really. The actual issue is a little esoteric, because it’s always being danced around. Separation of church and state forces those in favor of such amendments to come up with some justification beyond “The Bible says so” for outlawing it, but the ones they come up with are flimsy and weak, obviously a ruse to hide some deeper motivations.

The first of the big two justifications is that “marriage is between a man and a woman”, which is really nothing more than semantics. A lot of people say they’re ok with gay people having “civil unions”, which are just marriages but called something different, which essentially means they want the government to take over Merriam Webster’s job of defining words.

The second is that we need to “protect the institution of marriage.” That’s such bullshit that even most of the social conservatives I’ve talked to laugh at it. We have a 50% failure rate for first marriages, which climbs to 67% and 74% for the second and third, respectively. Any “institution” that fails more often than not doesn’t need protection, it needs life support. And nobody but Pat Buchanan could possibly blame gay people for the current state of affairs there.

So what it really comes down to, what really drives people to the polls to vote one way or the other, is epistemology. What we’re voting on isn’t whether or not gay people should be able to file a joint tax return. It’s whether we’re going to make our decisions based on science and reason or religion and fear of what we don’t understand.

As Bill Maher said in the first video from my recent post:

“It is two Americas. There’s like a progressive European nation that a lot of us live in, or would like to live in, and it’s being strangled by the Sarah Palins of the world. It can’t quite be born because this other stupid redneck nation won’t allow it.”

It’s pretty clear which nation I’d like to live in, of course. My heart lies with science. And scientists say that homosexuality isn’t a choice but rather a genetic disposition. And therefore, it cannot be wrong, any more than being tall or having brown hair can. (Science also says that there isn’t a black and white distinction between homo and heterosexuality as we tend to view it, but rather it’s a continuum and we’re all some shade of grey, but that’s beside the point I suppose.)

So that’s why I could never pull the lever for a candidate who was opposed to gay marriage. It isn’t because I care one way or the other about the outcome. It doesn’t really affect me either way. I only know a few gay people, and they don’t really seem to care. What does affect me is having leaders who base their decisions on 2,000 year old mistranslated folk stories, and irrational fears that if we let gay people be openly so, our moral fabric will somehow be ripped to shreds.

It’s a bad epistemology, and it’s one that’s threatening the very future of our country. It’s what’s allowing the redneck half to hold the progressive half back. And it’s why I find myself so often voting for a party that I consider the lesser, by far, of two evils, and lamenting that there hasn’t been a truly conservative candidate on the ballot since 1964. And don’t say Reagan or I’ll punch you in the teeth.

So the question is, where do we go from here? I really don’t know. I don’t see much of a way out of our current predicament beyond education, and that’s nearly non-existent in the red half of the nation. The differences in average wealth and education between the red and blue states are astounding, and it’s not a coincidence. It all goes back to the epistemology.

But the very policies of those kept in power by the religious right keep their base poor and uneducated. Our nation is already a statistical outlier in terms of religion, but it’s also very young, and it can’t stay that way forever. Nothing ever does. In the end, science and reason always have their way. It’s just a matter of time.

Perhaps if the progressive half of our nation wants the redneck half to allow it to be born, it should focus on educating them. Fear and religion are both predicated on ignorance. Maybe we should be donating to their schools and scholarship funds. Surely there are loads of intelligent people even in those states, give them the tools they need to stamp out fear and ignorance through education. It sounds a little counterintuitive to give money to the very people who are preventing you from fixing our nation, but it might build a progressive dynasty.

Or maybe not.

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