Hobby Lobby Case And Derailing Secular Gains

I’m going to go out on a limb here with this Hobby Lobby case and say something that is going to be pretty controversial. Just not in the way you might imagine.

The current Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court, as well as similar incidents and issues around the country, are keeping the religious level of the United States high and preventing the gradual shift to a more secular nation.

I’m not saying that because conservatives and religious folk are using the suit to maintain their religious beliefs – through employer health insurance – against the tide of reasonable secularists. No, I’m saying this because I think those who want to force employers to violate their religious consciences are in the wrong and are reinforcing the other side.

Look at this this way. Say that Hobby Lobby is allowed to avert the contraception mandate and other health insurance requirements by claiming a religious exemption. Okay, so those things are now no longer paid for by your employer. (This is far different from saying they are dictating people’s lives outside of work. Not paying for your decisions does not equal dictating those decisions. Some CNN commenters have forgotten that.) This fact, I assure you, will be loudly trumpeted throughout the media and people will know about it.

Now let’s see what happens. Those who don’t support the policy will refuse to shop at Hobby Lobby and not give them any money. Indeed, I suspect this will be a majority of Americans, even Christians. Of course, those who actually shop there will be far smaller, but I think there will probably be a boycott movement or two. They might even have some success.

Let’s have this process continue. More people become secular, and instead of forcing their ideas on the religious folk, just allow them to live their lives (without harming anyone else, of course.) The religious folk don’t see themselves as under threat as they do now, and may actually start to talk to the more secular people out there. They may even see them as Americans. And with that, you might actually get through to them, and if not cause them to rethink their views, maybe their children will.

Compare to that to what is going on in America today: we have cases like Hobby Lobby dominating the media, where religious people feel they are under attack by a pernicious, left-wing, godless conspiracy. They go on the defensive and start to rally and organize. They use the Supreme Court case as a perfect tool for fundraising and email list collection. And they naturally shut themselves off from listening to the other side, as they perceive what is coming at them not to be words, but bullets.

It happens with pretty much every controversial topic these days, if not since the beginning of time.

Don’t get me wrong. I want to see a world where religion is something of the past, where people have stopped believing in supernatural beliefs and instead relegate such things to the realm of fantasy (and maybe get a bit too excited about their favorite TV show). I want a world where science – proper science, not the bastardized progressive worshipping meshuggnah we seem to have today (to see what I mean, Google “anti-vaccine,” “GMOs,” “fracking,” etc) – rules the day, and we can leap far beyond our current selves and advance into a new world where suffering may just possibly be eliminated. We might have room for some secular philosophy such as Secular Humanism or (a toned down variant of) Objectivism, but for the most part I don’t even want that, as they still carry faint threats of straightjacketism and dogmatism in the wings.

However, what is going on today is the wrong way to go about it. Such change can never be forced. European nobles attempted to do so by forcing their subjects to follow the same religion they did; what they got were centuries of religious warfare and pointless struggles. Not until John Locke came around with his revolutionary ideas that, in someone’s mind, that person is sovereign (and thus religion is a wholly individual choice) did this silliness begin to come to an end. Let’s not forget either that this country was, philosophically speaking, built on Locke’s ideas.

By using government to try and force employers to violate their religious consciences – in the name of “health care,” no less – we’re risking starting that up again, and undoing all the advances we’ve made in the past two centuries. Do I think it will come to actual violence? I find that unlikely – Americans talk a good game about kicking ass and being manly, but in general we’re rather reluctant to actually bite, as declining crime rates show – but on the other hand, you never know. Two months ago I didn’t think Russia would actually invade and annex a part of Ukraine.

I do think, however, that it is a largely unnecessary and pointless antagonism of the religious America – which is still about 79% of the population, if my memory serves. We really shouldn’t be having this debate in the first place; government shouldn’t be telling employers what they can and can’t pay for, and if I’m brutally honest we should never have tied health insurance to employers in the first place! (Thanks, FDR.) It’s just as my friends Trevor Burrus and Aaron Ross Powell say: politics makes us worse. It leads to fights that, if government stayed out of the matter entirely, would never have become fights. One side would do X, the other side would do Y, and we’d go our merry ways. Instead, because government force is involved, everything becomes a battleground that must be fought over, lest the “other” is able to impose it’s values onto you at the expense of your liberty.

We cannot force our way to a more secular nation. It can only come naturally and through organic processes.

It’s truly tragic, especially when you consider how it’s harming our society’s development. Oh, we’re still progressing in many key areas, but I just think if some people stopped trying to push their own ideology on everybody else and just let things work naturally, society would be progressing a lot faster.

 

PS: If you like this blog post, you might like my Op-Ed on Why The GOP Should Not Turn Away From Secularism over at Practical Politicking.

 

Image from Matt Wade Photography, via Wikimedia, published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Why Banning Learn To Code Bootcamps Is A Modern Atrocity

Over the past week, my Twitter feed has shown me at least two or three stories out of California on the state banning learn to code bootcamps. As someone who last year discovered had a natural talent for web coding and actually enjoyed it, leading to a career shift, this story dismays the hell out of me.

From VentureBeat, “California regulator seeks to shut down ‘learn to code’ bootcamps”:

BPPE, a unit in the California Department of Consumer Affairs, is arguing that the bootcamps fall under its jurisdiction and are subject to regulation. BPPE is charged with licensing and regulating postsecondary education in California, including academic as well as vocational training programs. It was created in 2010 by the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009, a bill aimed at providing greater oversight of the more than 1,500 postsecondary schools operating in the state.

These bootcamps have not yet been approved by the BPPE and are therefore being classified as unlicensed postsecondary educational institutions that must seek compliance or be forcibly shut down.

“Our primary goal is not to collect a fine. It is to drive them to comply with the law,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesperson for BPPE. Heimerich is confident that these companies would lose in court if they attempt to fight BPPE.

Heimerich stressed that these bootcamps merely need to show that they are making steps toward compliance: “As long as they are making a good effort to come into compliance with the law, they fall down low on our triage of problem children. We will work with them to get them licensed and focus on more urgent matters,” Heimerich said.

The question, really, is why there needs to be such burdensome regulation in the first place.

What happens at these bootcamps is that students come, they learn to code, they gain a valuable skill, and they can later turn that into a job. While the bootcamps cost between $10,000 – $20,000, they only last about 10-12 weeks, much less than the minimum $40k a year parents must shell out for 4-5 years of college. These bootcamps are a great opportunity: not only do the students get training in an actual, real world skill, but they do it for a lot less than a traditional college and they don’t waste 4-5 years unable to collect a paycheck, but can get right into the coding world with a job.

California regulators are citing “fraud prevention and safety concerns” as their reason for barging in and imposing themselves, but let’s be honest: that is not the case whatsoever. I would bet dollars to donuts that what’s really behind the regulators’ push is some market incumbent–some college, school, provider, whatever–that sees these bootcamps as a threat to its market share and wants them to be regulated so hard they go out of business, or at least until they stop being a threat. This is how the vast bulk of regulation in the United States comes about.

And here, because we are talking about education, knowledge, and individual empowerment, it’s especially atrocious. Any time someone steps in to prevent another from learning, well, mere words cannot describe how horrific such a thing is. I would never say it’s as bad as, say, the Holocaust, but it is truly a terrible thing. Knowledge is what empowers people to take control of their lives, better themselves, and in turn better all of the world. Knowledge knows no boundaries, no limits–except those imposed by the jealous and short-sighted. And even then, it will get out. You don’t need the bootcamps to learn how to code and get a job as a programmer, but it helps. A lot.

I myself was working in PR and media relations until the end of 2012. In 2013 I was very fortunate to have a friend recommend me to take a job in web programming, as he knew I had studied it a long time ago with my father. I was initially nervous, as I hadn’t done it in a long time…but before I knew it, I was becoming an expert on a completely new (to me, anyways) content management system, and was becoming an ace at HTML5, CSS3, and working my way into new forms of JavaScript. I became intimately familiar with responsive web design (taking one online course to help) which is a huge boon with the rapid growth of mobile web usage. This has opened all sorts of doors for me, and moreover, I actually enjoy it tremendously. It has turned me away from a period in my life where I was struggling to find what I was good at and could do for a day job, and was banging my head against the proverbial wall to do so, and into a life where I see possibilities and growth and a future and something I can do. Will it be easy? Of course not. It’s life. Life will never be easy. But now that I have this knowledge I have gained and taught myself, there is at least a path forward. That’s all anyone can ask for.

Why on Earth would regulators deny students this same empowerment? This is a modern atrocity.

2014 Predictions Part 3: Everything Else

With little over 24 hours left in 2013, it’s time for my last predictions for 2014. I couldn’t be arsed to do two more bits, so I’m just doing one more blog post, and hopefully will keep this short.

Without further ado:

We’re gonna get dumber next year

2013 was the year of stupidity, or just another year of it. We also had a lot of internet hoaxes (hoaxi?), ranging from a stupid spat on an airplane which turned out to be completely false, a story about how Iron Maiden followed it’s music pirates, and a few others. Over the past year, the credibility of online sources went really downhill.

While part of me wants to lay it at the feet of outlets such as Buzzfeed, Upworthy, ViralNova, and Breitbart, in reality the problem is really us, the consumers. We simply do not take the time to examine what we hear or read critically. Mainly, this is because we don’t have the time, nor the resources, to do so. But still, people can and should be raising their eyebrow in a Spock manuever more often. It’s a shame we don’t.

I honestly expect it to get worse. People are offloading so many cognitive functions to others–hoping for experts and the “news” to tell them everything–that they just won’t think about things.

Also, in a related vein, I see the phenomenon of trying to create viral posts by outfits like those mentioned above increasing dramatically, before suffering some sort of backlash and dying…only to be replaced by something even more grotesque. You know what I’m talking about: “This Guys Had A Great Plan Going, But What Happened Next Changed Everything.” It’s a technique that has annoyed a lot of people, though nowhere near enough to actually change things.

So that’s depressing.

Quality of discourse will suffer

Ever had socio-political, economic, theological, or any other debate online? Yeah. They’re gonna get worse next year. More ad hominem, more fallacies, more refusal to even research their own opinions (and probably demand you to do it for them), more just plain stupidity.

How do I know? Call it an educated guess. The longer I’ve lived, the worse and worse these discussions have gotten.

No significant change in religion

Dunno if anyone’s said there’s going to be an uptick in atheism next year, but I’m calling it now: there won’t be any significant change in anything religious next year. Maybe a point or two fewer Christians calling themselves evangelical, but probably not even that.

Cable companies will continue to suck (your money)

So I bought my parents a Google Chromecast for Christmas so they could watch their ABC shows online without having to physically plug in the laptop to the TV. (They’re old, you know.) However, we just discovered that starting Jan 6th, they’re going to need a provider code from their TV provider in order to watch ABC shows online.

They don’t have a “provider.” They get their shows over the air, via digital broadcast.

This is the way of the cable companies twisting the arms of the networks to force consumers to buy hideously expensive cable/satellite packages instead of just cutting the cord and using Roku (or a Chromecast). This will continue throughout 2014. My question is when it actually ends; when will the jig be up? 2015? 2016? 2020? Later? I don’t know. But it seems to me that it will happen sooner or later. Probably sooner. Then people will watch what they want online, including with all the ads.

Just not soon enough, unfortunately.

Kansas City Chiefs Crush The Seattle Seachickens To Win Super Bowl XLVIII

I’m calling it now. I’m also calling my bank to reassure myself I have enough money to cover my losses.

Employment & Free Speech

So A&E (apparently) suspended Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Robertson clan from Duck Dynasty, for homophobic & racist statements he gave in an interview. Naturally, there’s been a lot of outrage on all sides.

Let’s get something clear: this is not the First Amendment. That applies to the government, not private employers. Don’t even think of making it a First Amendment issue. Matt Yglesias is completely right on this. (And I disagree with him on a lot of things.) So let’s just get that out of the way: First Amendment applies to government, not to private employers.

However, be that as it may, is it still right for companies to terminate or suspend employees over voicing opinions and views, no matter how backward or detestable they may be? Sure, companies may have a right to do so, but it does not make it right. It may also be completely legal, but again, not right. It’s very clear it is legal, but it is not at all clear that it is right to me.

Libertarians frequently talk about the chilling effect on speech whenever government censors. What libertarians don’t talk about is the chilling effect when companies censor. Now, to a large degree, this is because employment is a largely voluntary activity. If you don’t like your company, you can leave. You can even blow the whistle and enjoy certain legal protections.

But you still have to deal with the consequences of those actions. And one of those consequences is losing your paycheck. In a world that is the end result of a century of rampant inflation, losing your paycheck means a lot of struggle and hardship. (Okay, it did before the rampant inflation too, but not nearly as much. With things costing less, I think it was easier to compensate.) To speak your mind and possibly lose your source of income that pays for your housing, food, clothing, transportation–everything–is one hell of a chilling effect.

Now that doesn’t really apply to Phil Robertson. He’s clearly well off and will not be harmed by this whatsoever. But most of us are not Phil Robertson. We don’t have those resources to fall back on. Even if we may have some resources, we may be facing hardship we are not ready to face.

The problem with then saying “Nobody should be fired for voicing their opinions” is that you have a free association issue. People should not be forced to associate themselves with people they don’t want to. That includes corporate management that wants nothing to do with a person who vocally articulates hateful or otherwise harmful rhetoric. I wouldn’t want to be around a gay-bashing homophobe, and I suspect most A&E employees don’t either. So by mandating some sort of “don’t fire” principle, you’re effectively forcing people to pal around with people they really don’t want to.

And that creates a whole heaping load of problems on its own. I mean, hello: hostile work environment lawsuits.

I want to make it clear that I don’t support homophobic or racist rhetoric. However, if that’s the content of Robertson’s speech, I’m still not sure that suspending him was the right thing for A&E to do. I also want to make it clear that I think that employers should not terminate employees based on voicing their opinions outside the office, so long as they are not bashing the company, the company’s clients, or even possibly the company’s vendors. I also want to make it clear that any resolution towards these problems should not involve new legislation; we know how that creates a horrible, unmitigated mess.

In short, I am very conflicted. I think good, sensible employers will realize they cannot punish employees for voicing their opinions and will not do so. Bad employers will, and they will lose talent and suffer. But at the same time, I hate what the guy has said and I wouldn’t want to work at a company if such speech was allowed to run rampant in the office. Yet if companies start punishing employees for speaking their mind, what kind of a world would we be living in?

And this is the real world, unfortunately, where nothing is easy and you get your dilemmas for free.

Image: By Njallis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Geography Schmography

Just before Thanksgiving, Buzzfeed posted an article about how some Brits couldn’t identify any of the US states. Then someone at BoredPanda responded that Americans could barely identify any of the countries in Europe. It’s a theme I’ve seen countless times before: Americans are unworldly, uneducated, and just plain stupid, especially when it comes to anything beyond their nation’s borders. The Buzzfeed article was, in some ways, a reprisal to that, noting “Hey, non-Americans are stupid too!”

What both articles completely ignore is the fact that geographical knowledge is really just bupkiss.

I mean, if you know all the countries in Europe, what does that do? Sure, you might  receive a “That’s cool” at a party, but beyond that, do you need to know all those countries? Unless you’re a geography teacher or a cartographer or something similar, no, no you do not need to know all the countries in Europe. It might save some embarrassment if you meet someone from another country, but in an age of Google Maps, there’s ultimately no purpose to taking up valuable space in your brain for detailed geographical knowledge of another continent.

There are many marks to gauge whether or not a “populace” is “dumb”. Economic & political knowledge of their own country; basic mathematical and scientific principles; general history; logic and critical reasoning (understanding cause & effect and fallacies & so on); and, I would also argue, ethics. A person without any understanding of ethics is a dumb individual indeed. But geographical knowledge? For 99.9% of the populace, the usefulness of such knowledge falls about in between the win/loss record of the Arizona Cardinals and exactly how many minutes it takes for paint to dry on a house in Alaska in the winter. If you don’t know where a country is, you can just Google it. It doesn’t mean that you’re dumb or uneducated.

It means you have better things to do than know precisely where the Entitled Peoples’s Republic of Bumfuckistan is (which, for your information, is wedged precisely between Snobbitonia to the north and the Federal Republic of Conceitania to the south.)

Jeebus, people, we have better things to worry about.

Featured image released into the public domain by Joebloggsy.

From @Superbus » Richie Incognito And The Male Disease

» Richie Incognito And The Male Disease The Superbus’s Thoughtpad.

I forget the guy’s name, but I’ll never forget the time my home town of Seymour effectively beat a kid to Florida.

The Seymour High School football team1, in my freshman year of 19952, got in a lot of trouble because the parent of one kid reported the hazing that her son – someone I knew, but wasn’t very good friends with – went through and wanted answers. What kind of hazing? How about softball-sized welts on his back from being whipped, while tied up, by weightlifting belts that reportedly were made wet to make them hurt more. Basically, imagine being hit by the leather part of a championship wrestling belt after it’s been sitting in water for an hour and you have an idea. That’s the kind of thing a plantation owner would do to a belligerent slave.

However, this woman and her family made one key mistake: they didn’t get anyone else on board. Other people who took that barbaric abuse didn’t back him up, and other players, upper classmen, called him out. Things only got worse from there, as the entire school, and eventually the entire town of Seymour turned against him and his family. I don’t remember specifics, but he got abused far more, and far worse, as time went on. Eventually, the family moved to Florida, and though I don’t know them personally, it’s patently obvious that they moved because their son was being abused to the point of cruelty, not just by the jocks who turned on him, but by a town that abandoned the snitch, the heretic, and the one who could have hurt the season of a team two years off a conference championship. I mean, God Damnit, we have to beat Torrington! We have to beat Torrington!!!

When I think of the barbarity of what Richie Incognito is guilty of, I think back to that 15 year old kid who was abandoned by adults because he was deemed soft by the kangaroo court of a small town who takes its football way too seriously.

Such are the opening words to an amazing, utterly amazing blog post on the recent brouhaha with the Miami Dolphins, and more general issues regarding the contemporary man.

There are a lot of things floating out there; one of them is that we are engaging in a “wussification” of men across the board. I think that’s happening in public schools, especially at the elementary and junior high levels, but in general I think there’s also a lot of macho man BS going on. I see it all the time, where men are expected not to be thoughtful and kind but just turn to violence or other forms of barbarity in order to get ahead.

I see it in society all the time. There’s a dark layer of barbarism lying underneath modern culture, undergirding it in some respects, and it bothers me. We’re above this stuff, or at least we should be. I was done with bullying in the sixth grade, but I see it all the time as an adult–at work, at my house, on the street, in politics, in the media, in churches, in schools. It’s ridiculous.

Anyways, I encourage you to read the entire blog post and leave Chris a comment. It’s an extremely well-written piece and he deserves a few more blog hits than he normally gets.

Why I’m Not A Fan of Apple

A couple of weeks ago I got into a debate on Facebook between Android and Apple. I have never really been a fan of Apple products, despite owning an iPod for two years and using an iMac and a Macbook Pro at work. There are many reasons why I prefer Android and/or Windows over Mac OS X and iOS. So let me go through them.

 

  Cost

The number one reason why I don’t like Apple products is that they are ungodly expensive. Looking at their current website, a Macbook Pro 15″ (non-Retina, which I’ll get to later) costs $1,799. A similar specced out PC computer from Newegg.com costs $629. That’s an $1170 difference, and I ask you: what is it you get from that $1170 in a Macbook that you don’t get in that Windows 8 ASUS laptop? “Build quality”? Please. You don’t buy a laptop because it looks cool or it’s attractive, and if you are then you’re fundamentally misunderstanding the point of a laptop. You buy motorcycles or cars because they look sweet and cool.

Computers are appliances. Sure, if they look nice, that’s a plus. But that’s not the core requirements. What you need and want is a good performing computer, with a relatively fast processor, lots of RAM, hard drive space, and the ability to run the programs that you want, at a good price point.

And quite frankly, after seeing scuff marks and other wear and tear signs appear on a Macbook, I’m not really convinced that’s all a great decision.

But it basically comes down to cost. Macbooks are not economical compared to PC laptops and even Linux machines. Frankly, buying a Macbook is a stupid financial decision unless you’re a professional or semi-professional media creator (music producer, photo editor, videographer, etc.).

Similar things can be said about Apple’s mobile products. While there is less of a difference in the mobile realm thanks to carrier subsidies and other factors, if you still look at the iPhone and, say, the Galaxy S4, you realize you’re getting a much better bang for your buck with the Galaxy. You get a faster processor, bigger screen, more memory, and more talk and stand-by time. So then, like anything, it comes down to subjective desires and values. But when you choose an iPhone over an S4, what are those values you are choosing?

 

  Looks Over Performance

I mentioned this before in the Cost section, but it bears repeating: for Apple, you’re buying looks over performance. In a sense, you’re buying sex. And do you really want to spend money on a whore?

Okay, that’s harsh (but the line demanded to be written.) Yet when you look at it, it’s clear. Apple invests a lot into making their devices look nice. The smooth aluminum of the Macbook, the sleek dark looks of the iPhones and the iPods, you do have to admit they are good looking. But again, as I said above, that’s not why you get a computer. That’s not even why you get a phone. You get a phone to call people, and in this smartphone era, to also browse the Internet a bit, check social media, text folks, listen to music and maybe watch videos,  and perhaps schedule tasks and other productivity tasks. It’s the same thing with computers, except you’re A) doing more and B) usually you’re actually creating content instead of being limited to just browsing it.

True, Apple did just introduce the iPhone 5c, which I see as a belated recognition that they have to stop being the 1% providers and actually have to supply the masses if they want to continue. For almost the entirety of Apple’s mobile product history, it was the sleek iPhones for the upper-class.

Think about what that means when you buy into it. You really want to show off that you have the latest iPhone? (That’s what iPhone fanboys do, don’t deny it.) How shallow must you be that you have to say that you have the absolute latest new smartphone from Apple? It’s simultaneously pretentious and pathetic. I may ask people about their phones from time to time, but it is a quiet matter, usually when I’m in the market for a new one.

This is not to say you should go out and buy a completely ugly phone. But looks are really not that important, especially in an era when we cover all of our phones in cases. Performance is what matters: can it do what you need it to do? And no, you don’t need your phone to woo a date over for you. If you’re relying on that, then you’ve already lost.

 

  Severely Limited Consumer Choice

This one probably isn’t going to matter to most Apple customers out there, but it’s one that really annoys me: significantly reduced consumer choice. You are very much locked into Apple’s idea when you buy an Apple product. With Android and Windows, you get significant choice and can lose yourself for quite some time evaluating what you can get with your money. I could not even count the number of Windows hardware configurations in existence right now. Hypothetically, I might be able to with Android phones (restricting the list to only those phones being currently manufactured and distributed) but I won’t because that would still be quite an endeavor. But you have a lot of choices, from budget computers for old grandmas to high-powered gaming monsters for teenage nutjobs to workstations for professional content creation and scientific work; from small phones with a QWERTY slide out keyboard for basic functions with a 3.2″ screen to BIG DAMN SCREENS with 6.4″ portals to the cyberworld with quad core processors and huge space for data and room for a mammoth microSD card up to 128GB. The possibilities are not quite endless, but they go pretty far.

Even after you purchase your device, you can engage in a lot of customization and, if you’re into it, “hacking” to make it your own. On my own Windows 8 laptop, I got a program that gave me back my start menu and start button, bypassing Windows 8 Metro interface completely. On my Android phone, for a long time I used something called “Smart Launcher,” which radically transformed the way that the Android OS looked and even, to a small degree, operated. It’s very flexible and gives me loads of choices for optimizing my user experience.

Apple….not so much.

For ages, Apple remained stuck on the 3.5″ screen size, competitors (and customers) be damned. Perhaps that why iOS’s market share has tumbled down to about 13.2% this year while Android is over 70%. (Not the only reason, mind you, but one of them.) Even as variety blossomed in screen sizes, from 2007 to 2012 all iPhones had 3.5″ screens. It wasn’t until the introduction of the iPhone 5 did they give you another choice, that of the 4″ iPhone. Yet there still wasn’t much choice; you couldn’t get anything with similar capabilities at a 3.5″ size if you wanted, you were stuck with the iPhone 4.

Another thing is that when you buy the product, there’s not much you can do to optimize it. Sure, you can jailbreak it, but that would void your warranty and is probably not really a good idea to do unless you have some idea what you’re doing (i.e., you’re an Apple engineer, you write for Lifehacker or The Verge, or you just read slashdot incessantly.) Remaining within the lines, you’re basically stuck with the standard iOS material. Now that probably doesn’t bother most people, and that’s fine. But it’s why I wouldn’t purchase an Apple product (well, not until they come up with at least one with a 5″ screen) and I do believe it’s a reason why Apple products are inferior.

One of the greatest things about capitalism is that it’s an economic system based on choice. You are free to choose who you do business with, what you buy, how much you buy of it, and so on and so forth. Companies that give their customers choices do really great work and post great numbers and earn a lot of profit. They succeed where others fail. Not only do they do the traditional job of an entrepreneur, by providing a means to alleviate a problem the customer has, they do so by giving the customer a number of choices of how to alleviate that problem. Regrettably, in the past couple of decades as crony capitalism advances and solidifies, displacing true free market capitalism, and the collusion between big business and big government grows, that has been changing. Companies stifle competition and in turn just give customers one-size-fits-all products, then tell them to “deal with it.” Consumer choice is being reduced across the board.

Apple has always taken that route with its products. You get limited customization with it’s Macintosh computers, and since they control the software and the hardware, and exercise tight control over their supply chains, there aren’t really any alternatives. (A company called Psystar tried to make their own Mac OS X computers in 2008, but they quickly went bankrupt from a combination of incompetence, lack of credibility, and getting strategically carpet-nuke-bombed by Apple in court.) Apple also exerts much more tighter control over its App Store than Google does over its Play Store. On the one hand this does mean this gets less garbage apps (supposedly), but on the other good apps don’t get approved and in the end you have fewer choices you can make.

I like choices. I like freedom. And Apple’s policy of being very restrictive and selective in what it gives you, and forcing you to do things one way, does not strike me as a good bargain. And if you can’t really use the product in your way, then why did you spend money on it in the first place?

 

  The Cult of Mac

Finally, the biggest part…the Cult of Mac.

The first commandment was "Thou shalt not use Flash." At least we agree on that.
The first commandment was “Thou shalt not use Flash.” At least we agree on that.

Two out of three Macintosh users are, to put it bluntly, feverish fanatic fanboys who fap to fabulous fantasises. They constantly go on and on about the superiority of Mac and iOS products, usually going on endlessly about how Windows always gets infected by viruses and how Mac OS X systems are impervious to assault. Nevermind that at hacker conferences Max OS X always gets hacked first, and that in 2008 a leading security guru called Macintosh users who said this “ignorant,” and that despite Mac’s alleged superiority it has less than 8% market share. It is manna from heaven, and if you do not use Mac, you are a heathen.

I wish I was making this up, but I’m not. Back in 2004 a journalist wrote a book called The Cult of Mac detailing the religious-like qualities of the Apple fandom. Uncyclopedia, a parody of Wikipedia, has a joke article with the image caption being “It’s goofy pseudo-religious iconography like this that makes this article so easy to write.” Nearly every comment thread about Apple has these crazy fanboys jump in with a vigorous defense of their company, to the point where you wonder if they’re trying to be funny or if they actually had someone spike their Monster Energy Drinks with psychotropics. (Not that Android fanboys are innocent; the Android v Apple wars are like a light-hearted version of American politics, where there are virtually no stakes whatsoever.) And even though there are massive issues with iOS 7 and it appears to be, yet again, half-baked, they still go on to say that the iPhone 5S is literally the greatest phone ever made and they’re going to really explode and overtake everybody! We’re being super serial, you guys!

Of course, every product line and company has a fanbase. There are fan forums dedicated to Suzuki motorcycles, Keurig coffee machines, and even IKEA (which is it’s own form of nuttery in some cases.) This is understandable, if you like a product and want it to succeed, you’ll naturally want to evangelize this to others so they buy it and keep it going. (Unless you’re a hipster. But I digress…) However, the degree of intensity many Apple fans go to is just absurd. They’ll completely ignore facts and just smear other products indiscriminately, especially anything Windows. They’ll spout ludicrous lines about how Windows is constantly infected with viruses and everyone everywhere has major problems all the time, etc. If you’re not a Mac user, well, you don’t understand. Also, you’re a goddamn heathen.

I have never seen anything like it. No other commercial product has quite the fanbase as Apple’s Mac OS X and iOS. I’m struggling to think of one…and I just can’t. I’m pretty sure such a product really doesn’t exist. If you do know of one, leave it the comments, because I would be really interested to know.

 

Anyways, that’s why I personally do not use Apple products, and why I think Apple products are generally inferior and not worth the hype. Of course, other people are free to disagree and continue to enjoy their Apple products. Not every Apple fan is crazy, and there are some legitimate uses for Mac OS X. (Namely, professional media creation. For reasons that I do not know, it seems that OS X is better at professional video and photo editing, although you can easily do these functions on a PC too. Mac just seems to be preferred.) But for the average consumer, Macs are needlessly overpriced and I can’t see them giving you too many bennies. In this day of variety and choice, as well, iPhones are exorbitant luxuries that should make you think twice about how much you really care about poor people.

But hey, to each their own. Me, I’m going to save that money and buy a Suzuki GS500F and flip you off when I blast past you on the street.

Individual Sovereignty, Humanism, and Libertarianism

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: I intend to update and add to this at a later date. I consider it to be somewhat incomplete at the moment.

I apologize for this post; it’s a bit spread out because of the way I got to the topic in question.

Over the weekend, NYPD officers attempted to subdue an apparently crazy person in Times Square. I say attempted, because all they really did was bulletspray and hit two completely innocent bystanders–one an elderly lady in a walker. This, after the bulletspray fest last year outside the Empire State Building, and also earlier this year when the LAPD, during the Dorner manhunt, bulletsprayed a completely random car that didn’t look anything like the vehicle that was on their APB.

Naturally, I spoke out against this. I think police brutality and police incompetence are serious issues that deserve more of a national discussion. Unlike talk about the deficit and the debt ceiling, or foreign policy, or the minutiae of economic regulation, police reform and criminal justice reform touches on Americans directly. It affects citizens in a very immediate sense–usually by killing them. Yet for some reason, despite all the deaths logged by the Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, or the other horrendous activities reported by CopBlock, or the crazy stories of civil asset forfeiture run amok, or even Third Amendment violations, it seems to me that nobody is really talking about this in a meaningful way. Politicians sweep it under the rug and go on to start another shouting match about the debt ceiling or them brown people coming over the border.

I also noted that one of the scariest things that is happening is the militarization of police around the country, something I noted last year for United Liberty, and which is the subject of a recent book by Radley Balko. This led to a gun control activist to start yelling about how the police were arming themselves with military hardware because the NRA had weakened gun laws and led to rampant armament of the populace. Naturally, I disagreed. We had a bit of a back and forth about it, and then somehow suicide entered into the equation. I’ll let my Storify speak for itself:

I went off on a rant about humanism and individual sovereignty.

This leads me to the real meat and potatoes of this blog post, which is atheism, libertarianism, and what it really means to be a humanist.

A long time ago, I blogged about the silliness that is Atheism+, a new “movement” that tried to merge atheism with third-wave feminism and far-left progressivism by basically being assholes to everybody. One of the most important points is that atheism does not lead to anything directly. Atheism, being merely the rejection of belief in a supernatural entity or entities, doesn’t really entail anything beyond that. Even though I would really like to agree with this blog post that says atheism leads to libertarianism, even that is really not true. How, exactly, does lack of a belief in a supernatural entity lead to a libertarian leap? It doesn’t. There is no underlying philosophical foundation there. The previous author talks about controlling your own life and thinking for yourself, but that is not ipso facto atheism.

There is a difference, though, between atheism and humanism. Atheism is a philosophical position. Humanism is to atheism what Christianity is to theism (sort of). While there is a long running argument over whether or not humanism is a religion (other terms include “life stance,” a “replacement for religion,” which I think both works and yet doesn’t), it sort of fits the bill. Just barely.

What is humanism, though? Let’ see a couple of definitions:

  1. (Philosophy) the denial of any power or moral value superior to that of humanity; the rejection of religion in favour of a belief in the advancement of humanity by its own efforts
  2. (Philosophy) a philosophical position that stresses the autonomy of human reason in contradistinction to the authority of the Church

Note that: human reason. Human autonomy. Exactly the things that I mentioned above in my Twitter rant.

Yes, said autonomy sometimes includes suicide. This is a tragic thing, but yet if we’re going to respect autonomy then we must respect that too. But for the most part, that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t come up. What does come up all the time are small things, small decisions. Like the size of soda cup you’re buying, or your sexual orientation, or what sort of clothes you like to wear.

These decisions stem from our sapience, and come from our rationality. And if you’re going to be a human being, and not reject humanity, then you must embrace this sapience, and moreover, individual human sovereignty. Anything else is inhuman, full stop.

That’s why I think libertarianism and humanism naturally go together. If you’re a libertarian, that leads to humanism because you’re focused on freeing individuals from the power of a large government, and letting them control their lives; and humanism is all about human lives being front and center. If you’re a humanist, focusing on human lives and humanity, then you should naturally be a libertarian, because libertarianism embraces and encourages the natural essence of humanity, sapience.

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time now ever since I heard about “thick libertarianism.” This is the idea that libertarianism entails other ideas that are not necessarily political, that there are consequences to being a libertarian. The idea, as far as I can determine, was formed by Charles Johnson, also known as RadGeek, a left-libertarian blogger. Here is a good reading list to start on if you want to know more about thick libertarianism and libertarian morality:

  1. The post where it all (sorta) began, “Libertarianism Through Thick & Thin” by Charles Johnson
  2. Libertarianism: Thick and Thin“, by Matt Zwolinski
  3. Libertarianism and Morality” by Fernando Teson
  4. Libertarian Social Morality: Progressive, Conservative, or Liberal?” by Kevin Vallier
  5. BONUS: “The Libertarian Middle Way“, by Randy Barnett

Johnson explores several different forms of thick libertarianism, or shades of thickness, really. Two of these are “strategic thickness–causes of liberty,” and “thickness from consequences–the effects of liberty.” I think both of these lead toward humanism. The first because, as Johnson himself notes:

Or, to take a less controversial example, many if not most libertarians, throughout the history of the movement, have argued that there are good reasons for libertarians to promote a culture in which reason and independent thinking are highly valued, and blind conformism is treated with contempt. But if this is a good thing for liberty, it must be for reasons other than some kind of entailment of the non-aggression principle. Certainly everyone has a right to believe things simply because everybody believes it, or to do things simply because everybody does it, as long as their conformism respects the equal rights of independent thinkers to think independently and act independently with their own person and property. It is logically conceivable that a society could be rigidly conformist while remaining entirely free; it would just have to be the case that the individual people within that society were, by and large, psychologically and culturally inclined to be so docile, and so sensitive to social disapproval, ostracism, and verbal peer pressure, that they all voluntarily chose to go along with the crowd.

Technically, reason itself doesn’t require libertarianism, but if we’re going to promote a society where there is limited government and people have individual responsibility for their own actions, then you’re going to promote reason. And when you do that, you find yourself heading towards freethought, which heads towards humanism…

The other, “effects of liberty,” is simply the same thing but in reverse. A society of free people is going to lead towards humanism in one way or another. If we’re going to give people power over their own lives, there is going to be less power from the Church.

I’m not saying that one cannot be a Christian and a libertarian at the same time, but there is a tension there between the Christian and libertarian elements that I don’t think you get from being an atheist libertarian or a humanist one. For centuries, the Christian Church has been a state unto itself, passing edicts and laws and being very forceful in demanding people to bow to its will, or at least the will of whomever at the time was wearing the most outrageous hat. God is described as a king, with ultimate power, and everyone is to bow down and obey him. Indeed, for a long time, free will was ignored, and the Church was extremely authoritative. Although various Christian denominations have undergone rebranding efforts over the past couple of centuries, dealing with the rise of (classical) liberalism, Christianity is still very much a top-down, hierarchical, authoritative institution. “Follow our commands or burn in hell forever.” Not exactly a lot of leeway there.

I should also point out that I don’t exactly agree with many of the various “Humanist Manifestos” either. A lot of what I’ve seen published suggests that many want to make humanism lean towards some variety of socialism or social democracy–but then, I see these people as not being fully humanist either. If they’re going to take so many decisions away from individuals and put it in the hands of a nebulous, all-powerful state, then they’re not embracing the very essence of humanity either. Just because I use the term “humanist” doesn’t mean I’m talking about the party line of the American Humanist Association, the Council for Secular Humanism, or the IHEU. I’m talking solely about a human-centered philosophy that lacks supernatural elements.

That, by itself, I think goes hand in hand with libertarianism. Sort of an odd topic to come to via police brutality and suicide, but that’s what happens when something has been bubbling under the surface for awhile and gets hit with a random act of tragedy.

.@pzmyers smears Michael Shermer, and I have a hunch why

It appears that PZ Myers, long a bomb-throwing, shit-stirring sort of atheist, has decided to just smear Michael Shermer with allegations that Mr. Shermer is a rapist. As the above video explains quite well (and within the first three minutes) the entire story just smacks of falsehood. And even if it is true, why is Myers publishing it on his blog and not going to the police?

The video implies that the reason is for more pagehits, which I cannot deny is some motivation. PZ has been losing credibility and steam in the world, and like any attention whore he needs new marks. But I don’t think that’s all of it.

Michael Shermer is one of the leading atheists in the world, Founding Publisher of Skeptics Magazine and Executive Director of the Skeptics Society. But Michael Shermer is also a libertarian. I don’t agree with him on everything–he took a decidedly leftist view on guns after the Newtown tragedy–but overall the man is libertarian.

PZ Myers, on the other hand, is most decidedly not libertarian. He is a progressive at best, a socialist at worse. (He calls himself a “godless liberal biologist” on his Twitter bio, but that’s because he doesn’t really know the meaning of liberal.) As I’ve noted before, PZ is behind the creation of “Atheismplus,” or “Atheism+,” which is sadly not some sort of atheist social networking site but is rather a sociopolitical movement designed to sneakily convert all of atheism over to left-wing progressives. Under PZ’s view, unless you take his positions on politics, society, and just about everything else, you can’t be an atheist. It was a handy way of trying to become the spokesman for atheism, however, that move backfired horrendously. As far as I am aware–which is actually limited, because unlike many atheists I do not spend a whole hell of a lot of time focusing on atheist bitchfests–Atheism+ sort of fizzled. Well, actually, it tore the atheist movement apart, created a lot of needless melodrama, and a whole lot of arguments, then fizzled. A lot of it had to do with McCarthy-esque witch hunts hunting down supposed misogynists, but it was really another attempt at using left-wing style politics to silence political opponents, this time in the (supposedly homogenous) atheist community.

I have no doubt that Myers’ baseless accusations, backed up by no evidence whatsoever, are caused by politics. Sure, he may be wanting to get more attention after A+ severely damaged his reputation, but this will not help him. It only makes him look more like a scumbag.

What I find most interesting about all of this is that there is a lot of disgust towards PZ Myers, the Atheism+ movement, and stuff like this happening. Reading about what happened to A+ makes me feel better about atheism in general. For a long time I thought atheism was overrun with socialists, progressives, and “statheists,” but apparently I was wrong. Thank goodness.

In more immediate details, Shermer has filed a cease and desist order against Myers. The post is still up, and PZ has sought legal assistance from Ken White at Popehat. That makes me a bit worried; I like Ken, and he offers pro bono legal help to bloggers facing libel and defamation suits. That’s a good thing, but he should steer clear of this one. This is just straight up, well, defamation, really, without any facts or evidence, calculated to cause reputational damage to someone, likely because of political differences. That’s not really something you can defend in court, but Ken is the lawyer, not me. Still, I would hate to see someone like Ken tarnished by being associated with this.

In short: PZ Myers is a turd. He will defame people, destroy them, if he disagrees with them, and wants to label any atheist he disagrees with him as “not-atheist.” He’s pretty low (and apparently also a misogynist himself.)

This is what happens when you go down that road of “progressivism.”

My Friend Suffered Because Police Are Out Of Control

I really need to pay attention to my Facebook feed more often.

A friend of mine, Crissy Brown, who I worked with last year, was arrested, thrown in jail, strip-searched, and detained for hours back in July–all because she didn’t pay a ticket for an expired license plate in a timely manner.

That is just messed up.

Crissy writes about her experience on Thoughts on Liberty. In her words:

While driving to work on Independence Day, I was pulled over by a Tuscaloosa cop for having expired tags. I had gotten a ticket for my expired license plate previously – and hadn’t taken care of it for the same reason my tags were expired: I’m a student waitress who barely gets by as it is.

The cop informed me there is a warrant out for my arrest (…”what?”), and without asking a single question, he handcuffed me and rummaged through my car.

I was three weeks late paying my prior ticket, and that is all it took to be given the total criminal treatment. He “helps” me into the back of the cop car, and this is when time stopped existing – stopped mattering at all.

I was taken to the police station, printed and photographed, then taken to jail to repeat the process. I asked so many questions, inquired (relatively) politely as to why some of the steps being taken were necessary, and I was told to “shut up” or just completely ignored at every turn.

As soon as I arrived at the police station, before I could make it through the metal detectors, I was pushed against a wall and made to stand there until a female officer could take the time to inappropriately touch – I mean frisk – me. As the woman ran her hands down my body and between my legs, three male officers stood behind me, watching the show.

From there, I was processed, which included stripping down in front of a female officer. While I stood before her naked, I asked the cop why it was necessary for me to be strip searched; she responded by calling me an asshole and deciding I needed to take a shower to, I suppose, wash the filth out of my mouth. I didn’t even get a towel to dry off with. She handed me a large, burlap-like orange set of scrubs, bedding, and a mattress. I was escorted down to population, made to walk along gray tape on the ground (it really pissed them off if you deviated from the “inmate line”), and then put in a holding cell that had more women than beds, two metal picnic tables, and an old fuzzy TV set.

I was in jail for a little over eight hours. For the last three, my family sat waiting for them to release me, wondering why it takes so long to process a bond. When they finally freed me, I thought to myself, “thank god this is over.”

Not even close.

That is beyond messed up.

Humans generally understand the concept of “proportionality,” and not going overboard with things. We understand that you don’t physically beat someone up if they just happen to bump into you when walking down the street, nor do you give the death penalty to someone who has stolen your bike. There are limits to punishment and response.

At least, everyone understands this aside from local police. Not just in Alabama, but everywhere.

We are inundated with horrific stories of police abuse all the time, from the police evicting a family from a house so they could plot out a raid on their neighbors in Nevada, shoot unarmed passengers minding their own business, and leading to all the incidents that make up journalist Radley Balko’s new book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

While we’re trying to roll back the National Security Agency’s unreasonable domestic spying programs, try to end the droning of innocent people, and cut back spending, let’s not forget the plight of my friends like Crissy Brown. This is a real situation that everyone needs to get outraged about–because this time it was Crissy.

Next time, it will be you.