What’s that, TurboTax?

You say you want to give me a 33% better return than Taxslayer? Oooo…alright.

Thought of the day

If it wasn’t for all the things they say and believe and do, I really think the Republicans could have a respectable party on their hands.

A letter to the editor

I have again written a letter to the editor of my local paper. Here it is:

The media is an interesting thing. In its desire to appear objective it will pretty consistently go out and seek ‘both sides of the story’. When discretion is not used – and let’s be honest, how often is it? – the result is kooks getting exposure for their causes. For instance, anti-vaccine nuts have become a prevalent danger over the past decade or so because of people willing to give Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy a platform from which to tell lies.

This is bad, but it gets worse when the media does manage to use its discretion but in the wrong way. Take the recent articles and reports all across the state on this new legislative prayer caucus. I have yet to find a single dissenting view. Apparently there are no atheists in the state of Maine.

Of course, it isn’t easy to find organized atheists. We don’t have any central dogma. We don’t have tenets of faith (also known as belief without evidence). So I can cut a little slack on that point – though let’s be honest, it’s unlikely anyone bothered to open up Google and do a search for some Maine groups – but how about talking to some historians? Surely someone could have found a qualified person to slap down garbage like this from Maine Senate President Kevin Raye: “Let us keep in mind this nation’s founders placed such importance on prayer and God’s role in the life of our fledgling experiment in democracy…”

This is blatantly false. The founders placed importance on individual freedoms and the right to believe or not believe as one pleased. They did not want church and state to be entangled, or to have one’s religious beliefs be the de facto principle by which the nation operates.

Even when the media only gets one side of the story I guess it’s still possible to find the kooks.

(Letter appears as I wrote it, not as the KJ edited it. AP style can go to hell.)

The legislative prayer caucus, from what I gather, is just a bunch of Bible-thumpers in the legislature getting together to prayer after their sessions. I don’t have an issue with that (except insofar as it’s dumb). My problem is with the fact that if an atheist group did anything locally, the first thing the paper would do is seek out a response from a church.

Thought of the day

I think what I find most disturbing about libertarianism is just how often its adherents lack a social conscience. We should always make our moral and societal decisions on a rational basis, but I think there’s something wrong with a person who can’t be persuaded to even think about certain issues on an emotional basis.

Student embarrasses school, school stomps feet

I’ve written in the past about how I know I’ve beaten people rhetorically. When someone starts using my exact rhetoric right back to me in a way that isn’t meant merely to mock or quote, I know I’ve gotten to that person. Something I said got to them and they want to force that same feeling onto me. The only problem is that they’ve gone about it in an obvious way that is more immature than anything. It’s like when a little kid gets embarrassed in front of his friends by, say, tripping and falling. The kid who laughs at him the most may get pushed for no reason other than to make the first kid feel better.

So that brings me to Mustang Mid-High School in Mustang, Oklahoma. A 9th grade student caught a teacher sleeping on the job and snapped a picture with his cell phone. The first reaction of any adult would be to reprimand the teacher. It may be a slap on the wrist, it might be an official write-up, or it might be outright termination. It depends on the exact context as well as the teacher’s history, but I don’t think any mature person doubts some sort of punishment is in line. Unfortunately, the people running Mustang aren’t that cognitively developed:

A ninth grader who snapped a picture of a snoozing substitute teacher with his cell phone camera and posted it on a social network is in hot water with his school district.

The unnamed student, who attends Mustang Mid-High School in Mustang, Okla., was suspended, according to ABC affiliate KOCO.

This is a tad ridiculous. Sure, the student was breaking the rules by having his cell phone on during school hours. I don’t think there’s enough evidence (unless the student said otherwise to administrators) that he had his phone on for anything more than to take the picture, but if they want to follow the letter of the law, this isn’t the worst case of people doing that. Except they aren’t following their rules for the sake of being consistent. If they were, they would have only given the student a detention or some other reprimand which, according to various reports, appears to be the usual course of action. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here: the unnamed student embarrassed the school and they wanted to get back at him. I would say the school didn’t merely rhetorically lose on this one. Now they look completely stupid.

To be fair, the school is claiming they are taking action against the teacher. They aren’t saying what it is their specific course of action will be, but I have to wonder what Oklahoma’s freedom of information act looks like. In Maine and other states, as I found out when I embarrassed the Augusta Police Department, most personnel information is privileged, but that is not the case for disciplinary records for public employees. It may be possible for local media outlets to find out the specifics of the reprimand. (In fact, I will be emailing them to encourage they do so.)

Thank you, Mountain House

In my recent post about my upcoming trip to Haiti I mentioned that I planned on purchasing Mountain House meals. I used these for a trip I did nearly 3 years ago over part of the Appalachian Trail known as the 100 Mile Wilderness. It was a grueling hike that took over 8 days and required everyone involved to lug in a lot of weight; we probably started with 45 pounds each, trekking over some of the most difficult terrain the AT has to offer. The Mountain House meals made things much easier than they otherwise would have been. We saved space and weight, plus they were extremely easy to prepare (boil water, dump boiling water in pouch, wait, eat). I have to imagine they will be a big help for us in Haiti, especially considering the fact that we specifically have space and weight concerns.

With my past trip in mind, I sent off an email to Mountain House. I gave them the details on what I will be doing and asked if they would be willing to make a donation. As I said in my email, I plan on buying the meals whether or not the company can help us out, but I let them know anything they could do would be hugely appreciated. To my delight (and, in March, to the delight of a number of Haitians), they offered to match whatever I purchased up to 20 items. That constitutes a donation of approximately 40 meals (each pouch is two servings). This is going to make a positive impact all around. Not only will we have more food to share with our hosts, but we will have more space for carrying in other supplies such as crayons, pencils, clothes, and more.

In addition to thanking Mountain House here on FTSOS, I have also thanked them on the Facebook page for the trip. Only a few students have “liked” the page so far (I recently created it), but it would be good for anyone to like it. I plan on utilizing it to get information out there on how to donate, including updates on bidding in an online auction of various items. (The auction is meant to bring in money we will be directly giving to Casale.)

So again, thank you to Mountain House and don’t forget to like our Facebook page.

A prediction on Scalia

Lawrence v Texas was a case the Supreme Court had roughly a decade ago. The central question was whether or not states had the right to legislate private sexual acts between consenting adults. Specifically, Texas and other states had anti-sodomy laws meant to target gays. The court called bullshit and rightly pointed out the lack of constitutionality of such invasions of privacy. In the dissent to the law, political figure Scalia and Chester the Terrier avatar Thomas (and fashionista Rehnquist) gave some terrible arguments for their pre-decided votes. I want to focus on what Scalia said.

Part of what the chubby little shitbag did was appeal to stare decisis, something he applies only when convenient to his political ideology. But more importantly in his dissent is his exploration of the implications of the ruling:

One of the benefits of leaving regulation of this matter to the people rather than to the courts is that the people, unlike judges, need not carry things to their logical conclusion. The people may feel that their disapprobation of homosexual conduct is strong enough to disallow homosexual marriage, but not strong enough to criminalize private homosexual acts–and may legislate accordingly. The Court today pretends that it possesses a similar freedom of action, so that that we need not fear judicial imposition of homosexual marriage, as has recently occurred in Canada (in a decision that the Canadian Government has chosen not to appeal). See Halpern v. Toronto, 2003 WL 34950 (Ontario Ct. App.); Cohen, Dozens in Canada Follow Gay Couple’s Lead, Washington Post, June 12, 2003, p. A25. At the end of its opinion–after having laid waste the foundations of our rational-basis jurisprudence–the Court says that the present case “does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.” Ante, at 17. Do not believe it.

In other words, Lawrence v Texas established adequate precedence for the constitutional legalization of same-sex marriage. At least it did in political figure Scalia’s view. (In reality, the 14th Amendment established it.) That means that once same-sex marriage makes it way to the Supreme Court in the coming years, Scalia is going to rule in favor of it. That is, if he really does care about stare decisis. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

I hope I’m wrong, but here’s my prediction: Scalia is going to rule against same-sex marriage in overt defiance of the principles he pretends he holds.

Conservatives may not be dumb…

…but dumb people tend to be conservative:

The research finds that children with low intelligence are more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes as adults. These findings point to a vicious cycle, according to lead researcher Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario. Low-intelligence adults tend to gravitate toward socially conservative ideologies, the study found. Those ideologies, in turn, stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice, Hodson wrote in an email to LiveScience.

“Prejudice is extremely complex and multifaceted, making it critical that any factors contributing to bias are uncovered and understood,” he said.

This matches up with the old saying, “Republicans may not all be racists, but racists vote Republican.” And though this confirms suspicions of liberals/the rest of the world concerning the general intelligence of conservatives, I think it should be clarified that this is talking about social conservatives. Going hand-in-hand with that is economic conservatism (at least in American politics), but that’s probably more a quirk of history and shitty political polarization than anything.

People with lower cognitive abilities also had less contact with people of other races.

“This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that intergroup contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice,” said Hodson, who along with his colleagues published these results online Jan. 5 in the journal Psychological Science.

This matches up with the fact that large cities tend to vote more liberally. Using my home state as an example, independent 2010 candidate for governor Eliot Cutler – by far the most intelligent candidate the state has seen in quite some time – was doing very well according to early results. Unfortunately, those results were indicative of southern Maine where the technology and methods for reporting vote counts is more efficient due to more money as a result of a denser population. Once the results started coming in from rural northern Maine, our current shit governor [Waterville-R] started to take over. We saw the same pattern with the voting down of same sex marriage in 2009. Bigots like their rural atmospheres.

Of course, it has to be noted that this is all correlation. It matches up with a number of trends, yes, but that does not mean causation. In fact, since plenty of conservatives are intelligent, it’s obvious that believing in dumb ideologies does not make a person dumb. But still. Dumb people do tend to believe stupid things…

Spotted at the State of the Union

James William Bottomtooth

State of the Union

Cons: I appreciate corny jokes more than the average person – I actually really liked the salmon one last year – but that milk joke was just awful.

Pro: That ending was pretty epic.