Bernie Sanders’s Religious Test for Russell Vought – The Atlantic

During a contentious confirmation hearing, the Vermont senator questioned the faith of the nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Source: Bernie Sanders’s Religious Test for Russell Vought – The Atlantic


There are many religious sects which hold strongly that their specific and particular beliefs are the one and only true collection of such belief/knowledge and that all other people are damned for failing to learn, understand, and follow such information and practices as they have.

If any country is to include these people as citizens and strongly support “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech” for all, including government officials and public representatives, then those people must be allowed to accurately state their beliefs, especially/particularly outside the context of acting *as* the government.

The important question is not “What does Vought think defines a good/true/proper Christian?”, nor is it “Does Vought think everyone other than proper Christians is condemned?”. The important question is whether or not Vought can act in the public interest to the benefit and respect of all citizens. Bernie Sander’s narrow line of questioning did not explore this, nor was his conclusion appropriate by this reasoning.

Basically any core religious argument could be seen as fantastically disrespectful to people of all other beliefs. If an atheist writes “Religion is outmoded, magical thinking which ought to be avoided.”, is that respectful to those with deeply held religious beliefs? Is it respectful to Christians when a Muslim argues that Christians are condemned for not following the prophet Mohammed?

And yet I would say that both of the above *and* Vought’s writing can be seen as respectful of other citizens insofar as they are communicating, explaining, clarifying, etc. their own religious beliefs (and potentially the actions and positions of religious institutions).


Every country *totally* has religious litmus tests — limitations on both the speech and actions of public officials and of private citizens. No country on earth permits it citizens to murder each other and claim “My religion demands I do it.” as a legal defense. Religious freedom ends where the collective ethics and values of the body politic begin. Less extreme examples include the restrictions on drugs taken for religious reasons/purposes, restrictions on sacrificing animals, and policies against awarding custody to a parent guilty of child abuse.

What to do…

Trumpism will expand its base of believers and practitioners if it is not strenuously opposed, just like Nazism, Communism, Capitalism, Liberalism, and every other -ism. Trumpism is an idea. Ideas can only be defeated through the greater popularity of a competing, alternative idea.

Ideas have currency because of the moral values which underlie their motive, reasoning, logic, and their intent. Ideas can also sometimes have currency due to the experienced reality of the outcomes of actions based on them, but that comes later (it takes time) and is frequently overlooked through selective perception and/or other cognitive biases.

Still, there are concrete steps which can be taken and are not token echo chamber participation.

Continue reading What to do…

Isn’t it better to invest in clean energy and be wrong about the dangers of climate change than to do nothing and be right?

To be absolutely clear, the climate is changing, humans are the cause (primarily through the mass combustion of fossil fuels), and human civilization is responsible for the eventual outcome.
See: Global CO2 Summary — The Keeling Curve, Seasonal CO2 Cycles, and Global CO2 Distribution


Those who don’t believe that climate change is real (or think it is manageable) think the gamble is in the other direction. Switching the entire planet over to “clean” energy would cost about 20% of global wealth (to emphasize: wealth, not income!) — around £30 trillion. It would cost the United States about $5 trillion just for itself.

Furthermore, the beneficiaries of such infrastructure and investment would not exactly be the same companies which make up the current energy infrastructure. The existing companies (and countries, since many fossil fuel companies are state-owned) would face losses of up to:

  • $85 trillion in proven petroleum reserves
  • $31 trillion in proven coal reserves
  • $468 billion in proven gas reserves
  • > $5.5 trillion in annual industry revenue
  • trillions of dollars in capital, obsolete physical infrastructure, market capitalization, and equity

Yeah, we’ll still need some non-energy petroleum products, and if old-energy companies invested in the clean energy sector then they wouldn’t lose their entire market value. But people have a very hard time agreeing to claims that they (and millions of other people) should lose everything.



American Voting Is Not Rigged

RE: 2016: The Year Americans Found Out Their Elections Are Rigged | Zero Hedge

“We The People” don’t choose our presidents; they are hand-picked by a powerful group of political party insiders – parties that have long since sold out to the highest bidders.


I disagree.

The difference between direct election and indirect election only matters when they differ in the selection.

The essential function of the people working for the parties is to get candidates elected, which includes ensuring that *electable* candidates get nominated to the ticket.

The people whining about the system are almost exclusively those who think the system will go against their preferred candidate. Instead of whining about the whole system, they’d do better to either make a convincing argument that the system is worse for *everyone* (or at least for a majority of the citizenry), or arguing *to* the system that their candidate is in fact the best choice (i.e. “is the most electable”).


What the Hell Are Superdelegates? | Full Frontal with Samantha Bee | TBS

This is *great* for Democrats because it lets people with experience correctly determining “who can win an election and how?” add that wisdom to voters’ policy preferences as embodied by their preferred candidates. For now, I trust the superdelegates to eventually back the candidate most likely to win the national election. That is highly correlated with the popular primary voting, but isn’t exactly the same because of the electoral college; the states that will influence the superdelegates’ backing are the swing/purple states:
Clinton handily won over Sanders in FL, OH, NC, VA – the larger swing states with more importance to an eventual electoral victory. Sanders will have to show some promising polling figures between him and the expected Republican nominee in those states if he expects superdelegate support. With Clinton, Trump, and Cruz all with >50% negative favorability ratings, that isn’t unthinkable.


Clearly, the Republican party does not believe that Trump is electable. They probably don’t think Cruz is either. But backing Cruz is a better long-term plan than backing Trump.


Most media just wants viewership and they’re willing to spin the facts to pitch a better story/narrative. Trump as “the political outsider underdog who is fighting for every win” is a more enticing narrative than Trump as “the billionaire winning easily”. Media coverage of the Democrat side is instead split *by* audience. The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore is clearly pitching pro-Sanders and has had Sanders on a few times. More establishment media with older, whiter audiences (e.g. CNN) are playing up Hilary instead.

This is not a break in some illusion of choice. This is a symptom of the delusion that an individual’s choice matters – the delusion that we should all be able to vote for our most preferred, least compromising candidate *and* that candidate should have the possibility of being elected even if 60% of our fellow citizens disagree.


If you do not own the software on your device, then you do not own your device.

Consider this situation:

  • A physical device which is dependent on software for its operation is located in the residence of Alice. Alice is the sole user and beneficiary of this device’s purported primary purpose (e.g. cooking food).
  • Bob owns all relevant intellectual property of the software on the device (e.g. patents and copyrights).

Without Alice’s knowledge or consent (because the purchase and use was the “consent”, even if there were no alternatives on the market which did not also demand this consent), Bob can:

  • change the operating parameters of the device — how the device works and is allowed to work
  • temporarily or permanently prevent the software from operating, which prevents the device from operating
  • collect data from any sensors on the device, and resell that data along with customer information about Alice to a third party
  • delete any data stored in the device (e.g. past settings, saved sensor data, device history)

*Without* Bob’s written consent, Alice *may not*:

  • examine the software on the device
  • alter the software on the device
  • replace the software on the device

So, I ask you, “Who owns the device?”.

IMHO, it certainly isn’t Alice. She is at best a renter subject to the whims of Bob.

This is the situation today, and ever more gadgets are getting software embedded into them. We are progressing towards a future where only corporations are permitted to own property in any real/traditional sense of the word “own”.


RE: New High-Tech Farm Equipment Is a Nightmare for Farmers by Kyle Wiens on, 2015/02/05

Dave paid for the tractor; he owns what’s tangible: the wheels, the metal chassis, the gears and pistons in the engine. But John Deere owns everything else: the programming that propels the tractor, the software that calibrates the engine, the information necessary to fix it. So, who really owns that tractor?

Can we get a guaranteed freedom to privacy?

The privacy protection which we all need is a constitutional amendment (similar to what Europe has had for over a decade[1][2]) in the United States that declares all private information to be the sole, non-transferable copyright and intellectual property of the identified citizen:

  • This private copyright and grant of intellectual property includes, but is not limited to, email addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers, lists of friends or acquaintances, family trees, physical location history, browsing history, shopping history, employment history, medical history, and financial history.
  • This private copyright does not apply to any groups, organizations, collectives, institutions, corporations, or businesses. This private copyright only applies to individual persons.
  • Companies may offer to collect or create this information for you, but such services are always considered work-for-hire and the customer exclusively owns the resulting information and copyrights.
  • Companies may also offer services to store and distribute or publish this information for you, but all default options must be as private and closed as possible, and the customer’s consent is explicitly required for all instances of distribution or publishing. If the customer is a minor or has a legal guardian, then the parent or guardian’s consent is also required.
  • Companies are forbidden from requiring customers’ private information as part of the terms of service unless such information is necessary to deliver goods or services to the customer. The burden of proof lies with the business to show that any information demands are necessary in order to provide their offered product or service.
  • Since businesses do not and are legally incapable of owning individuals’ private information, they are forbidden from selling individuals’ private information.
  • All private organizations which store private data are required to destroy such records after 2 years (24 months) without communication from the identified individual consenting to continued storage.

It is likely that is not worded perfectly, but I think I managed to get my primary thoughts into the section. In case I did not, I will try to explain them explicitly.

I believe that the only true solution to privacy protection is to make it unprofitable to invade people’s privacy or abuse private information, regardless of how the information was collected or whether the identified individual purposefully shared or inadvertently leaked the information. I cannot see how a tax could be implemented and that has its own moral dilemmas anyway (e.g. at what point are you poor enough that someone can buy your privacy?), so I see legal protection [strong enough that it creates a basis from which offended individuals can sue offending parties for damages] as the best hope for privacy.

The most intuitive way I see this could be achieved is to enshrine in law the idea that people’s personal information is their personal intellectual property rather than letting it be the property of whoever collects it. Then individuals whose information is abused can sue the offending party. This ought to prevent the sale of collected information (even though you have a copy, it is not yours to sell), and the unauthorized display or transfer of the information to third parties.


[1] : “Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995” by the Center for Democracy & Technology, 1995/10/24

[2] : “Data Protection Directive” by Wikipedia, 2010/11/14

Additional Reading:

“Raising data privacy awareness” by Peter Fleischer and Jane Horvath, Global Privacy Counsel, The Official Google Blog, (2009/1/28)

“Why I deleted my Facebook data. Commentary on Internet data privacy rules.” by Dhananjay Nene, (2009/02/?)

“No pixels, please, we’re German” by The Economist, (2010/09/23)

“Google, Facebook, Rivals Face Stricter Data-Privacy Rules in EU” by Stephanie Bodoni, Bloomberg, (2010/11/03)

“Google vs Facebook: Adult supervision desperately needed” by Robert X. Cringley, Adventures in IT: Notes from the Field, (2010/11/10),1

“Safebook Project” by Safebook, (2009-2010)

Chain Emails, Democratic Citizenship, and Social Responsibility

Premise: It might not be criminal by the letter of the law, but it is at least extremely socially irresponsible to go around perpetuating propaganda, or any other literature, media, or information, that is composed primarily of outright lies.

I realize that the Republican party does not monopolize mass public deception, including misinformation and one-sided propaganda failing to convey the whole truth. However, I do not receive vitriolic Democratic propaganda at present while publicity of recent Republican misinformation has been rampant. Also, the Republicans have coughed up some larger than usual whoppers lately.

It is imperative that American citizens as members of a democracy participate in politics (defined as communicating peaceably with fellow citizens in order to find common ground, compromises, and agreement for the public good and to the benefit of the nation as a whole). However, it is equally important that such engagement and discourse be conducted with respect for all involved participants and without lies or deception.

The policy outcomes one wishes to see occur in pursuit of preferred agendas are based on personal morals, beliefs, and convictions. However, it is fundamentally important that policies themselves be founded in reason and formulated with tolerance in regards to not encroaching on other citizens’ rights or freedoms. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the spirit of the Constitution. This is supposed to be the United States of America, land of the free and home the brave, not America the divided, terrified police security state of debtors.

Before you forward that next piece of juicy political sentiment you received in your email inbox, please do everyone a favor and fact-check it first. No one likes a liar and you do not get off the hook just because you did not originate the misinformation – perpetuating it is just as bad.

Thank you for your time in reading this response and for respecting my freedom of speech, even if you do not agree with what I had to say.