Bill Maher: Self-Hating Islamophobe

In response to the newly released film American Sniper (which I have not seen but hope to), Bill Maher hosted a discussion in which he flatly reviled Chris Kyle – the person on whom the film is based – as well as anyone who liked the film. Citing carefully selected quotes from Kyle regarding his experiences in war, Maher presents him as a “psychopath patriot” who supposedly just loved killing people. Maher particularly liked the fact that Kyle referred to the people he killed as “savages”. (Of course, there is the question of whether or not he meant that all Iraqis or all Muslims were savages, or just the ones who were running toward him with bombs strapped to their chests. But such minor points are not convenient enough to be important for Bill Maher.)

Here’s the thing, though. While I was hearing Maher read Kyle’s quotes about Muslims, I couldn’t help but think: “Isn’t this exactly how you want people to see Muslims, Bill?” In Maher’s own words:

What it comes down to is that there is one religion in the world that kills you when you disagree with them. They say, ‘Look, we’re a religion of peace and if you disagree we’ll cut your fucking head off.’

And, perhaps more poignantly:

[Islamophobia is] a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons.

The fact is that Bill Maher hates Muslims – even more than he hates people who follow other major world religions. He thinks they are savages, in no uncertain terms. To say that Muslims are characterized by their desire to cut people’s heads off or that the worldviews that are often labeled “Islamophobic” are completely justified is to say that Muslims are savages and that they should simply be killed. The feeling that he says Chris Kyle had toward Muslims is exactly the kind of feeling that Bill Maher wants the rest of us to have. In response to this accusation, Maher might say something like: “But I am not violent. I have never killed a Muslim and would never think of doing it.” However, I am sure the same could have been said of Chris Kyle before he went to war. It is clear that, if Bill Maher had ever been brave enough to put on a uniform and pick up a rifle, he would have become exactly the kind of man that he wants us to believe Chris Kyle was.

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Things I Learned from Facebook Memes in 2014

As social media has arisen as the greatest aggregation tool of human wisdom in the history of the world, I thought it only fitting to take a moment at the end of the year to share all of the great lessons that I learned in 2014 from Facebook memes:

1. I should do whatever I want and not care what others think because my opinion is the only one that matters. I should also do everything I can to make others happy because friendship is the most important thing in life. As are sympathetic spouses. And children. And college football.

2. White cops are villainous racists and underappreciated crusaders of justice, and anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously just an ignorant hater.

3. Government is the cause and cure of all of life’s problems. As is religion. And beer. And Facebook.

4. That one guy with that one job should really be thanked because you don’t appreciate him enough for everything he does and stuff.

5. The Dallas Cowboys are overrated and still amazing.

6. Jesus won’t notice your nasty sexual posts if you break them up with Bible verses and statements about how saved you are.

7. If you don’t share this, you’re obviously a fake friend.

8. Star Wars.

Society Without Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality

First, addressing a few misconceptions about Net Neutrality:

  1. I like my Internet as it is! I don’t want the government messing with it!
    Your Internet was built on a policy of Net Neutrality. The ISPs (Comcast, AT&T, etc.) are trying to change this. If you like it the way it is, you should support Net Neutrality.
  2. Net Neutrality gives too much power to the government.
    While it does make the government a regulator, Net Neutrality actually limits the government’s power over Internet speeds as much as anyone else’s. Without Net Neutrality, those in power can feasibly find a way to slow down any sites that they do not like. Even if they cannot do it directly through government agencies, they can do it indirectly through their corporate contacts, who do have the ability to effectively kill websites at will.
  3. Net Neutrality will limit Internet access to minorities.
    The basis for this argument is the idea that, by allowing ISPs to tap an additional revenue stream by charging publishers in addition to consumers, we make it more feasible for them to give free Internet to people – especially people in poor urban areas. Poor people may have to look at some advertisements, but at least they will get Internet access, right? There are numerous problems with this idea. First, there is still no guarantee that the ISPs will give anyone free Internet. Second, even if they did, they would not focus on demographics too poor to pay for their own Internet service, as such demographics would be of little value to the advertisers who would ultimately be paying for all of this. Third, the moral argument for giving Internet access to the poor – that is, giving them access to an unfettered source of information that will allow them to take an active role in public policy issues, etc. – is lost, as you have just handed the “free” flow of information over to corporate Internet overlords who are in bed with corrupt politicians.

So here is your nightmare scenario:

  1. Politicians accept campaign contributions from ISPs with the understanding that they will kill Net Neutrality.
  2. Politicians kill Net Neutrality.
  3. The ISPs continue to contribute to the campaigns of those politicians who are so nice as to help them create this new revenue stream.
  4. The ISPs demand hefty sums from all Internet publishers who want their content to actually be viewed. Small independent publishers who cannot come up with the cash see their speeds crash and their traffic evaporate.
  5. The ISPs also demand that their friends in Washington help them to solidify their regional monopolies through policy, allowing them to charge outrageous fees for slow Internet service and ridiculous customer service.
  6. Political challengers see what is happening and decide to do something about it.
  7. The incumbent politicians see the danger and tell their ISP friends that they need help.
  8. The ISPs slow down all sites criticizing them, their politician friends, or the status quo to the point that these sites cannot even be viewed.
  9. The ISPs leverage their contacts in Washington to push through a series of mergers to create a single national monopoly on Internet service.
  10. The people can only see the content that the ISPs want them to see.
  11. The ISPs sell this new-found influence over the public mind to the highest bidder – while protecting their investments in Washington by keeping their buddies in office. The Internet’s identity as the greatest democratized source of information in the history of the world is now virtually a thing of the past.

If you think that this is a stretch, please note that censorship on the part of the ISPs for the sake of killing Net Neutrality is already happening, as are the competition-killing mergers.

The EU Needs a Federal Military

Eurocorps

A recent story published by Global Post outlines the fears currently settling into Central Europe and Washington regarding Russia’s recent expansionist tendencies – and the U.S. response. Listing the complexities at play here, the article shows us how some, such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, are beginning to lean toward Moscow and statism rather than toward Washington and liberalism. Others, though not leaning toward Russia, find themselves in a position in which they are being put at risk by Vladimir Putin’s need to dig in deeper in response to Washington’s overt criticisms of his policies.

This is not a new problem for Europe. Since the aftermath of the Second World War, it has been caught in a tug-of-war between the world’s two strongest military powers. However, in the second decade of the 21st century, the fact that Europe continues to allow this to happen is simply ridiculous.

When Russia seizes land from Ukraine, a potential EU member, and threatens current EU members such as Poland and the Baltic states, why does everyone automatically look to Washington? Why not Berlin, Rome, Paris, Madrid, or London? If Russia were to threaten seizure of the Aleutian Islands from the US, Americans would not look to Europe: they would look to Washington for swift and decisive action. Any attempt to seek international support would be an afterthought.

The answer comes easily enough: Because the US is the world’s premier military power and a friend to Europe. However, that is not enough. The EU currently embodies the world’s largest economy, with a GDP of over $18 trillion (in nominal terms). Compare that to $16.8 trillion for the US, $9.5 trillion for China, and $2 trillion for Russia. The EU also has three member states ranked among the world’s top ten military powers – with Turkey, a prospective EU member, making a fourth.

Considering Europe’s vast economic, political, and military strength, why does the EU continue to cower before Russia and appeal to the US for aid? More specifically, why do Washington’s opinion, policy, and rhetoric seem more important to the states of Central Europe than do those of the EU? Why isn’t the EU’s military might seen as the prime deterrent of Putin’s border games instead of the military of a country that lies an ocean away?

Because the EU’s unity is still very loose, and because very little unity exists in military terms. While the people of Europe have largely acknowledged the benefits of building upon their mutual interests economically, they remain unconvinced that such unity in terms of military and foreign policy would be beneficial. This, of course, stems from the deep cultural divisions that remain in Europe. While the US certainly has its share of cultural conflicts, one can hardly compare the differences between Cajuns in Louisiana and surfers in California to the differences between Scots, Spaniards, and Bulgarians. After all, while the American Civil War seems to have been fought eons ago, memories of the Second World War are still fresh for many in Europe. Also note that the United Kingdom, though being the seat of what is the closest thing Europe has to a unifying language, is perhaps the least likely EU member to support any closer unity.

The difficulty is understandable, but Europe must overcome it. EU member states must come to realize that their internal differences are hardly as meaningful as the common threats that they face, of which an expansionist Russia is only one. While Europe continues to argue, and while the global influence of the US continues to wane, the bear to the east is happily turning the European powers against each other and picking them apart. In current terms alone, the personnel of a federal EU military would outnumber Russia’s active personnel by roughly two to one, while the EU’s economy – about nine times as large as Russia’s – would give it the power to either produce weapons considerably more advanced than Russia’s or quickly purchase such weapons from the US.

Some would say that the Russian seizure of Crimea was a fluke and that Putin does not at all intend to invade Europe. However, it is already happening. Expect future incursions to occur in a manner quite akin to this one: unofficial, gradual, and destabilizing. Europe needs to realize how strong it is before it becomes too late.

Evolution

So this meme has been going around:

apes

While I could be described as a creationist, I see big problems with this argument. For example:

evolution

(Click to enlarge.)

In nature, there are many instances in which you have one species low on the evolutionary chain and another that presumably evolved from it, though all of the presumed intermediary species now exist only as fossils. There are also many instances in which many of the intermediary species are still thriving. Whether or not the intermediary species are still alive means nothing. If there were no fossil evidence of the existence of early humans or proto-humans, that might be something, but we actually have extensive evidence establishing the existence of such creatures. Even if that were not the case, though, as theists so frequently say, lack of evidence is not evidence.

Net Neutrality: Has the Republican victory doomed it?

With the Republicans maintaining control of the House and taking the senate, my Facebook newsfeed has been full of posts that include things like this:

lies

Apparently, Americans are stupid and have knowingly made a choice contrary to their own best interests. While I could write a lot about a number of these oversimplified or patently false or hypocritical claims (the one about celebrity news being particularly delicious), I really think it’s important to address this claim that a vote for Republicans equates to a vote to “LIMIT OUR INTERNET FREEDOM!”

This is, of course, a reference to net neutrality. If you don’t know what net neutrality is, in basic terms, it keeps Internet providers like Comcast and AT&T from having the power to assign Internet publishers varying levels of service speed depending on their willingness to pay fees. Of course, Internet providers want to be able to do this because it introduces a new revenue stream for them. The problem that many of us have with letting Comcast and the crew do this is that it could possibly destroy the fundamentally democratized nature of the Internet as we now know it. Under net neutrality, without being rich, I can publish content to the Internet, and if my message is compelling and interesting, that content will be shared. It may eventually be viewed by millions of people. Without net neutrality, as traffic to my website or blog starts to increase, unless I pay exorbitant fees to Comcast or AT&T, anyone trying to view my content will be hampered by slow Internet speeds. (This will be true regardless of how fast my host server may be.) As a result, my influence as an independent publisher is choked, and only the giants with deep pockets will be heard. As Republicans are the more business-friendly of our major political parties, there is an assumption that putting the Republicans in charge of Congress will doom the net neutrality movement for good and leave us at the mercy of corporate Internet overlords, effectively destroying the greatest equalizing force in the sharing of ideas ever conceived in the history of the world.

But is this true?

I make no attempt to defend the Republican Party: they may very well be taking money from Comcast and AT&T in exchange for burying net neutrality. However, the idea that the Democrats are any better is utterly preposterous. Consider the following:

  1. Barack Obama has already betrayed the net neutrality movement.
    In 2008, Obama campaigned on net neutrality. And yet, his 2012 campaign received hefty donations from both Comcast and Time Warner. His extensive ties with these companies are no secret. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that he will abandon his commitment to net neutrality. And yet, despite the fact that activist groups have made a lot of noise trying to get him to do something about it, his response has been disappointing. An apologist might point out the fact that he continues to voice support of net neutrality, but despite this lip service, Obama has not actually done anything, even though it is within his power, as the FCC is in charge of these regulations and he is ultimately in charge of the FCC.
  2. Many left-leaning civil rights groups are against net neutrality.
    Ostensibly, they oppose net neutrality because it will limit the availability of Internet services in poor minority neighborhoods. (The idea is that, if the Internet providers have another revenue stream, they won’t mind giving it to people for free or really cheap. A pretty thin claim.) The truth, though, is that these groups are funded by the Internet provider giants.
  3. Comcast and the other Internet giants donate extensively to the Democratic Party.
    One of the things they seem to hope to gain from said donations, in addition to the killing of net neutrality, is the approval and completion of the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger, which will invariably result in an even higher degree of oligopoly in the market of U.S. Internet providers, and inevitably, a continuance of the current paradigm of high fees for lousy customer service.

In short, what I see here is Democrats and Republicans both defying the will and interests of a significant majority of the people, with the Republicans doing it openly and the Democrats doing it in such a way that they can simultaneously benefit from the support of the big Internet providers while blaming Republicans for what happens.