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Reasons to Boycott Black Friday. What’s Yours?

A boycott of Black Friday, the day on which Americans are labeled as “consumers” and expected to shop, comes from many corners this year.

Some are boycotting Black Friday as a way of protesting disproportionate violence against Black Americans at the hands of the police:

Boycott Black Friday: Hands Up, Don't Spend

Others ask you to stay at home on Friday as a way of supporting those striking against WalMart for better pay and benefits.

Others point out that a blow against Black Friday shopping is a blow against Americanism as consumerism:

Boycott Black Friday to Abstain from Consumerism

Another Black Friday boycott call targets Microsoft for its tax evasion:

Boycott Black Friday to Protest Microsoft Tax Evasion

Will you be staying home on Black Friday?  If so, why?




Can Hillary Clinton Count On Religious Voters For Consistent Support?

Back in April, Elizabeth Dias of Time Magazine described the debut of a new political action committee called Faith Voters for Hillary. “Faith for Hillary is in the process of filing as a PAC, marking a strong push by Hillary Clinton’s religious supporters ahead of her potential presidential bid in 2016,” she wrote.

A strong push? That’s not really we’ve seen from Faith Voters for Hillary this year. The last “news” from the PAC was almost three months ago, and it was only the reposting of an article from the Washington Post, not any original content.

faith voters for hillary clinton inactiveThere are no events planned by the PAC.

Maybe they are just praying on it.

When I write “they”, I really mean “he”: Rick Hendrix, CEO of Hendrix Energy, a company that deals in power plants that make electricity by burning oil. There doesn’t seem to be anyone other than Rick Hendrix active at Faith Voters for Hillary.

All of the contributions to the PAC listed by the FEC are from Rick Hendrix. He’s donated books, paid for legal fees, a web site, and advertisements, all of which has led to… not very much. The #Faith4Hillary Twitter account seems to have a large number of followers, but Twitter Audit says that 13,820 of those followers are fake.

This PAC might more honestly labeled “One Faith Voter For Hillary”. Why is this faith voter forced to go it alone?

Perhaps it has something to do with the superficiality of the Faith Voters for Hillary promotional effort. On Pinterest, Faith Voters for Hillary has only 14 boards. Not one of these boards is focused on Hillary Clinton’s policies, though there is a board devoted to “Hillary’s Hair”, and another for “Hillary’s Fashions”.

Perhaps the lack of involvement in Faith Voters for Hillary has to do with the bait-and-switch religious approach of the PAC. Though it uses the generic label of “faith voters”, only one kind of faith is represented on the Faith Voters for Hillary web site – Christianity. Apparently, voters of non-Christian religions either aren’t welcome, or aren’t even being thought of, at Faith Voters for Hillary.

Perhaps the general lack of voter involvement comes from the fact that, as much as the Faith Voters For Hillary PAC pushes the idea that religion should determine who becomes the next President of the United States, there is no counterbalancing discussion of the importance of separation of church and state.

Perhaps the secular voters who form the core of the Democratic Party have a problem with that.

Meet The Political Donation Deadline For 2016 In November 2014, Or Else…

There is nothing that communicates the message that a political organization has no respect for its grassroots supporter than an email that contains the phrase “tonight’s critical FEC deadline”. Campaigns and PACs that think of voters as dupes love to try to convince people that there are deadlines for political donations, and that if money isn’t sent before those deadlines, very… bad… things… could happen.

Of course, they never specify what those bad things might be, because doing so would be awkward – the kind of awkward that happens when people don’t have anything to say.

ready for hillary hypeI felt particularly insulted by a message I got tonight from Alissa Ko, a Deputy Director at the Ready for Hillary PAC. The message read, “We’re just a few hours away from one of our biggest FEC deadlines yet — and we’ve still got to raise $8,372 before midnight. This deadline is too important to come up short. If Hillary decides to get into this race, we need to be ready the instant she makes her announcement. You can help with that today. Rush $20.16 or whatever you can right now to help us meet our goal before tonight’s critical FEC deadline.”

Rush whatever I can to help with the goal? With a message as deceptive as this, all I can afford to rush is a penny. A single red cent. Will that help, Alissa?

No dice. The Ready for Hillary PAC has a minimum for their “rush” donations of three dollars, and a maximum of fifty thousand dollars. Oh well. I guess I can’t rush anything but my condolences for the difficulty with the “deadline”.

ready for hillary please fix amountThere is no FEC deadline. People can donate to the Ready for Hillary PAC tomorrow as easily as they can today. What’s more, money donated tomorrow can help the Ready For Hillary PAC “ready” for when Hillary Clinton makes her announcement just as much as money donated today. Hillary Clinton isn’t going to make an announcement about even an exploratory committee until January, and maybe later than that.

When the Ready For Hillary PAC makes this assertion of a deadline – and one of the biggest FEC deadlines ever, no less – they’re just using a huckster’s trick of creating the perception of false scarcity. It’s about as honest as the discount at a Black Friday sale, or the “limited time only” “while supplies last” claims of gimmicky late night TV advertisements. People like Alissa Ko at the Ready For Hillary PAC are hoping that enthusiastic supporters will start to feel panicky, that they don’t have much time to make a decision, because people who feel that they have to hurry up to make a decision are much more likely to act irrationally and spend a lot of money.

It’s an offer of exploitation, not of political partnership. It’s the marketing equivalent of a carpet bomb, a crude instrument that works in the aggregate, because there are enough suckers out there to make it profitable. The people at PACs like Ready For Hillary don’t care that the crass technique turns off many voters, preventing them from getting involved, because these PACs don’t care if people become activists. Activists just get in their way. They just want the money.

There is no need to raise $8372.00.

What terrible thing will happen if the “deadline” is met, and $8372.00 is not sent in to Ready For Hillary?

Will kittens die?

Will nuns begin reading The Skeptical Inquirer?

Will angels lose their wings?

The only bad thing that happens when these supposed FEC deadlines aren’t met is that political consultants and lobbyists don’t have as much cash to play with in their efforts to gain influence with politicians, increasing voter distrust in our democracy in the process.

The biggest confusion for me from emails like this is that the Ready For Hillary PAC has been around for a long, long time. They’ve been gathering lots and lots of money to get Ready For Hillary. So, if Ready For Hillary is really racing around in a panic just hours before a deadline to raise just $8372.00, when they’ve had months and months to prepare, are they really Ready For Hillary? Will they ever be? Aren’t they actually just Making Things Up As We Go Along For Hillary?

Tell you what, Alissa Ko: I’ve got one of my biggest deadlines yet tonight, too. I need to receive a letter of contrite apology for your cynical sales tactics, so that I can be ready the instant that Hillary Clinton announces her presidential campaign. Please rush whatever you can. Don’t let the Republicans win! A box of chocolate-covered strawberries would be nice.

chocolate covered strawberries from alissa ko

Proof that More Immigration Leads to Higher Crime

A Higher Proportion of Immigrants in the U.S. is actually associated with a LOWER violent crime rate.

Except wait, it’s not proof of that at all.  As the share of the U.S. population made up of immigrants has more than doubled, the violent crime rate has actually fallen.

Does this information fail to match your preconception?  Try working through the cognitive dissonance this time.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and Uniform Crime Reports.

Mad Science You Can’t Do At Home

This year, I have taken on the responsibility of giving my 13 year-old son some exposure to science in addition to what he gets at school. So, I was excited when I saw a copy of Mad Science: Experiments You Can Do At Home – But Probably Shouldn’t by Theodore Gray. What a great title, huh? Looking at the title of contents, I saw a number of fascinating ideas, perfect for grabbing teenagers’ attention. The idea that I could do these experiments at home, however, was most appealing of all. I imagined many afternoons of lab work with my son.

Once I got a better look, after bringing the book home, my excitement turned to disappointment.

The first experiment I looked at was called Making A Perfect Match. As the name suggests, the activity involved making homemade matches. What would I need for this experiment?

– Red phosphorus
– Potassium chlorate
– White glue
– 1/8 inch wooden dowels
– Oven
– Fire extinguisher
– Safety glasses

Wait a minute. Red phosphorus? Where do I get that? The next page had a note about that: “Red phosphorus and potassium chlorate are among the most dangerous of chemicals because they create contact explosives: Mixtures that blow up while you are mixing them. Private possession of red phosphorus is a federal crime.” So, how am I supposed to do this experiment at home, when I am legally prohibited from possessing one of the significant ingredients?

Most of the other experiments in this book are like this, containing features that make it difficult, if not impossible, to do at home. Among the items required by the experiments in Mad Science:

– white phosphorus
– 30 pounds of mercury
– welding carbons
– firebricks
– catalytic converter
– a 16 inch glass globe
– liquid oxygen
– magnesium ribbon
– cobalt powder
– a bank of 12,000 volt capacitors
– blast shield
– a spark gap trigger
– muriatic acid
– a plasma torch
– gold leaf
– titanium dioxide
– a Van de Graaff machine
– a sample of radioactive material
– pyrolitic graphite
– plating electrodes
– a cylinder of chlorine gas
– a spinthariscope
– a glass makers’ furnace

Does anyone have these things just hanging around the house?

I’m glad the only experiment I tried was checking this book out from the library, instead of buying it myself.

mad science experiments for home

Irregular Math Gets Queasy

I was doing some research on a problem in algebra early this morning, and one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was looking at a paper presented at the American Mathematical Society in 1972 with the purpose “to show that a complete, convex, externally convex metric space is generalized euclidean if and only if it has the euclidean symmetric isosceles queasy four-point property or the euclidean external isosceles queasy four-point property.”

Wow. Okay. Mrs. Washington never taught me that in high school.

I am calling out for help on this one. I tried to read the paper. Honestly, I did, but I can’t make heads or tails of it.

I need a mathematician to tell me:

What is the euclidean external isosceles queasy four-point property?

How is this concept actually used in math, and what are some of its applications beyond theory?

While Vicky Hartzler Fiddles, the Globe Burns: October 2014 was Hottest on Record

On November 2014, Republican member of Congress and global warming denier Vicky Hartzler noticed it was cold. This, she decided, was proof enough to ridicule the idea of global warming. So she took to Twitter:

Republican Representative Vicky Hartzler on Twitter: Global Warming Strikes America!  Brrrr!


Rep. Hartzler is in her 54th year on Earth.  Someone so well-experienced with the seasons really should have figured out that November tends to be colder than the months that precede it.  It’s a trend those in the meteorological profession call Autumn.  It also would be nice for a member of Congress to recognize that the place she happens to be standing at the moment is not necessarily the same as every other place on the planet, or that the one cold day she notices is not necessarily the same as the general trend.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s cold toes in Washington, DC on November 18 2014 are a product of local weather.  To look for evidence of global climate change, we should instead look to a global average of temperatures, and not just on one particular day but over a long period of time.  It turns out that NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies houses a collection of temperature records spanning all sorts of places over land and sea around the entire globe.  The NASA GISS global temperature record for each and every October doesn’t show weather.  It shows climate change.  It shows clear evidence of global warming:

Global Temperature in the Month of October, 1880 to 2014, from the NASA GISS database of global temperature anomalies over land and sea

If you look at the global temperature records for 1880-2014 for any month of the year so far, they will show clear signs of global warming.  When the month of November is done and climate records for November from 1880 to 2014 are complied, they will show clear signs of global warming.

Vicky Hartzler sits on a House of Represenatives committee devoted to finding “emerging threats.”  If she can’t figure out the nature of the global warming threat, what else is she missing?

My Apocalyptic Climate Change Skepticism

I have been silent too long on this subject, worrying that the Speech Police are going to silence me. No more – I shall be brave.

I am a climate skeptic.

There, I said it.

I am a skeptic of wild assertions about climate change that have yet to be supported by good, solid science.

Primary among the climate change claims I am skeptical of: The Earth’s climate is changing because Jesus is about to come and suck all his true believers up into the sky.

This idea about climate change is held by 49 percent of Americans, according to a recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the American Academy of Religion. 49% of Americans say they believe that climate change is happening because of End Times they believe are predicted by Christian sacred texts. Three years ago, only 44% of Americans claimed this belief.

Where does this belief come from? It’s a conspiracy by people who want to keep on making money by polluting the environment without paying any penalty, buttressed by an old superstition that, whenever anything goes wrong in the world, it must have something to do with the return of an ancient Jewish leader who will finally come to settle an old debate about the application of ancient local laws in a newly Hellenized culture.

There is no evidence whatsoever that climate change has been caused by two thousand year-old religious grudges. There is, however, literally tons of evidence that has been collected that climate change is largely due to human industrial and agricultural activities.

As a skeptic, I look at what the evidence shows, not what any faith presumes.

Celebrate The Family Doesn’t

Ask a parent of young children what happens between 6:00 and 8:00 PM on a Saturday night, and you’ll likely be told that that’s family time. At 6:00 PM, the family will be having dinner together. Then, the dishes have to be washed, and the kids need to be tucked in to bed. Maybe there’s time for a game, or a movie, but after a long day, the parents are tired and just want to go to sleep themselves.

An evening political conference is not part of this schedule. Yet, 6-8 PM on a Saturday night was the time slot that the 2014 Celebrate The Family conference was scheduled for this year. The conference is put together by an organization called The Family Leader, in an effort to bring right wing Christians together from across Iowa, so that they can exercise influence over the federal elections.

The conference typically advocates for extreme social policies such as prohibiting people from getting married, putting medical decisions in the hands of insurance companies, withdrawing support from people in financial distress, and establishing Christianity as the national religion of the USA. At the conference last night, Bob Vander Plaats, President and CEO of The Family Leader, told attendees that, “It is time the church stopped remaining silent and time that the church speak up!”

When have churches in America ever been silent? When have they not been speaking about their political agendas? Can anyone identify a single year over the last generation when right wing Christian activists were not loudly trying to tell everyone else what to do?

Whether it is the relentlessly preachy tone of the of the Celebrate The Family conference, or the event’s scheduling right in the middle of family dinner and bedtime, one thing is clear: Celebrate The Family is not a family event. Most of the attendees have gray hair, and not a single child is to be seen.

Celebrate The Family doesn’t.

celebrate the family religious political conference

Are the Racists Right? Is Minneapolis More Violent Since Somali Immigrants Arrived? The Answer Rhymes With “Fell, Snow.”

The blog “Stuff Black People Don’t Like” has made an incendiary accusation about Somali immigrants to Minneapolis, Minnesota:

“None of these Somalis in any city of the United States should be in the country, if the government was actually concerned with creating a strong future for the nation’s actual citizens. It is not. Minneapolis once was a city with one of the lowest crime rates in America and the highest standard of living; social capital (the necessary building-block for building strong communities) was at a premium. Enter the Somali refugees and the importation of crime that the city needed if it was to compete with other vibrant cities in the diversity lottery.”

We need to keep in mind that this is a blog blaming black people for the fact that the United States no longer sends people to the Moon; by itself such a claim could be easily dismissed. But similar claims appear elsewhere. On a page devoted to the Minneapolis “problem” on the anti-immigrant website “Refugee Resettlement Watch,” a pseudonymous writer makes a similar claim connecting the rate of violent crime and the immigration of people from Somalia:

“Random Reader is right to be scared. Scared that they and their children will be victims of Somali violence. Violent crimes against Americans are sure to rise as the number of Somalis increase. Millions of American families are homeless and living in cars and tent cities while well-paid tax-using NGOs/Volags and city bureaucrats hand over desperately needed housing and financial assistance to foreigners. Foreigners brought in to displace Americans like Random Reader. Random Reader will eventually be forced out of the place he/she was ‘born and raised’ in. As the number of Somalis increase the crime rate will increase and the city and state will be bankrupted from all the foreign welfare freeloaders and welfare cheats.”

And according to Leisa Crawford of the ultra-conservative and pro-white Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, “After the Somalis arrived in Minneapolis, violence in the city intensified and the crime rate exploded.”

“Minneapolis was once a city with one of the lowest crime rates”? “The crime rate will increase… as the number of Somalis increase”? “The crime rate exploded”? Because the claim appears repeatedly online, it should be tested, and because of the unique history of Somali immigration to the United States, the claim can be easily tested. As Jason DeRusha of CBS Minnesota explains, Somali immigration to the city of Minneapolis began at a discrete point in 1993 as the federal government initiated a settlement program for refugees fleeing the violence in Somalia’s brutal civil war. Early Somali immigrants spread word to fellow refugees that Minneapolis was a friendly place, and so more Somali immigrants continued to settle in Minneapolis.

Uniform Crime Reports data gathered by local police agencies and aggregated by the FBI are available from 1985-2012 through the federal government’s UCRDataTool service. In addition to this, Minneapolis crime data for 2013 were released just last week. According to this data, the average violent crime rate from 1985 to 1992 in Minneapolis was 1,553 violent crimes per 100,000 population. In 1993, when the number of Somali families could be counted on one hand, Minneapolis’ violent crime rate stood at 1,768 violent crimes per 100,000 population. From 1994 to 2013, the average violent crime rate in Minneapolis was 1,378 violent crimes per 100,000 population.

That’s right: since the influx of Somali immigrants to Minneapolis began, the violent crime rate has gone down, not up. The Somaliphobic claims you read above are simply false.

A few of you may be thinking right now that I’ve focused on violent crime to hide some kind of surge in property crime (the other category of criminal activity in the Uniform Crime Reports). To put that suspicion to rest, let’s report the property crime stats for Minneapolis, too:

the average property crime rate from 1985 to 1992: 9,891 property crimes per 100,000 population
the property crime rate in 1993: 9,268 property crimes per 100,000 population
the average property crime rate from 1994 to 2013: 6,472 property crimes per 100,000 population

Yet again, upon a quick check of crime statistics the claim that crime has increased since Somali immigrants came to live in Minneapolis is shown to be false. Those who make this claim (invariably appearing on websites that cast aspersions on black people) are either ignorant or are lying to you.

Postscript: When I refer to information available on the internet, I’ll usually add a link as a courtesy to you and as a courtesy to the original source of information. I’m not extending that courtesy to the sources listed above. If you search for that text on Google, you can find it, but I don’t want to reward purveyors of inaccurate racist propaganda. When these bloggers begin to make claims based in fact, I’ll consider changing my mind.

The Monsters Won

dice destroyed