Thursday, October 30, 2008

Charlie Gibson thinks early voters subvert the process

I was watching the ABC evening news and was amazed to hear Charlie Gibson tell George Stephanopoulos that a troubling thing about early voting was that people were voting before the campaign was over. Voters who waited until election day to make their selection had more information than the early voters, Charlie fretted.

My immediate reaction was that Gibson must think that political campaigns are like movies and voting is a way of rating or judging the campaign in the same way that reviewers rate films. Charlie Gibson must think that early voting is like writing a review of a movie even though you had not seen the whole thing.

What a ridiculous way to view the process by which we select our leaders, as if the whole purpose was to select the candidate with the best campaign rather than the best candidate or as if we assumed the best campaigner necessarily would be the best office holder, or something.

But after mulling it over for a while I realized that Charlie Gibson was just reflecting the world view of the Advertising Industry which pays his salary. Modern political campaign, with their highly paid professional consultants, are just an extension of that industry. Charlie Gibson is serving the interests of those who pay his salary by trying to convince the public to vote for the candidate who has spent the most money hiring campaign professionals.

"Tell me how you keep this straight?"

Oh dear. Once again we in the Quad Cities are presenting ourselves to the whole world, which is closely following this presidential race, as ignorant bumpkins. Here is an actual letter to the editor published in today's Quad City Times:

I am confused how anyone could consider voting for president of the United States a man who has lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, had a Muslim stepfather and attended a Muslim school half a world away.

What we are taught as children during our formative years continues to influence us the rest of our lives. This effect troubles me. In fact, even his name confuses me at times. I have a difficult time remembering if his name is Obama or Osama?

Perhaps you could tell me how you keep this straight?

Michael Elmore


Since you asked, Michael, my guess is that you have been listening to right-wing talk radio and that is the source of your confusion. It is quite simple, really. Barack Obama is a Harvard Law graduate, United States Senator, running for president who drew crowds of more than 100,000 people in recent rallies in St. Louis and Denver. He will be on your presidential ballot, listed as a Democrat. Osama bin Laden is a Saudi national, who at last report was living in a cave in or near Afghanistan. He will not be on the ballot. If someone tries to confuse you again on this matter, my advice is to stop listening to them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Write to Marry Day

In honor of my California in-laws I want to urge every California voter to go all the way down the ballot and vote No on Proposition 8!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Right wing hacks repeat discredited lies

A local conservative blog is again making reference to claims that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and that the Hawaiian birth certificate his campaign has released is a forgery. This is only a “continuing controversy” because right wing hacks continue to repeat these baseless claims in spite of the fact that they have been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked.

As repeatedly documented by Media Matters:

...the Obama campaign has posted a copy of Obama's birth certificate on its "Fight the Smears" website and reportedly provided the original to, whose staff concluded in an August 21 post that it "meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship." A Hawaii Health Department official also reportedly confirmed to that Obama's birth certificate is valid.

Even right-wing sites like WorldNetDaily have looked into this and concluded that the claim that the birth certificate is a forgery has been discredited.

Why do people continue to read and listen to blowhards who knowingly repeat lies? Does the concept of credibility even exist anymore? By any reasonable standard these false rumor-mongers should by now be so thoroughly discredited that they would have sunk into richly deserved obscurity never to be heard from again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why pro-life Conservatives should vote for Obama

I had been wondering if there were any true Conservatives anymore. You know, ones that think traditional Conservative principles like small government, fiscal responsibility, distrust of government power, etc. are more important than being partisan Republicans. I think I may have spotted a few in this video.

I was especially struck by the fellow that said he was pro-life but was putting that on hold for this election and voting to save the country in hopes that the pro-life/pro-choice thing can perhaps be worked out some time in the future.

Maybe the best thing the pro-life movement could do would be to make a public show of voting for Obama on that basis. What good does it do them to go down to defeat with McCain/Palin? If enough of them publicly state that they are voting for Obama in order to be able to continue the pro-life fight in the future then an Obama victory is no longer a defeat for the pro-life cause. Think about it.

A video from the Creativity Campaign

Have you seen this yet?

Vote Barack!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sarah Palin is McCain's chief liability

Nothing shows how disconnected John McCain’s supporters have become from the majority of Americans than their enthusiasm for Sarah Palin. According to one recent poll 47 percent of Americans view her negatively and only 38 percent positively. As pointed out by, in the just released NBC poll when likely voters were asked their biggest concern about John McCain 34% responded that their chief worry is that Sarah Palin is not qualified. A distant second in the list of concerns, 24% worried that John McCain will continue George W. Bush’s policies. The choice of Sarah Palin is a greater liability for John McCain than George W. Bush!

And yet McCain’s supporters think Sarah Palin is just the greatest! How weird is that?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Seeing racism in Powell's endorsement

The above cartoon is by syndicated conservative cartoonist Gordon Campbell who said that Colin Powell only endorsed Barack Obama because he “wishes to see someone who looks like himself in the White House.” Others who dismissed Powell's stated reasons and confidently told us that race was the only factor were Rush Limbaugh, George Will and Pat Buchanan.

It is hard to imagine what more Colin Powell could have done during his lifetime of service to this country and to the Republican Party to prove that he does not see the world through a prism of racism. It is hard to imagine what more Colin Powell could have done to have deserved to be taken at his word now, especially by the Republicans he has so self-sacrificingly served. If Powell is more offended by racist attacks on Barack Obama and on Muslims than are most white Americans because of his lifetime of experience as a black man, as I have doubt that he is, that is not racism. Colin Powell stated his reasons for breaking with the Republican Party in this election. He deserves to be taken at his word.

The racism that Gordon Campbell, Rush Limbaugh, George Will, Pat Buchanan and others have detected in this situation is their own.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Artifical Intelligence and the Turing Test

While reading a blog entry about Artificial Intelligence this morning it suddenly struck me how the Turing Test, a commonly advocated test for determining whether a computer program has achieved intelligence, is like supreme court judge Potter Stewart’s test for pornography, “I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

In the Turing Test a computer program converses by teletype with a human being who does not know whether it is a human or computer on the other end of the line. The computer program passes the test if the humans with which it interacts thinks they are talking to another human being.

It is strange and telling that no better test for intelligence has been proposed, since this is a test for imitating human beings rather than intelligence itself. On the original Star Trek television show an alien named Dr. Spock was portrayed as much more intelligent than humans in many ways but his lack of human type emotions and experiences was a constant barrier between him and the rest of the crew. It is obvious that as intelligent as he was he would never pass the Turing Test. As much as he desired to have a good relationship with the other crew members his inability to simulate human emotions enough to pass was a constant irritant.

As a computer programmer I know that completely understanding the task to be programmed is necessary to successfully create the program. The less completely you understand the problem and its possible solutions the less successful your program will be. It is true that in some situations you can start off without complete knowledge and learn more about the problem as a result of trying things that fail. Eventually you may gain enough knowledge through repeated failures to finally succeed but at that point you understand the problem and solution thoroughly.

When we fully understand intelligence and consciousness we will be able to create computer programs that are intelligent and conscious and not one minute before. When we reach that point I am sure that we will have much better tests for intelligence than the Turing Test. There is much more to intelligence than acting like a human being.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Who won last night's debate?

I would have thought that the only conceivable basis for judging who “won” last night’s presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain was which candidate converted the most undecided voters into supporters. On that basis it was no contest. Barack Obama overwhelmingly won. See here for a good analysis of how undecided voters' reacted to the debate.

But the tv network talking heads who provided instant analysis immediately following the debate must have had some other criteria. If you figure out what that was could you let me know?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Who won the first 3 debates?

Who won the Palin/Biden debate and the first two McCain/Obama debates? The vast majority of the experts who discussed it in the media immediately following the debates seemed to think they were basically draws – no clear winner. But those were all opinions. What are the facts?

As reported in this morning’s New York Times the latest Times/CBS News poll show a 14 point lead for Barack Obama.

After several weeks in which the McCain campaign unleashed a series of strong political attacks on Mr. Obama, trying to tie him to a former 1960s radical, among other things, the poll found that more voters see Mr. McCain as waging a negative campaign than Mr. Obama. Six in 10 voters surveyed said that Mr. McCain had spent more time attacking Mr. Obama than explaining what he would do as president; by about the same number, voters said Mr. Obama was spending more of his time explaining than attacking.

Over all, the poll found that if the election were held today, 53 percent of those determined to be probable voters said they would vote for Mr. Obama and 39 percent said they would vote for Mr. McCain.
Read the entire article.

Remember that up until the debates the polls showed the race to be pretty much a dead heat. Also remember that the elections of 2000 and 2004 were extremely close, both in the popular vote and in the Electoral College. For the Democrats to have opened up a double digit lead in 3 weeks shows that the debates were a total disaster for McCain/Palin and a stunning victory for Obama/Biden.

As all the experts discuss tonight’s debate will they acknowledge how incorrect their analysis of the previous 3 debates has turned out to be? Not likely. Being accountable for performance is apparently just for school teachers and administrators.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More about Rev. Arnold Conrad

A little sleuthing on the internet, see here and here, reveals that the Dr. Arnold Conrad who delivered the invocation at the McCain rally in Davenport on Saturday is the current interim minister at Bethany Baptist church in Moline and holds a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. This supposedly highly educated man said "there are millions of people around this world praying to their god - whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah …" and was worried that if their prayers were answered they would think their god was "bigger" than the "God of the Bible."

Well, I don't hold any advanced degrees in religion and even I know that there is no god named "Hindu" or "Buddha" and "Allah" is another name for the "God of the Bible." There are many Hindu gods but none of them are named "Hindu". Buddhists do not have a god – Buddha was just an enlightened man. Muslims believe that Jews, Christians and Muslims are people of the book, worshiping the same god. (Jews and Christians may not agree with that, but no Muslim would ever think that "their god" was different than the god of the Christian Bible.)

So, what exactly are they teaching at Trinity Evangelical and on what basis do they award doctorates?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Davenport minister causes controversy

Updated below

The Quad Cities is getting some dubious national exposure thanks to John McCain and Rev. Arnold Conrad. At John McCain's rally today in Davenport, Iowa, Rev Conrad, former pastor of Grace Evangelical Free Church, delivered the invocation. According to the Iowa Independent this was what was said:

I would also pray, Lord, that your reputation is involved in all that happens between now and November, because there are millions of people around this world praying to their god - whether it's Hindu, Buddha, Allah - that his opponent wins, for a variety of reasons," Conrad said.

And Lord, I pray that you would guard your own reputation, because they're going to think that their god is bigger than you, if that happens. So I pray that you will step forward and honor your own name with all that happens between now and Election Day."

Can you believe that?! This joker is claiming that because non-Christians around the world are hoping for an Obama victory in November, the Christian God's reputation and honor is at stake in this election!

As Obama's election becomes more likely these people are getting more desperate and deranged.

Update: According to the QuadCities Times Rev. Arnold when questioned after the rally offered this clarification:

Arnold told the Times later that he wasn’t referring to any particular candidate and that he probably misspoke. “My prayer had nothing to do with either candidate,” he said. “My point was these people are praying that the person of their choice wins. If that happens, then they’re going to ascribe to their God that power, that their God made it happen as opposed to the God of the Bible.”

We were not told the question he was asked but I don't see how that can be the right answer to any question. He really seems to believe that non-Christians around the world would interpret an Obama victory as a victory of their god over the "God of the Bible." But doesn't he realize that the Muslim god is the "God of the Bible?" Doesn't he realize that Buddhists don't have a god?

If non-Christian's wishes coming true would be intrepreted as a victory for "their God" as "opposed to the God of the Bible" why are only their wishes about this election a problem? Wouldn't any of their wishes about anything coming true be just as much ascribed to "their God.. as opposed to the God of the Bible?" According to his argument wouldn't we have to try to keep any non-Christian's wishes from coming true to prevent a perceived defeat for "the God of the Bible?"

A lesson I learned from my Indian Guru

McCain and Palin have been saying that Barak Obama sees this country differently from you and me and pals around with terrorists. At least some of their supporters have made the inference from those statements that Obama himself is a terrorist. See here and here. The threats of violence against Barack Obama from riled-up crowds at McCain/Palin rallies have unnerved a lot of people including some Republicans. Here is an example from this morning's Quad City Times.

U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood has a message for his party's presidential ticket: Tone it down.

LaHood, a Republican from Peoria, Ill., who is retiring in January after seven terms, told a Chicago radio station Friday that some McCain-Palin rallies are unbecoming to Republicans.

In particular, he pointed to shouts of "terrorist" that have come from the audience when vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin has talked about Democrat Barack Obama, the U.S. senator from Illinois.

"This doesn't befit the office that she's running for. And, frankly, people don't like it," LaHood told WBBM-AM.

Read the entire article.

In response to sentiments such as these from other Republicans and perhaps from his own sense of growing unease with what he has unleashed, yesterday John McCain started contradicting his own supporters who think Obama is a terrorist. See here. In response to a woman in the audience at his rally yesterday who said she feared an Obama presidency because Obama is an Arab, McCain said that Obama is a decent American and a family man and that no one should fear an Obama presidency.

This reminds me of the Indian guru I followed for a while in the 1970s. When he was hyping an upcoming meditation course, for which attendants would pay a sizeable fee, he would describe the importance of the course in cosmic terms – world peace and the very future of the universe depended on the number of people attending. Inevitable some followers dropped everything to attend, neglecting important family and business responsibilities. When reports of these unfortunate situations reached the guru he was perplexed. "Don't these people have any common sense?" he asked.

Republicans should learn from McCain the same lesson I learned from my Indian guru. Some people say things they don't believe themselves and if you believe them they will think you are a fool.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

And peace to you, too

Check out this photo!

Taco Dinner Fundraiser Tonight

The Moline Township Democrats are holding a Taco Dinner Fundraiser at the Moline American Legion Hall, 1623 15th St., from 5:00 to 7:30 pm. today, Wednesday, Oct. 8. Dinner tickets, which can be purchased at the door, are $7.00/$6.00 for seniors.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Day of the Dead at the Figge, Nov. 2

The thing you need to understand about the Mexican Day of the Dead (otherwise known as November 2, All Souls Day) is that the skulls and skeletons are not meant to be scary or spooky as they are when used in American Halloween decorations. The skeletons symbolize those who have died, our loved ones who have passed on. Leading up to the Day of the Dead, Mexicans set up altars in their homes honoring those who have died. On the Day of the Dead they gather at the cemetery to decorate the graves of their loved ones and to have a picnic.

These designs have been created by Moline graphic artist Rafael Gonzales and donated to Moline’s Casa Guanajuato. There will be T-Shirts with these designs printed on them for sale (as a fundraiser for Casa Guanajuato) at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport Nov. 2, 2008 as part of this year’s Day of the Dead festival. There will be a display of altars similar to the ones Mexicans create in their homes as well as Mexican music and food and dancing by the Quad Cities Ballet Folklorico.

Artist Jesus Pastor from Cortazar, Guanajuato, Mexico, who has been sponsored by the Cultural Institute of the state of Guanajuato and the city government of Cortazar to spend a month in the Quad Cities, will give a lecture on the meaning and symbolism of the Day of Dead. Between now and then Senor Pastor will be designing and building an altar to be displayed at the Figge honoring the more than 70 women who have been murdered during the last few years around Juarez as well as those who have died in the desert coming from Mexico to the United States. From what he has said about his plans for the altar it promises to be stunning and magnificent.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Iraq still the winning issue for Obama/Biden

The conventional wisdom endlessly repeated in the media is that Iraq has faded as an issue in this election and that the voters are much more concerned about the economy. Well, they may be concerned about the economy but according to the undecided voter's instant reactions to the vice-presidential debate last night they still have very strong feelings about Iraq.

As reported by Glenn Greenwald at

After the presidential debate last week, GOP pollster Frank Luntz said on Fox that, among undecided voters, Obama's strongest moments and McCain's weakest came when they clashed on Iraq, and later said that it is simply impossible for the GOP to win any debate on Iraq. Last night, GOP strategist Alex Castellanos on CNN said after the debate: "You know, Republicans aren't going to win debates on Iraq. I don't care who you put on that stage tonight, we're not going to win debates on Iraq, and we didn't tonight." And most notably, the best reaction Biden produced from the CBS focus group was when he demanded withdrawal from Iraq, and the worst reaction Sarah Palin produced was when she then spat out her tired right-wing slogan that Obama's withdrawal "plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq."

Undecided voters in CBS's focus group who were turning dials to record their second-by-second reactions to the debate twisted the Sarah Palin dial sharply toward maximum disapproval when she labeled a call for the US to withdraw from Iraq "a white flag of surrender."

John McCain had no trouble throwing out a lifetime of being against government regulation of business and markets to become a born-again regulator. But he apparently cannot abandon his support for our occupation of Iraq in spite of its unpopularity with the public and his sinking poll numbers.

What sort of people are these Republicans? It sometimes seems as though they would do anything to win an election, but obviously there is one thing they will not do—advocate withdrawing our troops from Iraq. What sort of values are these?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Family Man Barack

In general I think that people should decide for whom to vote based on the issues and political philosophy rather than on personality and "feeling your pain." But in this video you can see that Barack Obama is a true family man who really likes babies in a way that only a proud and devoted father does. Contrast his demeanor with the smoldering "Yosemite Sam" anger that John McCain has been showing lately.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Banned Book Week

The American Library Association has declared this week, September 27–October 4 2008, as National Banned Book Week. In honor of that and my aunt and sister-in-law who are librarians, here is a list compiled by the American Library Association of the "10 Most Challenged Books of 2007" along with the reasons given for why some people thought they should not be read.

1) "And Tango Makes Three," by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2) The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3) "Olive's Ocean," by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4) "The Golden Compass," by Philip Pullman
Reasons:  Religious Viewpoint

5) "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain
Reasons:  Racism

6) "The Color Purple," by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7) "TTYL," by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8) "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou
Reasons:  Sexually Explicit

9) "It's Perfectly Normal," by Robie Harris
Reasons:  Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10) "The Perks of Being A Wallflower," by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons:  Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

My personal choice for the greatest book ever written is number 5 on the list, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." My brothers and I still fondly remember my father reading it to us when we were little. We did not realize at the time what a subversive act that would later appear to be, in today's political climate. (My father also read to us from "Gulliver's Travels," which must only have escaped the book banner's attention by some oversight. It also is an extremely subversive book, full of ideas that some people would think were especially unsuitable for children.)

Defy the book banners by reading one of these books this week. If there is a child in your life who has not yet begun to read on her/his own then emulate my father and read it to her/him.