Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates




The Commission on Presidential Debates (or CPD for short) just denied the Libertarian and Green Party candidates from participating in the upcoming Presidential Debates. It's absolutely disgusting, and whether or not you support any of the third party candidates, you should be upset.

This private organization controls a disproportionate amount of influence and power in the political arena. They alone determine who does and doesn't  qualify as a "legitimate contender" in the presidential race. Since when did we as Americans surrender that determination to some money making machine? 

You should be upset, regardless of your political leanings, because this organization alone shapes the message and choices of the entire election. It restricts the amount of information you receive. It hampers the democratic process by manipulating the choices presented to the people. It falsely presents the same two options as the ONLY two options. It ignores large swaths of the population's wishes by propagating the two party system at the expense of true representation. 

The only contact I could find for the CPD was for their media department (media@debates.org and 202-872-1020). So I wrote up a little letter and emailed to them. I would encourage you to do the same. Because this is un-American and disgusting.

-------------------------

To the Commission on Presidential Debates,

As this is the only contact email I can find for your organization, I will use it to tell you how disgraceful it is that you deny third party candidates the opportunity to debate. Your mission statement reads:

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.


You in fact directly contradict this mission statement by barring entry to third party candidates. You are actually restricting information to viewers and listeners by misguiding them into believing that what is on your stage represents the full spectrum of political views in contention for the White House.

If the second half of your stated mission is in fact your mission, you are failing miserably at that as well. It reads:

Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates 

Now, I don't think anyone disagrees that you are at least doing this much, but your mission statement continues: 

and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates. 

The "research" featured on your website is laughable and outdated. Discussion groups and forums from 1997 do not qualify as research. You seem to need some help in this department. Here are a couple excellent research question for you: At what point is an organization that is supposedly dedicated improving the democracy of a nation considered corrupt? Here's a hypothesis for you to test: when it directly contradicts its mission statement in favor of, say, eliminating competition to established political ideologies. That one should keep you busy for a while, assuming you actually conduct what academia refers to as research, as opposed to your extremely loose interpretation of research.

Your organization is seen by me and many as corrupt, advancing the two party stranglehold on American politics while effectively silencing all other voices. At this point, it doesn't matter if this perception is valid or not; what matters is that your organization is no longer viewed as non-partisan and non-profit. It is viewed as corrupt. As a private organization, you hold the power to change the criteria for who makes it onto the debate stage. Ultimately, without major reform, you hold the power to change the debates for the better. You have the power to change the perception of your organization from one of corruption to one of a champion of democratic ideals. Provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners by allowing more voices to be heard. Truly examine the nature of democracy and the role of public debates like the ones you sponsor. Live up to your non-partisan and non-profit nature. 

Until you do these things, shame on you, and on the detrimental effect your organization is having on the democratic process of our nation. It's truly disgusting. 

Sincerely,

Friday, May 13, 2016

Choosing "The Lesser of Two Evils" is Wasting Your Vote




I saw this a while back on Facebook, before either candidate had secured their party's nomination. I laughed along and added my own "Like" with the other 50,000+ "Likes" this image had. Since then, I've seen variations of this image crop up here and there, along with a running commentary that always ends up like this: 

"I can't believe I have to choose between Trump and Hillary. Guess I'll move to Canada."

...

What? 

As if those are the only two options! As if as an American, you can only vote for one of two people, or one of two parties. As if to say that if you vote for anything else, you're "wasting your vote." 

What!?

Please: the only way you can waste your vote is by using it to signal to the rest of America that you believe in something that you don’t actually believe in. If you truly believe that either “Nope” or “Noper” is best for America, please vote for them, but if not, vote for someone you believe in. ANYONE you believe in. Write yourself in for all I care. Write in “None of the Above.” Just don't lie to me, your fellow citizen, by saying you want someone to be president when you don't actually want them to be president. 

The Lesser of Two Evils

This election is different though, right? I mean, given the two choices, we really have to make sure we elect the lesser of two evils, right?

Oh, wait a second… I think Jefferson just rolled over in his grave.

The idea of voting for the lesser of two evils is fundamentally flawed. Let us count the ways:

There Are More Than Two Options

Firstly, it assumes that there are only two options – Republicans and Democrats. This just simply isn’t the case. The Libertarian Party’s presumptive nominee is polling higher than ever against the establishment candidates – and that was in the first poll mentioning the Libertarian Party candidate vs the establishment candidates. The Green Party and various Independents have been around for decades and are running for President this year. According to Ballotpedia, there are 1,724 candidates that have filed a Statement of Candidacy with the Federal Election Commission as of May 2016. They provide this link to see them all. In 43 states, you even have the option of writing someone in for President on your ballot! Why would you say or think that there are only two options for President of the United States?

Sure, you say, there are technically more options, but practically speaking, only a Republican or Democrat has a chance of winning.

Why is that, exactly? Why can only a Republican or Democrat win when only 26% of voters identify as Republican and 30% identify as Democrats? That’s only 56% of America identifying as these two political parties. You’re telling me that we have to split the American vote 50-50 between two parties that COLLECTIVELY only represent 56% of Americans? Why are the other 44% who identify as Independent or “Other” voting for these two parties?? Probably because they think that there are no other options, and that they have to vote for the lesser of two evils. I just want to shake that 44% and show them how many options there actually are.


Voting For “The Lesser of Two Evils” 
Is Actively Choosing Evil 
(And It’s Un-American)
(Also I’m going to apologize up front for using the word “evil” a ridiculous amount of times in this section.)

Secondly, the idea of voting for the lesser of two evils assumes that if you vote for a third option, you’re allowing some evil to win… But let’s be clear: voting for a lesser evil is still voting for evil. More clearly stated, if you vote for something you think is the lesser of two evils, you are actively choosing an evil when you could instead choose a “good” that you believe in.

Morally speaking, some of us have this notion that “I just can’t allow this greater evil to win,” so we then choose a different evil. The misconception here is that the moral high ground isn’t found in choosing any degree of evil. The moral high ground is found when you choose a good that you believe in.

From a civic duty perspective, we might think that “I can’t let this person win because it will wreck the country” so we then choose someone who will wreck it less. Our true civic duty is to vote for someone we believe will actually improve the country, not just “wreck it less.”

From a practical standpoint, we might say “There are only two legitimate options, and both are evil, so I have to pick the least bad or the greater bad will win,” but in reality, 44% of us don’t identify with either of the two bad options. We could all come together and write in Morgan Freeman on the ballot, and he could then be President in real life as well as in every movie this century.

And to be clear: I’m not trying to make any declarations about candidate A or B being evil. I’m simply trying to break down the argument that a responsible voter has some kind of moral or civic obligation to use their vote to choose the lesser of two (and only two) perceived evils. Adhering to this idea is un-American on multiple levels: it misrepresents your views; it constrains you to only two options as opposed to unlimited options; it constrains you to vote for perceived evil at every ballot; it perpetuates the idea that you don’t have your own voice, only one of two voices; and it perpetuates two dominant, unrepresentative political parties.


You Will Never Be The Deciding Vote

Thirdly, voting for the lesser of two evils supposes that you actually have a chance to determine the outcome of the election. I hate to break it to you, but you will never be the deciding vote in a presidential election. The odds are astronomical. Even if an election went 149,999,999 votes to 150,000,001 votes, the Electoral College and the House of Representatives would come into play and determine the election.

Does that mean your vote doesn’t count? Of course not. It just means that the function of a vote is not to select a winner. It's something else entirely. 

Voting Is About Being Heard

Finally, since the practice of choosing the lesser of two evils perpetuates the idea that your vote is about selecting a winner, it obscures the real power of your vote: the value of your vote is not inherent in its ability to determine the outcome of an election, but in its ability to accurately reflect your unique, individual voice. Voting isn’t about choosing the winner of an election – your vote will never do that. Voting is about self-government. It's about being represented. It's about weighing in with your unique voice on who would be the best Commander in Chief of America. It's about lending your opinions, expertise, experience, and beliefs to the rest of your fellow citizens. It is your opportunity to be counted, to have a voice, to say whatever you want to say about who should administrate the executive branch.

If you don’t vote the way you believe, you will not be truly heard. Your voice will be lost amidst the shouts of perceived popular opinion. You will lend your voice and power to the paltry 26% or 30% that truly support the establishment parties. The establishment parties’ support will be artificially inflated by your voice, because you will be counted as support for them instead of being counted as support for your own ideals. Your ideals will continue to be ignored or trampled on, because there will never be sufficient proof of support for those ideals.

But hey, at least you were heard shouting for the lesser evil, right?

What You Can Do This Election

The only way you can waste your vote is by using it to signal to the rest of America that you believe in something that you don’t actually believe in. If you honestly and truthfully believe that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is the best candidate for president, then please vote for them. If you are in that 44% that don’t identify as a Republican or Democrat, you might wonder what you can do, this election, to keep from wasting your vote.

Firstly, the most developed parties outside of the establishment are Libertarian Party and Green Party. You might be surprised to find yourself closely aligned with one of these two parties without ever knowing it.

Secondly, you can use sites like The Political Compass and I Side With to help you identify your own political values and beliefs, and then match them with the most popular presidential candidates. I’m not suggesting you let some quizzes decide for you, but it’s a start. Go from there and research the political ideas and candidates you come across. This is the presidential election of the United States of America, surely we have an hour or two to spend researching?

Thirdly, if you live in certain states, you can write someone in. It’s not about winning this way. It’s about being represented. It’s about being counted. There’s a pretty hilarious quote from the always colorful Jesse Ventura that applies:

“I have an idea about voting, how about on every ballot we include ‘None of the above.’ People may laugh at that, but what that is, it is a vote of no confidence in your government and I'm willing to bet that in some elections, 'None of the Above' would win. Imagine if you won the election but lost to 'None of the Above'. Wouldn't that make you re-think your positions?”

Again, it’s about being heard. You have more than two options.


My goal has been to convince you that the only wasted vote is one you cast without belief. Voting for the “lesser of two evils” is fundamentally flawed and un-American. The American ideal is that you vote for someone you believe in. The American ideal is to express yourself with your vote. The American ideal is to be represented. If you don’t vote for someone you believe in, you will never truly be represented.  

And for the love of liberty, don’t use your only chance to be heard to say something you don’t believe.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

#4PARTYPARTY Don't Support the Establishment Nominees? Here's Why and What To Do About It

Are you a Republican who for some reason can't get behind the Republican nominee? What about a Democrat seriously split between Hilary and Bernie? I guarantee you that you are not alone.

There are 300+ million people in America, and for some reason we think that there are only two political ideologies shared by all of us. We act as if there are only two dimensions to political thought: "Right" and "Left." Thankfully, the 2016 election has caused serious political soul-searching among Americans, and hopefully their search brings them to this conclusion: there are not enough political parties in America to reflect the varied political beliefs of 300+ million Americans, and it's time to start some new ones. 

When you Think of Trump and Clinton, you probably think Trump is "far right" and Hilary is "far left." And Sanders? Even further left. Well, that's not entirely accurate. According to The Political Compass (an excellent website with a simple tool to help you find yourself on the political spectrum) the current spread of candidates looks more like this:

Political Compass of 2016 Primary Candidates
US Presidential Presidential candidates 2012 including Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

You see, "Right and Left" are useful tools to identify an economic position, but it doesn't do much to help you identify a social position. Thus, The Political Compass has added the "Authoritarian" top side of the chart (essentially regulating social issues) and the "Libertarian" bottom side (essentially NOT regulating social issues). I won't go into explaining the different quadrants; The Political Compass already does an excellent job of that. My concern is what to do if you find out that you're sitting in a completely different quadrant than the establishment candidates. 

For instance, let's say you have socialist economic tendencies (meaning you are more for the government regulating markets and wealth), but you firmly oppose homosexual marriage and believe the government should regulate marriage accordingly. That is a "Left" economic stance and an "Authoritarian" social stance. You might end up in the top left quadrant somewhere.

Or let's say that you are all about free markets (meaining that you are for getting the government out of the economy and letting the markets do their thing), but you couldn't give a damn about two guys getting married. That is a "Right" economic policy and a more "Libertarian" social policy. That might put you in the bottom right quadrant. With me!

My Political Compass 

personalised chart
So what am I to do? Which candidate am I actually closest to? I'm going with... none! What should really happen is other traditionally Republican bottom-right-ers and I that can't get behind Trump should get together and MAKE OUR OWN POLITICAL PARTY... or just join the Libertarian Party, which is much closer to that bottom right quadrant than the establishment parties. When Hilary wins the Democratic nomination, those of you who cluster around Senator Sanders should START YOUR OWN PARTY. The reason the Democratic Party doesn't want Sanders as the nominee is because HE'S NOT A DEMOCRAT. And by extension, if you identify more with his policies than the Democratic establishment, YOU ARE NOT A DEMOCRAT EITHER. (Sorry about the bold caps; it's not about yelling at you, its more about helping me see what I'm really trying to say.

The real dilemma is that the only two political parties that people seem willing to support are 1) nearly identical in the political spectrum and 2) don't fully encompass the political spectrum, leaving many, many American disenfranchised with the parties and candidates. AND YET WE KEEP VOTING FOR THEM.

And this isn't unique to this election. Here's the political spectrum breakdown of the 2012 election from Political Compass:

Political Compass of the 2012 Presidential Election

US Presidential Presidential candidates 2012 including Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul


Now is the time. We have a real shot at more political parties in America. If Bernie loses the nomination and you don't can't get behind the establishment, write to him. YouTube him. Instagram him. Hashtag him. Plead with him to run anyway as an Independent or a Social Democrat or Democratic Socialist or whatever it is you want to call it, and then join his party.

If you're a Republican that just can't do Trump, then find another candidate or party to give your vote to. If you are like me in the bottom right quadrant of this spectrum, check out the Libertarian party. If that still doesn't do it for you, take to social media and hashtag your way to a collective voice and start from there.


Whatever you do, don't just perpetuate the misrepresentation of your voice by voting for someone you don't identify with. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

~~~ Gravitational Waves ~~~

So yeah, gravitational waves are a thing. This is kind of a big deal.



Think about that for a second. You literally distort TIME and S P A C E around you. You directly affect the very fabric of the universe. You leave a mark, an impression, that lasts forever and reverberates throughout the cosmos. Coupled with the burgeoning knowledge of quantum physics that has revealed the effect we have on reality simply by OBSERVING it, it is getting harder and harder to give any credence to the notion that what you do affects no one but yourself.

That's my story.





Credits to phdcomics.com for the excellent explanation of gravitational waves and of science-y things in general at their site. Because science. 

Sweet Sixteen



I can't explain it but 2016 is killin' it and it's barely February. Wait... what happened in 2015, you ask? Don't worry about that, we'll talk about it later. For now let's focus on the fact that that we're riding the Star Wars 7 high two months later, scientists proved Einstein right by detecting Gravitational Waves, Deadpool delivered exactly what Deadpool promised, I realized that "Hamilton" is the new hotness, Luke had his first piano gig and is going to finally record an album, Kyle is getting married, and Erica is graduating high school. And oh yeah I'm getting out of the Army in a month and taking a year-long Sabbatical to do whatever I want and stuff. Throw some old and new acquaintances and life-long friends into the mix and 2016 looks even more promising.

And it's February. 

Ok so I guess I can kinda sorta explain it. Here's to you and me, 2016. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

Baptism of an Arctic Warrior Part V: Reflections on Destiny


I already explained how I kind of sort of in a round-about way chose Alaska as my first duty station in Part I of the Baptism of an Arctic Warrior Mini-Series. I won't rehash the story, but I will take a moment and reflect on Destiny.

What did I do with three years? Let's see. 

-Deployed to Afghanistan 
-Survived "The Legend"
-Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz
-Stryker Gunnery in Arctic Conditions
-Cold Weather Leader's Course
-Played a Dangerous Game (that I won)
-S3 Shop Veteran / Staff Wizard Level 20 (Paragon Level)
-The Road Trip that Wasn't
-More S3 Shop Shenanigans (TOCEX, LL, AS3, S3)
-Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka
-Many Holiday Dinners with the Newmans
-Tauren Marines
-Get out, Stay in, Get out, Stay in... w/e just Stay in for now
-Alexander Screenplay
-JRTC
-Body By S3
-Genesis of the Iron Temple
-Identity Crisis
-Baptism of an Arctic Warrior
-The Beluga Lady
-GOLD LEAGUE FINALLY
-Rainiest Summer EVER (seriously though, it set a record)
-Zip Line Talkeetna

This list is for me, not you, so sorry if some (or most) of this list doesn't make any sense. I'm sure there are other things that happened in the past three years that are worth remembering, but these are the ones that came to me with the least amount of thought, which signals to me that they are the most influential. I'm not sure that I'm satisfied with my own performance in the past three years (Alexander had conquered Persia by my age and Arnold had already won 6 Mr. Olympias), but I am confident that I have firmly caught on to the coattails of Destiny. I trust her to lead me to my journey's end. 

And so, from the Frozen North I fly south, not just for the winter but for the foreseeable future, to the Borderland Deserts of Arizona.

I can't wait to see the Sun again. 

Yes, I mean you, Sun. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Baptism of an Arctic Warrior Part IV: The "Road" Back to Civilization



Oh you thought the tale was told? That the story was over? Wrong-o. 

This guy had a bad day.
We should have known when we saw this car right outside Deadhorse Camp that this trip wasn't going to be all fun and games and toenail painting on the way back to Fairbanks. We had barely survived the trip up with our two (technically three) flat tires, but we were confident that the mechanics at Deadhorse Camp had patched us up nicely.

Wrong-o again-o.

We left Prudhoe Bay at 1230 and barely two hours later we had a flat. We had one spare at this point; it was time for a decision: turn around and fix this tire at Prudhoe Bay (a four to six hour detour), or try to make it FIVE HOURS to Coldfoot without getting another flat? There's no cell service, and we had no other tire, so if this spare went down, we would be stuck on the road.

This is actually from Day 1 but you get the idea.

I'll take the blame for the decision. I cast the deciding vote. The smart thing to do was go back and fix the tire, obviously. But something stirred within me... an inkling of Fate, of Kismet, of Destiny. I could feel a pull towards the South.... maybe it was just my own bed calling. For whatever reason, I voted we push on like REAL adventurers. And push on we did. You will have to decide if I made the right call or not.

As we took some time to mull over our predicament, that tire change took a good 18 minutes, the slowest one by far. We took off, pretending to be optimistic about our chances. We passed a herd of Musk Ox and Caribou (or some other such horned animal), and pointed out some bow hunters stalking them alongside the highway. An hour or so down the road (if you can call it a road), Fortune smiled upon us: the Chinese tour group we had met at the Ocean was stopped at a construction crossing. Let me explain.

The "road" to Deadhorse Camp is under constant construction. At some points it's so narrow (due to said construction) that it becomes a single-lane road. At these points, a construction vehicle called a "Pilot Car" would guild one side of traffic through the narrow lane, dodging a maze of obstacles left behind by various vehicles, equipment, and laborers. Once to the other side, the Pilot Car would drop off its convoy, allowing them to continue them on their way. It would then turn around, pick up traffic flowing in the opposite direction, and lead them back through the maze to the starting point.

The Fates had aligned just so, allowing us to meet up with them at this construction stop as we all waited for the Pilot Car to come pick us up. At this stop we traded greetings and told them about our potential disaster-in-waiting. In a heartbeat, they offered to follow us, and if we lost another tire they would lend us one of their own spares -- their ONLY spare, in fact. What excellent Humans and true Samaritans.

We were very lucky to have them with us, because not another hour later, our final spare blew out. The Chinese were there to help, as they had promised to do. We went right to work; it was already 5:00 PM and we still had a good 8-10 hours to go. Even though we had to fish out the spare from our rescuers' SUV, we were still able to get rolling again in 15 minutes.

At some point we stopped for a quick break, and who should pass us but the California Bros that we dived into the Ocean with! We gave them a fist pump of victory as they screamed by us. That might have been the last time we ever saw them, but nope. We would meet again.

Some time later, the next tire went down only THREE MILES FROM COLDFOOT. If you remember, Coldfoot is the halfway point, complete with a restaurant (omg DINNER!) and a service station. Three miles. Three. Miles.

Americans, amirite?
Our Chinese Rescuers showed up once again, laughed at us, and then agreed to shuttle a couple of us to Coldfoot in order to fix one of our tires. Once fixed, we would ride back out with our tire to the vehicle, put the tire on, and then drive our vehicle the last three flippin miles back to Coldfoot.

The entire process of getting our vehicle to Coldfoot, and then patching ALL of our tires took quite some time. While we waited for tires to get fixed, the bow hunters we had seen on the road earlier pulled into Coldfoot. Turns out that they were some of my co-workers, which was perfect because they carried the message back to my boss that I would not be back to work in time for morning PT. What are the odds, right?

Our Chinese Rescuers were done travelling for the night and settled in at a hotel nearby for the night. We couldn't count on them to babysit us anymore. Luckily - and really, it was extremely lucky - we ran into none other than the California Bros taking a break from driving at Coldfoot. They were true Road Warriors, driving an SUV with a giant snorkel, two spare tires, an air compressor and a tire patch kit. I mean, the air compressor had a button on the DASH to operate it. That's real.

The Bros offered to take the Chinese's place as our babysitters. They even hooked us up with a RADIO that they had brought with them to keep in communication should anything else come up. Like I said, Road Warriors, the three of them.

We finally pulled out at 10:00 PM, with two spares in the trunk and seven hours of driving still ahead of us. Two and a half hours later, the next tire went flat. We changed it in about six minutes and continued. An hour after that one the next one followed suit. This one took barely five minutes to replace.

Seriously, you can't make this stuff up. We were approaching Nascar-standard tire changing time, but we were out of spares. This was it. Hopefully we could make the last couple hours.

Haha nope.

Not long after using our last spare, we hit beautiful, solid pavement. It was sexy. The paint was perfect, the roadway was wide and clear, and there were even guard rails to keep us from skydiving off of the cliffs in our vehicle. We were positive that we were in the clear. So positive, in fact, that we gave the California Bros their radio back so they could pull off and get some rest at a campsite. They agreed with our assessment and told us they'd follow us to the next turn off before hitting the sack.

But Happenstance had the last maniacal, villain-like laugh. On this beautiful, sexy road that I considered marrying, we lost yet another tire. How? I have no idea. I had stopped asking how and why. I had stopped caring about the dense cloud of mosquitoes feasting on my flesh as I helped change tires. I had stopped wondering what time were going to get back. It was approaching 5:00 AM and I was more zombie than man at this point. I hadn't slept much the night before on account of pre-game jitters, and I hadn't slept much in the car because Sir Billy Fix It kept dodging potholes rather forcefully with the intent of slamming my head into the window (it amused him and kept him awake, you see).

The Road Warriors were just about as tired of driving as you are of reading this, but they still hadn't found a turn off for camping. Consequently, they rolled up on us with sunken-in eyes and broken souls, shook their heads in disbelief, and whipped out the air compressor and tire plugs. My man the Taliban Saboteur did work and plugged that tire up right. I think we made his day, giving him a chance to use that nifty system; he made our year by getting us home.

After that final tire, we made it the last 90 or so miles back to Fairbanks with the California Bros' radio in our SUV and their support following behind. They weren't going to leave us now. These true American Heroes escorted us all the way into town to make sure we made it safely.

When you stop to think about it, it's pretty awesome that complete strangers would help us out like that for so long. Both the Chinese Tour Group and the California Bros escorted us for a total of about 15 hours. We had borrowed a spare and been repaired once by them. We had gotten two shuttle rides and kept the Bros up all night. That is true Humanity right there. I'm honored to have shared not only my Arctic Warrior Baptism with them, but the road back to civilization  as well.

Finally, 1000 miles and NINE FLAT TIRES later, we rolled into Fairbanks at 6:00 AM, just in time for me to make it to morning PT at 6:30 AM.

Ha, yeah right.