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Firstly, if you want a more authoritative source than some YouTube video for the details of civilians killed in deliberate drone attacks by the US military, here’s Glenn Greenwald in Salon, and here’s the report he references by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The CIA’s drone campaign in Pakistan has killed dozens of civilians who had gone to help rescue victims or were attending funerals, an investigation by the Bureau for the Sunday Times has revealed.

The findings are published just days after President Obama claimed that the drone campaign in Pakistan was a ‘targeted, focused effort’ that ‘has not caused a huge number of civilian casualties.’

But research by the Bureau has found that since Obama took office three years ago, between 282 and 535 civilians have been credibly reported as killed including more than 60 children. A three month investigation including eye witness reports has found evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed in follow-up strikes when they had gone to help victims.

So, there’s that.

But perhaps more pertinently: Where do you go from here? If you’ve seen enough now to believe that Obama is essentially morally corrupt, and that he has every intention to continue with this slaughter of innocents for as long as it’s politically expedient, how do we change that? Vote him out after he’s had his four years and replace him with somebody we’ll expect to do better? Remember how well that worked once we finally got rid of Bush.

Answers on a postcard.

For extra credit: Imagine all the hundreds of people killed by the American military in the manner described above were terrorists, despots, and other violent oppressors of liberty. Would it then be morally permissible – or even necessary – to have conducted such attacks, and to continue doing so wherever there might be more bad guys out there who we’re able to blow up? Or is it still wrong?

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(via Ann Arky)

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I do not support or endorse Barack Obama.

There. That wasn’t so bad.

This isn’t a topical piece. I’m not reacting to some shocking announcement made in the recent State of the Union address, like that the economy needs to be better or that education is good. He hasn’t done anything new to alienate or upset me.

I’m just doing my best to judge him by his track record. And, right now, I cannot support the guy in any meaningful capacity. Maybe after a bit more time spent at Less Wrong I’ll be able to go further than that, and with less temerity.

What’s prompted me to try writing this is a distressing incongruity I’ve been noticing within my squishy pink skull-contents lately. I value rationality a great deal, and am attempting to practise it more skilfully as an art, and one big honkin’ source of bias is lingering so resolutely that I really need to address it:

To a non-trivial degree, I still personally identify with the “liberal” or “Democrat” in-group.

In practice, what this means is that I have a distinct bias favouring the left and its members in US politics, regardless of any relevant facts I may be asked to consider. While I’m not above praising an individual Republican for something worthwhile, or condemning certain Democrats’ activities, I’ve definitely noticed my opinions starting to form simply based on the subject of a news story, or its source if their political stance is known to me. I feel myself getting either outraged or defensive, based solely on a headline summary, before analysing any of the facts. I seem inclined to presume either that those awful Republicans are being called out for doing something terrible again, or the Democrats are once more being unfairly smeared by some bastard Republicans, and I feel myself taking it personally.

It’s not that I’m a moron (I hope). I’m better once I have a chance to do some actual thinking, but this is about how my brain reacts before I’ve had that chance. And on some level, it still considers the Democrats somehow “my team”.

Which means that it’s easier to maintain and bolster the conceptions I have of what “my team” and “their team” are like. Republicans are homophobic and racist, Democrats are tolerant and progressive. Republicans are war-mongers, Democrats are against unnecessary military action. Republicans want to tax the poor more than the rich, Democrats have much more socialist policies that favour equality.

And while there may be some truth to all this in both their rhetoric and their policies, you have to cherry-pick very selectively if you want to conclude that it’s as easily divided as that.

And once you’ve pledged your allegiance on one side or the other, cherry-picking the data to confirm what you prefer to believe becomes a natural thing to do.

The overall state of US politics lends itself really, really well to this kind of black-and-white thinking and tribalism.

I’m mostly referring to the domination of these two camps, Republican and Democrat, who seem to be constantly at each other’s throats on just about everything, insist on aggressively competing against each other at every opportunity, and of which it’s assumed you must choose one to side with (although more people do seem to be rejecting that idea recently.)

But it’s also true that a lot of Republicans make it really easy to confirm my prejudices against them, and – if I’m not careful – reinforce my allegiance to their opposition.

I mean, Newt Gingrich is an obnoxious ass, whose cruelty and self-serving hypocrisy makes it very easy not to like him. That’s not just my anti-Republican bias talking. He’s terrible. He’s cheated on at least two of his three wives and how dare anyone bring it up when discussing his suitability to lead the country. Ugh. He is an awful man.

Mind you, how bad was it when George Bush was President? That guy who could barely string a sentence together, got the country entrenched in ludicrously extensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and stripped away an unprecedented number of civil liberties with the Patriot Act? He was horrendous.

And then you’ve got Obama, who ran on a platform of change from what went before, who seems like a good guy, a smart guy, who says a lot of the right things, and who I really wanted to win in 2008. And who has reauthorised and expanded on most of Bush’s policies, signed the massively authoritarian National Defense Authorization Act into law, is keeping up the country’s traditions of selling billions of dollars of weapons to Saudi Arabia, has done nothing to prevent the indefinite detention of who knows how many innocent people in Gitmo, has had more innocent people killed in Pakistan by unmanned drone attacks than Bush ever did…

But, y’know. At least he’s not a Republican.

And it has been noted that a Presidential track record like Obama’s is exactly the sort of thing Democrats would leap on to argue the atrocious consequences of having a Republican in the White House.

If I try to ignore the labelling distinction between the two teams, and just look at what Obama’s done, matched up with how I’d want politicians to behave, there’s really nothing to justify maintaining any further support, allegiance, or tribal team spirit for Barack Obama or the Democratic Party in the USA. The only reason I feel inclined to do so is that their outward appearance, viewed through my established set of preconceptions, doesn’t make the bile rise in my throat the way it does when I hear the Republicans talk.

But I’m starting to think that it should.

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Maybe, if I keep blogging about politics, I’ll eventually learn something about politics.

I don’t think Obama’s a bad person, whatever that even means. I don’t doubt that he wants to do good and believes that he can.

But in a way, that’s even more distressing. The current system imposing itself on America is such that someone with sincere intentions can end up with the kind of track record he has.

I supported Obama’s Presidential campaign, breathed a heavy sigh of relief when he won, and continue to find Republicans utterly repugnant by default. But I’m finding it harder to identify as being part of the Democrats’ “team”, even though they’re ostensibly on the side of reason and good these days.

Sometimes, I look at a funny and well-delivered speech given by the President, and wonder if we wouldn’t all have found such light-hearted self-deprecation to be frustratingly lackadaisical if it had come from Bush.

And sometimes, the standard liberal position needs a reality check.

[O]ne can still be a “liberal or a progressive with a broad sense of the common good” if you support a guy who blows up little children with cluster bombs, as Barack Obama has in Yemen. You can still be a liberal or progressive in good standing if you support a man who has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of Pakistani civilians with flying death robots. And you can still be a liberal if you back a guy who has shown not the slighest inclination to reform, much less do away with, a war on drugs that has led to 2.3 million Americans being placed in cages, the vast majority minorities.

That the president has doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan, ordered more drone strikes in Pakistan than his predecessor did in eight years, and launched another war in Libya without so much as getting a rubber stamp from Congress is of no concern to the good party-line liberal. The president, after all, is a Democrat.

And if you think someone like Ron Paul is just an extreme nutcase outsider, consider it in context.

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While I was offline for a month, I kept a note of any links and news stories worth commenting on. Now that I’m back, I’m aiming to post two short items a day here, about stuff that happened during my online absence, until I’ve cleared the backlog. This is one of those.


Anderson Cooper’s never really been on my radar before as being one of America’s stand-out TV journalists. I think he deserves the credit now.

Sane, calm, informed, well researched, fair. Good stuff.

[Edit: I wrote this and queued it up before writing my previous post, in which Anderson Cooper was also awesome.]

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Yes, that Barack Obama. The one who’s the President now and whom no-one in their right mind believes is a Muslim.

It wasn’t as deranged of me as it might sound. It’s just this very fuzzy memory I have of when I first heard about this Obama guy who was running for President, and from whatever news source I was half paying attention to I somehow got the impression that he was a Muslim. It wasn’t an agenda being pushed nearly as strongly as it is now, but the notion found its way into my head somehow.

I didn’t think much of it at the time. “Huh, okay. Non-Christian guy running for President. Could be interesting.” That was the extent of it, as far as I can recall.

In retrospect, even that sounds painfully naive. The idea that a non-Christian would have any chance of not being torn to shreds from all sides in a US Presidential race seems ludicrous, especially given how much shit real Christians get for not being Christian.

Like I say, I really didn’t think about it much.

When I did think about it, having heard some more about this increasingly pertinent news story and acquired some actual facts, I realised quickly that I’d got the wrong idea. He says he’s a Christian – which ought to be enough to settle things on its own, really – he goes to church, it all seems quite straight-forward. Simple enough to change my mind. Sorted.

Apparently some people haven’t found it quite so simple.

The thing is, I had absolutely nothing invested in the idea that Barack Obama was a Muslim. I’d made a mistake on a subject I didn’t really care much about. But some people really seem committed to the idea, beyond anything that can be called rational. It’s become really important to their mental well-being to continue seeing him that way; the cognitive dissonance involved in admitting a mistake, and having to accept him as a Christian – just like them – is far too great.

(If there are any significant non-Christian factions convinced that Obama’s lying about his religion, I’m yet to encounter them.)

It just seems like a pernicious, dishonest, and largely self-deluding way of distancing and depersonalising the guy – he’s not one of us, he’s one of them. He’s not saying the things I want him to say, he doesn’t stand up for all of my beliefs against what I perceive as threats, he doesn’t stop the others encroaching on my country who I want stopped. And he looks a bit different from me and the people I know.

So he must be one of “them”, an outsider, a foreigner, an enemy of “real” America, a communist, a socialist, a fascist, a Nazi, a Muslim, a terrorist from Durkadurkastan – or any other such term which seems to get used more or less interchangeably by the kind of people who think like this.

He professes his Christian faith, has been going to a Christian church for decades, and doesn’t actually appear to be a Muslim in any way whatever. But if you start thinking like that, then you might have to acknowledge that you have something in common with him.

I don’t know where I was going with this. I think it’s just another bitter rant.

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– President Obama’s proclamation for Thanksgiving was unique in that he didn’t mention God, except when quoting George Washington. So, he sort of did bring him up. But still, LifeSiteNews can barely hold back their disdain.

There’s been a lot of bollocks written lately by people angry that non-believers or non-Christians should be daring to join in with the rigmarole of regimented gratitude. I can’t be bothered to go find some of it again and provide links, but it was just more inane rantings on the theme of “shut up, don’t express your opinions, STOP HAVING FUN GUYS” directed mostly at atheists. If anyone’s rebutted all of this any more articulately than me (my own thoughts didn’t really develop beyond “Oh, fuck off“), feel free to link to it in the comments.

– Uganda is making it legal to kill gay people. It’s called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

And Rick Warren is apparently fine with this. Yes, that Rick Warren. The one who Barack Obama described as one of the three wisest people he knows, and who delivered the current president’s Inaugural Invocation.

Come on, guy. Give us something. If we just have to keep liking you because you’re a great orator and seem thoughtful and friendly, we’re not going to be any better than those people buying Sarah Palin’s book who have no idea why they like her except that she’s folksy. We appreciate the occasional namecheck for non-believers, but isn’t this kind of bullshit worth denouncing, and isn’t someone like Rick Warren worth publicly distancing yourself from if he won’t?

– Steve Novella is chairman of the recently formed Institute For Science In Medicine. That guy works insanely hard. And I’m impressed with how many other names I recognise from their list of members.

“A bloke cannot marry his brother; it is not right. A woman cannot marry their sister; it is not right. A bloke cannot marry a bloke because it is not right, and a female cannot marry a female because it is not right. I don’t support this.” Australian politics at work, ladies and gentlemen.

These slippery slopes just keep coming back. I really don’t see the connection. From a judicial standpoint, what would need to happen for incest or polygamy to be legal, in any form? What representatives or political leaders would have to vote on what bills, sign what documents, to put something like that into law? And in what ways does that answer change when some other unrelated legislation on gay marriage is passed?

– I’m not crazy about “The [representation of data] that [company or group of individuals alleged to be powerful and motivated by self-interest] doesn’t want you to see!” as a hook, but these are some pretty interesting graphs, which do a lot to undermine the resilient, annoying, and deeply naive idea that all illegal downloading is straightforward theft. Musical artists are making more and more money.

– I chimed in with a discussion on Twitter earlier today about climate change denialism. Jack of Kent seemed to be at its focus for the most part, and he’s just put up a blog on the subject. I was planning to write about this myself tonight, but all that other nonsense up there got in the way, and now it’s late. I’ll try and get it done tomorrow, because I don’t entirely agree with him, and I’d like to try and figure out exactly what it is that I do think about this.

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