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Virtual thought crimes

This is Andrew Sullivan at his literary best (and I agree with what he's written too!) He's responding here to Ross Douthat's maidenly screed against virtual naughtiness:

His view is that cutting online sex out of one's life entirely is the only way to avoid its temptation. I tend, in contrast, to think that human nature is so flawed that a sane moral life cannot and should not insist on constant perfection/abstinence, but constant attention to morality, to conscience, and to what human beings can reasonably expect to achieve. If your standard is never to commit a venial sin, you will almost certainly fail. And you may set up a destructive pattern of perfection, failure, depression, more failure, more depression, a new commitment to perfection, failure ... and so on: rinse and repeat. I think that cycle is horribly destructive and believe that moderation and risk-minimization is a safer guide to avoiding sin than total abstinence. That's why diets fail; and why the Christianist South has higher rates of divorce and illegitimacy than, say, "barbaric" Massachusetts.

Yes, you can get lost in an online hall of mirrors and addiction and narcissism.

Yes, there is a lack of dignity in what has happened to Weiner - but only because what was meant to be private became public. If videos of all of us taking our Morganscheisse were streamed live, a few of us would lose some dignity as well.

But if a married man jacks off to porn, I don't think we should consider him an adulterer, let alone on a route to what Ross calls "barbarism". (And if it is considered adultery, what percentage of American marriages would be intact?) Ditto if someone "kills" real-people-acting-as-avatars on World of Warcraft. That does not convict someone of murder. And if a married man chats online with a paid sex worker, and jacks off on his laptop, is that adultery too? What if he is just playing at wooing or preening with online strangers or fans but with no real intent to, you know, have sexual relations with any of them? In the grand scheme of social ills, these do not rank high on my list. The real-virtual distinction is a meaningful one.

Yes, this is a santorumy slope in many ways, but the element that Ross (and the Vatican) dismisses is that sex need not always be deadly serious. There is a vital part of the human experience that we call "play". Fighting the need for play gets sex and work out of proportion and can distort our moral lives in ways far worse than the occasional victimless online flirt. And that's what this technology has really opened up: not the potential for sin, which is always with us, but the potential for play. From Angry Birds to anonymous chat rooms to World of Warcraft to Chatroulette or Grindr or OKCupid, this is a safe zone for unsafe things by virtual people. That's why we call it play. It is often a balance to work or lack of work. It is not the end of civilization. It is, in fact, the mark of one.

And, by the way, no matter how much you try to eliminate pornography or online "play", until you manage to lobotomize the entire species, the human imagination will always provide the necessary images for someone to commit "virtual adultery." If that's a crime, I think everyone over the age of 14 has committed it.


Internet Tax Bill Clears Senate

I've mentioned the so-called "Amazon tax" a couple of times recently, and now it looks like it has passed the second big hurdle by clearing the Senate.  It was actually packaged up into a bill by Sen. Hancock with two other bills:

Hancock added, "Out-of-state online merchants are able to underprice local stores and California-based online businesses by as much as 10% by simply refusing to collect state sales tax.  We're finally on our way to changing that in a way that will help small business and brings in more revenue.  It's only fair."

The three bills that are part of today's legislative package include:

* Senator Hancock's SB 234, which insures that the state tax board (Board of Equalization) has the authority to enforce collection of state sales tax by out-of-state retailers.

* Assemblyman Calderon's AB 158, which specifies that retailers have a business "nexus" or connection with the state if any member of their corporate family is located in the state.

* Assemblyman Skinner's AB 153, which obligates Amazon and others that use in-state affiliates to promote their sales to collect state sales tax immediately.

The measure incorporating the three bills now goes to the State Assembly, where a vote is also expected later today.

Hancock's bill should pass the Assembly on a majority vote basis today, and head to the Governor's desk.


Did the GOP con the Democrats into buying into deficit fever so they could run against them from the left?


The Republican Plan to Privatize the Parks

Once upon a time, there was a place so magical, that there were places that anybody could go.  Rich and poor could, heaven forbid, mingle in the glory of nature.  These places were even free to enter.  It was a magical place.

Of course, the days of free state parks has long since passed by the wayside. While we all would have loved to see Prop 21 pass, thereby ensuring a steady revenue stream for the parks system, it did not.  And so we are back to fighting about which parks to close.

Republicans have previously floated the idea of park sponsorships, but today, in an email from the Senate Republican caucus, they outright call for privatization of our parks system.

Privatizing park operations can provide significant benefits to taxpayers. When a contractor agrees to run a park or group of parks on behalf of a public agency, that agency removes the subsidized units from its ledger. On top of that, the state can receive lease payments in return. It is common for contractors to pay 10% or more of gate receipts, similar to what is charged for many concessions.

Park goers also benefit from private operations, as the operators have a financial incentive to enhance the visitor experience. Though they are limited by contract parameters, contractors can create a host of added benefits for visitors such as: Improved maintenance,Potential expanded facilities, Reduced risk of park closures or service cutbacks.  ...

As the budget ax falls on state parks, multiple measures are making their way through the process to look at new ways of managing them. SB 356 (Blakeslee) requires DPR to allow cities and counties the first shot at operating a state park proposed for closure, while SB 386 (Harman) requires the posting of any proposed park closure, and the posting of contact information for potential vendors interested in bidding on the park. AB 42 (Huffman) authorizes the use of nonprofit entities to manage parks that would otherwise be closed.

In fact, state law already allows DPR to lease state parks and facilities to private vendors, but the department has been reluctant to use it. In a March response to a letter from Sen. Tom Harman, the department claimed it is "considering the option" of leases. Still the department has not issued any contracts for bid for an entire park, and has reported only one new concessions agreement in the past year.

Ultimately the Legislature must force the bureaucracy's hand. There may be better ways to manage our parks, and keep them open during difficult fiscal times, but it will not be charted by the current management.

Wow, just wow.  This whole premise is still based on one, supremely messed up, underlying notion: parks are something that should be monetized.  But what if you view parks as something else entirely?  The birthright of all Californians that should be free for them to enjoy as nature intended.  In other words, they should be free.  

Now, this isn't to blame those that care for our parks when the state can't.  In Sonoma County, I'm a big fan of LandPaths.  They run and maintain, through donations and people-power, several large parks in Sonoma County, including the Willow Creek Extension to Sonoma Coast State Park.  These are some damned dedicated people who are extremely worthy of our support.

But yet I return to the central premise of how treat each other in California.  Do we care for each other enough to invest in our society, or are we really okay with the Social Darwinism?  We own these parks, and why exactly can we not afford to maintain them without bringing in a for-profit company to manage them?

Oh that's right, the rich don't want to pay taxes anymore.


California Democratic Lawmakers Revive Schwarzenegger Scam To Sell Off Historic State Properties In

Today California's Democratic state lawmakers announced a budget plan to keep their paychecks coming that included one of the worst ideas Arnold Schwarzenegger had since impregnating his kids' nanny.
If lawmakers don't pass a budget today, they lose their pay tomorrow. So Assembly Democrats have included in their hastily-assembled budget plan Schwarzenegger's political love child, selling off treasured state properties to a group of politically-connected investors.

Schwarzenegger tried to sell off 24 historic state buildings -- including the San Francisco Civic Center and the California Supreme Court - to his big campaign contributors. The Los Angeles Times reported the investors behind the so-called "California First" group contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Schwarzenegger's political campaigns (Maria L. La Ganga, "$500,000 `Success Fee` Revealed In Proposed Sale of State Buildings,  Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2010)   The shady deal also included a half million dollar 'finders fee' to a local official.

Schwarzenegger's fire sale was stopped in the courts by legendary attorney Joe Cotchett. My group Consumer Watchdog recently feted Cotchett at our Rage for Justice Awards for the lawsuit and his lifetime of legal achievement.

This short video from the dinner about Cotchett's role and his acceptance speech of the Phillip Burton Lifetime Legal Achievement Award expose the corruption, stupidity and infidelity to the state's constitution behind the ploy to sell off state buildings only to pay investors to lease them back.

So what gives with the Assembly Democrats' plan?   Is it just about passing any budget to get paid? Are the investors behind California First putting up more finder fees and political contributions?

Whatever the reason for this misstep, legislators should realize by now that following Schwarzenegger's lead is a recipe for disaster.


Posted by Jamie Court, author of The Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell and President of Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an effective voice for taxpayers and consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Visit us on Facebook and Twitter.


Who needs customers?

These guys are crazy, all you need is a rising stock market and it's all good. The parasites are none of their concern:

For all the talk about competitive threats from the likes of Netflix Inc or Apple Inc, it is rising poverty among households that TV executives say is their biggest source of concern.

Executives from News Corp, Comcast Corp and Time Warner Inc, speaking at the annual Cable Show industry event, made clear the industry needed a stronger housing market and better jobs picture to win new customers and keep existing ones.

"We have to be sensitive in making sure we have a product that consumers can afford," said Pat Esser, president of privately held Cox Communications, speaking at the industry's biggest yearly event.

Investors and analysts, with a few exceptions, can often be heard worrying more about how the cable industry will cope with cheaper entertainment packages from rivals such as Netflix, Inc or Google Inc.

Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Glenn Britt, however, was one of the executives focusing on the hazards of a bad economy.

"There clearly is a growing underclass of people who clearly can't afford it," he said. "It would serve us well to worry about that group."


The stick sets the beat [Class M]

The title of this post won't mean much until you read this contribution to The Conversation, a new and laudable attempt by climatologists to get out the message that time's a wastin,' folks. Here's a taste:

We're only a few decades away from a major tipping point, plus or minus only about a decade. The rate at which the ice sheets would melt is fairly uncertain, but not the result that says we are very close to a tipping point committing to such melt and breakdown.


Is it irresponsible or "alarmist" of climatologists to point this out? The science brief for policy is not to prescribe policies, but to point out the implications of pursuing or not pursuing particular courses of action.

Pointing out that we are close to one of the largest tipping points imaginable in the climate system is well within the remit of science. It's not alarmist to describe the threat accurately; it's alarming if the political and social culture can't absorb this.

There's nothing new or surprising in the way of science in this Conversation. But it's high time we started having it.

Read the comments on this post...

Also check out the featured ScienceBlog of the week: Inside the Outbreaks on the ScienceBlogs Book Club


Field Poll Shows Dip in Brown’s Support

Well, this should come as no surprise at all:

Gov. Jerry Brown still has public support for his tax plan, but the margin has slipped, and so has his public approval rating, according to a Field Poll released today. ... Though Brown's public approval rating has   slipped just two percentage points since March, to 46 percent, many Californians who previously were undecided about Brown made up their minds against him. Thirty-one percent of voters disapprove of Brown's job performance, up from 21 percent in March.

"Three months ago he was still in his honeymoon period with voters," Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. "Now I think what you're seeing is more of a return to normal."

Fifty-two percent of registered voters surveyed said they would be willing to extend temporary tax increases to close the state's remaining $9.6 billion budget deficit, a drop of nine percentage points from March.(SacBee)

That last number, for the tax extensions, is in some highly dangerous territory.  It is not hard to imagine the campaign that could lure away 3% of those voters to vote no.  Also, turnout models for a September election would be extremely difficult to model, so take some grain of salt here.

These numbers correspond with May numbers from PPIC showing a similar drop, though PPIC has support for the extensions a bit lower.


Churning the cash

This is one reason why the conservative movement remains strong through thick and thin --- Wingnut Welfare:

In search of donations and influence, the three prominent conservative groups are paying hefty sponsorship fees to the popular talk show hosts. Those fees buy them a variety of promotional tie-ins, as well as regular on-air plugs – praising or sometimes defending the groups, while urging listeners to donate – often woven seamlessly into programming in ways that do not seem like paid advertising.

“The point that people don’t realize,” said Michael Harrison, founder and publisher of the talk media trade publication TALKERS Magazine, “is that (big time political talk show hosts) are radio personalities – they are in the same business that people like Casey Kasem are in – and what they do is no different than people who broadcast from used car lots or restaurants or who endorse the local roofer or gardener.”

The Heritage Foundation pays about $2 million to sponsor Limbaugh’s show and about $1.3 million to do the same with Hannity’s – and considers it money well spent.

“We approach it the way anyone approaches advertising: where is our audience that wants to buy what you sell?” Genevieve Wood, Heritage’s vice president for operations and marketing. “And their audiences obviously fit that model for us. They promote conservative ideas and that’s what we do.”

Right. And it's also how they get launder their billionaire donor money to Rush and Hannity (and the radio stations that willingly exclude liberal voices in exchange for the big bucks.)They get their message out both in overt and covert ways and support both the organizing and message arms of the movement. It's a helluva racket.


Battery-less transmitters pave the way for wireless baby sensors

NFC BabyThe radio waves that saturate the air around us may, or may not, give us headaches and cancer, but we can tell you for certain they're capable of powering tiny wireless chips. Renesas Electronics Corp has created a new ultra-low power wireless transmitter that can push data to both Bluetooth and WiFi receivers without the need for a battery or AC adapter. Instead of the typical tens of milliwatts, the little transmitters require only a few microwatts of power, which can be harvested from environmental radio waves through LC resonance. The creators envision adhesive sensors that send a baby's body temperature to laptops and ads that beam coupons to smartphones over short distances -- you know, the sort of stuff NFC can do, but without the specialized hardware.

Battery-less transmitters pave the way for wireless baby sensors originally appeared on Engadget on Wed, 15 Jun 2011 14:10:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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