No state Pokemon

After the recent response to the We The People petition that the government build a Death Star ("The Administration shares your desire for job creation and a strong national defense, but a Death Star isn't on the horizon."), BetaBeat.com reports that the White House has pulled a petition to establish State Pokémon for every state, arguing that it violated the site's Terms of Participation. Jessica R

oy of BetaBeat writes,

Though there are some worthwhile petitions on We the People, many Internet users have glommed on to the tool as an act of trolling. [...]

To be fair, the White House hasn’t exactly discouraged this sort of behavior. Last week, the administration released a hilarious response to a petition to build a Death Star which, while absolutely delightful, was probably not the best use of government time?

I have to say, I strongly disagree.

Granted, it's not directly productive for the government to employ pop culture experts to craft amusing refusals to any joke that over 25,000 people want to hear.  But anything that gets people to the website gets people to an environment that might point them towards issues they care about, that do deserve the government's attention.

Furthermore, the Death Star response was interesting and informative, even if it was silly.  The administration took that opportunity to illustrate parallels between the fictional geekyness of Star Wars and the real-world geekyness of the International Space Station.  They also pointed out what kinds of issues the government cares about, and in what ways they categorize those issues, and what kinds of considerations go into making financial decisions on a governmental scale.  And it's a fair bet that that more people read the Death Star response than any other White House response, even for petitions they responded favorably to.

It's a way in, is what I'm saying.  And it's a cheap-as-hell one.  I consider it an outright poor decision to pull the Pokémon petition.  Instead, they could talk about the importance of national symbol making, the American entertainment industry versus that of our foreign allies, and the interrelationship between government and pop culture.

Or they could have assigned the states official Pokémon.  I mean, seriously, why not?

Petition to reclassify the Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group

Boing Boing reports on a Huffington Post report about three petitions on whitehouse.gov's "We The People" platform, which allows Americans to create petitions to the government.  The website's rules require the US government administration to promptly respond to the demands made by any petition that reaches 25 thousand signatures within 30 days. All three of the petitions in question have met that requirement -- though the website's FAQ points out that the administration may choose to write one response that covers the administration's position on multiple, similar petitions, so we can probably only expect one response about this issue.

The first petition in question, Legally recognize Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, is according to the Huffington Post the most popular petition in We The People's history, at over 275 thousand signatures at the time I'm writing.

The second, Revoke the tax exempt status of the Westboro Baptist Church & re-classify Westboro Baptist Church as a hate group, covers the overlap in ground between the other two petitions, asking for both terms to be met.  The petition points out that "By granting their tax exemption we are FUNDING THEIR HATE." (Capitalization copied from the source.)  As of writing, they are at over 60 thousand signatures.

The third, which is probably the least inflammatory, but easily the most genuinely threatening to the WBC, is called Remove the Westboro Baptist Church's 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status, and make it retroactive.  It is at almost 45 thousand signatures.

I'm going to sign all three of these petitions.  I'm against tax exempt status for religions in general, but I don't think it's hypocritical to take the opportunity to support one particular removal from the exemption, especially one of the worst ones.  It's a foot in the door for the government to begin responding reasonably to the difference between allowing free speech and endorsing organized hate.  I hope the Obama Administration responds to this popular outcry by throwing everything they have at the WBC.

Gender neutral Easy-Bake Oven petition

(via Boing Boing)

The above video implores viewers to sign a petition for Hasbro to push back against the ubiquitous assumption that women are the only people who want to learn to cook, or play with cooking toys.  Mckenna Pope recorded her brother explaining that he wants an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas, but thinks "Only girls play with it."

From the Change.org petition:

Imagine my surprise when I walked into his room to find him "cooking" tortillas by placing them on top of his lamp's light bulb! Obviously, this is not a very safe way for him to be a chef, so when he asked Santa for his very own Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, produced by the Hasbro company, for me to help him be the cook he's always wanted to be, my parents and I were immediately convinced it was the truly perfect present.

However, we soon found it quite appalling that boys are not featured in  packaging or promotional materials for Easy Bake Ovens -- this toy my brother's always dreamed about. And the oven comes in gender-specific hues: purple and pink.

I feel that this sends a clear message: women cook, men work.

I have always been adamantly against anything that promotes specific roles in society for men and women, and having grown up with toys produced by the Hasbro corporation, it truly saddens me that such a successful business would resort to conforming to society's views on what boys do and what girls do.

I want my brother to know that it's not "wrong" for him to want to be a chef, that it's okay to go against what society believes to be appropriate.

Here: go sign.  I did.  They're only about 6,000 signatures away from the 35,000 signature goal.

Heh, it turns out Texas can't secede

I've heard many times throughout my life that, when they became a state, Texas secured the right to secede whenever they liked.  I never had any particular reason to question it.  I mean, it was always a kind of nice-sounding idea; one less state with massive support of guns and Republicans, more progress for the rest of us on the federal level. It turns out, though, that that's just another element of puffery perpetuated, presumably, by Texans who want to feel special.

They do, apparently, have the right to split themselves up into 5 states within the US, without Congress's permission.  This would mean that Texas's total population would have five times as much representation in the Senate, though I believe that it wouldn't affect their representation in the House of Representatives.

After the 2008 election, recent mathematical superstar Nate Silver wrote up a theoretical breakdown of Texas into five sub-states, linked here, via this article on Slate.  That article also addresses Texas's only real shot at secession:

Could the current crop of Texas secessionists use the division clause in pursuit of their separatist goals? It would certainly be worth a shot. Naturally, it took the Machiavellian political mind of Texan Tom DeLay—the former House majority leader, currently out on bail while appealing a 2011 money-laundering conviction—to put the pieces of a tenable scheme together. The day after Perry blew his secessionist dog whistle to that reporter back in 2009, DeLay went on MSNBC's Hardball to cheerfully defend his governor's remarks. When host Chris Matthews insisted (correctly) that unilateral secession was illegal and couldn't take place, DeLay stopped his maniacal grinning for a moment and cited the division clause.

In a sign of just how much the two political parties' fortunes have shifted in Texas since the days when John Nance Garner represented the state in Congress, DeLay intimated that the threat of sending eight newly minted, and almost certainly Republican, senators to Washington might be the key to getting this whole secession ball rolling. Referring directly to the language of the joint resolution, he said, "If we invoke it, the United States Senate would kick us out ... because they're not going to allow 10 (sic) new Texas senators into the Senate. That's how you secede."